Jan 29, 2010


Harris Khalique

Politics is a dirty business. Electoral politics particularly, in a society like ours which is sharply divided on provincial, tribal, religious and clannish lines. Crudely put, this is for two reasons. One, areas of the Indian subcontinent that became Pakistan share the same legacy with other parts of South Asia which is derived from caste-based Hinduism. Primitive social norms hammered into all of us by tradition and the instinct of association with the same caste, clan or tribe prevail. Two, more than six decades of martial and civilian plutocratic rules in Pakistan have contributed immensely to keep this legacy alive.

Electoral politics largely reflects this system which is a combination of patronage and oppression. However, after struggling with different forms of governance and grappling with the issue of balancing power between different classes and interest groups in a state, humanity per se has reached a consensus of sorts. The consensus is not on any perfect system but a system that is most civil, participatory and workable at this particular stage in our collective history. This system is democracy. It provides us with the agency to begin, expedite and sustain a social change process.

Even for people like us who would want to see a redefinition of the state of Pakistan, legally and constitutionally, and believe that nothing can be improved in the long run unless fundamental structural changes in the economy are introduced, the only viable path left is a democratic struggle. People have to be won over even if we think we have the panacea for all their ills. Self-righteousness of revolutionaries won't provide enough reason for capturing power if the revolutionaries are not popular. How easy it is to spend an evening with like-minded friends, comrades and colleagues who all want to bring change in Pakistan. Or bring educated, enlightened and interesting people from all over the country to a meeting hall and analyse different issues faced by the country and society. Or have a jamboree of left-wing intellectuals and political workers and ponder upon what is happening in Latin America, the crisis of financial markets, slump in world economy and chant slogans from the past and create a common illusion that working and lower-middle classes, smaller nations and nationalities, and disgruntled youth are waiting for us desperately to lead the change process.

But what is difficult is to reach out to people in villages, towns and cities, convince them, involve them, make them in-charge of their own fates, create a popular political force and participate in the electoral process without any substantial financial resources. Last week I remembered the iconic Professor Khwaja Masud. He once said that if a socialist leader is not popular among people, it is not the people's fault but his. This makes our work terribly difficult. In a caste-riddled society where millions are spent on putting up banners, buntings, hoardings and cut-outs by one candidate running for a provincial or national assembly seat, our task becomes monumental. But do we have a choice?

We have to find ways, different strategies and new tactics to reach out to people, have clarity in our thoughts and immense homework on issues that need to be resolved in the spheres of economy, polity and society. Politics of resistance is the first step. The crunch comes when we have to produce an alternative. No one else but a new left is capable of doing that – a left which is both rooted and modern.

Muslims in Europe

Dr Masooda Bano

Europe and UK are faced with a difficult question, namely how to accommodate their Muslim populations. The British and European government has, in recent years, been investing increasing amount of resources in research on Muslim migrants. Though the concerns are common, that is, how can the Muslim be better assimilated and prevented from developing sympathise for radical Islamist groups, the level of tolerance towards the Muslims varies considerable across these countries. UK indeed is the most tolerant of its Muslim population, with the discourse of multi-culturalism being most dominant. In rest of Europe, the tolerance level is much lower, with higher demands for assimilation with the dominant culture.

The French have been the most open and vocal in their refusal to be tolerant of visible expression of Islamic identity. The debates over whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear headscarves in public places have been most controversial in France. Before the debates were focused more on whether a Muslim woman wearing headscarf should be allowed to hold a government post, such as be a teacher in public school. Now, the debates have become even less tolerant. A 200-page long report produced by a French parliamentary committee has proposed a ban on women who wear the Islamic veil (covering the face) in hospitals, schools, government offices and on public transport. The report also argues for denying residence cards and citizenship to anyone showing visible signs of radical religious practice.

At a cursory level, it appears to an unfair suggestion. Religion in an integral part of the identity of the believers, who are at the same time national of the country, the participation in both should not be exclusive. One's national identify should not come at the cost of sacrificing one's religious identity. After all, freedom to adhere to one's religious beliefs is one of the fundamental human rights. If Islamic radicals are intolerant then such recommendations suggest intolerance on the part of the seculars too.

However, despite its apparent unfairness, there is legitimate ground for such reasoning. It cannot be denied that most European countries and the UK have to be credited with having developed a fairly democratic system of governance. True, racism still prevails, and occasionally expresses it self in very violent ways, but once legally allowed into the country, the state extends legal protection and basic social services to most of the immigrants. The UK again is quite good even in providing nationality. Though now there are attempts to tighten the rules, but still with five years of tax-paying status, one can qualify for indefinite stay and a British nationality.

Now when these countries absorb the immigrant population, it is only legitimate if they also expect the immigrants to attempt to assimilate with the local population. This does not imply giving up one's culture or religious beliefs and practices, rather not opting for extreme expressions of one's native identity. Veiling, covering of the face, is an extreme visible expression of one's Islamic identity. From individuals and families with such predominant Islamic identity, it is legitimate to ask that why do they leave Muslim countries to opt to live in western value systems that are so alien to their beliefs. It is on one level hypocritical to show such strong religious adherence but rather than trying to reform Muslim countries, opt out to enjoy the comforts of the west.

For those Muslims, who object strongly to the western governments' demands for some basic levels of assimilation, the question is: would they be tolerant if women from a growing immigrant population in a Muslim country start to walk around the town in mini-skirts. How many will be tolerant of such immigrants and their values, which are so alien to the Muslim beliefs? Would they not move quickly to ban these women in public places because of the immorality they will spread and possible influence they can have on their own wives and daughters?

The fact is that tolerance in any context cannot be expected to be one-sided, in the long term both parties have to show flexibility. The Muslims who choose to migrate to western societies, do so for clear economic incentives. If the western countries have allowed them that opportunity then they should also make an attempt to assimilate. If, however, their interpretation of the religious texts requires extreme rigidity then it might be good for them and for the Muslim countries if they stay in their native countries and work to establish a just state. Opting out of the system in favour of material comforts offered by the west and yet refusing to assimilate with the western population is a bit hypocritical.

Jan 27, 2010

An unwinnable war

Rizwan Asghar

President Obama will not be able to win the war in Afghanistan but he could save his country from a disgraceful defeat. However, so far President Obama has based his strategy on the dictates of a warlike strategy.

The violence in Afghanistan is on the rise. On Dec 29, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan released figures demonstrating that Afghan civilian deaths rose to 2,038 in the first ten months of 2009, from 1,838 during the same period in 2008.

The US is sending at least 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan. The decision reflects the Obama administration's short sightedness and failure to focus on the pragmatic solutions. Observers and analysts believe that troop reinforcements will not help defeat the Taliban. The chairman of the Laghman Provincial Council commented that "when the commander in Kabul asked Obama for extra troops, he knew the US would end up with one achievement, and that is more civilian causalities." Mikhail Gorbachev, the USSR's president, in 1985 also ordered the built-up of Soviet troops in Afghanistan to 140,000 and asked his generals to win the war within a year.

Recently it has been decided that the Obama administration is sending 1,000 more US civilian experts to the country to help in the so-called reconstruction projects. But the history of the last eight years of the Afghan war shows that such efforts have invariably come to naught because of corruption and inefficient management of the projects.

The US has spent a huge amount of money since 2002 to improve Afghanistan's electrical grid, but there is no improvement because of poor oversight by the authorities concerned. In this way the task of nation-building remained unfulfilled to a large degree.

The world outside America perceives Obama's polices as essentially a continuation of the past and it is being claimed that Obama has acceded to the demands of the US military establishment and warrior pundits. The period of eighteen months is long enough to damage Obama's presidency. Today Obama's approval rating has fallen to the discouraging level of 47 per cent. With every passing day the situation is deteriorating and more and more Americans are coming home in flag-draped coffins.

Obama is trying to win a losing war and which no invader from Alexander the Great to Soviet Russia could win. The forces of history are bound to succeed this time again. The war in Afghanistan is not only unwinnable but its prolongation is detrimental to US national security. For American troops it is time to move away from their infatuation with war and go back before they bring the US down to dust. Perhaps it will not be wrong to say at this time that history is not on Obama's side.

After eight years of bloodshed and strife, Afghanistan remains an incubator for terrorists and a haven for Al Qaeda recruits. Afghanistan is a primitive country that seriously lacks basic infrastructure, sanitation, transportation and a modern communication system. The educational system of the country is in a shambles as a result of three decades of incessant warfare. Without foreign support the Afghan forces cannot pose even a semblance of resistance to the Taliban onslaught.

If Obama does not change his course of action immediately on the Afghan front the day is not far when he will not only lose the war in Afghanistan but also lose the confidence of his people. President Obama need not be fearful of being tagged as a weak president and has to seriously think about the phased withdrawal of his weary troops from Afghanistan to assume the mantle of a sensible leader.

Corruption's many chimeras

Anjum Niaz

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting

Today we live among phantoms, among bogeymen, among illusions. We delude ourselves that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry will purge Pakistan of corruption. Others daydream that Asif Zardari will gift democracy to Pakistan as if it was his personal fiefdom. Many among us hallucinate that General Kayani will bring back the spectre of military dictatorship. Some simpletons fancy Prime Minister Gilani telling his president and his cabinet to confess their sins and cough up the supposed loot.

In Greek mythology, a chimera is a "fire-breathing she-monster usually represented as a composite of a lion, goat, and serpent" or "An imaginary monster made up of grotesquely disparate parts." Corruption is our chimera, a monster that molests our minds and has no cure.

Blithely unaware of how to put the NRO beneficiaries in the dock, there are a thousand questions that none has the answer. Tell me where in the world does a government run by a president seize his wealth and freeze it? How can a prime minister handpicked and controlled by the president request Swiss authorities to transfer $60 million purportedly belonging to his president? How can a government whose own top power horses stand accused order their subordinates to come and scrutinise them? How can the Central Executive Committee of the PPP demand the persecution of the widower of their slain leader?

If we expect the emasculated, impoverished and comatose National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to execute the orders of the Supreme Court, then think again. The babus at NAB are mere fossilised file-pushers with no spine or will of their own. Its chairman, Naveed Ahsan, a Musharraf appointee, is a typical bureaucrat who does exactly as ordered by his bosses. That's his training, he once told me. Ahsan is not programmed to act but only follow instructions. A visit to the NAB's office in Islamabad will dispel anyone of grandiose hopes that this innocuously harmless outfit will deliver millions of dollars stolen from the country back into the treasury coffers.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry's judgment refers to the $1.2 billion that the post-Abacha government in Nigeria wrested back in a deal with the heirs of the deceased Gen Abacha who siphoned off $3-4 billion when he was the ruler in the 90s. The ruling also refers to the Philippines former president Marcos whose ill-gotten wealth was returned to the country. But in both instances, it happened after the two had been deposed.

How can a sitting head of state and government (that's what Zardari is) be expected to stand up, say sorry, present his allegedly laundered billions to the people of Pakistan on a platter? How can his corrupt cronies swear before the court of the people that they have sinned? The day that happens, heavens will open. Pakistan's fortunes will change forever.

The soberly serious columnist Arif Nizami recently wrote on these pages: "Some US diplomats based in Islamabad have been openly briefing media persons and opinion leaders since the Supreme Court verdict on the NRO that Mr Zardari has been weakened to the extent that in his dealings with the army he is no longer of any use for Washington. They also do not see him lasting beyond March."

Nizami's last sentence is a clincher, cleverly packed inside his column that few would care to notice. The Americans know when it's time for the top gun in Pakistan to be packed off. I remember well that November afternoon in 1996 when the US Charge d' Affaires John Holzman in Islamabad said something to me which went over my head. I let it go. Hours later, while Pakistan slept, President Farooq Leghari dismissed Benazir Bhutto's government on corruption charges. Was Holzman — a good man with excellent diplomatic skills (rare now) — trying to tell me something but I was too dumb to get it? Later, I asked him why he didn't just say it! He just smiled. So what I'm trying to say is perhaps Nizami knows something that we all don't know or care to know?

Notice the timing of Farooq Leghari getting vocal once more. Is it merely a coincidence that he has linked the president's role in Murtaza Bhutto's death or is he being manipulated by 'invisible hands,' to speak up at this moment when a net to catch the president is apparently being laid? Leghari's candid talk in a TV interview is damning for the president. We should not be surprised if Leghari were perhaps to become a witness should someone file a case in the Supreme Court. Though he has admitted that he does not have evidence beyond what he said on record. But you never know…

Some influential voices in the media, law and human rights are censuring the judgment against the NRO. The Supreme Court is under attack by them. They editorialise in undisguised anger. In their hand wringing, they predict the downfall of democracy and the rise of dictatorship, an unholy alliance between the judiciary, the army and the media. It makes for a deadly combination, they contend. So far the debate in the media has thrown no solutions to the issue of corruption. It seems that democracy (read Zardari) is more precious to these few opinionated than accountability. To be fair to them, they advocate accountability across the board. But how? That they don't know.

Almost all the top dogs of our military, bureaucrats, politicians, industrialists and socialites have left behind or will be leaving a tidy package for their progeny to lord over. While these departed and still-alive-and-kicking corrupt are accountable before the highest court of our creation, their kids are certainly kicking it up living off their dads' dough around Pakistan. Recently some Pakistani students on the verge of completing their degrees in the US got asked as to what next they planned to do. Almost all chimed in "Why, of course go back!" They said they came to the US to study but why they should slog it here looking for jobs when back home their 'inheritance' awaited them. I can bet you that some among these students will return to double their fortunes by wheeling and dealing with our power elites. They have the money, clout and family name to milk this nation, leaving enough wealth for their next generation. Ours is an incestuous society – we are all related to each other through blood and marriage; through old boys' network and business connections in some way or the other.

And we are all corrupt!

The day our high society jettisons hypocrisy and embraces truth speak, we will have a fighting chance to reform. The day we admit that we are guilty of corruption or our kith, kin and friends have made money through unlawful channels or have misused their official privileges or have taken bribes or have stuffed their charlies in jobs they don't deserve, the streets will automatically clean up, the roads will be cleared of potholes and the stink in the air will vanish.

Prior to the NRO judgment, almost all castigated the reprehensible act brokered by the US and the UK between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto. The so-called opposition in parliament speechified and spieled against Zardari and his cronies' corruption. But today Chaudhry Nisar's oration on the floor of the house as the opposition leader is mere chalk talk that lacks substance while big boss Nawaz Sharif looks flummoxed.

Fighting terrorism

Talat Fraooq

One of the post-9/11 narratives has focused on the root causes of terrorism by carrying out in-depth analyses of the phenomenon. One school of thought sees a fundamental connection between poor economic conditions and terrorism and considers poverty to be a significant determinant in this regard, whereas the opposing view ascribes terrorism to religious fundamentalism and not poverty. This viewpoint is defended on the grounds that the terrorist leadership and operators include affluent people who use religion for political ends.

Yet another perspective maintains that terrorists are motivated by injustice and perceived social, political or historical wrongs embedded in autocratic political systems. This particular analysis upholds that terrorism is not associated with per capita income and terrorist risk is not higher in economically backward countries, and that higher levels of terrorism are actually associated with lower levels of social justice, including political rights.

The rise and perpetuation of the militancy in Pakistan may be explained by the above argument. Political and social flux has intensified in the last two decades with the state itself sponsoring non-state actors at the cost of its writ and, in the bargain, progressively impeding institutional development. Terrorism remains unbridled because Pakistan is in transition; whether it is towards a stronger democracy or a powerful dictatorship remains to be seen.

By refusing to review and discard the pre-partition modes of governance in this particular region, the Pakistani state has failed to serve as a unifying force since 1947. Instead of positively harnessing the diversity of its multi-ethnic society it has used religion and misplaced nationalism to impose uniformity in order to maintain a strong centre. Within the first few decades it emboldened the religious extremists by declaring a section of its own people non-Muslims out of sheer political expediency, estranging the Bengalis to the point of no return and spawning alienation by refusing provincial autonomy. Prolonged and perpetual social and political discrimination, coupled with widespread corruption at the top, has gradually manufactured conditions conducive to the growth of extremist religious ideology and militancy.

Poverty and religion are not among the root causes of terrorism but grow within an environment that hinders viable opportunities for self-actualisation. The failure of the state to provide balanced education to the masses has seriously aggravated the situation. Institutionalised corruption has played a vital role in this regard. Without quality education there can be no hope of a better tomorrow and the failure to achieve personal and economic growth is bound to give way to depression and desperation.

This has encouraged the vested interests to exploit both poverty and religious sentiment. So much so that before the public opinion took a u-turn a sizeable section of the Pakistani populace, including members of the well-to-do class, sympathised with the Taliban agenda by misinterpreting it as an answer to Western hegemony and domestic discontent. This particular mindset continues to exist although its supporters may have decreased.

The corruption-ridden state institutions lack the moral courage to bring unregulated religious activism through mosques and madrasas under stringent control.

At this point in time Pakistan's ongoing transition is being manoeuvred by a slowly maturing media, an emboldened judiciary and the short-sighted political elite who refuse to learn from the changed ground realities. Their immaturity is evident from their attitude toward the NRO verdict of the Supreme Court. Those in government wish to protect party interests and those in the opposition desire to use the NRO issue for political ends.

Nothing weakens state-society relationship more than rampant and unchecked corruption of the powerful. Yet there is no effort on the part of the political elite to genuinely ponder the implications of sleaze and fraud that have retarded institutional development and hampered Pakistan's shift toward social parity. The corrupt in Pakistan are by now so well entrenched that they can actually add insult to injury with impunity.

The recent dishing out of billions of rupees worth of bailout packages to corrupt organisations and placing a controversial minister in charge of the NAB are nothing short of flaunting corruption.

The majority of the Pakistani politicians lack the integrity, the sagacity and the will required to ensure strong institutions that alone can guarantee a just social system and consequently a violence-free society. Post-9/11 studies also show that the number of trans-national violent events is far less than domestic terrorist activities. Terrorism feeds on domestic inequalities that result from moral and financial corruption. No military operation can eradicate terrorism entirely; only an equitable and corruption-free system of governance that serves and not rules the people can bring about a lasting solution to the problem. If terrorism in Pakistan is to be curtailed then we have to look inwards; justice, like charity, begins at home.

For this to happen, Pakistan needs statesmen and not politicians. Unfortunately, there are none on the horizon. The time is ripe for the civil society to get its act together, take a unified stand and step into the fray wholeheartedly.

Jan 26, 2010

Concerns of AJK

Marvi Memon

The Kashmir and Northern Areas Ministry (KANA) which administratively manages both territories, has changed its name to Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan (KGB) Ministry. What follows is my take on Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) and KGB in my first visit to AJK as a member of parliament.

Prior to this trip, only two meetings had taken place in two years of the KGB National Assembly Committee and both were concentrated on Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). Thus, it was only fair to have a meeting focusing only on AJK issues.

In the two-hour briefing from the officials of the AJK government, we got to hear about the region's history, constitutional status, developmental projects and reconstruction status. It was a presentation that left unanswered questions and gave us an agenda for the next couple of meetings.

We had a meeting with the President of AJK who discussed the Kashmir cause with us. The deliverables were certainly a realisation that even though this committee had been kept away from promoting the Kashmir cause, it was this standing committee's parliamentary duty to promote issue. While on an individual level, I had played the hawk on India and Kashmir, it was time to strategise as a committee with the AJK government. Secondly, it was felt that there was a need to push for a separate Ambassador for Pakistan to the EU to bring more focus to the issue.

A visit to the state of-the-art and high-maintenance CMH donated by the UAE government, where we visited the victims of the Ashura blast, brought home the concept of how we needed to assist the AJK government with the sustainability of all the high-tech projects

Perhaps the most touching part of the trip was the media press conference and interaction with civil society. This was the first time they had been given ample time to interact with members of Pakistani legislature. We heard them in detail during which the following issues were discussed.

Firstly, the GB package announcement, without consulting AJK, had annoyed the latter since they thought it hurt the Kashmir cause. I explained that we had not been consulted either. Frankly, by giving a governor and chief minister only in name didn't satisfy the people of GB either, who would have been happier with an AJK style set-up with their own PM and president. They also felt that the PPP had not given a provincial set-up. It was a mere political gimmick intended to buy votes.

What I realised for the first time was that the people of AJK didn't consider their system to be model enough for GB to follow since they had the same issues with the KGB acting like the Soviet KGB.

Second was the issue of Neelum-Jhelum Hydel Project (NJHP), which would the reduce water flow of Muzaffarabad. I had come with the notion that this was a mega project of 969MW critically required for Pakistan. Having visited the impressive site at a cost of $2.1 billion, I was even more convinced. However, we insisted on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports so that AJK got ample water flowing through its rivers while sorting the sewerage issues. Moreover they wanted net hydel profit for NJHP. I agreed since I was an active proponent of the same for GB's Diamir Dam.

There were also complaints against the resistance of the people of AJK to the Kashmir Council which they claimed was a white independent elephant, answerable to no one. The committee had received a most unfortunate correspondence from the council's secretariat claiming we had no jurisdiction over it in terms of legislative authority. So it was clear why we were being blocked and what we had to do in the next couple of weeks in terms of privilege motions and investigations against the Kashmir Council secretariat.

Fourth were the complaints against ERRA and SERRA who locals thought were not answerable to the AJK government and who they thought had not performed on master plans of the three cities etc. Prior to this visit, ERRA was, in my mind, the big international winner who had turned adversity into opportunity, but the complaints made us as a committee put its issues on the agenda for investigation.

Fifth were the constitutional amendments, post-1974, of AJK Constitution which had diluted the powers of the government which they wished changed into a more independent set up. While they informed us that the PM had made a committee, they didn't seem very hopeful on this subject. It seemed like a classic case of provincial autonomy and the abolition of the concurrent list. Sindhi nationalists and the Kashmiri people sounded similar to me that night.

Sixth was the issue of exemption from development cuts for AJK which Mr Zardari had promised but which we needed to get implemented as a committee. I insisted the same be done for GB since they had seen massive development cuts too. Big schemes were promised with no funding plans since their national exchequers couldn't afford it.

While in such a short trip, we heard about many other issues, it seemed to me to be a classic case of how parliamentary oversight was badly required to balance the viceroy injustices in both GB and AJK. It was with renewed vigour that I will start my week as I realise that I have four provinces and two territories to fight for as a Pakistani legislator.

Fixing Pakistan's Election Commission

Mosharraf Zaidi

One of the most important organisations in Pakistan is the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). It has a very, very difficult job. With limited resources and at the mercy of the military, the political and the bureaucratic elite of Pakistan, the ECP is supposed to somehow conduct free, fair and credible elections in Pakistan. With more than two dozen 24-hour news channels and a civil society umbrella group like the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), the ECP's job has become significantly easier. In the February 2008 elections FAFEN mobilised more than 19,000 observers on election day. Added to the hundreds of DV cameras, the thousands of voice recorders and the millions of mobile phones that both professional and part-time journalists were wielding, the February 2008 election was one of the fairest in memory. And yet it had serious flaws. This is because ultimately, no matter how vigilant and engaged a country's press and civil society is -- the work of holding elections to a certain standard is the responsibility of the ECP. The question of how well-equipped the ECP is to handle this responsibility requires very little assessment of the ECP itself. In the most important matters, it is not the ECP that disables elections from being truly free, fair and credible. It is the overarching culture of governance in Pakistan.

Beyond the obvious pre-poll, polling day and post-poll electoral fraud, one of the biggest problems in elections is the use of state resources as instruments of electoral fraud. This is a two-layered problem. The first layer is the fact that state resources are susceptible to misuse at all. The second is the fact that, given the availability of these resources, the mitigation of the risk of misuse tends to be extremely weak, and therefore, effectively negligible. Active misuse of state resources as instruments of electoral fraud is a function of both systemic gaps, and procedural gaps.

Systemic gaps are the shortcomings in the system of checks and balances that protects state resources from misuse or abuse. This public financial management system includes the range of institutions, organisations, mechanisms and processes that relate to the oversight of public funds, the formulation of budgets, appropriations decisions, and the audit and accounts functions. Procedural gaps that enable the misuse of state resources are specific to the processes that govern the planning, conduct and administration of elections by the ECP. If elections were to be administered with strict adherence to both the letter of the law and the spirit of fairness, the ECP could not possibly countenance the exploitation of the existing weaknesses in the public financial management system. Instead, for structural, cultural and operational reasons, the ECP is neither willing, nor able to stem the use of state resources as instruments of electoral fraud.

The threat or prospect of state resources as instruments of electoral fraud is not an abstract or conceptual one. There are three ways in which state resources are misused during elections.

The first is the misuse of office itself. Remember Gen Musharraf? In 2002, then Chief Executive Gen Musharraf conducted a referendum on whether he should hold office or not. After using state resources, including the Press Information Department of the Ministry of Information, as well as dozens of advisers and consultants, he won the roundly discredited referendum by an overwhelming 97 per cent. Subsequent elections were equally unfair, if not as widely discredited. In 2003, the finance minister was elected to parliament, so that he could take oath as prime minister, despite never having visited the constituencies he was elected from (again, with overwhelming margins). Parliament, the finance ministry itself, as well as the chief minister of Sindh were actively involved in that campaign.

The second manner in which state resources are misused is through the provision of cash or in-kind payments to citizens, for the purpose of achieving favourable electoral outcomes. Most frequently this takes place through social protection programmes. In the 2008-2009 election cycle, widespread allegations of the use of a short-lived instrument called the Kefalat Fund were corroborated. The Kefalat Fund was begun by Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi several weeks prior to the election, and continued to make payments well after the election was over (interestingly this fund was launched by the bureaucrats that now lead the federal government). The Kefalat Fund, whose sole purpose was to ensure that the chief minister's son won his election, provided Rs1,500 per household, mostly in the electoral constituency that the chief minister's son was running in. Ironically, the chief minister's son lost that election.

In the 2009 elections in Gilgit-Baltistan, quite apart from a bevy of administrative issues, the widespread use of the federal government offices by the ruling party was widely reported in the press. The PML-Q has alleged widespread misuse of the Baitul Maal fund, among a bevy of other allegations. Even without the PML-Q's allegations, the prime minister himself made a visit to the area to urge voters to turn out for his party, and in the process committed to ensuring that 50,000 Benazir Income Support Programme forms would be distributed to the area's residents.

Finally, the third manner in which state resources are misused is through the provision of employment in the public sector. Handing out jobs in the public sector represents a major problem for several reasons. Guaranteed job security and low accountability for employees aside, public-sector jobs represent a long-term liability for the public sector (salary, health coverage, pension), and a serious performance risk (government employees are unaccountable and inefficient generally, and those hired because of political connections, doubly so). Since most jobs are those of teachers, the liability is particularly important, damaging the education sector, and ensuring skewed allegiances on election day (since so much election administration is out-sourced to teachers). Those teachers that owe their jobs to local politicians invariably represent a risk to free, fair and credible elections. In the recent Gilgit-Baltistan election, the prime minister announced 8,000 new government jobs for residents of the area and Rs6,000 salary top-ups for existing employees of the government. In Punjab, though there is no election on the horizon, the PML-N government in the province announced the regularisation of all its contractual employees, even though it is in the midst of an unprecedented fiscal crisis.

While the overarching systemic weaknesses in Pakistan's public financial management system are not going to be reformed in the foreseeable future, the procedural weaknesses can be overcome by the relatively manageable realm of electoral reform.

To arrest the misuse of state resource in elections, five things need to take place urgently. First, a serious and comprehensive electoral reform process needs to be realised for ensuring a neutral, credible, efficient and empowered electoral institution. Second, the ECP needs to become truly independent from the executive branch. To gain this independence, the ECP needs to be fiscally autonomised. Third, in order to neutralise the impact of the use of public policy and budgetary processes as enablers of elections, all new development activities needs to be declared six months before an election is scheduled, including any kind of employment decisions outside the routine. Fourth, a national discourse on the fiscal implications of a constant growth in the size of government, and specifically of permanent employment in the public sector in Pakistan, needs to begin. Finally, caretaker governments need to be truly neutral. To achieve such neutrality, caretaker governments need to be made up of a mix of actors with diverse political backgrounds and sympathies.

Could the Taliban reconcile with Kabul?

Rahimullah Yusufzai

All who matter in Afghanistan are talking about reconciliation with the Taliban, but on the Afghan government's terms. Strangely enough, though, the offers of peace talks are being made at a time when 37,000 fresh US and Nato troops are on their way to the country in a desperate attempt to bring the conflict to a military end. This is a turnaround from statements from Western capitals in the past that the Taliban are terrorists and not worthy of being engaged in political talks or reconciliation.

President Barack Obama took the lead by emphasising the need for a political solution to stabilise Afghanistan. US defence secretary Robert Gates has been arguing that the Taliban were part of the political fabric of Afghanistan and thus needed to be included in its political mainstream.

Gen Stanley McChrystal, commander of the US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan, has himself advocated a political solution. His "surge" strategy is based on an attempt to weaken the Taliban to compel them to agree to negotiations and a political solution. In fact, he does not rule out the presence of the Taliban in a future Afghan government.

However, the US, as well as its Western allies having soldiers in Afghanistan, have presented certain conditions for talks with the Taliban, including renunciation of violence and their laying down their weapons. The Nato members who deployed troops in the country and suffered losses would prefer to pull out only after ensuring that at least a few of their objectives in the region are achieved and Afghanistan doesn't become a sanctuary for Al-Qaeda once again.

On the other hand, the Taliban, who won't give up the fight easily after their sustained resistance against a formidable enemy for so long, demand that all foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan and without any agreement on the country's future and its system of government. So it would be naïve to assume that the Taliban would cut a deal with the US and its partners under pressure from Pakistan on terms that are more favourable to Islamabad than to their leader Mulla Mohammad Omar.

The Western nations also want the Taliban to accept Afghanistan's constitution. British foreign secretary David Miliband has gone a step further when he publicly stated that the aim of the Western countries was to divide the Taliban and overcome their resistance. In fact, this is precisely the aim of all Western nations jointly fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and failing despite eight years of intense efforts involving significant human and material losses. Past attempts to create divisions in Taliban ranks have failed and now new strategies are being devised to win over low- and mid-level militants.

Referred to as a reintegration plan, it is the initiative of President Hamid Karzai. He isn't in a strong position to make a success of such a critical move despite his re-election for a second term, in fraud-tainted presidential and provincial council elections last August. In fact, he is now entangled in a struggle for power with an increasingly assertive parliament that twice refused recently to give a vote of confidence to 27 of the 41 ministers proposed by him. This tussle will now last longer as the elections for parliament have been delayed from May to September.

Besides, President Karzai and the fractious opposition groups in and outside parliament would continue to wrangle over the contentious issue of reforming the election commission before the polls, particularly in view of the rigging. That would sap the energy of Karzai's government and make it difficult for him to offer reintegration to the Taliban, and from a position of strength.

The latest initiative to wean away Taliban foot-soldiers and local commanders from the top leadership isn't really something new. The National Reconciliation Commission headed by former Afghan president Sebghatullah Mojadeddi was part of a similar exercise to persuade former fighters to lay down their arms and reconcile with the state. Mojadeddi, Mr Karzai's boss during the Afghan war against the Soviet occupying forces, had thought that in his capacity as a former Mujahideen leader and spiritual figure he would be able to prevail upon the Taliban and other militants to stop fighting, but he was unable to achieve much.

The only change, and a significant one, in President Karzai's new reintegration plan is the availability of more funds to pursue the goal of triggering defections from Taliban ranks by offering surrendering fighters jobs, education and protection. An amount of one billion dollars provided by the US is now available to fund this project, and other countries are willing to contribute to the effort once it gets the green signal at the international conference on Afghanistan being hosted by the UK in London on Thursday.

The cornerstone of this initiative is that a large number of Taliban fighters aren't ideologically motivated and are fighting because they are jobless or harbour grievances against the foreign forces and the Afghan government, and warlords who are part of the ruling dispensation. The main idea is to offer them money and jobs and, once they switch sides, protection from their former Taliban colleagues.

There is a strong belief in the West, and even in Kabul, that the Taliban are able to pay more to their fighters than the monthly salary of $101 that Afghan soldiers receive. This is unproven and misplaced, because those who have seen Taliban fighters would confirm their poor living conditions, lack of resources and the poverty of their families. If this commitment on their part is indeed the case, then the whole premise of buying off the Taliban to out down the insurgency is flawed and hence unlikely to succeed.

In fact, the Taliban have made it clear that no amount of money would weaken their resistance as they were motivated by the religious cause of jihad and were fighting to liberate their homeland from foreign forces. Though some fighters would certainly stop fighting in return for favours and the media would initially highlight it as a promising development, the majority, as in the past, would stay loyal to Mulla Omar and continue the resistance.

In the context of Pakistan, it was instructive to note that its offer to help the US and its allies in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiation table was immediately seen as proof in Kabul and some Western capitals that Mulla Omar, the Haqqanis and other top Taliban commanders had refuge in Pakistan and were under the influence of the Pakistani military, and that they were allowed to stay despite assertions to the contrary. The largely pro-government Afghan media went to town with talk shows and analyses on the issue and allegations were made that Islamabad wanted to appease the US and position itself to receive more military and civilian assistance by offering to use its influence with the Taliban to encourage reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Islamabad certainly has influence on the Afghan Taliban and some of their top leaders and commanders have been allowed to hide in Pakistan, as in the past when Afghan Mujahideen were given refuge and not stopped from operating from inside Pakistani territory.

However, there have been limits to Islamabad's influence on Mulla Omar's Taliban in the past when they refused Pakistan's requests to deliver Osama bin Laden to the US, not to destroy the Buddhas in Bamiyan, expel wanted Pakistanis hiding in Afghanistan under Taliban refuge and not to misuse the facility of the Afghan Transit Trade. Even now there would be limits as to what Pakistan can do to persuade the Afghan Taliban to agree to reconciliation in Afghanistan. It seems Pakistan's influence over the Afghan Taliban and credibility with them eroded following its decision to assist the US in invading Afghanistan in 2001 and removing Mulla Omar from power.

Pakistan will have to be careful not to argue the cause of the Afghan Taliban to such an extent that it leads to the strengthening of the Pakistani Taliban, because the links between these two militant groups cannot be broken easily. It is ironic that the West is keen to promote reconciliation and political dialogue with the Afghan Taliban while insisting on the military defeat of the Pakistani Taliban.

Jan 25, 2010

Pakistan and parliamentary democracy

By Syed Fakhar Imam

The Parliament is the apex institution of representation and legitimacy. According to the 1973 Constitution, parliamentary government is one of the key elements defining the basic structure of the constitution. Federalism, fundamental rights, independence of judiciary, and the Islamic way of life are the other key components. Parliament is the ultimate custodian of the popular will.

Parliaments have had uncertain periods of existence in Pakistan. The fate of the first Constituent Assembly was sealed by Governor General Ghulam Mohammad’s act of dissolution. Though declared unconstitutional by the Sindh High Court, unfortunately in appeal by the government the federal court headed by Chief Justice Munir, upheld as legal and constitutional Ghulam Mohammad’s action of dissolution on technical grounds. The infamous judgment based on law of necessity became the bogey of Pakistani politics. Military interventions have hampered normal nurturing of democratic governance and a normal democratic political environment did not take root.

The inaugural session of the current parliament was addressed by President Asif Ali Zardari as was the first session of the second Parliamentary year. This address, which lays out the outline of the government’s policy for the Parliamentary year, is a constitutional requirement under article 56(3) of the constitution. By addressing the parliament President Zardari fulfilled his constitutional obligation.

In contrast General Pervez Musharraf as President failed to meet this constitutional requirement on three occasions. By not fulfilling this mandatory constitutional obligation he showed his contempt for Parliament. He was visibly upset during his first address to the Parliament’s inaugural session when the opposition heckled him during his address as had been the tradition in the past. But for a man not legitimately elected it was too much to face Members opposed to him.

Parliament is the major national forum for debating all important national issues that confront the nation and its people. One of the major issues facing the nation is the "war on terror". For the first time since 9/11 this Parliament discussed the national security in an "in camera session". The government through the heads of the security and intelligence services interacted with the parliamentarians on the sensitive security issues. It may be appropriate time now to hold a similar session for the Parliamentarians in the near future.

When such issues are debated and analysed, the parliamentarians inform the heads of the specialised institutions about the people’s feelings regarding appropriate corrective measures that need to be undertaken. This adds credibility to decision making and lends support and legitimacy to the process. Such parliamentary discussions give support to the armed forces in their action in the Malakand region, South Waziristan and other FATA areas.

This Parliament has the distinction of being able to discuss the defence budget. The government was able to persuade the armed forces command to give breakdown of the expenditure under different heads barring the secretive or sensitive areas in the two finance bills presented to the National Assembly in June 2008 and June 2009. For nearly 50 years the defence budget used to be presented in one line without giving any details.

Provincial autonomy has been a consistent demand of Balochistan and the other provinces. The federal government by introducing, debating and passing the Balochistan Package in the Parliament has taken big strides in assuaging many of the demands of the people. By arriving at an agreement on the National Finance Award, the provinces have been benefitted. Balochistan has been the biggest beneficiary followed by NWFP (Pukhtoonkhwa), by Sindh and by Punjab. This award is a feather in the cap of the federal government and the provincial governments.

Oversight is one of major functions of the Parliament. It will become the focus of major attraction if issues relating to the common man’s needs, such as sugar prices, energy shortages, food security, and national security, are considered by Parliament and its committees. The main task of Parliament is to secure full discussion and ventilation of all matters. When ministers explain and publicly justify their policies and actions, the Parliament becomes the custodian of the liberties of the people.

Parliamentary committees give the legislators the time and scope to discuss issues in depth in congenial atmosphere, with a greater possibility of consensus. The Constitutional Reforms Committee is reviewing powers such as dissolution of the National Assembly; appointments of services chiefs; appointment of governors; appointment of Chief Election Commissioner; and the renaming of the NWFP.

For the first time in Pakistan’s recent parliamentary history, the opposition leader in the National Assembly, Nisar Ali Khan, has been made chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Though worldwide a normal convention in parliamentary systems, in Pakistan it was not followed in the last six parliaments. The credit goes to the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians.

The PAC has scrutinised audit reports, holding the ministries and their attached departments to account. But many reports submitted by the Auditor General’s office to the PAC are a decade or more old. Examining them becomes a meaningless exercise as most of the responsible persons have either retired or some have even died. The pending audit reports should be disposed off expeditiously and the contemporary reports be taken up. This will make parliamentary oversight of the executive effective and meaningful. The PAC and the other parliamentary committees need to have better support by hiring experts and professionals.

Recently the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Education invited professors, teachers, and administrators to discuss the National Education Policy. The Committee Members and the Federal Minister for Education in this public hearing interacted with these experts and answered on how the goals set out in the policy can be attained. Other parliamentary committees should also hold public hearings as this adds value to overall decision making through such inputs by professionals and experts.

Under the constitution, the National Assembly is required to meet for a minimum of 130 days in a Parliamentary year. Two days of holidays between the working days are counted towards working days. In the last parliament (2002-2007) the National Assembly met on an average of 300 hours in a parliamentary year. In the UK, the House of Commons meets normally for a minimum of 1600 hours in a parliamentary year.

Hopefully this Parliament will show a greater desire to deal with national issues and people’s problems. One of the main ways to pursue this objective is to create an environment for the work ethic. Both the Parliament and the committees can meet more often to highlight national issues and ways and means to solve them.

The parliament may also consider setting up a committee on ethics, as the one in the US Senate, which looks into any alleged misconduct by the parliamentarians and the parliamentary staff.

Slowly but surely a parliamentary system seems to be evolving. We ought to be patient and understand that resorting to quick fix solutions has not served us well and plodding along and persevering with what is in place may serve our interests as a Nation more appropriately in the long term.

Going up in smoke?

By Dr Arif Azad

In a year-end review of 18-31 December issue, the weekly Guardian, surveying the state of tobacco industry’s profitability, revealed that while profit of big tobacco giants has fallen in Europe and countries where tobacco control law are strict, the tobacco industry has more than made up for these losses by making record profits from countries like Pakistan and Nigeria during the last decade.

This has come as a shocking revelation for public health officials and tobacco control advocates in Pakistan despite the common knowledge that cigarette smoking has been on the rise. The conclusion that Pakistan has become a fertile ground for tobacco industry’s operation is apparent from the report.

What makes this news more disturbing is the fact that this has come against the backdrop of a major international treaty aimed at curbing tobacco use being enforced worldwide. This treaty called Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) drafted under the aegis of World Health Organisation (WHO) was adopted by world health assembly in 2003. So far, 168 countries have signed up to this landmark treaty which places mandatory obligation upon all the parties to the treaty to incorporate the FCTC into domestic legislation to give teeth and international law force to domestic legislation on tobacco control. Also to present a unified stand against the powerful tobacco industry — which has sought to undermine all efforts at tobacco control over the years.

Like other countries, Pakistan ratified the FCTC on Novembers 3, 2004, binding herself into legal obligations enshrined in the framework convention. FCTC is a comprehensive convention which embraces full panoply of tobacco control measures which, if fully adhered to, can make a big dent in tobacco consumption worldwide. The act of ratification represented a major advance for tobacco control efforts for which the government of Pakistan deserves applause. Until now some significant advances have been made on advertising of tobacco which has gone some way in curbing the activities of tobacco industry. Yet one of the major provisions of FCTC regarding pictorial warnings on cigarette packs remains unimplemented due to the zig-zag game with deadlines.

Article 11 of FCTC requires the signatories to introduce pictorial health warnings on cigarette pack as a measure to reduce tobacco consumption. This single measure has been known to be highly effective in reducing consumption of tobacco in countries where it was introduced. One international study conducted by International Tobacco control project on the effectiveness of pictorial warnings in 19 countries in 2008 concluded that pictorial warning on cigarette packs were more effective than text-based warning in raising awareness of harmful effects of smoking and motivating smokers to quit.

These findings also lend support to additional guidelines on Article 11 which stipulates that at least 50 percent area of a cigarette pack should contain pictorial warning. In Pakistan, where literacy rate is abysmally low, pictorial warnings are the most effective weapon in the armoury of government’s tobacco control policy.

Pakistan made a significant leap forward on pictorial warning legislation when, on May 31, 2009 on World Health Day, the then Federal Minister for Health, Mir Aijaz Jakharani, announced the introduction of pictorial warnings on cigarette packs by January 1, 2010. This put Pakistan among the 30 countries which have undertaken to implement Article 11 of FCTC.

Some sections of the press headlined pictorial warning announcement as the landmark decision which earned Pakistan international kudos. Like all other announcements made amid much fanfare, this landmark announcement has yet to land six months down the road. Like elsewhere in the world, Pakistan tobacco industry, using its vast financial muscle, swung into action to torpedo the initiative ever since the announcement was made. This has resulted in the implementation of pictorial warning being serially delayed to newer deadlines.

Tobacco industry has also sought to reduce the size of pictorial warnings, a re-run of tactics employed in other countries in an effort to reduce the effect of pictorial warnings.

In October 2009, the ministry of health moved the January 1 deadline to February 2010. Now the press inquiry has established that the deadline has been extended to May 31, 2010. There is no official notification to this effect, nor any clues as to how this decision has been dropped. This has happened despite the issuance of statutory regulation order (SRO) for February 1, 2010. If the press reports are to be believed then tobacco industry has been given a whole year to comply with pictorial warning legislation. Countries like Chile and Venezuela managed to enforce pictorial warnings. The unwarranted delay in the implementation of pictorial warning legislation will further contribute to tobacco deaths, which is mounting by roughly about 300 annual deaths in Pakistan.

Article 5.3 of FCTC also binds signatory state to protect their health policies from commercial interest of tobacco industry. This places an added obligation on the government of Pakistan to stick to its February 1 deadline for the full implementation of pictorial warnings so that mounting pile of tobacco deaths could be reduced. It would be a great service to the people of Pakistan and a massive boost to public health policy goal. Parliamentarians and political parties have a major role to play in giving teeth to tobacco control policy by moving the government to stick to its February 2010 deadline for pictorial warning legislation.

For any tobacco control policy to be effective, FCTC would have to be implemented in letter and spirit. The new Federal Minister for Health, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, would be doing a great service to the nation by announcing the implementation of pictorial warnings and other provisions of FCTC within the timeline announced. This singular act would go a long way in reducing the mortality rate due to tobacco use and give a definite shape and direction to the tobacco control policy.

Man to machine

It requires political will to bring in technology that minimises the role of government officials in a department

By Nazakat Hussain

Tax collecting government departments are missing targets, compelling the government to get loans on terms that have never been seen as favourable by our businessmen. While it is often said that ‘holy cows’ must be taxed to get the country out of this situation, the commitment to bring the influential into the tax net has so far been confined to political statements. No government seems ready to pocket the cost. There is a need to streamline the existing taxpayers’ base.

Improving the working of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), to broaden the tax net, is considered an important task. However, those who are close to developments say that it only requires the political will to bring in the technology that minimises the role of clerks, tax inspectors, and evaluators known as appraisers. Machines can make a difference in this regard by making the tasks performed by human beings transparent and easy.

The term "automation" was coined in 1946 in the US but it is unfortunate that we have yet to fully understand the benefits of automation. Some government officials do understand the benefits of reducing human involvement in tax collection. Chairman FBR, Sohail Ahmed, recently said in an interview that automation is the key to success.

Nevertheless, the problem is that change is always resisted; people working in an environment since years do not accept it. We must remember that before the advent of automobiles, cart-making was a leading industry. Those who resisted new development at that time were doing a great disservice to society. Similarly, the mighty Ottomans resisted many new inventions. They described printing press as a satanic machine. What followed is history.

We need to understand that the future of our generations cannot be compromised because some elements resist positive changes. Information technology has replaced manual procedures and has boosted efficiency, transparency and save time of government departments as well as those who approach them.

Information technology has brought a revolution in many state-run departments and private businesses but many departments are still not ready to fully automate their working. That is a hurdle in the way of development. Transforming old and rigid manual systems needs great changes in managements’ mindset too.

Over the years, labour leaders, business executives, government officials, etc, have explained merits of automation. The biggest question focuses on how automation affects employment. There are other important aspects of automation, including its effect on productivity, economic competition, education, and quality of life.

In Pakistan, Customs Computerised System (PaCCS) was introduced in 2005 as part of the FBR’s modernisation programme. The system was designed under CARe while a consortium of three software companies Microsoft, Agility and AOS, developed the software. World Bank’s tendering process was duly involved.

After experimental implementation, PaCCS assisted government in enhancing trade revenues while maintaining controls and facilitating trade. It provided benefits to the customs in terms of efficiency and customer service. Significant reduction in clearance time was noticed and appreciated. This marvelous system also negated the role of intermediaries, eradicated corruption, and saved time.

In spite of proven success, the software was not allowed to be installed across the country, as those responsible for the task have remained undecided about it, which is not only reducing revenues but is also sending wrong signals to foreign investors.

The FBR staff has recommended hundreds of modifications in the state-of-the-art software. It must be noted that this software is being experienced successfully in dozens of countries without any modification. An official of the FBR says on the condition of anonymity, "It is difficult to bring in new concepts because of resistance by some staff members." The official is all praise for PaCCS that provides a paperless web enabled environment for submitting goods declaration and self-assessment of the Customs dues. This integrated customs risk management system which operates 24 hours a day is online with all domestic regulatory authorities and stakeholders.

During a recent seminar, President Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Zahid Maqbool, said that modernising the customs department would help attract foreign direct investment. He said inefficiency has imposed a hidden tax on traders. In addition, he stresses the need to create awareness among businessmen because currently PaCCS has only 30,000 users. "PaCCS has enabled importers and exporters to file declarations to customs over the web from their offices, pay their duties on taxes at their nearest local national bank and clear cargo without ever having to visit any customs office or coming in contact with any officer," he added.

Dr. Murtaza Mughal, President of Pakistan Economy Watch, a non-government watchdog, is of the view that automated operations are resisted under the pretext that it will have a negative effect on the present system.

Giving his expert opinion, Ashir Azeem, team leader of PaCCS says, "There is a need for creating a dynamic system." He believes conceptualisation as well as implementation of the software is the need of the hour in this age of cut-throat competition. "Pakistan cannot afford to further fall down on the graph of global trade," he says. Explaining the various benefits that government, economy, and traders receive from this system, he says that it is imperative to install it across the country.

"The main reason for delay in recognising new technologies is the element of corruption. We are living in an environment where some government officials expect ‘gifts’ from others. This practice must be brought to an end to provide an enabling environment," says a government official who does not want to be identified.

The government should come up with a clear policy on drone attacks

By Mazhar Khan Jadoon

President Asif Ali Zardari, during a meeting with American pointman on Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke on January 15, said drone attacks should be stopped. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, talking to a delegation of US senators headed by John McCain, said drone attacks should stop immediately. Parliament's Special Committee on National Security demanded on January 14 the United States should immediately stop drone attacks inside Pakistan. Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar said the ongoing drone attacks inside Pakistan should stop because these attacks are denting the war on terror. Pakistan Foreign Office has repeatedly protested these attacks as "they are an infringement of its sovereignty and caused hundreds of civilian deaths, including women and children, which has further angered the Pakistani people". Pakistani politicians - both on treasury and opposition benches - are united in their stand that drones must stop killing innocent Pakistanis.

Even American anti-war activists, who rallied near CIA Headquarters in Virginia on January 17, protested against US drone attacks inside Pakistan.

Despite all this hullaballoo, these strikes have picked up momentum instead of coming to a halt. The US should take the Pakistani concerns and protests seriously, otherwise the snowballing anti-Americanism may win more recruits for al-Qaeda and its narrative. A fact reported by Western media and acknowledged by many Pakistani analysts is that US military and Pakistani authorities are in agreement over these strikes. Pakistani officials and politicians are just trying to appease the angry masses by publicly condemning and secretly supporting these strikes.

Defence experts say it is hard to believe that drones keep killing people without the consent of Pakistani government keeping in view the fact that Pakistani forces have the capability to shoot down drones. Can the rulers allow Indian drones to hit targets inside Pakistan? a question arises. Definitely not because they have no such understanding with India. The government should stop fooling the people and come up with a clear policy of either publicly supporting or effectively stopping these strikes.

British newspaper The Time stated on February 18, 2009 that the CIA was using Shamsi Airfield, 190 miles southwest of Quetta and 30 miles from the Afghan border, as its base for drone operations. The paper said "the planes can be seen flying from the base. The area around the base is a high-security zone and no one is allowed there".

According to The Daily Telegraph, Pakistani authorities have agreed to secretly provide information to the United States on Mehsud's and his militants' whereabouts while publicly the Pakistani government will continue to condemn the attacks. According to Pakistani authorities, from January 14, 2006 to April 8, 2009, 60 US strikes had killed 701 people, of which 14 were Al-Qaeda militants and 687 innocent civilians.

Defense analysts think that Americans would try to provide some relief to Pakistan but they would not change their policy about the drone attacks. The US must stop the drone attacks, but it is not clear if the Pakistani government is really interested in pursuing an end to drone attacks, they added.

Once in the White House, Barack Obama has authorised the continuation of these strikes. Top US officials consider these strikes very successful and believe that the senior al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership has been decimated by these strikes. A list of the high-ranking victims of the drones was provided to Pakistan in 2009. Obama was reported in March 2009 as considering expanding these strikes to Balochistan.

US officials stated in March 2009 that the Predator strikes had killed nine of al-Qaeda's 20 top commanders. The officials added that many top Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders, as a result of the strikes, had fled to Quetta or even further to Karachi.

Some US politicians have condemned the drone strikes. US Congressman Dennis Kucinichi asserted that the United States was violating international law by carrying out strikes against a country that never attacked the United States.

US military claims al-Qaeda is being slowly and systematically routed because of these drone attacks. The US thinks these drone attacks have frightened and confused the militants groups and have pitched them against each other.

Speaking at a news conference in Islamabad on January 7, 2010, Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberaman stated the drone attacks were effective and would continue. The US senators admitted that though there existed no agreement between Pakistan and the US regarding drone attacks inside Pakistan's territory, yet drones would continue to operate.

Washington is also pushing Islamabad to start military action against the Haqqani network and their tribal allies in North Waziristan - a demand unlikely to be met as the Pakistani forces have been stretched thin on Western borders fighting terrorists and on eastern border warding off Indian forces. It is time the US stopped directing Pakistan and started listening to it if it really wants to wriggle out of the mess it has created in Afghanistan and tribal areas of Pakistan.

Where will water come from?

By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

The country is on the verge of drought. Winter has come and virtually gone but winter rains appear to have deserted us. Crops are suffering, the cities are covered in a layer of dust and experts are making dire predictions about the summer to come. The once preposterous notion that the world – Pakistan included – will eventually be ripped apart by wars over water doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.

Despite the impending water crisis (even if it is averted this year, it is a matter of time), most of us do not appear to be changing our habits. Those who have lawns continue to use water lavishly to maintain them; those who have cars use buckets of water everyday to clean them; the list could go on. There are two possible explanations for the apparent lack of concern: first, we simply do not understand the extent and nature of the problem, and second, we do not care. These two explanations are not mutually exclusive by any means and are captured together in the fairly typical reflection amongst the high elite about ordinary peoples’ lack of ‘civic sense’.

As a general rule, it is true that the concept of the ‘public commons’ simply does not resonate widely in post-colonial societies such as ours. In other words, resources that are supposed to be available to all citizens and maintained by the state are, in fact, almost completely captured by private interests. The scholarly consensus is that the absence of shared attitudes towards public goods is rooted in the history of the colonial state and the transfer of the colonial state apparatus to parasitic elite following the end of foreign rule.

The colonial state was an extremely contradictory beast. On the one hand, Europeans insisted that they were the harbingers of civilization to the uncultured hordes that they had conquered. They built formal legal institutions and apparently impersonal bureaucracies. But in practice, the state discriminated openly against the natives and established a system in which personal patronage was the operative principle. When the colonizers departed the local elite that they had created took over and in many cases dispensed with even the pretense of impartiality and fair play.

Over time, ordinary Ugandans, Haitians, Indonesians and Pakistanis alike have imbibed the cynicism of their paternalistic elites. Outside every big mansion in Defence are piles and piles of garbage; electricity theft is greatest in affluent neighbourhoods; and the biggest culprits when it comes to wasting water are the rich and famous who are fully aware of the impending crisis yet choose to do nothing about it (and in fact continue to fritter away water and other resources in virtually criminal fashion to sustain their ostentatious lifestyles).

The poor are not blameless because they are not unthinking idiots who simply ape the elite. It is important to acknowledge that those who generally need public resources the most are willing participants in their pillaging. And it must be a fundamental objective of a politics of the poor to forge a new kind of agency that is conscious and self-critical. But regardless of whether such a politics can be fashioned, there can be no doubt about who is primarily responsible for the lack of ‘civic sense’ that prevails in our societies.

All of this is important because the typical refrain that the government is responsible for the mess and should fix it is greatly misleading if taken out of context. So, for example, when one talks about the American Empire, one is not talking only about those who rule the United States but the entire behemoth that is American society and economy. The American government does what it does to sustain the lifestyles of Americans (there are serious inequalities within the US which means that imperialism primarily benefits the rich).

Similarly, while the mindless Punjab-bashing of some ethno-nationalists in Pakistan is unacceptable, it is impossible to deny that even Punjab’s workers and peasants are generally more affluent than their counterparts in the weak and oppressed provinces. All Punjabis are not oppressive but those within Punjab who are not exploiters are given a (small) share of the benefits garnered by the (predominantly Punjabi) establishment so as to keep status quo intact. It is thus crucial for workers and peasants in Punjab, just as it is for ordinary people in the United States, to distinguish themselves from ruling classes by not only expressing solidarity with oppressed nations but, especially in the case of Americans, willingly giving up some of their many material comforts.

The water crisis demands action from everyone, even though the onus must be on the elite to lead the way. If it does not – and frankly I do not harbour great hopes – then it should stop its hypocritical drawing-room hyperbole about the lack of ‘civic sense’ amongst the ‘common hordes’. Sadly it is more than likely that the elite continues to live unsustainably – aping its mentors in the industrialized countries – and then jumps ship when things reach boiling point.

As for the poor, it is important to bear in mind that a balance had existed between natural resources and ordinary people’s use of them for centuries before the onset of capitalism and a global commodity market. Locked into the system, poor people are party to an unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, including water. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) funded by western governments have been providing ‘training’ to the poor for years to try and undo the poverty-environment nexus. But dare I say these NGOs and the interests that they knowingly or unknowingly represent are themselves party to the problem.

Unfortunately, it may take a meltdown to forge a new social consensus (and probably an entirely new social contract) and with it a new development paradigm in which every social agent consciously protects the rights not only of people but also the environment which sustains us. I know who I will blame if this meltdown comes about but I also know that only playing the blame game will not get us anywhere. As is the case for virtually all the other problems we face today, we need a new politics to avert a war over water.

Jan 21, 2010

To Al Qaeda

Farooq Sulehria

Hi! Honestly, I wasn’t surprised at Der Spiegel’s recent report that between 2004 and 2008 your members killed eight times more Muslims than non-Muslims. During this period, "Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for 313 attacks resulting in the deaths of 3,010 people," the German newspaper said in the report.

These attacks also included terrorist incidents in Madrid (2004) and London (2005). Of the casualties only 371 (12 percent) were Westerners.

In fact, such report should not surprise anyone. In Iraq, for instance, the number of Iraqis killed by your suicide bombers far exceeded the number of body bags dispatched to the United States. And these Iraqis were not merely collateral damage. They were targeted victims of a well-thought-out campaign because they were Shia Muslims. It does not imply that your members show any mercy for Sunnis. Your innovative leadership has a fatwa ready even to justify children’s deaths. That is, only when it is not the leaders’ own children.

Your Amir, Osama bin Laden, has fathered almost two dozen children. None of them exploded himself. Similarly, his bloodthirsty Egyptian lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has not found it necessary to prematurely dispatch his own offspring to paradise by way of suicide bombings. As for al-Zawahiri himself, while he is eager to inflict grisly violence on others, he broke down under police torture in an Egyptian dungeon and revealed the names of his comrades. I know that many activists subjected to torture applied by sadistic cops will break. Only a few committed souls like Pakistani student leader Hassan Nasir prefer death to betraying their comrades under torture.

But your leadership’s hypocrisy is not incidental. It is ideological and institutional. Here I will not detail the bankruptcy of your violent methods. It is not just history that teaches us that liberation from imperialism is never achieved through terrorism. Contemporary Latin America, from Cuba to Venezuela, illustrates that it takes mass political and economic revolutions to send the Yankees home.

It is not merely your clandestine, secretive methods that necessitate your elitist approach, which has nothing to do with the masses. The poor never appear on your horizon because of the petrodollars lavishly funding your costly secret war. It is in the interest (and on behalf) of filthy-rich banking sheikhs and merchants that your leadership wants to secure Arab lands and Arab oil. All the talk of Arabs or the Muslim world is an attempt to cloak you in sacred robes. The bin Laden family has greatly benefited from the Saudi system based on tribal nepotism and cheap labour from South Asia or North Africa, employed to accomplish construction wonders in the desolate desert.

It was exactly the kind of corruption Osama bin Laden blames these days on the Saudi royal family which enabled his father, from a Yemeni mason, to become a Saudi construction tycoon. It is therefore no surprise that Osama bin Laden’s objective of pulling down the coercive Saudi system is legitimised in the name of the Sharia, and not its replacement by one guaranteeing democracy, human rights, trade union rights, and above all, equal rights. These are the causes the masses have been fighting for across the Muslim world. Osama bin Laden’s dispute with the children of Saud is their bond with US capital. Through your fedayeen, he wants to secure Arab lands exclusively for Arab capital.

I am writing this not in the hope of changing your mind and methods. Through these lines, I only want you to know that more and more people in the Muslim world now understand that you are killing Muslims in the name of Muslims to secure Arab markets for petrodollars.

Dead or alive?

Charles Ferndale

On 10th Jan 10, BBC 2 aired a program dealing with the question of whether or not Osama bin Laden is dead or alive. During an hour long program many views were aired, all of which failed to answer the question conclusively. This should surprise no one, because, as in any murder investigation, the only conclusive proof that someone is dead is the discovery of the person’s body. If Osama bin Laden is dead, it is most unlikely that his body will ever be found and, until it is, we can only argue on the basis of probabilities. And the balance of probabilities strongly favours the hypothesis that he is dead and has been dead for a very long time, probably since December 2001

I shall not discuss here all the arguments for and against his probable death. These are discussed lucidly and with cautious honesty by David Ray Griffin in his book Osama bin Laden--Dead or Alive?

I shall concern myself here with only one argument which, so far, no one seems to have considered.

US intelligence officials base the claim that Bin Laden was at the caves of Tora Bora in December 2001 on intercepted mobile phone conversations emanating from that region. Ever since the bombing of the Tora Bora caves, Osama bin Laden’s voice has never again been heard from a source that can be trusted. According to Robert Bauer, an ex-member of the CIA, at least half of the US intelligence community concerned with this issue believe Osama was killed during the bombing at Tora Bora. I suspect the percentage is higher. My argument is simple: if he was in the Tora Bora complex when it was bombed in December 2001, then he certainly died during that bombing, because nothing living could have survived it. Here are my reasons.

The weapon of choice when bombing a cave and mountain tunnel complex like that at Tora Bora is what is called a thermobaric bomb. Thermobaric bombs come in different sizes, but the largest are described as the most destructive non-nuclear bombs in existence. They are also known as air burst bombs, because they usually explode just above ground level. The British and Americans have them and have used them in Afghanistan. Here is Wikipedia’s account of how they work. I have quoted each statement accurately, but have edited the text to make it more concise.

"Thermobaric explosives represent the deliberate application of the principle underlying the vapour cloud explosions and dust explosions that occasionally occur by accident in a variety of industries. Such explosions are the consequence of the rapid burning of a finely dispersed fuel suspended in air in a confined space. Like all explosives, a chemical reaction is utilized to produce a huge amount of superheated gas, which almost instantaneously superheats the surrounding air and thus produces a rapidly-expanding high-temperature pressure wave (called a "blast wave") which does damage. A typical thermobaric weapon consists of a container packed with a fuel substance, in the centre of which is a small conventional-explosive "scatter charge". When a typical thermobaric weapon is detonated, the explosive charge (or some other dispersal mechanism) bursts the container and disperses the fuel in a cloud, the fuel mixes with the air, and the resultant mixture is ignited. Some weapons use separate charges to disperse the fuel and to ignite the fuel. Other designs use a stronger casing, which contains the dispersal explosion long enough to heat the fuel above its auto-ignition temperature. The dispersing fuel particles ignite spontaneously when they thereafter come into contact with oxygen in the air. In either case, the more thoroughly dispersed the fuel is, the faster the fuel can burn and the more rapid (and thus powerful) the explosion will be. In confined spaces, the availability of oxygen is limited, which further extends the pulse of the detonation. Furthermore the confined explosion generates a series of reflective shock waves, which maintain the hot environment (fireball) and permit extended combustion. This further-delayed combustion process produces the pressure wave over a significantly longer time duration (10–50 msec), which is generally referred to as after-burning or late-time impulse. Furthermore, when the super-heated gas inside the fireball cools the pressure drops sharply. This causes a partial vacuum, which can be powerful enough to cause physical damage to people and structures. A thermobaric explosion in a confined area such as a tunnel often creates an asphyxiation effect, when the fireball consumes all available oxygen and prevents fresh oxygen from reaching interior spaces for a time. If the walls of the confinement are strong, such as with defensive bunkers and tunnel systems, the over-pressure is contained and the blast effect is prolonged and channelled rather than dispersing evenly through the atmosphere. This can create a piston-type afterburn reaction in enclosed structures, with the flame-front progressing rapidly through the system "seeking" fresh oxygen."

So thermobaric bombs are especially effective in mountain caves and tunnels systems. They will work if dropped outside the entrances to tunnels and can also be launched into tunnel structures. They destroy living creatures (and inert structures) through their incredibly rapid and powerful high pressure shockwaves (travelling 2 miles a second), their high temperature wave fronts (reaching over 2482-2982 degrees centigrade), the vacuum they create (which itself destroys living creatures and structures) and by asphyxiation (because the explosion has consumed all the oxygen in the air). Their destructive effect is so great that they can, depending upon their size, destroy all life within a 600 metre radius of their use. The airplanes that drop the larger versions must remain at least 6000 metres away from the blast, lest they be damaged by the blast. Before December 2001, Tora Bora was an area rich in wildlife. It was, for example, home to huge flocks of the beautiful partridge, the chukor, native to that region. After December 2001, nothing could be found alive there; not even beetles and lizards. So either Osama bin Laden was not in those caves and tunnels in December 2001, or, if he was, then he was killed then and there.

So strong are the arguments in favour of the hypothesis that Osama bin Laden is dead, that we should ask why Hilary Clinton, General Stanley McChrystal and President Barrack Obama still talk about the need to search for him in Pakistan and to capture him. Since the onus is now firmly upon anyone claiming that Bin Laden is alive to give us good reasons to believe it, and since no one who makes that claim ever offers such reasons, and since it is not credible that the officials I have just mentioned do not know that Bin Laden is almost certainly dead, we are forced to conclude that they are using Bin Laden’s supposed existence as one of the four major fictions designed to justify their interventions in the Af-Pak region.

The other three cynical fictions are (i) that there is an organised group of insurgents in Pakistan that justifies the tile ‘Al Qaeda’ and that can be disrupted and dismantled’ (Obama’s words), and (ii) that this organisation poses a serious threat to the security of Western nations, and (iii) that the actions of NATO forces in Afghanistan at present substantially increase the safety of non-combatant citizens in the public areas of Western countries whose troops are involved in killing Afghans at America’s behest.

‘Our commitment to Pakistan’

Robert M Gates

Nearly 25 years ago, in 1986, I arrived in Islamabad for my first visit to Pakistan to meet with this country’s military leaders and see firsthand the training of the Afghan resistance along the border. At the time, our two countries were working together in unprecedented ways to combat a common foe. As part of this effort, our militaries went to school together; our intelligence services shared insights; and our leaders consulted each other on strategic issues. The long-standing friendship was based on a great sense of mutual commitment, purpose, and benefit.

I was still in government in the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union left the region and the US largely abandoned Afghanistan and cut off defense ties with Pakistan – a grave mistake driven by some well-intentioned but short-sighted US legislative and policy decisions.

Thankfully, times have changed. Even so, much is still made in the media of a "trust deficit" between our nations. As I meet with Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders during my visit, I will emphasize that the United States wishes to relinquish the grievances of the past – grievances held by both sides – and instead focus on the promise of the future. I will repeat President Obama’s message that the United States is fully committed to a stable, long-term, strategic partnership with a democratic Pakistan – an enduring relationship based on shared interests and mutual respect that will continue to expand and deepen in the future on many levels, from security cooperation to economic development.

Today, Pakistan and the United States are allied against a common threat. As the people of Pakistan are all too aware, violent extremists attack innocent civilians, government and religious institutions, and security forces – all in an effort to undermine this country and its culture. The tremendous sacrifice of so many Pakistani troops – nearly 2,000 in the last three years – speaks to both their courage and their commitment to protect their fellow citizens. It also speaks to the magnitude of the security challenges this country faces – and need to for our two nations to muster the resolve to eliminate lawless regions and bring this conflict to an end.

The United States and the rest of the international community understand the gravity of the situation and applaud Pakistan’s drive to restore peace to all parts of the nation. To this end, the United States has increased efforts to help the Pakistani military develop the capabilities – and acquire the equipment – necessary to deal with a threat of this size and complexity. This effort includes revitalizing our military exchanges, education, and training programs. With all of our military-to-military relations, the guiding principle for the United States is doing whatever we can to help Pakistan protect its own sovereignty and destroy those who promote the use of terror in this country and plan attacks abroad. At the same time, the US recognizes that military aid alone will not help Pakistan solve the problem of violent extremism, and has, accordingly, expanded civilian assistance to invest in the potential of the Pakistani people.

I know there is concern that an increased US presence in Afghanistan will lead to more attacks in Pakistan. It is important to remember that the Pakistani Taliban operates in collusion with both the Taliban in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda, so it is impossible to separate these groups. If history is any indication, safe havens for either Taliban, on either side of the border, will in the long-run lead to more lethal and more brazen attacks in both nations – attacks of the kind that have already exacted a terrible civilian toll. Maintaining a distinction between some violent extremist groups and others is counterproductive: Only by pressuring all of these groups on both sides of the border will Afghanistan and Pakistan be able to rid themselves of this scourge for good – to destroy those who promote the use of terror here and abroad.

Even as our countries deal with the great challenge along the border, the United States recognizes Pakistan’s important regional and global leadership role – especially on matters like combating piracy and illicit narcotics trafficking, two areas where Pakistan has already made valuable contributions. One of the chief reasons for my visit is to develop a broader strategic dialogue – on the link between Afghanistan’s stability and Pakistan’s; stability in the broader region; the threat of extremism in Asia; efforts to reduce illicit drugs and their damaging global impact; and the importance of maritime security and cooperation. In all of this, Pakistan can play a central part in maintaining good relations among all countries in Asia – a precondition for security in this part of the world.

My visit comes at a critical time for the region. Many challenges remain, but I believe there is reason for hope and optimism. With common goals and collaboration on a range of issues, a new generation of Pakistanis and Americans is learning what it means to be long-term allies, partners, and friends – united in an effort to renew and strengthen the bonds of trust between our nations.

Jan 18, 2010

A matter of perception

The US and Pakistan governments should work together to deal with a situation arising out of anti-US sentiments

By Waqar Gillani

In certain sections of Pakistani society anti-Americanism seems to be rising. The feeling of hatred for the US exists historically in the country because of certain factors. More recently, a fresh debate has started on the US role in the region, especially after the controversial US aid coming into Pakistan in the form of Kerry-Lugar Act. The aid package was approved by the US Senate in September last year and signed as law by President Barack Obama in mid October.

The US and Pakistan governments should work together diplomatically and politically to deal with a situation coming out from anti-US sentiments. That can be done with employing good-governance to stop the silent majority of the country from seeing the aid as something bad for Pakistan.

The coming years seem to be tough for the US in this region. One way out of this situation is to ensure that affected people get the benefits of welfare projects. Certain religio-political elements, who do not see the Kerry-Lugar Act as something helpful for Pakistan, have taken to the streets with their usual "Go America go" slogans. For many, this situation has been created to make a political statement. Americans' official vehicles were stopped at various check points on the main roads in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore, which is an ordinary thing but the issue was highlighted in the press, creating ambiguities.

The Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank, has also recently produced a survey indicating that Pakistan is likely to become a more Islamist state and increasingly anti-American in the coming years. "Rather than an Islamist takeover, you should look at a subtle power shift from a secular pro-Western society to an Islamist anti-American one," said Jonathan Paris, who produced the report.

There are multiple factors of this rising anti-Americanism in Pakistan. This is intentional and also unintentional. Many people, unintentionally seeing the history of US policies in Pakistan and in this region, believe that US is doing wrong. They also believe that the culture of both nations is different. They agree with democracy and constitutionalism of US but not their culture. And this is also because of the US itself. US policies have worked to make people hate them.

Still, the US role in helping thousands of people affected by the earthquake of 2005 is appreciated. There were many US camps in Pakistani Administered Kashmir, which provided relief to the quake-hit victims. The US can develop goodwill with the people at the grassroots level by contacting them at the local level.

To some, the anti-US propaganda is deliberate. They believe that the US is not playing a constructive role in Afghanistan. They think that the US is not serious in helping Pakistan and India resolve the Kashmir issue, etc. These are the fears that emanate from the past.

Iran is another example. When in 1970s, the US issued more than 8,000 diplomatic passports to his citizens that created a serious problem. Such things started creating misperceptions in the Iranian society. In Pakistan, political discourse is dominantly religious. Vernacular media (Urdu media) and the political forces in the opposition also fan anti-American sentiments to gain political benefits.

In this situation, the growing anti-Americanism in the country and expanding American infrastructure, in the form of expanding embassy and consulates and bringing more staff for streamlining the Kerry-Lugar aid would be giving a tough time to the US policymakers in the coming few years.

If the situation remains the same, there is a possibility of rising misunderstandings between the two societies. The US will have to play a positive role. The government of Pakistan, which is at the receiving end, needs to deliver the goods to generate goodwill. Otherwise, the trust deficit between the people of Pakistan and the US will continue to increase. Ultimately, it will also be very difficult for the Pakistan government to not standby with the people. A strong commitment on the part of the two governments is required to deliver to the people so that the conflict is resolved.

There seems to be no strategy in place to deal with this issue through a discourse. The spending of billions of US dollars will make a difference only if it addresses the problems of the common people. A lot will depend on how this aid is spent. There is a need for preparing a comprehensive strategy to deliver the goods with good governance and administration by the government of Pakistan. Have the US and Pakistan governments prepared a system for proper utilisation of the aid? That is a serious question.