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NATIONAL NEWS

Interpol help to be sought for militant’s repatriation

By Iftikhar A Khan

ISLAMABAD, Feb 23: The government will soon approach Interpol to seek repatriation of senior commander of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, now under detention in Afghanistan.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters here on Saturday that Maulvi Faqir was involved in a series of terror attacks in the country. The government wanted his deportation from Afghanistan so that legal action could be initiated against him, he added.
The minister claimed that the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ), which has claimed responsibility for recent sectarian carnage in Quetta, had safe havens in Punjab, and asked the provincial government to act against the banned outfit.
To a question about the Taliban’s talks offer, Mr Malik said they should lay down their arms to demonstrate seriousness.
About deteriorating law and order situation in parts of the country, he said provincial governments were primarily responsible for maintaining law and order because it had become a provincial subject after the adoption of 18th Amendment.
Praising intelligence apparatus for providing ‘timely, complete and correct information’ about terrorist activities, he expressed the hope that such information would help eliminate the scourge of terrorism.
Malik Tahseen Raza adds from Muzaffargarh: Talking to the media in a wedding ceremony, the minister said he would order the FIA to take action against the LJ if the Punjab government failed to so.
He wondered ‘why the Punjab government is not conducting an operation against sectarian outfits’.
He said there were two factions of the LJ, one led by Malik Ishaq and the other called Ludhyanvi group.
He said he had been advising the provinces for the last five years to keep watch on banned organisations and launch operations against them.
On a query put by a Shia leader about the perceived law enforcement negligence in the recent Quetta blasts, he said intelligence agencies had informed the Balochistan government and the Frontier Corps about the possibility of the attacks.
He said he was happy to read media reports quoting LJ leader Malik Ishaq as saying that his arrest was caused by a statement issued by him (Rehman Malik).
The minister had come to Muzaffargarh to attend the wedding of PPP MPA Irshad Ahmad Sial’s brother Abu Bakar.

Commission report on loan write-offs: Banks shy of identifying politicians, generals

By Nasir Iqbal

ISLAMABAD, Feb 23: A commission set up to probe bank loan write-offs from 1971 to 2009 has given a clean chit to politicians and civil or military bureaucrats.
In a report spread over three volumes and 2,200 pages, the commission put the amount of waived loans over the past four decades at Rs87 billion, including Rs84.621bn from 1992 to 2009 and Rs2.3bn from 1971 to 1991.
On Feb 20, the Supreme Court had ordered making public the report prepared by a former SC judge, Syed Jamshed Ali Shah, who headed the three-man commission.The court had initiated a suo motu proceeding on press reports that the central bank quietly allowed commercial banks to write off non-performing loans (NPLs) under a scheme introduced by former president Pervez Musharraf.
Soon after the 2002 elections, finance minister Shaukat Aziz and his financial team approved the scheme and subsequently the State Bank of Pakistan issued a circular.
Instead of launching an effective campaign for the recovery of NPLs, the SBP issued an incentive scheme to banks/DFIs (development finance institutions) in Oct 2002 for waiving loans of the organisations showing a ‘loss’ for three years.In its report, the commission presumed that the SBP circular is a valid piece of subordinate legislation till such time the apex court declared it otherwise.
Politicians restructure loans: The commission said it examined 740 cases, but despite its best efforts the banks and DFIs did not provide information on loans sanctioned or written-off on “other than business considerations”. Either the bankers are afraid of politicians as well as civil and military bureaucracy or are privy to sanctioning of loans or factually the quantum of such loans is not high.
It said of the 740 cases, a comparatively small number was directly related to well-known politicians and civil or military bureaucrats. Although there are some prominent names here and there who availed write-off concessions, the number and quantum is not large enough.
Mainly because, the report justified, written-off loans leave a politician defaulter and can lead to his disqualification under Article 63 of the Constitution, they do avail loans but prefer to have them restructured. Thus the cycle goes on and on.
In case of waiving relating to politician’s friends or supporters, the influential groups did exert pressure on the banks, but there is no direct evidence or it might have been destroyed at the very initial stage.
The report said bankers verbally admitted that influential groups interfered with at the “sanction” stage or write-off stage of the loans in case of NCBs (nationalised commercial banks).The bankers reported informally that shrewd influential persons or businessmen actually do not avail the facility of larger write-offs. They get their loans restructured (without write-offs) and with that arrangement chunks of interest are capitalised and made a part of principal loans and the cycle continues. They, therefore, never become defaulters.
Therefore it is very difficult to separate between politically influenced waiving off or on valid business reasons.
The report said although there is no tangible evidence on the files, it is implied that politically-influenced loans are initiated “top down” through verbal orders. Most of the loans processed bottom up in all probability are genuine or for bona fide business considerations since the culture of favouritism in the banking sector mostly is confined to providing jobs.
Past and closed transaction: It said the bankers, technocrats and the governments are of the considered opinion that the process of loan recovery in Pakistan is very slow. Besides, the chronic loan defaulting concerns can never pay back unless given some concessions to revive them.
The governments/SBP/banks and technocrats strongly believe that the written-off loans may be treated as past and closed transactions and instead of looking backwards, better laws be put in place so that in future the write-off takes place through courts. In this way the banks and regulator will not resort to summary incentive schemes to remove NPLs from their books, the report suggested.
The SBP has already submitted before the apex court that write-off is a normal routine in banks throughout the world and also cited the examples of Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea.
Independent SBP governor: The commission suggested that the SBP governor should be appointed on the recommendation of a representative parliamentary committee for a fixed and guaranteed tenure as available to the auditor general.
It said the SBP governor should act independently because the central bank enjoys wide and sweeping control over all banking institutions/DFIs in public and private sectors on monetary policy and long-term interests of country’s economy. The commission acknowledged that politicians tend to interfere with the central bank everywhere.It said the single most important reform in the banking sector is efficient and timely recovery of a bad loan because delay in recovery devalues the capital or its cost, pushes up the cost of credit and squeezes the return of shareholders and depositors.
The report suggested upgradation of banking courts since slower speed in deciding cases adversely affected their efficacy. The loans have to be visualised as depositor’s money and unless the recovery is put on fast track, the governments/SBP would be constrained to find shortcuts that sow seeds of favouritism or controversy.
Similarly, the liquidation process would succeed smoothly if the mortgaged property returns to the bank. Therefore it should be provided in the loan agreement that if the borrower fails to pay dues within six months after default and a restructuring arrangement could not be reached the mortgaged property would belong to the bank. Thus, an element of ownership will make it comparatively easier for the bank to sell it and for a prospective buyer to purchase it after a bid, the report said.
The commission suggested that the banks/DFIs badly needed to upgrade their systems, procedures and practices since the malaise of inefficiency, culpable delays and disorganised or missing inventory of record is too glaring. Firm policies and procedures, more training, better monitoring, third-party validation and an improved system of punishments and rewards will be helpful. Besides, the accounting systems be made uniform across the banks/DFIs as well as the protection of loan files and crucial data and its availability as and when required is equally important.
The commission has recommended proceedings for recovery of over Rs324 million from Abbas Engineering (Pvt) Ltd.
Habib Bank Ltd had waived in 2005 the loan due against directors of the company Riaz Laljee, Mrs Nazneen Laljee, M. Suleman Lakhani, Anjum Naseem, Syed Irfan Ahmed Meer and Imran Azim.
The commission recommended proceedings for recovery of over Rs224m from Abbas Steel Industries whose directors include Riaz Laljee, Mrs Nazneen Laljee and Amin Laljee. It also recommended action against the provisional credit committee by the SBP.
Referring to Global Marketing (Pvt) Ltd which got Rs1.07bn waived in 2003, the commission does not consider it a fit case for reopening in view of criminal and civil proceedings involved. The company’s directors include Fauzi Ali Kazmi, Rehana Kazmi, Tariq Omar and Raza Ali Kasmi.
The commission did not proceed against former provincial chief of HBL Younus Habib who waived off Rs2.47bn because the NAB has already settled the case and payments have been made albeit slowly but are to be completed till August 2014.
The commission suggested further proceedings for recovery of Rs1.56bn loan from Mercury Garments and action against the central executive committee of HBL. The company’s directors include Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Razi, Badaruzzaman, Mohammad Sualeh and Jawaad Sultan.
The commission recommended recovery of Rs571.3m from Service Fabrics. Its directors are Farooq Hameed, Mrs Uzma Hameed and Ijaz Hameed.
It recommended recovery of Rs628.6m from First Tawakkal Modaraba. Its directors are Abdul Qadir Tawakkal, Mohammad Rafiq Tawakkal and Ali Hussain Monney.
About Pak Land Cement (Dewan Group), which managed to get Rs1.6bn written off from the NBP, the commission concluded that no principal amount has been written off and very huge concessions have been extended by different banks involved. Yet the principal sum of loans seems vulnerable. It left any further action at the discretion of the Supreme Court. Pakland Cement’s directors are Tariq Mohsin Siddiqui, Shamim Mushtaq Siddiqui and Mohammad Saleem Arif. The commission recommended further proceedings for recovery of Rs1.4bn from Siraj Steel Limited. Its directors are Chaudhry Mohammad Qasim, Ch Mohammad Azam and Ch Mohammad Akram.
The commission suggested further proceedings for recovery of Rs981m from Quality Steel Works Ltd. Its directors include Maj Gen Farhat Ali Burki, Arif Ali Khan Abbasi, Saeed Khan, Mohammad Ziauddin, Syed Babar Hussain and Mohammad Farooq.
The commission also recommended further proceedings against Ravi Agriculture and Dairy for recovery of Rs509.8m. Its directors are Mohammad Akram, Amjad Mustafa, Kaleem Haider Zaidi and Muzamil Khan Lodhi.

Fazl invites JI chief to APC on Fata peace

By Our Staff Reporter

LAHORE, Feb 23: Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the JUI-F chief, said on Saturday that a grand jirga constituted by tribes of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas wanted to meet national leaders in order to have their support for peace efforts in Fata.
“During (the proposed) meeting with the political leadership, the jirga will discuss proposals for bringing peace to Fata,” the JUI-F leader told newsmen after meeting the Jamaat-i-Islami leadership at Mansoora.
He visited Mansoora to condole the death of former Jamaat chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad.
He invited the JI leadership to an all-party conference (APC) being organised by his party in Islamabad on Feb 28 to discuss ways for restoring peace in Fata.
Maulana Fazl said law and order was the biggest issue in the country and Fata was on fire. Houses were being razed and innocent people were being killed in drone attacks, he added.
“If the national leadership did not take (corrective) steps, someone else might take the lead for vested interest,” he warned.
He said his party wanted to bring peace to Fata and urged the political leadership to come forward and join hands with it.
Speaking on the occasion, JI Amir Syed Munawar Hasan said that his party would attend the APC.
He said the prevailing situation called for a decisive dialogue with the Taliban. He said the government’s attitude ignoring the Taliban’s offer and taking it as a sign of weakness was a worst example of indifference.
In reply to a question, he said the JI had recommended the name of Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid for the post of caretaker prime minister. Now it was up to Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to meet Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and form the caretaker set-up as soon as possible, he said.

PM resolves to go ahead with Iran gas plan

By Mohammad Hussain Khan

HYDERABAD, Feb 23: Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has said that Pakistan is keen to go ahead with the proposed gas pipeline project with Iran in order to overcome its energy crisis.
Talking to journalists at the Government College, Hyderabad, during a visit to his alma mater, he said: “Pakistan is facing a serious energy crisis and we want to end it as soon as possible.”
He, however, avoided commenting specifically on a statement by a US State Department spokeswoman warning Pakistan of sanctions if it went ahead with the Iran gas pipeline project.
“We believe there are better, more secure and more efficient ways for Pakistan to get its power. We’ve made clear to countries around the world, including Pakistan, that we believe it’s in their interest to avoid activities that could be prohibited by UN sanctions or that could be ‘sanctionable’ under US law,” the spokeswoman had warned Islamabad on Friday.
The prime minister said the energy crisis had become a big burden on the national economy. He said everyone knew that India had been part of the project in the past.
Raja Pervez Ashraf announced a grant of Rs500 million for upgrading, repair and renovation of the college building. He said the faculty’s demand for upgrading the college to university level would be considered at a later stage.
The prime minister said the country was facing existential challenges like terrorism, lawlessness and price hike that could only be tackled by a united nation and strengthening of democracy was necessary for this.
He claimed the PPP had presided over a “record development work” and “we have restored the Constitution in its real shape”.
Pakistan was importing 2.8 million tons of wheat in 2008, but the present government had taken measures to put the agrarian economy on the right track and now grain could be exported, the prime minister claimed.
He said the government was mindful of the need for improving the education standard providing jobs to people.
“The energy crisis is a major issue and we have to make the federation strong,” he said.
He said the PPP believed in provincial autonomy and the provinces had been given their rights for the first time.
The prime minister said those criticising the government on TV channels had “not visited a town or seen poverty and are aware of the hard realities of life, while we have to appear in people’s court”.
“Only a few days are left before everyone will be approaching the people for vote. Only the people will decide who would rule them and this is what democracy is all about. If we believe in democracy then we should show patience instead of going for a conflict.”
Reminiscences: The PM said: “I remember how my father brought me to this college from a smaller town of Sanghar for education. It was a complete transformation from one way of life to another way for a shy boy from a rural background.” He said he cherished the days he had spent in Hyderabad.
He said the college had given him confidence and he belonged to a middle class landowning family of Sanghar.
Then prime minister paid tribute to Dayaram Gidumal who had donated Rs100,000 for the college in 1917 and all those who had worked for the institution.
He said he was proud of having studied in the college and served under the leadership of the Bhuttos.
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah admitted that the college should have been renovated and upgraded, but the project had not been presented to him. He approved Rs113 million — part of the Rs230 million PC-I that
had been pending with his government.
The college’s Principal Mohammad Hassan Thebo said one of its two hostels was in the possession of Rangers and Frontier Constabulary.

Opportunity to launch operation in North Waziristan lost

By Ismail Khan

PESHAWAR: A fast-changing political scenario, changes in the political and military command due this year and dithering by both tiers of state in the face of an existential threat to the country may already have closed the option to launch a military operation in North Waziristan, senior government and security officials acknowledge.
In retrospect, say officials interviewed for this report, the political and military leadership should have seized the opportunity to launch a decisive military operation against local and foreign militants, following back-to-back victories against Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Swat, and its parent organisation in South Waziristan in May and October of 2009 respectively.
“We should not have stopped at South Waziristan. The iron was hot. The whole nation was behind us and militants were on the run and in total disarray. Baitullah was dead. It was an ideal situation. We dithered,” said one of the gentlemen.
A series of opportunities presented themselves for a decisive military action, recalled these officials, including the May 22, 2011, militant attack on Karachi’s Mehran naval base that killed 18 and destroyed among other things a P-3C Orion, costing Rs25 billion.
The last such opportunity was the attack on Malala Yousufzai in Oct 2012, when the nation rallied and a political consensus seemed to have evolved for an action against militants. Instead, bemoaned these officials, the opportunity was allowed to slip through fingers like sand.
Despite having been on the military action plan for 2012, operation in North Waziristan begged for a political and military decision.
Some of the reasons for not launching the operation were: a lack of political ownership, its fallout in the shape of militants’ revenge attacks and the government’s inability to maintain security, the country’s overall political and economic predicament and an exodus and displacement in the tribal areas.
Those conditions have not changed but new and emerging factors may further complicate any decision to take the bull by the horn in the militant hornet’s nest of North Waziristan.
Political ownership that existed at the time of the military operation in Swat and later in South Waziristan seems to have evaporated. The PPP has chosen to keep an ambivalent silence. The ANP, having been stung by the assassination of one of its senior leaders, Bashir Ahmad Bilour in December last, and having been singled out by the TTP as the main target, swallowed the bitter pill and opted to join the chorus of peace talks with Taliban.
The ANP—sponsored All Parties Conference early this month, attended by all political parties has backed calls for peace negotiations. There is no taker for military action in North Waziristan across the political divide. The JUI (F) is following suit with its own tribal grand jirga later this month.
With elections round the corner, political parties are more focused on their charting out election strategy and election campaign. For the political leadership, terrorism and militancy is less a priority than making seat adjustments and electoral alliances.
Therefore, according to analysts, the political leadership is unlikely to put its weight behind any action till elections due later in May. A caretaker government will not have the mandate, while a new government that will take oath of office somewhere in June/July next will take a few months to find its feet before taking the more critical decisions.
Asif Ali Zardari’s term as President ends in September, followed by the retirement of Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee in Oct0ber and Gen. Kayani as the Chief of Army Staff in November, 2013.
“No new military commander is going to pick up his rifle and start marching his troops into a battle right away”, remarked one official.
By early 2014, the U.S will start pulling out its forces from Afghanistan to complete withdrawal by the year’s end. This according to security analyst will make any decision of cleaning up, regaining control and re-establishing the state writ in the tribal region all the more difficult.
There are some who argue that the delay to take a decision vis-a-vis North Waziristan has more to do with the evolving situation in Afghanistan to protect Pakistan’s own strategic interests in any negotiated settlement, than the situation in Pakistan.
“It has more to do with military strategy than with political ownership. The moment the military takes a firm decision, everything will fall in line”, said a critic. “That was true in Swat and that was true in South Waziristan. Asking the political leadership to take the lead in Pakistan is like putting a horse before the cart. This is the political reality in Pakistan.”
“Now, who will form the next government in Islamabad, what will be the composition of the new parliament and whether or not the new political leadership will look at the threat the same way the military does in Pakistan is a question that lies in the future”, the security analyst said.
“I would have thought that we have lost the window of opportunity in North Waziristan for now, not unless something big happens”, he summed up.

Focus on Pakistani nation, not just terror fight, Munter tells US govt

By Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON, Feb 23: In Pakistan, the United States was dealing with a government that was not always able to deliver, said a former US ambassador, Cameron Munter.
In an interview to CNN, Mr Munter also urged the US administration to consider how their policies would affect the people in Pakistan while making policies for that country.
Mr Munter is believed to have left his job because of differences with the Obama administration over its policies towards Islamabad, particularly its decision to increase drone attacks on targets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).
While responding to a question about a $7.5 billion US aid package for Pakistan, the former envoy conceded that the programme did not achieve its targets. “We didn’t get everything done that we wanted to and we should look hard at our systems programme to see where we may have failed,” he said.
“But I think in Pakistan, we also ran into a government that wasn’t always able to deliver.”
Polls show that only eight per cent of Pakistanis view the US as a partner, while 74 per cent view it as an enemy.
“I think it’s very important to look at these numbers and remember that what we’re talking about is a picture the Pakistanis have of us, that they see, in terms of our security policy,” Mr Munter said. “There’s a part of America that the Pakistanis respect very much: our education, our business acumen, our openness and cultural side.”
The US does enjoy good, long-term relationships with Pakistani universities, businesses, and many crucial people-to-people relationships, according to Mr Munter.
He suggested that the US should supplement its counter-terrorism efforts with “the commitment to the Pakistani people and to their future, and to stability”.
“We need to have more balance. We worked on it during my time there. I’ll be honest with you; I think we could have done a lot better. I think the Pakistanis could have done a lot better,” he said.
“I think the team that’s there now is trying to do that, to have more outreach, to have more long-term commitment to Pakistan and the needs they have in addition to what we have in counter-terrorism.”
Mr Munter told the Daily Beast that he used to receive calls from the White House to ‘dial up the pain’, and he would tell the US that Islamabad didn’t respond well to ‘dialling up the pain’.
“Look, when you’re dealing with diplomacy, you’re dealing with the idea of listening as well as talking,” Mr Munter said. “A diplomat will want to make sure that in addition to telling America’s story that we’re listening to the other person’s perception so we can come to some sort of agreement.”
The former ambassador said that before the raid on the Abbottabad complex where Osama bin Laden lived and died, his main concern was for the American community overseas.
“We didn’t know what the response would be. I spent a lot of time talking with our team about how we would take care of the people in the embassy and the Americans overseas.”
Did he suspect that the Pakistani government and military would be so enraged? “We didn’t really know what to think,” Mr Munter told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
He noted that in 1979, the US embassy in Islamabad was overrun and burned. “You never want to see something like that happen and you want to make sure that you have everything in place in case it does,” he said.

Govt likely to table province bill in Senate soon

By Amir Wasim

ISLAMABAD, Feb 23: Three months after its failure to get the dual nationality bill passed by the Senate due to lack of the two-thirds majority, the PPP-led coalition government is gearing up to make an attempt next week to get a bill seeking creation of the south Punjab province adopted by the upper house of parliament.
Sources told Dawn on Saturday that the PPP leadership at a recent meeting held at the Presidency had decided to bring the bill on the new province for voting in the Senate during the ongoing session, expecting that the move would leave the opposition PML-N party in isolation.
“Since Monday is a private members day, the government is considering tabling the bill on Tuesday,” said a source privy to the development.
“Yes, the PPP has decided to put the bill on new province to vote during the ongoing Senate session,” Senator Farhatullah Babar confirmed to Dawn. Mr Babar heads the parliamentary commission that has drafted the 24th Constitution Amendment Bill seeking the creation of Bahawalpur Janoobi Punjab province.
Mr Babar, who is also spokesman for President Asif Ali Zardari, was hopeful that the government would succeed in getting the bill passed from the Senate. He admitted that the government might not be able to get it passed from the National Assembly.

Call for action against killers

By Bakhtawar Mian

ISLAMABAD, Feb 23: The Wafaqul Madaris Arabia Pakistan, a conglomerate of seminaries, urged the government on Saturday to carry out an operation against the killers of ulema and madressah students in Karachi.
In a statement on Saturday, religious scholars belonging to the WMAP regretted that several ulema, teachers and students of seminaries had lost their lives in targeted attacks but the government had failed to take effective action against those responsible.
Sheikhul Hadis Maulana Saleemullah Khan, Maulana Abdur Razaq Sikandar, Maulana Muhammad Hanif Jalandri and Maulana Anwarul Haq asked the government to give up what they called double standard and take action against all elements fanning sectarianism and those involved in the killing of innocent people whether they were Shia or Sunni.
Double standard and discrimination could further increase sectarianism, they said, adding that killing of innocent people was deplorable and highly condemnable.
About the killing of people of Shia-Hazara community in Quetta, they said all religious groups and political parties, including WMAP, had not only condemned it but also demanded that those involved in the killings should be exposed and taken to task. But the ugly Quetta incident should not be used for launching an indiscriminate crackdown on the innocent faithful. Such incidents should not be linked to religion, and indiscriminate killings, raids and arrests should be avoided, they said.
The government should try to get to the people involved in such activities and other factors should also be taken into consideration instead of making them basis for crackdown and violence on religious groups, they said.

Student leader killed

By Our Staff Reporter

KARACHI, Feb 23: A leader of the Awami National Party’s student wing was shot dead in SITE area on Saturday night, police and party sources said.
The police said armed men attacked Painda Khan when he was treating patients at his clinic. “The victim was a homeopath and his clinic is on the main road in the SITE area,” said a police officer.
“Two men came on a motorbike and one of them entered the clinic, pulled out a pistol and fired multiple shots before speeding away.”
Mr Khan sustained three bullet wounds and died on the spot. Four other people in the clinic suffered bullet wounds.
In a statement, the ANP condemned the incident and demanded immediate arrest of the killers. It said Mr Khan was the secretary of Sindh chapter of the Pakhtun Students Federation.
Later, two bullet-riddled bodies of young men were found in Korangi.

US state sounds alarm over N-waste leak

LOS ANGELES, Feb 23: At least six tanks containing radioactive waste in the US state of Washington are leaking, the state said on Friday, urging more federal help to clean up a site used to make cold war-era bombs.
Washington governor Jay Inslee said the extent of the leaks at the Hanford site — which first produced fuel for nuclear bombs in World War II and closed down 25 years ago — was “disturbing”.
“There is no immediate or near-term health risk associated with these newly discovered leaks, which are more than five miles from the Columbia River,” he said, after meeting US Energy Secretary Steven Chu in Washington DC. “But nonetheless this is disturbing news for all Washingtonians,” he said.
He noted that Mr Chu, the outgoing US energy secretary, told him a week ago that only one tank was leaking, but admitted “his department did not adequately analyse data it had that would have shown the other tanks that are leaking”.
“This certainly raises serious questions about the integrity of all 149 single-shell tanks with radioactive liquid and sludge at Hanford. I believe we need a new system for removing waste from these aging tanks, and was heartened to hear that the Department of Energy is looking at options for accelerating that process.”
The Hanford nuclear site, 300km southeast of Seattle, was used to produce plutonium for the bomb that brought an end to World War II. Output grew after 1945 to meet the challenges of the cold war, but the last reactor closed down in 1987.
Its website says: “Weapons production processes left solid and liquid wastes that posed a risk to the local environment.”
Millions of gallons of leftover waste are contained in 177 tanks at the site, according to the Department of Energy, which in 1989 agreed to a deal with Washington state authorities to clean up the Hanford Site.
Governor Inslee urged federal authorities to act quickly to ensure that looming US budget constraints to did not jeopardise extra measures for the nuclear waste site.
“Secretary Chu has a long-standing personal commitment to the clean-up of Hanford. He has assured me he will do all he can to address the issue of the leaking tanks,” he said.
But he added: “Frankly, the state’s department of ecology is not convinced that current storage is adequate to meet legal and regulatory requirements.
“With potential sequestration and federal budget cuts looming, we need to be sure the federal government maintains its commitment and legal obligation to the cleanup of Hanford.”—AFP

Major power breakdown plunges most of country into darkness

LAHORE / ISLAMABAD, Feb 24: A massive power breakdown plunged major parts of the country into darkness late on Sunday night. From Islamabad to Karachi, most major cities reported power outage.
There was suspension of electricity supply in Lahore, Gujranwala, Multan, Quetta, Peshawar and Sukkur and other cities and towns across the country because of a major fault in the National Power Control Centre (NPCC) system.
In Karachi, 36 grid stations tripped, plunging at least 70 per cent of the city into darkness. Other cities and towns in Sindh also reported complete power outage.
In most of Balochistan, including Quetta, there was no power supply.
The entire country suffered the blackout, third in the past decade, as the whole power generation, transmission and distribution system collapsed.
The domino effect was created by the stretched Uch Power Station which tripped at around 11pm. Its tripping took down a few 500kv transmission lines which it shared with Hubco, and the cascading effect quickly reached Hubco.
With both these plants having a combined generation of around 1,750MW constituting almost 25 per cent of total national generation at that time, the tripping down also affected Mangla Dam, followed by all generators, except one, of Tarbela Dam.
By 11.10pm, the entire country had plunged into darkness as safety mechanism in all plants switched them off to protect them from any damage.
“Luckily, there has been no damage to transmission lines, powerhouses, IPPs and dams’ generators,” an official of the national grid said. The cascading effect triggered the in-built safety mechanism in all gadgets, saving them from any damage.
For that reason it would be easier to restore the system this time than on previous two occasions, he said.
The effort had begun and two grids — Sanjani and University — of Islamabad had been energised within two hours after the breakdown, he said.
The official said that once the Islamabad system was put back on its feet, the engineers would start reviving supply to the rest of the country.
It should not take more than seven hours. “But it is a national tragedy and the power managers should have been more vigilant.”
A former managing director of the Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco) said “extremely low generation and very high demand overstretching the whole system” had caused the breakdown. Such an eventuality created a low frequency and left the entire system extremely vulnerable.
He said there was no guarantee that it might not happen again the next week if the fundamental crisis was not addressed.
On Sunday night, the generation had dipped to less than 8,000MW, with demand hovering above 13,000MW -- a deficit of 5,000MW in the winter. Such high pressure on a system which has no backup has its cost.
What makes the accident assume a criminal proportion is the fact that over 4,000MW generation capacity was lying idle even at the time when the system collapsed because of low generation. There is no fuel to run these 4,000MW plants.
It was in fact the absence of fuel having an effect on the system, triggering the national blackout.
No lessons had been learnt from the last two national breakdowns, the former official said.
In the federal capital and Rawalpindi, not only electricity supply to residential areas was disrupted but traffic signals also stopped working at about 11.30pm, due to which a blackout was observed.
An official at an electricity complaint centre told Dawn that the staff had been informed by higher management that there was a minor fault in Hubco due to which load was shifted onto the Mangla and Tarbela grid stations but they tripped, causing a blackout across most of the country.
“The Mangla and Tarbela grid stations tripped because of overloading so it should not be considered to be a fault. The supply will be restored in around two hours,” he said.
A large number of residents came out of their homes and there was panic when people started receiving phone calls from their relatives in other cities.
Soon rumours started spreading that the blackout was the result of a terrorist attack on the national grid system. There were also speculations about a cyber attack on the system.
Prof Tahir Mahmood of the Islamabad Model College, H-8, said: “I was reading a newspaper when the power went off and our uninterrupted power supply (UPS) system started working. Half an hour later I got a call from a colleague who told me about the power failure in Rawalpindi. I started worrying then because it was unusual. When I contacted other friends they also confirmed that their areas were without electricity.”
The major power breakdown hit almost the entire Karachi a little before midnight. The voltage dipped and lights went out across the city.
The breakdown hit the DHA, Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Gulistan-i-Jauhar, Nazimabad, North Nazimabad, F.B. Area, Landhi, Quaidabad, Manghopir, Northern Bypass and adjoining areas.
The voltage fluctuation apparently caused a fire in a KESC sub-station near Nagan Chowrangi.
After initial confusion, the Karachi Electric Supply Company said a fault in the National Transmission and Dispatch Company’s transmission lines had affected its system.
“Tripping in the NTDC/Wapda system has led to a cascading effect, leading to tripping in the KESC network,” a tweet by the KESC said.
The company said its teams were coordinating with the NTDC.
INQUIRY: Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ordered an inquiry to ascertain the cause of the countrywide power breakdown.
According to an official spokesman, the prime minister was monitoring the restoration work.
Javed Pervez, Chief Executive Officer of the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (Iesco), said some sections of the Mangla and Terbela power stations had resumed functioning at 12.45am, improving the supply situation in parts of Punjab and northern areas.
Security at the Benazir International Airport and railway stations were put on high alert after the power failure.
Generators of a five-star hotel also stopped working, forcing the panicked visitors to come out.

Six labourers gunned down near Pasni

By Saleem Shahid

QUETTA, Feb 24: Six labourers were gunned down by terrorists in Shadi Kaur area of Gwadar district on Sunday.
They have been identified as Abdul Haleem, Muhammad Yousuf, Nouruddin, Khlo Jan, Yameen and Rehmatullah.
There is no security for labourers and other people, working on the highways and other important roads across the province although several such incidents have taken place over the past couple of years, leaving a large number of civilians dead and injured.
Official sources said the workers had been attacked in the early hours of Sunday at a place about 25 kilometres from Pasni town on the coastal highway linking Gwadar to Karachi.
The sources said the labourers were working on the highway near Shadi Kaur when four gunmen on motorcycles reached there, lined up all of them and opened fire.
“A 12-year-old boy, who was spared by the gunmen, gave details of the incident to law-enforcement personnel,” Pasni’s Assistant Commissioner Naeem Gichki told Dawn.
Personnel of local administration, Levies and other law-enforcement agencies rushed to the area and took the bodies to Gwadar district hospital.
“All the labourers working for a construction company were from Zhob district,” Mr Gichki said.
According to a senior police officer, the gunmen lined up all labourers and, after checking their identity, shot them dead.
“We are investigating the incident,” AC Pasni said, adding that the statement of 12-year-old boy was important and this would help us identify the killers.
Sources said the company had brought the labourers to Pasni from Zhob.
Gwadar district police officials said that security forces were looking for terrorists, but no arrest had been made till late in the evening.
Meanwhile, a demonstration was held in protest against the killing in front of the Quetta Press Club on Sunday evening. The protesters chanted slogans against the government and the Pasni administration.
They demanded that the government should arrest terrorists involved in the killing of the unarmed labourers and give them exemplary punishment.

Nawaz reposes full trust in ECP

By Amjad Mahmood

LAHORE, Feb 24: Pakistan Muslim League-N chief Nawaz Sharif said here on Sunday that he had complete confidence in the Election Commission of Pakistan.
“We trusted the Election Commission earlier and trust it even now,” he told reporters outside the house of a PML-N activist.
Answering a question about demands for scrutiny of candidates by the ECP under certain constitutional conditions, Mr Sharif said papers of people aspiring for PML-N ticket for the coming elections were being scrutinised under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution.
He rejected a perception that his party was promoting the culture of switching loyalty by luring loyalists of other parties into the PML-N and said that people fed up with PPP’s policies were joining his party. Even those who were not needed were also joining the PML-N, he added.
Asked why his party had voted for PPP’s prime minister, Mr Sharif said the PML-N had done so for the love of the country and not of the PPP.
He said he doubts that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement had really parted ways with the PPP and accused the latter of indulging in politics of hypocrisy in Sindh. “I cannot comment on the PPP-MQM relationship and whether their split is real or fake.”
Mr Sharif said he could not understand why the MQM had quit the Sindh coalition government after remaining part of it for four years and 11 months.
“The MQM left the government only 15 days before the expiry of its tenure and joined the opposition ranks at this stage; it is a mystery for me. This may be a sham,” he said, adding that it would be exposed at the time of formation of the caretaker set-up in Sindh.
He advised the PPP to end its politics of hypocrisy in Sindh. He said he wondered that the PPP had distributed sweets after the adoption of the Local Government Act and later got it repealed and again distributed sweets.

Karzai orders special US forces out of Wardak

KABUL, Feb 24: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has given US special forces two weeks to leave a key battleground province after some US soldiers there were found to have tortured or even killed innocent people, the president’s spokesman said on Sunday.
The decision by Mr Karzai could further complicate negotiations between the United States and Afghanistan over the presence of Americans troops in the country once most Nato forces leave by the end of 2014.
Speaking at a news conference in Kabul, Mr Karzai’s spokesman Aimal Faizi said villagers in Wardak province had lodged a series of complaints about operations conducted by US special forces and a group of Afghans working with them.
The decision was reached at a Sunday meeting of the Afghan National Security Council, chaired by President Karzai, Mr Faizi said.
“The Ministry of Defence was assigned to make sure all US special forces are out of the province within two weeks,” he said.
“After a thorough discussion, it became clear that armed individuals named as US special forces stationed in Wardak province were engaging in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people,” he added.
A US Forces Afghanistan spokesman said he was aware of the reported comments by Mr Faizi.
“We take all allegations of misconduct seriously and go to great lengths to determine the facts surrounding them,” he said.
“Until we have had a chance to speak with senior (Afghan) officials about this issue we are not in a position to comment further. This is an important issue that we intend to fully discuss with our Afghan counterparts.”
Sunday’s announcement came days after Mr Karzai issued a decree banning all Afghan security forces from using Nato air strikes in residential areas, in a bid to curb civilian casualties.
That was in response to an operation in Kunar targeting four Taliban members which resulted in the death of 10 civilians, including five children, during an air strike.
Mr Karzai has long warned his western backers that the killing of civilians could sap support for the foreign troops in the country and fuel the insurgency.—Reuters/AFP

Debt management policy submitted to govt: Withholding tax on cash withdrawals may be abolished

By Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD, Feb 24: With the country’s debt hovering around Rs16 trillion, the government is considering a proposal to abolish withholding tax on cash withdrawals from banks and launch insurance-wrapped dollar-denominated bonds in the international market to limit money circulation, spur economic growth and provide support to balance of payments position.
This is part of a debt management strategy prepared by the Debt Policy Coordination Office (DPCO) of the finance ministry and submitted to the government for a policy decision.
The DPCO believed that withholding tax on cash withdrawals from banks was contributing to an increase in currency circulation. Currently, 0.2 per cent withholding tax is charged on cash withdrawal exceeding Rs50,000. “The government may consider abolishing this tax, as the net contribution of this tax is negligible when compared with the potential benefits of reduction in currency in circulation,” said the DPCO.
The government has also been asked to market domestic debt instruments to non-resident Pakistanis and other institutional investors in the Gulf, European and US markets, given the interest rate differential that may attract overseas investors. Likewise, the government may consider launching insurance-wrapped US dollar-denominated bonds in the international market or a partial credit guarantees instrument by an internationally reputable institution to raise sizable flows.
The government will soon strengthen the Pakistan Remittance Initiative which, with better policy coordination between the Ministry of Finance and the State Bank of Pakistan, could increase flow of remittances from the current average of about $1.1 billion per month.
The SBP has already been asked to strengthen its marketing of treasury bills, Pakistan Investment Bonds and Sukuk bonds to retail investors through commercial banks across the country, especially in sub-urban areas to reduce government borrowing from the wholesale market.
Likewise, the relevant government agencies have been directed to improve project monitoring mechanism and ensure timely completion of development projects and remove bottlenecks for release of loan tranches.
The DPCO said divergent trends between growth in foreign exchange earnings and government revenues on one hand and foreign exchange repayments and expenditure on the other pointed towards underlying structural issues and hence the government should focus on increasing export receipts and other foreign currency non-debt creating flows above and beyond the growth of foreign exchange payments and external debts and liabilities.
It said the debt reduction to sustainable levels could only be achieved with persistent economic growth. The slowdown in growth results in rising debt burden and reducing debt-servicing capacity of the country.
“It is, therefore, important for the government to adopt an integrated approach for economic revival and debt reduction strategy, which will require some difficult trade-offs in the short term, thus implementing structural reforms that boost potential growth is the key to ensure debt sustainability.”
The recommendations have come following an admission by the Finance Ministry early this month in parliament that the government had breached during the previous financial year major limits imposed under the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act of 2005 to bring down increasing debt levels.
The ministry had reported that the requirement of the law to reduce revenue deficit to nil by 2008 and then maintain it at zero was never met in the past five years. Likewise, the requirement for keeping debt at 60pc of GDP also could not be met which, according to the central bank, had crossed 67pc of GDP. The government had also conceded to have failed to reduce public debt by 2.5pc a year.

Two killed in targeted operation

QUETTA, Feb 24: Two armed suspects were killed and five others arrested by the Frontier Corps in a targeted operation in Gulistan area of the Qila Abdullah district on Sunday, official sources said.
The FC personnel moved in the Killi Abdul Rehman Zai area on a tip-off about the presence of some suspects there.
The sources said that the unidentified suspects opened fire at FC personnel when they cordoned off the area and in the ensuing shootout that continued for half an hour two suspects were killed and an FC man was injured.
Five suspects were captured and an unspecified quantity of rocket launchers, hand-grenades, AK-47 rifles and explosives was seized.
A group of local tribesmen blocked the Quetta-Chaman highway in protest against the operation, suspending the traffic for an hour. The traffic was restored after local administration and Levies removed hurdles from the highway.—Staff Correspondent

Singh visits bomb-hit city, calls for calm

NEW DELHI, Feb 24: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday appealed for calm as he flew to Hyderabad and visited some of the 117 people wounded in twin bombings last week which killed 16 people.
Mr Singh also visited the blast site in Dilsukh Nagar, where two bicycle bombs exploded within a few minutes of each other outside a cinema and near a bus stand on Thursday evening.
The prime minister met some of the blast survivors and medical staff in two hospitals.
“It is most important that in this hour of grief the people should maintain calm,” he said.
“I am happy that the people of Hyderabad have refused to be provoked by this nefarious incident,” he told reporters.
“I pray for the speedy recovery of those who have been injured, to those who have died I send my condolences to all the bereaved families,” he added.
Hyderabad, one of the major hubs of India’s booming software industry, is the capital of coastal Andhra Pradesh.
The prime minister has vowed to bring to justice the perpetrators of what he called a “dastardly” attack, the first major bombings in India since 2011.
His Congress Party-led government was criticised in parliament on Friday by the opposition, which said the bombings had exposed systemic security failures at a time when India is on heightened alert.
India’s main opposition BJP party mocked the premier’s one-day trip to Hyderabad, saying the blasts were a result of the Indian government’s failure to tackle terrorism.
“The prime minister’s
visit to Hyderabad is a non-event,” BJP leader Balbir Punj told reporters in New Delhi.
“In fact, if he and his government had been sensitive to the issue of terrorism in this country... this attack would not have taken place,” he said.
Andhra Pradesh Home Minister P. Sabita Indra Reddy has said investigators have found “vital clues” but gave no details.
Newspapers have pointed the finger at the Indian Mujahideen, a banned militant outfit which has claimed responsibility for previous attacks.
The fitting of the explosive devices to bicycles was similar to other attacks by the outfit, media reports quoted investigators as saying.
The home-grown group has links to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant outfit blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that claimed 166 lives, according to Indian intelligence officials.
New Delhi has long accused its neighbour of aiding and abetting the militant groups who have carried out attacks on Indian soil – a charge that Pakistan rejects.—AFP

Three die in blast at shrine near Shikarpur

By Rahmatullah Soomro and M.B. Kalhoro

SHIKARPUR / LARKANA, Feb 25: Three people were killed and more than 27 others injured in a bomb attack at Dargah Ghulam Shah Ghazi in the village of Maari near Shikarpur on Monday night.
Gaddi Nasheen Syed Hajan Shah, two children and three women were seriously injured.
According to people belonging to the Dargah, three people were killed in the blast but SSP Shikarpur Parvez Chandio confirmed one death.
Soon after the incident, thousands of followers of Syed Hajan Shah gathered at the hospital and raised slogans against terrorists. They forced traders to close shops.
They demonstrated on Chandka Medical College road, VIP road, Bundar road and in front of Jinnahbagh in Larkana.
According to DIG Larkana Abdul Khaliq Shaikh, an unidentified man talking on a mobile phone placed a bag in the Dargah. There was the blast soon after he left the area.
Eyewitnesses said the man had placed the bag in the hall where the Gaddi Nasheen and his followers were sitting and within 15 minutes the blast took place.
Allama Riaz Hussain Al-Hussaini, vice president of the Shia Ulema Council, condemned the bomb attack and announced three days of mourning in Sindh.
This was second bomb blast in Larkana division in five days.
On Feb 20, the motorcade of spiritual leader Syed Ghulam Hussain Shah Buhkari was attacked near Jacobabad. His grandson Syed Shafique Shah was killed and more than eight people were injured.

Nawaz, Fazl agree on poll cooperation

By Amjad Mahmood

LAHORE, Feb 25: The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) have decided ‘in principle’ to work together in the coming election.
The two major opposition parties reached the agreement during a meeting between Nawaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rehman at the former’s residence here on Monday.
“Both parties have agreed to cooperate in the election,” Mr Sharif told reporters at a joint briefing.
“The parties will form committees to decide modalities for working together in the polls.” The move, political analysts believe, is aimed more at keeping the JUI-F engaged than entering into any serious dialogue with the party which has its following mostly in Pakhtun areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
They see it as a move to balance PML-N’s apparent tilt towards Mahmood Khan Achakzai’s Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party which also depends on Pakhtun voters and is a rival of the JUI-F in Balochistan.
The PML-N chief said his party had accepted JUI-F’s invitation to attend an all parties conference (APC) to be hosted by Maulana Fazl in Islamabad on Feb 28 to explore ways of restoring peace in tribal areas.
He praised Maulana Fazl’s efforts and said his party was ready to support every measure aimed at providing peace and security to citizens.
Analysts noted with interest that despite promises of electoral cooperation, Mr Sharif avoided saying that he himself would attend the APC and instead nominated Raja Zafrul Haq, Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar and PML-N Secretary General Iqbal Zafar Jhagra.
The same leaders had been sent to an APC recently held by the Awami National Party which the PML-N does not consider being close to itself.
The former prime minister said both the parties had also discussed the caretaker set-up and agreed that all parties needed to be consulted before the appointment of an interim government. He said that in the event of failure to evolve consensus, the decision of the majority would be accepted in line with democratic norms. He was confident that the country would see a fair and transparent electoral exercise soon.
Maulana Fazl said the views of his party on various national issues were closer to those of the PML-N than of the PPP.
In an apparent reference to past differences between the JUI-F and PML-N, he said: “Politicians do have divergence of opinions but they remain friends.”
He asserted that the crisis being faced by the country could not be handled by any one party and stressed the need for uniting all parties in order to overcome the challenges.
When contacted the Jamaat-i-Islami said it did not see its electoral talks with the Nawaz League having been affected by the latter’s decision to work in cooperation with the JUI-F during elections.
“This will be a sort of seat adjustment as the JUI-F will be cooperating with the PML-N only where the latter has its following in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” JI leader Dr Farid Piracha said.
The JI and JUI-F had been allies in the six-party religious alliance, MMA, which ruled then NWFP from 2002 to 2007. But they developed serious differences on certain issues and the alliance was disbanded before the 2008 polls which were boycotted by the JI.
Pointing out that the JUI-F would need the JI and vice versa in other pockets of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Mr Piracha said religious parties had come into contact at some places but the contacts had not yet been formalised.
He said his party could also consider seat-adjustment accords with the Nawaz League as well as Tehrik-i-Insaaf in certain areas.

PTI hits out at PML-N’s ‘nexus’ with extremists

By A Reporter

ISLAMABAD, Feb 25: Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf has criticised the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz for its reported nexus with extremist groups in the country and sought an explanation.
Commenting on a reported statement by Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat that the PML-N had approached him for seat-adjustment arrangement in the coming elections, a PTI spokesman alleged that the PML-N had been associated with extremist groups for a long time.
He said Maulana Ludhianvi’s statement nullified repeated denials by PML-N leaders that they had no interaction with extremist elements.
“People still remember a public statement made by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif after successive terror attacks in Lahore, requesting the Taliban not to target his government because the PML-N and Taliban had the same ideology,” the PTI spokesman said, adding that PML-N’s policy had endangered lives of innocent people.
He said people remembered how the Punjab law minister had accompanied leaders of the banned Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan and attended its rallies.
He also cited reports alleging that the family of an SSP leader, who had been sentenced to death, had been given stipend from the state exchequer.

30pc areas suffering in darkness: Power supply restored only partially

By Ahmad Fraz Khan

LAHORE, Feb 25: The country’s power managers managed to restore supplies, albeit partially, by Monday evening with around 30 per cent areas remaining without electricity till late in the evening.
According to sources in the Ministry for Water and Power, the areas where electricity is yet to be restored are in Sindh, Balochistan and interior of Punjab.
Even those areas where power has been officially restored suffered long hours of loadshedding as generation fell further on Monday.
The minister for water and power and spokesman for the ministry did not respond to calls and text messages sent to them seeking their version on the breakdown.
In the evening, the generation stood at 6,700MW against 8,500MW on Sunday evening. The Karachi Electric Supply Company was supplied around 700MW, leaving 6,000MW for the national grid with demand being 13,000MW.
“The power planners had been juggling with these generation figures the whole day on Monday,” says an official of the National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NTDC). The company did not have enough power to supply to areas for restoration of the system.
The NTDC had to take power from already restored areas (leaving them without power) for supply to other grids to count them officially restored.
The NTDC official said electricity was “officially restored” to about 70 per cent of the country by the evening, whether the supply continued or not was a different matter.
“The Sunday tragedy was nothing but total incompetence,” says Munawer Baseer Ahmad, former managing director of the Pakistan Electric Power Company. Pepco had segregated the entire transmission system in 2008 to protect it from any cascading effect — like the one that broke down the entire system.
Each problem arising out of any particular plant could and should have been localised had new additions (transmission lines or grid stations) been synchronised with the already operational system to maintain its internal safety segregation. It appeared not to have
happened.
What was making the situation worse was the fact that the system was being run by bureaucrats who were not familiar with technicalities of generation, transmission and distribution, Mr Ahmad said, adding that “it will happen again if fundamental problems are not removed from the system. The government must find out why the segregation of the system was messed up with? Who did it? If it was still operational, why it could not save the system?”
“The malaise goes much deeper,” says an official of Pepco. “Recoveries have dropped to 85 per cent, creating a gap of billions of rupees in the system. It results into low fuel supplies, which in turn overstretch working plants. On top of it, there is no planning. Had the government arranged natural gas (by cutting CNG and captive power as a matter of national emergency) on Monday, it could have easily added up to 3,000MW to the system and saved it from further problem. In a nutshell, there is neither money nor planning nor professional advice to run the system. Such adventurous policy has its cost and Sunday was the day to pay for it,” he argued.
Meanwhile, a spokesman of Uch Power denied that failure of his plant had triggered a cascading effect. He said: “We would like to strongly reject the reported news holding Uch power plant responsible for the domino effect, leading to a total blackout in the country. Attributing the blackout to failure of Uch power plant is completely incorrect and baseless.”

PM orders steps to reduce shortage

ISLAMABAD: Presiding over a meeting to review the energy situation in the country at the PM House in Islamabad on Monday, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf directed the Ministry of Water and Power to take every measure to minimise the demand and supply gap of electricity and ensure minimum inconvenience to consumers.
Water and Power Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar, Finance Minister Saleem H. Mandviwala, Adviser to the PM on Petroleum Dr Asim Hussain and senior officials of the Ministry of Water and Power attended the meeting.
It was informed that the electricity breakdown was due to a technical fault and power supply had been restored in most parts of the country and in the rest of the areas it would be done before evening.
The prime minister was told that as directed by him an inquiry committee had been constituted with Member (Power) Wapda as its convener to ascertain the reasons behind the breakdown and fix responsibility. The committee will submit its findings along with recommendations within seven days.—APP

Strong anti-terrorism bill introduced in NA

By Raja Asghar

ISLAMABAD, Feb 25: The government introduced a stronger anti-terrorism bill in the National Assembly on Monday with bars on reviving banned groups under new names and on court bails for offences punishable with death or more than 10 years in prison.
On a day the ruling Pakistan People’s Party saw one of its veteran lawmakers, Syed Zafar Ali Shah, confronting it after defecting to the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N, the house also passed a toned down version of once-controversial bill governing a defence housing authority in Islamabad, and another to set up a centre to study the impact of global climate change.
While the Anti-Terrorism (Second Amendment) Bill will go to a house standing committee on interior for vetting before coming back for approval, some lively discussion took place on the two other government bills before being passed with consensus, with PML-N patting its own backs for negotiating with military authorities to transform a previously objectionable draft into a new, acceptable Defence Housing Authority Islamabad Bill.
The new 25-clause draft came only six days after the house unanimously passed another amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 to strength provisions against terrorism-financing.
One clause of the new bill says that “if any or all office-bearers of a proscribed organisation form a new organisation under a different name, upon suspicion about their involvement in similar activities, the said organisation shall also be deemed to be a proscribed organisation and the government may issue a formal notification of its proscription”.
The bill also provides that if members of such organisations or their associates were found “continuing the activities of the proscribed organisation, they would be denied passports and foreign travel, and loans or financial support by any bank or financial institution and have their arms licences cancelled”.
In a move to meet a common complaint of law-enforcement agencies about courts releasing terrorism accused on bail, a clause of the bill says that “no court shall grant bail to a person accused of an offence under this act punishable with death or imprisonment for life or imprisonment exceeding 10 years”.
Opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan made a long speech on his party’s role to change what he said would have been a “state within a state” under the original bill based on a Musharraf-era decree simply to a housing society adhering to normal government laws.
“It is now just a housing society,” he said about the Islamabad DHA as well as a sister organisation set up for nearby Rawalpindi.
Chaudhry Nisar, who recalled his one-time threat to physically block the original bill as introduced in 2009 if the government bulldozed it without incorporating about 30 PML-N amendments, claimed all credit for his party for the change he said had been negotiated by a party team with one from the army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.
Though he acknowledged a team of government ministers had agreed with the PML-N that the previous bill involved some “serious” constitutional anomalies, but said it would have been much better if the new bill had been made the product of consultations between the government and opposition rather than the opposition taking the case to the General Headquarters.
The government accepted a few other PML-N amendments moved by its legal guru Zahid Hamid and even one from Syed Zafar Ali Shah, who continued to occupy a PPP bench despite announcing earlier this month that he had joined the PML-N.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND PARTY CHANGE: But it was during discussion on an earlier bill seeking the establishment of a Global Change Impact Studies Centre that party change by Mr Shah, a former deputy speaker of the house, came into focus with PPP chief whip and Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Ahmed Shah objecting to his former colleague sitting in the house instead of resigning and some PPP back-benchers repeatedly shouting “lota” (deserter) for
the elderly man.
The PPP chief whip said Syed Zafar Ali Shah should have followed the constitution to resign from the house though he said nobody could be stopped from changing parties.
But the dissident seemed in no mood to listen to such a demand and said the PPP chief whip better ask “his own leader” how much he was following the Constitution, adding, amid cheers from PML-N benches: “I have suffered for five years, now I am free.”
MQM WALKOUTS: Earlier, lawmakers of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which recently quit the PPP-led ruling coalitions at the Centre and in Sindh province, staged token walkouts in both the National Assembly and the Senate to protest against a speech by Sindh Education Minister Pir Mazharul Haq against the establishment of a new university in Hyderabad.

US Army Corps ‘to operate from Karachi airport’

By Mateen Haider

ISLAMABAD, Feb 25: The US Army Corps of Engineer has been granted permission to build a Tactical Command and Operations Centre (TCOC) compound at the Jinnah International Airport (JIAP), Karachi to exchange information with Pakistan Customs Drug Enforcement Cell concerning smuggling activities in and around Karachi, according to documents released by US Army Corps of Engineer, Middle East District.
"US Army corps of engineer intends to solicit a Request for Proposal (RFP) to construction firms or Joint Ventures (JV) experienced in working in the Middle East region who are interested in submitting a proposal for the design and construction of tactical command and operations centre compound in Karachi", the project document says.
The compound will support the officers, staff and equipment of the Pakistan Customs Drug Enforcement Cell and Rummaging and Patrolling Sections. The project will enable coordinated quick-response to constantly evolving narcotics and contraband smuggling tactics in and around Karachi, including entire coastal line of Pakistan.
According to project details, the company which would get contract would be responsible for designing building of a two-storey Tactical Command and Operations Centre consisting of a main block and a cell/interrogation building placed separately.
The compound would be spread over an approximate area of 7,000 square feet (with a paved courtyard in the centre) and a 900sf building, respectively.
The document says the contractor must be licensed to conduct business in Pakistan. The document says this acquisition will be unrestricted, full and open, best value competition, no set-aside proposals will be evaluated and awarded based upon the best value procurement method in accordance with FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulation) Part 15.
The best value, lowest price technically acceptable (LPTA) will be used to evaluate all proposals. The evaluation criteria will be conveyed within the RFP. One or more of the items in the project scope may appear in the solicitation as an option item. The contract will be awarded on a firm-fixed price basis only.
The tentative date for issuance of RFP is April 1, 2013 and the tentative date for receipt of proposals is May 1, 2013. The performance period will be 365 days from issuance of notice to proceed (NTP). The magnitude of this construction project is between $1million to $2mn, according to the documents.
The project document says all firms must be capable of being registered to work in Pakistan, in accordance with local laws which govern Karachi and Pakistani laws and regulations.

Indian held for passing military data to Pakistan

JAIPUR, Feb 25: An Indian man has been arrested on charges of spying for Pakistan on military wargames staged on India’s border with its neighbour, police said on Monday.
The 35-year-old man is accused of passing on details of the exercises held by the Indian Air Force on Friday in the western desert state of Rajasthan, senior state police officer D.S. Dinkar said.
Mr Dinkar identified the man as an Indian national called Sumaar Khan and said he was allegedly spying for Inter-Services Intelligence, “passing information related to Indian defence installations and military activities”.
Police alleged the man used mobile phones and Internet to transmit information, but did not say when he was arrested.
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attended the drill, codenamed `Iron Fist’.—AFP

Process can’t be undertaken without fresh census, says ECP: SC disposes of MQM plea against delimitation

By Tahir Siddiqui

KARACHI, Feb 25: The Supreme Court disposed of on Monday a petition of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement seeking review of its order relating to delimitation of constituencies in Karachi when the party withdrew it after the Election Commission of Pakistan informed the court that the delimitation process could not be undertaken in the absence of a fresh census. At the outset of the proceedings on the implementation of the court’s judgment in the Karachi law and order case, a larger bench comprising Justices Anwar Zaheer Jamali, Khilji Arif Hussain, Sarmad Jalal Osmani, Gulzar Ahmed and Athar Saeed decided to take up two review applications of the MQM filed by its leader Dr Farooq Sattar against the court’s order for delimitation of constituencies in the city.
Barrister Farogh Naseem, the counsel for the MQM, initially submitted that the SC order was liable to be reviewed. He said the court in the Watan Party case had held that delimitation was to be undertaken strictly in accordance with the law.
But the court said it had not issued any order in this regard; it only made observation about the feasibility of carrying out such an exercise.
The bench recalled that the ECP secretary had earlier stated that there was no hurdle in carrying out the delimitation exercise and assured the court that the commission would expedite the work. The secretary had also conceded that fresh boundaries of the constituencies could be drawn, it said.
Farogh Naseem said the MQM was not aggrieved by the SC judgment because the court had observed that such an exercise should be undertaken strictly in accordance with the law.
The ECP’s counsel said the process of delimitation of constituencies could not be undertaken without a fresh census.
The bench disposed of the MQM’s petition with an observation that since the court had not issued any order and only made observations about the delimitation of constituencies there was no question of review of its order.
LOOTING AND MUGGING: The Supreme Court expressed grave concern and displeasure over incidents of looting and mugging during traffic jams in Karachi and observed that it had become a routine that street criminals deprived motorists and commuters of their cash, cellphones and other valuables during gridlocks. Coming down heavily on the provincial and city police chiefs – IG Fayyaz Leghari and AIG Iqbal Mehmood – the bench regretted that hundreds of people were being robbed during traffic jams at key points of the city in the presence of policemen.
The judges observed that such incidents were possible only with the connivance of law-enforcers. “They act like silent spectators, while the criminals go on looting spree during traffic jams,” a member of the larger bench said.
Justice Khilji Arif said it had become a menace and people had been left at the mercy of criminals. He said the criminals disappeared after looting the commuters, but police did not bother to chase and arrest them.
Justice Anwar Jamali observed that the police department did not maintain computerised record of criminals and most of them had been found involved in criminal activities again after being released.
He said one of the reasons for criminals getting bails was non-production of their criminal records before courts.
The IG Sindh said the police department was facing shortage of personnel, adding that the Election Commission had imposed a ban on fresh recruitment in view of the coming general election.
The bench reminded him that the apex court had issued the verdict on the breakdown of law and order more than a year ago and asked why he had not taken up the issue of recruitment earlier.
The bench observed that the ECP had rightly slapped the ban on new recruitments because the elections were round the corner.
The court directed the IG to submit a report on the measures taken to avert the incidents of looting during traffic jams in the city.
The hearing was adjourned to Tuesday.

Nawaz in electoral alliance with Pagara, NPP

By Habib Khan Ghori

KARACHI, Feb 26: The Pakistan Muslim League-N, PML-F and National People’s Party have agreed in principle to forge an electoral alliance that could include other political, religious and nationalist parties, and prepare a joint strategy to field one-to-one candidates in the coming general election against the ruling coalition.
The decision was announced by PML-N president Nawaz Sharif and PML-F chief Pir Pagara after an over two-hour meeting of leaders of the three parties at the Kingri House on Tuesday.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali, Syed Ghaus Ali Shah, Sardar Mumtaz Ali Bhutto and Salim Zia from the PML-N, Pir Sadruddin Shah Rashdi, Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah, Ghulam Mustafa Khar, M.A. Durrani and Imtiaz Ahmad Shaikh from PML-F, and Ghulam Murtaza Jatoi and Masroor Jatoi from the NPP also took part in the talks.
Mr Sharif, who had arrived here earlier in the day along with key leaders of his party, visited Illahi Bux Soomro to offer condolences on the death of his son and the family of late Jamaat-i-Islami leader Prof Ghafoor Ahmad before arriving at the Kingri House.
Talking to reporters, he said he had held talks with Pir Pagara’s father a few weeks before his death and Sadruddin Rashdi had brought a message to him in Lahore about moving together in the future.
He said it was a matter to rejoice that Pir Pagara had decided to honour his father’s wish — to rid Sindh of the clutches of those who were planning to hoodwink them and steal the election through manipulation.
Without naming the MQM, he said that a coalition party, after remaining in government for four years and 11 months, had declared itself as an opposition party to deprive the genuine opposition of its constitutional right to the post of leader of opposition in the Sindh Assembly. He alleged that the move was aimed at installing a handpicked caretaker set-up in Sindh to cover “misdeeds of the rulers and steal the election”.
Mr Sharif said the leaders had decided to join hands with all opposition parties and approach the Supreme Court and the Election Commission for change of all governors appointed on a political basis and transfer of all administrative officials who had been posted to rig the election.
They urged the Election Commission to take effective measures to implement its rules and regulations and make the ruling parties comply with all its decisions.
The PML-N leader said President Asif Zardari had failed during his five-year rule to do anything over unemployment, poverty, economic derailment and law and order.
He said targeted killings, extortion and disturbances in Karachi were now a matter of routine and investors were fleeing to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Europe.
He said the GDP growth rate had dropped from eight per cent during his rule in 1999 to 2-3 per cent, but the government was proud of having completed its term despite the deterioration all around.
He said it was a good augury that a system had been established under which governments would be formed and sent home through the popular vote only.
He said no one could dare postpone the polls. “Those who had come from abroad and staged a long march and sit-in are nowhere now.”
In reply to a question, he said there was no harm in holding talks with Taliban for sake of peace.
“Maulana Fazlur Rehman is striving to pave the way for peace and we all want peace in Pakistan, including Karachi. Let us wait for the outcome of his efforts.”
Pir Pagara claimed that now the PPP did not exist in Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “Hence it is striving to win the election in Sindh by hook or by crook.”
He said those who had been in government till yesterday were now claiming to be in the opposition to help install a favourable caretaker set-up.
He said that in the current circumstances it depended on Sindh to put the country on the road to progress or deterioration.
The PML-F chief said he would like to appeal to the chief justice and the army chief to ensure an inquiry into the recent countrywide electricity breakdown to ascertain whether it had been caused by a technical fault or was meant to convey a message to the people by someone capable of doing this.

Profit margins on HSD increased: ECC approves Rs100bn bailout package for PIA

By Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD, Feb 26: Eighteen days before the end of its term, the government approved on Tuesday a record Rs100 billion bailout package for the ever-bleeding Pakistan International Airlines.
A meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet, its second in four days, also decided to increase commission for dealers and margins on sale of high-speed diesel.
Finance Minister Saleem H. Mandviwalla presided over the meeting.
The committee approved an “interim business plan” presented by the PIA management for five years.
The bailout package will allow the Ministry of Finance to issue fresh guarantees of Rs49 billion during the current year to help the airline cope with its liquidity problems.
The committee decided to ask the Ministry of Defence to arrange payment of $46 million by the Ministry of Finance with or without government guarantees to enable PIA to acquire five narrow-bodied aircraft to replace its ageing fleet.
It approved a proposal to extend loans and guarantees of Rs33.5bn till June this year and allowed the airline to borrow Rs13.5bn from the National Bank of Pakistan against a letter of comfort to be subsequently replaced by federal government guarantees.
The committee stated that the measures would help PIA to achieve fuel efficiency through fleet modernisation, optimum fleet deployment on network, introduction of additional frequencies on high-demand high-yield routes, enhance revenue and increase its market share, separate the core airline business activities from non-core activities and restructure its liabilities to reduce its financial cost.
Diesel price
The ECC approved an increase in profit margins of oil marketing companies and petroleum dealers by 10 paisa per litre on high-speed diesel on a summary moved by the Ministry of Petroleum. The decision will increase HSD price by Rs20 per litre from March 1 when rates of petroleum products are likely to be raised under the monthly price revision system.
Through another summary, the ministry complained against refusal by the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) to allow a 14 paisa per unit allowance to Pak-Arab Refinery Limited despite ECC’s expressed desire. Ogra has informed the government that the Supreme Court has directed against passing on imprudent costs to consumers. It said if the government wanted to compensate Parco refinery on account of transportation charges it should do so directly from the federal budget.
The ECC directed Ogra to continue to implement its decision of August 16, 2011, and reimburse the price difference to Parco through inland freight equalisation margin as per previous practice.
On yet another summary from the Ministry of Petroleum, the ECC approved a revised price computation formula for HSD due to change of benchmark price from 0.1 per cent to 0.05 per cent sulphur content (Euro-II) which would remain in force till June 30 next year.
The committee banned marketing of HSD with sulphur content of more than 0.05 per cent.
On a request of the ministry, the ECC allowed allocation of 20 MMCFD (million cubic feet per day) of gas from new sources to 100MW power plant of the Sindh government at Nooriabad Industrial Estate.
It directed that the said allocation by the SSGC should be placed at the disposal of the Ministry of Water and Power till the plant became operational.

Zardari to visit Iran today for loan accord

By Our Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD, Feb 26: President Asif Ali Zardari will visit Tehran on Wednesday to finalise a loan agreement for the multi-billion-dollar Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project.
“President Zardari will undertake a two-day official visit to Iran on Wednesday (today),” the president’s spokesman said on Tuesday.
Pakistan and Iran have been negotiating a loan arrangement under which the latter will provide $500 million to the former for laying gas pipeline on the Pakistani side.
A team of Pakistani negotiators is already in Iran for discussions on the deal. They had accompanied Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qassemi on his return to Tehran after visiting Pakistan last week.
The Presidency’s statement did not mention if President Zardari would witness the signing of the loan deal. However, it reminded: “The president has been urging early completion of mega projects between the two countries and expressed the hope that the visit will lend further impetus to efforts aimed at early completion of the bilateral projects.”
According to reliable sources, the agreement will be placed before the federal cabinet next week for approval.
The two sides are also planning to hold a ground-breaking ceremony of the project on Monday (March 4) along the Pakistan-Iran border. The two presidents are likely to attend.
According to a source, the laying of Pakistan section of the gas pipeline will be completed in 22 months.
Pakistan appears to have ignored the US pressure while moving ahead with the gas pipeline project. The US has time and again warned Pakistan against pursuing the project.
“We’ve made clear to countries around the world, including Pakistan, that we believe that it’s in their interest to avoid activities that could be prohibited by UN sanctions or that could be sanctionable under the US law,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said recently.
“The visit is a manifestation of the great importance Pakistan attaches to its relations with Iran,” the presidential spokesman noted.
Reiterating Pakistan’s commitment to the project, Foreign Office spokesman Moazzam Khan said: “The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project is enormously important for Pakistan as we are an energy-deficient country. It is in our national interest to have this project. We are committed to have this project. Yes, there are some issues, but Pakistan is determined to pursue this project.”
The $1.2-1.5 billion pipeline project will enable export of 21.5 million cubic metres of natural gas daily from Iran to Pakistan. Almost 900km of pipeline in Iranian territory has already been laid.
The two countries are also discussing the setting up of an oil refinery in Pakistan and the opening of another trade route.

Policeman escorting polio team shot dead

By Mohammad Jamal Hoti

MARDAN, Feb 26: Gunmen killed a police constable deployed to provide security to health workers administering polio vaccines to children in Khao area of Ghala Dhere union council on Tuesday.
Police and sources said 24-year-old constable Said Mohammad came under attack when he was standing outside a house and a health worker, Farida Begum, was administering vaccines to children inside the house.
They said people of the area came out of their homes after hearing gunshots and found five empty cases of bullets.
The lady health worker fell unconscious after seeing the constable in a pool of blood when she came out of the house. She was taken to hospital.
Mohammad Ayaz, an official of the World Heath Organisation who was monitoring the anti-polio campaign in the area, told Dawn that the team consisted of two members — Farida Begum, and her husband, Sardarul Haq.
He said he or any other member of the team had not received threats from militants.
Senior health officials said the anti-polio campaign in the area would continue.
Police conducted a search operation in the area, but made no arrest. An FIR was registered against unidentified assailants.
Agencies add: The killing of the constable brought the death toll in such attacks to 20 since December.
Rumours about vaccines being a plot to sterilise Muslims have also dogged efforts to tackle the highly infectious disease.

India finances trouble in Pakistan: Hagel

By Our Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Feb 26: India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan from across the border in Afghanistan, says Senator Chuck Hagel, US President Barack Obama’s nominee for secretary of defence.
Mr Hagel, who faces a confirmation vote in the US Senate on Tuesday night or Wednesday, made these remarks in a talk at the Cameron University in Oklahoma in 2011. The video of his speech reappeared on a website of the Washington Free Beacon, an American news portal that publishes associated content from a US conservative perspective.
The video gave more fuel to his opponents who were already trying to block his nomination because of the alleged anti-Israeli statements he had made in the past.
Mr Hagel’s “comments on India’s role in Afghanistan during a speech in 2011 provide yet another indication that he is poorly qualified to lead the US Department of Defence”, said Lisa Curtis, a South Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think-tank.
In his talk on Afghanistan, Mr Hagel reportedly said that India had been using Afghanistan as a second front against Pakistan. “India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border, and you can carry that into many dimensions.”
He noted that India took advantage of tensions between Kabul and Islamabad for fomenting troubles in the areas that border Afghanistan. “The point being [that] the tense, fragmented relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been there for many, many years,” he said.
Mr Hagel is not the only American to suggest that India has been using Afghanistan for stirring troubles in Pakistan. C. Christine Fair, an assistant professor at Georgetown University, made similar suggestion during a congressional hearing on Afghanistan in 2011 but was later forced to clarify her position following protests from Indian lobbies.
Our Correspondent in New Delhi adds: US defence secretary nominee Chuck Hagel has riled Indians after his comments from a 2011 speech in which he accused New Delhi of financing problems for Pakistan through Afghanistan.
The remarks sparked a strong reaction from India which said such comments were “contrary to the reality” of its unbounded dedication to the welfare of Afghans.
A Times of India report quoted the Indian Embassy in Washington as seeking to play down its importance.
“Such comments attributed to Senator Hagel, who has been a longstanding friend of India and a prominent votary of close India-US relations, are contrary to the reality of India’s unbounded dedication to the welfare of Afghan people,” the embassy said.
It added that India’s commitment to a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan was unwavering, “and this is reflected in our significant assistance to Afghanistan in developing its economy, infrastructure and institutional capacities”. “Our opposition to terrorism and its safe havens in our neighbourhood is firm and unshakable. India’s development assistance has been deeply appreciated by the people and the government of Afghanistan, and by our friends around the world including the US. We do not view our engagement with Afghanistan as a zero sum game,” the embassy said.
The Times said Mr Hagel’s remarks were in sharp contrast to the viewpoint of the Obama administration that had always been in praise of India’s developmental role in Afghanistan and in fact had been pressing New Delhi to do more in Afghanistan.
The embassy said India and the US had a shared perspective and a deep convergence of interests for ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan.
“We will continue to work to help the Afghan people build a peaceful, prosperous, democratic and inclusive future for themselves in an environment free from terror and intimidation,” the statement said.

Power shortage hinders supply restoration

By Ahmad Fraz Khan

LAHORE, Feb 26: The power planners were still struggling on Tuesday — 48 hours after a countrywide breakdown — to fully restore supplies, as a fuel and generation crunch hindered their efforts.
“The conditions (high demand and lower generation) that led to the breakdown on Sunday continue, demanding heightened vigilance by the planners at each tier of generation, transmission and distribution,” an official of the Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco) said.
The prime minister had ordered the finance ministry to arrange Rs40 billion for Pakistan State Oil, of which Rs13bn was paid on Monday night, to improve fuel supplies, but PSO officials said that even if the whole amount was released, it would not immediately translate into increased oil supplies.
“The company is seeking money to retire letters of credit for oil it has already imported rather than increasing imports,” an official said. It still immediately needs Rs12bn to avoid default on those LCs. If it defaults on payments, it would take the company around 45 days to get supplies resumed.
Hence the entire effort is riveted on avoiding default, not increasing supplies for the power sector. The increase would only happen if the company continuously keeps getting payments in future.
The PSO has already doubled the supplies (from 8000 tons last week to 16,000 tons this week) to power sector credit consumers. If additional money is paid, the increase would only be of 2,000 to 3,000 tons, he said.
“But this is all conjecture because nothing has been paid so far and the company is keeping its fingers crossed.”
With oil supplies squeezed, the average hydroelectric power generation fell to a meagre 2,100MW on Tuesday, bringing total generation down to 7,000MW against a demand of 13,000MW.
The planners fear an increase in demand if, as predicted by the meteorological department, it starts raining and snowing again. With a drop in temperature and low gas supplies, people would switch their electric heaters on.
“That could cause a problem in 48 hours,” an official of the National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NTDC) said.
The planners are facing a double jeopardy. If they quickly and fully restore the transmission and distribution system, it would only add to the demand and expose the system to a possibility of collapse again. If they don’t, the popular pressure would mount. This is a balancing act which has made life difficult for everyone in the company.
The supply to some areas of Sindh and Balochistan was still to be revived because the jugglery of power supplies had its own limitations, the official conceded.
According to sources, around 20 per cent independent feeders designated for industries had still not started getting supplies, taking a huge toll on the sector.
“We are promised 24-hour uninterrupted supplies but the industries depending on those feeders have been idle for the past 48 hours and still there is no hope for an early restoration of supply. The power planners tell us that the generation has not been fully restored yet and they cannot spare any additional supply to the industries,” they said.
“The power sector has paid around Rs40bn to the PSO during the past month,” a Pepco official said. Making any additional payment is a time-consuming process both for companies of the sector and the government. The finance ministry will have to arrange money and then the PSO will have to arrange additional supplies.
Both these processes have their own time lag.
There is no fallback in the meantime: no water, no gas. The squeeze thus would continue for at least a few days and the system remained vulnerable to pressure created by high demand and low generation, as was the case on Sunday, he said.

Mandviwalla dispels fears about country going bankrupt

By Our Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD, Feb 26: Finance Minister Saleem H. Mandviwalla said here on Tuesday that Pakistan had never faced bankruptcy in the past nor would it in future. “We should not take rumour-mongering seriously.” .
He was responding to a question at his first press conference as the fifth finance minister in as many years. He said the process of budget preparation was continuing and the budget team was making good progress.
Responding to a question, he said he could not say why he had been appointed finance minister for less than a month, adding that it was a decision of the leadership. “My predecessor had some other plans or he wanted to go somewhere else from here,” Mr Mandviwalla said while referring to the resignation of Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh.
He said he would work for strengthening national economy with prudent and transparent economic policies and austerity measures. He said his ministry had finalised a Shariat complaint bond for Haj under which intending pilgrims would be given an opportunity to purchase Islamic Sukuk Bonds worth Rs300,000.
Likewise, dollar-denominated bonds would be offered to overseas Pakistanis who would get return in Pakistani currency on maturity.
He said he had set a medium-term increase of remittances to $20 billion from this year’s $14.5 billion.
He said it was not his responsibility to look into technicalities and pros and cons of every aspect of a matter while taking a decision as head of the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet.
“It is for the relevant ministries to examine all issues involved and present all facts in their summaries and other stakeholders get an opportunity to present divergent views at the ECC meeting,” he said.
He was replying to questions relating to decisions taken by two meetings of the ECC held in four days and to some summaries which were presented to ECC during the meeting instead of customary circulation to all ministries in advance for their opinion.
When reminded that line ministries usually came up with arguments which supported their summaries and in one of such instances in rental power project issue former finance minister Shaukat Tarin had been put on the exit control list, Mr Mandviwalla said he was not afraid of being put on the Exit Control List.
“It is better to take decision instead of taking no decision at all and when we take decisions there is a possibility of mistakes as well,” he said, adding that he had directed all line ministries to put up all outstanding issues so that we can take decisions”.
The minister agreed that in some cases some ministries did not give their comments when summaries were circulated but they had the option to express their views at the ECC meeting.
He denied that the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority had opposed allowing transportation costs of channelling petroleum products through the inland freight equalisation margin or for increasing the dealer commission and OMC’s margin and added that one of the refineries was enjoying the facility which had been extended to others as well.
He said he had addressed all pending issues of urgent nature within a week since taking over as the finance minister because the time was limited and the tasks were difficult. He said he would not say where all these outstanding issues had been held up but his aim was to resolve pendency by removing bureaucratic and system delays.
He said he was trying to resolve all outstanding chronic issues and had directed the ministry not to hold any file for more than three days. He said he himself was setting an example by disposing of all files within a day. “We have cleared the entire backlog and have no pending issues,” he said.

Hazaras warn of communities’ segregation

By Nasir Iqbal

ISLAMABAD, Feb 26: Leaders of the Shia Hazara community said in the Supreme Court on Tuesday that any knee-jerk reaction by the authorities in Balochistan could cause segregation of communities which might further fan sectarian violence in the country.
“We are not interested in taking revenge but want that culprits involved in the gruesome Hazara Town bombing be sternly dealt with in accordance with the law,” former senator Abbas Kumaili told a three-judge bench which rejected as unsatisfactory a report submitted by the Balochistan government on measures taken to ensure peace in Quetta.
The bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had taken suo motu notice of unabated killings of the Shia Hazara community.
“We are not interested in any compensation; we want peace,” said Agha Nasir Ali Shah, a PPP MNA.
Abbas Kumaili regretted that the Feb 16 Hazara Town bombing was not an isolated incident; the killing of Shia leaders had begun in 1993, but the successive governments had failed to take any action despite repeated appeals and warnings.
He said he feared that such incidents might spread to other cities and towns if the root cause was not identified and real culprits were not arrested. Only a Swat-like operation in Balochistan could ensure restoration of peace in Quetta.
“We are not asking for handing over Quetta to the army,” Mr Kumaili said, adding that in curbing terrorist activities the prolonged silence of and negligence on the part of law-enforcement and intelligence agencies were meaningful.
He submitted a list of incidents that have taken place since 1993 in which a large number of people belonging to the Shia community were ruthlessly killed. Even pilgrims going to Iran were butchered and their buses burnt on return, especially in Mastung area.

Zardari meets Iranian leaders: Pipeline plan to be pursued vigorously

TEHRAN, Feb 27: President Asif Ali Zardari and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad decided here on Wednesday to vigorously pursue the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project as well as other major projects between the two countries.
According to the president’s spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar, the decision was taken during two rounds of meetings, one at the delegation level and the other one-to-one. They underscored the need to take full advantage of each other’s resources and expertise.
The leaders reaffirmed their commitment to working hand in hand in overcoming the challenges resulting from the emerging situation in the region.
Besides bilateral matters, the leaders discussed the situation in Afghanistan and regional and international matters.
President Zardari proposed a free trade agreement between the two countries, easing of visa restrictions and revisiting the tariff and non-tariff trade barriers.
The president said the two countries together with Turkey could provide fresh impetus to the Economic Trade Organisation that would strengthen bonds among the people and promote trade and socio-economic development in the region.
Issues of curbing militancy, including enhanced cooperation in border security, and curbing narcotics trafficking also came under discussion.
President Zardari also called on Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei. President Ahmadinejad was present at the meeting. Bilateral relations and the regional situation with special reference to the challenges being faced by Muslims were discussed.
On his arrival here on a two-day visit, the president was welcomed at the Mehrabad International Airport by Iranian Petroleum Minister Rostam Qasemi.
Talking to the president, the Iranian supreme leader said the much-delayed $7.5 billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project must go ahead despite US opposition.
“The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is an important example of Tehran-Islamabad cooperation and despite hostilities towards the expansion of ties we must overcome this opposition decisively,” he said, according to a statement issued by his office.
“Accessing safe energy sources is the first priority for any country, including Pakistan. In this region, the Islamic republic is the only nation that has safe energy resources and we are ready to help Pakistan meet its energy needs,” he said. During his meeting with President Ahmadinejad, Mr Zardari said: “I believe that building this project is very beneficial for both sides and we support all the work carried out so far.
“The international and regional players have tried in vain to prevent an expansion of Iran-Pakistan ties but the people have learnt how to act against enemies of Islam.”
President Ahmadinejad said: “Building the gas pipeline between Iran and Pakistan is a great and important event, and it serves the two nations’ interests.”
Meanwhile, the US State Department said it was providing Pakistan with alternatives that would avoid any sanctions violation.
“We recognise that Pakistan has significant energy requirements but we really think there are other long-term solutions to Pakistan’s energy needs,” said deputy acting spokesman Patrick Ventrell.
“And so we’ve been assisting as a government to contribute to the alleviation of the energy crisis in Pakistan,” he said.
“It’s in their best interests to avoid any sanctionable activity, and we think that we provide and are providing ...a better way to meet their energy needs in some of the assistance we’re providing.”
Iran has almost completed the pipeline work in its territory but Pakistan has not yet started construction of 780 kilometres of the pipeline on its side.—APP/AFP

Military not to interfere in polls: defence secretary

By Baqir Sajjad Syed

ISLAMABAD, Feb 27: The defence establishment on Wednesday again sought to quash fears about the military’s role in the coming general election and said it had no intention of interfering in the electoral process.
“There is no political or election cell in any agency, nor does the military intend to interfere in the election,” Defence Secretary Lt-Gen (retd) Asif Yasin Malik told reporters after attending a meeting of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Defence.
This was the third time over the past week when the defence establishment issued statements emphasising that it would remain neutral in the election expected in May.
The repeated messaging is apparently meant to address lingering doubts about the holding of polls and their transparency.
The National Assembly and provincial legislatures will complete their five-year tenure by the middle of next month.
Gen Malik insisted that the military would not be “monitoring” the election.
Scepticism about army’s role abounds as the country gets closer to the election. There have been fears about the election not being held on time, as have been other concerns about interference by the military.
The military commanders had on several occasions during the past five years privately expressed their reservations over governance issues. There were at least two occasions — Kerry Lugar Aid legislation in the US and memo scandal — when the civil-military tiff came to
the fore.
Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had over the weekend told a group of journalists that he had a dream that “free, fair and transparent elections take place on time”.
He said the civilian set-up was completing five years and the army had kept itself clear of political matters during this period.
Army’s spokesman Maj-Gen Asim Bajwa had conveyed a similar message during his media interaction last week. “We fully support free, fair and timely elections in the country.
“We have been supporting the present political set-up during the past five years and will not get anything if elections are delayed.”
US BASE: At the meeting of the NA committee, the defence secretary denied that the US Army Corps of Engineers had been permitted to build a ‘Tactical command and operations centre’ at the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi for counter-narcotics operations.
“I assure you that no such permission has been granted by the ministry of defence to the US army for constructing a base at Karachi airport,” he told the legislators. The secretary said an online advertisement seeking expression of interest for constructing such a facility at the Karachi airport was being investigated.
SECURITY: He also said that the security of military installations had been beefed up because of serious threats they faced. There was a serious threat to military installations, particularly those of the navy and air force, he said.
Army commandos, he said, had been deployed for the protection of the Pakistan Air Force and Navy facilities.
BAHRIA TOWN: The committee was told that the Bahria Town real estate development group was using the name illegally.
“The name Bahria was used on a temporary injunction/stay order and is void of legal footing,” a statement issued by the committee said.
The Bahria Town management, it said, had promised to change the name to ‘Safari Town (Pvt) Ltd’, but had not done so.
The committee asked the defence ministry to help the Bahria Foundation in legal proceedings against the Bahria Town management.

Navy officer injured in targeted attack

By S. Raza Hassan

KARACHI, Feb 27: A lieutenant commander of the Pakistan Navy was injured in a targeted attack in Keamari area of the city on Wednesday morning.
S. Azeem Haider Kazmi was the second naval officer to have been targeted in less than a month.
Police said the incident took place in front of the KPT Gate No 15 on the road connecting Jinnah Bridge to Keamari Harbour.
“Lieutenant Commander Syed Azeem Haider Kazmi was driving his private car and was heading to work when attacked at around 6.40am,” said SSP West Asif Ajaz Shaikh.
“We have found six spent bullet casings of 9mm pistol from the crime scene,” the SSP said.
He said there was no witness account, but the shooting was suspected to have been the work of two men who were on a motorbike.
Sources said that some Navy personnel using the same road saw the injured officer and rushed him to the PNS Shifa Hospital.
The officer used to park his car at the Dock Yard and sail to the Naval Academy at Manora where he worked in the Education Branch of the Pakistan Navy.
Till late in the evening, police were waiting for the navy to come and lodged a case.
A spokesman for the Pakistan Navy said Mr Kazmi had suffered multiple gunshot wounds and was operated upon for an hour at the PNS Shifa and now put on a ventilator.
“He was hit by four bullets, but no vital organ was damaged and the officer is now in stable condition,” the spokesman told Dawn.
Earlier on Feb 7, Lieutenant Commander Syed Asif Hussain Kazmi and his wife were injured when an improvised explosive planted beneath his car exploded in the premises of the PNS Karsaz.
The blast took place in the parking area of the Bahria College located behind the PNS Rahat off Karsaz Road.
The sources said that the explosive device had been fitted with a timer device.
However, a spokesman for the navy had said that it was an explosion apparently caused by CNG cylinder.
“Since there was a timer IED, it was meant to go off at the office of the officer, but on that day there was a change in the usual routine of the officer,” the sources said. Lieutenant Commander Asif was posted in the Dock Yard, they added.
Senior police officers told Dawn that police were never allowed to investigate the case and even the FIR of the incident had not been lodged.

N. Waziristan journalist shot dead

By Our Correspondent

MIRAMSHAH, Feb 27: Malak Mumtaz Khan, a renowned journalist of the tribal areas and president of the Miramshah Press Club, was shot dead in North Waziristan on Wednesday.
MIRAMSHAH, Feb 27: Malak Mumtaz Khan, a renowned journalist of the tribal areas and president of the Miramshah Press Club, was shot dead in North Waziristan on Wednesday.
According to sources, Malak Mumtaz, 45, was going home from Miramshah bazaar in his car when men in another car opened fire on him near his Miramshah Kalley village at about 4pm. He suffered bullet wounds to his head and chest and died on the spot.
The journalist was a Malak (tribal elder) of his village.
He was associated with several print and electronic media organisations, including The News, Jang, Geo TV and AVT Khyber. He is survived by wife, two sons and two daughters. The funeral will be held on Thursday.
Noor Behram, president of the Tribal Union of Journalists, announced five-day mourning.
The banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan condemned the killing of the journalist.

Raja writes to Nisar, seeks names for caretaker PM

By Khawar Ghumman

ISLAMABAD, Feb 27: Officially initiating the much-talked about consultation process of selecting a caretaker premier, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf wrote on Wednesday a letter to Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, seeking two names for the job to hold free and fair elections.
In the letter released by the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, Mr Ashraf also categorically stated that the National Assembly would be dissolved only after completing its five-year constitutional term on March 16.
The prime minister said: “I would request you (Chaudhry Nisar) as leader of the opposition to propose the names of persons who in your opinion are eminently qualified to be appointed as caretaker prime minister of Pakistan.
“I would be grateful if you could forward your nominations at the earliest so that we may arrive at a consensus on the caretaker prime minister prior to the dissolution of the National Assembly on the expiry of its term. Otherwise we will be constrained to proceed further in the matter as per Article 224 (A) of the Constitution.”
In the opening paragraph, Prime Minister Ashraf has waxed lyrical on the political class for completing its five-year term.
He said: “As you know, the National Assembly will be achieving the milestone of completing its tenure by the middle of next month. It will be a historic achievement signifying the maturity and sagacity of the political parties in the country.
“This singular achievement will go a long way in strengthening democracy and establishing supremacy of the will of the people of Pakistan.
“All political parties within and outside the parliament and national institutions deserve special compliment and praise for their continued support to the democratic process during the last five years. The country is now poised for general elections with the likely dissolution of the National Assembly on the expiry of its term.”
Referring to the constitutional requirement under which the prime minister, as leader of the house, is supposed to consult the leader of the opposition, Raja Pervez Ashraf said: “It is imperative that we initiate the process under Article 224 of the Constitution to arrive at a consensus on the appointment of caretaker prime minister who could uphold the national interest and ensure free, fair and transparent elections in the country.
“The people of Pakistan rightly expect us to rise to the occasion and agree upon the most suitable person as caretaker prime minister and pave the way for holding general elections in an impartial, fair and transparent manner. Let us enable the people of Pakistan to express their will in an exemplary environment and ensure smooth transition of power to the next elected government.”
Under Article 224 of the Constitution, if the leader of the house and that of the opposition do not agree on any name for the post of caretaker prime minister within three days after dissolution of the National Assembly, each of them will forward two names to a bipartisan parliamentary committee to be immediately constituted by the National Assembly speaker to decide on a name within three days.
If the committee, which will comprise four members each from treasury and opposition benches, also fails to do so, the names will be referred to the Chief Election Commissioner for a final decision within two days.
A similar procedure is to be followed in the provinces.
Chaudhry Nisar has said there is no constitutional requirement to enter into direct negotiation with the prime minister for the selection of caretaker prime minister. “As mentioned in the Constitution, I will recommend two names and leave it to the government to pick one. Otherwise the CEC will decide who should be the next caretaker prime minister,” he said.

Prices of petroleum products: Govt wants bigger hike than suggested by Ogra

By Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD, Feb 27: The Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) has worked out an average of four per cent increase in the prices of all petroleum products with effect from Thursday midnight, but the government wants the last price surge of its tenure to be even higher.
“The pricing of petroleum products is turning out to be a major controversy at the fag end of the PPP government’s tenure,” said a senior government official.
Background interviews with officials of the ministry of petroleum and regulatory authority suggest that while Ogra had worked out a hike in prices of all petroleum products under the existing pricing formula, it has recommended to the government not to pass on the increase to consumers.
An official told Dawn that a working paper prepared by Ogra for consideration of the government has calculated an increase of Rs3.53 in the price of petrol to Rs106.60 per litre from Rs103.07. Ogra has estimated an increase of Rs4.35 on high-speed diesel (HSD) to Rs113.56 per litre from Rs109.21. It has proposed to increase the prices of kerosene by Rs3.79 to Rs103.69 per litre from Rs99.90 and light diesel oil (LDO) by Rs3.93 to Rs98.25 per litre from Rs94.33.
The ministry of petroleum, however, wants Ogra to also take into account decisions of the Economic Coordination Committee and pass on a higher price increase to consumers than originally worked out by the regulator.
Ogra is resisting inclusion in the price calculation of the increase in dealers’ commission and oil marketing companies’ margin and transportation cost impact of Byco’s refining approved by the ECC on sale of petroleum products in retail market. If Ogra gives in to the ministry’s demand, the prices of major products — petrol and HSD — would go up by Rs1 per litre over and above the rates worked out by Ogra.
What made the issue more contentious was the fact that a statement issued after the ECC meeting reported that “the ECC approved the margin for oil marketing companies and dealers to be increased by 10 paisa per litre on high-speed diesel”.
Officials at both the ministry and Ogra, however, presented a different picture. They said the much higher commissions and margins were also increased on petrol on the recommendation of the petroleum ministry, but were not reported in official statement. They also said even though the ministry had not sought a rise in dealers’ commission on diesel, it was increased by 10 paisa per litre on the request of Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira.
They said the ECC approved an increase of 25 paisa per litre in OMC margin on petrol and 41 paisa in dealers’ commission. The ECC also approved 10 paisa per litre increase in commission for both dealers and OMCs.
An official said in a series of meetings on Wednesday Ogra had taken a position that it could not include the impact of increase in dealers and OMCs’ margin until it received a written directive from the government or at least the minutes of the ECC that increased margins for petroleum dealers and marketing companies.
The ministry of petroleum contended that since the ECC had taken a decision on Feb 26, it should be implemented immediately by Ogra whether or not it received minutes of the meeting that may take a couple of days to come out. “There is a possibility that we are able to persuade the cabinet division to circulate ECC minutes on Thursday so that increased margins are adjusted accordingly before the price notification,” said a government official.
An official said the issue of including the impact of inland freight equalisation margin (IFEM) in product prices approved by the ECC for Byco refinery was very serious.
He said a 15 paisa per litre impact of IFEM for transporting crude from Karachi to Multan was justified and would be subject to a policy directive by the ministry, but similar treatment to Byco would become a serious controversy and it might be challenged in court.
He said Parco was set up under the 1994 policy and implementation agreement of 1995 with 60 per cent equity participation by the government of Pakistan.
The policy and implementation agreement was based on a feasibility study to make transportation of crude from Karachi to Multan and reverse transportation of refined products to Karachi and involved government guarantees to ensure uniform petroleum prices.
No such facility was available in the case of Byco, which was a 100 per cent private entity and set up without any techno-economic feasibility and without any commitment from the government. On top of that, Byco was based at Hub, which was very close to Karachi, and its products would get marketed in Karachi and its close proximity.
“There is no justification to treat the two refineries at par. One is located more than 850km from Karachi while the other close to Karachi. They cannot get equal treatment in price calculation,” a senior official said.

Altaf asks Ibad to take back resignation

By Our Staff Reporter

KARACHI, Feb 27: Efforts made by President Asif Ali Zardari to persuade MQM chief Altaf Hussain to let Dr Ishratul Ibad Khan continue working as governor of Sindh bore fruit when Dr Ibad was advised by his leader on Wednesday to “take back his resignation and resume responsibilities for the sake of peace and stability in Sindh”.
The governor left for Dubai about a week ago after the MQM parted ways with the PPP government at the Centre and in Sindh.
According to an MQM statement, Mr Hussain spoke to the governor by phone and advised him to resume his responsibilities for promoting harmony among various segments of society.
It said the governor had sent his resignation to President Zardari after differences developed between PPP and MQM and the latter decided to sit on opposition benches.
Mr Hussain told the governor that although he had tendered his resignation voluntarily there was a persistent demand from members of the business community, religious scholars and people belonging to different spheres of life that he should be asked to take his resignation back.
He also told Dr Ibad that Interior Minister Malik had conveyed to him messages of President Asif Ali Zardari and other government personalities that even though the MQM was free to take its political decisions the governor should be asked to continue “in the larger interest of Sindh and Pakistan”.
Mr Hussain asked the governor to reconsider his decision “in the light of requests made by the business community, industrialists, religious scholars, and people belonging to different spheres of life”.

Hagel fights his way to top Pentagon job

By Anwar Iqbal and Masood Haider

WASHINGTON, Feb 27: Chuck Hagel was sworn in as US Defence Secretary on Wednesday, a day after the Senate confirmed him with a simple majority of 58 to 41 votes.
Mr Hagel, who arrived at the Pentagon 40 minutes late because of Washington’s morning traffic, was sworn in by his Director of Administration and Management Michael L. Rhodes.
The simple ceremony ended two months of his tough fight with conservative opponents who tried to derail his nomination soon after US President Barack Obama picked him for the job.
Mr Hagel, former Republican senator from Nebraska, had to face harsh interrogation at congressional hearings for criticising Israel and opposing the Iraq war.
On Tuesday, a conservative news portal also released the video of a speech he had made two years ago to prove that Mr Hagel was against India.
The video showed Mr Hagel as saying that India had financed anti-state elements in Pakistan and was using Afghanistan to cause trouble in the border areas.
But even this video failed to persuade the Democrats, who control the Senate, to vote against Mr Hagel. They voted twice, first to clear a procedural hitch, to confirm him as the new secretary of defence.
But the video did cause angry reactions in New Delhi and forced US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake to assuage India’s concerns.
President Obama called Mr Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran, a patriot who “fought and bled for our country”.
Mr Obama said he would count on Mr Hagel’s “counsel and judgment” as the United States was ending combat operations in Afghanistan and staying “ready to meet the threats of our time”.
But the new defence secretary’s conservative critics, upset with his endorsement of President Obama’s views on limiting US military involvements, continued to rebuke him.
“He is obviously not qualified for the job and holds dangerously misguided views on some of the most important issues facing national security policy for our country,” said Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas.
“I do not believe that Chuck Hagel, who is a friend of mine, is qualified to be secretary of defence,” said Senator John McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate.
“Mr Hagel’s view concedes the limits of American power. For many hawks, that means conceding American decline,” wrote Peter Beinart of the Daily Best while explaining why conservatives opposed the new secretary.
Mr Hagel’s criticism of the Iraq war, harsh anti-terrorism laws, and his past positions on Iran had also raised red flags with his opponents.

AG withdraws reply submitted on behalf of Intelligence Bureau

By Our Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD, Feb 27: Attorney General Irfan Qadir withdrew on Wednesday a reply submitted to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Intelligence Bureau in a case about misappropriation of IB funds in which the government had held that the court could not lay its hands on information relating to internal working of the bureau.
The reply was withdrawn after a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry objected to the contents of the reply signed by the attorney general instead of IB Director General Akhtar Hussain Gorchani.
The bench had taken notice of a report in an English daily alleging that the PPP government had withdrawn Rs270 million to dislodge the Punjab government in 2008-9.
According to the report published on March 14 last year, former IB director general Dr Shoaib Suddle confirmed that money had been withdrawn from the bureau’s secret funds and that when he brought the matter to the notice of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani he kept quiet for political considerations.
The report also accused the PPP government of withdrawing Rs360 million in 1988-90 to buy loyalty of parliamentarians to offset a no-confidence motion, win elections in Azad Kashmir and remove the government in the then NWFP and install Aftab Sherpao as chief minister.
At the last hearing, former IB chief Masood Sharif Khattak submitted a nine-page statement in which he defended former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s decision to increase secret service funds and then draw it in 1988-90 from the accounts of the civilian intelligence outfit.
Tariq A. Lodhi, another former IB chief during whose tenure Rs270 million was allegedly withdrawn by the PPP government, also submitted a reply but claimed it to be privileged.
On Wednesday the court held that the statement submitted by the attorney general had not been signed by the IB chief and its language was also contemptuous.
The attorney general explained that the IB had sought an opinion from the law ministry before submitting its point of view on the allegations that the money had been withdrawn from the bureau’s funds. The opinion given by the ministry had been reproduced by the IB in the reply, Mr Qadir said.
But the court appeared to be not satisfied with the assertion that the Auditor General Pakistan had already audited the IB accounts and, therefore, the department should be asked to explain if there was any anomaly or misuse of the funds.
Besides, the reply said, Article 175(2) of the Constitution restrained the Supreme Court from interfering in such matters. The article explains that the court has no jurisdiction, except on matters conferred on it by the Constitution or any law.
“Is it a direction being given to the court?” the bench asked. It said the court was deliberately showing respect because the reply had been signed by the attorney general.
When the court was about to dictate its order, the AG said he was withdrawing the reply so that it could be resubmitted by the IB chief himself under his own signatures.
The hearing was adjourned to Thursday.

Mainstream parties back jirga talks with militants

By Amir Wasim

ISLAMABAD, Feb 28: In a major development, mainstream political and religious parties and civil society groups agreed on Thursday to negotiate peace with militant elements through a broadened tribal jirga earlier formed by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F.
The parties attending an all parties conference (APC) hosted by the JUI-F agreed on a five-point declaration.
“The first meeting of the grand tribal jirga, now having the backing of all the country’s main political leadership, will be held in Peshawar on Friday (today) to devise a strategy to proceed further in the light of the declaration,” JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman announced at the conclusion of the nine-hour conference. The APC was boycotted by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf.
It was the second APC in 14 days but more significant for its clear objective and higher-level representation than the one hosted by the Awami National Party (ANP) on Feb 14 which had also called for holding dialogue with militant groups, but failed to produce any concrete plan of action.
Reading out the declaration signed by representatives of nearly 30 political and religious parties and organisations and drafted by a committee after hectic consultations, Maulana Fazl said the existing grand jirga (comprising 17 members) would be expanded and all parties belonging to different schools of thought would have representation in it.
“Practical steps should be taken to end lawlessness and we support every process of negotiations resulting in the establishment of rule of law in the country,” says the declaration.
The declaration asked “the grand jirga to start negotiations with all stakeholders under the guidance of leaders of all political and religious parties present in the today’s APC”.
All members of the jirga attended the conference and its chief Malik Qadir Khan delivered a speech in Pashto.
In order to avoid criticism in some circles regarding the timing of the APC just two weeks before the expiry of the five-year term of the
government, the participants announced that the implementation of the agreed declaration would be binding on the present government, caretaker set-up and the government and the opposition to be formed after the general election.
The declaration also called for setting up a trust for the welfare of families of those killed and injured (in terrorism-related incidents).
Maulana Fazl later told reporters that after a meeting at the JUI-F’s provincial secretariat in Peshawar the jirga members would meet the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor on Friday to seek his assistance in the implementation of the APC declaration.
Asked why the name of Taliban was not mentioned in the declaration, he said the Taliban were among the stakeholders.
“We will do whatever we can for peace,” he said when asked whether the jirga would also hold talks with the military leadership as they were also considered to be a stakeholder in the ongoing war on terrorism.
Interestingly, there was no mention of the word “terrorism” in the declaration although the JUI-F earlier declared that it had planned the APC to formulate a joint strategy to counter the menace of terrorism.
Sources said it was after an exchange of views between the JUI-F chief and representatives of the Pakistan People’s Party that the word “terrorism” had been replaced with the term “lawlessness” in the declaration.
The PPP insisted on using the term “terrorism” whereas the Maulana was of the opinion that it could annoy militants and the Taliban with whom they had agreed to hold negotiations.
“They (militants) can say that why are you talking to us when you have already declared us terrorists,” a source quoted Maulana Fazl as saying at the time of drafting the declaration.
The APC was attended by Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the country’s nuclear programme and chief of his newly-formed Tehrik Tahaffuz-i-Pakistan, and heads of various parties including Mian Nawaz Sharif of PML-N, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain of PML-Q, Munawar Hassan of Jamaat-i-Islami, Aftab Sherpao of Qaumi Watan Party, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed of Awami Muslim League and Mehmood Khan Achakzai of Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party.
The MQM was represented by Dr Farooq Sattar, Tahir Mashhadi and Waseem Akhtar. The PPP delegation was led by Makhdoom Amin Fahim.
Nawaz Sharif said the government should have given a positive response to the offer for talks made by the Taliban earlier this month. He said peace was necessary even for resolving the energy crisis. Who would come for the country’s help when Chinese engineers were kidnapped, he asked.
Amin Fahim said the PPP was the biggest victim of terrorism and assured the participants that his party would support every effort for peace in the country.
Hasil Bizenjo of the National Party blamed the “state” for promoting terrorism and asked who would guarantee that the state policy would be changed after the elections. “Do you have the courage to change the country’s security and foreign policy?” he asked while pointing to the leaders of PPP, PML-N and JUI-F.
Mehmood Achakzai regretted that only four of the 280 articles of the Constitution applied to tribal areas which meant that they were still independent and not bound to follow the country’s Constitution.
He suggested that a jirga or assembly should be elected in the tribal areas so that people could take their own decisions. He called for stopping Pakistan’s interference in the affairs of Afghanistan.
Criticising the role of intelligence agencies, Mr Achakzai, whose name is also in circulation for the post of caretaker prime minister, said: “We should all go to the army, ISI and MI and ask them to please stop. Enough is enough.”
Dr A.Q. Khan asked why the media was not being given access to the tribal areas if only Taliban were being killed in drone attacks. He said the demand that militants should surrender arms before talks was not appropriate. “What weapon of bargain will they have in talks if they surrender their arms?” he asked. He said he was ready to personally visit the tribal areas to negotiate peace.
Senior journalist and anchor Salim Safi warned that the political leadership had little time to act and resolve the militancy issue. He claimed that the Taliban were planning to carry out attacks during elections. He said the tribal people had come to the political leadership for the last time and if they returned disappointed the national leaders would have no control over them.

Declaration

IN order to restore peace in Pakistan, especially in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the APC completely supports the efforts of a 17-member grand jirga and suggests the following steps: .
The jirga should be expanded by giving representation to all political and religious parties (having different schools of thought) of the country.
A trust should be set up for the welfare of the injured and the families of those killed (in terrorism-related incidents).
The jirga should start dialogue with the stakeholders under the guidance of the leadership of all political and religious parties attending today’s APC.
Practical steps should be taken to eliminate lawlessness in the country and that we all support the dialogue that could result in the enforcement of the Constitution and law of the country.
All the religious and political parties and Fata elders participating in today’s APC announce that the present, interim and the next elected government and the (future) opposition will be bound to implement all the steps agreed upon.

Zardari vows to continue fight against sectarianism

By Saleem Shahid

QUETTA, Feb 28: President Asif Ali Zardari vowed on Thursday to continue the fight against militancy and sectarianism till every enemy of the country was defeated and elements involved in the killing of innocent people in Balochistan were brought to book.
Speaking at meetings with parliamentarians, religious leaders and a delegation of the Hazara community, the president called upon them to augment efforts of the government for defeating the enemy of the state and country.
He said the fight might be hard and long, but the government would fulfil its commitment to curb militancy and sectarianism with an iron hand.
The Presidency’s spokesman, Senator Farhatullah Babar, said the president held a series of meetings with different delegations.
At the first meeting, Mr Zardari discussed with parliamentarians belonging to various political parties the overall situation in Balochistan, with a special reference to efforts being made by the government to bring people into the national mainstream and improving their socio-economic conditions and the law and order situation.
Balochistan Governor Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, Federal Minister for Science and Technology Mir Changez Jamali, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Petroleum Dr Asim Hussain, former deputy chairman of the Senate Mir Jan Jamali, Senators and parliamentarians belonging to Balochistan attended the meeting.
The president reiterated the commitment of the government to make Pakistan, particularly Balochistan, prosperous. He said Gwadar port was a mega project that promised great benefits to the people of the area. The project had been handed over to China in order to speed up its development and enable the people to reap its dividends at the earliest.
Mr Babar said the meeting also discussed the political situation in the province.
During a meeting with the ulema representing various schools of thought, the president called upon them to strengthen efforts of law enforcement agencies in bringing to justice those who misused the name of Islam. “Islam is a religion of peace which enjoins upon its followers to thwart attempts to victimise vulnerable sections of society.”
He stressed the need to collectively fight against the forces that “breed hatred and promote militancy and sectarian killings”.
Governor Zulfiqar Magsi, Maulana Abdullah Khilji, Abdul Qudoos Sasoli, Maulana Shehzad Attari, Mufti Ghulam Mohammad, Allama Mohammad Jumma Asadi, Allama Sheikh Ghulam Mehdi Najafi, Allama Maqsood Ali Domki, Allama Mohammad Hashim Mosoli were among others who attended the meeting.
During a meeting with a delegation of the Hazara community headed by MPA Dr Ruqayya Saeed Hashmi, the president expressed sympathies over the loss of lives at the hands of extremists and fanatics.
Syed Ashraf Zaidi, Abdul Khaliq Hazara, Advocate M. Tahir, Sardar Saadat Ali Hazara, Nadir Ali and Younas Changezi also attended the meeting.
He reassured them that the government would take every step to bring the culprits involved in the attack on the Hazara community to justice.
He said the federal government was providing every support to the provincial government in investigating the heinous incidents.
The president asked the governor to personally monitor and ensure that the injured were being provided the best medical assistance and that the bereaved families were provided relief.
The representatives of the Hazara community thanked the president for sharing grief and sorrow of the bereaved families and assured him of their cooperation in maintaining law and order in Balochistan.
Later, the president presided over a meeting on law and order. It was attended by Governor Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, Chief Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad, the home secretary, IGP, IG FC and the commissioner of Quetta.
Mr Zardari was apprised of the situation and measures being taken to beef up security.
The meeting was informed that security arrangements in and around Quetta had been beefed up and the FC had been given the powers of police under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
A special task force has been constituted to deal with serious crimes, including target killings, sectarian attacks and kidnappings for ransom. Various other measures such as a ban on display of arms and tinted glasses and a campaign against unregistered vehicles were also being taken to control the situation in the city.
Emphasising the need for capacity enhancement of law enforcement personnel to deal with emergency situations, the president assured of the federal government’s support to strengthen law enforcement agencies in the province.
He called for taking legislative measures so that witnesses could be provided protection.

Groundbreaking of gas pipeline on 11th

By Baqir Sajjad Syed

ISLAMABAD, Feb 28: After a wait of almost two decades, the groundbreaking of $7.5 billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline will be performed on March 11 on the Pak-Iran border by the presidents of the two countries.
Agreements for opening two more border crossings (Gabd and Pasni) and setting up an oil refinery in Gwadar will also be signed after the ceremony, a Pakistan embassy official in Tehran told Dawn.
The ceremony will be held at Gabd zero point on the border from where the Pakistan section of the gas pipeline starts.
President Asif Ali Zardari returned on Thursday after a two-day visit to Iran for finalising the gas pipeline deal and sorting out financing and technical issues. “We have successfully completed all negotiations,” the official said after the president’s trip.
The two countries had initially planned to perform the groundbreaking on March 4, but delayed it for a week because of inadequate preparations for the ceremony.
A number of foreign diplomats posted in Islamabad are being invited to the event.
The pipeline issue is likely to bring Pakistan-US ties under renewed stress as Washington has been staunchly opposing the project.
“It’s in their best interests to avoid any sanction-able activity, and we think that we provide and are providing ... a better way to meet their energy needs in some of the assistance we’re providing,” deputy US State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell said on Wednesday.
In Tehran, President Zardari, while rejecting the US pressure, had said: “We deeply believe in boosting bilateral ties. The international and regional players have tried in vain to prevent expansion of Iran-Pakistan ties but the people have learnt how to act against the enemies of Islam.”
The project has time and again run into problems. It initially started in 1994 as Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, but in 2009 India separated itself from the project to get a civil nuclear deal from the US.
All along there have also been disputes over tariff. Lately, financing the laying of the pipeline in Pakistani territory has been a major issue because of US sanctions on Iran.
The US pressure was so intense that at one stage even a Chinese-led consortium ditched the project.
Tehran has agreed to provide a $500 million loan to partially finance construction of the pipeline on the Pakistan side, which will cost $1.5 billion. Pakistan will pay the remaining cost from its own resources.
If everything else goes well the pipeline will be completed in 15 months. Iran has already completed the pipeline in its territory, while the laying of 785-km-long Pakistani section will commence now. Pakistan plans to import 21.5 million cubic metres of gas daily from Iran via the pipeline.

Copies of school certificates: ECP withdraws letters it had written to lawmakers

By Iftikhar A. Khan

ISLAMABAD, Feb 28: The Election Commission of Pakistan has withdrawn a letter it had sent to 249 lawmakers on Feb 7, asking them either to produce verified copies of their secondary and higher secondary school certificates or be ready to face criminal proceedings.
The letter evoked a strong reaction with members of both houses of parliament terming it an insult to elected representatives. After a strong protest against the letter by Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, NA Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza formed a house committee to resolve the issue.
Informed sources said that under a new arrangement, lawmakers would not be asked to produce copies of their certificates and the HEC would be responsible for doing it on its own.
The decision was taken at a meeting between Chief Election Commissioner, Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, and Law Minister Farooq H. Naek, who was accompanied by members of the standing committee on election procedures. Higher Education Commission chairman Dr Javaid Leghari also attended the meeting.
According to a document signed by the Chief Election Commissioner, Law Minister and HEC chairman, it would be the responsibility of the HEC to verify the degrees submitted by candidates with their nomination papers.
In the event of a negative report from the HEC based on proof provided by the university concerned, the ECP will take action in accordance with law after issuing due notice to the candidate.
A participant of the meeting told Dawn that at the outset of the meeting the Chief Election Commissioner apologised to lawmakers for the harsh language used in the letter sent to them.
The HEC chairman was asked tough questions by the Chief Election Commissioner and the Law Minister. Justice Ebrahim asked the HEC chief that HEC’s role was merely that of a post office.
“What do you do, if the members of parliament are required to get copies of their educational certificates themselves. What is the purpose of your involvement,” the CEC was quoted as saying. Law Minister Farooq H. Naek urged the HEC chairman to stop what he claimed witch-hunt. He observed that the HEC should get degrees verified from universities concerned and report to the ECP if evidence of a fake degree was found.
When a participant pointed out that it was not possible for those who had passed matric in the 40s to retain copies of their certificates, the CEC said that his certificates were in Mumbai.

Petrol, diesel prices raised

By Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD, Feb 28: The oil marketing companies announced on Thursday an increase of about four per cent in the prices of petrol and other petroleum products for March, with a total revenue impact of about Rs5 billion.
The decision was taken following consultations among the companies, the petroleum ministry and the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra).
The price of petrol has been increased by Rs3.53 per litre (3.42 per cent) to Rs106.60, that of high speed diesel by Rs4.35 (3.99 per cent) to Rs113.56, kerosene by Rs3.75 (3.76 per cent) to Rs103.69 and light diesel by Rs3.93 (4.2 per cent) to Rs98.25.
The prices of high octane blending component (HOBC) will go up by Rs3.40 to Rs5.40 per litre in various cities because its prices are completely deregulated and outside the government-managed pool of inland freight equalisation margin (IFEM).
An Ogra official said the increase had been calculated on the basis of higher international oil prices, resultant proportionate increase in the impact of 16 per cent general sales tax (GST) and IFEM allowed to Parco refinery for maintaining uniform product prices at depots across the country.
The prices will differ by 10-15 paisa, depending on the distance of retail outlets from main depots.
An official said the increase had been notified after an understanding had been reached between the ministry and Ogra to postpone inclusion of the increased dealers’ commission and marketing companies’ margin on sales.

NA relieved at ECP gesture, but degree worries ‘won’t go’

By Raja Asghar

ISLAMABAD, Feb 28: There seemed to be a sense of relief in the National Assembly on Thursday on being told that the Election Commission of Pakistan had agreed with a house committee not to write directly to lawmakers to verify their academic record.
But Law Minister Farooq H. Naek, who led the bipartisan committee that met the commission earlier in the day, warned both the present and future lawmakers that their worries on this count would not go away completely because of a column in nomination paper forms requiring candidates to write their educational qualifications, on oath like other information.
The committee was set up by Speaker Fehmida Mirza to discuss with the commission the house’s concerns over procedures for the verification of academic qualifications of parliamentarians after Leader of Opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan strongly protested in the house on Feb 20 over an apparently impolite letter sent to him and reportedly 249 other legislators by a commission official requiring them to produce their matriculation and intermediate certificates in connection with the verification of their degrees and threatening initiation of criminal proceedings against them if they failed to do so.
Towards the end of Thursday’s sitting, which also saw the passage of two government bills and one private bill, Mr Naek told the house that it was decided in the meeting at the ECP that the commission would not write directly to parliamentarians in carrying out the process of verification of degrees as directed by the Supreme Court.
Instead, he said, the commission would ask the Higher Education Commission (HEC), whose chairman Javaid Leghari, also attended the meeting, to do verification and would send a show-cause notice to a parliamentarian only in the event of an HEC negative report.
Calling it “a very good decision”, the minister expressed his confidence that the commission would hold free and fair elections at their due time.
All the three bills passed on Thursday, including one seeking reforms of laws relating to the institution of Wafaqi Mohtasib, or Federal Ombudsman, to improve its working and a private legislation seeking the establishment of a Pakistan Psychological Council by the government, must be passed by the Senate to become laws.
HURRY FOR UNIVERSITIES: But the most significant part of the day’s legislative business was the government bill piloted by Minister for Capital Administration and Development Nazar Mohammad Gondal, seeking the establishment of a private Capital University of Science and Technology in Islamabad. This was the sixth bill for setting up as many new universities in Islamabad passed by the house in the past few weeks in an apparent hurry before it exhausts its five-year life on March 16.
The bill was passed amid desk-thumping cheers from the treasury benches with some amendments proposed by Pakistan Muslim League-N’s Zahid Hamid, though Mr Gondal denied the PML-N member’s fears, based on information that he said was available on a website, that a university of the same name already exists in the country.
The bill, which cited among the new university’s aims dissemination of knowledge by employing information technology, including satellite, television and internet or through conventional methods, came two days after the house passed another bill for the establishment of a private university with nearly similar name – Capital University, Islamabad – with its aims, including promotion and dissemination of knowledge and technology and “to provide education, training, research, demonstration and scholarship in such branches as it may determine”.
The private bill seeking the establishment of a Pakistan Psychological Council, with its aims, including the provision of “a framework for regularising the field of mental health and psychological services” and supporting “professionals in the discipline of psychology” in the country was deferred on the previous private members’ day on Tuesday and was taken up on Thursday by special permission of the house after its author, Riaz Fatyana of Pakistan Muslim League-Q, agreed to several PML-N amendments.

Last Indian budget before polls

By Jawed Naqvi

NEW DELHI, Feb 28: Indian markets went into a sulk and the rupee took a sharp 50 paisa fall against the dollar on Thursday as Finance Minister P. Chidambaram unveiled a surge in spending in his last budget before next year’s general election.
Analysts expressed scepticism at Mr Chidambaram’s ambitious revenue assumptions and seemed dismayed by the increase in public spending in a country facing its sharpest economic downturn in a decade, which is hovering at around 5 per cent of the GDP.
Total budget expenditure will rise by 16pc in the 2013-14 fiscal year to Rs16.65 trillion. Stocks, bond prices and the rupee all fell despite the finance minister’s promise to cut the fiscal deficit to 4.8pc of the GDP in the year starting April 1.
Mr Chidambaram increased the defence budget unusually modestly, saying that New Delhi plans to spend up to Rs2.03tr ($37.7 billion) on defence next year, up from a revised Rs1.78tr this year.
He said Rs867.4bn would be spent to buy defence equipment, up from this year’s about Rs695.7bn. The government had originally planned to spend Rs795.7bn on purchasing defence equipment this year.
The entire allocation may be difficult to spend as major defence orders are expected to be delayed due to greater scrutiny following a clutch of financial and bribery scandals, including in the purchase of military equipment.
“The minister of defence has been most understanding and I assure him and the house that constraints will not come in the way of providing any additional requirement for the security of the nation,” Mr Chidambaram said in his speech, referring to a recent government decision to trim the current fiscal year’s defence budget to Rs1.78tr from the original allocation of Rs1.93tr.

Zardari calls for political set-up in Balochistan

QUETTA, Feb 28: President Asif Ali Zardari asked Balochistan Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi on Thursday to play his role in setting up a political government in the province after lifting of the governor’s rule some time next week.
Sources said the president had a meeting with parliamentary leaders of all political parties having representation in the Balochistan Assembly on the issue of lifting of governor’s rule and electing a new chief minister and an opposition leader before the dissolution of the assembly on completion of its tenure.
During the meeting, JUI-F parliamentary leader Maulana Abdul Wasey suggested that with the lifting of governor’s rule the former government should be restored with Nawab Aslam Raisani as the chief minister.
However, leaders of other political parties opposed the suggestion. They pointed out that the JUI-F had already said that Nawab Raisani had resigned from the office of the chief minister.
They gave their suggestions for the new government.
“President Zardari heard each parliamentary leader with full attention,” the sources said, adding the president told them that the decision about the new leader of the house should be taken with consultation.
The sources said that Mr Zardari asked the governor to hold talks with parliamentary leaders of all political parties on the formation of a new government. —Staff Correspondent

Four schools blown up in Mohmand

By Our Correspondent

GHALANAI, Feb 28: Four schools were blown up in different areas of Safi tehsil of Mohmand Agency on Thursday.
Officials of the political administration said explosive devices had been planted in the buildings at night.
(AFP quoted a government official as saying the buildings of all the four schools were completely destroyed and that the number of schools destroyed in Mohmand Agency was now more than 100.)
No one was injured in the blasts. The four schools are: Middle School Abdul Baqi Ayee Kore Qandahri, Government Middle School Mula Khel (Malik Awal Khan), Government Primary School Haji Adam Kamal Khel Qandahri, and Government Primary School Malik Ghulam Qandari Shrab Kor.
Agency’s Education Officer Said Mohammad Khan said the schools were not functional and their teachers were transferred when students stopped attending classes.
According to officials, the schools were attacked also in the past and their buildings were damaged.
They said because of poor security situation most people had moved from the area to other places.
MORTAR SHELL: Two people were killed when a mortar shell which they were trying to sell considering it as scrap exploded in Sagai area of Safi tehsil.
According to sources, Zahid Khan, 20, and Amjad Khan, 6, had found the unexploded shell in a field.

Backchannel contacts begin: Governor office to facilitate TTP talks

By Zulfiqar Ali

PESHAWAR, March 1: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Engineer Shaukatullah said on Friday night that his office would serve as coordination office of a tribal jirga to facilitate negotiations between the government and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Talking to reporters after a meeting with members of the jirga led by JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the governor said he had directed political agents of all tribal regions to cooperate with the jirga in its efforts for making peace with the TTP.
The 87-member tribal jirga was given the mandate to negotiate peace with militants at an all-parties conference hosted by the JUI-F in Islamabad on Thursday. Mainstream political and religious parties as well as civil society groups attended the APC which was boycotted by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf.
The parties also agreed on a five-point declaration adopted at the conference.
Governor Engineer Shaukatullah expressed the hope that the jirga’s endeavour would bring peace to the tribal region.
The meeting at the Governor’s House discussed modalities and future strategy for talks with militants. An official privy to the meeting told Dawn that backchannel contacts had already begun with the Tehrik-i-Taliban leadership and it was expected that before formal talks a major breakthrough would be achieved.
“This is a step forward and major achievement towards peace since an initiative has been made for talks,” the official said, adding that people in Islamabad were not familiar with traditions and culture of the tribal region and problems its people were facing.
The governor said he would inform President Asif Ali Zardari about the development and, if necessary, he would be requested to meet members of the jirga.
A member of the jirga from North Waziristan said there would be no problem with Miramshah-based Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur as he already had a peace deal with the government, but other leaders of the TTP might give tough time to the jirga.
Maulana Fazl praised the TTP for welcoming the APC declaration and said the group had shown farsightedness.
“I have requested the governor to extend full cooperation to the jirga to bring the Taliban and the government to the negotiating table,” he said.
The JUI-F chief said the governor had announced the setting up of a trust for welfare of martyrs’ families and given it Rs10 million.

Musharraf plans to return before polls

DUBAI, March 1: Former military ruler Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf said on Friday he would return home within weeks to contest elections after more than four years in self-imposed exile, but did not set a specific date.
“Under the advice of all my party men, we have decided that as soon as the interim government is in place, which we hope will be on March 16, within a week of that I will go back to Pakistan,” he announced in Dubai.
Last year Gen Musharraf delayed a planned homecoming indefinitely after the government warned that he would be arrested upon arrival and a few commentators in Pakistan believe he will return this time.
Gen Musharraf is wanted over the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in a gun and suicide attack after an election rally in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007.
But he said he was not afraid. “People say that there are cases against me and there is danger. I am not afraid of dangers and I leave it to God,” Mr Musharraf said.
Some media reports have said that he will seek Saudi help in obtaining guarantees that he will not be detained. “I don’t see any reason why I should be arrested,” he said.
“We will see what will happen when I land at the airport and take action according to that.”
Gen Musharraf has lived in London and Dubai since stepping down in August 2008, but much of his powerbase in Pakistan has evaporated.
Commentators question whether he has enough loyalists in the military to prevent him from being arrested in Pakistan and whether the army is willing to run the risk of having a former chief of staff thrown into jail.
Gen Musharraf said Pakistan needed a strong, stable government and presented himself as “a third political alternative” to Mr Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party and to opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, whom he ousted in a bloodless coup in 1999. “We, this party of mine, All Pakistan Muslim League, will participate in the coming elections and we will God willing put up candidates in almost all the constituencies of Pakistan,” he said.
He called for free and fair elections, which he said would only be possible under supervision by the army.
Asked if he planned to run for president, he said: “The presidency will come at a later stage. Now I’m going back for the parliamentary elections and hope my party does well.” —Agencies

Rs3.43trn outlay envisages 4.3pc deficit: Govt prepares broad contours of federal budget

By Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD, March 1: The Ministry of Finance has prepared broad contours of the federal budget 2013-14, envisaging an overall outlay of about Rs3.43 trillion and a deficit of about 4.3 per cent of GDP.
The budget strategy paper (BSP) is expected to be presented to the federal cabinet on March 6 for clearance after which the Ministry of Finance will firm up budgetary estimates for next year.
A senior government official told Dawn that on the basis of the latest fiscal figures the current year’s fiscal deficit was estimated at six per cent of GDP because of over Rs300 billion slippages on three main heads -- shortfall in Federal Board of Revenue’s tax collection, much higher power subsidies than the budgetary target and failure to hold the auction of third generation telecom licences.
The budget deficit was originally set at 4.7 per cent.
He said the government had estimated power sector subsidies at Rs120 billion, but actual disbursements under the head exceeded Rs235 billion during the first eight months of the current fiscal year. With the government now focussing on providing maximum funds for procurement of fuel oil for power generation to contain the increasing power shortage, the power sector may end up spending over Rs350 billion by the end of the current fiscal year.
Likewise, the FBR appears to be facing difficulty in putting together Rs2.190 trillion revised target for tax collection, down from the budgetary target of Rs2.381 trillion. The next year’s tax target will be slightly higher than the current year’s budgetary target. Roughly, the target would be less than Rs2.5 trillion for the next year, the official said.
The overall size of next year’s budget at Rs3.43 trillion is initially estimated to be seven per cent higher than the current year’s outlay of about Rs3.203 trillion. The allocation for the public sector development programme will be about Rs450 billion, compared to current year’s Rs360 billion, an increase of about 25 per cent.
The BSP suggests a nominal increase of five per cent in basic salary of government employees. The official said the next government would have the option of making adjustments in allocations for development programme, defence and salaries according to its economic priorities.
The BSP has been finalised without any tax amnesty scheme as previously proposed by the FBR.
The official said the caretaker government would have to immediately start negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package of about $4-5 billion to strengthen foreign exchange reserves and improve the balance of payment position.
He ruled out the possibility of convening a meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) to share the budget outline with the chief ministers before March 16 when the government would complete its five-year term and the formality might be completed by the caretaker set-up.
The focus of the fiscal management next year will be on strengthening provincial budgets because the provincial governments have attained greater importance following a squeeze on federal resources because of the 7th National Finance Commission award entailing higher transfers to the provinces.
The official said the finance ministry’s consultations with other ministries and divisions were continuing in line with budget calendar already disseminated to them with the aim of completing all formalities for presentation of the budget by May 31. “Our target is to announce the budget on May 31 which can be delayed for a week or so depending on political transition,” he said.
The ‘priorities committee’ will hold meetings with all ministries, divisions, institutions and corporations between April 1 and 12 to finalise the budget, including development and current expenditures, along with expected revenues and receipts.
Principal accounting officers will brief the committee comprising the Ministry of Finance, Planning Commission and Economic Affairs Division on their plans, strategies and financing requirements and sources on current and development sides of the budget.
A meeting of the Annual Planning and Coordination Committee will be held in the last week of April to recommend the public sector development programme and finalise macroeconomic framework for approval by the National Economic Council which is tentatively scheduled for the first week of May.
The budget documents, including financial management application software and green book, will be finalised by May 14 so that its printing could be completed at least 10 days before the budget speech.

Terrorists slay journalist in Kalat

By Saleem Shahid

QUETTA, March 1: Terrorists shot dead Mehmood Afridi, a senior journalist and President of the Kalat Press Club, on Friday evening.
Mr Afridi was sitting in a private Public Call Office in Kalat Bazaar when gunmen on a motorcycle came there and opened fire.
“Mr Afridi suffered multiple bullet wounds and died on the spot,” Anwar Shahwani, local journalist and General Secretary of the Kalat Press Club, told reporters
The incident created panic in the small town and all bazaars and shops were immediately closed. Mr Afridi was associated with the Daily Iftikhar of Quetta and also worked for the TV-One private channel. He also worked as a teacher at the Government Elementary College in Kalat.
Thirty journalists have been killed in Balochistan over the past four years, including president of Khuzdar Press Club Muhammad Khan Sasoli and general secretary Abdul Haq.
Balochistan Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi condemned the killing of Mehmood Afridi and termed it an act of terrorism aimed at muzzling the press.
“Target killing and violence against journalists are like killing journalism,” Nawab Magsi said. He offered condolences to the family of Mr Afridi and announced adequate compensation.

Pir Pagara warns of bloodshed during elections

By Our Staff Reporter

LAHORE, March 1: The chief of Pakistan Muslim League-Functional has warned of bloodshed and riots during the coming elections.
Pir Sibghatullah Rashidi (Pir Pagara) told reporters at a ceremony here on Friday that the government should take extraordinary measures to ensure fair, transparent and free elections, and peaceful transition of power.
He said that because of poor security situation it would be difficult to organise meetings and processions and other activities during election campaign.
“The situation in the country is not stable and it is moving backwards instead of going forward,” he added.
Pir Pagara blamed Sindh police for deteriorating law and order in the province, particularly in Karachi, and alleged that most policemen were involved in criminal activities.
He announced that Chaudhry Zaheer Ahmed of the defunct Millat Party had joined PML-F.
Pir Pagara called upon PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif to find likeminded people in Punjab and other provinces for fielding them as joint candidate.
The two factions of Muslim League recently agreed to field joint candidates in Sindh.
Pir Pagara suggested unification of all factions of Muslim League and said political parties should set aside their differences and demonstrate unity.
He agreed with a reporter that opposition parties got united only after the Islamabad sit-in by supporters of Dr Tahirul Qadri.
Referring to MQM’s parting of ways with the Pakistan People’s Party just a few months before elections, PML-F chief said he had predicted it earlier.
Pir Pagara said he was seeing the use of money in elections, particularly in Sindh and Punjab, adding that political parties had started the process of buying votes.
He called for the appointment of impartial persons as provincial governors, saying the present ones were appointed on political basis and they had maintained affiliation with their parties.
He also called for removal of all the four provincial election commissioners.

Units owned by PML-N, PPP leaders found stealing gas

By Our Staff Reporter

LAHORE, March 1: SNGPL teams on Thursday night raided two furnaces, one owned by a senior PPP leader and the other by the family of a PML-N MNA, and found plants were using the natural gas in an illegal manner, officials alleged.
The raiding teams confiscated five industrial meters on the two premises and sent them to the Central Meter Testing Shop of Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited, where these would be tested on Monday in the presence of the two leaders or their representatives.
“The company has come under tremendous pressure and the entire provincial leadership of the PPP spent the day in the company headquarters,” said an official of the company, who refused to be identified.
“In fact, President Asif Ali Zardari in the last briefing at the presidency had authorised the company to control theft cases and take action against all thieves regardless of their political position. That’s why the company picked one each from the either party and raided their factories and furnaces,” the official said, adding the company already had `credible information’ about the theft and warned the owners several times.
All the confiscated meters were industrial. The price of gas being stolen through meters belonging to the furnace of the PPP leader came to Rs50 million per month and that of the PML-N MNA’s family to Rs2.5 million, the official alleged.
The company tried many times in the past to check these meters but failed because it led to violence whenever the SNGPL employees went there to do the job, he said.
“They were stopped physically and violently,” the official alleged and added: “This time the company officials went there late into night and succeeded. The company has installed new meters and other equipment to gauge the exact quantum of consumption and slap detection bills.”
The SNGPL officials were tight-lipped and were not prepared to say anything on record. Repeated attempts to obtain an “official response failed and even the media and public relations department maintained they would only be able to comment when the company high officials authorised them” in writing to say anything.
“All record is with the office of the managing director of the company and no-one is allowed to have a look at it because of the sensitivity of the matter,” said an official belonging to the Lahore region.
Once raiding teams finished their job, even regional officers were told to stay away from the case and let the MD office handle it because it was the managing director who had been authorised by the minister and the presidency to take action, he said.

Protest over JI leader’s death sentence: Bangladesh rioting death toll tops 44

DHAKA, March 1: Protesters clashed with police for a second day on Friday as the death toll rose to at least 44 from violence triggered by a death sentence given to an Islamist party leader for crimes linked to Bangladesh’s 1971 independence war, police said.
The latest fighting broke out in northern Gainbandha and Chapainawabganj districts, killing two people, police officials said.
At least 42 people were killed on Thursday in rioting triggered by the death sentence given to Delwar Hossain Sayedee, a top leader of Jamaat-i-Islami, the country’s largest Islamist party.
Jamaat, a key ally of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, campaigned against independence from Pakistan, but denies it was behind any atrocities.
In Dhaka, dozens of Jamaat supporters smashed several vehicles in central Malibagh district on Friday, witnesses said. Baton-wielding police dispersed the protesters.
Jamaat called for protests after Friday prayers, and authorities responded by dispatching thousands of police and paramilitary troops in Dhaka.
Jamaat urged its supporters to converge on mosques to offer a special mass prayer for those killed during the violence on Thursday. Private Ekattor TV reported that Jamaat supporters set up roadblocks in parts of the country, cutting off travel.
“We must stay alert. Jamaat and its allies are trying to plunge the nation into anarchy,” Junior Law Minister Quamrul Islam said. “We will not allow them to destroy democracy.”
Mr Sayedee was sentenced to death for mass killings, rape and atrocities allegedly committed during the bloody nine-month independence war more than 40 years ago.
A teacher at a seminary at the time, he is the third defendant to be convicted of war crimes by a special tribunal set up in 2010.
His lawyer, Abdur Razzak, rejected the verdict as politically motivated. He said his client would appeal to the Supreme Court.
Passions have boiled over in recent weeks as tribunals have tried suspects on accusations they committed crimes during the independence war.
Thousands of students turned a Dhaka intersection into a protest camp last month demanding the execution of one Jamaat leader given a life sentence after his conviction for mass killings.
Mr Sayedee’s supporters responded to his sentence by clashing with police, attacking government offices and uprooting railway tracks in parts of the country. Protesters also set fire to dozens of houses belonging to government supporters.
Police responded with bullets and tear gas.
BNP spokesman Mirza Fakhrul Islam accused security forces of deliberately killing the protesters. “It was another form of mass killings,” he told reporters on Friday. “We must stand up against such brutalities.”
Jamaat has called for a nationwide general strike on Sunday and Monday to denounce the verdict.
At a news conference on Friday, former prime minister and BNP leader Khaleda Zia also called for a nationwide strike on Tuesday.
“This government has surpassed all records of suppressing the opposition. We must protest,” she said.—AP

Energy regulators under fire in NA

By Raja Asghar

ISLAMABAD, March 1: The country’s energy regulators came under fire in the National Assembly on Friday with two opposition walkouts over the latest increases in petroleum prices and the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) was partly blamed by members from both sides of the house for power shortages.
It was the Muttahida Qaumi Movement which left the PPP-led coalition government last month that staged the first walkout against an increase of about four per cent in the princes of petroleum products announced overnight, with one party member, Asif Hasnain, asking why the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) had not consulted a parliamentary committee formed for the purpose.
The Pakistan Muslim League-N, the main opposition party, did so rather comically, with only a few party members present at the time rushing out after one of them spoke a sentence of protest against what he called an “excessive petrol bomb” just as Speaker Fehmida Mirza had announced the end of the day’s business and was about to adjourn the house for a two-day weekend recess.
The Nepra came under attack from both the treasury and opposition benches earlier during the question hour for allegedly blocking the generation of alternative energy such as through solar and wind projects by delaying tariff fixation for them.
After a ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) member, Azra Fazal Pechuho, a sister of President Asif Ali Zardari, complained of unspecified private parties discouraged by Nepra’s alleged failure to fix tariff rates to be paid to them, Minister of State for Water and Power, Tasneem Ahmed Qureshi, said some entrepreneurs had even given up their plans because of the attitude of Nepra, which he clarified was under the control of the cabinet division not the water and power ministry.
He particularly mentioned the case of sugar mills, which he said had offered to produce eight 10 megawatts each of electricity from bagasse but could not do that because of the Nepra’s perceived obstruction.
The minister said even a prime ministerial directive in a meeting several months ago to utilise even the smallest sources of energy did not seem to materialise as he urged the cabinet division to goad Nepra to do the needful.
PML-N’s Pervaiz Malik accused Nepra of blocking a 400-megawatt solar energy project in Punjab province, which his party rules.
MENACING BEGGARS: There was a lively discussion in an otherwise insipid sitting on a call-attention notice about what its five sponsors called “thousands of professional beggars roaming” Islamabad who, they said, were harassing motorists on road crossings and giving a bad name to the national capital.
The Minister of State for Interior, Chaudhry Imtiaz Safdar Warraich, claimed actions taken by authorities, such as sending children and women to care homes like Dar-ul-Aman and Edhi welfare centres and arresting and prosecuting adult male beggars had improved the situation in 2012 compared to 2011.
But nobody seemed convinced, with the movers of the notice citing the presence of beggars like those posing as injured and women carrying children on a road crossing until late at night and police doing nothing.
SECURITY THREAT: The Minister for Education and Training, Sheikh Waqas Akram, of the government-allied Pakistan Muslim League-Q, told the house while speaking on a point of order that the Punjab police chief had withdrawn police guards provided to him and his family after he made a speech in the house recently criticising some banned religious organisations, which he has often said are patronised by the provincial PML-N government.
He said though he could himself arrange for his security, the Punjab police would be responsible “if anything happens to me and my family”.
MINORITY SEATS’ BILL: For the second day running, a poor attendance in the house prevented the ruling coalition from seeking the passage of a government bill on the agenda seeking to amend the Constitution to increase seats for non-Muslim minority communities in the National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies.
An amendment to the Constitution requires its passage by two-thirds majorities in the 342-seat National Assembly and 104-seat Senate.

Protests in Delhi over schoolgirl assault

NEW DELHI, March 1: Hundreds of protesters clashed with police on Friday outside a New Delhi hospital where a seven-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted at school was admitted earlier in the day, police said.
Angry youths hurled stones at buses and police, who then used batons to break up the demonstration outside the hospital which is located in a low-income neighbourhood, India’s NDTV channel reported.
“The protesters were angry over the assault on the little girl and were demanding that police act against the culprit,” a police press official said.
The official said the second-grader was sexually assaulted on Friday morning while at school.
After police were called, the child was taken to hospital and later discharged.
“The crowds have dispersed and the situation is normal,” the official said.
Police are investigating the case, he added, declining to comment on media reports that three men — two school-teachers and a security guard — have been detained for questioning.
Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit called the attack “shameful”.
“Rape inside a school is a shocking incident. It is shameful that it happened,” she said.
India has seen a surge in anti-rape demonstrations in recent weeks after thousands took to the streets to protest against police inaction following the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in Delhi in December.
Last month, furious villagers in the western state of Maharashtra staged protests after police failed to make headway in a case in which three sisters between six and 11 were raped, killed and dumped in a well.
India’s home minister in an address to parliament on Friday promised a probe into the deaths of the three children and said he was “deeply shocked at the despicable, ghastly and brutal” incident. —AFP

Editorial NEWS

Extremism in Sindh

AWAY from the media headlines focused on local governments, elections and the like, upper Sindh has been roiled by a series of protests this week. The trigger was a bomb blast near Jacobabad on Thursday targeting a senior Barelvi leader in the province, Syed Ghulam Hussain Shah, custodian of the Dargah Hussainabad in Qamber. Mr Shah survived but a grandson died in the attack, sending sectarian — Barelvi-Deobandi in this case — tensions soaring in upper Sindh. Bomb attacks are still rare in the region, the last major incident being a foiled suicide attack against Ibrahim Jatoi, a leader of the National People’s Party, in December 2010 on Muharram 10. There was also the appalling case last December of the man accused of blasphemy who was dragged from a police lock-up and burned alive. While still too early to identify a definite pattern of violence, bubbling under the surface are all manner of societal changes that may be turning the land of Sufis that interior Sindh has long been known as into a bastion of intolerance and extremism.
As with most such emerging threats, the genesis can be traced to the breakdown of traditional social structures. Generally viewed from the outside as static and stuck several centuries in the past, interior Sindh has in fact changed a great deal in recent years. Feudalism has been weakened, as have the tribal structures predominant in upper Sindh. Sufi Islam too has suffered as succession chains at various shrines have been disputed, often with an eye to the social prestige and domination over land that control of a shrine can bring. There has also been the emergence of a rural middle class and new urban centres — realities that have been hidden away in part because no census has been held since 1998. While change should be welcomed, the problem in Sindh is that the state has not stepped in to provide direction and structure to the new social and economic realities. Inevitably, then, the space is being filled by a growing private mosque, madressah and social welfare network with its own priorities and agenda.
Is it too early to flag the problem as a serious threat? Perhaps. But it’s in the nature of such slow-moving changes that by the time they emerge as serious threats to the social fabric and national stability, it is too late to stop them. The effects of letting sectarianism grow unchallenged and uncontested in other parts of the country are all too apparent. The core of Sindh is still moderate and non-violent. Now is the time to move to protect it.

Reversed policies

THE new finance minister, Saleem Mandviwalla, has started his short, stopgap stint in office by helping the Economic Coordination Committee make certain controversial decisions as its chairman. The ECC is reported to have gone back, albeit partially, on three major decisions taken under the chairmanship of Mr Mandviwalla’s predecessor Hafeez Shaikh. This has spawned speculations that Mr Shaikh might have stepped down because of differences over policy matters with his cabinet colleagues and not simply because he wanted to lead the country into the next elections as caretaker prime minister. The picture will become clearer over the next several days as we approach the formation of a caretaker set-up.
The ECC has decided to upgrade by one notch the textile sector’s captive power plants on the priority list for gas supplies; allow the import of CNG kits and cylinders for which letters of credit have been opened or bank contracts, as per State Bank regulations, concluded before Dec 31, 2012; and grant transportation cost on every litre of petrol to be produced by Byco Refinery. While the decision to give priority in the supply of gas to the textile industry reflects a continuation of the government’s policy of facilitating the export-oriented industry and protecting jobs, the other two decisions indicate a reversal of earlier policies. The reimbursement of crude transportation costs to Byco, for example, amounts to doing away with the previous plan of deregulating oil freight margins. In the same way, the permission to import CNG kits and cylinders runs counter to the stated policy of discouraging use of subsidised gas by the transport sector in view of the fuel’s increasing shortage for power and industry. It almost seems as if some people in and outside government were waiting for Mr Shaikh to leave his job to get his decisions reversed. Or are decision-makers not in the habit of giving enough thought to an issue before framing policies? With the government nearing the end of its term, it would have been wiser to leave decisions about the reversal or formulation of policies to the next government.

Big-ticket drama

FROM the very beginning it didn’t smell right. Perhaps it was just the general mistrust of infamous tycoon Malik Riaz, but even the basic premise didn’t add up. A $45 billion foreign investment in Pakistan at a time when the economy is barely growing? The world’s tallest building in Karachi — where would the tourists and companies needed to fill it come from? A prominent member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family so publicly adding his name to a project with one of Pakistan’s most controversial businessmen? Nothing quite added up, and Mr Riaz’s reputation didn’t help. So it was hardly surprising when ads, seemingly issued by the Abu Dhabi Group and completely denying any investment agreement, appeared in the national press this week. And until Bahria Town officially responds, which it seems reluctant to do, its silence will suggest the ads are genuine. In other words, the much-publicised ‘deal’ seems to have been to a large extent a fabrication.
Whatever the truth of the matter, one thing is for sure: it has made Pakistan look even more laughable as an investment destination. Drama of this kind is precisely what the country’s investment-starved economy doesn’t need. We already have a bad record of scrapping big-ticket foreign investment projects when new governments want to undo the achievements of their predecessors. Those projects that do get off the ground have to subordinate their business sense to the political whims of whoever is in power. And Pakistan’s security situation and political uncertainty are hardly attractive. On top of all this, for one of the country’s biggest businessmen to invent a partnership — with a major foreign investor — that doesn’t exist and launch it with such a splash achieves little more than embarrassing the country and ensuring that foreign partners will think twice in the future.

Watchdog needed

THE Supreme Court ordered it earlier last week and so now the report prepared by a special commission to investigate allegedly tainted loan write-offs has been made public. Unsurprisingly, the report contains few bombshells. Many a politician, bureaucrat, general and politically connected individual managed over the past few decades to get substantial sums borrowed from commercial banks written off or rescheduled — most of it done well within the ambit of the law. But then the law was often specifically moulded to allow such preferential write-offs and rescheduling. Past sins, notwithstanding, what is the position today?.
With the privatisation of most of the banking sector — of the big five banks, only National Bank of Pakistan is government-controlled today — the problem of loans, write-offs and rescheduled for political purposes has to a large extent been brought under control. Commercial banks, with shareholders who keep a close watch on financial results and with managements free from the kind of pressures rampant in the bad old days of nationalised set-ups, are more disciplined and better. In fact, the problem has been reversed to an extent in the past few years: with lending to the government such a lucrative proposition, credit to the private sector has all but dried up and desperately needs to be jump-started. Still, the problem has not disappeared. NBP is a banking behemoth in the Pakistani context and the provincial governments of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa all control their own banks. When the state controls a commercial bank, the possibility of problems creeping into the system is always high. The multi-billion-rupee scam that was Haris Steel unsurprisingly centred on massive loans granted by the provincial government-owned Bank of Punjab (though some private banks were also implicated in the scam).
Ultimately, where there is money to be made, there will be someone or the other who is willing to game the system to their advantage. The only real protection is to have a powerful banking sector watchdog. In this regard, the commission that prepared the report into the history of murky loans has made several important and sensible suggestions. For example, by granting the governor of the State Bank security of tenure and upgrading and speeding up the banking courts, oversight and punishment can be improved.

KP’s education crisis

KHYBER Pakhtunkhwa’s education sector is plagued by both militancy and mismanagement. While the militants have waged a relentless war on education — exemplified by frequent bombing of schools, particularly girls’ schools — the state has failed to deliver a viable system of public education. It is welcome news that the provincial government intends to carry out a survey of all the schools destroyed by militancy to determine the facts and that USAID will reportedly provide $25 million for their reconstruction. Yet the fact remains that while the government embarks on plans to rebuild schools, militants keep destroying them even if the number of attacks has gone down in recent months. Estimates suggest that around 800 schools have been destroyed, fully or partially, by militants in KP. Many schools have also been destroyed due to flooding over the past few years, while some schools damaged by the 2005 earthquake still await rebuilding. The crisis has been worsened by administrative mismanagement and disconnect. A project for the free distribution of textbooks in the province’s public schools illustrates this well. As reported, there is a wide discrepancy between data collected by two official bodies working under the provincial education department regarding school enrolment. Millions of rupees may have been spent on the supply of textbooks to students who do not exist.
To improve matters on the education front in the province, the problems of both militancy and mismanagement need to be addressed. While an overall improved security environment is essential to protect schools from the attacks of extremists, better management is required on the part of the provincial government to improve educational institutes that so far have not been directly affected by militancy. Wasting precious funds due to possibly faulty data is inexcusable. It is obvious that some things (eg natural disasters) are beyond the provincial government’s control. But it can intervene where there are no physical obstacles to improvement. For instance, it can, with some planning, tackle general incompetence and even the politicisation of educational affairs. Merit, transparency and professionalism must be upheld if the public school system in KP is to be improved.

Jewel in the crown

THOUGH David Cameron may have been keen to promote trade ties on his recent visit to India, the British prime minister turned down a long-standing demand to return the Koh-i-Noor diamond. Mr Cameron felt returning the dazzling gem would not be “sensible”. Questions over the Koh-i-Noor’s rightful ownership stem from the legacy of Britain’s colonial past. Originally mined in southern India centuries ago, the fabled stone changed hands several times, passing through the treasuries of the subcontinent’s Hindu, Muslim and Sikh kings before being presented to Queen Victoria by the colonial government of India. Considered a trophy from perhaps the most prized of Britain’s realms, the diamond is today part of the crown jewels firmly ensconced in the Tower of London. But Britain was not the only European colonial power to have appropriated the cultural property of others. More recently, there was widespread looting of Iraq’s historical treasures following the 2003 United States invasion; the Americans did little as gangs of looters made off with priceless treasures in the anarchy following Saddam Hussein’s fall.
It is valid to ask if historical artefacts whisked away from former colonies and now sitting in Western museums will receive proper care if returned to their countries of origin. We in Pakistan, for example, have allowed our heritage to crumble. Also, it is true that ancient collections in the Louvre or the British Museum have become part of world heritage. But how many of the world’s people can simply hop on a plane to enjoy the treasures taken from their countries? Ethically, there is weight in the argument that treasures looted in the age of empire be returned to their countries of origin to right historical wrongs and allow the people of former colonies to better appreciate their own heritage, while placing responsibility on those countries to preserve the artefacts.

In the dark

FOR the third time in a decade, Pakistan experienced a sudden and massive power breakdown, plunging swathes of the country into darkness on Sunday night. The technical details have quickly been released: one power station shut down due to a “technical fault”, triggering a domino effect that knocked out most of the power stations across the country. Also revealed is that there was spare capacity available in the system, but not the fuel to get the power stations up and running to pick up the slack. But behind those bare details lies a deeper set of problems, more troubling and intractable. Start with the technical fault. It was immediately blamed on the Uch Power Station but Hubco may actually have been where the trouble started — further investigations will reveal more. Was the technical fault unavoidable? Some power-generating units are being overworked across the country because there isn’t the fuel or money to overhaul other units to run them more efficiently. When machinery is asked to do something it wasn’t constructed to do, it will inevitably break down. Without scheduled maintenance and repair operations, power units will break down.
Once the technical fault had occurred, though, was it inevitable that the entire national grid would be affected? No. But the equipment required to contain problems and keep them localised is not installed in the national grid. Known as directional relays, had they been part of the national grid, they could have prevented a national meltdown. Why isn’t the equipment installed to plan for just such an eventuality? The distribution network has undergone some upgradation in recent years but the lack of a thorough plan, financial resources and the will to implement reforms has meant basic problems are still unaddressed. Finally, with some power units knocked out of the system, why was the spare capacity not utilised? Again, an old answer: no money for fuel and because the spare capacity is mostly offline, the units are in no shape to be quickly switched on.
If the mismanagement on the technical side was bad — though hardly new or surprising — could not the panic that spread through the country have been better handled? With information so scarce and administrators and government officials failing to quickly put out a coherent explanation, for a few hours on Sunday night all manner of speculation and conspiracy theories erupted. Had there been a coup? Was another Abbottabad operation unfolding? Was the government somehow being wrapped up? All completely avoidable had officials had a crisis-management and information-dissemination plan in hand. Will any lessons be learned? Probably not.

An impressive turnout

THE literature festival in Lahore has made a promising beginning. The city had been longing for such an event. The organisers were able to gather a large number of renowned literary figures for the inaugural show and to run the programme smoothly. The turnout was impressive even if, like the list of speakers, it could have benefited from diversification. A large number of those who attended were students and professionals, and many of the issues raised by the audience, often with women in a majority, reflected the people were prepared to ask questions. Of the more secure colleges and universities, this was an example of more public defiance against the silence and resignation. This was a rare opportunity for Lahorites to come face to face with celebrated English-language writers like Nadeem Aslam, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Bapsi Sidhwa, Tariq Ali, Ayesha Jalal, William Dalrymple and a host of others. These English-language writers debated, lectured, read out from their work and launched books to frequently overflowing halls. No less remarkable for a city hosting a literary event of this scale for the first time was the attendance at sessions where Intizar Hussain and Zehrah Nigah, two venerated veterans of Urdu literature, held sway.
The fair has provided Lahore with a platform to build upon. It can expand by including a bigger number of writers from local languages the next time — even though, some festival participants concluded there was little merit in seeing the English that has evolved in South Asia as a foreign language. In any case, Urdu, Punjabi and other languages need to be given a larger presence in future festivals, which would consequently help attract a wider pool of followers. The variety in the festival’s content and its largely anti-status quo themes owed hugely to it being a private initiative, which was facilitated by the government. Fortunately, it did not bear the official ownership stamp. The diversification and sustaining of the project without too great a dependence on officialdom will be central to the success of future literary festivals in Lahore so that they retain their independence and appeal.

Grounded aircraft

THE fact that 19 of PIA’s aircraft have been grounded due to lack of proper maintenance and age becomes all the more disturbing when it is considered that this figure comes to nearly half of the flag carrier’s fleet. Though the airline’s management claims the large number of jets is sitting idle due to “routine maintenance”, there are reasons to be sceptical. As per figures submitted to the Senate, the majority of PIA’s delays have been attributed to the inefficiency of the engineering department. Also, if so many planes are on the ground, it is fair to ask what state those in the air are in. A number of emergency landings of PIA aircraft have been reported recently. Maintenance delays have also been blamed on the purchase and procurement department as key posts in this department are lying vacant. This is ironic: while PIA is severely overstaffed, key departments where staff is required have vacancies.
PIA’s woes can be traced to one basic reason: mismanagement. In truth, all that ails the flag carrier is really all that ails Pakistan. Decades of corruption, lack of vision and inefficiency displayed by those tasked with running the airline have turned a once-exemplary carrier into a liability. If PIA’s management complains that Gulf carriers are ‘poaching’ its customers or that domestic airlines are giving it tough competition, it must remember that aviation is a business. If PIA doesn’t offer passengers punctual flights with a semblance of service at a fair price, fliers will gladly choose other airlines. In theory turning PIA around seems straightforward — stem the massive losses, hire professional managers well-versed in the aviation business, induct younger aircraft and maintain these. Above all, political meddling in PIA’s affairs should end. The airline’s steep descent can be halted if the state has the will to do so.

A step forward

THIS month has seen some progress towards a more robust legal framework for combating terrorism. The Fair Trial Act was signed into law, the National Counterterrorism Authority Bill was approved by the cabinet and tabled in the National Assembly, and the latter passed an amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Act that focused on terrorism financing in response to international pressure. Now the lower house is debating a more extensive amendment to the ATA. Like the other pieces of legislation, though, this one represents some welcome progress but also long delays, complicated human rights issues and lingering gaps in the legal framework.
The first thing to note about it is that it is being debated at all; much-
needed changes to the ATA have been stuck in parliamentary limbo for years now, and the introduction of this second amendment raises some hopes that recent incidents of terrorism and the country’s response to them have resulted in renewed focus on that key law. Second, the amendment proposes some changes that should significantly increase the authorities’ ability to prevent acts of terrorism before they occur. Significantly, organisations that are simply renamed after being banned but continue to be involved in similar activities — a common and powerful tactic in Pakistan — would also be banned. Other changes include, for example, allowing the government to order up to 90 days of preventive detention that cannot be challenged in court, and disallowing activists of banned organisations who continue their activities from travelling, borrowing money from banks or bearing even licensed arms.
But some of the most important gaps still remain unaddressed. One of these, for example, is lack of protection for judges and witnesses, an obvious hurdle in the way of prosecuting terrorists. There is also the problem of how the ATA defines terrorists and terrorist acts; the current broad definition has meant that only a tiny fraction of cases disposed of by anti-terrorism courts have to do with terrorism as most Pakistanis would understand it. Then there are the human rights issues. The amendment allows, for example, the federal government to authorise any person to intercept calls and messages or trace calls “in the interest of national security”. The 90-day preventive detention clause could be misused, and another says that a person accused under the ATA in an area in which the armed or civil armed forces have been deployed will be presumed guilty unless proven otherwise. These are just a couple of examples; amendments to the ATA are long overdue, but this is an extensive and detailed piece of legislation that needs close scrutiny from experts on both militancy and human rights before it is signed into law.

Tax evaders

THE region-wise breakdown of data on potential wealthy tax thieves makes interesting reading. The data, compiled by the Federal Board of Revenue with the help of the National Database and Registration Authority, shows, and predictably so, that Punjab is home to a majority of the suspected tax evaders followed by Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. While more than 85 per cent of them live in Punjab and Sindh alone, Karachi tops the list of the cities with over 725,000 wealthy people who should be but are not paying taxes. With a little less than 450,000 such people, Lahore stands not very far behind on the list. Other industrial cities of central Punjab — Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Rawalpindi, etc — can also boast of the heavy presence of potential tax thieves.
Though numerous factors, ranging from the concentration of population at one place or another to the level of economic development to the uneven distribution of industry and wealth, can easily be identified as reasons behind the number of tax evaders in a particular province or city, these explanations don’t really matter. What matters is action, or the lack of it, taken so far by the FBR to nab them and punish them for not paying taxes. The tax collectors are for the last several months in possession of the data listing owners of cars and large houses in upscale localities, who frequently travel abroad, maintain multiple bank accounts and pay hefty utility bills but who do not file tax returns. Most of them don’t even possess a national tax number let alone file returns. It is sad to note that the FBR is yet to initiate action against them in spite of the tall claims made by its senior officials, including its present chairman. Rather than moving against the identified potential tax evaders, the FBR authorities have wasted many months in pushing a controversial amnesty scheme, which is unlikely to be approved by the outgoing parliament because of widespread opposition. It is advisable for the FBR authorities to scrap its plans of facilitating powerful lobbies and move against tax evaders before it is too late.

Melting glaciers

THOSE who think that climate change is hype propagated by environmentalists should perhaps rethink such assertions. There is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that rising temperatures indeed pose a clear and present danger to man including in this country. Glacial lake outburst floods in Pakistan’s north may threaten regional villages in the summer months, according to officials of the Pakistan Meteorological Department. The fact is that in Pakistan, as in the rest of the world, glaciers are retreating even as rising temperatures, believed to be caused by global warming, are playing havoc with the ecosystem as glacial floods are becoming a yearly phenomenon. Meanwhile, large segments of the population are settled in floodplains as well as along the coastline, which is vulnerable to flooding. Blocking the natural flow of water to facilitate irrigation has also been cited as a reason for worsening floods. On the other hand, some glaciers in the north are thinning out at an alarming rate, while others have disappeared altoge-ther. Climate change means that not only does the frequency and intensity of floods increase, retreating glaciers may also result in rivers drying up.
While reversing climate change is not in the control of the state, steps can be taken to mitigate the effects of natural disasters. The installation of weather stations in Gilgit-Baltistan in order to help predict glacial floods and avalanches is a positive step, as solid data is essential for proper planning. Experts say that planned land use and sustainable agriculture can also play a role in lessening the impact of natural disasters. Also, along with contingency plans to evacuate communities before disaster strikes, disaster management bodies — especially at the district and local levels — must be made active. The key to save lives is to plan ahead and learn from previous disasters.

Money for PIA

FOR several years now, the national carrier has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. It has made headlines because of frequent emergency landings, flight delays and disputes within its senior management. And more recently PIA staff was accused of helping alleged criminals flee the country. The airline is in a total state of disrepair due to decades of political interference, corruption, mismanagement and overstaffing. Half its fleet of 39 ageing aircraft has not been operational because of shortage of funds for maintenance and repair. Some planes have been declared “not airworthy”. The average fleet age for PIA is more than 16 years, the highest in the region. The average fleet age for the far bigger Air India is 8.8 years and for Emirates 6.4 years. No wonder PIA’s revenues are falling and its expenditure and debts rising. PIA’s revenues fell by 21 per cent in 2010-11 and by over 14 per cent in the last financial year. According to the State Bank, the accumulated losses of the last two fiscal years were more than Rs61bn.
It is in this background that the government has approved a bailout package of Rs100bn for the national carrier as suggested in a business plan. The plan will be implemented over the next five years, and will start with the issuance of fresh sovereign guarantees during the current fiscal year to help the airline cope with its liquidity crunch. Funds will also be arranged to help it acquire five narrow-bodied aircraft. The Economic Coordination Committee, which approved the business plan that had been in the works since 2010, believes the measures will help the carrier increase its market share and revenues, separate its core and non-core business and restructure its financial liabilities.
The package will certainly save the national carrier from total collapse, but for a very brief period. The long-term revival of PIA’s past glory hinges on how quickly and honestly governance reforms are implemented, the private sector involved in its restructuring to make it commercially viable and free from political and bureaucratic interference, and new aircraft added to the existing fleet. Comprehensive strategies have already been formulated. The government has time and again reiterated its “commitment” to implement these reforms. Still, it hasn’t been able to muster enough courage to go ahead with implementing them as in the case of other loss-making public-sector entities that are further straining the government’s tight fiscal position. With the ruling coalition completing its term in a matter of weeks, it is unlikely to move further on reforms or even on the newly approved interim business plan.

Power game

THE season of political alliances and seat adjustments is almost in full swing. Leading the way is the PML-N, confident of its chances of success in Punjab but having a minimal footprint outside the province. Being a one-province party — or just a GT Road party to its critics — isn’t good for a party that hopes to form the next federal government, so the PML-N has been casting a wide net to find allies unable to adjust into the PPP camp. The non-PPP bloc in Sindh, Fazlur Rehman in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and sundry other smaller political forces in Punjab and Balochistan are being roped in to present a ‘national face’. It’s not just the PML-N that has been busy: the PPP, ANP and MQM, all part of the ruling alliance at the centre, have been laying their own electoral groundwork ahead of what is shaping up as an intensely competitive general election in which razor-thin margins could be the difference between sitting on treasury or opposition benches.
To the extent that coalition politics has become the new normal in Pakistan, adjustments and alliances between political parties are a necessary feature, and perhaps even desirable. Given the kinds of reforms that the next governments will necessarily have to attempt to push through by force of circumstances, the art of negotiating and hard bargaining will have to be mastered by all, perhaps even more so than the Asif Zardari-led PPP has demonstrated over the past five years. Unhappily, though, little of the present manoeuvring appears to be rooted in anything more than a potential division of the spoils after the election. The PML-N, centre-right in character, has natural allies on the political and religious right, but none of them appear ready to work together to address the serious challenges that militancy and extremism pose. Power for power’s sake, an end not a means — that is a recipe for more trouble, not less. Just as unhappily, the manoeuvring and bargaining will only get more frenetic from here, with everyone waiting for the assemblies to be dissolved before making a pitch for one another’s candidates.

No longer voiceless

FROM one-time obscurity, Pakistan’s tribal areas have been much in the news during the past few years. Dominated by the militancy and the counter-offensive by the military, it is all a very macho narrative. The fallout of the militancy is also almost exclusively seen from a male perspective. Now, for the first time, tribal women and their supporters are raising a voice for their rights in a democratic system. At a recent protest in Peshawar, they demanded they be given representation in parliament. A group of women’s rights activists and educationists, again in Peshawar, has also set up a forum to campaign for reserved seats for tribal women and for them to be included in local jirgas and on the Frontier Crimes Regulation tribunal.
Although Fata has 20 seats in parliament, its representatives are invariably men. With elections around the corner, this is an opportune time for tribal women to assert their right to engage fully in the political process. As Pakistan’s laws do not extend to Fata, which is still governed by the FCR, it would require a constitutional amendment to enable women from Fata to be elected on reserved seats. Last month, a private member’s bill tabled by a PPP MNA asking for precisely such an amendment met with a lukewarm response. While this deserves censure, the least that the political parties can do for now is to ensure that women in Fata are allowed to exercise their right of franchise in the coming elections. In past elections, local chapters of virtually every political party in the running made agreements with local jirgas to prevent women from voting in several tribal areas, not to mention some settled ones as well. Political parties must rise above patriarchal attitudes that exclude tribal women from decision-making processes. These women must no longer exist in the shadows.

Too optimistic

FINANCE Minister Saleem Mandviwalla has ruled out Pakistan facing the risk of going bankrupt, and indicated that the country would not default on its sovereign debts as is being speculated by some. Indeed, those who have lost all hope in the future and potential of this country will disagree with him. Others may consider that Pakistan has been on the brink of default at least twice not so long ago but managed to pull through. In spite of delayed payments to some creditors and the panicky decision to freeze foreign currency accounts, it survived the balance-of-payments crisis created by international sanctions in the aftermath of the nuclear tests conducted in 1998. A similar situation arose in 2008 when foreign exchange reserves depleted quickly due to skyrocketing global commodity prices. As depositors rushed to withdraw their savings from banks and the rupee lost around 29 per cent of its value against the dollar, the new government was forced to turn to the IMF for a bailout to calm the markets. Many are now predicting a repeat of those days in the months ahead, if not now.
Will the minister’s confidence in the economy succeed in warding off a potential crisis and reassuring the markets? Few believe so. The markets take their cue from hard numbers and not from optimistic assurances. And the numbers aren’t on his side. The current account, for example, clocked a deficit of $156m in January, reducing the surplus for the first seven months of the current fiscal year to $62m. With both official and private foreign capital flows having almost dried up (apart from the Coalition Support Funds of just above $1.8bn released by the US, the country has not received any significant flows and is not likely to receive any) and international oil prices surging, the current account is projected to post a deficit of up to 1.5 per cent of GDP at the end of the fiscal year in June. The balance-of-payments gap is feared to widen to 2.5 per cent of GDP. The rupee has already lost four per cent since July.
With major IMF loan repayments stacked up for the remaining four months of the current financial year and first half of the next fiscal, the deterioration in balance-of-payments position will put further pressure on the weakening exchange rate going forward and result in more devaluation. The minister must understand that the markets require concrete action to turn the economy around and prevent it from reaching the brink. Optimism alone cannot fend off any crisis.

Rising toll

RECENT days have brought the deaths of two more journalists, with Khushnood Shaikh dying in a car crash in Karachi — though given the threats he had been receiving, and the general atmosphere of intimidation that reporters covering Karachi work under, there are questions about whether his death was an accident — and Malak Mumtaz Khan being shot dead in North Waziristan. These incidents came soon after the loss of three journalists who were killed while covering the double bombing that targeted Hazara Shias in Quetta on Jan 10. In the first two months of the year, then, Pakistan has already lost five members of the print and electronic media. At this rate, we are on track to once again top the year’s list of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.
The Sindh government has promised to investigate Mr Shaikh’s death. But we have heard such promises before. In most cases, of course, journalists’ deaths go unexplained. But even when a particular incident makes waves, there is no satisfactory conclusion and perpetrators go unpunished. The report on Saleem Shahzad’s death might as well not have been written, given that it simply said he could have been the victim of militants or intelligence agencies. All six witnesses to the death of Wali Khan Babar have been killed. At one level, then, there is a complete failure of law-enforcement agencies and the judicial system to protect journalists. But in the competition for advertisement revenues and ratings, media houses are also to blame. Take one simple example: double bombings. The only way to prevent journalists from rushing to the scene of an explosion, and therefore falling victim to follow-on bombings, is if all or most media outlets agree that their employees will maintain a certain distance from the location of the attack. Instead, competition to capture every detail of the scene, particularly among the electronic media, means journalists’ lives are unnecessarily put at risk. Caught between an indifferent and sometimes even hostile state, raging militancy, and irresponsible management, Pakistan’s journalists continue to lose their lives at an appalling rate.

Party democracy

THERE are two ways of looking at the internal polls the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf is currently conducting. One way is to cynically point to the factionalism and the incidents of indiscipline and minor violence that have delayed polling in certain parts of the country. But that would be to discredit the PTI’s commitment to building a representative political organisation, a goal that is rare among Pakistan’s major parties. ‘Elections’ in the latter are essentially appointments, guaranteed because significant positions go uncontested or because the electoral college is restricted to a tiny group of party influentials. The Jamaat-i-Islami has a more democratic system than most, but the PTI has gone further than any other party to give ordinary Pakistanis a chance to shape the political party they support and to break into politics, a sphere otherwise dominated by wealth, land and connections. This will not happen overnight — particularly not if other parties stick to their closed-door internal politics — but the PTI has set a much-needed precedent.
Doing so has not come without risks. How these polls will affect the PTI’s prospects in the general elections remains unclear. They have clearly distracted the party’s attention and appear to be one of the reasons for its loss of momentum over the last year or so. And reports are emerging from the field about new party members knocking out the old guard in certain areas. Honouring the intra-party election results would mean handing tickets to the former rather than the latter, which could mean the PTI loses some candidates to other parties. But by holding elections from the union-council level up, the party may also have built up an infrastructure that can get out the vote. Either way, holding internal polls so close to general elections is a bold move, and a major step forward for Pakistani politics.

Ceding space

THE language of the latest multiparty resolution promoting talks to “restore peace” is telling. “Lawlessness” is the problem it identifies. There is no mention of terrorism or militancy. Nor is there any mention of militants. Instead, they are now “stakeholders”. There is talk of compensation for victims, but no mention of what they are victims of. It is a vague, if not spineless, statement that borders on appeasement, and was reportedly the result of pressure from religious parties that wanted to water down stronger language proposed by others. And what it points to is a refusal among a section of the political leadership to either recognise or admit the nature and extent of Pakistan’s militancy problem.
Whether for the sake of pre-election politics, genuine conviction or as part of a more complex agenda, Pakistan’s major political parties seem to have decided that talking to militants is the way to go, or at least the first required step. Putting aside for a moment the risks of this strategy, even dialogue needs to begin with an open recognition of the problem. There is some logic to tailoring language such that it is not so combative that your opponent refuses to come to the table. But there are also ways to do that without failing to take any stand at all. This latest resolution is clearer than the earlier, ANP-sponsored one in terms of actionable next steps — expand an existing jirga and begin dialogue. But it completely avoids expressing the concerns of the Pakistani people or establishing the
values the state wants to defend.
Then there is the issue of the viability of talks. Over the last decade, Fata-based militants have eliminated the maliks of the tribal areas in large numbers, seeking to supplant their authority in the region. Whether or not they will now engage with a jirga composed of tribal leaders remains to be seen. There is also the dismal record of past peace deals. Some will argue that it is the military that didn’t honour them. But it is clear, for example, that despite repeated requests from the state that militants stop harbouring foreign fighters on Pakistani territory, that has never happened. There is also ample evidence of militants agreeing to certain conditions and then proceeding with their activities regardless of any deals made. In their recent public statements, too, the Taliban have set unacceptable conditions for a ceasefire. If civilian leaders are still unanimous that dialogue is important, they should give it a shot. But they are destined to fail if they go into talks without a strong stand against the violence that is tearing Pakistan apart.

The threat within

BURIED in Defence Secretary Asif Malik’s comments on Wednesday to the media after his appearance before the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Defence was a disturbing admission: the military is aware of continuing, and serious, threats against security installations in the country and army commandos have been deployed to protect naval and air force establishments. The two smaller arms of the military have been attacked several times in spectacular fashion over the past couple of years and each time insider information and assistance has been suspected. While information is hard to come by, particularly since the armed forces are impervious in terms of accountability and outside scrutiny, there is a lingering sense that the navy and air force have an extremism problem that has resisted whatever cure the military high command has thrown at it. Last month alone two small-scale attacks against naval personnel in Karachi, one inside PNS Karsaz, have underlined the threat — though it is in the nature of such threats now that separating sectarian motives from anti-state attacks is becoming increasingly difficult.
The problem with attacks on military installations is not just the physical damage caused — planes worth billions of rupees have been damaged or destroyed — but the psychological damage they inflict. A military unable to defend its own property and personnel has a devastating impact on public confidence and on Pakistan’s already poor international standing (in the back of security experts’ minds will be the knowledge that the air force is a central delivery platform for Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent). The solution is neither ad hoc nor immediate. More thorough vetting procedures and sustained intelligence gathering, particularly of recently retired military personnel who are often implicated in attacks and are harder to track once they leave the self-contained environment of military bases, requires complex cooperation across the services, which are often rooted in cultures that are insular and not easily amenable to deep scrutiny. Ideology too plays a role: Gen Kayani’s repeated exhortations that the internal threat is greatest are only a small step towards reorienting the military’s security paradigm. Ultimately, the threat can be addressed, but only by relentless purposefulness.

All about standards

IT is welcome news that two firms have recently been allowed to export their fish products to the European Union after the bloc stopped importing Pakistani seafood in 2007. The EU had conducted an audit that year and found local facilities not up to the mark where handling of the catch and hygiene standards were concerned. In fact, it apparently took long for exports to resume because the Marine Fisheries Department was lethargic when it came to meeting the EU’s criteria. It was only a few years ago that the authorities made serious efforts to meet the Europeans’ standards. The measures taken by local stakeholders include the updating of laboratories and improvement in hygiene conditions at harbours and in vessels. Foreign experts were called in to advise local firms on how to improve hygiene in order to meet international standards.
While the local fishing industry was said to be losing around $50m annually because of the EU ban, Pakistani exporters had found other markets, namely in China and the Middle East. Fish exports crossed $300m last year. Yet the EU is Pakistan’s biggest trading partner and accessing European markets can only be a good thing for the local fishing industry and all those who make a living from it. This is an opening and if EU officials do visit in 2014, more Pakistani firms may get
the green light to export seafood to Europe. The challenge now for those allowed to export is to maintain standards, while other firms need to make the necessary changes in order to access valuable foreign markets. On a related note, the state needs to address overfishing. Stock surveys must be carried out so that sustainable fishing policies are framed in order to safeguard livelihoods and protect marine species from overexploitation.

Columns and Articles

Broken, but not enough yet

By Cyril Almeida

MANY have died. Many more will die. And, if things are ever to turn around, many, many more will have to die.
There is a certain kind of grotesqueness in predicting the death of more innocents.
The awfulness of deaths already before is hard enough to contemplate; to state in bald print, in black and white, that more is inevitable seems infused with a callousness that human nature militates against.
But why flinch from it? Deep down we all know it. More will die.
Must they die? Not in an absolute sense, no.
Will they? In the particular configuration that is the state of Pakistan today, tragically, yes.
People are dying, being slaughtered and assassinated and murdered in cold blood and blown to smithereens because no one, not one person, in the system of institutions designed to protect us, you and me, the common person, really cares enough to protect us.
Do they grieve for the dead? Sometimes. Do they pray to their God for forgiveness? Some do. Do they curse their own abject feckless-ness? Maybe.
But none of them will rise to protect the people, the public they have been elected to represent or have sworn to protect.
Not yet.
Not until the rivers actually run red, until enough asphalt has soaked enough blood, until so many funerals have been held in so many cities
in such quick succession
that survival, the ultimate self-interest, comes into the reckoning.
Cowering inside his bunkered home and bomb-proof vehicle, the politician will ask, what can we do?
The media is complicit, the army has nurtured the evil, society has been compromised, what can we do?
To ask that question is to turn leadership on its head: the elected representative asking the people to lead.
Since no one politician, no one party and no one coalition is strong enough to counter the forces they fear, to snap out of the politics of the past, to dare to dream beyond the parochial, no politician can lead.
It’s not that the system is broken; the system was never designed for this — for a fundamental challenge to the configuration of the state through a campaign of bombs, bullets and intimidation.
Politicians exist for local purposes, not meta-leadership. The house cat cannot become a guard dog.
What about the guardians, the self-appointed arbiters of the national interest?
To see them stumble around helplessly, steeped in a logic that is too difficult to reverse and trapped in their own fears is a terrible — and tragic — sight.
When conversations move towards hard issues, they invariably slip into background discussions or off the record. Many are unremarkable in the larger scheme of things, but there is one in particular that is hard to shake off.
Why do you let your men die like this, let their deaths go unavenged, their loss unmarked by retribution, I asked.
As a commander, there’s nothing worse than losing your men, but …
The voice trailed off.
But. But. But.
But, he and others like him may want to say, theirs is a sacrifice in the greater cause.
Perhaps they daren’t verbalise it because it’s one of those things that when said out loud can haunt forever.
Because the cause is already dead when the living are dying and no one can really explain why anymore.
And society? The public at large, the people?
The average Pakistani isn’t a homicidal maniac, we are told. We hear ad nauseam that the mythical average Pakistani wants the same normal things that normal people all over the world want: a home, a family, a job, a better future for the next generation. There really is a silent majority, we are reminded.
So? What’s the point?
To lose a people you don’t have to lose 51 per cent, the majority. What does that mean anyway? That somehow until 49 per cent all is not lost but then suddenly, hit 51, and all is lost?
Actually, to lose a people you just have to lose a sliver: three, four, five or six per cent. A rabid but disciplined, ferociously committed, ideologically obsessed four, five or six per cent. That’s enough to hold everyone else hostage.
Pushback from the silent majority must surely come at some point, though, no?
Maybe. But we aren’t there yet.
Here’s another blunt truth. The word genocide is bandied around nowadays, a desperate plea to shake the state out of its torpor, but how many have really been killed? A couple of thousand Shias in five years; Shias who are 20 per cent of 200 million?
Enough deaths to shock a nation? Yes. Enough to mobilise it? No.
On and on you can go, cutting through the layers of state and society. Everywhere you will find the same: fear, cowardice, confusion and, above all, narrow self-interest.
We just aren’t there yet, where a people and institutions that were never built to deal with internal threats of the present scope and scale are rattled, hammered and shaken enough to learn how to respond meaningfully.
We’ll get there someday?
Much as we must all hope that we will one day, here’s one last bit of reality: that moment may never come.
The tipping point can swing both ways. Violence may grow until state and society is energised into fighting back.
Or violence may creep upwards and outwards, each successive increase breaking us into accepting the level that came before, until it simply overruns us all.
Dark? Dispiriting? Demoralising?
Look around you. Or better yet, look inside yourself.
Still think it’s so implausible?

The writer is a member of staff.
cyril.a@gmail.com
Twitter: @cyalm

War without end

By Moazzam Husain

THE major point of contention between the Afghan Taliban and International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) is the Taliban’s insistence that all foreign forces leave Afghanistan when the drawdown ends in 2014.
Behind this demand in fact lies their fear of airpower. The force they want out more than anything else is the 2,000 airmen. In Afghanistan whoever controls the air enjoys the upper hand.
The Soviets experienced this during the mid-1980s when they brought in helicopter gunships and began to decimate the mujahideen. Within a couple of years the CIA gave the mujahideen Stinger missiles which brought down the Soviet helicopter gunships and cleared the skies. The rest is history. As the Berlin wall came down, Afghanistan had already become some distant corner of the world. Forgotten and isolated, Najibullah’s regime with an army of 35,000 still managed to hang on to power for three years. By that record it would appear that the present Afghan government may stand a better chance of staying longer.
The Afghan National Army (ANA) today is over 200,000 strong; in fact never in its history has the country had a standing army of the size as it does today. And though not as cohesive and professional perhaps as the one in the days of the Soviet bloc, this army is better equipped.
As Australian Brigadier Roger Noble, director of operations and plans for Isaf told the Australian Associated Press in Kabul recently: “The Afghan army fights. Their soldiers are brave. They are better than the enemy in most cases.”
In addition the Afghan National Police, also trained by Isaf and the National Directorate of Security, which is the intelligence agency patterned on the US Department of Homeland Security, together provide a security infrastructure the like of which has previously not been seen in Afghanistan. So with this as the starting point, how will the civil war unfold?
In the very unlikely event that the two sides arrive at a truce it will not hold out for long. In fact there are not two sides but when you include the likes of regional warlords Dostum, Ismail Khan, Yunus Qanuni, Fahim et al there are several sides each having contributed thousands of soldiers to the ANA. The remaining 40 per cent of the ANA is made up of Pakhtuns.
Kabul may not face a direct onslaught as it did in Najibullah’s time. Formidable airpower will remain in the Bagram airbase and other places like Kandahar, Shindand and Mazar-i-Sharif.
Attack helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft will keep the estimated 25,000 Afghan Taliban from descending on Kabul. The aircraft and surveillance drones will also keep vigil on Pakistani jihadi groups that breach the Durand Line from approaching Kabul from the south or the east.
Kabul residents however remain sceptical of the Afghan security forces’ ability to stave off the threat. This is an asymmetric war after all and numbers don’t matter because the Taliban don’t stand and fight. They attack, and then melt away. At other times they hit with vehicle bombs or roadside improvised explosive devices.
The overarching question really is how quickly the ANA will begin to dissolve. Isaf knows this and to slow down the ANA’s inevitable dissolution is also leaving behind 10,000 or so trainers and soldiers that will constitute what are termed ‘embedded units’ inside ANA detachments. Their job is to boost the ANA units’ confidence and capacity to operate independently and to build their morale.
Usually within 12 minutes of Isaf ground patrols coming into contact with the enemy, airpower scrambles to the scene to assist. It is likely that Isaf will continue with this standard when the ANA takes over its functions. The ANA would need to be enabled to coordinate and request an air strike. That role is to be played by the embedded personnel.
Not surprisingly, the Taliban also want them to leave. The Taliban strategy will be to try to crumble morale and accelerate the rate of defections in the ANA. The Taliban will also endeavour to infiltrate the force with a view to increasing “green on blue attacks” on the embedded personnel, which have a devastating effect.
And as long as Nato airpower dominates the Afghan skies the Afghan Taliban and other renegades will seek sanctuary in Pakistan’s tribal areas. And as long as there continue to be sanctuaries in Pakistan, the drones will come after them. Likewise, as long as the civil war goes on in Afghanistan, Pakistani jihadis will find sanctuary in the lawless Pakhtun badlands on the other side of the Durand Line.
Given the mutual interest in each others’ territories there is a greater chance that likeminded groups on either side will coalesce.
To pick a line from Mao’s Little Red Book, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”; then in these badlands, money comes as an adjunct to political power. As a natural consequence activities including smuggling, drug trade, kidnapping for ransom and criminal syndicates extending to plunder the relatively more prosperous and settled side of the Indus River will intensify.
The other power centre in the region, the Pakistani military, will at best be able to loosely regulate these warlords and every now and then chase away militant groups to the other side of the river and at other times across the Durand Line.
In an atmosphere of mutual mistrust and suspicion and the likely lack of collaboration among the three parties, a beleaguered Pakistani state, the nominal government in Kabul and the US forces holed up inside Bagram, the eventual collapse of the Afghan National Army and remaining security infrastructure is inevitable.
Vast swathes of a fragmenting countryside would fall to powerful warlords as the entire region reverts to its default historical setting: the western periphery of the Indian subcontinent, between the Oxus and the Indus that Babar would have encountered when he first arrived in this region at the beginning of the 16th century.

The writer is an international business strategist and entrepreneur
moazzamhusain@yahoo.com.au

Talks with the enemy

By Moeed Yusuf

A MULTI-PARTY conference called by the Awami National Party recently endorsed talks with “law-abiding” Pakistani Taliban. The topic was picked up by the media. From what I could tell, the mood seemed to be amenable to giving the idea a shot.
Then came the Quetta tragedy. The media’s tone changed completely. The conference’s wisdom is now being questioned and parties like the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf who have called for talks with the Pakistani Taliban for long are being put on the mat. The question is an emotive variant of: ‘how can we talk with those who carry out such heinous acts?’
Let us first be clear on what we are talking about.
The issue of talks has come up in the context of the insurgency in the northwest where the Pakistani Taliban have fought for control of territory against the Pakistani state with some success. This implies that we are approaching the Pakistani Taliban as an insurgent force (even though they use terrorism as a tool as well), distinct from the many other purely terrorist outfits. Otherwise, our purview for talks would have been much broader to include the likes of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ), Sipah-i-Sahaba, Sipah-i-Muhammad, etc.
The LJ-perpetrated incident in Quetta then has little to do with the idea of talks with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.
Second, an objection to talks on the basis of the insurgents’ past violent actions is comical. By definition, when states talk to insurgents, they are talking to people who have committed heinous crimes against it. That is the whole point: to talk them out of violence. So the common objections to talking with the Taliban are off the mark.
In deciding whether to approach the Taliban is a good idea, the calculus has to revolve around: (i) who are we talking to; (ii) what are they likely to ask for; and (iii) what is the most we can offer them? Talks will potentially be worthwhile if we can answer the first question clearly and find at least some overlap between the second and third. Otherwise not.
So who do we wish to talk to?
The multi-party conference’s endorsement of talks with the Taliban who respect the law of the land is an oxymoron. You can’t possibility respect the Pakistani constitution if you are part of a proscribed organisation and have been fighting the state.
But let us be a bit more liberal in interpreting this: parties like the PTI correctly point out that the Pakistani Taliban conglomerate is not a monolith. They say we should talk to the amenable ones — read, the less violent or least recalcitrant actors. If so, then this is about talking to the periphery.
Fair enough. We can talk to the periphery and see if they are willing to rejoin the mainstream. But this is neither here nor there for two reasons.
One, the periphery won’t be able to dent the overall momentum of the conglomerate’s activities. Two, no one is stopping the periphery from joining the mainstream even now. There are many who have broken off from the Taliban ranks and have been allowed to live within the framework of Pakistani laws (as long as they were not part of the core of the movement and were not involved in major attacks).
To be of any consequence then, the initiative has to be about pacifying the core of the Pakistani Taliban. A formal politically backed process makes little sense otherwise.
Can we pull this off?
The answer depends on what we are willing to put on offer for the Taliban. If it is a demand for them to give up violence, lay down arms, and ask for forgiveness, it’s a non-starter. It will defy all benchmarks for successful talks between states and insurgents.
Insurgents will accept your demands when they are the defeated party and face obliteration if they resist any longer. The states will cede territory or allow power to insurgents if the result on the ground is the opposite. In stalemate situations, successful talks will necessarily entail give and take.
Our situation can most accurately be defined as a stalemate. The Pakistani Taliban have fought the state for almost a decade. They have failed to defeat it even in their strongholds but more importantly, they have not lost either. They have maintained their clout in Fata and seem to be raising their head again after facing major setbacks since 2009-10. The Pakistani state has fought them courageously but is visibly bruised and battered. Incidentally, this is why we are even thinking of talking to them in the first place.
Before broaching formal talks then, the state needs to be absolutely clear on what the Taliban’s demands are and whether it is willing to concede on any of them.
We don’t have any clear indication from the TTP except that their demeanour is not that of a defeated party. They are thus most likely to put forth maximalist demands: allow them to rule the roost in their strongholds; impose Sharia in and beyond their strongholds; remove military presence from much of Fata and the adjacent territories; and force the US to end drone strikes or break ties with Washington.
The state should negotiate seriously if it is willing to concede on some of these demands. But if we want to stay away from providing them a legitimised “Wild West” where the Pakistani state will lose all control and if we want to avoid remaining a persistent worry for the world, this is a bad idea.
Giving in to these demands will only strengthen the Taliban further. In all likelihood, the state will have to show up again with its military might a few weeks, months, or years later to confront a much more defiant Pakistani Taliban.
Let us talk about talks with the Taliban only after the military has packed the punch successfully enough to leave no doubt as to who the winner is. Short of that, the TTP’s demands are likely to be unacceptable for any Pakistani who wants to be part of a moderate, progressive polity.

The writer is South Asia adviser at the US Institute of Peace, Washington, D.C.

Bad news from Afghanistan

By Irfan Husain

AS usual, the recent Karachi Literary Festival was a great occasion to catch up with old friends. This time, there was a large contingent of ex-diplomats and journalists around. The latter included several foreign correspondents of western publications. And these days, when hacks meet diplomats, the talk usually turns to Afghanistan.
The world over, there’s much speculation over what will happen when the bulk of foreign troops leave our war-torn neighbour. From the worst-case scenario (the Taliban back in Kabul) to the optimistic situation where the Taliban join a broad-based coalition of disparate ethnic groups, there are many possibilities to conjure with.
But talking to journalist friends reporting regularly on Afghanistan, and old foreign service friends who, until a few years ago, were involved in advising on the situation there, I found almost unanimous pessimism. Apart from the adverse fallout of Nato’s departure on Afghanistan, my friends were very concerned with what 2014, the year of the American pullout, will bring for Pakistan.
And with good reason. When politicians and TV talking heads were hysterically demanding an immediate American withdrawal, I had suggested in several columns that we should be careful of what we wish for. So here we are, finally about to get what we had so vociferously demanded, and not liking what we see.
For starters, let’s count the economic cost of the looming pullout: currently, coalition forces and the foreign NGO community employ tens of thousands of Afghans at excellent salaries, at least by local standards. Landlords have rented houses in Kabul to foreigners at exorbitant prices. The nascent service sector has prospered due to the presence of the large overseas community. From transporters to taxi drivers to security guards, tens of thousands are dependent on the dollars spent by resident and visiting Americans and Europeans.
Now, the goose that has been laying these golden eggs is about to fly off, leaving many thousands unemployed. The Afghan economy is too small to absorb all those who are about to lose their source of income. Upscale restaurants will shut down without the business their foreign customers brought them, as will beauty salons. Wealthy Afghans have already begun transferring their wealth abroad, a trend that will only build up over the next year. Chances are that they will leave before the Americans do.
And it’s not just the Afghans who will be the losers: thousands of Pakistanis have found gainful employment in Afghanistan, whether in the construction industry or as executives in a wide range of businesses. Pakistani cement factories have been exporting thousands of tons of their product to Afghanistan, and our truckers have been hauling thousands of containers full of Nato and US supplies. All this business will evaporate by the end of 2014.
So what will happen to all the Afghans who will no longer be able to support their families? No prizes for guessing many will head for Pakistan. Already there are around 1.7 million registered refugees in camps in Khyber-Pakhtunistan, with many illegally in Karachi and Peshawar. Prepare for another influx of economic refugees. And this is without factoring in the strong possibility of renewed civil war next door.
Should the Taliban refuse to take part in a power-sharing arrangement that does not allow them a major role, the results can be violent and disastrous. A resumption of the civil war between them and the Northern Alliance is not farfetched. This scenario will send hundreds of thousands pouring across the border into neighbouring Iran and Pakistan, just as the earlier civil war did.
The difference is that this time, there probably won’t be a major international humanitarian effort to provide them food and shelter. With a major recession still causing economic hardship in many Western countries, there is little appetite for yet another open-ended aid mission in this region.
And now that the anti-US brigade in the military and media are getting their wish of a pullout, will they tell us how to bridge the fiscal gap caused by an end to US aid? Even though one of the authors of the Kerry-Lugar Act is now the US secretary of state, the reality is that Pakistan is not a country that’s easy to sell to most American legislators. Widely regarded as an unreliable ally, Pakistan cannot expect preferential treatment due to its geopolitical location: when tenants move out of rented real estate, they seldom feel the need to continue sending monthly cheques.
Even worse than the economic fallout are the security implications: should the Taliban tighten their grip on the areas bordering Fata – the most probable outcome – their ethnic cousins and ideological clones in Pakistan will be energised. The moral boost the perceived victory over the Americans will give the jihadi movement will be felt across Pakistan.
With the Americans gone, there will be little to stop Afghan Taliban crossing the border to help their Pakistani allies, thereby returning the favour done them by the Pakistani militant groups now fighting in Afghanistan. The Afghan National Army will do as little to stop this cross-border movement as our army has done to halt the Haqqani group from carrying out attacks next door.
For years, we have been listening to conspiracy theories about the real reasons for the American presence in Afghanistan: it was all about controlling Afghan resources, went one; the Americans needed a base to take out our nukes went another. There are several other such boneheaded theories around, but you get the idea. The reality is that the vast majority of Americans are sick and tired of the war in Afghanistan, and will want nothing more to do with the region for years to come.
In a little more than a year, we will be left moaning and groaning about the perfidious Americans who have left us with a big mess next door. These complaints will echo what our military and media said in the early nineties when the Americans left after the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan. Once again, to repeat the old army line, “The Americans will dump Pakistan like a used condom”. To repeat, we should be careful of what we wish for.

People who must do more

By Asha’ar Rehman

FOUR men stood having an animated discussion in front of graffiti on sidelines of the literary festival last weekend.
In the black of mourning against the thick white background, someone had written and signed “Uss bewafa ka shehr hai aur hum hain dosto, ashk-i-rawaan ki lehr hai aur hum hain dosto” (In the city of [my] unfaithful, I wander, with tears cascading in a stream).
The verse was the basis for some debate and cause for some astonishment among the group of four before it was finally dismissed, attributed to a particular someone’s lack of understanding of the topic: the murder of a Shia doctor and his 12-year-old son at the Lahore Canal a few days ago.
It could very well be that — like you, me and our neighbour — these four onlookers were not yet prepared to fully acknowledge the link between a ‘bewafa’ city and the betrayals that it has been a common site for.
Their approach is defined perhaps by the fear of them blowing their own security cover — like you, me and the city around us. It could be either that the actual subject of the protest site, a lament about an old town struck by a benumbing disease, escapes their notice or they are not prepared to look it in the eye.
At the literary festival itself it was mostly about the need to restore and revive the city by combining forces. The unprecedented event inevitably brought to the fore a romanticised view of what Lahore was and inspired desires of what it should be. There were few celebrations about the present, even though a reason for celebrations was offered. Despite the city’s general reputation, the predominantly young attendees’ responses to the talks at the festival generated hope that Lahore was far more capable of reacting to Balochistan today than it had to East Pakistan four decades ago.
More poignantly, it was the helplessness of this public response not being encouraged and harnessed towards a goal which once again had heads shaking in despair. The prominent missing organisers of the society were easily identified — the government and the media, which as writer Mohammed Hanif points out, prefers to cover live Tahirul Qadri’s sit-in than the coffin protest of the Hazara Shias in Quetta.
The people have a job to force these institutions, but it can be asked what more can a people do than let the living and the dead among them combine to form the grimmest-ever demonstration? Those who cannot be moved by 100 coffins will not be moved by the murder of a doctor and a son.
The dilemma is that while the people will continue to be accused by our conscience-keepers of failing to exert pressure on the institutions, they need encouragement from these very institutions for persevering on the side of right.
Those who are placed in leading positions must lead the people out of this dark alley. They must inspire by creating hope instead of promoting justifications for notions of relative security in comparison to other places and other sects, a strategy which contributes to the divide and could leave the people more immune than safe.
There may still be time. Just when you feel that you have become immune to routine displays of gore, a face crops up to leave a deep scar on your soul. The faces of young Hazara children and that of Murtaza Haider, the young boy murdered on the Lahore Canal, will pain the heart forever. There is no way you can shrug off the image, unless you have ideological or administrative reasons.
For a brand of the ideological this was a mini war won in a continuing battle. Murtaza’s serene young face symbolised the future — in the killers’ book the future of a sect that mustn’t be allowed to nurse any notions of peaceful living in this land. Hence the targeting of successful Shia professionals — and the young boy sitting next to his highly respected doctor father could not be spared.
For the administration it was an ‘unfortunate incident’, but one which could hardly have been avoided in a city of so many millions. Do not killings take place in the most advanced of cities in the most developed of countries?
Even in the context of this country, Lahorites need not be reminded every time that they have a much more secure life compared to those stuck in other Pakistani cities under other, less efficient and badly corrupted governments. The administration here has proven this in the past and as the surviving millions would see, it will have many more occasions to corroborate this fact.
One such opportunity presented itself soon afterwards courtesy children who suffered burns due to the negligence of the elders that they been given under the charge of at a Shahdara school. The young boys and girls at the school survived the ‘accident’ caused by a stove left switched on overnight. That no life was lost was sufficient enough victory for the relief of a public that has been trained to see the injured in a pile of the dead as a positive. For the administration, this was an occasion to order some prompt action to show its efficiency.
The fire in Shahdara has been followed by inspection orders requiring the local administration to look at precautionary measures against such incidents at all schools in the city. And it can, perhaps, be hoped the inspection campaign will trickle down to the rest of Punjab.
There have been far too many false starts in the past to expect that another apparent drive, launched to curb militants fond of sectarian violence will also be sustained. One thing is for sure, the blame will again fall on the people — for not exhibiting their dead powerfully enough.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Dangerous liaison

By Zahid Hussain

PITY the nation where the blood of innocents comes cheap and murderers live under state patronage.
Malik Ishaq is not an ordinary criminal. The co-founder of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi has been charged in more than two dozen murder cases. But the frightened judges have not dared to convict him. Instead, he would be served with tea and cookies by the court staff during the trial.
From his jail cell he saw to it that no witness survived to give evidence against him. “Dead men do not talk,” the man who confessed to being involved in the killing of 102 people reportedly told the court. Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court acquitted him in 2011 — for lack of evidence.
Who would, in any case, come forward to give evidence against a man whose family was well looked after and paid a monthly stipend by the Punjab government while he was in jail? It was an unforgettable spectacle when hundreds of activists of the banned outfit armed with automatic guns and rocket launchers came to receive the LJ leader when he was released from Lahore Central Jail in 2011.
No action was taken by the administration against those violators of the law. Since then the LJ leader has been living under government protection, freely spreading sectarian hatred.
Predictably, following his release from jail Pakistan has experienced a massive upsurge in the sectarian violence targeting members of the Shia community and other religious minority groups, blamed on the LJ.
Yet, the Punjab government has failed to crack down on terror networks and instead tried to appease the extremists. The LJ continued its activities under the banner of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) with its main base in south Punjab.
It was merely an eyewash when the Punjab government detained Malik Ishaq under the Maintenance of Public Order just to calm public protests last week. Interestingly, he was allowed to address his supporters and a press conference before being escorted by the police to a rest house. He is to be detained for a month.
Such pampering of a notorious militant leader raises some questions about the position of the PML-N on religious extremism and militancy. This politics of appeasement becomes much more dubious with the reports of the party trying to strike a seat adjustment deal for the upcoming elections with the ASWJ of which Malik Ishaq is now vice president. This politics of expediency may win the party a few more seats in the upcoming elections, but the move would provide further space to religious extremism already on the rise in Punjab. Not only is the province a base of outlawed militant outfits like LJ, it has also witnessed some of the most gruesome attacks against religious minorities in recent years. The brutal killing of Dr Ali Haider, a leading eye surgeon, and his young son in Lahore last week is a grim reminder of the spreading violence and growing stridency of sectarian militants in the country’s most powerful province.
Yet, there is either a complete state of denial or political opportunism has prevented the administration from taking any effective action against the groups involved in militant violence not only in Punjab, but also in Quetta and other parts of the country.
There are also other factors explaining the party’s flawed stance on militancy and religious extremism. Many members of the banned Sunni sectarian groups, after being proscribed by Gen (retd) Musharraf’s military-led government, have reportedly joined the PML-N. Therefore it is not surprising that the PML-N members were alleged to have been directly involved in the attacks few years ago on a Christian neighbourhood in Punjab’s village of Gojra. Houses were burned down killing members of the Christian community.
The ongoing war of words and blame game between the federal and the Punjab provincial government demonstrate the non-serious attitude of our political leadership in dealing with the growing menace of militancy. There is a complete absence of a narrative that could unite the nation against the religious extremism threatening to tear apart the country’s social fabric.
The LJ which was formed in 1990 is closely associated with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The banned sectarian outfit has not only been involved in terrorist attacks in Pakistan, it has also expanded operations across the border in Afghanistan. Afghan officials blamed the LJ for an attack on a Shia shrine in Kabul in 2010 killing dozens of people.
Defying their proscription, the extremist sectarian groups have openly been circulating their hate literature and their hardline madressahs spread across Punjab province have become the main centre of recruitment.
While PML-N leaders vociferously deny the presence of any militant stronghold in their province, many terrorist attacks have had roots in the impoverished southern Punjab districts. The militants are mostly members of banned organisations like Jaish-i-Mohammad beside the LJ and the Sipah-i-Sahaba. According to a media report, more than 44 per cent of the 20,000 madressahs in Pakistan are located in Punjab province, many of them with links to these radical outfits.
Most of these madressahs, particularly those located in south Punjab, are financed by Arab Islamic charities. There has not been any effort made either by the provincial government or the federal government to stop these sources of funding that have contributed to the radicalisation and the rise of sectarian extremism in the region. Thousands of militants from Punjab, particularly from the southern districts, have not only been fighting Pakistani forces in Waziristan and other tribal areas, but also waging so-called jihad against the coalition forces in Afghanistan. In recent years some districts of south Punjab have become sanctuaries for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.
It is not only the failure of the Punjab government, but also the inaction of the security agencies and the federal government that has allowed militancy and extremism to rise. The country could be in the throes of a sectarian civil war with the collapse of state authority. The liaison between the Punjab government and sectarian militants has created a threatening situation. There is a need for a coherent national counter-extremism stance and a counterterrorism narrative to save the country from complete disaster.
While Quetta may have been the scene of the latest Shia massacre, it is Punjab which remains the centre of gravity of religious militancy in the country. This monster of large-scale killings may show its ugly face in many parts of the country if not countered now.

The writer is an author and journalist.
zhussain100@yahoo.com
Twitter: @hidhussain

The right to home

By Rafia Zakaria

THROUGH the pogroms and cataclysms of history, when populations were chased from their homes and hearths by war or famine or persecution, it was always their right to arrive at a destination, be integrated and accepted into a new settlement.
From when the early Muslims first came to Madina from Makkah and long before that and long after that, the debate on refugees, those who have involuntarily left their homes, has been the basis of legal and ethical wrangling.
Most developments have focused on the rights of these people to obtain asylum, some modicum of acceptance and integration into new communities. Agencies, like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, have ensured that these rights are available to those fleeing conflict and natural disaster in various parts of the world.
There is little discussion on the other hand of the right pertaining to the legal concept of being able to stay or not be displaced where refugees and asylees are concerned. The human right “not to be displaced” has in the years of its development as a concept, received far less attention than the rights of those already displaced.
In the 1990s, in the wake of the huge displacement crisis in Yugoslavia, the then UN refugee commissioner, Sadako Ogata, spoke for the first time on the “right to remain” and since then the impetus for coming up with legal stipulations that prevent the arbitrary transfer of people from one place to another has been gaining ground.
In 1994, in the Journal of International Law, Prof M. Stavropoulou came up with the following definition for the concept of the “right to stay”: “No one shall be forced to leave his or her home and no one shall be forcibly relocated or expelled from his or her country of nationality or area of habitual residence….”
Since then, various iterations of the right not to be displaced have been introduced and discussed at various international forums to try and show how the rights of indigenous people, the environmentally affected and others, fit in with the emerging understanding of the right to one’s home being considered a basic human right.
The chief criticism on the issue emerging as such has been on the basis that the recognition of such a right would mean a consequent weakening of the rights of migrants who do choose to leave their homes, and even more so of those who are forced to do so and desperately need legal protection in their places of refuge.
However, campaigning on the issue, especially in the context of internally displaced persons, forced evictions and environmental migrants, has gained enough momentum in recent years for over 20 states to have incorporated this right into their national legislation.
In the context of Pakistan, the “right to home” or to not be displaced may have some relevance to the debate on US drone attacks in the northwest. Not only are there hardly any current statistics kept on the exact numbers of people being displaced by US drone attacks in the tribal areas, few advocacy efforts from the Pakistani side have been made to link such possible displacements to the added cost of conflict in the area.
Statistics provided by a 2009 human rights report put the numbers of those displaced by conflict at nearly 800,000. More recent statistics stated the numbers of displaced as a result of conflict to be 200,000 with 60,000 living in the Jalozai camp in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
A recent protest held by tribesmen against strikes illustrates the problem, its dimensions murky and unclear because of the difficulties of approximating the numbers that have become displaced from certain areas, and quite possibly in part because of the issue of drone strikes in the larger conflict.
The reason why ascertaining the numbers is important is because they present a human rights argument with which drone strikes by the US can be opposed by Pakistani and international human rights groups. Up to this point, most of the objections to the strikes have been on the basis of the impingement of Pakistani sovereignty and the number of civilian casualties.
In turn, the US has asserted that Article 51 of the UN Charter allows it to conduct these strikes on the basis of self-defence since the 9/11 attacks carried out by Al Qaeda constituted an act of aggression.
While the various UN officials have questioned this principle (which does in effect allow the US to carry out drone attacks against any country harbouring an alleged Al Qaeda operative), the issue has stalled on the contested number of civilian casualties.
If the magnitude of the ethnic strife and upheavals in Pakistan are to receive any international attention, the human right to home, or against displacement must be placed at the centre of the discourse. Doing this would allow migratory patterns traced from Khyber to Karachi to be connected to patterns of ethnic violence.
While respecting the rights of individuals to remain in their homes is first a right to be recognised by national governments, room exists in the discourse of transnational institutions to promote the recognition of this right, and its consequent violation by conflict.
In this sense, the true cost of conflict and the domino effect it produces in terms of driving people from their homes, and creating aftershocks and upheavals in far larger areas than is currently understood, can be included in the debate.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

Don’t do as the Romans do

By Mahir Ali

THE Vatican, as of tomorrow, will temporarily be popeless. As for the rest of Italy, initial results and projections from this week’s elections point to consequences that could be designated as hopeless.
A conclave of cardinals, meeting in the Sistine Chapel, will sooner or later pick a new pontiff. Just before his exit, the incumbent changed the law whereby the electoral college could not be convened before a fortnight had passed — allowing for a mourning period, given that for the past six centuries the norm has been for a pope to breathe his last before the need for a successor arose.
Benedict XVI chose to break with that tradition, ostensibly on account of increasing physical and intellectual infirmities. Commentators suggested that his unexpected decision was based partly on the experience of witnessing the embarrassing decline of his predecessor.
A likelier explanation came last week in La Repubblica, which reported that the decision to resign was taken on Dec 17 last year, the day the pope received a dossier containing the report of an internal inquiry into the so-called Vatileaks episode, sparked by his butler’s decision to leak pilfered papal documents relating to the sordid goings-on within the Vatican.
That corroborates an earlier report that the former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, knew before Christmas of the pope’s impending resignation.
La Repubblica claimed that the three cardinals entrusted with the investigation described various factions within the portals of Catholic power, and noted that in one case the members were “united by sexual orientation” and subject to “external influence”. The paper interpreted this as a reference to a band of gay prelates who faced blackmail.
Papal spokesmen initially refused to comment on the allegations, although the Vatican eventually issued a statement deploring “a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions” — which falls short of an explicit denial.
For many years now the Catholic church has been beset by allegations of institutionalised child abuse followed by an institutionalised cover-up, and the so-called flocks of a number of the cardinals heading for Rome — not least from the US and Ireland — have strenuously objected to their participation in the conclave.
The latest blow to its reputation came with the resignation of Keith O’Brien, the archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, following the revelation that three priests and an ex-priest had accused him of “inappropriate behaviour” towards them back in the 1980s, especially after night prayers.
O’Brien, named last year as “bigot of the year” by the gay charity Stonewall in reference to his vociferous opposition to equal rights for homosexuals, had said last week that Catholic priests should be allowed to marry if they so wished, as many of them had “found it very difficult to cope with celibacy”.
That kind of squares with an opinion expressed by the outsider in the secular Italian election, Beppe Grillo, who opined during the campaign that priests should be permitted to have children “so they don’t touch other people’s”.
Partly because of Grillo, the task of choosing Italy’s next prime minister could prove far more onerous than that of picking the next pope. Although Grillo was not himself a candidate owing to a manslaughter conviction related to a road accident, his anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) was projected to emerge as the single largest party following the balloting on Sunday and Monday.
The professional comedian, through a series of public speaking engagements designated the “tsunami tour”, was able to harness the support of the disaffected and the disillusioned by mocking the political circus that has become the bane of Italian political life.
However, the M5S couldn’t seriously hope to outpoll the alliances led by Pier Luigi Bersani’s Democratic Party (PD) and Silvio Berlusconi’s Freedom People (PdL), projected to emerge as the largest groupings, respectively, in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.
The two chambers of the Italian parliament share equal powers, and whereas the largest conglomeration in the Chamber gets bonus seats to make up a clear majority if it lacks one, that rule doesn’t apply to the Senate. It was assumed that Bersani would be able to form a coalition with the forces represented by outgoing prime minister Mario Monti, but the latter’s extremely poor showing makes that unlikely.
Monti, as The New York Times’ Paul Krugman noted in his column this week, was “the proconsul installed by Germany to enforce fiscal austerity on an already ailing economy” in 2011, and it is hardly surprising that his policies entailed his relegation to a distant fourth place in the polls.
Hailed by fellow bankers as “Super Mario”, Monti failed to make much of an impression on most of his fellow Italians within a European context where neoliberal measures to “rescue” failing economies have also proved remarkably unpopular in countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal.
Monti had vowed he wouldn’t seek election if he completed his term — which he was unable to do after losing Berlusconi’s support last year. The bane of Italian politics for the past two decades, Berlusconi also went back on a vow to stay out of the fray. The vain, sexist, corrupt and altogether odious, Mussolini-praising politician, beset by scandals he customarily dismisses with an offensive joke, chose to have another go. The real tragedy, of course, is that Italian voters, who had the option of dispensing with his self-serving “services” once and for all, chose not to do so.
They may soon get another chance. Italy hasn’t enjoyed stability since the CIA, in its anti-communist zeal, manipulated the first postwar election result in the 1940s. That appears unlikely to change in the short term.
Italian voters this week could have been forgiven for humming the 1970s hit by Stealers Wheel that went: “Clowns to the left of me/Jokers to the right, here I am,/Stuck in the middle with you.” It could take a while, though, to find out who the “you” is — and perhaps the same goes for the Vatican.

mahir.dawn@gmail.com

Tense ties with US

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh

THE recent meeting of Nato defence ministers in Brussels has brought to light the sort of ideas the Obama administration is debating with Nato allies as it tries to meet the objectives of completing its military withdrawal by 2014 and leaving behind enough resources to offer Afghanistan a chance of achieving stability.
Nato’s secretary general, Fogh Rasmussen, said in his press conference that no firm decisions had been taken either on the size of the residual foreign military presence or on that of the Afghan security forces that Nato would finance.
Nothing had been agreed beyond the fact that Nato would continue to provide support to Afghanistan in security matters. His concluding remarks on Afghanistan were: “Nato and the broader international community will continue to help Afghanistan. But it is for the Afghan people to shape their country’s future. We can help build security, but only the Afghan people can build their society.” This was a clear message to President Hamid Karzai.
Notwithstanding the absence of firm decisions, one can glean from the statements and media coverage of the Nato meeting, and from a close reading of earlier coverage, that the maximum proposed foreign military presence after 2014 would be between 8,000 and 12,000. But in all probability the presence will be less. It will have the primary role of counterterrorism and the secondary role of training the Afghan security forces.
The Americans will clearly have the largest contingent — somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000. It will consist for the most part of Special Operation Forces and of personnel for manning the airfields from which drones will operate for counterterrorism. The Americans will keep their forces in the south and east and leave it to the regional command in the north — probably headed by the Germans — and the west — probably headed by the Italians — to undertake the training mission.
In May last year, it had been the Nato plan to build the Afghan security forces to a strength of 352,000 by 2013 and then to reduce this number by 2017 to 230,000. The financing for the 230,000 was estimated at $4.1 billion towards which the Afghans would have contributed $500 million and Nato allies another $300m. The balance would have come from the US which would also pick up the additional amount needed from 2014 to 2017 – roughly $2bn a year.
At the Nato meeting, what seems to have been discussed and possibly agreed to is that since the residual Nato presence was going to be much smaller than originally envisaged the Afghan security forces would be kept at the 350,000 level until 2018.
This would mean that instead of the $4.1bn needed annually to support 230,000 Afghan security forces, a sum of $6.5bn would be made available of which the Afghans would provide $500m, the US $5.7bn while the other Nato countries would contribute $300m. Whether support for the Afghan forces would be maintained after 2018 was not made clear but Karzai had earlier suggested that he expected his allies to foot the major part of the bill up to 2024.
It is probable that the Americans have agreed to pick up the difference. For them it would be a good bargain since an additional $2.4bn would suffice for stationing only 2,500 additional soldiers in Afghanistan. For the Afghans it would be an advantage not only in security terms but also because it would postpone at least for some time the retrenchment that would put 120,000 men trained only to carry arms on the list of unemployed Afghans. But this is the only good news for Afghanistan.
Within Afghanistan there has been a steady worsening of relations between the Karzai administration and his Nato allies. A week ago Karzai prohibited Afghan forces from calling upon Nato for air support of Afghan land operations because of the civilian casualties that result from such aerial attacks.
Now the Afghan president has called upon US forces to stop operations in Wardak province and withdraw from there. This decision was taken on Feb 24 because the Afghans had failed to get any satisfaction from their requests to the Americans to investigate charges that American Special Forces or their Afghan employees had been responsible for “harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people”.
A day later a Nato spokesman said their investigation had shown that no American had engaged in “unprofessional behaviour” in Wardak.
This denial was to be expected and is probably accurate. The American Special Forces are known to have created a special Afghan militia of which even the low-level commands of regular American forces are not kept informed.
Since Americans themselves can be taken to task under American law for torturing or killing suspects they use these militias for this purpose just as “extraordinary renditions” were employed in the Bush era to get the intelligence services of “friendly countries” to use unsavoury means to extract confessions or information from suspected insurgents.
So Karzai is right in asking for a cessation of such activities. But Wardak, only 48 kilometres from Kabul, has, according to the local police chief, 101 active insurgent groups including Al Qaeda, the Haqqani network, the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami. Local officials say that they cannot travel by road outside the provincial capital without heavy security escort. Will the removal of the Americans reduce or enhance the security risks to Wardak and perhaps even Kabul itself?
It is also likely that the restrictions Karzai is now placing on Nato military activity will make consensus on a status of forces agreement being negotiated between the United States and Afghanistan more difficult.
On another front, the Pak-Afghan ulema conference to which the Afghans attached great importance appears to have stalled. There seems to be no progress on reconciliation with the formal recognition of the Taliban office in Doha hanging fire. One can only say that bleak days lie ahead for Afghanistan and by extension for Pakistan.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

That right feeling about TV

By Jawed Naqvi

GULLIBLE Indians often believe that journalists on TV speak the gospel truth. I have met unsuspecting ones among them who believe emperor Babar was a Pakistani. They had read this somewhere or perhaps seen it on the news.
They are not mean or nasty people, just victims of a sleight of hand that has worked well. It has been dinned into their heads that Muslims (including their emperors) are Pakistanis, implacable enemies of the national interest. Narendra Modi simplified the equation by baptising Indian Muslims as Gen Musharraf’s children.
The Goebbelsian method seldom fails in swaying the masses. TV does the rest.
After all, the mob that planted the saffron flag on the rubble of the Babri mosque it had razed in 1992 was, through induced chants, threatening to turn to Lahore next. It didn’t mean to harm Pakistan, of course, but was just adding potent domestic politics to a cocktail of misinterpreted folklore and deeply planted religio-political subterfuge.
Television is only a new tool in the transmission of this garbled sense of history and politics in India. Cinema was as useful a weapon in the spiralling of prejudice to reap political dividends. Even leftist lore searched for nationalist palliatives on the screen.
I doubt that Kaifi Azmi had read Neville Maxwell’s proscribed book on India’s China war before penning his maudlin but popular verse on the military rout in Ladakh. But television has surpassed them all.
The transition began when the Hindu right leader Lal Kishan Advani took the information and broadcasting portfolio in his hands. That was his first chance to become federal minister in the garb of rejuvenated democracy.
The year was 1977. The right-wing penetration of the mass media began in earnest under his watch. That was also the year when acclaimed historians were trashed and the school textbooks they wrote with concise professionalism banned. This was partly to muzzle historical evidence seen as uncomfortable to the Hindu right, including the assertion that ancient Brahmins ate beef.
It was a similarly typical triumph of televised garble that Mr Advani was allowed to claim with considerable authority last week, even as the police in Hyderabad were still searching high and low for elusive clues, that the twin blasts in the southern city with its rich syncretic
history was the handiwork of Pakistan.
Many couldn’t hide their exasperation, and not because the Pakistani establishment has not tried to harm India. In fact, the most vocal admission of this lingering animus comes from Pakistanis themselves, chiefly those who ardently wish to have normal ties with Indians.
Sadly for them, ties are unlikely to improve as long as the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Congress remain insecure in their domestic political arithmetic.
There are exceptions of course. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stands out as a solitary advocate for continued dialogue with Islamabad, but his pursuit is rooted in a lack of insecurity. He has never needed to win an election, and he has played out his innings with nothing much left to lose.
So, there’s a pattern in TV’s shifting focus from one crisis to the next to somehow keep Pakistan in the crosshairs. This began after the prime minister met his Pakistani counterpart in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt where they tried to look beyond the horror of the Mumbai attacks. He was double-guessed by his bureaucracy.
If anyone thought that Ajmal Kasab’s hanging would lead to a calmer moment in their ties, they were in for a surprise. They had to contend with one contrived shock after another.
Immediately after Kasab was hanged, the narrative of alleged Pakistani brutality on a Kargil hero was excavated to hit India’s TV screens. That paved the way for the more vivid and more current decapitation claims and counterclaims on the Line of Control, which everyone thought had climaxed with the execution of Afzal Guru. Then came the Hyderabad blues.
Mr Advani may have jumped the gun on the Hyderabad blasts and the reason lies in the fact that previous attacks in the city have been found to be the work of the Hindu right.
He should read Manisha Sethi’s report on behalf of the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association on the recent attacks in Hyderabad. She quotes the following conversation between two alleged conspirators from the Hindu right which anti-terror police chief Hemant Karkare had retrieved from their laptop:
Maj (retd) Ramesh Upadhyay: “...for example what happened in Hyderabad Mosque or at other places was not done by anybody from ISI; it was done by our person. On the basis of my information, I can say that it was done by this particular person.[ …]
Lt-Col Purohit: “... I have done two operations. They were successful Swamiji [Dayanand Pandey], I have the capacity to carry out operations. I have no dearth of equipment [explosives]. Once I decide I can procure the equipment....” […]
Lt-Col Purohit: “...I am in contact with Israel. One of our captains has visited Israel. Very positive response from their side. They have said: ‘You show us something on ground.’ [...] Secondly, they say they cannot support us in the international forum under the present circumstances for two years, till our movement does not gather some momentum. Political asylum anytime; equipment and training once we show something on ground. I am trying to achieve that...”
Sadly, Hemant Karkare was killed during the Mumbai terror attack, apparently falling victim to an ambush by Ajmal Kasab.
What has happened to the full contents of the laptops recovered by him, Ms Sethi has asked in a well-researched set of questions on the latest bombings in Hyderabad. She has a few like-minded journalist friends in TV studios and newsrooms to carry her point of view. But they are all struggling to stem the Goebbelsian tide.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
jawednaqvi@gmail.com

Life and literature

By I.A. Rehman

FOR five days in the month that ends today a fairly large number of Pakistanis had the opportunity of looking at themselves through the glasses of quite a few worthy chroniclers of the human condition. The result was certainly worth the effort.
The three-day literature festival at Karachi and the two-day literature festival in Lahore — the two events should be seen as complementing each other — reassured us of the dynamism that our society is still capable of. But they also pointed to certain inadequacies of a
critical nature.
Both festivals showcased a badly maligned civil society’s capacity to launch sizeable efforts to spread enlightenment and offer people much-needed relief from the daily narrative of mayhem and corruption. The large crowds the festivals attracted confirmed not only the people’s eagerness to broaden their vision of life but also their desire to find answers to the various crises they are afflicted with or have heard of.
The Karachi festival, the fourth annual undertaking, was a mammoth affair. It reflected the benefit of experience in that it showed a marked improvement in the organisers’ capacity to broaden their franchise and attract a growing number of creative writers, artists and social activists. More importantly, they were able to diversify the programme.
A significant innovation this year was the organisation of a children’s literature festival that vindicated the soundness of the enterprise and promised better returns in future. Also much greater space was provided to the performing arts, much to the satisfaction of the audiences and the performers both.
Literature, of course, dominated the fare — the launching of about a dozen books, conversations with more than a dozen writers/poets, and discussions on a variety of trends in literature. The choice of personalities and themes embraced writers in both Urdu and English and ‘Punjabiat’ and Sindhi too were accorded some recognition, though of a token nature.
Nobody was surprised that due attention was paid to music, dance and theatre. But the organisers also provided for discussions on a number of themes which are likely to be considered in an unprogressive society as non-literary, such as scientists speaking out against the bomb, the state of education in the country, political parties and the 2013 elections, human rights in Pakistan, the situation in Afghanistan, our new political economy, the politics of child labour, dynastic politics in Pakistan, secularism, the dynamics of Karachi, et al.
The two-day Lahore festival scored high as a debut offering. The turnout was most impressive. It was heartening to see Alhamra’s large halls filled up while no popular drama or musical concert was on offer. A large number of foreign celebrities enlivened the proceedings and Lahore’s own capacity to throw up great writers was also confirmed in good measure. The organisers should find their reward encouraging enough to take the festival to greater heights in the years to come.
As compared to the Karachi event the Lahore festival was overwhelmingly concerned with literature, the exceptions being Tariq Ali’s lecture on politics and culture and a discussion on the architecture of aesthetics and urbanisation. In terms of literature too, the choice of an anglophile’s glasses perhaps prevented the organisers from recognising a good number of writers in Urdu and Punjabi who have courageously kept Lahore’s banner as a city of literature and art flying. One hopes they will do much better the next time.
Quite a few people were not happy with the Karachi festival organisers for lumping political issues, human rights, Indus waters and agriculture with the poetry of Zehra Nigah, Kishwar Naheed and Iftikhar Arif and the fiction of Intizar Husain, Abdullah Hussain and Mustansar Hussain Tarar.
This criticism springs from a narrow appreciation of the place of literature in a people’s life and the responsibility of writers not only to enable fellow beings to gainfully fill their leisure hours (if anyone still has such time available) but also to help them realise themselves in various fields, especially in times of conflict, turmoil and distress. Through interaction with farmers, workers and social activists, writers and artists too will find the means of enriching their thought and refining their expression.
The two literary events no doubt pumped some oxygen into our people’s withered lungs, but one should like to make a couple of points, not by way of criticism, but as matters that may be thought over by all concerned.
While it was good to see big audiences at discussion sessions at both Karachi and Lahore one wondered as to why such large congregations of literate and conscious citizens were not contributing to a resolution of the national issues. The latest massacre of the Hazaras in Quetta occurred on the second day of the Karachi festival and the gathering there appeared as indifferent to this horrible pogrom as the dimwitted TV channel operators who considered the killing of more than 80 innocent people less important than a politician’s press
conference on a routine shemozzle.
What a blow against insanity could have been struck if the whole gathering had just walked out into the open and declared, “we will not let it pass”. It sounds strange, to put it mildly, that a writers’ gathering should conclude without taking due note of the threat to the Pakistani people from extremists.
The festivals also underlined society’s lack of accord even on non-controversial issues. Mohammad Hanif’s collection of stories about the persons who have involuntarily disappeared attracted large audiences at both festivals but the gathering at Karachi appeared more responsive to the human tragedies Hanif was talking about than the Lahore audience.
This difference not only draws attention to one of the causes of Pakistan’s decline, it is also a theme that writers cannot ignore. Indeed the book by Mohammed Hanif demanded attention more as an essay in a writer’s sensitivity to tyrannical murders than as a feat of writing despite its considerable literary merit.
Isolation from the ordinary people apart, most of the literary figures represented at the festivals seem to avoid banding together. Maybe, the best of times for associations of writers that we had 60-70 years ago has passed and one must be wary of the state’s designs to hegemonise the world of letters. Still, it may be good for literature and writers both if the latter could find the means of getting together to take up their people’s causes, in solidarity with one another and with humankind in general.
Finally, the reasons for celebrating the work of celebrities are legitimate. But meeting them is like going through the reprint of a work one has already read. There may be a need to find appropriate space for new writers with promise, so that the air can reverberate with fresh voices demanding to be heard along with those of the earlier trailblazers.

The hidden economy

By Khurram Husain

GOING by the numbers alone, it would appear that no significant economic activity takes place west of the Indus. Look at the provincial GDP numbers, the revenue figures and you see no movement, no activity on any significant scale.
More detailed metrics of economic activity also show great ‘tranquillity’ in the west. Detailed figures on consumption of electricity by industrial and commercial categories of consumer, for instance, show very little change over the years.
The number of bank branches operating in the western provinces doesn’t change much, nor does the provincial ratio of deposits to total bank deposits in the country.
But take a closer look and you’ll find something odd. The State Bank has a data series on its website that shows something enormous, of truly gigantic proportions, stirring beneath the tranquillity suggested by the formal macroeconomic data.
Here is what the data reveals: the amount of money passing through the clearing houses of Quetta and Peshawar is so large that it rivals the amounts in clearing houses of cities like Faisalabad, Multan and Rawalpindi.
First some background. Every time you write a cheque and the other party deposits that cheque in their account, it goes through a process called “clearing”. Because banks don’t hold your money themselves — much of it is held by the State Bank — the task of actually taking the money out of the books of one bank and transferring it to the books of another every time a cheque is cleared, is performed by the State Bank at its clearing house.
The State Bank operates 16 clearing houses in cities all over the country. Every month it releases data on how many cheques were presented for clearing in each of these, and what the total amount cleared by cheques was.
If you take this data, which stretches back to 1999, and plot it for each city in Pakistan, you notice something very interesting. Remove the cities of Karachi and Lahore from the sample for the time being, because these are global cities in a sense with long-distance connections. Compare only the regional cities and here is what you’ll find.
Following 9/11, half the cities in the total sample will show a sharply rising trend in the amount of money going through their clearing houses. For the other half, the line is flat.
The cities that show a rising trend are led by Peshawar, with Faisalabad, Multan, Rawalpindi and Quetta in close succession. For Peshawar, the amount of money being cleared via cheque in the year 2011 crosses Rs1.3 trillion! For Quetta, in the same year, the amount is just under Rs900 billion, meaning between them these two regional cities are seeing almost Rs2tr going through their clearing houses in one year alone.
This figure compares with Faisalabad at Rs1.3tr, Rawalpindi at Rs1.4tr, and Multan at Rs826bn. Cities that show a flat trend over the entire reporting period include Sukkur, Hyderabad, Sialkot and D.I. Khan.
What the data shows is a steep intensification of transactions being cleared by cheque in some cities, and no change in others, meaning the pace of economic activity accelerated unevenly over the decade, sweeping some along its path and leaving others behind.
But what are Peshawar and Quetta doing on this list? With Faisalabad and Multan, it’s easy to understand. These are regional hubs, productive centres, large seats of agrarian operations.
Faisalabad hosts Suter Mandi, one of the world’s largest yarn markets, where settlements are made largely using banks. It’s where more than $5bn of exports are
produced, where massive fixed investment was installed precisely during this decade.
Multan is a major site for agricultural procurement, which is conducted entirely using cheques, as well as being an industrial city in its own right. In both these cities, large-scale economic activity is visible in many other indicators too, from bulk consumers of electricity to massive growth in branchless banking.
In fact, after Karachi and Lahore, it is Multan, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi that account for the bulk of transactions in branchless banking, which shows the intensification of activity in the clearing houses of these cities is accompanied by an overall deepening of the financial sector.
But in Peshawar and Quetta, there is no other accompanying trend, not in branchless banking, TT transfers, bulk consumption of electricity. There is only one lone spike, showing an increase in clearing house transactions that keeps pace with the agricultural and industrial heartland of the country.
The obvious question is: what is driving this spike in Quetta and Peshawar? Where is the economic activity that is sending such spectacular sums of money through the clearing houses of these two cities? And why does this money leave no trace on any other economic indicator of the city or the province?
Perhaps the answer is a simple one. Maybe the spike is explained by the fact that there is only one clearing house each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, while there are at least five in Punjab and four in Sindh. Or maybe it’s just the Afghan transit trade. But that still doesn’t explain why the clearing house spike isn’t showing up in any other provincial indicator.
Here’s another explanation: these cities are engulfed by a very large hidden economy, from where a massive river of transactions briefly appears on the official record, then disappears from view again.
This intersection between the hidden and the formal economy generates an accidental record which gives us a glimpse of something massive stirring beneath the tranquillity of the macroeconomic indicators of the western provinces. The amounts involved tell us that the size of this hidden economy rivals Faisalabad and Multan, which is impressive if you know anything about those cities.
It is crucial for us to develop a better understanding of this hidden economy because its interaction with the settled economy to the east of the Indus is likely to become an important fault line in the near future.

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist covering business and economic policy.
khurram.husain@gmail.com

The dogs of war

By F.S. Aijazuddin

THERE was a time when wars needed to end before historians could begin writing chronicles about them. Today’s wars have become prime time television viewing. History is as immediate as instant coffee.
Almost two years ago, on the night of May 2, 2011, 79 US Navy SEAL commandos (and a dog) conducted a raid on a nondescript house in sleepy Abbottabad. The house was like many Pakistani homes. It encroached upwards into a third storey, it had no internet, no landline telephone connection, no stand-by generator. Its master bathroom contained a bottle of Just for Men hair dye.
The house stood less than a mile away from the Pakistan Military Academy where intelligence gathering and counterintelligence are taught. There could not have been a more carelessly located, more vulnerable bunker in which to squirrel away the man most wanted by the United States — Osama bin Laden.
That night, as President Obama and his team of advisors watched the action at Abbottabad live on screens in the White House, the US SEALs flew in and flew out unchallenged, their return cargo the bullet-ridden body of their quarry.
Since that night, there have been numerous eyewitness accounts, some unauthorised revelations, a few books, and even an Oscar-nominated film Zero Dark Thirty that purport to provide a plausible narrative of that attack and its gruesome finale. The only voice that has not been heard so far has been of the dog which accompanied the SEALs. The dog has not barked.
In that sense, he is not very different from our costly watchdogs — the F-16s — that Pakistan’s defence forces maintain to safeguard our borders. That night they also did not bark.
One former SEAL who has barked, using the pseudonym David Owen, has described in his book No Easy Day that their helicopter flight from Jalalabad to Abbottabad had taken 90 minutes. It takes that time for a commercial flight from Islamabad at one end of Pakistan to reach Karachi at the other end. “We evaded the Pakistani radar and anti-aircraft missiles on the way in and arrived undetected.”
Having completed their mission, they detonated charges that destroyed the second helicopter that had crash-landed earlier on their arrival at Osama’s hideout.
“The explosion at the compound had finally attracted the attention of the Pakistan military. Unknown to us, they grounded all of their aircraft and started a head count. With everyone accounted for, they scrambled two F-16s armed with 30mm cannons and air-to-air missiles. Pakistan’s military has always maintained a state of high alert against India. Most of the country’s air defences are aimed east towards that threat. The jets roared into the sky and raced towards the Abbottabad area.”
The SEALs meanwhile had already escaped into Afghan airspace.
Somewhat kindly, David Owen avoided likening our defence strategy to the Egyptian tank designed for use in the Arab-Israeli war. It was said to have three reverse gears and one forward gear — the latter for use in case the Israelis attacked from the rear.
As Pakistanis, we support one of the largest armies in the region. It feeds first from the beggar’s bowl that is shaped like our national budget. As civilian Pakistanis, we are prepared for the defence of our motherland to eat grass, even cake, provided we know that if we are attacked, our protectors will not spend precious time doing a head count before responding, while we civilians busy ourselves with a body count.
It is ironical that this summer, Pakistanis will be asked in the forthcoming general elections to vote on who should represent them, but not on who should defend them.
One is not suggesting that the public should be allowed to vote in (or out) the defence leadership. That would be strategically impractical. There is an argument, however, for some level of accountability, some mechanism that should be able to ask why our planes remained grounded and silent.
History we know is the version of the victors. Today, it is the United States version of conflicts since the end of the Second World War that is the Authorised Version. They won in Vietnam, they won in Cambodia, they won in Grenada, they won in Chile, they won in Iraq, and they are winning in Afghanistan.
The popular British historian William Dalrymple, during his recent round of lectures in Pakistan, has put forward a proposition that Afghanistan — after the withdrawal of the US and Allied forces in 2014 — could well degenerate into another Kashmir.
Interesting as such a supposition is, it seems unlikely. History argues against it. Over the past thousand years, Afghanistan has survived intact precisely because it is the sort of place people prefer to visit, rather than to stay or settle in.
When Obama’s troops quit Afghanistan in 2014, he will still be in the White House, the studio where his wife Michelle opened the envelope to announce the Oscar for the best film this year.
The award went to Argo, a film about the rescue of six US diplomats from Tehran while Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolutionary guards were preoccupied with 52 others incarcerated in the US embassy there. The film that lost out to Argo was Zero Dark Thirty. Was it perhaps because Obama had seen it already, on television, live?

The writer is an author.
www.fsaijazuddin.pk

Festive season

By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

I AM not one of those who yearns for Pakistan to be in the news “for the right reasons”.
While it is unfortunate that an overwhelming number of news items in circulation both within this country and abroad are related to war, social conflict and general despair, it would be intellectual dishonesty of the worst kind to paint a picture of Pakistan with all of the “bad things” missing.
Having said this, I appreciate the value of celebrations of the “good things” that do exist in this society, and there are many. This is ostensibly the spirit that motivates high-profile events such as the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) and Lahore Literary Festival (LLF), both of which recently concluded to great fanfare.
The significance of big gatherings of artists, writers and other cultural figures in a country that is often described as a cultural wasteland is not to be understated. Amongst the most damning legacies of the Zia years has been the shrinking space for cultural expression in the public sphere, and collective efforts of the KLF/LLF kind are therefore to be lauded.
Yet as should be the case with any such largely elite gathering, serious introspection about the purpose and symbolism of the exercise is imperative. In the first instance, it is necessary to remind ourselves that cultural production in Pakistan is not limited to the headline acts that draw crowds in metropolitan centres. In fact, poets, short-story writers and budding theatre buffs plying their trade in Sindhi, Seraiki, Pushto, Punjabi and so on are very much in the majority, spread out as they are across the length and breadth of this country.
Some of these artists and writers are able to perform orally in public, while many others rely on the printed word, whatever form the latter may take. In any case, the so-called vernacular arts and literatures are hardly ever brought into the spotlight in the way that English and Urdu writers are, whether at publicised events in big cities, or otherwise.
A second and related point has to do with the way in which Pakistan — and its society in particular — is represented in big shindigs such as the KLF and LLF. Both fiction and non-fiction writers consciously comment on the societies and cultures about which they write. It is of course impossible for any one writer to do justice to the complexity of any given society; most writers pick and choose themes that they wish to highlight.
In Pakistan’s case, there is an alarming self-selection that takes place in terms of the themes that have dominated over an extended period of time. This is in part because of the way in which the country is typically depicted abroad. But it also has to do with the priorities and limitations of those who are considered the “experts”, both in the realms of fiction and non-fiction.
So even gatherings like the KLF and LLF which seek to move beyond tired themes such as “terrorism” and the like, and focus on what is projected as a vibrant and organic literary culture, are unable to transcend the elitist cul-de-sac.
This is not to downplay the achievements of celebrated Pakistani writers and artists, but simply to note that many of those who are celebrated are known better to foreign audiences and to a limited circle of readers of English and Urdu at home than to a wide cross-section of ordinary people in this country.
To be fair the organisers of events such as the KLF and LLF presumably wish to challenge the prevailing public discourse which is shaped by a reactionary media and retrogressive system of formal education.
I am simply noting that there are many more “alternatives” or literatures of resistance than those that are celebrated at “high cultural” events. Indeed many of the cultural celebrities who headlined both of the recent festivals preach only to the already converted (both because of the languages in which they work and thematic concerns).
Once upon a time, not so long ago, progressives in the literary field coalesced around organisations such as the Progressive Writers Association. We now live in an era in which entities such as the PWA — which for most of its existence was a front for the Communist Party of Pakistan — are considered anachronisms.
What has changed is not so much that writers and artists have ceased to express their political leanings; I have already pointed out that contemporary writers and artists do consciously comment on society and project imaginaries of what should be. Rather the “experts” that dominate the literary field today are increasingly alienated from ordinary people and their daily struggles, and this is therefore reflected in their specific political sensibilities.
Meanwhile, the much more organic cultural production taking place in small towns and villages in the “vernacular” is neither able to occupy the urban public’s imagination nor brought together under the guise of a wider progressive initiative such as the PWA.
Having said this, as scholars such as Kamran Asdar Ali have documented in recent times, the PWA itself constantly struggled to transcend its ashraf, Urdu-speaking genesis. The question, therefore, is not of how to simply revive progressive literary traditions of the recent past which were themselves beset by problems, but how to improve upon what came before and also address the growing elitism in what is considered progressive literature today.
I think there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Notwithstanding the alarmism that afflicts the Pakistani elite — some writers and artists included — there is indeed a lively and diverse cultural scene in this country that is amongst the few “good things” that we have going for us.
It is, however, important for those who want to celebrate these “good things” to be cognisant of the cultural production that takes place outside of the urban public sphere and in a language — both literal and figurative
— that is alien to the usual suspects.
Such an appreciation of peripheral literatures goes hand in hand with support for the daily struggles of the people in peripheral spaces, the proverbial poor and voiceless about whom too many people make mention but with whom too few people actually engage.
In this festive season it is important to remember that it is this “category” that is the life and blood of this society, and that must be empowered if we are to move beyond the “bad things” that we would like to wish away.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Power: use it or lose it

By Irfan Husain

AS we approach the elections, Pakistani politics increasingly resemble a kaleidoscope: you rotate the tube, and flick! — the bits of glass tumble around, forming bright new patterns.
So, too, do alliances and groupings coalesce and break apart. The most unlikely bedfellows jump promiscuously from one bed to another. Loyalties are up for grabs. Every day brings news of fresh desertions. In short, the lotas, or turncoats, are on the march.
A friend recently expressed doubts that elections would be held on time. His reasons? Dark conspiracy theories involving the PPP and the army. I offered him a small liquid bet that there would be no postponement, and am sure of winning. I base my confidence on the fact that barely days before the assemblies complete their tenure, the MQM has jumped ship. What could be a surer indication of impending elections?
Over the years, the MQM has developed a couple of survival tactics: contest elections as an opposition party so the muck of incumbency does not stick. And once it knows which party is likely to be the major player in the next coalition, it tries to cut the best deal with the winner. Long ago, it decided that it needed to be in government to avoid the kind of rough treatment it received at the hands of both the PPP and the PML under Nawaz Sharif in the 1990s.
So here we are again: the MQM governor of Sindh keeps his job, while the MQM ministers resign. Truly the best of both worlds. The truth is that while the army and both major parties deal with the MQM, they do not trust it: there has been too much backstabbing in the past for the Karachi-based party to inspire confidence.
And this mistrust is not limited to political players alone: in a major national opinion survey published in last month’s Herald, far more respondents named the MQM for being responsible for promoting religious, ethnic and sectarian violence than any other party. And this is despite the fact that the MQM, for all its many faults, is an entirely secular party.
This survey contains a host of useful data. For instance, despite five years of poor governance and allegations of massive corruption, the PPP is still neck and neck with the PML-N on a wide range of issues from the economy to foreign affairs. Imran Khan’s PTI comes in at a respectable third.
Despite these findings for specific issues, PTI has led in certain other polls for overall popularity. While this might seem like good news for Imran Khan’s many adoring fans, they need to read between the numbers: the bulk of his support continues to be in urban centres, especially in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. How this concentrated support translates into seats remains to be seen. But in our first-past-the-post system, having your entire vote bank in towns and cities is like having all your eggs in one basket.
As of now, the most probable outcome of the elections is a split mandate with Nawaz Sharif winning the largest chunk of seats, and the PPP a fairly close second. Unless PML-N can put together a majority consisting of other parties and independents, it will have to reach out to the MQM and/or PTI. Neither is a very desirable option for Nawaz Sharif, given the bitter accusations that have flowed between them over the years.
But both smaller parties are hungry for power, and will probably swallow their misgivings: Pakistani politicians are not known to stick to principles when offered a seat at the high table. Nevertheless, it is not easy to see Imran Khan playing second fiddle to Nawaz Sharif, or anybody else for that matter.
Having fulminated from the sidelines for years, Imran Khan is about to learn the price of power. The ‘electables’ who gravitated to him when it seemed he was indeed riding the crest of a tsunami last year won’t hang on if he refuses to cut deals to join a coalition.
In Pakistan, once the small fry know who’s top dog, they tend to swarm in that direction. So there won’t be a shortage of parties and independents willing to hitch their wagons to the winner’s star. But this will also raise the possibility of blackmail: witness the many compromises the ruling Congress Party has had to make with their coalition partners in India.
We have already seen a spate of desertions from the PPP to the PML-N. This trend can be expected to accelerate as the elections near, and speaks volumes for the confidence these lotas place in their party’s chances. Many jiyalas are disillusioned by the compromises the PPP has made these last five years.
Indeed, while the party has managed to complete its tenure — a minor political miracle in itself — the price has been very high. It has bowed before every power centre even when it didn’t have to. If anything, its tenure has been marked by a singular lack of spine. For Zardari, clinging on to power has been the end-all and be-all of his political strategy. Actually ‘power’ is a misnomer here as it has hardly been used by this government.
Whether facing the army, the judiciary, the terrorists, the opposition or the media, Zardari has ducked and weaved, but never counter-punched. It is true that he was dealt a rotten hand, and has had to contend with many crises, some of them of his own making. But when push has come to shove, almost invariably, Zardari has backed off.
Government spokesmen are already claiming credit for setting a record and completing five years in office. In this, Nawaz Sharif has played a responsible part by not seizing on the government’s weakness and destabilising it. He has had several opportunities to do so, but has shown considerable maturity by refusing to go for short-term gains at the expense of the system.
Over the last five years, many readers have complained that democracy has brought the country nothing but grief, and that the next elections, too, would see the same rotten lot being returned to parliament. I beg to disagree. The fact that election rules have been tightened, and there is greater judicial and media scrutiny, means that the system will be strengthened and a better class of politicians elected.
In any case, what we have is better than any dictatorship.

The writer is the author of Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West.
irfan.husain@gmail.com

Russia’s rise

By A.G. Noorani

OBSESSED as it is by “the rise of China”, the United States has been rather indifferent to the steady deterioration of its relations with Russia.
Come to think of it, the main battleground of the Cold War was Europe. While its relations with the US have declined, Russia’s power and clout have increased in recent years under President Vladimir Putin.
Its assertive Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced on Jan 23 an end to the “reset” in Russia-America relations. The metaphor was coined by the former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton to indicate a break from the policies of president George W. Bush. But in this matter, as much else, President Barack Obama has not been much different.
Lavrov’s amplification of the metaphor reveals the depth of the problem. “If you use this computer term, everyone should realise that an ongoing ‘reset’ means failure of the system. The system does not respond.”
He acknowledged some gains of the “reset”: namely, a new nuclear arms control treaty, an agreement on civil nuclear cooperation and simplified visa rules. But the core issues remain. They are the US missile defence plan, its building of a global missile shield without paying any consideration to Russian objections, not to forget the differences over Syria and Iran.
Thomas E. Graham, senior director of the Kissinger Associates, and Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, touch the heart of the problem when they write of the conflicting perceptions of the US and Russia since the end of the Cold War.
“On the US side, this oversight grows in part out of the discomfort America has with the very idea of Russian power, grounded in the long Cold War struggle. Having confronted malevolent Soviet power for so long, America resists the idea that Russia could ever have a positive role in American strategic interests. On the Russian side, there is still great resentment over the way the United States treated Russia after the end of the Cold War, and a fair amount of suspicion that US policy is aimed at weakening Russia today.”
This, despite the fact that Russia is no longer a strategic rival of the US. It is precisely this fact, and memories of vanished power which make Russia bristle at American indifference to its concerns.
Truth to tell, Moscow feels cheated.
In 1989, president George H.W. Bush agreed with president Mikhail Gorbachev that Nato would not expand eastwards if Gorbachev agreed to let a united Germany be a member of Nato. Overruling his generals, visibly upset at the conference, Gorbachev agreed. Nato expanded to the frontiers of Russia. In 1990, Gorbachev cooperated fully on Iraq as Putin did on Afghanistan after 9/11. Nato soldiers in Afghanistan rely for food, fuel and ammunition in a supply route that runs through Russia. But all to no avail. Angus Roxburg rightly avers in a recent biography of Putin entitled The Strongman: “The West’s handling of post-Soviet Russia has been just about as insensitive as it could have been.”
It is hard to imagine a solution to the problems of Iran’s nuclear programme and to the Syrian conflict without Russia’s active help. On both it has shown considerable flexibility; only, it will not be privy to the surrender terms which the US lays down for Iran and Syria; and not to them alone, either.
The “reset” neglected Russia’s security concerns in Central Europe, in the Caucasus and in the Middle East. It has some 30,000 nationals in Syria. Besides, it has indicated very clearly that it is not committed to buttressing the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad. At the Munich Conference on Security, in the second week of February, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov not only met a Syrian dissident but invited him to Moscow.
On Iran also, Moscow has consistently opposed its enrichment activities. But it is opposed to the sanctions and to the threats of military force. Russia’s assertiveness must be viewed in the context of the remarkable change which President Putin brought about ever since he assumed power from Boris Yeltsin. The GDP has doubled; foreign loans were repaid nearly four years ahead of time. Profits from rising oil and gas prices have injected confidence.
Putin has not hesitated to use strong tactics against his critics and opponents. His prestige never recovered from his announcement in September 2011, that he, rather than Medvedev, would stand for election to the presidency. Many expected that but it appeared a devious stratagem. Parliamentary elections in December 2011 were marred by malpractice. His party, United Russia, is none too popular as was revealed when 100,000 protesters filled the centre of Moscow to protest against electoral malpractices.
A new middle class, committed to consumerism, has come to the fore. Putin encourages it by allowing freedom to travel and leaving it well alone; so long as it does not raise its voice. Professionals are happy. But for how long will this apparent acquiescence last? It will not be long before this very class begins to demand a voice in running the country’s affairs.
The US had not reckoned with the quick revival of Russia’s power under Putin. What the latter seeks is an equilibrium of power that existed in the days of the Soviet Union whose collapse he publicly characterised as a disaster. “There was an equilibrium and a fear of mutual destruction. And in those days one party was afraid to make an extra step without consulting the other. And this was certainly a fragile peace and a frightening one, but as we see today, it was reliable enough. Today it seems that the peace is not so reliable.”

The writer is an author and a lawyer.

Excise this cancer or else

By Abbas Nasir

RECENT events have been a reminder of what journalist Saleem Shahzad reported on May 27, 2011, even though he feared what was lurking round the corner for him.
Writing for ‘Asia Times Online’, a Hong Kong-based news website, five days after militants attacked PNS Mehran on Karachi’s Sharea Faisal, he linked the assault to failed talks “between the navy and Al Qaeda over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of Al Qaeda links”.
The PNS Mehran incident was one of the most vicious attacks on any defence establishment and at least 10 people were killed and aerial surveillance and anti-submarine assets worth millions of dollars destroyed.
In his report, Shahzad suggested that three attacks on Pakistan Navy buses in Karachi just a month earlier which saw nine deaths were also shots across the bow of the naval leadership over the detained lower rank naval personnel who, he said, numbered 10.
He quoted an unnamed senior naval officer as having told him that after electronic intercepts and surveillance these people had been taken into custody. After being held in one place, they had to be moved to safer sites as threats deemed credible had been received from Al Qaeda.
Naval officers speaking anonymously told Saleem Shahzad that because of the location-specific threats, they had gathered that the terror group was in all probability receiving inside information on where the suspects were being held.
At this, the report said: “A senior-level naval conference was called at which an intelligence official insisted that the matter be handled with great care otherwise the consequences could be disastrous. Everybody present agreed, and it was decided to open a line of communication with Al Qaeda.
“Abdul Samad Mansoori, a former student union activist … who originally hailed from Karachi but now lives in the North Waziristan tribal area was approached and talks begun. Al Qaeda demanded the immediate release of the officials without further interrogation. This was rejected.
“The detainees were allowed to speak to their families and were well treated, but officials were desperate to interrogate them fully to get an idea of the strength of Al Qaeda’s penetration. The militants were told that once interrogation was completed, the men would be discharged from the service and freed.”
According to the report, Al Qaeda didn’t find these terms acceptable and responded by launching lethal attacks on the navy buses in April of that year.
Two days after his report appeared, Shahzad was due to appear in a TV interview in Islamabad for which he left home but never arrived at his destination. His car, with him at the wheel, had mysteriously disappeared from a leafy Islamabad residential area.
The following day his body, bearing signs of a fatal beating, was fished out of a canal some 130 kilometres from the capital. His car was also found nearby. It wasn’t clear if a “punishment beating” had gone horribly wrong or the kidnappers wanted to kill him. On the face of it, it appeared a case of the messenger being shot.
What should have been police investigative work, with painstaking collection of evidence and forensic analysis, was entrusted to a commission of inquiry headed by a Supreme Court judge, and its report remained predictably inconclusive about who killed the journalist.
Ironically, just a few weeks earlier some journalists, including Saleem Shahzad, and other experts had gathered at London’s King’s College Department of War Studies for a regional security conference.
After one session Saleem had taken me aside to share his concerns about his safety. He didn’t specifically mention whom he feared but did say things were getting to a point where he would be forced to consider moving abroad. He returned to Islamabad a few days later.
Two recent incidents in Karachi have involved naval officers (who belonged to the Shia community) while in their cars. The first incident was described by the police initially as a bombing but the navy later said it was a CNG tank explosion in the officer’s car.
The second incident, where the officer received multiple gunshot wounds not far from where he used to park his car in a secure naval facility, suggested some information about the exact timing of his presence. Admittedly this is speculation and one can’t be sure.
But even earlier attacks on defence establishments have indicated that the attackers possibly had detailed inside information. It may be true that all it takes is one bad apple to breach security when the vast majority is dedicated to its duty. But it is alarming nonetheless.
If the army itself flies Malik Ishaq, the Sipah-i-Sahaba militant leader, from prison in Lahore to the GHQ to help negotiate with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan attackers in 2009, the nexus between these groups becomes very clear. They are ideological and perhaps even operational allies.
In the last month of the current parliament’s life two main political parties in Pakhtunkhwa have each organised an all-parties conference to try and reach the ever-elusive consensus on how best to deal with the TTP now ensconced mostly in North Waziristan.
The army chief has predicated any operation against the terror machine on a national consensus which now seems more remote than ever since all political parties have an eye on the election. They don’t want to take a tough stance for different reasons.
Some find ideological affinity with the religious fighters who are battling the US in their view (even when all they are doing in reality is attacking Pakistan) or perhaps they don’t want to take the lead and be hamstrung in electioneering because of the enhanced threat of reprisals.
However, the authorities’ lack of will to clamp down on rampaging groups in settled areas is shocking. Murderous attacks have largely targeted one Muslim sect in Quetta, Karachi, Lahore or Peshawar.
We can blame the “foreign sponsors” and the “Great Game” all we want but this rampant cancer lies within. It needs to be excised now if we are to harbour any hope of survival.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

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DAWN Media Group, Haroon House, Karachi 74200, Pakistan Copyright © 2013 Pakistan Herald Publications (Pvt.)Ltd.

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