Mar 31

Fresh approach

Posted on Friday, March 31, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Fresh approach

In a recent article in the Washington Post, Hussain Haqqani, ex-Ambassador to US, admitted that he had issued visas in 2011 to dozens of Americans, including covert US intelligence agents, which ultimately facilitated the elimination of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad by US Special Forces in May 2011. This has stirred up old accusations of “treachery” on the part of Mr Haqqani who, it may be recalled, was hounded into resigning and then put on the mat in Memogate in 2011 for standing with the PPP leadership and challenging the writ of the military establishment of the time.

Mr Haqqani has always defended his position by claiming that the visas were issued with the express permission of the then prime minister of Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gillani, and the then Defense and Air Attache in the Pakistan Embassy in Washington DC, Brigadier Nazir Butt, who is now a Corps Commander. Now, finally, after a month or so, the ISPR has broken its silence on the matter with a tweet that simply says that the stance of “state institutions on the issue of visas has been vindicated”.

This raises two interesting questions. First, why did the ISPR wait so long before wading into the matter? Second, why is it confining itself to a brief and general statement that neither sheds much light on the matter nor pours fuel over it? Indeed, this is significant because it is a visible departure from previous practice in which the ISPR under General Ashfaq Kayani and even more so under General Raheel Sharif was aggressive and vocal on many matters including some that were not strictly in its domain. Has the current military establishment under General Qamar Bajwa departed in some subtle manner from the ways of its predecessors? If so, is that a good or bad thing?

Two other recent developments raise similar questions. Consider.

Imran Khan has alleged some sort of a crooked “deal” between Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari that has facilitated the return of Mr Zardari, the return and bailing out of Mr Sharjeel Memon to Pakistan, the flight of Ayaan Ali out of Pakistan and the release from prison of Dr Asim Hussain (the latter three are alleged to be “close” associates of Mr Zardari). Certainly, it is curious that all three developments favour the PPP. But if there has been some sort of deal, how has Nawaz Sharif benefitted from it because Mr Zardari continues to blast him on one count or another. So if there has been some deal, it must be on some other count.

On two issues, the PPP has conceded critical space to Nawaz Sharif. One is the issue of military courts and the other is the issue of the Rangers’ stay and powers in Sindh. But both are dear not so much to Mr Sharif as they are to the military establishment in its war on terrorism. On both the PPP had taken a tough stance. It was threatening to torpedo the Bill extending the legitimacy and scope of military courts (it has a majority in the Senate) and it was warning Islamabad that it would not extend the stay of the Rangers in the province unless it was assured that the military establishment would not target its party for corruption under the guise of combating terrorism.

On both counts, it seems an “understanding” has been cemented between the civilian and military establishments that will lead to a reduction in friction and greater stability that enables both to get on with their respective jobs.

This is not to say that the current military establishment has decided to condone corruption among politicians and ruling parties or to blithely accept civilian hegemony in running Pakistan. It is simply meant to signal a new way of addressing Pakistan’s national security problems by trying to create a minimal consensus with the civilian governments in office on core existential issues. This is to be done by diminishing overt rifts over policy instead of seeking constantly to establish military hegemony by exacerbating conflicts that undermine and undervalue civilian institutions.

This shift is very welcome. Pakistan desperately needs political stability to encourage foreign investment and economic development to alleviate poverty and ignorance that feed into the narrative of terrorism – CPEC is the most critical ingredient in this paradigm. Pakistan also needs civil-military cooperation and consensus to confront threats on its eastern and western borders and to showcase its willingness and ability to negotiate fruitfully with both neighbours and foreign powers that it is a responsible state that is determined to combat terrorism rather than sponsor it in any manner.

The arrival of General Qamar Bajwa has heralded a fresh and more fruitful approach to civil-military relations and the national interest that augurs well for Pakistan in its tortured journey to democratic and stable nationhood. It is time for politicians like Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari and Imran Khan to respond in like fashion by eschewing personal or party political interests in favour of the same national interest.

Mar 29

Aapas Ki Baat – 29 March 2017

Posted on Wednesday, March 29, 2017 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo


Mar 28

Aapas Ki Baat – 28 March 2017

Posted on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo


Mar 27

Aapas Ki Baat – 27 March 2017

Posted on Monday, March 27, 2017 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo


Mar 24

Cricket in national interest

Posted on Friday, March 24, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Cricket in national interest

The brilliant success of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) has triggered both seen and unforeseen consequences.

As predicted, it has spurred investment not just in more cricketing activity in the country – city leagues, talent hunts and academies are all sprouting up – but also in other sports. Hockey, Squash and Kabbadi leagues are on the anvil. Even local football clubs are gearing up for action by imported international football stars. Financial and public interest in a 6th team for the PSL has skyrocketed, which means more competition matches, more top notch foreign players, more sponsors, more fans, more advertising. The icing on the cake is the prospect of PSL returning to Pakistan lock, stock and barrel sooner rather than later, with packed stadiums across the country screaming delight. Come September, the PCB will host an ICC team in Pakistan, paving the way for international cricket teams to return to the country after a drought of eight long years.

Unfortunately, there is a less savoury side to the spectacle. The PSL has also woken up perennially squabbling politicians who want to exploit it for their own parochial ends. The ruling PMLN wants to muscle in so that it can curry favour with the public that has been disheartened by Panamaleaks. It has suddenly realized the enormous potential of high quality sport to divert the attention of the masses from uncomfortable daily realities. But precisely for the same reason, it has aroused the ire of the opposition parties, especially the PTI, that have tried to downgrade the PSL and make it controversial.

More significantly, the PSL has attracted a swarm of bookies, gamblers, sharks and game fixers as in any other successful big money international sport. This has sown the seeds of corruption and is threatening to bring the League and the Pakistan Cricket Board into disrepute. In the past, when such corrupt practices raised their head in international leagues and matches, the PCB was notoriously lax in addressing this problem where Pakistani players were involved. But now one cannot miss the irony in the fact that the current PCB administration has moved swiftly to nip the evil in the bud but an ill-informed, irresponsible and shrill media is muddying the waters with unfounded speculation and false allegations about the ability and motives of the PCB to unearth the full facts of the case and prosecute the errant cricketers. Meanwhile, the federal government has reacted to the public outrage at the greedy cricketers by ordering the FIA to investigate the matter. This has raised the question of whether one cook too many will spoil the broth or whether the PCB and FIA will work in tandem to uproot this menace.

The PCB Anti-Corruption Unit’s defined parameters and procedures in such matters have been activated. The media’s frustration at due process of investigation, show–cause and prosecution, is not justified. The PCB and FIA have now worked out a joint modus operandi whereby the PCB will prosecute the cricketers according to international best practices which can lead to maximum life time bans on playing cricket while working with the FIA to establish players’ links with bookies and help it prosecute all of them for criminality that can lead to prison terms.

Inevitably, the issue is not going to die down in a hurry. Other players may be questioned and face prosecution by the PCB. This is bound to raise controversy about the timing and wisdom of such stringent measures that could seriously deplete the national pool of top cricketers no less than that of emerging stars. Indeed, this process could demoralize the national team and lead to debacles on international tours, further fueling public acrimony and rage.

Regardless, it is time for the PCB to bite the bullet. The current PCB management should take bold steps to stem the rot now instead of pushing it under the carpet like previous PCB administrations did, thereby acerbating the problem. Indeed, if strict measures had been taken earlier, a sufficient deterrent could have been established to avoid the current mess.

The media can play a positive and helpful role in reforming the PCB and educating cricketers by being well informed and responsible. It can do this by changing its attitude and approach towards the PCB. For instance, it can refrain from seeking negative comment from ex-cricketers and ex-chairmen and ex-PCB officials who have either been drummed out for corrupt practices or who are seeking unmerited jobs by blackmailing the PCB. Such people have an axe to grind and should not be allowed to impinge on the game. The media should also see merit in enabling PCB spokespersons to tell the other side of the story without seeming to put them in the dock all the time.

Cricket is a national passion and honour. It should be treated by all stakeholders – players, management and media – with the responsibility, integrity and respect that it deserves in the national interest. The PCB in particular must cleanse its Augean stables and recruit better managers of the game.