Pakistan under Nawaz Sharif, 2013 – 2018

Old and new scripts

May 24-30, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 15

The people of Pakistan have posed an existential challenge to the five political parties – the PPP, PMLN, MQM, PTI and ANP – that define and dominate the country’s political system. How these parties rise or fall will determine not just their own future but also that of Pakistan.

The PPP has been reduced from being a populist anti-establishment national party to a pro-establishment regional party. The challenge before it in the next five years is to rise like a phoenix from the ashes and reinvent itself as a mainstream contender for power under a dynamic new leadership. This is no mean task, given the paucity of leaders and ideas in the party. After leaving the Presidency in September, Mr Asif Zardari is expected to make way for Bilawal Bhutto. But the lad won’t be ready to don the mantle of the sole spokesman for many years. Worse, because of continuing neglect and sore disappointment, the ideological PPP voter, rich or poor, has drifted into the camp of the PMLN and PTI in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Wooing it back won’t be easy.

The PMLN has been upgraded from being a pro-establishment conservative Punjab party into a populist, even anti-establishment, national ruling party with alliance partners in every province. The unprecedented challenge before it in the next five years is to reinvent Pakistan via a paradigm change in economy and national security. This will require wisdom and vision, both of which are in short supply in the rank and file of the party. Unfortunately, evidence of appropriate new recruits to instill new ideas is thin on the ground. It is a moot question, therefore, how the old guard will cope with the harsh new realities. The PMLN will also have to learn how to work productively with the military instead of trying to undermine it or being undermined by it. In order to do this it will have to fashion new institutional mechanisms for dialogue on policy and implementation in unchartered waters.

The MQM faces the prospect of internal division on account of a loss of confidence in the ability of Altaf Hussain to lead the party from precarious exile in London and political displacement on account of the rise of the PTI in the upper middle class areas of Karachi. Indeed, its participation in a provincial government in Sindh on its own terms as in the past is by no means certain while it will certainly not be part of the ruling alliance in Islamabad. If its militant writ was earlier challenged by the influx of ethnic Pakhtuns and Afghans into Karachi over the last decade, its electoral footprint has been trampled over by the passionate youth of the PTI. The challenge before it is to elect a new leadership that abandons the path of violence and blackmail and dedicates itself to true and accountable service of the people.

The PTI’s electoral revival too is fraught with an unprecedented challenge. By being asked to form the government in KP, It has been thrust into the heat and dust of battle on the day following the general election. An alliance with the arch-conservative religious Jamaat-e-Islami will alienate many among its upwardly mobile supporters. Attempts to negotiate a peace deal with the unyielding Taliban will put it squarely in the jaws of the security establishment. Political failure in a front line province whose well being has been the bedrock of Imran Khan’s anti-imperialist rhetoric and mantra of change could become a graveyard for the PTI.

The ANP has been the worst victim of the people’s wrath. It has been decimated, partly because of violent targeting by the Taliban and partly because of its dismal performance in government. Its avowedly secular nationalism has evaporated in the face of political opportunism. Unable to fight the Taliban to the bitter end and unwilling to embrace the military fully, it ended up suing for a dubious peace and losing its core constituency. The ANP’s tragedy is directly linked to the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and FATA. Unable to subscribe to the religious definition of anti-imperialist nationalism of the Pakhtun Taliban the ANP has veritably lost its Pakhtun raison d’etre.

The rise and fall of political parties in Pakistan runs parallel to the rise and rise of the judiciary and media. Significantly, more than the parties, these two new political forces are poised to play a critical role in determining the future role of the military and the fate of democracy in Pakistan. Amongst the two, the judiciary is likely to be in the forefront of advocating or thwarting paradigm change, while the media could become an unwitting hand maiden to it.

All this is to say that the future is still uncertain despite the clear signal of the masses in thumbing down a coalition government in Islamabad. Old players have lost the script while the new arrivals have yet to draft a suitable one.

Business, not pleasure

May 31 – June 06, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 16

General Ashfaq Kayani’s low-key call on Nawaz Sharif last week has generated much speculation because both sides are tight-lipped about what transpired. But it doesn’t require rocket science to understand General Kayani’s motive in breaking the ice with a man who has not hidden his animosity for the military since it dethroned, humiliated, imprisoned and exiled him in 1999.

The signaling was apt enough by both sides. General Kayani arrived discreetly in an unmarked car in nondescript shalwar kameez. No battle fatigues, no cap, no swagger stick. The feigned humility was palpable. His host was equally disposed to signaling his firm stance – the meeting took place in Model Town, which is the office of the PMLN, and not in Raiwind, which is Nawaz Sharif’s home. This was business, not pleasure.

General Kayani’s views on core national security issues preceded him – the existential threat is internal from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Both must be put down. Equally, Nawaz Sharif has pledged to pursue the path of a negotiated peace with the TTP and had an electoral understanding with leaders of the LeJ. They couldn’t be further apart on both issues.

It was on General Kayani’s watch that the peace process with India launched by Nawaz Sharif in 1999 and extended by General Musharraf in 2004 was derailed by Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayba jihadis in Mumbai in 2008. That one intervention set back the peace process by five years, just as another military folly in Kargil in 1999 had set it back five years earlier. General Kayani is also on record as saying that peaceful co-existence with India will follow the settlement of all outstanding disputes within a given time frame. This is at sharp odds with Nawaz Sharif’s view that peaceful co-existence should be accepted by both sides as a prelude to conflict resolution of outstanding issues one by one over an undefined time frame. Indeed, General Kayani’s tactical and strategic military doctrines vis a vis India are fashioned in response to India’s conventional and nuclear capacity and not intentions or overtures of peace. By contrast, Nawaz Sharif has publicly lamented the fact that Pakistan’ nuclear status is at the expense of bread and butter issues. We have atom bombs but no electricity ” he declared recently implying that the much-vaunted military might of Pakistan could not atone for its poverty insecurity and helplessness. Indeed he all but said that the former was at the expense of the latter an unacceptable situation.

Mr Sharif has also drawn some hard lines in the sand regarding the fate of both General Kayani and General Musharraf. He has publicly said he is opposed to giving tenure-extensions to service chiefs and announced his intention to make the senior most general of the Pakistan army the next army chief when General Kayani retires in November 2013. In effect with barely six months to go this statement makes the forthcoming transition in GHQ both smooth and predictable.

Mr Sharif has also been loath to clarify his position about the fate of General Musharraf. While the PMLN has officially said it wants General Musharraf tried under Article 6 for treason Mr Sharif has implied that he intends to defer to the law and constitution on this matter. This ambiguity is carefully contrived for leveraging with the military as an institution and not just with General Kayani who would like to negotiate safe passage for his former boss in order to forestall any precedent of holding army chiefs accountable for acts of omission and commission.

There is another matter of contention. Mr Sharif would like a full report of inquiry into the Kargil conflict who initiated it and why and who should be held accountable and culpable for the defeat and humiliation which Mr Sharif and his government had to endure personally and politically. But General Kayani would rather let sleeping dogs lie. No army chief wants to preside over an admission of such guilt especially if the accused is a boss-predecessor. But here too Mr Sharif is probably creating space for leveraging his quest for political autonomy if not independence from the military during his five year term.

Clearly General Kayani and Mr Sharif had much to discuss in their meeting even if it was tentative and diplomatic. The bottom line for General Kayani was to assure Mr Sharif of his commitment to democracy and civilian supremacy and ownership of the political process. The bottom line for Mr Sharif was to tell the army chief that the 65-year paradigm of national security in which India was the eternal enemy and the defence budget was sacrosanct and unaccountable would have to be amended in view of the overwhelming demands of the time.

It is therefore only a matter of time when such informal and ad-hoc signaling by a prime minister and army chief is replaced by an institutional mechanism for dialogue deconstruction and development in a civil-military partnership to salvage the future of Pakistan.”

No honeymoon for Sharif

June 07-13, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 17

Nawaz Sharif’s assumption of prime ministerial office last Wednesday marks a historic moment in Pakistan’s troubled journey to representative democracy. Defying the odds – he was earlier twice dismissed from office – he was able to show a two-thirds vote in the National Assembly in his third attempt to rule Pakistan.

The extraordinary, and unprecedented, irony in the situation was that the military coup-maker, General Pervez Musharraf, who had ousted, imprisoned and later exiled him over a decade earlier was languishing in house-prison only miles away, hoping to find reprieve in a reciprocal exile.

The happy occasion materialized out of a sense of doom and gloom, even disbelief, that prevailed in the months preceding it. Few believed that elections would be held, with conspiracy theorists spinning out scenarios of long-term interim governments based on judicial-military interventions. Fewer still reckoned that Pakistan would have a national government that was not crippled by corrupt and grubby coalition partners. Indeed, there was a pleasant surprise when the dreaded PTI tsunami threatening revolution ” fizzled out to become a benevolent tailwind for the PMLN’s reform agenda. The electorate it seems would prefer to repair Pakistan rather than risk recasting it.

In the self-congratulatory advisories in the National Assembly last Wednesday however no one had the grace to recall the extraordinary political “sacrifice ” made by the PPP in ushering in a new constitutional era. Benazir Bhutto cobbled the Charter of Democracy with Nawaz Sharif in 2006 in London and paved the way for his return to Pakistan from exile. It was she who persuaded him not to boycott the 2008 elections and have faith in democracy. It was she who gave her life pledging the fight against Taliban terrorism. It was her daughter Aseefa who broke with protocol by welcoming Nawaz Sharif to the Presidency with a bouquet. And most important of all it was her husband Asif Zardari who voluntarily shed the powers of the Presidency in favour of the prime minister who decreed that Nawaz Sharif may win office for a third and even fourth time if he had the support of the people who assembled a string of constitutional amendments to empower an independent judiciary media election commission and neutral caretaker governments to oversee the transition to democracy. If Mr Zardari had chosen to play a spoiler’s role as his predecessors including the Sharifs had done so many times there would have been military rule instead of representative democracy in Pakistan today. Where do we go from here?

Nawaz Sharif’s parliament speech was not the rhetorical thunder of a vanquishing gladiator. It was a sober reflection of the hard realities facing Pakistan in which “everyone ” has to tighten belts work together and shoulder responsibility. Policy statements were in short supply suggesting debate-in-process. This is a sign of maturity too given the contentious and seemingly intractable nature of some issues like civil-military relations foreign policy and radical economic reform. The prime minister’s raw vision rather than concrete plans for “transforming ” Pakistan was amplified by reference to a bullet train from Karachi to Khyber a motorway from Gwadar to China and a new economic hub and “free port ” a la Dubai or Singapore in Gwadar.

But it was Mahmud Khan Achakzai’s speech that made the greatest sense of all. He argued that if General Musharraf was to be tried for treason then all those who had aided or abetted him for nearly a decade should also be hauled up. In a way he was mocking the selective memory and actions of the media judiciary and political parties whose discriminatory approach to the issue has been self-serving. In effect he was advocating a Truth and Reconciliation approach: the civilians should admit and censure their servility to the military in the past and the military and its intelligence agencies should vow to take orders from the civilians and stay clear of political meddling and destabilizing conspiracies. Most significantly he stressed the supremacy of parliament to which all institutions of the state – military media and judiciary – should be accountable. This was an obvious reference to the new judiciary that has strayed far beyond its constitutional ambit and has become perpetually unaccountable even to parliament.

After the uncertainty and anxiety of the last year or so in which two prime ministers were sidelined following tensions amongst the judiciary government and military and widespread unease over the electoral process there is a palpable sense of relief in the smooth transfer of power. But this will evaporate soon enough as the media mills and have-nots grind out their grievances and complaints over selection of ministers advisors and envoys and tough budgetary provisions. Terrorism and drones will simmer. The opposition will start baying for blood. The judiciary will not get off its high horse in a hurry. And the military will eye opportunities to recover lost strategic ground. The grim look on Nawaz Sharif’s face says there won’t be a honeymoon at all.”

Policy formulation in hard times

June 14-20, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 18

The smile on Nawaz Sharif’s face following his party’s electoral win has vanished since he became prime minister and realized the enormity of the challenges facing him. This is good news. It means he understands the gravity of the problem, which is a first step in trying to resolve it. This is in agreeable contrast to the grin pasted on President Asif Zardari’s face in the five years of the PPP regime when the government behaved like an ostrich while everything went to pieces around it.

With hindsight, however, President Zardari had a measure of support and advice to offer the new prime minister. Democracy has arrived ” he noted in his presidential address to parliament “there is no place for dictators in Pakistan today “. He congratulated himself for having the “honor to be the first elected civilian in the history of Pakistan to oversee the transfer of power in a democratic manner ” adding “it is a cause for which Shaheed Benazir Bhutto dedicated her life. It is a cause for which I spent 11 and a half years in prison. ” He commended the PPP-led parliament for amending the constitution to make the judiciary and ECP independent and for removing the sweeping powers of the President and making the Prime Minister all-powerful.

But he was equivocal about trying former army generals especially General Pervez Musharraf who had abrogated the Constitution to lead military dictatorships. “It is for this august Parliament and the government to devise an appropriate and wise policy ” he told Parliament. Considering that Mr Zardari assured safe passage to General Musharraf in 2008 and didn’t do anything to prosecute him later the use of the words “appropriate and wise policy ” left the impression that he is not in favour of holding military generals accountable for their unconstitutional interventions. Clearly he owes his five-year term to a policy of appeasing even buttering up the military whenever the occasion so demanded.

In much the same vein he emphasized that militancy extremism and terrorism pose the greatest threat to Pakistan’s national security. “We need strong leadership to overcome the threat. We are ready to make peace with those willing to give up violence. But we should also be ready to use force against those who challenge the writ of the state ” he said. It may be recalled that the Zardari government first tried to make peace with the TTP in 2009 and then went to war with it. Now the Sharif government faces the same dilemma so Mr Zardari has not closed its options.

He also spoke about US drone attacks on Pakistani soil and violations of Pakistan’s sovereignty. “Drone attacks are a serious violation of sovereignty and international law. They are also counterproductive and are not acceptable. ” This comes from the leader of a government that implicitly allowed drone attacks as did the Musharraf regime earlier on the advice of the military and echoes another handwringing dilemma for the Sharif regime. The drones are sorely needed against the TTP liability but also hurt the Haqqani-network assets of Pakistan in the Af-Pak endgame.

Mr Sharif’s early policy decisions also merit comment. There are misgivings over Chaudhry Nisar’s appointment as interior minister because of an unfortunate giveaway remark by his son on his Face Book page: “Malik Riaz we are coming for you “. This smacks of settling personal scores and harks back to the vindictive campaigns of the last Sharif regime against its political and media opponents.

The approach to the Foreign Affairs and Defence ministries which remain in the PM’s hands makes for gridlock and confusion. Sartaj Aziz and Tariq Fatemi will presumably both sit in the PM’s Office and exercise their mutually undefined writs of National Security and Foreign Affairs over the Foreign Office and Defence Ministries. The installation of Pakistan’s Ambassador to Washington will further muddy the waters: how will the Ambassador juggle orders from Mr Aziz Mr Fatemi the Foreign Secretary and the PM? Too many cooks are bound to spoil the broth.

The budgetary exercise is also disappointing for being too cautious. There is nothing in it for the poor and not sufficient sacrifice for the rich to make for an equitable burden sharing. But it is significant that grounds for welcoming the IMF back to Pakistan are being readied – the government is going to print Rs 300 billion in the next two weeks and push the fiscal deficit up to nearly 9% by end June so that the back of the circular debt in the power sector can be broken and some load shedding reduced while medium terms energy plans are implemented. A reduction in government spending on itself is part of the IMF conditions. In this manner the government expects to defray international debt payments due this year by acquiring new debt and maintaining forex reserves and currency stability.

But this is the beginning of policy formation in a difficult environment. It is bound to suffer hiccups. The government needs time and patience from the people.”

New rules of the game

June 21-27, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 19

Two remarkable statements from leading PMLN ministers, and some recommendations of a judicial commission on missing persons in Balochistan, cry out for comment.

The finance minister, Ishaq Dar, has said that if parliamentary critics of the 1% budgetary increase in GST from 16% to 17% which is expected to yield about Rs 50 billion in additional revenue, want the government to retract this step, they should call up the Defence Secretary and request him to cut Rs 50 billion from the non-salaried chunk of the military’s budget. The statement is noteworthy for two reasons. First, despite being the finance minister, Mr Dar is helpless to do the needful himself. Second, despite being Defence Minister and Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif is equally reluctant to ask the military to tighten its belt. This year an amount of Rs 1014 billion is earmarked for the military – Rs 627.2 billion ‘defence budget’, Rs 132.7 billion for pensions, Rs 150 billion as ‘contingent liability’, Rs 70 billion from Coalition Support Fund, Rs 35 billion for services to UN peacekeeping – which is about 28.2% of the country’s total budget.

Two questions arise. Why does Mr Dar think that if a cut has to be applied it can only be done to military spending and not to any other item in the budget? And why is the government reluctant to do this? The answers are straightforward. Mr Dar has already trimmed the sails of non-development civilian expenditures across the board and doesn’t want to hurt the development budget or various income support schemes for the poor. But he is also conscious of the fact that the military is fighting a costly war in the tribal areas that may need to be upgraded in months to come. Therefore he doesn’t want to be held responsible for any act of omission or commission that may de-motivate the military and adversely impact the war against terrorism. On the other hand, Mr Dar is clearly suggesting that the military high command should take cognizance of such issues and offer to make some equitable sacrifice ” in the public interest. Underlying his statement is the desperate hope that the military won’t ask for supplementary grants later in the year a routine yearly practice.

Now the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has taken a pot shot at Lt Gen (retd) Ahmed Shuja Pasha ex-DG-ISI: “We need to purge the army and its leadership of such people (like Gen Pasha) ” adding “it is also necessary to keep the army leadership aware of its real responsibilities “. Chaudhry Nisar has promised to reveal unacceptable excesses committed by the military paramilitary and intelligence agencies in Balochistan. What has prompted him to say all this?

Plenty. Gen Pasha it may be recalled was the nemesis of the media (some of the worst ISI-excesses against journalists in recent times occurred on Gen Pasha’s watch) of ex-Ambassador to Washington Hussain Haqqani (who was hounded out via Memogate) of ex-prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani (who accused the agency under Gen Pasha of being “a state within a state “) and of the PMLN (Chaudhry Nisar challenged Gen Pasha during a briefing in parliament after the May 2 2011 US raid to kill and extract Osama bin Laden from a safe house in Abbottabad). Gen Pasha was also accused by the PMLN and PMLQ of ordering the ISI to secretly support the PTI’s bid for power. Nor should we be surprised by Chaudhry Nisar’s reference to the unaccountable role of military agencies in “disappearing ” people in Balochistan.

In fact the Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and his colleagues in the Supreme Court have been most active in pursuing this investigation. Now the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances under Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal which is investigating 757 cases has formally recommended filing of charges against 117 serving officials of “law enforcement agencies ” in the Frontier Constabulary Frontier Corps IB ISI and MI. These include serving Brigadiers and Majors of the Pakistan army.

There is clearly cause for concern on such issues by Ishaq Dar Chaudhry Nisar CJP Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal. How should the government go about trying to resolve them?

One way is to try and bring the powerful military and its runaway agencies to civilian heel by executive or legislative action. But past experience of both the PPP and PMLN would advise against any direct assault on the writ of these state actors and institutions. Indeed a far better and wiser approach would be for the civilians to institute a wide ranging and sensitized dialogue with the military on all contentious issues relating to civil-military relations. A National Security Council with a secretariat for formulation and implementation of joint policy decisions would be a first step in the right direction. Another would be a Commission of Truth National Understanding and Democracy in which both civil and military protagonists would acknowledge past errors and strive to establish new and democratic rules of the game.”

General Musharraf’s fate

June 28 – July 04, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 20

The PMLN government has taken the plunge and fulfilled its electoral pledge to try General (retd) Pervez Musharraf for treason under Article 6 of the constitution. The prime minister announced this decision on the floor of parliament earlier in the week and the Interior Ministry is readying to make a report that will form the basis of a FIR against General Musharraf on this count.

The ironies in the situation should be noted. Gen Musharraf is not liable to be charged for treason for staging the coup in 1999. That is because the Supreme Court of the time, which included the current Chief Justice, validated it by means of a Provisional Constitutional Order, which was subsequently ratified by General Musharraf’s parliament via the 17th constitutional amendment. The 18th constitutional amendment by the parliament of 2008-2013 confirms protection to the PCO judges but is silent on the coup. Indeed, all those politicians and parties that supported the coup-maker were loudest in the current parliament in thumping their approval of the decision to slap Article 6 on their former lord, master and benefactor.

Ironically enough, the SC’s judgment of July 2009 is the critical point of departure. It ignores the coup of 1999 and squarely holds General Musharraf, and only General Musharraf, responsible for the coup ” of November 3 2007 wherein the SC was packed up and a state of Emergency was declared. The greater irony lies in the fact that the SC judgment does not charge those others who formed the core of the Musharraf regime and were explicitly named in the Declaration of Emergency as being co-sponsors of the November 3 2007 action. These were listed as “Prime Minister Governors of all the four Provinces Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Chiefs of the Armed Forces Vice Chief of Army Staff and Corps Commanders of the Pakistan Army. “

This means that the PMLN government will only charge General Musharraf for High Treason in 2007 and not 1999; that it will not charge the judges who legitimized his coup in 1999 or those who legitimized it in 2007; that it will not charge his co-conspirators among the military and civilians both in 1999 and 2007 despite the explicit naming of them in General Musharraf’s order of 2007. If ever there was a carefully contrived legal justification for targeting one person alone despite overwhelming evidence of wrong doing by many this is it. If ever there was a mockery of the principles of the Nuremberg trials this is it.

The problem is that the PMLN government’s options have been reduced to zilch by the aggressive and singularly focused tone of the SC. Apart from providing the legal framework for holding General Musharraf guilty and others including judges and generals innocent the SC has been adamant that General Musharraf must be brought to book. Indeed the treason case is being launched because the government has been ordered in so many words to do so by the SC. Does that imply that General Musharraf’s treasonable fate is sealed?

No. There are several reasons for thinking that this is one trial that will not see the light of day. First the military is not going to allow a former army chief to swing from the rope. In fact it has not allowed former chiefs to be held in contempt of court a case in point being that of General Mirza Aslam Beg. Second the army has reacted furiously against attempts by the civilians to hold retired generals accountable for corruption misuse of powers or bad judgments. Third the physical elimination of a prosecutor in the Benazir Bhutto murder case against General Mushharaf followed by the mysterious withdrawal of some cases against him by petitioners doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Fourth the forthcoming retirement of the CJP who is the driving force against General Musharraf is bound to impact the treason trial in more ways than one. Fifth we may safely assume that the Saudis who played a critical role in securing the release of Nawaz Sharif in 2000 from General Musharraf’s clutches will play much the same sort of role in securing General Musharraf from the clutches of of Nawaz Sharif in 2014-15. This is a quid pro quo that Mr Sharif will not be able to deny the Saudis who have a powerful vested interest in remaining close to the Pakistan army that secures the defence of Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf in more ways than one.

We may recall that the ISI case of rigging the general elections in 1990 dragged on for nearly two decades and ended with a whimper rather than a bang. Similarly General Musharrf’s trial will go cold after he is allowed to leave the country on some pretext or the other at the prodding of the Saudis. He will lead the rest of his life in exile like many other dictators in history.”

Civil-Military ad-hocism

July 05 – 11, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 21

Despite the continuing momentum of democracy, the civil-military relationship is still problematically imbalanced. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Balochistan where the facts on the ground belie the rhetoric in the corridors of power.

The military insists that there are no troops ” in Balochistan. This statement is aimed at distancing the military from charges of human rights violations especially relating to the “disappearances ” of hundreds of alleged Baloch nationalist-activists in the province by the FC MI and ISI.

But the fact is that the FC and Rangers are military organisations just like the Pakistan Army the only difference being that they are formally under the control of the Ministry of Interior while the latter reports to the Ministry of Defence and their role is restricted to provincial duties while that of the army relates to all of Pakistan. The fact is that the Generals leading the Rangers and FC formally take their orders from the civilians much like the army chief or the DG-ISI but in reality take over-riding orders from GHQ and coordinate closely with the Corps Commanders in their region. The fact also is that all military organisations are obliged to come to the “aid of civilian power ” under various laws enacted for the purpose. But when they do they acquire a degree of autonomy and freedom from civilian accountability that is not allowed to the regular law enforcing agencies like the police.

Therein lies the rub. The military narrowly and exclusively defines “national security ” and brooks no civilian dilution or enlargement of the concept. And it acts openly and secretly via GHQ or the ISI to protect and defend it. This “national security outlook ” is currently at the root of the “problem ” of Balochistan: the military sees the Baloch nationalists as an arm of the Baloch separatist-insurgents who in turn are viewed as anti-Pakistan proxies of foreign powers which must be crushed and eliminated.

But the civilian leaders in Balochistan or Islamabad recognize a deeper and more complex reality in the notion of “national interest “: the Baloch nationalist-insurgents are estranged civilian elements who have been pushed out of mainstream provincial or national politics for various reasons and have picked up arms to register their protest in the process taking refuge in foreign lands and welcoming financial and military assistance from whosoever provides it for whatsoever reason. Under the circumstances the civilians wish to woo them back to mainstream politics through a process of truth reconciliation and rehabilitation.

Such problems are not unique to Pakistan. For example there are insurgencies and separatist movements in India too – in Kashmir and the North-East – where the military and LEAs have been given extraordinary powers to deal with them. But few Indians talk of any military excesses there as opposed to the many who decry them in Pakistan. The main reason for this is that the notion of “national interest ” which encompasses the notion of “national security ” but is not restricted to it is defined defended and protected by the civilians rather than the military in India. More critically the Indian civilians do so under consensually derived democratic norms and practices in which their military is subservient to them. In Pakistan by contrast the civil-military relationship is bedeviled by distrust even hostility because of repeated military interventions to subvert the civilian and democratic order. That is why even when the military acts in aid to civilian power the civilians are loath to accept the full consequences of its interventions. This problem is acutely perceived in Balochistan because its origins lie in the decisions taken by a Musharraf-military regime in the 2000s and its solutions have not been satisfactorily grounded in civilian times because of the continuing imbalance in civil-military relations during the Zardari interregnum.

This civil-military dilemma was reflected in the struggle of the Supreme Court to tackle the issue of the “missing persons ” of Balochistan. On the one hand the SC recognized the role of the military agencies and FC in picking up interrogating and “disappearing ” people. On the other it was unable to put the blame squarely on them because of their formal subservience to civilian authorities during the Zardari regime. Much the same issue haunts the new Nawaz Sharif regime. It wants to promote a dialogue with the Baloch nationalist-insurgents with a view to ending their alienation and rehabilitating them in mainstream politics. But it doesn’t have a strong enough handle over the military to persuade let alone compel it to let go of its notion of national security.

The Sharif administration says it wants to redress the imbalance and seize the political initiative. But this is easier said than done. It would require the establishment of an institutional mechanism for formulating and implementing national security policy under civilian control in which the military and its allied agencies are key inputting and implementing stakeholders. Until this is done ad-hoc briefings by the army chief or DGISI will yield nothing.”

Hats off to Abbotabad Commission

July 12 – 18, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 22

The Pakistani whistle-blower who has leaked the Abbotabad Commission Inquiry Report has performed a great national service. The Report reveals the inefficiencies, inadequacies and complicities of our national security and Intel apparatus and shows the way forward in trying to remedy the situation. Significantly, and contrary to cynical expectations, the members of the commission headed by Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal deserve our respect and admiration for laying the unvarnished minefield of truth before us.

The Report examines the role and testimony of officials and media. It hears the story of Osama bin Laden from his wives. It records the testimony of the IB, FIA, MI, NSA, MI and ISI on the subject. And it lists 32 pages of conclusions and recommendations. But the most interesting dimension of the report relates to the observations, perceptions and personality of Lt-Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, a soldier’s soldier, who was DG-ISI at the time.

Gen Pasha was rightly proud of the professional standards of the ISI and its sacrifices in blood sweat and time “. He correctly pointed out that internal security was only one out of 24 tasks defined in the ISI’s 1975 charter and mission-statement and noted the simultaneous responsibilities of the IB CID Special Branch Ministry of Interior Police and armed services intelligence of the military air force and navy. He told the Commission that the ISI was “neither complicit nor incompetent ” in the matter of OBL and supported his arguments by mentioning the arrest and deportation of several top Al-Qaeda leaders to the CIA no less than the communication tips it had given the CIA that eventually helped it track down OBL. He was critical of the role of General Pervez Musharraf and subsequent civilian administrations in “caving ” before American pressure and allowing the CIA to crawl all over Pakistan.

But Gen Pasha also made some extraordinary remarks about the critics of the ISI. He admitted “many decent people had been harmed by the ISI “. But he accused his critics of “perverse frenzy ” and “unbalanced criticism of the core institutions of the state ” and said they rightly “feared the ISI ” because it rightly targeted them. He accused significant sections of the media and NGOs of being infiltrated and penetrated by the CIA and foreign intelligence. He implied that such elements were not patriotic because they undermined the “national interest ” by their actions and utterances. And in an unusually candid moment remarked that the reality was defined by the fact that “Pakistan was a very weak and scared state ” “a failing state if not a failed state ” in which “everything boiled down to corrupt low grade governance ” of “collective and systemic failure ” because Pakistani society was “deeply penetrated ” and “the media was practically bought up ” and the elites were “easily purchasable “.

It is this rigid sense of self-righteousness rage and paranoia that pervades Gen Pasha’s testimony. Indeed in his real life interactions with civilians from academia media or government such sentiments tended to erupt at the slightest challenge to his perspective. He could not understand why for instance pro-democracy and human-rights elements of the Pakistani media and civil society were critical of the role of the military in general and the ISI in particular in distorting the Pakistani reality as compared to their counterparts in India. It never remotely occurred to him that a democratic popular and voluntary consensus on the role of the state and its institutions had naturally evolved in India and cemented its notions of patriotism national security and national interest because the Indian military had never “penetrated ” or “intervened ” in the civilian order while the opposite was perpetually true in pushing Pakistan in the direction of “a failing or failed state ” that lacked a consensus on the legitimate limits on the power of the “core ” institutions of the state. This was one reason why elements of the Pakistan media that questioned Gen Pasha’s notional paradigms – such as The Friday Times and Geo’s Aapas Ki Baat program – came under unrelenting pressure blackmail and even attack from the ISI during Gen Pasha’s tenure. It also explains why those who laid journalist Saleem Shehzad’s death at the door of the ISI were hounded and harassed and “rightly feared the ISI “. Indeed it is worth recalling that the fiasco of Memogate – when General Pasha personally undertook a mission to oust Ambassador Hussain Haqqani from Washington DC on the highly dubious testimony of a highly ambitious Pakstani-American maverick – destabilized the Zardari government nearly to the point of extinction.

The airing of the Report comes at a very propitious moment in Pakistan’s renewed attempt to steer a democratic course under the administration of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The foreign minister Sartaj Aziz and the home minister Chaudhry Nisar have both talked about righting the civil-military imbalance. The current DG-ISI Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam has also wisely steered clear of General Pasha’s angry style and controversial legacy. They should all read the recommendations of the Commission and explore ways and means of putting them into practice.”

Boot on the other foot

July 19-25, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 23

A number of legal interventions are threatening to unleash unforeseen consequences for state and society in Pakistan.

The Supreme Court has ordered the PMLN government to register a case of treason against General (retd) Pervez Musharraf and prosecute him on a fast track basis. But it is a moot point whether, in principle, parliament and its administrative arm should have the right to make such a powerful determination or the SC may compel the government to do its bidding. Indeed, legal tradition holds that parliament makes laws, the executive or government upholds them by invoking prosecution and punishment, and the courts determine their application to subjects. In this case, the matter has been complicated by four countervailing factors. First, there seems to be a vested interest on the part of the SC to punish the man who rendered it impotent in the past. Second, there seems to be a vested interest on the part of the government not to destabilize civil-military relations and render it impotent in the future. Third, there seems to be a select application by the SC to the one person of General Musharraf rather than to the military coterie that made a collective decision and implemented it. Fourth, the SC is fixated on the mini-coup of November 3, 2007, rather than the major-coup of October 1999. In the past, it should be noted, the maximum intervention of the SC in such political matters was limited to a ruling on a specific reference before it by the government – as for example in the mid 1970s when the ZA Bhutto government applied to the SC to confirm the treasonable ” credentials of the National Awami Party before deciding to ban it.

The SC has also challenged the traditional right of the government to enforce budgetary provisions from the day they are announced rather than from the day the bill is passed in parliament after a debate. It has trounced a 1931 Act that legitimizes provisional collection of taxes on the basis of the philosophy that parliament has the right to delegate its authority to government. Such provisions exist all over the democratic world. They are meant to facilitate economic efficiency by thwarting speculators and profiteers who seek to exploit the space between the announcement of a law and its actual passing in parliament. In the current case the SC’s decision has cost the treasury about Rs 10 billion in lost revenues apart from the losses incurred by assessing imports at previous lower duty rates instead of the higher ones proposed in the budget. If this ruling is not overturned in review appeal the government’s financial writ will be severely curtailed in time and it will even affect its international obligations as for example in relation to the anti-dumping laws ordained by our accession to the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs (GATT).

The SC is now examining the scope of the Army Act of 1952. As it stands the High Courts have no jurisdiction in matters of soldiers and civilians covered by the Act. Any civilian or soldier detained by the army under this Act cannot be heard by the HC regardless of the merits of the case. Similarly the police cannot detain let alone prosecute a soldier and must hand him over to the military immediately after apprehending him. The SC may hear such cases only if they are of “public importance ” and relate to fundamental rights. The issue is hanging fire because of the public importance attached to the rights and plight of “missing persons ” in Balochistan. But it has become complicated since armed insurgents separatists and sectarian terrorists alike have sought to take advantage of the situation across the country. The SC considers such elements alike in terms of public importance and fundamental rights. But the military considers them all anti-state terrorists without fundamental rights to whom the full repressive apparatus of the state must be applied. The problem is that if the Army Act is diluted it will open the floodgates to rampant terrorism. If it isn’t innocent citizens may be persecuted for wrong political reasons or misplaced national security considerations.

The SC is also taking a keen interest in government policy regarding postings and transfers of civil servants professional consultants and experts. Indeed it has gone so far as to order the government to appoint a committee of neutral and credible persons to scrutinize and appoint the right man for the right job. On the face of it in order to stop cronyism and corruption this seems right and proper. But the fact is that it curtails the executive’s right to take such decisions in light of its own political requirements.

In the past the executive was rampant and unaccountable. Now the boot is on the other foot. The need of the hour is to strike the right balance between public and government interest between those who make laws and those who interpret their scope and spirit.”

Daughter of the soil

July 26 – August 01, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 24

Malala Yousafzai is a true daughter of the soil. She has risked life and limb to promote the cause of education, the cause of women, the cause of children, the cause of non-violence, the cause of democratic freedoms, the cause of universal human rights. We should laud her brave efforts. Instead, some misguided Pakistanis are condemning her as an agent ” of the West.

Much of the hostility stems from two factors: a distorted image of the Taliban as some sort of anti-imperialist Islamic warriors and the anti-American public rage in the country. Therefore anyone who opposes the Taliban in any way especially from a Western platform is seen as an American-stooge or CIA agent. The irony is that many who hate Malala’s “success ” – she is a candidate for the Nobel Peace prize – would give an arm and a leg to be part of the “American Dream “.

Several conspiracy theories are rife. According to one the Malala “drama ” was staged by the Pakistan Army to justify an operation against the TTP This is absurd: the Pakistan army has been conducting continuous operations in Swat and Waziristan since 2007 and has lost over 3000 soldiers to the terrorists. According to another the CIA staged the incident to justify renewed drone strikes. Ridiculous. The US has been raining Hellfire missiles from drones on the Taliban since 2004 and President Obama has announced drone strikes as an integral element of US counter-terrorism strategy for the next decade. Neither the CIA nor the ISI need to hide behind little Malala’s skirts to justify their war against terrorism. Their own death toll at the hands of the Taliban is sufficient to spur them on.

Some powerful vested interests have also helped spin such conspiracy theories. Maulana Fazal ur Rehman is mortally scared of the TTP. He desperately wants a peace deal with them. So he is anti-Malala because she is a symbol of resistance to the Taliban. Raheela Qazi of the Jamaat-e-Islami has gone so far as to fabricate “facts ” – a picture of Malala with the ex-Af-Pak US envoy Richard Holbrooke taken in Pakistan several years ago cites Malala as hobnobbing with “US military authority ” (who will point to pictures of Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Munawar Hassan with similar US “military authorities “?).

It is also conveniently forgotten that Malala was a national heroine much before she caught the attention of the global community at the UN. Several Pakistani TV channels and papers had already lionized her for fighting the right causes. Indeed that is precisely why the TTP sought to silence her much like it did several journalists who tried to expose their criminal and barbaric ways. If she had died she would have been counted as no more than a number among the forgotten 40 000 victims of TTP terrorism. But in defying death she has become an icon for worthy universal causes like education and the rights of children. At home she was a virtuous girl who evoked public revulsion against the TTP in the same manner as the video of the anonymous woman who was publicly whipped by them in Swat several years ago. Abroad the international community gave her a standing ovation because she symbolized the spirit behind the UN’s charter of universal human rights and non-violence. Her heroes – Nelson Mandela Martin Luther King Gandhi – are global icons of peace truth and reconciliation. The UN doesn’t need reminding by Malala that the TTP and Al-Qaeda are terrorists.

Some people ask why Malala rather than anyone else from among the hundreds of female victims of the TTP is a darling of liberals and democrats at home and abroad. The answer is simple: Malala has been bravely consistently and publicly in the forefront of the struggle for children’s rights and democratic freedoms in Swat. No other name except hers came to mind in this context before she was attacked. And when she was fighting for her life it was natural for the media at home and abroad to focus on her and elevate her to a status that is larger than life.

Indeed it was the Pakistan government and military that decided she should be moved swiftly to a hospital in the UK for treatment. Circumstances rather than any conspiracy compelled this decision: the Pakistan military has an existing arrangement with Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham from where some doctors were already visiting Pakistan and volunteered to treat Malala in their facility. Newspaper reports stress the fact that Malala’s family only agreed to go abroad after President Asif Zardari insisted on it and ordered the Pakistan High Commission to give a sustenance job to Malala’s father.

Malala Yusufzai is a heroine because of her many qualities of spirit courage eloquence and simplicity. Above all that she stands and speaks for the finest human rights and freedoms of civilization. We should salute her out of a sense of shared values and pride instead of berating her out of self-loathing envy or rage.”

Exit strategies

August 02-08, 2012 – Vol. XXV, No. 25

The Pakistan Peoples Party has risen in protest against the Supreme Court in general and CJP Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry in particular, following the SC’s decision to grant the prayer of the PMLN to hold the presidential election on July 30 instead of August 6 as scheduled by the Election Commission of Pakistan. In principle, the PPP’s objection is well grounded: the SC summarily accepted the PMLN prayer without giving an opportunity to the PPP to present its case. This is not due process. Everyone expects better from the SC.

But it also isn’t such a big deal either over which to make such a hue and cry. The result of the presidential election was foretold. Senator Raza Rabbani’s argument that he lost six days of canvassing doesn’t wash. Only the MQM and JUI top leaders had to be wooed. And they could not have been persuaded to ditch their party political interests in the new political dispensation at the altar of principles. The shrill protest at such a trivial matter is also strange, considering the PPP’s tiptoeing strategy before the SC while in power, despite the fact that the SC blithely shredded the Zardari regime’s credibility and brought it to its knees on numerous occasions.

But there is a good explanation for the PPP’s aggressive turnout before the SC. Consider the fate and fortune of two PPP stalwarts: Asif Zardari and Aitzaz Ahsan. Mr Zardari will not be protected by presidential immunity in the NRO cases after he leaves the Presidency. He must therefore rightly expect the SC to open its guns on him. Whatever protection the NAB under Admiral Fasih Bokhari and FIA under Rehman Malik provided to him earlier has gone. So he needs to raise the specter of SC victimization ” and abuse of power in order to prepare the grounds of resistance. Who better to raise the alarm and lead the preemptive charge than Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan the same gentleman who led the CJP’s “long march ” back to office some years ago.

There is much in it for Aitzaz Ahsan too. He has been in no-man’s land for a long time because he didn’t want to distance himself from CJP Chaudhry even as he wanted to edge closer to President Zardari. But both men believe in the philosophy of “If you’re not with me you’re against me “. Therefore Mr Ahsan ended up losing the trust and confidence of both because he didn’t unequivocally stand up for either. Now he senses an opportunity for a political comeback. Mr Zardari needs him like never before to resist the SC while the CJP is literally savouring his last hurrah. Mr Ahsan is manoeuvering to become the leader of the PPP during Mr Zardari’s expected sojourn in cooler climes after exiting the Presidency and he intends to make a mark standing up to a CJP whose power will start evaporating soon as the date for his retirement in December this year approaches. What good fortune too for Aitzaz Ahsan that Imran Khan l’enfant terrible of Pakistani politics has also taken up cudgels against CJP Chaudhry for his alleged tilt towards the PMLN. For a while at least we may expect the PTI trolls in the millions to rain their expletives deleted over the SC rather than upon their favourite targets in the PPP and PMLN. No wonder Aitzaz Ahsan has swiftly clutched at Mr Khan’s angst to offer his services gratis if you will to defend him in the SC against the charge of contempt leveled by the SC.

The strategists in the SC seem to have miscalculated. In their effort to show political neutrality they first created a number of logjams (GST case) and roadblocks (Nandipur PIA) for the new PMLN regime. But when the PMLN started muttering aloud they suddenly applied the reverse gear and gave it a walkover in the Presidency. This has triggered an explosion in the simmering Imran Khan cauldron and a resignation by the Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim. It has also given Mr Zardari and Mr Ahsan a great platform to launch their counter-strategy. The pitch is definitely turning against the opening batsmen of the SC. Evidence of this is provided by the rising anti-SC comments in the print and electronic media many from among those who counted themselves as the foot soldiers and ideologues of the lawyers’ movement to restore CJ Chaudhry to office. In a fresh twist the Lahore High Court Bar Association has unprecedentedly called for the resignation of the Chief Justice.

It is interesting and significant that both President Asif Zardari and COAS Gen Ashfaq Kayani have chosen to keep a low profile on the eve of their exit from office. This is a natural response to the exigencies of loss of power. It doesn’t pay to get on the wrong side of government media and public opinion at such junctures. But this strategy seems to be lost on the leading lights of our hallowed halls of justice.”

Flailing state

August 09-15, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 26

The Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak last week was an extraordinary security breach by any reckoning. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government blithely flouted the maxim forewarned is forearmed “. It trashed three written alerts from the Ministry of Interior in Islamabad on three successive days preceding the event. And the Inspector General Police-KPK had the gall to use a sporting metaphor ( “our batting failed against the Taliban’s bowling “) as an explanation of his department’s criminal negligence in the murderous matter.

The Taliban on the other hand have been flaunting their runaway success with rousing details of how they came how they saw and how they conquered. Not a policeman or soldier stirred so to speak while walls and gates were blasted and hundreds of terrorist-prisoners were whisked away.

If the Taliban’s extraordinary feat is primed for self-motivation the opposite of handwringing anxiety or worse still despair or apathy is all too evident in the corridors of the state. There’s nary a word of explanation from the soldiers garrisoned near the prison of why and how they soundly slept while shots rang out all around them no hint even of any famed Rapid Deployment Force springing into action all guns blazing no sign of road blocks or police check points in the path of the “Islamist ” marauders. No less than 150 bearded warriors rode into town on two dozen open vehicles bristling with weapons blasted their way into the prison herded dozens of prisoners and drove back into South Waziristan (is that another country?) over 100 km away without even a boy scout in hot pursuit. Amazing then that Imran Khan that great white hope of the country who demanded the resignation of the ANP government when the same Taliban attacked Bannu jail last year hasn’t even rolled the head of the KPK Chief Minister?

While attention is focused on the remarkable physical feat of the Taliban and the pathetic state of our police’s physical preparedness one important factor is missing from the debate. This is the pivotal role of Taliban sympathizers helpers and supporters inside the bowels of the organs of state and society. If some brave defenders of the soil hadn’t perished in resisting the Taliban one might have actually accused the staff of the prison of conspiring with the Taliban and facilitating their operation. Certainly there are reports of gates being opened from inside the prison of inmates being roll-called from lists of core prison staff melting away as if on cue. Fear is the great leveler to be sure but one cannot discount the lingering if not yet increasing sympathy for the Taliban among a swathe of state and society that has either been Wahhabised by Saudi money or Bushed by US imperialism in the last two decades.

Let us face it. Our military has been infiltrated by such sentiment and passion. General Musharraf’s would-be assassins had the support of air force employees Adnan Rashid himself being a prime mover and shaker. The Taliban who attacked GHQ or Naval HQ had inside supporters who were their ears and eyes. The police are not innocent either – Governor Salmaan Taseer’s assassin was an elite commando bodyguard with “No fear ” emblazoned across his chest. The judiciary cowers in fear when it isn’t showering petals on them. And the politicians shrug their shoulders or blow smoke rings in the air when they aren’t embracing them in peace deals or electoral alliances.

No one in power has the guts to start fighting the Taliban. General Ashfaq Kayani says we face an existential threat from them. General Shuja Pasha says we are a failing state on account of them. PM Nawaz Sharif says the economy and democracy are held hostage by them. President Asif Zardari says they killed his wife. Altaf Bhai says they are his sworn enemies. Asfandyar Wali and Fazlur Rahman can’t breathe with them around. And all this while the cancer is growing within the body politic of our state and society and we are thumping our foreheads in prayers for salvation. If ever a nation and state were guilty of culpability and stupor together we are it. Look at Malala. She is a proud symbol of global resistance to the Taliban but we are picking fights with her instead of with them.

Mr Sartaj Aziz is National Security Advisor. When is he going to formulate and implement a strategy for uprooting the flag bearers of Talibanism Wahabism Jihadism and radical Islamism who are destroying this country? Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan is the home minister. When is he going to realize some home truths and declare all out war against the black terror that stalks our fair land? Mr Shahbaz Sharif is Khadim-e-Aala. When is he going to do his duty and stop the core threat emanating from his province? Nawaz Sharif is Prime Minister. When is he going to take charge of the light brigade? We are the people. When are we going to stand up and be counted?”

Indo-Pak end-game in Afghanistan

August 16-22, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 27

Since the execution of Afzal Guru in February this year, Kashmir has frequently boiled over into violent clashes between citizens/militants and Indian security forces. In March, 5 policemen were killed by militants. In May, 4 soldiers were shot dead. In June, 8 soldiers perished in an ambush. In return, Hindu mobs, egged on by paramilitary forces, have attacked worshippers at Eid prayers; and India’s paramilitary forces have desecrated the Quran, provoked outrage and killed protestors. Unprecedented Shia-Sunni conflict has also erupted in Kashmir, leaving scores wounded.

Parallel with Kashmir unrest, India and Pakistan have also heated up the Line of Control. On January 6, Indian forces killed one Pakistani soldier. On January 8, Pakistani forces killed two Indian soldiers. On February 15, one Pakistani soldier was killed. In July, another Pakistani soldier was killed. On August 5, five Indian soldiers were killed. Since then, both sides have been relentlessly shelling each other.

Across the western border with Afghanistan, on August 3, a suicide bomber attacked the Indian Consulate in Jalalabad and killed innocent bystanders. Similar attacks on Indian assets ” in Kabul occurred in 2008 2009 and 2010 and India has always accused Pakistani “assets ” like the Haqqani Group of attacking them.

In Balochistan separatist-nationalists with training camps in Afghanistan have suddenly renewed attacks on Punjabi settlers gas pipelines and Pakistani security forces. Sunni sectarian extremists have also laid the province low by attacking both Shias and security forces. Pakistan has always accused India of fomenting troubles both directly and indirectly.

What’s going on? Why have the national security establishments of India and Pakistan ratcheted up the level of violence to such an extent that the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has been compelled to offer mediation?

One Indian theory is that the execution of Afzal Guru has provided the Pakistan army with a good opportunity to heat up the simmering cauldron of rage in Kashmir. India also accuses the Pakistan army of infiltrating insurgents across the LoC to stir the pot in Kashmir. India explains renewed hostility by the Pakistan army as a way of subverting the peace offensive launched by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently.

There are a couple of problems with this theory. General Ashfaq Kayani the army chief has publicly said that Pakistan’s existential threat now comes internally from the Taliban and not externally from India. He has also supported the peace process through a unilateral liberalization of the trade regime which began many months before Mr Sharif became prime minister. Why should he now seek to derail it? At any rate it is India and not Pakistan that is responsible for provoking protest in Kashmir following the execution of Guru. If anything it is the western border with Afghanistan rather than the eastern one that preoccupies strategy makers in Pakistan.

There is another more realistic explanation. The prospect of an American withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of next year has compelled both India and Pakistan to scramble for leverage and influence in Afghanistan. Prodded by the US India is rushing to prop up the Karzai regime by injecting money into the Afghan economy and strengthening the Afghan National Army. Meanwhile Pakistan is clutching at its Afghan assets (Mullah Omar and the Haqqanis) to stake a claim in Kabul and neutralize India. Indeed the prospect of a 350 000 strong anti-Pakistan army of Afghans backed by India is a nightmare scenario for the Pakistani establishment. Therefore the proxy war game in Kashmir in Balochistan along the LoC and in Afghanistan has kicked off in earnest.

But there is an unprecedented twist in the game. Whereas in India the national security establishment political opposition media and even the Congress-led government are united and shrill in seeking to up the ante against Pakistan the response in Pakistan is markedly different. The Pakistan army spokesman hasn’t made aggressive anti-India statements the media is thoughtful and restrained and the opposition is not screaming at the government to give a “fitting ” response to India. Indeed far from drawing battle lines Prime minister Nawaz Sharif is urging calm and insisting that the peace process via an agreed composite dialogue should continue as planned.

India would do well to heed his advice. If it isn’t guilty of playing its own cards in the end game in Afghanistan and thinks the Pakistani security establishment is guilty of sabotaging the peace process it should strengthen Mr Sharif’s hand and move the process forward. The alternative is fraught with dangerous consequences for both countries. Renewed civil war in Afghanistan after the US withdraws with India and Pakistan backing proxies will inevitably lead to conflict on both borders of Pakistan. It will strengthen Al-Qaeda Islamist militants and jihadis destabilize and weaken the Pakistani state and embolden them to spill over into Kashmir. Just as it was in Pakistan’s interest once to seek a buffer state in Afghanistan it is in India’s interest now to seek a buffer state in Pakistan.”

Murder most foul

August 23-29, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 28

Will General (retd) Pervez Musharraf swing from the gallows for conspiring to or facilitating the murder of Benazir Bhutto ” five years ago? No he won’t.

Last week an anti-terrorist court (ATC) indicted General (retd) Musharraf and four others of conspiracy to murder Ms Bhutto. The case was lodged over five years ago. But it took the ATC three years to indict the accused. Since then only 18 out of 50 proposed prosecution witnesses have recorded their statements. However this too was rendered meaningless because Gen Musharraf was absent. So now the witnesses will start parading afresh followed by lengthy cross-examination and time wasting techniques by each of the counsels of the accused. At this rate it will take another five years to finish the process of completing the first trial in the ATC and several more in defending the judgment in the High Court and then in the Supreme Court. We may recall that given due process and the exigencies of politics the corruption cases against Asif Zardari have been pending for 16 years through three regimes from 1997-2013 without an end in sight. Under the circumstances who knows who will be in power and what the country and its politics will look like in a decade from now.

The question of evidence is of course critical. Apparently much of it is circumstantial. Many of the key witnesses may back out disappear or contradict one another under pressure from the powerful military that has already given us a taste of its medicine – one fearless prosecutor has been mysteriously killed one petitioner has hurriedly withdrawn and fled the country and others have resiled from giving evidence. Indeed one of the prime witnesses lobbyist and Bhutto confidante Marc Siegel may not even consent to give evidence in the belief that it is a lost cause and his physical presence in Pakistan could be life-threatening. The military has made it clear it will protect its ex-chief come hell or high water.

The attitude of the judiciary government and opposition towards the military is also illustrative. If the judiciary’s handling of the ISI case of rigging the 1990 elections is any indication – it dusted it off the shelf with great expectations threatened to bring the ISI down with a bang but ended the case in a whimper – and if its huffing and puffing in the case of the “disappeared ” persons in Balochistan – it failed to hammer any nail in any coffin – is indicative of its approach then we may safely expect it to steer a wide berth of any radical decision against Gen Musharraf. Certainly a change of guard in the SC by the end of 2013 will signal a significant retreat of the higher courts from the overly populist and interventionist policies of today.

The Sharif government’s policies vis a vis the military in general and Gen Musharraf in particular can also be fairly predicted. In theory Mr Sharif wants to bring the military to heel. In practice however he realizes this is easier said than done. He has his hands full dealing with the failing economy and law and order and knows that any provocation to the military would lead to a massive destabilization of polity that he can ill afford. Indeed his helplessness can be gauged from the fate of his radical “peace with India ” initiative that has foundered on the LoC even before the ink on his dialogue proposals is dry. Much the same can be argued about his lack of passion on the Musharraf front despite his personal travails. This is aimed at remaining on the safe side of the military while heeding the advice of his life-saving Saudi benefactors. We may recall that the Saudis intervened with Gen Musharraf to permit Mr Sharif to go into exile in the Kingdom and are now asking for the same quid pro quo for General Musharraf.

The PPP opposition meanwhile is assuming a studied silence. Mr Zardari certainly ranted about bringing “the killers of Shaheed Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto ” to book but shied away from pursuing General Musharraf with any enthusiasm because he also feared antagonizing the military. Out of power Mr Zardari is hoping that Mr Sharif trips up with the military and paves the way for the rehabilitation of the PPP. As for the MQM JUI and PTI the less said the better. They are all-weather friends and allies of the military and no one is going to shout and scream for General Musharraf’s head.

“It may well be that Bhutto’s assassination will be another unsolved case in the long history of impunity in Pakistan and that the controversy surrounding her assassination will endure as much as her memory. ” This is an apt conclusion to a forthcoming book by Heraldo Munez the UN official who formally investigated Bhutto’s murder. As for General Musharraf he is fated to live a miserable life in exile.”

Know-how of paradigm change

August 30 – September 05, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 29

The facts cry out for urgent resolution. In the last ten days, over 100 people have been killed in Karachi. In the last 90 days, terrorism has claimed over 1,500 lives with 100 bomb blasts and 10 suicide attacks. There is no end in sight to the killings. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has responded to the Karachi situation by proposing a special cabinet meeting to consider and formulate a clean-up operation in the city. And he has set up a Cabinet Committee on National Security that is tasked, among other things, to formulate and implement a counter-terrorism policy against the Taliban.

These better late than never ” steps are very welcome. But we shall have to wait and see what steps are actually taken and what results are achieved.

The MQM has proposed handing over Karachi to the Pakistan Army for a neutral clean-up operation against all perpetrators of violence and terrorism in the city regardless of their political affiliations. On the face of it this is surprising since the MQM has long warned against any army-led solution to the problems of the city. Memories die hard of the army-led clean-up operation of 1992 ordered by the Sharif government and the Police-Rangers-led operation from 1994-96 ordered by the Bhutto government since the MQM was the sole target of both operations. But there is a powerful rationale for an apparent about-turn this time.

The MQM is unhappy with its erstwhile PPP partner in Sindh for imposing a local government system in which all financial and administrative power will rest with the PPP provincial government rather than the MQM that has swept the city and rightly deserves to rule it. That is why it signaled its displeasure by voting for Mr Sharif’s presidential candidate. Now it has gone the extra mile by advocating martial law in Karachi. By so doing it hopes to send an even stronger message to the PPP in Sindh because such an operation will target not just the MQM’s militant wing but also those affiliated with the PPP and ANP.

This is a safe and effective ploy because the MQM knows that Nawaz Sharif would never take such a step in view of his determined stance to keep the army out of politics. Indeed Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan the federal interior minister has already said “nothing doing ” to the MQM’s proposal and instead suggested a clean-up operation based on the police and Rangers under the command of the current Sindh government. This will put pressure on the PPP’s Sindh government to reach a modus vivendi with the MQM to jointly protect their interests in the province. If the PPP doesn’t keep the MQM on side it will face the prospect of Governors Rule by the federal government which would be a major blow to its political confidence and fortunes.

Under the circumstances with the MQM and PPP playing hide and seek games it will not be easy for Mr Sharif to move swiftly decisively and efficiently in Karachi. If the PPP and MQM are jointly in control of any clean-up operation in Karachi it will amount to nothing with all sides blaming the other for its failure. If the federal government imposes Governors Rule both will cry foul and protest.

Mr Sharif has also set about bringing all civil-military stakeholders on board national security issues in general and counter-terrorism in particular. The interior minister Chaudhry Nisar will take charge of Homeland Security and Counter-Terrorism while the National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz will also oversee its foreign policy dimensions as Foreign Affairs Advisor with the rank of a minister. On the face of it this too looks to be a good strategy. But in actuality it is burdened from the start by the political egos and ambitions of both its overseers.

Chaudhry Nisar should be in charge of one and not both of the portfolios because each is a full time job. The interior minister can lord it over the FIA and Rangers but leave Homeland Security and Counter-Terrorism to another full-time competent person. Similarly Mr Aziz should retain either NSA or Foreign Affairs. They should both take a leaf out of the practice in the US where the FBI (our FIA) and Homeland Security (our CT department) are two different organizations tasked with two different missions just as the State Department (our Foreign Office) is separated from the NSA (in the US the NSA is affiliated to the White House while in Pakistan it is in the Prime Minister’s Office). Under the circumstances the current approach is fated to fail in delivering a comprehensive and effective national security doctrine and counter-terrorism policy.

Mr Sharif’s heart is in the right place. He wants to set things right in his grand vision for change. But he has not yet demonstrated the know-how of paradigm change in Pakistan.”

Asif Zardari’s legacy

September 06-12, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 30

President Asif Zardari is the first president in Pakistani history to complete a full five-year term in office. The irony is that if the real political leader of the PPP, Benazir Bhutto, hadn’t been assassinated, Mr Zardari might never have participated in Pakistani politics at all (third time round, she wanted him to stay away and look after the kids while she ruled Pakistan). A bigger irony is that he was able to match wits and get the better of all his political adversaries – especially head-hunting judges and generals – and live to fight another day after surviving the onslaughts of the NRO, Salala and Memogate. Indeed, the bonhomie is quite remarkable – the leader of the opposition and the prime minister are both hosting farewell receptions for Mr Zardari and he is hosting a presidential feast for the prime minister. All this is a far cry from the days when the opposition would shriek a president down during his annual parliamentary address and constantly conspire to oust him from office. Not for nothing, therefore, have friend and foe alike bestowed upon Mr Zardari an honorary PhD in politics.

For now, however, Mr Zardari might like to reflect on his legacy for Pakistan and its fledgling democracy. Far from witch-hunting his opponents in the opposition, media and judiciary, he bore their slings and arrows with a Cheshire cat’s grin. He voluntarily divested himself of the president’s Herculean powers under Article 58-2B in favour of the prime minister; he enabled the superior judges to become independent of parliament; he devolved many of the federal government’s powers to the provinces; he anointed the frontier as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and created Gilgit-Baltistan; he established the notion of neutral and consensus caretaker governments and the Election Commission of Pakistan to oversee free and fair general elections; and so on. If he had chosen not to entertain such democratic ideals, our political system would certainly have been the poorer for it.

But the truth also is that Mr Zardari shipwrecked the economy at the altar of personal political survival. He chose two prime ministers not on the basis of any track record or potential for governance and public welfare but on the yardstick of loyalty. He didn’t much care how corrupt and incompetent they were and the fate to which they helped consign the PPP so long as they refused to cow down before the judges and generals who wanted to see the back of him. At the end of his five-year term, and by extension that of the PPP government, the economy has hit rock bottom, unemployment and public debt have doubled, poverty has increased, foreign investment has fled our shores, there is no energy to run homes and industries, terrorism has peaked, the country is isolated regionally and distrusted internationally, and Pakistanis are more alienated, frustrated, violent and apprehensive about their future than ever before.

Of course, it wasn’t inevitable that we would have to pay such a heavy toll for Mr Zardari’s political longevity. A different course of action might have yielded the same personal dividend for him without jamming the economy. For instance, if he had restored the judges instead of blocking and then provoking them to take up cudgels against the NRO, he might not have had to endure a long and vindictive campaign that sent the PPP government staggering from pillar to post and stymied all governance. For starters he wouldn’t have been compelled to betray the opposition by seeking the cover of the presidency to remain immune from prosecution – like Sonia Gandhi, he could have ruled from the sidelines. But the bonus would have come from the freedom to wield greater leverage in selecting his prime minister and cabinet, thereby controlling the fate of his party and government and the destiny of Pakistan. As it is, his party has been wiped out in all provinces except in rural Sindh where its standing is based on the dubious factor of sub-nationalist ethnicity rather than performance.

Mr Zardari’s political prospects are bleak. The PPP will be hard-pressed to keep the ship of provincial state steady as Karachi is buffeted by waves of terrorism and counter-terrorism operations that will strain political relations with all state and non-state actors. In particular, he should seek ways and means to revive the party in the Punjab when, inevitably, the PMLN falters on one count or another. Meanwhile, he would be advised to keep on the right side of Nawaz Sharif so that his flank is covered while he dodges the avenging judges.

Asif Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto didn’t see eye to eye on how to run the party and the government. But father and son must make amends. The PPP needs new blood, new inspiration and new ideas to mount an effective challenge to the PMLN. Above all, it needs Bilawal Bhutto to start where Benazir Bhutto left. Mr Zardari should now focus on ensuring that the mission of his martyred wife endures.

Last APC on TTP

September 13-19, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 31

The All Parties Conference under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on how to deal with the Pakistani Taliban concluded last Monday without any surprises. The army leadership, it seems, has been persuaded by the politicians to give peace negotiations ” another chance despite the fact that the last nine attempts to disarm the Taliban failed to achieve any positive results. What is the PMLN government’s mission-strategy? How is it different from the one proposed by the JUI and ANP in consultation with the PPP government earlier this year? When those two APCs didn’t take off despite PMLN support what is so special about this one?

It is true that the PMLN at the start of its term is more focused on terrorism than the PPP ever was at the end of its term. Therefore we might fairly expect more headway in rising to the challenge this time round. Certainly Mr Sharif’s longevity depends on his ability to get the economy moving which in turn depends on a significant improvement in law and order. It is equally true that the Taliban leaders had earlier expressed a degree of willingness to negotiate with Mr Sharif as opposed to hostility against the leaders of both the PPP and ANP. And finally it is a good sign that Imran Khan has lent his shoulder to the strategy chalked out by the PMLN: he says that talks should be initiated via various methods with those who are ready to talk but that a crackdown should be planned against those who insist on their violent anti-state ways. As a sop to the Taliban and to Imran Khan the APC has agreed to consider moving the UN to pressurize the Americans to stop Drone attacks on Waziristan.

There is some more encouraging news. Senator Pervez Rashid the information minister has confirmed that preliminary talks about talks are underway already with a couple of Taliban groups. He has also confirmed that tribal jirgas will be mobilized to persuade the Taliban to stop fighting the Pakistan state. We also know that there are serious rifts within the Taliban about negotiating with the Pakistan state and government which is a good sign because it weakens the Taliban’s resolve to fight Pakistan. Finally Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan the interior minister has explained that negotiation will be a long drawn out affair with many ups and downs. This is a measure of his determination to go the whole hog and try everything in the book before admitting failure shifting the responsibility on to the Taliban and ordering military action against the miscreants. But the proof of the pudding will be in the eating of it.

To be sure preconditions by either side will not be terribly helpful. We can’t expect the Taliban to lay down their arms before talking. Nor should the Taliban expect the Pakistan government to agree to any of their outrageous demands like agreeing to install a Shariah regime of their choice in Islamabad or guaranteeing an immediate end to American drone attacks. But at the very least for the talks to kick off in earnest there should be a progressive ceasefire by both sides. The army should not carry out any fresh assaults on the Taliban and the Taliban should cease suicide attacks or bomb explosions. This rule should apply to those Taliban groups who want to talk and not to those who want to fight. So talk-talk and fight-fight must be the order of the day. If there is a progressive downslide in the level of Taliban-inspired violence in the next six months we must continue to support this policy. If there isn’t we must unveil the iron fist from the velvet glove.

At the end of the day the PMLN-led initiative must be able to calibrate its anti-terrorism response in such a manner so as to separate unrepentant Al-Qaeda and sectarian elements from the rank and file of disgruntled misguided or simply criminal elements among the Taliban and then formulate appropriate tactics and strategy to isolate target degrade and eliminate Al-Qaeda while rehabilitating reforming and reintegrating the others back into society.

The anti-Taliban strategy is bound to be complex problematic and long-drawn out. There will be hiccups. Both carrots and sticks will have to be applied. Critically all political parties and military leaders will have to be on the same page at every stage of the game. This is especially true of Imran Khan’s PTI which must adopt a more realistic attitude to the problem of terrorism than the rather naïve and idealist position it has so far adopted.

One fact is of paramount importance. The window of opportunity for the dialogue approach to succeed is limited to the time between now and the US exit from the region next year. If Pakistan doesn’t firm up its approach to both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban quickly it will suffer from a violent backlash from both in 2014.”

Pluralism and tolerance

September 20-26, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 32

Several issues related to the role of Political Islam ” in the making and unmaking of Pakistan have recently cropped up. They deserve serious rational comment.

The first concerns the nature and role of blasphemy laws bequeathed us by General Zia ul Haq. Pakistanis are understandably passionate about the Prophet (pbuh) of Islam and will not brook any slight towards him. Therefore attempts to revoke or even dilute the laws have met with fierce resistance. But everyone knows that these laws have been misused misinterpreted and misapplied by vested interests sheltering behind the garb of religious piety to advance personal vendettas mundane interests and political affiliations on the basis of false trite and trumped-up allegations. Unfortunately such instances taint the fair name of Islam in general and Pakistan in particular.

The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) is constitutionally mandated to guide parliament on such issues. In the past however it has refrained from recommending any positive reform in problematic areas. But now the CII seemingly wants to set things right. This is probably due to the public outrage provoked by the rape of a 4 year girl in Lahore in which media and citizens are demanding death for the perpetrators of this heinous act.

The CII has passed a resolution confirming the utility of DNA evidence in rape cases. This is very welcome because its earlier stance negating the utility of DNA testing was threatening to undo the administrative measures taken by the government to set up DNA forensic labs for facilitating prosecution against criminals in general and rapists in particular. Equally welcome is the news that the CII believes that those who deliberately level false allegations of blasphemy should be subject to punishment no less severe than those who are actually convicted for blasphemy on the basis of solid evidence. Therefore parliament should heed the mood of the public and CII and make such amendments in the relevant laws as reflect these sentiments and provide some sort of deterrence against the willful misapplication of these laws.

Another such issue is crying out for redress. This refers to the teaching of religion in general and Islam in particular in schools and colleges across the country. Since the time of Gen Zia our textbooks have been fashioned to promote a jihadist and nationalist-exclusive interpretation of Islam. This is a manifestation of the application of Islam for political reasons of state. Over the years this singular identity has distorted our collective vision of nation-state realities crippled our economy gridlocked our legal system made us prone to societal violence and isolated us in the comity of nations. Unfortunately attempts to rationalize and modernize our education system have continuously foundered on the rock of misplaced conservative or politically motivated religious elements in society.

Two such cases have caught headlines recently. The first is an attempt by Imran Khan’s PTI government in KPK to undo the rational cleansing of the textbooks by the previous ANP government by reinserting nations of jihad and “Islamic ” vice and virtue into the curricula. The second is an attempt by a section of the media to devalue the teaching of “comparative ” religion in schools in which the values of relative compassion mutual respect and human dignity common to all religions are emphasized.

The KPK government is accused of mal-administration and corruption. It is therefore seeking the age-old device of clutching at “Political Islam ” for purposes of political legitimacy. Its cowardice in the face of Taliban terrorism and its insistence on Islamizing textbooks are direct consequences of its political alliance with the Jamaat i Islami a party that has never been popular with Pakistanis. The tragedy is that Imran Khan’s concreteness is misplaced because he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know.

The media’s stance on the subject of comparative religion studies is another disquieting matter. Most youthful media practitioners are an unhealthy product of the education-brainwashing system bequeathed by Gen Zia that inclines them to religious self-righteousness and intolerance. But it is also the quest for “ratings ” based on outrageous lies falsehoods and deceits that spur many anchors to deliberately stir up religious passions. Unfortunately the courts are also imbued with the same sort of negative populism to take due cognizance of the problem and so the issue is lost by default.

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s treatise on the relationship between “singular identity and violence ” is worth prescribing as a text in colleges and universities. It explains how in an increasingly pluralist global village attempts to create sustain or manage singular (Muslim) personal or national (Islamic) identities are recipes for violence and instability. No individual or nation-state can be an island. For example women are mothers sisters doctors teachers and professionals all at the same time donning plural identities. Similarly we are all Muslims no less than global citizens students businessmen and professionals sustained by the values of toleration and pluralism in society. The sooner Pakistanis subscribe to these realities of pluralism and tolerance the better.”

Beyond hope?

September 27 – October 3, 2013 – Vol. XXV, No. 33

There was a glimmer of hope last week that the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) might finally be persuaded to accept DNA evidence as conclusive proof in rape cases, a universally accepted practice. But Maulana Sheerani, the CCI chairman from the JUI, is still insisting that four male witnesses are required to prove guilt in rape cases – verily, an impossible condition. Worse, a majority of CII members still refuse to punish those who deliberately lie to settle scores in blasphemy cases. The travails of Maulana Tahir ul Ashrafi, the sole dissenter, to talk some sense into his 19 fellow-CII colleagues are all in vain.

The CII is no more than a body to advise and guide parliament to bring all laws into conformity with the provisions of Islam. It was supposed to have been wound up in 1996 when its final report ” on how and what to “Islamise ” in the Pakistan constitution was submitted to parliament. Indeed in the presence of the Federal Shariat Court and the Islamic Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court the CII has outlived its original mission statement. Why then is the CII still alive and kicking?

Syed Afzal Haider an ex-judge minister eminent lawyer and CII member is a mine of information on the CII. He has explained how the blasphemy law came to be drafted and notified during the Zia ul Haq era by a leading Saudi cleric. Since then with the possible exception of the Musharraf years of “enlightened moderation ” when the CII was led by Dr Khalid Masood the CII has traded in fundamentalist ideas without let or hindrance. Maulana Fazal ur Rahman’s JUI is particularly keen on retaining the top slot in the CII and has bargained vigourously with every government for the privilege of having the last word on the subject. Unfortunately both the PPP and PMLN have taken an opportunist position on the issue.

Both parties think that the CII is an ineffectual talking-shop of no consequence. This same foolish attitude is manifest in the perennial committees tasked with curriculum development in which “Islamic ideology jihad kufr etc ” figure prominently. Either enlightened Muslims don’t have the courage of their conviction. Or it doesn’t occur to them that at least three generations since the Zia era have grown up to believe in a particular version and vision of Islam that is wholly responsible for the anarchy and violence in Pakistan today which is making law and order and governance so difficult for them. The current debate in the country over good and bad Taliban (good and bad Muslims?) is a direct offshoot of this long-drawn exercise in brainwashing. Consider.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is waging a ferocious war on the country. It rejects everything Pakistani and wants to impose a violent reactionary Emirate upon us that will throw us back centuries. Yet we still hanker for peace talks with its leading elements even after the latest attack on Christians in Peshawar that has been proudly owned by a group within the TTP. Indeed some of our misguided apologists are at pains to paint this attack as a “conspiracy ” against the TTP! Some sections of the media aside Maulana Fazal and Imran Khan are both guilty of this cruel ingenuity. The former is probably too scared to oppose the Taliban openly. The JUI has lost many voters to militant outfits and the Maulana is a soft target for his angry detractors for cosying up to mainstream regimes for personal goodies. Imran Khan is simply too stubborn and self-righteous to dispassionately weigh the evidence against the TTP. Both have entered into Faustian bargains with the terrorists in Waziristan no less than the Sharifs have done with sectarian murderers in the Punjab.

It is time to take the bull by the horns before it ravages state and society beyond repair and beyond hope. The army chief General Ashfaq Kayani has finally admitted that the existential threat to Pakistan comes not from India but from practitioners of radical extremist notions of political Islam. That is the good news. The bad news is that he hasn’t taken any concrete steps to purge the military accordingly. So we’re out of luck just as we were when General Musharraf’s “enlightened moderation ” foundered on the rock of jihadists in his secret agencies and administration. Can Nawaz Sharif succeed where liberal politicians like Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari no less than moderate generals like Musharraf and Kayani have succumbed to cowardice or opportunism or both?

Nawaz Sharif’s education and cultural upbringing make him religiously conservative. Therefore the odds that he will try to separate religion from politics in the textbooks or the CII are daunting. But we can hope that his other identity as a businessman who knows that Pakistan cannot survive without doing business with the world will tilt him in favour of live and let live policies based on tolerance and moderation in a free world in which there is no space for the TTP and their ilk.”

War not peace

TFT Issue: 04 Oct 2013

Since the last All Parties Conference recognized the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan as “stakeholders” with whom to hold “unconditional peace talks”, TTP franchises have responded by launching a new wave of terror in which nearly 300 people, including 39 soldiers, have been killed in the last thirty days, a hike of nearly 40% in the number of attacks in September. The irony is that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan insist that these attacks are not the handiwork of the Taliban while the TTP leaders brazenly take responsibility for them.

Now the country’s religious leaders want the Sharif government to order an unconditional “ceasefire” of security forces in order to start the “peace dialogue”. But the TTP has laid down two core preconditions for dialogue: a withdrawal of the security forces from FATA and an end to US drone strikes against them. In fact, Maulana Fazlullah, who tried to assassinate Malala, killed innocent foreign trekkers in the northern areas, and recently assassinated a Maj-General and Colonel of the Pakistan army, has announced his intention to target-kill the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, following which he says he will launch operations to seize and occupy Swat again.

As the TTP’s warring continues, Imran Khan has suggested that the terrorists should be allowed to open an office in FATA in order to facilitate peace talks. If the Americans could enable the Afghan Taliban to open an office in Doha, he argues, why can’t we follow the same strategy against the TTP at home?

This is an outrageous, indeed dangerous, suggestion. The Taliban’s strategy is clear.

First, the Afghan Taliban are stakeholders in the continuing civil war in Afghanistan, triggered by the ouster of the Taliban regime in Kabul by American forces in 2000, in the run-up to an American withdrawal in 2014. In Pakistan, on the contrary, there is no such reason to consider the TTP as a stakeholder in any battle for Islamabad. Second, the Doha office was established outside Afghanistan in order to facilitate a dialogue with the core stakeholder Karzai regime in Kabul. But it closed down when the Karzai regime denounced the Afghan Taliban for raising their flag of the Taliban Emirate of Afghanistan over the office to signify its status as an “embassy” reflecting their sole status as legitimate rulers of Kabul. But if the government of Pakistan were to formally approve an “office” for the Taliban inside FATA, it would signal sanctioning a TTP “office” on TTP’s “sovereign territory”.  In effect, this would mean that Islamabad recognizes the legitimacy of FATA’s secession from Pakistan and accepts the right of the TTP to stake a claim on the rest of the country!

In fact, this is precisely the problem. Consider.

There are three strands of terrorists among the Taliban. First, there are Mullah Umar’s Afghan Taliban based in southern Afghanistan. They are readying for a forceful attack on Kabul after US forces depart and the Karzai regime becomes vulnerable. For them, Pakistan’s North Waziristan and Balochistan provinces offer “strategic depth” bases from where to plan, organize and launch attacks inside Afghanistan. These “bases” are occupied by the Haqqani-network Taliban. Then there are the foreign Uzbeks, Chechens, Egyptians, Arabs, etc who constitute Al-Qaeda led by the Egyptian Ayman Al-Zawahiri. These were originally based in Afghanistan under Osama bin Laden when the Taliban ruled Kabul. Now they are based in Pakistan’s FATA as political commissars, planners and commandants of the Taliban forces. Then there is the third force, the TTP.

Both Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban have consciously built the TTP and facilitated its rise as a violent force for their grand regional strategy after the withdrawal of US forces from the region. Their sole aim is to help the TTP capture and retain FATA, initially as a strategic depth base area for themselves and eventually, in the event of their failure to capture Kabul, as part of a new Emirate of the Taliban incorporating Afghan areas to the south of and east of Kabul and to the north of Pakistan that are contiguous with Afghanistan. This ties in with historical Afghan claims over FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and their consistent refusal to recognize the Durand Line as the official border with Pakistan.

If the Al-Qaeda-Afghan Taliban-TTP network succeeds in establishing a safe strategic base area or Emirate-State incorporating parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, then global “Islamic” terrorists will fly in the droves to this new “country” from which to plan and launch attacks in the region and beyond. That will suck in foreign powers again. But this time it will be Pakistan with its endangered nukes and not stone age Afghanistan that will be the sole object of everyone’s grab for power or security. This is why it is critical to understand the Taliban-Al-Qaeda network as an “existential threat” to Pakistan that must be uprooted before it succeeds in destroying Pakistan. That is why full-fledged war and not unconditional withdrawal from FATA is the only answer.

Time to change course

TFT Issue: 11 Oct 2013

COAS General Ashfaq Kayani has announced his intention to call it a day on 29th November. The decision came amidst intense media speculation that he might get a year’s extension, or go “upstairs” to a revamped Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff office, or even as Ambassador to Washington DC as reported by the reputable Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately, the PMLN government’s decision to keep the CJCSC and Washington slots pending served to fuel such rumours. On an earlier occasion, General Kayani had said that he would retire as army chief on due date. Therefore the government should have announced an Ambassador to Washington when the cabinet was unveiled and nominated successors to General Kayani and CJCSC General Shamim Wynne last month.

General Kayani has presided, directly and indirectly, over the fate of Pakistan for over a decade. As DG-Military Ops, DG-ISI, Vice COAS and COAS (for six years), he was described by Forbes Magazine in 2012 as the “28th most powerful person in the world”. The record shows that he was either at the elbow of General Pervez Musharraf when the latter took some far-reaching decisions or was directly responsible for taking them himself as COAS. Consider his track record.

As DGMO in 2004, General Kayani backed General Musharraf’s decision to close the jihadi tap across the LoC and open up a back-channel with India to negotiate a long-term “out-of-the-box solution” for Kashmir. If that initiative had not withered on the vine because of acute political instability in Pakistan in 2007-08, it would have changed the landscape of South Asia. Yet the Lal Masjid in Islamabad was fortified for years by terrorists right under Gen Kayani’s nose as DG-ISI and he was remarkably ineffective when it exploded, plunging the Musharraf regime into disarray, instability and eventual loss of power. Indeed, the Pakistani-terrorist attack on Mumbai was planned on his watch as DGISI and actually happened when he was COAS, putting paid to the Kashmir plan for the last five years. The recent heating up of the LoC that scotched Nawaz Sharif’s plans to restart the back channel with India can also be laid at his door.

General Kayani as DG-ISI also helped negotiate the return of Benazir Bhutto to Pakistan in 2007-08 on the basis of an NRO so that a transition to representative democracy could take place. If Ms Bhutto had become prime minister, Pakistan would not have been in such dire straits today. Yet as DG-ISI he was also negligent, at best, and complicit, at worst, when the terrorist attacks on Ms Bhutto took place. It is a matter of fact, too, that as COAS he didn’t much cooperate with any of the fact-finding commissions and investigations to uncover the truth about her assassins.

General Kayani’s relationship with the Zardari regime remained problematic from Day One. His open defiance of the pro-democracy clauses in the Kerry-Lugar legislation sent the PPP government into a spin. The promotion, appointment and service-extension of General Ahmad Shuja Pasha as DG-ISI led to policies that alienated Pakistan from the United States and the elected PPP government from the military. The Raymond Davis affair was grossly mismanaged: first, public protest was whipped up against the government’s bid to let Davis off the hook; then, after the Americans read out the riot act to Generals Kayani and Pasha, Davis was whisked out of the country, leaving the government red-faced before an angry public and media. Worse, the government was seriously destabilized when Memogate was launched, compelling Ambassador Hussain Haqqani to resign, President Zardari to fall ill and flee to Dubai and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to accuse the ISI of being “a state within the state”. Worst, the outrageous US Navy Seal raid on a compound in the backyard of the military establishment in Abbotabad on May 2, 2011, destroyed the credibility of the ruling generals like never before.

General Kayani’s reputation as a premier “thinking” general cannot be denied. By the same token, however, he must bear the burden of his misguided strategic theories that have brought Pakistan to an “existential” crisis (his own words) in the last five years.  The “good Afghan Taliban, bad Pakistani Taliban” theory that has underpinned the army’s Af-Pak strategy has come a cropper because all forms and shades of Taliban and Al-Qaeda are one criminal network and the quest for a “stable and Pakistan-friendly” Afghanistan has foundered on the rock of big power dynamics.

It has been argued that General Kayani supported the cause of democracy by not imposing martial law when the chips were down for the PPP government. But the truth is that a fiercely independent media, aggressive judiciary and popular PMLN would have revolted against any martial law. The international community would not have supported it. And General Kayani’s own rank and file would have frowned upon it.

Under the circumstances, we hope the next COAS will change course and help the elected civilian leaders make national security policy to salvage our country.

Truth and Reconciliation in Balochistan

TFT Issue: 18 Oct 2013

No one can take issue with the findings and recommendations of the latest report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on the situation in Balochistan. The HRCP has indicted federal and provincial authorities no less than the insurgents and security agencies for the deteriorating situation in the province. It has called for talks between the administration and the separatists enabling an end to the insurgency that has raged in the province since the killing of Nawab Abkar Bugti by security forces during the Musharraf regime, and supports a process for re-absorption of all disgruntled elements into mainstream provincial politics.

Several new factors have emerged to encourage all stakeholders to pitch anew for truth and reconciliation in Balochistan. First, a fair election has been held for provincial and federal representation. Second, and against all odds, a respected nationalist leader, Dr Abdul Maalik, has been accommodated as chief minister. Third, the federal government of Nawaz Sharif is fully backing the new CM, indeed he could not have become chief minister or formed a cabinet without Islamabad’s unequivocal support. Fourth, a change of army high command is due next month, which means that the new army chief can start on a clean slate in the province with a new team on the ground without being burdened by his predecessor’s passions and prejudices. Fifth, a recent earthquake in the province has stamped a sense of urgency on a bid for peace because relief efforts by civil-military authorities are being hampered by insurgent attacks that are hurting the cause of the poor and stiffening the back of the security agencies to pay back in the same coin. Sixth, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has held out an olive branch to both the Afghan and Indian governments (which are alleged to be hosting and fuelling the Baloch insurgency as tit-for-tat for Pakistan’s support to Kashmiri and Taliban militants hosted on Pakistani territory) and pledged his regime’s commitment to stop interfering in their internal affairs as a quid pro quo for similar policies towards Pakistan.

The HRCP’s proposals in this regard are realistic and fair. On the one hand, it has urged Baloch insurgents to cease war and denounce violence so that “undemocratic forces” are not strengthened and the new well-meaning provincial and federal governments are given an opportunity to confront “the actors within the state who are violating human rights on the pretext of furthering national security”. On the other hand, it has demanded an effective mechanism to investigate the excesses of the security agencies, especially “disappearances and dumps”, and punish the perpetrators. A string of other sensible suggestions are worthy of consideration too. These include transparent and effective SOPs for security agencies in the province; powers for the CM to input into the ACR’s of security personnel; reforming the police and enabling it to effectively “go after criminals and militants”; and a blueprint for a phased withdrawal of the FC from the province because it has become part of the problem rather than the solution.

Some people will criticise the HRCP for advocating “peace talks” with the Baloch insurgents “who are killing security personnel and Punjabi settlers” while scoffing at advocates of negotiating with the Pakistani Taliban. But a comparison between the two movements/militancies/insurgencies/terrorism should account for significant differences in origin, outlook and policy.

First, there have been five big or small insurgencies in Balochistan since 1947 and each has been a consequence of denial of provincial rights enshrined in the constitution. Since the last four insurgencies were brought to an end by negotiated settlement of grievances within the ambit of the constitution, there is reason to believe that this fifth one too can be amenable to a similar approach. This is in sharp contrast to the TTP that has not arisen out of any sense of provincial or regional grievances that can be redressed by peace talks but out of a global jihadist strategy by Al-Qaeda to carve out a base area in Afghanistan and Waziristan much like its strategy in Yemen and the Middle-East. That is why all previous 14 peace deals with the TTP and its franchises have foundered on the rock of Al-Qaeda intransigence and that is why the TTP seeks a complete overthrow of the constitutional democratic order in Pakistan and the seizure of state power to create an Emirate of global Jihad.

Second, the Baloch insurgency is predicated on mundane “push” (denial of provincial rights) and “pull” (backing by India and Afghanistan) factors, which can be reversed by changing national security policy and mending fences with them and their backers. But the TTP-AlQaeda movement is immune from mundane exchange state-policy considerations since it is an ideology-driven movement.

Despite sincere commitment, President Asif Zardari’s government failed to make headway on the Balochistan and Taliban issue because the PPP could not wrest national security and strategic policy from the military. Prime Minister Sharif would do well to heed the lessons of his predecessor’s failure.

Despair and Hope

TFT Issue: 24 Oct 2013

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Barack Obama have their mutual “challenges” cut out for them because they are miles apart on strategic issues.

Both want an end to terrorism. Mr Obama says he seeks to “reduce terrorism in Pakistan” by means of drone strikes that target key terrorist leaders and combatants in FATA. But Mr Sharif says that drone strikes are actually fuelling terrorism because they kill innocent civilians and provide grist for the mills of the Taliban. Mr Obama wants concrete punitive action against the Lashkar-e-Tayba and Jamaat-ul-Dawa for sponsoring the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai. But Mr Sharif doesn’t have the will or ability to deliver on this front.

Mr Sharif wants to distinguish between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban and fashion separate policies on how to deal with them. The Afghan Taliban are to be facilitated to carve out a significant stake in Afghanistan while the Pakistani Taliban are to be neutralised via “peace talks” predicated on an end to drone strikes. But Mr Obama thinks all Taliban are anti-American partners with Al-Qaeda and must be degraded and destroyed.

Mr Sharif insists that Shakil Afridi is a CIA-sponsored criminal who should be punished for breaking Pakistani laws. But Mr Obama views him as an American hero who helped the US track down and kill the number one terrorist on America’s most wanted hit list. The former wants Afridi to languish in a wretched Pakistani prison while the latter is seeking to rehabilitate him with honours in the promised land.

Mr Sharif sees Dr Afia Siddiqui as a brave Pakistani citizen wrongly accused of terrorism and unfairly sentenced to life imprisonment in America. He wants to bring her home as a national heroine. But Mr Obama judges her as an Al-Qaeda agent who has admitted guilt and been rightly put into prison. A “swap” is not likely to be considered until an extradition treaty is signed and sealed.

Mr Sharif wants America to give greater market access to Pakistani textiles. But Mr Obama is not pushed enough to displease his southern constituents who benefit from current trade practices.

Mr Sharif wants America to nudge India to help resolve Kashmir and other disputes with Pakistan. But Mr Obama is steering clear of any third-party mediation.

Mr Sharif wants America to acknowledge and promote Pakistan’s key role and interest in a “stable, peaceful and united Afghanistan” after the bulk of US forces withdraw from the country next year. But Mr Obama has strongly signaled US interest in helping India, and not Pakistan, play such a role.

Mr Sharif wants to build the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline to secure his country’s economy. But Mr Obama is determined to block Iranian oil and gas exports until it abandons its nuclear program, and will sanction any country or corporation that does such business with Iran.

The root of the problem is that the Pakistani “national security establishment” (GHQ and ISI) and media have become “anti-America” and America’s “national security establishment” (Pentagon and CIA) and media have become “anti-Pakistan” and both elected political leaders are being held hostage by their powerful establishments. Each has developed a visceral distrust of the other since the end of the cold war between the US and USSR in 1989 eroded the raison d’etre of their anti-communist partnership/alliance and progressively pitted the old concerns of Pakistan (India, Kashmir, strategic depth) with the new interests of America (containing China and expanding markets via strategic and economic investment in India).

But both retain a mutual interest in a working relationship. The US has a short-term interest in, and a long-term concern about, Pakistan. In the short term it wants Pakistan’s cooperation in withdrawing from Afghanistan in an orderly manner. This encompasses two dimensions: securing NATO weapons via the overland Pakistan route; and helping America get a degree of cooperation from the Taliban in ending civil war in post-America Afghanistan. In the longer term, the US is concerned about the spread of terrorism and extremism in the Af-Pak region that could endanger Pakistan’s nukes and India’s security. Pakistan also has immediate and longer-term requirements via a vis the US. It seeks swift US financial reimbursement for the Coalition Support Fund and US backing for a multi-billion IMF bail-out package. In the longer term, Pakistan wants to retain US support and influence to leverage its economic and military security in the region.

But if the challenge is formidable for both estranged partners, the outlook is not necessarily grim. The main architects of misplaced and wrong national security policy in both countries – Generals Pervez Musharraf, Ashfaq Kayani and Ahmed Shuja Pasha in Pakistan, and President George Bush, General David Petreaus and Admiral Mike Mullen in the USA – have retired, opening up the possibility of gainful review by both sides. The most hopeful sign of all is the arrival of Nawaz Sharif, a pragmatic leader determined not to be a prisoner of past national security establishment paradigms.

This is not cricket

TFT Issue: 01 Nov 2013

An extraordinary judicial intervention in the affairs of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has thrown everything and everyone into confusion, disarray and gridlock. Worse, it is threatening to post huge financial, administrative and sporting losses on the only tax-paying national sport institution in the country.

Ex-Chairman PCB Zaka Ashraf was “suspended” by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in May pending investigations into an alleged motivated and polluted “election” for the PCB chairman’s post. On the orders of the IHC, the government appointed an “Acting Chairman” on June 22 pending resolution of the case.

On July 4th, the court dismissed Mr Ashraf and ordered the Acting Chairman to hold elections to the chairman’s post within 90 days. Under the PCB constitution, a four-member committee of the ten-member Board of Governors (BoG) elects the chairman from amongst two nominees by the Patron. However, in the detailed judgment actually released on July 22 but made effective from July 4th, the court made some extraordinary interventions to delete and add sections to the PCB constitution on its own motion.

First, the court changed the designation of Acting Chairman (AC) to Caretaker Chairman (CC), a notion that doesn’t exist in the constitution. Second, it barred the CC from effectively managing the PCB – he was not allowed to hire, fire, terminate or transfer, or to sign medium or long term contracts, or to appoint a selection committee, and so on – other than on a “day to day” basis. This is why media-broadcasting rights were sold by the PCB only for two Series in 2013 instead of for five years as per global practice. Third, it held that the PCB’s general body of over 111 members from regional associations, rather than the BoG elected by them as written in the constitution, should directly elect the chairman. Fourth, it said only a graduate first-class cricketer could contest elections and it mandated the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to conduct the polls — both terms are alien to the PCB constitution. The cut-off date for doing all this was October 18th. Finally, it appointed a DMG officer as Secretary of the PCB, in violation of international commitments to the International Cricket Council. In short, the court practically wrote a new constitution for the PCB without any debate or discussion.

The government challenged the judgment on the ground that the court had gone beyond its constitutional ambit and seized executive powers to write a new constitution. The PCB challenged it on the ground that the new “electoral college” was 35% incomplete because of various “stay orders” granted by other courts to disputing candidates forming the new electoral college. The ECP told the court it was not its mandate to conduct such elections under Pakistan’s Constitution.

The situation took an alarming turn when it transpired that the IHC Division Bench supposed to hear the Intra Court Appeals could not be constituted before the cut-off date of Oct 18 for various reasons. Fearing a constitutional, administrative and managerial void in the PCB after Oct 18, and with the aim of enabling the PCB to be represented at the ICC meeting in London on October 19, the government issued a notification establishing an Interim Management Committee (IMC) on Oct 14 to run the “day-to-day” affairs of the PCB pending a decision in the court cases. This step was within the given parameters of the PCB Constitution.

On the morning of Oct 29, the Honourable Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the IHC, who has presided over the matter from Day-One, struck down the IMC (which he had earlier upheld vide earlier order dated 21 October 2013) and issued contempt notices to the Government, ECP, IMC etc. He also nominated an ex-judge at a fee of Rs. 2,500,000.00 to be paid for by PCB to hold PCB chairman’s elections in November on his terms and conditions.

One critical question has to be settled. Can a court take away the power of an elected government to legislate a constitution for the PCB in accordance with global standards and practices and exercise? Interestingly, the latest pronouncement of the Honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan in the Appeal titled Dossani Travels (Pvt) Limited v. M/s Travels Shop (Pvt) Limited  & others has held inter alia that it is not the function of the High Court exercising jurisdiction under Article 199 of the Constitution to interfere in the Policy Making Domain of the Executive.

Nowhere in the cricketing world is the head of any Board a first-class or test cricketer elected directly by a general body. The reason for this is that the basic functions of cricket boards are financial and managerial, with only sporting activities guided by committees headed by ex-sportsmen.

The PCB is incurring financial losses of billions by delaying urgent financial, administrative and sporting decisions. The matter needs to be brought to a fair, just and constitutional closure as early as possible by the honourable Judges in the national interest.

An irrevocable decision

TFT Issue: 08 Nov 2013

Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in Waziristan since 2009, is dead, thanks to a drone strike. His TTP predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, who boasted of killing Benazir Bhutto, was also dispatched by a drone strike.

Hakeemullah was a sworn enemy of Pakistan and the US, with head money of Rs 5 crore and Rs 50 crore respectively. The TTP and its various franchises have killed over 3000 Pakistani soldiers/policemen and over 40,000 civilians since 2009. He was wanted by the US for helping Al-Qaeda’s operative Khalil Abu Mulal-al-Belawi launch a suicide-terrorist attack in Afghanistan that killed 7 CIA operatives. He was also behind the aborted Times Square New York bombing by a Pakistani in 2010. A little known fact – his cousin Qari Hussain Mehsud was a prominent activist of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi – testifies to the TTP’s links with sectarian organisations that have attacked and killed hundreds of Shias in Karachi and Balochistan. Another recently revealed fact points to a dangerous liaison between the TTP and Afghan Intelligence to attack Pakistan’s armed forces – his second-in-command Latifullah Mehsud was recently arrested by US forces in Afghanistan while he was en route to conspiring with Afghan Intel in Kabul.

Significantly, Hakeemullah Mehsud was against peace talks with Pakistan. In a recent interview to BBC he laid down impossible pre-conditions – an end to drone strikes, withdrawal of the army from Waziristan, release of all Taliban captured and held by the military, and monetary compensation for Taliban dead in the conflict — for any dialogue with Islamabad. Indeed, following the last APC in September that called for dialogue with the TTP, Hakeemullah gave the nod for four vicious attacks by TTP franchises which led to the death of a Maj-General and Colonel of the Pak army, scores of Christians in a church and Muslim shoppers in Qissa Khwani Bazaar in Peshawar, followed by the assassination of the KPK law minister.

Why then is Munawar Hussain, the head of the Jamaat-e-Islami, calling Hakeemullah Mehsud a “martyr” when he is a mass murderer? Why is Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan insisting that the peace initiative has been sabotaged by the drone strike when Hakeemullah was, far from supporting a dialogue, actually conspiring with Afghan intelligence to undermine Pakistan? Why is Imran Khan so outraged that he is calling for an indefinite halt to NATO supplies and a rupture in Pak-US ties when a joint operation by US and Pakistan has successfully got rid of a terrible menace to both countries?

Imran Khan and Munawar Hussain are playing the worst sort of party politics anyone can play at the altar of the national interest. They are trying to create a crisis for the Sharif regime at home and abroad to atone for, and distract attention from, their abysmal performance in running the KPK provincial coalition government. Their expectation is that the crippling burden of everyday life under the Sharif administration coupled with populist-nationalist outrage against US drone strikes, will tilt the country into strikes and chaos, derail the developing US-Pakistan strategic relationship (which currently accounts for nearly $10 billion in IMF, Coalition Support Fund and Kerry-Lugar aid to Pakistan), and pave the way for regime change.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s outrage is partly genuine because he feels personally done in by a potential spoke in the wheels of the dialogue with the TTP that he is planning as a prelude to a forceful military operation when the dialogue fails; and partly feigned because he doesn’t want the opposition to steal the thunder of the anti-US narrative and give the TTP an opportunity to lay the blame for failure at the door of the government. The PPP, ANP and MQM are trying to tread the middle path by not going the whole hog with either Imran Khan or Chaudhry Nisar.  It is not in their interest to help sow the seeds of disorder that leads to “revolutionary” regime change and international isolation. What next?

We may expect everyone to huff and puff in parliament to show their anti-American and pro-Pakistan credentials. A resolution will most likely follow asking the government to continue with its peace talks initiative but stops short of calling for a prolonged halt to NATO strikes. The PTI will then shift the focus to KPK where the assembly will demand a halt to NATO supplies. But the political alliance will not succeed in making any significant impact.

The real questions remain unanswered. When, not if, the peace talk initiative crumbles for one reason or another, will the Sharif regime order the army into Waziristan to take advantage of the military and political disarray in which the TTP finds itself in the midst of a power struggle for leadership? Or will the Sharif government continue to drift until another drone strike or a TTP backlash pushes it into one corner or another and compels it to take an irrevocable decision?

A great opportunity

TFT Issue: 15 Nov 2013

Munawwar Hassan, head of the Jamaat-i-Islami, has outraged many Pakistanis by calling TTP leader Hakeemullah Mehsud, who was droned to death last week in the badlands of Waziristan, a “shaheed” or martyr. Mr Mehsud was one of the world’s most wanted and dangerous terrorists, with a combined head-money of over Rs 50 crores for ordering the cold-blooded murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children, along with a couple of thousand soldiers.

The government’s response, as articulated by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister, has been mealy-mouthed, although Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, has belatedly tried to make amends. Worse, Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek i Insaf, has tried to dog or confuse the issue by hiding behind countless “ifs” and “buts”. Worst, the media has taken perverse delight in sowing massive confusion by reading various shades of grey in a patently black and white matter.

All this has provoked the ISPR, the “spokesorgan” of the Pakistan Army, to issue a terse statement reprimanding Mr Hassan for equating the heroic sacrifices of the martyred soldiers with the criminal deeds of their executioner. Mr Hassan has responded by criticizing the ISPR for “meddling in politics”. This is ironic. The Jamaat-i-Islami has been an integral element of the Mullah-Military Alliance since the time of General Zia ul Haq. Indeed, on the countless occasions that the ISPR has “intervened” in politics during civilian rule in the past, directly or indirectly, there has nary ever been a squeak out of the JI. But now that the boot is on the other foot, the JI is acting wounded and self-righteous.

Moving forward, it seems that the government and opposition are still weak-kneed, indecisive and confused. Chaudhry Nisar’s much-flaunted peace offensive has now been revealed to be a non-starter in the first place and all his talk of it being sabotaged by the drone strike to be a cunning smokescreen. The so-called three-member committee that was tasked by Chaudhry Nisar to nudge the TTP into a dialogue was whistling in the dark without any positive or encouraging signal from the TTP when the drone fell on Mr Mehsud. The PTI, in the meanwhile, still remains in party political– as opposed to national —interest mode.  It is now banking on reaping political dividends from provoking people on to the streets to disrupt NATA supply lines after Moharram.

Tragically, only the TTP is thinking in a clear-headed and strategic manner. It has elected Maulana Fazlullah as its leader. This is a warning that, instead of suing for peace-negotiations that demonstrate confusion and weakness, the TTP will launch a relentless counter attack across the settled areas of Pakistan that shows its resolve and strength.  Incredibly enough, the PMLN government and party are hunkering down for the TTP onslaught in Punjab instead of seizing the opportunity provided by the death of Mr Mehsud to launch a now-or-never military attack on its strongholds in the tribal areas. It seems as if elementary anti-terrorist logic – there is no personal or collective security against suicide bomber squads except that provided by preemptive strikes against them based on good Intel — has escaped the great movers and shakers in Islamabad who say they are equipped with lethal rapid-deployment forces and sweeping laws for preventive detention and summary conviction.

Meanwhile, disregarding the wretched hand wringing in some houses of power on the issue of combating the “existential” threat of terrorism, the clock is ticking away for two powerful personalities in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, leading to much hand-rubbing in other corridors of power. The army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, is retiring on 29 Nov and the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftiklhar Mohd Chaudhry, on 11th December. Since their successors will hardly be in a position to call the shots in the same fashion, this moment presents a great opportunity to establish the writ of the civilian executive over the military and also to bring the judicial pendulum to an equilibrium point.

Both initiatives are necessary to stop the slide of Pakistan from a failing to a failed state. Both require courageous, visionary, selfless and efficient leadership in the ruling party and patient, mature, responsible and intelligent leadership in the opposition. This is, after all, a national moment of reckoning where truth (about where we went wrong and where we want to go) and reconciliation (between the military and civilians and among the civilians) have to pave the way forward to a viable state and civil society.

Unfortunately, if truth be told, the prospects of all that happening are not terribly bright. There is no concrete sign that the government or the opposition realizes the gravity of the situation even as each pays lip service to it.  The tragedy is that some local and foreign forces are already smacking their lips in anticipation of the coming crisis of governance and national power.

The General in the dock

TFT Issue: 22 Nov 2013

The Sharif government has finally complied with Supreme Court directives to initiate an Article 6 Treason Case against General (retd) Pervez Musharraf for promulgating a Provisional Constitutional Order Emergency on November 3, 2007, that suspended the constitution and removed the Chief Justice of Pakistan and several of his colleagues. At the government’s request, the SC has nominated a special court of three high court judges for the trial. Is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif delivering his pledge to establish civilian supremacy over the military? Or is this planned as another charade like the four cases of murder and criminality pending in the courts against General Musharraf in which he has been bailed out?

It is significant that the government has acted on the eve of the retirement of two key players who had opposing vested interests in the case. The first is Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, CJP, who was General Musharraf’s victim in 2007. He had a personal vested interest in adjudging the necessity of a treason trial and punishing his tormentor. The second is General Ashfaq Kayani, COAS, who was General Musharraf’s VCOAS in November 2007 and became the biggest beneficiary of the PCO after his boss became President. He had a personal vested interest in burying the issue. Both will no longer have any influence on the case. Does this imply that the government’s motives are entirely noble and the case will be conducted in an impartial, free and transparent environment? No.

The Attorney General claims the FIA has collected strong evidence against General Musharraf. But a senior member of the FIA team has admitted to the press “no concrete evidence has yet been collected to implicate Gen Musharraf”. The AG has also clarified that the accused can apply for bail from the special court even though this is an Article 6 Treason case. This means the government will not vigourously and effectively oppose bail. The FIA also admits that it will require cooperation from GHQ to make its case. But such cooperation has not been forthcoming in the past, whether in the case of the missing persons of Balochistan, or in the case of the various investigation commissions into the murder of Benazir Bhutto, or into several corruption cases involving serving and retired senior officers of the Pakistan Army. This means that the military will doggedly protect its own, come hell or high water.

The case has also got some embarrassing holes in it. The presiding judge, Justice Faisal Arab, refused to take oath under the 2007 PCO, while Justice Yawar Ali is a brother-in-law of Justice (retd) Khalilur Rehman Ramday, who was also axed and later became the CJP’s confidante and ally in all his trials and tribulations. Their appointment will cast a shadow over the trial.

Significantly, the prosecution will have an impossible task proving that General Musharraf alone acted treasonably even though the PCO Emergency explicitly names the top civil-military officers of the time, including the office of the Vice-Chief of Army Staff (then occupied by General Kayani) and the top commanders of the Pakistan Army, as concurring in the decision and helping to implement it. Indeed, it is unprecedented for any Article 6 Treason Trial in history to nominate only one accused rather than the coterie that cooked up the conspiracy, took the final decision and then implemented it. And, if reports are true that the architect of both PCOs of 1999 and 2007, Sharifuddin Peerzada may be General Musharrf’s counsel in the case, we may expect him to run rings around the prosecution.

There are overriding considerations too for Nawaz Sharif. He owes the Saudis for extracting clemency for him from General Musharraf in 2000 when he was on death row, and then showering him with their blessings for a decade in exile. The Saudis, in turn, owe General Musharraf for heeding their request to spare Mr Sharif’s life and allow him to return to Pakistan in 2007 and contest elections. Now it is time to square the quid pro quos all round.

Mr Sharif is also in no position to bring the powerful military to heel. He would rather tackle the groaning economy and face the existential threat of Taliban terrorism with the military’s help instead of alienating the commanders and risking political destabilization by putting their leaders on trial. The lessons of Turkey are not lost on him: it will take several efficient and popular civilian stints in power to push the military out of politics.

General Musharraf’s trial is scheduled to open after the current CJP and COAS have departed. Their replacements are bound to concur with the government that a full-fledged charade is in order for the usual “national security interests” of the state. Under the circumstances, General Musharraf is likely to be bailed out also in the fifth case against him and go on to live in luxurious exile.

A new beginning

TFT Issue: 29 Nov 2013

Discretionary practice rather than the seniority principle has prevailed in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s appointment of General Raheel Sharif, third in line, as the new army chief. This explains why the appointment was not announced until the last minute.

General Ayub Khan was fifth in line; Generals Musa Khan and Yahya Khan were both third in line; General Gul Hasan second; General Zia ul Haq eighth; General Asif Nawaz second; General Waheed Kakar fifth; General Pervez Musharraf third and General Ashfaq Kayani second in seniority when they became army chief.

The seniority principle was applied only once in Pakistani history, by President Farooq Leghari/Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to General Jehangir Karamat in 1995.  Generals Tikka Khan and Mirza Aslam Beg were senior most but their appointments followed extraordinary circumstances, the former was promoted after an army chief was sacked and the latter after an army chief was assassinated.

In the present instance, the senior most, General Haroon Aslam, was bypassed for several reasons. First, Mr Sharif has not forgotten or forgiven the coup-makers of 1999 – Brig Haroon was D-MO and arrested the prime minister and several cabinet ministers from the PM’s house on October 12.  Second, he had served in the SSG like General Musharraf, and Mr Sharif’s experience of commandos is not good. Third, General Kayani had groomed and recommended Gen Rashad Mahmood and not him. On the other hand, Gen Raheel had the backing of former PMLN President Rafiq Tarrar with whom he served as Military Secretary, and PMLN confidante and current tribal affairs minister, Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, with whom he served as Chief of Staff.

The appointment of a new army chief was notified on the same day as the appointment of Justice Tassaduq Hussain Gilani as Chief Justice of Pakistan on December 12, 2013.  This is significant. In one go, Mr Sharif has cleared the decks for a new beginning, unhindered by the ghosts and demons of the past. Neither of the two new appointees is expected to be as opinionated or interventionist as his predecessor.

This is good news. There is no troika of President, Prime Minister and Army Chief or Chief Justice, Army Chief and Prime Minister to muddy the waters. The elected civilian leadership cannot clutch at political excuses for administrative or strategic failure any more.

The national agenda is clear enough.  The Prime Minister must put Pakistan on the rails again. This involves a three-pronged strategy. On the domestic front, he has to get the economy going and he has to uproot terrorism.  On the regional front, he has to build bridges with neighbours India and Afghanistan and reap a peace dividend. On the international front, he has to end Pakistan’s isolation as a pariah state and establish it as a responsible member of the community.  The chief justice and army chief have a definite and critical role to play in helping him achieve these objectives.

The new chief justice should help streamline and strengthen constitutional matters in support of democracy instead of poking his fingers in the affairs of the executive and gridlocking it like his predecessor did. He should work solidly and quietly in the background rather than jump around and pound his chest like a populist. It is not the job of judges to flush out corruption or misdemeanor and try to police the country.  Nor should judges presume they know more about cost-benefit and financial analyses of the privatization process and project feasibility of new ventures than professionals.  It is therefore welcome news that Justice Gilani is the author of a recent judgment that disavows undue judicial interference in the constitutional domain of the executive.

There is good news too regarding the disposition of General Sharif. He is as straight as they come in the military, untainted by coup ambitions, commando duties or “state within a state” Intel manipulations. As previous head of the army’s Training and Evaluation, he helped fashion the doctrine of the internal “existential” (terrorist) rather than external “perennial” (India) threat to Pakistan of which the failed theory of strategic depth (Afghanistan) was an integral element. This new military doctrine is the need of the hour.

President Asif Zardari’s government was rocked by military egos and judicial ambitions. Pakistan lost out in the bargain. The opposite needs to happen now under Nawaz Sharif for Pakistan to survive and prosper. In concrete terms, this means that General Sharif must serve as the prime minister’s velvet glove to regional and international powers externally and iron fist to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan domestically. Similarly, CJP Gilani must consciously undo the judicial excesses of his predecessor and lay the framework of restrained constitutionalism.

Nawaz Sharif’s vision and strategic plan for making a new Pakistan should be discussed, evaluated and refined in association with both General Sharif and Justice Jilani so that the core stakeholders and facilitators are all on the same page. Pakistan cannot afford any slippages on account of misunderstandings or misconceptions.

Afghan KEY to India and US

TFT Issue: 06 Dec 2013

In Pakistan, as experts have pointed out, the tail has always wagged the dog. This is to say that the political economy of national power (economy, national cohesion, constitutional rule, etc) is hostage to a given notion of military security (India is the permanent enemy) that fashions its foreign policy. In most states, it’s the other way round: military security is just one dimension of national power and foreign policy is just one element of sustaining national power.

This doctrine of national security based on India as the permanent threat and enemy has had crippling consequences for national power: it has relegated constitutional rule to military over-lordship; it has created armed non-state actors that have eroded national cohesion; and it has bled the economy at the altar of the defense budget. Worse, it has made Pakistan dependent on the United States for sustaining both the military and the economy. The chickens have now come home to roost – the US no longer requires Pakistan as a long-term asset that has to be nurtured with injections of money and weapons; the non-state actors are slowly but surely destroying the writ of the state; the economy is in shreds; and the country is isolated and alienated in the region and abroad.

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif understands this instinctively – he wants peace with India; he wants constitutional civilian control over the military, he wants a robust self-reliant economy. The problem is that he still hasn’t figured how to go about bringing paradigm change.

The first step is to convince the military leadership that its old national security paradigm is unsustainable and must be changed appropriately. Fortunately, it is dawning on the generals that the existential threat comes from internal Muslim non-state actors rather than external Hindu India. But the problem is that they are still unable or unwilling to fashion a comprehensive new doctrine to replace the old one. This is partly because of a developed aversion to civilian supremacy and partly because the military’s very raison d’etre is India-centered in terms of its education, training, doctrines, logistics, perks and privileges and will brook no sudden ruptures from conventional wisdom and practice. Now Mr Sharif will have to use the “Kayani doctrine” of the internal Vs external enemy as a platform from which to nudge the new army chief, General Raheel, to put it into practice. How to do that is the million-dollar question.

One way for Mr Sharif is to continue with the old “composite dialogue” approach with India and hope to be a “net gainer” from dispute settlements on Kashmir, Siachin, Sir Creek, Water, etc. But this has failed to click with India since Kargil and then Mumbai destroyed all remnants of trust and Pakistan has not done anything to bring the criminal perpetrators to justice.  Indeed, India’s regional doctrine has progressively posited Pakistan as an “untrustworthy state” with whom no unconditional “business” is possible.  Therefore Mr Sharif’s attempt to raise the issue of “self-determination of Kashmir” at the UN in September and Sartaj Aziz’s recent exhortation to India to let go of Siachin are misguided steps in the wrong direction for paradigm change.

Much the same may be said of Mr Sharif’s efforts to smoke the peace pipe with the “existential” TTP internal enemy. This is the time to launch a military operation to degrade the TTP because its leadership is in disarray and talk to it after a measure of success has been achieved.

Mr Sharif’s approach to US-Pak relations also betrays the policy-weakness as on the two issues above. He wants Washington to do more for Pakistan but offers no concrete input into America’s national security requirements. Indeed, by demanding an end to drone strikes, he actually seems to be asking America to dispense with an effective weapon that successfully aims to degrade the Taliban, while helping them to regroup and reassert their power against Pakistan!

Despite his best intentions, Mr Sharif remains a prisoner of the national security establishment and conservative foreign policy advisors.  Instead of asking India and America to “do more” unilaterally for Pakistan, a more fruitful approach may be to first join hands with them to stabilize and unite Afghanistan which figures prominently in everyone’s national security paradigm. Mr Karzai’s visit to India next week can show the way forward in the region.

India doesn’t want an American base in Afghanistan aimed at encircling and dominating the Asia-Pacific; Pakistan doesn’t want the US eying its nuclear weapons program; Afghanistan doesn’t want to compromise its national dignity any more by continuing to bed with a foreign occupation power. They all want an end to America’s current dominant role no less than the Taliban’s potentially dominant role in Afghanistan. Therefore they should all seek ways and means of achieving this two-pronged objective via a trilateral mechanism. This is the best way to build common trust to pave the way for bilateral dispute resolution in the future.

Chaudhry’s legacy

TFT Issue: 13 Dec 2013

When Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was restored as Chief Justice of Pakistan in March 2009, he was the conquering hero of adulatory lawyers, proud judges, hopeful civil society activists, thunderous opposition parties, supportive media and a sober military. Last Wednesday, when Mr Chaudhry departed the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court in Islamabad, the same lawyers were antagonized, the same judges were defensive, the same civil society activists were disillusioned, the same opposition parties were insulting, the same media was cynical, and the same military was resentful. Significantly, a parliament that had once cheered his return was now readying to strike down some of his cherished judicial interventions; and the PMLN opposition party that had waged and won the battle for his restoration was now in government cursing him and counting the days for his exit.

Even more critically, Justice Tassaduq Hussain Gillani, the judge who declared Mr Chaudhry’s ouster by General Pervez Musharraf in 2007 illegal, thereby legitimizing the lawyers’ movement for Mr Chaudhry’s restoration, and who is now the Chief Justice of Pakistan, has announced his intention to roll back the former CJ’s key “suo motu” populist interventions into the domain of the executive.

There was a lot of thunder and lightning in Mr Chaudhry’s SC but no downpour. He railed against the omissions and commissions of the intelligence agencies and military institutions for three years but failed to deliver the missing persons or convict the politicians, generals and bureaucrats who had done their unlawful bidding. He hounded President Asif Zardari by scuttling the NRO, destabilized the PPP government and packed off one PPP Prime Minister, but failed to revive the corruption cases against Mr Zardari at home or abroad, let alone recover a penny from him. He sacked top bureaucrats, humiliated ministers, constantly threatened all and sundry with imprisonment for disobeying him (over 100 contempt of court threats), provoking gridlock and go-slow instead of efficiency and transparency in government. He meddled in serious economic, financial, foreign policy and national security matters, disregarding the dire consequences and costs to state and society of his whimsical decisions. Unforgivably, he didn’t take a single concrete step to reform the judiciary to make it more efficient and less corrupt. Instead of delivering institutional justice at the grass roots for the “aam aadmi” he encouraged vested interests to come directly to him (the SC received more than 90,000 petitions between April 2010 and December 2011 compared to about 450 in 2004, and it continues to receive approximately 250 applications daily under Article 184(3), the SC HR cell having received 201,456 ‘complaints’ from 2009 to 2013). His weakest moment came when he was publicly confronted with the misdemeanours of his son and heir, Arsalan Chaudhry, and was compelled to seek refuge behind a handpicked one-friendly-man Shoaib Suddle commission that duly buried the file.

Iftikhar Chaudhry was, in many ways, a man of the turbulent times in which Pakistan was slowly awakening to its democratic destiny. A powerful and unaccountable executive elevated him to the top job in the Balochistan High Court and then to the Supreme Court precisely because he was meek, nondescript and subservient. But he decided to stand up in 2007 after General Pervez Musharraf had opened the floodgates of democracy by empowering the electronic media, fuelling middle-class expectations, raising civil society aspirations and announcing his intention to hold free elections. General Musharraf’s botched-up operation against the Lal Masjid, followed by a crackdown on the electronic media, became a timely springboard for Justice Chaudhry’s spirited political resistance. Much the same sort of political considerations – an overriding desire for justice or insaf, political stability and economic revival after being subjected to years of populist posturing and empty rhetoric – now cast a shadow over his legacy. Corruption at the very top may have been stalled but not a single decision by Chief Justice Chaudhry has provided any palpable economic or legal relief to the people.

Nonetheless, history will credit him for one singular achievement that may, in the long run, account for institutionally more than all his personal weaknesses, excesses and failures. Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has set the judiciary irrevocably on the path of unfettered autonomy from executive authority. As chief justice, he approved the selection and appointment of over 100 senior HC and SC judges who have tasted and exercised power, sometimes with frightening arbitrariness or unbridled misjudgement like their mentor. They are not likely to give this up in a hurry even if the pendulum swings back from its extreme position. No executive will be able to bully them and those they choose as their successors. This political development is a sine qua non of democracy. A corollary of an independent judiciary is that no wannabe military dictator or civilian autocrat can bank on the superior judiciary to acquiesce timidly in any grand subversion of the constitution as on so many occasions in the past.

A judge has passed away. A politician is born.

Passions of Bangladesh

TFT Issue: 20 Dec 2013

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the PMLN’s interior minister, has passionately proclaimed his “Muslim identity” above his “Pakistani nationality”. Speaking on the floor of the National Assembly last week, he described himself as “first a Musalmaan and then a patriotic Pakistani” in denouncing the execution of Qader Molla, the Sec-Gen of the Bangladesh Jamaat i Islami by the government of Hasina Wajed for war crimes against Bangladesh during the “war of liberation from Pakistan in 1971”. Chaudhry Nisar explained how he had tried desperately to convince his cabinet colleagues to officially convey their Muslim passions to the government of BD but failed to evoke a response, the Pakistani Foreign Office shrugging off the episode as an “internal matter” of BD. He also tried to whip up frenzy in parliament through the good oratory skills of his former PMLN colleagues and current opposition leaders Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Javed Hashmi for a condemnatory resolution against the execution of Qader Molla but failed, thanks largely to resistance from the PPP and MQM who watered it down significantly.

On the face of it, many Pakistanis might unthinkingly agree with Chaudhry Nisar in staking their Muslim identity over and above their Pakistani one in any given situation. In fact, recent polls show that a significant majority of Pakistan’s youth are inclined to say “I am a Muslim” when asked the simple question “who are you?” rather than “I am a Pakistani”? This contrasts sharply with Muslims elsewhere in the world who are more likely to stress their nationality over their religion, eg, Arabs, Saudis, Malaysians, Chinese, Palestinians, Kuwaitis, Emiratees, Iranians, etc. Indeed, even Muslims in India would answer “Indian” rather than “Muslim”. Why are we Pakistanis different from our fellow Muslims in other nation states? What are the consequences for our state and society of this difference in perceptions and notions of identity?

The issue can be traced back to partition when the leaders of the Pakistan movement, including Mohammad Ali Jinnah, deliberately mixed up propagandistic notions of Islam, the religion and culture, “being in danger” with the fact of “economic and political discrimination” of Muslims in the body politic of India led by the predominantly Hindu-Congress. Unfortunately, however, after the creation of Pakistan, the political leaders of the new nation state continued to clutch at “Islamic ideology” rather than secular democracy for purposes of legitimacy and conjured up “Hindu India” as the perennial external enemy seeking to undo Pakistan. In this dubious quest for a religious nationhood, they trampled over the right of Pakistanis to assert their state identity (Pakistani), followed by their ethic and regional sub-identities. This mass identity falsehood eventually led to the democratic reassertion of Bengali rights and the impetus behind the creation of BanglaDesh in 1971, followed by eruptions of similar regional-ethnic sentiments in Balochistan and Pashtunistan in 1973.

The second consequence of trying to forge a singular Muslim identity in Pakistan in opposition to the nation-state identities of other Muslim and non-Muslim countries is the legitimization of large-scale violence by state and non-state actors. Singular religious and belief identities are likely to be more passionately held, defended and extended than plural ones that are more conciliatory and tolerant. This explains the rise of separatist ethnic movements no less than eruptions of Islamic terrorism and sectarianism.

The third consequence of Muslimising our primary identity is eternally pitting our nation-state of Pakistan against the nation-state of India by portraying it in our national consciousness as Hindu-India, despite the fact that Indians identify themselves as Indians and not Hindus or Muslims when dealing with citizens of other nation states who do likewise. This distortion of the legitimizing narrative of a new nation-state has, in turn, led to the creation of a national security state based on the supremacy of the military as the predominant political force in Pakistan.

Under the circumstances, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s Muslims passions are totally misplaced and even dangerous in articulating Pakistan’s interests. Indeed, the fact that he is ideologically on the same page as the two spokesmen of the military, Sheikh Rashid and Javed Hashmi, is cause for serious concern. He is dipping into the lowest common denominator of religious passions at a moment in history when his leader Nawaz Sharif is trying to keep religion out of the politics of conflict-resolution between Pakistan and India; out of the equation between the forces of democracy and the forces of Praetorianism; and out of reckoning between the forces of religious terrorism and the writ of the nation-state.

To be sure, the ruling party of Bangladesh is whipping up nationalist passions for rank opportunist political reasons. But these are internal matters for Bangladesh. On the other hand, it is morally and politically wrong for Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and his ideological ilk to belabour the Muslim passions of 1971 in which Pakistan was the clear transgressor, and create a rift within and outside the country.

200 Days

TFT Issue: 27 Dec 2013

According to conventional political wisdom, a newly elected government should take all the hard and unpopular decisions in the first few months of assuming office so that these decisions can begin to yield fruit within a couple of years and can then be relished before the next elections. This reasoning is based on evidence that people have short memories and voting is based exclusively on the feel-good-or-bad factor at the time of elections.

By this yardstick, the Zardari regime failed abysmally – it shied away from taking tough decisions after coming to power; offered only increasing hardship by way of economic performance, national security and political stability; and was duly swept out earlier this year.  Nawaz Sharif is faring better in his first 200 days in office.

Mr Sharif has set the right priorities. Topmost on his agenda is to try and rebuild stable and mutually beneficial relations with India, Afghanistan and America so that Pakistan’s economy and civil society can benefit from the peace dividends of aid, trade and commerce in the future instead of being buffeted by proxy wars and cross-border terrorism as in the past. A number of significant steps have been taken: the DGMOs of India and Pakistan have met after 14 years to try and stabilize the Line of Control and minimize the chances of knee-jerk conflict as witnessed recently; there is a new commitment to help stabilize and unite Afghanistan without any vested-interest interference or manipulation from Pakistan as in the past; and Mr Sharif is working rationally to put the US-Pak relationship on the rails again. His meetings with Minister Prime Manmohan Singh, President Hamid Karzai and President Barack Obama have broken the ice.

The second task is to try and fix the economy. Mr Sharif has done well to focus on the energy issue first because without energy the engines of the economy won’t work. In the short term, the circular debt was plugged by printing money; in the medium and long term, efforts are afoot to tap electricity from India, gas from Turkmenistan and Iran, solar from Europe, and tender for LNG supplies. He has also earmarked over two dozen state-owned corporations for privatization; auction of 3G licensing is on the anvil; preferential tariff concessions have been obtained from the EU for textiles; the IMF has come on board with a $7+ billion balance of payments support; the US has released $1.5 billion in Coalition Support Fund payments and several hundred million dollars in Kerry-Lugar assistance; China is weighing in with investments in transport, mining, exploration and nuclear energy; and Turkey is lending a hand in developing municipal services.

Mr Sharif has also speeded up homework on law and order and terrorism. The anti-terrorist law is being tightened by the proposed promulgation of the Protection of Pakistan Bill; a counter-terrorism force is being set up; the Rangers are cleaning up Karachi; the Balochistan government is being encouraged to engage the insurgent-separatists in reconciliation talks; and the military has got a free hand to use force in quelling local terrorism in Waziristan.

But all these initiatives will fall by the wayside if some strategic roadblocks are not swiftly removed. The first is tax collection. The government’s attempt to bring tax thieves to book is feeble and misplaced. One cannot expect an unreformed, corrupt, incompetent and inefficient tax administration to stop greedy and dishonest people from evading tax. It is looking especially shameful in view of the wealth and tax details of parliamentarians published in the media. One cannot expect lay folk to cough up unless they see their leaders going first. The fact that Mr Sharif is not prepared to impose GST on retail and services rankles the most. Without it, and the documentation that goes with it, the tax-GDP institutional ratio is never going to improve significantly.

The second is the impasse with the US over ISAF supply routes. Letting opposition leader Imran Khan set the agenda for the government’s foreign and anti-terrorism policy after the elections is a big mistake. It could provoke a backlash on both fronts that could jeopardize the government’s diplomatic and security interests. ISAF supplies must be resumed and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan must be degraded forcefully.

Mr Sharif’s bid to woo investment via tax breaks to certain businesses is not likely to amount to much in the current environment; like his earlier “yellow” schemes, the Rs 100 billion youth loan scheme is poised to fail because of the difficulty of obtaining reliable guarantors; the replacement of the Counter-Terrorism Department of the provincial police with a federal Counter-Terrorism Force run by retired military officers is misplaced concreteness since all effective intelligence work is done by the police everywhere. Finally, a bad showing in the next local body elections in Punjab – by credible allegations of electoral fraud or by significantly losing ground to the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf – will throw a spanner in the works.

Nawaz Sharif’s team needs to get a grip over strategy and get tough on tactics.

Hydra-headed dragon

TFT Issue: 03 Jan 2014

If Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were to look down the barrel of 2014, he would see five main areas of focus – foreign policy, terrorism, economy, executive-judiciary and civil-military relations. On the face of it, he may look sanguine about what lies ahead. After all, experienced and trusted men are in charge. Foreign policy is in the hands of two Foreign Office veterans, ex-Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz and ex-Ambassador Tariq Fatemi. Ex-Commerce Minister, Ishaq Dar, is lording it over the finance ministry. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, de facto deputy prime minister, is charting national security/terrorism/law and order policy. Zahid Hamid, ex-law minister, and Attorney General Muneer Malik, ex-leader of the lawyers’ movement, are dealing with law. And both Sharif brothers are personally hands-on with the military, having tasted the bitter fruits of adventurism twice in the last two decades. But the fact is that each issue is a ticking bomb waiting to explode if it isn’t deactivated quickly. Consider.

For the first time since independence, it is Afghanistan, not India, which poses the key foreign policy challenge. When the American drawdown starts in earnest, a resurgence of the Taliban is on the cards. The Afghan National Army will not be able to hold the fort for long, especially if the next presidential election is marred by fraud and internal strife among the anti-Taliban coalition. A drift into civil war would lead to a significant backlash for Pakistan: on the one hand, a steady stream of refugees would impose a political and economic burden on two border provinces, on the other it would facilitate the Pakistani Taliban into building long-term strategic depth in Afghanistan in alliance with Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. This would make the task of dealing with terrorism very difficult if not impossible. Some critical decisions have to be made with demonstrable success. Either the dialogue with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and the tripartite Afghan-Pakistan-Taliban reconciliation efforts will have to yield fruit by disarming and integrating the Taliban back into the Af-Pak mainstream, or they will simply give the Taliban time and space to redouble their will and ability to terrorize and progressively overrun both countries. The alternate policy option of Pakistan, Afghanistan and America joining hands to effectively degrade and defeat the Taliban will then go a begging.

The challenge in economic policy is to slay the hydra-headed dragon of inflation, energy shortage and unemployment. But the government’s initiatives on all three fronts are feeble and ad hoc. Borrowing from the State Bank and foreign donors for spending on public sector infrastructure or paying off circular energy-related debt is inflationary; delays in the process of retooling furnace-oil guzzling power plants to coal, or in importing and distributing LNG supplies, will bring back explosive energy shortages next summer; and dubious youth loan disbursement schemes will not even make a dent in the angry tide of rising unemployment without a significant increase in private sector investment in industry and services for which there is no policy prescription at hand. The specter of this hydra-headed monster plunging the government and country into riots and repression is not difficult to imagine.

The government’s handling of the judiciary and military will also be tested.  The exit of ex-CJP Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has not diminished the zeal of the judges to constantly challenge the authority of the executive. This is a recipe for logjam if not gridlock. But there is nothing in the government’s armoury to suggest that some sort of policy initiative inside or outside parliament is on the anvil to stave off such problems.

The resurrection of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf via a controversial treason trial has put a serious question mark on addressing the imbalance in civil-military relations after a relatively smooth transition from one politicized army chief to another apolitical one. This last development has the potential to derail all the government’s initiatives and cut short its life. It is obvious that the military is prickly about the trial of an ex-chief that is threatening to rope in other serving and retired commanders. The public, too, is not too exactly screaming for General Musharraf’s head, especially since memory of economic stability, growth and wellbeing during his time is still relevant. Indeed, support groups for General Musharraf are expected to crop up as the trial progresses. The trial is also full of loopholes that stretch from the credibility of the judges to the highly selective use of Article 6 against one person instead of all those judges, generals and politicians who aided and abetted him in subverting the constitution in 1999 and then again in 2007. The Sharifs should know that the military and its intelligence agencies can whip up domestic storms and foreign policy crises at will to destabilize and derail government. They should also realize that this is not the time for distractions or recriminations, constitutional or otherwise, in view of the various other crises faced by state and society.

We desperately crave some good news to foster hope in the future.

Fate of Musharraf’s trial

TFT Issue: 10 Jan 2014

If the Sharif government had deliberately set out to distract people from its failure to provide quick fixes to bread and butter issues, or to erode Imran Khan’s bid to ignite mass passions against the federal government over the continuing US drone strikes, it could not have manufactured a better device than General Pervez Musharraf’s treason trial that has hogged headlines for the last two weeks. Will Musharraf be brought to court and indicted or not? Is he really ill? Has a deal been done by the Sharifs with the generals and judges to whisk Musharraf out of Pakistan on some pretext or the other so that he is not a cause of embarrassment any more?

The Sharifs had committed themselves time and again to trying General Musharraf for treason under Article 6 of the constitution if and when they came to power. He was guilty of doing the 1999 coup that removed them from office and subsequently exiled them to Saudi Arabia and the UK. Much in the same fashion, ex-CJP Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and his brother judges wanted to hold General Musharraf accountable for imposing a state of emergency and ousting them from office in 2007. Interestingly enough, the Sharifs had no problem contesting the general elections of 2008 and swearing themselves into the parliaments that later flowed from General Musharraf’s 2007 proclamation in the same fashion as Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry et al had had no difficulty earlier in legitimizing the coup of 1999. Curiously, neither the Sharifs nor the judges have ever countenanced the possibility of trying General Musharraf’s aiders and abettors for treason on both occasions as ordained by the constitution.

In short, this treason trial is not about protecting and upholding the constitution (as argued by the Sharifs), nor indeed of foreclosing the possibility of any coup in the future (as held by the judges). It is essentially about political revenge and settling scores by the Sharifs and the judges.

General Musharraf’s motives for returning to Pakistan are equally transparent. He was deceived by his million-strong Facebook/Twitter followers in Pakistan and his million-dollar royalties from book sales and fees from lecture tours in the West into believing that he had a significant political constituency at home and abroad. So he launched his own party and returned to Pakistan expecting huge crowds and adulating supporters. Instead, he was isolated and charged with conspiracy to murder Benazir Bhutto, Akbar Bugti, and Lal Masjid jihadis. He was also charged with the sacking of the CJP and six fellow judges in 2007. So he was compelled to acquire armoured vehicles and security and rush from court to court posting bail instead of readying to contest elections. And when he thought he had run the gamut and could slip away abroad to lick his wounds, the wily Sharifs and rampant judges sprung a treason case upon him. Stunned, he implored the army high command, the Saudis and the Emiratis to rescue him from the clutches of the wicked civilians who were conspiring to string him up, conveniently forgetting that General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the former ISI chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, the COAS, and Saudi and Emirati emissaries had all advised him not to venture back to Pakistan.

The Get-Musharraf-Out-Of-Pakistan operation is now in full swing. The Sharifs have handed responsibility to the special court and the military, effectively washing their hands of the affair. Once bitten, twice shy; they recall the Raymond Davis affair in 2011 when they were first advised by the ISI to charge and hold Davis in Punjab and then, when anti-American passions were running high, ordered to let him go in the dead of night amidst mass censure by the media. This time they have deftly dropped the baby in the lap of its stepmother. The military is now contriving ways and means of protecting its own in the blinding glare of the media.

Some people say the Sharifs are treading on thin ice by launching a treason case against an ex-army chief and risking a rupture in civil-military relations. This is not correct. The military is acting in its own interest and not against the Sharifs by protecting General Musharraf. The last thing it wants is for the trial to drag on and rope in other top military officials. No one wants to open a Pandora’s box by trying the coup-makers and their aiders and abettors – generals, judges and politicians – of 1999 any more than their counterparts of 2007. Therefore this is a joint operation to get rid of someone who poses problems for everyone. General Raheel Sharif, the new COAS, is as much in the loop as General Kayani, the ex-COAS, was months earlier. That is why Imran Khan is silent, and the Chaudhries of Gujrat and the MQM, the biggest beneficiaries of the 1999 coup, are squarely lined up behind General Musharraf.

The treason trial is fated to wither on the vine in the same manner as the Memogate case.

Justice is blind

TFT Issue: 17 Jan 2014

Ex-CJP Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’s interventionist legacy is alive and kicking. The pronouncements and decisions of High Court and Supreme Court judges are regular grist for the media mills. The superior courts are seriously impinging on appointments and transfers in government, initiating investigations and directing criminal proceedings, and even questioning, enlarging or reducing the ambit of parliamentary laws, presidential ordinances and government SROs. Occasionally, they have even strayed into the ambit of the army’s sacred preserves, as for example in the missing persons cases, and foreign policy, as for example when the Peshawar High Court ordered the government to stop the drones, if necessary, by shooting them down.

Such interventions are not always for the common good, especially when discrimination, prejudice and conflict of interest issues are obvious to all except the judges. The irony in holding everyone accountable to the courts lies in the fact that the judges have ruled themselves unaccountable to any institution, including parliament. A recent tv show exposed significant misuse of power in a high court, only to be angrily ticked off by the registrar of the court.

Two high profile ex-presidents are in the dock making headlines. General (retd) Pervez Musharraf is charged with treason before a special court while Asif Zardari is accused of assorted corruptions before NAB courts.

General Musharraf is hogging the headlines. He has tried to avoid appearing before the special court – whose credibility has been challenged by eminent human rights activists and ex-President SCBA Asma Jehangir — by feigning illness in order to avoid a formal indictment. Amidst speculation that he might seek excuses to flee Pakistan, his supporters, especially the Chaudhries of Gujrat, claim that the ex-commando intends to stay and fight all the way, even as his lawyers have submitted a medical certificate from a Pakistani doctor claiming that General Musharraf needs urgent medical treatment abroad. The government’s position, however, suggests that there may not be a swift exit for General Musharraf and he may be obliged to go through the motions of a trial and deferments for some months at least. This is lent weight by the observation of the special court that the treason trial will follow the criminal procedure code of “due process”.

Asif Zardari’s cases have been dusted off the shelf since his presidential immunity ceased to exist. In all the cases pending in NAB courts, his co-accused have already been acquitted or absconded or passed away. In the 1997 SGS reference involving alleged kickbacks on a pre-shipment contract that allegedly went into offshore accounts, an accountability court has absolved all accused, except Mr Zardari and Benazir Bhutto (who has passed away). Similarly, in the Cotecna case, A R Siddiqui, the sole accused apart from Mr Zardari and Ms Bhutto, was acquitted in September 2011. In the ARY case in which the grant of a licence to Ary Traders for the import of gold and silver allegedly caused a loss to the public exchequer, the NAB court has acquitted Brig (retd) Aslam Hayat Qureshi, Salman Farooqui, Abdul Rauf, Jan Muhammad and Haji Abdul Razzaq Yaqoob, while the case against Benazir Bhutto was withdrawn following her death and the court has listed Javed Talat and Jens Schlegelimilch as proclaimed offenders. In the Polo Ground case, it is alleged that Mr Zardari ordered the illegal construction of a polo ground and other ancillary works at the Prime Minister House in Islamabad in violation of rules and procedures. In this case the court has acquitted Saeed Mehdi, a top bureaucrat now close to the Sharifs, while the case against Shafi Sehwani, a former chairman of Capital Development Authority, was withdrawn following his death.

In the Ursus tractors deal, Mr Zardari is alleged to have misappropriated kickbacks in the purchase of 5,900 Russian and Polish tractors at a cost of Rs150,000 each for an Awami Tractor Scheme. An accountability court has acquitted co-accused Nawab Yousuf Talpur and AH Kango in the case. The Ursus tractors purchase deal allegedly caused a loss of Rs268.3 million to the ADBP and Rs1.67 billion to the State Bank.

Significantly, NAB officials say that the cases have been reactivated by the courts and not by them. Mr Zardari has made a fleeting appearance in court, all thumbs up, and then vanished like the Cheshire cat, leaving only his broad toothy smile in the air. Ex-Prime Ministers Yousaf Raza Gillani and Pervez Ashraf are also facing corruption charges and have had to humble themselves in the courts.

In short, the fate of ex-presidents, prime ministers, bureaucrats, politicians and even cricketers is in the hands of the courts. Unfortunately, not all court proceedings and judgments inspire confidence. If the height of partisanship was reached in the SC during the case of the son of the CJP last year, the consequences of the judgment and delays in the case of the PCB, which is still entrapped in appeals and proposed legislation, have hurt the national interest enormously.

Justice, we were taught, is blind. How true.

Tackling terrorism

TFT Issue: 24 Jan 2014

To act or not to act against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, that is the question. It has finally dawned upon the PMLN government that the consequences of inaction are taking an irreparably heavy toll of state and society. Khawaja Asif, the defense minister, admits the hour is nigh for a forceful decision.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the home minister in charge of anti-terrorism strategy, is the key man. Last month he was frothing at the mouth against the American drone strike against Hakimullah Mehsud that “sabotaged” his “carefully drawn up peace-talk initiative” with the TTP.  Now, in the face of relentless attacks by the TTP, he is ready to admit that those Taliban who have spurned his offer of talks will have to be dealt with sternly. But by the government’s own admission, only six or seven groups out of some 60 or so have indicated a dubious willingness to talk. This means that, for all intents and purposes, talk of serious peace negotiations with the TTP is off the table.

Imran Khan, the spoke in the wheel, has also changed his stance visibly in the aftermath of TTP attacks on the army and polio workers. He is now making a distinction between “good” Taliban (those who are amenable to peace talks) and “bad” Taliban (who are carrying out the attacks). Much as he hates the PMLN and wants to extract maximum mileage out of the PM’s indecisiveness and discomfort, even he can’t pretend after the TTP’s continuing attacks on the army, police, media, polio workers and innocent civilians that the TTP comprises “misguided souls” who need some tender loving psychiatrist care.

The mood in the media has also changed. The Taliban have issued a 29 page fatwa criticizing media houses, owners and journalists and put out a hit list.  Two terrorist attacks have claimed the lives of several innocent journalists.

Last but not least, GHQ is seething with rage. The army has retaliated against TTP strongholds in Mirali with punitive might without a thought for civilian casualties.

Can we therefore predict that a military operation is on the cards against all Taliban strongholds? Can we expect the prime minister to address the nation and tell us why he has been compelled to take off the velvet glove and reveal his iron fist?

An ominous wind is blowing. The army has long agitated for an appropriate law to tackle terrorism in such a manner that the dividends of anti-terrorist operations in which hundreds go “missing” are not squandered at the altar of weak laws, incompetent prosecution and fearful courts. In consequence, the government has finally promulgated a Protection of Pakistan Law under which the law-enforcement agencies will have wide-ranging powers to detain, arrest and prosecute terrorists. This is akin to sweeping legislation enacted by countries most hit or threatened by terrorism like the US, UK, India, etc. The idea behind pushing through the law is to strengthen the hand of the military and administration in the fallout of the impending military operation in which hundreds, nay thousands, of terrorists may have to be rounded up.

But there is a serious problem at hand that threatens to weaken our resolve. This is related to a crusade in the Supreme Court against the secret military agencies of the state that are responsible for the “missing” persons of Balochistan and FATA. The timing of the new legislation – the SC is exerting enormous pressure on the military to cough up the missing persons or face censure from the court for disobeying its orders – has seemingly annoyed the judges. Justice Jawad Khawaja, who heads the SC bench hearing the missing persons case, has reacted to the news of the new law by saying the bench will take a hard look at the law to determine its constitutionality. Clearly the bench is suspicious that the new law may have been devised partly to thwart the heroic efforts of the SC for three years to find the missing persons and restore their fundamental rights to them.

This potential conflict is fraught with serious consequences for state and society. If a new military operation is dependent upon a new law but the new law does not meet with the approval of the SC and is struck down or diluted, a state of acute tension between key stakeholders of the state – the judiciary on one side and the military and government on the other – may arise. In consequence, the first casualty will be the war on terrorism. Indeed, the end result of such conflict may compel the military to take unilateral, ad hoc punitive action in which no captives are taken, which would fall far short of the required full-fledged anti-terrorism strategy in which all key stakeholders are on the same page.

The conclusion is clear. The PMLN government must build an efficient and trustworthy working relationship with the military, media and judiciary if it seriously wants to tackle terrorism in the country.

Cut the crap

TFT Issue: 31 Jan 2014

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met COAS General Raheel Sharif on Tuesday, January 28, to cement the government’s resolve to finally slay the terrorists. The same day, he met with PMLN parliamentarians to obtain a green light in launching military operations against the TTP.  But the following morning, as his definitive “war” speech was readied for presentation before parliament, there was a last-ditch amendment in it to give “peace” a “final chance” by setting up a four-member committee to hold out the olive branch to the TTP.  That is why when the PM finally arrived in parliament and began to unfurl his agenda, it seemed as if all signals were go for war, until he arrived at the last paragraphs and took a somersault.

The PM’s meeting with the KPK chief minister a day earlier may have prompted a change of heart. The PTI remained the last hurdle in cobbling an All Parties consensus in favour of war.  Therefore the nomination of three religio-political mediators from KPK, including PTI’s Rustam Shah (a fierce opponent of any military action against the TTP) suggests that the PM is covering his flanks before launching military action. The reasoning is that when, not if, the Committee fails to persuade the TTP to cease fire, the KPK-PTI will have no option but to fall in line with the war consensus.

But there are strategic problems in this tactical move. For starters, the TTP is making impossible pre-conditional demands – halt military operations and withdraw the military from Waziristan, free TTP prisoners (especially the Big 3 from Mulla Fazlullah’s Swat Group, ie, Muslim Khan, Mahmood Khan and Maulvi Umar), pay billions in compensation, establish TTP Shariah in Pakistan, etc. Then there are many unanswered questions: how much time has been given to the committee to conclude whether there can be any meaningful talks or whether the TTP is simply buying time to regroup and upgrade (last October, after assassinating GOC Swat Maj-Gen Sanaullah Niazi, TTP leader Mulla Fazlullah declared that “the negotiations with the government were a component of a war that is continuing”); what if there are divisions in the committee about what to do and how to go about it; who is the committee going to talk to if not directly to Fazlullah’s publicly nominated representatives who may or may not be upfront; what if attacks by TTP franchises continue during the talks and the TTP pretends it has nothing to do with them; And so on. In short, instead of paving the way for war or peace, the committee could sow further confusion and controversy and dilute the current consensus to respond forcefully to the TTP’s killing spree.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s reluctance to opt for full-fledged war springs from some hard and fearful realities on the ground.  Topmost is an expected TTP backlash in the PM’s home province of Punjab that has so far been largely untouched by the TTP’s retribution policies. The provincial IGP has urgently advised Special Branch and Counter-Terrorist Department to be ready to face the challenge of TTP attacks on government leaders, functionaries and buildings. The problems are three-fold. First, TTP cells in the Rawalpindi-Islamabad area along with SSP franchises in rural Punjab can be activated to wreck havoc and sow fear among the police and populace. Second, the police are neither trained nor adequately equipped for counter-terrorism in the province and make a soft target for ideologically motivated suicide-guerillas fighters. Three, the province is porous for terrorists from FATA and also provides for demographic clusters of similar ethnic groups in which the terrorists can find safety and fluidity. In short, what is a dreadful reality in Karachi already could soon become a distinct probability in Punjab.

But this excuse doesn’t wash. The ruling PMLN has always known that one day the chickens would come home to roost since Punjab remains the base of all sectarian and jihadi organizations in the country. These were originally nurtured by the military establishment but have become independent or autonomous in recent years and struck out on their own with links to Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban.  However, successive PMLN governments in Punjab have turned a blind eye to them for politically opportunist reasons enabling them to dig roots and expand their networks, especially in the southern part of the province that is now a launching pad for sectarian terrorism in Balochistan and Karachi.  Indeed, that is why it is ironic that Rana Sanaullah, the Punjab Law Minister who has always defended his government’s dubious role in allowing these non-state organs to flourish, should now come out all guns blazing against them. In an interview to a UK paper, Rana said that “Pakistan is on war footing to smash terrorists… and 174 areas in Punjab have now been earmarked for action against them”. The next day, his prime ministerial boss reprimanded him for spilling the beans!

It is time to cut the crap and get on with it if Pakistan is not to become another Afghanistan.

Tamasha of two committees

TFT Issue: 07 Feb 2014

As expected, the two committees set up by the government and the Taliban respectively to kick-start the peace-dialogue have run into heavy weather. There are critics aplenty on both sides.

The criticism of the anti-Taliban lobby against the government is centred on two dimensions of the process. In the first argument, there is no need to talk to the Taliban who are being true to form and wasting time with delaying tactics and impossible demands to improve and leverage their situation on the ground in anticipation of a military operation against them sooner or later. The TTP has proven them right by continuing with its bomb attacks on civilian targets, as for example the bomb in Qissa Khani Bazaar in Peshawar last Tuesday in the midst of announcing a committee to talk on their behalf.

In the second argument, the government’s choice of nominees – all of whom are “soft” on the Taliban – has led to a comical drama. They don’t represent anyone except themselves. According to critics, instead of choosing unelected mullah-types to pacify the TPP, the PM should have appointed a six member parliamentary committee led by Ch Nisar Ali Khan and including Khurshid Shah, Imran Khan, Farooq Sattar, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, Asfandyar Wali and Mahmood Khan Achakzai, representing all major parties and provinces. Such a committee would have shown seriousness of purpose and publicly asked the TTP to send a formal delegation to Islamabad for talks. Then, if the TTP had balked, it would have been exposed, and if it hadn’t, then the All-Parties Committee would have been intimated first hand of the outrageous nature of their demands, and sanctioned the use of force to erode and degrade them before starting talks. This would have zipped up the likes of Maulana Samiulhaq and Co. As it is, the government’s committee is composed of nobodies who have only managed to trigger a grand tamasha of mullahs of all shades who are jostling for prime time on TV. A variant of this critique would have sat Imran Khan (PTI) and Munawar Hassan (JI) at negotiating with the TTP within a time frame so that when their initiatives fail to bring the TTP to its senses, then these two big pro-talk leaders would have had no option but to fall in line with the proponents of action not words.

The TTP’s critics are no less substantive. The five-member TTP committee is already in a shambles even before the ink on the TTP statement has dried.  Two TTP “sympathisers”, Imran Khan and a Mufti from the JUI, have declined to accept the dubious honour; one, Maulana Abdul Aziz of the Red Mosque, has distanced himself from the talks by putting forward his own pre-condition (establishment of Shariah) while another, Maulana SamiulHaq, wants assurances that the military won’t deliberately sabotage the talks. The TTP also says it has set up its own TTP committee to monitor the progress of the first committee, without explaining the need for two committees, one upfront and one secret!

Clearly, the way both sides have conducted the proceedings suggests that neither is terribly serious of exploring the talks option and both are trying to gain time and space for political leveraging: the TTP to dig in and plan resistance to any military attack on their positions, and the government to take the Doubting Thomases along at the nth minute before giving a green light to the military to do the needful. A report in the Washington Post claims that the Pakistan government has asked the US not to launch drone strikes until the talks process has been exhausted and outlived its utility so that no one can say that the US has sabotaged the talks again and the TTP cannot insist on putting an end to drone strikes on the top of its talks-agenda. That is why there has been no drone strike since December and the current period is the longest without a drone strike since a six-week lull in 2011.

Therefore an impartial case can be made out for a dramatic last-ditch effort by the prime minister to cobble a maximum consensus for military action by exhausting the talks-option. He should have acted months earlier. But an extra month of dallying hardly makes any difference now. However, the choice of committee members has cast doubt’s about the government’s sincerity.

Equally, the TTP have erred in their choice of five “outsiders” and thereby shown their insincerity in opting for serious talks. No amount of naming fresh names will obscure this cold reality. Indeed, a demand by the TTP to release key TTP leaders held by the military suggests that the whole talk-talk process is on the verge of collapse, albeit after some carefully contrived but necessary convulsions.

If there was ever any doubt in some peoples’ minds that the time is nigh for meeting force with force, the tamasha of the two committees has buried it. RIP!

War or peace

TFT Issue: 14 Feb 2014

Facts are facts. They should be admitted because they illuminate the way forward.

On February 12, Taliban terrorists stormed the house of an Aman Lashkar (Peace Force) activist on the outskirts of Peshawar and mowed down nine family members in cold blood. Zafar Khan, the object of the Taliban’s wrath, and his two brothers and nephews were killed earlier, on February 2. This time the Taliban came and wiped out his remaining family members.

Since the last All Parties Conference was held in Islamabad on September 9, 2013, to back a resolution for initiating peace talks with the Taliban, 313 people have been killed and over 400 injured in Taliban attacks on security agencies, political leaders and lay civilians in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa alone. Indeed, since the PMLN government decided on January 29, 2014, to make a last ditch effort to engage the Taliban in committee-led talks aimed at securing a ceasefire, there have been 15 terrorist attacks in the last fifteen days in KPK in which 75 people have lost their lives and over 200 have been seriously injured.

The Taliban have now announced plans to target the minority Ismaili sect and the polytheistic Kalash tribe in Chitral valley. A 50-minute video was uploaded on a Taliban website on February 2 warning the Kalash to convert to Islam or face death: “We will eliminate you along with your Western protectors, the Western agents, if you don’t embrace Islam”. The video accuses foreign-funded NGOs of creating an “Israel-like” state in Chitral by protecting the Kalash and luring them away from Islam.

Much more ominously, the Aga Khan Foundation of the Ismailis is targeted for reprisals. “The Aga Khan Foundation is running 16 schools and 16 colleges and hostels where young men and women are given free education and brainwashed to keep them away from Islam”, says the accusing video, “they are espionage tools in the hands of foreigners”. It should be noted that the Aga Khan Foundation is a leading social welfare organization in Pakistan and caters to the needs of the Ismaili community in Karachi and Northern Pakistan.

In the last two years, TTP leader Maulana Fazlullah’s group has been particularly active in the Dir and Chitral areas that border his base area in North-Eastern Afghanistan and the Pakistan army has launched several operations to counter and chase out the terrorists. It is also well established that Karachi and Northern Pakistan are subject to sectarian violence by extremist groups allied with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. After the continuing genocidal violence against the minority Hazaras in Balochistan, any Taliban targeting of the Ismailis would provoke an angry worldwide backlash in view of the Aga Khan network’s global goodwill, and halt its philanthropist activities in Pakistan that cater to millions of needy people.

Now a hitherto unknown “breakaway” Taliban group, that calls itself “Ahrar-ul-Hind” has vowed to continue its attacks on the “enemies of Islam”. It has rejected the core demand of the TTP for control of the tribal areas from Pakistan instead of imposition of Shariah across the country. This organization was active in the Mohmand Agency but has now relocated to the north above Kunar in the northern Pakistan border with Afghanistan. The name of the organization suggests links to urban jihadi groups in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the two committees set up to negotiate with and on behalf of the Taliban are seemingly stuck on a list of demands and counter demands. The government is only insisting on two pre-conditions, ie, that the constitution, which is sufficiently Islamic in the sense that it doesn’t allow any law repugnant to Islam to prevail, is non-negotiable, and the negotiations are only in relation to the situation of militancy and unrest in the tribal areas. The Taliban, however, have made a dozen demands before they will agree to a ceasefire. These include a withdrawal of the army from FATA, release of thousand of Taliban prisoners and compensation of billions to them and to the families of deceased Taliban, and an end to drone strikes. They have also disclaimed responsibility for the continuing acts of terrorism by franchises affiliated to the TTP. This effectively means that they want to talk AND fight.

The Pakistan army is also resolved to hit back if and when it is attacked regardless of any on-going talks process.

Finally, there is the unresolved question of the drones. The Americans have said that if they find a high value target they will not be afraid to press the button. This could be problematic if any senior member of the Haqqani network or Maulana Fazlullah is hit. Taliban supporters like Imran Khan will claim that the Americans have deliberately sabotaged the talks and the peace process will be derailed.

So these are the facts: breakaway Taliban groups, continuing terrorist attacks, unpredictable drones, unacceptable demands, increasing confusion and rifts among Taliban committee members. Come March, we should dig in for targeted strikes by the army and a Taliban backlash in the Punjab.

Protect state and government

TFT Issue: 21 Feb 2014

As expected, the PMLN’s last-ditch effort to give peace a chance has crashed. The two committees have failed to set the agenda for talks even as the Taliban’s deadly attacks on security agencies and civilians exact a bloody toll.

The PMLN government can claim that it went the extra mile to cobble a national consensus by appeasing nay sayers like the PTI, JUI, JI and assorted religious groups which are opposed to striking back at the terrorists. But the fact is that they have not been appeased because their stance is based on blind belief and core ideology, not cold facts and rational national interest. Indeed, if anything, they have hugely benefited from the enormous media publicity and legitimacy given to their demands and propaganda. A host of pro-Taliban non-entities have been paraded before the media and given space to make headlines by indulging in senseless debate over the meaning and scope of Shariah, jihad, suicide, martyrdom and barbaric acts like the slitting of throats and butchering of prisoners. Meanwhile, the TTP has availed the time and space to dig its trenches, arm its suicide bombers and activate its terrorist cells across the country in anticipation of a military counter-offensive. This has put the back of the military up and estranged it from the civilian leadership.

The PMLN’s policy of prosecuting General Pervez Musharraf for treason is also coming a cropper. The government’s efforts to take the former army chief to court and indict him for treason have been brazenly stymied by the brass. Even a change of command at the top has not diminished the military’s institutional resolve to resist a trial of a former army chief by civilians. The pressure is now on the courts to stand up to the military, a task they are not equipped to perform without solid practical support from the administration, which is lacking. General Musharraf’s counsels have raised fresh roadblocks by challenging the credentials of the judges of the Special Court and its writ jurisdiction. The trial is becoming farcical and losing steam even before the accused has been indicted. With the military stone walling Musharraf’s trial, the message going out to the public is that the generals are above the law.

Three new developments suggest that the long-awaited military operation against the TTP’s terrorism is about to start. First, in an unprecedented signal, the ISPR has released a statement detailing the killing of 460 people (including 152 security personnel) by the Taliban in the last five months. The implication is that the PMLN government’s appeasement tactics have exacted a heavy price and failed to dent the TTP’s killing spree.

Second, the interior ministry has finally stood up to warn of a looming terrorist threat to the state from infiltration of arms and terrorists across the eastern and western borders of the country.  The DG-National Crisis Management Cell of the interior ministry has told the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Interior that Punjab is facing serious threats from the TTP and LeJ; Sindh from Al-Qaeda, TTP, LeJ, ethnic sub-nationalists and crime syndicates; Balochistan from Al-Qaeda, TTP, LeJ, BLA; Gilgit-Baltistan from TTP, LeJ; and Azad Kashmir from India-sponsored terrorism. He says that Islamabad, the capital, has become an extremely dangerous city because of the presence of several banned organisations and groups with sleeper cells of Al-Qaeda, TTP and LeJ. According to one report, the footprint of TTP/Lej/Al-Qaeda terrorism covers nearly one-third of Karachi. Nearly 7000 people, mostly terrorists and criminals, are currently on the Exit Control List at border entry and exit points.

Third, the PAF has launched targeted strikes against TTP and Al-Qaeda strongholds and hideouts in North Waziristan. These attacks are not in retaliation against any local violation of standing agreements by the TTP and Al-Qaeda as in the past but are aimed at a general degrading of TTP/Al-Qaeda assets in known regions. This action is most certainly part of a military strategy to soften up and flush out terrorists before launching ground operations to destroy them.

It is understandable that PM Nawaz Sharif is reluctant to launch the army in aid of civil power anywhere in Pakistan. Once the army comes in, it is difficult to withdraw it, as we have seen in Swat and Balochistan. It also shows up the civilians and undermines the legal order. But it is worse to sit back and allow the legal order and security of the state to be eroded by terrorists and unwittingly provoke the army to act on its own. PM Nawaz Sharif must now act forcefully to establish the writ of the state against the Taliban but also to protect that of his own democratically elected constitutional government against the military. If for that he has to swallow the bitter pill of looking the other way on Musharraf’s trial, he can live to fight that battle another day.

Praying for a miracle

TFT Issue: 28 Feb 2014

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister, has finally unfurled a “National Security Policy” for Pakistan. A perusal of the 100-page document reveals the PMLN government’s intention to revive and beef up the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) that has been dormant for the last four years.

The policy framework document envisages dynamic coordination and virtual Intel sharing between the country’s 6 Intel agencies (ISI, MI, IB, SB, Naval and Air Intelligence) and assorted police and paramilitary forces in the federal and provincial governments. NACTA will use this Intel to analyse, locate and physically degrade or destroy terrorist cells across the country by means of a Rapid Deployment Force of 500 commandos equipped with helicopters and modern high voltage weapons. The minister did not say when NACTA would become fully operational, and several more significant questions remain unanswered.

NACTA was originally envisaged as a separate and independent organisation or branch of government directly under the command of the prime minister. Strategic, tactical and intelligence inputs were to be provided by the various agencies (like ISI, MI, IB) and federal ministries (like interior) or provincial departments (CID, CTD, SB). But problems arose at the outset when the then interior minister, Rehman Malik, insisted that the interior minister, rather than the prime minister, should chair NACTA. This proposal was resisted by the ISI whose DG is appointed by the prime minister and is supposed to report directly to him and to the COAS. It may be noted that the ISI has a history of refusing to answer even to the prime minister, let alone an interior minister, as evidenced in the case of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto/Interior Minister Aitzaz Ahsan from 1988-1990 and in the case of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani/Interior Minister Rehman Malik from 2008-2013 when it actively resisted attempts by the administration to take charge of its internal political wing and went so far as to destabilise it. How Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan expects to tame the fire-breathing dragon and actually get it to dance to his tune, a very tall order, remains to be seen.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The document lists 26 such organisations, all of which are expected to dovetail their activities with NACTA when Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan cracks the whip. This is an impossible task in the short and medium term, considering that each such organisation is trained to zealously guard its turf and spurn the advances of competitive organisations to steal the limelight and budgets. In advanced democracies, such cooperation between similar departments is usually predicated on privileged and rare access to one another’s acutely sensitive and secret online databases rather than regular physical contact. But in Pakistan, apart from military organisations, there is no such sophisticated system in any civilian department, and the military is not about to give access to the “bloody civilians” come hell or high water.

The unrealistically ambitious scope of the document is evident in other areas too. For example, it lists over 60 banned or proscribed organisations that are all expected to come under its radar. NACTA’s task is not just to physically uproot terrorist networks but also to “promote pluralism, freedom, democracy, and a culture of tolerance” among the citizenry and to “reconstruct the social infrastructure in terrorism affected areas and follow-up for timely implementation of sustainable and integrated development and rehabilitation” of such areas. Indeed, as newspaper reports point out, its “mandate” extends to “developing a national narrative, development of national deradicalisation programme, reconciliation, youth engagement strategy, integration of mosque and madrassah in the national education system, introducing legal reforms, rehabilitation of victims of terrorism, prevention of misuse of IT and cyber crime, regulating the movement of Afghan refugees, introduction of a robust border control regime, etc”. Each of these objectives would require a herculean effort by a highly empowered department motivated by zeal, intellectual vigour and unrestricted budgets. No such department is in sight.

The document is bang on target by identifying the core sources of terrorism in the country as “flawed and myopic foreign policy choices relating to India, Afghanistan and Kashmir, prolonged military rule, declining capacity of state institutions and poor governance”.  But it offers no paradigm analysis on how to change these policies and practices so that they are in sync with the aims and objectives of the document. Incredibly enough, the role of the National Security Advisor (Sartaj Aziz) and the revamped Cabinet Committee on Defence and Security under the prime minister does not figure in it.

The original NACTA brief was conceived and written by Tariq Pervez, ex-IG Punjab, four years ago. He resigned in disgust when it couldn’t become operational because of agency/departmental turf wars. So Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan should forget about the lofty aims of NACTA. If he can simply assemble an effective anti-terrorist hit squad in four years and take out the top LeJ and TTP commanders, that would be a small miracle.

Another trap?

TFT Issue: 07 Mar 2014

For months, as the government, political parties and media all dithered over the pros and cons of a military operation against the murderous Taliban, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan flatly rejected the idea of a ceasefire prior to negotiations, instead setting up impossible preconditions for talks. Indeed, the more Pakistani politicians like Maulana Fazal ur Rahman and Imran Khan, demanded All Parties Conferences to cement a consensus about talking instead of fighting, the more the TTP was liable to launch attacks on military and civilians alike across the country. Since last September, when prime minister Nawaz Sharif called an APC to offer an olive branch to the TTP, to date, TTP suicide bombers and remote control IEDs have killed over 500 people and maimed thousands. In fact, since the PMLN government set up a committee on Jan 28 to talk to the TTP, terrorist strikes, for which one or another TTP franchise has boasted responsibility, have led to over 150 dead and injured. The straw that broke the military’s back was the savage beheading recently of 19 FC soldiers who’d been in the TTP’s captivity for several years. This provoked the military to carry out retaliatory air strikes on TTP strongholds and hideouts in North Waziristan. A second series of deadly air strikes last month have finally wrung out a call for ceasefire from the TTP, proving the wisdom of what some of us have been saying for months: if you want the TTP to listen to you, then you will first have to use the iron fist instead of proffering the velvet glove.

There is no doubt about it. The TTP’s offer of one month’s ceasefire is a trap that is tactically calibrated to sow confusion in our ranks and forestall fresh air strikes while waiting for winter to pass so that guerilla fluidity is restored and the TTP can melt away and regroup in the face of targeted operations.

Unfortunately, however, the logic of the TTP’s ideology and strategy, in association with that of Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban – creation of a base-area state in northern Pakistan that is reflected in their demand for the Pakistan army to withdraw from Waziristan – is lost on the likes of Imran Khan, on religious parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat-e-Ulema and on sections of the Pakistani media. Consider.

The Afghan Taliban have long baited the Americans and the Karzai government with prospects of talks but never held them or conceded anything because they know that when America exits Afghanistan the Karzai regime will collapse sooner than later, so it is better to dig in and fight later than sooner. Similarly, the Pakistani Taliban know that when the Afghan Taliban have a freer hand in Afghanistan after the Americans leave, they too will have greater maneuverability against the Pakistan army when their Afghan allies help them erase the Durand Line. Thousands of Afghan Taliban have already made Waziristan a second permanent home away from home and they are not likely to let go without a fight.

There is another more relevant point that is largely missing from the Pakistani debate about whether to talk or fight the TTP. The Afghan Taliban have a locus standi and raison d’etre. They are fighting to reclaim a lost state at the hands of a foreign invader. So it makes sense for the departing Americans and the tottering puppet Karzai regime they leave behind to try and negotiate some sort of power-sharing formula with the Taliban just as it makes sense for their adversaries to hold out and settle for nothing less than Kabul. But what is the Pakistani state going to negotiate with the TTP? A chunk of Pakistani territory for a new Islamic Taliban state? A new Islamic constitution? Power-sharing in Islamabad?

The PMLN government has responded to the ceasefire offer by “institutionalizing” the negotiation process. This means that it has effectively tasked the interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to enable the military to take ownership of war or peace even though the Chief Minister and Governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are supposed to be part of the decision making process. It is a cunning move that compels those who want to fight (the military under General Raheel Sharif) and those who want to talk or appease (the KPK government under the PTI-JI) to sit together and decide. This is exactly what President Asif Zardari did two years ago when he got the interior minister Rehman Malik to enable the military under General Ashfaq Kayani that didn’t want to fight and the KPK government under ANP that wanted to fight to sit and decide. In the event, the military had its way and the ANP paid the price for it. Much the same is likely to happen now, except the other way round and with greater confusion and disquiet.

This sort of politics has exacted a heavy price of state and society in the last three decades.  It is time to stop playing politics and act forcefully to defend Pakistan.

Confusion worst confounded

TFT Issue: 14 Mar 2014

The confusion in The PMLN government over anti-terrorism policy persists. It is not clear at all why PM Nawaz Sharif is still reluctant to declare all-out war against the Tehril-e-Taliban Pakistan despite a consensus in state and society that the Taliban pose an existential threat to Pakistan.

PMLN spokesmen argue that without the backing of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government that has borne the brunt of the TTP and will be the first to face the blow back of war, it is not wise to give the green light to the army. That is why, the argument goes, Mr Sharif has been so keen to woo Imran Khan to his side. But the truth is that the PM is afraid of a TTP backlash in the Punjab that has thus far remained unscathed. He knows that the Punjab police and administration are in no position to prevent this from happening and is afraid that his showcase chief minister and province could both be derailed from continuing apace with their “development” work, with adverse consequences for his own federal government.

But this argument doesn’t wash. The TTP’s long-term goal is to link up with the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda and establish a Taliban emirate in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With every passing day, this Afghan-Al Qaeda Network (AQN) becomes stronger and more deep-rooted. Indeed, after the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, the chances are that it will progressively become the dominant force in the region by sweeping aside the Karzai regime. In the event, FATA will become part of a Talibanised Afghanistan that doesn’t recognize or acknowledge the Durand line border with Pakistan. Then it will become impossible for Pakistan to maintain a distinction between the Afghan Taliban and the TTP and any attempt by the Pakistan army to defend its borders or cleanse its territory of foreigners will plunge it into a conflict with the AQN. The outcome of such an encounter would be worse from Pakistan’s point of view than that of the US-Karzai regime in the current circumstances. Therefore it is better to face the limited challenge now and make the necessary short-term sacrifice resulting from a backlash than to postpone the day of reckoning when the chances of success against AQN would be nil.

The government’s decision to replace the old negotiating committee, which was a mixed bag of ex-army, ex-bureaucracy and media types, with a new one studded with bureaucrats is baffling. Bureaucrats are trained to follow rules and procedures. They are averse to negotiating risky ventures. This committee is even more likely to endorse a deadlock than the previous one. What then?

A hint is available from a shift in Imran Khan’s position. While he is still saying that this war has been thrust on Pakistan by America (the truth is that Pakistan and America were, jointly and by turns, witting partners in the Afghan imbroglio), he is now admitting that Pakistan should talk peace with those Taliban who want peace and make war on those Taliban who want war.  Earlier, his position was that under no circumstances should Pakistan launch any military operations against the TTP regardless of how many attacks were launched by the TTP on Pakistani security forces and civilians. Apparently he has now been persuaded that some Taliban groups can be induced to switch over to the government’s side and he is keen to support a policy of divide and vanquish.

The moving force behind this assessment is Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who has insisted on a policy of engaging the TTP in peace talks from the outset. It may be recalled that two months ago Chaudhry Nisar boasted of a secret back channel plan to negotiate peace with important sections of the TTP. But this, he says, was “sabotaged” by a couple of drone strikes which “provoked” the TTP to launch a wave of attacks on soldiers and civilians that left over 150 dead in two months, never mind that there hasn’t been a single drone strike in two months and the TTP’s murderous attacks are continuing even as its spokesmen are claiming a “ceasefire”. Chaudhry Nisar is back in the saddle, singing “patriotic” hymns to the TTP and lauding their pro-Pakistan credentials. If there was any doubt about his central role in advising the prime minister and fashioning TTP policy, it should be settled after he recently drove the PM to Imran Khan’s house on the hill.

The military’s position in all this civilian hand-wringing shows increasing signs of impatience, frustration and even anger. Military managers have been whispering as much to the media. They say they are angry and want to fight and degrade the TTP. But, they say, the civilians are playing games, and wasting time because they are more worried about the personal threat to their families and themselves than to the existential threat to Pakistan.

This is a bad situation. Events are likely to overtake the government and its interlocutors.

Leasing out Pakistan

TFT Issue: 21 Mar 2014

The Saudi Kingdom has granted $1.5b to the Nawaz Sharif government. Another such donation will accrue in due course. A quick fix of $3b is a lot of free money for Pakistan’s forex-strapped economy that is struggling to cope with significant international debt payments and a rising trade gap that is putting pressure on the rupee and fuelling inflation. Indeed, the Saudi injection has reversed the rapid fall of the rupee, proving that the finance minister, Ishaq Dar, was not bluffing when he warned exporters six weeks ago not to hoard their dollars. Why then all the hush-hush about the Good Samaritan who has eventually bailed him out?

Significantly, the PMLN government has been at pains to hide the Saudi largesse. But after we discovered that the cause of the sudden reversal in the fortunes of the rupee was due to an uplifting shot in the arm of the State Bank, we were told not to ask about the “friendly” source and amount of funds. Then, after we found out about the donor, we were told that the Saudi “donation” was a measure of the personal relationship between our prime minister and the Saudi monarch. That is when our happy surprise turned to suspicious incredulity and the game became crystal clear.

A clutch of high-powered Saudis, including the Crown Prince, has descended upon Islamabad in recent weeks. The prime minister and the Pakistan army chief have made unexplained flying visits to the Kingdom. In due course a joint statement or communiqué was issued from Islamabad stressing the demand for a “transitional” government in Syria while emphasizing that there was no change in Pakistan’s position on the issue. Indeed, the foreign office spokesperson, an apparently haughty lady, was quite aggressive in ticking off inquiring hacks who argued that the demand for a transitional government amounted to a veritable “regime change” in Syria and smacked of a definite policy about-turn. Mr Sartaj Aziz, the de facto foreign minister, has also executed some verbal gymnastics to try and obscure the truth. But we, the public, are not stupid or ill-informed. We are not ready to buy this story hook, line and sinker. We know there are no free lunches, let alone free feasts, in relations amongst nations. So what’s the $3b quid pro quo?

The truth is that Pakistan has agreed to supply, among other weapons, anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets to the Saudis. Mr Aziz says the End-User Certificate conditions will guarantee that these are not used outside Saudi Arabia. This is a load of nonsense. Why the Saudis should suddenly turn to Pakistan for these weapons when traditionally they have tapped the US and Europe has, however, given the game away. These potential game-changing weapons are clearly meant for use by Saudi-backed Wahhabi-Salafist rebels in Syria who are fighting to overthrow the Baathist secular Asad regime. The Americans haven’t supplied the Saudis because they don’t want such radical Islamist forces any more than Al-Qaeda to succeed in Syria and are therefore having serious second thoughts about regime change in Syria. Indeed, the Saudis’ sudden embrace of Pakistan portends shifting sands in the Middle-East.

The Saudis and the Emirates-Gulfdoms are feeling insecure because of the Shia revival in their heartlands. This is because the restless Shias are sitting on their oil reserves. Iran, too, is unremitting in opposing Saudi influence. Iraq and Qatar, two competitive energy suppliers, are not playing ball either. Egypt and Libya haven’t bought into the Saudi Islamist line. Worse, the Americans are seeking negotiated nuclear solutions in Iran instead of succumbing to Saudi pressure for military action. And American self-reliance on shale gas is the first definite step against continued dependence on Saudi oil.

On the heels of the Saudi VVIPs now comes the King of Bahrain to Islamabad. The PMLN government claims that foreign investment deals are in the offing. But the small print betrays the real motive behind “renewed manpower exports”. The Bahraini Emir wants well-trained and equipped Pakistani military mercenaries to beef up his police and security forces to repress the rising democratic impulses of the majority Shia populations. It is as simple as that.

It is the same old treacherous story. Since independence in 1947, the Pakistani ruling classes and military establishment have lived off rents from leasing out their “services” to the highest foreign bidder instead of standing on their own feet and not meddling in other peoples business. In the 1950s, 60s and 80s, they sold their services to the Americans, first against the USSR and then against the Taliban; now, in the 2010s, they are rolling up their sleeves to stir the Middle-East cauldron at the behest of a rich “friend”. The extremist Sunni blow back from the first lease to the US in the shape of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is now primed for escalation and blow back during the proposed second lease to the Saudi-Emirates network. We are making another irrevocable blunder, so help us Allah.

Establishment Rules

TFT Issue: 28 Mar 2014

The issue of granting Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trading status to India is still hanging fire. General Pervez Musharraf’s regime toyed with the idea when back channel diplomacy on Kashmir 2005-06 seemed to take out-of-the-box strides and a composite dialogue on all contentious issues was on the cards. But political instability in 2007-08 put paid to any progress on this initiative. The Zardari regime was constrained by the Indian backlash from Mumbai but took a bold step forward in its last year by abolishing the “negative list” of trade items despite lack of movement on the composite dialogue.

Last year, the Nawaz Sharif government moved swiftly to resolve the issue. It saw MFN not just as a big confidence and trust building exercise with India but also as a potential booster injection into the Pakistani economy. Accordingly, Khurram Dastgir, the commerce minister, changed the red-rag nomenclature of MFN (how can an “enemy country” become a most favoured nation?) to NDMA (Non-Discriminatory Market Access) and clinched a great deal for Pakistan, ensuring that India would reduce its “sensitive” list of prohibited items from 614 to about 100, thereby opening the way for a substantial increase in Pakistani exports to India. The Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, also parleyed with the Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, with the same objective in mind. In due course, a cabinet meeting to approve the deal was scheduled last week.

Now Mr Sharif has had a sudden change of heart. He has postponed a decision until after a new government takes charge in New Delhi. It is argued that there is no point in giving a significant trade “concession” to the outgoing Congress government since the chances of it returning to office are zero, better to wait and see what sort of BJP-led government takes office in India and how it intends to shape relations with Pakistan. Specifically, the idea of linking the granting of MFN status to India to a resumption of the composite dialogue is back in fashion at the Prime Minister’s Office.

Surely this argument was as valid three months ago as it is valid today. Every pundit worth his salt had predicted the fate of the Congress government six months ago. Indeed, the issue of linking MFN to the composite dialogue had been shrugged away by Mr Sharif as a failed tactical proposition. Why then this change of mind at the last minute?

A cornerstone of Nawaz Sharif’s strategic policy is to build friendly relations with neighbours India and Afghanistan. Towards this end, he has invited PM Manmohan Singh to Pakistan and taken concrete steps to reassure Hamid Karzai of non-interference in Afghan affairs. But the response from both leaders has been less than encouraging. Dr Singh has declined to negotiate even on less contentious issues like Sir Creek and Siachin while Mr Karzai is still thundering against the ISI. Now that the elevation of Mr Narendra Modi as the next prime minister of India is forecast, Mr Sharif has been persuaded by the Pakistani foreign office and GHQ not to offer any unilateral trade concession to India and bide his time until the new government takes office in India and reveals its Pakistan stance.

Mr Sharif has also hardened his stance on the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Earlier, he was inclined to talk about it in terms of the Lahore Summit in 1999 (Chenab Formula, non-core, bilateral issue) that was duly emulated by General Musharraf in his out-of-the-box-formula (what is minimally acceptable to both India and Pakistan). But of late he has been talking of Kashmir as the “core issue” linked to “UN Resolutions” (his speech at the UN last September) and asking for Third Party mediation between India and Pakistan to resolve it (his speech at the Nuclear Summit at The Hague last week). Thus it appears that the Pakistani Establishment has persuaded Mr Sharif to adopt these positions as a counter to the projected “hard line” from India.

This is the Pakistani Establishment’s old “quid pro quo” sum-zero strategy that has been a part of the problem rather than the solution. It is aimed at freezing the status quo because the India establishment is not prone to making any “concessions” on Kashmir and Siachin. On both these issues, however, Mr Sharif’s avowed position before coming to power was bold and different. He thought Siachin was a “wasteland” and Pakistan should “unilaterally withdraw” from it. And he thought Kashmir should be “solved” through a non-UN bilateral and transitional arrangement in the foreseeable future. If he had persisted with his theme of unilaterally opening up borders and trade and people-to-people contacts, he would have instilled new hope and enterprise across borders regardless of what type of party rules India. Instead, he has succumbed to the “no-business as usual” advice from the Pakistani Establishment and undermined his dream of Pakistan as a booming economic corridor between Central Asia and South Asia. The Establishment still rules Pakistan.

The Script

TFT Issue: 04 Apr 2014

Despite its controversial, indeed farcical, nature, the trial of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf for treason under Article 6 of the Constitution is proceeding according to the general script conceived by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. From Day-One, Mr Sharif has insisted that “the law must take its course”. By that he means that the Supreme Court (SC) ordered the government to try General Musharraf for treason and stop him from fleeing the country and his government has done exactly that, no more, no less. As evidence, he cites the fact that the SC selected the three judges for the Special Tribunal trying General Musharraf and, by virtue of another order, retains exclusive jurisdiction over retaining or removing his name from the Exit Control List for whatever reason.

We may rightly dispute the judgment of the SC to try General Musharraf only for his sins of commission in October 2007 rather than also for those in October 1999. In fact, we may doubly insist that it is patently unjust to try only General Musharraf for treason when a host of others, including generals, judges, politicians and bureaucrats actively participated in his decision of October 2007. But Mr Sharif can rightly argue that the buck stops at the SC and his government is merely obeying its orders, no more, no less.

The military doesn’t like this one bit. Indeed, it has been so outraged at the thought of an ex-Chief being tried for treason by the civilians that it has acted to thwart the proceedings every step of the way, especially since the Special Court summoned General Musharraf to face indictment a couple of months ago. The histrionics of the defence lawyers are also outrageous and unprecedented. By contrast, the Special Court’s patience and forbearance and the government’s cool headedness in the face of serious challenge and provocation are praiseworthy.

But the moving finger writes and having written moves on. The author of the last act in this farce is none other than the mighty state of Saudi Arabia that has recently gifted $1.5b to Mr Sharif. In part exchange, General Musharraf is fated to spend many years in comfortable exile rather than languish in a dirty prison in Pakistan, much the same fate that the Saudis decreed for Mr Sharif in 2000 when the boot was on the other foot. “Operation Fairplay” is now expected to shift from the makeshift premises of the Special Court and powerful Prime Minister’s Office to the exalted halls of justice in the Supreme Court which will be petitioned to “amend/modify” an earlier order barring General Musharraf from leaving the country. The Special Court has passed the buck to the government and the government has passed it to the SC whence the matter originated. Since the personally vindictive Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry is not cracking the whip at the SC any longer, we may expect Operation Fairplay to proceed, albeit with further twists, before the SC lets General Musharraf off the hook on the basis of definite legal undertakings while Mr Sharif extracts definite political assurances from him. The irony is that, in either case, General Musharraf may have to atone for October 1999 instead of walking to the gallows for October 2007.

The Musharraf “affair” has served to establish the important precedent that wannabe coup-makers must consider the personal and institutional consequences of their actions when the civilians inevitably return to power. This is a practical deterrence of sorts that is over and above the theoretical provisions of the constitutional. On the other hand, it is precisely such considerations that might compel unprecedented violence and bloodshed if a coup-making situation were ever to arise again for one reason or another. In the same way, the argument for putting an end to the treatment of the military as a sacred cow cannot be contested. But demanding that the military submit to quick and unfettered accountability after sixty-five years of lording it over the country is a sign of foolishness, not courage.

To be fair to Mr Sharif, if the military had not tried to buck the script for General Musharraf’s exile, the Musharraf affair would never have gone on for so long and with such farcical turns. A swift indictment would have paved the way for bail and freedom. But the drama at the AFIC – concocted medical and security reports, ICU forays, etc — has rebounded on the military because the civilians have not tried to barge their way into the hospital to snatch a wanted man or concede their constitutional position to bring him to court. The military must also be grateful to the prime minister and the courts for not dragging the institution into the mud.

In the end, it seems as if General Musharraf has personally seen the error of his military tacticians and strategists on the indictment issue and decided to get on with the script. That has paved the way for the last step in the SC.

One out of Three

TFT Issue: 11 Apr 2014

The PMLN government should feel apprehensive about developments on two fronts and smug about prospects on a third. This means the scorecard is still in the red.

The peace talks with the Taliban are not going anywhere. Indeed, there is more confusion now about the aims and objectives of both the government and the TTP than ever before. The government has released some “non-combatant” Taliban prisoners. This contradicts the military’s view that there are no non-combatant Taliban in custody and that the government did not consult the military before ordering them freed. More surprisingly, the Taliban have also rejected the government’s position. They claim that not one among those released is on their list of 800 Taliban imprisoned by the agencies.

It is also unclear whether the government has made a unilateral gesture or whether there is some secret quid pro quo. The Taliban had earlier said that the kidnapped sons of ex Governor Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, and ex-Prime Minister Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gilani, would not be released because they are combatants from an anti-TTP political party (PPP). This means that unless a clutch of Taliban from among the 800 named is released, there is no reciprocal deal.

The Taliban have also started fighting among themselves over the pros and cons of the peace process with the government.  There are two dimensions in this division. First, the followers of Hakimullah Mehsud are slugging it out with the followers of Maulana Fazlullah. The former are not averse to a deal with Pakistan while the latter are inclined to fight it. This partly represents a power struggle in the TTP over leadership issues. Second, there are groups inside the TTP that have decided to strike out on their own and continue their ideological war on Pakistan. These groups are continuing to launch terrorist attacks across the country, despite the ceasefire announced by the TTP leadership. The spokesman of the TTP, Shahidullah Shahid, has denounced these groups as being outside the pale of the TTP and refused to take responsibility for their actions. Indeed, after one such senseless attack in Islamabad two days ago massacred a score of innocents in a fruit market, he has gone so far as to say that attacks on unarmed and innocent civilians are “haram” in Islam. This is rich, coming as it does after the same TTP and its spokesman have proudly acknowledged responsibility for over 40,000 similarly innocent civilians dead from TTP attacks across the country in the last eight years! Now the government is hard pressed to explain what is going on, who is the real protagonist and where the peace talks are headed.

The government’s approach towards General Musharraf’s treason trial is also leading to disquiet in powerful military circles. Apparently, the “understanding’” with the military was that the government would let go of General Musharraf after establishing the point that he was not “above the law”, meaning that he would have to appear before a court, be indicted and then be bailed out and allowed to leave Pakistan on some medical emergency or the other. But the contrary has transpired. Not only has the special court refused to entertain his plea for bail, a couple of other courts are insisting that he appear before them and face the music. Worse, at least two PMLN stalwarts, Khawaja Asif and khawaja Saad Rafique, have given voice to anti-army passions in parliament, provoking the new army chief, General Raheel Sharif, to consciously plan a visit to an SSG post and say that the military knows how to “protect its integrity and dignity”. This is a riposte to the anti-military sentiment among a section of the ruling party headed by no less than the prime minister himself. Clearly, Gen Sharif is under pressure from rank and file to stand up and be counted. This doesn’t auger well for civil-military relations and political stability.

The good news is on the economic front. On the heels of a Saudi injection of $1.5 billion into the State Bank that stabilized the Pak rupee, comes the news that Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s Eurobond road show has been resoundingly successful. It is reported that Pakistan made a “historic return” to the international bond market after seven years with a US dollar denominated dual tranche offering, aggregating $2 billion, that raised $1 billion each in five-year and 10-year terms. This is the largest-ever international bond offering by Pakistan. It was heavily over-subscribed by $5 to $7 billion of which only $2 billion was accepted. The initial target was only $500 million. This reflects international confidence in the PMLN government’s ability to manage the Pakistan economy. The IMF had signaled approval earlier.

Mr Sharif should not rest on the laurels of his sole-success story. As both the IMF and China have warned, the Pak economy is most vulnerable to terrorism and political instability. And on both those counts, he is far from achieving notable results.

Careful, Mian Sahib!

TFT Issue: 18 Apr 2014

 Predictably, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has ended the ceasefire and castigated the PMLN government for stalling and sabotaging the peace talks. Predictably too, the Musharraf trial is getting increasingly enmeshed in legal and political complexities that are stoking civil-military tensions. Both issues should have been diffused earlier. Now they are threatening to blow up in the face of the government if the TTP renews its terrorist attacks across the country and/or the military makes another public gesture in the Musharraf case that pits it against the government.

The TTP is being true to form. It is not budging from its demands that hundreds of Taliban prisoners should be freed unilaterally and a “free zone” (no Pakistani military presence or state writ) in Waziristan should be created for the TTP’s base area. It has dismissed the government’s gesture of releasing some non-combatant prisoners as meaningless. Instead, it has charged the government and military with continued targeted strikes against its affiliates in which it claims over 50 Taliban have been killed. The TTP Peace Committee is now alleging that there is a deadlock that could precipitate renewed hostilities. But the government insists it is still in control of the peace agenda that will not be derailed.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani military establishment has given an ultimatum to the Afghan Taliban in Waziristan to lean on the TTP and compel it to stop waging war against Pakistan, or sever its links (financial help and safe havens in Afghanistan) with the TTP and assist the military in putting it down. This is an unprecedented development. It indicates that the military has finally woken up to the fact that its quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan on the back of “friendly” Afghan Taliban “assets” hosted by Pakistan is actually foundering on the rock of the most serious existential threat to the internal security of Pakistan posed by the TTP. The implied counter-threat is that if the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Umar and the Haqqani network don’t stop aiding and abetting the TTP, the military will have no option but to indiscriminately target all Taliban in Waziristan regardless of origin or national, political or ideological orientation.

This extraordinary ultimatum is accompanied by the outbreak of armed conflict between two powerful sections of the Mehsud Taliban, one of which is in favour of turning its guns against the enemy in Afghanistan (this suits the military) while the other is still bent upon attacking the enemy (the military) in Pakistan. This development has weakened the TTP and paved the way for the military to get the upper hand if and when it chooses to strike and degrade the TTP.

Since all this must be evident to the TTP, we may expect a fresh round of violent attacks against Pakistan soon. This would be a knee-jerk reaction borne out of both frustration and desperation to keep the initiative in TTP hands. By the same token, however, the government would be advised to coordinate with the military and take the challenge head-on instead of caving in and making concessions.

The government also needs to reassess its “Musharraf strategy” based on getting the courts to let Musharraf leave the country instead of squarely taking the responsibility itself. As matters now stand, it transpires that the FIA has an inquiry report that partly corroborates the stand of Musharraf’s lawyers that a clutch of important government, military and political functionaries of the time were equally involved and culpable in the fateful decision that led to the proclamation of Emergency on November 3, 2007.  It is reported that a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz took place on the morning of November 3 that sanctioned the Emergency imposed in the evening. Among the cabinet members of the time was Zahid Hamid who is now a core member of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s team. Understandably, the prosecutor, Akram Sheikh, is objecting to the inclusion of this FIA report in the proceedings just as vociferously as Musharraf’s lawyers are demanding the opposite. If the court listens to the prosecutor, its credibility and fairness will be further eroded when the report is inevitably leaked to the media. But if the court listens to the defence, the government will be hugely embarrassed, Musharraf’s case (that he alone is not the alleged culprit) will get a fillip, and civil-military tensions will rise because the military as an institution will be targeted.

Former President Asif Zardari’s recent meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been billed as some sort of mutual insurance policy against military intervention. But there are two ways Mr Sharif can review the meeting, depending on the sort of private advice he received from the former President. Mr Zardari’s public stance is: “Don’t let the Billa get away!” But in practice he personally guaranteed the Billa’s exit in 2008 in order to become President himself and in the course of the next five years molly coddled the military in order to complete his term.

Media and Militarism

TFT Issue: 25 Apr 2014

The attempted target-assassination of Hamid Mir, a prominent journalist, in Karachi has raised several key issues. First, his own testament and its treatment by GEO are the subject of a furious debate in the country because they target the ISI and its DG, Lt-General Zaheerul Islam. Questions arise about the authenticity and credibility of Mir’s testament and GEO’s “attack” on the ISI. Second, the episode has served to split the journalist community into pro and anti ISI groups prodded by their respective media owners. Questions arise about media ethics and codes of conduct that have been blithely thrown overboard. Third, the ISI is in the dock. Questions arise about its covert operations and unaccountable policies.

Hamid Mir had informed concerned people at home and abroad, by audio, video and email messaging, that the ISI was gunning for him because of his anti-military stance on Balochistan’s missing persons and General Musharraf’s treason case. This was credible information. Other journalists who have stepped on the toes of the military in the past have also recorded such charges. They were roughed up or harassed, learnt their lesson, desisted and were spared, while Mir did exactly the opposite by continuing to snipe at the “sacred cow”. In 2011, another journalist, Saleem Shehzad, also run afoul of the ISI and informed near and dear ones of threats from the agency. When he too didn’t conform, he was mysteriously abducted and his tortured dead body was dumped in a canal. A commission of inquiry was critical of the lack of accountability of the ISI but didn’t indict it for obvious reasons. Another such commission of inquiry has been constituted in Mir’s case and chances are that its conclusions and compulsions won’t be much different from those of its predecessor. But the circumstantial evidence against the ISI can’t be shrugged away: as in Shehzad’s case, it had an angry grudge against Mir, it had warned him to behave or else, it was tapping his phones, it knew his travel plans precisely and it has the wherewithal to outsource such business to various non-state actors.

GEO’s response in defense of Hamid Mir was understandable for more than one reason. It has a fair axe to grind of its own too. The media group has run afoul of the military in recent years for opposing its policies on various issues, notably on peace with neighbours India and Afghanistan, civil-military relations, the war on terrorism and supremacy of the judiciary. The owners have become fearful for their lives and fled to safety in Dubai. In the past too, GEO clashed with the military when General Musharraf banned it from the airwaves for three months in 2007. But by targeting the head of the ISI relentlessly for over eight hours on that fateful day, GEO “personalized” the issue and provoked the agency to react aggressively by branding it a “traitor against national security”, and leaning on cable operators and PEMRA to shut it down. Like Geo’s “overkill” against the ISI, however, the latter’s “overkill” against GEO is likely to attract more criticism than support from civil society and the courts.

In this extraordinary confrontation, several media houses have banded with the ISI against GEO for commercial reasons behind the fig leaf of “patriotism”. GEO controls over 50% of all eyeballs in Pakistan and the rest have a vested interest in knocking it down. The tragedy is that many journalists on both sides have sold their souls to their respective media establishments or been silenced because of fear of the ISI.

GEO has apologized for its excessive and untoward targeting of DG-ISI. But the ISI is not in a forgiving mood. Both should step back.

There are lessons for all protagonists. No media group should get big enough to bring state institutions and elected bodies under its whimsical heel. The Geo/Jang Group should review its aggressive policies to define and change the rules of the political game in Pakistan as a king-maker and rein itself in.

The military and ISI, too, need to accept the new facts of democratic life in Pakistan. They cannot live above the law. They must live and let live. The new civilian dispensation, new press, new judiciary and new civil society want them to be accountable like everyone else. The military is the military and not “the establishment” and the ISI is the ISI and not a “sensitive agency”. Notions of praetorian patriotism and civilian treason are no longer acceptable or tenable.

Finally, the courts must rise to the occasion and draw the required red lines for all protagonists. Civil and criminal libel cases must be swiftly disposed off as deterrents to transgressors. Media against media, government/state against media and civil society against media — all relationships are in urgent need of repair, redress and balance. Freedom without responsibility is as bad as repression without accountability. This extraordinary episode must serve as a reminder of this truth to us all.

Delaying PPO is costly

TFT Issue: 02 May 2014

The Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (PPO) is deeply controversial. Except for the law enforcement agencies (military, paramilitary and police forces), political parties, courts, media and civil society organizations are all opposed to it for one reason or another. But there’s no getting away from the fact that Pakistan needs a strong law to deal with the existential terrorist problem facing us all.

The military has long demanded a stiff law for use against terrorists because the existing anti-terrorist laws, which still require due process and solid evidence beyond the anti-terrorist court stage, are just not good enough to lock up terrorists and throw the key away. Hence terrorists are let off by the courts or end up “missing” and are “disappeared” of necessity. This provokes a strong reaction from everybody else and puts the LEAs in the dock, ratcheting up tensions with the courts and media while de-motivating them from frontally tackling terrorism.

The politicians don’t like such sweeping laws because of a long history of abuse of preventive detention laws by the politicians and military alike in the past in order to silence political opponents or harass them. The courts are hostile because such laws take away their writ jurisdictions to afford relief to petitioners. And civil society and human rights bodies today are even more determined to protect fundamental constitutional rights than ever before.

The objectionable provisions of the PPO relate to the unrestrained use of force by the LEAs: arrests, entry and search without warrants; preventive detention of up to 90 days that may be extended; retrospective effect on terrorists who are already in detention; withholding information about location of detention centres and detainees; burden of proof on the accused-detainee (presumed guilty unless proven innocent); protection of LEAs and special court judges acting in good faith from prosecution or accountability; confessions before LEAs admissible in court as sufficient evidence of wrong-doing. In short, a carte blanche to the LEAs to lock up anyone they don’t like for an indefinite period of time.

But it is instructive to recall the practice of other more vibrant democracies keeping faith with fundamental rights and due process of law when faced with the terrorist challenge. India enacted the unprecedentedly harsh Terrorist and Disruptive (Prevention) Act (TADA) in 1985 and retained it until 1995 to deal with the terrorist-insurgent problem in Punjab and Kashmir. After degrading and eliminating the insurgencies, it took TADA off the books. TADA is the forerunner to the proposed PPO.  Significantly, however, there was a national consensus behind TADA because India does not have a history of political persecution (Indira Gandhi’s Emergency laws were derailed by the courts) and the military is squarely under the heels of the civilians. India enacted another harsh Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) a month after a terrorist attack on its parliament in December 2001 and in 2004 it decreed a slightly watered down Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) to deal both with terrorism in Kashmir and Maoist uprisings in its North-East.

The United States has followed the same strategy. A month after the terrorist strikes on 9/11, Congress decreed the Patriots Act and the Administration established the Department of Homeland Security. The new law gave American LEAs unprecedentedly sweeping powers to act against alleged terrorists and the courts and civil society organizations went along with them in the larger national interest.  There is no history of political persecution in the US too (McCarthyism didn’t last beyond the 1950s. It was the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence). In 2009 President Obama amended the Patriots Act to reduce potential misuse of the law. But its sweeping powers remain.

Some conclusions can be drawn from this comparative picture. First, when faced with terrorism, even staunch democracies are inclined to fight rather than talk, and suspend certain fundamental rights and due process. Second, a national consensus is needed to put its weight behind such laws in the larger national interest. Unfortunately, both these conditions are missing from the Pakistani national scene. Politicians are fearful of giving the military such sweeping powers because of the constant threat of military interventions to sweep them away. And politicians cannot forget how they themselves have used such laws in the past to silence one other. Nor are the new media and courts in any mood to blithely abandon their hard won freedoms and independence at the altar of an elusive and controversial national interest. Indeed, most significantly, there is no agreement on what constitutes the national interest and how to deal with terrorism (negotiate and make opportunist concessions or fight and eliminate).

Under the circumstances, political will is needed to hammer a national consensus against terrorism. This can be done if parliament rises to the occasion and unites. Safeguards in the form of clear exemptions for political parties, media and civil society may be incorporated into the PPO. But further delays will prove very costly.

Beyond a boundary

TFT Issue: 09 May 2014

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is everyone’s favourite whipping boy.  Even those who have never picked up a ball or bat are passionate critics. The media is particularly virulent. Criticism for the sake of criticism is the name of the game. Facts are irrelevant. Stories are routinely concocted.  Character assassinations are par for the course. The worst detractors are ex-cricketers who fail to land plum jobs in the PCB because they are incompetent or unmerited. TV channel anchors are like batsmen in the last overs of a T20 match, constantly lashing out at the PCB with lusty abandon.

To be fair, however, to the naysayers, the PCB has much to answer for. It has been ruled by unaccountable generals, bureaucrats, judges and politicians who have treated it like a personal fiefdom, enjoying perks and privileges, squandering resources and promoting favouritism. The audited account of the financial misdemeanours of ex-PCB Chairman Zaka Ashraf, a feudal PPP politician-sugar mill owner facing serious corruption charges, runs into several pages. The few cricketers who have wielded power in the PCB haven’t done much better at management.

Other problems also beset cricket in Pakistan. The domestic cricket structure is out of tune with international best practices. It is not geared to harness the river of cricketing talent in the country and hone it. The “Departments” pick up the crème-de-la-crème of players from regional cricket associations but do nothing to promote the game at the grass roots level. School cricket, which is the backbone of the game all over the cricketing world, has all but vanished from Pakistan. The regional, district and zonal structures are half-baked nurseries rife with corrupt practices and ghost clubs. Half the first-class matches in the country are actually second-class fixtures that only serve to boost players’ averages but ill-equip them to play international cricket. Worse, the regulatory bodies of the PCB, like the club scrutiny committees, selection committees and election tribunals, are riddled with corrupt practices. Worst, the whimsical intervention of the courts to redress imagined or contrived wrongs are perennial logjams in the working of the PCB.

Unfortunately the cricket-loving public is also part of the problem. It only sees heroes and villains. When Team Pakistan wins, it is passionately lauded and generously rewarded. When it loses, it is kicked to the ground. Players receive the same treatment. The PCB gets the worst of both worlds – when the team wins, the players are congratulated; when it loses, the PCB is abused. Hardly an occasion goes by when someone or the other on TV isn’t calling for the resignation of the Chairman or the sacking of the Captain, Coach, Manager or Chief Selector of the national cricket team. This is the main cause of instability and uncertainty in Pakistan cricket.

Last but not least, there is a serious problem with the mental make-up of cricketers. Most are a product of the chaotic and unruly street rather than the regulated school. This means they are largely uneducated and unable to grasp the fine points of cricketing rules, coaching advisories, etiquette, manners, team spirit and discipline. Each player is a universe unto himself, with inflated egos or psychological problems. This is a nightmare for the professional coach or manager.

Big money is the boon and bane of cricket. It is the powerful magnet that feeds the imagination of youngsters and propels them to obsess about cricket. It is also the devil that lures them into match fixing, betting and gambling. Consequently, Pakistan has more than its share of tainted cricketers, unruly umpiring and dubious match practices.

But Pakistani cricket isn’t doomed to languish at the bottom of the leagues. Here is a ten point agenda that shows the way forward.

(1) Revive school cricket to groom educated cricketers. (2) Reform domestic cricket in line with best international practises by upgrading regional cricket to inject a dose of sub-nationalism into it in order to attract crowds and sponsors. (3) Hire the best professionals in the game to organise and manage it. (4) Watch out for and clamp down on sifarish and favouritism in selection committees. (5) Revise cricketing calendars from top to bottom to reflect a quest for quality rather than quantity. (6) Devolve power from the PCB to the regions and improve the regulatory functions of the PCB. (7) Weed out corruption and mismanagement from the PCB. (8) Bring stability and certainty in the PCB by keeping government interference and court intervention to a minimum. (9) End Pakistan’s isolation in the ICC by signing lucrative foreign tours programs with all countries, especially India. (10) Appoint an educated, worldly-wise chief executive with managerial ability and organisational experience to run the PCB like a modern corporation instead of a greasy politician who treats it like a bloated and inefficient state utility meant for personal aggrandisement. This recipe reflects the abiding philosophy of the classic book “Beyond a Boundary” by CLR James: What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?

Hero or Zero?

TFT Issue: 16 May 2014

Once General Pervez Musharraf was Imran Khan’s great hero because he expected to get the top berth from the general. But when Musharraf chose Zafarullah Jamali and then Shaukat Aziz as prime minister, Imran Khan changed Musharraf’s status to a big zero.

Once the Geo/Jang Group was Imran’s great hero because it was supporting him to the hilt before the elections. But after the elections, when Geo became critical of Imran’s policies and positions, it was reduced to a big bloated zero.

Once the former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was Imran’s great hero for constantly knocking down the PPP. But after Chaudhry didn’t buy into Imran’s election petitions, he was blasted as a big treacherous zero.

Once Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G Ibrahim was Imran’s great hero. But when Ibrahim couldn’t deliver on Imran’s great expectations, he was charged with being a big incompetent zero.

Imran Khan’s blossoming political alliances are also noteworthy. The MQM was once his pet-hate, now his stunning silence is a prelude to a budding alliance for mid-term elections. Much the same sort of bonhomie is beginning to tell between Imran and the Chaudhrys of Gujrat. Once they were allegedly Musharraf’s partners in crime because they refused to give him any electoral leverage in Punjab during the 2002 elections. Now they are comrades-in-arms in the joint struggle to destabilize, weaken and eventually get rid of Nawaz Sharif.

Imran’s relationship with the “Angels” is another fascinating subject for research. He has unfailingly whipped up public sentiment in their favour whenever they have been cross with elected civilian governments: on Rehman Malik’s attempt to bring the political wing of the ISI under his boot; on the “objectionable” clauses in the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid to Pakistan bill; on the May 2nd Osama bin Laden debacle; on Memogate; on the “state within the state” accusation by the then prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani; on the blockage of NATO supplies following Salala; and now most vociferously on the Geo/Jang/ISI confrontation (he is silent on the Musharraf case which is a very big concession to them). An Ex-DGISI’s attempt to pressurise assorted politicians to join the PTI in 2012 is well known.

Indeed, it is this dubious relationship that helps to explain the induction of several key politicians into Imran Khan’s fold despite the lofty “lota” credentials of some of them. Sheikh Rashid, who has a ringside seat in the inner circle of IK advisors, is a self-claimed GHQ man who was once Nawaz Sharif’s and then Musharraf’s federal minister. Asad Omar is the son of an army general and hails from an “army family”; Shah Mahmood Qureshi jumped the PPP ship when nudged by the Angels on the Raymond Davis affair; Jehangir Tareen was Musharraf’s blue-eyed boy; Shafqat Mahmood served in Musharraf’s Punjab cabinet in 2000; Khurshid Kasuri was Musharraf’s Foreign Minister; and so on.

More significantly, Imran’s decision to launch a “movement” on May 11 is clearly aimed at destablising the Sharif regime. It has been followed up by a vicious attack on the Geo/Jang Group and a stinging denunciation of the ex-CJP and judiciary. This betrays the perennial objective of the Angels to keep every civilian government in a hunkered down defensive posture vis a vis the military establishment. In 1998 Benazir Bhutto was lumped with President Ishaq Khan and Foreign Minister Sahibzada Yaqub Khan while Aitzaz Ahsan was swiftly cut down to size for being soft on India, later she was sacked. In 1990, Nawaz Sharif was lumped with President Ishaq and Gen Waheed Kakar and shown the door in 1993. In 1997, when Nawaz Sharif got too big for his boots after easing out both President Farooq Leghari and COAS Gen Jehangir Karamat, he was ousted by a military coup. President Asif Zardari was hounded on one pretext or the other by the Angels from 2008-13, in alliance with the media and judiciary. Now Nawaz Sharif is in trouble over his attempt to try Musharraf for treason and to seize control of national security and foreign policy.

Some people say the Angels are planning another Islami Jamhoori Ittehad a la the late 1980s with Imran Khan as their opening batsman like they did with Nawaz Sharif earlier. The problem with this theory is that the Angels had to contend with only one popular force in 1988. Now there will be two, PPP and PMNL, covering both Sindh and Punjab, which will make it very difficult to play such a game. More likely, the Angels are only seeking to rap Nawaz Sharif on the knuckles and teach him to stay in his place on key issues like national security, foreign policy and the “sacred cow” status of the military rather than putting their faith in Imran Khan to lead Pakistan next. In other words, they are “using” Imran Khan for their own political goals just as they have used other politicians in the past. Therefore who will be hero and who will be zero remains to be seen.

Heart of the matter

TFT Issue: 23 May 2014

The onslaught of the military establishment on GEO for over-stepping the red line by airing Hamid Mir’s allegation against the DG ISI is continuing. Cable operators have succumbed to pressure to blackout GEO in many parts of the country.  Pro-establishment religious, political and non-state groups are hounding GEO. Advertising clients and ad agencies are being arm-twisted to pull out. The government is caught in the cross fire, damned for repressing media rights and press freedom if it helps the military establishment and damned for not protecting the sacred cows if it shows some leniency towards GEO. Worst of all, the conflict has served to bitterly divide the media, provoked sectarian passions and dragged the courts into the fray. Three developments are particularly disturbing.

The first is the entry of the PTI against GEO. Imran Khan has alleged an unholy nexus between the PMLN and GEO in “stealing” the last elections from him. He has offered no evidence, nor can he explain how and why GEO and its anchors were not so long ago his favourites and why they have overnight become his most hated enemies. A reasonable explanation is that he has decided to peg his mid-term-elections strategy by targeting both GEO and the PMLN simultaneously while endearing himself to the all-powerful military establishment.

The second is the media wars that have erupted across the channels and newspapers. A few rich businessmen with media interests have joined hands to ruthlessly attack the GEO/JANG Group. Their primary purpose is commercial. GEO accounts for over 50% of all non-terrestrial eyeballs and therefore takes half of the pie. But three significant and disquieting facts about their attack on GEO stand out. First, these media groups are “upstarts” or relatively new entrants. They are owned by businessmen who made their fortunes in trade and industry and then decided to buy stakes in the media in order to protect and promote them, unlike most of the other media that has risen from the print ranks and not ventured into big non-business projects. Second, these groups have recklessly provoked religious passions against GEO and incited violence. Third, they have compelled or lured working journalists in their ranks to abandon media ethics and codes of professional conduct and take part in the witch hunt against the GEO/JANG Group.

The third development is relentless pressure on a democratically elected government by the military establishment, PTI, religious non-state actors and these media groups to take their side and squeeze out GEO. The most obvious manifestation of this is in the struggle to seize control of PEMRA and wield it to scuttle GEO.

Meanwhile, the public remains critical of GEO for targeting the DG ISI and believes that it should be censured appropriately. But it is resolutely of the opinion that under no circumstances should GEO be banned or closed down. Much the same sort of sentiment is expressed by a dying breed of independent journalists which also wants a resolution of this conflict to yield enforceable codes of ethics and media professionalism to be embedded in any proposed solution. Their argument is that neither media owners nor government nor the military establishment should be in a position to singly or jointly dictate terms to journalists that undermine or erode their professionalism. Instead, PEMRA should be transformed into a truly transparent, strong, representative and independent regulatory mechanism to oversee media practices that impinge on matters of freedom, responsibility and national security.

Of course, this is easier said than done. The military is still in a prickly and unforgiving mood. The media barons are still going hammer and tongs after GEO. Imran Khan is still foaming at the mouth. Journalists are still at each other’s throats. PEMRA is still controversial and convulsed with epileptic fits. And the government is still unable to come to grips with the situation and find a middle way out.

The issue of how to devise a proper mechanism to regulate the media remains at the heart of the problem. In the past when there was no electronic media and no upstart barons, bodies such as the CPNE and APNS were able to tackle problems haphazardly and informally both among themselves and between them and the ruling government. The military was rarely involved in such disputes because it was treated as a sacred national security cow. But the advent of satellite TV, cross ownership, internet, social media and new media barons has changed old equations and equilibriums. This is a different age too with passionate popular urges for democracy, accountability and radical “change” in line with similar sentiments across the Muslim world. The lawyers’ movement, the restoration of the independent judiciary with its focus on “missing persons” and fundamental rights, the rise of the PTI, and the demand for a neutral election commission and transitional caretaker governments are all testament to this trend.

Hopefully, after the heat and dust of battle has settled, we shall move to address these issues appropriately.

New architecture of dialogue

TFT Issue: 30 May 2014

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s trip to New Delhi has provoked the usual war mongers to ask some prickly questions. Why did Sharif agree to attend Narendra Modi’s oath-taking ceremony when Manmohan Singh declined his own invitation last year? Why didn’t he raise the Kashmir issue when the Indians publicly objected to the export of terrorism from Pakistan? Why didn’t he stress the urgency of the composite dialogue instead of confirming his intention to unilaterally “gift” MFN status to Modi’s government? The implication is that Sharif’s foreign policy initiative has come a cropper because the Indians didn’t budge an inch from their stated position since Mumbai 26/11– “no composite dialogue until the perpetrators of Mumbai are punished and Hafiz Saeed’s Lashkar-e-Taiba is dismantled”– while Pakistan has blithely abandoned its own stance regarding the core issue of Kashmir in the composite dialogue. The conclusion drawn is that Pakistan has lost and India has won at the game of diplomacy again.

The questions are fair but the conclusions are wrong. This way of seeing Pak-India relations through the prism of “winning and losing”, or who gains what, is characterised as a Sum-Zero Game in which Pakistan’s loss is India’s gain and vice versa. Zero-sum games are the opposite of win-win situations – such as a trade agreement that significantly increases trade and welfare between two nations. The problem with the Sum-Zero approach in dealing with India is two-fold. One, it has created an architecture of state-sponsored militant actors in Pakistan to try and hurt India and wrest Kashmir by force. But, far from achieving their objectives, these non-state actors have spawned domestic terrorism, alienated the Kashmiris and hurt Pakistan in the process. Two, it has provoked India to posit its own conditionality on cross-border terrorism against Pakistan’s conditionality on Kashmir and deadlocked the dialogue process. The “composite dialogue” approach that India under Vajpayee originally proposed in 1998 and Pakistan under Sharif accepted in 1999 and which Musharraf and Manmohan pursued, was shattered with Mumbai 26/11. To talk of renewing it unconditionally without sincerely addressing the factors in Pakistan that led to its rupture is untenable.

Therefore, Sharif is trying to find a way out of this deadlock by side stepping the Sum-Zero Game approach and pegging his India strategy on a “win-win” trade initiative in the form of Non Discriminatory Market Access. Indeed, one reason why he didn’t sign on the dotted line with Manmohan Singh at the last minute was his correct assessment that Singh was on his way out and Modi was on his way in. So what did the Delhi yatra yield?

First, Sharif was accorded “primus inter pares” status (first among SAARC equals) by Modi – first long bilateral, two vigorous handshakes, “pehlay aap” ushering into the conference room (Modi led the way in for the others), no comment from South Block on Karzai’s pointed accusations against the LeT, and so on. Second, Sartaj Aziz’s statement at home that a “new architecture for dialogue” is on the cards when the two foreign secretaries meet is significant. In effect this means that both sides are ready to sidestep their respective core issues (Kashmir for Pakistan and terrorism for India) as well as the composite dialogue (all issues more or less simultaneously). In other words, no Sum-Zero Game any more.

A hint about the proposed new architecture of dialogue is available in the assertion by both Sharif and Aziz that the thread of 1999 should be picked up in the backdrop of extended win-win trade links to create vested interests in both countries against lose-lose war. In effect this means that the core issues for both countries (Kashmir and Cross-Border Terrorism) will be tackled through a vigorous back channel in order to avoid Sum-Zero analysis or controversy in the public domain and the notion of dialogue on Siachin, Sir Creek, Water, etc will be pegged to the consolidation of greater business to business and people to people trust and confidence measures.

There is one powerful mutual impetus driving both popular prime ministers: economic development and poverty alleviation. And there is one fear that haunts their goal of a grand peace dividend: another Mumbai-like incident, re-assertion of Islamic jihad in Kashmir or fighting along the Line of Control. The back channel will also serve to iron out such difficulties and remove misunderstandings swiftly.

In principle, the national security establishment in Pakistan is on the same strategic page as Sharif on the issue of peace with India even though there may be tactical differences on how to proceed. But one fundamental question remains.

Has Nawaz Sharif succeeded in convincing Narendra Modi of his sincerity in looking to the future instead of obsessing about the past, of rejecting the blame-game, of creating a new architecture for forward movement?

The fact remains that Nawaz Sharif’s efforts will be in vain if he doesn’t come to grips at home with the existential issue of terrorism that threatens to blow up in the face of both countries.

Chronicle of an arrest foretold

TFT Issue: 06 Jun 2014

Altaf Husain’s fate was foretold. With his recent arrest in London, the noose has been tightened. This is the beginning of the end for him and for the MQM as structured and led by him for over two and a half decades, mostly from exile in London.

For over two years, British authorities have been investigating three serious charges against him – involvement in the murder of the MQM leader Imran Farooq, money laundering, and hate speech. In each case, there appeared to be sufficient evidence to indict him sooner or later.

Scotland Yard has tracked the two alleged murderers of Imran Farooq — Mohsin Ali Syed and Kashif Kamran — to Pakistan where they are held captive by the ISI. The London Metropolitan Police have raided several MQM properties, including the one in which Altaf Hussain lives, and seized over £400,000 in laundered cash. Investigations have proved that several properties in London were purchased by Altaf Hussain and his front-men from laundered funds. The London police is inundated with citizen complaints protesting a hate speech by Altaf Hussain against supporters of Imran Khan protesting alleged MQM rigging of the elections in Karachi last year. In the last year or so, several senior MQM leaders in London have been questioned “under caution”, a couple were arrested and then released on bail and prohibited from leaving the country. Recently, Altaf Hussain’s bank accounts in the UK were frozen and reports surfaced suggesting that he might have obtained his British passport by invoking dubious claims. This compelled him recently to make a desperate attempt to try and obtain a Pakistani passport and alert his MQM cadres in Karachi to get ready to “face” the developing situation, an implied threat to shut down Karachi that has temporarily materialised. What next?

Altaf Hussain will probably obtain bail in the money laundering case. But the murder of Imran Farooq will hang over his head like the sword of Damocles until the British authorities are able to extradite the two alleged murderers from Pakistan and nail the evidence. Meanwhile, however, Altaf Hussain’s health, which is already sinking, is expected to incapacitate him in custody. Since he will be “watched” and “monitored” carefully, it is likely that he will lose his close and confidential contacts with key party cadres and messengers quickly and his control over party affairs will gradually dissipate. This will hasten the process of fissures and divisions within the MQM that followed the spotlight of the British authorities on Altaf Hussain in the last two years and which led to the ouster or escape of close aides like Advocate Anis and Mustafa Kamal in recent times.

Several overt and covert developments on the MQM front may be expected in London and Karachi. For starters, a degree of tension and nervousness among London-based aides and workers like Nadeem Nusrat and Anwar Bhai will manifest itself in conspiratorial huddles about power and protection which will weaken Altaf Hussian’s iron grip over the UK office. Some MQM people may also be emboldened to secretly seek the protection of the British police in exchange for giving information and evidence regarding the affairs of the MQM in general and Altaf Hussain in particular. Others may opt to quietly flee the UK for safer shores instead of risk being tainted, challenged or chained in the aftermath of the crisis. A couple of senior aides who are “under caution” already may be hauled up by the police again.

We should also expect feverish activity within the rank and file of the MQM in Karachi to cope with the crisis or take advantage of it. The man to watch is Governor Ishratul Abad. He is the face of the MQM that is acceptable to the military establishment, PPP and PMLN. He has managed to survive the vicissitudes of fortune spanning three regimes in Islamabad, and the unending idiosyncrasies, moods and tempers of Altaf Hussain for nearly fourteen years. Factions of the MQM led by Afaq, Aamir and Farooq Sattar, who are also all survivors, will vie with him for power.

The military establishment, rather than the PPP or PMLN leadership, will play a critical role in events. The corps commander Karachi has already warned the MQM not to try and forcibly shut down the street in Karachi. The ISI is already negotiating with the British authorities regarding the extradition of Mohsin and Kashif in exchange for a couple of Baloch separatists. The Rangers are expected to take full advantage of the confusion and uncertainty in the MQM to strike deeper and more effectively in Operation Clean-Up.

It is the PTI, however, that is poised to extract a longer-term benefit from the slow but inevitable dissolution of the MQM that is on the cards. That is why Imran Khan has swiftly offered an olive branch to the rank and file of the MQM that may be geared up to break free of the fearful shackles of Altaf Hussain.

State Response to Terrorism

TFT Issue: 13 Jun 2014

The audacious terrorist attack on Karachi airport by Central Asian terrorists has finally brought home one naked truth. The terrorists have cunningly utilised the space for “talks ” and “ceasefire” to entrench their fierce resistance to the state. The application of force only can now degrade and disrupt their plans. Accordingly, the military has announced its decision to go after terrorist hideouts in the tribal areas and solicited the help of American drones to take out targets. Does this signify a resolve by the Pakistani state to uproot the scourge of terrorism by all means possible?

Some questions are bound to linger and cast doubt about the state’s will and ability to go after the terrorists. Why didn’t the state come to this conclusion years earlier when high state functionaries like General Musharraf, Salman Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti, Benazir Bhutto, and several ANP leaders were attacked or killed by terrorists? Or when soldiers like Lt Gen Mushtaq Baig, Maj Gen Ameer Faisal Alvi, Maj General Sanaullah Niazi, Commandant Safwat Ghayur and scores of army and police officers were target assassinated? Why didn’t we respond when state institutions like Bacha Khan Airport Peshawar, Minhas Airbase Kamra, Mehran Naval Base Karachi, GHQ Rawalpindi, Manawan Police Training School Lahore, Askari Mosque Rawalpindi Cantt, Pakistan Ordinance Factory Wah Cantt, were targeted? Why has it taken the lives of over 50,000 people, including 5000 LEA personnel, to persuade us that we need to act firmly and finally against the terrorists who have laid us low?

The fact remains that there is still no consensus in state and society about a suitable response to terrorism. Should we still consider talking to the terrorists or should we fight them to the bloody end? Are there good terrorists and bad terrorists? Are these terrorists homegrown or foreign inspired? Is this a case of Intel failure or policy failure? Who is responsible for this crisis, soldiers or civilians, or both? How should we deal with it? So many unanswered questions!

The irony is that since independence we have doggedly built a “national security state” against external threat and aggression and now find ourselves under relentless attack from an internal enemy. No one put it better than ex-army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, who led the ISI and GHQ by turns, when he publicly confessed before retirement that the existential threat to Pakistan is internal and not external. The irony is that there are 33 police, army, paramilitary, security and intelligence organisations employing over 800,000 people and spending over Rs 1000 billion every year (half our tax resources) and they cannot protect us against this terrorism. A bigger irony is that – according to the National Internal Security Policy document drawn up recently by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan – 56,000 vacancies exist in these 33 security organisations, absurdly implying that if these vacancies were to be injected into the ocean of over 800,000 security personnel, the internal terrorist threat would be effectively tackled.

There are two dimensions to the problem. The first relates to the State’s perception and assessment of various aspects of terrorism. The second relates to the State’s response to them on various fronts. If the perception is skewed, or distorted, or false, and therefore removed from reality for one reason or another, then the response is bound to be inadequate or misplaced.

It is correct that Hindus and Muslims couldn’t live together in one state because of economic and political discrimination. This led to the creation of Pakistan. But the narrative of post independence Pakistan that its survival is based on assessing and reacting to India in a sum-zero game as the permanent enemy is the fatal flaw that haunts this country.

There are two adverse consequences of this fatally flawed “national security” narrative. One, it has accorded primacy to the military over the civilian order. This has had adverse consequences for the rule of law, political stability and democracy. Two, it has justified the military’s doctrine of “asymmetric warfare” based on first-strike nuclear weapons and armed non-state actors for external meddling in the region to redress conventional military imbalances. This in turn has led to the growth of cancerous sectarian, jihadi and Taliban groups. Three, it has sanctioned a disastrous love-hate relationship with the United States which has stunted economic and political development.

Therefore it is not enough to launch “targeted” military operations against terrorists in the tribal areas. A new and comprehensive socio-political narrative is needed to educate the civil-military bureaucracy, media and judiciary about the primacy of the internal enemy and the need to build peace with, and diffuse, the external threat. This narrative has to be woven around notions of a civil-military balance, democracy, regional amity, global integration and universal human rights, and embedded in revised curricula and textbooks. The sooner the first steps are taken to signal a dynamic reassessment of the new realities, the better.

Momentous week

TFT Issue: 20 Jun 2014

It has been a momentous week. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan launched one of its most audacious attacks to date on Karachi airport and exposed the state’s brittle security framework. This compelled the civil-military leadership to stop prevaricating and finally launch Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan. This persuaded Imran Khan to patriotically line up behind the military and cancel his “disruptionist” rally in Bahalwalpur. This nudged Maulana Tahirul Qadri to postpone his “revolutionary long march” to Islamabad to overthrow the Sharif regime. This emboldened Shahbaz Sharif to signal a show of force against Tahirul Qadri’s base in Model Town Lahore. This ignited Tahir ul Qadri’s supporters against the police. This provoked the police to charge into them. This outraged Tahirul Qadri to exhort his supporters to embrace martyrdom. This triggered bloody violence in which nine TUC activists were shot dead by the police. This enraged Imran Khan and Qadri to revert to their plans to hold rallies and long marches to besiege Islamabad. In the melee, two issues – a military operation against the TTP and General Pervez Musharraf’s freedom — that have bedevilled civil-military relations and nurtured conspiracy theories of the impending demise of the Sharif regime have been overtaken by new and more compelling ones. What next?

After the Sindh High Court predictably let General Musharraf off the hook, and the government predictably challenged its decision, the case is finally in the Supreme Court. If the SC orders the government to let him go, the issue will no longer hang fire and civil-military tensions will be diffused. But if the SC sides with the government, then civil-military relations will dive and conspiracy theorists will add fuel to the fire. However, if he court throws the ball back into the government’s court, then all this tense rigmarole to assign responsibility for dealing with Musharraf will explode in the government’s face and it will be damned if it lets Musharraf go and damned if it doesn’t. The Troika of Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri and the Chaudries of Gujrat will then hone its tactics to suit the occasion later this month.

Meanwhile, the government will be formulating a strategy to deal with four issues later this month. First, it has to deal with Musharraf’s ECL problem following a decision by the SC. Second, it has to cope with the expected backlash – renewed terrorist attacks in the urban areas and a flood of refugees from Waziristan — from the military operation against the TTP. Third, it has to disrupt and degrade the plans of the Troika to besiege Islamabad. Fourth, it has to help restore GEO TV without further alienating the military. It’s a tall order.

One quick fix option may be to let Musharraf exit without further ado and let GEO fend for itself against the military and focus on the other two issues. Coupled with full civilian backing for Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the military may be sufficiently assuaged to rein in the Troika. But if the Troika is not amenable, then the government may be compelled to exercise subtle force to stop it in his tracks. It isn’t just the government that wants to be rid of Tahir ul Qadri. The TTP has also got him in its gun sights for relentlessly opposing “Islamic” terrorism. The problem is that if anything untoward should happen to him in Pakistan at the hands of the government or the TTP, the government alone will have to accept responsibility for the sins of commission or omission that could precipitate a full blown crisis of governance.

The option of allowing the Troika to march on to Islamabad is a non-starter. The government cannot rely on the police and Rangers to block the surging river of militants. Indeed, it would be foolish to even try, given the propensity of the police to create problems instead of diffusing them, and the loyalty of the Rangers to GHQ rather than to the Interior Ministry during crunch time. Nor can it expect a talking parliamentary majority to protect it from the surging masses laying siege to parliament itself.

The PMLN leadership has badly miscalculated the power and wrath of the military. Barely one year in the saddle, it is facing a crisis of survival for which responsibility rests squarely on its own shoulders. The military has co-opted the media or silenced it, frightened the judiciary and roped in the opposition to thwart Nawaz Sharif.

Mr Asif Zardari’s PPP regime, like those previously of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif himself, was also confronted with the same dilemma. When it tried to clip the military’s wings, the Umpire hit back. But Mr Zardari learnt to avoid stepping on the military’s toes and leaned on Nawaz Sharif in opposition to hobble along. The same option is now on the table for Nawaz Sharif. Will he live with Mr Zardari and let live with the military to fight another day? Or will he be true to form as in 1993 and 1999 and face the same consequences?

Who’s calling the shots?

TFT Issue: 27 Jun 2014

Dr Tahirul Qadri has revived the imagination of the media with talk of a “revolution”. He has triggered panic in the ruling party and government and provoked it to take desperate measures to deal with him. As a consequence, the perennial anti-democracy conspirators have crept out of the woodwork to predict that the end is nigh for the Nawaz Sharif regime. Is this assessment correct?

Dr Qadri is a religio-political maverick with a significant and dedicated following in Pakistan and abroad, thanks to his Grand Fatwa against “radical Islam” that is waging war with the West and its allies. Since his Minhaj ul Quran (MuQ) project took off in the 1990s, he has been trying to carve out a political career for himself in Pakistan by all manner of gimmicks and antics. But his scattered supporters have never been able to harness their excellent organisational skills for electoral purposes in Pakistan’s first-past-the-post system. Consequently, Dr Qadri has made several forays into Pakistan from self-imposed exile in Canada in the last decade and tried to whip up public and institutional support for his unbridled ambitions. Unfortunately, the established parties — religious, ethnic and liberal-centralist — will have no truck with a demagogue like him. Indeed, when his attempt to woo the Supreme Court in 2013 to remove the corrupt PPP government and postpone the elections backfired, he blasted the courts and high-tailed it back to Canada. Now, egged on by pro-military political orphans like the Chaudhries of Gujrat and Sheikh Rashid, he has returned to Pakistan in the expectation that perhaps the military, that is at odds with the Sharif regime for various reasons, will adopt him as its front-man to “save Pakistan” by dethroning the Sharifs.

Dr Qadri’s political histrionics have catapulted him to the top of media headlines. The Sharif government’s panicky response in Lahore, where police reaction led to the deaths of a dozen MuQ activists, and Islamabad, where an international flight bringing Dr Qadri to Pakistan was stupidly diverted to Lahore, have helped to make him temporarily as “the most dangerous threat” to the Sharif regime and added grist to the rumour mills predicting doom for it.

There is no doubt that the military leadership is unhappy, even angry, with Nawaz Sharif for not letting General Musharraf off the hook, siding with GEO instead of the ISI and dragging his feet on launching military operations against the Taliban in North Waziristan — in short, for challenging its historical monopoly on defining and exercising power on critical “national security” issues. But it would be misplaced concreteness to read this as a sign that the military is conspiring to seize power directly or even to install a long-term handpicked caretaker government. The military’s doctrine of “soft power” is aimed at cutting elected civilian regimes down to size and pulling strings behind the scenes, as it did during the Zardari years, rather than ruling directly in the face of the myriad problems that beset Pakistan.

This doctrine is based on a realistic assessment of the ground realities. First, the long-term existential war against terrorism and a separatist insurgency requires a national political consensus comprising political parties, state institutions and the media, which only an elected dispensation can deliver, however imperfectly. This objective neither Dr Qadri nor Imran Khan can deliver alone or collectively so long as the PMLN, PPP, judiciary and independent media remain outside the tent. Second, the economy requires tough and unpopular decisions that the military is loath to take. Third, Imran Khan’s reluctance to join forces with Dr Qadri is born of his refusal to play second fiddle. While Imran is certainly interested in hastening the demise of the Sharif regime followed by fresh elections, he is unlikely to support any extra-constitutional back-door entry along with the likes of Dr Qadri on the back of the military. Fourth, General Raheel Sharif’s soldierly temperament suggests that he is not about to let the ISI run GHQ as in the recent past. He would much rather use the ISI to get a freer hand to deal with national security issues vis a vis the elected government than conspire to seize power directly or enable unpredictable power-hungry people like Dr Qadri or Imran Khan to wield it on the military’s behalf. Indeed, he is also likely to be more focused on easing out the Kayani team in GHQ and ISI that he has inherited and replace it with his handpicked new one in consolidating his power base within the military and between the military and civilians.

However, the situation will remain precipitous for some time to come, with Dr Qadri and Imran Khan hogging the headlines and shaking up the government through demonstrations and marches. In the final analysis, however, it is General Raheel Sharif who will call the shots. And he is not about to wrap up the Sharifs despite the ongoing tension in civil-military relations.

The General in the Dock

TFT Issue: 04 Jul 2014

In an extraordinary interview to the BBC, ex-DG-ISPR, Maj-Gen (r) Athar Abbas has shed light on an issue that has long perplexed many analysts. Why, when friends and foes at home and abroad were all expecting the army to launch a military operation in North Waziristan in 2010-11 to stop it from becoming a base area for all manner of terrorists, did the then army chief, General Kayani, not take the plunge?

The question is critical especially because, according to Gen Abbas, the army’s formation commanders were generally agreed upon the necessity of such a course of urgent action in order to control the spread of militancy and terrorism, an assessment that has turned out to be correct because of the terrible loss of army and civilian lives at the hands of the terrorists based in NWA since then.

Gen Abbas has also explained the factors that led General Kayani to stay his hand. First, the army chief believed that in the face of such an operation the militant groups and tribes allied to the military in one way or another would turn against the army and join the militant groups. Second, he worried about how to expel the foreign militant-assets belonging to the Haqqani network and how to deal with the flood of IDPs that would inevitably follow a military operation. Third, he was concerned about the inability of the government’s other intelligence and law enforcement agencies to cope with the expected terrorist backlash in the settled urban areas. Fourth, in the absence of a national consensus, he was afraid about a militant reaction from the religious right wing. Fifth, he could not shrug away the probability that he would personally become a target for the terrorists like General Pervez Musharaf before him.

There is absolutely no doubt that General Abbas is speaking the truth. Two other facts support his statement. First, in March 2011, Maj-Gen Ghayur Mehmood of the army’s Seventh Division in North Waziristan told a group of specially assembled reporters that the “myths and rumours about U.S. Predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizable number of them foreigners.” This statement blatantly conflicted with the popular perception that the drones were the root cause of terrorism because of the collateral damage they inflicted. It led perceptive analysts to argue that Gen Ghayur‘s statement was deliberately given in order to pave the way for a military operation in NWA in cooperation with the Americans. Instead, it ended up sowing confusion when no such thing happened and Gen Ghayur conveniently “disappeared” from the scene without any censure, suggesting a change of mind at the last minute. Second, statements emanating from Washington DC, in particular from Admiral Mike Mullen, the US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, who boasted of his friendship with Gen Kayani, confirmed that an operation was on the cards. Later, on the eve of his retirement, Admiral Mullen spoke bitterly of being misled by General Kayani and breaching his “trust” by going back on his word to launch the operation.

Gen Abbas’s statement is an indictment of General Kayani’s misplaced tactical concreteness. Three years later, with the death toll from terrorism exacting an existential price, the problem has become bigger because the state’s vulnerabilities have become more pronounced after the terrorists have used the time and space to become more organised and efficient. A more apt epitaph could not have been uttered: “For six years General Kayani kept vacillating over the issue and in six months, this leader (General Raheel Sharif) decided this is the crux of the problem. It’s a matter of how decisive you are, how much you have the ability to sift essentials from non-essentials”.

Why has General Abbas thought fit to shed light on this issue at this time and that too in an interview to the BBC? His answer – “the issue came up in the interview and I had to face the truth squarely” – doesn’t wash.

A productive line of reasoning would suggest that, like General Ghayur in 2011, Gen Abbas has obtained “clearance” for his interview from the “top”. General Raheel Sharif is saddled with General Kayani’s legacy in more ways than one, not least in a section of corps commanders and intelligence chiefs that might be a drag on the new army chief’s political, strategic and tactical vision. So it helps in exposing the failings of the past not just in order to achieve unity and success in the current mission but also to establish his own authority amongst his predecessor’s appointees. It is also important to send a strong signal abroad to the international community that this time the army leadership is not playing a “double game” and can be trusted to keep its word. What better forum to send this message at this time than the BBC.

Democracy and Islamic Morality

TFT Issue: 11 Jul 2014

Politics is taking another ugly turn in Pakistan. Unfortunately, politicians are at the centre of the gathering storm, notwithstanding the provocative role of the military’s intelligence agencies to exploit some of them to cut others down to size and tilt the civil-military balance in the military’s favour.

The root cause of the current buffeting of state and society is Imran Khan. Barely one year after he gamely accepted the verdict of the general elections of 2013, he has changed his mind and is accusing the judiciary of having helped Nawaz Sharif steal the elections from him. His ire is directed in particular against ex-chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the very same gentleman who was praised to high heaven by Imran Khan when he was in the saddle and targeting the PPP government of Asif Zardari. CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry has been the object of Imran Khan’s wrath since he turned down Imran Khan’s petition to “open up” four constituencies in the Punjab for detailed scrutiny on the perfectly legal ground that the route for redressing such grievances lay via the election tribunals and high court to the Supreme Court rather than directly to the SC.

Imran Khan is impatient to get into Islamabad and is threatening to overthrow an elected government next August by a “revolutionary tsunami”. Not so long ago, he had defined Pakistan’s major problem as its inability to enable and allow the democratic system to continue seamlessly without interruptions in governments before their term ends, a reference to the periodic military coups and civilian ousters that have laid Pakistan low. Today, he is preaching and practicing the exact opposite, aided and abetted by the perennial clutch of backdoor hopefuls like Tahirul Qadri and the remnants of the PMLQ rump.

Imran Khan has also turned on the Geo/Jang Group (GJG) that played a major role in catapulting him to the top not only by giving him the largest chunk of airtime but also by uncritically approving his candidature before the elections. Apparently GJG’s continued support for Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, coupled with its pro-civilian stance in the civil-military equation, has roused powerful quarters to nudge Imran Khan to take up cudgels against it.

However, Imran Khan’s personalized attacks on Nawaz Sharif and Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry have muddied the waters and provoked counter attacks that threaten to bring the question of “Islamic morality” center stage in politics. Imran has always tried to occupy the high moral ground in politics despite the many skeletons in his cupboard. Now the stage is set for reprisals.

Dr Arsalan Chaudhry, son of ex-CJP Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, intends to petition the Election Commission of Pakistan and challenge Imran Khan’s credentials to become a member of parliament on the touchstone of Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution that define “a good Muslim”. The charge against Imran Khan is that he is the father of a child out of wedlock, which is against the provisions of Islam and which disqualifies him from becoming a member of parliament. This is the not the first time that Imran Khan has been thus accused but he has never had to defend his credentials for parliament on account of this charge. It is also not the first time that recourse to Articles 62 and 63 has been taken by election commission officials to disqualify candidates from contesting elections. So there will be a case to defend this time round.

This is most unfortunate. The inclusion of these articles in the constitution is a reminder of the huge damage done to it by General Zia ul Haq. Who is to determine who is a good and pious Muslim and who is not? Until now, election commission officials have been asking candidates to recite various Quranic verses as if ritual and rote knowledge of the laws of Allah qualifies someone to be a good Muslim. Regrettably, however, various parliaments have come and gone since these articles were incorporated into the constitution and none has had the courage to excise them. Now we are faced with an extraordinary dilemma: if the courts disregard the concrete evidence against Imran Khan, then they will be discredited; if Imran Khan is disqualified, it will amount to disenfranchising tens of millions of Pakistanis who fervently believe in and follow Imran Khan. Political instability will follow, especially since Imran Khan has vowed to drag Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the altar of Articles 62 and 63 in retaliation. Indeed, if a halt is not put to Dr Arsalan Chaudhry’s endeavors, it is quite likely that the floodgates of litigation will be opened and scores of fresh petitions will choke the courts.

What goes round comes round. Since definitions of morality in the Islamic Republic are quite loose, it is best not to derail democracy by clutching at Articles 62 and 63 or by thundering into Islamabad at the head of a tsunami. Sane council should prevail in all contesting camps.

Changing Course?

TFT Issue: 18 Jul 2014

Khawaja Saad Rafique has all but announced a U-turn in PMLN policy on General ® Pervez Musharraf’s fate. He says the PMLN is not tripping over itself to dispatch Musharraf to prison. This is the same Khawaja who not so long ago thundered against the dictator and vowed to slap him with Article 6. Khawaja Asif, the second big hawk, is already licking his wounds after being rapped by the military for stepping on its toes. This suggests that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has finally seen the wisdom of letting Musharraf off the hook and signaled his stalwarts to change course and “save” his regime.

But that is easier said than done. The Musharraf case is now in the Supreme Court. This is causing anguish in both military and PMLN circles. The military wants a quick exit solution either by the court or the government. But the PMLN is apprehensive that the court may either declare that Musharraf cannot leave the country because of various pending cases against him or kick the ball back in the government’s court by ordering it to guarantee that Musharraf is produced in the courts when required, an impossible task.

The military has tried to make Mr Sharif’s job easier by getting ex-PM Yousaf Raza Gilani to declare that Musharraf was given “safe passage” in 2008 following an “agreement” between all major parties, including the PMLN, witnessed by America, UK and Saudi Arabia. The purpose of this statement is to make it easier for PMLN to retract from its current hard-line. Unfortunately, however, the message seems to have been lost on the key players. Anti-establishment PPP Senators Farhatullah Babar and Raza Rabbani don’t agree with Mr Gilani and the PMLN has flatly denied it ever approved any such “safe passage”, despite corroboratory evidence provided by US Ambassador Ann Patterson’s wikileaks cables of August 2008. This tells us that the politicians don’t even know when not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan is breathing fire and brimstone and vowing to bring the PMLN regime down. Imran’s political somersaults have now become par for the course. First he said that he would cancel his “tsunami” march to Islamabad if the government agreed to open up four electoral constituencies for 100% thumb verification. Then he said that this demand was water down the bridge and nothing less than “mid-term elections” would quench his hunger for power. Now he is saying that if Afghanistan’s two political presidential rivals can agree to a full recount of all the polling stations, why can’t the same be done in Pakistan, quite conveniently forgetting that Afghanistan’s 3.5 million voters and 6900 polling stations are hardly comparable to Pakistan’s 35.7m voters and 97,000 polling stations.

Not to be forgotten or outdone, General Musharraf has thrown in his two bits worth. He says that the country cannot afford to continue on the path of this moth eaten system and needs an “interim government backed by the military” for some years to set things right. This statement was drafted by the military to send an ominous “message” to Mr Sharif, for the same purpose as Mr Gilani’s was aimed at showing the way forward.

The PMLN government is decidedly in a fix despite belated attempts to backtrack on the three issues that have dogged its relationship with the military: war on the Taliban, Musharraf, and GEO. What next?

Unless the PMLN is able to demonstrate some deft political moves and persuade Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri to back off, or scratch the military’s back so that it can lean on them to do the needful, the stage is set for a big anti-government show in Islamabad on August 14. The million dollar question is whether or not it will be a catalyst for regime change.

Dr Qadri is not likely to be deterred by tax demands from the FBR. Nor is Imran Khan likely to back down without significant concessions in the next few weeks. In the end it will all boil down to the military establishment – whether it is merely using the traditional political levers of power to cut Mr Sharif down to size or whether it has decided to send him packing. In the current circumstances, one cannot expect a charged mass gathering in Islamabad to melt away peacefully.

The problem with packing off Mr Sharif is that it can only be done in the manner of 1999 with a coup rather than in the manner of 1993 with the threat of a coup. Is the military ready to solely shoulder the burdens of fighting wars in Waziristan and Balochistan, uprooting urban terrorism in Karachi and Punjab, and managing an enraged population demanding electricity and jobs, while fending off criticism and possible sanctions from the international community for derailing democracy? We expect all contending players to do their homework carefully in the national interest before plunging the country into a crisis of huge proportions.

Way forward

TFT Issue: 25 Jul 2014

There is an overwhelming consensus in the country that significant electoral reforms are needed to improve the quality of the electoral process and preclude allegations of rigging and fraud that tar the legitimacy of the exercise and subsequently lead to political instability. Accordingly, a committee on electoral reform comprising 33 members from across the party-political spectrum, including PTI, in both houses of parliament has been set up. This should not be cynically shrugged away since such parliamentary committees have demonstrated a seriousness of purpose and utility in recent times – cases in point being the committees that cobbled a clutch of consensus amendments to the constitution, laws against women’s harassment and most recently the PPO.

The demand for a close scrutiny of the election process has originated from the PTI. Indeed, in a sweeping critique of the former chief justice of Pakistan, the CEC/ECP, ROs and the Punjab and Sindh caretaker administrations, Imran Khan has desperately tried to build a case for mid-term elections by alleging that the elections were “stolen” from him by the PLMN. But the charge is not substantiated by the conclusions of various neutral and professional election monitors like PILDAT, FAFEN, NDI, EU, HRCP, etc. Indeed, each independent monitor has accepted the fact that the electoral process in 2013 was better than ever before even as each has pointed to flaws and misgivings on various counts. The proof of the pudding is now available in the form of results of the 410 electoral petitions filed before election tribunals. By May 31, 2014, 301 such petitions had been decided; the delays are equally spread over the contesting parties – 21 out of PTI’s 58 and 28 out of PMLN’s 66 are still pending; PTI has had a zero success rate in 37 petitions and PMLN only four successes out of 38; the tribunals have de-seated two PTI candidates and nine PMLN winners. This is to say that the PTI’s charges are politically motivated because the gap between its charges of deliberate and premeditated electoral fraud and the facts on the ground is insurmountable.

Nonetheless, a strong case for further electoral reform has been made out. There were irregularities in pre-voting processes, voter identification procedures, ballot and counterfoil processing, voter facilitation and secrecy, ballot stuffing and polling station capture, influencing voters and election officials, closing of polling and vote counting procedures, result documentation and dissemination, and incidents of intimidation and violence were common.

Equally, the PTI’s broad recommendations are fair and should become the starting point of any such exercise. The system of selecting the CEC and members of ECP has to be improved; the ROs should be legally accountable to the ECP for their performance in the conduct of elections; post-election appeals must be concluded within 120 days; elections must be held under a foolproof biometric system and EVMs must be introduced for voting with a paper trail; caretaker chief ministers and cabinets must not be permitted to hold public office for two years after overseeing any election; and overseas Pakistanis must be facilitated in exercising their voting rights.

That said, there is no justification in Imran Khan’s demand for a mid-term election as evidenced by a couple of recent polls. Despite its inability to provide quick economic relief to the masses, most people still want the PMLN government to complete its term. Despite the inefficiencies and corruptions of democracy, most people still prefer it to dictatorship. Despite their differences and ambitions, most opposition parties want the PMLN government to survive. Indeed, there is no way Imran Khan can use street power to topple the government without a military intervention that amounts to a coup. And it is inconceivable that any coup will be tailored to fit Imran Khan’s political ambitions.

The best antidote to any creeping coup is good civilian government. This is the lesson of Turkey under Erdogan. He has been able to harness the military by winning three elections in a row and stitching up his relations with the Kurds and Greece that necessitated military overreach and dependence. Nawaz Sharif’s mistake has been to try and redress the civil-military imbalance without building the objective conditions for such an exercise. This has alienated the military and encouraged the likes of Imran Khan and Dr Tahir ul Qadri to sharpen their knives.

The establishment of a parliamentary electoral reforms committee in which the PTI has agreed to participate is a good first step. The PMLN should follow up by holding direct talks with PTI aimed at diffusing the political tension in the run-up to August 14. Then the PM should shuffle the cabinet and put a gloss of efficiency over the government. Finally, the government should assuage the military by letting General Musharraf off the hook and freezing the FIA inquiry into Asghar Khan’s charge against the ISI for funding and fudging the 1990 elections. This will take the steam out of the conspirators and allow the government to live to fight another day.

Lessons of Mass Movements

TFT Issue: 01 Aug 2014

The PMLN government has decided to apply Article 245 of the constitution and deploy the army to manage law and order and enhance the security of “sensitive installations” in the capital territory of Islamabad for three months starting August. The decision was probably taken after detailed consultations with the military leadership over its modus operandi and politico-legal objectives and consequences.

Article 245 says that that thee armed forces shall act under the directions of the federal government to defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and subject to law, also act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so. The government’s orders cannot be called into question in any court.

Clearly, since external aggression and threat of war are not an issue currently, the government expects to use the army to control any law and order situation arising out of the “long march” of Imran Khan and Dr Tahir ul Qadri on August 14th. Both are talking of a “revolution” not just to overthrow the government but also to radically change the political system of electoral democracy as we know it. Therefore, it may also consider applying Article 245 to Lahore and Rawalpindi if the situation so requires.

The political situation today is a throwback to 1977 when the PPP government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was faced with a popular Pakistan National Alliance movement across the country demanding fresh elections and responded by clutching at Article 245 to control the angry and motivated crowds in Karachi, Hyderabad and Lahore. When the government’s order was challenged in the Lahore High Court, the then Attorney-General Yahya Bakhtiar told the court it had no jurisdiction in the matter because Article 245 amounted to the imposition of a “mini-martial law” in the affected areas. But the Lahore High Court (LHC) struck this formulation down.

This lesson should not be lost to the PMLN government today, not least since the courts are overly aggressive in defending their newly won extended writ jurisdictions. Indeed, it is more than likely that petitions will be filed directly to the Supreme Court under Article 184(3) that protects the “public interest” (which is exactly what Imran Khan et al are talking about).

A second lesson should also not be ignored. After the “mini-martial” law was struck down by the LHC in 1977, the crowds got such a political fillip that the army under General Zia ul Haq was emboldened to intervene on its own account and overthrow the Bhutto regime by a coup d’etat.

The situation is perilous. Imran Khan is not talking of a soft gathering in Islamabad that will peacefully disperse after a few speeches. He is threatening a storm akin to the one that overthrew the regime and political system in Egypt three years ago. But the experience of Egypt is instructive. The army was called out in aid of civil power to protect the Hosni Mubarak regime from popular discontent on the streets but soon thereafter ousted the regime on the pretext of holding new elections and subsequently seized power on its own account. Much the same thing happened in Pakistan in 1977.

But if the lessons for PMLN are clear enough, these should also not be ignored by Imran Khan and Dr Qadri. The long-term beneficiaries of the army’s intervention in Pakistan 1977 and Egypt 2011 were not the political leaders of the popular revolt but the clique of army generals who carried out the interventions.

There is another factor to consider. In 1977, a coup was made after Mr Bhutto refused to budge. But in Pakistan 1993 and Egypt 2011, regime change followed by elections became possible after Nawaz Sharif and Hosni Mubarak respectively agreed to step down under military pressure. But the Nawaz Sharif of 2014 is not the Nawaz Sharif of 1993 or the Asif Zardari of 2008 (when General Ashfaque Kayani was able to play a role in stopping Nawaz Sharif’s long march and leaning on the government to restore the judges). Should push come to shove as a consequence of Imran Khan’s long march, Mr Sharif will not budge even if leads to another martial law. And martial law will not pave the way either for fresh free and fair elections, nor the installation of Imran Khan and/or Dr Tahir ul Qadri at the head of the new regime.

All sides should reconsider their positions in the national interest. Pakistan is not Egypt. Uneven political and regional developments have created a multiplicity of parties and interests. The army and paramilitary forces are already extended in FATA and Balochistan. Relations with neighbours India and Afghanistan are prickly and precipitous. The economy is struggling to get back on the rails. US interest in propping up the army and economy is on the wane, unlike in the past when martial laws were imposed. Political negotiations rather than tsunamis and military aids to civil power are urgently needed.

Independence Day

TFT Issue: 08 Aug 2014

In the life of every nation-state, Independence Day is celebrated with collective joy and thanksgiving. It is the one day in the life of every country when internal squabbles are buried and the nation rises as one to face the world. Unfortunately, however, this tradition is on the anvil in Pakistan. Imran Khan is trying to turn August 14, 2014, into a day of political division, upheaval and violence. Dr Tahirul Qadri, the Canadian-Pakistani televangelist-cleric, is only marginally less mindful of the sanctity of August 14, having announced that his “revolution” will engulf the political system after August 14 but before August 30.

Both gentlemen are promising nothing less than a “revolution”. The problem is that for Imran Khan a “revolution” only means the replacement of Nawaz Sharif’s regime by Imran Khan’s regime after another round of elections under the constitution while for Dr Qadri it means the replacement of the current constitutional system with an undefined one led by Dr Sahib himself. If this were merely a sign of politics as usual, we would not be worried. But the rhetoric seems ominously like an invitation to a beheading of democracy by the military. That, too, might not be totally unacceptable if the track record of the military in politics could provide a fig leaf of justification. But the three military interventions since independence are primarily responsible for the strategic drift, violent sectarian strife and political turmoil in which Pakistan finds itself today.

It is also unfortunate that Nawaz Sharif, as prime minister, has not been able to display the wisdom and vision expected and is partly responsible for the mess in which we find ourselves. If the military had not been so unnecessarily estranged for a couple of provocative reasons, neither Imran nor Dr Qadri would have dared to stake their political fortunes and adventures on a suitable intervention by it.

No matter. Albeit belated, Mr Sharif is now using his political capital with allies and opposition alike to persuade Imran Khan and Dr Qadri to hold their horses. A national consensus is already evident against any attempt to provoke military intervention. Former president Asif Zardari (PPP), Maulana Fazal ur Rahman (JUI), Asfandyar Wali (ANP), Sirajul Haq (Jamaat i Islami), Altaf Hussain (MQM) and other political luminaries have been roped in to protect the sanctity of August 14. It appears that the government has adopted a carrot and stick policy to deal with the situation. The carrot of detailed scrutiny of a number of electoral constituencies is being offered to Imran Khan and the stick is being brandished before Dr Qadri. Both have unprecedentedly exhorted their militant followers to assault the police if any attempt is made by the government to thwart them. Consequently, the police has filed FIRs and moved in force to surround Dr Qadri’s residence.

Dr Qadri says he will announce his plans on August 10. He is unsure of whether to join Imran Khan – and risk losing the leadership of the “revolutionary” movement to him – or to go it alone and be isolated. Similarly, Imran Khan is aware of the serious fissures in his party and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government over his announced plans. No one wants to resign from the provincial or national parliament and be left stranded. Indeed, the public utterances of party stalwarts signal confusion and disarray. The PTI’s parliamentary spokesmen assure everyone that the PTI abhors violence and will abide by peaceful constitutional norms in making demands while Imran Khan thunders outside parliament about overthrowing the government via street mob power. Deep down, both avengers know that if the military were to intervene because of any anarchy engineered by them, they would not necessarily be its direct beneficiaries.

Most pundits are agreed on one point: the military wants to cut Nawaz Sharif down to size, like it did Asif Zardari, and is principally averse to any direct take-over. It has bluntly signaled its displeasure of certain government policies and is pulling strings to activate disgruntled elements in the opposition and media to help it achieve its objective. It is also now clear that Mr Sharif has finally woken up to the pitfalls of his earlier defiance of the military and may be amenable to a change of course on certain contentious issues.

If this is so, we should see some last minute “adjustments” by all the key players – PMLN government, GHQ and PTI – next week. This could take the form of an “agreement” between the government and PTI over electoral issues and a firm “commitment” to General Raheel Sharif by Nawaz Sharif to stay clear of military-designated areas of policy – which is reflected in a “postponement” of the “tsunami-march revolution”. This may be supplemented by a short stint in the cooler for Dr Qadri and renewed self-exile in Canada because he has unfortunately left no fallback position for himself.

Of course, all these calculations could amount to zero if any of the key players is unreasonably unbending. Then all bets will be off.

Miltablishment’s End Game

TFT Issue: 15 Aug 2014

It isn’t a coincidence that Imran Khan has woken up a year after the elections to contest their wholesale legitimacy and demand the ouster of the Nawaz Sharif government while Tahir ul Qadri has simultaneously leapt out of far-away Canada to demand nothing less than a “revolution” to change the political system. Nor is it pure political opportunism that has compelled Imran Khan to constantly change the goal posts of his “azadi march” from a recount of votes in four Lahore constituencies, to the resignations of the four provincial election commissioners, to a reconstitution of the Election Commission and a reframing of electoral laws, to the establishment of a Supreme Court body for investigation into charges of electoral fraud and legitimacy, ending up with nothing less than regime change as a prelude to all of the above.

Both Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri have demonstrated links with the military establishment, or “Miltablishment”, dating back to the Musharraf-Pasha era. This powerful military establishment is now separate from and distinct from the defunct notion of the “Establishment” which denoted the military-bureaucratic steel-frame that once ruled Pakistan before the politicians corrupted and politicized the civil bureaucracy and co-opted it on their side. This agenda has been facilitated by the Chaudhries of Gujrat and Sheikh Rashid of Lal Haveli who are self-avowed proxies of the “Miltablishment”.

The “Miltablishment’s” aggressive but indirect interventionism in the political system stems from the potential tilting of power from the military to the civilians as electoral democracy has taken root internally and the external prop of the military in the form of the United States has withdrawn from the region. It first flexed its muscle during the Kayani era when the PPP government was straightjacketed and compelled to concede on all issues of “national security” as exclusively defined by GHQ-ISI. Now it has moved decisively to cut Nawaz Sharif to size after his decision to seize control of, and redefine, “national security” policy, especially as relates to regional foreign policy and ant-terrorism strategy. Mr Sharif’s decision to try ex-army chief Musharraf for treason has raised the hackles of the Miltablishment and compelled it to strike back.

This is to say that the Miltablishment’s preferred strategy now is to remain in control of the commanding heights of “national security” by making new allies in the media and even judiciary, both of which now claim “independent” status as organs of the state, to compensate for the abdication of the civil bureaucracy and loss of power to the representatives of the electorate.

This helps to explain not just the current movement for “azadi” or “revolution” by the political allies and proxies of the Miltablishment but also the critical role of the “new media” from the corporate sector in sustaining this development (The Jang/Geo Group is getting the stick because it belongs to the old media which is hamstrung by notions of “journalistic” independence.)

More significantly, it helps to explain how the Miltablishment intends to steer the ongoing political turmoil to its advantage in the next few weeks. A Zia-ist coup is not on the table. Equally, a Kakarist shove can be ruled out because the Nawaz Sharif of 2014 is temperamentally poles apart from the Nawaz Sharif of 1993. This leaves the Kayani option on the table. If Nawaz Sharif, Iftikhar Chaudhry and the old media were key allies in the game to make Zardari politically impotent, then Imran Khan, Tahir ul Qadri and the new media are allies today in the game to cut Sharif down to size. This is to say that the dogs of war will be called off from besieging Islamabad after Sharif concedes the demand to investigate the elections of 2013 via the Supreme Court, reconstitutes the Election Commission with the approval of the chief protagonists immediately, lets Musharraf off the hook, backtracks on his regional foreign policy initiatives and commits to dissolving parliament and holding fresh elections if the SC so directs on the basis of its findings.

Needless to say, however, the best-laid plans can go awry when these are subject to unpredictable mass crowd behavior. Any deviation from the script by Imran Khan and/or Tahir ul Qadri in the heat of the moment can have unintended consequences no less than the premeditated provocation of terrorists. Certainly, after a series of miscalculations – starting with the Model Town incident and the stop-go measures to close and open the routes for the long marchers and the stubborn refusal to open negotiations with Imran Khan on his core issues some months ago – the Sharifs cannot afford to ride on their high horses any more. They have lost their foothold and standing and will be totally dependent on the goodwill and support of the Miltablishment to complete their term. Those who have pulled out the demagogues of today and also reigned them in can all too easily pull them out again, should the need arise, for a more decisive round in the future.

What next?

TFT Issue: 22 Aug 2014

Three new developments suggest that, despite the aggressive and uncompromising rhetoric, the political crisis provoked by the long marches of Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri is dissipating. Neither a military coup nor the resignation of the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, or dissolution of parliament followed by fresh general elections, is imminent.

The first is a statement from the military leadership indicating its mindset. It has called upon all parties to resolve their disputes through negotiations while signaling the army’s decision to physically protect “institutions of the state”, like Parliament, the Presidency, PM House, the Secretariat, the Supreme Court, etc – in effect to stop the demonstrators from storming or besieging the constitutional abodes of government. Following this “advice”, the siege of parliament ordered by Tahir ul Qadri has been lifted and both he and Imran Khan have entered into talks with government delegations. Although both are sticking to their maximalist demands – which are at odds over core issues – this is a good first step in the direction of conflict resolution.

The second is a demonstrated consensus in civil society that, however inadequate, Pakistan’s democratic dispensation should not be rolled back by unconstitutional or violent means, in effect disavowing any direct military intervention or regime change through violent long marches and street protests. All political parties, ulema groups, civil society organisations, lawyers associations and media are on the same page on this account. Now parliament is demonstrating its resolve to resist any encroachment on its sovereignty. This has isolated both PTI and PAT and compelled them to disavow violence. Indeed, this explains how the current protest movement is sharply different from earlier movements in Pakistani history for regime change – and why D-Square is not Tahrir Square – in which the opposition parties and civil society were all ganged up against a solitary government that responded with fierce repression.

The third is a consensus in civil society that Imran Khan’s charges of institutional election rigging are unmerited because all domestic and independent pollsters and monitors have declared these elections to be the fairest and freest since 1970. Equally, all are also agreed that an independent investigation needs to be commissioned in order to pinpoint serious flaws in the electoral system that give rise to such allegations so that suitable and timely reformist measures can be undertaken by the government in consultation with the opposition in parliament.

These developments may be considered a measure of the way forward in resolving the current impasse by giving each protagonist a face-saving exit while enforcing the national consensus.

Since the attempt to dislodge the prime minister by a long march of protestors representing 35 MNAs out of over 400 parliamentarians is unpopular, unconstitutional and untenable, PAT/PTI must climb down from their maximalist position. Equally, since the demand for an investigation into charges of electoral fraud has popular and political backing, the PMLN must concede a commission of inquiry – even if it means changing the election laws by Presidential Ordinance or parliamentary legislation to facilitate it – whose constitution and terms of reference meet with the unequivocal approval of the PAT/PTI. Both sides must also agree to unreservedly accept the findings of such a commission. If the commission finds that Imran Khan’s charges are institutionally unfounded, then he must resign from the leadership of the PTI. But if it finds the PMLN culpable such a charge, then Nawaz Sharif must resign as prime minister, dissolve the assemblies and quit the leadership of the PMLN. If it finds evidence of particular rather than general rigging, then re-elections must be held in the tainted constituencies under a mutually approved arrangement and the existing political dispensation should be allowed to continue until the decreed next general elections in 2018. In the meanwhile, the 33 member parliamentary committee, which includes 3 PTI representatives, established to recommend suitable changes in the election framework must do its job quickly so that the second core demand of PAT/PTI is satisfied.

The issue of the 18 PAT activists killed by police firing in Model Town last month also needs to be resolved quickly. Dr Qadri is within his rights to demand an independent commission that has his stamp of approval. The PMLN must concede this demand immediately. If such a commission finds the chief minister directly responsible, he must resign from parliament. If it doesn’t, PAT must back off. If it finds other functionaries guilty, they must be sacked from service.

In short, the findings and recommendations of both commissions of inquiry must be given the sanctity of law and complied with fully by all parties.

This long march can pave the way for another disastrous military intervention or it can have an enduring positive impact on Pakistan’s political landscape by compelling the PMLN to rule with greater accountability and parliament with greater responsibility. Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri can then either be jointly condemned for undermining and derailing democracy or jointly credited for cleansing and strengthening it.

Woe is Pakistan

TFT Issue: 29 Aug 2014

The political crisis has come to a head. Someone or something must give quickly and diffuse the situation. Or there will be violence, followed by an army “intervention” in one form or another.

The problem is that any sort of army intervention, soft or hard, will generate another matrix of legal and political problems if it is aimed at removing or undermining the legally elected prime minister and parliament of the day. Parliament and the prime minister have both spoken out in defense of their constitutional rights to uphold their respective status quos while the Supreme Court has reiterated its orders to the government to clear the area of the protestors. But the government is reluctant to order the “law enforcement agencies” – police, rangers and army – to enforce the SC’s order.

Indeed, a statement issued by the government following a meeting between the prime minister and the army chief has expressly focused on two core issues: the urgent need to “resolve” the crisis quickly; and the government’s resolve not to use force. However, any government that publicly disavows the use of force to protect its constitutional rights is already admitting it has lost its mandate to govern. Moreover, by admitting the urgency of a “quick” solution in the face of agitators who have threatened to resort to unconstitutional violence, the government has all but succumbed to their core demands.

This is a reflection of the government’s weakness. It stems from a critical mishandling of the Model Town incident in which the government’s position has been weakened by two new developments: the order of the Lahore High Court to register an FIR against the PM, CM and many others; and the leaked report of the Judicial Commission that casts a shadow on the conduct of the chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, thereby fueling demands for his resignation. Another such incident in Islamabad would be a nail in the political coffin of Nawaz Sharif himself.

Both Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri have been quick to exploit the government’s vulnerabilities and up the ante. They have now thumbed their nose at the Supreme Court. Dr Qadri is actually digging his grave to prove his resolve to shed blood. If they order their followers to storm parliament or the prime minister’s office or house, the soldiers who are stationed there will have to stop them. If they don’t, it would be in defiance of the orders of the SC and government. In either event, the army’s action or inaction would amount to a military “intervention” for or against the legally constituted regime. Since the military leadership has already signaled its aversion to the use of force against the demonstrators – regardless of the fact that their leaders are openly exhorting them to be ready to storm the barricades by force – it is clear what it will and will not do and what its decision will signify.

In view of these factors, the government’s erstwhile allies in and out of parliament have recommended a human “sacrifice” in an attempt to appease the protestors. This is the resignation of Shahbaz Sharif for the Model Town tragedy demanded by Tahirul Qadri. The potential resignation of Nawaz Sharif, followed by the dissolution of parliament and fresh elections, for Imran Khan’s satisfaction is also on the anvil, if the Supreme Court’s commission of inquiry eventually finds that the elections of 2013 were inextricably corrupted as alleged by Imran Khan.

Nawaz Sharif can take this advice in the expectation of living to fight another day. But sacrificing Shahbaz Sharif under pressure might amount to misplaced concreteness if it so weakens his party and government in his base Punjab province that another onslaught by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri some weeks or months down the line on some pretext or the other would knock him down with a feather. On the other hand, holding the line forcefully behind a parliament-cum-Supreme Court “shield” might risk a military intervention that could have seriously adverse consequences not just for the PMLN and the Sharif dynasty but more critically for law, constitution and national security, thereby endangering state and society.

Nawaz Sharif has accepted all the demands of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri except the demand to quit before the judicial commission gives its verdict on the fairness of the elections. Unfortunately, he has done so from a position of weakness in the face of threatening mobs instead of strength based on a swift and just redress of the demands of Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri to investigate rigging charges in certain constituencies and transparently, neutrally and swiftly fix responsibility for the wanton carnage in Model Town.

The conclusion is inescapable: If Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri are resorting to unconstitutional means to force out a prime minister, the same prime minister hasn’t mounted a true constitutional defense against their charges. The tragedy is compounded by the reluctance of the “miltablishment” to uphold the same constitutional imperative in such murky circumstances. Woe is Pakistan.

Operation “Get Nawaz Sharif”

TFT Issue: 05 Sep 2014

The “conspiracy” to get rid of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been exposed. Although the circumstantial evidence was compelling, no one, not even the government and parliament, had hard-core facts to prove who was doing what and why. That’s why the government’s political and administrative response to the unfolding crisis was confused, weak and vacillating. Then the Heavens parted and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf President Javed Hashmi descended like an angel to “save” the government by making a clean breast of things. The story can now be stitched up safely.

The old guard in the military left behind by General Ashfaq Kayani – a master spy who occupied both high offices in ISI and GHQ by turns and fashioned the military’s strategic policies for over a decade – was unhappy with the proposed foreign policy initiatives of Nawaz Sharif towards India, Afghanistan, USA, and his stance on non-state actor “assets” and the war against the Pakistani Taliban. Mr Sharif’s choice of General Raheel Sharif as COAS, number three in the lineup and totally apolitical to boot, also queried their pitch. The dye was cast when Mr Sharif hauled up ex-army chief General Pervez Musharraf for treason because this move threatened to drag in General Kayani and many other senior military officers who had backed the coup maker. It was also feared that, come October 2014, when several key generals from the “Kayani guard” would face retirement, Mr Sharif would appoint another relatively apolitical general to the powerful DG-ISI post, thereby seizing the “national security” initiative from the military. It may be recalled that the fear was not unjustified: on two previous occasions as prime minister, Mr Sharif had taken exactly such steps when he sacked Lt Gen Asad Durrani in 1991 and appointed Lt Gen Javed Nasir as DG-ISI and when he appointed Lt Gen Ziauddin Butt as DG-ISI in his second stint as prime minister and later tried to make him COAS and triggered a coup by General Musharraf.

According to the Kayani doctrine, a serious “threat” of a coup is a better instrument of military policy than a coup itself because coups can be messy business in this day and age with a weak economy, an independent judiciary, ubiquitous media, obstreperous civil society institutions and bullying international state and non-state actors. Far better, they say, to pull strings via the military’s intelligence agencies from behind the political scenes and achieve the required objectives by pitting one actor against another and bringing things to such a pass that a coup seems like a real possibility. This is exactly how Gen Kayani brought the Zardari regime to heel on foreign policy and the war against terrorism on matters such as relations with India, USA and Afghanistan, Kerry-Lugar Bill, Memogate, etc. And this is exactly how his remnants wanted to deal with Nawaz Sharif when he threatened to disrupt or disown their doctrines.

Accordingly, a plan was hatched to oust Nawaz Sharif, with the threat of a coup, and before October when some of the key conspirators were due to retire. On the one hand, Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri, two desperadoes dying to become prime minister by hook or by crook, were roped in with the assistance of evergreen military “assets” like Sheikh Rashid, the Chaudhries of Gujrat and notorious elements in the media. On the other hand, potential oppositionists in the media like the Geo-Jang group were attacked and put down, while Supreme Court judges were scared off from interventionism by an attack from Imran Khan on ex-CJPs Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and Tassaduq Hussain Jilani and ex-CEC Fakhruddin G Ibrahim. The pretext of a “rigged and polluted” election was perfect because in one fell swoop all potential oppositionists were routed at the hands of the country’s leading “populist” forces in the shape of Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri. Unfortunately, both Geo and PMLN played into the hands of the conspirators by outraging the nation, the first by directly targeting the DG of an “esteemed national security institution” like the ISI and the second by precipitating a bloody crisis in Model Town, Lahore.

Fortunately, three things went wrong for the conspirators. First, the million-strong crowds didn’t materialize. Second, the scared government didn’t resort to further violent measures to stop the marchers, thereby denying a pretext for Mr Sharif’s head as in the case of Shahbaz Sharif. Third, just when things seemed to be slipping out of the government’s hand, Javed Hashmi came along to spill the beans, expose the mala fides of the conspirators and galvanise parliament and civil society to unite behind the prime minister.

Mr Sharif has made errors of judgment and policy that have weakened him considerably. Imran Khan has been exposed as a “match-fixer”. The conspiratorial rogues have been identified. Only General Raheel Sharif has come out looking reasonably good. Along with PM Sharif, he needs to help restore Geo and the credibility of all those unfairly targeted by the conspirators and build a trust-worthy civil-military relationship.

Floods, dharnas and censors

TFT Issue: 12 Sep 2014

Regarding floods: one solitary photograph on the inside page of a newspaper tells the story better than reams of newsprint. It shows the Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, standing in immaculate gumboots in flood water, waving a finger at a clutch of forlorn officials next to him in their daily attire soaked up to their knees. This is at par with a video of Shahbaz Sharif in a Mao jacket that shows him nudging bags of flour out of a helicopter to a cluster of hapless flood victims below during the floods some years ago. Both are excellent photo-ops crafted to convey the message of a caring “son of the soil”.

But one question arises time and again. Why, when the wellbeing of Punjab depends critically on the hydrological economy of the five rivers, hasn’t any government since independence taken concrete long-term measures to stop the periodic ravages of the rivers in flood during monsoon? If water is a life and death issue, why haven’t we built and strengthened embankments, why haven’t we built dams and reservoirs so that water can be stored when the rivers are in flood and released when the canals are running dry?  Pakistan has about 140 medium and large dams for a population of about 200 million, or one dam for every 1.5 million people. India has over 3200 dams for a population of 1.2 billion, or one dam for about 500,000 people. The United States has over 75000 dams to cater for 300 million people, or one dam for every 4000 Americans.

The answer is obvious. Yellow cabs and tractors, sasti rotis, laptops and Youth Loan Schemes are visibly sexy. But dams and reservoirs are dull and opaque, they don’t provide political optics like expansive motorways, gleaming bullet trains and bright red buses on stilts. Every politician is a wannabe Shahjahan but not one can recall the names of the Commissioners of the Indian Civil Service who founded and sustained the great canal colonies network that nourishes the province. Everyone bemoans how India has grabbed the “jugular” vein of Kashmir and is building dams upstream on “Pakistan’s rivers” but no one cares to ask why Pakistan is not exercising its “first-right” to build dams and reservoirs on its own rivers in “Azad” Kashmir. Indeed, there hasn’t been a single political leader, civilian-populist or military-dictator, in the last forty years who has made any concerted effort to bridge the political-ethnic distrust that blights the Kalabagh Dam project.

Regarding dharnas: There may be a silver lining in this floods disaster. Even Imran Khan has been compelled to leave his beloved dharna in Islamabad so that he can compete with the Sharifs for photo-ops in flood-affected areas. The All Parties “Jirga” is negotiating terms and conditions with the PTI over ending the dharna. By all accounts, it seems to be inching closer to a solution that provides real gains for the electoral system while giving Imran a reasonable face saving exit from the Red Zone. But the dharna seems more like a colourful mela than a robust protest, and the crowds are thinning, so Imran Khan might be advised to call it a day. Dr Tahirul Qadri’s dharna, on the other hand, has been exposed by the BBC, which quotes students and families as saying that they were paid up to Rs 10,000 for joining the long march and were threatened with dire consequences if they deserted the dharna. This evidence shows up the Minhajul Quran in bad light and erodes Dr Qadri’s credentials as a bona fide populist.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is seized with questions regarding the legitimacy of dharnas and their relationship with fundamental rights versus the executive’s constitutional right to exercise force to maintain law and order. It is about time such issues were settled efficiently and expeditiously.

Regarding censorship: The courts are finally endorsing the broadcasting rights of GEO by censuring cable operators and security agents who are blocking them. The judges are also inclined to restrain TV “anchors” who are openly flouting the regulatory laws of PEMRA and defaming politicians and fellow TV anchors. The free-for-all media environment is a reflection of the swing of the pendulum from one extreme position of censorship during the dark days of dictatorship to the other extreme position of anarchy in a “moth eaten” democracy. If a deal with Imran Khan can be struck over the modus operandi of transparent appointments in public sector corporations and regulatory bodies like PEMRA, we will be in good shape.

Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri have done yeomen’s service to the cause of democracy by highlighting much that is wrong with it. But the whole exercise is in danger of becoming a farce with everyday revelations of unsavoury links to secret “third umpires” and murky conspirators. Therefore the dharnas should be called off now so that the two can live to fight a clean fight another day.

Assets and liabilities again

TFT Issue: 19 Sep 2014

Amidst the continuing din of the Dharnas in clinical Islamabad, an important announcement in the badlands of Waziristan has largely escaped strategic scrutiny. This is a statement by the so-called leader of the Punjabi Taliban, Azmatullah Muaviya, renouncing armed struggle against the Pakistani state and determining to focus instead on the fight against the government in Kabul in alliance with the Haqqani Network under the leadership of Mulla Omar.

The Punjabi Taliban are an assortment of former Punjab and AJK based jihadi groups who splintered and migrated to Waziristan and took up arms against the Pakistani military after General Pervez Musharraf closed the jihad tap against India in Kashmir in 2003-04. If Muaviya is genuinely their leader and if he truly means what he says and can effectively make this switch stick with the other Punjabi Taliban groups, then this is clearly a major strategic move by the Pakistani military establishment. Unlike the Pashtun Pakistani Taliban who have concentrated their attacks against the Pakistani state in Swat, FATA and KPK, the Punjabi Taliban are the ones who have infiltrated the three Pakistani military services (especially the army and navy); they are the ones who have organized audacious attacks on Pakistani military installations and assets; and it is their deadly alliance with militant Punjabi sectarian organisations that has raised the spectre of an Islamic State (IS) movement as in Syria and Iraq. If their guns have been turned eastwards to Kabul, the Pakistani military can concentrate on degrading and eliminating other non-conformist elements of the Pakistani Taliban in the Zarb-i-Azb operations in the tribal areas.

This development – persuading the Pakistani Taliban to fight alongside the Afghan Taliban against the US-sponsored state in Kabul instead of Pakistan — has been on the Pakistani military’s drawing boards for several years now. Indeed, it was a major reason why the US drones didn’t initially target the Punjabi Taliban for such a long time because they didn’t want them to train their guns in retaliation on the Americans in Afghanistan. But when the Pakistani military designated all Taliban as enemies of Pakistan with a view to launching a full-fledged operation against them, the US agreed to lend a helping hand in degrading their leadership via the drones. The irony is that the very success of this joint Pak-US operation may, after Muaviya’s statement, renew the elements of distrust and hostility between Pakistan and the Afghanistan.

Under the circumstances, it comes as no surprise that Kabul has renewed allegations that Pakistan’s intelligence services are involved in nurturing the Taliban against Kabul and Muaviya’s statement was a “clear and dangerous interference by Pakistani intelligence agencies in the domestic affairs of Afghanistan”.

The swift response from Pakistan’s foreign ministry foretells the significance of this development by showing the quid-pro-quo way forward: “The threat of terrorism can best be addressed through mutual cooperation”, in particular though “complimentary operations” by the Afghan government in Zarb-i-Azb.  The Pakistani reference is to the new Pakistan Taliban sanctuaries in Afghanistan following Zarb-i-Azb operations in Waziristan that are potentially troublesome for Pakistan in the same manner that Afghan Taliban sanctuaries of the Haqqani Network in Waziristan have proven for Kabul in the last decade. Not only is the TTP leader Maulana Fazlullah headquartered in and operating from Afghanistan, to all intents and purposes he is being nurtured by Kabul. Last week TTP fighters based in Afghanistan attacked the Pakistani army border post on Dandi Kuch in North Waziristan and killed three FC soldiers.

Thus the new dialectic is clear. For years the Pakistani military has provided sanctuaries to Afghan Taliban and nurtured them as “assets” that were shifted to Kurram Agency instead of being degraded along with the TTP in the wake of Zarb-i-Azb. Kabul responded by providing sanctuaries in Afghanistan for elements of the TTP on the run from Zarb-i-Azb. The significance of Muaviya’s statement, which is doubtless at the behest of the Pakistani military, is two-fold: it warns Kabul to stop hosting TTP fugitives if it doesn’t want Pakistan to up the ante across the Durand line; and it holds out the prospect of mutual cooperation against each other’s Taliban liabilities in safe havens across the Durand Line.

But several questions remain. Will Kabul be chastened to cooperate with Islamabad or will it react adversely? How does the Pakistan military intend to use and influence its more substantial Afghan assets in Kurram in settling long-term issues with Kabul? What role has the Pakistan military earmarked for the Punjabi Taliban once a Pak-Afghan settlement is reached? How will this development affect Pak-US relations? What will be the impact of this development on sectarian strife in Pakistan, given Muaviya’s affiliation with Lashkar-i-Jhangvi in the past?

Therefore the fear remains: if the notion of “Taliban assets”— an alliance between the new Punjabi Taliban and the old Haqqani network – is the hallmark of the Pakistani military’s grand geo-strategic strategy, how then will terrorism be uprooted from both sides of the Durand Line?

Success and Failure of IK

TFT Issue: 26 Sep 2014

A recent Gallup Poll has revealed some interesting facts. A majority of respondents support Javed Hashmi’s decision to quit the PTI and agreed that some “third force” was behind Imran Khan’s “dharna”. A majority thought that the PTI/PAT should not have crossed into the Red Zone of Islamabad and held activists from both parties jointly guilty for invading PTV. A majority said that PTI/PAT protests were not peaceful and damaged the prospects of the Pakistan economy.

Significantly, however, the respondents were divided over the role played by leading media channels, with protagonists GEO and ARY running neck to neck in both positive and negative roles. Sheikh Rashid got the short end of the stick from an overwhelming majority for his shady, nay objectionable, role in the whole affair. Most strikingly, though, nearly 60 percent thought that any retreat by Imran Khan from his core demand of Nawaz Sharif’s resignation would have an adverse impact on his political career. Herein lies the rub.

Everyone knows that the PTI was taken for a ride by the “third umpire” and the dharna has failed to obtain the resignation of the prime minister. But everyone says that any retreat from this demand might spell the political death-knell of Imran Khan because it would mean admitting defeat and dent his reputation for impeccable, indeed infallible, leadership. Indeed, there was a time midway through the dharna when Imran could have compelled the Sharif government to concede almost all his “policy” demands, barring the immediate resignation of the prime minister, and returned home as a conquering hero, all geared up to strike again in the heart of the Red Zone with his army of passionate and angry “youthias” if the government made any attempt to resile from its agreement. But a stubborn refusal to face reality and admit his gullibility has brought Imran Khan to this pass: damned if he retreats and damned if he doesn’t.

Therefore he has chosen the next best option: keep the spirit of the dharna alive by organizing impressive rallies across the country and retaining his monopolistic hold over the media in relentlessly getting one simple strategic message across: that the corruption, arrogance and unaccountability of the Sharifs (and the Zardaris) is the root cause of the “crisis of Pakistan” and positive “change” can only be brought about by getting rid of them first. It follows from this strategic moral narrative that a fresh round of elections must be held because the one in 2013 was thoroughly “corrupted”. In effect, this amounts to a “moral rearmament” campaign that feeds on the outrage of the “youthias” at the corruption and unaccountability of the politicians in power rather than on any aspect of their economic or political policies. It also enables Imran Khan to be vague and contradictory about his preferred set of policies and priorities because he can claim to be Mr Clean. That is why intellectual efforts to show his arguments in poor light, to highlight his omission or negation of facts, even to show that he is riddled with contradictions in his personal and political life, make no difference to his supporters. He is the Teflon Man to which nothing sticks, one who can make anything, even outright lies, stick to anyone he dislikes.

The idea of “change” for the sake of change has become a powerful new force in Pakistan, despite its failings and shortcomings where it progressively originated – with Tony Blair in Britain, with Barrack Obama in the USA, with Mohammad Morsi in Egypt, etc. The rise of the radical Islamic militias and the violent unravelling of many states in the Middle East are owed in no small measure to the blind notion of “change” that promised so much and ended up creating a bloody anarchy after failing to deliver a workable economic and political system precisely because the notion of what needed to be changed and how was never adequately debated or understood in the heat and dust of battle to put an end to the hated “ancient regime”.  Neither Imran Khan nor Tahir ul Qadri have tried to define the substance of the revolutionary change they seek because that would be counterproductive to their moral narrative and confuse their main objective to seize power.

The tragedy is that the PMLN is not intellectually or administratively equipped to counter the “moral-change” narrative of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri. The PMLN, like the PPP earlier, seems devoid of any strategy to fulfill even a slice of the aspirations of the angry urban middle and lower middle classes who are straining under the burden of acute energy shortages, rising unemployment and crippling cost of living. When this is contrasted with the soaring personal fortunes of the dynastic leaders of the ruling party, the impact is akin to that of a continuing nuclear explosion. That is why even when Imran Khan is so obviously failing, he seems to be succeeding nonetheless.

Existential crisis for MQM

TFT Issue: 03 Oct 2014

The MQM is in the throes of insecurity, confusion and division. Nowhere is this more evident than in the behaviour and utterances of its leader-in-exile, Altaf “Bhai” Hussain.

The unprecedented fear and insecurity in the rank and file of the MQM is driven by one singular fact revolving around the murder of Dr Imran Farooq in London a couple of years ago, following investigations by the British authorities to investigate Altaf Bhai’s political connections and links with his activist-supporters in Karachi, South Africa and elsewhere. These murder-related investigations have then branched off into detailed inquiries about the source and extent of Altaf Bhai’s incomes and properties in the UK and are focused on matters related to money laundering. Apart from Altaf Bhai, several senior MQM leaders in London have been investigated, detained and enlarged on bail. Altaf Bhai himself has had to cool his heels in the clink for a day pending bail in a money laundering case.

But it is the murder case that hangs like the sword of Damocles over Altaf Bhai’s head. It is known that the British police are very keen to lay their hands on two MQM activists who disappeared into the bowels of the ISI two years ago after they fled from London to Karachi via Sri Lanka following the murder of Dr Farooq. If they were to be deported to the UK and confessed to their crime and links with Altaf Bhai, it is feared it might be curtains for the MQM leader. That is why Altaf Bhai is acutely sensitive to what the Pakistani military establishment thinks about him and the MQM. That is why he is constantly blowing hot and cold against the military, now supporting democracy and parliament and then calling for martial law to “save the country”, now welcoming the appointment of Gen Rizwan Akhtar as the new DGISI and then asking why Gen Akhtar was fixated on “targeting the MQM” when he was DG Sindh Rangers tasked to clean up Karachi.

In an extraordinary move, Altaf Bhai has now publicly addressed 14 critical questions to the military establishment that show that he is deeply worried and upset about the aims and objectives of the Rangers-led Operation Clean-up in Karachi that is seemingly concentrated on hard-core MQM activists more than on any other party’s supporters. It has also thrown the MQM rank and file in Karachi into disarray and precipitated much internal squabbling and some significant desertions.

The MQM’s relationship with the military establishment has had many ups and downs since its formation in 1984 at the behest of General Zia ul Haq in order to combat PPP-Sindhi nationalism following the MRD movement. It conspired with the military establishment led by General Aslam Beg and General Hameed Gul to oust the government of Benazir Bhutto in 1990. But when it tried to flex its muscle during the government of Nawaz Sharif after the exit of both Generals Gul and Beg, it was ruthlessly put down by the then Karachi corps commander, Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua, and Altaf Bhai fled to self-imposed exile in London. After Bhutto returned to power in 1993, she sent the Rangers under Gen Naseerullah Babar into Karachi to “sort out” the MQM. But the MQM returned to power with the advent of General Pervez Musharraf in 1999 because he was in desperate need of political allies after scuttling both Bhutto and Sharif in 2008-13. Subsequently, the MQM was in and out of government, constantly holding Karachi to hostage and exacting a terrible price for its displeasure at the Zardari regime for not showering it with ministries and funds.

The arrival of Nawaz Sharif has, however, unleashed a new anti-MQM dialectic not dissimilar to the one in 1990: the Sharif government doesn’t need to pander to the MQM because it doesn’t need its electoral support to govern in Islamabad or Lahore while the stability and security of Karachi is critical to Sharif’s economic development agenda — hence the use of the Rangers to “clean-up” Karachi all over again. Matters have worsened for the MQM with the new challenge from Imran Khan for the heart and minds of Karachi’s youth bulge as evidenced by the huge turnout in his latest jalsa.

This is therefore a moment of acute crisis for the MQM. It is hunted in London and Karachi alike. It administrative fate is in the hands of the Sharif government and the military establishment, which is why it is in turn both pro-military and anti-Sharif and vice versa, depending on the situation at hand, because there is no guarantee that it can save itself either under a pure military regime which might be pro-Imran Khan rather than pro-MQM or under the Sharif government which is more sympathetic to the PPP in Sindh rather than the MQM because of Zardari’s unstinting support in parliament for the PMLN government.

Under the circumstances, Altaf Bhai’s unpredictable outbursts are full of sound and fury signifying an unprecedented existential crisis.

Bleak prospects of Indo-Pak detente

TFT Issue: 10 Oct 2014

The advent of Narendra Modi as prime minister of India had evoked two opposing Indo-Pak scenarios. The establishment hawks in Pakistan argued that India would adopt an uncompromising and hardline position with Pakistan because of the extremist Hindu credentials and policy positions of Mr Modi and key members of his cabinet and circle of advisors. But the peaceniks in Pakistan argued that Mr Modi, like his BJP predecessors Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani, would exploit his “patriotic” nationalist credentials to normalise with Pakistan because his pro-business agenda required regional trade, peace and stability.

Unfortunately, however, recent events – India’s cancellation of the foreign secretary level talks followed by continuous artillery exchanges on the LoC in Kashmir in which thousands of villagers on the Pakistani side have been evacuated and dozens killed – have dashed hopes of any rapprochement between India and Pakistan.

The most disappointed man in Pakistan is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He had gone the extra mile to proffer the hand of friendship to India without any pre-conditions. Before he was sworn in as prime minister in 2013, Mr Sharif had invited India’s prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, to his swearing-in ceremony, but to no avail. Then he had postponed a signing of a free trade agreement with India pending India’s elections so that he could give away the “gift” of Most Favoured Nation trade to the new leader of India as a measure of Pakistan’s sincerity (given the nature of the two economies, both countries benefit from freer trade but India stands to gain much more than Pakistan), a demand that India has long made as a precondition of resolving other contentious issues in which one side’s gain can be construed as the other’s loss in one way or another. Mr Sharif then swept aside the advice of his foreign policy establishment to fly to New Delhi for Mr Modi’s inauguration and hold a round of one-on-one talks with him. More significantly, he accepted the request of India’s foreign office not to meet with the Hurriyet Kashmiri leaders, a long established practice not disapproved of by India, on his trip to New Delhi and he did not rise to the provocation of the Indian Foreign Minister when she reiterated the old Indian position on Kashmir in a press conference on the sidelines of the meeting of the two prime ministers. These decisions drew much flak for Mr Sharif back home.

Now, barely a couple of months since Mr Modi became prime minister, it is hostile “business as usual” between India and Pakistan. All talk of bonhomie evaporated after India’s foreign office took exception last August to a scheduled meeting of the Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi with Hurriyet leaders and abruptly cancelled the foreign secretary level talks. These talks were meant to pave the way for a structured dialogue on all issues between the two sides, starting with a signing of the MFN regime agreed between the two governments before general elections in India. In the past, Pakistani officials and leaders have exploited opportunities of meetings with Hurriyet leaders to nudge them to the negotiating table with New Delhi rather than urge them to wage jihad, and the Indian authorities have turned a blind diplomatic eye to the meetings on the ground that the Hurriyet leaders are Indians (rather than avowed secessionists) who can meet anyone they like. This time, however, New Delhi objected in an unprecedented and hasty manner by cancelling the talks and putting Mr Sharif in an embarrassing position with Pakistan’s national security establishment that continues to distrust and dislike its Indian counterpart and has scoffed at Mr Sharif’s “naivete” in offering an unqualified hand of friendship to India. The Modi government then went one step further by declaring that the Indian prime minister would not meet Mr Sharif on the sidelines of the UNGA session in September in New York. Before long, both leaders were haranguing the world about the other’s perfidies by reiterating old positions – Pakistan wants the Kashmir issue resolved according the UN Resolutions and India wants Pakistan to stop exporting terrorism to India. Now both sides are firing on each other across the LoC.

The logic of the situation suggests that India is in aggression mode. Elections in Indian-held Kashmir are due later this year. Mr Modi has visited the region and whipped up Hindu sentiment against the Muslim Kashmiri parties and leaders. He has also reiterated his resolve to undo Article 370 of the Indian constitution that guarantees special status privileges for Kashmir. This has reignited anti-India feeling and demonstrations in the Valley. On the Pakistani side, there is little to be gained from renewed tensions with India because the Pakistani army is fully stretched dealing with terrorism in FATA, Karachi and Balochistan.

Under the circumstances, the prospects of Indo-Pak détente seem bleak. Mr Modi has reverted to form and Mr Sharif has lost credibility with his national security establishment.

Malala’s symbolism

TFT Issue: 17 Oct 2014

Malala Yusafzai didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize because she is a brave girl. Of course she is. But there are millions of brave girls in Pakistan. Malala Yusufzai didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize because she is a crusader for the rights of children to be educated. Of course she is. But there are scores of teachers and educators who have dedicated their lives to such a cause. Malala Yusufzai didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize because she stood up to the Taliban and put herself in harm’s way. Of course she did. But there are thousands – soldiers, political workers, journalists, tribals – who have sacrificed their lives resisting the Taliban.

Malala Yusufzai is spirited, courageous and eloquent. She speaks for civilization’s finest human rights and freedoms. But she is a global heroine because she is a unique symbol of the resistance of the innocent and non-violent to the barbaric terrorism that stalks the world. That is why her heroes are Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Gandhi – global icons of peace, truth, resistance and reconciliation. How did she become such a unique symbol?

Some Muslims argue that the Western powers have elevated her to this status as a “pawn” in their new crusades against Islam. But this line of thinking forgets that it is the Taliban and not the West who “created” her as such a symbol. It is the Taliban who first recognized Malala as a powerful symbol of resistance to their bloody crusades against education, human rights and freedom. They warned her to desist from preaching and practicing children’s right to education. She knew the consequences of defiance. Yet she refused to heed their warning. When the Pakistani media began to lionize her, the Taliban tried to kill her. Now they say they will target her if she returns to Pakistan.

Some Muslims ask why dozens of innocent children who were orphaned by American drones in FATA were not similarly acknowledged and honoured for their plight. They say this reflects the political ideology of Western imperialism in choosing which victim to honour. But this line of thinking forgets that hundreds of innocent children were killed or orphaned by the Taliban all over Pakistan when their bombs went off in schools and market places and mosques and parks and buses. If there was a “conspiracy” to make Malala a national heroine, it should be laid at the door of the Taliban. The West has elevated her to the status of a global heroine because her personal non-violent struggle for the universal human rights of children in Swat against the terrorizing Taliban fits in with the global war of “liberal” democracy with extremist “Islam”.  Those who empathize with this cause should celebrate an acknowledgement of Malala’s role in the battle for hearts and minds, regardless of its cynical manipulation by a highly politicized and partisan Western media.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee jointly awarded the medal to the lesser-known Indian child-rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi. The Chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, said that it was important “for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in the common struggle for education and against extremism”. The context is relevant.

Mosharraf Zaidi of Alif Ailaan, an organization dedicated to improving education in Pakistan, notes that there are over 25 million Pakistani children between the ages of 5 and 16 who are not attending school. Over 50% of all government schools in the country are without electricity for most of the time, 36 per cent don’t have drinking water and over 40% don’t have working toilets. Federal and provincial governments allocate less than 2% of their annual budgets to education. In India, the situation isn’t much different. Nearly 60 % of children don’t complete primary schooling despite the fact that it is their constitutional right, and 90% don’t complete school.

The Nobel Peace Prize Committee also consciously joined a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, in highlighting its concerns and interests. The two nuclear powers have fought four wars since independence and are currently shelling each other across the border. India has just elected a Hindu supremacist as its prime minister who is talking war and not peace with Pakistan, while Pakistan is in the throws of a form of creeping Islamisation in which Pakistanis are wont to rage against all “infidels”, especially Hindus.

Malala Yusufzai is the second Pakistani to win the Nobel. The first was physicist Abdus Salam. It is a tragic irony of Pakistani history that Salam was not acknowledged, much less honoured, by his country because as an Ahmedi, he was considered outside the pale of Islam. Now Malala is fated to live in “Western” exile until the Taliban and their extremist version of Islam are eliminated from the political and cultural landscape of Pakistan. Therefore, regardless of how the West manipulates and manufactures consent and dissent, Pakistanis would do well to look inwards and heal themselves instead of raging against outsiders.

Reinventing the PPP

TFT Issue: 24 Oct 2014

Bilawal Bhutto has been “launched”.  The Karachi jalsa was big and his speech was animated. He unfurled the liberal flag (down with the Taliban, down with the PTI and MQM, down with the oppressors of minorities and up with “Bhuttoism”) to warm the cockles of die-hard Pipliya hearts.

Alas, the power of rented crowds, hackneyed words and empty promises has withered with an increasingly cynical and disgruntled populace. Simply drumming up “Bhuttoism” and clutching at “martyrdom” will not suffice any more. Since Bhuttoism was launched 45 years ago and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was martyred 35 years ago, the political profile and demographic landscape of the voter has changed significantly.

ZA Bhutto rose to power on the back of downtrodden rural peasants and urban workers. The four pillars of his political philosophy were (1) roti, kapra and makan (2) Islamic nationalism (3) anti-dynastic, anti-gentry power rule (4) anti-India stance. By the time Bhutto was martyred, he had not delivered on roti, kapra and makan, the Shimla Pact had overtaken anti-Indiaism, and he had embraced the feudal landowning classes all over again.

When Benazir Bhutto took over her father’s mantle, she was able to exploit his martyrdom. But she was also able to stake a political claim in her own right for opposing dictatorship and suffering imprisonment and exile before she was 30 years old. Therefore she was able to lead the PPP to victory in the 1988 elections despite desperate attempts by the military establishment to stop her. She returned to power in 1993 partly because she could claim victimhood (unfair dismissal in 1990) and partly because she was able to assure the military establishment of loyalty after it lost faith in Nawaz Sharif. But she was dismissed again in 1996 for alleged corruption and misrule; all the popular props of Bhuttoism, martyrdom and victimhood were lost to the PPP (even in Sindh), the jiyala drifted away in the Punjab and the voter sulked at home, so that the PPP could barely manage a presence in the 1997 parliament in Islamabad. The PPP’s fortunes rose again in 2007 when the Musharraf regime allied with Benazir (via the NRO) in order to stop Nawaz Sharif from exploiting his “victimhood”. Benazir’s assassination in 2008 on the eve of elections re-ignited the martyrdom factor and the PPP won the elections.

Bilawal’s job is a difficult one. He has inherited a party that has lost the sheen of Bhutto’s martyrdom and Benazir’s victimhood, down the generations. The memory of martyrdom has also been tarnished by a lingering perception of the last PPP government as corrupt and incompetent that “didn’t perform and deliver”. Demography is also weighing in against the PPP’s traditional rural vote bank – rapid urbanization has created new middle classes and youthful groups in Punjab, Karachi and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa with global perceptions and aspirations who have been ignored by the PPP and tapped by other parties and forces.

Indeed, the party that Bilawal has inherited is critically removed from the party that ZA Bhutto created and Benazir Bhutto tried to revive. “Bhuttoism” was anti-dynasty but Bilawal is totally dependent on it. Bhuttoism promised to deliver to the masses but neither Benazir nor Zardari were able to fulfill that promise sufficiently. Bhuttoism was anti-India but Bilawal cannot flog the same horse today because the current mood is anti-West and not anti-India. Bhuttoism was anti-feudal, anti-gentry. But the current PPP is choked with exploitative landlords, oppressive family dynasties and wheeling-dealing crony capitalists.

Imran Khan is trying to fill the void left by the PPP. Like Bhutto, he is anti-dynasty. Like Bhutto he is tapping into Islamic nationalism, except that he has substituted the “Islamophobic” West for Hindu India because this resonates more forcefully with a new generation which wants to trade with India and wage war with the ubiquitous CIA. Like Bhutto he is focusing on the powerless classes, except that that there are more of them amongst angry and underemployed youth in urban areas than in the countryside.

Bilawal cannot sufficiently revive the PPP by merely flogging Bhuttoism, martyrdom and victimhood. The young, urban, globalizing Pakistani is far more politically conscious and angry than his forlorn rural predecessor. Nothing less than a “reinvention” of the PPP is required from the young challenger based on economic, political and social policies that promise a radical redistribution of power and privilege in a welfare state which does business with the world with dignity and trust.

Some popular disillusionment will inevitably follow the failed dharna-policies and conspiracies of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri to seize power. Bilawal Bhutto should seize this opportunity to try and capture the imagination of the same classes and people to revive the flagging fortunes of the PPP.

Strategic failure of MQM and PTI

TFT Issue: 31 Oct 2014

The MQM and PTI are facing a strategic identity crisis. The MQM has concluded that the politics of “national mutahidaism” has not yielded any significant dividends in Sindh or any other province, therefore it is time to beat the drums of “provincial muhajarism” to stave off political threats to its traditional “muhajir” vote bank in the urban areas of Sindh. The PTI has concluded that the democratic route to elections is long and uncertain, therefore it is time to explore shortcuts to power via conspiracies with disgruntled elements in the military and judiciary. Both strategies are full of contradiction and confusion.

The MQM has quit the PPP government in Sindh for the umpteenth time.  In the past, a parting of ways with the PPP was always part of the game of leveraging power and patronage. This time, however, the pretext is unprecedentedly “ideological”.  The MQM has taken umbrage over a statement by the PPP Leader of the House in the Senate, Khurshid Shah, that it is an “insult” today to refer to the migrants from India into Pakistan at the time of partition as “mujahirs”. His argument is that the term “muhajir” connotes a temporary or transitional arrangement for foreigners whereas the “muhajirs” of 1947 have been fully and permanently integrated into the organs of the Pakistani state and society, to the extent that their Urdu language is the national language of the country.

Khurshid Shah has stated a fact. But it is tinged with the power politics of Sindhi ethnic nationalism and PPP provincialism. In the past such PPP provocations were par for the course for the MQM. But the MQM faces multiple threats within and without today that have required it to take such a shrill hardline position, going so far as to charge Mr Shah for “blasphemy” against “muhajirs” since the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) was also a “muhajir” from Mecca to Medina. Several factors are at stake here.

First, the MQM hasn’t been able to extract any significant mileage from changing its name from Muhajir Qaumi Movement (denoting a political-ethnic base) to Muttahida Qaumi Movement denoting a national platform. It has made no headway in the other provinces. Instead, the ANP and PTI are making inroads into its traditional vote bank in the urban areas of Sindh, especially Karachi, the former on the basis of Pasthtu-speaking “refugees” from KPK, FATA and even Afghanistan, and the latter on the basis of a demographic shift in population favouring the young between the ages of 18-29 who want “change” from the traditional pattern of political parties. Second, the MQM’s militant wing which used to call the shots in Karachi as a powerful tool for leveraging power, has suffered a setback following an effective Rangers-led federal operation to cleanse the city of criminal elements, many from the MQM. Third, the PPP is in the process of formulating a law for local body elections that will tilt power and patronage toward PPP appointed provincial administrators instead of local politicians, thereby depriving the MQM of its traditional right to administer Karachi on the basis of winning the local elections. Fourth, the MQM is facing some significant splits and desertions following pressure from the British government on Altaf Hussain in London regarding the murder of Imran Farooq and money laundering. Several stalwarts have left the party and are in hiding. Under the circumstances, it seems that its leadership has decided to hunker down and defend its core interests by raising the spectre of an erosion of Sindhi “muhajir” rights that always evokes a militant response from its traditional seats of support.

The PTI is facing a serious dilemma too. Its dharnas and jalsas have failed to overthrow Nawaz Sharif because the “third umpire” – disgruntled elements in the military who have been egging Imran Khan on —has not raised his finger. Tahirul Qadri has packed his bags and quit. A degree of fatigue has set in among his supporters. This is reflected in internal party dissent over the logic of resigning from the National Assembly while staying put in KPK as a device to hasten the end of the Nawaz regime. The Supreme Court, too, has refused to entertain PTI petitions to declare the 2013 elections as rigged. If Imran insists on continuing on his current path without success, his supporters will drift away and think twice before returning to his fold the next time. If he retreats like Qadri, he would erode his image of infallibility. In a last ditch effort he has summoned his supporters to Islamabad on November 30 to hurl a final threat to Nawaz Sharif. Whether the crowds become violent or disperse peacefully, the outcome is not likely to be favourable.

Both Altaf Hussain and Imran Khan need a reality check. Their current tactics and strategies are flying against the grain of popular mood. They should disavow shortcuts to power and dig in for the long democratic haul.

No scope for IS in Pakistan

TFT Issue: 07 Nov 2014

The MQM chief, Altaf Hussain, has warned that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (IS or “Daesh”) is germinating in the bowels of Pakistan and poses a dangerous threat to state and society. Some analysts concur. They point to the “inspirational” role of the IS in Iraq and Syria in recruiting thousands of Islamists globally to wage jihad against “infidel” regimes in the Middle East. It is claimed that over a thousand volunteers have been trained in terrorist camps along the borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan and exported to Iraq and Syria and more are in the pipeline. A couple of splinter Taliban groups have publicly shifted their allegiance and loyalty from Mullah Umar’s Caliphate of Afghanistan to Abu-Bakr Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate of IS. And wall chalkings, posters and pamphlets at random places in Karachi and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have announced the arrival of the IS in Pakistan. How serious is this threat to Pakistan?

There are significant differences between the situation in contemporary Pakistan and the evolving situation in Iraq, Syria and Yemen that gave rise to the IS.  This suggests that, despite tall claims, IS offshoots may not be able to make any dangerous inroads and attacks on Pakistani state and society over and above those already attributed to Al-Qaeda and other Taliban groups that are being hunted down by the military. Consider.

First, IS was born amidst the anarchist and violent resistance of Al Qaeda that followed American intervention to overthrow the secular Saddam Hussein regime, dismantle and disband the Iraqi army and install the Shiite Nouri-Al Maliki puppet regime in 2006. This explains the rabidly anti-Shia, anti-West nature of IS. Much the same sort of thing happened in Syria under Bashar al Assad. The western imperialist powers openly encouraged Islamic resistance to the secular Baathist regime that had proved to be a thorn in the side of Israel, both as a conduit for Iranian weapons to the Palestinians and as an effective countervailing state to American-sponsored regimes in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. No such situation prevails in Pakistan that could become a fertile environment for IS – there is no American intervention, there is no Shiite minority rule or secular government that could antagonize the Sunni majority and the Pakistan army remains the most organized and effective counter-terrorism fighting machine in the region.

Second, Pakistan’s Sunni majority is rooted in Sufi-saint traditions and folk practices among the moderate Barelvi sect that accounts for nearly 60 per cent of the population and opposes the hard line extremist version of Islam espoused by the Deobandi and Al-Qaeda factions. This ground is not fertile for extremist versions of Islam.

Third, both Iraq and Syria were secular and centralized dictatorships with repressed factions, groups and regions agitating for greater democracy and freedom. Not so in Pakistan, which is a consensual, constitutional, pluralistic, multi-party, decentralized electoral democracy with a history of popular support for the system. The MQM, ANP and PPP are secular, left of centre parties; the PMLN is a moderate Islamic-democratic centrist party; the PTI is Islamic-democratic right of centre, while the JI and JUI are rightist religious parties with political agendas rooted in electoral politics. They are all opposed to the extremist Islam of the Taliban and IS.

Fourth, the Pakistan army and bureaucracy are trained in the post-colonial tradition that values modernity, “enlightened moderation” and alliance with the West. In fact, even the “external infidel enemy” doctrine of the Pakistan military-bureaucratic oligarchy is slowly being replaced by the doctrine of “existential” threat posed by the internal extremist Islam of the Taliban. This pro-West steel framework of the state will not allow Pakistan to be overtaken by extremist violent Islam.

Fifth, direct foreign military intervention has played a major role in provoking and creating the forces of nationalist-religious resistance in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Indeed, it can be argued that foreign intervention made matters worse by disbanding or weakening the military-bureaucratic framework of the secular regimes in these countries and thereby tilted the balance in favour of extremist insurgents. The opposite has happened in Pakistan where the military has fiercely resisted encroachments on state sovereignty even by the CIA in pursuit of Al-Qaeda.

Sixth, first Al-Qaeda and then IS were greatly facilitated by funding and weapons from public and private sources in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and the West. Later, revenues from captured oil wells financed the resistance. In contract, extremist Islamic forces have no such major funding resources in Pakistan. Even the drug-related funds pipeline of the Taliban is now threatened with the consolidation of a democratic Pakhtun-led Afghan regime defended by a 350,000 strong Afghan army.

To be sure, Pakistan still doesn’t have an effective, institutionalized anti-terrorist state structure. Nor is there sufficient spine or vision in its ruling civil-military classes, media and judiciary to compel a systematic and comprehensive policy response to the creeping “religiosity” in state and society. But this is a recipe for dysfunction and instability rather than a takeover by IS or the Taliban.

Welcome President Ghani!

TFT Issue: 14 Nov 2014

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Islamabad is critically important for one reason: given the burden of geography and history, there can be no peace, security and stability in Afghanistan without the active support of neighbour Pakistan. Therefore the visit should be aimed at ending the mutual distrust and hostility that has marred their relationship and paving the way for truth and reconciliation in cobbling a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.

On Islamabad’s part, it is clear that without a stable and neutral, if not friendly, Afghanistan, there will be no end to the scourge of terrorism that overflows the Af-Pak border and poses an equal existential threat to Pakistan. The new civil-military leadership in Pakistan understands this imperative and is keen to negotiate mutually beneficial solutions to national security problems with President Ghani.

There are some positive signs. Both countries have newly elected leaders who do not uncritically subscribe to the policies of their predecessors that sustained an environment of distrust and hostility. Pakistan has a new military leadership that is more responsive than its predecessors to the terrorist threat to Pakistan originating in Afghanistan. That is why Pakistan’s foreign minister, Sartaj Aziz, and army chief, General Raheel Sharif, were the first to visit Kabul and meet President Ghani. President Ghani has returned the compliment by visiting Pakistan before visiting India. President Ghani has also toured two of Pakistan’s closest friends and allies – China and Saudi Arabia – before going to India, clearly with a view to activating all the important variables in the equation. Most significantly, he has not tripped over himself in accepting the offer of Indian weapons for his army by India’s new national security advisor, Ajit Doval, who met him in Kabul last month.

Clearly, both Pakistan and Afghanistan have legitimate security concerns involving the policies of the other. So there has to be give and take, step by step.

President Ghani wants an end to the civil war and foreign intervention that has plagued his nation so that he can stabilize, unify and rebuild his country; he wants foreign investment to tap his country’s natural resources and fund his development budgets; and he wants a strong army to provide the framework for his country’s security. On the plus side, he has won an election to gain legitimacy, shared power with Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik (Chief Executive) and Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek (Vice President) and is on the lookout for a new head of Afghan Intelligence who can start on a new slate with his new Pakistani counterpart. He has succeeded in persuading China to launch massive development projects worth billions of dollars in the next ten years. He retains the support of the international community, especially the US, in terms of economic aid and military umbrella. What is critically missing is a plan to end the civil war and terrorism that has laid Afghanistan low.

This is where a solid relationship with Pakistan is critical to President Ghani’s mission. The Taliban want to fight, not talk. They control large swathes of Afghan territory. And they have sanctuaries in Pakistan’s borderlands with Afghanistan. The Pakistani national security establishment has protected them for political leverage in Afghanistan aimed at forestalling any significant Indian footprint in Afghanistan that would put the East-West border squeeze on Pakistan. Efforts by the Afghan government and US to erode and break-up the Afghan Taliban/Pakistan “alliance” have failed to yield fruit. In fact, Indian and Afghan support for Baloch insurgents/separatists with sanctuaries in Afghanistan have hardened Pakistan’s resolve to “use” the Taliban to hurt Indian interests in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s refusal to help Afghanistan’s broken economy by way of opening trade corridors between Central Asia and India is also a direct result of its “enemy-India” outlook.

The problem is that until now the US and Afghanistan have refused to heed Pakistan’s India-related security concerns, which has made Islamabad all the more desperate to hang on to the Taliban as a means of redressing them. This is accentuated by the fact that India refuses to move forward on conflict resolution with Pakistan even on less contentious issues than Kashmir.

However, the outcrop of Taliban terrorism inside Pakistan has compelled a rethink of national security strategy by the new civil-military leadership. This is based on establishing better relations with India as a prelude to better relations with Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, the Modi government has dashed hopes of forward movement by heating up the Line of Control and calling off the foreign secretary talks scheduled last August. This has compelled Pakistan to hold off giving MFN status to India. Under the circumstances, any attempt by India to buttress its leverage with the new Afghan regime is bound to antagonize Pakistan further. President Ashraf Ghani knows that foreign relations are all about quid pro quos. If he wants to reset ties with Pakistan to his advantage, he has to start by making sure that Afghanistan’s ties with India will no longer be to Pakistan’s disadvantage.

Revisiting Nehru’s India

TFT Issue: 21 Nov 2014

India’s Congress Party is in soul-searching mode after its unprecedented loss to the BJP in the last elections. Its favoured option is to try and revive the memory and legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru as the great freedom fighter and founder of modern India. A recent conference in New Delhi presided over by Mrs Sonia Gandhi attracted VIP delegates from all over the world to commemorate Nehru’s fiftieth death anniversary, extol his virtues and stress how he had laid the foundations of a great democracy on the basis of an independent economy, a non-aligned foreign policy and an assimilative secular ideology of the state. It is significant that Narendra Modi, the BJP superhero who has taken India’s rich and poor alike by storm, is opening up the Indian economy to foreign investment, aligning with the West and is publicly hostile to the notion of secularism.

Most Pakistanis see Nehru through the angry prism of Kashmir. He is the villain who annexed it forcibly and then reneged on his pledge in the UN to hold a plebiscite to determine its future. It is the “unfinished business of Partition” that remains the root cause of conflict between the two countries. But we also grudgingly acknowledge that without Nehru India would not be the enviable democracy it is today, while we are still struggling to anchor ourselves firmly in it. After all, in 1947 both India and Pakistan were “fraternal twins”, in the sense of an overlapping genetic and linguistic heritage, a common struggle against colonialism, a post-colonial state-bureaucratic system and a common Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence. Both started off in quest of democracy. But India is a democracy today because it was a democracy yesterday, and the day before, and the day before. Each year of uninterrupted democracy has strengthened it. And it is Nehru who laid the foundations of freedom and democracy in India. But we in Pakistan have, from Day One, floundered on the rock of military-bureaucratic rule and autocracy. And that has made all the difference.

Broadly speaking, the choices made by Nehru in the first critical months and years sowed the seeds of democratic India. As prime minister he governed with a cabinet of elected civilians. In Pakistan, we opted for a non-elected, military-bureaucratic oligarchy. Nehru laid the foundations of an independent India on the basis of an independent economy (the Mahanalobis model). In Pakistan we opted for a free-market economy (the Harvard model) and became dependent on US aid. Nehru built a politically independent India without becoming part of the Cold War. Pakistan joined various defense pacts with the US and gave it military bases against the USSR.

Nehru scripted the story of India as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-regional, multi-linguistic state comprising many “nations” and peoples. The bedrock of the state was secularism. The bedrock of the nation was assimilation – internal unity in diversity. The bedrock of democracy was a consensual constitution, free and fair elections, regional state autonomy and economic and political independence externally.

But we were unlucky. The Quaid, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, didn’t live long enough to practice his vision for a secular Pakistan in which Hindus and Muslims and Christians would cease to be Hindus and Muslims and Christians, not in the religious sense but in the sense that all citizens of the new state would be equal. The bedrock of the new state became centralization under a military-bureaucratic oligarchy. The bedrock of the new nation became a form of non-assimilative and exclusivist Islam in which Muslims were more equal than non-Muslims. The bedrock of the new political system became a “guided constitutional democracy” with rigged elections and a dependent and indebted economy.

Modern Indian generations take India’s democracy and economic and political independence for granted. Therefore the Congress is not likely to cut much ice with them by harping on Nehru’s achievements fifty years after his death. Nor will he serve their purpose if they deliberately choose to block out the core element of his democratic vision – empowerment of the masses through alleviation of poverty, disease and illiteracy. This is precisely the “development agenda” that has caught the imagination of half a billion Indians on the margins of society no less than its middle classes and catapulted Modi to center-stage.

Another Nehru legacy has also fallen by the wayside. That is an enduring settlement on Kashmir. In 1962, Nehru sent Sheikh Abdullah to Pakistan but nothing came of it. In 1973, his daughter Indira Gandhi signed the Shimla Pact with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto but bilateralism didn’t get anywhere. The BJP tried to smoke the peace pipe with Nawaz Sharif and then General Musharraf (1999-2004) but Nehru’s Congress blocked progress despite the promise of an out-of-the-box solution that tilts in India’s favour. Now Modi’s BJP has frozen the process all over again.

Nehru’s Congress Party remains wedded to the Nehru dynasty. The irony is that this core strength of yesterday has become its core weakness today.

Breaking the deadlock

TFT Issue: 28 Nov 2014

The 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu has ended with a whimper. All the leaders spoke passionately about the necessity of regional cooperation to alleviate the misery of 1.6 billion South Asians below the poverty line. This region accounts for a mere 3% of global output and 2% of world exports — in which intra-regional trade is only 5% of total trade compared to 66% in the EU, 53% in NAFTA, 32% in the Pan Pacific region and 25% in ASEAN. Yet they couldn’t agree to sign a single multi-lateral agreement on trade, commerce, energy or transport. Indeed, the leaders of India and Pakistan, whose attitude underlines the recurring failure of SAARC since it was founded 29 years ago, couldn’t even exploit this opportunity to talk about talks, even as each highlighted a critical dimension of the issues confronting them. Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif exhorted his regional colleagues to resolve simmering political disputes (an indirect reference to Pakistan’s dispute with India over Kashmir) in order to pave the way for economic cooperation while India’s PM, Narendra Modi, talked about the need to tackle the menace of terrorism (an indirect reference to the 26/11 Mumbai attack originating in Pakistan) as a prelude to normalization of relations.

In essence, Pakistan’s position is that composite talks on all issues should begin simultaneously without any pre-conditions. But India’s position is that Pakistan must first unilaterally act against India-oriented Pakistan-based terrorist groups in general and the 26/11 accused facing trial in particular before any talks can begin. The irony is that until 1999 (when India’s proposal for a composite dialogue was accepted by Pakistan at the Lahore summit), it was Pakistan that had consistently pre-conditioned a dialogue with India on the core issue of Kashmir and spurned the composite dialogue approach.

Interestingly, from 2004-2007, a back channel between India and Pakistan made significant headway in trying to find a working “out-of-the-box solution” to Kashmir. But 26/11 terrorism derailed it. Equally, another back channel between the two countries after the election of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister of Pakistan in 2013 would have delivered MFN trade status to India if PM Modi had not abruptly cancelled the foreign secretary level review talks scheduled in August this year. Why did India cancel the talks?

India says it asked Pakistan’s High Commissioner in New Delhi not to meet with the Kashmiri Hurriyet leaders in the Pakistan embassy prior to the talks. But the fact is that India’s Foreign Secretary called up the Pakistan High Commissioner when one of the Hurriyet leaders, Shabbir Shah, was already in the embassy and another was scheduled to arrive the following day. Therefore the advice was not heeded on the grounds that it would have publicly embarrassed the Hurriyet leaders and soured relations with Pakistan. If the message had been delivered well in advance, before the Hurriyet leaders were invited, Pakistani sources say it might well have acceded to it in order to keep the secretary talks on track, as when Nawaz Sharif met with Narendra Modi during the latter’s inauguration ceremonies and didn’t meet with Hurriyet leaders. Why did India make this an issue at the last minute and is still refusing to reschedule the talks?

Clearly, the state elections in held-Kashmir have influenced Mr Modi’s decision to hold off on talks with Pakistan. Since becoming PM, he has visited the state five times in a bid to whip up the Hindu vote in Jammu and the Muslim vote in parts of the Valley at the expense of the Congress, enabling the BJP to cobble a majority of the 87 seats in the state assembly with the help of Muslim independents or anti-Hurriyet groups and parties. Under the circumstances, his policy may be to deny importance to the Hurriyet by cutting off its contacts with Pakistan.

But this line of reasoning would also suggest that once the elections in held-Kashmir are over in January, whatever their outcome, Mr Modi might be ready to restore the foreign secretary talks and get back on track for obtaining MFN trade status from Pakistan. The fact is that India benefits much more than Pakistan from an opening of trade and the pro-Modi business lobby in India is smacking its lips in anticipation of MFN status (whatever its formal denomination). Such an opening would, apart from giving India a slice of the 200 million Pakistan market, also automatically pave the way for Indian manufactured goods to reach the 300 million Central Asian markets via Pakistan even if Pakistan doesn’t allow India direct overland road access to Afghanistan.

This deadlock must be broken. India needs foreign markets. Pakistan needs stable borders. Both are hurting from terrorism in the region. Pakistan’s war against terrorism is now a reality in FATA. But the trial of the Mumbai accused also needs to be speeded up as a signal of our credibility vis a vis India.

The Teflon Man

TFT Issue: 05 Dec 2014

Imran Khan’s “dharna” to oust Nawaz Sharif has taken so many twists and turns that it is difficult to predict his next moves. Is it all pre-planned? Or is he desperately trying to keep his political prospects alive by hook or by crook?

Once upon a time, Imran Khan lauded CJP Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry to the skies when the Supreme Court was going hammer and tongs against the NRO, when it sacked a sitting prime minister, and when it drummed up Memogate. But when the same CJP refused to entertain Khan’s petition against “electoral rigging”, he accused him of being the “chief culprit who rigged the 2013 elections”.

Once upon a time, Imran showered GEO with unstinting praise as the most outstanding TV channel in the country because GEO was giving him nearly 20% of all air-talk time, helping him raise funds for flood-affected people, and generally building him up as the great white hope of Pakistan. However, when GEO felt obliged to balance its coverage and critique, he accused it of kowtowing to Nawaz Sharif and committing treason.

Once upon a time, Imran Khan went to London to file criminal charges against the MQM’s Altaf Hussain. Then he accused Altaf of rigging the 2013 elections in Karachi. But recently he has been sugar and honey because he doesn’t want the MQM to disrupt or deny his dharnas in Karachi.

Once upon a time Imran praised the caretaker chief minister of Punjab for conducting the most neutral administration in the country. Now he is accusing him of applying “35 punctures” to PMLN’s losing seats.

Once upon a time, Khan profusely welcomed Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim as the fairest and most independent CEC in the history of Pakistan. Now he says Fakhru Bhai was complicit in the rigging by the provincial election commissioners.

Once upon a time, lying in his hospital bed the day after the election results were announced, Khan gamely accepted his defeat and vowed not to allow anyone to derail or destabilize democracy. (Asad Umar publicly appreciated the verdict and congratulated Nawaz Sharif.) Now he says the PTI was decisively robbed of victory not just in a clutch of Punjab constituencies but in all of Pakistan.

In all his thunderous and self-righteous allegations Imran Khan has never bothered to produce a shred of evidence or proof. Nor has he had the moral courage to defend his wild accusations in court.

Khan’s “dharnas” take the cake. Plan A was August 14 when the end was supposedly nigh for Nawaz Sharif. But it fizzled out in Islamabad’s D Chowk when the “third umpire” didn’t raise his finger and Tahir ul Qadri abandoned him. Plan B was another dharna on November 30. When it also failed to impress the government, Plan C was hastily announced to bring Lahore (December 4), Faisalabad (8th), Karachi (12th) and then Pakistan to a grinding halt on December 16 (quite forgetting that the Fall of Dhaka and dismemberment of Pakistan took place on that fateful day in 1971). The very next day, these dates were pushed forward and it was announced that instead of a general shutdown strike the PTI’s youthful activists would protest on the main arteries of the cities and allow business as usual to be conducted elsewhere.

Now the Mother of All Plans, Plan D, is being threatened if Plan C fails. God alone knows what is in store for Pakistanis. If Khan intends to run through the alphabet from A to Z, no one should be surprised. But he is losing steam.

Not so long ago, Khan was adamant that he would not stop before the ouster of Nawaz Sharif in August, then in November, then in December. Now he is predicting the end for Nawaz before Eid next year.

Unfortunately, pride and prejudice continue to stand in the way of sense and sensibility. Imran Khan says he will call off his dharnas if the government accepts his TORs for a judicial commission, assisted by the third umpire’s ISI and MI, that completes its findings in six weeks, and is assured of Nawaz Sharif’s resignation, followed by fresh elections if the commission finds widespread electoral malpractices. This is an impossible and unrealistic demand: the SC cannot be told how to conduct an inquiry; the government cannot be expected to refrain from laying down strictly verifiable TORs; and such an inquiry cannot be completed in six months, let alone six weeks. The talks wont get anywhere if Khan refuses to budge.

Agreed that Imran Khan is a dogged and timely campaigner against corruption and bad governance. Agreed, too, that he has galvanized the youth of Pakistan to rise and agitate for “change” like no one else before him. But he is tarring all and sundry who stand in his way while he is the Teflon Man against whom no charge will stick. The tragedy is he is doing his great cause a disservice by tilting at the windmills and spreading disorder and confusion across the land.

Talk talk, not fight fight

TFT Issue: 12 Dec 2014

The PTI was successful in “shutting down” Faisalabad on December 8 despite the city’s status as a PMLN stronghold. This was a foregone conclusion for three main reasons. One, it only requires small but aggressive bands of PTI supporters to stop traffic and enforce shutdown of markets. Two, ruling party and government instigation notwithstanding, it is only natural for PMLN workers and supporters to be spontaneously provoked to resist the PTI’s abusive campaign. Three, both sides are highly charged following open exhortations by leaders of the PTI, most notably Sheikh Rashid, to “burn, loot, kill and destroy”. The presence of the police, with or without arms, is always a red rag to protesters, and mob dispersal methods (tear gas and lathi charges) are always grist for the mills of the media. Clashes were therefore inevitable.

All this was evident in Faisalabad. The situation was compounded by the mysterious appearance and disappearance of a lone gunman who shot and killed a protester, leaving behind a trail of unverified allegations and FIRs about his political links with stalwarts of the ruling party, all robustly denied. But it proves the point that many analysts continue to make: the PTI is looking for dead bodies to fuel its “go Nawaz go” movement and compel the military to step into the breach.

Why is the PMLN government such a prisoner of the situation? Indeed, why is it doing nothing to dispel the impression that it is equally to blame for the confrontation that is damaging its credibility without diminishing the PTI?

Originally, Imran Khan’s demands were restricted to a verifiable process of determining the extent of rigging in four constituencies. He asked the ECP to speed up the process but didn’t provide the necessary legal evidence to move forward. Frustrated, he appealed to the CJP of the SC but didn’t get any relief. This compelled him to lump the CJPSC and the ECP with the PMLN government, manufacture a grand conspiracy of rigging and launch a movement against all three. At that stage, he sought a credible judicial commission to investigate his charges. The government dismissed this demand in a cavalier fashion on the grounds that his conditions were outrageous – the inclusion of the ISI and MI in the investigations, a period of a mere six weeks in which to make a nationwide assessment, and fresh elections if the commission came to the conclusion that the elections were nationally rigged and comprehensively polluted. As a sop, the government wrote a half-hearted letter to the SC supporting the demand for a judicial commission but without laying down any terms of reference, which the SC naturally ignored. The government also agreed to negotiate with Imran on how to redress his grievances but without allowing him to challenge its own legitimacy.

Predictably, the talks didn’t get anywhere because of the entrenched enmity on both sides. At the back of the government’s hostility is evidence of an ongoing “conspiracy” hatched by disgruntled and overly ambitious elements in the military with Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri. General ® Pervez Musharraf and the Chaudhries of Gujrat to get rid of Nawaz Sharif and install a national government of technocrats to pave the wave for the PTI to eventually emerge as the “establishment” party in power. This was proved when Imran Khan refused to budge and announced a nationwide process of agitation and destabilisation, starting with enforced shut-downs in the major cities of Punjab.

If Imran Khan is bullish and intransigent, the government’s options are limited to maintaining law and order while talking to Khan. The judiciary is not terribly impressed by Imran Khan. Indeed, the SC has just dismissed a petition by PTI stalwarts seeking the ouster of Nawaz Sharif on the grounds that he is not a good Muslim for allegedly lying on the floor of parliament. In Lahore a division bench of the High Court is asking why the government is unable to enforce the writ of the law and maintain order – a clear signal that the PTI’s protests should be curtailed because destabilisation is harmful for the country and economy.

Therefore the government may be advised to sincerely open talks with the PTI about how to sort out the issue of rigging, thereby gaining the support of the media and political parties, and let the onus of irresponsibility or intransigence fall on the PTI if it is seen to be making unacceptable demands. Likewise, the government should not allow itself to be embarrassed by a repeat of Faisalabad in Lahore — it should keep the police and Gullu Butts off the roads and let the PTI disrupt everyday life and face the public backlash that follows.

Imran Khan thrives on provoking the government and forcing errors on its part in order to make continuous headlines in the media. Therefore the best strategy is to let him have his way without party/police retaliation so that his motives are exposed; so that he loses the sympathy of the public and runs out of steam.

Déjà vu?

TFT Issue: 19 Dec 2014

The most gruesome and dastardly terrorist attack in the history of Pakistan earlier this week in Peshawar has had four significant consequences.

First, it has compelled Imran Khan to end his 126-day “dharna” to topple the government of Nawaz Sharif and instead join hands with it to combat terrorism.

Second, it has compelled PM Nawaz Sharif and COAS General Raheel Sharif to review the old “strategic” distinction between the “good Afghan Taliban” and the “bad Pakistani Taliban” and announce that all Taliban are bad and the fight has to be carried to all of them.

Third, it has compelled the national security establishment to review its foreign policy options with Afghanistan, India and America in line with the Taliban’s internal security threat instead of the old formulation of the external threat from India.

Fourth, it has swung public opinion radically against the Taliban and there are calls for ending this menace of criminals masquerading as Islamists once and for all.

Realistically speaking, though, what can we expect from our policy makers on all four issues in the near future?

Imran Khan’s angry dharna was gearing up for the final heave-ho, or Plan D, to lock down Pakistan and force an army intervention to oust Nawaz Sharif when it was abruptly overtaken by the mass grief over the terrorist attack. But Khan says the dharna will be revived if Nawaz Sharif reneges on his commitment to set up a proper judicial commission to ascertain the truth about electoral rigging in 2013. Two important considerations lie behind Khan’s decision: first, the realisation that the army leadership has got its hands full dealing with the threat of terrorism in the context of two unstable borders and is in no mood to engineer a change of government in the current circumstances; second, that the grief-stricken people of Pakistan are in no mood to fuel Imran’s dharna in the midst of the tragedy in Peshawar and want to see national resolve and unity in the face of this challenge. This would suggest that Imran’s retreat is tactical rather than strategic and that he will be back on the streets next year when Nawaz Sharif’s judicial commission fails to deliver as demanded by him and when the military leadership is over the terrorist hump and back to “no-business as usual” with an uncooperative government.

PM Nawaz Sharif’s statement that there are no good Taliban is a matter of fact. But not so long ago he was unwilling to permit the army to fight the bad Taliban. In actuality, this is a matter of anti-terrorism policy that has been weak and ambivalent in the past. The distinction between good (Afghan) and bad (Pakistani) Taliban was made a matter of policy by the Musharraf regime and continued under General Kayani’s stewardship with both army chiefs playing a strategic “double game” of tactically hunting with the American hound and running with the Taliban hare. The Zardari-led parliament was also confused – it first resolved to talk to Sufi Muhammad in Swat and then swiftly ordered troops into combat. The Nawaz parliament did the same. It leaned on an APC to start talks with the TTP and then backed out when the army did a fait accompli and marched into Waziristan. Meanwhile, the much-flaunted “comprehensive anti-terrorism policy” is languishing in the interior ministry and there is not an iota of evidence to prove that the stakeholders are interested or on board. Therefore there is no assurance at all that the terrorism menace is going to be challenged institutionally by the government in the near future.

General Raheel Sharif’s trip to Kabul with evidence of Afghanistan-based TTP’s culpability in the Peshawar attack and request for assistance against the Fazlullah Group is in line with the new understanding being forged between the two countries in order to bring the Afghan civil war to an end and stabilize the Ghani regime. But the Pakistani security establishment will have to deliver the Haqqani or Mullah Omar network for sincere power-sharing peace talks with the Afghan regime if it expects Kabul to deliver Fazlullah to Pakistan. This quid pro quo has acquired a degree of urgency now. But there is no assurance that either side can quickly disinvest itself of its “Taliban assets” to the satisfaction of the other. Certainly, a truly radical shift in policy is needed in Pakistan to take advantage of the current situation.

The public’s anger against the Taliban may also not be sufficiently long-lived to provide a stable platform for policy overhaul. Already, a counter narrative about the “Indian hand” and “US responsibility” in the Peshawar massacre is beginning to take shape in the media and among radical Islamist groups. Indeed, in the backdrop of pervasive anti-West sentiment and politico-religious ideology, it will not be possible to exploit the current situation for long.

This is a historic opportunity to mount a concerted counter-terrorism strategy. Unfortunately, however, the civilian leadership is confused and incompetent while the military leadership is unwilling to break the ice unilaterally.

Proof of the pudding

TFT Issue: 26 Dec 2014

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has taken charge. He says enough is enough, there are no “good” Taliban and he will personally “lead the war against terror of all shades for my people and my country and take it to its logical conclusion, come what may”. These are strong, heady words.

Meanwhile, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister in charge of formulating and implementing anti-terrorism policy, has readied a 17-point draft policy for presentation in a multi-party conference.

It appears that the civilian leaders have scrambled into action by the swift response of the army chief, General Raheel Sharif, to the Peshawar massacre when he caught the first flight out to Kabul to coordinate anti-terrorism measures with the Afghan and American authorities and followed it up by executing two terrorists condemned by a military tribunal.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating of it. This isn’t the first time we have heard politicians make such tall promises and then consign them to the dustbin when faced with the prospect of a consequential blowback. Indeed, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan promised nine months ago to deliver and act upon a forceful and comprehensive strategy to root out terrorism but then immediately opted for talks with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which miserably failed to deliver and spurred Gen Raheel to launch a military operation in Waziristan.

There are three core dimensions of this problem.

The first relates to the existence of radical “Islamic” groups and non-state actors – whether sectarian like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and its offshoots, or jihadi like the Lashkar-e-Tayba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, etc, or TTP and its splinters – who are all linked to one another in an organic ideological network which nourishes and sustains the terrorist stain on state and society. Action against the TTP alone will not suffice while retaining the others as “assets” for foreign policy objectives in the neighbourhood because many TTP groups are rooted in these non-state parent actors and recruit their cadres from these “asset-bases”. Will the political and military leadership have the vision and courage to make a paradigm change in foreign policy?

The second is bringing state and society on one page in terms of the mechanism for tackling terrorism. In order to do this, the government will have to fashion laws and systems for successfully catching, interrogating and prosecuting terrorists and their sympathizers. But achieving a national consensus on this is easer said than done. The military also wants the civilians to give it sweeping court-martial powers under the Army Act of 1952. But this is something the courts and politicians are loath to concede to an overarching military that is already the dominant, and problematic, factor in statecraft.

The third is revising the entire narrative of the idea and ideology of Pakistan as an exclusivist “Islamic” state based on a singular Shariah identity rather than an inclusive “secular” state based on the Islamic “principles” of equality, pluralism and brotherhood of man. This involves revising our textbooks, regulating our madrassahs, monitoring our mosque-khutbas and acting against hate preachers. But there are no Ataturks on the Pakistani horizon as far as the mind can see.

To be sure, small steps can be taken to manage, if not eliminate, the scourge of terrorism. Military courts can be established in the main terror-infected regions. The judges and media can be seriously advised to show spine and responsibility. A special highly competent prosecuting agency for terrorism-crimes can be set up. The most aggressive and unrepentant mullahs can be detained and prosecuted. Sectarian groups can be challenged. Civil-military intel coordination can be made better and more effective.

For starters, there are three areas where progress will indicate a seriousness of purpose in the civil-military leadership. First, since Gen Raheel Sharif has probably committed himself to a quid pro quo for obtaining the help of the Afghans and Americans to eliminate Mullah Fazlullah of the TTP in the borderlands of Afghanistan; he will have to bring Mullah Umar or the Haqqanis to the negotiating table with Kabul under threat of abandoning them and denying them safe havens in Pakistan. This objective must be accomplished quickly before Kabul and Washington lose faith in the Pakistani army chief like they did in his predecessor General Kayani.

Second, PM Nawaz Sharif must signal his resolve on three fronts: he must put Maulana Abdul Aziz in the locker and take steps to remove the terrorist stigma attached to Islamabad’s Lal Masjid; he must prosecute the LJ leaders who preach and practice sectarian murder regardless of the party-nomenclature under which they operate; and he must convict the perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre so that the world acknowledges our commitment not to meddle in the internal affairs of our neighbours.

Third, he must seriously engage the military leadership in a concrete, result-oriented discussion on national security paradigms, the nature of the internal vs external existential threat to Pakistan and the role of non-state jihadi-actor-assets in Pakistan. Without this, there can be no long-term solution.

Easier said than done

TFT Issue: 02 Jan 2015

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is burning the midnight oil to cobble a political consensus on tackling the existential threat to Pakistan from radical “Islamic” terrorism. His 20-point National Action Plan includes a restoration of the death penalty, establishment of special military courts, banning armed non-state actors and front-affiliates, activating National Counter Terrorism Authority, putting down sectarian and hate-preaching groups, forming a special anti-terrorism armed force, registering and regulating madrasahs, stopping the media from glorifying or advertising terrorists, and so on. He is heading a committee to oversee 15 sub-committees that have been tasked to flesh out appropriate measures on a fast-track basis. But all this is easier said than done.

The proposal to set up military courts by amending the constitution has failed to muster a consensus. Most political parties, civil society groups and media organs are wary of military courts for civilians because such courts have been misused in the past to harass and put down political and media opponents. Indeed, the Supreme Court is already on record for striking down such courts in 2009. The argument is that the existing Anti-Terrorist Courts should be made effective by introducing proper witness and judge-protection programs and strengthening the prosecution branch of government rather than militarizing the courts. The government is now thinking of amending the Army Act 1952 to enable the military to court martial “jet black” terrorists involved in bombings and attacks on security forces. Even if this amendment is acceptable to the political parties and ensures protection of politicians, academics, journalists and such like from its ambit, it will be challenged by the Bar Associations and not find willing takers in the higher judiciary that has negatively opined on it in the past.

The objective of ending non-state radical Islamic actors will pose the biggest challenge. Some of them, like the Lashkar e Tayba, Jaish e Mohammd and Harkatul Majahideen, are integral elements of the military’s National Security Doctrine that has manufactured domestic proxies for leveraging policy against India and Afghanistan. The last time the military tried to put a lid on some of them – in 2003 when these jihadi attacked the parliaments in Srinager and New Delhi and provoked India to threaten war – some of them revolted and tried to assassinate General Pervez Musharraf while others set up bases in Waziristan and eventually joined forces with the Pastun Taliban as the Punjabi Taliban. A few, like Lashkar e Jhangvi, joined Al-Qaeda to launch a pogrom against Shi”ites (now they are also training fighters for IS in the Middle-East). Unfortunately, the civil-military leadership still doesn’t seem to have the will or ability to stamp them out through a radical paradigm-changing strategy.

Madrasah reform and regulation policies have been tried before under the Musharraf regime and failed to deliver. The five Madari Boards of the Deobandis, Brelhvis, Ahle Hadees, Shias and Jamaat i Islami will neither agree on a uniform religious curriculum nor allow the government to monitor its content.

The proposal to breathe life into NACTA is also likely to face serious difficulties. One of its core functions is to collate and analyse intelligence data from across the country’s various intelligence and police organisations. But police departments like Special Branch, CID, CIA, CTD, and federal civilian ones like FIA, IB, ANF, etc, guard their turf jealously and rarely share Intel data with one another, while the military ones like the ISI and MI don’t trust the civilians at all and will resist encroachments on their domain. That is why, nine months after Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister, vowed to activate NACTA along with a civil-military anti-terrorism policy plan, there is nothing to show for it on the ground. Nor has the revamped Cabinet Committee on Defense formulating National Security Policy, of which anti-terrorist policy is a core issue, taken off.

The courts, especially the lower ones, are also going to pose problems. These are largely in the hands of conservative judges who are marked by religious passion more than the law. Their track record shows that wont give stiff sentences to hate preachers and violent sectarian elements, partly because they agree with them and partly because they fear them. Much the same obstacles will be posed by the “due process” provisions of the higher courts because the police prosecutors and investigators are ill-trained and unmotivated. Without a far-reaching process of reform and re-education, the judiciary is not equipped to stamp out religious terrorism. But even a modern-day reformer like ex-CJP Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry didn’t take this route.

Under the circumstances, Nawaz Sharif must recognize and understand the administrative and the religio-political dimensions of terrorism before trying to come to grips with it. Putting the administrative cart (military courts, executions, etc) before the political horse (religion-inspired extremist narrative) will not yield too much fruit. The nature of religious and socio-political discourse in Pakistan that feeds the terrorist and jihadi network must be changed. The idea of Pakistan cannot survive without reforming this discourse-narrative.

Political Forecast 2015

TFT Issue: 09 Jan 2015

If 2014 was a bad year for Pakistan because of terrorism, political instability and civil-military tensions, the outlook for 2015 is cautiously positive on some targets and negative on others.

(1) The trial of General Pervez Musharraf for treason is likely to drone on without any significant hiccups in civil-military relations. The special trial court has allowed General Musharraf to rope in ex-prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, ex-law minister Zahid Hamid and ex-CJP AH Dogar as co-conspirators, in effect diluting the focus on General Musharraf and ensuring unending delays in processing appeals and counter-appeals by the various accused and the government. This suits the government and the military — the former can claim to be pursuing the case vigorously while the latter can remain sanguine that no harm shall befall its ex-chief and “humiliate” the institution. During 2015, General Musharraf’s efforts will be twofold: to maintain a high public profile as “a national leader” by creating waves via media interviews while striving to retain the military’s protection, and strengthening his case for permission to leave the country on medical or family reasons. His efforts to form a potent political party will fail.

(2) Finance Minister Ishaq Dar will not be able to be reduce the fiscal deficit to 4.5% of GNP for FY 2014-15 because of tax revenue shortfalls mainly from reduced import duties from the reduced oil import bill, despite the recent imposition of an extra 5% GST on petroleum sales. In turn, the IMF will quibble about missed targets and delay releasing new instalments in the second half of the year, which will bring the rupee under pressure again. The government’s ability to privatise top state enterprises and inject additional funds into the next budget will depend on the graph of both terrorism and political stability in the country. The multi-billion investment MOUs signed with Chinese companies will not begin to flow for many months. Inflation will remain below double digits. But the energy situation will not improve significantly until 2016-17 when the various furnace oil, hydel, coal, wind, solar and gas projects and pipelines are functional.

(3) The National Action Plan to combat terrorism will be fleshed out in 2015 by the 15 sub-committees set up by the prime minister. But the government’s ability to practice what it preaches will be tested at the altar of good relations with the military and a political settlement with Imran Khan over the issue of electoral rigging so that the PTI doesn’t return to the politics of destabilising dharnas all over again with a wink from the military. Likewise, swift military justice in the form of military courts and executions and a rapid deployment anti-terrorist force will not be a sufficiently strong deterrence to terrorism, let alone uproot it, because the government will not make much headway in curbing the underground activities of non-state radical Islamic actors like Lashkar-e-Tayba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkatul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi or their various front organisations, or plug their sources of funding. The fate of these groups rests in the hands of the ISI which manages them in line with the military’s regional security policy vis a vis India and Afghanistan and this is not likely to change significantly in the short term.

(4) An agreement between the PTI and PMLN on a judicial commission to probe charges of rigging in the 2013 elections seems unlikely to get much mileage. Imran Khan now wants the judiciary to investigate general allegations of rigging while the PMLN insists the commission should focus on Khan’s original charge that there was a conspiracy involving ex-CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry, Nawaz Sharif, the Election Commission of Pakistan and the caretaker governments to hand-pick Returning Officers from the lower judiciary in order to change the election results after balloting. Since such a conspiracy is impossible to determine in the short period of six weeks demanded by Imran Khan, the talks are likely to be abandoned and Khan will again announce a PTI strategy to whip up the public against the Sharif government, thereby creating another wave of instability. However, in view of the national commitment to wage war against terrorism, the military is not likely to back Imran Khan’s bid to oust Nawaz Sharif and compel another round of general elections in 2015.

(5) India-Pakistan relations will remain difficult because of the hardline “defensive-offence” strategy adopted by the Narendra Modi government. Therefore no concrete normalisation process is forecast. Meanwhile, US-Pak relations will depend on Pak-Afghanistan relations, which in turn will depend on the ability and willingness of the Afghan-ISAF forces to help eliminate Pak Taliban groups operating against Pakistan from bases in north-east Afghanistan and reciprocal action by Pakistan to bring the rebel Afghan Taliban safe-havened in Pakistan’s borderlands to the negotiating table with the new Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani. If any party is unable to deliver on its pledge, relations will deteriorate and proxy wars will intensify.

Sharifs’ Troika

TFT Issue: 16 Jan 2015

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister in charge of anti-terrorism policy and operations, recently told the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, that the number of terrorist organizations in Punjab alone had risen from 60 to nearly 100 in recent years because the government had been lax in monitoring and putting them down. This has nudged the Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, to shift the Punjab National Action Plan Committee against sectarianism and terrorism into high gear by meeting the Lahore Corps Commander and other high military officials in order to coordinate civil-military action. This shows a seriousness of purpose that we have not seen before in Punjab.

Much the same attitude is now evident in Islamabad. The prime minister is reported to hold a daily meeting of core officials tasked with implementing the National Action Plan. The newspapers confirm a degree of action on the ground already – the police is trying, however haphazardly, to crack down on the illegal use of loudspeakers in mosques, on printing presses and distributors involved in spreading hate material, and even in arresting or detaining religiously-motivated groups or persons who are disrupting the local peace on one pretext or another. The howls of protest from vested religio-politico interests are testimony of this new found will in the Punjab administration. In the meanwhile, there is no let-up in the drive to execute convicted terrorists – along with a few other sectarian terrorists, Akram Lahori, who was convicted of killing an Iranian diplomat in Multan many years ago, was sent to the gallows. The Punjab government had dragged its feet on his execution because it had succumbed to the threat of a violent backlash from the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

If it looks like the Sharif brothers have finally decided to bite the bullet, the new army chief, General Raheel Sharif, also seems determined to attack and degrade the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. Apart from launching Operation Zarb-e-Azb in FATA, he has persuaded the Afghan and American governments to lend a helping hand in targeting and degrading TTP activists in safe havens along the Pak-Afghan border areas. This is no small achievement. The Afghans and the Americans had accused the Pakistani military of running with the hare and hunting with the hound in a “double game” and were not inclined to trust and help the ISI. Indeed, in a parting kick before retirement two years ago, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, had accused the ISI of being “a veritable arm of the Haqqani network”. His allegation acquired much import because he was billed as a great supporter of the then Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, and his remarks came barely a day following a meeting of the two chiefs at a security conference in Spain after which General Kayani had told the media that the US and Pakistan were on the same page regarding ant-Taliban policy. US-Pak military relations were in a trough until General Sharif arrived on the scene and started to set them right. His approach to the new Afghan dispensation under President Ashraf Ghani is also praiseworthy. The net result is a degree of cooperation among all three parties that is unprecedented. In a recent burst of activity, the three are coordinating tactics to take out Maulana Fazlullah who is hiding in North-Eastern Afghanistan and directing TTP operations in Pakistan. General Sharif’s recent dash to London, where he met the British prime minister and top civil-military officials, is also indicative of his determination to try and plug all sources of terrorism, ideological and physical, in Pakistan no less than to reciprocate in equal measure where the security interests of Kabul, Washington and London are concerned.

Cynics will doubtless say that all this is too little too late. Or that once the outrage of the Peshawar massacre has faded, the state will revert to its business as usual hands-off terrorism policy. Or that core military non-state assets, like the Lashkar-e-Tayba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and other such anti-India jihadi outfits, no less than the Haqaani Network and Mullah Umar Shura (that are globally banned as terrorist groups), are still alive and kicking. Going by past record, there is weight in these assertions. But two developments suggest that General Sharif means to address these issues too.

The first is US Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement that Pakistan has asked him to play a role in nudging India to cease hostilities along the border and come back to the negotiating table. Clearly, this request could not have been made without holding out the assurance that Pakistan would rein in the jihadi outfits from stirring up trouble in Kashmir and elsewhere. The second is Senator Kerry’s understanding that the Pakistani military will facilitate negotiations between the Haqqani/Mulla Umar Taliban network and the Afghan government with a view to de-escalating the civil war.

The will and ability of the Sharif troika to cobble an effective counter-terrorism narrative and foreign policy change will be tested in the weeks and months ahead.

Humpty Dumpty

TFT Issue: 23 Jan 2015

The TTP and LeJ aren’t the only ones bombing and terrorizing the people of Pakistan. The PMLN government, it seems, is quite adept at tormenting the people too, the recent “petrol bomb” being a case in point.

Since the government wields monopolistic control over the import, regulation and supply of fuel through the Ministry of Petroleum (MoP), Oil and Gas Development Authority (OGRA) and Pakistan State Oil (PSO), the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has pinned responsibility for the criminal mismanagement of petrol supplies in the country on senior officials and bureaucrats in the three departments. But the petroleum and finance ministers have gone scot free despite evidence of negligence and culpability.  Consider.

PSO, which imports the fuel and sells it to private and public sector entities that refine and sell it as petrol or produce electricity from it, is cash strapped because it is owed over Rs 200 billion by various government entities like WAPDA, PIA, KAPCO, etc. Therefore it couldn’t import adequate supplies in December and January. It begged the MoP to request the Ministry of Finance (MoF) to clear its debt. But the two ministers, Khaqan Abbasi and Ishaq Dar, were either squabbling (Dar has nominated an advisor to the MoP without Abbasi’s approval) or too busy doing their own thing (Dar is jetting around the world negotiating loans and aid and launching bonds while Abbasi is upgrading his privately owned Air Blue airline). Both gentlemen were summoned by the prime minister to explain their conduct. Abbasi argues that a spike in consumer demand in January owing to a reduction in petrol prices created the problem. He also claims he was helpless because Dar controls the purse strings and hasn’t responded to several SOS messages sent by PSO and MoP to clear dues of about Rs 50 billion. Dar claims he coughed up Rs 17.5 billion in January but cannot continuously be expected to bail out all the public sector enterprises that are caught in the vicious circle of circular debt caused by their inefficiency and corruption and also abide by the terms and conditions of the aid donors to cut expenditures and reduce the fiscal deficit.

Whatever the merit of their explanations, the public is mad as hell. At the very least, it wants ministerial heads to roll. But that’s not the way the prime minister and Punjab chief minister work. When something goes wrong, the fall guys are always bureaucrats, never ministers. One reason is the overt reliance of the Sharifs on the bureaucracy, rather than the ministers, to run government. Another is the abysmal level of incompetence of most ministers in the cabinet. This is a direct consequence of the prime ministerial system of government that compels the prime minister to appoint parliamentarians (whose “expertise” is limited to buying votes and excelling at corrupt practices) to the cabinet rather than the best subject-experts and technocrats available in the market as under a directly elected presidential system.

In essence, the PMLN government has inherited the problem of circular debt in the energy sector from the Zardari government that didn’t address it in time. But it is also true to say that the Zardari government was caught unawares by the spike in oil prices and the shortsightedness of the previous Shaukat Aziz/Musharraf regime that didn’t enhance the capacity of the energy sector despite a growing economy. The people chucked out Asif Zardari’s PPP at the last elections because of mismanaging the economy in general and electricity shortages in particular. Now they are not likely to forget or forgive Nawaz Sharif’s PMLN in a hurry for the continuing “load-shedding” and petrol shortages.

Many months have passed since Mr Sharif promised to “audit” the performance of the ministers. But the government is still stumbling from crisis to crisis, in the process discrediting one minister after another. Khwaja Asif and Nisar Ali Khan are already on the mat for the deterioration of civil military relations and internal security respectively. Rana Sanaullah and Shabaz Sharif cannot shake off the Model Town massacre. Ishaq Dar and Khaqan Abbasi have now been tarred by the energy crisis. But, at the end of the day, the buck stops at the prime minister. This is his “dream team” and it has become a “nightmare”. Come election time, and he will have to pay for the sins of omission and commission of his ministers, just like Asif Zardari did for those of his two prime ministers. Incompetence and inefficiency, no less than corruption, is now in the gun sights of the public.

To be sure, Mr Sharif has survived Imran Khan’s destabilizing “dharna”. And he has finally pulled out all the stops to try and deal with the menace of terrorism. But it is the health of the economy that impinges on the suffering and welfare of the people. If Mr Sharif doesn’t pull up his ministers quickly, all the MOUs and IMFs won’t be able to stop Humpty Dumpty on the wall from having a great fall!

Musharraf’s candour

TFT Issue: 30 Jan 2015

General (retd) Pervez Musharraf is endearingly candid. In a series of interviews since he relinquished office, he has revealed many nuggets of information and analysis. For instance, at the height of the anti-drone sentiment in the public in 2013 when the government was pretending to be opposed to the drones and the Foreign Office was churning out protests, he calmly admitted that he had secretly given permission to the CIA to use drones in the war against terrorism. He has also rued the NRO deal with Benazir Bhutto because it became a bone of contention with the judiciary and destabilized Pakistan. He laid part responsibility on the Chaudhrys of Gujrat who advised him to concede the NRO but retain the constitutional restriction on anyone becoming prime minister for a third time (doubtless because it suited their political careers).

Now, in a refreshing analysis, he criticizes his handpicked successor as army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, for not going after the Taliban in Waziristan and contrasts General Kayani’s reticence, which has damaged Pakistan, with the bold and decisive manner in which his successor, General Raheel Sharif, has acted. “You see, the main issue is that when a government is inactive, it requires an army chief to go and coax it into action. That’s what [Gen] Raheel has done. So either Gen Kayani was scared or too reticent or too reserved. He didn’t want to go and discuss this matter.”

He contrasted General Kayani’s attitude with his own while he was still giving the orders: “We acted against Fazlullah and defeated him. Peaceful elections were held in 2008. The turnout was good. The Awami National Party — and not religious parties — came to power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. And then Fazlullah was allowed to return and set on fire 13 girls schools. He had the tourist resort in Malam Jabba torched. No action was taken till he crossed the Shangla Hills and almost blocked the Karakoram Highway. When there was international hue and cry that the militants were only 100 miles away from Islamabad, then they woke up… The army was clear in its views as a whole. They wanted action, even in Kayani’s days. Kayani has to be asked why he did not act [against the terrorists].”

That, of course, is the central question. It becomes all the more necessary to get an answer because General Kayani clearly recognized the danger from the Taliban whom he described in a significant speech to passing out cadets as “an existential threat” to the country. In fact, Gen Kayani went so far as to argue that the internal threat of “Islamic” terrorism was far more potent than the external threat (of India), a statement that some viewed as signalling a “paradigm change” in the central strategic vision of the military. Indeed, there was a time when he was on the verge of launching operations against the TTP but pulled back at the last minute after senior American officials let it be known publicly that they had met him and urged him to take military action. It was speculated that he began to drag his feet because he didn’t want to be seen as doing “America’s bidding” in an extremely anti-American environment in Pakistan. In consequence, General Kayani’s inaction for six years enabled the TTP to grow strong and exact thousands of civilian and military casualties, a terrible harvest we are reaping today. This “inaction” also alienated General Kayani from Pakistanis and Americans alike.

General Musharraf has insightful advice to give those who, like the MQM, are clamouring for martial law as the solution to Pakistan’s problems of terrorism. “I don’t think there should be martial law… Pakistan is facing the worst situation in its history. The economy is not doing well. Terrorism is in all the provinces. It has never been this bad. The army is a fall back force in the country. We, in the military, call it a ‘force in being’. Its potential consists in being. If you use it or consume it, it’s gone. If you were to use the military, and suppose in the present situation of turmoil, they are unable to rectify the socio-economic ills of Pakistan, you’d have consumed this fall back force.”

Of course, Gen Musharraf didn’t take his own advice in 1999 when there was no national crisis in the country and he and his colleagues seized power only because their own military careers were on the line following their disastrous adventure in Kargil.

Meanwhile, the government of Nawaz Sharif would do well to heed Musharraf’s words regarding General Raheel Shareef’s decisive moves and action-oriented globe trotting. “It’s not he who’s doing that, it’s those countries who are giving him that stature. The army is the only stabilising institution in Pakistan. That is why they give importance to the military chief. Especially when they also see the degree of bad governance going on [by the civilians)… Look, international relations largely depend on personalities. Agar aap nay ja kay kookro ban kay baith jana hai, to aap ko kya importance milay gi.”

Trading with the “enemy”?

TFT Issue: 06 Feb 2015

A recent conference in Delhi deliberated on the issues bedeviling trade relations between India and Pakistan. Currently, Pakistan’s yearly exports to India are a mere $0.6bn and India’s to Pakistan are about $2bn. Guesstimates of illegal trade via third countries like the UAE are in the range of about $2bn. Everyone agreed that a target of $10bn is easily achievable if Pakistan gives MFN status to India – a win-win situation for both countries that have long been prisoners of the zero-sum philosophy in which the gain of one is the loss of the other and therefore unacceptable to the “loser”. Why hasn’t this happened so far?

For a long time, Pakistan’s position was that the “core” Kashmir issue should be resolved and trust built mutually before normal trade relations could be restored. But the 1999 Lahore summit between Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Vajpayee resolved to stop putting “core” preconditions to conflict resolution and start a composite dialogue to address all outstanding issues simultaneously.

Unfortunately, Kargil derailed Lahore, and in Agra 2001 India listed terrorism as its “core” issue in opposition to Pakistan’s “core” issue of Kashmir. Consequently, the composite dialogue in general, and trade in particular, was again taken off the table. The brave efforts of General Pervez Musharraf, first with Mr Vajpayee and then with Dr Manmohan Singh, to make amends via back-channel diplomacy and out-of-the-box thinking on Kashmir were overtaken by General Musharraf’s ouster in Pakistan and the terrorist attack on Mumbai in 2008.

Matters were frozen until Nawaz Sharif returned to power in 2013 and decided to de-link trade from politics and propose a wide ranging Non-Discriminatory Access (MFN) regime which India has long demanded as the starting point of conflict resolution (it’s win-win for both countries but India wins more than Pakistan because it is expected to run up a significant trade surplus with liberalisation). An agreement was painstakingly hammered and Dr Manmohan Singh was expected to crown his term by signing it in Islamabad before India went into elections in 2014. At the last minute, however, Pakistan decided to wait for a new government to be elected in India and sign the trade accord with it as a grand first step toward “normalisation”. It was in that spirit that Nawaz Sharif attended Narendra Modi’s inauguration in Delhi after the BJP won the elections, even though he was cautioned at home to tone down his expectations of peace with an avowed anti-Muslim hardliner like Mr Modi.

In the event, despite the bonhomie displayed by both leaders at the inauguration ceremony, Mr Modi has pulled back and jeopardised the entire exercise, thereby embarrassing Nawaz Sharif hugely. Both sides are back to trading accusations instead of goods and services. Whether or not they get back on track soon depends solely on Mr Modi.

Meanwhile, the subject of the role of the media on both sides as a warmonger or peacemaker is again up for discussion. Questions abound about the media acting as a “force-multiplier” for the negatively attuned “security establishments” of both countries, and electronic ratings driving passions with pride and prejudice. Is the media part of the problem or part of the solution?

It has been more negative than positive in the past. The Pakistani media stopped Benazir Bhutto from signing a cultural accord with Rajiv Gandhi in 1989 and the Indian media stopped Mr Gandhi from signing an agreement on Siachin in 1991. The Indian media again stopped IK Gujral from starting a composite dialogue in 1997 and both hyped the nuclear explosions in 1998. But in 1999, both hyped “bus diplomacy” and welcomed the composite dialogue accord between Nawaz Sharif and AB Vajpayee. Both again derailed the Agra talks in 2001 between General Musharraf and Mr Vajpayee, compelling significant back-channel diplomacy until the terrorist attack in Mumbai put paid to any thought of peace. The last attempt at putting the composite dialogue back on track, at Sharm al Sheikh in Egypt between PM Yousaf Raza Gilani and Dr Manmohan Singh, was waylaid by the Indian media which accused Dr Singh of “conceding” to Pakistan without any significant action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack. What conclusions can we draw from this potted recap of history?

First, if Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi decide to trade with each other, the media in both countries will likely be a force-multiplier (as in 1999) aiding their initiatives because there can be no better people-to-people trust building exercise than one which creates powerful business vested interests for normalization in both countries at the behest of traditionally hardline political parties. It should not be forgotten that the media in India is largely corporate owned and the same trend is now visible in Pakistan. Second, if this opportunity is missed, both sides will inevitably slide into hostile public posturing and no leader will be able to muster the courage to start talking, let alone trading, with the “enemy” for a long time to come.

Prodigal sons

TFT Issue: 13 Feb 2015

The MQM is forever making and breaking news.  More often than not, such news is predictable, contradictory and short lived. Thus the MQM thinks nothing of periodically shutting down Karachi, walking out of parliament or government, exhorting “patriotic” generals to seize power or even switching its preference from Muhajir to Muttahida and Muhajir, and then returning to business as usual. Its prodigal son is, of course, none other than the inimitable, indefatigable, irreplaceable Altaf “Bhai” Hussain, whose thunderous outbursts in London after dark are often fraught with murderous intent. But this time, Altaf Bhai has crossed all limits of decency by descending into collective abuse of PTI women-supporters and personal slander against its female spokesperson, followed by an overt threat to journalists who ask hard questions. After a national uproar, however, he has been compelled to tender apologies all round and retreat to lick his wounds.

The MQM and PTI share some common traits. Their leaders are autocratic, unpredictable, self-righteous and unaccountable. Their followers are blinded by faith and passion. Each puts a premium on mass dharnas and shutdown protests. Both are ever ready to conspire with the military establishment for a shortcut to office. In the 1980s, the MQM poached the voters of the Jamaat-i-Islami and Jamiat–i-Ulema Pakistan in urban Sindh. In the 2010s the PTI is poised to harvest the disillusioned crop of Sindh’s voters. Both are opportunists with a love-hate relationship: In 1996 Imran Khan went to MQM HQ at “90 Azizabad” to belatedly “condole” the death of Altaf Hussain’s brother and nephew and called the MQM leader “a real patriot”.  Many years later Imran accused Altaf Bhai of being a murderer and terrorist and went to the UK to hound him in the courts. A couple of months ago, however, he staged a rally in Karachi with suitable accommodation by the MQM. Today he is calling Altaf Bhai unmentionable names and both are at each other’s throats.

The MQM is feeling particularly vulnerable and prickly. The British government is actively pursuing cases of money laundering and murder against MQM leaders and is putting pressure on the federal government to hand over two key accused in the custody of the ISI. It is under pressure in Karachi, too, where the Rangers are relentlessly hunting down “bhatta” and criminal groups allegedly patronized by the MQM. Its relations with the PPP have been rocky since it walked out of the Sindh government some months ago after Bilawal Bhutto criticized it as a blackmailing terrorist organization. The belated Joint Investigation Report (JIT) on the Baldia Town arson that left over 250 dead two years ago has once again put the spotlight on the MQM, even though it is clearly an attempt to mitigate the MQM’s involvement in the crime so that it can be nudged to return to government rather than destabilize the PPP in urban Sindh.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is thinking of setting up a commission to unearth the real truth of the Baldia tragedy.  But before he ventures out, he might be advised to consider some troubling facts that could impact on the findings of such a commission, especially with regard to the role of the “agencies” in covering up the truth. The JIT report is full of holes. It seems to rely on the hearsay testimony of one person in custody. It doesn’t name names even though it refers to people in authority either in the MQM hierarchy or in the Sindh government. It can’t explain why it took two years to come to light. It mentions two journalists on the MQM’s hit list in 2013 but doesn’t name them. And so on. Incredibly enough, it is signed by representatives of the Rangers, ISI and MI, security “agencies” that are not answerable to the Sindh government and are supposed to be independent investigators. This anomaly can only lead to one conclusion: the military agencies, no less than the PPP Sindh government, have put a lid on the Baldia tragedy in order to protect the MQM. This would help to explain why the MQM has sought fit to immediately mend fences with the Sindh government and rejoin it.

Both the MQM and PTI are desperate to shrug off their recent travails.  Imran Khan has said he intends to go to Karachi and challenge the lion in his den. This is a recipe for trouble.

We are singularly unfortunate in being unable to escape from turmoil and instability, which are major obstacles in the path of economic development. Imran Khan’s dharnas in 2014 were overtaken by the military operation against terrorists and its backlash is now overlapping with renewed strife and violence  in Karachi. There is no end in sight, too, to the conflict between the PTI and PMLN over the 2013 election results and Imran Khan is threatening to return to the streets if his version of justice is not provided. That is why the specter of another military intervention refuses to vanish from Pakistan’s wretched horizon.

New Architecture for Dialogue

TFT Issue: 20 Feb 2015

Subrahmanyam Jaishanker has been handpicked by the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, to be India’s new Foreign Secretary. Mr Jaishankar is scheduled to make a round of all SAARC countries upon assuming office. His visit is being billed by India as a routine assignment to “get-to-know-the-neighbours”. But no one is buying this line in India or Pakistan. Indeed, it is an open secret that the real purpose of this assignment is to restart the dialogue with Pakistan that was disrupted last August when the BJP government abruptly cancelled a scheduled meeting of the foreign secretaries that had followed on the heels of a good meeting of the two prime ministers at Mr Modi’s inauguration. India’s reason for cancelling the Foreign Secretaries’ moot – a scheduled meeting between the leaders of the Hurriyet Conference with the Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi on the eve of the talks – was so patently thin that many analysts wondered whether Mr Modi had had a change of heart signalling a continuing freeze in diplomatic relations between the two countries. Indeed, when both sides subsequently hardened their positions and tensions flared up along the border, many pundits were convinced that the cold war was back with a vengeance. That is why, now that the Modi government has given another flimsy reason for the new foreign secretary to visit Pakistan, the same analysts are arguing that Mr Modi had “boxed” himself into an untenable position by cancelling the talks last August and is now trying to undo his mistake without losing face at home and in Pakistan.

But there may be a simpler and more realistic reason for both the cancellation of the talks last August and their resumption possibly next month. The J&K elections were round the corner. The BJP had determined to make a strong showing based on the hardline Hindu vote. By seemingly condoning Pakistan-Hurriyet talks and also entering into a dialogue with Pakistan at such a time the BJP would have likely diluted its efforts to whip up hardline Hindu support. So a political decision was quickly taken to cancel the talks, followed by Mr Modi’s whirlwind tours of J&K. Now that the elections are over, the BJP has done well enough to negotiate a coalition government with the PDP. It is time to start the dialogue with Pakistan again, not least because one of the conditions put forward by the PDF for establishing a coalition government with the BJP is settling terms both with Pakistan and the Hurriyet Conference. This is apart from phasing out the Indian Army from J&K and putting a stop to threats to undo the Kashmir-specific Article 370 of the Indian constitution. By this reasoning, Mr Modi simply sought to postpone the dialogue with Pakistan to a more opportune time and was always in control of his ability to restart it later on some pretext or the other. In this context, we may expect both sides to agree that in future Pakistan’s High Commissioner in Delhi will certainly have the right to meet Kashmiri leaders at any time as in the past except on the eve of any high level talks between Pakistan and India, a face-saver for both countries.

This analysis would therefore lead to the conclusion that, despite the uncompromising rhetoric on both sides, Mr Modi, no less than his predecessor Dr Manmohan Singh, is interested in talking to Pakistan and diffusing tensions in the region. But what, realistically speaking, can we expect from such talks?

The old “composite dialogue” approach in which all contentious issues are to be discussed simultaneously seems difficult. For one, India doesn’t accept that, after the Kargil misadventure by Pakistan, the Siachin dispute is a “low hanging fruit” ripe for the plucking. Two, trade liberalization has already been conceded by Pakistan and the Non-Discriminatory Access regime, another way of defining Most Favoured Nation status, is ready for signature. Similarly, India has effectively counterpoised Pakistan’s “core” issue of Kashmir by its “core” issue of terrorism, both being amenable only to back-channel diplomacy rather than secretary-level talks in the glare of the media. Three, rivalry in Afghanistan has entered the equation as a new and formidable factor that must be accounted for. Therefore a “new architecture” for dialogue that is neither composite nor exclusively “core” issue oriented may be better expected to yield dividends.

Mr Sartaj Aziz, the foreign minister, has already hinted at some such re-adjustment. Certainly, Mr Modi would welcome a new architecture for dialogue that demonstrates tactical “discontinuity” with the approach of the Congress for political reasons while rapprochement with Pakistan moves ahead for strategic reasons. Mr Modi knows that without stability in the region India cannot exploit the potential economic goodwill that is earmarked for it. A “transactional” prime minister in India like Mr Modi rather than a “visionary” one like Mr Vajpayee may be just the recipe BJP needs to build peace and stability in South Asia.

General Sharif and Mr Sharif

TFT Issue: 27 Feb 2015

Not so long ago, India was accusing Pakistan of sponsoring cross-border terrorism and refusing to talk to it; the US was accusing the ISI of being “a veritable arm of the Haqqani network” and cutting off aid; Kabul was accusing Pakistan of hosting the Afghan Taliban in FATA and supporting tit-for-tat TTP terrorists from Kunar; even China was quietly admonishing Pakistan for not stamping out Chinese Islamists training in FATA and fomenting trouble in Xinjiang. Now the Indian foreign secretary is scheduled to visit Islamabad; Pakistan’s DG-ISI has gone to Washington; China’s President has confirmed he will visit Pakistan soon. The Army Chief, DG-ISI and Foreign Minister have all made trips to Kabul. The Afghan President has parleyed in Islamabad. Top American officials come and go routinely. All the regional players are busy talking to one another instead of squabbling. What is going on? Has Pakistan’s military establishment finally woken up to hard new realities that have isolated Pakistan and eroded its state, civil society and economy?

The arrival on the scene of General Raheel Sharif as the new army chief certainly points in some such direction. His predecessor General Kayani ruled the roost for over a decade, as DG-MO, DG-ISI, VCOAS and Army Chief, and presided over deteriorating relations with Kabul, Delhi and Washington. During his time, the TTP was born and became an “existential threat” to Pakistan. By the time General Kayani left, Pakistan’s external and internal position was precarious. Therefore let us make no mistake about the significance of General Raheel Sharif’s entry.

It is General Sharif and not Mr Sharif who has abandoned the false notion of talks with the TTP and taken the war to them. It is General Sharif who has repaired relations with Kabul and Washington. It is General Sharif who is supporting Mr Sharif’s bid to “normalize” relations with India and forcefully backing his efforts to compel the PPP and MQM to set Karachi and Sindh in order. It is General Sharif who has presented the National Action Plan against terrorism to Mr Sharif and it is General Sharif’s corps commanders who are working with provincial governments to lend muscle to their anti-terrorism efforts. It is General Sharif who has ordered the military to shoulder the burden of trying terrorists in military courts after the civilian set-up of ATCs and HCs failed to tackle the problem. And now it is General Sharif who is arm-twisting the Afghan Taliban to open talks with Kabul with a view to bringing the civil war to an end so that the horrible chapter of American intervention can be closed.

Does this amount to a “paradigm change” in the military establishment’s old view of Pakistan’s national security based on certain notions of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan and asymmetric warfare with “perennial enemy” India through the use of religious groups and parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami, Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam, etc, and non-state actors like the Afghan Taliban and jehadis of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-i-Mohammad, etc? In short, is this a repudiation of the exploitation of religion to legitimize and empower a particular national security doctrine of the Pakistani state that has long been the bedrock of the military establishment?

The ISPR says there are no “good” or “bad” Taliban now and that the war is against all Taliban terrorists. In other words, the “good” Afghan Taliban in FATA and Karachi are now as unacceptable as the “bad” Pakistani Taliban of the TTP. This is in line with the military’s policy of routing the TTP and pressurizing the Mullah Omar-Haqqani network to talk peace with Kabul and stop waging war. But there is no clarification about the status of the jihadis, of the LeT, JM etc, and their leaders. Indeed, there is a deliberate attempt to obfuscate this issue.

There is an obvious explanation for this. Unlike the TTP, these jehadis pose no threat to the Pakistani military because they are oriented to undermining India. Therefore the question of disbanding them will not seriously arise until the core issues that bedevil relations with India are settled meaningfully in the long run. That is why Hafiz Saeed’s mouth will not be zipped and Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi will not be convicted quickly and cross-border infiltration into Kashmir will only be tightly “controlled”.

India remains the Pakistan military’s bête-noire. It is the reason for its powerful role in politics. It is the cause of its quest for “strategic depth” and its manufacture of non-state religious actors. It is why the military has made common cause with the mullahs. It also why Pakistan has become a failing state that is at war with its neighbours and with itself. It is only when General Raheel Sharif helps Mr Sharif lay the blocks of enduring peace with India and together both agree to take religion out of the politics of the state that we will be able to say that a paradigm change is underway in Pakistan to make it a modern nation-state.

Foot loose & fancy free

TFT Issue: 06 Mar 2015

Imran Khan says that someone has offered to donate Rs 150 million to the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust in exchange for a PTI ticket to the Senate. Notwithstanding such bribery, he says the gent is a “good man” but Pervez Rashid, his PMLN nemesis, has taunted him for not naming this “good man”. The two parties, otherwise, wanted to end “the evil practice of horse trading” by amending the constitution to do away with secret balloting that facilitates vote switching. But they were thwarted by the PPP, JUI-F and opposition allies who fancied their chances better if their respective Moneybags were allowed to go on a shopping spree for foot loose and fancy free MPAs.

At stake for the PPP and PMLN are the narrowly contested top slots of the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Senate. The PPP is desperate to reclaim the chairman’s seat and has staked its bid on winning two critical seats in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where it only has only five votes against the required 36, and one in Punjab where, along with its allies, it has only 20 against the required 35. The average tag for a member of the provincial parliament is about Rs 30m. So Mr Zardari will be spending a lot of moolah to capture the Senate, although he is not likely to dip into his own pocket for it!

Not to be outdone, the JUI’s Maulana Fazal ur Rehman has nominated two top Moneybags himself to grab two seats in KPK although he is only able to muster one seat on the basis of his party strength of 17. Much the same sort of situation prevails in Balochistan where at least 9 MPAs are required to win one of the 7 seats on offer while there is an assortment of parties that are offering their MPAs to the highest bidder. The PMLN has two seats in the bag but needs to buy at least 5 MPAs to win the third; the PMAP has one seat but needs another 5 MPAs for the second seat. Those who don’t buy the required MPAs will end up selling their surplus stock to the others. And so it goes.

The most vulnerable is the PTI in KPK. It has 56 MPAS, which means 3 general seats @ 18 per seat. The PTI also has the votes to bag the two women’s and one technical seat. But Imran Khan and his Chief Minister Pervez Khattak are pulling in different directions. Mr Khattak is convinced that his flock will bolt at the sight of Mr Moneybags. So he isn’t averse to cutting deals. He tried to woo Mr Zardari with a quid pro quo and even persuaded Imran Khan to call and thank him in advance but Mr Zardari had already stitched up other deals and spurned the offer, leaving Imran in the lurch. So Imran was compelled to camp in Peshawar and threaten to dissolve the KPK assembly if disgruntled or greedy PTI MPAs sold their votes.

It may be recalled that horse trading was first witnessed in 1989 when the opposition, led by Nawaz Sharif and abetted by the ISI, led by Gen Hameed Gul and his Midnight Jackals, tried to oust Benazir Bhutto’s government in Islamabad by buying off her MNAs. Ms Bhutto hit back by doing the same in the Punjab Assembly governed by Mr Sharif. In the event, Mr Sharif corralled his parliamentarians in Changa Manga and Ms Bhutto herded hers into planes and took them for an enforced holiday in Swat. Later, the ISI led by General Asad Durrani, and funded by Mehran Bank, helped Mr Sharif win the 1990 elections. The core institutions of the state and all the political parties of the country jointly muddied their good name in the race for power and gave democracy a bad name. Many years later, Gen Durrani accepted his role in the sordid affair but the Supreme Court, led by that great chest-beating warrior, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, meekly backed off from taking the culprits to task.

Democracy is a fine institution but ours is far from being the best and most functional democracy in the world. Part of the reason has to do with our political culture that is heavily weighted by religious, ethnic and tribal affinities and associations that are inimical to democracy. No less is the burden of colonial rule and its emphasis on the martial races that provide the physical and intellectual manpower for the Pakistan army upon which impulse our generals have held democracy in abeyance for half our life as an independent state. To crib and complain about horse-trading in such circumstances is to miss the wood for the trees.

Equally, however, it must be admitted that our democratic polity is far from being stable. Imran Khan is piqued and frustrated. His KPK party and government are diminishing his aura of principled invincibility. If he raises the spectre of dharnas and resignations again, he could still tilt the scales.

Welcome week

TFT Issue: 13 Mar 2015

This has been a welcome week. The Senate has unanimously elected its new chairman. The Islamabad High Court has confirmed an anti-terrorist court’s death sentence on Mumtaz Qadri who wilfully assassinated ex-Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. The Rangers have raided the MQM headquarters at 90 Azizabad in Karachi, arrested wanted terrorists and criminals and unearthed a cache of illegal weapons. Each action is significant and will have interesting consequences.

The election of the PPP’s nominee as Senate chairman was foretold on the basis of the numbers game and steadfast allies like the MQM, ANP, JUI, BNP-A etc. The MQM’s vote was the deciding factor. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made a last ditch effort to woo the MQM when CM Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, called up Altaf Hussain in London and tried unsuccessfully to bridge the bitter gap of fifteen years in fifteen honeyed minutes. It is a measure of the desperation of the Sharifs that they even tried to sway the MQM, considering that the MQM had already announced its decision to rejoin the PPP’s Sindh government and was simply waiting for the Senate elections to roll round in Islamabad in order to extract the best deal for themselves in Karachi. The MQM has no option but to clutch at the PPP for survival in the face of a determined operation by the Rangers, backed to the hilt by GHQ and the federal government, to decimate Karachi’s terrorizing militias in general and the MQM’s militants in particular.

However, it is the nomination of Raza Rabbani that caught the PMLN off guard. Mr Rabbani is known to be a bit of a democratic rebel in the ranks of the PPP—he was twice overlooked for the Senate’s top slot when Mr Zardari put his faith first in Farooq Naek, his personal lawyer, and then in Nayyar Bukhari, the PPP’s stalwart from Islamabad. But Mr Rabbani’s credentials were good with the PMLN with which he had worked amicably cobbling various constitutional amendments proposed by the ruling party. So Mr Zardari has skillfully killed two birds with one stone. He has pushed a party irritant out of the way and also compelled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to eat humble pie.

Mr Rabbani will not be a pushover for either the PPP or PMLN. This augurs well for democracy. He is expected to steer a neutral ship, neither allowing the government to steamroll controversial legislation nor tilting in favour of any undue negative or delaying tactics by the opposition.

The Islamabad High Court’s decision to uphold the death sentence on Qadri, though belated by four years, is welcome. But it is inexplicable why the court has absolved the murderer of the charge of terrorism on the dubious ground that the act did not create any fear or harassment in society even though the self-confessed murderer publicly claimed he did so in order to intimidate and warn society not to follow in the footsteps of Mr Taseer. In the case of the man who tried to kill Raza Rumi, the brave journalist, for sectarian reasons, the case has been sent to a military anti-terrorist court. The man who tried to kill the ex-CJ of the LHC, Khawaja Sharif, who is now, ironically enough, Qadri’s lawyer, was earlier tried in an anti-terrorist court, sentenced to death and executed. The men who tried to kill ex-President Pervez Musharraf were all tried under anti-terrorist laws and executed. And so on. Now it is learnt that various religious parties are banding together to challenge the judgment in the Supreme Court and offering “blood money” to Taseer’s family. The family has rightly refused the offer and the government should rightly appeal the part of the judgment that removes the tag of terrorism from Qadri because this precedent could seriously erode the very basis of the anti-terrorism laws of the country when it is involved in an existential struggle against various manifestations of terrorism.

The Rangers raid on the MQM’s HQ in Karachi sends a strong signal in the same direction. It also confirms the fact that Altaf Hussain’s political strategy to control Karachi by an armed militia is now being seriously challenged by the military establishment under COAS General Raheel Sharif. This is a radical departure from the Musharraf and Kayani eras when he was some sort of holy cow for the military establishment. Combined with the British government’s pressure on him in London in money laundering and Imran Farooq murder cases, this new situation signals the beginning of the end of Altaf Hussain’s supremacy as the unchallenged leader of the MQM. To add to his woes, the MQM’s vote bank is being seriously eroded by Imran Khan’s PTI and it won’t be easy for the MQM to rig the next elections as in the past.

Slowly, haltingly, Pakistan seems to be on the verge of fashioning a new order that promises to diminish violent religious and ethnic strife, terrorism, civil-military conflict and economic stagnation. We hope this isn’t another false start.

Terrorism of all hue

TFT Issue: 20 Mar 2015

Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah has been turning in his grave for decades. All his life Mr Jinnah fought for the rights and protection of the Muslim minority community in India, eventually succeeding in creating a separate homeland for them called Pakistan. Indeed, in his famous speech to the Constituent Assembly of the new state of Pakistan, he pledged to protect the rights of non-Muslim minorities unequivocally as “equal citizens of the state”.

Unfortunately, however, the history of Pakistan shows that the principles of humanitarian Islam that were expected to guide the new state in safeguarding minorities have been distorted by the practitioners of Islam in Pakistan to erode the writ of the state in general and target the minorities in particular.

The suicide attack on two Christian churches in Youhanabad, a working class suburb of Lahore last week in which fifteen people lost their lives is part of an orchestrated campaign of attacks on sects and minorities like the Shias, Hindus, Christians, Hazaras, Ahmedis, etc, by “Islamists” with avowedly sectarian agendas. During 2012-14, there were 108 attacks on Shias (736 killed), 14 attacks on Hindus (2 killed), 54 attacks on Christians (135 killed), 50 attacks on Ahmedis (27 killed). From 1989 to 2015, there were 2979 sectarian attacks in which 5059 persons were killed and 9713 injured. These attacks have been carried out by various “Islamist” groups of the Taliban or the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The remarkable thing is the ruling classes and state institutions of Pakistan have turned a blind eye to such acts and remain completely unsympathetic to the plight of the victim communities. It is rare for the state and government to crack down on such Islamists or to successfully capture and prosecute the perpetrators of these heinous crimes against humanity, almost as if there is an unspoken conspiracy between the organs of the state like the police, bureaucracy, judiciary and civil society to “cleanse” the Islamist state of such deviants.

This is quite extraordinary since the definition of a “terrorist” in the Anti-Terrorist Act is focused squarely on “religious” cause and effect: “Terrorism means the use or threat of action where the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a religious, sectarian or ethnic case …involves serious violence against … a public servant”.

A prime example of the unspoken conspiracy in the bowels of the state to condone or dissemble “religious” motives regardless of their criminal nature and content was provided recently by a judgment of the Islamabad High Court that has dumbfounded all. The court has declared that Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed assassin of ex-Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer, is not a terrorist. The court has completely ignored or denied the definition of a terrorist in the ATA as given above. It is also quite extraordinary how the judges came to the conclusion that the act of mowing down Mr Taseer in broad daylight in a public place did not create a sense of harassment and fear in society at large despite the public statement of the murderer that he meant to send exactly such a message to people like Mr Taseer and those who sympathized with his point of view. Mr Taseer was murdered for arguing that a Christian woman accused of blasphemy had been wrongly judged and sentenced to death by courts fearful of violent mullahs.

Until now, the conservative PMLN governments of Nawaz Sharif have been as lax in defending the rights of minorities as the pseudo-secular governments of the PPP. Indeed, the military establishment is actually guilty of protecting such Islamist groups because of their readiness to fight the military’s jihadist causes in Kashmir and Afghanistan. But the new military leadership under General Raheel Sharif has vowed to confront and undo all manner of terrorists who have laid Pakistan low, whether of the “Islamist” kind in FATA or the ethnic kind in Karachi. In the latter case, we have witnessed a ferocious crackdown on criminal elements in the MQM, raids on that holy of holies Nine Zero and confessional outpourings of MQM terrorists on death row. We’ve seen a new resolve to try and unravel the 2012 barbarous burning of Karachi’s Baldia factory in which 289 people lost their lives, and bring the perpetrators to book.

Why then, it needs to be asked, has General Sharif not used his righteous clout to degrade the sectarian terrorists who have besieged our minorities and are ruthlessly targeting them? When will the clean-up operation start against the killers of Shias, Christians, Hindus, Ahmedis, Hazaras etc? When will the special laws designed to combat terrorism like the ATA, PPA and military courts spring into action and deliver on the promise and dream of the Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah? If the current military leadership’s policies are truly a departure from the dissembling, compromises, conciliations and criminal neglect of its predecessors, surely the time has come to tackle terrorists of all hue.

Welcome Transitions

TFT Issue: 27 Mar 2015

The PTI Election Tribunal (ET) headed by Justice (r) Wajihuddin Ahmed has reported that the PTI intra-party elections held in 2013 were “fraudulent”.

The 60-page report points out core problems in the whole exercise. Tickets were badly distributed to poor candidates because of corrupt practices by central party leaders; millions of voters registered through the given phone numbers were not included in voter lists because of incompetence and inefficiency in the PTI’s Central Office; the central command of the party did not obey the guidelines for regional, provincial and central parliamentary boards to be set up to process and decide the names of party’s nominees for tickets for the general elections, preferring instead to direct party ticket aspirants to file their nominations with the Central Office directly; the UC-level election was manipulated by aspirants of district and provincial posts, assisted by aspirants of party tickets for general elections; the process of candidates’ assessment and allocation of tickets was carried out by a couple of groups in a ‘hush hush’ manner; people who became party members through telephone help lines were disenfranchised during intra-party polls; the top posts of the party in the provinces and center are all nominated; that Jehangir Tareen’s role was highly objectionable; and so on. The ET has ordered Imran Khan to dissolve all posts and hold new elections.

This is in sharp contrast to Mr Khan’s earlier claim that these party elections were “unprecedented and historical”. He is furious that the Report was leaked and shows the squabbling party leadership in bad light. He has reacted by replacing Justice ® Wajihudidn’s tribunal with a new one led by Tasneem Noorani.

The error of his self-righteous ways is dawning on Mr Khan.  After the failure of the longest “dharna” in history last year to try and dislodge the government, with a wink and nod from sections of the military establishment, Imran Khan has finally agreed to an unprecedented compromise with the PMLN on the matter of the judicial commission to determine the fairness of the last general elections. He has desperately backpedalled from his position that the elections were deliberately and premeditatedly stolen from the PTI by a gang of powerful conspirators. That has prompted the PMLN to put a clause into the TORs to exactly that effect: if this specially “designed and systematic” conspiracy is not proved, then, despite any irregularities, the election wasn’t stolen, and there is no compulsion to dissolve the assemblies and hold mid-term polls.

Imran’s about-turns are getting to be predictable. Earlier, he insisted that the Pakistani Taliban were simply “misguided Muslims” provoked by US drones who should be talked to; now he admits they are brutal terrorists who should be stamped out militarily. Before long the PTI will doubtless take back its resignations and return to the National Assembly.

But this is not necessarily a sign of weakness or opportunism. Recognition of ground realities and necessary adjustment can also be a sign of political maturity. Consider.

Indeed, Imran’s attempt to focus on the elections in AJK, provincial local bodies and the developing political vacuum in Karachi instead of trying to compel regime change are steps in the right direction. Hopefully, he will also acknowledge the harm done to his party by “lotas” and “electables” and oversee a new and transparent intra-party election that brings genuinely new and untainted PTI supporters from grass roots to positions of responsibility so that they can help the party positively impact the next general elections in 2018. He also needs to get cracking in running a good government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa so that he has an enviable track record to flaunt before cynical voters.

Imran Khan is not the only one having second thoughts. Nawaz Sharif is also working hand in hand on core national security issues with the very military establishment with whom he has expressed bitter grievances in the past. His obsession with the trial of General Pervez Musharraf has also ended. All this augurs well for the stability of the country.

The most important development, however, is a radical change in the strategic perspective of the military establishment regarding both internal and external affairs. This is entirely due to the new army chief Gen Raheel Sharif and a crop of new corps commanders who are in the process of re-evaluating security doctrines and responding to new realities.

The MQM is the only political player that is still resisting the broad based transitions in the country. It is crying foul against the clean-up operation in Karachi when this military-led operation has the support of all of Pakistan much like that against the Taliban. The sooner the MQM comes to accept the fact that its fearful blackmailing hegemony in Karachi is untenable from a national security viewpoint and won’t be tolerated, the better.

These multi-faceted military and political transitions in Pakistan are most welcome and should be supported. We need to put our house in order rather than constantly blaming others for our woes.

The Saudi Predicament

TFT Issue: 03 Apr 2015

The people, opposition parties and media of Pakistan are solidly and openly against any direct Pakistani military involvement in the Middle-Eastern crisis. But the government and military establishment are prevaricating and double-speaking.

In the past Pakistan’s government and military establishment have readily agreed to help fight someone else’s wars. In 1967 Field-Marshal Ayub Khan sent Brig Zia ul Haq’s brigade to Jordan to help King Hussein kick out the Palestinians led by Yasser Arafat, who dubbed the occasion as “Black September”. The Jordanians paid handsomely for renting out the Pakistan army. But the Palestinians have not forgotten that stab in the back and have always sided with India on the dispute over Kashmir.

The government and military establishment tripped over themselves when they agreed to fight America’s war against the Soviet Union in the 80s and the US’ “war on terror” in Afghanistan after 9/11. The Americans coughed up $20 billion for their “help”. But those decisions have spawned all manner of ills, terrorists, Taliban and sectarian militants who have senselessly killed over 50,000 Pakistanis and provoked the nomination of Pakistan as “one of the ten most dangerous failing states in the world”.

On all three occasions the government and military establishment were one and the same, led by Generals. The billions of dollars in rent seemed to evaporate into thin air because they did nothing to alleviate the poverty and plight of the people of Pakistan. Instead, when the tail wagged the dog (domestic policy was subservient to foreign policy), the national and foreign debt increased manifold.

But in 1991, when the US-Saudi alliance sparked the first Gulf war against Iraq, Nawaz Sharif was prime minister and General Mirza Aslam Beg was COAS. Mr Sharif ordered military contingents into Saudi Arabia and went around the Muslim World canvassing support for the Allies even though Gen Beg was playing to an anti-American gallery for potential coup-making reasons.

Unfortunately, though, we have forgotten that Pakistani soldiers were among the dead in the first great battle against Iraq. Subsequently, up to 50,000 Pakistani soldiers were rotated and stationed in Saudi Arabia for the defense of the Holy Land. Meanwhile, the Kingdom’s single largest export to Pakistan since the 1980s has been an extremist version of Wahhabi and Salafi Islam that has eroded the foundations of a benign Sufi version of Islam in the land and undermined the development of a pluralistic and peaceful civil society.

Now Mr Sharif is PM again and the Saudis are urging Pakistan to join the military coalition against Yemen. Mr Sharif’s personal commitment to the House of Saud is solid: they extracted him from the jaws of General Musharraf, hosted him in exile like a prince for ten years and restored him to Pakistan when the time was nigh. They nurtured his family and businesses in their country. Six months ago, they gave him advance payment of $1.5 billion when finance Minister Ishaq Dar was trying desperately to stave off the circular debt crisis and shore up forex reserves to stop the slide of the rupee. Now they are ready to shower more blessings upon Mr Sharif’s government in exchange for Pakistani troops and munitions to defend the Kingdom.

Mr Sharif is in a difficult position. For personal reasons, he can’t outright say no to the Saudis. But for political reasons he can’t afford to send Pakistani soldiers to the front lines in Yemen and receive Pakistani body bags in the glare of a hostile media, public and opposition in an unstable political situation at home. He is reluctant to call an All Parties Conference that will tie his hands. Instead he has chosen to take some quick steps behind the scenes to appease the Saudis – a Pakistani military contingent has been dispatched to train Saudis for mountain warfare along the border with Yemen and a civil-military delegation has just returned with a wish list from Riyadh. Meanwhile, Mr Sharif has decided to nudge Turkey and like-minded states to push for a ceasefire and negotiations to end the conflict in Yemen as soon as possible.

In 1989 the Saudis brokered a peace deal in Taif between warring politico-religious factions in Syria and Lebanon that assured a fair distribution of power. Much the same issue is at stake in Yemen. Despite the Saudi attempt to paint the conflict as Shia-Sunni, the Houthis and their allies are fighting to claim their share of regional power in Yemen as promised to them in a National Dialogue in 2012 that installed Mansur Hadi as prime minister. The Coalition air attacks and show of a grand Muslim unity are meant to soften them up for a ceasefire and talks. But if push comes to shove in Yemen, Mr Sharif and General Sharif will likely commit both men and materials to Saudi Arabia. It is, however, unlikely that Pakistani soldiers will be sent to the trenches. Equally, it is highly likely that Pakistani soldiers will stay in Saudi Arabia for the defense of the Kingdom for as long as the House of Saud needs them.

Return of the Prodigal

TFT Issue: 10 Apr 2015

The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf has signed on the dotted line of the Ordinance by the PMLN government to set up a judicial commission (JC) of three Supreme Court (SC) judges to investigate whether or not the last election in 2013 was “systematically” and conspiratorially “stolen” from it by “design”. It has also returned to the National Assembly after resigning from it five months ago. Now it is ready to make up with GEO television, one of the alleged conspirators. As a consequence, several comments can be made about what lies ahead.

First, Imran Khan lost a lot of credibility when his strategy to overthrow an elected government was exposed by PTI’s president, Javed Hashmi. Subsequently, the dharnas and resignations have amounted to nought and the conspirators masquerading as the “third umpire” are out of jobs. Therefore Mr Khan has had to eat humble pie by compromising on the nature and scope of the JC and taking back PTI resignations.

Second, it is highly unlikely that the proposed JC will vindicate Mr Khan’s position. (a) It is impossible in 45 days to prove a systematically designed conspiracy by an ex-CJP, an ex-CM Punjab, an ex-CEC, GEO and PMLN to “steal” the 2013 elections. (b) The JC Ordinance will be strongly contested as being unconstitutional. The courts have previously ruled that there is no constitutional way to circumvent Election Tribunals and approach the HC or SC directly in election-related matters. Apart from a host of thorny legal issues, the SC judges are also likely to be mindful of the far-reaching consequences of any decision by the JC. If the JC holds that the election wasn’t stolen, the judges will risk hostility from a section of the public that blindly believes in Imran Khan. If they agree, they will throw a huge spanner in the political works by indirectly setting a precedent to oust not just a government and prime minister but also the National Assembly (an indirect power far greater than the one granted to Presidents under 58-2[B] earlier) and thereby alienate all the other political parties of the country. Political chaos will follow if the NA and federal government are ousted while the provincial governments and parliaments stay on legally or if the PM reneges on his word and refuses to dissolve parliament (the JC finding will not be binding). Therefore the court battles will either lead to the declaration of the Ordinance as being unconstitutional or, if the Ordinance stands its ground, the JC will likely conclude that, while the election was certainly unsatisfactory in several ways, it was not stolen by design or conspiracy and that the results generally reflect the mandate of the people. In either case, the PMLN will emerge as the winner in its political strategy vis a vis the PTI.

But all is not lost for Imran Khan. His decision to return to the National Assembly may have opened him up to the mocking jibes of the MQM, JUI, ANP and even a section of the PMLN in parliament but it has been welcomed by the media and public as a sensible, though belated, adjustment of political strategy that strengthens the democratic system. If the Prodigal Son has seen the error of his ways, it is a good development, despite some unpleasant remarks about parliament by Imran Khan outside parliament and by Khawaja Asif about Mr Khan inside parliament. Indeed, this move enables Mr Khan to re-focus his energies on winning a core by-election in the heart of the MQM’s stronghold in Karachi while organising fresh intra-party elections to face by-elections in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh before the year is out. Both contests will be a valuable run-up to the general elections in 2018.

The PMLN is also now free to concentrate on a critical national issue that has cropped up: how to deal with the Saudi demand for air and land forces and munitions from Pakistan to fight the Houthi rebels in the Yemeni civil war. In fact, the end of the destabilising PTI-PMLN confrontation has enabled the PMLN to forge a political consensus in the country that favours all manner of assistance to the Saudis for the defence of their country but disavows any direct Pakistani intervention in the civil war in Yemen. The PMLN is also free to focus on delivering on its election promises to the public in the next three years.

Therefore the political forecast is not bad. The civil-military relationship has stabilised, thank God, in a realistic acknowledgment of the ground realities by both sides. The military knows it can’t or should not take over, and the civilians know they can be hugely destabilised and crippled by the military if its views on core issues are blithely ignored or rejected. The anti-terrorist operations in Karachi and FATA are yielding dividends with public support. Pakistan’s foreign relations with Afghanistan, India and the US are looking up. And the IMF has given Finance Minister Ishaq Dar a comforting thumbs-up for his efforts to realign the economy.

For whom the bell tolls

TFT Issue: 17 Apr 2015

After much hand wringing and soul searching, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has decided to abandon “neutrality” in the civil war in Yemen as originally resolved by a consensus in Parliament. The PM’s new formulation clearly says that the government of Manzur Hadi in Yemen was legitimate and the Houthis’ attempt to seize power is illegitimate.

This brings Pakistan one step nearer to sending troops to defend Saudi Arabia’s “territorial integrity and sovereignty” in the event of any Houthi incursions across the Yemeni border. Indeed, the PM’s reference to the defense of Saudi Arabia, “despite the ongoing commitment of our armed forces to Zarb-e-Azb”, is a direct allusion to the probability of sending troops to Saudi Arabia at some stage.

Accordingly, a delegation led by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz has landed in Riyadh to reassure the Saudi leaders that Pakistan is not a fair weather friend and will stand by KSA in its hour of need. Doubtless, they will also explain some political obstacles in the way of immediately dispatching troops – public opinion is vehemently against shedding any Pakistani blood in Yemen on behalf of the Saudis because no one believes this is a Shia-Sunni conflict or that KSA is seriously threatened, and everyone believes that the negative blow-back from previous Pakistani adventures in Afghanistan has laid Pakistan so low that another such intervention would plunge the country into fratricidal sectarian strife. Also, the fact that GHQ hasn’t been tripping over itself to dispatch troops, despite the obvious lucre attached to this demand, suggests that it has its hands full dealing with the current anti-Taliban operation and the perennial Indian threat.

In effect, Mr Sharif is buying time to cobble a group comprising Pakistan, Turkey, Qatar and Iran to negotiate a ceasefire in Yemen even as he is making all the right sounding moves and noises to appease the Saudis and Gulf Sheikhs. This strategy is in line with the latest UN Security Council resolutions pushed by the Saudis to apply sanctions on the Houthi leaders and their allies, as a prelude to negotiations over a power sharing formula (as in 2012) to end the conflict. Iran has also floated a four-point plan starting with a ceasefire and ending with a power-sharing agreement between northern and southern contenders.

This is a tricky situation for Pakistan. Mr Sharif cannot afford to be either too emotional or overly cold blooded. The first would imply siding unthinkingly with public opinion and telling the Saudis to go fly a kite because of their racist arrogance. The second would start counting oil and dollars and rush troops to defend bonanza-lands in the Gulf and ME. Certainly, a prime minister who has barely survived a grand conspiracy to unseat his government should not be doing anything to precipitate a new political and economic crisis that would most definitely follow a backlash from the Saudis and Gulfdoms if their desperate cries for help are blithely ignored. Over 3 million Pakistanis work in these countries and remit over $11 billion a year to sustain nearly 30 million Pakistanis across the country. If these workers and their hard earned monies were to be sanctioned by their hosts, angry Pakistanis would spill over into the streets against both the Arabs and their Pakistani ruling class brothers. The economy would face a balance of payments crisis and the rupee would slide in parallel with forex reserves. Inflation would rise, hardship would follow and there would be fresh calls and agitation from the political parties for the ouster of the Sharif regime. Indeed, the very political parties that are insisting that Mr Sharif should refuse troops to the Saudis and maintain “neutrality” would be the first ones to demand his resignation when such a policy leads to an angry and hurtful response from the Saudis and Gulf Sheikhs.

When formulating policy, Mr Sharif should also be mindful of the internal politics behind Saudi Arabia’s aggressive external posture. This has to do with two factors. First, the historical Faustian bargain between the rigid and ultra-conservative religious establishment of the country and the House of Saud (that favours a modicum of reform in response to the challenge of modernity) is fraying at the edges. A conflict such as this one tends to put this power struggle on the back burner. Second, there is an attempt by King Salman to elevate his son, Defense Minister Prince Mohammad, over the legitimate aspirations and expectations of two half brothers in line to succeed him, especially Crown Prince Muqrin. If this Saudi intervention in Yemen should succeed, it would be a crowning glory for the young pretender to the throne who has fashioned it in order to launch Saudi Arabia as the new policeman of the region after disillusionment with the US following its nuclear deal with Iran. If it fails, the bell will not just toll for him.

Review cybercrime bill

TFT Issue: 24 Apr 2015

The government intends to bring a law to tackle cyber crimes in the ever expanding but largely unregulated universe of the Internet. This exercise started in 2010 under the PPP government and has culminated under the PMLN government in the approval of a bill by the Standing Committee of the National Assembly for passing as law.

No one can argue against the necessity of a robust law against cyber crimes.  Most countries have already woken up to this need and acted accordingly. The Internet is now the preferred vehicle of business and finance globally. It has also become the principle source of knowledge, propaganda, facts and fiction. It invades every aspect of private and public life. It forcefully impacts religious, moral and secular values. Crooks, fraudsters, freaks, terrorists and insurgents all inhabit its nooks and corners, armed with intelligence to penetrate our homes, violate our privacy, rob us and defame us.

The problem arises when laws to prevent cyber crimes are liable to be misused by autocratic, ignorant, over-zealous, self-righteous and/or unaccountable institutions and leaders of the state. In particular, there is serious cause for concern when fundamental rights of liberty and humanity enshrined in the constitution are liable to be trampled upon in blind or excessive haste in implementing the law. The current bill, unfortunately, falls far short of assurances on this count. That is why civil society groups are up in arms against the proposed bill.

For starters, it seems there is no interparty consensus on the bill. Only PMLN members of the standing committee of the National Assembly have signed on the draft bill. Then there is no satisfactory explanation why an earlier draft approved by an interparty coalition plus representatives of civil society in accordance with best global practices was junked at the last minute. Now we have a proposed bill that the government is reluctant to air because it doesn’t want any further discussions and delays.

The cause of concern arises from certain clauses, terms and definitions. For instance, “glorification” (defined as “any form of praise”) of persons who are simply accused of committing a crime no less than convicts is a crime under this law. This stands the legal dictum– innocent until proven guilty – on its head. The sections under spamming, spoofing and cyber stalking need to be tightened by precise definitions and exceptions. In particular, powers and criteria to block websites and content should be carefully articulated so that morons, holy-than-thou officials and dictatorial politicians are restrained from trampling on our fundamental rights of freedom of speech and access to information. Intellectually creative people, especially artists, satirists, designers and illustrators and such like, must not fall by the wayside because of certain provisions of this proposed law. Terms such as “glory of Islam”, “national security”, “integrity of Pakistan”, “ideology of Pakistan” are controversial. Most worrying is a clause that would make it a crime to criticize “friendly countries” – there are no permanent friends and enemies in foreign relations.

The government claims that where there is any doubt about the meaning and scope of terms, definitions and scope of the law, the courts will do what they have always done – recourse to the constitution, case law and precedents. This is all very well. But we know why justice is hard to come by once the authorities have arrested someone and locked him up. Therefore it is better to do one’s homework in the first place and make a good law that is not open to abuse than to push a bill through and let the dice fall where they may.  There are many examples of bad laws that either remain on the books and are the bane of people’s lives or have been successfully challenged in the courts and revised later on.

There are at least 130 million cell phone subscribers and 15 million broadband users in Pakistan. In the next five years, every Pakistani, literate or not, child or adult, male or female, will be using an android device that puts him in touch, via text or images, with every corner of the globe. The speed of the Internet will rise and the costs of using it will fall. It will be as ubiquitous as the very air we breathe. Under the circumstances, how can any government play fast and loose with a law that touches the lives of every Pakistani in so many unconceivable ways? Indeed, instead of crowing about how the government has succeeded in reducing a 44 page draft to 13 pages, efforts should me made to flesh out every provision of the law so that both objectives of combatting cybercrime and protecting, nay enhancing, fundamental rights of freedom of speech and access to information, are met in a consensual way.

The PMLN government should immediately invite concerned representatives of civil society to peruse this draft and make appropriate additions and deletions and clarifications and exceptions. If ever a truly national consensus were needed on any bill, it is now.

Don Quixote

TFT Issue: 01 May 2015

The Judicial Commission investigating Imran Khan’s charge of “a systematic and designed conspiracy” by a group of persons and institutions to rig the 2013 has heard nothing significant in this regard from the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and its lawyers in the last two weeks. Indeed, the PTI has inexplicably refrained from naming ex-Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, and his colleague ex-Justice Khalil Ramday, in the charge sheet, although the two gentlemen figured prominently in Imran Khan’s repeated accusations earlier. Much the same omission is conspicuous in the case of Geo TV which was earlier much maligned by Mr Khan. In the former case, it appears that Imran Khan’s legal eagles have advised against naming the two ex-judges before their honourable colleagues, not least because the ex-CJP has also sued Imran Khan for libel and would have relished an opportunity to thunder against him in the SC. In the latter case, Mr Khan has kissed and made up with Geo and is now receiving excessive coverage.

The other alleged “conspirators” in Imran Khan’s charge-sheet include the Chief Election Commissioner and his four provincial colleagues, the corpus of Returning Officers, and Najam Sethi, the Caretaker Chief Minister of Punjab. Thus far, the PTI has merely presented all the petitions and data submitted to various election tribunals earlier and not recorded a pertinent slip of evidence of any planned conspiracy. Evidence of any secretly recorded conversation between Mr Sethi and Nawaz Sharif discussing “35 punctures” is also missing even though Mr Khan has never tired of hurling the accusation time and again against the ex-CM (he refuses to appear in court to defend the libel charge against him brought by Mr Sethi). Interestingly, Mr Sethi was the first to write to the JC requesting the Chairman to ask Mr Khan to bring whatever evidence he has against him so that he can defend himself against the charges and get his name cleared in the SC.

The JC has time and again asked the PTI lawyers to address the central question of a systematic and designed conspiracy to rig the elections as per the TORs of the Ordinance setting up the JC. But the PTI is assiduously sidestepping the issue because there was no such conspiracy and there is therefore no evidence of it. In fact it is now clear that Imran Khan had conjured up the “rigging conspiracy” in pursuit of his own conspiracy to topple the elected government of Nawaz Sharif in cahoots with a section of the military Intel-establishment that wanted to perpetuate its own rule and thwart the efforts of the new army chief, General Raheel Sharif, from starting accountability from home. (A number of ex-Generals, including ex-army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, are now being investigated by the new military leadership for corrupt practices).

Imran Khan has now said that he will accept the judgment of the JC even if it throws his allegations into the trash bin. This is yet another implicit admission of failure. He had also said he would never return to the National Assembly because it was polluted and disgusting. Yet he is now comfortably ensconced in its midst. He said he would not abandon the “dharna” until Nawaz Sharif quit government. Now the “dharna” seems like an illusion of the past and Mr Sharif is firmly in the saddle. He said the Taliban were “misguided Muslims” who should be walked the talk. Now he admits they are terrorists who should be eliminated. He said intra-party elections in the PTI were unprecedentedly free and fair. Now the very Election Tribunal headed by ex-Justice Wajihuddin that Imran Khan set up to investigate petitions of irregularities has handed down a damning verdict against these elections and top nominees of the PTI. Piqued, Imran Khan has dismissed Justice Wajihuddin and his own Tribunal out of hand. The man who claims to herald a new dawn in a new Pakistan has packed his party with corrupt, incompetent and juvenile politicians and is acting like an unaccountable and mendacious dictator even before he has ascended the throne in Islamabad.

Inevitably, there is a price to be paid for such bull headedness and misplaced concreteness. Two recent developments, a by-election in Karachi and local elections in Cantonments across the country under army supervision, suggest that the PTI’s popularity graph is highly exaggerated and may be waning. The MQM trounced the PTI by an embarrassing margin of over 60,000 votes in Karachi despite vigourous canvassing by Khan himself. And in the Cantonment Elections, the PMLN whipped the PTI in Punjab by raking in twice as many seats. The PTI’s embarrassment was all the more acute because it was outstripped in cities like Lahore, Sialkot, Rawalpindi, etc., where it claimed “massive rigging” by the PMLN in the 2013 general elections.

Imran Khan’s greatest asset is the idealistic and disgruntled youth of Pakistan that is looking up to him for principled and clean politics. Unfortunately, he is eroding their trust and confidence with his quixotic adventurism.

The utility of Ishratul Ibad

TFT Issue: 22 May 2015

Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad in Karachi has run into heavy weather with his erstwhile patron Altaf Hussain in London. Altaf Bhai says enough is enough, the governor is useless, he doesn’t defend and protect the MQM, and he should resign and join the ranks of the protestors or he will be excommunicated from the MQM. This isn’t the first time Dr Ibad has incurred the displeasure of Altaf Bhai for not living up to his expectations. But he’s been canny and survived every such crisis to date and lived to fight another day.

In the earlier crises, Altaf Bhai’s grouse against his handpicked Governor was that Dr Ibad wasn’t doing enough to help extract maximum political concessions and benefits from the MQM’s on-off alliance with Mr Zardari’s PPP in Sindh. But the rocky alliance never completely derailed and Dr Ibad was able to salvage his leverage by some deft maneuvering. His strongest and most resilient card was his calm and cool demeanour in handling Altaf Bhai’s periodic outbursts and appearing as a fair adjudicator and strong bridge in its running disputes with the PPP. But the problem is qualitatively different now.

The MQM is at the receiving end from the military establishment and not the PPP. This is quite unprecedented. In the 1980s and 2000s the MQM was the darling of the military establishment because it was first needed under General Zia ul Haq to counter the PPP in Sindh and then under General Pervez Musharraf to counter the PPP and PMLN in the rest of the country. Even during General Ashfaq Kayani’s time, the military establishment used the MQM to leverage power-relations with the PPP and PMLN – there isn’t one occasion when Altaf Bhai did not side with the military during any of its running spats with the federal government in Islamabad, evidence of which is available in countless statements extolling the generals and threatening martial law. Under General Raheel Sharif, however, the estrangement is complete because the army has no political favourites and seems determined to clean up Karachi in which the MQM’s criminal packs are no less terrorizing than the TTP, RAW, and assorted sectarian and extremist groups. The fact that General Rizvan Akhtar, who earlier served as DG Rangers Sindh, is now the DGISI means that the quality of information about who’s who available to General Sharif is top notch and no political blackmailing or thundering will cow down the new DG Rangers and the Corps Commander Karachi who are in charge of the operation.

It is this singular fact that has eroded whatever influence Governor Dr Ibad used to have in protecting the interests of the MQM in the past. And he isn’t the only one who’s feeling the heat from the military. The Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari are also at their wits’ end. If they don’t cooperate, General Raheel Sharif is likely to lean on the prime minister to impose Governor’s Rule on Sindh with the Governor handpicked by the brass. Surely, that is something that the MQM, PPP and PMLN should all avoid because it would signal the beginning of the end of civilian rule in the country altogether.

Altaf Bhai should also consider that it is very difficult for Governor Ibad to defend proven criminals and terrorists without compromising his position completely and becoming a target of the military himself. As Saulat Mirza’s testimony shows, Dr Ibad was responsible for securing the release from prison of many MQM activists in the past and it would be foolish to try and continue to play the same role when the uncompromising military rather than the deal-making civilians are in charge.

Altaf Bhai’s outburst against Governor Ibad, which was preceded by a tirade against the generals, suggests an acute frustration and rage at his inability to keep the situation from spinning out of control. The noose is tightening around him in London after a statement by the Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, that the government and military establishment intends to cooperate with British police in providing significant evidence related to the murder of Dr Imran Farooq. There is also talk of establishing a new chain of command from London in the event of Altaf Bhai’s indisposition. The hapless Rabita Committee in Karachi is already reeling from the dismissive commands of the Great Leader and several stalwarts have gone into exile in Dubai in order to escape his wrath. The goal of Altaf Bhai’s lieutenants in London is to oust Dr Ibad so that he cannot provide a platform for moderate alternative MQM leadership in Pakistan.

This is misplaced concreteness. Altaf Bhai should think through this situation politically and not emotionally. Dr Ishratul Ibad as Sindh Governor is better than General XYZ in his place. The MQM needs a calm and collected man in the Governor’s House just as much as it needs some fiery hotheads outside.

The Axact saga

TFT Issue: 29 May 2015

Like Osama bin Laden, Axact was sitting bang in the middle of an establishment hub and running a “criminal” business empire for many years without stirring a leaf anywhere. And like the US Navy seals raid, it took an American organisation to expose the scam before the world. In both instances, Pakistan has been hugely embarrassed. In the first case, despite a high-powered commission of inquiry, there has been no accountability. In the latter case, despite the initial zeal shown by the FIA, it is anybody’s guess whether successful prosecution will follow.

Axact first came to notice when it decided to set up Bol TV network over eighteen months ago and offered lip-smacking financial packages to the top media-persons in the country. Questions were naturally asked about the source of funds and viability of the mysterious Axact Group behind the mega-media venture. When even remotely satisfactory answers were not forthcoming – the façade of Axact was mind-blowing, its core dark and murky — the speculative whispers turned on dubious wheeler-dealer businessmen, land barons, invisible global terrorists and even serving and retired senior military officials who were rumoured to have invested billions of rupees in order to forge a “religious-nationalist” narrative on the wings of Bol. But this didn’t scare the big shots of the media who jumped ship and, like modern Pied Pipers, led a crowd of swashbuckling anchors and unsuspecting producers/technicians to Bol. The stampede jolted the big media owners to band together and try to save their human assets. But it also alerted Declan Walsh, a New York Times journalist who knew Pakistan well, to the unprecedented and exciting media drama unfolding in Pakistan. When Mr Walsh’s well-researched story (which might well be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize) of a modern mega cyber scam hit the front page of the New York Times, all hell broke loose in Pakistan and Axact’s fraudulent house-of-degrees collapsed, compelling both witting and unwitting journalists to bolt from Bol.

The irony of the situation should not be lost on anyone. If Axact had continued to rake in the billions quietly like it had done for nearly ten years no one would have been any the wiser about its cyber fraud. But when it ventured into the Bol project to develop political muscle, it opened itself to enormous public curiosity, media interest, civil society concern and journalist jealousy. The greater irony is that the top journalists of the country rushed to embrace it instead of investigating it. And it was left to an American journalist who had been expelled from Pakistan for his alleged “anti-national” activities to rake up the dirt of Axact in the country’s national interest!

The FIA has detained Axact’s CEO and is interrogating him. It has lugged away computers, discs and files containing data of Axact’s global cyber empire. It has recovered tens of hundreds of fake degrees of cyber colleges and universities. It has unearthed dozens of bank accounts in Pakistan. It senses an empire spanning hundreds of cyber colleges, off shore shell companies and protective layers of directors and shareholders. It is swamped by hundreds of complaining customers who were handed fake degrees when they had paid for genuine course work. Former employees are lining up to spill more beans by the day. Shrill voices are being raised abroad for cracking down on the billion-dollar business of fake degrees. The FBI is investigating. The US Congress is on notice. Will Axact survive? Will Bol go on air next month as pledged?

To be sure, Axact needs Bol to mount a counter campaign for survival. But that will be difficult, if not impossible. Bol’s core group of journalists has scampered out of sight. The alleged shareholders are publicly denying any stakes. Bank accounts may be frozen by the FBR. Foreign remittances from offshore company accounts have trailed off. The Axact Group is confronted with a plethora of cases of criminal fraud and income tax evasion. Even if the alleged fraudsters and criminals obtain bail from the courts, they will think twice before fleeing the country into the arms of Interpol or FBI.

The media is another big loser from this episode. Although it is absolutely kosher for media professionals to hop jobs in pursuit of upward mobility, it is also true that any journalist worth his or her salt should ask hard questions about the viability and worthiness (aren’t we always billing ourselves as the conscience of the nation?) of the enterprise he or she is thinking of joining before taking the plunge. In Axact’s case, unlike the crop of existing media moghuls and business magnates running TV channels, there were many troubling questions about its owners, source of funds and political objectives. Yet many good people suspended judgment, and some will rue the day they did so recklessly for the lure of the lucre. In all likelihood, though, most bigwigs will get their old jobs back. When they do, we hope they will not abandon the small fry who followed them to Bol.

Theory of “35 Punctures” Punctured

TFT Issue: 05 Jun 2015

The Theory of “Penti Pentures” (35 punctures) was supposed to explode with a bang. Instead it has evaporated into thin air without a whimper.

There was no secret tape recording of mine informing Nawaz Sharif that I, as caretaker CM Punjab, had applied “Penti Pentures” (ie rigged 35 seats) to the elections in 2013. Indeed, not one word of “Penti Pentures” was even whispered by the great Hafeez Pirzada (with Imran Khan breathing down his neck) when I was cross-examined before the Judicial Commission last week. What was produced was a clip from my TV show of 7th July 2013 in which I had said that about fifteen days before the end of my tenure as caretaker chief minister Punjab on June 6th 2013, (ie, ten days after the election results were announced on May 11) I had become powerless and the Punjab bureaucracy was already looking to the designated new chief minister. So what was so strange about that, the CJP seemed to imply, when he asked Mr Pirzada to move on.

Imran Khan’s unending harangue about Nawaz Sharif “rewarding” me for applying “penti pentures” by appointing me chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board also fell flat. Indeed, it never went to the point of explicating the substance of the so-called “reward”. How could it? I have not drawn a penny in salary for two years. I have not even taken a luxury vehicle for my personal use. In fact, I have abolished all undue “perks and privileges” that previous chairmen enjoyed, like free First Class International Travel with spouse, a posse of hangers-on, a fleet of expensive rented cars, millions of rupees of free tickets for family, friends and cronies during international cricket events abroad, unlimited entertainment allowances, BoG meetings in holiday resorts, and a score-full of jobs in PCB for sifarishis and family.

The “Penti Penture Theory” was based on idle talk cunningly fabricated by a maverick named Ejaz Hussain who was desperate to worm his way into the top echelons of Khan’s party. A gullible Imran bought into it readily because it suited his political ploy. How could he manufacture a conspiracy theory of Nawaz Sharif stealing the election without challenging the results of the elections in the Punjab that contributed to Mr Sharif”s thumping victory? Hence it was critical to damn my administration. Fourteen months ago, I sued him in court to prove his allegations or pay damages for defaming me. He hasn’t appeared in court once, nor filed a word in response to my complaint. Much the same may be said of his lackeys like Naeem ul Haque and Shirin Mazari who have parroted the same lie ad nauseum, and “journalists” like Dr Shahid Masood who are constantly creeping out of the woodwork. The amusing fact is that only days after the fiasco in the Supreme Court, Naeem blatantly named the source of the “penti penture” story as Agha Murtaza Poya, the veteran politician and ex-owner of The Muslim newspaper, only to be rebuffed by a stout public denial by Mr Poya hours later.

The fact is that I was the caretaker CM nominee of the PPP and its allies. The fact is that the PMLN had fielded two candidates of its own but only acceded in my favour half an hour before the three-day deadline because it realized its nominees would most certainly be adjudged unsuitable by the ECP. The fact is that Imran Khan publicly welcomed my nomination as a consensus caretaker CM in March. The fact is that I refused to accept the nominee of the ECP, Qamaruzaman Chaudhry, as my Chief Secretary because Imran Khan publicly asked me not to appoint him. The fact is that I shunted 15 senior bureaucrats from the Punjab to Islamabad because they were allegedly close to the Sharifs. The fact is that I shuffled the bureaucracy from Patwari to Chief Secretary and SHO to IGP so that none could complain I was biased. The fact is that I retained two senior secretaries whose close relatives were contesting on PTI tickets. The fact is that my Home Minister was on the PTI’s Task Force on Terrorism. The fact is that I even leaned on the Advocate General appointed by Shahbaz Sharif to resign his constitutional position in order to be neutral. The fact is that the only favour I ever did anyone was to Imran Khan when I allowed him to hold rallies in the centre of the small towns on his campaign trail in Southern Punjab, which was contrary to the SOPs of the elections. The PTI accepted the results as free and fair, a fact corroborated by FAFEN and over 100 international observers.

Imran Khan didn’t have the courage to accuse ex-CJP Iftikhar Chaudhy, ex-Justice Khalil Ramday, and GEO/Jang Group in the JC, all co-accused with me in public. Now that his short-cut-to-power bid has failed and been exposed, he should have the courage to apologise to me and stop tarnishing my reputation.


Najam Sethi

U-Turn Khan

TFT Issue: 12 Jun 2015

Imran Khan, or U-Turn Khan as he’s famously called on Twitter, is finally getting a strong dose of his own medicine. This reality check underscores his reversing fortunes.

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa local bodies elections under the administrative control of his PTI government have been soured by so much violence and rigging that he has been compelled to offer a fresh election to hold his angry critics at bay. By contrast, the by-election in Punjab’s Mandi Bahauddin constituency and the general elections in Gilgit Baltistan have been conducted in a fairly transparent and peaceful manner by the PMLN government. Significantly, the PMLN has routed the PTI in both locales, which suggests that the popularity of the PTI is waning – even in the rigged KPK local bodies elections, the PTI’s vote bank has plunged from about 45% in the last general elections to around 30% in the local bodies elections.

Imran Khan is pinning all his hopes on the Judicial Commission which is examining whether or not there was a “systematic and designed conspiracy” to steal the elections by Nawaz Sharif, ex-CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry, ex-Justice Khalil Ramday, CEC Fakhuruddin G Ibrahim, Jang-Geo Media Group and ex-Caretaker Punjab Chief Minister Najam Sethi in 2013. But the PTI has been too scared to call and question all the above allegedly guilty parties to the stand except Mr Sethi who too wasn’t confronted by the most damning allegation of all made by Imran Khan and his cronies and lackeys about “35 Punctures”. Earlier, in his statement before the civil court trying him for defamation against Mr Sethi filed a few weeks before Mr Sethi was put in the dock, Mr Khan had the audacity to claim (a) the allegation of 35 punctures “was an opinion and not an assertion of facts” (b) the proof of Mr Sethi’s culpability would be presented in the JC (in the event, no such proof was presented).

No less embarrassing, though, was a U-Turn by the PTI when it withdrew its request to the JC to call Imran Khan to the witness stand – the prospect of being interrogated by the PMLN legal eagles was obviously too much to stomach.

Imran Khan’s now legendary U-Turns are also manifest in his policies. He said he wouldn’t end his dharna until Nawaz Sharif resigned and called fresh elections. Nothing of the sort has happened. He said he would hold free and fair elections inside his party. Nothing of the sort has happened. He said he would abide by the decisions of the PTI Election Commission headed by Justice (retd) Wajihuddin Ahmed. Nothing of the sort has happened.

Imran Khan’s popularity has also wilted on several other counts. His decision to get married even before the nation’s tears had dried after the terrorist attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School was heartless. His defiance of Justice Wajihuddin was upsetting for many PTI idealists. The on-going intra party squabbles and bitter wrangling between old party idealists and ideologues on the one hand and the two groups led by Financier Jehangir Tarin and Treasurer Saifullah Niazi on the other has alienated many. Above all, the pathetic performance of the Pervez Khattak government in KPK, culminating in the local body election fiasco, has not been lost on IK’s supporters across the country. Suddenly, Imran Khan is no longer a Teflon Man upon whom no charge can stick. On the contrary he is looking like a frustrated and angry old man who is going nowhere special.

Here’s some well-meaning advice. Imran Khan should get off his high horse and smell the raw earth. Instead of rooting for third umpires to provide him short cuts to power, or judicial commissions to clutch at his fictions, he should prepare for the long haul of party politics and government performance. True, KPK is not as sexy as Islamabad. But it’s all he’s got. Instead of allowing it to go down the drain from neglect and corruption, he should harness it as a showcase of what he and his party are capable of doing in the service of the electorate.

Two years down the line, the PTI is in a shambles. Imran Khan’s first task should be to make his party into a lean and mean machine poised to win the national elections. This involves ousting the lotas from party and government and replacing them with young idealistic blood that is capable of representing the true spirit of the voters who want radical change and accountability. An intra party election that truly represents the agents of change is direly needed. His second task should be to cleanse the KPK government of all incompetent and corrupt officials and party hangers-on and replace them with clean-cut doers. These two lines of action will yield dividends that he can capitalise on when the new elections roll around in three years.

Pakistanis are now fed up with promises and allegations. They want solid performances from Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari and Imran Khan.

The Explosion

TFT Issue: 19 Jun 2015

Asif Zardari has been simmering like a volcano ever since the Karachi Operation started. Now he has exploded. The fallout could be catastrophic for the MQM, PPP and PMLN if it is not contained immediately.

Mr Zardari’s angst was evident when he couldn’t shield his provincial alliance partner MQM from the military operation in Karachi that strained his relations with it. The problem was that, after agreeing with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to give the military a free hand to clean up the province, he couldn’t have objected to the targeted operation. Now, after eliminating many terrorists, the military operation has entered the second stage and is targeting the criminals inside and outside the PPP government who give sustenance to them. This includes lower level bureaucrats and police officials, some of whom are important props in the Sindh government.

Last month tensions began to ratchet up after the Corps Commander Karachi launched a blistering assault on the bad governance and corruption in the Sindh administration. The tipping point came last week when the DG Sindh Rangers alleged that corrupt government functionaries had sourced Rs 230 billion in funding every year to various hues of terrorists, and unleashed NAB against them. Inevitably, as the noose has tightened, Mr Zardari has come out flailing and fuming against his military tormentors.

“Stop teasing us”, he thundered, “or we’ll turn everything upside down”. If the military has compiled a list of “corrupt and criminal elements” in the Sindh administration, Mr Zardari warned that when his “list of corrupt generals” is published their skeletons would tumble out of the cupboards. “Stop throwing dirt at us, stop victimizing us, or we’ll tear you from limb to limb…you have been warned, you have been warned, you have been warned”.

Rarely has any politician hurled such bitter and angry missives at the military establishment. But Mr Zardari was quick to add a chastening word or two. “This is our army, our institution… when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, I said Pakistan Khappay, but there’s a limit to everything…” Cynics charge Mr Zardari of fuming when his power and privilege are challenged by the military but “khappaying” when Benazir Bhutto was murdered.

Unfortunately, instead of dousing the flames that threaten to engulf the political parties and discredit the political dispensation, interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has stoked the fire. “Mr Zardari has targeted the military at a time when it is sacrificing its blood in defense of the country against terrorism, to hide his own failures and weaknesses and declining popularity”. He condemned the ex-President’s remarks as “inappropriate, unwarranted and contemptuous” and argued that his “political style may cause irreparable loss to our national identity and institutions”.

Mr Zardari sought a meeting with PM Nawaz Sharif to extract a quid pro quo from him for standing against Imran Khan at the height of the Dharna last year when the PMLN government was at the mercy of the third umpire. But the PM has publicly advised Mr Zardari to zip up and distanced himself from the fracas. Mr Sharif simply can’t afford to alienate the military again after retreating from the Musharraf affair not so long ago.

General Raheel Sharif has launched an accountability exercise from home and the military is investigating one four star general and his brothers and several three and two stars. He is hardly likely to take kindly to being thwarted by the civilians when his team is midway through Operation Clean-up in Sindh. In fact the operation is likely to become even more worrying for Mr Zardari as it moves up a notch to target ministers, politicians, senior policemen and bureaucrats.

The dye is cast. The Sindh government has protested to the DG Rangers for transgressing the writ of Article 147 by targeting the civil and political administration. But as tensions rise in Sindh, the heat is likely to be felt in Islamabad too. One source will be the fiery Bilawal Bhutto who is set to replace the sedate Khurshid Shah as leader of the opposition. Mr Bhutto is not going to give any quarter to Mr Sharif in parliament if Mr Sharif doesn’t give any to the PPP in Sindh. The second source will be Gen Sharif. If there is overt hostility between the Rangers and the Sindh government, as might happen, for example, if Uzair Baloch starts singing in custody, Gen Sharif is likely to demand Governor’s Rule. That would signal the end of the implicit alliance between the PPP and PMLN against the military establishment and the start of a new movement under the PTI and PPP to topple the PMLN regime and order a new round of elections.

The military’s strategy of “cleaning” up Pakistan in stages without assuming power directly, is nearing the limits of its viability and effectiveness. Sooner rather than later Mr Sharif will have to take sides. Damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, it is certainly going to get nastier and messier.

Long hot summer

TFT Issue: 26 Jun 2015

Tensions between the military and the PPP in Sindh are bound to rise, despite efforts by some PPP stalwarts to put a spin on Mr Asif Zardari’s recent outburst. The military is using the media to “leak” stories of corruption in the Sindh government that suggest long hit lists have been prepared of people who are going to be investigated, picked up, interrogated or arrested and charged for terrorism-related corrupt practices. The hurried departure of Mr Zardari’s sister, Faryal Talpur, to foreign shores is a manifestation of this effective pressure tactic because she is alleged to be the key manipulator in the Sindh government on behalf of Mr Zardari. The Sindh government, meanwhile, is trying to appease the military by offering 9000 acres of forest land for the army’s martyrs while preparing to block and even challenge the military’s writ in Sindh under the law. These tactics will not work. If anything, the military’s response is likely to be even more self-righteous and forthright against the Sindh government and its MQM ally.

Equally, the long term relationship between the military and the MQM is approaching breaking point following the military’s decision to give British police access to the alleged murderers of Dr Imran Farooq who have been in ISI custody for over three years without acknowledgement. Now the military has formally “arrested” them and the interior minister has publicly pledged to allow the British authorities to interrogate them. This means that an irrevocable decision has finally been taken to target Altaf Hussain in the UK. With the MQM in significant disarray and depletion in Karachi, this move is bound to weaken its current leadership by sowing divisions in its ranks which precipitates a struggle for leadership.

But it is not going to be smooth sailing even for the all-powerful military. In fact it is likely to be acutely frustrated by the Supreme Court if, given their current mood, the judges feel inclined to strike down military courts and courts-martial of civilians under the 21st constitutional amendment. The judges are even debating the right of parliament to change the “basic structure” of a democratic constitution. The SC has also stayed the death sentence passed on six terrorists by a military court confirmed by the COAS and is demanding a record of the trial to determine its fairness. This process is going to pit the two institutions against each other and create another layer of uncertainty in the body politic. On top of that, the military’s pledge to deliver the Taliban to the negotiating table with Afghanistan is wearing thin as the Taliban launch the fiercest and most outrageous attacks to date on the Kabul regime, provoking Afghan critics of President Ashraf Ghani to decry his shaky relationship with Pakistan and push him closer to India again. Naturally, it doesn’t help the military that India has chosen this moment to up the proxy war in Pakistan and can heat up the border at will.

In the midst of this rising tension between various political players at home and in the neighbourhood, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif seems curiously aloof and unruffled as he globe trots for investments and sources of energy. But he shouldn’t be sanguine. Ultimately, the Karachi operation will have a blowback effect in Islamabad, no less than a failure of foreign policy in India and Afghanistan and domestic policy in the Supreme Court. Mr Sharif is also going to feel the wrath of the people as the heatwave claims the lives of hundreds of people amidst pervasive and unrelenting power outages for the third year running since he came to power. If these miseries are exacerbated by torrential rains and flooding, there will be no respite. As if these are not troubles enough, the Supreme Court’s Judicial Commission inquiring into the last general elections is expected to deliver its judgment soon. While it is not likely to conclude that there was any “systematic and designed conspiracy to steal the elections” by a coterie of people at the behest of Nawaz Sharif’s PMLN, it may well judge the general elections as being marred by widespread irregularities and bad practices and recommend a complete overhaul of the system of elections under a revamped Election Commission. That will certainly wipe the gloss from Mr Sharif’s sweeping victory in 2013 and spur the opposition led by Imran Khan, including the newly estranged MQM and PPP who will be seeking both revenge and distraction, to mount a campaign for an early election.

The biggest source of instability, of course, would come from any attempt by the military to spur NAB to start inquiries about the fortunes of PMLN stalwarts or their links with sectarian terrorists in the Punjab. This stage is also unavoidable if the military wants to be seen as politically neutral and nationally object-oriented. That is when quantitative change could tip over into qualitative change with unforeseen and unintended consequences.

It’s going to be a long, hot summer.

Mea culpa

TFT Issue: 03 Jul 2015

Two public confessions are trending. The first is by Tariq Mir, the trusted confidante and accountant of MQM supremo Altaf Hussain, who has admitted before the Metropolitan Police in London that the Indian government has been funneling money to Altaf Hussain and training MQM cadres for terrorism for over two decades. The second is by Imran Khan, the darling of millions, who has finally admitted that the allegation of “35 punctures” hurled relentlessly against Najam Sethi is politically motivated and not a fact, hence baseless.

Tariq Mir has confessed that that over the years Altaf Hussain has received millions via bank transfers from Indian agents in Dubai. He has also detailed clandestine trips by Altaf Hussain and a coterie of confidantes, including Mir himself, to various destinations in Europe to meet with Indian agents to collect funds and exchange mutual briefings. He has provided details of weapons and military training of MQM cadres in India with the sanction of Altaf Hussain. The confession forms part of the investigation by the British authorities into alleged money laundering by Altaf Hussain and his associates.

Tariq Mir’s “mea culpa” follows on the heels of a highly credible report by BBC that RAW has been funding the MQM. Earlier, similar confessions by convicted MQM terrorist Saulat Mirza and other arrested MQM terrorists in Karachi compelled the Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, to publicly charge RAW with destabilizing Pakistan in Karachi and Balochistan, an unprecedented remark from the highest security official of the country.

Running side by side are investigations into the murder of Dr Imran Farooq in London. After three years, the Pakistan government has finally allowed British authorities to interrogate three murder suspects with MQM links in custody in Pakistan. These revelations suggest that the noose is tightening around Altaf Hussain’s neck. This raises questions about the future of the MQM and its chief.

There is no doubt that Altaf Hussain is no longer one of the country’s most virile political leaders. His writ is diminishing by the day as the MQM’s terrorizing militias are dismantled and degraded by the Rangers in Karachi and key MQM leaders begin to stray, exit or are expelled for one reason or another. Even his rambling and threatening harangues from London are no longer televised routinely. But the decline of Altaf Hussain and the disarray in the MQM because of these new confessions does not necessarily mean that the “Muhajir” sentiment that feeds into the MQM is about to fall into the lap of another political party. “Muhajarism” is a political statement that defends the elitist status quo of “Muhajirs” against “Sindhis” in the echelons of the state and gives them a disproportionately greater share in jobs and resources than the “natives”. It will remain a vital ingredient of Sindh politics long after Altaf Hussain has gone.

The confession on television by Imran Khan before anchor Hamid Mir that the “35 punctures” story alleging that, as caretaker chief minister Punjab, Najam Sethi rigged 35 constituencies in Punjab in favour of the PMLN, is simply political ploy, and therefore baseless, is no less significant. It is part of a series of U-turns that Imran Khan has taken in recent times since his political strategy to short-cut to Islamabad, on the back of allegations that the general elections of 2013 were stolen, has failed to come to fruition. For eighteen months Imran Khan and millions of his passionate supporters, including some television hosts, anchors and commentators, have clung to his utterances and abused Sethi black and blue. But after failing to back up his wild allegations against Sethi in a civil court and then before the Judicial Council in the Supreme Court, Khan has been shown as lying through his teeth to further his naked political ambitions. The fact that the main pegs for his false charge against Sethi – Agha Murtaza Poya and the US Ambassador – have both publicly denied any role in manufacturing this wild allegation has pulled the plank from under Khan’s feet. All this while, Sethi has denied Khan’s charge, taken him to court and persisted stoically in clearing his name.

But the fact is that Imran Khan’s U-turns and blatant lies are beginning to hurt him too and erode his support base. He can fool some of the people some of the time but he can’t fool all the people all the time. The “stolen election” story is beginning to sound like a broken record. Indeed, if any election has been stolen it is the recent Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa local bodies election under the aegis of Imran Khan’s administration.

Both Altaf Hussain and Imran Khan are terrorizing demagogues. This is the hallmark of fascists, not democrats. The tragedy is that the rise of both is owed to the failure of the other “democratic” mainstream parties to deliver. It is also due to the machinations of the military establishment of old to create and nurture state and non-state actors to support misplaced national security policies.

PPP & MQM in the dock

TFT Issue: 10 Jul 2015

The PPP is in a royal mess. It was wiped out in three provinces in the 2013 elections because of its terrible performance in government and only barely managed to survive in its traditional stronghold of Sindh. But it hasn’t learnt any lessons because its provincial performance remains abysmal. In fact, it has reinforced an impression of incompetence, maladministration and corruption. But the PPPs misdeeds are catching up with it. The military establishment has set up a powerful platform in Sindh via the Rangers and the Corps Headquarters on the basis of a popular demand for law and order in the country’s core city and started to target the PPP for corruption that funds criminality and terrorism. This does not bode well for the party and its government in the province.

The PPP accuses the military establishment of “targeting” its supporters in the police and administration, thereby transgressing the limits of power endowed upon the Rangers with the approval of the Sindh government under law. Faced with the prospect of non-cooperation and even roadblocks by the Sindh government, the military establishment has leaned on the PMLN federal government to legally empower the FIA and NAB to step in under the sweeping Protection of Pakistan Act and clear the way for them. This has provoked Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah to threaten to scupper their moves in Sindh. But if there is a bitter standoff between the military establishment and the PPP in Sindh, the federal government will be caught squarely in the vise, with adverse consequences for all protagonists.

The military establishment has taken a holistic view of the problem of criminality and terrorism in Karachi and Sindh. Apart from focusing on the usual TTP and RAW agents and suspects, it has targeted the MQM’s militias and mafias. When it discovered their organic links with the leaders of the party it also roped them in. Simultaneously, it started a media campaign to discredit the MQM and provide de facto justification for its actions. Now it is applying the same tactics to the PPP. This has compelled Asif Zardari to counter attack in the same aggressive fashion as Altaf Hussain did earlier. But the dilemma of both leaders – one who has been in self-imposed exile since 1992 and the other who has scurried to the safety of foreign shores recently – is that their protests are falling on deaf ears in the corridors of power in Islamabad and in Rawalpindi no less than in the court of the people of Pakistan. Generally, Pakistanis perceive the MQM to harbour criminals and terrorists and the PPP leaders to be hugely corrupt and incompetent. Even more significantly, COAS General Raheel Sharif and DGISI Gen Rizwan Akhtar, who are personally overseeing their component of the National Action Plan against Terrorism, are rapidly acquiring the reputation of no-nonsense doers for whom charity begins at GHQ and Aabpara. This means that there is unqualified national support for the politico-military action in Sindh and not much sympathy for the PPP and MQM.

Nonetheless, there are certain political red lines that even a rare do-gooding military establishment should not cross in a civilian-democratic dispensation. Should push come to shove, the Sindh government may validly dig its heels in and oust the Rangers from Sindh. That would put unbearable pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to impose Governor’s Rule on the province. But that is easier said than done after the 18th amendment that requires either approval by the Sindh Assembly or support from both houses of parliament before such a step can be taken, an objective that is not likely to be easily obtained. It is also likely to fan the flames of Sindhi nationalism that has historically been eyed by RAW as a potential breeding ground for separatism like Baloch nationalism. A united front by the PPP and MQM against the PMLN will surely redound to the discomfort of the PMLN and the main beneficiary will be the PTI. That is why the Sindh chief minister, Qaim Ali Shah, has only given a one month extension to the Rangers’ writ in the province, and that too after negotiating preconditions and ground rules for the same from the interior minister, Nisar Ali Khan, only hours before the deadline ran out on Wednesday.

The last thing anyone should want is to confer a renewed sense of victimhood on both these parties to cover up for their sins.

Of course, the best way out of this situation would be for the leaders of both parties to clean up their act so that the problem of terrorism and criminality and corruption goes away. But that is asking for the moon. Much better, therefore, for the military establishment to step back from transgressing the political freedoms allowed under law and constitution to both parties and focus on the other more direct dimensions of terrorism like sectarianism, separatism and religious extremism. Let the people decide the fate of all political parties in the next general elections.

Finally, good tidings

TFT Issue: 17 Jul 2015

There are good tidings all round. The looming confrontation between the PPP and the military establishment over the writ of the Rangers in Sindh has been averted. Pakistan’s interior ministry and the British government are cooperating in investigating the murder of Dr Imran Farooq in London. Pakistan and India have broken the ice in Ufa, Russia, where Pakistan has been admitted as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Most significantly, the army chief, General Raheel Sharif, has approved the direction of Pakistan’s relations with China, USA and Russia and thumped his resolve to make Zarb e Azb not just a military operation “which will be carried to its logical end” but a new and dynamic concept in the making of a better Pakistan.

A timely intervention by Bilawal Bhutto has saved the day in Sindh. He sought and obtained a one-on-one meeting with the Corps Commander Karachi and DG Rangers before he was joined by the Sindh CM and then Governor Sindh. In the meeting, Mr Bhutto was at pains to stress full support to the military operation in the same fashion as Mr Asif Ali Zardari after his recent outburst against the military establishment but cautioned that it was inadvisable for the Rangers to target the PPP’s political base via media briefings and inspired leaks. He pledged to beef up and reorient the Apex Committee so that the Rangers would be helped rather than hindered in their tasks. It now remains for both sides to fulfill their part of the bargain so that the task at hand can be achieved expeditiously and the mandate of the Rangers extended to its “logical end”. If neither side had budged, the federal government would have been compelled to impose Governor’s Rule with adverse unintended political consequences.

If the PPP can breathe easily for now without eroding the objective of the clean-up operation, the same thankfully cannot be said for the MQM that is in the eye of the storm because of its reliance on terrorism as an unacceptable political tactic to leverage political power. The MQM leadership is in a shambles following revelations of MQM leaders’ contacts with India’s intelligence agencies and the shocking ouster of Mohammad Anwar from the very top echelons of the MQM in London akin to the earlier expulsion of Dr Ishratul Abad, Governor Sindh, from the ranks of the MQM. Now a decision appears to have been taken in Islamabad to extend full assistance to the British authorities to uncover both the money laundering trail and the secret hand behind the murder of Dr Imran Farooq. It is time the continuous murderous mayhem in Karachi is finally and unequivocally brought to an end in the national interest even if it means tightening the noose around the MQM leaders who have brought it to this pass.

The meeting between the two Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan at Ufa is also a good development even though the usual suspects in Pakistan are decrying the lack of mention of Kashmir in the joint statement by Pakistan as an undue concession to the Indians. But the fact of the matter is that it is in Pakistan’s interest more than in India’s right now to reduce tensions so that the Pakistani military is not diverted from its more immediate task of fighting terrorism on its own soil. Recognition of the world’s right to demand and expect more from Pakistan by way of bringing the Mumbai accused to justice is also in line with our stated policy-determination to uproot all forms of terrorism based in Pakistan, whether against Pakistan itself or against neighbours India and Afghanistan. Indeed, the insertion of the clause in the joint statement relating to Mumbai is a Pakistani quid pro quo to China that recently vetoed the Indian push to have the UN sanction Pakistan on the basis of the “fact” that the Lakhvi trial hasn’t gone anywhere in years and the main accused has recently been released by a court for lack of prosecutor interest in the matter. If Kashmir wasn’t mentioned in a joint statement, it certainly wasn’t for the first time in the last twenty years and it certainly has no bearing on the long-term search for an enduring compromise on the dispute.

Finally, the army chief’s determination to end the role of armed non-state actors as adjuncts in the state’s national security policy is long overdue and most welcome. It is both an admission of a national security policy facing adverse returns and a reiteration of the progressive way forward now. The fact that the civilian rulers and the military establishment are genuinely on the same page on this issue is a sign, finally, of the long awaited paradigm change. All that remains now is for the civilians to accept the dire need for good and clean governance as public service so that these gains are not lost.

Water, water, everywhere …

TFT Issue: 24 Jul 2015

Pakistan is devastated by floods every year. The Economic Survey calculated that the country lost over 3,000 lives and more than $16 billion to floods in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The National Disaster Management Authority estimated the negative impact of floods on the economy of over $2 billion in 2013 and damages to over 1 million acres of standing crops. But how many Pakistanis know that their country has been classified by international environment agencies as the third most “water-scarce” country in the world, more “stressed” than the likes of Ethiopia and some other semi-desert African countries where famine, drought and disease are common?

Water availability per capita in Pakistan in 1947 was 5600m3. By 2020, experts claim it will be down to 855m3, a shortfall in minimal needs of over 30%. By contrast, it is 6000m3 in the USA, 5500m3 in Australia and 2200m3 in China. A new IMF report has sounded the alarm bell. It claims that Pakistan’s water intensity rate — the amount of water, in cubic metres or m3, used per unit of GDP — is the world’s highest, suggesting that its economy is more water dependent than any other country’s in the world. Such levels of rising water consumption and depletion have dangerous consequences: the underground aquifers of the Indus Basin are the second most stressed in the world and groundwater levels, for example, are plunging by several metres every year in rapidly urbanizing parts of the country.

The situation is aggravated by inexorable climate change. Pakistan emits less than 1% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but is most vulnerable to climate change – rising temperatures and glacier-melt in the Himalayas threaten the life-blood flows of the country’s rivers – with very low technical and financial capacity to adapt to its adverse impacts. This trend is forecast to continue, with serious adverse consequences.

So if these dire warnings are routinely sounded, why hasn’t anything been done to avert the looming crises? Why haven’t we built more dams and reservoirs for better water usage? Why haven’t we resolved our political problems with upper riparian India so that India stops obstructing downstream river flows? Why haven’t we improved water administration and governance, why haven’t we reformed water-pricing formulas to reflect true costs and benefits to consumers? Instead of heavily subsidizing it from our annual budget, why haven’t we taxed the agriculture sector that consumes 90% of the country’s water resources? Why can’t we repair and maintain our canal systems so that we can free about 75 million acre feet of water and close the gap between supply and demand? Why can’t we restore the significant loss of storage capacity of the Mangla and Tarbela Dams? (Pakistan’s total dam storage constitutes only 30 days of average demand as compared to 220 days in India). In short, why can’t we fund new water infrastructure projects and water-conserving technologies?

Part of the problem lies in the lack of political will in cutting subsidies and reforming tax policies, especially in the rural sector that controls parliament and makes laws. Land ownership is a proxy for water rights no less than political clout. No political party wants land reform. No party wants to cut subsidies to the fertilizer and sugar sectors and lose elections. Part of the problem lies in the failure of the ruling classes to construct a national interest narrative that transcends provincial, regional and ethnic rivalries and demands – that is why the Kalabagh Dam hasn’t been built, that is why extraction and distribution of energy resources is now becoming problematic, that is why even the Chinese Belt project has now become enmeshed in sub-nationalist passion. Part of the problem is related to an unstable political system that is periodically derailed by a powerful military that controls the national security narrative. When civilians can’t be sure they will rule for their full five-year terms, why should they waste time pouring over long-term blueprints to salvage the national economy when quick fixes and “yellow” handouts will stitch up the next election? Except during the first bout of military rule under General Ayub Khan from 1958-68 when the Planning Commission ruled the roost with Five Year Plans and water infrastructure projects were undertaken, military dictators Zia ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf had to make too many political and economic compromises for survival to think of long term projects in the national interest. Even do-gooding international donors are getting tired of revising funding requirements for such infrastructure projects because our sovereign guarantees are based on highly dubious budget forecasts and economic targets.

It took 25 years for the military establishment to realize that creating religious non-state actors for sum-zero foreign policy objectives could pose an existential threat to the country. How much longer will it take the elected civilians to realize that the country faces another existential threat? This one from lack of adequate provisioning for rationalized taxes to provide funds for long-term water infrastructure projects in the national interest.

Eventful times

TFT Issue: 31 Jul 2015

This has been an eventful week, to put it mildly. The good news is on three fronts: the Judicial Commission has wiped the self-righteous expression from Imran Khan’s face; the security agencies have eliminated Malik Ishaq, the self-confessed sectarian killer, and several of his fellow murderers; and the second round of serious talks between the stakeholders in Afghanistan has been announced. The bad news is that India is trying to ratchet up tensions with Pakistan again following a terrorist strike at a police station in Gurdaspur, close to the border in Punjab, allegedly at the behest of jihadi groups based in Pakistan.

Except for Imran Khan and his blind cohorts, the judgment of the JC was foretold: far from there being any systematic or designed conspiracy to steal the elections, the 2013 election results were a fair reflection of the mandate of voters, despite some lapses on the part of the Election Commission. Following on the heels of his own public admission and sworn statement in a civil court (in which he faces a libel suit for defamation) that the “35 puncture” allegation was just a political ploy and “not an assertion of facts”, this judgment has further dented Khan’s credibility and his fire-breathing advisors. After a string of U-Turns on core policy positions, Khan must now contend with the popular disillusionment arising from the rout of his conspiratorial year-long quest for mid-term elections. The setback has provoked rifts within the PTI and weakened it – originally only Justice (retd) Wajiuddin Ahmed had publicly pointed an accusing finger at Jahangir Tareen, Khan’s right hand advisor and financier, but now Hamid Khan, the veteran leader of the lawyers movement and a close confidante of Khan’s, has blasted Tareen for various omissions and commissions. Coupled with ferocious disagreements within the PTI leadership and government in KPK amidst mutual allegations of corruption, this presages rough times for the party on the eve of local bodies elections in Punjab. This will set the tone of public opinion in the next three years leading to general elections. As if all this wasn’t headache enough, the MQM and JUI are aiming to disqualify PTI members from sitting in Parliament and these have been joined by the treasury benches demanding an inquiry into the source of billions in funding for the PTI’s dharna, and contacts with treacherous retired military officials to overthrow the legally elected government of the day.

The elimination of the top sectarian killers based in Punjab points to the onset of a full-fledged operation against this scourge of terrorism that has laid Pakistan low. It confirms the fact that the COAS Raheel Sharif has persuaded PM Nawaz Sharif and CM Punjab Shahbaz Sharif to support this action as an unavoidable logical extension in Punjab of the anti-terrorist operations in FATA and Karachi. Earlier, there were reports that the Punjab police had started action against sectarian hate mongers, publishers and printers. This is in line with the pressure of the Rangers on the Sindh government to act against madrassahs and seminaries spawning terrorists and terrorism. One by one, the military is breaking the links in the chain of terrorism and targeting each segment separately and sequentially and the politicians are being compelled to abandon opportunistic party political interests at the altar of the national interest.

News of the second round of talks between the Taliban and the other stakeholders relating to Afghanistan is even better. If this leads to a ceasefire, that would set the stage for confidence building measures to take up thornier issues of power-sharing, foreign troops in Afghanistan and the nature of the final Afghan constitution. To be sure, this is going to be a long haul. But the fact that Pakistan is able to deliver on its promise to bring the Taliban to the table for serious negotiations is a great beginning.

Unfortunately, however, the developing positive atmosphere regarding the anti-terrorist operations has been soured by the news of a terrorist attack in India whose footprints, like the one in Mumbai many years ago, allegedly point to Pakistan. While the Indian media and politicians have been quick to condemn Pakistan without a full investigation, it is good that the Pakistan Foreign Office has swiftly denied any Pakistani hand in it, condemned the incident and expressed sympathy with the people of India. But the Indians are now fashioning a new theory that posits an alleged tripartite alliance between angry Kashmiris, disgruntled Khalistanis and mischief mongering Pakistanis to destabilize their country. If there is any concrete evidence of this that the international community is ready to buy, it will definitely enable India to put a leg-up and despoil Pakistan’s hard won recent victories in the war against terror. Indeed, any renewed and heightened India-Pakistan tensions can disrupt anti-terrorism operations inside Pakistan and plunge the region into conflict and uncertainty again.

Fair Enough!

TFT Issue: 07 Aug 2015

Two major developments cry out for fair comment. The first is the public “revelation” by Brig (retd) Samson Simon Sharaf, a member of the PTI’s Central Executive Committee, that General Zaheer ul Islam, as DGISI in 2014, was actually conspiring more against the sitting army chief, General Raheel Sharif, than against PM Nawaz Sharif, when he allegedly egged on Imran Khan to try and provoke violent mischief during his dharna last year. The second is the sudden revelation — on the eve of the second round of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan Government in Murree — of the death of Mullah Umar two years ago in Karachi. Both raise important questions that have a significant bearing on the strategic direction taken by Pakistan under the current civil-military leadership.

Allegations of ISI manipulation of domestic politics are not new. At some stage or the other, every party has made them when it has been at the receiving end of the Agency’s ire. During the dharna, after Imran Khan publicly promised his expectant supporters that “the third umpire” would raise his finger against the Sharif regime, reports began to circulate of the invisible hand of ex-spy master Ahmed Shuja Pasha and the then DG, General Zaheer, behind the politics of agitation to overthrow the PMLN government. Later, it was widely accepted that the conspiracy had failed because General Raheel Sharif, the army chief, had not bought into it. This prompted Khawaja Asif, the Defence Minister, to recently accuse both Generals in question of conspiring with Imran Khan to oust the legitimately elected government of the day. When CM Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, who is known never to say anything to displease the military establishment, chimed in demanding an inquiry into the matter, it was logical to assume that both Khwaja Asif and Shahbaz Sharif must have sounded out the current military leadership before pointing an accusing finger at two top generals. A problem, it seems, arose when Brig (retd) Simon Sharaf, a PTI insider and military loyalist, declared that Gen Zaheerul Islam was actually conspiring not just against the government but also against his own army chief in the expectation of manipulating events to the detriment of both Gen Sharif and Mr Sharif. He has based this assessment on some recorded evidence provided by DGIB, Aftab Sultan, to the PM, which the PM gave Gen Sharif in the presence of Gen Zaheer, which apparently proves that the conspiracy was against both Gen Sharif and Mr Sharif.

The conspiracy theory was apparently ok as long as it focused on two ex-Generals and the PM. But when it is enlarged to include the sitting army chief, it became “problematic” and “objectionable”. The fact is that, regardless of the truth, the army doesn’t like its internal dissent being discussed in public, especially if they concern its chief, even if he seems to emerge as the best man of all. That is why, Ishaq Dar, the PM’s closest confidante, first tried to plug the discussions and now Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who has lately become the military’s spokesman, has given a “shut-up” call “in the national interest”. Fair enough. The point has been made and there is no need to flog it when the civil-military leadership is fighting on so many existential fronts at this time. Equally, the military leadership should not get overly agitated about the debate on such issues in the media. This is the way the independent media works and this is how it often interprets information and disseminates it in its own view of the national interest. That too is fair.

The second issue is, perhaps, more significant in practical terms. In effect, the sudden announcement of Mullah Umar’s death two years ago has set back the joint effort by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the civil-military leadership in Pakistan to launch the peace process with the Taliban and end the civil war that has cast a dark shadow on both countries. It has provoked accusations against Pakistan and led to a split in the Taliban over the succession principle between those who support the talks and those who don’t. The only beneficiaries of this inspired “leak” are the opponents of President Ghani in Afghanistan – mostly non-Pakhtun vested interests led by Abdullah Abdullah – and India, which is cut up because it has been ousted from the round table by Pakistan. Islamabad’s main concern right now is to try and keep the Taliban from splintering so that renewed efforts can be made to bring a unified leadership to the table once again. But a lot of work needs to be done behind the scenes to consolidate Mullah Akhtar Mansoor and Sirajuddin Haqqani as the new faces of the Taliban movement after Mullah Umar.

Pakistan is headed in the right direction under the new civil-military leaders. We should appreciate their joint efforts to stabilize the country, rebuild its foreign relations in the neighbourhood, and cleanse it of all manner of terrorists and mischief-making conspirators at home.


TFT Issue: 14 Aug 2015

The “child-abuse” or “child porn” case (as billed by some newspapers) in Hussain Khan Wala village in Kasur district of Punjab has outraged everyone. Anyone who has seen videos of the criminal brutalization of children cannot but be shocked and angry. Understandably, there is a public outcry for swift and ruthless accountability of those who criminally abused children and blackmailed their families for extortion. Questions have arisen about the extent of child-abuse, number of criminals in the gang, their social and political outreach, and the role of the local police in ignoring the crime from 2008-12 and then trying to put a lid on it.

The fact that sexual abuse of minors is widely prevalent and deeply rooted has rarely been exposed in the media or combated in law. Nor has the police ever been trained or educated to respond to cases of child abuse, rape, domestic violence, honour killings, harassment of women and minorities, etc., in the same urgent manner in which cases of law and order, murder and theft are dealt with routinely.

The facts of the Kasur case have been distorted in the heat and dust kicked up by vested interests. The accusers feeding the media say hundreds of children have been brutalized. The police say the evidence in hand (video identification and volunteer admissions) so far points to a gang of about 22 criminals and 30 or so victim-children. Obviously, however, there must be many families who are not yet ready to admit being dishonoured and blackmailed.

The Punjab government has set up a Joint Investigation Team comprising police and Intel officials after the Lahore High Court refused to sanction a judicial commission. But this inquiry will not cut ice with the public. The local mood was evident when the IGP Punjab waded into the village with reassurances and was all but physically manhandled by the crowd. The CM has suspended junior and senior police officials for negligence and lack of serious purpose in addressing the complaints when they were first aired. This too is not likely to cool the simmering resentment and anger. The case has now been referred to a speedy anti-terrorist court and more arrests are in the offing. The government’s initial tepid response was much the same as the police’s – “yes, some miscreants have been up to no good, the local police is dealing with them, but the case is being blown out of proportion by some vested interests and the media as usual”. This was like sprinkling salt on an open societal gash.

There are other troubling “facts” that have been largely ignored in the outburst of collective rage but may shed some light on the vested interests of the main actors. How come this case has erupted now when the criminal practice of video-taping and blackmailing of victims in this village is at least seven years old? How come some of the accused are small time government servants who recently “won” an auction of a plot of 94 kanals of government land that was hitherto communal land? How come the Jamaat-e-Islami cadres in the area under the banner of a radical religious youth organization and PTI activists out to score points against the PMLN government have played a central role in whipping up passions and giving sensational briefings to the media?

According to SAHIL, an NGO researching child sexual abuse in Pakistan, there were over 3500 reported child abuse cases in 2014 (over 2000 from Punjab, followed by over 800 in Sindh) or 10 children were abused every day of the year, an increase of 17 per cent over the previous year. Of these, over 1200 cases related to rape/sodomy or gang rape/gang sodomy and 142 children were actually murdered after being physically violated. Among the victims, a majority of over 2000 were girls. Among the 6500 accused sexual assaulters, a majority were family, friends and acquaintances. Nearly 70% of the cases were reported in the rural areas. Police apathy was reflected in the fact that, despite being reported, the police only registered 70 per cent of the complaints/incidents. God alone knows how many parents did not report sexual abuse of their children because it would dishonor the family.

Clearly, child sexual abuse is widespread in society. But society and its public representatives have been loath to subscribe to civil and legal norms to combat it in Pakistan, unlike in the West where its pernicious outcrop is subject to strong deterrent laws and societal awareness and resistance.

Child sexual abuse, like violent persecution of minorities, oppression and exploitation of women and rape, must be suitably addressed if we are to be a civilized state. Will the Kasur incident spur appropriate legislation, police education and societal activism? Or, after the recent outrage has inevitably subsided, will child sexual abuse be relegated to the same dustbin where other societal criminal activities languish like child marriage, rape, honour killings and violence against minorities?

The general in his labyrinth

TFT Issue: 21 Aug 2015

Generals Zia ul Haq and Hameed Gul were birds of a feather. Together, they drummed up an “Islamist-Jihadist” national security doctrine that entrapped Pakistan in a violent existential legacy that has stunted its economic growth, destabilized its polity, antagonized its neighbours and alienated the international community. No one, singly or jointly, could have done greater disservice to Pakistan. Consider.

The ISI was upgraded by General Zia when billions of dollars in arms and funds were funnelled through it to wage the US-Saudi sponsored jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. At the ISI, Gen Gul became the leading architect of the Mujahideen’s war in Afghanistan and dreamed of becoming the “conqueror of Jalalabad”. After Zia’s death in 1988, Gul tried to thwart Benazir Bhutto’s return to power by gearing up the ISI’s internal political wing to cobble the IJI and rig elections. When he failed, he unleashed the “Midnight Jackals” plan to vote her out. When that failed too, he joined forces with the army chief, General Mirza Aslam Beg, to nudge President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to oust her from office in 1990. After General Beg’s retirement in 1991, Gul lobbied desperately to become army chief. But when President Ishaq chose General Asif Nawaz Janjua, he openly sulked and defied his chief by choosing to resign rather than accept orders.

Astonishingly, after he retired, General Gul publicly mocked the constitution and the courts by boasting of his role in the unconstitutional interventions of the past.

General Gul was a self-styled “Islamist”. He ardently supported favourites in the Mujahideen’s civil war in Afghanistan in the 1990s. In 1991, during the first Iraq war, he articulated the theory that US forces would be defeated by Saddam Hussein’s army and the war would be long drawn out and leave a trail of body bags as in Vietnam. But the war ended in 15 days when Saddam Hussein’s air force was grounded by superior US technology and air power, compelling him to pull out of Kuwait and lick his wounds.

General Gul was also a great supporter of the Taliban. He lauded Mullah Umar when the latter refused to expel Osama bin Laden and triggered the American intervention in Afghanistan. But he openly scorned General Pervez Musharraf when the latter called off the jihad against India in 2003 and proposed an “out of the box” political solution to India on Kashmir that seemed to put the UN Resolution for a Plebiscite into cold storage for decades.

In the early 1990s, Gul tried to build up Imran Khan as the great Islamist saviour of the nation. But when Imran tied the knot with Jemima Goldsmith, he was bitterly disappointed.

General Gul was blinded by a visceral hatred of India. He never missed an opportunity to stand on the platforms of assorted jihadi organisations to thunder against “Akhund Bharat”. He was delighted when a clutch of ten jihadis from Pakistan sneaked into Mumbai on 26/11 and held the mighty Indian security forces at bay for 60 hours.

To his dying day, he remained contemptuous of Benazir Bhutto and all politicians, including Nawaz Sharif whom he had once tried to groom as a potential prime minister in opposition to her. When she survived a suicide bombing in Karachi upon her return to Pakistan in 2007, she accused him of being part of a conspiracy along with a few others to kill her.

General Hameed Gul nurtured a notion of “patriotism” built upon adherence to radical “political Islam” and “hatred of Hindu India”. Thus Pakistanis reared on these notions in textbooks and the media for over two decades came to view him as an arch “patriot” and “Islamic hero”, oblivious of the devastating consequences for state and society.

In fact, the philosophy of a state built on such notions has spawned a vast network of terrorists which now poses truly “existential” problems for Pakistan. It was General Musharraf who instinctively questioned this paradigm for the first time but he stopped short of taking his initiative to its logical conclusion. His successor, General Ashfaq Kayani recognized the crippling impact of the Zia-Gul legacy but lacked the courage to tackle it effectively. Now General Raheel Sharif has helped formulate a National Action Plan against this narrative and the first concrete steps are being taken on some fronts to try and turn the tide.

General Hameed Gul’s passing was not an occasion of mass mourning in any way, even though he fancied himself as a national hero of sorts. Apart from some die-hard ideologues among jihadist non-state actors, no one will miss Gul’s emotional outbursts and wild conspiracy theories. In his last years, he had become largely irrelevant and inconsequential as his world view collapsed around him.

One would like to believe that with General Hameed Gul’s passing an era of death and destruction and isolation and division has come to an end. But the jury is still out on that.

Turbulence ahead

TFT Issue: 28 Aug 2015

If Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif thought he had weathered the storm kicked up by Imran Khan’s dharna-demand for fresh elections, he has another thought coming. If he thought that his unspoken understanding with the PPP to jointly withstand attempts to dislodge the federal government before it completes its five year term was as good as gold, he must now wonder at the speed with which that alliance is unravelling. Indeed, if he thought he had restored the civil-military imbalance in his favour by abandoning the treason case against General Pervez Musharraf and consenting to General Raheel Sharif’s demand to wage war against terrorism “on all fronts”, he must now be worried by the political consequences for his federal government of the dangerous political direction that “popular” war is taking by targeting and alienating the MQM and PPP, which together represent the electoral mandate of Sindh.

The verdict of the Judicial Commission was a great setback for the PTI. But much the same may be said of the PMLN’s current position following judicial verdicts against it in three of the four hotly contested constituencies in Punjab that form the core of Imran Khan’s demand for fresh elections. Indeed, if the JC took the wind out of Khan’s sails, the fall of three wickets, including those of two key stalwarts of the PMLN, heralds an anxious time for Mr Sharif. Imran Khan has now been joined by Khurshid Shah, the leader of the opposition from the PPP, in demanding the resignations of the four provincial election commissioners for failing to conduct the 2013 elections with due diligence. The PTI has filed a reference against the four in the Supreme Judicial Council, which means that the matter is going to remain in agitation mode and on the front pages for the near future.

The PMLN had originally decided to contest the electoral verdicts in the Supreme Court. That was a defensive tactic. But it has now decided to contest the by-elections and confront the PTI head-on in the court of the people. This is fraught with the great risk that if the PTI wins these seats, it is bound to become more aggressive in reasserting its demand for fresh general elections. Meanwhile, the first phase of local bodies elections for Punjab is scheduled for October 31. That will be a true test of the popularity of both the PTI and PMLN and will have a decisive say in the fate of the three NA constituencies in contention. Either way, the next three months could be make or break for one of them.

The war against terrorism in Sindh is now moving into second phase by targeting corruption. This means, principally, the PPP government in the province. When second-tier PPP “administrators” were arrested by the Sindh Rangers some months ago, Mr Asif Zardari was frothing at the mouth. That led the Sindh government to consider terminating the Rangers’ legal cover for operating in the province and only some last minute “negotiations” between the military, federal government and Sindh government stayed such a decision. Now the NAB-FIA Joint Investigation Team effectively under military command has arrested Dr Asim Hussain, a long time Zardari confidante and “business” associate, and compelled the Sindh Chief Secretary to seek bail before arrest from the Sindh High Court. This has set off alarm bells not just in Karachi but also in Islamabad. If the PPP Sindh government retaliates by withdrawing the writ of the Rangers, the military is bound to demand Governor’s Rule in the province. Since that is easier said than done under the provisions of the 18th constitutional amendment, the military’s ire may express itself in other provocative and destabilising ways. Meanwhile, the PPP is likely to explore ways and means of pressuring Mr Sharif to rein in the military or face the political prospect of losing its support against the PTI.

As if all this isn’t sufficient cause for concern, Mr Sharif must also contend with the domestic and international fallout of the aggressive Indian posture against Pakistan. He was hoping that a dialogue could be initiated via agreed proposals at Ufa. But the military has compelled him not just to oppose the Indian viewpoint on cross-border terrorism but also to demand talks on the Kashmir issue, which has effectively put paid to that hope.

Mr Nawaz Sharif’s relations with General Raheel Sharif have barely withstood the test of conspirators and agitators so far. But they are about to enter turbulent waters as the war against terrorism led by the military ruffles political feathers. Inevitably, this “war” will come closer to home in Punjab and Islamabad if it is to retain its “neutral” stance. That thought alone must give Mr Sharif sleepless nights no less than that of losing electoral ground to the PTI in the forthcoming local and by-elections, or politically alienating the PPP in Sindh.

Paradigm tweak?

TFT Issue: 04 Sep 2015

The recent arrest in Karachi of Mr Asif Zardari’s close associate Dr Asim Hussain has created new tensions and conflicts in the political system.

Dr Asim has the unique distinction of being a confidante of both Mr Zardari and Altaf Hussain. So they are naturally upset. But they are more worried by the fact that a man of stature like Dr Asim was arrested by the FIA/NAB without much ado. This implies that the federal government is fully complicit in the military establishment‘s approach to combating terrorism and crime in Karachi. In turn, this means the military intends to spread the net far and wide, and talk of political “influentials” on the hit list of the military is not idle any more. It may be recalled that Dr Asim fled Pakistan along with Mr Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur and foster brother Owais Muzaffar when the Rangers first laid hands on mid-level bureaucrats in the Sindh government amidst rumours that Uzair Baloch, the top PPP-thug, was singing like a canary in custody. Dr Asim and Faryal Talpur returned to the country only after the Sindh CM, Qaim Ali Shah, protested to PM Nawaz Sharif and was reassured that PPP stalwarts wouldn’t be targeted. Now such assurances have been swept aside by a stern warning from the army chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, that, “come what may”, the Karachi operation against terrorism and corruption will go on. This statement was issued following a lengthy meeting between Gen Raheel and Mr Sharif which followed a stinging attack by Mr Zardari on Mr Sharif for “reverting to the politics of victimisation”. He also held out the threat of withdrawing the PPP’s political support to the PMLN government as it faces one threat after another on different fronts from Imran Khan. The PPP is already smarting from the pursuit of its two ex-prime ministers, Yousaf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf, by NAB for corruption, and both are running from pillar to post to get pre-arrest bail in one case after another.

Meanwhile, there is popular support for the military’s action against terrorists and Karachi is already looking less fearful and more peaceful than it has in decades. Indeed, the military’s campaign against the big corrupt fish in Sindh is also quite popular, since corruption is at the top of middle-class Pakistan’s continuing angry refrain against the politicians, buttressed by Imran Khan’s ringing accusations of wrong doing against both the PPP and PMLN.

But there is also a growing perception that the military may be overstepping the bounds of constitutional propriety by equating terrorism with corruption and targeting both on the basis of some nebulous links. For instance, the DG-Rangers has trotted out a figure of Rs 230 billion as proceeds from corruption every year that feed terrorism in Karachi. Yet no effort has been made to explain how this figure has been calculated and how this money nurtures terrorism. Similarly, no facts have been released about Dr Asim’s links with terrorism. Instead, the media is being continuously manipulated to erode the credibility of politicians and cast negative aspersions on the “democratic system” even as General Raheel Sharif is plastered on the front pages every day as the great Lone Ranger of Pakistan.

To be sure, General Raheel Sharif deserves plaudits for launching the war against terrorism when his military predecessors and ruling politicians were conspicuous by their inaction, cowardice or lethargy.

That said, if he hasn’t effected “paradigm change” because some holy cows still remain untouched, his “paradigm tweak” is about to face diminishing returns. The link between terrorism and corruption of mainstream party politicians hasn’t been clearly demonstrated. And the military runs two risks if it fails to firmly establish this link whenever it arrests some high profile politician. First, if it doesn’t target the ruling party, it exposes its political bias and inadvertently props up the “theory of political victimisation” advocated by Asif Zardari and Altaf Hussain. But if it does, then it will come into direct conflict with the federal government and destabilise the political system by upsetting the balance that keeps the system going. Second, if corruption is to become a popular central theme in the military’s agenda, then people will increasingly ask why there isn’t any clean-up operation inside the military establishment as well. In the public perception, many army officers high and low have been involved in wrong doing at the expense of the public purse for decades and not one of them has ever been hauled over the coals like politicians are routinely. Certainly, the sort of gentle reprimands handed out to two generals recently for playing fast and loose with billions of public money don’t impress anyone, even though sections of the media have been prodded to make a song and dance of it at home and abroad.

There needs to be clarity and objectivity and non-partisanship in the war against terrorism. The civil-military balance is in jeopardy once again. The conspirators have crept out of the woodwork. Another breakdown would surely undo the political and economic gains of the last decade.

MQM & PPP: Reinvent or perish

TFT Issue: 11 Sep 2015

The Lahore High Court has ordered that pictures and speeches of MQM leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain may not be aired because they are subversive and against the national interest. Mr Hussain has been abusing the army and threatening to call for a separate Muhajir province that could plunge Sindh into an orgy of violence. The military has banned the collection and sale of animal hides by the MQM and the activities of its “welfare” organisations because their proceeds allegedly feed into terror financing.

Meanwhile, the noose around Mr Hussain is tightening in London. Scotland Yard has finally been allowed to interrogate two alleged assassins of Dr Imran Farooq in Pakistani custody. Both are likely to implicate Mr Hussain in the murder. Mr Hussain’s links with Indian intelligence agencies that have been funding MQM terrorism in Karachi are also now firmly established not just in the mind of the military but also in the public imagination. The gravity of the MQM’s plight is proved by the fact that many of its erstwhile leaders have fled Karachi for safer shores, partly out of fear of the military and partly out of fear of Mr Hussain’s violent recriminations. Nor is any political leader or interlocutor bending over backwards to cajole the MQM to return to parliament after it resigned in protest. Unprecedentedly, the media is openly critical of the MQM.

It may be argued that the MQM suffered and survived a similar predicament in 1991-92 when an army led crackdown all but decimated it and compelled Altaf Hussain to flee to exile. But there are two critical differences that distinguish that episode from this one. First, the MQM was subsequently revived and nourished by Gen Pervez Musharraf from 1999-2008 because he needed a political ally against the PPP in Sindh. But the current army leadership has determined that terrorism in any form poses an existential crisis for state and society and must be stamped out. Second, Mr Hussain used asylum and security in Britain to regain control of his party and extend its tentacles into the corridors of power in Pakistan. But today he is ailing, facing murder and money laundering charges, and unable to retain his demagogic hold over his followers. If ever he and his party faced an existential crisis, it is now.

The PPP is deep in the doldrums too. Its Sindh government is in a shambles, rocked by scandals of corruption and incompetence. In the last elections it was reduced to a rural Sindh party, due entirely to the bad politics and abysmal mismanagement of Asif Zardari. Two PPP prime ministers from that period are charged with gross corruption. In the current Sindh dispensation, stories are legion of how Mr Zardari’s near and dear ones have their hands deep in the till. The Rangers have a list of those who are running criminal gangs and funnelling arms into the city, and they mean to arrest them. Mr Zardari has fled Pakistan. He was visibly shaken by the arrest of his confidante Dr Asim Hussain and thundered against the generals for encroaching upon his administration. But a wave of public condemnation compelled him to retreat and retract.

Mr Zardari’s shenanigans aside, the PPP is now faced with a true existential crisis. After the loss of Benazir Bhutto, it has progressively become rudderless and leaderless. Mr Zardari is neither charismatic like her, nor wise like she became after her long years in and out of exile and power. Her natural heir, Bilawal, is still struggling not just to shed his father’s dead weight but also to define a new role for himself.

It may be argued that the PPP has been through such reversals in the past but has always managed to return to power. There are critical differences this time round. Benazir cashed in on her father’s martyrdom and then became a leader in her own right. Zardari has cashed in on her martyrdom but failed to become a leader in his own right. Benazir could always rely upon an ideological vote bank to give her a boost. But that vote bank has now dissipated. Memories of martyrdom have faded with the rise of a new youthful urbanizing middle class that is inclined to sweep away the dynastic past on the back of contender Imran Khan. Finally, unlike Benazir who was nurtured as a political heir by her father, Bilawal has had no political grooming. Indeed, Benazir often stressed that her children would not follow in her footsteps. If the PPP has abandoned the philosophy of poverty it is only because there is a total poverty of philosophy in its rank and file today. The era of “victimhood” is coming to an end and the Party is unable to reinvent itself.

The crises of the PPP and MQM cast a deep shadow on Pakistan. Both represent important minority and progressive constituencies that require representation in state and society. But both lack new leaders with new ideas and visions who can seize the moment.

More or less democracy?

TFT Issue: 18 Sep 2015

September 15 was International Democracy Day. On that day, ironically enough, Imran Khan called on the Rangers, which means the army, to carry out accountability of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. His extraordinary statement was roundly condemned because it amounted to a vote of no confidence in the democratic political system that is, haltingly, recovering from prolonged bouts of unaccountable military rule that have bequeathed terrorism, sectarianism and fundamentalism to Pakistan.

To be sure, “democracy” is pretty moth eaten in Pakistan. But it is still better than political systems anchored in fascism, communism, monarchy or “Islamic” and military dictatorships. Given uninterrupted development, as in the West, it has the internal wherewithal to evolve into a relatively functional and accountable system. Indeed, in independent India, which is as young as, and no less corrupt than, Pakistan, it has delivered a 400 million educated middle class that has consolidated vibrant nationhood and economic growth in equal measure.

Imran Khan’s “frustration” with “democracy” and hankering for khaki order is echoed by segments of the elites and urban middle classes. But a recent poll shows once again that over 60 % of Pakistanis solidly favour democracy over other forms of government. This, despite the fact that the most popular man in the country is unquestionably General Raheel Sharif, Chief of Army Staff, who has earned universal laurels for turning the wave of terrorism back when it was threatening to engulf the whole country from Karachi to Khyber.

If the public sentiment is still wisely pro-democracy, this is despite the battering democracy continues to take from its most ardent preachers. The MQM in Karachi is desperately agitating against the PPP in Sindh and PMLN in Islamabad. The PPP is protesting against the MQM in Karachi and PMLN in Punjab. The PTI is abusing the MQM, PPP and PMLN. The smaller parties are flocking into the arms of no less than that great pillar of “unenlightened moderation”, General Pervez Musharraf, who is facing trail for treason and murder. That fourth estate of democracy, a free and independent media, is tripping over itself to censor criticism of the military even as it gleefully lays into parliamentarians.

The state of Pakistan’s parliamentary democracy cries out for urgent repair. The PTI resigned from parliament and returned to it only after its unholy tryst with a section of the military was exposed. Now the MQM has resigned from parliament after a clash with the military. The PPP is also smarting from the “establishment’s” censure. But it has decided to slug it out with the PMLN instead of the brass because it realizes that everyone would be a big loser if the popular man on horseback were to be provoked into direct action. Meanwhile, parliament is without a Speaker and the PMLN has no worthwhile candidate to offer in place of Ayaz Sadiq who awaits a winning by-election result in 70 days. If the PPP were to resign in protest against its mistreatment in Sindh, the PTI would throw in the towel and the demand for mid-term elections would be unstoppable, failing which the military would be under pressure to intervene to “save the system” from devouring itself!

The ruling PMLN has its back to the wall. Sindh is threatening to clutch at the constitution and refuse gas from Sui Southern pipelines to the Punjab. The great development projects of the PMLN are under fire, as in the Nandipur power project in Punjab or the Munda Dam in Swat, for corruption, incompetence and red tape-ism. There is no end in sight to power shortages that have crippled small-scale industry. The public’s romance with metros and red lines and overhead bridges and underpasses is rapidly fading. Instead, farmers are crying out for better output prices and higher subsidies and traders are protesting against minimal taxes. The PMLN certainly doesn’t inspire confidence when Shahbaz Sharif, CM Punjab, is seen to publicly spar with the Water & Power Minister, Khawaja Asif or, Nisar Ali Khan, Interior Minister, makes no bones about his estrangement from PM Nawaz Sharif.

Local elections are scheduled in the near future in Punjab and Sindh. These are bound to kick up dust and raise temperatures between the MQM and PPP in Sindh and PMLN and PTI in Punjab. If the political environment sours as it did in KP some months ago, there is bound to be an anti-democracy backlash. The 2013 elections provoked the PTI’s Dharna in 2014 and led to calls for “third umpires”, judicial commissions, resignations of election commissioners and mid-term elections. The 2015 KP local elections discredited the provincial election commission and the ruling PTI and led to bloodshed. If there is action-replay again, the popular man on horseback might be tempted to charge into the crowd to drive all pests away. But that, as we know from experience, is not the answer. The solution is to persist with more democracy rather than opt for less of it behind the fig leaf of accountability and efficiency.

An ill-wind is blowing

TFT Issue: 25 Sep 2015

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his allies are making decidedly ominous statements. While announcing a relief package for the agricultural sector, Mr Sharif suddenly veered off his subject at the Convention Centre in Islamabad and started talking of “those who would like to overthrow the government and rule directly themselves”, followed by a couple of similar sentences meaning similar things.

If this statement wasn’t oblique enough, he then spoke of how neither he nor his family was using state resources to line their pockets. Indeed, he added, “all our personal expenditures come from our own personal resources and there cannot even be a whiff of corruption attached to us”. The linking of “corruption” with an intervention against the government has clinched the suspicion that Mr Sharif believes that sections of the military establishment are still out to “get him” and his government. This time, it is suspected, by initiating action against allegedly corrupt elements in the PMLN federal and Punjab provincial governments as they have done in Sindh against the PPP government by effectively taking over the reins of power in the NAB and FIA.

Mr Sharif’s ANP ally, Asfandyar Wali Khan, was more forthright. When asked if he foresaw a military intervention by year’s end – because of carefully planted stories of GHQ’s anger at the continuing corrupt practices of ruling politicians – he warned that “if, God forbid, such an intervention were to occur, it would lead to the break up of Pakistan”. Stronger words on the subject have not been uttered nor such a bleak scenario publicly articulated.

For an explanation, we need only to look at the recent behaviour of the one political leader who is desperately seeking a short cut to power on the back of the military: Imran Khan. His dharna last year was based on the theory of the third umpire putting an end to Nawaz Sharif’s innings and paving the way for Imran Khan’s entry into Islamabad. This is now an established fact. Several credible reports of the involvement of the then ISI chief, Lt Gen Zaheer ul Islam, in this conspiracy are circulating in the media. But Imran Khan’s failure hasn’t deterred him.

Now Khan is threatening to forcibly eject the four provincial election commissioners from office – they hold constitutional positions and cannot be ousted under any circumstances short of resigning themselves — by staging a mass rally in front of the ECP’s office in Islamabad despite a ban on such rallies in the capital. He is also defying the code of conduct of the ECP forbidding government and opposition leaders from canvassing on behalf of their candidates in local elections in the Punjab. He successfully challenged the ECP decision in the Lahore High Court. But the ECP has obtained a stay from the Supreme Court and ordered the Chief Secretaries and IGPs of all the provinces to ensure strict implementation of the ECP’s code of conduct. The PMLN has said it will abide by the law. But Imran Khan has said he won’t because he considers the law illegal. So the stage is being set for violent clashes between the PTI and the Punjab and Islamabad administrations of the PMLN.

If Imran Khan can create violent disturbances in Punjab or Islamabad during the local elections in October-November, we may expect to witness a repeat dharna-type performance that attempts to draw the military into the fray. The PTI has plastered over 20,000 banners in Lahore’s NA 122 with candidate Aleem Khan’s picture alongside that of the army chief General Raheel Sharif. And Imran Khan has publicly called upon the Rangers and the military establishment to carry out accountability of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats in Punjab, a demand that is clearly unconstitutional.

Finally, a rather sinister development is already making waves in the media. This is the question of whether or not Gen Raheel Sharif deserves an extension in service before he retires at the end of next year – “for doing such a great job as the saviour of Pakistan against the scourge of terrorism and corruption” – unlike his predecessor General Kayani. It may be recalled that in the latter months of his first tenure, Gen Kayani destabilized the PPP government on at least two occasions even as a debate about his extension was raging the media.

General Raheel Sharif is a soldier’s soldier. It is inconceivable that he and his lieutenants are involved in destabilizing the PMLN government or that he is maneuvering to seek an extension in tenure. But there is no doubt that an ill will is blowing in the direction of Islamabad and none other than Imran Khan is huffing and puffing again to bring the house down.

PM Nawaz Sharif is rightly sensitive to Intel data that has led him to allude to another dharna-type conspiracy in the offing. We should know how the game is unfolding by observing Imran Khan’s course of action.

Unflinching peacemaker

TFT Issue: 02 Oct 2015

Since 1997 Nawaz Sharif has unflinchingly espoused the cause of peace with India. But vested interests and domestic political compulsions in both countries have never allowed his initiatives to come to fruition.

In 1997, Mr Sharif designed the composite dialogue with India’s Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral but the latter couldn’t sell Kashmir’s inclusion in the talks to his compatriots, and India’s nuclear tests in 1998 put paid to the idea. Mr Sharif persisted and succeeded in signing the most significant peace accord with India’s Prime Minister, Atul Behari Vajpayee, in Lahore in 1999, but General Pervez Musharraf’s Kargil adventure derailed it completely. Upon returning to office in 2013, Mr Sharif defied advice from the “establishment” and attended the inauguration of Narendra Modi as India’s new prime minister so that he could establish trust and confidence. He also offered Most Favoured Nation Status to India, an unfulfilled Indian demand for the last two decades, and a win-win project for both countries (but a bigger win for India than Pakistan). But the BJP’s electoral constituencies, first in Kashmir and now in Bihar, have compelled it to take a hard line against Pakistan and reject Mr Sharif’s hand of goodwill. Undeterred, he has once again offered the olive branch to India, this time at the forum of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Mr Sharif’s latest peace proposal rests on four points: demilitarization of Kashmir on both sides; restoration of the 2003 ceasefire along the LoC; vacation of the Siachin Glacier by both militaries; refrain from threatening or using force to settle issues. Significantly, while noting the unresolved Kashmir dispute in the presence of specific UN Security Council Resolutions, he was careful not to muddy his peace proposals by “attacking” India in any way for increasing border tensions and conflict. He also sought to assure the world in general and India in particular that the consequences of terrorism in Pakistan have been far more adverse for Pakistan than for the region and a National Action Plan to uproot it is being vigorously implemented.

Mr Sharif carried a dossier of the Indian “hand” in FATA, Karachi and Balochistan. But he chose not to allude to it in his speech, preferring instead to hang on to it until India’s response was clear.

Mr Modi’s government has so far not demonstrated any desire to resolve even the smaller disputes with Pakistan, let alone Kashmir. Indeed, a policy of deliberately ratcheting up tensions seems to be its order of the day. Its decision to cancel secretary level talks last year on the pretext of meetings between the leaders of the Hurriet Conference and the Pakistan High Commissioner in Delhi was criticized even in India because it has been routine practice acceptable to all Indian governments, including those of the BJP, in the past. No less inexplicable has been its reluctance to sign a trade deal with Pakistan that India has coveted for decades and which Pakistan has finally offered. In fact, there is evidence of a bigger Indian “hand” in fomenting terrorism inside Pakistan today than in the past. It can also be argued that it is India that has embarked on a policy of heating up the border in pursuit of the same policy and not Pakistan which has a vested interest in keeping the ceasefire firmly in place because a bulk of its army is involved in anti-terrorism and insurgency operations in FATA, Karachi and Balochistan. In fact, it is Pakistan’s western border with Afghanistan that is the source of instability and insecurity and has compelled the government to focus its energies internally and to the west rather than to India in the east.

There is only one explanation for India’s obdurate behaviour. The Modi government’s arch-Hindu constituency led by the RSS continues to weigh on its domestic and external policies. Just before the elections in Kashmir earlier this year, Mr Modi whipped up anti-secessionist sentiments and cancelled talks with Pakistan. As a result the BJP did well enough to cobble a coalition government in Kashmir. Now, in the run up to crucial elections in Bihar, it has whipped up anti-Pakistan rhetoric by heating up the border and resisting unconditional talks with Pakistan. Indian officials say even sporting links – e.g., scheduled cricket series between the two countries in December — suggesting any “normality” with Pakistan are off the table for now.

Under the circumstances, it is a moot point if and when the Modi government will respond to Mr Sharif’s latest peace overtures. Demilitarization of Kashmir and Siachin is far-fetched. Some Indian analysts think that if the BJP does well in Bihar next week, it may soften its stance on Pakistan and open lines of communication once again. Certainly, trade and cricket would benefit from a quick reduction of tensions, especially on the LoC. But even if the cricket series goes ahead, it is highly unlikely that Mr Modi will take a leaf from Mr Vajpayee’s visionary book and set about negotiating a long-term peace accord with Nawaz Sharif.

Calculations and Miscalculations

TFT Issue: 09 Oct 2015

Every political player in the country has made some smart moves but also come a cropper on occasion.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resisted the temptation to combat Imran Khan’s dharna with the might of the state, thereby precluding the third umpire from raising his finger. Instead, he accepted the demand to set up a Judicial Commission and agreed to quit government if electoral rigging were proved. In the event, when the JC flatly rejected Imran Khan’s allegations, Mr Sharif was able to thwart a conspiracy to get rid of him. The same Nawaz Sharif, however, miscalculated in dealing with the Pakistani Taliban when he opted for yet another round of talks with them when they were breathing down our necks, thereby handing over the initiative to the army chief, General Raheel Sharif, who unilaterally ordered the army to strike against them, thereby winning hearts and minds across the country. Then Mr Sharif rushed to embrace Narendra Modi and offered him an olive branch at his inauguration. But he was let down badly when Modi subsequently turned his back on him. Later, at Ufa, Mr Sharif hurriedly accepted an Indian proposal of talks between the two National Security Advisors focused on terrorism. But before the door for dialogue could be opened in Delhi, he succumbed to media pressure at home and reneged on the Ufa agreement by insisting on including Kashmir in the agenda, thereby putting paid to the gains made at Ufa.

Then there’s Imran Khan. He miscalculated the potential gains from the dharna and ended up with egg on his face when the third umpire didn’t give Mr Sharif out. Then he launched the Judicial Commission as a powerful bail out package but had to retreat when it refused to deliver. Now he is focusing on the four constituencies that have formed the backdrop of his every utterance on electoral rigging, thereby managing to whip up interest in the subject all over again. Indeed, this is a good strategy in the run up to local elections in the Punjab scheduled next month. By all accounts the contest in NA-122 is already being billed as make or break for both parties. If the PMLN wins, the PTI will claim rigging because it has already rejected the creditworthiness of the Election Commission. If the PTI wins, Khan will claim it proves his point that the 2013 elections were rigged in general and NA-122 was rigged in particular.

Asif Zardari is in a class of his own. He successfully cobbled a non-antagonistic relationship with Nawaz Sharif that shielded both of them from the ravages of Imran Khan. But he miscalculated on the MQM, until the situation in Karachi took such a bad turn that General Raheel Sharif was compelled to lean on the federal government to set up military courts. When the bill was floated, Mr Zardari was inclined to oppose it. But he wilted under popular pressure and signed on the dotted line. Now he is ruing the day he took that decision. Both the PPP and MQM are at the receiving end of the new anti-terrorist laws they helped promulgate.

Altaf Hussain has also miscalculated time and again. When the wind was blowing against Nawaz Sharif, he was inclined to curry favour with the military. Then, when the military decided not to give him any quarter, he began to lambast the generals. Both moves were hasty and misdirected. Now he is facing military action in Karachi, his live utterances have been banned and the chances of the military handing over one of the alleged murderers of Dr Imran Farooq to the British authorities are bright. If that comes to pass, Altaf Hussain’s problems will mount and the MQM could splinter and lose its monopolistic hold over the urban areas of Sindh.

General Raheel Sharif, notwithstanding a string of policy successes, is also not immune to miscalculation. He rightly took the decision to go after the Taliban and was lauded for it. He rightly started a clean-up of Karachi that made him hugely popular. But his decision to target corruption by linking it to terrorism in Sindh has come a cropper. People are rightly asking when the military will target the PMLN government in Punjab. And that is something he cannot easily conjure up. But even if the general is able to huff and puff and shake up the Kingdom of Punjab, he will have to contend with the probability of all the politicians standing together and demanding accountability of generals past and present. And that is something he cannot institutionally deliver, regardless of his personal feelings on the subject. At that stage the general’s popularity, which has already peaked much before his time to retire, would be severely dented.

To conclude: politicians and generals are both fallible. They should learn to calculate for the good of the country and not miscalculate for the good of their party, person or institution.

Peoples’ barometer

TFT Issue: 16 Oct 2015

The results of three by-elections in Punjab this week are a barometer of the mood of the people. They also shed light on the theory and practice of the political parties in the ring.

The PPP is headless and lost. Its supporters have switched to the PTI and PMLN. There was no sign of their leaders during the election campaigns – even Asif Zardari’s picture was missing from their banners as though he were a leper. It has no manifesto to flog, no mission to accomplish. This is due to Mr Zardari’s abysmal track record viz corruption, incompetence and bad governance. For the only national liberal party in the country that also represented the true hopes and aspirations of the unwashed masses, that won four elections in the most adverse circumstances and sacrificed three precious lives in the bargain, this is a tragedy of monumental proportions. It will be many moons before the PPP can field an inspiring leader who succeeds in reviving the party, if at all.

The vacuum left by the PPP has been filled by the PTI. It is the rising star on the firmament. After winning Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the PTI has mounted the strongest challenge to the PMLN on its home turf of Punjab in the last thirty years.

Interestingly enough, the PTI’s trajectory of power closely resembles that of the PLMN. Its leader, Imran Khan, has been nurtured and groomed by the military establishment, in particular Generals Pervez Musharraf, Ahmed Shuja Pasha and Zaheer ul Islam like the PMLN leader Nawaz Sharif was once fostered by Generals Zia, Ghulam Jilani and Hameed Gul. The early political practice of both parties consisted of a high dose of political Islam – the anti-India jihad of the 1990s for Nawaz Sharif and the anti-Afghanistan Taliban movement of the 2000s for Imran Khan. The PTI’s political tactics of destabilization in cahoots with the military — third-umpire inspired dharna in 2014 and subsequent agitations — follow the trail of the PMLN which mounted “operation midnight jackals” to get rid of the first Benazir Bhutto regime in 1988-90, launched a long march against the Zardari regime in 2009 and kicked off Memogate in 2011.

The PTI’s electoral strategy now also mirrors that of the PMLN – the heady visions of a pristine ideological party led by a towering leadership have been replaced by a corrupt and opportunist lotacracy that is relying on the likes of a dubious moneybags like Aleem Khan to represent its “true” face in the Punjab. Instead of plucking a new leadership from the grassroots, the PTI is grabbing every wealthy lota who is ready to switch from the PPP and PLMN for one reason or another. In fact, its reliance on money to buy votes and pull out the voters is akin to that of the PMLN. Indeed, its politics of intolerance and unseemly language resemble that of the PMLN in its early years before it shook off the influence of the military.

PTI supporters insist they have won a “moral victory” in NA-122 because their candidate has lost by a few thousand votes against the mighty state supported Speaker of the National Assembly, Ayaz Sadiq. But they forget that the immoral tactics used by their candidate to buy votes are no different from those of the traditional status quo parties they oppose, including the PMLN. So what choice are they giving when the meaning of morality and honesty and ideological purity is the same for them as for the parties they oppose?

The PMLN has arrived at its moment of truth. Imran Khan’s dharna has distracted it from governance. Its promises of rapid economic development and poverty alleviation have not been fulfilled on the ground. Its foreign policy is a shambles. Whatever credit is due to fighting terrorism has accrued to the military and not the PMLN. Governance is uninspiring and marked by ministerial in-fighting. It had to throw everything in its arsenal – including a last minute dash to the area by no less than the Prime Minister — to win NA-122 by a whisker. It lost the provincial seat to a rank PTI upstart. In NA-144, it was outstripped by an independent, which is a greater measure of the disgruntled mood of the people in general and of the poor choice of candidates in particular. It shows no sign of recognizing the changing demography of the country in which the youth bulge is prominent because its discontent and aspirations have not been channelled.

Therefore the PPP, PMLN and PTI need to do some serious soul searching. A strong and stable democracy needs the PPP as a left-liberal party and the PMLN as a centrist party. As the challenger, the PTI must occupy the space between these two parties rather than stand with the Islamists to the right of the PMLN. But with two caveats: the PTI must not be beholden to the military for its electoral fortunes and it must shed its fascist and intolerant behaviour.

This is not cricket!

TFT Issue: 23 Oct 2015

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is always in the news. Unfortunately, most of it is negative and often without due cause. Cricket also arouses strong passions. Anyone who has played it even for a bit, or read about it, or watched it on TV with action replays, third umpire decisions and “expert” comments also fancies himself an expert. Everyone has pet hates. However, few “experts”, even first class cricketers, understand how a sprawling autonomous organization like the PCB functions, with nearly 600 employees, nine stadiums, three cricket academies and year long domestic and international tournaments costing billions. Fewer still understand sources of revenue and costs — in short, its financial constraints and leveraging abilities. Remarkably, hardly anyone fully understands how the International Cricket Council (ICC) – the mother hen – functions and relates to its member boards.

Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that the proposed revival of India-Pakistan cricket series has raised such heat and dust. In theory, cricket and politics should be kept apart. In practice, however, the warring nationalism of both countries tends to dictate matters. This has given rise to the most charged and exciting contest in the world of cricket but also to the notion of positive or negative “cricket diplomacy” by both governments. The latest tension between the PCB and BCCI is a case in point.

After the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009, international teams stopped touring Pakistan for safety reasons but continued to play Pakistan outside Pakistan. However, after the terrorist attack on Mumbai in 2008 by a Pakistani jihadi squad, the Indian government took the political decision to order the BCCI not to play Pakistan bilaterally inside or outside Pakistan. In 2012 the Indian government relented and permitted the BCCI to play a short series against Pakistan in India. The revenues from this should justly have gone to Pakistan because it was owed a “home series” by the BCCI. But politician-sugar magnate Zaka Ashraf, who was chairman of PCB, quietly agreed to forego millions of dollars from this series to India. In 2014, Zaka Ashraf further mishandled the situation, leaving PCB high and dry when all full ICC members except Pakistan signed on the new Big 3 ICC constitution and quickly cemented revenue generating bilateral cricket series among themselves for the next eight years, thereby inducing isolation and potential bankruptcy in the PCB.

Zaka Ashraf was booted out by the Supreme Court in 2014 for rigging PCB elections, gross mismanagement and corruption. Consequently, the new PCB management decided to salvage the situation inside the ICC instead of remaining in isolated limbo. In exchange for its vote to stress ICC unanimity, the PCB convinced the BCCI to renew cricketing ties with Pakistan over the next eight years (the MOU is expected to yield PCB revenue of over Rs 2 billion), include Pakistan as one of the five core members of the all-powerful Executive Committee of ICC and give the Presidency of ICC to Pakistan for 2015-16. This was no mean achievement considering that the value of Pakistan’s single leftover vote was zilch.

The BCCI is now under pressure from anti-Pakistan hardliners in the Modi government and its supporters to renege on the cricket series against Pakistan scheduled in the UAE in December 2015. Under the rules of engagement, cricket boards are allowed to cancel commitments without financial claims for damages if so ordered by their governments or courts. The leadership of the BCCI formally invited PCB officials to visit Mumbai last week to chart a positive way ahead. But Shiv Sena activists stormed BCCI headquarters and compelled it to cancel the proposed talks. The BCCI feared the Sena might disrupt next Sunday’s match between India and South Africa in Mumbai if it didn’t comply. As the Indian media roundly condemned the hooliganism of the Sena and the timidity of the BCCI, the Pakistani media, incredibly enough, turned on the PCB for going to Mumbai and being “humiliated” by the BCCI. This has provoked misplaced nationalist passions and outrage. But it is not cricket.

If the BCCI had wanted to say no to the series, it would have left it to the Indian government to say the dirty word. But by inviting the PCB for talks, it indicated a desire to find a working solution. Its headquarters is in Mumbai, its annual meetings were in progress, so Mumbai seemed a natural venue for the talks. It has since indicated to the PCB that talks are still possible in the near future at another venue. Until then, regardless of what the Sena threat is and what might eventually transpire between the BCCI and the Modi government, the PCB has no choice but to hang in there. Indeed, if anyone has been showcased in bad light at home and abroad, it is the Modi government and the BCCI, and not Pakistan or the PCB.

The PCB is the Pakistani media’s favourite whipping boy. The tragedy is that sometimes this negativity hurts the national interest.

Grim Regional Outlook

TFT Issue: 30 Oct 2015

Nawaz Sharif’s trip to Washington last week is significant because it comes in the wake of certain important developments in the South Asian region that impact Pakistan’s national security.

First, it follows a meeting between India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama in which both spelt out their joint “vision”, including core mutual concerns relating to terrorism allegedly emanating from Pakistan that impinges on Indian and American interests. “The leaders stressed the need for joint and concerted efforts, including the dismantling of safe havens for terrorist and criminal networks, to disrupt all financial and tactical support for networks such as Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, the D-Company, and the Haqqanis. They reiterated their call for Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai to justice.” This puts the spotlight squarely on Pakistan for harbouring these networks.

Second, President Obama’s decision to retain nearly 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan until 2017 is based on one critical projection: Pakistan is tasked to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table during this period and facilitate a power sharing arrangement with Kabul that ends the civil war and enables US troops to go home without fear of the Afghan regime collapsing and paving the way for the Taliban or ISIS or both to make it a base area for exporting Islamic extremism. The US-Pak Joint Statement makes especial mention of this factor by devoting nearly 700 words to it, emphasizing Pakistan’s role as “a key counterterrorism partner of the US”, in particular relating to efforts to “degrade and ultimately defeat al?Qa’ida and its affiliates …. commitment to advance an Afghan­owned and -led peace and reconciliation process between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban” that leads to “a sustainable peace settlement.” Interestingly, Mr Sharif “reaffirmed that Pakistan’s territory will not be used against any other country” and both leaders “affirmed that regional peace and stability required the prevention of attacks across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.” Mr Sharif also assured the US President that Pakistan is taking steps “to ensure that the Taliban – including the Haqqani Network – are unable to operate from the soil of Pakistan.” Both leaders stressed improvement in Pakistan-India bilateral relations and “expressed concern over violence along the Line of Control”, and “emphasized the importance of working together to address mutual concerns of India and Pakistan regarding terrorism”. Mr Sharif reiterated Pakistan’s “resolve to take effective action against United Nations-designated terrorist individuals and entities, including Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and its affiliates, as per its international commitments and obligations under UN Security Council resolutions and the Financial Action Task Force.” Both leaders noted that need for “all [S Asian] neighbors to suppress all extremist and militant groups operating in the region … [especially] emerging terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)/Da’esh in South Asia.”

The problem with this agenda is that Pakistan’s National Security Establishment has promised to deliver it to the US for the last ten years but done nothing much to advance it. Despite early optimism, relations with Kabul and New Delhi have hit rock bottom recently. The latest US engagement is a last ditch effort to find a way out of a dead end with Pakistan. Washington has pledged to cough up the balance of US$300 million in coalition support funds and allow Pakistan to buy 8 new F-16 aircraft. It has also decided not to take any discriminatory action against Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and policies.

Here’s Pakistan’s problem. First, it doesn’t have the will or ability to arm-twist the Afghan Taliban to do its bidding blindly on making a peace deal with Kabul and ending the war, especially after the eruption of a post-Mullah Omar power struggle in which each contending faction is compelled to take a war-like stance against Kabul and Washington for purposes of legitimacy in its rank and file. Second, it can’t afford to bomb the Haqqani network in its safe havens in Pakistan’s border areas and drive it into Afghanistan. That would cut its leverage-links with an important Afghan Taliban faction and also provoke it to join hands with the Pakistan Taliban sheltering in Afghanistan. This would exacerbate the internal security situation in Pakistan that the military has barely brought down to manageable proportions after a long and bloody campaign across the country. Third, it can’t afford to go after the various anti-India jihadi groups scattered across the country just now even if it wanted to because that would open up another dangerous front and dissipate the energy of the military against the Pakistan Taliban. The question of whether or not it should even think of serious action against the Lashkar i Taiba, etc, when India continues to sponsor terrorism in FATA, Karachi and Balochistan remains moot.

Under the circumstances, the outlook is grim. Neither Islamabad nor Kabul can singly deliver on the regional agenda, India isn’t helping the common cause and the Taliban have time to create the will and space to achieve their objectives.

Political Realities

TFT Issue: 06 Nov 2015

Definite conclusions about the nature and direction of politics in Pakistan can be drawn from the results of the first phase of local elections in Sindh and Punjab that concluded last week. These lessons will determine the fate of the general elections in 2018, particularly for the PPP and PTI that have done badly in Punjab which determines who will eventually rule in Islamabad.

In Punjab, the PMLN has won nearly 45% of the seats, the PTI took about 11% and the PPP less than 2%. Critically, Independents swept through nearly 40% of the constituencies. This signals many important conclusions for all stakeholders.

First, the PMLN has broadly maintained its vote bank despite the destabilization and criticism of the PTI. This suggests deep roots in the province that it has ruled one way or another since the 1980s. Second, the PTI’s rigging allegations in the general elections against the PMLN have been conclusively disproved and it can breathe a sigh of relief and try to build on this success for the next general elections. Third, the rise of so many independents should be a wake up call for the PMLN because it is the party in power with the ability to bestow largesse on the winning candidates. It shows that the PMLN’s selection of candidates did not often meet with the approval of voters. In other words, the PMLN must be sensitive to an awakening amongst the masses for accountability and reflect this in awarding party tickets not only on the basis of established groups and caste loyalties but also on the character and credibility of candidates.

The PTI has to take radical stock of its tactics and strategy too. Its threat of developing a significant platform of local grassroots politicians to pose a challenge to the PMLN in the next general elections has not materialized. This means the PTI must start thinking positively in terms of developing a dynamic party structure that yields dividends in the electoral process instead of banking on negative tactics of conspiring to destabilize the polity by short-cutting to power on the back of “third umpires”. In short, the PTI movement led by Imran Khan has to be transformed into a PTI party led by hundreds of little Imran Khans across the local landscape. Shafqat Mahmood’s resignation as PTI’s Punjab Election Organizer for failing to deliver results is a pointer in the right direction. He must write a report detailing the problems and the PTI should act on it with sincerity.

Finally, Imran Khan must get off his high horse and put his house in order no less than his party. His political policy U-turns have disturbed PTI loyalists. Now his personal life is in a shambles. There is as much unsavoury controversy over his decision to divorce Reham Khan as his decision to marry her in the first place less than a year ago. This single decision has divided party, family and friends like no other issue and disillusioned his voters. It reflects badly on his judgment of people no less than his judgments on political issues. No leader can afford to be a moral maverick and expect a wide berth from supporters for long, especially in a conservative country like Pakistan. If Reham Khan were to hit back with a tell-tale book of her time with Imran Khan, it would be a runaway bestseller and damage him enormously.

If the results of the last general elections were not sufficient proof of the fact that the PPP has been reduced to becoming a regional Sindh party, these local elections have confirmed it conclusively. The PPP is nowhere in Punjab. But it has won 65% of local seats in eight districts in rural Sindh in the first phase. This has prompted Mr Zardari to claim that the naysayers predicting doom and gloom have been proven wrong. In fact, however, the reality is to the contrary. Mr Zardari’s Sindh vote bank is based on Sindhi nationalism as much as the politics of feudal patronage that stands atop the graves of three Bhutto martyrs rather than any sign of good governance or accountability. This is the very basis of sub-nationalism that defines regionalism rather than national integration.

The PPP in Sindh, PML in Punjab and PTI in KP have all benefited from the advantage of distributing power and patronage by virtue of being in provincial office. But the rising phenomenon of independents everywhere suggests that the voter is becoming more demanding and delivery and accountability will progressively triumph over biradari and caste in future elections. This is a good omen for democracy. FAFEN, the election watchdog, has also certified that these elections were cleaner than the last ones. So we are on the right track on this score. But we need a national two party system for political stability. The sooner the PPP or PTI gets its act together, the better.

Sharif vs Sharif

TFT Issue: 13 Nov 2015

General Raheel Sharif remains the focus of attention. He has had an important meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s top team members, where various dimensions and failings of the civilian input into NAP were discussed. He followed up by chairing a Corps Commanders meeting after which ISPR issued a statement highlighting civilian “governance” problems relating to proper NAP implementation. Gen Sharif is now going to Washington to discuss crucial issues regarding Afghanistan and India in the context of US-Pak national security concerns in the region.

Apparently six broad areas were identified in the meeting in which NAP’s implementation by civilian counterpart agencies and administrations is “sluggish”. These are: action against terror financing (primarily obstacles created by the Sindh government in the way of the military), foreign funding of seminaries (lack of will and expertise in the federal Ministries of Interior and Finance), banned non-state actor-groups and sectarian organizations (provincial police reluctance in eliminating these threats), hate speeches (police and judicial lethargy in Punjab and Sindh), madrassah reforms (federal government foot dragging) and a provincial mechanism for civil-military cooperation and coordination (especially in Sindh). Significantly, at least three additional agenda items were highlighted by an ISPR press statement subsequently: FATA reforms (no political will to pursue administratively, the PMLN government having just withdrawn a bill for FATA reforms submitted by FATA parliamentarians because the PM has formed yet another commission to examine the issue again), completion of Joint Investigation Reports (dubious civilian input in Sindh), IDP rehabilitation issues (insufficient funds and poor administrative effort). The ISPR pointedly “acknowledged the full support of the nation” in the army’s pursuit of terrorists but “underlined the need for matching/complimentary governance initiatives for long term gains of the National Action Plan”.

The ISPR statement has triggered a controversy in the media about the significance and legitimacy of the army’s comments. Some people think it to be an ill-advised and unnecessary irritant in the developing civil-military equation. They argue that such issues should be discussed behind “closed doors” rather than in public where they end up embarrassing the elected government of the day. Others say that there is nothing new or novel about the army’s preferred method of sending direct public signals to the government on its issues of concern. Every army chief has used the ISPR to publicly signal his displeasure with the government of the day on various issues. In the current case, however, the ISPR statement has been followed by a PMLN government statement that seemingly objects to the implicit criticism of government in it and points to the “shared responsibility” for success of the government (in cobbling a national consensus for NAP), the army (for its sacrifices in men and materials), the coordinated effort of provincial governments and their organs of administration, the judiciary (for accepting military courts and reduction of their writ jurisdictions in case of terrorism), and above all the people for standing behind the government and state.

But there are sources of tension in both official statements that have disturbed the civil-military balance. The ISPR should not have talked of “governance” issues or tried to take exclusive credit for the success of NAP, regardless of internal pressures to put the government on the spot for failing to do its bit. The opposition parties have exploited the ISPR statement to open their guns on the government for not providing “good governance”. However, despite this misplaced provocation, the government should not have reminded the military of “remaining within the ambit of the constitution” because the military under Gen Sharif has not demonstrated any political ambitions. Both sides should not tread over each other’s sensitivities.

General Sharif’s trip to Washington is critical in many ways. The US and its allies want to do business with him because they perceive him to be the man in charge of Pakistan. At stake are Pakistan’s relations with Kabul, New Delhi and Washington. Terrorism is the one factor that links all together. All three countries accuse Pakistan of sheltering various shades of terrorists who are creating massive problems for them. Pakistan, in turn, accuses India of actively proxy-warring in FATA, Karachi and Balochistan. It accuses Afghanistan of unfairly blaming Pakistan for all its troubles despite mounting evidence of its own failings. And it wants the US to “do more” to shore up the Ghani regime in Kabul, help Pakistan’s anti-terrorism drive with money and materials, as well as restrain the RAW hand in Pakistan.

This is a tall order even for General Sharif. It means getting the PMLN government to shake a leg and shore up NAP, getting the US government to persuade Modi’s India to smoke the peace pipe with Pakistan and stop it from pressurizing Kabul to take an anti-Pakistan stance. More critically, it means bringing the various factions of the Taliban to the negotiating table with Kabul and hammering out an enduring peace process that allows American troops to go back home in 2018 on the basis of constitutional rule in Afghanistan.

Our man in DC

TFT Issue: 20 Nov 2015

Gen Raheel Sharif is in DC, talking to the top civil-military leaders of America about Pakistan’s national security in the context of this region’s stability. The Americans have vital stakes in Afghanistan and have a vested interest in speaking to him directly rather than through the civilian government in Pakistan because they know the military calls the shots on such issues and the COAS calls the shots in the military.

This isn’t a new development because the US-Pak relationship has always had a compelling military dimension. In the 1950s and 60s, this was reflected in various defense pacts like CENTO and SEATO (Gen Ayub Khan and President Eisenhower were best friends). In recent decades the jihad against the Soviets (Gen Zia ul Haq and President Reagan) and Al-Qaeda/Taliban terrorism (Gen Pervez Musharraf and President Bush followed by Gen Ashfaq Kayani and CJCSC Admiral Mike Mullen) in Afghanistan have figured prominently. The difference between then and now, however, is that Pakistan’s national interests currently do not exactly coincide with those of America in the region. And this is the source of distrust and tension.

The issues for discussion in DC are three fold: Pak-US relations, Pak-India relations and Pak-Afghan relations. All are interlinked in critical ways. The US and Pakistan both want a stable and peaceful Afghanistan. Both want the Ghani government and the Taliban to smoke the peace pipe. But Pakistan’s efforts to initiate an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation process have foundered on the rock of two hostile elements: the non-Pakhtun Afghans in the Ghani government and India. Both were singly and jointly responsible for sabotaging the second round of inter-Afghan talks some months ago by announcing the death of Mullah Umar and compelling the Taliban faction leading the talks to pull out, acquire a hard line posture and deal with the struggle for succession that ensued. The Afghan Army and Intel are also sheltering Pak Taliban in the North-East of Afghanistan while the Indians have been sponsoring terrorism in FATA, Karachi and Balochistan. Talk of any quid pro-quo with either Kabul (we’ll reign in the Haqqani network and you coral the Mullah Fazlullah Taliban) or New Delhi (we won’t sponsor jihad in Kashmir and you stop RAW from destabilizing us) has not progressed because of mutual distrust and hostility. Surely, the Americans can play a significant role in addressing such concerns by acting as interlocutors and facilitators between Pakistan and India and Pakistan and Afghanistan. Surely, it is time for the Americans to “do more” instead of spending over $ 10 billion a year in Afghanistan without achieving any worthwhile results. Surely, they can shore up Pakistan’s anti-Taliban operations by coughing up at least a billion a year!

General Sharif will also try and convince the Americans that it is India and not Pakistan that is keeping the border hot and forestalling confidence building talks. The Pakistani army has its hands full dealing with internal terrorism. It has put a lid on the lashkars and jihadis and stopped them from fomenting trouble in Kashmir. It doesn’t serve their interests to keep a significant chunk of the army on border duty. It is India under PM Modi that wants to sow distrust between Islamabad and President Ghani in Afghanistan so that Kabul is once again nudged in the direction of New Delhi and becomes dependent on it as it was in the time of President Karzai who remains a staunch Indian ally.

The Americans will also be keenly interested to determine if General Sharif has any domestic political ambitions that could destabilize Pakistan and derail their common objectives in the region. Surely they are updated on civil-military tensions and the national media’s elevation of General Sharif as a national hero of sorts as a counter-weight to the lumbering prime minister. Of late, there has been much idle speculation on this count, especially since the fateful ISPR statement that provoked the government to issue a counter statement of its own. Washington will also be interested to know if General Sharif is interested in an extension in tenure and whether the US can play any role in stressing continuity of strategic policy.

Is the PMLN government wary of General Sharif’s attempts to chart a direct hot line with both America and Saudi Arabia? Admittedly, there are some voices in the PM’s secretariat that are raising concerns. But they shouldn’t. The PM and COAS have a fairly good working relationship. The COAS could have fished in troubled waters last year during Imran Khan’s “dharna” but he didn’t. The PM could have stopped him from cleaning up Karachi because of political compulsions, but he didn’t. The COAS took the load off the PM when he went into FATA all guns blazing and gave a shut-up call to Doubting-Thomases like Imran Khan and the Islamists. This helped the PM forge a national consensus behind the war against the Taliban.

Still, it would help if the ISPR could learn a bit about the theory of diminishing returns and act accordingly.

Liberal Pakistan?

TFT Issue: 27 Nov 2015

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told an international conference in Islamabad recently that “the nation’s future lay in a democratic and liberal Pakistan” which is “educated, progressive, forward-looking and enterprising”. Truer words could not have been spoken.

But his statement has stirred a hornets’ nest of self-appointed “guardians” of the “ideology of Pakistan” comprising mullahs, revisionist state historians and reactionary intellectuals. The same howls of protest were heard fifteen years ago when a self-avowed “liberal” like General Pervez Musharraf made a tentative bid to promote his philosophy of “enlightened moderation” in the face of rising extremism.

Over the decades, these people have painted liberalism as anathema for state and society by propagating it to mean secularism, which in turn has been deliberately misinterpreted to denote atheist or impious or irreligious conduct. Misguided or opportunist politicians have gone a step further by condemning “liberal fascists” – a contradiction in terms because liberalism abhors fascism – for demanding resolute action against religious extremists like the Taliban, jihadis and sectarian terrorists who don’t recognize, let alone protect, the nation state because they stand for Khilafat or global political “Islam”.

In actual fact, liberalism is a 19th century philosophy of enlightened political economy that defends universal human rights like freedom of speech, artistic expression, religious worship, private property and the welfare and liberty of the individual in a representative system of democratic government. Its economic tenets are based on notions of relatively free markets and income redistribution through a progressive system of taxes and welfare payments for poverty alleviation.

Secularism, in turn, denotes a separation of religion from the politics of the modern democratic nation-state. In the mind of the Quaid-e-Azam, it implied a country in which all Pakistanis were equal in the eyes of the state, regardless of their caste, creed, religion or class: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

The tragedy is that the opportunistic civil-military-mullah alliance has made religion the bedrock of the ideological state of Pakistan. This misplaced concreteness has cost us dearly in our quest for nationhood.

This realization first dawned on General Musharraf in 2000 and compelled him to clutch at the notion of “enlightened moderation”. Then General Ashfaq Kayani woke up to the “existential threat” from religious extremism in 2011. Finally, in 2014, General Raheel Sharif rolled up his sleeves and went into action against the Taliban. Indeed, that is exactly what the civil-military framers of the National Action Plan against terrorism had in mind when they criminalized sectarian hate speech and terrorism and demanded madrassah reform. In fact, Mr Sharif was flogging the same idea when he attended a Diwali function two weeks ago in Karachi and said the government would defend and promote the “human rights of each and every citizen of the state, regardless of their religion and beliefs”. He said: “you are residents of Pakistan. Every resident of Pakistan, no matter who it is, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian or Parsi, no matter who it is, belongs to me, and I belong to them”.

It is remarkable that the very civil-military institutions that are responsible for making political Islam the business of the state over the last six decades are now implicitly acknowledging the dangerous consequences of institutionalizing such a falsehood, and desperately searching for ways and means to reverse it. The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Anwar Jamali, recently talked of the failure of Pakistan as a “qaum” or nation. The truth is that Pakistan’s quest for nationhood has been thwarted by sectarian, tribal and ethnic impulses in the face of an unduly centralized, authoritarian and heavily ideologised state apparatus.

The Pakistan Peoples Party was always critical of this state of affairs. But it was constantly thwarted from correcting course by the military and its civilian adjunct, the Pakistan Muslim League. Now, thankfully, positive change is in the air. Nawaz Sharif was handpicked and nurtured by the military three decades ago to do its bidding. He duly became the nemesis of the PPP, in the bargain getting into bed with the religious parties, passing Islamic laws and promoting jihad against India. Now he is all for peace with India, wants to stop all jihad across borders, is waking up to action against sectarian parties and religious terrorists and is embarrassed and hampered by the Islamic laws passed on his watch. The military, no less, sees the primary and immediate national security threat as emanating from internal religious extremism and not externally from archenemy India. Unfortunately, however, Imran Khan’s PTI is still muddying the waters by continuing to resist the development of a new national narrative of state and society based on modern notions of liberal and secular democracy.

Such an awakening, however partial and belated, should be welcomed. The rise of Al-Qaeda, followed by the Taliban and now ISIS, is a dangerous reminder of how nation-states can be undone by religious fanaticism and violent extremism.

“Pay more”

TFT Issue: 04 Dec 2015

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has been compelled by the force of circumstance to slap additional import duties and taxes on a wide range of goods to raise an extra Rs 40 billion in revenues in the second quarter of the current financial year. Reportedly, the IMF is refusing to release the last tranche of over $500 million in balance of payments support until Mr Dar makes up for loss of projected revenues that is threatening to widen the fiscal deficit beyond agreed limits.

Mr Dar has tried to calm popular nerves by stressing that the measures have been imposed on “luxury” items and should not adversely impact the layman’s basket of everyday necessities. A cursory look at the list of 350 plus items on which cumulated duties and taxes have been increased 1% to 15% suggests that his explanation is broadly correct. But the measures will certainly fuel inflation because of the “demonstration effect” on other commodities of which these are inputs of one sort or another.

Nonetheless, some pertinent questions need to be asked. Why has the FBR let down Mr Dar yet again by not sufficiently enlarging the tax net and catching tax dodgers? Why has the retail GST on the trading and professional classes not been imposed and collected? Why has the Rs 5000 note that is the lynch pin of the cash black economy not been withdrawn? Why has the miniscule levy on cash withdrawals from banks to discourage non-documented transactions been reduced further? Why are legitimate taxpayers being harassed to “pay more” while the cheaters are being let off the hook because they are greasing the palms of greedy tax inspectors?

Dozens of reports on how to reform the tax structure and improve tax collection are collecting dust in the Ministry of Finance. This explains why every government is constantly borrowing or begging from domestic and international sources to get along. Part of the reason has to do with politics and part of it is due to the vise-like grip of the corrupt tax bureaucracy that resists every effort to become efficient and honest.

The GST on retail is a norm in every developed country. It has been talked about since the mid 1990s. When the PPP is in power, the PMLN sides with the traders and won’t allow the tax to be imposed. When the PMLN is in power, the boot is on the other foot.

An effort to bypass the corrupt tax bureaucracy at the port of entry in order to ensure that imported goods are not under-invoiced so that proper duties are paid was made by the second PPP government in 1993-96 when it appointed pre-inspection Swiss agencies SGS and Cotecna to evaluate imports. Much to the chagrin of the tax bureaucracy, this led to a significant increase in customs revenues and would have served as a building block for other reform measures if the project had not been derailed by credible allegations of underhand commissions taken by Mr Asif Zardari on the fees paid to the two agencies by the PPP government. The corruption charge against Mr Zardari has not borne fruit in Pakistan because the prosecution could not present original documents to prove guilt. This, despite the fact that both SGS and Cotecna have admitted their guilt in a court in Switzerland and been fined for corrupt practices, and we know how the original documents “disappeared” from Geneva during Mr Zardari’s time as President of Pakistan.

Some of the foreign exchange laws of the country are also designed to help tax dodgers. Anyone can buy foreign currency on the open market, stuff his suitcase with a wink from the custom official, or hire a boat on the open seas, take it out of the country and then remit it back via official banking channels to make it “white” because no questions can be asked about the source of remittance. The net cost of this transaction is less than 2% whereas the potential tax saved on black money can be about 20%. It was originally designed to facilitate expatriate workers’ earnings to their families in Pakistan but has now become a scandalous scheme to whiten black money. Like the 5000 rupee note, all that is required to stop its misuse is to prescribe a limit to any inward remittance at any time if the remitter does not want to explain the source and purpose of the transfer.

Perhaps, if Imran Khan’s “dharnas” had not destabilized the PMLN government, Mr Dar might have actually made bold to carry out some sorely needed though unpopular tax reforms by now. But midway through his term, with local elections breathing down his neck, allegations of bad governance rocking his government’s ratings and conspirators predicting the end is nigh, one cannot expect the finance minister to act like a wizard and set all things right overnight. It is a small miracle that he has succeeded in keeping the rupee below Rs 120 to the US dollar.

Going forward

TFT Issue: 11 Dec 2015

Four significant developments took place last week. First, local elections have reaffirmed political loyalties to the PMLN in Punjab, MQM in urban Sindh and PPP in rural Sindh, the significant loser being the PTI in both provinces. Second, the Sindh government and military establishment have both taken a step back from their maximalist positions to resolve the issue of the extension and scope of the Rangers’ anti-terrorist operations in the province. Third, the ice has melted in Indo-Pak relations with a meeting between the two prime ministers in Paris, followed by a meeting between the two National Security Advisors in Bangkok and the subsequent arrival of the Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj in Islamabad to attend the Heart of Asia Conference and chat with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz. Fourth, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani returned to Pakistan after a year to restart the dialogue with the civil-military establishment over how to nudge the Taliban to the negotiating table. Going forward, can we therefore expect 2016 to be the harbinger of better civil-military relations and political stability at home and improved ties with neighbours India and Afghanistan?

The local elections have nailed the canard in Imran Khan’s relentless campaign to allege electoral rigging to cover up for his loss of popularity across the country. The PTI has been hammered in Sindh by the traditional PPP-MQM voter and swept aside in Punjab by the PMLN partisan, reaffirming the results of the 2013 general elections. The shock has compelled Khan to take stock of his party and make plans to hold intra-party elections and build a fighting machine. To be sure, this won’t be easy. The PTI is riven with dissent between regional groups, between idealists and opportunists and between egotistical leaders pushing and shoving for prominence. But this exercise should also keep Khan off the streets and give some space to the PMLN government to flog its economic agenda and stop laying the blame for failure at Khan’s door. All this is for the good.

Thanks to some last minute backtracking by all stakeholders, the Sindh government and the military establishment have arrived at a new modus operandi to minimise conflict over their respective interests. The Rangers’ writ will be extended to all of Sindh but they will not arrest MQM and PPP politicians without a formal nod from the Chief Minister. This step will restrain the Rangers from encroaching into the political domain of the provincial parties while giving the military a free hand to go after terrorists and gangsters and foreign agents. If the deadlock had continued, a very dangerous situation would have arisen which would have put PM Nawaz Sharif in a tight corner. If he had sided with the military, the PPP and MQM would have joined hands with Imran Khan to destabilise the PMLN government. But its resolution has strengthened Mr Sharif’s hand against any potential encroachment by the military in pursuit of the National Action Plan in Punjab.

The Modi government in India has also backtracked from its hard anti-Pakistan stance following its electoral rout in Bihar where such propaganda failed to deliver dividends. Subsequently, some quiet diplomacy out of media glare has suddenly opened up avenues for reducing conflict. This means that we should see some positive results viz border tensions, sporting links and trade concessions. This will enable the Pakistani military establishment to focus on resolving more pressing issues on its western border with Afghanistan.

President Ashraf Ghani’s visit is critical to Pak-Afghan relations. Last year, promises were made by both sides about the steps each side would take to build mutual trust and push for peace talks with the Taliban. But vested interests on both sides put paid to that initiative. The problem was highlighted when news of Mullah Omar’s death two years ago on the eve of talks with the Taliban in Pakistan – allegedly at the behest of anti-Ghani and anti-Pakistan forces in Afghanistan – led to an abrupt cancellation of the moot and raised serious doubts over the leadership and authority of his successor Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. Since then, a power struggle has ensued inside the Taliban that makes any resumption of dialogue difficult. All the more reason, therefore, for the others in the region – Pakistan, India, US and President Ashraf Ghani – to put their weight behind the Taliban faction that is ready to engage in constructive talks to end the conflict. A realistic assessment of possible scenarios and mutually beneficial approaches is desperately needed to stop the regional situation from deteriorating to everyone’s disadvantage.

One thing is critical to all these developments: stability of civil-military relations in Pakistan. General Sharif and Mr Sharif need to see eye to eye on most such issues. Unfortunately, as we have seen, ill-advised public statements by both sides can act as spoilers no less than aggressive attempts to encroach on the ambit of each other’s writ. Going forward, political maturity must be demonstrated by keeping personal egos in check.

Fate or Destiny?

TFT Issue: 18 Dec 2015

December 16 is now etched in our national consciousness, for a reason other than the fall of Dhaka in 1971. On that fateful day last year, the Taliban massacred 144 school children and teachers in Peshawar, compelling a fierce national consensus to eliminate all extremists and terrorists regardless of caste, creed or ethnicity.

Before December 16, 2015, the national security establishment and political leaders like Imran Khan (PTI), Munawar Hasan (JI), Maulana Fazal ur Rahman (JUI), etc, liked to make a distinction between “good” Taliban and “bad” Taliban. Others said the Taliban were “misguided Muslims” who should be talked back onto the true path. Some, like Munawar Hasan, went so far as to say that they were “soldiers of Islam” fighting a “jihad” against infidels at home and abroad and were therefore entitled to become “shaheeds” (martyrs) when they fell in battle, even against the Pakistan army defending the motherland. All the while, the good and bad Taliban went on killing soldiers and civilians alike until the death toll from their assassinations and bombs and suicide missions exceeded 40,000 in five years. December 16, 2014, changed this narrative. For now, the only good Taliban are dead Taliban.

Pakistan’s destiny is finally changing in perceptible ways. A 20-point National Action Plan was cobbled last year by the civil-military leadership of the country that posits terrorism as an “existential” threat to state and society. The anti-terrorist operation Zarb-e-Azb has been beefed up. The TTP has been degraded and scattered. Once-friendly TTP leaders like Khan Sajna and Hafiz Gul Bahadur have been killed or expelled across the border. Breakaway TTP factions like the Jamaat ul Ahrar and Sheharyar Masud Group are on the run. The death penalty is back as a deterrent. Nearly 200 have been executed to date. Eleven military courts for speedy justice have been sanctioned constitutionally. They have ordered executions in 27 out of the 150 terrorism cases on trail. Sectarianism is being targeted through “police encounters”. The top leaders of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat like Malik Ishaq, his two sons-lieutenants, plus Usman Saifullah and Haroon Bhatti have been eliminated. Sectarian incidents across the country have fallen by 50% and in Balochistan by 75%. The ASWJ has not been allowed to hold any hate-mongering “conferences” in the last six months. Preachers and publishers of subversive material are being arrested, especially in their strongholds in southern Punjab. Notorious seminaries and mosques are being monitored. PEMRA has advised the media not to publicize men and materials of 60 banned “terrorist” outfits and their affiliates. The Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty of Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed killer of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, and the President of Pakistan has rejected his mercy petition.

Significantly, too, there is a shift in the stance of the civil-military leadership in critical areas of foreign policy. Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Muslim bloc are no longer sacred cows to be followed blindly. It isn’t lost on anyone that they are the most relentless and ruthless exporters of extremist versions of Islam into Pakistan. The government has refused to join forces with them in the war in Yemen. Now it is raising eyebrows following the Saudi announcement of a 34 Sunni Muslim country coalition, in which Pakistan’s name is listed, to prosecute war against IS in the Middle East. The government is also acting against the recruitment of Islamists in southern Punjab for IS in the Middle East.

Particularly noteworthy is a recent statement by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in which he exhorts the nation to develop a “liberal” and democratic outlook and order. “Liberal” in Urdu translation has come to mean “azad khayali” or “free thought” which in turn implies some sort of Western-Modernist secular immorality. This is akin to the Urdu translation of “secular” as “ladeen” or “without religion and faith”. Both terms have been deliberately fashioned by Islamists and right wing ideologues to deny the growth of a vibrant pluralistic (liberal) secular nationhood in which a citizen’s caste, creed or faith is not the business of the state, as enjoined by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Mr Sharif’s recent formulation of Pakistan as a “liberal’ state is very welcome. It a far cry from the Islamist-Jihadist state propagated by politco-religious ideologues since the time of General Zia ul Haq, and seeks to build on the “enlightened moderation” philosophy of General Pervez Musharraf.

To be sure, much more lasting institutional change is required to protect Pakistan against the ravages of extremism that have taken root in the last three decades. Critically, the singular ideological-religious state narrative has to be revoked in the country’s schools. Mosques have to be regulated and restrained from propagating sectarian strife. Foreign funding for extremism has to be plugged. And so on.

But a concrete beginning has been made. The tragedy of December 16, 2015, must not be allowed to go in vain. The dismal fate of Pakistan must be transformed into a bright destiny for the country and all its generations to come.

Politics of sub-nationalisms

TFT Issue: 25 Dec 2015

The military establishment is in no mood to give any quarter to the MQM and PPP in Sindh. It kicked off its anti-terrorist operations earlier in the year by targeting MQM activists, provoking howls of protest from Altaf Hussain and his lieutenants. Then it lodged a case against all top MQM leaders in an anti-terrorist court. The PMLN federal government weighed in by including the name of Altaf Hussain in the Imran Farooq murder case. The PPP was next in line for allegedly harbouring, aiding and abetting terrorist funding, provoking Asif Zardari to explode against the generals. But the military remained undeterred. When the federal government refused to stop NAB from reopening graft cases against him, Mr Zardari thought discretion to be the better part of valour and fled the country. Matters came to a head four months ago when the military arrested Dr Asim Hussain, the minister-right hand man of both Asif Zardari and Altaf Hussain, and leaned on him to implicate both leaders in terrorism related activities.

The military is operating in the province through the Sindh Rangers on the basis of Constitutional Article 147 that requires the federal government to seek the permission of the Sindh government before enabling such anti-terror military operations under the Anti-Terrorism federal law. Owing to such tensions, the PPP government has become increasingly reluctant to sanction carte blanche rights to the Rangers, especially when such powers may be used against the government’s top dog administrators, politicians and allies in the province. A way out was seemingly found in the establishment of an “Apex Committee” to vet all actions by the Rangers. But this hasn’t worked because the military is not prepared to dilute its operations on the basis of any “political” considerations. Unfortunately, however, its foray into the domain of “corruption” has not earned it any laurels because it doesn’t have the legal expertise to prosecute such crimes and prove its charges. A tug of war has ensued: the military wants to keep Dr Asim Hussain in custody and proceed against him in an anti-terror court but the PPP government wants to set him free. Inevitably, the political battle has spilled over into the courts. When the provincial government refuses to act on the advice of the Rangers, the military establishment takes recourse to the judges of the anti-terror court and high court of Sindh. Now the stage is set for high noon.

Piqued, the Sindh government has extended the application of Constitutional Provision 147 to the Rangers writ in the province on two conditions: it is only for two months, and it bars the Rangers specifically from targeting the government’s political assets and allies. But the military establishment has refused to accept any restrictions on the Rangers’ course of action and the federal government has rejected the conditional summary while notifying the two months extension. Its argument is that the provincial government cannot interfere into the application and provisions of the federal anti-terror law.

So the ball is back in the PPP’s court. It can either petition the judges to strike down the federal government’s action in rejecting its conditional summary; or it can altogether revoke its permission under Article 147 that is enabling the Rangers to act; or it can huff and puff and threaten to pull the House down by joining hands with the MQM and PTI to destabilize the PMLN government in Islamabad.

The interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, is seemingly unbending. He claims that if the Sindh government doesn’t play ball he will recourse to other options. One such is to invoke Article 149 of the constitution that doesn’t require provincial approval for any federal action or order in the national interest. A more naked federal intervention is allowed by Article 245 that expressly protects all actions of the military in any area from the normal application of the writ jurisdiction of the high courts, a sort of martial law under a civilian umbrella. Governor’s Rule is a third option. But all these are beset with serious political problems and constitutional hurdles. All also imply a rupture in the current difficult political equilibrium among the political parties and between the civilians and the military. None of the stakeholders can afford this. So what is the way forward?

The Rangers should focus on purely anti-terrorist operations and refrain from attacking the core interests and assets of mainstream political parties which have been reinforced by the recent local body election results. The Sindh government should not get into a tangle with the military and federal government, nor unreasonably obstruct the anti-terrorist operation. The federal government must step in and restrain both sides from digging their heels in and massaging their egos.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has a very important role to play in charting the way forward. If he doesn’t engineer a compromise between the military and Sindh parties, he will be the biggest loser of all in the constitutional and political crisis that will inevitably follow.

Outlook for 2016

TFT Issue: 01 Jan 2016

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has survived three critical crises this year. If the Judicial Commission had held adversely against him, he would have had to leave office and order fresh elections. If the PTI had swept the local body elections in Punjab he would have had to face another round of allegations that the 2013 elections were stolen from the PTI, thereby giving Imran Khan a popular impetus to start a fresh round of dharnas in Punjab with the help of his newly elected grass roots supporters. If he hadn’t managed to keep the civil-military relationship on an even keel despite signs of turbulence in Sindh and on the borders with India and Afghanistan, he would have been seriously destabilized. Can he reckon on better prospects in 2016?

There is no doubt about it. He will have to contend with a fresh round of challenges that will test his political skills.

The civil-military relationship remains problematic. There are three major dimensions in this. First, the military wants a free hand to deal with Afghanistan, India and America. It wants Mr Sharif to keep signing on the dotted line on each item. So far, he hasn’t objected. But he is keener than the military to smoke the peace pipe with India. He believes that his agenda for economic growth and peoples’ welfare cannot be obtained without a peace dividend from India. On several occasions he has tripped over in his rush to offer the hand of “friendship” to Narendra Modi, only to be rebuked discreetly by the brass. Now his “friendship” with Indian steel magnate Sajjan Jindal is raising eyebrows in Rawalpindi and provoking the generals to grumble about “personal business interests” interfering with the “national interest”. Mr Sharif must make sure that in courting Mr Modi he is not too far out of step with GHQ unless he can demonstrate diplomatic success.

Second, the military also wants a free hand in dealing with terrorism. It is openly critical of the PMLN government’s inability or unwillingness to deliver on the political and economic dimensions of the National Action Plan. These include madrassah reforms and regulation; identifying and freezing sources of terrorist funding; beefing up investigation, prosecution, and judge/witness protection programs; FATA reforms; IDP rehabilitation; and so on. In Sindh, the military wants to include “criminal mafias” in its definition of terrorists, meaning politicians who aid, abet, harbour, protect or fund terrorists. This has seriously unnerved the PPP Sindh government and pitted it against the military and the federal government that is siding with it. In consequence, Mr Asif Zardari is cooling his heels in self-exile while his buddy Dr Asim Hussain is in the clink. If this issue is not resolved to the satisfaction of both the military and the PPP, the major loser will be Nawaz Sharif. He can’t afford to antagonise the military and he can’t afford to alienate the PPP and push it in the corner of the MQM and PTI. That would block legislation in the Senate and create an unmanageable and continuous ruckus in the National Assembly. It could even lead to a boycott of parliament by all three at some stage and make the PMLN vulnerable to the infection of conspiracy theories all over again.

Third, the military also wants to deal directly with the Afghan and American governments on how to help stabilise Afghanistan without enabling India to gain a firmer foothold in Kabul. It has finally come round to the idea of a “regional approach” to Afghanistan. This includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and America but not India. Presumably, Washington and Kabul will try and look after Indian interests. But this will not appease India and it may continue to muddy the waters. With the Taliban and Al-Qaeda resurging in Afghanistan, ISIS hovering in the wings and the Afghan government riven by squabbling over power sharing that is undermining its ability to fight the Taliban, the outlook for the “quadrilateral conference” is not bright. Without stabilising Afghanistan by degrading the Taliban and Al Qaeda, Pakistan will remain a target of terrorism, eroding prospects for stability and economic growth.

Mr Sharif thinks his major civilian challenge is to provide electricity to the people and energy to industry. True, but the critical factor here is the cost of this power. As things stand, even with zero power cuts by 2017, industry won’t be able to afford the high cost of power; it will lose its competitiveness in international markets and will have to cut down on production and jobs. But Mr Sharif needs to create jobs for 3 million youngsters every year. Without a radical reform of the tax structure and reprioritizing economic policy, which Mr Sharif is loath to undertake, there are no solutions.

Therefore, no “breakthroughs” are forecast on the economic and foreign policy fronts. More “muddling along” is the recipe for 2016. But another Model Town incident or breakdown in Sindh or repeat of Mumbai across the LoC could shake up the PMLN regime.

The Saudi Conundrum

TFT Issue: 08 Jan 2016

The House of Saud is flexing its muscle in the Middle East and beyond. After the installation of a pro-US Shi’ite regime in Iraq in 2003, it extended support to the Sunni opposition led by Al Qaeda’s Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Following the Arab spring in 2011-12, it intervened aggressively in Syria by supporting extremist Sunni forces against the Baathist regime. Last year, it went into Yemen all guns blazing against the Shi’ite Houthis. Last week it executed Nimr-al-Nimr, a Shi’ite cleric in its eastern oil rich Shi’ite province for demanding greater rights. Now it has severed diplomatic relations with Iran for protesting Nimr’s execution.

Saudi Arabia has cobbled a 34 nation Sunni alliance against Shi’ite “terrorism” and is pressurising Islamabad for material support. How should Pakistan respond?

Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran were once, like Pakistan, US-partners in the cold war against Soviet communism. But after the Iranian revolution in 1979, they became sworn enemies when the Saudis backed Saddam Hussain’s war with Iran for a decade in the 1980s. Pakistan wisely stayed out of the conflict, but Iran was cool, suspecting Islamabad of being a Trojan horse for the Saudi-American conspiracy to overthrow the Iranian regime. In 1987, there were riots during Hajj in which over 400 Shi’ite Iranians were killed, provoking Iranian mobs to attack the Saudi embassy in Teheran and compelling the Saudis to cut diplomatic relations with Iran after it began to threaten the oil lanes in the Gulf. Relations improved for a while under the moderate Iranian regime of President Hashmi Rafsanjani in the 2000s but nosedived again following reports of Iranian attempts to build a nuclear bomb. The Saudis then went so far as to encourage the US and Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear installations even as the international community was desperately trying to avoid inflaming the Middle East by negotiating a nuclear freeze with Teheran. Hajj riots in 2015 in which over 2000 people were killed, including over 400 Iranians, strained relations once again. Why is Saudi Arabia so anti-Shia?

The problem lies at home. The oil rich eastern seaboard provinces of Saudi Arabia are overwhelmingly Shi’ite. Since the Iranian revolution they have been emboldened to demand greater freedom and economic rights from the House of Saud. Instead of pacifying them, the House of Saud has chosen to opt for repression at home and military dominance and intervention in the region against Shi’ites. It has also unleashed its extremist Wahhabi clergy and ideology against Shi’ism all over the world. In short, the House of Saud has irrevocably embarked on a strategy to fuel a sectarian war in the region and beyond.

Until now, the Saudi influence in Pakistan has been limited to funneling money to extremist Sunni mullahs, mosques and non-state actors/groups. The jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan was exclusively led by Sunni groups and parties. The Saudis were active partners with Pakistan in recognizing the Sunni Taliban regime in 1997 and only backed off when the Taliban openly lent support to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda that was hostile to the Faustian bargain between the House of Saud and the USA – oil for Sunni-Wahhabi ideology. The backlash of these policies manifested itself in the rise of anti-Shia militias and Lashkars in Pakistan which eventually extended their tentacles and alliances into the domain of Al Qaeda, Taliban and now ISIS.

This has created a potentially volatile situation in Pakistan. The government of Nawaz Sharif has been prodded by the military under General Raheel Sharif to unfurl a National Action Plan to combat all forms of terrorism, including sectarianism, that pose an existential threat to state and society. According to General Sharif, sectarian-IS poses the greatest danger to Pakistan and the military will not allow it to take root. Therefore the military is encouraging the PMLN government to resort to extra judicial measures to degrade and eliminate the sectarian Lashkars. It is in this context of its geo-strategic sectarian agenda that any Pakistani alliance or cooperation with the House of Saud must be seen.

The Sharif government has wisely stayed out of the conflict in Yemen despite Saudi pressure because it was able to hold a debate in parliament that demonstrated a national consensus against any such interventionism that could lead to terrible sectarian backlash at home. Now it is on the horns of another dilemma when faced with the challenge of reconciling its long-term friendship and economic interests in Saudi Arabia with the grim prospects of dealing with the sectarian challenge at home that is bound to get a fillip if Pakistan enters the anti-Shia alliance brokered by the Saudis.

Pakistan must not get embroiled in the sectarian wars of the Middle-East. We are already facing problems on both borders with India and Afghanistan. Extreme Sunni ideologies are undermining our state and society. It is time to look inward and consolidate our gains in the war against extremism instead of renting ourselves out again to foreign powers for short term material gains.

The Man on Horseback

TFT Issue: 15 Jan 2016

Chief Of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif continues to hog the headlines. He is the point man in all the significant policy decisions taken by the Nawaz Sharif government on domestic and international issues. What General Sharif says and does is critical. Without the military’s practical input, many core issues cannot be resolved satisfactorily.

There are two pressing domestic issues: the war against terrorism and the war against corruption. If it hadn’t been for General Sharif, we would still have been pussy footing with the Taliban in FATA and the urban terrorist-criminal mafias in Karachi. On both counts he has led from the front and the PMLN government has followed. Indeed, the military under his leadership has acted in an unprecedentedly mature manner to stabilize polity. His predecessor, General Ashfaq Kayani, had either been too pusillanimous in not taking on the Taliban or too aggressive in destabilizing the PPP regime. The fact of the matter also is that if it hadn’t been for General Sharif, the hawkish remnants of the ancient military regime would have succeeded in toppling the PMLN government via Imran Khan’s dharnas in 2014. Now the general has moved forward on cleaning up his own stables. NAB has been advised to investigate land scams in DHA, some of which allegedly involve the brothers of General Kayani. This too is unprecedented. Charity for the “sacred cow” is seemingly beginning at home.

There are three pressing international issues: Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan and attempts to bring the civil war there to an end before its blowback irrevocably drowns Pakistan in a tidal wave of extremist Islam; Pakistan’s relations with India and attempts to smoke the peace pipe before proxy warring derails the main domestic agendas at hand; and Pakistan’s relations with the “Muslim” world and attempts to remain neutral before sectarian wars drag it into an orgy of bloodshed and disintegration. On each, General Sharif has acted with wisdom and courage and advised the PMLN government accordingly.

It is largely through General Sharif’s efforts that a quadrilateral commission comprising Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the US has been established to facilitate the process of an Afghan-led Afghan-owned solution to the civil war. This will serve to reduce the bickering between the Pakistani and Afghan intelligence services and governments about the responsibility and ability of each to deliver its part of the bargain. It will also facilitate a regional approach to the problem of terrorism, replacing the failed bilateral dialogues.

General Sharif’s input is also critical to the Indo-Pak dialogue. Everyone knows, and the Indians have long argued, that all the commitments of civilian governments in Pakistan amount to naught without full military backing. But with the appointment of General (retd) Naseer Janjua as Pakistan’s national security advisor on the advice of General Sharif, the Indians will get what they see and hear. That is why the NSAs of both countries are clearing the strategic decks for the formal bureaucracies in the ministries to get cracking on the tactical details. Indeed, one reason why the recent terrorist attack on India’s Pathankot air base by allegedly Pakistan-based terrorists hasn’t derailed the proposed talks agenda is because the NSAs are in contact to anticipate and act to remove the bumps in the road. Indeed, it is as unprecedented for the Indians to say they will not allow vested interests in Pakistan to succeed by such divisive tactics as it is for the Pakistanis to say that they will take immediate action against Pakistani non-state claimants of responsibility for the attack in order to reassure the other side that they mean to pursue conflict-resolution seriously and sincerely. The arrests of Jaish-e-Mohammad activists in southern Punjab, again an unprecedented act, are aimed at signaling the resolve of the military establishment to push the peace process vigorously with India.

General Sharif has also played a pivotal role in making sure that Pakistan stays clear of the sectarian conflict in the Middle East provoked by Saudi Arabia and its Sunni state allies. Left to his own devices, for both personal and economic reasons, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would have found it impossible to resist inducements and pressure to join the Saudi quest for forcible regime change in Syria and Iran and direct military intervention in Yemen. No military ruler in the past has had the courage to stand up to the Saudis or resist the lure of their lucre. But we have managed to retain their goodwill while extracting billions worth of export orders for munitions and internal security contingents.

General Sharif’s success lies in establishing a good working relationship with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. This civil-military balance is the key to national security. On all these issues, however, it is the military establishment that has altered some of its core assumptions and paradigms. The credit must go to General Raheel Sharif for nudging his institution to become part of the solution instead of being wedded to the past when it has frequently been part of the problem.

Pathankot fallout

TFT Issue: 22 Jan 2016

The Pathankot attack by Jaish-e-Muhammad jihadis based in Punjab, Pakistan, has pushed Indian and Pakistani leaders to try and salvage a dialogue to normalise relations. This followed a meeting between the prime ministers of the two countries recently in Lahore. Both sides say that the foreign secretary talks on the full range of issues confronting them, especially on terrorism, originally scheduled for 15 January, 2016, have been postponed pending a report by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) constituted by Pakistan. The soft “postponement” is a significant departure from past practice when an incident like this would have led to outright cancellation.

This time, too, both sides have been careful to send out the right signals to each other about their sincerity in trying to normalise. The Pakistanis have told the Indians that JM’s leader Masud Azhar and some of his lieutenants have been detained and the Punjab home minister, Rana Sanaullah, says the inquiry report of the SIT will be made public. The Indians say they have handed over details of the terrorists to the Pakistanis, including voice samples and transcripts of their conversations with their handlers in Pakistan, and will allow the SIT to visit the Pathankot air base in connection with the inquiry.

For both countries, these decisions weren’t easy to make. The Pakistani military establishment has rarely ticked off the jihadi organisations, let alone detain their leaders, because they see them as strategic assets in the asymmetric military equation with India pending a long term settlement of the core dispute of Kashmir. Even during the regime of General Pervez Musharraf, the likes of Masud Azhar weren’t detained, despite evidence that JM activists had a role to play in the two assassination attempts on Musharraf’s life. The Indians, too, have bent over backwards not to fling the usual accusations at the Pakistani military for sabotaging the peace process. Indeed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has unusually remarked that he will not allow vested interests in Pakistan and nay sayers in India to dissuade him from continuing on the track of normalisation. In side-lining the Indian defense and home ministers, Manohar Parrikar and Ragnath Singh respectively, from making Pakistan policy – both had publicly opposed the proposed visit by the Pakistani SIT to Pathankot — Modi has sent out a powerful message. He has signalled his determination to move forward in the company of the Indian “establishment” led by NSA Ajit Doval, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar.

Nonetheless, the Pathankot incident cannot be brushed away easily by Pakistan. If the Pakistanis don’t quickly deliver concrete results to show their seriousness of purpose against the jihadis who perpetrated the attack, the Indians will revert to their traditional angry stance of distrust and hostility and the international community will side with them. The Mumbai inquiry and prosecution of Lashkar-e-Taiba activist Zaki ur Rahman Lakhvi is still pending in Pakistan with both sides accusing the other of lack of cooperation. Pakistan cannot now afford to take the same positions on the Pathankot attack without alienating world opinion and exposing its hypocrisy.

This is going to be a tough act for Pakistan to follow. While the jihadi tap has been officially closed for infiltration across the border into Kashmir since 2004 — when the military establishment under General Pervez Musharraf began to toy with out-of-the-box thinking on Kashmir — the jihadi organisations in Punjab and Azad Kashmir are very much alive, with hardliners splintering away to join the Taliban or launch attacks on their own against India as in Mumbai in 2008 and recently Gurdaspur and Pathankot. The establishment policy has been to keep a lid on these organisations under their existing leaders in order to maintain leverage. Any attempt to forcibly disband them or making sweeping arrests would have led to an armed revolt within these organisations against their pro-establishment leaders, with dangerous consequences for a military that already has its hands full containing terrorists from the TTP, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and IS, separatist insurgents in Balochistan, and criminal mafias in Karachi. The recent attack on Peshawar’s Bacha Khan University is a tragic and grim reminder of the enormity of the task at hand.

Under the circumstances, India needs to understand and appreciate the difficulties that beset the Pakistani military as it tries to steer Pakistan out of the clutches of its self-created Frankensteins in order to cope with their unintended consequences. But the Pakistani military cannot expect to get the benefit of the doubt from India and the international community without taking some tough measures. Regardless of its avowed inability to frontally “take on” the jihadi organisations, some concrete action must be taken against their hardliners who continue to create serious problems for state and society, along the lines of the calibrated action taken against the LJ. Indeed, any attempt to soft pedal or obfuscate the Pathankot incident like the Mumbai incident is only going to increase distrust and hostility in India and the international community and rebound on Pakistan.

General in his labyrinth

TFT Issue: 29 Jan 2016

COAS General Raheel Sharif is making headlines again. He says he is neither seeking nor will accept any extension in service beyond retirement in November 2016. He has also responded swiftly to the terrorist attack last week on the Bacha Khan University campus by ordering military intelligence to track down the planners, abettors and originators of terrorism and then called up President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul to present evidence of Afghan complicity. Both responses call for appropriate comment.

General Sharif’s decision to step down this year as scheduled has received a resounding welcome from all. It is just as well that the PMLN government has quickly disclaimed rumours that it was even thinking of some such thing. General Sharif felt the need to make a statement because of late the media had begun to speculate on the subject and make it controversial. In view of the unsavoury controversies triggered by the extension granted to his predecessor, General Ashfaq Kayani, by the PPP government, which discredited Kayani, General Sharif rightly felt that he should scotch such rumours quickly, especially since his credibility is at an all-time high for being a soldier’s soldier par excellence.

Some people think he should have ignored the speculation and carried on regardless because he has 11 months to go before retirement. They argue that he might become a “lame duck” in the middle of a critical campaign against terrorism for which initiative he has singularly been credited. Others have clutched at the need for “strategic continuity” at a time when Pakistan is confronted with multiple geo-political challenges in which General Sharif’s input is vital.

The “lame duck” argument doesn’t wash. An army chief is an army chief until he doffs his uniform. The rigid discipline in the army ensures that his word is law until the new chief takes over. A forthright chief like General Sharif with so many laurels to his credit, and with strong public and institutional backing, is not about to become a lame duck.

The “continuity” argument was trotted out in the case of General Kayani by the then prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, even though what was urgently needed was not continuity in the military doctrine in practice at the time (that had become part of the problem rather than the solution) but continuity of the PPP government that was reeling from challenges to its authority from multiple sources and the extension was given to forestall any presumed latent ambitions of General Kayani’s. But in the case of General Sharif, the “continuity” argument carries more weight because he has been singularly responsible for the paradigm shift in anti-terrorism policy that needs to be carried to its logical end. However, this policy now has the unequivocal support of all sections of the political spectrum and public and any new army chief will not find it easy to change course. Indeed, General Sharif’s success lies in institutionalising this paradigm shift by promoting a new class of senior officers who generally share this outlook and will defend it vigorously. So there should be no disquiet on this front too.

General Sharif has two bigger challenges to deal with this year. The first is to bring the Taliban to the table and nudge them to participate in a peace process in Afghanistan. The second is to stitch up some sort of stable relationship with India so that Pakistan can get on with confronting the challenge on its western border which is posing serious internal problems.

Afghanistan, however, is going to be a long haul. The internal power struggle within the Taliban following the death of Mullah Umar will not allow any faction to take a “soft” or opportunist position vis a vis the Kabul regime. Equally, the ability of the Ghani regime to beat the Taliban to the negotiating table is decreasing by the day in view of the internal squabbles between the factions representing the Pakhtuns, Uzbeks and Tajiks. So the quadrilateral dialogue may not take off. This has adverse consequences for Pakistan because it doesn’t give General Sharif any ability to leverage action against the Pakistani Taliban sheltering in Afghanistan from where they are launching their operations.

Similarly, India is not about to bend over backwards to accommodate Pakistan. Following Pathankot, it will demand concrete action against the Jaish-e-Mohammad in general and Maulana Masood Azhar in particular. This is easier said than done. General Sharif will have to think twice before taking on the jihadis frontally at the behest of India. To add to his woes, the international community led by the US and EU are breathing down his neck to take stern action against the Lashkar-e-Tayba as well.

If General Sharif can effectively tackle these issues, a strong case can be made out for his extension even if he is personally disinclined because so much is genuinely at stake in the national interest. But the time for that assessment has not yet come.

Intriguing questions

TFT Issue: 05 Feb 2016

Several interesting, and seemingly contradictory, developments are taking place. On the one hand, the Sindh chief minister has extended the writ of the Rangers in the province under Constitution Article 147 by three months and that too without any of the qualifications raised the last time round. On the other hand, the army chief has made it clear that the Rangers are now poised to enter the next stage of their cleanup operation in Karachi and will brook no obstacles in their path. As a measure of its determination, the military has finally produced and paraded Uzair Baloch, the well known terrorist gangster of Lyari with core connections to the PPP leadership, as a key element in the path of degrading and dismantling the terrorism network in the province. The testimony of Baloch is bound to put the PPP in the dock, despite sanguine statements from the leadership.

The declarations and role of the PMLN’s interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, are also intriguing. On the one hand, he is explicitly putting down Khurshid Shah, the PPP leader of the opposition in the Senate. On the other hand, a phone call from him to the Sindh Chief Minister seems to have persuaded the latter to quietly extend the term of the Rangers in Sindh. The stunning silence of the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, in all these matters is no less fascinating, especially since it is none other than Nisar Ali Khan who has alleged a “deal” (“muk mukaa”) between the PMLN and PPP.

There is no doubt about the fact that an “understanding” exists between the PPP and PMLN whereby neither will do anything to strengthen the military establishment’s hand against the other because, carried to its logical end, all the civilians, rulers and oppositionists, could end up as losers. But this “understanding” was sorely tested recently when the Rangers went for Dr Asim Hussain and all the Sindh government’s protestations, no less than Asif Zardari’s outburst against the generals, fell on deaf ears in the Prime Minister’s House. This provoked the PPP leaders to threaten to end their “soft” opposition to the PMLN in parliament. But when they didn’t join Imran Khan’s relentless campaign to derail the PMLN government and trigger mid term elections, it was clear that the “understanding” between the PMLN and PPP was stronger than imagined.

Now a new test is on the cards. This has to do with the interrogation and revelations of Uzair Baloch who was quietly extradited from the UAE and kept in custody for over a year by the military establishment. If they have now decided to try him in full public view, it can only mean that they will go after those in the PPP who cultivated and nourished him and benefited from his criminality. But this is bound to infuriate the PPP Sindh government and leadership even more than the arrest and interrogation of Dr Asim Hussain and strain the “understanding” between the PPP and PMLN to breaking point.  Under the circumstances, how has the Sindh government given the Rangers a fresh lease of life for three months? Has it been given solid assurances by Nisar Ali Khan that Uzair Baloch’s testimony won’t become a media trial of the PPP just like Saulat Mirza’s testimony became a millstone around the MQM’s neck?

The other interesting development is taking place in London regarding the fate of MQM supremo Altaf Hussain. The British government has decided to go slow with his prosecution under money laundering charges. This has surprised the MQM leadership in London because, fearing the worst, Altaf Hussain had set up a supreme council to take all decisions following the expected cancellation of his bail and likely imprisonment. The British government and Pakistani authorities are also deadlocked on the matter of extraditing the alleged murderers of Imran Farooq who are in custody in Pakistan in exchange for the separatist Baloch leaders holed out in London. It appears that the Pakistanis want Altaf Hussian tried and jailed in London on one count or the other and the Baloch extradited to Pakistan for trial but the British authorities are not prepared to do that. What abiding interest the British have in Altaf Hussain is not clear.

No less fascinating and unprecedented is the sweeping gag order on the utterances of Altaf Hussain by a high court in Lahore. Mr Hussain’s name and that of the MQM does not figure in the list of banned terrorists or terrorist organisations flogged by Pemra. So while the media may be ordered to black out any anti-state or anti-military outbursts of the MQM leader, it seems patently unjust to gag him thus. This is the same MQM and the same Altaf Hussain who were thriving “business” partners of the military establishment under General Zia ul Haq and General Pervez Musharraf.

The answers to all these questions lie with General Raheel Sharif. We should therefore know soon enough which way the wind will blow.

Privatisation and public interest

TFT Issue: 12 Feb 2016

The Essential Services Act has been invoked by the PMLN federal government to put down the workers of PIA who are striking against the proposed privatization of the airline. Two PIA strikers have been killed in the standoff. Tens of thousands of passengers have been stranded. Billions are being lost in revenues every day by an airline drowning in debt. The government has agreed to push back its privatization plans by six months. But this has only irritated the IMF without appeasing the strikers. And so it goes on. What are the rights and wrong of the case?

First, the context. The right to strike is constitutionally embedded. But like all rights, it is subject to restraint when it conflicts with some other rights. Its legitimacy is also subject to the legitimacy of its demands when these are in conflict with other equally if not more legitimate requirements of law or public good. Nothing is absolute. Much the same logic applies to the use of force to resolve issues. The right to use force to uphold the law is a critical constitutional requirement of the modern state. But it is subject to degrees of restraint and can be challenged. It is also true that monopolistic enterprises are intrinsically against the public good because they tend to be inefficient, high-cost, corrupt and unaccountable, more so when they are a burden on the public exchequer.

Now, the issues. PIA is grossly overstaffed and inefficient because political parties and governments have, by turns, treated it as an employment agency for political patronage rather than as a public sector enterprise subject to corporate rules. That is why it has now become a huge burden on the treasury requiring constant financial bailouts. It gobbles up public money that can be better used on other public welfare projects. Internal reform is ruled out because public sector rules of service are over-protected by the courts. The only way forward is to bring in a strategic investor with full management rights to bring it in line with corporate best practices. This will entail downsizing as well as rightsizing and employee accountability. That is the rub. The PIA unions certainly have a right to know how this will be done and how their legitimate interests will be protected against avaricious or exploitative private sector investors. But they have no right to blackmail the government and harass the public. They cannot also continue with corrupt and inefficient practices and expect the public to foot the bill indefinitely.

The PPP government had thought of a reasonable strategic alliance between PIA and Turkish Airlines. It involved handing over Western destinations to the Turks while expanding Eastern operations. But the aggressive unions would have none of it. Now the PMLN government is talking to Etihad Airlines. This is the way forward. Airline alliances have been shown to be mutually profitable and in the public interest. If such privatization leads to significant expansion in service efficiency, routes, aircraft, etc., then there will be more rightsizing than downsizing. Golden handshakes, with Finance Ministry and World Bank support, should take care of unavoidable redundancies. Properly planned and executed, with transparent and equitable employee handling, the national interest would be well served.

It is unfortunate that the PMLN government tried to obfuscate the issue of privatization by pretending that employee interests would not be adversely affected. This provoked the unions to take an aggressive and uncompromising stance that, in turn, compelled the government to use force in order to break up the strike. By being reasonable, both sides could have avoided the violent impasse that followed. At the end of the day, the opposition was true to form and tried to exploit the situation to run the government down, regardless of the rights and wrongs in the national interest.

When lumbering public sector banks were privatized in the 1990s for much the same reasons, similar employee related issues cropped up and had to be dealt with. When an attempt was made by the last PPP government to sell off the Karachi Steel Mills because it remains a millstone around the neck of every government, the media and Supreme Court stopped it from happening because jobs were on the line and cheap short-term populism triumphed over the longer term national interest. At times like these, no one pauses to consider the price that the tens of millions of Pakistanis, as opposed to the few thousand employees at stake, have to pay for carrying the burden of the unnecessary staff employed for political patronage purposes.

It is good that there has been a belated settlement of sorts between the government and the PIA unions that has led to the resumption of PIA services. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the doctors are striking and crippling health services, compelling the PTI government to clutch at the Essential Services Act too. Hopefully, the lessons of the PIA strike will not be lost on the protagonists in KPK.

NAB – behave, or else

TFT Issue: 19 Feb 2016

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is unhappy with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for not closing the file on corruption cases launched against the Sharif family by the Musharraf regime. This followed the transformation of PMLN’s Ehtesab Bureau into NAB by the military government following the coup of 1999. Ex President Asif Zardari is angry at NAB for not closing the file on corruption cases launched against him by the PMLN’s Ehtesab Bureau after the PMLN won the 1997 elections, and for going after his supporters in the Sindh government on the pretext of terrorism funding at the behest of the current military establishment. And the great anti-corruption campaigner, Imran Khan, has now gone so far as to try and dilute the law governing the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa accountability commission that his party set up with such fanfare not long ago because his own commission has started to target corruption in high office beginning with the KP PTI chief minister Pervez Khattak. In short, politicians of all shades are banding together to take the sting out of their own accountability commissions headed by hand picked bureaucrats or retired generals. What’s going on?

The notion of political accountability (Ehtesab Commission) was mooted by the caretaker government set up by President Farooq Leghari in November 1996 after he dismissed Benazir Bhutto from office. But this quickly degenerated into a political witch-hunt against Ms Bhutto and Mr Zardari because President Leghari could not afford to let them get back into power. Mr Sharif appointed a henchman, Saif ur Rahman, to beef up the Ehtesab Bureau and go after his political opponents. And when General Musharraf seized power in 1999, he made NAB into a powerful military tool to bring all his political opponents in the PPP and PMLN to heel. In short, accountability in Pakistan under three regimes has only served the political purpose of the government in power. It has not been even-handed or transparent. No one remembers the name of the inconsequential judge who briefly headed President Leghari’s discredited Ehtesab Commission. Mr Sharif’s Goebbels, Saif ur Rahman, was jailed after the coup and let off after cooperating with the military government, only to disappear into the sands of Qatar. Two of Mr Zardari’s appointees, a senior bureaucrat and an ex-Navy chief, quit after being hauled over the coals by Iftikhar Chaudhry’s aggressive supreme court that was out to get Mr Zardari after its popular restoration. And Mr Nawaz Sharif’s current appointee, an ex-army bureaucrat, has been pulled in different directions by the supreme court, the military establishment and the sitting government to deliver on conflicting interests, leading to speculation that he too may not last his term. Certainly, the public threat to “sort out” NAB – hold it accountable – was first hurled by Pervez Rashid, the federal minister who speaks for the prime minister, and has now been repeated by Mr Sharif himself. Apparently, moves are afoot for the PPP and PMLN to join hands and amend the NAB law so that a “bi-partisan” parliamentary committee can oversee NAB’s operations, akin to the sort of dilution in the law sought by Imran Khan’s government in KP.

The original spirit behind the various accountability commissions was always politically motivated. That is why, despite some eminently commendable anti-corruption recoveries, the process has been tainted. Additional internal pull and push pressures within NAB have been generated by the civil-military divide – it is still stuffed at the decision-making level by retired military officers whose primary loyalty is to the military establishment whose contempt for “bloody civilians” is institutionally inbred. It is also remarkable that, despite three long bouts of military rule spanning nearly thirty years, not a single senior serving or retired army officer has been punished for corruption by NAB, the exception being an ex Navy chief who was conveniently made to cough up (and then let go) after stories of his corruption became legion. Indeed, army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, found a novel way just before he retired to protect several retired generals accused of corrupt practices by “re-hiring” them into the military so that they could not be subject to civilian laws of accountability and prosecution.

To be fair, though, the military establishment under General Raheel Sharif, has told NAB to go after any military target if so warranted under corruption charges. That is why a NAB investigation is now underway in a DHA scam allegedly involving a brother of ex-army chief Kayani. Whether this will amount to anything significant in the end is another matter. Certainly the involvement of DHA military officials in facilitating the scam has not so far been adequately investigated.

The military now wants to extend its “anti-terrorism corruption” drive from Karachi to Punjab. Considering how the Zardari regime has fared in Sindh at the hands of the Rangers, Corps Commander and NAB, it doesn’t require rocket science to understand the dangerous implications of this for the PMLN. Hence Mr Sharif’s public warning to NAB to behave, “or else”.


Take a bow, Team PSL

TFT Issue: 26 Feb 2016

The Pakistan Super League (PSL) has been a long time coming. But in the end, it was a resounding success. The stadiums in Dubai and Sharjah were generally full and TV ratings in Pakistan hit unprecedented highs. Across the globe, including in India, tens of millions were glued to TV screens and/or online websites. Social media is awash with joy and praise.

This is the single most significant event in Pakistan’s cricketing history, more than even the World Cup win in 1992 and the T20 Cup win in 2009. The private sector’s financial involvement in cricket is going to change the landscape of domestic sport by freeing it from bureaucratic shackles and giving it a long overdue shot in the arm in line with international best practices. The close interaction of our youngsters with the top cricketers of the world will impart a new learning experience and imbue a fierce competitive spirit in them. The PSL will also come home step by step and thereby pave the way for full ICC members to send their teams to play Pakistan in Pakistan.

Of course, there were many hurdles along the way. The Pakistan Cricket Board management was of the view that if PSL couldn’t be held in Pakistan there was no point in holding it in the UAE where crowds would be thin and expenses high. It also felt that it lacked the expertise to organize such a league in line with the best leagues of the world. In 2013, the PCB wasted crores of rupees in exploring the idea of a super league in the UAE but abandoned the project. In 2014, it tried to outsource it altogether but failed again. Then the PCB acquired a new command, which set up a PSL Governing Council (GC) that got a new team of professionals and hired foreign consultants to advise on the PSL project. The GC took the plunge barely six months before a window of opportunity in February 2016 when all Pakistani and some international players were free from their international and domestic commitments.

Meanwhile, the Masters Champions League had muddied the waters by securing all the UAE stadiums in February 2016. The PSL tried to dissuade MCL without success. Then Team PSL went exploring to Qatar but couldn’t muster the required logistical support. It returned to Dubai and entered into some hard negotiations with the Emirates Cricket Board, finally managing to secure two stadiums for 15 days, with some overlap with the MCL. The looming India-Pakistan series in December 2015 in the UAE also cast a shadow. The broadcasters who provide the financial spine of all cricket matches weren’t enthusiastic about an upstart PSL that was scheduled just after the big-item bilateral Indo-Pak series and just before the ICC Asia Cup in Feb-March 2016 and T20 Championship in April. It was argued that with so much top cricket coming, there wouldn’t be sufficient financial juice in the advertising and sponsors market for an untried product like the PSL.

Undeterred, Team PSL invited bids from broadcasters. Only one –Ten Sports – showed up and offered a pittance. Not a single Pakistani channel had faith in the PSL. Suddenly, the project seemed stillborn. But Team PSL persevered. It cast around for the big media buying houses in Karachi. Only one showed some interest. Intense negotiations yielded a halfway house. PTV and TEN and GEO were then contacted for buying broadcasting time. Everybody – Venues, Broadcasters, Media Buying Houses – had PSL over a barrel. Take it or leave it, they said smugly.

Team PSL fought to whittle down exhorbitant demands. With high expenses forecast because of venue, production, foreign players and logistics costs, pressure mounted to increase non-broadcast revenue streams. Team PSL went into high gear, spreading the net for big business franchisees and sponsors. This was make or break. Thankfully, a crop of enthusiastic but hard-nosed franchisees and sponsors turned up, paving the way for PSL to scramble to the UAE one month later with pocket money to launch a campaign to lure the crowds to stadiums on working days. Somewhere in between, the team found time to lodge the franchisees in five star hotels in Dubai, apprise them of anti-corruption measures and establish Intel operations to deter match-fixing.

The PSL is a multi-dimensional, complex, difficult and multi-million dollar project. It has kicked off with a bang. The venues have got their pound of flesh. The advertisers and sponsors have got the eyeballs they wanted. The players have got bagsful of money. The franchisees are delighted with the increased value of their asset after the first edition and demand for a sixth and seventh team is already manifest. The PCB is smacking its lips in anticipation of forthcoming editions of the league. Most wonderfully, tens of millions of Pakistanis have got the passionate cricket they longed for. Indeed, the world has stood up and noted PSL with appreciation.

Well done, Team PSL. Take a bow.

Significant developments

TFT Issue: 04 Mar 2016

Certain interesting developments cry out for comment. The Punjab Assembly has unanimously passed the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Bill. The federal government has rejected the mercy petition of Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed assassin of ex-Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, and executed him. The government has lodged an FIR in Gujranwala against unnamed terrorists who crossed the border from Pakistan to attack the Indian airbase in Pathankot. The NAB has not only reopened inquiries into the alleged corruption of the ruling Sharif family in the 1990s but is also sniffing around Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s ongoing pet development projects.

On the face of it, each of these facts is significant enough. But there seems to be an invisible thread tying them together that makes the sum of these parts greater than the whole. Consider.

The passing of the pro-women bill in Punjab is no mean achievement. The list of crimes includes abatement of an offence, domestic, emotional, psychological and economic abuse, “stalking” and cyber crime. The bill was proposed in May 2015 but lay in cold storage because of in-house objections even by those belonging to the ruling party. Now, suddenly, amidst meek protests by the religious parties and groups, including the mullah-led Council of Islamic Ideology, the assembly has woken up to unanimously pass the bill without any amendments. The Sharifs are known to tread warily in matters close to the hearts of the mullahs. How come they have suddenly mustered the courage to pass such “liberal” legislation?

Much the same question came to mind when the Punjab police suddenly swung into action some months ago to contrive “police encounters” to eliminate key sectarian terrorist leaders who had for years gone scot free. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s public gesture to showcase Sharmin Obaid-Chinoy’s Oscar winning documentary on honour killings in the PM House, followed by the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, is in the same mould. All these actions risk the wrath of the mullahs from the pulpit and street. How come the mullahs haven’t reacted violently? Indeed, there is not a peep from the Defence Council of Pakistan comprising all the jihadi forces that has hitherto spilled over into the streets whenever “Islam has been in danger”? In fact, the lodging of a case in Gujranwala against jihadis for attacking the Pathankot airbase in India was tailor-made for provoking them, yet not a leaf has stirred in their headquarters in Muridke or Bahawalpur.

Clearly, the government has been encouraged by the military establishment to get on with all such actions and the message has also gone out to the Fundos not to make a “cause celebre” out of these developments. Without such assurances, the Sharifs would not have risked instability by alienating them. The clearest exposition of this is not the tacit admission (case in Gujranwala) by the military establishment that some jihadi cross border activity does indeed originate in Pakistan but, more importantly, that it is frowned upon and will be curtailed in the larger national interest. This is a message not just to India but also to the larger international community that the Pakistani military establishment is keen to woo. The appointment of Lt Gen (retd) Naseer Khan Janjua as National Security Advisor and the key negotiator with India and Afghanistan is aimed to sending this message no less than the strategic dialogue between Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz and Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington.

If the military establishment under General Raheel Sharif seems keen to amend the contours of its historic alliance with the mullahs in the formation of a national narrative, the mainstream parties also see merit in challenging the same for the sake of stabilizing Pakistan. This “national narrative” spawning Pan Islamism has led inevitably to the religious radicalization of Pakistanis – from the Mujhahideen of the 1980s to the Jihadis of the 1990s to the Taliban of 2000s and finally to Daish — and now poses an existential threat to the nation-state. This realization has dawned on the military since the outgrowth of the Pakistani Taliban in an internal war that continues to exact a heavy toll of soldiers and civilians alike.

The military’s strategic views on the future of Afghanistan are also changing. The consolidation of Afghan nationalism makes it impossible for Pakistan to see Afghanistan as some sort of strategic adjunct. Similarly, the military’s view of the Afghan Taliban is now realistically framed in an Afghan-led Afghan-owned reconciliation process instead of the earlier policy in which the road to Kabul led through GHQ in Rawalpindi. In order to establish its own credibility, the military under General Sharif has spurred NAB to spare no one, neither the prime minister nor an ex-army chief and assorted retired generals.

It is too early to say that these developments are more than mere tactical tweaks. But we should know for sure if General Sharif accepts an extension in service or when a new army chief takes over and pursues the same path as his predecessor.

Déjà vu?

TFT Issue: 11 Mar 2016

The military establishment has signalled its decision to knock out Altaf Hussain and create an alternate MQM leadership that disavows violent criminality, terrorism and links with India. All this while continuing to represent the hopes and aspirations of the muhajir community of urban Sindh.

The return of Altaf Hussain’s once-favourite ex-Mayor Karachi, Mustafa Kamal, and ex-henchman, Anis Qaimkhani, from exile is touted as a pointer in that direction. Both gentlemen have been joined by MQM-MPA Dr Saghir to denounce their ex-great leader Altaf Hussain as evil incarnate and pledge their determination to form a new party to represent muhajirs.

If there is a sense of déjà vu, we can hardly be blamed. From 1992-1996, the military establishment led by Generals Asif Nawaz, Waheed Kakar and Jehangir Karamat, went after the MQM hammer and tongs, creating the Haqqiqi faction of Afaq and Amir. But the policies of two army chiefs have muddied the waters. From 1989-91, General Mirza Aslam Beg joined hands with the MQM to overthrow the Benazir Bhutto government and then destabilize the Nawaz Sharif government. And from 1999 to 2008, General Pervez Musharraf embraced the MQM, gave it political succour and revived it as a full fledged adjunct of state policy in order to thwart the PPP in Sindh in the same manner in which he crafted the PMLQ to weaken the PMLN in Punjab. During this decade, the MQM entrenched itself in the bowels of urban Sindh as a terrorist organization protected by the state. It is no coincidence that both generals were “muhajirs” with avowed interventionist political agendas while the generals who have given it short shrift were not muhajirs and had no interventionist ambitions.

In short, we can draw the rough conclusion that when an army chief is inclined towards political intervention, he has no qualms about allying with the devil to further his ambitions. We can also draw the more significant conclusion that such interventions have proved disastrous for state and society. They end up distorting the political system and polluting the political environment by creating monsters in the form of non-state actors. These then become uncontrollable existential threats to the state itself. The jihadi groups, the Taliban and the MQM all fall in this category.

A string of political interventions by the military establishment under General Raheel Sharif, however, is in a class all of its own. The army under General Sharif has not overthrown the elected government of the day. Indeed, it has not sought to impose any opportune political policies on the Nawaz Sharif government. In fact, it has consciously reversed its pro-Taliban, pro-Jihad and pro-MQM policies in no uncertain manner in order to give the political government greater scope in foreign and domestic policy and also to stabilize the polity. If there are running tensions with the PPP in Sindh and PMLN in Islamabad, these emanate more from the anti-terrorist-criminal “clean-up” agenda at hand than any hidden agenda to weaken and discredit the civil dispensation as a prelude to seizing power.

Under the circumstances, if there is some justification in dispensing with our usual dose of cynicism at the political engineering currently underway in Karachi, it is still worth asking whether or not this will yield fruit or be stillborn as similar efforts in the past.

Altaf Hussain is still alive and kicking. Indeed, he seems to have had a reprieve from the British government recently that has deliberately slow-tracked the money laundering and murder case against him. He has fortified himself by lining up the likes of Nadeem Nusrat and Mohammad Anwar as his successors in the event he himself is neutralized in any manner – both gentlemen being his point men with India and the UK. His lieutenants in Karachi led by Farooq Sattar are going to try and rally the faithful to rout the proposed rump led by Mustafa Kamal and Anis Qaimkhani. Unless the military establishment is successful in nudging disgruntled MQM leaders who have made themselves scarce in recent times to come out of hiding and join the rump, this move will end in failure. It will make a second attempt later down the line even more difficult. The establishment will also have to be careful not to invite discredited criminals to join the rump if its own credibility is not to be challenged. The presence of Anis Qaimkhani aimed at giving the rump some muscle is already disquieting. For a long time, he was the point man for many ill-conceived and criminally executed orders of Altaf Hussain.

The PPP and PMLN are quiet, watching from the sidelines. They would dearly love this minus-One formula to succeed. Therefore, having taken the plunge, the military establishment cannot now afford any halfway house. This initiative must gather political speed and clout, otherwise it is going to fizzle out in a whimper. In the event, Altaf Hussain could remerge as a stronger leader than before and become a bigger headache for all.

Fear of Zarb-e-Azb

TFT Issue: 18 Mar 2016

COAS General Raheel Sharif says that the military operation in FATA is concluding successfully. He explained that troops in the Shawal valley near the Afghan border, where many Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are holed out, are in the last stages of consolidating their control.

This is good news. Zarb-e-Azb began in uncertain circumstances in 2014. General Ashfaq Kayani had dithered over the issue, admitting that the Taliban were an “existential threat to the state”, stopping short of unleashing the full might of the state against them. But all this changed with the arrival of General Raheel Sharif who immediately determined to launch Zarb-e-Azb in FATA. However, he was thwarted by the likes of Imran Khan, Jamaat-e-Islami, JUI, and other religious parties and groups who insisted that peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban — which had failed at least a dozen times in the past — should be the preferred route to ending the Taliban menace. Matters didn’t improve when the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, also balked at the last minute after having given the green light to Zarb-e-Azb, and authorized Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and a clutch of mullahs to start talking to the Taliban. The Taliban exploited the disarray among policy makers in Islamabad, stretched the talks and used the hiatus to scatter like the wind from their strongholds in Mir Ali and Miranshah in North Waziristan, regrouping in the Shawal valley and across the border in Afghanistan. Six months later, the Army Public School attack in Peshawar by the Taliban dispelled doubts in the mind of the civilians and General Raheel Sharif went after the Taliban, all guns blazing.

Zarb-e-Azb has been a resounding success, despite losing the decisive element of surprise in the beginning owing to political prevarication. The Taliban have been flushed out and routed and killed. Their suicide-bomber and improvised explosive device manufacturing factories have been destroyed and shut down. Their sleeper cells in other provinces have been exposed and degraded. Statistics are at hand to prove how the number of Taliban attacks has plunged across the country. Accordingly, General Raheel Sharif is now focusing on the next stage of the multi-dimensional operation. “There is a need”, he emphasised, “as we move on from the conclusion of the large-scale kinetic operations in FATA, to look ahead and consolidate the gains for long-term stability”. This means viewing Zarb-e-Azb as an over-arching counter-terrorism plan which includes both kinetic operations in FATA and “intelligence based operations (IBOs) in the rest of the country” targeting terrorist infrastructures.

There are three dimensions to this over-arching counter-terrorism plan. The first is focused on rehabilitation of Internally Displaced Persons in FATA. The army is leaning on the government to release adequate funds for this job. The second is an escalation in the pace of IBOs across the country. This is proceeding apace in Karachi with the help of the Rangers but has created tensions between civilians and the provincial police on the one hand and the Rangers and Army on the other. The army now wants to extend IBOs in the Punjab as well but is meeting with stiff resistance from the provincial and federal PMLN governments who argue that the provincial police and CID, with intelligence from the military security agencies MI and ISI, are up to the job. The third is stricter border management to prevent cross border terrorism along both the western border with Afghanistan and eastern one with India so that the domestic anti-terrorism agenda is not disrupted by tensions along both borders, especially with India. The army is trying to pressure the Afghan Taliban to come to the negotiating table with the Afghan government in a quadrilateral dialogue for stakeholders China, America and Pakistan included. But this is not yielding swift dividends. On the India front, the military is working to close the tap of the jihadis – mainly militant breakaway rebel factions of the Lashkar-e-Tayba and Jaish-e-Mohammad – so that comprehensive peace talks with India can kick off. But this, too, is bedevilled by distrust on both sides along with disagreements between the military and civilian leadership in Pakistan over the nature, scope and pace of the process. The military thinks that the prime minister is unacceptably “soft” on India because of various opportunistic concerns. The prime minister believes the military’s DNA compels it to take an unacceptably “hard line” in changed domestic and global circumstances.

In other words, Zarb-e-Azb is a great kinetic success in FATA but is faced with serious problems in its quest to become an over-arching anti-terrorism plan across the country with ownership in the hands of the military. The civilians fear the military establishment’s deployment of Rangers and NAB to degrade the elected government in Sindh, followed by demands for a similar politico-military operation in Punjab, as a “creeping coup”. Therefore, for Zarb-e-Azb to succeed comprehensively, this fear will have to be suitably allayed.

Real politik

TFT Issue: 25 Mar 2016

General (retired) Pervez Musharraf is a free man in Dubai despite the fact that he is being concurrently tried in several cases of high treason and murder. No civilian can ever hope to get such extraordinarily lenient treatment from the government, opposition and courts of Pakistan.

General Musharraf was a successful coup-maker. As such, he had clearly committed high treason against the constitution. Yet the Supreme Court, which included Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, legitimized him by some dexterous judicial acrobatics in 2002. Then all the parties, including the PML, participated in elections under him and formed governments loyal to him. When elections rolled round again in 2007, the PPP did a deal with him – in exchange for an unsavoury NRO, it agreed to let him remain an all-powerful president. After the elections, all the parties allowed their ministers to be sworn in by him. After he agreed to relinquish office in 2008, the PPP gave him a guard of honour and no party, not even the PMLN, demurred. For five years, he roamed Pakistan and the world, lecturing and posturing, but no party charged him with high treason and no court took notice.

Then, in a grand display of high opportunism on the eve of the 2013 elections, the Senate – not the National Assembly — passed a unanimous resolution against him, demanding a trial for high treason. The Supreme Court now stepped in, contributing to the façade, and added all the legal reasons why he should be tried for treason and ordered a caretaker government to put him on ECL. When the PMLN formed government, the SC duly ordered it to lodge a treason case against Gen Musharraf. Suddenly, the SC under Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the PMLN under Nawaz Sharif, and PPP under Asif Zardari, had all woken up to take cognisance of the general’s treason.

From Day One, the treason and other trials have been a farce. The judges have been too scared to even order the government to produce Musharraf in court. The hospitals have been too scared to deny him medical certificates of ill-health. And the government has been too scared to treat him as decreed under law. Even as a prisoner, he has led a charmed life, never once tasting the inside of an ordinary jail. Now he has been allowed to leave the country for “medical treatment” even though everyone and his aunt, knows there is nothing seriously wrong with the cigar chomping, bridge playing, spirited general who likes to party.

The Sindh High Court ordered the government to take him off the exit control list but cunningly “stayed” its own order for fifteen days so that the government would have no excuse not to challenge it in the SC and take responsibility for letting him off the hook. The SC sat on it for a year and then passed the buck back to the government on the excuse that its orders of 2013 to put Musharraf on ECL were “interim orders” conditional to approval and sanction by the federal government.

The wretched PMLN government, which didn’t want to be caught with a hot potato in its hands, kept muttering that it had done so only because the SC had ordered it to do so, and begged the SC to order it to hold on or let Musharraf go. But the judges would not be caught with a hot potato in their hands either, so they ordered the government to take an independent decision without regard to the courts.

In June 2013, CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry and PM Nawaz Sharif jointly determined to teach Musharraf a lesson for their personal trials and tribulations and also send a message of deterrence to budding coup-makers. But after judge Chaudhry’s exit, Mr Sharif got a fresh dose of real politik in Pakistan.

First, regardless of who is army chief, the military as an institution will simply not allow civilians to put any general, let alone an army chief, in the dock for whatever reason, let alone for making a coup. Second, both army chiefs Ashfaq Kayani and Raheel Sharif personally owed General Musharraf and were bound to protect him, the former for paving the way to his succession and the latter for long standing “family” relations which allowed him to be promoted to three stars.

When this message was lost on Mr Sharif, the army destabilized him to the point of almost kicking him out, then humiliated the government and judiciary by stopping them from dragging Musharraf to the courts. Eventually, Mr Sharif learnt his lesson and stopped resisting the military for his own political survival.

It was a foregone conclusion that Musharraf would eventually be a free man and the cases against him would die a slow “natural” death owing to neglect and lack of interest. It can also be safely predicted that Musharraf will return to Pakistan and leave Pakistan at will in the future.

Moment of reckoning

TFT Issue: 01 Apr 2016

The bomb that killed over 70 innocent men, women and children last week in Lahore’s Gulshan Park, especially Christians celebrating Easter, was the handiwork of a TTP offshoot, Jamaatul Ahrar, that had also earlier targeted the Christian community. It wasn’t unexpected, even if there wasn’t sufficient information about which terrorist organisation would strike, where and when. The Taliban had announced that henceforth they would target civilians instead of security installations in order to instill fear, demoralise the public and undermine the national consensus against terrorism. Therefore we can conclude that this is not the first or last attack on civilians by the TTP, despite the fact that the anti-terrorist operations under the National Action Plan have met with a great deal of success in FATA and Karachi.

But the fact also is that anti-terrorist operations in Punjab have not been as aggressively oriented and successful as in FATA and Karachi, despite the claims by the Punjab government that the police has carried out over 50 such operations in the last year or so and killed over 20 terrorists and arrested scores of suspects. These figures seem insignificant considering that the head offices and base areas of all the sectarian and jihadi organisations, whose more extremist cadres have split away to join the ranks of the TTP or IS, are based in one part of Punjab or the other. There are two reasons for this. First, the PMLN is largely Punjab based and has a deeply conservative and religious ethos. So, party leaders are loath to alienate or provoke these religious parties or groups by targeting them. Second, the Sharifs are focusing on winning elections and co-opting as many conservative and religious groups as possible under the PMLN umbrella and the last thing they want is to stir a hornets nest against them, regardless of the national interest. Indeed, the PML is extremely sensitive to averting any popular backlash that recalls the attack on the Lal Masjid during the Musharraf tenure that alienated and angered a significant section of its constituency.

But this is about to change. Just as the attack on the Army Public School provoked the military to take matters into its own hands and win popularity among the public by going after the Taliban, this massacre in Gulshan Park has given the army a popular legitimacy to open a direct front against the terrorists in Punjab by brushing aside the political sensitivities of the provincial government. The Apex Committee in Punjab comprising the chief minister and his civilian aides faces the military across the table comprising several corps commanders and the head of the Rangers. Until now anti-terrorist operations were ordered by the Chief Minister and conducted by the police and intelligence agencies. After Gulshan, however, the corps commanders and Rangers are taking some initiatives on their own following orders from the army chief without regard to the political sensitivities of the Punjab government. It is noteworthy that the Punjab government has consistently rejected the proposal to invite the military to carry out anti-terrorist operations in Punjab under Constitution Article 147 as in Sindh. But de facto the military has now moved into Punjab and we can expect it to carry out a full-fledged operation against all manner of religious extremists. The refrain of the Punjab government that there are no “no-go” areas (political as well as geographical) in the Punjab will be sorely tested by the military by the self-extension of its writ. This is bound to create tensions in the civil-military equation, with adverse consequences as in Sindh.

The rise of the Barelvi sect as a political force on the back of the execution of Mumtaz Qadri is another significant development. The Barelvis were discriminated against by the extraordinary patronage to the Deobandis by the military establishment and Saudis since the time of Gen Zia ul Haq in pursuit of aggressive militant policies in the neighbourhood. Now, led by local firebrands with connections to the Middle East, various Barelvi groups have banded together to revive their collective sectarian fortunes. The dharnas in Islamabad and Karachi are signs of the times, another grim reminder of the deadly consequences of politicizing religion for strategic purposes that have proved to be hollow and ill conceived. The initial “mishandling” by the PMLN governments in Punjab and Islamabad that allowed the protestors to reach and occupy D Chowk in Islamabad testifies to the overly cautious approach of the Sharifs regarding religious sentiment. But it also compares unfavourably with the approach of the new military leadership under army chief General Raheel Sharif which approved the Supreme Court decision to uphold the death penalty to Mumtaz Qadri and then nudged the government to carry out the execution.

Truly, Pakistan is facing its final moment of reckoning. If the tide of religious militancy, intolerance and terrorism is not pushed back now, it will engulf the country in anarchy and implode it from within.


TFT Issue: 08 Apr 2016

An international watchdog has pried open eleven million documents from the database of law firm Mossack Fonseca in Panama that provides off-shore financial facilities to the global rich for various purposes. The lay presumption of holding “off-shore companies” is to avoid transparency in some sense, hence the common suspicion that their activities are illegal in some significant sense, regardless of the fact that these companies are legal where they are incorporated and their business activities comply with the laws of the land where they do business.

Among the beneficial owners of these companies, or linked to them in some way, are twelve current or former heads of state and over sixty people linked to current or former world leaders. These include the Presidents of Russia, China, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Argentina and the Prime Ministers of Iceland and Pakistan. Curiously enough, there is no significant mention of Latin American or African generals or American and Western leaders and businessmen. This has provoked the Russians and Chinese leaders to allege a CIA conspiracy to defame them.

Panamaleaks has compelled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to appear on TV and disclaim any act of illegitimacy on the part of his two sons and daughter whose names figure in the list of beneficial owners of some companies. In his defense he claims that (1) he and his wife are personally not listed as owners of any such company (2) his two sons, who are listed, are residents in the UK and Saudi Arabia respectively and have complied with the laws of their resident countries, including those related to taxes and investment incomes in off-shore companies. As such, he argues, he and his family are immune from charges of wrong doing in any sense. But the critics, who are aplenty and include all the opposition parties and a large swathe of the media, raise two fundamental questions. The first relates to the law: what is the original source of the Sharifs’ wealth that is lodged in these off-shore companies? The second is moral: should the prime minister’s children do business via non transparent off-shore companies if they have nothing to hide?

In their defense, the Sharifs say that the purpose of their off shore companies is not to be opaque because they have done something illegal, but to be simply more efficient or profitable in the maze of tax laws in the countries in which they have invested their funds. On the face of it their argument is credible for two reasons: this is indeed one significant legitimate reason why many businessmen set up such companies. The Panamaleaks story does not accuse them of wrong doing. But the common presumption of wrong doing attached to off shore companies is difficult to dodge. Hence the demand for the PM’s resignation followed by his decision to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate whether any or all of those Pakistanis listed in Panamaleaks, including his family, have done wrong.

As the critics reject the inquiry commission on one count or another, it is worth asking whether or not Panamaleaks is fated to be Mr Sharif’s Panamagate.

The logic of analysis on that count is weak for several reasons. (1) It will be difficult to prove in Pakistan that the source of the Sharifs’ funds in Saudi Arabia and UK is illegal since the authorities in both countries have already deemed them to be legitimate. (2) It will be difficult to build a mass movement to overthrow the government because all the political parties, except for the PTI, are loath to pave the way for a military intervention to get rid of a democratically elected government. Since Mr Sharif has vowed not to be cowed down – as demonstrated by his resolve during the four-month dharna last year – nothing less than a naked coup will send him packing. But the domestic and international situation is not conducive for a coup despite continuing disagreements, even tensions, between the government and military on several counts. At home, a military coup will not be acceptable to the political parties and judiciary. Abroad, the US Congress will slap economic and military sanctions on aid to Pakistan. Given the hostility of Afghanistan and India and prickly borders, war with insurgents and terrorists, and a weak economy, no general in his right mind should want to seize power. Far better, it may be argued, to keep the civilian government weak and destabilized and amenable to the demands of the military than to take control directly and be responsible for the attendant sins of omission and commission.

At the end of the day, the only good argument is the moral one. Should the PM’s sons even do legal business under cover of off shore companies? The sad fact is that if charges of corruption against the Sharifs and Bhuttos, and immorality against Imran Khan, have never amounted to much in the eyes of the common people of Pakistan in the past, they are unlikely to do so now.

Sharif vs Sharif

TFT Issue: 15 Apr 2016

Panama Leaks is still leaking and raising discomfort levels all round. The prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is particularly vulnerable, even though his adult businessmen sons, and not he, are beneficial owners of off-shore companies that have invested in UK properties where they are both resident/domiciled. In the rough and tumble of Pakistan, this issue has been progressively transformed from a legal one to a moral one and now a political one in which the demand for the prime minister’s resignation is simply not going away.

With hindsight, it appears that the PM was badly advised to address the nation on a personal issue regarding the business practices of his children. Instead of dispelling doubts and pre-empting adverse fallout, the speech has only served to fan the flames and inflate it into a mega-issue. With hindsight too, it seems that the two media interviews given by Hassan and Hussain Nawaz Sharif a couple of weeks before the dirt hit the fan have rebounded on the Sharifs.

Mr Sharif’s pledge to establish a commission of inquiry of retired judges has also failed to fly. If he had quickly laid down non-controversial terms of reference and asked the chief justice of Pakistan to set up such a commission, his critics would not have had a field day lambasting him.

Imran Khan is leading the pack. He sees this as a God given opportunity to dislodge Mr Sharif. The PPP is making the right noises because there is no other popular choice, but Aitzaz Ahsan is playing the bad cop to Khurshid Shah’s good cop and Asif Zardari is wisely silent. Who knows how many offshore companies are stocked in the PPP’s larder and when that will be flung open?

Those who have stashed away illegal wealth in such companies are the real culprits who should be brought to book. But in the nasty current mood of the country, even those who have got an off-shore company for doing legal business with tax-paid earnings remitted abroad through normal banking channels are also morally culpable for investing abroad instead of in their own country. Of course, this position is wrong because it flies against the very notion of legal capital mobility in search of competitive returns that is the lynch pin of the modern global economy. But no one is listening. The bloodlust of the middle classes against the very rich won’t be quenched by legal niceties.

For Imran Khan, it is now or never. He has been prime minister in-waiting for 20 years, having missed the bus many times, and is now desperately looking for short cuts to get to the prime minister’s house in Islamabad. But he is beset with two problems. First, his party is in disarray and facing a crisis of credibility. The membership of the PTI has fallen from 8 million to 2 million. The crowds have thinned. The rage has gone. The central leaders are at each other’s throats and three definite political groupings are jockeying for top positions in the hierarchy. The election commissioners have resigned and intra-party polls have been indefinitely postponed. And Imran is sounding like a scratchy long-playing record of yesteryear. He has got to instill purpose and energy into the PTI so that it once again looks and feels like a credible challenger for power.

Second, Imran senses that if the Sharifs complete their term in 2017, and local election results are a sign of the times, they will most likely win the next elections and consolidate power for another five years. That will put paid to all his political ambitions by sowing the seeds of gradual despair and dissolution in the PTI. Therefore the best way to avoid this fate is to gird his loins and launch another movement to heave out Nawaz Sharif. Consequently, a rally in an Islamabad park is planned for April 24, followed by a long march on the Raiwind estate of the Sharifs.

The government has vowed to stop both protests in their tracks. So a degree of resistance and violence may be expected. But this can only benefit the PTI by providing it with a badge of martyrdom.

Pundits are eagerly looking out for tell tale signs of the end of the Sharif regime. Are the other parties banding together behind Imran? What are the plans of Maulana Tahir ul Qadri, that off-shore asset of the “establishment” who likes to be billed as the angel of death? Are the perennial opening batsmen of the military, the Chaudhries of Gujrat, getting overly frisky again? Is the civil-military balance stable or are the frustrations and tensions increasing?

The answers are pending two bigger questions. First, is Raheel Sharif getting ready for retirement or is he spreading his wings? Second, should push come to shove, will Nawaz Sharif throw in the towel rather than risk defiance of the other Sharif?

Right now, someone should tell Imran Khan that one Sharif is not ready to quit and the other Sharif is not ready to take over.

Rule of Law

TFT Issue: 22 Apr 2016

General Raheel Sharif has grabbed the headlines yet again. He says that: (1) “the war against terrorism and extremism being fought with the backing of the entire nation cannot bring enduring peace and stability unless the menace of corruption is also uprooted; (2) Therefore, across the board accountability is necessary for the solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan; (3) Pakistan’s Armed Forces will fully support every meaningful effort in that direction.”

The statement is doubly significant. First, it plays to the popular gallery whilst Panama Leaks rages as the hottest subject of the day. With every party and institution demanding accountability, how could our beloved armed forces be silent? Second, it seems to trump the return of the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, from a controversial trip to London for “medical reasons” during which it was wildly speculated that he might have run away to hide his stolen cache. Third, it puts the government and prime minister on the spot by demanding “across the board accountability”, which implies that the prime minister, his family and ruling party should particularly be subjected to it. Fourth, it puts the military’s weight behind efforts for “meaningful” steps in that direction, which means a credible, transparent and effective enquiry commission in line with the universal demand of the time, and lending the services of its intelligence agencies to it.

That said, one important question arises: Is this statement some sort of “show-cause” notice to Mr Nawaz Sharif to “shape up or ship out”? We think not. If General Sharif had harboured Bonapartist tendencies, he would have struck during Imran Khan’s dharna last year when conditions were ripe. Indeed, if he had had a change of heart subsequently, he would have recently nudged Imran Khan to announce a date for the long march on Raiwind and winked at Tahir ul Qadri of Canada and the Chaudhries of Gujrat to line up behind the march. But he hasn’t done anything of the sort.

For once, Khwaja Asif, the defense minister, has been wrong-footed. He thinks this statement is perfectly in order because “the army, like the judiciary, is an important organ of the state and constitution and its views are legitimate.” But Pervez Rashid, the official spokesman of the prime minister, has been more forthcoming. He has tried to finesse the army chief’s statement by actually owning the fight against corruption and pointing to its declining trend during the tenure of his government. But he has also tagged the point that an army regime (General Pervez Musharraf’s) included many corrupt people. More significantly, he has tried to steer the accountability debate in the direction of parliament as opposed to those demanding an army-cum-judicial intervention to target the corrupt.

General Sharif’s statement links corruption directly to terrorism rather than indirectly through governance and criminality as argued in a speech last May by Lt Gen Nadeem Mukhtar, Corps Commander Karachi.

The empirical evidence does not support any causal relationship between corruption and terrorism or religious extremism, ie, corruption, ipso facto, does not lead to terrorism. Some of the most corrupt countries in the world, like India, Argentina, China, Russia, etc., are not victims of terrorism. Indeed, most countries racked by civil war and anarchy or dictatorship – like Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Angola, Afghanistan, North Korea, Yemen, Eritrea, Syria — are amongst the most corrupt, but corruption is a consequence of war, anarchy and dictatorship, not a cause of it. It is also pertinent that none of the Pakistanis named in Panama Leaks is alleged to be a terrorist or has links with any terrorist organization.

General Sharif’s reference to “across the board accountability” is also problematic if it is not to be taken as a cliché. Accountability, like charity, must begin at home. Unfortunately, the military, like the judiciary, has hardly ever been accountable even as both institutions have periodically carried out the accountability of all others “suo motu”. In effect, the phrase “across the board accountability” is bandied about in relation to politicians only. But the truth is that in the lexicon of the modern nation state it refers to the “rule of law’ which is applicable to all, high or low, civil or military. By that criterion, a financial crime is no less culpable – and therefore open to accountability — than a political or constitutional one like a coup d’etat. So when General Sharif links accountability with stability and prosperity, he should know that the civil-military bureaucracy is no less culpable – and therefore accountable – than the politicians for laying Pakistan low on both counts. The rule of law and constitution – hence stability and prosperity as in all law abiding nation-states — has been more damaged by the military than any other institution in the history of Pakistan but it has never been held accountable.

It is also worth reflecting on why Pakistanis keep voting for the same corrupt political parties time and again and why the unaccountable military remains the most trusted and loved institution of all in the country.

Panamaleaks Continued

TFT Issue: 29 Apr 2016

The Panamaleaks story is not about to die down. Several new developments are in the offing that will keep the subject alive and kicking.

The PMLN government has succumbed to public pressure and written to the Chief Justice of Pakistan to set up a Commission of Inquiry comprising sitting Supreme Court judges instead of retired ones as originally proposed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. But the opposition has rejected the Terms of Reference (TORs) unilaterally proposed by the government. However, indications are that if the opposition mounts pressure via the streets the government may relent and open negotiations for consensual TORs. In the event, it may take a couple of months to approve the consensual TORs.

But the delay is not likely to bail the prime minister out. In the next week or so, another long list of Pakistanis with off-shore companies is expected to hit headlines and there is no knowing whether he or his immediate family members will escape the net.

Much the same may be said of Mr Asif Zardari and the Bhuttos, or indeed Imran Khan and leading members of the PTI. This is bound to impact the budding alliance of opposition parties. If the other party leaders are clean, the opposition will get stronger. If they are not, the wind will be taken out of their sails. As it is, the PPP is wary of allying with the PTI because it fears the skeletons in its own cupboard may spill out or, worse, the agitation may provoke the “third umpire” to step in and wrap up the game. That is why Khurshid Shah, the PPP leader of the opposition, has advised Imran Khan to stay put in Punjab instead of touring Sindh and whipping up anti-corruption fever there in exchange for joining hands with him in Islamabad against the PMLN.

Matters have escalated to the level of GHQ too. The army chief, General Raheel Sharif, first gave a statement linking corruption directly to terrorism, implying that since the military was leading the fight against terrorism it had every right to target and uproot corruption too. Shortly thereafter, following criticism that the army shouldn’t stray from its constitutional writ, and his reference to “across the board accountability”, the chief won public favour by announcing some spring-cleaning of his own. A story was leaked about the dismissal or removal from service of two generals and five other officers for corrupt practices while serving in the Frontier Corps Balochistan in 2013-14. Initially, this was “breaking news” that seemed to suggest that the military was definitely interested in pushing the anti-corruption agenda apolitically. But soon questions began to be asked about the timing of the leak when the dismissals had routinely been carried out almost a year ago and the punishments seemed unduly soft compared to the nature of the allegations and the high rank of the main accused. The fact that the ISPR has still not come clean suggests that the motive of the leak was to try and cash in on public sentiment against the civilian politicians and elevate the army chief to heroic proportions once again, in contrast to the pygmy civilians in the firing line.

Several PMLN leaders like Khawaja Asif and Rana Sanaullah are going out of their way to appear sanguine. The former says the PM and his family are squeaky clean and the “third umpire” on whom Imran Khan is constantly banking has melted away. The latter claims that if Imran Khan ventures to make trouble in Punjab, he will be dealt with appropriately. Meanwhile, the prime minister has embarked on a tour of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab during which he will address public rallies, proclaim his innocence and highlight the achievements of his regime. All this is to create the public perception that Panamaleaks is water off the duck’s back and Imran Khan’s desperate histrionics are in vain.

A word of caution, however, is in order. There are some gaping holes in the account of Mr Sharif’s sons which could come back to haunt the family in the commission’s findings regardless of the TORs. The government may also be advised to negotiate a peaceful way out of this crisis instead of precipitating another one by unleashing the police against peaceful protestors marching on to besiege the prime minister’s estate in Raiwind. The last thing the government should risk is a repeat of what happened in Model Town, Lahore, two years ago. Certainly, if there are conspirators afoot to destabilize the government to downfall-point, a few dead bodies on the streets will definitely yield dividends.

We need a powerful judicial commission to sift the wheat from the chaff. Tax evasion and money laundering are crimes of corruption and must be exposed. But owning offshore companies, like offshore bank balances, is not illegal, if assets and funds are sourced to legitimate tax-paid earnings. Tarring every offshore company beneficiary with the brush of corruption is neither fair nor just.

Panamaleaks Unlimited
TFT Issue: 06 May 2016

Panamaleaks remains the top story of the week for two reasons. The opposition is not willing to let go without extracting its pound of flesh – which happens to be the head of the prime minister, no less. And the government wants to drag it on and reverse focus on the dregs in the opposition so that the case against it is diluted.

The opposition has tried to cobble a broad unity and consensus on how to exploit the subject to maximum effect. It has also tried valiantly to coral the government. But it has failed on both counts. A consensus has eluded the opposition because each party has different vested interests in approaching a solution. The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf wants to oust the government by hook or by crook. But the other parties, like the PPP and MQM, are wary of creating conditions for third umpire intervention that would put them on the rack too. Others, like the JUI and the small nationalist groups, have cozied up to the PMLN in the expectation of extracting some patronage-dividends.

Meanwhile, the government has been both wily and slippery. At every stage, it has taken two steps forward to tackle the opposition, then readily backtracked one step to appear confident and flexible. When the opposition demanded a judicial commission, the government swiftly proposed one with retired judges. When the opposition objected, it conceded one with serving Supreme Court judges. When the opposition objected to the Terms of Reference (TORs) it readily agreed to discuss these with them. When Imran Khan threatened to spill over into the streets of Punjab, the prime minister seized the initiative and whipped up supportive crowds in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. When the opposition demanded his immediate resignation on moral grounds, he clenched his fist and advised the “small fry” to wait until the 2018 elections and beyond.

In the latest instance, the opposition has admitted lack of unity and purpose but managed to unveil the draft of a proposed law and TORs to investigate Panamaleaks. A cursory glance reveals it to be a quixotic project. It seeks inquisitorial justice (the accused is presumed to be guilty and must prove his innocence) in a political system and jurisprudence culture that exists in a completely contrary adversarial world (the accused is presumed to be innocent and the accuser must prove his guilt).

It also focuses on the prime minister and his family whereas the government is determined to spread the net far and wide so that the accusers also become the accused (no PMLN parliamentarian has been named in the Panamaleaks as being the beneficial owner of an off-shore company but at least two members of the PTI and PPP are in the list). This has undermined the credibility of the opposition. More critically, the opposition doesn’t even have a fraction of the numbers in parliament needed to pass such a law.

The PTI, in particular, has been shown to be hypocritical and indecisive. Imran Khan tweeted that anyone who had set up an offshore company should be presumed to be a crook and dealt with accordingly. But when it transpired that two PTI stalwarts, Jehangir Tareen and Aleem Khan, were more or less guilty of owning offshore accounts, assets and companies, he was swift to exonerate them on the pretext that they had not broken any law! He has also been vacillating over strategy. Should he launch street agitation in the midst of summer with Ramadan approaching and without support from the PPP or should be stick inside a broad opposition united front that painstakingly negotiates TORs with the government and ponders over battling it out with the government inside parliament or in the supreme court?

One month down the line, the government and opposition are still miles apart on finding a way out of the fog of Panamaleaks. Meanwhile, the chief justice of Pakistan, Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, is sitting on the government’s request to set up a commission of inquiry in accordance with the TORs of the government and has refrained from commenting on the developing situation. Given the uncomfortable experience of his predecessor CJP who headed the Judicial Commission on Election Rigging in which all the parties had agreed on the TORs, he is not likely to wade into a political potboiler and remain sanguine about delivering justice. Imran Khan, in particular, has been scathing of the judiciary when it hasn’t served his naked ambitions. The post-Iftikhar Chaudhry Supreme Court is also disinclined to play any activist or populist role in charting the way forward, especially since the term of the current chief justice is ending later this year.

The Third Umpire, too, is not exactly itching to jump into the fray. The military’s hands are full dealing with internal and external security challenges. The army chief has also publicly disavowed political ambitions. If the government remains calm, cool and collected, it will shrug off this latest crisis too.

Turbulence or Crash?
TFT Issue: 13 May 2016

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Raheel Sharif have met after a month of sulking in their respective corners. This calls for comment because it was routine for them to be pictured together every week on one assignment or the other at home or abroad to demonstrate civil-military unity on important national security issues. Therefore tongues are now wagging about acute tensions between them that could shake up the political superstructure.

The first source of tension between them was Mr Sharif’s decision to prosecute General (retd) Pervez Musharraf for treason. The army as an institution cannot countenance a former chief in the dock under any circumstances. On top of that, General Sharif owes General Musharraf for advancing his career. The twists and turns in the case have frustrated both sides and led to misunderstandings.

The second source of tension was Mr Sharif’s decision in Spring 2014 to opt for endless rounds of futile talks with the Pakistani Taliban when General Sharif was primed to go into Waziristan all guns blazing. That gave the Taliban an opportunity to slip away and regroup, making General Sharif’s task more difficult when the green light for Zarb-e-Azb finally came in June 2014 following a string of Taliban attacks on security installations and personnel across the country.

The third source of tension sprang from the ISI’s role, two years ago, in directing Imran Khan’s dharna at D Chowk in Islamabad aimed at overthrowing Mr Sharif. Although General Sharif was not fully on board the agency’s covert operation and refrained from taking any precipitous step, Mr Sharif’s trust and confidence in his army chief was definitely eroded.

The fourth source of tension arose from Mr Sharif’s desire to mend fences with India so that he can extract a political and economic “peace dividend”. But the military is institutionally opposed to any such strategic move. Therefore it was irked when Mr Sharif attended Narendra Modi’s swearing in ceremony in 2014 and later agreed to hold secretary-level talks with India on the subject of terrorism without any quid pro quo on Kashmir. Recently, the military was annoyed when Mr Sharif ordered the registration of an FIR against the perpetrators of the Pathankot attack and when the PMLN government failed to adequately propagate, internationally, the capture of an Indian spy.

The fifth source of tension arose from the military’s intent to conduct a “clean-up operation” against terrorism in Punjab similar to the one in Karachi. But Mr Sharif is opposed to this because he doesn’t want the military to stand down his showcase “good-governance” in Punjab like it did the PPP government in Sindh.

The sixth source of tension is the military’s bid to link terrorism with corruption and run down civilian administrations. Mr Sharif is particularly annoyed by General Sharif’s statement for “across the board” accountability following Panamaleaks and the ISPR’s attempt to demonstrate that the military has initiated such accountability from “home” by sacking some generals accused of graft. The timing of this “leak” lends credibility to Mr Sharif’s suspicions that General Sharif means to show him up and do him in.

There are other issues too. The military wants a slice of the cake of building CPEC but the government is keeping it at arms length. It doesn’t like the beefing up of the Intelligence Bureau as a political counterweight to the ISI. The brass wants more funds for IDP rehabilitation in Waziristan to consolidate law and order. It is frustrated that the Foreign Office couldn’t clinch the F-16 deal in Washington. Last but not least, the prime minister isn’t happy at the ISPR’s attempt to propagate General Raheel Sharif as some sort of “messiah-in-waiting” in counter distinction to the perception of Mr Sharif as a “corrupt and incompetent” prime minister.

In view of this situation, the hot topic of the day is whether the meeting last Monday will serve to stabilise civil-military relations and enable Mr Sharif to weather the Panamaleaks storm by “neutralizing” the military’s political ambitions.

To be sure, one meeting isn’t going to melt the glacier of institutional distrust on both sides. But there are three factors in favour of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. First, the opposition is divided and no one, except for the PTI, wants a military intervention. Second, General Sharif’s “window of opportunity” will end in three months when a new army chief is announced and he becomes a lame duck. Third, any coup-making general will have to contend with seriously adverse consequences of his action. Except for the PTI, all major political parties, civil society, judiciary and the powerful media will unite against a military dictatorship that inevitably curtails their freedom. The international community will sanction Pakistan and India and Afghanistan will destabilize the country. Soon thereafter, the coup-maker will realize he is riding a tiger that will maul him like his adventurous predecessors.

Given the pros and cons, therefore, we should expect turbulence but no crash in the hot summer months ahead.

TFT Issue: 20 May 2016

After a month of offensive-defense tactics, the PMLN has finally succeeded in defusing the Panamaleaks bomb. The government is not looking as bad and the opposition not as good as when the crisis erupted. There are three main reasons for this twist in the tale.

First, the government has swiftly pre-empted every opposition move to put it on the mat. In this way it has bought time to create the space in which to confront the challenge. When the opposition demanded a judicial commission the government proposed one with retired judges. When the opposition rejected retired judges, the government requested the Chief Justice of Pakistan to appoint serving judges. When the opposition demanded that the services of FBR and FIA be put at the disposal of the proposed commission, the government readily agreed. When the opposition rejected the government’s Terms of Reference (TOR), the government agreed to sit and hammer out a consensus. When the opposition demanded that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should answer the opposition’s seven-point questionnaire, Mr Sharif came to parliament and duly presented his answer. When the opposition demanded parliamentary time to rebut the prime minister’s response, the government agreed. When the opposition walked out of parliament without confronting the prime minister, the government cajoled it back to parliament the next day and set up a government-opposition committee to design consensus TORs and laws for the proposed commission. Now we can sit back and watch the two sides slug it out before a final agreement is reached.

Second, the disunity in the opposition has served the government’s purpose. The PTI wants to throw out both Nawaz Sharif and the PMLN government asap. At best it wants a military intervention that brings it into power via a back door. At worst it wants new general elections immediately. Therefore it is amenable to conspiracy and violent protest to achieve its objectives. The PPP, too, would love to see the back of Nawaz Sharif so that the PMLN is rendered relatively headless, thereby enhancing the PPP’s prospects in the next general elections. But it will have no truck with any sort of military intervention and it is in no mood for early elections. The MQM will wait and see which way the wind blows while the JUI and the Baloch parties will side with Nawaz Sharif. This puts the PTI out on a limb and compels it to follow rather than lead the opposition, thereby diluting the possibility of overnight radical change in Islamabad.

Third, Nawaz Sharif’s chief protagonist, Imran Khan, has fallen from the pedestal that he graced whilst thundering against corrupt off-shore company wallahs. It is now established that his was the original sin in setting up an offshore company in 1980 for “evading British taxes”. The fact that he didn’t inform the Election Commission in 2013 of its existence compounds the moral offence into a criminal one. Worse, it transpires that several of his financial backers and political lieutenants, like Jehangir Tareen and Aleem Khan, are also guilty of the moral offence of association with off-shore companies and accounts. This has taken the wind out of Khan’s sails and put him on the defensive. Indeed, any commission of inquiry is bound to investigate his accounts no less than those of Nawaz Sharif.

What eventually comes of Pananaleaks will depend on the TOR agreed upon between the government and opposition, what sort of law is promulgated and what sort of commission is set up. This should take at least a couple of months to materialise if an irrevocable breaking point is not reached earlier. The TOR is likely to reflect a broad consensus in which not just off-shore company wallahs but also a host of tax evaders, money launderers, loan-defaulters and loan write-off wallahs will be brought into the net. Certainly this is going to be the government’s strategy to hit at the opposition benches that may escape the net of off-shore companies. Its sole purpose will be to claim the high moral ground of putting an end to all forms of corruption while making it impossible for any commission of inquiry to come to any decisive and quick findings due to the complex nature of every money trail under investigation. One stumbling block at the outset will be the nature of the law attracted to the proposed commission. The government is likely to prefer it to be adversarial, like the law of the land, in which one is innocent until proven guilty, so that convictions are rare and unhurried. But the PTI will seek an inquisitorial commission like NAB so that the onus of innocence is on the accused and justice is swift and summary.

The government and its allies are united while the opposition is split. Even within the PPP, there are good cops and bad cops. Unless the PMLN blunders into another pit of ignominy or outrage, which provokes the third umpire, the likelihood is that it will weather the Panamaleaks storm like it did the dharna of yore.

Spades or Clubs?
TFT Issue: 27 May 2016

US drones have taken out Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the “amir” of the Afghan Taliban, near Nushki in Balochistan province. He was promoted and supported by the Pakistani military in a power struggle for succession after news broke out about the demise of Mullah Omar three years earlier. The Taliban have nominated an ex-chief justice of Afghanistan and Mullah Omar confidante, Haibatullah Akhunzada, as the nominal “amir” but Siraj Haqqani and Mullah Mohammed Yaqoob, the son of Mullah Omar, will be “naib (deputy) amirs” and dual power behind the throne. Several critical questions have arisen.

Why did the Americans eliminate Mullah Mansoor, and that too by crossing the “red lines” drawn by Pakistan for drone strikes in mainland Pakistan territory, when he was Pakistan’s preferred “asset” in the stalled peace negotiations in the quadrilateral dialogue? What are the implications of this for US-Pak relations?

Both the Afghan and American governments have been acutely frustrated by the inability of the Pakistanis to bring Mullah Mansoor to the negotiating table. In December 2014, General Raheel Sharif promised Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to help start the talks within months. But the premature announcement of the demise of Mullah Omar put a spanner in the works and Mullah Mansoor had to wage a bloody power struggle to become “amir”. He also had to contend with the hardliners in opposition and therefore become even more hardliner in the process. Consequently, in order to consolidate his internal credentials, he unleashed a devastating series of attacks on American and Afghan targets across Afghanistan. Bitterly disappointed, President Ghani attacked Pakistan for not doing more to bend the Taliban while the Obama administration expressed its displeasure by condoning the US Congress’ decision not to pay for 8 F-16s ordered by Pakistan. The Americans also reasoned that if they could eliminate Mullah Mansoor, they would send some powerful signals across the board.

First, the message is that any Taliban leader who wants to wage war and refuses to talk peace is a target of American drones which have had a resounding success rate. Second, the assassination of Mullah Mansoor is good for the motivation of the Afghan National Army that is demoralized by the severity of the Taliban attacks and weakened by desertions and defections. Third, the message is that all bets are off the table if Pakistan isn’t able to deliver on its end of the bargain. Fourth, the message to domestic audiences drunk on Republican Donald Trump is that the Democrat Obama administration remains tough on terrorism and will project American power regardless of diplomatic sensitivities.

Pakistan’s position is increasingly problematic. On the one hand, Sartaj Aziz, the foreign minister, has admitted that the Taliban leadership is housed in Pakistan, indirectly confirming a degree of leverage over them. Mullah Mansoor’s Pakistani passport and comings and goings to and from Pakistani soil also testifies to the Pakistani “hand”. On the other hand, the national security establishment is unable to bring the Taliban leaders to the negotiating table, implying that perhaps it is unwilling to do so for bigger stakes in a greater game in Afghanistan. This serves to fuel distrust that the Pakistanis are playing a “double game” to continue to secure economic and military aid from the Americans by leveraging the Taliban against them instead of in their favour as was evidenced throughout the Musharraf years when the Americans pumped in nearly $20 billion into Pakistan “for supporting the war against terror”. Following the nomination of Siraj Haqqani as “naib amir”, there will now be greater pressure on Pakistan to deliver since the hub of the feared Haqqani network is in Pakistani territory in Shawal, North Waziristan. Indeed, since the time of Admiral Mike Mullen, the former CJCSC, the Pentagon has viewed the Haqqanis as a “veritable arm of the ISI”. Mullah Yaqoob, too, cannot be oblivious to Pakistani influence, it may be reasoned, because Mullah Omar was a Pakistani “guest” for many years before his death.

General Raheel Sharif has certainly eroded and disrupted the Pakistani Taliban. But he has failed to deliver on Afghanistan. Of course, the Afghan government, army and intelligences agencies have proved to be singularly inept and corrupt in degrading the Taliban and pressurizing them to come to the table. But as the more powerful state that has nurtured and protected the Taliban since the late 1990s, the world and its neighbours expect Pakistan to “do more”. Unfortunately, however, this hasn’t been possible because of the obsession of the Pakistani military with the increasing sphere of regional influence of “arch-enemy” India. These fears have been exacerbated by the India-Afghan-Iran project to link the Iranian port of Chahbahar with Afghanistan aimed at diminishing the prospects of Pak-China’s CPEC corridor into Afghanistan and central Asia.

American policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan is poised to take a harder posture in the future. If Pakistan doesn’t come up with a hand of spades instead of clubs, it will be isolated and weakened in the region.

New lease of life?
TFT Issue: 03 Jun 2016

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s emergency heart surgery in a London hospital has created unforeseen political consequences. His absence from Pakistan has stalled talks between the opposition and government on mutually acceptable Terms of Reference for Panamaleaks. It has sown confusion in Pakistan’s foreign policy because Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister, has stepped into the vacuum with undue enthusiasm. It has also taken the sting out of the combined opposition’s plans to overthrow him. Everybody, blind loyalist as well as passionate detractor, is praying for his wellbeing and speedy recovery. Even archenemy Imran Khan has sent a bouquet of flowers to cheer him up in hospital. Under the circumstances, Mr Sharif has veritably got a new lease of life!

At the outset, there is deadlock in negotiations over the proposed TORs for investigating corruption and money laundering. The opposition wants to focus exclusively on targeting Mr Sharif even though he is not named personally in Panamaleaks. Naturally enough, the government wants to investigate everyone of any disrepute except Mr Sharif. The opposition wants quick results. The government wants to delay matters as much as possible. With Ishaq Dar, the government’s chief negotiator on Panamaleaks preoccupied with budget issues and Mr Sharif also out of action all of June, the government can validly claim delays and frustrate the opposition’s desire to raise the political temperature. Therefore June is likely to be inconsequential. Indeed, if Imran Khan tries to cut short the negotiations in July and revert to street agitation, he may not find too many takers in the opposition.

The confusion in foreign policy is indicative of the PMLN’s personalized approach to decision making. Despite the presence of Sartaj Aziz as advisor on foreign affairs and Tariq Fatemi as special assistant on foreign affairs and Khawaja Asif as defense minister, it fell to Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister, to comment on the US drone strike that killed Mullah Akhtar Mansoor two weeks ago. Unfortunately, the good Chaudhry has only served to muddy the waters. First he thundered against the US for violating Pakistan’s sovereignty. Then he said he wasn’t sure the man killed was Mullah Mansoor. A week later, after the US had reconfirmed the identity of their target and the Taliban had elected a new Amir, he admitted this fact of life. He also woke up to claim that Pakistan’s air space was not violated by American drones because they were operating over Afghan airspace! While all this was going on, the Foreign Office called in the US ambassador and duly ticked him off for crossing red lines, and His Excellency called on the army chief, General Raheel Sharif, to apologise and make amends. Chaudhry Nisar also saw fit to slip into the robes of the defense minister and thunder against GHQ’s decision to hand over the management of a border post to the Afghan army. Can a “full time” foreign minister better manage foreign policy as advocated by many analysts (“too many cooks are spoiling the broth”) when a full time defense minister cannot better manage military matters and a full time National Security Advisor cannot better manage national security? The problem is not the absence of a full time foreign minister for formulating foreign policy but the ubiquitous dominance of the military establishment in implementing foreign and national security policy. In fact it can be argued that the military establishment prefers to exploit multiple centers of influence in the ruling part’s hierarchy because it gives GHQ greater leverage to pull strings and have its way on the ground. Of course, Mr Sharif’s style of personalized decision making and reliance on family and personal loyalists rather than professionally competent managers and advisors exacerbates the problem.

When Mr Sharif returns to Pakistan after the end of Ramazan, he will be thinking primarily of how to survive in office the next couple of months. He knows that if the “third umpire” remains neutral, Imran Khan’s street movement will not amount to much. But if he senses some undesirable stirrings amongst the generals in their labyrinth, he may take steps to thwart such ambitions. General Raheel Sharif’s replacement can be announced by end August, thereby making him a lame duck. Or the government may float new legislation aimed at giving the post of army chief a four-year tenure, thereby extricating General Sharif from his public commitment not to seek an extension whilst placating him at the same time.

All this will pass, surely. What will remain debatable is the primacy or relevance of notions of corruption and morality in the body politic of Pakistan. Both issues are important in the mind of the urban middle classes even though they don’t muster many votes in elections that are still dominated by considerations of caste, biradari, dharra, creed or party loyalty instead of concrete issues. Even more suspect is the frustrated notion that a military intervention is the true cure of corruption.

Budget 2016-17: who’s unhappy?
TFT Issue: 10 Jun 2016

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s job is not enviable. He is a prisoner of several political, economic and national security constraints that severely circumscribe his ability to implement the deep structural reforms needed to put the economy on track for sustained long-term growth. Consider.

There is one fundamental issue that overhangs all others. That is each government’s inability or unwillingness to levy direct taxes on millions of income earning and rent seeking Pakistanis. Consequently, our Tax to GDP ratio at barely 13 per cent is insufficient – the global standard for emerging markets is above 20% — to meet our minimum necessary expenditures to uplift the economy, create jobs and alleviate poverty. Indeed, even when the FBR is able to meet its tax revenue targets – as it did this year – it does so by juggling with indirect taxes (direct tax target was short by nearly Rs 240 billion) whose burden is disproportionately felt by the poorer and lower income sections of the populace, thereby increasing real inequality. Unfortunately, there is no plan in Mr Dar’s budgetary proposals to effectively tax the income of millions of Pakistanis who operate in the black economy. Every government talks about it but doesn’t have the political will to crack down on tax evaders. Instead, existing taxpayers are pressurized to cough up more and more.

There is an allied structural issue. Nearly 60% of Pakistan’s GDP comes from the Services (entertainment, professional fees, etc) sector. But this barely accounts for 30% of total tax revenue. Similarly, the agriculture sector contributes above 20% of GDP but pays next to nothing in taxes because it remains in a perennially “depressed” condition with low productivity, low output, high input costs and pre-capitalist social and economic relations of production. Without radical land reform, biotech applications and realistic support policies for inputs and output, there is no scope for higher incomes and resultant taxes in this sector. But reform is precluded by a host of political and economic vested interests that are milking the status quo.

These revenue “constraints” inevitably put a brake on expenditures and therefore growth. As matters stand, all the tax revenue is gobbled up by two poachers: defense and debt servicing. In other words, all development expenditures must come out from more local and foreign debt or foreign investment and aid. The latter sources have been progressively drying up – foreign investment was barely US $1 billion last year because of our “national security” policies that have led to regional alienation, international isolation and domestic political instability. Corruption and bad governance in every ruling party has exacerbated the problem. So every government has to plug the gap between actual revenues and projected expenditures by deficit financing, ie, borrowing from the banks that are happy to lend, thereby crowding out the private sector. But this is a vicious circle and national debt as a proportion of GDP (over 60%) has been progressively rising over the decades. But such deficit financing is limited by two factors: the political necessity of keeping inflation low and donor programs (like those of the IMF that are needed for international balance of payment and currency stabilization reasons) that require it to come down to manageable proportions.

Therefore a degree of “fudging” to show an unduly healthy picture of the economy is to be expected. It begins even before the ink on the budget speech has dried in the form of supplementary budgetary grants for expenditure overruns and continues throughout the year. Defense expenditures and subsidies for loss making public sector enterprises or vested private sector entities like the sugar and fertilizer industry are the main beneficiaries (nearly Rs 240 billion this year). The government is also ever ready to manipulate GDP growth figures. Whenever there is a change of guard, the incoming regime deflates the growth figures of the outgoing government so that its own subsequent performance looks good in comparison. Independent think tanks claim GDP growth is about 3.1% over 2015-16 whereas the government is boasting 4.7%. The agriculture sector – whose cotton and rice output is the mainstay of our export regime — has actually declined by 2% but the government is putting a lid on its dismal performance for political reasons by claiming only stagnancy at minus 0.2 per cent! Is anyone unhappy with the budget?

The top export earners are relieved because their inputs and outputs remain out of the purview of duties and taxes. So too are government employees and pensioners because they have got a raise in emoluments above the rate of inflation. The military has got its usual pound of flesh. The bureaucracy’s perks and privileges are untouched. The subsidies of loss making public enterprises are intact, as are the profits of the fertilizer industry, automobile lobby and sugar barons. The retail trade sector that is a PMLN vote bank remains largely tax-immune. Only tens of millions of the poor, relatively powerless, impoverished and unemployed have been left to desperately fend for themselves on the margins of society.

Input-output analysis
TFT Issue: 17 Jun 2016

Pakistan’s relations with India, Afghanistan and the US remain prickly. Since the core of our national security strategy is focused on all three countries, it is worth asking who in our civil-military establishment is responsible for this failure of strategic policy.

Let us admit some hard facts. Since independence, Pakistan has been fashioned by the powerful military establishment as a “national security state” in which law, constitution, economy, democracy and foreign relations are all subservient to a strategic doctrine of “national security” defined by the military in which India has figured as the perennial arch-enemy. This doctrine and the consequent national narrative that flows from it is embedded in the national consciousness by virtue of the military’s direct political over-lordship of state and society during three decades of rule by Generals Ayub Khan, Zia ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf and indirect stewardship when corrupt, inefficient and weak civilian rulers have been in office. Indeed, whenever the military has seized power from the civilians it has cited “overwhelming national security concerns” as a key motive. In fact, all the key foreign policy decisions since independence have been taken by the powerful military establishment while the weak and divided civilians have meekly acquiesced. These include the anti-USSR Cold War alliance with the US, pushing East Pakistan into secessionist mode, sponsoring jihad against USSR in Afghanistan in the 1980s, triggering war and conflict with India on four occasions, playing favourites in Afghanistan by installing the Taliban in Kabul in 1997 and giving them safe havens in Waziristan after 9/11 in pursuit of another national security offshoot doctrine of “strategic depth”. As a consequence, the military has also nourished non-state jihadi and sectarian actors for “liberating” Kashmir from India and opposed trade and peaceful co-existence with India. As a result any potential economic dividend from peace with neighbours has eluded Pakistan.

To be fair, however, the fact also is that since General Musharraf’s time the military establishment has been critically reviewing its national security doctrine and making significant adjustments in view of changing geo-political realities. After 9/11, it abandoned the doctrine of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. In 2005, it realized the futility and negative consequences of sponsoring jihad in Kashmir and slowly turned off the tap. In particular, it abandoned the “core” idea of “Kashmir banay ga Pakistan”. By the time General Ashfaque Kayani retired in 2013, the military’s national security doctrine had also abandoned the cherished notion of a “pro-Pakistan” Afghanistan and settled on sponsoring a neutral Afghanistan that would not be hostile. Most significantly, the national security doctrine now postulated the “enemy within” (religious terrorism) as an “existential” threat to state and society and not the external enemy India. Operation Zarb-e-Azb is a natural and powerful exposition of this doctrine by General Raheel Sharif. These developments amount to an evolving paradigm change in the outlook of the military in Pakistan.

Unfortunately, however, the historical burden of distrust and double-dealing among the key players in this region – Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and the US – is creating stubborn obstacles in the way of this process of stabilising Pakistan and the region. The key players in Afghanistan are all agreed on a joint multi-lateral approach to establishing peace in Afghanistan but each wants to put the onus of core responsibility (“do more”) on the others. This is a major source of tension between the Pakistani military establishment and the other regional players, especially America and Afghanistan. Internally, the civilians and military in Pakistan are also, finally, on the same strategic page. But much the same burden of historical civil-military distrust has muddied the waters and lead to tensions and frustrations.

This is the context in which we should address the question of “who makes foreign policy” and who is responsible for its success or failure in Pakistan. The military says it simply gives its “input” into the making of foreign policy for which the civilians are ultimately responsible. But the civilians say with greater justification that the military is the key determinant of policy because the instruments of its implementation are squarely in its hands. If the civilians wanted the military to attack the Haqqani network and push it out of Pakistani border lands or if the civilians ordered it to drag the Afghan Taliban to peace negotiations (as demanded by the regional players), of if they wanted it to disband the jihadis and help the government confront the radical religious outfits, would it be able or willing to do so? If the civilians wanted to make unilateral trade and overland concessions to India in a non-sum zero game, would the military agree or would it sabotage any such initiative?

Therefore this is not a matter for a full time civilian foreign minister to redress as opposed to a coterie of foreign policy advisors. This is really about elected civilians demonstrating greater know-how, ability and vision to steer the country out of troubled waters as much as it is about the military relinquishing its grip over national security tactics and strategy.

Carnival of Fools
TFT Issue: 24 Jun 2016

There’s never a dull moment in Pakistan. But even by our political standards, last week was a veritable carnival of fools.

Khawaja Asif, the defense minister, called Shirin Mazari, the PTI’s information secretary, a “tractor trolley” in parliament for constantly heckling him. He had to eat humble pie in public but remained unrepentant in private.

Marvi Sirmed, a rights activist, and Senator Hafiz Hamdullah of the JUI, had a verbal spat on TV that provoked the mullah to abuse and threaten her physically. Marvi protested before the Senate chairman and filed an FIR with the police. But the senator is unrepentant in public even if he has been chastised in private.

Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, had heart bypass surgery in London at the Harley Street Clinic. But a couple of TV anchors wondered how heart surgery could be performed at a “clinic” instead of a “hospital”. A few actually said that all this was a sham just to earn sympathy from a public disgusted with Pananaleaks. Some advised him to call it a day. Others speculated whether Shahbaz Sharif or Mariam Sharif would inherit the PMLN.

Ayyan Ali, the supermodel charged with currency smuggling, has accused Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister, of contemning the Supreme Court (SC) by refusing to let her leave the country. Both the Sindh High Court (SHC) and the SC have ordered the government to remove her name from the Exit Control List but the gent who determines the ECL just wont let go. This has provoked the Chief Justice of the SHC to threaten the interior secretary with prison and SC Justice Azmat Saeed to ask why, when smugglers and tax cheats and assorted criminals can come and go freely, a fashion model who has obtained bail from the Lahore High Court has aroused the ire of the interior ministry.

But Chaudhry Nisar has other fish to fry. He is busy scolding Sushma Swaraj, the Indian foreign minister, for trying to put a spoke in civil-military relations in Pakistan by alleging a rift between the government and military establishment on making peace with India. This is rich, considering that civil-military estrangement is the talk of Pakistan, and the world, not just India. Chaudhry Sahab has also ordered the Sindh Chief Minister, Qaim Ali Shah, to ascertain the source of the leaked video confessions of Dr Asim Hussain, a PPP stalwart and confidante of the PPP chairman Asif Zardari. This is richer still, considering that Dr Hussain was in the Rangers’ custody before being remanded to NAB, both of which are operating in Sindh with the backing of the federal government, and the videos were taken during interrogation by these very agencies. It is also adding insult to injury, not so long ago, when Mr Shah had protested the innocence of the good doctor, Chaudhry Nisar had publicly boasted of being in receipt of such confessional videos.

Meanwhile, Mr Sartaj Aziz, the foreign advisor, is nursing his wounds. It seems nobody is treating him like a real foreign minister while blaming him and the Foreign Office for Pakistan’s mounting foreign policy failures. Mr Aziz has, perforce, to take responsibility for strained relations with neighbours Iran, Afghanistan, India and superpower America. But he can’t very well explain why Iran is mad at Pakistan (an ISPR tweet upset the Iranian President when he last visited Islamabad) because that would further strain civil-military relations. For much the same reason, he cannot explain why Pakistan hasn’t been able to deliver the Taliban leadership to the quadrilateral table with China, Afghanistan, America and Pakistan (Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says General Raheel Sharif promised to do so by the summer of 2015).

What takes the cakes, however, is Mr Aziz’s explanation for the dismal state of relations with America. Mr Aziz holds Pakistan’s ex-Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, responsible for single-handedly thwarting the heroic and untiring efforts of Prime Minister Sharif, COAS Sharif, Pakistan’s Foreign Office, Mr Tariq Fatemi, and our Ambassador to Washington to mend relations with America. Lest anyone forget, Mr Haqqani was charged with treason in Memogate in 2011 and banished from Pakistan by the same national security establishment (in cahoots with the PMLN) that later conspired with Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri to try and oust fellow Memogate petitioner Nawaz Sharif via dharnas in 2014. If Mr Haqqani is such a super lobbyist, why can’t Mr Aziz bring himself to admit the error of making a traitor of him, and put him to good use working for Pakistan instead of against the establishment that outcast him earlier and is now scapegoating him for its abject failure to strategize an effective foreign policy?

Fortunately, there was one case of ascending from the ridiculous to the sublime. Asma Jehangir told the SC that the ISPR should be “monitored and regulated” because it was “allegedly maligning politicians and civilians”. But the chances of this happening are as slim as those of a snowball in hell.

Offensive India
TFT Issue: 01 Jul 2016

Statements from India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj have triggered a debate on the contours of Pakistan’s foreign policy and who is responsible for the stalemate in Indo-Pak relations.

Sushma Swaraj says “some powers are opposing cordial relations between Modi and Nawaz Sharif”. Mr Modi claims that there are “multiple power centers in Pakistan” which make it difficult for New Delhi to “draw a Lakhsman Rekha (red line) for talks with Pakistan.” He asks: “who should India talk to in Pakistan? The elected government or with other actors.” He goes on to explain that “there are different types of forces operating in Pakistan but we only engage with a democratically elected system”.

Both Indian leaders are referring to the powerful role of the military establishment in Pakistan in fashioning and implementing national security policy in which India figures centrally. They are thus implying that (1) the civilian government of Nawaz Sharif is severely handicapped in its ability to chalk out foreign policy, much less to deliver on it; (2) India is handicapped too because it will only talk to an elected government in Pakistan. The thrust of both statements is to inform the world that “democratic India” is willing and able to conduct a dialogue with Pakistan but Pakistan’s civil-military divide is an obstacle to it.

This has prompted Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, our interior minister, to ask Ms Swaraj “which powers in Pakistan don’t want India-Pak ties” and to admonish her for “personalizing the nature of the cordial relations between PM Modi and PM Sharif”. Sartaj Aziz, our de facto foreign minister, has retaliated by portraying Pakistan as the evergreen peace player and India as the perennially intransigent one. If both sides are being economical with the truth, what do the facts reveal?

It is true that the military establishment has fashioned the “national security state” of Pakistan and considers itself its “sole” guardian and arbiter. It is true that Pakistan’s foreign policy is shaped directly and indirectly by it. It is true that when elected civilian leaders like Benazir Bhutto in 1988-90 and Nawaz Sharif in 1997-1999 tried to steer India policy out of the hands of the military establishment in significant departures from their stated goals, they were “dismissed” for their audacity. But it is also true that India has been willing to talk to the generals when they have been in power in Pakistan, so long as it served its strategic goals. It was ready to talk to General Zia via cricket diplomacy in 1987 and it talked with General Musharraf at length in the 2000s via a back channel over the future of Kashmir.

Therefore the problem with India is not who to talk to in Pakistan but what to talk about. Pakistan has always wanted to talk about Kashmir first and foremost but India has always put other issues like trade and people-to-people contacts on the agenda and Kashmir last of all. This led to deadlock. But the situation has changed significantly in the last decade without breaking the deadlock. Pakistan is ready to relegate Kashmir to the status of a fig leaf and discuss all other issues, including terrorism, but India now insists on talking about terrorism only without any commitment to discuss other issues like trade, let alone Kashmir. In fact, India is only interested in focusing on one dimension of terrorism – that which emanates from Pakistani soil – but refuses to acknowledge, let alone discuss, RAW’s new doctrine of “offensive-defense” in sponsoring terrorism against Pakistan. In fact, it can be argued that since the activation of RAW in Pakistan by India’s National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, India has been avoiding talks on terrorism and focusing on “enlightening” the world about Pakistan’s “sponsorship” of terrorism across its eastern and western borders. This, regardless of the fact that Pakistan has signaled its readiness and goodwill by concretely alerting India to the threat from non-state actors in Pakistan, a gesture that India has grudgingly acknowledged by saying that “the government or agencies in Pakistan have no hand in the terrorist attack on Pathankot airport.”

It is therefore disingenuous of Mr Modi and Ms Swaraj to refer to multiple centres of power in Pakistan as the sole reason for not talking to the civilian government in Pakistan. Even the Pakistani military’s worst critics at home and abroad now admit that its focus is on grappling with terrorism inside Pakistan as an existential threat to state and society and not in consciously exporting terrorism to India or Afghanistan as state policy.

Pakistan’s civil-military leadership is ready to talk strategic peace with India even if there are tactical differences of opinion within it on how to proceed sequentially. But it is Narendra Modi’s India that has fashioned a new strategic doctrine to isolate and destabilize Pakistan in which talks of any sort, even on trade in which the balance of gain is heavily tilted in India’s favour, are thought to be counterproductive.

Stability and continuity
TFT Issue: 08 Jul 2016

Pundits forecast that the next three months are critical for the survival of the Nawaz Sharif government. Their claim is based on the fact that there is a wellspring of public opinion against the corruption of politicians as revealed by Pananaleaks, which the opposition parties, led by the irrepressible Imran Khan, are going to exploit after Eid. The plan is to launch street protests to force the prime minister out of office.

The case against Mr Sharif is based on two facts: his two sons are beneficiary owners of offshore companies and his daughter was declared a dependent in his declaration before the Election Commission of Pakistan whereas she is also a shareholder in an offshore company. The first point is moot because his sons are neither dependents nor residents of Pakistan and it is not illegal for Pakistanis to own offshore companies. The second could be more problematic if his dependent daughter cannot prove she is no more than a mere trustee on behalf of her beneficial-owner brothers.

Both the PPP and PTI have filed references against Mr Sharif before the Election Commission of Pakistan and both are girding up their loins to heave Mr Sharif out of office via street agitation. Will they succeed?

Clearly, the pundits, like the PPP and PTI, are banking on some other factor to clinch the ouster of the beleaguered prime minister who refuses to budge. What is this “third” force or factor?

This is the “national security” establishment. This establishment does not like Mr Sharif for a number of reasons. It dislikes his “independent” demeanour in foreign policy formulation and implementation, traditionally its exclusive preserve. It hates him for putting an ex-army chief on trial for treason. And it believes him to be both corrupt and incompetent. It would dearly love to see the back of him but is constrained by several factors. Mr Sharif is an elected prime minister, and that too from Punjab, the heart of Pakistan, with a significant support base and organized political party with roots amongst the people. He has tenaciously fought his way out of many political storms. Short of a military takeover or ouster by the Supreme Court, he won’t quit. But the prospects of both happening are not bright.

The military isn’t quite ready to risk the internal and external consequences of a takeover and the SC under the current chief justice isn’t in the same aggressive political mode as his predecessor who shot down one prime minister and was aiming at another before retirement overtook his ambitions. So what is this hullaballoo all about?

One plausible theory is that the establishment wants to weaken the prime minister rather than get rid of him (because he will then do its bidding more readily in all matters of interest or concern to it) by stoking the opposition into street agitation and putting him on the back foot. The advantage of this approach is that he will then be more amenable to the pressing demand for an extension in the tenure of the three chiefs of staff of the establishment.

The speculation is focused especially on the army chief who has avowedly declined to seek or accept an extension in tenure like his predecessor but is under pressure from other vested interests among his ranks to hang on in some “acceptable” manner. This could be a legal extension in the service rules enabling all three chiefs to enjoy a four-year tenure rather than the current three years. Since the incumbent army chief is scheduled to retire in November this year, all this must be accomplished within the next three months before a new chief is announced, making the current chief a lame duck.

Mr Sharif must therefore be weighing his options just like the establishment and the opposition parties. If he doesn’t grant the desired “extension”, will the establishment get him? If he does, where is the guarantee that the establishment won’t still get him, if only to prove that it can’t be “bribed” against the “national interest”? Indeed, where is the insurance against much the same sort of pressure in 2017-18?

There is no doubt that General Raheel Sharif has so far demonstrated that he is the man of the hour. Some of his national security decisions have been courageous and far-reaching. Continuation in policy is therefore desirable. Equally, however, a case can be built against an extension in service because it is not in the collective interest of the institution that he serves and represents and the soldier-gentlemen to follow are likely to be no less good and competent.

Indeed, the case against an extension in service for the army chief or all service chiefs, regardless of their merits, is no different from the case for elected governments to complete their tenures regardless of their incompetence or lack of integrity. Pakistan desperately needs stability. But stability can only come from continuity that puts the pundits of doom and gloom out of business.

Edhi’s legacy
TFT Issue: 15 Jul 2016

“The public will be allowed to enter the National Stadium through gates number four, five, six and eight,” announced the DIG Traffic on the day of Abdul Sattar Edhi’s funeral in Karachi, before adding, without shame or irony: “The VIPs and VVIPs, most of whom will be coming from Defence, Clifton and Shahrah-e-Faisal, will enter through the main gate.”

The main gate for the rulers, the “other” gates for commoners. Business as usual in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where doors are always being opened for the high and mighty.

But it is a testament to Abdul Sattar Edhi’s greatness, and to the tragedy of the country he leaves behind, that on the day of his funeral, Pakistan’s credibility-hungry generals and politicians were lining up behind his coffin to bask in some reflected glory.

Who was Abdul Sattar Edhi? A conventional timeline places him in a strife-ridden century: born in 1928 in what is now Indian Gujarat, this young Bantva Memon was deeply affected by his mother’s physical paralysis, and tended to her until her death when he was 19. After Partition, Edhi moved to Karachi and sold cloth in its wholesale market. But the panoply of afflictions in that migrant-heavy city appealed to his conscience: in the 1950s he set up a drug dispensary, then a makeshift hospital to treat victims of an influenza epidemic, then an ambulance service for the victims of the 1965 war with India. In the last thirty years of his life, as Karachi was wracked by ethnic and sectarian violence, Edhi’s duty-bound ambulances could be seen beeping from site to site, their red-and-white logo a hope-instilling icon of commitment and consistency.

For such a motivated man, Edhi was remarkably free of ambition. In fact it would be accurate to say that his life was one long exercise in self-abnegation. Famously “simple” and unfussy, Edhi sat on a wooden bench in his office, slept in a windowless room and drew no salary from his sprawling network of charities. He is said to have owned only two pairs of clothes when he died. In these Tolstoyan attempts at transparency and moral exactitude, this perpetually perturbed-looking, white-bearded nana (as he was called by the children in his orphanage) was steadfastly assisted by his wife Bilquis, who came to embody the virtues of patience and forbearance, the necessary sabr to his saadgi.

The accounts of acquaintances and journalists all conjure up a clear-eyed man, one who had no time for abstract or overly romantic ideas about poverty. “Never give to beggars,” he once told a wealthy philanthropist from Lahore. Another time, recalling the plight of people wounded in the 1965 war, he admitted, “My heart became so hard after that. I made humanity my religion and devoted my life to it.”

In the 1990s, he was approached by General Hameed Gul and Imran Khan for mercenary enlistment against Benazir Bhutto’s government. But Edhi refused to redeem their conspiracy with his participation, even when they threatened him with force. “They wanted to fire a gun from my shoulder,” he told an interviewer, “but I wouldn’t let them.”

How might we assess the legacy of such a Spartan and singularly upright figure? First, by placing him in a long line of revolutionary ascetics, men whose renunciation of wealth and power bestowed on them a purifying aura of spiritual and moral authority. The Buddha, the Sufis, even Gandhi with his complicated engagement of colonial power, all rose to prominence through a paradoxical shunning of privilege; it was their symbolic embrace of poverty that became their capital, their nearness to suffering that elevated them in the eyes of a cynical and motive-wary public. For Abdul Sattar Edhi, who lived in a particularly turbulent time, and who witnessed first hand the toxicification of Pakistan’s religious fabric, that passage to sainthood was lined with the additional pitfall of the new-age missionary’s deceptive piety. Let us not forget that Edhi was operating his orphanages and soup kitchens in the age of Jamaat-ud-Dawa and other insidious “charities” whose bright and shiny aid programs are often fronts for hate-filled recruitment drives. Indeed, let us uphold Edhi’s stance on religious discrimination as reformist and exemplary: “There were many who asked me, ‘Why must you pick up Christians and Hindus in your ambulance?’ And I said, ‘Because the ambulance is more Muslim than you.’”

In one of his last interviews, a visibly ailing Edhi expressed a wish to see a political revolution in Pakistan. When pressed for details, he prophesied a Khomeni-like savior. “When conditions deteriorate to such an extent,” he said in his frail, phlegmy voice, “such men become inevitable. They may be late, but they are inevitable.”

Alas, such men and their predictably self-righteous and often misplaced passions pale in comparison to the transparent services of one Abdul Sattar Edhi, a man whose wilful residence on the margins of society offers the only template for Pakistan’s salvation – and that is the truest (and oldest) form of democracy.

Candle in the Wind
TFT Issue: 22 Jul 2016

The killing of social media starlet Qandeel Baloch has galvanised Pakistan’s civil society. Her violent and untimely death (she was all of 26) at the hands of her brother has led to outpourings of shock and grief from across our social divisions, and has brought to light a vibrant demographic of young, web-savvy women who look upon self-expression as a fundamental and inalienable right. It’s as if Qandeel, in her brief career as a raging Internet celebrity, had touched the hearts and tickled the fancies but also expanded the imaginations of young Pakistanis.

She was born Fauzia Azeem, one of twelve siblings, into a poor family in Dera Ghazi Khan. Married at 17, she quickly fled her allegedly abusive husband and sought shelter in Darul Aman. Thereafter she held a string of jobs before auditioning in 2013 for the popular TV show Pakistan Idol. In her audition Qandeel Baloch (she had already taken on this enigmatic stage-name) was obviously cast as a “disaster” candidate: her attempts at singing were met with pained expressions on the judges’ faces and were complemented with kooky “coiled-spring” sounds signifying a mechanical error. Though Qandeel went along with the ditzy role ascribed to her by the show’s producers (she tottered in on very high heels and wrung her hands repeatedly), she was keen to make an impact: she was exuberantly dressed, armed with English phrases, and belted out some genuinely melodic notes before being escorted off the stage by one of the judges.

In her subsequent engagements with the public, Qandeel adopted a more radical strategy. Instead of relying on television, she turned to the unregulated and potentially explosive circuitry of Facebook; instead of sticking to a “safe” girl-next-door image, she began to peddle the persona of a faux-naive, helplessly sensual dilettante. Dressed in revealing outfits like tank tops and frocks, she held forth in a cutesy, hiccupping voice on such disparate national obsessions as the dysfunction of Pakistan’s cricket team, the ethics of celebrating Valentine’s Day, and the prospect of her own ardour-filled marriage to Imran Khan, whose surname she deliberately mispronounced, in the way an Indian actress might. All this was interspersed with repeated usage of the word “like”, a trendy American tic, and her simpering renditions of Urdu poetry.

In other words, Qandeel was pitching herself as a new kind of Pakistani entertainer, one who combined humour, fashion, and the modern-day drama of relentless self-documentation with a good deal of titillation; and from the surge in her followers on Facebook, who eventually numbered more than a million, as well as the impassioned and frequently vitriolic comments posted under her videos, it was easy to see how the formula was working. Love her or hate her, you couldn’t ignore Qandeel Baloch.

Alas social media, while quick to give exposure, offers its “stars” none of the protections afforded by traditional mediums such as TV and film; and herein lies a crucial, fatal difference. For while she gained notoriety quickly, Qandeel could not have translated her viewership just as easily into money; nor did she burrow her way into “showbiz” with the backing of powerful patrons.

In the last month of her life, Qandeel exhibited an urgent desire to overcome the limitations of her career as a social media sensation. First she tried to amp up her relevance by taking selfies in a hotel room with Mufti Qavi of the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee; then she put out a risqué music video – again combining provocative images with a sociological subtext – lampooning society’s controls on women’s bodies. According to news reports, she was hoping to parlay the publicity (and liberal goodwill) generated by these stunts into a lucrative gig on Indian reality TV show Big Boss. And all the while she was managing the pressures exerted by her still-provincial family: telling TV anchors she had received death threats from her brothers (whom she supported financially) and declaring that she planned to leave the country with her parents after Eid. (In that last assertion we can sense the swing and ballast of her game plan, a thrilling escape followed by a more secure career as a TV celebrity.)

Sadly, the mores of a moribund society closed in on Qandeel before she could realise her desire for liberation. In the end, while visiting her parents over Eid in Multan, she was strangled to death by one of her brothers, a self-confessed drug addict who later said he had killed her for “bringing dishonour to the Baloch name.” We need not take that statement at face value, and should analyse the deed for all manner of base motivations. But in the meantime we should remember Qandeel Baloch as the first of her kind, a talented, self-made artiste who tested the limits of our sensibilities, and who came to embody, in her colourful life and terrible death, the lingering chasm between our social media and our social reality.

Tragedy of the subcontinent
TFT Issue: 29 Jul 2016

India-Pak relations have hit rock bottom again. Who is responsible and why?

The record shows that Nawaz Sharif has tried to bury the past and move forward in a pragmatic manner. But Narendra Modi hasn’t reciprocated in the same spirit. Domestic compulsions have now compelled both leaders to adopt hostile positions.

Mr Sharif went to the “inauguration” of Mr Modi in 2014 because he wanted to start an unconditional new chapter in good relations. But the Indian Foreign Secretary muddied the waters by an unprovoked statement on Kashmir. Undaunted, Mr Sharif proposed foreign office talks on all issues without preconditions on “core” issues. But Mr Modi clutched at a feeble excuse – a proposed meeting between the leaders of Kashmir and the Pakistani delegation — to back out at the last minute. Mr Sharif tried a third time in 2015 when he agreed in Ufa to send a delegation to Delhi to talk about the way forward on common issues, including terrorism. But the Indians again balked at any reference to Kashmir and the meeting was called off. It seems that any mention of the K word by Pakistan – even as a fig leaf for public consumption at home — is anathema to India. In 2014, Mr Modi was canvassing in J&K and didn’t want to dilute his message to his hard line electoral constituency by seeming to be talking to Pakistan on Kashmir or allowing Pakistan to talk to the Hurriyet leaders. Now he is waging a brutal repression in Kashmir and doesn’t want the K word in headlines again. But for precisely the same sort of domestic reasons, Mr Sharif has been compelled to thunder about the mass human rights violations in Kashmir during his own election campaign in AJK.

In between, win-win opportunities for both sides have been wilfully squandered. A revival of cricketing ties at neutral venues was agreed upon between the PCB and BCCI in 2015. But Mr Modi didn’t allow this to go ahead. More significantly, a far-reaching trade agreement has been on the anvil since 2013 but Mr Modi has studiously refused to get on with it despite India’s long time insistence on precisely such an agreement as a building block for peace.

Meanwhile, vested interests on both sides continue to thwart the road to peace. Despite the military establishment’s lid on them, fringe non-state jihadi elements in Pakistan are occasionally able to slip across the border and terrorise India, as happened in Pathankot recently. Instead of accepting this as an inevitable hiccup, and despite concrete reassurances by Pakistan’s National Security Advisor, India has ratcheted up such incidents as “deliberate provocations”. On Pakistan’s side, evidence has piled up of the “offensive-defence” doctrine of India’s NSA in sponsoring terrorism in Karachi and elsewhere in Pakistan. This has provided ammunition to the chest thumping, war-mongering lobby in the country.

The situation in Kashmir is dire. A new intifada has risen. There is no foreign hand in it as many Indian observers accept. It comprises the angry alienated youth of a new generation of Kashmiris who have grown up in the shadow of brutal occupation by the Indian army. There is not a single family in Kashmir that has not lost a son or brother or father in the struggle for freedom and democratic rights. There isn’t a single family in Kashmir whose mother or daughter or sister hasn’t been violated in one way or another by the soldiers of occupation. In the old days, when the occupation forces shot on protestors, the demonstration would break up because people would run away from the hail of bullets. Today people rush out of their homes and run toward the site of conflict to rain stones on their oppressors. Yesterday, their heroes were “freedom fighters” in exile in Pakistan. Today, they are hailing their very own Gurus and Wanis. Yesterday, some of them wanted to be autonomous within India and some of them wanted to be part of Pakistan. Today they all want “Azaadi” from both India and Pakistan. Yesterday, there was no one in India who was ready to listen to their cry of anguish. Today, Arundhati Roy isn’t the only one who is pleading their cause. Yesterday, there was a conspiracy of silence in the Indian media against the atrocities committed by the occupation forces in Kashmir. Today, stories of mass graves and videos of beautiful Kashmiri faces pocked with pellet wounds are going viral on the internet.

Before long, however, it will be business-as-usual again between India and Pakistan. This week a high level BSF delegation came to Pakistan to talk border management with the Pakistan Rangers and we can be sure that there will be talk of talks between the two before the year is out but nothing concrete will come of it. Before long, too, the repression will take its toll in Kashmir and a sullen and angry silence will descend on the valley, until the next time round.

This is the painful tragedy of the subcontinent.

Place your bets
TFT Issue: 05 Aug 2016

Will the Panamaleaks amount to anything? Will the opposition band together to heave out Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the next few months? Will General Raheel Sharif get an extension in service?

Lay folk think the Panamaleaks storm has passed. The PMLN has successfully defused the crisis by dragging it over the last three months. But Mr Sharif is still not out of the woods. One petition before the Election Commission, in particular, could pose problems. Public statements by Mr Sharif’s sons allude to shares in offshore properties in the name of Mariam Nawaz Sharif that were not declared by Mr Sharif in his statement of assets and wealth before the EC in 2013 in which she was listed as a “dependent” with no assets. This minor technical point about “concealment” could “disqualify” him from remaining a member of parliament. But much the same sort of considerations by the EC could knock out Imran Khan – he didn’t declare his offshore company to the EC in 2013 – and create an unprecedented political crisis that the EC may wish to avoid.

The opposition, meanwhile, is still trying to get its act together. The PTI is flapping about in safe Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa organizing peaceful protests instead of threatening dharnas in Islamabad or long marches to Raiwind in Lahore. The party is riven with internal splits and its public following has dwindled. Its strategy is to try to keep the pot of discontent boiling in the hope that Mr Sharif blunders into it or is pushed into it by the notorious “third umpire’. The PPP is embroiled in a delicate balancing act in Sindh, trying to clutch at the federal government while holding the military establishment at bay. Any further encroachment by the Rangers on its political turf will seriously undermine its feudally constructed support base. Therefore it will resist the same fate in interior Sindh that the MQM faced in urban Karachi when the Rangers went in all guns blazing under Constitutional Article 147. In exchange for the federal government’s support in weaning the Rangers away from interior Sindh, the PPP is mulling the idea of softening its position on the Pananaleaks TORs or law proposed by the PMLN. The dilemma for Mr Asif Zardari is how to save his own skin while dispatching Mr Sharif with the help of Imran Khan and the military establishment. The dilemma for Mr Sharif is how to save his own skin by not antagonising the military establishment by favouring Mr Zardari in Sindh. Rational choice theory would advise both to stick close to each other instead of the military establishment that wants to be rid of both of them asap.

Meanwhile, Dr Tahir ul Qadri is gearing up to whip up a small storm in Lahore focused on the Model Town “martyrs” of 2014. The good doctor can expect the pro-establishment media to publicise the contents of the judicial report and JIT pertaining to the incident that squarely pin responsibility on the Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, and his minions in the administration. But if the Sharifs handle the situation delicately and succeed in precluding violence, Dr Qadri will huff and puff without bringing the house down.

It is the ubiquitous military establishment that has some aces up its sleeve. The civilian pro-military suspects on television are sanguine in their belief that if the generals have decided its time for “tabdeeli”, “they” will find ways and means to “wrap” up the Sharifs and Bhutto-Zardaris. Indeed, it can be argued that the “attack” on the “pro-democracy” Geo-Jang Group last week by invisible forces was meant to sideline it on the eve of the conspiracy to strangulate “democracy” in Pakistan (Geo’s shrill pro-democracy transmission when the military coup was hiccupping in Turkey is memorable if only for the oblique but unmistakable message it sent to the military establishment at home).

All this while, the debate remains fixated on whether or not an extension in the tenure of General Sharif as COAS will solve Mr Sharif’s own tenure problem. But the logic of the situation suggests that there is no link between the two. First, Mr Sharif is not inclined to change the rules of military succession. But if he were, General Sharif would find himself in a bit of a spot for having earlier publicly declined to accept any such extension. By accepting it now and not overthrowing his benefactor would lead to the unpalatable charge of the general sacrificing the “national” interest at the altar of his own personal interest. Second, it is inconceivable that an honourable and upright soldier like General Sharif would like to wade into such treacherous political waters in such controversial circumstances in which all the political parties (save one), civil society groups, lawyers, judges and most media are resolutely opposed to any military takeover regardless of the extent of corruption and incompetence among their elected representatives.

Bookies are giving even odds for and against “tabdeeli” this year. Ladies and Gentlemen, place your bets.

Fundamental questions & answers
TFT Issue: 12 Aug 2016

Will the terrorist attack in Quetta last week have profound consequences for state and society in Pakistan?

The 2014 attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School finally us woke up to the existential threat from the Pakistani Taliban. The distinction between “good and bad Taliban” was abandoned. Imran Khan admitted the error of his ways in defending the Taliban as good but “misguided Muslims”. Subsequently both the civil and military leadership of the country vowed to hunt them down without any ifs and buts via a National Action Plan against terrorism. In much the same manner, the Quetta attack has provoked Pakistanis high and low, khaki and mufti, to ask whether the same NAP is sufficient to uproot terrorism even if it is comprehensively applied and enforced by the civil-military leadership.

The army chief, General Raheel Sharif, has pointed the finger at “those who want to hurt CPEC ”. But the terrorist attacks in Balochistan originated long before CPEC was even conceived on the drawing boards of the Pakistan Planning Commission. So this explanation is just not convincing. Chaudhry Nisar, the interior minister, hasn’t minced his words in targeting the Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies RAW and NDS respectively for the attack. But he hasn’t stopped to ask or explain how and why such attacks are being planned and executed by India and Afghanistan. An ISPR statement is even more confusing. It claims that the terrorists have shifted their focus from Karachi and FATA to Balochistan because the army has been successful in uprooting them there. If this is indeed the case, we may well ask how the Taliban and the MQM who were accused of terrorizing these regions have suddenly started strategizing about CPEC when such issues never entered their political equations earlier.

No, it is not as simple as this. As Raza Rabbani, chairman of the Senate, remarked in the wake of the Quetta attack, “we need to ask and answer basic and fundamental questions about the way the civil-military bureaucratic state” has ruled Pakistan. Whatever does he mean by that? Why didn’t he go on to ask the fundamental questions and answer them? Why was he so annoyingly oblique?

Pakistan’s “national security state” is embroiled in antagonistic relations and proxy wars with neighbours India and Afghanistan whose blowback is spawning terrorism inside Pakistan. No National Action Plan based on internal factors can sufficiently cope with this blowback because it is sponsored by state and non-state actors outside Pakistan.

Pakistan’s national security establishment first tried to wage war with India in 1948 and 1965 in order to resolve the unfinished business of partition that revolved around the fate of Kashmir. Failing that, it manufactured non-state Islamic-jihadi actors inside Pakistan and then launched them against India in Kashmir in the 1990s and 2000s. It is payback time for India now. Its proxies are disgruntled Mohajir and Baloch leaders in exile.

Pakistan’s national security establishment also developed the doctrine of “strategic depth” against India by trying to make Afghanistan a client state. It manufactured Islamic Jihadis against the USSR in Afghanistan in the 1980s and launched them with the help of the CIA. But after these jihadis ousted the USSR from Afghanistan and fell into internecine warfare, the Pakistani national security establishment launched the Pakhtun Taliban from the border areas to seize Kabul in 1997 with nary a thought about the historic ethnic balance of power between Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and Pakhtuns in the nascent Afghan state. Following 9/11 and the US attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan, the same national security establishment provided safe havens in FATA and Balochistan for the fleeing Taliban. In time this became a sore point in relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan and Pakistan and the United States because the Afghan Taliban were able to regroup and launch attacks on the US backed Kabul regime and allied NATO forces from their sanctuaries in Pakistan. In retaliation, the US-Afghan forces have allowed the Pakistani Taliban and Baloch on the run from Operation Zarb-e-Azb to hide in Afghanistan and launch terrorist attacks across the border in Pakistan.

The “fundamental” questions that Raza Rabbani and others are alluding to are these: (1) Why is Pakistan in conflict with India, Afghanistan and the US? (2) How are the consequences of such policies hurting Pakistan? (3) Who is fundamentally responsible for such disastrous policies?

Pakistan’s relations with India will not improve until the domestic jihadi groups are dismembered so that Mumbai and Pathankot never happen again. Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan will not improve until the Afghan Taliban are disrupted and defeated or compelled to sue for peace. And until Pakistan is at peace with its neighbours, it will not be at peace with itself. It is also clear that the power to take such fundamental decisions vests exclusively with the military establishment. It’s time for the military to consult the civilian stakeholders of the country and change the national security paradigm that has brought so much strife and conflict to Pakistan.

True to form
TFT Issue: 19 Aug 2016

The game is on! True to form, the politicians are trying to undo each other while the military establishment smacks its lips in anticipation. We have been here so many times before it’s not even amusing any more.

The PPP is feeling the heat in Sindh from the military establishment. It wants to end the writ of the Rangers to “clean-up” Sindh but is politically and morally much too weak to exercise its constitutional powers and cut the umbilical chord with the federal government. At the very least, it wants a reprieve for Dr Asim Hussain (bail) and Ayyan Ali (exit).

But the military establishment has succeeded in creating so much goodwill about its clean-up operation in Karachi that it is difficult for PM Nawaz Sharif to rein it in. Therefore the PPP is blowing hot and cold in anger and frustration. It has allied itself with Imran Khan in challenging Mr Sharif’s right to be prime minister but confined its protest to parliament and the election commission so that the military establishment doesn’t get any excuse to wrap up the system. In its books, a bad and uncooperative Nawaz Sharif is a million times better than a good and zealous Raheel Sharif. Therefore, while it may launch half hearted protests on the streets here and there just to show that its heart is in the right place, it will not join forces with Imran Khan to overthrow Mr Sharif via street agitation and violence that can only end when the third umpire gives Mr Sharif out. To this end, the PPP’s Farooq Naek is talking to the PMLN’s Ishaq Dar about the contours of a new anti-corruption law that encompasses Panamaleaks while the PPP’s Khurshid Shah is talking to the PMLN Speaker of the NA, Ayaz Sadiq, about the TORs for any proposed judicial inquiry. Neither side, it appears, is too interested in genuinely resolving the matter and both are going through the motions of intense negotiations, partly to demonstrate seriousness of purpose for the benefit of an outraged public and partly to keep Imran Khan in the loop so that he doesn’t break away and embark on a dangerous solo game to provoke the military establishment.

Imran Khan’s strategy is equally clear. He senses that if Mr Sharif survives this crisis he is set to win the next general elections in 2018 and put paid to Imran’s ambitions. So he is trying to whip up a storm in the country and get rid of the prime minister one way or another. His tactics are clear enough. He is mounting pressure on the SC and EC to disqualify Mr Sharif. It doesn’t much matter to him that the evidence he has collected and presented doesn’t amount to anything in the eyes of due process of law just as long as it keeps the anti-corruption drive in high gear in the eyes of the public and brings these institutions under pressure. The real focus is on the street protests that are meant to supplement the pressure on the SC and EC and provoke the government into blundering into another crisis such as the Model Town one two years ago which has become a millstone around the neck of the PMLN.

In his desperation, Imran Khan has now publicly dragged General Raheel Sharif, the army chief, into the fray. He has accused Mr Sharif of trying to “bribe” General Sharif into acquiescence by offering to make him Field Marshal. This is patently ridiculous. If Mr Sharif isn’t ready to extend General Sharif’s tenure as army chief, why on earth should he make him a Field Marshal, and that too in this day and age?

To be sure, General Sharif is an honourable man. Many months ago, in order to quell idle talk about wanting an extension in service, he authorized a statement on his behalf clearly denying any such ambitions and going so far as to say that even if an extension were offered to him he wouldn’t take it in the institutional interests of the army. Unfortunately, his current silence on the subject, when such talk has drowned out all other chatter, is giving grist to Imran Khan’s mills and adding to the uncertainty and instability that we see all around us.

Mr Sharif has played his cards well so far by not allowing Panamaleaks to overwhelm his government. Next month he is due to announce a change in high command at GHQ. Once that happens, the threatening sting in the tail of Imran Khan will be taken out and the notion of any third umpire triggering upheaval will dissipate.

But, as they say, there’s many a slip between the cup and lip. And a month is a long time in politics, especially if the military establishment has taken a collective decision to step in rather than step back. But if it hasn’t, then Imran Khan’s histrionics are fated to end with a whimper instead of a bang.

Fear no more
TFT Issue: 26 Aug 2016

Altaf Hussain is incorrigible. He has got into the obnoxious habit of abusing and threatening anyone who dares cross him. He gets away with it because the MQM death squads that blindly answer to his will instill fear in everyone high or low. No media dare expose him and no witness testify against him because of the fear of violent reprisals. Indeed, no one within the party dare criticise, much less challenge Altaf for much the same reason.

But his reign of terror is coming to an end. He has brought the MQM to the brink of disrepair and the country is united as never before in opposing Altaf Hussain’s blackmailing and terrorizing tactics. The military establishment under General Raheel Sharif, in particular, which once allied with him politically under Generals Zia, Aslam Beg, Musharraf and Kayani, has finally woken up to the threat he poses to state and society and decided to cut him down to size. This is the critical new factor in the MQM’s latest situation.

Former COAS General Asif Nawaz was the first one in 1991-92 to tackle the MQM, compelling Altaf Hussain to flee to the UK. Then in 1994 Benazir Bhutto unleashed the Rangers under Gen Naseerullah Babar when she too couldn’t stomach his blackmailing and murderous ways. Nawaz Sharif tried to do business with him but gave up in frustration and anger. However, General Musharraf undid the good work done by his immediate military predecessors and rehabilitated Altaf for politically expedient reasons. The Altaf Hussain MQM used the space and clout of the Musharraf decade to entrench itself in Karachi and Hyderabad by an indiscriminate use of armed might. The terrorist rank and file of AHMQM swelled and Altaf Hussain became Lord and Master in exile. All dissent in Pakistan and the UK was violently quashed. The PPP in Sindh became hostage to its armed might. The “Pearl of the East”, Karachi, became an ungovernable nightmare.

But the decline of AHMQM, not the MQM constituency, was foretold some time ago owing to the unsustainable policies of its mentor. Just as Azeem Tariq’s murder in 1993 set the stage for Altaf Hussain’s rise to unchallenged power, the murder of Imran Farooq in London has become a millstone around Altaf Hussain’s neck. It has compelled the British government to open investigations into charges of murder, money laundering and incitement to violence against him, denting his “invincibility”. In Pakistan, the “alliance” with the PPP has collapsed despite Asif Zardari’s deal-making expertise. PM Nawaz Sharif and COAS Gen Raheel Sharif are the last nails in AHMQM’s coffin. The flight of dissenters from the rank and file of AHMQM is palpable. First it was Mustafa Kamal and Co who fled to Dubai. Then a host of others bolted to South Africa or the USA or just slunk away into nooks and crannies in Pakistan. Sindh Governor Ishrat ul Ibad was next to cut the umbilical chord. The return of Mustafa Kamal to found a new mohajir party in Karachi under the aegis of the military establishment marks a turning point in the fate of AHMQM not because it poses a serious challenge to it electorally as demonstrated by jailbird Wasim Akhtar’s elevation to the Mayorship of Karachi, but because it signals an end to the politics of fear in Karachi. It is this desperation that has both provoked Altaf Hussain to cross the red line in Karachi vis a vis the military establishment but also, ironically enough, given Farooq Sattar and the Rabita Committee the courage to stand up, however haltingly, to tell Altaf Hussain to gave them space to breathe and survive.

This is not yet Minus-One Moment for the AHMQM. But the process is unmistakable. Farooq Sattar is crying in the wilderness into which Altaf Hussain has shoved him and the Rabita Committee. He is pleading and begging Altaf Hussain to cut him some political space in Karachi, with the military establishment fuming at Altaf’s outrageous “anti-Pakistan” and “anti-Raheel Sharif” tirades. This is a temporary reprieve. Altaf Hussain has retreated tactically as he has done so often in the past. His “apology” is contrived and meaningless. He is a desperate man given to desperate measures. He wont give up the reins of power to anyone in London or Karachi, not even if he is imprisoned in the UK or repatriated to Pakistan. Farooq Sattar’s drama reflects the dilemma of his personal frustration and political anguish at being pushed into an indefensible corner by his leader.

We haven’t seen the back of Altaf Hussain yet. But we can see the beginning of the end of AHMQM’s politics of fear, blackmail and terror. The civil-military establishment of Pakistan has taken an irrevocable decision and the rank and file of the MQM will not risk life or limb for Altaf anymore even though they may still vote for those MQM politicians who vow to protect “Mohajir” rights.

Geo-Strategic Shift
TFT Issue: 02 Sep 2016

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has decided to dispatch a group of parliamentarians to Western capitals to highlight a brutal surge of human rights abuses by India in Kashmir. What is the urgent need for such an initiative? Why have Indo-Pak relations plunged in recent months? Is some sort of geostrategic shift taking place in the region for which Pakistan is flaying about for an appropriate response?

Mr Sharif was disabused of his desire for peace with India by the arrival of Mr Narendra Modi as prime minister and Mr Ajit Doval as his National Security Advisor of India in 2014. Far from clasping Mr Sharif’s hand of goodwill on the day of his inauguration by reviving the back channel on Kashmir initiated by his BJP predecessor Atal Behari Vajpayee a decade ago, Mr Modi intervened brutally in Indian-occupied Kashmir and aggressively against Pakistan (Mr Doval’s “offensive defense” doctrine). The first is manifest in the bloody crackdown against peaceful protestors in Indian-occupied Kashmir; the second is evident from the notching up of proxy terrorisms in various parts of Pakistan, equating Pakistan’s human rights violations in Balochistan (an internal matter) with human rights abuse in Kashmir (disputed territory) and claiming Pakistan’s Azad Jammu Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan territories as “integral parts of India”. All this has been pegged to the issue of “terrorism by Pakistan” — on allegations that ex-Mumbai Don Dawood Ibrahim is sheltered by Pakistan (never mind that he has been put out of “business” for twenty five years), and that Pakistan isn’t doing enough to convict the Mumbai or Pathankot accused or crack down on the Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Tayba (never mind that Pakistan has put a firm lid on all such groups and has gone so far as to cooperate with India on giving advance warning of suspicious border crossings by maverick jihadi groups out of the control of Pakistan). This has apparently led Mr Sharif to redress matters by trying to internationalize the Kashmir issue and put the spotlight on state sponsored terrorism by India in Kashmir and Pakistan by dispatching parliamentary delegations to the West in advance of the United Nations Security Council moot later in September.

India’s new “offensive-defense” strategy looks both East (towards China and SE Asia) and West (towards Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and West and Central Asia). Its pivot is a budding economic and military alliance with the United States in which India is building itself up as a counterweight to China in Greater Asia. Towards this end, India and the US have stitched up unprecedented defense and nuclear agreements (American use of Indian military installations, American state-of-art air weaponry technology for jet engines and UAVs, US support for India’s inclusion in the nuclear suppliers group, joint war-games and naval exercises in the Indian Ocean), mutually reinforcing anti-China policies relating to South East Asian sea lane rights, and increasing US foreign investment in India, etc. Most alarming for Pakistan and China has been Indian opposition and hostility to the CPEC which aims to both boost Pakistan’s economy and open up strategic alternative trade and energy corridors linking China to the Middle East and Central Asia. Needless to add, both the US and India have the same vested interest in stabilizing the Afghan state as a dependent and pro-US-India country that fits in with their strategic plans to contain China and downgrade Pakistan. Indeed, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s ongoing visit to New Delhi is aimed at beefing up the US-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue.

Unfortunately, however, while China seems to be acutely aware of the New Great Game, the ruling establishment in Pakistan is still floundering in a sea of internal political conflicts and is unable to fashion an appropriate and swift strategic response to the historic challenge facing it. For starters, the political parties are at each another’s throats over a range of issues that simply don’t allow them to sit down, fathom the nature of the challenge and fashion a consensual and fitting response. Then there is the civil-military turf war between the Nawaz Sharif and Raheel Sharif camps that has created uncertainty, ill will and instability in the system. The worst aspect of all this is the bickering over CPEC among the provincial civilian stakeholders on the one hand and the civil-military administrations of the two Sharifs on the other. The Chinese are deeply worried by the inability of Pakistan to get its act together and guarantee the viability of CPEC.

Tectonic geo-strategic shifts are happening in the region. Yet all that Pakistan’s civil-military leaders can do is pack off a delegation of mostly inept and incompetent ruling party parliamentarians (instead of one representing all major parties to demonstrate a national consensus) to the West to highlight India’s human rights abuses in Kashmir. The paramount need of the hour is for the two Sharifs to shrug off their personal or institutional issues and help forge a national political consensus on a stable, dynamic and creative way forward for Pakistan.

TFT Issue: 09 Sep 2016

Let’s face facts. Despite Panamaleaks, Imran Khan has not been able to rouse the masses on the issue of corruption and provoke them to throw out Nawaz Sharif. So Khan has become quite desperate. He and his two bit allies like Dr Tahirul Qadri and Sheikh Rashid are openly attacking various institutions of the state like the NAB, FBR, FIA, ECP and Parliament for not doing their bidding. Worse, they are now exhorting the army chief, General Raheel Sharif, to step in, the constitution be damned. Consider.

Imran Khan has lost all general elections to date despite consistently campaigning on the issue of corruption against PMLN and PPP. For a year, he didn’t challenge the 2013 results. Then, realizing that he might be out of business altogether if Mr Sharif was able to consolidate his regime, he started hurling allegations of election rigging in order to derail the ruling party. When the ECP and SC didn’t play ball, he openly invoked the finger of the “third umpire” during his endless dharna in 2014. When that didn’t materialize, he clutched at Panamaleaks to push his agenda forward.

But a string of bad decisions has laid his popularity low. Party infighting and divisions have badly depleted his organizational abilities. His pre-Eid attempt to ignite a spark has flopped. Now he and his fellow desperados are openly begging the army chief to oust the prime minister.

Sheikh Rashid has called for the army chief and chief justice of Pakistan to sit down together and find a way of dethroning Nawaz Sharif before “an unconstitutional intervention” happens. This is a remarkable statement. It amounts to bullying and blackmailing the chief justice to lend his shoulder to an unconstitutional act of which he will be a part in order to thwart an unconstitutional act of which he will not be a part.

Dr Tahir ul Qadri has gone one step further by bringing religion into the equation. He has exhorted the army chief to redeem his pledge (given to him personally, it seems, during the 2014 dharnas) to provide justice (string up Shahbaz Sharif?) in the model town case. “If you don’t do that and retire instead”, thunders Dr Qadri self-righteously, “how will you be able to face the Maker afterwards?”

These desperate antics have nothing to do with democratic electoral or agitation politics. Furious campaigns to dethrone sitting governments are not launched three years in advance of general elections because the public has a short memory span. Nor is the issue of corruption, unfortunately, new or sexy. When people go out to vote for Nawaz Sharif or Imran Khan, the corruption of one or the cleanliness of the other is not sufficient to sway significant numbers of them. Rural folk are as cynical as their local leaders. The urban middle classes are both more ideological and moralistic. But they are notoriously fickle and impatient. The very people who lust for military interventions to cleanse the rot are the ones who quickly tire of the military and are ready to join forces with corrupt politicians to revolt against it.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is once again being billed as a “failing state”. Acute political instability is negatively affecting foreign investment and foreign policy, which in turn are straitjacketing the economy from growing. The Chinese, who have pledged $42B in direct investments and loans to build CPEC as a strategic dimension of the One Belt-One Road vision for the 21st century, are increasingly worried about the political divisions and lack of democratic continuity in Pakistan. On the other side, India, US and Afghanistan are tying up anti-Pakistan alliances. The last thing Pakistanis should want in this state of internal disarray is a military intervention that alienates the biggest political parties, ethnic regions and international community and plunges the military and country/trustee into a veritable quicksand. Past military interventions were able to survive and even flourish because the US was ready to pour money into their kitty for doing its dirty job in the region. This time, however, the US is distinctly hostile and distrustful, and will relish the prospect of turning the screws on the Pakistani military.

The PMLN and PTI have filed numerous references against each other before various courts of appeal. But the problem is that the very institutions in which these appeals are logged have become controversial. Imran Khan doesn’t think much of the ECP unless it judges in his favour – that is to say he is cleared of owning an offshore company and not declaring it to the ECP but Nawaz Sharif is knocked out because he didn’t declare his dependent daughter as a beneficial owner/trustee of one! And so on.

These protests will end in a whimper the day General Raheel Sharif honourably goes home. They are being staged solely for his amusement. But the country is paying an enormous strategic price for this circus. It’s time for ISPR to clear the fog.

The world according to General Raheel Sharif
TFT Issue: 16 Sep 2016

COAS General Raheel Sharif is a gentleman officer, upright and transparent. Despite provocations and instigations he has not conspired for personal gain or political glory. That is saying something.

It is also saying something remarkable that the general has resolutely gone after the Pakistani Taliban and urban terrorist-criminals of Karachi. Indeed, his obsession with the return and rehabilitation of the Internally Displaced Persons of FATA is evidence of his abiding humanity no less than of his focused anti-terrorist strategy.

Therefore when General Raheel Sharif speaks in public, which is rare, we need to listen to what he is saying and understand what he wants to do, even if it appears at the fag end of his tenure.

On September 6, Defense of Pakistan Day, General Sharif made the usual points – that the defense of Pakistan is impregnable, that no external force would be allowed to obstruct or undermine CPEC, that Pakistan-China friendship is consistently based on mutual respect and equality, and so on. He also lauded the trust and harmony within the armed forces and paid glowing tributes to the soldiers martyred in the fight against Taliban terrorism.

More significantly, General Sharif has boldly declared that “reforms are needed in the system”, and referred to the “evil nexus between heinous crimes, corruption and terrorism”. This isn’t the first time a top military man has established an organic link between corruption, terrorism and crime. But whenever this link is reiterated, a tremor runs through the country’s political elite, especially in those political parties that are known to sponsor, or have contacts with, criminal elements, terrorist mafias and bhatta groups. In fact, remarks such as these have fueled speculation that General Sharif may have political ambitions, especially since Imran Khan has never tired of thundering about the corruption of the PMLN, PPP and MQM and made no bones about his fervent wish for a “third umpire” (military) intervention to stem the rot. No less than Imran, Dr Tahir ul Qadri has gone so far as to exhort General Sharif to give him “justice” in the Model Town case so that the good general can face his Maker one day without guilt.

Two questions arise. In the backdrop of this political provocation, what reforms is General Sharif talking about? Who is going to bring them about? The military has already focused on the corruption-terrorist nexus in Karachi. But in so doing it has run politically afoul of the two main parties that represent the people of Sindh – the PPP and the MQM. An extension of this policy into other parts of Pakistan, especially in the Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, runs the risk of alienating the PMLN and PTI. And if General Sharif is not about to step in and reform the system, surely he can’t expect the other Sharif to do so.

It is also curious that General Raheel Sharif’s idea of reform is singularly one-dimensional. Does he really think that breaking the link between corruption and terrorism will end terrorism and make Pakistan a land of peace and plenty? The jihadi groups and Taliban, the IS and Al Qaeda, have no organic link with corrupt elements in the PPP or PMLN or PTI or indeed MQM. Yet it is these groups and the radical violent ideologies that they espouse and practice that are an existential threat to the state of Pakistan and not the PPP or PMLN. It is these groups that do not allow the civil-military leadership of Pakistan to stitch up its borders east and west and build the peace process with neighbours Afghanistan and India so that the inter-state proxy wars that have destabilized the region can come to an end. The military establishment constantly bemoans the lack of enthusiasm and initiative on the part of the civil leadership as regards certain aspects of the National Action Plan. But can it, will it allow, nay help, the civil leadership to take on and uproot these non-state actors? Will the military leadership take on the task of registering, monitoring and cleansing the radical madrassahs and jihadi groups?

Similarly, General Raheel Sharif may be all for a strict policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of India and Afghanistan. But how does he intend to contend with the burden of history in which the military establishment of Pakistan has had a central role to play in the past?

The reform that Pakistan desperately needs is in Pakistan’s outlook to “national security” which is monopolized by the military establishment. The tail shouldn’t wag the dog. Countries have armies and not the other way round. National security as perceived by the military establishment headed by General Sharif is one dimension of national power. And the military establishment is just one stakeholder of national power. When General Raheel Sharif is ready to reform his own establishment’s all-powerful outlook on all such issues, he will be worth listening to intently by all of Pakistan.

Existential crisis
TFT Issue: 23 Sep 2016

India and Pakistan are on the brink of another war after the terrorist attack on an army camp in Uri in Kashmir. Public pressure has compelled India to weigh punitive options, in turn compelling Pakistan to get ready to retaliate. Both countries are already crossing swords at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Much the same sort of situation arose in 2001 following an attack on India’s parliament by Kashmiri jihadis allegedly infiltrated by Pakistan, and in 2008 by Pakistan based jihadis who breached the shores of Mumbai and wreaked havoc for 60 unending hours. On each occasion, however, armed conflict was avoided by some sensible and coolheaded thinking on both sides, aggressively mediated by the US. What will happen this time round?

It’s a precipitous situation. First, regardless of what Pakistan says, the world is convinced of “a Pakistani hand” in the Uri attack, as in 2001 and 2008. Second, unlike in 2001 and 2008 when the US was actively engaged in propping up Pakistan in its own self-interest because of 9/11 and then Afghanistan, this time Pakistan is relatively isolated because it is not supporting the US mission in Afghanistan. In fact, India has now become a strategic partner of the US in its anti-China pivot to South-East Asia while Pakistan has been reduced to a frustrating transactional player. Worse, the US Congress has moved a bill to declare Pakistan a terrorist state.

Some observations are important. This isn’t the first time the Indian army has been attacked by Kashmiri freedom fighters in the last three years since the latest Kashmiri intifada began. Why then has Uri become a turning point?

The answer is simple. First, Uri comes in the wake of the Gurdaspur and Pathankot attacks this year that were allegedly carried out by jihadis infiltrated from Pakistan. But Indian restraint at the time was built on the understanding between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif not to allow such incidents by vested interests to derail the peace dialogue, buttressed by advance information provided by Pakistan to India about possibly similar attempts in the future. However, that mutual trust has since evaporated (and both incidents are now being seen by India as serious premeditated provocations) because Pakistan has been compelled to speak up for the Kashmiris following the violent repression unleashed by India’s security forces in the Valley. Second, the level of Indian army casualties in Uri (18) is significantly higher than in all such incidents put together, putting the army and BJP government on the spot. Third, it comes at a time when the world is beginning to notice massive human rights violations by Indian security forces in Kashmir, making India especially prickly at this moment in time.

Some Indian hawks are advocating limited tactical strikes across the Line of Control against defined training camps or infiltration sites for Kashmiris. But others are fearful of retaliation escalating into a full-fledged war that slides into nuclear threat. So they are advising diplomatic moves to isolate and censure Pakistan while upgrading the tit-for-tat proxy war in Balochistan – Brahamdagh Bugti’s asylum in India following Mr Modi’s independence Day speech claiming all of Azad Jammu Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan and invoking the rights of the Baloch is an indicator of the direction that the Doval Doctrine against Pakistan is taking. Therefore, we can be reasonably sure of continued tensions and even measured conflict in the months ahead.

The Modi government will surely exploit this situation to divert attention from its mounting troubles at home and plug its hardline anti-Pakistan posture to gain an edge in the forthcoming elections in Punjab and UP. But the Sharif government in Pakistan will be besieged by the national security establishment and might lose focus on its development projects that are pegged to ensuring a second victory in the 2018 general elections. This developing Indo-Pak conflict could also darken the existing shadow on civil-military relations to the detriment of Mr Sharif. Indeed, the demand for an extension in the service of General Raheel Sharif might become potent on the ground that a change in army command midway through a serious conflict with India would impair the fighting prowess and motivation of the Pakistan army. In other words, just as Kargil triggered suspicions and distrust between Mr Sharif and General Pervez Musharraf and led to a violent parting of ways, it is not inconceivable that Uri might trigger something similar between General Raheel Sharif and PM Nawaz Sharif. If that happens, it would be calamitous for Pakistan. Severe internal political divisions in an environment of regional hostility, international isolation and domestic economic stagnation will imperil its very existence as a nation-state.

All this is not lost on Pakistan’s internal and external enemies. So we may expect them to upgrade their level of hostility. By the same criterion, however, we must demand of our political parties and civil-military leaders to set side their differences and put their shoulders to the task of protecting, reforming and stabilizing Pakistan at a moment of existential crisis.

Sense and sensibility
TFT Issue: 29 Sep 2016

While in opposition, Narendra Modi built himself as a hawk on Pakistan. But as prime minister of India, he is finding it difficult to practice what he preaches. The burden of government, it seems, exacts a profound sense of sensibility from leaders who have built political careers out of pride and prejudice. Consider.

Mr Modi’s response to the terrorist attack in Gurdaspur was measured. In Pathankot it was restrained. Uri is slightly different. It is the third in a row of increasingly provocative incidents. 18 Indian soldiers are dead. The Indian army is simmering to redeem its “honour” by “surgical” strikes against jihadi camps in Azad Kashmir. The Indian media is baying for blood. New Delhi is desperate to divert attention from the root cause of such incidents, which is the struggle of the Kashmiri people for self-determination in the face of a cruel and repressive Indian state apparatus. But war, even limited war, with Pakistan has never been an option since it acquired nuclear weapons. It wasn’t an option even after Mumbai in 2008. And it isn’t on the cards after Uri. So what can Mr Modi do?

For starters, he can’t afford to be adventurous in the west and lose sight of his two-point core agenda in the east: build on domestic economic growth and focus on becoming part of the US “pivot” to SE Asia against China. But he also can’t risk the wrath of the public by not punishing Pakistan in some way or the other. His recent speech at Kozhikode in Kerala indicates his thinking. He says India will defeat Pakistan in the war against poverty by concentrating on rapid economic development. As a consequence, the argument goes, India will become strong and Pakistan relatively weak. At the same time, India will exacerbate the various regional, ethnic and religious tensions inside Pakistan and isolate it externally so that its collapse is hastened. This will be achieved by a combination of overt and covert means by further extending the Doval doctrine of offensive-defense.

The cancellation of the SAARC summit is a first step in the direction of rupture. It is largely symbolic because SAARC has never amounted to anything more than a catalogue of pious hopes and lost opportunities. It has been inconsequentially cancelled on four occasions in the past. The discussion on how to manipulate trade to Pakistan’s disadvantage is equally insignificant: Pakistan’s exports to India are only about $500m. Only Indian businessmen will suffer because their exports to Pakistan are over $3 b. The discussion on how to twist the Indus Waters Treaty to hurt Pakistan is more ominous. India cannot abrogate the treaty unilaterally without incurring worldwide censure: water is life, and an attack on the life of the people of Pakistan will be rightly construed as an act of barbarous war. But India can tweak it upstream without accountability and make life difficult for Pakistan: by storing, diverting or releasing water at critical times to precipitate limited flooding or famine downstream in Pakistan. Any howls of international protest by the government of Pakistan are likely to be drowned in a wave of public protests against the incompetence and corruption of the domestic regime.

A range of covert operations by proxy will most likely be preferred. These will range from covert financial and military assistance to sub-nationalist, ethnic or religious dissidents in various regions of Pakistan to targeted assassinations of top jihadi anti-India leaders and attacks on the offices of military intelligence agencies and security forces. CPEC and Gwador will be likely targets of disruption too. Urban sprawls like Karachi and Lahore may be most vulnerable to the tactics of terror.

The problem with this covert punitive approach is that it will not be without costs for India too. The Pakistani establishment is certainly not going to sit back and wring its hands in despair. It will open the tap of proxy jihad in Kashmir as in the 1990s and exact a heavy toll where it hurts India the most. It may also consider provoking Muslim sentiment inside India by various overt and covert means.

In the end, both sides will get hurt. But India’s hurt will be relatively more because it has relatively more to win from becoming a world power than Pakistan that is relatively isolated and weak already.

Hopefully, all may not be lost. In principle, mainstream parties in both countries have avowed peace with neighbours, in both theory and practice. The cause of the latest rupture between the two is related to the rise of an intifada in Kashmir triggered by the overly repressive policies of the BJP under Mr Modi. If India’s prime minister is both able and willing to apply balm to the wounds of Kashmiris by taking significant political steps to alleviate their most obvious local grievances, he would also succeed in reopening the door to reconciliation with Pakistan. But this will require a degree of sense and sensibility from India’s ruling establishment that has been woefully lacking so far.

Winter of discontent
TFT Issue: 07 Oct 2016

Imran Khan is a desperate man given to dangerous ways and means.

He lost the general elections in 2013 and admitted they were free and fair. A year later, however, he accused a clutch of people and institutions of rigging the elections and dragged them to a Supreme Court judicial commission for electoral accountability. When the judges rejected his allegations, he blasted them and took to the streets. For over four months, he stood atop a container in Islamabad and abused the prime minister, ruling party, parliament and political system, constantly baiting the military to step in, wrap up the system and bring him to power through the back door. When that didn’t happen, he changed tack and began to tour the towns of Punjab, sparking PTI jialas to provoke the government to react violently and trigger mass protests. Confronted by failure once again, he has now clutched at Panamaleaks to start agitation on a new footing. This time he has declared parliament “illegitimate” and threatened to “shut down” Islamabad if the prime minister doesn’t step down, despite the fact that the Election Commission of Pakistan, Supreme Court of Pakistan, Lahore High Court and Federal Bureau of Revenue are all simultaneously pursuing investigations and inquiries into Panamaleaks.

This is a dangerous move. It encourages conspiracy theories that tout civil-military tensions over a host of issues and undermine stability. It also comes in the midst of a national security crisis with India that requires us to show national unity and resolve instead of internal divisions that sap our collective energies and throw us into disarray.

Imran Khan intends to “shut down” Islamabad after Moharram by a combination of street tactics and civil disobedience. He can call upon his youthful activists to block thoroughfares and arteries in the capital, threaten shopkeepers to down shutters and stop bus and metro services so that attendance thins out in government offices. This will inevitably draw the police and city administration into the fray, raising the probability of mischief or blunder leading to violence and bloodshed as in the Model Town case that remains a millstone around the neck of the Punjab chief minister. Eventually, he can build up his forces to gherao the “illegitimate” parliament and provoke the government to use force to establish its writ, confirming a serious “law and order” crisis and compelling the courts and military to come to the “rescue” of the people.

The government’s options are clear. It can sit back and let him have his way, as it did during the four month long dharna crisis earlier, neither provoking his supporters nor being provoked by them, and hope their aggressive intent will wither away through fatigue. Or it can take pre-emptive action to arrest PTI leaders and disperse the crowds by mild use of force before they become too big, thereby trying to neutralise Khan’s attempt to incite violence.

The first option is tricky because Imran Khan’s tactics this time are different from those during the earlier confrontation. The dharna was declared “peaceful”. It was static. No attempt was made to precipitate violence by the protestors. Consequently Islamabad did not “shut down” even though business and citizens were “inconvenienced”. But the “shut down” this time suggests a continuous and dynamic game of street scuffles and even battles between police and protestors. The government cannot afford to hand over the capital to the PTI without seeming to lose its legitimate writ to rule. Inevitably, sparks will fly and fires will be ignited, which is Imran Khan’s very objective.

The second option is also problematic. To be sure, past governments have used preventive arrests to stall and break the back of budding protest movements, as during the MRD movement in the mid 1980s and Benazir Bhutto’s “long march” from Lahore to Islamabad in the early 1990s. But these tactics were successful because the military establishment of the time was either pro-government or not proactively for the opposition. This time round, however, there is a powerful sense of disaffection in the military with the prime minister, suggesting that the establishment is egging on Imran Khan and wouldn’t mind weakening the prime minister if not seeing his back even if there is no covert conspiracy to seize direct power. Under the circumstances, if pre-emptive arrests spur the protestors instead of quelling them, the government will be on the mat for mishandling the situation and face the wrath of the media and courts. In fact, political parties that have so far refused to clasp hands with Imran, like the PPP and MQM, will then come under pressure to boycott parliament and show solidarity with him, thereby exacerbating the political crisis and precipitating a do-or-die situation in Islamabad.

Clearly, the dye is cast. Prime minister Nawaz Sharif needs to chalk out a fast and decisive strategy to attend to the diverse dimensions of this crisis. These cover Panamaleaks, civil-military relations and national security east and west of Pakistan’s borders.

A winter of discontent is upon us.

Too clever by half
TFT Issue: 14 Oct 2016

The PMLN has shot itself in the foot.

It seems that the government wanted the world to know that it was nudging its military leaders to stop propping up the jihadi network because it is the cause of Pakistan’s international isolation as a country that minimally condones or maximally, supports terrorism in the region. So someone apparently leaked the content of a high-level national security meeting to Cyril Almeida, a respected assistant editor at Dawn, in which the problem and its solution was squarely laid by the civilian leadership at the military’s door.

The trouble began when the military protested the leak which made it look like the villain of the piece in the eyes of the world. So the government issued strong denials and accused the journalist of fabricating the story and undermining “national security”. But the newspaper stood its ground while the military demanded to know the source of the leak. So, in order to prove its innocence and also placate the military, the government announced an inquiry into the matter. But it shot itself in the foot when it placed Cyril Almeida on the Exit Control List, which meant that it intended to focus on the messenger rather than the source of the leak, an unacceptable course of action both to the media and the military. When the military quickly distanced itself from the ECL, the media opened its guns on the ruling party.

Now the prime minister is squirming in his seat: damned if he throws a PMLN loyalist (who leaked the story) under the bus, and damned if he goes after the messenger by interrogating him and restricting his freedom. The government’s dilemma is that it doesn’t want to be seen as being anti-military at home at a time when the military is seriously “engaged” with the “enemy” on its borders; it doesn’t want to degrade its democratic credentials as a great defender of media freedom and rights; but it also doesn’t want to own up to a clever-by-half move that has rebounded on it.

The interesting thing is that the facts of the leaked conversations are no secret. Everyone and his aunt knows that the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, wants to snatch back foreign and national security policy from the military and direct it himself because he thinks these policies have outlived their cold-war relevance and are now dangerously misplaced. It is also believed that these policies are a leading cause of Pakistan’s regional conflicts, international isolation and domestic instability. Indeed, the PM’s argument that Pakistan is doomed without a significant regional “peace dividend” cannot be denied. In fact, few serious and independent analysts would quarrel with this re-assessment of the meaning of national security as a dimension of national power that encompasses a strong and self-reliant economy built on the certainty of regional peace and political stability. And even in the top echelons of the military, there is an increasing realisation that it is time to amend long cherished notions of India as the “eternal or existential enemy”, Afghanistan as a dependent base area for “strategic depth”, and America as a long term “strategic ally”.

But the problem is threefold. First, the military doesn’t think Nawaz Sharif is intellectually qualified to command change of strategic course that entails rigorous tactical maneuvers; second, the military is unwilling or unable to offer a credible alternative because it is hamstrung by decades of self-indoctrinated notions of national security, civilian corruption/incompetence and Indian perfidy; third, it is afraid of taking on and degrading the jihadi and Haqqani networks unilaterally without assured regional and international guarantees of reciprocity from India and Afghanistan viz non-state actor proxy wars that have laid all three countries low. So when the military’s sense of propriety or self-righteousness is challenged it tends to react like a wounded tiger.

In this particular case, the government did the right thing by asking the military leadership to put a lid on jihadi or Afghan Taliban non-state actors in order to assuage world opinion and give Pakistan’s diplomats a better chance to counter India’s campaign to isolate Pakistan as an exporter of terrorism. The leak was meant to signal the ruling party’s resolve in this matter and win international and regional friends. But the manner in which the leak was manipulated by the government or communicated by the source ended up embarrassing and alienating the military leadership, which duly registered its anger by protesting to the prime minister. At that stage, the government should have tried to cool tempers by issuing a strong denial and burying the matter by ordering an internal inquiry into the source of the leak, no more. But by dithering on the first count and then targeting the messenger, the government incurred the wrath of both the military and the media.

Cyril Almeida is a sensible and brave reporter. His name should be removed forthwith from the ECL and he should not be hounded.

Now or Never
TFT Issue: 21 Oct 2016

Is some sort of radical “change” in the air?

Imran Khan is touring the Punjab, whipping up anti-Nawaz sentiment and exhorting his supporters to descend on Islamabad on November 2 and “shut it down”. Indeed, he has decided that this is a “now or never” moment for his political career that may be consigned to the wilderness if Nawaz Sharif survives to win the next election in 2018.

The strategy Imran Khan has adopted — ousting an elected government by street power that clashes with the administrative writ of the government and provokes the army to intervene – is neither novel nor new. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto led a mass movement in 1967-68 against General Ayub Khan and provoked Gen Yahya Khan to intervene. In 1977, the boot was on the other foot when the opposition parties ganged up against Bhutto and provoked General Zia ul Haq to throw him out. In 1993, Benazir Bhutto used the same tactics to effect regime change when the army stepped in to oust Nawaz Sharif. Indeed, Nawaz Sharif did much the same with his “long march” from Lahore to Islamabad in 2009 when he nudged the army to compel President Asif Zardari to restore Iftikhar Chaudhry and his fellow judges so that they could pay back the compliment by hounding the PPP, ousting its prime minister and rendering it impotent at the next elections in 2013, paving the way for Nawaz Sharif’s return to power.

During each such “do-or-die” moment in Pakistan’s history, certain ingredients of success may be identified. First, street protests have to be significantly mass oriented and prolonged to generate a wave of discontent that can engulf the government. Second, the situation has to be primed for violence and bloodshed so that each round of clashes enrages the protestors, evokes public sympathy and spurs them on. Third, for one reason or another, the army leadership must be sufficiently interested or “involved” in wanting to see the back of the regime.

In the current scenario, it seems all these elements are falling into place. Imran has demonstrated his ability to whip up street passions. The four-month long dharna in 2014 and his relentless “road shows” in the last month are evidence of his staying power. Violence, too, has seemingly been injected into the developing situation. The PMLN has alleged that the KPK government has bought the services of disgruntled jihadi elements – Rs 30 crores was earlier dished out to the mother-father of all jihadi and Taliban groups and institutions led by Maulana Sami ul Haq — to inject blood into the movement. And there is no denying a significant breach in civil-military relations of late that shows no sign of being bridged. Does that mean that the end is nigh for Nawaz Sharif?

Not necessarily. Much also depends on how certain countervailing factors can weigh in to the advantage of Nawaz Sharif.

If the government can pre-empt or thwart Imran Khan’s movement to shut down Islamabad by a selective application of controlled force, dispersal and arrests, the “wave” may not materialize. That would give Nawaz time to retire the current army chief who has become a symbol of defiance and appoint someone who may be inclined in his early term to be less aggressive or intrusive. That would take the sting out of the scorpion’s tail. Certainly, we may expect some such announcement to be made sooner rather than later, even as the administration gears up to resist the coming onslaught.

There are two other critical factors. When there is an army intervention in politics to effect regime change, the first assumption is that it is prepared to go the whole hog and impose martial law if its will is thwarted. In other words, it is able and willing to take the “ultimate” step. The second assumption is that the target has been sufficiently softened to compel him to make an appropriate exit without recourse to the “ultimate” step. But in the current situation, there is some doubt about both these assumptions.

Will the current military leadership risk a division in its command when it is on the eve of a major institutional transition to a new leadership? Is the current army chief in an ambitious mood to seize power? Does the current military leadership think it can manage the ship of Pakistan in a sea of regional turbulence, internal divisions and economic distress? Can it cope with the fallout of mass alienation from all parties save one? Equally significantly, will Nawaz Sharif wilt at the first sign of a military intervention rather than stand his ground and dare the military to impose martial law?

The news analysis of the impending political “demise” of Nawaz Sharif in November may or may not be exaggerated. Equally, if it comes to pass, we may or may not shed tears for him. But we will collectively have to share the burden of national tragedy, loss and pain that is inflicted whenever there is martial law in the country.

TFT Issue: 28 Oct 2016

There is no justice or “insaf” in Pakistan. That is why citizens clutched desperately at the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. There is rampant corruption and voracious greed in Pakistan. That is why citizens lent their shoulder to fashioning the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. Every political leader in Pakistan is corrupt and incompetent and uncaring. That is why citizens put their hope and faith in Imran Khan, who was educated at Aitchison College in Lahore and Oxford University UK; who is a cricketing hero under whose captainship Pakistan won the World Cup in 1992; whose Shaukat Khanum Hospital is a beacon of light for the wretched and hopeless. Yet, the sound and fury of Imran Khan and the PTI has not signified anything that can remotely signal a serious or even sincere attempt to grapple purposefully with these real issues. The PTI is a one-man party whose leader is mercurial, autocratic, fickle, ill informed, misguided. There is no Insaf or internal democracy in it. There are corrupt lotas in it. The financial misdemeanors of its leaders, including misappropriation and misuse of party funds donated by well-wishers and supporters, cannot be brushed under the carpet. Worse, Khan’s double standards on morality are outrageous.

There is no justice or “insaf” in Pakistan. All hopes were pinned on the Lawyers Movement to restore an independent and qualified judiciary led by CJP Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry to fill this vacuum. Yet, nearly a decade after it was launched and after eight years of stewardship by Mr Chaudhry, that pious hope has all but faded. Mr Chaudhry’s populist suo motu notices and summons made headlines but quickly evaporated thereafter. Many of his judicial appointments politicized the judiciary and made it more controversial and less transparent or competent. In the end, the ex-chief justice has been reduced to squabbling with his benefactor Nawaz Sharif over the mundane spoils of retirement – a bullet proof vehicle, to boot – as he squats rather pathetically over a one man political party with an eminently forgettable name.

It is therefore not surprising that the cry for Insaf or Justice is still ringing loud and true. What is ironic, however, is that it is Imran Khan’s PTI that is knocking on the door of the Supreme Court, after having trashed state institutions like ECP, NAB, FBR, FIA, etc, as “worthless” and “corrupt”. It is Imran Khan’s PTI that first demanded the formation of a SC judicial commission on election rigging, then rubbished its findings when these didn’t suit it, and is now praying before the same SC to investigate the corrupt practices of Nawaz Sharif though the very state institutions like NAB, FBR and FIA that he has earlier denounced.

The SC is clearly in an unenviable position. On the one hand, it is trying to undo some of the consequences of an errant ex-chief justice, some of whose judicial appointees are facing inquiries in the Supreme Judicial Council or whose judgments have been blithely overturned (eg illegal appointments in the Islamabad High Court by an ex-chief justice who has had to resign) etc. On the other hand, it is trying to clean up the arch anti-corruption watchdog NAB that is accused of serious malpractices relating to the discretionary powers of the Chairman NAB (to adjudicate cases involving Plea Bargains or Voluntary Returns of Corruption Monies). This, while it claims to be the leading edge of the investigations demanded by Imran Khan against Nawaz Sharif. The irony is that the very chief justice of Pakistan who rejected Nawaz Sharif’s request six months ago to conduct a corruption inquiry because he felt that the inquiry law was inappropriate for the occasion is now entertaining the same petitions from the same protagonists on the same issues, and there is no discussion yet of the law or Terms Of Reference under which such an inquiry is proposed to be held.

The latest twist in this saga of Insaf-No Insaf again originates from the indefatigable Imran Khan and relates inevitably to the Sharifs. Imran has just accused Shahbaz Sharif of billions in corruption commissions though a front businessman. The self-righteous SS has retaliated by – you guessed it! – suing and bankrupting him in court. Indeed, he insists on fast tracking the court proceedings in order to get Insaf and clear his good name. But here’s the rub. The last recorded libel case that actually came to a conclusion took ten years and ended with a whimper of an apology from the wretched accuser. It is also highly doubtful that there is any judge in the country who will have the courage to deliver Insaf to anyone genuinely wronged by Imran Khan. Such is the populist clout and charisma wielded by the foremost advocate of Insaf against the very precepts of Insaf!

It is all looking rather hopeless. It seems that no state institution or political party or leader is up to the task of provisioning Insaf transparently across the board.

Pied Piper of Pakistan
TFT Issue: 04 Nov 2016

After six months of marching up and down the streets of Pakistan, the pied piper is back in the very courts of law that he has constantly debased and spurned. Now Imran Khan wants Nawaz Sharif to be ousted by the Supreme Court in one month after having tried every conspiratorial trick in the book and failed to achieve his objective. One core factor accounts for his failure.

The core factor is Imran’s inability to read the mind and motives of the military establishment. He thought that “they” disliked Nawaz Sharif intensely and would go to any lengths, including martial law, to get rid of him. Imran was right in the first part but wrong in the second. “They” do dislike and distrust Nawaz Sharif. But “they” are not ready to impose martial law to get rid of him.

The Kayani doctrine is alive and kicking. It aims to retain the military’s pre-eminent strategic position in the body politic of Pakistan by indirect intervention and pressure to keep the ruling civilians in line. Its main weapons are the “threat” of martial law, rather than martial law itself, coupled with the manipulation of public opinion through opportunist political parties, militant Islamists, nationalistic media and amenable judiciary to destabilise and weaken the ruling party in order to retain hegemony over the political narrative.

This Kayani doctrine was successfully tested during the Zardari regime from 2008-13. The military establishment fuelled the movement for the restoration of the judges and installed Iftikhar Chaudhry in the SC, then obtained an extension in the tenure of General Kayani by manipulating the media, Nawaz-opposition and Chaudhry-judiciary to corner President Zardari in Memogate, oust one prime minister and hound another. Central to this doctrine is the creation of a threat-perception that the army is ready to impose martial law and sustain it if the need arises.

Mr Zardari in office misread the threat and succumbed to it while Mr Sharif in opposition exploited it to destabilise and weaken the PPP and win elections. In the current situation, Nawaz in power has read it well and survived, while Imran in opposition has misread it and failed. Nawaz reasoned that if he stood his ground, the threat of martial law would not materialise. Imran misread it and thought the military would intervene to oust Nawaz if he refused to step down in the face of a popular onslaught. Nawaz also read the military mind better than Imran during the dharna in 2014 when conditions were propitious for a military intervention (he refused to budge because he assessed that the military would not take over in the final analysis) but Imran forgot that lesson last week when he launched his thinning brigades against Nawaz’s resolve to beat them down.

Indeed, Imran refused to heed the writing on the wall when the military’s key militant assets, Dr Tahir ul Qadri and the Defence Council of Pakistan, refused to join forces with him. He was also unable to read the mind of Nawaz Sharif when the prime minister refused an extension to the army chief earlier this year and announced his readiness to submit to a legalistic supreme court under CJP Jamali (as compared to a political one under CJP Chaudhry) for accountability when Panamaleaks broke.

The SC’s mind has been articulated. Initially it was reluctant to enter the political fray. Now it has imposed conditions. All protagonists must agree on the TORs for an inquiry; it will not play the role of Sherlock Holmes, ie it will not rely on discredited organs like NAB, FBR and FIA etc for evidence; it does not want to take forever to announce a judgment, ie, it will confine itself to the two main election disqualification petitions before it relating to Panamaleaks; and it must have guarantees that its verdict will not be debased later by any wounded party.

There will be problems. The PPP says it doesn’t accept the SC’s decision to bypass parliament. So there will be no mainstream party consensus. Nawaz is happy to submit to an exclusive Panamaleaks inquiry because he isn’t named as a beneficiary. But it’s moot how Imran will reconcile to it because his popular movement has been based on corruption charges against Nawaz going back two decades which will not be investigated by the SC. It’s also moot how far the SC will go in the direction of an inquisition in which both petitioners must prove their own innocence in which the onus of proving evidence of innocence rests on each of them rather than each proving the other guilty by providing evidence against the other.

Finally, given Imran’s track record of lashing out at the judges when they decide against him, how can the Commission expect to fare in this charged situation if it holds in favour of Nawaz?

This is only another round in the ongoing political battle of the heavyweights. The pied piper hasn’t yet disappeared over the horizon.

Trump’s triumph
TFT Issue: 11 Nov 2016

Many months ago, Michael Moore got it right: “This wretched, ignorant, dangerous, part-time clown and full-time sociopath is going to be our next president”. He advised fellow-Americans who thought otherwise, to stop living in a bubble and face the truth. What is the truth?

The truth is strewn around in bits and pieces. Hilary Clinton’s “unpopularity” because she can’t be “trusted”, not even by a majority of white women! Bernie Sanders’ depressed liberal voters who just couldn’t sufficiently drag themselves out of bed to vote for Hilary. Working class anger in the electorally critical industrial states of the Upper Midwest at Democrat policies in support of NAFTA that had taken away hundreds of thousands of jobs. But in the final analysis, it all boiled down to one main factor: fear. This fear translates into the majoritarian, protestant, white man’s angry last stand against “Feminazi”, against blacks, gays, “Mozies’, “outsiders”, “them”, etc, who are threatening to “take over” America and end this white male’s domination of the last 240 years!

This is borne out by statistical facts. Given demographic changes, it is forecast that by 2042 the US will not be a white majority country. Conservative Republicans, in particular, will become a minority in the US. This rapid radical ethnic change that is based on immigration policies and birth rates, coupled with waning religious cultural practices among the young, is creating a sense of “dislocation” in white America. This dislocation has created an identity crisis that has led to the politics of identity: US vs THEM. This identity crisis is most marked among white protestant low education working class Americans whose fragility has aroused both anger and fear and compelled them to reassert their white supremacist vocabulary.

It is ironic that the very notions of economic and cultural globalization, multiple identities and political correctness that characterize the rising new millennium of freedom and assimilation have sparked a fearful reaction in the leader of the “free” world and “free” market. Immigration, refugees, jobs, outsourcing, brain drain, etc, are all manifestations of globalization that has created multiple identities and notions of equality and political correctness in the First World. Donald Trump’s victory is based on a correct reading and exploitation of white Christian society’s fears triggered by such dislocations.

It is all the more ironic that the impulse for change in America is not based on the sort of hope for the better – better defined as more culturally liberal and assimilative, more globally integrated, more politically equal, more free, more politically correct — that Obama and then Bernie Sanders inspired, but exactly on its opposite; that is, fear that the social change underway is unacceptable because it is “anti-American” (“give us our country back” effectively means “don’t erode white protestant supremacist ideology”). It is also remarkable that this anxiety has led to a wave of fear and loathing amongst the majoritarian liberal democratic regimes of Europe by fuelling similar sentiments among jingoistic and racist parties and groups.

Why did the pollsters get it wrong until the votes were counted? One reason may be that many Donald Trump voters did not want to be seen as being politically incorrect, so they lied about whom they had voted for by exorcising their anger and fear in the anonymity of the ballot box. No other American election to date has been based on such subliminal politically incorrect and divisive sentiments. What next?

Donald Trump has quickly moved to reassure Americans that he will be president of them all just as Hilary Clinton has exhorted her followers to continue the good fight for all the politically correct causes. The sense of angry dislocation is now palpable in the very section of state and society that is accused of it by the dislocated classes who have voted for Mr Trump.

However, Mr Trump in office may not be the same man Americans have come to loathe or love in opposition. Establishment real politik has a way of reasserting itself in foreign and defense policy. Europe will resist attempts to erode NATO. Big business will not allow Trump to dictate the terms of globalizing markets and capital. Even Republican Congress will not allow its pet themes and projects to wither on the vine. Indeed, since the popular vote is evenly shared, Trump is likely to meet with popular resistance if he tries to turn the tide back on issues like abortion and mixed marriages. Similarly, it is easy to promise jobs and difficult to deliver them by spurring higher rates of economic growth in just four years of economic policy making. The noticeable change may only be in tighter immigration controls and homeland security in relation to “them”. If he can significantly reduce income taxes, all America will applaud him. But again, that is easier said than done. Pro-India rhetoric is unlikely to be matched by anti-Pakistan action.

The world has waited with bated breath for the US electorate to decide. Now it will wait anxiously for four more years as Donald Trump unveils his policy architecture.

Internal and External Pressures

TFT Issue: 18 Nov 2016

As Pakistan grapples with two divisive internal issues, it is being compelled to contend with two external pressures that are adding to its destabilization.

The first internally divisive issue relates to civil-military relations. They are not good. The prime minister doesn’t want to grant an extension in the tenure of the army chief; he disagrees with the military high command on how to deal with India and Afghanistan, anti-Kabul Taliban and anti-India Jihadis. And he is reluctant to give more powers to the army and Rangers to tackle corruption amongst politicians under the garb of fighting terrorism.

The second internally divisive issue is the continuing confrontation between the combined opposition and the ruling party. The opposition wants to oust Nawaz Sharif by hook or by crook not just from government but also from politics altogether so that the PMLN is shorn of its popular leader and loses the next election. These two issues have dragged the military, street, media and courts into the fray and hugely destabilized the country.

The two external pressures are coming from India and Afghanistan. Since the rise of an indigenous intifada in Kashmir, India’s ruling BJP has tried to divert attention from its unprecedented repression and human rights violations in the valley by heating up the Line of Control and International Border. Nothing plays to the galleries better than conflict with “arch enemy” Pakistan. First there was the orchestrated farce of “strategic strikes” against Pakistan. This was followed by boastful claims of picking off Pakistani soldiers like flies along the border. Now PM Narendra Modi is facing the wrath of the public over his ill-managed currency demonetization scheme and has shown ever greater keenness to fan the flames of military conflict with Pakistan.

Much the same sort of problem confronts Pakistan in Afghanistan. The Afghan government is not ready to act against Pakistani Taliban groups holed out in the border areas of Afghanistan which are attacking Pakistan because Pakistan is not ready to take action against Afghan Taliban groups like the Haqqani network with sanctuaries in Pakistan. The problem has been accentuated by internal power struggles among the Afghan Taliban in which hard liners continue to spurn efforts to negotiate peace with Kabul and have morphed into IS that is both against Kabul and Islamabad. IS has now joined forces with sectarian terrorist groups from Pakistan and is launching attacks in Balochistan from their southern strongholds in Afghanistan. Afghan Taliban hard liners are angry at Pakistan for abetting the CIA’s assassination of Taliban leader Mullah Mansoor on Pakistani territory and for trying to assemble a pro-Pakistan Afghan Taliban leadership amenable to leveraging dialogue with Kabul.

There is one factor that is at the core of all such issues. This is the military establishment that formulates, commands and controls Pakistan’s national security doctrine, that in turn impinges on the military’s relations with elected civilian governments and the country’s foreign policy, especially in relation to the US, China, India and Afghanistan. The perennial core of this doctrine posits India as the existential arch enemy and the resolution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with Pakistan’s desire. In pursuit of this objective, the doctrine has staked asymmetric conflict with India based on Pakistani jihadi non-sta