Archive for June, 2012

Imran Khan’s Strategy: End Corruption

By Azeem Ibrahim for The Express Tribune

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Imran Khan has pledged in his political manifesto to eliminate major corruption in Pakistan within his first 90 days as prime minister. This is a tall order and was being derided by Nawaz Sharif yesterday as impractical and naive.

Despite his tenure in office, Sharif has failed to understand the different modes and echelons of corruption in Pakistan. Khan intends to target specific government level corruption which is most damaging in a series of enforceable reforms based on forceful transparency and assertive accountability.

Imran Khan is right to see the fight against corruption as a priority and instead of criticism he should be receiving national support for the huge task ahead. Corruption in Pakistan is widespread, systemic and deeply entrenched at all levels of society and government and is a substantial obstacle to the country’s development.

With losses due to corruption in Pakistan being estimated at Rs8500 billion, it has been described as “plunder” in a country where people still lack the most basic needs. Pakistan’s main anti-corruption body, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NAB) admitted in 2008 that Rs200 billion are wasted through corrupt practices at higher government levels with more billions locally. Petty corruption in the form of bribery is prevalent in law enforcement, procurement and the provision of public services; widespread financial and political corruption, nepotism and the misuse of power are rife.

Transparency International (TI), a Berlin-based organisation that puts out an annual Corruptions Perception Index (CPI), attributes corruption to autocratic governments, sprawling government bureaucracies of under-paid, under-trained civil servants and a lack of media freedom to keep track of fat government contracts and easy money. TI ranked Pakistan 139th among 180 countries in its 2009 CPI.

Pakistan has undertaken anti-corruption proceedings over the years but has avoided scrutiny of senior officials. The National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) issued by the former President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, on October 5, 2009, granted amnesty to politicians, political workers and bureaucrats who were accused of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering and even murder. A list of 8041 individuals who benefited from NRO included 34 politicians, further reducing public trust in leadership and encouraging the spread of corrupt practice at federal, provincial and local government level. It was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on December 16, 2009, throwing the country into a continuing political crisis.

Pakistan’s citizens expect to pay bribes to obtain services such as electricity, health care and education and in dealings with the police. In the absence of a democratic and effective taxation authority, bribery can be seen as a form of illegal taxation in a country where the national budget is inadequate for the delivery of social services. This is damaging to the social fabric of society but it is low-level petty corruption nevertheless.

It is the illegal use of power by politicians and bureaucrats that deserves immediate attention and urgent scrutiny in Pakistan and Imran Khan recognises the need to put an end to these predatory practices that waste resources that should be invested for the good of the country.

Just one example of the direct impact of increased corruption is the rise in the prices of food commodities which according to the latest official data of Federal Bureau of Statistics, have increased up to 120 per cent in one year.

Lack of transparency and accountability have allowed the awarding of government contracts and licenses to one’s family, relatives or to corporations where one is a shareholder, allowing for private greed to overrule the public good. This type of corruption at a governmental level can be tackled relatively easily by enacting conflict of interest and transparency legislation – and enforcing it aggressively.

Imran Khan has already set an example and proposed that all politicians should also declare their assets.

A short blog like this is not the most effective medium to convey Imran Khan’s strategy in its entirety, but I can assure the naysayers that a comprehensive and effective policy is being developed alongside a strategic implementation plan. This is a powerful first step in clearing up corruption in Pakistan, vital for Pakistan’s survival as a democracy and hopefully the shape of government to come.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteAlthough we do not agree with all the policies and proposals put forward by Imran Khan, we believe he represents the best hope for Pakistan and its world leading corrupt crony style feudal system of psudo-democratic and hyper military state. All other contenders are either too corrupt or too untrustworthy, unlike Khan, a hero for winning the 1992 Cricket World Cup as well as singlehandedly establishing a free state of the art cancer hospital for the country thru own money and largely through donations from the nation.

Let’s hope regardless of the outcome in the next elections, Pakistan finally gains a leader worthy of fixing all the ills of this nation and perhaps Kaptaan Imran Khan is the only hope.

Pakistan and its Image Problem

By Eric Schmidt for Google

Pakistan, a Muslim country, has spent about half of its independent life under military governments. Today, Pakistani leadership celebrates the ruling coalitions success in almost finishing the first five year term in history (previous leaders indicted by the courts, assassinated by extremists or brushed aside by the generals.) In meetings last week with the senior General, Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, they made the case for a new and updated image of Pakistan: one of the largest democracies in the world, with a vibrant and open press, an upcoming demographic dividend of hardworking young people, and a highly educated elite leadership of the country. Islamabad and Lahore, where we visited, were relatively safe and certainly safer than Afghanistan. It was clear to us that Pakistan has an image problem.

Pakistan also has a power problem, as in electric power. Power is now off two hours out of three all day and all night. Estimates are that the country has enough generation capacity (hydro and oil based) to handle all the load, but corruption, power stealing, poor payment rates and the classic mistake of underpricing power compared to its real generation cost means that industrial production is threatened. Everyone of means has a UPS, and the air-conditioning seldom works on a 45 Celcius day. Our meetings often were literally in the dark, a common enough occurrence that people did not even remark about it.

Pakistanis are on their way to full mobile penetration with more than 110 million users, and all effective political communication programs now rely on SMS. 3G licenses are underway and the start of a real software industry can be seen.

Against this backdrop, another side of Pakistan emerges. The consensus is that the military drives the foreign policy of the country with unforeseen consequences. Alleged use of extremist groups to fight in Kashmir enables a criminal element to flourish, and the hosting of the Taliban in the autonomous regions (called FATA) to the north and west in the mountains turned an ungoverned area into a very dangerous area. The Army Generals explained the difference between fundamentalism (which they support) and extremism (which they fight), and the political leadership explained that the extremism now comes from “seminaries” where youth are indoctrinated, housed and fed in the rural areas where there are no opportunities at all.

Until recently a strong US ally, Pakistan is now on very good terms with China, and has improving relations with India (with whom they have had three wars.) The development of a nuclear stalemate between India and Pakistan seems to have forced them to pursue accommodation and trade is now increasing rapidly. The press are generally hyper-critical of the United States policies in the region and take the view that the India-US relationship is driving much of our countries behavior. The drone strikes are universally condemned as a violation of sovereignty and their constitution and are subject to much negotiation between the two countries. The bin Laden raid is viewed with strikingly different perspectives in the two countries.

The son of the chief of the Supreme Court is under investigation for corruption, and the media in turmoil after the appearance of staged interviews. In return, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Prime Minister is unable to govern after he was sentenced to a 30 second (yes, that’s right) detention for failing to investigate a corruption case against the President. The Prime Minister, so proud of the stability of the political system in his comments a week ago, is now the former-Prime Minister. The lack of trust within the society weakens both the real and perceived effectiveness of the government on security, corruption and good government matters.

We met a number of impressive Pakistanis, none more so than Masarrat Misbah of Smile Again. Every year, hundreds of young rural women have acid thrown on their faces by men as punishment for some dishonor, including being raped by the men who pour acid on her. This horrific crime, which often leads to death or blindness, requires painful rehabilitation and rebuilding of the woman’s life. Masarrat Misbah’s home in Lahore provides a temporary safe house. The perpetrators, most often direct family members, are seldom prosecuted and almost never convicted of anything. I will never forget the faces of these shy, young women so grievously injured in such an evil way.

Much of what people say and think about Pakistan is absolutely true for most of the FATA provinces (autonomous areas) and for Baluchistan. Pakistan’s image problem results from the fact that people outside the country believe the realities of North and South Waziristan and Quetta are reflective of what the larger country looks like. Islamabad and Lahore are certainly safer than people realize, unless you are a politician (many prominent politicians still suffer assassination attempts and threats inside these cities).

Pakistan’s major security challenge comes from having two many fronts. FATA represents a Haqqani network and Taliban problem, threatening the establishment in Islamabad. Baluchistan is a persistent separatist movement. Afghanistan is a threat because Pashtuns are allowed to go back and forth undocumented. All of this, including India, is simply too much for a government like Pakistan to take on right now.

We ultimately see three Pakistans: 1) The places where the security issues are true (FATA, Baluchistan, parts of SWAT Valley, and Kashmir); 2) the rest of Pakistan for the average citizen, much larger than the first and which is reasonably misunderstood and relatively safe; 3) The politician’s and military’s Pakistan, which whether in FATA or Islamabad, is turbulent, unsafe, and complex.

There is a good case for optimism about Pakistan, simply because of the large emergent middle class (#2). The country, vast, tribal and complicated, can follow the more successful model of India. Connectivity changes the rural experience completely.. illiteracy at 43% can be overcome relatively quickly, and providing information alternatives can dissuade young males from a life of terrorism. The well educated elite can decide to further reform the countries institutions to increase confidence in the government. The war in Afghanistan, destabilizing to Pakistan in many ways, winds down after 2014 and buys time for Pakistan to address its real and continuing internal terrorism threat (more than 30,000 civilian terror deaths in the decade.)

Technology can help in other ways as well. The power problem is mostly a tracking problem (tracing corruption and mis-distribution). The problem of extreme crimes (like acid, or stoning) in poorly policed regions can be mitigated with videos and exposes that shame authorities into prosecution. The corruption problem can be tracked and traced using mobile money and transparent government finances. We met with clever Pakistani entrepreneurs who will build large, new businesses in Pakistan in the next few years and global multinational will locate sales and eventually manufacturing in the country.

The emergent middle class of Pakistan won’t settle for a corrupt system with constant terrorism and will push for reforms in a burgeoning democracy. Here’s to the new civil society of Pakistan, who will use connectivity, information and the Internet, to drive a peaceful revolution that brings Pakistan up to its true potential.

Pakistan Elects ‘Rental Raja’ as Prime Minister

By Ben Doherty for The Sydney Morning Herald

A turbulent week in Pakistani politics has ended with the election of a new prime minister, but one who appears unlikely to stay long in the top job.

The past seven days have seen a long-serving prime minister sacked by the Supreme Court for contempt, his putative replacement felled by an arrest warrant for drugs importation and, finally, a stopgap candidate elected, with the country now almost certainly headed for early elections within months.

The new prime minister is Raja Pervez Ashraf, a 61-year-old from Sindh, who was water and power minister in the previous government. That job made him unpopular in a country stricken by chronic power shortages that only worsened on his watch. Some parts of the country are blacked out 22 hours a day. Mr Ashraf has also been accused of corruption over the importation of short-term power stations. Known as ”rental power” projects, they were costly and produced little power.

He is accused of making millions on the side from the deals and his derogatory nickname ”Rental Raja” was shouted by opponents in Parliament yesterday even as he was showered in rose petals on his election. Mr Ashraf won the parliamentary vote for prime minister 211 votes to 89.
In his first speech to Parliament, Mr Ashraf called on Pakistani Taliban militants to lay down their arms. ”The irresponsible behaviour of religious extremists has ruined Islam and Pakistan. I, as prime minister of Pakistan, appeal to them to lay down arms and join the mainstream of life.”

And he said his government would look to rebuild its relationship with key ally and aid donor, the US. ”We will develop cordial relations with the United States and international community on the basis of equal rights and dignity,” he said. Relations between the countries have rarely been worse, and show little scope for improvement.

Pakistan is refusing to reopen its border to Afghanistan to American trucks, after a botched US attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. And the US will not countenance abandoning its drone attack program in Pakistan’s north-west.

Regardless, few in Pakistan believe Mr Ashraf will have time to deliver even a fraction of what he promised in his maiden address. His government has, at most, nine months before elections are due, but they are expected now before the end of the year. ”This year will be the year of new elections, and we are going for the elections,” senior Pakistani People’s Party member Khursheed Shah said.
Raza Rumi, director of the Islamabad-based Jinnah Institute, said Mr Ashraf was a ”cynical choice” for PM. ”Whoever takes over as prime minister will be in for a very short time. Obviously the Pakistan People’s Party will not choose its best for this stint. They will choose people who can be dispensed with.”

On Tuesday, the former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, was dismissed by the Supreme Court for refusing a direction to write a letter allowing Swiss authorities to investigate corruption allegations against Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (the same demand is likely to be made of Mr Ashraf). Then, the man tipped to fill the PM’s post, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, had an arrest warrant issued for him over the illegal importation of the chemical ephedrine, used to make methamphetamine.

Pakistani President Chooses Party Stalwart as New Premier

By Salman Masood for The New York Times

President Asif Ali Zardari has chosen a party stalwart, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, to replace the ousted prime minister, Pakistani news media reported late Wednesday.

Mr. Shahabuddin, who was serving as textiles minister when the Supreme Court dismissed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and broke up the cabinet on Tuesday, will file his nomination papers before the election commission on Thursday. Khurshid Shah, a senior leader of the governing Pakistan Peoples Party, said a special session of the National Assembly would be held Friday for a confirmation vote.

The nomination of Mr. Shahabuddin came after hours of negotiations between party officials and the other members of its governing coalition. Officials said he was Mr. Zardari’s first choice, but he faced mild resistance during a meeting at the president’s house on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Shahabuddin belongs to an influential family from the southern part of Punjab Province, which has been a stronghold of the Pakistan Peoples Party. He has held several positions, including deputy finance minister in the early 1990s. He was considered close to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The country’s economy, militants in the tribal badlands and troubled relations with the United States over reopening NATO supply lines would be among the issues facing him if he was confirmed. But he may face another challenge by the Supreme Court, which has been pushing the ruling government to reopen a Swiss corruption investigation against Mr. Zardari. Mr. Gilani’s refusal to do so led to contempt charges and his dismissal.

Most analysts expect Mr. Shahabuddin would fight such pressure, as Mr. Gilani did.

Raza Rumi, the policy director of the Jinnah Institute, a research group in Islamabad, said that the nomination of Mr. Shahabuddin indicated continuation of the governing party’s policies. “Mr. Shahabuddin is an experienced parliamentarian, but he will face a tough choice to balance loyalty to the president and deal with an assertive court and a restive opposition,” he said.

Political Instability Rises as Pakistani Court Ousts Premier

As Reported by Delcan Welsh for The New York Times

The Supreme Court dismissed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Tuesday, drastically escalating a confrontation between the government and the judiciary and plunging the political system into turmoil.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry declared that Mr. Gilani’s office had been effectively vacant since April 26 when the court convicted him on contempt charges because he refused to pursue a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari, his superior.

Although the decision is unlikely to topple the government, many viewed it as the product of a grudge-driven tussle between Mr. Zardari and Justice Chaudhry, with the prime minister caught in the middle.

“The court has been gunning for the prime minister for a long time,” said Najam Sethi, a veteran political analyst. “Clearly there is a lot of politics in this.”

The order left Pakistan in a state of constitutional uncertainty, with the cabinet effectively dismissed. The court instructed Mr. Zardari to “ensure continuation of the democratic process” — words widely interpreted as an order to arrange the election of a new prime minister.

Legal experts said Mr. Gilani could not appeal the decision but that he may continue in an interim role until a successor is chosen. It was unclear what impact the decision would have on troubled negotiations with the United States to reopen NATO supply lines through Pakistan into Afghanistan.

As word of the ruling spread, Pakistanis held their breath for reaction from the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, whose top leaders held an emergency session at Mr. Zardari’s house. Television stations reported that the party had agreed in principle to accept the court’s ruling, but a final decision was not expected until later Tuesday.

Shahbaz Sharif, a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N Party, which instigated the court action, hailed the decision. “It upholds the supremacy of the law and the Constitution,” Mr. Sharif said.

But it calls into question the validity of all executive decisions made since April 26, including the passing of the federal budget. One commentator said it “opened a massive legal can of worms.”

Speculation swirled about the identity of a replacement prime minister; among the names circulating were those of the foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, and various stalwarts from the party’s electoral heartland in Sindh Province and southern Punjab.

Any candidate, however, will need the approval of the P.P.P.’s coalition partners — smaller, ethnically centered parties based in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, who are likely to seek fresh concessions from Mr. Zardari in exchange for their votes in Parliament.

The court decision advanced the likelihood that general elections, scheduled to take place by next spring, could be brought forward.

Equally, however, Mr. Zardari may wish to first resolve some of the governance failures that have marred his government’s reputation, notably widespread power outages and system failures that have continued for years. The court decision coincided with street agitation in Punjab, the country’s most populous province, where rioters burned buildings and clashed with police in several cities on Monday and Tuesday to protest power outages.

“Law has become subservient to politics, but this government had it coming. It has been singularly inept,” said Mr. Sethi, the analyst. “They had six months to anticipate the power crisis, and now it is upon them.”

In dismissing Mr. Gilani, the court chose the strongest option. It could have referred Mr. Gilani’s case to the Election Commission of Pakistan, which could have taken up to three months to adjudicate the case.

It comes at the end of a tumultuous week for the court itself. Last week, a billionaire businessman made explosive accusations in court and in the media that he had given $3.7 million in kickbacks to Justice Chaudhry’s son in order to swing several cases his way. The furor over those accusations, centered on the judge’s son, Arsalan Iftikhar, is now likely to fade as the country grapples with its latest political crisis.

Mr. Gilani’s dismissal stems from longstanding demands by the court that Mr. Gilani write a letter to the authorities in Switzerland to seek to reopen a dormant corruption investigation into Mr. Zardari’s finances that started in the 1990s.

Mr. Gilani refused, arguing that he was unable to do so because the president enjoyed immunity from prosecution. And the prime minister signaled long ago that he was ready to be dismissed or face prison in the case.

After Mr. Gilani was convicted on contempt charges on April 26, the speaker of Parliament examined calls for his dismissal from public office. The court intervened after the speaker, who is a member of the ruling party, ruled that Mr. Gilani should not be dismissed.

“What will happen to independence of judiciary if speaker or Parliament tries to scrutinize judicial rulings?” Justice Chaudhry said on Tuesday. “No one can undo a court verdict except a court of appeals.”

Edhi Faces Abduction Threat, Authorities Reveal

As Reported By Salman Siddiqui for The Express Tribune

Leading humanitarian worker Abdul Sattar Edhi is in danger of being taken hostage by a militant group in exchange for prisoners that it wants sprung free, authorities have revealed.
Edhi, while talking to The Express Tribune, stated that he was informed by the authorities a few weeks back that his life was in danger. “I was told that the ‘fauj’ (Pakistan Army) had intercepted a conversation of militants where it was being discussed that I may come to be harmed,” he said.
Edhi Foundation spokesperson Anwar Kazmi elaborated that the nation’s most recognisable charity worker was warned that he could be taken hostage in exchange for some prisoners that the ‘Taliban’ wanted to get released —

an allegation the militant group has denied.

Crime Investigation Department (CID) Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) Chaudhry Aslam confirmed that the intelligence reports they had received sometime back indicated that Edhi may be kidnapped by militants in exchange for either “some of their men in custody” or a “large ransom amount”.

“There was a letter in which there were three names, which included my name, Malir SSP Rao Anwar’s and Edhi’s,” he said.

This is the first time that Edhi’s name has been mentioned in a militant group’s hit list. After SSP Anwar was attacked in a suicide bomb in April, it was decided that Edhi’s security would be beefed up as a precautionary measure.

Security provisions

Despite the threat to his life, Edhi remains unfazed and calm in light of this development. “Only God knows what the truth is,” he says. “I don’t have enmity with anyone or any group. I do humanitarian work for everybody without any prejudice.”

Since the threats surfaced, Edhi is being provided with round-the-clock police security — with two official guards escorting him everywhere he goes. “Never before in his life had Edhi ever asked or given security by the state,” the spokesperson said.

Currently, two policemen from the Kharadar police station have been deployed for his security who work in two shifts of 12-hours each, according to Station House Officer (SHO) Agha Asadullah. “We can increase the number of policemen, if need be,” he said.

Edhi himself appears irritated by the presence of policemen near him at all times — especially given that he has to keep the Kharadar police station informed about his movements constantly. “I don’t want any of this security. I really feel there’s no need for it,” he said modestly. Although he is being asked to restrict his movements as a precaution, Edhi said he won’t allow anything to stop him. “I am going to Hyderabad next to do some relief work there,” he said.

TTP reaction

His son Faisal revealed that a three-member delegation of the local chapter of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) recently came to the Edhi office to clarify their position about the alleged threats.

“They said to us that this is all government propaganda to malign the Taliban movement,” he said. “They also added that they respected Edhi for his humanitarian work and could not even think of doing him any harm.”

SSP Aslam said that the good news was that according to recent reports, Edhi’s name had not been mentioned again. “We receive a number of intelligence reports which mention a lot of famous personalities on the hit list on a weekly basis. So hopefully all will remain well.”

Reacting to the development, Edhi said: “I don’t know who [wants to harm me] or why. “I only know that I have to continue to do my work — no matter what.”

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– The Taliban have once again showed their true colors by threatening a man of Mr Edhi’s caliber. To threaten a person who is akin to Mother Teresa for Pakistan, a living saint, shows us how far off the cuckoo’s nest they really are. Just another reason for us here at Pakistanis for Peace to have great disdain for this group of people.

Legendary Ghazal Singing Legend Mehdi Hassan Dies

As Reported by Maimoona Shoaib and Mohammad Ashraf for The Gulf News

He worked in a bicycle shop. He repaired cars. And when he would sing a ghazal, he would mesmerise a continent.

Pakistani ghazal legend Mehdi Hassan, who suffered from lung, chest and urinary tract ailments for ten years, died of breathing complications at a Karachi hospital on Wednesday at the age of 84.

His famous ghazals (ballads) include “Patta patta boota boota,” “Abke bicchde khwaabon mein mile”, “Zindagi mein sabhi pyar kiya kartein hain,” “Dekh tu dil ki jaan se uthta hai,” and “Ranjish hi Sahi”.

“My father’s funeral will take place Friday in Karachi,” son Arif Mehdi said, adding that the family was yet to finalise the burial location. “We have asked for the permission from the government to bury him at Quaid-e-Azam mazar [near the mausoleum of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan] in Karachi, but we are waiting for approval,” he said.

Born into a family of musicians in Loona village in undivided India (now in the Indian state of Rajasthan) in July 1927, Hassan had a modest beginning, mirroring the situation of the new country he migrated to at age 20 after the partition of India in 1947.

The family sank into penury after moving to Pakistan, and eking out a living was difficult. Young Hassan worked in a bicycle shop and later became a car mechanic, even as he was initiated into music by father Ustad Azeem Khan and uncle Ustad Esmail Khan, who were dhrupad (Indian classical) musicians.

In his book “Mehdi Hasan: The Man & his Music”, Pakistani author Asif Noorani writes that his humility during this phase stood tall against the fame and greatness he had achieved later.

“He had earned his living by repairing automobiles during his younger days. During his years of stardom, his harmonium broke and he started repairing it himself, wittingly replying to the people surrounding him that this was a piece of cake compared to the number of engines that he had repaired in the past,” Noorani writes.

Eventually, Hassan found his real vocation in the ghazal.

Mehdi is said to have given his first performance when he was eight, in sync with tradition where musicians started early and were paced through various levels of public performance before they graduated as accomplished vocalists.

The hardships of life notwithstanding, Hassan stuck to his music and continued with his rigorous practice, relying on the extreme discipline he lent to his style of constricted-throat singing as opposed to the full-throated version.

He was well into his twenties when he was first noticed as a singer of some merit. The break came when he was invited to sing for Radio Pakistan in Karachi in 1957 — first as a thumri singer and then as a ghazal exponent.

Hassan had to work harder than many of his younger colleagues but his innovative approach earned him fame.

Traditionally, ghazals were sung in a thumri-like manner. They were set to Indian classical ragas such as Khamaj, Piloo and Desh. The classical format stymied the scope of the compositions — preventing it from innovating. However, Hassan pioneered a ghazal “gayaki” (manner of singing) that played upon the mood of the music rather than on the classical nuances. A composer of rare brilliance, his style combined classical and Rajasthani folk music to create a new realm of ghazals whose magic spread beyond Pakistan to India and the rest of the world.

He was one of the first Pakistani ghazal singers who charmed Indian audiences and won impressive fan followings — former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee invited him for a private performance at his residence.

But many more years were to pass after 1957 for Hassan to get his opportunity to sing for films.

As Hassan arrived, the ghazal stage was dominated by greats as Khan Sahib Barkat Ali Khan, Mukhtar Begum and Begum Akhtar. Among Hassan’s contemporaries were Farida Khanum, Iqbal Bano and Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, with Gulam Ali and Jagjit Singh followed not too far behind.

According to an estimate by Arif, Hassan sang more than 20,000 songs and apart from Urdu, also sang in Bengali, Punjabi and Pashto.

It’s not uncommon for a singer whose career spanned over 50 years to churn up 20,000 songs. But given the quality and the unfailing discipline which were the hallmarks of Hassan’s songs, it will go down in the history of music as a gigantic superhuman effort. And the way Hassan sustained himself until health issues made it impossible for him to carry on, is a remarkable story that parallels the struggles of his homeland.

After shining on the musical firmament from the 1960s to 1980s, Hassan’s career started fading as frequent illnesses took their toll. The death of his first wife in 1998 followed by an attack of paralysis restricted Hassan to bed and he lost the power of speech. His health deteriorated further over the past 12 years.

His home country honoured Hassan with several awards and honours — from Tamgha-e-Imtiaz to Pride of Performance and Hilal-e-Imtiaz — while India honoured him with the Sehgal Award in 1979. The Nepal government too honoured him with the Gorkha Dakshina Bahu.

Hassan, who married twice, is survived by 14 children — nine sons and five daughters. His second wife also died before him.

His death brings the curtains down on a journey in music that lasted more than 50 years and crafted a new era of lyricism, melody and poetry in ghazals.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Pakistan has had a few stars that transform their industry across all borders. One of them was surely Mehdi Hassan, a supernova so bright that he was considered living legend for the last several decades. His passing has dimmed the night sky over Pakistan and indeed over the entire Indian subcontinent as many in the neighboring country are mourning his loss as of one of their own. RIP Hassan sahib, thank you for all your songs and ghazals, through which you will live on forver.

Pakistan Probe Says Ex-Envoy to US Wrote ‘Treasonous’ Memo to Washington

By Asif Shahzad for The Associated Press

A judicial investigation has concluded Pakistan’s former ambassador to the U.S. did write a secret letter to American officials requesting their help in reining in the powerful army last year, a lawmaker and state media said Tuesday. The finding could lead to treason charges against the envoy.

The former envoy Husain Haqqani was a close aide to President Asif Ali Zardari and a member of his party. Zardari himself could be threatened if any evidence surfaces showing he ordered, or knew of, the memo.

Haqqani, who resigned from his post after the scandal broke and currently lives in America, has denied he wrote the memo and said the commission’s report was “political and one-sided.” Many independent observers have also concluded that the probe was politicized.

The commission was investigating politically explosive allegations that Haqqani sought U.S. assistance last year in warding off an alleged army coup in the aftermath of the U.S raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May. The scandal pitted the weak civilian government against the army, and drew in other the feuding power brokers in Pakistan — the Supreme Court, the opposition and the media.

The dispute over the letter and other politically driven clashes between Pakistani state institutions, as well as an increasingly hostile relationship with Washington, have intensified strains on the shaky elected government as it struggles against Islamist militancy and economic stagnation. Some analysts have predicted events could end in a destabilizing stalemate, conditions that in the past have led to coups and other military interventions.

Allegations of collusion between Washington and Pakistani officials may also complicate American efforts to rebuild security cooperation with Pakistan, thrown into disarray in November by U.S. airstrikes that accidentally targeted Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border and killed 24 of them.

The United States wants Pakistan to resolve its political turmoil and focus on fighting militancy and helping in its campaign in neighboring Afghanistan. But anti-Americanism is rife in Pakistan, and few politicians are willing to publicly help Washington. Pakistan has yet to reopen supply lines for NATO and US troops that it blocked after the November airstrikes. On Monday, US officials said a negotiating team in Pakistan seeking to get the supply lines reopened was returning home, the latest sign of stalled relations between the two countries. Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague, on a visit to Pakistan, said his government wanted to see the supply lines reopened.

“Those lines of communication affect us as well,” he told reporters, but added it was an issue for Islamabad and Washington to resolve.

The commission called witnesses and sought telephone records from Haqqani, who did not appear before the probe. Many other Pakistani observers have been skeptical of the investigation. Haqqani’s chief accuser in the case was an American-Pakistani businessman with a history of making unsubstantiated allegations and who once appeared in a music video featuring naked female mud wrestlers.

The commission read out its finding in the Supreme Court. Opposition lawmaker Khwaja Asif, who was present, said it concluded Haqqani tried to undermine Pakistan’s constitution and was not “loyal to the state.” The court ordered Haqqani to appear before it after two weeks.

Retired Justice Nasira Javed said the commission was working on orders from the Supreme Court and criminal proceedings against Haqqani on treason charges could now begin.

The release of the findings came just hours before the Supreme Court heard testimony from a billionaire property developer who claimed that the son of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry accepted $3.5 million worth of shopping and foreign trips to influence judges at the court. The case is embarrassing for Chaudhry, and is seen by some as part of a campaign by supporters of Zardari’s government to tarnish his image. Chaudhry recently convicted Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani, an ally of Zardari, of contempt of court for not opening corruption charges against the president.

Alluding to that case, ex-envoy Haqqani said the “commission’s report has been released to distract attention from other more embarrassing developments.”

Supporters of Haqqani and the government accuse the Supreme Court and the army of working against Zardari and the political party he heads. His movement claims a long history of persecution by the army in Pakistan

Quips a Sign That U.S.-Pakistan Bond Soured

By Sebastian Abbot and Rebecca Santana for The Associated Press

You know a friendship has gone sour when you start making mean jokes about your friend in front of his most bitter nemesis.

So it was a bad sign last week when the U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta joshed in front of an audience of Indians about how Washington kept Pakistan in the dark about the raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden a year ago.

“They didn’t know about our operation. That was the whole idea,” Panetta said with a chuckle at a Q&A session after a speech in New Delhi, raising laughs from the audience. The bin Laden raid by U.S. commandos in a Pakistani town infuriated Islamabad because it had no advance notice, and it was seen by Pakistan’s powerful military as a humiliation.

The U.S. and Pakistan are starting to look more like enemies than allies, threatening the U.S. fight against Taliban and al-Qaida militants based in the country and efforts to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan before American troops withdraw.
Long plagued by frustration and mistrust, the relationship has plunged to its lowest level since the 9/11 attacks forced the countries into a tight but awkward embrace over a decade ago. The United States has lost its patience with Pakistan and taken the gloves off to make its anger clear.

“It has taken on attributes and characteristics now of a near adversarial relationship, even though neither side wants it to be that way,” said Maleeha Lodhi, who was serving as Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, and was key in hurriedly assembling the two countries’ alliance after the terror attacks.

The latest irritant is Pakistan’s refusal to end its six-month blockade of NATO troop supplies meant for Afghanistan. Even if that issue is resolved, however, the relationship may be on an irreversible downward slide. The main source of U.S. anger is Pakistan’s unwillingness to go after militants using its territory to launch attacks against American troops in Afghanistan.

On the Pakistani side, officials are fed up with Washington’s constant demands for more without addressing Islamabad’s concerns or sufficiently appreciating the country’s sacrifice. Pakistan has lost thousands of troops fighting a domestic Taliban insurgency fueled partly by resentment of the U.S. alliance.

Panetta’s comments about the bin Laden raid may have been unscripted, but others he made while in India and Afghanistan seemed calculated to step up pressure on Pakistan. He stressed Washington’s strong relationship with India — which Islamabad considers its main, historic enemy — and defended unpopular American drone attacks in Pakistan.

He also said in unusually sharp terms that the U.S. was running out of patience with Islamabad’s failure to go after the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, considered the most dangerous militant group fighting in Afghanistan.

Many analysts believe Pakistan is reluctant to target the Haqqanis and other Afghan militants based on its soil because they could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw, especially in countering the influence of India. Over the past 18 months, the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has suffered repeated crises.

In January 2011, a CIA contractor sparked outrage when he shot to death two Pakistanis in the city of Lahore who he claimed were trying to rob him.
In November, American airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani troops at two Afghan border posts. The U.S. has said it was an accident, but the Pakistani army claims it was deliberate.

Pakistan retaliated by kicking the U.S. out of a base used by American drones and closing its border to NATO supplies meant for troops in Afghanistan. Negotiations to reopen the supply route are slow but under way.
But Pakistani officials have said the route will not reopen without some kind of apology. The U.S. has expressed its regret over the incident but has refused to apologize for fear it could open the Obama administration to GOP criticism.

Latest U.S. Drone Operation in Pakistan Should Be Judged a Success

An Editorial By The Globe and Mail

The use of a drone to kill al-Qaeda’s second-in-command in Pakistan, confirmed on Tuesday by U.S. officials, is good news that has nonetheless provoked a diplomatic protest by Pakistan. The country’s position is understandable, and doubtless its posturing is necessary for domestic consumption. But it does not alter the fact that Pakistan is either unable or unwilling to act against terrorists in its lawless tribal lands and, though they occur in a foreign country, that Washington’s actions are defensive in nature.

Abu Yahya al-Libi was a global jihadi figure who incited attacks on Western targets and served a critical propaganda role for al-Qaeda. His apparent death follows several similar drone strikes against senior al-Qaeda leaders, including Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, that have seriously diminished the terrorist group’s capability and, frankly, have made the world a safer place. What is more, the use of the unmanned stealth weapons has both preserved the lives of U.S. servicemen and women and resulted in limited civilian casualties.

Louise Arbour, the former war crimes prosecutor and Supreme Court of Canada justice, wrote recently in Foreign Policy that the use of drones “stretches legal boundaries to the breaking point and alienates people in Pakistan.” In calling for the rules for use of strike drones to be “clarified,” Ms. Arbour expressed concerns over the “very real risks to civilians.” There is indeed a need for a clarification of the rules. It would be folly to believe that the proliferation of the technology is without implications for international law and policy.

But any such debate must be built upon some pertinent facts. Strike drones are surgically targeted, and those killed are generally not good people (there is always the unfortunate risk of exceptions when terrorists hide among civilians).

In the case of the latest attack, American officials say Mr. Libi was the only person who died. Local tribesmen dispute this, saying others died, but they confirm no civilians were harmed. The same can hardly be said of the consequences of U.S. inaction in the face of al-Qaeda’s threat. This operation was then, by any reasonable measure, a success. Ms. Arbour and others concerned about drone wars need to reflect on the question of proportionality.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteUntil and unless Pakistan goes after the terrorists in its borders earnestly, the drone strikes and their often effectiveness in killing top wanted members of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban will most likely continue, despite the collateral damage to Pakistan’s sovereignty and loss of civilian lives.

Pakistan Acquits 4 Men in Times Square Bomb Plot

By Reza Sayah for CNN

A Pakistani court has acquitted four men accused of taking part in a botched 2010 plot to detonate a bomb in New York’s Times Square.

Attorney Muhammad Imran Safdar said his client, Humbal Akhtar, and three others were acquitted Saturday: Muhammad Shouaib Mughal, Shahid Hussain and Faisal Abbasi.

The latter remains in custody to face charges on a separate case, the lawyer said. He did not provide additional information about the other case.

The four were accused of assisting Faisal Shahzad, who tried to explode a car bomb in Times Square on May 1, 2010. The bomb failed to detonate.

Prosecutors said Shahzad carefully selected a highly populated target and intended to strike again if he wasn’t caught the first time.

He was arrested two days later in New York while trying to leave the country on a flight bound for Pakistan.

Shahzad pleaded guilty and admitted to getting training from the Taliban, and was sentenced to life in prison in October 2010.

Akhtar welcomed the acquittal, his lawyer said.

“He hugged me and thanked me for my efforts,” Safdar said. “He was so happy and relieved. It’s been a tough time for them but this was a day of liberty for them.”

His wife said he was resting at home and enjoying his time back with his three children.

“We said in the beginning, all these allegations were fabricated. Now it’s been proven in court,” said Rahila Humbal, the wife. “Thank God … justice prevailed.”

Authorities had accused the four of providing financial and logistical support to Shahzad, which they denied.

The lawyer said the case against the men was weak and blamed what he described as a deficient Pakistani court system for dragging out the hearing for nearly two years.

“These men are law abiding citizens. They would never imagine doing what they were accused of,” he said.

Pakistan’s anti-terrorism courts are closed off to the public. Despite the charges, the government never made public any evidence that linked the four men to the plot.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteAnother sign that Pakistan does not see the fight against terror as its fight also but rather the US’s alone.