Posts Tagged ‘ Nawaz Sharif ’

Militants Kill Nine Foreign Climbers in Pakistan

By Haq Nawaz Khan and Tim Craig for The Boston Globe

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Gunmen stormed a camp on Pakistan’s second-largest mountain Sunday, killing nine foreign climbers, including a US citizen, in a brazen assault that could deal a blow to the country’s efforts to jump-start its tourism industry.

The Pakistani Taliban asserted responsibility for the attack, calling it retribution for a suspected US drone strike last month that killed Wali ur-Rehman, the second in command of the terrorist group.

‘‘Through this killing we gave a message to the international community to ask US to stop drone strikes,’’ said Ehsanullah Ehsan, a Taliban spokesman.

The attack in northern Pakistan at Nanga Parbat, the world’s ninth-tallest mountain, occurred around 1 a.m. as the climbers and their guides were at a camp about 4,000 feet above sea level. According to local and regional officials, about a dozen gunmen tied up the climbers’ Pakistani guides before shooting the climbers as they slept in tents.

The attackers reportedly wore police uniforms, an increasingly common tactic that Taliban militants have used to evade scrutiny.

In all, 10 people were killed, including five from Ukraine, two from China, and one from Russia, according to preliminary information from Pakistani authorities. At least one Pakistani guide also was killed. At least one Chinese tourist survived and was rescued from the area, known as Fairy Meadows, officials said.

Pakistan’s interior minister said a US citizen was killed in the assault. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said four bodies have been identified, including those of a Chinese-American, two Chinese, and one local guide who is thought to be a Nepali national.

Matthew Boland, acting spokesman for the US Embassy in Islamabad, said authorities were withholding the identification of the American until relatives could be notified.

‘‘The United States government strongly condemns the terrorist attack on tourists in the northern areas of Pakistan in which nine innocent tourists and a Pakistani guide were murdered,’’ Boland said. ‘‘The US Embassy Islamabad expresses its deepest condolences to the family and friends of the US citizen and the other innocent tourists who were killed.’’

Boland said the FBI was working closely with Pakistani authorities to gather more information on the attack.

The assault occurred in the picturesque Gilgit-Baltistan area, a popular tourist area in the Himalayas near the country’s border with China. Nanga Parbat rises to 26,660 feet. The world’s second-largest mountain, K2, with an elevation of 28,251 feet, straddles Gilgit-Baltistan’s border with China.

The slayings come as Pakistan’s military and government have been trying to combat a wave of terrorist bombings and sectarian attacks, including some aimed at Shi’ites in the northern part of the country.

Attacks on foreigners have been rare, and Sunday’s killings rattled Pakistan’s government.

Khan, the interior minister, spent part of Sunday fielding calls from worried ambassadors, including Chinese envoy Xu Feihong.

‘‘He asked whether Chinese tourists were the target, and I said Pakistan was the target,’’ he said. ‘‘The terrorists want to give a message to the world that Pakistan is an insecure place and insecure country.’’

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has vowed to rebuild Pakistan’s economy. He said such acts of ‘‘cruelty and inhumanity’’ wouldn’t deter the state from efforts ‘‘to make Pakistan a safe place for tourists.’’

But Syed Mehdi Shah, the chief minister in Gilgit-Baltistan, said he worries that the incident will hurt the local economy, which relies heavily on the summer climbing season.

‘‘It will have negative effects on tourism in the scenic northern areas, which is the sole source of revenue of the government as well [as] of the local population,’’ he said.

Shahjahan Khetran, managing director of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, said the ‘‘government tries its best to provide security cover to tourists’’ in that area, including making hikers and climbers register their whereabouts.

But until now, Khetran noted, the biggest threats for tourists in that remote area were not man-made.

‘‘I personally see the involvement of some foreign hand, some foreign agency in this incident as local people could not think of carrying out such a heinous crime,’’ Khetran said. ‘‘Some foreign element could have carried out this attack to destroy Pakistani tourism.’’

For weeks, Pakistan’s Taliban has been vowing that it would avenge the death of Rehman, who was killed May 29 when a suspected CIA-operated drone fired two missiles into a house in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region.

US officials have not confirmed that they carried out that strike, but they had issued a $5 million reward for Rehman’s capture after he was linked to a 2009 assault that killed seven Americans at a CIA training facility in Afghanistan.

At the time, the Pakistani Taliban partly blamed the Islamabad government for not doing more to stop suspected US drone strikes on Pakistani soil.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– The tragic killing of these innocent foreign mountaineers in Pakistan goes to show that the Taliban one again can not be trusted and it is foolish to negotiate with them or even try. Pakistan must eradicate this menace from wiithin and only then will the citizens of Pakistan and other nations ever be safe.

Priority in Pakistan: Turn On Lights

By Saeed Shah for The Wall Street Journal

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When Nawaz Sharif starts his new term as Pakistan’s prime minister on Wednesday, 14 years after he was ousted in a military coup, he will focus on turning on the lights in a nuclear-armed nation that has been increasingly starved of electricity.

Power outages of 12 to 20 hours a day have crippled industry and made life miserable for households, a problem that worsened under the previous government of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Electricity shortages cost Pakistan some $13.5 billion a year, equivalent to knocking 1.5 percentage points off the economic-growth rate, Lahore’s Beaconhouse National University said in a report this year.

After Mr. Sharif is sworn in, he will deliver a speech outlining his strategy for solving the electricity emergency through wide-ranging intervention, bond sales and privatizations, aides said. The financing of the electricity rescue plan would be laid out in the budget to be announced next week by incoming Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, they said.

The new administration plans to pay off what it says is $5 billion in debt that has paralyzed the industry, build new power plants and privatize the sector in a multibillion-dollar overhaul that could attract foreign investor interest, the aides said.

The challenges are great. The previous government poured billions into the sector without eliminating the debt or significantly increasing the supply of electricity. The industry is riddled with corruption and depends on expensive oil for power generation, instead of cheaper gas or coal.

The most pressing issue is the chain of so-called circular debt that runs through the sector: The government keeps the price of electricity to the consumer below the cost of production, but can’t afford to make up the shortfall. It means that oil importers are owed money by power plants, which are owed money by distribution companies, which in turn are owed money by consumers.

“First, we need to write a check,” said Miftah Ismail, an energy adviser to Mr. Sharif, who drew up the energy policy in the party’s election manifesto. “We will pay off the stock of circular debt. It is choking the system. No fresh investment will come into Pakistan unless you get rid of circular debt.”

Although the incoming government has given the level of this debt at $5 billion, a government think tank, the Planning Commission, issued a report in March this year placing it at $9 billion at the end of 2012.

The new administration would borrow the money from banks and also take on the debts owed to the banks by various energy companies and government-owned entities, Mr. Ismail said. Then the government would plan to tap domestic and international bond markets.

A domestic bond issue picked up by local banks would be the most likely scenario, said Ashraf Bava, chief executive of Nael Capital, a brokerage in Karachi. Pakistan would need to improve its credit rating and balance of payments before approaching international capital markets, he said.

“The local banks will have no choice. They’ll have to do it,” said Mr. Bava. “Obviously they’ll be offered a decent return.”

Pakistan, a country of 180 million people, is currently producing some 11,000 megawatts of power, though that dropped last month to less than 9,000 megawatts, compared with demand of at least 17,000 megawatts.

By comparison, installed generation capacity in Indonesia, a country of 240 million people, is 41,000 megawatts, according to a 2012 report from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Pakistan’s supply shortfall results in power being switched off to households and industry for part of each day on a rotating basis across the country—outages known as “load shedding.”

After paying off the debt, the new government plans to pursue a three-pronged strategy, the aides say. The government would aim to cut line losses and electricity theft, shift power plants from oil to coal, and eliminate subsidies to consumers. Pakistan currently charges consumers around 9 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity that costs 12 to 14 cents to produce.

Those who use minimal amounts of electricity would continue to get power cheaply, a cost that would be borne by the full fare paid by heavier users—including the middle classes, who form Mr. Sharif’s core constituency, as well as Pakistan’s elite. But if the plan works, Mr. Sharif’s aides said, the cost of power production and prices would come down again.

“There’s no reason why we should be subsidizing those who can afford to run air conditioners,” said Mr. Ismail.

Mr. Sharif’s plan envisages converting three or four of the biggest power plants, which currently burn oil, to coal. Experts estimate such a plan would cost about $2 billion but would pay for itself in savings in about a year.

New coal-burning power stations would also be commissioned, which the incoming government says would take around three years to come onstream. Government-owned generation plants and the grid companies would be put under new management and privatized.

“We will nibble at this problem from many angles as we go along,” said Sartaj Aziz, an adviser to Mr. Sharif on finance and a former finance minister.

Foreign companies rushed into Pakistan’s electricity sector in the 1990s, when new private generation plants were allowed, on lucrative terms. Oil prices were low at the time, so oil-burning plants were built.

However, frequent changes in governments and policies that followed, together with the circular debt issue, chased away most of the foreign interest. The last major American investor, AES Corp.,sold out in 2009.

GDF Suez of France and Malaysia’s Tenaga Nasional Berhad are the remaining foreign firms active in Pakistan’s energy sector.

Naveed Ismail, an independent energy-sector expert who previously worked with the government, said that 48% of Pakistan’s thermal generation came from burning furnace oil, the highest such proportion among any major countries, while contribution from much cheaper coal, the main source of generation in India or China, was close to zero.

“Pakistan just has to learn from the rest of the world. It doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “The issue is producing affordable electricity. No new capacity should be added unless it brings down the average cost of power.”

Helping Pakistan with its electricity crisis has been a major focus of American aid in recent years. Since October 2009, the U.S. has spent $225 million on energy projects in Pakistan, according to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, adding more than 900 megawatts to the country’s generation, with schemes for upgrading power plants and dams.

The Problem with Pakistan’s Democracy

By Farahnaz Ispahani for Foreign Policy

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On Sunday, former military dictator Pervez Musharraf was at last given permission to run in the parliamentary elections scheduled for May 11, but only in the northern district of Chitral. Two other districts rejected his nomination papers, and his application in Islamabad is still pending. Elections officials in Pakistan, acting under directives of the country’s Supreme Court, have excluded several candidates — among them Musharraf — from running in the elections. This pre-selection of candidates is based on controversial Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, decreed by military ruler General Zia ul-Haq in 1985 as part of his Islamization agenda. These articles forbid anyone who does not meet the test of being a good Muslim or patriotic Pakistani from becoming members of Pakistan’s parliament. Until now, the highly subjective criteria of these provisions have never been implemented in practice.

This time around, the Election Commission of Pakistan has allowed officials in each parliamentary district to vet candidates. The result is a mish-mash of arbitrary decisions. Almost 100 members of the out-going legislatures, many of them deemed popular enough to win re-election, have been disqualified for producing fake college degrees at the last poll, when the generals mandated the possession of one as a pre-condition for membership in parliament. The law was changed by parliament in 2008 and it is questionable why, after serving for five years, these politicians are being challenged now.

Former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf was disqualified on grounds of unproven corruption allegations. Musharraf was barred from running in two districts while being found sufficiently sagacious in another. The leader of the opposition in the outgoing parliament, Chaudhry Nisar Ali, was similarly found to be lacking in the criteria in one district where he filed his nomination papers, while being allowed to run in another.

The last few days have witnessed the spectacle of Election Officers asking candidates to recite specific verses from the Quran, prove that they pray five times a day, and in the case of a female candidate, even respond to the question “How can you be a good mother if you serve in parliament and are too busy to be fulfill your religious duties as a wife and mother?”

The pre-qualification conditions have adversely affected liberal candidates while favoring Islamist ones. Columnist Ayaz Amir, who is part of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, has been disqualified from running as a candidate because he wrote articles that were “disparaging” about the ‘ideology’ of Pakistan. Militant and terrorist leaders have had no problem in meeting the litmus test of religiosity and commitment to Pakistan’s ideology. Nomination papers for Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi, who heads Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a reincarnation of a banned terrorist organization, were cleared even though he has publicly acknowledged his role in the killing of Shias in the country.

In addition to facing discrimination from election officials, liberal politicians must also contend with threats from terrorists – threats that have not persuaded the judiciary or the permanent state apparatus to enhance security for these politicians. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has warned that candidates and rallies of ‘secular’ parties like the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement, and Awami National Party (ANP) would be targeted, and the targeting has already begun. The ANP lost one of its finest leaders, Bashir Ahmed Bilour, a few months ago. The TTP took credit for the murder.

The elimination of liberal political figures must be seen as part of the process of creeping Islamization, as well as the permanent militarization of Pakistan, which began during Zia ul-Haq’s military dictatorship. Using Islam and a narrow definition of patriotism to limit the options available to voters is nothing new. It is a direct outcome of Pakistan’s long history of dominance by unelected institutions of state, euphemistically referred to as the ‘establishment.’ In addition to existing under direct military rule for half its life as an independent country, Pakistan has always lived in the shadow of the ubiquitous influence of generals, judges, and civil servants.

No elected parliament was ever allowed to complete its full term until this year. But instead of allowing voters to choose the new government in a free and fair election, the establishment wants to make sure that the voters have only limited choice at the polls. A direct military coup is no longer feasible. The politicians, led by President Asif Zardari, have foiled bids by the judiciary to virtually become the executive. The battle between elected leaders and unelected judges has come at great cost to several outspoken individuals in the country’s politics. Now, an election with pre-qualification could ensure the establishment’s supremacy without overtly pulling back the democratic façade.

From the establishment’s perspective, Pakistan’s politicians cannot be trusted to lead or run the country even if they manage to get elected by popular vote. The political system must somehow be controlled, guided, or managed by the unelected institutions who deem themselves morally superior and even more patriotic than those supported by the electorate. This patrician approach is reflected in the assertions of Generals Ayub Khan (1958-69), Yahya Khan (1969-71), Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988) and Musharraf (1999-2008) at the time they took power in coups d’état. It can also be found in the constant efforts by Supreme Court judges and civil servants to second-guess the people by deciding who is and who is not eligible to run in elections.

General Zia ul-Haq created structures for limiting democracy that would outlast him. He drastically changed the constitution and legal regime in ways that have proved difficult to reverse, even a quarter century after his death. The outgoing Pakistani parliament completed its term and amended the constitution to make it closer to what it was originally intended to be. But the Islamic provisions introduced by Zia ul-Haq persist, enabling the establishment to use Islam as an instrument of control and influence over the body politic.

Article 62 demands that a candidate for parliament demonstrate that “he is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic Injunctions; he has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practices obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins; he is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law; and that he has not, after the establishment of Pakistan, worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan.”

Article 63 disqualifies a Pakistani from becoming an MP if “he has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or morality, or the maintenance of public order, or the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the Armed Forces of Pakistan.”

Both constitutional provisions provide considerable leeway to an ideological judiciary to influence the electoral process and exclude critics of the establishment from the next legislature. The recent celebration and positive commentary over parliament completing its term should not distract us from an ugly reality. Pakistan’s establishment may have refrained from another direct coup, but it is still far from accepting the basic premise of democracy – the supremacy of parliament among institutions and the right of the people to vote for whomever they choose.

Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament and former Media Advisor to President Asif Ali Zardari, as well as a writer and minority rights advocate.

Return of an Erstwhile King

As Reported By The Economist

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PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, a former army dictator and president of Pakistan, returned from London on March 24th to the country he once commanded, after an absence of more than four years. He finds not a trace of the power and significance he once wielded.

He came, he said, to contest elections, scheduled for May 11th, and “to save Pakistan”. Though the country could certainly do with rescuing, Mr Musharraf faces stiff competition among those offering themselves as saviour. They include a former prime minister and his bitter enemy, Nawaz Sharif, and a notable cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan. Meanwhile, the outgoing government of the Pakistan Peoples Party achieved little, but its re-election is not out of the question.

A small crowd of supporters gathered at Karachi airport to welcome Mr Musharraf. “I cry when I see the state of Pakistan today,” he blustered. The rally his people had planned that evening had to be cancelled, apparently for security reasons. That may have been just as well: participants looked likely to be few.

Mr Musharraf lacks popularity and a political base. He also faces threats from the Pakistani Taliban and allied extremist groups. In office, he survived two well-planned assassination attempts. He will now have nowhere near the level of security that saved his life then. The Pakistani Taliban threatens a special squad that will “send Musharraf to hell”. When Benazir Bhutto returned from exile to Pakistan in October 2007, extremists bombed her motorcade after it left Karachi airport, killing around 140 people. She was unhurt in that attack. But a suicide bomber at a rally assassinated her two months later.

Mr Musharraf seized power in 1999 after the prime minister at that time, Mr Sharif, tried to sack him as army chief. He ruled Pakistan, first just as a general and later as president, until 2008, when rising unpopularity forced him to hold elections that his party lost.

He also faces a series of court cases in Pakistan and was careful to arrange pre-arrest bail before arriving. He is accused in the Bhutto murder case (though no direct evidence implicating him has emerged), as well as over the killing of a tribal leader, Akbar Bugti. And then he faces charges of treason, too, for staging his coup in 1999.

It was under Mr Musharraf that extremists turned on the state, after the attacks of September 11th 2001 led him to forge an alliance with America. Yet Mr Musharraf never turned on all militant groups, some of which operated with a degree of latitude. The Pakistani Taliban even seized a territory in the heart of the country, Swat.

Pakistan enjoyed a period of rapid economic growth during his time in office, but it was a bubbly time for Pakistan, and the bubbles burst as Mr Musharraf was leaving office. At least he managed to keep prices under control, especially for food.

Mr Musharraf is a big name internationally, but within Pakistan he now seems an irrelevance. His presence may become a sideshow in this election season.

More watched now will be the campaign of Imran Khan, who staged a huge rally on March 23rd in Lahore, Pakistan’s second city. After suddenly growing wildly popular in late 2011, with a promise of a new politics to break the established and corrupt two-party system, Mr Khan has lost much momentum in recent months. His showing in Lahore was an attempt to regain the initiative—and it proved that he can still pull a crowd. Mr Khan will win votes across the country but, with Pakistan’s first-past-the-post system, it may not translate into many seats.

This election, assuming it takes place, will mark the first time that one elected government completes a full term and hands power over to another. That is something, but the job of saving Pakistan remains, as ever, up for grabs.

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 Supreme Court Convicts Prime Minister

As Reported by The Los Angeles Times

Pakistan’s Supreme Court convicted Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Thursday of contempt for failing to revive a long-standing graft case against President Asif Ali Zardari, a ruling that could eventually result in the premier’s ouster and ramp up political tension in an important but troubled U.S. ally.

The court opted not to sentence Gilani to a maximum six months in prison. However, under Pakistani law, a conviction could entail disqualification from the office he has held since 2008.

The verdict comes at a time when the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, stewarded by Zardari and Gilani, is especially vulnerable. As elections approach, the party faces a public intensely dissatisfied with its performance on issues such as a stagnant economy and crippling power shortages.

Within hours of the ruling, handed down by a seven-judge panel, opposition leaders called for Gilani’s resignation.

“He should step down without causing further crisis,” former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who leads the Pakistan Peoples Party’s archrival Pakistan Muslim League-N, told a Pakistani television channel. “The prime minister himself invited this situation.”

But members of Gilani’s team suggested the Pakistan Peoples Party would defend his right to stay in office. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira called the ruling “a very unfortunate day for this country and for democracy,” but said the court’s ruling did not explicitly call for Gilani’s disqualification as prime minister.

Ultimately, Zardari and other party leaders will have to weigh the benefits of staving off Gilani’s removal from office through legal and legislative maneuvers against the political damage that could come with trying to keep him at the helm of government.

“Essentially, it will go to the court of public opinion,” said Cyril Almeida, a leading columnist for Dawn, an English-language Pakistani newspaper. “The media and political opposition will say you have a prime minister convicted, so morally he should not stay on as prime minister. … What might happen is someone might petition the Supreme Court, saying, ‘This is your order, so please disqualify the prime minister.’ That seems likely to be the next step.”

The contempt conviction stems from a case in Switzerland in which Zardari and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, were convicted in absentia in 2003. The couple were charged with taking kickbacks from Swiss companies during Bhutto’s rule in the 1990s. They appealed, and the case was dropped in 2008 at the request of the Pakistani government.

Since 2009, the Supreme Court has repeatedly demanded that Gilani’s government write a letter to Swiss authorities asking that the case be revived. Gilani refused, contending that, as president, Zardari has constitutional immunity from prosecution.

More than 120 Pakistani Soldiers Lie Dead in the Snow for Nothing

By Mohammed Hanif for The Guardian

Two months before President Asif Zardari’s unexpected visit to India, a newly formed political alliance, the Council to Defend Pakistan, unveiled its slogan. “What is our relationship with India?” it asked. And then in a rickety Urdu rhyme it answered: of hatred, of revenge.

The council is an alliance between recovering jihadists, some one-person political parties and the kind of sectarian organisations whose declared aim is that Pakistan cannot fulfil its destiny until every single Shia has been killed or expelled from the country.

The council is not likely to have much impact on Pakistan’s electoral politics, but it is a clear reminder that there are strong forces within the country, which want a return to the days when India was Pakistan’s enemy No 1. Back then all you had to do to malign a Pakistani politician was to somehow prove that they were soft on India. Things have changed. When President Zardari went to India, his bitter political enemy and the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif welcomed the visit.

President Zardari’s visit on the one hand was a reminder that India is right next door. If you plan carefully, you can do a day trip, have lunch, visit a shrine and make the correct, polite noises that visitors make about their future intentions.

But the president’s visit was also set against a reminder that India and Pakistan have raised their animosity to a brutal art form. As the president’s plane landed in Delhi, rescue workers were trying to reach the Siachen glacier, where more than 120 Pakistani soldiers had been buried after an avalanche obliterated their military post. Siachen is often proclaimed the world’s highest battlefront – as if it’s a Guinness world record and not a monument to our mutual stupidity. As I write this, not a single survivor or body has been found. India offered help in rescue efforts. Pakistan politely declined, because that would compromise its military posts.

President Zardari’s visit was billed as a private one, but the pageantry surrounding it was state-visit like, complete with dozens of cameras broadcasting empty skies where the presidential plane was about to appear. And, of course, the media had scooped the menu for the state lunch a day in advance.

Did the visit achieve anything? An 80-year-old Pakistani prisoner in an Indian jail was released on bail. The leaders’ sons and probable heirs – Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Rahul Gandhi – got to hang out.

There are peaceniks on both sides who have held endless candlelit vigils on the borders. They would like the borders to melt away, for all of us to come together in a giant hug and live happily ever after just like we did in a mythical past when we were all either little Gandhis or sufis and got along fine. There is another minority on both sides that would like us to live permanently in the nightmare that was partition. There are Pakistani groups who want to raise the green flag over the Red Fort in Delhi, and there are Indian hawks who go to sleep thinking of new ways to teach this pesky little country a lesson. But the vast majority – and given the size of population and ethnic diversity, that majority is really vast – would just be happy with cheaper onions from across the border.

There is another kind of coming together: Pakistani writers and artists can attend both Indian and Pakistani literary festivals and art expos, and although it’s great that they can peddle their wares to a curious audience, the rest of the population are denied that privilege. A Punjabi farmer, for example, can’t sell his often perishable produce in India, a couple of hours away, but is forced to transport it a thousand miles to southern Pakistan. If India and Pakistan could take tiny steps which weren’t just meant for the rulers and cultural tourists, it might make some difference. For instance, if there were only a couple of thousand Pakistani and Indian students studying in each others’ countries, the appetite for a war rhetoric might wane. At the moment it can’t happen because the security establishment fear infiltration. The same establishment forget that infiltrators usually don’t apply for a visa, and no suspects so far have been to an IT school in Bangalore or an arts college in Lahore.

I mention education because one in 10 children who doesn’t go to school lives in Pakistan. One in three children in the world who is malnourished lives in India. And these countries insist on sending young men to a frontline where there is no war, where there is nothing to fight over, and where 4,000 soldiers have died, mostly because it’s just too cold. Tens of thousands return with serious mental ailments because it’s so lonely and depressing. Twenty three years ago a withdrawal agreement had been agreed upon, but according to Indian defence analyst Srikant Rao, the then Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi backed out because withdrawing troops wouldn’t look very good in pictures. Well, troops buried under miles of snow don’t look very good either.

If India and Pakistan can’t leave each other alone, they should at least leave those mountains alone.

Early Elections Seen as Possible Solution to Pakistan’s Political Crisis

By Saeed Shah for The Miami Herald

Pakistan’s political crisis, which pits its president against determined opponents in foes in Parliament, the Supreme Court and the military, is likely to reach fever pitch on Monday with a confidence vote scheduled in Parliament and hearings scheduled in two critical court cases.

The crisis is so intense that President Asif Zardari’s administration may be willing to call elections for as soon as October, according to members of his ruling coalition and its advisers. But that may not be enough to mollify the opposition, which wants earlier elections, or the country’s powerful military establishment, which is believed to be trying to force a so-called “soft coup,” under which Zardari, a critic of the military’s traditional dominance of Pakistan, would be forced out by Parliament or the courts.

The threat of an outright coup also hangs over the crisis, if the politicians cannot find a way out or the court proceedings reach absolute stalemate.

Whether the government can reach agreement with opposition leader Nawaz Sharif is unclear. Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party doesn’t want to announce elections until after voting in March for a new Senate, which the PPP is widely expected to win. But Sharif would like the new elections to be in the summer, perhaps June, which would require an earlier announcement.

“There is no other option for the government to come out of the current crisis without elections,” said an adviser to the PPP leadership, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, as did the other coalition members. “It is in the interests of the PPP to reach an agreement with Nawaz.”

The PPP rules with three major coalition partners, but the alliance is looking shaky. Two of the parties, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, have distanced themselves somewhat from the government.

A senior member of the coalition said the parties so far have agreed internally only to a general election to be held in October. That would be just a few months before the February 2013 date when Parliament would complete its five-year term and elections would have to be held anyway.

An early election should also placate the courts and the military. A supposedly neutral caretaker government would have to be installed to oversee a three-month electioneering period.

Another coalition member said: “It is 100 percent certain that there will be elections in 2012. The only solution is elections. It doesn’t matter whether they are held in June or October.”

Zardari’s coalition itself brought Monday’s confidence vote resolution to Parliament, cleverly wording it so that it asks for support not for the prime minister or even the government, but for democracy. That makes it difficult to oppose.

But the PPP’s troubles in Parliament are only one of the fronts in its battle for survival. The courts and the military are both maneuvering against the party’s leaders, with two explosive cases coming up for hearings Monday.

The first stems from a 2007 decree by President Pervez Musharraf that granted immunity from prosecution to Zardari and other exiled PPP politicians in an effort to persuade them to return to Pakistan to participate in elections that Musharraf was being pressured by the United States to hold.

The Supreme Court later ruled, however, that the decree was illegal and demanded that the government reopen corruption charges against Zardari stemming from the time when his wife, the assassinated PPP leader Benazir Bhutto, was prime minister.

The government declined, however, and now the court has summoned the government to explain its actions. The court could declare Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in contempt of court, which would in effect remove him from office.

The other case involves the the scandal in which a judicial commission is investigating allegations that Husain Haqqani, a close Zardari adviser and former ambassador to the U.S., wrote a memo that was passed to U.S. officials in May. That memo offered to replace the Pakistan military’s top officials in return for U.S. support should the military attempt to push Zardari aside.

Haqqani, who was forced to resign, says he had nothing to do with the memo, which the military has said amounted to treason.

The judicial commission may take testimony this week from an American businessman, and occasional news commentator, Mansoor Ijaz, who claimed that he had delivered the memo to U.S. officials, in a column that appeared in the British newspaper the Financial Times in October. Ijaz has said he will show up as a witness, though he apparently has yet to receive a visa to enter Pakistan.

Pervez Musharraf to Announce Date for Return to Pakistan

By Duncan Gardham for The Telegraph

Mr Musharraf will announce his intention to return from London where has been living in exile despite facing arrest on treason charges. “His return will be announced by video link at a rally in Karachi on Sunday,” a source close to the former president told the Daily Telegraph.

He is planning to fly back to Pakistan by the end of January, plunging himself into a political crisis amid reports of an early general election and rumors the military is on the brink of mounting a coup.

The government and army are at loggerhead trading allegations over a memo allegedly sent to US military chiefs by senior officials asking for support to reduce military influence. Yusuf Gilani, the country’s prime minister, has said publicly Pakistan’s generals are behaving as though they were a “state within a state”.

As rumours of a coup gathered speed, Asif Zardari, the country’s president, has been forced to fly back to Pakistan from Dubai where he was receiving treatment for “stroke-like symptoms”.

General Ashfaq Kayani, the head of the Pakistan army, rejected coup claims, insisting the army would “continue to support the democratic process”.
However the military distrusts both Mr Zardari and the rival Pakistan Muslim League-N, headed by Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister deposed by Mr Musharraf.

Political analysts believe the army command want to back an outside campaign in the elections but it is unclear if Mr Musharraf fits the bill.
While there has been some support to “bring back the general,” Mr Musharraf was deeply unpopular by the time he was forced out of power four years ago.

In order to stage a return he would need political support from Middle Eastern countries to help persuade the government to drop the charges against
him.

However, there have been reports that the army is backing Imran Khan, the former Pakistan cricket captain who leads Tehreek-e-Insaf [the Movement for Justice] and has staged a series of popular rallies.

Mr Khan is a former supporter of Mr Musharraf who has since become one of his fiercest critics. Ahmed Rashid, a political commentator, said the country was facing a “multi-faceted crisis”, particularly with the economy, but he doubted Mr Musharraf could make a comeback. “I don’t think he has enough people supporting him and he would probably be arrested,” he said.

Mr Musharraf launched his own political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, in London in June 2010 and told the Daily Telegraph last year: “Pakistan is suffering. The people are extremely alive now that something has to be done in Pakistan. The youth is alive, the educated middle class is alive, they are in a state of shock and dismay over the governance in Pakistan.”

He promised a party that was “capable, viable, honest and deliverable internationally.” “I am a person who believes if I try and if I’m failing, I will quit,” he added. “I have no qualms and no ego. I have governed Pakistan for nine years, very successfully and I have no further ambitions, personal ambitions, my ambition is Pakistan.” But it is unlikely that Mr Musharraf would be able to claim victory on his own and he admitted: “I am trying to create an entity which can be the third political alternative, whether alone or in coalition with some other like-minded parties.” Mr Zardari took over from Mr Musharraf as the country’s first elected leader in nine years following the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.

However his party, the Pakistan People’s Party, has become increasingly unpopular as Pakistan faces a economic depression and copes with one crisis after another. The next government is likely to be decided by smaller parties and Mr Musharraf could play a crucial role in that decision.

We Are Free to Choose Peace

By Ethan Casey for Dawn.com

I was planning to devote this column to Memogate and Ambassador Husain Haqqani’s resignation, then I woke up one morning to learn that the topic had been rendered quaint by a Nato cross-border attack killing two dozen Pakistani soldiers and bringing the already fragile (not to say ostensible or notional) alliance between Pakistan and the United States very close to the breaking point. Then I realised that the two topics are aspects of a larger one, indeed of the twin elephants in both societies’ living rooms: the damage done when a military establishment becomes too powerful and unaccountable.

The only time I’ve ever met Husain Haqqani was at a seminar at Harvard University in 2006, organised by the journalist and activist Beena Sarwar. He wasn’t yet Ambassador to the US; Musharraf was still president. Most of the discussion was, I felt, preaching to the converted among elite-class Pakistani liberals about how the military was the problem and the solution was democracy in the form of elections and civilian rule. I’m not Pakistani, but I was an invited panelist at the seminar, so I took the liberty of challenging that consensus. Recall, I said, the sorry tit-for-tat excuse for democracy that Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and their undemocratic parties inflicted on the country throughout the 1990s. That rivalry’s personal vindictiveness and pettiness, I asserted, did a lot of damage to the credibility of civilian leadership. Was it really clear that civilian rule was preferable to military rule under Musharraf?

For my pains I was, as I remember it, ganged up on by Husain Haqqani, the stern and formidable historian Ayesha Jalal, and Ayesha Siddiqa, whose book Military Inc. was about to be published. Haqqani in particular accused me of being “merely anecdotal,” meaning that the foibles of civilian politicians were incidental, whereas the military was a problem institutionally and structurally.

I still believe that my point was well taken, because there’s much that elected leaders can and should do to claim political space and assert their own authority, even – especially – if they’re being besieged or undermined by the military. If you’re elected to lead, you must accept the responsibility to do just that, and you must demonstrate courage and personal character in disdaining consequences to yourself when necessary. And I’m a reporter; merely anecdotal is what I do. But Haqqani was all too right – wasn’t he?

I’m aware that conspiracy theories have been flying about the notorious memo’s provenance. Like most conspiracy theories, they’re beside the point. It doesn’t matter whether Haqqani wrote the memo himself or was framed by the ISI; the result is the same. And the question to ask is Lenin’s: Who benefits?

A.J.P. Taylor (among many others) was right to point out that the armed forces are a fundamental institution of any state. But if the state is going to serve the interests of anyone else, the armed forces must be subject – and obedient – to civilian authority. This is what the authors of the US constitution understood in the 18th century, when they made the president the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. And it’s what President Truman understood when he fired the insubordinate General Douglas MacArthur in 1951, even though MacArthur was more popular with the American public at the time than Truman himself.

But Americans should be anything but self-congratulatory about such things. President Eisenhower, himself a retired general, was not only prescient but brave and patriotic when he took the occasion of his leaving office in 1961 to warn, in a rightly famous nationally televised speech, that a “military-industrial complex” (he coined the phrase) was poised to dominate America’s public life and economy. Half a century later America is hip-deep in the muck of Afghanistan, and – in addition to the death and destruction in Afghanistan itself and in Pakistan – the only Americans who are benefiting are the military itself and the shareholders of the companies that supply the war effort with everything from “contractors” (mercenaries) to drones to cheeseburgers for the troops. Military Inc., indeed.

Which brings us to the cross-border attack. Maybe Nato mistakenly or aggressively attacked over the border; maybe Pakistani troops fired first. Who knows? The New York Times has published a de rigueur, pro forma editorial urging an inquiry. Whatever the truth, it doesn’t matter, because the only people who gain from such an incident are the people who gain from war, and that’s not you or me. It’s also not the soldiers on all sides who are being killed. If I were Pakistani I would be furious, as I know many Pakistanis are, at the contempt for sovereignty that the attack shows. At the same time, we know that the Pakistani establishment is duplicitous. So where does that leave you and me? Does it help anyone if I claim your establishment is more duplicitous than mine, and vice versa?

Our two countries have arrived at a depressing and discouraging pass, both in relation to each other and internally. The exigencies of “defense,” which is a euphemism for war, have brought us here. As individuals, we feel (because we are) largely powerless to affect the course of events. As human communities there’s more we can do, as the Occupy Wall Street movement has been showing in America, and as the lawyers’ movement showed in Pakistan.

We’re in this together – and by “we” I mean Americans and Pakistanis. We’re not on opposing sides; we’re on the same side, against the warmongers of both states. And we are free to choose both our actions and our attitudes. As an American, Ken Williams, commented just this week on my Facebook page: “We can live with generosity and trust OR greed and fear. Each choice has outcomes.”

-Pakistanis for Peace group member Ethan Casey is the author of Alive and Well in Pakistan and Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip. He can be reached at www.facebook.com/ethancaseyfansand www.ethancasey.com

Imran Khan Laps Up Acclaim in Pakistan

Declan Walsh for The Guardian

For a decade Imran Khan has occupied the hinterland, if not quite the wilderness, of Pakistani politics. The cricket legend has won just one seat in parliament – his own – and been scorned by critics as a celebrity windbag at best and a Taliban sympathiser at worst.

But this weekend Khan dramatically transformed his standing at a stroke, bursting onto the national stage with an impressive show of street power that jolted Pakistan’s largest parties and turned received wisdom on its head.

At least 100,000 people gathered to hear Khan issue a rousing call to political “revolution” spiced with strident denunciations of government corruption.

“Declare your assets or face the wrath of the people,” he shouted, drawing roars of approval, in the largest rally for decades in Lahore, Pakistan’s political heartland.

The crowd reflected the vein that Khan has tapped – young, urban and mostly educated Pakistanis who have grown disillusioned by the chaotic politicking and inept governance of the traditional political elite. “It’s an activation of the upper middle class – people who, over the years, haven’t had a voice in Pakistani politics,” said political analyst Mosharraf Zaidi.

In contrast Khan enjoys a reputation for being incorruptible and straight-talking, polished by a glint of fame. Also in Lahore was his ex-wife Jemima, who remains a supporter, and Jennifer Robinson, a London media lawyer whose clients include WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. “Yes we Khan,” she tweeted afterwards.

The rally set the political scene abuzz with speculation; “Imran’s Lahore rally stuns opponents” read the headline in Dawn. But large questions loom about whether he can transform his acclaim into power.

Despite his claims of a “revolution” against President Asif Ali Zardari, Khan is more likely to hurt Nawaz Sharif, the opposition leader who considers Lahore his political base. Sunday’s rally crowned a wave of smaller yet well-attended rallies across the surrounding Punjab province over the past three months.

“It’s been slowly taking root. People are getting disillusioned, they saw Imran as more dynamic and focused,” said Najam Sethi, a veteran journalist and analyst.

National elections are not scheduled until 2013, although a midterm Senate election next March – which is likely to see the Pakistan People’s party led by Zardari seize control of the upper house of parliament – has caused the political temperature to soar.

Electoral success for Khan would likely fracture politics further – a prospect that would please Pakistan’s spymasters and generals, who have traditionally liked their civilian leaders both shaken and stirred. Khan has faced accusations that his new-found popularity is being quietly boosted by the military, and his Lahore speech was notable for his lack of criticism of the army. Khan denies any link. “I think Imran and the army will get along very well – if he ever comes to power,” said Sethi. He entered politics in 1996 as one of the most loved public figures in a cricket-crazy nation, and the founder of a cancer hospital that remains one of Pakistan’s most respected charities.

But his politics have been more controversial. He supported Pervez Musharraf’s coup in 1999, sided with Islamist mullahs and, in 2009, opposed an army operation against the Taliban in the Swat valley, arguing it was better to talk than fight. He boycotted the 2008 election, a move that relegated him to the chat show fringe of politics.

But in recent years he has steadily built his popularity among young Pakistanis, capitalising on disillusionment with political corruption and anger at US drone strikes in the tribal belt.

His Lahore rally echoed many of those themes. Pakistan wanted “independence, not slavery” in its relations with the US, he said, before announcing that he would be leaving for China hours later. “I am leaving at the invitation of the Chinese government. Friendship with them will be pursued to the fullest,” he said.

But critics said that while his speech was high on inflammatory rhetoric – including gratuitous attacks at some rivals and one diplomat – it was lacking in concrete prescriptions. “His next challenge is to show that he understands Pakistan’s problems – and can formulate policy to deal with them” said Zaidi.

Why Not Free Qadri?

By Ayesha Siddiqa for The Express Tribune

How about freeing Mumtaz Qadri for the simple reason that the state system has lost the capacity to execute punishment? The Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) judge, who gave him the death sentence, is already on the run. It will be quite a cost to protect Justice Shah and his family or other judges that may be brave enough not to overturn the ATC’s decision.

Why bother with the idea of punishing Qadri when it is no longer in the realm of the possible. An olive branch that is offered to the Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP) Pakistan and other killers can be extended to Qadri as well. Not to forget that the political leadership in the form of the recent All Parties Conference has surrendered to a peculiar agenda. So, forget about Jinnah’s August 11 speech now as the state has already transformed to a hybrid-theocracy. It has small liberal spaces, equally smaller spaces where Sharia is formally implemented, and larger spaces where the orthodox law is informally enforced. Try standing in front of a Jamaat-i-Islami/Jamaatud Dawa procession in support of Qadri to feel the melting away of the state and its changed character. Sadly, many of our post-modernists scholars will, yet again, call this as part of the secularising process through bringing religion into public sphere. Driven by personal ambitions to establish their scholarship, they won’t even question that the current discourse is not secularising as it condemns all other arguments as being against Islam. Are the protesters even willing to explore other religious arguments that may not save Qadri from the sentence given by the ATC judge?

There are no governments that are willing to stand up to the bullying and to establish the writ of the state. There is no intent to even deradicalise society because, in the words of a senior bureaucrat of the Punjab government, reputed to be close to the chief minister, there is no radicalisation in Punjab and even if there were, why should the state become an ideological warrior. Obviously, this CSS-qualified babu considered deradicalisation as anti-religion or against the tenets of Islam. This bureaucrat was a good example to debunk the argument that radicalisation results from lack of education. Here was a case of a literate man not willing to understand that deradicalisation is about creating sufficient space for all religions and sects to co-exist without fear of persecution, and increasing the state’s capacity to provide justice for all, irrespective of their cast, creed and religion. Thus, he presented the Punjab government’s development priorities as devoid of the goal of deradicalisation.

It was almost unbelievable to think that the bureaucrat’s plan had the sanction of his political bosses, especially someone like Mian Nawaz Sharif who made some bold pronouncements of building ties with regional neighbours and condemned parties with militant wings. Notwithstanding the goodness of Mian Sahib’s heart, one wonders how familiar is he with his own party’s support of militant outfits and if he considers this linkage equally condemnable? The fact of the matter is that no political party can claim to be above board as far as rising radicalism is concerned. The absence of the state in most provinces — Balochistan where people are being picked up and killed, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where the provincial government has willingly opted to share space with certain types of militants, Sindh, which is devastated by floods and a government that is almost invisible and Punjab where the government opts to burn down state infrastructure — is visible. Therefore, it is not surprising to see militant outfits becoming the new arbiters even replacing the old feudal class. They have and will exercise greater influence on the electoral process, especially ensuring that no parliamentarian challenges the writ of these militant outfits.

The militants of today are the new feudal lords that will adjudicate and dispense justice not on the basis of any higher religious law but their personal bias for things which are superficially religious. These people, who hold jirgas and dispense justice, are not fully aware or trained to interpret religious text or other sources. Surely, memorising the Holy Book cannot be the sole criterion. For those who believe that voting another party into power will solve the problem of radicalism, they will be disappointed to know that religious radicalism is the only game in town. It is now time to think of ways to grapple with the new reality.

Of Babra and other Sharifs

By Asif Noorani for Dawn

Way back in 1915, when M F Hussain (Maqbool Fida Hussain) was born his mother named him Maqbool (which means popular). She had no idea that her son, born in a modest household, would become the most well known South Asian painter of the late 20th and early 21st century.

But not all names bring good luck to those who have to live with them. I had a clerk working for me, whose name was Raees (rich) but the man led a difficult life in the monetary sense. So was a man called Akhtar Nawab. He had neither the finances nor the mindset of a nawab. Haseena is a common name among the fair sex, but most girls with that name are anything but. Haseena Moin was charming in her salad years and is still quite pleasant to look at.

What is true of names is also true of surnames. The one Sharif (noble) who really deserved the surname was Babra Sharif. Even when she was at the peak of her career, the model turned actress (the unisex term actor was not used in her heyday for a female of the species) was on the dot for her shooting. She never threw tantrums like some popular film stars do. She never spoke ill of anybody including those who, out of sheer jealousy, lost no opportunity to make snide remarks about her. When the time came for her to call it a day, she retired gracefully, unlike our politicians in power who are forced to leave disgracefully from their offices.

But not all Sharifs are noble like her. In fact I have yet to come across anyone with that name or surname who could live up to it. Babara used no unkind words for her rivals, but this person (shh! no names please, make your own guess) left no opportunity to pass disparaging remarks about a lady with whom he once played a game of musical chairs. One afternoon he came to the Karachi Press Club, where he went on and on, speaking ungallantly against the first and so far the only woman prime minister in the country. The speech over, a callow journalist not known to be a good judge of human beings, invited the guest to visit the book fair in the club’s backyard. “I am sorry I have an important meeting to attend,” he said and took off in one of the four limos that were parked outside the club.

The same journalist, out of sheer curiosity, followed the fleet of cars on his humble motorbike and you know where did our favourite Sharif go to? “It’s elementary, my dear Watson,” Sherlock Holmes would have said. Our friend was seen downing a large glass at the Punjab Lassi House at Burnes Road. In those days mobile phones, with cameras, were not available otherwise the young journo would have had a prize photograph.

While on Sharifs, I must refer to the news item that appeared in the June 17 issue of a respected English daily. It had a screaming headline: “Shahbaz richest member of Punjab assembly”. In the introductory paragraph, the report said that the Punjab chief minister has assets of Rs 489.64 million in the country and abroad. The details are mind-boggling. But the question remains, is it merely a tip of the iceberg? Those who follow him, in the list of declarations made in 2010, also fall into the category of filthy rich. These were the figures submitted to the Election Commission by the members of the Punjab Assembly. What would have been no less relevant was the figure of the taxes that they pay. Sadly, those figures which should be abysmally low are not mentioned. Don’t you think such declaration should come from the head of the state and the head of the government also?

Perhaps, mine is a case of jealousy. I still move around in my old and but reliable Suzuki Khyber. I paid more income tax than what the chief executive of the country paid. The tax figures paid by him and some other bigwig were revealed in a report, published in the newspapers according to the NAB, when Gen Pervez Musharraf elbowed him out of his office. I have no bungalow. I live in an apartment. The fault is mine. I was always more interested in books than in lassi. So, why crib?

Asif Noorani, a seasoned journalist, is the writer of three best-selling books including ‘Boom, Boom Shahid Afridi’.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Pakistan must stop treating India as ‘biggest enemy’: Nawaz Sharif

As Reported by The Economic Times

As Pakistan’s powerful military held out threats to India, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called for reappraisal of ties with its neighbour to move forward and progress, saying Islamabad must stop treating New Delhi as its “biggest enemy”.

Sharif, who was earlier involved in talks with India when the Kargil crisis erupted, also sought a probe into the 1999 conflict with India.

The former Prime Minister, who is the chief of main opposition PML-N party, is currently on a three-day visit to southern Sindh province where he made the remarks during an interaction with the media in Karachi yesterday.

He called on the government to also conduct an inquiry into the 2006 killing of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti in a military operation and the carnage in Karachi on May 12, 2007 that killed over 40 people who tried to rally in support of then-deposed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Sharif, whose government was deposed in a military coup led by former President Pervez Musharraf in 1999, reiterated his demand for the budgets of the military and the ISI to be placed before Parliament for scrutiny in line with the practice in other democracies.

He said one of his biggest regrets was not taming the powerful military when he was Prime Minister in the 1990s.

The Parliamentary resolution calling for an independent commission to investigate the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a US raid on May 2 was the first step towards making Parliament a sovereign body, Sharif said.

“We need structural changes and this inquiry has provided an opportunity to move forward and put the country on the right track, correct its direction by putting our house in order, establish the rule of law and bring all institutions under civilian control,” Sharif said.

If the government fixes responsibility for the Abbottabad incident and punishes those found guilty, a message will go out to the world that the people of Pakistan will not brook another embarrassment like the US raid, he said.

Sharif spoke out against the recent alliance forged by the ruling PPP and the PML-Q, both of which are rivals of his PML-N in Punjab and at the centre.

In Pakistan, Another Assassination and the Lessons Unlearned

By Natasha Fatah for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

The Lion of Punjab is dead. Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab in Pakistan, was assassinated in Islamabad on Tuesday by one of his own security guards.

When the guard later turned himself in to the police, he said that he killed the man he was supposed to be protecting because he considered Taseer’s campaign against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws an insult to Prophet Muhammad.

The blasphemy laws, which have been around since the 1980s, have been at the heart of a huge religious debate in Pakistan recently after a 45-year-old Christian woman was sentenced to death, allegedly in a dispute over drinking water among farm hands.

Most human rights observers say that the woman did nothing wrong, did not break any blasphemy law, and that the law is just being used to make some kind of example out of her.

Taseer stood by the side of this Christian woman, Asia Bibi, both literally and figuratively.

He stood next to her in the courtroom, which was a brave and dangerous move for any Muslim in Pakistan, but particularly so when you are a member of government and have a profile.

He had also waged an attack on those who wanted her dead by constantly criticizing the mullahs and hard-liners on his very active Twitter account these past weeks.

In response, Islamic fundamentalist politicians and imams were constantly attacking Taseer, even going as far as to say that criticizing the blasphemy law is an act of blasphemy itself, thus making Taseer an apostate.

A member of the Pakistan People’s Party and closely tied to President Asif Ali Zardari, Taseer had dedicated his life to social and political liberalism and to taking on the fundamentalists. But now that bravery has cost him everything.

According to witnesses, the guard who killed Taseer jumped out of a car, pointed his Kalashnikov and blasted away. He then continued his rampage, shooting the governor at least nine times.

Dropping his weapon, the man then gave himself up to police, saying later he was “proud” that he killed the blasphemer.

Another disturbing aspect to this story is that the assassin had managed to get himself into the police force and then, barely four months into the job, was transferred to the unit assigned to protect the governor.

It makes you wonder who was doing the vetting and whether some other even more devious plan was afoot. But how deep and powerful this doctrine of hate must be when someone who is paid to protect you ends up being the one to take your life?

Still, while it was the guard who pulled the trigger, it was the culture of hatred, ignorance and bigotry that put the idea in his head in the first place.

And it will no doubt be the disease of apathy among the majority of Pakistan’s comfortable middle class that will ensure nothing changes, which means more good men and women who want to reform Pakistan’s society will lose their lives.

After all, it was only three years ago that the world lost Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister and leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, for the same reasons.

She, too, was an advocate on behalf of liberalism and democracy and an enemy of religious extremists and she, too, paid for it with her life. If her death could not motivate the wealthy, powerful and influential in Pakistan to stand up and change things, then I’m not sure what will.

There is strange culture in Pakistan of blaming the victim. When Benazir Bhutto was murdered, many middle-class Pakistanis, in effect blamed her for her own assassination.

They criticized her for knowing the risks and continuing to speak out. Some said that as a mother she was being selfish for putting herself in the public eye.

And now, with Taseer’s murder, there are murmurs about him bringing this on because he provoked the Islamists through his criticism of their agenda. These are the risks you take when you stand behind a Christian blasphemer, some are saying.

It is only in an upside-down world like Pakistan’s self-absorbed middle class where those who die for being brave are considered irresponsible.

And it’s not like these moderate politicians such as Taseer don’t represent the values of the ordinary Pakistani.

Overwhelmingly, whenever given the election opportunity, the people of Pakistan vote in liberal, moderate and middle-of-the-road parties. Hardline Islamist parties do not win majorities in any of the country’s provinces.

Still, there seems to be a disconnect between what the Pakistani middle class say they want — stability and democracy — and what they are willing to work for.

Yes, in the case of Taseer, they will mourn the loss of another great leader. But Pakistan has lost far too many moderate leaders like this while everything goes on as before.

Wealthy Pakistanis will continue to go to their luxurious parties at fancy hotels, where the poor and their servants are not even allowed to enter. They will continue to justify the economic divide that keeps so many of their fellow citizens in squalor. And they will continue to argue that the Islamist militants are just a creation of the Western media.

Fortunately, there are still a handful of journalists, lawyers and politicians in Pakistan who are fighting the good fight and putting their lives on the line to try to push back against the extremists who think that violence is the only way to get their ideas across.

But unless Pakistan’s elites joins this fight, nothing will change.

For Pakistan, with the current government coalition in danger of crumbling and its Taliban launched on a terror campaign in the capital Islamabad itself, Taseer’s murder is a horrible start to a new year.

Yes, there will be vigils throughout Pakistan and around the world this week for this fallen hero. But vigils are temporary and the underlying problem that Taseer was taking on will likely still be around long after the vigils have wrapped up.

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