Posts Tagged ‘ PPP ’

After Decades of Neglect, Pakistan Rusts in Its Tracks

By Declan Walsh for The New York Times

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Resplendent in his gleaming white uniform and peaked cap, jacket buttons tugging his plump girth, the stationmaster stood at the platform, waiting for a train that would never come. “Cutbacks,” Nisar Ahmed Abro said with a resigned shrug.

Ruk Station, in the center of Pakistan, is a dollhouse-pretty building, ringed by palm trees and rice paddies. Once, it stood at the junction of two great Pakistani rail lines: the Kandahar State Railway, which raced north through the desert to the Afghan border; and another that swept east to west, chaining cities from the Hindu Kush mountains to the Arabian Sea.

Now it was a ghost station. No train had stopped at Ruk in six months, because of cost cutting at the state-owned rail service, Pakistan Railways, and the elegant station stood lonely and deserted. Idle railway men smoked in the shadows. A water buffalo sauntered past.

Mr. Abro led the way into his office, a high-ceilinged room with a silent grandfather clock. Pouring tea, he mopped sweat from his brow. The afternoon heat was rising, and the power had been down for 16 hours — nothing unusual in Pakistan these days.

Opposite him, Faisal Imran, a visiting railway engineer, listened sympathetically to the mournful stationmaster. This was about more than just trains — more than the decrepit condition of the once-mighty state railway service, Mr. Imran said. It was about Pakistan itself.

“The railways are the true image of our country,” he said, sipping his tea in the heat. “If you want to see Pakistan, see its railways.”

For all the wonders offered by a train journey across Pakistan — a country of jaw-dropping landscapes, steeped in a rich history and filled with unexpected pleasures — it also presents some deeply troubling images.

At every major stop on the long line from Peshawar, in the northwest, to the turbulent port city of Karachi, lie reminders of why the country is a worry to its people, and to the wider world: natural disasters and entrenched insurgencies, abject poverty and feudal kleptocrats, and an economy near meltdown.

The election last weekend was a hopeful moment for a struggling democracy, with the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif winning a huge mandate amid record voter turnout of nearly 60 percent. But the voting left undecided the larger battle against popular disillusionment. In a country forged on religion, Pakistanis are losing faith. People are desperate for change — for any improvement their proudly nuclear-armed government could make, yet has not.

Chronic electricity shortages, up to 18 hours per day, have crippled industry and stoked public anger. The education and health systems are inadequate and in stark disrepair. The state airline, Pakistan International Airlines, which lost $32 million last year, is listing badly. The police are underpaid and corrupt, and militancy is spreading. There is a disturbing sense of drift.

This failure is the legacy of decades of misadventure, misrule and misfortune under both civilian and military leaders, but its price is being paid by the country’s 180 million people.

To them, the dire headlines about Taliban attacks and sterile arguments about failed states mean little. Their preoccupations are mundane, yet vitally important. They want jobs and educations for their children. They want fair treatment from their justice system and electricity that does not flicker out.

And they want trains that run on time.

Peshawar: The Scarred City

At the journey’s beginning, policemen wielding AK-47s guard the train station in Peshawar, on the cusp of craggy mountains that climb into Afghanistan — one of about 40 such checkposts in a city that has long been a hub of intrigue, but that now finds itself openly at war. Since the first Taliban attacks about six years ago, the city has faced a relentless barrage of suicide bombings. No place can claim immunity: five-star hotels and religious shrines, bustling markets and the international airport, police stations and foreign consulates. Hundreds of people have died.

The train system has been deeply affected. Until a few years ago, the tracks stretched up to the storied Khyber Pass, 30 miles to the west, where one of the last steam trains chugged through the tribal belt. Now that line is closed, its tracks washed away by floodwaters and too dangerous to run even if it were intact, given the insurgent violence.

The train system has been deeply affected. Until a few years ago, the tracks stretched up to the storied Khyber Pass, 30 miles to the west, where one of the last steam trains chugged through the tribal belt. Now that line is closed, its tracks washed away by floodwaters and too dangerous to run even if it were intact, given the insurgent violence.

Khyber also gave its name to the country’s most famous train service, the Khyber Mail, immortalized by travel writers like Paul Theroux. It recalls the heyday of Pakistan’s railway raj, when the train was an elegant, popular mode of travel used by the wealthy and working classes alike, with liveried bearers carrying trays of tea, and pressed linen sheets and showers in the first-class carriages.

But the Awami Express, which waited at the platform, had little of that old-world charm. The carriages were austere and dusty. Porters scurried about in tattered uniforms, taking modest tips from a trickle of passengers. Only one class of ticket, economy, was for sale. The train company, lacking generators, could not offer any air-conditioning.

“We are in crisis,” said Khair ul Bashar, the Peshawar stationmaster, surrounded by giant levers that switch the tracks. “We don’t have money, engineers or locomotives. That’s why there are delays.”

The decrepitude of the 152-year-old railway system has, in recent years, been attributed largely to a Peshawar native: the previous rail minister, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. A classic product of Pakistan’s patronage-driven politics, Mr. Bilour, 73, faced regular accusations of cronyism, using railway resources — money, land and jobs — to look after his own supporters. Meanwhile, service has floundered. Passenger numbers have plunged, train lines have closed and the freight business — the lifeblood of any train service — has crumbled. The last time the rail system turned a profit was in 1974.

Last year the national anticorruption agency placed Mr. Bilour under investigation; a court later jailed two of the railway’s top managers. The minister avoided prosecution, and in interviews has insisted that a lack of funding was the main problem. More recently, though, Mr. Bilour has become emblematic of another aspect of Pakistani politics: the complex relationship with violent extremism.

When Peshawar erupted in deadly riots last October over an American-made video clip that insulted the Prophet Muhammad, enraged protesters attacked the city’s movie theaters, including one belonging to Mr. Bilour’s family. A day later, the minister made a controversial offer: he would pay $100,000 to anyone, militants included, who killed the offending filmmaker. That gesture ingratiated Mr. Bilour with the Taliban, who offered to remove him from their hit list, but deeply shamed his party, which had suffered fatal militant attacks. In Peshawar, people viewed it with irony: the Bilour cinema was notorious for showing racy films that the Taliban surely would not appreciate.

But the cinemas represented more than just Western culture; they were a rare form of public entertainment in a city that is closing in on itself.

Khalid Saeed, the owner of one of the few theaters left standing in Peshawar, the Capitol, sat in the foyer of the once-grand 1930s-era building, surrounded by tatty posters advertising old action movies. Invading rioters broke his projector and set fire to the screen, he said, but mercifully the flames did not spread.

Still, he said, he understood the frustration. “This is about religion, but it’s also about poverty,” he said, sucking on a cigarette. “There’s so much unemployment here. Young people have nothing to do, nowhere to go. You can read it in their faces. They get upset.”

The rattle of Taliban violence has created a stronger curfew than the local police ever could. Mr. Saeed said his son dared not venture out after dark, fearing attack or kidnapping. And still the militants keep striking.

“Around here, nobody knows what will happen tomorrow,” he said with an air of quiet resignation. “What sort of life is that?”

In Mr. Bilour’s case, the entire episode was for naught. A few months later, in December, the Taliban assassinated his younger brother, the politician Bashir Bilour. As election campaigning got under way recently, a Taliban suicide bomber nearly killed Mr. Bilour himself at a rally in Peshawar’s old city. Then, last weekend, he lost his Parliament seat to Imran Khan — the former sports star who has said the government should negotiate with the insurgents, not fight them.

At Peshawar Station, the Awami Express slowly chugged out, brushing against the yawning canopies of gnarled trees and slicing through a crowded clothing market. The clattering grew faster, carriage doors swinging open and shut, as the train rumbled into the countryside. Its passengers — traders, government employees, large families — stretched out on aged leather seats.

Muhammad Akmal, a 20-year-old ice factory worker, was going home to Punjab for a wedding. “Hope to get married myself, soon — perhaps to one of my cousins,” he said. Hopefully, he added, the train would not be too late.

At Attock, the train crawled over a spectacular bridge spanning the Indus River, passing under an ancient hilltop fort built by a Mughal emperor in the 16th century, now occupied by the Pakistani Army.

Sepia-toned images of sweeping train journeys occupy a central place in the Western imagination of the Indian subcontinent, from movie classics like “Gandhi” to the recent “Slumdog Millionaire.” In real life, the Awami Express possessed little of that romance. The 45-year-old diesel locomotive groaned as it belched pillowy black fumes. Fine clouds of dust entered through the open windows. The carriages jerked violently on the corners.

It was not always so. Much as the American West filled out one train depot at a time, Pakistan was forged on steel rails. The state-owned train system, over 5,000 miles of track inherited from the British at independence in 1947, helped mesh a new and fractious country. Trains ferried migrants to the cities, provided a moving platform for campaigning politicians and played a role in the wars against India. It became — and remains — the country’s largest civilian employer, still with more than 80,000 employees.

Today, though, decades of neglect have taken a heavy toll. On paper, Pakistan Railways has almost 500 engines, but in reality barely 150 are in working order. Most Pakistanis prefer to take the bus. Those left on the trains are often frustrated, sometimes mutinous.

Early last year, dozens of protesting passengers laid their children across the tracks in Multan, in southern Punjab Province. They were angry because a journey that should have taken 18 hours had lasted three days — and they were still only halfway to their destination.

In the train engineer’s seat, Hameed Ahmed Rana, a taciturn man in a neat white shirt and a baseball cap, tugged gently on a brass handle and grumbled. The Japanese-built locomotive wheezed and shuddered. “There’s a problem with the oil pressure,” he said. “Not looking good.”

Mr. Rana guided the train into the garrison city of Rawalpindi, headquarters to Pakistan’s military, where artillery pieces poked out from under awnings. Then it pressed south, the landscape flattening as its colors shifted from stony brown to rich green, rumbling past the rich irrigated fields and orange groves of northern Punjab, the heartland of military recruitment.

Inside the train, fans hung inertly from the ceiling as the day’s heat pressed in. The carriages, filling up, were acquiring the air of a village tea shop. Men smoked and chatted; small traders boarded carrying salty snacks and hot drinks; families with women pulled sheets across their seats for privacy.

The conversation, inevitably, turned to politics and religion. An argument about the merits of various leaders erupted between a Pashtun trader, traveling to Karachi for heart treatment, and an engineer who worked in a military tank plant. “We’ve tried them all,” the engineer said with an exasperated air. “All we get are opportunists. We need a strong leader. We need a Khomeini.”

A group of jolly Islamic missionaries, known as jamaats, squeezed into a long seat, offering a foreign visitor smiles, a snack and an invitation to convert to Islam. “We’re not on this world for long,” said Abdul Qadir, a rotund man with a gray-speckled beard, proffering a plate of sliced apple. “People have a choice: heaven or hell. So they should work toward the afterlife.”

Lahore: Class and Corruption

 

Almost on schedule, the Awami Express panted into the grand old station at Lahore. A Hollywood movie starring Ava Gardner was shot here in 1955; today the yard is cluttered with empty freight vans.

Once the seat of Mughal emperors who ruled the Indian subcontinent, Lahore is the center of gravity for Pakistan’s cultural and military elite, a city of army barracks, tree-lined boulevards, artists and chic parties. It is also the headquarters of the 152-year-old railway empire. In the 1960s, Pakistan Railways was said to own one-third of the city’s land, and today the company is still run from a towering colonial-era palace, where clerks scurry between offices down polished corridors.

Up close, however, there is evidence of decline.

At the Mughalpura rail complex — a vast yard of workshops and train sheds stretched across 360 acres with 12,000 employees — workers were operating at 40 percent capacity, managers complained. Electricity cuts bring work to a halt, while entrenched unions, a rarity in Pakistan, stridently oppose any efforts to shed jobs or cut benefits. Unions blame management for corruption; managers say the unions are inflexible. Strikes are frequent.

Outside the plant gates, Muhammad Akram, a railway blacksmith, wore a tinsel garland that showed he was on a “token hunger strike,” from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The system was on the verge of collapse, he said: “It’s like sitting on the edge of the sea, wondering when you will fall in.”

The misfortune of the railways has, however, benefited Lahore’s elite. Traditionally, the city’s wealth has stemmed from the surrounding countryside, where feudal landlords live off the rents of poor peasants. For decades, the landlords have epitomized Pakistan’s gaping divisions: paying no tax, treating seats in Parliament like family heirlooms, virtually a law unto themselves on their own lands. But things are changing. Of late, the landlords are being nudged aside by a new elite, one that has found a home in a gilded country club built on railway land.

The Royal Palm Golf and Country Club, a lavish facility with an 18-hole golf course, gyms, 3-D cinemas and cigar rooms, opened in 2002 at the height of the military rule of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The club, which costs $8,000 to join, has become a showcase for new money: families that made their fortunes from property and industry, contacts and corruption.

The Royal Palm’s glittering social functions, attended by men in expensive suits and women in ornate gowns, are a staple of local society magazines. The opening of a local Porsche dealership was celebrated here in 2005 with a gala dinner featuring exotic dancers flown in from Europe. Some events even offer alcohol, although guests are encouraged to drop their wine glasses when the cameras show up.

“This is a family club, and a lifestyle choice,” said the manager, an architect named Parvez Qureshi, sitting in his stained-wood office overlooking the golf links.

But the Royal Palm was also built on the bones of the railways.

The rail minister at the time was Lt. Gen. Javed Ashraf Qazi, an ally of General Musharraf’s and a former spy chief who leased the railway’s land to a consortium of businessmen. Critics accused him of giving the land away at a sweetheart rate.

“It was not a clean deal. Absolutely not,” said Nasir Khalili, chairman of the Gardens Club, an officers social club with 1,400 members that had to surrender its property.

The National Accountability Bureau, which investigates official corruption, concluded last year that the Royal Palm deal had cost the government millions of dollars in lost revenue.

It was not the first time that the military had chipped at the rail system. Back in the 1980s, the military ruler Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq diverted train freight business to the National Logistics Cell, a military-run road haulage company that cornered the market for transporting wheat and other commodities. Less publicly it smuggled C.I.A.-financed weapons destined for mujahedeen rebels fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.

“With freight gone, the railway was doomed,” said Salman Rashid, a travel writer who has specialized in the train network.

One evening, a raucous concert took place on the Royal Palm driving green. Thousands of teenagers crowded onto the grass to see Atif Aslam, a popular singer, in a performance sponsored by a cellphone company. Militant violence has curtailed public events in Lahore; most take place in such cloistered circumstances.

Before a crowd of about 4,000 young people, some joined by their parents, Mr. Aslam, wearing skinny jeans and a fur hat, bounded across the stage in a sea of testosterone, fluttering vocals and crashing guitars.

To a foreigner, many posed a rhetorical question that betrayed their wounded sensitivity to Pakistan’s international image. “Do we look like terrorists?” asked Zuhaib Rafaqat, a 21-year-old computer student. “The West seems to think we are. But look at us — we’re just enjoying ourselves, like anyone else.”

Sindh: Abiding Alienation

Charging across lush fields of wheat and cotton, the train crossed into Sindh Province, where it halted at Sukkur, on the Indus River. The Lansdowne Bridge, completed in 1889, spanned the water — one of several feats of engineering by the British colonialists who hacked through mountains, traversed ravines and cut across deserts to make a railroad in what has become Pakistan.

The railway project was foremost a tool of occupation: first to transport cheap cotton to English factories, later to move troops toward the northwestern frontier to guard against invasion from czarist Russia. Tens of thousands of construction workers died on the job, perishing in blistering summers and freezing winters, or from diseases like scurvy and malaria.

South of Sukkur, waterlogged fields mark a modern calamity: the 2010 floods, which inundated about one-fifth of the country, affected 20 million people and caused up to $43 billion in economic losses, according to some estimates. Topsoil and entire villages washed away in muddy waves, never to return.

In the Awami Express’s grimy dining car, a cook named Amir Khan stirred a greasy chicken broth over an open flame, then flopped onto a stack of soda crates. He gestured to the flood-scarred landscape.

“Zardari will show this to America, so that he can get some money,” Mr. Khan said with a cackling laugh, referring to President Asif Ali Zardari, who comes from Sindh. The cook wiped a mug clean, then paused reflectively. “Maybe if Benazir were alive, things would be different.”

The assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 was a traumatic event for Pakistan, but also for its railways. Enraged supporters attacked 30 train stations across her native Sindh, burning 137 coaches and 22 locomotives in a sulfurous protest at the failure of the state to protect Ms. Bhutto.

Still today, the trains present an easy target for disgruntled Pakistanis. As the Awami Express pushed south, the railway police passed through the train, brusquely searching passengers and their luggage. The police increased railway security after Baloch separatists exploded a small bomb at Lahore Station last year, killing two people. More recently, ethnic Sindhi separatists have singled out the train lines for attack.

Sindh is the hub of Pakistan’s Hindu population, which, like other minorities, has suffered from deepening intolerance in recent years. Stories of forced conversion of Hindu women at the hands of Muslim zealots have caused media scandals; last year some Hindu families, complaining of prejudice, left for India. But they were an exception: most Hindus remained behind, and some are quietly thriving.

At the southern city of Hyderabad, a train branch line jutted into the desert, toward the border with India. This was Thar, a desert region where, unusually, Hindus are predominant. A rural commuter service — a train with open doors and a handful of seats — ambled through irrigated farmland toward the desert. On board were farmers, small traders and pilgrims returning from a Hindu shrine, the bareheaded women adorned in gold and silver jewelry.

At the district’s main town, Umerkot, the local colony of snake charmers lives in the shadow of a clay-walled fort. The chief snake charmer, wearing a bright red turban and playing a flute, entranced a cobra as it curled from a wicker basket. Later, he produced a government certificate that attested to his ability to “perform a dangerous act of passing three-foot snake from nostril and mouth.”

“Half of our people are in India,” he said afterward, pointing toward the desert and the border. “But we feel ourselves 100 percent Pakistani.”

Karachi: The Slum Patriot

Land is gold in Karachi, Pakistan’s tremulous port megalopolis: a city of migrants, filled with opportunity and danger, where space is at a premium that is often paid in blood. Political parties, mullahs, criminal gangs and Taliban militants all battle for land in the city, often with weapons. The railways offer an easy target.

Slums crowd the train lines that snake through the city, pushing up against the tracks. Migrants have been coming here for decades, seeking economic opportunity or, more recently, fleeing Taliban violence.

A short walk from Karachi’s main train station lies Railway Colony Gate No. 10: a cluster of rough shacks, pressed against a slope, bordered by a stagnant pool of black, putrid sewage.

Among its residents is Nazir Ahmed Jan, a burly 30-year-old and an unlikely Pakistani patriot.

Mr. Jan, known to friends as Janu, is from the northwestern Swat Valley, where fighting erupted in 2009. After the Taliban arrived, his family fled Khwazakhela, a village “between the river and the mountain,” which he described with misty-eyed nostalgia: lush fields, soaring mountains and his family’s grocery store, later destroyed in fighting.

In contrast, Karachi is gritty and ugly, he acknowledged. He made his money selling “chola” — a cheap bean gruel — as he guided his pushcart through the railway slum. It earned him perhaps $3 a day — enough to feed his two infant children, if not much else.

But Mr. Jan was an irrepressible optimist. At least Karachi was safe, relatively speaking, he said. And it had other attractions.

In the corner of his home was a battered computer, hooked up to the Internet via a stolen phone line. He used it to write poetry, mostly about his love for Pakistan, he said, pulling out a sample. One couplet read:

“If you divide my body into 100 parts /a voice will cry from each one: Pakistan! Pakistan!”Mr. Jan’s face clouded. He had contacted national television stations, and even the army press service, trying to get his work published, he said, folding a page of verse slowly. But nobody was interested; for now the poetry was confined to his Facebook page.

“I just want to express my love for my country,” he said.

Distrusting politicians, he harbored a halcyon vision of what Pakistan could become: a country that offered justice, free education and health care, where leaders made the people wealthy, and not the other way round. “That would be the Islamic way of serving the people,” he said.

Mr. Jan smiled and, clasping his hands across his chest, excused himself. He had to work. The mountain migrant vanished down the street behind his pushcart, children scurrying around him. He whistled a Pashto folk tune, his soup jostling in the cart.

From the distance came the sound of a hooting train, pulling into the station. It was surely late.

This article was reported and written before Declan Walsh’s expulsion from Pakistan by the Interior Ministry on May 10.

Pakistan Prepares For Election

By Farhan Bokhari in Lahore and Victor Mallet in New Delhi for The Financial Times

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Pakistan’s government stepped down at the weekend after a full five-year term, paving the way for an election and change of administration that would be the country’s first constitutional democratic handover since independence and partition from India in 1947.

“It is true that in the past five years we have not been able to make rivers of milk and honey flow in the country,” said Raja Pervez Ashraf, prime minister in the Pakistan People’s party (PPP) government of President Asif Ali Zardari, in a televised farewell speech.

“We have used all our resources to strengthen the foundations of democracy and – by the grace of God – today democracy is so strong that no one will dare to dislodge it in the future.”

The PPP and its leader Mr Zardari, who was elected after his wife Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, claim credit for strengthening democracy in a country that has been ruled for long periods by the armed forces – most recently under General Pervez Musharraf in the decade up to 2008.

But the government’s popularity has collapsed during its time in office, undermined by bombings and the killing of civilians by the Pakistan Taliban, and by power shortages and other economic problems.

Even the process leading to a change of government is deadlocked, with mainstream politicians so far unable to agree on a caretaker prime minister to run the country for up to 90 days, and to oversee the general election. Among the possible candidates for the position are Ishrat Hussain, a former central bank governor and World Bank official, and Nasir Aslam Zahid, a former judge.

“The immaturity of our democracy is nowhere more evident than in the failure to agree on a way forward,” said one politician from the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). “This decision should have been made weeks ago and we still seem to be haggling over it.”

Pakistanis mostly welcomed the completion of the government’s term – a feat that had sometimes seemed in doubt – but criticised Mr Zardari’s inability to curb extremist violence or to start restoring the economy to health.

In a recent incident on March 9, Muslim zealots in Lahore burnt down 178 homes belonging to Christians – a tiny and poverty-stricken minority in Pakistan – following the arrest of a young Christian man on blasphemy charges. More than 250 Shia Muslims have been killed this year in attacks blamed on militant Sunnis.

Senior officials have also been murdered during the government’s term. They include Salman Taseer, governor of the populous Punjab province, killed by one of his police guards after Mr Taseer publicly defended Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman arrested in another blasphemy case.

“It would be utterly crazy to celebrate this coming of age of democracy,” said Nadeem Masih, a Christian office worker in Lahore. “The government has left more Pakistanis insecure than when it came to office.”

Investors are equally sceptical, noting the fall in the value of the Pakistani rupee and the state of most of the country’s infrastructure. “The economy is in shambles, there is more corruption and cronyism,” said one businessman from Karachi, who asked not to be named. “Should we still celebrate this democracy?”

Western diplomats say one reason why Pakistan might be able to keep its democracy alive is the refusal thus far by General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the army chief, to seize power in response to calls from some of the government’s opponents.

“General Kayani has played a very sobering role,” said one diplomat in Islamabad. “He has remained true to his promise of letting democracy flourish in Pakistan.”

Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political commentator, said it was a success for the government to have lasted five years. “But the government has left behind more problems for Pakistan than they inherited. Maybe the hope is that we will evolve into a more stable democracy in the long term, but that’s still on the distant horizon.”

Rehman Malik Escapes Disqualification

By Irfan Ghauri for The Express Tribune

In a move that raises a number of questions, and possibly a number of ramifications, election authorities announced on Tuesday that they have decided not to disqualify Interior Minister Rehman Malik.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said that it had endorsed the stand of Senate authorities that no question of disqualification had arisen in the case of Senator Malik – who was under scrutiny for submitting false statements to the Supreme Court in the dual nationality case.
The deputy chair of the Senate, Sabir Baloch, who is currently the acting chairman, rejected two separate references against Senator Malik that sought his disqualification.

Earlier, on September 20, the Supreme Court had taken note of a conflict between Senator Malik’s statements and the evidence provided by him in a
case probing dual national parliamentarians. Eleven federal and provincial lawmakers found to have dual nationality were held to be disqualified by the Supreme Court, given that Pakistani citizens holding foreign nationalities are not eligible to be parliamentarians, according the Constitution of Pakistan.

However, Senator Malik’s case was unique, and the court did not issue a direct verdict on his matter, and only raised the question of disqualification.

During the course of the case, Senator Malik had told the court that he had renounced his British citizenship before being elected to the Senate in 2008. However, when his documents were scrutinized, a blatant conflict emerged: The evidence suggested that his renunciation had taken place on May 29, 2012 – that is, when the court had taken notice of the matter.
As the matter was being heard in court, and his status as Senator was suspended, Malik resigned from the Senate on July 11, 2012 – and was then reelected within two weeks. Ostensibly, this would have given the interior minister cover – given that he had actually renounced his citizenship before resigning and being reelected. But the issue of perjury (lying under oath) came to the fore.

“Mr. A. Rahman Malik, in view of the false declaration filed by him at the time of contesting the election to the Senate held in the year 2008, wherein he was elected, cannot be considered sagacious, righteous, honest and ameen within the contemplation of section 99(1)(f) of the Act of 1976. Therefore, for such purposes Article 63(p) is to be adhered to because the disqualification incurred by him is envisaged under the law, referred to hereinabove in view of his own statement that he had renounced his citizenship of UK whereas the fact remains that such renunciation along with declaration can only be seen as having been made on 29.05.2012,” reads a portion of the court order regarding Senator Malik.
Two references had been pending with the Senate chairman regarding Senator Malik’s disqualification: One by a citizen Asif Ezdi, and another similar one by lawyer Maulvi Iqbal Haider, who had relied on the observations of the Supreme Court.
But the two were dismissed.

“Reference Supreme Court short order dated 20-09-2012, detailed judgment dated 16-10-2011, reference of Mr. Asif Azdi dated 26-08-2012 and reference of Malik Iqbal Haider dated 22-09-2012 I have held that no question of disqualification has arisen in respect of senator A. Rehman Malik. Resultantly the Election Commission of Pakistan is being informed accordingly,” wrote Sabir Baloch in his letter to the ECP.
Notably, the ECP did not issue any formal statement on the matter on Tuesday. Instead, it was verbally conveyed by officials of the commission to the media. They said the reference regarding Malik is disposed of and no further action can be taken against the minister.
Deadline passed?

Under the process, the Senate chairman has 30 days to decide on the matter and forward it to the ECP. The ECP has 60 days to take action on the matter. If no decision comes on the part of the Senate chairman in the stipulated 30 days, the case is deemed to have automatically been forwarded to the ECP.

Following the September 20 court orders, the Senate chairman had until October 20th to forward the matter to the ECP.
Interestingly, the letter by the Senate’s (acting) chairman to ECP was disclosed on Tuesday (October 23). In fact, Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim had himself told the media on Monday that the ECP was yet to receive a letter from the Senate regarding Senator Malik’s case. Though the date mentioned in the letter disclosed on Tuesday is “October 20th” sources said it was actually received by the ECP on October 22nd.

The ECP’s meeting regarding this matter was scheduled for Monday, but was postponed due to a meeting between the chief election commissioner and Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

Respite?

While the decision seems to have brought the interior minister some respite, the move could yet be challenged in court.
Earlier this year, the National Assembly Speaker Fehmida had held that no question of disqualification had arisen in the case of the then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, and did not forward the matter to the ECP. Later, her decision was challenged, and the apex court ultimately overruled her. Gilani was disqualified from premiership as well as his National Assembly seat.

Dr Asim resigns
Senator Dr Asim Hussain, who holds the portfolio of advisor to the prime minister on petroleum, resigned from his Senate seat on Tuesday. He was part of the next batch of parliamentarians faced with court proceedings on their nationality status.
However, he will continue in his capacity as ‘advisor,’ which does not require him to be a member of Parliament.

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 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.

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.”

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.

Why President Zardari’s Visit Is A Small Bonus

By Soutik Biswas for The BBC

Hope is not a policy, but neither is despair, as South Asia expert Stephen Cohen says in a recent essay on Pakistan.

So it is with relations between India and Pakistan.

The past few days have shown how fragile the relationship can be – even as India welcomed President Asif Ali Zardari’s private trip to India on Sunday – the first by a Pakistani head of state for seven years – and PM Manmohan Singh invited him for lunch, the $10m US bounty for Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, provoked the cleric to openly launch a fresh attack against India (and the US).

But people live in hope, so Indian media is gung-ho about Mr Zardari’s visit.

They say the Pakistani president must be applauded for trying to end trade discrimination against India, easing petroleum imports from across the border, and moving towards a liberal visa deal.

“Under Mr Zardari’s watch, India and Pakistan are considering a sweeping agenda for economic co-operation for the first time in decades. The prime minister has every reason to welcome Mr Zardari warmly and consider the next steps in consolidating the unexpected movement in bilateral relations,” the Indian Express wrote.

Analyst C Raja Mohan believes Mr Singh must make an official trip to Pakistan after his meeting with Mr Zardari. “For his part,” he wrote, “Mr Singh should convey to Mr Zardari his readiness to move as fast and as far as the Pakistan president is willing to go.” Others like Jyoti Malhotra actually find Mr Zardari’s visit to the shrine of a famous Sufi Muslim saint in Rajasthan loaded with symbolism in these troubled times. “Clearly, Mr Zardari has stolen an imaginative moment from the bitter-sullen history of India-Pakistan, by asking to come to pay his respects to a cherished and much-beloved saint across the Indian subcontinent,” she wrote.

The relations between two neighbours remain complex. A 2010 Pew survey found 53% of the respondents in Pakistan chose India as the greater threat to their country, and only 26% chose the Taliban and al-Qaeda. At the same time 72% said it was important to improve relations with India, and about 75% wanted more trade relations and talks with India.

Pundits like Mr Cohen believe that it will “take the [Pakistan] army’s compliance, strong political leadership, and resolutely independent-minded foreign ministers to secure any significant shift of approach towards India”.

None of this appears to be in much evidence at the moment.

Both countries have seriously weakened governments that makes them unable to move towards any radical confidence building measures. In the current circumstances, President Zardari’s visit can only be a small bonus. And as scholars like Kanti Bajpai suggest, India must remain patient (even if faced with another Mumbai-style attack), continue to engage with Islamabad, help the civilian government in Pakistan politically, try to resolve a few outstanding disputes like Siachen and Sir Creek, build a relationship with the army and explore the possibility of cooperating with Islamabad on the future of Afghanistan. Despair does not help mend a stormy relationship.

Pakistan PM Prefers Jail to Writing to Swiss

As Reported by Agence France-Presse

Pakistan’s embattled Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Thursday he would rather go to jail than obey a court order and ask Switzerland to re-open graft cases against the president.

Gilani’s remarks revive speculation that he would rather risk losing his job than capitulate in a two-year showdown with the judiciary that culminated last month with him being charged with contempt by the Supreme Court.

He has always insisted that President Asif Ali Zardari is immune from prosecution as president and says the cases against him are politically motivated.

“If I write a letter it will be a violation of the constitution, which is treason and which carries the death sentence,” Gilani told PhD students in central Punjab province, with a few in the audience shouting “do not write, do not write”.

“If I don’t write, I will be convicted for contempt, the punishment for which is six months’ imprisonment,” Gilani said. “It’s better to face six months’ imprisonment than face the death sentence.”

Pakistan’s top court last week ordered Gilani to ask Switzerland to reopen corruption cases against Zardari by March 21.

It was the first time the court asked Gilani personally to write to the Swiss. It previously addressed repeated demands to the government since revoking in 2009 an amnesty freezing legal proceedings against key politicians.

Zardari and his late wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, were suspected of using Swiss accounts to launder about $12 million in alleged bribes paid by companies seeking customs inspection contracts in the 1990s.

Playing to the gallery, Gilani asked the students in Bahawalpur district whether he should write the letter, to which the audience shouted: “No, no.”

“Ok, we will send your message to the court and tell them that they should charge parliament with contempt of court because parliament has given immunity to the president. All heads of state all over the world have this immunity.”

Zardari is so tainted by corruption allegations that he is nicknamed “Mr 10 Percent”. He has already spent 11 years in jail in Pakistan on charges ranging from corruption to murder although he has never been convicted.

Saving Pakistan’s Face?

By Huma Yusuf for The New York Times

On Monday morning, Pakistanis awoke to news that their country had just won its first Oscar. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and her co-director Daniel Junge received the award for best documentary in the short-subject category for “Saving Face.” The film chronicles the work of the British-Pakistani plastic surgeon Mohammad Jawad, who performs reconstructive surgery on women who were attacked with acid.

The media in Pakistan couldn’t get enough of the story. Television channels repeatedly broadcast footage of Obaid-Chinoy receiving her award. Fans posted on their Facebook pages pictures of the filmmaker on the red carpet. Her acceptance speech was tweeted and retweeted: “To all the women in Pakistan who are working for change, don’t give up on your dreams — this is for you.”

Politicians tried to share the limelight. Altaf Hussain, the head of the Karachi-based M.Q.M. party, congratulated Obaid-Chinoy publicly. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced that she would be given a civilian award for making Pakistan proud and catalyzing social change.

The chain restaurant Nando’s, which specializes in grilled chicken, even designed an advertising campaign riffing on the documentary’s name: “From one hot chick to another: Thanks for Saving our Face.”

But Obaid-Chinoy’s triumph, a rare piece of good news out of Pakistan, also reveals the extent to which Pakistanis have become accustomed to feeling dejected.

For once, Pakistan is making headlines for a positive achievement, not another terrorist attack, political squabble or natural disaster. For Pakistanis who have been struggling to restore their country’s flailing image, it’s a relief to see a talented, young Pakistani woman receiving a coveted international award — and hobnobbing with George Clooney. As the cultural critic Nadeem F. Paracha put it in a tweet, “Viva la @sharmeenochiony! The pride of Pakistan is in their artistes & intellectuals. Not in bombs and bans!”

But what does it say about a country that it would rejoice at attracting global attention for rampant violations of women’s rights?

Pakistan is the world’s third-most dangerous country for women. Over 150 Pakistani women are the victims of acid attacks each year. Activists for women’s rights claim that only 30 percent of acid cases are reported and that this form of violence is extremely widespread because acid is easily available and inexpensive. Last year, the government passed the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill, which imposes on attackers prison terms from 14 years to life and fines of up to one million rupees (about $11,000). But the new law has yet to be rigorously implemented, and attitudes toward women’s rights are far from reformed.

Obaid-Chinoy’s film highlights these problems — hardly a point of pride for Pakistanis.

Once the Oscar high subsides, Pakistanis will have to contend with the fact that their nation remains notorious for its challenges, violence against women included. Then the question will be, can the hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis who rooted for Obaid-Chinoy at the Academy Awards muster the same enthusiasm to tackle the problems that her work exposes?

Huma Yusuf is a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn and was the 2010-11 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Pakistan Vows to Arrest Musharraf for Bhutto Assassination

By Reza Sayah for CNN

Pakistani authorities vowed Tuesday to use the international police agency Interpol to arrest former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in connection with the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

“The government is moving for his (Musharraf’s) red notice,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik said, referring to the Interpol’s international arrest warrant.

“We will get him through Interpol to Pakistan.”

Malik made the announcement as part of a progress report of the four-year-long assassination probe that was presented to provincial lawmakers Tuesday in Bhutto’s home province of Sindh. The briefing lasted several hours and was broadcast live on Pakistani TV.

Bhutto was assassinated in a gun-suicide attack in December 2007, shortly after she came back to Pakistan from self imposed exile to take part in the 2008 general elections.

Malik and the head of the investigation team said former Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud plotted the assassination and paid the equivalent of about $4,500 to a network of Islamist militants to carry out the killing.

Using a Power Point presentation, pictures and video to outline the evidence they had gathered, authorities said Mehsud had Bhutto killed because she supported the west’s war against Islamist militants. Investigators said they collected much of their evidence from the accused plotters’ cell phone records before and after the killing.

Last November a Pakistani court charged five alleged Islamist militants with aiding the suicide attacker and two senior police officers for failing to provide adequate security.

Musharraf has also been accused of failing to protect Bhutto. In February 2011 a judge issued an arrest warrant for Musharraf after he didn’t show up to court for questioning.

Musharraf has been in self-imposed exile ever since he left Paksitan in 2008. Last August authorities confiscated his property in Pakistan and froze his bank account. The former military ruler has denied having anything to do with Bhutto’s killing.

In Tuesday’s briefing Malik and investigators said Musharraf rejected Bhutto’s request to use a western private security contractor for protection when she returned to Pakistan. They suggested Musharraf intentionally left Bhutto vulnerable because he felt politically threatened by her return.

“It was the duty of the government to provide the prime minister with protection,” Malik yelled at one point. “Why did you not give security? What was the problem?”

Husain Haqqani, former Pakistan envoy to US, allowed to travel abroad

By Richard Leiby for The Washington Post

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, was permitted to travel abroad Monday by the nation’s Supreme Court after two months of fending off treason allegations over his purported involvement in a mysterious memo that sought Washington’s help to neuter Pakistan’s powerful military.

The court ruling indicated that authorities seem to have lost interest in continuing to probe Haqqani’s role in the scandal, known here as Memogate, which at one point threatened to bring down the civilian leadership of this coup-prone country.

Haqqani, a confidant of President Asif Ali Zardari, was forced to resign, recalled to Islamabad and ordered not to travel abroad after a Pakistani American tycoon, Mansoor Ijaz, alleged that the diplomat engineered an unsigned missive to the Pentagon hoping to block a coup in the turbulent days after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Haqqani denied involvement and said Ijaz, a onetime acquaintance, cooked up the memo.

In an e-mail to Agence France-Presse, Haqqani said: “I am glad that the Supreme Court has restored my right to travel, which had been rescinded without any charges being filed against me.” He added that he planned to join his family in the United States.

Memogate prompted a showdown between the army and the civilian leadership, which technically oversees the military, and brought an already shaky government to the verge of collapse. The fissures between the two sides now seem to have been repaired, and the incessant political and media interest in the scandal has waned in recent days.

One reason seemed to be the dwindling credibility of Ijaz, who has yet to appear to testify about his role in the memo, saying he fears for his safety. The bulk of evidence has come from Ijaz, who released logs of what he says are BlackBerry message conversations between him and Haqqani.

Since his return to Islamabad, Haqqani has stayed within the walls of the official government residence, saying he feared for his life.

Earlier this month, U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) issued a statement condemning the “harassment” of Haqqani, a former journalist and Boston University professor. They called him a “principled advocate” for Pakistan.

Despite allowing the erstwhile diplomat to travel, the Supreme Court did not drop the matter entirely: It granted a two-month extension to the judicial commission that is probing Memogate. And Haqqani’s lawyer had to guarantee that the former envoy would appear before the court if called, on four days’ notice.

A separate parliamentary investigation is also underway.

Pakistan High Court Launches Contempt Case Against Prime Minister

By Alex Rodriguez for The Los Angeles Times

Dealing a heavy blow to Pakistan’s embattled government, the Supreme Court on Monday initiated contempt proceedings against Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for refusing to revive a long-standing corruption case against the nation’s president.

Gilani, a top ally of President Asif Ali Zardari in the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, must appear before the court Thursday, when the justices will listen to his explanation for not going ahead with the case.

If the court moves forward with the contempt proceedings and Gilani is convicted, he could be disqualified from office and forced to step down. He also could be forced to serve up to six months in jail.

Zardari’s government is locked in battles with the Supreme Court and Pakistan’s powerful military, both of which have had an acrimonious relationship with the president since he took office in 2008. The crisis has stirred talk of the government’s possible ouster, though experts say it probably would happen through legal action taken by the high court rather than a military coup.

The military has ousted civilian leaders in coups four times in Pakistan’s 65-year history, but military generals have said they have no plans to mount a takeover.

Nevertheless, they were deeply angered by an unsigned memo that a Pakistani American businessman contends was engineered by a top Zardari ally to seek Washington’s help in preventing a military coup last spring. In exchange, the memo offered several concessions, including the elimination of a wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency that maintains links with Afghan insurgent groups.

The businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, says the then-ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, approached him with the idea. Haqqani, who was forced to resign after the allegations surfaced, denies any involvement in the creation or conveyance of the memo. A Supreme Court commission is investigating the case, and on Monday it ordered Ijaz to come to Pakistan and appear before the panel Jan. 24.

The high court’s move to start contempt proceedings against Gilani involves money-laundering charges in Switzerland that Zardari was convicted of in absentia in 2003. The case was appealed by Zardari and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and was later dropped at the request of the Pakistani government in 2008.

Since 2009, Pakistan’s high court has repeatedly ordered the government to write a letter to Swiss authorities asking that the case be reopened. Gilani and government lawyers have refused, arguing that as president, Zardari enjoys constitutional immunity from prosecution.

Last week, the court warned Gilani that it could remove him from office if he did not abide by its demand. Government lawyers were supposed to appear in court Monday and explain why Gilani’s administration had ignored the court.

Instead, Atty. Gen. Maulvi Anwarul Haq appeared before a packed courtroom and told a high court panel that the government had not given him any instructions about what to say in court. The head of the panel, Justice Nasir Mulk, said Gilani’s inaction gave the court no recourse but to pursue a contempt case against him.

Outside the courtroom, Haq said that if the court eventually issues a contempt finding against Gilani, “this conviction has ramifications…. Under the constitution, with a conviction it’s disqualification from office.”

Before the court issues its findings, it probably would hold evidentiary hearings, Haq said. If Gilani on Thursday tells the court he will ask Swiss authorities to reopen the corruption case, the justices probably would consider dropping the contempt proceeding, said Tariq Mehmood, a lawyer and retired judge.

Gilani has given no indication he plans to give in. He will, however, appear in court Thursday to explain the government’s rationale, he told parliament late Monday. “We have always respected the courts,” he said. “The court has summoned me, and in respect of the court I will go there on Jan. 19.”

Zardari’s administration hopes to become the first civilian government to finish out its term, which ends in 2013. The political turmoil may thwart that plan, as opposition leaders increasingly push harder for early elections. Though Zardari is widely criticized in Pakistan for failing to revive the country’s moribund economy and tackle corruption, his party remains confident that it can weather the storm and retain power for a second term.

Even if Gilani is removed from office, Zardari continues to hold together a coalition that controls parliament’s lower house, which elects the prime minister. On Monday, however, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, a staunch ally of the president, doubted it would come to that.

“The prime minister will stay,” Malik told reporters outside parliament. “The government is in command. Our flight may be a little bumpy, but God willing, we will have a smooth landing in 2013.”

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.

The Khan of the Season

BY E. Shahid for The Khaleej Times

When Imran Khan is around, there are more jealous husbands than worried batsmen. The famous remark made about the handsome Pathan cricketer, who took the subcontinent by storm in the 1970s and 80s, is symptomatic of the aura of the man that transcended sporting excellence. Despite the fierce cricketing rivalry, Imran was admired both in India and Pakistan, and continues to be a revered figure across the world of cricket.
Intensity and self-belief stood out in his performances on the field and charisma and poise surrounded him off it. Imran added virtues of honesty and missionary zeal to his personality when he single-handedly launched a cancer hospital for the poor and, more recently, a rural university in Pakistan. With his coming of age in the world of politics, it appears that the same set of qualities will hold him in good stead. Or is it?

To an outsider uninformed about the intricacies and conspiracy theories of Pakistani politics, Imran brings a breath of fresh air. He offers a glimmer of hope to an embattled country and a much needed respite from its present set of politicians. He combines neo-liberal political thought with a comprehensive worldview, traditional approach and a clean image in the face of rampant corruption. As a package, he promises a political transformation that can be invested in.

It appears that Imran has managed to bring a fragmented country under one umbrella defying the politics of identity, regionalism, sectarianism and even feudalism. He appears to have appealed to all segments of the society at least across a large swath of urban population, especially the youth who hold key to the future.

Imran has lured into his fold senior statesmen, veteran politicians, some even controversial ones, artists and army men. If the grapevine is to be believed, Imran Khan’s biggest catch is going to be former army general and President Pervez Musharraf, who is also trying to make a comeback into Pakistan politics.

Imran’s political discourse has also matured. In his public speeches, he stresses on programmes and policies and seems to have prescriptions for most ills facing the country, especially its ailing economy. If all this is taken at face value, Imran Khan is a godsend not just for Pakistan but also for the neighbourhood and the region as a whole.

Interestingly, not everyone is willing to label this as genuine transformation. People who matter – namely Pakistanis in and outside the country – often take disparaging positions on the subject. An Abu Dhabi taxi driver who hails from Swat valley paints a completely different picture from that of a Karachiite IT professional working in Dubai Media City.

One such individual says the rise of Imran is ‘escapism’ on a mass scale. Expecting an ‘elitist’ like him to change things is superficial, even idealistic, way of looking at the state of affairs in Pakistan. The argument is that Imran only promises to be a messiah and doesn’t have the wherewithal to become one.

The bottom line is that a lot of Pakistanis still do not see Imran’s upsurge as change, a positive one at that, and unless a majority believes in this change, it is going to be a futile exercise. There are bound to be differences of opinion but stakeholders must see change as a necessity and not necessarily as a means to an end. Pontification apart, outside perspective on Pakistan will always be interesting because it will reflect what the country should be instead of what it really is and is going to be. Unfortunately, the response usually ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous and is seldom a balanced one.

Imran is not making waves as a run-of-the-mill politician. Far from it, he is promising change in Pakistan and change doesn’t come easy. There is a natural resistance to such transformation, especially in a country where change has meant military rule or martial law. Imran is bound to make mistakes in the process but by putting faith in him the country would have at least tried and failed instead of reposing faith in those who breed inequality and deliver squalor.

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