My choice this week: 24-29 June 2008

Bill Gates and his charity work – Javed Chaudhary

Bye-elections and the future of the PPP-PML(N) alliance – Abbas Athar

General Kiyani and the NWFP operation – Asadullah Ghalib

Gul and Gul Muhammad – Hasan Nisar

PML-N’s principled stance? Irshad Ahmed Haqqani

Talibanization in the NWFP – Imtiaz Alam

What next?

HOW do you talk to someone who doesn’t speak your language, shares none of your values and is on a ‘divine’ mission to kill anyone who disagrees? Is it possible for the state to strike meaningful deals with people whose goal is to dismantle the state itself? Is it rational to expect the Taliban will somehow, miraculously, see the light and become accommodating of those who do not share their beliefs? There are no simple solutions to a problem that has festered, indeed been allowed to fester, for so long. But one thing is clear: it makes no sense to continue negotiating with the Taliban on their terms. The militants have failed to live up to their side of the bargain and their tactics are getting more ruthless by the day. Towns have been stormed at will, pro-government tribesmen, security personnel and truck drivers abducted and killed, schools set on fire and alleged spies beheaded in public, as seen in Mohmand Agency on Friday. The militants, or at least elements within the Tehrik-i-Taliban, have made their stand clear. So the point arises, what course is the Government of Pakistan going to pursue? Will the security operation launched yesterday in
Peshawar and Khyber Agency be extended across Fata and the NWFP?

The nation stands at a crossroads and a consensus needs to be developed on how we are to collectively tackle the growing threat of Talibanisation. Our parliamentarians have to move beyond statements and devise a plan of action that must be implemented sooner than later. The country’s religio-political leaders ought to clarify, once and for all, where they stand on this burning issue. Do they support or oppose the brutality the Taliban are unleashing on Pakistani soil? The prime minister needs to take the public into confidence, address the nation perhaps, and explain why quelling militancy is in our own interest. At the same time, those tribals who oppose the obscurants despite having to live amongst them must be extended all possible support, for it is a gross fallacy that the Taliban enjoy universal approval in the tribal belt. If that were so, the militants would not be executing more and more tribesmen with every passing day. The Taliban way of life is such that it is not surprising that ordinary citizens who wish to live peacefully and somehow make ends meet have to be coerced into accepting it. People toe the Taliban line because they have no choice in the matter.

The fight against militancy must be a common cause and greater trust and coordination is required amongst all stakeholders, on both sides of the Durand Line. In this connection, news that the Pak-Afghan-Isaf tripartite commission will shortly be reactivated is timely and welcome. Talking at cross purposes benefits only the Taliban. Everyone else loses. (Daily Dawn, 29 June).

Action or carrot?

THE various peace deals the government and the military signed with the extremist militants holding swathes of Fata and the Frontier in a state of siege have had their chance — and for all practical purposes failed to bring peace. The fact that our big cities and national leaders were not attacked while the accords struck with the militants held, as some are proudly pointing out, is no big achievement. Hence one derives little comfort from Thursday’s announcement by the Frontier government that the peace agreement with the Taliban in Swat still holds. Until the menace of extremism and its encroaching evil remain a stark truth, how can the peace deal be welcomed? The fact is that the acts of lawlessness on the part of the militants never fully ceased even as they engaged in talks with the government or military commanders. The destruction of a PTDC motel in Swat on Thursday should come as an eye-opener, if one is needed, for those in the Frontier government who still advocate reaching an understanding with the Taliban operating under the command of the cleric Fazlullah.

Some rethinking is in order on the strategy of appeasing militants while they hold the people hostage to an obscurantist agenda. True, there may be fringe groups indulging in violence who are not under the control of those negotiating with the government. But then those among the Taliban seeking a deal must disown their colleagues who refuse to respect their commitment and exert pressure on them. Innocent, law-abiding citizens cannot be left at the mercy of armed zealots who commit heinous crimes in the name of enforcing Sharia. The need is to ensure that girls’ schools and colleges are reopened, music shops are not threatened with bombings and those who do not obey the Taliban’s edicts are not tried and meted out horrible punishments by parallel courts run by semi-literate mullahs. The writ of the state and a uniform law of the land must prevail across the board, with no exceptions made to enforce the variety of the Sharia that only the Taliban subscribe to.

The meeting held on Wednesday between the prime minister and the army chief, which was also attended by the Frontier governor and chief minister, was a good start in that the government made its intent clearer in dealing with the extremists henceforth. It is not a question of furthering the objectives of the global ‘war on terror’ any more. It is Pakistan’s own war because the victims of the militants’ actions are Pakistani citizens. The targets of the Taliban are strategic installations, paramilitary personnel, tribal elders seen as errant, the writ of the state and the country’s foreign relations. A lack of vision thus far has emboldened the militants to appropriate more territory and exert illicit control over trade and commerce in the areas under their influence, which in turn funds their virtual war against the state. This lifeline must be severed and decisive action taken against the militants now. (Dawn, 28 June).

After the by-elections

THE ‘grand coalition’ may celebrate its victory in Thursday’s by-elections but in reality there is not much to cheer about. The results were no surprise. Held four months after the February general election, the by-elections in five NA and 29 PA constituencies tended to reflect the people’s choice made on Feb 18. Of the five National Assembly seats, the PML-N won three — all in Punjab — while the PPP secured one in
Punjab and the other in the NWFP. Of the 11 PA seats the PML-N won, 10 are in Punjab with the other one coming from the NWFP. The PPP won PA seats in all the provinces — four in Punjab, all three in Sindh, two in the NWFP and one in Balochistan, its tally coming to 10. In at least one Punjab PA constituency, the traditional rivalry between Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Javed Hashmi of the PML-N cost the PPP a provincial seat. Besides, in the current political situation, with the judiciary issue overshadowing all other national problems, the PML-N obviously enjoys an edge over the PPP because of Asif Ali Zardari’s somersault on the reinstatement question. The fate of two constituencies still remains to be decided. The Supreme Court has stayed the by-election in NA-123, where obviously Mian Nawaz Sharif will win if the legal hitch in his participation in the by-election is removed. Polling in another PA constituency had to be postponed on account of the death of a candidate. Voter turnout was low because the PPP and PML-N had generally not fielded candidates against each other.

The five assemblies are now at their normal strength, with the balance of political power remaining unchanged. The big issue is what the two major parties intend to do with their electoral victory. Going by all that has happened since Feb 18, with the PML-N and the PPP divided over the judges issue, one can expect little from the federal government in the near future. In Punjab, the change of guard at Governor House and the uncertainty stemming from Shahbaz Sharif’s two-constituency affair have added to a sense of crisis in the country’s largest province. The provincial government must prove that it has not been hamstrung by an uncomfortable political situation and that it is capable of initiating new development plans and keeping the bureaucracy, especially the law-enforcement agencies, on its toes. (Dawn, 28 June).

How will it end?

By Iqbal Akhund

THE Mohmand incident in which 11 Frontier Corps (FC) men were killed by a US missile attack was not the first time that Pakistan territory had been violated, although it was the first time Pakistani soldiers were killed in such an incident. US spokesmen have taken the position that America acted in self-defence and has a right to do so.

The Afghan president has gone one step further and threatened to send his troops to clear Baitullah Mehsud and his companions out of their lairs inside Pakistan. It is not very likely that Karzai would actually launch such an attack but not unlikely that he had the tacit backing of the US and Nato in putting Pakistan under pressure.

Karzai was indeed only echoing their increasingly impatient complaints about the situation on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Indeed for all the praise that was lavished on Gen Musharraf as an ally and the talk about a long-term strategic relationship, there has always existed an undercurrent of disquiet in the US on where Islamic Pakistan really stands and how reliable a partner it is in the war against Islamist terror. The settlements the new government is trying to negotiate in Swat and Fata have sharpened these doubts and concerns.

The former commander of US forces in Afghanistan went so far as to suggest that men of the Frontier Constabulary may be in cahoots with the Taliban. If, nevertheless, for the moment the new government is being given the benefit of the doubt, it is thanks in part to the ambiguity and double-speak that characterise the US-Pakistan relationship.

But perhaps due also to the fact that neither side knows exactly what to do in the alternative and that the available alternatives may make matters worse.

The fact is that America’s trouble in Afghanistan goes beyond its problems with Pakistan. Essentially, it comes from the fiction underlying the concept of a ‘war against terrorism’. In the case of Iraq the deception was blatant and evident from the start and the world is now hearing it from inside sources.

Terror is not an ‘ism’; it is the weapon of the weak, the fanatical or the demented. Different terrorists — Tamils, Corsicans, the Irgun, Basques, IRA — fought or fight for different things. No one thought of going to ‘war’ against them; they were dealt with by a combination of police and political action.

Muslim terrorism too is diverse and related to Muslim grievances over the Middle East, the Balkans, Kashmir, and the Philippines. But in the Bush Administration’s view they were all lumped together as a monolithic Islamo-fascist movement, led by Osama bin Laden and headquartered in the Afghan-Pakistan borderland. This is not so but in the popular mind in the West ‘All Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslim’ who hate western freedoms and want to set up a caliphate to dominate the world.

In the case of Afghanistan, in order to obtain quick results the Americans co-opted the Northern Alliance and thereby entered the fray in the war-torn country. This, and the way America fights wars these days, preferring air support to ground action that inevitably causes ‘collateral damage’ i.e. wedding parties, or people asleep in their beds and so forth, has caused America to be seen by the Pashtuns as the enemy in Afghanistan and so has America’s ally, the Musharraf government.

By the time the US asked Pakistan to join the action in Afghanistan, the Taliban had become more hindrance than help; a sanctuary for sectarian murderers and an embarrassment and bad example with their obscurantist policies. So Musharraf did not need the threat of being bombed back to the Stone Age in order to ditch them.

Indeed his decision to join the Americans was not unpopular, except with some religious groups; many welcomed the western aid that helped the country back from the economic and financial brink where it was at the time. Now we seem to be back there again and facing even more critical choices as the Afghan war spills over into Pakistan in the shape of suicide bombs, predator attacks, Taliban laying down the law in parts of the country.

The new government has decided to rely more on dialogue, economic and social development, etc., than on military force in order to resolve the situation. This is the right approach but this ‘new approach’ is not all that new since under Musharraf it was tried twice and it failed.

The government claims that the difference is that this time, having retaken military control of the areas, it is negotiating from a position of strength.

Moreover, the government affirms that it is not talking to the bad guys, only to peace-loving elements. The idea is to co-opt the latter in order to isolate the extremists. But the Taliban with whom agreements have been reached are threatening to go on the offensive again if the agreements are not implemented to their satisfaction within a week. One does not know what this would mean as the terms of the agreement have not been published.

In any case the Taliban threat to resume trouble does not show them to be a peace-loving lot. Moreover, the fact that they are giving ultimatums to the government, holding public meetings, going about fully-armed, does not bear out the government’s claim of being in control of the area. Nor do Islamabad and the NWFP seem to be on all fours in the matter. The situation is reminiscent of the Musharraf government’s hesitation and indecisiveness during the Red Mosque crisis. At the heart of it all is the fact that those who govern and rule Pakistan have not been able to decide whether the country they want is Jinnah’s Pakistan or Maududi’s.

Afghanistan is today a bubbling cauldron of ethnicity, nationalism, sectarianism, with drug barons and warlords and Taliban stirring the pot. Whatever happens there cannot leave Pakistan unaffected. How it will all end is difficult to tell. It is not very likely that the US would stay to the end or that the ‘democratic’ system they have installed would outlast the American presence. As things stand, the chances do not look very promising that it would end well for either Afghanistan or Pakistan or the relations between them. (Dawn).

Our dependent judiciary

By Ardeshir Cowasjee

MIAN Nawaz Sharif is of late somewhat sidelined from his running mania that he claims has much to do with the ‘restoration’ of the judiciary and the upholding of an independence it has never enjoyed, whereas in reality it is all about ridding himself of and getting his own back on President Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf.

What now distracts him is his disqualification from standing for a by-election, handed down to him by the judiciary he is also trying to get rid of. He must also be pondering upon who is behind it all, who is engineering things, and who has stabbed him in the solar plexus.

The emerging Taliban is not as worrying for Nawaz as his latent tendencies, going by his record, swing towards the Taliban way of life. We must not forget his 15th ‘ameer-ul-momineen’ amendment bill which luckily for us came to naught. We must also never forget Nawaz’s tampering with the judiciary during his second round as prime minister. A very fine and precise narrative of the events leading up to the storming of the Supreme Court on Nov 28, 1997 and how it evolved is given in Shuja Nawaz’s book, Crossed Swords, which should be on every shelf.

Shuja has written after extensively interviewing the then president of the Republic, Farooq Leghari, and the then chief of army staff, Gen Jehangir Karamat, an honourable man. Elected in February 1997, one of the first steps taken by Nawaz was to push through his 13th constitutional amendment, annulling the 8th amendment and thus Article 58-2 (b), eliminating the presidential power to dissolve parliament and giving himself powers to appoint the armed services chiefs. Both president and army chief gave their assent to this move.

He then turned to the judiciary which he felt was hostile under Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Sajjad Ali Shah, who could be rather a thorn in the flesh. To quote from Crossed Swords : “Leghari recalls Sharif coming to see him in the company of Shahid Hamid (erstwhile friend of Leghari who had appointed him as governor of the Punjab but now had been won over by Sharif) to ask him to remove the chief justice. Sharif said that Hamid would make the case against the chief justice. Leghari said to Hamid, ‘Why didn’t you tell Nawaz Sharif my expected answer. It would be the same as Benazir Bhutto’s time. No!’ Hamid retorted, ‘At that time the judges were united. Now they are divided. We can do it!’ Leghari … warned against this move…. But Sharif was not deterred.”

He somehow managed to get round Karamat, and instigated a revolt among the judges against the CJP who, meanwhile, had dismissed as unconstitutional Sharif’s 14th amendment which made it illegal for any parliamentarian to break ranks with his party when voting in the assembly. Sharif was furious, criticised the chief justice on the floor of the assembly, at which the chief justice filed a case of contempt against him.

Karamat was brought into play, as was the chief of the ISI, Lt Gen Nasim Rana. Leghari arranged a meeting to which all the principals were summoned. Gen Karamat started by asking the CJP whether he would withdraw the contempt case. Leghari recalls the CJP’s face turning red. ‘How can you interfere with cases?’ asked Shah. ‘I came here at the request of the President, not to decide cases.’ When Sharif asked Shah for ‘mercy’ what he got was ‘I am the chief justice not for mercy but for Justice!’.”

No date is given for this confrontation, but it must have been sometime late November as Sharif’s next move was to get the Balochistan High Court to file an appeal on Nov 26 against Shah’s original appointment. Leghari passed on this information to Karamat and also told him that Shah was about to restore Article 58-2 (b). That night at 10 pm Sharif rang Leghari and asked to meet him. He arrived with Karamat, Senate chairman Waseem Sajjad, former law minister Khalid Anwar, Ilahi Bakhsh Soomro, and Gen Rana.

The law minister produced a case against the chief justice and presented a judgment dismissing Shah for Leghari’s signature. Leghari had learnt that “suitcases of money had been taken to Balochistan to obtain this judgment against the chief justice by his fellow judges,” and said he would rather resign than sign. Resignation would be the best course, as Sajjad, who would take over as president, would do as they wanted. Leghari was urged by Karamat and Rana not to resign (Soomro chipping in with ‘Why should you resign for the sake of a mad old Sindhi judge?’) They all went home at 4 am, Karamat on departing telling Leghari that if he resigned he too would resign. Leghari’s retort to that was to tell Karamat not to do so as it would give Sharif total power — like giving ‘a monkey a razor’.

Later that day, Nov 28, “the PML supporters stormed the Supreme Court.” By Dec 2, both Leghari and Shah had resigned, leaving Sajjad free to do as he liked as acting president and a new CJP, Justice Ajmal Mian. Karamat lasted until October the following year, when he was pushed by Sharif into resigning. What a sorry tale!

Nothing changes. Nawaz Sharif and his men are back, as are Asif Zardari and his bunch of dangerous cronies, all preaching democracy. They, with the advancing Taliban, will destroy, even maim and kill, to get their way. And the poor will suffer on — and on.

The one piece of bright news to come our way in Karachi last week came via the Consul General of France, Pierre Seillan, a considerate and kind man who takes much interest in the welfare of the poorer and the deprived of the city. For some time, the prisoners in Karachi Central Jail have been given the opportunity to attend art classes.

Pierre, together with Mohammad Yamin Khan, the Sindh Inspector General of Prisons, organised an exhibition at the Alliance Francaise of paintings and drawings produced by the prisoners. As the invitation card announced it was an exhibition of ‘Imprisonistic’ drawings and paintings — and it was most impressive and even more touching to see what transpires in the minds of these unfortunate men.

Overheard at the opening of the exhibition was a classic remark: Whilst the poor petty thieves and druggies suffer inside …, the Grand Larcenists are out and about, their crimes forgiven and forgotten, trumpeting their love and affection for an ‘independent’ judiciary, something they could never either tolerate or live with. (Dawn).

Tough peace in Swat

Even as the NWFP government insists it will respect its peace deals with the Taliban in Swat, the Taliban have spoken in the language of violence. On Thursday, the terrorists set on fire a four-storey motel of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) in Malam Jabba, the country’s only ski resort. They also attacked the home of Abdul Kabir, brother of Swat PPP’s vice-president Sher Khan, in Matta tehsil. They broke into the compound and shot dead Mr Kabir, his wife and son Mohammad Ali. This followed the killing on Tuesday of another brother of a PPP leader, Muhammad Zameer. While Peshawar was swearing by the peace deal, the Taliban were torching more than 12 girls’ schools in Swat.

Any other country would have descended on Swat with the full force of its capacity for violence, but admittedly Pakistan’s position is different. No matter how you look at the state’s power to maintain its sovereignty, you will come to a sharp sense of weakness. One factor is the widespread nature of the defiance it faces; the other is the lack of popular support while facing up to the terrorists. Looking at the political potential of the Taliban, one must recognise that they lack the ability to manage a viable state after taking control of it. There is no other course but to deal with them firmly with international help since ultimately the Taliban plan to export their violence (Daily Times, 28 June).

Army and the Taliban takeover

President Pervez Musharraf’s meeting with COAS Gen Ashfaq Kayani on Friday hinted at how the government is positioning itself on the question of the threatened takeover of the NWFP by the Taliban. The presidential statement issued publicly said that “religious extremism and terrorist violence must be combated with full force and all resources available”. However, to this obviously unexceptionable statement, a statement from the COAS explained that “I will act on the decision of the government”. Gen Kayani did not admit that a go-ahead had been given to him by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, making him the “principal” with powers to decide action in the areas threatened by Taliban violence.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) spokesman keeps saying the army is ready for action against the mounting threat in the NWFP, but it seems that the army is only “ready” for a specific order from the civilian government to proceed. But that doesn’t seem to be coming. Even as the warlords from outside Peshawar gradually take over the city through their armed warriors, the ANP government continues to hug the peace deals that already lie in tatters in Swat. And the killing of two persons closely related to the PPP leaders of Swat is sending an ominous political message to the coalition in Peshawar.

The ANP insists it is making headway with the killers, but has asked the frontier constabulary to guard its police from being annihilated by the warlords who increasingly rule the administered districts of the province. If it doesn’t take a clear line on what it is going to do about the killing of innocent people under its jurisdiction, it will start looking as ambiguous as the political parties in Balochistan, shunning violence but feeling soft towards Baloch separatism.

The federal government has turned its face away from the trouble in the Tribal Areas and the NWFP by approaching the United Nations for an inquiry into the death of the PPP leader Ms Benazir Bhutto “because another state is involved in the assassination”. Even the TV personality, the fiery Zaid Zaman, who lambastes the US and sees all kinds of American and Jewish conspiracies behind political events, was blunt in his assertion that Baitullah Mehsud had ordered her assassination.

The PPP must wake up to the Taliban threat to carve out a state with the help of Al Qaeda. The rudiments of such a state have already been put together in South Waziristan. The banned Pakistani jihadi organisations linked to Al Qaeda have already activated themselves. Sipah Sahaba, that was first revived mysteriously by the Musharraf establishment in Islamabad in the shape of a mammoth rally in May 2006, has now staged its second show of strength at a Karachi rally this week.

The Interior Ministry adviser Mr Rehman Malik has repeatedly put the nation on notice on the arrest of a large number of terrorists — most of them members of Lashkar-e Jhangvi — in Lahore and Rawalpindi with huge amounts of explosive material. But politicians clearly do not want to identify their interests in any anti-terrorism strategy. (The targeting of the PPP leaders in Rawalpindi and Swat weans the PPP and its rivals away from taking on the Taliban in the same measure.) They clutch at the wrong view that it is not “their war” and that therefore they can’t take part in the army’s “killing of their own people”.

Meanwhile, the all-Pakistan alliance of the Shia ulema went on record on Friday saying that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are killing nearly 30 Shias a day in the Kurram Agency. On the other hand, the Sipah Sahaba, mother organisation of Lashkar-e Jhangvi, is being allowed to revive itself in the country. At least one TV company doing a discussion programme on sectarianism in Pakistan has received threats from Sipah Sahaba to stop the airing of the discussion. Needless to say, the planned discussion has been dropped.

The most important first step in the direction of national security is the ownership of the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. This time the army has clearly decided not to be left holding the baby while its real political progenitors are reluctant to confess parentage. It is not going to go to war simply to lose further face among a people more emotionally attached to other “causes”, like the lawyers’ movement, Dr AQ Khan’s freedom, President’s impeachment, etc. So we are lumped with politicians who are afraid to admit the truth and are instead repeating the convenient lie that Pakistan’s gradual descent into anarchy is because of NATO-ISAF forces and President Karzai in Afghanistan. (Daily Times, 29 June).

The law and order situation in the NWFP

Shahbaz Sharif’s CMship – Nazir Naji

Hostile TV anchors – Hamid Mir

Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification – the conspiracy? – Nazir Naji

Conspiracy to break the PPP-PML(N) alliance – Masood Ashar

Nazir Naji’s Tamboora – Haroon-ur-Rasheed

Benazir Bhutto – Last 72 days of her life – Hamid Akhtar

New conspiracies – Abbas Athar

Someone should cry halt – Haroon-ur-Rashid

Let us mourn the NWFP – Abbas Athar

Remembering Benazir Bhutto – Abdul Qadir Hassan

New crisis starts – Abbas Athar

If BB were alive…. – Aftab Iqbal

Justice Dr Ghulam Mustafa and Shafiqa Zia-ul-Haq – Aftab Iqbal

Stakeholders in Pakistan and ‘murday say udhaar’ – Aftab Iqbal

A conversation with Asif Zardari – Aftab Iqbal

Slithering Talibanisation

THE tentacles are spreading and the ideology of the Taliban is claiming new ground across the country. Fanning out post-9/11 from their strongholds in the more remote tribal areas, the local Taliban ultimately made their presence felt in major Fata towns, emboldened no doubt by the state’s failure to establish its writ in South and North Waziristan. Soon forays were being made into the frontier regions (FRs) that border the tribal agencies, and then beyond into the provincial districts. The extent to which the rot had spread was brought home in early 2007 when the Lal Masjid brigade occupied a children’s library in Islamabad, patrolled the streets of the federal capital to suppress ‘vice’, abducted local women, policemen and Chinese nationals, and also set up a Sharia court in the mosque. The subsequent bloody showdown in July was proof that the Lal Masjid compound housed not just radical madressah students but ‘jihadis’ armed to the teeth with all manner of weapons. Their links with militants in the tribal areas also came to the fore.

The militants’ network must necessarily be covert but exist it does across the land. Although a stand-off as vicious as the one in Islamabad is yet to be seen in a major urban centre, the Taliban have their supporters and areas of influence in almost every large city. Where Talibanisation once crept, it now slithers. There is a palpable fear in Peshawar these days that the recent abduction of over a dozen Christians coupled with threats to city shopkeepers and others may be a precursor to a more coordinated assault by militants. In Karachi, the Tehrik-i-Taliban are handing out leaflets warning transporters and drivers of brutal consequences — slaughter, to be precise — if they persist with trucking supplies to the ‘Christian army’ in Afghanistan.

Back in the tribal belt, militants have been operating with impunity over the last week or so, as detailed in these pages yesterday. On Tuesday, the Taliban seized a girls’ school in Bajaur and renamed it Jamia Hafsa, the Lal Masjid seminary that was at the heart of the July 2007 clashes. Other girls’ schools are also on the militants’ radar. They plan to convert these schools into madressahs because, according to a Taliban spokesman, “the western system of education is not good for girls”. From Karachi to Bajaur and beyond, ordinary citizens are helpless before the military might of the Taliban. Taking them on is a job for the state. (Daily Dawn, 27 June).

Problem Number One finally gets attention

A meeting chaired by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has given charge of tackling the violence in the Tribal Areas to the chief of the army staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, designating him “the principal for application of military effort”. The meeting, which was also attended by the administrative heads of the NWFP and related officers of the Pakistan Army, resolved that “Pakistan would not allow its territory to be used against other countries, especially Afghanistan, and under no circumstances would foreign troops be allowed to operate inside Pakistan”. The meeting was also unanimous in concluding that “terrorism and extremism are the gravest challenge to Pakistan’s national security” and decided to tackle them through peaceful parleys, economic incentives, empowerment through development projects, as well as through “selective military force”.

With this “go-ahead” the coalition government has signalled its resolve not to postpone action against “terrorism and extremism” simply because other less important problems in the country have occupied centre-stage. Ambiguity has also been lifted from whether the war against terrorism and extremism is “our war” or somebody else’s. The meeting has granted the army permission to consider the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda as Pakistan’s national war. This is an important step to prevent the derailment of the national will to tackle terrorism in the wake of the public hostility towards the Karzai regime in Afghanistan and the NATO-ISAF forces active on the Durand Line.

The most crucial aspect of the meeting was its overt signalling of political support to the army. The most misguided comment by our politicians on the military action on the Tribal Areas earlier was that “our army is killing our own people” which reached the army rank and file and sapped their morale. Those who still say that trouble in federally administered tribal areas (FATA) is an American war and not Pakistan’s should realise the gravity of the situation developing over the past two years and climaxing in the threat to the city of Peshawar. Warlords, who will finally gang up with the terrorists if not already acting as their vanguard, have a free run of the city and kidnap for ransom to fill their coffers as the people of Pakistan sink below the poverty line.

What has been the Taliban reaction to the “peace deals” already made by the Pakistani side? The one made in Swat was so tilted in Pakistan’s favour that it aroused suspicion. Were terrorists trying to buy time for reorganisation by signing on these deals? The world told us that warlord Fazlullah was in fact giving himself time to regroup but we thought otherwise. In the event, Fazlullah reorganised and regrouped after retreating to higher locations and continues to threaten Swat whose citizens have not restarted their businesses because they expect more trouble. In his latest foray he has attacked the checkposts and burned down 10 girls’ schools to post his loyalty to the Taliban movement. This is why Pakistan has to reassert itself as a state to save its people from being brutalised further.

Warlord Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan and his petty satraps in the neighbouring agencies have eliminated all the tribal elders who favour peace talks with the government. In his most recent act of savagery Baitullah Mehsud has used the Al Qaeda signature technique of slitting the throats of 22 “peace jirga” members after attacking and occupying the town of Jandola on the border of South Waziristan next to the NWFP city of Tank. In Bajaur, the Taliban have occupied a girls’ school and converted it to a madrassa, giving it the name Jamia Hafsa in the memory of the female seminary destroyed by military action in Islamabad in 2007.

There is no doubt that war against internal terrorism is Pakistan’s war. In many ways it is more dangerous than any war we have fought in the past because it is within our national borders. We are distracted by other concomitant crises that need to be addressed; but by not deciding which one to tackle first, we are endangering Pakistan. Politically speaking, some people say that our problem number one is the restoration of the judges, but the world thinks that Pakistan is sitting on a powder keg watching “long marches” of another kind that are accorded much lower priority by us. So let us get our act together. Once we have countered the creeping loss of territory to the terrorist warlords there will be time enough to put the nation’s judicial system right.

It is only after Pakistan has brought its territory under control that it can exert sovereignty over it and extend its judicial writ to it. The sixty restored judges will be good for us only after we give them a land over which they can exercise their jurisdiction. (Daily Times, 27 June).

Mr Sharif’s by-election issue

Although the PPP has saved the day by approaching the Supreme Court on the Lahore High Court’s disqualification of Mr Nawaz Sharif from participation in the June 26 by-elections, negative fallout of the verdict hasn’t stopped raining on the political landscape. Dramatic beating of bare breasts and violent condemnations of President Pervez Musharraf and Mr Asif Ali Zardari, are mixing with “wise” council to quit the coalition and try to come back with a two-thirds majority through a mid-term election.

The APDM has joined the “I told you so” chorus by saying the PPP has “rewarded” Mr Sharif for accepting 29 seats in the Supreme Court by getting the Lahore High Court to dismiss him from the by-election. The fact that Prime Minister Gilani immediately expressed his party’s resolve to approach the Supreme Court on behalf of Mr Sharif has fallen on deaf partisan ears. Now that the Supreme Court has stayed the by-election in the relevant constituency it is possible that he will be allowed to contest. It is therefore extremely unfair to spread the rumour after this that Mr Sharif will boycott the by-election because he doesn’t recognise the PCO Supreme Court. (Daily Times, 27 June).

“Siege of Peshawar

The adviser on interior, Mr Rehman Malik, says the government is going to “take action” against elements threatening the city of Peshawar, but adds rather unconvincingly that the news about the “siege of Peshawar” is exaggerated. We hope that this “rider” clause doesn’t mean that the government’s action is going to be just another eyewash. So far, his posturings over trouble in the Khyber Agency have been unconvincing.

We wrote about the developing “siege of Peshawar” a month ago in this column. Today it is a bigger reality. The Lashkar-e-Islam chief warlord Mangal Bagh is busy solving disputes in Peshawar. After a case is brought to him in Bara he calls in the plaintive and the respondent. No one dare refuse to come. Usually it is money that is involved. He takes 2 percent from both parties, them lays down the verdict which the parties have to accept on pain of death. He also sends ultimatums to people in Peshawar who he thinks are busy doing “un-Islamic” things like watching DVDs and listening to music. He imposes big fines which are paid on pain of kidnapping and ransom. Some days ago he hijacked an entire group of Christians together with a Muslim man who had rented them his house. The Christians were released in Bara but the Muslim house-owner is still with him. He has not just besieged Peshawar, he is increasingly imposing his writ on it. (Daily Times, 26 June).

Meanwhile, Baitullah triumphs again

The Taliban warlord and head of the “emirate” of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Baitullah Mehsud, has mopped up the little pocket of resistance at the edge of South Waziristan to claim the entire territory as his own. He has taken Jandola after killing four local tribesmen considered “pro-Pakistan”. His militants have also entered the already troubled Khyber Agency and kidnapped 15 khassadars or paramilitary staff in order to use them as pawns for the release of men in Pakistani custody. The Taliban have also executed the 8 drivers they had caught taking food to the starving Shia population of a besieged Kurram Agency.

Meanwhile, Pakistani politics is centred on the PPP-PMLN tussle over the judges. Politicians have ignored the creeping loss of Pakistani territory to the Taliban and Al Qaeda by choosing an apparently “easier” enemy across the border in Kabul. The war to end Pakistan is going on. Our answer is: this is not our war! There cannot be a more damning statement of our ignorance and impotence than this. (Daily Times, 25 June).

Peace had its chance

STRONG and decisive action is needed without delay for the situation is spiralling out of control. Baitullah Mehsud captured and then withdrew from Jandola at will, setting houses ablaze and killing pro-government tribal leaders by the dozen. After fresh clashes in Swat that left at least 10 dead on Tuesday, the peace deal struck in May with Fazlullah’s Taliban now exists largely in name. Eight drivers who were part of a food convoy were found dead in Kurram Agency on Monday, 17 paramilitary personnel were kidnapped on Sunday night in Khyber Agency, and there are reports too of the Taliban meting out summary justice and executing ‘criminals’ in Orakzai. Even the NWFP capital is no longer safe from the rampaging Taliban and it is feared that threats to shopkeepers in Peshawar and the abduction last week of members of the Christian community may be a sign of far worse things to come.

Besides the death and destruction seen in the past week or so, what is perhaps most chilling is the consummate ease with which militants are going about their business. Their operations have shifted up a gear, possibly to exploit the chaos that passes for governance in Islamabad these days. At the same time, this latest spate of violence in the tribal belt may also be linked to the recent surge in Taliban attacks across the border in Afghanistan. In any case this madness has to stop. Taking on the militants is of course a daunting task, one that has been attempted before without much success, but the state is left with no choice other than to crack down with all the resources at its disposal. An olive branch was held out to and accepted by both Mehsud in Waziristan and Fazlullah in Swat, and that was the right thing to do. Talking peace not only offered another tactical option, it was in keeping with the spirit of democracy because many in the country favoured mediation over military action.

Peace had its chance but the Taliban blew it. True, there was a brief lull in the violence but the storm is now raging out of control. Maybe the militants were just buying time to regroup, as they did in North Waziristan in 2006. How, it may be asked, will the military option succeed where it has failed in the past. One, it is hoped that lessons have been learned from earlier mistakes, in the theatre of conflict as well as the corridors of power, and that the government will close ranks and gets its act together quickly. Two, we now have a full-time army chief who is not distracted by politics and can focus on the job at hand. Three, failure is not an option. (Daily Dawn, 26 June).

Tipping point in judicial crisis?

A full bench of the Lahore High Court has disqualified the PMLN leader Mr Nawaz Sharif from taking part in the June 26 by-elections after agreeing with the petitioner that Mr Sharif’s conviction in the “plane hijack case” had not been positively affected by the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). According to the petitioner, “the president could end a punishment but not a conviction under a court order”. But the honourable court stayed another application asking it to disqualify Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, pending a decision at the Election Tribunal. The Court had proceeded ex parte since the respondents had refused to appear because of their position that they did not recognise the “PCO judges”.

The case is immediately politicised in line with the ongoing judicial deadlock over the restoration of the judges fired by President Pervez Musharraf in November last year and the fate of the judges inducted in their place under a PCO which the mainstream political parties in power consider illegal. In fact the latest decision could convert the deadlock into a crisis if the PMLN continues to stick to its policy of not recognising the post-November 3 courts. The greatly incensed pro-PMLN lawyers’ community and most journalists are now rebuking the PPP for its “delaying tactics” and “double game” and challenging it to fulfil the pledge made by it in the Murree Declaration and restore the deposed judges through a simple parliamentary resolution, which act would also get rid of the “PCO judges”.

Interestingly, the situation is not as black and white as the lawyers’ movement and the journalists tend to make it. Both the coalition partners, the PPP and the PMLN, are also engaged in a process of bargaining over the judicial issue. They seem to have moved forward from the Murree Declaration through a number of compromises which the zealots refuse to acknowledge. The latest compromise has recently come in the shape of an agreement over the fate of President Musharraf and the inclusion of the PCO judges in the “restoration process” by increasing the total seats of the Supreme Court to 29 from 17 through the provision of money in the Budget 2008-09. The political quibbling on the part of the PMLN to justify its support to the particular budgetary sanction has apparently caused the latest outburst.

After having voted “yes” the PMLN announced that the passage of the additional budget for 29 seats at the Supreme Court did not mean that it would support the retention of the PCO judges. (It had earlier said that they could be retained as ad hoc judges.) In response, in order to prove the extent of the agreement between the two parties over the retention of the PCO judges, the PPP went public with the revelation that the budgetary provision about the Supreme Court seats was not only the result of mutual consultation but that the idea of doing it through the Budget was suggested by a PMLN leader. However, if this was actually so, the PMLN did not revise its decision of boycotting the courts, and allowed the Lahore High Court to go into the ex parte mode. This is political doublespeak of no mean order.

The biggest damage from the case has come in the shape of the language being used by the lawyers and the PMLN rank and file about the judges. The PMLN partisans are naming names and accusing them of taking “dictation” from President Musharraf and abetting the president’s vendetta against their leaders. They are even referring to the appointment of one judge of the bench as mala fide because his appointment had been earlier opposed by Mr Sharif when he was prime minister. As it is, the lawyers’ movement and the Long March, by focusing sharply on the deposed judges versus the PCO-2 judges, have brought the prestige of the judiciary to a very low point, and the angry hyperbole of the movement has led the people to believe that the judges are all generally less than honourable people.

The problem with the latest decision of the High Court is that it has chosen to ignore the political repercussions of disallowing the election of a man who is regarded today as the most popular person in Punjab. An embarrassed PPP has expressed its mayoossi (disappointment) at the verdict, but it must be on tenterhooks about what to do in the face of Mr Sharif’s obstinate boycott of the post November-3 Supreme Court. The pressure on it to abandon its old policy and go for a “simple resolution” to reinstate the judges will now increase. Or the final “parting of the ways” will stare it in the face. There are dissenters on both sides: on the PMLN side, they are mostly confrontationists opposed to the idea of the coalition; on the PPP side, they are mostly supporters of the lawyers’ movement. This chemistry doesn’t bode well for conscientious politics in a troubled Pakistan. (Daily Times, 25 June).

Our wars in our Tribal Areas

The war in Khyber Agency now parallels the war in Kurram Agency. The first is three years old and the second is two years old in its latest phase. The Khyber war has unfolded right under the nose of the administration in Peshawar; and the Kurram war has proved too much for Islamabad as it spreads to adjacent Aurakzai and Mohmand agencies, coming down to the settled districts of the NWFP like Hangu and Kohat. There is also the greater war between the Taliban and the state of Pakistan over “lost territory”, and then there is the war with Afghanistan where the Tribal Areas of Pakistan provide up to 40 percent of the “cross-border” warriors. Finally, there is the war within the warriors of which the latest example is the sectarian bloodshed in the Khyber Agency.

Two factions that came on the scene in Khyber around 2005 on the basis of their propaganda on their FM radios are now killing each other freely. So far more than 200 warriors from both sides have been done to death with automatic fire and mortars and rockets. The latest battle has killed nearly 30 in one day’s battle, if the figures claimed by both sides are to be accepted. After Bara, the killings spread to Jamrud, where the murders of innocent people are now going to be avenged. The battle has also spread to the most inaccessible but picturesque Tirah and, going by the images being shown on TV, both sides are squared off with equal strength of weaponry and manpower.

The war in Kurram Agency forms a parallel. It is also close-by because one can reach Kurram from Tirah after a few hours’ journey. While the war in Khyber is between two versions of Sunni Islam — Deobandi versus Barelvi — the war in Kurram is between the Shia and the Sunni, the two major sects of Islam. The Kurram war, mostly centred on the headquarters of the agency Parachinar with a majority Shia population, is of longer gestation. In history it was known as the Turi-Mangal tribal war as both tribes embrace different sects. But after the jihad against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, it became an indirectly state-supported mayhem because jihad was Deobandi-dominated.

Hundreds have been claimed in these two internal wars. As in other areas affected by retaliatory attacks from the NATO-ISAF forces, uninvolved populations are moving out of the affected areas and then wandering from pillar to post in search of shelter. Everywhere they go, the Taliban tighten the noose around their necks by enforcing a brand of Islam that the people have not known before. Meanwhile, the state of Pakistan is nowhere to be seen. The people of Parachinar have made heart-rending appeals to the state to come and save their lives but to no effect. The state is clearly in retreat in the face of all this.

When the Barelvi-Deobandi war started in the Khyber Agency in 2005, its repercussions went as far south as Multan and Karachi where the Deobandi madrassas organised wall-chalkings about a war that no one could figure out. Mufti Munir Shakir was fulminating against his Barelvi rival Pir Saifur Rehman. Both were exiled from Khyber but both left behind their followers. The Deobandi Mufti Shakir has now been replaced by warlord Mangal Bagh who is given to raiding Peshawar to fill his coffers and is clearly putting himself up for adoption by Al Qaeda without whose imprimatur no one can enter the business of terrorism in the Tribal Areas. On the other hand, Pir Saifur Rehman has been succeeded by other leaders, including Maulana Mustamin, who have vowed to fight to the end.

The federal government listened to the distant thunder of war on the FM radios and kept quiet, and there are many interpretations placed on this benign neglect, including the involvement of the intelligence agencies in secretly prosecuting the war against Afghanistan’s Karzai government. The MMA government in Peshawar kept out of the mess on two grounds. The first was overt and it was based on the argument that the Tribal Areas were in the charge of the federal government. That indirectly meant that the governor and the corps commander in Peshawar were effectively responsible for control and management in Khyber. The other less overt reason for the Deobandi-dominated MMA’s indifference was the natural Deobandi ascendancy of Lashkar-e Islam of Mangal Bagh, further empowered by the “alliance” between Deobandi Islam and Arab-dominated Al Qaeda.

Those who are busy counting the errors of President Pervez Musharraf these days should include the chaos of the Tribal Areas and its two epochal wars in Khyber and Kurram in their list. But the danger is that these are precisely the issues that will be ignored by his critics. And that will be the source of further trouble for the country (Daily Times, 24 June).

Doves push Nawaz towards compromise

Monday, June 23, 2008

By Ansar Abbasi

ISLAMABAD: After a brief spell of principled politics, the PML-N has finally reverted to the traditional politics of compromise and pragmatism, probably because of the power it has attained in the Punjab.

The party’s support to the highly controversial finance bill proposal to increase the vacancies of Supreme Court judges from 16 to 29 is the first major u-turn of the PML-N on the issue of the judges’ restoration and the independence of the judiciary.

The media managers of the party will try to give a spin to this move and pretend it will benefit the PML-N but this is a gamble that the second largest political party of the country is destined to lose. The step is also likely to cause a serious dent to the cause of those fighting for the independence of judiciary.

The doves in the party, led by a small but influential group of recently resigned federal ministers, have succeeded in influencing the otherwise seemingly uncompromising Nawaz Sharif. Perhaps, the effort is to make another Asif Ali Zardari out of Nawaz Sharif.

This is a sort of compromise that was least expected from the PML-N, which has widely been seen as the champion of the restoration of the judges and the independence of judiciary in the country. This decision even threatens to divide the party from within. A PML-N source told this correspondent on Sunday that there exists extreme confusion within the N-league’s rank and file about its future policy on the judges’ issue.

“Now we are not sure about what will happen next,” the source said, adding that some pro-Zardari PML-N leaders, who had to resign from the cabinet last month, have played with the future of the party to regain their lost berths in the cabinet. Of late, Ahsan Iqbal, however, has denied that any of the PML-N leaders is dying to regain his cabinet slot.

The PML-N is now offering a naÔve argument to justify its controversial move. The party leaders say that the creation of the additional vacancies in the Supreme Court does not mean that it is being done to regularise the services of the PCO judges.”We would never support the PCO judges and would continue to oppose their appointment on a regular footing against the fresh vacancies,” Ahsan Iqbal has been saying repeatedly in recent days.

But the key question is why the PML-N has not given a categorical assurance to the nation that it would not allow Zardari House, which is key to the government’s decision-making, to appoint any PCO judge against the additional vacancies.

The PPP is clear on the issue. It has repeatedly said that the stage is being set for the confirmation and regularisation of the PCO judges. On Sunday, Asif Ali Zardari made it clear in a Nawabshah news conference that the matter had been resolved between the PPP and PML-N on a compromise to have 29 judges.

After the creation of the additional vacancies in the SC with the complete support of the PML-N, the PPP would be at liberty to take its favoured decision of reinstating the deposed judges without removing any of the PCO judges. And possibly it would do the same.

In such a scenario, the PML-N’s opposition to the regularisation of the PCO judges would be nothing but a farce. If this was to be done then why did the PML-N oppose the previous PPP proposal to amend the relevant act, fixing the strength of the superior court judges, when the leaders of the two parties met in Dubai in April-May this year? The PML-N at that stage had agreed to accept the PCO judges only as ad hoc judges, strongly resisting any move to increase the number of vacancies for the SC judges.

But in the finance bill, the same proposal has been included to which the PML-N has shown its complete support. Intriguingly, as per the PPP’s claim, the controversial proposal was the brainchild of the PML-N finance minister Ishaq Dar.

The Zardari House is today in a commanding position. It has got the opportunity to get the deposed judges restored and let the PML-N face the music for the retention of the PCO judges.The PPP, in recent months, has never been sincere in championing the independence of the judiciary and has been consistently supporting solutions of its own liking such as retaining judges who have given the party some respite in the cases against them.

But these judges are known to have sided with anyone who is in power and it is not clear how Mr Zardari can depend on any judge who has supported dictators in the past. Surely he knows these judges are supporting the PPP now because it is in power and will support any other dictator against the PPP in the future.

Zardari House has the chance to regain at least some of its lost popularity by restoring the deposed judges whereas the PML-N is today vulnerable to public bashing for what could be seen as a historic sell-out of the struggle for the independence of the judiciary. The Zardari House is trying to kill many birds with one stone. One wishes to be proven wrong by the doves of the N-league.

Pakistani court bars former premier Nawaz Sharif from running in upcoming by-elections; Shahbaz case referred back to ECP

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, June 23 (AP) – The Lahore High Court ruled Monday that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not eligible to run in upcoming parliamentary by-elections because he has been convicted of a crime, Sharif’s spokesman said. The decision is a major political setback for Sharif, making it impossible for the leader of the junior party in the governing coalition to be a member of the Pakistani parliament unless the ban on his candidacy is overturned. Sharif had been barred from running in February elections because of convictions related to his ouster in a 1999 coup. But earlier this month the nation’s election commission effectively cleared him to run in by-elections scheduled for Thursday after a tribunal it set up to adjudicate the matter failed to reach a consensus. However, a candidate and a voter from the Lahore constituency petitioned the High Court to bar Nawaz Sharif’s candidacy. On Monday, a three member bench of the court disqualified him because of his conviction according to Sharif spokesman Pervez Rasheed. Sharif would appeal the verdict, he said. The same court, however, allowed Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz Sharif to continue to function as the chief minister of the Punjab province. “We reject this decision. This is a conspiracy,” Sadiqul Farooq, a spokesman for Sharif’s party, said in a TV interview. Ashtar Ausaf, Sharif’s lawyer, told Dawn News TV he was “appalled” by the verdict. He complained that the court handled the case in a “slipshod” manner and disposed of it in just three hours. Following the court ruling, dozens of Sharif’s supporters, including several lawyers, chanted “Go Musharraf go” outside the court, TV footage showed. Angry lawmakers walked out of the Punjab provincial assembly in protest, private TV channels reported. The court referred a decision on Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz, back to the election commission, effectively allowing him retain his job as chief minister of the Punjab province. Shahbaz Sharif was elected in a by-election to the provincial assembly following his acquittal in a murder case in March after the families of the dead withdrew their accusations. (Dawn).