December 17, 2013

THE NEWS EDITORIALS

The fourth transition
With Tassaduq Hussain Jillani’s elevation to chief justice of Pakistan, the country has completed a third transition this year. A historic political transition saw power transferred from one elected government to another, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif assuming office for a record third time. The next transition was also smooth, with the change of command at GHQ. But it is the fourth transition that will be the most consequential for the country’s future. This is the economic transition – from a ‘crisis economy’, perpetually on the brink, to an economy of growth and investment, powered by the mobilisation of national resources rather than a reliance on unsustainable domestic and foreign borrowing or assistance. Having made economic revival his top priority, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has much to draw on from his party’s election manifesto to give strategic direction to this critical transition. The manifesto promised to accord central importance to raising tax revenue and reducing dependence on foreign loans and assistance. It pledged to address the budget and balance of payments deficits, resolve the energy crisis and boost the investment climate through steps including the privatisation of state enterprises and stemming their financial losses, in order to enhance the discouragingly low investment to GDP ratio in the next five years.Having identified these priorities the government acted quickly in its first few months to take steps aimed at striking a balance between economic stabilisation and growth. They included fiscal consolidation measures announced in and after the budget, raising electricity tariffs as part of a larger energy strategy, which envisages wide ranging structural reforms, and signalling the resolve to pursue a rapid process of privatisation.From the outset it was clear to the government that it had difficult choices and trade-offs to make – deal with a precarious balance of payments position on the one hand and undertake structural reforms and build business confidence on the other. Both had to be pursued simultaneously and with a sense of urgency to be mutually reinforcing. Recent official pronouncements make it apparent that the government’s immediate focus is on mobilising external financing to deal with the fragile balance of payments situation. This is necessitated by the low level of foreign exchange reserves held by the State Bank. Net reserves have sunk to around $3 billion, barely enough to cover three weeks of imports. Government officials nevertheless remain confident that the situation will stabilise after funds come in from various multilateral institutions and especially once the IMF approves the next tranche of around $550 million in its upcoming board meeting on December 19. Management of reserves to avert a foreign exchange crisis is likely to preoccupy the country’s economic managers, as outflows will continue to exceed inflows for some time. But the government knows it has to go beyond fire fighting to pursue a strategy to revive growth and fix the structural problems that have driven the country into a vicious circle of chronic financial imbalances and repeated bailouts or dependence on external assistance. Such a strategy has to place Pakistan on a higher growth and investment trajectory, without which the government cannot finance its development priorities and create jobs to match the country’s youth bulge. The current 2-3 percent annual growth in GDP – which is half of what it was a decade ago – is much below the 7 percent needed to absorb two million new entrants into the labour market every year and provide them access to public services. The government acknowledged by its early steps and pronouncements that creating fiscal space and encouraging investment was necessary to foster economic growth. Having set this policy direction it now has to build and sustain the momentum and translate intentions into action. It also means that, as promised, the government has to move decisively to carry out comprehensive tax reforms. This is not politically easy and will require difficult decisions in a complex national and AMANAT ALI Page 1

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provincial environment. However there are steps the government can take right away to widen and make the tax structure more equitable without imposing new taxes. This involves dismantling the regime of concessions and privileges, which were granted over the years to special interests and individuals by statutory regulatory orders (SROs). The SRO culture has cost the economy billions in lost revenue, created an uneven playing field for business and undercut any notion of tax equity. Having indicated its intent to move on SROs, if the government now announces that it is phasing out the most egregious – as part of a wider revenue raising strategy – it will send a powerful signal that it has embarked on a transformational path of structural reforms. This will also signal that the ruling party will act in the public interest and not use public resources to protect narrow interests, even if they are part of its political constituency, at the expense of ordinary citizens. Such a move will help the government achieve its oft-stated objective of reducing government borrowing, whose record levels in recent years have sharply limited financial resources to the private sector, ‘crowded out’ investment and eroded growth. Private investment in the country has plunged from 13 percent to 9 percent of GDP between 2007 and 2012. In 2012, 84 percent of bank credit was pre-empted by government borrowing. Only 16 percent went to the private sector. In 2013 the private sector had access to just 2-3 percent of total credit. At present commercial banks are content making profits from high-cost lending to the government. They should instead be incentivised to meet private sector needs to spur investment. Reducing government borrowing is important to build a positive investment climate. But other, more comprehensive measures are also needed, especially solving the power crisis on a sustainable basis, as businesses cannot be competitive without uninterrupted energy supplies. The government of course recognised this by launching a comprehensive energy policy as its earliest initiative. Now it has to swiftly implement this plan including privatising power distribution companies, which the finance minister again pledged to do in a speech last week. Similarly, moving ahead on the privatisation of other stateowned enterprises and laying out a time-bound road map to achieve this will send a strong signal that the government means serious business. Along with this the government should also focus on addressing weaknesses and gaps in the regulatory and legal environment that constrain investment and undermine competitiveness. The private sector has long called for a one-stop shop for investors to secure licences and registration. The government’s economic managers agree that cumbersome and over regulated procedures need to be streamlined and de-bureaucratised. They should now devise a plan to do so.This is by no means the only menu of actions deemed necessary to accelerate growth and improve the business climate. But they are among those the government has itself identified and committed to pursue. The challenge now is how to move forward in a sustained and coherent way while communicating clearly to the public the direction being given to the economy. The government should think about articulating key elements of its economic strategy in the form of a ‘charter for economic revival’, for which it could then build parliamentary consensus and mobilise public support. If there can be a ‘charter for democracy’ there can also be a ‘charter’ reflecting broad political agreement on steps needed to cure Pakistan’s ailing economy. The prime minister has often urged the opposition to keep politics out of efforts to fix the economy. He might now consider beginning the New Year with a wide-ranging speech calling for a national consensus around a set of measures that can help to secure the goal of an economically empowered and resilient Pakistan.

AMANAT ALI

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Treason… what treason?
November 3, 2007, the emergency measure proclaimed on that date, was an act more of necessity than anything else. Gen Musharraf was not gathering power unto himself, the normal rationale for such actions. He was preparing to shed it. But the higher judiciary was being obstructive, having ideas of its own. The lawyers were on a roll after their then-fresh movement. And the media, given free rein by none other than Musharraf, was obsessed with the idea that it had become a power in its own right. Without Nov 3 something we all desired would not have happened: Gen Musharraf taking off his uniform and leaving his army command. And if he had remained army chief elections would have become problematic: either not held or heavily influenced by the election commissioners of ISI and Military Intelligence.Why is it so difficult for agitated and inflamed minds, and there is no shortage of the kind here, to grasp this logic?Gen Musharraf’s election as president had been challenged on the grounds that as army chief he was in the service of Pakistan and hence ineligible for elected office. Given the triumphal mood of the lawyers’ movement and Chief Justice Chaudhry’s all-too-obvious wish after his restoration to be seen as a giant-slayer, it was widely expected that their buoyant lordships, riding the crest of popular enthusiasm and cheered on by the media, would rule against Musharraf. Fine, an adverse verdict would still have left Musharraf as army chief. What would we have done about that? Generals when discontented can mutter under their breaths or exchange glances among themselves but, unless such a crisis as that of East Pakistan occurs, they keep their counsels to themselves. Musharraf’s generals had not ganged up against him. Both the leading contenders for his seat, Generals Majid and Kayani, were vying for his approval. The pressure on Musharraf to doff his uniform was coming principally from abroad, from the AngloAmerican architects of the Benazir Bhutto-centred ‘national reconciliation’. In the event of an adverse SC verdict Musharraf would have had ample excuse for backing out from his end of the deal. Where would that have left us? Their lordships, basking in the glow of public approval – by then some elements of public opinion verging on the edge of hysteria – were reading only the popularity charts. The larger political picture was escaping their attention. In the climate of October 1999 they had been sharp students of realism, quickly endorsing Musharraf’s coup and, amazingly, even giving him the power to amend the constitution…with a stroke of his pen. The seasons having undergone a dramatic change the former practitioners of pragmatism were now marching to a different tune. Not only that, they were drawing a curtain of forgetfulness around their previous performance and expecting everyone else to do the same. The emergency proclamation, resulting in the suspension of the constitution, was made on Nov 3. Musharraf shed his uniform on Nov 28. The emergency was lifted on Dec 15. An election date had already been announced. This then was the shortest emergency in Pakistan’s history and it led to two immediate outcomes: an army chief relinquishing his command and the country moving towards elections. It was because of those elections that a democratic government came into being. Even before the new prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, had been sworn in he proclaimed the freedom of the detained judges, and the barriers around their houses were removed. It was because of the new democratic order, and not any storming of the Bastille, that the judges were restored to their former positions a year later. So the sequence runs like this: no change in the army command, no elections, and no restoration of the judges. True, Nawaz Sharif led a march from Lahore for the restoration of the judges. But he was under detention at his Model Town house. No commando raid freed him. The barricades around his house just AMANAT ALI Page 3

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melted away and he walked out a free man, leading a growing caravan on the Grand Trunk Road, the crowds swelling because all of this was being reported live by every TV channel in the country. How did this happen? Was something taking place behind the scenes? Factor in another development: Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on Dec 27. If Musharraf was still army chief and he had wanted to get rid of the elections could a better excuse have come his way? The elections were postponed for about five weeks but they were held on the announced date, Feb 18, and Kayani as army chief made it a point to send a signal to the administration at all levels that there should be no meddling in the elections. What made this sequence of events possible? The Nov 3 emergency, now being touted as an act of treason and for which Musharraf is set to go on trial next week. Treason is subversion of the constitution. In the given circumstances, the emergency seems more like protection of the constitution. The decision of the judges, if adverse, could have put the entire democratic process off the rails. It was the emergency which kept that process on track. But we are dealing with agitated stomachs. Not easy for them to swallow such uncomfortable facts. Article Six of the constitution which deals with treason was really flouted, and brazenly so without any corresponding benefits, on Oct 12, 1999. But regarding that event, Musharraf’s real sin, we have the eternal silence of the mountains…not a word, not even a lame explanation for this silence, because the giant-slayers themselves, all of them, with an alacrity that the new military commanders could not have failed to notice, had struck a resounding gavel, no questions asked, on behalf of that transgression. From the Chaudhry-led court there was no humility or sense of contrition for this endorsement, just fire and thunder and sustained volleys of self-righteousness. Let’s see if there is any change under the new dispensation. Milord Chaudhry after all, for whom I have a personal soft spot, was one of a kind. Pakistan is facing other problems. The Musharraf treason trial is a diversion. Perhaps that may precisely be the reason why the government appears so keen on it, thinking that it will take minds off other stuff. But it’s hard to take one’s mind off rising prices and shrinking pockets, even if a circus is going through its routine next door. And this particular circus has lost its scapegoat appeal. Blaming Musharraf for everything worked for a long time. Alas, not any more. An observer from Mars, however, could be forgiven for thinking that Pakistan’s foremost problem was not the Taliban threat or dwindling foreign exchange reserves but the appointment of the Nadra chairman. This is the impression one gets from the barely-controlled anger of the youthful-looking interior minister, Ch Nisar, who seems to have made this into a matter of personal honour. Nonetheless, the interior minister’s crisis management skills have to be commended. Sikander, the Blue Area gunman, held a national TV audience spellbound for close to six hours, waving two guns and unfortunately making the entire Islamabad police force look silly. And the interior minister, virtually foaming at the mouth, spoke for days on end trying to put a favourable spin on that comedy show. Now he’s doing the same with the Nadra chairman, fulminating about his negatives and trying to get everyone to believe that he wasn’t sacked in the middle of the night. He doth protest too much. The rupee may not regain its lost strength any time soon – this despite the increasingly-desperate assurances of the Finance Minister, Ishaq Dar, the man with the magic touch – but we should be grateful for small mercies. At least there is comic relief from somewhere. And information minister Pervaiz Rashid has to be commended for being Imran Khan’s best publicist. I thought that after running himself into a hole over the question of Nato supply routes, it would be some time before Imran recovered his stride. But trust the information minister to come to his rescue and provide him all the publicity ballast he needs as he and the PTI wrangle over the latter’s upcoming jalsa or dharna in Lahore. The PTI should pass him a vote of thanks. AMANAT ALI Page 4

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Only visits won’t do
The chief of army staff (COAS) made brief stopovers at Wana, Miramshan in south and north Waziristan soon after taking charge – a clear message to all that he attaches great importance to the two Waziristans. We have to wait and see till he settles down in his new position, but hats off to him for selecting that volatile region for his first visit after becoming the army chief.

The visit generated a lot of expectations among the locals, who are optimistic that the new man at the top will provide some relief from the difficulties they face on a daily basis since the armed forces were inducted in that area ten years ago. They hope that the visit will not be similar to that of his predecessor but will actually bring about some positive changes; changes that have been long awaited but never materialised. Unless the visit is followed by constructive action that has an impact on the day-to-day lives of locals, the optimism will be lost in the wilderness of Fata. The difficulties faced by the people of the area – as articulated in many of my previous articles still persist and are as much evident on the ground today as they were years back. Those who are supposed to be familiar with and redress these problems don’t even bother to travel like commoners on those roads leave alone interacting with the locals to apprise themselves with the problems of the people there. They mostly travel by air in military helicopters but if they have to use the roads at all they do so in VIP fashion, escorted and all, with the roads cleared of all traffic for them. They are totally oblivious to the problems and difficulties faced by the public. The concern of the functionaries on the ground is limited to putting on a good show for the chief when he desires a meeting with the locals. On such occasions they suddenly remember the people but invite only those stoolpigeons who speak their language and are masters of the art of praising them no end for monumental progress in development work that has not even been initiated. The difficulties encountered by the people are not of strategic or tactical importance, which cannot be addressed or taken care of. It is simply a question of proper management for which a good administration would not require curfew to be imposed on roads or divert ordinary traffic to dirt tracks over ditches and unpaved roads. People are fed up with the daily checks and long queues for clearing short distances and above all from the humiliating behaviour of forces personnel at various check points which they have to endure on a daily basis. Waziristan may have earned a bad name but it is certainly not that notorious that it cannot welcome political leaders and other senior members in the government if they really wanted to visit the area. It is certainly not as bad as Afghanistan from a security point of view. That country is frequently visited by leaders from the west to boost the morale of their troops. Our capital is only a few kilometres away, more or less half an hour to any part of Fata but the leaders at the top are reluctant to visit that area. Not a single political leader of the previous or present governments has visited Fata since 2003 leave alone the president or prime minister undertaking a visit. The president, being the sole custodian of Fata and at the same time being the supreme commander of the armed forces, should have been the first to have visited the region because of the turmoil there but AMANAT ALI Page 5

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it seems that Fata is not considered a part of the country. Whether any major change in policy is on the cards following the visit of the new army chief is an important issue which cannot be kept under wraps for too long. But what the local people immediately want is something totally different. They want a change in the attitude of those ruling and running the area. These people treat the locals as second class citizens who have no say whatsoever in the running of the administration nor are they consulted on any policy decisions that relate to the area. Whenever any policy decision is taken for that area it is done solely by Islamabad/Rawalpindi. The locals have no rights whatsoever nor have they any government of their own, like in the other provinces, whereby they could themselves tackle the problems they face. They have neither a shoulder to cry on nor anyone to complain to. Theoretically, the only person directly concerned or responsible for them is the president of Pakistan. But practically it is the army chief since his forces call the shots in Fata. The tribesmen are not asking for something big, being acutely aware what their fate has been for the last 66 years. Nothing has changed for them since then. They were put to one side and conveniently forgotten except for being lorded over by the political agent as in the time of the British. During this period nobody was bothered about developing the area and making any effort to bring it at par with the rest of the country so that the tribesmen could earn a livelihood and have access to schools and hospitals. They are not asking for the establishment of big industrial estates but only for alleviation of the difficulties imposed upon them. The infrastructure that one observes while travelling in Fata was initially laid by our colonial masters and later improved with donations by foreign countries. Left to Islamabad alone the people would still have been traversing long distances on foot. Countries like the US and the UAE have been major donors for widening or construction of roads in South Waziristan. The US no doubt is the biggest financial contributor to various projects in the country, including Fata, but its arrogant attitude towards solving problems of the region has tarnished its image. Instead of earning the goodwill of the people it has earned their wrath. Exactly the same applies to our armed forces in the tribal areas. They are working, fighting and trying to steer the country out of its problems – but in their own way, not bothered in any manner either to involve the locals or even to afford them minimal courtesy, the right of any law-abiding citizen to not be treated like a ‘bloody civilian’. This is the root of the problem. The armed forces must treat the locals as loyal citizens of the country like everybody else. What the people need is a change in attitude towards them and nothing else; they are waiting for that. A visit alone cannot and will not do any good if it is not followed by such positive change.

AMANAT ALI

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‘Justice’ in Dhaka
When Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid invited President Nelson Mandela to visit Bangladesh in 1997 for the 25th anniversary of the country’s independence, it appeared to be a signal of a new direction towards reconciliatory politics away from the path of vengeance. It was, therefore, ironic that just as Mandela lay in state and world leaders gathered in South Africa to pay homage to this iconic man and his universal message of ‘reconciliation not revenge’, Bangladesh chose to do just the opposite by hanging Abdul Quader Mollah. It also declared three days of mourning for Mandela but it leaves one wondering what the country was mourning if it had so blatantly ignored all that he stood for. Mollah, 65, had been a key leader of Jamaat-e-Islami and had been elected to the country’s parliament three times in the past. He was the first person to be hanged for war crimes by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), established in 2010 to investigate atrocities committed during the 1971 civil war. The tribunal convicted him for killing a student and 11 members of a family and aiding 369 other people during the nine-month long strife. The death sentence was reviewed upwards after a petition by the government against life sentence awarded a few months ago. It was hoped that after its independence, Bangladesh would be more at peace with itself but this has proved fallacious. Hanging a 65-year-old man 42 years after alleged war crimes will, it appears, bring little peace to the country. Contrary to general belief, the concept of war crime trials didn’t begin with Nuremburg. There had been such trials earlier at St Helena for Bonapartists, Leipzig after World War I for Kaiser and other senior German officials and Constantinople again after WWI, for the Turks accused of slaughtering Armenians. In all these trials, there had been little doubt about the nature of ‘victor’s justice’. Stalin, a man known to strongly despise longer routes to issues, balked at the US notions of a complete trial, as he merely wanted defendants proclaimed guilty for the inevitable death sentence at Nuremburg. In the well-researched book by Gary J Boss ‘Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Trials’, the opening statement of allied prosecutor, Justice Robert Jackson, is of considerable historic significance: “The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, so devastating, that civilisation cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive that being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgement of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.” However, it is always this disequilibrium in application of ‘power’ versus dictates of ‘reason’, with which people have an issue. For instance, were the inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki less ‘stung’ by the ‘calculated, malignant and devastating’ wrongs (to use Jackson’s words) perpetuated by the US wartime leaders, especially when Imperial Japan was crumbling? If the argument to bring the war to an abrupt end in favour of dropping the first nuclear bomb is accepted, then why is Sri Lanka today criticised for human rights abuses? Isn’t the 37-year long civil war in Sri Lanka considered long enough for the state to use greater force to spare further bloodshed? Is the use of force by nation-states for internal and external security, in discharge of their constitutional responsibilities, always as clean as a football match? AMANAT ALI Page 7

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Justice Jackson’s statement is also important because it brings out ever more clearly than before the difference between the period when the prosecutor starts to read his opening statement and the long period preceding it. While the trial itself is all legalities with foregone conclusions, the real issue is the entire political process which makes such trials possible, impossible or impractical. It is, therefore, not surprising that even in 1945 when the war had just ended and anti-German sentiments were at its peak, the chief justice of the US Supreme Court called Nuremburg trials a farce. The ICT has come under global criticism as falling well short of international standards while the motives behind Mollah’s hanging have also been unmistakably political. Much has been made of the article by Anthony Mascarenhas in the Sunday Times of June 13, 1971, which reads more like a ball-by-ball commentary of every shooting. There is no denying that on occasions the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan did engage in activities of which we should be downright ashamed of as a nation. But there has also been much exaggeration which tarnished the image of the military. Mercifully, Mascarenhas acknowledges that up to 100,000 non-Bengalis were killed before the crackdown started in East Pakistan. If only he had pointed out who those non-Bengalis were, who their collaborators were and who started this vicious cycle. Anthony Mascarenhas was formerly of the Morning News, Karachi and the article, it is generally believed, was published after he moved to London with his family. In every era, it seems there are people in Pakistan who instantly recognise an opportunity for personal advancement when they see one. It was not only Mascarenhas who was unbalanced in his reporting. In another book ‘Blood Telegram’, also authored by Gary J Bass, he describes how Archer Blood, the then US Consul General in Dhaka, reached a hasty conclusion of ‘genocide’ – a word which Turkey, a hundred years to this date, has not accepted about its actions in Armenia, where by a conservative estimate over a million Armenians perished. Archer also overstated the use of US supplied jets, tanks, transport aircraft and ammunition to quash the rebellion. For the record, there was only one squadron of F-86 aircraft and one armour regiment which were put to limited use, while it was the infantry equipped with POF manufactured G-3 rifles and AK-47 assault rifles that was engaged in larger ground operations. If ever the chaff of propaganda and Indian role in this fiasco is fully exposed, only then will a different story of the events of 1971 finally emerge. Mollah did not seek presidential clemency and chose death. In doing so, he embraced martyrdom as perceived by the common man in countries where religious undercurrents are strong, such as Bangladesh and Pakistan – recent debate notwithstanding. The issue with martyrdom, however, is that it catapults a person beyond the pale of actual historical narrative. For followers of martyrs, it doesn’t matter any longer what did or did not happen – all that matters is to follow him. It is here that Bangladesh could have taken a more prudent approach instead of opening old wounds. Unwittingly, it may also have caused new ones which could fester for a long time.

AMANAT ALI

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One army, zero lashkar
With the selection of the new COAS there are renewed expectations of country’s civilian and military leadership finally crafting the much needed longterm national strategy to cope with the security threats to the country. Undecided whether to fight or negotiate, we have been in a state of confusion far too long now. We need strategic since this confusion is eroding the writ of the state to eventually reach an irreversible point. Neither Taliban nor the Balochistan insurgency are our real problem. The real issue we face is the absence of a basic unwavering idea behind our state policies to reverse private militancy, seeds of which were apparently cultivated in the post December 16, 1971 ‘new Pakistan’ by Z A Bhutto’s sheltering of Afghan dissidents. General Zia’s rule in the 1980s put together the requisite ingredients for militancy in the country which eventually got out of control during the enlightened murk of General Musharraf and has lately become an everyday culture – much like corruption during democracy’s last five years of revenge from this country. ‘One army, zero lashkar’ can probably be the only relevant idea in our times that deserves to be the foundation stone of our policies in dealing with the multifaceted violence caused by private lashkars (armies) turning this country into a hellish mess. The concept of private armies negates the very logic of the existence of a state. In the US where every now and then a lunatic will walk into a school or a mall to shoot dozens with easily available arms we don’t find the much-hyped far right ‘militias’ challenging the state of America since Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. Even offshore private armies like Al-Qaeda have been rendered ineffective. Armed entities like the IRA and the ETA were dealt with in Europe. Likewise India and Sri Lanka also dealt with various armed resistance groups. Even UNITA in Angola gave up its armed wing. Now such private lashkars mostly exist in countries like Central African Republic, Mali, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We cannot reclaim our country from the clutches of destruction without having the idea of one army, zero lashkar applied in effect to any and every group of people armed even with licensed weapons, as small as in single digits and as big as in thousands, which in any way engages or threatens to engage in any anti-state, anti-society, anti-peace, anti-citizen activity. The idea of ‘one army, zero lashkar’ simply means that there is zero tolerance for private armies on our part now and that we will treat not only the Taliban, banned sectarian and jihadist outfits, militant separatists, tribal forces, dacoits but all the so-called armed wings of political parties, criminal gangs, mafia groups, even posse of feudals as anti-state private armies. It would be fortunate for all if our civilian and military leadership were to agree on the idea of ‘one army, zero lashkar’ in this country to restore our internal sovereignty and external trust. Once the government manages to build unanimous national consensus over the idea it may then embark upon a countrywide action plan along with the provincial governments, inviting all lashkars to surrender in return for fair trial for those lashkar members involved in heinous crimes against state and citizens and a grand rehabilitation programme for others. The death penalty could be waived for those surrendering voluntarily. The lashkars or members of lashkars of all religious, sectarian, ethnic, terrorist, criminal, tribal, political, feudal, local, foreign, tiny and mighty of all shades still not surrendering must then be dealt with as enemy combatants in a battle. Historically, empires – including Muslim empires – crumbled when private armies took roots. Without the policy of one army and zero lashkar we may soon be history too.

AMANAT ALI

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Obama’s era
Action begets reaction in foreign policy as in physics, and action unconsidered for its possible consequences has been responsible for many results for which statesmen are eventually sorry, as are multitudes (as it may be) who pay the price. That, sententious as it may be, is my holiday message to Barack Obama. In 2012, at the start of his second term, President Barack Obama called the Pentagon to assure its leaders that the American nation would remain the “greatest force for freedom and security that the world has ever known.” The war in Afghanistan was, at that time, continuing, and the disorders and sectarian attacks had begun, which have continued in Iraq ever since the US had declared that war over in 2011 – after 8 years, 8 months, 3 weeks and 4 days. Obama endorsed his and his predecessor’s achievements, which he enumerated as (I paraphrase): strengthened alliances, new partnerships forged, defence of universal rights and human dignity, defence of the nation, the fight taken to America’s enemies, the number of Americans in harm’s way reduced and America’s global leadership restored. Seconded by (then) Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he promised a larger military budget and, instead of a downsized force, a more capable one. It was a curious speech because it implied that the Iraq War had been won and finished – sectarian and regional conflict ended, which is not true – and that the same soon would be true in Afghanistan. In the Afghan war, his administration has already widened the war so as to include frontier regions of Pakistan, employing drone missile attacks and commando raids. This has intensified anti-Americanism and undermined Pakistani political stability to no one’s advantage. He has bargained with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to keep some American troops in the latter’s country long after the originally scheduled withdrawal of the bulk of US forces at the end of 2014. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy ‘pivot to Asia’ has never been given a complete explanation. The apparent justification is apprehension at the rise in China’s economy, its military development and China’s expanding claims with respect to disputed waters and territories. Is this really considered a threat to the US?It has been a legitimate concern to Japan and the countries that are the southeastern neighbours of Beijing in the Yellow and South China Seas. The Obama administration has implicitly treated it as if it were a prospective casus belli. The United States’ major existing security commitments in East Asia concern the security of Japan and Korea, and the sole current dispute has been China’s declaration in late November of a new air security and identification zone over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, rejected by Japan, the US and other governments, and disregarded in a subsequent transit by American B-52 bombers from Guam. The last time the US caused its overseas military forces to ‘pivot’ from the American mainland and their commitments in Europe was 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea, where units of the American occupation army were deployed. The dispute has yet to be settled. Barack Obama decided to run for president in 2007 and won, as the man who would end George Bush’s Iraq war. He did so up to a point but enlarged the one in Afghanistan, following the generals’ advice about which he had little choice. Since then, he has followed the beat of the drum in the Middle East and South Asia, bombing Libya and enthusiastically offering to bomb Syria. He has inaugurated drones and perpetuated Guantanamo imprisonment. He has opened a new era in America of governmental secrecy and persecution of dissidents. The wars that he has not ended and the moral climate he has sustained in American government, in succession to George Bush, will be the remembered qualities of his presidency. Excerpted from: ‘How History Will Remember Obama (Hint: Not Well)’, Commondreams.org

AMANAT ALI

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THE NEWS EDITORIALS

Power grab
Not satisfied with its sudden, possibly unlawful, removal of Nadra chairman Tariq Malik, the government has now decided to hand over administrative control of the agency to the Election Commission of Pakistan. The ECP and Nadra do have complementary duties, including collaboration on the upcoming local government elections, but that certainly does not mean that the two entities should be run by the same authority. This is a naked power grab by a government that was not happy that Nadra was trying to identify fingerprint ballots in constituencies where the PML-N is accused of being the beneficiary of rigging. Although even the fingerprint analysis will not be enough on its own to prove that the elections were rigged since the science involved is imprecise at best, it will severely embarrass the government. Rather than own up to the possibility of wrongdoing, the PML-N government has compounded its offences by trying to silence an independent voice. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has claimed that Malik lied about his educational qualifications and was guilty of misconduct. These charges are strongly denied by Malik. Since the dismissal is now being considered by the courts, the government, instead of launching a character assassination against Malik in the media, should present its arguments before the judges. The handing over of Nadra to the ECP should also be taken up by the judiciary. Nadra is in possession of sensitive information about every citizen in the country, including their fingerprints, CNIC numbers and other personal information. Privacy laws forbid the sharing of this data with anyone else in the government, including the ECP. It is believed that one of the reasons Malik was fired is because he refused to hand over this information to the government. Allowing the ECP access to whatever data has been collected by Nadra would make a mockery of our right to privacy. It may also lead to a cover-up of the extent of rigging in the May general elections and could be considered a form of pre-poll rigging before the local government elections. Nadra had been working on a new smart NIC that would contain information on bank accounts. As long as the government is eager to violate our rights we should demand a halt to any project that hands over more information about us to an agency that is no longer independent. Until Malik is restored and the government stops politicising Nadra we simply cannot trust the agency.

No joke
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar seems determined to destroy the PML-N’s hard-fought new image as a party that has learnt from its mistakes and is now mature enough to be trusted with power. Of the many disasters the party bestowed on the nation the last time it was in government, few were more damaging than the decision to freeze foreign currency accounts after Pakistan tested its nuclear weapons and faced international sanctions. The damage done to local and foreign confidence in the economy took many years to repair. Now, for some unfathomable reason, Dar is making unsubtle jokes about freezing foreign currency accounts again, this time to bring down the price of the US dollar. It is hard to believe that the government would be destructive enough to repeat the same mistake or ignorant enough to expect different results this time round. But even if the remark was a throwaway comment made in jest it could have severe economic ramifications. Panicked foreign currency account holders, operating under the once-bitten-twice-shy principle, may move their dollars to Dubai or other safe havens and worsen our foreign currency reserve crisis. Dar has vowed to bring the price of the dollar down to 98 rupees but if this is the only suggestion he has we can instead expect the rupee to continue falling. The finance minister is, for some reason, trying to bring the price of the dollar down through wish AMANAT ALI Page 11

December 17, 2013

THE NEWS EDITORIALS

fulfilment. In a speech at the awards ceremony of the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association, Dar advised people to cash in their dollars since its price would now stop rising. If indeed his advice is heeded, the dollar will fall since the act of selling dollars will achieve that aim. A charge against Dar can be leveled that he is inciting insider trading by revealing information about the dollar’s fall. But surely a man as worldly and experienced as Dar knows that the business community is not foolish enough to sell its dollars at a time when the rupee has been rapidly losing value. There is only one way to halt the depreciation of our currency which does not rely on gimmicks and obfuscation. We need to reduce our import bill substantially, specifically our dependence on foreign oil. This will only happen if Pakistan develops alternative sources of energy and goes through with projects like the Iran gas pipeline. Consumer confidence in the economy will also have to be boosted, although Dar will not be able to do that so long as he continues making bizarre statements. When our finance minister does not inspire confidence what hope does our economy have?

The Punjab bridge
More than six and a half decades after Punjab was portioned, along with the rest of the Subcontinent, it is easy to forget how many cultural similarities the two parts of Punjab share, and the potential that exists for cooperation between them. During his visit to India, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif suggested how the two provinces could move closer together. Shahbaz, who also met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his immensely successful goodwill mission, succeeded in bowling over the people of Ludhiana as he addressed them at the final of the India-Pakistan kabbadi match. Shahbaz brought the stadium alive, speaking in Punjabi, talking of Lahori hospitality and of a shared kabbadi contest next time round. But the Punjab CM, in the presence of his counterpart from the east, spoke also of expanded trade and development efforts. This is something we must take forward and build on. The possibilities for trade between the two Punjabs would appear to be many. More shared land and rail routes, in addition to Wagah, which is currently up and running, would make this especially feasible and could benefit people in both countries. There have also been other, more innovative suggestions made in the past, such as linking power grid stations in Indian Punjab to those across the border to help overcome the electricity shortfall. These possibilities are certainly worth looking into. Devolution of power under the 18th Amendment also means it is more feasible for Shahbaz Sharif and his team to look into these options and use them as a means to take his province further into a new era. The shared heritage of language, culture – and cuisine – can only help, and the opportunity created by Shahbaz Sharif’s trip must be built upon, given that so much could be gained towards a common purpose.

AMANAT ALI

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