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in Karachi ought to serve as a wakeup call. The aircraft went down in flames soon after taking off in the early hours of Sunday. The site was soon thronged with enthusiastic volunteers, rescue workers and the ambulances of various charity groups. While the desire to help is commendable, it proved counter-productive since the large number of people and vehicles hindered the firefighting and rescue operations. The executive district officer for municipal services, which heads the fire department and rescue organisations under local bodies, told this newspaper that the work would have been faster and better “if there was no such congestion caused by scores of ambulances and hundreds of onlookers”. There are reports that it was clear within an hour of the tragedy that the number of casualties was not as high as initially feared. Nevertheless, over 200 ambulances converged to aid the eight crew members known to be on board the aircraft and the few men that had been in the under-construction building into which the plane crashed. The experience underscores the need for a system to coordinate the activities of rescue organisations and municipal services in the event of any sort of emergency, from a bomb blast to a traffic accident. The city lacks a network whereby information can be shared between police, rescue workers and public, private and charity organisations, so that rescue operations can be most effective. Standard operating procedures must be available in terms of clearing the affected site of onlookers, with proper channels in place for the dissemination of information, including to the media. As we saw on Sunday, disproportionate responses can do more harm than good. Other cities, especially Lahore, have managed to improve their emergency response services; Karachi must follow suit. Government Borrowings: THE State Bank of Pakistan has once again increased interest rates by half a percentage point to 14 per cent — the third consecutive such hike in the first five months of the current fiscal year. Given the recent inflation data for October, this increase was not surprising. The market was expecting it, the lenders actually bracing themselves for it. The benchmark Karachi Inter-Bank Offering Rate was already moving up to absorb the anticipated rise. The rate could well spike to 15 per cent before the close of the current financial year as inflationary pressures are likely to persist through the next fiscal. Borrowers do not like the high cost of loans because it makes their car lease and home financing more expensive and forces them to spend less on luxury items. Businessmen particularly detest expensive credit because it pushes their financial costs, squeezes their profit margins and affects their expansion plans. Still, it is illogical to dispute the rationale behind the bank`s decision to raise the rates: the bank has to be proactive if it is to manage the emerging risks to the economy. It cannot sit on the fence and wait for inflation to take down the economy even if the “burden of the monetary tightening is being largely borne by the private sector”. The bank`s role becomes even more crucial at a time when the inflationary government borrowings from it are threatening to knock down the economy. The government has little choice but to force the bank to print new money to cover its expenditure on security, debt servicing/repayment and subsidies because the rich and powerful refuse to pay their share of taxes honestly. The opposition to the efforts to implement the reformed general sales tax is an example.It is therefore imperative for the government to not only raise its revenues by directly taxing the income of the rich and powerful but also to drastically cut its expenditure for fiscal consolidation. If it does not
move immediately to bridge its resource gap, the load will bring down manufacturing, result in export and job losses, and delay economic recovery for a long time.
US-Pakistan Ties: AS the WikiLeaks reverberations continue to be felt around the world, here in Pakistan there is a sense the worst is yet to come. Somewhat lost in the initial frenzy over the leaked cables is the fact that less than 0.1 per cent of the diplomatic cables have been made public so far. Almost surely, then, there are more startling revelations to come. An article in the Guardian, one of the papers to receive the leaked cables, provides a riveting example of what may be in store: “[Former US ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson] pleads that Washington’s whole policy is counter-productive: it ‘risks destabilising the Pakistani state, alienating both the civilian government and the military leadership, and provoking a broader governance crisis without finally achieving the goal’. Nor is any amount of money going to bribe the Taliban to our side.” That the former top American diplomat in Pakistan thinks the US policy towards this country risks ‘destabilising’ the Pakistani state is, quite frankly, extraordinary. It goes to the heart of the tensions between the two countries, where Pakistan has, sometimes legitimately, though often unfairly, been labelled as a duplicitous and unreliable partner. Ultimately, however, the focus, as Ms Patterson appears to have pointed out in her cables, ought to be on the end goal and how to achieve it. President Obama, in his speech announcing the Afghan ‘surge’ last December, set out his administration’s ‘overarching goal’ as follows: “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.” Failing to achieve that goal while ending up with a Pakistan which is more destabilised than ever sounds like a recipe for disaster — and it is. It has been reasonably apparent for a while now that the US suffers from strategic confusion in Afghanistan, trying to fight harder while simultaneously looking for the exit. The dent-first-then-negotiate-with-the-insurgency approach is apparently not leading anywhere. In difficult times, it is often helpful to listen to the counsel of allies, even troublesome ones. Pakistan appears to have some idea about an alternative approach to bringing to an end the insurgency in Afghanistan. Perhaps it is time that such advice, however unappetising, is listened to more carefully. For its part, the Pakistani security establishment needs to move towards a better understanding of the threat within. There is a sense that despite having recognised the seriousness of the internal threat, the focus on external threats on Pakistan’s borders is preventing the security establishment from doing what is necessary in order to make Pakistan a more secure country internally.
December 1st: ET: Our dereliction in Kurram Kurram has had to run the gauntlet of the first TTP chief, Baitullah Mehsud, who sent his Waziristan lashkar there under the blood-thirsty Qari Hussain in 2007. According to a report published in a newspaper on November 30, the government has allowed a very dubious meeting between the elders of the Kurram Agency, members of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) and “foreign” agents of the Haqqani Group from North Waziristan. The meeting was held “in a guesthouse” in Islamabad and the objective was “restoration of peace in Parachinar (Kurram headquarters) which has remained cut off from the rest of country for three years.” Who were the interlocutors? MNA Sajid Hussain Turi representing the Shia of Kurram and some elders, while the opposite side was represented by Qari Taj, the commander of the Haqqani Group in Kurram Agency, and Karim Mushtaq, TTP commander for Kurram and Orakzai agencies. Another MNA, Munir Khan Orakzai, also attended the meeting. The talks were fruitless because the Shia Turi side was not willing to give the right of way to the TTP and Haqqani group militants through their territory. In retaliation, the other side refused to lift the roadblock on Thall-Parachinar Road that cuts Kurram off from the rest of the country. The Turis are in a bind. They can’t leave or enter their agency and have to use Afghanistan territory where they are at risk of being killed by pro-al Qaeda terrorists. Al Qaeda is not particularly fond of the Turis because they are Shia and because they did not allow al Qaeda leadership to stay on their soil after its escape from Tora Bora in 2001. Well-off Turis spend Rs8,000 on a plane ride from Peshawar to get home. The Agency is no longer under any semblance of federal government control for the last three years. And the Haqqani Group from Afghanistan, which is being allowed to hold talks with the Turis in Islamabad, has no business being in Pakistan. Pakistan is projecting its power into Afghanistan on the basis of warriors who don’t belong to Pakistan and is giving them a status inside Pakistan that violates the sovereignty of the state. The TTP is dominant under the banner of anti-Shia feeling spread in the region by the Sipah-e-Sahaba, a banned terrorist organisation of Punjab which inspires the tribes that live around Kurram. Kurram lies next to the three Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Nangarhar. It has half a million inhabitants out of which around two-fifths are Shia — besides, the capital Parachinar has a majority Shia population. The agency lies next to Waziristan, Orakzai and Khyber agencies where warlords harbour severely sectarian feelings. Down the road from Kurram to Peshawar, cities like Kohat and Hangu have Shia communities cowering before the power of the Taliban for the last decade.
Kurram has had to run the gauntlet of the first TTP chief, Baitullah Mehsud, who sent his Waziristan lashkar there under the blood-thirsty Qari Hussain in 2007. Around 400 Mehsud and Wazir militants fought against the Shia in Kurram, burning down villages and killing dozens of them. Two months later, another warlord, Hakimullah Mehsud, sent hundreds of fighters to outnumber the Shia offering resistance to him. After becoming head of the TTP, Hakimullah appointed Mullah Noor Jamal from Orakzai, known as Mullah Toofan, to lead the Taliban. Mullah Toofan, a brutal commander, indulged in carnage and blocked the abovementioned road, cutting Kurram from the rest of Pakistan. Infamous warlord Mangal Bagh of Khyber Agency, successfully challenging the Pakistan army, has also dipped his hands in the blood of the people of Kurram. Pakistan’s military strategy focuses on a quest to control territories not part of its map, at the expense of territory it does have. The bulk of the Pakistan Army faces India on the eastern border. Because of Pakistan’s ambivalence towards the TTP and the Haqqani Group, it has had to suffer a gradual diminution of its writ in small cities like Kohat, Hangu and Bannu, while virtually losing control over the provincial capital, Peshawar. On the eve of America’s exit from Afghanistan, the focus is on how to prevent India from retaining its foothold there. It is difficult to imagine how territories lost inside Pakistan in the pursuit of this strategy will be regained.
SBP’s discount rate hike For the second time in a row, the central bank used its monetary policy meeting to increase its benchmark discount rate. It appears that the battle between the finance ministry and the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is set to continue for some time now. For the second time in a row, the central bank used its monetary policy meeting to increase its benchmark discount rate — the rate at which commercial banks can borrow from the SBP — by half a percentage point. The rate now stands at 14 per cent, close to its 2008 crisis-level peak of 15 per cent. Yet the central bank has been very blunt about why such a rate increase was necessary. Inflation has been spiralling out of control, largely due to over-borrowing by the federal government. The State Bank has a single over-riding mandate: to control inflation. Its single biggest tool in doing so is interest rates, which it has used somewhat timidly in the past but is now beginning to get more comfortable with. When inflation rises, the SBP raises interest rates in order to curb borrowing and slow down price rises. The business community has been reasonably irked by the rise in the cost of borrowing. But they should realise that the central bank is simply responding to the constant depreciation in the value of the rupee that has been precipitated by unchecked government deficits. The government does not actually spend too much money, just much more than it takes in as revenues. Think of inflation, then, as an alternative to the taxes that nobody seems willing to pay. Unfortunately, this replacement for taxation has a tendency to hurt the poor infinitely more than it hurts the rich or even the upper middle class. Economists have pointed out that the real interest rate in the country — the nominal interest rate minus the rate of inflation — is actually still negative. This means that in real terms, lending is still an unprofitable enterprise. Yet we acknowledge that even nominally high interest rates are damaging to the economy. The solution, however, is not to decry the central bank’s moves, which seems to be the default response of many commentators, but to support an increase in tax revenues, such as the reformed general sales tax bill currently in parliament. Only a balanced federal budget can guarantee manageable levels of inflation.
December 7th: Dawn: The Orakzai Deal: THE news that the Shia and Sunni communities of Orakzai Agency have struck a deal to allow the roads there to be opened for regular use should be cautiously welcomed. Sectarian tensions in Orakzai are over a century old, but the usual, depressing mix of factors in recent years seem to have given the rivalry a deadly edge. The closure of the roads in the mid2000s was the result of escalating tensions during the month of Muharram. A Shia place of worship, where one of Orakzai`s Shia leader`s ancestors is buried, happens to be in a Sunnimajority area, leading to the usual sectarian tensions during Muharram. But what appears to have injected new ferocity into old tensions has been the appearance of the Taliban factor. In some ways Orakzai was more vulnerable to Taliban influence: the agency has the lowest literacy rate in the tribal areas and is known to be one of the more socially and religiously conservative areas. Once the Taliban were added to the mix, the sectarian enmity escalated and soon matters were out of control, resulting, among other things, in the closure of roads for rival sects. Whatever the local factors, however, it is quite clear that had it not been for an administrative failure on the part of the political agent and the state apparatus meant to deal with the area, sectarian rivalry in Orakzai would perhaps have never exploded so bitterly. Unhappily, administrative failure has been a common factor in the loss of much of Fata. Yes, the Taliban feed on local conditions and vulnerabilities, but the space for them to operate has often been ceded all too easily by the state apparatus and not always for `strategic` or `policy` reasons. Like much else in Pakistan, the system of administration consisting of the political agent-cum-Frontier Crimes Regulation atrophied in recent decades, leaving it unable to deal with the rising Taliban threat. So as the state works to clear Fata of militants, it needs to develop a plan for administering the tribal areas in a more effective way. Anything less and the militants will eventually creep back in. Racetrack Tragedy:
MANOEUVRING a high-speed racing car on the racetrack may be a thrilling sensation, and standing on the edge of the track watching the vehicle thunder past an exciting experience. But the death of five people and injuries to four others when an out-of-control racing car went off the track and rammed into spectators at a privately organised racing event in the jurisdiction of Rawalpindi and Islamabad on Sunday shows just how risky motorsports can be. Both drivers and spectators are threatened when safety is not the paramount consideration. A knee-jerk reaction to such a tragedy would be to ban the sport altogether and shut down the tracks. However, a saner approach that preserves the racing experience would be to ensure that safety measures are carefully planned and implemented to protect drivers, officials at the event and spectators. Judging by available reports on how the event was organised by a private real estate and housing development agency and the haphazard way in which official permission for the event was sought and apparently granted, the need for framing appropriate rules and regulations pertaining to motorsports becomes obvious. This and compliance with such rules by track owners, race organisers and drivers must be overseen by the police and other relevant local administration departments. Such safety measures should be in accordance with international standards and must include flame-resistant clothing material, safety helmets and harnesses for drivers, crash barriers, high-safety fences and run-off areas to keep cars and debris on the track away from spectators. They would also require alert firefighting, rescue and medical emergency services. While motorsports will always involve an element of danger, safety standards can be ensured if local administration officials as well as drivers, organisers and sponsors of motorsports strive to minimise the consequences of the risks.
Terrorist Methods: THE state`s struggles on the counter-terrorism front have been exposed yet again. The latest report on the bombing of the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine in Karachi suggests the same, or similar, type of explosive was used in that attack as against other shrines and targets across the country, including in Lahore and Peshawar. This raises an obvious question: what is the security apparatus doing to clamp down on the availability of explosives the militants appear to be particularly inclined to use? Surely if the state cannot stay one step ahead of the terrorists, then it can at least follow them determinedly, look for patterns and find ways of foiling known terrorist methods. Analysts familiar with the subject suggest there are three sources of the particular kind of explosives that appear to have become a terrorist favourite: military production facilities, private munitions factories and smuggling from Afghanistan. It is the latter two sources which appear to be particularly troublesome. Private munitions factories in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa appear to have lax security, possibly aiding the leakage of explosives that find their way into the hands of militants. The intelligence agencies and security forces appear to have taken some measures to reduce leakages and pilferage, but unless the factories upgrade their internal checks the threat will remain. Smuggling from Afghanistan presents a more complex problem. Given the long, porous border and a long-standing tradition of smuggling across it, putting an end to smuggling is unrealistic. However, once the explosives and other weapons make their way into Pakistan they are all too easily available in markets in the tribal areas and districts adjoining them or through clandestine networks that continue to operate with some ease. If interdicting smuggled weapons at the Pak-Afghan border is not very realistic then the same
cannot be said for reducing the availability of those weapons inside Pakistan — markets and networks providing explosives and weapons here need to be clamped down on. There is also a broader point here about the state`s counter-terrorism failures. Much of what the security apparatus learns about militant networks in urban Pakistan appears to be reactive in nature: an attack occurs and then the existence of certain groups or the spread of their operations to new cities is discovered. The state`s approach is both narrow and shallow: narrow because it seems to focus on particular groups and cells rather than develop an understanding of what is driving terrorism inside Pakistan; shallow because there is simply not enough known about the landscape of terrorism here. That can and must change if urban terrorism is to be thwarted.
December 7th: ET: The politics of dharnas Amir of Jamaat-e-Islami Dr Munawar Hasan moved his party another step forward in the pursuit of his rejectionist politics when he addressed what he called a dharna in front of parliament on Constitutional Avenue in Islamabad on December 5. The roster of his disaffection from the present order under the PPP coalition was already familiar: enslavement of the country to the US; pursuit of unjust war against elements fighting against the Americans; the perfidy of allowing America to carry out drone attacks; and rampant corruption under the PPP government. As he asked army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani directly not to agree to the American demand of attacking North Waziristan, the past and present Jamaat leaders were at his side, including the inventor of dharna politics former amir Qazi Hussain Ahmed. Dr Munawar Hasan is the stormy petrel of national politics, believing in intensifying the Jamaat’s politics of rejection rather than toning it down. The argument behind this radical agenda is that
politics of the status quo has run its course, at least for the Jamaat, and now only a promise of revolution will bring back votes absorbed by other rightwing parties, led by the PML-N. The biggest strain borne by the Jamaat came from the ‘deal’ the ruling MMA made with General Musharraf when Qazi Hussain Ahmed was its leader. The deal resulted in the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment which gave legal cover to the general to carry on ruling the country. The ‘deal’ caused internal rifts and the MMA — which failed to protect its Shia component from terrorists — began to crack, losing the 2008 election and bisecting on the lines of Jamaat-JUI politics. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman (JUIF) is in the government, playing a complex game of compromises; the Jamaat, with Qazi Hussain Ahmed gone, has Dr Munawar Hasan carrying the banner of an aggressive agenda in contrast to the JUI-F. Dr Hasan has many likeminded small-party leaders. Imran Khan’s Tehreek-i-Insaf has been playing close to the Jamaat line, but Mr Khan was conspicuous by his absence at the Islamabad dharna. More dharna sessions have been announced, but will the politics of extremes win the day? Or will the politics of flexibility of JUI-F reap greater advantage for its considerable vote-bank which is larger than the Jamaat’s? Unfortunately, neither Imran Khan nor Dr Hasan will make much headway in Punjab where the former is looking for PML-N votes and the latter is hoping to recover the votes the Jamaat has lost to Mr Nawaz Sharif. The rise of the Tehreek-i-Insaf Party in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa may in fact damage Jamaat and JUI-F both. Aggressive agendas are an enemy of the sophistication needed by political parties under democracy. Aggression needs forceful articulation and that is impossible without an outpouring of rage at the status quo. Only two leaders in the political arena are indulging in the politics of rage: Dr Hasan and Imran Khan. Most analysts think that the voting population, while being aroused by expressions of rage, are also scared of conflict and destruction as agents of change. Elections symbolise gradual evolution, not revolutionary uprooting of the system. Such analysis is reaching Imran Khan but Dr Hasan is insulated against it because of the continuity of the party line adopted by Qazi Hussain Ahmed whose personal style, however, was less aggressive. The Jamaat is countered effectively by the rise of ethnic politics in Karachi; in Punjab, the PML-N is firmly in place, strengthened by its new contacts with Jamaatud Dawa and Sipah-eSahaba. On the other hand, a less ‘ghairatmand’ (honourable) but more flexible and sophisticated Maulana Fazlur Rehman is shoring up the internal strength of his Pashtundominated JUI-F by being in the ruling coalition, deftly placing his man at the head of the Council of Islamic Ideology. The Jamaat may be pleased to hear an octogenarian Roedad Khan delivering his usual philippic against the PPP government at the dharna, but Roedad Khan will help little in enhancing the Jamaat’s profile in national politics. The government was wise in its decision to give the ‘dharna’ a wide berth. Blasphemy law saga Courts, parliament and institutions must ensure that laws likely to be used as a means to harass or which add to extremist trends do not remain on statute books. The saga of Pakistan’s blasphemy law continues. Hearing a petition from a citizen challenging parliamentary moves to amend a law that has inflicted suffering on hundreds, the Lahore High Court has directed that the blasphemy law not be amended until a final ruling is made in the controversial case of Aasia Bibi — the 45-year-old mother of five who faces a death sentence on charges of alleged blasphemy. PPP member Sherry Rehman had planned to move a private members bill seeking changes in blasphemy laws while such amendments are said also to have support from other members of the party.
At the end of last month, the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court had issued an order preventing a presidential pardon for the victim of the latest blasphemy charge following indications from President Asif Ali Zardari that this was being considered. This move had been condemned by the president of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association as well as by human rights activists. The case of Aasia Bibi exposes the rift lines that run through our society. On the one hand, we have clerics baying for blood and even setting a price for the killing of the woman, while on the other we have those demanding an end to the misuse of the blasphemy law. This, of course, is not to suggest there should be any lack of respect for the religious sentiments of people and the fact of the matter is that the existing law, notably over the past two decades, has been used more often to victimise rivals or settle personal scores. It has also been a long-standing demand of minority groups that their sentiments be protected. It is vital that justice be done in this matter. Several government functionaries, including the Punjab governor, have said on record that the woman has been wrongly accused and convicted. The courts, parliament and other institutions must make this a key priority and do what they can to ensure that laws likely to be used as a means to harass the vulnerable or which add to the extremist trends that run through our society do not remain on statute books.