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Sales tax issues: First meeting held

Mon, 08/03/2015 - 21:26

The first meeting of the Sales Tax Committee on Monday deliberated on tax-related issues facing different sectors.

The committee, which is among the three ones constituted by the government last week to facilitate talks and resolve issues facing the business community, met at the FBR Headquarters with Parliamentary Secretary Finance Rana Muhammad Afzal Khan in the chair.

It discussed various suggestions and proposals put forward by the members and identified sectors with potential issues requiring threadbare deliberations in sessions August 6 and 7.

Speaking on the occasion, Rana Muhammad Afzal Khan said that the government was keen to resolve the sales tax issues facing the business community and it was open to all suggestions and recommendations. 

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2015.

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Anti-corruption drive: Sindh NAB chief shuns graft-tainted officials

Mon, 08/03/2015 - 21:13

With its aim to end corruption, National Accountability Bureau’s chief refused to meet two officers facing investigation.

Director General NAB Sindh Col (retd) Naeem Siraj refused to see chief secretary Muhammad Siddique Memon and Inspector General Police Ghulam Haider Jamali, who have been accused of corruption.

According to information gathered by the Express Investigation Cell, both the officers facing NAB investigations, tried to visit DG NAB but were turned down saying that they should meet the concerned investigation officer. The DG also advised them to pass on all the information to the relevant officer probing the allegations.

It may be recalled that a high level meeting of the bureau had approved investigations against the corrupt officers of Sindh Police including IG Sindh and chief secretary Muhammad Siddique Memon. (TRANSLATION MUHAMMAD ARSHAD SHAHEEN)

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2015. 

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Work on TAPI to start by December

Mon, 08/03/2015 - 21:12

ISLAMABAD: The much-awaited ground breaking ceremony of the of Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project would be held in December this year, Deputy Prime Minister for Oil and Gas and Special Envoy of the President of Turkmenistan, Baymurat Hojamuhamedov said on Monday.

In a meeting with Nawaz Sharif at the PM House, the deputy premier of Turkmenistan also extended the prime minister an invitation to visit Turkmenistan to attend the president’s ceremony.

Accepting the invitation, the prime minister reiterated that Pakistan strongly supported the project and its early completion. He said TAPI would meet energy requirement of the region besides benefiting countries in the region.

He discussed the regional connectivity initiative with Hojamuhamedov and said that rail and road links between Gwadar and Central Asia would increase the economic activity in the region adding that Pakistan would facilitate Turkmenistan and Central Asian countries to develop rail and road links up to Gwadar.

Chairman State Agency for Management and Use for Hydrocarbon Resources, Yagshygeldy Kakaev Ambassador for Turkmenistan AladjanMovlamov, Federal Minister for Petroleum Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Advisor to PM on National Security Sartaj Aziz and Minister of State for Petroleum Jam Kamal attended the meeting.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2015. 

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LHC ruling: Sharifs win income tax case after 19 years

Mon, 08/03/2015 - 21:05

After a 19-year long legal battle, the Sharif family finally got its appeal accepted against “wrongful assessment” of income tax.

The Lahore High Court (LHC) has suspended the 1989 verdict by Income Tax Appellant Tribunal against the Sharif family and the directors of Ittefaq Foundries. The court also accepted all appeals filed by the Sharif family in this regard.

A division bench of LHC has allowed an appeal filed by the Sharif family in 1996 against assessment by the Income Tax Department and subsequent decisions taken by a tax appellate tribunal upholding assessment for the year 1988-89.

The assessment and subsequent appeals remained subject of political interference during the governments of PPP and PML-N.

The appellants are Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Farooq Barkat, Iqbal Barkat, Hassan Barkat, Hussain Barkat, Zahid Shafi, Javed Shafi, Tariq Shafi, Pervez Shafi, Idrees Bashir, Aslam Bashir and Ittefaq Textile Mills.

The appellants said that the Income Tax Department had assessed the liability of the Ittefaq Group and its directors at Rs20 million, but the tax was raised to Rs400 million during late Benazir Bhutto’s first government in 1988. They said, on appeal before the department, during Nawaz Sharif’s first government in 1990, the amount was slashed to Rs20 million.

However, they said, during Benazir’s second tenure as premier in 1993, the Income Tax Department moved a second appeal and raised the tax amount to Rs650 million.

The appellants said the objection on assessment was raised after over 40 months instead of the 60-day stipulated period and was therefore illegal and asked the court to declare the assessment illegal.

Condoning the delay

The reference application by the Sharif family was admitted for regular hearing on June 9, 1996 and continued over the years till today.

On Monday, a bench comprising Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh and Justice Shahid Karim heard arguments on whether the income tax tribunal was justified in condoning the delay in filing the appeals.

Counsel for the Income Tax Department appealed that the appellants exercised political influence and had successfully manoeuvred their way out of the liability.

However, the bench observed that the department had failed to establish that action had been taken against any of the department’s functionaries for recalcitrance and negligence. It further observed that the counsel for the department had not been able to produce evidence showing that the appellants had exercised political influence before the tribunal.

The bench allowed the appeal and set aside the impugned decisions of the Income Tax Tribunal passed on July 16, 1995 and December 2, 1995.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2015. 

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Dismissing claim: Taliban say Mullah Omar’s son alive

Mon, 08/03/2015 - 21:04

The Afghan Taliban on Monday dismissed a claim by a senior Afghan official that the son of Mullah Omar has been killed in an attack in Pakistan.

Afghanistan’s first deputy speaker of the National Assembly Zahir Qadir claimed earlier that Mullah Omar’s son, Mullah Yaqub, was killed in Quetta last week.

“There is no truth in the claim. Yaqub is alive and I am in contact with him,” Agha Jan Motasim told The Express Tribune. Another Taliban official, Dr Aminul Haq said he had contacted Yaqub two days ago and Afghan officials were issuing baseless statements to create misunderstandings among the Taliban.

Qadir quoted ‘credible sources’ as saying that Yaqub was killed at a meeting by supporters of the new Taliban chief, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, four days ago.

Qadir told Tolo TV in Kabul that Yaqub, who was 21 or 22 years old, was seeking to be appointed as his father’s successor. “But  Mansoor also tried to become leader of the Taliban, therefore it is said that he was killed some days back.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2015. 

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Order withdrawn: Sindh govt cancels police transfers

Mon, 08/03/2015 - 20:22

KARACHI: The Sindh government has withdrawn its decision to hand over the services of Sindh Police’s four senior officials to the Establishment Division in Islamabad. About a couple of days ago, the provincial government had issued a notification to hand over services of four officials including former Karachi AIG Ghulam Qadir Thebo, Additional IG Counter-Terrorism Department Sanaullah Abbasi, Criminal Investigation Agency former chief Sultan Ali Khuwaja and former District South SSP Tariq Raza Dharejo. These officials were directed to report to the establishment division in Islamabad.  However, the Sindh government withdrew its decision on Monday and cancelled its orders. Sources said the decision was taken after the military establishment expressed its serious concerns over the decision.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2015. 

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Kabul won’t separately deal with Taliban

Mon, 08/03/2015 - 20:20

The Afghan government addressed the growing leadership crisis in the Taliban for the first time on Monday, saying it will not deal with the militant group separately from other “armed opposition” in the country.

The statement from President Ashraf Ghani’s office said it will not accept any “parallel political structure” opposed to the Afghan government, a clear reference to the Taliban, who still call themselves the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”

Fledgling peace talks between the Taliban and the government halted last week after Afghan authorities announced Mullah Mohammad Omar had died in April 2013. The Taliban confirmed Mullah Omar’s death and said Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor had been elected to replace him.

Relatives of Mullah Omar have contested Mullah Mansoor’s appointment, demanding a wider vote that includes battlefield commanders as their nearly 14-year insurgency continues.

The Taliban have been trying to present a unified front in recent days with several statements.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2015. 

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AJK president seeks reprieve for Shafqat

Mon, 08/03/2015 - 20:20

ISLAMABAD: In a last-ditch attempt to save Shafqat Hussain, a convicted killer whose case has attracted international attention, the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) president requested a stay of execution, which is scheduled to take place on Tuesday (today).

Shafqat Hussain was sentenced to death for killing a seven-year-old boy in Karachi in 2004 but has had several stays of execution, most recently in June.

Late Monday, Sardar Muhammad Yaqoob Khan, president of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the home region of Shafqat, requested a stay of execution while authorities look into the controversy surrounding his age.

In his letter to the president, the AJK leader said, “On the basis of the recommendations of the Sindh Human Rights Commission, I have decided to conduct an enquiry at the level of the Government of Kashmir into the matter of the juvenility of Shafqat Hussain.”

“Foregoing in view, it is in the interest of justice that the execution of Mr. Hussain on Tuesday 4th August, 2015 may please be postponed on humanitarian grounds,” he wrote.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2015.

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A flood of despondency

Mon, 08/03/2015 - 20:18

It wouldn’t stop raining. When the water came inside our hut, we left. It almost reached Baba’s waist so he carried me on his shoulders. Amma carried my little brother. Grandfather had to fend for himself. Worn out, we reached a two-storey building where many people were gathered. After a few days, Amma said that if little Ali still didn’t have anything to eat, he’d die. I started praying earnestly. A helicopter! A sack of flour landed on the roof. Splat! The sack tore open, its contents spilled onto the wet surface. Having done its duty, the helicopter flew away.

Every time nature decides to have the better of humankind, we find that such stories are not uncommon. And, sadly, it’s not even close to being the worst-case scenario. In the last few weeks, we’ve seen footage of bobbing heads in the punishing water, eyes searching for a secure, dry place to rest their tired limbs and weeping hearts.

From afar, it seems that these people are a resilient lot; standing up to nature even after losing dear ones, all hope, the fruits of their hard work, as well as hearth and home. On closer inspection, however, they don’t seem to have a choice but to survive at all costs.

In such scenarios, nature is hardly to blame since it has no feelings. It’s the humans — our leaders in particular — who are harsher than the water that doesn’t care to hold back. It would be foolish to assume that we could ever beat nature at its own game, but we can certainly minimise the damage. However, when nature has had its fun and decides to torment some other parts of the world, all that our powerful leaders can muster are a few measly payouts accompanied by some empty words. And the worst part is nobody knows if the money truly reaches the deserving.

Nature is predictable in its vendetta against humans and all they hold dear. And, just as predictable are our leaders in their indifference to human suffering.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2015. 

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Sign of the times: Anti-corruption drive mounted in Quetta

Mon, 08/03/2015 - 20:18

Huge billboards have been placed along one particular stretch of road in the provincial capital in a bid to raise greater awareness about the scourge of corruption.

The move has been undertaken by the Quetta Metropolitan Corporation (QMC) in collaboration with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

Billboards carrying NAB’s message “Say no to corruption” have been placed at prominent junctions of the city along a particular stretch.

Furthermore, QMC has also put up banners carrying NAB’s messages on its premises to attract the attention of daily visitors. The campaign focuses on showing people how corruption affects their everyday lives and the measures they can take to fight it.

NAB Director General in Balochistan Tariq Mehmood Malik has commended QMC’s cooperation. “Elements with a corrupt mindset will not be allowed to dent the beautiful face of the society,” DG said.

Reiterating NAB’s resolve and commitment for a corruption-free society, he said that no stone would be left unturned to combat the curse of corruption.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2015.

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Raiding hideouts: Police arrest a target killer

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 14:44

KARACHI: District Malir police claim to have arrested on Sunday a member of a banned religious outfit, allegedly involved in half-a-dozen cases of targeted killings in the city. During the course of interrogation, the suspect Hasan Abbas confessed to have been involved in target killings in various localities, including Khawaja Ajmair Nagri, Shah Faisal Colony, Soldier Bazaar, Ibrahim Hyderi and Malir City area, said SSP Dr Najeeb Ahmed. The accused was arrested from Malir when the police raided his hideout, following a tip-off, he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2015.

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Blame game: Govt’s flood relief effort claims are ‘false’

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 14:43

SUKKUR: The chairperson of the Jeay Sindh Mahaz (JSM), Riaz Chandio, said he visited different cities and towns of the Ghotki district, during which he observed that all the claims made by the government regarding rescue and relief work are false. He claimed that nothing has been done to minimise the suffering of the people. The residents of the affected villages are conducting evacuations on their own, because there is no one to rescue them, he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2015. 

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Charity: CM donates Rs50m for Chitral relief

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 14:42

KARACHI: Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah expressed sorrow over the casualties and devastation caused by torrential rains in Chitral and announced a donation of Rs50 million for the relief and rescue works for the people. In his statement, the chief minister sympathised with the families suffering from heavy rains and floods, assuring them that the Pakistan Peoples Party stands with them in this difficult time. He also contacted the opposition leader in the National Assembly, Khurshed Shah, and asked him to convey his sympathetic sentiments to the affected people of Chitral.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2015.

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Ecological suicide

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 14:14

The mounting evidence that we are moving along the fast track to ecological suicide can no longer be denied. A new word ‘endling’ has been coined to describe an individual which is the last of its species. There are too many recorded tragedies of endlings who issued mating calls, but there was no one left to answer them. In Cut From History, author Eric Freedman writes that “It is deep-to-the-bone chilling to know the exact date a species disappeared from Earth. It is even more ghastly to … know that nobody knew or cared.” Elizabeth Kolbert details the depressing facts in her book entitled The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. She estimates that about half of the species of plants and animals currently in existence will die out by 2050. This is not due to any natural catastrophe, but rather due to destructive effects of human activities.

Human beings use the world’s atmosphere as an open sewer for the daily dumping of more than 90 million tonnes of gaseous waste. Unless we can urgently change this pattern, the resulting rise in global temperatures will melt polar ice, resulting in permanent and catastrophic changes. According to reputable climatologist James Hansen, the man-made pollution already in the atmosphere traps as much extra heat energy every 24 hours as would be released by the explosion of 400,000 Hiroshima-class nuclear bombs. The resulting rapid warming of both the atmosphere and the ocean, which Kolbert notes has absorbed about one-third of the carbon dioxide we have produced, is wreaking havoc on earth’s delicately balanced ecosystems. It threatens both the web of living species with which we share the planet and the future viability of civilisation. “By disrupting these systems,” Kolbert writes, “we’re putting our own survival in danger.”

The most recent parallel to the current mass extinction occurred some 66 million years ago when a six-mile-wide asteroid collided with earth, wiping out the dinosaurs, and vast numbers of plant and animal species. Today, Kolbert documents a similar mass extinction event, which is happening in the geologic blink of an eye. The present extinction rate in the tropics is “on the order of 10,000 times greater than the naturally occurring background extinction rate”. This time, we cannot blame a giant asteroid. We have caused this catastrophe by altering environmental conditions on our planet so swiftly and dramatically that a large proportion of other species cannot adapt. Our own future is at risk as well, since we have fundamentally altered the fragile climate balance which fostered the flourishing of the human civilisation.

The earth’s water cycle is being dangerously disturbed, as warmer oceans evaporate more water vapour into the air. Global humidity has increased by an astonishing four per cent in just the last 30 years, causing larger and more frequent floods and mudslides. The extra heat is also absorbed in the top layer of the seas, which makes ocean-based storms more frequent and more destructive.

Our oceans, a crucial food source for billions, have become not only warmer but also more acidic than they have been in millions of years. We have overloaded their capacity to absorb excess heat and carbon pollution, causing destruction of entire ecosystems like coral reefs and rainforests. The same extra heat pulls moisture from soil in drought-prone regions, causing deeper and longer-lasting droughts.

Food crops are threatened by the disruption of long-predictable rainy-season-dry-season patterns, and also by the growing impact of heat stress itself on corn, wheat, rice and other staples. The melting Arctic ice cap is changing the heat absorption at the top of the world, which will lead to dramatic world-changing and irreversible climate change. In particular, the melting ice will accelerate the rise in sea level and drown low-lying coastal cities and regions. Everywhere the intricate interconnections crucial to sustaining life are increasingly being pulled apart. The individualist free-market system encourages all to pursue short-run growth without regard for long-term consequences. The Frankenstein’s monster that we have created in the form of corporations is running on its own steam, pursuing profit without any social responsibility. Without making radical changes, we cannot avoid the complete “Collapse” that Jared Diamond has so graphically warned about.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th,  2015.

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The medium-term outcome of the nuclear deal

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 14:06

Iran is a complex country placed right in the middle of a highly complex world. It is surrounded by a number of states openly hostile to it. Tehran reacted to the sanctions imposed on it by the West and the United Nations by supporting a number of militias, including the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Mehdi Army in Iraq. It has also been a strong supporter of the beleaguered regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. While the monarchies of the Gulf, in particular Saudi Arabia, were openly suspicious of Iran’s intentions in the region, they found themselves on the same side as Tehran in dealing with the rise of the extremist Islamic Caliphate, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (IS). All this is likely to change as a result of the transformation of the Iranian economy in the next decade and a half. This is the period during which the large powers would like to see Tehran to take a number of actions to give comfort to the world outside that had no intention of going nuclear.

Most analysts agree that it will take 10 to 15 years before the impact of the July 14 deal with Iran becomes fully apparent. The sceptics paint a dark picture. They are of the view that once the period of vigilant and intrusive inspection is over, Iran will go quickly nuclear, acquire several weapons and the systems to deliver them, and begin brandishing the new weaponry to have its way in the region. It would thus become a dominant player in the region but its rise will be challenged by other governments. Not only that, Israel, perhaps supported by Arab monarchies, could opt for military action to contain Iran. Militarisation of the area, already underway, will pick up pace.  The July agreement, therefore, lost the leverage that had been obtained to influence Tehran. A slight tightening of the sanctions screw would have yielded more rewards — the objective should have been to eliminate altogether any probability of Iran going nuclear, not just postponing it.

It is interesting that in the long interview President Obama gave to the journalist Thomas L Freidman to explain why he had used so much of his political capital to sign the deal with Iran, the president focused entirely on the impact it will have on curtailing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. He brushed aside the belief that the deal will have consequences beyond the nuclear field. He limited the scope of the impact in order to focus on the criticism that he had not negotiated an airtight agreement. “Don’t judge me on whether this deal transforms Iran, ends Iran’s aggressive behaviour toward some of its Arab neighbours or leads to detente between sects. Judge me on one thing: does this deal prevent Iran from breaking out with a nuclear weapon for the next 10 years and is a better outcome for America, Israel, and our Arab allies than any other alternative on the table?”

I offer an outcome of the deal that is more far-reaching than the one suggested by President Obama in his Freidman interview. Let us speculate what could result from the deal 15 years hence, by the year 2030. That will be the time when the restrictions imposed by the deal on Iran would have run their course and the country will be required to abide by the framework to which it had agreed when it signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). By that time, Iran would have fully established itself as a responsible and political regional power. The economy would have revived; it would not only have overcome the slack resulting from years of sanctions, but also begun to make full use of its enormous energy resources and human resource potential. Growing at an average of 10 per cent a year — up from the depressed growth rate of only 3.0 per cent at this time — its economy would have quadrupled in size, reaching a total output of $1.75 trillion at today’s prices. It would have added another 22 million to its population, reaching 100 million by 2015. Per capita income would have reached $17,500. By 2015, the rate of unemployment had reached the worrying level of 20 per cent, affecting especially women (20.3 per cent unemployed) and youth (24 per cent unemployed). Economic growth and restructuring of the economy will bring down the unemployment rate to five per cent. It was the high rate of unemployment that no doubt persuaded the regime to agree to the terms of the 2015 deal with P5+1.

Although Iran has the second largest reserves of natural gas and the fourth largest oil reserves, it would have diversified its exports away from energy products to manufacturing and modern services. Nonetheless, it will become the central hub of intra-continental gas and oil pipelines linking not only its own energy fields but also that of with Central Asia with China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline confined to the cold storage would have been revived and linked with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Four non-Arab Muslim states — Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan — will probably establish a sub-regional economic and trading arrangement.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th,  2015.

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Post-judicial commission politics

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 13:59

The report of the judicial commission rejected the complaints of the PTI and several other opposition parties that the May 2013 general elections were rigged and manipulated. By declaring these elections a true and fair reflection of the mandate of the electorate, the judicial commission provided legal legitimacy to the 2013 election and the electoral victory of the PML-N. The PTI is now facing a major political setback.

The judicial commission, however, has not resolved the issue of political acceptability of the results of the elections. It was not only the PTI that had complained about the election results; several other political parties, including those that supported the PML-N in the context of the protest by the PTI, also questioned the legitimacy of the election results. The legal legitimacy given by the judicial commission will not change the opinion of all these political parties regarding the elections. Therefore, the general elections and the PML-N’s ascendancy to power will continue to be questioned on political grounds by many political activists and parties.

The report of the judicial commissions represents a conservative and status quo-oriented approach. It took advantage of the terms of reference to downplay irregularities and procedural violations, including non-authentication of votes and multiple voting by one person, and declared these elections fair and free on aggregate. The second term of reference sought to know if the elections were manipulated in a “systematic effort by design”. The judicial commission assigned priority to ‘systematic’ or ‘by design’ manipulation over other issues that had undermined the credibility of the elections. It was clear during the proceedings of the judicial commission that systematic and planned rigging would not be proved. As the PTI could not prove systematic manipulation by an institution, government or political party, the judicial commission was able to confirm the first and third terms of reference, giving legal legitimacy to the elections.

Although the commission noted procedural and other violations in the elections, these could not influence the opinion of its members because they confined their inquiry to the issue of systematic and planned manipulation. In a way, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), as well as judicial and other officials on duty on polling day have also got a clean chit because procedural irregularities were not given weight.

The advice by the judicial commission to improve the management of the elections is not expected to carry much weight because if the elections represented the true and fair mandate of the people despite a host of deficiencies, why rectify those shortcomings? Why should the government or the ECP worry about these issues when these are not relevant in determining the credibility of the electoral process? The PML-N will focus on the legal aspects and the PTI and other political parties on political dimensions, thus reviving their mutual conflict. It will be three or four months before this conflict takes a definite shape. By that time the flood season and local bodies elections would either be over, or postponed.

The PTI cannot return to the slogan of electoral manipulation. It will have to explore new ideas to attract people other than its core supporters. The PTI derives major support from the middle and upper classes. It can no longer ignore the populace from the lower strata of society. New sets of issues are required to attract this section of the population. The PTI needs to pay attention to its organisational and internal discipline problems, and Imran Khan should use caution in making political statements and avoid returning to the old habit of public displays of sympathy for the Pakistani Taliban. He should adopt a non-ambiguous position on social and economic inequities in society, privatisation of state assets, and religious extremism and militancy. It would not be advisable to revive the dharna strategy of 2014. New strategies like public meetings and mass-level mobilisation need to be considered. Another issue pertains to the PTI working with other political parties. Its strategy of ‘solo flight’ requires a review.

The PPP’s declining fortune will not be retrieved as long as its leadership protects its interest by identifying with Nawaz Sharif. It faces organisational and leadership crises in Punjab that have turned it into a feeble and directionless political entity. Its activists are depressed and dismayed.

The ruling PML-N needs to change its policy of doling out state funds as gifts from the prime minister or the chief minister of Punjab. Instead, it should invest financial and administrative resources in coping with the energy shortages and the declining industrial output. Unless these two issues are addressed on a priority basis, the problem of poverty and under-development cannot be tackled in Pakistan.

The PML-N’s approach of conceding policymaking and implementation space to the military may work as long as the military-Rangers action is confined to Karachi where the PML-N has hardly any direct political stake. If the military decides to adopt a similar approach to control militancy, corruption and administrative inefficiency in Punjab, the PML-N will find it difficult to pursue stable relations with it.

Any attempt to retrieve the political initiative from the military can threaten the already fragile and semi-functional democracy in Pakistan.

While the PTI and the PPP need to revise their political strategies, the PML-N needs to recognise that its current triumph will prove to be short-lived if it continues to pursue its ongoing narrow and personalised governance based on the traditional sultan model. It needs to prefer professionalism to political loyalty and adopt socioeconomic policies that benefit the common people on a permanent basis, rather than pursuing glamorous construction projects that have much scope for corruption. The current floods will increase popular discontent against the ruling party, and serve as the backdrop to another confrontation between the government and the opposition.

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Emerging diplomacy

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 13:48

“Even with your adversaries, I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself occasionally in their shoes, and if you look at Iranian history, the fact is that we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran,” stated Barack Obama after the US signed a nuclear deal with Iran. Obama has been using the end of his final term to push forward with bold diplomatic moves. Where his predecessors stood firm on outdated positions, he has opened the door to mending relationships. Not only did the US sign a nuclear deal with Iran last week, it also restored diplomatic ties with Cuba. The two countries have reopened their embassies after a span of 54 long years. Time will tell if these two events will signify a permanent change in the way US foreign policy is conducted or if the next administration or opposing political powers will sabotage possible outcomes as some rivals have already threatened to do.

Obama may be acting on his own will or perhaps he’s been inspired by the vocal opinions of American voters. Many welcomed a winding down of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts after more than a decade of foreign wars waged in their name. Reports of CIA designed coups, and private US companies like Black Water and Lockheed Martin raking in record-breaking profits from security services and weapon sales worldwide made the conflicts even less palatable. When the president opened up air strikes in Syria to a vote in Congress, the outpouring of opposition to the idea was deafening. Multiple representatives said that 99 per cent of phone calls to their offices were against military action.

History shows that many US leaders have struggled with the war machine since the Second World War. Dwight Eisenhower, a former general, famously warned of a rising influence as he departed office in 1961 when he said, “… we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” George Bush exemplified what Eisenhower cautioned against by selecting Dick Cheney to be his vice-president (VP). Cheney was an outgoing CEO of Halliburton at the time, but retained stock options worth $18 million and continued to collect nearly $2 million in deferred payments from the military contractor while serving as VP. Those figures may sound like a lot of money, but the compensation represented less than one hundredth of a per cent of the $50 billion in contracts awarded to Halliburton and their subsidiaries during the Iraq war.

Obama won the presidential election on the promise of ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he has scaled back military action in those regions. US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been reduced to the status of ‘advisers’ and private security contractors. However, through an increased reliance on unmanned aircraft to carry out its will in other nations, the US can’t exactly be viewed as a pacifist. With presidential elections looming, the nuclear deal with Iran and the restoration of Cuba-US relations might be viewed as a last effort to create a legacy or it may be a sign of change to come where the US government gives diplomacy preference to military intervention.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th,  2015.

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And the truth remained

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 13:40

Now that the Judicial Commission has given its report and the prime minister has ordered that it be made public, the expectation is that the government now focuses on more important things like good governance and a fight against corruption. Or possibly combat poverty or have a system in place to bring relief to those suffering on account of natural disasters.

Having said that, if recent statements by the PM and his younger brother are anything to go by, we are not really sure whether the report will allow us to move ahead. One recalls with some consternation how the country remained in limbo between August and December last year as the PTI dharna brought the country to a standstill. Let us hope not to repeat those episodes.

So far, the triumph has been of the PML-N and its allies. In a hastily arranged address to the nation, a visibly relieved Nawaz Sharif welcomed the report which he claimed had absolved his party of allegations of rigging in the 2013 general election. But the speech was somewhat below expectations.

Our PM talked about his party more than about the country. “Our hands were clean. We gave them everything because we were convinced of our innocence,” he told us, adding “The truth remained the truth and falsehood was defeated.”

One may recall that the deal was that the Nawaz Sharif government would resign if the allegations levelled were proven to be true. So it must have come as a relief to the prime minister that he will now be able to complete his tenure, barring any more unexpected dharnas or surprises. But what’s the plan now, Mr PM?

What we have seen is that the PM seems to be moving back once again. For example, the move by Punjab chief minister Shabaz Sharif demanding an inquiry into who was behind the dharna will only result in more mud-slinging and confrontation. This will get us nowhere.

All that remains is that Imran Khan and his party accept the on-ground reality and work towards the next general elections if they are to look for a change of government.  This is easier said than done.

In his first public reaction to the verdict of the inquiry commission, Imran Khan demanded that the PM apologise to the nation “since the verdict had vindicated PTI’s demand of an inquiry into the May 2013 general election.” This makes us all a bit confused. Have no lessons been learnt?

What is more worrisome for us is not that we are unclear on who has been vindicated but that there stand two claimants to the victory stand. But then again, in the way politics is played in Pakistan, all this remains part of the game.

In the words of my colleague Fahd Hussain, all that matters now is 2018. In his column which appeared earlier in this paper, he has given advice to the PTI leader to keep his eye on the ball. Let us hope that Imran Khan’s party is able to deliver in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province where they have been given a mandate so that they have something to showcase at the time of the next general elections.

On a larger scale, what is the plan for taking Pakistan forward? The PM has undertaken in his post-report speech that the lot of the people in Pakistan will be better off by the end of the tenure of his government if compared to when he took office. Possibly this may hold true for the people of Punjab and KP provinces, but for the rest of Pakistan it is a sheer myth. Sindh continues to be run on an ad-hoc basis by a coalition of forces of which the leadership does not even reside here. So much for ownership of the province.

Our nation continues facing all sorts of challenges. Contrary to what our politicians and some scientists will have us believe, global warming is not a world conspiracy. We are once again facing the spectre of floods and all the death and destruction that goes with it. As has happened in the past, our government has been unable to make adequate provisions to save lives and help people. We now need to tackle the real problems our country is facing. If we don’t, it will be back to square one in 2018, if not worse.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th,  2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

An unhealthy nation

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 13:22

It is becoming clear that problems that emerged following the devolution of powers that occurred post-18th Amendment have still not been dealt with in an efficient manner. As is the case with education, which has suffered with the devolution of budgets and responsibilities, so it is with health services. By devolving money and responsibility to the provinces, none of whom were ready in terms of capacity to absorb the cash or the additional administrative burdens that go with it, there has been a loss of a ‘national vision’ in respect of shared aspirations for improving healthcare provision. Devolution has rendered the federal agencies and departments working with health, in large part, inoperative, mainly because their roles and responsibilities are now unclear. This is especially true of the Ministry of National Health Services Regulation and Coordination, which needs to review its policies across the board and reformulate a national action plan.

The body is not helped by the fact that the provinces are not as yet up to speed regarding legislative and administrative structures in respect of health. There is a wide disparity between the progress of each province in completing these key tasks. The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) have mostly been missed by Pakistan, and they are to be replaced in 2016 by Sustainable Development Goals, which are no more likely to be met than were the MDGs. There is an urgent need for the creation of a national vision document for health. Currently, there are indications that health care spending at the provincial level is actually dropping, aggregating nationally to 0.4 per cent of GDP. This has potentially catastrophic implications. The failure to have developed a national vision is also impacting on a range of international responsibilities that Pakistan has as a result of being a signatory to treaties that carry a national reporting requirement. With no cross-provincial uniformity in reporting standards, quality assurance of medicines and regulation of health professionals, Pakistan is failing in its obligations. This is a failure of vision that blinds us all.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th,  2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Deceptive freedom

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 13:13

Our media may on the surface look free. We have, over the years, seen a rapid multiplication of news outlets, notably of TV channels, and also of FM radio stations. But there is a deception in this. While talk shows, discussion programmes and news bulletins may seem to display a great deal of media freedom, the reality is quite different. In essence, there are topics that few dare discuss and as the Paris-based organisation, Reporters Without Borders, reported in its latest publication, there have been an increasing number of attacks on media professionals in Pakistan. A few weeks ago, a journalist in Balochistan was murdered in his home; before that, there have been numerous other killings of journalists all over the country. In all, 56 journalists in Pakistan have been killed since 1992 according to international monitoring groups.

In some cases of violence against journalists, criminal mafias and political elements appear to be responsible; in others, the hand of terror outfits cannot be ruled out. The purpose, of course, is to silence voices and prevent the truth from emerging. The state has essentially failed in its duty to offer journalists the security they need to pursue their profession without fear of death. The current state of affairs has meant that fewer media professionals are willing to risk exploring stories which may be of huge public interest, but bringing them into limelight may put lives in jeopardy. Government organisations do not help matters either. Media advisories, something Pakistani newspapers have been familiar with since the earliest days of the country’s inception, continue to come in, in essence acting as a warning against what can be written and what should be avoided when it comes to certain issues. Restricting freedom in this manner inflicts more harm than good. Journalists, whether they operate in remote parts of the country or in mega cities, essentially have no protection. This makes them the easiest of targets and the attacks on them act to eliminate dissent in a society desperately in need of free, open discussion and a wider range of thought.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th,  2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News