Published in the NEWS

New security paradigm

27 August 2013

Pakistanis have been informed that there will be a new security paradigm that would drive the policy and strategy of the federal and provincial governments in countering terrorism and extremism. This is good news for Pakistanis given the high levels of insecurity as well as repeated attacks on the state and its key institutions. Nearly 50,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives in the last decade including thousands of security personnel. While the ruling party underplayed the issue of terrorism during its election campaign, two months in power have demonstrated that governing Pakistan without a redefined national security paradigm will not be possible. Sixty terror attacks in first two months could shake any government let alone a civilian administration that enjoys support in the parliament.

One of the key features of the National Security Policy (NSP) will be the establishment of a Joint Intelligence Secretariat, which will comprise all civilian and military intelligence agencies, with the primary job of coordinating intelligence operations and sources of information. The Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar has assured that the secretariat will start working within six to seven months.

The NSP will also establish a Counterterrorism Rapid Deployment Force at the Federal level, which will eventually be replicated at the provincial levels. Staffed with serving and retired military personnel, this force will be 500 strong and over time shall increase to 2000 serving personnel, with the primary job of securing and responding quickly to terror threats.

The lame duck institution, National Counterterrorism Authority (NACTA) is being envisaged to act as a focal point of the new security policy. Increasing its capacity and making it fully operational has rightly been identified as one of the first few steps.

The NSP will also be divided into two broad sections: one that deals with internal threats and another that deals with foreign threats. The draft NSP also aim to deweaponize Quetta, while at the same time providing police in Balochistan with over 5000 SMGs and the requisite training to use them in fighting terrorist and sectarian elements.

(more…)

Tackling the local governance crisis

31 July 2013

Pakistan’s governance crisis has manifested itself in various ways, including the inability of the state to provide services and create a responsible relationship with its citizens. Throughout its history the greatest paradox has been that of creating an effective system of local government.

The military regimes were always keen to create local governments, as they wanted to bypass national and provincial politics and create a constituency of support for martial rule. This is why the three longest serving dictators — Generals Ayub, Zia and Musharraf — were quick to create local governance structures. The elected governments, on the other hand, have been wary of local governments, and since 2008 Pakistan’s unelected local institutions were managed by provincial bureaucrats.

Musharraf’s experiment of local government was perhaps the boldest, as it aimed to increase the power of elected officials and abolished the office of district magistrates and divisional commissioners. The bureaucracy as well as the provincial elites, due to various reasons, resisted it.

(more…)

A risky transition?

14 April 2013

For The News on Sunday

Only a democratic dispensation that enjoys people’s mandate will be able to handle the disastrous energy crisis, the spillover of Nato’s exit from Afghanistan and the security and foreign policies

Pakistan’s first rule-based democratic transition is underway. The last time a civilian government oversaw the election process was in 1977 when charges of rigging led to a popular movement, ouster of the civilian government and ultimately a coup. Otherwise it has been one military or quasi-military regime managing the process of elections.

Three institutions are managing this process: Firstly, the Election Commission of Pakistan; secondly, the Judiciary and thirdly the interim governments in centre and the provinces. The role of the president is minimal other than his own party affairs and the military seems to be in the background and largely focusing on the security issues. This is a situation, which ought to be celebrated as we have the basic preconditions in order.

But state incapacity and ideological biases overshadow the ongoing transition. In the past few weeks, the returning offices — senior district judicial officers — have been scrutinizing the candidates in a most ad hoc manner. In their zeal to abide by the constitutional clauses inserted by Gen Zia’s regime — which place a premium on the faith of the candidate and his/her loyalty to an undefined ‘ideology of Pakistan’ — a circus was witnessed.

An unprofessional line of questioning adopted by the ROs marred the initial electoral proceedings. The ECP perhaps did not issue the right standard guidelines and, therefore, left the subordinate judges to exercise their will and the results were not too pleasing. Women were asked how would they manage their children if they became a legislator and others were asked to recite Quranic verses with the right intonations and accent! Ideological shifts of the past three decades were at work here.

(more…)

Pakistan: Ominous clouds of violence overshadow Elections 2013

2 April 2013

Holding a peaceful election in 2013 would, perhaps, be one of the important milestones in countering the power and influence of the extremists

Within two months, nearly 90 million Pakistanis will vote to elect new federal and provincial governments. This democratic transition has been hailed as a major victory of Pakistan’s fledgling democracy beset by regional instability and a worsening domestic security climate.

During the first quarter of 2013, 35 of sectarian attacks have taken place in Karachi and Quetta. In the same period, at least 144 suicide bombings and attacks on state installations have taken place in various parts of the country. Given this unfortunate situation, there is a widespread fear that the forthcoming elections may entail unprecedented violence and god forbid high profile assassinations.

However, “violence” needs to be unpacked and examined in the context of Pakistani politics. There are three strands of violence which are independently and sometimes jointly working to create a semi-anarchic situation where citizens and political parties are insecure, the state seems to be on the retreat and the militant groups appear to be in the ascendant.

First, we are gripped by the larger, unholy alliance between al-Qaeda, the Taliban, especially the Pakistani factions, and the sectarian outfits such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), bolstered by other banned terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) etc. Details of these groups and the specific nature of their activities are all too well known and recorded by both Pakistani and foreign analysts. There is a strange paradox at work here. The state is under attack by these groups and at the same time, it is trying to explore the options of negotiating with these groups for some kind of a truce. The backdrop, of course, is the post-Nato situation in Afghanistan where Pakistan is keen to book a seat on the Afghan power table.

This strand of violence is affecting much of Fata (at least four agencies are battlegrounds between the Pakistan army and the militants), and Khyber Paktunkhawa province. The TTP has issued most brazen statements such as the one which urges people to stay away from the public rallies of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP). The space for these relatively progressive and moderate parties is, therefore, shrinking with each passing day.

For instance, the ANP is likely to hold no rallies and only go for door-to-door campaigning. Its leadership has been advised by the party not to be physically present during the electoral campaign. The PPP chairperson, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, is not in the country, and while speculation on his departure has been reported in the press, however, the actual situation is not being deliberated which relates to the simple fact that Bilawal Bhutto is not secure in Pakistan given the fact that his mother Benazir Bhutto was killed five years ago after an election rally in Rawalpindi. (more…)

Different strands of violence

31 March 2013

My piece on the elections for The News on Sunday

Holding a peaceful election in 2013 would, perhaps, be one of the important milestones in countering the power and
influence of the extremists

Within two months, nearly 90 million Pakistanis will vote to elect new federal and provincial governments. This democratic transition has been hailed as a major victory of Pakistan’s fledgling democracy beset by regional instability and a worsening domestic security climate.

During the first quarter of 2013, 35 of sectarian attacks have taken place in Karachi and Quetta. In the same period, at least 144 suicide bombings and attacks on state installations have taken place in various parts of the country. Given this unfortunate situation, there is a widespread fear that the forthcoming elections may entail unprecedented violence and god forbid high profile assassinations.

However, “violence” needs to be unpacked and examined in the context of Pakistani politics. There are three strands of violence which are independently and sometimes jointly working to create a semi-anarchic situation where citizens and political parties are insecure, the state seems to be on the retreat and the militant groups appear to be in the ascendant.

First, we are gripped by the larger, unholy alliance between al-Qaeda, the Taliban, especially the Pakistani factions, and the sectarian outfits such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), bolstered by other banned terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) etc. Details of these groups and the specific nature of their activities are all too well known and recorded by both Pakistani and foreign analysts. There is a strange paradox at work here. The state is under attack by these groups and at the same time, it is trying to explore the options of negotiating with these groups for some kind of a truce. The backdrop, of course, is the post-Nato situation in Afghanistan where Pakistan is keen to book a seat on the Afghan power table.

(more…)

Challenges of Political Transition

19 March 2013

My piece published here

Pakistan’s next general election, due in a few months, will be the first where civilian forces are in charge of the transition from one elected government to another. Throughout its history, Pakistan’s military and civil bureaucracy have been the arbiters of political transitions.

With the elections nearing, the political leadership of Pakistan faces many questions about not only the interim government that will oversee the polls, but also the rules of the game for those contesting elections.

While Pakistan’s noisy and multifarious media is highlighting various election issues, on most occasions the intent behind the programming is to sensatationalise matters. It is critical to inform the public about these issues and build sufficient pressure on institutions to take steps wherever necessary to ensure free, fair and transparent elections.

There are seven main challenges before the political parties, especially those leading the coalition government and the opposition. The sooner these are dealt with, the more likely that the coming elections will make history. (more…)

Time for complete justice

10 March 2013

Dr Tahirul Qadri, who has kept Pakistani pundits busy for the past three months, faced a major blow when a three-member SC bench dismissed his petition (which stated that the Chief Election Commissioner and four members of the ECP were not appointed in accordance with the Articles 213, 218of the Pakistani Constitution).

The court decreed that it failed to point out any violations of fundamental rights in either the petition itself, or the arguments by the petitioner. Therefore, as per 184 (3) of the Constitution, none of Qadri’s fundamental rights were infringed upon. Throughout the hearing of this case certain faultlines were traversed by both the parties. The court reminded Qadri that he was a dual national and his loyalties were split. Qadri in his retort reminded the Chief Justice of his past allegiance to Gen Musharraf during the days before March 2007 when Musharraf was resisted by the judges.

The Supreme Court observed that dual nationals were allowed to vote in Pakistani elections. But the court added that because of his dual nationality, Dr Qadri could not contest elections under Article 63(1) of the Constitution. Qadri’s dual nationality was, however, constantly brought under question during the proceedings.

In another case which made headlines during 2011 and 2012, the court gave extraordinary attention to US citizen Mansoor Ijaz’s testimony and also entertained a petition filed by a Canadian citizen on the alleged violation of Pakistan’s national security by the civilian government through it Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani.

A commission was formed to investigate the charges in the so-called memogate. The findings of the Memo Commission sadly relied mostly on the testimony of Mansoor Ijaz, who was exempted from appearing personally and could not be considered a reliable and honest witness. The formation of a commission instead of registering a police case led to the exemption of Mansoor Ijaz’s presence before the court. It should be noted that the judicial commission allowed Mansoor Ijaz’s testimony to be delivered via video conferencing, but denied Haqqani the same facility. (more…)

Next Page »