Category Archives: Published in the NEWS

Exile for me and others

Pakistan needs to remember those who wanted to but could not stay back

exile

Little did I know that a sojourn to recover from a trauma would turn into exile for me. Exile — forced, self-adopted or incidental — is banishment from your context. Almost a liminal space; where you suddenly know no belonging.

In the discourses of diaspora, the exiles are a marginal story. The ‘diaspora’ for a middle-income country like Pakistan is a source of remittance, a vehicle of transferring jobs, knowledge and skills. The exile is an odd feature of the story — a continuous affront to the nationalistic pride, contrary to the ‘image’ that states want to project and diplomats to peddle.

For decades now, a good number of Pakistanis have lived in such a state of being. Under the various military regimes — especially in the 1960s, 1980s and 2000s — several political activists, writers and even high profile politicians had to be away from their countries.

Intellectuals such as Prof Fazalur Rahman and Daud Rahbar who were the rationalists that our society needed, spent their lives in academia abroad. Their works are cited globally but have limited or virtually no traction within Pakistan. Continue reading

New security paradigm

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.

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Tackling the local governance crisis

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.

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A risky transition?

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.

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Pakistan: Ominous clouds of violence overshadow Elections 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. Continue reading

Different strands of violence

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.

Continue reading

Challenges of Political Transition

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. Continue reading