third moment has arrived
Items on agenda
Undercurrents of blasphemy
The simmering campaign against the Danish cartoons and the anti-Quran film might trigger into a large scale movement
By Aoun Sahi
Seventeen Danish newspapers have reprinted the controversial (blasphemous) cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during the second week of Feb this year, after the police in Denmark uncovered a plot to kill the artist who had made the blasphemous cartoons in 2005.
At least three newspapers in Sweden, Netherlands and Spain also reprinted the cartoon the same week. In another such incident, a legislator of Netherlands has announced to release an anti-Quran film in the end of March. The newspaper editors and the filmmaker are terming their acts as part of freedom of expression. An editorial published in Politiken, one of the largest Danish newspapers, said the paper was printing the cartoon in support of Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper which printed the cartoons for the first time in Sept 2005. "Regardless of whether Jyllands-Posten at the time used freedom of speech unwisely and with damaging consequences, the paper deserves unconditional solidarity when it is threatened with terror," the editorial said.
But the cartoon reprint and the film are being seen as part of a planned attack on Islam by the west. In many Muslim countries people have started staging protests against these acts. The situation in Pakistan is also not different; people are really angry and have started arranging small scale protests in different cities under the patronage of some religious parties. The traders' organisations are also very active in this protest against the cartoons and in a way they have played the most important role in publicly voicing this issue by displaying hundreds of banners against these cartoons in all the markets.
Experts believe that a large scale anti-cartoon movement is simmering in Pakistan and there is every possibility that it may turn violent, creating a major problem for the new government. "In the past you have seen politicians exploiting such incidents to extract political benefits. The procession against the 'Satanic Verses' in Islamabad in which five innocent people were killed was led by Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan and Maulana Kausar Niazi," said Rasool Bakhsh Rais, professor of political science, department of social sciences, LUMS. He thinks that apparently this time the traders' associations are helping to build up this movement "some political party may be asking them to do so from behind." According to Rais, it is really easy to exploit people's sentiments in the name of religion in Pakistan. "So far dozens of people have been killed in such protests in Pakistan with no positive outcome. There is a dire need for channelising such emotions in a positive way," he said.
Qari Hanif Jalandry, secretary Wafaq-ul-Madaris Al-Arabia, governing body of all Deobandi madaris in Pakistan based in Multan, thinks that the movement is not against some specific country or newspaper. "It is against the ideology that provokes people to do such dirty acts." Jalandry thinks that the government should also become part of this movement. According to him no political party, traders' organisation or establishment is behind this movement. "In fact before Feb 18, majority of people were busy in electioneering and that was the reason you observed a delayed response of people to this issue," he said. According to him there is no major amount of funding involved in this. "Many lovers of the Prophet (PBUH) are displaying banners or funding other activities in their individual capacity."
Traders who are considered the main source of funds for religious parties are themselves very active in this protest. "We are very much a part of this protest and this is just to show our sentiments of hatred against the reprinting of blasphemous cartoons in the European newspapers," said Baber Khan, president Hall Road Traders Association Lahore. He said that the traders are not funding any religious party to launch protests against the blasphemous caricatures. "We do not want to attach ourselves with any political or religious party, but being a Muslim it is our duty to protest against any act that tends to attack our Holy Prophet (PBUH)." According to Baber even the banners they have been displayed in different markets are funded by individual traders and no trade union money is involved in such activities.
The would-be-in-power politicians do not think they will face problems in the near future. "The new government will not face a problem in tackling this issue because it expresses the feelings of the people. No one likes this act of western newspapers and we condemn them as well," said Ahsan Iqbal, information secretary of the PML-N. According to him the new government will work from the platform of OIC (Organisation of the Islamic Conference) on this issue and will tell the west that there is a difference between secularism (freedom of expression) and disrespect.
He does not think the movement will turn violent like it turned in 2006. "That was because of Musharraf's policies. His apologetic attitude to every issue including this one really forced the people to turn violent."
Some religious scholars think the movement can turn violent. Dr Sarfraz Naeemi, renowned religious scholar and president of Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat Mahaz (TRNM), is of the opinion that in 2005, he thought the cartoons might have been published accidentally while this time it's a deliberate move just to check the sentiments of Muslims. "We should show even a stronger reaction than the one in 2006 and it is really significant that people have started showing their anger against these incidents. I fear if the government does not project the sentiments of people, the protest can turn even more violent than 2006," he said. The TNRM chairman urges OIC and UN (United Nations) to enact laws carrying stern punishments for violators of sanctity of all the prophets. "It is the foremost duty of all Muslim rulers to activate the OIC for pressing the world countries for such legislation. All Muslim countries should sever diplomatic and trade relations immediately with Denmark and other European countries, which are involved in blasphemous acts," he suggested. According to Dr Naeemi, the traders are showing great solidarity with the cause "but they should stop trading in goods imported from the countries responsible for these blasphemous acts," he said.
According to Dr Naeemi, TRNM is the central platform of all major religious parties to protest against all such acts which tends to disrespect the Prophet (PBUH). "But instead of us, there are many individuals, groups, religious and political parties which are staging protests against the cartoons and the film in their individual capacity. We welcome all those and hope that in near future every Muslim will be protesting until the laws to protect the holiness of prophets are not passed."
The third moment has arrived
Bourgeois democracy is not about revolutions or structural transformations. Reform is a long process that can take decades
By Raza Rumi
The prophets of doom are back in business. As the euphoria following the Feb 18 election subsides, there are more and more predictions, displays of that typical thick wall of cynicism that shapes, or at least influences, the public discourse in Pakistan. This is the third moment in our recent history when the media gurus, the doyens of public opinion in the independent, and apolitical quarters are singing a familiar tune.
The byline of this ungraceful song is: these politicians are incapable of resolving their differences and even if they work together for the immediate removal of the president, they will resort to their old tricks and confrontations. No one is even mentioning that some other powerful and invisible quarters may already be resorting to the old governance paradigm: give the dogs a bad name and then hang them.
In 1988, the 'moment' for the lack of a better term, frittered away at the altar of confrontational politics and the creation of tussles entailing Punjab versus the federation, patriotism versus security risk (read the late Benazir Bhutto) and corruption narratives. The media, the technocrats and the apolitical urban middle class accepted this storyline only to see the whole system crashing in 1999 -- the second key moment in this argument.
The 1999 upheaval was peculiar, not just that a wide section of ostensibly democratic sections welcomed the coup but also lent a helping hand to the project of eliminating 'bad' and dirty politics. There were voices of protest as the corrupt and bickering politicians needed to be held accountable and the Augean stables of political process required cleansing. The rest is history as one after the other all the middle class ambitions were given up, or distorted to an extent that accountability, corruption and real democracy became more than sardonic jokes under the Gujrat syndicate backed by showcased prime ministers and turncoats.
By early 2007, this cleansing and re-engineering project had outlived its utility for effective domestic governance, and for fulfilling the imperatives of a frontline, (or a client), state. Hence the negotiation with the largest political party commenced against several odds. And, the biggest challenge to this course of transition emerged not from the establishment even though there was no shortage of detractors there. The loudest proponents of the 'sell out' theory were precisely the forces that legitimised the 1999 coup and gave it the political, constitutional legitimacy. And, the new phase of distrust on corrupt politicians ensued. Mian Nawaz Sharif had to face a similar fate when he entered the electoral arena and appeared to be playing the 'game.' It was Benazir's tragic death that has somewhat halted her constant media trial.
Since 2007, the refreshing difference to the old script is the lawyers' movement; and the urban consensus on the independence of the judiciary. The principled conduct of now deposed judges has given impetus to this movement as without the 60 odd resignations this stage would not have arrived. To give due credit, the leadership of the lawyers had been struggling against the constitutional deviations much before 2007. But the events of March 2007 provided a centripetal push towards the office of the chief justice.
The leadership of the lawyers has yet again proved its mettle in the present uncertainty of political winds. Flexibility, central to the success of a movement, has been displayed by Aitzaz Ahsan who called off the long march to Islamabad given that the new assembly had not been sworn in. However, the bulk of hitherto disengaged, and now politically energised sections of the middle class view the lawyers' movement as an alternative or even a replacement for mainstream politics. This is not a deliberate act; perhaps it echoes the frustration of the 1990s decade, the dynastic and familial control over party leaderships that apparently excludes the increasingly articulate and professionally sound middle classes whose number ironically have grown under Musharraf's Pakistan.
Now the third moment has arrived. The actors are the same, the configurations have changed. There is a shared sense of regret; and a commitment reflected in the ambitious Charter of Democracy. Yes, the challenges have grown and so has the responsibility of the non-state actors to let this phase move in a direction that we have longed for but not really experienced. This is why the cacophony of the television talk shows and pessimism of opinion mongers is unsettling. The TV hosts echoing the middle class voice raise the same questions again and again. The PML and the PPP are being grilled on their past record completely ignoring the decade when they were out in the dock and demonised to the hilt.
For those who expect miracles must realise one clear imperative. Bourgeois democracy is not about revolutions or structural transformations. Reform is a long process that can take decades like the experience in India where the Dalits have entered the mainstream with a strong voice after decades of participation. Constitutional democracy in Pakistan overshadowed by the baggage of authoritarianism will need the continuation of the democratic process. This is well known but rarely accepted by those who are predicting that coalitions will fall.
Unfamiliar territories breed skepticism but why not give this crucial moment a chance whilst not forgetting that the elected cannot be put on a trial until they have been given a full term. And, that they have to be guided and when needed pressurised. But not maligned and demonised as this would suit the agenda of those who hold, to use the classic Iskander Mirza doctrine, that democracy does not suit the genius of Pakistanis.
Given the internal and external realities -- waning federalism, long queues of would-be suicide bombers, institutional imbalances etc -- there is no choice but to make the impending coalitions work in the centre and provinces. If this can happen in India and other parts of the world, why can't it work here? Absolute single party rules (1970s and 1990s) have not worked that well either. If there is any modality that is needed by the fractured polity, it is that of a bipartisan, co-operative model that retains its essential strength in the face of overdeveloped state agencies, foreign occupation in the neighbourhood and grim economic crises.
Participatory politics requires that the elusive commodity 'the people' and their voices all make this work and do not settle for any other alternative howsoever attractive it might be to individual parties. This is why the PML-N should share power and represent its national and not just the provincial voters. The bitter lessons of history are clear; only if we have the will to learn from them.
(Raza Rumi is a freelance contributor. He blogs at www.razarumi.com; edits a cyber magazine Pak Tea House & Lahore Nama blog)
By Shoaib Hashmi
Of course it was Alice, as in wonderland, who first articulated the question which we had always wanted to ask, "What," said Alice, "is the use of a book without pictures?" Which is of course only the thin edge of a much larger and deeper question. The printed book can be a pain, or a pleasure depending upon the contents, but the pleasure can be enhanced immensely if the book is well and elegantly printed and bound.
I suppose we have known this right since the beginning of printing and books. 'The Gutenberg Bibles', the first books ever printed are still treasured as marvels of beauty and elegance. And I bet anyone's earliest remembrance of a treasured object is a tome bound in lovely red Morocco leather with embossed letters in gold leaf and the edges of the pages also in gold.
The tradition lasted well into the Victorian age and later when vintage boxed sets of the classics were the staple of your erudition and landmarks of any well appointed private library. I guess what first put a dent in the tradition of a book as an object of beauty and a prized possession was the coming of the 'Paperback'!
Not to say that there were no ugly books before. Urdu books in the nineteenth, and indeed twentieth centuries -- when paper was expensive and to be saved -- were cluttered all over the page with writing in the borders and along the corners, and were hand bound with spit and ugly glue and cloth. The saving grace was our pride in the beauty of the Arabic script and its infinite variations, but there is no doubt most books were ugly lumps in dull colours.
Nevertheless it was the coming of the paperback which shifted the emphasis from the book as the pride of the library to price and universal accessibility. Even in my boyhood the normal price of the paperback was 25 cents and 35 cents, which translated into one and a quarter, and one and a half rupees. These were printed on newsprint with paper covers, and Penguin Books started the tradition of printing them all in the same colours in the same simple design.
That changed with new techniques of colour printing and book covers became not really elegant but certainly more colourful with photography and brilliantly coloured pictures. Book covers became attractive but I must say hardly the kind one would like to keep forever. The many versions of Agatha Christie and James Bond were arresting at first sight, but hardly Gutenberg Bibles!
Here at home, I must say we have been going through a bad patch. The coming of computer aided design and easy colour printing brought on the cinema hoarding school of design to book covers. All the teary eyed heroines who used to grace cheap Eid Cards and calendars sold on the footpaths, and the waifs and the 'sceneries' made their way on to book covers and a trip to the bookshop became a pain. I am pleased to report that it seems the pain has run its course and book publishers are making their way back to sobriety and elegance. It does the heart good to note it!
Will number 13 be lucky?
Interesting times are ahead as the tussle between the democratic forces and President Musharraf's demoralised allies enters the decisive stage
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
In normal times and in a functioning democracy, elections to a new National Assembly and provincial legislatures would have been a routine affair. But this is an abnormal period in Pakistan's faltering march toward a more democratic future in presence of a president who despite his unpopularity and loss of credibility refuses to accept ground realities and relinquish power. Making the situation complicated is a new army chief professing political neutrality, but still being able to influence policies and decision-makers.
Pakistan's 13th National Assembly belatedly held its maiden session on March 18 and most of its 342 members took their oath of office. Mercifully, they were administered oath under the 1973 Constitution, which remains a sacred document even after being mutilated beyond recognition by successive rulers. Thus a standoff was averted and the outgoing Speaker, Chaudhry Amir Hussain, who suffered defeat in the Feb 18 general elections like most other stalwarts of the previous ruling party, PML-Q, was able to smoothly administer the oath and run the assembly proceedings in the two sittings that he presided. It was his last function after remaining Speaker of the National Assembly for five years and four months. Ironically, he was defeated by Firdous Ashiq Awan, who quit the PML-Q before the polls and contested the election on the PPP ticket.
On March 20, the National Assembly got a new Speaker, Dr Fehmida Mirza, the first woman to hold this office in Pakistan. She secured 249 votes to defeat opposition candidate, Israr Tareen of PML-Q who was backed by 70 MNAs. Tareen had won a seat in the National Assembly for the first time after defeating former federal minister and PML-N nominee Sardar Yaqub Nasir from the National Assembly constituency in Balochistan's Loralai district.
The 51-year old Dr Fehmida Mirza has thrice won election from a general seat in Sindh's Badin district. She belongs to the well-known Qazi family from Hyderabad while her husband, Dr Zulfiqar Mirza, is a friend of PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and was elected MPA in the recent polls. Besides her family's loyalty to the PPP and the Bhuttos and Zardaris, Dr Fehmida Mirza was rewarded with the prestigious job of Speaker due to her experience as lawmaker and her active role in the past as an opposition parliamentarian.
PPP's Faisal Karim Kundi, who trounced JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman in election for the National Assembly seat from Dera Ismail Khan by a big margin of votes, was elected Deputy Speaker. He polled 246 votes to beat MQM's Khushbakht Shujaat, a television artiste who earned fame by acting in PTV dramas some years ago. Backed by the combined opposition, she secured 68 votes. The young Kundi had given a tough fight to Maulana Fazlur Rahman even in the 2002 polls when the six-party religious alliance, MMA, had swept the elections in the NWFP and bagged 29 out of the 35 National Assembly seats in the province.
The votes obtained by Dr Fehmida Mirza and Faisal Kundi showed that the new ruling alliance comprising PPP, PML-N, ANP and JUI-F had more than two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. This coalition was now trying to win over members of the Senate still aligned with the PML-Q and its allies. One reason for Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif to keep the Maulana Fazlur Rahman-led MMA on their side was the fact that he still has a sizeable number of Senators with him and their support would be crucial in gaining majority in the Senate. The MMA is becoming part of the national government that Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif were setting up at the Centre but the fractured religious alliance, with Jamaat-i-Islami out of its fold after boycotting the elections, would remain in opposition to the ANP-PPP coalition in the NWFP. The MMA, or JUI-F to be exact, is also joining hands with the PPP-led ruling alliance in Balochistan.
The PPP-led coalition in the National Assembly would have no difficulty electing leader of the house, who will then be crowned prime minister. The opposition has already nominated MQM's Dr Farooq Sattar as its candidate for the office of the prime minister. The contest would be one-sided even though the PPP candidate who will become prime minister is still not known. There has been speculation that Yousaf Raza Gilani, or someone else from Punjab, would be made prime minister for some months before Asif Zardari is elected MNA in by-election and is ready to take over the job. This may or may not happen but Mr Zardari's secret dealings have fuelled speculations and rumours and annoyed top PPP leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim, who was hoping to become prime minister and publicly lobbied for the prized job. However, it was obvious that any PPP leader thinking of defying the party leadership, particularly Asif Zardari, or making a solo flight would meet almost the same miserable fate as previous party dissidents and rebels. Amin Fahim too risked losing his exalted political status in case he went his own separate way.
While trying to assert themselves, the lawmakers belonging to the PPP-led coalition are now expected to ensure passage of resolutions to do away with the non-democratic Pemra Ordinance and restore the pre-emergency judiciary and reinstate the 60 or so superior court judges including Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. That is the promise the PPP and PML-N leaders made in their landmark Murree Declaration and its fulfillment would set the stage for further empowering the parliament and strengthening democracy. Scrapping the Pemra Ordinance, which placed curbs on the media, especially the independent television channels, would be easily accomplished. Implementing the assembly's resolution for reinstatement of the deposed judges would be something tricky and not at all easy to achieve. The return of these judges would amount to beginning of the end for President General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf. That explains the determined efforts being made by his legal team to prevent reinstatement of the deposed judges. The serving judges too have a stake in these developments as reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his colleagues would raise questions about the status of the existing members of the superior judiciary. A great debate is already taking place in the country whether a simple assembly resolution and executive order by the new prime minister would be enough to reinstate the judges or two-thirds majority is needed for the purpose.
Interesting times are ahead as the tussle between the democratic forces that won the recent elections and President Musharraf's demoralised allies enters the decisive stage. Chances are that Pakistan is now poised to become a more democratic country after more than eight years of absolute rule by General Musharraf.
Items on agenda
An evaluation of the performance of the previous parliaments
By Nadeem Iqbal
The newly elected National Assembly of Pakistan is facing a huge challenge of not only exerting its powers against other pillars of state but also retrieving the space encroached upon by the presidency, bureaucracy and judiciary and establish itself as the highest law making body in the country.
The previous assemblies were not allowed to make or leave many precedents for this assembly. The 12th assembly just 13 days before it completed its five years term was dissolved by the then Army Chief, Gen Pervez Musharraf in disregard of the constitutional provisions.
The 11th assembly that came into existence after 1997 elections was unconstitutionally suspended after the Oct 1999 military coup. On June 20, 2001, through a notification, the then Chief Executive Pervez Musharraf assumed the office of the president. On the same day, through another Order, the president converted the orders of suspension of legislative bodies and their presiding officers into dissolution.
Earlier, four assemblies that were elected after 1985, 1988, 1990 and 1993 elections were dissolved immaturely. Therefore, all the six National Assemblies elected during the last at least three decades were terminated unceremoniously.
The members of the 12th National Assembly were beating the drums for being the first house since 1977 that completed its five year term. But if we evaluate its performance, it is not impressive. During five years a total of 51 bills/ordinances were passed by the parliament. Ironically during the same period the president issued 134 ordinances which means almost three ordinances for every single legislative bill.
To add to the irony, over half of these bills i.e., 27 were passed without any debate. These included the finance bill of the first two years. Therefore the main principle of applying collective intelligence while doing legislation has not been operational.
According to the parliamentary statistics compiled by SDPD (Strengthening Democracy through Parliamentary Development) a UNDP project, the National Assembly with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as its leader of the house did record legislation with 330 bills passed during 1972-1977. The ninth National Assembly with Nawaz Sharif as its leader did the record legislation in 18 months with 63 bills. A similar record was made under Nawaz Sharif by the 11th National Assembly by passing 54 bills during 30 months. These assemblies did not have strong opposition.
The current assembly is confronted with a mammoth task of debating and approving the defence budget. This is a promise made by Nawaz Sharif and late Benazir Bhutto while announcing the Charter of Democracy in May 2006.
But the budget session is not just two months away. And if the parliament succeeds in debating the defence budget it would be a big check on the unbridled financial resources of the establishment. This along with asking the judges and top bureaucrats to submit details of their assets for debate would really empower the parliament.
Another promise made in the Charter of Democracy is : "Reaffirming our commitment to undiluted democracy and universally recognised fundamental rights, the rights of a vibrant opposition, internal party democracy, ideological/political tolerance, bipartisan working of the parliament through powerful committee system, a cooperative federation with no discrimination against federating units, the decentralisation and devolution of power, maximum provincial autonomy, the empowerment of the people at the grassroots level."
The ruling coalition of PPP and PML-N are also promising to make the parliamentary committee system more effective.
As per rules, any matter can be remitted to a standing committee by the speaker or the assembly can take suo moto without moving any motion. The committees have also been empowered to invite or summon before it any member or any other person having a special interest in relation to any matter under its consideration and may hear expert evidence and hold public hearing.
The record says that the last assembly had 42 committees but these could only be formed after the passage of first parliamentary year. While as many as 20 standing committees either did not have their subcommittees or they did not hold any meeting. In all a total of 991 meetings of these committees were held with each committee having 5 meetings per year.
Public accounts committee was an exception whose subcommittee had held 132 meetings and took suo motto of certain scandals such as the Karachi Stock Exchange crash in 2005, the sugar crisis of 2006 and purchase of defective locomotives from China.
Another major area that has been brought out of the purview of the parliament are the prices of the power sector that also determine the prices of other essential commodities.
Instead, different regulatory mechanisms have been developed such as Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA), National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) etc.
These authorities are supposed to independently determine the tariff after negotiating with consumers, government and the service/utility providers or sellers. But these authorities are controlled by the respective ministries. It has been demanded on different occasions that for these bodies to play their roles independently either these have to be funded by the fees paid by service seller or if funded by the national exchequer then these should be sanctioned by the parliament. While their annual performance reports must be debated in the National Assembly.
In addition, there are other institutions like ombudsman, Islamic Ideology Council or Women Commission whose reports are either sent to the president which is only ceremonious as the presidency does not have any official mechanism to analyse and assess their performance or if submitted to the parliament then these are seldom discussed.
During its five years tenure, 24 papers or reports were submitted to the National Assembly but none of them were discussed. These included the reports of Federal Public Service Commission and that of the Securities Exchange Commission.
As far as the budget line is concerned, the National Assembly consumed Rs. 5.038 billion in five years but worked only 608 days. If we take out week holidays then the National Assembly's working days were just 385. While as per constitution the National Assembly has to have at least three sessions in a year and there should not be more than 120 days between the two sessions. It is also to meet 130 days a year.
Indian spies and American drones
By Omar R. Quraishi
On March 18, India's foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee said on the floor of the Lok Sabha that a system was in place under which information relating to citizens arrested in each other's country was passed on to the government concerned. He said that under this mechanism consular access was also provided to embassy officials when their citizens were detained in the other country. The Indian foreign minister then went on to make a fervent appeal to the Pakistan government to commute the death sentence of Sarabjit Singh. The issue seems to have become a hot topic in the Indian media with several news stories reporting that New Delhi had told Islamabad that executing Sarabjit, a convicted spy for India who was involved in several acts of sabotage in Pakistan, would "not help matters."
To this, the obvious -- should I say, knee-jerk -- Pakistani response would be that where was this mechanism when Khalid Mehmood, who had apparently gone to India in 2005 to watch a cricket match, was arrested and sent to jail in India. The young man, whom India accused of disappearing in its territory after watching the match in Delhi only to be arrested a year later in Faridabad without any travel papers, eventually died on Feb. 12 in a Delhi jail. Reports in the Indian media strongly suggest that he died as a result of torture, a charge denied by the Indian High Commission, which claims that the man died after complaining of abdominal pain, for which he was provided medical treatment.
Pakistan says that the Indian government did not notify its embassy in New Delhi of Khalid Mehmood's arrest to which India tersely responded by questioning the length of time taken by the dead man's family in raising the issue of his initial arrest in India. However, what seems to be clear in this war of words is that the Indians have assumed that if a Pakistani national, for whatever reason, manages to lose his travel papers then he must be a spy whose sole purpose for being in India would be to foment violence. It has to be admitted that this kind of thinking would be found in most Pakistani law-enforcement circles here as well but the issue right now is of a Pakistani man who went to India, did not return, lost his travel papers, was arrested and ended up dead.
As for Sarabjit Singh, he is a convicted spy whose involvement in subversive acts was proven right through each tier of the country's judicial system. The argument could then be that why should Pakistan show any clemency when its earlier release of Kashmir Singh, also a convicted spy, got itself the dead body of Khalild Mahmood in return? Perhaps Mr Mukherjee and others in the Lok and Rajya Sabhi who have pressed the Congress government to do whatever it takes to save Sarabjit Singh's life should ask themselves how would India react if it had released a Pakistani spy in good faith only to find that an Indian who went to see a Pakistan-India cricket match in Lahore ended up dead, after being arrested by the Punjab police.
Also, before asking Pakistan for clemency, perhaps India should, to show its good faith, do something about the dozens of Pakistanis still in Indian jails despite serving out their prison sentences. Some newspapers in Pakistan have quoted a report in the Asian Age which says that in jails in East Punjab alone there are 48 Pakistanis who remained under detention despite having served out their jail terms. Why isn't anything done to expedite their release? Again, this is something that happens in Pakistani prisons as well, where foreigners remain in jail despite serving their prison sentences because they cannot afford to purchase a plane ticket to fly home, but the point is that governments should try and do their bit to correct such injustice, before demanding that another show clemency.
According to Matt Dupee writing on the blog at www.longwarjournal.com on March 13 a "decisive Coalition strike against a high-level meeting of Taliban-linked insurgents on Mar 12 took place one and a half kilometers inside Pakistani territory." He said that US military officials confirmed this to The Long War Journal.
According to the blog, "several precision-guided munitions struck a compound owned by a senior member of the Haqqani network, a powerful Taliban splinter group based in North Waziristan. The strike occurred shortly after multiple intelligence sources confirmed the presence of the group's upper echelon inside the compound. Several other high-level Haqqani commanders, including Sirajjudin Haqqani, had planned to attend this meeting, intelligence sources confirmed." Sirjauddin Haqqani is Taliban commander Jalauddin Haqqani's son and is thought by those who follow such matters to be based in North Waziristan. Matt Dupee further wrote that after it had been determined that "the group posed an imminent threat to forces inside Afghanistan" the "call to strike the compound was made." Following this, "orders were given to launch a coordinated strike, fixed-wing and rotary-wing air support along with Predator surveillance (drones) and reconnaissance began scanning likely insurgent attack positions inside Afghanistan. Nearly four hours later, a salvo of indirect fire targeting the compound hit its mark, completely obliterating the building and killing an unknown number of people inside. Several insurgents working sentry posts around the compound were observed by aerial surveillance leaving the area on foot. Initial intelligence reports on March 12 indicated three 'high-level Haqqani network commanders' were killed and that 'many' Chechen fighters also died in the blast.
The blog further suggested that the targeted strike inside Pakistani territory was the result of 'coordination' between Coaltion/NATO forces and the Pakistan military. The latter however immediately condemned the attack and its spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas that a "very strong" protest had been lodged with coalition forces in Afghanistan. The question in all of this is that why should Pakistan protest the death of Taliban fighters (with known links to al Qaeda) inside its territory given that a person no less than President Musharraf has acknowledged their presence on Pakistani soil. Also, it seems clear from reading at this particular -- and should one say, well-informed blog that the SOP (standard operating procedure) seems to be very much that the US-led coalition forces decide when to launch an attack and if it happens to be inside Pakistani territory then they -- one would imagine -- inform the government, which then has no option really but to deny it publicly. Or is there more to this than meets the eye?
The writer is Op-ed Pages Editor of The News.
Email: [email protected]