issue
It’s time to act
Administrative reforms, independent police and a strong and active judicial system is the only solution to stem the unabated violence in Karachi
By Saher Baloch 
Bloodshed is part of Karachi’s politics and everyday life now, no matter what the political parties say to tone down or make the worsening situation seem better. Violence has been so consistent that it is usually overshadowed by other events in the city, becoming a talking point only if the death toll rises. Otherwise, the bloodshed continues, unabated and unquestioned. 
So far this year, around 2,000 people have been killed as a result of political, sectarian and ethnic strife in the metropolis. It has already exceeded the death toll of last year (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan maintained 1,724 people were killed in 2011). 

Yeh Woh
How to read a newspaper
By Masud Alam
Congratulations. You are among the very few Pakistanis — less than one per cent of the population — who read newspapers. And if you are a woman, you are among the 0.001 per cent.
You read newspapers for the same reason the newspapers are published for. The age-old objective of journalism is defined as: to inform, to educate, to entertain, and to keep record. So, having devoured the morning paper for years and years, are you informed, educated and entertained? Or do you feel more confused, angry and depressed?
Perhaps both. There are days when a piece of writing fills you with positive energy and inspires you to see failures all around you as juicy challenges. And there are days when you toss away the paper in disgust at all the negative emotions and feelings it triggers within you and makes you start your day with pessimism and an overbearing sense of resignation towards everything around you. I’ll venture a guess here: the latter happens more often than the former. And more often than the two extremes, the newspaper reading experience does nothing to you, except leaving a stale and sour taste in your mouth, that you wash down with a sugar-laden mug of tea and get on with your day.

We’ll miss your ‘groove’
With the death of Iqbal Haider, Pakistan has lost an ardent human rights and peace activist
By Beena Sarwar
The protests outside Karachi Press Club will be all the poorer without Senator Syed Iqbal Haider’s energising presence. Activists promoting any good cause could count on him to be there — whether it was justice for Mukhtaran Mai, protest against Shia killings, or a call for peace between India and Pakistan.
Essentially, he was always there to support any assertion of human rights. And he could be relied upon to inject energy into a gathering if asked to address it. If not, he would stand in silent support, with none of the airs and graces one might expect from someone who had held such exalted positions in government — Senator, Federal Law Minister, Attorney General of Pakistan.

policy
The Obama strike
Will President Obama continue his policy of using drones as a major weapon, and will
Pakistan end the use of jihad as an instrument of its defense policy?
By Arif Jamal 
In the run-up to the presidential election in the United States, most Pakistanis wondered if the next US president would stop the drone attacks on terrorists based in the Pakistani tribal areas. 
In conversations with this writer since last summer, many Pakistanis asked if the Republicans would be less hostile towards Pakistan and scale down the drone attacks if not completely stop them. 
The drone attacks have also been a major subject in the Pakistani media since President Barack Obama started using them as a major weapon against the terrorists. It is unfortunate that in Pakistan or among Pakistanis, the discussion of Pakistan-US relations and war on terror is often reduced to the drone attacks. There was a widespread impression, if not belief, that the Republican candidate would be more sensitive to the Pakistani demand, given Republicans’ closeness to the military regimes in the past. 

Elections 2013
Interim issues
Will the government and the opposition be able to agree on a consensus caretaker prime minister?
By Aoun Sahi
As the general elections 2013 approach, both the government and the opposition have started playing their cards smartly to get a person of their choice as the interim prime minister. Both the government and the opposition have equally important role in appointing an interim setup under the 20th Amendment.
About two weeks back, the Federal Information Minister and PPP Information Secretary Qamar Zaman Kaira had said the caretaker setup would assume charge on March 18, 2013. As if not heeding him, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif a few days back asked the government to announce a date for fresh elections which means he is looking at the setting up of an interim government sooner than expected.

Sceptic’s Diary
Lahore’s heritage of fascinating diversity
By Waqqas Mir
Although a rose may be called by any other name, the same cannot be said of a public square — chowk. The relevant authorities for the city of Lahore have reportedly decided to rename Shadman Chowk as Bhagat Singh Chowk — sparking a fascinating debate as well as strongly worded posters. 
Indigenising the names of public monuments and public squares in post-colonial states has its attractions as well as perils. In India, we have even seen indigenisation of the way they spell the names of their cities. Calcutta became Kolkata. There is no doubt that it is attractive, in populist terms, to do away old — often farangi — names and come up with names that have greater resonance in the local polity. However, if a consensus on essential features of identity does not exist, things can get problematic and possibly violent. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

issue
It’s time to act
Administrative reforms, independent police and a strong and active judicial system is the only solution to stem the unabated violence in Karachi
By Saher Baloch

Bloodshed is part of Karachi’s politics and everyday life now, no matter what the political parties say to tone down or make the worsening situation seem better. Violence has been so consistent that it is usually overshadowed by other events in the city, becoming a talking point only if the death toll rises. Otherwise, the bloodshed continues, unabated and unquestioned.

So far this year, around 2,000 people have been killed as a result of political, sectarian and ethnic strife in the metropolis. It has already exceeded the death toll of last year (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan maintained 1,724 people were killed in 2011).

Recently, 36 people were killed in targeted attacks within a span of three days. But all it elicited was a standard response from law enforcement agencies and political parties: That is, the involvement of a ‘third hand’. For instance, the buck has recently been put on the infamous, ever-present and increasingly widening presence of Taliban, for causing all the mayhem in the city. They are responsible equally, but not completely.

SSP Special Investigation Unit (SIU) Khurram Waris recently said that there are three elements involved in the killings and violence in the city at large: Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Shiite groups involved in retaliatory violence. But for obvious reasons, he did not name any local political party involved in the mayhem.

“No one will name them because of fear — as people and police officers are scared of being attacked,” Consultant Home Department, Sharfuddin Memon said.

At the same time, politicisation of police and a lax judicial system are not helping much to ease violence in the city. If anything, it made the violence more consistent.

A few days ago, the last eye witness in Geo Television reporter Wali Khan Babar’s murder, was killed a day before he was to testify in the court. Last year, two head constables also lost their lives, along with the brother and a cousin of the case investigator, inspector Shafiq Tanoli. Similarly, whoever came close to testify against the suspects was ultimately killed in a targeted attack.

In connection with the Wali Babar case, since last year, senior police officials have been planning to raid areas and arrest workers of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), but they have not been given a green signal as yet, according to sources within the police department. And they probably won’t, as previously, a team headed by SSP CID Chaudhry Aslam Khan, was demoted and transferred to Jacobabad and Sukkur, after they attempted to raid Orangi Town, Pak Colony and Shah Faisal Colony to arrest alleged target killers.

Another instance of political interference was visible during the operation in Lyari against wanted criminals of defunct, but very much active, Aman Committee in May. The committee is supposedly connected to the PPP as a criminal wing to counter influence of the MQM in Lyari, though it has always denied the alliance.

After scores of people were killed during the operation, including police officials, a go-between patched things up between Aman Committee leader, Uzair Jan Baloch and the local administration of the People’s Party. Within hours, the weeklong operation instantly came to a halt.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik flew down to Karachi to announce that the operation has been called off, which he added was not an operation to begin with, but a ‘raid’. The announcement left many senior police officials red in the face.

Zahid Hussain, analyst and journalist, said that de-politicising the police is the first step in making sure that justice is done. “It is a major problem. It can be dealt by allowing strict administrative reforms, making the police an independent body, and giving more power to district councils.”

Memon said that issues related to target killings and violence in the city need to be taken up on “war-footing” by the sitting members of the provincial assembly so those responsible are arrested. Otherwise, he added, the issues will keep haunting the city, claiming lives of innocents as a result.

But even when suspects are arrested, they are either shot, as in the case of Wali Khan Babar, or the trial takes forever to come to a conclusion, or witnesses do not show up.

In a recent incident, where Rangers and Police arrested around 150 target killers, during the targeted operations in multiple areas, the killers were freed because of lack of evidence, Memon said. Similarly, suspects arrested in an extortion case of 2010, in which multiple shopkeepers were killed after a stand-off in Kabbari Market, were released as eye witnesses did not show up.

As a possible solution, Memon drafted a Witness Protection Plan last year, which has been approved by the Sindh cabinet but not discussed as yet. He said that Witness Protection Plan is comprehensive as apart from protecting the witnesses, it will also protect police officers and judges involved in the case. But so far nothing has been heard about the plan, apart from a mention in the recent speech of President Asif Ali Zardari, in which he stressed the need of a proper Witness Protection Law.

However, a witness protection cell exists at present, as a “temporary arrangement” for the people. But, he added, “It will take a long time for people to trust the system completely.”

As for the possible solution to the ongoing violence, a senator of Awami National Party (ANP) suggested, during a session of the National Assembly, that a military operation is the only way to restore peace in Karachi. But later, the ANP boycotted the session altogether, along with the MQM, protesting against “lack of interest in ending the violence.”

Zahid Hussain believes that military operation did not help before and it definitely won’t help the present situation either. “If anything, it’ll make the matters worse. What is needed is for political leaders to come to an understanding that it can’t go on like that.”

A strong and independent police, along with a strong and active judicial system is the only solution to the ongoing problems in the city, Memon thinks.

caption

Karachi: Rangers man a blast site, (below) Mourning as usual.

 

 

 

Yeh Woh
How to read a newspaper
By Masud Alam

Congratulations. You are among the very few Pakistanis — less than one per cent of the population — who read newspapers. And if you are a woman, you are among the 0.001 per cent.

You read newspapers for the same reason the newspapers are published for. The age-old objective of journalism is defined as: to inform, to educate, to entertain, and to keep record. So, having devoured the morning paper for years and years, are you informed, educated and entertained? Or do you feel more confused, angry and depressed?

Perhaps both. There are days when a piece of writing fills you with positive energy and inspires you to see failures all around you as juicy challenges. And there are days when you toss away the paper in disgust at all the negative emotions and feelings it triggers within you and makes you start your day with pessimism and an overbearing sense of resignation towards everything around you. I’ll venture a guess here: the latter happens more often than the former. And more often than the two extremes, the newspaper reading experience does nothing to you, except leaving a stale and sour taste in your mouth, that you wash down with a sugar-laden mug of tea and get on with your day.

It’s all your fault.

Journalism is like politics, in that both claim to speak for, and thrive on the trust of, common people like you. If you are actively involved, your concerns and aspirations are reflected in politics and journalism of your land. When you become passive or indifferent, the politicians and journalists become directionless and lazy. They start pushing their own agenda which gives you more reasons to distance yourself from them. This disconnect keeps growing in direct proportion to the mistrust between people and those representing them, until the point where all politicians are thieves and all journalists are blackmailers in the common perception. That is where we stand today.

Let’s try to understand how we got here. Officially, half of Pakistan’s population is literate. Since we don’t believe anything official, let’s say a quarter of the population can read and write Urdu, English or their mother tongue. That leaves us with five crore or 50 million potential readers. And the thousands of newspapers published in the length and breadth of this country, put together, can’t even sell one million copies. We must conclude that a vast majority does not care what the newspapers (and for that matter, magazines, books … printed words in any form) say or don’t say.

Those few who do read — that’s you — are largely passive readers. You don’t make any demands, you don’t assess and challenge the material dished out to you, you are not offended if there are grave errors in facts and figures or glaring contradictions on the same page. The newspaper carries a story titled: ‘We believe in politics of consensus’ for the thousandth time, and you read it dutifully. Ditto with the stories: ‘The government has failed’, ‘ABC should quit politics’, ‘My party will win next elections’ … Meaningless statements, mindlessly repeated ad nauseam make up the bulk of every newspaper, and it does not bother you.

Newspapers claim to speak for you, and to you. Do they? How many stories do you find on any day that have relevance to your life? How many analyses are written with you in the writer’s mind? How many of ‘your’ concerns are addressed? And if your paper does not speak to and for you, do you make an effort to reach the editors and give them a piece of your mind? You don’t. You passively take what’s given to you, and if you don’t like it, you complain about it in private. You do nothing to change it.

You do make a choice in terms of which paper to buy, but that choice is based on considerations other than quality of reporting and writing. You patronise a paper because of the ‘ideology’ it stands for, or because of its political bias, or its ‘liberal voice’ or whatever hocus pocus they sell you.

And that’s where journalism is different from politics. Both are accountable before you but unlike politics, the product of journalism comes out in black and white, and you pay money to buy it. Also, unlike politicians, journalists and editors are easier to access and influence. As a paying consumer of news, you are the boss. And, therefore, if the news business is a mess, it’s of your making too.

Take responsibility for it if you want to see it fixed.

masudalam@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

We’ll miss your ‘groove’
With the death of Iqbal Haider, Pakistan has lost an ardent human rights and peace activist
By Beena Sarwar

The protests outside Karachi Press Club will be all the poorer without Senator Syed Iqbal Haider’s energising presence. Activists promoting any good cause could count on him to be there — whether it was justice for Mukhtaran Mai, protest against Shia killings, or a call for peace between India and Pakistan.

Essentially, he was always there to support any assertion of human rights. And he could be relied upon to inject energy into a gathering if asked to address it. If not, he would stand in silent support, with none of the airs and graces one might expect from someone who had held such exalted positions in government — Senator, Federal Law Minister, Attorney General of Pakistan.

The TV cameras would inevitably find him and focus on him as he made a passionate speech, the pitch and temp rising as he blasted extremists, terrorists, mischief makers, incompetent bureaucrats, corrupt politicians and army generals. He boldly and openly spoke out against anyone contributing to make life hell for ordinary people.

A graduate of the Punjab University Law College, he had been closely associated with the late Benazir Bhutto, and was active in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) against the military dictator Ziaul Haq, a cause for which he was arrested several times. He had also borne his share of police baton charges and tear gas.

He was a founding member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP, which he later served as co-Chairperson) and of the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD). In 2005, he resigned from the PPP to concentrate on human rights activism.

“We mourn the loss of Mr Iqbal Haider, our dear friend from Pakistan. His contribution to the cause of Indo/ Pak peace process was enormous!” tweeted the film producer Mahesh Bhatt on hearing the news.

In November 2007, Iqbal Haider was among those present at the HRCP office in Lahore where activists gathered to formulate a response to Gen Musharraf’s ‘Emergency’. When the police raided the building and started rounding up activists, Iqbal Haider put up a spirited resistance, spryly skipping around the security walas trying to grab him and confiscate his cell phone, which he loudly refused to give up. The memory remains in many minds as a moment of high drama and also a source of much mirth.

The cell phone was eventually wrested from him and the arrested activists were carted off (literally, in the case of Salima Hashmi who calmly continued writing her notes, forcing the police to heave up the chair she was sitting on and carry it to the police mobile, at which point she got off and hopped into the van of her own accord). At the sub-jail, a house in Model Town, Iqbal Haider gleefully produced another cell phone to keep up his channel of communication with the outside world.

The detained activists made light of the situation, and much of the home-cooked feasts that were delivered to them, for the two days they were there. Still, it must have been difficult for those like Iqbal Haider who were on medication.

His commitment to peace between India and Pakistan was absolute and he spoke out boldly for it. At a demonstration outside the Karachi Press Club to condemn the Mumbai attacks of Nov 26, 2008, he pointed out the timing of these attacks, following President Asif Ali Zardari’s address to the Hindustan Times Conclave, at which he had stated that Pakistan would follow a no-first use nuclear policy. The attack four days later was no coincidence, suggested Iqbal Haider, as those involved had moved earlier than originally planned in order to teach the elected civilian government a lesson.

In fact, he was due to visit Mumbai for the fourth anniversary of the terror attacks, and as well as to attend a function in honour of Kuldip Nayar on November 28.

The Constitutional Petition (No.48/2010) he filed and pursued pro bono in July 2010 before the Supreme Court on behalf of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum and PILER led to the Court ordering all cases of imprisoned fishermen to be heard expeditiously, preferably within a period of six weeks. The Court also ruled that all prisoners held under the Foreigners Act should be released and repatriated forthwith, if they had completed their sentences.

As a result, some 442 Indian fishermen were released and repatriated in one go, starting the process of a large number of Indian prisoners being released from Pakistan and vice versa.

Iqbal Haider was among the joint India-Pakistan delegation including Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid and Karamat Ali, as well as Kuldip Nayar, Mahesh Bhatt and Jatin Desai, who met with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and then home minister P. Chidambaram in New Delhi, in September. The meeting led to India releasing some 50 Pakistani fishermen as a reciprocal gesture.

In September 2011, despite his ill health, Jatin Desai recalls how Iqbal Haider travelled a gruelling 700 km by road to meet the fisherfolk of Gujarat, Daman and Diu in India, along with Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid and trade unionist Karamat Ali. It was their consistent efforts that led to the release of another large batch of Indian fishermen (179) from Malir Jail, Karachi, in January 2012.

“In his passing away, the fishing community of Gujarat and Diu (India) has lost a true friend and a saviour,” said the Porbandar Boat Owners’ Association and fishermen of Gujarat and Diu in a statement shared by Jatin Desai.

His friends worried for his safety and his health. Just six months ago, he had accepted the position of President, the Forum for Secular Pakistan (FSP), formed in response to the growing religion extremism in the country.

Iqbal Haider was a firm believer in secular values, a secular state and secular education, and the right of each person to profess their own religious beliefs, a fundamental right which is also enshrined as Article 20 in the Constitution.

For all the seriousness of the causes he supported, Iqbal Haider was a fun-loving person and a gentleman who went by the unlikely nickname ‘Groovy’. He was hospitalised just last month after feeling unwell and seemed to have recovered but was re-admitted last week with breathing difficulties and heart problems. When he sent an SMS out to friends telling them he was in the CCU in a Karachi hospital, no one expected that he would breathe his last there just two days later, on the morning of Nov 11.

As Lahore-based lawyer and environmentalist Rafay Alam’s tweeted: “RIP Senator Iqbal Haider. Your Groove will be missed.”

Yes, we will miss you Iqbal Haider, in all the struggles you were engaged with. I imagine you smiling upon us as these struggles continue, given impetus not only by your memory but your decades of consistent hard work and passion.

caption

Iqbal Haider: A firm believer in secular values.

 

   

 

 

 

policy
The Obama strike
Will President Obama continue his policy of using drones as a major weapon, and will
Pakistan end the use of jihad as an instrument of its defense policy?
By Arif Jamal

In the run-up to the presidential election in the United States, most Pakistanis wondered if the next US president would stop the drone attacks on terrorists based in the Pakistani tribal areas.

In conversations with this writer since last summer, many Pakistanis asked if the Republicans would be less hostile towards Pakistan and scale down the drone attacks if not completely stop them.

The drone attacks have also been a major subject in the Pakistani media since President Barack Obama started using them as a major weapon against the terrorists. It is unfortunate that in Pakistan or among Pakistanis, the discussion of Pakistan-US relations and war on terror is often reduced to the drone attacks. There was a widespread impression, if not belief, that the Republican candidate would be more sensitive to the Pakistani demand, given Republicans’ closeness to the military regimes in the past.

It came as a rude shock to many Pakistanis when, in one of the presidential debates in October, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced that he supported President Obama’s policy of using drones in the Pakistani tribal areas and would continue it if he were elected. Pakistanis fail to realise that the US presidents are elected to promote the US interests in the world like the leaders of all other nations, including Pakistan. Nations’ interests change with the passage of time. Currently, the only major US interest in Pakistan is to stop global terrorists from using Pakistani territory for launching a terrorist attack on the US territory or US interests in the world. No US president would ignore this interest and do whatever is possible to achieve this goal.

The tension in the US-Pakistan relations is the direct result of the difference between Pakistan’s stated policy and actual policy. Pakistan’s declared policy is that it is part of the international coalition against extremism. However, the international community has come to distrust Pakistan with the passage of time. The situation for Pakistan becomes complex and difficult because of the international support for the US point of view.

Most of the countries, if not all of them, feel threatened by the radical Islamist groups and support the US policy on Islamic terrorism. Most of the countries, including China, are wary of Pakistan’s use of jihad as an instrument of its defence policy. Like the United States, China also says the Chinese Muslim terrorists have sanctuaries in the Pakistani tribal areas. The United States may be the only country carrying out drone strikes inside Pakistani territory, but it enjoys support from the rest of the world. The bad news for Pakistan is that there are voices even in China in support of pressing Pakistan harder to do more to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries. Some of them even support bombing Pakistan.

Pakistanis and Pakistani leaders have an over-blown image of their geographical location which is far from reality. Pakistan stopped the Nato supply routes through Pakistan under the media and military pressure in the wake of the US attack on Pakistan’s Salala post in November 2011. Most analysts and commentators, many of them former military officers, in the Pakistani media predicted that the American and ISAF soldiers would now have to leave Afghanistan or face death.

Former ISI chief General (retd) Hameed Gul predicted the US soldiers would be dying of starvation in six months. Many of these so-called experts told us the US soldiers would not be able to fight without the nappies they were importing in the Nato trucks. Some of them even recommended, sarcastically though, that the US should be allowed to import nappies through Pakistan on humanitarian grounds. When even after the passage of six months, the American soldiers not only survived but also kept fighting, Pakistan blinked and decided to work on the same proverbial salary.

This was not new. In 2006, General Musharraf warned the West, “You will be brought down to your knees if Pakistan does not cooperate with you… Pakistan is the main ally. If we were not with you, you would not manage anything. Let that be clear. Remember my words, if ISI is not with you and Pakistan is not with you, you will lose in Afghanistan.”

However, the truth is that the ISI was never with them. The bitter truth is the Americans have not lost the war even if they have not won it in Afghanistan. But, the bitterest truth is that Pakistan is facing an existential challenge. Pakistan’s policy of using jihad as an instrument of defence policy, first in Kashmir and then in Afghanistan, started hurting in the 1980s when deadly sectarian groups started rising. The jihadis spun out of the state control as a result of Pakistan’s decision to join the US-led coalition against terrorism. Consequently, more than 40,000 Pakistanis and more than 3,000 Pakistani soldiers have died in terrorist violence since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Pakistan still refuses to own a war which is its own.

Drones are definitely not the best weapons against terrorism. However, if Pakistan army’s figures are to be believed, it is the best weapon used so far. The Pakistan army’s research shows that the drones have been effective in eliminating hardcore terrorists. In December 2011, Major General Ghayur Mehmood revealed that a sizeable number of those killed in the drone attacks were foreigners. He said, “Yes there are a few civilian casualties in such precision strikes, but a majority of those eliminated are terrorists, including foreign terrorist elements.”

According to the Pakistan army’s research paper, in about 164 drone strikes between 2007 and 2011, more than 964 terrorists had been killed. 793 of them were Pakistanis and 171 foreigners, including Arabs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Chechens, Filipinos and Moroccans. In 2010, the attacks killed more than 423 terrorists. In 2007, the drone strikes killed only one terrorist, in 2008, 23 drone strikes killed 152 militants, 12 of them were foreigners. In 2009, 20 drone strikes killed 179 militants, including 20 foreigners, and in 2010, 423 militants, including 133 foreigners, died in 103 drone strikes. 39 militants, including five foreigners, were killed in drone attacks till March 7, 2011.

Hence the question is not whether President Obama would continue his policy of using drones as a major weapon, but whether Pakistan is ready to end the use of jihad as an instrument of its defence policy. Pakistan is becoming more and more isolated in the world. If it still refuses to change its policy, it will become even more isolated in the world which is running out of patience.

The writer is a US-based journalist and author of ‘Shadow War — The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir’

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

Elections 2013
Interim issues
Will the government and the opposition be able to agree on a consensus caretaker prime minister?
By Aoun Sahi

As the general elections 2013 approach, both the government and the opposition have started playing their cards smartly to get a person of their choice as the interim prime minister. Both the government and the opposition have equally important role in appointing an interim setup under the 20th Amendment.

About two weeks back, the Federal Information Minister and PPP Information Secretary Qamar Zaman Kaira had said the caretaker setup would assume charge on March 18, 2013. As if not heeding him, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif a few days back asked the government to announce a date for fresh elections which means he is looking at the setting up of an interim government sooner than expected.

Leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Ch Nisar Ali Khan, told media earlier this week that his party, after consultation with all the opposition parties, has finalised two names for the slot of interim prime minister. Earlier, the PML-N floated seven names — Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Attaullah Khan Mengal, Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, Rasool Bukhsh Palejo, Asma Jahangir, Justice (retd) Shakirullah Jan and Qazi Hussain Ahmad — for the slot.

The PML-N sources say that names of Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid and Justice (retd) Shakirullah Jan have been short-listed by the party. “The names are finalised in consultation with all the opposition parties and our party will insist only on these names. We will not even entertain the names floated by the government,” says a central leader of the PML-N who does not want to be named. “Opposition leader Ch Nisar will not enter into consultation with leader of the house on the process to find a consensus candidate for the slot. The PML-N instead will let the issue go to the eight-member parliamentary committee to pick the name from the list of four candidates — two nominated by the leader of the opposition and two by the prime minister.”

The framework laid out by the 20th Amendment for the appointment of a caretaker prime minister and chief ministers requires consultation with the opposition leader in the assembly. If this consultation process fails to bring a consensus name for the slot, the matter is referred to a parliamentary committee comprising four members from the treasury and four from the opposition benches. If this committee also fails to reach an agreement, the matter will be decided by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

It seems that the PML-N is once again trying to push the government in a situation like it did in the selection of the Chief Election Commissioner where it rejected all the names floated by then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and the government had no choice but to pick one of the names proposed by the PML-N.

But, there are some issues this time. If the matter is referred to the parliamentary committee which will be formed by the National Assembly Speaker, other stakeholders in the assembly — MQM, ANP and JUI-F (which is part of opposition in NA) — would also be included in the committee. So, they will be in a position to influence the formation of an interim setup which would hurt both the PPP and the PML-N.

Both the parties are well-aware of the situation and that is why the backdoor talks are already underway. Khursheed Shah of the PPP and Ishaq Dar of the PML-N have been conducting these backdoor talks for months. The PPP leaders say they have already reached a consensus on the caretaker prime minister.

“It is true that an interim prime minister has been agreed upon, but the name would be revealed at the time of formation of an interim government by January next year,” says Ch. Fawad Hussain, Special Assistant to the PM on Political Affairs, adding the consensus name is not from the two names being floated by the PML-N. “They were also among the names proposed by the PML-N for the slot of Chief Election Commissioner but the government rejected them. Everybody knows their political inclinations. The PPP has already rejected the names of some politicians from Balochistan because of their political affiliations and ambitions.”

“A hawkish group of the PML-N is trying to sabotage the efforts made by Ishaq Dar and Khursheed Shah to bring consensus on the issue,” says Hussain.

Though the PML-N claims it has consulted all the political parties to finalise the two names, the PTI Information Secretary Shafqat Mehmood denies his party was ever consulted regarding an interim setup: “We have not been contacted by the PML-N. We are closely watching both the parties and if they are not able to install a just interim setup we would go to the court.”

“It is very important to have free and fair elections in the country. Both the parties are trying to bargain on the issue of the interim setup to get maximum benefits, but we would not let this happen,” he says.

“I think they will soon reach a consensus on the issue of interim government. If you look back, you would find both the parties having differences over the 18th, 19th and 20th Amendments and selection of the Chief Election Commissioner. But at the end of the day, both the parties came to a consensus,” says political analyst Suhail Warraich.

He thinks both the parties now realise that lack of consensus would benefit the third force. “If the matter is left for the Election Commission to decide, both the parties will lose their moral authority. They will have to find a common ground like they did in the case of selection of Chief Election Commissioner to avoid political bickering,” he concludes.

caption

Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid.

caption

Justice (retd) Shakirullah Jan.

 

 

Sceptic’s Diary
Lahore’s heritage of fascinating diversity
By Waqqas Mir

Although a rose may be called by any other name, the same cannot be said of a public square — chowk. The relevant authorities for the city of Lahore have reportedly decided to rename Shadman Chowk as Bhagat Singh Chowk — sparking a fascinating debate as well as strongly worded posters.

Indigenising the names of public monuments and public squares in post-colonial states has its attractions as well as perils. In India, we have even seen indigenisation of the way they spell the names of their cities. Calcutta became Kolkata. There is no doubt that it is attractive, in populist terms, to do away old — often farangi — names and come up with names that have greater resonance in the local polity. However, if a consensus on essential features of identity does not exist, things can get problematic and possibly violent.

Some organisations from the far Right of the political spectrum have asserted that naming a public square after Bhagat Singh amounts to a subversion of the constitution — in fact an assault on it. Now there is nothing in the constitution that prohibits naming a square after Bhagat Singh, but that is not how constitutions are interpreted. It is often the interpreter who matters more. If she, while reading the constitution, thinks that it mandates an Islamic state and in her conception of an Islamic state there is no place for the likes of Bhagat Singh then that interpretation will define her stance. This is not to suggest that her stance is either right or wrong — merely to analyse why she argues a particular viewpoint. Now you could make a strong argument that her reading of the constitution is flawed — in multiple ways — but emotions have their place when interpreting documents defining national aspirations.

The reason I think this Bhagat Singh chowk controversy merits engaged debate is because there is the danger that the far Right will rob us of the opportunity to celebrate the diversity of heritage of this great city of Lahore. Now I am not a particular fan of the late Mr. Singh. I think people who argue he was a terrorist as well as those who see him as a hero have strong arguments to back their claims. What does disturb me is that the far Right is suggesting that places of public ownership should reflect the aspirations of those with a religious centric viewpoint. Pakistan can and will remain an Islamic State without having to discard everything that can’t be traced back to Islam.

History of Lahore’s heritage is one of fascinating diversity. It is “Data ki nagri” for many and even Data would be proud of a “nagri” where believers in different gods built beautiful structures and left their imprints. People may have believed in different faiths but they believed in Lahore and fought for its greatness — albeit often on opposing sides. Places of public ownership in Lahore should celebrate this great compliment to this city and the diversity that results from it. This is our city and its places of public ownership should be sensitive to the importance of instilling the city’s ownership in all its denizens.

Being a realist, I do not expect any government in Pakistan to completely separate itself from Islam. The political costs would be too high and to even imagine that anyone can do is in the near future is hopelessly naïve. However, the government needs to engage with those with an Islam-centric viewpoint to convince them that a city that celebrates heroes of different faiths represents nothing un-Islamic but many Islamic values.

And while the far Right’s position on this issue disturbs me I respect their right to put up posters making their point. Free speech is their fundamental right and we must all respect it — regardless of how much we disagree with it. There will be people who will see the inflammatory language on some of these posters and be shocked. Well, let them be shocked because that is the beauty of free speech.

What is also troubling, and I accept this, is that the Far Right, quick to jump on the free speech bandwagon, is extremely reluctant to condone let alone accept the free speech rights of those who disagree with them. This is a contradiction that it must resolve before it expects to be taken seriously by those who would defend their right to free speech. The government and authorities also need to emphasise this point that a belief in free speech essentially means “freedom for the thought that we hate” to use Anthony Gideon’s phrase.

Lahore is beautiful at this time of the year. The promise of the coming winter’s fog even in late afternoon adds a dreamy hue to many of its localities. This is a city built on dreams and it is a city that many still dream of. It is at the centre of my dreams too. Some of its neighbourhoods have already seen an Islamisation of their names — representing selective history. If Lahore doesn’t lie to us about all that it holds, we shouldn’t lie about Lahore to the rest of the world or to ourselves.

The writer is a practicing lawyer and can be reached at wmir.rma@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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