Revisiting the privatisation of PTCL...
By Amjad Bhatti
The recent upsurge of PTCL workers across the country has brought the contentious privatisation of PTCL into limelight. Though currently the focus of debate is on the negative implications of privatisation on the labour force -- being pushed or induced to accept the Unified Pay Scale, Voluntary Separation Scheme and retrenchment moves -- introduced by the PTCL management, this is only one dimension of the aftershocks of privatisation.
A closer look into the process, intent and dividends of the privatisation of Pakistan's backbone of telecommunication sector would help clarify many things.
In March 2005, an 'Information Memorandum' -- labelled as 'confidential top secret' -- jointly developed by the PTCL and the Privatisation Commission of Pakistan (PC) built a case for the privatisation of PTCL. It observed: "The appointment of Mr. Shaukat Aziz, a prominent banker, as prime minister has helped improve investor's confidence in Pakistan both domestically and internationally. Continuity in the political hierarchy under the stewardship of President Pervez Musharraf continues to play a significant role in maintaining consistency of economic policies thereby creating a strong growth momentum."
Against this backdrop, a policy decision was taken by the government to divest up to 26 percent of its shareholding in PTCL, along with a transfer of management control. The PC initiated a formal marketing process for the privatisation of PTCL by inviting expression of interest (EoI) in November 2004.
In response to the PC's advertisement, 18 parties -- four of which were Pakistani firms -- submitted their EoI by Jan 28, 2005. 12 parties submitted their statement of qualification (SoQ), of which eight parties were declared fully pre-qualified. The PC held pre-bid conference on May 25, 2005, when the final documents were provided to pre-qualified bidders.
Finally, three qualified bidders participated in the decisive bidding after having deposited $ 40 million each: i) Consortium of Emirates Telecommunication Corporation (Etisalat) and Dubai Islamic Bank: Etisalat International Pakistan (EIP) from the UAE; ii) China Mobile from China; and iii) Singapore Telecom (Singtel) from Singapore. The EIP gave the highest bid $1.96 per share (equal to Rs117.01 per share), which translates into $2.599 billion for 26 percent shares of the PTCL..
The Cabinet Committee on Privatisation approved the EIP as the highest bidder on June 6, 2005. Subsequently, the letter of acceptance of the bid was issued to the EIP. The first installment of 10 percent of the bid price was paid and the share purchase agreement (SPA) was signed on June 30, 2005.
Drifting towards a 'negotiated transaction'
The rest of the amount of the final bid was supposed to be remitted by the Etisalat at the prescribed date -- Aug 18, 2005 -- but it could not furnish the same amount by the deadline. The SPA, in principle, got lapsed in Sept 2005 on account of default.
According to the Privatisation Commission (Modes and Procedures), Rules 2001, the mode of 'negotiation' (as opposed to open bidding) is to be adopted when sufficient interest for a privatisation has not been received. In such situations, the Board of Privatisation Commission has to recommend this process to the Cabinet, which has to authorise the negotiated sale process.
However, sources in the Cabinet Division revealed that, in the case of PTCL, a revised proposal was placed before the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation (CCOP), which sent it to the Cabinet for ratification, thus revising a transaction that had already been finalised. Advocate Sajid Tanoli, who has reviewed the PTCL deal, terms as a "sheer violation" of the prescribed procedures of privatisation. It is also indicated that the revised deal on PTCL with new concessions was not cleared by the Council of Common Interest.
Sources revealed that the PC started defying its own rules and procedures, and started negotiations with Etisalat for continuation of the deal.
According to news reports, a series of meetings were held between Etisalat and government officials in February / March 2006 and "external pressure for additional concessions and modifications of the structure of the transaction was exerted". As a result, various concessions and changes in the structure of transaction were reportedly agreed to, and a new SPA and SA was signed between the Government of Pakistan and Etisalat on April 14, 2006.
"Yes, I agree the deal was delayed but when the other two bidders -- Singtel and China Mobile -- were contacted, they did not show any interest to follow up their EoI," Ali Qadar Gilani, official spokesperson of the PTCL, explained.
According to the revised deal, the price of PTCL share was reduced from $1.96 per share to $1.66, which caused the PTCL a loss of $ 384 million. According to the official claim, the total amount receivable from the share sale of PTCL was $2.599 billion, but it is never revealed that this payment would not be in 'one go' as originally envisaged. The payment is spread over a period of five years, which according to financial analysts "reduces the effective price on the basis of present value analysis." Etisalat, reportedly, has been given the unique advantage of paying the remaining amount on 'pay as you earn' model.
Additionally, a technical services agreement was also signed for which services shall be paid to Etisalat at the rate of 3.5 percent of the total gross consolidated revenue for a period of five years subject to the annual maximum amount of $50 million, within 30 days of the approval of the Group Consolidated Financial Statement by the Board of the company.
When asked whether it was 'competitive bidding' or 'negotiated sale' through which the PTCL was privatised, Gilani contended: "This question should be asked from the government and the Privatisation Commission as how the deal was struck and what process was employed. Being a buyer, Etisalat cannot divulge the details of the transaction."
Top officials of the PC, when contacted by The News on Sunday, refused to comment on the role of commission in the deal, saying: "The role of PC was over when privatisation transactions were completed. The company is run under the Companies Ordinance and the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom takes care of issues pertaining to the PTCL and any other service providers in the telecom sector in Pakistan."
The SA between the Government of Pakistan and Etisalat is believed to be heavily tilted towards the latter. Despite the fact that the investor holds only 26 percent of the total shares of the company, it has been allowed to monopolise the management and strategic decision-making unilaterally.
For instance, the clause 4.3 of the SA stipulates that a majority of the Directors of the Board would be the nominees of Etisalat. The government shall be entitled to nominate four directors to the board and the investor shall be entitled to appoint five directors. Also, according to the agreement, the appointment of the chairperson shall be made by the Government of Pakistan in consultation with the investor. However, the chairperson shall not be entitled to a second or casting vote either in general meeting of the company or meeting of the board.
Surrendering all management decisions to Etisalat, the Government of Pakistan has agreed that the CEO shall have the power and authority to determine and implement day-to-day operations of the company's business and s/he would be the representative of Etisalat.
The voting rights of the government in the company's affairs seems to have been limited only to agree with the Etisalat management, as is clearly reflected in clause 7.9 of the agreement that reads: "The GoP shall exercise its voting rights to ensure that support is given to the sale of any property owned by the company on a commercial arm's length basis." It resorts further that the GoP should ensure that: "Support is given to the distribution of up to 100 percent of net profit per year, including capital gains arising from a disposal of property owned by the company."
Another relevant clause reads: "Approval is given in respect of any acquisition of telecommunication companies in any jurisdiction, any investment, acquisition or venture in respect of or relating to telecommunication acquisition, investment or joint venture proposal introduced by the directors nominated by the investor."
The PTCL spokesperson, Gilani, while talking to TNS termed it a "mere perception" that Etisalat has unilateral management control over the company's affairs. "We work in close coordination with government representatives and make decisions collectively," he said.
However, when Gilani's attention was drawn to clause 4.3 of the SPA which gives supremacy of decision-making to the Etisalat representatives, he replied: "This particular clause is not in my knowledge at the moment. If there are some contentious clauses, please ask the government," he suggested.
Access to assets and 'reserved shares'
By virtue of the SPA, the titles of land assets in the possession of PTCL were to be shifted to the new management. There are about 1,535 enlisted property units in the form of exchanges, residential colonies, flats and customer services that have higher value than the net proceeds of privatisation. However, the official pre-bid evaluation documents show that no comprehensive value assessment was carried out for this valuable real estate; and historical book value has been made basis instead of market value of national assets.
It may be noted that all PTCL property is situated in the prime commercial areas of major cities. A petition filed in the Supreme Court against the privatisation of PTCL noted that Etisalat had already conveyed its intention that multi-storeyed buildings, plazas, commercial centres, hostels, etc shall be constructed on these properties.
In a bid to further appease the influential investor, the Government of Pakistan has granted to Etisalat the right to acquire the 'reserved shares' of 25 percent, and pledged that it shall not sell the 'reserved shares' to any person other than Etisalat. Some analysts have termed this move as an attempt to shift the PTCL from state-monopoly to Etisalat-monopoly.
Responding to a question on the legitimacy of 'reserved shared', Gilani said: "This is a premature question; you can ask this only when Etisalat would buy these 25 percent shares. At the moment, I don't see any intention on the part of Etisalat to go for any further transaction with the Government of Pakistan."
PTCL -- a profile
After 1947 partition of the subcontinent, the telecommunication assets within Pakistan were separated from the Indian Post and Telegraph Department and renamed Pakistan Post and Telegraph Department. In 1962, the operations of PP&T Department were streamlined to create the Pakistan Telephone and Telegraph. In 1991, this department was included as part of the government's privatisation agenda and several measures were taken to prepare the department for eventual privatisation, including the initial corporatisation of the department into Pakistan Telecommunication Corporation (PTC) and its subsequent full corporatisation into PTCL in 1996, when PTCL was granted a 25 year license, which also granted PTCL exclusive rights to provide basic telephony for 7 years ending December 31, 2002.
With an employee strength of 65,000 and 5.7 million customers, PTCL is the largest telecommunications provider in Pakistan offering fixed line services throughout the country as well as providing cellular and internet services.
The company maintains a leading position in Pakistan as an infrastructure provider to other telecom operators and corporate customers of the country. PTCL has laid an Optical Fibre Access Network in the major metropolitan centres of Pakistan and local loop services have started to be modernised and upgraded from copper to an optical network.
On the Long Distance and International infrastructure side, the capacity of two SEA-ME-WE submarine cable is being expanded to meet the increasing demand of International traffic.
Etisalat: An overview
• Leading telecommunication operator based in UAE. Also present in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Tanzania through affiliates and subsidiaries
• First to introduce mobile telecommunications in the Middle East in 1982 and GSM service in September 1884
• Business segments include: fixed line, mobile, internet and multimedia, data centre and data service
• Shareholding structure: 40 percent UAE nationals, 60 per cent Federal Government of UAE
By Shoaib Hashmi
Old habits die hard! Like we have an old habit of barking up the wrong tree and making mountains out of molehills, or maybe the other way round; let me tell you about it and you make up your mind. For some time environmentalists and activists have had a brand new cause to crow about and it is 'billboards.' There is rather a lot of them, so many in fact that you can't see the town for them, and have to grope your way around by instinct.
Of course some of them have always been around, but they hardly bothered us being small and all hand-painted; in fact some of them became icons. But lately they have invented ways of printing huge pictures capable of being mounted on hundred foot billboards within minutes and advertising has taken off into a new dimension.
And the activists have found a new scapegoat because each of the boards obscures the vision right up to the next town. Only thing was advertisers spent millions on the signs, and further millions on the prime sites, and they were not going to be cowed by a bunch of placard carrying people telling them to pull down their vaunted cuties with their flashing smiles.
Now advertisers have got onto a new line and a very cute controversy is brewing. Overnight all the billboards have been swamped with pictures of stars and celebrities from across the border! All the Khans and the Rais and the Sens are there. I guess it was to be expected. They are as big names here as there, and it was only a question of time before the ad-men cottoned on.
The thing is that times have changed -- and how! It is no longer fashionable -- or even acceptable -- to think of anything Indian as alien or objectionable, or anything less than amiable and welcome. And yet a street of Lahore brimming with images of Bollywood stars merits a response. So there are sneakily little whispers floating around that it is a cultural invasion!
Trouble is that it is difficult to accept Shahrukh Khan touting a local cell-phone or eulogising a brand of pure milk as an invasion of any sort, much less cultural, and the usual response to the whisper is a snigger and a toast to friendship and neighborliness. Haha! Or better still you can follow me and declare, "If you can't lick em, join em!" Which means I am off to my usual semi-annual trip to almost foreign lands; Delhi first, and then, even better, Kolkotta. This last I remember from my boyhood as 'Calcutta' the cultural capital of the South and East, just as Lahore was of the North and West. Where elder cousins, and younger uncles were liable to take the train to, to sow their wild oats, or at least that's what they told us!
"Intelligence is, essentially, an extension of the defence strategy of a nation. As such, it must be controlled, guided and held to account by political masters responsible for defence, internal and external, of the country. Attempts at establishing an institutional framework for such control and guidance have been made from time to time but only half heartedly with the result that no permanent arrangements exists as of today and the major intelligence agencies set their own tasks and themselves define parameters of their fields of operations," reads the opening paragraph of a commission report of March 27, 1989, appointed by the then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto under the chairmanship of former Air Chief Marshall Zulfiqar Ali Khan. The commission was supposed to review the working of security and intelligence agencies of the country.
The commission felt strongly that the absence of political control resulted in duplication and was also unworthy of a democratic society as, "at times, it tends to impinge on the civil liberties of citizens".
In a letter to the prime minister, whose copy is available with The News On Sunday, Air Chief Zulfiqar identified certain weaknesses such as: no institutional arrangements at national level; the absence of clear demarcation of responsibility, resulting in duplication of effort and omission of essential areas of coverage; overstepping of limits by certain agencies and drifting into policy formulation; non-existent laws regulating functions of intelligence agencies; haphazard and wasteful training; intelligence agencies engaged on unauthorised as well as unnecessary internal political operations i.e., surveillance and telephone tapping and; ISI and MI engaged on non defence-oriented activities.
The commission recommended creation of a joint intelligence committee (JIC) -- with principal advisor to the prime minister as its chairman and secretaries ministries of foreign affairs, interior, finance, Director Intelligence Bureau (DIB) and DG ISI as its members. The recommendations included the DIB and the DG ISI to have the right of direct access to the prime minister on matters of national urgency.
Similarly, it recommended that the DG ISI be drawn from the three services in rotation (army holding two tenures and navy and PAF one each) and that ISI should not deal with internal security matters which should be handled by the IB (of course normal political activities should not be watched at all).
The PPP government was unable to implement these recommendations and was ousted in 1990. Now, after two decades, another attempt to bring agencies under civilian control has resulted in embarrassment for the PPP-led government at the hands of the establishment.
On July 26 an official notification placed the IB, and the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) under the Interior Ministry. According to the notification, the ISI that otherwise was working under Defence Ministry was put under interior which was to administratively, financially and operationally control it.
But within 24 hours the government had to abort the move and withdraw the notification and issue another explanatory notification saying the earlier notification had been "misunderstood" and the ISI would "continue to function under the prime minister". "The said notification (issued on Saturday) only re-emphasises more coordination between ministry of interior and the ISI in relation to the war on terror and internal security." It said a detailed notification would be issued later to clarify the situation.
It is intriguing because soon after the issuance of earlier notification PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari had claimed that the decision to place the ISI under the Interior Ministry was a step towards civilian rule and to save the army from controversies and a bad name. He also said that a strong army with non-political command was the need of the time and "we hope that positive results will come out from this historic decision".
He said that, in future, the enemies of Pakistan would not be able to defame the ISI.
Media reports suggest that the notification was withdrawn on the intervention of no less than the president and army chief.
It was not an abrupt decision as media reports appeared in May this year quoting PPP sources as saying that the party would soon take legislative action to disband political wings of all intelligence agencies and that the government was considering amendments to the rules of business to hold the security agencies, including the ISI and the MI, accountable to the elected government.
The Charter of Democracy that PPP signed with PML-N clearly mentioned this. One clause says: "The ISI, MI and other security agencies shall be accountable to the elected government through P.M Sectt, Ministry of Defence, and Cabinet Division respectively. Their budgets will be approved by D.C.C after recommendations are prepared by the respective ministry. The political wings of all intelligence agencies will be disbanded. A Committee will be formed to cut waste and bloat in the armed forces and security agencies in the interest of the defence and security of the country. All senior postings in these agencies shall be made with the approval of the government through respective ministry."
But the reversal of the notification on the eve of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani's visit to US has sent a strong message to the international community that intelligence agencies are not under the full control of the civilian government and that establishment is still intact.
DG Inter Services Pubic Relation (ISPR) Maj-Gen Athar Abbas explained that the army chief and other defence authorities had not been taken into confidence on the issue.
He was quoted as saying, "Although there is an ongoing debate that there should be close coordination between all intelligence agencies, placing ISI under the direct control of the interior division was never discussed... When we realised that the decision had been taken, we discussed the issue with the government and are thankful that there was a realisation of ground realities and our position was accepted."
He said the ISI was a "huge organisation" and the interior ministry could not have handled its financial, administrative and operational affairs. The ISPR spokesman cited examples of various global intelligence systems, including the agency working in the United Kingdom, and said: "In Britain, MI-5 looks after domestic intelligence gathering while MI-6 looks after external affairs. Similarly, India's Research and Analysis Wing (Raw) is responsible for external intelligence while the Central Bureau of Intelligence (CBI) looks after domestic security matters, but in both the models, the spy agencies report to the chief executives (prime ministers)." Like the British and the Indian models, the ISI also had a mandate to provide intelligence on domestic and strategic, external and defence-oriented affairs.
Interestingly the former ISI chiefs were united in pleading an autonomous ISI.
It seems the PPP-led government wanted to revive the recommendation of Air Chief Marshal Zulfiqar Ali commission by establishing joint intelligence committee with Advisor to PM Rehman Malik as its head but it has once again been resisted. The message is loud and clear. Although the military-led establishment wants to stay away from politics, it does not want to surrender itself to the command of its political masters.
It is high time our intelligence agencies started working within a proper democratic legal framework
By Asad Jamal
The role of intelligence agencies has come under sharp focus the world over in recent years. A cursory glance reveals it is a consequence of their secretive manner of working, violation of civil liberties at their hands and their involvement in partisan political activities.
Most of these agencies work away from the domain of public scrutiny and some of the most fundamental and basic information is kept secret. Most of them do not work under any legal framework and are immune to independent oversight. No wonder the maximum the DG ISPR was ready to divulge about the human resource and size of our premier intelligence institution is that it is a "huge organisation" and therefore can not be managed by the interior ministry.
This is obviously not a unique case. If anyone has any illusions about established democracies, then consider the example of India. This is what Tejas Patel, NDTV's web correspondent, has to say about the India's premier intelligence agency for external threats, RAW:
"There is very less amount of credible information about the agency which is available in public domain. The over secretive organisation does not even have a website, neither is there any official information about its history, strength, objectives, and structure. One can find more information about RAW on Wikipedia than any other source."
All governments (read states) seek to increase their own power at the expense of individual rights and liberties in the name of national security. However, academics and human rights activists have challenged this pattern by asking: "whether protecting the security of the state should trump all other objectives and values within society -- that is, whether security represents an 'absolute value'." The answer can only be in a definite negative.
In 1997, Helsinki Foundation For Human Rights and the Centre For National Security Studies, Washington DC brought out a joint study on the subject, In the Public Interest: Security Services in a Constitutional Democracy. The report suggested principles and practices for adoption by constitutional democracies.
Principle 13 of the report prescribes that "each secret agency should be established by statute, which should specify the limits of the agency's powers, its methods of operation and the means by which it will be held accountable". This implies that the fact of existence of every security agency shall be publicly disclosed and the head of each agency shall be publicly identified. It further prescribes that "each operation or activity by a security agency shall be authorized by a specific individual, whose name shall appear on a written authorization. There must be clear written rules governing the agencies' activities and the responsibilities of the heads of each agency."
The necessary corollary of this principle is that the role of the secret services must be openly decided. This is embodied in the Principle 14 of the report, which prescribes participation of "legislative representatives and other interested citizens in decision-making on the issues of what should be the tasks and objectives of the services and what are legitimate means, which may be employed by them. While the identity or details of certain sources and methods may be kept secret, the objectives and methods of the secret services must be publicly decided".
Principle 16 says that "No state agency may be exempted from public accountability because doing so would close the door on public debate about how the national security should be protected". It further states:
"Secret state institutions pose grave dangers to constitutional democracies because accountability requires the greatest possible degree of openness. At the same time, individual nations face real threats and state actions necessary to protect the national security must sometimes be carried out in secret in order to be effective. Thus, there can be room in a democracy for state institutions, which operate to some degree in secret in order to protect and advance specific national security objectives. In order for such secret services not to threaten civil society, they must be subject to the rule of law and public accountability, as are all other state institutions."
Principle 19 prescribes that a state may not categorically designate all information related to national security as official secrets, but shall designate in law only those specific and narrow categories of information that it is necessary to withhold in order to protect a legitimate national security interest.
Principle 20 therefore recommends that "public disclosure of official secrets by people who are not state employees may not be made a criminal act".
Clearly, the Retired Air Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan Commission Report, which may have sounded radical in 1989, falls well short of the standards prescribed in the afore-referred report. The report was prepared without public consultation. Further, it recommends formation of Joint Intelligence Committee which is filled with only career bureaucrats with no representation from the parliament and other interested citizens.
The DG ISPR has cited the example of India and the UK while referring to the ultimate control with the prime minister over respective secret services. Though one admits one has a lot to learn from India, when it comes to national security India is not a very good example to follow. As far as the UK model is concerned, the DG ISPR did not mention a separate law, the Intelligence Services Act of 1994 (ISA) which is the legal framework to run the intelligence agency in UK. Far from being perfect, this law provides for fairly good horizontal mechanism of oversight of the secret service along side the vertical mechanism to which the DG ISPR has referred.
ISA provides, inter alia, for a committee named 'the Intelligence and security committee'. This committee consists of nine members who are drawn both from the members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords; and the members of the Committee are appointed by the prime minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. The committee is tasked among other things to submit a report to the parliament. The law exempts the secret service from the application of Freedom of Information Act, 2000; however, it does provide for mechanism to deal with complaints against the actions of the service.
On the other hand, the Indian Right to Information Act, 2005 explicitly brings the actions of security agencies within the cover of the freedom of information law where a matter of violation of human rights is involved.
The UK legislation is not the best available model to follow, but are we ready to consider even this model in its entirety? Our intelligence agencies have so far worked without a proper democratic legal framework; the sooner they are placed under appropriate oversight the better. This needs debate, and one without fear.
The writer is a Lahore-based lawyer.
Keeping the ISI under leash
Let's face it -- notwithstanding the apparent fiasco of the government transferring the ISI to the interior ministry and then being coerced into reversing it a few hours later, the fact is that the most important issue in this whole matter is that there should be some kind of check and oversight on the state's various intelligence agencies.
While some people have already jumped to the conclusion that placing the ISI under the control of the interior ministry was an ill-advised move to begin with, given that the ministry is headed by a non-elected individual and whose loyalty is thought by many to lie primarily with PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari. However, this seems to be a hollow argument given that one should not be looking at individuals but rather the mechanism under which the said intelligence agency would henceforth work under. If that is made the central criterion, then clearly transferring the agency to the interior division made sense.
The reason is simple. Till now, and for the past many years, the ISI has become a dreaded organisation -- and one isn't talking about the Indians but among domestic public and political opinion -- and has been accused of everything from running its own jihad, to picking up people and keeping them incognito for months and even years in some cases, to actively working against the government itself or at least against its larger interests. And while technically one could say that it was working under civilian control already, since its chief reports to the prime minister, the fact also is that its chain of communication with the executive depends on the military's relations with an elected (or even selected) government. Since the head of the ISI is normally a three-star general, appointed by the army chief, for better or for worse he works closely with the army chief, and the central role of the intelligence agency of information gathering and its sharing with the government may to a considerable extent depend on the army chief's relationship with the prime minister and his/her government.
Besides, all those who cried foul (and these were not only men in khaki or who had worn khaki in the past) after the change and were relieved when it was reversed need to understand that this may be a good way to at least nominally bring the agency under some kind of civilian oversight. Of course, the best approach would be to bring it under the appropriate National Assembly and Senate standing committees but here one should remember that some years back, even the heads of the armed forces welfare organisations had point-blank refused to appear before parliament. This tendency to consider it below oneself to appear before parliament has quite unfortunately become part of the psyche of some senior men in uniform (and even retired men in uniform) and stems from the perception that they and their institution are either above the law or that there is a separate (read unequal) law for them and hence there is no need to appear before a group of elected representatives and answer their questions. Of course, this kind of system where parliamentary committees have the authority to, and do, exercise considerable oversight over law-enforcement and intelligence agencies is the bed-rock of a genuine democracy and can be seen in the way this system works in the US or the UK.
Of course, this is not to say that the CIA, the NSA, or the MI6 don't have rogue operations or do things that are at best in the law's grey area, but they know that if things go wrong (and this is particularly true when these relate to their own citizens) then parliament can play a reasonably effective role. One only has to look at former Guantanamo Bay detainees who were citizens of countries like Canada, Australia or the UK who after their release publicly berated their governments and national intelligence agencies of colluding with the Americans to allow gross human rights abuses -- how many people in this country in a similar situation have done this?
The so-called recently-signed peace deal in Hangu seems to be nothing more than an eyewash, and which will help only the local Taliban. (In fact, a well-known US-based blog has already said that the government, for reasons best known to itself, seems to have ceded Hangu to the Taliban with this agreement).
Well, the details are as follows and readers can decide for themselves exactly what has transpired. On July 8, a flag march of the police came under heavy fire. It retaliated and a firefight ensued. In it, the police managed to arrest seven militants -- the rest apparently fled -- and these included Rafiuddin, the reported deputy or close aide of Baitullah Mehsud. The militants were taken to a nearby police station but soon their comrades returned in full force. Scores of local Taliban laid a siege to the police station, which lasted about 20 hours. They also blasted the transformer that feeds the facility in an effort to make the police surrender their colleagues. Luckily this did not happen and the SHO of the area, Jehangir Khan, radioed for help.
Eventually the army moved in from Kohat and the siege was lifted. The militants left before the military arrived and by then the provincial government decided to launch an operation to clear the area of local Taliban. Once this was achieved -- most of the militants simply relocated to the neighbouring Orakzai and Waziristan agencies -- the Taliban cleverly issued an ultimatum to the NWFP government to call off the operation or face the consequences. The provincial government willingly obliged and the operation was called off the next day.
A jirga was then convened, with the local MNA, MPA and district nazim being the most enthusiastic about it. A 'peace agreement' was soon signed and though details of the terms agreed upon were not made public, a contributor writing in this newspaper's editorial pages wrote that one member of the jirga had revealed that three of the seven militants who had been arrested by the police in early July would be released, in exchange for the release of hostages taken by the Taliban. It is likely that one of those released would be Rafiuddin -- and not only this, the army would withdraw from the area in exchange for an assurance by the local Taliban that they would not in future challenge the government's authority. Surely, what was the need for launching an operation, given that the arrest of the seven militants precipitated the conditions that led to it, when the government was going to release three of them anyway? Also, when in the past have the militants ever stuck to their side of the deal?
Proof of this came the day after the peace deal was signed when the brother of the Hangu district nazim, a key member of the jirga that formulated the agreement, was kidnapped and the house in Kohat of SHO Jehangir Khan was attacked -- both actions done presumably by the militants.
Is there any other way to label this other than calling it abject surrender?
The writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News