assistance
A billion dollar question

What does the latest freeze of $700 million military aid for Pakistan mean in real terms?
By Imtiaz Gul
In the aftermath of the Mohmand incident resulting in the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers and officers, the Obama administration and lawmakers in Washington have once again invoked economic and military assistance as a tool to force Pakistan into compliance, and also to forget the Salala attack as an accident.

Challenges for Bilawal
knee-deep in his family business — politics — he faces the daunting task to resurrect the PPP
By Naziha Syed Ali
Pity the young man, all the pelf and privilege notwithstanding. Other well-heeled, recently returned graduates from universities abroad are probably still settling back home, and testing the waters of family-owned businesses. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, on the other hand, is not only knee-deep in his family business — politics — he’s the poster boy in the campaign to resurrect the Pakistan People’s Party and turn it once again into the election-winning entity that it once was. Even though at 23 years of age, he’s two years shy of being eligible to stand for election himself. 

Yeh Woh
With friends like these …

By Masud Alam
Pakistan is not a failed state … as yet. But it’s sure to be one if it continues to import from China.
Of course we could achieve failure on our own but Chinese goods help. What made our railways run out of steam? Chinese locomotives of course. What has made PAF a cheap and cheerful lot that can’t even shoot down toy planes carrying deadly missiles? Chinese fighter jets that are to be the mainstay for years to come.

tribute
The life he wrote
Christopher Hitchens was known as a public intellectual of great courage and learning and a star writer for influential publications
By Dr Arif Azad
When Christopher Hitchens was diagnosed with a malignant form of esophageal cancer in 2010, he reacted to the diagnosis in a characteristically combative style by quickening the pace of his engagement with his inhabited world. Until weeks before his death, he continued with his deadlines in business as usual, without evincing any hint of pity.

Extreme defence
Difa-e-Pakistan Conference is being viewed as an attempt by the banned groups to revive themselves and defend the military establishment on the Western front 
By Waqar Gillani
Last Sunday, the vast ground at Minar-e-Pakistan hosted thousands of charged Islamists of banned and extremist groups. The backstage was covered with a 60 feet long yellow hoarding calling the Muslims to Jihad and showing the pictures of Pakistan Army’s arsenals including missiles, tanks, marines and fighter jets as a symbol of war and jihad against, what the participants of the gathering termed, ‘evil axis’.

Another front
Civil Society Front sprang out of nowhere in Lahore last week to protest the Nato strike against Pakistani soldiers
By Aoun Sahi
On Thursday December 15, 2011, scores of ‘activists’ gathered outside the Lahore Press Club to protest against the Nato attack on Pakistani troops. They paid tribute to soldiers who lost their lives in the attack by lighting candles and lamps. An illuminated ‘PAKISTAN’ was also designed with hundreds of candles to give a message of solidarity with the army against any invader. 

 

 

 

assistance
A billion dollar question
What does the latest freeze of $700 million military aid for Pakistan mean in real terms?

By Imtiaz Gul

In the aftermath of the Mohmand incident resulting in the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers and officers, the Obama administration and lawmakers in Washington have once again invoked economic and military assistance as a tool to force Pakistan into compliance, and also to forget the Salala attack as an accident.

The latest freeze of $700 million military aid for Pakistan notwithstanding, let us look at the current mood in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Discussions with senior civilian and military officials can be summed up the following way:

“We do not want the military assistance. Nor are we interested in the much touted economic aid under the Kerry Lugar Berman Law (KLBL) 2009. The US Senate may freeze whatever assistance the government intended for Pakistan but our message is clear; the Americans and other Nato countries have had a free ride in the last decade or so. The country has got plenty of uncalled for flak in the world, and endured far more damages than the assistance it has received. So better live without that assistance.”

Pretty alarming posturing, it seems, because the Nato supplies via Pakistan remain frozen, with no prospect of resumption in the next two weeks.

The reaction flows from a bruised ego. Also because, the US has declined to reimburse some $3.2 billion that it owes Pakistan under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF). The refusal came through during the recently concluded Pakistan-IMF talks in Dubai, when the Fund mission reportedly consulted the US authorities in Washington (USA has the largest voting share on the IMF Board) to check out whether Islamabad should expect some payments in reimbursements. The US authorities reportedly told the IMF that Pakistan may get maximum $400 million during the current fiscal year.

As of now, this has upset Pakistani team’s expectation of getting over $1billion worth of CSF reimbursements. But let us take a look at the figures the US administration flags all over when talking of “20 billion dollars in ten years” to Pakistan. Until early last year, the CSF reimbursements for the period until 2009 amounted to slightly less than $9 billion. (It is technically reimbursement and not security assistance).

Ministry of Finance officials say that Pakistan has received $742 million in December 2010 for the CSF reimbursements, and up to $375 million under the Kerry Lugar Berman Law (KLBL) during 2011. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during her October visit to Islamabad, spoke of $2 billion figure for 2010-2011 under the KLBL. Meanwhile, the US administration counts $550 million that the American government made available for the recovery and rehabilitation of the 2010 flood-affected areas also to the aid under the KLBL.

Back in July, the US had withheld $800 million in aid (including $300 million for training programmes under the US trainers) after Pakistan ordered 125 American military instructors to leave the country against the backdrop of the raid on Osama bin Laden compound. Until then, according to the US official figures, security-related funding, including the Coalition Support Funds (CSF), amounted to about $14.14 billion until 2010, and this included the operational cost of the 140,000 Pakistani troops deployed along the 2560-kilometer border with Afghanistan and the training-capacity building programmes for the paramilitary force called the Frontier Corps.

These figures also underscored the sharp contrast in the spending patterns in ten years; almost two-thirds of the American aid going into security-related heads, while the social sector and economic infrastructure received the rest one-third.

As for the hardware, the US gave Pakistan (under Foreign Military Funding)

a) 20 used cobra helicopters out of its surplus (extra defense articles) plus 10 cracked ones for cannibalization.

b) Some 16 F-16s (used).

c) 16 MI 17 choppers (used).

d) About two dozen 412 choppers(new).

e) Seven C 130s (used).

f) Seven P3 Orions (used).

g) About 5000 TOW air-to-ground anti-tank missiles.

h) Phalanx guns for Naval Air Defense.

i) Several thousand Ak 47 Rifles.

In addition to that, the US sold Pakistan — against cash and credit — 18 new F-16 aircrafts. The assistance for counter-insurgency, counter-narcotics, Frontier Corps capacity-building was part of security-related assistance.

The army claims that (ISPR Press Release, June 10, 2011) the US security related assistance provided in cash (coalition support funds – CSF) as well as in kind has been about $12.522 billion. This assistance included $8.647 billion on account of CSF and $3.875 billion on account of security assistance in kind (weapons, equipments, expenditure of training by US trainers, services, visits, pay of trainers etc for armed forces of Pakistan, civil armed forces and even anti-narcotics force).

Out of the total $12.522 billion, Pakistan Army received $1.455 billion under the CSF head and $1.023 billion on account of security assistance in kind, bringing the total amount received by the Army to $2.478 billion out of $12.522 billion pledged since early 2002, the statement said.

 

Non-reconcilable amounts

Also, on average, officials say, the US reimbursed only up to 65 per cent of the total bills under the CSF in the last ten years. That is why an amount of $2.5 billion under the CSF claims remains contested as ‘non-reconciled’ amount. The last CSF bill that Pakistan submitted with Washington in May 2011 had amounted to $2.3 billion, which has now shot over $3 billion for the simple fact that Pakistan spends at least 100 million every month on the deployment of some 150,000 troops on the western borders.

This situation confronts Pakistan with two worries; shortfall in expected foreign exchange, and secondly, bad name “for not doing enough despite getting billions of dollars from the United States.”

This means (according to The News, Dec 19th) that the foreign currency reserves could fall to $12 billion from the current $16 billion mark if the $800 million installment from Etisalat for the PTCL privatisation, the auction of the 3G mobile license (expected in March), resumption of programme loans from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank to the tune of $1billion and $500 million from the Euro Bond do not materialise. Under the current circumstances, the fate of over $3 billion accumulated under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) also hangs in the balance — at least for the next few months.

Viewed against this backdrop, one major question looms large; how much impact does the entire US military and civilian aid add to Pakistan’s GDP? If a study by the Woodrow Wilson Centre, carried out by its former vice-president Shahid Javed Burki, were any indicator, Pakistan can survive (without cash assistance from the United States).

“If the US civilian assistance is completely withdrawn, it will only have an impact of 0.14 per cent on Pakistan’s GDP growth.” (The News, Karachi, April 29, 2011)

Shahid Javed Burki, a former finance minister, reckons that around 40 per cent of that amount goes to the American consultants and Pakistan only receives approximately 60 per cent of the pledged aid. (In his book Cables from Kabul, former British ambassador to Kabul Sherard Cowper-Coles also speaks of the same percentages, saying “a good 40 per cent of the US money goes back to the United States in service charges and consultant fees).

Pakistani military officials seem to stand firm on their rejection of the American assistance under the current circumstances. The GHQ also insists the CSF reimbursements must not be touted as “assistance”, and hope they can survive without the assistance — mostly used military hardware and some hard cash.

But largely, the US money and hardware is not as important as Washington’s pleasure and its weightage in the international finance institutions and finance markets. That is where the US displeasure could pinch and aggravate Pakistan’s internal economic crisis. The country needs goodwill and regardless of the merits or otherwise of the American “aid and assistance”, the absence of Washington’s goodwill at international forum does matter a lot for the country. And this is what all power-wielders have to keep in mind in the larger and longer interest of the country and its teeming millions.

 

(Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and a Fellow of International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, Tokyo.)

   


 

Challenges for Bilawal
knee-deep in his family business — politics — he faces the daunting task to resurrect the PPP

By Naziha Syed Ali

Pity the young man, all the pelf and privilege notwithstanding. Other well-heeled, recently returned graduates from universities abroad are probably still settling back home, and testing the waters of family-owned businesses. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, on the other hand, is not only knee-deep in his family business — politics — he’s the poster boy in the campaign to resurrect the Pakistan People’s Party and turn it once again into the election-winning entity that it once was. Even though at 23 years of age, he’s two years shy of being eligible to stand for election himself.

Bilawal’s transition to a high-profile political role was evident during President Zardari’s recent sojourn in Dubai when he chaired party meetings with Prime Minister Gilani, and met with the PPP’s coalition partners.

Reportedly, Bilawal himself has been keen to enter the political arena, but if he is undaunted by the task ahead of him, it is evidence of his youth and inexperience, both of which are among the many challenges that lie ahead of him.

A comparison that springs to mind is Rahul Gandhi — another young man from a prominent political family who lost a parent to a terrorist attack. Rahul was nearly in his mid-30s before he stood for election from his family constituency of Amethi and it was another three years before he took on a role in the running of the Congress party. Those were years in which his political skills were honed and polished.

Bilawal, on the other hand, was appointed chairman of the PPP immediately after his mother’s death when he was just 19-year-old and has been thrust into the limelight well before he has had the chance to acquire political maturity. The sole reason behind his appointment as party chief was to perpetuate the cult of Bhutto, which is a reflection of the immaturity of the political system in this country.

However, the cult of Bhutto may ironically have met its nemesis in the person of what one might politely describe as its most famous in-law. For President Zardari’s legacy is perhaps the biggest challenge of all to Bilawal’s political aspirations. The misgovernance displayed time and again by the PPP government and the allegations of corruption that have stuck to Zardari closer than a flea to a dog’s collar have deeply compromised the national support that the party once enjoyed.

However, it is still possible that the ultra-constitutional and PPP-specific steps that have consistently been taken in the past four years to bring the government to its knees will help the party cast itself in the role of a victim. Bilawal, with his thus far unsullied image and undeniably emotive role as Benazir’s son, may be able to work that angle successfully.

Outside Sindh, in the rest of the country, the disenchantment with the PPP has gone beyond where an appeal to the emotions is even a viable tactic, and there are other heavyweights in the arena — the PML-N, the PML-Q, the ANP, the JI and the PTI, to name but a few. In Sindh there are no real alternatives to the PPP; the few nationalist parties in the fray may be able to make some inroads, particularly on the issue of the continuing misery of the flood victims, but they are unlikely to change the political complexion of the province.

There are thus multiple challenges that lie before Bilawal. But while his youth is a handicap, it may also hold the key to his salvation. For thanks in part to the Twitter generation that drove the Arab Spring and, in the local context, to Imran Khan’s reenergising that segment of the population as a potential votebank, youth is the buzzword in today’s politics. Nawaz Sharif’s daughter, Maryam, and his nephew, Hamza, have also been drafted in to staunch the flow of young people towards the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf. This demographic is where Bilawal too should focus his energies, both in terms of tailoring his message and also through reinvigorating his party’s youth wing.

First and foremost though, Bilawal needs to become part of the political process. To that end, the best thing would be for the People’s Party to sit in the opposition for a few years while the grandson of its founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, builds it up. But like all expedient politicians, the Bhuttos too cannot resist the temptation to come into power.

The sense of entitlement that is part and parcel of the ruling elite will only take Bilawal so far in the present circumstances. When the time comes, winning a seat from Lyari or any of the PPP strongholds in interior Sindh should be a walk in the park, but whether he is destined to be a national leader or merely a provincial one is dependent on the acquisition of hardcore political skills that are necessary to swim in the sea of sharks that is Pakistan’s political landscape.

Furthermore, to truly revive his party across the country, he needs to make it attractive once again to the disadvantaged classes from where it drew its original support. And for this purpose, Bilawal could do nothing better than to take it closer to its roots as far as practical. But, whether he will be able to carve out a place for himself at a table where Zardari is seated at the other end is another story.

 

 

Yeh Woh
With friends like these …

By Masud Alam

Pakistan is not a failed state … as yet. But it’s sure to be one if it continues to import from China.

Of course we could achieve failure on our own but Chinese goods help. What made our railways run out of steam? Chinese locomotives of course. What has made PAF a cheap and cheerful lot that can’t even shoot down toy planes carrying deadly missiles? Chinese fighter jets that are to be the mainstay for years to come. Why is suicide becoming so fashionable among Indian farmers and switching to petty crime among their Pakistani counterparts? Chinese farm produce, what else. The ethnic Kashmiris who reconciled their original culture with that of their adopted Pak land by eating raajma (kidney beans) grown in Punjab, twice a week, are deprived of their identity with the markets stocked up on the beans imported from China. Even the good old lime, coriander, mint … all is now coming from a field on the other side of the mountains.

Don’t get me wrong, China is a great country and its people are ingenuous and hard working. They mass produce everything other than babies, as opposed to us Pakistanis who produce nothing but. I’ll go to the extent of terming it the US of Asia which will eventually take over the US of America. And I’ve always believed the state propaganda about the two countries’ friendship being higher than Himalayas and deeper than Arabian Sea. I’ve been among the schoolchildren who greeted Chinese leaders on their visits to Pakistan with the slogan of ‘Pak Chin yoi, wong toye’ (I am quoting from a patriotic but unreliable memory here and wouldn’t want to be responsible for a translation or spelling error. All I know is it meant: Pak China friendship zindabad or something to that effect). But when it comes to food, we can only enjoy Chinese produce if we also import taste buds from our friendly neighbourhood exporter, especially if at some point in future we’ll be required to buy Chinese Sindhri variety for our riverside mango party.

The great country has mastered the art of making everything affordable for the middle classes the world over, which should be lauded as a philanthropic initiative. The Chinese manufacturers and traders insist on calling it business though. And Pakistanis buy the stuff with the same fatalistic enthusiasm with which they invest in lottery — if it works out, great, if not, the money was going to be wasted on something else anyways. We are suckers by choice, and China appreciates that.

A roadside vendor in Faizabad is selling prescription glasses for Rs40, with frame and all. What kind of business is that? Someone made the lenses in the basement of their house in an unpronounceable town in south western China, someone else made the frame, a trader whose mere name will make a Pakistani maiden blush spent money on transporting the finished product across the border, another trader on this side received the shipment and distributed it to footpath vendors across the country, each one of them earned some profit, and the final sale price in Islamabad is still less than half a dollar? If this is not a conspiracy, I wonder what is. Though I can’t see what the objective of this conspiracy is. But then again I may be wearing prescription glasses made in China.

We have air conditioners that work fine when they are not required and die suddenly when needed. Our transistor radios fail to catch the frequency of the FM station that is beaming from the next street. The mobile phones stop being mobile or phones within six months of purchase. The Gucci sunglasses bought for Rs100 are facilitating the ultra violet rays sneaking into our irises … because they are all made in China. But the last nail in our state coffin is going to be the cigarette lighters.

This commodity, for which we dumped our match boxes and are now totally dependent on China, is turning us into a nation of losers. The shopkeeper selling the lighter tries it in front of you and it works. You hold it in your own hand and try it again, it works. You pay for it, walk out the shop and take out a cigarette to smoke, the lighter stops working. Or in the middle of the night the lighter dies on you still half full with gasoline. And everyone knows no country can avoid being a failed state if its population can’t light up when they want to.

 

[email protected]

 

 

tribute
The life he wrote
Christopher Hitchens was known as a public intellectual of great courage and learning and a star writer for influential publications

By Dr Arif Azad

When Christopher Hitchens was diagnosed with a malignant form of esophageal cancer in 2010, he reacted to the diagnosis in a characteristically combative style by quickening the pace of his engagement with his inhabited world. Until weeks before his death, he continued with his deadlines in business as usual, without evincing any hint of pity. And in this, he did not let anyone else become interpreter of his maladies. He himself wrote eloquently about his disease and its fatal outcome.

Indeed the last column he contributed to Vanity Fair dealt with the issue of how he was coping with the illness, again in his characteristic combative and lively, imaginative style. Like his last days, he lived his large-sized life with zest, confabulating with his friends and foes, and fulminating against the powerful (his essays and books punctured the myths surrounding hallowed figures such as Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton and Mother Teresa).

I was privileged to be a witness to his intellectual pugilism on full display after the US invasion of Iraq when Hitchens came to speak at the socialist bookshop in London. With cameras in attendance, he laid out his oratorical skills by tearing into his erstwhile former comrades in left-politics with a mix of sharp wit and deep historical knowledge. This was vintage Hitchens’ performance which left everyone impressed; it was a brilliant speech studded with a wealth of references irrespective of whether all those assembled agreed with him or not. Even his hatred for his former comrades and love for new found friends was educative in its scholarly sweep. Perhaps this is where his erudition as a scholar-activist lay.

Born into a family of modest means in 1949, Christopher Hitchens’ parents sent him to a private school which led to his entry into Oxford from where he graduated. At Oxford, he fell in with fellow left-leaning students — an experience which shaped him intellectually and politically. Politically, he became internationalist in his sympathies and interests and intellectually he grew dissident (contrarian he preferred to be described) after the fashion of Trotsky.

Soon after his graduation, he began his journalistic career when he joined the leading British left-wing weekly New Statesman in the late 1970s. Here he formed lasting friendship with a trio of emerging writers: Julian Barnes, Ian McEwen and Martin Amis. During those years, he travelled widely and wrote on almost everything that caught his fancy with style, wit and insight. In fact his total political engagement with left-wing causes and linguistic lust for producing a stylish copy blended so harmoniously in him that he came to be dubbed by some as the pamphleteer of Tom Paine’s stature. (Hitchens’ love for Karl Marx’s best pamphlet ‘18th Burmaire of Louis Bonaparte’ was well-known.) Yet his interests ranged far beyond Marxism.

He widely read literature and his fascination for George Orwell grew with the passage of time. As he moved away from his leftist past, he came to admire George Orwell more and more. This was manifest in his book ‘Why Orwell matters’ which came out in 2002. Like his heroes, he did not confine himself to writing. In true fashion typical of Tom Paine, he engaged ferociously in heated and sustained public conversation and disputation on issues of the day. Here, too, he left his mark. Not surprisingly he came to be ranked as one of the best debating wit around, always in demand on media outlets. Yet he felt Britain too confining for his wide ranging interests and expanded mental canvass.

Seizing on a half chancing of working for the liberal US weekly Nation, he left for the US in 1981. For the next two decades he wrote a ‘Minority Report Column’ for the magazine before falling out with the Nation’s collective opposition to the US invasion of Iraq. This marked a turning point in Hitchens’ intellectual odyssey which saw him staging a dramatic U-turn from his anti-Vietnam left-wings views to neo-con right wing views telescoped in his passionate advocacy for the US invasion of Iraq.

While his more sympathetic friends put it down to his fear of Islamofascim, his erstwhile comrades from his left days saw him as a renegade. The result was ferocious verbal and written spats between Hitchens and stars of the Anglo-American left such as Tariq Ali, George Galloway, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said and Alexander Cockburn. In particular, heart-aching was his break up with Edward Said, with whom he had worked closely over the year in raising the plight and powerlessness of the Palestinians. More significantly, Hitchens’ shift to pro-war stance also put him at odds with his brother Peter Hitchens, a prominent journalist and commentator.

By all accounts, Hitchens flowered intellectually in the US. As his name and fame as a public intellectual of great courage and learning spread, he was enlisted by influential publications such as the Vanity Fair and the Atlantic monthly as their star writer. During this time he also established his toehold in the academia as the visiting professor at New York School for Social Research.

In all, Hitchens authored eleven books, with five more as a co-author, apart from a number of other books showcasing his collected essays. In 2010, he published his memoir ‘Hitch-22’ which attracted wide-spread critical notice and bulged up his family’s pocket for the first time in all the years of his writing, fighting and speaking life.

In short, the life he wrote is worthy of celebration and emulation all over the world where conviction politics and the art of public reasoning are being systematically snuffed out of the public sphere. As for his decision to adopt journalism as a profession, the following words from his memoir should be heeded in Pakistan, “I became a journalist partly so that I would not have to rely on the press for my information”. The best tribute to this great public intellectual of our time consists in following his advice on what constitutes the hallowed conception of public spirited journalism.

 

Dr Arif Azad, a development consultant, is a social and public policy specialist based in Islamabad.

 

 

 

 

Extreme defence
Difa-e-Pakistan Conference is being viewed as an attempt by the banned groups to revive themselves and defend the military establishment on the Western front 

By Waqar Gillani

Last Sunday, the vast ground at Minar-e-Pakistan hosted thousands of charged Islamists of banned and extremist groups. The backstage was covered with a 60 feet long yellow hoarding calling the Muslims to Jihad and showing the pictures of Pakistan Army’s arsenals including missiles, tanks, marines and fighter jets as a symbol of war and jihad against, what the participants of the gathering termed, ‘evil axis’.

The gathering, a joint show by extremist religious groups having direct or indirect stakes in Afghanistan, was viewed by analysts as an attempt by the banned groups to revive and reorganise themselves. Jamatud Dawa, the defunct Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, led by Maulana Samiul Haq, who is considered one of the mentors of Taliban, defunct Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Jamaat-e-Islami and over two dozen other religious and like-minded political leaders like Ijazul Haq and Sheikh Rasheed were all there speaking to a crowd of not less than 70,000 people.

The speeches rejected American interference in the region, showed support to the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan and denounced the Pakistani government for awarding the Most Favourite Nation (MFN) status to neighbouring India.

The conference was named ‘Difa-e-Pakistan Conference’ (Defence of Pakistan) with a one-point agenda — to wage Jihad against India and America. It was arranged under the banner of newly-created Difa-e-Pakistan Council — an alliance of over 40 relegious and political groups — led by Maulana Samiul Haq. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of JuD, also addressed the rally.

Political analyst Prof Hasan Askari Rizvi terms the holding of this rally alarming. “There are three angles of this conference,” he says, adding, “It seems JuD has started playing an active role in Pakistan’s domestic politics, which was not there in the past.” The other aspect of the rally, he says, is an effort to revive banned and defunct groups like Sipah-e- Sahaba Pakistan under such platforms from where they can organise themselves and operate easily.

Recalling the hue and cry at Kerry-Lugar Bill, Raymond Davis protests, and now Nato strike at Pakistani checkpost, Rizvi says the military has always encouraged these groups whenever it needed them. “This seems another bid to promote anti-Americanism. Such gatherings and opportunities have also enabled these groups to show their strength. Now they have developed their structures at grass-root level. Such gatherings reinforce the negative image of Pakistan at the international level, making it difficult to defend Pakistan at the United Nations.” However, Rizvi says, it is premature to say that these groups are preparing to jump into politics after forming an alliance for the next elections. The council also plans to organise similar gatherings in Rawalpindi and Karachi by February 2012.

“The US wants to eliminate Pakistan’s nuclear power. Afghans and Pakistanis are Muslim brothers and American attacks from the Pakistani air bases cannot be tolerated any more,” said Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of JuD, speaking at the rally. “We will also lobby in the parliament to oppose the MFN status to India.”

Muhammad Amir Rana, Director Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), takes such announcements and warnings by these militant groups as signals to America by the Pakistani military establishment that the stakeholders in Afghanistan are united and ready to talk. “This can also be seen as a pressure tactic, indicating to America that it will have to accept some Pakistani terms and conditions for closing the war-theatre in Afghanistan.”

Rana believes these groups are directly or indirectly associated with Taliban at political level. He too rules out the possibility of any election alliance as a result of such gatherings.

“Extremism and militancy has become a permanent feature of Pakistan and this situation will either continue or get worse unless the state comes up with a commitment to rein in such groups,” Rizvi concludes.

 

[email protected]



Another front
Civil Society Front sprang out of nowhere in Lahore last week to protest the Nato strike against Pakistani soldiers

By Aoun Sahi

On Thursday December 15, 2011, scores of ‘activists’ gathered outside the Lahore Press Club to protest against the Nato attack on Pakistani troops. They paid tribute to soldiers who lost their lives in the attack by lighting candles and lamps. An illuminated ‘PAKISTAN’ was also designed with hundreds of candles to give a message of solidarity with the army against any invader.

The rally demanded the government cut off the Nato supplies on a permanent basis and plead the case of the Nato attack in the UN Security Council. The protesters were carrying national flags, placards and banners inscribed with pro-military, anti-Nato slogans like ‘Pak fauj zindabad’ (long live Pakistan Army), ‘America murdabad’ (death to America) and ‘Amrikio bhag jao’ (American run away). They also burnt the effigy of US President Obama. Patriotic songs were sung on loud speakers on the road, causing a major traffic blockade in the city for more than two hours.

They were all members of the Civil Society Front (CSF), a name never heard of before. People came together on the request of Dr Anjum Amjad, chairperson of the Front and PML-Q’s ex-MPA and wife of Dr Amjad Chaudhry who is chairman of a leading land developer company in the country. A day before the protest gathering, the Civil Society Front also got published advertisements against the Nato attacks in prominent spaces in mainstream English and Urdu language newspapers of the country.

Interestingly, no mainstream civil society face or organisation took part in this protest march. In fact, most of them say they are not familiar with this organisation. “I have never heard of this front in the past. It is neither part of the Pakistan NGO forum, a platform of all major NGOs of the country, nor associated with Joint Action Committee (JAC) for People’s Right, a platform of Lahore-based NGOs and civil society organisations,” says Mohammad Tahseen, Executive Director South Asia Partnership (SAP).

I.A. Rehman, director HRCP, says that it is not bad to have a new front of civil society in Lahore, but we need to see the motives behind it. “Most people in Pakistan along with civil society organisations have protested the Nato attacks, but some of them have been doing it for their interests. If somebody is an estate developer and also wants to work at Defence Housing Society, he or she will have to take care of their interests,” he tells TNS, adding that such organistions are established by those who have established “Pakistan Defence Council of Mullas.”

Farooq Tariq, spokesperson for the Labour Party Pakistan, goes further to elaborate the motives behind such organisations. “We have been in the field for the last 25 years, but never got the kind of press coverage this Front got in its first protest. This mystery can easily be solved by looking deep into the message of this front. It is totally pro-establishment. Its main objective is to show that establishment’s voice is the masses’ voice.” Tariq says that people behind the Front are either property dealers or traders and they are using their resources and contacts to malign the civil society of the country. He also questions the credibility of Rukham Khan, spokesperson CSF.

Rukham Khan, however, defends CSF, saying there are 20-25 organisations that hold monopoly on this sector and most of them do not connect them with the mainstream agenda of the society. “I have never seen them raising voice against the US role in Pakistan. They have also been giving an impression that civil society and NGOs are liberal and pro-West. There are several other civil society organisations and NGOs in the country too. We have formed the Civil Society Front to give them a voice,” he tells TNS.

“We do not need foreign funding for our organisations, so we will never toe their agenda. We manage most of the funding from our members which include people from corporate sector, trade organisations and social sector. I will be happy if I am termed a Pakistani agent instead of an American or Indian agent.”

Marvi Sirmad, an Islamabad-based civil society activist, believes that such organistions are established to legitimise the policy of establishment. “We saw such organisations and people after the Kerry-Lugar Bill, May 2 fiasco and Mehran base attack. They always have similar flags and slogans.”

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