not as usual
new political battlefield
In hot water
Piracy has become a serious threat to seafaring, costing the global economy somewhere between $7 and 12billion annually
It has been three months since 50-year-old Salahuddin Baloch was released by his captors and he is aching to get back to work. “I have given 29 years to seafaring and despite my ordeal I don’t have the luxury of switching professions,” he says.
Baloch, an engineer on a merchant vessel Rak Afrikana, was among a 26-member crew who had been abducted in April 2010, and held in captivity for eleven months by eleven Somali pirates. During this time, he says, there was continuous torture — both physical and emotional till their release.
Carrying steel, cars, cement etc, the ship, operated by Indian owners, was hijacked north of Seychelles. Initially demanding a ransom of $3.5 million, after eleven months, just when the ageing vessel was about to sink, the negotiated amount came down to $1.2 million after which the pirates abandoned the ship.
Tracing the history of piracy by Somali pirates, Captain Hashim Hasnain, a master mariner, specialising in seafaring security with the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC), says it started in 2005, adding grimly that “With a collapsed Somali government and the ongoing lawlessness, chances are this trend will only increase.”
Baloch, too, believes when “you get used to easy money, like the pirates have become” it is difficult to return to regular and honest hard work.
While the conventional navies have performed well during war times, they have failed to resolve the piracy problem and this has only given these pirates further impetus.
“It started when disgruntled Somali fishermen complained of foreign ships hurting their livelihood with illegal nets and dumping of toxic waste in the Indian Ocean,” Hasnain explains.
“Now it seems anyone and everyone in Somalia is in league. It’s virtually legalised and everyone gets a share,” says Hasnain who believes the pirates, local government, the port authorities etc. have an interest in the continuation of piracy. Under the circumstances, these pirates are well protected and it is virtually impossible to apprehend them. The pirate-infested waters at the moment are the Gulf of Aden, which links to the Red Sea and onward to the Suez Canal, a global energy shipment route.
With sea being the cheapest trade route, world trade is carried out by these ships laden with coal, oil and even war tanks. Once caught, they are only set free after the owners pay a handsome ransom.
A report by the London-based Chatham House had estimated piracy cost to the global economy somewhere between $7 and 12billion annually, of which, the think-tank said, Somali pirates are responsible for 95 per cent.
Data from the Malaysian-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a piracy reporting centre, reveals that there were 22 pirate attacks in 2000, rising to 108 in 2008. By 2010, there were 276 global attacks by pirates. According to IMB, some 54 people have been killed since 2006.
However, the economic losses have been enormous. The US-based non-governmental One Earth Future Foundation estimates that Somali pirates extorted some $177 million in ransom in 2009 and $238 million the following year.
What is even more unfortunate, the cost of combating piracy has also been tremendous. “Instead of boosting the shipping trade, improving ships and ports,” Hasnain says, “a lot of money is spent on installing anti-piracy equipment and re-routing ships, therefore using more fuel and more time.”
At the moment, Somali pirates are holding 24 vessels and 750 sailors hostage. “Till December 2010, there were 50 Pakistani mariners, but since then, 39 have been released, 11 being in captivity still,” informs Hasnain.
In 2009, in an attempt to counter piracy, a Combined Task Force 151 was set up under the UN Security Council. “There are between 16 to18 international navies with between 24-28 vessels that patrol the waters and provide protection to ships passing through the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean,” explains Hasnain. But he remains sceptical of the international policing system. “These forces are not united and the rules of engagement remain different.”
“The combined force cannot pre-empt an attack on a pirate ship by firing first. Even if pirates are apprehended, the best they can do is to deposit them back to Somalia. They cannot kill or put them on trial at sea as there is no legal framework for that,” says a frustrated Hasnain.
“There is no country along the coast that accepts these culprits and puts them on trial,” he says, adding that ships cannot carry this human cargo of pirates for months on their ships and bring them to their own country for trial.
While international regulations do not allow merchant ships to be armed, of late, there has been clamour for having armed guards on board. Even Baloch believes, “All these ships need to deter pirates from coming on board a merchant ship is a few armed guards.”
Hasnain, however, is not only sceptical but terms it to be an expensive proposition. Each armed guard, he says, costs $1,000 a day and they come in a team of four with the fourth man as their leader who costs $2,000. And ships take months to reach their destinations.
In view of the surge in piracy, the PNSC is in the process of fitting its fleet of 11 vessels with “non-lethal weapons” like acoustic cannons and laser guns. By the end of next month, the shipping company would also have fortified all its vessels.
“We are equipping it with citadels where there will be rations and toilet facilities and a satellite phone for the sailors to remain in contact with their base. Once they have retreated into that, a commando raid can be carried out without fear of sailors coming in the line of fire,” informs the PNSC spokesperson.
In addition, the PNSC has started a three-day refresher course on security training with more emphasis on the piracy. This is done every six months when the crew change hands and are about to board the vessel. “This is updated all the time as every time there is a new area about piracy that we learn,” he says.
Traders in Balochistan no more trust the government and security agencies and are wrapping up their businesses to avoid kidnapping
Militancy and violent crime have dramatically risen across Balochistan in the wake of military action that started in late 2005, aimed at forcefully quelling the latest Baloch insurgency waged to win greater autonomy for their resources-rich land. However, the government's failure to evolve a sincere and pragmatic strategy to resolve the issue amicably by conceding the genuine demands of Baloch people has driven the province into a state of chaos. The writ of the government has been limited to the only road where offices and official residences of the Balochistan chief minister, governor and chief secretary are located.
The poor performance of law enforcement agencies has left the citizens at the mercy of criminal gangs who are involved in every social crime from gun and drug trade to kidnapping for ransoms. These gangs whisk away their prey in broad daylight and even in some cases from security zones of Quetta without any fear.
"Over 70 such gangs are currently operating across the province in connivance with local law enforcement agencies (LEA) officials. They abduct traders for ransom under the very nose of administration," complains former president of Quetta Chambers of Commerce and Industries Siddique Kakar. His claim of LEAs officials' involvement in kidnapping for ransom is amply substantiated as on June 22, 2011 Quetta police busted a five-member gang of kidnappers of whom two are stated to be Balochistan Frontier Corps personnel.
The kidnappers do not even spare petty traders and their family members as in some cases they have released the abductees after receiving as meager amount as Rs100,000 as ransom. The increasing sense of insecurity among the local traders has prompted them to shift their businesses and assets to the cities where law and order situation is comparatively better. This trend has cast a very negative impact on business activities in the local market rendering a large number of people jobless. These daily wagers, a major portion of the local workforce, were employed by the local businessmen who are wrapping up their businesses and selling their assets literally on throw-away prices due to poor law and order situation, saying goodbye to their employees.
After being deprived of the means to earn livelihood for their families in a decent manner, these workers have been left with the only option to resort to crimes to feed their families.
"The provincial government has completely failed in ensuring security to the life and property of businessmen as kidnapping and robbery incidents are continuing unabated with scores of traders still in the custody of kidnappers," Kakar charged while talking to TNS. "The QCCI or other trader bodies do not know the exact number of victims as the heirs of abductees directly deal with kidnappers without informing the trader bodies fearing that it might jeopardise the situation. The kidnapped person's family avoids sharing information with police because none of the abducted trader had been released as a result of police efforts."
The trader community has got tired of staging protest demonstrations and observing strikes to draw the government's attention towards safety of the citizens. "We no longer believe in the provincial government and its agencies and the traders should be allowed to carry weapons to protect themselves," Haji Mardan, a member of Markazi Anjuman-e-Tajran Quetta, tells TNS. He also called upon the media to provide due coverage to the incidents of kidnapping in Balochistan.
However, Deputy Inspector General of Balochistan Police Hamid Shakil challenges the traders' claim, saying a large number of kidnappers' gangs are operating in the province and the police have already busted about 80 such rings and their cases are being heard in the courts of law. "Currently, there are two potential gangs involved in kidnapping for ransom and police have succeeded in finding clues about their whereabouts and would soon bring them to book."
Balochistan Home and Tribal Affairs Secretary Zaffarullah Baloch acknowledged the poor capacity of Levies force to curb crimes and said the provincial government would revamp the force. "The Levies force would not only be trained on modern lines but also provided with modern facilities to effectively cope with crimes in their respective areas."
It’s official: We are a nation of the depressed, living on the wings of mind-altering substances and dying of anger and frustration.
But contrary to popular belief, the cause of our collective psychosis is not Asif Ali Zardari — though if he or his party men can make a quick billion out of a national disease, that’s merely a fringe benefit of the job they hold. What makes us sad, bad and mad is global meltdown of economy, according to the United Nations; long spells of power outages, if you believe health professionals in Islamabad; and substandard whiskey sold at exorbitant price, if you want to hear the truth from me.
The world economy derailed in 2008-09. It started going bad in the US, spread through Europe, crippled parts of Asia and almost turned the sheikhdom of Dubai into a modern-day example of riches to rags. But we were assured that Pakistan was not at risk as the crisis was hitting functioning economies and our country, thankfully, had no economy to speak of. Apparently, we have an economy now because the UN is telling us Pakistan is among five countries with highest prevalence of adverse social consequences of the financial crisis, the most notable being depression, and the likely surge in suicides because of it.
Of course the bullet fired three years ago had to hit us when everyone else has got their wounds treated and bandaged. And how bad are we hurt? Food shortages; high stress levels; family conflicts and break-ups; child abandonment, abuse and trafficking; widening of gender gap in terms of education and income; violent crimes … the list is long and frightening, but nothing unfamiliar there. All of the above applied to our society much before the crisis.
Our own doctors can be more creative in diagnosing a societal ill — when they are not on strike, or not too busy minting money at their private practices. They too see psychological disorders on the rise, but their investigation puts the blame on ‘sleepless nights and restless days’ — a poetic expression for good old power outages. A news report informs us that each of the three government-run hospitals in Rawalpindi is receiving 60 patients every day, with complaints of anxiety, insomnia, migraine, mood swings and other assorted symptoms of mental illness. The diagnosis may be brilliant but the hospitals have little to offer other than the advice that children should be ‘kept in cool places’.
Yet another explanation for our dopey behaviour is offered by a special report that reveals that by last year there were nine million junkies in Pakistan and growing at the rate of 0.6 million a year. The inference here is that you are either crazy to use drugs, or you become one after sustained use, and the number of crazies is increasing either way. But further down the story, the dependence on narcotics is linked with ‘stress, anxiety, boredom, depression …’ So it’s plain for everyone to see, psychological ailments are the cause, not the result of drug use. Or alcohol consumption for that matter.
I read the three stories synthesized above, in the same day’s newspaper. And I get the picture the Ban Ki Moons of this world will never get even if they start reading Pakistani papers. One, we have always been crazy. I was in seventh grade when I first read a newspaper, and that because my English teacher made it mandatory for the class. The only story I remember from that time is the one in which a psychologist had claimed that one out of every six Pakistanis suffers from some kind of psychological disorder. Two, we have been sick long enough to care what caused it and if there is a cure for it. And three, cannabis, opium (and its processed form, heroin), and alcohol are our favourite fixes. Have been so for as long as I remember. We don’t ‘abuse’ these substances though; we ‘use’ them to reduce the hurt of being abused by the state.
What has changed in recent years is the abuse has doubled while the fix is being taken away from us. It’s more difficult to find unadulterated narcotics these days than to seek a kilo of pure desi ghee. And even the substandard variety is unaffordable for a vast majority. Of course this can’t go on for long. Something will have to give. The state will have to provide us with clean and affordable drugs or will have to stop hurting us.
Several encouraging trends surfaced during the recently held AJK elections which deserve a constant civil society support
After a long and hectic electioneering in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan People’s Party has emerged as victorious, securing most of the seats in the parliament, boosting the morale of the PPP leaders and workers. In a couple of days a PPP’s nominee will assume the office of prime minister of AJK.
Since the local elected representatives have no say in the key decision-making process, no one within the party knows who will be the next premier. They will have to follow whatever the co-chairman of the PPP, Asif Ali Zardari, decides. A number of aspirants are running for the top slot. However, two major candidates Barrister Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry and Chaudhry Abdul Majeed have emerged as the strongest contenders for the post of the prime minister. Muslim Conference President Sardar Attique is also trying hard to get the office of the president and ministries for his elected assembly members as he is aware that his career would take a plunge otherwise.
Pakistan’s security establishment has traditionally been calling the shots in the AJK’s affairs. President Zardari would likely seek their preference before making any major decision. It is heartening that the establishment has learned some lessons from its previous misadventures in AJK. This time no party blamed the intelligence agencies for backing anybody anywhere in the entire AJK which is a good omen. One can hope that they would give freehand to the PPP legislators and party to elect whosoever they want and would not try to run the AJK government on their whims.
The poll was expected to gauge the popularity of the PPP and as a result the PPP put its entire state machinery and resources in action to win the election. This win could also discredit the recent opinion polls which had indicated that the PPP’s support base was shrinking. To make AJK’s elections a success story for the party, Prime Minister of Pakistan Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani had pledged huge development projects in AJK during the election campaign ranging from medical college to highways. Additionally, it is believed that millions of rupees were distributed by the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) to buy voters.
A full-fledged cell in the President’s House was reportedly formed which spearheaded the election campaign. It was decided that the government resources would not be used for election campaign, but the premiers of Pakistan and AJK both blatantly violated the rules. The Election Commission miserably failed to uphold the elections’ code of conduct. It underlines the need of an independent election commission in the area to enforce the code of conduct.
The people of AJK had had enough of the rule of Muslim Conference which could not deliver anything during its 10 years stint in power. Its members were frequently switching their loyalties from one camp to another only to advance their own vested interests. Just in five years, AJK saw four prime ministers which had practically paralysed the entire administration in Muzaffarabad and eventually made the Muslim Conference a non-entity.
Nawaz Sharif introduced his party as an anti-establishment party, flagging up several very important issues such as the Kargil war which had caused the ouster of his own government. He said that the Kargil adventure had derailed the India-Pakistan dialogue otherwise Kashmir issue could have been settled long time ago. He also took on the establishment for playing a king-maker’s role in AJK.
Raja Farooq Haider, who heads PML-N’s AJK chapter and had been championing the devolution of powers from Islamabad to Muzaffarabad, won two seats from Muzaffarabad. It shows that urban areas are more conscious of their rights and frustrated with the status quo forces.
Several other encouraging trends also surfaced which deserve constant civil society support. A number of political dynasties have failed to make it to the assembly. President of AJK Raja Zulqarnain Khan’s son Ziaul Qamar, former President Sardar Ibrahim Khan’s son Sardar Khalid Ibrahim, former Prime Minister Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan’s son Farooq Sikandar and Sardar Attique Khan’s son Usman Attique have lost their family seats.
Abid Siddique, a noted political activist, observes that over 50 per cent voters’ age was below 30 years who brought this change in the decades old status quo. Additionally, overseas Kashmiris also participated in the elections in a big way this time. Around 15,000 voters returned home from UK and the Middle East to support their candidates. The wealthy diaspora also played a vital role in introducing a new phase in the region’s political outlook.
Above all the local vernacular media is fast growing in the entire region. Over a dozen Urdu newspapers not only regularly publish for AJK but also have increased their circulation. Their impact on local politics and socio-economic issues is higher than the Islamabad-based mainstream newspapers. Their internet editions are widely popular among Kashmiri diaspora. Likewise, half a dozen FM radio channels had been constantly providing news and views to the polls. Social media also was widely used to promote party agendas in this election particularly by Raja Farooq Haider who used Facebook as a tool to enhance his image among youth of AJK.
The traditional anti-India tirade was also missing in the elections’ discourse. However, talk about the resolution of Kashmir was sometimes heard. All major political parties favoured peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Muslim Conference not only publically supported the ongoing intra-Jammu and Kashmir trade and travel but also urged both India and Pakistan to open all the traditional trade and travel routes between the two parts of Jammu and Kashmir.
It is a matter of fact that no party put forward an elaborate party manifesto containing comprehensive future plan of action to develop AJK and sort out its uneven relationship with Islamabad. Hardly any party showed its policy on how it would want to restructure Muzaffarabad-Islamabad relations as the present relationship can be best described as client-master which needs to be revisited.
Several other contentious issues also need urgent attention of the upcoming PPP government such as the development of mega hydro power generation projects by Islamabad where it has not made any formal agreement with the local government. The parallel administration run by the Kashmir Council should be drastically curtailed as it undermines the elected government’s democratic right to rule.
Electioneering trends seem a precursor of the next general elections in Pakistan
By Waqar Gillani
The Azad Jammu and Kashmir general elections, held on June 26, have started changing the shades and colours of political spectrum of the country, resulting in the break-up (or at least till now) of the Islamabad ruling coalition.
Political parties have challenged the elections in courts alleging rigging, influence and manipulation by the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, which has bagged simple majority in the newly-elected legislative house of the Kashmir Assembly.
The race for the premier’s slot is in the background as strong voices are calling for re-election. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has parted ways with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) over two seats of the AJK Assembly, and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has moved courts to declare the elections null and void.
For the first time, the mainstream political leadership of the country targeted Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) general elections to ramp up their national political stature. So, the PPP and the PML-N took to the battlefield — in Muzaffarbad, the capital of AJK along River Neelum.
Almost every vehicle, shop and wall of the city situated on the bank of River Neelum was covered with political hoardings, banners and slogans.
For the past few days, the political activists have either been celebrating the victory of their candidates or violently protesting alleged rigging and demanding re-election.
The sizeable rallies carrying workers on four-wheelers, motorbikes and even rickshaws and public transport, with their party flags, resorted to high-pitched slogans, firecrackers and firing in the air, causing long-spelled traffic jams on the main road of the capital.
“People are more involved, more aware, and the candidates are more active and focused on their campaign because of the mainstream political touch,” says Hasnain, a 25-year-old student, who works part time in a local restaurant. “This is because of mainstream parties’ jumping into the AJK politics which is getting extensive coverage in the media.”
A visit to the capital reveals the growing popularity of mainstream political parties as compared to the local groups and parties. “Candidates had to work hard this time going from house to house which we have never seen in the past,” 55-year-old shopkeeper Abdul Hameed tells TNS.
Though the PPP gained simple majority, political stalwarts of AJK, including former prime ministers Barrister Sultan Mahmood, Raja Farooq Haider, Sardar Yaqoob and Sardar Attique Ahmed, also made their way to the legislative house.
The AJK legislative assembly has 49 seats including nine reserved seats. The electoral college of 41 members of the newly-elected 9th AJK Legislative Assembly will elect lawmakers against eight reserved seats, including five for women and one each for technocrats, religious scholars and overseas Jammu & Kashmir people.
Out of the 41 general seats, elections on four seats were postponed due to security reasons. The AJK Election Commission has directed re-election on one seat bringing the number of seats (till the filing of this report) to 36. The PPP is ahead with 20 seats so far, the PML-N has bagged eight and the Muslim Conference (ML) of AJK has secured four seats, while two independent candidates have also made their way to the assembly, according to the unofficial results.
Four PPP candidates are in the run for the premiership with PPP AJK President Chaudhry Abdul Majeed and Sultan Mahmood as the main contestants. All the four candidates, reportedly, have moved to Islamabad to rub shoulders with the party’s top leadership.
“This time the Pakistani state’s direct involvement in the AJK elections by announcing development schemes and granting aids has badly affected the Kashmir cause and its independently-governed status,” alleges Sardar Attique Ahmad who is heading the Muslim Conference.
“There is no rigging, but the involvement of two mainstream parties and speeches by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharif accelerated the campaign and charged the atmosphere,” says Barrister Sultan Mahmood.
Electioneering trends in AJK with violent political hustle bustle, hate speeches, clashes and allegations of rigging seem a precursor of the upcoming general elections in Pakistan. “These were not fair elections of AJK but a rehearsal for the upcoming general elections of Pakistan,” says Attique.
The legislature faces a daunting task to replace baradrism and favouritism with merit and justice
By Murtaza Ali Shah
As the fervour surrounding the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly election heated up a few days ago, a news item in a nationwide circulating newspaper encapsulated the ugly spirit of what is the biggest and the most obnoxious form of prejudice and xenophobia.
“PML-N will pay a heavy price if it ignores the wishes of the majority baradri (name deliberately omitted here) in Bagh and allots ticket to a minority baradri candidate (with only a few hundred votes). The majority baradri is outraged and may revolt over the PML-N decision,” the news item thundered, mentioning a UK-based businessman who was passionate enough about the Kashmir election, campaigned hard and came very close to winning the party nomination. But that was not to be as the party clearly couldn’t afford to lose the majority baradri’s vote.
The vote frenzy is over and passions subsided but they have left in their wake an ugly reminder to hundreds of thousands of those Kashmiris who, unfortunately, are born in so-called tribes, clans or affiliations with fewer votes. This racism has destroyed many lives. Today, Kashmir remains a bitterly divided society on baradri lines where those from the majority baradris — such as Chaudhrys, Rajas, Sudhans, and Mughals — call the shots while the minority baradri members groan under an inherently unjust system which is plaguing their lives. The fissures were laid bare starkly when Nawaz Sharif launched his PML-N in Azad Kashmir. Today, Pakistan People’s Party is effectively run by Chaudhrys while the PML-N is under the firm control of Rajas.
Jobs and favours are given not on the basis of merit or ability but they go in the way of political cronies, who happen to share the same surnames, caste and baradri.
The system of prejudice is so deep-rooted that targeting the voiceless and the hapless starts at the school level where teachers play a leading role in executing the racist agenda — and this injustice is meted out at the college and university level too. The discrimination is all pervasive, omnipresent and for all to feel and see but no voices are raised. A few exceptions who would protest are silenced and sidelined.
An area with no industry — and thus without any real employment — the only sectors in AJK offering jobs are education, health and local administrations. These sectors are run as private fiefdoms by the sitting legislators who ensure that their henchmen possess the right posts to ensure local control of politics and everyday life. There is no space and scope for talent and ability to get these posts. The talent, indeed, is discouraged and those with potential are shunted or hung out to dry.
There are examples of hundreds of those brilliant, highly educated people, from backgrounds with lower votes, who wouldn’t be able to become a primary school teacher locally, yet they have excelled as doctors, engineers, academics and military officers in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world.
The effects of this curse are poor community relations, lack of trust, proliferation of petty interest groups, emigration of the local talent to Pakistan and elsewhere in the world and the absence of a genuine, popular leadership. And most alarmingly of all, the phenomenal rise in sectarianism and intolerance.
This needs to change and the whole dynamics and the very character of the politics in AJK needs to undergo a radical progressive reform. In the 21st century, the social contract between the people and their representatives needs to be based on politics of merit and principles, and not on filthy concepts of racial and clan prejudice.
To believe that anything tangible will occur in the short term will be naïve, but the first step must be taken for the long haul. There are reasons to be optimistic here as opportunities for greater political accountability and democratic reformation lie ahead. The serious entry of the PML-N and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) into AJK political scenario is of huge importance. The shape of AJK politics has changed forever and both these parties have an important role to play.
Now is the time to grasp the opportunity and not let another generation go waste in the dark hole of baradrism. The campaign against baradrism must be the central plank of all the parties, wooing for influence in Azad Kashmir.
The writer, a native of Bagh Azad Kashmir, works for GEO TV and Jang Group of Newspapers from London. email: firstname.lastname@example.org