tragedy
The invisible hand
In the wake of Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder, the best thing we can do for this country’s
embattled non-Muslim peoples is to highlight how we remain hostage even now to the ideology of national security
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
It is telling that there has not been nearly as much of an uproar amongst the chattering classes about Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder as there was two months earlier for Salmaan Taseer. A number of explanations come to mind: first, that the liberals are just tired after two months of relatively intensive activism; second, that a large number of liberals share Taseer’s social circle but have no direct connection to the family and friends of Shahbaz Bhatti; and third that the Raymond Davis affair has really caused people to sit up and rethink their political positions.

women’sday
Against all odds
Maternal healthcare remains a challenge under the harsh conditions of Thar.
by Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam
Somewhere in a posh neighbourhood in the bustling metropolis called Karachi, a mother gets up dizzily at the sound of the alarm, and gets ready for the day ahead. A regular day where she will drop off her two children to an upscale school after they have a hearty breakfast of pancakes and eggs, and get ready for her 10 O’ clock appointment with an obstetrician who will give her the regular antenatal checkup as this mother is expecting for the third time. She has been listening to her doctor’s advice -- her diet is wholesome, her sugar and blood pressure levels are fine, and she is getting the needed dose of vitamins, sleep and care at home.
At a distance of six and a half hours by car from Karachi, down the National Highway, in the heart of the district of Tharparkar, in a small village called Mithrao Chakar, another mother gets up early in the morning. It is twilight and she wakes up to burn a small lantern and gets ready for the day ahead. A regular day where she will walk a good ten kilometres and collect water from the nearest pond, and bring it in three clay pots, two of which will be balanced on her head and one under her arm. She will cook one, or if in luck, two meals for her family.

On the brink
We need to believe in our own self to defeat the menace of extremism
By Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri
Pakistan is going through one of the worst phases of its history. Financial crisis, political instability, energy crisis, growing poverty, increasing American influence, and on top of it menace of extremism and violence all of these are destroying the basic fabric of our society. It is difficult to determine which crisis is leading to which one. However, one thing is certain that all of the above mentioned problems reinforce each other and cumulative damage caused by them is gradually turning irreparable.

governance
Democracy at the local level
Provinces need to urgently adopt precise timetables
for the passing of local government laws
By Geoffrey
Weichselbaum and Katherine Vittum
While Pakistan has made significant gains in deepening the democracy that its people worked hard to achieve in 2008, democratic institutions continue to require serious reforms in order to empower citizens and ensure sustained civilian rule. Many reforms are outstanding at the national level -- such as the mechanics of devolving administrative powers and building the policy capacity of the provinces. This will take time. Perhaps most urgently, local elections have not taken place since 2005, and the local government system is in flux. Provinces have been slow to prepare new legislation for local governance and how elections will take place at the local level. These are urgent issues for Pakistan’s emerging democratic credentials.

A regional solution
Media of Pakistan and Afghanistan, by working together, can play an important role for better understanding of complex issues
By Amir Zia
Pakistani media has only a token presence in Afghanistan, while its mainstream print and electronic media organisations none. The Afghan media, which to-date remains commercially unviable, too has no eyes and ears in a country, which undoubtedly is its most important neighbour. The two countries see each other largely through the narrow prism of Western media that remains focused on conflict and the war on terror.

Caught in conundrum
Raymond Davis case has become more than purely legal or even a diplomatic issue
By Ahmad Nazir Warraich analysis
In today’s Pakistan, Raymond Davis has become perhaps the most famous foreigner. A lot has been written and said about his case, both in the electronic and print media. Various aspects of the case have been discussed threadbare. In this regard as I see it, there are four angles to this highly charged issue, which need to be kept in mind to understand its complexity, and any resolution will perhaps have to be based on all four. The first is realpolitik, second is political, third is legal and fourth is moral. This case has divided the people and intelligentsia across the board, leaving the issue confused. My endeavour in this article will be to delineate the issue dispassionately, and leave the readers to make up their own minds, in accordance with their own reading of the situation, and worldview, but based on appreciation of realpolitik, law, politics and morality.

With strings attached
Has the Raymond Davis case choked the US aid flow to Pakistan? 
By Mehtab Haider
The increasing strain between the US and Pakistan relations over Raymond Davis issue is having an impact on the fragile economic situation of our country. Even earlier, the US had used delaying tactics in releasing funds under the Kerry Lugar Law (KLL) by citing different excuses, thus increasing the problems of the economic managers.
The PPP government is also adding fuel to the fire by demonstrating its indecisiveness on key economic issues. Despite making commitment to provide $1.5 billion under KLL on per annum basis, the US has so far released around $200 to $250 million in the first eight-month (July-Feb) period of the current fiscal year.

An uneasy relationship
Will the PML-N and PPP evolve a working relationship in Punjab?
By Salman Abid
Among other things, the situation in Punjab politics is a throwback to the 1990s in a way. The pronounced conflict between the two major political parties has come on top of agenda in our political discourse. Whether the two political parties would be able to evolve mutual understanding for strengthening the present democratic system in the province and in the country at large is still a big question mark.
The two leading political parties signed the Charter of Democracy (CoD) and made a promise to each other and to the nation to promote democratic values in politics and avoid past mistakes. But that has not happened.

 

tragedy
The invisible hand

It is telling that there has not been nearly as much of an uproar amongst the chattering classes about Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder as there was two months earlier for Salmaan Taseer. A number of explanations come to mind: first, that the liberals are just tired after two months of relatively intensive activism; second, that a large number of liberals share Taseer’s social circle but have no direct connection to the family and friends of Shahbaz Bhatti; and third that the Raymond Davis affair has really caused people to sit up and rethink their political positions.

I put number three in as a possible explanation rather wishfully. I do think that many who were coming up with justifications for Davis to be smuggled out of the country are likely to be feeling a bit more sheepish about their positions now that everyone and sundry has acknowledged that he was a spook. But I doubt that there has been any serious introspection about the class and ideological polarisations that have been definitively shown up by the varying responses to Davis’ trigger-happy behaviour on that fateful day in Lahore.

Thus, the fact that Bhatti’s murder has been protested largely by Pakistanis who share his faith can be attributed to war-weariness and the fact that Bhatti did not hail from the chattering classes. Our Christian minority is amongst -- if not the most -- marginalised groups in society, and this episode has simply reinforced just how isolated Christians really are. For those of us who claim to represent the interests of religious minorities, this must count as a big indictment.

Christians in Pakistan -- even the small number who do not live their lives in abject poverty -- are too scared at the best of times to say anything controversial, let alone speak Truth to Power. They are such easy targets of xenophobes and state functionaries that it is generally considered a better strategy to understate their distinct identity. Even individuals such as Julius Salik make it a point to regularly reaffirm their commitment to ‘official’ Pakistani identity.

Given this basic fact, and especially in light of recent events, it is critical for those who claim to be at the forefront of the challenge to ‘extremism’ to stand in complete solidarity with non-Muslims. This does not mean issuing the token condemnations of ‘mullahs’ and the religious lobby more generally. Indeed, there is an urgent need to go beyond the rather superficial binary of ‘secularism’ versus ‘theocracy’ and forcefully assert that the root of the problem is still the Pakistani establishment.

In short, Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder is nothing less than clear evidence of the fact that the self-proclaimed ‘defenders of the nation’ still harbour delusions of grandeur about their role within the polity, and by extension, in our wider region. More specifically, I believe that the establishment wants to reserve the right to use Islam to maintain its political dominance, regardless of the fact that this strategy is becoming increasingly risky and dragging all of us into a deep and widening abyss.

Salmaan Taseer is perhaps a better example of the cynicism and desperation that is creeping into the ranks at the helm of affairs. Taseer had a long association with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), but over the past two decades had become quite cozy with the establishment alongside its Western patrons. But the contradictions that have been thrown up primarily by imperialism’s direct intervention into Afghanistan have caused nerves to fray and given rise to tension in the oldest of political alliances. When the time came Taseer was expendable because the establishment was not willing to countenance the possibility that the religion card might be taken away from it once and for all.

If there is any doubt about this fact -- and therefore the duplicity with which the religious right has been dealt with -- then we need to cast our eyes only as far as Balochistan. Here it is clear that very little has changed in the thinking of the generals and brigadiers at the top of the tree. The elected government has more or less stopped feigning that it has any meaningful input into dealings with Baloch nationalists. Shock and awe is very much the modus operandi here: more Baloch youth and political activists have been disappeared and killed in the past six months than in the past three years. It goes without saying that a security apparatus so obsessed with crushing a genuinely representative movement for self-determination in Balochistan could not possibly be paying too much attention to the religious right.

As things stand, almost 100,000 Pakistani soldiers are stationed in Waziristan. Given the media blackout in FATA it is impossible to really know what is going on in any of the seven tribal agencies. But it is easy enough to guess that a staged game of cat and mouse continues indefinitely while Pakhtun society -- and the rest of Pakistan -- continues to be ripped apart at the seams.

Of course, as I have insisted on umpteen occasions in the past, using military means to address ‘extremism’ simply reinforces polarisation. Liberal imperialism is the other side of illiberal Islamism. Both politics take us further and further away from the world that most progressives wish to build. And choosing the former over the latter is a folly of historic proportions -- a fact that should be very clear given the dismal failure of the so-called ‘war on terror’.

In the wake of Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder, the best thing we can do for this country’s embattled non-Muslim peoples is to call a spade a spade and highlight how we remain hostage even now to the ideology of national security. There have been so many debacles caused directly by the arrogance and ignorance of the establishment that one has lost count. And even now, when almost everything is out in the open, it appears that the military-bureaucratic oligarchy continues to live in its warped little dream world. How long can this go on? Perhaps more importantly, how long will we allow it to go on?

 

women’s day
Against all odds
Maternal healthcare remains a challenge under the harsh conditions of Thar.
by Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

Somewhere in a posh neighbourhood in the bustling metropolis called Karachi, a mother gets up dizzily at the sound of the alarm, and gets ready for the day ahead. A regular day where she will drop off her two children to an upscale school after they have a hearty breakfast of pancakes and eggs, and get ready for her 10 O’ clock appointment with an obstetrician who will give her the regular antenatal checkup as this mother is expecting for the third time. She has been listening to her doctor’s advice -- her diet is wholesome, her sugar and blood pressure levels are fine, and she is getting the needed dose of vitamins, sleep and care at home.

At a distance of six and a half hours by car from Karachi, down the National Highway, in the heart of the district of Tharparkar, in a small village called Mithrao Chakar, another mother gets up early in the morning. It is twilight and she wakes up to burn a small lantern and gets ready for the day ahead. A regular day where she will walk a good ten kilometres and collect water from the nearest pond, and bring it in three clay pots, two of which will be balanced on her head and one under her arm. She will cook one, or if in luck, two meals for her family.

Her family consists of her husband, his aging mother, and seven children, while the eighth is on way. Their meals will consist of bajray kee roti (bread made of pearl millet), dried red cayenne pepper, and steamed wild vegetables she had gathered and stored after the rare rainy season. Her pregnancy is in its seventh month, and her youngest child is 20 months old. She has obvious signs of anemia and malnourishment.

Both these women belong to the country. Their stories are symbolic of the disparity between the economic conditions of the people of Pakistan, particularly between the urban and rural sectors.

The International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on the 8th of March, and is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. The first International Women’s Day event was run in 1911. The year 2011 is the Global Centenary Year. As this day celebrates the success and courage of women of the world, this write-up celebrates the women of Pakistan, particularly of Tharparkar. The success of these women and the people helping them is in fighting the odds and living with dignity.

Tharparkar’s landscape is that of a desert. Droughts are not uncommon here, and this is one of the most food-insecure regions of Pakistan. The sight of the women of Tharparkar in colourful clothes is familiar to anyone who has seen any documentaries or photographs of the region. Reds, purples, fuchsias, yellows……the women are dressed in a myriad of colours, wearing white bangles covering their entire arms.

Krishan Sharma was formerly manager of the project of HELP (an NGO in this area and a member of GAVI Alliance Consortium) focused on alleviating malnourishment among children between the ages of one to five. According to Sharma, this use of bright colours is a psychological defence mechanism. “The more barren and colourless their lives, the more they have a need to dress in these brightly-coloured clothes. That is the only colour in their lives,” says Sharma, pointing obviously towards how hunger and poverty suck the colours out of life.

Malnourishment among mothers is a common phenomenon in this area, especially in the Nagarparkar region. Anemia and lack of proper nutrition makes the mother weak and prone to pregnancy-related complications. HELP (Health, Education and Literacy Programme) has taken on board LHWs (Lady Health Workers) who try and aid not only the task of rehabilitating malnourished children, but also the mothers. Sometimes, the smallest of things like a much-needed capsule of folic acid a day to ward off anemia or teaching these women to sustain by preparing nutritious but economical food can save lives.

A whopping 20.3 percent of the women of Pakistan die in pregnancy, childbirth and the puerperium (the period following childbirth, lasting approximately six week).

According to PDHS 2006-07 (Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey) there are 276 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The leading cause is postpartum haemorrhage while obstetric bleeding causes 27 percent of maternal deaths. Over 14 percent of MM (Maternal Mortality) is caused by puerperal sepsis (an infectious disease that afflicts women in the postnatal period). Infectious agents enter the birth canal of the woman during complicated childbirth. Inflammation of the vagina and of the uterus or the cervix occurs first, and then the infection may become generalised sepsis. This cause is followed by eclampsia. Eclampsia is a life-threatening complication of pregnancy and results when a pregnant woman previously diagnosed with preeclampsia (high blood pressure and protein in the urine) develops seizures or coma. About 10 percent MM cases are due to eclampsia.

Commuting is one of the most difficult prepositions in Tharparkar. Absence of proper roads means that one either walks for hours on foot, or mounts a horse or camel, or has a four-wheel drive vehicle. Sometimes, the nearest health facility may be 40 kilometres away. Against this backdrop, often a pregnant woman with a complication has to travel on a camel’s back or carried by relatives to a hospital in emergencies. Many women lose the battle of life on way. Two-thirds of all births occur at home. In rural Pakistan, 74 percent of the births are at home (PDHS). In this situation, training TBAs (Traditional Birth Attendants) also known as daais seems an intelligent option. PVDP (Participatory Village Development Programme), an NGO and also a member of the GAVI Alliance consortium, is doing this to help improve the quality of maternal health in this poverty-ridden area.

Lali, a TBA, is one of the two daais of Mithrao Chakar who got basic but crucial training by PVDP. Experience is etched over Lali’s face, alongside the wrinkles that have formed due to the harsh weather of this region. The services 63-year-old Lali provides include the delivery, massage of the mother for four days, bathing the mother and the baby, washing the mother and baby’s clothes, and cooking khichri. “I keep checking the mother after 7th month of pregnancy, and try and determine the position of the baby,” explains Lali. And what does she charge for all of this? A mere Rs100 and one chaadar.

When asked what kind of training Lali and other TBAs get, Dr Ramesh Kumar, Health Coordinator PVDP, says that previously all TBAs used to make women in labour lie down on layers of sand so that the bodily fluids excreted during delivery were absorbed. But the chances of Tetanus were very high back then. Now, they encourage and make sure that all women have received Tetanus vaccines to avoid the possibility of her contracting Tetanus from the soil during delivery. “We give TBAs little ‘safe delivery kits’ that are life savers with simple yet indispensable things like gloves for the midwife, a plastic sheet to spread under the woman to avoid contact with soil, a sterile blade, sterile thread to tie the umbilical cord, sanitary pads etc,” says Dr Kumar. Simple changes that have saved scores of lives.

 

On the brink
We need to believe in our own self to defeat the menace of extremism

  By Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri

Pakistan is going through one of the worst phases of its history. Financial crisis, political instability, energy crisis, growing poverty, increasing American influence, and on top of it menace of extremism and violence all of these are destroying the basic fabric of our society. It is difficult to determine which crisis is leading to which one. However, one thing is certain that all of the above mentioned problems reinforce each other and cumulative damage caused by them is gradually turning irreparable.

The state institutions in general and PPP government in particular, seem helpless on all fronts. In order to face the challenges, it requires the support of domestic stakeholders as well as support of international community. Unfortunately, both are lacking.

In the absence of fiscal cushion, the government is relying heavily on budgetary support. Public sector development component of budget during current fiscal year was linked to receipt money through Kerry Lugar Bill. During 2009-10, it was linked to the receipt of “Tokyo Pledges” made in Friends of Democratic Pakistan forum meeting in Tokyo. Unfortunately, external assistance did not come through; rather, the last two tranches of IMF loan could not be received due to government’s inaction on RGST, power sector reforms, and state owned corporation’s reforms.

The image of Pakistan in the West is that of a “failed state” and the image of Pakistanis is that of a nation comprised of religious extremists. It is in this context that Pakistan’s nuclear capacity is perceived as a threat to regional and global stability. No wonder, operatives and agents of CIA and other spy agencies are active in Pakistan.

It is in this backdrop that people like me, who have to travel abroad frequently, end up in a situation where they have to justify and debate that Pakistan is not a failed state. We also have to justify that a majority of Pakistanis, barring few extremist elements, are peace-loving and believe in the principle of “live and let live”.

I remember, in December 2010, four of us were invited by Green Party of Germany to address selected group of German Parliamentarians on how well Germany can help the flood survivors in Pakistan. One of the member of foreign relations committee, while informing that German people were the largest private donors for flood victims in Pakistan, pointed out that he receives volumes of emails on daily basis where German people challenge the rationale of public and private support of Germans to flood victims in Pakistan where an illiterate Christian lady has been put on a trial. “Well, you might have seen that a significant majority in Pakistan, including the Governor of Punjab, opposes misuse of any law, including the blasphemy law. Moreover, we have a dedicated ministry at the federal level whose task is to protect the rights of non-Muslims (Ministry of minorities’ affairs)” was my response.

However, my arguments are getting weaker and weaker due to insane things happening in Pakistan. As if mob-lynching of two brothers in Sialkot and suicide attacks on shrines, school children, and other innocent people were not enough, horrific incidents such as assassination of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti took place.

I feel sorry for Pakistan Peoples Party and Awami National Party (the two ‘progressive’ parties in power) that are being accused of failing the progressive and liberal sections of society in Pakistan by retreating from their secular ideology. However, despite their cautious and compromised stance, these parties are losing popularity among their supporters.

In my opinion, they are not only failing the progressive elements, they are miserably failing in protecting their own cadres too. Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani retreated from PPP’s stance of bringing an amendment in Zia-ul-Haq’s blasphemy law. The proposed amendment was meant to stop misuse of the law. However, this retreat did not help him. Only a couple of days later, Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated. Two moths later, his cabinet minister was also murdered.

So, who is safe here? I being a Pakistani Muslim may not be rising to protest against the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti out of fear or simply due to the reason that he was a non-Muslim in Pakistan. But will this act of mine guarantee that I will not be killed in a suicide attack in a mosque, in a shrine, even in my own house? Will my silence guarantee that the school of my children will not be attacked by these militants whose only aim is to create panic and terrorize the society?

Extremists are our national enemy and we need to stand up against them. The solution of many of the problems facing Pakistan today may lie in relying on external support, aid and loans. However, to face the menace of extremism we need to rely on our own self. We need to break the silence and support the rule of the law. We should not give this authority to any individual to be act as complainant, prosecutor, court of law, and executor on his/her own will. Do you find any difference between the mob that killed two brothers in Sailkot, Mumtaz Qadri, Raymond Davis, and assassinators of Shahbaz Bhatti? All of them acted as both complainants and executors.

Finally, it is not that progressive parties failed us. The opposition parties (perhaps the next government in waiting) also failed us badly. The opposition parties in Pakistan are more than willing to call for a rally and long march to get their demands met. Why are they not giving a call for “peace march” to tell the rest of the world that Pakistanis are a peace-loving nation? But are we a peace loving nation?

 

The writer is executive director of Sustainable Development Policy Institute. He can be reached at [email protected]

 

governance
Democracy at the local level

While Pakistan has made significant gains in deepening the democracy that its people worked hard to achieve in 2008, democratic institutions continue to require serious reforms in order to empower citizens and ensure sustained civilian rule. Many reforms are outstanding at the national level -- such as the mechanics of devolving administrative powers and building the policy capacity of the provinces. This will take time. Perhaps most urgently, local elections have not taken place since 2005, and the local government system is in flux. Provinces have been slow to prepare new legislation for local governance and how elections will take place at the local level. These are urgent issues for Pakistan’s emerging democratic credentials.

Local government elections were due in 2009. However, following the 2008 general election, the new provincial governments decided to postpone local elections in order to amend the local government system. To date, those amendments have still not been made, and in the instance they have been made, are not operational. This has meant that there have been no firm dates set for local elections. Instead of the people’s representatives running local governments, decisions are being made by an interim administrative set of arrangements. This cannot last. The lack of accountability and absence of citizen participation at the local level represent a grave threat to Pakistani democracy.

This does not mean that the previous local government system was necessarily a good thing. It has rightly been criticised for being about the consolidation of power, designed to serve and benefit various military regimes. Perhaps this has tainted the very concept of local democracy in Pakistan. General Ayub Khan established the first system of elected local government in 1959. “Basic Democrats” were elected at the local government level and constituted the Electoral College for presidential elections and Members of the National Assembly. As such they became the political backbone to Ayub Khan’s rule. General Zia-ul-Haq, who seized power in 1977, also established elected local bodies through the 1979 law. They provided a power base for his regime by bypassing provincial authorities. Haq’s local government system faded away soon after his death in 1988. Shortly after taking power in 1999, General Pervez Musharraf presented the Local Government Plan as a part of his reform and reconstruction agenda. This Plan is often referred to as the “Devolution of Power Plan” -- the system being reformed today at provincial level.

In contrast, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Prime Minister from 1973 to 1977, opted to install local bureaucrats (civil servants) to administer local affairs rather than revive the local governments. Likewise, due to strong political polarisation between 1988 and 1999, during the two terms of Benazir Bhutto’s and Nawaz Sharif’s governments, local affairs were run and controlled by administrators instead of locally-elected representatives. A revival of local government was attempted but never materialised because the federal governments were dissolved in the middle of their tenures. It is also believed that the increased control through the Deputy Commissioners (powerful civil servants) heading District Councils was convenient for those governments. For members of the National and Provincial Assemblies, the system offered leverage over district policies, which was advantageous for securing electoral support.

The 2010 18th Amendment to the Constitution retained the local government system that had been strengthened by constitutional amendments under President Musharraf. Article 140A of the Constitution requires provinces to “(...) establish a local government system and devolve political, financial and administrative responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local government.”

The local government reform process and preparation for elections is interminably slow and tortuous. It has been argued that provincial governments are delaying the holding of local elections in order to avoid their political power being tested mid-term, particularly given the challenges of a struggling economy, rampant insecurity and the post-flood reconstruction.

However for Pakistan to further its democratic advancement, it is imperative that elected local governments be established and that elections be held as soon as possible. Elected local governments could be a stabilizing force for the country, by establishing governance accountability and increasing a culture of participation.   

The local government reform process has been driven since 2009 by provincial executive branches. The provincial assemblies have played little to no role in the development of policy or legislation. Legislative committees responsible for local government may exist, but they are sidelined. Thus representative decision-making about local government does not appear to be taking place.

One particularly important aspect of the new legal framework for local government will be the election laws. This is a highly sensitive matter needing broad-based political support if the laws are to be accepted as legitimate by all political forces. Significant issues to address include: candidacy requirements, criteria for constituency demarcation, and the participation of political parties. It is critical that there is opportunity for stakeholders to be consulted on these matters and to have meaningful opportunity to review proposals. This should include the ruling parties, the opposition, the election management body, civil society and the public. The respective provincial legislatures need to pass legislation based on such consultation and debate. This legislation needs to be fully compliant with the Constitution and Pakistan’s international legal commitments, including those related to elections (such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). All of these factors will help to ensure the acceptance and sustainability of the future local government system.

Democratic practices must be strengthened at all levels in Pakistan if there is to be effective civilian governance. The next years may be difficult, but failure to address democratic reform at the national and local level is in nobody’s long-term interest. Provinces need to urgently adopt precise timetables for the passing of local government laws, facilitate an inclusive debate on local government reform, promulgate legislation, and hold local government elections.

 

Geoffrey Weichselbaum is co-Director of Democracy Reporting International (DRI) and Katherine Vittum is DRI Pakistan Country Director. DRI is a Berlin based group promoting political participation

 

A regional solution

By Amir Zia

Pakistani media has only a token presence in Afghanistan, while its mainstream print and electronic media organisations none. The Afghan media, which to-date remains commercially unviable, too has no eyes and ears in a country, which undoubtedly is its most important neighbour. The two countries see each other largely through the narrow prism of Western media that remains focused on conflict and the war on terror.

The selective coverage of Western media organisations stems from the fact that they identify, report, analyse and interpret news in line with their yardstick and clients’ need. They do not find it necessary to go for intricate details and cover those areas which are important for Pakistanis and Afghans because of their geographical proximity and huge political and economic stakes.

No wonder, the news that Pakistanis and Afghans get about one another is not only narrow in scope but often reflects biases and prejudices of a small coterie of political players. Therefore, stereotype images and negative perceptions are common, which weigh heavily on relations of the two countries. The depth of relations between the people of these two countries spanning over centuries, their common interests, problems and issues in the conflict-ridden world of today and the potential economic and political gains, which close cooperation and peace will bring them, remain ignored in the mainstream media of the two countries.

Can this situation change? If Pakistani and Afghan journalists are allowed more exposure to each other’s countries, will it help transform some of the negative perceptions that plague Pakistan-Afghanistan relations today? Will in-depth and independent media coverage assist in conflict resolution, help in deciding common goals and bring the people of the two countries closer? There is only a one word answer to these questions -- a big yes.

The task may appear daunting but remains doable. A small, but important step to bring journalists of the two countries closer and establish direct communication bridges has been initiated through a two-day Afghanistan and Pakistan media dialogue held in Kabul last month. The February 21-22 launch conference was organised jointly by Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), the International Media Support Group Denmark and the Killid Group Afghanistan. The programme has been supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The conference was the start of a three-year programme that aims to improve Pakistan-Afghan media ties, help train journalists and improve reporting quality on regional issues to promote relations and better understanding between the two countries.

A handful of key Pakistani journalists had extensive deliberations with Afghan media personnel and intellectuals focusing on a wide-range of issues -- from the need for cooperation between the media persons to impediments that could mar this initiative and safety of journalists to the issue of professionalism and capacity-building.

The consensus was that strengthening relations between journalists and media organisations will help curb erroneous and unbalanced coverage as well as promote a better understanding towards mutual problems and disputes and act as a catalyst for their resolution between the two countries.

This first initiative of its kind plans to provide training opportunities and facilitate bilateral cooperation to cover complex cross-border issues. At the end of the conference, a 12-member advisory board -- comprising six journalists each from the two countries -- was formed to assist in taking this programme forward. One of the interesting aspects of the initiative includes the plan of 21 joint investigations and exchanges of journalists over the next 18 months, which will produce a number of stories, aired programmes and what the organisers described as a “visibly enhanced coverage” of the complex regional issues.

Both during the official discussions and on the sidelines of the conference, many Afghan journalists and intellectual appear skeptical and bitter about Pakistan’s role in the simmering Afghan conflict – especially Islamabad will to take on the Taliban militants. Islamabad’s past strategy of supporting one group against the other or picking favourites also came under the spotlight. From the Pakistan side, participants underlined the fact that their country suffers no less from the twin trouble of extremism and terrorism, which have claimed thousands of lives from one end of the country to the other. The often aggressive tone of President Hamid Karzai and his top aides against Pakistan does not help the cause of a united front against the Taliban and al-Qaeda linked militants. The participants initially delicately avoided taking up key issues bedeviling relations between the two countries, but some also took the bull by its horn – underlining the overall spirit of understanding one another and the desire to work together.

The small step starting with less than two dozen Pakistani journalists and peace activists and handful of their Afghan counterparts could go a long way in improving ties between the two countries, which have no rational choice available to them other than to cooperate for a better future of their people. Expanding this prorgamme and including more and more journalists and institutions would remain pivotal for its success.

Pakistan’s mainstream media organisations, which have both financial and human resources available, should take a lead from this initiative by joining hands or going for a solo-flight with an Afghan counterpart to report the Afghan independently and comprehensively, which remains vital for the country’s interest. The more such bridges the better.

There already has been such a landmark Aman Ki Asha initiative jointly launched by Pakistan’s Jang Group and the Times of India Group for the promotion of better ties between the two South Asian nuclear armed rivals. This civil society movement has completed a year and has many successful conferences and programmes to its credit, generating an alternate discourse for peace and stability in the region.

Luckily Pakistan and Afghanistan, despite all the mistrust and finger-pointing at each other, do not share a history of hostilities and bitterness, which exist between Pakistan and India. But the main challenges and problems faced by Islamabad and Kabul stem from the same roots of extremism and terrorism. The media of the two countries through independent and in-depth coverage can indeed play an important role for the better understanding of issues and painting a factual picture that will help in improving the relations between the two countries. A united front of the media has so far remained the missing link in efforts to bring the two nations closer. Now there appears hope that this link is being established amidst high hopes.

 

Caught in conundrum

By Ahmad Nazir Warraich analysis

In today’s Pakistan, Raymond Davis has become perhaps the most famous foreigner. A lot has been written and said about his case, both in the electronic and print media. Various aspects of the case have been discussed threadbare. In this regard as I see it, there are four angles to this highly charged issue, which need to be kept in mind to understand its complexity, and any resolution will perhaps have to be based on all four. The first is realpolitik, second is political, third is legal and fourth is moral. This case has divided the people and intelligentsia across the board, leaving the issue confused. My endeavour in this article will be to delineate the issue dispassionately, and leave the readers to make up their own minds, in accordance with their own reading of the situation, and worldview, but based on appreciation of realpolitik, law, politics and morality.

The first aspect is based on the concept of Realpolitik. It is a word which is used to refer to the fact that the world politics or inter-state relations are based on sheer self-interest and power balance, with law and justice being of secondary importance in this calculus. Since times immemorial this has been the basis of international relations. However, in the last century after the formation of United Nations the international community has invested international law with a veneer of justice and rule of law. But the reality is that there is no overarching international authority to regulate these affairs. There is no real equivalent of the three organs of the government, i.e., executive, legislature, and judiciary, at the international level. Therefore, there is no body to enforce international law. At end of the day, international law is dependant on the principles of reciprocity and power politics for its implementation.

The genesis of international law lies in giving some order to an order less international polity, where each state is theoretically sovereign, and free to pursue its national interests, which may run contrary to the national interests of the other states. Additionally, within its borders each state is sovereign and has control over how to deal with people subject to its jurisdiction. This natuarally has the potential to create problems when interests of two states clash, and when one state feels that its citizen is being ‘maltreated in the other’.

The second aspect is political. Let us look at the politics involved at the national level. The issue of Raymond Davis has aroused intense internal political activity, involving all political forces. Foreign policy issues are being played out on the streets, which is dangerous even in the best of times, let alone the precarious times we live in. Pakistan is broadly divided along two lines, anti-Americanism and pro-American sentiment. The anti-American sentiment is postulated by people who feel that we have towed the American line for too long. ‘We will eat grass, but not bow before US pressure’, is the emotionally charged sound byte of this group. Fair enough, we have been mistreated by US for decades, and in the regional political construct are second to India traditionally in the American eyes, and a pawn to be used in the various Great Games taking place in the borderland of South Asia and Central Asia, without their being much interest in our well-being per se.

The pro-America lobby, which in my view is a misnomer, as many of them are also against such American policies, are perhaps showing a greater concern for the realities on the ground, and, therefore, advocating a stance based on ‘realism’, in view of our not just economic dependence on US, but also the geo-strategic compulsions of our neighbourhood.

In addition, the whole scene is complicated by the domestic political parties, each vying to make the most of the situation, some to embarrass the government, others to gain some political space in the domain dominated by the two main parties. The fiercely strong and independent media also sees this as news worthy item, and has accordingly given the issue a lot of space and time.

The third aspect is legal. Such is the role of emotions and feelings, that the legal aspect seems a subsidiary issue to be interpreted in accordance with the political and emotional bent of the individual. There are two aspects to the legal issue, the international law and the national law issues.

The relevant international law issues are the provisions of treaty and customary law and practices with regard to the immunity provided to diplomatic and consular staff of foreign countries. The primary legal provisions are contained in the two Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 and Consular Relations of 1963. There is lack of clarity on which treaty will apply, as the US State Department seems to have not taken a clear stand on it initially, and first declared Raymond on the staff of the Consulate, and later declared him to be a diplomat. The local commentators believe that the fact that he was working and living in Lahore means that he was having a consular status and not a diplomatic status. Needless to say, a diplomat has greater privileges/immunities than a consular staff.

In both cases he enjoys certain immunity, even the statement given by Shah Mahmood speaks about ‘no blanket immunity’, not about no immunity. In this regard, the Articles most quoted are 31 of Diplomatic Relations and 41, of the Consular Relations. Article 31 provides immunity from criminal action to diplomats whereas 41states that such a consular staff shall enjoy immunity from arrest, except for ‘grave crimes’. The matter is further confused as the Foreign Office has avoided taking a clear stance on the status of Raymond.

The relevant national law provisions are, of course, the national criminal law. With respect to the national legal position, the matter shall be decided by the courts, which have won the confidence of the people through their independence, and therefore, everybody, including the government and opposition have put their trust in them.

The fourth aspect is moral. Morality demands that anybody who does wrong should be punished. This is perhaps the strongest argument in this case. Somebody who does wrong should be punished, irrespective of the fact that he is the citizen of a superpower or of a zero power. There are various kinds of immunities, some for high officials and others for diplomats. The purpose for giving high officials immunity is to free them from the threat of court cases so that they may perform their duties in accordance with the discretion provided to them by the relevant laws and regulations.

The rationale for providing the cover of immunity to diplomats and consular staff is based on different grounds. This is based on the centuries-old reciprocal need to protect each others representatives in foreign lands, which was established as a cardinal principle of diplomacy. This natuarally would apply even when they did something wrong. The problem is what to do when they do so, but at the same time not compromise their immunity. The solution that the international community has consensually come up with is that in such a case the state of the diplomat may waive the immunity, or it may try him at home.

The case has become more than purely legal or even a diplomatic issue. It has rightly raised the ire of Pakistanis as the very tragic and unfortunate deaths of three of our countrymen are involved. This has come in the background of frequent drone attacks taking place in the tribal areas where the human ‘collateral damage’ taking place, angers vast sections of the society. There is a general feeling that successive governments, both civil and military have historically not stood up to the Americans. In this background, the case has adopted a special importance. This is perhaps why the government(s) have preferred to let the courts decide the issue, as there are political and diplomatic costs involved, whichever way the government goes. The case has become a source of opportunity as well of problem for Pakistan, only time will tell how it is resolved.

 

The writer is a Lahore-based lawyer who can be reached at [email protected]

 

With strings attached
Has the Raymond Davis case choked the US aid flow to Pakistan? 

By Mehtab Haider

The increasing strain between the US and Pakistan relations over Raymond Davis issue is having an impact on the fragile economic situation of our country. Even earlier, the US had used delaying tactics in releasing funds under the Kerry Lugar Law (KLL) by citing different excuses, thus increasing the problems of the economic managers.

The PPP government is also adding fuel to the fire by demonstrating its indecisiveness on key economic issues. Despite making commitment to provide $1.5 billion under KLL on per annum basis, the US has so far released around $200 to $250 million in the first eight-month (July-Feb) period of the current fiscal year.

The US reimbursed around $732 million under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) for the services rendered by Pakistan to flush out Taliban and Al-Qaeda supporters from the tribal areas of the Pak-Afghan border against the bills of $3 billion.

After Raymond Davis case, the US has not paid any fresh installment under the CSF and there is a growing concern in Pakistan that Washington would use this money as leverage to convince the PPP government to provide diplomatic immunity to Raymond Davis. The issue of diplomatic immunity is going to be decided by the government and subsequently by the courts.

To come out from the fiscal morass, there is no other solution but to generate domestic resources by broadening the tax base and impose taxes on agriculture income, real estate, and services sectors. This may sound an abrupt conclusion but fearing the international community led by the US is not ready to assist Islamabad without fulfilling its political and strategic agenda, options should be explored. But is that logical to think in these terms at this point in time?

The government had estimated to get Rs186 billion external resources from multilateral and bilateral creditors to finance its budget deficit target of 4 percent of GDP which was equivalent to Rs688 billion for 2010-11. In the post flood situation, the government was forced to jack up the budget deficit target to 4.7 percent of the GDP in the wake of increased resource requirements to compensate the victims of floods.

Now the emerging economic realities show that the government was failing miserably on all fronts, including evolving a consensus on taxation measures, including imposition of Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST), flood surcharge and hike excise duty, reducing expenditures as well as obtaining the desired budgetary support from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, USA, and others.

Estimates prepared by the finance division show that the government plans to impose 15 percent flood surcharge as against the earlier rate of 10 percent and excise duty to 2.5 percent from the rate of 1 percent from April this year through Presidential Ordinance to generate Rs26 billion in the last three months (April-June) period of 2010-11.

If taken, these taxation measures would help the government to jack up the FBR’s target to Rs1,630 billion from Rs1604 billion and would help curtail the deficit in the range of 5.5 to 6 percent of the GDP. But this desired fiscal deficit target will mainly depend upon the government’s ability to reduce its expenditures as well as generate the required budgetary support from external inflows.

Renowned economist, Dr Ashfaque Hassan Khan, who is Dean NUST Business School tells TNS that “Pakistan requires letter of comfort from the IMF for obtaining budgetary support from other donors as the IMF team analysed debt sustainability of the country to demonstrate that the recipient country’s debt situation was comfortable and there will be no issues for making repayments of their loans.”

Ashfaque also says that the team of the IMF, which visited Pakistan recently, was not meant to undertake review of the economy but to gauge whether Pakistan possessed the capacity to deliver on key economic reforms agenda in the shape of imposing RGST, approving State Bank of Pakistan’s fresh act and doing away with power subsidies and tackling the monster of circular debt. “If nothing has been achieved substantially on key reforms agenda then the IMF staff will not be able to convince its Board of Directors for the release of funds.”

A senior official of the finance division, who does not want to be identified, says the government had committed itself to economic reforms. One way of doing it is by raising the POL prices. This is not an easy decision to take keeping in view its political cost, he says, adding, “We are quite confident that the IMF team would show its confidence as we are going to unveil our macro-economic and fiscal framework by making efforts to restrict budget deficit within the desired limit of less than 5.5 percent of the GDP for end June 2011,” he maintains.

The official data of the finance ministry shows a different picture. It says financial assistance from the international community for budgetary support declined by over 50 percent during July-Dec 2010 compared to the same period in 2009. The government received external inflows to the tune of Rs46.999 billion in July-Dec against Rs110.251 billion in the same period of the previous fiscal, indicating a drop of Rs54 billion. Out of much trumpeted Tokyo pledges of $5.2 billion that was termed as major success by the PPP government, the received inflows amount to a paltry $18 million (Rs1.491 billion) in the first six months of the current fiscal year.

Donors apply three conditions for releasing funds to Pakistan -- imposition of Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST), ending power sector subsidies, and increasing POL prices in months ahead.

 

An uneasy relationship

By Salman Abid

Among other things, the situation in Punjab politics is a throwback to the 1990s in a way. The pronounced conflict between the two major political parties has come on top of agenda in our political discourse. Whether the two political parties would be able to evolve mutual understanding for strengthening the present democratic system in the province and in the country at large is still a big question mark.

The two leading political parties signed the Charter of Democracy (CoD) and made a promise to each other and to the nation to promote democratic values in politics and avoid past mistakes. But that has not happened.

The common people appreciated the idea of the two parties working together to resolve country’s problems by supporting each others’ initiatives. Under the political commitment, the PPP and PML-N formed a coalition government in the Center and in Punjab. But the coalition did not work.

Nawaz Sharif announced to separation of the PML-N from the government at the national level. Later, he also warned that PPP ministers in Punjab government would be shown the door and a new government with the support of PML (Q) unification block would be formed, excluding the PPP.

The major problem is the trust deficit between both the political parties in each other. Unfortunately, at the very initial stage both the parties did not develop trust with the PML-N walking out from the federal cabinet on the issue of restoration of judges. Interestingly, according to one analysis, PML-N did not openly resist the government and continued supporting the PPP as an opposition party in the national interest. The same happened in Punjab.

But now the game is over and both the parties are openly standing against each other, especially PML-N. At many occasions, the aggressive elements in PML-N have stood against the PPP by challenging it and demanding their ministers resign from the provincial cabinet. At first, the PPP did not pay heed and refused to resign. Eventually they did.

Interestingly, when the coalition government was being formed in Punjab, the PML-N had started supporting PML-Q’s unification block. This became the turning point of the relations between the two political parties. The formation of unification block with the support of PML-N) served as a serious wake-up call for PPP in Punjab. The process had started when former Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer and PML-Q were noticed forming an understanding to bring some big changes to the provincial government.

It is now clear that both the parties have some aggressive elements within them. That is abundantly clear from the PML-N’s 10-point agenda for the ‘larger national interest’. The PML-N leadership loudly criticised the PPP for having failed to implement the 10-point agenda.

It is important to discuss and highlight where the PML-N stands on issues. While the PPP agrees in principle to implement the agenda the point of conflict is regarding the time table for the implementation. Nawaz Sharif flayed the PPP for having failed to implement the 10-point agenda within the given time frame of 45 days. Who form PML-N is answerable to disclose the progress and process towards implementation of 10-point agenda in Punjab?

Nawaz Sharif is considered by his supporters as a leading political leader with a commitment to strengthen democratic institutions in the country and avoiding undemocratic norms in the political process. But, unfortunately, the situation is worsening and lots of issues are at a critical stage in politics.

People are seriously criticizing Shahbaz Sharif for his centralised approach in dealing and handling issues in the province. Everyone, including bureaucracy, public representatives and civil society have serious reservations on the centralised approach of governance in Punjab. The Punjab Chief Minister Main Shahbaz Sharif does not seem to believe in decentralization of power. The avoidance of local government elections and appointment of administrators is one example. Javaid Hashmi, a senior PML-N leader, once criticised party’s internal democratic norms openly and suggested that party leader needs to re- visit current political practices.

The common man is also confused about what is going on in the country. People are questioning where Nawaz Sharif stands, what he expects, and will do in response to the current political crisis of the country. There is no denying that there is a crisis of governance in the country and the PPP government is not dealing with it in a proper manner. But is it only the PPP which failed in handling governance crisis? Yes, the major responsibility lies with the central government but we should understand that if we only criticise the PPP, it would be unfair.

Some voices in the PML-N want midterm elections in the country and are insisting the PPP government take a fresh mandate from the public. But we should remember that if the political system derails once again the ultimate beneficiary would be undemocratic forces. Having said that, the PPP should also evaluate its own performance.

The politics of horse-trading pushed the country to a point where there was a deadlock. The formation of unification block is against the CoD. The PML-N has proved they have not learned from their past mistakes and are repeating the politics of the 1990s. The PML-N should realise the implications of the steps they are taking. Leaders of both the parties should display political maturity and know the political implications faced by the country at the moment.

Both the political parties should realise why people are not accepting their political and economic ‘achievements’ either at the center or at provincial level.

Both of them have to realise that democracy and democratic practices in the country have not taken root as yet.

 

The writer is a political analyst and human rights campaigner. He can be reached at [email protected]

 

 

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