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New strategy for Afghanistan
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08 Jul 2010
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“It is defeat that turns bone to flint, it is defeat that turns gristle to muscle, it is defeat that makes men invincible.”

Henry Ward Beecher
The American administration under President Barack Obama has rightly concluded that instead of facing an inevitable humiliating defeat in Afghanistan it is better to pursue an arrangement that allows a face-saving withdrawal of the US/NATO forces from the war-torn country.

In a major policy change the US has also understood that Pakistan is the only country that can play a critical role, if peace is to prevail in Afghanistan.

This certainly does not mean that the US administration is ready to accept defeat at the hands of the Al-Qaeda or Taliban; however, it implies that Washington wants a representative government in Afghanistan that can handle all the major issues on its own.

To achieve this goal, the US is prepared to increase both economic and military assistance to Pakistan.

In addition, the US administration has decided to provide a war chest of $37 billion to the new supreme commander of the US/NATO forces in Afghanistan – General David Petraeus. Besides this, the incumbent US leadership is willing to strike a deal with the powerful Haqqani group in Afghanistan and is actively pushing President Hamid Karzai in that direction.

Recent reports suggest that some US officials have held secret negotiations with Siraj Haqqani and that Pakistan had played a role in bringing the two sides to the negotiating table. How far the efforts of the Americans will bear fruit is yet to be seen. However, the Americans now seem to be moving in the right direction.

The Americans, who had fought a long and bitter war in Vietnam, were supposed to perform better in Afghanistan. But as time has proved that the US policy of surge and the use of brutal air power, alongside pumping in billions of dollars to an inefficient and corrupt regime, has not helped them to achieve any of their major goals in this region.

As a matter of fact, the US policy of bribing regional warlords, who are engaged in the nefarious trade of illegal drugs, has also resulted in the wastage of funds and time.

This has in turn not only affected the morale of the US troops but has also eroded the support of the American people for the war in Afghanistan. No American administration can face such a situation for a long time. Therefore, the circumstances have led the US into a situation in which it is quickly running out of options that has resulted in a shift of policy.

While these are some positive developments, the insistence by the US for an Indian presence in Afghanistan is not going to be helpful to achieve the goals of the western world, especially America.

This is so because India’s objective is not to help the Afghans stand on their feet but solely to win lucrative deals for its companies and at the same time use its presence in Afghanistan to foment trouble in the Pakistan’s province of Balochistan.

Pakistan has on several occasions provided the US with irrefutable evidence of Indian involvement in the insurgent activities taking place in Balochistan. The Indian intelligence agency, RAW, has also set up training camps in certain areas of Afghanistan from where extremist elements enter into the Pakistani territory and indulge in acts of terrorism.

Moreover, some of the Afghan warlords, who cultivate poppy, with the help of their mentors – RAW – send the lethal drug (heroin) to various European countries. The illegal drug trade from Afghanistan to the West is about $10 billion per year and this is by itself enough money to sustain the war that continues in Afghanistan and elsewhere against American interests.

In fact this booming drug trade is not possible without the encouragement of the Americans and the involvement of the Indian government. The government of Hamid Karzai has, so far, not only failed to establish its credentials in Afghanistan, but also continues to act as a puppet for the Indian government.

Therefore, the present regime in Kabul has failed to rein in the illegal activities of the Indians in their country.

Nevertheless, the coming days and months will prove how far the US is willing to go in order to achieve its redefined goals. The new military leadership in Afghanistan appointed by President Obama will have to do some tightrope walking in case it wants to succeed in creating conditions that will allow a face-saving exit to the Americans when they finally decide to leave the country to its fate.

At present, the policy of American drone attacks may have picked up some important Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders but in the process the collateral damage amongst innocent people has inflicted serious long-term damage to US interests in the region.

In case the US is really serious to get out of the Afghan quagmire, then it must not only prop up the sagging economy of Pakistan, but also provide the security forces of this country with the equipment that is essential for them to inflict a deadly blow on the insurgents.

To achieve its objectives quickly the US will have to ignore India’s objections and provide Pakistan with the much needed equipment they require not only to defeat the terrorists but that is also essential for the security of Pakistan.

Both the Pakistani establishment and the American administration must overcome the remaining misgivings that seem to linger on after the mistakes committed by President Musharraf.

Mutual understanding and trust are the two main ingredients for success and in case any one party suspects the other it may result in failure. This is a proposition that should not be acceptable to either Pakistan or the United States of America.

Similarly, the Americans should ensure that Mr Hamid Karzai changes his hostile attitude towards this country. In the same vein, Karzai must also revise his relations with the Indians keeping in view the realities of his geopolitical position.

Another factor that could bring productive results for America, is the sincerity of its administration to nudge Ind-ia to resolve the continuous issue of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan. The US also has a role to play in the newly created water dispute by the Indians, who are all along playing foul keeping in view the international traditions on such issues.

One, therefore, strongly feels that instead of putting half-baked measures in place the policymakers in the US administration will keep in view the interest of Pakistan while implementing the new Afghan policy that is currently being evolved by the American think tanks in Washington.

On its part, Pakistan should clearly indicate to the US both the economic and political constraints that it is facing and to what extent it can cope with America in the current scenario.

One hopes that the US will not, once again, abandon the people of Afghanistan and will only leave once the rehabilitation process of the country is on track. In case the Americans leave in a hurry, Afghanistan will definitely convert into a dangerous breeding ground for terrorism, a condition that will be in no one’s interest.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

Email: zarnatta@hotmail.com

Sack them
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10 Jun 2010
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“Carelessness does more harm than a want of knowledge.”
– Franklin
The Pakistani administration, both at the federal and provincial levels, seems to be paralysed and has dithered to proceed against erring officials, who have failed to perform their duties as stipulated by the law.
The recent acts of terrorism that resulted in the loss of precious lives at the worship place of a particular sect, followed by an attack on a hospital, have raised serious questions about the capability and will of the provincial government. In previous incidents, it was established that if the police had discharged their duties efficiently, perhaps, the acts of terror could either have been avoided or at least the damage inflicted on the masses could have been substantially reduced. After every incident various excuses are put forward and even when the judicial inquiries establish the role of certain individuals, and blame them for the tragedy, no action is taken. Resultantly, serious mistakes, and in certain cases criminal negligence, has continued to rule the day.
Apparently, this happens because politicians when in power use the police as an instrument to advance their political objectives.

Presently, the province of Punjab that is being ruled by a coalition government will have to reinvent itself if it is really serious to combat terrorism, which has increased in frequency sending alarm bells all around. There seems to be a lack in resolve on the part of the political leadership to control the situation, and it seems that there is virtually no commitment on the part of the civil bureaucracy to handle the emerging situation as well.
As far as the police are concerned, one can judge its state of preparedness by simply taking into account the incident where a young officer shot himself in the leg, while adjusting his weapon to prepare for a showdown with the terrorists. Next it is amazing how the terrorists were able to penetrate the three lines of defence that had been erected by the Lahore Police to ensure that the injured terrorist, who was being treated at a local hospital, remained safe. This was done ostensibly keeping in view the information that was expected to be harvested from the injured terrorist. It seems that fate was on the side of the police which resulted in the failure of the attack, which was carried out either to kill or rescue the terrorist under treatment.

As per reports, desperation seems to have overtaken the provincial administration. There has been an ugly exchange of words between the representatives of the federal and provincial governments. While an inquiry committee has been constituted to probe into the matter, yet the failure of the Punjab government has yet not proceeded against officials, who had been informed about the impending danger. One does not need to be Socrates to assess the situation correctly. It is however clear as to what went wrong and who was responsible for the serious lapse that resulted in the terrorist act that claimed nearly a hundred lives, in spite of the fact that there had been adequate warnings by the federal agencies and the Punjab CID.

Keeping in view the environment that exists in the country, and the growing threat of terrorism, it has become very important to find out why the concerned officials failed to heed the warnings. In a worst case scenario, it would be prudent to verify the antecedents of those who have been assigned the job to combat terrorism, as fears are now being openly expressed that those who have been tasked to ensure the safety of Pakistan’s citizens might be having a soft corner for those who endanger peace and life. It therefore becomes absolutely essential that the government should swiftly proceed against the erring officials, and also speed up the process of pruning and verification of the persons whose job is to combat terrorism.

One hopes that instead of name-calling and mud-slinging, the politicians will sit down together and work out a common strategy that is workable and effective against the menace of terrorism. It will not be out of place to mention that the provincial government instead of denying the existence of training facilities for religious extremists in certain parts of the province should probe the matter, and if such facilities exist ensure their closure. As far as the issue of provided safe havens to the terrorists in some areas of southern Punjab, it would be worthwhile doing a thorough check.

On the other hand, conventional wisdom demands that the government should from time to time carry out an exercise that will keep them updated on the activities of all the suspect facilities that have been pointed out to them. The government should also immediately provide the tools to the security agencies that are absolutely essential to fight terrorism. The provincial government should also increase the level of training and try to inculcate the spirit of professional commitment that would help increase efficiency of the Police Department. Failure to seriously initiate remedial measures will certainly result in continuous grief that is thrust by the terrorists on innocent people of this country.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

Email: zarnatta@hotmail.com

Time to move on
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15 Apr 2010
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Azam Khalil

“To climb up steep hills requires slow pace at first.”
- Shakespeare
Recently, the politicians of this country agreed to amend the constitution, which was commended as the best thing that had ever happened after its framing in 1973. Even the political parties that are not represented in the National Assembly or the Senate, by and large, lent their support to the democratic forces that successfully built on a consensus leading to the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment in the National Assembly. However, as the bill was being debated in the Senate serious riots broke out in parts of the Frontier province. As a result, unfortunately, over a 100 people were injured while several were killed. This is a serious aberration, and if the politicians had shown the same political sagacity while passing the 18th Amendment in the Assembly, the present situation that has developed in Hazara Division could have been avoided.

Nevertheless, this tragic incident has also exposed the weakness of the ANP government as it was neither prepared for the riots, nor it had done its homework wherein it could have avoided the present situation. Apparently, the provincial government should have negotiated earlier with those who are now protesting in the streets. It is understood that saner elements in the government and those in the opposition were trying to bring different political elements on the negotiating table. However, it is expected that the issue may be resolved as soon as tempers calm down, which increased because of the deaths that occurred during the clashes with the police.
On the hindsight, this situation can also spread to the other areas within the country where communities may be demanding, though silently, for the establishment of separate provinces. That definitely may not be feasible keeping in view the resources and administrative difficulties, which may arise in case the demand for separate provinces is accepted by the government. Rather it would be better that the country is allowed to move on in the direction where it becomes possible to address pressing economic problems that are being faced by the people of Pakistan.

As all major political players had agreed on the issue of the 18th Amendment, it was expected that the government of the day would now devote all its energies, and harness the available resources, for the betterment of the people of this country. Everyone is aware that serious issues like unemployment, scarcity of water and lack of electric supply were impeding the progress of Pakistan. Besides this, if we take into account the war against terror that has engaged a sizeable portion of the Pakistan army, which in itself is a very costly affair, it would be easy to understand that without national unity it will not be possible to pull the country out of the present mess that has been created by successive military rulers. But this does not mean that the present government can be absolved of all responsibility, as it has now been more than two years since the coalition government of the Pakistan Peoples Party came into power. And, yet, it has not been able to make any substantial contribution that could have resulted in the alleviation of the sufferings of poor Pakistanis. It is, therefore, of paramount importance that the political maturity and the spirit of accommodation and compromise, which was displayed earlier by the democratic forces of the country, should continue so that conducive atmosphere is created that can then lead to the tackling of issues that affect the everyday lives of citizens. In case this spirit of accommodation and reconciliation is lost, it will result in a rapid deterioration in all the important institutions. And this erosion will seriously damage the institution of democracy in Pakistan.

At the same time, it is extremely important that all the major players, including major institutions, work in harmony within the orbits of the constitution. This will then help to strengthen the institution of democracy and would also help to stabilise the economy of Pakistan. Once this has been achieved, it will become relatively easier for the federal and provincial governments to pay attention to the problems of the common man, which have already been delayed ensuing a serious risk of discontent and social unrest in the country.

One hopes that the government is able to fix priorities in a way that would rapidly provide relief to the people and improve the quality of life. This can only be achieved, if the country moves in the right direction so that the objectives can be accomplished as quickly as possible.

Moreover, the present government will have to devise a strategy that can ensure that the troops fighting the insurgency, in the tribal areas, will finish their job and return quickly to the barracks. To achieve this, it would be essential to follow a right mix of politics, security and reconstruction, and simultaneously increase the level of awareness among the people who live in the insurgency affected areas. Once peace has returned, the sluggish growth of Pakistan’s economy could take off, thus, ensuring that the fruits of development are evenly distributed especially amongst those sections of society that are bracketed as the have-nots.

Then again, it is not only the incumbent government that will have to work with honesty of purpose, but other political forces would also have to join hands with them so that a good example can be set by the democratic forces in enacting the 18th Amendment. This example could, in the foreseeable future, allow the country to stand on its feet. As the country progresses only then the prosperity of its citizens can be ensured.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

Email:zarnatta@hotmail.com

A boost for democracy
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08 Apr 2010
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Azam Khalil

“Compromise makes a good umbrella, but a poor roof; it is a temporary expedient, often wise in party politics, almost sure to be unwise in statesmanship.”
- Lowell
For once, the Pakistani politicians showed some political maturity and agreed on the draft prepared by the Constitutional Reforms Committee, especially for the 18th Constitutional Amendment. There were several ups and downs and political posturing during the sessions; however, the 28 member committee continued to work until finally they were able to arrive at a consensus that took into consideration the concerns and fears of all the provinces alike.

The Reforms Committee reviewed nearly 100 articles that had been inserted into the constitution by General Ziaul Haq to perpetuate his rule, which was further de-shaped by Musharraf. In this lieu, the two major political parties of the country – Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslin League (N) – had signed an agreement named Charter of Democracy in which both the parties had agreed to restore the ‘original glory’ of the 1973 constitution. However, when the first draft was prepared by the committee headed by Senator Raza Rabbani, a demand was made to evolve a new procedure for the appointment of judges to the superior judiciary.

The PML-N also demanded that before the constitution was amended the prime minister should consult the chief justice of the Supreme Court regarding the procedure that had been agreed to by the committee for the appointment of judges. This decision came under criticism from some members of the committee. It was more surprising because Senator Ishaq Dar, a moderate PML-N leader had admitted only a few days earlier that the committee had achieved consensus on all the issues. And that he had the endorsement from his party leadership for going along with the decisions of the committee.

Fortunately, after a few days and reacting to the message that was conveyed to the PML-N, by the media and other opinion makers, PML-N decided to endorse all the main points that had been agreed to by the committee members. It was expected that after this agreement the 18th Amendment will have a smooth sailing both in the National Assembly and the Senate; however, a few voices remained sceptical about the amendment being passed without much hassle.

Nevertheless, the absence of PML-N leaders from the joint session of Parliament in which the bill for the amendment was placed and was addressed by the president, once again highlighted the mistrust that exists between PML-N and PPP.

Perhaps, the message that Sharif tried to convey by staying away from the joint session of Parliament was that he was leading the anti-PPP forces, the rightists and the religious political parties who are otherwise opposed to the ideals for which PPP is known to have supported. This may be a smart move to win popular support keeping in view the coming local government elections and in the long run may be a good ploy to attract votes against its main political adversary that is PPP.

Having said that and reverting back to the issue under review one can safely say that the passage of the 18th Amendment would no doubt result in the strengthening of democratic values in Pakistan. It must be understood that the establishment of democratic institutions in Pakistan is the only solution for all the problems that are being faced by this country. Once the supremacy of Parliament is established it would mean that finally the will of the people will prevail in this country. Once that happens the government of the day will have no choice, but to pay undiluted attention to the problems of the common man and try to alleviate the sufferings of the poor.

The other important issue that will be resolved by the 18th Amendment is the settlement of the concurrent list that would transfer substantial amount of autonomy to the provinces which has been a longstanding demand, particularly by the provinces of Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan. This would mean that once the federating units are happy it would in fact strengthen the country and other issues like the building of dams, distribution of water resources and financial resources of the country will also be achieved in the same spirit that has been seen during the formulation of the recommendations for the 18th Amendment.

One hopes that the political maturity shown by the politicians will continue and that they will understand that the strengthening of institutions is the best possible solution for the country and its people. And if they keep on moving in the right direction then the danger of martial law may disappear from the political horizon of Pakistan forever. In case the politicians revert to petty squabbles then the political institutions would remain weak, thus, allowing room for adventurism. It is, therefore, desirable that the recent boost received by the institution of democracy should continue in the foreseeable future so that the people of Pakistan become the rulers of their own destinies.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

Email: zarnatta@hotmail.com

A boost for democracy
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08 Apr 2010
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Azam Khalil

“Compromise makes a good umbrella, but a poor roof; it is a temporary expedient, often wise in party politics, almost sure to be unwise in statesmanship.”
- Lowell
For once, the Pakistani politicians showed some political maturity and agreed on the draft prepared by the Constitutional Reforms Committee, especially for the 18th Constitutional Amendment. There were several ups and downs and political posturing during the sessions; however, the 28 member committee continued to work until finally they were able to arrive at a consensus that took into consideration the concerns and fears of all the provinces alike.

The Reforms Committee reviewed nearly 100 articles that had been inserted into the constitution by General Ziaul Haq to perpetuate his rule, which was further de-shaped by Musharraf. In this lieu, the two major political parties of the country – Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslin League (N) – had signed an agreement named Charter of Democracy in which both the parties had agreed to restore the ‘original glory’ of the 1973 constitution. However, when the first draft was prepared by the committee headed by Senator Raza Rabbani, a demand was made to evolve a new procedure for the appointment of judges to the superior judiciary.

The PML-N also demanded that before the constitution was amended the prime minister should consult the chief justice of the Supreme Court regarding the procedure that had been agreed to by the committee for the appointment of judges. This decision came under criticism from some members of the committee. It was more surprising because Senator Ishaq Dar, a moderate PML-N leader had admitted only a few days earlier that the committee had achieved consensus on all the issues. And that he had the endorsement from his party leadership for going along with the decisions of the committee.

Fortunately, after a few days and reacting to the message that was conveyed to the PML-N, by the media and other opinion makers, PML-N decided to endorse all the main points that had been agreed to by the committee members. It was expected that after this agreement the 18th Amendment will have a smooth sailing both in the National Assembly and the Senate; however, a few voices remained sceptical about the amendment being passed without much hassle.

Nevertheless, the absence of PML-N leaders from the joint session of Parliament in which the bill for the amendment was placed and was addressed by the president, once again highlighted the mistrust that exists between PML-N and PPP.

Perhaps, the message that Sharif tried to convey by staying away from the joint session of Parliament was that he was leading the anti-PPP forces, the rightists and the religious political parties who are otherwise opposed to the ideals for which PPP is known to have supported. This may be a smart move to win popular support keeping in view the coming local government elections and in the long run may be a good ploy to attract votes against its main political adversary that is PPP.

Having said that and reverting back to the issue under review one can safely say that the passage of the 18th Amendment would no doubt result in the strengthening of democratic values in Pakistan. It must be understood that the establishment of democratic institutions in Pakistan is the only solution for all the problems that are being faced by this country. Once the supremacy of Parliament is established it would mean that finally the will of the people will prevail in this country. Once that happens the government of the day will have no choice, but to pay undiluted attention to the problems of the common man and try to alleviate the sufferings of the poor.

The other important issue that will be resolved by the 18th Amendment is the settlement of the concurrent list that would transfer substantial amount of autonomy to the provinces which has been a longstanding demand, particularly by the provinces of Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan. This would mean that once the federating units are happy it would in fact strengthen the country and other issues like the building of dams, distribution of water resources and financial resources of the country will also be achieved in the same spirit that has been seen during the formulation of the recommendations for the 18th Amendment.

One hopes that the political maturity shown by the politicians will continue and that they will understand that the strengthening of institutions is the best possible solution for the country and its people. And if they keep on moving in the right direction then the danger of martial law may disappear from the political horizon of Pakistan forever. In case the politicians revert to petty squabbles then the political institutions would remain weak, thus, allowing room for adventurism. It is, therefore, desirable that the recent boost received by the institution of democracy should continue in the foreseeable future so that the people of Pakistan become the rulers of their own destinies.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

Email: zarnatta@hotmail.com

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