National News

Delay in finalising ‘dissolution’ plans bad for PTI’s cause

Mansoor Malik

LAHORE: As Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan reiterated his threat to dissolve the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies, the delay in securing support for and implementing his plan seems to be working against him, as the situation on the ground is changing with each passing day.

The latest reinforcement of dissolving the two provincial houses was conveyed through the party’s Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Mr Qureshi claimed on Wednesday that Mr Khan has expressed his conviction that fresh general elections were the only solution to all the ills plaguing the country.

“Seriousness to the cause demands immediate dissolution of the Punjab and KP assemblies,” he quoted the party chief as saying.

Without mentioning the military establishment or the federal government, the former foreign minister said the PTI chief wanted to take confidence-building measures to bridge the “gulf created due to misunderstandings” during the past eight months.

The latest assertion, however, comes at a time when Punjab and KP chief ministers Chaudhry Parvez Elahi and Mahmood Khan’s previous stance of unconditional and unwavering support to Imran in going ahead with quitting the assemblies may just be gaining some flexibility.

Parvez Elahi has of late been saying that the Punjab Assembly would continue functioning till April– beyond Ramazan. KP’s Mahmood Khan has also shown some flexibility and said his assembly would be dissolved after the Punjab legislature.

While the PML-Q, the PTI’s ally in Punjab, is busy calculating how to milk its government and gain more ground in the province, the PTI is also apparently witnessing some fissures within the party as many MPAs do not back the Punjab Assembly’s dissolution.

Moreover, sources said such lawmakers could also stay absent from a prospective chief minister’s election in case Mr Elahi is convinced to join hands with the opposition PML-N, accepting its offer for PA speakership, as is being rumoured.

After the party’s senior leadership meeting at Imran Khan’s Zaman Park residence on Wednesday, Mr Qureshi told the media that the party chief wanted the election process to be completed and a new public-mandated government in the saddle before Ramazan, which begins at the end of March.

“Imran Khan says there should be no further delay in the dissolution of provincial assemblies as he took all measures by sending messages(to political players) through various sources, including direct talks led by President Dr Arif Alvi,” Qureshi said and regretted that the efforts had remained futile.

He further said the party wanted to bridge the gulfs created during the past eight months to end the political and economic mayhem in the country.

“It is the [Pakistan Democratic Movement] government’s own choice if it wants to keep its personal interests supreme than the country’s, and let Pakistan further sink into a plethora of problems that the new government will be unable to recover from during its constitutional term in power,” he regretted and cited the alleged infighting within the government — specifically between former and incumbent finance ministers Miftah Ismail and Ishaq Dar.

Elahi’s efforts

On the other hand, Punjab CM Elahi has launched hectic efforts against the dissolution of Punjab Assembly and to woo PTI legislators with lucrative development funds in their respective constituencies.

The men in the Elahi camp are also raising the issue of former prime minister Imran Khan’s security, saying that he was safe in the folds of Punjab and KP where his party ruled, and quitting the houses here could withdraw any protection he enjoys here.

“Mr Khan has restricted his movement to Islamabad, Sindh and Balochistan fearing arrest in various cases lodged against him,” the source said, adding Mr Elahi did not want to compromise on Khan’s security.

“On the other hand, Mr Elahi is quietly attempting to woo PTI leaders and strengthening his roots in the Punjab politics through massive development works and creation of new districts as well as Gujrat division – his hometown,” a source in the PTI told Dawn, adding Mr Khan’s decision to delay the dissolution of assemblies since his announcement on Nov 26 appeared to be backfiring now.

Stating that party MNAs had resigned from the National Assembly, Mr Qureshi told the media they were already not a part of the lower house of parliament and the dissolution of Punjab and KP assemblies would create an environment for general elections in the country.

He also conveyed the party’s appreciation for the Supreme Court’s suo motu notice in journalist Arshad Sharif’s killing case and constitution of a five-member bench that also perused the fact-finding report.

“The mother of the slain journalist and the PTI demand justice in the case as it will help restore the basic true fabric of the country’s Constitution and law of the land,” the former minister insisted.

He also called for dispensation of justice to party leaders Senator Azam Swati, Shahbaz Gill as well as the Imran Khan who has not been allowed to get an FIR registered as per his wishes in the assassination attempt on him during the long march in Wazirabad.

The points discussed during the meeting were also explained by PTI leaders including Secretary General Asad Umar and senior leaders Fawad Chaudhry and Shireen Mazari.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

Fact-finding report terms Arshad Sharif’s murder ‘targeted’

Malik Asad

ISLAMABAD: A two-member fact-finding team consisting of officers from the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has concluded that the murder of senior journalist Arshad Sharif was a “planned targeted assassination” which purportedly involved “transnational characters”.

In a 592-page report submitted to the five-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, the investigators contested the version put forth by the Kenyan police, who termed Mr Sharif’s killing “a case of mistaken identity”.

The report observed that the “transnational roles of characters in Kenya, Dubai, and Pakistan” in this assassination cannot be ruled out.

The report noted a number of discrepancies in the events connected to the death of Mr Sharif and also highlighted contradictions in the statements of the ARY owner, Salman Iqbal, in connection with the case.

According to the report, the officials of the Kenyan General Services Unit (GSU) fired nine bullets at Mr Sharif’s vehicle from an AK-47 and a local Gilboa rifle. It, however, added that there was “only one fire (sic) whose trajectory doesn’t fit with the firing pattern”.

It disclosed that “there is no penetration mark of a bullet on the seat of Arshad Sharif but he was hit from the back and the bullet exited from the right side of the chest”. That does not match with his sitting position, and the position of gunners as well as the line of fire, it said and termed it a “closed range fire”.

The investigators were astonished to note that the “driver’s side door and window are undamaged, and the driver’s seat does not even have any splatters of blood, which is curious since one of the injuries to Mr Sharif was a head wound that caused his skull to shatter and spread hair, blood and bone particles over the passenger seat, the passenger side roof the car, and even on the rear passenger seat.”

It also pointed out the reasons that forced Arshad Sharif to leave Pakistan, including the registration of about a dozen FIRs. It expressed that there was a possibility that the journalist was compelled to leave Dubai.

Waqar’s link with spy agencies

The investigators noted that Mr Sharif’s host Waqar, a contractor of the US embassy in Nairobi, was connected with the Kenyan National Intelligence Service (NIS) and international intelligence agencies and police.

It said that Waqar was also known to a Pakistani politician and a senior official of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Islamabad and when he was asked for CCTV footage of the residence of Mr Sharif, he replied that he made it conditional with the nod of the official of the spy agency.

The report said that “the fact that he handed over the personal cell phone and iPad of Arshad Sharif to an NIS officer rather than to police establishes his links with the NIS”. According to the report, “His linkage with national and international agencies provides a scope of possibility of transnational characters in this case.”

Likewise, the report also raised doubts on the conduct of Waqar’s borther Khurram who was driving the ill-fated Land Cruiser. The report said that the “narration presented by Khurram, who was driving the vehicle on the sequence of the crime scene is contrary to logic and facts”.

Role of Salman Iqbal

The report also shed light on the relations between Mr Sharif and the senior management of ARY, especially its owner Salman Iqbal.

“During his interview with the team, Salman Iqbal directly contradicted Waqar’s version and claimed he did not know Waqar…[and] had no other direct contact with him. He only knew that ‘Vicky’ was a good friend of Tariq Wasi”.

The investigators mentioned that Mr Iqbal failed to satisfy the team regarding his relations with Waqar and referred questions about the latter to Tariq Wasi.

“He [Tariq Wasi] responded in writing to the FFT questionnaire but his answers were not very illuminating or forthcoming. Many of his responses are contradicted by both Salman Iqbal and Waqar,” the report added.

According to the report, Tariq Wasi, directly linked with Waqar and who arranged for Arshad Sharif to be hosted by Waqar in Kenya, “would also become a key lynchpin for anybody wanting to murder Arshad Sharif” if the case had a transnational angle.

It said Salman Iqbal freely admitted that Waqar was approached to issue a letter of invitation to Arshad Sharif, nevertheless, in the initial days following Arshad Sharif’s death, some news reports, including those of ARY, continued to propagate that Arshad Sharif had gone to Kenya because Kenya had a visa on arrival policy.

The report also mentioned “discrepancies in the timelines” given by Mr Iqbal to the fact-finding team.

“Waqar claims that he called Tariq Wasi to inform him of Arshad Sharif’s death while he was driving from Ammodump camp to Oletepesi farm, essentially within the first thirty minutes of the incident. And it was during the same drive that Salman Iqbal called Waqar to get confirmation of Arshad Sharif’s death”.

However, Salman Iqbal claimed that he did not speak to Waqar till three to four hours after the incident, the report said, adding that Mr Iqbal had “contacted the senior army leadership to inform them of the fact that Arshad Sharif had been killed within an hour of the incident”.

It is not immediately clear why Salman Iqbal created this discrepancy over timelines, it added.

The report recommended the registration of the case with the Counter Terrorism Wing of the FIA under sections of the Pakistan Penal Code and the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Suo motu proceedings

The apex court bench resumed the hearing on the suo motu case regarding the killing of Arshad Sharif earlier in the day. As it took up the case, the top court directed the government to constitute a special joint investigation team (SJIT) to probe the killing of the journalist.

The eight-member team will comprise five police officials, and representatives of the ISI, FIA, and IB. Justice Bandial directed the federal government to notify the members by Thursday.

During the hearing, the mother of the slain journalist also filed an application before the court nominating senior military leadership, officials of the spy agency, and the public relations wing of the armed forces as accused.

The chief justice, after perusal of the application, said that “it could be [a] version of the complainant” and advised her to record a statement before the special JIT.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

Punjab gets four-day work week

Wajih Ahmad Sheikh

LAHORE: The Punjab government on Wednesday told the Lahore High Court that all public and private schools in the provincial capital will remain closed on every Friday and Saturday, in addition to the weekly holiday on Sunday, until further orders due to the worsening smog situation.

A provincial law officer also presented a notification issued by the school education secretary to this effect before Justice Shahid Karim, who had asked the government to notify the closure of schools in Lahore for at least three days a week.

The law officer also presented another notification by the Punjab Provincial Disas­ter Management Authority (PDMA) regarding the closure of all private offices in Lahore for two days in a week — Friday and Saturday — till Jan 15, 2023. However, the staff may work from home.

Justice Karim directed the government to implement the notifications forthwith.

Lahore Deputy Commi­ssioner (DC) Muhammad Ali and other officials of the government also appeared before the court.

The judge directed the DC to hold discussions with the traders to ensure closure of markets by 10pm daily and a complete shutdown on Sun­days. The judge further direc­ted the DC to devise a policy in consultation with the PDMA for monitoring of smoke-emitting industries through drone cameras to ensure a clean environment in the city.

An official of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) submitted new rules, as previously directed by the court, to make the existing punishments for violation of the laws and policies stricter. The factories/industries, as per the new rules, could be demolished for committing violations after the warnings.

The judge adjourned the hearing to the next week and sought compliance reports from the authorities concerned.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

PM’s son Suleman Shehbaz moves court ahead of return from exile

Atika Rehman

ISLAMABAD/LONDON: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s son, Suleman Shehbaz, is set to return to Pakistan after four years of self-exile in London, it emerged on Wednesday.

Mr Sharif, who left London for Madina to perform Umrah, is expected to reach Pakistan over the weekend.

He has already sought protective bail from the Islamabad High Court (IHC) that would enable him to surrender before a trial court.

Mr Sharif has been in London with his family since 2018, when the National Accountability Bureau registered multiple cases against him ahead of the general election.

Arrest warrants had been issued for Mr Shahbaz on May 28, but the FIA told the court they could not be executed since Mr Shehbaz was not present at his address and had gone abroad.

A trial court declared him a proclaimed offender, along with another suspect in a Rs16 billion money laundering case, in July this year.

In December 2021, FIA submitted a challan against Shehbaz and Hamza to the special court for their alleged involvement in laundering Rs16 billion in a sugar scam.

According to the FIA report submitted to the court, the investigation team “detected 28 benami accounts of the Shehbaz family through which money laundering of Rs16.3bn was committed from 2008-18. The FIA examined a money trail of 17,000 credit transactions.”

The report added that the amount was kept in “hidden accounts” and “given to Shehbaz in a personal capacity”.

In a statement, Mr Sharif said he was forced to leave Pakistan for the sake of his safety after “fake and manipulated cases” were registered against him and his family in order to “facilitate a new political order”.

“These cases were the worst example of political witch-hunt and political victimisation. There was no truth and not a scintilla of evidence of corruption in the cases cooked up by the National Accountability Bureau under the former NAB chairman Javed Iqbal and the Assets Recovery Unit,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

‘Have Zardari’s word Hamza won’t be CM’

Monitoring Desk

While discussing a possible scenario in which a new set-up may be carved out in Punjab to thwart PTI’s plan of dissolving the assembly, PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari has reportedly assured PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain that in any such case, PML-N leader Hamza Shehbaz will not be given the slot of chief minister.

Referring to Mr Zardari’s recent visit, Mr Shujaat said the former president had come to his residence for inquiring about his health — nothing more, Geo News reported.

However, Geo News while quoting sources claimed that Mr Zardari asked him to not let Chief Minister Parvez Elahi dissolve the assembly, and assured him of a new setup after consultations.

Mr Zardari’s suggestion implies that the opposition is trying to win over support of Elahi-led MPAs of PML-Q.

Chaudhry Shujaat offers to mediate between PTI, PDM; says he advised Elahi not to allow army officer to be nominated in Wazirabad FIR

The former president also assured Mr Shujaat that Hamza Shahbaz would not be the chief minister in the new setup.

For many years, Chaudhrys of Gujrat and the PML-N leadership have been strong opponent of each other in the power politics.

Meanwhile, Chaudhry Shujaat offered to become a mediator between the PTI and the PDM-led federal government.

“Damage to economy can be avoided if politicians stay in contact. If Imran Khan asks, I will personally speak to Prime Minister [Shehbaz Sharif] in this regard,” the veteran politician told Geo News on Wednesday.

PTI has been pressurising the coalition government at the Centre to hold early elections in light of the “deteriorating economy”.

But even though the PTI has been persistent in its demand for early polls since Imran Khan was ousted from power in April, its ally CM Elahi has recently said he did not see elections taking place in the next four months.

Mr Shujaat said that all the assemblies should complete their respective tenures, adding that if the Punjab Assembly was dissolved, it would trigger a constitutional crisis.

Of his meeting with Mr Zardari, Chaudhry Shujaat said the former had come to his residence for inquiring about his health, nothing more.

“I did not speak about Punjab’s situation with Asif Zardari, though it is possible that we might speak about Parvez Elahi in the future,” he said.

Mr Shujaat said that neither did he [the PPP leader] discuss Elahi nor did he speak about the PDM with Mr Zardari.

On his terms with Parvez Elahi, Chaudhry Shujaat said he does not speak about politics with the chief minister and that they only discussed matters related to “national interest”.

“I had suggested Parvez Elahi not to have the FIR (first information report) registered against the army officer [in the case about the gun attack on Imran Khan],” he disclosed.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

Alvi, Dar meet again to secure detente

Syed Irfan Raza

ISLAMABAD: President Dr Arif Alvi and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Wednesday met for the second time in 17 days in another attempt to bring the government and the PTI to the table and douse the political fire through dialogue.

While the meeting reflects the government’s intent to sit with the main opposition party to ease political tension, the administration is also said to be stuck to its stance that it would negotiate with the PTI if the talks were unconditional and without any pressure.

Mr Dar, believed to be the voice of PML-N’s self-exiled supremo Nawaz Sharif, called on President Alvi and briefed him on the country’s economic situation and the steps taken by the government to provide relief to the affected citizens.

According to the Presi­dency, several matters related to finance, the economy and the rehabilitation of flood victims were also discussed during the meeting.

Sources in the government said the PML-N-led administration had decided to slow down its efforts to move a no-confidence motion against Punjab Chief Minister Parvez Elahi after PTI Chairman Imran Khan and the chief minister appeared reluctant to dissolve the provincial assembly.

Later on Wednesday, President Alvi said in an interview with ARY News that he gave Mr Dar some suggestions for holding formal talks between the government and the PTI. “Early elections were also discussed in the meeting,” he said.

“I am trying to bring both sides to the table. I have given him [Mr Dar] some suggestions and he will reply after consulting with his party leadership,” the president said, adding that leaders of both sides should avoid teasing each other to ensure a conducive atmosphere for talks.

The president said the country was passing through a tense political situation in which dialogue was the only way to ease tension.

Responding to a question about PTI’s resignation from the National Assembly in April this year, the president hinted it was an unwise decision, saying: “If I had been consulted, I would have advised Imran Khan not to go out of the assembly.”

President Alvi said he had been mediating between the government and the opposition for over three months and met the finance minister for the second time because Mr Dar had a “talent” for reconciliation, as he had shown during PTI’s months-long sit-in of 2014.

The two leaders also discussed the perceived threat of default. “Dr Sahib also told me that news about default in the media damages the country’s image. I suggested that both sides should also sit to hold talks how to improve the country’s economy and carry out energy conservation,” he added.

‘People’s mandate essential’

President Alvi said that if the PTI chief dissolved Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies, early elections would become imminent as holding by-polls would be futile.

He said having a people’s mandate was essential for any political party and elections would be the only way political parties sell their narratives.

“If the PDM believes that it has taken a difficult decision by coming to power despite ample crisis, it will have a chance to convince people on this in electioneering,” he added.

The president believed that the ruling PDM also had lost an opportunity to win the public’s support by not agreeing to go for election when the PTI government was toppled through a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly in April.

New COAS ‘has better thinking’

On the appointment of Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Syed Asim Munir, the president said he found the new army chief a better one in terms of his thinking and hoped that he would play his role in reducing tension between the military and politicians.

“I also asked Ishaq Dar today that after the army has declared itself as neutral, the whole responsibility lies on civilians to benefit from it,” he added.

When contacted, a senior PML-N leader, who did not want to be named, told Dawn that the government wanted to sit with the PTI for talks provided they would be unconditional. “If Imran Khan presses for seeking exact date of early polls, this will be unacceptable for the government,” he said.

He said the government was ready to sit with PTI to discuss all national issues like electoral reforms, economy and others but not under any pressure and condition,” he added.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

US to tighten noose around TTP, IS-K: State Dept

Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON: The United States has pledged to further tighten the noose around militant groups such as the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) and the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pak­­istan (TTP), as the two terrorist outfits step up their activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“We have seen the reports that IS-K has claimed responsibility for the attack,” a US State Department spokesperson told Dawn on Wednesday, days after militants targeted Pakistan’s Chargé d’Affaires Ubaid Nizamani in Kabul and severely injured an embassy guard, who shielded the diplomat.

“We remain committed to further degrading Al Qaeda, IS-K, TTP, and other terrorist groups that pose a threat to the US and our partners and allies,” the spokesperson added.

Last month, the TTP also ended its ceasefire agreement with the government of Pakistan and began attacking several targets inside the country.

Expert suggests Islamabad and Kabul should jointly monitor, act against militant groups threatening both countries

Earlier this month, Washington had declared four TTP and South Asian Al Qaeda leaders as global terrorists and vowed to use its full might against all Afghanistan-based terror groups.

The next day, US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters that the US was deeply concerned by the attack on the Pakistani diplomat in Kabul and called for “a full and transparent investigation” into the failed assassination attempt.

In an earlier statement, another US State Department official said the militants operating in Afghanistan were a common enemy and the US and Pakistan “have a shared interest” in combating them. The official also pledged support for Pakistan’s anti-terror efforts against these groups.

Shuja Nawaz, a US-based Pakistani defence expert, told Dawn: “It is in the interest of both Pakistan and the US to continue collaborating in monitoring and eliminating TTP and IS-K operations in Afghanistan.”

“Pakistan needs to take a firm position on the use of Afghan soil as sanctuary by the militants. Hold Afghanistan responsible for any attack originating from its territory and retaliate swiftly and firmly,” he added.

In a recent report, the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) pointed out that IS-K “has grown in strength since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, doubling its strength from 2,000 to 4,000 fighters. Almost half of the fighters are from Pakistan.”

Sharing Pakistan’s concerns on this issue, US officials have said they do not want militants to turn Afghanistan into a hub once again and use its territory to launch another 9/11-like attack.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington, IS-K is an offshoot of the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant group, which itself was formed by disgruntled Al Qaeda activists.

IS-K was set up in January 2015 at the height of Islamic State power in Iraq and Syria, before its self-declared caliphate was defeated and dismantled by a US-led coalition.

The group recruits both Afghan and Pakistani fighters, especially defecting members of the Afghan Taliban and TTP who don’t see their own organisations as strong enough to carry forward their militant mission of creating a new Islamic state in Khorasan.

The term “Khorasan” refers to a historical region covering parts of modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

The group initially included Pakistan, until a separate Pakistan section was declared in May 2019.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

Sister blasts Iranian supreme leader’s ‘despotic’ rule


PARIS: The sister of Iran’s supreme leader has slammed his “despotic” rule and thrown her support behind protests ignited by Mahsa Amini’s death, in a letter published on Wednesday by her son.

“I oppose my brother’s actions,” Ayatollah Khamenei’s sister Badri Hosseini Khamenei, who is believed to be in Iran, said in a letter published online by her France-based son Mahmoud Moradkhani.

“I express my sympathy with all mothers mourning the crimes of the Islamic republic regime,” from the time of its founder Ayat­ollah Ruhollah Khomeini “to the current era of the despotic caliphate of Ali Khamenei”, she wrote.

“My concern has always been and will always be the people, especially the women of Iran,” she added.

Ex-president Khatami also voices support for protests

She accused the regime of bringing “nothing but suffering and oppression to Iran and Iranians” since it was established following the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the shah.

“The people of Iran deserve freedom and prosperity, and their uprising is legitimate and necessary to achieve their rights.

“I hope to see the victory of the people and the overthrow of this tyranny ruling Iran soon,” she said.

Badri Hosseini Khame­nei called on the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to “lay down their weapons as soon as possible and join the people before it is too late”.

She lamented that “due to physical ailments” she was unable to take part in the protests.

“My brother does not listen to the voice of the people of Iran and wrongly considers the voice of his mercenaries and money-grabbers to be the voice of the Iranian people.

“He rightly deserves the disrespectful and impudent words he uses to describe the oppressed but brave people of Iran,” she wrote.

Khatami backs protest

Meanwhile, Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami has voiced support for the protest movement sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death, describing as “beautiful” its main slogan — “Woman, life, freedom”.

Khatami, a reformist who served as Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005 has come out in support of the movement.

The 79-year-old described the slogan “Woman, life, freedom” — the main chant heard at the protests — as “a beautiful message that shows movement towards a better future”.

“Freedom and security must not be placed against each other,” he said in a statement quoted by ISNA news agency on Tuesday, on the eve of Students’ Day.

“Freedom must not be trampled on in order to maintain security” and “security should not be ignored in the name of freedom”, he said.

Khatami also spoke out against the arrest of students who have been at the forefront of the protests that erupted in Iran since Amini’s death in custody on September 16.

The imposition of restrictions “cannot ultimately ensure the stable security of universities and society”, he said.

In his statement, Khatami also called on officials to “extend students a helping hand” and to recognise the “wrong aspects of governance” with their help before it is too late.

Khatami was barred from appearing in the media after mass protests triggered by the disputed 2009 re-election of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

Govt urged to deal with Afghan refugees on humanitarian grounds

Mubarak Zeb Khan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan nee­ded to deal with the issue of Afghan refugees on humanitarian grounds and enact domestic laws to become a signatory to the international conventions for being the largest host country of refugees, experts said at a panel discussion on Wednesday.

The discussion, titled ‘Afghan Refugees and Migrants: Humani­tarian Response in Pakistan’, was held on the third day of the 25th Sustainable Development Confe­rence, organised by the Sustain­a­ble Development Policy Institute.

Experts said that negligence in policy had invariably affected the Afghan refugees in terms of their identity recognition, income means and citizenship, causing serious damage to their psychological condition and leading to stress and depression.

Former senator Afrasiab Khattak said since partition, Pakistan had been actively hosting refugees from different countries, including India, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

Experts say negligence in policy has invariably affected refugees, leading to stress and depression

Pakistan strongly needed legislation at a domestic forum to fill the legal vacuum created by the Afghan refugees’ issue, he said and suggested that repatriation, relocation and absorption were the factors that should be focused on in policymaking.

“The dilemma is that new terms like temporarily displaced persons (TDPs) and internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been introduced and they are not recognised as refugees,” he said.

The media needed to play an active role in voicing the Afghan refugees’ miseries, he said, adding that this nation was in exile and demanded that it should be looked at on humanitarian grounds.

The government should revise its Afghan policy for refugees to overcome their miseries, he added.

Ayesha Khan, country director of Hashoo Foundation, said that according to a report of the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, 90pc of Afghan refugees were hosted by Pakistan and Iran.

She said the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees, established in 2012, was a proactive step taken by the global community to help Afghan refugees and host countries.

Another speaker, Safiya Aftab, stressed the need for formulating a domestic policy to cater to the basic needs of health, education and sustenance for refugees.

Many undocumented refugees had started to enter the internal economy, mainly as low-income migrant households, she said, adding that Pakistan designed an effective policy to document these existing issues. Apart from granting some medical, transit and substantial visas on humanitarian grounds, a strong policy would surely ensure the sustenance needs of refugees, she said.

‘Reforms must to achieve SDGs’

At another panel discussion, prime minister’s aide Rana Ihsan Afzal said the government would have to introduce drastic reforms in various sectors to create fiscal space for financing the sustainable development goals (SDGs) agenda.

He highlighted the need to increase the tax-to-GDP ratio from 8.5 per cent to 15pc, raise tax revenues and streamline loss-making state-owned enterprises.

He said the country’s crop yields were very low and must be brought on a par with international standards to minimise the import pressure on the country.

Former Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq said: “We also need to create fiscal space as much as possible to promote SDGs agenda.” She underlined that the challenge of limited financing resources is one of the biggest impediments to achieving SDGs.

Priyantha Rathnayake, Sri Lanka’s deputy secretary to the treasury, said the domestic resources of developing countries were insufficient to finance the SDGs agenda and urged the international development partners to come forward with emergency funding like those mobilised during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

NAB seeks unfreezing of Dar’s assets

Zulqernain Tahir

LAHORE: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar got a major relief as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has written to different banks and departments to unfreeze his accounts amounting to over Rs500 million and detach his properties in Lahore and Islamabad in the light of court orders.

Mr Dar is among several other politicians of the ruling coalition at the Centre who got relief under the amended NAB laws. The PML-N leader is said to be very excited to have his old house in Lahore back which he claimed to have gifted to his wife in the late 1980s.

Mr Dar’s five-kanal Gulberg residence hit the headlines in 2019 following the revelation that he got an amenity plot altered to build a road leading to his residence.

However, after the Supreme Court took notice of the matter, the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) restored the public park. The apex court had also directed the LDA to recover restoration cost from Ishaq Dar.

“Besides the Gulberg house, the departments concerned have been directed by NAB to detach three plots in Al Falah Housing Society, Lahore; six acres of land in Islam­abad; a two-kanal plot in Parliamentarians Encla­­ve, Islamabad; a plot in the Senate Cooperative Hou­­sing Society, Islamabad; a plot measuring two kanals and another of nine marlas in Islamabad; and six vehicles,” an official told Dawn.

The departments had in 2019 attached these properties at the request of NAB following the court orders.

Mr Dar was declared an absconder by the Supreme Court in 2017 when he failed to appear before it as he was in London. He was facing an income-beyond-means and money laundering reference filed by NAB.

His arrest warrants were suspended by an accountability court in September this year, paving the way for his return from London where he spent nearly five years in self-exile.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

Xi arrives in Saudi Arabia as Riyadh chafes at US censure


RIYADH: Chinese Pre­si­dent Xi Jinping arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wed­nesday on a visit Beijing hailed as its biggest diplomatic initiative in the Arab world, as Riyadh expands global alliances beyond a longstanding partnership with the West.

The meeting between the global economic powerhouse and Gulf energy giant comes as Saudi ties with Washington are strai­ned by US criticism of Riy­adh’s human rights record and Saudi support for oil output curbs before the November midterm polls.

The White House said Xi’s visit was an example of Chinese attempts to exert influence and that this would not change US policy towards the Middle East. “We are mindful of the influence that China is trying to grow around the world,” White House Nat­i­o­­nal Security Council spo­k­­­esperson John Kirby said.

White House sees trip as Chinese attempt to exert influence in Middle East

Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said Riyadh would remain a “trusted and reliable” energy partner for Beijing and that the two countries would boost cooperation in energy supply chains by establishing a regional centre in the kingdom for Chinese factories. The Chinese delegation is exp­ected to sign deals worth $30 billion with Riyadh.

Xi was met on arrival by the governor of Riyadh, the kingdom’s foreign minister and the governor of sovereign wealth fund PIF.

Crown Prince Moham­med bin Salman is exp­e­c­ted to offer Xi a lavish welcome, in contrast with the low-key reception for US President Joe Biden whose censure of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler formed the backdrop for a strained meeting in July.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

Peru president impeached despite his bid to dissolve Congress


LIMA: Peru’s Congress on Wednesday impeached President Pedro Castillo, sacking him as it ignored his decision to dissolve the legislature.

Facing his third impeachment attempt in almost 18 months of power, Castillo announced in a televised address to the nation that he was dissolving Congress and would rule by decree in what was criticised as a coup.

The former school tea­cher, who unexpectedly took power from Peru’s traditional political elite, has faced non-stop crises, with repeated cabinet reshuffles, multiple corruption investigations and protests since he was elected in July last year.

“This intolerable situation cannot continue,” the 53-year-old said, announcing he was “temporarily dissolving Congress... and installing an exceptional emergency government”.

Castillo said he would convene a new Congress “as soon as possible to draft a new Constitution within a period of no more than nine months”.

He added that until a new Congress is formed, the country would be “governed by decree law” and there will be a curfew between 10pm and 4am, Castillo added.

However, lawmakers defiantly gathered to debate the impeachment motion and approved it, with 101 votes out of a total of 130 lawmakers, in a session broadcast live on television.

House speaker Jose Williams Zapata had called for Castillo’s impeachment “due to moral incapacity” after the president tried to “dissolve Congress and impede its function in an unconstitutional manner”. The opposition-dominated Congress, which holds 80 seats, had needed 87 votes to pass the motion.

Castillo became the third president since 2018 to be sacked under the “moral incapacity” provision in the constitution.

Vice President Dina Boluarte wrote on Twitter that Castillo’s move was a “coup d’état that aggravates the political and institutional crisis” in the country.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

Not opposed to EVMs; procedure will take time, says CEC

Iftikhar A. Khan

ISLAMABAD: Rejecting as baseless the propaganda that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was opposed to the use of technology in the electoral exercise, polls watchdog head Sikandar Sultan Raja made it clear on Wednesday that no one should expect the implementation of the plan overnight.

“I challenge all the critics to show one instance where the ECP opposed electronic voting machines (EVMs) or voting rights for overseas Pakistanis, but there should be a procedure,” the chief election commissioner said while addressing a ceremony held to mark the national voters’ day.

CEC Raja said the ECP might conduct test trials of different types of EVMs in future by-elections and local government polls. He said a demonstration of suitable machines would be given to stakeholders and recommendations for legislation would be prepared before gradually introducing the machines all across the country.

He said the ECP was all for the use of technology but stressed that there must be a consensus among all stakeholders on the matter. He noted that EVMs should be “user-friendly and ensure secrecy of ballot”. He referred to the establishment of a ‘project management unit’ at the ECP in January this year to work on EVMs and I-voting for overseas Pakistanis, saying the commis-sion had not done so had it been averse to using technology.

Rules out polls on digital census in case final notification delayed

Highlighting the pitfalls of the introduction of technology in haste, he referred to his meeting with the Brazilian ambassador and quoted the envoy as saying that “it would be a miracle if the EVMs were used by Pakistan in the 2023 general elections”. Stressing that one must not be oblivious to the ground realities, the CEC noted that introducing the technology in haste could be counterproductive.

“EVMs cannot be introduced merely by chanting a slogan,” he remarked.

It may be recalled that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan has been the strongest proponent of EVMs and I-voting rights for Pakistanis living abroad as he has repeatedly said that these measures could play an important role in checking rigging and ensuring maximum participation of overseas Pakistanis in the electoral exercise.

Mr Raja mentioned the steps needed in the introduction of EVMs, including the selection of machines that suit the country’s environment, their procurement, storage and transportation as well as training of the individuals involved, including the polling staff.

He emphasised that transparency in the electoral process was mandatory.

Digital census

The CEC made it clear that the upcoming general polls would have to be conducted on the basis of existing delimitation in case of a delay in the issuance of the final notification of the digital census.

Without naming anybody, Mr Raja said everyone was equal before the ECP “from the worker to the party head”, adding that the commission acts without any discrimination when the law is violated.

In an apparent reference to the foreign funding and Toshakhana cases against the PTI leadership, he said major decisions had been taken by the ECP. “We might have committed a mistake, but there was no mala fide intention [behind any decision],” he remarked.

He further said that decisions had been given without any pressure and had nothing to do with personal likes and dislikes. He mentioned that out of the total 51 by-polls held between 2021 and 2022, as many as 35 were won by the opposition, adding that this was proof of transparency in elections.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

Footprints: The coolest team in Qatar

Umaid Wasim

IT was exhibition football from Portugal as they became the last team to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup with their trouncing of Switzerland, but there was no doubt about who the coolest man in Qatar was on Tuesday night.

Even Kylian Mbappe — yet again, four years on from Russia, the dazzling star of the World Cup — tweeted for the “Moroccan King”.

His Paris St Germain teammate Achraf Hakimi wasn’t just the toast of Morocco but the whole region as well; his breathtaking ‘Panenka’ penalty with the eyes of the whole world on him ensured there was an Arab team in the last eight of the first World Cup in the Arab world.

Morocco’s victory also meant that after a group stage for the underdogs and after the heavyweights of world football had largely re­­asserted themselves in the round of 16, there was at least one outlier; a team that will provide fans of the region something to cheer about as the World Cup reached the sharp end.

It’s not that Morocco don’t have thousands of fans of their own. The Royal Moroccan Football Federation distributed 10,000 tickets for the last-16 game to fans who could show the country’s passport. Just like after matches featuring Saudi Arabia, who notably stunned Argentina in the group stage, the alleyways and the cobbled streets of Souq Waqif, the traditional market with cafes and restaurants was brimming with fans in Moroccan colours.

It was a massive celebration. “But today we’re not having Shisha [Hookah] because we’ve been screaming like crazy and our throats are down,” Toufek, a Moroccan fan, told Dawn hours after seeing his side prevail over Spain 3-0 in a penalty shootout after a goalless draw at the Education City Stadium. “Our victory has united the Arab fans, we have Algerians, Egyptians, Saudis and Qataris all celebrating our win. We’re all brothers with a common cause.”

For Spain, the defeat marked a second successive last-16 exit at the World Cup. Just like Germany discovered in the group stage, past triumphs count for nothing as teams from Africa and Asia have narrowed the gap.

This is the new world order and no one is taking these sides for granted anymore.

“We have a tough game against Morocco and we need to prepare for it,” Portugal’s Bernardo Silva told Dawn after their 6-1 win at the Lusail Stadium, one which came without much contribution from the metronomic Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo’s story is one of several plots in this incredible World Cup. In his last chance to win it, it’s likely that he will have to make do with a bit-part role. Age has caught up with him. It’s the same with his long-time nemesis Lionel Messi, who is also looking to add the World Cup to the long list of titles he’s won.

Unlike Ronaldo, though, Messi remains the heartbeat for Argentina; his goal setting up their 2-1 win over Australia. Up next for them are a Netherlands side looking to deliver a first World Cup for their nation as well as the cancer-stricken Louis van Gaal, who is in his last tournament as coach.

“In the quarter-finals, you are three games away from glory and we want to cash in on the opportunity at hand,” Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk told a news conference on Wednesday.

If Argentina advance, they could potentially face Brazil in a tantalising semi-final. The Brazilians, playing under the shadow of the legendary Pele being hospitalised, turned on the style in their 4-1 romp over South Korea to set up a quarter-final against Croatia, who ended the hopes of Japan in the only other penalty shootout of the last-16 stage.

With the big boys turning up in the first knockout round, France, with Mbappe showing his spectacular ability, and England dispatched Poland and Senegal respectively to set up a clash for the semi-final berth. If France advance, Mbappe will come face to face with Hakimi if Morocco can continue their impressive run in Qatar.

But on Wednesday, the first rest day of the tournament after 16 days of non-stop action, Morocco were the only team in the last eight that opted to rest while the others continued on with their training sessions. As far as their fans are concerned, they are having a ball in Qatar.

They never expected their side to come this far. But here they are, with more history beckoning if they reach the final four. Go through, and they will become the first African or Arab team to have made it that far at a World Cup.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

‘Calamitous’ smog puts Punjab on high alert

Ahmad Fraz Khan

LAHORE: As Punjab im­­posed an environmental emer­gency in parts of the province, particularly in Lahore, owing to the hazardous level of smog, the Lahore High Court (LHC) asked the government on Tuesday to notify the closure of schools in the provincial capital for at least three days a week.

Terming smog a ‘calamity’, Chief Minister Parvez Elahi ordered the effective implementation of a plan designed to reduce smog in the province and said that action should be taken to control the factors that caused it.

The Environment Protec­tion Department (EPD), transport, and industries departments in liaison with administrative officers should go in the field, the CM said, adding that any failure to implement the ongoing SOPs to reduce smog will not be tolerated. He said that “indiscriminate action” should be taken against those who set fire to crop residues — a practice banned across the province.

Legal action should also be continued against smoke-emitting vehicles, he said, adding that the anti-smog squad should regularly check smoke-emitting vehicles in the city to curb violations. The anti-smog squad should ensure the checking of vehicles at the entrances to Lahore, as per the directives. According to the CM, farmers will be provided with a modern harvester to destroy crop residues. Transfer of all brick kilns to zigzag technology should be ensured, he added.

Separately, a meeting of the Punjab Environment Protec­tion Council considered proposals to set up car-free zones in Lahore, as well as allocating traffic days in these areas, APP reported. It was also suggested that more and more trees with large leaves should be planted across the city since such vegetation would help curb the dust that permeated the air in the metropolis.

The council suggested that vehicles older than 30 years should be banned in Lahore from October to December and the use of electric public transport should be encouraged.

Minister Basharat Raja also weighed in, saying that all obstacles in the use of electric vehicles should be removed.

The council also suggested restricting the establishment of industries in Punjab to designated estates and parks.

Four-day school week

Separately, the high court directed the Punjab government to notify the closure of the schools in the provincial capital for three days a week due to aggravated levels of smog. Justice Shahid Karim passed the order while hearing public interest petitions on several issues relating to the environment.

The judge directed a provincial law officer to submit the notification regarding the schools’ closure in court on Wednesday (today). The judge also summoned the deputy commissioner of Lahore to the next hearing. The law officer said the government would produce the notification regarding the closure of schools today as per the court’s order.

Last week, the judge had observed that the government failed to control smog and directed the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to make rules to enhance punishment on the brick kilns and industries for violating the laws and policies. Justice Karim noted that smog had been causing health complications among the citizens, especially children, and senior citizens.

As per media reports, the provincial secretary for education opposed the proposal to close schools for three days a week, instead suggesting that early winter vacations be announced.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

FIR of Arshad’s killing registered on SC order

Malik Asad

ISLAMABAD: Police sprang into action on Tuesday, registering an FIR on Arshad Sharif’s murder on the directions of the Supreme Court — nearly six weeks after the journalist’s assassination.

The victim’s hosts in Kenya, Khuram Ahmed and Waqar Ahmed, along with some unidentified persons, were booked by the Ramna police for his murder on the complaint of SHO Rasheed Ahmed, just hours after the top court invoked its suo motu jurisdiction on an application filed by the journalist’s mother and directed the interior secretary to ensure the registration of an FIR. The court also sought a fact-finding report from the additional attorney general for Pakistan.

The five-member SC bench, which will resume hearing the case on Wednesday (today), came down hard on the government on Tuesday for not submitting the fact-finding report or registering an FIR of the incident.

Headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, the bench comprised Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Jamal Mandokhel, Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar earlier summoned the secretaries of interior, foreign affairs, information and broadcasting, directors general of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) as well as president of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and asked about progress on the ongoing murder investigation.

The proceedings were initiated on the recommendation of Justice Ahsan and Justice Mazhar when CJP Bandial sent them the SC’s human rights cell report, based on the application of slain journalist’s mother seeking formation of a high-level commission to probe the murder, and sought their opinion to invoke the suo motu jurisdiction.

At the hearing, Justice Ahsan wondered how investigation would commence when even an FIR had not been registered.

“We have been waiting 43 days for the report,” CJP Bandial remarked.

Appearing before the bench, Interior Secretary Yousaf Naseem Khokhar apprised the court that a fact-finding committee constituted by the government had submitted its report to the federal government. Additional Attorney General Amir Rehman said Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had been in Faisalabad on this weekend whereas the report was received on Dec 2 evening. He said the prime minister and law minister would also examine the report before its submission to the apex court.

The chief justice said: “A journalist was murdered; who killed him should be brought to light.” He said the government could introduce a law to proceed against a journalist for ‘concocted’ stories and legislate to strengthen defamatory, civil or criminal laws, but the apex court could not tolerate “vindictive approach for journalists”.

Foreign Secretary Asad Majeed earlier apprised the court of efforts to retrieve the body from Kenya and pursue the investigation, explaining that the Pakistani High Commissioner in Kenya was in touch with relevant authorities. He also recalled that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had spoken to the Kenyan president on the matter. However, he said he was unaware of the progress made in the investigation.

Before putting off the proceedings for a day, the bench directed the interior secretary to place a copy of the FIR before the court on Wednesday and sought the fact-finding report from the additional attorney general. The foreign secretary was also asked to submit a report on the “ongoing Kenyan investigation”.

Just hours after the court’s directions, police registered an FIR on the complaint of an SHO, mentioning that Inspector Mian M. Shahbaz along with other officials, acting on the information, reached Pims on October 26 and found the body of Arshad Sharif, a resident of Islamabad’s Sector G-11/3, there.

It said the body was brought from abroad. Following a post-mortem examination by a medical board, five sealed parcels, including one that contained a bullet, were handed over to the Ramna police and the body was handed over to the heirs, the FIR stated.

Since the journalist was killed abroad, an inquiry was under way at senior level, it said. However, the issue was recorded in the police diary and legal proceedings under Section 174 of the criminal procedure code were in progress, it said.

However, the slain journalist’s widow, Javeria Siddique, took issue with the FIR being lodged on the complaint of a police official. Taking to Twitter, she asked when a case would be registered on the complaint of the deceased’s family members.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, meanwhile, in a tweet welcomed the SC decision to take suo motu notice, recalled he had already written a letter to the CJP for formation of a judicial commission to probe the journalist’s murder, and pledged that the government would extend full cooperation to court.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

Nawaz greenlights poll prep as ‘N’ pushes back plans to ‘save assembly’

Zulqernain Tahir

LAHORE: In an apparent effort to dispel the impression that the PML-N is ‘running away’ from elections in Punjab, and seemingly out of legal options to forestall a possible dissolution of the provincial assembly, the party’s supreme leader, Nawaz Sharif, has directed the PML-N’s provincial chief to begin homework for shortlisting suitable candidates for polls.

However, party leaders insist they’re only preparing for the eventuality where the province goes to polls; they believe the ruling coalition in Punjab would not dissolve the legislature.

“Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah (who is also the PML-N’s Punjab president) will preside over the party’s provincial chapter meeting on Friday in Model Town regarding preparations for elections,” the party’s Punjab Information Secretary Azma Bokhari told Dawn on Tuesday.

She said the meeting had been called on the directions of the elder Sharif to initiate the shortlisting of suitable candidates for elections in case the Punjab Assembly was dissolved.

PML-N leader says ex-PM directed party to start short-listing candidates in case assembly dissolved

“However, let me tell you, Imran Khan will not have the [house] dissolved at the end of the day. But in case he does, we want to be fully prepared,” MPA Bokhari said.

Earlier, the Sharifs were reportedly advised by ‘well-wishers’ within the party to change their narrative of ‘saving Punjab Assembly at any cost’ and adopt a more confident tone that shows they are not afraid of contesting polls in case Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi dissolves the assembly at the request of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan.

The PML-N had claimed the party wanted to save the assemblies owing to constitutional, economic and law and order reasons.

Out of options?

As the PML-N announces preparations for elections, the party appears to have accepted it may be unable to block dissolution of the Punjab Assembly.

“After consultations with its legal brains, the PML-N seems to have arrived at a conclusion that it doesn’t have many options to forestall the dissolution of the PA, so it is better to prepare to go to polls in the province (if and when the assembly is dissolved),” a party source told Dawn on Tuesday.

He said even the efforts of PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, who had been tasked by the PDM to woo ‘disgruntled’ PTI MPAs, could not bear fruit as yet, nor could Opposition Leader in the PA Hamza Shehbaz manage to convince PTI MPAs to switch loyalties.

The source said in case the opposition failed to table a no-trust move against the Punjab CM, imposition of governor’s rule and seeking a vote of confidence from the CM were the other options, which could not be exercised as the PA was in session. “Keeping such a scenario in mind, the PML-N supremo has given a go-ahead to the party’s Punjab chapter to launch election preparations,” he added.

Talking to a private TV channel on Tuesday, Interior Minister Sanaullah asked CM Elahi to dissolve the assembly, as his party was ready to contest elections.

Nawaz’s return

On the other hand, former National Assembly speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq has claimed that former premier Nawaz was returning to Pakistan in January.

“Nawaz Sharif will return to the country next month and also award party tickets to those aspiring to contest the polls,” the federal minister told a private TV channel on Tuesday.

In the party’s recent meetings, a good number of leaders had requested the elder Sharif to return and face the challenge posed by Imran Khan. Senior leaders like Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Rana Sanaullah have previously said Nawaz would be in Pakistan ahead of the next general elections.

“Nawaz Sharif is looking for some relief in the corruption cases to pave the way for his return,” the source said.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

No let-up in fight against terror, army chief vows

Manzoor Ali

PESHAWAR: Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Syed Asim Munir on Tuesday reaffirmed the military’s resolve to continue fight against terrorism till the achievement of enduring peace and stability in the country.

The reaffirmation has came in the wake of a recent uptick in terrorist attacks across the merged areas and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan last Monday an­­nounced ending its months-long ceasefire with the government.

The TTP and the Pakistan government had announced the ceasefire in June this year.

Recent weeks and months have seen resurgence of militancy in Malakand, southern belt and merged districts, with increasing intensity of attacks on law enforcement personnel.

The military’s media wing said in a statement the COAS reaffirmed the resolve to curb terrorism during his maiden trip to the troops deployed along the Pak-Afghan border in the Tirah area of Khyber district. According to the statement, the army chief spent the day with forward troops deployed along Pak-Afghan border.

Gen Munir was brief by the field commander on operational preparedness and border control measures in place as part of the western borders management regime.

Interacting with the officers and men, the COAS praised them for their high morale and operational readiness in the line of duty. He said the state’s writ has been established due to innumerable sacrifices by tribal people and security forces.

“Our fight against terrorism will continue with the support of the nation till we achieve enduring peace and stability,” he reiterated.

Gen Munir said defence of the motherland would be ensured at all costs and there would not be any space for the spoilers of peace. “No one will be allowed to disrupt the hard-earned gains of war against terror made thus far,” the COAS added.

Later, the army chief visited the Corps Headquarters Peshawar and laid floral wreath to pay homage to Shahuada. He was also briefed on operational, training and other matters of the formation, including efforts to create secure environment for socio-economic development projects to uplift the newly merged districts.

Earlier, on arrival, the COAS was received by Lt Gen Hassan Azhar Hayat, Commander Peshawar Corps.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

Emirati firm in talks to buy Telenor Pakistan

Imran Ayub

KARACHI: Ownership of the country’s second-largest cellular service provider may soon change hands as Telenor Pakistan looks to exit the country amid growing cost of doing business and shrinking prospects, Dawn has learnt.

As per those privy to the development, Telenor Pakistan is said to be in talks with an Emirates-based multinational telecom firm to sell its operations.

Although a spokesperson for Telenor Pakistan declined to comment on the development, insiders told Dawn that talks between the Emirati firm, which already has a strong presence in Pakistan, and Telenor have reached an “advanced stage”.

A well-placed source in the IT ministry also confirmed that a deal was currently in the works, but declined to share any other information on the record.

Prospective buyer looking to secure Pakistan’s 2nd largest telecom provider for just under $1bn

Bloomberg reported in November that the Norway-based telecom operator had enlisted the services of the Citigroup to carry out the bidding process.

But according to an industry source, the Norwegian company has engaged not one but two renowned multinational investment banks to execute the sale.

“The Emirati company already has a sizable presence in Pakistan, in nearly all key areas of the telecom sector and it is interested in further consolidating its position,” the source said.

Citing the growing cost of doing business as the key reason behind the sale, the source said that the company had started suffering losses due to the swift appreciation of the US dollar.

The company’s operational costs have touched $55 million, the source said, pointing out that the largest chunk of this was consumed by electricity prices — documents show that in the outgoing financial year, the company paid around $17 million in power bills alone to keep its infrastructure running.

In view of this, experts say it is understandable that Telenor Pakistan would look to cut its losses and — from the company’s perspective — prefer to expand into a region where business prospects or rates of return are better than in Pakistan.

The company had reportedly set an asking price between $1 billion and $1.2bn, but the interested party is looking to spend $780-910 million on the acquisition.

Tough market for investment

Experts agree that the business environment for the telecom sector in general, and the cellular industry in particular, has become quite tough. The government and its regulatory regime, they say, needs to work to revive the industry, which has been in gradual decline for the past couple of years.

“Things have not been good for around two years now, but the recent appreciation of the US dollar had made things even more challenging,” said Parvez Iftikhar, an international consultant on telecom policy and regulation.

According to Mr Iftikhar, Pakistan has one of the lowest average revenue per user in the world, which means that cellular services cost less here than most other countries. It has been an attractive market for cellular providers, given the vast potential for growth.

But there are some regulatory hurdles that make the telecom sector more challenging to operate in. For instance, apart from spending dollars on importing equipment, the government has also pegged spectrum prices to US dollars, which increases the cost of doing business manifold, Mr Iftikhar points out.

In his view, companies are no longer putting fresh investment, even though there is still massive potential for expansion and improvement. Most market players, he says, are just trying to sustain the recent jump in the cost of doing business.

Govt policy

Although he said he was unaware of any such deal being in the works, Federal Minister for Information Technology and Telecom Syed Aminul Haq admitted that business conditions for cellular companies had become tougher due to an overall economic squeeze.

“We at the ministry are trying our best to facilitate cellular companies and all other players in the IT and telecom ecosystem,” he told Dawn.

He recounted that the approval of a Right of Way policy, the transparent spectrum auction a major cut in withholding tax were all incentives provided to the telecom sector, but said that the overall economic condition forced the passage of a ‘mini budget’ and necessitated an increase in withholding taxes “There are several things which are beyond our ministry’s control,” he said.

Rise of the conglomerate

If the deal materialises, Telenor Pakistan will become the second cellular provider to shutter its operations in Pakistan. Before this, Mobilink’s parent company VimpelCom acquired Warid Telecom in the country’s first mobile telecommunications acquisition in 2015.

Subsequently, in February 2017, Mobilink officially announced that it had given up its brand name and would now be called Jazz following a merger with Warid.

Both companies — Telenor and Warid — were awarded licenses in 2004 after the mobile telecom sector was deregulated in 2003 through the Mobile Cellular Policy. Both companies started their operations in 2005. At the time, the entry of two foreign operators gave the sector a much-needed boost.

For reference, the number of cellular subscribers stood at 16 million in 2005, but grew swiftly to reach the 100 million mark by 2011.

According to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) figures, Pakistan currently has around 194 million cellular subscribers.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

FC soldier martyred, beheaded in Bannu

Ghulam Mursalin Marwat

LAKKI MARWAT: A Frontier Constabulary soldier was martyred and beheaded by unknown attackers in Janikhel town of Bannu district, according to police.

The deceased was gunned down, along with his son inside their home, according to the FIR. The victims have been identified as Rehman Zaman, 45, and Shahid, 18.

The victim’s widow, in her statement, told the police that her husband and son were asleep in the house late on Monday night when they heard loud noises. When they came out of the bedroom, they saw around 20 armed men in the compound.

She claimed that unidentified gunmen shot the victims and then beheaded her husband’s body.

Tribal elder gunned down in North Waziristan; D.I. Khan DPO survives attack on convoy

The assailants took away the head with them, the widow said, claiming that it was a result of her husband’s government job.

She said her family had no dispute with anyone and that her husband was employed with the Frontier Constabulary.

Meanwhile, locals claimed that the assailants hung the head from a tree in the Bachki market area which was spotted by tribesmen in the morning who then informed the police.

The police shifted the bodies to the district headquarters hospital in Bannu city for medico-legal formalities.

A case has been registered against unknown assailants at the Janikhel police station.

Tribal elder killed

In Mirali subdivision of North Waziristan district, a tribal leader, identified as Malik Alamgir Khan, was shot dead by unknown assailants when he was going to his village, Hyder Khel.

The attack came a day after a local was killed in the Tapi area of the district. The attacker was also killed after the victim’s relatives chased him.

Three ‘militants’ killed

In Dera Ismail Khan, three alleged militants were gunned down, while a top police official survived an attack on his convoy on Tuesday.

According to the police, the alleged militants were killed in a joint operation by the police and security agencies in Girah Mastan village of Dera Ismail Khan.

A district police spokesman said the operation was jointly conducted by the Counter-Terrorism Department, security agencies and local police on information about the presence of militants in the area.

As the forces circled in on their hideout, the militants opened fire. In the ensuing gunbattle, three alleged militants were killed who were later identified as Munib, Junaid and Shaukat, belonging to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan Gandapur group, according to the police.

In Khoi Barah area of Darazinda tehsil, District Police Officer (DPO) Muhammad Shoaib remained unhurt in an attack targeting his convoy.

A constable travelling with the squad was injured and several vehicles were damaged in the attack.

According to a police spokesman, DPO Shoaib was on a visit to check security measures for the ongoing polio campaign in Darazinda tehsil when his convoy came under attack.

As the convoy reached the Basic Health Unit in Khoi Bhara, militants opened indiscriminate fire, the spokesman added.

The police promptly retaliated, but the attackers managed to flee.

Later, police and security personnel cordoned off the area and started a search operation to track down the attackers.

Haji Pazir Gul in North Waziristan and Mohammad Irfan Mughal in Dera Ismail Khan contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

Al Jazeera takes slain journalist’s case to ICC


THE HAGUE: TV network Al Jaze­era submitted the case of slain journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to the Inter­national Criminal Court on Tuesday, saying she was killed by Israeli forces.

The Qatar-based channel said it had “unearthed new evidence” on the death of the Palestinian-American, shot while covering an Israel army raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank on May 11.

Any person or group can file a complaint to the ICC prosecutor for investigation, but the court is under no obligation to take on such cases.

But the United States opposed the Al Jazeera move, renewing objections to investigations involving Israel.

“We oppose it,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“The ICC should focus on its core mission, and that core mission is of serving as a court of last resort in punishing and deterring atrocity crimes.”

Al Jazeera said its submission highlighted “new witness evidence and video footage (that) clearly show that Shireen and her colleagues were dire­ctly fired at by the Israeli Occupation Forces”. “The claim by the Israeli authorities that Shireen was killed by mistake in an exchange of fire is completely unfounded,” the channel said.

An AFP journalist saw a lawyer representing Al Jazeera’s case entering the ICC’s headquarters to hand over their submission.

The ICC last year launched a probe into war crimes in the Palestinian territories, but Israel is not an ICC member and disputes the court’s jurisdiction.

The Israeli army conceded on September 5 that one of its soldiers had likely shot Abu Akleh after mistaking her for a militant.

Israel said it would not cooperate with any external probe into Abu Akleh’s dea­­th. “No one will investigate IDF (Israeli military) soldiers and no one will preach to us about morals in war­fare, certainly not Al Jazeera,” Isr­aeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

Ramos fires Portugal into quarter-finals

Umaid Wasim

CRISTIANO Ronaldo wasn’t in control of his World Cup destiny but Portugal had no problem without the greatest player in their history.

With Ronaldo on the bench, Portugal thrived here at the Lusail Stadium on Tuesday night; coach Fernando Santos finding the perfect balance for a squad brimming with talent as they went beyond the last-16 of football’s quadrennial showpiece for the first time since 2006 with their 6-1 dismantling of Switzerland setting up a quarter-final clash with Morocco.

Joao Felix was at his devastating best, brilliantly linking up with Bruno Fernandes and Portugal were a joy to watch.

Goncalo Ramos annou­n­ced himself at the world stage with a hat-trick, his goals coming with a powerful finish in the 17th, a 51st-minute tap-in and a dink in the 67th.

Centre-back Pepe (33rd) and left-back Raphael Guerriro (55th) got the other goals.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

Govt seeks major IMF shareholders’ help for $7bn plan

Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Tuesday engaged three major International Monetary Fund (IMF) shareholders for support in seeking $7 billion economic bailout package and quashed rumours about any imminent financial emergency in an attempt to pacify jittery markets.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and his team had back-to-back meetings with Islamabad-based top diplomats of the US, China, and the UK, having 16.5 per cent, 6.08pc and 4.03pc voting rights in that order, and took them into confidence over the economic challenges mostly caused by exogenous factors and difficulties in dealing with IMF staff.

Japan, Germany, and France are three other leading voting powers in IMF’s executive board with 6.14pc, 5.31pc and 4.03pc votes.

Rejects rumours about financial emergency

The diplomats and the markets were assured that Pakistan was committed to the IMF programme despite all the difficulties and there was no truth to the economic emergency in the offing.

While hinting at energy conservation measures in the offing, the finance minister appeared to be dispelling an impression arising out of one of his interviews that IMF was behaving abnormally in seeking forward-looking benchmarks for next quarter and he would not beg IMF as all conditions of the ninth review had been completed.

The economic team that also included Special Assistant to the PM on Finance Tariq Bajwa and Finance Secretary Hamed Yaqoob Shaikh had separate meetings with US Ambassador Donald Blome, Chinese Ambassador Nong Rong and British High Commissioner Christian Turner along with UNDP consultant Sir Michael Barber on Tuesday.

Separately, the finance ministry ‘strongly’ rebutted rumours about economic emergency proposals in social media and ‘categorically’ denied there was any planning to impose economic emergency.

“The message is unfortunately aimed at creating uncertainty about the economic situation in the country and can only be spread by those who do not want to see Pakistan prosper,” the ministry stated.

It was far-fetched and quite inappropriate to equate Pakistan with Sri Lanka, given inherent strength and diversity in Pakistan’s economy.

“The present difficult economic situation is mainly the result of exogenous factors like commodity super-cycle, Russia-Ukraine war, global recession, trade headwinds, Fed’s increase in policy rates and devastation wreaked by unprecedented floods,” the statement elaborated.

It said austerity measures would eliminate non-essential expenditure and the ministry was deliberating on energy conservation to reduce the im­port bill.

“Such deliberations will continue in the cabinet and all decisions will be taken in consultation with all stakeholders and in the best national interest,” it said, adding that negotiations with the IMF on ninth review were “now at an advanced stage”.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

Brazil crush South Korea 4-1 with attacking masterclass


DOHA: World Cup favourites Brazil produced a performance to delight fans and terrify potential opponents on Monday as they ripped through South Korea with four first-half goals to secure a hugely impressive 4-1 victory in their last 16 clash.

They were ahead after seven minutes when Raphinha’s low cross reached Vinicius Jr and he expertly lifted the ball above the charging goalkeeper and three defenders.

Five minutes later it was 2-0 with a Neymar penalty and Richarlison added a brilliant third after a spell of juggling then a razor combination with Marquinhos and Thiago Silva that had Brazil’s delirious fans dancing and neutrals everywhere purring.

Lucas Paqueta volleyed in the fourth after 36 minutes and the five-times champions played the second half as an exhibition, denied more goals only by impressive Korean goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu, as they turned their attention to Friday’s quarter-final meeting with Croatia.

Korea worked tirelessly and bravely to try to limit the damage and were rewarded for their own attacking efforts when Paik Seung-ho smashed in a brilliant long-range shot beyond Alisson 13 minutes from time.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

BJP likely to keep Gujarat as AAP gains ground in Delhi

The Newspaper's Correspondent

NEW DELHI: An NDTV projection of exit polls says the Bharatiya Janata Party will retain its hold on the Gujarat state assembly as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) consolidates its hold on Delhi, heading for a sweep in the municipal elections, wresting the politically sensitive body from BJP.

The Congress has slender hopes for a win in Himachal Pradesh.

The counting of votes will take place on Dec 8. In a major upset, AAP is expected to win the Delhi civic body polls, BJP’s first defeat there after 15 years.

The electoral battle in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has turned more intense this time with the entry of AAP. According to the NDTV, BJP is predicted to win 132 seats in the 182-member Gujarat assembly. Debutant AAP is predicted to win only eight. In Himachal Pradesh, BJP would win the most seats.

Congress hangs on to hope in Himachal Pradesh

AAP is predicted to win 155 of the 250 wards in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, while the incumbent BJP is predicted to win 84. Barring one, all pollsters have given the BJP a slender edge in Himachal Pradesh, which has a tradition of voting out the incumbent.

Most exit polls, however, predicted that the maximum the BJP could get in the hill state is 40, just six seats more than the half-way mark of 34 in the 68-member house.

The India Today-Axis My India poll predicted that Congress could be ahead, winning 30-40 seats and BJP 24-34.

In Gujarat, pollsters predicted BJP could create history and was on its way to begin its seventh consecutive term in power. For Congress, the exit poll figures were massively disappointing as it could be staring at its worst-ever performance.

The big story of Gujarat, according to The Indian Express, was the entry of AAP, though it may not cross the 20 mark in the 182-member house.

According to The India Today-Axis My India, BJP will get 129-151 seats and Congress between 16 and 30. AAP, it said, will get 9 to 21 seats. The NewsX Jan Ki Baat survey said BJP will get 117-140 seats and Congress 34-51. It gave AAP 6-13 seats.

In Himachal Pradesh, The India Today-Axis My India gave BJP 24-34 seats and Congress 30-40. All other surveys gave the BJP an edge. While the Republic-P Marq survey said BJP will get 34-39 seats and Con­gress 28-33, the Times Now ETG survey gave the ruling party 38 seats and the Congress 28.

The NewsX survey said BJP will get 32-40 seats and Congress 27-34, the Zee News-BARC poll and the India TV survey gave BJP 35-40 seats. While the Zee News poll gave Congress 20-25 seats, the India TV predicted 26-31 seats for the party.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

IS attacked embassy to ‘sow distrust with Pakistan’


KABUL: The Taliban regime said on Monday the attack on Pakistan’s embassy, claimed by the militant Islamic State group, was carried out with the involvement of unidentified foreign groups with intention of sowing distrust with Pakistan.

In Islamabad, Pakistan’s Foreign Office said they remained in active contact with the Afghan authorities and expressed the confidence that the Dec 2 incident would be fully investigated and the perpetrators and their abettors would be brought to account.

A Pakistani guard was wounded in the attack that FO called an attempt to assassinate its head of mission, Ubaidur Rehman Niza­mani. Ambassador Nizamani escaped unhurt in the attack.

The Taliban said they had arrested one suspect and re­co­vered two guns while their spokesperson Zabi­hullah Mujahid confirmed the suspect was a foreign IS member.

“The investigation revealed that this attack was jointly organised by IS and rebels. Some foreign malicious circles are behind the attack and the aim was to create distrust between the two brotherly countries.”

Mr Mujahid declined to say what nationality the suspect was, or if it was the same person other officials reported had been arrested hours after the incident.

An investigation was continuing, he said.

Responding to media queries regarding Mujahid’s remarks, FO Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, in a press release, said it was an ongoing investigation and they were closely following it.

Pakistan remains “resolute in our commitment to fight the scourge of terrorism”, she added.

Pakistan earlier said it was consulting Afghan authorities to verify reports of the IS claim of responsibility for the attack.

The FO official said Amb Nizamani is in the country on a prescheduled visit for consultations and Pakistan has no plan to close the embassy.

The Taliban are at pains to portray Afghanistan as safe for diplomats, but two Russian embassy staff members were killed in a suicide bombing outside the mission in September in another attack claimed by IS.

Last month a gunman shot dead a Pakistan security guard at the Chaman border crossing, leading to its closure for a week.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

PDM ‘sabotaging’ PTI’s bid to mend ties with institutions

Imran Gabol

LAHORE: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) senior vice president Fawad Chaudhry has said the party is seeking better ties with the armed forces and judiciary, but accused the PDM government of attempting to frustrate their efforts.

At the same time, the ex-minister admitted that to discuss the announcement of general elections in the country, an informal connection was established with the coalition government.

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He expressed these views while talking to the media, following his meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi and his son, Moonis Elahi, both PML-Q leaders, outside the residence of former premier Imran Khan at Zaman Park on Monday.

The PTI leader explained they were making efforts to normalise their relations with the army and judiciary. However, some elements or the coalition government was trying to exacerbate the differences, he said.

Fawad claims govt never gives extension to army chief of its own accord

“We have serious concerns over this. We believe that despite our attempts to better the ties, someone, or maybe the federal government is trying to worsen the situation,” he added.

He said his party was only demanding free and fair elections in the country and did not want any unconstitutional act.

He said the PTI and PML-Q were strong allies and would remain allies. CM Parvez Elahi and Moonis Elahi would dissolve the assembly on the direction of PTI chairman Imran Khan and there was no problem in delaying the decision to dissolve the assembly.

Fawad Chaudhry said only holding general elections could bring stability in the country and the PTI would expect elections to be held before March 20, 2023 for establishing new federal and provincial governments.

He said that oil prices were at one of the lowest levels in the history of the global oil market yet the federal government did not provide relief to the people.

Separately, he rejected the impression of any help provided to the PTI in the 2018 general elections as being aired by TV channels, quoting [Moonis Elahi] interview.

He said that the PTI would have bagged more seats in the 2018 general election if the establishment had helped it. “Several PTI candidates lost the seat only by 1,000 votes,” he added.

Referring to dozens of leaders who joined the PTI before the 2018 elections, Fawad Chaudhry claimed that no one would have boarded the plane of Jehangir Tareen if the PTI had not been popular.

He then raised questions on how medical reports of former premier and PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif were prepared to facilitate his exit from the country.

Bajwa’s extension

In apparent reference to the recent statements of PML-Q leaders regarding the former army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, he said the PTI government enjoyed good and bad relations with him.

He said no government gave extension to army chief of its own free will, adding that the role of establishment beyond its constitutional limits was a reason for problems in the country.

The senior PTI leader said that PML-Q was an independent party to decide its future, but the PTI only demanded election in every situation. He said the PTI MNAs and MPAs were questioning what would happen if the country faced bankruptcy.

“PTI won 75 per cent seats during all recent elections and is the popular party of the country,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

PDM amenable to ‘unconditional’ talks with Imran

Syed Irfan Raza

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) on Monday expressed its willingness to engage former prime minister Imran Khan in a dialogue to break the prevailing political impasse, but said it wanted the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) to let go of its conditions.

An insider told Dawn that the ruling coalition was willing to hold “unconditional” talks with the PTI if Mr Khan was ready to participate in the talks himself.

A government official claimed that PM Shehbaz Sharif had asked the PML-N and PDM leaders to go easy on the former prime minister and not tease him on the issue of talks with the government, as such a move would be counterproductive.

Mr Khan had recently expressed willingness to talk to the government, but he apparently withdrew his offer after being criticised by the government leaders for taking another “U-turn”.

Zardari meets Shujaat; coalition partners asked to ‘slow down’ efforts to unseat Elahi

In what appeared to be another olive branch, the PDM also decided to slow down efforts to bring a no-confidence motion in the Punjab Assembly against CM Parvez Elahi as it believed that neither Mr Khan nor Mr Elahi wanted to dissolve the provincial assembly.

This emerged after a meeting of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain in Islamabad, which took stock of the political situation in Punjab. It was the second meeting of the two leaders in 12 days.

A source close to the ex-president said PDM leadership, especially Mr Zardari, believed Mr Khan would never dissolve assemblies as such a move would make him “irrelevant” in the political scene.

According to media reports, Mr Zardari and Chaudhry Shujaat also talked to PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif in London and asked him to put the plan of the no-trust move against CM Elahi on the back burner.

Media reports, which were not confirmed by sources close to Mr Zardari, said Nawaz Sharif also relayed to the PML-N-led government to focus its energies on stabilising the economy. instead of ousting the Punjab government.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

One soldier martyred, five ‘militants’ killed in NW

Pazeer Gul

NORTH WAZIRISTAN: One soldier was martyred and five alleged militants were killed during an intelligence-based operation in the Jhallar Algad area of North Waziristan district on Mon­day, a statement by the military’s media wing has said.

According to ISPR, the troops effectively engaged the militants during the operation and managed to gun down five militants allegedly involved in terrorist activities against security forces and citizens.

Weapons and ammunition were also recovered from their possession.

“Sanitisation of the area is being carried out to eliminate any other terrorists found in the area,” the statement added. The martyred soldier was identified as Sepoy Nasir Khan, 25, a resident of South Waziristan.

The operation comes two days after a terrorist commander was killed in an exchange of fire with troops in the Shewa area of North Waziristan district.

The North and South Waziristan districts — which share a border with Afghanistan — have been witnessing a rise in militants attacks over the past few months. The development comes as the banned TTP announced an end to its ceasefire with the state.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

Russian fuel on discounted price soon, says minister

Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD: Russia has agreed to provide crude oil, petrol and diesel to Pakistan at discounted rates besides long-term contracts for LNG supply and construction of gas pipelines, said Minister of State for Petroleum Musadik Malik.

Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Mr Malik, who returned from Moscow visit, said that detailed terms and conditions of the discounted oil commodities would be settled during the upcoming visit of Russian Energy Minister to Islamabad by mid-January, but rates would be similar to the discount being given to other countries or even cheaper.

Before that visit, the two sides would crystallise proposals to a stage that an executive summary or an agreement could be signed and supplies start flowing, the minister said, adding that both sides would designate respective firms to negotiate terms and conditions.

He said the Russian government also facilitated Pakistan’s discussions with one of its private firms for supply of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) since its public sector entities were short of the commodity at the moment. However, they advised Pak­istan to set the ball rolling for the long-term LNG contracts on G2G basis for supplies to begin in 2025-26 since it was currently working on new LNG facilities.

The minister said his Russian visit was more successful than expected as it entailed cheaper crude, petrol and diesel, beginning of talks for LNG supply in the private sector and discussions on long-term LNG contract and flexibility on North-South Pipeline and another future pipeline.

He said the Russian side was very interested in long-delayed North-South Gas Pipeline from Karachi to Lahore – PakStream – and another big pipeline for another international gas pipeline provided there are no international sanctions.

He said although no formal agreement existed on PakStream, Pakistan requested some flexibility because of domestic constraints.

Mr Malik said Pakistan required at least 8-10pc growth in energy supply if it were to achieve 5-6pc economic growth rate to provide employment to its growing young population coming out of the country’s universities, but it was ironic the previous government blocked such initiatives with a narrative of surplus energy.

The minister lamented that the global fabric that had been discouraging coal-based power plants in Pakistan and investing in renewables, had not waited to open up its own coal-based power plants when difficulties emerged after the Russia-Ukraine war. Therefore, Pakistan would also have to look after its own interests while following international principles and national integrity, and to go forward to meet the country’s demands and solve the energy problems, he said.

Talking about the Russian offer to start negotiations for long-term contracts of LNG procurements, the minister said Pakistan had previously signed contracts with Qatar for LNG.

“Keeping these agreements in mind, we would try to sign new contracts on a G2G basis, and negotiations have already begun for this purpose,” he said.

Iran’s LPG donation

Mr Malik said that Iran would also donate liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) worth £2 million to Pakistan on humanitarian basis and these quantities would reach the country within the next 10 days and help meet increasing demands for gas in December and January.

He said the country’s local gas reserves were depleting by 8 to 9pc annually, adding that the gas supply situation was being monitored on a daily basis and gas companies had been instructed to ensure gas supply during cooking hours 6:00am to 9:00am; 12:00am to 2:00pm and 6:00pm to 9:00pm at all costs.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

Tanveer Ilyas slighted by Shehbaz’s ‘omission’ of Kashmiris

Tariq Naqash

MUZAFFARABAD: Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Prime Minister Sardar Tanveer Ilyas on Monday censured Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif for “not mentioning the sacrifices of Kashmiri people” during a speech.

Addressing a press conference, Mr Ilyas said the omission was tantamount to “insulting” the Kashmiri people.

On Monday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif inaugurated the refurbishment project of units 5 and 6 of the Mangla Dam Hydroelectric Power Plant, built on the Jhelum river in Mangla area of AJK. He also addressed a ceremony, where the exchange with the AJK premier occurred.

As PM Shehbaz was winding up his speech, he was interrupted by Mr Ilyas. In a video clip that went viral on social media, PM Shehbaz could be seen gesturing to the AJK premier to sit down and raise his concerns after the speech.

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AJK PM says Sharif forgot to mention Kashmiris’ sacrifices; premier blames ‘cartels’ for slow progress on renewables

The incident occurred when Mr Ilyas interrupted Mr Sharif’s speech and asked what he had done for AJK.

According to a witness, after wrapping up his speech, PM Shehbaz hurriedly left the venue without heeding Mr Ilyas, who tried his best to get the premier’s attention, but to no avail.

Later, at a press conference, Mr Ilyas said PM Sharif’s body language and gestures spoke volumes for his “irascibility”.

“I have no qualms in saying that Mr Sharif ridiculed the entire Kashmiri nation by not mentioning their sacrifices for the progress and prosperity of Pakistan,” he said.

He added that the prime minister had expressed gratitude to “the whole world,” but didn’t mention the people of Mirpur, whose homes and loved ones’ graves were submerged twice for construction and raising of the dam.

He claimed that “insulting treatment” was meted out to AJK’s senior administration officials at the venue.

Asserting that the people of AJK considered Pakistan as “part of their faith,” he added PM Shehbaz should have listened to their elected leader.

Mr Ilyas also reminded him of the commitments made with the locals at the time of the dam’s construction and claimed that none have been fulfilled to this day.

He claimed that Rs 500 billion in development funds for AJK announced by former PM Imran Khan have been stopped by the incumbent government. “This regime has been denying us our due share from day one.”

Mr Ilyas also lamented the federal government’s refusal to send security forces for duties during the ongoing local government elections in the region.

He regretted the AJK government or administration was not taken into confidence on the PM’s visit.

“When I got the information [about PM Shehbaz’s arrival], I flew to Mirpur from Muzaffarabad to receive the prime minister,” he said, adding he didn’t want to replicate Mr Sharif’s actions as Punjab chief minister when he refused to receive the then president Asif Ali Zardari on his visits to the province.

Former AJK premier and Muslim Conference supreme leader Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan also deplored the “inappropriate behaviour” of PM Shehbaz and alleged that the PDM government was “willfully undermining” AJK’s dignity.

“It is incomprehensible not to give an opportunity to the AJK prime minister to speak during any programme in the region,” Mr Khan added.

PM blames ‘cartels’

Earlier, in his speech, PM Shehbaz claimed powerful lobbies and cartels didn’t allow the construction of dams and the launch of solar power projects, according to APP.

He also emphasised the need to generate cheap electricity to cut energy imports.

Pakistan was already facing immense economic challenges and could not bear the heavy energy import bills, he added.

“We need to utilise alternative sources of electricity production,” he said, adding that Pakistan was spending an ‘exorbitant’ $27bn on energy-related imports.

Dams were crucial to mitigate the effects of climate change, especially in the wake of recent floods, the prime minister pointed out.

The prime minister also hailed the USAID who provided assistance in the refurbishment project and called it a brilliant example of Pakistan-US cooperation.

He lauded the $150 million grant by USAID, along with financial support of 90m euros from the Development Agency of France.

The Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) contributed $178m for the project, he said.

In his speech, US Ambassador Donald Blome said the dam was a great symbol of “the US-Pakistan cooperation” and added the country was also assisting Wapda to increase power generation from Tarbela and Gomal Zam dams.

He said maintenance and upgrades of dams were of critical importance in the wake of climate change and expressed hope that the green alliance between the two countries would prove beneficial for the energy and agriculture sectors of Pakistan.

Wapda Chairman retd Lt Gen Sajjad Ghani said the refurbishment project was in line with the centre’s policy to produce energy from green and cheap sources.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

ECP whirrs into action to remove Imran from PTI top slot

Iftikhar A. Khan

ISLAMABAD: The Elec­tion Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Monday set into motion the process to remove Imran Khan as chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in light of the election watchdog’s verdict in the Toshakhana case, which disqualified the former premier under Article 63(1)(p) for making “false statements and incorrect declaration”.

An ECP official told Dawn that a notice has been issued to the former prime minister and the case has been fixed for hearing on Dec 13. Sources in the PTI confirmed the development but asserted that the law does not place any bar on a convict from becoming an office-bearer of a political party.

According to Section 5 (1) of the now defunct Political Parties Order (PPO) 2002, “Every citizen… shall have the right to form or be a member of a political party or be otherwise associated with a political party or take part in political activities or be elected as an office-bearer of a political party: provided that a person shall not be appointed or serve as an office-bearer of a political party if he is not qualified to be, or is disqualified from being, elected or chosen as a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parlia­ment) under Article 63 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan or under any other law for the time being in force.”

The Elections Act 2017 did not retain the provision, however. But, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court in February 2018, while hearing petitions against the Elections Act, ruled that a person disqualified under articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution could not head a political party.

The ruling paved the way for the removal of Nawaz Sharif as the head of the PML-N following his disqualification by the apex court under Article 62(1)(f).

During the course of the hearing, Justice Ijazul Ahsan had remarked that if the head of the party was polluted, the entire stream would be polluted. He had said that a disqualified person should not usurp the right of others to lead the party as qualified persons should not be controlled by a disqualified person.

It may be noted here that a petition seeking the removal of Imran Khan as the PTI chairman following his disqualification is already pending before the Lahore High Court. The petition said that according to the Representation of the People Act 1976 and Political Parties Order (PPO) 2002, it was a legal and constitutional requirement for party officeholders to be qualified in accordance with Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. It said that after Imran’s disqualification from the NA-95 constituency it was “just” for him to be de-notified as the PTI chairman and an order should be issued to this effect.

Plea against FIA

Separately, a petition filed by Imran Khan against the summons by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in connection with an inquiry into an audio leak regarding the cipher controversy has been fixed for hearing by the registrar office of the LHC for today.

However, the office put an objection to the maintainability of the petition on the ground of its territorial jurisdiction. The office said the matter apparently fell into the domain of the Islamabad High Court.

Justice Asjad Javed Ghural would hear the petition today as an objection case and would decide the question of maintainability first before initiation of formal proceedings into the case.

The petition filed through Barrister Salman Safdar stated that the FIA initiated an inquiry into the alleged audio leak pertaining to the diplomatic cipher received from a foreign country. It claimed that the alleged audio allegedly released by the federal government has not only “jeopardised the security of as high an office as [the] prime minister but is also a blatant violation of fundamental rights of the petitioner”.

It said the impugned notice by the FIA is silent about any criminal wrongdoing committed by the petitioner. The petition contends that despite being summoned as a witness in the impugned inquiry notice, it was absolutely unclear as to what offence, if any, the petitioner was being inquired for.

It argued as per the law of the land, before summoning a witness, the respondents were duty bound to identify and particularise the information sought from the witness, and to state the nexus between such information and the subject of the inquiry being conducted.

The petition asked the court to set aside the impugned call-up notice by declaring it being issued without jurisdiction and void ab initio. It also asked the court to quash the impugned inquiry and earlier notice in the interest of justice since no wrongdoing whatsoever has been pointed out against the petitioner.

Wajih Ahmad Sheikh in Lahore also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

Torkham accident leaves two dead

Ibrahim Shinwari

KHYBER: Two pedestrians were killed and eight other persons, including a Frontier Corps official, sustained injuries when a loaded container at the Torkham border crossing fell on them.

At least 10 persons, including an Afghan child and an FC personnel, came under the heavy container, the officials said. Rescuers said they retrieved two bodies, both Afghan nationals, after lifting the container while rescuing the injured who were immediately taken to Landi Kotal hospital.

FC personnel among eight injured as loaded container falls at border crossing

Hospital sources said at least four critically injured, all Afghans, were referred to Peshawar.

The incident also caused suspension of traffic at the border for several hours.

Transporters have long been demanding assistant driver or cleaner be allowed to stay with the vehicle while the driver goes for getting gate pass, as their vehicle remains unattended and thus there was fear of theft or accident.

Security officials in the past argued that the ban on an assistant driver of cleaner was imposed for security reasons, particularly when most of the transporters did not carry legal travel documents.

Pakistani officials had suggested on a number of occasions to the Afghan authorities to widen the border crossing point by establishing two separate entry and exit points in order to ease traffic congestion at the border zero point. However, Afghan authorities had been opposing the suggestion, arguing that no new construction activity could be carried out at the zero point until the two neighbouring countries settled decades old border issue.

Customs officials said around 600 to 700 loaded vehicles cross the border on a daily basis.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

England thump Senegal, face France in quarters


AL KHOR: England set up a titanic World Cup quarter-final against holders France as Jude Bellingham’s masterclass insp­ired a 3-0 win against Senegal in the last 16 on Sunday.

Gareth Southgate’s side survived a nervous start at the Al Bayt Stadium before Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane put Senegal to the sword with a pair of clinical finishes before half-time.

Bukayo Saka scored England’s third, but it was Bellingham’s prodigious work-rate and burgeoning quality in possession that allowed them to turn the tide. Bellingham set up Henderson’s opener and the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was involved again when England captain Kane bagged his first goal in this World Cup.

Kane has now netted 11 times at major tournaments, overtaking Gary Lineker as England’s all-time top scorer in those competitions.

But at the tender age of 19, it is Bellingham who has emerged as England’s driving force. He is the first teenager to assist in a World Cup knockout stage game since 1966, having already announced his arrival on the global stage by netting his first England goal in the 6-2 rout of Iran in their group opener.

Just two years after he was playing in the English second tier with Birmingham, the precocious Bellingham was totally unfazed against Senegal in the biggest game of his life.

England will need another command performance from Bellingham if they are to extend their stay in Qatar beyond the last eight.

Eyeing a third successive semi-final appearance at major tournaments, England will return to the Al Khor desert on Saturday to take on the red-hot Kylian Mbappe and company after France brushed aside Poland 3-1 on Sunday.

Euro 2020 runners-up England have won only one of their last eight meetings with France, who pose a significant threat to their hopes of winning a first major title for 56 years.

The depth of attacking talent available to Southgate could be crucial and, defending his decision to drop Marcus Rashford for Saka despite the forward’s double against Wales, he boasted “we have an embarrassment of riches in all areas of the pitch”.

After a rocky opening when they passed too slowly and looked anxious, England hit their stride to show why Southgate has such confidence in them.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

Iran abolishes morality police after months of protests


TEHRAN: Iran has scrapped its morality police after more than two months of protests triggered by the arrest of Mahsa Amini for allegedly violating the country’s female dress code, local media said Sunday.

Women-led protests, labelled “riots” by the authorities, have swept Iran since the 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin died in custody on Sept 16, three days after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran.

Demonstrators have burned their mandatory hijab head coverings and shouted anti-government slogans, and since Amini’s death, a growing number of women have failed to wear the hijab, particularly in parts of Tehran.

“Morality police have nothing to do with the judiciary and have been abolished,” Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.

Attorney general says authority has nothing to do with judiciary; Tehran may review mandatory headscarf law

His comment came at a religious conference where he responded to a participant who asked “why the morality police were being shut down”, the report said.

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew Iran’s US-backed monarchy, there has been some kind of official monitoring of the strict dress code for both men and women.

But under president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the morality police — known formally as the Gasht-i-Ershad or “Guidance Patrol” — was established to “spread the culture of modesty and hijab”.

The units were set up by Iran’s Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, which is today headed by President Ebrahim Raisi.

They began their patrols in 2006 to enforce the dress code which also requires women to wear long clothes and forbids shorts, ripped jeans and other clothes deemed immodest.

The announcement of the units’ abolition came a day after Montazeri said “both parliament and the judiciary are working” on the issue of whether the law requiring women to cover their heads needs to be changed.

Raisi said in televised comments on Saturday that Iran’s republican and Islamic foundations were constitutionally entrenched “but there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible”.

‘Spreading corruption’

The hijab became mandatory in 1983. Morality police officers initially issued warnings before starting to crack down and arrest women 15years ago.

The squads were usually made up of men in green uniforms and women clad in black chadors, garments that cover their heads and upper bodies.

The role of the units evolved but has always been controversial even among candidates running for the presidency.

Clothing norms gradually changed, especially under former moderate president Hassan Rouhani, when it became commonplace to see women in tight jeans with loose, colourful headscarves.

But in July this year his successor, Raisi, called for the mobilisation of “all state institutions to enforce the headscarf law”.

Raisi at the time charged that “the enemies of Iran and Islam have targeted the cultural and religious values of society by spreading corruption”.

Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia also employed morality police to enforce female dress codes and other rules of behaviour. Since 2016 the force there has been sidelined in a push by the kingdom to shake off its austere image.

In September, the Union of Islamic Iran People Party, the country’s main reformist party, called for the hijab law to be rescinded.

The party, created by relatives of former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, demands authorities “prepare the legal elements paving the way for the cancellation of the mandatory hijab law”.

As recently as Saturday it also called for the Islamic republic to “officially announce the end of the activities of the morality police” and “allow peaceful demonstrations”.

Iran accuses its enemy the United States and its allies, including Britain and Israel, and Kurdish groups based outside the country, of fomenting the street protests. More than 300 people have been killed in the unrest, including dozens of security force members, an Iranian general said recently.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

IS claim of attack on Kabul embassy being verified: FO

Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON: With the Foreign Office saying it was verifying reports about the militant Islamic State group’s claim that it had carried out attack on the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul, an official US report to Congress doubts the Afghan Taliban’s ability to counter IS.

“Independently and in consultation with the Afghan authorities, we are verifying the veracity of these reports,” the FO spokesperson said in a statement on Sunday, adding the attack was a reminder of the risk militant activity posed to the region.

“We must act resolutely with all our collective might to defeat this menace. On its part, Pakistan remains steadfast in its commitment to combat terrorism,” the FO official said.

Islamic State-Khorasan Pro­vince, which claimed the attack, is affiliated with the Islamic State in the Middle East.

US doubts Afghan Taliban’s ability to counter IS

IS claimed the attack was carried out by two of its members armed with “medium and sniper weapons” and was targeting the ambassador and his guards who were present in the courtyard of the embassy, according to Reuters.

US report

Meanwhile, an official US report to Congress has expressed doubts about the Taliban’s ability to counter IS.

“Experts disagree about the potency of the ISKP threat and the Taliban’s self-asserted ability to counter the group without external assistance,” says the report sent this week to Congress by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

“An arguably more potent armed threat to the Taliban is the local Islamic State affiliate ISKP, a longtime Taliban adversary,” the CRS report adds.

It points out that the ISKP has opposed the Taliban since its 2015 establishment, viewing the Taliban’s Afgha­nistan-focused nationalist political project as counter to IS’s universalist vision of a global caliphate.

According to the CRS, since the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021, “ISKP’s ranks have swelled to as many as 4,000 fighters despite a concerted Taliban offensive, and ISKP has claimed responsibility for a number of major attacks in 2022” inside Afghanistan.

CRS is a Washington-based, congressional think-tank which serves as nonpartisan shared staff to congressional committees and members of both the House and the Senate. It operates solely at the behest of and under the direction of Congress.

On Friday, the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul came under attack with Chargé d’Affaires to Afghanistan Ubaidur Rehman Nizamani being targeted. Mr Nizamani was unscathed but his guard was critically wounded.

The CRS report also examines how regional dynamics of neighbouring states directly affect developments in Afghanistan and how “events in Afghanistan have consequences for the neighbours” as well.

The report regards Pakistan as the “most important” neighbour for Afghanistan, which “has played an active, and by many accounts destabilising, role in Afghan affairs for decades, including by actively supporting the Taliban during its 1990s rule and much of its subsequent insurgency.”

The report points out that many analysts regarded “the Taliban takeover, at least initially, as a triumph for Pakistan’s regional policy,” pointing to statements of evident support for the takeover from Pakistani leaders.

But the report also underlines recent “indications that the Taliban’s return to power may pose challenges for Pakistan”.

It cautions that the Taliban’s victory “may provide a morale and perhaps material boost to Pakistan-based terrorist groups, including the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is a US-designated foreign terrorist organisation.

“TTP attacks against Pakistani security forces increased after August 2021, reportedly prompting the Pakistani government to seek the Afghan Taliban’s mediation of several ceasefires, which appear to have broken down in late 2022,” the report adds.

The Congressional Research Service notes that Afghanistan-Pakistan relations “are further complicated by the presence of over 1 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, as well as a long-running and ethnically tinged dispute over their shared long border, at which Taliban and Pakistani government forces intermittently clashed in 2022.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

Gas utilities fail to meet loss cutting targets

Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD: Despite unprecedented hike in inter­national oil and gas prices and resultant incr­ease in import bill of two essential commodities, the two gas utilities have failed to control system losses against regulatory targets approved by the government.

Over the last three years (2019-22), both the gas utilities — Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SSGCL) and Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) — have not been able to achieve loss reduction targets (unaccounted for gas, better known as UFG) set by the Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) and appro­ved by the federal cabinet, according to a three-year performance report released by the petroleum division.

Pakistan LNG import bill surged by 91pc in fiscal year 2021-22 ending June 30, 2022 to $4.99bn when compared to FY2020-21 as global prices made new records even though the number of LNG import cargos rema­ined on the lower side. Pakistan’s total petroleum sector imports also jumped to $23.32bn in July-June 2021-22, up 105pc 96pc. Besides direct imports, the prices of country’s domestic gas and crude are linked with international crude prices.

Between FY2019-20 and 2021-22, the SSGCL was required to reduce its UFG by 9.55pc but it completely failed as its actual losses slightly increased over the period. Over the same period, SNGPL failed by a thin margin of 0.2pc to meet its target of cutting losses by 4pc.

However, in overall terms, the gas losses of SSGCL remained unchanged at 17.2pc with a slight increase of 0.1pc over the past three years as the Karachi-based gas utility could not achieve its targets for two of the three years. It is said around “0.5 million unauthorised consumers are using gas in Karachi city”.

On the other hand, the SNGPL reported its losses went down by 3.8pc from 12.32pc in 2019-20 to 8.06pc in FY2021-22 but it also failed to achieve its annual loss reduction targets for two out of three years.

“In FY2019-20, the volumetric loss of the SSGCL decreased by 4,022MMCF (million cubic feet), against a target of 7,965MMCF. The percentage UFG has hardly changed” as compared to a year earlier, the report said, adding that during FY2019-20, UFG activities were hampered due to Covid-19 lockdown. In the following fiscal year, the SSGCL’s UFG decreased by 13,135MMCF against the target of 10,462MMCF while percentage UFG also decreased by 1.9pc.

“However, in FY2021-22, the volumetric loss of the SSGCL increased by 2,407MMCF, against the reduction target of 12,202MMCF. The percentage UFG has hardly changed” and stood at 17.2pc as it was before FY2019-20. SSGCL tried to hide its poor performance for increasing UFG in its system to last year’s harsh winter season in Balochistan saying the indicators of socio-economic development in that province “remained at dismal levels”.

It said since the majority of population lived in settlements, which are underdeveloped, economically backward and lacking basic amenities, the extreme cold makes space heating a necessity for life. Since wood/coal are costly and inconvenient, majority of people depend on natural gas. The increase in consumption coupled with lower income limit the ability of the people in Balochistan to pay for the cost of gas.

The Lahore-based utility – SNGPL – also conceded that its volumetric loss “decreased by 4,321MMCF, against a target of 6,840MMCF” in 2019-20 – behind target by 63pc. However, in FY2020-21, SNGPL’s total UFG decreased by 15,093MMCF against the target of 5,700MMCF – surpassing the target by more than 250pc of the reduction target of that year.

The company, however, conceded it could not sustain loss reduction the subsequent year. “In FY2021-22, the volumetric loss of SNGPL decreased by 3,934MMCF against the reduction target of 5700MMCF”, missing target again by almost 70pc, the report said.

The SNGPL also tried to hide its failure to achieve loss reduction targets to certain areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa like Karak. It said the company was working on various projects including a project of network extension and rehabilitation in oil and gas producing areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, it conceded that as the project for extension and rehabilitation of legal connections in oil and gas producing areas could not be completed, the UFG reduction target of oil and gas producing areas had “partially been achieved”.

UFG is a phenomenon of gas loss that is contingent upon occurrence of various technical factors when gas flows from fields to end consumers. It is calculated as the difference between metered gas volume injected into the transmission and distribution network (point of dispatch/delivery) and the metered gas delivered to the end consumers (consumer meter station) during a financial year.

Pursuant to UFG determination by Ogra for each year any percentage (value of UFG) above the fixed benchmark is treated as disallowance and deducted from the revenue of the gas utility companies. In 2017, Ogra under took a UFG study through independent consultant for determining UFG benchmarks which accounted for the inherent gas loss in the system, local challenging conditions and performance factor i.e. Key Monitoring Indicators.

The government approved these indicators and decided to take corrective measures in the reduction of UFG since UFG disallowances has a significant impact on the revenues of the company, which in turn has a compounding impact on the revenue shortfall of the gas utility companies. A three-year UFG Reduction Plan was thus approved for both Sui Companies by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet and ratified by the federal cabinet in FY2019-20.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

Senator Swati remanded in police custody for five days

Saleem Shahid

QUETTA: A local court on Sunday remanded Senator Azam Swati, a senior leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, in police custody for five days.

Police officials, who had shifted Mr Swati to Quetta after taking his custody in Islamabad on Friday last week, produced the PTI senator before the court of judicial magistrate Abdul Sattar Bugti and requested for a 10-day remand.

However, the court, after hearing arguments from both sides, rejected the plea and remanded him in police custody for five days with an order to produce the suspect after the completion of the remand.

Police brought the PTI senator to the court amid tight security and no unconcerned person was allowed to enter the court premises. Some PTI leaders were present on the occasion.

Five FIRs were registered against the PTI senator with different police stations of Balochistan, including Quetta and Kuchlak, on charges of using abusive language in a public meeting and objectionable tweets against the officers of Pakistan Army and state institutions. He was arrested on Nov 27.

Meanwhile, PTI’s Balochistan president Qasim Suri termed the shifting of Azam Swati to Quetta in extreme cold weather and registration of five FIRs unfair and injustice while he was facing health issues.

Talking to the media outside the court, the former deputy speaker of the National Assembly said it was an order of the Supreme Court that when an FIR was lodged at one place, there should be no FIR at another place on same charges. “The 75-year-old senator is facing multiple health issues.”

Mr Suri wondered what crime Azam Swati had committed on the basis of which he is being subjected to abuse. He regretted that on the one hand, FIA of assassination attempt on the life of PTI Chairman Imran Khan is not being registered and, on the other, the entire party leadership is being booked in various cases.

The PTI leader said such arrests and cases could not force the PTI and its leadership to abandon their struggle which they launched for restoration of democracy and holding of new elections in the country to get rid of “imported government installed through a conspiracy”.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

PTI chairman’s politics weakens Pakistan: PM Shehbaz

Syed Irfan Raza

ISLAMABAD: Reacting to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s remarks about former army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday lashed out at ex-premier for “undermining” the foundation of Pakistan just for his own rule.

The prime minister noted that the PTI chief had also recently launched a diatribe against ‘parliamentary democracy’.

“PTI leader’s [Imran Khan] politics is aimed at making his way to power, even if it meant undermining foundations this country stood on,” Prime Minister Sharif said on his Twitter handle.

PTI leader Imran Khan’s recent diatribe against parliamentary democracy was the latest in a series of attacks that flew in the face of how democracy functioned in modern nation-states, he wrote.

PDM rules out polls before Oct 2023

Although the prime minister spent a silent day on Sunday as no official meeting took place, he preferred to lash Imran Khan through his tweet.

Mr Khan, in his recent interview, had said giving extension to Gen Bajwa as Chief of Army Staff (COAS) was his ’biggest mistake“. This was also endorsed by former speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser who also repented in a recent interview with e private TV channel that granting Bajwa an extension was a “mistake”.

Later, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Atta Tarar said that PML-Q leader Moonis Elahi tried to defame Mr Khan and Gen Bajwa by giving a statement that the latter urged him to join Mr Khan at the time of no-confidence move against the ex-premier despite the fact that Gen Bajwa himself had made it clear the military establishment had been neutral at least since February 2022.

He said Mr Khan was the king of U-turns and he had changed his threat of dissolution of the assemblies and asked government for negotiations.

Meanwhile, a leader of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) Hafiz Hamdullah on Sunday said general elections would be held as per schedule in October 2023, but if the country’s economic condition did not allow it, the polls could be delayed for a year or so.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

Bajwa nudged PML-Q to support Imran: Parvez Elahi

Mansoor Malik

LAHORE: Days after his son Moonis Elahi made a similar statement, Punjab Chief Minister Parvez Elahi on Sunday said that former army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa had nudged the PML-Q to support PTI Chairman Imran Khan.

Mr Elahi’s remarks come on the heels of Imran Khan’s accusation a day earlier that Gen Bajwa was playing a “double game”. In an interview to Bol News on Saturday, Mr Khan said he had committed a “big mistake” by granting Gen Bajwa an extension and accused the former army chief of engaging in “double games”, double speak, mixed messages and more. He alleged that Gen Bajwa had denied everything when asked about the establishment’s contact with the then opposition.

However, Mr Elahi, while speaking during an interview with Bol News programme Tajzia on Sunday, appeared less confident about early polls.

The CM acknowledged that “there is no system available under which we call for general elections and they happen before time”.

He further said that the “(PDM government) has its tenure until next August and [it is to be seen] how prudently it will tread in these critical times”.

“It will be good if general elections are held early but there is a need that they (PDM government) should agree and even bigger issue is that the chief election commissioner is playing as Imran Khan’s rival,” he added.

In reply to a question, the chief minister said that Moonis Elahi had also expressed a desire to side with PTI. “God changed our path in the last moments and sent Bajwa sahib to show us the way. When I expressed my concerns about the Sharifs and told him that I don’t trust them then Bajwa sahib said, ‘You should proceed carefully and the path going towards Imran is better for you and your friends,’” Mr Elahi claimed without specifying if his interaction with the former COAS occurred prior to the no-confidence move against then PM Imran Khan or at the time of the Punjab chief minister’s election.

Notwithstanding Mr Elahi’s take on the timing of the elections, Mr Khan is campaigning and pushing the PDM government to call early elections and has lately hurled clear warning that he will be dissolving Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies and take 66 per cent of Pakistan to the polls. On Saturday, he gave the PDM government an ultimatum of four to five days to decide whether it agrees to dissolve all assemblies and call general elections maximum by the end of March next.

About the new army set-up, the chief minister said the institution was now openly saying it would not interfere in politics and instead ensure the elections are held in a free and fair manner. “Holding of free and fair elections will give us an edge because the Punjab government has delivered by taking massive measures for the betterment of the people of Punjab.

“We are having smooth and cordial relations with the army since 1983 as well as judiciary,” he said.

The chief minister said the Sharifs were not trustworthy and they had “ditched” him for at least five times as well as different former army chiefs, including Gen Musharraf and Gen Jahangir Karamat. He said Imran Khan was the only leader who had created fear in Sharifs.

‘Imran’s big mistake’

In his interview on Saturday, Mr Khan said he had committed a “big mistake” by granting Gen Bajwa an extension. He said extensions should not be given in the military but the “situation was otherwise and they had no option”.

He accused the former army chief of engaging in “double games”, double speak, mixed messages and more, adding that Gen Bajwa had denied everything when asked about the establishment’s contact with the then opposition.

When asked on claims by Moonis Elahi that they had supported PTI on the directives of Gen Bajwa during the no-trust motion, Mr Khan replied it was his greatest weakness to trust Gen Bajwa. “We received different signals but they claimed to be neutral and assured they wanted continuity,” he said.

He said instructions were sent that bringing his government down will lead to economic instability. Instead, he claimed, the PTI’s allies told him that a message was received “to switch over to the other side.”

Mr Khan recalled that he eventually sent a message [to Bajwa] that he will go to the public and seek their support. “I asked them on which side they were. I told them that if they were on the other side, then I will have a different strategy,” he added.

Regarding the situation of PTI Senator Azam Swati, Mr Khan said he was disappointed that no action was taken by the court. He said judiciary should look at the injustice and take notice as people have trust in them.

He said they had approached the Supreme Court regarding the case of Azam Swati, Arshad Sharif’s murder and assassination attack on him.

Message to establishment

Mr Khan said a message has been sent to the new military establishment and President Alvi has delivered their message. “What happened in the past seven months? Did the party crash? Today we have such support that no other party ever enjoyed in history. Even Bhutto didn’t have the kind of support we have today,” he claimed.

He reiterated that CM Elahi had given him the authority to dissolve the assembly. However, he did not answer whether a written summary had been given to him by the chief minister.

When asked about attempts by PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari to control the situations, he said the “game” is no longer in the hands of Zardari as Chaudhry Parvez Elahi stood with the PTI.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

US seeks Pakistan embassy attack probe

Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON: The United States has called for an investigation into the attack on Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul which the Foreign Office said was an ‘assassination attempt’ on Head of Mission Ubaidur Rehman Nizamani.

Addressing a news briefing on Friday, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price said: “The United States condemns the attack on the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul targeting its head of mission, Ubaid Nizamani, a senior diplomat.”

“The United States is deeply concerned by the attack on a foreign diplomat, and we call for a full and transparent investigation.”

The UN has also condemned the attack and vowed to play its part in improving the security situation in Afghanistan Addressing a news briefing at the UN headquarters in New York, Secretary-General’s Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, “We’re, first of all, thankful that the chargé d’affaires of the embassy of Pakistan was unharmed.”

Mr Dujarric said the UN wants the situation in Afghanistan to improve and will do whatever it can in this regard.

In a statement, the UN Security Council also condemned the attack and urged all members to “respect and ensure the safety and security of diplomatic and consular premises”.

Earlier, Afghan Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi called Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and condemned the attack, APP reported.

Mr Muttaqi reiterated Afghanistan’s “firm resolve to combat terrorism”and assured that the attackers will be brought to justice.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

Argentina beat Australia to reach FIFA World Cup quarter-finals


DOHA: Argentina moved into the quarter-finals of World Cup on Saturday with a 2-1 win over Australia which set up a last-eight clash with the Netherlands.

Lionel Messi scored his first-ever goal in a World Cup knockout round tie in the 35th minute and Julian Alvarez added Argentina’s second just before the hour mark.

Australia pulled one back with a late own goal.

Messi scored on his 1,000th career appearance in Argentina’s win over Australia to surpass his great predecessor Diego Maradona’s tournament total and set up a quarter-final clash with the Netherlands.

Seeking a first World Cup at his fifth attempt, the mesmerizing Messi curled the ball low past goalkeeper Mat Ryan from inside the area in the 35th minute to send the legions of Argentine fans into delirium at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.

Julian Alvarez bagged Arg­e­ntina’s second from close range in the 57th minute after fatal hesitation from Ryan with the ball at his feet following a backpass.

The 35-year-old Messi’s goal was his third in the Qatar tournament and his ninth at World Cups, one more than Maradona.

Australia, who did superbly to reach the last 16 and are ranked 35 places below the double World Cup winners, defended valiantly with the towering Harry Souttar prominent. They set up a nervy end after Craig Goodwin’s shot was deflected into the net off Enzo Fernandez for an own goal in the 77th minute.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

ANALYSIS: World Cup of the underdogs

Umaid Wasim

VINCENT Aboub­akar didn’t even break stride. The timing of his run perfect, a little hop saw him get the connection with his head that sent Cameroon dancing with joy under the stars in Lusail, the futuristic city made by Qatar for the World Cup as an extension of its capital Doha.

The last goal of perhaps the greatest ever group stage in the history of the tournament delivered a World Cup first: Brazil had never lost to an African side before. It was a second-string side, but Cameroon didn’t care. Their coach Rigobert Song, who stands out with his long dreadlocks, termed it “historic”, even if the Indomitable Lions were going home.

At the very start of the World Cup, there was a similarly historic result when Saudi Arabia stunned Lionel Messi’s Argentina, marking the first time the illustrious South Americans had lost to an Asian side at football’s grandest stage. Results like those — Japan’s wins over Spain and Germany, South Korea scraping past Portugal, Morocco’s upset of Belgium and Tunisia’s triumph over holders France — made it the first group stage since 1994 where none of the teams advancing to the last 16 had a perfect record.

The first World Cup in the Arab world also saw three teams from Asia — Japan, South Korea and Australia, who are affiliated with the Asian Football Confederation — reach the knockouts for the first time in history and this is also the first time that teams from six continents have made it through.

But the Asian record wouldn’t have been made had South Korea not found their counterattacking brilliance in the final minutes of the game against Portugal. Son Heung Min, Asia’s biggest superstar, carried the ball from just outside his own box and waltzed through before finding his team-mate Hwang Hee Chan to score a goal that saw them edge Uruguay on goal difference.

Japan had shown similar counterpunching abilities earlier on. In their 2-1 win over Spain, a result that took them through ahead of the Spaniards and eliminated the Germans, they had 17.7 per cent ball possession.

The Asian game has prevailed over the modern day high-press. They have also shown character and the power of will to obtain the results. “Everyone was saying we can’t go home yet,” Japan’s captain Maya Yoshida said after the win against Spain. After South Korea’s last-gasp win, Son said the team “never lost faith in ourselves”.

Belief is the keyword here.

Japan and South Korea will need every bit of it going ahead. Reaching the quarter-finals is promised land for the Japanese and a win against Croatia will take them there.

A tantalising last-eight clash against South Korea remains a possibility although Son and his men have a more difficult task, at least on paper, against Brazil.

Even the Brazilians are wary. “It will be a difficult game against the Koreans and we will have to work hard to win it,” said winger Richarlison.

But for all the thrills and spills and the nerve-shredding drama delivered by the group stage, which in many ways restored the balance of power in global football — four European sides crashing out, there will never be one like this.

Although the expansion of the World Cup from its next edition in 2026 will see more Asian and African teams participating, the proposed format for the 48-team tournament sees 16 groups of three instead of the traditional four-team ones.

That, in effect, will pretty much bring an end to the compelling drama that is seen in the final round of group games; one that has set the tournament alight in Qatar.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

Centre censured for withholding provincial shares

Ahmad Fraz Khan

LAHORE: The governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa came down hard on the federal government on Saturday over the “ongoing financial crisis”, alleging that the Centre had withheld provincial shares at a time when they were conducting flood relief operations.

Since coming to power in April, the coalition government had not transferred Rs120 billion to the KP government alone, KP Finance Minister Taimur Khan Jhagra told reporters at a press conference in Lahore. He was accompanied by Punjab Finance Minister Mohsin Leghari and Punjab government spokesperson Musarrat Jamshed Cheema.

Of this withheld amount, Rs30bn was meant for the newly merged tribal areas, stifling development projects, Mr Jhagra said, insisting that cutting off these areas from the mainstream could have far-reaching security-related consequences that would not be limited to just Peshawar and KP.

The federal government had also not transferred Rs5bn meant for health cards to six million people in tribal areas but had released Rs16bn for its MNAs.

Jhagra says depriving tribal areas of funds could have nationwide fallout

“Now think you are in Waziristan and Bajaur and you get to know about this, what kinds of questions will come to your mind?” he wondered.

Mr Leghari also claimed that the federal government had not released any relief fund for flood recovery and the premium of the Universal Health Insurance Scheme (health cards) of Islamabad, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

He alleged that the federal government had been weakening the federation by not paying the provinces’ shares at a time when they were conducting flood relief operations with their own resources.

Paying all dues, including the National Finance Commission (NFC) award and net hydel profit, were routine matters that should be done automatically, he said, adding that this atmosphere of non-cooperation was causing “irreparable damage to economy”.

Against this backdrop, the Punjab government still gave a Rs14 billion package to repair flood-hit infrastructure, which was made possible by controlling other ongoing and development expenses, he said.

To a question, Mr Leghari said the economy grew on the back of investment, which is directly affected by government instability, something that would continue to linger on if snap polls were not held.

Mr Jhagra also insisted that fresh general elections were the only solution to resolve the financial crisis. He said the KP government could not sustain itself without the federal government support, as the provincial economy could not meet its expenses without net hydel profit, NFC share and public sector development programme projects.

The federal government had stifled the country’s economy by withholding due funds of the provinces, he said, adding: “The country’s economy runs on budgets of the provinces.”

If the investment was not made in the provinces, the national economy would be affected due to the non-availability of funds, he said.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

AJK local polls: PTI leads in two districts

Tariq Naqash

MUZAFFARABAD: The ruling PTI in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) beat its opponents in Bagh and Sudhnoti districts and trailed behind them in Poonch and Haveli districts of Poonch division where polling was held on Saturday in the second phase of local government (LG) elections.

According to unofficial and unconfirmed results, PTI was set to get its mayor elected in Bagh where it had clinched nine of 15 seats of municipal corporation, followed by four by independents and two by the PPP.

The PTI was also poised to get its councillor elected as Bagh district council chairman, as it had grabbed around 12 of total 28 seats, followed by four by Muslim Conference (MC), three by PPP, two each by PML-N and independents and one by JI-AJK. The results of four seats were awaited.

In Sudhnoti district, PTI was set to elect the heads of district council as well as the three urban councils.

According to unofficial results, of the 19 seats of Sudhnoti district council, PTI bagged 11 seats followed by four by PML-N, two by independents and one by JUI-AJK. The result of one seat was awaited.

In the district headquarters municipality, the PTI bagged five of eight seats followed by two by independents and one by PML-N.

In Haveli district, the PML-N bagged six of 12 district council seats, followed by four by PPP and one by PTI. Result of one seat was not clear.

The largest Poonch district has seen a split mandate. In the 22-member Rawalakot municipal corporation, the Jammu Kashmir Peoples Party (JKPP) clinched seven seats, followed by four by the PPP, three each by PML-N and PTI and five by independents.

In the 29-member Poonch district council, PTI and PML-N bagged eight seats each, followed by six by PPP, five by JKPP and two by independents.

Earlier, though the balloting was peaceful, sporadic incidents of violence were reported from some areas, with less than a dozen minor casualties, officials said.

Prime Minister Sardar Tanveer Ilyas cast his vote in his native Dhakki polling station of UC Bangoin for the district councillor position. “I am pleased that finally this state has been going through a process aimed at devolving powers to the grassroots level,” he said of the LG polls in a brief chat with media persons on the occasion.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

Gen Munir warns Delhi against any ‘misadventure’

Dawn Report

KARACHI: In his first visit to Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) after assuming command, Chief of Army Staff Gen Syed Asim Munir on Saturday warned India against any misadventure, saying that such a move would be met with “the full might of our armed forces”.

According to an Inter-Services Public Relations statement, the army chief made the remarks during a visit to frontline troops in Rakhchikri Sector, along the Line of Control (LoC) in AJK.

The COAS said, “We have noticed highly irresponsible statements from Indian leadership on Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir recently.

“Let me make it categorically clear, [that] Pakistan’s armed forces are ever ready, not only to defend every inch of our motherland, but to take the fight back to the enemy, if ever, war is imposed on us,” he emphasised.

“Any misconception resulting into a misadventure will always be met with full might of our armed forces backed by a resilient nation,” he said.

The army chief further said, “Indian state will never be able to achieve her nefarious designs”, adding the world must ensure justice and deliver what is promised to the Kashmiri people as per UN resolutions.

General Munir’s remarks followed statements from India’s Lieutenant General Upendra Dwivedi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

In October, Singh said he hoped to have GB as part of India to complete the mission the Modi government began by annexing Indian-held Kashmir in August 2019.

Last week, Dwivedi — the general officer commanding-in-chief of the Indian army’s northern command — commented on Singh’s statement by underscoring that a resolution on the matter already existed in the Indian parliament.

“As far as the Indian Army is concerned, it will carry out any order given by the government of India. We are always ready for it,” a Hindustan Times report had quoted him as saying.

The Foreign Office had already rejected Singh’s statement about GB as ridiculous and said it represented India’s expansionist mindset while the ISPR had denounced Dwivedi’s statement as an “apt manifestation” of the Indian army’s “delusional mindset”.

Earlier, on arrival, Lt Gen Shahid Imtiaz, Corps Commander Rawalpindi, received the COAS.

Gen Munir was briefed on the latest situation along the LoC and operational preparedness of the formation.

He interacted with officers and soldiers, appreciated their high morale, professional competence and combat readiness while performing their duties in challenging conditions, ISPR said.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

Military won’t intervene on PTI chief’s behalf: PML-N

Zulqernain Tahir

LAHORE: The PML-N senior leadership on Saturday seemed confident of the fact that the military establishment would not intervene to secure a closer date for fresh elections, as the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) seemed to be hoping.

“Imran Khan had hurled threats and abuses at the establishment to force it to have early elections for him, but failed. The third force (establishment) has categorically declared that it has become apolitical and it is sticking to its decision. Imran Khan wants the third force’s interference but he will be disappointed,” Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan told a press conference after a party meeting in Model Town.

On Saturday, Mr Khan had again reminded the ‘handlers’ (a reference to the establishment) of the PML-N coalition government how snap polls were the need of the hour because of the worsening economic situation of the country, indirectly asking to play its role to push the Shehbaz administration for early elections.

The PML-N is sticking to its stated stance of going to general elections after completing its tenure in August 2023, even if the PTI dissolves the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies. However, the PML-N on Saturday asked Mr Khan to first show seriousness and attach no strings to talks on fresh polls.

Sana says PM to consult coalition partners over Imran’s call for talks; Saad says some allies not ready to sit with PTI

“Imran Khan first needs to offer unconditional talks then we can sit (with the PTI) and consider the proposal of early elections in consultation with our allies,” Sanaullah said, adding that any condition attached to talks was unacceptable.

The interior minister also said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif would hold a meeting with coalition leaders in a couple of days to consider Mr Khan’s call for talks.

Coalition not ready to talk to PTI

Railways Minister Saad Rafique disclosed that some coalition parties were strongly opposed to holding talks with the PTI. Without naming the JUI-F and PPP, Rafique said: “Some coalition partners have serious concerns over getting engaged in dialogue with the PTI. They are strongly opposed to giving any face saving to PTI. However, a solution often comes through a dialogue but for this Imran Khan should first stop hurling abuses at the coalition to demonstrate his seriousness.”

The railways minister also asked Mr Khan to stop threatening the federal government. He advised him to change his attitude if he wanted to hold talks with it on any issue.

Addressing Mr Khan, the minister said: “If the PTI dissolves the assemblies in Punjab and KP then whatever the ‘protection’ Imran Khan has in Lahore and Peshawar will evaporate.” He reminded the ousted premier that holding parleys with the government was his issue and not the coalition’s.

In contrast to the party’s position that it would ‘do all’ to save both assemblies (from dissolution), Rafique said: “If Imran Khan wants to dissolve the Punjab and KP assemblies we will not stop him from doing so and we are ready to contest election as we have been doing so since ages. But we want that all assemblies should complete their constitutional term.”

PML-N seeks clarification of Moonis’s claim

Rana Sanaullah said the recent claim by former federal minister of PML-Q Moonis Elahi about former army chief retired Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa advising his party to side with PTI during the no-confidence vote against Imran Khan in April had “raised doubts” on the institution’s decision to stay apolitical which needed clarification.

“There needs to be clarification on this matter. The institution (of the army) had declared that at some point last year it had decided to remain apolitical. We have complete faith that our military leadership and the institution will remain true to the public commitment the DG ISPR and DG ISI made (in this regard) and it will continue to serve the nation in that manner.”

Mr Moonis in a TV interview said that the [then] army chief (Gen Bajwa) had asked PML-Q to support Imran Khan during the no-trust vote against him. On Saturday, Moonis Elahi reiterated his party’s full support to Mr Khan saying it remained with him (Khan) through thick and thin and those trying to create any misunderstanding (between him and the Chaudhrys) would fail.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

Imran says his offer for talks ‘misread’

Mansoor Malik

LAHORE: In what appeared to be an attempt to clear the air after his offer for talks to the coalition government on snap polls supposedly backfired, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chair­man Imran Khan on Saturday insisted his offer was ‘misunderstood’, as he made it in the larger interests of the country.

He then implored “the handlers” of the federal government to realise the country was fast heading towards a default and urged them to act to save the 220 million people from a perpetual loss.

However, Mr Khan while speaking during an interview with Bol News late in the night, gave a new dimension to his stance. The PTI chief said he may delay the dissolution of Punjab and KP assemblies if political players agreed to come to the table and decide that general elections would be called maximum by the end of next March.

Since March will be the month of Ramazan, Mr Khan’s new suggestion implies that PDM government should immediately announce the elections date, dissolve all assemblies and call for general elections. But he said the elections can be held in the fasting month too.

Earlier, while speaking to legislators from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly via video link from his Zaman Park residence, he insisted the PTI was “all set to dissolve the Punjab and KP assemblies this month and take 66 per cent of Pakistan to the polls”.

This, he said, would bring the country to a halt as all political parties, including those in power, would be busy preparing for election campaigns. He added the country was left with no option but to go for early elections to ensure political stability, but claimed the ruling coalition was shying away from polls for fear of losing to his party.

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On the other hand, apparently retracting the offer for talks to the government he made on Friday, the PTI chief reiterated his longstanding stance that he would not talk to the “thieves and dacoits”, hinting that his message was for the powers that be.

“I am asking you (the PDM government) to announce elections for the sake of the country, because PTI is not worried, even if polls are held in October next year,” he stated, and asked the KP legislators to begin preparations for election campaigns in their respective constituencies.

Lambasting the federal government for lacking a roadmap to save the sinking economy, the ex- premier said the PML-N tested its two ‘experienced’ finance ministers — Miftah Ismail and Ishaq Dar – but they were both busy accusing each other of pushing the country towards a default.

“A vote of confidence can never be successful without the support of the establishment,” Mr Khan said, and repeated his allegations that the PML-N and PPP leaders had stashed their wealth and properties abroad and would fly out as soon as the country faced any disaster. The PDM leaders, he claimed, were amending laws and getting their corruption cases closed. “They will also try to get me disqualified and knock out other PTI parliamentarians through cases to ensure their victory in elections,” he feared.

Elahi, Moonis meet PA speaker

Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi and his son, PML-Q senior leader Moonis Elahi, met Punjab Assembly Speaker Sibtain Khan at the chief minister’s office and discussed matters pertaining to the rules of Punjab Assembly, legal matters and technical aspects of constitutional provisions.

Mr Elahi said he was waiting for a signal from the PTI chief to dissolve the assembly, stressing he would continue standing with Mr Khan through thick and thin.

The meeting resolved to counter any unconstitutional ploys of the opposition parties. The chief minister maintained the opposition did not have the support of enough MPAs to undertake any ‘misadventure’, adding the narrative of imposing governor’s rule and filing a no-trust motion would ultimately prove to be hollow claims.

In his interview to Bol News, Mr Khan rejected outright any idea to plan for elections after the next fiscal budget. “We can only observe restraint in dissolving the two provincial assemblies, if the election date will not go beyond March next,” he said. “I will wait for four to five more days for the government response to this offer, otherwise will dissolve and take 66 per cent of Pakistan to elections.

It will be unwise to let elections happen in 66pc of Pakistan and then again go for the general election in the rest of the country, he said.

Answering a question, Mr Khan said he committed a big mistake by granting extension to Gen Bajwa.

He said he wanted to see a strong army institution. In reply to a question, he said a new military set-up had emerged and he wanted to give some time to get themselves settled.

Answering a question about PML-Q leader Moonis Elahi’s claim that Gen Bajwa had asked him to support the PTI, he explained: “Moonis was asked to support Imran Khan, while the other one [Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain] had been asked to go to PML-N. Gen Bajwa was playing a double game and I could later identify that even PTI’s different men were being given different messages.”

Umer Farooq in Peshawar also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

Jemima sees her Pakistan experience reflected in What’s Love Got to Do with It

Irfan Aslam

JEDDAH: English TV and film producer Jemima Goldsmith said every character or anecdote in the film she’s co-produced, What’s Love Got to Do with It, came from her experience of living in Pakistan, and pretty much every dialogue taken from real life.

“I lived in Pakistan from ages 20 to 30 years. I would say every single character or anecdote (in the movie) comes from my experience; either I had it one way or the other or someone I met had it. All the characters are based on people I met and pretty much every line is taken from real life,” Ms Goldsmith said here on Friday while answering a question from Dawn at a press junket of select journalists for her movie, along with its director, Shekhar Kapur, and cast members Shabana Azmi and Sajal Aly.

Following a red carpet and opening ceremony, the film had kicked off the second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival at the Ritz Carlton Hotel here on Thursday night with actors and artistes participating from across the world.

Over the next 10 days, 131 films in 34 languages from 61 countries would be screened in cinemas across Jeddah. Nearly three dozen films will mark their global premieres at the festival.

Jemima, who has also written the screenplay of the film, remembered hearing her friends in Pakistan lament that films in the West showed their country in a bad light. “I really wanted to make a joyous, colourful film about Pakistan. I think it’s a positive uplifting colourful film that hopefully brings people together. I hope it will have universal themes though it is inspired by my personal experiences in Pakistan.”

Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, known for making internationally renowned award-winning films like Elizabeth and Bandit Queen, said it was getting tough to make movies these days. “If you want to make anything that’s very real, it’s hard.”

Veteran Indian actor Azmi said she would always get to play characters of Pakistani mothers in her English-language projects as she had portrayed them in some TV projects. “It was heartwarming to come together (with Shekhar) for this film.”

One of the leading Pakis­tani actors, Aly said although it was her first experience of an English-language film, it was a dream to work with legends like Mr Kapur and Ms Azmi. She hoped for more collaboration between India and Pakistan and artistes from both countries working in each other’s films.

Opening ceremony

The festival opened on Thursday night with a red carpet and opening ceremony, participated by a number of stars from across the world, including Shahrukh Khan, Sharon Stone, Priyanka Chopra and A.R. Rehman.

In his speech, Mr Khan said: “The theme of the festival is ‘Film is Everything’. It’s culture, opportunity, art and achievement, but for me and for all of us here, film is life. It affirms the essence of being alive. Film is the language in which the modern world converses, it’s the new idiom of literature through which the stories are exchanged in an overwhelming visual and virtual world. Film is a unifier because it transits human experiences across cultures. Cinema celebrates diversity and teaches people not to be afraid of the differences as it can help them understand each other.”

The Bollywood icon described the celebration and promotion of films and filmmaking in Saudi Arabia as a big leap forward.

Mohamed Al Turki, the CEO of the festival, also spoke on the occasion.

Khan, Hollywood director Guy Ritchie and Egyptian actress Yousra received the Gold Yusr Honorary Award at the ceremony.

The next few days would see stars like Jackie Chan, Antonio Banderas, Ranbir Ka­­­­poor, Saif Ali Khan, Ka­­r­e­ena Kapoor and Akshay Ku­­mar attending the festival.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

Victorious Cameroon fail to qualify

Umaid Wasim

VINCENT Aboubakar scored with a stunning header before he was sent off as Cameroon grabbed a famous 1-0 win over Brazil on Friday night but wasn’t enough to prolong their journey at the World Cup in Qatar after Switzerland edged Serbia 3-2 to grab second spot behind the Brazilians.

Aboubakar got on the end of a terrific cross from Karl Toko Ekambi in stoppage time and powered a header past Ederson. But having already been cautioned, he took his shirt off to celebrate and was given another yellow card at the Lusail Stadium.

Brazil, who had nothing to show for their dominance, finished top of Group ‘H’, level on points with the Swiss but with a better goal difference as the result in the other game sent Cameroon packing despite their smash-and-grab win.

Switzerland edge Serbia to grab second spot behind Brazil

For Brazil, there wasn’t much riding on the final group game against Cameroon, and so naturally, coach Tite decided to rest his first-team stars. Cameroon needed to win to have any chance of going through but it was Brazil’s fringe players, looking to show their worth, who ran the show.

Cameroon almost got a goal in the last action of the first half but Ederson saved Bryan Mbuemo’s header. It was incidentally the first save Brazil had to make in at the tournament by then.

It was one-way traffic in the second half too as Brazil kept coming from all angles, consistently probing the Cameroon defence for the goal; Gabriel Martinelli from the left being the tormentor-in-chief.

However, that didn’t matter and Aboubakar had the final say.

It was the Swiss, though, who were celebrating at the end of it all as goals rained in the other group game at the Stadium 974.

Xherdan Shaqiri fired the Swiss into the lead in the 20th only for Serbia to hit back with two goals in nine minutes. First Aleksander Mitrovic scored with a header and then Dusan Vlahovic made it 2-1 in the 35th with a stunning finish.

Switzerland, though, got the leveller a minute from half-time through Breel Embolo and took the lead three minutes into the second half when Remo Freuler capped off a brilliant team move by finding the net.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

Bilawal to visit New York as Pakistan hands over G77 to Cuba

The Newspaper's Correspondent

UNITED NATIONS: Fo­­reign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is coming to New York next week to attend several events at the UN headquarters as Pakistan hands over the chair of the Group of 77 to Cuba.

On Dec 15-16, Mr Bhutto-Zardari will chair a ministerial meeting of the group on development, which will be Pakistan’s last as G77 chair.

Islamabad assumed the group’s leadership in January 2021. Now, Cuba will chair the G77 and China for 2023.

The G77 at the United Nations is a coalition of 134 developing countries, designed to promote collective economic interests of its members and enhance their joint negotiating capacity in the world body.

FM highlights creation of new climate fund in article for UN-linked publication

The group now has chapters in Geneva, Rome (FAO), Vienna (Unido), Paris (Unes­co), Nairobi (Unep) and the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

In an article he wrote for a UN-linked news site PassBlue, Mr Bhutto-Zardari explained how Pakistan helped create a new loss and damage fund at the UN environment summit in Egypt last month.

“To establish a fund to assist developing countries address loss and damage from the adverse impacts of climate change was a momentous signal of hope for humanity and the planet,” he wrote.

The minister said that as the current chair of G77 and China, he proposed the discussion on a loss and damage financing facility in June in the preparations for COP27.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari highlighted how last summer’s epic floods in Pakistan brutally confirmed the growing magnitude of climate disasters.

He pointed out that Pakistan led developing countries in the subsequent negotiations at COP27 to press for creating the fund. Now developing countries look forward to urgently working in the Transitional Committee of 24 member states to finalise the institutional arrangements, structure, governance, and terms of reference of the fund, he added.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

Women join protests in Iran’s eastern province


PARIS: Women in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan provi­n­­ce on Friday joined nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death, in what a rights group called a “rare” move in the stau­n­chly conservative southeastern region.

Iran accuses its arch enemy the United States and its allies Britain and Israel of fomenting what it calls “riots”.

Online videos showed dozens of women on the streets of the provincial capital Zahedan holding banners that declared “Woman, life, freedom” — one of the main slogans of the protest movement that erupted in mid-September.

“Whether with hijab, whether without it, onwards to revolution,” chanted women clad in black, body-covering chadors, in videos posted on Twitter.

Women-led protests have swept Iran since Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died following her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s dress code based on Sharia law.

Security forces have killed at least 448 protesters, with the largest toll in Sistan-Baluchestan on Iran’s southeastern border with Afgha­nis­tan and Pakistan, according to Oslo-based Iran Human Rights.

“It is indeed rare,” IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said of the latest protests by women in Zahedan. “The ongoing protests in Iran are the beginning of a revolution of dignity,” he told AFP.

Scores of men also took to the streets again on Friday, chanting “We don’t want a child-killing government”, in other footage that activists posted on social media networks.

At least 128 people have been killed in Sistan-Baluchestan during a protest crackdown, according to the Oslo-based organisation.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

One killed in attack near former Afghan PM Hekmatyar’s office


KABUL: One person was killed on Friday in a suicide bomb attack near the Kabul office of the Hezb-i-Islami party, former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar said.

Multiple attackers were killed and several guards injured in the suicide bomb attack, according to three Hezb-i-Islami sources and one source with the ruling Taliban.

Party leader Mr Hekmatyar said in a video statement that one person had been killed and two injured.

“I assure my countrymen, a failed attempt happened here by those who have done it many times but have failed,” Mr Hekmatyar said, adding it was not yet clear who was behind the attack.

“It cannot lower our morale or our resistance... we will stand with our nation,” he said.

Kabul police and the interior ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The attack on the Hezb-i-Islami party office occurred near a mosque where senior party leaders present were unhurt, according to the party statement.

One Taliban and one party source said a vehicle belonging to the attackers and packed with explosives had detonated near the office. The firing took place and two attackers were killed while trying to enter the mosque, they said.

Mr Hekmatyar said the attackers were wearing suicide explosive vests and that one was wearing a woman’s burqa.

The attack took place the same day as an apparently failed assassination attempt at the Pakistan Embassy.

Pakistan’s foreign office said its embassy in Kabul had come under attack targeting the head of mission, Ubaidur Rehman Nizamani, who escaped unscathed while a guard was critically injured.

Nizamani arrived in Kabul last month to take up the role at one of the few embassies that had remained operational throughout the period after the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021.

Several bombing and shooting attacks have taken place in Afghanistan in recent months, some of which have been claimed by Islamic State militants. A blast at a madrassa on Wednesday in northern Afghanistan killed at least 15 people.

The Taliban, who seized power after the US-led foreign forces withdrew in August 2021, have said they are focused on securing the country. Mr Hekmatyar founded Hezb-i-Islami in the mid-1970s as one of the main mujahideen groups fighting the 1980s Soviet invasion of Afgha­nistan from its base in Pakistan. He held the office of prime minister twice during the 1990s.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

SITUATIONER: What are the Chaudhrys of Gujrat up to?

Mansoor Malik

Even at the best of times, it is hard to tell what the Q-League is up to. Apparently taken aback by Imran Khan’s announcement that they would seek the dissolution of the Punjab Assembly in a bid to force early elections, the party has put up a brave outward face, pledging allegiance to Mr Khan’s cause.

But given the rocky road they tread to get to where they are, the Pakistan Muslim League’s ‘Elahi faction’ is having difficulty coming to terms with the possibility that they may have to part with the chief minister’s office, which they managed to obtain through toil, sweat, tears and litigation in the highest courts of the land.

But the perennially establishment-friendly party’s young face, Moonis Elahi, raised many an eyebrow in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) camp on Wednesday when he candidly revealed on Meher Bokhari’s Hum News show that it was former army chief retired Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa who had advised his party to support Imran Khan.

The younger Elahi’s defence of retired Gen Bajwa and the admonition of PTI criticism against him, along with the timing of the interview, are making waves among the ranks of the PTI, with many suspecting that this may be a ploy to hang on to the chief minister seat for a while longer.

While on social and mainstream media, PTI leaders and supporters are holding the former army chief responsible for toppling Imran Khan’s government, as well as all the other hardships faced by the party in recent days, Moonis has taken issue with this approach, claiming that the former army chief had gone all out in his support for PTI.

Since Gen Bajwa has now retired, Moonis regretted that he was being portrayed as a bad person. “Had he been bad, he would not have asked us to back Imran,” he claimed.

This is consistent with the line taken by his father; only a few days ago, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi had issued a show-cause notice to PTI leader Musarrat Jamshed Cheema — who is currently the Punjab government spokesperson — for speaking against Gen Bajwa in a media talk.

In addition, CM Elahi has gone on the record multiple times, praising the former army chief — even when he was not on Imran Khan’s side of the fence. An example that springs to mind is the elder Elahi’s interview with the same Meher Bokhari a few days before the vote of no-confidence, where he called on the establishment to put the baby (PTI) down and let it learn to walk, otherwise they (the establishment) would be left “changing diapers” for the rest of their days.

The PTI leadership, however, see this latest interview in the context that the politics of the Chaudhrys of Gujrat always relied on good relations with the establishment.

PTI Senator Ejaz Chaudhry told Dawn the politics of the Chaudhrys revolve around “permissions” from the establishment.

“The Chaudhrys have never taken any steps or decisions without getting a nod from the establishment first, nor will they ever do so,” the senator added.

PTI senior leader Fawad Chaudhry, however, said that Moonis had simply given his perspective on certain issues, but commended their support for Imran Khan and the PTI. “Judging decisions and relationships on past performance is irrelevant,” he added.

“Moonis Elahi and Parvez Elahi are standing unwaveringly with Imran Khan and arriving at any conclusions without context will not convey the correct meaning of a statement. The PML-Q is a strong ally of the PTI and will continue as such,” Mr Chaudhry tweeted, even as PTI supporters began assailing Moonis Elahi.

A senior PTI leader, in a recent meeting with PTI chief Imran Khan, had vociferously stated that the Chaudhrys could not be trusted, even though they have conveyed their intention to go ahead with the dissolution of the assembly on Mr Khan’s command.

Disturbed by the fact that a 10-member party was holding the post of Punjab chief minister, the PTI leader said the Chaudhrys were busy spreading their tentacles across Punjab’s politics, and referred to decisions such as expanding the scope of Gujrat division and the investment of billions of rupees in development projects.

“The Chaudhrys are assuring and re-assuring PTI that the Punjab Assembly can be dissolved on the call of Imran Khan, but at the same time they are sending messages that now is not the time to dissolve the assembly,” the party leader said.

Another PTI leader, seeking anonymity, said the Chaudhrys of Gujrat wanted to prolong their tenure in the office of chief minister to squeeze out as many funds for their division as possible, and expand their influence from Gujrat to Mandi Bahauddin and Sialkot. “Their only objective is to ensure that they should at least double their number of seats in the provincial and national assemblies, while injecting massive funds in their favoured constituencies.”

But those in CM Parvez Elahi’s camp say the PTI and PML-Q are, at the end of the day, two different parties and as such, they are allowed to have different opinions on certain issues.

As far as the former army chief is concerned, it seems that both are not on the same page.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

Move to save Punjab PA soon: Tarar

Zulqernain Tahir

LAHORE: Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Attaullah Tarar has said that either a no-confidence resolution will be moved or the governor will ask Chief Minister Parvez Elahi to take a vote of confidence any moment to pre-empt the dissolution of Punjab Assembly.

Talking to the media here on Friday, Tarar claimed there was no provision in law barring the initiation of a no-trust resolution against the chief minister while the assembly was in session.

“The speaker will have to take up our motion against the CM when we submit it. And it can be filed any moment. Besides, the chief minister will have to take a vote of confidence when asked by the governor,” he maintained.

The PML-N leader further claimed the party had many options and it would try its best to save the Punjab and KP assemblies from dissolution.

“In case both the assemblies are dissolved, the PML-N is ready to contest elections,” he declared, adding the party was already in opposition in both the provinces so it had nothing to lose if polls were held.

Mr Tarar further remarked that in case a no-confidence motion was tabled and neither the treasury nor the opposition had the required numbers, the imposition of governor’s rule could not be ruled out.

He also claimed that Chaudhry Parvez Elahi had at the time of tabling of a no-confidence motion against the then premier Imran Khan telephoned him and suggested the then PML-N-led opposition in Punjab bring a similar resolution against Usman Buzdar, fearing the former CM might dissolve the assembly on the orders of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan. Subsequently, the PML-N had submitted a motion against Buzdar.

Elahi had earlier claimed that the opposition could neither bring a no-confidence motion against him nor impose governor’s rule when an assembly was in session.

When asked if the establishment had become neutral, Tarar said: “When the establishment says it has become apolitical, we should not talk about it further.”

Earlier this week, the PML-N’s parliamentary party in Punjab had decided to use all ‘available tactics’ to foil the proposed plan of PTI chief Imran Khan to have the provincial assembly dissolved.

Meanwhile, the PTI senior leadership appears to have deferred the decision to dissolve the assemblies of the two provinces it rules as well as tender resignations from the Sindh and Balochistan legislatures till it completes consultation among party lawmakers.

Also on Friday, Mr Imran Khan ‘warned’ the federal government to sit and discuss a date for the next general elections or “we will dissolve the assemblies”.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

Unmoved by PTI offer, PML-N adamant polls ‘on time’

Syed Irfan Raza

ISLAMABAD: In response to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chair­man Imran Khan’s latest offer of talks, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz — a major partner in the coalition government — refused to budge from their stance that next general elections will be held as per schedule in October 2023.

However, soon after Mr Khan’s offer, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chaired a meeting of the ruling PML-N leaders and decided that moving a no-confidence motion against present provincial governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtun­khwa (KP) would not be a sagacious move and thus the coalition government would go for “wait and see” policy, a source in the ruling party told Dawn.

The source said the meeting did not rule out negotiations with the PTI but it was decided that next general elections would be held on time.

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb, soon after Imran Khan’s offer, replied in a tweet in two words —“Elections 2023”.

Shehbaz believes no-trust motion will be unwise, decides govt will go for ‘wait and see’ policy

“October 2023” was the ultimate election month, the minister said in a tweet in reference to a news channel’s report about Mr Khan’s proposal for talks for the snap polls’ date in a threatening tone. She advised Mr Khan to wait for next general elections till October 2023.

Also, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, in a private TV programme, said the government stuck to its stance that elections would be held in Oct 2023.

“We can sit for talks with PTI but on any other issue except snap elections,” he said when asked about PML-N meeting, chaired by the PM.

He said the coalition government came into power through a constitutional way and it reserved rights to complete its constitutional term [till Oct 2023].

Similarly, PML-N leader and interior minister Rana Sanaullah said in a statement that deadlocks always ended through dialogues but the government decided that next elections would take place on time.

He, however, said if Mr Khan dissolved provincial assemblies of Punjab and KP, the government would give a robust response to the PTI chief’s move. He also reminded Mr Khan of his statement “he would prefer to die than to sit with them [PDM leaders]”.

He said the government would condemn if the PTI attempted to dissolve assemblies as it would still be an ‘undemocratic action’ even if it would favour his party. He said the PTI would itself be responsible if it dissolved Punjab and KP assemblies.

Mr Sanaullah said the government would not refuse dialogue with the PTI as it believed in resolving political matters in a political manner. “When political parties and politicians sit down, deadlocks end and paths to resolve conflicts are found,” he remarked.

PM meets Chinese investors

Meanwhile, in a meeting with a Chinese delegation, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif invited Chinese companies to invest heavily in renewable energy projects in Pakistan, particularly solar energy.

The prime minister appreciated commitment of the vice chairman of China Construction Third Engineering Bureau, Tan Guofu, to invest more in infrastructure and energy projects in Pakistan.

Calling the relations between Pakistan and China very exemplary in all areas, Mr Sharif mentioned his recent meeting with the company’s president during his visit to China. He also hailed the company for its donations to the flood-affected people of Pakistan.

Special Assistant Tariq Fatemi, Zafaruddin Mehmood and other senior government officials also attended the meeting UAE’s National Day Mr Sharif also held a telephonic conversation with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to convey warm greetings on 51st National Day of the UAE.

Reaffirming the fraternal relations between Pakistan and the UAE, the two leaders reiterated their mutual commitment to further expand and diversify special bilateral relations.

Mr Sharif also paid tribute to Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founding president of the UAE, for his role in laying the foundation of close and fraternal relations between the two countries. The premier also extended invitation to the UAE President for a visit to Pakistan, which His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed graciously accepted.

Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan is a regular visitor to Pakistan and also financed various philanthropic projects in Pakistan in the social sector. Sheikh Zayed Hospital is the prime example for his services to Pakistan. His name will be remembered for his philanthropic causes.

Mr Sharif thanked the UAE president for the financial and material support to Pakistan after the recent devastation caused by floods in Pakistan.

According to the PM Office, the UAE president reciprocated the greetings and extended best wishes to the people of Pakistan.

Pakistan and the UAE enjoy close fraternal ties for five decades that are rooted firmly in common belief and shared values and culture. The UAE is Pakistan’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and a major source of investments.

Mansoor Malik in Lahore also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

‘Lenient’ SC view in PTI march case irks govt

Nasir Iqbal

ISLAMABAD: A federal government counsel wondered on Friday how many times the Supreme Court would allow PTI chief Imran Khan to make incorrect statements before issuing a show-cause notice for allegedly flouting the top court’s orders regarding his party’s May 25 march.

Salman Aslam Butt, who was representing the interior ministry before a five-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, argued that PTI leaders were making contradictory and false statements before the court, “as they always intended to reach D-Chowk instead of the allocated ground between Islamabad’s G-9 and H-9 sectors”.

The hearing was for a federal government’s contempt-of-court petition against the PTI leadership, including its head Imran Khan, for allegedly reneging on categorical assurances not to reach D-Chowk — a large town square located close to several important government buildings — in relation to the march organised after Mr Khan was deposed by a no-confidence vote in parliament.

The counsel’s reply came in response to Justice Ijazul Ahsan’s observation that the party was claiming that the marchers would have never reached D-Chowk if permission to stage the rally at the allocated venue had been granted earlier.

At this, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi wondered whether D-Chowk was a prohibited area.

“Yes, it is,” Mr Butt retorted and referred to PTI’s 126-day-long sit-in of 2014 when he said the party was allowed to hold the demonstration at Aabpara, but the protesters instead barged into the red zone, even making Supreme Court judges use President House to reach the court office.

The marchers also besieged Parliament House, he argued, adding that the party had been breaching its commitments.

When Justice Naqvi wondered about the authenticity of the material consisting of video messages and tweets of the PTI leadership, Mr Butt reminded that the PTI had never denied the material that was presented by the government and retrieved from the party’s official website “and therefore authentic”.

Showing several video clips and tweets issued on May 25, the counsel tried to establish that Imran Khan had given the call to reach D-Chowk whenever he made announcements.

“From the record, I will show they [the PTI leadership] had started making calls to reach D-Chowk since May 24 and their intention was to stage a dharna at D-Chowk,” the counsel said.

All the video clips shown to the court displayed Mr Khan asking his supporters to reach D-Chowk by crossing all hurdles.

Justice Naqvi wondered about evidence to establish PTI leader Asad Umar actually conveyed to Mr Khan about his undertaking to the court. He also reminded the counsel that the court was not cross-examining the respondent and that no trial was being conducted now.

Justice Naqvi also emphasised that contempt of court had always been a matter between the court and the contemnor.

The counsel said he would address the issue during the hearing, reminding again that the PTI leadership had never objected to any of the tweets presented to the court and that criminal proceedings had not yet been initiated since the court had not issued any show-cause notice.

Moreover, a formal trial will begin when he succeeds in convincing the court that contempt has been committed.

Chief Justice Bandial observed that the court itself had called for reports from the security agencies and the police to understand whether the PTI leadership breached the commitment.

He explained that the court had to intervene in view of the circumstances prevailing on May 25 since tampers ran high and the mob was out of control.

That was why the court had to issue not a traditional order since the court wanted to protect the fundamental rights of the people, Justice Bandial said.

He also observed that since there were gaps in the case, the court chose to seek a response from the parties and not to issue a show-cause notice against the PTI leadership.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan observed that the federal government had initiated a fresh proceeding and the present one was not in the continuation of the previous hearings but questioned about locus standi — the right or ability to bring legal action to a court of law or to appear in a court — of the federal government to file the present petition.

Justice Yahya Afridi, who in his earlier dissenting note held that reports furnished by security agencies and the police apparently made out a contempt case against the PTI leadership, observed that the court would proceed in the contempt matter if it was convinced.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

Imran offers coalition ‘olive branch with strings attached’

Mansoor Malik

LAHORE: Making a last-ditch effort to seek fresh elections, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chair­man Imran Khan on Friday invited the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government to give a date for next general elections or else he will use the option of dissolving Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies, taking nearly two thirds of the nation to vote.

“We are giving you (PDM government) a chance to sit with us and discuss a date for general elections, otherwise the Punjab and KP assemblies will be dissolved,” Mr Khan conveyed this message while speaking at a scheduled meeting with Punjab Assembly legislators via video link from his Zaman Park residence on Friday.

Mr Khan said he had unwavered backing from the PML-Q as Chief Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi visited him and assured that the assembly would be dissolved on his beck and call. “We have a full option to dissolve assemblies that will lead 66 per cent Pakistanis to elections besides compelling PDM’s 11 parties to join elections — practically freezing the federal government,” he warned.

The PTI chief has been demanding fresh elections since his government was toppled through what he called a “regime change conspiracy” in April, but the PDM government paid no heed to the demand. He eventually announced “Haqeeqi Azadi” march from Lahore that concluded in Rawalpindi after over a month, with the ‘surprise’ announcement by Mr Khan that the PTI would quit from all provincial assemblies and request the National Assembly speaker to accept the resignations submitted by his party lawmakers earlier this year.

Invites PDM to sit with him to discuss election date; claims PTI popularity won’t be dented by delaying polls

At the meeting, he told party parliamentarians that PDM member parties were afraid of going to polls, knowing that the country was facing worst-ever economic crisis and the masses would not vote for them.

Mr Khan said the coalition government’s roadmap had been reduced to registering cases against PTI leaders, get him disqualified and incarcerate him as already indicated by PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, harass PTI workers, and get their own corruption cases closed.

The former premier said the country needed urgent elections so that political stability be ensured and the businesses, investors as well as outer world could regain trust to work with Pakistan and boom its economy. Otherwise, he said, the PDM government had increased country’s debt manifold from Rs6 trillion to Rs30 trillion, while the PTI government tried to revive economy, investments, remittances and record tax collection to re-pay taxes. Now yet again, he said, the country was heading towards default and the whole world was acknowledging it.

He said the federal government did not pay some Rs176bn due for Punjab, Rs120bn for Sindh as well as to Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and even Balochistan leaving development projects to come at a grinding halt.

“The PTI will not be affected by the delay in general elections but the incumbent PDM government will continue facing people’s wrath now and in the next polls”. He regretted that finance minister Ishaq Dar had also fallen silent as he could neither bring down the dollar rate nor able to tackle the IMF and Moody’s. “Exports and remittances have gone down, growth rate has fallen flat, tax collection sliding and default risks have grown from five per cent to over cent per cent, he regretted.

PTI’s senior leader Fawad Chaudhry told the media that the party leadership had approved the dissolution of assemblies in both provinces, but the “final decision” would be made after further consultations.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

Pakistan embassy attacked in Kabul

Baqir Sajjad Syed

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul came under attack on Friday, leaving one security guard critically injured, the Foreign Office said.

According to a statement released by the FO, the target was Head of Mission Ubaidur Rehman Nizamani, who remained unhurt in the attack.

The FO “strongly condemned” the attack, but added the embassy would continue to function normally and there were no plans to withdraw diplomats from Kabul.

The Afghan chargé d’affaires was also summoned to the foreign ministry to formally protest over the attack.

According to an official, Mr Nizamani was walking in Pakistan mission’s lawn in Kabul’s Kart-i-Parwan neighbourhood when terrorists fired at him.

The shots hit a security guard, identified as Sepoy Israr Mohammad, who was ‘critically injured’ while attempting to save Mr Nizamani, according to the FO.

Mohammad, who was hit by two bullets, was shifted to a hospital and later moved to Peshawar via helicopter.

An Afghan Taliban source said “multiple attackers” were involved in the attack carried out from a nearby building. One of the suspected attackers was reportedly arrested and two weapons were recovered, the source added.

Mr Nizamani has been in Kabul for less than a month since he took over the charge as head of mission, replacing former ambassador Mansoor Ahmed Khan on November 4.

Later on Friday, the FO conveyed “deep concern and anguish” over the attack to Afghan Chargé d’Affaires Sardar Ahmad Khan Shakeeb and said the attack was a “serious security lapse”.

Mr Shakeeb was told that the security and protection of Pakistan’s diplomatic mission and personnel was Afghan interim government’s responsibility FO called for arresting the attackers and bringing them to justice.

The attack came just days after the proscribed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) ended the ceasefire agreement with the government and asked its combatants to carry out attacks in Pakistan.

In a statement signalling the end of the ceasefire, the banned outfit said that security forces had launched operations in Bannu, Lakki Marwat and other districts.


President Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Foreign Minister Bilawal-Bhutto Zardari and Afghanistan have condemned the assassination attempt on Mr Nizamani.

Meanwhile, the Afghan foreign ministry also condemned the “failed attack”. In a statement, the ministry said “malicious actors” will not be allowed to pose a threat to the security of diplomatic missions in Kabul. “Security agencies will investigate this incident seriously. After identifying the perpetrators, they will be punished according to law.” “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan strongly condemns the attempted shooting and failed attack on the Pakistani embassy in Kabul,” the ministry’s spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi said on Twitter.

President Arif Alvi has called the attack a “matter of concern,” according to APP. “[The] attack on a diplomatic mission is a matter of concern. I strongly condemn it,” the president said. He also prayed for the recovery of the injured security guard.

While condemning the assassination attempt, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also called for an immediate inquiry. “I strongly condemn dastardly assassination attempt on Head of Mission, Kabul,” he said in a tweet. “I demand immediate investigation and action against perpetrators of this heinous act.”

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari called Mr Nizamani and expressed solidarity. “Spoken with my Head of Mission in Kabul @ubaidniz. Whom earlier survived an assassination attempt. We condemn this in the strongest possible terms,” he said in a tweet. “The safety & security of our diplomats are of fundamental importance. We salute bravery of Sepoy Israr & pray for his swift recovery.”

Various diplomatic missions, including the UN, have demanded the Afghan government ensure diplomats’ safety.

Twitter account hacked

In a separate development, the official Twitter account of Pakistan’s consulate in the Afghan city of Kandahar was “hacked”, Consul General Tariq Ali said on Friday, after the account posted tweets about the temporary closure of the mission.

“Dear all! Official account of the Consulate General of Pakistan Kandahar was hacked a while ago which was immediately recovered. Unsolicited tweets have been deleted. The Consulate General offers sincere apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused. The matter is being reported to Twitter,” the consul general said in a statement.

Abdul Moiz Malik in Karachi also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

US designates four TTP, AQIS leaders as global terrorists

Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON: The Unit­­ed States has declared four Tehreek-i-Taliban Pak­istan (TTP) and South Asian Al Qaeda leaders as global terrorists and vowed to use its full might against all Afghanistan-based terror groups.

“The United States is committed to using its full set of counterterrorism tools to counter the threat posed by terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan,” the US State Department said on Thursday evening.

The announcement identified “Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)” as the two groups that were using the Afghan soil for spreading terror in the region.

TTP deputy emir Qari Amjad, one of the four leaders added to the US list of designated terrorists, was identified as the man who “oversees TTP’s operations and militants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province”.

He is also known as Mufti Hazrat Deroji, and his 15-year campaign of violence against Pakistan has stepped up since the Taliban seized control in Afghanistan last year.

The three AQIS leaders added to the list include its self-styled “emir” Osama Mehmood, who heads the regional branch of Al Qaeda’s network. The other two are Atif Yahya Ghouri,

the deputy emir of AQIS, and Mohammad Maruf who is responsible for AQIS’ recruiting branch.

All four were declared global terrorists because of “their leadership roles in their respective groups”, the State Department said, adding that the designations were “part of our relentless efforts to ensure that terrorists do not use Afghanistan as a platform for international terrorism”.

As a result of these actions, all property and interests in property of those designated that are subject to US jurisdiction are blocked, and all US persons are prohibited from engaging in any transactions with them.

“The actions again demonstrate that we will continue to use all relevant tools to uphold our commitment to see to it that international terrorists are not able to operate with impunity in Afghanistan.”

While the warning about confiscation of property makes it illegal for all US citizens to have any links with the designated groups, the stress on not allowing terrorists to use Afghanistan as a base provides a much-needed assurance to Pakistan at a critical juncture.

On Monday, TTP ended its ceasefire with Pakistan and immediately launched attacks inside KP and Balochistan, killing half a dozen people and injuring scores of citizens.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

Editorial News

Worsening hunger


THAT the dollar liquidity crunch has started hurting the import of essential items such as vegetables and raw material for drugs shows how dire the situation has become. A report in this newspaper says that commodity importers continue to face problems in opening letters of credit for imports because of the shortage of dollars in the market.

Held up at various terminals of the Karachi port are 417 containers of onions, ginger and garlic, along with industrial material, as banks are refusing to release documents because of an acute scarcity of foreign exchange, increasing the cost of imported vegetables on account of terminal and shipping charges, which eventually will have to be borne by consumers already trying to cope with steep food and energy inflation.

While the State Bank cannot be faulted for restricting imports in the given situation, it must ensure that food and raw material for drug-makers do not get stuck at the port if it wants to help inflation-stricken households.

With the summer floods having severely damaged food crops on around 4.5m acres of land, the prices of vegetables and wheat in the country are touching record highs. Pakistan already ranks 99th out of 121 nations on the Global Hunger Index and has a level of hunger that is serious.

According to some estimates, around 15pc to 16pc Pakistanis are reeling from food insecurity and the situation continues to worsen after the devastating floods. Describing Pakistan’s food crisis as the worst in the country’s history, an official of the Food and Agriculture Organisation recently stated that the situation of the nation has deteriorated owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and recent floods.

Over the years, high food prices, lack of rainfall, drought and livestock diseases have all added to the food insecurity being witnessed now. The flood damage to crops is making matters worse as the country already has some of the highest levels of malnutrition in the world, which is increasing due to the high prices of basic food items; all this is especially affecting women and children.

Food insecurity is unlikely to lessen in the next several months as shortages will keep prices elevated.

Rather, the crisis may deepen further in the near term if wheat sowing is delayed and output drops due to water-logging in the areas hit by the floods. Although the government has decided to purchase 450,000 tonnes of cereal from Russia on a government-to-government basis ahead of the next wheat harvest, the soaring prices will keep the staple food out of reach for the vast majority in the country.

With the people facing hardship in an inflationary environment, it is imperative for the government to ensure that it bridges food supply gaps and takes measures to keep prices at an affordable level for the average Pakistani, especially those from flood-affected areas.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

Bannu beheading


IN the brutal world of militancy, there are few rules, and the most blood-curdling of methods are applied to spread terror. The reported beheading of a Frontier Constabulary soldier in Bannu is an instant red flag for the authorities, who need to act fast to contain the terrorist threat.

According to the chilling account of the martyred soldier’s wife, Rehman Zaman and his son were gunned down while they slept when around 20 armed militants stormed their house. The widow says the terrorists then proceeded to behead Zaman, telling her the gruesome act was committed due to the victim’s “government job”.

Eyewitnesses told this paper that the martyred soldier’s head was later found hanging from a tree in a local market. This was not the only act of militant violence that has afflicted KP over the last few days.

Police claimed killing three TTP militants in Dera Ismail Khan while fighters also attacked a police convoy in the same area.

A little-known group called the Ittehadul Mujahideen Khorasan has claimed responsibility for the grotesque beheading. In the past, the TTP has also employed this reprehensible tactic against security men as well as civilian hostages.

Beheadings have also been used by the Afghan Taliban — the TTP’s ideological brethren — with the former employing this gory tactic against ex-members of the Afghan army as well as IS-K fighters. The intent behind the outrage in Bannu appears clear: spread terror amongst security personnel as well as civilians so that no one dares resist the militant onslaught.

However, the state must take up the cudgels and neutralise this barbarism before it spreads. After the collapse of the TTP ceasefire last week, the terrorist group has upped its violent activities.

The new army chief, while on a tour of KP positions on Tuesday, vowed to stamp out terrorism, and in the wake of these bloody incidents, the need for an effective counterterrorism strategy targeting all violent groups cannot be overstated.

Those responsible for Rehman Zaman’s brutal killing need to be tracked down and brought to justice, while the civilian and military arms of the state must launch a relentless campaign to cleanse the affected areas of terrorism.

This can come in the form of intelligence-based operations, as well as kinetic actions. Whatever shape the actions take, under no circumstances should the militants be allowed to establish their reign of terror in KP and the rest of Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

Smog misery


IF 2022 has taught us anything, it is that generations of reckless disregard for Mother Nature has accrued very steep costs for humanity. As soon as one calamity, the devastating monsoon rains of this year, receded, we have been visited by another. A pall of poisoned air is now slowly suffocating the city of Lahore, where authorities have been losing a years-long struggle to control environmental pollution. No amount of planning seems to have worked to make the city’s air at least nominally breathable for its residents, and ‘smog season’ has returned punctually with all its attendant miseries. From the very old and infirm to new-born infants and toddlers, everyone is breathing in toxic air that triggers an entire host of respiratory issues, shortens lifespans and generally makes life miserable.

The authorities have, as usual, little to offer other than the same measures they bandy every year: the announcement of an environmental emergency, ban on burning crop residue, push to shift brick kilns to zigzag technology, targeting vehicles visibly emitting smoke, and banning illegal construction activities. Meanwhile, schools have been ordered to remain shut three days a week from Friday to Sunday; private sector offices have been asked to follow suit and implement work-from-home policies. These pronouncements have done little good in the past, and it should be acknowledged that they have been a complete failure due to successive administrations’ inability to implement them. One need only consider the example of Beijing to see how far our authorities lag behind. Once a terribly polluted metropolis, the Chinese capital significantly overcame its smog problem over the last decade thanks to a concerted and wide-ranging plan to eliminate its biggest sources of pollution. Cleaner energy, relocation of pollution-causing industries, diversion of heavy traffic away from residential areas, encouraging the adoption of electric vehicles, and providing bicycles for shorter commutes formed the core of their effort. Intensive public engagement helped make those plans a reality. Such imagination and commitment are sadly lacking here at home.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

Disquiet on the western front


IT is very difficult for Pakistan to be delinked from Afghanistan, because of reasons of geography and history. Yet a strategically mature and realistic policy is needed to manage relations cordially with Pakistan’s western neighbour.

At a recent consultative dialogue in Islamabad, former generals, diplomats and other experts put their heads together to discuss the situation, made all the more critical following the banned TTP’s rescinding of the ceasefire with the state. There was wide consensus that a reorientation or reformulation of Pakistan’s Afghan policy was required. But the million-dollar question remains: how?

Over the last four decades, Pakistan has played a central role in Afghan affairs, primarily after this country jumped on the Afghan jihad bandwagon with the Americans and the Saudis.

Following the USSR’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan was front and centre in helping the mujahideen bring down the Soviet ‘evil empire’, to use Ronald Reagan’s term. This period, under Ziaul Haq’s watch, was one when drugs and the ‘Kalashnikov culture’ started entering Pakistan, as did millions of Afghan refugees, many of whom remain in the country.

Somewhere during the Afghan jihad, the support for the mujahideen morphed into ‘strategic depth’, a policy through which primarily the military establishment sought to maintain a friendly regime in Kabul.

This continued till the Taliban’s first government was sent packing by the US in 2001, though many foreign critics claimed that Pakistani support for the Taliban continued.

Fast forward to August 2021, when the Afghan Taliban rolled into Kabul, ending the US-backed government of Ashraf Ghani. Strategic depth, it seemed, had finally delivered, as the Taliban were now masters of their domain. Yet the presence of the TTP in Afghanistan and IS-K prove that the security threat from Afghanistan continues.

It is for parliament, with input of the security establishment and foreign policy experts, to decide what the new Afghan policy should be. However, there are some points that can be considered.

For starters, Afghanistan should not be seen as part of our ‘sphere of influence’, and there should be no efforts to politically control Kabul. For two decades, the US tried a grandiose nation-building scheme in Afghanistan, and failed as the Ghani administration melted away as soon as the Taliban were within striking distance of Kabul.

Therefore, Pakistan, as well as other foreign powers, should help facilitate an intra-Afghan dialogue, but by no means should they try and manipulate Afghan politics. Secondly, the message to Kabul’s rulers should be clear: no anti-Pakistan terrorists or hostile foreign elements should find refuge on Afghan soil.

With the TTP rearing its ugly head, this message must be crystal clear. An Afghanistan at peace with itself and the world is in Pakistan’s interest, and this should be the goal of our Afghan policy.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

Fuel from Russia


THE apparent headway made with Russia for the purchase of its crude oil, petrol and diesel at discounted prices is a positive development for the country’s wobbly economy. Struggling with an unprecedented liquidity crisis and a severe energy crunch due to global price shocks and disruptions, the government must not let this opportunity pass, especially since the American sanctions on Moscow, after the latter’s invasion of Ukraine, have already been removed for low- and middle-income countries seeking Russian energy. Musadik Malik, the state minister for petroleum, who had led a government team to Moscow for exploring the possibility of Russian energy imports, did not specify at what price Russia will supply its discounted oil products, or say whether the oil imports would comply with a $60 per barrel cap imposed by the G7 nations and EU on Russian seaborne oil from this week. But he claimed that the price would be similar to the discount being given to other countries or even cheaper. With the details of the deal to be settled during the upcoming visit of Russia’s energy minister to Islamabad in January, some remain sceptical because of successive governments’ failure to protect the nation’s energy interests in the past. Mr Malik also revealed that Moscow had invited Pakistan to initiate talks on long-term LNG government-to-government contracts.

If there is one lesson that we must learn from the recent spikes in global energy prices and post-Covid supply disruptions exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, it is that we should quickly diversify our sources of energy procurement and lock long-term supply contracts to ensure price stability and availability. As the minister has pointed out, Pakistan requires at least 8pc to 10pc growth in energy supply each year if it is to achieve a 5pc to 6pc economic growth rate to create new jobs and alleviate poverty. But the recent international oil and gas price shock and supply disruptions mean that a country like Pakistan, facing chronic balance-of-payments troubles, with energy imports making up the largest portion of its import bill, will never be able to meet its needs unless it devises plans to reduce its reliance on expensive imported fuel. While we should definitely lock in long-term contracts for uninterrupted supplies, the longer-term and cheaper solution to our challenges lies in investing in the exploration of our own untapped oil and gas resources and encouraging work on renewable solar and wind power.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

More women SHOs


IT is encouraging to see more employment avenues opening up for women in Pakistan, with an increasing number of public institutions making a conscious effort to bring them on board. According to a report in this paper yesterday, the Pakistan Railways police is planning to hire more women station house officers at several major train stations, particularly in Karachi. The objective is to ensure that female passengers are assured of a pleasant, safe and secure journey. Positive feedback from passengers regarding the first ever woman SHO appointed in Lahore at the Mughalpura station has prompted PR to recruit more women for the post across the country. Some other measures, such as the installation of cameras on the trains and a mobile phone app, have also been announced so that outlaws on board can be apprehended. According to a PR police spokesperson, the criminal record information of all law-enforcement agencies has been incorporated with the e-police post app, thereby making for a more integrated system.

It may be recalled that a few months ago, a young woman travelling alone was gang-raped on a Karachi-bound train — a shocking incident that highlighted how extremely unsafe is the public transport system in Pakistan for lone female travellers. The question to be asked is never why a woman was travelling alone, but rather, what the government must do to ensure a secure environment on public transport. The recent move by the PR is thus encouraging. In a conservative society where the public space is seen as belonging to men by right — which renders females venturing outside the home even more vulnerable — the government must take proactive steps to increase women’s visibility in a range of professions seen generally as male domains, such as the police. Also, with the introduction of metro bus systems along modern lines and with separate compartments for women, travel has become more economical and perceptibly widened the avenues for female employment and education. Such a trend can only bode well for a society’s progress.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

Is there a plan?


IN opposition, the PTI chairman may undoubtedly be one of the most popular leaders in Pakistan’s history, but despite the groundswell of public support for his party, it appears Imran Khan is unable to use the situation to his political advantage and has no clear path for his next move.

In fact, going by the developments of last week, when his coalition partners in Punjab made some revealing statements about the support of recently retired Gen Bajwa to the PTI, Mr Khan’s narrative, which had resonated with millions up and down the country, today appears convoluted.

In back-to-back television interviews, PML-Q leader Moonis Elahi and his father Punjab Chief Minister Parvez Elahi claimed that Gen Bajwa nudged the PML-Q to support Mr Khan — an assertion which contradicts Mr Khan’s stance that Gen Bajwa withdrew his support to the PTI.

In his interview, Moonis Elahi clearly stated that Gen Bajwa advised the PML-Q to back the PTI and also expressed surprise that Mr Khan is critical of the now-retired general who purportedly “went all out” for Mr Khan.

After weeks of Mr Khan’s publicly criticising Gen Bajwa, these statements from his allies in Punjab are confusing. In addition to these claims by the PML-Q, the CM’s categorical statement that there is no way to force an early election, as desired by Mr Khan, betrays an opposition in disarray.

Beyond this, Mr Khan’s own dramatic announcements, first about having talks with the government on elections and then resignation from the assemblies, have either been retracted, or fallen flat.

His recent admission that he should never have offered an extension to Gen Bajwa, too, contradicts what the DG ISI said in that famed presser about Mr Khan offering yet another extension to the former army chief.

The ball is in Mr Khan’s court, but it appears he is stumped as to what to do with it. An ace at narrative building, Mr Khan successfully captured the public imagination by conjuring up the cipher controversy, and then by stirring anti-Bajwa sentiment.

But for all his efforts and popularity, he is at a dead end. His demands for early elections are legitimate, but with no option left to trigger general polls, the best thing for him to do is to return to the system. A public that is battered by both political and economic instability deserves more than just a roadshow and container politics.

In this blind alley, Mr Khan would be well-advised to represent the people who voted for him and challenge the incumbent government not just verbally but where it counts. Unfortunately, given Mr Khan’s aversion to parliament, where he was a stranger even when in government, it is too wishful an ask. Still, without a Plan B, there are few other options for Mr Khan if he wants his party to remain a formidable opposition.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

Riverfront concerns


THE door-to-door drive being launched by a group of landowners to mobilise affected communities against what they call the ‘forcible acquisition’ of their lands by the Ravi Urban Development Authority for a multi-trillion-rupee riverfront real estate scheme near Lahore is an effective strategy to step up pressure on the government. Hundreds of farmers from the areas where the provincial government plans to implement the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project have been agitating for the last two years against the controversial scheme that is feared to annihilate thousands of acres of agricultural land and orchards that have been supplying vegetables and fruit to the residents of the provincial capital for decades. That they have now decided to expand the scope of their protests by involving people from other walks of life, including local businesses and residents who are going to be affected by the proposed project, underlines their growing frustration with RUDA. If properly carried out, the public mobilisation drive will help reinforce their collective campaign against a project that will enrich powerful developers and builders rather than the present owners of the land.

The riverfront venture has drawn public criticism and the ire of activists from its very inception almost two years ago. However, former prime minister Imran Khan, who had ordered his party’s administration in Punjab to revive it and launch it as one of his flagship development schemes, didn’t carry out a proper environmental impact assessment of the venture before inaugurating it in 2020, despite warnings from the experts. That wasn’t all. The way the authorities hastily moved in to acquire land at a rate far below market value and, recently, bulldozed standing crops on behalf of the country’s powerful real estate mafia has further alienated the affected communities that have been tilling this soil for the last two to three generations. The protesting farmers have a point when they say they would readily cooperate with the government for the regeneration of the Ravi river and other initiatives meant to improve the environment, but will keep resisting the forced land acquisition that benefits the land developers and builders. The problem with the Ravi urban project is that it aims to mainly create expensive real estate development opportunities for the wealthy in the name of saving Lahore, the Ravi and the environment. Yet deep down everyone knows that it will end up hurting local communities, destroying farmlands and uprooting small businesses in the area.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

Morality police out


FOR several months, Iran has been rocked by unprecedented protests, sparked by the death on Sept 16 of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who had been accosted by the Islamic Republic’s morality police for ‘improper’ hijab. Though the authorities claimed her death in custody was due to a pre-existing medical condition, the victim’s family did not buy this explanation and demanded transparency. In the wake of the tragedy, Iran has witnessed demonstrations, at times violent, across its length and breadth, crossing communal and ethnic boundaries. As per official figures, over 300 people have died in the unrest, including protesters and security personnel attacked by violent demonstrators in what the Iranian establishment has termed ‘riots’. However, sensing that coming down with a heavy hand is not working, it appears that Tehran’s clerical government is applying a less confrontational approach to quelling the strife. As per the prosecutor general, the morality police had been “shut down”, at least temporarily. Moreover, President Ebrahim Raisi has also signalled that “flexibility” can be shown regarding Iran’s strict post-revolution hijab laws.

Beyond the immediate spark igniting the protests — the Mahsa Amini tragedy — there are several factors behind the sustained demonstrations. These include calls for greater social freedoms, particularly for women, ethnic grievances, as well as Iran’s dire economic situation, made worse by Western sanctions, which has made ordinary Iranians’ lives miserable. While the Iranian establishment may blame the West for stoking the recent unrest — Joe Biden’s promise that “we’re gonna free Iran” certainly raised eyebrows in Tehran — the fact is that the country’s rulers need to look into the core domestic issues fuelling the protests. The morality police’s suspension is a good first step, but the state should go further and drop the stringent restrictions governing women’s dress. While it is wrong for others — for example, many European states — to restrict the hijab, it is also not right for states to force women to wear the veil. Women must have the freedom to dress as they want.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

Extension legacy


LAST Tuesday marked an unenviable end to six years of near-absolute power. Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa would not have wanted to go as he did, spurned by friend and foe alike. Even the general public — usually so enamoured of men in uniform — seemed unforgiving as he hung up his boots, with many taking to social media to express their criticism.

It is unfortunate that it had to be so, and the retired general will no doubt spend many a moment of solitude pondering where it all went wrong. Was it ambition that became his undoing, or naiveté? That question will rankle him as he comes to terms with the legacy he leaves behind.

His thoughts will eventually turn to how he may have been remembered had he retired on time. It would seem, in retrospect, that doffing the uniform three years ago could have at least saved him from the many controversies that arose during his last months in office.

Gen Bajwa is not the only army chief who squandered his prestige by sticking around for longer than he ought to have. Others before him who also overstayed their tenure suffered more or less similar fates, leaving it to their institution to pay the price for their hubris.

This publication has long argued against service extensions unless these have to be made purely for strategic purposes during an ongoing war. The practice of having individuals carry on well beyond their time is up — and, in the process, denying successive batches of capable officers the chance to lead and mould their institution in new ways — weakens the armed forces by eroding their prestige. It has tied the military and the executive together in a co-dependent relationship, in which one side invariably ends up using its leverage on the other for quid pro quo arrangements that may extend its grip on power.

Indeed, if the army is serious about its recent commitment to detaching itself from domestic politics, it should, as a starting step, encourage a legislative initiative to do away with this practice completely. The civilian leadership, too, must take the opportunity to bury this harmful precedent rather than find new ways to enforce it, such as the amendments to the Army Act that were recently being considered.

The army chief should come in for a term, lead it capably, chart a course for the future in consultation with his prospective successors, and then depart on time and gracefully — without any of the needless speculation and political machinations seen this year. There is no shortage of capable people in the forces that just one should be considered indispensable.

The outgoing year has shown us that Pakistan has changed — perhaps irreversibly so — and that it cannot be business as usual in matters such as these. It is time our system evolved as well.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

Dodging accountability


A WARNING carried in these pages in August appears to have gone completely unheeded. Months ago, as the government was bulldozing legislation after legislation through parliament to ‘reform’ the prevailing accountability laws, concern had been raised that the sweeping changes being made could completely paralyse ongoing efforts to hold powerful wrongdoers accountable. It fell on deaf ears. The government appears to have been concerned solely with saving its leaders’ skins as it proceeded to gut the National Accountability Bureau and defang its governing law, the National Accountability Ordinance, without putting a robust alternative system in place. A rather outrageous consequence of this self-serving ‘reform’ effort manifested itself on Thursday, as property magnate Malik Riaz was able to walk away ‘scot-free’ from a multibillion-rupee corruption reference related to Karachi’s Bahria Icon Tower.

Neither Mr Riaz nor the many megaprojects he oversees are known for above-board operations. The Icon Tower skyscraper partly occupies an amenity plot that would hardly have been meant for housing the rich; yet, somehow, it ended up in Bahria Town’s hands. When a three-year-old reference regarding the legality of this deal was brought before an accountability court judge on Thursday, he was forced to close it because he no longer has jurisdiction over the matter. The suspects nominated in the reference had filed applications seeking this outcome, citing recent amendments made by the PDM government to the National Accountability Ordinance to make their case. The reference is now once again with NAB, which is supposed to transmit it onward to a “competent forum”. One wonders if there is any hope that we may see further progress in this case. The impunity with which the powerful seem to be operating was evident when Mr Riaz failed to show up before NAB on the same day in connection with another suspicious multibillion-rupee land deal that he was allegedly involved in. “You are advised that failure to comply with this notice may entail penal consequences under NAO 1999,” the real estate tycoon had been warned. It had no effect. While NAB has earned its reputation of being a failed institution that serves little purpose other than to settle political scores, the need had been for the government to fix it, not cripple it completely. The PDM government is itself responsible for giving credence to those who feel it came into power to give ‘NROs’ to the corrupt.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

Double standards


IN a globalised world, if states fail to protect the human rights of their citizens, or worse, participate in abuses, the international community takes notice. However, problems arise when accountability for rights abuses is politicised, where allies are given a free pass, and geopolitical adversaries are raked over the coals. The US State Department’s annual Religious Freedom Designations listing very much appears to be a politicised project, where the above-mentioned dichotomy is clearly visible. This year, just as last year, Pakistan has been retained on the list of ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ where religious rights’ violations are concerned. Other states on this dubious list include China, Cuba, Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia. With the exception of the Saudis, all of the states listed are geopolitical adversaries of the US, while it is not apparent whether Washington considers Pakistan a friend or a foe. But there is one glaring exception: India. In the press release announcing the listing, the US secretary of state has castigated governments and non-state actors that “harass, threaten, jail, and even kill individuals on account of their beliefs” and “exploit opportunities for political gain”. India under the BJP’s watch very much fits the bill.

According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom — a bipartisan body of the American federal government — the Indian government’s policies “negatively affect Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits” while the outfit clearly recommends that the American administration should designate India as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’, and impose sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for religious persecution. Has Secretary of State Antony Blinken not read the USCIRF report? This paper has always argued that the state in Pakistan needs to do much more to protect the rights of religious minorities in this country. Yet the US State Department’s listing of Pakistan and exclusion of India as violators of religious freedom smacks of hypocrisy. Instead of individual states sermonising to others, bodies such as the UN should be used to discuss rights’ violations, so that states can explain their positions.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

Smog season


FOR the past week, major cities of Pakistan have been among the top most polluted cities in the world. Lahore ranked as the metropolis with the most polluted air on Friday afternoon, while Karachi stayed at second position throughout the morning. Peshawar is also said to have made an appearance in second place for some time. On Saturday morning, Lahore was again the most polluted city in the world with 334 AQI, which is reportedly 34.8 times higher than the annual air quality value set by the WHO.

All this seems pretty ironic considering the country’s leadership is actively making the case for loss and damage funding from the developed world on account of climate change. The argument that Pakistan is not a major carbon emitter tends to lose weight rather quickly given the degree of apathy demonstrated in dealing with the life-altering impact of heavy environmental pollution in the form of smog. The phenomenon first emerged in parts of northern Punjab more than 20 years ago, and has since continued to regularly paralyse the lives of the residents in the areas it affects. Earlier this year, the Punjab government came up with the first and one-of-a-kind smog master plan. But even if implemented, the measures outlined in it do little more than mitigate the more superficial causes. For example, the smog plan suggests using zigzag technology in brick kilns, reducing crop burning, issuing tickets to owners of smoke-emitting vehicles and setting up a commission to prevent more illegal housing societies from emerging. It is silent on how to deal with the industrial sector and the real estate mafia which are responsible for the major share of the air and environmental pollution in all the major cities of the country. Despite the large-scale destruction caused by the floods, the world would find it hard to believe that Pakistan is deserving of climate justice and the related reparations if the country’s leadership does not do anything to tackle environmental pollution at home.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

Embassy attack


THERE has been no claim of responsibility yet, but the timing of the attack on Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul strongly suggests a link with the TTP calling off its ceasefire with the Pakistani state only days ago.

On Friday, the embassy compound came under fire from a lone gunman holed up in a nearby building. The security guard was critically injured while protecting the mission head, Chargé d’Affaires to Afghanistan Ubaidur Rehman Nizamani, who remained unhurt. One suspect has been arrested and two firearms recovered from him.

The Afghan foreign ministry has given assurances of an investigation into the attempted assassination of the Pakistani diplomat and punishment of those behind it. Given such a high-profile incident occurring in its capital, that too in what would be a more secure part of the city, this is the very least the Afghan government would be expected to say.

After all, during the months leading up to its takeover of Kabul, the Afghan Taliban in parleys with the international community reiterated their commitment to crack down on militant groups on its soil and prevent any cross-border attacks.

It soon became clear, especially with the appointment as interior minister of Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani Network which is known to have close links with Al Qaeda, that any assertive action against extremist outfits was unlikely.

Aside from their ideological commonalities with such groups, Afghanistan’s new rulers may have calculated that following through on its commitment to act against them risked the regime being seen as kowtowing to the West, a perception that could push its supporters towards the self-styled Islamic State, the Taliban’s only real rival on the militant landscape in their country.

The duration of the Afghan Taliban’s regime has thus seen a marked escalation in cross-border attacks by the TTP and other terrorist groups that have taken shelter inside Afghanistan, as well as border clashes between security personnel on both sides. The ill-fated ‘negotiations’ that the Taliban facilitated have unsurprisingly broken down, with the TTP calling for an all-out war on the Pakistani state.

In an already perilous environment, this development put the Pakistan embassy personnel at even more risk and the Taliban should have enhanced the existing security arrangements. The regime has an obligation to keep the diplomatic community within Afghanistan safe from harm; they must realise that the murderous elements they are playing host to are further compromising their international standing.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

Retracted offer


WITH so many U-turns under his belt, it was hardly surprising when on Saturday, PTI chairman Imran Khan decided to walk back his previous day’s offer of talks to the PDM, saying that his message had been ‘misunderstood’. On Friday, he had said he was ready to sit with the ruling alliance and set a date for polls, failing which the Punjab and KP assemblies would be dissolved. The former prime minister now appears resolved on the dissolution of the assemblies this month. However, there is greater sense in his previous suggestion of talking to the government, even if to settle on an election date. Engaging with the PTI is something that the ruling coalition government itself should not be averse to as this is the only way to craft a mutually acceptable political path.

Indeed, both the opposition and the ruling coalition face challenges. For instance, after having exhausted virtually all his options, including street protests, how much more pressure can Mr Khan exert on his political rivals to call early elections? At the other end, government officials have indicated that elections will be held as per schedule. But realistically speaking, with the economy in such terrible shape and no signs of the political uncertainty ending, the option of early elections is not something to be dismissed out of hand. True, Mr Khan’s hard and unyielding tone would put off most political rivals, but it is time to take a look at the situation for what it really is.

Politicians in democracies across the world attack one another, and use every constitutional and legal option to force their opponents out of power. But they do so while remaining a part of the system and without shutting the door on negotiations. They are aware that the solution to every issue lies in engaging with one another. They also know that there is no room for progress without give and take. There is little doubt that Mr Khan is the most popular national leader at the moment as the massive crowds at his anti-government rallies across Pakistan and his success in by-elections show. But if he hasn’t achieved his goal of early polls it is largely because he never engaged with his opponents. There are many in his own camp too who are against the drastic measures he has decided on. He would be well advised to heed wiser counsel, and sit across the table with the coalition government, without setting prior conditions, in order to genuinely seek a solution. At the same time, the ruling parties should also show flexibility if they want to find a way out of the political mess. It is true that the hate-filled rhetoric of the past many months has caused deep divisions within the political class. But unless the latter demonstrates maturity, there will be no progress.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

CM Bizenjo’s complaint


BALOCHISTAN Chief Minister Mir Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo’s claim that his province is facing a financial crunch due to a large shortfall in its share from the federal divisible tax pool is debatable. He told reporters on Wednesday that the federal government hadn’t disbursed even a tenth of the province’s share in the first quarter of the present fiscal year under the NFC award. However, the report on the federal fiscal operations during the period between July and September shows that Islamabad has already transferred nearly Rs83bn or a quarter of its estimated share from the tax pool. He has further contended that the federal government also owed Rs40bn to Balochistan in outstanding arrears on account of gas royalties, warning that his government would not be in a position to pay salaries to its employees if it didn’t get its full share under the NFC. Islamabad should clarify the exact situation regarding his claims to explain its position.

Mir Bizenjo’s concerns over the alleged shortfall in the NFC and straight transfers are understandable. His party’s lawmakers and others who helped topple his predecessor and crown him chief minister are apparently demanding their reward. In fact, all ruling parties in the provinces want to divert the maximum resources for development works to please the voters as the next general elections are not very far away. Unless called earlier, the elections are scheduled for next October, and the provincial governments are left with just seven months to complete development schemes before the parliamentary term ends. No wonder Mir Bizenjo’s administration, as stated by the CM, has already released Rs70bn for schemes under its annual development programme for the present year and wants more money to give the CM’s party legislators. On top of pressure from party lawmakers, he is also under pressure from the flood victims to help them in the rehabilitation process. How much help the cash-strapped federal government facing immense pressure from the IMF to cut its deficits can extend to Mir Bizenjo and the province is anybody’s guess.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

Battle for spoils


THE spectacle playing out inside a London courtroom shines a light on the struggle for control of the assets of the once united MQM. Once an electoral behemoth in urban Sindh, the party today is faction-ridden and no longer the vote-getter it once was. Part of its popularity was based on a genuine, loyal vote bank, while much of it was the result of a violent, toxic politics enforced by the gun. The case in question involves seven or so properties located in upmarket parts of the British capital, reportedly worth over £10m, and was filed by Aminul Haque, currently a federal minister and leader of the MQM-Pakistan, the Bahadurabad-based faction that formed after the party split following Altaf Hussain’s 2016 controversial speech. It was after this episode that the establishment decided to clip the MQM’s wings. The MQM-P is apparently interested in gaining control of the expensive real estate for the benefit of “poor and needy people”, and the trial has brought the MQM founder face to face with his acolytes-turned-nemeses, as he tries to retain control over the properties. In a related matter, as reported exclusively in this paper, efforts were underway to reunite two of the factions of the MQM: Bahadurabad and Mustafa Kamal’s PSP, while the powers that be were also reportedly open to the idea of rehabilitating some London-based leaders.

Regarding the property matter, the UK courts can best decide the merits of the case. However, it beggars belief as to how a self-professed middle-class party was able to snap up some of the choicest real estate in London. Mr Hussain has said “ordinary workers” had given him the properties. Yet it is quite possible that the pricey real estate was purchased not through chanda (donations) but bhatta (extortion). During its nearly three-decade stranglehold over Karachi, the MQM had perfected the art of shaking down the citizens of this hapless city to fund its operations. Therefore, it must be asked how the MQM raised millions of pounds, and how the funds reached London. A legitimate money trail needs to be established. Where the reported political engineering is concerned, as the lately retired army chief indicated, the military has said adieu to interference in politics. We hope the new chief, with specific reference to urban Sindh, sticks to this position. An artificial, and indeed pliable, ‘dry-cleaned’ leadership should not be foisted upon Karachi. Let an organic, democratic leadership emerge from Pakistan’s biggest city.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

Fleeting good news


THE last couple of days have seen some positive news. The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics reported that the nation’s trade deficit has shrunk by a whopping 30pc to $14.41bn during the first five months of the ongoing fiscal to November from $20.62bn a year ago.

Then the State Bank announced that Saudi Arabia had extended the term for $3bn in deposits through the Saudi Fund for Development to support Pakistan’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves, saying the move would help meet external sector challenges and achieve sustainable growth. But while these are welcome developments, they will provide only temporary support to the economy.

The reduction in the trade deficit is not due to a boost in exports — which face heavy headwinds due to the decrease in global demand amid inflation and elevated energy prices. It is a result of the central bank’s stringent controls on inbound shipments, which declined by over a fifth from last year.

With remittances experiencing a downturn because of the rising cost of living in the US and Europe, we have no choice but to hold down our import bill to somewhat ease the pressure on the current account, even if it means drastically slowing the economy. Likewise, the Saudi money is a loan we must return in a year if not extended again.

Indeed, there is no other option to get out of the economic mess we have created in the last few years. The problem is that we are not ready to learn from our blunders. When former finance minister Miftah Ismail reached an accord with the IMF after months of hard work for the resumption of its bailout programme, it was hoped the ruling alliance wouldn’t repeat the previous government’s mistakes.

Sadly, at a crucial time, Ishaq Dar, a big proponent of a strong rupee, was brought in to replace Mr Ismail to do the impossible: contain the devaluation of the exchange rate, reduce interest rates and tame inflation.

However, Mr Dar’s initial actions have produced the opposite of what was intended. The interbank exchange rate has remained range-bound for some weeks but the dollars have vanished from the market due to the expanding gap between the official and kerb market rates.

Inflation continues to rise and the State Bank was forced to raise interest rates under pressure from the IMF with its ninth programme review in limbo.

The gap between Islamabad and the lender over fiscal slippages continues to widen as the Fund has strong reservations over the finance ministry’s revenue and expenditure — especially flood-related spending — estimates. Consequently, other multilateral and bilateral donors are reluctant to disburse the promised dollars.

We have tried to delude the IMF multiple times in the last three years. Each time it has responded with more painful conditions. Now, unless we implement the required governance and financial reforms, sustainable economic stability will remain a pipe dream.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

Columns and Articles

What we need to grow

Miftah Ismail

IN recent columns, I have written about the control of elites over Pakistan’s polity, the ineffectiveness of our governments and our pursuing the wrong model of import substitution, which results in boom-and-bust cycles.

Since our elite already control most of our resources, they aren’t interested in economic growth or increasing the size of the pie. Their preoccupation is with maintaining their lion’s share of the pie.

Our governments’ ineffectiveness serves our elite well as it stops any social mobility, and preserves the status quo. Finally, the import substitution policy ensures that monopoly profits flow to the already well-off.

The only way to escape this poverty trap is to come up with a new ‘elite bargain’ that sues for growth and development. How can such a compact for prosperity be achieved is an important question that I leave aside for now. Today, I want to briefly describe what I consider to be six essential pillars for a development compact.

If our government were to carry out just one task, I’d want it to be population control, my first pillar for development. No amount of resources we put in education or health will ever be enough unless we control our runaway population growth.

Our population is growing at more than twice the rates of India and Bangladesh and three times the rate of Sri Lanka. Pakistan will forever be mired in poverty and illiteracy unless we bring down our population growth.

The only way to escape the poverty trap is to come up with a new ‘elite bargain’.

In the 1950s, an American economist Charles Tiebout came up with the concept of citizens ‘voting with their feet’, and moving away from jurisdictions that do not provide services well or tax too much. He argued that because of this competition, cities and states would provide better services to citizens.

In America, states are sometimes referred to as ‘laboratories of democracy’ that experiment with different ideas until the successful ones are adopted widely. In America, power and responsibilities are not just devolved to its 50 states but to counties (loosely, what we call divisions — they typically provide many services) and cities (which are typically much smaller, and have many devolved responsibilities).

States and cities also must raise most of their own revenues. This way, the US has implemented the most effective federalism, where spending and taxation decisions are made by the same jurisdiction. This federalism is partially responsible for America’s incredible economic success.

When Deng Xiaoping liberalised China’s economy, he didn’t just use the central bureaucracy in Beijing but also asked local government officials in four regions to establish Special Economic Zones.

One of the four zones, at Shenzhen, was very successful and within five years, inspired by Shenzhen, there were 35 zones across China, which went on to become the engines of Chinese exports and growth. Even today, it is the best-performing regional officials who are promoted to be the highest Chinese Communist Party and government officials.

The Chinese economic miracle is in no small part due to the drive and zeal of the local officials who are competing against each other.

Our four large provinces do not provide any competition but if we had our nation’s 38 divisions and more than 100 districts also competing with each other, we would definitely get better, more responsive governments.

Even while keeping provincial boundaries intact, we just need to ensure that each division has an elected commissioner and each district has an elected mayor and they are entrusted with significant devolved powers and responsibilities.

Moreover, of the divisible pool money that is given to sub-national governments, 60 per cent should go to districts and 20pc each to divisions and provinces, thus making districts the hub of metropolitan services.

Empowered local governments with responsibilities for health, education, policing, zoning, etc and raising revenues is my second pillar for growth. We should have many competing jurisdictions that make governments responsive and effective.

My third pillar is to live within our means and reduce the fiscal deficit to less than our growth rate.

The most efficient way to reduce the deficit is to restrict public sector development projects to major interprovincial projects, restrict the growth of current expenditures, including defence, to less than inflation, and most importantly, reduce payments to sub-national jurisdictions from the current 57.5pc to about 40pc of the divisible pool over five years. Of course, sub-national jurisdictions should be allowed to raise their own revenues to make up for the loss of federal transfers.

Financing of our fiscal deficits leads to crowding out of private investments and borrowing from foreigners. The former is obviously not desirable and the latter results in current account deficits, which, as we are finding out, are not sustainable.

We must therefore opt for fiscal and exchange rate policies that lead to a balanced current account.

My fourth pillar is an adaptation of policies for export promotion as opposed to import substitution. Our exports are low because of three main reasons: one, we don’t provide continuous energy at reasonable rates; two, our country is not perceived as safe to visit by foreign buyers; and three, our companies prefer selling to a protected domestic market.

The solutions for the first two reasons are obvious for at least 20 years but are still awaiting implementation. A solution for the third reason is to impose additional tax on companies that don’t export even a small fraction of their sales and reduce custom duties that protect domestic manufacturers. These steps, plus export-processing zones set up by competing divisions, will give a fillip to exports.

My fifth pillar is improving agricultural productivity and yields. We call ourselves an agricultural country and yet most years we import wheat, cotton, edible oil, lentils, chickpeas, garlic, ginger, and many other farm products totalling $8 billion. Our farm yields for most crops are considerably lower not just compared to China but also India, which has similar conditions.

Since our population is increasing by more than five million people annually, our shortage of food will only increase unless we enhance our farm yields. This will also raise farm income and alleviate rural poverty.

My sixth pillar is education, which deserves a column on its own.

The writer is a former finance minister.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

Islamic finance for climate

Maha Qasim

THE 27th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP 27, took place in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, last month. Against the backdrop of the catastrophic floods which affected 33 million people and resulted in estimated economic losses of $40 billion to Pakistan, Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman made a strong case for the establishment of a ‘loss and damage finance facility’ that would help vulnerable countries adapt to and mitigate the impact of climate change.

Nine years ago, UN climate negotiators had agreed to a formal mechanism to combat loss and damage, but no progress was made on this front as wealthy nations were unwilling to be held responsible for their historically high contributions to global emissions. Ahmad Rafay Alam, a Pakistani environmental lawyer and activist, has pointed out that the fire that damaged the Notre Dame cathedral in 2019 resulted in an influx of donations amounting to $877m in two days. However, of the $816m to be raised by the UN to help Pakistan deal with the aftermath of the catastrophic floods, just $90m had been received.

Capital markets provide a unique opportunity to raise climate funding. Coupled with the presence of Islamic financial institutions in critical emerging markets of the Global South, capital markets could help restructure financing from developed to developing nations. Islamic finance tools such as sukuk (a Sharia-compliant bond) and takaful (an Islamic alternative to insurance) have the potential to bridge the climate funding gap. The faith-based principles of Islamic finance are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and support the protection of the environment, fair distribution of wealth, equal opportunities and the avoidance of harm. Islamic finance can reinforce its position as an ethical and feasible financing option by expanding its role in green finance.

The fundamental focus of Islamic finance on social impact, especially through Islamic social finance institutions (eg zakat (faith-based charity), auqaf (charitable endowments)), and increased awareness of risks associated with climate change and climate disasters, provide another solid basis for supporting the green, inclusive and resilient recovery agenda of countries impacted by climate change. Zakat funds can be used to address humanitarian needs arising from the impact of climate-induced natural disasters if the beneficiaries meet specified criteria, while auqaf may directly engage with the provision of goods and services related to climate mitigation and adaptation and can also be dedicated to climate research and development. Islamic microfinance institutions can fill a vital gap that has not been met by conventional microfinance institutions by targeting the rural poor, the majority of whom are underbanked.

There is an opportunity for local financial institutions to scale up the adoption of Islamic financing for green projects.

Pakistan, it has been observed “has the second-largest Muslim population in the world with very low banking penetration”. According to the Financial Inclusion Insights survey 2020, financial inclusion in Pakistan is around 21 per cent, the lowest in South Asia. The government wants to boost financial inclusion by promoting Islamic finance as a part of its National Financial Inclusion Strategy.

According to ratings company analysis, “Islamic banks are the largest contributor to the Islamic finance industry at 67pc (total assets), followed by sukuk at 26pc (outstanding amount), Islamic funds at 6pc (total assets) and takaful at 1pc (total contributions)”. Despite the pandemic-driven economic slowdown, Islamic financing expanded at an average compound rate of 10.5pc in 2020 and 2021, while conventional loans extended by only 3.4pc during the same period.

The recognition of climate change as a material risk for the banking sector has increased significantly. A survey of the Islamic DeveIopment Bank’s 57 member countries showed that 97pc of IDB’s clients believe that climate adaptation is an important consideration in investment decisions. Climate adaptation projects across all sectors constituted 35pc of the total commitment at the bank in 2021. Further, an average of 55pc of IDB’s total commitments to climate action over the past five years have been dedicated to climate adaptation and this figure is predicted to grow in the future.

Since COP27 was held in Egypt this year and COP 28 next year will be held in the UAE, both Muslim-majority countries, this platform can be leveraged to promote Sharia-compliant financing for climate adaptation and impact mitigation projects in vulnerable countries.

Developing Asia is home to 62pc of the global Muslim population, with 45pc residing in Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh alone. Islamic finance is in high demand in these countries and with high growth potential. The Asian Development Bank’s recent report on Unlocking Islamic Climate Finance describes “how greening Islamic capital markets and social finance, mobilising project finance for infrastructure and boosting financial inclusion, can play a key role in funding the climate agenda”. For example, green Sukuk issuances in the real estate and transport industries can support the development of sustainable, environment-friendly green buildings and the electrification of public transport. Climate mitigation projects in the transport, energy, agriculture, water and sanitation sectors are also suitably structured for asset-financing through Islamic finance instruments.

The State Bank of Pakistan’s Environmental & Social Risk Management Manual provides tools and guidelines to assess and manage environmental and social risks in the banking sector in an effort to promote sustainable banking in Pakistan. There is an opportunity for local financial institutions to scale up the adoption of Islamic financing for green projects. Due to the high asset-intensity of Islamic finance, and concentration in specific sectors such as real estate and construction, promoting Islamic climate finance will require a focused effort from industry players to develop relevant products and financing modalities. Accordingly, there is a need to invest heavily in strategic research, support programmes to help the main industry players to transition to climate finance, and support the development of relevant products such as climate takaful or green auqaf or zakat programmes.

Maha Qasim is an environmental and sustainability expert. Noor Fatima Anwar is a research analyst.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

A saffron silence

F.S. Aijazuddin

HAD William Shakespeare been alive today in Pakistan, he would have given a different twist to his drama Julius Caesar. He would have reframed history in the light of our experience. His Pakistani Caesar would have survived to revenge himself on those who brought him to power.

Shakespeare would have had Gen Iskander Mirza put Gen Ayub Khan behind bars for insurrection in 1958. His Zulfikar Ali Bhutto would have exiled (and did) Gen Gul Hassan and Air Marshal Rahim Khan who boosted him to power in 1971. (He posted them as ambassadors.)

In 1977, Mr Bhutto would have stripped Gen Ziaul Haq of his pips rather than quit PM’s House, and served a second term. In 1999, Shakespeare’s Nawaz Sharif would have ensured that the PIA aircraft containing Gen Pervez Musharraf never landed on Pakistan territory.

Recent changes at the top in the Pakistan Army resonate with similar Shakespearean undertones. Out of the list of the contenders for the post of COAS, the top two according to seniority were promoted CJCSC and COAS. Two other names, after a lifetime of professional service, volunteered to ‘retire’, even though they had only a few months left to serve their country. Could they have been eased out? We will know only after history has lost its sting.

PM Modi has lost the goodwill initially earned by his predecessor Vajpayee.

The speed with which their applications for retirement were forwarded to the defence ministry may be one indicator of the pace at which the new COAS Gen Asim Munir intends to run the army. A second is the speed with which he has conveyed a strong message to the Indian government on Azad Jammu & Kashmir.

Two recent statements by India prompted his swift action. In October, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said he hoped to absorb Gilgit-Baltistan to complete PM Modi’s mission.

Last week, Lt Gen Upendra Dwivedi — the general officer commanding-in-chief of the Indian army’s northern command — stoked hot embers by endorsing Singh’s statement and referring to the resolutions passed by the Indian parliament.

Days after taking charge, the new COAS visited AJK. The media, quoting ISPR, reported that “during a visit to front-line troops in the Line of Control’s (LoC) Rakhchikri sector, Gen Munir said the army had noticed ‘highly irresponsible statements’ from the Indian leadership on GB and AJK recently”.

Gen Munir’s warning was unequivocal: “Let me make it categorically clear, Pakistan’s armed forces are ever ready, not only to defend every inch of our motherland, but, to take the fight back to the enemy, if ever, war is imposed on us [.] Any misconception resulting in a misadventure will always be met with the full might of our armed forces backed by a resilient nation.”

No one in New Delhi should mistake the seriousness of this warning. It goes from one Caesar to another.

At another level, though, PM Narendra Modi may be reflecting upon his saffron silence over the past few years. He has achieved little. Instead, he has lost the goodwill initially earned by his predecessor PM Atal B. Vajpayee during his two visits to Pakistan in 1999 and in 2004, and his own lightning ‘pink turban’ stopover at the Sharif estate in Raiwind in December 2015.

PM Modi may well be considering a revival of contact between his government and ours, now that there is a real possibility that Mian Nawaz Sharif may return to reoccupy Raiwind.

It is now public knowledge that the secret talks between Satinder Lambah and Tariq Aziz between 2002 and 2007 had brought their two principals (Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf) close to a mutually acceptable solution over Jammu & Kashmir.

Their non-paper foresaw military forces on both sides of the LoC being kept to a minimum (especially in populated areas), a porous border, social and economic development of the region, and strengthening Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.

The last has been undone by PM Modi. Is it perhaps time therefore for Pakistan to absorb Azad Jammu & Kashmir into Pakistan constitutionally? That would not only give form to a legal fiction but it would define our homeland territorially.

If the status of AJK is allowed to remain, and should the Indians be rash enough to invade it, would the AJK president have to appeal to the Pakistan government for help to resist the invaders? It would be an ironic reprise of 1948, when Maharaja Hari Singh sought Nehru’s help to repel intrusive Razakar tribesmen.

It has been said that “conflicts acquire a life of their own until the combatants forget what it is that they are fighting about. They are just engaged in combat”. Millions of Pakistanis, Indians and Kashmiris deserve an overdue peace.

The writer is an author.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

OSH conventions

Parvez Rahim

AT present, the International Labour Organisation, along with the European Union, is persuading Pakistan to ratify two conventions on occupational safety and health (OSH): C155 — Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981, and C187 — Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006. Out of 190 ILO conventions, Pakistan has ratified 36, which include conventions on the freedom of association; collective bargaining; forced labour; child labour; equal remuneration; tripartite consultation; discrimination (employment and occupation); and minimum age.

The EU’s GSP-Plus gives developing countries, including Pakistan, a special incentive to pursue sustainable development and good governance. The scheme helps job creation, better working conditions and the improvement of macroeconomic indicators. The EU wants Pakistan to ensure full compliance by organisations of the ILO’s 27 conventions, in order to continue multilateral trade through GSP-Plus. Fifteen conventions relate to core human and labour rights and 12 to environment and governance principles.

The scheme will expire in 2023. Pakistan will have to reapply for GSP-Plus status and the decision will be taken by the EU parliament in four to five months. Continuity is subject to ratification of an additional five to six conventions related to environment and social standards, listed among the 27 conventions. At present, the scheme is confined to the textile sector; the extension of GSP-Plus would hold great significance for Pakistan’s economy.

Although Pakistan has not yet ratified conventions 155 and 187, the Factories Act, 1934, has comprehensive provisions on health and safety. Even after a presence of 88 years, and with few amendments, most of its regulations are still relevant. Besides, the Act provides for the framing of rules of hazardous occupations in factories.

Employers are either not aware of safety risks or feign ignorance.

In 1963, the government enforced nine rules relating to hazardous occupations in the factories. The organisations are required to identify hazardous jobs in factories and get workers engaged in them medically examined after every six months. Unfortunately, compliance is poor.

There is also the Sindh Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2017. It has been enforced for the protection of persons at work against the risk of injury arising out of the activities at the workplace. The provisions of this Act are mostly based on OSH conventions C155 and C187.

Excluding multinationals and a few other progressive organisations, employers’ compliance with occupational safety and health laws has been disappointing. There have been several deadly fires and other mishaps in which many workers have died.

Over 250 workers died in Karachi’s Baldia factory fire in September 2012. Similarly, in another fire incident, 16 workers of a chemical factory in Mehran Town, also in Karachi, lost their lives in August 2021.

The employers are either not aware of OSH risks or pretend to be ignorant. Ensuring the implementation of OSH regulations by employers is difficult unless the competence level of labour inspectors is improved and the lifafa culture eliminated.

C155 requires a national policy on occupational safety, health and the working environment to be framed in consultation with the organisations representing employers and workers. It makes both parties responsible for ensuring they implement the guidelines. The employers will have to ensure that the “machinery, equipment and processes under their control, are safe and without risk to health”. The same goes for chemical, physical and biological substances and agents. They will have to provide workers with “adequate protective clothing and equipment”. On their part, workers should cooperate in their employers’ fulfilment of their responsibilities.

C187 provides a promotional framework for OSH. The national policy under this convention is to also be made in consultation with representatives of workers’ federations and employers’ bodies. The policy “shall promote basic principles such as assessing occupational risks or hazards; combating occupational risks or hazards at source; and developing a national preventive safety and health culture that includes information, consultation and training”.

Ratification of these OSH conventions will have two advantages for Pakistan. It will enable the extension of GSP-Plus, with the possibility of inclusion of trade with the EU of products other than textiles. The government will have to be vigilant in forcing and monitoring the employers to implement the OSH regulations as non-conformance will neither be tolerated nor is it affordable. The ILO and EU should not have to identify a serious failure in the effective implementation of any of these conventions.

The writer is a consultant in human resources at the Aga Khan University Hospital.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

Terror nexus in Afghanistan

Zahid Hussain

THE attack on the Pakistan embassy in Kabul last week raises questions about the Taliban administration’s capacity and resolve to fight terrorist groups operating from Afghan soil. The shooting that targeted the chargé d’affaires seems to be an extension of the militants’ war on the Pakistani state.

Although the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) has reportedly claimed responsibility for the assault, the identity of the attackers remains unverified. In a statement posted on social media, the group confirmed that the Pakistani envoy was the target.

A spokesman for the Afghan Taliban administration said the attacker was a citizen of a foreign country and an IS-K member. “Some foreign malicious circles are behind the attack and the aim was to create distrust between the two brotherly countries,” the statement said.

But the Taliban officials have not identified the nationality of the perpetrator. The attack was well planned. The assailant seemed well armed and well trained. While the Pakistani envoy narrowly escaped, a Pakistani security official sustained grave injuries. It was a serious security breach as the attacker managed to enter the embassy premises. The incident highlights the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.

In another incident the same day, unidentified militants detonated a car bomb and tried to storm the headquarters of Hezb-i-Islami, headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, in the Afghan capital. The former Afghan prime minister was unhurt. It is not clear whether the two incidents were linked.

The attack on the Pakistan embassy has given a dangerous twist to the terrorist threat from Afghanistan.

Curiously, the assault on the Pakistani embassy came with the TTP’s calling off a tenuous ceasefire with Pakistan. The outlawed militant group based in Afghanistan has intensified its terrorist actions in Pakistan’s former tribal regions since then.

There has also been a marked escalation in cross-border attacks on Pakistani security forces. The return of the conservative Islamic regime in Afghanistan has emboldened Pakistani militant groups taking shelter in that country.

Predictably, the so-called peace negotiations that the Afghan Taliban facilitated have collapsed, with the TTP refusing to lay down their arms. Instead, the group had presented its own conditions that virtually call for a surrender of Pakistan’s control over the former tribal regions.

It is evident that the Afghan Taliban administration seeks to use the TTP as leverage to put pressure on Pakistan. Besides, it is also apparent that some factions of the TTP are part of the transnational militant group whose origins lie in the Middle East.

The two cannot be separated. It seems that the Taliban officials deliberately want to focus on the Islamic State, sparing the TTP that continues to enjoy the administration’s support.

It may be true that the Taliban are serious about fighting the Islamic State but refuse to recognise the close connection between the TTP and IS-K. It is well known that many IS-K fighters have come from the ranks of the TTP.

Also, some other foreign militant groups with sanctuaries in Afghanistan, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), have forged alliances under the IS banner.

It is well known that the first chief of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, Hafiz Saeed, was a former commander of the TTP who had fled to Afghanistan after the militants were driven out of the former tribal regions by the military operation.

The Pakistani militant group formed the nucleus of the IS when it emerged on the scene in Afghanistan in 2015. The group has been operating mostly in eastern Afghanistan where the TTP has taken refuge.

After having been driven out of North Waziristan, IMU fighters moved to northern Afghanistan expanding IS operations, which also caused serious concern to neighbouring Iran and the Central Asian states. The emergence of the IS-K presented a significant challenge to the Afghan Taliban then fighting the US-led forces.

There had not been any major defections to the IS from their ranks, but the very existence of the transnational militant group threatened Afghan Taliban control. Curiously, there has been a marked increase in IS terrorist attacks after the return of Taliban rule.

According to an official American report, the ranks of the IS-K have swelled exponentially since August last year, bringing the estimated number of fighters to 4,000.

Most IS attacks have targeted the minority Shia community. The growing strength of transnational militant groups and foreign fighters gaining space in the country, present a serious security threat not only to Afghanistan but also to neighbouring countries, mainly Pakistan.

A major reason for the resurgence of the terrorist networks are the ideological linkages the Afghan Taliban have had with foreign militant groups like the TTP and IMU. Their connection with transnational terrorist outfits is evident.

The Afghan Taliban’s support for global terrorists casts huge doubts over their commitment to the international community to not allow any terrorist group to use Afghan soil for its activities.

According to a recent UN Security Council report, “Terrorist groups enjoy greater freedom in Afghanistan than at any time in recent history.” The TTP is certainly the most lethal of them with its close ties to Al Qaeda and IS-K.

Meanwhile, the latest attack on the Pakistan embassy has given a new and dangerous twist to the terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan.

Such incidents could further strain relations between Islamabad and Kabul. The increasing number of incidents of cross-border attacks and the Afghan Taliban administration’s refusal to take action against the TTP has already affected relations between the two.

Interestedly, the firing on the Pakistani embassy took place within days of the visit to Kabul of Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s minister of state for foreign affairs.

This was the first official-level contact between the two countries in months. Besides other issues, the Taliban administration’s failure to act against the TTP operating from Afghan territory has also been taken up in meetings between the two sides.

The daring attack on the embassy has exacerbated an already perilous environment, endangering the lives of Pakistani officials based in Kabul and other Afghan cities. It is imperative that the Afghan Taliban cut off all ties with the TTP and other transnational militant networks if they are sincere about meeting their commitments to the international community.

The writer is an author and journalist.

Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

No end to violence

Rafia Zakaria

LAST month, a man came home to his wife and children. The home had two floors. He stopped on the ground floor and met his mother. Then he proceeded upstairs where he lived with his wife and three daughters, the eldest of whom was 16. He then sat down for a meal with his daughters, but a fight broke out between him and his wife.

His eldest daughter started to cry because she and her sisters were tired of their parent’s constant fighting. This angered the man so much that he allegedly killed his eldest daughter in a fit of rage. Then he proceeded to kill the two younger girls while they slept.

Finally, he killed his wife as well. He then proceeded to take pictures of the dead women and sent them to his creditors who had been hounding him for the repayment of loans he had taken from them. After that, he proceeded to try to kill himself as well but was unsuccessful and is alive today.

The story of the Malik murders has now been reported by many media outlets. According to the Dawn report, the suspected murderer typed out a note on a mobile phone and it is his version of what happened. When the police arrived at the scene, the man was also bleeding so he was taken to the hospital.

The funerals of his wife and daughters, killed because of one man’s rage, were held and the four women buried. The man, who appears to have recovered from his injury, has now been taken into custody.

The horror of these murders and those of so many other women before them just curdles the blood. How can a whole family living in an ordinary home and likely leading ordinary lives end up in this condition?

What goes through the heads of men who can kill their children in their sleep and force a mother to hear the screams of her children as they die? And, in the majority of such events, the man always lives.

The bullets they fire at themselves miss the mark, but the blows and wounds they inflict on women are always accurate.

In this case, the suspected murderer chose to slash his own neck. Would it not be to show that he too had been victimised by his creditors? Such self-harm is not unknown. The women are always silenced, and the men always live. The bullets they fire at themselves, or the way they slash their own neck, is always just off the mark and not enough to annihilate. Conversely, the blows and wounds they inflict on women are always accurate.

The Malir murders took place during the ‘Sixteen Days of Activism’, a project that was initiated by the United Nations in 1991 and which attempts to draw attention to the continuing problem of gender-based violence all over the world.

Every year, the UN and its affiliated organisations hold special events around these days, including conferences and meetings to bring the issue some attention. The events are held at the UN headquarters and at many other locations around the world.

However, the murders of women continue to increase, not only in Pakistan but all around the world. It is interesting to note the cases in which men murder women and then either pretend to kill themselves (and fail) or say that they don’t know where the wife and children are.

This latter trick was what the husband did in the famous case of Shannan Watts. After saying that his wife had taken his two daughters somewhere, the husband-murderer finally confessed that he had killed his wife and daughters and had stuffed their bodies in an oil barrel. The lives of a family were extinguished just like that.

It is hard to not question the value of days of activism and awareness. In Pakistan, when women coalesce around this issue and try to create space for a conversation, they are thwarted at every turn.

The Aurat March receives tons of criticism when it promotes slogans of ‘mera jism, meri marzi’ or ‘my body, my right’. This slogan which is a simple cry for bodily autonomy and freedom which all humans should be able to enjoy is condemned for being too scandalous.

How dare women ask for something like autonomy over their own bodies when society has decided that they exist to please others? How dare women take up space in public and draw attention to just how vulnerable they are to male violence?

Through this sort of pointless and shameful derision, in which, sadly, many women themselves play a role, tacit permission is given to the rest of society to go on hurting women.

That is the reason why it is so difficult to have faith in change. Even after decades of yearly commemorations and countless conferences and panels and discussions, progress seems elusive and the effort to end gender-based violence becomes pointless.

Add to this the fact that the UN has not even been able to eliminate such acts in its own ranks. According to a report published in September of this year; there have been at least 1,800 instances in which UN soldiers have been accused of sexual assault.

The worst situation is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is little information available regarding which country the soldiers are from (troops are also serving in this mission from our part of the world) but perhaps it does not matter. All men everywhere seem to be united in their efforts to hurt women.

There has got to be a better way. UN bureaucrats may carry on as usual, offer up more or less the same solutions (which have obviously not worked). One wonders whether there will ever be a day when women can enjoy the same level of security that is available to men.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

Supporting Iranians

Usama Khilji

THE protests led by women and young people in Iran and supported by a cross section of society under the slogan of ‘zan, zindagi, azadi’(‘women, life and freedom’) is a matter for celebration for the region. It comes at a time when not only are women fed up with being dictated to by men as to how they should dress and the freedoms they are ‘allowed’ — as if they were born in chains and need to fight for all basic rights — but they come at a time when Afghanistan is under the Taliban who have clamped down on women’s fundamental rights including mobility, expression, employment, and education.

This should be cause for alarm for any state in the region that values the freedoms and rights of its populace. In this context, it is disappointing that the Pakistani delegation at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva voted against a resolution calling for investigation of the violation of basic human rights of the Iranian people by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The regime has so far killed hundreds of protesters for exercising their fundamental right to protest, a string of which started with the killing of Mahsa Jina Amini in Iran for not covering her hair ‘properly’. The imposition of such standards is policed by a moral police in Iran that punishes women for ‘excesses’ such as letting their hair show. Whereas it is the right of each woman, as much as of anybody else, to decide how they want to dress, such draconian measures have become a cause of frustration for the Iranian people and are symbolic of the wider oppression perpetrated by the regime.

It is important to remember that the rights the people of Iran are fighting for are the same fundamental rights protected by the Constitution of Pakistan. Article 9 protects the right to life, Article 14 guarantees the right to dignity, Article 17 protects the right to freedom of association, Article 19 protects the right to freedom of speech, and Article 25 protects the right to equality.

The rights Iranians are fighting for are the same ones in our Constitution.

In this context, it is the moral responsibility of the Pakistani government to stand for the basic rights of all people in the world as per the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights that highlights the inherent dignity of people everywhere, with all UN member states under an obligation to uphold and protect these rights.

As there is credible evidence of a government violating these rights, the UNHRC is obligated to call for an investigation into these violations by a designated special rapporteur. It is a matter of pride for Pakistan that our foremost human rights activist, the late Asma Jahangir, was the special rapporteur for Iran on behalf of the UNHRC at the time of her untimely demise.

Pakistan should exercise leadership in the region for the protection of the rights of the people and progressive values. As the first Muslim country in the world to have had a woman elected as prime minister, we have a special responsibility to lead when it comes to the protection of the rights of women. Many hailed the symbolism of Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar leading the delegation from the foreign ministry to speak to the Afghan Taliban in Kabul recently. This must translate into strong policy positions around women’s rights and leadership regionally and globally.

As non-state extremists get emboldened in Pakistan to attack girls’ schools, as happened in Waziristan and Swat recently, the regional trend of restraining the rights of the girl child and women is trickling across borders. Hence a strong policy position in favour of girls’ right to education and women’s right to dignity must be protected and advocated for by the government here.

Maintaining rel­a­­­tions with Iran’s government must not be at the cost of letting down the people of that country, who are risking it all for their inherent dignity. What the Constitution guarantees for Pakistanis is committed to by Pakistan and Iran, and required by international law under the United Nations — and it must be respected.

It is as important for us to support the right of women, and transgender people, to not be forced to wear headscarves in Iran as it is for us to advocate for the right of women in France and India to wear headscarves as governments try to dictate women’s basic choices. Killing women for defying deeply entrenched and misguided patriarchal dictations, and torturing and killing protesters who demonstrate in support of them, must not be overlooked.

In this light, it is important that Pakistan revisits its policy that guided the ‘no’ vote at the UNHRC in November, as Pakistanis have every reason to stand in solidarity with the ‘zan, zindagi, azadi’ slogan of the people of Iran.

The writer is director of Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum for digital rights.

Twitter: @UsamaKhilji

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

Fill in the blanks

Mahir Ali

A REPRESSIVE regime organises a managed election. It is taken aback when the polling stations stay empty. Then, at exactly 4pm, voters pour out of their homes. Voting times are extended to accommodate the rush. The regime is relieved until officials start tallying the votes. It turns out that 70 per cent of the ballot papers are blank.

That’s the stage-setting premise of Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago’s superb 2004 satirical novel Seeing. I was reminded of it by the recent demonstrations in China, where some of the protesters held up blank pieces of paper. They were inspired by a tactic deployed in Hong Kong a couple of years ago, but some of them traced its provenance to a Soviet-era joke about a man who is taken into custody for handing out blank leaflets in a public square. When he protests his innocence, he is informed: “We all know what you meant to say.”

The latest wave of public expressions of dissent — not huge by any means, but still fairly widespread, its scale unprecedented during Xi Jinping’s decade in power — was triggered by a tragedy. The death of 10 people in a fire in high-rise residential block in Urumqi, the locked-down capital of Xinjiang, was attributed to escape routes being blocked and firefighters being delayed by Covid-19 restrictions.

Such restrictions are a thing of the past almost everywhere else in the world. By many criteria, China’s Covid-zero strategy could hardly be adjudged a failure. Given its population, the number of fatalities has been relatively tiny — one-hundredth of the death toll in India, for instance. And China’s initial response to the virus was impressive, as makeshift hospitals sprang up in Wuhan, and the state efficiently met the basic needs of families in lockdown. China was also the first major country to relax restrictions.

There’s more to the anger in China than Covid rules.

But its subsequent strategy of clamping down hard whenever even a single infection was detected has backfired. The omicron variant, it could be argued, has outwitted the authorities. The Shanghai lockdown earlier this year was an overkill, with many residents complaining of starvation. More than half a billion people are estimated to have been in lockdown in late November. And the obligation to provide fresh evidence of testing negative each time you access public transport or enter a supermarket was absurd.

Some of the more onerous restrictions have lately been relaxed, albeit in a haphazard manner. Suddenly abandoning Covid-zero could potentially unleash a wave of infections and deaths. China has thus far rejected the idea of importing western mRNA vaccines from the West, and vaccination levels among the elderly are anyhow unsatisfactory.

In the Chinese popular imagination, all recent policies are directly associated with ‘Uncle Xi’, portrayed in the official media as the font of all wisdom. There are plenty of hints that the pent-up fury of at least some of those who have mustered the courage to protest in public goes far deeper than Covid-related frustrations. The economic downturn of recent years — related largely but not wholly to the pandemic — has thrown tens of millions out of work or clouded their prospects of prosperity.

China’s post-Mao social contract entailed participating in the opportunities opened up by an economic renaissance while accepting the limits of political freedom. The Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 spelt out how the latter might be enforced. The restrictions on political and social discourse were nonetheless more lax until Xi stepped in. The tolerance of dissent has declined in the past decade. Small wonder that the demise last week of Jiang Zemin, the post-Tiananmen Communist Party leader, provided some scope on Chinese social media for nostalgia combined with indirect criticism of the incumbent leader.

That feeds into the mounting evidence that there’s much more to the public frustration than Covid-related restrictions, which includes occasional slogans directly aimed at the leader. The most notable, of course, was the banner unfurled by a brave soul on a Beijing bridge on the eve of the 20th party congress in October which extended Xi’s term. It read: “We want to eat, not do coronavirus tests; reform, not the Cultural Revolution. We want freedom, not lockdowns; elections, not rulers. We want dignity, not lies. Be citizens, not enslaved people.”

Such sentiments would no doubt be echoed if the ubiquitous sheets of paper weren’t blank. Many of the protesters might be placated by reopening measures, but there are deeper resentments bubbling under the surface. There is almost certainly no immediate threat to the regime, but its carrot-and-stick response to the sporadic unrest indicates a realisation that excessive repression could backfire.

Meanwhile, more than one report cites an instance of a man in Beijing warning protesters against “foreign influences”, spontaneously eliciting a mocking retort: “Do you mean Marx and Engels? Is it Stalin? Is it Lenin?”

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

Hobson’s choice for PML-N

Arifa Noor

NOW that it is all quiet on the you-know-what front, attention is focused on the political chessboard. Imran Khan is in no mood to relent and is now trying to force elections in the two provinces he rules by threatening resignations and dissolutions. Will he or won’t he? And if he does so, will his band of MPAs and half a Chaudhry clan follow suit? The answers vary depending on whom you ask.

At the other end are the government allies who face as many struggles as Khan himself. But with a vast difference. Khan has time on his side; even if he took a short break from politics and interviews, it would make little difference to his position. The day he returns, he would still be the man dominating KP and on the rise in Punjab.

The same cannot be said of the ruling alliance, especially the PML-N, which faces challenges that allow no break or respite. Or perhaps, it can be said that the challenges will go from bad to worse whether Shehbaz Sharif and his cabinet work seven days a week or take a month off.

In other words, Khan can afford to make mistakes, lose momentum and take U-turns, but the little he does can turn into a headache for those being judged on inflation, taxation, gas and electricity.

With time on his side, even if Khan took a short break from politics, he would still retain his position.

Against this context, how would those in power view the PTI’s demand for elections?

There is no one answer if the government’s views and answers in various talk shows are any guide. Some like Rana Sanullah appear to have mellowed a bit and seem to welcome a vague idea of negotiations, while others continue to offer nothing but hostility.

Hence, some insist there can be no early election; others want PTI to return to parliament, and then talk; and others still who hint darkly at delayed elections. In their view, the economy is such that there can be no elections. The PML-N needs more time to fix it all, now that they have begun the process.

And outside of government circles, there is a view that a slightly prolonged caretaker set-up might be given the task of fixing the economy before calling elections. (Has Hafeez Shaikh flown in for another meeting or two?)

Let us deal with the last option. From the point of view of the economy, it is perhaps the best option but politically not so. It is hard not to wonder who will legitimise this caretaker government and its decision-making.

None of the decisions which need to be made are easy ones; one can say they have backlash already built into them. And who will face the brunt of the public anger in case of a prolonged caretaker set-up?

It might go the way of those who have already had a bad year. Would they want to be in the public eye again? Especially as the political parties out in the cold will also try to use the moment to build up and win public support by blaming the tough decisions on whoever still remains in the power corridors?

So, for political reasons, a caretaker set-up might not be preferable to an early election which will throw up a political government to face the public anger. And a five-year term also allows for a government to make some difficult decisions, which a government facing an election cannot and will not. (Not everything can be blamed on Dar sahib’s view of economic matters.)

But who will call this election? The PDM’s aversion to elections is obvious. This is especially true of the PML-N, which, according to all accounts, has paid the heaviest price for the April decision of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory (in electoral terms and not just the numbers in parliament).

The MQM would have fared no better had the PTI government continued and the PPP would still not have lost or gained much in Sindh either way. But if the April decision has stolen peaceful sleep, it is of Nawaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

For the former is struggling in Punjab and the latter has lost whatever political gains he made in KP when PTI was on the downslide.

But more than the JUI-F, it is the PML-N which may have a say in the decision to provide a smooth path to a quick election. And perhaps it has the most to gain from resisting this. If elections are held sooner than scheduled and this decision is arrived at through talks, what will the PML-N have to offer during the election campaign, while Imran Khan will speak of his fracas with the establishment, his months-long campaign and his victory in getting the government to capitulate?

The best the PML-N can hope for is a replay of April — where the government is dismantled without its consent, as was Khan’s. For then, it can enter the election campaign as a wounded tiger, claiming injustice and reclaiming the ‘bayania’ or narrative which once made it popular and has now been appropriated wholly by the PTI.

Only some semblance of victimhood can give it a fighting chance. Without it, the party has had little success in the past seven months or so. That the party is interested in returning to its ‘revolutionary’ days of 2018-2021 is mentioned by party leaders.

And if anonymous accounts of the pressure on the PML-N during the nomination of the new army chief are to be believed, the events suggest the same; that the government resisted all pressure to make the choice independently, even if it meant going home.

So could one assume the PML-N will not negotiate its way to a new election date? I for one have no information but simply a guess. But even this comes with a caveat. For mere mortals can hardly assume to know what the gods may be up to.

After all, the vote of no-confidence made little sense to ordinary beings in April, and even back then, those on the chessboard moved differently. And this brings us to the third option — the PML-N insists on continuing, with the hope that the economy will improve, allowing it to call elections. What do we mortals know?

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

Propaganda in films is old hat

Jawed Naqvi

ISRAELI filmmaker Nadav Lapid and all foreign members of the jury at the film festival in Goa have criticised The Kashmir Files in separate interviews. It was a propaganda film in a vulgar trope purporting to empathise with a great tragedy that befell the minority Brahmin community in predominantly Muslim Kashmir. This it sought to achieve by shabbily caricaturing the killers, as they do in Hindi movies, by giving the villain a tick with a fluttering eye and a lust for gore.

The vulgarity didn’t end there. The movie also became an insidious messenger of hate against Muslims and received the applause and support of the government, prime minister downwards. For propaganda, vulgarity, and messaging of hate, no movie should be admitted to a reputed film festival. It was a political decision to push the film’s entry, one of the foreign juries said in their interview.

The criticism has excited both sides — those who fear or dislike the movie and those who see in its insidious half-truths a truer reality about the exodus of a powerful community that gave India its first and two other prime ministers.

Having turned much of the media into its kitchen garden of hate, whipping Indian cinema into line was hardly a surprising objective for the ruling Hindutva establishment. Recent signs came with the violence against those that were found not standing for the national anthem at the start of the movies. In the old days, the playing of the anthem came at the end. Some stayed put and others shuffled out. People didn’t have to wear patriotism on their sleeves in a confident nation.

The disconcerting fact is that ‘The Kashmir Files’ was extremely successful with audiences in India and the diaspora abroad.

So Lapid’s brief point was that the movie was not fit to qualify for a major festival. But that’s hardly a reason for the film’s opponents to exult. On the contrary, it was good that the movie was screened at an international festival. It allowed the world to get a closer look at the mischief afoot. The real harm was done elsewhere. The disconcerting fact is that The Kashmir Files was extremely successful with audiences in India and the diaspora abroad. Hate-spewing Indian movies have, however, existed since independence, in a subterranean zone, while the bulk of the cinema shored up Gandhian mores and Nehruvian secularism as the ideal.

For example, L.K. Advani was information minister when he retrieved from the archives a 1950s movie that seemed inspired by Golwalkar’s anti-Christian vitriol. Swayamsiddha was shown on Doordarshan when India had just restored democracy after Indira Gandhi had suspended it. A Hindu woman’s husband is deaf and mute.

Her family priest says the man was ill due to the work of Christian missionaries in the village. The woman leads a violent campaign to throw out the missionaries. As they leave, the husband begins to hear and speak again. Anti-Christian propaganda found insufficient traction and Advani dressed up Emperor Babar as a Muslim bigot. The rest is history.

Propaganda on its own is not a problem. Hollywood recently celebrated 60 years of James Bond.

Liberal democracies allow citizens to propagate their views, including religion, freely. This freedom excludes hate speech, especially against minority communities.

Regardless of the clear statute, overt and covert prejudice continues to thrive, for example, as a relic of white-hooded KKK in the avatar of Donald Trump or as Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” threat that has mutated into Rishi Sunak’s plans to deport future immigrants to Rwanda. India has adopted Israel’s model of open prison for Kashmiris as has been done with Palestine.

‘Propaganda’ and ‘propagate’ have a common root though. The word ‘propagate’ is found crucially in the Indian constitution, which permits free propagation of religion as a fundamental right. In the 17th century, the Pope formed a “committee of cardinals in charge of foreign missions of the Catholic Church”, called Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, congregation for the propagation of the faith.

The modern political sense of propaganda came with World War I. It was not originally intended to deliberately mislead. Its less benign use was honed with World War II. Churchill, Hitler and Stalin used propaganda to rally political support among their masses and with allies. They used the improved radio to good effect.

The advent of the cinema brought a handier tool for mass messaging. The word ‘agitprop’ is of Soviet origin and is short for ‘agitation’ and ‘propaganda’. The Indian Peoples Theatre Association, popular as IPTA, borrowed the idea and spawned an entire trope of performing arts in practically every Indian language and region. There’s nothing wrong with propaganda per se provided it doesn’t harm or target communities.

The advantage with cinema is that it can more deftly dress up propaganda as entertainment. Who would have thought that Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments was signalling a revolt against Stalin’s communist rule by invoking the Egyptian slaves to overthrow the pharaoh? This angle to the deceptively benign movie surfaced in the works of Tanner Mirrlees, professor of communication and digital media studies at Ontario Tech University.

Where Hollywood had been producing frothy films made to distract and entertain, the onset of war meant that it would now get into the business of persuading Americans to support the war effort, says Mirrlees, who’s also written several books about Hollywood’s cultural empire, including Hearts and Mines: The US Empire’s Culture Industry.

The US Office of War Information had a unit dedicated exclusively to Hollywood, the Bureau of Motion Pictures, Mirlees says.

Mirlees quotes the head of the Office of War Information, Elmer Davis, as saying, “The easiest way to inject a propaganda idea into most people’s minds is to let it go through the medium of an entertainment picture when they do not realise they’re being propagandised.” Among its other follies, The Kashmir Files misses the subtle point about entertainment.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

Barren spaces

Dr Noman Ahmed

OF late, there have been protests by students and other stakeholders over the predicament faced by two Karachi education institutes: DJ Science College and Islamia College. Both have contributed significantly to academic life for decades, with many former students going to the top of their professions.

But charged slogans on the streets do not match the internal situation. A visit to the colleges shows the worrying face of this vital tier of education: rowdy students outside classrooms, unconcerned teachers huddled in dingy staff rooms, smug and bored administrative staff counting the minutes to the end of the workday. The tentacles of political parties extend into student common rooms, and quarrels are settled through violence. It is of concern that such scenes should be witnessed in celebrated institutions.

The higher secondary school certificate (HSC) spans two academic years. However, it is a defining time for pupils as it decides their career paths. Scores at this level are the principal factor that decide their eligibility for higher education institutions. For the less privileged youth, the predicament is even more acute as the choices are very few. In most cases, seeking placement in a public-sector institution is the only option.

In the hierarchy of educational opportunities, the numerical strength of students gradually declines with each upward tier. Thus students try hard to obtain admission in professional institutions or at least in university. This overwhelming pressure forces a huge number of them to resort to unethical means of attaining the marks needed. Meanwhile, a thriving business of tuition centres, coaching classes and private tutors ‘guarantee’ high grades. In reality, these outlets extend examination tricks and techniques to score. The objective of education falls by the wayside.

The decline in once celebrated colleges is appalling.

In the past, HSC students enjoyed a full academic life during their two-year study at college. The college faculty took pride in their work despite their very meagre salaries. Time management, diligence and performance monitoring were considered important by teachers to impart their knowledge. Weak or financially deprived students were given extra attention after normal instruction hours. Private tuitions or coaching were nonexistent. The boys’, or girls’, common room was space often utilised for group study by the students themselves. College teachers would drop in to give any kind of advice in case it was needed. Extracurricular activities were organised, including sports, general knowledge competitions, poetry recitals, cultural events, participation in Radio Pakistan’s student programmes and literary activities.

Encouragement received from teachers would motivate students to walk the extra mile to polish their abilities and aim for excellence. Whether students of arts, commerce or science, almost everyone participated in extracurricular activities which were not affected by the gender divide. Many of our noted writers, poets, dramatists, performing artists and singers owe their success to such a positive college milieu. Sadly, the same institutions have become barren spaces.

The low quality of education provided in colleges automatically creates a service demand that is satisfied by coaching centres. A professor who would not ordinarily take his class in college can be found most enthusiastically teaching his high-paying clientele at a coaching centre. Many teachers are also seen as deliberately keeping their teaching standards low in college to up the demand for private tuitions.

Students slowly lose interest in taking classes and are routinely spotted wasting their time in college canteens, common rooms or isolated corners. The ultimate losers are students from the low- and lower-middle-income groups who cannot afford private tuitions or coaching centres. Their only option is college which has very little to offer, dimming the chances of underprivileged children continuing to learn.

An average student from an affluent background usually makes it to a good university through tuition, while those from lower income backgrounds are denied this option. In other words, poor attainment opportunities at the college level perpetuate the status quo and the student without means remains without options.

The objective and purpose of HSC must be revisited. The government must examine its various handicaps. Broad-based consultations must be held where findings and options related to this crucial level of education are deliberated in a pragmatic manner. Some of the issues that demand focus include the background of the teaching faculty, salary structures, performance monitoring, discipline, campus management, curriculum and examination systems. Without such analysis and subsequent action, little will improve.

The writer is an academic and researcher based in Karachi.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

Biodiversity crisis

Jamil Ahmad

BIODIVERSITY loss is a major factor that aggravates the planetary crisis together with climate change and pollution. Driven by human actions under the influence of a development model that ascribes little value to preserving nature, the rapid loss of biodiversity could result in the extinction of up to a million species of animals and plants.

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services reported in its global assessment that in the last half century, more than 85 per cent of wetlands have been lost, while 75pc land and 66pc oceans have been significantly altered.

The biodiversity crisis is as serious an existential threat to life on Earth as climate change, but its scale and associated risks have remained relatively obscure.

Compared to the high level of awareness in the media and public about climate change, there is less attention and little debate in Pakistan about the growing impact of the loss of biodiversity, and the way the country’s rich biodiversity is quietly vanishing under multiple pressures.

In the past 50 years, more than 85pc of wetlands have been lost.

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will see leaders and representatives from the world convene for an important meeting in Montreal from Dec 7 to Dec 19 to develop a new global biodiversity framework to halt and reverse the catastrophic loss of nature.

Established at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, the CBD brings together UN member states for coming up with strategies to conserve biological diversity, use its components in a sustainable manner, and share the benefits of the utilisation of genetic resources fairly and equitably.

The Conference of Parties (COP), the governing body of the convention, meets regularly to advance the implementation of the convention and take new decisions. Initially held annually, it now meets on a biennial basis.

The 15th COP, originally scheduled for 2020 in Kunming, China, was postponed due to Covid-19 and has since been split into two parts. The first was held in a hybrid format last year in Kunming and adopted the Kunming Declaration calling for urgent action to protect biodiversity and for member states to include biodiversity protection in all areas of the global economy. The second part of the session will resume in Montreal to finalise the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework which will replace the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of 2010.

The Aichi targets contained commitments, among other things, to integrate biodiversity values into national and local development and poverty reduction strategies, eliminate or phase out subsidies harmful to biodiversity, reduce habitat loss, reduce pollution, increase and improve protected areas and mobilise financial resources from all sources for effective implementation of the strategic plan.

However, due to slow and erratic progress, none of the targets were fully achieved. Meanwhile, like a silent killer, biodiversity loss continued to inflict deadly damage on the intricate network of nature’s life support system on Earth.

To make up for the missed opportunities, preparatory work for the post 2020 biodiversity framework commenced three years ago and has made steady progress. Building on previous plans, the proposal for the new framework contains actions to protect biodiversity, raise awareness, and reduce risks of extinction of species. One of the contentious subjects relates to mobilising additional resources for implementing the convention and assisting poor countries to undertake nature conservation.

The Montreal meeting comes in the wake of the UN Climate Cha­nge Conference (COP27) in Sharm El Sheikh which ended on a hopeful note by establishing the loss and damage fund for assisting poor countries affected by global warming. This landmark decision will inspire climate action in support of the Global South which is too often at the receiving end of nature’s wrath and fury.

The adverse impacts of biodiversity loss are not dissimilar to that of climate change, and, in fact they are interlinked. COP15 is a timely opportunity for the international community to raise the bar for an ambitious post-2020 Global Framework for Biodiversity which can turn the planet nature-positive again. The success of the new arrangement will equally hinge on the provision of a solid financial resource base to support implementation, particularly in poor nations.

It will require political commitment across the board to arrive at a comprehensive agreement at Montreal for conserving ecosystems and habitats as well as ensuring the sustainable and equitable use of genetic resources. Anything less will risk subjecting our fragile planet to deeper fissures. The world cannot afford it.

The writer is director of intergovernmental affairs, United Nations Environment Programme.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

Elite politics

Maleeha Lodhi

UNREMITTING political confrontations have left the country exhausted and emaciated. Political tensions show no sign of abating. Political leaders often claim the next round of battle will be decisive but their war rages on. The war paradigm guides their political behaviour. Opponents are seen as enemies, not competitors. Politics is about vanquishing the enemy and eliminating them from the political scene in a terminal conflict.

This of course is not new. This pattern of behaviour has resonated throughout Pakistan’s history and is part of an unedifying political tradition characterised by intolerance and lack of respect for democratic norms.

Those in power have rarely accepted the need to engage with the opposition, while those in opposition have often sought to destabilise the government of the day. There have been moments of rare cooperation, as for example, in the consensus that led to adoption of the 18th Constitutional Amendment. But for the most part, Pakistan’s fractious politics has seen fierce government-opposition conflict and mutual efforts to upend each other.

These endless political feuds opened space for the military’s manipulation of politics and frequent return to the political stage.

There was another cost to the country. The lack of a stable and predictable environment proved a huge hurdle to solving the country’s daunting problems, which were either left to fester or met by imprudent short-term policy responses. Pakistan’s economic troubles are in no small measure a consequence of this.

Since 2008, the country has seen a period of uninterrupted civilian rule, despite the so-called ‘hybrid experiment’ of recent years that gave the army an informal but extensive role in national affairs. This period should nonetheless have involved a strengthening of democracy. It should have seen efforts by political parties to create a democratic culture. But this didn’t happen.

An opportunity was also lost to rebalance and reset power among state institutions as well as realign politics with the economic and social changes sweeping the country. These changes included greater urbanisation, expansion of a more assertive middle class, emergence of a diverse and vibrant civil society and a more ‘connected’ and informed citizenry, thanks to the spread of technology.

Instead of a new form of politics emerging, it remained in a mostly old mould.

The rise of PTI, which came to represent the aspirations of the middle class and youth and also tapped into public resentment against the elite, promised a departure from politics-as-usual. But it became a cult following rather than a modern political party that could act ‘independently’ of its establishment benefactors once it assumed power. Like other parties it included members of the old political elite, local influentials and habitual turncoats — prominent figures who were previously part of the two traditional parties that the PTI condemned as corrupt and bankrupt. Expediency denuded it from the chance to chart a new political course for the country. The primacy of personality over party organisation also made the new party resemble older ones.

Bereft of ideas intra-elite conflict offers no escape from the quagmire Pakistan is trapped in.

As a result, there has been little break from the past in the way politics functions, the narrow social base of party leaders and what status quo-oriented parties have to offer the public in whose name they play the power game.

It also means there is no significant change in the relationship between the state and citizens, despite the transformed social and political environment. Politics remains a competition between and among political elites. It is sadly bereft of ideas or a vision — other than platitudes — about where opposing parties want to take the country. There are barely any significant policy differences between rival parties who nonetheless declare each other unfit to govern.

Pakistan’s disappointing economic record illustrates this.

Governments, even when run by different political parties, have adopted a similar economic stance, despite their claims to the contrary. Rather than undertake reform and raise domestic resources to address the country’s widening budget and balance of payments deficits, they all resorted to excessive borrowing.

The availability of external resources as a result of Pakistan’s foreign policy alignments during the Cold War and beyond created a habit of dependence on ‘outside help’. This habit urged successive governments — representing rural and urban elites — to avoid economic reform, mobilise adequate revenue or tax its network of influential supporters. Aid-fuelled or ‘borrowed’ economic growth may not necessarily have been a bad thing if the fiscal space it provided was used to launch reforms to solve the underlying structural problems of the economy: broadening the tax net, documenting the economy, diversifying the export base, and encouraging savings to finance a level of investment that could sustain an economic growth rate higher than the rise in population. But none of this happened. The availability of external resources along with high levels of remittances from overseas Pakistanis simply enabled ruling elites to paper over the structural problems of the economy. Every government sought IMF bailouts to avert insolvency.

Economic management that relied on someone else’s money permitted the country’s rulers — both civilian and military — to postpone much-needed structural reforms, including tax reform, that could have placed the economy on a viable, self-sustaining path. Successive governments borrowed heavily to finance development as well as consumption. In the process, the country accumulated unsustainable debt both by borrowing abroad and at home. This burden continues to cripple the economy today and fuel record levels of inflation.

With few if any exceptions, governments formed by different political parties preferred to pursue ‘pain-free’ ways to manage public finances. This has left the country lurching from one financial crisis to another. While playing to populist constituencies their policies perpetuated the status quo.

This can be only explained in terms of a political elite or ‘privilegentsia’ averse to measures it saw as eroding its political position or undermining its class interests. Their economic policies testify that elite capture of public resources is an abiding reality.

This intra-elite conflict is hardly obscured by the highfalutin rhetoric which it is wrapped in. Its most troubling aspect is that it offers no escape from the quagmire the country is trapped in — of dysfunctional politics, mounting governance challenges, visionless economic management and crumbling public faith in state institutions.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, UK & UN.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

Ignoring undernutrition

Mahnoor Fatima

DESTRUCTION. Devastation. Death. That the floods in Pakistan have left people quite literally clutching at straws is no secret. Although the floods have receded for now, those that have been affected by it are only just resuming their lives amid a survival crisis.

There is a dire need for not only medical intervention as disease grows, but also an even greater one for the bare minimum required for survival: food and water. In the wake of these floods, we need to demand immediate action in the face of one of Pakistan’s long-standing problems: undernutrition.

According to Save the Children, the floods of 2022 have increased the number of people facing food insecurity by 45 per cent; the number of people in Pakistan who were already facing a severe food crisis before the floods has gone up from 5.96 million to 8.62m after the deluge. Now, more than ever before, it is time to talk about how these circumstances did not come about overnight. In fact, Pakistan has been grappling with undernutrition for more than half a century.

Undernutrition, which is the body’s inability to meet its requirement of energy and nutrients, can cause impaired brain development, low birthweight, weakened immune systems and premature deaths. It also increases the risk of diabetes, cancer, stroke, hypertension, and other non-communicable diseases.

Unfortunately, this expanding burden of disease is shouldered by the most vulnerable in our community — our children. Globally, Unicef attributes nearly half of the deaths in children under five to undernutrition because the latter increases their risk of infection and delays recovery.

Whatever the implementation challenges may be, adequate nutrition for all is a cause worth fighting for.

According to the National Nutrition Survey of Pakistan 2018-19, four out of 10 children under the age of five show stunted growth, a total of 12m across the country. Stunting causes irreversible damage to the cognitive development of children, their education, income, and productivity later in life. Due to undernutrition, there is a huge burden of micronutrient deficiencies in children and 57.3pc of Pakistani children are anaemic. A survey for 2022 would no doubt paint a far drearier picture.

Despite that, undernutrition continues to receive little to no attention; it has not managed to become a political issue for the legislature and has not been prioritised by the bureaucracy. Most importantly, it lacks a unified national policy that works.

Commenting on the floods, Dr Nazeer Ahmed, the focal point in Pakistan for Scaling Up Nutrition — a global movement aimed at improving nutrition, “A country with a huge number of the population having limited physical and economic access to diversified food is now expected to experience severe shortage of foods which will result in a triple burden of malnutrition. Hence, an effective multi-sectoral well-coordinated response is a must.” Interestingly, such a strategy does exist somewhere in the shadows, but has so far failed to achieve what it set out to do.

The Pakistan Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy was envisioned for 2018-2025 and aimed to enable emergency health services to respond to urgent clinical needs, improve access to nutritious foods, clean water, and sanitation, deliver services to high-risk populations, and build a gender-responsive approach to fighting the various causes of malnutrition.

Unfortunately, a seemingly comprehensive policy failed to translate into action, given the severe lack of budgetary allocation for development funds and resistance by the provinces to join forces. As a result, collaboration is low, outreach activities are few, and community networks are weak.

Additionally, there is a lack of technical capacity, a weak understanding of nutrition, and a shortage of front-line staff. To top it off, there are next to no systems for monitoring and evaluating progress. All these factors combine to ensure that the policy stays only on paper.

Whatever the implementation challenges may be, adequate nutrition for all is a cause worth fighting for. Food security is the right of every human being and protecting every human being’s right is our collective responsibility. It is the small price we pay to live in our city, our country, our world.

Efficient food systems are social indicators of health and well-being, and a lack thereof is a public health emergency. Optimal nutrition not only protects against disease but is necessary for physical and cognitive development, good academic performance, improved productivity, and ultimately, enhanced socioeconomic national growth.

As far as the flood-affected areas go, an estimated 760,000 children are fighting for their life against diarrhoea, typhoid, respiratory infections, malaria and skin conditions, as well as experiencing a multitude of mental health problems.

According to Abdullah Fadil, Unicef representative in Pakistan, “We are facing a nutrition emergency that is threatening the lives of millions of children. Without urgent action, we are heading towards a catastrophic outcome that is threatening children’s very development and survival.” What Fadil correctly attributes to flood victims is in fact the grave reality of more than 3.4m children who face chronic hunger in Pakistan.

With every passing year, the economic burden of undernutrition and its health consequences totals $7.6 billion which accounts for nearly 3pc of Pakistan’s GDP, a cost that continues to inflate by the day. However, what is infinitely more important than money is the lives at stake. With every dying cry, the undernourished population of Pakistan is screaming for attention. Sadly, in this age of politically driven agendas and a hyper-sensationalised media, their desperate pleas fail to get clout.

That is why we need to step away from our current role of bystanders and demand change. We need to advocate for an effective policy that fights this gross violation of health and human rights. We need be aware of our power as a community to end undernutrition in Pakistan, once and for all.

The writer is studying for a Master’s degree in Public Health at the University of California at Berkeley.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022


An airport death

Arif Azad

LAST month, Mehran Karimi, an Iranian refugee, died, aged 76, at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris where he had lived a circumscribed and stranded life for 18 years since arriving at the airport in 1988. His celebrated story inspired Steven Spielberg’s 2004 film The Terminal, his ghost-written autobiography and aptly named documentary Waiting for Godot at De Gaulle and a French play Lost in Transit.

All these narrative forms tell the story of a resilient but trapped life occasioned by harsh and inhuman immigration and asylum laws. Yet the unjust and harsh asylum systems somehow do not figure centrally in all these films and documentaries. The major thrust of the coverage pivots on his tangled Iranian backstory, his daily doings at the airport and his floundering and hesitant quest for his long-sought British identity by virtue of his reportedly Scottish mother.

One strand of the media coverage also homed in on the inconsistencies regarding his past and place of birth, apportioning blame to him for refusing to leave the airport even after the French government’s great graciousness in granting him documents once 18 years of his productive life had been wasted on a red bench in the airport.

The beginning of Mehran’s sorry fate can be traced to a time when the immigration and asylum system was tightening in Europe. His story took a sad turn when, because of reportedly stolen documents, he was refused entry into his beloved Britain where he was seeking his imagined or real maternal roots. This led to his being deported to Paris. The practice of shuttling refugees between different countries where they had set foot first was thus highlighted. The Terminal, the film inspired by Mehran’s life, eludes this crucial, political/ administrative fact which caused and prolonged his misery (Spielberg’s film shows Tom Hanks stranded at an airport because his travel papers were no longer valid due to a coup in his native country).

There are many Mehrans rotting in the bylanes of asylum systems.

Similarly, Lost in Transit is billed as a comedy — finding comic elements in such a life was, in fact, deeply political and tragic. As a result of the legal imbroglio, Mehran became a stranded, trapped refugee who could neither enter France, because he did not possess official papers, nor be sent to any other country because of his stateless and paperless condition. It took another 18 years to sort out his papers. However, by the time his papers came through in 2006, he had grown so accustomed to his shuttered and trapped life that he feared stepping out of the airport. His deteriorating mental state was attested to by the airport doctors. He spent some time in various homeless hostels, hotels and hospitals in Paris before he returned to the airport in the last weeks of his life.

Due to his circumscribed existence, he was also denied the option of reinventing himself in the wider world, as many immigrants do. He was left with the single option of committing his thoughts furiously to his notebooks, piecing together his story from a faltering memory and a deteriorating mental state. But despite long, persisting uncertainty over his future, he managed to hold on to his sanity through reading newspapers and having intelligent conversations with the transiting passengers.

Although sustained media coverage of Mehran Karimi’s life shone a light on what refugees have to go through before they are legally accepted as one, greater focus on how the dilatory immigration and asylum system robs a person of his or her identity, a settled life and health has been notably missing. In some sad way, Mehran was privileged in being allowed to continue living at the airport. But ever since he got trapped in 1988, the EU immigration system has progressive­­ly become tigh­ter and more restrictive.

Nowadays not many refugees are lucky enough to get even with­­in a few inches of a European border, so vigilantly policed are these areas. There are many Mehrans rotting in the bylanes of the world’s immigration and asylum systems — whether these are located in migration detention centres or makeshift camps at different border crossings away from media scrutiny. Many die when their rickety boats capsize; their calls for help go unheeded.

If there is one lesson for policymakers in the tragic, wasted and mentally disturbed life of Mehran Karimi, it is that a more humane asylum and immigration system should be devised so that such tragedies do not recur. The need for expanded avenues for safe and legal migration as well as the speedy disposal of stalled asylum and refugee cases and claims has never been more urgent. The last one would go a long way in preventing refugees becoming stranded at airports and detention centres as Mehran Karimi was.

The writer, a public health consultant, is the author of Patient Pakistan: Reforming and Fixing Healthcare for All in the 21st Century.

Twitter: @arifazad5

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

Blood rites

Zarrar Khuhro

BLOOD looms large in our collective imaginations, regardless of what culture we belong to or what language we speak. In English, for example, ill feelings between two people are ‘bad blood’. When you’re carried away by emotion, it means that something has stirred your blood. When you’re angry it’s your blood that boils, and so on. Blood is emotion, heritage and character wrapped in a viscous, scarlet mixture. Most of all, to quote Count Dracula: blood is life.

Blood has also been considered medicine; in Ancient Rome, the blood of fallen gladiators was considered a cure for epilepsy. Gladiator matches would often witness crowd members running onto the arena floor trying to bottle the blood of less-fortunate fighters. There’s an interesting parallel with that belief and the South Asian belief that pigeon blood, being ‘hot’ can cure or ameliorate the effects of stroke-caused paralysis.

While we can scoff at these beliefs now, do note that during the peak of the Covid pandemic, the blood plasma of those who had recovered from Covid was in great demand, despite there being no evidence of it being beneficial. Then there’s the rather vampiric practice of injecting blood plasma from young people into older persons in an effort to increase vitality and longevity. Despite the FDA warning that such practices “have no clinical benefit” companies marketing this treatment are proliferating.

Then there’s the ‘vampire facial’, prompted by celebrities like Kim Kardashian; a gruesome skin care treatment involving a mask made from your own blood being spread across your face in order to rejuvenate the complexion. So yeah, before we get all smug about our ignorant ancestors, it’s humbling to consider what future generations will think of our own blood rites.

How will our vampiric practices be viewed?

Nevertheless, much of ancient medicine revolved around taking blood out of the body, thanks to the age-old, cross-cultural belief in the existence of ‘humours’ in the human body; these were fluids that, when in balance, lead to good health. Imbalance in these humours was considered the cause of most illness. Hence, early medics hit upon bleeding the patient in an attempt to remove ‘bad’ humours and restore balance.

It wasn’t until much later that they thought about putting blood into the body, and the chain of discoveries that led to this starts with Ibn al-Nafis, an Arab physician in the 13th century who first theorised the existence of pulmonary capillaries, 400 years before they were discovered by Marcello Malphigi. Then, in 1628, William Harvey figured out how blood circulates in the body and a few decades later, canine-to-canine transfusions took place.

In 1667, French physician Jean-Baptiste Denis transfused the blood of a lamb into a sick boy. The boy survived, as did Denis’ next patient. The third, however, passed away soon after and Denis was arrested for murder. Even though he was cleared of any wrongdoing, this effectively put an end to transfusion experiments for almost two centuries to the relief of the medical establishment which frowned upon such procedures, perhaps influenced by the ancient belief that blood carried memory and personality, and to thus transfuse the blood of animals or other humans into patients may have resulted in abominations.

Here one should note that medical folklore has it that the Incas were conducting successful human-to-human blood transfusions as early as the 1500s, and while this is a testament to their medical skills, it was also made possible by the fact that the Incas, being an isolated and homogenous population, all had the same blood type, which made the chances of rejection or reaction remote.

Indeed, it wasn’t until the discovery of blood types in 1901 by Austrian physician Karl Landsteiner that blood transfusion really took off, but even then, this discovery was hijacked by proponents of pseudoscience and racial theory.

The Nazis, for example, were obsessed with the purity of bloodlines and thought that blood types corresponded to different races; blood type A was the most desirable and ‘Aryan’ of the blood types, while blood type B was said to be found in mostly “psychopaths, hysterics and alcoholics”. Thus, having an ‘undesirable’ blood type was enough to relegate you to the ranks of the Untermenschen in those enlightened times.

Oddly, this theory made its way to Japan, and there developed a whole pseudoscience based on determining your personality on your blood type. Employers began asking for the blood types of potential hires, and the Japanese army even grouped soldiers according to blood type.

Despite the passage of decades, the belief lingers on, and the Japanese actually have a word for harassment/ discrimination based on blood types: ‘bura-hara’. But while humans will be humans, science is certainly marching on, and clinical trials on the world’s first 100 per cent lab-grown blood have begun. If nothing else, it’s certainly one reason to be sanguine about the future.

The writer is a journalist.

Twitter: @zarrarkhuhro

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

Dealing with the TTP

Muhammad Amir Rana

THE banned TTP’s formal announcement to call off a ceasefire it had agreed to with the government a few months ago requires an immediate and convincing response from the political and military leadership. Any new decision on dealing with the group should be made in an inclusive way and brought into the public discourse and debated in parliament. This is not merely a security issue but also a critical factor in our broader politico-strategic and geo-economic priorities.

The federal interior minister recently said the government hadn’t initiated any sort of formal dialogue with the banned group in the past. However, the security institutions and the civilian government both had started the recent, failed phase of talks with the TTP with much enthusiasm. There was much anticipation that the TTP would become more reconciliatory and some of its cadres would lay down their arms after the Afghan Taliban victory in Afghanistan. However, the interior minister has said that such talks ‘are held even in a state of war’.

What has happened since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in Pakistan is known to all, and there is not much left to celebrate as the Afghan situation has already started to hurt Pakistan’s security and economy. Most optimistic statements about the TTP talks are still fresh in people’s memory. When the TTP announced a formal ceasefire in May, state institutions freed some high-profile TTP leaders, including Muslim Khan, once considered the face of the TTP’s lethal Swat chapter. The formation of jirgas and other delegations and their negotiations with the TTP leadership in Afghanistan is also well known.

The decision of talking to the TTP was taken by the military leadership and endorsed by the PTI government. The current coalition government also owned it. However, two factors have dampened the optimism: the Afghan Taliban’s continuing political and military support to the TTP so that the group can achieve its objectives inside Pakistan; and the anti-TTP demonstrations by citizens of Swat and other KP districts. For the security institutions, the Taliban’s strategy vis-à-vis the TTP was understandable because both groups fought side by side in Afghanistan and have ideological and tribal connections. There was a perception that the relationship between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban would gradually weaken. The massive protests against the TTP’s efforts to regroup in KP, which later expanded into Balochistan, also came as a surprise.

The Afghan Taliban have not yet given up their support to the TTP.

State institutions have tried hard to dispel the impression that there was any sort of deal involved in allowing the TTP militants to return; they even refuted ‘assumptions’ that the TTP terrorists were coming back. Still, the anti-TTP protests played a significant role in halting the talks. The state institutions took the demonstrations by citizens more cautiously and as a sign of deepening ethnonationalism, which they thought was more dangerous for state cohesion.

The TTP and other terrorist groups have been continuously launching terrorist attacks against the security forces. From January to mid-November, the group has launched 70 verified attacks against the security forces, which caused 105 fatalities among military, paramilitary, and police personnel as well as civilians. These attacks also caused anger against the militants. The security forces have launched counterattacks and killed dozens of key TTP and Gul Bahadur group commanders in recent months.

When the TTP announced the end of the ceasefire, it cited kinetic operations by the security forces including in Lakki Marwat district as one of the reasons behind their decision. According to reports, the military had besieged and killed TTP militants, who had taken police officials hostage and wanted to move them to Afghanistan. In the same district, the TTP killed six police officials in mid-November. The outskirts of Lakki Marwat and Bannu districts, that lie adjacent to the twin Waziristan districts, appear to have become the new hub of TTP activities.

The presence of TTP militants in these two districts strengthened the suspicion of the people of Swat and the tribal districts that the terrorists were on their way back to their towns. Local leaders from Swat also claim that the TTP had abandoned its positions in Swat because of the arrival of the harsh winter in Malakand division. Most probably, they moved towards the north-east of the province.

Apart from its incursions into Pakistan, the TTP is trying to recruit disillusioned youth with religious backgrounds. Reports of the TTP’s return have raised alarm across the country, particularly in KP and Balochistan. At the same time, the common man does not want the concentration of security forces to counter the militants in their areas as it disturbs their businesses and daily life comes apart because of constant fear and a sense of insecurity.

Whenever the new security leadership takes a decision on the future course of action, either talks or military action, or both at the same time, it should keep the common people’s apprehensions in mind. Though the federal interior minister is restating the official position that only those will be pardoned who lay down their arms, it should be kept in mind that the Afghan Taliban have not yet given up their support to the TTP. They will continue encouraging the militant group covertly, as both have a common ideological mindset and objectives.

Usually, security institutions tend to keep the broader picture of regional and strategic scenarios in mind while making decisions regarding domestic threats related to terrorism. They may overlook the Afghan Taliban’s position on the Taliban and also consider their limitations in the broader geostrategic and geo-economic contexts. Parliament and an open discussion at various societal levels can help bring clarity and set priorities without compromising on core objectives.

Most importantly, state institutions should not see citizens’ movements with suspicion, as support is crucial to winning the fight against terrorism and internal threats. Harassing and registering cases against pro-peace demonstrators is counterproductive and leads people to believe that state institutions are compromising their security to please the Taliban.

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

Winds of change or illusions?

Abbas Nasir

THERE are suggestions that the new army chief has ordered a reorientation of the Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate policy in what could be the fifth such change since Gen Ziaul Haq perished in an air crash in August 1988.

At the outset, let me concede, that there has been no official announcement as there never is and if this change in thrust and direction has indeed been ordered, it will show over the coming months in how the ISPR handles various issues and stories.

An informed journalist has also reported that in his first Order of the Day, Gen Asim Munir has told all formations and units to do away with pomp and show on the occasion of change of command at all levels.

The public spectacle, no more than a circus, was first introduced when Gen Pervez Musharraf doffed his uniform and passed on the baton of command to Gen Ashfaq Kayani. Perhaps, the outgoing COAS-president felt he was doing the nation such a huge favour by ending his three-year term in eight years that he was owed the ‘band-baja’.

Major changes were twice introduced after periods of military rule and tweaked with the change in command.

The ceremony continued when generals Kayani (six years), Raheel Sharif (three) and Qamar Bajwa (six) ended their extended or normal tenures in office. Coupled with the order of the day, if the suggestions regarding ISPR turn out to be correct, it will translate into a new phase for the military.

In my experience, major changes were twice introduced after periods of military rule and tweaked with the change in command and circumstances at other times. This will be the first such change after a failed hybrid regime experiment where the civil and military leaders clashed over who was the senior partner, or more accurately, which one was not prepared to be the junior partner.

The first such reorientation was evidenced when Gen Zia died and the army under Gen Mirza Aslam Beg felt under pressure to distance itself from his authoritarianism and make a fresh start, though it still couldn’t abandon the late general’s legacy and made sure there was an ‘acceptable’ election result.

Policy was steered by a brilliant officer, Brig Riazullah, and for the first time in the Pakistani context terms such as ‘perestroika’ and ‘glasnost’ were used as there were open admissions of, inter alia, meddling in politics. The military launched a massive manoeuvre named Zarb-i-Momin aimed at rehabilitating its badly tarnished image and projected itself solely in a professional mode.

This was the first example of its kind where a large number of journalists were drafted in as ‘defence correspondents’ and bedazzled with the ‘might and efficiency’ of the army. My conversations with some such journalists led me to believe it was actually the lifestyle which floored them with excellent warm food, starched white napkins and crockery and cutlery with official emblems in field messes and being addressed as ‘Sir’.

Of course, Gen Musharraf’s coup led to a tweak when Brig (later Maj Gen) Rashid Qureshi, DG ISPR, made everything about his boss. He was abrasive and lashed out at all critics and opponents of the COAS as if it was the central part of the job. Coherence wasn’t his forte.

Gen Musharraf’s exit as army chief saw the second post-military rule ‘openness’ which was presided over by the amiable armour officer Maj Gen Athar Abbas. (In the interest of full disclosure: he is a personal friend.)

His tenure was marked by easy access to military leaders as the army committed itself to counterterrorism training and then slowly began clearing out erstwhile tribal agencies and Swat of terrorists and deny them safe havens.

But, of course, this was the period when Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha, the spy chief, was playing politics, leading to more and more criticism of the military. The flak received by GHQ-Aabpara was unprecedented whether it was Pasha’s constant undermining of the elected government and/or suggestions to politicians that joining one particular political party would be good for them or Gen Kayani’s extension.

Later, Maj Gen Athar Abbas was replaced by Maj Gen (later Lt Gen) Asim Bajwa. He was the man who reportedly invested millions in state-of-the-art, mostly US-sourced multimedia production facilities at ISPR for the fifth-generation warfare. Simultaneously, his family members were growing the Papa John business empire in the US.

Bajwa was seen as the instigator of the ‘Thank You Raheel Sharif’ campaign and from day one projected his boss as a larger-than-life figure. By this time, social media platforms had millions of Pakistani users, and Twitter and Facebook (and later TikTok etc) became major tools of disseminating information as well as propaganda.

When Raheel Sharif rewarded Asim Bajwa with the third star, Asif Ghafoor was made the DG ISPR. The so-called ‘Dawn leaks’ story about the government of the day asking the military to contain militant groups as the country was facing international isolation (FATF being one example) broke during Raheel Sharif’s final days in office.

Asif Ghafoor, who remained DG under COAS Bajwa, raised eyebrows by tweeting the ‘notification is rejected’ reaction to the PM House notification about the inquiry report into the Dawn story announcing the loss of office of two top prime ministerial aides.

The tension over this tweet in the end triggered the get-Nawaz operation and the ushering in of the hybrid regime. With Gen Bajwa as chief, the two-pronged policy to attain these goals was spearheaded by Faiz Hameed in ISI and Asif Ghafoor in ISPR.

No point in recounting in detail as the events are way too recent. Suffice it to say that the policy of strong-arming media and politicians to social media trolling was the most divisive in recent decades and has split the nation in two halves which seem irreconcilable at least as we speak.

One earnestly hopes an ‘apolitical’ military leadership with its intelligence and PR arms marching to the same tune can be the first modest steps towards a healing process. Like I humbly pointed out last week, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

Cost to the climate

Aisha Khan

THE pace of climate change impact is outstripping efforts being made at the global level to reduce the rate of planetary warming. This disconnect is symptomatic of a deeper malaise of the dangerous times we live in.

At the 2015 Climate Summit, 196 countries recognised human activity as the cause of a rapidly warming world. Yet seven years later, there is continued resistance by the developed countries to commit to a mitigation schedule that provides hope of a safer world.

The history of civilisation is rife with wars. Mankind has learnt no lessons from the perils of over-ambition and the virtue of containment. The inherent urge to impose, dictate terms of engagement and demand validation of governance models, as part of an allegiance pact, has put the planet at the periphery of risk where brinkmanship can cause incalculable damage.

Today, food and energy are being used as weapons of war. Tomorrow, access to water or withholding flows may become a catalytic tool for enhancing political clout.

The times we live in require calibrated caution in policy and wisdom in crafting a balanced future that maintains equilibrium. Taking current trends into account it seems that brutal egos, economic populism and crippling geopolitical rifts will continue to define the contours of this critical decade.

We are living in the most dangerous time in human history.

The clash of governance systems, misplaced power calculus and unlimited quest for control, will be the cause of the downfall of development gains made in this century. Intense rivalry is on the ascendant and clashes to capture critical resources is pitting big powers against each other. Vulnerable and developing countries will be caught in the middle of strategic realignments and will need astute stewardship to navigate stormy waters.

There should be no doubt that we are living in turbulent times. It is a period of intense upheaval and change. Competing interests and contesting ambitions of existing and emerging powers are amplifying in alarming ways. With an assertive China, flexing its economic muscle and an aggressive Russia striving to reclaim its lost glory, the days of a unipolar world are over. This head-on collision has already derailed the climate agenda and pumped monies into the war economy, instead of investments in clean energy, support for adaptation and financial commitments to make the loss and damage fund robust.

As we race headlong into an uncertain future, resetting priorities is of utmost importance.

There is a time to sew and a time to rend, a time to hate and a time to love, a time to overuse nature and a time to let the planet heal. Nations have prospered by exploiting the resources of their own countries and at times those of other countries to augment development gains, enabling them to make a quantum leap into a future driven by technology, innovation and accumulation of wealth. This wealth is now being used to increase military power, create international financial institutions and dominate world affairs.

At the heart of every country, the politics of power play a critical role in setting the agenda. This is in line with the need to have a system in place to make policies and maintain order in society. Pragmatism, however, demands flexibility and course correction to keep the ship of state afloat. Sailing straight into the eye of the storm requires deep absorptive capacity which is only available to sturdy states with fall-back resources for recovery.

For a country like Pakistan with increasing climate vulnerability, the economy in a state of flux and political polarisation at its worst, the future does not augur well.

Pakistan, like the climate, needs healing and must urgently reset its political trajectory to pave the way for reconciliation within and without. The cost of destabilisation is too high and runs the risk of pushing the country deeper into poverty. The most important fallout of acute shortage of food, water and energy remains unaddressed. This will result in chaos and anarchy.

The other unanswered question relates to solutions. There are a lot of accusations and counter-accusations made by political parties but none offers an implementable plan for reducing inflation, stabilising the currency, making food and energy affordable or protecting lives and livelihoods of the vast majority that suffer the consequence of political strife. Slogans are not a solution.

In different times perhaps the world could have afforded confrontation and allowed Pakistani politicians space to intensify turf battles with impunity. But we are living in a dangerous time where the future has never been more uncertain and the climate never so threatening as to pose an existential threat. This is a time for putting differences aside and working together.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

Relentless violence

Shazia Nizamani

ANOTHER day, another shocking incident of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country.

In November, in a heart-wrenching incident, a seven-year-old girl was raped and mur­­dered in Quaidabad, Karachi. There were extensive injuries to her body. Accor­ding to the police, the girl had gone missing the day before and her body was found thrown on an under-construction building site.

In October, a nine-year-old girl from a family of flood refugees from Shikarpur district was abducted and gang-raped in Karachi. In a statement to the police, the doctor who examined the child said that the condition of the victim was so terrible that she had to be examined in the operation theatre.

In September, a rich, well-educated young woman named Sarah Inam, a dual Canadian-Pakistani national, was brutally murdered allegedly by her husband Shahnawaz Amir at his farmhouse in Islamabad. This case of GBV has slipped off the radar as the media no longer covers the legal proceedings. It seems as if the matter has been hushed up.

GBV is endemic, relentless and classless. It has a serious impact on the physical, mental and emotional health of girls and women. Their lives are always at risk. A number of reports of international organisations suggest that violence against women and girls has reached devastating levels across the globe.

Incidents of gender-based violence are underreported.

According to a UN report, one in three females aged 15 or older, or approximately 736 million women and girls worldwide, have suffered physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence or both at least once in their life. The most recent global estimate revealed that a woman or girl is killed by someone in her own family every 11 minutes on average.

Let’s focus on Pakistan. Statistics on violence against women here show a sharp increase during the last three years. Representatives of the Ministry of Human Rights informed the National Assembly in October that 63,367 cases of violence against women were registered in the country during the last three years. According to National Police Bureau data, 11,160 were rape/gang-rape cases. Out of this total, 4,637 rape/gang-rape cases were registered in 2019; 4,133 in 2020 and 2,390 in 2021.

Aside from this, 1,578 women were murdered in 2019, while 1,569 were slain in 2020 and 840 in 2021. The year 2019 saw 2,018 cases women being beaten. In 2020, there were 2,019 cases reported and 1,134 women received punches, kicks and slaps in 2021. There were 13,916 cases of kidnapping registered in 2019; in 2020, there were 12,809 cases filed; another 7,651 cases were registered in 2021. During the last three years, 77 cases of incest and 103 cases of acid-throwing were filed with the police. The perennial question is: how many such cases have not been registered?

Other offences filed with the police in the last three years include vani (which often involves marriage of underage girls), custodial violence, physical harassment, sexual harassment and 7,137 cases of abduction of females. This worrying trend shows how unsafe most women and girls are in Pakistan. And these are police statistics: the actual number could be much higher as most such cases are not reported or registered with law enforcement. It can be safely assumed that incidents of GBV are underreported in Pakistan, and have an extremely low conviction rate.

Although various laws on GBV have been passed, it is not enough to prevent such incidents. Enacting legislation may be the first step, but unless it is translated into policy and its implementation ensured, there is not much impact. Many bottlenecks have to be removed before we see any significant reduction in cases.

Some of the main reasons that create hindrance in reporting cases are: ineffective imp­lementation of laws, inefficient police investigation and discouraging police attitude towards women survivors, victim-blaming, social stigma, no social support mechanisms, gender-insensitive court environment, and slow and lengthy court proceedings.

From Nov 25 to Dec 10, the UN is marking 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence under the theme, ‘UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls’. Pakistan is also part of this global campaign. The Pakistani government should encourage multi-sectoral coordinated efforts with UN agencies, women rights organisations and the media. The Ministry of Human Rights, National and Provincial Commissions on the Status of Women and other rights bodies must develop mechanisms for close coordination and engagement to promote and protect women’s rights.

The need of the hour is to develop short-term and long-term multipronged strategies and policies to address this issue holistically. Instead of limiting themselves to a few awareness-raising seminars and publications, the commissions, NGOs and federal and provincial governments should focus resources and services on women survivors of gender-based violence.

The writer is a lawyer.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022

Case for federalism

Adrian A. Husain

THE recent rally of the PTI chairman in Rawalpindi was notable for a variety of reasons. Above all, it revealed the frenetic workings of a mind in the grip of an idée fixe: power. In the wake of the customary animosity or hit list, one front was closed and another opened up.

A politics of agitation had ended, giving way to a politics of virtuosity. Street had suddenly ceded to parliament. Mass resignations from the two provincial assemblies in Punjab and KP, controlled by the PTI, were on the cards.

A number of observers waxed eloquent about the ingenuity of the move. The former cricketing icon was lauded for his political skill. It was, though, all too apparent that, by Nov 26, the PTI chairman had actually exhausted all his options and that a particular official appointment, central to his strategy, had already been made and he was left with his last card.

Back-patting aside, it is important to recognise the realities of the situation. The political gambit in question must be seen for what it really is: a final bid by the PTI to wrest power, at all costs, from the federal government.

The political gambit must be seen for what it is.

The move to resign from or disband the assemblies, smacks — typically — of political opportunism. Granted that our political lexicon has been expanded, it must, however, surely be admitted that the privileging of politics as play necessarily implies that the interests of the federation itself are being made, for no very good reason, to take a back seat.

The 18th Amendment, conferring varieties of autonomy on the country’s provinces, has suddenly — and somewhat unilaterally — taken centre stage.

One is reminded of what the PTI head himself declared not long ago in a late-night televised broadcast which amounted to a threat relating to the stability of the federation. By a curious irony, his words seem — disquietingly — to ring truer, albeit in a different sense, today than they did then.

Specific constitutional arguments aside, it matters that we see that we run the risk, under the present circumstances, of subverting the federal principle itself in the name of federalism.

We are all aware of the issue of a balance between the federating units and the federation and the fact that this is crucial. What we seem to be forgetting today, however, is the fact that there should also properly be a community of purpose among the federating units.

No one province in the federation, whether Punjab or KP, has the right, in other words, either to impose its individual will on any other province or to act in a manner prejudicial to the interests of any other province. To consider doing so is to think in hegemonistic rather than, properly speaking, federal terms.

That, in so many words, was the statement being made, about the PTI head, at the sizable rally of Nov 30, by the chairman of the PPP as he spelt out his party’s traditional commitment to the federation. It is entirely relevant that the 18th Amendment was passed by none other than the PPP government of the day.

It can legitimately be argued that both the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan are faced today with force majeure in the shape of the ecological disaster that recently struck them and that neither province is consequently in a position at present to hold elections.

That puts the whole matter of dissolution of the assemblies in Punjab and KP, followed by elections in the two provinces in question. Any such move would only prove discriminatory and prejudice the outcome of subsequent elections in the two remaining provinces, striking at the very principle binding the federal whole.

Democracy in a country such as ours, with its given social and economic conditions, cannot, in any case, be taken to amount to a mere electoral drill but has to be allowed to be a system of comprehensive consequence.

Many of us have still not forgotten the spectacle of democracy, literally and figuratively, behind bars during the previous government’s abortive rule. Civil liberties were suspended. Inflation was the result of merely somewhat cavalier economic improvisation.

The existing coalition is in place precisely because of the failure of the former government to follow up on its utopian promises and run the government or manage the economy efficiently.

As for the impression that the star sportsman of yore has come of age politically, we have no option but to hedge our bets. His somewhat generalised and embryonic libertarian vision is reason enough.

It is important for us all to bear in mind that democratic freedom, especially in a federal set-up, does not have to do with the mere will of a hypothetical majority but is a far more widespread and complex affair.

Freedom, in any case, is an esoteric phenomenon. It is not built into a particular system but has to be felt to be there. It is not a merely large idea trumpeted at populist rallies but, rather, a subtle atmosphere, an air, an undefined space.

The writer is the founder-chairman of Dialogue: Pakistan, a local think tank.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

‘Sonar Bangla’

Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry

BANGABANDHU Sheikh Mujibur Rahman envisioned Bangladesh’s foreign policy to be predicated on the principle of ‘friendship to all, and malice towards none’. His daughter, Sheikh Hasina, the present prime minister, echoes this principle at various international forums. However, when it comes to relations with Pakistan, the foreign policy of Bangladesh does not seem to reflect this principle. Sheikh Hasina continues to harp on the issues of 1971 to block any bilateral interaction. She has found it difficult to ‘forget the past, and to make a fresh start’ — a commitment that Sheikh Mujib himself made at the April 1974 tripartite agreement between Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

When Sheikh Mujib stated that the “people of Bangladesh knew how to forgive” it was a clear recognition of the need for the two countries to move on and not remain embroiled in mutual bitterness. Sheikh Mujib visited Pakistan in February 1974 while Bhutto returned the visit in June. The intent of the leadership of both countries at that time was clear. They wanted to normalise the relationship. Ever since, successive Pakistani leaders had visited Bangladesh and expressed the desire to bury the bitterness of the past.

When President Musharraf visited Dhaka in July 2002, he acknowledged that the “excesses” committed during 1971 were “regrettable”. He also paid homage to the martyrs of Bangladesh by visiting the National Martyrs Memorial. Thought leaders from Pakistan’s civil society, academia and media have also expressed the regret that every Pakistani felt at the turn of events in 1971. Faiz Ahmad Faiz wrote an epic poem after his visit to Bangladesh in 1974, asking how many monsoons were needed to wash away the bloodstains.

Yet, the Awami League does not seem to be prepared to move on, even though a large segment of the Bangladeshi population has goodwill for Pakistan. It appears that the question of ‘apology’ is being used as a political tool to keep the relationship at a standstill. Last September, while addressing the UN General Assembly, Sheikh Hasina alleged that Pakistani forces had killed “three million” Bengalis, and that “200,000 women” were abused. The available research indicates that these figures are grossly exaggerated. Authors, like Sarmila Bose, have raised serious questions about these claims. There is growing evidence that excesses were committed by all sides. If the Pandora’s box of fixing responsibility is opened, both nations will suffer painful memories without resolving the issue.

Awami League doesn’t seem to be prepared to move on.

What, then, is the real motive of keeping the ‘apology’ issue alive? Some thought leaders feel that Bangladesh’s policy choices are constrained by the ‘tyranny of geography’ as it is surrounded by India on three sides. If the India factor is the real reason for Bangladesh’s continued estrangement with Pakistan, then one has to wait for improvement in Pakistan’s relations with India before Pakistan-Bangladesh relations improve.

At a recently held Bay of Bengal Conversation, in which this writer participated, there was no discussion on the events of 1971. The think tanks in Bangladesh are more focused on how the Bay of Bengal will be impacted by America’s Indo-Pacific strategy, China’s economic outreach, and climate change. Belonging to a country that had initiated Saarc in 1985, Bangladeshis are concerned that South Asia remains the least integrated region. A suggestion was made to rewrite the agenda of Saarc, starting with only one item: climate change, which impacts every country of South Asia.

There is no doubt that Bangladesh has emerged as an inspiring story of economic and social development, aspiring to become an upper middle-income country by 2031. Poverty levels have come down from 43.5 per cent in 1991 to 14.3pc in 2016. Its population of 170 million is growing at the rate of 1pc compared to Pakistan’s 220m growing at 2pc. The country has also done well in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Recently, however, Bangladesh’s economy has been facing severe headwinds due to spikes in energy and commodity prices. The balance-of-payments deficit is widening. Inflation is rising, while foreign exchange reserves have shrunk to $38.9 billion by August 2022. The government has embarked on an austerity programme.

Bangladesh is now gearing up for elections that are to be held by December 2023. There is considerable anxiety whether the next elections would be free and fair. The focus of public discourse is on how Bangladesh was being governed and whether it can sustain its high economic growth rates. Sheikh Hasina’s speech in this year’s UN General Assembly indicates that this time, too, her party might want to use the issue of ‘apology’ to charge up its political base to win votes in the forthcoming elections. Whether this will work this time, only time will tell.

The writer, a former foreign secretary, is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, and author of Diplomatic Footprints.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

Collateral proceedings

Adnan Haider Randhawa

A JUDGE is not a king. While kings may also be judges in monarchies, this is not and cannot be true for democracies. Democracies can’t afford to have kings, much less in the garb of judges. Our Supreme Court has itself held as much in the Irfan Bashir­case: “The role of a constitutional judge is different from that of a king, who is free to exert power and pass orders of his choice over his subjects.”

Yet, we see an increasing tendency among them to indulge in collateral proceedings that might appear to have more to do with their personal opinion than the facts (of the cases) at hand.

“No court shall have any jurisdiction save as is or may be conferred on it by the Constitution or by or under any law” reads Article 175(2) of our Constitution. The judges’ role, in a constitutional democracy, is that of arbiters and not masters. Even the former role is not absolute but is subjected to certain limitations, including that of jurisdiction.

Collateral proceedings distort that role. Indulgence in proceedings or matters not directly before a judge, and which the judge may not even have jurisdiction to preside over, are justifiably frowned upon by some legal experts as going beyond the judiciary’s constitutional role in a democratic dispensation.

A debate, long overdue, was kick-started by the summoning of the IGP with regard to the firing incident on Imran Khan’s long march by the apex court in an unrelated proceeding of contempt against Khan. Reservations surfaced not only among legal quarters but also from within the bench where one honourable judge had “serious jurisdictional reservations”.

The judges’ role, in a constitutional democracy, is that of arbiters and not masters.

Collateral proceedings manifest themselves in different scenarios: one, by giving findings or observations on a matter that has already attained finality.

“Violation of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution have to be protected, but at the same time, it is the duty of the court to ensure that the decisions rendered by the court are not overturned frequently, that too, when challenged collaterally … this court has an extensive power to correct an error or to review its decision but that cannot be done at the cost of doctrine of finality. An issue of law can be overruled later on, but a question of fact … cannot be reopened once it has been finally sealed ... ”, held the Indian supreme court in the Major S.P. Sharma case.

Two, in collateral proceedings, findings or observations are rendered on a matter that has not yet been initiated judicially by the parties concerned, and which may never be so initiated. For example, if an FIR is not registered promptly or it does not arraign the accused persons as a complainant may wish, statutory remedies of a petition to a justice of peace or filing a private complaint are available. A complainant may or may not have recourse to such remedies, according to legal advice.

By passing directions or observations in such a matter, would the Supreme Court not have journeyed into the thicket of collateral proceedings?

Three, in collateral proceedings, findings or observations are made on a matter which is not pending before the court, making such findings or observations which, under the law, fall in the jurisdiction of some other forum.

The Constitution and different statutes have conferred various jurisdictions on different courts and tribunals. Bypassing other valid constitutional and statutory forums by a court, or taking up a matter in its original jurisdiction, instead of waiting for the appellate jurisdiction to materialise in due course of time, is tantamount to adjudicating on a matter which is not before it.

In my humble view, verbal observations or directions to the IGP in Khan’s shooting case with respect to registering of an FIR or with respect to service-related matters of the IGP about his resignation or leaving charge have the characteristics of the latter two categories.

Further, such proceedings divert attention not only from the case at hand but also from the long queue of cases pending adjudication on the regular docket. Other reasons to avoid such proceedings are the risk of political consequences, unwanted media or public attention and avoidable criticism of the judiciary by disgruntled sections which such proceedings may spawn. Collateral proceedings, as a result, inevitably end up causing distortions in the judicial system.

Conversely, it can be argued that the apex court has the power to do complete justice, and to do so it can take up any kind of matter during any kind of proceedings in any kind of lis, though even Article 187, which empowers it to do “complete justice” is qualified by a limitation — valid jurisdiction.

The counter argument may be that the apex court cannot do complete justice outside the conferred jurisdictions or by conflating different jurisdictions. Additionally, power to do complete justice should be interpreted in accordance with the democratic underpinnings of the Constitution, in the context of the extraordinary requirements that a pending case at hand may have, and not in the context of the person or functions of a judge seen to be assuming the role of a king who can do whatever he likes, without any limitations, including exercising jurisdiction when none exists.

The ‘complete justice’ doctrine, therefore, is not a valid justification of collateral proceedings.

To conclude, collateral proceedings can be placed in the same league as suo motu proceedings, verbal directions, judicial overreach, obiter dicta etc — all of which, in the case of the Supreme Court, have a binding effect. In the midst of a political crisis, open invitations to the chief justice of Pakistan or the apex court to interfere in matters which are not or could not be directly brought before the court would be better shrugged off.

One hopes the court comes out of this crisis unscathed, which is possible if it strictly confines itself to the conferred jurisdictions and refrains from overindulgence in collateral proceedings.

The writer is a constitutional and tax lawyer based in Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

How expensive is democracy?

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob

CONTRARY to the parliamentary calendar of the legislature, the Punjab provincial assembly has been continuously in session for the last seven months. Although divided into three sessions — the 40th, 41st and 42nd — there was only a day’s gap between the sessions, practically making it one long session.

Apparently, this costly route of continuing the session and incurring the associated costs has been taken to avoid the governor’s exercise of his powers to ask the chief minister to seek a vote of confidence from the assembly where the CM has a razor-thin majority.

In a vote of confidence, the burden of proving the majority is on the CM and the absence — real or engineered — of even a few MPAs may fail the vote of confidence.

Although many legal experts believe that the governor can ask the CM to seek a fresh vote of confidence even while the provincial assembly is in session, the assembly is apparently made to stay in session continuously under the dubious impression that the governor can’t ask the CM to seek a vote of confidence during an assembly session.

This is just one example of how democracy is made to heavily pay for narrow party interests. Earlier, the same assembly had the dubious honour of holding two parallel budget sessions at two premises costing almost twice the amount for a session.

Democracy is a costly affair because the holding of periodic elections, maintaining elected bodies at the federal and provincial levels and elected local governments is quite a capital-intensive exercise but all these expenses are worthwhile.

If democratic institutions are elected and run in the true democratic spirit which calls for reasonable standards of integrity and efficiency, the democratic system is certainly a cost-effective proposition with a favourable cost-benefit ratio. But when democratic norms are abused and taken undue advantage of, the system starts to become unaffordable.

Irresponsible politics in the country are rendering democracy too costly.

Let’s take the case of our parliament and provincial assemblies. We have fixed a certain minimum number of days for these Houses to meet during a parliamentary year. The National Assembly, the Senate and the provincial assemblies are required to meet for a minimum of 130, 110 and 100 days respectively.

The Constitution allows that a gap of two days during the session of a legislature be counted towards the statutory minimum days of sittings. The actual number of sittings therefore are less than the days formally counted (as per the Constitution) — and so vividly demonstrated during the 41st session of the Punjab Assembly which met for just 35 days but accounted for 127 days.

Two other indicators point to the serious abuse of democratic norms. First, an average workday consists of merely three hours in most Pakistani legislatures which, by any standard, is rather low. The Indian Lok Sabha works an average of six hours per day and the British House of Commons around eight hours.

Second, on an average, the National Assembly hardly disposes of 40 per cent of its daily agenda or ‘order of the day’.

Lack of quorum is increasingly becoming the norm to adjourn the proceedings of the House. Noisy protests and brawls have also become more prevalent. The passing of the budget is a mere formality and hardly any scrutiny of the most important policy document ever takes place in the legislatures.

The allocated budget for the current year (2022-23) for the National Assembly, the Senate and the provincial assemblies of Punjab, Sindh, KP and Balochistan translates to a daily budget of Rs47 million, Rs34m, Rs37m, Rs29m, Rs18m and Rs23m respectively on the basis of the minimum statutory sitting days. This gives an idea of how much the loss of a day or the non-disposal of the agenda costs the taxpayers.

General and by-elections cost around Rs80m to Rs90m per National Assembly constituency. Despite incurring a huge cost, the 45pc average voter turnout for the last eight elections is among the lowest in the world in which the global average is around 66pc.

Our Constitution places no bar on the number of constituencies where a candidate chooses to contest elections from. Imran Khan, for example, won from five National Assembly constituencies during the 2018 general election and vacated all but one seat, which meant re-election in four constituencies with extra expenditure by the public exchequer.

There were others too who also vacated their seats. During the recent by-elections, Imran Khan won from six National Assembly constituencies, which means another series of by-elections on the five vacated constituencies.

Democracy allows people, political parties and interest groups to protest but the right to protest is subject to certain conditions such as not inconveniencing the public or obstructing businesses and public services like schooling.

Sadly, these restrictions are seldom respected and businesses and public services are adversely hit, costing millions, if not billions, in the process. Maintaining law and order during such protests and long marches costs the taxpayers quite heavily.

The federal government’s Economic Coordination Committee approved an initial sum of Rs410m to deal with Imran Khan’s Haqeeqi Azadi March which originated from Lahore and terminated in Rawalpindi. The expenses (not disclosed so far) incurred by the Punjab government are in addition to these figures but may even surpass the federal expenses as almost the entire long march route was in the Punjab province.

This article does not plead that democracy is too expensive and should therefore be discontinued. It is more about pleading with the people, political parties and elected representatives to use their democratic liberties and rights more responsibly and to do their duties more efficiently.

Their present conduct is weakening the case for democracy in Pakistan. The absence of, on average, around 55pc voters and around 70pc of youth from the polling stations is a scathing indictment of the prevailing quality of democracy in Pakistan. Even if we make allowances for this state of affairs on account of military interference in the political process, as recently acknowledged by the previous army chief, the responsibility of politicians and the people remains paramount.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

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