So far so good

ANOTHER momentous occasion was witnessed in the National Assembly yesterday when Prime Minister Gilani got a unanimous vote of confidence from the house. The opposition’s hearty show of magnanimity is a welcome break from past traditions. One also hopes that on other matters of national importance such lending of a helping hand to the government will continue. Equally, a guarded welcome must also be extended to some of the measures announced by the prime minister in his speech of thanks to the house. The restoration of trade and student unions, removal of curbs on media, abolition of the Frontier Crime Regulations in Fata and of the controversial Industrial Relations Ordinance of 2002, increase in the minimum wage, support price of wheat and other facilitating measures for farmers, inception of a national employment scheme, review of the cases pending against political prisoners, enhancement of retirement benefits for employees, induction of austerity measures to cut wasteful expenditure, enhance and conserve energy sources and better the environment will be welcome. Details are to follow as to how the government plans to implement these measures and what legal mechanisms will be put in place to ensure that the promises take

the form of institutionalised reform, and not become a case of offering one-time relief to the affected public.

Over eight years of autocratic rule condoned by a rubberstamp parliament has left the emerging coalition government with a heavy baggage and multifaceted challenges, as the ruling parties struggle to cobble together a federal cabinet that they can live with. The spirit behind some of the austerity measures announced by the prime minister demands that the cabinet be kept small and the temptation to impose additional burden on the exchequer by appointing advisors, ministers of state or ambassadors at large resisted. There is a lot that needs to be done on an urgent basis to set some of the political and administrative wrongs right, not least of which is the lingering case of the judiciary, but of equal importance to the public will be measures aimed at giving economic relief and setting the tone for recovery in the months ahead.

The energy crisis demands undivided attention, as does the question of provincial autonomy. The latter was conspicuous by its absence from the PM’s speech in parliament on Saturday. It is hoped that the broad-based government that is taking shape will be able to iron out inter-provincial differences that have dogged many development projects. For this, the federal concurrent list needs to be drastically cut down in size and administrative and financial powers transferred to the provinces in key areas. Unless an equitable formula on sharing national resources is developed through consensus, inter-provincial rivalries would continue to hamper development.

All about Eve

MANY among our women have led defenceless lives without a context — a sad fault of social mores that have governed their right to choice and freedom. However, the Ministry of Women Development (MoWD) and Rozan, an NGO, have stepped forward to ‘ensure support to survivors of violence’ and facilitate their reintegration in society. They have come together in a joint venture for ‘capacity building for state-run women centres’. Recognising the fragile state of a survivor and the hurdles involved in confronting the menace of violence against women, the state has created women centres across Pakistan to offer support and rehabilitation to victims. MoWD has planned 25 centres and 21 are already operational. Rozan, in partnership with the ministry, aims to strengthen the capacity of these centres in order to administer quality care to sufferers. The organisation has been involved with national women centres since 2001 and provides ‘on site services such as counselling and group sessions’. This collaboration will concentrate on three primary areas: trainings, standard operation procedures (SOP) and a pilot project. It will also compile an SOP manual that highlights ‘protocol and procedures for case management, development, follow up of reconciliation cases and skills training’. NGO personnel claim that the document will be ‘sensitive’ to survivor rights and will entail extensive research and consultation with various partners that include government representatives.

However, it may be an idea for these sectors to also focus on the external apparatus that deepens the wounds of a survivor and impedes justice. One such area is the registration of a complaint by a victim; lawyers, government departments and NGOs must ensure that this becomes effortless. Women’s police stations — not enough in number — can play a pivotal role in this area provided their number is enhanced and they are strengthened and sensitised to protect victims of social and domestic violence. Ironically, the journey to collective sensitisation is incomplete with the isolation of the male. There is a need to focus on inculcating understanding amongst men by including families in group counselling sessions and addressing notions of domination with an emphasis on reforming social behaviour. The real answer is a mission of empowerment that makes women secure in both body and mind. This is the ultimate weapon against discrimination and violence that will replace survivors with icons.

Death in custody

THOSE who die in police custody are not the only victims of official failure to observe and maintain the rule of law. The others shaken by this callous disregard for human life include the rule of law itself and the society that seeks to live by it. Can a society where rules are violated and laws are flouted by those who are supposed to uphold them complain and counter deathly social behaviour manifested in violent extremism and suicidal terrorism? The answer is obvious and it becomes even more so when these fatalistic tendencies are seen as a function of the abuse of laws and rules so rampant in present day Pakistan. How much extremist reaction and violent anger does a rule violated and a law flouted generates may not be quantified but it is certainly there. The death of a truck driver in the custody of Lahore police recently, therefore, can never be seen as an act without any implications beyond punishment to those apparently responsible for keeping him alive. It also shows how flawed our investigation processes are. Instead of using scientific and forensic methods to trace clues to find the criminals, our police are famous for resorting to brute force to extract confessions which might be made under coercion. Hence they may not even be true.

The facts of the case are shrouded in proverbial mystery. The victim was picked up by one of the numerous intelligence agencies from his Lahore house because in the past, he owned the vehicle used in a suicide attack in the city earlier this month. Three days before his death he was given in police custody and his autopsy report says he died because of suffocation probably caused by strangulation. Even poisoning is not being ruled out. The police claim innocence and initially tried to pass off the incident as nothing unusual. They would have succeeded in getting away with it but for the fact that the victim was being interrogated in a high profile case under intense media limelight. But even after the cause of his death has been established as being unnatural, no heads that matter have rolled. This is unacceptable as is any death in police custody, no matter how attenuating the circumstances. Condoning such a death is condoning the death of a society. No sane society should allow itself to die in custody.

The Sharif mantle in perspective

By Asha’ar Rehman

THE National Assembly and the Frontier Assembly are resonating with cries of ‘Jeay Bhutto’ and ‘Long live Bacha Khan’. The lower house in Islamabad has offered fateha for Ms Benazir Bhutto and hailed Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif for his role in the eight years or so since his ouster from power in October 1999.

At this moment when everybody is paying tributes to their elders, one name which has had such a great impact on the politics of Punjab and Pakistan is yet to be mentioned.

It is the name of Mian Mohammad Sharif, the father of Mian Nawaz and Mian Shahbaz, who had played such a crucial part in nurturing his sons to a stage where they are responsible for their decisions today.

As we make yet another return to democracy, few if any are talking about Mian Sharif’s contribution in making the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz a major force in the country’s politics. Possibly because his stress back then was on building up a countervailing force to the Pakistan People’s Party, the PML-N’s coalition partner now.

But hold on, being in an alliance doesn’t mean that the two parties are not counterbalancing each other.

Legend has it that the hurt caused by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s nationalisation policy to Mian Sharif, the co-owner of Ittefaq Foundries, prompted Nawaz Sharif’s entry into politics. Those in the know say that as the then governor of Punjab, Lt Gen Ghulam Jillani looked for the right new face to take Gen Ziaul Haq’s policy forward in the province.

His initial contact in the House of Ittefaq was with Mian Sharif. It was he who nominated his eldest son for the vacancy and continued to play an able guide to Nawaz and also Shahbaz who joined the rough yet exciting ride in the Pakistani political velodrome at a later date.

For a quarter of a century after Nawaz Sharif was sworn in as the finance minister of Punjab in the early 1980s, Mian Mohammad Sharif was perceived by the general public to be the real in-house troubleshooter. He facilitated the patch-ups that were to be made on the way and was not shy of inviting the parties concerned to the holy environs of Saudi Arabia to ensure that the pledges the partners made and the vows they exchanged were duly solemn. For his central place in the politics formally spearheaded by his sons, Mian Sharif had to spend time in prison during the government of the Pakistan People’s Party in the 1990s.

Mian Sharif’s last known attempt to reconcile his sons with a potential (and eventual) opponent was when he invited the then chief of army staff, Gen Pervez Musharraf, to dinner at his Raiwind farm not long before the general staged his coup against the government of Nawaz Sharif.

The meeting is recorded in some detail in Gen Musharraf’s book, In the Line of Fire. Later on, Mian Mohammad Sharif left the task of negotiating an exile deal for his imprisoned sons to his daughter-in-law, Kulsoom Nawaz Sharif, and was among the family members who flew off to Saudi Arabia when a compromise was finally worked out.

Mian Sharif died in exile in October 2004 and was laid to rest in his Raiwind estate in the absence of his sons.

The unfortunate departure of the founder of the Sharif empire from this world had plenty in it to inspire emotional Pakistanis, especially those living close to the Sharif hometown of Lahore. Yet there has been little reference to it in the period since or before the return of Nawaz, Shahbaz and family in November last year.

Instead, the Sharif brothers have concentrated on building on their reputations as moderates with a leaning to the right, a policy which has endeared them to so many.

With his father no longer around, the mantle of the elder of the house has fallen on Nawaz Sharif and, in the company of his seasoned Lahori advisers, he has so far worn it with credit, achieving what had seemed so very impossible back in the 1990s: an alliance with the PPP, the party, if not so much Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s, of Benazir Bhutto.

The feat in itself signifies that he has matured into a pragmatic politician who has the ability to reject some of the advice he is offered by those who wouldn’t tire of calling the PPP a traitor.

It is also that the times suit the one who is either non-committal or at least has that look about him. But while observers previously struggled to interpret the frown on Nawaz Sharif’s face, they are now greeted with a smile, a constant one bar a few anxious moments with the media.

Circumstances favour a deliberate approach, like the one adopted by Messrs Sharif and Zardari. Even from among the two, Nawaz Sharif is allowing Asif Zardari and (now) his PPP and Asfandyar Wali of the Awami National Party to do most of the running around at this point.

From Kashmir to Afghanistan to domestic issues central to the life of Pakistanis, we are yet to hear a clear policy statement from Nawaz Sharif, while Asif Zardari has already drawn flak over a Kashmir-related statement and Asfandyar Wali has shown just how partial he is to negotiations and use of a political strategy in the quest for a solution to the so-called problem of terrorism.

Despite these signs of maturity, Nawaz Sharif continues to be fallaciously viewed in circles pretending to be knowledgeable as somewhat of a lesser politician in comparison to some of his counterparts in other par-ties as well as his brother Shahbaz.

Who is the shrewder politician — the doer who does it himself or the one who has others carrying out his jobs for him?

OTHER VOICES - Indian Press

Blame victim

The Telegraph

IT is sinister and shameful how … Scarlett Keeling’s death in Goa is getting lost in a haze of misplaced outrage. A dangerous unwillingness to look at what is really at stake … is … focusing attention away … from the real issues.

It is now fairly certain that Scarlett had been raped, possibly by more than one man, and then murdered. In the five weeks that have passed since her death, it has also become more than obvious that the Goa police have suppressed and distorted the facts of the case…. Significantly, the moral of the story seems to be embodied in Scarlett’s fatal recklessness with sex and drugs, and in her mother’s equally reckless negligence of her minor daughter.

This scenario then gets packaged in the xenophobic myth of the Goan ‘white trash’ lifestyle. Thus the question of how this criminal nexus is sustained by a network of powerful interests involving the police as well as senior politicians can be shelved conveniently.

So the chief minister of Goa can, with impunity, blame Scarlett’s mother for not being ‘responsible and careful’ enough.

Both in India and in her native Britain, Fiona MacKeown’s tattoos, piercings, single motherhood and ‘alternative lifestyle’ have provided reason enough to undermine the validity of her struggle … to establish the truth of her daughter’s death.

At the core of this way of thinking lies the conviction that women who are ‘free’ with themselves deserve the violence that they provoke…. This establishment must remind itself that what is being investigated is a crime.

The appearance and lifestyle of the victim or her mother do not, in any way, make it any less of a crime, or any less brutal. The culpability that Goa must confront is far more home-grown than that of irresponsible foreign parenting. — (March 25)

Carry the flame

The Indian Express

THAT China is digging itself into a deeper hole on Tibet was manifest … when its attempt to choreograph a visit by foreign journalists into Lhasa ended in protests by monks….

The courage of the monks to defy the Chinese authorities in front of an international audience shows the depth of the anger that is pouring out in Tibet. Reports from China indicate that isolated Tibetan protests are continuing in many neighbouring provinces. Beijing is also finding it difficult to re-establish its authority outside the cities in Tibet.

No wonder then that Beijing has become so nervous in its reactions at home and abroad. Its abusive language against the Dalai Lama … shows that the Chinese communist leaders are living in a world of make-believe. China’s incessant talk of ‘crushing’ the Tibetan revolt shatters the carefully cultivated image of total self-assurance that it has so successfully projected....

That Beijing chooses to wake up India’s ambassador in Beijing at 2 am to protest against an incident at its embassy in New Delhi shows how brittle Chinese statecraft could be…. With its hard-line tactics, China is making inevitable the very outcome it so desperately wants to avoid: the politicisation of the Beijing Olympics.

Beijing’s neurosis on Tibet … has set the stage for widespread protests against the Olympic torch relay…. It is the duty of all governments to ensure absolute safety for the torch relay on their soil.

It is equally the responsibility of democratic governments to allow peaceful protests on any issue. We hope Home Minister Shivraj Patil has left Beijing in no doubt about how India views its dual responsibilities. Any appeasement of Beijing by New Delhi …will not only generate a new controversy … but also undermine the very foundation of Sino-Indian relations: equality and mutual respect. — (March 29)


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