Though he held the rather ceremonial office of the President of the State, there was no doubt in any mind that Asif Ali Zardari was himself the government. In the photograph above, he is seen in a solemn mood soon after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto that changed the world upside down and inside out for him, his party and for the country at large.
By S. Akbar Zaidi
IT would be quite fair to say that not a single person, including Asif Ali Zardari himself, in Pakistan or anywhere else could have imagined in December 2007 that by September 9, 2008, he would become the president of Pakistan. Moreover, as Pakistan’s 11th head of state, Asif Zardari is amongst the handful of individuals who have been democratically elected to the high office, and is only the second to have completed his full five-year term.
Zardari also presided over as many as three prime ministers. For someone who was, in an earlier life, known as a playboy, had little education or any work experience, was called ‘Mister Ten Percent’ in Benazir Bhutto’s first government, far worse in her second, and for someone who has constantly been maligned and accused publicly of an unimaginable scale of corruption (for which our impartial courts have always found him innocent), this is quite an extraordinary evolution.
The circumstances which led up to Asif Zardari becoming president are well known. After Benazir’s assassination on December 27, 2007, he appeared in public at first as the grieving widower who had lost someone who was expected to become prime minister in the elections that were scheduled for January 2008 by General Pervez Musharraf.
Zardari was in voluntary semi-exile in Dubai at the time, and, after spending numerous years in jail in Pakistan, was living a life of festive freedom. While the victory of Benazir, who had agreed to be subservient to Musharraf as president, had been much anticipated, it was unclear what Zardari would do once his wife became prime minister.
There was speculation as to whether the former ‘Mister Ten Percent’ would return and once again become a minister in her government as he had done in her second term, or whether he would capitalise on the situation through other means, perhaps even staying on in Dubai, especially since the president of Pakistan with whom Benazir was expected to work, Gen Musharraf, was not particularly fond of him.
All that changed with Benazir’s assassination, and the first public appearances of the widower subdued a strong, particularly Sindhi, sentiment by saying Pakistan khappe at a time when the PPP jiyalas were unable to come to terms with such a monumental loss. He gave stability and reassurance to their emotions and sentiments, gave them a sense of hope, changed Bilawal Zardari’s name publically to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, claiming that Shaheed Bibi had left a will in which the very young Bilawal and Zardari were to be co-chairmen of the party.
Zardari emphasised the policy of reconciliation, rather than one of revenge, which he claimed was the nazria of Shaheed Bibi. With elections postponed till February 2008, it was not surprising that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won a large number of seats riding a sympathy wave following Benazir’s assassination. With Nawaz Sharif emerging as a voice against Musharraf’s military dictatorship and in support of the deposed judges of the Supreme Court, we will never know whether Benazir would have won if she had lived and contested the elections announced for January 2008. Nevertheless, the PPP had more seats than anyone else, and Musharraf asked the party to form the government.
After the elections, it was Sherry Rahman who introduced Asif Zardari as ‘Mister Sonia Gandhi’, implying that, like Gandhi, Zardari would not contest public office and would simply be the party co-chairman playing a role from the outside. The first PPP government formed after the February elections was, in fact, a coalition with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), clearly a rather unique and ironic confluence of two rival parties compared to the 1990s.
Not only was Zardari suggesting the policy of reconciliation, but following the Charter of Democracy between Nawaz and Benazir in London in 2006, and so was Nawaz and his party. Despite the presence of a military dictator as president, who had since been forced to shed his military uniform for civilian attire, this was democratic consensus at work. After Benazir’s assassination, this could not have happened without Zardari’s consent.
Perhaps it is inconsequential that the coalition arrangement between the PML-N and (now Zardari’s) PPP broke down, with the former parting ways from the government over the issue of the reinstatement of Supreme Court judges, for this was a rare experiment in Pakistan’s political history without precedent where the two main opposition rival parties were part of the government together. At least on one thing both parties were in agreement: on removing Musharraf as president and both started impeachment proceedings against him soon after forming the government.
Eventually, Musharraf was forced out and the chairman of the Senate became the acting president. In September 2008, Zardari, backed by the PML-N, became president of Pakistan and thus began a presidency and government which made critical interventions in Pakistan’s political structure, a fact which was emphasised on numerous occasions.
If ever there was a constrained political office, constrained by the burden of the past and by circumstances that he himself was not responsible for, it was Zardari’s presidency when the PPP was in power.
There was the issue of the reinstatement of the judges, dismissed by his predecessor, and Zardari was afraid that, if reinstated, they might start proceedings against him and many other politicians. There was also the question of the Pakistan army, despite Musharraf’s resignation, which forced Zardari to spend five years looking over his shoulder for creeping military ambitions.
This was also the period when Osama bin Laden was found and killed in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011. Months earlier, Salman Taseer, the Punjab governor and a friend of Zardari, had been assassinated. Both these incidents, while they happened under Zardari’s watch, were not on account of him or his government. Moreover, during this period, judicial activism was at its zenith, questioning all forms of authority – civilian, political, and even military.
To make matters far worse, following the global economic crisis in 2008, there was an oil price boom, with prices touching $140 a barrel, as well as food price inflation where the price of essential items increased many times over. On all fronts, like many countries in the global South, Pakistan was facing critical problems, but, unlike the rest, Pakistan was also dealing with a democratic transition after almost a decade of military rule.
Yet, there were numerous key political and policy interventions by Zardari’s PPP government, well supported by the so-called ‘friendly opposition’ of Nawaz Sharif, that resulted in progress being made towards key issues. The two parties, led by the two leaders, were working for the collective democratic good.
For instance, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution not only reversed and removed many of Musharraf’s interventions, but went far further, and for the first time in Pakistan’s history, and probably a few decades too late, genuine devolution in the form of more powers to provincial governments took place. This was a far cry from Musharraf’s sham devolution of power which was merely symbolic.
Moreover, there was finally consensus on honouring the wishes of the people of the NWFP to name their province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and on giving Pakistan’s Northern Areas a semi-provincial status by renaming the region as Gilgit-Baltistan and giving the region its own political representation. Attempts were also made to redress Musharraf’s adventurism and folly in Balochistan, where locals had become further alienated, through a Balochistan Package, offering financial resources for development.
Adding to the foundational step of the 18th Amendment, which altered the nature of Pakistan’s federation by getting rid of the Concurrent List, was the reformulation of the long overdue National Finance Commission (NFC). Not only that, but for the first time, the NFC Award recognised criteria other than just population, giving weightage to poverty, underdevelopment and special conditions – the effects of terrorism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – which allowed for a more representative distribution of resources to be made.
Moreover, it was through a democratic moment of reconciliation and equity by which Shahbaz Sharif’s government in the Punjab reduced its share in the NFC, giving a greater share to the less-privileged provinces, again unprecedented in Pakistan’s political economy where the Punjab has continued to dominate without concern for other provinces. Clearly, Zardari must personally be given credit for many of these achievements.
Asif Zardari, as president of Pakistan, had to deal with many of his own ghosts and much personal baggage from the past, but, not unlike his deceased father-in-law Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, he had to come to terms with, and negotiate, a democratic transition following almost a decade of military rule.
While Bhutto was much experienced in the art of politics, was proud and arrogant and ruled a country defeated in war where the majority province won its brutal independence, Zardari was not a politician, and had little experience of direct public responsibility. But he quickly mastered the task he was forced into.
However, 2008 was not as triumphant a democratisation as was 1970-71, when not just the country but, importantly, the military stood defeated. Although there were many important openings after 2008 to put Pakistan’s military spectre permanently to rest – the Bin Laden killing, Mehrangate, and, as a result, open and public criticism of the military, something that happens only once every few decades – but Pakistan’s newly emergent democratic forces lost a particularly important historical opportunity.
Incidents like the Memogate destroyed any credibility civilian political forces had accumulated, and other events and incidents reinstated the hegemony of the military. Furthermore, the consequences of Musharraf’s policies in the way he dealt with militants resulted in scores of suicide attacks killing tens of thousands of civilians, triggering an almost complete collapse of the economy. Even a military dictator, had he been in power, would have struggled with such formidable challenges.
It was not the inexperience of president Zardari which was to blame for the revival of Pakistan’s military and the challenges to democracy, for he had learnt the ropes of governing in difficult and contentious, even confrontational, times. And he did that rather quickly. The fact that Asif Ali Zardari became the first (and, so far, the only) civilian president who passed on power from one democratic government to another, without the military rigging or predetermining the election results, itself speaks volumes of his ability and sanguineness to stabilise Pakistan’s democratic ship.
What happens next in his (or Pakistan’s) political career remains uncertain, but what is clear is that the Asif Zardari presidency of 2008-13 needs a far more measured and impartial analysis than has been the case generally. A more honest assessment would suggest that his role as president has had a particularly significant and positive impact on Pakistan’s process of democratisation and that Zardari played a pivotal role in stabilising Pakistan’s political fortunes after Musharraf.
The writer is a political economist based in Karachi. He has a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge. He teaches at Columbia University in New York, and at the IBA in Karachi.
This story is part 14 of a series of 16 special reports under the banner of ‘70 years of Pakistan and Dawn’. Visit the archive to read the previous reports.
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By Jaffer Bilgrami
WHEN Pakistan humbled India in the ICC Champions Trophy in June, Dawn – and almost all other newspapers in the country – had the news on the front page as the lead story. ‘Pakistan break jinx, trounce India in dream final’ was this paper’s banner headline. But for most Dawn readers, this wouldn’t have come as a surprise: for decades, this has been the level of the paper’s devotion to all competitive international tournaments where Pakistan either emerged as the winner, or was among the front-runners.
Way back in September, 1960, when Naseer Ahmed a.k.a. Naseer Bunda’s solitary goal at the Summer Olympics in Rome brought Pakistan its first-ever gold medal in hockey, the newspaper placed the report of this remarkable victory under a screaming headline: ‘Pakistan are world hockey champions’. With Bunda’s picture below the news item, the newspaper celebrated the event with a huge display, declaring that the victory had ended India’s 32-year supremacy in world hockey.
By the time Pakistan won the 1992 cricket World Cup in Australia, this kind of display for sport victories had become common with other newspapers as well. The difference was, Dawn’s coverage of international events was so integral to its journalism that even as far back as in the 1960s (though not before that), it reported on important sporting events through specially-deployed correspondents or ‘special’ writers.
Since then, the field has evolved significantly. In recent years even several Urdu and even regional newspapers have been dedicating sections to sports, and cover events with proper displays and colour photographs. Although still not close to the attention and space that most newspapers in the West, and even in many Asian countries, devote to sport coverage, many English-language newspapers in Pakistan now have two to three pages dedicated to the purpose. The trend set by Dawn has really caught on.
Back in the 1960s, however, the concept of treating sport as major news events hardly existed. Many editors of the time, themselves outstanding journalists, believed that giving special attention to sporting events meant ‘wasting’ newspaper space. Those were the days when news of even some of the important national and international sporting events was either ignored, or buried deep inside the paper.
In the case of Dawn, in the initial years of its publication sport coverage was not a big priority. The newspaper had dedicated a page inside the paper, though at times coverage was restricted to half of it. This was the period when journalism was in its nascent stage, and the priority was for national and international politics. The world was undergoing major transformation in the post-colonial and post-War eras, and international news often dominated the front pages. The rest of the paper mostly carried domestic political events or controversies.
The journey that Dawn undertook in changing the pattern has a long and fascinating history. The change in policy came gradually, though it’s unclear whether this was a conscious effort by the editor of the time. With strict press laws forbidding honest reporting of political events, the newspaper had started looking bland – its image needed burnishing. So reports regarding sporting events started finding space on the front page. This attracted a new kind of readership. And with a little extra effort, some top sports journalists were hired to make Dawn’s sports coverage shine.
From there on, there was no holding back. Successive editors ensured that the newspaper became the flagship of sport journalism in the country.
It is said that sport journalists the world over are not scholars, with the exception of Sir Neville Cardus, the English music critic who later became a guru for all cricketing writers. Dawn proved lucky in the sense that in its hall of fame, it had sport-writing titans who possessed both gravitas and credibility. Their strong pens and passion for sports decorated the sport pages with some monumental stories.
An amiable Haleem Ahmed, a graceful Anwar Husain, a fiery Ali Kabir, a rather colourful Walter Fernandez and the unassuming but meticulous Majid Khan, who was often mistaken for his cricketing namesake, were all there; pillars as strong as any newspaper could dream of. The reporting team had formidable desk support. Stalwarts such as Suleman Meenai, Latif Jaffery and others of the same generation were the invisible hands that not only gave new impetus to stories but also produced thought-provoking editorials on the subject.
Haleem Ahmed served as Dawn’s sport editor for almost 26 years. Over the course of his distinguished career, he covered all major sporting events within the country and abroad with unflinching professionalism. He was at his best translating the nation’s excitement when India, led by Mankad, arrived for the five-test series in the mid-1950s. He represented a true model of journalistic excellence with broad and balanced coverage, and it’s not without reason that the Pakistan Cricket Board dedicated its media centre at Karachi’s National Stadium to his memory.
In this age of manual typewriters, another of Dawn’s stars was the illustrious Anwar Husain, popularly known as Annu Bhai. An old-school journalist, he had a wit and sartorial elegance that is difficult to recapture now. On the eve of the Rome Olympics, a rejected probable from the Indian hockey camp, Syed Ali, crossed the border and landed in Karachi hoping to secure a berth in the Pakistan line-up. Anwar Husain welcomed him with open arms and strongly pleaded his case for selection, though the Pakistan line-up had already been announced – going to the extent that Ali ended up with the nickname ‘Dawn Ali’ in the hockey fraternity.
For many, Husain’s typewriter was loaded with acid: he challenged the injustice that was meted out to any rising star; he was hard-hitting, which often forced the authorities to review their decisions. Those belonging to the same generation must remember one of his stories headlined ‘Story of a broken heart’, in which he protested selectors’ decision to ignore hockey player Habib Ali Kiddie for an overseas-bound squad. Such was the power of his pen that the officials changed their decision.
A former tennis champion (he partnered India’s famous Ghous Mohammad), this was the sport that was Husain’s forte. Yet he was equally authoritative on cricket, squash and hockey. For many years he was a fixture at the Karachi Press Club. Acutely asthmatic, he was respected by his employers to the extent that his stories were collected from the club by a messenger. Karachi paid tribute to him by naming a park after him.
Another of Dawn’s prized assets was Ali Kabir, a former sprinter from Allahabad whose in-depth and enthusiastic reporting, particularly on hockey, was always anxiously awaited. Straightforward in his dealings with his colleagues, Kabir was known for his fearless comments and his predilection for generating controversies. Cynical, but nevertheless jovial, he was a charming presence in the press box. The rise of and international exposure for the celebrated inside-left Hanif Khan and many others was on account of Kabir, who spotted players at a junior level.
Next in this line-up was Majid Khan, who grew in the shadow of Haleem Ahmed and with time, established himself as a reliable name reporting on squash in particular. International scribes who wrote on the history of squash in Pakistan relied on Majid’s expertise.
The youngest of them all – but no less competent – was Walter Fernandez whose stories spoke as loudly as his spoken word. He was boisterous in approach to both life and profession and administrators were always wary of his presence at press conferences.
Other than the ‘staffers’ Dawn was lucky to have the services of some iconic writers. The jewel in the crown, no doubt, was Omar Kureishi, who was an integral part of any cricket series that Dawn covered. In a way, his lyrical style of writing created a new language for the cricketing press. He never ‘reported’; rather wrote perceptive pieces that brought the game alive on paper all over again. There may be some exaggeration in this, but many cricket buffs claim that they used to wait for Kureishi’s write-up rather than watching the proceedings on television. It was sheer magic.
Then there were the likes of Zaheer Abbas and Islahuddin who contributed weekly columns on cricket and hockey for almost a decade in what turned out to be another trend – the celebrity columnist – that Dawn set on the national scene.
In recent years, London-based cricket-wanderer Qamar Ahmed has stepped in while in the past, former Australian skipper Keith Miller also provided a rich treasure of cricketing anecdotes.
There was also a time when many leading lights of the sports world were regular contributors to other dailies, generating a lively, healthy competition in the print world. The indefatigable Farooq Mazhar, Khalid Butt, Asaf Shah and K.M. Bhatti had to offer a taste of Lahore, with older-generation representative Sultan F. Husain appearing on the pages of the monthly Sports Times. And, of course, there was the maverick ‘Merry Max’ Maqsood Ahmed whose popularity in the annals of cricket was not confined to missing his maiden Test century against a flipper from Subash Gupte but related also to his incisive columns in the defunct The Muslim from Islamabad. H.M.S. Baig of the erstwhile Morning News who spent less time showing up at sports events but more time in the Far East was the only one facing the star-studded team of his rival paper.
These were legendary writers now buried in the pages of the past. Regrettably, they are slowly fading into distant memory. They were a remarkable bunch of writers and an unforgettable set of people. They distanced themselves from the glitters of public life but left a legacy in their writings.
It is fair to say that sport journalism for the most part was considered a man’s world till recently. Afia Salam was more of a lone ranger till she was joined much later by Farishte Gati before they both moved on to other things in life. In recent times, Shazia Hasan has been handling the sport page in Dawn’s Eos section with distinction.
Dawn’s judicious accommodation of other sporting disciplines was another hallmark. Without doubt, cricket and hockey had earned a special place due to obvious reasons but coverage of other sports never lagged behind. Despite selective and limited activities, golf, and tennis earn adequate coverage and the same holds true for indoor games like table tennis, snooker and badminton.
Football coverage has come a long way with more and more youngsters following the various leagues around the globe. To cater to this craving, Dawn scored another first by sending its young reporter Umaid Wasim all the way to Brazil to cover the World Cup.
And, talking of sports, who can forget Dawn’s contribution to the field of horse racing? Anyone who has anything to do with the Derby culture will testify that many stories are pitched between punters, jockeys and the journalists covering the races. Predictions declaring horses ‘favourites’ had little to do with journalism but more with the element of fortune. These stories of fluctuating fortunes were always an integral part of Dawn’s sport pages.
The newspaper has always practised excellent traditions of journalism and established some great milestones. It has been a true journey of sport personalities capturing the heart-stopping moments that only this field can produce.
True that the newspaper captured and recorded the evolution of a vibrant Pakistani sport culture all along the journey of 70 years, but there is always room, as they say, for something more. Sport writers of today would do well to neck out and capture the life of countless talented sportspersons who may not have donned the national colour or even entered huge stadiums and lost their sporting battles in the streets and open playing fields. The unsung heroes.
The writer is a senior journalist.
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ZARDARI TO SUCCEED SLAIN LEADER
DAWN February 6, 2008 (News Report)
Benazir’s handwritten will out
THE Pakistan People’s Party made public on Tuesday [Feb 5] the political will of Ms Benazir Bhutto in which she named her husband Asif Ali Zardari to succeed her, setting to rest speculations that she did not hand the party leadership to him, but had instead nominated their 19-year-old son Bilawal as her successor. The will was released by PPP’s Central Information Secretary Sherry Rehman at a press conference here [Naudero]. In the handwritten, one-page document dated Oct 16, 2007, two days before her return to the country from exile, Ms Bhutto urged supporters to keep up her struggle. “I fear for the future of Pakistan. Please continue the fight against extremism, dictatorship, poverty and ignorance,” she wrote. “I would like my husband Asif Ali Zardari to lead you in this interim period until you and he decide what is best. I say this because he is a man of courage and honour,” Ms Bhutto said.
Ms Rehman said it was Ms Bhutto’s ‘political will’. Her ‘personal will’, dealing with her assets, was private. She avoided answering a question about the delay in releasing the will.
FROM PRISON TO PRESIDENCY
DAWN September 7, 2008 (Editorial)
IT’S official: Asif Ali Zardari will be the new president of Pakistan. The result of the indirect election was never in doubt given the majority that the PPP and its allies have in the presidential electoral college. However, other doubts do hang over the next president. On Election Day, everyone had at least one eye on the Punjab Assembly, where the votes for Mr Zardari were billed by many analysts as a de facto vote of no-confidence in the PML-N government. For now a fresh political crisis appears to have been averted as the PML-N candidate, Justice (Retd) Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, earned 201 votes — comfortably above the 186 required to secure a majority in the Punjab Assembly.
The second doubt concerns Mr Zardari himself. There have been more controversial presidents in the past — indeed, the last occupant of the presidency, Gen Musharraf, was almost universally unpopular — but none has been as controversial as Mr Zardari at the time of assuming office. The catalogue of allegations against him is well-known and every sordid detail has been raked up since his bid for the presidency was announced. While the past cannot be erased — NROs notwithstanding — what Mr Zardari needs to do is to dispel the impression that he is a political wheeler-dealer who is adept at making backroom deals but unable to rise to the requirements of statesmanship.
That trust deficit is significant because Mr Zardari has renewed his pledge to pare down the extraordinary, anti-parliament powers of the president. If Mr Zardari fails to keep his word again his credibility and democratic credentials will be in tatters.
The third question mark over Mr Zardari is his ability to steer the country out of the economic and militancy crises. As president, Mr Zardari must urgently lobby friendly governments and international agencies for quick money on comfortable terms. The militancy crisis too has worsened. Mr Zardari must use his new office to immediately defuse this crisis — bravado aside, it is simply too dangerous to have the Americans breaking down the door to Pakistan. It was Mr Zardari’s right to become president; it is the people’s right to expect leadership from him now.
SRI LANKAN CRICKET TEAM ATTACKED
DAWN March 4, 2009 (Editorial)
Tragedy in Lahore
EVEN our most esteemed guests are no longer safe in this country. Assured of security reserved for VVIPs, Sri Lanka chose to play in Pakistan when the cricketing world at large saw us as a pariah state. They chose to play in a country whose very mention invokes images of the most gruesome violence imaginable in the minds of most foreigners. Many in the Sri Lankan team are probably regretting that decision after the deadly attack in Lahore yesterday that left a number of policemen dead, and injured at least four Sri Lankan cricketers.
By no stretch of the imagination can a Pakistani militant or terrorist organisation bear a grudge against Sri Lanka, let alone its cricketers. The context, then, suggests that the attack was carried out by internal or external elements who wish to either destabilise the Pakistan government or to further isolate it internationally. Whose agenda does this attack fit, is the question that needs to be asked, probed and answered. Their [terrorists’] approach was not dissimilar to that adopted by the Mumbai gunmen. Perhaps the same organisation is to blame for both tragedies.
Tuesday’s [March 2] assault also highlights the folly of negotiating with those bent on destroying our way of life. The obscurantists must be tackled head-on if we are to entertain any hope of redemption.
SUPREME COURT JUDGES REINSTATED
DAWN March 17, 2009 (Editorial)
The road ahead
MONDAY [March 16] morning was one for the believers. Fairytale endings are indeed possible in Pakistan: Iftikhar Chaudhry will once more be the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The lawyers and their supporters have taken a lot of flak, including in these columns, over the course of their movement. But credit is due to them for having run a determined and largely peaceful campaign in defence of a basic tenet of democracy: the right for a constitutional office-holder to not be ousted in an unconstitutional manner. In this land, where talk of democracy has rarely matched its practice, a potentially important marker has been laid down. There are limits to what a military government or even a democratically elected one can get away with. Importantly, too, it has been shown that a democratic principle can defeat political expediency without triggering chaos.
Symbolism aside, the way forward will depend on the response of three groups. Start with Chief Justice Chaudhry. Upon returning to office, he will be confronted with many of the issues he was grappling with when ousted. The second issue that he should pay heed to is the superior judiciary’s role as executive watchdog.
Turn next to the government. It has dealt its reputation a grievous blow in recent weeks. It is now up to the government to extend an olive branch, make amends and show the genuine sense of bipartisanship that was on display in the weeks after the February 2007 election. Actions not words are the need of the hour. Finally, the opposition. The PML-N may be tempted to go for the kill and topple the battered federal government. But it should resist that temptation. Monday was a good day for the transition to democracy, but the democratic project needs many more good days ahead if it is to succeed.
BALOCHISTAN PACKAGE ANNOUNCED
DAWN November 26, 2009 (Editorial)
A new beginning?
ON early evidence, we cautiously welcome the federal government’s Aghaz-i-Haqooq-i-Balochistan as a much-needed step in the right direction. The package, which seeks to address the gamut of political, economic, constitutional and administrative grievances of the province, has not been universally welcomed. Indeed, Baloch nationalists have rejected it and parties such as the PML-N have not shown much enthusiasm for it as yet. However, there is a need for perspective: Pakistan is and must remain a federation and there is simply no way that secessionist demands can or should be accepted. If that is the starting point, then the government’s package does hold the promise of a better tomorrow for Balochistan and we encourage the Baloch to engage and negotiate with the federal government to ensure that their legitimate grievances are addressed.
The key to understanding the package is that it is a road map; it promises some concrete measures while leaving other issues open for negotiations. The government has pledged to roll back the role of the army in key trouble spots and hand over law-enforcement duties to the Frontier Corps under the oversight of the Balochistan chief minister. These are sensible measures, but there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip.
To an extent, we are sympathetic to the state’s concerns – it cannot and should not abdicate its responsibility to provide security. But neither should expediency dictate which instruments are used to try and provide security to citizens and protect public and private property. There is also uncertainty over what a final constitutional amendment package will look like. More autonomy and control of resources is necessary for Balochistan (as indeed for the other provinces), but once again that is easier said than done.
What’s really of importance going forward are two principles: inclusivity and rejection of extremism. Balochistan is not just home to Baloch people: there is, for example, a sizeable Pashtun population whose interests should also be accommodated. And it is time for the militant nationalists to reject violence and return to the negotiating table. The federal government, a civilian dispensation, has extended its hand in good faith, and at the very least the people of Balochistan deserve that a non-violent solution to their problems be explored.
ACCORD ON 18TH AMENDMENT
DAWN April 2, 2010 (Editorial)
Reforms at last
A CONSTITUTION with the broad support of the people’s elected representatives has been a chimera for most of Pakistan’s history. And yet here we are, on the threshold of the 18th Amendment that will make sweeping changes to the Constitution with the backing of one of the most representative parliaments in the country’s history. Credit for this is richly deserved and must go to many individuals, but a few people merit special attention. First, Raza Rabbani and the members of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms. For months they worked diligently and resolved some of the most intractable issues in the Constitution. And they did all of this while eschewing the limelight and largely keeping their disagreements behind closed doors. By any standards, it was a remarkable achievement for a parliamentary committee.
Next, President Zardari. At the end of the day, the constitutional amendment would not have been possible had the president not accepted it. True, Mr Zardari will continue to be the de facto head of government by virtue of the fact that he is the PPP’s co-chairman and as such had little to lose, but it is difficult to think of another instance in which a politician has given up power voluntarily, whether he needed that power or not. The 18th Amendment will be an enormous triumph for a president who has, against all expectations, already collected several sizeable political accomplishments: the NFC award, the Gilgit-Baltistan reforms and the Balochistan package.
Third, Nawaz Sharif. The PML-N supremo dismayed many with his last-minute objections to the constitutional package, but they were quickly resolved. Perhaps unwittingly Mr Sharif had demonstrated how vital his support was for cobbling together the amendment package. He too had little to lose and much to gain from the process but politics has traditionally been a zero-sum game in Pakistan in which the opposition is loath to give the government any opportunity to claim big victories.
It is clear, though, that the constitutional package doesn’t go far enough. For example, the Islamic clauses inserted by Gen Zia were not reviewed and the colonial-era status of Fata has not been changed. But for now, let us applaud the success of democracy and the political process.
IDENTITY CRISIS NO MORE
DAWN April 1, 2010 (News Report)
From NWFP to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
IT took 109 years to correct a historical wrong. It was in 1901, when the North-West Frontier Province was carved out of Punjab. Mian Nawaz Sharif had broached the matter with the late ANP leader Wali Khan shortly before his government was dismissed by Gen Musharraf. ANP leaders privy to the development recall that Mian Sahib had agreed to a hyphenated name, but Ajmal Khattak opposed it and the party had to relent on the issue.
It was this private conversation which was re-visited after the two parties again reached a dead-end. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is believed to have approached some key figures in the ANP to cross-check the understanding before undertaking to impress upon his elder brother to soften his stand.
The ANP found broad political support from its coalition partner, the PPP. The MQM, JUI(F), the PPP (Sherpao), the PMAP, the PML(F) and Baloch nationalist parties too, went along. Even the Jamaati-Islami said it would support any consensus name. But it will be the ANP which will rightly claim the credit for undertaking what was until recently considered an impossible task of correcting a historical wrong and giving an identity to the people of ‘Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’.
ISLAMABAD AIRBLUE CRASH
DAWN July 29, 2010 (Editorial)
THE tragic air crash in the Margalla Hills near the heart of Islamabad yesterday [July 28] is a terrible capstone to a tragic few days for Pakistan. With rain and floods claiming lives across the country, bad weather has again played its part in claiming 152 lives in one go. Our thoughts go out to the families of the victims at this moment where no words can suffice. At this point, little can be said with certainty about the causes for the crash. But there are some things that are relatively obvious. The heroism of ordinary Pakistanis is one of them. In normal circumstances, volunteerism at the site of accidents can be counter-productive as untrained rescue workers can do more harm than good. Nevertheless, at least initially many ordinary people showed a brave impulse by racing towards the site of the accident.
Beyond that, it is a story of grim, familiar questions. First of all, confusion quickly set in at the site because the various agencies that converged there appeared to be working without a central command centre. Problems were also evident at the medical end. Perhaps worst of all was the information vacuum, and the misinformation disseminated by the interior and information ministers. Why is it so difficult for professionalism and compassion to go hand in hand?
PUNJAB GOVERNOR TASEER KILLED
DAWN January 05, 2011 (Editorial)
At war with ourselves
THE assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer has unleashed a torrent of commentary about the decline of society, and rightly so. The story of the latest political figure killed at the hands of an extremist, though, has a twist to it: Mr Taseer broke no law, temporal or spiritual, but was instead killed for questioning a law. That unprecedented motive for an assassination ought to be reflected on. The country appears to have lurched to the conservative right even further and more abruptly than ever before in recent years. Clearly, the forces of extremism are on the march like never before and they are determined to bully and threaten people, with death even, to push them out of the public discourse.
Yet, this is not just an issue about social and religious conservatives versus liberals competing to define Pakistan. The fact of the matter is, increasingly even moderates are being shouted down and bullied out of the public space. Moderates coming from the conservative right who dare to pronounce that man-made laws are always open to scrutiny and revision have been threatened. Those espousing interpretations of Islam that are removed from the literalist, narrow interpretations of ultra-conservatives and extremists have been killed. The war to define Pakistan is not just being fought between the ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’, but between the ultra-conservatives and everyone else.
What truly makes the societal war so frightening is the fertile ground the extremists have to plant their millenarian ideology. Mr Taseer’s killer may have been an ‘elite’ policeman, but the educational system and cultural environment in which he grew up likely never equipped him with the tools to rationally reject the poison flowing in the milieu in which he lived and worked.
Punishing those who incite violence would only be a starting point. The shameful heroic reception accorded to Mr Taseer’s killer indicates how complex the task is, how deep-rooted the problem has become. Truly, we are at war with ourselves. And at the moment, it looks like the extremists are winning.
AL-QAEDA FOUNDER KILLED
DAWN May 2, 2011 (Editorial)
Osama bin Laden
HE is dead, and his demise marks the end of an era. America has finally killed the man whose pursuit had consumed the country for almost a decade, an extremist who inspired even more violence than he himself perpetuated. In many ways 9/11, Osama bin Laden’s signature attack, has come to define the last 10 years. As dramatic as this saga was the end itself, a tale of patient sleuthing resulting in a high-risk operation that is the stuff of spy flicks. For this detective work and the successful operation, credit must go to American intelligence and special forces. But the event also raises a slew of questions about the level of cooperation with Pakistani intelligence and the military. Were they taken into confidence? If so, at what point? Were they consulted or simply informed? Did they play a role in the operation? If the attempt was purely an American one, were Pakistani radars jammed or dodged? If so, does this point to a failure of Pakistani defence systems? As long as the lack of official disclosure persists, conspiracy theories will continue to spread fear and suspicion here at home.
As for Pakistan, the time for denial is over. Osama bin Laden was living in a large house surrounded by high walls topped with barbed wire in a garrison town housing a military academy. The idea that the world’s most wanted criminal was spending his days there unnoticed by Pakistani intelligence requires either suspension of disbelief or the conclusion that the authorities are guilty of a massive intelligence failure. Both hypotheses are disturbing. As positive a development as Osama bin Laden’s removal is, for the Pakistani state it should be a moment for deep and honest reflection.
TERRORISTS ATTACK NAVAL BASE
DAWN May 24, 2011 (Editorial)
PNS Mehran attack
NEVER since the attack on GHQ in Rawalpindi in 2009 have the militants shown such audacity and meticulous planning as witnessed in their blitz launched on PNS Mehran in Karachi on Sunday [May 22] night. Its dimensions and ferocity were different from the three previous attacks on PN targets last month. It wasn’t an ordinary attack, if at all an attack on a military base can be called ‘ordinary’. They knew the location of their targets, both men and material. No disrespect is meant for the navy, but the incident raises quite a few questions about the state of preparedness of our defence forces in general and the navy in particular.
Why wasn’t the navy ready for this kind of eventuality, given that there have been three bomb attacks on PN targets in Karachi last month? What confidence can the people have in the armed forces when they see the defenders themselves falling victim to terrorism in the heart of the nation’s biggest city? Another question: did the Taliban raiders have informers inside the naval base? Such a possibility cannot be ruled out, because the involvement of serving personnel in several previous attacks has been well established.
The intelligence failure in the Mehran tragedy highlights one more damning truth: the safe sanctuaries aren’t only present in Fata; they exist in Karachi too, for Sunday’s assault would not have been possible without the existence of a well-oiled Taliban machine in the city.
PUNJAB, SINDH, KP HIT HARD FOR THE SECOND YEAR
DAWN August 16, 2011 (Editorial)
Floods and apathy
IT seems that governments in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh have learned few lessons from the havoc wreaked by last year’s floods. The monsoons that have enveloped much of Pakistan in recent days have once again caused untold misery, especially in rural Sindh, forcing people to abandon their homes and leave behind their precious livestock.
After the floods that destroyed so many lives in 2010, it was expected that extraordinary steps would be taken to prevent a repeat this year. It seems that hasn’t happened. Official apathy is playing with people’s lives not just in the here and now but also the future. A farmer who returns to nothing will be hungry the next year too, leading to cynical poverty that may be passed on to the next generation. Were embankments reinforced in time for this year’s rains? Were drainage systems improved so that lives and propoerty could be protected in the worst-case scenario? Tragically, that does not seem to be the case and the finger of blame must naturally be pointed at both federal and provincial governments taht appear to be asleep at the wheel.
The breaches in the Left Bank Outfall Drain that inundated some 1,500 villages in Badin ought to have been anticipated in advance. Two years in a row, the government has been found wanting and it needs to answer some pressing questions.
SUPREME COURT THROWS OUT REVIEW PETITION
DAWN November 28, 2011 (Editorial)
TWO years later, we are where we were on Dec 16, 2009 — the day a Supreme Court ruling made Gen Pervez Musharraf’s National Reconciliation Order legally irrelevant. Then, the NRO was deemed to have never existed and the SC view has remained unchanged. The government’s petition for a review of the NRO has been thrown out at the end of proceedings that re-ignited fears of more tension between the executive and the judiciary in the country. The onus is now on the government to implement the original SC decision that sought to (re)open corruption cases against many politicians, a large number of whom, including President Asif Zardari, are part of the current set-up in Islamabad. The legal regime casts Adm. Fasih Bukhari (retd), the chairman of the National Accountability Bureau, in an even more important role — in theory at least since the government does not appear to be ready to (re)open cases against the ‘NRO beneficiaries’. For more evidence of how tangled up matters actually are, Adm. Bukhari is faced with a legal case of his own: Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the opposition leader in parliament, has challenged the appointment of Adm. Bukhari.
During the hearing of the review petition, the court pulled up the state’s counsel, Mr Babar Awan, over his resort to political speech. The court would have none of his politics, but the fallout of the SC’s rejection of the review appeal is nothing if not political. The decision is going to add greatly to the problems of President Zardari who appears to be heavily dependent on technical aspects to justify his position at this moment. An opposition campaign aimed at painting him as a corrupt and inefficient ruler is strong amid calls for change. Often, the debate revolves not around whether it would be fair to cut Mr Zardari’s term short but on the technicalities which act as a shield for the president.
The government says the cases that have been mentioned in the NRO were politically motivated and amount to victimisation. This argument failing to find any favour with the judges, then falls on the second line of defence according to which the president’s office enjoys immunity. It is for the legal minds to decide the immunity question. Outside the courts the ultimate public jury eagerly gobbles up anything that feeds its anger against corruption which is all the more visible in times when rulers are unable to provide relief to the people. The factor should be the biggest cause of concern for Mr Zardari and his set-up.
HAQQANI BOWS OUT
DAWN December 3, 2011 (Editorial)
Memogate and SC
BY wading into the memogate scandal in a controversial manner, the Supreme Court has raised more than a few questions about the separation of powers, the supremacy of parliament and the law itself. Consider. A government whose ambassador to the US was dragged into scandal has returned to Pakistan, resigned from office and pledged to submit himself before a parliamentary inquiry that the prime minister himself has vowed will be carried out. That the matter, involving a memo delivered to the office of the then US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, is to be brought before parliament and not a handpicked investigation commission favourably disposed towards the government is highly relevant here. Thus far, the government does not appear to have taken any steps to shield one of its own from parliament or the court of public opinion. With the parliamentary wheels already in motion, what was the need for a parallel inquiry to be concluded ‘within three weeks’ by a special investigator appointed by the SC? Would not the result of this inquiry, almost certain to be completed before parliament’s own probe, influence the minds of the members of the parliamentary commission?
There are more questions here. In ordering the inquiry, whatever the narrow legal point at stake, the court has lent credence to the theory that the memo, had it in fact been drafted at the behest of someone in the government, was ostensibly a criminal or illegal act that needs to be investigated. Is this necessarily so? However ill-advised the memo may have been, a close scrutiny of the six points it contains does not reveal any decisive ‘treasonous’ material. The president is the constitutional supreme commander of the armed forces and the prime minister is the constitutional chief executive. In a court of law, all that should matter is whether they have the authority to take certain measures.
Moreover, given that no action whatsoever was taken on the basis of the memo — even the harshest critics of the government have not alleged this — a peculiar situation arises that an inquiry has been mandated by the SC to examine events that could have happened but in fact never did happen. Should such political conspiracies, whether real or fake, not be investigated by parliament, the highest political forum in Pakistan? In a country where the political divide is deepening and civil-military relations have worsened, the role of the SC as a neutral arbiter will be under intense scrutiny and we hope the court will take great care to avoid giving the impression that it is partisan in any way.
GILANI SENT PACKING
DAWN June 20, 2012 (Editorial)
IN disqualifying a sitting, democratically elected prime minister, the Supreme Court has taken an extraordinary — and unfortunate — step. This whole story could have played out very differently, in ways much less disruptive to the nascent democracy this country is trying to build, if the SC had steered clear of a course of action that has now brought the judiciary, parliament and the executive in direct confrontation with each other. At a number of junctures the court could have avoided pursuing the contempt of court case as doggedly as it did, especially considering that the larger issue — corruption — was a matter involving the president, not the prime minister. Legally there might have been a case, but it was best for the supreme judiciary not to have waded so deep into such obviously political waters.
But the damage has been done. And the PPP has an important choice to make. The party should now take the high moral ground and focus on the system. If the party has reservations against the judgment it should express these, perhaps even through a strongly worded parliamentary resolution, have Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani step aside and parliament elect a new prime minister as soon as possible.
Indications are that the ruling coalition has already embarked on this course. But it is still deeply unfortunate that matters have come to this stage; completing the five-year tenure of both an elected government and its chief executive would have been a much-needed win for Pakistan.
HUNDREDS KILLED IN BALDIA FACTORY FIRE
DAWN September 13, 2012 (Editorial)
CLEARLY the country’s worst industrial disaster, the factory blaze in Karachi will be seared in memory as the Pakistani worker’s 9/11. Like the factory fire that struck Lahore on the same day killing over 20 people, it had long been building up in the casinos of government officials who make their fortune gambling on the lives of the hapless millions. The tragedy that began to unfold on Tuesday [Sept 11] has taken the entire country in an asphyxiating grip of grief mixed with rage. Questions, though belated, are being asked about the non-implementation of safety standards and the massive corruption in government ranks which led to such flagrant violations of the law.
With this tragedy, it has become imperative for all factories in the country to undergo regular inspections and a thorough cleanup. Anything short of that will be an insult to the hundreds who over the years have paid with their lives for a system that is rotten to the core.
Factories in Pakistan are kingdoms unto themselves. They are concentration camps where workers are denied their basic rights enshrined in the Constitution, in the country’s labour laws and in international conventions. Organised, active unions are the first and vital defence against greedy employers and their equally selfish partners in government. Allowed enabling space, these organised workers could ultimately provide the country with the forward-looking front so desperately needed.
MALALA CRITICALLY WOUNDED
DAWN October 11, 2012 (Editorial)
Symbol of resistance
THE news of a gun attack on young Malala Yousufzai, who had become a symbol of resistance in Swat to the Taliban’s obscurant agenda, has been met with revulsion in Pakistan and abroad. The 14-year-old, a crusader for girls’ education and an outspoken critic of the Taliban, had been receiving threats from the latter, and in that respect the attack, claimed by the Taliban, has come as no surprise — even though Malala’s family reportedly did not think that the Taliban would target her.
However, it must be borne in mind that the militants’ targets have over the years become extremely blurred; and apart from state and military installations they have bombed hospitals, marketplaces, mosques and bazaars, killing or maiming thousands of civilians in the process. Besides they routinely issue warnings to people not to support groups working on community welfare projects. With such a regressive thought process, their violent rejection of anything that stands for democracy, secularism, in fact the basic freedoms themselves, is only to be expected. The attack on Malala was the third such incident in Swat in recent months.
Does the crime in Mingora on Tuesday [Oct 9] forebode Swat’s return to tyranny in the name of religion? We hope not, for the tourist paradise has made a remarkable return to normality. The 2009 army operation against Mullah Fazlullah and his men by all accounts was a success story: the militants have been chased into nearby Afghan provinces from where they carry out attacks inside Pakistan — a reminder that their defeat has not been complete. Since their flight, though, Swat has been largely peaceful; domestic tourism has returned, while welfare works have picked up. However, there is still no room for complacency, and even sporadic targeted attacks could indicate the presence of a support base for the Taliban in the area. Better intelligence-gathering is needed to thwart the designs of those who are waiting to once more snuff out the dreams of thousands like Malala.
ASGHAR KHAN’S PETITION IN SUPREME COURT
DAWN October 20, 2012 (Editorial)
A historic ruling
THE 1990 general election was rigged. The then army chief, ISI chief and president colluded to rig the election. And a special ‘election cell’ was established in the presidency to woo politicians and manipulate the election results. Yesterday was an important day in Pakistan’s political history. Not because the plot to keep the PPP out of power after Benazir Bhutto’s first government was sacked in 1990 was a secret but because it is now part of the official historical record, cemented in a Supreme Court order that has instructed the government to initiate unprecedented legal proceedings against a former army chief, a former DG ISI and sundry politicians. Whether any meaningful action will be taken against those the SC has identified as having committed crimes is almost beside the point. To truly exorcise the ghosts of Pakistan’s undemocratic past it is perhaps more important that history be laid bare before the public in the grimiest of detail. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan is dead. Generals Beg and Durrani are alive but already mere historical footnotes. The biggest beneficiary of the 1990 election, Nawaz Sharif, is now an implacable opponent of military intervention and perhaps one whose years in exile have led to a democratic rebirth. And while Benazir Bhutto was killed in another terrible chapter in Pakistan’s history, her party has survived to steer Pakistan to the verge of the first democratic transition of power in many years. So Pakistan has already moved on in many ways. But if the past is to be prevented from repeating itself, the bald truth as stated by the SC is an essential part of turning the page on Pakistan’s undemocratic history once and for all.
HAZARA KILLINGS IN QUETTA
DAWN February 21, 2013 (Editorial)
A SECOND round of tragic but dignified protests across the country this year has come to an end with the Shia Hazaras of Quetta agreeing to bury the victims of Saturday’s [Feb 16] bombing and to withdraw their demand that security of Balochistan’s capital be officially handed over to the military. The protests may be over but hard questions still linger — questions that if not answered satisfactorily could lead to another incident that is almost too awful to contemplate: another devastating attack on the Hazaras of Quetta. A spate of arrests has taken place and some alleged Lashkar-i-Jhangvi activists have been killed since the weekend, leading to the first obvious question: who are the people arrested and killed, and why, if they are in fact members of or linked to the LJ, was action not taken before?
It is a fairly common law-enforcement phenomenon in Pakistan that after intense pressure is brought to bear on the security agencies — either because of public demands or the sheer scale of terrorist activity — the security apparatus casts a wide net and hauls up or ends up killing all manner of suspects. Little is ever proven subsequently against the suspects, few details are shared with the public and only the most tenacious of citizens or journalists ever finds out what happens to those suspects, many of whom are eventually released, either because they were falsely implicated or the investigations and prosecutions were bungled. What is all the more remarkable about the latest round of arrests and counterterrorism operations is that the January bombing of the Hazaras did not spur this action, only a second devastating bombing in the space of approximately one month did. Just what will it take for the security apparatus to go after the killers of the Hazaras with the urgency and ferociousness that the situation demands?
Almost as worrying is the absence of any real understanding of the scale of the problem. As the deposed IG of Balochistan explained earlier this week, the attacks in Quetta are often planned outside the city, in other parts of the province. And preliminary intelligence reports on Saturday’s bombing suggest that at least the material for the bomb came from another province. Include the possibility of the porous borders of Balochistan also playing some role and the targeting of the Hazaras becomes an intra-provincial as well as an inter-provincial and cross-border problem. That means coordinating across a range of state intelligence and security agencies to track down the network of killers and dismantle it. Does anyone in the state apparatus have the understanding, let alone the will, to make that happen?
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY COMPLETES TERM
DAWN March 16, 2013 (Editorial)
A mixed bag
IT is a measure of both how far democratic politics in Pakistan has travelled and how much distance it has yet to cover that the historic completion of parliament’s five-year term has been greeted with both jubilation and anxiety. Jubilation because against-the-odds full term has brought the country to the verge of one thing it has never had: a civilian-led electoral process in which both the opposition and the government have a shot at power. Anxiety because parliament’s full term has not really done much to address the flaws in the democratic process. Perhaps the immediate difficulty in assessing parliamentary performance over the past five years is that it is far too often conflated here with the government of the day. Parliament serves several distinct functions and it is against those benchmarks that its performance ought to be judged: providing a government; legislating; passing budgets; holding the government to account.
Paradoxically, for all the unhappiness with the federal government’s performance, parliament turned in a stellar performance when it came to its essential duty: selecting from among its numbers a stable government. Despite the PPP having just a little more than a third of seats in the National Assembly, the prime minister was elected unanimously in 2008, a second one was elected comfortably in 2012. The government itself was never close to being brought down by a vote of no-confidence. Messy and often unpalatable as it was, the reality is that without stability there can be no meaningful progress, and parliament delivered on this front. Next, the conventionally understood core function of parliament: legislating, including passing money bills. Here the performance was more mixed. The passage by this National Assembly of more than twice the number of bills than by the previous one, and three important constitutional amendments, are significant accomplishments.
Holding government, and parliament itself, to account was also a mixed performance. The Public Accounts Committee was handed over to the leader of the opposition, but little was done to make its recommendations automatically binding on the relevant ministries and departments. State policies, particularly national security, were debated in a quintessentially Pakistani sense — which perhaps counts as some progress — but tangible progress was elusive. Even on the one national security subject that has bipartisan support and space for civilians to manoeuvre, i.e. improving relations with India, parliament failed to push for meaningful breakthroughs. Accountability of politicians also stalled, leading to disruptive interventions by other institutions.
Going forward, what parliament needs to focus on is the strengthening of its own institution. With few professional staff, little research and scant resources, parliamentarians are essentially on their own when it comes to understanding the complex legislative and governance challenges the country faces. When the input is so ad hoc and unstructured, the output will be flawed. Spending more money on parliament may seem an affront to good sense in difficult economic times, but if done smartly it will be less of a case of splurging on already pampered parliamentarians and more about genuine institution building. And two individuals in particular need to rethink their choices if parliament is to gain the centrality to the democratic process it deserves. By opting to control the political process from outside parliament, President Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have given further credence to the old allegations of parliament being a rubber stamp. Both should embrace the logic of parliamentary democracy and take a seat at the right table.
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