adroit diplomats

This is really the limit. Zafar Hilaly, in his Daily Times Column doing the usual “politicians are destroying the foreign service, please help us army!”

The test of good diplomacy often lies in the ease and success with which an ambassador is able to transact a whole range of practical and everyday matters between states. He should provide the dispassionate advice and judgement essential for reaching the right policy decision. His advice can make an enormous difference whether a negotiation ends well or not.

One is privy to the many hurdles that could have delayed the US-China reconciliation, but which were smoothed over by adroit diplomacy of a former Pakistani ambassador and an erstwhile secretary of state.

At least have the decency to admit the adroit Pakistani ambassador was your own father, Agha Hilaly! I don’t know why (Zafar Hilaly generally comes across as a harmless if rather confused individual) but I found this particular nepotistic display rather sickening particularly in a column about the perils of ad hocism and favouritism in diplomatic appointments.

Anyway, as many predicted, the tenure of Zardari’s pick to the UN ambassadorship Abdullah Hussain Haroon seems to be over. Abdullah Hussain Haroon replaced the vile girlfriend-beater Munir Akram to the tune of much breast beating and “we will lose Kashmir” by the likes of Ejaz Haider.

For some reason there seems to be a universal consensus that the best man for Pakistani diplomatic appointments is a tough, girlfriend-beating beast who proudly advocates an international blasphemy law, strongly protests cartoons, rejects any compromise on Kashmir and generally projects the Pakistani establishment’s interests in the most obnoxious off-putting way possible. He must also be willing to comment negatively on a number of domestic political issues if necessary. Maybe once we have publicly reconciled with the Taliban again we can consider just cutting out the foreign service and appointing Hakeemullah Mehsud to the permanent ambassadorship at the UN. After all, he will take a tough stance on Kashmir, support the OIC, give a befitting response to any potential cartoonists, hindus and zionists and probably beat his wife as well!


worst politicians ever

Nabeel Gabol and Zulfiqar Mirza are two of the most useless and despicable politicians in Pakistan. I really pity the people of Lyari.

What is worse, there are indications that the PPP leaders are trying to broker peace between the two gangs, and consequently those responsible for the killings are expected to escape punishment. Hence, the pattern of violence will go on repeating itself.

PPP MNA from Lyari, Sardar Nabil Gabol said, “we will definitely lend support if talks between the groups bring peace to the people of Lyari, but the problem is that one of the groups is not ready to move on these lines, which creates a law and order situation most of the time.”

This shows that the political leadership is not treating these groups’ murderous behaviour as a cognizable offence, but some sort of political or social dispute which can, and should, be resolved through negotiations. No wonder, violence keeps erupting every now and then. The party needs to take a serious view of the situation, and treat the problem for what it is: criminal activity. Those involved must be brought to justice.

Equally important, all political parties and groups in Karachi must stop patronising criminal elements for the advancement of their own respective political agendas. In the present instance, the PPP leaders and other local influentials need to refrain from taking sides.

governance in Pakistan

Just reading through the post-budget op-eds I’m struck by how @#(*8#$ difficult it is to govern Pakistan. It’s not just that there’s harsh criticism of the government’s economic policies, but what’s worse is that this criticism is equally strident from either ends of the spectrum thereby ensuring that no course of action will ever successfully quash the criticism.

Check out this diversity of opinion on the matter of subsidies to public sector enterprises:

In her critical look at the budget, Marvi Memon says:

Subsidies are also to be slashed – Wapda’s from Rs147 billion to Rs84 billion and KESC’s from Rs32 billion to Rs3 billion. This means that people better get used to a massive rise in their electricity bills.

Marvi Memon has, of course, been leading a people’s movement of sorts to regularize all sorts of government jobs.

Cyril Almeida on the other hand, decided to write a whole column called “the lost years” in which he argues that this government’s inability to tackle public sector enterprise spending will result in people looking back on this time as “the lost years”. By the way, if you read the text of the executive summary of the economic survey of Pakistan which he references in his article, you will be somewhat surprised at the conclusions he has drawn from it. Its tone is nowhere near as hopeless as he suggests that it is.

Since his political bosses care little about Rs250bn budgetary holes, Sheikh had to stick to the usual vague pledge to ‘restructure’ PSEs on an ‘urgent basis’.

(Thus far the government has actually done the opposite, saddling already inefficient PSEs with thousands of more employees in the hope of convincing voters it cares about workers.

Now both these sides are extremely scathing in their criticism of the government, despite the fact that they are saying two opposite things. The situation is further complicated by PPP’s own development as a political party. Remember for a moment PPP’s foundational principles of Islamic Socialism. Also, consider the political stance of popular PPP politicians like Raza Rabbani against privatization.

Throw into this mixed bag of opinions the Council of Islamic Ideology which urged the speedy abolishment of interest.

Then you have the government’s own coalition partners – Farooq Sattar of the MQM, the ostensibly pro-business party and himself a federal minister, actually disowned the budget in the national assembly on the grounds that there was nothing in it to “bridge class differences”. I didn’t realize that he was expecting the French Revolution!

The thing that really gets to me is that everyone is so busy shouting these scenarios of doom and gloom that they ignore issues that really do need some serious thought. For example, there is the issue of Sindh’s dispute with the centre regarding the implementation of VAT. According to the FBR, it is going to be impossible to implement a non-integrated VAT, the problem is that Sindh is exercising its right (given in the 18th amendment and the NFC award) to collect sales tax on services. All the other provinces have surrendered their right to collect VAT on services to the FBR but Sindh has established its own revenue board for the specific purpose of collecting GST (or VAT) on services. I don’t think the answers to these questions are very clear and perhaps the consequences of a “wrong” approach on this issue won’t be qayamat. But it’s still something that needs to be thought about.

I haven’t seen one single op-ed on what should the country’s priorities be – should the principle of fiscal federalism be prioritized over the desirability of replacing GST with VAT? Is there a way to develop a VAT model that takes into consideration the desire of the federating units to levy their own VAT? How should provinces build their capacity for revenue collection? Can we even be called a federation if most of our tax revenue is collected by the FBR? Interestingly MQM, the party which made a special note of writing in its notes to the 18th amendment that it favoured devolution to the lowest levels, hasn’t been the slightest bit interested in participating in this most important debate between Sindh and the centre while Punjab, the largest province, hasn’t been at all interested in developing its own revenue generation capacities.

I get that people are emotional about stuff like power loss and power tariffs, but I really wonder at the irrationality of the public discourse on the economy. We can’t decide if we are socialists, Islamists or neo-liberals. We want the government to be all those things simultaneously – pro-poor, libertarian with respect to taxation, an efficient runner of public sector enterprise without resorting to the bogeyman of privatization, a firm rejecter of all IMF/World Bank dictation and aid, and preferably, we’d like a way to achieve all this in an interest-free Sharia compliant way!

Self-censorship at Dawn

Here’s an example of how the press voluntarily censors information considered too damning to the establishment for it to report. Dawn today had a report from the Associated press about a former army major Ahsan ul Haq implicated in various terrorist attacks. The interesting thing is that the Dawn version of the report, when compared with the Associated Press report left out the last few paragraphs which I will paste here:

Members of the group have been linked to terrorism before. Authorities say the militants who raided two Lahore mosques of a minority Muslim sect 10 days ago, in which 90 people died, had stayed at the Tableeghi center in the days before the attack.

Haq praised jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir, but generally avoided answering questions about the legitimacy of attacking Pakistani security forces. Both he and his brother, who sat in on the interview, aired conspiracy theories alleging U.S., Indian or Jewish involvement in 9/11 and in the wave of bombings in Pakistan. Haq refused to be photographed, citing religious reasons.

Three senior police officers in Lahore said they retained suspicions of Haq, but made no specific allegations. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of talking about senior ISI or army staff.

One officer said ISI papers rank Haq as “white,” meaning a militant or his handler who is or has served the agency’s interests. “Gray” means someone under watch, and “black” is a militant, supporter or a handler gone rogue.

“The army and ISI people don’t let others interrogate them,” said Pervaiz Rathore, the outgoing police chief of Lahore. “The army is stronger than any other establishment in the country.”

The intelligence agencies’ power and alleged links to militants were highlighted in a U.N. commission’s report into the murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. It said almost all independent analysts it spoke to alleged that Pakistani security officers retain links to militant groups they once supported.

But the loyalties may be weakening, One ex-ISI member-turned-militant sympathizer, Khalid Khwaja, was killed in early May. Suspicion has fallen on a militant faction that has no loyalty to the older generation.

Amrullah Saleh’s interview on his resignation

I wonder how many people in the US know (or care) what a huge setback this is for the war in Afghanistan. Certainly at least as significant as Karzai’s rigging of the elections which caused so much international handwringing. but the resignation of Saleh and Atmar has taken place with hardly any publicity, possibly because the US doesn’t really mind and because Saleh – with his outspoken views against the ISI – would almost certainly have had to have been moved out of the way for any US attempt at reconciliation with the Taliban brokered by the ISI.

Reuters) – The former head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service quit after seeing himself as an obstacle to President Hamid Karzai’s plan to reach out to insurgents for talks, he said on Monday, a day after his resignation.

Amrullah Saleh — for six years a key figure in the anti-Taliban fight as head of the National Directorate for Security — said Karzai had already lost faith in his security forces before an attack on a peace conference last week.

Saleh resigned on Monday along with Hanif Atmar, who controlled the police as interior minister. Karzai’s office said the two top security officials had quit because of lapses that led to an insurgent attack on last week’s peace meeting.

In an interview at his home in the Afghan capital, Saleh described plans to negotiate with insurgents as a “disgrace”, and said one of the main reasons he had quit was because Karzai had ordered a review of Taliban prisoners in detention.
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In defence of PML-N

PML-N’s in big trouble these days with the blame for the security situation in Lahore being placed directly on them. It’s blamed for patronizing militant groups in the by-elections in Jhang, looking the other way at anti-ahmadi hate speech, in some cases even sponsoring it, and even not being able to respond appropriately to the Jinnah hospital attack. Moreover it’s being blamed for being in denial and reacting defensively to allegations that it’s soft on homegrown militancy and also for being too to blame RAW.

Now it’s hard to be too sympathetic to PML-N’s woes because in every case the attacks are justified. Where one can have some sympathy is the fact that these attacks have been timed to achieve certain political benefits to each of the other groups involved. For example, Rana Sanaullah’s ties with sectarian terrorists were highlighted even though as he kept pointing out (and got mocked even more for), these ties were the rule rather than exception to politics in Jhang. Kashif Abbasi did a great show in which he passed around pictures of Salmaan Taseer at a PPP rally where a Sipah-e-Sahaba leader Rao Javeed Iqbal actually endorsed the PPP candidate and also a picture of Sheikh Waqas Akram attending a political event with leaders of Tehreek-e-Jafria. (The history of Sheikh Waqas Akram’s family is quite interesting – I believe he’s the nephew of the influential urban Jhang politician Sheikh Muhammad Iqbal. Sheikh Muhammad Iqbal initially had the support of SSP but after a falling out he was assassinated by them after which his family has swung completely the other way and despite being Sunnis are now allied with the Tehreek-e-Jafria.)

So anyway, the moral of the story is that iss hamam main sab nangay hain, although I don’t believe in that there is no black and white so we are all gray nonsense. Salman Taseer != Rana Sanaullah. Salman Taseer may be hypocritical but Rana Sanaullah is the genuine article. Despite that, I do feel a lot of sympathy with PML-N’s position. Their entire political comfort zone is capable of being eroded by a few well-timed bomb blasts going off in Lahore. That’s their achilles heel and they know it and there’s nothing they can really do about it except half heartedly commit to weeding out terrorists in Punjab. Many people may be feeling a sense of schadenfreude at the collapse of PML-N’s political capital but I don’t. I don’t see anything good coming out of the weakening of both Pakistan’s major parties. Ayesha Siddiqa argued in military inc that the downfall of the Pakistani political class has always been its eagerness to collaborate with the establishment against itself and the PPP would be stupid to fall into this trap.

This is where Zardari and Rehman Malik’s politics of reconciliation come into play. I firmly believe that they are not in the same class as Salman Taseer and I hope PPP exercises some discretion. Anyway I am probably reading too much into this situation and PML-N will soon be back to chortling over PPP’s impending demise with its journalist and judge friends with some moronic facade of a liberal cause rallying civil society behind them. The thing, the politicians should remember what the establishment is capable of and stick together.

where to fight

It’s an interesting situation unraveling before us these days. For once, the judiciary isn’t at the centre of it and is just trolling at the fringes. The way I see it there are 4 interests at work here.

1. The US. It wants the Army to go into North Waziristan and get rid of the Haqqanis and other other “good taliban”. This is important to the US to provide an end to the Afghan war.

2. The Army. It doesn’t want to go into North Waziristan and fight its good Taliban because that’ll mean a wasted 10 years of protecting them under difficult circumstances. It also wants to make sure that neither of the two main political parties ever get too popular. The army would prefer for there to be a military operation in Punjab which would a) shift the focus of the crisis away from Waziristan b) allow it to target certain expendable out of control militants c) it wouldn’t mind weakening PML-N. Finally the army needs to provide a really good excuse to resist US pressure to go into North Waziristan.

3. The PPP. PPP wants to stay in power. To do this it’s recently “concluded” the investigation into the BB murder case and essentially arrived at the same conclusions as the Musharraf government. This is a major concession to the army in exchange for which it’s expecting establishment support during its upcoming confrontation with the judiciary. It’s also hoping to see some of the focus shifted to the PML-N. PPP wouldn’t mind screwing the army over in the course of the Times Square investigation but their ability to do that depends on the pissed offedness of the US about the Army not going into North Waziristan.

4. PML-N – wants to stay in power in Punjab and come to power in the centre. But right now PML-N is sort of on the defensive because its patronization of militancy in South Punjab is in the spotlight.

Interesting, isn’t it?