Killing Fields of Pakistan

Over 150 people were killed in terror attacks in Pakistan just ten days before the July 25 elections and yet instead of protecting Pakistan’s citizens from the plague of terrorism, Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment used its resources and personnel to arrest and detain unarmed supporters of PML leader Nawaz Sharif! That Pakistan’s security establishment has its priorities wrong is evident from the fact even though 371,388 troops are on election duty, they appear more focused on restraining civilian moderate politicians than in foiling terror attacks.
 
On Friday July 14, over 130 people were killed and 150 plus injured in a suicide attack on an election rally in Mastung, Baluchistan. Nawabzada Siraj Raisani, candidate of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) was among 128 people killed in a suicide attack on an election gathering just 60 km south-west of Quetta. Over 150 people were injured. Siraj Raisani was the younger brother of former chief minister of Balochistan Nawab Aslam Raisani.
 
According to a story in Dawn, “The blast had occurred when Siraj Raisani accompanied by his son was coming back from a stadium after distributing prizes among the players of a football match. “The suicide bomber blew himself up when local leaders were speaking at the gathering,” said a survivor who had received injuries.“The suicide bomber went near the stage where Siraj Raisani and other leaders were sitting and detonated the explosive-laden jacket he was wearing,” he said.”
 
The terrorist group Tehreek-Taliban Pakistan’s ‘Ghazi force Lal Masjid’ wing claimed responsibility for the attack “in a Whatsapp message.” Just two weeks earlier, “rockets were fired at the houses of Zahoor Buledi, BAP candidate for a provincial assembly seat, in Buleda and NP candidate Khair Jan Baloch in Jhaoo.”
 
A stern statement issued by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed “serious concern over the emerging pattern of violence” before the upcoming elections.
 
The HRCP addressed its questions to the caretaker government stating: “The numbing scale of yesterday’s attack in Mastung – now the third time an election gathering or political candidate has been targeted in three days – means asking some hard questions, not only of the civilian government, but also its security apparatus. Despite the excessive presence of security forces in Balochistan, the capacity of militants to strike on this scale appears to be intact.”
 
HRCP also reiterated: “the need for – and the right of – political candidates to be provided adequate security on the campaign trail. Election gatherings must not become killing fields. HRCP expresses its deepest condolences with the families of all those killed in Mastung and Bannu.”

Listen to the Business Community: ‘Pakistan’s Real Problems are at Home’

Instead of worrying about what is happening in neighboring countries, Pakistan’s first concern should be what is happening internally. This was the recommendation of the President of Pakistan’s leading business federation, the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI).
 
For decades when confronted with the fact that Pakistan has a water problem, not enough water for irrigation and not enough for drinking or sanitation, Islamabad’s explanation has been to blame India and say that India has broken the Indus Waters Treaty and extracted more water than it is allowed.
 
Mr Ghazanfar Bilour, President of FPCCI, asked the right question: Why is it that Pakistan’s leaders are “more concerned about dams being built by a neighbouring country and less concerned about building dams itself.” He further stated that all of Pakistan’s efforts to date to prevent “other countries” (namely India) “from building dams have remained futile as international institutions and the world community is not supporting our stance.” Hence, what Pakistan should do is instead is to “stop our efforts on the external front and focus on the internal front to ensure availability of water to save Pakistan.”
 
Mr Bilour pointed out that what Pakistan faced was not water scarcity but a lack of water conservation. “Egypt has the capacity to store water enough for 1000 days while Israel having its 60 percent area as the desert is exporting water while Pakistan can store water for thirty days.”
 
His recommendations were to build small dams “across the country as mega projects attract controversies which are against the national interests” and further to find some way to prevent the wastage of “thirty million acre-foot or ten trillion gallons of water every year to the sea which can be used to quench the thirst of masses while revolutionising the agricultural and industrial sector.”

 

Limits of Election Engineering: Raza Rumi’s Thoughtful Take

With elections for Pakistan’s National Assembly and all provincial assemblies one month away, most Pakistanis are concerned whether or not the elections will be free and fair, how much pre-poll rigging, or re-engineering will take place and how deeply will the omnipresent establishment be involved.

 

In a recent piece, Pakistani analyst and editor of The Daily Times talks about three fault-lines ailing Pakistan. The first: “concerns the intensified battle between Nawaz-Maryam duo and the permanent establishment that includes the judicial arm of the state. This tug of war has influenced political events in the past five years. Nawaz lost his office and the ability to contest elections. But he remains relevant and the PML-N’s electoral machine survives despite the ignonimous ouster of its leader.”

 

The second is: “the pushback from Nawaz and his strong electoral base in central Punjab has resonated on social media. No longer can we view Pakistan from the lens of a single, undiluted power centre deciding or vetoing over political affairs. … Even in the mainstream media, many a journalist has been defiant.”

 

Third “relates to the infighting within PTI ranks that has further dwindled the image of a ‘winning’ party. Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Jahangir Tareen, the two titans of Imran Khan, have made their tussle public. Those familiar with the ‘inside’ dynamics of power-play have indicated that there may be doubts about the ability of PTI to form the government or Imran Khan to deliver the goods, i.e. getting rid of brand Nawaz Sharif from Punjab’s electoral landscape.”

 

According to Rumi traditional political engineering or re-engineering may not work this time round in Pakistan. “The standard conspiracy theories aside, there seems to be a cul de sac ahead. And here is why. With the accountability courts trying to deal with cases against the Sharif family in a ‘speedy’ manner, a conviction of elder Sharif may be on the cards. If Nawaz is convicted and is in jail, his daughter on the streets is a prospect not too attractive. With both father and daughter in jail and Kulsoom Nawaz in critical condition, this may even increase the sympathy wave among the PMLN voter base. Of course, all of these scenarios are conjectures at this stage. It may just be the case that the Punjab’s local, electoral players may switch to the winning ‘arrangement’ in the weeks to come.”

 

In the end Rumi appeals for “a fair poll that allows a level playing field to all political parties. The caretakers and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) must ensure that.”

Army’s tricks against Nawaz Sharif don’t bolster country’s image

For the apologists of the Pakistan army’s meddling in politics, who also worry about Pakistan’s image, the latest issue of The Economist poses a problem.

Apologists for the Pakistan army’s interference in politics have always sought to blame the civilians and argued that the Pakistani military helps bolster Pakistan’s image abroad. It is also claimed that the military’s views have the overwhelming support of the people of Pakistan. In recent years, some apologists for the military have even argued that a Western audience does not understand Asia or South Asia “At the core of this Eurocentrism is a tendency to view Pakistan’s civil–military relations through a foreign policy lens, while almost entirely neglecting the domestic political and structural issues at play.”

This kind of an apologetic view comes in for strong critique in the latest issue of The Economist. The influential weekly journal states that the Pakistan army has always interfered in politics, that the army is using every trick in its handbook to sideline former PM Nawaz Sharif, that the army has targeted the media, and that this time around the Pakistani people do not want the army to interfere and are pushing back through groups like Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM). The article’s tone also makes it clear that far from improving Pakistan’s image, the political shenanigans of the military and its apologists actually distorts how the world views Pakistan.

In an article titled “General dysfunction: Pakistan’s army is using every trick to sideline Nawaz Sharif, Ordinary Pakistanis are resentful of its unchecked power” The Economist notes this is not the first time that “Pakistan’s army decided to respond to claims that it was attempting to fix next month’s general election … In 1990, for instance, the army-dominated spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, funnelled cash to opponents of the left-wing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), helping to secure its defeat. The military spokesman, General Asif Ghafoor, sternly denied that any such “engineering” was going on this time around. But a pile of evidence to the contrary is poking through the camouflage.”

The Economist noted: “The object of the army’s meddling is Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted as prime minister by the courts last year. Mr Sharif had been the beneficiary of the army’s largesse in 1990, when he began his first stint as prime minister. But they soon fell out. He resigned under pressure from the army in 1993 and was toppled again by it in a coup in 1999. Mr Sharif returned to power in 2013 eager to assert civilian control of foreign and security policy, which the army regards as its exclusive domain. In reply, the army undermined Mr Sharif, backing a months-long street protest by a big opposition party, the Pakistan Movement for Justice (PTI), aimed at overthrowing his government. It also refused the government’s request for help in dispersing another group of protesters that had blocked a busy intersection last year. A general was photographed at the scene handing money to the protesters. The army bristles at claims that it steered the Supreme Court to remove Mr Sharif last year on flimsy charges of “dishonesty”. But Mr Sharif (pictured, with gun) blames its unseen hand. Indeed, Mr Sharif is trying to turn the impending election into a referendum on his treatment by the generals, although he coyly refers to them using such codewords as “the establishment” and “aliens”. Last month he accused the army of facilitating a terrorist attack in India in 2008, in which 166 people were killed. Never has the army felt its privileged position so threatened, says Talat Masood, a former general.”

The Economist scathingly wrote: “Indirect elections to the upper house of parliament earlier this year give a sense of how the army operates. Weeks before the country’s four provincial assemblies were due to select the new senators, the government of the sparsely populated province of Balochistan, which was led by Mr Sharif’s party, the PML-N, collapsed owing to the abrupt defection of several lawmakers. One of Mr Sharif’s allies accused the ISI of orchestrating the insurrection. At any rate, independents and the former PML-N members went on to form the pro-military Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), which then secured several of Balochistan’s seats in the senate. The new senators, in conjunction with an improbable alliance of otherwise feuding opposition parties, together mustered enough votes to defeat the PML-N’s candidate for chairman of the senate. (An Urdu-language newspaper carried details of how the army allegedly helped senators to remember how to vote, by marking the corners of their ballot papers.) That, in turn, put paid to the PML-N’s hopes of passing legislation to scrap the woolly articles of the constitution that the courts had used to justify Mr Sharif’s dismissal. Imran Khan, the leader of PTI, does not deny that the army interferes in politics. He says a stronger civilian government (meaning one led by him) is the answer. He may have his way. PTI has benefited from a wave of defections from the PML-N in the most populous province, Punjab. In private, many politicians admit to being pressed, in some cases with the threat of corruption charges, to leave the PML-N. If the PTI can make headway in Punjab, where the PML-N won 116 of 148 seats at the last election, in 2013, Mr Khan stands a good chance of becoming the leader of a coalition government. Such a government would be “preferable” to the army, adds Hussain Haqqani, a former diplomat.”

The Economist pointed towards the censorship and attacks on the media: “Media outlets that caterwaul about all this become the victims of commercial crises. Geo, the most popular television station in the country, was mysteriously dropped by cable companies. They relented when it toned down its criticism of the judiciary and its support for Mr Sharif. Gul Bukhari, a journalist who supports the PML-N, was recently abducted for several hours. This week Dawn, a liberal newspaper, announced that it is being barred from distributing in much of the country. We are “110% muzzled”, sighs one journalist.”

The Economist article also notes popular sympathy towards Mr Sharif and PTM: “The only thing standing in the way of the army’s plan is voters’ apparent sympathy for Mr Sharif. His rallies draw large crowds. Polling by Gallup puts the PML-N 13 points ahead of the PTI nationally, and 20 points up in Punjab. “We know the establishment might attempt to manipulate the elections,” says Muzzafar Mughal, a resident of a swing district in the city of Rawalpindi, “but we will vote for him again.” Indeed, many Pakistanis have recently begun expressing unheard-of criticism of the army. A burgeoning civil-rights organisation, the Pushtun Protection Movement (PTM), was formed last year to protest against the army’s tactics in its campaign against Islamist insurgents. The PTM accuses the army of indiscriminately flattening villages. It wants the UN to investigate the fate of 20,000 missing people, and calls for the removal of military checkpoints and curfews in the tribal regions where most of Pakistan’s 30m Pushtuns live. The army’s response has been fierce: 37 PTM activists have been arrested for “sedition”. Manzoor Pashteen, the movement’s charismatic 24-year-old leader, was last month prevented from boarding a flight to a rally in the southern city of Karachi. He drove for two days to get there instead. When he arrived, he found 10,000 supporters sitting on the ground in the dark. The firms contracted to provide chairs and lights for the event had suddenly pulled out—yet another of the unexplained reversals that are so common when criticism of the army is involved. Non-Pushtuns are starting to support the PTM, a source of particular concern for the army. At the rally in Karachi, a 66-year-old woman from Balochistan, where locals have also long complained of military abuses, held up a picture of her son, missing for a year, for the cameras. Some generals counsel a softer response. The PTM activists awaiting trial have belatedly been granted bail, possibly a sign that the army is relenting slightly. But it does not seem to have the courage needed to make a broader retreat from politics.”

Pakistan’s Media is no longer free

Close on the heels of Amnesty International’s report that the Pakistani deep state has hacked into the accounts of human rights activists and reports by both Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters without borders (RSF) on how the Pakistani security establishment intimidates journalists, comes a report by the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for media freedom, that was founded in 1950.
 
The IPI sent letters to Pakistan’s caretaker central and provincial governments, the Chief Justice, the Chief Election Commissioner Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza and Chairman of the Senate highlighting “a number of serious threats to press freedom ahead of the country’s July 25 elections, including the physical intimidation, abduction and torture of dissenting journalists; the forcible denial of the public’s right to access independent newspapers through the widespread disruption of newspaper distribution; and the effective blockading of independent channel broadcasts to television audiences.”
 
According to the letter written by IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi “These actions deny the public’s fundamental right to receive news and information and to participate in informed debate about matters of public interest, in particular the military’s role in civilian affairs. Such a climate is inimical to both democracy and the free flow of information necessary to this upcoming election”, Trionfi wrote. “IPI is worried that the continued persecution of the independent media is designed to convey a clear message: that any criticism of the military’s involvement in civilian affairs will have dire consequences for the survival of an independent press in Pakistan. Unless rigorous measures are taken to halt further attempts to influence reporting in the media, and to ensure that newspapers are allowed to publish freely, and television channels are allowed to broadcast in Pakistan without any further harassment, doubts may be cast on the credibility of the upcoming elections.”
 
Trionfi’s letter “highlighted a number of troubling incidents, which she said must be viewed against the backdrop of the upcoming elections. According to media reports, on June 6, a senior woman journalist, Gul Bokhari, from the Nawai Waqt/Nation Group, was abducted for several hours, late at night, while on her way to work. The same night, another broadcast journalist, Asad Kharal, was physically assaulted in Lahore. Additionally, the director general of the Armed forces’ Inter-Services Public Relations has reportedly produced a list of prominent journalists and activists that described them as “anti-state elements”. Numerous newspaper editors have been forced to drop dissenting columns from newspapers, leading some columnists to post their uncensored columns on social media platforms.”
 
Trionfi said IPI “was greatly concerned that the Pakistani military appeared to be increasing pressure on the country’s media so as to impose a narrative of its own choosing with relation to its involvement in civilian affairs. Trionfi added that she was troubled to see that, as part of this recent escalation, the military had publicly castigated independent media as a threat to national security, as a consequence of which dissenting journalists have been targeted on social media and threatened with bodily harm.”