Last ditch effort for PML-N acceptance of the four points
It must be admitted that the top leadership of the PML-N has a simple and fixed policy of dealing with political opponents on diverse occasions: it is either at their feet or at their throats. A timely compromise or engaging with the ‘enemy’ is apparently beyond its comprehension, even an affront to the famed heavy mandate. It is a constitutional infirmity which it has been unable to remedy even in its third term. This tried and tested method served the PML-N best during the protracted Islamabad road show or dharna of Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri. At a critical juncture during these prolonged protests, a humbled prime minister even condescended to visit the National Assembly regularly and conscientiously, kowtowing to the PPP which had saved the day for the beleaguered PML-N leader.
The ‘new’ PPP of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has made necessary changes in the long-standing policy of reconciliation followed by the elder Zardari. The present bone of contention between the PPP and the PML(N) is the non-acceptance so far by the government of the PPP’s four demands, of appointing a foreign minister, forming a parliamentary committee on national security, removing some reservation on the CPEC’s western route and passage of the opposition’s bill on the Panama Leaks. Taking a leaf out of the PTI’s textbook, the PPP chairman announced on October 17 that that the PPP would launch a street agitation if these demands were not met by December 27. Still, in a final attempt at a peaceful resolution, the PPP has now constituted a committee of five of its stalwarts, consisting of Yousaf Raza Gilani, Sherry Rehman, Qamar Zaman Kaira, Farhatullah Khan Babar and Senator Sardar Mohammad Hasni to make a last attempt for an amicable resolution.
It would be sensible for the prime minister to reciprocate the measure and reach an agreement with these veteran and savvy politicians before it is confronted by a daunting PPP –PTI axis and its formidable combined street power. He has enough on his plate already.
A new turn in Panama-gate case
Shall we wait for the New Year?
So far both the contending sides in the Panama-gate case had been satisfied with the SC proceedings, each one convinced that the judges were impressed by its arguments. The court however seemed to be dissatisfied by the way the two parties had developed their case over nine days of hearing. On Thursday judges indicated that important questions still needed answers and both sides had presented only sketchy evidence. The CJ therefore directed the two counsels toseek instructions on forming an enquiry commission.
On Friday, Imran Khan rejected outright the idea of a commission and said he would boycott the proceedings if one was formed. The court felt it would not be possible to go through thousands of pages of material presented as evidence within a short period. It adjourned the proceedings till the first week of January.With CJ Jamali retiring at the end of this month, the bench constituted by the new CJ will hear the case once again from the beginning and decide whether to continue the proceedings in SC or form a judicial commission.
Imran Khan strongly believes that as long as Nawaz Sharif occupies the office of the PM he can influence the single member enquiry commission through devious means. He has concluded that the only way to keep the Panama-gate issue alive is through SC proceedings. With media covering the courtproceedings regularly and numerous TV channels holding talk shows to discuss every new development, the government could be exposed for months to come. The longer the proceedings continue the more injurious these would be for the otherwise well-entrenched Nawaz Sharif. The landing of the Panama-gate issue in the SC indicates a thorough lack of confidence in the institutions set up for accountability like NAB, FBI, and FIA. With the Prime Minister and important cabinet members being mostly absent from the National Assembly sittings this promotes the unhealthy trend of taking the issues either to the SC or the streets.
armers have reportedly clashed with police in Mahni area of Mankera tehsil, in Bhakkar district, over damage to their crop caused allegedly by members of the Qatari royal family hunting houbara bustards. The police had asked the protesters to disperse peacefully, but they insisted that the hunters should leave instead because they were destroying the only crop produced during the entire season. The police baton-charged the protesters when they tried to continue their march towards the camps. The demonstrators shouted slogans against the government and the hunters. Later on, Mankera’s Assistant Commissioner Muhammad Mustafa reached the spot and held negotiations with the protesters. It was decided that a delegation of protesters would meet the royal hunters to find out whether or not the problem could be solved amicably through compensation etc.
Hunting of the rare bird by Arab dignitaries had been continuing in the area for over a decade. “The UAE hunters caused less damage to our crops and compensated the affected farmers handsomely whereas the Qataris pay a nominal compensation to only some of the farmers,” said a local of the area. He said that last year the Qatari hunters announced that a hospital and a school would be built in the area when a similar protest had been held against them, but no initiative had been taken so far in this regard. District Police Officer Khalid Masood claimed the damage inflicted on the crop was not as grave as made out to be. The local farmers had become used to getting compensation from the royal hunters by holding demonstrations against them. He added that the Arab hunters had initiated various development projects in the area.
Last year, the Supreme Court had lifted the controversial ban on the hunting of houbara bustard after the government had filed a review petition in the highest court to reverse the decision. The government had cited that the hunting was an important part of the foreign policy with some Arab countries. Moreover, the recent expedition of Qatar dignitaries has also coincided with the pending Panama Case in the Supreme Court.
A lot of international NGOs and conservation societies had asked Pakistan to stop the hunting of houbara bustards, but the government has continued to avoid the recommendations despite it being termed as an endangered species. Moreover, the situation in this scenario also shows how the population of these areas is only concerned with what these Royalties provide them in return. There is no doubt that these countries have invested in these areas in some social facilities, these shouldn’t be conditional with the hunting permits of an endangered species.
Lastly, efforts are needed to protect the houbara bustard, and the government should show its commitment to avoid any untoward situation. For this purpose, the attitude of the government must change towards the issue on urgent basis. Moreover, compensation must be provided to the people whose crops have been affected by the hunters.
Water scarcity in Gwadar
A humanitarian crisis in the wake of a three years’ severe drought is likely to hit Gwadar as the situation is getting bleak day by day. The resident of Gwadar, Pasni, Jewani and their adjacent villages in Balochistan are reeling from a drought that has turned vast areas into a dust bowl, forcing the inhabitants to look for other means to meet their water needs. Reportedly, the Akara Kaur dam, the only source of water for Gwadar and surrounding areas, has almost dried up because of the prolonged drought. The dam, designed and built in early 1990s, has failed to keep up with the water demands of the city because of the growing population and the slow accumulation of silt in the reservoir. Water shortage in the dam is a serious issue. But much of the problem is a result of years of mismanagement of water resources as the federal and provincial governments have not paid attention to building small reservoirs or apply other techniques to store rainwater.
There are vast arid lands in Balochistan and Thar that primarily and solely depend on rainwater, and government should pay attention to the water needs of these areas and employ innovative methods that can help ward off scarcity and severe droughts. Due to water scarcity, the incidents of water being stolen by inhabitants, are becoming common in drought-hit areas. Drinking water has been so scarce that many people rely on boiling sea water. It is a commonplace that most of the families buy water from water supplying tankers, which collect water directly from springs or streams and sell it to the needy families without purification.
It seems that the government, policy makers and even the concern provincial officials are complacent with the problem of water scarcity, which is likely to get worse, if proper measures are not taken. As the Chinese government intends to make huge investment for the completion of CPEC project, the issue of water crisis needs to be dealt with on an emergency basis. The government needs to build small water storage structures to recharge groundwater. Collecting rainwater to recharge the aquifer is also a good option. The government should take the latest warning about water scarcity seriously and start efforts for preserving water for our present and future needs. Amid growing evidence that climate change is having wide-ranging global impacts that will worsen in the years ahead, different countries are planning to better utilise and manage their water resources. Innovative thinking and planning in advance are keys to deterring these climate-related miseries.
The looming water crisis in Gwadar deserves the immediate attention of the government. Other schemes such as collection of rain water must be worked out before it is too late. Unless there is a way to build infrastructure to quickly capture the rain, much of it will simply run off or evaporate. Government’s most urgent task is to help those suffering from the drought. It must also place water at the center of development agenda along with the CPEC project.
Punjab power breakdown
The reasons for the power breakdown in Punjab remain shrouded within the web of accusations and counter-accusation between the National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC) and the distribution companies (Discos), most notably the Lahore Electric Supply Company (Lesco). In what is a brazen show of scapegoating at a time when people want answers, it is truly unfortunate that no-one is willing to take responsibility for the over-12 hour power breakdown. Regardless of whether the 220kV lines managed by NTDC or the 132-kV transmission line owned by Lesco tripped first, the common reason for either case, according to preliminary reports, appears to be pollution laden fog in Punjab. The irony is not lost here as after adversely affecting the health of the people of Punjab, this smog disabled the very technology that lead to its birth.
Friday’s power breakdown must be used as a reminder of the work that needs to be done on Pakistan’s transmission lines. Suffering from prolonged apathy from the government, Pakistan’s electricity distribution system is in urgent need of repair. And any scheme that aims to eliminate load shedding must address this issue side by side. However, the government’s focus up till now has primarily been on increasing the capacity of power production in the absence of a multifaceted approach that addresses all power related issues simultaneously. Widespread structural issues remain in the power sector ranging from inefficient management and ineffective bill collection to outdated transmission lines. And how would greater production capacity be sustained if the power sector is broken from the inside is a question to which no adequate answer has yet been provided by the government.
Even the current power crisis has more to do with these underlying structural issues than strictly capacity constraints. The reason the government was not able to pay independent power producers was because it did not have a proper working bill collection system. And that in turn led to the all-too-familiar circular debt. Furthermore, even now if production capacity is able to meet all of current demand, the country’s transmission network is not adequately equipped to carry that load. The fragility of the system has been revealed by the recent breakdown, and this should jolt the government into action. It is true that work on the national grid or transmission networks do not make up for the show and exhibitionism that opening ceremonies of big power plants provide. But it would be wise for the government to pay attention to the work required on them so that it can deliver on its promise of ending load shedding before the 2018 general elections.
The tides in the Pakistan-India Kashmir conflict may be changing direction. In one of the latest developments at the Heart of Asia Conference in New Delhi, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif offered that Iran act as a mediator between the two neighbouring countries over their long drawn out Kashmir tussle. This is a slight detour in the usual course of action when tensions flare over the disputed territory, in which innocent lives are cut short a few at a time and threats are issued asa show of prowess by the other country, often following a trigger event. Over time and after some handful of lives lost, tensions are doused. However, with globalisation expanding in the South Asian region and increased trading being augmented in Asia, it is in Iran’s interest to have the two neighbourly brothers cooperate so as to focus energies on profitable economic ventures. Out of deep concern for human rights violations committed by either side, we welcome the gesture.
Previously, Pakistan acted as a buffer between Iranand the United States, doing the balancing act and maintaining diplomacy with both countries that did not see eye-to-eye on a few major points of consternation. Now, Iran is engaging in a role reversal of sorts with Pakistan but even going so far as to offer to arbitrate. Kashmir is finally garnering national attention, though still out of international focus save for a few forums. Intriguingly, Iran was the first country to recognise Pakistan as its own sovereign state after Partition; a parallel can be drawn here with Iran potentially supporting the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination, which has been a popular public sentiment, at least in Pakistan. We do wonder what is in this for Iran, but the prominent answer is its wish to realign focus on stable economic trade with both countries. With no end in sight to the Kashmir issue, Pakistan and India should further explore this offer. Iran is an ideal mediating partner as it has maintained relatively healthy relationships with both countries, even if intermittent at times.
Considering the importance of Gwadar port it is something of a surprise to learn that it does not have a water supply that is sufficient to the needs of a vital economic and strategic asset. The history of Pakistan and Gwadar stretches back into the mid-1950s when it was still under the suzerainty of Oman. Pakistan bought it from the Omanis for $3million in September 1958. Currently it is a key element of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and a key link along the chain of the Chinese ‘One belt one road’ and the ‘Maritime Silk Road’ projects that taken together are an undertaking of immense regional importance.
Discovering that Gwadar has a chronic shortage of potable water points to a planning deficit of almost cosmic proportions. Sticking-plaster solutions in the form of Pakistan navy water tankers sent from Karachi solve nothing long-term, and the levels in the Ankara Kaur dam have now fallen to ‘dead’ necessitating urgent meetings and further short-term solutions involving fleets of water tankers. The Chinese, who are managers of the Gwadar port, are unlikely to be viewing this latest development with equanimity. There is no rain likely in the next two months and Gwadar is an arid area known for persistent droughts. The meetings held in the last two days calling for a strategy to address the potable water problem should have been held 20 years ago, and the difficulty of water supply is emblematic of the disjunction between planning and reality, and of chronic deficits when it comes to the handling of large-scale infrastructure and economic projects nationally.
The Gwadar water problem is not new, it has been there for decades and as soon as the large reality of CPEC hove into view, water should have moved to the top of the agenda. That it did not calls into question the competencies of those managing a resource that is of global importance, and jewels may be dislodged from crowns if not firmly anchored therein.
The annual Fog Follies
Fog has been a feature of the meteorology of large parts of Punjab probably from time immemorial, and it is only since man arrived on the scene and built roads and cities that it has been a problem, and a major problem at that. Over the weekend several flights have been cancelled to airports in southern Punjab because of either being completely fogged in or visibility of insufficient quality to make safe landings and takeoffs. Lahore has in large part been shut down by a major breakdown in the power transmission system which true to form tripped repeatedly on Friday 9th December, leaving half of Pakistan’s second city powerless for five hours. Lahore was not alone in this and other parts of the province were similarly without watts in the wires.
This happens every year when the fog rolls in, with the same consequences and the same responses. All concerned point fingers at one another rather than seeking — and finding — a solution to a recurrent problem. The National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC) and the Lahore Electric Supply company (LESCO) are as usual taking no responsibility for the outage and blaming each other for a well known technical problem that is fog related, or rather its Lahori iteration called ‘smog’ that is a combination of fog and pollutants, primarily from vehicle exhausts. This causes a buildup of carbon on the discs that are a part of the transmission lines that causes them to trip-out; leading to what can be a cascade effect as successive links in the transmission chain fail.
On this occasion the NTDC protection system worked, saving valuable equipment from damage and the system was restored by 11 a.m. on Friday, but the fundamental problem of an elderly and degraded system remains unaddressed. Although Lahore is the focus in this event there is a national deficit in the quality of power transmission linked to a long-term neglect and lack of investment. If Pakistan is going to progress and develop it needs to sorts its power problems fog or no fog. Get to it gentlemen.
WHAT could — should — have been a decisive legal settlement of a political dispute that has dominated the calendar has taken a rather shambolic turn. All three of the protagonists in the Panama Papers dispute — the Supreme Court, the PTI and the PML-N — must bear some responsibility for a delay in the hearings that will now stretch until January and possibly beyond, with no clarity about which forum will conduct the full inquiry— the Supreme Court itself or a court-appointed judicial commission? When the outgoing Chief Justice Anwar Jamali took up the Panama Papers matter a day before the PTI’s threatened lockdown of Islamabad, it appeared that a grave political crisis had been averted. Moreover, by deciding to hold hearings in an expeditious manner, the possibility of an authoritative decision by the Supreme Court became real and imminent. Yet, despite all sides submitting to the will of the court, the latter was unable to decide the issue during the term of the incumbent chief justice.
Always apparent was the imminent retirement of the chief justice himself, something that the court itself should have paid heed to when deciding to intervene and raising the expectations of the nation. In hindsight, weeklong adjournments — despite the parties to the dispute urging the court to hold daily hearings where possible — did not augur well for the controversy’s timely resolution. It is a painful question to ask given the esteem that the court is held in, but is there a possibility that it waded into a political dispute with no clear idea about what it could achieve or how to proceed? The disappointment nationally is palpable and it is something the court should address when it takes up the matter next in January. If the court has somewhat disappointed, the PTI and PML-N have thoroughly embarrassed themselves. The PTI, which arguably single-handedly has kept the Panama Papers issue alive, seemed unprepared to address the matter in a legal forum. After two different lead counsels presented arguments and documents that did not satisfy the court, the PTI performed yet another astonishing U-turn in belatedly rejecting a judicial commission and demanding that the judges directly settle the matter. Quite what has changed other than the PTI’s private political calculations is not clear even now, but the party remains blithely unconcerned with consistency or acceptable political strategy.
Yet, the PML-N’s role has been nothing short of shameful too. At every stage that it has tried to introduce new evidence or provide a fresh explanation for the wealth and finances of Sharif family members, the party has only succeeded in creating more controversy and raising fresh questions in the minds of critics and supporters alike. The transition to democracy demands a progressively better calling to account of all individuals and institutions, but the opposite appears to be occurring at the moment.
Coverage of air crash
LEAVE it to the electronic media to take the low road when it comes to covering a national tragedy. As soon as news of the crash of PK661 broke, the TV channels went into overdrive, vying with each other to provide the most ‘exclusive’ reporting possible. In the process, they jettisoned not only journalistic ethics, but compassion and common sense as well. Even before any significant details had emerged, speculation about that particular plane’s history and the pilots’ experience was being bandied about with no attempt at ascertaining the facts or seeking answers from informed sources. The victims’ relatives were not allowed to grieve in private, their pain and anguish a voyeuristic feast for the nation as media persons posed cringe-makingly crass and insensitive questions to them. Some reports even disclosed, in painstaking detail, the residential address of one of the victims. Then there were the various animated iterations of aircraft flying across television screens and crashing in flames that several news channels found appropriate to air. In short, it was depressing to see the media repeating most, if not all, the egregious errors of judgement it had displayed in its coverage of the Air Blue crash in 2010.
Pakistani electronic media’s penchant for histrionics, fuelled by cut-throat competition for ratings, is by now well established. That is not only in the case of disasters such as the recent plane crash. The coverage of politics too is prey to sensationalism and hyperbole. Moreover, as the media’s influence has grown, some of the channels, instead of being impartial observers of events, have on occasion become active participants, thereby compromising their duty to disseminate information in a fair, balanced manner. For instance, during the court proceedings — since adjourned — over the Panama Papers, the evidence presented was not merely reported on in the news channels, but analysed and dissected threadbare despite the matter being sub judice. The coverage of the issue was in effect a media trial in which judgement was passed even before the apex court could do so. It is also worth questioning what the electronic media decides is worthy of coverage, especially on its ubiquitous talk shows. While politics gets a disproportionate airing, the practical consequences of those politics as they play out in society rarely find space. Raucous talk shows with belligerent guests and a combative ambience may make for ‘good’ TV but they are not necessarily good journalism.
Gwadar water supply
FOR a port city whose future is being sold in glittering terms, it is sad that Gwadar is severely lacking in the most essential component of life: water. There is one dam that provides water to Gwadar and its surrounding habitations — Ankara Kaur — but, according to the DC Gwadar, only two weeks of supply remains in the dam. Those who have visited Gwadar, provided they have not stayed in the only luxury hotel there, will testify that acute water shortage is an endemic problem. Gwadar’s residents must be puzzled by the glowing pictures of the city that make it look like Dubai and that appear on posters put up by real-estate agencies and builders who have acquired large speculative stakes in the area. In reality, Gwadar is barren and dry and it is difficult to see how it will be in a position to support thriving commerce anytime soon.
In response to the situation, the chief secretary Balochistan visited Gwadar and was given a detailed briefing by various officials there. For now, the provincial government is putting together plans to bring water to the parched town using tankers. The residents of Gwadar may be used to such hardship, but one wonders how the government intends to permanently overcome this problem in order to fulfil its dreams of turning the place into a thriving global port city. We hear about plans to build a desalination plant, but that requires vast amounts of energy, which in turn requires vast amounts of fuel, which in turn requires a vast infrastructure for storage and handling. Taken together, these need large amounts of financial resources to create and operate. It is not known when all this will happen, but what is clear is that the city cannot live up to the promises being made on its shoulders if water remains such a scarce commodity. The provincial authorities should do more to highlight the high levels of water shortage in the city.
The Committee on Fata Reforms in its final report has advised the merger of Fata (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and this proposal is expected to be taken up in the next meeting of the federal cabinet. This concrete proposal on the part of the committee is a much needed step over the fate of a region that has, for the most part, only witnessed the government’s apathy. Noticeably, however, there was no member from Fata in the committee and the official explanation for this was that it was deliberately done since “the people of each of the agencies do not consider each other equal.” Regardless of whether this decision was informed by exigency or expediency, it surely carries the same patronising behaviour that the people of Fata have been subjected to since the early days of the state. And it is hoped that once the task of Fata reforms is underway, the people of Fata would be considered as equal citizens of the state, entitled to the same level of respect as other citizens.
Under the current proposal, the seven agencies of Fata will each become a separate district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the process will be completed in five years. In addition, there are also development programmes spread over a period of ten years. Reportedly, the consultation with the Maaliks (tribal leaders) of the agencies elicited a vote largely for the status quo with the introduction of only some development reforms. However, the decision by the committee to not opt for the maintenance of the status quo is admirable since it is time that the anachronism of the Maalik system in Fata is replaced by its mainstreaming into the proper state system. And of course there will be resistance by the beneficiaries of the traditional order, and it is the duty of the government to overlook that in place of the larger interest of the people. The wishes of the people were in line with the committee’s decision as the second jirga, done in consultation with a much broader representative sample, which included lawyers, journalists, students, and women, yielded a unanimous vote in favour of merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The fate of Fata has only captured the government’s attention after the region became infested with militants, who used the agencies, most importantly South Waziristan, as a base with which to attack the urban centres of the country. In all of this, it must be realised that it was the neglect of the region that made Fata vulnerable to the influence of religious extremists and tuned it into a recruitment ground for religious militants. Abject poverty resulting from a lack of development programmes coupled with the sense of injustice of being deprived of the status of an equal region enabled extremists to easily take over the maaliks and replace them with their own twisted arrangement. It is only after the invaluable sacrifices of the armed forces of Pakistan and a military operation that cost the national exchequer a hefty amount of money that Fata has been cleared of militants. And now that the rehabilitation and consolidation of the region is underway, Fata reforms have taken integral importance in ensuring the longterm success of the military operation.While work on correcting the historic injustice to the people of Fata is underway, perhaps the moment should also be used to introspect on the devastating effects that result from choosing expediency over the right course of action.
PTI, PML-N in a tug of war
A tug of war between the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is going on as the Supreme Court (SC) is proceeding with the Panama Leaks case on day to day basis. Apparently, it has become an uphill task for the judiciary to decide the matter. During the last hearing of the case, the SC gave the PTI and the ruling PML-N two options – either to go for the formation of a fact-finding judicial commission for in-depth investigations or to continue with the five-judge bench currently hearing the case. However, the PTI opposed the formation of the commission and announced that it would boycott proceedings, if the court constituted a commission. On the other hand, the legal team of the Sharif family remained in favour of formation of a commission. Therefore the bench agreed not to form a legal commission however it has adjourned the case until January 1st next year as the current Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali is retiring at the end of this month and Justice Saqib Nisar will therefore chair the next proceeding of the case.
The tussle started between the two political parties when the names of several Pakistanis including Nawaz Sharif’s children Maryam, Hussain, and Hasan surfaced in one of the world’s biggest ever data leaks through an online searchable database made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in April 2016. The government proposed formation of an inquiry commission to probe the Sharif family’s alleged links to offshore accounts. But the federal government and the opposition could not agree on drafting joint Terms of References (ToRs) and finally the SC shouldered the responsibility to decide the high-profile case after the PTI threatened to hold another sit-in in Islamabad.
The PTI chief has accused the rulers of building assets worth billions of rupees through massive corruption. So far the governing elite has shown non-serious attitude to resolve this issue. Why has the Sharif government failed to satisfy the opposition over the Panama leaks and not presented credible evidence about all its assets in Pakistan and abroad?
The Panama leaks issue was not a local one. Rather, many important personalities and leaders from many countries were named in the leaks for having offshore assets. In the rest of world, the Panama issue has become history but it is only Pakistan where government and opposition are wrangling on this particular case. The opposition is calling for the accountability of the premier and his family members, while government is using dilly-dally tactics regarding a proper probe into the matter. Government should have come up with a strategy to clear all the mess, but apparently it has not taken it seriously. Due to the adamant attitude of the government, the situation is worsening. This has prompted the PTI and other political parties to approach the SC. The whole world has moved on but the authorities in Pakistan are still stuck at Panama. It is high time politicians grew up and started taking right decisions in the best interest of the country and its masses. It is the responsibility of both the government and the opposition to sit together and find a pragmatic solution instead of fighting on the streets. The best platform to resolve all these issues is parliament where all elected representatives of people can converge to evolve a strategy to address the concerns of the opposition as well as provide an opportunity to the prime minister’s family to prove their innocence in allegations of corruption.
Polar bears vulnerable to extinction
Things in the Arctic are just getting weirder and weirder. And not in a good way. These lines explain the predicament brought forth by the impending climate change on the human beings and animals alike. Among them the hardest hit are polar bears, which are facing the risk of extinction due to persistent global warming. Reportedly, the numbers of polar bear could drop a third by mid-century due to dwindling Arctic sea ice. It has been reported in a study that the global polar bear population –- estimated at 26,000 will decline by more than 30 percent over the next 35 years. Polar bears could soon be wiped-out as the sea ice they need to hunt seals is melting at a faster rate than has been widely predicted. It has been claimed by scientists at the University of Colorado that the level of Arctic sea ice reached record lows for both October and November this year. Further, the human-caused global warming is causing the Arctic sea, the bears' habitat and hunting ground, to melt and decline. If the trend of sea ice decline continues as it has done, at the rate of about 13 per cent a decade, then polar bears would suffer a loss of habitat, and consequently food. Unfortunately, polar bears also face other threats besides a habitat radically altered by the release of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Decline in some polar bear population is stemmed from contaminated males rendered sterile by the man-made chemicals.
At present, there are 19 subpopulations of polar bears in the world, 13 of which can be found in Canada. Some of these bears live year-round on the ice, but for populations such as the Hudson Bay bears, the ice proves an ephemeral habitat. In this region, bears spend the winter months on the ice gorging their prey but, when the ice melts each year, they are forced onshore where they have insufficient food until the sea ice refreezes in the fall. And as the temperatures in the Arctic have risen, the sea ice has begun to melt sooner and refreeze later, leaving the polar bears stranded on land for longer lean times. And this is not a good development for this endangered species.
It needs to be acknowledged that rising temperatures across the world, change in weather patterns, extreme climate are a reality. Rapid melting of the glaciers in the Arctic and the Antarctic are causing increase in sea levels, posing a dangerous threat to island nations and to coastline life. Scientists have cautioned that if we touch the magic figure of 3.6 degrees Celsius, there is no turning back. It is on record that 2016 is well on its way to being the hottest ever year. It is now time for the world to come together to save its citizens and other living beings.
In Pakistan too we are facing climate calamity that is affecting weather patterns and causing calamities. The recent delay in winter is indication that Pakistan is among the countries most affected by climate change. There should be a practical, unambiguous policy about change in the world climate and efforts at the international level need to be made to save endangered species like polar bear.
It is, indeed, high time for the international community to put sustained pressure on India for stopping human rights abuses in held Kashmir and resuming dialogue with Pakistan. Several countries, the United States, China and Iran among them, have already offered to mediate between Pakistan and India. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon too has offered his good offices for resolution of the conflict, but India has repeatedly spurned the offers. The UN Human Rights Commissioner has said twice it’s ready to send a fact-finding mission. Civil society members are carrying out activities to sensitise people and their respective governments on the blatant human rights violations in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IoK) by the Indian occupation forces. India, however, remains intransigent and refuses to hold genuine dialogue either with the indigenous leadership in the IoK or with Islamabad. On the other hand, Islamabad has always welcomed these offers from the international community. Pakistan is looking forward to the international community’s efforts towards pressuring India to stop bloodshed in IoK and engage in meaningful dialogue. And this dialogue process must lead to resolution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions and wishes of the Kashmiri people. However, instead of de-escalating its state terrorism against the defenceless Kashmiris in response to international imploration India is trying desperately to divert the world attention from its atrocities against a people refusing to live under its yoke by using multilateral forums like the Heart of Asia conference for maligning Pakistan even at the cost of derailing their agenda. The negative atmosphere, which India created much before the conference, distracted people’s attention from the real purpose of the gathering. It did not serve the purpose behind the conference because India was obsessed and hell-bent on maligning Pakistan at every opportunity.
The current Intifada in the IoK has now turned into a strident cry for independence as New Delhi continued to punish the Muslim majority of the occupied state by depriving it economically, especially denying its youth gainful employment, for what Prime Minister Modi calls as its ‘intransigence’. The barefaced killing of the youthful freedom fighter Burhan Wani had only served as the last straw on the camel’s back. What is happening in the IoK today is a classic case of the failure of India’s so-called democracy. No true democracy would have failed to win over a handful of people seeking their fundamental right to self-determine their political, economic and social fate. Instead of letting the IoK people self-determine how they would like to live, New Delhi in fact has kept on depriving them by degrees the level of independence India’s Constitution had granted them under Article 370. Today the IoK is being treated by New Delhi as its colony forcibly occupied by armed- to- teeth Indian troops numbering perhaps nearly 700,000. And in his panic at the escalating freedom struggle in the IoK the Indian PM is now openly discussing his covert intentions to destroy Pakistan from inside. This is a clear sign that he is engaged in a losing battle in the IoK. He is terrified; otherwise he would not have used a multilateral event to vent his bilateral bile against Pakistan. But this outburst or for that matter his public pronouncements about what he intends to do to meet the challenge he is facing in IoK are not going to solve his problems. What had actually made our task seemingly not so successful in this regard was the seeming success of India in making it appear, for the time being, to the world that the ‘insurgency’ in IoK was not an indigenous movement but was being fomented by Pakistan. However, like in the past when finding no way out of the IoK jam the past governments in New Delhi were forced to come to Pakistan seeking dialogue Modi is also likely to do the same when he realises, sooner than later, that on his own he would not be able to stop the freedom movement in the IoK.
The Supreme Court has adjourned the Panama Papers hearing until January 2017 at a date likely to be in the first week. If at that time the Supreme Court decides to form a judicial commission to investigate the matter then the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has announced that it will not accept such a panel if so constituted and will boycott it. Further tightening the deadlock the legal team of the Sharif family has said it was in favour of such a commission. The bench agreed that the case will be reheard in 2017 under the incoming Chief Justice Saqib Nisar who will have the power to reconstitute it with a larger membership if he deems fit.
It must be noted that paragraph 2 of a letter from the CJ pertaining to these matters states that the case shall not be considered as part heard, because by January 2017 Mr Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali will have laid down his robe — indicating that the case will be heard again from the beginning. This is the legal equivalent of going back to square one and the nine days of hearings thus far will be void, with legal representatives of all parties being required to resubmit their evidence.
Prior to the case going to court all the petitioners made it clear that they reposed their trust in the wisdom of the judiciary whatever any decision may be by the Honourable Justices, and this is as it should be. For the PTI at this stage of proceedings to say that it would boycott a judicial commission — which it had in the recent past supported — sounds distinctly odd and akin to an infantile tantrum involving the throwing of teddies around the playpen. It is not for the PTI or any other political party to lay the law down for the lawgivers simply because the lawgivers were at variance with the wishes of the PTI. The apex judiciary sits above party politics and has of late displayed a steely independence — it is not there at the beck and call of politicians and the law must take its course unfettered.
WHILE fundamental rights may be protected by the Constitution, it is undeniable that these are violated on a daily basis in Pakistan. What is particularly disturbing is that often different arms of the state violate human rights. Hence it is important that those in the corridors of power — and those waiting to enter them — display an unflinching commitment to the protection of basic rights. In this regard, PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar made some noteworthy suggestions at an event in Islamabad recently. The veteran politician said that political parties should formulate a minimum charter of human rights along the lines of the Charter of Democracy. Mr Babar said that along with the right to life, liberty and security, freedom of information, freedom of expression, right to assembly, and right to association must be the main components of this charter. The senator also called for the death penalty to be reconsidered, and if this were not possible, the number of capital offences to be reduced. In addition, a call was made to not extend the life of the military courts beyond January 2017.
While some of the mainstream parties have been discussing human rights publicly, and have lobbied for the protection of these freedoms, in the rough and tumble of Pakistani politics the focus on preserving basic rights is often lost. In this sense, creating a charter of human rights — to which all mainstream political parties can pledge their commitment — would be a progressive and much-needed step. By promising to protect human rights and including these goals in their respective manifestos, parties will be seen to be walking the walk and can be held to account by the people if rights are violated under their watch. Moreover, to promote respect for and awareness of human rights, lessons on fundamental freedoms can be included in the syllabus. This would inculcate respect for human rights in young minds and hopefully be a step towards creating a better and more humane society. As for the call to review the death penalty, this paper has always argued for its abolition. And in recent days, when incidents of innocent men being executed have emerged, the case against the death penalty has been strengthened further. Military courts should also be wound up by the due date, and the state should invest its energies in improving Pakistan’s decrepit justice system.
Khyber’s ancient treasures
AS militancy in Pakistan’s tribal areas is reined in, a cornucopia of archaeological treasures scattered in the region is coming to light. A report in this paper yesterday detailed the first-ever survey in Khyber Agency — carried out by a team of archaeologists from KP — that has discovered around 110 archaeological sites in Jamrud tehsil. The two-month pilot project resulted in the unearthing of remains and structures, as well as rock carvings and paintings, some of which date back to the Buddhist period and others even earlier to prehistoric times. The credit for the initiative goes to the Khyber Agency’s political agent, Khalid Mehmood, who engaged Dr Abdul Samad, the head of KP’s Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, to conduct the survey.
Given that the area used to be a gateway to Central Asia and a cultural crossroads for many centuries, it stood to reason that evidence of this ancient past was in existence. However, historical exigencies and, more recently, the militancy that has ravaged parts of northern Pakistan, had rendered it almost inconceivable that finds of this magnitude would actually come to light. And more such discoveries are certain to be made when the survey is extended, as planned, to other parts of the agency, including Landi Kotal, Bara and Tirah valley. In fact, the potential for developing Khyber Agency — and in time, the other tribal agencies — as a tourist destination significant for its archaeological heritage is truly exciting. But there are many practical considerations, aside from a sustainable peace, that must be factored in before that objective can be achieved. For one, the sites must be studied, catalogued and preserved in a scientific manner, and opened up for international research as well. To do so, as suggested by Dr Samad, Fata should have its own directorate of archaeology. This will go some way to ensure that the tribal agencies’ multicultural heritage, rather than falling prey to antique smugglers, remains intact to be savoured by generations to come.
TWO initiatives currently under way provide an example of how Pakistan’s regional integration potential goes far beyond CPEC and needs to be pursued on multiple fronts simultaneously. One includes the talks centring on the renewal of the free trade agreement signed with China in 2007. The other is the move within the government about restarting talks with Iran on the import of natural gas through the pipeline project by seeking a renegotiation of the power purchase agreement (PPA). Both initiatives pull regional integration efforts in different directions, yet both remind us that there are multiple roads to integration, and placing all the emphasis on CPEC alone risks putting too many eggs in one basket.
The FTA with China is in bad need of overhaul. The original agreement of 2007 has had a severely negative impact on domestic industry and flooded the country with Chinese imports, even in agricultural produce. The trade deficit with China reached almost $4bn in 2013, and two years later, in 2015 it jumped to $9.1bn. Now both countries are negotiating the second round of trade liberalisation as envisioned in the original agreement, and whereas the Pakistani side has carried the views of domestic industry to the talks, reports indicate they are having a difficult time getting the Chinese to accept the reservations. The second round envisions the trade liberalisation level to reach 90pc, in terms of tariff reductions, but it is crucial that Pakistan keep the interests of domestic industry in mind when moving forward towards the third round of talks scheduled for March next year. It is important to keep in mind that this is a completely separate issue from CPEC, and the two should not be allowed to mix.
While applying the brakes on the runaway trade liberalisation with China, the government can do more to accelerate similar initiatives with Iran. Trade can begin with natural gas, especially by proceeding in earnest with the construction of the portion of the pipeline that lies within Pakistan. Renegotiating the PPA is fair given the changes in oil pricing, but such talks will appear to be stalling tactics if the hardware to purchase the gas is not being built. In time, the trade relationship with Iran can be expanded considerably to include other hydrocarbon resources as well, and regularise the imports of LPG. It is crucial to keep our focus when talking about regional integration, and not allow the entire project to be boxed under the CPEC label. Pakistan’s potential for regional integration is huge, and there are plenty of neighbours with whom there should be talks. If the present climate makes dialogue with India and Afghanistan difficult, then this is a moment to pursue talks with China and Iran with a view to meeting the needs of domestic industry.
A PIA domestic flight from Chitral to Islamabad had a tragic crash in the hills near Abbottabad. None among the passengers and the crew survived. The pilot reportedly told the air traffic control soon after taking off that one of the plane’s engines was not functioning. A little later came the panicked mayday call followed by the crash. Besides causing a shock to the families of the victims, the tragic incident has saddened the entire country.
There are a number of questions that need an answer. The most important concerns the state of maintenance of PIA planes. According to the PIA chairman, the ill-fated ATR-42 aircraft went through a detailed inspection in October and was fit to fly. He insists that almost 17 different agencies conduct the safety audit of PIA’s aircraft. How then, could it be that one of the plane’s two engines was found out of order soon after takeoff? Why was the pilot allowed to continue the journey once the complaint had been recorded? Why was it presumed that the second engine would not develop a fault during the flight?
Chairman PIA says it was unclear what caused the crash and that investigations will establish why the plane was unable to fly on the remaining engine. Senator Aitzaz Ahsan has called for a high level probe into the accident. The CAA’s Safety and Investigation Board (SIB) generally conducts enquiries into accidents of the type. Questions were however raised about the independence of the SIB during a court hearing on the 2010 Airblue crash. The Peshawar High Court judge was given an assurance by the federal government that a summary spelling out the outlines of a proposed law for the SIB’s autonomy had been prepared for submission to the prime minister. There are conflicting claims regarding whether a legal basis ensuring autonomy was finally provided to the SIB. In case the proposed bill is still pending before a Senate committee as reported by a national daily, the process to pass it into a law should be initiated urgently.
Beyond the Arab Spring
A May autumn in the Persian Gulf
British Prime Minister Theresa May addressing a summit of the GCC spoke comforting words that must have been sweet music to the ears of Gulf rulers congregating in Dubai. With the USA in the midst of a presidential transition, surrogates such as the ‘Western Isle’ and France are presumably tasked with looking after the US interests till the new President is sworn in. To reassure frightened and insecure allies, the carrot dangled before them by the British leader this week (French President Francois Hollande had earlier paid homage to the GCC in May last year) was a strategic partnership in the political, defence, security and trade realms, as well a unified approach to regional issues. And of course an ‘ambitious trade agreement’, in essence reflecting the country’s post-Brexit fears about its international exports and energy security concerns.
And in the regional picture inevitably enters the Islamic Republic of Iran, arch-nemesis and nightmare of the monarchies and Sheikhdoms. The nuclear deal, which lifted sanctions on Iran and gained it a modicum of international acceptance, has marred the vision of the Gulf Arab states to a quite excessive degree. It was ironic on the part of Theresa May to state at the summit that she was ‘clear-eyed’ about the threat posed by Iran ‘to the Gulf and the wider Middle East’ and that Britain was ready to help them ‘push back Iran’s aggressive regional actions’ and ‘destabilising activities’.
Britain is wading in deep and murky waters. According to a recent report by War on Want, a London-based human rights group, Britain is selling, apart from the routine advanced and expensive military weaponry, crowd control gear used to crush pro-democracy protests, training of sniper units, targeting advice and intelligence sharing meant to monitor and keep an eye on any dissent activity. Big Brother is watching YOU. Iran may be cut in the same cloth in its own way, but it would be a rash and unwise act to turn it into a pariah state in the region.