Altaf Hussain’s predicament
THE focus has once against shifted to the MQM whose leader Altaf Hussain has formally been charged in a court of law by the Metropolitan Police for “encouraging terrorism”. But any fear of panic or violence resulting from Thursday’s legal move in London proved short-lived.
There were few signs of anger in Karachi and other urban parts of Sindh, where until a few years back, the MQM made its presence felt in no uncertain terms.
Ironically, it was Mr Hussain’s incendiary words, for long his most potent weapon, that landed him in trouble — and, if convicted, he could face up to 15 years in jail. Specifically, the charge of terrorism is based on an address he delivered via telephone to his supporters in August 2016, provoking them to go on the rampage in Karachi.
The unthinkable has happened in the three years since Mr Hussain demonstrated his powers to turn a group of people into a menacing mob — Karachi has learnt to not react with anger to the news of Mr Hussain’s troubles.
The MQM as a tool of political clout — indeed, as an instrument of fear — has ceased to exist. In its place, there are factions, which are fighting for life, including Mr Hussain’s own surviving coterie that is known by its hugely restricted title of MQM-London.
Most of Karachi’s lawmakers today belong to the PTI, which had been in the forefront of the drive to pull down the Altaf edifice.
There is indeed little by way of support for the old MQM which originally claimed to have a monopoly over the Mohajir sentiment, before professing to represent the aspirations of ‘oppressed’ nationalities under the expanded umbrella of ‘Muttahida’ or ‘united’.
The ring around Mr Altaf Hussain and his MQM-London is getting narrower as cases such as the murder of Imran Farooq nine years ago in London are back in the spotlight. Crucial evidence in the Imran Farooq case has just been submitted in a Pakistani court. On the side and casting a dark and disturbing shadow on the party and its founder are cases such as the one where the police claim to have held a man suspected of murdering as many as 111 people. There is also a case of money-laundering against Mr Hussain.
The terror charge against Mr Hussain in London is a milestone as it shows the willingness of the country he has been living in for several years now to move purposefully against him. But at home, for the millions who were for so long forced to live with the MQM brand of politics — militant violence, extortion, bloody revenge and much more — the search for the truth has to be conducted right here, in their midst.
There can be no closure unless the dark secrets are unmasked and justice is allowed to take its due course.
Gas price reform
IT has been apparent for a number of years now that gas pricing in Pakistan is in need of urgent reform. The recent news that a Rs55bn bill is being prepared by the two gas distribution companies, known as ‘the Sui sisters’, in order to ensure continuous winter supplies for domestic consumers in the northern distribution zone that includes Punjab and KP, illustrates the cost of inaction on this front. Since last year, the government has been relying on diverting imported LNG towards domestic consumers to ensure continuous supplies. Last year, that decision cost Rs29bn in subsidies because imported LNG is almost five times as expensive as domestically produced gas. This year, that bill will be almost double — Rs55bn — because the volume of gas needed for the domestic sector is larger, given the ongoing declines in domestic fields. And no doubt, next year the bill will be larger still.
It is no secret that Pakistan’s fields are in decline and the supply of domestic gas is decreasing. About a decade ago, domestic gas accounted for slightly more than half of Pakistan’s primary energy supply, while today, that figure has dropped to around 35pc. Meanwhile, imported LNG is posting impressive gains year after year as it fills the vacuum left behind, rising from zero per cent of total primary energy supplies in 2014 to 0.7pc in 2015, 3.3pc the next year, and 5.6pc the year after. More recent data will show this percentage rising even faster. A time is fast approaching when the quantity of imported LNG in the system will be equal to that of domestic gas. At that point, continuing to administer the price of gas through cost-plus pricing formulas that seek to protect unrealistic returns on assets for the aging ‘Sui sisters’ will no longer be possible. And that point is less than a few years away, given the pace of the increase of LNG. It is becoming very urgent to move on pricing reform in the gas sector, and the focus must be on a greater role for the market in this process. This needs to be the principle with which the government approaches the problems presented by the gas utilities and their mounting losses, and not revenue considerations. Further delay in this process will only lead us towards a costly and disorderly resolution which will be forced by the hand of necessity.
THE Saudi government’s decision to release 579 Pakistani prisoners is a welcome step towards the fulfilment of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s promise of freeing some 2,100 Pakistanis incarcerated in various cities of the kingdom. Most of the released prisoners were charged with drug trafficking, stealing, forgery, bribery and illegal border crossing, while one person was allegedly involved in a case of rape. Since the crown prince’s visit to Pakistan in February this year, the Saudi government has also released around 3,400 Pakistanis who they held in various deportation camps. However, much more remains to be done in terms of improving the transparency of Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system.
Since the beginning of this year, at least 26 Pakistanis accused of various crimes have been executed by the kingdom. The victims included a married couple charged with trying to smuggle drugs into the country and a labourer who spent eight years in jail before meeting his end. According to Justice Project Pakistan, more than 2,800 Pakistanis still remain incarcerated in Saudi Arabia. A majority of people who get into trouble with the kingdom’s appalling criminal justice system belong to poor working-class families who often get used by sub-agents, either by deception or force, or are pilgrims preyed upon by racketeers. They do not have access to any legal or consular representation and are unable to understand the nature of the crimes they have been accused of committing, because the judicial proceedings take place in a foreign language. The kingdom’s criminal justice system operates through a series of very opaque regulations that are often swiftly executed through blanket decrees, such as the beheading of 37 people in a single day in April. Maybe, Prime Minister Imran Khan, with his new role as an intermediary between Saudi Arabia and Iran, can reiterate his concern about the fate of Pakistanis jailed in Saudi Arabia, and persuade its leadership to grant a fair trial to prisoners and revisit their archaic criminal justice system.