Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Pakistan: Can Nawaz Sharif Redefine Priorities?

The process of oath taking by the elected members has started. On Wednesday the elected members of Sindh Assembly sworn in and shortly members of other provincial assemblies and National Assembly will also take oath. Mian Nawaz Sharif will create the history by becoming Prime Minister of Pakistan for the third time. All the fellow countrymen wish him the best and wish his government completes its term. The haunting memories of dismissal of his previous two governments are still fresh.

In these pages it has been highlighted repeatedly that it will not be the bed of roses for the rulers, particularly for Mian Sahib. His party will form government at federal because it enjoys simple majority and in Punjab it enjoys two-third majority. However, his worst critics and opponents will form the government in remaining three provinces.

Since all the parties want to put economy of the country on fast development, resolve energy crisis, curb militancy and establish writ of the government establishing good working relationship is a must because they have consensus on the issues and also on the priorities. The management gurus say ‘a problem well diagnosed is half solved’.

Fortunately or unfortunately all the parties have consensus on four basic issues facing the country that are: 1) balance of payment, 2) energy, 3) law and order and 4) internal and external threats. It may be another thing that they may not priorities the way these have been listed here. During the election campaign political parties have talked a lot about these problems and the root causes. Now the time has come to come up with policies through consensus and implement these in letter and spirit.

To begin with the new government will have to finalize details of Saudi bailout package and IMF extended financial facility.  The two options will help in different ways, Saudi package will help in containing further erosion of existing paltry foreign exchange reserves and IMF facility will provide the much needed breathing space to come up with a home grown plan for overcoming balance of payment crisis. Delaying the decision for next 100 days to witness the impact of policies can prove fatal if desired results are not achieved.

People are disappointed with the statement of Mian Sahib that energy crisis is far worse than estimated. They had got some idea when PML-N leadership extended the period from three months to three years and lost hopes with the announcement that the government needs 500 billion rupees or five billion dollars to overcome the issue. Even the experts wonder how such a colossal amount could be mobilized and what will be the required measures to pay off this debt.
Some cynics say the country does not needs money but a solid plan to resolve the crisis. Both electric and gas utilities have to overcome blatant theft and improve recoveries to improve cash flow. At present about 6000MW electricity is produced at hydel plants which don’t require even a drop of oil and remaining 6000MW electricity is supplied by IPPs.

If NTDC clears all the outstanding amounts IPPs will have enough cash to buy fuel. The much talked about debate that ministry of finance is not releasing the required amount is spreading disinformation rather than helping in resolving the crisis. The federal government can pay the amount pertaining to federal and provincial governments, state owned enterprises and make the deductions at source.

Law and order situation can be improved by taking action against the culprits irrespective of their association with political parties or religious groups. Let one point be very clear that economic prosperity can’t be achieved without ensuring security of people and their assets. Operation in a particular area or against a specific ethnic group can’t resolve the issue.

Once the economy is put on track, the government can address internal and external threats, worst being growing militancy and sectarian killing. The time has come to weed out foreign militants, who are also being used by various local groups for settling scores. Across the board operation is required against the perpetrators, irrespective of their association with local political parties and religious groups.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Pakistan: Limited Options for MQM

While Mian Nawaz Sharif, Chief of PML-N is anxious to assume charge of Prime Minister for the third time and create history, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) seems completely in quandary. It has not decided as yet whether to sit on opposition benches in National Assembly or become ‘me too’ by joining hands with PML-N.

The dissolution of Coordination Committee by founder and leader of MQM, Altaf Hussain and delay is announcement of new team is certainly making its vote bank uncomfortable, especially those who don’t wish to indulge in ‘confrontation’. Many in MQM believe that if something has to be done for the vote bank it can come only by maintaining amicable relationship with the ruling junta.

Many political pundits say, “Under the prevailing conditions, MQM is left with one option only that is to follow the decision of PPP, which has already nominated Khursheed Shah as leader of opposition in the National Assembly and also to become part of ruling junta in Sindh province”.

Political analysts also believe that if PTI, PPP, MQM and ANP join hands in National Assembly they can form a real strong opposition that will not allow Mian Sahib to do ‘whatever he wishes’. Certainly two of the biggest issues for Sindh and Karachi are: 1) overcoming energy crisis and 2) maintaining law and order.

PTI is likely to form government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwah and Dr. Arif Alvi elected on NA-250 from Karachi will have to play the role most prudently. Dr Alvi has emerged victorious after defeating MQM and JI candidates and now his responsibility should be to protect the rights of PTI vote bank.

Development of Sindh in general and Karachi in particular is linked with robust economic activities and ensuring peace. MQM is likely to learn a lesson from erosion in its vote bank and play the role of facilitator to peace and prosperity.

Historically, PML-N and MQM have hardly enjoyed enviable relationship. MQM leaders and workers have not forgotten Mian Sahib’s statement, “If we come in power we will establish Military Court to punish the culprits”. MQM rank and file still remembers operation undertaken during two of the past regimes of Mian Sahib.

It may be said that PPP has also undertaken operation against MQM in the past, but the two parties succeeded in maintaining good relationship as President Asif Ali Zardari and Governor Sindh Dr. Ishrat ul Ebad made the best effort to keep the coalition intact despite some difficult times.

With Pakistan facing internal and external threats all the political parties, which will enjoy double role, opposition in National Assembly and ruling junta at province levels must keep one point in mind that strengthening Pakistan should be their top priority. They should also remember that the leader of opposition is nothing less than the leader of the house.

Therefore, the logical choice of MQM should be to sit on opposition benches in National Assembly and join hands with PPP in Sindh. The earlier this decision is announced the better it will be for the MQM and its vote bank.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Pakistan: Who is pulling the strings?

PML-N leader Shahbaz Sharif has warned the caretaker prime minister not to make appointments to certain key posts at the behest of President Asif Zardari. He reminded him to respect the people’s mandate as he was legally, morally and politically obliged to respect this mandate and warned of a stern stance if the caretakers did not change their attitude.

Ahsan Iqbal, the PML-N’s deputy secretary general, wonders what is forcing the interim government to take important decisions while the new set-up is going to change within 10 days.

MQM has announced to boycott the re-poll in NA-250. In a press conference held on Friday evening, MQM’s senior leader Raza Haroon said that efforts were made to snatch the party’s mandate in Karachi. The ECP on Friday rejected the MQM petition which sought re-polling in the entire NA-250 constituency of Karachi.

The ECP declared that re-polling would only be held in 43 polling stations of NA-250 out of total 180 polling stations where allegedly polling was not held or delayed these stations on 11th May.

In a surprising development, the lawyer who had filed a petition in the judges’ detention case has withdrawn his complaint against former president retired Gen Pervez Musharraf. The decision by Advocate Chaudhry Mohammad Aslam Ghumman came a day before the hearing of the case on Saturday by the Islamabad Anti-Terrorism Court at former president Pervez Musharraf’s Chak Shahzad farmhouse which has been declared a sub-jail.

Lately, Wazir Ali Khoja was removed from his post of Chairman and Managing Director National Investment Trust (NIT). Before his dismissal the government had removed three heads of public sector organizations: 1) Arif Hameed, MD, Sui Northern Gas Pipelines (SNGPL); Zuhair Siddiqui, MD Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) and retired Brigadier Khalid Khokhar, MD Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation (PMDC). 

One completely fails to understand that the power has not been transferred to newly elected members, elected members have not taken oath and even the names of new prime minister and finance minister have not been announced officially but posting and transfers are being made.

Many political parties have been talking about pre-poll and during the poll rigging but none have raised voice against such terminations. If such moves are being made at the federal level one just can’t rule out such violations at the provincial levels.

Almost all the political parties, PML-N being on the top, were accusing PPP-lead coalition of posting the favorites, but dismissal of those even before assuming charge creates even worst examples of nepotism by PML-N.

There were complaints that PML-N that ruled Punjab for five years, kept the favorites in key position during the interim set up to influence polling results.

It is often said that appointment of professionals as heads of public sector enterprises was aimed at improving performance of these entities. However, often these heads are appointed to serve the political agenda of appointing authorities.

The key items on agenda are: 1) paving way for appointment of party activists, 2) allocating advertisements to favorite media houses and above all 3) siphoning of funds by granting contracts to favorite entities.

The public sector enterprises that have been ruined include PIA, Pakistan Steel, and electricity generation and distribution companies. Entities that have been used to generate funds to meet shortfall in revenue collection are OGDC, PPL, PSO and Sui twins.
Interestingly nepotism, corruption and violation of good governance continued during the PPP led government despite the fact that Chaudhry Nisar Ali belonging to PML-N occupies the top slot of Chairman Public Accounts Committee.

Therefore, it may not be wrong to say that political parties criticize each other but have common motives. Surplus staff of PIA and Pakistan Steel just can’t be removed because activists of many political parties are there that follow the rule ‘I scratch you back and you scratch my back’.

Critics say political parties play ‘musical chair game’, let their favorites plunder and the next government allows them to go home without any accountability. Some cynics say that loyalties of turncoats are bought so that they could also help the new bosses in siphoning out funds of the public sector enterprises (PSEs).

It is o record that annually PSEs swallow around half a trillion rupees of tax payers’ money. A cynic commenting on metro bus project of PML-N said, ‘it was only to facilitate Ittefaq Steel (own by Sharif family) to sell its products’. 

It is only half truth because the project serves residents of Lahore only, whereas the condition of public transport throughout Punjab remains pathetic.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Pakistan Election: Accepting Results

By this time most of the results of recently held general elections in Pakistan have been announced, though unofficially. Those parties which have lost are framing rigging charges but it is a fact that barring a few constituencies the general consensus is that elections were fair, free and transparent. There was less bloodshed keeping in view the threats and attacks on ANP, MQM and PPP election offices and corner meeting.

The efforts to create an impression that polling has been rigged across the board will mar the credibility of elected representatives. However, one could talk specifically about a few constituencies and polling stations where imprudent acts were performed. It can’t be said that only MQM and PPP indulged in rigging but PML-N also indulged in unfair practice, as alleged by supporters of PTI.

A lot is being talked about NA-250, which could be termed exceptional but has to be condemned most vocally. This reminded Larkana election of 1977 when Mulana Jan Mohammad Abbasi of JI was abducted by some PPP supporters/bureaucrats only to prove that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was elected unopposed. Even at that time many analysts were of the consensus that Mulana could have not won against Bhutto, but a silly move turned the table.

PML-N has won the largest number of seats in National as well as Punjab Assembly. However, it is being alleged for rigging by PPP and PTI because some of the results are beyond expectations. Some analysts say PPP was hoping against hope because it failed in managing affairs of the country prudently and diligently. PML-N had something to its credit and made sweeping victory in Punjab and also managed to get sympathies in Balochistan, though PPP has offered special package for the province.

It is an undeniable fact that ANP, MQM and PPP witnessed erosion in their vote bank. It is true that these parties came under Taliban/TTP attacks but it is also a fact that whiles these parties ruled, the country suffered from gross mismanagement, corruption and nepotism. A few elites may have benefited but masses suffered the most. Therefore, no one else could be held responsible for the fate except their own deeds. Pakistani politicians must learn lesson from rise and fall of Congress in India. It has often lost election as and when its performance was not at par.

PML-N has managed to won in Punjab only because it delivered. PTI has won modest number of seats and it should sit in opposition rather than making any attempt to form government with any other party. If PML-N forms alliance with JUI-F in Khyber Pakhtunkhwah it would be deviation from its manifesto because this religious party and its leaders have been the biggest beneficiaries during Musharraf as well as Zardari rules.

All those parties which have failed in wining substantial number of seats must also keep in view the fate of ANP in mind. Some of its ministers have been accused of worst corruption, which is an undeniable fact. Its role in Karachi often came under criticism only because it was involved in certain highly undesirable activities. Many Pakhtuns living in Karachi have been openly accusing local leadership of ANP of creating animosity with non-Pakhtuns for achieving their selfish motives.

Parties that have failed in winning over hearts of masses must review their policies and work for the welfare of their supporters. In many countries leader of the opposition is given as high a respect as given to the leader of the house. In last government Chaudhry Nisar Ali of PML-N was made Chairman Public Accounts Committee to monitor financial affairs of the government. Earlier Chief of JUI-F was also made head of Kashmir Committee. It is regrettable that despite enjoying power the two leaders failed to deliver.

PML-N leadership is also advised to work with an open heart and avoid its policy of victimizing leaders and activists of opponent parties. If there are evidences against erring people they must be brought to court of justice. An example to follow is Faisal Sallah Hayat, who gathered enough evidences against promoters of rental power plants as well as Raja Pervez Ashraf and helped the government in recovering billion of rupees given to the favorites.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Pakistan: Next government not a bed of roses

The unofficial results indicate that PML-N, headed by Mian Nawaz Sharif has won the largest number of National Assembly seats and absolute majority in Punjab Provincial Assembly. PPP and MQM collectively have won the largest number of seats in Sindh and will most likely form the government in the province.

However, the number of seats won by PML-N in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwah are not enough to form government at its own. It will have to form alliance with other parties. Political pundits forecast that managing Pakistani affairs may not be as easy as was perceived by PML-N as PTI is not likely to be a ‘friendly opposition’.

According to certain quarters Taliban and its offshoot TTP has extended unconditional support to PML-N and it may not be easy find to develop cordial working relations with the US administration. The continued tilt towards Taliban/TTP will not bode well in achieving the confidence level.

The US mantra of ‘do more’ will force PML-N to do some of the things that may not be endorsed by its vote bank; two of the thorns are Afia Sisiddiqui and drone attacks. However, the prevailing situation offers an opportunity to PML-N to develop working relationships on new terms and conditions.

At this juncture Pakistan and India also don’t enjoy very cordial relationship.  Mian Sahib ‑ himself of Kashmiri origin ‑ has been saying that Musharraf regime had put Kashmir issue on the back bumper. While Pakistan has been declining to grant India MFN status till resolution of Kashmir issue, watching Mian Sahib reproaching Pakistan’s rival will be worth watching. On his back are Jihadis who don’t approve granting India MFN status.

Experts had expressed apprehensions when Mian Sahib opposed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. It was obvious that Mian Sahib didn’t want the credit to go to Asif Zardari, but he had certainly offended time test friend Iran. Keeping in view Mian Sahib’s tilt towards India, he is more likely to buy gas and electricity from India rather than Iran.

At present Pakistan suffers from three deficits i.e. budget deficit, trade deficit and trust deficit. Keeping in view statements of Shahbaz Sharif overcoming energy crisis may take up to three years. It is on record that PML-N chose to spend billions of rupees on metro bus project, distribution of free lap tops and Sasti Roti but didn’t take any initiative to overcome energy crisis in the province where it enjoyed majority and also ruled for five years.
Historically, Mian Sahib has never enjoyed cordial relationship with MQM and his statement is on record ‘in case we come into power military courts will be established in Karachi’. The hint was towards punishing MQM and he had dented the party in the past.

A question being asked is, can PML-N and MQM establish working relations, at least? The outcome will dependent on the attitude of PML-N as well as MQM. Some of the political pundits say ‘MQM after having remained in power for decades just can’t afford to sit on opposition benches’.

It is also feared that soon after coming in power PML-N will initiate ‘operation cleanup’ in Karachi that could lead to strike calls and suspension of industrial and commercial activities in Karachi. Over the years Mian Sahib has been accusing MQM for booty collection, land grabbing and making Karachi a hostage. Therefore, sharing power with the ‘accused’ will not be an easy task.

The top rivals ANP, MQM and PPP likely to form government in Sindh but sit on opposition benches in National Assembly could give real tough time to PML-N. Added to this will be PTI’s pressure on three issues, eliminating corruption, maintaining law and order and stopping drone attacks.

Following its tradition PML-N is most likely to introduce policies to attain ‘political mileage’ adding to budget deficit, which may not be approved by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Though, the Fund has hinted towards extending US$5 billion under Extended Financing Facility, the terms and conditions are yet to be finalized.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Pakistan Election: Will a difference be made?

Today (Saturday) Pakistan went on poll to elect the next National and Provincial Assemblies, those who will rule them over the next five years. Contrary to the initial fears, polling went reasonably well, except in a few constituencies or polling stations. One could see posts on Facebook about irregularities, but mostly pertaining to a few constituencies of Karachi, little update from other provinces.

A point worth mentioning is that turnout was higher as compared to previous elections, may be people have realized that if they wish to bring a change in Pakistan they have to cast their vote. In one of bomb blasts in Quaidabad in Karachi, having Pakhtun concentration about a dozen people died in Karachi.

Polling is over even after extended period in most of the constituencies. Interestingly from Karachi MQM, JI and some other religious parties have lodges complaint of rigging and are demanding reelection. However, the overall consensus is that barring less than a dozen constituencies polling has been held in fair, free and transparent manner.

Observers are of the view that any attempt to mar credibility of the polling held or non-acceptance of the results could create unrest in the country, an objective enemies of Pakistan are trying to achieve. They initially threatened people to stay away from this non-Shariah compliant system but their argument carried no weight as they declared not to stop, religious parties, PML-N, JI and PTI from participating in the polls.

Now people are desperately waiting for the announcement of results. All the television channels are running special election transmissions to provide the updates. Till official results are announced, it is difficult to say which party can attain even simple majority.

Most of the political pundits are hinting towards ‘hung parliament’ in which no party will get majority and the outcome could be another ‘coalition’ government. A point to watch is has the youth made any difference?

This time youngsters became active and many extended support to Imran Khan’s PTI. The contest was close between PML-N and PTI in Punjab. Urban Sindh extended support to MQM and PPP remained docile in urban as well as rural areas.

Surprisingly, Bilawal, Chairman PPP (son of President Zardari and Benazir Bhutto) preferred to remain in door due to life threats. 

ANP came under attack in Sindh as well as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

In Balochistan, nationalist parties are likely to get reasonable number of seats.

Religious parties formed an alliance but JI and JUI-F fielded their own candidates.

JUI-F candidates despite being supporter of Taliban came under attacks.

Imran Khan got severely injured due to fall from a forklift, trying to raise him to a 20 feet high stage.

Sharif Brothers and their dynasty contested on various seats.

Son of former premier Gillani was kidnapped.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Pakistan: Are Taliban used by external powers?

The declaration of an open war by Threek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) against three political parties, ANP, MQM and PPP that ruled Pakistan for five years is an open challenge to the Government of Pakistan (GoP) as well as the citizens. 

A point of even bigger concern is its support for PML-N, PTI and JUI-F, but recent attacks on JUI-F in Balochistan perplex many.

A point to be remembered is that Taliban was the term coined for Mujahideen that fought against USSR with the support of United States. However, after 9/11 Taliban were declared a foe by the United States for providing safe haven to OBL in Afghanistan.

Analysts often mix Taliban and TTP. These are two separate entities having different objectives but often alleged for cooperating with each other when it comes to attacking sensitive installations or killing innocent citizens in Pakistan.
TTP is often termed an indigenous phenomenon that primarily challenged the writ of GoP in the northern areas of the country. It may have got support from foreign militants fighting in Afghanistan but its primary target has been Pakistan Army. Its other targets have been Shia community and lately ANP and MQM.

Some of the cynics say that TTP phantom has been blown out of proportion and they raise fingers towards yet another banned outfit Jundullah, once headed by Abdul Reham Riki, who was arrested and hanged by Iran for killing its key people and attacking sensitive installations. One of the conspiracy theories is that Jundullah has become active once again and it is using TTP name to mislead people of Pakistan as well as intelligence agencies.

In the past, Jundullah had emerged the biggest champion of Rights of Baloch, both in Pakistan and Iran. It was often alleged that Jundullah was getting funds and arms from foreign elements that wanted to cause collateral damages to Pakistan and Iran. It must have not been easy for the perpetrators to swallow the bitter pill that many of the Baloch leaders that have been living in self exile for a long time have decided to participate in general elections being held on 11th May.

The reasons one could suspect resurgence of Jundullah are: 1) attacks on JUI-F candidates and 2) blowing up of gas transmission lines in Balochistan. This belief also gets some credence because the sole purpose of attacking ANP, MQM and PPP is to create a reason for the postponement of general elections. Pakistanis have been wondering why any militant group or political party should be keen in deferring election in the country?

One can recall that even prior to the creation of an interim set up some of the quarters were suggesting extending term of this arrangement for three years but a question was also raised, who could be the beneficiaries of the proposed set up? The cynics attributed this to withdrawal of Us-led Nato troops from Afghanistan via Pakistan. It is often said that the need of the time is ‘putting in place a team on which Nato countries, including US have complete faith.

The game plan faced some risks when anti United States sentiments flared up again in Pakistan. Now there is an overwhelming feeling in Pakistan that despite fighting proxy war for the United States, the mantra of ‘do more’ remains load. Pak-US relations got a big jolt when Pakistan despite warned of dire consequences decided to go ahead with Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline.

Now even a man on street is asking if India is allowed to construct Chabahar port, road and rail link up to Central Asia, buy oil and also construct urea manufacturing plant in Iran, why pressure on Pakistan not to buy oil and gas from Iran?