Snipers Kill Nationalist Supporters Marching for Unity in Sindh

Karachi Burns in Ethnic Fires (Credit:

KARACHI, May 22: At least 12 people have been killed and 29 injured in violence that erupted after unidentified gunmen opened fire on a rally organised by the Awami Tehreek and banned Peoples Amn Committee (PAC) in Karachi on Tuesday.

The protestors were rallying against the proposed Mohajir province and operation in Lyari.

Soon after the attack, the protest turned violent and dozens of cars and motorbikes were torched. The violence, which erupted in the Napier Road area, spread to the nearby localities including Lyari.

Police personnel deployed to maintain security failed to control the situation, however, after Rangers arrived, violence was brought under control.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has taken notice of the violence and has sought a report from the Sindh government.

Meanwhile Express News reported that Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that Awami Tehreek and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, PAC, Punjabi-Pakhtun Ittehad (PPI), KCI had participated in the rally, but they had not sought prior permission from the government. A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has been formed to investigate into the matter.

Later, while commenting on Twitter, Malik said he had proposed to Chief Minister Sindh for an inquiry into the incident through a judge of the Sindh High Court. The Court should then ascribe responsibility for a probe.

The interior minister, further tweeted late Tuesday night, posing questions to the parties involved in the rally, asking why Ayub Awan, Ayaz Latif Palijo and particularly PML-N’s Marvi Memon led 2000 people into sensitive areas including Lyari and Kharadar.

Malik blamed PML-N for the deaths, caused due to the violence.

He also shrugged off any responsibility for the episode of violence, saying that it was the responsibility of the local police, Home Secretary Sindh and Chief Minister Sindh, adding that he is only responsible for providing logistical support and forces.

Due to today’s violence, Board of Intermediate Education in Karachi and Hyderabad have postponed exams scheduled to be held on Wednesday. The exams will now be held on May 30 in Karachi and May 26 in Hyderabad.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Wasay Jalil expressed sorrow over the incident and called it a planned activity. He further claimed that the rally “had caused the violence”

Awami Tehreek President Ayaz Palijo, in a press conference, said that the police left the areas as soon as firing began and the PPP “stood there, watching Sindhis being killed”.

“I thank PML-N and Jamaat-e-Islami who supported us in the protest,” he added.

He further warned that every drop of blood that was shed in today’s riots will be avenged, “not from innocent Urdu-speaking people, but from terrorists”.

Palijo also said that he had received text messages last night from a certain party which threatened of repeating the May 12 scenario today during the protest.

Mumtaz Bhutto’s party merges with Sharif’s PML (N)

Mumtaz with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (Credit:

Years later, as I flew to Larkana to interview the aristocratic Mumtaz Bhutto at his ancestral home, I found he had also not forgiven the PPP “riff raff” for their challenge to the feudal lords.

With his cool demeanor and long moustache, Mumtaz spoke slow clipped sentences in British English. It established his credentials as a barrister-at-law from Lincoln’s Inn, U.K. Well-spoken, and comfortable with hosting Western diplomats in his Karachi mansion, Mumtaz was just as at ease in his sprawling estate as in the otherwise poor and underdeveloped Larkana.

The Larkana feudal had stayed away from Benazir’s attempts to reorganize the PPP after her father was hanged by the military. Instead, he had watched incredulously as Benazir had worked her way up through the old boy network of entrenched male feudals.

Mumtaz came to receive me at his gates in Larkana after my hosts dropped me off from the airport. We walked back to his magnificent estate.  Rows of elderly men touched his feet in reverence all the way back to the house. I felt guilty that grown men prostrated themselves. But, the Larkana feudal walked erect, scarcely looking down at the emaciated peasants. This was the traditional welcome for a man who owns lands in Larkana, Jacobabad and Shahdadkot and in the adjoining Balochistan province.

Sitting in the shade in Mumtaz Bhutto’s brick courtyard where the afternoon sun gently sizzled, we chatted after I finished interviewing him. An avid reader of Dawn, he told me he was familiar with my name. It did not surprise me, knowing that Western-educated feudal politicians and bureaucrats alike read the newspaper for which I wrote. At the same time, he complained that politicians shot into prominence – and I knew he hinted at Benazir – because of the media attention they received.

Perhaps the inordinate attention Benazir had received in the press after her exile overseas had seemed excessive to her uncle. In particular, he seemed irked by how green Benazir was for Pakistan’s seamy politics.

With a sardonic smile, Mumtaz told me that when Benazir had arrived from London to lead the Pakistani nation of over 100 million, her youth and unfamiliarity in getting the top job as prime minister made her seem like “Alice in Wonderland.”

“You know that when Benazir first came to me, she didn’t know anyone. Instead, she asked that I introduce her to people,” Mumtaz told me.

“Did you?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said in his non-committal way.

But I knew that as a political rival Mumtaz was least likely to introduce his ambitious niece to the powerbrokers.

Mumtaz was a man who belonged to another era, another system. His style was in sharp contrast to Benazir’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto had used his fiery speeches to empower peasants and the working class, who had, for centuries, cringed before the aristocracy.  Apart from being a demagogue, Bhutto had left lasting effects. My visit to Larkana – the ancestral home of the Bhuttos – gave me an insight into the contrasting style of the rival politicians from the best-known political family of Sindh.

We sat in the courtyard where the sounds of chirping birds and the fresh country air made me glad to be out of Karachi city. As the servants brought tea, Mumtaz poked fun at Benazir’s poor knowledge of her mother tongue, Sindhi.  It was an issue I could identify with myself:  like Benazir, I was born a Sindhi in Karachi. Being primarily educated in Western institutions, my parents had never encouraged me to learn my own language.

But Mumtaz was relentless with his niece.

“When Benazir comes to Larkana and I hear her speeches in Sindhi blaring out from the loudspeakers, I want to cover my ears,” he laughed sardonically. He saw me smile, in spite of myself.

Mumtaz had reserved his deepest contempt for the commoners who joined the PPP under Benazir. I could see how difficult it had been for him to digest the victory of a PPP candidate of “inferior standing” like Deedar Hussain Shah, who won against him in Larkana.

“You know that fellow (Deedar Shah) used to be my kumdar (manager of lands) – who waited outside my office to get my attention,” he told me.   “And now he has the nerve to stand against me,” he added in disgust.

That came as news to me. I knew Deedar Shah as one of the best-read parliamentarians in the Sindh Assembly.

We left the ancestral courtyard after Mumtaz offered to take me on a tour of his ancestral lands in Larkana in his Pajero jeep. It was an unusual step for a feudal to drive a vehicle with an unveiled woman, but there were important things on my host’s mind.

As we drove through his constituency, he told me to note the broken roads and a gaping gutter in Naudero, Larkana where a child had fallen a few days ago. He cited them as examples of how his humble PPP rival Deedar Shah had failed to fulfill the needs of the community.

Both Mumtaz Bhutto and his PPP opponent Deedar Hussein Shah, knew from experience that getting funds from the Punjab was like getting blood out of a stone. Deedar Shah grew hoarse in the Sindh Assembly as he appealed for development funds for interior Sindh. Eventually he quit politics and became a judge.

As a prominent feudal lord, Mumtaz claimed he would have more leverage with the federal government in getting funds for rural Sindh. That, I suspected, was true.

Pak Prime Minister Gilani Down But Not Out – Yet!

PM after SC Verdict (Credit:

ISLAMABAD, April 26— Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday convicted Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of contempt for defying its orders to reopen an old corruption case against the president, but the justices spared Gilani any prison time.

The sentence was symbolic, lasting only until judges left the courtroom. But Gilani’s political future remains clouded with the possibility that he could still be removed from office.

For months the political crisis had distracted from U.S. efforts to restore full diplomatic ties with Pakistan, which were badly strained after American warplanes inadvertently bombed two border outposts last November, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The continuation of Gilani and his party in power, at least for now, provides a measure of stability that experts say should help speed the resumption of a cooperative, if uneasy, relationship between the two counterterrorism allies. Pakistan’s Parliament has already indirectly granted the chief U.S. request: that the nation reopen its border to NATO convoys, including thousands of oil tankers, that supply troops in Afghanistan.

Gilani could have been sentenced to up to six months in prison, but his ruling Pakistan People’s Party was hardly pleased with the outcome. “This is a dark day in the history of the country,” Firdous Ashiq Awan, a former information minister, told journalists outside the court.

Analysts were divided over whether the conviction meant the prime minister would have to give up his seat in Parliament, and thus his higher office. They said that could happen in a matter of weeks or months, depending on the outcome of legal wrangling.

Political score-settling here often includes new leaders bringing questionable criminal cases against members of parties who have fallen from power. Gilani’s conviction stemmed from his adamant refusal to pursue money-laundering and kickback cases brought by Swiss authorities against President Asif Ali Zardari.

Gilani has maintained that the constitution grants Zardari immunity from prosecution, and Zardari has denied the allegations, which date to the 1990s.

Although Gilani has served longer than any prime minister in the nation’s 64-year history, he also bears the stain of being the only prime minister found guilty of contempt; two others were charged but not convicted.

After his courtroom punishment, which lasted about 30 seconds, Gilani chaired a special cabinet meeting where he seemed sanguine about the entire matter. “Politics has lots of ups and downs,” he said, according to one cabinet member in the room and various media reports.

A career in politics means unavoidable tumult, the embattled premier noted, offering an Urdu proverb: “Working with coal will make your hands black, too.”

Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, who himself faced contempt of court charges as prime minister in 1997, called on Gilani to quit.

“He should step down without causing further crisis,” Sharif said on the cable channel Geo News. He also called for new elections.

Correspondent Shaiq Hussain contributed to this report.

Pak Politics Dyed in Feudal Colors

Good lawyers are often judged by their stance when they run out of truth as well as legal arguments at the same time.  Many tend to fall back on theatrics, histrionics, distortion and even poetry as supplements to beef up the deficiency in the main menu.  Barrister Aitzaz however touched new heights of judicial decadence when he pleaded that notwithstanding the offence, his client being a ‘pir’ and a ‘gaddi nashin’ be treated differently from other ordinary citizens.  Mercifully he did not demand that the seven judges come down from their raised platform to kiss the hands and touch the feet of the accused even before beginning to hear the first argument.

Coming from someone considered a leading lawyer and a champion of democracy, such an undemocratic and dynastic statement reflects the true reality of the nature of politics and society in Pakistan.    It confirms that the change that an average Pakistani is looking forward to is surely not around the bend. Not only that the voter is inextricably bound in the chains of the landlord, the ‘Pir’, the ‘Gaddi Nashin’, the ‘Sardars’,  the ‘Biradari’, the sectarian and the ethnic influence but the ruling classes are equally  united in their manipulations  to sanctify  these undemocratic and  dynastic institutions.

In an apparently unrelated incident, a totally disgusted and disappointed acid victim Fakhra committed suicide by jumping from her 6th floor apartment in Rome.  Ironically her suicide comes in the wake of the new acid throwing legislation in Pakistan and Chinoy’s  Oscar winning film ‘saving face’.  Clearly neither the laws nor  ‘saving face’ could save the face or the life of Fakhra.   Our focus lies only in awards, ceremonies and seminars,  and not on putting an end to the tragedies displayed in the film. Somewhere in the Bar Rooms, a yet  another worthy barrister must be getting ready to defend the rich acid-thrower  Bilal Khar.  After all,  Khar is the scion of  a  powerful  political dynasty of the landed ‘waderas’ of Pakistan, and cannot be equated with those petty street acid-slingers.

Pakistan is  caught in a time warp and the prognosis is not entirely cheerful. Its masses have been kept too backward, poor and uneducated  to go beyond the dotted line and its ruling cartel too happy to exploit its monopoly.  The second and third generation of the ruling  elite is being groomed to take over and prove that their elders were novices in the art of plunder.   The educated professional  class is happy to sit on the sidelines as it can have all the fun without sharing any responsibility.   When sufficiently motivated it could even invent new jurisprudence on why a ‘Pir’ should not be punished.

So where do we go from here.  Is there a political party that is willing to be  the party of the ordinary people.  One that is willing to nominate no candidate  who is a ‘sardar, ‘wadera’, ‘pir’ or whose claim to fame is his political or spiritual lineage.    Pakistanis should not expect reforms from leaders  who are  unwilling to reform themselves or their parties.  Those who proceed abroad for medical treatment (at the state expense) in specially chartered aeroplanes are not likely to spend much time on improving the local hospitals.  Likewise those whose hands are kissed and feet are touched by the mindless millions are not likely to exhibit a democratic  or egalitarian behavior.

It is astonishing that the educated elite of Pakistan is ever so ready to defend the swampy cesspool, but not willing to organize and push for much needed reforms.  These are urgently needed in the dynastic and ‘bhatta collecting’  political parties, the atrophied Election Commission, the non-functional educational system and  the tortoisian justice system, to name a few. The  parties must declare that  henceforth they will not accept candidates who use  titles like  ‘sajjada nashin’, ‘pir’,  ‘makhdoom’, ‘sardar’, ‘gaddi nashin’, ‘wadera’ etc, or those who receive  ‘offerings’  and ‘nazranas’.  Their candidates will not have fake degrees, will not collect ‘bhatta’, will not be dual nationals and will voluntarily surrender all weapons that they hold.

The Election Commission could  learn a lesson or two from its Indian counterpart.  How come the civil society accepted  the 37 million fake-vote election without batting an eyelid or without demanding accountability or  overhaul of the electoral process.  Clearly the educated, rich and the powerful segment of the civil society has sided with the ‘status quo’ by refusing to grow out of its 5 star, foreign funded seminar mode or to push for reforms and accountability.  Not protesting to eliminate  the root causes (such as official proliferation of weapons) and hoping to achieve peace through candlelit vigils is neither rational nor likely to make the dead horse gallop again.

Govt Claims Crackdown on Extortion Mafias after Big Protests

Traders Demand Protection from Extortionists (Credit:

Karachi, March 19: “In our profession, we don’t look at whether we’re strong, but if the other party is able to pay up,” says I*, with a 9mm pistol in hand, as he sits outside his apartment in District East. “This is give and take. No one is doing a favour. We ask for money to spare someone’s life and they pay up for the same reason. It’s a simple formula.”

Becoming an extortionist in Karachi is the easy way out to not just bankrolling a political party’s operations but also to rise in the murky hierarchy of criminal operations in Karachi.

Small-time criminals with no affiliation to gangs or political parties can easily call someone up, say that they are from so-and-so party or gang and make an extortion demand. Their entry into the city’s criminal operations has complicated how extortion works in Karachi, since it has become difficult to identify where the demand is actually coming from.

Instead of relying on other sources, every gang and criminal group in town is extorting money to be able to meet its budgetary needs. Almost all political and nationalist parties are involved in extorting money in Karachi, say observers. By one estimate, over Rs50 million is collected from traders, businessmen, shopkeepers, industrialists, factory owners and construction companies in Karachi, relying on a tried-and-tested formula of blackmail or asking for a ‘donation’ or ‘protection money’ on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

They are assisted by a network of employees, relatives, guards and drivers, and use cell phones, verbal demands conveyed by boys on motorcycles and written slips of papers to convey their calls for money. There is also a system of surveillance in place, so traders are told of where their children go to school and what their family members are up to so that they know that the extortionists are keeping an eye on them.

A*, who works at a textile mill in SITE, is one of the many victims of extortionists.

“I had to stop going to the office for a few days. If I didn’t have anyone to support me I would have gone crazy,” he said.

Extortionists are known to call up traders and industrialists with their demands. While A never paid up, he was convinced that someone from his inner circle had provided his details to criminal groups.

Others have paid up or negotiated the amounts asked for them. According to one account, the amount can be discussed and brought down. Others have just shifted their families to other cities or countries.

Those targeted by extortionists play a cloak-and-dagger game, changing vehicles and cell phone numbers to escape their insistent calls.

The police also help traders deal with extortionists and advise them to negotiate. One industrialist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that he shifted his family abroad because he was convinced that they would always use them as a way to get to his cheque book.

Sindh Home Minister Manzoor Wassan and police officials have said that extortionist groups are not new to Karachi. But while it was once easy to know who was behind that mysterious phone call asking for hundreds of thousands of rupees, Karachi is far more complicated now with the myriad groups operating throughout the city, and those using their names to inspire fear in their victims.

Resistance isn’t a strategy either. Over half a dozen traders in Karachi, especially in the South district, have been killed for refusing to pay up.

Problems have also emerged with different groups battling out for turfs.

Paying extortion doesn’t mean the other group won’t approach you for money, and this has also seen a decrease in share for groups that were traditionally the sole operator in extortion. In some areas, the turfs are neatly demarcated and work with mutual understanding, given the political deals between the groups’ leaders or parties. But with the involvement of criminal groups with no political affiliation, a turf war has emerged and results in a renewal of target-based killings.

But there is no one to turn to. The police have been deemed as being ineffective in dealing with the situation; since it is highly politicised, few traders actually lodge First Information Reports (FIRs) with the city’s cops.

Even with the initiation of an Anti Extortion Cell, few have stepped up to register complaints and prefer to reply on personal connections to rid themselves of the extortionists. Despite the furore over extortion, Karachi police chief Akhtar Hussain Gorchani has only received 15 complaints in 10 days. “I thought extortion had reached a limit but I am confused at the few numbers of complaints received by the Anti Extortion Cell,” he told The Express Tribune. “Either people can’t develop trust in the police or there’s some other reason.”

Crime Investigation Department SSP Fayyaz Khan said that criminal gangs have complicated the city’s situation, since they use the names of influential political parties to back up their demands. He said there is violent retribution for those who refuse to pay up.

This also makes it difficult to estimate how much money is extorted from Karachi, though a source said that at least Rs10.5 million was demanded from the traders on Tariq Road each month. In his testimony to the Supreme Court of Pakistan last August, the DG Rangers said that extortion is a ‘normal practice’ and at least Rs10 million is collected every day, from shopkeepers to the city’s prominent businessmen. The negotiated amount that is paid is far less than what is being demanded.

For complainants who don’t have someone influential backing them up, they can’t find a way to track who has made the extortion demands over the phone. Often, a caller will use a single phone number to dial 20 traders and make demands, but the process of verification is difficult. The police do not appear to have access to trace calls, and requests end up going through several levels, from the SHO to the SSP to the DIG to the additional IG, who will then forward it to the Intelligence Bureau who will ask the Inter-Services Intelligence to help. It can take up to three months to trace calls through the official route, which makes the notion of listing the cell phone numbers being used in complaints useless.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals

SOME BHATTA PRONE AREAS (according to police sources):

Gulshan-e-Maymar, Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Sacchal, Gadap, Malir, Gulshan-e-Hadeed, Bin Qasim, Lyari, Old city areas, Garden, Golimar, Pak Colony, Site, Shershah scrap market, Saddar, Napier Road, Kharadar, Mithadar, New Karachi, Surjani, Ranchore Line, Soldier Bazaar, Shah Faisal Colony, Korangi, Landhi, Kharadar, Liaquatabad, Sohrab Goth, Orangi, Qasba, Banaras, Kati Pahari, SITE, Baldia, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Essa Nagri, Old Sabzi Mandi, Abul Hassan Ispahani Road, Hassan Square, Bahadurabad, Quaidabad, Keamari, Tariq Road, Sharafi Goth, Korangi, Lyari, Kharadar, Mithadar, New Karachi and Quaidabad.

International Crisis Group Weighs in on Balochistan

Balochistan on Map (Credit:
India hasn’t done it; neither has America nor Israel. I am behind the crisis; I created it and I am responsible as well as answerable. Yes, India and America, both opportunists par excellence, are now taking advantage of our weaknesses but no one can break Balochistan away from me but me.

Baloch demands have always been political in nature-political empowerment and economic freedom. Balochistan as a whole has never demanded secession and whatever the large majority has been asking for has always been within their constitutional rights. A large majority of Balochistan has always wanted-and continues to want-to remain within Pakistan’s constitutional and democratic confines.

Over the years, there have been three major Baloch demands: effective political representation, administrative control and an end to exploitation of indigenous resources. Over the years, Rawalpindi has always responded with a military solution. But, pure political problems have no military solutions. Baloch opposition has been-and is being-pushed from being political in nature to militancy and insurgency. The Baloch, in that sense, have been forced to pick up the gun.

The Army has always responded with three of its most favourite tools: an indiscriminate military operation, a divide-and-rule policy plus bribing the Sardars, the Mirs and the Nawabs. Imagine; dividing up your own population, using Pashtun religious elements against Balochs and strategizing that this would bring Balochistan under centralized control. Imagine; appeasing the Sardars but leaving the other seven and a half million Baloch residents marginalized both economically and politically. It never has worked nor will it ever work.

GHQ has no solution. What then is the way out? How can we keep Indian and American wolves at bay? As a first step, here’s a set of six recommendations from the International Crisis Group (ICG) that makes lot of sense: An immediate end to all military operations; release all political prisoners; no political role for any intelligence agency; produce all detainees before the courts; give provincial jurisdiction over policing and ensure local stakes over each and every provincial resource.

In the next phase, bring about a new Balochistan run by a representative political as well as administrative structure-and no more cantonments please. Why is Gwadar Port Authority’s head office in Karachi?

Why is the wellhead price in Sind and Punjab up to four times higher than for wells in Balochistan? How many Baloch residents sit on the Boards of PPL, OGDC or Sui Southern? To be certain, America is not going to determine the future of Balochistan. Neither will India or Israel. What I do in the following 360 days is what will determine the future.

One out of every two residents of Balochistan is below the poverty line. Only one out of every two residents of Balochistan has access to clean drinking water. Only one out of every two children goes to primary school. Only one out of every three children is immunised. Balochistan’s crisis is surely heading in the wrong direction and there is no military solution.

The Democracy Train Chugs Along

In a developing democracy, what is important is the systemic entrenchment through constitutional norms and uninterrupted electoral processes; the issues of public propriety and moral turpitude get sorted out as the democratic polity takes roots. Indeed, with each election, the system receives new vigour. The UK, the US and our neighbor India have all traversed this path. The Senate elections have taken the country one step forward in its democratic journey. Indeed, the elections point to many an interesting fact and development.

Firstly, this is the first post-constitutional reforms Senate elections. Now the upper house is occupied by the members who have been returned by the legislators elected in the 2008 general elections. Thus, the Senate elections have led to the expunction of the last vestiges of the Ziaul Haq and Musharraf era political system. True, many newly elected members may also have been part of the previous system, but now they stand on a much sounder constitutional pedestal. Yet, surprisingly this qualitative leap in the development of democracy has been lost on much of the political and media space. Why?

Actually, the alleged use of pelf and power in the elections has stimulated such a raucous debate on political morality that the underlying virtue of the graduating democracy has gone unnoticed. The media gurus do not reckon that democracy works like a mechanic in a garage, perennially engaged in fixing the malfunctioning vehicles. And that until the socio-political realities of the common men are transformed, the face of democracy would seem like a façade, carried on by the ruling elites. But even in the same democracy are latent the seeds of redemption for the shackled masses. Hence the cliché: even a bad democracy is better than autocracy.

Many of us were unhappy when General Ziaul Haq lifted martial law, in lieu of the infamous 8th Amendment to the constitution that drastically distorted the parliamentary system, and led to the dismissal of as many as four elected governments at the hands of the establishment-sponsored powerful presidents. Yet, a political process of sorts was triggered by the end of martial law. And a wish to revive the original 1973 Constitution remained kindling in the heart of every democrat worth his salt. The wish was finally realised much later by the present parliament, the very members who are berated day in and day out.

Secondly, the Senate elections have also shown that democracy not only reforms misgovernance but also chastens errant leadership. This time round, none of the parliamentary parties, not even the PML-N, allowed the system to crumble just to deny the PPP more seats in the Senate. It is a departure from the past when the political system was marred by perpetual confrontation and fissures and the main political parties — the PPP and the PML-N — went so far in hurting each other that they ignored the cost of their bellicosity. As a result, both suffered at the hands of the establishment.

Thirdly, the Senate elections have also set the course for the coming electoral alliances. One can now cautiously predict that the present coalition may give way to some kind of electoral understanding, if not an alliance. The fact that the PPP leadership has stitched together varied rather hostile political forces for more than four years reflects not just President Zardari’s ‘magical management’, but there is logic behind the coalition partners’ affinity. The PML-N is overtly anti-establishment, a fact not palatable to the PML-Q and possibly the MQM. And the PTI is too soft on the ‘fundos’, hence not acceptable to the PPP and the ANP.

Fourthly, the successful conclusion of the Senate election also shed a new auspicious light on our political system: the establishment’s power to stall or influence the electoral process seems to have been diluted by the ongoing democratic process. Politicians do not seem as pliable as they used to be in past decades. Probably that explains why President Zardari has survived so far and so successfully; why he has proved wrong all those who predicted the fall of his government before the Senate polls; and why he warded off an array of real and perceived threats — the contempt proceedings, the Memogate affair, and the Swiss case.

However, it is too early to say that the country is out of the woods as far as the establishment’s political ambitions are concerned. The country’s social and economic conditions are too precarious, requiring not only democracy but good governance. Hence, the PTI received much response from the despondent electorate. But of late, Imran Khan too is finding it hard to keep the momentum of his popularity going. Some pundits are already talking of his bubble having burst and pointing to his being present more on the TV channels than amidst the hordes of his ‘tsunami makers’. They attribute the fading of his charisma and puritanical politics to the entry of a host of tainted politicians into the PTI.

The other promising leader Nawaz Sharif may retain his popularity in his stronghold Punjab, but not enough to get a clear majority in the National Assembly. To be fair, he may not form the next government, not because he has lost his popular base to Imran Khan but because he has too many forces arrayed against him, including the establishment and possibly the US. Unless he relents on his anti-establishment rhetoric and takes back the powerful and wealthy rump of the PML-Q turncoats, his chances of capturing power are rather dim. Therefore the PPP-PML-Q-ANP-MQM alliance, bolstered by a Seraiki ethnic appeal, may still manage to retain much of the present count in the Centre and provinces.

The smaller parties and independents can also play a useful role in breaking a tie that may develop in a hung parliament. Their role may also be more pronounced if the seats are divided among all the major political parties.

Lastly, the Senate elections have aroused an interesting debate as to the ethical side of elections. The stories of big bucks being used to ‘buy’ votes (read the elected representatives) are being circulated in the media. A petition has been filed in Balochistan requesting the court to inquire into the alleged misuse of public funds to buy off provincial assembly members. Likewise, a technical hitch to the legality of by-elections has led to the passage of the 20th constitutional amendment, which ‘ensures’ a neutral interim government and an independent election commission.

Thus the train of democracy that has been derailed many a time before is now chugging along. It is has crossed many a station and many more are still to come. What is important is that it must not be allowed to be derailed. If it is, then there is no possibility of getting it back on track, let alone getting it to reach the destination — a peaceful, progressive and welfare state.

The writer is a lawyer and academic. He can be reached at

Making the Case for Baloch Autonomy

In an op-ed titled “Be strong, not hard”, published in these pages on February 21, Ejaz Haider problematises conflict in Balochistan and offers suggestions to Islamabad on how to tackle the crisis in the troubled province. The premise of his argument is on the assumption that all states are alike when it comes to dealing with people wanting to secede from them.

He puts it unequivocally in following words: “Balochistan is indeed Pakistan’s internal issue. Those who want Balochistan to secede from Pakistan will get the state’s full reply. That too, given how states behave, is a foregone conclusion. Hell, states don’t even let go of disputed territories and care even less about whether or not people in those territories want to live with them.”

Historical and empirical evidence of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, fortunately, does not validate Ejaz Haider’s claim. States do care if people living in their jurisdictions want to stay under existing arrangements or not. Contrary to Ejaz Haider’s claim, states do let go of people and territories through peaceful means.

I will cite three cases where the states in question have behaved peacefully while dealing with political actors who have championed the cause of independence from them. My argument, therefore, is that not all states are alike and the outcomes of independence movements vary significantly.

Let us look at the former Czechoslovakia, a state where leaders peacefully decided in 1992 to split into two countries — Czech Republic and Slovakia. In 1989, Vaclav Havel’s Civic Forum led the peaceful movement against the communist regime. This movement because of its ability to affect political change through nonviolent means got the title of the Velvet Revolution. Viladimir Meciar’s Movement for a Democratic Slovakia emerged as a leading party in Slovakia demanding greater autonomy for the region. Unable to get along in a federation, the Czech and Slovak leaders passed the law on December 27, 1992 to go their separate ways. Three years into the Velvet Revolution, Czech and Slovakia opted for the velvet divorce.

The Quebec sovereignty movement in Canada is another case where the central government has chosen to deal with the demand for sovereignty through peaceful means. The Parti Quebecois (PQ), pro-sovereignty party in Canada’s second most populous province, was in power in the 1990s. The PQ held a referendum in the province in 1995 asking people if they would like to form an independent country. The PQ lost the referendum by a razor-thin margin of less than one per cent. The Canadian government, at no point, had indicated or implied the use of force to suppress the Quebec separatists.

Lastly, let us look at Scotland where the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) under the leadership of Alex Salmond has decided to hold referendum in the autumn of 2014 on the independence of Scotland from the United Kingdom. London has not mobilised forces, conventional or nuclear, to prevent tiny Scotland to get out of mighty United Kingdom.

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore says that any referendum held without Westminster — seat of the British power — backing would not be legally binding and can be legal challenged. Mr Moore, however, does recognise the SNP’s right to hold a referendum. David Cameron, the British prime minister has said that ‘Scotland will vote to remain part of the UK.’ Cameron is selling the idea of a unified UK to Scotland on the ground that together they can meet challenges, mainly economic, more effectively than on their own. Mr Cameron recognises that ‘the choice over independence should be for the Scottish people to make.’ The prime minister made it clear that he is ‘not going to stand here and suggest Scotland couldn’t make a go of being on its own, if that’s what people decide.’

Examples of Canada, former Czechoslovakia, and the United Kingdom illustrate that not all states are alike when it comes to keeping or letting go of disenchanted populations and regions within their territories. Thus, the argument that in essence all states are the same is a fallacy that is neither theoretically useful nor empirically sustainable.

`Balochistan Situation Needs Urgent Attention’:

Afrasiab Khattak (Credit:

QUETTA: The Functional Committee of Senate on Human Rights has rejected a report presented by the Provincial Home Department over law and order situation and human rights violations in Balochistan.

The committee expressed serious concerns over the recovery of mutilated bodies of missing persons, targeted killing of labourers, doctors, teachers and an increasing number of kidnappings for ransom in the province.

The committee met under the chairmanship of Afrasiab Khattak here on Wednesday and was briefed by Home Secretary Naseebullah Bazai. Other members included Senator Surriya Amiruddin, Senator Farhat Abbas and Senator Hafiz Rasheed.

Addressing a news conference, Senator Khattak said the committee held its meeting in Quetta to assess the current situation of the province in detail. “The human rights situation is grave here, particularly recovery of mutilated bodies and incidents of kidnapping for ransom are matters of great concern. These issues must be taken up seriously and sincere efforts are needed by the government to normalise the situation,” he said.

The recovery of mutilated bodies, Khattak said, gave a message that the state and its institutions did not consider them their own people but rather their enemy. “The people will definitely look up to others for help if they are continuously pushed against the wall.”

The committee chairman said federal and provincial governments should take notice of this serious issue and bring the culprits to book. “There is a common perception that secret agencies are involved in enforced disappearances and dumping of mutilated bodies. If this is true, then government should control its institutions as they are damaging Pakistan’s sovereignty,” he urged.

He said some militant groups are also targeting labourers and teachers. “Violence in any shape is wrong and unjustified. Those who are involved in these killings are not the well wishers of Balochistan,” he said.

The functional committee said that targeted killing of people belonging to the Hazara community was not sectarian violence, rather an act of terrorism and that terrorist groups are behind these killings. The committee sought a report on the murder of police surgeon Dr Baqar Shah, key witness of Kharotabad massacre of foreign nationals.

The committee further suggested that laws should be introduced to curtail the power and influence of security agencies and that they should be brought under parliamentary control.

Kidnapping of Hindu people was also discussed during the meeting and the committee stated it will pressurise the provincial government to ensure the protection of life and property of minorities.

Senator Khattak said that the government cannot get away by just stating that foreign elements are involved in destabilising this province. “They should investigate what circumstances have paved way for foreign involvement. The people will look towards foreigners if their rights are trampled down by their own people,” he said.

The Senate committee said that the government should hold talks with angry Baloch people to address their grievances for a durable peace in Balochistan.

“All the Baloch political parties must be taken into confidence because if government can agree to hold talks with Taliban militants then why not with our Baloch brothers?” the committee questioned.
Gilani concedes there is a problem in Balochistan

With the Senate too taking notice of human right violations in Balochistan, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani too admitted on Wednesday that there was a problem in the country’s largest province. He intends to convene an All Parties Conference (APC) to discuss and address the issues of Balochistan, particularly the law and order situation, through collective wisdom.

“There is a law and order situation in Balochistan, which has to be addressed. We are also talking with the coalition partners in this respect,” Gilani said in an interaction with senior newspaper editors at the Prime Minister House. The Prime Minister also mentioned the incumbent government’s initiative of “Aghaz-e-Haqooq-Balochistan” to remove the sense of deprivation of the people of that province, conceding, however, the law and order situation in Balochistan had overshadowed the initiative.

Pakistan’s Political Drama Begs the Question:
What’s Next ?

FOR some years, Pakistan has been in the crosshairs of change, a change that is not acceptable to some, not enough for others, and too late for still others.

And that perhaps lies at the heart of our current political imbroglio political and state grandees are not ready to understand the true dynamics of change. If they do grudgingly, it`s from their own perspective, that is, at the cost of `rivals` whether these be persons, institutions or interests.

The mother of all changes, which has set off the process of the formation of a new power structure, lies in the spectacular constitutional reforms that the present parliament, for all its shortcomings, has brought about. The reforms have reset the configuration of powers.

Within parliament, the powers have slid to the National Assembly and Senate, leaving the traditionally pro establishment president toothless. Within the centre-province symmetry, the provinces have received more financial and administrative powers, hence the intensifying demand for more provinces. The elites seem more interested in finding new avenues of authority, away from the ramparts of a receding power that once rested in the powerful capital.

Within the state-society grid, it is society that has gained thanks to a host of new constitutional tools, particularly Article 19 A that has shattered the red-tapism to keep the public and media off the rulers` shenanigans. Article 25 A has given a new tool to civil society, rights campaigners and the common man to get the state, if need be through a vibrant judicial forum, to discharge its constitutional duty of ensuring free education to all children between five to 16 years of age.

Within civil-military relations, a democratic and constitutional dispensation has emerged as the consensus form of government. All organs of state are bound by constitutionalism. Hence, the chief justice reiterates his resolve to uphold democracy, notwithstanding the perceived failure of the government to deliver.

Even at the height of civil military tensions, the army chief vouches for constitution, which is clearly a healthy aberration from the past. The ever-divided political leadership is also united on it.

Given all these positive indicators, how come democracy continues to be in peril, and why are new theories being churned out as an alternative to `failed` democracy? It is because the constitutional changes are inherently disruptive; they many not necessarily augur well for all the actors of state and society. Often, some powers are pruned, and others, strengthened; some offices shed power while others gain authority, as dictated by the new constitutional order and the prevailing political culture.

Thus, constitutional change carries both the force of the past and the promise of the future. It is, therefore, a synthesis. But the synthesis follows an antithetic process, destroying all the barriers that come in its way.

Whether the destruction is peaceful or bloody depends on three factors. One, the socio-political environment, internal and extraneous; two, the relative strength of the resistance to the change that is long due and cannot be resisted any longer; and finally the catalysts of change, be it the political leadership, rights campaigners, judges, or common citizens like Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian peddler whose self immolation triggered the `Arab Spring` Moreover, the change must conform to socio-political demands. In western societies political change was invariably preceded by economic and social transformation. By the 19th century, new capitalist and working classes had emerged to supplant the landed gentry allied with an omnipotent monarch.

Also, a culture of the sciences, technology, humanist literature and modern social, political and ecclesiastical approaches had long prepared the ground for modern democratic welfare polity. Yet, the change was not necessarily peaceful. The West confronted a number of revolutions, regicides and global conflagrations before a universal consensus on democratic polity was achieved.

On the contrary, in much of the colonial world, radical independence movements led by maverick leaders initially substituted the colonial powers. But most of these newly independent countries had authoritarian or totalitarian regimes.

A rather long and painful process of democratisation saw the removal of these regimes under a secondor third-generation leadership. The democratic trajectory of Latin America, East Asia and East Europe saw this trend during the last decade of the 20th century. And now much of Africa, the Middle East and South Asia are treading this path, though with varying degrees of success.

What is common to both East and the West is the observation that only a successful democracy is sustainable. Europe was plunged into the most horrendous world wars when democracy and newfound internationalism failed to mend social and political fissures. The rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe was the result of democratic failures as well as the industrial propertied classes` quest for protection Our propensity for allying with authoritarianism owes to the fact that while the powerful landed, business and bureaucratic elites are duly catered to by an undemocratic system, the overwhelming majority of lower and marginalised classes, the real repository of political power, have been over and again neglected by democratic and civilian rulers.

No wonder, the elite`s emphasis is more on governance, which means political stability and certainty of the law. Less stress is laid on social reforms, which means redistribution of wealth and power. The existing constitutional reforms, accompanied by judicial activism, have once again brought the possibility of `socio-political change`. But alas, the lacklustre performance of the democratic government has once again put this change in perils, and hence its own survival.

The writer is a lawyer.