Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Quantum Entanglement of Balochistan and Islamabad.


To rephrase a song from the classic movie “The Sound of Music”: How do you solve a problem like Balochistan?  The lingering nature of this dilemma suggests that the solution is more elusive than it actually is. For years this problem child of Pakistan has been shouted at and whined about, with blame for its wild and unruly nature laid at every available doorstep. A positive step might be focusing on the solutions and understanding the concerns, rather than wallowing in the negatives.

Balochistan has been in turmoil since the partition that led to an independent Pakistan with a forcibly annexed Balochistan. Since then, relations between Islamabad and Balochistan have not been cordial. The Baloch have fought against the Government of Pakistan many times since then to secure the rights that have been promised to them. The first insurgency in 1950 was followed by revolts in 1958, 1973 and finally the ongoing revolt which started in 2005. These strained conditions have been exacerbated by a lack in efforts by the federal government to bring development and literacy to the region, which are necessary for Balochistan to become part of the economic and political mainstream.

A lot of blame is being dumped on the tribal system and the Sardars for holding Balochistan back. The rhetoric is that education will bring enlightenment and the Sardars will consequently lose their grip on the people. That theory rings a little hollow when we see that in the past sixty years, there have been no structured and honest efforts to abolish the tribal system when it is claimed to be such a hurdle in the steady march towards prosperity. Not only that, but at times there has been a definite coddling of this system. Islamabad has, at times, even bypassed elected provincial governments and negotiated directly with tribal leaders when it has served its purpose.

The fact is that the tribal system with a Sardar at the helm is only true for the Baloch population.  Other ethnicities, for example the large Pashtun population of the province, are not bound by tribes and tribal leaders. Salma Jafar is the founder and executive director of Social Innovations, a human rights advocacy group and a dedicated voice for human rights. She is a native of Quetta and a Pashtun. According to her, the Pashtun areas of the province are among the most impoverished. The absence of education and opportunities for growth can only be explained by the absence of responsibility in the allocation of funds and a lack of incentives for the people in those regions. Urban and coastal areas like Quetta, Makran and Gwadar, which have never been under the influence of tribal systems, have not seen any significant developments either.

The people of Balochistan have always suffered with the insufficiency of funds from the federal government.  In the past, the parameters for the allocation of funds, being population based, ensured that Balochistan, with its sparse population, got the least amount. Now, with new amendments to the Constitution, those parameters have changed. Levels of deprivation and poverty have been added as markers to ensure the funds reach areas where they are needed the most. Even though the allocations have increased, and disbursed through the predominantly Baloch provincial government, no discernible improvements have been seen.   

The situation becomes even more tragic when we take into account the fact that even though Balochistan is the most resource-rich area of Pakistan, the people are uneducated, impoverished and oppressed. Their dissatisfaction with the government has taken the form of a dangerous separatist mentality which is spreading like fire. The Baloch make a strong case, citing years of trying to assimilate into Pakistan but consistently being plundered and laid by the wayside. They feel that their rights have been trampled upon by every government that has trudged by since 1947. Recently, their peaceful protests gave way to violence and sabotage. Instead of trying to control the situation through dialogue, the government responded with brute force. The army was deployed to crush the insurgency and responded to concerned citizens, who reacted to a military operation inside Pakistan, by arguing semantics. According to them a military operation was in effect when tanks, helicopters and weapons were deployed to achieve a goal. When the Baloch presented the cases of forced abductions and body dumps, the government blamed it on activists.

In a benevolent gesture, General Kayani replaced the army with the paramilitary forces of the Frontier Corp as enforcers of order in Balochistan. Since then, the Baloch activists or terrorists -- depending on who you talk to— are being picked up on a regular basis. They are tried, convicted and sentenced extra-judicially and their tortured, broken bodies are dumped unceremoniously as a lesson to others. According to a report by the South Asian Terrorism Portal:  “It is a matter of grave alarm that 107 new cases of enforced disappearance [sic] have been reported in Balochistan in 2011, and the ‘missing persons’ are increasingly turning up dead” (http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/pakistan/Balochistan/index.html).  Men, mostly between the ages of 20 and 40 years, are picked up in broad daylight and taken away. No reasons are given, no warrants are read and no explanations are offered as uniformed men drag activists, students, shopkeepers and teachers away. Their mutilated bodies are found days later or not at all. Sites like “Bygwaah”, claiming to be the voice of the missing persons, have detailed testimonials of these abductions (http://www.bygwaah.com/modules/xnews/article.php?storyid=150). Backed into a corner, the Baloch feel like they only have one of two options: watan ya kafan (independence or death), a sentiment found scrawled on walls all over Balochistan.

The current provincial government has to carry some of the responsibility. They have been given the autonomy to talk to and negotiate terms of peace with the dissident Baloch.  Despite this, no real effort is being made in that direction. Could it be that the government in power feels that the only reason they were able to secure seats in the Parliament was that the BNP had boycotted the elections as protest? In that case, any negotiation and the subsequent reconciliation might lead to a reduction in seats in the assembly for the present members.

So, lay blame where blame is due and then, lay it on thick. Resolution of a problem so convoluted and so deep-rooted does not lie on the shoulders of one agency. Everyone needs to come to the table with cool heads and egos checked at the door. Brute force is never the answer and the Chief Justice realizes this: Currently, he is trying to bring the IG of the Frontier Corp to court in an effort to find out who is responsible for the extra-judicial vigilantism (http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/national/12-May-2012/obey-court-or-we-ll-call-in-army-cj). Maybe this is a small but important step towards winning the hearts and minds of the Baloch people. If viable efforts are made by the Chief Justice and the federal government, then the Baloch separatists should also take a step back and reevaluate the situation. Carving out a new country will not come without bloodshed. There will be opposition to the new order from within and without. That, in itself, should be a motivation to strive for a bloodless solution.

The people of Balochistan deserve sanctity of life and liberties. With honesty, transparency and flexibility on both sides, there might be a future scenario where they can come to a place of trust in the federal and provincial governments. Balochistan’s resources are the lifeblood of Pakistan, whether used internally or as an export. Balochistan has a claim to a percentage of that--not as a pittance, but as a right. This, in turn, can then be used to bring educational and economic development in the region. No one wins when the population of an entire province is sidelined, especially not when that province holds unimaginable resources not only in minerals but also in future poets, scientists and leaders, who can help build a Pakistan that its citizens have always deserved.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Gilani's Loyalty, Perhaps Misplaced.


To claim that there are many issues plaguing Pakistan on a perpetual basis is an exercise in stating the obvious. But right now, the flavor of the month seems to be the conviction and sentencing of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Yousuf Raza Gilani, and his resilient refusal to step down.

As the events go, the man was charged with contempt of court, convicted and then, as punishment, detained for all of 30 seconds. After all the elements of the Constitution were satisfied, he was released and maintains his right to appeal his conviction, and the right to pursue his duties as the Prime Minister. Despite the fact that everything has been technically by-the-book, this issue has ripped the political matrix of the country apart.

The opposition has made sure that there is protest of one sort or another at every point in time. There have been rallies, marches and threats of more rallies and even longer marches. PTI and PML-N have not wasted any time in trying to use this event to discredit PPP and increase their chances of victory come election time.  In one photograph, it seems to be a truly aneurysm-worthy opportunity for Imran Khan as we see him yelling into the mic with the veins in his face threatening to pop out! The common belief bringing all adversaries to a single platform is that a convicted person should not be allowed to hold the office of the Prime Minister, whether constitutionally allowed or not.

PPP, on the other hand, sees this as an extreme show of loyalty on Gilani’s part. The Prime Minister claims that he did nothing that went against the rules of government in refusing to ask the Swiss to reopen graft cases against Zardari, who, as a sitting president, enjoys immunity in these matters. In fact, there have been many tweets in Twitterland lauding his loyalty to his party and the President.

This brings us to an ethical crossroads. Who is Gilani being loyal to, and is it a misplaced loyalty? If he is loyal to Zardari, then is he also loyal to the reputation and manifesto of PPP? And, in that, can he also be loyal to Pakistan and the sanctity of the high office that he holds? After all, he swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of Pakistan, not the interests of PPP or Zardari. Or maybe -- and this is the simplest of all possibilities -- he is loyal only to himself and is acting in the interest of self-preservation. Therein lies the rub.

This brings us to the elusive entity of government ethics, which tries to explain the rights and wrongs of elected officials. Our political leaders are often facing challenging situations where the decisions they make have effects nationally, and often, globally. A great burden to bear, surely, but that is why we select our leaders and then trust them with our lives and our futures. All they have to do is reciprocate that trust and protect our well-being and integrity. That isn’t too much to ask, now, is it?

Whether Gilani was right or wrong, he was charged, convicted and punished. The uproar came when he decided to continue as the leader of the country despite his conviction. This decision became more questionable in light of an interview he gave, in which he said that if convicted, he would not remain a member of Parliament. And yet, here we are today!

Yes, he has a right to appeal this decision and stay at his job, but should he? Isn’t it in the interest of PPP that a convicted man not represent them? Does Gilani not owe it to the country, whose constitution he swore to defend, to step down in the interest of the country’s reputation in the international arena?

The foremost concern should be the integrity of Pakistan. We are constantly being challenged on all fronts, domestically and internationally. We need to show the world that we are much more than our reputation. We need to bring ourselves to a point where our word means something when we are trying to negotiate the future of our generations. We are still trying to recover from the repercussions of comments made by our President, who claimed that because his promises were not the Qur’an or Hadith, they could be changed.  

These examples make us seem less than we are. We should be striving for a place in the international arena where we can be held to our word and where our actions hold merit. Will we be able to do that with a convicted Gilani at the helm?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Funhouse Of Pakistani Politics!


On Martyr Day, General Kayani made one of the most politically correct speeches that I’ve heard in a long time. Traditionally, the people of Pakistan have been accustomed to long-winded, hoarsely shouted tirades, spiced with a healthy sprinkling of wild gesticulations instead of quietly conveyed sincerity. In his short speech, the General had much to say. One of the points he wanted to drive home was that all institutions should accept their constitutional limits and work within them. This has been one of the most consistent problems in Pakistan -- and ironically, no one has been guiltier of this than the army. But that doesn’t mean that his words aren’t a true reflection of the bigger canvas of Pakistani politics.

The problem is that there is an inherent distrust of governmental institutions. Our political leaders’ every decision is made within a funhouse of smoke and mirrors. Case in point: the Supreme Court ruling against the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gilani. Even though the whole process was done according to the Pakistani Constitution, the opposition took it upon themselves to throw as many tantrums as were possible. PML-N went as far as to disrupt the proceedings of the National Assembly on a historic day in Pakistani history. On the day that the resolution for the Saraiki province was passed, the honorable opposition took to shouting slogans, flying paper airplanes and making confetti out of the agenda. People have the right to protest and differ on decisions, but there are ways to do it while preserving the sanctity of higher offices.

The Prime Minister has accepted the decision of the Court, and will be exercising due process by filing appeals. The reality of the matter is that the time it takes to exhaust all appeals is approximately six months. Even if Gilani decides to step down and new elections are held at that time, PPP will technically have completed a full term in office. So, basically, no harm, no foul. The fact still remains that Gilani stated he would step down from office if convicted, and yet, refuses even to consider the option at this time. Is it because there was no word of his son's involvement in the ephedrine quota allotment case at the time of his statement?

It might also be in the best interest of Nawaz-led PML-N if PPP stays in power till the end of its term. The more the elections are delayed, the more time PML-N has to establish votes in areas other than Central Punjab. With Punjab on the verge of division, its loyalty is becoming less of a sure thing for Sharif, and he needs to ally his party with voters and organizations outside the province. For this, he needs time. According to an article in the Tribune, PML-N also feels that with more time, the country will be further disillusioned with PPP, and hopes that the fervor surrounding Imran Khan’s PTI will die down.

Keeping up with the theme of corruption, the more members in the National Assembly and Provincial Assembly that each party has, the more funds allotted to them for “developmental purposes” and the more money siphoned off to election funds. So, Nawaz would never jeopardize reducing the number of his seats in the government by bringing about premature elections, especially with him being unsure of his constituents. Contrary to popular belief, he is much smarter than that. So, in essence, all his grandstanding against the PPP is mostly showmanship and signifies nothing. More smoke and mirrors.

I feel that all governments elected democratically should be held to a higher standard. We should demand more and demand better. Resentment is a natural emotion when there is such a disparity between the standards of living of the citizens and the public servant who represents them.

To Mr. Gilani, I say this: Be a man and do the honorable thing. Step down and be respectful to the esteem of the office you hold, but no longer deserve. As far as reputation goes, he has not been much more than a mediocre politician at best. We never expect a career worthy of legend and song from our elected officials, but an occasional spark of political genius during his tenure would have been appreciated. He had four years to prove himself. This is a lifetime as far as the world of politics goes in our corner of the world, and all he offered was a lackluster excuse of leadership. He will get more respect for stepping down and becoming a “political martyr”  than he will ever get for completing his term. Sometimes the fault, Mr Gilani, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. Accept it!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

PPP Vs. Lyari


So this time the raids in Lyari started, and to the surprise of everyone, they weren't the cosmetic raids like they have been traditionally. That immediately sent up all kinds of bells and whistles going in the thinking person's mind. And the thought process went something like this: Lyari is an area of PPP loyalists, its patrons (Zulfikar Mirza and the happy band of PPP biggies) are in power, the police and CID follow the orders of the government, so why is there an earnest attempt to actually bring order to Lyari?

Without sounding too much like a conspiracy theorist, I felt that there was something not right with that picture. The only thing that was making sense was that the PPP-backed element that was in iron-clad control of Lyari had somehow gotten on the wrong side of their lords and masters. Could it be the meeting between the banned outfit, People’s Amn Committee or PAC and PML-N? Nawaz’s people made the effort to go to Uzair Baloch’s house and conduct that meeting. Not only had there been a conversation, but the leaders of PAC had given the impression that maybe it was time for them to explore political options other than PPP.

The powerscape of Lyari was changing with the release Arshad Pappu. He was let go after 60, yes folks, 60 cases against him were dismissed.  There was talk of him teaming up with Katchi Raabta Committee and threatening the power of PAC. I guess when all the criminal elements were given refuge in the heart of Karachi amidst innocent fathers, mothers and children, it was never considered that their loyalty would be in question. They would have the run of the Lyari, have a free hand to torture and kill for their benefactors and serve PPP. They would not only create a zone in the heart of the city where bodies could drop and detractors tortured like nobody’s business but they would also preserve a huge vote-bank for PPP.

It seemed that as soon as the integrity of that vote-bank was threatened, the green light was given for this raid. Hit ‘em hard and teach ‘em a lesson. The strange thing was that something so clear to some of us was not being discussed by everyone. People were quick to jump on the “Hate MQM” bandwagon saying that the violence was MQM backed because they wanted to gain hold of Lyari. But that all changed with PAC member Zafar Baloch’s bombshell interview. According to him not only did PPP want them neutralised for leaning towards PML-N but specifically wanted him dead because he could provide priceless testimony against PPP. He claimed that PPP was not only responsible for the violence but also for provision of weapons to the gangs in Lyari.  Now Uzair and Zafar Baluch have been placed on Exit Control lists.The PAC has all the hounds of PPP in full pursuit of them.  The drop-scene of this fiasco promises to be intriguing. How will Dr Frankenstein deal with this out-of -control monster?

Apparently, even as the violence in Lyari is dominating the news desks, it is not considered prudent by the government to send in the Rangers for a quick resolution! Is curbing “lawlessness” in non-violent MQM dominated areas so important that the Rangers are focused there rather than where they are needed most?

All political parties have an agenda and it is those agendas that make them appealing to different people. But when these political parties blatantly defy the laws of not only their country but of God, it is up to the people to hold them accountable. It does not help that as soon as questionable events happen, we throw blame at everyone except the political parties that we follow. Loyalty is admirable but blind faith is ignorance. Stand up to what is wrong and make your voice heard. There are more of us then there are of them. As a wise man once said: “ All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing”.