Pakistan up against terror

Though Taliban’s militant agenda and the brutal means they have employed to advance it merited stern action by Islamabad, the difficulties of terrain and laxity of legislators let them shed the blood of innocent people for long.</em

By Riaz Missen

Government and opposition resolve to scrap decades old distinction between good and bad Taliban as nation burns in rage and protests over the massacre of 132 children at Army Public School Peshawar on December 16.

At a time military offensive to clear FATA off the local Taliban and their foreign associates was on the way, the Peshawar tragedy prompted Premier Nawaz Sharif to lift moratorium on the execution of the convicted terrorists ending the saga of jailbreaks and the prospects of any deal to release the hardheaded criminals.

Peshawar tragedy has pushed Pakistan into its final phase of conflict with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which right after its formation in December 2007, has denied the writ of the state in FATA and violated every norm of civility to execute its anarchist agenda.

Though Taliban's militant agenda and the brutal means they employed to advance it merited stern action by Islamabad, the difficulties of terrain and laxity of legislators let them shed the blood of innocent people for long.

Parliament could upgrade anti-terror law and military moved into the hub of terror, North Waziristan, only this year.

Though the previous government did a lot to restore the writ of the state in restive FATA and the nearby districts, the anti-terror bill rotted in a parliamentary committee and the Musharraf era policy to treat some Taliban as strategic assets continued.

Confusion in Islamabad only helped extremists to consolidate their position in FATA and expand their network across Pakistan to the extent that they could influence the results of last general elections whereby the PPP and ANP, openly opposing their agenda, could not campaign properly.

Besides the deep roots of the sectarian groups, understood to be the mentors of Taliban, in the media and state institutions, ethnonationalism can also be held responsible for Islamabad being soft at predominantly Pushtoon Taliban.

A major part of efforts by successive governments have been directed at the point to pitch good Taliban against the bad ones rather than subjecting the region under their control, to a full scale military assault.

Parliamentary parties unanimously backed the renaming of NWFP with Khyber-Pukhtoonkhawah through 18th Constitutional Amendment of 2010 to prevent militants exploit the ethnic sentiments of Pushtoon, who constitute the second officially recognized ethnolinguistic group in Pakistan.

That the Durand Line runs across Pukhtoons community has made decision-makers in Islamabad to take this fact into consideration while dealing with Afghanistan.

Whether it was the matter of hosting millions of refugees fleeing war or providing territory to train and equip youth for guerilla war against the Soviet forces Pakistan stood by the Pukhtoons of the other side of the divide,

Pakistan supported Taliban of Afghanistan to occupy two-third territory of their homeland in 1990s and it was only the might of the US that made Musharraf regime to abandon them after 9/11.

Even when the US-led coalition had overthrown Mullah Omar regime, Pakistan's backing of Hamid Karzai as the presidential candidate was also a continuation of the policy of, quoting General Musharraf, not abandoning Pukhtoons of the other side of the border.

Not strangely enough, Islamabad remained indecisive for long whether to take stern action against the militant outfits when they found safe havens in the border regions of Pakistan and, later, regrouped under the umbrella of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.

The Musharraf regime, which had accepted the role of 'frontline state' for Pakistan under international pressure, could not clear FATA off Taliban and their Al-Qaida collaborators partly due to India's amassing of its troops on eastern borders and mainly for the reason that Islamabad tended to differentiate between 'good' and 'bad' Taliban.

Given the fact that Pakistan's major ethnic groups stand divided among the neighboring countries, Islam has been projected by Islamabad as the common bond among them.

Ethnonational movements have been sternly dealt with by Islamabad, as the case of Bengal and Bloch insurgencies suggests, but the ones like TTP using Islam as a shield have been treated leniently.

Pakistan has undoubtedly got its society militarized due to an expanded network of militant Islamic organizations collecting funds and recruiting youth for jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

Islamabad is subjected to mounting international pressure, particularly, after September 11, to stop using religion as a means to advance political ends in its neighborhood.

Jandullah has disturbed Iran while the footprints of the militants seeking independence of Sinkiang have raised eyebrows in Beijing, the most trusted Islamabad's ally.

Pakistan has been publically denouncing terrorism in all its forms and manifestations since Musharraf era but no policy framework could be developed till the passage of anti-terror bill this year.

Even after Pakistan moves to develop a comprehensive anti-terror policy there is dearth of paradigm to eliminate distinction in 'ethnic' and 'religious' versions of militancy.

The very fact of its ethnic groups stand divided among its neighbors requires an unparalleled commitment by Pakistan to discourage primordial and divisive ideologies by officially endorsing pluralist vision of the society.

Of course, overhauling the Constitution is the need of the hour to fulfill the pledge of the founder of Pakistan to treat citizens equally rather regardless of their religious or ethno-linguistic identities.

For Pakistan to realize its potential of becoming a peaceful, stable and prosperous nation, political parties need to make the Quid's address to the 1st Constituent Assembly on 11th August as the Preamble of the Constitution.

Devolution of power from Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta down to divisions and districts is yet another obligation of the political leadership to involve the people in the process of building a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan.

PPP victim of its own initiatives

Parochial ethnic interests fail to see the binding linkage between devolution and socioeconomic development

Mr. Asif Ali Zaradari is hopelessly trying to get back PPP’s share in Punjab, but luck does not seem to be smiling at him. Circumstantial evidences suggest that it will not be this province that will favor his party to take high seat in the federal capital, again. Why? It is a big question for him to answer.

The PPP, under Asif Ali Zaradari, owes the credit of changing the content of political discourse of Pakistan through ‘politics of reconciliation’ and the restoration of the Constitution, but has unfortunately become the victim of its own initiatives.

Mr. Zardari’s conduct, after the assassination of his spouse and the lifelong chairperson of PPP, Benazir Bhutto, was exemplary: he raised the slogan of ‘Long Live’ Pakistan when Sindh was high in rage and refused to accept the logic that general elections of 2008 for the reason, whatsoever.

During his tenure in presidency Mr. Zardari’s performance was miraculous, indeed.  By taking along other parliamentary parties, through the ‘politics of reconciliation’, he not only got the constitution clipped off the anomalies introduced by wild and vile dictators but also delivered to the ethnonationalists the kind of provincial autonomy they had not even dreamed of.

Mr. Zardari’s politics of reconciliation strengthened the stakes of the likes of Jamat-e-Islami and the JUI-F given the fact that the constitution, after its para-wise revision, became more religious in character as sovereignty continued to be a heavenly concern.

Four years after the Constitutional reforms, the PPP has lost power in the Centre and confined to the hinterlands of rural Sindh. The party has been banished from Punjab wherefrom it had been getting strength to rule in the Centre.
In South Punjab, the PPP had raised the issue of ‘Saraiki province’ but after the ANP snubbed it fearing to lose two of KP’s southern districts to the proposed federal unit and Punjab Assembly passing resolution for restoring Bahawalpur province as well, the PPP turned to ‘South Punjab’ mantra, alienating both nationalists  and the MPs of the region.

The constitutional reforms actually brought forth some complicated, if not intriguing questions, that required necessary legislation. Police massacred in Abbottabad a number of people demanding new province, for they did not adhere to the new identity of the province, which had been named Khyber-Pukhtoonkhawah on the demand of ANP, a coalition partner of the PPP.

Actually, the Constitutional reforms committee, headed by PPP’s Raza Rabbani, had closed the chapter of creating new federal units by retaining a Zia era provision, which sought the approval of the concerned province to redraw its boundaries.

Zardari’s unflinching belief in the founder of the PPP, which urged him to confine the process of constitutional reforms unto its restoration, must not be taken as unusual a trait, for loyalty means so in this part of the world, but it is also fact that he miserably failed to see Pakistan beyond the 1970s.

The PPP, under the pressure of the ethnonationalists had scrapped the district government system of General Musharraf era in Sindh, enthusiastically followed by other provinces, and has yet to fulfill the constitutional responsibility to devolve power to the grassroots level.

Needless to say, the devolution plan, despite all nobl intentions of its authors, has fallen victim to the parochialism of ethnic lots, who fail to see a binding linkage between devolution and development.

The 18th Constitutional Amendment was a major breakthrough as far as alleviating the sense of deprivation of the smaller provinces was concerned but the opportunity seems to be lost given the reluctance of the provinces to take the benefit of devolution to the grassroots level — the point where it is linked with the socio-economic growth.

Asif Zardari may ceaselessly talk about the party’s sacrifice for the sake of democracy to console the disgruntled souls within his party, particularly belonging to Punjab, but the fact of the matter is that he fails to understand the ‘spirit’ of devolution and foresee the consequences of not  sticking to reason and rationality.

Mr. Zardari’s obsession with ‘political actors’ should not end up in becoming a political actor himself. The first test for him is that PPP should not stand for the status-quo. Politics of reconciliation should now be directed at efforts for further Constitutional reforms keeping in mind what Benazir Bhutto meant by suggesting ‘new social contract’.

Mr. Asif Ali Zaradari should come out of oblivion and speak his soul.  Failing to justify his party’s stance on devolution makes his ‘reconciliatory’ politics as a deceitful move to serve the vested interests. Democracy, which he often talks about is meaningless if it does not empower people at the grassroots level; the people must be empowered to decide themselves how they will like their children to be taught and their hospitals be run.

Pakistan Observer
December 17, 2014

PPP, PML-N ignoring devolution challenge

The PPP and the PML-N leadership fail to understand that the question of devolution of power to the districts and divisions, and further to the Tehsil and Union Council level, is attached with the legitimacy of civilian rule.

Riaz Missen

Senator Raza Rabbani, central leader of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), spelled down on July 5, in Karachi, the agenda of preserving gains of the 18th Constitutional Amendment 2010, most importantly the parliamentary form of government and the provincial autonomy.

An 18-member Constitutional Reforms Committee under Raza Rabbani, as per the part of commitment made through the PPP-PML-N Charter of Democracy (2006) had reviewed the constitution clause by clause so as to restore the 1973 Constitution in letter and spirit (parliamentary form of government, religious identity of state, and integrity of provinces) while fulfilling the promise of provincial autonomy and independent judiciary.

Provincial autonomy did mean devolution of more than a dozen ministries to the provinces besides a surge of their share in the federal divisible pool. The post-reform era is marked with freedom for provinces to utilize their human and natural resources for their socio-economic uplift; they have every chance to attract foreign direct investment by faithfully practicing the norms of good governance and rule of law.

Provincial autonomy had been a dream of the intelligentsia of the smaller federal units. Pakistan People’s Party did champion their cause and secured a sort of autonomy which no country in the neighborhood has extended to its provinces. “If provincial autonomy was reversed, the federation’s integrity will be undermined.” Rabbani warned.

PPP, the major force behind the gigantic task of building consensus, had been formed basically as a socialist party but soon reverted to opportunism by fusing religion into politics. The religious character of the Constitution carved out enough political space for the right-wing groups. Z. A Bhutto’s romance with religion as a means to achieve political ends ultimately led him to gallows.

PPP would never take up the issue of land reforms again; it would play the politics of confusion and deceit as is the case with the feudal mindset. Despite it suffered a lot at the hands of Islamists, PPP never came to the open, confess its mistake and urge on constitutional reforms to ensure separation of politics from religion. Babar Awan, who was also the part of Constitutional Reforms Committee, once told media with a great sense of pride that he played an active role in thwarting a political party’s bid ‘secularize’ the constitution.

The PML-N has steadily stolen the show from the PPP with the result that it has emerged as the largest political party of the country. The leadership of the PML-N and the PML-N after entering and sustaining a bitter struggle of 1990s with bad consequences and bitter memories  forcing them to strike a deal in 2006 for survival and co-existence. It is another matter as to whether this bonhomie has benefited the people at grassroots level or not, but the fact remains that democracy has got a chance to strike its roots in Pakistan.

During last half a decade, the PML-N and PPP have shunned confrontational politics and have not reverted to tactics of the 1990s to marginalize each other. PML-N actually stood magnanimous while accommodating the parties, which were not part of the CoD, while undertaking constitutional reforms, but it does not mean that it will not pass the cost on to the real beneficiaries of provincial autonomy.

The Constitutional reforms have changed the paradigm of politics. With the decentralization drive taking its course adding more funds to the provincial kitties and giving provinces freedom to chalking out their own development plans, the demand of making the benefits reach to the grassroots level has also become a reality.

The deletion of concurrent list and the resulting provincial autonomy though were big achievements but the same have brought new and old claimants to the limelight for just allocation of political and economic resources.  The PPP and its allies did not contest general elections properly due to the reason that they could not justify as to why the power should not be devolved beyond the provincial capitals.

The very first reaction to such a demand was ANP’s decision to handle the people demanding Hazara province with cruelty whereby police opened fire on a peaceful public meeting in 2010 and killed a dozen of innocent people.  

The PPP first distanced away from its promise to create a Seraiki province but later when it took up the issue it was late: it lacked majority in the Lower House of the Parliament. It got confused when the Punjab Assembly asked the centre to create not two but three provinces in Punjab (including Bahawalpur Province in PPP’s list).

Too, the ANP, refused to let its two southern districts to be part of the proposed South Punjab province other than the popular movement in Bahawalpur division for the restoration of its provincial status. The parliamentary system of government is something the provincialists of this country like to the core of their hearts.  It means prized ministerial posts, huge development funds and a strong, if not effective, say in the Upper House.

Parliamentary system is that must to preserve the gains of the PPP and its ethnic partners. The deletion of concurrent list and the resulting provincial autonomy though were big achievements but the same have brought new and old claimants to the limelight for just allocation of political and economic resources.  The PPP and its allies did not contested general elections properly due to the reason that they could not justify as to why the power should not be devolved beyond the provincial capitals.

Failing to achieve its goal PPP lost South Punjab in the following general elections, hence losing every reason to be national-level party. PPP and PML-N have respected the understanding, which they reached in 2006. And it is also a fact that they have resisted every move to decentralize power and resources further to the districts level. PPP wants in Sindh to revive the commissionarate system of the British era besides avoiding the question of local government polls; the same is the case with the PML-N in Punjab.

The PPP and the PML-N leadership fail to understand that the question of devolution of power to the districts and divisions, and further to the Tehsil and Union Council level, is attached with the legitimacy of civilian rule. Without letting the people taste the fruits of democracy at their door steps, every claim of democracy is merely rhetoric. PPP and PML-N are unwittingly flouting the constitution by not holding local government elections. The matter is urgent and it is what both can do it given their position in two leading provinces of the country.  

Defending the ‘geographical’ frontiers

Riaz Missen
The baton of command changing hands at General Headquarters (GHQ) has urged the commentators and analysts to highlight the challenges confronting the new army chief. The mixed legacy of the outgoing general, Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani,  whereby he endorsed the civilian supremacy over army but was also assertive on the freedom of choosing the time to act against FATA militants, is very much in the limelight.

The fear of Afghan instability in post-2014 scenario has turned the realist stock of strategist and the new chief has been courted loudly by the right-wing elements urging him to essentially win peace with local Taliban through talks rather than military offensive. There is nothing to be decided by the army chief alone. Ultimately, it is the civilian government which has to respond to varying nature of threats, arising out of socio-economic structure of the society (which is simultaneously sectarian as well as ethnic) and the strategic environment to chalk out a middle course.
The western media, while reviewing Kiyani’s tenure, has stuck to the line that Pakistan could not come up to the expectations of the US, which was spearheading the War on Terror, as for as playing it’s frontline state role was concerned.

For seven long years, including the extended tenure of Kiyani, Washington continued demanding more but only meeting a cold response.
In early 2010, the Obama administration passed “Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act 2009” pledging $ 1.5 billion annual assistance to Islamabad in a hope that it will reciprocate and help it turn tables on militants in the areas around Durand Line but it could not secure any assent till monsoon came roaring in and flash floods displaced 20 million people across the country. 

But the US did revive its demand for all out military operation along the Durand Line after extended full-fledged help to the victims of natural disaster.

“What could be more appropriate time after the 33,000 surge forces had landed into Afghanistan in late 2009 and ready to wipe out militants on that side of the border,” the US Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff Mike Mullen, wondered as he shuttled between Washington and Islamabad urging Kiyani, who got 3-years extension in his tenure in October 2010, to move army into FATA but met only a cold logic, “We have our own time to choose”.

While Pakistan showed no willingness to accept and meet deadlines, the growing American frustrations ended up in Salala incident of November 2011 and finally closure of its airbases by Pakistan and suspension of every operational links with the NATO for seven months. Mistrust between Islamabad and Washington grew further after US unilateral military operation against Al-Qaeda chief, who was found and killed by US SEALs in Abbotabad in May 2012 at a walking distance from a military academy.
Actually, military’s experience with FATA had started long before the PPP-led regime came to power or Kiyani was promoted as army chief from his top position in the country’s spy agency. Pakistan’s frontline state role, which had qualified it for a $ 10 billion favor from the US, had required it to renounce, first of all, the militancy as a tool to advance political ends in the neighborhood and deny sanctuaries in FATA to the militants fleeing the haze of the War on Terror.

The US military strategists had relied heavily on Islamabad’s role in establishing a constitutional government in Afghanistan, after the overthrow of Taliban regime, and undertaking necessary rebuilding and rehabilitation work. What they had missed was Indian viewpoint on the War on Terror and its ability to divert Pakistan’s attention that it did through mobilizing and stationing its troops for one long year on its western borders following attacks on Indian Parliament.

The war hysteria, fuelled by religious right not only delayed military action in FATA but also, due to religious rights forming government in the-then NWFP after 2002 elections and its opposition role in Parliament as well. When Musharraf-led regime got a space to take on FATA, it was too late. Here came 2004 when US launched drone strikes inside FATA, as the only way to secure foreign armies from cross border attacks. The drone attacks continue to hit militants in the regions which the military has yet to clear off militants.
By the time General Kiyani took charge of the army chief, militants had become a force to be reckoned with. They moved into Swat, under the banner of Tehrik Nifaz-e-Shariah Muhammadi (TNSM) in October 2007 commanding a prompt reaction from the Army but no significant breakthrough could be made for 2 years of battle. The civilian government sealed an agreement with the militants to put the region under Shariah rule. However, the TNSM backed out due to President Zardari’s insisting on the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction in Swat.

Military launched Operation Rah-e-Raast in May 2009; it was an all out assault which broke the backbone of the TNSM. The process did not stop and was later extended to other tribal agencies as well, where Tehrik-e-Taliban, patronized by Al-Qaeda and having cross border ties, particularly, with notorious Haqqani group, had established its rule of terror.

The drive against militancy remains half the way. Though army has suffered huge losses in the war against militants, whether to negotiate or fight, remains the prerogative to decide, not the army chief.

The PML-N, before taking up reins of power had believed Pakistan had been dragged into an American war, which had brought in the drones and suicide bombs. The best national interest, to the party’s leadership, had constituted pulling out of war as early as possible; it was in favor of ending drone attacks and starting peace negotiations with militants so as to get rid of suicide attacks.

While in power, the PML-N, shown interest in having negotiated settlement of militancy in FATA while it has shed its rhetoric over. At the same time, the regime doesn’t find an alternative means to fill its budgetary gaps and equip its military with modern weaponry except the US.
Pak-US relations are at the cross roads, indeed. The US is willing to renew its pledge for economic and military assistance but doesn’t want to see Pakistan as a reluctant partner.  The Enhanced Partnership Act offers hope for civilian control over army as well as reviving economy through multipurpose engagement through Strategic Dialogue.

The new army chief is the choice of the premier Nawaz Sharif. The government policy to deal with the militants will reflect in army’s strategy. No army chief can do wonders if the civilian government stands confused on a point (whether to act against militancy on the urge of US or to have its own policy to this end).

There are pressures on the PML-N government, from within and without, and there is still a lack of clear vision on its part as to how to get Pakistan free of unauthorized and illegitimate violent groups using sectarianism and ethnicity as their shields. As per the rule of the game, it is the only the civilian government which has to succeed or fail on the question of militancy.

Army, on its part, has to be efficient and effective; it has, for sure, to pass through massive re-organization drive given the changed nature of threat to the country’s existence; reorientation of jawans and officers constitute the focal point of reforms. Also, the army’s first and the foremost responsibility is to defend the territorial frontiers; if made free of ideological burdens, the handful militants will find no place under the sun to disturb the peace of the land anymore.

Farming in dry regions threatening aquifers

Pakistan has not undertaken any crop management plan. More credit supplies but little availability of canal water in dry regions, like Bahawalpur, has raised the input cost of agriculturalists as they have to sink tube wells and have increased the use of fertilizers and pesticides. The aquifers are on the course of depletion threatening cities and towns but there is no chance of getting the same refurnished as rapidly as their consumption.

Riaz Missen

British colonized Punjab with a view to make it basket of food and to recruit youth to defend their empire in India. A large swath of land was brought under cultivation by clearing forests and evicting the families living there. Pakistan did not change this policy and the lands are still being brought under cultivation. Cholistan, the tiny desert in Punjab bordering India, can be cited as an example in this regard.

Most of the agricultural lands in Pakistan are cultivated on commercial basis. Intensive cultivation and mindless use of chemicals have not only deteriorated soil fertility but also inflicted a blow to environment, including the flight of crop-friendly birds and insects and acidity in the subsoil water.

The government has not undertaken any crop management plan. More credit supplies but little availability of canal water in dry regions, like Bahawalpur, has raised the input cost of agriculturalists as they have to sink tube wells and increase the use of fertilizers and pesticides. The aquifers are on the course of depletion threatening cities and towns but there is no chance of getting the same refurnished as rapidly as their consumption.

Similarly, water management policy is nowhere in sight. In some areas, this source is available in abundance causing salinity and related problems. Others have got reduced water share due to more areas becoming under cultivation. Bahawalpur provides an interesting example in this regard. Farmers here are receiving 40 per cent per cent of the water available to them half-a-decade back.

The Indus Basin Treaty giving complete right to India over the utilization of water of its three rivers — Ravi, Beas and Sutlej — is nothing but a blunder committed by the people then at the helm of affairs. Contrary to international law, the treaty gave upper riparian the right to use the water of these rivers. No where in the world, a party can divert water in a way that could affect the flow of a river to the detriment of the lower riparian.

Bahawalpur happens to be the worst victim of the Indus Basin Treaty. The perennial rivers gone to India, major cost is being borne by the aquifers for being used extravagantly when water in seasonal rivers is short of enough supplies. The water reservoirs which were constructed to compensate the loss of Sutlej and Beas, have only ended up in increasing the share of Sindh and Central Punjab. The more lands being allotted to the settlers of Central Punjab in Cholistan, the share of the ‘sweet belt’ has significantly declined forcing the cultivators to pump out subsoil water at a time electricity and diesel are turning costly by every passing year.

A study of Water and Power Department of Punjab has found that 75 per cent of water in southern districts is not fit for crops. While the Indus Basin Treaty remains intact and raging controversy surrounds the construction of water reservoirs on the Indus River. The fate of lower regions — cotton belt — is almost doomed.

Welding livestock, fisheries and forestry with farming reflects a not-so-wise approach. As more emphasis is laid on farming, the more it proves a restraint for the livestock, fisheries and the forestry. Promotion of cultivation in semi-desert areas, like Cholistan and Balochistan, has caused a decline in livestock population due to the loss of space available to herding communities.

As for agriculture, landlords must turn to forestry and livestock. This step is necessary to regain soil fertility. Their income will witness downward slide for a few years but will pay in long-term. There is no reason to keep fisheries as an allied subject of agriculture. It should be dealt separately; credit supply to this new sector will revive hope in a large community associated with this sector.

Meanwhile, some quarters are pressurizing the government to defer water conservation plans on the plea that it was useless to invest in this fast declining sector. The move is intriguing, for having storage dams is must as the same can be used as a guarantee to ensure water supplies in dry-months. It is necessary because ours is an agriculture-based economy and that the country now has seasonal rivers for fresh water supplies.

The agricultural policy needs a revision. Pakistan must evolve a strategy to replenish soil fertility through shifting emphasize to forestry and livestock from cultivation. Meanwhile, water resources should be managed to ensure supplies during dry-months. The government should divert credit supplies from crops to forestry and livestock. Meanwhile, crop management policy should be brought forth while taking into consideration the water availability in different parts of Pakistan.

The wastewater must be given biological treatment to meet the watering needs of the wheat crop, particularly in the southern districts of Punjab. This measure will not save the aquifers but also save cities from the deadly water born diseases like Hepatitis. Fisheries and forests will get boost with wetlands becoming pollution free.

Weekly Pulse

Securing religious decree against pollutors

By Riaz Missen

In the deep countryside of Punjab, on the upper fringes of the Rohi (part of Thar), a village recently looked for a prayer-leader. The vacancy had emerged after the laborer/ mullah demanded either his salary should be increased or he must be relived from his duties so that he could take care of his growing livestock back in the nearby village. After failing to persuade him to stay, the villages contacted a nearby religious seminary and could avail an 18 years old Talib (student), who had learnt Quran by heart, for the job.

Out of the hundreds and thousands of mosques in the countryside of Punjab, only the Jamia mosques have regular Imams (prayer leaders). These mosques enjoy the distinction that group prayers are offered five times a day. Otherwise each hamlet has its own mosque where the people, mostly of older age, say prayers at suitable times. On Friday, they head for a ‘greater’ mosque to perform religious rites.

About the village I am talking about, it is situated in the green belt of Bahawalpur that constitutes the floodplain of the Sutlej River. Inhabited by the immigrants from Shikarpur (Sind), who had accompanied the Abbasids centuries back, the village has never hired an Imam on salary till half-a-decade back. A family of mullahs had been nominating one of its members to serve the community and collecting in return the bread two-times a day from the village.

I met the first employed prayer-leader, Maulvi Altaf, about five years back in a ‘smoker’s corner’ of the village. He belonged to the traditional family of the mullahs which I have mentioned earlier. He had not agreed on traditional arrangement and had come to the mosque only when the villagers agreed to pay him for his services in cash. His salary was half of the present one.

Soon Maulvi Altaf invented new ways to get his income increased. He undertook constructing a seminary and collecting animal hides. Having good voice he started practicing on the mosque’s loudspeaker the art of speech. The fact of the matter was that he had never attended any madarssah in his life.

On Eid days the maulvi would start early in the morning. His favorite job seemed to persuading people to spend in the ways of Allah and warning the people of hording wealth. After sometime, he started warning the people of burning fire for they did not offer their prayers regularly.

“Look, you are not a scholar. So don’t venture into the field of oratory,” I said and cautioned him about the excessive use of microphone. But my ‘advice’ did not fall on receptive ears. He would make long speeches in morning and night.

Soon, as understandably as one can imagine, the signs of resentment appeared. A team comprising youth formed undertook investigation whether the maulvi fulfilled the criteria of piety he had been suggesting to the common and ordinary folks so loudly. The results were widely shared and openly discussed. One day they held meeting with Maulvi Altaf and apprised him with evidences they had collected. The next day he did not come to the mosque and remains ‘absent’ till today.

Frankly speaking I have not personally met the present prayer-leader though have said funeral prayers for number of times behind him. I have not yet bothered to undo my confusion whether the person I have seen is the same who delivers sermons on Friday as well (I have also spotted there a fully grown bearded youth in the mosque as well). Probably the seminary has provided sermon-services as a matter of courtesy.

Whatever the case, I plan to secure a fatwa against a potter family of my village. Against the traditional practice of firing their earthen pots once in a year they are doing this job every month, surely under the market compulsions. Interestingly the village is not a market proper for their goods as few people now use the earthly devices to cook food or preserve water. The customers of the potter family are unknown: the send a truckload to the nearby city in the interior of the nearby desert. What the villagers consume, as well as the prayer leader, is dangerous gases which ‘bhatti’ emits regularly.

Through my keen observation during last two months, I have noticed that during the times the bhatti remains on fire my family suffers from asthmatic problems. I have concluded that the same is not due to seasonal variation but the polluters around me. The solution of my problem is not the doctor. Inviting attention of the health department can not provide an easy answer as well. I have decided to seek the help of a religious scholar instead.

I anticipate little bit ‘confusion’, if not embarrassment, on the side of the religious lot for environment does not usually fall in their purview though there is no dearth of brick-kilns and a sugar mill is fully operative in the areawhich hosted last year the president during his first-ever visit to Bahawalpur in the recent past. Being a journalist par excellence I assure the readers to share the story about the course I pass through while persuading a religious scholar to issue a decree against polluter and also to the extent the same proves effective in solving the problem my family is confronting.

Courtesy Weekly Pulse

 

I’m just playing, my lord!

By Riaz Missen

Once, a child was digging a hole in the sand. A passerby asked him as to why he was doing such a labor. “It is for the one who will dig a hole for me,” was the reply. “If no one digs a hole for you ……,” the stranger enquired. The child smiled and said: “I am just playing, my lord”

But the children neither have the energy nor do they have interest in digging the sand too deep. Such games are associated with the youngsters living near beaches. Many times it is great fun; other times tides of the sea cause accidents, as well.

In this wonderland of Pakistan, the premier dug a hole in the sand of Punjab this March by showing the intention to reintroduce the ‘Saraiki province’ riddle in country’s politics. He, in his share innocence, disturbed not only Takht-e-Lahore but also sent shocking waves to the other provincial capitals as well. Reaction to the idea of creating more provinces can be gauged by the situation in Karachi where ethnic tensions have pushed the city on the verge of anarchy.

While the premier remains faithful to the two-nation theor, he showed a determination to challenge the four-nation idea (by adding Sariki to it) that has, rightly or wrongly, gained enough grounds since 1969, when Yahya Khan nursed the rebirth of the existing administrative units.

Creating provinces is the job of the federation. The countries around Pakistan have taken such steps without creating any ripple in the politics. India’s example is there. This neighbor has multiplied the number of its federating units by four. The Punjab it had at the time of partition has been divided into three provinces. Iran and Afghanistan with lesser population have more provinces than Pakistan. Then what the whole fuss is about?

Actually, the very act of recreating four provinces is still to be rationalized. The legitimacy of the decision of a dictator to add the princely states to the then NWFP, Punjab and Sindh has to be scrutinized in details. Why Baluchistan States Union was welded with the Baluchistan Commissionerate, is a question that has to be answered. Such mysteries need to be understood in the backdrop of the proposal of GM Sayyed to merge Rahimyar Khan district into Sindh. Too, there is question as to why general elections were not held after the dismemberment of the country. Why the country did not went to polls after signing the Constitution?

Yahya Khan certainly pleased four ethnic groups that were active in politics by adding princely states to the territories they claimed. This step laid the foundation of the four-nation theory which is still operative in the country. The so-called consensus constitution (1973) also accommodated the concerns of the religious right by retaining the Objectives Resolution as its preamble blocking the way of the country claiming a secular and pluralist identity.

The question as to why the present administrative units were created is still to be answered. Had Yahya Khan such brains to understand the consequence of the action he was taking? Certainly, he did not. Pakistan, due to ethnicity gaining grounds, has not been able to have a kind of nationalism that the neighboring powers practice. The people take pride in their ethnicity, based on linguistic affiliations, rather. Some important development projects have been postponed due to the reason that some provinces oppose them. Crime, extremism and corruption are other evils that the bigness of the provinces has bred.

Coming to the hurdles in the way of Saraiki province, the first and foremost is that it is not easy to amend the constitution. Provincialism does not allow the governments to sign their death warrants. The kind of support Saraiki nationalists extend to the Sindhis and Blauchis, their counterparts are too ineffective to make their dreams come true. Yes, it is a big leap forward that the PPP has, for the first time, endorsed the idea of a Saraiki province, but it has no say in Punjab affairs and does not command absolute majority in the Parliament.

Every talk about creating more provinces in the country, especially in Punjab, has caused ethnic tensions in Karachi — as the case is right now. So PPP is inherently not the right party to take forward the idea of dividing Punjab. The Baluchistan assembly has cast away any proposal of dividing it given the demand of the ANP to attach Pushtoon districts and regions to the KPK as a condition to include DI Khan in the proposed Saraiki province.

Probably the PPP has realized that the idea of Saraiki province is impractical. Gilani met Shahbaz Sharif in Lahore, after returning from Saudi Arabia (where he performed Umrah). So when he visited Multan recently to inaugurate newly constructed bypass, he did not mention Saraiki province at all. Rather, he talked about South Punjab — the idea which the PML-Q supports.

PM’s U-turn on Saraiki province may disturb the nationalists of the Southern Punjab but he knows very well about their strength — not a single gathering has taken place in favor of his statement in Jalalpur Pirwala. The politics is art of the possible. There is no use of digging holes in the sand. So the premier may go ahead with his amended idea. He may even look toward the more practical one — the Multan province.

Multan offers no choice, either

Premier Gilani , perhaps, believes that after spending the whole funds of Southern Punjab on Multan, his city now qualifies for the position to be the centre of regional politics. Gossips are there that his son has started receiving the protocol of the chief minister of the province his father has proposed.

By Riaz Missen

Does someone among you remember the times when Shahbaz Sharif used to sing the verses of Habib Jalib? He used to warn of bloody revolution if the problems of the commoners were not duly addressed.

Sharifs as well as the rest of the political clans that emerged successful in the 2008 general elections have prolonged their rule without bringing any positive change in the lives of the people.

Not only the opponents of the General Pervez regime have entered into the corridors of power, but also his staunch ally is also in the ruling camp.

For all this, everybody should be thankful to the reconciliatory politics of Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, who proudly says he is a businessman and wants to make the country a hub of regional trade, for taking all and sundry on board while he is in the driving seat.

One of Zardari’s unique choices is premier Gilani, who has been tasked, other than heading cabinet meetings and taking hold of the seat of the House of the Leader in Parliament, dealing with Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of the province which he belongs.

Lahore and Multan both have benefited during last three years. At least Rs.32 billion has been spent on the premier’s home town. How much Lahore has consumed? You just imagine. The lions deserve more share than any body in the jungle. Does any body have statistics of the expenditure on the Ring Road?

One is not sure whether Multan needs more next time. All the efforts of the premier are now for Southern Punjab, which understandably has suffered during past sixty-four years as well as during the times Sharifs are in-charge of the province.

God knows what came into his mind that he announced this March the plan to create Saraiki province, in Jalalpur Pirwala, a town on the northern bank of the Sutlej River that falls in the constituency of his brother. The first and immediate reminder came from nowhere but from the other side of the river: “Bahawalpur will go its own way”.

Premier Gilani thinks, perhaps, believes that after spending the whole funds of Southern Punjab on Multan, his city, now qualifies for the position to be the centre of regional politics. Gossips are there that his son has started receiving the protocol of the chief minister of the province his father has proposed.

Mr. Gilani has amended his stance a little bit on August 14 when he was in his hometown to inaugurate a project completed in record time of one year. He did not mention ‘Saraiki province’ in his speech, but repeatedly talked about Southern Punjab. He did say that the politics of reconciliation will continue, but it should not be taken as the sign of his government’s weakness.

How Takht-e-Lahore has responded to the call of dividing Punjab? The PML-N has come up with a plan to create four provinces rather raising hopes in Potohar, Thal and Bahawalpur. Besides that, it has started paying more attention to Sindh where PPP-MQM alliance has become a cause of outrage among the Sindhi nationalists and they are up in sleeves in Karachi and elsewhere in the province.

I am not against Multan or Multanis, but it is fact that I belong to the other side of the Sutlej River where people are trying to adjust with the ground realities that have surfaced after the drying up of this perennial stream.

Being pressed hard by the hot winds blowing from Thar Desert, which Bahawalpur makes a part, does not mean that we will cross over to Multan, for it will take enough time to undo our belief that Multanis are swindlers. Why they simply don’t talk about ‘Multan province’? If politics is about material interests, why it should be done in the name of language/ ethnicity?

Decentralisation must for sustainable growth

The political forces have done a commendable job by decentralizing administrative and fiscal resources on to the provinces but the benefits have ultimately to be passed on to the regions lying far off the provincial capitals — Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi. It is vital to invest powers in the hands of the people so that they can decide about the issues related with the socio-economic development of their specific regions.

By Riaz Missen

Political parties of Pakistan, after doing wonders like NFC Award, provincial autonomy and the restoration of Parliamentary supremacy through 18th amendment in the Constitution, seem to be in hurry to undertake another uphill task: redrawing boundaries of the four provinces, established through a decree of General Yahya Khan in 1969, with the effect that some new federal units are created. While this step is vital for the proper management of the state vis-à-vis law and order and sustainable economic development, the only issue to be settled is the criteria to form a province.

Since March 13 when Premier Gilani, in Jalalpur Pirwala, announced support of his party for Saraiki province, no solid opposition to the idea of  creating more provinces has come to the forth but public opinion stands sharply divided as to whether the new provinces should be carved out on linguistic / ethnic basis or not.

The PML-N has raised the question as to why only Punjab should be divided, that too on ethnic grounds. While its leadership says Punjab should be divided into five provinces, the other provinces should also undergo this change for the sake of good governance. Within the Saraiki belt, the leadership of Bahawalpur has unanimously drawn lines and has vowed to resist any move other than reviving the region’s provincial status. 

Pakistan has been embroiled too much in the international politics since its inception and has been serving the role of frontline state for the liberal world led by America. The complexity of relations between two of Pakistan’s giant neighbors, India and China, and the US interest in the region kept Pakistan’s decision-makers too much obsessed with international politics. While the country was made to serve the interest of everybody around, its own people kept on suffering from poverty, disease and injustice.

When the situation has eased on international front and Pakistan finds a space to maneuver, its economy is simply in tatters. Except few – telecommunication, banking, oil and gas — all sectors of economy are in dire straits. The worst damage has been done to the economy and environment as population has increased six fold and blind exploitation of natural resources has disturbed the desired balance in the nature. The mismanagement of natural resources turned streams, lakes and rivers polluted; the forest cover has become too thin to sustain a fast growing population.

The hydrological facts are changing fast making the country swing between floods and droughts. The worrisome monsoon trend, whereby it has started earlier than the time and hit new regions and abandoned the others, has grave vis-à-vis human settlements, health and food. The climate change can put humans and wildlife on flight either due to droughts or floods.

When agriculture, the main source of country’s livelihood, seems to be unsustainable, one can’t aspire for the growth of industry and, consequently, jobs. No government, no matter who is in charge, can guarantee peace and security, whether internal or external, when economy keeps on sinking down. The crime rate — name it militancy, robbery, black-marketing or whatever one may like —is bound to rise in this situation. Investors will be shy of developing stakes in the country and foreign direct investment is simply unimaginable.

The mismanagement of natural resources and their irrational use has dangerous implication for the integrity of the state. It is certainly a time to rethink security when the country, due to heavy spending on defense, can only manage to spare 3% of GDP for the provision of basic amenities of life.

The political forces have done a commendable job by decentralizing administrative and fiscal resources on to the provinces but the benefits have ultimately to be passed on to the regions lying far off the provincial capitals — Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi. It is vital to invest powers in the hands of the people so that they can decide about the issues related with the socio-economic development of their specific regions.

Pakistan is a diverse region in terms of landscape and crop patterns. The hilly regions’ economy heavily depends on forests, deserts’ on livestock and flood planes’ on agriculture. Culture is simply about co-existence with climate and geographical realities.

Contrary to the past, when the politicians could play on ethnicity, the question right now is how to repair the ecosystem that has been destroyed due to the unsustainable growth strategies.  The dominance of agriculturalists in decision-making process has set the agenda of country’s politics so far. The inequalities have been sustained through unrestrained use of violence against the aggrieved groups.  Centralization has been used as tool to suppress the dissenting voices.

Last but not the least, dividing province from the viewpoint of good governance and economic development, not ethnicity, will result into the boosting of nationalism which has been missing till now but is prerequisite to rational decision-making vis-à-vis socio-economic development of the country.

Sutlej flows down to Bahawalpur but with poisonous waters

Water passes down the Empress Bridge near Bahawalpur

By Riaz Missen

Sutlej River is flowing down the Empress Bridge, near Bahawalpur, due to heavy rains in northern India — thanks to the early arrival of the monsoon. More water is expected this year. Reports suggest that it was in high flood last week inHimachal Pradeshand the waters had reached Ferozepur district of Indian Punjab on July 9.

The people in Bahawalpur districtare pleasantly surprised to see waters in the Sutlej River, for it has become almost a dead stream due to Pakistan accepting India’s exclusive rights over it through the Indus Basin Treaty of 1960. The water table on its banks has sunk down to 120 ft which was available at 20 ft at times it used to carry floods.

The waters of Sutlej River are harnessed through a number of dams and canal headworks by India.Bhakra Dam is the major reservoir wherefrom canals carry its waters to Punjab and Haryana. Indira Gandhi canal carries the waters of Sutlej as far as Rajasthan. If something is left, it is diverted by Pakistan at headworks of Islam and Sulemanki constructed under Sutlej Valley scheme in 1927. It is only rarely that waters are released to reach Head Panjnad.

The waters of Ravi and Beas have also been added to Sutlej in India through link canals and are being used for the agricultural purpose. Intensive cultivation and the mushrooming of industry utilizing the agricultural produce in its catchment areahave made the Sutlej the most polluted river of South Asia. The unrestrained use of pesticides in agriculture and industrial waste being diverted to the river makes its water ‘E’ class in Doaba region.

The people in Farid Kot, who are using the waters of Sutlej to quench their thirst and to cater to the needs of agriculture, are developing deformities. A report of Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) prepared after various tests on the river’s waters, at various points in the 2010, rated Sutlej waters as ‘A’ class (pure) at Nangalheadworks, which become ‘E’ class and ‘D’ class (highly unfit for drinking) respectively at the confluence of BudhaNullah in Ludhiana and East Bein or Chitti Bein in the Doaba region.

Accumulation of chromium, nickel, zinc, and pesticides is high in the sediment of Chitti Bein. Traces of metals like chromium, nickel and zinc were detected in soil samples of the fields irrigated by the waters of the Bein. There is high level of inorganic and organic pollution in both the east Bein and the Kala Sanghia drain.

In Doaba region, Sanghia Drain is pouring polluted water intothe Chitti Bein because of untreated industrial and sewer waste from Jalandhar and Phagwara. The Beas also gets C class classification at Goindwal Sahib and Mukerian, where industrial waste is discharge into it. When Sutlej River enters Pakistan, Qasur’s tannery industry further pollutes it.

Sutlej waters are used by people both for quenching their thirst as well as of their livestock particularly in Rajasthan and Cholistan. The Vehari district also uses the waters of Sutlej River and here many cases of children developing deformities have been reported. Not only the fresh water is polluted but impurities have seeped down on the banks of the river and underground water is also affected.

 There is no solution to the problem which Sutlej River and the people using its waters are confronting but that the environmental regulations are strictly implemented. Punjab Environmental Board, on Indian side, is reported to impose heavy fines on industrial units releasing effluents into the river and its tributaries but no steps have been taken up by Pakistan to keep its tannery industry under check.

According to estimates 32 MAF wastewater, from urban areas and industries, joins streams, canals and rivers of Pakistan every year and destroys fisheries besides causing dangerous diseases like Hepatitis C. Luckily, environmental technologies (using bioremediation techniques), are available that can not only put an end to pollution of the wetlands but also make available enough water (treated) to cater to the entire needs of the wheat crop of Pakistan.

Weekly Pulse July 15, 2011

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