Political and Internal Developments
Just when it looked that the political instability caused by the deteriorating relations between the government and army on the one hand (memogate scandal) and the government and judiciary on the other (contempt of court notice to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani) was finally settling down and the country was moving, in fits and starts, towards an early election and an orderly transition, the Supreme Court has once again behaved as the proverbial fly in the ointment and destabilised the political situation. Cutting short the defence presented by Prime Minister Gilani’s counsel, Aitzaz Ahsan, who argued against the contempt of court notice issued to the PM for not implementing the Court directives in the Swiss money laundering case against President Asif Zardari, the Supreme Court has decided to formally indict the Prime Minister on charges of committing contempt of court and has summoned him once again on February 13. The seven judge bench hearing the PM’s reply on the contempt notice rejected the contention of Aitzaz Ahsan that the full bench order in the NRO case directing the government to write to Swiss authorities to reopen the case against President Zardari was not maintainable as the Swiss courts had closed the cases on grounds of lack of evidence. Reacting stoically to the ruling, Prime Minister Gilani has said that he will present himself before the Court on the appointed date. The PPP is meanwhile weighing its options and it is not clear as yet whether the government will appeal against the court ruling or it will contest the case in the first instance.
This huge setback to the government has come just when the memogate scandal was in the process of being put in a cold storage. With the central character, accuser and prime witness in the case, Mansoor Ijaz, refusing to come to Pakistan to testify, the judicial commission investigating the matter was left with no choice but to approach the Supreme Court and seek an extension to complete the task assigned to it. The Court not only gave the commission a two month extension but also allowed former Pakistani ambassador to US, Hussain Haqqani, to travel outside Pakistan. Haqqani has since left Pakistan and expected to proceed to the US after spending a few days in Dubai. A secret letter written by Ijaz to the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry offering to come to Pakistan provided he was given the personal guarantee of the Chief Justice or alternatively agreeing to give his testimony outside Pakistan was not taken into cognisance by the Chief Justice. Ijaz’s counsel has continued to scream and shout about a ‘deal’ between the military establishment, PPP leadership and other actors to consign the memogate issue to the dustbin, but he has not been able to derive any traction from his diatribe.
The PMLN, on whose petition the memogate issue acquired such menacing proportions at one point of time, has also steadily distanced itself from the case. But in order to avoid opprobrium from detractors of the government, the PMLN has tried to act as though it remains committed to getting to the bottom of the memogate issue. Thus it was that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif offered to provide full protection to Mansoor Ijaz if he landed in Punjab and testified before the judicial commission. Naturally, the PPP and many other sober elements lambasted Shahbaz Sharif for making such an offer and accused him of trying to ‘rebel’ against the federal government. Interior Minister Rehman Malik not only threatened to file a case of contempt of court against Shahbaz for making such an offer but also accused him of trying to deflect attention from the fake medicine scam in Punjab.
After the dengue outbreak last summer in which over 500 people died in the province of Punjab, the PMLN’s claims of good governance suffered yet another major blow when over a 100 cardiac patients died after taking free medicines supplied by a government cardiac speciality hospital in Lahore. The contaminated medicines blew the lid over the dismal state of administration in Punjab and much of the criticism was directed at Shahbaz Sharif who has been acting as a one-man government by keeping nearly 20 portfolios, including health, with himself. Allegations of corruption also flew thick and fast and the names of the Chief Minister and his son were linked to procurement of medicines from pharmaceutical companies. In a move aimed at damage control, Shahbaz Sharif sacked the entire top health bureaucracy and asked the Lahore High Court to institute a judicial inquiry into the entire affair. The incident however gave the PPP a big handle to beat the PMLN with and the federal government not only asked the FIA to investigate the matter but also hinted at setting up a judicial commission to probe the scandal. Writ petitions were also filed in the LHC seeking action against Shahbaz and his son. Meanwhile, mounting public and political pressure forced the Supreme Court to take suo moto notice of the contaminated medicine scandal and ask the Punjab government and FIA to submit a report on the entire affair.
Although the PPP and PMLN are leaving no opportunity to politically target each other, they are also reportedly engaged in backchannel talks to strike a political deal under which the PMLN will get an early general election while the PPP will get not only the Senate elections but also a good shot at presenting the next budget. Negotiations are also underway to reach a consensus on the composition of the new election commission and the caretaker government that will be formed for conducting the elections. During a visit to Davos for attending the World Economic Forum meeting, Prime Minister Gilani hinted at the possibility of early elections after the presentation of the budget in May. The PMLN which has more or less given up on the idea of either resigning from the assemblies or taking to the streets to force an early election, is believed to be in talks with the PPP to try and prevent any cross-voting, floor crossing or vote poaching during the Senate elections.
With 2012 expected to be the election year, political rallies have naturally become the flavour of the season. The ball might have been set rolling by the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf and the crowds that Imran Khan attracts might have become the benchmark for analysing the popularity or otherwise of a rally and/or a party, but other parties are also creating quite a splash and causing some amount of surprise by the sort of crowds that they are managing to draw. Last week, the JUIF held a mammoth rally in the same spot in Karachi as Imran Khan. Analysts estimate that the JUIF rally was as big, if not bigger, than Imran Khan’s rally. The crowd profile however was completely different – mostly madrassa students. Crowds aside, the message that Pakistan's politically most astute cleric sent out during his speech is quite significant. Not only did he rail against the ‘establishment’ which he said had created a ‘national security state’ instead of a welfare state and had never allowed the JUIF to win elections, he emphasized that Shariah cannot be imposed by force in the country. Presenting himself as something of a socialist mullah, Maulana Fazlur Rehman promised to end the feudal (jagirdari) system in Sindh and ensure an economic system based on justice and equitable distribution of resources. He demanded action against the former military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf (who last week announced that he was postponing his return to Pakistan) and called for creation of Seraiki, Bahawalpur and Hazara provinces.
On the day Maulana Fazlur Rehman was holding his rally in Karachi, the MQM had organised an impressive rally in Sukkur where the party chief Altaf Hussein took the Sindhi nationalists head-on and accused them of wanting to pit the people of Sindh against each other. Calling himself a son of the soil, Altaf Hussein said that all the people living in Sindh were Sindhis. While the MQM played the ‘Sindh card’, President Asif Zardari unveiled yet another politically populist programme to cement the party’s vote bank in Sindh. Following the Benazir Income Support Programme in which poor families are given a cash grant, the PPP introduced the Waseelae-e-Haq programme in Sindh for the youth. Under the programme 35000 youth of the province would be given an interest free loan of Rs. 300000 to set up their own businesses. Meanwhile, the Barelvi Muslim organisation, Sunni Tehrik, held a rally in Karachi where its chief Sarwat Qadri announced that the ST was now going to enter politics and would henceforth function as a political party. Qadri too adopted the Welfare state theme. He dropped hints that the ST could align with Imran Khan’s PTI.
The political activity in Karachi comes even as there has been a sudden spike in target killings in the city. Over the last week, sectarian target killings have resulted in around a dozen people being killed. In addition, political activists have also been shot down. A more sinister type of political target killing was the murder of the wife and daughter of Mir Bakhtiar Domki a MPA from Balochistan. This particular attack is being seen as retaliation by the notorious death squads of the Pakistani intelligence agencies against the escalation of attacks by Baloch freedom fighters in Balochistan. The mother and daughter were the sister and niece of the exiled Baloch nationalist leader Brahmdagh Bugti and the grand-daughter and great grand-daughter of the slain Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti. The murders resulted in a complete shutter down strike in large areas of Balochistan. Baloch insurgents also attacked a FC post in the Marwat area and killed over 15 FC personnel and kidnapped around 3 soldiers. The responsibility of the attack was claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army which said that it was a response to the merciless killing of the wife and daughter of Mir Domki.
The Supreme Court has meanwhile asked the ISI and MI to submit separate reports on the killings that are taking place in Balochistan where nearly 300 mutilated bodies of missing political activists have been recovered at regular intervals in what human rights and political activists are calling a ‘kill and dump’ policy of the security agencies. The Court has already rejected a ‘secret report’ submitted by the IB, calling it nothing more than what has already been reported in newspapers. In another case pertaining to the death in custody of four out of eleven missing persons allegedly involved in acts of Islamic terrorism, the ISI and MI have been asked to produce the survivors before the court. The two intelligence agencies are also required to give a report on the circumstances in which four of the suspects died. Meanwhile the Chief Justice of the Peshawar high Court has warned the heads of the intelligence agencies that criminal cases would be registered against them if ‘forced disappearance of citizens weren’t halted and legal procedures not adopted for detained missing persons’.
In what is being seen as an embarrassing security breach, suspected Al Qaeda terrorists fired 9 rockets on the Pakistan Military Academy in Abottabad. The rockets which were fired from the surrounding hills did not cause any loss of life. Nevertheless, the incident has raised fears of a similar attack on Islamabad from the surrounding Margalla hills. Meanwhile, a major clash between the Pakistani Taliban and the security forces has been reported from an area between the Kurram and Orakzai agencies. According to reports, the Islamic insurgents launched a series of attacks on a security force post and in the ensuing clashes around 30-40 insurgents and at least a dozen security forces personnel have been reportedly killed.
Foreign Relations / Foreign Policy
A sense of being kept out of the loop in the talks that have reportedly commenced between the Taliban and the US in Qatar appears to have pushed the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan closer to each other to regain their relevance in the peace negotiations on future of Afghanistan. Last week, Pakistan's foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar visited Kabul to bring relations back on track so that the two countries can coordinate their policies on the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. As if on cue, the day Khar visited Kabul, Western media published a very damaging story quoting a classified NATO report based on interrogation of captured Taliban fighters. The NATO report squarely blames the ISI for controlling, directing, manipulating, advising and supporting the Taliban insurgency. Khar however rejected the report as ‘old wine in an even older bottle’ and emphasized that Pakistan had ‘no hidden agenda in Afghanistan’. While details of Khar’s talks with Afghan officials are still not public, media reports claim that both countries are trying to open a parallel track of talks with the Taliban in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are however said to be reluctant to host the Taliban until they renounce the Al Qaeda and moderate their political stand in order to accommodate other political entities in the country. For their part, the Americans maintain that Pakistan is very much being kept informed of the talks that are being held in Qatar and have dismissed all talk of Pakistan being sidelined in the reconciliation process.
Barack Obama has for the first time officially admitted that US is using drones against terrorist targets inside the FATA region of Pakistan ‘where the Pakistan military was unable to reach’. Reacting to Obama’s comments, the Pakistan foreign office spokesman said that even though the drone strikes gave some tactical advantages, Pakistan considered them ‘unlawful, counterproductive and hence unacceptable’.
The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is fast becoming another flashpoint between the US and Pakistan with the latter insisting that it will go ahead with the project regardless of US sanctions, and the latter applying pressure on Pakistan to abandon the project. According to one report, even as the US is trying to convince Pakistan to not buy gas from Iran, the Pakistanis are linking the restoration of NATO supply lines with the US making an exception for the gas pipeline project as far as its sanctions regime is concerned.
As far as restoration of NATO supply lines is concerned, the Islamist political parties and terrorist organisations like the Jamaatud Dawa, Sipah-e-Sahaba and others are using the platform of Pakistan Defence Council (PDC) – also known by its Urdu name as Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) – to pressure, nay threaten, the government from reopening the supply route through Pakistan. The official position of the government is that it will decide on the matter after parliament debates the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, which is believed to have suggested among other things charging a levy on the containers and close monitoring of the traffic of containers. The PDC is however taking a very militant stand on the issue. In a rally in Multan, the PDC declared that it will besiege parliament if the NATO supply lines were reopened. The chairman of the PDC, Maulana Samiul Haq has also written a letter to all parliamentarians asking them to reject any move to restart the NATO logistics lines as doing so would harm Pakistan's national interest. The Jamaat Islami chief Munawwar Hasan has declared that NATO supplies can go through Pakistan only over his dead body.
Among the most strident opponents of the restoration of NATO supply lines is the JuD chief Hafiz Saeed who has demanded a national referendum to decide on whether or not to lift the blockade on NATO supplies and has not only threatened to resist any move to reopen the supply lines but also warned of an outbreak of violence in the country if such a step was taken.
Relations with India
The Pakistani Islamists and terrorists belonging to the PDC also railed against India. Hafiz Saeed accused the rulers of Pakistan of having become security risks as they had given a free hand to US and Indian agents to operate freely in the country. He demanded a war against India to ‘free’ Kashmir and declared that he would not rest until he avenged the Samjhota bombings and the separation of the erstwhile East Pakistan.
Pakistan's minister for Kashmir affairs Manzoor Wattoo has claimed that the Pakistan government was engaged in talks with India to remove the flaws in the Indus Waters treaty that had been used by India to build dams on the Western rivers.
India and Pakistan have reportedly agreed to cooperate in developing joint stakes in upstream projects in Turkmenistan. Pakistan has also said that it will charge India the same transit fee that Afghanistan would charge from Pakistan.