Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Even while seeking to promote trade and investment ties with India and freer human exchanges, Pakistan continues to harp on Kashmir and support for self-determination there. Cross-border infiltration has not ended.

Snapshots of change in Pakistan

Pakistan's attitude toward India is changing as "human" security outweighs chest-thumping "national" security and bogeyman India.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 30 September, 2012

A RECENT visit to Lahore provided heartening evidence of attitudinal changes in Pakistan towards India. Gen Kayani had stated after the Gyari avalanche disaster last April that defence without development was neither viable nor acceptable and that peaceful coexistence must be the watchword. This could well be a tacticalrepositioning in view of the considerable difficulties being faced by Pakistan on every front – terror killings, Islamist extremism and radicalism, military anxieties, and mounting economic, social and constitutional pressures. One astute commentator felt that much would depend on whether Gen Kayani’s successor and his successor after that would follow the same path as it could take eight to 10 years to ensure that the gears are not easily reversed.

Another commentator made the point that increasing numbers within the ranks of civil society and policy makers had come to realise that concerns regarding human security in terms of food, water, energy, employment, safety of life and limb, gender equity, religious freedom and human rights far outweigh those of national security that made Pakistan a garrison state with the Army ruling the roost. The point was underlined by Senator Mushahid Hussain at an unprecedented Senate hearing on Defence, hitherto a close military preserve, that he chaired. The Senator said the hearing was a step towards making a Defence Policy Strategy to be unveiled in 2013 with expert inputs from public representatives. It would cover not only military defence but the economy, social sector, parliament, rule of law and human security.

Even while seeking to promote trade and investment ties with India and freer human exchanges, Pakistan continues to harp on Kashmir and support for self-determination there. Cross-border infiltration has not ended. The stance is totally hypocritical as only last week the Prime Minister of Pakistan presided over consecutive meetingsof the AJ&K Council and Gilgit-Baltistan Council in Islamabad and Gilgit respectively to announce and preside over the passage of the twin budgets. Islamabad’s control is total and local autonomy is marginal and ornamental.

The elites and feudals still enjoy privileged lives but the rest of society increasingly leads troubled and uncertain lives. One symptom of this, currently being agitated, is the number of people in high places, such as the foreign minister, who have dual nationality – as do ministers, parliamentarians and others. A foreign passport provides insurance andrefuge and, as well known, much critical Pakistani politics gets played out in Dubai, Jeddah, London and the U.S. Now, an activist Supreme Court and Election Commissioner are compelling choice.

While Pakistan, like much of the Islamic world, has strongly condemned the blatant hate comments in the controversial U.S-made video mocking Islam, there is a lively on-going internal debate against counter-threats and violence. This marks an assertion of sobriety and maturity in response to extremist exploitation and incitement. But everyone is rightly agreed that hate speech cannot be countenanced as freedom of expression, a proposition that the U.S and certain European elements need to heed. Freedom of expression is not absolute.

Yet, blasphemy laws prevail and just last week all 15 Christian families in a Narowal village were hauled up before clerics because a Christian boy and Muslim girl eloped and got married. The message was that the couple must be presented before the clerics, and the marriage annulled else all the Christian dwellings in the village will be set on fire. Sectarian violence rages in Karachi, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan in particular, with dozens being slaughtered, especially Shias. The Chief Justice of Pakistan has labelled Karachi a hub of terror – there were 250 fatalities just in May - as a result of growing lawlessness, social injustice and “imbalance”. Extortion has become rampant. As one commentator puts it, a “predatory state” has produced a “predatory society”that wants to impose its will on others. The respected writer Ahmed Rashid blames successive governments for pandering to extremists,including those from banned organisations, and using them as a foreign policy tool. The Sipah-e-Sahaba, a militant Sunni group, has taken responsibility for the killing of over 300 Hazara Shias in Balochistan alone this year.

The PM, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, argues that the antidote to “bigoted and radicalised mind-sets” is education, responsibility for which has been devolved on the provinces under the 18th Amendment. However, nothing like enough has been done. Despite some amendments made after Musharraf’s time, a recent 2012 study by the Jinnah Institute, Islamabad still finds current school textbooks preach a “a curriculum of hate” against religious and denominational minorities and Hindu India. This is most distressing as schools become incubators of prejudice, and madrassas and the pulpit reinforce such biases.

On the political front, the Supreme Court has turned the heat on the Government to conform to its guidance on drafting a letter to the Swiss authorities concerning President Zardari’s accounts in Swiss banks without reference to any presumed constitutional immunity. Further hearings are scheduledbut the PM has significantly said that all institutions must work within constitutional limits.

More galling and consequential for the government and Army was last week’s appearance from exile before the Supreme Court of former Baloch CM, SardarAkhtarMengal. He made six points, ominously likening them to Mujib’s six points in 1971: produce missing persons in court; disband ISI and military “death squads”; allow Baloch nationalist parties to function freely; bring to justice those responsible for torture and killings; rehabilitate all displaced persons; and promote national reconciliation as a prelude to fair elections. The Government and Army have indignantly denied the charges but other parties are inclined towards Mengel. The integrity of Pakistan is at stake here. A UN report on forced abductions and missing persons in Balochistan has also embarrassed Pakistan.

On the economic front, Pakistan is poised to start repaying its IMF loanof $ 7.82 bn by 2014-15. Negotiations are afoot with the IMF pressing for fiscal reforms and efforts to raise the ratio of tax to GDP from 10 % to 15 %. A controversial tax amnesty scheme is on the anvilfor evaders and an estimated 3.7 mn Pakistanis who have foreign bank accounts and property but pay no local taxes. A major drive also planned to stem the menacing narcotics trade from Afghanistan via Pakistan. Floods too have taken a heavy toll in Punjab and Sind in terms of displacement and epidemics.

With general elections scheduled next year under a caretaker government, efforts are afoot to counter women’s forcible disenfranchisement in the name of “tradition”. Discussions are also afoot on allowing postal ballots for overseas Pakistanis – without giving rise to rigging.

As elections approach, Imran Khan is seeking to boost the electability of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) candidates by admitting vote-bank old guard into its ranks. This has stoked resentment among the early faithful who joined PTI for clean politics. Shireen Mazari and others have left the party and while Imran soldiers on, with a planned march to Waziristan to stop a fratricidal war, his ranks are thinning. Polls put Nawaz Sharif on the rise. But speculation on states reorganisation by carving two or even three states out of Punjab could change the calculus.

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