Friday, June 22, 2012

New Prime Minister:Insult to Injury

June 22, 2012
 By Saeed Qureshi

The appointment of Raja Pervez Ashraf as a new prime minister of Pakistan is like adding insult to injury or rubbing salt on the inflicted wound. If the previously proposed Prime Minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin was a felon so is Raja Pervez Ashraf notoriously known as Raja rental? One wonders as to why the PPP’s incumbent government is so barren of the individuals with fair name and good reputation!

President Zardari, like a smart chessboard king retreats and advances his foot soldiers as the situation demands. In his latest move, in order to succeed the ousted prime minster Gillani, he has brought to the fore another person who is up to neck in kickback scams. There is no dearth of corrupt and greedy individuals in the hierarchy of the Pakistan People’s Party. President Zardari would not like an honest and principled person to be his associate in power either as minister or in the party office.
The outgoing Prime Minister Gillani was corrupt yet was as much docile and subservient to the whims and prerogatives of the president as the newly elected prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf would be. President Zardari wants rubber stamp persons, who with closed eyes should dance to his tunes like puppets and follow his decisions and dictates with unquestionable subservience.
There cannot be a better person than Raja Ashraf for the kind of slavish mentality because of his sycophantic disposition and low lying temperament.  But his most strident qualification is his unstinted and unconditional loyalty to the party.
Now when he stands elected and sworn in as the 25th prime minister of Pakistan, Prime Minister Raja would find a myriad of horrendous problems staring in his face. To be in power for PPP as the majority party in these turbulent times is becoming a colossal challenge for their loathsome mode of governance tarred with an abundance of abominable scams and lurid scandals revolving around gross misuse of power and money grabbing by every conceivable mean.
There are grave corruption allegations pending against Raja Pervez Ashraf for receiving kickbacks in rental power projects and buying properties in London. The Supreme Court of Pakistan is hearing cases pertaining to these charges. Because of these cases, he resigned his ministerial position under public and judicial pressure.  Interestingly, the identical petitions were filed by the then a cabinet colleague the Housing Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat as well as PML-N MNA Khawaja Asif on deliberate favoritism in giving contracts for rental power projects.
In compliance with a decision of the Supreme Court, the National Accountability Bureau placed the names of 19 accused in the exit control list (ECL) for alleged irregularities and non-transparency in rental power projects (RPPs). That list includes four ministers including Raja Pervez Ashraf and four former secretaries. While the court rescinded the RPPs, it also directed NAB Chairman Admiral (Retd) Fasih Bokhari to proceed with corruption references against the culprits of this huge scam. The NAB also seized property of 12 RPPs and asked the district coordination officers and deputy commissioners concerned to take action if their owners tried to transfer the property
The most daring and daunting challenge for Raja Sahib would be to write to the Swiss courts for reopening the pending money laundering cases against president Zardari. If Somehow Raja complies with the verdict of the Supreme Court, he will earn the ire of his powerful and crafty boss and might be replaced by someone else. If he ignores Supreme Court’s directives, the impasse and collision with the judiciary would remain as rife as it has been all along since the handing out of the verdict by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The cases against Zardari date to the 1990s, when he and Benazir Bhutto were alleged to have laundered $60 million of graft money in Swiss banks, paid by companies seeking lucrative contracts. The Swiss shelved the cases in 2008 after Zardari became the president of Pakistan.
One would wonder how the incumbent prime minister whose role is to fill the interim period till elections to be held February 2013, deal with that guardian knot. His evasion, delay or refusal to write might entail a similar action from the Supreme Court and the resultant disqualification. To repeat the same argument, if per say, he writes a letter howsoever diluted, it would have to be done with the express consent of the principal accused president Zardari. On the contrary, in case of any ambivalence exhibited by Raja Ashraf like his predecessor, he may also be disqualified and shown the way-out.

But perhaps the PPP government wants to buy time till the next elections so that it can proudly claim the completion of full five years’ term in office. But does president Zardari stand a chance to be reelected on the expiry of his term? If he is not reelected because of the defeat of PPP in the general elections, what could be his reaction or strategy to counter that situation?
Understandably the other party would prefer to bring a head of state of their own choice. If president cannot return to the presidency, his privilege or exemptions from legal actions would also be lifted. Will he flee to the foreign sanctuaries or fight the legal battle?
So the coming few months seem to be strewn with events that could be chaotic and extension of the ongoing political turbulence and standoff on one side between the superior judiciary and the government and between the parties in power and those in opposition on the other. With the elections season drawing near, there cannot be any possibility of a political truce or lull between the colliding parties until the announcement of the elections dates.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Ouster of Prime Minister Gillani

June 20, 2012
By Saeed Qureshi

The disqualification and consequent unceremonious departure of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani from the power citadel is a phenomenal political development that should considerably undermine the political standing of the Pakistan People’s Party.  As the pinnacle executive of the country, he remained tangled in the eye of a political hurricane for all these four years.

Had president Zardari and the ruling elite class of the PPP faithfully sailed along the PMNL in fulfilling the accords reached out between these two paramount political parties, this grave debacle could have never happened. The country would have moved forward with institutional consolidation and national harmony. With thoughtful plans, they could have propelled Pakistan towards prosperity and societal peace. Perhaps the stifling civic amenities would not be there in such frightening and abysmal proportions as these are now.

With the achievement of historic mandate in both the houses of the parliament, the PPP top brass wanted to shed the extra piggy bag they thought was useless to carry along. The country turned into a political battlefield between these two leading political forces that wrecked the prospects for a strong, stable and democratic Pakistan.

The incessant political belligerency distracted both the top parties from the pristine and pressing goal of nation building. Instead they frittered away their time and energies in browbeating and undermining each other. The fringe parties took sides and those with the government were hugely benefitted in various ways.

Presently the country is in the worst shape than what it was four years ago. With the advent of a democratically elected government and the exit of the military ruler president Pervez Musharraf, the people genuinely looked forward to a glorious and promising future for Pakistan.

Musharraf also became a guinea-pig although he was totally piggish in his 9 years of intrigues- laden rule. The perpetuation in power is the most coveted objective of every human in power. But the strategy of finding back-doors, side alleys and unworthy hangers-on to remain in power finally boomerangs and closes the chances for an honorable return.

In Pakistan, it is Musharraf and in early years it was Sikandar Mirza who could not step back on the soil of Pakistan that they ruled with iron hand, with trickery and by quashing the democratic culture. Elsewhere in the world, one can find several dictators who brutalized and swindled their own people and transferred huge wealth to the foreign banks.

Those who still managed to survive consequently met with an agonizing and dreadful end. The two recent examples are that of Libyan strong man Col Muhammar Qaddafi and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. All these unfolding events are hard lessons for the lustful leaders to resist illegitimate temptations.

This unprecedented ignominy was spattered on the face of the out-gone prime minister because he vowed to save his party boss. He sternly declined to write to the Swiss authorities to reopen the notorious Swiss Banks’ cases of president Asif Ali Zardari.  He chose the altar over his exalted premiership.

As such it is a spectacular yet stupefying display of becoming a sacrificial animal. But how can the party chairman return that unique act of sacrifice? There is no way because sooner there is going to be another noose around the neck of president as well. The irony is that despite his self immolating sacrifice, Mr. Gillani cannot ward off the dangers accruing to Mr. Zardari because of latter’s money laundering scams. Someone will have to write to Switzerland for reopening the stalled cases.

By comparison to his party chief, Mr. Gillani still had some saving grace with the people of Pakistan and more specifically in Multan constituency. Mr. Zardari does not command even that much of respect in the entire Pakistan because of his sullied reputation of being the most voracious graft taker.

Unless his name is cleared from a litany of serious charges including the stashing of millions of dollars in Switzerland, he would remain to be stigmatized as a shady character. And the clearance of his name from a few murders to stupendous financial scams is as impossible as rising of the sun from the west.

So Prime Minister Gillani has voluntarily thrown himself into the ignominious dustbin of history for the sake of a person who cannot rehabilitate even his own lost honor and besmirched name. It was ostensibly a bad bargain. But if it gives a tingling of clear conscience and inner satisfaction to Mr. Gillani, there can be no further debate on this issue.

But Mr. Gillani’s absurd heavy baggage was not only his hand-folded loyalty and unswerving servitude to his boss. It was also the unabashed, unhindered and frenzied forays of his two beloved sons to bask in the glitter of wealth that could be summoned by simply getting a nod or signature of their powerful father.

Now while the father has wilfully drifted into the unforeseen landscape of future, his sons face legal reprisals for their unscrupulous adventures for making huge and fast buck running into billion in either rupees or dollars. So the family of Gillanis is destined for a prolonged ordeal.
Now President Clinton (Monica Lewinsky affair) had to tread the same path of political isolation and oblivion. Richard Nixon was irredeemably dishonored for a wrong step for which he was partially responsible (Watergate). But here we have a prime minister who refused to abide by the highest court’s injunctions and stubbornly opted for a political demise.
A horse looks well settled in his stable, a cat is a lion in her owns den and a pigeon is safe in his own cage because these speechless animals are fed by their masters. For Mr. Gillani his placid place would be his residence in Multan. But would he be mentally peaceful and justify that he was the victim of a judicial activism biased towards the PPP. Will he not in his vacant or pensive mood ponder over his personal incompetence and inability to set into motion a model of good governance? Even if he does, the time for redemption of the lost honor or regaining of the same glory is unthinkable for him.

How popular, adored and powerful this strikingly handsome young man with laurels of being committed political activist and a die-hard PPP cadre, was on March 25, 2008 when he became a democratically elected prime minister of Pakistan. He was voted into that august office with unparalleled mandate from all the political parties across the board. And look at the dark depth in which he has thrown himself and his lustrous political career.

For PPP, a grass-root and Populist Party, it is the rudest jolt. The appointment of Mr. Gillani’s’ successor is not going to make the matters any salubrious for either the president or the party’s smeared profile. The only sliver-lining to stem further erosion of PPP and its stalwarts is to announce midterm elections without waiting for the 5 years’ tenure to mature.

This appears to be a more rational approach and the best way-out for the PPP to secure the rest of its goodwill. This decision could help in salvaging its bruised image. If the party hierarchy still dithers and cannot see the ominous writings on the wall, it is doomed politically and may go with the wind of obscurity and face the dilemma of irretrievable rehabilitation. For how long, no one knows!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Et tu, Hassan Nisar?

June 18, 2012
By Saeed Qureshi

If Hassan Nisar is also one of the recipients of the graft money from Malik Riaz, the Pakistan’s billionaire property tycoon: then it definitely betokens the demise of fair journalism in Pakistan. His name is there  in the list with the soul-dampening information  that, “ he received 1 Crore and 10 Lakhs Rupees: Money transferred from Account Title Bahria Town (Pvt) Limited, Account Number42279-2 at Habib Bank Limited, LDA Plaza Branch, Lahore, Code 1315, SWIFT: HABBPKKAX315 10 Marla Plot in Bahria Town.
In the TV Talk appearances as a guest or as a host in his own popular program “Choraha”, or in his Jang columns, he unleashes an avalanche of blistering censure against the corrupt individuals and agencies in Pakistan. He is adored and acknowledged as one among the whole crowd of journalists for scathing views and tongue lashing against a whole range of corruption, greed, moral degeneration and a failed system of governance. He is the most aggressive and unsparing critic of the incumbent government and the power wielders and their sleazy exploits in self-aggrandizement and money grabbing.
His defiant rhetoric did not spare the army generals, the bureaucrats, the highly placed government functionaries and exploitative business magnates and classes for plundering Pakistan at the cost of the peoples’ burgeoning woes. But all of a sudden , his image looks so besmirched and hollow that one tends to believe as if his assertion of moral principles and manifestation of pious platitudes was a mere charade that has been lifted in such a freakish fashion. 
It’s hard to believe that he has been erroneously implicated in this scam as all the particulars are self-explanatory. It appears utterly improbable for him to get absolved from the calumny that has demolished his thus far adorable public profile of all these years. The building of a reputation comes in stages, by hard work and over a prolonged period of test and trials. But it can be washed off instantaneously and one stands tarnished by the surreptitious and sudden developments as the one we are witnessing now. One stands exposed in a jiffy no matter how cleverly he masks his real intentions or covers up behind- the-door activities by thick blankets of subterfuge and ruse.
The fundamental question stands out that why this former Bahria Town boss was squandering big chunks of money on a bunch of leading and most prominent journalist whose programs are watched both in and outside Pakistan by countless people. Understandably it was to purchase their loyalties in favor of the exploitative groups, lobbies and individuals whose front man is Malik Riaz. The charge could be credible that the perks and grafts given to Arsalan Iftikhar was aimed at silencing or blackmailing the chief justice  for going soft on the gubernatorial cases pending against the powerful persons.
This projection could be plausible when seen in the light of a highly uncalled and offensive comment made by Luqman Mubashar, a shrewish anchor of the Dunya TV channel. In one of his programs in which a stalwart of MQM and Fauzia Wahab were guests, he demanded in a louder pitch to hang the chief justice. He was egregiously disrespectful and it was evident that he was communicating his odious marks to someone somewhere. Otherwise a minimum modicum of decency and decorum is normally observed   in television programs, all the more about the head of Supreme Court who should command respect if not total support.
That was most distasteful demeanor of this anchor who became boorish as to leave the basic norms of a normal human being. Fauzia Wahab despite being a prominent member of the PPP and averse to chief justice did not agree with his vicious and scornful outburst. The rabid nexus between Luqman, Mehar Bukhari, Malik Riaz and prime minister’s son Abdul Qadir Gilani was established in full public glare on the TV screen when they thought they were talking in camera.
There is no comparison between Luqman: a cheap and sold out media person and Hassan Nisar to be sitting on a high moral pedestal. Hassan’s terse postures and uncharitable, scathing and rather brutal critique of the stinking political and socio-economic system, the rapacious violation of the constitution and laws, the bad governance and rampant plunder by powerful lobbies and individuals, earned him the respect and aplomb of   the watchers of his TV program.
And now he seems to be half way through an abyss that eliminates the infinite difference of between him and the notorious lot of media in regard to an upright conduct. It is a steep downfall that cannot be rescaled upward by tons of explanations on the part of him or his zealous fans.
Human suffer from temptations for worldly pleasures and enticements and Hassan Nisar is no exception. But what is intriguing or painful is that he was an icon among the journalists for his fiery exhortations against the evil forces. A drastic downgrading from that sublime stature is not only mind boggling but squarely distressing for his admirers. How is he going to cope with this sordid turn of events is too hard a feat to be conjectured correctly?
The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat
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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I do not believe!

June 12, 2012
By Saeed Qureshi

Contrary to the belief of a select crowd, I doubt that Asif Ali Zardari, the sitting president of Pakistan, could have conspired the murder of his brother in law; Mir Murtaza Bhutto. I do not believe that he was instrumental in the assassination of his wife and the chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party; Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto. I have no evidence to conjecture that he forged his late wife’s will.  There is no incontrovertible evidence that he stashed millions of dollars of ill-gotten money in the Swiss banks or in offshore accounts.

I consider it merely hearsay that he was liable to sell the atomic secrets of Pakistan as was alleged by the ousted Foreign minister of Pakistan Shah Mahmood Qureshi. All these allegations have remained unproven. If he has been successful in concealing all the evidence, then let us acknowledge that he is a maverick and a genius.

On the positive side, it is an astonishing accomplishment on his part that despite an unrelenting rain of multiple accusations, he has managed to keep in place the PPP government for all these four years. The opposition stalwarts who talk of accountability, a genuine democracy, a people’s revolution, structural changes, the rule of law, the redress of public woes like power shortage, poverty, lawlessness; could not force or trigger a no confidence in the parliament to oust a sleazy, most corrupt, inefficient and  dysfunctional regime.

President Zardari outwitted the PMNL after getting himself and his prime minister elected with unprecedented mandate. This is what happens in politics. Politics is not essentially moral; it is a game of wits and brinkmanship. If president Zardari is not moral or sincere or clean handed, then tell me who else is?

Do we prefer to forget what happened during the previous regimes, starting from the earlier domino governments to that of Ayub Khan’s military dispensation, to the latter day establishments down to PMLN and finally that of Musharraf?

Someone should point out if there ever were absolutely upright, honest, righteous, selfless leaders who served the country with total dedication and with a passionate nationalism and abiding patriotism. All of them had selfish motives behind capturing power.

They settled scores with their political rivals, tried to cripple or debilitate the national institutions, corner the judiciary, hijack the establishment and bureaucracy and let loose reigns of terror and intimidation on their opponents to stick to power. No leader has an unblemished record of service to the cause of the country barring green patches here and there. Name a man whose life is rich in unselfish service.

Granted that Mr. Zardari, his prime minister and legion of ministers are corrupt and are exploiting their unassailable offices for amassing wealth and fortune, but truthfully, there has been no exception to these abominable pursuits by other leaders as well.

But let us see the salubrious side of the present political outfit in Pakistan. The most sparking hallmark of this government is that it has stepped into power through the popular vote. It is functioning in line with the democratic traditions.

In order to let the democratic tradition flourish, the present government ought to be allowed to complete its constitutional tenure of five years. Thereafter, there would be constitutional and democratic opportunity available to all the political contenders to compete for power and leadership. The next general elections are far away by a few months. By waiting for these elections, a healthy and democratic tradition would be established.

If there is a short cut to hold new elections let that option be resorted to. But primarily the removal of government and its replacement should be exercised in a democratic fashion. If the opposition can force the government to resign immediately, it should not be done through extra constitutional intrigues which is to invite the third force understandably army to take over.

The Supreme Court’s rulings and adjudication apart, the best and most desirable way should be to give a chance for the democratic option to prevail. The present ludicrous situation is that all the judgments of the supreme courts have been thrown in a limbo.

The executive is adamant on non compliance of the apex court’s verdict because it thinks; it was like committing a political suicide. Self preservation is natural and that is what the incumbent government was resorting to. That has created a stalemate catapulting the judiciary and the executive as belligerents towards each other.

Thus far neither the government could be sacked through a no confidence motion or by fomenting an anti-government nationwide agitation, nor soliciting the army’s intervention. It means notwithstanding the government’s poor credentials, it was still constitutional and legitimate.

The long marches and rallies open a backdoor for the extra constitutional and anti-democratic forces to step in and freeze the democratic process for a few years as has been happening intermittently since the inception of Pakistan. A countrywide agitation or movement against a visibly democratically elected government would be neither useful for the government nor for the opposition.

Granted there are yawning problems crippling and undermining the lives of the people, but what was the guarantee that any power that short-circuits the constitutional life of the present coalition government, would be composed of pious and honest people. It never happened during the past military authoritarian regimes.

Notwithstanding, the debatable personal conduct of president Zardari , that of his prime minister and other members of the ruling clique, there have been some watershed, vital reforms brought into being by the ongoing government. The 18th, 19th and 20th amendments in Pakistan’s constitution are monumental.

The allocation of more powers and independence to Gilgit- Balochistan region is decidedly a giant step. The empowerment of women folk through a surfeit of reforms (24) makes the weaker vessel more strident and respectable in a conservative and taboos-ridden society of Pakistan.

The 19 amendment makes judiciary significantly independent in appointment of judges and benches. The comprehensive package of incentives approved by the joint sitting of the parliament titled ‘Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan (AHB) grants far reaching fiscal leverage and independence to a hitherto neglected province.  The 7th NFC award is a landmark breakthrough that ensures fair and agreed resources distribution among the provinces.

So the tendency to summarily reject and decry the present government as being run by a bench of crooks, looters and outlaws, is flawed and does not hold water.

There has been a lurking specter of Pakistan army taking over after the Osama Ben laden’s assassination and on some other occasions. But it goes to the credit of the incumbent government that it blocked the routes of military dictatorship returning to Pakistan after10 years of authoritarian rule by General Pervez Musharraf.

 Despite all the shortcomings of the PPP coalition government its democratic image augurs well for the democratic future of Pakistan. Gen Kiani has been prudent by not committing the blunder of barging into political arena and capturing power at the cost of a democratic genre that would be further refined after the next elections.

 Finally, to allege that president Zardari would sell Pakistan’s nuclear assets for a price cannot be possible as in November 2009; Zardari ceded to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, the chairmanship of the National Command Authority: the Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal oversight agency.
The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat
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Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Achilles’ heel for Chief Justice?

June 7, 2012
By Saeed Qureshi

According to a Greek legend “Thetis, the mother of Achilles, tried to make her son invulnerable by dipping him in the river Styx. She dipped his whole body except the heel by which she held him. In the Trojan War, Achilles was wounded by an arrow on the same un-dipped spot of heels and died”. Figuratively it means a weak harmful spot of a strong person.

Is Dr. Arsalan going to be the Achilles heel for a remarkable chief justice of the supreme court of Pakistan? The reputation of Dr. Arsalan, the elder son of the incumbent chief justice of Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was already grossly tainted. Despite his superb intellect and brilliant scholasticism he has been ill-famed for his penchant for expensive cars and flamboyant demeanor and  lavish life style.

Arsalan’s profile is highly edifying and enchantingly impressive. Arsalan Iftikhar is an “international human rights lawyer, founder of and Contributing Editor for Islamic Magazine in Washington D.C.”

He is a distinguished scholar, an acknowledged debater, and a celebrated intellectual. Arsalan graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 1999 and received his law doctorate from Washington University School of Law in 2003.

A native of Chicago, he specializes in international human rights law and is licensed to practice law in Washington DC.As such he is a distinguished expert of law and should have been entirely mindful of the noxious consequences for getting into a sleazy association with cutthroat businessmen. 

Despite all these high sounding merits and spectacular distinctions, was he under the erroneous delusion that his rapport and collusion with the dubious characters would remain unnoticed? He career as a promising lawyer and as an eminent social activist is doomed if convicted

Arsalan Iftikhar Chaudhry is alleged to have accepted bribes worth $3 million to $4 million (40 crores rupees) from the chairman Bahria Town Malik Riaz who is known for his ties with the “president, several leading politicians and the military”.

It is simply mind boggling that the elder son of a chief justice with immaculate reputation of being absolutely honest and steadfast in dispensing justice could be flouting his father’s principles of integrity, modesty displayed as the uncompromising custodian of justice.

It looks bizarre to think of Dr. Arsalan as falling into the avarice and loathsome temptation of accepting huge amounts of grafts from a businessman who by design was cultivating him for bargaining on his cases pending before the courts.

How could Dr Arsalan believe that he could influence or persuade his father who was serving the pristine cause of justice with his nose to the grindstone? It is shameful and most insidious betrayal by a highly educated son with international fame to trample the glorious conduct of his father who has emerged as symbol of democracy and rule of law despite heavy odds and diabolic antagonism from the present government and a former military head of state.

Or was he being cultivated to blackmail the chief justice with a choice either to drop the pending cases against some high profile government functionaries and also Malik Riaz or face the calumny through his non-challant son.

The decision of the chief justice to take suo moto notice of the reports about the corruption of his son is a milestone in the judicial history of Pakistan. Amid accusations of conflict of interest and on the objections of the attorney general as well the defense lawyer about hearing the case, he has diassociated himself from the proceedings of the case.
Even if the son of chief justice was trapped for settlement with his father for certain cases, the fact should not be overlooked that the case is going to be a double-edged sword. Dr. Arsalan has no future that he would have been aspiring to look forward. He would go to the jail for a few years if the case of graft is proven against him.

But in the wake of the proceedings, the other party would also be exposed in many ways. The two member Supreme Court panel of judges has called for the business details and accounts of Mali Riaz and also of Behria Town. It is like opening a Pandora box that cannot be sealed again even if the parties try to do so. There would be many cats out of the bag and many beans spilled before the entire country and the world at large.

The evidence presented by two well known TV anchors before the apex court is not enough to make a strong case against the defendant. The accusing party which in this case is none as the case is suo moto. However the persons who are being named by other sources will have to come forward with sound proof and incontrovertible evidence to prove Dr. Arsalan as the culprit.

While they do so, it would be both the parties namely Dr Arsalan as the graft taker and the other party with Malik Riaz as the bribe giver to be culpable before the law. Both will be convicted as giving and taking of bribe are both punishable under the law. All the more when the rumors were floated first through the press and media patently with the motive of embarrassing the chief justice and presumably to force him to go soft on certain gubernatorial cases which he could not.  

Since the Arsalan’s episode was made public, the Chief Justice an unbending jurist had to respond the way he has done. Let us watch with rapt attention as to how the case proceeds and what comes out that could further embellish the noble cause of justice and reinforce the supremacy of law in Pakistan. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Benazir Income Support Program: A Mega Rip-Off

June 5, 2012
By Saeed Qureshi
In  Pakistan’s budget for the year 2012, the government has allocated 70 billion rupees for the much-touted Benazir Income Support Program(BISP). In dollars it comes to 800 million. Thus far this  program that was kicked off in 2008 has been allocated some two billion dollars to alleviate the economic hardships of the poor families in Pakistan. It is a staggering amount.
However,  there is a mounting proliferation of complaints from the poor citizens, who have remained deprived of the largesse of the BISP. We have seen numerous footages on the television showing the crowds of the hungry and indigent displaying their cards with blatant grievances that all that they possessed were the cards but not the money. There are also reports about fake and forged lists of the  recipients of this elephantine philanthropic program.
Those who have their names entered into the list of the prospective recipients, throng before the pigeon-holed windows for the state philanthropy. It  takes days for a needy family as well as physical strength to get a paltry sum of Rs. 1000 given to each household. Several individuals are reported to have gone sick and fatigued and injured following the long and arduous physical distress they have to undergo  to catch hold of a check or cash. The cardinal question is what would one buy and sustain in Rs. 1000 pittance that the rich in Pakistan spend on giving tips or on buying a pack or two of cigarettes.
In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the gulf between the rich and the impoverished citizenry is widening by the day and by every hour. The endemic and grinding poverty that has now become a deep-rooted social evil, was seldom addressed by the successive governments and the elected representatives to be one of the leading monstrous problems in Pakistan. There seldom launched  ground breaking programs and policies for the economic uplift of Pakistan. Conversely, the magnitude of the poor and indigent population is incessantly swelling.

Now a festering sore that bleeds all the time and is turning into gangrene cannot be healed by a bandage but by a composite surgical procedure. The incumbent regime in Pakistan is placing a thin bandage of negligible income support program to eradicate a malady that merits a long term and stupendous plan for its elimination or at least containment.
But ostensibly the motive of the incumbent rulers was not to eliminate poverty or feed the hungry citizens. It was primarily to make huge buck under the cover and guise of a program that on the face should look like an altruistic mission and geared for the betterment of the financially downtrodden populace of Pakistan.
Let us presume that if this year’s Rs 70 billion or the past years several hundred billions would have been channeled on creating jobs by setting up industries and by providing plots of cultivable lands to the resource-less, the endeavor would have been robustly fruitful and looked earnestly pious.
Even if the government intends to spend this huge amount of money on feeding the empty stomachs, then it could have been executed in a transparent and accountable manner. Now a Jialee (feminine of Jiala the nickname by which the diehard adherents of PPP are known)  Madam Farzana Raja is handed over this onerous and gigantic task of dispersing money in such a royal manner then what propitious outcome could be expected.
The commonly prevailing perception of the people of Pakistan about the PPP rank and file from the president to a local party leader is exceedingly adverse.  Now imagine if a fox is guarding the henhouse what would happen to the  poor fowls. Farzana Anwar Raja is one of those female cohorts of the PPP who would break but not leave the party. And she is the chairperson of the BISP.
The so called smart card is used for disbursement of the support money to the identified needy individuals. The smart card is provided only  by three centers in the whole country. The smart card is akin to a credit card with some additional complications. It is utterly impossible for an isolated, unlettered and  unfamiliar village folk to use it and get money. 
The definition of the needy people as outlined in the charter of the program is given as, “poorest people in Pakistan, including families headed by widowed or divorced women, or families with persons with disabilities or chronic disease” Later on the displaced person were also included in this list and with the funds allocation was drastically revised upward.  
It is claimed by the organizers of the BISP that the enrolled families are paid cash assistance of Rs.1000 per month at their doorsteps. It is also claimed by them that in order to further strengthen the transparency, disbursement of monthly cash assistance would now be carried out electronically through branchless banking system.
So instead of door to door disbursement or through the hard-to-follow smart card device, it would be sent into the accounts by electronic transfer. Let us ponder how many recipients could come to the cities , use the smart card and take out money. Or else how many displaced villagers would own a computer to see if the money had been transferred in their accounts. It is like expecting from a new born to read the Bible.
The BISP brochure says that it has “established an elaborate targeting mechanism for identification of the poor through the introduction of Poverty Scorecard and the nationwide survey along with creation of a database accompanied by data validation and verification”.
Notwithstanding the tall claims of the authorities, the bare fact is that this program has remained a non-starter. The two billion dollars could have been utilized on productive and far-reaching projects in order to  transform the lives of the people in real sense and to prop up  prosperity of the country.
Thus instead of radically redressing the economic backwardness of the destitute population, the government is creating a community of compulsive beggars that would be looking towards  this petty relief as long as the government floats this spurious program. The poor people should be made self-reliant and enabled to  generate enough  incomes to live honorably and with a modicum of tolerable living standards.
The example of Bangladesh is instructive where the small loans were made available to the poor families to be paid back from earnings of the cottage and home based industries and  agricultural output. With that novel device not only that the grinding poverty was bridled but a semblance of prosperity and upswing of living standards was also set in motion.
The Grameen Bank founded some 30 years ago, by the  Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus is “credited with lifting millions of people out of poverty through offering small microfinance loans”. This unique concept brought self-reliance to many rural families by enhancing their incomes from small business ventures undertaken mostly by women folks.
The opposition in Pakistan and the parliamentarians, the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee  and all patriotic Pakistanis should take note of this disguised mega plunder that is shorn of a foolproof mechanism for preparation of the lists of the indigent Pakistanis as well as deliverance of the support money.
The huge funds being surreptitiously consumed in this patently dubious scam should be diverted to loans to the backward rural population to enable the people to create income through setting up of small manufacturing units. As stated earlier it is already being done in Bangladesh and in several developing countries where growth in productivity and increase in income go hand in hand, elevating the level of prosperity.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan which  is the only reliable vigilante institution, ought to take suo moto notice of this Tsunami of stealth corruption masked by humanitarian relief ploy but which inherently is for self-enrichment of the people in power by robbing the national exchequer.
This farce of beefing up the insufficient earnings of the impoverished families is also a safe way of bribing and cajoling the party office bearers. But more than that it is to keep a vote bank intact especially in the rural Sind in favor of the PPP so that a twin purpose can be achieved: the people vote for the party and keep receiving the charity as long the PPP remains at the helm of power.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Venomous Grin of Bashar al-Assad

June1, 2012
By Saeed Qureshi

Insensitive and unmindful like a psychopath of the ongoing unflagging uprising and citizens’ beastly massacres, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad exudes in public appearances a broad smile and a cheerful countenance that reflect as if all was fine in Syria.
The incumbent Syrian president is the son of that heartless predator who preyed upon his own dissident citizens and killed them without batting eyes. Mostly they were from Sunnis groups including the Muslim brotherhood.  Perfectly fitting into the proverb “like father like son”, the incumbent Syrian tyrant is brazenly treading on the footprints of his fiendish father Hafiz Al Assad who was rightly nicknamed as the Butcher of Damascus.
 With the mammoth liberation movement picking up momentum against the Bashar al-Assad’s repressive regime , the casualties at the hand of the security forces are correspondingly soaring.  The latest spine- chilling orgy of blood carried out in the Houla city on May 25, makes one speechless and traumatized as to how callous the regime in Syria tends to be. According to the United Nations’ handout, some 108 people were killed including 49 children and 34 women.
 An eye witness injured woman narrated the carnage in a video released by activists in these words “They entered our homes ... men wearing fatigues, herding us like sheep in the room and started spraying bullets at us"

During his barbaric rule of 30 years, Hafiz al Assad ordered at least six brutal massacres in which several thousand Syrians were killed. In some of these massacres, the people were not only shot point blank but were buried under the debris when they were still alive. One of such gruesome massacres was carried out in Hama village where the entire population was massacred, their houses bulldozed and the ground leveled with dead or alive bodies underneath.

The Hama massacre occurred in February 1982, when the Syrian army, undertook a scorched- earth operation against the town of Hama in order to quell revolt by the Sunni Muslim community against the regime of al-Assad. Reportedly 10 thousand to 40 thousand citizens perished. In the 13 October 1990 massacre executed during the closing times of the Lebanese Civil War, hundreds of Lebanese soldiers were executed after they surrendered to the Syrian forces

The Syrian fierce uprising against the incumbent regime that began in January 2011 is fast turning into a civil war. According to a rough reckoning, thus far it has swallowed over 12000 human lives while around 35000 are reported to be injured or maimed. All the initiatives, efforts and appeals to the Syrian government to stop the use of unhindered violent means and heavy artillery and weaponry, has fallen on deaf ears.

A United Nations Security Council’s resolution to end the violence in Syria was torpedoed by a double veto of Russia and China on February 4, hours after the Syrian military launched a deadliest attack on the city of Homs.

The Arab League suspended Syria's membership over the government's response to the crisis, and sent an observer mission in December 2011 without any tangible progress. It failed to persuade the Syrian authorities for ending the escalating violence and appalling brutalities being indiscriminately inflicted on the demonstrators. Kofi Annan, the special envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League, was in Damascus trying to keep alive a peace plan under which Mr. Assad promised six weeks ago to end the violence. He as usual defied that pledge

The strong condemnation by United States, the European Union states and Gulf Cooperation Council states (GCC), had remained futile in impelling Bashar to desist from the bloodletting of Syrian people who want to change the dictatorial regime run by a minority religious section and bring a populist democratic government.

Besides imposing a surfeit of sanctions lately, the United States, Britain, France and at least five other major nations  expelled senior Syrian diplomats that could lead to a similar action by other states that realize it was time to force the oppressive and betraying Alawite regime to initiate talks with the opposition groups for restoring peace and transfer of power.

But this time the situation presents drastically different scenario. The revolution is to say is part of the sweeping Arab spring that would not dissipate or relapse notwithstanding the temporary setbacks till the repressive tyrants merciless despots, and bloodsucking dynastic sovereigns are obliterated.  
The regime in Syria is engaged in an insane, callous and frenzied witch-hunt of the agitators by attacking and besieging the cities wherever the anti-regime demonstrations take place. Yusef Khalil in his masterpiece article, “A Turning Point in Syria” published by socialist tells us that “The Syrian military has used heavy weapons, tanks, bombs and artillery to destroy entire civilian neighborhoods…….. Tens of thousands have been detained or disappeared, and hundreds of thousands displaced”.

According to Yusef Khalil, “what began as mostly unarmed demonstrations has, in response to the intense government repression, turned to arms to defend the protests from the military and the regime's thugs. with large demonstrations in every part of the country, and entire cities falling out of the regime's control, only to be attacked and taken back by the armed forces with reckless slaughtering of those who come n their way.”

If the Syrian dynastic regime is under the illusion that finally it would be able to overpower the unrelenting countrywide upsurge then it should be taken for granted that that day would never dawn in beleaguered Syria.  The overriding reason for such forecast is that the disaffected and brutally suppressed people of Syria never imagined that they could rebel against a callous tyrant in such a defiant manner. They would not lose this historic chance by backtracking from a revolutionary struggle.

The Alawite regime has been keeping itself in the power saddle by dint of terrorizing her own citizens for almost 42 years. The insurgency or liberation movement is like water which one finds way flows out. The distressed and oppressed Syrian people being killed and brutalized incessantly by regime would not sit back after huge sacrifices ranging from countless deaths to destruction of their houses and displacement from their own land.

There are two potent groups braced against the Syrian regime. One is the Free Syrian Army (FSA) backed by Turkey that is battling in the streets and markets of Syrian towns and cities against the Syrian regular army. It consists of independent groups and individual brigades that believe in the armed struggle as was done by the Libyan armed groups.

The second is the pro west Syrian National Council (SNC) set up by the Syrian exiles that supports the foreign intervention even armed as was done by the NATO in Libya to protect the Syrian people from the pogroms and mass killings by the Syrian army. This entity wants harsh sanctions againt the Bashar regime and its functionaries besides creation of no fly zones.

The Syrian revolution pits two regional powers against each other for achieving their coveted goals of leadership. Saudi Arabia and its protégé Qatar would want the Shia minority regime of Alawite to be dismantled and defeated via the Syrian armed groups and by the foreign interventions powers.
On the contrary Iran would not like its partner in faith and a close ally and neighbor to be destabilized and overthrown. If Alawite regime is removed like that of Libya then Iran’s influence in Arab world would considerably whittle down. The Lebanese based Hezbollah also harbors and supports the incumbent Syrian regime because of common faith and for showing their solidarity with a patronising regime.

Although foreign support is indispensible in this historic movement, yet essentially it is neither the colliding powers trying to fish in the troubled Syrian waters nor the external invention that could bring the regime’s downfall. It would be the people themselves most notably the working classes, the suffering downtrodden, the suppressed religious and ethnic groups, the farmers, the intellectuals and all those sections of society who would herald this colossal change.  It is only the Syrian masses who would replace a dictatorial dynastic regime with a system of government where the power belongs to the people and not to a coterie of blood sucking, rapacious and diabolic usurpers.

Why don’t the isolated tyrants realize that they can no more hold on to their tyrannical regimes any longer in the present liberating times? The supreme sacrifices of the Syrian people for ending the reign of incessant terror let loose on them for decades would not go in vain.

If a gubernatorial change can come in Egypt with deliverance from a rogue, pharaoh like tyrant, it can as well be brought about in Syria no matter what the sacrifices of the people or the stakes of the foreign stake holders are. The Arab spring would eventually also make its enchanting advent in Syria with all its fragrance, charm, glory and magnificence and as a harbinger of the national liberation and the establishment of a popular government. That blessed day is not far off.