Pakistan Election Primer.

Hello Everyone,

Pakistan goes to the polls today for only its second free and fair election. In the grand Pakistani tradition,  polling and analysis has been poor and contradictory and the make-up of the Federal Government remains very much in question. By tomorrow evening the final results for the National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies will be in but in the meantime some predictions can be made. First though, a quick primer on the three major political parties contesting the elections.

  • The perceived front runner is the once and likely future Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. Sharif has strong support in the largest province, Punjab, where his brother is sure to be re-elected as Chief Minister. Sharif has also worked to build alliances in the other three provinces. Sharif is a conservative, who was an ardent follower, of that smiling wolf General Zia ul-Haq whose cruel regime was the author of most of the ills that are destroying Pakistan. Sharif later turned against the military and was overthrown by his handpicked Army Chief, Pervez Musharraf, in 1999.
  • Former Cricket star Imran Khan has mounted a serious challenge to the status-quo with his PTI party fighting Sharif for the right wing vote. Few expect Khan to become Prime Minister but he might win enough seats to prevent Sharif from forming a stable government or allow the former PPP government to return to power in a weak coalition government. Khan has inspired the huge youth population of Pakistan to participate in the elections. He has also made sweeping promises about ending corruption and load-shedding (rolling blackouts) within 90 days; promises that will simply be impossible to keep. Khan also wants to halt military action against the Taliban and their militant allies as Khan believes they can be convinced to lay down their arms. Should can Khan win, he will soon find that this is an absurd notion, but that lesson will cost Pakistan dearly.
  • The Pakistan People’s Party ruled for the previous five years and is led by the current President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari. The government’s only real achievement was that it became the first civilian government to survive its full five year term. The PPP is expected to lose big in the elections, possibly falling to third place behind the PTI. No matter the results, the PPP will try its best to join a coalition government as Zardari is desperate to be re-elected President in order to retain the immunity that protects him from corruption charges.

The provincial elections seem more straightforward as the PML-N and PPP are sure to retain their governments in Punjab and Sindh respectively. In Baluchistan moderate Baloch have agreed to contest the elections and will likely win. To his credit Nawaz Sharif has worked hard to reach out to the Baloch and his government, should he win, will likely have support from them. In Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa the PTI stands a good chance of being able to form a coalition government.

As for the Federal election no one knows how the results will play out but it is likely that the PML-N will win the most seats, followed either by the PTI or the PPP.  Whether Sharif is able to cobble together a coalition or the other parties can ally to deny Sharif his third shot at power remains to be seen.

This election which mark the first time that a civilian government has completed its five year term and passed power on to another elected civilian government, is an important achievement for Pakistan. That it took 66 years to accomplish is a sad reminder of how much has gone wrong in Pakistan. Still the election has been the freest and fairest since Bangladesh seceded 42 years ago. The winner, whoever he may be, will have an unprecedented public legitimacy that will hopefully allow for the flexibility required to deal with the many crises facing the next government.

It would be dramatic to say that these elections are Pakistan’s last chance to save itself as a Nation-State, but these elections may very well prove to be the last best chance Pakistan has. With so many crises old and new, swift action is needed by the new Government. Any delay will prove disastrous.

Cyrus Durant.

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Unity, Faith, Discipline.

Hello Everyone,

The title of the post is the motto of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, ”Unity, Faith, Discipline”.  Stirring words that would be adopted after his death by the State he founded as its national motto, a motto that changed Jinnah’s saying into, ”Faith, Unity, Discipline”.

The only difference is the order of two words, but what a difference it has made to Pakistan. Gone is Jinnah’s emphasis on Unity: on the oneness of mind and feeling among a number of persons, as the dictionary defines the word. In its place is Faith: which can mean trust in a person or thing, or a belief not based on proof. And last but not least,  Discipline: which means the rigour or training effect of experience or adversity, behaviour in accord with rules of conduct; behaviour and order maintained by training and control, or punishment inflicted by way of correction and training. Unity, Faith, Discipline or Faith, Unity, Discipline are by themselves no more than words; but like all words they are given meaning by the men who speak and hear them.

When the Pakistani State changed the order of the motto so Faith comes before Unity it was done to imply a commitment to Islamism that Jinnah had always been against.  Jinnah was a staunch secular Muslim and he meant faith to mean a faith in the righteousness of the Pakistan movement and the secular progressive State it would create; not a blind faith in Islamic rule and Sharia law. Jinnah meant the former when he talked of faith but the illiterate masses heard the latter.

It makes perfect sense that Jinnah put an emphasis on Unity, most of his political career was spent unifying the Muslims of India into a single Nation and creating a State for them to rule. Yet how could Jinnah call for Unity after spending decades preaching division? This  paradox lay at the heart of Jinnah’s legacy. For in order to unify Muslims and give them a State of their own he had to divide India. It is not surprising that Jinnah’s brief rule from Independence on August 14th 1947 till his death on September 11th 1948 was spent wielding the repressive laws of the British Raj against opponents who sought greater autonomy for ethnic and linguistic minorities, (or in the case of East Bengal, majorities).

At the end of Jinnah’s motto is Discipline. No doubt Jinnah saw Discipline as being a positive concept: the rigour of adversity, the adherence to a code of conduct. Jinnah himself was a man of tremendous self-discipline which enabled his successful legal and political career. Yet the word Discipline itself rarely comes with positive connotations. I think for most people Discipline has an edge of force to it in that whether it is imposed by others or by ourselves there is an element of implicit coercion involved.

Discipline suggests that Unity and Faith are to be maintained by force if necessary; which has tragically proved to be the case many times in Pakistan. And what institution by its very nature focuses on Unity, Faith, and Discipline? The Army, which has played a destructive role throughout Pakistan’s 66 year history.

It is instructive to compare the national motto’s of Pakistan and Indonesia which is the most populous Muslim country in the World. Its motto is, ”Unity in Diversity”. What a different path Pakistan may have taken if Unity in Diversity has been its creed.  And what of India the ancient civilization which Pakistan was carved out of not so many years ago? It’s motto is, ”Truth alone Triumphs”. One of the many tragedies of Pakistan has been how  easily and often Truth has been thrown aside.

The Pakistan of today is not Jinnah’s Pakistan. Jinnah’s conception of Pakistan as a secular State never truly existed but the Nation-State he founded managed to last 24 years before repression gave way to rebellion.  The Pakistan that has existed ever since is one where Unity, Faith, and Discipline are only found among the soldiers of the Puppet Masters of the land. As Pakistan heads towards a frightening future it becomes clear with hindsight what Pakistan’s national motto should have been. ”As you sow so shall you reap”.

Cyrus Durant.

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Lance Armstrong.

Hello Everyone,

This will be a short post. I don’t really have anything to add on the sordid affair of Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace. This post is in reaction to a tweet I saw; it said that it didn’t matter that Lance Armstrong had cheated throughout his career and had covered it up, because he had done it so he could raise a half billion dollars for cancer research.

Which to be frank, is one of the stupidest things I’ve seen on the internet in a long while. Lance Armstrong cheated throughout his entire career and covered it up so that he could make millions of dollars for himself, gain lucrative endorsement deals, be celebrated as a hero, and enjoy all the trappings of fame and influence. His charity work was only enabled because people thought that he had made a heroic comeback from Cancer and went on to achieve sporting glory in the Tour de France. I’m sure that Lance Armstrong truly cared about raising money to fight Cancer, but I also believe that he cared more about protecting Lance Armstrong.

And although the half a billion dollar figure sounds impressive, very little of it ever went to cancer research, most of it went to providing support to the families of cancer patients; certainly admirable but not what most people who donated thought their money was going towards. Indeed a large chunk of that money goes to legal fees, mainly to protect the Livestrong foundations trademarks.

Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace has been building for years and he used his charitable work to shield himself from criticism and investigation. And who now suffers the most from Armstrong’s fall? The people who might have been helped by the Livestrong foundation, as donations are sure to dry up. Lance Armstrong had built the foundation in his image to mold his public image and cloak himself as a hero, and his fall will bring Livestrong down as well.

So no it is not okay to excuse Armstrong’s doping because of the good he did. His whole career was built on a foundation of lies that has now come apart, and without those lies he never would have been able to do any charity work, for in reality he was no hero, just a mediocre cyclist who needed drugs to win, and who would have given him their money? And his downfall will destroy his foundation and erase any good he ever did.

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The Baluchistan Problem

Hello Everyone,

In the aftermath of the Bloody Thursday bombings I think it would be a good idea to examine the current conflict raging in Baluchistan and what it bodes for Pakistan’s future.

The conflict in Baluchistan is not widely reported on but it exemplifies all that is wrong with Pakistan. The Baloch are in arms because the Federal government and the Army have long denied them their due share of the provinces vast mineral and natural gas reserves and have always used force to prevent the Baloch’s from exercising their right of provincial autonomy. A case in point is that natural gas from Baluchistan is used to heat the houses of Pakistani’s in the main provinces of Punjab and Sindh while people in Baluchistan are left to freeze in the cold winter months.

There have been several rebellions in Baluchistan all of which were brutally crushed by the Government of the day. The first occurred in 1948 after Muhammad Ali Jinnah ordered the Pakistan Army to march into Baluchistan to force its accession to Pakistan.  The second occurred shortly after Army Chief of Staff Ayub Khan had seized power in Pakistan’s first military coup; Khan promised the rebels amnesty if they surrendered, when the Baloch put down their arms Khan had their leaders hanged.  This shocking deception left the Baloch with a deep mistrust of the Pakistani State and Army which were and largely still are, dangerously intertwined. The third rebellion broke out in the 1970’s during the rule of the democratically elected Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto was a left wing secularist with a prominent populist streak. The Baloch politicians of the day would have made natural allies as they too were left leaning secularists.

Alas Bhutto had a knack for turning potential allies into bitter enemies and he decided to impose Governors Raj in the province so he could exercise complete control. The Baloch once again rose up against the Pakistani State and Bhutto responded by launching a full scale military operation in the province and arresting the Baloch leadership. The rebellion raged throughout the 1970’s and cost thousands of lives on both sides. In 1977 Bhutto was overthrown by his handpicked Army Chief, Zia ul-Haq, who decided to make peace in Baluchistan in order to legitimize his rule. Zia released the Baloch leaders, withdrew the Army, and granted Baluchistan a degree of autonomy that satisfied the populace. Indeed throughout Zia’s brutal 11 year rule Baluchistan remained at peace.

The current rebellion started in 2004 during the rule of Pakistan’s last military dictator Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf was attempting to increase exploitation of Baluchistan’s vast mineral reserves; the profits of which had never in Pakistan’s history flowed to the people of Baluchistan. Musharraf just like Jinnah, Khan, and Bhutto before him ignored the Baloch leadership and triggered a fourth rebellion. Musharraf publicly vowed to crush the rebellion and refused to negotiate with the rebels. The Army swiftly moved in and began fighting the rebels who drifted into the mountains to launch guerrilla attacks against the Army and the Army controlled Frontier Corps.

Like everything else in Pakistan the conflict in Baluchistan is a murky and complex one. The Baloch were originally fighting for autonomy within Pakistan but after facing the Army’s brutality they have instead began calling for an independent Baluchistan. The Baloch rebels have borne the brunt of the States crackdown but they have shown an increasing capability to strike at the Army and Frontier Corps as well as other State institutions.

Unfortunately though the rebels have also targeted non-Baloch peoples in Baluchistan. There are hundreds of thousands of Pashtun’s and Punjabi’s in Baluchistan, most of whom have lived there for centuries. The Baloch refer to them as settlers and have killed thousands of them; Pashtun’s for being linked to the Taliban who support the State and push a harsh version of Islam that is alien to Baluchistan, and Punjabi’s because the Army is dominated by Punjabi’s. Over 150 000 Punjabi’s have been forced to flee Baluchistan in the past few years, a figure that is oft quoted in the Punjabi dominated media in Pakistan. And it is a terrible situation, the Baloch sully their own cause by engaging in ethnic cleansing; it is ironic that Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who was born in Quetta the provincial capital of Baluchistan to Punjabi parents, has been the foremost advocate of seeking peace in Baluchistan, yet if he was still in Baluchistan he might have been killed simply for being Punjabi.

But the crimes committed by the Baloch pale in comparison to the atrocities of the Pakistan Army. The Army has used indiscriminate aerial and artillery bombardments, oftentimes in civilian areas, and has planted mines throughout Baluchistan. The worst crime committed by the Army though has been the illegal abduction, imprisonment, and torture of suspected rebels. These disappeared persons were held for years in horrific conditions but would eventually be sent home.  Indeed the dogged efforts of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to force the Army to release their illegal detainees played a large part in Musharraf’s decision to launch his second Coup in November 2007 which resulted in Chaudhry’s ouster and arrest.

In the last couple of years the Army has shifted towards a more brutal approach. Where ”disappeared” Baloch would eventually be sent home, they now were being dumped by the roadside with bullets in their heads; many of the corpses were tied to placards that say, ‘‘Long live Pakistan! Death to Baluchistan!”. Hundreds of bodies have been discovered in recent years, many of them having been held for years before the Army decided to kill them. These murders leave behind angered family members who will raise their children to hate Pakistan and one day seek vengeance.

And to top it all off there is an ongoing sectarian conflict in the province; mostly taking the form of attacks on Shia’s committed by the LeJ. The LeJ’s top leaders had been arrested after 9/11 and sentenced to death. Yet they were able to easily escape their maximum security prison in the Army base in Quetta, obviously with the connivance of the Army. Why? Because in addition to killing Shia’s they have formed militias that fight against the Baloch rebels, allowing the Army to avoid dirtying it’s own hands to much.

As Baluchistan burns and the Army wages war against its own people there is a consensus within the governing elite in Pakistan that peace is a must in Baluchistan. But the main stumbling block remains the Army that has committed and continues to commit horrific abuses in Baluchistan since 2004. The Chief of Army Staff of the Pakistan Army, General Kayani is the most powerful, (and perhaps the most dangerous), man in Pakistan and he alone holds the key to peace in Baluchistan. Yet it was none other than Kayani himself who was in charge of the ISI spy agency from 2004-2007 and was directly responsible for attempting to crush the rebellion. It was none other than Kayani who in 2007 became the Army chief and in 2010 forced the civilian government to grant him an illegal 3 year term extension which has solidified his power within Pakistan. And it was none other than General Kayani who as head of the Army must have approved the shift in policy from abducting and torturing suspected rebels to murdering them and dumping their bodies like so much garbage .

Where does this end? In the immediate future there will likely be an uneasy peace of sorts. The Government desperately needs the revenue that could be generated from Baluchistan’s natural wealth and the Army needs to focus more on fighting the religious militants it helped spawn. But there will almost certainly be a fifth rebellion down the road. The children and grandchildren of those Baloch will grow up and come to seek vengeance on the Army and on Pakistan for the crimes they committed. And when they come with guns in their hands they will be facing a gravely weakened and impoverished State grappling with violence and anarchy in all the provinces. The fifth Baloch rebellion may well prove to be the final blow needed to destroy Pakistan; it is not to late to prevent this future tragedy, but this being Pakistan the right thing is only done when it is to late to do any good. I am reminded of what the old man in Faridkot said when he was asked about the hanging of terrorist Ajmal Kasab last year: ”As you sow so shall you reap.” It’s a lesson that the Army and Government and State of Pakistan need to learn, and one that I suspect they never will.

Cyrus Durant.

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A Bloody Thursday in Pakistan.

Hello Everyone,

The year 2013 is off to a bloody start in Pakistan. On Thursday January 10th, 118 people were killed in two separate bomb attacks in the city of Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan. Also 22 people were killed in a bombing at a Mosque in the city of Mingora, the main city of Swat district. And to top it all off 15 people were gunned down in various incidents in the city of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and the provincial capital of Sindh.

The first bombing in Quetta targeted a Frontier Corps patrol, the FC is a paramilitary force  controlled by the Pakistan Army and is implicated in various atrocities and human rights abuses in Baluchistan. The explosion killed 12 people including several FC men, several women, and a child. Responsibility for the blast was claimed by Baloch separatists who since 2004 have been rebelling against the Pakistani State and demanding independence for Baluchistan. The separatists are secular nationalists who have borne the brunt of a bloody armed crackdown by the Pakistan army.

Later in the afternoon a bomb exploded at a popular Billiard’s club in a Shia Muslim neighbourhood of Quetta. The club was heavily damaged and a few minutes later after rescue workers, police officers, and media personnel had swarmed the site, a second bomb exploded which caused the billiard’s club to collapse. The total death total from the two bombings stands at 106; most of them members of the Hazara community who are ethnically distinct from most Pakistani’s and practice the minority Shia sect of Islam.

The Aftermath of the double bombing attacks on a Quetta Billiard’s Club.

Responsibility for the Billiard’s club bombings was claimed by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi a militant group that was founded in 1985 during the dictatorship of Zia ul-Haq that targets Shia Muslims as heretics. The LeJ recieved state patronage during Zia’s rule and despite the many attacks it carried out on Shia’s it was only banned in 2001 in the aftermath of 9/11. Since 1999 the LeJ has waged an increasingly bloody campaign of ethnic cleansing against the 500 000 strong Hazara community of Quetta. So far 1100 Hazara’s have been killed, thousands injured, and 150 000 forced to flee Pakistan.

A Hazara man grieves over the body of a relative killed in the Bloody Thursday bombings.

The Hazara community refused to bury their 96 dead on Friday (Islamic tradition dictates that bodies must be buried as soon as possible after death), and instead have staged a  Dharna (sit in)  on one of Quetta’s main roads; thousands of Hazara have been sitting beside the coffins of their loved ones in an unprecedented protest, and have vowed not to bury their dead until the government accedes to their demands for the dismissal of the provincial government and the handing over of security in Quetta to the Pakistan Army.

Thousands of Hazaras staged a 4 day long Dharna beside the coffins of their loved ones killed on Bloody Thursday

Late on Sunday the Federal government dismissed the provincial government and imposed Governor’s Raj (rule). The Hazara community agreed to end the Dharna and their dead were buried on Monday. Baluchistan is now under the control of Governor Zulfikar Ali Magsi, who had visited the injured in hospital on Thursday and had declared of himself and the provincial government that ”We have lost the right to govern”. The now dismissed Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani was abroad during the attacks and has not returned to Pakistan; instead he has been staying in a luxury British hotel. Raisani was rarely in Baluchistan during his tenure and was better known for his motorcycling hobby than his attention to governance.

Prime Minister Raja Ashraf (centre-right), visits the Hazara Dharna and announces that Governor’s Raj will be imposed in Baluchistan and that Governor Zulfikar Magsi (far-left) will now run the province.

The protesters have dropped their demand for bringing the Army into Quetta perhaps realizing how dangerous such a move would be. The Army is directly responsible for most of the violence in Baluchistan and any move to grant them more power in Baluchistan would further inflame the Baloch rebellion and could possibly be used by the Army as a pre-text to force the government to delay the elections scheduled for the spring of 2013 which would mark the first time in Pakistan’s history that a democratic government has completed its 5 year term and transferred power to another democratically elected government. It should also be noted that the Army patronized the LeJ during Zia’s rule and in 2008 two top LeJ leaders ”mysteriously” escaped from their high security jail inside Quetta’s Army base, an escape that was clearly orchestrated by the Army.

The conflict in Baluchistan is not widely reported on but it is a great as threat to Pakistan’s survival as the war against the Taliban is. However the complexity of the Baluchistan problem requires a separate blog post to do it justice and I will be writing about it later in the week. Suffice it to say that the conflict boils down to the Baloch rebels demanding that the Federal Government and the Pakistan Army respect their right to self governance and the right of the people of Baluchistan to exploit the vast mineral resources present in the province. A major grievance  is that natural gas from Baluchistan is used to heat the houses of Pakistani’s in the main provinces of Punjab and Sindh while people in Baluchistan are left to freeze in the cold winter months.

A Twilight view of Quetta

Tragically there was bloodshed elsewhere on Bloody Thursday. In the Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province there was a suicide bombing at a Mosque belonging to a popular moderate Sunni Muslim organization 22 people were killed and dozens injured. The attack highlights the fact that although Shia’s and non-Muslim minorities have been increasingly targeted by hard-line Sunni militants, the majority of violence in Pakistan is directed at other Sunni’s

And finally on Bloody Thursday 15 people were killed in Pakistan’s largest city and commercial hub, Karachi. Karachi is wracked by political, ethnic, sectarian, and criminal violence and witnessed over 2500 murders in 2012, the deadliest year in Karachi in twenty years. If Pakistan was a well governed nation then Karachi by rights would be one of the richest cities in the world; rivalling Mumbai and Dubai as a centre of trade, industry, and tourism. Instead Karachi is left as a failing city, a unruly metropolis of 20 million odd people who desperately seek their own slice of shrinking: water, food, land, educational, political, and commercial resources. Political parties maintain their own armed wings and engage in pitched battles with their rivals and the hopelessly outgunned police force, in scenes that are reminiscent of the dying days of the Wiemar Republic. In addition to maintaining their own storm-troopers  political parties also run their own arson squads, torture chambers, and Bhatta (extortion) rings. Karachi is also plagued by criminal mafias of every kind and an increasing Taliban presence  in the city.

Downtown Karachi, a city which if it wasn’t in Pakistan would be one of the wealthiest in the World.

All the conflicts in Pakistan are now intertwined. Refugees from Baluchistan and KP province flee the Army or the Taliban’s wrath and seek refuge in Karachi putting further strain on it’s collapsing infrastructure. These refugees in turn become easy prey for the Puppet-Masters of the land who are always in need of fresh cannon fodder. And this constant flow of people allows for easier smuggling of weapons and drugs which help fund many of the militant groups and insurgents battling the Pakistani State.

Indeed if the new government which should come into power sometime this Spring is truly serious about turning things around in Pakistan, Karachi would be a very good place to start. One final word on Bloody Thursday is that the attack on the Billiard’s hall in Quetta was merely the bloodiest in a series of attacks on places of entertainment in Pakistan.  Cinemas, Theatres, Library’s, Internet Cafe’s, CD shops, and high end Restaurants have all been targeted by religious extremists.  It is a sad truth that in Pakistan today there are few places left for people to gather and enjoy themselves and forget their troubles if only for a few hours.

Cyrus Durant.

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Raja Rental.

Hello Everyone,

Well there’s never a dull day in Pakistan. Today the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the National Accountability Bureau (the countries anti-corruption agency), to arrest all of the accused in the multi-million dollar Rental Power Projects scandal and produce them before the court on Thursday January 17th; and as luck would have it for Pakistan, the main accused in the RPP’s case is Raja Pervez Ashraf, who is the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Before I proceed I want to make it clear that the hysteria and conjecture and conspiracy theories that are being peddled within and without Pakistan as to the timing and nature of the Court Order are all absolute nonsense. The Supreme Court is not acting at the behest of or in cahoots with the Army. The Supreme Court is not trying to destabilize the government so that elections can be delayed and a non-democratic, ”technocrat”, caretaker government can be installed with the backing of the Army and the Judiciary. The Supreme Court is not unfairly victimizing the ruling Pakistan People’s Party government with this order. And the Supreme Court is not hounding an innocent Raja Pervez Ashraf.

The RPP’s scandal has its origins in Pakistan’s chronic electricity shortage. No new power sources have been added to the national grid since the mid 1990’s. Since then the demand for electricity has risen massively as more businesses and houses can afford electricity; this increased demand, coupled with a dwindling capacity, as power plants decay and corrupt officials siphon off electricity from the grid to sell on the black market, has led to severe load-shedding (rolling blackouts), across Pakistan. Most cities in Pakistan lose power for several hours a day, and during the sweltering summer months power outages can last all day long. Load-shedding has cost the Pakistani people and economy dearly and is a major factor in Pakistan’s ongoing economic collapse.

When the Pakistan People’s Party came to power after the 2008 elections, which restored democracy in Pakistan, it promised to fix the electricity crisis. The Government’s solution was to institute Rental Power Projects; basically the government would allow local and foreign companies to build and maintain power plants and the government would then rent most of the electricity produced. Although the RPP’s would cost hundreds of millions of dollars (21 billion Pakistani Rupees), they were expected to be of great help in making up the energy shortfall that plagues Pakistan.

Soon however rumours of massive corruption began swirling. In the next few years the electricity crisis worsened and an audit revealed that the RPP’s had either not been built or were producing barely any electricity; even though the government had been paying billions of rupees for what on paper appeared to be thousands of megawatts of electricity. The newly restored and newly independent Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry took notice of the RPP’s scam and ordered the National Accountability Bureau to investigation. The NAB soon found evidence that members of the government had lined their pockets with the money that was supposed to pay for electricity from the rental power plants, foremost among them was then then minister for water and power, Raja Pervez Ashraf.

In March 2011 the SC declared the RPP deals illegal and ordered the NAB to to recover the stolen money and charge all those suspected of involvement in the scam. Raja who had earned the nickname, ”Raja Rental”, for his role in the scam had already been sacked as minister for water and power due to his widespread unpopularity, resulting from his widely publicized corruption and incompetence, at one point Raja had assured the people of Pakistan that he would end all load-shedding by 2012, despite the widely known fact that the power crisis will continue for at least the rest of this decade.

In 2012 the SC dismissed Prime Minister Gilani after he committed contempt of court for refusing to re-open a corruption case which his boss President Asi Ali Zardari had been convicted for in Switzerland. Zardari’s first choice for prime minister was arrested for drug smuggling shortly before he was to be sworn in. Zardari then turned to Raja, perhaps because he knew the deeply unpopular Raja would prove little threat to him and could be easily sacrificed if necessary. The NAB became reluctant to charge Raja despite clear evidence of his involvement and after the NAB missed several Court deadlines, the SC gave it’s order to arrest all the accused including Raja.

There’s mass panic in political circles and fears that martial law is imminent. Protests have been called in Sindh province, the stronghold of the Pakistan People’s Party, and because this is Pakistan people will die in those protests. A recurring theme in Pakistan’s history is an inability for the ruling elite and the populace at large to remain calm and collected during tense situations; instead panic reigns and desperate and irresponsible measures are resorted to.

I will now run through what I believe will actually happen in the wake of the SC’s order. The Prime Minister will appear before the SC on Thursday and be granted bail. Protests will soon dissipate. President Zardari will finalize negotiations with the main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif  and they will jointly agree on the nominees for the caretaker government which will oversee the Federal and Provincial elections, as the constitution requires them to do. Once a caretaker government is decided upon Zardari will announce the date of the elections and dissolve the National Assembly and the Provincial Assemblies. My guess is that all this will be completed by the end of January or early February, allowing for elections to be held in late March or early April. And perhaps if Pakistan is lucky, some of the money stolen from the treasury will be regained and some of the culprits brought to justice. And maybe, just maybe, politicians will in the future refrain from committing such brazen corruption. In the end Raja Rental will be forgotten about soon enough, and this whole affair will prove to be much ado about nothing.

Cyrus Durant.

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Polio in Pakistan.

Hello Everyone, This is an old post from December 2012 that I forgot to publish but it’s still relevant and contains some recent news so I hope you enjoy. I promise to be more consistent with my blogging; I’ll be aiming for one post a week at minimum.

Today news comes from Pakistan that 5 health care workers, all of them women;who were working to vaccinate children against Polio, were gunned down in co-ordinated attacks in Karachi and Peshawar. 4 women were killed and several injured in 5 separate attacks in different parts of Karachi that all took place within an hour. Another woman was killed in Peshawar which borders the militant ridden tribal areas and her sister was wounded as they administered Polio vaccines to the local children. Suspicion has fallen on the Taliban for perpetrating the attacks which have led to the halt of a Government led and World Health Organization supported drive to vaccinate 35 million Pakistani children.

A grieving Mother looks upon the body of her young daughter who was gunned down while distributing Polio vaccination drops to poor children in Karachi

The WHO has led a global effort to eradicate Polio which has tremendous success except in: Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan the only three nations where Polio remains endemic. Polio is a viral disease that can be transmitted from an infected person to others and can cause paralysis and death; especially in young children. Pakistan has made great strides in eradicating Polio with only 56 cases reported this year a sharp decline from the 192 reported cases in 2011. Polio only persists in areas controlled by the Taliban and other religious militants who believe that the West uses Polio vaccines to render Muslim children infertile, or use the door to door nature of the vaccination effort to spy on Taliban members. And in early January 2013 several more health care workers involved in the Polio vaccination program were gunned down in broad daylight.

The attacks will certainly deal a major blow to vaccination efforts, most likely resulting in the cancellation of the 2013 vaccination drive and they might well lead to a resurgence of Polio cases in the coming years. The attacks in Karachi all took place in neighbourhoods inhabited by Pashtun’s who have fled from the Tribal areas during the last decade and have brought endemic Polio with them. Women volunteers are often sent to administer the oral Vaccine because women and children feel more comfortable dealing with them. The biggest victims of these attacks will be the vulnerable children who will be left at risk of Polio because health care workers fear for their lives. The government has condemned the attack but there is little it can do to protect the hundreds of thousands of health care workers, male and female, who participate in eradication drives; which is a terrible reality as the Government has done a good job of targeting Polio.

Polio can lead to severe deformities in Children that leave them disabled for life. Many Polio victims are forced to beg on the street in order to survive.

And in other tragic news Bargeeta Almby who was shot in the upscale Model town area of Lahore last week died in a Swedish Hospital. Almby was a Swedish Nun who had spent decades in Pakistan working to help the poor; particularly women and their children. Never before has Pakistan witnessed such concentrated violence against women and those seeking to help them. 2012 witnessed ruthless attacks against female charity workers both foreign and local, schoolgirls who have the gall to demand an education, and health care workers labouring to eradicate a horrible disease. Indeed violence against Women has increased in almost every category from: rape, honour killings, acid attacks, and kidnappings. And new statistics indicate that a shocking 75% of Pakistani girls are not in school; one of the worst rates of school attendance in the World.

Bargeeta Almby, a Swedish Nun who had dedicated her life to serving the poor of Pakistan died in a Swedish hospital after being gunned down in broad daylight in Lahore

Where does such hate come from? All of the militants who carried out these heinous attacks must have had Mothers. Surely they didn’t all grow up hating their mothers or their sisters or their aunts or their female cousins. How can men grow up to murder an elderly nun, or an innocent young school girl, or female health care workers trying to save children’s lives? Do they not think of their own mothers, their own sisters, their own daughters, as they pull the trigger? Would they not rage and seek vengeance if someone gunned down the women in their lives? Do they even view their victims as human?

Jinnah spoke of evil customs that relegated Women to a status little better than cattle. Evil customs backed by cultural traditions millennia old, by twisted interpretations of religious texts, and an obsession with patriarchal dominance likely as old as  human inhabitance of the Indian subcontinent. Evil customs that will rule until they are brought down. But who is going to bring them down? The Puppet-Masters of the land certainly won’t; a society in which more than half of the population is kept in subjugation suits them well. As for the State and it’s Governments they have utterly failed to protect its people be they girls seeking their right to an education, it’s own employee’s seeking to wipe a horrible disease from Pakistan, or even the dead lying in eternal rest.

General Zia-ul Haq was the military dictator of Pakistan from his 1977 coup to his 1988 murder. Zia was a cruel, violent man who hid behind his piety and charm and unleashed the dark forces that are destroying Pakistan

I have often wondered in these past 6 years of researching Pakistan if there would be turning point in which it became to late to save Pakistan as a nation-state. I now believe that year 2012  has been that turning point. 2012 has seen so many atrocities, each more audacious and terrifying than the last and Pakistan has been powerless to stop these atrocities. 2012 also marks the 24th year since that smiling wolf Zia ul-Haq was sent to a fiery death by his vice army chief. 24 years for the toxic legacy of Zia to fester and spread and grow in power. Perhaps there is a parallel to the 24 years it took for Jinnah’s Pakistan to collapse in the bloody birth of Bangladesh and the 24 years it has taken for Zia’s Pakistan to become a reality. But I think the greatest tragedy is the muted public reaction to these atrocities in Pakistan itself. There have been hardly any protests and no widespread rage at the perpetrators; instead there is the resigned silence of a nation that no longer has the will to summon outrage, silence akin to that of the grave.

Cyrus Durant.

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