Need for a campaign code

WITH the assassination attempt on Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, the nightmare of a potentially violent election campaign has reappeared and underlined the urgent need for all contending political parties to agree on a list of dos and don’ts.

Gratefully, the usually calm, soft-spoken and markedly educated and reasonable politician, whose acquaintance I made in London in the 1990s when he visited the BBC where I worked as an editor, escaped death; however, he still received a bullet injury that will ground him for some time.

Belonging to a conservative political family with right-wing leanings, his mother and grandfather were known public figures in their own right. Following his political career mostly from a distance, I have never heard him utter an impolite word, act in an uncivil manner or lose his composure.

If a person whose family’s religious conservatism is a public fact is not spared the wrath of a fanatic who believed or was led to believe that Mr Iqbal had done something to disrespect his own faith, it would be nightmarish to imagine what could befall a politician with less of a religious profile.

If there is one thing that we seem to be utterly committed to, it is to never learn from history — our own history in particular.

But the attack on the minister did not come out of the blue as a concerted campaign has been going on since the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s protest at Faizabad in the federal capital. Although there is considerable speculation about the actual instigators of that sit-in, little concrete evidence has emerged — when does it ever in such cases?

One major political party also chose to exploit the issue and continued to do so at both the constituency and national level, ignoring the counsel of several commentators that this was akin to playing with dynamite. You can start this fire but when it gets raging you cannot extinguish its flames.

If there is one thing that we seem to be utterly committed to, it is to never learn from history. And our own recent history in particular. Whatever the justification, the policy of nurturing religious militancy has cost us dearly. The images of our brave martyrs, uniformed or otherwise, and their loved ones are a slap-in-the-face reminder if one was indeed needed.

Ergo, it was very gratifying to see PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari visiting Ahsan Iqbal in hospital and later calling for unity in the fight against extremism and intolerance. Yet it remains a forlorn hope that all political parties will put their heads together and agree on clearly defined no-go areas for the campaign.

Despite the crying need for such a code, its realisation remains a forlorn hope just because similar appeals to refrain from nauseating public displays of misogyny and contemptuous attacks on women have fallen on deaf ears. The culprits are not confined to one political party alone, even though the governing PML-N must shoulder a major share of the blame.

The last election campaign saw the PPP, ANP and MQM conducting their campaigns under the threat of violence from the now considerably depleted Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. Whether the actual election result, for at least the first two, reflected this more than their performance in office did remains open to question.

Once the term of the current parliament ends and a caretaker setup replaces the incumbent government, electioneering will likely shift several gears particularly after Ramazan. Inevitably in the campaign, heat will be generated to match the searing and often suffocating weather.

All contestants must know that while stoking divisive flames, religious, sectarian or ethnic, may well bring them gains, the temporary advantage of following such a path will lead to hellish consequences.

There can be no issues if various political forces form alliances or even merge with each other in order to enhance their prospects in the elections. But whether such moves are voluntary or the result of nudging by forces variously termed as political engineers or aliens or whatever, the campaign cannot be inflammatory.

Ask the man or woman on the street and you will hear of multiple issues that affect their lives from not having enough food to put on the table to a decrepit state education system that has failed to deliver the least to the most. And the less said about healthcare the better.

Intolerance and extremism are such existential threats that will obliterate any hope of a Pakistan of our dreams where the system may not be entirely egalitarian and yet at least is able to meet the basic, the very fundamental needs of the teeming millions.

What I am trying to say is that the campaign can address genuine, legitimate concerns of the voting public rather than red herrings. Also, there can be no doubt that national aspirations are best served by an accountable (via elections) civilian authority.

However, the concept of civilian supremacy loses much of its meaning when the civilian politician comes to power, calls for it and then happily colludes with forces arrayed against it once in opposition. Principles, if they are dear in reality, must be adhered to at all times.

Let everyone follow the law of the land and uphold constitutional provisions at all times instead of only when it is convenient. Regardless of the machinations of other forces, if all political entities in the electoral fray agree to this ahead of the elections, it would be a dream come true.

Corruption, doubtlessly, is a national malaise and deeply rooted. It can be eliminated only when a mechanism is agreed on in order to root it out fairly, transparently and indiscriminately. If not, those applauding ‘anti-corruption’ measures today, despite their own frailties in the area, will be lamenting them tomorrow.

Given the current political environment, I am aware, what I am calling for is a big ask. But then if you even lose the ability to dream of your ideal Pakistan, what else is there left to do?

Governor’s role

ON Aug 5, 1983, the chief minister of Karnataka Ramakrishna Hegde inaugurated a seminar on centre-state relations at Bangalore at which he fired the first salvo in a campaign which he continued to wage for his next five years in office. He said: “Even the governor has become a glorified servant of the union. An omnipotent and omnipresent union that the present central government has grown into and withering states are the very negation of the democratic policy.”

The governor of Karnataka was stung to the quick. The description fitted him eminently. He angrily retorted that the governors were not servants of anybody. Little did he realise that in Hegde he had caught a Tartar who would make him regret his denial. For, on Aug 17, the chief minister promised the state assembly that he would prove his remarks to the hilt.

The grossness of today belongs to the BJP’s governors.

He did. On Sept 22, he tabled in the state assembly a documented White Paper on The Office of the Governor; Constitutional Position and Political Perversion. Both were proved. A commission on centre-state relations, headed by Justice R.S. Sarkaria of the supreme court appended the white paper to its report in full.

Now, over three decades later, the position is worse. It has steeply deteriorated. Governors vie with one another to please their masters in New Delhi; specifically the power-hungry Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by wantonly needling the chief minister if he belongs to a political party which is opposed to Modi’s party, the BJP.

This is precisely what the Sarkaria Commission’s report had warned against. It said: “It is desirable that a politician from the ruling party at the union is not appointed as governor of a state which is being run by some other party or a combination of parties.”

To be fair, the Congress had set the precedents by flouting this feeble recommendation devoid of any check on power. But the grossness of today belongs to the BJP’s governors. They publicly attack their chief ministers. Their behaviour before their appointment as governors seems to have weighed heavily in the minds of the people who matter as ones who were uniquely qualified to do a hatchet job.

Three stand out from this crowd. Ram Naik of Uttar Pradesh a dedicated RSS man; the governor of West Bengal, Keshari Nath Tripathi, who had won his spurs as one of the most partisan speakers of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly and the crassly loudmouthed Kiran Bedi as lieutenant-governor of Pondicherry.

In the past, gubernatorial misbehaviour consisted of partisan decisions on the appointment of the chief minister in a hung assembly, dissolution of the assembly or refusal to dissolve it despite the chief minister’s binding advice and the like. The centre’s hand was ill concealed in such situations.

In the early decades of Congress rule at the centre, governors openly acted as political instruments of the central government. But they kept silent publicly for the most part. The loud pipsqueaks are recent entrants.

India has now come to such a pass that the office of head of state has been perverted beyond recognition in the states. Parliamentary democracy has been undermined; contrary to the intentions of the framers of the constitution.

In the early days of constitution-making, it was proposed to have elected governors in the states. It was soon realised that the elected governor would be a rival centre of power vis-à-vis the chief minister. It was then decided that the governor would be a head of state governed, like the president, by identical conventions of the parliamentary system. Dr B.R. Ambedkar assured the constituent assembly on Dec 3, 1948, that “the position of the governor is exactly the same as the position of the president”.

But while the president is elected by the central and the state legislatures, the governor is appointed by the president, ie the central government. He has no security of tenure, can be transferred from one state to another and be sacked freely. After every change of government in New Delhi, governors are sacked to be replaced by those of the party that had come to power at the centre.

The supreme court ruled that “his office is not subordinate or subservient to the government of India. He is not amenable to the directions of the government of India, nor is he accountable to them for the manner in which he carries out his functions and duties. He is an independent constitutional office which is not subject to the control of the government of India. He is constitutionally the head of the state in whom is vested the executive power of the state and without whose assent there can be no legislation in exercise of the legislative power of the state”. Politics decide the very opposite.

Only a constitutional amendment imposing checks on abuse can ensure his independence. That requires a consensus which is impossible in the polarised politics of today. Meanwhile, federalism suffers as much as parliamentary democracy.

A dog’s life

IN the end, body parts wear out, and all living creatures enter into decline, ending in death: nature designed us to make room for the next generation once we have fulfilled our duty of propagating our respective species.

This is what happened to our beloved Puffin recently. A handsome, endlessly entertaining Jack Russell terrier, he was a character who dominated us in a way children do. While I was accused of spoiling him rotten, Puffin was convinced that I had been created for his personal comfort.

Whenever I sat in my armchair to read or watch TV, he would hop on to my lap; when I was working at my desk, he would jump on to my knees; and in the car, he would insist on standing on my lap and sticking his head out of the window with his ears flapping in the wind.

Puffin had a particular commanding bark to tell me he wanted something, and his needs ranged from water in his bowl, the door to be opened, or an indication that he wanted to be taken for a walk. Every once in a while, he would swagger in with a tennis ball, demanding that I drop everything to play with him.

In his younger days, Puffin would keep a sharp lookout for squirrels and rabbits that he would instantly chase. His one success was a young squirrel in Hyde Park that was too slow to escape up a tree. As its twitching corpse lay on the grass, Puffin waited for it to get up and resume the game he thought he was playing.

One is sorry for those who haven’t experienced the love of a good dog.

In the country, he would smell a badger and dash into its lair, or sett. Once down there, it could be literally hours before he emerged, covered in mud. We feared that one day, a badger would turn on its tormentor as these animals can be dangerous when cornered.

But the alternative was to walk him on a lead, something that would curtail his freedom to a degree unacceptable to him or to us. So while we could hear him barking underground, he pretended to be deaf to our urgent calls.

Luckily, dogs don’t have a sense of time the way we do. For them, a day can be as long as a month.

When we left him with dear friends who loved him as much as we did to spend most of the winter in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, I felt a sharp pang of guilt.

However, he was just as happy to see us when we returned as though we had gone off for a weekend.

I feel sorry for those who have never experienced the unquestioning love of a good dog. Many dog owners use their pets as objects to exercise power and control, exulting in their ability to follow orders rather than being playful companions. Others are either terrified of dogs, or consider them unclean. In Muslim countries, pet dogs are taboo because of a dubious belief that says that angels don’t enter a home that has a dog. Frankly, I would much rather have my Puffin than any number of angels.

I think it was Gandhi who once said a society should be judged by how it cares for its animals. Whenever I have written in favour of animal rights, I have been rebuked by a few readers who say I should not be wasting space on animals when people are so badly treated in Pakistan. I reply that while people have voices to protest, animals need spokesmen to speak for them.

After 16 years of fun and frolic, we noticed that Puffin had aged noticeably when we picked him up on our return: he was almost deaf and could barely see; most tellingly, he was reluctant to go for walks. And much to his evident embarrassment, he could no longer jump on to our bed as he once did with such practised ease.

A blood test confirmed that his kidneys were failing, and we took the wrenching decision to have him put to sleep rather than prolong his misery.

The late Taufiq Rafat, probably the finest Pakistani poet to write in English, expressed a kinship with flagging powers in The Kingfisher:

“Bird or hovercraft, your angling skill/ proclaims the confidence of repeated success; you flash/ rainbows as you plunge to kill…

“But what about tomorrow? Will they hiss/and boo from the sidelines/as you find, pause, fold and dip towards/the horror of your first miss?

“I’ll learn to love you then, for lost/ causes link all temperaments/What drains my speech of sap will blunt/your keen iridescent thrust.”

Years ago when my father was still with us, a PTV producer who had come to interview him commented that he seemed to love Sundal, his pet collie, very much. “Yes,” replied my father dryly. “Better than most human beings.” That’s pretty much how I feel about Puffin.

Will the real ‘ladla’ please stand up?

IT hasn’t been long since the day when Mian Nawaz Sharif declared that he was ideological — meaning that he steadfastly followed an ideology.

Decoded, the message read that his politics was governed by some principles. It meant he was no longer prepared to fight for his rights as a politician and not available to do someone else’s bidding.

It was a surprise that no one in the vicinity stood up and corrected Mian Sahib for the grave injustice he was doing to himself — until it fell on the shoulders of the redoubtable Chaudhry Nisar Ali to set the record straight.

In one of his more recent press conferences, the estranged Chaudhry has expressed both surprise and disappointment over the Nawaz assertion which hails him as a recent convert to ideology.

Chaudhry Nisar reminds his erstwhile leader, aptly in the dictionary of the old-school political animals in Pakistan, that Mian Sahib has always been — or at least at at one point in time — the custodian of the ideology championed by the right wing in the country.

Should he care to remember, if with help from this staunch right-winger colleague of his from Rawalpindi, Mr Sharif long promoted himself as the guardian protector of whatever the PPP, centre-left to Chaudhry Nisar’s mind, wanted to destroy.

This, the PML-N politician gone adrift explained at the said news conference, entailed strict vigilance lest any mischief-maker threatened the existence and sanctity of the ideology of Pakistan.

This was sufficient ideology back then, but obviously not enough ideology in today’s situation. At least, it is not the ideology that fits some of our top-notch politicians. These are altogether different times that demand new pledges and antics and vows from certain politicians, not all of which are easily explained.

A lot many remain deeply mired in mystery, so much so that within weeks of discovering his true ideology, presumably the real purpose in his life, Mr Sharif himself may be threatened with a brutal, summary dislodging from his exalted ideological seat — and that too by a person none other than his chief rival in the political arena, Imran Khan.

The PML-N leadership has long been taunting Imran Khan by pasting on him all kinds of nasty identities.

The PML-N leadership has long been taunting Imran Khan by pasting on him all kinds of nasty identities. He has been consistently dubbed as the ladla — the favourite, the blue-eyed boy, of the kingmakers — from the PML-N stage. And the intensity of this chorus against the PTI chief has increased proportionally with each impediment against Mr Sharif’s free movement in Pakistani politics.

One explanation about the recent Imran Khan explosion in which he counter-accused Mian Sahib of being an old and original ladla of the establishment would be that the PML-N refrain is taking its effect on Kaptaan.

This line is consistent with the basic theory that projects the PTI chief as an impatient individual eager to blurt out his version of the truth on the day at the slightest provocation.

In more charitable ledgers where tabdeeli is measured, he is supposed to have improved on this count, meaning that it will now take the agent provocateurs a much longer drill to have him running after them. But has he actually?

To give Imran Khan some credit for his acquired patience, the PML-N slogan about ladla has been all too incessant. Also the image of ladla — as if brought out of books detailing the decline of the Mughal empire — is badly unbefitting the mould of the modern reformist leader Imran has chosen to cast himself in.

It may be that there came a point where he could take it no more and finally decided to lay bare some of the privileges he believed Mian Sahib had enjoyed during his, apparently prolonged, ladla-ship in a previous enactment of the periodic Pakistani democratic theatre.

There were additional advantages drawn out of the disclosure. Not only did Imran suddenly remember the name of the original favourite beneficiary of the country’s politics, in the process, even if briefly, he returned to the theme that had sustained his politics following the 2013 general elections. The theme that the 2013 general elections had been seriously rigged.

We now learn on the good authority of the PTI chief that that particular vote in Punjab had been rigged by the establishment in favour of the real ladla, by the name of Mian Nawaz Sharif, whereas we had been blaming it all on the very clever Najam Sethi Sahib and his handy collaboration with some unknown puncture wallah in the surroundings of the governor’s house in Lahore.

This truth, as mostly happens in cases where the truth does make an appearance, has come out at a rather inopportune moment for some power campaigns.

The irritation caused by repeated labelling aside, there are going to be questions asked. Why would anyone refuse the favourite tag, when such a title could only brighten the power prospects of the allegedly chosen individual? This is going to defy logic and also defy all these promises that hail Imran Khan as the rightly selected leader who has taken 22 long years in the making.

One strong view that seeks to establish Imran Khan’s credentials as a mature leader with finality is unavoidably reluctant to blame it on a slip of the tongue. Imran in his 23rd year as a politician, Imran as the popular voice of Pakistani aspirations, could perhaps still have resisted his old instinct, unless he had a message that he wanted to convey to a specific address — like ‘Sires, you didn’t need to count on anyone else when I was around’.

This same thinking can again be found instrumental in the post-haste merging of the Junoobi Suba Mahaz in the PTI.

There may be many choices at one time. The alternative has to be singular.

Major Israeli raids hit ‘Iranian’ targets in Syria after rocket fire

Israel’s army on Thursday said it had carried out widespread raids against Iranian targets in Syria overnight after rocket fire towards its forces which it blamed on Iran, marking a sharp escalation between the two enemies.

The incident came after weeks of rising tensions and followed United States President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from a key 2015 Iran nuclear deal on Tuesday, a move Israel had long advocated.

The raids were one of the largest Israeli military operations in recent years and the biggest such assault on Iranian targets, the military said.

“We hit nearly all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria,” Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman told a security conference on Thursday morning.

“They need to remember the saying that if it rains on us, it’ll storm on them. I hope we’ve finished this episode and everyone understood.” Israel carried out the raids after it said around 20 rockets, either Fajr or Grad type, were fired from Syria at its forces in the occupied Golan Heights at around midnight.

It blamed the rocket fire on Iran’s Al-Quds force, adding that Israel’s anti-missile system intercepted four of the projectiles while the rest did not land in its territory.

No Israelis were wounded.

If confirmed, the incident would be the first such rocket fire by Iranian forces in Syria towards Israel.

“We know that comes from the al-Quds force,” army spokesman lieutenant-colonel Jonathan Conricus said, referring to the special forces unit affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said dozens of rockets were fired from Syria toward the Israeli-occupied Golan, but did not confirm they were fired by Iranian forces.

It alleged the rockets followed a “first Israeli bombardment on the town of Baath” in Quneitra province.

A senior pro-regime military source in Syria confirmed the salvo of rockets, but insisted Israel had fired first.

‘Not looking to escalate’

Later, in the early hours of the morning, explosions were heard in Damascus, while live images were broadcast on television showing projectiles above the Syrian capital and several missiles destroyed by Syrian anti-aircraft systems.

Syrian state media reported that Israeli missile strikes had hit military bases as well as an arms depot and a military radar installation, without specifying the locations.

The official SANA news agency added that “dozens of missiles were shot down by anti-aircraft systems in Syrian airspace”, saying a number of missiles had reached their targets.

Israel’s military later confirmed it had carried out the raids, saying dozens of Iranian military targets had been struck and all of its aircraft had returned safely.

Conricus said intelligence, logistics, storage and vehicles as well as the origin of the rockets were targeted. Syrian air defences, which fired dozens of times on Israeli forces, were also targeted, he said.

There had been no comment from Iranian officials.

Lieberman called the rocket fire “a new phase”.

“We don’t want an escalation, but won’t let anyone attack us or build an infrastructure to attack us in the future,” he said.

“We’re facing a new reality. The Iranian attempt to bring anti-aircraft systems to our borders and close our skies is intolerable and unacceptable.”

An Israeli military statement said “this Iranian aggression is another proof of the intentions behind the establishment of the Iranian regime in Syria and the threat it poses to Israel and regional stability.” It added that it “will not allow the Iranian threat to establish itself in Syria. The Syrian regime will be held accountable for everything happening in its territory.”

French President Emmanuel Macron called on Thursday for “de-escalation” between Israel and Iran, adding that he would discuss the issue later in the day with German chancellor Angela Merkel.

‘Right to protect self’

Israel has long warned that it will not accept Iran entrenching itself militarily in neighbouring Syria, where Tehran is supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the country’s seven-year civil war.

Israel has been blamed for a series of recent strikes inside Syria that have killed Iranians, though it did not acknowledge those raids.

It does acknowledge carrying out dozens of raids in Syria to stop what it says are advanced arms deliveries to Iran-backed Hezbollah, another key foe of Israel.

Israel had been preparing itself for weeks for possible Iranian retaliation.

Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal has added to tensions and led to a new level of uncertainty over how Iran will respond.

On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country has provided massive military and diplomatic backing to Assad’s regime.

“I told President Putin that it is the right of every state, certainly the right of Israel, to take the necessary steps in order to protect itself from this aggression,” Netanyahu said in a statement, referring to Iran’s presence in Syria.

Netanyahu and Putin have held a series of meetings and telephone conversations in recent months, particularly regarding Syria.

The two countries have established a hotline to avoid accidental clashes in the war-torn country.

In February, Israel accused Iranian forces at the T-4 base in central Syria of sending a drone into Israeli territory.

After targeting Iranian units in Syria in retaliation, an Israel F-16 was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire in one of the conflict’s most notable escalations.

Israel then carried out what it called “large-scale” raids on Syrian air defence systems and Iranian targets, which reportedly included T-4.

Israel later said the drone had been armed.

SC summons PM Abbasi in pilots’ fake degrees case

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar on Thursday, while hearing a case pertaining to fake degrees of pilots, summoned heads of all Pakistani airlines as well Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to appear in the next hearing.

“Isn’t it a matter of clash of interests?” asked the chief justice when told that the prime minister is also the head of Airblue. “Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will have to appear in the capacity of a chief executive officer and not a premier.”

The chief justice, who was heading a three-member bench, said that he was issuing notices to heads of all Pakistani airlines as the matter has been pending for the last four months and reports in this regard have not been submitted as yet. He directed the heads of Pakistan International Airlines, Airblue Limited, Serene Air and Shaheen Air International to appear before the bench.

During the hearing, Civil Aviation Authority Director Nasir Ali Shah told the court that the authority has received the reports on pilots’ degrees from Shaheen International Airline and Serene Air today in Karachi, while the report of Airblue was received on Wednesday.

Talking about PIA, Ali Shah said that degrees of 1,972 people were verified while 24 pilots were found to be holding fake degrees.

The chief executive officers of the airlines were directed to appear in person at the SC Karachi registry on Saturday.

Lawyers possessing fake degrees

Later during the hearing, the chief justice took a suo motu notice of lawyers holding fake degrees and sought a report on the issue form all bar councils within a month.

The apex court also issued a notice to the Higher Education Commission, directing the officials to cooperate with bar councils on the issue of degrees verification.

The chief justice remarked that there were some lawyers who were practicing law without degrees while others were appearing in the court without licences.

Mottos and manifestos

PRACTICALLY all political parties have started their campaigns for the general election 2018 which, if held on schedule, should not be more than a couple of months away. They are also indicating the grounds on which they are soliciting the electorate’s support but which cannot be accepted as party manifestos.

Some of the groups and parties are basing their claim to public support on single, catchy slogans. For example, the born-again coalition of religio-political parties, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, or the MMA, wishes to save the state from falling into the hands of secular, liberal, democratic (by Western definition) elements.

This is hardly a new call. All the principal organs of state, the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary and the services (military more than the civil), have been fighting the spectre of a secular democracy whose supporters are completely disorganised. Nobody except some overexcited clerics, driven by their lust for power, finds Islam in danger. Thus, the MMA is taking refuge under a motto and one that is quite outdated. It needs a proper manifesto to find a place in the electoral debate.

Similarly, the PML-N, the party of the grievously wounded tiger, has so far been seeking support on the basis of a single slogan — ‘honour the vote’, despite the advice of well-wishers, including Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, to draw up a proper political narrative. Mian Nawaz Sharif obviously thinks his slogan means that the right to govern Pakistan exclusively belongs to the people’s elected representatives. This is a powerful slogan despite its lack of appeal to the millions of citizens who do not qualify as candidates in elections held under the rules devised by the vulgarly rich.

A manifesto should be a programme of action for the uplift of the state and the people.

Besides, the Nawaz Sharif slogan can also mean a demand for elected representatives to respect the pledges and programmes the people are asked to vote for.

However, the powerful impact generic slogans can have on the electorate cannot be denied. The most powerful election slogan in Pakistan’s history has been roti, kapra aur makan. The PPP may have forfeited its moral right to use it, but for the country’s poor multitudes this slogan is the only measure to judge the promise and performance of elected representatives.

In India, Mrs Indira Gandhi based her bid for return to power after the post emergency defeat and humiliation on a similarly strong slogan — ‘gharibi hatao’ (eradicate poverty). Regardless of her success or failure in fighting poverty, the slogan has haunted all her successors in power and most of them have been obliged to include poverty alleviation in their election manifestos.

The adage that an election manifesto has to be more than a few mottos or ideals strung together has again been confirmed by Mr Imran Khan’s 11 vague mottos that he has presented as his party’s programme if he wins power.

The beauty of a motto-like promise is that nobody can disagree with it. Thus, nobody can reject the PTI chief’s motto-like promise to provide quality education to the children of both poor and rich parents, and a similar promise to create a very vibrant system of generating revenue to ensure that Pakistan attains self-sufficiency. Such promises are meaningless rhetoric unless we are told what is meant by quality education. And do the facilities available to the rich children constitute quality education and how will the promise be fulfilled?

When the PTI chief tries to elaborate on his mottos, he lands himself into trouble. When he states that he will strengthen the federation by creating a new province, merging Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and making local bodies stronger, he could be accused of concealing his plan to roll back the 18th Amendment.

Likewise, when he promises to get women educated and get their inheritance rights recognised, he is seen as clearly trivialising women’s rights and concerns.

What this discussion means is that a party’s election manifesto must not be confined to a generalised statement of desirable objectives; it should be a programme of action for the uplift of the state and the people both. A manifesto should also reflect a party’s prioritisation of the challenges faced by the country and the ways of meeting them.

But what is the value of election manifestos in Pakistan’s politics? Most observers argue that a manifesto is not read by the party leaders concerned and in any case it is forgotten by them as soon as they come to power, and the parties that lose have no use for their manifestos. Much of this is true and reveals a situation that needs to be remedied.

First, in Pakistan’s personality-centred politics, the party rank and file has no role in the drafting of manifestos (there is no evidence that the parties who are disclosing their plans or slogans consulted their executive committees) and the party cadres cannot own these manifestos even if they have read and understood them.

Secondly, all parties should ensure that their workers monitor the political situation during inter-election periods from the perspective of their respective manifestos. The workers of winning parties will be able to keep an eye on their parties’ performance in power. The losing parties too will benefit from looking at politics from the perspective of their manifestos. This will also free political parties of their habit of sleeping in between elections.

It is often said that in Pakistan election manifestos are meaningless as parties make promises they do not intend to honour. True, many false promises are made in the heat of elections. But even false promises are welcome as they are like ropes by which political parties can hang themselves.

Further, while studying party manifestos, the issues that find no mention in them ought to be noted. For instance, nobody is talking about the rights of civil society organisations and this matter in unlikely to figure in party manifestos. Everyone seems determined not to rub the all-powerful establishment the wrong way.

The 4.9 billion-dollar blunder

A BIG round of applause for the honourable chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is due. And following the applause, a medal is in order. Something to recognise and acknowledge Mr Javed Iqbal’s contribution to ensuring that $4.9 billion did not scurry unnoticed out of the country to neighbouring India via ‘remittances’.

In many years of carefully following economic developments in our country, I have yet to see a high official of state make such a laughing stock of himself as Mr Chairman just did. More than 24 hours after the matter erupted on the airwaves, NAB finally came out with a statement explaining how they came to believe that somehow $4.9bn worth of ‘remittances’ supposedly sent to India and Pakistan were in fact laundered proceeds belonging to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif who was purportedly using this channel to send funds to his ‘business partners’ in India.

The explanation deserves a separate round of applause: it turns out NAB based its decision to initiate a probe based on a column written in a newspaper by the title of Daily Ausaf back in February this year. In the meantime, major media had a field day, running wall-to-wall breaking news that NAB had initiated an inquiry into a new scandal just discovered. ‘Nawaz Sharif … money laundering … $4.9bn … India …’ went the refrain on the airwaves, again and again. The official Twitter account of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf tweeted the news with glee. Just as one case is winding up, the impression was created, another is about to start!

This is epic-level bumbling. This is the sloppy way the highest office in one of the most powerful law-enforcement bodies of the country operates. This is the level of degradation of mind at the top levels of our country’s institutions. This is a post-factual world, where what one hears at a dinner party or reads in a WhatsApp forwarded-as-received message from a stranger shapes our thinking more than even a simple Google search would.

Let’s put it in plain words first: there is no $4.9bn worth of remittances going from Pakistan to India.

Because that is all it takes to realise that the supposed ‘news’ upon which this idea of $4.9bn of ‘remittances’ going from Pakistan to India is based, has been profoundly misunderstood: a simple Google search.

Let’s put it in plain words first: there is no $4.9bn worth of remittances going from Pakistan to India. The number is a mere estimate of what the sum could be, if we assume that all those who migrated from India to Pakistan back in 1947 were in fact economic migrants, much like those who have migrated from Pakistan to the Gulf or to Saudi Arabia are. If that mass of people then took up employment in Pakistan, then judging by their income level, and the propensity to remit back to their families a portion of their savings, the figure could potentially be as large as $4.9bn. That’s all.

The $4.9bn figure comes from a table in the 2016 Migration and Remittances Factbook on the World Bank website. A tiny asterisk appears next to the table heading. Go down to the bottom of the page, and the text next to the asterisk reads: “Estimated outflows based on remittance inflows and the bilateral remittance matrix”. There is your first clue that the figure is not a real remittance flow, but an estimate.

Then look up how the “bilateral remittance matrix” is constructed. You will learn that it projects potential remittance flows using variables like stock of migrants, Gross National Income and GNI per capita, as well as some measure from bilateral remittances actually recorded by the relevant country’s monetary authorities (in this case the State Bank) to determine how much of their income migrants from the given country actually send as a remittance and how much they keep for themselves. In short it is a projection of what might be the actual number, provided the migrants in question are indeed economic migrants, but in South Asia, Partition migrants are skewing the picture.

For the purposes of the report that’s alright. They are building a global picture of remittances and migrations for 214 countries, using vast databases and national registries ranging from labour force participation surveys to population censuses, amongst much else, and a few regions with a skewed picture does not change their perspective very much.

The report does provide very interesting insights on a global level. For example, more than 247 million people live outside their home country in 2013, up from 175m in 2000, or about 3.4 per cent of the global population. The United States is the top country for migrants, followed by Saudi Arabia, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Spain and Australia. The top six countries with the highest proportion of immigrants are Qatar (91pc), UAE (88pc), Kuwait (72pc), Jordan (56pc) and Bahrain (54pc).

If one plods through the numbers, and the methodology, to get to the conclusions, it makes for some very interesting reading indeed. Where the advanced industrial countries are host to the majority of migrant populations in the world, it is developing countries that host the largest refugee populations. Between them, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Chad and Uganda have the largest refugee populations in the world (35pc of Lebanon’s population comprises refugees!).

Between them, these migrants and refugees send remittances back to their home countries totalling $601bn, with $441bn going to developing countries, which is triple the amount of official development assistance provided to the developing world by the advanced industrial countries.

But none of this would be of interest to anybody in our government. As the actions of the chairman NAB have shown, all we are interested in is our local witch hunts. Wonder who’ll write what in which rag to spark the next mob-feeding frenzy. A round of applause please, for the geniuses calling the shots in our country!

US withdrawal from Iran deal complicates matters: Foreign Office

The Foreign Office (FO) on Wednesday expressed concern on the United States’ (US) withdrawal from the so-called Iran deal, saying that the decision will affect the world community’s efforts to solve the “conflict” with Iran.

In a media statement, the FO said that the US’s withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) would weaken the dialogue process that was meant to find a solution to the conflict.

Still, Pakistan hopes that the remaining five signatories — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — will work out a way to ensure that the deal is upheld, the FO said.

The FO also reiterated its support for the Iran deal — which had limited Iran’s nuclear programme so that the latter could not produce a bomb, in return for the lifting of most of the US and international sanctions against it.

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump had announced that the country was withdrawing from the 2015 deal and will impose “the highest level” of economic sanctions on Tehran in order to stop Iran’s so-called efforts to make nuclear weapons.

Last week, Britain, France and Germany had urged the Trump administration not to revoke the deal, arguing that the agreement was the best way of stopping Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

President Trump ignored the advice.

Reacting to Trump’s announcement, President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran would remain committed to the multinational nuclear deal.

“If we achieve the deal’s goals in cooperation with other members of the deal, it will remain in place… By exiting the deal, America has officially undermined its commitment to an international treaty,” Rouhani said in a televised speech. “I have instructed the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation to take the necessary measures for future actions so that if necessary we can resume industrial enrichment without limit,” he said in an address to the nation.

“We will wait several weeks before applying this decision. We will speak with our friends and allies, the other members of the nuclear agreement,” he said. “I have ordered the foreign ministry to negotiate with the European countries, China and Russia in coming weeks. If at the end of this short period we conclude that we can fully benefit from the JCPOA with the cooperation of all countries, the deal would remain,” he added.

Junoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz lawmakers join PTI

The estranged PML-N lawmakers who had formed the Junoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz (JPSM) a month ago officially merged into the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on Wednesday and will now contest the 2018 general elections under the PTI banner.

The two parties had reached an agreement a day earlier and made their merger official at a press conference in Islamabad today.

JPSM president Khusro Bakhtiar said that the merger was made possible after the PTI included the formation of a new province in south Punjab to their election manifesto. Under the deal, the PTI is to set in motion the procedures to create a new province in south Punjab within 100 days if it forms the next government.

“We had presented our case in front of Pakistan just a month ago,” said Bakhtiar. “In just this one month, the party that will be the creator of a new Pakistan, has not only added our demand for a separate province in south Punjab to its manifesto but also promised the same — not to us but to the people of Pakistan.”

Bakhtiar again highlighted the importance for a separate province, saying that doing so is imperative for “Pakistan’s internal cohesion” and that it would help the country emerge as a powerful nation.

In a reference to the PML-N, he said that the party that has been ruling Punjab for the last 30-35 years kept south Punjab with itself not for the sake of federation but just to keep on ruling.

“It’s the decision of the people of southern Punjab that they don’t want to live this life of subjugation,” he added.

PTI Chairman Imran Khan, after welcoming Bakhtiar and the rest of the JPSM leaders into his party, explained that agreeing to the formation of a new province “is not a political decision but [his] conviction”.

“Others before me may have made the same promise but I strongly believe that a federation gets stronger only when the federating units are happy to be a part of the nation,” he said. “I believe that administering big units is very difficult.”

“Lahore is my city; I should be happy that 53 or 55 per cent of Punjab’s budget is being spent there but as a Pakistani I can tell you that this is damaging Pakistan,” Khan said before adding that the practice promotes inferiority complex.

The PTI chief said that if his party comes into power he would expedite both the south Punjab province as well as Fata’s merger into the KP.

“We commit that, even though it won’t be easy, this will be our cause and we will expedite this — not just this but Fata’s merger into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa too,” he said.

When asked why does he want to split Punjab into two but merge Fata into the KP, Khan said: “Fata’s issue is that its system has been demolished due to the war on terrorism. They neither have an old system nor a new one. The people there never wanted to join KP but they’ve sort of become orphans now so a merger with the KP is their demand now.”

suba maaz