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Daily Times Editorials

Daily Times Editorials – 23rd March 2016

Ties with Iran

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has expressed pleasure over the removal of international economic sanctions on Iran, paving the way for expeditious resumption of commercial and economic ties between Pakistan and Iran. Welcoming the newly appointed Iranian Ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Honardoost, the Prime Minister stressed the need for enhancing trade and business cooperation between the two countries. Pakistan has attached great expectations with the likely visit of President Hassan Rouhani to Islamabad later this week. The visit augurs well for strengthening relations between both neighbouring states as well as a great opportunity for the leadership from both states to review the whole range of bilateral relations and further strengthen ties. Pakistan has never been hostile to Iran during the standoff of the latter with the west over the Iranian nuclear programme, and Pakistan enjoys deep cultural, religious and friendly relations with Iran. Despite international sanctions, Islamabad did not leave Tehran in isolation and continued its diplomatic support to Iran. The new Iranian ambassador announced his country’s intentions of further improving bilateral relations. He said that the current volume of bilateral trade between Iran and Pakistan did not reflect the enormous potential that existed between the two countries. He called for seizing the moment by redoubling efforts to achieve the target of five billion dollars set by Prime Minister Sharif and President Rouhani during the former’s visit to Iran in May 2014.

After the signing of a nuclear agreement by Iran and world powers in Vienna on July 14, 2015, the doors have been opened for Iran to augment its relations with countries in Asia and the Middle East. The energy-starved Pakistan needs to expand economic cooperation with Iran. In February 2016, Pakistan also lifted sanctions on Iran and devised a strategy to revive all economic and commercial relations with Tehran. The stalled Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline Project remains the main issue that needs to be sorted out on an emergent basis. The project was to be commissioned in December 2014 but work was stopped after sanctions were placed on Tehran. Iran has invested two billion dollars on the completion of the pipeline on its side and is waiting for Pakistan to complete the project on its part. Iran is offering every possible assistance to Pakistan to have good relations. Islamabad should seize the opportunity because Pak-Iran trade relations have enormous potential. Pakistan should also take the initiative to further improve ties with Iran and reciprocate the Iranian goodwill; it should take full benefit from the generous offers extended by Iran regarding the gas pipeline project and electricity trade agreements. Besides energy and gas projects, there are numerous opportunities to increase bilateral ties by establishing road and rail infrastructure in the border areas of both countries. Pakistan also needs to satisfy Iranian concerns regarding the poorly policed border areas in the context of Jundullah’s attacks inside Iran.

Besides developing trade and economic cooperation, Iran is seeking to address its neighbours’ concerns and engage them for the resolution of regional issues, such as the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, and also for dealing with the threat from terrorist groups including Daesh. Cooperation among regional countries is the only way forward for prosperity and wellbeing of the people. It is definitely in the interests of Pakistan and Iran to have a better economic and trade relationship. Both neighbouring countries should stand by each other for the common good.

The trial of Musharraf

The latest round of rallies held by the Pakistan People’s Party in protest over the ‘departure’ of General (Retd.) Pervez Sharif from Pakistan is a reflection of the state of affairs of the fragile structure of democracy in Pakistan. The hullabaloo in media and the loud protestations of various political parties indicate the need to keep one issue in limelight highlighting the obvious while conveniently turning away from the deeper malaise: lack of accountability in Pakistan. Whether it is a ‘secret deal’ brokered between government and army, whether it is pressure of the khakis on the civilians, whether it is the judiciary’s show of contrived compassion for a retired chief of the army staff, or whether it is a genuine case of a Pakistani citizen making a trip to a foreign land for medical purposes, there are as many conjectures as there are conspiracy theories. To the ordinary citizens of Pakistan, the situation is all too familiar to lose any sleep over for too long.

While political victimisation is a prominent part of the political dynamic of Pakistan, the stark lack of transparency and accountability has delineated a structure that thrives on an environment in which there is an absence of checks and balances. One civilian government after the other, after being voted on a promise of changing Pakistan, perpetuates a system of weak governance, little or no effort to strengthen institutions, self-serving agendas, blatant nepotism, unchecked corruption, and immunity. And as a self-prescribed antidote to that, ostensibly in sync with the wishes of the people, the almost three decades of military rule, in negation of the sanctity of the democratic model of government, ended up in disempowerment of the institutions they set out to stabilise. The entire system is rotten, and no amount of cosmetic overtures would ensure the establishment of mechanism of proper accountability in Pakistan.

Military rulers have had immense popularity in Pakistan, even the support of many political parties who profess to be democratic in spirit. The case of treason on Musharraf would have had resonance if all military dictators — even posthumously — are put on trial. The protests of political parties would have had substance if their leaders have not, at one point or the other, chosen forced or voluntary exile from Pakistan to escape judicial trials. Other than more than 11 years of the incarcerations of Asif Zardari — which produced no proof to convict him of any crime he was accused of — and politically-motivated jailing of various leaders — from Benazir Bhutto to Nawaz Sharif — most Pakistani leaders have been ‘guilty’ of leaving Pakistan when judicial trials loomed on their heads. Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif, Altaf Hussain, Benazir Bhutto, Asif Zardari and Pervez Musharraf… the list has the most famous names of Pakistan’s power elite. And while it would be a great service to Pakistan if the powerful are treated like the ordinary, facing the reality of accountability, trials and jail, it would be not be fallacious to say that in the present set-up of governmental shortsightedness and moral dithering, and military’s apparent hegemony this idea seems utopian.

Pasha’s arrest

A senior leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM),Syed Shahid Pasha, who serves as the deputy convener of the party’s rabita (coordination) committee has been arrested by the Rangers in Karachi. The MQM leader was picked up the federal paramilitary forces in the early hours of the morning, and with his subsequent location being unknown, his family filed a petition against the arrest with the Sindh High Court (SHC). Thereafter, the Rangers presented Pasha in an anti-terrorism court (ATC), where the administrative judge was informed that the MQM leader was in “preventive detention” for a period of 90 days for questioning. The Rangers submitted that they were acting on “credible information” that Pasha was involved in offences related to targeted killing, kidnapping and extortion. The powers afforded to the Rangers mean that under the garb of anti-terrorist drives they can arrest anyone without a formal charge and detain him or her in an undisclosed location for up to three months before handing the suspect over to the police. The MQM has lashed out against the arrest of its senior leader, and is terming the Rangers’ actions a part of a renewed witch-hunt against the party. Just two days before Pasha’s detention, senior MQM leader Farooq Sattar accused the Rangers of torturing and interrogating “40 under-trial prisoners” belonging to the MQM imprisoned at Karachi Central Jail, and “pressuring the workers to leave the party.”

The Karachi operation has seen the Rangers clash with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) before, and now the MQM is being treated in a similar way. The tussle with the PPP has left a wedge between the federal government and the Sindh government of PPP as well, since the latter have framed the Rangers’ actions as extra-constitutional and against the spirit of the federation, while the federal government, led by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, have argued that the Rangers need to be empowered to whatever extent necessary in order to “clean up” Karachi of its militant elements. Empirically speaking, the Rangers’ operations over the past two years have indeed brought down crime rate and have reduced the number of target killings, kidnappings and terrorist activities; as such the Rangers are viewed favourably within Karachi and their overall efforts deserve to be lauded. However, the central problem at the heart of the matter is one of due process and legality. The concepts of accountability and holding political leaders responsible for their part in perpetuating violence are certainly affirmative, but we also need to ensure that there is a rational system in place. Giving Rangers blanket powers, and putting on a path of confrontation with the police and the provincial government, is a recipe for disaster and political victimisation.

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