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Daily Times Editorials – 30th January 2016

LHC’s intervention

Our houses, heritage sites and lives, all are at risk at the hands of the present Punjab rulers, whose unbridled desire to build modern infrastructure in a haphazard manner has perturbed almost every citizen in Lahore. This arbitrary style of work has prompted the Lahore High Court (LHC) to intervene and issue a stay order against the construction work for the Orange Line Metro train project within 200 feet of 11 heritage buildings along its route. During the hearing, the counsel for the Punjab government failed to satisfy the court regarding the project. The Punjab government embarked on the project without proper planning. That is the reason it is proving to be a great nuisance instead of a relief initiative. Without following any proper procedure for land acquisition, houses and businesses are being pulled down before the eyes of their owners, who can do nothing except curse the rulers for their cruelty. Following the footprints of dictatorial emperors of the past, our worthy Punjab Chief Minister (CM) is bent upon destroying the overall character of the city in quest of his ambitions and a desire to remain in power through the gimmick of showpiece development works. Why is the CM depriving citizens of their houses, and that too without any relocation plan? Why is the Punjab government spending the allocated budget of health and education on this project? The answer is simple: the PML-N thinks this gimmick will win them the 2018 elections as the Metro bus did in 2013.

The government had initiated the project in September last year but the loan contract was signed with a Chinese bank in January this year, which means the government so far was continuing the work with public money meant for other sectors, particularly health and education, both of which are in a parlous state. According to media reports, the government had transferred the DG Archaeology to get approvals from its favoured replacement DG. So far 26 people have been killed because of the project. UNESCO has expressed concerns over the design of the project that is posing a direct threat to a number of heritage sites. Earlier, civil society was protesting against the CM’s costly venture of building a train to be run on electricity without presenting a convincing plan. Now, political parties have taken a stand and announced an alliance to launch a protest campaign against the government’s Rs 165 billion Orange Line metro train project. After the LHC’s intervention and political parties as well as civil society activists’ struggle, there is a slight hope that the Punjab government would give a second thought to its poorly thought through plans and take necessary measures to address the genuine concerns of citizens and experts regarding the faults in the project.


Nisar’s ineptitude

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has become nothing less than a liability and an embarrassment to the government of Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif, and needs to be relieved of the critical position he holds as soon as possible. That much has become abundantly clear after an ill-tempered and disastrous press conference where he once again betrayed his lack of attitudinal and ideological suitability for the job of being Pakistan’s security chief. At an event organised by National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to launch an unrelated passport fee collection service, Chaudhry Nisar fired several salvos at his political opponents belonging to Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), who have been critical of his performance in the aftermath of the deadly attack at Bacha Khan University (BKU) and for his role in misleading parliament regarding the status of Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid. In his attempts to defend his ministry’s performance regarding the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP), the Interior Minister’s tactic of choice was to sling mud at his opponents. But so caught up was he in this exercise that he thought nothing of throwing his own political party, and the PM he is supposed to serve, under the bus. Nisar contended that the PPP leadership was playing politics in a “time of war” and was thus fulfilling the agenda of the terrorists by spreading “despair” and “panic”. Then he went further and asserted that the PPP and PML-N had in fact “colluded” during the protests launched by PTI in 2014 and that Khursheed Shah, the Leader of the Opposition, “used his position to get benefits from the government”.

One fails to comprehend what was going on in the mind of the Minister when he made this claim. Khursheed Shah has rightly noted that this statement, which was ostensibly meant to question the credibility of the PPP leader, could be interpreted as an indictment of the PM by one of his own lieutenants. In any case, the PPP leadership has always stated clearly that they were not angling to protect the government but the democratic system, which was under threat of destabilisation. The libellous press conference of Nisar has not turned the tide against his critics but only strengthened calls for his ouster. Accusations have been rife that Chaudhry Nisar has sympathies and links with various militant elements. His handling of the Abdul Aziz case as well as his lack of timely condemnation of the BKU attack only lend credence to this charge. And now he has gone on to stab his own PM in the back. Whatever qualities or advantages the PM thought Chaudhry Nisar would bring to this critical post have clearly not borne fruit. A man with such a cloud around his reputation should not be in charge of Pakistan’s security affairs. The PM should replace Chaudhry Nisar before he does more damage.


Pak-India talks

If ever the aphorism “the more things change, the more they remain the same” were applicable, it certainly fits the bill as far as Pak-India relations are concerned. If the latest statements of the Pakistani foreign office and the Indian foreign ministry are perused, what one finds is an all too familiar ring to these utterings. Pakistan, in the shape of the foreign office spokesman and Sartaj Aziz, the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs, have thrown the ball back into India’s court as far as settling mutually convenient dates for the foreign secretaries talks originally scheduled for January 15 but postponed due to the Pathankot attack. At the time, both sides had been careful to underline that the talks had only been postponed, not cancelled. Yet here we are more than a month down the road since then, and all we are hearing from the Pakistani side as well as the Indian foreign ministry spokesman is that “mutually convenient” dates are not yet in hand. As though it would help matters move along, our foreign office spokesman felt it necessary to respond to references to Pakistan in the joint France-India communiqué after President Hollande’s visit by urging India to refrain from hurling unsubstantiated allegations of supporting terrorism against Pakistan. The usual corollary to this followed, positing Pakistan as the (biggest?) victim of terrorism itself, having lost thousands of lives, property and economic progress to the phenomenon. Despite Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s reiterations of resolve to counter terrorism and the detention of Maulana Masood Azhar of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, accused of masterminding the Pathankot attack, immense uncertainty looms over the (preliminary) meeting of the foreign secretaries in order to pave the way for the Bilateral Comprehensive Dialogue to follow. Both sides seem firmly bogged down in the old and worn ruts, particularly since Islamabad insists the ‘evidence’ regarding the Pathankot attack provided by India is “insufficient” (shades of Mumbai). Because of the present hiatus, it has not even been possible to finalise the visit of an investigation team Pakistan wanted to send to Pathankot. If there is a chink of light in this once again darkening curtain of dancing around the issue, one is the statement of the Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi Abdul Basit, who is confident the foreign secretary talks will begin in February and the other the report that the Pakistani and Indian foreign secretaries could meet this week on the sidelines of a conference in San Francisco, where they will take advantage of the opportunity to discuss dates for their formal interaction.

The ‘ball’ referred to in the Pakistani foreign office’s statement, it seems, is being tossed around from one side to the other. Lingering secondary irritants such as the recent reported dropping of a bomb by the Indian Air Force in Rajasthan do not of course help matters. The apprehension is that this bilateral dialogue may suffer the same fate as the proposed dialogue after the Mumbai attacks. Governments in Islamabad and New Delhi changed while both sides were still dancing their minuet around the investigations of that terror attack and even the replacement governments have made little if any progress in that direction. Now comes Pathankot just as the two sides had groped their way back to the negotiating table after initial aggressive intent was on display from the Modi government. On present trends at least, the post-Pathankot scenario has a chilling resemblance to post-Mumbai. There are sceptics on both sides, not to mention the spoilers in the middle, who seldom pass up any opportunity to return the protagonists to their knee-jerk traditional hostility, mistrust and suspicion. Over the years, all means have been tried, confidence building measures, trade, economic cooperation, etc, but none have worked in the face of the underlying mistrust rooted in history. The people of the subcontinent await with a mixture of hope and resignation the reversal of this familiar Pak-India impasse. The world too understands and is concerned about the continuing tensions between the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours. The eminently logical recourse to the weapon of language rather than the time-worn language of weapons remains to be established as the dominant and irreversible currency of the relationship. Hope for the best, but don’t hold your breath where these two countries are concerned.

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