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DAWN Editorials – 10th February 2016

No consensus yet on Fata reforms

THE role of provincial governors may stand diminished since the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, but as the symbolic representatives of the federation, the governors are still influential in their provinces.

Therefore, for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Mahtab Ahmad Khan to quit ostensibly of his own accord less than two years into the governorship suggests Mr Khan has his eyes on a greater prize.

The resignation has not come as a surprise — for weeks there had been speculation that the governor wants a more direct political role and intends to contest the 2018 general elections.

Take a look: Fata reforms panel heading nowhere

Stepping down now would not disqualify Mr Khan from political office in 2018 as all parliamentarians and provincial assembly representatives are required to not hold a post “in the service of Pakistan” for at least two years prior to an election.

The resignation also indicates the PML-N’s growing confidence about its electoral prospects in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — Mr Khan is believed to be eying the chief ministership in the next assembly.

Yet, Mr Khan’s resignation will not have a bearing on provincial politics alone — as governor he has also been the de facto civilian in-charge of Fata.

And it is perhaps in Fata that Mr Khan’s departure may be felt immediately and deeply. While the army-led security establishment controls most major decisions on Fata, there are at least two areas in which civilian input has been sought, perhaps if only because the military leadership cannot go it alone: return of IDPs and Fata reforms.

The quick return of IDPs has been a priority of the military as evidenced by the ISPR statement released after a provincial apex committee in Peshawar yesterday — Governor Khan leading the civilian representation in his last official meeting. But for IDPs to return en masse to a sustainable living environment, Fata reforms are essential — something that both the military and civilian leaderships appear to agree on.

Where the difference lies is in just how far those reforms should go and, crucially, whether Fata itself should be upgraded to a full province or absorbed into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The absorption of Fata into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has proved to be a controversial issue — and is perhaps one that should ultimately be decided by the people of Fata themselves in a referendum. But is the military leadership willing to move quickly on other Fata reforms, not least defanging the anachronistic Frontier Crimes Regulation?

Thus far there has been no suggestion that the military is willing to contemplate far-reaching and rights-driven reforms in Fata — nor, indeed, is there any indication that the civilian leadership is close to a consensus among itself.

So while the priorities may be right — IDPs must be resettled at the earliest and Fata reforms are a necessity — the lack of consensus on the speed, direction and sequence of reforms appears to be thwarting positive change in Fata.

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‘Judging’ IP pipeline

THE nuclear-related sanctions against Iran may be gone, but the ambiguities remain. For many years now, American officials have been clear in their response to questions about the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project: it violates US sanctions, they would always say.

When Pakistani officials raised the possibility of exempting the pipeline project from US nuclear-related sanctions back in 2013 on the sidelines of the strategic dialogue, they were told quite clearly that no exemptions could be granted.

Also read: Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline to be completed by 2017

Last year, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reportedly raised the issue with Secretary of State John Kerry on the latter’s visit to Pakistan, no response was received. But as of Jan 16, when the nuclear-related sanctions against Iran were formally lifted, the responses have become ambiguous.

Most recently, an assistant secretary from the US Department of Energy was asked about the pipeline project during his visit to Pakistan, and his only response was that the matter “is still to be judged”.

One could read any number of meanings into this odd choice of words, but its ambiguity and non-committal nature stands in stark contrast to all earlier pronouncements by American officialdom on the matter.

This ambiguity on the project may be new to American language, but Pakistan’s continued shilly-shallying even after the lifting of sanctions paints a confusing picture.

Most recently, the petroleum minister did the project, and Pakistan’s standing in the eyes of its newly resurgent neighbour, no favours when he flatly stated that the pipeline project could “not be completed due to international sanctions on Iran”.

What made this otherwise bland statement remarkable was that it was given only a few weeks before the sanctions were formally lifted.

The words did not go down well in Iran, where official media said that the minister had “put the kibosh on expectations that a pipeline intended to take Iranian gas to the country could ever be completed”.

The same article noted the ambiguous and even “contradictory” statements from senior officials in Pakistan and failure to take gas deliveries from the end of 2014 or even build its section of the pipeline.

It would have been better if the creeping ambiguity in American language was met by growing clarity in Pakistan’s stance, that the time had come to push this project, and all excuses to not commence gas deliveries now stood exhausted. It is indeed time to judge this project favourably and get moving on it.

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Top conspiracies

EVEN when the collectors of creative data are not counting, it can be safely assumed that the average Pakistani unmasks a couple of conspiracies every hour.

Some Pakistanis are more prolific when it comes to seeing through ‘nefarious’ designs, while others are in a perpetual state of being conspired against.

They would be all very pleased to have found justification for their preoccupation with theories voiced in absolute tones by the very leaders who should be assuring the people that no one is plotting their downfall.

Two new conspiracies that were revealed to national readers on Tuesday stood out. Teachers in Sindh blew up the embarrassingly inadequate cover on the dark scheme to take over public universities, and the prime minister ordered an investigation of the PIA management’s role in the ongoing strike that has crippled the operations of what is still a national airline.

Reports say the management might have colluded with the workers, ‘hand in glove’, to bring PIA to a halt. Needless to say, this latest conspiracy follows the slow, deliberate death the airline was subjected to by a government out to dispose of state assets.

It would appear that no other term has the expanse and efficacy of the word ‘conspiracy’.

Consider a group of officials forced to explain to the boss, say a prime minister, how a certain package, for example about privatisation, didn’t quite unfold as it had been predicted to. Would it suffice for them to come up with a straightforward note explaining the dissenters’ grievances and the possible answers to address those?

Not quite when there is at hand a worthy term that can so profoundly cover all aspects of an issue and project one as the victim of a sinister plot.

The conspiracy theorists will be emboldened when topnotch functionaries can at will parade a handful of conspirators shamelessly working against development.

The creative monitors of fancy trends need not despair. Given the current acceptance of the term, conspiracy talk is not leaving this land anytime soon.

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