It is a blunt, though perhaps unsurprising, warning: the country’s top civilian spymaster, director general of the Intelligence Bureau, Aftab Sultan, has told the Senate Standing Committee on Interior that the militant Islamic State group is in fact an emerging threat in the country, particularly because sectarian militant outfits and elements of the banned TTP are sympathetic to its ideology.
The DG IB’s warning stands in stark contrast to the interior ministry’s repeated claims that IS is not a factor inside Pakistan and that suggestions to the contrary were mere propaganda — claims that never quite sat comfortably with the facts emerging operationally.
Also read: IS emerging as a threat, warns IB chief
The logic of what Mr Sultan said on Wednesday is both undeniable and worrying: militant groups have morphed before and many have borrowed bits of ideology from one another.
The experience with Al Qaeda is a particularly dangerous example. Sectarian groups latched on to the sectarianism ingrained in Al Qaeda’s worldview, while other militant outfits learned tactics from and shared operational resources with the organisation.
If Al Qaeda’s ideology and tactics proved seductive enough for some militant groups here in Pakistan, the IS’s ideology is frighteningly close to what sectarian groups in particular would automatically be drawn to.
The problem is particularly acute in Punjab, where, for all the ambivalence and outright denials of the PML-N, reside some of the biggest threats to national stability following the launch of Operation Zarb-i-Azb in Fata.
Both demographics and virulent ideology allowed to spread itself over decades have turned areas in Punjab, and not just in the south, into virtual sectarian tinderboxes.
It is not unknown for villages to be divided spatially along sectarian lines and now that trend is emerging in some of Punjab’s cities and towns — across the province.
Similarly, the TTP — unlike the Afghan Taliban — are an easy ally of IS. Unlike the Afghan Taliban’s more nationalist aims — dominance of Afghanistan — the TTP has a more pan-Islamic view and has always sought to extend its influence outside the geographical boundaries of Pakistan.
Moreover, with the TTP fractured and on the run, a boost in the form of new alliances, such as with IS, is likely to be sought by the group.
The DG IB is not alone in the assessment of a threat from IS; the military leadership too appears to be aware of the dangers that lie ahead nationally, particularly as the bulk of the fighting in North Waziristan winds down.
While army chief Gen Raheel Sharif on Wednesday once again identified “hostile external intelligence agencies” as responsible for some of the terrorism inside Pakistan, he also referred to “sympathisers at home” who provide “refuge and shelter”.
Surely, many of those sanctuaries are in Punjab — the only province that has not had a major crackdown in any part of it. Terrorism being a national problem, the time has come to focus on the Punjab-based aspects of it.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2016
Investing in people
FOR too long now, economic orthodoxy has focused on macroeconomic fundamentals to assess the health of an economy.
So when reserves rise or growth resumes, celebratory pronouncements pour forth without much thought as to who exactly is reaping the benefits.
But for people to benefit from an improvement in macroeconomic conditions, greater measures need to be taken to ensure broader participation in the institutions that dominate the economy, and to ensure that a fair share of the benefits are reaching those who need it the most in the form of strengthened institutions for delivery of health and educational outcomes.
Also read: Inclusive financing improving in Pakistan, says Queen Maxima
This is why the words of the World Bank president, who just concluded a two-day visit to Pakistan, are welcome.
He acknowledged the growth story being peddled by the government, but added that he “would encourage the country to be more ambitious with reforming its economy so that more people are lifted out of poverty more quickly, and prosperity is more widely shared”.
As part of the reforms to lift people out of poverty, and ensure prosperity is “more widely shared”, the World Bank has ramped up its engagement with programmes that seek to reach those traditionally neglected by the macroeconomic growth process, with some emphasis on financial inclusion.
Three sectors are notoriously underdeveloped in their capacity to reach and empower the poor: the financial sector and health and educational institutions. In each of these, Pakistan has some of the most dismal realities compared to most other countries.
In the financial sector, for instance, only 13pc of Pakistani adults have a bank account, with only 5pc of women included in the financial sector, compared to a South Asian average of 37pc.
Likewise in education, Pakistan has one of the highest numbers of children out of school, and almost 20pc of the population was undernourished in 2012 when the last figures were released — sadly, almost 32pc of children were also undernourished.
These are sobering statistics and if they are not corrected, then we are surely laying the groundwork for a human catastrophe for the next generation.
The government’s efforts to promote financial inclusion through the Universal Financial Access Initiative launched during the World Bank president’s visit is a welcome development, but the bulk of the work to rectify the dismal state of the human condition in the country lies ahead of us. The time to start work on it is now.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2016
SOME names reveal everything about a personality — such as bajia, a variant for the respected, loved (and in command) elder sister in Urdu. It is impossible to separate Fatima Surayya Bajia, the individual, from family — both hers in real life and the one she breathed life into on television screens all those decades back.
And as the search for microcosms goes, her personal struggle can be equated with that of her adopted city — and this country after the demise of its founder in September 1948. Bajia’s family arrived in Karachi a week after the passing of the Quaid.
Also read: Bajia — the lady with old-world charm
Faced with challenges, this resolute lady was, in time, to lead her siblings’ search for a new life, she herself graduating through various stages to ultimately emerge as a playwright of merit — and a much-loved, respected sister and an in-command mentor.
She was able to portray a culture with all its intricacies, fallouts and conflicts that defined the contours of her drama.
This was in the tradition of the so-called social novels written in the era of Partition, like the ones by A.R. Khatoon that she was apparently inspired by.
The reader — and later television viewers under the guidance of Bajia — was taken on an exhaustive round of a complex world filled with interplaying family connections exposed to pressures brought about by new influences including education and a collapsing feudal structure.
It was a life that was attractive but that also encouraged reform. Bajia wove her stories around the scenes she must have first come across before her migration and that, post-Partition, were transported to her new home Karachi in bulk. She contributed richly to a vibrant cultural stream and without trying to expand her canvas too much.
She covered the one robust parallel she was well versed in and did it with quiet grace and pride, and what is paramount for a communicator, effectively and in a distinct style. There has been no one like her. She remains incomparable in her field.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2016