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DAWN Editorials – 20th April 2016

Greed of land developers

In its outline the story might be familiar to many, but it is a chilling tale when the details are laid out clearly. Powerful land developers forcibly evict poor villagers from the lands they have been living and working on for generations.

On the vacated land, plush gated housing colonies are built, with special access to municipal services such as water and sewerage, and in some cases, there are special arrangements for the provision of uninterrupted electricity.

These enclaves of extreme privilege are packaged in a public relations blitz as ‘development schemes’, and sections within them are offered to middle- and lower-middle-class families as the perfect living space.

Laws are moulded to facilitate the enterprise by allowing government land to be sold for a pittance to these enterprises, with government agencies to bear the cost of building infrastructure within them, while the police forces detain those amongst the displaced who dare to protest, and threaten to implicate them in heinous crimes if they don’t acquiesce.

This story plays out with such regularity now that it has become routine. An investigative piece by this newspaper has unearthed the details in at least one case, that of Bahria Town Karachi, but allegations of similar wrongdoings have swirled around other large property development enterprises too.

In the DHA Valley scam in Islamabad, and the Elysium case which spans more than one city and involves the brothers of a former army chief, the investigations have not been concluded and charges have not been framed.

The rich and powerful have a way of surviving these scandals and the arms of justice have hardly ever been able to move against them.

In the case of Karachi, this slash-and-burn model of building elite enclaves is advancing in a city where more than half the population lives on less than 8pc of its land, in katchi abadis bereft of basic services such as water, sewerage and trash removal.

The energies of the state, meanwhile, are directed towards facilitating the acquisition of land by these developers.

Bahria Town owner Malik Riaz has reportedly even bragged, on numerous occasions, of the people in high offices whom he has bribed, famously saying that we would “have a heart attack” if he revealed the size of the largest bribe that has been paid to them.

These enterprises must be restrained. The focus of the state must return to where it belongs: providing housing for the poor, and not serving them with eviction notices.

The nexus among powerful individuals from all walks of life that these property development enterprises produce is a highly toxic ingredient in our politics, and unleashes forces that are destructive and serve to warp the priorities of rulers and citizenry alike. And Mr Riaz and his ilk must be made to understand that giving a bribe is as wrong as accepting one.

Taliban offensive

A MAJOR bombing in Kabul with scores of casualties is an early warning that this year’s fighting season in Afghanistan may be the bloodiest and most devastating yet. With peace talks already stuttering as the Quadrilateral Coordination Group scrambles to smooth over growing disagreements between the Afghan and Pakistani sides, a full-blown crisis may be brewing.

Unhappily, none of the three major state actors, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US, appear to have a clear sense of how to proceed.

The US seems to drift between disengagement and ad hoc diplomacy, such as when Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kabul recently to press the national unity government to show some unity and focus on governing.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government seems determined to prove that it can make a bad situation worse by endlessly feuding within.

As for Pakistan, despite nudging the Afghan Taliban to the negotiation table, there appears to be a strange complacency in official quarters about the possibility of Afghanistan imploding.

Perhaps the fourth side in the QCG, China, could be more assertive in using its influence. But Chinese foreign policy interventions are notoriously opaque and difficult to predict.

As ever, the focus may well come down to managing tensions in the near term. The Afghan government views attacks in Kabul as a red line of sorts and tends to ramp up the belligerence towards Pakistan whenever the Afghan capital is struck by the Taliban.

With the annual fighting season already fierce and widespread and political gridlock in Kabul likely to continue, Pakistan may become a convenient scapegoat.

Ill-advised as many of the Afghan government’s verbal attacks on Pakistan may be, perhaps there is a need for Pakistani policymakers to work harder to achieve the long-term peace and stability that all state actors claim they want.

The reluctance of the Taliban to talk to the Afghan government may be rooted in power struggles within the Taliban, but what is in the latter’s interest is not necessarily in Pakistan’s.

In doing all that it can to help Afghans build peace and stability, the state here must be careful to avoid bringing the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Yet, there is surely a great deal of space between preventing the Taliban from declaring war on Pakistan and pushing the Taliban to talk to the Afghan government. What influence Pakistan has, it should use — carefully, but use it, it must.

Police reforms

LED by the army, the Rajanpur operation against criminal gangs has shown up the severe shortcomings of Punjab’s police force. Seven policemen were killed by criminal elements last week, while 24 were taken hostage.

Had the police been capable of meeting the challenge, the army might have taken a backseat. Indeed, for such an operation, law enforcement, and not military force, is the most effective tool. Instead, the absurdly weak police performance, that failed to control the agility of the criminal network, has raised several questions.

For instance, how did Punjab’s riverine belt become a sanctuary for well-equipped outlaws in the Sharif heartland?

Was it powerful patronage, lack of an efficient criminal justice system, or the ineptitude of the provincial government that refused to touch criminal gangs? And why did four operations in the past fail to apprehend the gangsters?

Politicisation of the force is at the root of these problems, and the remedy lies in reforming the police structure through merit-based recruitment, investment in training and modernisation, bridging the institutional disconnect and addressing corruption.

While overall reform is essential, given the evolving tactics of various militant and criminal groups there is also a need to raise specialised police units. In recruiting for the latter, careful selection of police officers, training and incentives are needed.

According to former police officials, most anti-criminal operations, whether in Sindh or Punjab, have been undertaken by a mix of semi-trained or ill-trained policemen — no wonder the success rate in tackling crime has been low.

Elite police units must not be diverted from intelligence-led counter-terrorism operations to VIP security, or else they will lose their efficacy as was the case with Punjab’s Elite Force in the 1990s. This is surely something to consider as the newly inducted Lahore Dolphin Force prepares to take on street crime.

In a time of specialised criminality, rethinking police structures is essential, but this must go hand in hand with regaining the public’s trust through responsible and responsive policing that is absent in most provinces.

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