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DAWN Editorials – 24th May 2016

Unfair load-shedding

IT has been a number of years now that K-Electric has been following the practice of enhanced load-shedding in ‘high-loss’ areas, but so far, very few voices had been raised against the injustice of this policy. Now a small group of civil society activists have had the conscience to speak up against this patently unfair policy. The latter is the toast of the city’s elites because it means superior service and uninterrupted supply to well-to-do neighbourhoods and industrial areas. But for the majority of the city’s residents it spells misery. K-Electric has managed to turn its finances around in large measure due to this policy, but the net result has been the diversion of a considerable proportion of the city’s power supply to elite consumption, leaving the poor behind. The policy makes very good commercial sense, but in moral terms it promotes the inequitable allocation of a vital resource — electricity — that can be considered a public good.

Karachi needs more voices like those of the activists who recently held a news conference against the policy of recovery-based load-shedding. The poor are almost always left out of the conversation when looking at how the city’s resources are allocated — whether the issue is water, land, transport, or, as in this case electricity. K-Electric enjoys monopoly status as the only provider of power to this city of 20 million, and its workings cannot be left solely to market forces to determine. There are, indeed, serious problems in high-loss areas with recovery teams being attacked, but solutions also exist, particularly with the enhanced use of Aerial Bundle Cables, to reduce theft. Awareness campaigns against the old system of kunda connections have also worked well in some cases. Clearly, a high road exists to rectify the problem in high-loss neighbourhoods, but the current incentive structure under which the utility works provides no encouragement to actually take that route. The policy is a highly unfair one and should be dispensed with as soon as possible.

Repatriating IDPs

THE army’s commitment to clear North Waziristan of militancy has progressed with elaborate plans for a Fata-based infrastructure development project inclusive of road networks and ‘urban hubs’ comprising schools, shops, mosques and parks. That said, the crucial success determinant of North Waziristan’s counterinsurgency operation will be in the resettlement of the displaced. As of February 2016, UNHCR estimates thousands of IDP families from KP and Fata. Although counterinsurgency operations have cleared militant sanctuaries, we must remember that Fata was on a socioeconomic precipice when it played incubator for an assortment of terror affiliates. Fata’s chequered past underscores the need for investing in its human development through effective governance. This plan must work in conjunction with resettling IDPs in an environment that safeguards against militant groups seeking inroads within settled communities.

Meanwhile, it has been six years since the South Waziristan military operations were launched and four since repatriation first started. But a large percentage of IDPs have yet to return home because of unsuitable economic and security conditions. Many repatriated Mehsud locals have not received house compensation for destroyed homes. Ruined livelihoods and infrastructure exacerbate poverty and divide families, with many people finding jobs in large cities. And there are parts with an unofficial 7pm curfew restricting free movement with security forces reportedly subjecting locals to humiliating treatment at check posts. The challenging process of rehabilitation comes after war. While the government has conducted a damage assessment survey in most areas, money is only trickling in. Without this, reconstruction and resettlement by a deadline is impossible. Rebuilding damaged infrastructure, resettling displaced people and instituting confidence-building measures is mainly the responsibility of a civilian government, and it is about time that the ruling politicians pulled up their socks after decades of not including the tribal belt in the mainstream. A joint civilian-military rehabilitation plan endorsed by the government is long overdue. For Waziristan, it appears the political agent is a figurehead with the security establishment calling the shots. If there is to be voluntary repatriation of all displaced persons from Waziristan by the end of this year as the army has stressed, there must be a civil-military partnership to facilitate returnees. Giving precedence to socio-economic needs and fundamental rights — education, healthcare and livelihoods — will play a notable role in securing the region from an assortment of militant hopefuls scouting to fill the governance vacuum.

Sovereignty debate

THE US drone strike that killed Afghan Taliban leader Akhtar Mansour was unquestionably a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.

The fact that it was a violation does not change whether Pakistani officials were informed before or after the strike. And even if some Pakistani officials, military or otherwise, secretly coordinated with the Americans to allow the drone strike, it would still be a violation of territorial sovereignty.

Simply put, the territorial and aerial sovereignty of Pakistan cannot be bartered, bargained or handed away by officials colluding with outsiders.

No matter what the officials’ rank or seniority, they have no jurisdiction or authority to make such decisions.

A drone strike in Balochistan, very much inside Pakistani territory, conducted unilaterally by the US or in collusion with officials here, ought to be an unacceptable red line.

The days of secret pacts under a military dictator are over, as is the logic that may have once applied to allowing drone strikes in remote areas of Fata.

Gone, hopefully forever, are the days when the Waziristan agencies were under the virtual control of militants.

And yet perhaps the most significant-ever drone strike did take place on Saturday in Balochistan. Why?

In the unapologetic and blunt statement of US President Barack Obama yesterday lies perhaps the unwelcome answer: Pakistan, President Obama implied, continues to be a place where extremist networks that threaten the region and the world continue to find a safe haven.

So murky is the Pakistani record against global militants and terrorists that even when Mullah Mansour, who only days ago the US was still publicly hoping to draw into dialogue with the Afghan government via the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, was killed by the US in an act of dubious legality, the focus of the world immediately and fiercely turned to the fact that he was inside Pakistani territory when the attack took place.

While Pakistan may rail against double standards and unfair characterisations of the international community, for much of the outside world it is an article of faith that this is a country that knows only double games and that will inevitably pursue policies that cause harm to other nations.

What makes it so easy for the US to violate the territorial integrity of Pakistan with a drone strike in Balochistan and a night raid in Abbottabad is not the superpower’s military superiority but the weight of global opinion that Pakistan is a country whose own actions make it possible for other states to disregard international law and arguments of sovereignty.

If Osama bin Laden can live undetected for years in Abbottabad, Mullah Omar can allegedly die in Pakistan and Mullah Mansour can hold a Pakistani identity card and passport, the arguments for selective sovereignty, when it comes to drone strikes, ring hollow.

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