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Express Tribune Editorials – 14th May 2016

A political deadlock

The announcement shortly after noon on May 13 that Chief Justice of Pakistan Anwar Zaheer Jamali is rejecting the government request to form a “toothless commission” to investigate the Panama Papers affair is on reflection no surprise. Sifting through the reams of commentary on how the Panama Papers have impacted the politics of Pakistan, there have been several references to the need for way-paving legislation prior to the formation of a judicial commission of inquiry, and the chief justice has now lobbed the ball squarely into the parliamentary court. We support his decision.

The chief justice in his letter of rejection further said that no judicial commission can be formed until the ToRs are agreed, and that goes to the heart of the political deadlock that currently paralyses governance. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had already said that he would not attend the house on May 13 as previously announced, and would be there on May 16 instead. The prime minister further said that he was “not accountable to the opposition” and that he would not be answering in parliament the seven questions the opposition had for him as well as a host of supplementary questions.

All this begs the question as to who or what the prime minister is answerable to. There appears to be no intention by him to be in any way publicly accountable to any institution of state. He appears to have placed himself above and beyond accountability at the same time as saying that he would step down if found guilty of any wrongdoing. His words are worthless given that he and his party of close associates have virtually ensured that the means to investigate the Panama Papers can never come into being. The government and the opposition parties are completely deadlocked on the matter of the ToRs, the opposition is boycotting parliament until the prime minister shows up to answer their questions and he is unequivocal in saying that he has no intention of acceding to opposition demands. A perfect storm of dogmatism, evasiveness and bargain-basement politicking. The ball is now in the parliamentary court, and governance dangerously close to grinding to a shuddering halt.

Challenges of CASA-1000

Leaders of Pakistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan gathered on May 12 to launch the Central Asia-South Asia (CASA)-1000 project, terming it an important milestone for the integration of the two regions. The 1,200km, 1,300MW electricity link called CASA-1000 is set to connect the four countries by 2018. It aims to provide surplus electricity from Central Asia to the two countries in the southern part of the continent, alleviating their energy crisis. Tajikistan is expected to supply more than 75 per cent of the electricity envisaged by the project, while neighbouring Kyrgyzstan will supply the remainder. Afghanistan will be receiving 300MW of electricity and Pakistan the remaining 1,000MW.

The two Central Asian states need the project to export their surplus electricity and this is to the advantage of the two energy-starved neighbours in South Asia. The biggest hurdle, however, remains security challenges. Afghanistan and Pakistan have serious kinks to iron out with the Torkham border crossing between the two countries remaining shut for three successive days, indicating the poor state of bilateral relations. Trade issues have remained hostage to the thorny bilateral relationship with accusations flying from both sides. Pakistan and Afghanistan need to focus on the greater good if CASA-1000 is to be successful. But when security challenges trump whatever good there is to be had, this seems like a difficult task. The World Bank has already admitted that security remains the biggest challenge to this project. Miscreants will look for every opportunity to create hurdles for the project’s implementation. Both countries need to overcome this highly troublesome aspect through mutual cooperation and bridge the trust deficit that exists. Perhaps, if all parties realise that a peaceful, prosperous future for the region lies in greater inter-dependence, they might start working for each other’s mutual benefit. As of now, the precarious security situation in Afghanistan and its far-reaching impact on the region remain the biggest hurdle in the way of CASA-1000’s successful completion.

Baghdad carnage — again

Once again, Iraq has been hit by a series of bombs that have killed at least 94 people and injured at least 150 more. May 11 was the bloodiest day so far this year, and all the attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State (IS). Each of the three explosions targeted areas that have been targeted before, some of them multiple times. Although the IS is the claimant, the bombings are part of the wider political battle that has been raging in Iraq for years that is sectarian in its roots.

The political crisis in Iraq is multifaceted. There are external players working to destabilise the sitting government and separatist actors such as the Kurds and the Anbari tribes are also in the mix. There does appear to be a genuine will on the part of some politicians who seek stability and democratic plurality, but they tend to get drowned out by the extremists acting either to their own agendas or as proxies. On April 30, protesters briefly occupied the parliament building in Baghdad. They were demanding an end to sectarian quotas in politics and a meaningful fight against corruption rather than what is widely seen as a tokenistic response, as well as improved governance. Many of the protesters came from the target of the May 11 attack — Sadr city named after Ayatollah Muhammed Sadiq al-Sadr, father of the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who is politically resurgent. With so many actors, the majority of whom are not committed to the peaceful resolution of the myriad conflicts that beset Iraq, it is difficult to see a way forward. A civil war is to all intents and purposes now raging, and it overlaps with the conflict in Syria. The IS may have been weakened by US air strikes but it is far from being broken and still has a firm grasp on its base in Raqqa. Western intervention in Iraq has left a toxic legacy that is decades away from dissipating.

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