Apr 282008

Earlier this week, Pakistanis were shocked at the image of our ambassador to Afghanistan, Tariq Azizuddin, being held captive since February, as he appeared on a foreign TV channel. He looked weak and weary. His captors have made a series of demands which the Pakistani government has said it will be unable to fulfil. It is a shame that he is being held in captivity within the country and we cannot have him released.

The week has not been uneventful. Much is happening on the War on Terror front. A senior American military official has said that FATA is ”where it’s all happening.” The Americans are itching for another fight at our expense. The political government in Pakistan, however, is continuing to engage in talks with the tribals and there is hope that some sort of agreement can come through under which foreign fighters may be forced to leave the country.

The move to release Maulana Sufi Mohammad and the expected truce with some of the militant groups signal some progress which may help bring peace to our country in the short term. By renouncing violence, Sufi Mohammad has finally made a sensible move. In all this, one has to follow through and ensure that he does not once again rally his supporters into another jihad against the government. His radio station must remain shut.

The government now needs to act fast in Swat. It must work to address the issues of law and order, as well as employment generation and provision of basic facilities like health, education, clean drinking water and better infrastructure. If we leave this to the bureaucrats, as we have done in the past, we will have another Sufi Mohammad on our hands very soon.

The problem, however, is not as simple as that. The political government, which should be appreciated for the manner it is working to address issues that afflict our country, needs to stay in touch with the expectations of the people. In this, the sense of disengagement is growing. The prime minister is gradually being enclosed by his officials. He meets only those who are cleared by his staffers. They are gradually becoming his minders.

Asif Zardari, meanwhile, meets whoever he wants and wherever he wants. He is right in pointing out that as he has no public office but the party position, he has to keep in touch with everyone — from the deputy chief of the mission in the US embassy to a tonga-wallah. This is how he also defends his decision to go to offices and residences of key foreign diplomats in a bid to consult them on various issues.

One of the areas of concern for the West remains the War on Terror. While the Americans have expressed their support for the political government, they are still unsure about the policies that are being evolved in Islamabad. The Americans are justifiably worried as they feel that any move to engage the militants would strengthen them. But at the same time, it is clear that the militants cannot be defeated militarily despite the might of the armies that are fighting them. But we should be honest about what we are doing. The prime minister’s statement in which he ruled out talks with ”armed militants” (are there any other kind?) is an attempt to fool people. Let us not indulge in this.

Meanwhile, Information Minister Sherry Rehman, like all information ministers before her, has the hard task of making the unbelievable sound plausible. In this, she has little or no support from top bureaucrats in her own ministry, who see her as an outsider so they give two versions to every story when approached by journalists. But by any standard, Ms Rehman is more acceptable than many others, including Shaikh Rashid Ahmad, who currently seems to have taken the portfolio of minister for disinformation, given the number of TV shows he appears on and the kinds of nuggets he shares.

However, it must have been difficult even for Ms Rehman to convince her fellow parliamentarians of the VIP culture that has been happily adopted by the awami government. In a stark removal from reality, Ms Rehman claimed that the ministers of the cabinet all move around in 1600cc cars, and those who do move in luxury vehicles do so at their own expense as these are not official cars. In the luxury vehicles, she claimed, there are no official drivers and the ministers are not allowed to use the national flag.

One would advise Ms Rehman to make the short trip from Parliament House to the parking lot of the National Assembly Building to see how hollow her claim is. There are two things that hurt us though. First, that this drama is being played at our expense, as most of these vehicles are bought by the taxpayer’s money. Second, how clueless key members of the awami government are. Take for example the chief minister of Sindh. At a recent rally at Khairpur, he claimed that street crime has been ”reduced to zero” in Karachi. This statement comes days after two small girls were killed in a botched up attempt at stealing a mobile phone from a teenager in the crime-infested Lyari locality. On Thursday evening, a record of sorts was created when eleven people were deprived of their phones, wallets and valuables on the city’s main business artery, I I Chundrigar Road in one go. Thousands of people are robbed in street crime incidents every week in Karachi. The chief minister’s statement adds insult to injury.

One can only wonder at the priorities of the government. The first request of the Punjab Minister for Jails, we are told, was for an official ”blue” passport. Houses of ministers and senior political leaders can be identified from a mile off owing to

the number of government vehicles each has at their disposal and the number of hangers-on that sit around all day and do nothing. Many of these “loafers,” it may be pointed out, are actually government servants placed at the disposal of the honourable minister.

For the information of the prime minister, the National Accountability Bureau, which he ordered shut down in his first speech to parliament, continues to exist. The interesting thing is that it has started ”revising” its list of people to proceed against. This is a shame. So much of taxpayer’s money goes to waste as we hire an army of officials — civil and military — give them the best of facilities, and yet they deliver nothing.

At the same time, any talk about the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), which was introduced by President Musharraf, is discouraged. When PML-N parliamentarians brought the matter up on extending the benefit of the NRO to the general public and not restricting it to senior politicians and bureaucrats, Law Minister Farooq Naek said that the matter was sub judice and therefore could not be discussed.

Another interesting development has been the striking down of the condition of graduation for contesting elections. By doing so, the Supreme Court has paved the way for many, including some very significant players in the current political set up, to contest. Some are amused, others are afraid.

Email: kamal.siddiqi@thenews.com.pk
Source: The News, 28/4/2008

 Posted by at 7:18 am

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