A round-up of major happenings in Pakistan in the last week.
Panama Papers investigation
After weeks of acrimony, the first day in office for new Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar was an unusually harmonious one, with all parties hailing the constitution of a new bench for the Panama Papers hearings that will resume on January 4. Nisar excluded himself from the newly-constituted five-judge bench, which Dawn described in an edit as being crucial “to the fundamentals of the democratic order in the country”.
In its front-page lead about the new bench, Dawn quoted Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Ishaq Khakwani as saying that the “majority of the judges in the new bench have the advantage of understanding and knowing the views of the petitioners because they have heard their stance”.
“On social media, pictures showing the purported meeting of Justice Saqib Nisar with Prime Minister Nawaz [Sharif] and President Mamnoon Hussain and that of Justice Hani with Senator Hashmi created doubts in the minds of the public. It is good that they are not part of the bench,” said an advocate in the Nation.
The Daily Times in its editorial reminded readers that both the opposition parties had insinuated at Nisar’s alleged links to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN). “However, amid all of this, it seemed lost on most that such discourse was putting at risk the sanctity of the highest court of the land. No interest or issue — even as significant as the Panama Papers — is worth politicising the judiciary”.
While expressing his faith in the judiciary in investigating the allegations in the Panama Papers, PTI leader Imran Khan had on December 31 accused the Pakistani prime minister of subverting another constitutional body by putting “his own people in the Election Commission”. “We will again take to streets before the general elections in 2018 as we will not let the upcoming general polls happen in the manner the elections were held in 2013,” Khan said. This led the Election Commission to issue a statement, saying it regretted “such highly irresponsible statements of Imran Khan or any other leader trying to undermine integrity of the institution”.
A dossier on India at the UN
Along with the resumption of the Supreme Court hearing on the Panama papers, the other anticipated event in Pakistan this week seems to be the submission of another dossier to the UN on Indian ‘spy’ Kulbhushan Jadhav and ‘evidence’ of an attempted violation of the maritime boundary by an Indian submarine. In its report, Dawnnoted that the government had “faced a lot of criticism for the delay in presenting to the international community evidence of Jadhav’s involvement in subversive activities”. Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN will be handing over the dossier the new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on his “first working day” (January 2). Dawn that three dossiers were previously handed over to UN, “but, the move did not get much traction”.
In a follow-up editorial, the Nation also criticised the Pakistan government for its failure to pursue “proper dissemination of these files”. “Some pundits have alleged that these dossiers were weak in their provision of evidence, and the government knew this. Whether this is true or not, the weakness lies in our diplomatic and investigative prowess,” it said.
Year-end hopes and fears
In their year-end editorials, Pakistani newspapers mentioned that 2016 had been yet another difficult year for Pakistan, but also dared to express some optimism about the PML-N managing to survive yet another year.
“The ship of state currently under the command of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz took a few hits but was never in serious trouble, and sails into the New Year in at least reasonable shape. Democracy, or at least the elective feudalism that is the local iteration thereof, won the day. Mostly,” stated the Express Tribune on December 31.
Echoing these sentiments, The News said in its editorial titled ‘Fear and Hope’: “At home, we saw democracy pull through for another year, even if there were some struggles. In the coming year, we hope this process will accelerate, the institutions in Pakistan will continue to perform their defined roles and that this will result in the kind of progress we need to promote a more egalitarian and humane society”.
However, there was concern that there had not been much serious effort to combat extremism at home. “On the downside the National Action Plan (NAP) remains mostly inactive, the National Counter-Terrorism Authority is all but dormant, madrassa registration in incomplete, money continues to flow into extremist coffers from abroad and the Islamic State remains a very large elephant in the room,” said the Express Tribune editorial, ‘Year of Mixed Fortunes’.
Similarly, Dawn also criticised the implementation of the NAP as being “either minimal or non-existent”. “The government has attempted to explain away the situation by blaming various factors, but the fight against militancy and extremism must become a core part of the PML-N`s agenda if there is to be success in the long war”.
Incidentally, Dawn had published an article on December 26 based on a “progess report” on the implementation of the NAP. The report said that the NAP had not been able take action against terror groups and political reconciliation in Balochistan was far from achieved. However, the story was updated with not one but two caveats, with a “clarification” at the start and a “correction” at the end. Both of them stated that the interior ministry had never authorised nor released such a “progress report”.
On January 2, the Sindh chief minister Murad Ali Shah expressed reservations that “the federal government has no clear policy with regard to banned militants”. He expressed his doubts at a meeting of the apex committee, which was also attended by the army, police and paramilitary chiefs.
The same day, the Senate legislative committee also demanded “zero tolerance” for proscribed organisations. A Daily Times report quoted the Pakistan People’s Party senator Farhatullah Babar as asking why Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar was being protected from UN sanctions by China and Pakistan. “We need to know why an outfit that is banned in Pakistan as a militant organisation should be protected from sanctions by the UN,” Babar asserted.
The Zardaris are back
The return of Asif Ali Zardari after a year-and-a-half of exile continued to cause ripples in Pakistani politics. On December 27, Zardari made his “big announcement” at a rally in Garhi Khuda Baksh that he and his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will stand for National Assembly by-elections. “We had handed over this politics to you as trust but deplorably you did not fulfil the promises… This war is not for the seat but for the sake of Pakistan and the constitution…Mr Prime Minister is more interested in tweeting to Indian PM Modi and exchanging gifts with him,”Zardari said at the rally, according to The News. The Pakistani prime minister does not have a Twitter account, but his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif usually acknowledges any tweets from Modi.
Khan claimed that Zardari’s return was fuelled by the realisation that the PPP had to become a “real opposition” after facing setbacks in the recent elections.
The PTI chief said the PPP did not play the role of “real opposition” since the Panama leaks surfaced. He said there was a clear difference between the strategy of Zardari and his son, the PPP chairman. “Bilawal has made utmost efforts to play the role of real opposition and revive the Punjab chapter of his party as well,” Khan said, as per a report in The Nation.
Where the CPEC is headed
On December 29, the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry released a report on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which anticipated that on calculations based on current rate of migration, Chinese nationals would outnumber the natives in Balochistan by 2048. The Nation’s editorial recommended that the report should be seen through the prism of the “deeper issue” of insecurity in the province over the impact of CPEC. “A change in the population is only acceptable if the people of Balochistan take precedence initially in terms of important developmental outreach programmes such as education and skill training. The government cannot just leave the fate of the people of Balochistan up to market forces”.
Dawn wrote about a meeting of the heads of chambers of commerce and industry of three cities, Gujarat, Gujranwala and Sialkot, where they expressed worry that China’s plan to build industrial units along CPEC route would destroy local industry and “turn Pakistan into a purely consumer market”.
Relationship with Afghanistan
In terms of the neighbourhood, the new year also began with an invitation from the Afghan leadership for the new Pakistan army chief Qamar Ahmed Bajwa to visit Kabul, which Pakistan newspapers projected as a possible breakthrough in the strained ties between the two neighbours.
2017 also heralded another milestone for Pak-Afghan ties. From December 31, it became mandatory for Pakistani nationals to carry a passport to enter Afghanistan – further hardening the cross-border movement at Torkham. The new rule was introduced after “arrest of a number of suspected Afghans with fake Pakistani Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs)”.