Posts Tagged ‘Punjab’


On June 14, there was a cat fight in the Punjab Assembly.


Fellow MPAs watched on in horror (and possibly glee) as two female legislators from the PPP engaged in a verbal argument that soon turned physical, all before a budget session was set to take place in the Assembly. Below, Sehar Tariq, a Master’s student in Public Policy at Princeton University, discusses the development. [This piece first appeared in the Express Tribune]:

Only 12 countries in the world have acted upon the ideological commitment to ensure women’s participation in the formal political arena, as embodied by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Beijing Platform for Action. Pakistan is one of them. Under the Local Government Ordinance of 2001, 33 percent of seats at all tiers of local government and 17 percent in the national and provincial legislatures were reserved for women. Given the long history of discrimination against women and their exclusion from politics, this was a revolutionary step.

As a result, since elections in 2002 a record number of women have contested the polls and joined the ranks of legislators. However, concerns remained that women are powerless proxies for male relatives but women members of the PPP Punjab Assembly have put to rest any such concerns with great displays of aggression and power.

For far too long we have associated macho deep-throated growling, shouting and name calling in menacing voices with Sultan Rahi but the women MPs of Punjab are not to be left behind.

On June 14, before the budget for the province was presented, PPP MPA Sajida Mir from Lahore said that there was rampant rigging in rural areas where women were heavily influenced by feudals. She praised Iffat Liaquat of the PML-N who had won an election from Chakwal despite not having the backing of the feudal elite. Now this would sound like a fairly normal conversation to you unless you happen to be a feudal from Chakwal.

Luckily MPA Fouzia Behram, belonging to the same party as Ms Mir, was on hand to act the part (or embody the true likeness) of an enraged feudal from Chakwal. Ms Mir bellowed that MPAs from Lahore are ignorant. And in order to truly put the erring non-feudal in her place, she decided to insult her a little more by labeling her with the most derogatory word she could find in her feudal dictionary —“kammi” which means from a low caste. Ms Mir remained calm and reminded the enraged feudal that this insulted not just her but the philosophy of the party that both MPAs represent, not to mention the majority of its supporters since most of them happen to be “kammis”. This further enraged Ms Behram who then charged towards Ms Mir and tried to slap her.

Ladies, in this day and age of political crisis and misery for the entire country, couldn’t you maybe reserve your passions for topics of greater importance and substance like the budget, the state of education, healthcare or inflation? And could you please try and take the job of legislating on behalf of your constituents a little more seriously than the men who have failed us for so many years?

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

Read Full Post »

APP Image

On December 31, 2009, the federal government and finance ministers from Pakistan’s provinces signed the 7th award of the National Finance Commission, a development that was widely regarded as a positive step in Pakistan’s political and economic progress. Below, Bilquis, a consultant from Lahore, assesses the NFC award and whether it should actually be considered a success:

In December 2009, rallies were held all over Pakistan to celebrate the approval of the 7th National Finance Commission (NFC) Award. In March 2010, President Zardari officially signed and approved the award. Numerous critics applauded the NFC award as a major accomplishment and a product of the democratic process. However, I’ve often wondered if it really is a silver lining.

The NFC is a government body that is responsible for redistributing tax funds that are collected by the government to all provinces. As per Article 160 of the 1973 Constitution, it is mandatory for the government to meet every five years and present a NFC award that allocates resources among the federal and provincial governments (PGs). Provinces then re-distribute revenues amongst themselves, through a revenue-sharing formula.

The 7th NFC award was an enormous success for numerous reasons:

In horizontal distribution (distribution of resources among the provinces), it introduces the landmark multiple-criteria formula for redistribution. The multiple-criteria replaces the single criterion ‘population density’ formula that has been in place since the 1st NFC award in 1974. The single criterion was not only an outdated way of distribution of income, but it also unfairly favored Punjab province at the cost of Baluchistan, NWFP [Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa] and Sindh. Although, these provinces fought for a fairer distribution, a positive conclusion was never reached in horizontal distribution of funds. There was a lack of political will from the federal government and Punjab province to a) relinquish their share and/or b) to hold tangible talks that would resolve the matter. Hence, the multiple criteria is a commendable step forward as it indicates that actual effort was made by the government, especially Punjab, to settle a four decade old debate. Now, distribution is based on 82% weightage to population, 10.3% to poverty, 5% linked to revenue generation and collection and 2.7% to other areas.

Another major accomplishment of 7th NFC award is that the federal government recognizes the rights of the provincial government (PG) over their resources and has agreed to compensate NWFP and Baluchistan for past arrears especially from hydropower profit and on gas surcharges and royalty. NWFP will receive Rs.110 bn. for arrears of hydel profits and Baluchistan will receive Rs. 10 bn. for arrears of GDS. This is one of the main reasons why the 7th NFC was a success. Previously, the government’s refusal to either recognize or offer any type of compensation to the two provinces usually led to a deadlock in discussion and embittered feelings toward the federal government. The 7th NFC award also accepts the right of PGs to retain 5% of their provincial sales tax collection.

Moreover, in the past, when spending funds from the divisible pool, the federal government has been accused of demonstrating an expenditure bias towards Punjab, which continuously disillusioned the other provinces. To address the issue, in vertical distribution (distribution of resources between the Centre and the provinces), the 7th NFC allocates a higher percentage of funds to the provincial governments (PGs) from the divisible pool than to the federal government. As a result:

  1. PGs total share from divisible pool has increased from 47% to 56%.
  2. The award removes the grants and other special awards taken by the federal government. This was a substantial amount—10% out of the total divisible pool.
  3. It has decreased the revenue collection charges taken by the federal government from 5% to 1% and this amount would also be added to the divisible pool.

By providing higher revenue to provinces through increased share and reduced charges, the 7th NFC award directly addresses the past grievances of smaller share in revenue, especially that of Baluchistan and Sindh. It also indicates a move towards provincial fiscal autonomy as PGs will more efficiently allocate resources that best serve and closely represent the provincial wants and needs than the federal government.

On paper, expansion of revenue to provinces in both vertical and horizontal and recognizing rights over resources is a fantastic deal, as it ticks all the correct boxes and appeases old animosities. However, the federal government has taken a substantial cut in its revenue and has overestimated its revenue generation. With rising debt servicing and defence and security-related expenditures, a reduction in its share will result in a large budget deficit for the federal government. Dr. Ashfaque H Khan points out that, “the total expenditure of the federal government on these four items (defense, security, public debt and civil administration) alone will rise from Rs 1,540 billion to Rs 2,075 billion, while resources are projected to rise from Rs 1,337 billion to Rs 2,146 billion.

If other expenditure such as pensions, subsidies, grants and development programmes are added, it is quite apparent that federal government resources will not be sufficient. Secondly, for the NFC to successfully deliver, the federal government needs to add further clarity on defining expenditure assignments to PGs and the PGs need to drastically develop their capacities to spend their resources efficiently and effectively. Otherwise it may lead to the failure of the IMF program which depends on fiscal prudence.

Overall, the 7th NFC award is historic because it succeeded in eliminating an approx 15 year deadlock in discussion and bringing around positive and tangible changes within our federal and provincial revenue distribution. It also highlights the strategic role played by the federal government as it tried its best to ease mistrust between itself and the four provinces. Shaukat Tarin, ex-finance Advisor, stated during the NFC award inauguration speech in Baluchistan, “We asked the provinces to bring forth all of their grievances—such an open house/table of mitigated previous grievances that often resulted in deadlock.” Nevertheless, the success of the NFC depends on the ability to overcome the challenge of fiscal discipline by the federal government and PGs. If the current spending patterns of the PGs are not changed, Pakistan will land in a more difficult fiscal situation, with the country’s debt burden further worsening the situation.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

Read Full Post »

AP: A woman mourns the death of a family member in Lahore

The below piece on the recent Lahore bombings and the Punjabi militant nexus was first published on Foreign Policy‘s AfPak Channel, where I’m excited and honored to be a new contributor:

The last week has been tough for Pakistan. A series of attacks occurred throughout the country, including a siege of the World Vision International office in Mansehra last Wednesday that killed six aid workers, and a suicide bombing in Swat over the weekend that killed around a dozen people and wounded at least 37. However, the wave of bombings targeting the city of Lahore garnered the most attention. Last Monday, a car bombing targeted the Special Investigations group of the Federal Investigative Agency, the Pakistani equivalent of the FBI, killing at least 14 people and wounding 89 others. News correspondents said the amount of explosives “was so large it brought down the two-story building.”

This past Friday, two suicide bombers struck within 15 to 20 seconds of each other in R.A. Bazaar in Lahore, killing at least 45 people and injuring scores more. The attacks, dubbed by news agencies as “the bloodiest strike in Pakistan this year,” were later followed by six “low-intensity blasts” in the middle class residential neighborhoods Iqbal Town and Samanabad in Lahore. Although the bombs were reportedly locally made and used “a very small quantity of explosives,” the six blasts appeared to be a well-coordinated attempt to ignite panic and chaos in Lahore. Residents rushed out of their homes. Punjab’s police were filmed rushing from one site to another as the deafening sounds of another blast were heard. As Pakistanis remained riveted to their television screens, Lahore was paralyzed with terror.

In the aftermath of the bombings, it is not so much a question of “Why Lahore?” but rather, “Why not Lahore?” The series of attacks does not necessarily mean the center of violence has shifted from one major city to another. It means there was no epicenter at all. Whether or not the escalation of violence was in revenge for the death of Qari Zafar, a leader of the Punjabi militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi who was killed in a U.S. drone strike, militants are sending the message that they have the ability to strike anywhere at any time. Despite the Pakistani military’s successes in northwest Pakistan over the past year, this war is far from over.

While it is convenient to attach the broader “Taliban” label to the problem, the network of players is far more complex and nebulous. Although the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan swiftly claimed responsibility for Monday and Friday‘s suicide attacks in Lahore, this organization has only been able to conduct large-scale attacks in Pakistan’s major cities with the coordination and help of militants in the southern Punjab nexus, groups that make up the oft-labeled “Punjabi Taliban.”

In the April 2009 issue of the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) Sentinel, Hassan Abbas defined the Punjabi Taliban as “a loose conglomeration of members of banned militant groups of Punjabi origin — sectarian as well as those focused on the conflict in Kashmir — that have developed strong connections with Tehrik-i-Taliban, Afghan Taliban and other militant groups based in FATA and NWFP.” These organizations, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, and Jaish-e-Muhammad, provide weapons, recruits, finances and other resources to the TTP and are responsible for planning many of the attacks attributed to the Pakistani Taliban.

A counter-militancy strategy in Pakistan could be successful if this TTP-Punjabi Taliban alliance is targeted and weakened. However, the clampdown has so far been insufficient as Pakistan’s leaders continue to point fingers everywhere but Punjab. Following the recent spate of violence, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters that India was the “foreign hand” behind several attacks in Pakistan. Punjab’s law minister Rana Sanaullah further alleged that India’s intelligence agency RAW was involved in the attacks in Lahore, adding, “Israel and other countries could also be involved.”

At the same time, Sanaullah, a member of Punjab’s ruling party, the PML-N, chose to campaign for last week’s by-election alongside the anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan leader Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi. Whether Sanaullah’s informal alliance with the SSP was merely an attempt to get votes or a more dangerous indication of his relationship with these groups, his actions further illustrate the state of denial that exists within Punjab’s leadership, as well as parts of the country’s leadership as a whole.

Pakistani political and defense analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi noted in the Daily Times, “Pakistan’s top civilian and military leadership have come to the unanimous conclusion that the Taliban and other militant elements are a threat to Pakistan’s internal harmony and stability.” However, there has been a lack of cohesion in identifying the nuances of that threat and how to strategically address it. Khalid Aziz, the chairman of the Peshawar-based RIPORT (Regional Institute of Policy Research & Training) told me on Friday, “The Pakistani military is afraid of conducting operations that would create another Waziristan in Punjab, which it can hardly afford.” Ejaz Haider, the Lahore-based national affairs editor of Newsweek Pakistan, further emphasized to me that the Army “is already spread thin in areas where the TTP tried to capture territory — i.e., FATA.” What we need instead, he said, “is good, actionable intelligence to bust the [Punjabi militant] cells,” something Aziz stated can and should be done by Pakistan’s police force.

At the end of the day, the stream of bombings and the subsequent deaths of innocent civilians will continue to undermine Pakistan’s tactical successes against the Taliban. Regardless of the TTP’s actual strength, these attacks enforce the perception that no citizen in Pakistan is safe and the state is inept at protecting them. The blame game exercised by Pakistan’s leaders in Punjab and across the country will get us nowhere. Before we can address the problem properly, we must recognize it for what it is.

Read Full Post »

AP: Soldiers cordon off the area around the mosque

Attackers stormed a mosque in Rawalpindi during Friday prayers today, killing at least 36 people, including 17 children, 10 civilians, and 9 army personnel. Of the army personnel killed, six were senior officials, while one was an army general. The NY Times also reported that one of the wounded was Gen. Muhammad Yousaf, a retired senior commander who served as the deputy head of the army under former President Pervez Musharraf. While some reports differed on whether the perpetrators were suicide bombers or gunmen (reporting later that they were both), Dawn cited the official statement by ISPR that said, “Four terrorists carried out the attack; grenades were first hurled into the mosque, before two of the terrorists went inside and blew themselves up. The remaining terrorists then opened indiscriminate fire outside the mosque.”

Al Jazeera English correspondent Imran Khan noted the attack was significant because it may have caused the deaths of some “very senior military officers.” He added,

Whoever was responsible for this attack will be saying that this is a coup for them because in previous attacks on security installations what normally happens is its low-level officers that form the brunt of [the attack]. We are hearing two two-star generals have been killed in [Friday’s] attack, as well as a brigadier and a major-general. Those are unconfirmed at the moment, but if that’s true, this is the higher echelon of the military. The big question is how they were able to get inside with machine guns and …. penetrate such high security.

The brazenness and ease with which the attackers breached the secure area has raised many red flags. A witness told the NY Times, “Only military officers and formal officers who have screened by the intelligence services were supposedly allowed in the mosque.” Recent attacks on Pakistan’s major security apparatuses [including the Army’s General HQ in Rawalpindi and the FIA building in Lahore] have garnered similar suspicion – are these attacks merely the result of security lapses or could they also be “inside jobs“?

While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Rawalpindi attack today, ISPR spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas once again said it was “a case of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters reacting to the army offensive against them.” He added, “We have yet to establish who the attackers are, but apparently on the face of it they belong to the same organization against whom the army is operating in the area of South Waziristan.” While these militants “are on the run,” Abbas asserted, “they have their agents in the cities and the towns, so … they will conduct these acts.”

In my opinion, it is problematic to constantly point to a faraway enemy every time an attack is perpetrated in Pakistan’s main cities. The oft-branded “Taliban” is not a cohesive or localized organization, but a loose network of militant groups, each with varying agendas and objectives, but able to share information and collaborate on attacks. Therefore, the attack on the Rawalpindi mosque may have indirectly involved the “Taliban” the military is fighting in South Waziristan, but it may have been directly carried out by Punjab-based militant groups, “who were once sponsored by the state but have in recent years turned their attention toward fighting Pakistan’s security forces,” noted the Christian Science Monitor, [see related CHUP post]. The news agency added, “Analysts believe that groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad are deepening their links with the Pakistani Taliban…and that most attacks that occur in the populous eastern province of Punjab are at least partly their work.” To my knowledge, the Pakistani government has not developed an adequate strategy of tackling this militant nexus, an approach that should operate in tandem to the military offensive in South Waziristan.

The fact that militants could commit such a brazen attack, killing children and military officials during Friday prayers, is an immense tragedy. Instead of just condemning these attacks, however, the government should be doing more. In memory of the many killed today and the numbers who have been killed in recent attacks, I say – less talk, more action. Please.

Read Full Post »

Image credit: http://njisacf.wordpress.com/2009/02/

I am ANGRY! I will STOMP!

Every day, a flag-lowering ceremony takes place at Wagah Border, which connects India and Pakistan via the Grand Trunk Road. The border, the only official land crossing-point between the two countries, separates Amritsar, India and Lahore, Pakistan. Each day, the 45-minute ceremony involves a carefully choreographed “standoff” between Indian and Pakistani soldiers, ending “in the lowering of both flags and the slamming of the border gates.”

The daily Wagah event is a popular tourist attraction, but rather than it being a show of hostility between the two nations, an atmosphere of jovial patriotism coexists on both sides. The ceremony is an exhibition of force mixed with cooperation, reminiscent more of dance battles than military aggression. It even ends with a handshake between the participants.

If only all our issues could be resolved with a handshake. Below is a video of the ceremony:

Read Full Post »

[Image, AP]

Today, a police official in Lahore told reporters that about 20 people had been detained in the attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in which six police officers were killed and six players were wounded.  The NY Times cited Nasir Bajwa, the deputy superintendent of police in the Model Town section of Lahore, who  said the suspects “were detained Tuesday night, hours after the attack.” He gave no details of the identities of those detained. The Times added, “The owner of a hostel in an area of Lahore close to the attack said the police had detained about 13 students who were at his premises. Muhammad Ashger said the students were arrested around midnight. A rocket launcher and clothes with bloodstains were recovered from the hostel, the police said.”

According to BBC News Wednesday, “Up to 14 gunmen were involved in the attack at the Liberty Square roundabout in the heart of Lahore on Tuesday.” The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan noted that hundreds of people have been questioned in poorer areas of Lahore to find clues to the attackers. However, the BBC reported, although a number of people had been detained, senior police official Haji Habibur Rehman added that little headway had been made in identifying the men.

Investigators are also checking backpacks recovered from nine locations in the city that “were apparently left by the attackers as they escaped.” The BBC reported, “Police say the backpacks contain water bottles and dry food items, indicating that the attackers were preparing for a long operation, as was the case in last year’s attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai.” Meanwhile, the Punjab government has placed advertisements in local newspapers announcing a $125,000 reward for any information that leads to the attackers. The advert, carried on most front pages, features two grainy pictures of the attackers, apparently taken from video footage, noted the BBC.  According to The News,Lahore police also drew sketches of four of the terrorists involved in Tuesday’s terror attacks…The sketches were prepared on the basis of descriptions given by eyewitnesses, car owner and rickshaw driver.” [Image above of the cache of weapons left behind]

Despite these efforts, criticisms [not surprisingly] intensified Wednesday. Former interior minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, head of the PPP-Sherpao, criticized the recent arrests, asserting, “They [the government] want to show to the world they are making arrests…They don’t know anything. There is not any semblance of government.” The Punjab Assembly, meanwhile, condemned the attack and held Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer responsible. According the News, the Assembly promptly called for Taseer’s resignation.

Several media outlets also cited statements made by Chris Broad, a British umpire traveling with the Sri Lankan team, who angrily claimed that police “melted away as the attackers opened fire,” leaving them like “sitting ducks.” He told media outlets, “I am extremely angry that we were promised high-level security and in our hour of need that security vanished.”

His statements seem to fall in line with a GEO News report that broadcast “exclusive CCTV footage” [see below] of the attackers shooting at the buses in Liberty Square. The news agency reported, “The exclusive footage reveals that attackers carried out the heinous act with full impunity. They started firing indiscriminately on the cricketers’ bus at 8:39 am on March 3 and managed to flee from the spot at 8:46 am. The attackers, as shown in the footage, faced no hindrance and kept lurking about Liberty Chowk area freely. They came toward Firdous market and used the same route for exit. The footage shows attackers in groups who were carrying heavy bags.”

Another article in The News reported that “The Crime Investigation Department (CID), Punjab, had accurately warned the Punjab government on Jan 22, 2009 about an Indian plan to target the Sri Lankan cricket team during its visit to Pakistan.” The news agency added, “The report tagged “SCRET/IMMEDIATE” with subject “SOURCE REPORT” reads: “It has reliably been learned that RAW (Indian intelligence agency) has assigned its agents the task to target Sri Lankan cricket team during its current visit to Lahore, especially while traveling between the hotel and stadium or at hotel during their stay.”

While the GEO development is interesting because it addresses the questions many of us had regarding how the attackers managed to escape, it should still be taken with a grain of salt. So should  the aforementioned article in The News, which reported that RAW was behind the attack. A multitude of theories and allegations are abound, and it’s important to wait until the dust settles before drawing any tangible conclusions.

I do take issue with Broad’s tirade over the lack of security, though. Yes, the attack was horrific and embarrassing because the Sri Lankan cricket team and the umpires should have been afforded much better security.  The Nation cited a former police official who called it a major security lapse, and noted there “was no proper deployment of additional police guards and patrolling from the PC Hotel to the Gaddafi Stadium despite the fact that the convoy of the Sri Lankan team had been declared VVIP.” That I fully agree with and is something they should be held accountable for. But to say that police “melted away” when the attackers appeared? What about the six police officers who died in Tuesday’s attack? The ICC official’s statements completely neglect to mention their sacrifice. To me it symbolized the oft-nameless casualties of violence that are quickly forgotten in the steady stream of press statements and headlines.

The finger-pointing that has ensued following Tuesday’s attack is ironic, to say the least. The shameful incident that occurred in Lahore yesterday showcased a lack of control on the part of the government, but it also exemplified what can occur when politicians are too distracted by infighting to pay attention to the broader issues facing the country. An editorial in today’s Dawn newspaper echoed my sentiment exactly: “The politicians need to wake up, bury the hatchet in the national good and rout the real enemy.” Instead of doing it, though, opposition parties are using it as leverage to blame the government further. The government in turn is trying to save face in light of some pretty stunning allegations.

Yes, someone needs to be held accountable as the country is turned inside out on this witchunt. But have we learned nothing from what injuries our self-interest can cause? What about the people killed and the lives almost lost? What about the threat to our country’s greatest love – cricket, a sport that is not only a national pasttime but one enjoyed by all Pakistanis, regardless of class, ethnicity or religious sect? And more importantly, what about what could happen next if things degenerate further? At the end of the day, if we watch our country go up in flames, the only people we have to blame is ourselves.

Great reads: This NY Times op-ed by Ali Sethi, as well as “An Open letter to the Citizens of Sri Lanka,” by Samad Khurram and Sara Seerat.

UPDATE 3/5: Below, are the sketches of the four suspects the Pakistani police are looking for:

[Image from the NY Times]

Read Full Post »