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Analysis: Some questions are best left unasked

If you’re reading this, you don’t need to be told what all has happened in the last few days. ‘How’ and ‘why’ are questions you need answered. You won’t find those answers here. But you will find a few more important questions that need pondering.

It was not supposed to be this way. It wasn’t supposed to come to this. Tear gas was not meant to billow above the country’s nerve centre and the wails of sirens were not meant to shoot through the smog and into the night sky; people were not meant to die and hundreds were not supposed to swarm the emergency wards of nearby hospitals; and, most importantly, the Punjab police were not meant to unleash a wave of terror that shook the most seasoned of observers.

Despite the hardnosed posturing there was malleable talking in the background; and despite the seeming ‘breakdown’ of talks, despite the intransigence, there had been some understandings. If there ever were a sign that it should not have come to this, it would be the involvement of none other than the army chief as an intermediary – or ‘facilitator,’ if you want to use ISPR’s language. Both Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri emerged buoyant from those talks late Thursday, early Friday. The government seemed more relaxed.

But something went wrong somewhere.

Stitching together what PTI’s Javed Hashmi said in an explosive and damning press conference on Sunday and other buzz on the ground in Islamabad, the reports of what transpired go something like this: The government had apparently agreed that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would not resign, but go on ‘long-leave’ for a month or so while the inquiry into the election rigging took place. A similar offering was made for Shahbaz Sharif on the Model Town inquiry. That was the last sticking point, because the rest of the demands had been met a few days ago. The decisive ‘long-leave’ option was reportedly communicated to Imran Khan and the PTI sometime on Saturday. Following this, the PTI held a meeting of its core committee in which all the leaders were unanimous on the fact that this offering was a great victory for the party.

More importantly, they decided that the PTI and its supporters shouldn’t move any further (towards the Prime Minister House) from where they were (Parade Ground). Imran Khan is said to have listened to this advice carefully and finally agreed. He was to go on top of the container and announce the victory to the sit-in and followers across Pakistan, and then call of any further move forward and perhaps even call off the sit-in.

However, Imran went atop the container and announced, to everyone’s surprise, that the sit-in would follow Dr Qadri and PAT’s supporters towards the PM House. He even apologised to Hashmi at the end of his short speech – that is when the media picked up that something had gone wrong. Hashmi later insinuated that Imran was receiving ‘messages’ (it was either a phone call or something someone said in his ear) – and perhaps that’s why he decided to move forward. He said that Imran told him that moving forward was a compulsion (‘majboor hain’).

But they couldn’t have guessed what would follow.

It took everyone by surprise when the first teargas shell was fired, shattering to bits a nervous, but effective, status quo of not using violence that had been in place for over two weeks. In fact, few were even willing to believe that it had happened – until the images hit the screens.

And then it spiraled and spiraled some more. It is pertinent to note that there was no real report of any institution coming under attack from protesters before the teargasing and rubber bullets started; there was no real attempt to breach buildings and no stated plan to storm any building. No such information from the media and not even from the army. What was the trigger? Or was this always going to happen?

One more important deduction must be made here on this point: The use of force against protesters came in an area that was, under Article 245, effectively under the operational command of the armed forces. Even though the use of force was executed by civilian law-enforcers, surely a decision that big, and possibly decisive, could not have been made, at least, without the khakis being in the know.  Surely, the government would not have ventured down that path without some sort of assurance that the dramatic scenes that were sure to follow would not be used to launch an intervention of any sort.

The questions that need to be asked here are all related and possible difficult and dangerous to ask: Who was delivering ‘messages’ to Imran so powerful that he felt ‘compelled’ to ignore a unanimous decision by his core committee? And if the army knew that the use of force would be adopted, was this communicated to Imran given that the army chief was after all an intermediary/facilitator/mediator? Or did Imran make this decision despite this?

On second thoughts, dear reader, some questions are best left unasked.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2014.


More than neighbours: ‘Some elements do not want to see a prosperous Pakistan’

PESHAWAR: Iranian Consul General in Peshawar Hasan Darwish Wand has said unknown foreign elements who do not wish to see a prosperous and peaceful Pakistan are involved in terrorism in the country.

Talking during Peshawar Press Club’s Guest Hour Programme on Thursday, Wand said he has spent more than three and a half years in Peshawar and found the people of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa most respectful and hospitable.

“We had only read in books about the hospitality of the Pukhtuns but after spending time in Peshawar, I am witness to the hospitality of Pukhtuns.” The relationship between Pakistan and Iran is enhanced day by day and both the countries have a similar culture, civilization and religion, said Wand.

The consul general said unknown foreign elements are involved in terrorist activities in Pakistan. “Both [Iran and Pakistan] have similar enemies and they should work together to end the conspiracy against the countries.”

To a question about the Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline Project, Wand said, “So far Iran has invested Rs300 million on this project but Pakistan has not shown a keen interest in it.”

Wand said Iran wants to work on different projects for the improvement of culture activities in Pakistan.  Commenting on the Afghan Presidential election, he said Iran wants a peaceful Afghanistan, and will help and support who ever emerges president.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2014.


Scenic Saddar: Some areas become virtual dump sites for sanitary workers

RAWALPINDI: 

Some areas of Saddar Cantt have become a virtual dump site for the Rawalpindi Cantonment Board (RCB) sanitation staff.

Heaps of garbage and trash could be seen strewn on roads and residential areas of Railway Road, Police Station Road, Nougaza Road and other adjacent areas, making roads in these areas virtually impassable besides leaving an unbearable stench in the air.

Locals said RCB workers lift garbage from areas with influential residents and dump them on roads and in residential areas where people with less political clout live.

The people have been asking the RCB authorities to designate a permanent dump site far from residential areas.

The authorities conceded that they have no permanent dump site, compelling them to dump the trash in residential areas.

The garbage heaps have also created public health risks.

Ahmad Rasheed, a resident of Railway Road, told The Express Tribune that the RCB was playing with the lives of the people. “It is quite strange that the sanitation workers are dumping trash in this part of town and the authorities have never taken note of it,” he said. He asked if such negligence and apathy would be tolerated in developed countries. “Are we not human beings? Why are we being treated like second-class citizens?” he asked.

He said the RCB sanitary workers don’t hesitate to dump the waste including plastic, paper, metal and other waste on roads and residential areas.

“There is a need to recycle the waste instead of dumping it in residential areas,” he said.

Saddar Traders Association President Malik Jehangir said Police Station Road has become unbearable for the residents. He said that there were many workshops in the area but people have stopped visiting them due to the powerful smell of garbage. “Our businesses have gone to the dogs due to dumping of trash near our shops,” he said.

He said that the authorities have time and again been asked to solve the issue but the complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

Muhammad Aslam, another resident of the area, said that a water of a filtration plant on the Police Station Road has become useless due to a dumping site nearby, but local residents are compelled to consume the contaminated water. He said that due to the water contamination, diseases such as diarrhoea, hepatitis and other water-and-air-borne diseases were spreading in the area.

RCB head Faheem Zafar told The Express Tribune that they were working to permanently resolve the issue. “We have planned to purchase land for a landfill site some 40 to 45 kilometres from the city. He admitted that the RCB was currently facing problems in purchasing land for the dump site, but reiterated, “We are working to arrange the new landfill site on an emergency basis”.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2014.


Nadal’s absence good news for some

WASHINGTON: Rafael Nadal’s announcement that he will miss key US Open warm-up events at Toronto and Cincinnati with a right wrist injury will have some rivals ‘licking their chops’.

So says Wimbledon semi-finalist Milos Raonic, among those surprised to learn that the 28-year-old Spaniard, the reigning US Open champion, would be sidelined for the ATP Masters Series events.

“There’s a lot of people hungry in this sport,” Raonic said at the ATP and WTA Washington Open.

“It’s unfortunate to see him go but … there are too many that are hungry and are licking their chops.”

Doctors told Nadal that he must rest the injury, suffered in training on Tuesday, for two to three weeks. That will enhance the chances of rivals to capture a crown, including Canada’s seventh-ranked Raonic, even though such formidable foes as world number one Novak Djokovic and 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer remain in the fields the next two weeks.

“There’s nobody losing sleep over it,” said Raonic over Nadal’s absence. “Because everybody wants to make the most of the opportunities.”

However, fifth-ranked Czech Tomas Berdych said the game will miss Nadal.

“I wish him a fast recovery,” said Berdych. “To miss a player like Nadal a week or more, it’s always a shame.”

Tournament organisers, certainly, will miss having Nadal as a drawing card.

“He’s a great champion, and his run to the title last year electrified our fans,” said Cincinnati tournament director Vince Cicero.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2014.

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CM upset that some villages still don’t have gas

KARACHI: 

The Sindh government has decided that it is time to approach higher authorities – the federal government – over problems being caused by the Sui Southern Gas Company.

The provincial government claims that despite having paid the Rs6.5 billion, the gas company is reluctant to provide many villages in the province with gas. Chief Minister (CM) Qaim Ali Shah is unhappy with the company and expressed his dissatisfaction while presiding over a meeting at his residence on Monday.

“We have paid the amount in advance, nearly two years ago but this company has not completed this scheme [Village Gasification Plan] as yet,” some officials informed the CM.

Shah directed the officials to send another reminder to the company and the federal ministry to complete 1,108 schemes through which villages in the province would have gas by the end of the year.

They were informed that as many as 1,108 schemes of providing villages with gas were assigned to the SSGC in 2011 and the government had paid an advance of Rs6.5 billion. So far they had only completed 648 and another 460 remain. These cost at least Rs2.5 billion.

The CM told the officials that there was no justification as to why the projects hadn’t been completed because the gas company had been paid and all the schemes had been approved.

The senior general manager of the SSGC, Dr Ilyas, said that since 2008 they had received around 1,502 schemes out of which 648 had been completed. He added that the delay was caused due to certain limitations from the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2014.


Crying foul: No water for tail-enders as some growers go over their limit

KARACHI/MIRPURKHAS: 

The growers whose lands are located at the head of the irrigation system are so influential that they openly steal the water from the canals while the police don’t take any action despite repeated  requests’ by the irrigation department, The Express Tribune learnt on Friday.

The growers, whose lands are supplied water by the longest canal of the Nara Canal system, the Puran Shakh, staged a protest at Jamrao Canal on Friday. These growers own over 20,000 acres of land. They have warned the authorities to resolve their issues within 36 hours or they will take the law into their hands.

“We have not had water since the last three months,” said a grower, Zulfiqar Ali Kachelo. “We demand nothing but our due share of water,” he added. “It is a peaceful demonstration.”

Not just the growers, even the residents of Sindhri, Kunri, Kot Ghulam Muhammad and Jhudo talukas are facing an acute shortage of water for domestic use. Kachelo added that people living towards the tail-end of the Puran Canal were forced to migrate to other areas due to the shortage of water.

The Puran Shakh is about 27 miles long and growers who live at its head are found to be involved in stealing and stopping the water for those growers who live at the tail-end.

“It is a fault on the part of the administration,” lamented another grower. “Only if the law is implemented in letter and spirit, can the problem be resolved.” Explaining the situation in the area, Kachelo said that a landlord who owned 2,400 acres of land was not able to cultivate even 24 acres due to the lack of water. The growers and officials believe that those people who live at the head of the canal are more influential as they steal water and are not questioned by the law enforcement agencies.

Earlier, around 2,000 growers from different areas protested outside the Mirpurkhas Press Club. The growers gathered at Jarwari Chowk, from where they made their way to the office of the director of Nara Canal Area Water Board (NCAWB). The staff and officials fled from the office for fear of being attacked, before the protesters could reach it. Later, the growers moved to Jamrao Canal where they held a sit-in, saying that the protest would continue till their demands were met.

“Yes, this is a genuine issue,” agreed the director of the NCAWB Ghulam Mustafa Ujjan. “The growers are not being given their due share.” He said that the water shortage intensifies in May and June, adding that the growers at the head of the canal were largely responsible of the crisis. “We have registered FIRs against the people involved in water theft.”

An official who wished not be named said that the growers were so ‘influential’ that the police couldn’t take action against them. “The water crisis in the area will not be resolved unless such people are arrested and legal action is taken against them,” he added.

“Ours is a 200-year-old village. We have never faced such a situation before,” said Sadique Dars of village Dost Muhammad Dars. “The state could do anything only if it was serious about resolving our problems,” he added.

According to some officials and growers there is complete ban on rice cultivation on Nara Canal, which starts from Khairpur and ends in Jhudo. Despite the ban, however, thousands of acres of land had been cultivated with the paddy crop.

 

Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2014.


Airborne threats: Washington seeks tighter security for some US-bound flights

WASHINGTON: US authorities plan to bolster security at some airports in Europe and the Middle East with direct flights to the United States, officials said Wednesday.

Amid concern terror groups are developing new explosives to circumvent airport security, US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced unspecified steps that would be carried out in “the coming days,” without saying which airports would be affected.

“We are sharing recent and relevant information with our foreign allies and are consulting the aviation industry,” Johnson said in a statement.

After an assessment of security threats, Johnson said he had directed the Transportation Security Administration “to implement enhanced security measures in the coming days at certain overseas airports with direct flights to the United States.”

Johnson said that “we will continue to adjust security measures to promote aviation security without unnecessary disruptions to the traveling public.”

The airports were located in the Middle East and Europe, according to an official at the Department of Homeland Security, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Information about specific enhancements is sensitive as we do not wish to divulge information about specific layers of security to those who would do harm,” a second DHS official, who asked not to be named, told AFP.


Service delivery: USC finds some stores closed on 1st Ramazan

LAHORE: 

The Utility Stores Corporation (USC) administration on Monday inspected utility stores across the city to ensure that they remain opened to consumers on the first day of Ramazan.

Responding to reports about the closure of utility stores on Sunday, the USC said that while some stores were closed due to the annual audits, more than 75% of them remained operational. USC Lahore zonal manager Saghir Ahmed and USC Senior General Manager Masood Alam Niazi inspected the stores in Shadman, Model Town, Main Market, Riwaz Garden and on Shama Road. The USC operates 121 utility stores in two regions of the Lahore zone. Ahmed told The Express Tribune that utility stores remained operational across the city on Monday.

Utility stores in several areas, including Shadman, Ichhra and Samanabad, were closed for the annual audit on Sunday. Ahmed had said the USC was working to ensure that the audit was completed at the earliest to avoid any inconvenience to the consumers.

Utility stores across the city have been instructed to conduct the annual audit during the nights and keep serving consumer in daytime. “The audit has not been completed. We are trying to ensure that the exercise does not hamper services to the consumers,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed said that a majority of the stores had completed the June closing by Sunday night. The remaining, he said, were expected to carry out the audits by Monday night.

Despite the USC assurance, there were reports on Monday about closure of utility stores in some areas. Stores in Model Town, Shadman and Cavalry Ground areas were reported closed at different times through the day.

Ahmed said the store in Shadman was found closed during the inspection at around 10:30am. “While the store’s shutter was down, the staff was busy rearranging items,” he said. “We askedthem to continue serving the consumers while arranging the items.”

Ahmed said he would launch an inquiry into closure of some stores. “We are making inspection rounds and addressing complaints,” he said.

USC authorities said the audit was conducted at the end of June every year. But this year with the beginning of the month of Ramazan coinciding with the annual audit, the authorities said they had initiated the Ramazan package and subsidised prices a week ahead of the holy month to save the consumers from any impact on account of the audit.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2014.