New Age Islam Edit Bureau
16 March 2017
A Misery Called Disappearance
By I.A. Rehman
Doubling Down On Dystopia
By John Feffer
Tumultuous Afghan Entanglement
By S Qamar A Rizvi
CPEC: Is There Cause For Alarm?
By Khurram Husain
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
March 16th, 2017
THE lack of satisfactory progress on
affording relief to the victims of enforced disappearance makes it necessary to
revisit their case. The more one looks at the monthly reports on the cases
pending before the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, the more
alarmed at the unmitigated suffering of the people affected one becomes.
Let us look at these reports for the last
three months — December 2016, January and February 2017. The commission
inherited 138 cases from the earlier body. It has received 3,718 complaints
since March 1, 2011, when it started working, raising the total number of cases
to 3,856. The commission claims to have traced 1,953 people in all. Three
hundred and fifty-four cases have been deleted from the list on the ground that
information about the disappeared persons was incomplete and another 309 cases
were dropped for other reasons.
Thus, at the end of February 2017, the
commission had cases of 1,240 involuntarily disappearing persons pending before
At the end of December 2016, the number of
pending cases was 1,219.
At the end of January 2017, the number of
such persons was 1,223.
At the end of February 2017, the number of
pending cases was 1,240.
The monthly rate of increase in pending
cases is small — four in January 2017 and 17 last month — but the unwelcome
fact is that the number of cases is rising. That fresh cases of enforced
disappearance have been reported over the past three months, at an average
monthly rate of 57 persons, is a matter that should worry any authority whose
conscience is not absolutely dead.
Hidden behind the statistics are incredible
stories of human suffering.
Where do these unfortunate people come
from? The position at the end of February was that the largest group (684 out
of 1,240) belonged to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, followed by Punjab (245), Balochistan
(103), Sindh (102), Islamabad (44), Fata (43), Azad Kashmir (13) and
How do these territories figure on the
table of disposal of cases?
The largest group of persons traced so far
belonged to Sindh (714 out of 1,025 people reported to have disappeared),
followed by KP (626 out of 1,461), Punjab (398 out of 799), Balochistan (102
out of 281), Fata (51 out of 113), Islamabad (49 out of 131), and Azad Kashmir
(13 out of 40). As for Gilgit-Baltistan, none of the six disappeared have been
Hidden behind these statistics are
incredible stories of human suffering. For instance, out of the 35 cases
disposed of in February 2017, the largest group (13) belonged to Punjab. Eleven
of them are said to have returned home. They included three of the five
bloggers (a fourth fell in the Islamabad quota and the fifth is perhaps still
‘missing’) who had been picked up in January 2017. All of the persons traced
were recent cases; seven of them had disappeared in 2016 and one in 2015. Of
the two who did not return home, the case of Shahnaz Bibi, belonging to a Jhang
village and reported missing since 2013, was not considered one of enforced
disappearance, and the case of Muhammad Aqeel Ahmed of Islamabad (wrongly
included in Punjab cases), missing since 2006, was dropped for “other reasons”.
The report does not tell us where all those
who were reported to have returned home in February 2017 were after their disappearance.
If they had been released from official custody, authorised or unauthorised,
was the cause of their detention ascertained? Was any action taken or
recommended against those responsible for detaining them?
The case of one person, Tallah Pervaiz
Alam, living in Orangi Town, Karachi, was deleted on the ground of his address
being incomplete. Was it impossible to trace his family? The next entry in the
report is that of Mohammad Kaleem, resident of Pak Colony, Karachi. He returned
home. Was his address complete?
Five persons were found confined to
internment centres — three of them in Kohat, one at Fizaghat and the fifth at
Parachinar. They had disappeared in 2012, 2014 and 2015. When were they sent to
the internment centres? On what grounds? Has their trial started? What are
their conditions of detention? The commission’s report is silent on all these
One of the 35 cases disposed of in February
was that of Samiullah from Karachi, who had disappeared in 2012; his dead body
was recovered. But from where? Had the victim been tortured? Did his family
accuse anyone? Does the commission carry out any investigations when dead
bodies are recovered? Or is the file closed once a person has been traced in
the form of a carcass?
Among a larger number of cases decided in a
month, 105 in December 2016, we find that four persons reappeared as dead
bodies, one was found in jail, five were said to be in judicial custody, and 10
cases were dropped as the address was said to be incomplete. Strange, as the
mobile phone numbers of eight of them are recorded in the report. All the
questions asked earlier apply to these cases as well.
Unfortunately, this commission of inquiry
is so much handicapped for want of authority and resources that one cannot be
angry with it. The government has paid no heed to the advice by UN agencies and
forums to increase its powers and give it adequate resources. A high-powered
conference to make the search for the disappeared persons truly effective is
now overdue. The present commission was set up by the interior ministry on the
recommendation of the 2010 commission of former judges that had been set up at
the Supreme Court’s initiative. Perhaps it is time for the apex court to
address the misery of the disappeared human beings.
Zeenat Shahzadi: The rights activists are
deeply worried about a young human rights defender, Zeenat Shahzadi, who
disappeared from near her Lahore home in July 2015. How long can the government
live down the stigma of failing to recover her?
March 16, 2017
Dystopias have recently achieved
full-spectrum dominance. Kids are drawn to such stories – The Giver, Hunger Games – like Goths to piercings. This apocalyptic
outpouring has been so intense that talk of “peak dystopia” started to
circulate several years ago. Novelist Junot Diaz argued last October, dystopia has become “the
default narrative of the generation.”
Shortly after Diaz made that comment,
dystopia became the default narrative for American politics as well when Donald
Trump stepped off the set of The Celebrity Apprentice and into the Oval Office. With the
election of an uber-narcissist incapable of distinguishing between fact and
fantasy, all the dystopian nightmares that had gathered like storm clouds on
the horizon – nuclear war, climate change, a clash of civilizations – suddenly
The response among those horrified by the
results of the recent presidential election has been four-fold.
First came denial – from the existential
dread that hammered the solar plexus as the election returns trickled in that
Tuesday night to the more prosaic reluctance to get out of bed the morning
after. Then came the fantasies of flight, as tens of thousands of Americans
checked to see if their passports were still valid and if the ark bound for New Zealand had any berths free. The third
stage has been resistance: millions poured into the streets to protest, mobilized at airports to welcome temporarily banned immigrants, and
flocked to congressional
meet-and-greets to air their grievances
with Republicans and Democrats alike.
The fourth step, concurrent with all the
others, has been to delve into the dystopias of the past as if they contained
some Da Vinci code for deciphering our present predicament.
It might seem counterintuitive – or a
perverse form of escapism – to turn from the dystopia of reality to that of
fiction. Keep in mind, though, that those novels became bestsellers in their
own time precisely because they offered refuge and narratives of resistance for
those who feared (in order of publication) the rise of Nazism, the spread of
Stalinism, or the resurgence of state-backed misogyny in the Reagan years.
These days, with journalists scrambling to
cover the latest outrage from the White House, perhaps it was only natural for
readers to seek refuge in the works of writers who took the longer view. After
all, it’s an understandable impulse to want to turn the page and find out what
happens next. And dystopian narratives are there, in part, to help us brace for
the worst, while identifying possible ways out of the downward spiral toward
The dystopian classics, however, are not
necessarily well suited to our current moment. They generally depict
totalitarian states under a Big Brother figure and a panoptical authority that
controls everything from the center, a scenario that’s fascist or communist or
just plain North Korean. Certainly, Donald Trump wants his face everywhere, his
name on everything, his little fingers in every pot. But the dangers of the
current dystopian moment don’t lie in the centralizing of control. Not yet,
The Trump era so far is all about the
center not holding, a time when, in the words of the poet Yeats, things fall
apart. Forget about Hannah Arendt and
The Origins of Totalitarianism – also a
hot seller on Amazon – and focus
more on chaos theory. Unpredictability, incompetence, and demolition are the
dystopian watchwords of the current moment, as the world threatens to fragment
before our very eyes.
Don’t be fooled by Trump’s talk of a
trillion-dollar infrastructure boom. His team has a very different project in
mind, and you can read it on the signpost up ahead. Next Stop: The
A number of articles in the past week have
created some undue anxiety about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Let us
put it in plain English at the outset: CPEC is not another East India Company.
That comparison is specious and entirely unhelpful, even if some find it useful
purely as a metaphor.
There are two reasons why the comparison is
unhelpful. First, the East India Company had an element of force, something
totally absent in the present case. Second, the East India Company gradually
shed its trading activity and acquired governance responsibilities, taking on
the administration of land revenue and justice, as well as education and the
maintenance of an armed force. CPEC is moving in an entirely different
The only area where the comparison might
work is in the extraction of a surplus from Pakistan and its transmittal to
China. But, even here, it must be kept in mind that the surplus is not being
extracted through the use of force or from land revenue (or taxation in the
present case), but purely from debt servicing and the repatriation of profits.
All foreign investment involves these elements, not just the one coming from
China. So at the same time that we are hearing about the arrival of Chinese
investment under CPEC, we also have auto makers entering the Pakistani market
from Korea and Europe, as well as a Dutch company acquiring stakes in the food
sector. This is not necessarily a ‘creeping colonisation’.
The short answer is no. The long answer is
News about a research report put out by
Topline Securities, which claimed that Pakistan will repay $90 billion on CPEC
investments of $50bn, sparked a new round of anxiety-laden commentary on social
media and television. The report itself is sound, and the figure of $3bn per
year as repayment obligations is similar to what others have calculated. My own
calculation on CPEC repayments, published in this column a few weeks earlier,
gave me a figure of $3.5bn, while former State Bank governor Dr Ishrat Husain
But that is not a colonial level of surplus
transfer. It certainly means that the projects being set up under CPEC are not
for free, nor should they be seen as ‘concessional’. This is not a ‘gift horse’
that we are dealing with. The most that this figure ought to tell us is that we
need to be careful in negotiating the terms, and ensuring that appropriate
reforms to boost the economy’s productivity and competitiveness accompany the
implementation of the project.
CPEC is best seen as an opportunity, not as
some sort of manna from heaven that will come and solve all our problems. The
worst mistake is to view CPEC as some sort of self-paying enterprise, as if the
investments will somehow generate the required level of economic activity to
automatically fulfil all the repayment obligations that they bring. This is a
mistake because it cannot be taken for granted, and since it appears the
government is indeed proceeding under this assumption, it is imperative for us
to ask how they have calculated the returns from the investment.
The important question to ask is what will
be the impact on domestic industry of the special incentives being given to
Chinese investors. And connected with this question is the larger question of
transparency. Thus far, too much of the project is shrouded in secrecy, and
whatever information is being released appears to be carefully vetted.
Take as an example the question of
repayment obligations. Thus far the only figures we are seeing are rough
calculations produced by independent observers. The State Bank has told us
nothing about the projected burden on the foreign exchange reserves due to CPEC
outflows, and the IMF has given us a rough estimate that the total could add up
to 0.4pc of GDP per year. It appears the government is not sharing the
requisite project details with either of the two institutions, nor is it saying
anything meaningful about how it has calculated the repayment obligations
connected with the projects. All we have is a misleading statement from Sartaj
Aziz that CPEC project loans will be serviced at 2pc, which is true for about a
quarter of the total projects at best.
Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan
Iqbal put up an indignant Facebook post saying he is “amazed at baseless and
myopic propaganda against CPEC” by those who are asking “why special zones for
Chinese companies” are being created. He points out that China is relocating
much of its industry to other countries due to rising wages in China. “If those
companies are being attracted to come to Pakistan what is the harm?”
The harm, Mr Minister, is when your own
government is putting out mixed messages. In one place we hear that the zones
are for the Chinese companies, and in another we are reassured that they will
be open to all. So what exactly is ‘baseless’ here, the ‘propaganda’ of those
who are asking this simple question or the assurances being put out by your own
government? And who is more myopic, the one gorging himself on foreign debt
comfortable in the assurance that the future will pay for itself, or the one
asking what repayment obligations come with these inflows and what is the plan
for meeting them?
We don’t need more anxiety concerning CPEC,
but we do need answers. When we frame our understanding of the enterprise in
terms like ‘East India Company’, it warps our perception of the whole thing,
and does not help in framing the right questions. The government can help allay
some of this growing scepticism and anxiety by being more forthcoming with the
details, and certainly a lot straighter with its answers. Snapping at the
questioner is no way for a government minister to behave.
THIS is an undeniable truth being equally
endorsed by the seasoned diplomats/strategists/politicians belonging to both
the advanced and the developing world that there is no sesame solution of the
brewing Afghan crisis. Some of the US political analysts while taking a more
local view have been holding the opinion, if the current Af-Pak policy—is not
replaced with one where Taliban are an essential part of the settlement— this
shall have disastrous implications for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, much more
so for the latter. With popular support from a vast majority of Afghans and
money from petro-dollars already on their side, Taliban will then have a
legitimate political power at their disposal which they may essentially expend
in furthering their parochial -set ideology. The trilaterally linked and multi
dimensionally connected Afghan crisis thereby involving the major role— of
three states, US, India and Pakistan— yet seems to dominate the current
regional entanglement scenario.
Afghanistan may not bear a deeper brunt
than the ones it has in the past in case so happens. Pakistan, however, seems
to lick wounds of a war which is being yet fought without any predictable
scenario, and a war for it has suffered a lot. With Taliban in an even stronger
position than before. It’ll also mobilise the Jihadi factions for here will be
there chance to re-emerge, more victorious and all the more virtuous. There
have been unwarranted western apprehensions that Pakistan might return back in
Zia epoch, essentially made to take a policy shift which will once again
legitimise self-proclaimed Jihad.
Nevertheless, if Taliban come down to a
settlement where they give up arms and come to participate in a democratic
establishment, this ought to be considered pragmatically. US, Pakistan and
Afghanistan can work together to create an arrangement where the militant
influence be terminated and democratically replaced with a parliamentary
participation. If indeed this must be achieved since it may perhaps be the best
choice for everyone. However, it may sound a little utopian now. But we can
venture hope for better!
India has had a long-standing enmity
towards the Taliban, pre-dating 9/11. Furthermore, India has alleged links
between the Taliban and the Pakistan’s military and Inter Services (ISI) long
before such claims became received wisdom in the West of particular concern.
Indian hostility towards the Taliban has created widespread doubt about the
existence of any moderate Taliban and scepticism of the extent to which the
Taliban can be separated from Al-Qaeda. This has led India to be dubious about
Western suggestions of reconciliation or political settlement with the Taliban.
While major doubts remain, some Indian opinion formers have argued in favour of
the decentralization of Afghanistan’s system of government –were any process of
reconciliation to be successful, it would be likely to involve some form of
Disturbingly, a division of sympathies
between a Tajik-dominated northern Afghanistan and a Pashtun-controlled central
government could prove to be a new battleground considering the heated
responses to vote tampering in the August presidential election. Accusations
have been rampant, especially in the North where support for Abdullah was
expected to be high. In the first round of elections, however, Hamid Karzai
received what many claim to be a higher than reasonably expected vote total in
these predominantly Tajik areas. In many ways, the unity government may have
been doomed from the start, analysts say. Even its critics say it was
undermined by a hastily forged agreement that split power between two
archrivals: Abdullah and Ghani.
This is not to say that a civil war is
imminent, but the possibility of violence between a pro-Indian Tajik leadership
and a U.S.-backed Pashtun regime should arouse concern for those countries’
vested interests in Afghanistan. India is seeking to develop long-term
diplomatic ties and economic arrangements with a stable, popular and pro-Indian
regime in Afghanistan, which then enables India to leapfrog Pakistan and build
robust strategic and economic ties with the energy rich states of Central Asia.
In what Stephen Blank characterizes as a “great game” strategy, India’s goals
reflect the desire to control overland routes to maritime ports for Central
Asian resources by denying both China and Pakistan the ability to threaten
Indian assets in the region.
As politically visualized here, even if its
involvement in Afghanistan disconcerts Pakistan, it is highly unlikely that
India will curb its diplomatic/political/social activities, anytime soon. This
is primarily due to the fact that the interests— of India and the United States
in Afghanistan—seem interconnected. Both states apparently seek a peaceful,
secure and non-Talibanised Afghanistan but in reality, their practiced policy
does not endorse this objective. Much distrust exists between Islamabad and
Delhi over their respective activities in Afghanistan. Islamabad perceives New
Delhi’s presence and influence as a deliberate attempt to encircle Pakistan and
prevent it from attaining the strategic depth it needs in Afghanistan to avoid
two ‘hot fronts’ (or borders with rivals).
Pakistan’s government often accuses India’s
official and non-official consulates in Afghanistan— of carrying out clandestine
operations against Pakistan in its tribal areas and restive province of
Baluchistan. Pakistan has claimed, for example, that India arms and funds
Baluchi rebels and the Pakistani Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), which India denies.
Pakistan resents the goodwill of Afghans towards Indians. Set against these
notable achievements of the long period of stability, however, the outcome has
failed to match several aspects of the aspirations that Afghans and
international experts expressed at the start of the crisis period.
Pakistan being the Afghanistan neighbour
has been badly implicated by insurgent armed crime because of the large volume
of poorly regulated cross border traffic. However, Iran and Russia are also
badly affected by the narcotics trade sourced in Afghanistan. But what gives an
impending impression that a protracted conflict— which left much of Afghanistan
controlled by the Taliban— has increased the scope for regional armed crime,
giving extortion and criminal gangs the option to locate some of their
activities in the area beyond the reach of state authorities. Nonetheless, a
direct Pak- Afghan talk to mend the fences is but a necessity of the day.