Last update: Fri, 21 Oct 2016 02pm



Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan has taken pains to assure the Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong in a meeting at his Bani Gala residence that the party's ongoing accountability movement against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is not meant to sabotage the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Nor is the movement intended to derail the present government and the system or create chaos in the country. Imran Khan emphasised that there was no threat to the diplomatic community from the shutdown the PTI intended to impose on Islamabad on November 2. The only purpose of the movement, he underlined, was to force the government into accepting a result-oriented investigation into the Panamagate. On the very day the Chinese Ambassador was meeting Imran Khan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif thundered once again that Imran was hindering the government's development plans. The prime minister and various ministers have been accusing Imran for some time of impeding CPEC projects and of forcing the cancellation of the CPEC-related Chinese President's visit in September 2014 at the time of the PTI dharna (sit-in). PTI's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister, Pervez Khattak, in the meantime continues to rattle on about the Centre and Punjab depriving the other provinces of their just share of CPEC investment and projects, including the western route issue. Their political rivals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Awami National Party, also have been chiming in on the necessity of giving priority to the western route, which is naturally of crucial interest to their province. All this to and fro between the ruling PML-N and the PTI and other opposition parties has so muddied the waters that the Chinese are now concerned. Earlier this year, the Chinese embassy, in an unprecedented step, called on the political forces in Pakistan to resolve their issues regarding the CPEC. Naturally, a climate of uncertainty such as that attending the PTI-PML-N fracas and controversies swirling around the CPEC have the Chinese worried whether the $46 billion they have committed to the CPEC will be implemented smoothly and with the minimum of fuss. And then there is the question of attracting industrial and commercial investment to populate the CPEC routes with islands of development and prosperity. No investor would like to enter a market riven by political controversies and conflict. This is where the gap between the potential benefits of the CPEC and the roadblocks on the ground appear glaringly obvious.
What Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad has now said that should have been said long time back. What held him back is indeed puzzling, if not intriguing - because if some of his disclosures indicate blatant infringement of the law of the land the others uncover an elaborate conspiracy against the very existence of Pakistan. So now that he is on record having information on some of the high-profile criminal acts including the May 12 massacre, the murder of Hakim Mohammad Said, the Baldia factory fire and recovery of military-grade weapons from a house in Azizabad a quick but thorough follow-up action is in order. As governor he may be just a figurehead, but what he knew about and has now made public have direct bearing on overall law and order situation and national security, and therefore his responsibility to bring the culprits and conspirators to the book. Of course, all of it is vicarious product of sparring between Dr Ishratul Ibad and former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal - the erstwhile fellow travellers and therefore one another's secret-keepers - but hardly a ground to put these stunning revelations on the backburner. It's a question of hundreds of lives which were lost to weird politics and excessive greed and there is also a case of anti-state mutiny. People would like to know how come with governor in knowledge as to who extorted money from the Baldia Town factory owners the principal extortionist is out on the street hawking his new political wares. More pointedly, does Mustafa Kamal believe that the hands of his party president's are clean? And that the elected Karachi mayor had nothing to do with the May 12 killings. And then there is the question: how come Governor Ishratul Ibad and PSP chief Mustafa Kamal being dubbed as protégés of the Establishment should draw swords at each other. One would think much more is yet to be said about what was cooking all those years when they were loyal to Altaf Hussain and ate from the same plate. Dr Ishartual Ibad is right in asking why Mustafa Kamal remained loyal to the MQM and enjoyed being its Senator until 2014 when he knew about Altaf Hussain's alleged RAW links in 2012. But he also owes some answers to similar questions.
According to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) foreign direct investment (FDI) for the first three months of the current fiscal year (July-September) has declined by 38 percent - a decline that goes against the public's expectations premised on the Sharif administration's claims that the 46 billion dollar investment under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would begin by the start of the current fiscal year. While it is possible that there has been a delay in the preparation of the necessary paperwork that is a prerequisite for any external investment by the Chinese yet one must also take account of a reason cited by the International Monetary Fund in its twelfth and final review under the 6.64 billion dollar Extended Fund Facility notably that: "staff projects the CPEC-related capital inflows (FDI and external borrowing) to reach about 2.2 percent of the project GDP in fiscal year 2019-20 and the CPEC-related imports to about 11 percent of the total projected imports of the same year;" and in a footnote "this baseline projection is predicated on the assumption that the completion of early harvest projects would extend up to fiscal year 2020-21 given large uncertainties and Pakistan's absorptive capacity." The Fund review also disturbingly notes that precise quantifications of any CPEC impacts are "difficult due to uncertainty and a lack of available information." It is precisely this lack of information that has become the root cause of the CPEC controversy in domestic politics.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief, Imran Khan, has revealed a change of date for the party's sit-in in Islamabad from the original October 30 to November 2. Imran Khan put forward a rather lame explanation that the date had been changed in deference to the wishes of prominent lawyer and a leader of the party Hamid Khan who had conveyed the concern of the lawyers' fraternity regarding the Supreme Court Bar Association elections on October 31. But the more plausible explanation appears to be the PTI's revised thinking that the original date of October 30 falls on a Sunday and the weekly off day may dilute the impact of the PTI's threatened shutdown of the federal capital. Imran Khan reiterated his stance that the sit-in and lockdown would continue until Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif either resigns or submits himself to accountability in the light of the Panama Papers revelations. The question is, if the first option is not acceptable to the government, how is the second one to be exercised? It would be useful to recall that the government's initial response to the Panamagate was to approach the Chief Justice of Pakistan to conduct an inquiry into the matter under the 1956 Inquiries Act. The honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan threw the ball back into the government's court by characterising any inquiry under the 1956 law as 'toothless', and asked the government to enact a new law to empower any commission of inquiry to be constituted for the purpose. The roadblock has been the lack of consensus between the treasury and opposition benches on the Terms of Reference (ToRs) of the inquiry. Whereas the opposition wanted central focus on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (and his family), the government objected that the prime minister's name had not figured in the Panama leaks, therefore he should not be the main focus of the inquiry. Instead, the bill drafted by the government widened the scope of the inquiry tremendously to include matters such as written off bank loans, etc. In the opposition's view, this would so widen the scope as to take the focus away from the Panamagate issue and lengthen the inquiry to a point where it would be rendered endless and therefore useless. Many meetings between the government and opposition negotiators later, no meeting of minds has emerged. The opposition has introduced its own bill along the lines it prefers. There the matter stands at present. PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi in a television show the other day suggested that if the government were to cooperate in passing the opposition's bill, thereby starting the process of inquiry, the dire consequences feared from an attempt to lock down the federal capital and keep it paralysed indefinitely could be avoided. Without reading too much into it, this could be viewed as a proffered 'carrot', in contrast with the bloodcurdling 'stick' Imran Khan continues to beat the government with. There are real concerns that if the government decides to pre-empt the sit-in by arresting the PTI leader/s or prevent entry into Islamabad or tries to uproot the sit-in, in all three scenarios the prospect of violence (and perhaps bloodshed) looms large. The fallout from an all out confrontation between the PTI and the government may produce uncertain and far-reaching results. Hence the need for cooler heads.
In Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, a landmark or a momentous decision in the history of mankind was reached on 15th October, 2016 when about 200 nations of the world agreed to a legally binding deal to cut back on greenhouse gases generally used in refrigerators and air conditioners. The deal that includes world's two biggest economies, the US and China, categorises various countries into three groups with different deadlines to reduce the use of factory-made hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases, which can be 10,000 more powerful than carbon-dioxide. Under the agreement, developed nations, including much of Europe and the US, have committed to reducing their use of gases incrementally, starting with a ten percent cut by 2019 and reaching 85 percent by 2036 while two groups of developing countries will freeze their use of the gases by either 2024 or 2028 and then gradually reduce their use. India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and the Gulf countries have committed to meeting the later deadline. They had refused to meet the earlier deadline because they have fast expanding middle classes, wanting air conditioning in their hot climates and India also feared damaging its growing industries. The agreement was, nonetheless, greeted with applause from exhausted envoys who had worked through the night to put finishing touches to the deal. The UN environment chief, Erik Solheim, stated that "last year in Paris, we promised to keep the world safe from the worst effects of climate change. Today, we are following through on that promise." The US President, Barack Obama, said the agreement was "an ambitious and far-reaching solution to the looming crisis" of climate change while Secretary of State John Kerry described it as "a monumental step forward." Benson Ireri, a senior policy advisor at humanitarian group Christian Aid, however, remarked that "it was a shame that India and a handful of other countries chose a slower timeframe for phasing down HFCs but the bulk of nations, including China, have seen the benefits of going for a quicker reduction. It has also been encouraging to see small island states and African countries a part of higher ambitious group."
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman continues to oppose the government-appointed Fata Reforms Committee's proposal to merge the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa so as to bring them into the national mainstream. Addressing a news conference the other day, he reiterated his stance that a referendum should be held to seek the opinion of the local people about the region's future status, whether they want to join KP or have a separate province. Almost all the major political parties have been voicing support for the merger proposal. On the face of it, the JUI-F chief is making a perfectly legitimate, democratic argument. It is hard to quarrel with the idea of letting the people decide their own political future. The situation on the ground, though, is rather complicated.
In the final International Monetary Fund (IMF) review under the 6.64 billion dollar Extended Fund Facility (EFF) the government is cautioned on two counts with respect to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) widely believed to be a game changer. First, the Fund recommends forceful pro-growth reforms, prudent macroeconomic policies (including improving the business climate, strengthening governance/security, and export supporting reforms), prudent fiscal policy, and debt management to keep long-term public debt path sustainable. Ironically, the Fund, during the duration of the EFF, supported deficit reduction policies - anti-growth - and did little to restrain the government from incurring external and domestic debt which accounts for public debt rising by a whopping 2.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product in just three years (currently at 450 percent of total government revenue). Exports have been held hostage to an overvalued rupee as well as the need to show a higher revenue collection than was actually the case - the objective to meet the Fund's revenue targets - through mounting refunds (estimated at 205 billion rupees) and advance tax collections. Without reforms across a broad spectrum of government engagement, and sadly there appears to be no change in the thrust of policies by the Dar-led Finance Ministry, the CPEC may not be a game changer.