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According to the recently released United Nations Human Development Report 2014 titled "Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Enhancing Resilience", Pakistan has retained the objectionable ranking of the lowest within the region at 146 in the category of low income countries. Sri Lanka, ranked in the high development category, was awarded a significantly higher ranking at 73 which, no doubt, seriously compromises the validity of the standard normal raison d'etre offered by our governments (past as well as present) for blaming terrorism/insurgency for their poor performance in improving human development index components that include, life expectancy, education, health and income level.

Both the federal government and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf are within their constitutional rights by taking their respective positions on the presence of armed forces in the capital on August 14. Article 245 of the Constitution empowers the federal government to summon the forces "in aid of civil power". The order so made "shall not be called in question in any court". And a High Court shall not exercise any jurisdiction under Article 199 in relation to any area in which the Armed Forces of Pakistan are, for the time being, in action in aid of civil power in pursuance of Article 245. Not that a High Court would stop function; its jurisdiction becomes dysfunctional only in cases linked with application of Article 245. If the government has the right to call in the armed forces the PTI is also fully entitled to hold a protest march at the D-Chowk in front of the Parliament House. However, the provision to this Fundamental Right is that this should take place "subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of public order". As to what should be those 'reasonable restrictions' and what makes for the 'public order' the two sides differ, each blaming the other of exploiting its otherwise fully protected constitutional position to the nation's detriment. But the general masses have their own, detached take on the evolving political imbroglio. Not only do the ongoing political polemics cast the country's political leaders in a negative light - as they tend to portray themselves exclusively focused on political power absolutely oblivious of the masses basic issues and problems - the people also question the timing of the 'Azadi March' being coincidental to the armed forces' operation against terrorists.
The Nandipur power plant is shrouded in mystery and it's not just whether the cost overrun was justified or whether the cost per unit of electricity generated is too high to merit its operation, but also whether or not the plant is operational at the present moment in time. Abid Sher Ali, the Minister of State for Water and Power, considered to be suffering from a serious case of foot in the mouth disease, recently stated that Nandipur is producing 95MW electricity. Newspaper reports however indicate that the plant is non-operational because the cost of producing per unit electricity from diesel (its fuel) is simply too high to warrant generation.
Should those who joined Pakistan of their own free will, and the Quaid-i-Azam welcomed those 'brothers from across the border', be treated as political orphans and step-children of the state? This question, however, remains unanswered. Since 1947, the seven agencies comprising the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (Fata), have been ruled as a colonial era colony by retaining their repressive administrative and judicial structures. It has representation in the national parliament - 12 MNAs and 8 Senators - but they cannot do any legislation for the people they represent. Off and on there are discussions and debates at various national platforms to introduce reforms necessary to bring the residents of Fata into the national mainstream, but things remain as they are. Now when military action in North Waziristan Agency has displaced a large number of persons the issue of reforms for tribal areas has come to the fore. As if upstaging all other political parties who of late had endorsed an 11-point reform agenda the PPP submitted a draft resolution to the National Assembly Secretariat seeking powers for the parliament to make laws for Fata. The resolution is expected to be taken up next week when the house opens its next session. Not that the other parties were not interested in going for such a resolution but they were intrigued by the PPP's going alone. Maybe by being the first to support the reform agenda the PPP leadership wanted to deflect public notice from the Sindh government's not-so-warm welcome of the IDPs. But now that the first step has been taken in that direction its follow-up should be earnestly executed, for given the flow of events in tribal areas the time has come that this huge injustice to the people of Fata is undone once and for all. Once the military operation is over there would be the need to restore civilian administration, and an appropriate opportunity to wind up the more than one hundred-year-old colonial era governance system.
It has become customary for the State Bank to instruct financial institutions to provide uninterrupted Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) services during long weekends or at the annual festivals like the two Eids and this year is no exception. In a circular issued by the SBP on 22nd July, 2014, all the banks across the country have again been directed to ensure the availability of ATM services during Eid holidays by taking all the necessary measures in order to avoid inconvenience to the public during this period. In this connection, banks have been instructed to ensure round-the-clock availability, consistent monitoring of the ATMs and mobilize maximum resources to timely resolve ATM issues, like out-of-cash machines, hardware/software problems, power outages and connectivity/network issues. Banks have further been advised to establish special help desks/contact centres operating round the clock for ATM-related complaints. Also, banks were required to ensure that the published help desk numbers were visibly placed at all ATM booths and advertise contact details in newspapers before Eid holidays for customer awareness.
Once again the Line of Control in Kashmir is hot, but not a good enough excuse for the new Indian government to remain stuck to suspend peace process with Pakistan. Last week, Pakistan High Commissioner in India called on Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and extended Pakistan's invitation. On Wednesday, she rang up her Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry and agreed to meet him on August 25 in Islamabad. The FS-level meeting is 'in keeping with the vision of the two prime ministers to improve and establish good neighbourly relations,' the Foreign Office said. The 'game-changer' may be too loaded an expression for the meeting between Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi in May, but it did generate possibility of reviving the peace process suspended by India following a clash on the Line of Control (LoC) in January last year - attesting Dr Manmohan Singh's inability to move out his generals' long shadow. How far out of that shadow Modi can move we don't know. But the fact is that he did break the taboo by inviting and giving the prime minister of Pakistan very special treatment at his swearing-in ceremony. And Pakistan had waited for him. Of course, by then PM's advisor on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz had activated back channel contacts with Indians and had even refused to get stuck on the term 'composite dialogue'. The differences besetting the Pak-India relations are too formidable and too deeply etched in the minds of the peoples of the two countries to be resolved at the official-level contacts, and no one thinks the upcoming foreign secretary-level meeting would do. But an 'unpredictable' Modi can throw up some surprises in relation to India's policymaking paradigm is concerned.
Hopefully, the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's proposed electoral reforms committee of the parliament will be meeting soon to initiate work on how to ensure fair, free and transparent elections in the country. He had floated the idea early last month - for whatever reasons - only to be welcomed by all political parties in the parliament. However, an ego-fed clash between the chairs of the Senate and the National Assembly held back the notification. That is now behind us; the Senate Chairman Syed Nayyar Hussain Bukhari has set July 24 the deadline for parties in the house to give names for 11-member Senate quota in the 33-member electoral reforms committee and the notification would be issued by the National Assembly Secretariat next day. But this is only the first step; the journey ahead is long and hard given that the committee must not only firm up an agreed draft for reforms, which must be legislated by both the houses as a constitutional amendment it may also be required to incisively look into a whole host of existing laws under which elections are held in the country. For instance, if Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution are too restrictive and are out of tune with time limiting space for potential election candidates that could be yet another item on the committee's agenda. Maybe, the electoral reforms committee proposes changing eligibility criterion of the Election Commission's membership. Then there are issues of pre- and post-rigging; scrutiny of candidates, spending limits, accessibility to polling stations, quality of balloting, vote counting and neutrality of polling staff. Should a candidate be declared a winner if in agreement with other contestants women voters of his constituency were denied their right of voting, that is one more issue for the proposed committee to decide. Voting right for dual nationals is also an issue to be settled before the next election. This indeed is a huge agenda, but a lot of research on these issues is available, from which we believe the committee should benefit.


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