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CORRUPTION WITHOUT BORDERS

The Nawaz Sharif episode shows that pervasive corruption has not only acquired respectability in a perverse manner in Pakistan but left to the National Assembly (NA), may even acquire legality. Political instability, poverty, unequal structure of society, unemployment, lack of accountability, weak political institutions, absence of rule of law, etc, are contributory factors causing an unequal distribution of resources, sapping of confidence among local and foreign investors, weak governance, etc. A leading expert on corruption, J.G. Lambsdorff says, “The abuse of power in order to serve private interest is widespread in Pakistan. Corruption will thrive particularly in a setting where accountable governance structures and processes are weak, very much the case in Pakistan.  For corruption to flourish certain key pre-conditions such as imperatives and incentives must exist that encourage corrupt practices, availability of opportunities for personal gains, access and control over the means of corruption with limited risks of exposure and punishment”, unquote.

Pakistan’s centralized system of bureaucracy inherited from the British but without the inherent checks and balances facilitates corruption by politicians, the military once they become comfortable in power and for themselves. The constitutional security given to civil servants having been taken away by ZA Bhutto when lateral entry was introduced in place of merit-based competitive selection, motivated promotions and postings made political interference possible. Politicians became all-powerful on this Client-Patron relationship. Tasked to serve vested interests at the cost of the national interest, the major task of “political” bureaucrats included ensuring a favourable vote count for politicians irrespective of the real voter preference. With their knowledge of rules and regulations our “politicized” bureaucrats help the incumbent rulers by changing or amending them in innovative ways to circumvent “problems”.

The regime changes of the 1950s was repeated between 1990 and 1999 when four democratic govts were either dismissed or overturned on charges of corruption and allegations of misuse of power. Despite corruption being rampant no one was punished for being corrupt in this game of musical chairs between Ms Benazir and Mian Nawaz Sharif.  With off-shore companies becoming fashionable, the leaked Panama Papers (and now Paradise Papers) exposed the illegal accounts of public officials, drug kingpins, money launderers, etc. Claimed as not illegal by some of our renowned lawyers and chartered accountants, why help the corrupt escape accountability by setting up such offshore companies/accounts at secretive locations to hide illegal wealth and avoid taxation except to collect huge fees? These “professionals” camouflage their illegality by technical rhetoric and legal jargons but like financial institutions play an integral role as fulltime accessories to the crimes of their clients.

Effective laws for anti-money laundering notwithstanding, corrupt politicians and others, criminals included, will always find loopholes in the banking legal system around the world and banks willing to handle their ill-gotten money and bribery payments in safe havens. They then set-up anonymous off-shore companies and trusts that allow them to hide their identity.  This is done without technically breaking any rules to access the global financial system with almost impunity. Failing in their due diligence they are complicit in corrupt practices in the transfer and deposit of stolen funds.  Millions have been stashed abroad with no questions, whether tax was paid at its source in Pakistan. Many expensive apartments in London are owned by known white-collar criminals comprising former dictators, bank defaulters, tax evaders, money-launderers, etc. The utter hypocrisy of the British legal system is exposed by Scotland Yard protecting Altaf Hussain to hide his connections with India by covering up the money-laundering and murders done on his express instructions.

Crooked real estate agents aid the corrupt by showing ways to invest ill-gotten wealth in land holdings, within Pakistan and abroad. According to a 2015 expose in The Daily Beast, “London, the World’s Money Laundering Capital”, “London has become the money-laundering capital of the world with billions of dollars in stolen funds illegally hidden in the city’s booming property market. A team of undercover reporters, one of whom was disguised as a corrupt Russian politician, secretly recorded some of London’s top real estate agents offering to help facilitate illicit transactions despite British laws that require the agents to report suspicious activity to the authorities. The real estate agents selling properties worth up to $25 million said they didn’t want to know the details, others offered detailed advice about how to funnel the cash through shell companies operating anonymously.” Unquote.

To keep their appointments and status the close associates of corrupt public office holders simply look the other way. Consider the Constitutional Amendment allowing a person disqualified by the Supreme Court (SC) from holding public office, the oath of allegiance of those who voted for Nawaz Sharif is not to the State but to their dependency and servitude to their Patron. Quite possible these people may not be corrupt themselves but by actively carrying out the instructions of their boss or passively condoning it they are facilitators of corruption and thus guilty as willing accessories to the crime committed by their bosses. Forgetting their past association conveniently these hypocrites spout rhetoric about high ideals and lofty principles forgetting they had turned a blind eye to the illegal activities of their superiors. Why does the Opposition refrain from making the entire proceeds of the Supreme Court (SC) judgment (and subsequent review petition) a part of the records of the NA?

The wishful perception being propagated by the PPP is that the Army is preparing Asif Zardari as an anti-dote to Nawaz Sharif. On the scale of accountability not only for corruption but for murder and mayhem, Nawaz Sharif comes out a “patron Saint” as compared to Zardari.  The convoluted logic behind this motivated story notwithstanding, no one in his right mind is about to commit “hari-kari” by and reverse the progress that the Superior Judiciary has had the courage and conviction to adopt.

Facilitating illegal activities such as money-laundering and tax evasion, many of Pakistan’s laws prevent the authorities from taking meaningful action against the culprits. Mian Nawaz Sharif’s indictment indicates a change may be in the offing but maybe it is too early for anyone to start celebrating. Calling himself an “ideology”, Nawaz Sharif is openly projecting “corruption” as the new ideology for Pakistan. When you facilitate, tolerate and/or salute corruption, this makes you not only a hypocrite but a willing accessory thereof.  Those blatantly condoning and facilitating of corruption must be taken to task or the Sharif ideology “corruption without borders” (with apologies to Médecins Sans Frontières or Doctors without Borders) will really become Pakistan’s new ideology.

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A FEUDAL ELECTORAL SYSTEM

The Magna Carta, or the “Charter of Liberties”, limiting the King’s power and strengthening the rights of nobles was signed by King John at Runnymede near London on June 15, 1215. Brokered by the Archbishop of Canterbury and meant to rein in rebellious barons, without any sincere intent John was simply playing for time to consolidate his despotic rule. Contrary to popular belief Magna Carta did not initiate the decline of feudalism but did establish the principle in the than western world that everyone including the king was subject to the law. The guaranteeing of the right to justice and a fair trial to any individual were already articulated and implemented in Islam as articles of faith 500 years earlier.

With the peasantry dependant upon landowners holding large tracts of lands doled out to them by the British between 1858 and 1947, feudalism is alive and well in Pakistan today. By bequeathing land which was not theirs in the first place, the British created a core of feudal lords, bureaucrats and military personnel, camouflaging the rule of their “Commonwealth” in the 20th century with different democratic models.  Ingratiating themselves to the British overlords the crown’s loyal native servants facilitated the crown rule over their fellow natives. Agrarian reforms did away with feudalism in India soon after 1947, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) followed suit a few years later. ZA Bhutto’s Houdini-like brand of “mixed-bag socialism” combined die-hard socialists like JA Rahim, Mairaj Mohammad Khan, Sheikh Mohammad Rashid, Meraj Khalid etc with hard core uncompromising feudals like Khar, Jatoi, Mumtaz Bhutto, etc, With the pendulum swinging right under Gen Ziaul Haq’s 1977 Martial law, feudalism further became entrenched in Pakistan.

Blatantly camouflaging their inherent feudalism over the centuries as a democracy, the British successfully call theirs a constitutional monarchy.  Can they explain the travesty of the un-elected House of Lords? The basic principle “of the people, by the people and for the people” was mutilated by our democracy being intrinsically more flawed than a “constitutional” monarchy. Leo McKinstry was scathingly critical in The Telegraph in Aug 2015, “the continuing survival of the Lords is an indictment of the cowardice and inertia in British politics. Such an obese, obsolescent body should have no place in a modern democracy. …. every argument used to justify its existence is wrong. Its supporters like to pretend that it is packed with wise elder statesman, brilliant experts and distinguished public servants. This could not be further from the truth: most if its members are souped-up councillors, political apparatchiks, failed MPs and party donors.” McKinstry could well be talking about our “indirectly” elected Senate. Subject to fraud and manipulation, indirect election to this enduring disgrace only serves to perpetuate feudalism, it is an insult to the concept of democracy.

Freed of British bondage in 1947, feudal lords and bureaucrats continue to hold wise-like grip over Pakistan today, almost all political parties being run like feudal estates. The present form of elections is a mere ritual-like exercise with those elected to Parliament considering power to be a free licence to loot, plunder and oppress the people, all in the name of the Constitution. Those elected depend upon “special interest groups” (and individuals) for survival rather than those who voted them into office.

The ‘first-past- the- post’ (FPTP) proliferating through the Commonwealth is the “democratic” formula devised by the British to perpetuate the feudal system. This system favours the winner securing the highest number of votes, not necessarily the majority of votes in a constituency. This excludes smaller parties from ‘fair’ representation. This FPTP allows a small powerful minority to always come to power and rule over the majority with potential to spawn and sustain anarchy by creating divisions among sects, biradiris, castes, etc. Meant to foment strife FPTP is the democratic version of the British “divide and rule” policy. With this the case in more than 80% of the seats in our National and Provincial assemblies, it is vital to have a mandatory “run-off election” without an absolute majority in the first vote in a single constituency. This way the voters will ultimately have two stark choices instead of the multiple ones in the first round. Besides exercising the will of the majority and make elections difficult to rig and manipulate, a run-off election will encourage diverse groupings to compromise to join together to get a majority.

Marginalising the smaller parties causes frustration, voters deserve a voice in Parliament in proportion to the strength of the political groups in the electorate. For “Proportional Representation” 20-25% of additional seats in Parliament should go to the losing candidates of the political parties on the basis of the percentage of the total votes cast for the losing candidates. The percentage of votes a party receives will then be more closely reflected in the number of seats it attains in the National Assembly (NA). In 2002, the PPP got lesser NA seats than the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) despite having a greater number of votes. In 2013 Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) was the second biggest party according to votes cast after the PML-N, it was ranked third in terms of NA seats.

Not held based on population alone, for elections a formula balancing population with land must be devised. Balochistan constitutes 43% of Pakistan’s total land mass with its wealth of natural resources, its vast rangeland, its coastal belt and rich mineral and hydrocarbon deposits. Disenchantment among the local populace because of being treated negatively persist because of unrealistic policies by successive govts.  The low level insurgency has since been brought under control by the Pakistan Army. Out of the 342 seats in the National Assembly, Balochistan has just 14 seats. Balochistan must have more representation in the NA (least 45-50 seats) to make the population feel that their voice will be heard.

Providing governance at the doorstep of the people is vital for any civilized society, without people participation at the grassroots level democracy becomes a farce. Functioning Local Bodies (LB) encourage self-participation, ownership, debate and involvement of local communities, stakeholders in the welfare and wellbeing of a unified society. Rampant feudalism in this modern world keeps us as prisoners in the heart of darkness. Our imperfect democracy is a ready-made recipe for fomenting strife and undermining good governance at every level. Democracy will not be only possible in a hundred years unless the “Local Bodies” system coupled with “Proportional Representation” gives a voice to the people to overcome the feudal system making Pakistan’s present democracy a farce.

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COMBATING CORRUPTION FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE

Transparency International’s (TI) 2017 report ‘People and Corruption: Asia Pacific” voices concerns across the globe about growing inequality, poverty and exclusion of the most vulnerable. As a diverse and rapidly developing region, “it is essential that the countries in the Asia-Pacific region achieve sustainable and equitable development – this can only be done by ensuring that public decision-making promotes the common good. Corruption undermines this, as it distorts democratic processes and promotes private over public interests”.  Ranked among the highly corrupt countries in TI’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for a straight 22 years (1995-2016), corruption in Pakistan derails governance by being deeply entrenched in almost all State organs and in public institutions. Effective anti-corruption has failed to be implemented because the role of the State’s anti-corruption bodies is wanting and questionable.

To combat corruption and resolve the problems of governance, it is essential to look at the impact on social development. Social development is meant to improve the living conditions of the people, enabling them to become useful members of society, so they can benefit from changing living conditions. This means progress in its economic and all other definitions needs to benefit people and recognition that people shape development processes. The major indicators of social development are poverty rate, infant mortality, general life expectation, literacy rate, health care factors, gender equality, etc. It is very clear that Pakistan lags behind in most, if not all of these indicators.

Corruption undermines structures of governance that are already weak and hampers the State’s service delivery.  Weakness of State institutions is often blamed on repeated army rule, but what about our many civilian govts who came into power through the ballot but not one of them exhibited even an iota of intent in improving governance? This become clear from the apathy of successive govts relating to a 2008 report ‘National Commission on Govt Reforms’ (NCGR) authored by Dr. Ishrat Hussain. This contained a comprehensive analysis of the problems of governance and offered a very well-thought out and carefully planned roadmap of solutions. Swept under the carpet this report, thus remains dormant even today.

Pakistan’s social indicators are abysmal, human development has never been a priority in Pakistan. In the 2016 Human Development Index (HDI) Pakistan has been ranked at 147 out of 188 countries ranked. In order to improve human development, Pakistan will have to invest heavily in employment, engagement and empowerment of youth whose numbers are growing and also provide basic social services and safety nets that will  empower people to live lives they yearn for. Recently there has been a spate of incidents of civil unrest by opposition political parties and other groups, these were fuelled by a growing perception about the govt failing in its policy-making and has not prioritizing the people’s needs nor listening to their voices and grievances – all these are negative indicators of governance.

Given the connection between governance, service provision and social development, there is a dire need for reforms in governance in Pakistan. This has been conveniently neglected and downplayed especially by our political rulers who fear for their reliable power structures that can be used to win next elections. Given the appalling situation in the social sector, the national interest and the interest of the people require the govt to take measures for improving living conditions. While the NCGR report will need some updating it can otherwise be used as a starting point for reforms. To quote Dr. Ishrat Hussain, “Government reform has to be comprehensive, concurrent and coordinated as partial, isolated and adhoc efforts will not produce the synergy required to achieve the desired results.”

Devolution of power must be the focus of governance reforms. While our centralized system of govt has positive aspects, its negative factors include the break-up of Pakistan, dissatisfaction among provinces, demands for autonomy and secessionist movements. We must have the reorganisation of the federal set-up with a stronger role of the Council of Common Interest (CCI) and a new basis for the National Finance Commission Award (NFC). Such measures will discourage ethnicity–based policies and movements and strengthen unity of the country.  Devolution of power must reach down to the grassroots level and create, expand and improve a local govt system which is covered in the Constitution under Article 140A. Almost no one talks about the lack of local govt structure at the lowest tier through which the State is supposed to provide essential services to the people. The media rightly focuses on the PanamaGate or the Swiss cases, however these are remotely connected to the masses. The absence of local govts or the shams being run as “grassroots democracy” do not seem to warrant serious media attention. The implementation of the devolution of power plan of 2010 in the provinces was lacking, real devolution of power means the higher levels should give way and transfer powers to a lower level. With the system in full control of feudals, old and nouveau alike, this will never be allowed to happen.

As highlighted in the NCGR report, institutional reforms at the federal, provincial and local levels are clearly defined and overlapping avoided. The British civil service strength is the strong ethical commitment of service members, sadly this was lost. There is a need to re-install such ethical commitment into the services through training but also through a transparent system of accountability in all spheres of govt. Such accountability would not only be means to fight and prevent corruption, it will also promote effectiveness of governance and create trust in the govt. Equal treatment by the State will create feelings of equality and commitment that is the basis of democracy, unlike recent experiences with political accountability where a gap is seen between legal and moral accountability. Given our special identity, ethical aspects of governance must be grounded in general principles of Islam to bridge the gap between legal and moral rightfulness and join the two together.

Crying out for change and resolution of issues faced, today there is dismay among the people of this impoverished nation in the air with negativity, gloom and distrust assuming threatening proportions even as the nation faces challenges, some quite formidable. While accountability cannot happen overnight things seems to be changing.  The Supreme Court verdict explicitly damning Mian Nawaz Sharif for his recurring penchant for untruths and evading facts is most refreshing.   Coinciding with the Saudi Crown Prince’s onslaught against corruption, would Maryum include Saudis alongwith the superior judiciary and the Army in the “conspiracy against the Sharifs”? (the writer is a defence and security analyst).

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A FLAWED SYSTEM OF GOVERNANCE

A Muslim majority State was envisaged by its founder Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah to ensure conducive conditions for the Muslims of British-India for socio-economic, cultural and religious development. Pakistan geographically being situated at the fringes of former British-India, many of the features inherited from the British and the lack of basic infrastructure made its beginning difficult and prone to adhoc arrangements, institutions were thus weakly developed. Pakistani society remains characterized by pre-modern social structures such as castes, biradaris and tribes that rely on age-old alternative judicial institutions like jirgas or panchayats and laws about how to uphold ‘honour’. Feudal landholding regards peasants and other villagers as property of the landowner is another problem. Seventy years later the Quaid’s vision is far from being fulfilled.

The close interdependence between governance and social development brings into focus the weaknesses in governance in Pakistan and the reasons for them.  Governance refers to structures and processes designed to ensure accountability, transparency, responsiveness, rule of law, stability, equity and inclusiveness, empowerment, and broad-based participation. Apart from securing the lives and property of its citizens, a modern state provides basic amenities such as clean drinking water, electricity, health care, education, etc. Fulfilling this responsibility, the State designs and installs institutions to plan and provide them. Pakistan needs to improve both governance and its social development indicators, the gap between the modern state and govt and the pre-modern character of society makes it a problem. ‘Modern’ means a state run by an elected govt based on democratic principles with all state institutions running on those principles. The people who run the state and its institutions must be democratically-minded, with equal opportunities for all and merit the basis for job selection and promotion – not the case in Pakistan. Positive reforms in the institutional set-up would hopefully help improve governance, in view of the fast developing globalization the recommendations by Dr Ishrat Hussain-led “National Commission of Government Reform” (NCGR) must specially be implemented.

Instead of a policy devising and law-giving institution Parliament is more of a debating club, its role in decision-making process is thus limited. Parliamentary seats consisting of the feudal political elite of landowners, religious personalities and tribal leaders, the feudal and tribal character of society interferes with the spirit of the system. Feudalism and tribalism dominate the thinking of not only the technical feudals  – the big landowners – but also of industrialists (or nouveau feudals) like Mian Nawaz Sharif. His dynastical approach to power, support for clans and biradaris demonstrate the point. Apart from the Jamaat-e Islami (JI) political parties in Pakistan country are run like private estates and inner-party democracy.

Only the rich can afford an election in our electoral system. Having invested millions to get elected, they first recover the money spent  once elected and then accumulate more for the coming election. The ‘first past the post’ is the “democratic” formula devised by the feudal system to perpetuate itself, this favours the winner of the majority of votes only, not the majority in a constituency. A powerful but united minority thus invariably rules over a divided majority of the population.  With 13 million votes of the 200 million populations (6.50%), Mian Nawaz Sharif repeatedly claims an “overwhelming mandate”. With political decision-making highly centralized and personalized, minority interest groups have no chance to get representation. This system is tailor-made for strife as the various minorities compete to get ascendancy. An Constitutional amendment makes it incumbent for any elected representative of Parliament to strictly follow the dictates of the party leader in voting, making Parliament a rubberstamp both at the National and the Provincial level. This is a camouflage for dictatorship with “democratic” trappings.

The local government provided for in the Constitution under Article 140A has never materialised since Pakistan’s birth. Only at the lowest level of governance people can observe the state first-hand and identify themselves with it to solve those problems.  Gen Ayub Khan failed the first attempt through a “Basic Democracy” system, because he did not cater to improvement of services to the population but designed the basic democrats as an Electoral College which would vote for him. Similarly Ziaul Haq’s local govt system formula was intended to legitimize his rule. The best designed was Gen Musharraf’s local govt system in 2000 as it included financial self-sufficiency of the Local Bodies. The Local Bodies system is the crucible of democracy, giving power to the stakeholders at ground zero level to devise what’s best for themselves at the community level. Remarkable success was achieved under Karachi’s Mayor Mustafa Kamal. Musharraf’s system also aimed to create a new generation of politicians from poor and middle class families without any previous connection to politics to enable them to substitute traditional feudal elite in politics. Neither system survived when Musharraf fell from power. Fearful of losing the power they wield, none of the ‘democratically elected’ civilian regimes of Z.A. Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif ever tried to implement “Local Govt”. Consider the sham of “grassroots democracy” practised by the PML (N) in Punjab and Balochistan, PPP in Sindh and even PTI in KPK.

Provision of justice is a central governance demand for a State to fulfil, access to courts and to justice is not only a governance issue but also supports social development in as much as it secures contracts, provides relief in case of misconduct and gives security to the property of the people. The justice system, especially at the lower levels is slow, inefficient, expensive and corrupt,  the poor who cannot afford find it difficult to approach courts and even if they do, it usually takes a lifetime for a verdict. In other cases verdicts cannot be implemented for the lack of institutions to do so or their unwillingness to do so.

Application of laws are different for the rich and the poor but this could be changing. Consider the contents of the damning SC verdict rendered about Mian Nawaz Sharif, calling him virtually a perjurer and a liar.  Maryam Nawaz should stop flouting her wealth and beauty to test our patience by spouting untruths.  To quote the Saudi Attorney General Saud Al-Mojeb on the arrest of powerful Princes, ministers and even businessmen of untold wealth like Waleed Bin Talal in the present drive against corruption in Saudi Arabia, “a suspect’s position or status does not influence the firm and fair application of justice”. A profound observation in a moment of truth for good governance, only possible if our feudals posing as democrats are held accountable (the writer is a defence and security analyst).

 

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HYBRID WARFARE AGAINST CORRUPTION

Anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) in line with Pakistan’s action plan agreed with Financial Action Task Force (FATF), continues to be a serious problem. The Oct 31 World Economic Forum’s (WEF) “Partnering Against Corruption Initiative” (PACI) Fall Meeting in Geneva agreed that without conforming to international standards there can be no effective implementation of laws. Without adequate proof of assets and money trail it is almost impossible to prove a crime in court when our methods and tools of investigation in the emerging countries remain outdated. Developed countries, where most of the ill-gotten money/assets reside, pontificate endlessly about adhering to the “rule of law”, where is the morality of not practicing what they preach by not cooperating in implementing the laws on their own statute books? The prosecution process being weak is further compounded by our criminal investigations/indictment invariably being waylaid by political influence and/or outright bribery.

The “Panama Leaks” set off a national furore when Nawaz Sharif and his children were discovered controlling shell companies through which they own expensive residential properties in London. Essentially not illegal, offshore companies are still unethical because they are meant for tax evasion by exploiting loopholes in tax laws. Invariably meant for hiding illegal wealth, money laundering, etc it can be manipulated for illegal dealings.  Despite foot-dragging by various tax and/or asset havens in the developed world, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) mandated by the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC) managed to obtain substantial evidence. The criminal indictment subsequently brought by an Anti-corruption court on orders from a five member SC Bench and denial of the Sharif’s review petition was appreciated by PACI members as a bold move to fight corruption and the prevailing impunity of the powerful. Members recognized that the court ruling has the potential to curb to some degree the level of corruption by those untouchables who while exercising power and influence would also publicly thumb their noses at the rule of law.

PACI emphasized overcoming the difficulties or even impossibility of getting information from countries like UK in such cases, this obduracy being a sad reflection on their subscribing to rule of law. Expensive apartments in a square mile around Hyde Park in London are full of known white-collar criminals in the form of former dictators, bank defaulters, tax evaders, money-launderers, etc. This continues unabated despite former PM David Cameron’s much-hyped International London Conference in May 2016 defining ways and means to deal with corruption. Hiding the means of criminal activity is sheer hypocrisy. Once considered unthinkable, even Switzerland is now providing bank details of customers. Real-time cooperation on a fast-track and coordinated basis must use all the means and resources available. The latest available technologies are effective but can be misused if those who have responsibility of operating them are not honest. Another problem is that legal lacunae that makes a deal formally okay may be morally wrong and harmful; efforts have to be made to develop rules for holders of public positions and businesses bridging the gap between legally and ethically right action.

A one-of-its-kind global, multi-industry anti-corruption initiative, WEF’s PACI is now recognized as one of the world’s leading business forum on anti-corruption and transparency. Establishing multi-industry principles and practices will enable creating of a level and competitive playing field based on integrity and fairness. Corruption scandals are major impediments to conducting business in advanced and emerging market economies, involving significant economic and social costs.  PACI provides an exceptional and safe space for practitioners to improve their compliance efforts and share best practices at the organizational level. To this end PACI is attempting to raise business standards and contribute to a competitive, transparent, accountable and ethical business society. Privileged to be a speaker on “Re-focussing trust and integrity in a fractured world” panel facilitated by Ramya Krishnaswamy, Head of PACI, we explored ideas on what impact one could see on local security and stability in the unfolding of recent corruption scandals/efforts to tackle corruption.

“The Future of Trust and Integrity” panel facilitated by Isabel Cane, Project Lead PACI, gave an input on how to invest low levels of trust at the interface of business and institutions while maintaining confidence, stability and growth. Session III: “Catalyzing impact through Public-Private Cooperation” facilitated by Nicola Bonucci, Director for Legal Affairs, OECD addressed emerging collaborative solutions between stakeholders to design trust and integrity back into the system, while in Session IV “The next compliance frontier: integrity by design” Gemma Aiolfi, Basel Institute on Governance, discussed different stakeholders designing integrity into their respective operations. Penelope Lepeudry, Partner, Deloitte, facilitated Session V, “Anti-corruption in the 4th Industrial Revolution” which deliberated on whether disruptions generated by technological innovations could be a game-changer for anti-corruption and how to leverage these changes to improve governance and accountability. PACI has succeeded in many more multinational companies (MNCs) strengthening their “Compliance Departments,” vesting them with vast and extraordinary powers.

A powerful sitting PM being ousted from office has considerably strengthened the credibility of the superior judiciary. This investigation conveys a strong message that nobody is beyond reach of the law any more, everyone will be held accountable. The “Al Capone” Formula being applied did skirt the fail-safe line about rule of law parameters but was necessary so as not to hinder investigation. Across the broad accountability that includes the bureaucracy, judiciary and military can bring credibility to a system hounded by influence protecting criminality and corruption. The extreme necessities of national security aside, everyone should be open for detailed public scrutiny, a top-down approach first targetting those involved in big frauds.

Democracy must not camouflage crimes of those in power. In a Guardian article in April 2011, Bilal Hussain said that many countries are corrupt but at least they are competent. “Today a terrifying level of incompetence pervades the entire sphere of governance in Pakistan. Because of bribery, jobbery and nepotism, the lower ranks of our civil bureaucracy are filled with incompetent and under-educated people.” Add to that the private sector, in a recent “Night of the Long Knives” a whole bunch of mostly inefficient associates of a white-collar criminal were forced to resign from a renowned financial entity.

Remaining hostage to inept and corrupt rulers and their cronies is not an option anymore. For anti-corruption measures to succeed, re-focussing PACI’s “trust and integrity” has to be connected with character building. Fighting corruption we must use all our resources combined, civil and military by cooperating universally in a corporate version of a “hybrid war” against corruption (the writer is a defence and security analyst).

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LETTING A 100 DAMS BLOOM

For a country blessed with many rivers, the perennial scarcity of water in Pakistan is because of the shortage of storage capacity. While problematic presently, a full blown crisis is not so far in the distant future. While all provinces face shortages of water, Balochistan stands out as the most affected. This looming disaster can be overcome by (1) conserving water and maximizing its effect (2) eliminating, or at least minimizing wastage and (3) apportioning it judiciously on a need-to-have basis.

The little sources of water aside, scanty rainfall in land and resource-rich Balochistan is a harsh and permanent feature. Monsoon rainfall averages less than 200 mm annually, the western parts receiving less than 50mm.  Eking out a precarious existence in a badly flawed feudal system, water deprivation adds to the complicating factors feeding militancy.  Severe drought and man-made famine adding to the population’s deep-rooted necessity in some areas is because of the govts failure to (1) preserve rain and (2) decreasing groundwater levels caused by deep well pumping. Dr Ainuddin, chairperson of the Disaster Management Department at the University of Balochistan says that “Noshki, Chaghi, Kharan and Makran, among other areas, are more prone to drought, and it has affected land, water resources, water, wildlife and plants.” The Federal Govt (and even the media) appear not interested even in discussing the problem for solutions. Less than 15% of the population has access to clean free, running water. Alarmingly, Quetta is facing a perilous situation with the water level decreasing three-and-a-half feet every year, the average groundwater level being just 180 feet. Despite being banned deep-dug tube wells numbers exceed 2000, of which only 450 are registered, this is a major factor behind the dropping water level.

Balochistan wasteland comprises of mountainous ranges and deserts in Chagai, Kharan, Mekran coastal region, Lasbela and Marri – Bugti tribal areas. Spread over an area of about 347,000 sq km the land mass is around 43% of Pakistan, why have our planners never seriously wanted to exploit more than 20 million acres of highly fertile land for cultivation and production of crops every year? Owning arable land is the ultimate dream of the human being, the poor downtrodden population of Balochistan can really benefit by becoming truly self-sufficient. Balochistan’s irrigation system is in bad shape, the centuries-old traditional irrigation systems, including Karez (underground water channel linked with open well system) have become dysfunctional owing to depleting groundwater resources.  Concerted efforts must be made to tame the floods, build water storage facilities and construct dams, even small ones on a priority basis. The once mega irrigation infrastructure — especially the dams damaged by the floods of 2010 – remains in shambles. The ‘100-dams’ project of the Federal Govt was greatly publicized and accommodated in the Federal PSDP 2007-08, has hit bureaucratic snags.

Specialists and experts are of the view that dams are the only solution to the growing threat of water shortage, drought and famine.  Only a handful has been built by successive provincial govts over the years. Consequently, a large amount of water goes to waste while the people thirst and even die for want of this precious commodity. According to the Agriculture Dept of Balochistan, “8.57 bn cubic metres of water out of 10.69 bn cubic metres (almost 80%) is being wasted every year because of the lack of dams. Lack of infrastructure renders water coming from the mighty Indus of little use”, warning that “if this misuse of water continues, the population might have to migrate in near future”.

A model exists next door, Iranian Balochistan solved its water shortage problem by investing in developing water resources, this included building dams. Iran could thus launch its Chahbahar Port and adjoining areas where an industrial complex is being developed. Even Gwadar Port city, the focus of CPEC, faces severe shortage of water, even for drinking and domestic use. Prospects for building dams and water storage facilities in Balochistan are very favourable but after Mirani Dam no new dams or water storage facilities were constructed. Proven to be a failure, funds spent on small check dams is being wasted.  The Kachhi Canal taken up during the Musharraf regime would have irrigated more than 0.7 million acres of land in the Kachhi and Sibi Plains when completed but WAPDA is yet to complete the first phase of Kachhi Canal, with construction delayed for more than a quarter of century, it will now cost twenty times more, more or less true of all other water-management projects delayed for no apparent reason but sheer apathy and neglect.

Successive Federal and Provincial govts have remained indifferent to this matter of life and death.  The residents of the small coastal town of Pasni faced acute water shortage for over half a century, however once a small dam was built on Shadi Kuar River, the first rains filled its catchment with more than 40,000 acre-feet of water. Similar was the case with the Akra Kaur Dam and Saiji Dam near Gwadar, both adjacent townships are now self-sufficient in drinking water.  What the coastline needs are several desalination plants, compare the capital and recurring costs to catchment dams!

The last major dam built in 2002 is the medium-size multi-purpose Mirani Dam located on the Dasht River in Kech District, this also recharges hundreds of major Karez and wells upstream. Supposed to irrigate up to 33,200 acres of land but only a fraction land is being irrigated and developed. WAPDA has recently started making efforts to start work on four dams i.e. Naulong, Hingo, Badinzai and Sukliji. While construction work on Naulong dam would be initiated soon as funding options are thrashed out with Asian Development Bank (ADB), the other three dams were in the planning stages and PC-IIs were awaiting approval from Planning Commission.

CPEC will open up new avenues of economic development for Balochistan. The estimated $7.1 billion initial investments in energy, transport, development of Gwadar city and port notwithstanding, it is vital that not only more dams are constructed on a fast-track basis but Gwadar, Pasni and Ormara must have desalination plants, possibly powered by wind turbines and solar projects.  CPEC must not be confined to power projects and road/rail infra-structure, a minimum of 10-12 more dams must be built on a crash basis. The world has stopped building big dams, one can only ignore the province’s potential at the cost of Pakistan’s future.  Either we let a 100 dams bloom in Balochistan or we damn its population to water scarcity and starvation (the writer is a defence and security analyst).

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THE BALOCHISTAN DISCONNECT

On the evening of Oct 22, 2017 as I was entering Quetta Club with a CPNE delegation for a dinner hosted by the Speaker of the Balochistan Provincial Assembly Ms Rahila Durrani, my son Zarrar sent me a whatsapp snapshot of my three grandchildren in Halloween costumes from New York. By some odd coincidence fully 65 years earlier (1952) my late sister Shahnaz (than all of 3 years old) and I went to a “Fancy Dress Party” in Quetta Club.  The many security checks of a “Fortress” on the way to the Club contrasted hugely with Mrs Mahmud Jan, Mrs Irani, Mrs Leslie, my mother and others (all of whose husbands were doing Command & Staff College) riding bicycles going to and fro from Quetta Club to play tennis and squash.  Doing my “Weapons and Tactics Course” in 1967 I was privileged to be invited to lunch on Sundays by Brig Mahmud Jan, Commandant Infantry School and Brig SJB Irani, Comd Quetta Log area.

Memories flashed back to subjecting my wife Karachi girl Shahnaz in 1973 to Hut 7/4 without running water situated close to “Seven Streams” facing Coolie Camp and Murdar Pahar. My CO Lt Col (later Brig) Taj, SJ & Bar had decided Maj Shamshad and I, both married a few months earlier, deserved a honeymoon prior to 44 Punjab (now 4 Sindh) going into counter-insurgency operations against the Marris a few months later at the specific request of Governor Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti to the PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.  On a text book “advance and encounter battle” (if you please) we kicked off from Sibi, one of the hottest places on earth on the hottest day of the year, ordered to do so with our helmets on!  46 Baloch suffered several dead (and dozens hospitalized) due to heatstroke. Nothing happened to the Brigade Comd who threatened my CO with court martial because he had instructed us to put as helmets in the vehicles, he went on to make a major general. Those were the days, my friend!

The dinner session with the Speaker of the Provincial Assembly, Ms Rahila Durrani, was a pleasant surprise, to start with a female in a male-dominated Baloch society is a novelty. Ms Durrani recounted how she rose from being junior reporter with an Urdu daily against the wishes of her family to practicing law to earn her living before eventually entering politics.  The consensus among a hand-bitten CPNE lot about this genuine Baloch original was positive, her black belt in Karate notwithstanding.  Surprising why she is not more exposed to the world to portray Pakistan’s soft image.

The journey to Hanna Lake, which unfortunately we did not get to see, was nevertheless nostalgic.  While our fathers were on the faculty of the Command & Staff College in 1955, Minhaj Ali Khan (son of Brig Zafar Ali Khan, HJ), Shahid Amjad and Rashid Amjad (sons of Brig Amjad Chaudhry, HJ) Dereck Mufti (son of the Staff College Librarian Mrs Mufti) and myself often walked all the way there.  Hosting lunch for the CPNE delegates in the CM’s Rest House, the present CM Nawab Sanaullah Khan Zehri was clearly hands on.   A feudal and a politician, one cannot doubt he means well but whether his good intentions really gets executed is a question that can only be confirmed by improvements in the prevailing Balochistan political and economic environment made better by an intensive and sustained security effort by the Army and the Frontier Corps (FC).

At a tea reception in the Serena hosted by Anwar ul-Haq Kakar, Spokesperson of the Chief Minister Balochistan, this was knowledgeable and articulate vociferously counting the achievements of the govt.  He attributed the improvement in the “security situation” to the political will cementing the close civil-military liaison making it happen.  Speaking about the mineral riches of the Provinces, he mentioned the possible revival of the Reko Diq project.  One of his suggestions struck a chord Balochistan representative in the National Assembly (NA) must increase 2-3 fold devised by a formula where both land size and population are taken into account. Since census has taken place, this could be a priority in the delineation. As for as the Naraz (Angry) elements in self-exile, they were most welcome to come back and hold a dialogue but that there would be no compromise in their recognizing Pakistan as their state and the sanctity of the Pakistan Constitution.  CPNE delegates who met Dr. Abdul Malek and Hasil Bizenjo said that they did not seen so hopeful, Home Minister Safaraz Bugti was similarly non-compromising as Kakar with respect to the militants, saying the security situation was now firmly under control. He dismissed the threat to the hawkers by the militants not to deliver newspapers.   The Governor Balochistan Mahammad Khan Durrani is a very nice old man and a gracious host. Unfortunately he did not know any one of the Baloch media persons present.    Not his fault, if he is kept isolated in the ivory tower of the Governor House, disconnected from the Balochistan population, his views will be coloured by what is fed to him by his staff.

Balochistan has been the target of “Hybrid Warfare” for decades the actors and objective as well as, the nature of the enemy has changed with time, only India’s hostility has remained constant.   Kulbhushan Yadav’s only emphasizes the extra push behind the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) factor from the last 3-4 years.  With CPEC having the potential of changing Balochistan’ s destiny (and with its success Pakistan’s) India, alongwith its erstwhile ally the Afghan Govt, has gone into overdrive to somehow stop the CPEC from happening.

The militants are clearly in disarray because of concerted and successful counter-insurgency operations backed with socio-economic initiatives targeting the common man’s betterment, obviously they want this information not to reach the masses.  Unfortunately rumours and innuendos can replace facts in a vacuum.  The last desperate measure of a “hybrid warfare” mode to stop the flow of information is being attempted by stopping the hawkers from delivering the newspapers.   Remember what happened when Brig Siddiqi of ISPR rounded up all foreign journalists in Dhaka after the 1971 Mar 25 crackdown and packed than off to Karachi?  Other than the animosity generated in the resulting vacuum, facts were embellished and exaggerated into fiction to Pakistan’s detriment, lies became history.

Even though the threat emanated a few days ago, by no mean coincidence it came to a head when the CPNE Executive Committee came for their Session. The RAW-assisted move to hamper the delivering of newspapers throughout the Province must be frustrated by whatever means possible.  One can understand the hawkers being worried about their and their family’s safety, however to give in to the demands would be catastrophic. While the owners of the print media platforms are understandably anxious, blackmail of such kind is  an essential terrorist weapon, to allow this would destroy all the gains made in not only the battleground but even partially in the socio-economic field.  The reaction of Provincial authorities gave the feeling about them not really being concerned, maybe they knew something we didn’t.   One would have been much more confident about the situation if given some briefing from the security overlords in the Province, military, semi-military and police.  Since for some unknown reason this did not happen, CPNE delegates then each made his/her own assessment because of the apparent “fortress mentality” clearly visible in Quetta.

While all the portents of returning to peace are clearly present, because of security restrictions one does get an odd feeling of “déjà vu”.  Massive political and economic initiatives, which includes construction of dozens of small dams to create agriculture opportunities, are still required to correct the prevailing “Balochistan disconnect” (the writer is a defence and security analyst).

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BANK FAILURE NOT AN OPTION

Over the years many highly developed economies with sophisticated markets and long functioning banking systems have faced significant banking crises or banking failures. The role of Central Banks is critical in not only preventing and/or pre-empting failures but acting to resolve matters should the bank fails.  On the macro level banking failures can result in cyclical recessions and could also trigger a financial crisis.  Securing depositors’ interest ensures that bank’s failure does not lead to “domino effect” resulting in systemic failure, “run” on financial institutions can have horrendous consequences for their country’s economies. Tremendous economic pressures has been force-multiplied by Pakistan being in a state of war for four decades, how has Pakistan’s banking sector managed to be so resilient?

Very few give credit to the competence and integrity of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). Under SBP Act 1956 and BCO 1962, SBP has been doing its duty diligently to (a) protect depositors interest (b) regulate the monetary and credit system (c) systematically monitor performance of banking companies and (d) secure their proper management. SBP has maintained its statutory responsibility under law to (a) license commercial banks (b) prescribe capital requirements (c) carry out fitness test and propriety of sponsor shareholders (d) appoint/remove/supersede/suspend Board and Management (e) resolve problem banks (f) grant of loans /finances to banks and (g) act as lender of last resort (SBP Act 1956). Safeguarding the public interest the SBP has not allowed any bank to fail despite the glaring inadequacies of its sponsors and gross mismanagement.  Warding against possible bank failure forces SBP to take regulatory options including (1) liquidation through cancellation of banking license (2) merging with another financial institution or (3) intervening for reviving the institution.

According to SBP, irregularities in the defunct KASB Bank included serious mismanagement, the sponsors’ and management’s self-serving practices causing considerable erosion in the bank’s capital, asset quality and its earning capacity. The persistent losses eroded the bank’s equity significantly, much below the regulatory Minimum Capital Requirement (MCR) and Capital Adequacy Ratio (CAR). As of Sept 30, 2014 KASB’s reported paid up capital  (free of losses) of Rs. 0.958 billion and CAR 4.63% were negative as against the required level of Rs. 10 billion and 10% respectively. Warning them repeatedly of the consequences SBP exhorted the sponsors without success to inject fresh capital in the bank or present a workable restructuring/merger plan of the bank.

With 150,000 depositors worth more than Rs. 60 billion and stability of the whole financial system at risk, the Federal Government acceded to SBP’s request to impose moratorium on the Bank under Section 47 of BCO 1962 for a period of six months on November 14, 2014 and directed SBP to prepare a reconstruction/amalgamation scheme in accordance with the law. Depositors were allowed to withdraw up to Rs 300,000/- per account during the period of moratorium.

The possible options included (a) liquidation (b) merging the bank with another and (c) reconstruction. Due to its adverse impact on the bank’s depositors and the industry at large, the option of liquidation was not considered appropriate for KASB. Reconstruction with the existing sponsors, whose act was detrimental to the depositor’s interest, was not considered, therefore SBP analyzed Option (b) only. An independent valuator M/s A.F. Ferguson determined a huge negative gap in the assets and liabilities (Rs -5.2 billion). Four banks viz. Askari Bank, JS Bank, Sindh Bank and Bank Islami expressed their interest to carry out due diligence of the defunct KASB bank. Internationally renowned firms engaged to carry out due diligence indicated a possible loss in excess of Rs. 10 billion in addition to the shortfall in capital requirements. JS Bank and Askari Bank backed out stating that they could not sustain the drag of KASB bank’s losses. Sindh Bank asked for a huge grant and liquidity support. Only Bank Islami (BIPL) persisted in negotiations with the SBP.

Cybernaut Investment Group (CIG) was brought in by the former sponsors of KASB in Feb/March 2015 i.e. after three months of the moratorium. The Chinese investor requested for due diligence approval but CIG could neither submit relevant information/documents to establish their credentials nor come up with a plausible capital injection plan, putting the credibility of the Chinese investor in doubt.

With the bank unstable, timely completion of the scheme of reconstruction or amalgamation within the moratorium order for six months was critical. To frustrate the resolution the former sponsors of KASB tried all delaying tactics. Filing a writ petition against SBP and others in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) they subsequently unconditionally withdrew this. Another Writ Petition filed at IHC challenging SBP’s action and to process the transaction under Section 48 of BCO 1962 was dismissed by IHC on 5 May 2015.  The Federal Govt sanctioned amalgamation of KASB Bank with Bank Islami with immediate effect vide sanction order dated 7th May 2015 under Section 47(8) of the BCO, 1962. A nominal value of Rs 1000 was based on international practices, e.g. a) Banco Popular sold to Santander for 1 Euro in Spain(b) Baring Bank sold at 1 pound to ING group(c) Lehman Brothers Asia Pacific taken over by Nomura Holdings for US$2 and (d) Northern Rock by the UK government without any consideration.

SBP provided support to ensure Bank Islami would not only inherit KASB Bank’s distress but the plausible liquidity stress due to withdrawal of deposits after lifting of the moratorium could be managed effectively.  Bank Islami went in crisis after merger it could have further dampened market confidence in banking, to restore confidence in the market SBP’s support was essential. The Assets/Liability gap resulting from the merger had to be bridged effectively. Protecting the depositor’s interest has several precedents of SBP providing facilities to various banks, SBP’s financial support to Bank Islami which was paid off, was not a one-off case. Calling some banks “too big to fail” international regulators have rescued banks and thus by default the entire financial sector, this included the US govt financial sector US$ 700 billion rescue plan in 2008 to bail out 13 financial US institutions and the UK £ 400 billion rescue plan by Britain in 2008.

A Central Bank is only as good as the authority its personnel exercises with competence, honesty and integrity.  Facing multiple crisis at any one time, mostly of the man-made kind, Pakistan is fortunate in having outstanding human capital in SBP who keep Pakistan’s financial institutions rock solid. Facing threats, intimidation, coercion and even blackmail, etc, SBP’s unsung heroes truly deserve a medal (the writer is a defence and security analyst).

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DOOMSDAY POLITICS

Disqualified as Prime Minister (PM) by the Supreme Court (SC) on July 28, Nawaz Sharif was forced to relinquish his position as President of PML-N. On Monday, Oct 2, 2017 the Constitution of Pakistan was made mockery of by “Election Act 2017”, an Amendment in contradiction of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. Tailor-made for one individual this allowed any person disqualified from holding public office to lead political parties, no surprise Nawaz was promptly elected President PML(N) “unopposed”. Despite parliamentary debate on electoral reforms for a number of years, changing the party’s Constitution now post-haste to accommodate Nawaz’s re-election shows personal motivation, the PML(N) is not a political party but a family fiefdom.

A number of eminent lawyers in Pakistan hold that a legislation passed by the two Houses of Parliament would not constitute contempt of the unanimous verdict/ratio of the judgement of the Honourable Supreme Court (SC) in what is commonly called “PanamaGate”. The parameters of the three pillars of the Constitution being Legislature, Executive and Judiciary, functioning and powers are laid down in various relevant Articles to act and perform their respective stipulated duties and obligations in their respective domains.  In particular those of the Executive and the Legislature passing such laws are prima facie not violative of the Fundamental Rights and Human Rights enshrined in the Constitution. Coupled with Articles 4, 5(2), 2(a) 37 and 38 of the Constitution, the superior courts of Pakistan have also laid down the same principle.  Even than civilized logic demands that any laws enacted must have sincere intent and motive, would be good of the entire people and not one single individual. Can Parliament pass laws that protect the corrupt from facing accountability? Tailored to “democratic” whims for a cover up of corruption, money-laundering, perjury, forgery, etc, passing this Nawaz-specific Amendment may or may not be contempt of court, it shows utter contempt for the people of Pakistan.

Indicative of a mindset totally devoid of reality, some party faithful hailed this “Doomsday politics” as a ‘historic day for democracy in Pakistan’. In reality, given the extraordinary evidence collected by the Joint Investigating Team (JIT), Nawaz, his siblings and son-in-law will go to jail. One does not believe the superior judiciary will succumb to the across the board subjective abuse, threats and blackmail of the worst kind, Maryam can keep on “twittering” as much as she wants, faking the news (and then leaking it through the social media) is not going to work.  While this controversial amendment is Nawaz-specific, known extremists and criminals such as Uzair Baloch, Gullu Butt and others condemned by a court of law can now head political parties, with potentially disastrous consequences for the fabric of the nation.  Given Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, etc, this amendment can potentially foment civil strife as is happening in many muslim countries, throwing the country into anarchy. That will only lead, despite all the misgivings of the men in uniform, to an unnecessary “measure of last resort”. What good will we all do holding the Constitution aloft while the country goes up in flames?

Boasting democratic credentials and espousing commitment to the democratic ideals notwithstanding, the passage of the PML (N)-sponsored law negates every democratic principle. A weak Opposition could only “engage in cosmetic protest” (according to PPP’s Khursheed Shah) against the Bills. the pathetic figurehead of a President almost fell over himself rubber-stamping the legislation with remarkable alacrity.

With his review petition rejected unanimously by the SC, Nawaz Sharif and his party men went on a warpath, crossing all Constitutional bounds publicly heaping verbal abuse upon the judges and members of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), mixing facts with fiction not only defying but defiling their good name and stature, threatening them with dire consequences. We have seen the Sharif men attacking the SC physically in 1998. This behaviour confirms that rule of law has no meaning for them. A belligerent Nawaz failed to mobilize the people into the streets. Nawaz’s anguished cry of “Mujhe que nikala? (why was I ousted?), conveniently forgets his own active role in removing PM Benazir Bhutto on two separate occasions and then getting PM Yousuf Raza Gilani disqualified in 2012. Instead of legally rebutting the charges of money-laundering, tax evasion, perjury, forgery, etc, trying to divert public opinion by going off on a totally political tangent will not work.

The PML(N) has been hinting at conspiracy theories whose exact nature and character remain unclear. Despite their innuendos and best efforts, the PML (N) could not trace any military fingerprints in Nawaz’s ouster as PM in the PanamaGate affair. Fortunate to have survived the 2013 election rigging case and the “Dawn Leaks” scandal, the former PM remains intent on baiting the Army. His deep-rooted dislike represents an inherent inferiority complex, this psychological mental roadblock manifest because he entered politics on the Army’s sponsorship. Compared to Zardari who owes his political standing to the “murder by proxy” of Ms Benazir, Nawaz comes across as a decent, human being.  Maryam’s ambitions a la Benazir are hell-bent on making him act way out of character as an ogre for his daughter’s sake.

Coupled with Maryam-type provocations the Amendment is a giant step for “doomsday politics” and could well lead to a D-Day. The despicable speech Safdar made in the NA against the Ahmadis confirms Nawaz fully deserves his son-in-law.  Keeping his cool Gen Qamar Bajwa has kept his rank and file, rendering tremendous sacrifices in the war on terror on a daily basis, in line even when made unsuccessful efforts were rumoured to erode the discipline of the military hierarchy. Two very significant three-star postings serves as a clear and unambiguous warning to Sharif’s loyalists. Should our soldiers keep dying to protect the corrupt?  The DG ISPR dismissed any possibility of a martial law, “friction between army and civilian authorities, should not even be talked about”. Despite the Army’s “silence” the PML(N) tried to provoke something out of nothing.

A petition challenging the PML(N) “victory” Election Act 2017 as unlawful, unconstitutional, of no legal effect has been filed in the SC, praying the annulling of Nawaz’s re-election. To its credit the Senate has passed a resolution against a disqualified person heading a political party. We want to see a nation free from the clutches of the corrupt and greedy. If the Honorable SC judges stand their ground in spite of being subjected to “Kautilya’s Arthashastra-type” attacks, they will truly provide the light at the end of the tunnel the people of Pakistan so fervently aspire for (the writer is a defence and security analyst).

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FAKING NEWS TO WIN

Disinformation and propaganda for achieving one’s ends by foul means is not a new phenomena. Around 320 BC Kautilya’s Arthashastra annunciated this as a state policy, in a recent times, the Pakistan Army and the ISI have borne the brunt of those lies. Perpetrators of fake news have financial, ideological or political motives. Posing a greater threat of international geopolitical concern in the age of internet, social media fake news generated by Russian outlets during the 2016 US presidential elections reportedly resulted in President Trump’s victory. Professor of Political Science Simon Hegelich of the Technical University of Munich recalls that in November 2016 the German Chancellor Angela Markel called “to know what the hell is going on.”

The post-mortem of Clinton’s loss was full of buzzwords, the manipulation of voter sentiment, filter bubbles, bots, fake news, disinformation, etc. Automated algorithms known as bots help false reports go viral much faster than politicians or fact-checkers can debunk them. A shadowy Saint Petersburg-based Russian forum called the “Internet Research Agency” purchased over 3000 divisive ads in Facebook in September 2017 for stoking and amplifying US social issues such as racism and gun control.  The claims are in sync with Russia somehow hijacking the elections.

The current “post-truth” era “appeals to emotion and personal belief being far more influential in shaping public opinion than objective facts.” Objective reporting is not consistent with this worldview, only the spin of competing perspectives is.  Establishing “alternative facts” through the use of “fake news” has made “Psychological Operations” (psyops) against the adversary more sophisticated. Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) and Artificial Intelligence (A.I) makes it possible to generate and spread fake videos by synthesizing people’s facial expressions, resulting in widespread deception before such reports can be debunked by forensic analysis or denial from the primary source. Looking real, those videos would take hours if not days, for forensic analysis to show it as fake, by then its impact would be almost irreversible. According to Hegelich, casting a trace of doubt over everything would undermine democracy and would be mission accomplished.

Anonymous hackers can steal the secrets of virtually any politician, social media platforms have dramatically changed the previous media technologies. An Internet connection is all that’s needed to command an audience of millions. Most content generated on social media has no “gate keeper” i.e. unlike a credible journalist outlet; content can be communicated with no substantial fact checking or journalistic decree. Admitting the company’s role in fake news impacting the US Presidential elections, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg initiated counter measures to protect election integrity but cautioned that “identifying the ‘truth’ is complicated. Because of internet connections the tools of political interference have progressed enough to threaten world democracies. With the news market relatively low in Social media platforms, fake news articles generate a substantial advertising income when the social media users click or access the original site. Social media doesn’t bound the fake news producers to any consequences or affect their long term repute.

Post-truth “alternative facts” and lies can have a destabilizing effect on domestic and international politics. With literacy rate low people in South Asia are particularly vulnerable, they tend to easily believe what they see and hear. Right-wing extremists in India such as BJP use fake stories to target minorities and exploit religious differences. India is now Facebook and Whatsapp’s biggest consumer base. Indian mainstream media has incredibly low journalistic standards, major news sources often broadcast fake news without verifying. Facebook is running full page ads in Indian newspapers attempting to spread awareness about how to spot fake news. Rumoured to be behind the “Dawn Leaks,” former PM Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz was running her social media team Strategic Media Communication Cell (SMCC) from the PM’s House, targetting political rivals and countering anything against the former PM.

False content in Facebook and/or Whatsapp is difficult to track down or counter effectively. After the brutal lynching of Mashal Khan, fake profiles on Facebook were created to attribute blasphemous content to the murdered individual to justify his killing. One should introduce a fact-checking curriculum in schools to make students more aware of their sources of information but that will take years to have an impact, fake news technology in the meantime will continue to advance and flourish.

Spreading fake news can have destabilizing effects on society, governance, domestic and international politics, democracies are threatened by the manipulation of public opinion. Low journalistic standards make it difficult for the media to play a positive role for democracy in an enabling environment with mechanisms allowing accountability. Countering this collateral damage coordination is necessary to enhance cyber-security to fight the “disinformation warfare. Improved technological tools for fact-checking, and stronger action by governments and educated individuals are vital steps needed.”  Developing new ways to identify and remove fake accounts, algorithms can ferret out fake content and isolate unauthentic material. Having a responsibility to pro-actively promote fact-based narratives to counter misinformation campaigns, govts must not themselves become party to this negative media campaign.

Planting fake stories about individuals and entities is nothing new for intelligence agencies, in this mode of “hybrid warfare” they require tools to counter fake stories. With German intelligence agencies overhauling their cyber-capabilities to better protect their cyber-systems against hacker attacks, the European Union (EU) has a devoted “East Stratcom” for countering subversion. For combatting hybrid warfare the British have re-connected the “Chindits” unit called “Brigade 77”. One is hoping that the ISI, MI and IB are similarly engaged in supercession to their penchant of pursuing personal vendettas.

Holding that “false news is a threat to our culture of debate,” Justice Minister Heiko Maas processed a law through the German Parliament that will impose fines of upto $50 million on Facebook and other social media companies that do not promptly remove “illegal content,” a term used to target everything from hate speech and pornography to malicious propaganda. The “Network Enforcement Act” aims to regulate social media with an unprecedented rigor. “There should be just as little tolerance for criminal rabble rousing on social networks as on the street,” Maas said, “the tools of sabotage have advanced enough to threaten democracies. If there are new ways to manipulate public opinion, then we will see a new type of democracy. It’s really important that we make our electoral decisions on the basis of facts and not lies.”

Both Institutions and individuals have a responsibility to not trust or spread disinformation, and identify primary sources. Should we become a criminal state in the name of democracy?  (the writer is a security and defence analyst).

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