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Rohingya crisis: Myanmar jails Reuters reporters for 7 years for breaching state secrets law

Two Reuters journalists accused of ,breaching Myanmar’s state secrets law, during their reporting of a massacre of Rohingya Muslims were jailed for seven years on Monday, drawing outrage over the attack on media freedom and calls for their immediate release.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who have been held in Yangon’s Insein prison since their arrest in December, were charged with violating the Official Secrets Act, a draconian British colonial-era law which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.

The case has sparked an outcry among the international community as an attempt to muzzle reporting on last year’s crackdown by Myanmar’s security forces on the Muslim Rohingya minority in Rakhine state.

The army-led “clearance operations” drove 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh, carrying with them widespread accounts of atrocities — rape, murder and arson — by Myanmar security forces.

The reporters denied the charges, insisting they were set up while exposing the extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine village of Inn Din in September last year.

They said they were arrested after being invited to dinner by police in Yangon who handed them documents. As they left the restaurant, the pair were detained for possessing classified material.

Judge Ye Lwin was unmoved by their testimony. “It is found that the culprits intended to harm the interests of the state. And so they have been found guilty under the state secrets act,” he told the packed Yangon court.

“They are sentenced to seven years in prison each.”

As they were led to the waiting prison van the handcuffed duo, both Myanmar nationals, gave brief but emotional statements on the court steps.

“The government can detain us in the prison but… don’t close the ears and eyes of the people,” Kyaw Soe Oo said.

Wa Lone who gave a defiant “thumbs up” to the masssed ranks of reporters, said “we will face it (the verdict) with stability and courage.”

‘Crimes against humanity’

Defence lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said that an appeal would be lodged “as soon as possible” against the verdict which Reuters denounced as based on “false charges”.

“Today is a sad day for Myanmar… and the press everywhere,” Stephen J.

Adler, Reuters Editor-in-Chief, said in a statement, adding that the outcome was “designed to silence their reporting and intimidate the press”.

The army has published its version of events at Inn Din village, conceding the Rohingya men were killed while in custody but saying it was a one-off act of abuse by a mix of security forces and ethnic Rakhine locals.

Monday’s ruling comes a week after the release of an explosive United Nations-led study into abuses in Rakhine, accusing Myanmar’s army chief of heading up a campaign of “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” against the Rohingya.

It also strongly criticised de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi for failing to use moral authority to stand up for the stateless minority.

The same day, Facebook pulled down the pages of Myanmar’s army chief Min Aung Hlaing and other military top brass, in what the company said was a bid to prevent them from further fanning “ethnic and religious tensions”.

As calls for Myanmar’s military leaders to face an international tribunal mount, they have remained defiant, insisting last year’s crackdown was a proportionate response to attacks by Rohingya militants.

Suu Kyi’s reputation as a defender of human rights has been eviscerated by her refusal to speak out against the military for its handling of the Rohingya crisis or in support of the jailed reporters.

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by PAK NEWS - September 3, 2018 at 8:25 am

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Cabinet forms six bodies to execute reforms agenda

ISLAMABAD: In a move to implement ,its 100-day plan of ‘change’,, the federal cabinet on Tuesday set up six committees to introduce reforms in different sectors and to carve out a new province from Punjab, besides appointing the Intelligence Bureau (IB) director general and the head of National Counterterrorism Authority (Nacta).

The cabinet meeting, which was chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, also decided to expedite the process of the merger of the erstwhile Federally Admin­istered Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

The cabinet decided to appoint Nacta chairman Dr Mohammad Suleman Khan (a grade-22 officer of the police service) as IB director general, while commandant of the National Police Academy Mehr Khaliq Dad Lak, also a grade 22 officer, has been appointed as Nacta chairman in his place.

Forming a task force for the creation of a new province, the government decided to hold negotiations with two major opposition parties — Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — in an attempt to seek the support of a two-thirds majority in the national and Punjab assemblies for necessary legislation in this regard.

While briefing the media about the decisions taken at the cabinet meeting, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the task force for the new province in southern Punjab would have Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Federal Minister for Planning Khusro Bakhtiyar as its members. “Both Mr Qureshi and Mr Bakhtiyar will soon meet leaders of N-League and the PPP to seek their support for the passage of legislation required for the creation of the new province.”

New Nacta, IB chiefs appointed; two ministers to seek PPP, PML-N support for a new province

Mr Chaudhry said the creation of a new province was part of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf manifesto. He added that the task force was formed to seek recommendations how significant progress could be achieved during the first 100 days of the PTI-led coalition government.

Another task force was formed on National Accountability Bureau (NAB) law reforms with main focus to retrieve national wealth laundered to other countries. Another task force constituted on Criminal Procedure Code reforms was asked to give its recommendations within 90 days to address the problems being faced by anti-terrorism courts.

Other task forces were set up for introducing austerity measures, reforms in civil services /federal government restructuring, civil laws and the health sector.

One of the important decisions made in the meeting was that the government would not remove any official working on a contractual basis.

The information minister said the prime minister would review performance of the task forces every fortnight.

Regarding China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the minister said that Minister for Planning Khusro Bakhtiyar would soon give a detailed briefing to the prime minister on CPEC projects.

About providing jobs to 10 million people, the minister said the government would not induct 10m people in its departments but would create opportunities where eligible people could apply. He said the government’s adviser for austerity would oversee reforms in the planning department and also make reforms in Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP).

Mr Chaudhry said Law Minister Farogh Nasim would work on NAB laws to suggest amendments to make the bureau more effective. He said necessary amendments would also be made to civil laws to address women inheritance issues and delay in decision of cases.

About a task force to retrieve laundered money from off-shore banks, the minister said NAB prosecutor Shahzad Akbar was heading the task force.

“Mr Akbar has recently visit London and met concerned British officials to get details properties and assets made by Pakistanis there. He will present its report to the prime minister within two weeks,” he disclosed.

The minister said Arbab Shehzad had been assigned the task of early materialisation of Fata’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

He said the government would launch a countrywide tree plantation campaign on Sept 2.

PTI govt, army relations

Responding to a question about PTI-led government’s relation with the army, Mr Chuadhry said both were on the same page. “They are not only on the same page but in the same book,” he said in a lighter vein.

The information minister believed that the newly appointed Nacta chairman, Mehr Khaliq Dad Lak, would make the authority a more vibrant and effective organisation.

Adviser to prime minister on climate change Amin Aslam said a total of 192 different points would be established in the country, where saplings would be given to the people free of cost for plantation. “The prime minister will initiate this project here in Islamabad, while the chief ministers will lead the campaign in their respective provinces,” he explained.

In this regard, he said, the provincial governments had been invited to discuss their targets with the Centre.

The adviser said plants pick-up points would be identified through a Facebook page that was being created. “The page will tell people that from where they can collect plants,” he added.

Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2018

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by PAK NEWS - August 29, 2018 at 8:25 am

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Federal cabinet discusses creating 10m job opportunities, building 5m houses

The federal cabinet met on Tuesday under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad where it discussed the formation of task forces to tackle the matter of creating 10 million jobs and building 5 million houses, as promised by the incumbent government in its 100-day plan.

The meeting also reviewed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the prime minister will soon be given a detailed presentation on the various CPEC projects, ,Radio Pakistan, reported.

Later, briefing media persons about the decisions taken during the cabinet meeting, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the task forces will complete their working on the matters and present their plan in 90-days’ time.

“The prime minister will also review the performance of these task forces after every 15 days,” Chaudhry said.

Answering a question about how more jobs will be created, Chaudhry said the government will not employ unnecessary help in its own departments, “that is not how you create jobs, our task is to create opportunities where eligible people can apply, that is what the task force is working on.”

Reformation of laws

“Government reforms are an important matter and under which civil service reforms hold a high degree of importance. Our adviser for austerity has been tasked with presenting federal government reforms within 90 days,” the minister said.

“He will also be overseeing reforms in the planning department. A large amount of money goes into Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for which he [the austerity adviser] will be bringing in reforms,” he added.

The minister also said that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) laws will be amended to make the body more effective and that Law Minister Farogh Nasim will work on this matter.

“Necessary amendments will also be introduced in civil laws to address women inheritance issues and delay in decision of cases,” he added.

Plan for south Punjab province and integration of Fata

The cabinet also touched upon the matter of forming a separate province in southern Punjab, Chaudhry said. “PTI government will hold talks with the PPP, PML-N and other parties to draft a ‘workable plan’ for the creation of a province in south Punjab,” Chaudhry told the media.

“Creating a province is no small task. We will need consensus and a two-thirds majority for which we will begin talks with the PPP and PML-N,” the information minister maintained.

He also said that Arbab Shehzad has been assigned the task of early materialisation of the Fata merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

10-billion tree tsunami drive launched

The information minister said the government will hold ‘Plant for Pakistan Day’ on September 2, where 1.5 million saplings will be planted all over the country.

Climate Change Adviser Aslam briefed the media about the initiative and said that the drive was an important step “to save Pakistan from becoming a desert.”

“The prime minister will initiate this project here in Islamabad while the chief ministers will lead it in their respective provinces,” Aslam said.

“All provincial governments have been called in to discuss their targets with us and hopefully all those targets will be achieved on the day of the drive,” Aslam told the media persons.

The adviser briefed that the government was creating 190 points all over the country where the forest department will work with the municipal administration.

“There will be pick-up points, [which will be identified through] a Facebook page that is being created. This page will tell people that from where they can collect plants and who will provide them,” the adviser said while expressing hope that all Pakistanis will take part in the campaign.

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by PAK NEWS - August 28, 2018 at 10:26 pm

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Attack on Ahmadi worship place: Fake social media posts spurred violence in Ghaseetpura

FAISALABAD: Unbridled unauthenticated fake posts on social media created problems for the police to maintain ,the law and order in Ghaseetpura, in the Balochni police area that witnessed an attack on Ahmadi worship place on Thursday.

Scores of such posts were seen on social media which claimed that seven Muslims were killed by the firing of the Ahmadi community and others were injured while police were not providing security to the Muslims. However, not a single casualty has been reported or confirmed by any government institutes like hospitals, Rescue 1122, police and other law enforcement agencies. But the social media worked like fuel to the fire and played a major part in fanning the emotions of the Muslims who did not know the reality.

Meanwhile, sensing the situation of the area, SSP (operations) Haider Sultan has been tasked with ensuring all the preventive measures and picketing and patrol in the area to avert any further untoward incident. Besides, a six-member team of police, headed by the SSP (investigation), has been formed to supervise investigation into the incident which is stated to be the result of a feud between the Ahmadi and Muslims in Ghaseetpura. Eighteen people were injured in the violence. The SP Jaranwala, SP legal, DSP Khurrianwala, DSP organised crime and SHO Sargodha Road Police Station are members of the committee.

The SHO Sargodha Road has been appointed as investigating officer in the case as only an inspector can investigate the case registered under section of 7-ATA and Balochni SHO is a sub-inspector. The police booked about 200 people from both the communities.

The violence in Ghaseetpura had started following a cockfight as two Muslim guys had allegedly hit the rooster of an Ahmadi man.

“We had to struggle on two fronts – Ghaseetpura and social media–and frankly speaking provocative posts of the social media were very tough to tackle. The posts claimed that the Ahmadi community had gunned down the Muslims,” a police officer, requesting anonymity, told Dawn. He said one could independently check that the issue had nothing to do with religion, rather it was a pure personal dispute which was given a religious colour.

The officer said monitor and control of the social media, particularly the posts related to religious issues, for social harmony, were the need of the hour. He suggested strict action against the persons involved in fake social media posts irrespective of their religion as they provoked the people, causing irreparable loss to society.

“We have forwarded some posts of social media to the concerned quarters to check such posts as claimed deaths of the Muslims in the clash though till date no death had occurred and people had sustained minor injuries,” the police officer said.

Ahtshamul Haq, a human rights activist, said we had no check on social media, especially facebook, where pages had launched for spreading wrong information and even misquoting the Hadiths and sayings. He said such pages must be blocked by bringing their administrators to the book.

He said in this case of Ahmadi-Muslim communities clash scores of fake posts were shared by some elements to instigate the people against each other which brought a bad name for the image of Pakistan. He added that it was the prime responsibility of the government to ensure free and fair investigation into the incident, bringing the culprits to the book.

Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2018

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by PAK NEWS - August 27, 2018 at 6:25 am

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Multiple rockets hit Afghan capital, clashes underway: officials

Multiple rockets hit near the diplomatic area in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on early Tuesday, as officials said fighting broke out between security forces and militants in the city’s old quarter.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the assault, which came as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was making a speech marking the first day of the Eidul Azha, days after offering the Taliban a conditional three-month ceasefire.

An Afghan army helicopter swooped in low over the street near the Eidgah Mosque in a central district of the city and fired a rocket on a militant position, sending a plume of dust into the sky.

Interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish confirmed that militants had taken over a building near the mosque and fired several rockets.

“Two people have been wounded. Security forces are fighting the terrorists,” he told AFP.

People who moments earlier had been buying livestock for the Eid feast could be seen sprinting for shelter as cars swerved in the road to flee the fighting. Blasts and gunfire could be heard as security forces cordoned off the area.

The attackers appeared to be in a building behind the mosque, which was partially destroyed in another attack several years earlier and is not believed to have been in use for Eid.

A heavy security presence could also be seen near the Kabul Stadium.

Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai said fighting began around 9:00 am, and that multiple rockets had been fired on at least two areas of Kabul. He said he could not confirm casualties as yet.

“Some attackers have taken a position behind the Eidgah mosque of Kabul city. The police forces are at the scene, and the area is blocked by forces. An operation has been launched to arrest or gun the attackers down,” he said.

The mosque is located relatively near the presidential palace, where Ghani was speaking. The sound of a blast could be heard in the background as his speech was aired live on Facebook.

Islamabad condemns the attack

Prime Minister Imran Khan strongly condemned the rocket attack near the Afghan presidential palace, stating that targeting innocent people on the religious feast “depicts a defeated mindset”.

The prime minister expressed his complete support to the Afghan government as well as Afghan people.

Earlier in the day, the Foreign Office had also denounced the attack.

FO spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal had taken to Twitter to say: “Pakistan condemns reports of attacks at the Afghan presidential palace. Such incidents, especially at the joyous occasion of Eid, are more reprehensible.”

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Ghani’s ceasefire offer

Ghani had unveiled hus government’s latest ceasefire gambit during an Independence Day address late Sunday, saying security forces would observe the truce beginning this week — but only if the militants reciprocated.

The truce offer was welcomed by the United States and Nato after nearly 17 years of war, but the Taliban have yet to respond.

The move followed an extraordinarily violent week in Afghanistan that saw that Taliban storm the provincial capital of Ghazni — just a two-hour drive from Kabul — and press the fight against security forces across the country, with estimates suggesting hundreds of people may have been killed.

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by PAK NEWS - August 21, 2018 at 11:25 am

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Prime Minister Imran Khan: PTI chairman sworn in as 22nd premier of Pakistan

Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi was on Saturday sworn in as the 22nd prime minister of Pakistan in a simple ceremony hosted at the Aiwan-i-Sadr.

The ceremony, scheduled to begin at 9:30am, started a little after 10am.

Guests are seen at the ceremony. — DawnNewsTV

Guests are seen at the ceremony. — DawnNewsTV

The ceremony commenced with the playing of the national anthem, followed by a recitation from the Holy Quran.

High-profile guests, including caretaker Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan and Navy Chief Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, were present at the ceremony.

COAS Gen Bajwa meets guests.

Other notable guests included senior PTI leaders, cricketer-turned-commentator Rameez Raja, newly elected Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, singers Salman Ahmed and Abrarul Haq, actor Javaid Sheikh and former National Assembly speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza.

A visibly overwhelmed Khan, clad in a traditional sherwani, smiled sheepishly as he had some difficulty with following the oath in Urdu. It was administered to him by President Mamnoon Hussain and televised live by state broadcaster PTV.

Imran Khan inspects a guard of honour at PM House. — DawnNewsTV

Imran Khan inspects a guard of honour at PM House. — DawnNewsTV

PM Khan swore to “bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan”, and to “discharge my duties and perform my functions honestly, to the best of my ability… and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of Pakistan.”

The ceremony marked an end to decades of rotating leadership between the ousted PML-N and the PPP, punctuated by periods of military rule.

After taking oath as premier, Khan and First Lady Bushra Imran greeted various guests and accepted felicitations from them.

First Lady Bushra Imran in attendance at the oath-taking ceremony. — DawnNewsTV

First Lady Bushra Imran in attendance at the oath-taking ceremony. — DawnNewsTV

This was Bushra’s first public appearance since their wedding earlier this year.

As the swearing-in ceremony concluded, Khan was ushered to Prime Minister House, where he was presented a guard of honour by contingents from Pakistan’s three armed forces.

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Khan had invited the rest of the 1992 team to the ceremony, and fast bowler Wasim Akram was pictured smiling among the crowd.

Indian cricket star Navjot Singh Sidhu at the ceremony. — DawnNewsTV

Another cricketer-turned-politician, India’s Navjot Singh Sidhu, was seated in the front row and was earlier warmly embraced by Gen Bajwa after an animated conversation between the two.

The guests had been asked to carry their NIC or accreditation cards but not to bring with them any handbags, purses, mobiles phones or any other electronic gadgetry.

According to a tweet by PTI’s official Twitter account, the ceremony’s menu of nine dishes was reduced to refreshments only on Khan’s request as part of his “austerity drive”.

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A ,notification, issued by the Cabinet Division after the ceremony said Khan has entered the office of the prime minister after taking the oath.

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President Mamnoon Hussain administers the oath of office to Imran Khan. — Photo: Prime Minister's Office/Facebook

President Mamnoon Hussain administers the oath of office to Imran Khan. — Photo: Prime Minister’s Office/Facebook

UN chief extends felicitations

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres congratulated Khan on assuming the office of prime minister of Pakistan.

The message came hours after Khan’s oath-taking ceremony took place in Islamabad.

The Government of Pakistan Twitter account shared felicitations from the UN chief.

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“The UN chief hopes for deepening of UN-Pak cooperation in various fields including the world body’s flagship peacekeeping operations around the globe,” the tweet read.

The UN chief had also ,congratulated the people of Pakistan, upon the conclusion of elections and said that he “looks forward to the formation of a new government” after the July 25 general elections.

The University of Bradford also congratulated Khan, who is a former chancellor, commending his “incredible journey” from a cricket hero to premiership.

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The work begins

After the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) emerged as the biggest parliamentary party in the wake of the July 25 polls, all 120 of the party’s parliamentary committee members had rubber-stamped Khan’s candidacy for the post of the prime minister.

PTI vice-president Shah Mehmood Qureshi speaks to a reporter after arriving for Imran Khan's oath-taking. — DawnNewsTV

PTI vice-president Shah Mehmood Qureshi speaks to a reporter after arriving for Imran Khan’s oath-taking. — DawnNewsTV

The party formed enough alliances and recruited enough independents to gain the numbers required to get Khan elected as the PM in Friday’s parliamentary vote.

Khan and his party campaigned on promises to end widespread graft while building an “Islamic welfare state”.

“First of all, we will start strict accountability. I promise to my God that everyone who looted this country will be made accountable,” he said in his speech as PM-elect on Friday.

PTI candidates were also voted speaker and deputy speaker of the National Assembly this week, putting Khan in a strong position to carry forward his legislative agenda.

He will face myriad challenges, including militant extremism, water shortages, and a booming population negating growth in the country, among others.

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Most pressing is a looming economic crisis, with speculation that Pakistan will have to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

Khan will also have to contend with the same issue as many predecessors: how to maintain a power balance in civil-military relations.

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by PAK NEWS - August 18, 2018 at 1:26 pm

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‘Slapping’ of citizen: PTI MPA Imran Ali Shah suspended until disciplinary committee takes final decision

After a video of newly elected Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MPA Imran Ali Shah physically assaulting a citizen drew ire on social media, the party’s Sindh president Firdaus Shamim Naqvi clarified that the under-fire lawmaker’s party membership will remain suspended until their provincial disciplinary committee reviews the matter and takes a final decision.

“The party membership of Imran Shah will remain suspended until a final decision is made on this matter,” Naqvi is quoted as saying by the party’s Karachi media department. “We received his response, which was forwarded to the disciplinary committee. The final decision will be in accordance with whatever the committee recommends.”

“In the Naya Pakistan (New Pakistan) of Imran Khan there will be one law for the powerful and weak,” Naqvi added.

Naqvi’s clarification was in contrast to the party’s earlier statement saying that contrary to ,media reports,, Shah had not been suspended.

In that statement, which was shared with DawnNewsTV, the party also said that Shah had sought 24 hours more to submit his response to the committee.

Shah, who was elected from Karachi’s PS-129 constituency, was caught on video slapping a man multiple times during a heated argument in the middle of a road. The video showed Shah accompanied by his armed guards who also threatened the man.

Party leadership had also taken notice of the incident and issued a show-cause notice to the MPA-elect, while Naqvi had tweeted that he had launched a probe into the incident.

Shah had subsequently posted a video apologising for “hurting anyone’s feelings”, and insisting that he had only “pushed” the man, even though the clip circulated on the internet had showed him raising his hand and hitting the man multiple times.

Shah further said that he had stepped out of his car after he saw the man “repeatedly hitting a poor man’s car” and added that he “could not stand back and watch ‘injustice’ take place like this”.

On Wednesday, Shah posted a video apparently on his own Twitter account showing him hugging a man identified as ‘Dawood’, and looking apologetic. In another tweet, Shah posted pictures with the man as well.

PTI Spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry tweeted today that the party had referred the matter to the PTI Sindh Chapter. “They’ll inquire into the issue and if needed appropriate action will be taken,” he added.

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‘Would he have apologised if my father was not friends with PTI leaders?’

Meanwhile, Facebook page ,It’s all about Pakistan, posted a statement attributed to Dawood’s son questioning the writ of the state.

The statement claimed that Dawood was a senior additional director of the Civil Aviation Authority and a friend of PTI MPA Firdaus Naqvi and MNA Najeeb Haroon. Haroon and Shah were on the same PTI panel (NA-256, PS-129) in the July 25 elections.

The post questioned if Shah would have still visited Dawood and offered an apology “if he was not the friend of Firdous Shamim sahab and Najeeb Haroon sahab”.

The post referred to Shah’s apology video, saying that even if Dawood had “bumped into another car and that man and my father exchanged some words”, he had still not launched a physical attack.

The statement clarified that Dawood did not associate Shah’s actions with PTI, but went on to criticise the lack of action by law enforcing authorities.

It also asked users if they would have “accepted the apology” had the man been their father.

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by PAK NEWS - August 16, 2018 at 9:25 pm

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106 die in Kerala floods as Indian state faces ‘extremely grave’ crisis

Hundreds of troops led a desperate operation to rescue families trapped by mounting floods in India’s Kerala state Thursday as the death toll reached 106 with nearly 150,000 left homeless.

Helicopters airlifted stranded victims from rooftops and dam gates were thrown open as incessant torrential rain brought fresh havoc to the southern state that is a major international tourist draw.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the state now faces an “extremely grave” crisis with more downpours predicted. The region’s main airport has been ordered closed until August 26.

The state, famed for palm-lined beaches at resorts such as Bekal and tea plantations, is always battered by the annual monsoon but this year’s damage has been the worst in almost a century.

The death toll had jumped to 106 late Thursday, a state disaster management official told AFP.

Media reports said up to 30 more people were feared dead in landslides and rivers that burst their banks, flooding scores of villages.

At least eight people were killed when an irrigation dam burst and a landslide hit three houses in the town of Nenmara, Palakkad district, authorities said.

Vijayan said 80 dams have reached danger levels and appealed to the population not to ignore evacuation orders.

Army and coastguard helicopters, lifeboats and navy diving teams have been brought to the stricken state where an extra 540 troops were deployed on Thursday.

More are due in coming days.

The army said helicopters carried out scores of rescue operations. They also dropped food and water and appealed for victims to stand in open fields or on rooftops away from trees so helicopters were not damaged during rescue efforts.

One state official said more than 1,330 camps have been opened across Kerala and 147,000 people had sought shelter by Thursday evening.

“At least 6,500 people are stranded in different parts of Kerala and the situation in three districts is particularly grim,” a separate state disaster management official told AFP.

Floods have also hit other states, including Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, where eight people at a popular picnic spot were swept away by a sudden surge of water.

‘Please help’

In Kerala families could be seen paddling boats provided by the military, while in some areas families commandeered local wooden boats to ferry themselves to safety.

The government says 10,000 kilometres (6,000 miles) of Kerala roads have been destroyed or damaged and hundreds of homes lost.

It has ordered the opening of gates at 34 dams and reservoirs where water levels reached danger levels.

Indian television broadcast images of cars and livestock washed away in the floods while men and women waded through chest-high waters that flowed through village streets.

Many used social media to send rooftop distress calls, some with video.

A member of parliament from Kerala, Shashi Tharoor, shared on Twitter an appeal for help made by a woman who said she was trapped on the third floor of a temple with phone batteries running out.

“Over 36 people including myself and family stranded here. Phone network and charge finishing please help in any possible way,” Devika Sreekumar said in the Facebook post.

Greeta Mathew pleaded for help for her family in a Twitter message.

“Anybody reading this,PLZ HELP. My relatives are stuck on the upper floor of house with an 8 months pregnant lady, in Edayaranmula, Pathanamthitta dist. All rescue control rooms’ numbers busy. No rescue team reached yet. No contact with family since last evening,” she said.

North and central Kerala has been worst hit by the floods but all 14 of the state’s districts have been put on “red alert” as heavy rain is predicted for several days.

In the main city of Kochi, the international airport will remain closed until at least August 26, authorities said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday on Twitter that he has ordered the defence ministry “to further step up the rescue and relief operations across the state. Praying for the safety and well-being of the people of Kerala”.

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‘Slapping’ of citizen: PTI MPA Imran Ali Shah not suspended, party clarifies

After a video of newly elected Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MPA Imran Ali Shah physically assaulting a citizen drew ire on social media, the party’s spokesperson said the matter had been referred to the Sindh chapter’s disciplinary committee.

The PTI’s Karachi media department clarified that, contrary to ,media reports,, Shah had not been suspended. The PTI in a statement shared with DawnNewsTV said that the disciplinary committee had asked Shah to submit a response regarding the matter within 24 hours; the MPA has asked for 24 hours more in order to submit his response.

Shah, who was elected from Karachi’s PS-129 constituency, was caught on video slapping a man multiple times during a heated argument in the middle of a road. The video showed Shah accompanied by his armed guards who also threatened the man.

Party leadership had also taken notice of the incident and issued a show-cause notice to the MPA-elect. Senior party leader Firdous Naqvi had tweeted that he had launched a probe into the incident.

Shah had subsequently posted a video apologising for “hurting anyone’s feelings”, and insisting that he had only “pushed” the man, even though the clip circulated on the internet had showed him raising his hand and hitting the man multiple times.

Shah further said that he had stepped out of his car after he saw the man “repeatedly hitting a poor man’s car” and added that he “could not stand back and watch ‘injustice’ take place like this”.

On Wednesday, Shah posted a video apparently on his own Twitter account showing him hugging a man identified as ‘Dawood’, and looking apologetic. In another tweet, Shah posted pictures with the man as well.

PTI Spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry tweeted today that the party had referred the matter to the PTI Sindh Chapter. “They’ll inquire into the issue and if needed appropriate action will be taken,” he added.

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According to party MNA Najeeb Haroon, “final action will be based on the recommendations of the disciplinary committee.”

“Due to the seriousness of the matter, a suspension by the organisation is warranted for a period of one month with immediate effect.”

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Neither of the statements confirm whether action will be taken against Shah, or that he has been suspended.

The PTI spokesperson in a statement shared with DawnNewsTV that the disciplinary committee had asked Shah to submit a response regarding the matter within 24 hours. Shah had asked for 24 hours more in order to submit his response.

‘Would he have apologised if my father was not friends with PTI leaders?’

Meanwhile, Facebook page ,It’s all about Pakistan, posted a statement attributed to Dawood’s son questioning the writ of the state.

The statement claimed that Dawood was a senior additional director of the Civil Aviation Authority and a friend of PTI MPA Firdaus Naqvi and MNA Najeeb Haroon. Haroon and Shah were on the same PTI panel (NA-256, PS-129) in the July 25 elections.

The post questioned if Shah would have still visited Dawood and offered an apology “if he was not the friend of Firdous Shamim sahab and Najeeb Haroon sahab”.

The post referred to Shah’s apology video, saying that even if Dawood had “bumped into another car and that man and my father exchanged some words”, he had still not launched a physical attack.

The statement clarified that Dawood did not associate Shah’s actions with PTI, but went on to criticise the lack of action by law enforcing authorities.

It also asked users if they would have “accepted the apology” had the man been their father.

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Twitter threatened with shutdown in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Micro-blogging website Twitter, a platform that has in recent years become ,integral to political parties,, stands in danger of being banned because of the government’s inability to force the tech giant to bend to its notions of what is suitable for public consumption or falls within the constitutional realm of legitimate free speech.

On Wednesday, the Pak­istan Telecommuni­cation Authority (PTA) informed the Senate Standing Com­mittee on Cabinet Secre­tariat that while Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms complied with requests from the government to block objectionable content, Twitter did not oblige.

“Out of a hundred requests from Pakistan to block certain offensive material, roughly five per cent are entertained. Twitter ignores all the remaining requests,” Director General of PTA’s Internet Policy and Web Analysis, Nisar Ahmed, told the committee.

The committee met for a briefing on penalties fixed by the PTA against ‘derogatory’ comments spreading through social media targeting the state, its citizens and its institutions.

Mr Ahmed informed the committee about last week’s Islamabad High Court (IHC) directive to the regulatory body to serve Twitter with a final notice, asking the website to respond to requests from Pakistan or face the risk of being blocked in the country.

“The PTA has conveyed the court’s concern to Twitter, but has not got a response. The regulatory authority will implement court orders if Twitter does not respond to the final notice,” said Mr Ahmed. He further explained to the committee members that the IHC had taken notice of the increase in objectionable content posted on social media websites.

The official told the committee that Twitter was not as popular in Pakistan as Facebook, and so they had little to lose if Twitter was blocked. However, the platform would lose business if it was shut down in the country, the senior official told the members. “The court is determined to teach Twitter a lesson — they will lose business,” he added.

He informed the committee that Facebook had been extremely cooperative with Pakistan, and had obliged when asked to block content that might be perceived offensive.

“In fact, Facebook has appointed a focal person to address the concerns from Pakistan. The focal person is a Pakistani national who understands the traditions, customs and concerns of our society. YouTube is now also offering a local version in the country and removing offensive material, and the website is no longer an issue,” the official elaborated.

According to the PTA, social media websites such as Facebook, YouTube and DailyMotion now saw Pakistan as an emerging information technology market, which they could tap into to exponentially grow their businesses.

“These companies do not only wish to keep growing in Pakistan, but have also planned to bring underdeveloped cities and towns out of — through training programmes — their current states to put them on a par with developed areas,” Mr Ahmed concluded.

When Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf information sectary Fawad Chaudhry was contacted for his views on the matter, he said that his party was against any kind of censorship on free media.

“Those who do not wish to see objectionable and offensive content should not search for such content. Social media is not just for recreation and entertainment. There are jobs and households associated with the business. Blocking social media websites will have both social and economic impacts,” said Mr Chaudhry, who is tipped to become information minister in the new government.

In the past, similar attempts have been made to block the spread of social media: Facebook was banned in the country twice in 2008 and then again in 2010. In September 2012, following government directions, the PTA blocked access to YouTube throughout the country and it remained inaccessible for over two years.

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2018

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Top Bangladeshi photographer arrested for interview on teen protests

Bangladesh police said Monday they arrested a prize-winning photographer for “provocative comments” in an Al Jazeera interview about protests by teenagers that have convulsed the country for over a week.

Over the weekend, a heavy-handed response to the protests over road safety left more than 100 injured as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, and mobs attacked demonstrators, photographers and even the United States ambassador’s car.

At least 20 plainclothes officers picked up Shahidul Alam, 63, at his Dhaka home late on Sunday, hours after his comments were broadcast by the Qatar-based TV station, his colleague Abir Abdullah told AFP.

“He has been brought to our office early this morning (Monday). We are interrogating him for giving false information to different media and for provocative comments,” police official Moshiur Rahman told AFP.

“And he could not give proper answers. He admitted that these are his personal opinions,” he said, adding police would take legal actions against him.

Alam is the founder and managing director of the Drik Gallery and the creator of the Patshala South Asian Media Academy, a photography school in the capital Dhaka that has spawned hundreds of photographers.

In a career spanning more than four decades, Alam’s photos were published in almost every major Western media outlet, including the New York Times, Time magazine and National Geographic.

In recent days, Alam shot images of the demonstrations by tens of thousands of teenagers in Dhaka and beyond, and discussed the protests on Facebook Live.

Scores injured

The protests in Dhaka and beyond began after a speeding bus killed two teenagers on July 29, with demonstrators pressing for the government to get to grips with Bangladesh’s chaotic and lethal roads.

On Saturday, the protests took a violent turn in Dhaka, with more than 100 people hurt as police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators, according to students and doctors who treated the injured.

More violence raged on Sunday with police firing tear gas into a large crowd marching toward an office of the ruling Awami League party, an AFP correspondent said.

Dozens of protesters were attacked by people alleged to be ruling party activists, some armed with machetes, leaving scores injured including half a dozen photographers.

A car carrying US ambassador Marcia Bernicat was also attacked by “armed men” but she escaped unscathed, the embassy said.

The authorities have also shut down mobile internet services across swathes of the country and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged students on Sunday to go home, but to no avail.

The United Nations said it was “deeply concerned about the reports of violence” and that concerns about road safety were “legitimate”.

Police have also detained an actress for spreading rumours after she allegedly in a Facebook post that two protesters were killed and the eye of another was gouged out.

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Indonesia quake death toll rises to 91; tourists evacuated

Indonesia evacuated hundreds of tourists from popular resorts and sent rescuers fanning across the holiday island of Lombok Monday after a powerful quake killed at least 91 people and reduced thousands of buildings to rubble.

The shallow 6.9-magnitude quake sparked terror among tourists and locals alike, coming just a week after another deadly tremor surged through Lombok and killed 17 people.

Rescuers on Monday searched for survivors in the rubble of houses, mosques and schools that were destroyed in the latest disaster on Sunday evening.

“There are challenges: the roads were damaged, three bridges were also damaged, some locations are difficult to reach and we don’t have enough personnel,” said a spokesman for the national disaster agency, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

An operation was also under way on Monday to evacuate some 1,200 tourists from the Gili Islands, three tiny, coral-fringed tropical islands a few kilometres off the northwest coast of Lombok that are particularly popular with backpackers and divers.

Margret Helgadottir, a holidaymaker from Iceland, described people screaming as the roof of her hotel on Gili Air collapsed when the quake struck.

“We just froze, thankfully we were outside,” she told AFP tearfully from a harbour in Lombok where she had been evacuated to. “Everything went black, it was terrible.”

Footage posted online by Nugroho showed hundreds crowded onto powder-white beaches desperately waiting for transport off the normally paradise Gilis.

“We cannot evacuate all of them all at once because we don’t have enough capacity on the boats,” Muhammad Faozal, the head of West Nusa Tenggara’s tourism agency, told AFP, adding two navy vessels were on their way. “It’s understandable they want to leave the Gilis, they are panicking.”

Local disaster officials said 358 tourists had been evacuated so far.

At least one person, an Indonesian holidaymaker, was killed on the Gili islands while another tourist died on nearby Bali.

Night of aftershocks

But it was Lombok which bore the brunt of Sunday evening’s quake.

The shallow tremor sent thousands of Lombok residents and tourists scrambling outdoors, where many spent the night as strong aftershocks including one of 5.3-magnitude rattled the island.

The quake knocked out power in many areas, and parts of Lombok remained without electricity on Monday.

Nugroho said up to 20,000 people may have been evacuated from their homes on Lombok and paramedics, food and medication were badly needed.

Hundreds of bloodied and bandaged victims were treated outside damaged hospitals in the main city of Mataram and other hard-hit areas.

Patients lay on beds under wards sent up in tents, surrounded by drip stands and monitors, as doctors in blue scrubs attended to them.

Anguished relatives were huddled around loved ones in front of the main clinic in Mataram, as medical staff struggled to cope with hundreds of patients. Many were yet to be seen despite spending the night out in the open.

“I feel restless sleeping in a tent, I can’t be at peace,” Nurhayati told AFP outside one hospital where she had brought her sick 70-year-old mother.

“What we really need now are paramedics, we are short-staffed, we also need medications,” Supriadi, a spokesman for Mataram general hospital, told AFP.

The rubble-strewn streets of Mataram were empty save for a few survivors picking nervously through the ruins.

Most of the victims were in the mountainous north and east of the island, away from the main tourist spots and coastal districts in the south and west.

Collapsed mosques

Najmul Akhyar, the head of North Lombok district, estimated that 80 per cent of that region was damaged by the quake.

“We need heavy equipment because some mosques have collapsed and we suspect some worshippers are still trapped inside,” he told Metro TV.

As authorities scrambled to assess the extent of damage in Lombok, some tourists were trying to leave.

“We tried to go to the airport but there was no taxi, no transport, no plan for evacuation,” French tourist Jina told Metro TV.

“Later I stopped a car and I asked a local please take me and my family to the airport and he said ‘Okay no problem’.”

Singapore’s Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, who was in Lombok for a security conference when the earthquake struck, described on Facebook how his hotel room on the 10th floor shook violently. “Walls cracked, it was quite impossible to stand up,” he said.

Bali’s international airport suffered damage to its terminal but the runway was unaffected and operations had returned to normal. Disaster agency officials said. Lombok airport was also operating.

Indonesia, one of the most disaster-prone nations on earth, straddles the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide and many of the world’s volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur.

In 2014, a devastating tsunami triggered by a magnitude 9.3 undersea earthquake off the coast of Sumatra in western Indonesia killed 220,000 people in countries around the Indian Ocean, including 168,000 in Indonesia.

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Teenage Hindu boy arrested for allegedly posting blasphemous content on social media

A 19-year-old Hindu boy was booked by police in Mirpur Khas’ Mirwah Gorchani area on Tuesday for allegedly posting blasphemous content on social media.

The teenager was arrested and a case was filed against him under Section 295-A (Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting Its religion or religious beliefs) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) on the orders of Mirpurkhas Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) Abid Ali Baloch after local prayer leader Mohammad Anwar Soomro filed a complaint.

Soomro alleged that the suspect had hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims by posting ‘highly controversial’ posts on his Facebook account starting July 30.

While talking to local journalists, residents of Mirwah Gorchani claimed that the suspect had been upset after his teenage sister Ganga (now Ayesha) had embraced Islam of her own will a few days ago. They added that some other members of his family were also expected to convert to Islam.

The suspect was sent on 14-day judicial remand on Tuesday, soon after his arrest.

Advocate Kashif Bajeer, a human rights activist in the area, demanded a thorough probe into the matter while talking to Dawn.

Despite repeated attempts, the SSP Mirpurkhas could not be contacted for his version on the matter.

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Your agenda, Mr. Prime Minister

Illustration by Leea Contractor

Illustration by Leea Contractor

Eos offers the incoming prime minister an agenda of some critical issues confronting Pakistan today — what should be the priorities for the new government and what to do about them.


Economy

By ,Khurram Husain,

It is now well known that the incoming government has inherited an economy with sharply depleting foreign exchange reserves.

Its first priority, whether it likes it or not, will be to make arrangements for “near term” inflows of foreign exchange, in the language of the State Bank.

In this regard, it will be walking in the footsteps of all incoming governments for at least the past 30 years, all of which took oath in a time of depleting foreign exchange reserves.

All of them began their terms with accession to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme. And for all of them, their economic possibilities were constrained by the terms of that program. This government will be no different in that sense.

After its “near term” arrangements for foreign exchange inflows, meaning an IMF program or a large short term loan from a friendly foreign power (which is highly unlikely), the government will need to take stock of the fiscal situation.

The FY-2018 ended with a larger than expected fiscal deficit, and the new fiscal year began with sharply reduced tax rates announced by the last government in its last budget. The budget contains one lever that the new government can use to raise revenues rapidly, should it feel the need, and that is a tax on oil prices.

The last budget created the space to rapidly increase revenues from oil, but this will impart an inflationary jolt to the economy as well as fuel immediate perceptions of the government being “anti people”.

The government might find it has to take that risk, just like its predecessors had to, because the circular debt in the power sector could well force its hand.

The next step after taking stock of the foreign exchange and fiscal situation, will be the power sector where receivables are already back to the levels they were at when the PML-N government was sworn in back in 2013.

Keeping the power sector running will be the third big priority for the new government, and this time the sector is more complex due to the heavy involvement by the Chinese as well as the new LNG imports.

Gas pricing as well as power sector liquidity management are different now than they have been for government’s past, and getting a quick handle on both these matters will be a priority for the new finance as well as energy ministers, who will need the close attention of the prime minister and the cabinet for many of the decisions they will need to see through.

Foreign borrowing, domestic taxes and power and fuel pricing reforms will consume at least the first year of the new government.

Along with this, ensuring continuity in CPEC, should the government decide for this, will also be important and a challenge to execute during a time when expenditures will be under extreme pressure.

This government is therefore unlikely to chart out an economic policy that is very different from the ones that came before it.

The writer is Dawn’s Business Editor. He tweets ,@KhurramHusain,

Security and foreign policy

By ,Ejaz Haider,

Pakistan faces two challenges in the twin domains of foreign and security policies: deteriorating regional situation and emergence of new global/regional alliances; terrorism and violent extremism.

The first is a function of inter-state relations, the second a problem of non-state actors and, in some cases, state actors using and exploiting non-state actors to wage sub-conventional, proxy wars.

The emergence of new alliances is a direct result of China’s rising power, its projection in the East and South China seas and the United States’ ‘Pivot to Asia’ to balance and counter China. This is where the foreign policy options will take the lead.

The terrorism and violent extremism, as also the use of non-state actors by hostile states, calls for a security policy and response that requires harnessing all elements of the state’s coercive apparatus and integrating it with the foreign policy.

A word about the relationship between foreign and security policies: they are interlinked and each complements the other.

However, during periods of peace, the security policy takes a backseat and acts as a subset of foreign policy. During crises, conflicts and wars, the security policy takes the lead to create more favourable space for diplomacy.

Equally, diplomacy continues to work towards offsetting the causes of conflict to ease the pressure on the security policy.

Corollary 1: policies in these two areas must be integrated. Any disconnect between the two can lead to undesirable situations.

Corollary 2: the two policy areas in the case of Pakistan have often been out of sync with civilian principals moving on a different track from how the military perceives and responds to the threats. The worst example of this was the Kargil operation in 1998/99.

Corollary 3: this situation is owed to the imbalance of civil-military relations in this country.

By the time these lines are read, the July 25 election result will be out and one of the contesting parties will be putting together a coalition.

From the instability, polarisation and engineering we have seen in the run-up to the polls and what we will likely see in its aftermath, these two crucial areas will witness neglect.

While the sherpas will continue their work, the civilian principals will find it hard to get their act together, do a policy review and give a policy direction.

Not good but that’s the reality.

Exhibit: while the army is operating under Ops Raddul Fasad (eliminating disruption), political engineering, as also passive neglect, has seen extremist Barelvi and other denominational groups morph into political parties contesting elections.

The argument that it is better to pull them in the mainstream tends to ignore the fact that they bring their exclusionary discourse to the hustings.

One of the biggest security (also foreign policy) challenges is to change the discourse. Tactical political considerations have put paid to that.

Afghanistan, India and Iran, three neighbours, offer their own security and foreign policy challenges.

The new government will need to review current approaches and set direction. If Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf comes to power, its team will be new to the task and will need at least six to eight months to get a grip on things. And this presupposes that stability will return after the elections.

The military has its operational strategy chalked out, but in the absence of an integrated policy direction from the new government, it will continue to ‘satisfice’ instead of optimising. Killing terrorists is a necessary but not sufficient condition for succeeding in this nonlinear war.

The new alliances, with the rise of China and countermoves by the US, are a classic example of structural realism — i.e., the ordering principle of international relations is anarchy. In other words, there cannot be a unipole.

The US emerged as one in 1991. That episode is ending. The middle and small powers will have to adjust to that. That adjustment requires innovation. Innovation requires making smart policy choices. Smart policy choices require institutional harmony, stability and synergy.

None of that has been on display and it won’t be, post-elections.

The writer is executive editor at Indus News and writes on defence and security. He tweets ,@ejazhaider,

Energy

By ,Omar S. Cheema,

The first step in finding solutions to Pakistan’s energy woes is some honesty in admitting the extent of the problem.

Energy poverty particularly in rural areas, frequent power outages in towns and cities, the infamous scourge of load-shedding, comparatively high electricity generation costs, a large financial drain from fuel imports, all remain Pakistan’s unsolved thorny issues.

Electricity demand is a dynamic beast, always on the move, fluctuating throughout the day and changing across the seasons.

Therefore, you require a portfolio of electricity supply resources, that can also be dynamically orchestrated to deliver electricity where and when it’s needed at an affordable price.

Instead of the top-down electricity architecture (transmission and distribution grids) that has been plagued by a variety of problems in Pakistan, there is an opportunity to develop forward-looking, sustainable electricity infrastructure from the bottom up through mini/micro-grids.

Mini-grids smoothly fit into the top-down grid network (if it exists at the location) but can autonomously work on their own, disconnected from the rest of the network, to deliver reliable, uninterrupted electricity to its consumer base.

This alternative bottom-up set-up typically comprises renewable energy sources, hybrid configurations with back-up fuel generators that may run on biogas, energy storage, demand response technology, and power sharing controls.

The advantages are numerous: can be more accurately sized for the local urban or rural population it will serve, there are less physical energy losses, energy theft becomes more difficult, greater resilience to power outages, better demand management, more eco-friendly electricity generation, and far more swiftly commissioned.

The capital financing of the mini-grid can also be more carefully tailored to the buying power of the community it serves. There is less risk of a mismatch between supply and demand, both technically and financially.

But while new technology options make a clean energy transition increasingly favourable in terms of the economics, national energy security and independence, the main hurdle is sociological, organisational inertia in the public and private sector. This hurdle is not just peculiar to Pakistan.

The big banks tend to prefer mega projects, though there are noteworthy, commendable exceptions. It’s a decision about the amount of work involved versus the payoff, how the transactional fees scale with the project size.

The same logic applies to most foreign donors. Politicians prefer the sound of larger numbers as it makes for better publicity.

The bureaucratic layers in Pakistan are seldom specialists in the field, au fait in the latest technology through painstaking research, and have little incentive to take the risk of going against the flow.

Grandiose claims and a spending binge on nominal MW power capacity is not what counts but delivering electrical energy output to consumers is.

The ability of the electric power plants to sustainably deliver the kWh, both technically and financially, is always contingent on several factors. For a renewable energy plant, it will depend on the natural climate resource, and for a thermal power plant on the fuel and freshwater supply among other operational factors.

The new government cannot assume that just because it has splurged scarce financial capital on MW capacity, the kWh demand will be affordably and reliably delivered to consumers — there is a lot more to it.

The solutions for closing Pakistan’s electricity gap are available, it’s up to the next government to turn the leaf and deliver a new, beneficial and sustainable energy future for the country.

The writer is a renewable energy and technology commercialisation expert based in London. He tweets ,@Vivantive,

Education

By ,Mosharraf Zaidi,

The education crisis in Pakistan has changed a lot over the last five years. There are still millions of out of school children, but a very tiny percentage of them are primary school kids. The enrolment problem is now squarely a middle and high school level problem.

Financing is still far from being nearly adequate, but the sheer size of education allocations today dwarfs what was allocated five years ago. In addition to continuing to increase allocations, government must find ways to make each rupee last longer, and achieve more.

Unlike at any previous time in history, teachers are recruited through merit based standardized tests in all four provinces and at the federal level. Yet pre-service and on-the-job training remain largely inadequate, when juxtaposed with the skills that Pakistani children require.

Government schools and madrassahs have increasingly become the exclusive domain of the poor, whilst expensive private schools have forged ahead with new programmes like robotics and artificial intelligence.

All of the key challenges that Pakistan faces in terms of education suffer from a more fundamental, structural problem. They are viewed through a service delivery or a development lens. But the truth of the matter is that the learning and skills crisis in Pakistan is an issue of grave economic and security consequences.

What does the incoming government need to do to tackle the learning and skills crisis? In the short run, four key things.

First, it must consolidate the national platform that is used to measure and report on the state of education. The federal government’s Academy for Education Planning and Management, and the National Education Assessment System need to be streamlined and merged in order to establish a single, comprehensive clearinghouse for education statistics that measure not only the inputs to the education sector, but also the outcomes they generate in terms of learning and skills.

Second, it must establish vertical programmes that buttress existing provincial financing for education in areas of special need.

The newly merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the lowest ranking districts in Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Southern Punjab all merit special spending programmes to uplift their ability to offer high quality government schools. Transportation programmes for girls to attend middle and high schools, and special facilities to enhance science laboratories are among quick wins that can be achieved through topping up provincial programmes with federal vertical grants.

Third, it must embark on a rapid programme of school upgradation that allows all four provinces to substantially expand their capacity to offer children the opportunity to continue their education in government schools beyond class five.

The steep drop off in enrolment at the end of primary school is a supply side problem that can only be overcome through an expansion of supply. This expansion must privilege quality as much as it does access.

Fourth, it must invest aggressively on reading, mathematics and science. Pakistan will participate in the Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) in 2019.

An aggressive programme to develop maths and science skills will be required to ensure that the country performs well in TIMSS.

Such an outcome will reinforce a cycle of improved investments in maths and science, and eventually help sustain a virtuous cycle of heavy investments, and high quality outcomes in learning and skills in Pakistan.

The education crisis does not have quick fixes, but it does demand a constant readjustment of the tactics used to tackle it.

Though Pakistan has progressed since 2013, it still has a long way to go. The only way to continue the progress is to adopt new and innovative approaches at every stage. The 2018 election and a new government represent an ideal opportunity to do so.

The writer is the founder and campaign director of Alif Ailaan, an NGO that campaigns for universal education in Pakistan. He tweets ,@mosharrafzaidi,

Health

By ,Dr Umer Ayub,

The one glaring absence from various party manifestos these elections is the absence of a national health policy.

Health is perhaps the most key concern of the people of Pakistan. And a health policy serves as the brain of a complex system of doctors, medical institutions, universities and colleges, and even, associated industries such as the pharmaceutical sector. Without a brain, a body cannot function.

And in Pakistan, this is why the health sector is in the doldrums because it has been deprived of its brain power.

Before the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, health was a federal subject. This meant that all policy decisions were made at a central level.

Provinces were, therefore, to follow the line set by the federal government and to institute policies that were drafted at the Centre.

The government of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that had assumed power in 2008 was working towards the formulation of a national health policy under then health minister, Sherry Rehman.

But then came the 18th Amendment and health was devolved to the provinces. The federal government was now to transfer funds to provincial governments and let them make their own decisions.

Health programmes were then devolved, which meant that one province didn’t have to keep up with what another was doing.

This dynamic birthed many other problems, as a result of which, the ministry of health services coordination was created. The dichotomies became worse, however, and it became a difficult proposition for provincial and federal governments to keep pace with the demands of the health sector.

This is the history and the context.

Today, we need to have differentiated provincial health policies but no political actor has paid attention to this sector.

What we expected were health policies catered to the particular needs and demands of each provincial health sector. What we got was naught.

It follows, therefore, that the new government ought to first rationalise the dichotomies that have crept into the system following the 18th Amendment, and then, to help provinces devise a health policy that caters to its need.

This means that some provinces might need more heart centres or kidney centres; others might see a greater need for mental health facilities or trauma centres.

Some initiatives will be more pressing than others or need more funding than others; the federal government will have to ensure that it provides provincial governments with the necessary support.

The government will then also have to ensure that if it is handing money to provinces for certain projects, it is used properly and effectively.

Then comes the issue of medical education and public practice. The public sector has been reeling from underfunding for many years now, and as the population pressures grow, hospitals and universities have been struggling with funds and facilities.

This needs to be aggressively tackled, else the burden of treating swathes of people will only lie with some hospitals and not others. In turn, this means more pressure on doctors and limited facilities — a recipe for disaster in the public sector.

Last but not the least, there is a need to rein in pharmaceutical companies. The same life-saving drug, for example, is available for 400 rupees and for 2,000 rupees. The distinction made is in terms of quality control of drugs.

This issue, in fact, goes beyond pricing. It is also an issue of how drugs are sourced and sold. Prevalent practices today see medicines lose potency before they are administered. This is playing with ordinary citizens’ lives and needs immediate redress.

The writer is a former president of the Pakistan Medical Association

Water and environment

By ,Ali Tauqeer Sheikh,

The first order of business for the new federal and provincial governments will be to expand the discourse on Pakistan’s water challenge and to bring the implementation of the National Water Policy (NWP) to the forefront.

While the federal government will have an important coordinating role, the action will need to be on the ground – in the provinces and by the provinces and, for the most part, from the provincial budgets.

As a start, the provinces will need to formally develop and operationalize their respective water, environment and climate change policies. Some provinces have already moved faster than others.

Since there are no formal coordination mechanisms in place, provincial irrigation, environment and climate departments have often worked in isolation from each other and from their counterpart federal ministries and concerned departments from other provinces.

Once sworn in, all provincial governments will need to initiate a three tier process of aligning their respective policies i) within the province, ii) between the provinces and iii) with the federal government.

The challenge of implementing NWP in the provinces is steep.

To begin with, provincial water portfolios need to be aligned with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other international commitments that Pakistan has made, such as the Paris Agreement and the Sundai Framework, for meeting national-level targets, reporting requirements, and to attract international financing.

More specifically, institutional capacities at the federal and provincial levels are dismally weak, roles are unclear, and coordination between domestic, commercial and agricultural uses is virtually non-existent.

System losses in all these three sectoral uses are almost 60 percent of water consumption by each sector.

Subsidies in each sector abound and are bleeding the national economy and tearing apart the social fabric in terms of equity, access and vulnerabilities to water prone hazards and disasters.

The biggest risk is that the need to introduce cost recovery and agricultural taxes will get buried in the tall reform agendas unless the provincial chief ministers stand up and champion legislations on water efficiency through water pricing.

Ironically, the discourse on water issues in the country has traditionally been dominated by generations of engineers who seek large investments at the federal level typically at the cost of provinces.

Pakistan’s water table needs to create space for social scientists, economists and hydrologists – in addition to the private sector, academia and think tanks in order to give sufficient attention to water-environment-climate nexus.

Inclusion of these stakeholders and women in the water discourse by the new governments will enable Pakistan to move towards equitable benefit-sharing of resources between upper and lower riparians: with China in Upper Indus Basin on managing the access to water from melting glaciers; with India on negotiating environmental flows in all five rivers of Indus Water Treaty to address climate change induced water variabilities; and, with Afghanistan on equitable benefit sharing of Kabul River basin, a source of 20 percent of our surface water.

The internal environmental challenges are even harder: stand up for rivers’ right to life by protecting them from encroachments and pollutants; use lakes and wetlands for groundwater recharging and mitigating floods; ensure year-round supply of sufficient water to protect the Indus Delta from dying and the country’s coastline from seawater intrusion.

In all, the new governments in Islamabad and in the provinces will have the responsibility to stop the demoralizing perception that Pakistan is a water scarce country and to take deliberated steps to make Pakistan a water secure country.

The writer is CEO of LEAD Pakistan, an Islamabad-based think-tank specialising on environment and water issues

Gender

By ,Anis Haroon,

The new government that assumes power needs to contend with a new reality: the Pakistani woman of 2018.

This is the thirteenth time that the nation is going to national polls. But this time, women are in the job market in much greater numbers, they are earning salaries, and they are running households all by themselves.

The new government, therefore, has to realise that women or their progress can’t be halted or pushed back. Instead, it is high time to take stock of the real problems that Pakistani women are facing today.

The women’s agenda in Pakistan in 2018 is all about equal opportunities and equal rights. And irrespective of whether we talk about urban women or rural, about traditional women or modern ones, equal opportunities and rights are a pervading theme for women, and indeed, for the various minorities that exist in our country.

Family structures have changed over the past decade or so, which means that more often, women are expected to put in multiple work shifts to ensure that their households run smoothly.

This means that a working woman spends eight to 12 hours working outside the home, then puts in a work shift when she comes home and has to cook and clean, and another shift to ensure that the children are not neglected in any way.

In innumerable cases, women are so overburdened with family concerns that they are eventually domesticated and removed from the public sphere altogether. And while the ecosystem of the family chugs along this way, the life, hopes and ambitions of a woman become an afterthought.

And yet, Pakistan’s gender gap has been reduced from 11 million to eight million. This is despite the fact that the rules of the labour market are skewed against women and their systemic exploitation is entrenched. Clearly, an agenda for women needs to involve some substantive law-making for the betterment of society at large.

Take, for example, the proposed Domestic Violence Act. Although domestic violence is a major concern for women across various sectors, the law was sent to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) for ratification and they rejected it.

This is the same CII which rejected DNA testing as evidence in cases of sexual violence. Put another way, discriminatory laws are advocated by those in the CII and they ensure that reform is not possible. This is despite the fact that the CII can only make recommendations but not enforce them.

It is for the same reason that women rights activists are perturbed about proscribed organisations contesting elections from across Pakistan.

These elements have challenged women’s empowerment and agency ever since Fatima Jinnah stepped to the fore. If they are mainstreamed, and their ideology and psyche remains the same, are women-friendly laws under danger?

But this is the larger picture. Break it down further, and more substantive issues emerge. For rural women, for example, it is important to have land rights.

For urban women, concerns of strengthening procedures to deal with harassment or workplace discriminations are important. Similarly we can talk about humane and just maternity leaves and paternity leaves. When we come to minorities, the issue of forced conversion of women and girls in Sindh still lingers on.

Women don’t want piecemeal measures. We are only demanding the rights that are enshrined in the Constitution as well those outlined in the international pacts that Pakistan is signatory to. Wherever discriminatory laws exists against women, to repeal them.

And wherever opportunities are being reduced for women, to ensure their equal participation and voice.

The first step needs to be taken at the top and our hope is that the new government will be an active advocate for women’s betterment in this country.

The writer is a former chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women. She tweets ,@anisharoon4,

Media and culture

By ,Hasan Zaidi,

If one thing has become clear over the last couple of years, it is that the space for freedom of expression, particularly critical expression, is becoming progressively constrained in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. We have seen this in the restrictions put on the freedom of the news media to report, on the ability of people to voice an opinion in the press and on electronic media, as well as in the physical threats to people holding a point of view at odds with the state-sponsored narrative.

The curtailment of freedoms is coming not just at the hands of radicalised groups who use brute power and threats to intimidate voices opposed to them, but also at the hands of seemingly unaccountable state operatives and their proxy media outlets who often amplify distorted propaganda.

This is supremely ironic for a democratic dispensation in a country which has struggled through military dictatorships precisely for a more inclusive federation and for diverse voices to at least be heard.

Despite the wider dispersal of alternative platforms such as the internet and social media, there is also irony in that the technology that spurs greater democratic participation in civic life is also more prone to be surveilled and centrally controlled or simply shut off — as we have seen in the banning of a number of online sites and in the extended bans previously on Facebook and YouTube.

The government that comes in as a result of the July 25 elections will have to first of all recognise that diversity of opinion and particularly critical debate over national issues is the sine qua non of a healthy democracy. There is simply no getting away from this basic fundamental tenet.

But beyond that, if it is actually desirous of advancing democracy in the country and taking it out of the hands of a few arbiters of ‘national interest’, it will have to proactively ensure the existing freedoms enshrined in Pakistan’s constitution are protected and to institutionalise such freedoms.

Article 19 of Pakistan’s constitution guarantees that “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press.” The new government will have recognise that if freedom means anything, it is to be critical of those in power.

As such it will have to make any unlawful restrictions or undue pressures placed on the media a cognizable offence — there is no doubt that by itself such legislation will not stem the rot, but it will send a strong message of support to an embattled media and put others who would indulge in such things on notice.

The Right to Information acts should be strengthened all over the country with automatic fallback towards transparency in the case of non-compliance from all official departments. Advertising from government departments should be placed under the audit of independent public bodies that can ascertain that such advertising is not being misused to favour particular media houses.

It should also reconstitute the electronic media regulatory body PEMRA to make it fully independent of the government. In addition, it should increase the burden of proof for the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to restrict any website with clear time-bound exit clauses for any such restriction.

In an increasingly interconnected and technologically advancing world where the flow of information is the greatest currency and accessibility is often just a matter of technological workarounds, it is simply silly to pretend that people can be denied access to alternate sources of information and entertainment.

More importantly, the government needs to trust the wisdom of the people that elected them to power and provide creative outlets for dissent and discussion, particularly for women, the youth, and marginalized communities.

The government should remove restrictions such as bureaucratic NOCs required for public performances of theatre and music, increase funding for libraries, art and public spaces that bring people together, and reconstitute film censor boards as age certification boards.

A vibrant cultural policy is one that understands that the government’s job is to facilitate expression rather than restrict it. A dynamic Pakistani culture can only impact the world if it is first allowed to impact Pakistan itself and a culture of tolerance for other viewpoints is cultivated.

The writer is Dawn’s Magazines Editor. He tweets ,@hyzaidi,


Published in Dawn, EOS, July 29th, 2018

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Special report: How much does it cost to organise an election?

  • ,Election special,
  • ,ECP guidelines,

Elections are globally expensive, and Pakistan is no different on this count. More than the public cost, however, the liberal election spending of political parties and their candidates drives the total outlay to absurd scales.

In 2018 contestants competed fiercely using all the tricks in their bags, especially money ? oft considered the most effective tool ? to impress constituents. From chartered planes, bulletproof four-wheelers, security details, floats, flags and feasts… the spending knew no bounds. With big money changing hands within a rather short span, it is relevant to identify the gains and the gainers.

In this special report, the Dawn Business and Finance team tries to estimate the cost and evolving patterns of electioneering that allowed businesses and services to make hay while the sun was still shining during the canvassing phase.


Gains and the gainers

,By: Afshan Subohi,

As the democratic system in Pakistan evolves and reinvents itself, so does the election business.

Government spending has increased manifold with marked improvements in the regulatory framework to ensure better management of the massive exercise. The expenditure by political parties and candidates has also increased; but while this escalation was steeper in 2013, it has since moderated.

An intelligent guess puts the financial cost of the impending elections at a whooping Rs440 billion, 10 per cent higher than the total cost of the 2013 elections. The projection is a consolidated estimate, inclusive of funding from all sources — the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), federal and provincial governments, security establishment, donors, political parties, candidates and their supporters.

The share of the ECP, government and donors spending is verifiably documented and claims a bigger share of the spending pie this time around. Still, in the current projection this amount makes up hardly one-fifth of the total. It is hard to accurately quantify the budget of political parties, candidates and their supporters because of the cash component in dealings for election-related goods and services.

The lax legal framework addressing election finances in Pakistan provides ample loopholes to aspiring legislators and parties to use, or abuse, as many finances as they can muster to browbeat their opponents. The said law bars illegal avenues but ignores the most financially resourceful segment — the corporate sector. There is nothing in the relevant section of the law that realistically deals with corporate funding of political campaigns in the country.

“Money can only come from segments where wealth has been amassed. A lot of hidden wealth in Pakistan surfaces and circulates to fund electioneering, but to assume that it is sourced entirely through the black economy would simply be wrong. There is enough depth in the parallel cash-based economy to afford an activity of a monumental scale,” commented a market watcher.

“A service or material provider is indifferent to the mode of payment. If at all, they prefer cash over money transfers through banks which are recorded and liable for declaration and taxation,” he added.

“When spending runs in billions it reflects the mobilisation of high net worth individuals and entities in a country like Pakistan. This kind of circulation is hard to imagine if you take the baron/banker/broker nexus out of the matrix. It should not be hard for anyone to understand why they are reluctant to own their contribution,” he said hinting at ‘electables’ and their social circles in all parties.

Various clauses in the Election Act 2017 provide a guideline of financial conduct for candidates in an attempt to keep election spending within specified limits, but such limits are not extended to cover political parties and supporters of candidates who may pay electioneering bills without seeking candidates’ permission. Besides the specified spending limits are considered unrealistically low thereby nudging people to disregard them.

“The dissection of the election cycle provides a rare insight into the anatomy of a transformational society”

In the current Act, the ECP revised up the spending limits on candidates from Rs1 million to Rs2m for the Provincial Assembly and from Rs1.5m to Rs4m for candidates of the National Assembly. All serious candidates, irrespective of party, routinely cross the limit. The post-election filing of accounts is hardly an issue as creative accounting can save the day.

The ECP’s budget increased from Rs1.8 billion in 2008 to Rs4.6bn in 2013. For the current elections, the limit was increased to Rs21bn by the outgoing PML-N government, according to official documents and reconfirmed to Dawn by the ECP’s Director General Budget.

The spending heads of the budget included delimitation of constituencies, revision of electoral rolls, trainings, purchase of vehicles, payment to polling agents, election material, printing of ballots, security arrangements and voter education. Through simple math one can glean that the per-vote cost to the ECP shot up to Rs198 in 2018 compared to Rs58 in 2013 and Rs22 in 2008.

According to senior officials of the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen), key drivers of the ECP spike in spending were the revised stipends for the temporary staff drawn for election duty all across the country and printing of ballot on waterproof, expensive paper, to ensure better management of the exercise.

Beyond the government and donors, identifying the money trail is not just difficult but nearly impossible owing to the cash factor. There is no clear bifurcation in resources raised by candidates and parties.

In an informal survey by Dawn, in which scores of candidates belonging to major contesting parties were interviewed, it was found that almost all candidates conducted their campaigning on their own or through resources that they themselves raised. Privately each one accepted that the spending was way beyond the specified limit.

A market survey of goods and service providers of electioneering material reinforced the perception that expenditure per candidate was indeed more than the limit.

Yet budgets are not homogeneous across regions and constituencies. Compared to urban constituencies, rural constituencies are larger in terms of geographical area and generally considered more expensive because of a lack of physical infrastructure. The transport budget is higher there. Hotly contested seats also need greater investments, particularly in certain cities of Punjab.

A closer study of campaign spending by parties and candidates sheds light on the changing composition of budgets overtime to match the demands of a fast transforming society in an age of robust electronic and social media. This evolving strategy has hurt those market players who failed to grasp the situation, while generously rewarding smart entrepreneurs. The share of many traditional businesses such as panaflex posters and banners shrank significantly whereas that of electronic media, flags and floats expanded.

In rural Pakistan, the use of bags of rice and wheat to cultivate support continued and demand for commodities increased enough to affect supplies in urban centres. Besides regular spending on running camps and offices, an additional head of managing canvassing on social media had to be incurred by parties and candidates.

According to Dawn, based on an estimate of total election spend of Rs440bn, spending per registered voter (estimated by dividing the projected election economy by the total number of voters) almost doubled from Rs2,469 in 2008 to Rs4,651 in 2013 but marginally moderated to Rs4,150 in 2018.

We now know the share of the ECP is Rs21bn, the collective share of donors and different tiers of government and security establishment can’t possibly exceed Rs19bn. Thereby, after subtracting Rs40bn out of the total Rs440bn, the residual Rs400bn falls in the accounts of candidates and parties. Legally all contestants in effect are allowed to spend Rs10 per voter (Rs4m for an average voters’ pool of 400,000 for the NA and half the amount (Rs2m) for about 200,000 voters for the PA).

“The dissection of the election cycle and assessment of election spending provide a rare insight into the anatomy of a transformational Pakistani society,” an observer commented.

The above-mentioned survey also showed that besides big-budget service providers like private aircraft and car rental companies, advertising outfits and television channel owners, the bulk of whatever is being spent has landed in the pockets of cottage industry workers contracted to produce propaganda material (badges, hand-printed shirts, caps, scarves, buntings of party flag colours, etc). A good fraction will also be pocketed by seasonal workers comprising of unemployed youth hired to man offices and work as runners.

According to candidates, as much as 50pc of the total spending is on Election Day when candidates are required to invest in mobilising and transporting the perceived support base to polling stations and facilitate their polling agents at all booths across their constituency. Voters expect provision of food and cold water bottles during the waiting time at the polling station.

It is hard to contest the fact that beyond political engineering, the regulatory and legal framework and the implementation of the code of conduct have improved. The enhanced quality of training and greater use of new communication tools will also help.

Several attempts by Dawn to solicit the position of major political parties on the gap between permissible and actual spending trends during general elections proved futile. The political leadership was either too busy close to the elections or it was avoided stating its position on the issue at this stage.

The most expensive elections

,By: Khaleeq Kiani,

The general elections are expected to cost the federal kitty more than three times the cost of the last two elections put together. A major part of it is likely to flow to the armed forces for the deployment of troops.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is anticipating that over Rs21 billion will be spent on the process, which includes more than Rs10.5bn on the usual polling exercise, such as training, printing, remunerations, transportation and related expenses. The funds to be paid to the armed forces are anticipated to be in the same range even though final estimates will become clear after July 25 based on actual bills.

The 2008 general elections cost Rs1.84bn out of the federal budget. It surged to Rs4.73bn for the 2013 general elections, showing an increase of almost 157 per cent. The Pakistan Army was paid Rs758 million in the 2013 elections compared to Rs120m in 2008.

All these expenditures do not include expenses made by the civil administration at the provincial level, including police expenses.

Election Commission of Pakistan Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad—File photo

Election Commission of Pakistan Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad—File photo

ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad told Dawn that the major increase in expenditure was caused by imported watermarked ballot papers. Secondly, the remuneration for the polling staff has been increased from Rs3,000 (for the presiding officer in 2013) to Rs8,000 this year.

On top of that, the ECP decided to provide female presiding officers with the assistance of a peon to carry election material on the polling day, which will have an additional cost. Subsequently, male presiding officers also demanded that similar assistance be extended to them.

The ECP believes the election law is insufficient because it does not impose any upper limit on campaign expenses by political parties

Officially responding to a question, the spokesman for the ECP, Chaudhry Nadeem Qasim, said it was difficult at this stage to quantify the election cost because polling activities were spread over a period of almost a year and involve two federal budgets.

In the first year (2017-18), preparatory works were set in motion for elections, including major procurements like non-sensitive materials, imported watermark paper, stationery items, printing of envelops, electoral documents and training of election officials.

During the current fiscal year, allocations have been made for election allowances and honoraria, transportation of material and arrangements for the actual polling on Election Day. The honorarium for presiding officers has been increased from Rs3,000 to Rs8,000 this year while the same for polling officers has gone up from Rs3,000 to Rs6,000.

Following is an edited version of a Q-and-A with the ECP spokesman.

Question: Are you satisfied with rules related to the financial conduct of parties and candidates? Don’t you think there needs to be spending limits on the election budget of political parties and not just contesting candidates?

Answer: We are not satisfied with the election rules about spending limits on political parties. But the system for spending by candidates is reasonably elaborate. Under the law, the limit on the expenditure by a provincial assembly candidate is set at Rs2m. It is Rs4m for the National Assembly. Candidates are required under the law to submit details to the ECP, which is subject to scrutiny within 90 days.

For political parties, the election law is not sufficient because there is no limit on their expenses. The ECP made a number of attempts in the past to have some sort of regulation on the parties in terms of expenses, but it was overruled. This needs to be improved going forward.

To some extent, the parties are required to file their accounts to the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP). But those are not election-related and the ECP feels that there is a need for the limit on campaign-related expenses.

Question: The spending limits on NA and PA candidates are notified, but does the ECP have the organisational capacity to monitor their spending patterns to independently assess the veracity of election budget statements that they submit later?

Answer: Yes, the ECP has enough organisational capacity through a number of monitoring teams across the country — like district monitoring officers under deputy commissioners — that have only two functions to perform: whether the candidates are conforming to the code of conduct issued by the ECP and if, prima facie, their expenses are in line with the limits.

This practice has just been introduced and has many bottlenecks. But based on its experience this year, the ECP will build upon the monitoring mechanism going forward.

ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad told Dawn that the major increase in expenditure was caused by imported watermarked ballot papers. Secondly, the remuneration for the polling staff has been increased from Rs3,000 (for the presiding officer in 2013) to Rs8,000 this year

On top of that, the ECP has created a full-fledged political wing for the scrutiny of expenditure results and the code of conduct within 90 days. It has the powers to subsequently co-opt the services of institutions like the Auditor General of Pakistan or auditors of government departments. It can also hire specialised auditors from the private sector.

Question: Interest groups and lobbies have high stakes and use money to buy influence in elections in all democracies. Why would it be any different in Pakistan? How do you see the issue of corporate funding for political campaigns? Do we need rules to provide legal space for an activity that we know exists?

Answer: This is an issue of the election campaign and a global problem. There are a lot of shortcomings on this front. It requires legislation with the support of the political parties. This is a grey area for both the ECP and candidates. Parliament should address this issue because it has far-reaching consequences.

Question: Do you favour the introduction of the election service in the administrative setup of Pakistan to build capacity at all tiers as recommended by the monitors?

Answer: The ECP is already a specialised cadre trained at the Federal Election Academy established for the periodic training of electoral managers from federal, regional, provincial and down to the district level. For the upcoming elections, the entire staff from provincial, regional and district administration has been trained at this academy.

Therefore, it would be unwise to create a parallel cadre when the ECP is capable of working at the gross-roots level with trained district returning officers, returning officers, presiding and assistant presiding officers, polling officers and security personnel, especially army personnel who were given elaborate training. This is for the first time in the country’s history that army personnel were subjected to comprehensive training and have been given dos and don’ts.

Intricacies of pre-poll money flow

,By: Mohiuddin Aazim,

In elections, big interests clash with each eager to overpower the other. Interest groups and their proxies begin to fight: some for survival, some for influence and others to make a debut.

Understandably, all this is not possible without big money coming into play. Locally, funds are moved from one account to another. Workers and supporters of political parties abroad begin to send foreign exchange here. Part of local and foreign funds moves while skipping the banking channels, taking advantage of a network of informal money handlers. Months and weeks before the polling date, new patterns of money flow begin to emerge and become visible for trained eyes.

“A week before elections, we can see changes in money flow patterns. We’re even internally analysing them but that’s something we can’t share,” says a senior executive of a large local bank. “Information-gathering in real time, thanks to a greater use of technology, makes such patterns more obvious now than in 2013 (when the last elections were held).”

Almost all sizable banks undertake this exercise prior to polls. But they do it to evaluate the risks associated with unusual banking activities, and not for judging any particular movement of funds.

The cycle of money flow ahead of the general elections begins with the inflow of large sums via both banking channels and informal means into the designated accounts of political parties, their office-bearers and frontmen of top politicians, senior bankers say. The bulk of pre-poll expenses are then financed from these accounts.

Broader monetary indicators, like remittances and currency in circulation, don’t exhibit a big difference between their usual averages and pre-poll volumes

But this simple-looking method has lots of intricacies. Money flows are divided along the lines of illicit and lawfully earned money, local and foreign donations and funding, corporate and non-corporate money, money meant for elections but disguised as some other expenditures etc, they say.

That is why broader monetary indicators, such as remittances or currency in circulation, don’t exhibit a big variance between their usual averages and pre-poll volumes. That is also why the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) takes little interest in this issue. A standard answer of senior central bankers on pre-poll patterns of fund movements is that the subject does not merit discussion unless monetary aggregates show an otherwise unexplainable change ahead of the elections.

If you press them hard on an unusual change in the set patterns of account activities of a certain bank or a foreign exchange company, they say that the central bank does seek an explanation from the institution concerned if such a change warrants it under relevant rules and regulations. “But then, linking even such deviations to an undesired pre-poll activity without solid evidence, and in the absence of a justification to do that, is not appropriate,” says a central banker.

Take the example of home remittances. Lots of pre-poll activities are financed with foreign exchange sent by overseas Pakistanis. Major political parties that have their chapters in countries like the United Kingdom, United States, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates even begin to press their overseas office-bearers to collect and send back home as many donations from supporters as possible.

Part of this funding comes through banks and licensed foreign exchange companies. But the net amount sent back home is not big enough to show a major change in pre-election average monthly remittances. “Part of the funds that comes into Pakistan through illegal channels is also routed in manageable chunks to avoid raising unnecessary suspicion among law enforcement agencies,” according to a source in the security establishment. “Since the 2018 elections are being held amid stricter checks on money flows in the backdrop of global concerns regarding money laundering, volumes of illegal funding from abroad are not that thick.”

The cycle of money flow ahead of the general elections begins with the inflow of large sums via both banking channels and informal means into the designated accounts of political parties

But then the announcement about the tax amnesty scheme has coincided with the campaign period and holders of undeclared foreign assets have already brought back hundreds of billions of rupees. Under the part of the scheme that deals with undeclared assets within Pakistan, huge sums of black money have been whitened at the same time. “The timing of the tax amnesty scheme should raise a few questions from the point of view of financing election campaigns.”

Locally, funds for pre-election use are transferred not only through banking channels but also mobile wallets, an instrument of branchless banking. Though this instrument is very useful for the transfer of cash, the implementation of the know-your-customer regime in transactions made via mobile wallet leaves much to be desired. Officials of the security establishment say, and bankers agree, that lots of funds — segregated into smaller chunks — could be sent and received across Pakistan using mobile wallets without the banks ever knowing the true identification of fund movers.

This could have implications in terms of trailing fund movements by unscrupulous elements during the electoral process — more so this time as the use of this instrument of money transfers has grown rapidly in recent years. Here again, keeping an eye on the movement of funds meant for the electoral process financing is just too difficult. Even scanning the relevant data for this purpose becomes out of the question unless a big change in volumes of overall transactions ahead of elections comes to the regulator’s notice. “Variations in volumes handled by particular banks and microfinance banks don’t matter as much because such variations do take place as a matter of routine and for genuine reasons,” says a senior executive of a microfinance bank.

Money flows are divided along the lines of illicit and lawfully earned money, local and foreign donations and funding, corporate and non-corporate money, money meant for elections but disguised as some other expenditures etc

Given the enormity of economic problems, judicial activism and a tussle between the political class and the establishment, both mobilising and utilising funds for electioneering have been a challenge. But then, politicians always find ways for financing their election campaigns the way they plan while disregarding the limits imposed on pre-poll expenses.

Senior sales officials of a brokerage house say some of their top clients — businessmen considered close to two leading political parties — were constantly selling stocks of various companies ahead of the polls. They were diverting large parts of the money realised to accounts of people actively involved in election campaigns of the two parties.

Similarly, the owner of a Karachi-based foreign exchange company says some holders of double-accounts in foreign exchange firms offloaded their entire positions after the rupee depreciation since December last year.

“I suspect that sale proceeds in rupees are being used in elections. Since total offloading has practically emptied their accounts with foreign exchange firms, they can also avoid punitive actions for holding undeclared amounts of foreign exchange.”

How election spending has evolved over time

,By: Jawaid Bokhari,

Over the past 70 years, the mode and range of election spending has evolved with the changing political culture, urbanisation, weakening social structures and escalating cost of communication and transport.

Top political leaders now travel by chartered airplanes and helicopters from one city to another to address election meetings. Earlier, cross-country tours were covered in special bogies of trains. Political leaders used to address wayside crowds at railway stops.

It was common for government and opposition leaders to travel by train which was cheaper and considered pretty efficient. Even donkey carts were used for rallies in Karachi for canvassing. Constituencies were small, ethical values were stronger and voters were more receptive to leaders’ narratives.

Gone are the days when ideological bias attracted social and political activists to work on a voluntary basis for a cause. Now election campaigns in urban areas are increasingly being run on modern business lines

Political parties with ideological moorings had their own newspapers which were run mainly on donations. Big money was not needed and some upper-middle class politicians even made it to parliament with only party support and mass appeal. The ‘biradari’, clan and tribal loyalties inflated vote counts.

Gone are the days when ideological bias attracted social and political activists to work on a voluntary basis for a cause. Ideology is now confined to a couple of religious parties which are better organised at the grassroots level with a very limited support base.

Election campaigns in urban areas are increasingly being run on modern business lines. As the cost of doing business is high, so are the election expenses. Only the rich in urban centres and the influential from the landed aristocracy in rural areas can afford to contest elections, having won the title ‘electable’ after winning a few polls.

Many earned this status with the government funds at their disposal for the socio-economic uplift of people in their constituency — a move initiated by Ziaul Haq. Anecdotal evidence suggests that mainstream political parties are finding it more convenient to outsource election campaigns.

Motorcyclists in Malir are offered free petrol on the condition that they fly party flags on their bikes. To do the same in a semi-urban constituency, rickshaw drivers are paid Rs100 per day. Chairmen and vice-chairmen of local bodies are given a lump-sum amount to open offices and hire men to conduct election campaigns.

Some upper-middle-class leaders of political parties are accommodated in the Senate as technocrats. Unlike in the past, political parties do not support middle-class candidates for elections to the national and provincial assemblies though they spend billions on advertising.

Election campaigns in urban areas are increasingly being run on modern business lines. As the cost of doing business is high, so are the election expenses. Only the rich in urban centres and the influential from the landed aristocracy in rural areas can afford to contest elections, having won the title ‘electable’ after winning a few polls

It is a game of big money. The three leading parties contesting the elections— PPP, PML-N and PTI—are led by rich families or supported by the wealthy. An independent political analyst estimates that a candidate would need to spend no less than Rs80 million to win a National Assembly seat, while a candidate for the provincial assembly would require half the amount.

Political parties have vote banks but proportionately dwindling numbers of political workers. They have to fall back on paid workers. Such huge expenses expose the need for these parties to cut costs by building grassroots party organisations.

But the most disturbing aspect is the huge amount of money spent on buying votes; reducing the voter-representative equation to a transactional relationship and giving currency to the charge that ours is a market-cum-dynastic democracy.

The buying of votes first emerged during the 1960s. The elections were held on restricted franchises and an electorate college of 80,000 basic democrats. That provided many rich newcomers the opportunity to buy votes and defeat some respected veteran political leaders.

Perhaps disillusioned by the performance of their representatives, many voters are also reported in several constituencies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to have struck deals to sell votes for cash or public goods through their clan and tribal elders. Wealthy candidates are also installing solar panels, fans, water coolers, etc in community centres.

Commenting on the 2008 elections, Nile Green, professor of South Asian History at the University of California, Los Angeles, observed that none of the electoral malpractices were unique to Pakistan but “the combination and scale of their proliferation in Pakistan is exceptional.”

Massive ‘hidden expenses’ are incurred for manipulating election outcomes, much of which may not have been mobilised legally. The rigging widens the gulf between the people and the government and results in eroding social cohesion. This year, once again, two of the three major political parties— the PPP and PML-N— are complaining of a lack of an even playing field.

This means more money will go into the electoral process than the pockets of candidates may allow.

But despite hiccups things are now changing. A semi-industrialised economy and a relatively developed domestic market in urban centres is nurturing pluralism.

It is not administrative measures or judicial activism, but an active citizenry that can bring polluted politics back to its original mission of doing public good. Voters would then judge their representatives on the basis of their performance and the need for money would be minimised.

Funding political candidates

,By: Nasir Jamal,

Though the new election laws enacted last year increased the campaign spending limit of candidates aspiring for a national and provincial seat, even these increased limits are not enough for aspirants to pay the bills that are an inevitable consequence of running an election campaign.

Money counts in an election even if it does not guarantee victory for the big-spenders at the end of the day.

The cost of an election differs from campaign to campaign and constituency to constituency. It largely depends on the candidate, the size and geography of a given constituency, and how fierce the competition is on a particular seat. The fact remains that even the frugal candidate ends up breaching the legal spending limits.

“In some cases, spending limits are already breached by the time a candidate leaves home to address their first election meeting,” a former Punjab minister told this correspondent on condition of anonymity. “No one is bothered about the spending restrictions. When you are in a competition, you want to win no matter what the cost.”

Pakistan’s election laws assume that candidates will finance their campaigns from their own pockets. In certain cases, particularly in the rural constituencies, this assumption holds.

“We have no favourite. The winner is our favourite. Therefore, we try to make nice with everyone and every party that matters and has a chance of coming into power”

In most instances, however, a big portion of the sum politicians spend on their election is contributed by rich individuals who sometimes are financing the top two horses in the race to ensure that their clout on state functionaries from the area doesn’t diminish.

The corporate sector, powerful business lobbies and individual businesspersons on the other hand have bigger objectives in sight when they fund the campaign of a particular candidate. They normally choose candidates with strong clout in their respective parties and are expected to be part of the next provincial or federal cabinet, and, thus, are in a position to help their financier(s) buy policy influence in the government.

Such political contributions are difficult to trace because of loopholes in campaign finance laws, and weak or lack of enforcement of the existing regulations governing such donations.

“Corporations cannot fund campaigns. Same is the case with our trade association. No company or trade lobby can legally finance politicians or political parties. They wouldn’t, even if it were lawful.

“But if you ask me, if I and my counterparts in trade contribute to election campaigns of individual candidates and political parties, I’d say yes we do. We finance them individually as well as collectively.

“The money comes from our personal accounts and is routed to the beneficiaries through informal channels. You can’t do business in this country if you do not have strong lobby in the (provincial and federal) cabinet to keep the government from making business-unfriendly policies,” argued a senior businessman who is known to have close connections with the top leadership of PML-Nawaz and Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI).

“We have no favourite. The winner is our favourite. Therefore, we try to make nice with everyone and every party that matters, and has a chance of coming into power. But having ‘our people’ sitting on the opposition benches also helps,” he smiled. He conceded that this strategy sometimes his strategy doesn’t pay. In such a scenario, he concluded, “we have to opt for other routes to achieve our objectives”.

A big portion of the sum politicians spend on election is contributed by rich individuals who sometimes are financing the top two horses in the race

Many, like Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) President Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, support campaign spending limits and reducing the role of money in elections in order to ensure a level playing field for those without deep pockets or access to unlimited funds.

“We, the Pildat, also wanted the previous government to fix spending limits for political parties based on the number of seats a party is contesting. But our proposal wasn’t accepted.”

Mr Mehboob said corporations and business lobbies normally finance political parties anonymously from off-the-book sources because it was illegal for them to give political donations and could have political repercussions.

A large portion of funding comes from overseas despite a ban on foreign donations. Political parties also do not disclose the source of funding in the accounts submitted to the election authorities every year for the same reasons. “The reality is that such contributions from interest groups do find their way into the accounts of the political parties. (When the elections are over) these interest groups look for payback of their investments.”

Electioneering in the digital age

,By: Dr Taneer Ahmed,

Before Election Day, democracy becomes a spectator sport of sorts. With electioneering at a fever pitch, the advertising industry, too, runs on overdrive.

On television screens — and increasingly on cell phone screens as well — an interesting hodgepodge of messages is visible: the juxtaposition of leaders campaigning passionately, but with some degree of civility, in advertisements, and often belying that in their broadcasted real-time rallies.

Somewhere, a shopkeeper whose store is closed due to loadshedding, challenges the PML-N’s claim of ending electricity outages during their stint in power. On the newspaper he is reading are animated images of PML-N Chairman Shahbaz Sharif loudly repeating his government’s now-unfulfilled promises.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) campaign is direct, aiming to push their point across. Though this is balanced by their solemn ads on television and in newspapers where Imran Khan pledges to create a ‘Naya Pakistan’ and shifts the focus to his achievements running the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The PML-N offers similar ads where they remind the nation of their accomplishments, with one ad taking veiled barbs at the PTI’s persistent accusations of corruption in which a client tells his barber to change his nation by “changing the channel”.

The average air time a major political party takes up is 1.5 hours per day. For one week alone, the cost comes to Rs98 million

The PPP, on the other hand, has relatively benign messages that subtly reinforce the Bhutto connection. In their ad, a composed Bilawal sits in an aesthetically -pleasing bedroom, with pictures of him as a baby in his mother’s arms, as he narrates the PPP’s select few achievements and highlights manifesto points the party will follow if elected.

In the world of television, a one-minute advertisement during a prime time slot of major news channels costs around Rs40,000 to Rs220,000. If one considers agency discounts of 30 per cent, Geo News’ (the most watched news channel as per Gallup Pakistan) slot is worth anywhere between Rs28,000 to Rs154,000 per minute.

The average air time a major political party takes up is 1.5 hours per day. Calculating at Rs40,000 per minute, for one week alone, the cost comes to Rs25 million. And this is considering just one news channel for just one week. Experts say that the real cost runs in billions, but no political party is willing to provide a breakdown of their advertising expenditure.

According to one PTI member who deals with media affairs, the party has is no print campaign this time. A consultant from a leading advertising agency informs Dawn that political parties spend up to 10 to 15pc of their budget on advertising.

“Of this 70-80pc is allotted for Above-the-Line (ATL) advertising which includes mass media. For ATL, 50pc goes to TV, while 30pc goes to print media,” he adds.

For Below-the-Line (BTL) activities which comprise distributing banners or panaflexes, door-to-door campaigns and corner meetings, “30pc is reserved.” With an internet penetration that has grown from two per cent around the time of the previous elections to around 22pc now, social media offers a largely unregulated arena for a party to promote its agenda.

There is no control over posts on Facebook or Twitter, the main platforms for advertising. It is thus difficult to challenge the narrative being built on social media. However, the quality of production one would expect from the involvement of wealthy politicians is still lacking. For advertising and creative agencies, politics is a largely unexplored realm, one where they need to tread carefully as they themselves lack political immunity.

“Here the problem is that it is not considered public service advertising or public service product. Agencies don’t treat it as a brand but as a favour. It’s a relationship of mutual benefit. The company acts as a PR team for the party and when the party comes into power, it brings them mileage,” informs Moin Qureshi, consultant and CEO at CHQ Communications.

Advertisements for any other product, if executed properly by selecting a destination, setting aside a couple of days for shooting and using top-of-the-line products, cost up to Rs6m on an average in Pakistan, Mr Qureshi adds.

If a party employs a freelancer, the expenditure is a nominal Rs20,000 to Rs25,000. When such deals are struck, the quality of production inevitably falls drastically. The result is often poorly-thought out and executed ads, which run ad nauseam all over digital media, often irritating voters.

“The best estimate for the persuasive effects of campaign contact and advertising—such as mail, phone calls, and canvassing—on Americans’ candidate choices in general elections is zero,” alleged scholars of the University of California and Stanford University, in 2016.

Until further studies are conducted in Pakistan, it remains to be seen whether political advertisements and the billions spent on them have any substantial impact, apart from offering a unique form of entertainment to the populace.

Time to scrap the law against corporate funding in politics?

,By: Dilawar Hussain,

By virtue of the law, corporate entities in Pakistan are forbidden to spend on lobbying or make political contributions, which become more visible during election campaigns.

Section 184 of the Companies Act 2017 prohibits companies from making political contributions. It states: “A company shall not contribute any amount or allow utilisation of its assets to any political party; or for any political purpose to any individual or body.”

The Act goes on to warn that if a company contravenes the provisions, every director and officer who is in default shall be punishable with imprisonment of a term which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to a fine of Rs1 million.

But that scarcely deters the corporate bosses from taking sides in political lobbying for one party or the other. Politics and business go hand in hand. Enterprising company bosses are always able to find a way around the law. Cash-rich individuals and big companies provide planes, helicopters, gifts, dinners, entertainment and hard cash to party leaders.

In politics, as they say, there are no permanent friends or foes. A glimpse into how men and businesses can ditch a lame horse for the one that holds the highest hopes of winning the race was given a couple of weeks ago when a major stockbroker — who supported the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) for years and even arranged the public address system on the lawns of his bungalow for party supporters to listen to the MQM leader as he spoke from London — arranged last week a breakfast meeting for businessmen to meet Imran Khan on the same lavish lawns. Many polls suggest Mr Khan is most likely to form government in the centre.

Cash-rich individuals and big companies provide planes, helicopters, gifts, dinners, entertainment and hard cash to party leaders

The politician did mention that he was pleased to see Karachi’s business community put its faith in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), which was lacking previously. He also acknowledged the contribution of the person who convened the meeting and appreciated his previous generous contributions towards building a hospital and a college.

The donations and contributions to political parties do result in quid pro quo. Corporates and influential deep-pocket individuals can curry favour with politicians to influence policy issues later. The political party that assumes power would be obligated to return the favour by providing means that enable ease of doing business for such corporates. Subsidised gas and power and an assured supply of water would be possible returns to industrial-sector companies. Moreover, favours might be noticed in federal budgets and taxation regimes.

The law prohibits political contributions, but enterprising business tycoons can always find ways around the law. The money spent on such contributions can easily be concealed by adding it under various heads in the profit-and-loss account.

The Code of Corporate Governance encourages big, cash-rich companies to fulfil their responsibility to society by investing in health care, education, clean water and housing for company employees as well as deserving members of society. Companies can spend their funds in areas that are of interest to a political party to cement their solidarity. All such spending is quite ‘legitimate’.

Unless the political party and its leaders choose to forget the favours after winning the elections, the bread that corporates and businessmen cast on water most likely comes back as cakes.

A businessman from Lahore argued that it was not necessary just to back the right horse, but also to keep other close contenders happy so as not to earn their ire in case the calculations go awry. But many corporate executives said that since the law of prohibiting political contribution was almost impossible to implement, it made sense to scrap Section 184 altogether.

In many countries, companies and individuals openly make political contributions and even disclose the sum.

In the United States, for example, the US Chamber of Commerce was among the top 50 lobby spenders with an outpouring of $82 million during the last election campaign. The Big Four audit firms — Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and Pricewaterhousecoopers — also spend heavily in lobbying and political campaigns for either Republicans or Democrats, whoever they expect to win. But all those contributions are required to be disclosed to the tax authorities.

Closer to home, Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani, who for a brief moment last week beat Ali Baba’s Jack Ma to stand out as the richest man in Asia, is well known for his shenanigans in keeping both Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi happy during the Indian elections.

“Mukesh Ambani is giving money to both Rahul Gandhi and Modi — whoever forms the government, control will be in Mukesh’s hands,” said one critic, declaring it to be ‘unconstitutional’. After the elections, no charges were ever pressed against Mr Ambani or his giant corporate.

It’s a rich man’s world

,By: Kazim Alam,

Many people dislike the idea of rich businessmen parachuting into a constituency a month before the election and buying their way into the legislature.

Never mind campaign finance rules that cap spending at Rs4 million, a candidate running for the National Assembly has to spend up to five times the official limit to ensure that they stand a chance on Election Day. In other words, circumventing the law on maximum spending is at the core of the campaign exercise.

But where does all this money come from: the candidate themselves or their party? Who are the anonymous donors – or ‘personal friends’ – that benevolently let a candidate borrow their fancy Prados and gun-toting guards in speeding double-cabins trailing clouds of dust?

Most of the leading candidates for NA-244 said they had no idea how much they had spent on their election campaign until that point

Speaking to Dawn last week, most of the leading candidates for NA-244 – a Karachi constituency that stretches from Gulistan-e-Jauhar to Defence View – said they had no idea how much they had spent on their election campaign until that point.

“My accountant will have a better idea of the money we’re spending. I’m focused on running the campaign,” said PML-N candidate Miftah Ismail, who served as federal finance minister in the last government. He’s running his campaign from the head office of Ismail Industries, a confectionery business whose majority shares are controlled by his family members. His average personal income is more than Rs100m a year, he says.

The PML-N runs a nationwide campaign on TV and newspapers, but it doesn’t fund campaigns of its individual candidates. They have to arrange their own funds, Mr Ismail says. “I have never asked my party for funds. It’s also because I’m well-off and can afford to run my own campaign.” He says a typical campaign in an urban NA constituency should cost anything north of Rs20m.

He didn’t know the exact amount that he is legally allowed to spend on his campaign.

The inability or unwillingness of candidates to come up with an estimate of the actual cost they’re incurring is also because a big chunk of it is intangible. For example, the candidate for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Ali Zaidi, is running his campaign from the head office of Paragon Constructors, one of the biggest construction firms operating in the country.

Sitting at the corner table in the chairman’s suite of Paragon Constructors, Mr Zaidi explained that setting up the headquarters of his campaign in an already furnished office meant he didn’t have to worry about installing a backup electricity generator or Xerox machine.

But does this not constitute a possible conflict of interest? After all, the company in question is a key stakeholder in numerous projects of Bahria Town, a controversial real estate developer fighting a number of lawsuits for alleged land-grabbing. The website of Paragon Constructors lists Bahria Apartments, Bahria Town Karachi Bridge, Bahria Town Amusement Park, Bahria Town Ali Villa and Ali Plaza as its executed projects.

Shouldn’t there be proper accounting and disclosure about who is pouring money into a campaign? Mr Zaidi agrees. “Everything can have a conflict of interest. But I’m not eyeing to be minister for development,” he said in response to a question about the possibility of his benefactor wielding influence if he and his party come to power. “Our whole fight is against this culture of nepotism,” he said while claiming that no businessman would receive any undue favour from his party’s government.

“Businesses operate on contacts worldwide. It’s about who you know and how thick your phone book is. (But) as long as you’re not breaking the law… things move on in life,” he added.

Mr Zaidi is also a businessman like PML-N’s Ismail. But his business is in the United Arab Emirates where he has been running a real estate brokerage and asset management company since 1990.

“If you ask me whether that was the only Rs8m (Rs4m for the NA seat and Rs2m for the two provincial assembly seats) that was going to be spent, then it would not have been enough. I’ll be very honest. So we have friends who donate… let us use their cars. If I start paying (for vehicles and volunteers), I’ll spend the Rs8m within a week,” Mr Zaidi said.

Like the PML-N, the PTI doesn’t provide its candidates with any funds. The campaign bus that he has rented for a month costs Rs700,000, which includes branding expenses, drivers, petrol and maintenance. Two billboard trucks cost Rs150,000 each. “That’s Rs1m gone,” he says, noting that he couldn’t afford to deploy more vehicles because he must stick to the spending limit. But the cumulative cost of the whole campaign should be around Rs20m, he says.

As for the PPP, its candidate Mian Waqar Akhtar Paganwala says his party hasn’t extended any financial support to him to fight the election. As per his estimate, he’d spent Rs2.8m until four days before Election Day and his total spending was likely to stay within the prescribed limit. However, this doesn’t account for the material support he is receiving from his friends in various forms, such as free/subsidised printing of handbills and election merchandise.

Mr Paganwala is a ‘well-established’ businessman by his own account. His net income from a 500-acre fish farm near Thatta alone is about Rs80m per year. He also owns agricultural land of 300 acres besides a mineral water plant, he said.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM), which won the majority vote in 2013 from the areas that now constitute NA-244, has fielded Rauf Siddiqui for the 2018 election. He says the MQM doesn’t allow its candidates to spend their own money on campaigns.

“We’re not even allowed to pay the fee for obtaining the nomination form.” The party collects donations from the general public and spends them through different committees that report directly to headquarters, he says, adding that candidates don’t get access to any party funds.

In the years gone by, this strategy might have worked perfectly well. The party would attract massive funding from private citizens as well as businesses sympathetic to the party’s cause. But its current campaign seems to be in the doldrums at least in NA-244: the MQM has held few large public gatherings and its election camps are few and far between.

“We’ve been living under jabr (oppression) for the last three years. People are scared. But the MQM doesn’t need to spend millions. Our sympathisers may now be volunteering at the election offices of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), but they’ll vote for the MQM on July 25,” he claimed.

Mr Siddiqui also said he didn’t know for sure how much a candidate is allowed to spend on his campaign.

The candidate from the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), an electoral alliance of five religious parties, is Zahid Saeed. Belonging to the JI, he’s Managing Director of Indus Pharma, a prominent pharmaceutical company.

Like its archrival MQM, the JI prohibits its electoral candidates from spending their own money. But this doesn’t mean its candidates cannot donate funds if they’re well-heeled. “I donated Rs1.5m to my party,” he says, claiming that his campaign will adhere to the spending limit.

Outspending rivals becomes necessary for candidates that lack a basic party structure or committed workers at the mohalla level, he says. For example, a candidate in NA-244 will need up to 1,800 polling agents on Election Day. Mr Saeed claims each of his rival candidates is going to pay his polling agents some kind of stipend.

“They’re going to have hired hands on July 25. But we won’t have to spend that much because we already have a strong network of committed workers at the grass-roots level.”

Security bill skyrockets

,By: Ikram Junaidi,

The estimated cost of the security arrangements will be quite beyond Rs10 billion as around 800,000 security officials will be doing election duty, CCTV cameras will be installed at over 18,000 polling stations and a large number of private security agency guards will also be hired.

“The July 25 elections will be one of its kind as it has been decided that army troops will be deputed at all [85,000] polling stations as compared to the last election where army personnel were deputed at only sensitive polling stations.

“As per plan two soldiers will be inside the polling stations and at least one will be outside the polling station. However at sensitive polling stations, two to three solders may be deputed outside the station as well,” Spokesperson Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Chaudhry Nadeem Qasim said while talking to Dawn.

With the deployment of a greater number of armed forces, expenses incurred on setting up surveillance cameras and candidates investing in personal security, the total cost of security will spike in 2018

While replying to a question, he said that ECP has not requested a specific number of troops from the army.

“We have left it to the armed forces to analyse the situation and depute officials as per their observation. Initially it was estimated that around 350,000 officials would be deputed but in a recent media briefing, by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), it is claimed that as many as 371,000 army troops will be deputed for election duty. Moreover a large number of police officials will also be deputed at polling stations along with other security arrangements,” he said.

When asked what the total cost of security will be for the elections, Mr Qasim said that security fell within the purview of the ministries of finance and defence and that the ECP had nothing to do with it.

“The role of the armed forces will end after ballot papers and all other records have been shifted to the strong rooms of divisional headquarters. However, I personally feel that the security situation today is has improved when compared to the 2013 elections,” he said.

According to documents available with Dawn, allocation for the armed forces in the 2008 elections was Rs120 million, while the figure increased to around Rs758m for the 2013 elections.

In 2008 as many as 39,000 troops participated in security duties so that average allocation per soldier was around Rs3,076. Meanwhile over 70,000 troops participated in 2013 resulting in an average cost of over Rs10,000 per soldier.

However, because of the current rise in inflation and the increase in number of security personnel employed this year — 371,000 soldiers to be deputed in 2018 — the cost of security will skyrocket these elections.

A security analyst, requesting anonymity, supported the conclusion that security expenses these elections will be exponentially higher than in earlier elections, adding that the decision to install CCTV cameras at around 18,000 sensitive polling stations had contributed to the increase.

Talking about the withdrawal of candidate security on the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, he stated that “VIPs will have to hire private guards for the duration of the elections because not only is there an actual need, but there is also a trend that people prefer to cast votes in favour of candidates that have a greater show of force.”

Secretary Election Commission Babar Yaqoob said on July 19, while speaking at the Senate Standing Committee on Interior that as many as 800,000 security staff, including the army and police, will be on duty.

Aziz Khan, senior supervisor of Vital Securities Islamabad, who is a retired army official, said that as many as 70 guards of his security agency have been hired by the army.

“They are being trained by the armed forces and will be used for security of polling stations on the day of the elections,” he claimed.

A representative of security company, VIP Bouncer Islamabad, Sajid Awan while talking to Dawn said that he has provided 10 bodyguards to different candidates for their security during the election campaigns. “Chaudhry Nadeem, who has been allotted ‘Jeep’ symbol and is contesting from Chakri, Rawalpindi, has also hired bodyguards. We have been charging Rs5,000 per day for each body guard,” he concluded.

Unique dynamics of a rural constituency

,By: Mohammad Hussain Khan,

What worries a prospective candidate the most besides securing a rural constituency are the expenses to be incurred in the process.

As the electoral process gets underway, candidates start planning ways to manage an election campaign effectively with modest expenditure. Political heavyweights and independent candidates alike find innovative and expensive ways of canvassing.

With the availability of handsome cash flows they remain least concerned about expenditure. Their aim is to influence and woo voters. And in some cases candidates even pay to buy votes. Poll campaign expenses start off from setting up of ‘autaqs’ in rural areas or offices in urban settlements to monitor the election campaign.

Around 40pc of campaign expenses are incurred once the candidates get tickets, while the remaining 60pc are reserved for polling day alone

Expenses continue till polling day, the high point of each general election. Currently contesting candidates agree that 40 per cent of their campaign’s expenses are incurred once they get tickets, while the remaining 60pc are diverted towards fuel and transportation costs for polling day alone.

Every candidate saves a major chunk of their funds for this vital logistical need. In urban constituencies, one can easily ride a bike from one end to the other to bring voters, but contesting in a rural constituency is more difficult.

Besides transport, candidates initially get their stickers, leaflets and posters printed on their own so that supporters and voters may follow the trend.

“There were reports in the market in 2013 that a political party candidate spent Rs1.5 million alone on panaflexes, banners, stickers and leaflets for a national and provincial assembly seat. This is not the case this time,” says Shahid Qureshi, who composes banners, handbills and posters.

In the last two elections the trend of covering billboards with panaflex banners became popular, with a huge amount of money spent on hiring billboards andhoardings of private advertisers.

But in the current elections, restrictions imposed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) regarding the size of banners, flags, flexes, etc has resulted in an absence of billboards adorned with candidates’ profiles that would otherwise dot the constituency. Candidates are spending on leaflets or handbills to drive their message home.

“Our candidate from a political party utilised around Rs30m in a rural constituency during the last general elections as he had generously spent on food, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses,” says a political party activist who wished to remain anonymous.

Rs8m is required to meet polling day’s requirements of transportation, food for workers and polling agents

“ECP’s policies are unrealistic given Pakistani poll dynamics. How can an election be contested with a ceiling of two to three million rupees with present day inflation, where the dollar keeps surging and the rupee weakens?” asks a candidate.

Another candidate from a rural area of Hyderabad claims that candidates now arrange money through friends.

“Poll campaigns enable close confidantes of potential political figures to spend lavishly for them in campaigns. In lieu of this they become beneficiaries of public offices held by their chosen politicians if they win.

“They win contracts and get different businesses by using politicians’ clout in government circles,” remarks Syed Jalal Mehmood Shah, President of the Sindh United Party, who is contesting from the rural area of Jamshoro.

Shah is contesting from NA-233 of Jamshoro district, which has a hilly terrain. His constituency touches Indus Highway on one end and M9 Motorway (Karachi-Hyderabad strip) on the other. The population remains scattered and a polling station is located 10 kilometres to 20km away from populated areas.

Given present day fuel cost, the expenditure increases manifold. “There are instances in which my area’s polling station was set up in some other part which will double my transportation expenses to make sure potential voters, especially women, cast their votes,” contends a candidate.

ECP aims to increase voter turnout in elections without explaining how to ensure voters’ transportation to polling stations. This remains exclusively the job of a candidate. And If ECP’s ceiling is to be respected, argues the head of a regional party, contesting an election is impossible.

A candidate who is contesting his first elections approximates a cost of Rs10m if the election is to be fought decently. “With a budget of Rs7m to Rs8m one can meet polling day’s requirements of transportation, food for your workers and polling agents,” he asserts.

Another claims that out of their total expenditure a candidate invariably spends Rs150,000 to Rs200,000 on each polling station to cover costs of fuel, transportation, meals and drinking water on polling day. Roughly, over a 100 polling stations are set up for a provincial seat.

Transport providers have a field day by charging exorbitant rates for cars and other means of transport. Whether the ECP provide transport to voters on polling day in every constituency to lessen their financial burden, is a question every candidate asks.

Elections see more aloo, less chicken for voters

,By: Mohiuddin Aazim,

Generally, as political parties entertain voters with traditional food items at public meetings ahead of polls and in the vicinity of polling stations near Election Day; both food businesses and commodity markets witness a boost.

Since the 2018 election campaigning period has coincided with the month of Eid, in which lots of weddings are held, food businesses were expecting an exceptional rise in demand this year. But that did not happen.

Higher prices of food commodities and a stricter enforcement of electioneering code of conduct have apparently moderated expected demand, owners and managers of food businesses say.

Higher prices of food commodities and a stricter enforcement of electioneering code of conduct have apparently moderated expected demand

Traders at Jodia Bazar (one of Karachi’s oldest markets) say prices of almost all food commodities have risen either due to the direct impact of a recent rupee depreciation, or as a result of the inflationary pressure building up in the domestic economy. This has led to a slower than expected growth in bulk sale of rice, sugar, pulses and spices during this time of the year.

Besides, doubts created regarding the elections even taking place — owing to the tussle between political parties and the violence perpetuated ahead of the event — impacted forward sales of food commodities in the second half of June, traders at Jodia Bazar point out.

“I was expecting huge forward sales of rice, pulses and spices after Ramazan for delivery during the upcoming Eid and ahead of polls but well, I can say that the actual demand turned out to be just half of what I had expected,” says a leading trader at Jodia Bazar.

“Semi-wholesalers in the city to whom I supply food commodities may have had a better idea of the demand pattern during the upcoming elections, which is why many of them booked smaller amounts of food commodities in June.”

As confidence about the certainty of the July 25 polls increased towards the end of June, semi-wholesalers began purchases of food commodities from Jodia Bazar to buildup their inventories ahead of elections and amidst the ongoing wedding season.

This continues but after another rupee depreciation of 5.7pc on July 16 prices of commodities have suddenly increased, retailers and semi-wholesalers complain.

Despite the rate hike, food caterers that make direct and often advance purchases from Jodia Bazar say they continue to book orders for biryani, qorma, roti and zarda to be served at candidates’ corner meetings or the local offices of their political parties.

At these offices, food is served regularly to party workers and supporters that have started frequenting the offices ahead of elections. “But these elections are somewhat slower than 2013,” remarked Muhammad Owais, owner of a local food business at Nagan Chowrangi, Karachi.

Political parties with proactive social arms are also attracting voters via social welfare platforms and are organising events like picnic parties, social get-togethers and collective prayers for this purpose. On such occasions food and drinks are also offered.

Owners and managers of food catering houses in Saddar, Burns Road, Nazimabad, Liaquatabad, Federal B. Area, North Karachi, Malir, Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Gulistan-Jauhar and other parts of Karachi say many of them are supplying one to three daighs of biryani to the local offices of political parties daily.

The number of daighs of biryani served at the corner meetings of electoral candidates goes up depending upon the size of these meetings and the budgets of those who arrange them. In case of smaller meetings this number ranges between two and five, caterers say, adding that at larger corner meetings they have served five to 10 daighs as well.

The trend of serving food to political workers, supporters and prospective voters during campaigning is common everywhere in Pakistan but this time its reportedly gathering more momentum in Sindh and Punjab.

In KP and Balochistan, extreme pre-poll violence has somewhat dampened the spirit of campaigning.

Meanwhile, dealers complain of disruption in inland transportation of commodities because of roadblocks, clogged vehicular traffic and shortage of trucks and vans which are being hired to transport people to public meetings.

Traders with low inventories in Karachi are finding it difficult to augment the same with supplies from interior Sindh and Punjab. This, along with the increase in transportation charges on the back of higher fuel oil prices, is also a reason for the spike in prices of food items.

Rice supplies generally begin to thin out at this time of the year ahead of harvesting of the new crop from August-September; “but (due to the facts stated above), these supplies have almost come to a halt and our inventories have depleted faster than they normally would,” laments Muhammad Zulfiqar, a rice dealer based in Karachi.

Another noteworthy development is that the supply of food grains and vegetables to city markets has been affected owing to the increase in food offerings by political parties to their rural supporters.

The trend of serving the comparatively cheaper chana (chickpea) biryani and aalo (potato) biryani to workers of political parties at their local offices, particularly in financially modest localities is evident during these elections compared to the 2013 elections.

With an already flawed price monitoring mechanism, the deputation of price magistrates on election duties has given retailers, including those dealing in chicken and meat, a freer hand to overcharge customers, media reports suggest.

Big cars lead the charge

,By: Ahmad Fraz Khan,

As the country gets closer to Election Day, the business of vehicle rental is booming.

While it is hard to quantify the boom as estimates differ among dealers, a consensus hints at an increase of around 70 to 100 per cent compared to the last elections.

Car dealers identify two new trends, particular to the current elections, in their business: an exceptionally high dependence on four wheelers and Pakistan Teheerk-e-Insaf (PTI) candidates leading the charge in hiring vehicles.

While it is hard to quantify the boom as estimates differ among dealers, a general agreement hints at an increase of around 70-100pc compared to the last elections

“Over 95pc demand is restricted to three brands — double-cabin Vigo (commonly known as daala), Prado and Land Cruiser jeep — as they have emerged as a symbol of political and financial power,” explains Samad Hussain, a dealer who has been in the business for the last two decades.

Small vehicles — such as 1,300CC cars — are almost out of vogue these days as they have no electoral appeal.

Rental rates of flashy brands have doubled, even tripled, in the last two months.

For example, a double-cabin Vigo, which was available for a rent of Rs250,000 per month in May, has currently gone up to around Rs840,000 per month (Rs28,000 per day) while the rent for a Prado has increased from Rs450,000 per month to approximately over Rs1 million per month (at Rs35,000 per day).

Land Cruiser, however, is leading the way at Rs1.5m a month (Rs50,000 per day) — up from Rs750,000 per month in May.

“Over 70pc of this demand in Lahore has come from PTI candidates,” claims Shamraiz Hassan, who has also rented vehicles to election contestants. He gave the example of one rich PTI candidate, contesting through many constituencies in the city, as being primarily responsible for this spike in Lahore business.

“Secondly, the PML-Nawaz people are old hands at electoral politics and mostly have the vehicles they require during electioneering. They are not falling over each other for vehicles like the PTI candidates, but they have certainly driven the demand up by around 20pc,” Shamraiz continues.

One can say that independents are making up the left over 10pc of the demand. There are certain parties who have not approached the local market to rent any vehicles. These parties may be using self-owned vehicles or they may not be using any big vehicle at all, either way they have not been out there in the business of hiring so far, he concludes.

“Lahore has a very limited number of big vehicles and the gap in demand is being met by vehicles coming from other parts of the country, especially KP,” Sheikh Shabir tells Dawn. The city dealers only had 120 such loaded vehicles (Prado or Land Cruisers) because very few people can afford massive rentals.

Supply during the polls comes either from some relatively less-endowed candidates who sell their vehicles to fund their election campaigns, or from KP where such vehicles are available for a relatively cheaper rate because of low demand.

Dealers from Punjab hire these vehicles for a longterm well before elections. This year a major supply of the double-cabin jeep came from Lakki Marwat, where it was available for Rs150,000 per month as compared to Rs250,000 per month in Lahore — dealers therefore made around Rs100,000 per month in May, which has skyrocketed to around Rs800,000 per month, he reveals.

Comparing rents this year with the 2013 elections, Samad Hussain says “we used to charge Rs170,000 for the double-cabin vehicles back in 2013, Rs370,000 for a Prado and Rs650,000 for a Land Cruiser. Now, they have jumped to the levels quoted earlier.

“Apart from a rise in business, there are a number of other reasons for the increase in rentals: general inflation, continued slide in value of rupee as compared to the dollar and the resultant increase in cost of vehicles.

He, however, does not think that people in the car rental business make any fresh investment on vehicles especially for the elections.

“The price of these vehicles goes up by 20pc to 30pc as elections near and settles back down once they are over. The difference between pre- and post-elections prices is large enough to neutralise potential profits.

On top of this, renting vehicles out during elections is not a smooth proposition. The use of vehicles is so rough that it not only multiplies the maintenance cost but later repairs also cost a fortune.

Retrieving money from the candidates after they have won the elections is also a herculean task, and almost impossible if they lose. It was for this reason that this year it was decided at the level of the dealer’s association that payments would be charged in-advance to minimise the risk of sinking rentals.

On the streets of Karachi

,By: Humair Ishtiaq,

It is kind of funny how time and time again anything and everything you put across to the man on the street evokes sarcasm — blanket sarcasm. Most of them subsequently try to be rational but that is more of an afterthought. Initially you almost always get a knee-jerk response. They don’t just try to laugh off the question. They pretty much do the same to the questioner.

From small-time vendors selling their wares in upscale areas to their counterparts in downtown, middle-class and peripheral localities, the streak remains unchanged on Karachi’s streets.

When camera crews of television channels approach them for footage and sound bites, people behave slightly differently for they know their faces will be beamed across the country and beyond, but only if they are politically correct in terms of word choice.

Yet when you approach them with just a pen and a notebook in hand, Karachiites speak their own language, which is rather colourful and dotted with expletives.

For Karachi and Karachiites, this year’s election is a new phenomenon. They actually have to think. The last time they did that was in the 1977 elections

It is fun interacting with them, but the fun soon ends for there is hardly anything left to cobble up a copy worth publishing. You come back to your desk with nothing on the notebook and a load of (self-) censoring beeps crossing your mind and asterisks dangling in front of your eyes.

How is the election campaign going this time round? It was a simple how-is-the-weather-type question. At least it was intended that way, but pat came a counter-question. “First you tell me how much money is being spent on all this.”

When told that in the last elections, it was about Rs400 billion and was likely to be no less this time, a few inventive curses preceded a stare — as if you were the one spending all that — and then came this gem:

“How much do you think will be enough to build the Bhasha Dam that we are about to build with the help of the chief justice? The Election Commission of Pakistan should have asked all the candidates to donate to the fund created for the purpose. That would have been much better than spending on trucks wrapped up in panaflex and fitted with sound systems blaring out self-conceived, self-written eulogies in self-praise …”

One of the major slogans coined for Imran Khan, who is contesting a National Assembly seat from Gulshan-e-Iqbal, is ‘Wazeer-e-Azam Karachi Se’, which aims at providing some sort of assurance — if not incentive — to Karachiites that they will be decently represented in parliament if they vote for him. Many would have felt convinced, but not everyone seems to be on board.

“There was another prime minister from Karachi. Liaquat Ali Khan. Remember what happened to him? I hope nobody meets the same fate, but, well, you never know. Do you?”

The twinkle in the eyes and the gesture of the hands said a bit more, but let’s leave it at that.

For Karachi and Karachiites, the election this year is a new phenomenon. They actually have to think. The last time they did that was in the 1977 elections. Since then, everyone knew who was going to take Karachi.

That element is missing this year, which means it is a city pregnant with hope and uncertainty. For many, it is a case of being pregnant with twins, and mood swings are pretty much part of such a phase.

While talking to a vendor in the city’s central district, it just so happened that a truck passed by with the election symbol of a dolphin prominently displayed. The gentleman concerned left his discourse midstream, winked and said what he probably could not say in the past.

“The dolphin, you see, is an apt symbol. It’s the Indus Dolphin, actually, and you know it is an endangered species. Let’s see if somebody can come to its rescue.” The next thing he did was a high-five with his friend standing next to him. The truck passed, but the laughter continued a wee bit longer.

Postscript: All the quotes above represent the most sanitised versions of long rambles, but if you don’t live in a world of your own, it is actually not too difficult to pick the (self-) censoring beeps and asterisks that are invisible and yet there in the text. Try again, if you will.

Letter from Mumbai: No questions asked about corporate funding

,By: Anand Kumar,

While India boasts of being one of the most vibrant democracies with a highly transparent electoral system, followed by a smooth takeover of power; where political party funding is concerned it is one of the most regressive countries in the modern world.

Political parties including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress — along with their respective followers and backers — have steadfastly refused to bring in legislation to regularise electoral funding.

In fact, just a few months ago, the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, quietly passed a bill that exempts political parties from scrutiny of funds that they have received from abroad for the past four decades.

The lower house passed an amendment to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 (FCRA), overturning a key aspect that banned overseas corporations from funding Indian political parties.

Ironically, even the Congress and other opposition parties, who were vociferously opposed to the passing of the Finance Bill 2018 in parliament, did not appear to be unduly concerned with the government moving the amendment to the Foreign Contribution Act.

The Representation of People’s Act had barred political parties from accepting foreign funds. However, the government in its Finance Bill 2016 amended the rules making it easier for parties to accept funds from donors abroad — a company with less than 50 per cent shares held by a foreign entity is now longer considered a foreign source. And with one amendment passed unopposed, it did away with the possibility of scrutinising political funding since 1976.

Not surprisingly, political analysts saw the move as a determined bid by the two large parties — the BJP and the Congress — to overcome a Delhi high court judgement of 2014 that had found both the parties violating the FCRA.

And interestingly, both parties withdrew their appeals in the Supreme Court against the Delhi high court’s order after parliament passed the bill.

But the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), a non-profit body, earlier this month filed a plea in the Supreme Court challenging the retrospective amendments to the FCRA, accusing the government of trying to protect the Congress and BJP who have allegedly received political donations from some unknown non-resident Indians (NRI).

India’s parliament, which is ever alert to violations of different rules and regulations by corporates, institutions and others, has however, adopted a low-key approach towards political violations.

In fact, the only time parliament ever saw the issue being taken up seriously was more than half a century earlier when Atal Behari Vajpayee had, as a very junior MP, moved a private member’s bill in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house, seeking to amend the Companies Act and to prevent corporates from making political donations.

Mr Vajpayee had vehemently argued for the passing of his bill, referring to the immorality of the plea that corporates did not need to get shareholders’ approval for donating funds.

All political parties in India accept funds from corporates.


The ADR recently released a comprehensive list of corporate donations made to five national parties between 2012-13 and 2015-16.

The BJP, which came to power in 2014, toppled the Congress to emerge as the most funded party. It got nearly three-fourths of the total funding of almost a billion rupees from corporate donors between 2012-13 and 2015-16.

The BJP has toppled the Congress to emerge as the most funded party. It got nearly three-fourths of the total funding of almost a billion rupees from corporate donors between 2012-13 and 2015-16

Corporate funding of political parties also shot up from less than Rs4 billion between 2004-05 and 2011-12 to almost Rs10bn between 2012-13 and 2015-16.

Corporate funding also accounted for the bulk of electoral funding; in the case of the BJP, it added up to 85pc of total donations and 92pc for the Congress.

ADR’s latest report for 2016-17 indicates the BJP cornered nearly 90pc of the corporate donations of Rs3.25bn to 10 political parties.

Both the BJP and the Congress also have hefty total incomes; the Congress got nearly Rs40bn between 2004-05 and 2014-15, while the BJP got about Rs33bn. The CPM (Communist-Marxist) had total income of Rs9bn.

A recent book brought out by Oxford University Press — Costs of Democracy: Political Finance in India — comprises seven papers by experts and reveals the subject of political funding in India in depth.

Leading politicians continue to speak out about the lack of transparency in political funding, but beyond such talk there is not much action. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, for instance, in his budget speech last year, lamented that despite 70 years of Independence, the country had not come out with a transparent method of political funding.

Most Indian corporates are also shy of revealing their funding of political parties. They prefer donating funds to specific trusts — with their names not being revealed — in a big way.

Last year, a report noted that seven electoral trusts had donated almost Rs4.5bn between 2013 and 2016 to parties, accounting for a third of the disclosed funding.

The bodies included ones such as the Satya Electoral Trust, the General Electoral Trust, the Samaj Electoral Trust and the Janpragati Electoral Trust.

With both the leading parties in India doing their best to brush aside all queries into their funding by businesses, it is unlikely that there will be transparency in corporate funding in India over the next few years.

Of course, the effect of corporate funding in elections around the world still remains unknown.

In the US, for instance, a report in Kellogg Insight — brought out by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University — last year had noted that corporate donations do not necessarily buy meaningful political favours, as evident by the lack of any sharp surge in the price of stocks of companies whose preferred candidates won the elections.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, July 23rd, 2018

Chapter VIII: Election expenses and statement of assets and liabilities

132. Restriction on election expenses

(1) The election expenses of a candidate shall include the expenses incurred by any person or a political party on behalf of the candidate or incurred by a political party specifically for the candidate.

(2) Where any person incurs any election expenses on behalf of a candidate, whether for stationery, postage, advertisement, transport or for any other item, such expenses shall be deemed to be the election expenses incurred by the candidate himself.

(3) The election expenses of a contesting candidate shall not exceed

 (a) Rs1.5 million for election to a seat in the Senate; 

  (b) Rs4m for election to a seat in the National Assembly; and 

 (c) Rs2m for election to a seat in a Provincial Assembly. 

(4) A candidate shall, through bills, receipts and other documents, vouch for every payment made in respect of election expenses, except where the amount is less than Rs1,000.

In order to develop a better understanding of the permissions given by the Election Commission of Pakistan to candidates for spending on their election campaigns, we reproduce below Chapter VIII from the Elections Act 2017

(5) If election expenses of a candidate are disputed, the Commission may conduct an enquiry to ascertain whether the election expenses, incurred by any person other than the candidate, were incurred with his permission and if the expenses were incurred without his permission, it would not be deemed to be election expenses on behalf of the candidate.

133. Bank account for election expenses

(1) For purposes of his election expenses, a candidate shall open an exclusive account with any branch of a scheduled bank before the date fixed for scrutiny of nomination papers and maintain, or cause to be maintained, a register of receipts and expenditures.

(2) A candidate shall not make any transaction towards the election expenses through an account other than the account opened for the purpose.

(3) A candidate may open the bank account for election expenses with an amount not exceeding the limit of election expenses provided under section 132. 134.

134. Return of election expenses

(1) A contesting candidate, other than the returned candidate, shall submit the return of his election expenses on Form C within thirty days of the publication of the name of the returned candidate.

(2) The return of election expenses of the returned candidate and a contesting candidate shall be submitted to the Returning Officer on Form C. 135.

135. Inspection of returns

(1) Immediately on receipt, the returns and documents submitted under section 134, shall be sent by the Returning Officer to the Commission and shall, for a period of one year from the date of receipt by it, be open to inspection by any person on payment of the prescribed fee.

(2) The Commission shall, on an application made in this behalf and on payment of the prescribed fee, give any person copies of any return or document or any part thereof kept under sub-section (1). 136.

136. Action relating to election expenses

(1) The Commission shall, in accordance with such procedure as may be prescribed but within ninety days from the date of submission of a return of election expenses, scrutinise or cause to be scrutinised the return of election expenses submitted by each contesting candidate including the returned candidate.

(2) If the Commission fails to finalise scrutiny of any return of election expenses within ninety days under sub-section (1), the return of election expenses shall be deemed to be scrutinised and accepted as correct.

(3) Where after scrutiny of returns under sub-section (1), the Commission is of the view that a candidate has acted in contravention of the provisions of section 132, the Commission shall direct an authorised officer to file a complaint against such candidate for committing the offence of corrupt practice.

(4) Where a contesting candidate fails to file requisite returns within the specified period, the Returning Officer shall cause a notice to be issued to such candidate calling upon him to show cause why proceedings may not be initiated against him for failure to file requisite returns; and if despite service of notice, he does not comply with the provisions of section 134, the Returning Officer shall report the matter to the Commission.

(5) On receipt of report under sub-section (4), the Commission shall issue notice calling upon the candidate to show cause as to why a complaint may not be filed against him for failure to file requisite returns.

(6) The candidate may file an application for condonation of delay in filing the returns along with the return and the Commission may condone the delay, if it is satisfied that such failure was made in good faith due to circumstances beyond the control of the candidate, and accept the return.

(7) In case of rejection of application for condonation of delay under sub-section (6), the Commission shall direct an authorised officer to file a complaint against such candidate for committing the offence of illegal practice.

137. Submission of statement of assets and liabilities

(1) Every Member of an Assembly and Senate shall submit to the Commission, on or before 31 December each year, a copy of his statement of assets and liabilities including assets and liabilities of his spouse and dependent children as on the preceding thirtieth day of June on Form B.

(2) The Commission, on the first day of January each year through a press release, shall publish the names of Members who failed to submit the requisite statement of assets and liabilities within the period specified under subsection (1).

(3) The Commission shall, on the sixteenth day of January, by an order suspend the membership of a Member of an Assembly and Senate who fails to submit the statement of assets and liabilities by the fifteenth day of January and such Member shall cease to function till he files the statement of assets and liabilities.

(4) Where a Member submits the statement of assets and liabilities under this section which is found to be false in material particulars, he may, within one hundred and twenty days from the date submission of the statement, be proceeded against for committing the offence of corrupt practice.

138. Publication of statement of assets and liabilities

The Commission shall publish in the official Gazette the statements of assets and liabilities received by it under section 137 and any person may obtain copies of a statement of assets and liabilities on payment of prescribed fee.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, July 23rd, 2018

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NAB pressure on PML-N, yet Imran losing crowd: Shahbaz

PESHAWAR: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shahbaz Sharif on Friday termed Imran Khan’s recent public meetings ‘a total failure’ and said PML-N workers were fully charged to run the election campaign of their candidates against all odds.

He said Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan was busy levelling baseless allegations and using derogatory language against other parties. People were no more willing to attend Mr Khan’s public meetings, said Mr Shahbaz while addressing a press conference after visiting Bilour House where he offered condolences to the Bilour family over the death of Awami National Party (ANP) candidate Haroon Bilour in a recent blast.

,PTI will use any strategy to defeat PML-N, win the elections: Imran on ‘electables’, seat adjustments,

The PML-N president said his rivals were eating cakes and pastries while his party candidates were being pressured to switch loyalties due to National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cases. He said PML-N leaders were attending courts as his party was being pushed to the wall while others were running election campaigns.

Visits Bilour House to offer condolences; addresses election rally in Swat

He alleged that the Punjab government was following instructions of the PTI. It mishandled peaceful PML-N workers on July 13, booked them in terrorism cases for holding rallies to welcome their leader Nawaz Sharif, he said.

The former chief minister of Punjab said Nawaz Sharif knew he would be sent behind bars yet he returned to Pakistan leaving his ailing wife in a serious condition in a London hospital. This proved he did not want to flee as he faced all the cases instituted against him, said Mr Shahbaz, claiming that the entire world also witnessed the ‘mammoth rally’ to welcome the former premier.

He alleged that TV channels under Pakistan Electro­nic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) pressure did not give proper coverage to the rally. While the PML-N supremo was not even allowed to meet his ailing mother, PML-N workers remained peaceful, he said. Yet they were booked in cases, he said, adding that the party wrote a letter to the Election Commission of Pakistan and the caretaker prime minister to take notice of the cases but they remained silent spectators.

Mr Shahbaz said in order to ensure free, fair elections, measures must be taken to bring all stakeholders on the same page and stop all tactics for pre-poll rigging.

He said India had developed its institutions yet it was afraid of Pakistan because of its nuclear capability. He said if voted to power again, the PML-N would initiate mega development schemes on the pattern of Malaysia and Turkey to overcome poverty and unemployment.

He said that his party would win the elections and make Pakistan a ‘real’ welfare Islamic state. Paying tribute to the people in general and law enforcers in particular for rendering matchless sacrifices in the fight against terrorism, he pledged that his party would continue the efforts for durable peace and development.

Mr Shahbaz said Mr Khan, who had been condemning the PML-N government’s projects, later attempted to replicate them in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but failed.

Imran dubbed as Facebook leader

Later addressing a public meeting in connection with his election campaign in NA-3 (Swat-II) constituency, Mr Shahbaz said Mr Khan took Rs300 billion foreign loans but failed to spend it on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s development, adds Our Correspondent from Swat.

Mr Shahbaz said the PTI government embezzled the funds in the name of Billion Trees Tsunami and other projects such as the construction of 350 dams.

The PML-N provincial president Amir Muqam dubbed Mr Khan as ‘Facebook leader’.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2018

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PTI leader meets ex-chief of banned outfit for votes

This picture, shared by the official Facebook page of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf candidate Asad Umar, shows Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil leaving the marquee where a meeting between the two leaders was held on Tuesday.

This picture, shared by the official Facebook page of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf candidate Asad Umar, shows Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil leaving the marquee where a meeting between the two leaders was held on Tuesday.

ISLAMABAD: In a strange quest for votes, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Asad Umar, who is contesting the election from NA-54 (Islamabad), has shaken hands with the former head of a militant group banned by the United Nations, it emerged on Tuesday.

Mr Umar, who is apparently leading the race for the NA-54 seat against his main rival Anjum Aqeel of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, held a meeting with leader of Ansarul Ummah Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil along with other clerics.

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The official Facebook page of the party titled ‘NA540Islamabad’ has said Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil has joined the PTI. Above the picture of Asad Umar and Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil and his followers in a marquee where the meeting was arranged the text written in Urdu states: “Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil has joined the PTI along with scores of clerics. Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil has made the decision to join the PTI while extending support to Asad Umar, the party candidate from NA-54, with the commitment to forward the efforts to make Pakistan an Islamic welfare state in true sense.”

Maulana Khalil denied the social media reports that he had joined the PTI, but admitted that he along with his followers would support the PTI candidate.

“We have only extended support to Asar Umar in NA54 because we respect him and we will try to help him,” he said while talking to Dawn.

Maulana Khalil, who hails from Dera Ismail Khan, settled in Islamabad after establishing the large Khalid Bin Walid Madressah on its outskirts. He leads Ansarul Ummah, which is also a member of the Defence of Pakistan Council.

He was among the pioneer mujahideen of the first Afghan jihad in the 1980s and one of the founders of Harkatul Mujahideen al Islami (HuM), but now heads Ansarul Ummah, which is said to be a front organisation of HuM.

HuM is a designated international terror outfit and Maulana Khalil, too, was a proscribed person under the Fourth Schedule though his current status is unclear. HuM was also banned by Pakistan.

One of his close aides told Dawn that Maulana Khalil was not in the Fourth Schedule.

He said Maulana Khalil was supporting Asad Umar on personal grounds. “We respect Gen Umar sahib [PTI candidate’s father]. He was an upright man and Maulana sahib had good relations with him,” he said while clarifying their position after the meeting with the PTI candidate.

Mr Umar said the Facebook writing was ‘incorrect’ and was a ‘mistake’ by his team. “We had a meeting which was attended by ulema of other sects, too, including Shia and Barelvi,” he said, adding that Maulana Khalil had never been involved in any illegal activity.

Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2018

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