All the king’s men

When Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s new cabinet was appointed in June 2013, one common observation was that Pakistan’s newest set of federal ministers and special advisors did not represent a significant departure from the past, both in terms of the names associated with different ministerial portfolios, and in the underlying logic that seemed to govern most of the appointments. As is always the case in Pakistan, the decision to allot cabinet positions seemed to be driven more by broader political considerations than a desire to link expertise with particular administrative and developmental goals.

Column 1 Nawaz Sharif chairing the first cabinet meeting after becoming prime minister in June 2013

Nawaz Sharif chairing the first cabinet meeting after becoming prime minister in June 2013

At one level, this is not strange or even unique to Pakistan. Around the world, ministerial appointments are often the outcome of a variety of different factors. For example, aspirants to high public office can sometimes find themselves being rewarded for years of service to their party or personal loyalty to their leader. Similarly, individuals are often made members of the cabinet to ensure their continued support for the government, particularly when the recipients of such patronage possess the capacity to defect to other factions or parties, or even create some of their own, which could pose serious threats to the leadership of their original party.

A good contemporary example of this can be seen in the recent political history of the United Kingdom, where the three tenures of the Blair government were marked by continuous, often acrimonious, conflict between Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown. When Brown himself went on to become prime minister, it was arguably the result of the decade-long split within the Labour Party that had been papered over by the tacit understanding that, at some point, Blair would make way for his main rival within the party. Not unsurprisingly, Brown’s ascent to power brought with it corresponding changes to the cabinet, with Blairities being replaced by individuals who had long been aligned with Brown.

Following from this, one of the paradoxical features of cabinet appointments is that, quite often, the more important the position is perceived to be, the less likely it is that those selected for that position would have been chosen for their expertise in that field. This is partly due to the nature of the modern state; ministers are expected to act as administrators and agenda-setters, channeling the demands of their party leadership and voters through professional bureaucracies staffed with experts who undertake the actual work of policy making. In this context, expert knowledge is not a prerequisite for running a department, although it can be useful. Senior cabinet positions, however, represent tremendous rewards for loyalty and service, as well as incentives to not rebel or defect.

In the case of Pakistan, this would certainly appear to be true, as successive leaders have used cabinet positions as a means through which to reward allies and secure themselves against threats to their power, with capability and expertise arguably coming in as very distant, secondary considerations. General (retd) Pervez Musharraf leaned heavily on his supporters in the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PMLQ) when it came to assigning ministerial portfolios, and the same was true of the most recent Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government, run by a cabinet full of individuals aligned with former president Asif Ali Zardari and his supporters in the party, as well as individuals from parties in coalition with the PPP at the national level. The current Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) cabinet – with 19 members from Punjab, many of whom are staunch party loyalists personally tied to Nawaz Sharif – is no different.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar with Dr Ahsan Iqbal on his right

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar with Dr Ahsan Iqbal on his right

Some of the choices that have been made by Nawaz Sharif appear more obvious than others. The presence of Ishaq Dar as finance minister, for example, is unsurprising; in addition to arguably possessing the expertise and experience for the post, Dar is widely recognised as being one of Nawaz Sharif’s closest confidantes, and is also related to him through marriage. The same is true for party stalwarts like Khawaja Asif, Chaudhry Nisar, Pervaiz Rashid, and Ahsan Iqbal, all of whom have been associated with the Sharifs and the PMLN for decades, and none of whom deserted the party during the Musharraf era. In addition to allegedly forming the core of Nawaz Sharif’s closest advisors within the party and the government, it is clear that placing them in charge of the country’s most important ministries is representative of an attempt to ensure that there is as little conflict and dissent at the highest levels of government as possible.

This is perhaps also reflected by Nawaz Sharif’s evident desire to informally involve Shahbaz Sharif in the workings of the federal government, despite the latter’s responsibilities as the chief minister of Punjab. Clearly, perhaps as a result of the military coup of 1999 and the mass desertions and defections that characterised the collapse of his last government (and the subsequent creation of the PMLQ), Nawaz Sharif appears to have placed a tremendous premium on personal loyalty in his current round of cabinet appointments.

The possibility that Nawaz Sharif may have learnt some lessons from the experiences of 1999 can also be seen in his decision to retain the portfolio of foreign minister for himself (with Sartaj Aziz acting as a special advisor) as well as, until recently, the defense ministry (now headed by Khawaja Asif). More than anything else, this seems to signal a desire to wrest control of these subjects from the military, which has long sought to dominate decision making in these areas. Given his past history with the military establishment, which essentially introduced him to politics in the 1980s before removing him from the political arena in 1999, it is not surprising to see that Nawaz Sharif would want to assert the dominance of the civilian government in areas that should, by all rights, have never been under the purview of the military in the first place. Whether or not this largely symbolic move will be able to achieve this outcome remains to be seen.

Khawaja Asif,  minister for portfolio of Water and Power, and Defence in a press conference with Abid Sher Ali, state minister for water and power

Khawaja Asif, minister for portfolio of Water and Power, and Defence in a press conference with Abid Sher Ali, state minister for water and power

Before analysing the remainder of Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet, it is necessary to pay some attention to the dynamics of electoral campaigning and competition in Pakistan. At present, the country’s politics continues to be dominated by entrenched, dynastic politicians who make use of their economic and social power, as well as linkages to the state and other influential political actors, to provide patronage to their subordinates, and to mobilise voters to ensure their success in electoral contests. Parties in Pakistan, rather than being vehicles for the aggregation, articulation and pursuit of popular demands through ideological and programmatic appeals, as well as efficient organisational apparatuses, are instead beholden to local-level politicians who can provide the parties with electoral support. While the reasons behind the power of such local actors are many and varied, the fact that they, rather than the parties, control the dynamics of electoral competition, gives them a disproportionate ability to dictate terms to their parties once in power.

The reality of local level electoral politics in Pakistan needs to be tied to another important point, namely the purpose of pursuing public office in the first place. Far from being motivated by civic duty or a desire for public service, campaign propaganda notwithstanding, most aspirants to positions in the government see their goals primarily as a means through which to extract rents. Starting from the lowest rungs of the revenue administration and police, and going all the way up to the highest echelons of the bureaucracy and elected office, individuals linked to the state in Pakistan possess the power and the means to make use of their position to further their own interests, and those of their supporters.

The ability to get things done in this fashion lies at the core of Pakistan’s patronage-based politics, and those who maintain an interest in holding on to their power necessarily continue to seek means through which to do so. More often than not, this involves a process of negotiation and bargaining, through which strong electoral candidates offer their services to parties and party leaders in exchange for some kind of tangible reward. Crucially, politicians also use their strategic position to extract greater concessions from different parties, shopping around for the best deal that can guarantee their post-election prospects.

In this context, the use of cabinet appointments to discharge political obligations becomes more evident. The fact that four members of the cabinet were formerly part of the PMLQ before joining the PMLN might be taken to indicate precisely the sort of deal described above, especially given that the ministers in question won elections in competitive constituencies where their support was crucial to the success of the PMLN. The same might also be said of Sikandar Hayat Bosan, who quit the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, defeated a strong rival from the PPP in Multan, and has subsequently been rewarded with the ministry of food security and research. Similarly, the few non-Punjabi members of the cabinet are all associated with parties explicitly aligned with the PMLN and, therefore, against its rivals in the other provinces. Interestingly, it is worth noting that, with the exception of Zahid Hamid, who was originally allotted the law ministry, former and current members of other political parties who have been given cabinet positions have all been assigned ministries that are of arguably lesser importance and significance, a fact that could be reflective of how the granting of ministerial portfolios has less to do with actual governance, and more to do with how the positions themselves accord benefits to those who hold them.

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif in consultation with his brother, Shahbaz Sharif who is also the Punjab Chief minister

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif in consultation with his brother, Shahbaz Sharif who is also the Punjab Chief minister

The observation that cabinet appointments are payments for services rendered can also be used to explain another feature of past and present Pakistani cabinets, namely their size. With 17 federal ministers, nine state ministers, and four special advisors, the current cabinet, while not the largest in Pakistan’s history (that dubious distinction goes to the previous PPP government, with a cabinet comprised of over 50 ministers), is still sizeable in its own right. While the existence of many cabinet positions is clearly necessary (for example, those of defence and finance ministers), others do not intuitively appear to be essential and could easily be folded into other departments. As has been the case in the past, the expansion and contraction of the Pakistani cabinet is in no small part due to the need to reward select individuals.

Comprising individuals personally loyal to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and strategically valuable to the PMLN, the current cabinet does not represent a significant departure from those that have preceded it. To the extent that it is possible to use his cabinet appointments as a means through which to discern Sharif’s approach to governance during his third tenure in government, it seems clear that he wishes to surround himself with faces he can trust while, at the same time, rewarding a broader circle of friends, allies, and opportunists. Time only will tell if this cabinet can deliver on the electoral promises made by the PMLN. For the time being, it appears to be business as usual in Pakistani politics.

Dr Hassan Javid is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He has a PhD in Sociology from the London School of Economics.

Is the Nato blockade helping or hurting Pakistan?

It all erupted in early November, when Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan vowed to block North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) supply routes to Afghanistan in a bid to end US drone strikes in the country. Prompted by the drone attack which killed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hakimullah Mehsud at a moment when, Khan argued, peace talks seemed a real possibility, and with the support of its ally, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the PTI led anti-drone protests which have since rocked parts of the country. But while Nato routes have so far been successfully arrested – amid US threats to cut billions’ worth of aid money – is the blockade helping or hurting Pakistan? Are we taking a stand for the human rights of our drone victims when the government won’t, or using domestic unrest to pursue foreign policy interests?

Pakistan NATO Blockade

The drone issue pits the moral with the practical: The senseless suffering of a population on the one hand, and the intricacies of negotiating an allied partnership, however toxic, with the most powerful country on earth on the other. The Pakistani state has long been accused of publicly condemning drones while secretly supporting them — perhaps, such duplicity and lack of clarity cannot but invite individualist and disunited approaches to the drone issue such as Khan’s. While the likelihood of protesting our way to the cessation of drone strikes is close to nil, especially given the alternative supply routes available to the US (however costly), the question remains: When the country cannot even unite around a single policy, what hope does the PTI have of single-handedly achieving its lofty goal?
“This is a tactical success for the party’s protest,” insisted Shireen Mazari, the PTI’s information secretary. “However, strategic success will come when the US commits to stop drone attacks on Pakistan.” Nevertheless, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif warned that isolation caused by the protests could only hurt Pakistan. “We live in a globalised world where no one can afford isolation at any level,” he said. Meanwhile, officials assured US Defence Secretary of State Chuck Hagel of “immediate action” to resolve the crisis during the latter’s visit to Islamabad.

Now, we are faced with numerous practical concerns: However unsavoury the realisation, Pakistan cannot afford to lose the billions in US aid that it receives each year. Moreover, transporting Nato supplies is an industry in itself. On December 19, 2013, PTI activists distributed gur and shawls to disgruntled truckers who complained about potentially losing their jobs. A forwarding agent involved in the Nato supply business told the daily Dawn on condition of anonymity, “Since [the] Nato supply business is stalled, the money circulation capacity of local businessmen has strained and foreign exchange has also stopped coming from foreign firms.” Trucking companies also charge up to 5,000 rupees per day for the number of days the trucks are delayed, and between 30 to 120 US dollars per container to the final recipient of the shipment, which is either Karachi or Afghanistan. In the case of the latter, Pakistan must front the Afghan companies’ fees until the supplies arrive there.

Yet, morally speaking, is one using economics to justify an occupation next door? Is one saying that the US dollars weigh more than civilian blood in drone-affected areas? The PTI may say so. But if human rights, justice and self-determination are what Khan’s party is fighting for, then it cannot continue to ignore the pandemic loss of life inflicted by the TTP, nor the oppressive militant rule so many Pakistanis live and die under. A life is a life; does it matter who fires the bullet?

Turning a blind eye to local killers and demanding an end to foreign ones (who are ostensibly after the same guys we are) obscures who our real enemies are. In fact, a recent report composed by 16 intelligence agencies across the US said that the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups will increase in strength by 2017, which will no doubt have implications back home. The inability to ask the right questions or develop a coherent stance on militancy proves that our blood is cheap — even to us. Are we surprised that the Americans find it cheap too?

— Compiled from news reports

Forum: Management Talk

Over the last few weeks, the federal government has made several key appointments, including those of the new Chief Justice of Pakistan and the new army chief. Yet, many other important positions like the Chief Election Commissioner and the chairman of Pakistan International Airlines remain vacant. Amid the debate about who suits these jobs best, other questions arise – does it really matter who runs an institution? Is ignoring merit in such appointments the only problem? What else should be done to improve the performance of state and government run institutions?

Adnan Qadir

Adnan Qadir

Ilhan Niaz

Ilhan Niaz

Osama Siddique

Osama Siddique

To discuss these questions, the Herald invited Adnan Qadir Khan, the acting deputy executive director of the International Growth Centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Osama Siddique, associate professor of law at the Lahore University of Management Sciences and Ilhan Niaz, assistant professor of history at the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.

Is institutional performance linked to appointments at high offices?
Yes 100%  No 0%  [Online poll conducted during the live discussion on Herald's website] 

Herald. What is a suitable criterion to judge the performance of a public-sector organisation, state institution or government department?
Osama Siddique. Essentially, their performance is to be gauged by determining if their actual output is in accordance with their stated purpose.
Ilhan Niaz. There are three key elements that can be used to judge their performance. First is the extent to which their internal organisational and administrative set-up is managed in a manner consistent with the law and basic principles such as merit or dedication to provide service. Second is the extent to which they are able to cope with the circumstances and policy demands of the government within their presumed radius of competence. Third is the public perception of a particular institution. If you apply these three elements to the police force, for example, you will find that its internal organisation is marred by massive arbitrary interference. Thus, it cannot manage itself. It is materially and psychologically ill-equipped to deal with ordinary criminal activity as well as threats of a more serious nature and is widely perceived as abusive by the public.

Herald. Can highly qualified and experienced individuals turn around failing institutions on their own?
Niaz. No, I don’t think that simply appointing qualified people is enough in itself, though it can be a good place to start.
Siddique. It is increasingly unlikely for individuals mavericks to do the trick. It has been tried before and does not work. This is because various institutional issues are deeply embedded, as are the mafias that support the inertia which fails individual reformers. Often times, laws and frameworks that govern these institutions are outdated. Also, a clash of culture takes place when a new entrant tries to make sweeping changes to an institution. I must also confess that, as Pakistanis, we seem to have a fascination for knights in shining armours, but in the real world there are no quick fixes that can be undertaken by one maverick.
Adnan Qadir Khan. Individual leadership matters to some extent but not too much since performance is constrained by the institutional context and the rules of the game.

Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani (left), senior judge of the Supreme Court, took oath as the new Chief Justice of Pakistan on December 24, 2013.

Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani (left), senior judge of the Supreme Court, took oath as the new Chief Justice of Pakistan on December 24, 2013.

Herald. What can then be done to improve these institutions?
Niaz. The basic reform needed is to entrust personnel management functions in state organisations, like promotions, transfers and discipline, to neutral bodies, thereby clipping the wings of both the political leadership and senior civil servants when it comes to interfering in the running of these institutions. The arbitrary exercise of power has brought Pakistan’s institutions to their present state of crisis.

Siddique. For a long time, public sector institutions have been used to provide jobs to political constituencies. They have become large, inefficient and ungainly as a result. It is important to ensure that those who want to continue working in these organisations are subject to some meaningful additional training and are required to pass certain hurdles so that some of the fat can be eliminated. Also, having stringent and transparent hiring frameworks will ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated and a new culture of merit is steadily introduced.
Khan. Traditionally, the discussion of institutional working has mostly been dominated by such questions as how to control the behaviour/performance of public/political agents, how to provide the right kind of incentives and how to hold public institutions accountable? However, lately the discourse has also highlighted the key role of individuals and how they are selected. This is a key question, in politics especially — how do you encourage the entry of good leaders and promote the exit of bad ones?

How can a neutral body effectively manage appointments?
Siddique. In principle, the idea of neutral bodies is a good one but one real problem is that such bodies are rare, and where they do exist they don’t have the required capacity. This makes me wonder if the idea of following corporate principles of appointing an objective board of directors is at all realistic for the institutions of the state and the government.
Niaz. Perhaps the best example of a neutral body is the public service commission. In Pakistan, as in India, initial recruitment to the civil service is based on competitive examinations. But once the recruitment is done, arbitrary interference and arbitrary management become so rife that performance is compromised.
The committees that the government has set up for choosing the heads of institutions and departments are all well and good, but unless they have fixed terms and statutory powers their recommendations, however wise, can always be undermined by executive interference.
Siddique. I visualise a body which is hands-off and involves many people with diverse perspectives on management. But these people should not be bureaucrats in the old mould. Selecting one rather than the other will still involve some political discretion, but the appointees will have to meet some basic and fairly high qualifications themselves.

Herald. Can there be a single criterion for appointments to offices as varied as the Chief of Army Staff and the chairman of the PIA?
Siddique. Well, some of these appointments are already visualised by the constitution and others are outside its ambit. So, obviously, any change in the process requires different approaches for different institutions. In principle, some appointments do justify greater political discretion than others. The army is different from PIA in this sense. For the latter, the expertise to run a large technical enterprise is the primary consideration; the criterion for appointments in the army, on the other hand, is not as simple as it is in the case of for PIA.
The foremost criteria should be relevant qualifications, relevant expertise and demonstrated performance in the field — all determinable on the basis of rigorous, objective and transparent evaluative indicators. While the first two are meant to ensure the technical knowledge and skills requisite for the job, the third is necessary to ensure suitability and ability to deliver good results.
Khan. The first issue in Pakistan is that the basic norms of governance are violated. For instance, if a supposedly neutral and meritocratic public appointee is perceived to have been selected on non-meritocratic considerations, this undermines trust in the system and subverts governance. This will more than outweigh any potential efficiency gain brought by the appointee.
I think we can use multiple criteria — one relates to the process of selection, another to outcomes or performance. The first one is covered if the right process has been followed in the appointments; the second one is covered if the performance justifies the selection. Still another way of looking at it is to see if, based on the information at hand, the selection is justified before the appointment is made. Selection should be based on merit and equity which I believe are good predictors for future performance.
Niaz. Going into our administrative history, different committees on institutional reforms have advocated the same thing – statutory neutral bodies modeled on the public service commissions to select people for high offices. Starting with the police committee of 1985, going on to the law and order commission of 1993 and again Zafar Iqbal Rathore’s note to the then interior minister in 1999 — everyone has said the same thing. But rather than thinking of a single mechanism, it would perhaps be better to strengthen mechanisms within each institution and minimise political interferences.
In Pakistan, it is rather difficult to apply any positive and coherent framework for managing the institutions of the state and government owing to the frequency of transfers in critical institutions, especially the police, taxation bodies and general administration. Unless such arbitrary transfer is brought under control, one cannot reasonably expect long-term improvement of the performance of our institutions and departments.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sits with newly appointed Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sits with newly appointed Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif.

Herald. How can the problem of political/executive interference in the affairs of state institutions, organisations and government departments be resolved?
Siddique. First, we must differentiate between necessary or desirable discretion and ad hoc or potentially problematic interferences dictated by malafides or in the pursuit of parochial interests. Committees and commissions – appointed transparently, on merit, with legal cover for their actions and prescriptions and comprising multiple members – are one way to ensure that collusion and interference is resisted. At the same time, additional steps need to be taken to empower people so that they can demand better performance. We need to be alert to the fact that committees and commissions are, at the end of the day, essentially also conglomerations of the same people who comprise the rest of society. They too can be hijacked and co-opted. Therefore, not only is the quality of appointments to these committees and commissions important but there also has to be some necessary accountability for those appointed to them. Once appointed, they will need some discretion in their decision-making while operating under a rules-based framework.
There has to be a multi-dimensional nature of performance evaluation. One analogy is academia. We can’t just look at publications or classes taught in a robotic and uni-dimensional way to evaluate the performance of a teacher. Really good academics also add to knowledge production, intellectual and democratic debates and the overall health of a society. But these are almost impossible to evaluate objectively.
Over time, the pendulum has swung in different directions as to how much interference political parties and the government can have in running a bureaucracy. For instance, the British model of managing state institutions, which became the basis of most colonial and post-colonial administrations, is based on legal-rational authority exercised through a politically neutral bureaucracy. The American model currently in vogue is one of an administration which is aligned to the political ideology of the ruling party.
I agree with the idea of having a neutral and powerful commission to select top appointees. But at the same time, we should also have a forum to evaluate their tasks. Performance of top appointees is multi-dimensional and not easy to measure, so subjective assessments are as important as purely objective criteria. But usually the members of commissions and committees set up for hiring people for key jobs are selected by the powers that be on the criteria that they will abide by the rules of the game and not rock the boat, while adding legitimacy to the decisions that have already been made.

Herald. Has the current government handled appointments to high offices in a correct manner?
Niaz. The current government, given that it enjoys a stable majority in the lower house of parliament, has moved very slowly in making appointments. Even the ones that have been made do not seem to have considered merit as the overriding concern. It seems that the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) made no serious effort to identify a pool of talented persons with the potential to head key institutions — persons who have the credentials to ensure that their appointments do not arouse controversy — in spite of ruling Punjab from 2008 to 2013 and having the resources of Pakistan’s largest province at its disposal.
The leisurely pace of decision making regarding senior appointments and the fact that such appointments end up causing embarrassment to the government (such as the recent fiasco over the appointment of a new foreign secretary) indicate a lack of homework done on the part of the ruling party’s central leadership.
Siddique. Constitutionally speaking, there is nothing wrong with the appointment of the army chief and people need to be clear on that. Secondly, we also need to note the role of the Supreme Court over the past five years vis-à-vis key appointments. On the whole, no clear framework has emerged out of the court’s involvement — what really has emerged is essentially media sensationalism. Thirdly, I don’t see any clear intent or concrete steps taken on the part of the current regime to make transparency and quality of appointments a priority. What is also jarring is that the ruling party has filled up various appointments based on pure nepotism. Some of these may not be key positions but the symbolism and signals it sends out is very wrong.
Khan. It seems like top appointments are made after enough internal deliberation but the grounds for selection are not made clear.

Pakistan’s national carrier remains without a chairman since July 2013

Pakistan’s national carrier remains without a chairman since July 2013

Herald. Are internal deliberations within the ruling party a correct mechanism?
Niaz. Internal deliberations should have taken place prior to the day of election and shortlists of qualified individuals should have been ready so that the prime minister could start making appointments from day one.
Khan. It is not necessarily an incorrect mechanism since the constitution provides discretionary powers to the government over certain appointments. The key question is: has discretion been rightly exercised? One should look not only at the process of appointment-making, but also at the eventual performance of those appointed.
Siddique. Political parties all over the world have such deliberations and that in itself is perfectly kosher. What is important, though, is that the nominees that thereby emerge are then open to institutional examination and public scrutiny. See, for instance, the process of appointment of judges to the Supreme Court in the United States and the massive scrutiny exercised over and attention paid to the nominees over the past several years. The current government has not done its homework and seems rather hapless on this front, as well as being short of suitable names. Perhaps the concept of loyalty is deemed more important than eligibility.

Herald. So, are institutional performances then linked to the way appointments are made?
Niaz. Yes, but there are other very important variables. If you appoint brilliant, hard-working individuals to a top position and then undermine them by transferring their administrative secretaries every six months, it won’t quite matter how good thier own appointment is.
Siddique. Indeed, institutional performances are linked to the method of appointment to key positions, both because of the quality of people appointed and also because of public perceptions of these institutions and people’s faith in their performance.
Khan. While institutional performance is linked to the way appointments are made, this is only one of the factors, important though it is. The popular press and public imagination only focus on this, often underplaying all other factors. There are structural constraints to the performance of institutions that should not be ignored.

Are committees and commissions appointed on merit?
Siddique. I do not want to generalise, but largely they are not. Quite often members of the committees and commissions are insiders with clear agendas or else the usual suspects in favour with the government. Look at the Pakistan Cricket Board, for example.

System analysis

VP Corruption

The recent stunning electoral gains made by the Aam Aadmi Party in India as well as several attempts at winning popular support in Pakistan with anti-corruption slogans demonstrate that the public is not only negatively affected by corruption but has very strong feelings on the issue. From petty bribes paid to policemen to scandals involving men in high offices making massive fortunes, corruption appears to be not merely endemic but, in an ironic sense, omnipresent. Nearly everybody laments the rise in corruption and some political parties, it would appear, have made the drive against corruption their central campaigning slogan. On the flip side, several elected governments have been, rather unceremoniously, dismissed on charges of corruption in the past. In sum, the issue of corruption has always been front and centre in Pakistani politics.

What exactly is corruption? How do we define it? And how do we control it? If one examines the discourse in journalistic and political circles, the word “corruption” has almost become a catch-all word. However, in its narrow definition, corruption means “the inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (such as bribery)”. In short, paying bribes to make illegal gains or receive unlawful favours is corruption.

Corruption is measurable. 
Not really

The insurmountable problem with scholarship on any illegal activity such as corruption is that, given the clandestine character of the activity, it is impossible to document it. Imagine your own response if a pollster showed up at your doorstep and asked you the amount of money you exchanged in bribes the previous year.

In order to measure corruption, therefore, one needs a proxy. Transparency International, that puts together the most widely cited index on corruption, utilises “perception” of corruption as a proxy, the tenuous assumption being that the perception of corruption is based on real and objective happenings. To put it simply, where there is smoke there must be fire.

Pakistan’s ranking on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) has always been very low. In 2012, we ranked 139th out of 175 countries. In 2013, we are at 127. But how is this ranking put together?

The perception of corruption is a very broad category. Broad questions such as “do you trust the government” or “is corruption a big problem in your country” are part of a survey that gauges perception. Such questions are more indicative of the general confidence in the government, or lack thereof, than about actual levels of illegal exchanges of money in return for unlawful favours. The formation of public perception on corruption depends on many factors, including the narrative in the mainstream media, successful or unsuccessful resolution of corruption cases, social networks, actions of the state and political parties and so on. In our own context where the term “corruption” has become a catch-all category to describe any activity, whether lawful or unlawful, which is disagreeable to various interests, it is inevitable that such broad questions may elicit an affirmative answer. In other words, while perception may be a proxy for the reality of corruption at the very general and abstract level, the degree to which this proxy correlates with the reality of corruption is influenced by the political context of each country.

The Corruption Perception Index has been criticised by many scholars as being an unreliable source, not only as far as the comparison of different countries is concerned but even as far as the analysis of an individual country from year to year is concerned. Transparency International, too, is aware of the limitations of its methodology. “Year-to-year changes in a country’s score can either result from a changed perception of a country’s performance or from a change in the CPI’s sample and methodology. The only reliable way to compare a country’s score over time is to go back to individual survey sources, each of which can reflect a change in assessment,” the organisation explains on its website.

It is, therefore, clear that the use of survey data collected by a third party and changes in methodology strongly limit the conclusions that one can draw from such data. These nuances, however, are often lost whenever a Transparency International report is discussed in the mainstream media.

The police in Pakistan is perceived to be among the country’s most corrupt institutions.

The police in Pakistan is perceived to be among the country’s most corrupt institutions.

Corruption always has a negative impact on economic growth.
Yes, to an extent

According to Transparency International, there is no demonstrable correlation between higher CPI scores and long-term economic growth. Part of the reason why corruption may not necessarily impact long-term economic growth is that the tendency among people in power to extract illegal monetary benefits from their position (called rent-seeking in economic jargon) may become part of the usual business practices. In such a situation, rates of corruption become well established and do not hold up business transactions. But the money that flows into rent-seeking is obviously lost to the recorded and, hence, taxable income of the government. It is also lost to the project, or department, from which it is taken away. But it may not necessarily be lost to the economy as a whole. Money earned from corruption inevitably finds its way back into the economy through purchase of real estate, goods and services.

On the other hand, one can make an equally strong case that slow long-term economic growth leads to disenchantment with the government which in turn leads to high incidence of negative response on broad questions such as “do you trust the government?” The factors that may cause a slump in economic growth are also many a time perceived as being related to corruption. This, however, does not mean that slow economic growth necessarily causes the CPI to rise or that an increase in corruption necessarily causes the economy to slow down, though the two are closely linked to each other.

But even though corruption’s impact on the economy may be subject to debate, there are certain areas where corruption does have a visibly negative influence. For instance, corruption can be extremely damaging to large enterprises where rent-seeking behaviour results in a loss of crucial resources that may lead to the failure of that enterprise.

Exclusive focus on corruption obscures real problems.
Yes, it does

The amount of emphasis that some politicians put on fighting corruption as a panacea for the ills of society obscures the simple fact that many of Pakistan’s most important problems are not activities that are undertaken illegally. On the contrary, the problem lies with activities that are entirely legal.

If one accepts the view that the most important decisions for any society concern the allocation of resources, then it becomes important to endow such decisions with legal legitimacy. Under the neo-liberalism ideology, characterised by the market economy and elected parliamentary model of government, the vast majority of these decisions are made in the private realm (by which, of course, is meant the realm of the economic elite). Now this could be politically and economically undesirable in a country such as Pakistan where such decisions have traditionally benefitted a small minority at the cost of a vast majority, but it is not illegal. The only problem with it, and it is a big problem, is that there has never been any public consensus on leaving all such vital decisions to any one class.

Even in the public sector, we see abysmally low levels of capital being spent on social services, such as health and education, but this is still in the purview of the law. Or take, for instance, the decisions made under the military regime of Ayub Khan to include representatives of the wealthiest families of Pakistan on the board of directors of state organisations in industrial and financial sectors. That these organisations channelised the vast majority of their assets to these very families is part of the country’s economic history but nobody deems it illegal. Or one could speak of the artificial barriers to entry created by the state in order to boost the profitability of certain hand-picked industries. None of this comes under the category of corruption (since it is not illegal activity as such) but it has a huge impact on Pakistan’s economic development.

This form of state capture or institutional capture either by an elite or by a section of the elite is known as “institutional corruption”. The exclusive focus on treating corruption only as illegal exchange of money for illegal gains obscures the impact of institutional corruption on resource allocation within society and consequently on economic and social divides that it generates and exacerbates. Institutional corruption potentially is much more damaging to the development of a democratic and prosperous Pakistan than bribery. The fact that all of it is occurring within the ambit of the law necessitates a serious debate on the laws and the socio-economic and political system that creates and sustains them. Focusing on bribery takes the attention away from tackling such systemic issues.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, the fact that anti-corruption drives in Pakistan have been time and again used to justify the destruction of democracy is arguably the strongest basis to reject anti-corruption slogans as a panacea for all the country’s troubles.

So, what do we do to end corruption?
Spread democracy

What a society most requires for the elimination of corruption is democracy. Only the most comprehensive, most inclusive democracy can lead to the elimination of bribery as well as of institutional corruption.

Ayub Khan, under whose regime representatives of the country’s wealthiest families were granted decision-making powers in state organisations

Ayub Khan, under whose regime representatives of the country’s wealthiest families were granted decision-making powers in state organisations

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, we have restricted the concept of democracy merely to elections to national and provincial assemblies. The entire apparatus of the government remains, as always, insulated from public opinion as well as from public accountability. In essence, at the grass-roots level and where it really matters, we have a neocolonial bureaucracy that is completely insulated from the people.

Nothing illustrates this better than what is arguably one of the most corrupt institutions in the country — the police. Given the colonial structure of our police, it remains under the control of strongmen in all parts of the country. Unlike a system where the local police chief is elected by the people and hence, is also accountable to them, the police are nominated through a bureaucratic process. That is why they are unable to enforce the writ of the state and the rule of the law, specifically in checking corruption, and, instead, spend most of their time protecting the interests of the rich and the powerful, who facilitate their appointments, transfers and promotions.

Reforms in the police should be the number one priority in order to curb corruption. The police must be entirely free of any political influence; they must be accountable to the people; they must be educated and knowledgeable about the law, and their activity must be open to scrutiny by the public.

Similarly, the judicial system must also be open and accountable to the public. Only public accountability can ensure that the courts remain above political interests or the interests of strongmen. In certain countries, judges also are elected by the people and, therefore, can be held accountable by the people. A case can be made that the election of judges will result in the politicisation of the judiciary and that vested interests will come to dominate the election of judges. But this argument rests on the mistaken assumption that the judiciary is not politicised as it is, or that vested interests do not play a role in the nomination of judges in the current system. In other words, judges must face their own judges and those can only be the people.

There, in fact, is a need for reforming all those institutions of the state which suffer from colonial insularity and lack of accountability by the people – not just the police and the judiciary. The democratisation of state and society is certainly premised on the election of the representatives of the people but this should never be restricted to elections to parliament alone.

Dr Taimur Rahman has been teaching political science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences since 2002. He is also the spokesperson for the band Laal and a grassroots political activist in the labour movement. 

Striking a discordant note

According to this new review by Waqas Khawaja for our Annual 2014 issue, “Any new work by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, be it a scholarly essay, literary criticism, fiction, poetry or translation, is always eagerly awaited by avid and informed lovers of Urdu literature and scholarship across the world. Here is a person whose erudition sits lightly upon him even as his output is breathtakingly prodigious and multifarious.

Sonya Rehman Qureshi

One hour with
A long time furniture enthusiast, Sonya Rehman Qureshi was well-known for her show on prime time morning television at Dawn News. But then that was her public persona. Her passion for collecting antique furniture recently resulted in an exhibition of handcrafted pieces, sharing with Karachiites the importance and need for restoration and appreciation, while also displaying her skills as a miniature artist. This restoration process has resulted in creating exclusive, handcrafted pieces for her collection, Subcontinent furniture.

Rehman says her current exhibition took four years in the making, with a single piece (like the Badshahnama chest) taking five months to paint. Here she talks to the Herald about her aesthetic inspiration.

Q. How did you start restoring antique furniture?
A. I began collecting furniture when I was 12 or 13, until I ran out of room. It wasn’t until four years ago when my daughter was born that I thought of actually restoring and passing it on. I also wanted to take away the negative connotation associated with vintage furniture, and that it belongs in a junkyard. Such pieces of furniture garner more respect from me simply because they have preceded my existence and I believe it is our responsibility to make sure that these [antique pieces] pass on to the next generation.
Q. How do you select furniture to collect?
A. I am particularly fond of Burma teak and Bombay sheesham, which is also now hard to find. I gravitate towards unique quality wood and towards a piece that has a particularly unique craftsmanship. I am also careful not to pick up pieces that are in terrible condition – for instance, a chair with two arms missing – because I don’t particularly get an old feel from them. Chips and cracks, I can restore.

Q. How would you describe the process of restoration?
A. I usually just take a particular piece home and stare at it for about two weeks, trying to figure out what kind of a polish to apply, what colours to use. I don’t always get it right. I have on occasion scraped polish off after applying it but that is what I enjoy doing. It is about the creative process of figuring out how to shape an antique piece and then seeing the actual implementation of it.

Q. What inspires your restorative process?
A. I can safely say that I have a dual personality when it comes to furniture. I am attracted to a modern art deco style as well as a traditional one. It also depends on the piece, to an extent. For example, when I acquire a classic chest, I try to preserve its classic style, and finish the piece accordingly. I also minored in Miniature Painting at the National College of Arts, Lahore (NCA) and loved studying History at school; so, that too is evident in my work.

Q. Where do your craftsmen come from?
A. I have trained craftsmen working for me. In fact, I have learnt plenty about history and furniture from them. When I am looking at a newly acquired piece, they always tell me about the era it belongs to, the wood used in its making, and how it should be restored. There’s a diverse mix of artisans and skilled people, which makes the environment creative.

Q. How do you price your furniture?
A. My pieces are expensive. I am offering unique, one of a kind products. I don’t reproduce two pieces of the same design and I consider my pieces three-dimensional art. I want my customers to be proud of owning a piece and of taking care of it. It is not bargain furniture.

Who is Pakistan’s greatest poet?

The ninth of November is celebrated as Iqbal Day, in honour of the birth of the philosopher-poet whose dreaming mind (so the story goes) led to the creation of Pakistan. But although the country’s existence is inextricably linked to Muhammad Allama Iqbal, some argue that he cannot qualify as its greatest poet, for the purely technical reason that he did not live to see it come into being. To which poet, then, does this epithet belong? Who has spun words into verses that continue to inspire, entertain, console, as well as define us?

Sect in motion

On Friday, September 6, 2013, Fazeelat Shah alias Phul Shah and his devotees were gathered at a communal space in Jassoki village of Gujrat district when four armed motorcyclists appeared. As Shah lifted his head to confirm his presence, after one of the gunmen enquired about him, a hail of bullets followed. Five people died on the spot. At least six others, including Shah, were injured. He was rushed to the district headquarters hospital in Gujrat but succumbed to his wounds soon after arriving there.

6 - Remains of khokha at Hussaini chowk, Kotla Jam,

Members of his family as well as residents of Jassoki say that Shah, who had a sizeable and growing spiritual following, did not have any personal enmity. The police have also ruled out the possibility of his murder having taken place as a result of a feud within his family. This leaves out only one possibility: Shah was targeted by some terrorist group.
“The police and other law enforcement agencies have found some leads that could prove helpful in tracing the attackers,” Ali Nasir Rizvi, the District Police Officer (DPO) in Gujrat, tells the Herald. One of these leads is video footage captured by a closed-circuit television camera at a shop in Sarai Alamgir, a town on the other side of Gujrat district from Jassoki, just one day before the attack on Shah.

The footage shows four armed men riding two motorcycles – one, a Honda CD 70, and the other, a Honda CG 125 – with the drivers wearing helmets. They stopped in front of the shop, owned and run by a member of the Ahmadi community; one of them rushed into the shop armed with a 0.22 pistol but came out soon after without firing a shot. Their target – the shop owner – was not in, say police officials. Those wounded in the Jassoki attack have testified that the motorcycles and helmets shown in the footage are the same as the ones used by the men who had attacked them. They have also identified the other two motorcycle riders as their attackers.

DPO Rizvi says that this points to the presence, in Gujrat, of target killers on a mission to kill for religious and, possibly, also sectarian reasons. He, therefore, is certain that Shah’s killing was an act of terrorism though he does not want to call it an act of sectarian violence — at least, not yet. “Investigations are still under way,” he says.
But Chaudhary Manzoor Hussain, the district president of the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), a Shia political party set up in 2009, has no doubts about the motive behind Shah’s killing. “He was targeted because he was a Shia,” says Hussain.

In another part of Punjab, Muhammad Asghar, a small trader in Khan Bela village of Rahimyar Khan district’s Liaqatpur tehsil, was killed on September 14, 2013, in a sectarian clash which started after he showed a text message that he received on his cell phone to his friend, Aali, who thought its content insulted his Shia beliefs. Enraged, Aali and some others beat up Asghar, who went on to approach local activists of the Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), a Sunni sectarian-cum-political group, seeking revenge. This led to a scuffle, which left many injured on both sides. Asghar, who was struck on the head during the scuffle, was admitted to a hospital, where he died three days later.

A few weeks before his death, an ASWJ rally in Bhakkar district passed through a Shia-majority village, Kotla Jam, resulting in a clash that left 10 people dead on both sides, and many more injured. When some of the bodies and injured reached Darya Khan, a nearby town, rioting and firing erupted immediately, leading to the death of two more people, one from each sect.

2 - Visitors in Lahore mourning the death of Professor Dr Syed Ali Haider and his son

Earlier in the year, on February 25, to be exact, Professor Dr Syed Ali Haider, head of the ophthalmology department at the Lahore General Hospital, and his 12-year-old son, Murtaza Haider, were killed in a drive-by shooting incident in Lahore’s Gulberg area. His relatives say Ali Haider was not a member of any sectarian organisation. The police, however, believe that he was murdered for being Shia.

If these incidents are anything to go by, the country’s most prosperous and ostensibly the most peaceful province, Punjab, is simmering with sectarian tensions that have already boiled to deadly clashes on many occasions and may cause more sectarian violence in the coming months and years. Data collected by South Asia Terrorism Portal, a Delhi-based group monitoring incidents of terrorism in the region, shows a similarly worrying trend: Sectarian violence claimed 64 lives in Punjab in 2011; another 43 people were killed in sectarian clashes in the province in 2012. “Sectarian mindset is everywhere in our society,” warns Lahore-based political analyst Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi.

The heaven of harmony, no more

Sectarian violence was unheard of in Gujrat until recently. Hussain, the local head of MWM, claims that a sectarian organisation belonging to the Deobandi/Sunni sect has intensified its activities in the district since the May 2013 general election. Suggesting that the members of the organisation could have provided support and assistance to Shah’s killers, he says: Local support is crucial for sectarian assassins to strike their targets effectively. The killers do not belong to Gujrat, he says, adding that they have come from outside but received help from their local supporters in getting information about their targets and putting together the logistics for the attack.

Hussain accuses the ruling Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PMLN) of supporting the sectarian organisation. “Some influential political figures belonging to the PMLN have a very close association with the rogue elements of the sectarian organisation,” he alleges. “Covert support to such saboteurs by two well known politicians belonging to the PMLN is an open secret in Gujrat,” he adds. This, to him, appears to be one of the reasons why not a single PMLN parliamentarian representing the district, let alone a provincial or federal minister, visited the victims of the Jassoki attack. Even local leaders of the ruling party have not issued any statement condemning the attack, says Hussain.

Official sources confirm to the Herald that a support system for sectarian assassins exists in Gujrat and that two PMLN parliamentarians could be a part of it. According to intelligence reports sent to the federal and provincial governments by local operatives, these parliamentarians have a close association with banned sectarian outfits and participate in gatherings and activities that have an open sectarian agenda. Intelligence officials fear that DPO Rizvi could also be attacked for vigorously pursuing Shah’s assassins. Senior administration officials in Gujrat, however, tell the Herald that, so far, authorities in Lahore and Islamabad have not taken any steps to stop the two parliamentarians from being sectarian partisans.

This worries local residents. Dr Tariq Saleem, a member of a committee set up to maintain sectarian peace in the district and a local leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, says the Jassoki attack should serve as “an eye-opener for the political, as well as religious, leadership” in Gujrat. “These killings should be taken seriously and a multi-sect conference should be convened by the district administration to ensure that such violent incidents are not repeated,” he says.

Some local leaders of the PMLN, too, are concerned that sectarianism is rearing its head in the district. Haneef Awan, the party’s member of the Punjab Assembly, representing Sarai Alamgir area, says the activities of some elements previously belonging to banned sectarian organisations are increasing, which should be taken seriously by the government to maintain religious harmony and peace in Gujrat. He, however, rejects the allegation that his party is covertly supporting any militant or banned organisation. “The PMLN has always condemned terrorism in all its form and manifestations,” says Awan.

Trouble down south

4 - Imambargah in kotla jam

Rahimyar Khan, Punjab’s southernmost district, is chock-a-block with sectarian graffiti. Even tree trunks along roads and streets have sectarian slogans scribbled on them. Both Sunni and Shia organisations in the area regularly hold public meetings where inflammatory speeches are made and incendiary slogans are raised. Aerial firing at these gatherings is also routine practice. Even though the local administration makes efforts to remove sectarian graffiti, propagators of sectarian hatred bring it back more swiftly than the officials remove it. “If the government does not take concerted measures to stop the propagation of such hate material and the publishing of books carrying objectionable material, a civil war might start in the [south Punjab] region,” warns Shafiq Moavia, the district president of ASWJ in Rahimyar Khan.

The least the district administration can do is register cases against those involved in producing graffiti and other incidents of sectarian nature. In the last 20 months alone, the local police registered 20 cases against more than 1,000 Sunni activists for sectarian wall chalking, for writing derogatory remarks outside the houses of Shias and for raising anti-Shia slogans in public meetings and at other public places. During the same time, two cases were registered against more than 30 Shia activists for firing at participants of public meetings of the ASWJ.

More often than not, sectarian tensions in the district have led to incidents of violence. This August, a local leader of Shia Ulema Council, Sheikh Manzoor Hussain, and his son were shot dead in Rahimyar Khan. In January 2012, a bomb blast targeted a Shia procession in the district’s Khanpur town and claimed the lives of 17 people, leaving 30 others injured.
Moavia says one reason for sectarian clashes in the district is incidence of sectarian violence elsewhere in the country. “Whenever bodies of ASWJ activists from Karachi and other cities arrive [in Rahimyar Khan], it becomes difficult to keep people calm here,” he tells the Herald and adds that recent clashes in Bhakkar have also led to increased sectarian disharmony in the district.

Sajjad Ali, the caretaker of an Imambargah in Khanpur and the local head of the Shia Ulema Council, complains that a couple of mosques of the Deobandi sect, in his town, routinely hold public gatherings on anti-Shia subjects and raise anti-Shia slogans from their loudspeakers which “hurt the feelings of Shias”. But he claims that members of his own sect “do not react” to such provocations.

That Sunni sectarian organisations have an upper hand over their Shia rivals in the area is quite apparent from Abbas’ conciliatory tone. It is even more noticeable in the rather belligerent tone ASWJ’s Moavai adopts while talking about why Shias should confine their religious activities within the four walls of their homes or places of worship. Shias often take their processions to roads and streets they are not allowed to, he says. Even if a majlis (gathering) is held in one house, the entire locality suffers due to security checks and traffic blockades, he adds. This, Moavia argues, causes problems for residents of the area, who get irritated with the situation, often leading to brawls between members of the two sects. His solution to the problem is as simple as it is one-sided: “Shias should hold their religious programmes inside their Imambargahs; they should not come out on main roads and streets because that disturbs entire areas for hours”.

Impartial observers, too, verify the relative strength of Sunni organisations. “ASWJ’s people have resources; their leaders usually have armed security guards and the latest vehicles to roam around in,” says S Israr Hussain, the president of a traders association in Bahawalpur and a Sunni member of an inter-sect peace committee in the area. “On the other hand, Shia activists used to be resourceful two decades ago. Now, it seems they cannot afford to carry out armed activities,” he tells the Herald.

Bloody days

Ghulam Muhammad, a cloth merchant and the district general secretary of the ASWJ, was walking to his shop from his home in Bhakkar city on August 21, 2013, when unidentified attackers killed him. While investigators are still not sure if the motive of his murder is sectarian, local Sunni activists took out a protest procession two days after his death, demanding the arrest of his killers. The protesters were soon joined by another big procession that began from Panjgaraeen village and moved through Darya Khan town and Kotla Jam village before entering Bhakkar city. As participants of the latter procession were returning to Panjgaraeen via the same route they had used to reach Bhakkar, they got entangled in what could easily be described as the worst incident of sectarian violence in Bhakkar district in recent years.

5 - Women protest at Hussain chowk on Aug 24

Like all things sectarian, the details are controversial. Depending on who you ask, you will get a different answer about how the whole thing started. “When we reached Hussaini Chowk, in Kotla Jam, on our return journey from Bhakkar, Shia activists opened fire on us,” says Abdur Rahman, a Sunni activist from Panjgaraeen. “They also pelted stones at us and attacked us with axes and knives. Within a few minutes, two people were killed and many others injured,” he says and adds that the police fired in the air to end the clash.
Abdul Hameed Khalid, the principal of a Sunni madrassa and a senior leader of ASWJ in Panjgaraeen, claims that Shia residents of Kotla Jam held participants of the Sunni procession hostage for six hours, killing some of them in a gruesome manner. “Mufti Ahmed Hassan was drilled in the head and nailed to death. The eyes of Hafiz Muhammad Ashraf were taken out and his private parts were chopped off. The arms of Hafiz Ahmed Ali were mutilated. The bodies of all the five Sunni activists killed in Kotla Jam had brutal torture marks,” he tells the Herald.

But Muhammad Nawaz Cheena, a resident of Kotla Jam, says Sunni activists raised anti-Shia slogans as soon as they reached Hussani Chowk. “Some Shias sitting at a roadside tea stall at the Chowk responded by raising anti-Sunni slogans. At this, one participant of the Sunni procession started firing with a gun. I saw a person getting shot in the head and collapsing on the ground,” he says.

Fiaz Hussain Kahawer, another resident of Kotla Jam, claims to have seen something similar. “As the participants of the procession started chanting anti-Shia slogans, some Shia activists responded to them in the same coin. Some people in the procession started firing with guns and I saw some people wounded and lying on the ground. I immediately lay down on the ground to save my life,” he says.

How the police handled, or mishandled, the situation also presents contrasting views. Khalid goes to the extent of alleging that some Shia police officials fired upon the participants of the Sunni procession. He also claims that the DPO did not heed to his demands to act while the participants of the procession were stranded in Kotla Jam.
Kahawer, on the other hand, claims that the police vans accompanying the participants of the Sunni procession kept moving out of Kotla Jam even when the Sunni activists had stopped at the Chowk, raising slogans. Safeer Shahani, a MWM leader in Bhakkar, claims that the Kotla Jam incident could have been avoided if the district administration had disallowed Sunni protests over Ghulam Muhammad’s murder. “If the police had taken stringent security measures, such a horrific incident would not have happened at all,” he says.

The violence, however, did not end at Kotla Jam. Firing erupted in Darya Khan as soon as participants of the procession arrived there along with the bodies of the slain Sunni activists. As police vans shifted the injured to a hospital in Darya Khan, news of the clashes at Kotla Jam spread like wildfire in the town, says Arif Sadiqui, a local journalist. “A Shia cloth merchant, sensing trouble, started closing down his shop but a Sunni activist fired at him, leaving him injured. In a few minutes, the entire town was shut down. Everyone was harassed and everyone wanted to reach home as soon as possible,” he says. “Sounds of firing could be heard all over the city. The situation came under control only after a heavy contingent of the police arrived from Bhakkar and elsewhere,” Sadiqui adds.

To avoid further trouble, the district administration imposed Section 144 in the entire Bhakkar district, disallowing the assembly of more than five people, and prohibiting processions, carrying of weapons and delivering of provocative speeches. All schools, banks and markets in the district were closed down, Rangers were called in to patrol Kotla Jam, Darya Khan and Panjgaraeen, and a curfew was imposed to ward off any untoward incident, says Muhammad Asim, a local journalist in Darya khan.

The next day, police arrested the 20 nominated accused in the two incidents of violence, says Sarfraz Falki, the DPO in Bhakkar. Authorities also took 67 people, belonging to both sects, into custody under the rules pertaining to the maintenance of public order. These detentions incensed the local Shia population and dozens of women belonging to the sect brought out a protest rally in Kotla Jam, staging a sit-in at the Darya Khan-Bakhar Road.

“The police trespassed our houses at midnight, harassed innocent people and detained sole breadwinners of Shia households,” says Hudaina Bibi, one of the protesters. “We could not even move a bail application for the release of these innocent people,” she tells the Herald. The women, however, peacefully dispersed after five hours, after the district administration assured them that innocent people would not be taken into custody.
The next day, however, Shia activists gathered again outside an Imambargah at Tibba Habib Shah, on the outskirts of Kotla Jam. The police resorted to a baton attack to disperse them. The same day, authorities also detained another 72 people from both sects.

It was only after five days that peace could return to the district.

The original sin

The Punjab police registered 20 cases of sectarian murders between the start of 2008 and August, 2013. Out of these, six cases were registered in Bhakkar alone. In 2011, a billiard club in Darya Khan was attacked, in which five Sunni men were murdered and six injured. In this year’s month of Ramzan, claims ASWJ’s Khalid, two members of his party were target-killed at Tibba Habib Shah and Kotla Jam.

arif-1 copy

“In recent years, sectarian hatred has increased in Bhakkar,” confirms Abdul Majeed Khan Khanan Khel, who represents the district in the National Assembly and is a member of the ruling PMLN. Many in the area believe that sectarian violence has increased in Bhakkar as a result of the exodus of Shias from the neighbouring Dera Ismail Khan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “About 200 Shia activists shifted to Kotla Jam and Tibba Habib Shah after leaving Dera Ismail Khan in recent years. This has given a new dimension to sectarian violence [in Bhakkar],” says Khalid.

Dera Ismail Khan and its adjacent Tank district – strongholds of the Deobandi/Sunni religious political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) – have witnessed religion-based confrontation, going as far back as the pre-partition days. These districts have had a long history of Hindu-Muslim riots since before 1947, says Zaffer Abbas Durani, a political activist in Dera Ismail Khan. This communal disharmony mutated into sectarian hatred within Muslims, after Pakistan came into being, he adds.

In the recent decades, a series of clashes have occured between Shias and Sunnis in Dera Ismail Khan, with the former having suffered a disproportionately high number of casualties. It was in 1985 when the current spate of violence was first triggered. That year, on the 10th of Muharram, a Shia procession was passing through Dera Ismail Khan’s Commissionary Bazaar when the awning in front of a shop collapsed and created a stampede among the participants of the procession. Rasheed alias Sheeda, a local Sunni resident, died during the stampede. Local leaders of SSP Pakistan (SSP), a Sunni sectarian organisation, which was banned in the early 2000s but has since re-emerged as ASWJ, called a meeting of local Sunni clerics, urging them to avenge Rasheed’s death.

The revenge came in 1986, when the local Sunnis did not allow the Muharram procession to pass through the Commissionary Bazaar. The following year, the local administration announced it had struck a deal with local Shia leaders to change the route of the Muharram procession in the city but most Shias in the district refused to accept the agreement. No Muharram procession took place in Dera Ismail Khan until 1990, when a new agreement was signed between leaders of the two sects and the administration, providing for the restoration of the old route by next year, says Fayyaz Hussain Bukhari, a local Shia leader.

The agreement, however, did not put an end to the violence. In fact, last year, a blast hit the Muharam procession, while it was passing through Commissionary Bazaar, killing at least eight people. Waleed Akbar, a former policeman and an ASWJ activist, was convicted and jailed for carrying out the deadly blast. He was one of the hundreds of prisoners who escaped when Taliban militants attacked the Dera Ismail Khan jail on July 30, 2013. Before his escape, he is reported to have killed eight Shia prisoners, beheading one of them.

Since 2009, to ensure a smooth supply line for the military operation in South Waziristan tribal agency, law enforcement agencies have started to clear Dera Ismail Khan and Tank of sectarian activists and killers, forcing many of them to shift elsewhere. This has resulted in a visible decline in sectarian violence in the area, says Saeedullah Marwat, a local journalist — others would say that this has happened only at the cost of allowing it to increase elsewhere.

However, demographic and historical evidence suggests that the relocation of Shia activists to Bhakkar from Dera Ismail Khan is a minor reason, if at all, for the latest sectarian conflagration in Kotla Jam and Darya Khan. According to official statistics, Shias (at 30 per cent) and Deobandi Sunnis (at 28 per cent) form almost equal proportion of the district’s population and the influx of Shia families from Dera Ismail Khan seems to have made little difference to this.

Historically, as well, Bhakkar has been a sectarian flashpoint since long. It was, in fact, here that the Shias set up their first political party – Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Fiqah Jafria (TNFJ) – in reaction to changes in inheritance and family laws made under the regime of General Ziaul Haq, which they believed infringed upon their religious beliefs. One Syed Wazarat Hussain Naqvi, the custodian of a local Shia shrine, arranged an all Pakistan Shia convention in Bhakkar in 1979. It was at this convention that the TNFJ was created and Naqvi became its founding general secretary. (The party later split into two factions, with one of them changing its name to Tehreek-e- Jafria Pakistan in the 1990s; both factions were banned in the early 2000s, leading to the emergence of a myriad of Shia groups, some of which coalesced together and formed MWM in 2009).

Sunni sectarian organisations, too, have their institutional existence in Bhakkar dating back to mid-1980s. In 1985, Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, the founder of SSP, visited Bhakkar to deliver public speeches. He set up a branch of his organisation in the district in 1986.
And the two sides have been clashing with each other since 1960s when the Deobandis first objected to the practice of bringing out a procession, on the 10th Muharram, from a Deobandi mosque in Darya Khan. In 1986, some Deobandi activists set fire to a taazia in that town, though it did not result in violence due to the efforts of a local peace committee. In 1991, Naveed Gohar, a Sunni student at a high school in Darya Khan, scribbled an anti-Shia slogan on his notebook, which triggered clashes between members of the two sects. Ejaz Hussain, a Shia student, was killed in one of these clashes.

Causes and effects

“We have a long history of sectarianism but it turned violent when General Ziaul Haq adopted religious orthodoxy. This orthodoxy fragmented the society. Now, people having bombs and guns are seeing Islam through their sectarian lenses, instead of seeing their sects through an Islamic lens,” says Dr Rizvi.

Road leading to Dassu from Bisham - GD
It was indeed in the late 1980s and 1990s when Punjab suffered from worst sectarian violence. SSP, the main Deobandi/ Sunni sectarian group, was founded and based in Jhang, which became a sectarian battlefield and remained so for many years. The Shia sectarian groups that emerged in the 1980s, like TNFJ, ostensibly had political objectives and did not use violence as a political tool. The increasing activities of SSP in the 1980s, however, led in the early 1990s to the creation of a violent Shia group, Sipah-e-Muhammad, which was based in Thokar Niaz Beg village on the southern outskirts of Lahore. Political analysts and government officials believe that the two organisations were engaged in hundreds of tit-for-tat killings with active financial and political support from Iran (for Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan) and Saudi Arabia (for SSP).

Many places in central Punjab, besides Jhang, experienced sectarian violence during the climax of confrontation between rival sectarian groups in 1990s. In 1995, Dr Muhammad Ali Naqvi, a Shia student leader, was gunned down in Lahore; in 1996, Syed Tajammal Abbas, the deputy commissioner of Sargodha, was shot dead for being a Shia; in 1997, a bomb attack in a Lahore court killed Ziaur Rehman Farooqi, the then head of SSP; and in 1997, Ashraf Marth, a senior police officer in Gujranwala, was target-killed for pursuing cases against Sunni sectarian killers. Khairpur Tamewali, a small town in Bahawalpur district, also became a major sectarian flashpoint with a number of violent and deadly sectarian incidents taking place there.

By the late 1990s, however, SSP became more active in parliamentary politics than many of its cadres would have liked. Some disgruntled SSP activists, therefore, founded Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) in 1996, with one Riaz Basra becoming its most known face. He was also perhaps the most dreaded sectarian killer in the country at the time. Arrested in 1992 and sentenced to death for the 1990 murder of Sadiq Ganji, an Iranian diplomat, in Lahore, Basra escaped from jail in 1994 to resume his deadly activities under the banner of the newly created LJ.

A lot has changed since then. Basra died in 2002 in a village in Vehari during a shootout and his associates merged their organisation in the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as the Punjabi Taliban, shifting their based to South Waziristan tribal agency, say officials in Lahore. SSP was banned in the early 2000s and its then chief, Azam Tariq, was killed in an attack near Islamabad in 2003. Sipah-e-Muhammad was also banned and its headquarters in Thoker Niaz Beg were uprooted in a security operation in the early 2000s.
On the face of it, the situation in Punjab looks much calmer on the sectarian front than it did in the 1990s. But is it really? Background interviews with Punjab government officials and official documents seen by the Herald show that even though most Sunni sectarian killers operating in Punjab in the 1990s have either shifted to South Waziristan or have gone into hiding, they have what anti-terrorism experts call “sleeper cells” all over Punjab. These cells consist of sympathisers, facilitators and financiers who perform different functions like reconnaissance, provision of lodging, boarding and transport to killers and procurement of explosives and weapons for them, says a senior Punjab police official without wanting to be named.

Finances are generally arranged through donations in the name of religion, which are readily available. Recently, a group collected seven million rupees from Gujranwala traders in just two days, for religious causes, says the official. Bank robberies and kidnapping for ransom are also sometimes employed as means for procuring money for sectarian attacks. Sources in Punjab Police say religious and sectarian terrorist groups could have collected as much as 650 million rupees as ransom only from Islamabad in just two previous years. In a number of bank robberies, security guards have been found to have links with the TTP and other banned organisations, say intelligence sources in Lahore.

It’s the madrasa, stupid

A 16-year old boy from Vehari district in south Punjab developed the spirit of jihad after listening to the speeches of some radical clerics. He traveled to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to receive ideological and military training. On return, he resumed routine life but was, one day, called for the ultimate task of sacrificing his life for killing ‘infidels’ belonging to other sects or religions. Those deployed to help the boy soon arrived on the scene, to prepare him for the strike. This is how police officials in Lahore describe the mental and physical preparation of a sectarian hit man. Though they refuse to reveal the name of the boy for security reasons, these officials claim to have encountered many cases in which young men were lured into becoming killers through promises of unearthly rewards awaiting them in paradise.

Khnapur blast 2012 pg 53

A senior police official in Lahore says sectarian organisations normally pick their potential strikers at an early age and madrasas and madrasa teachers play a prominent role in their training. A five-year-old boy sent to a madrasa to learn the Quran by heart is told, day in and day out, that he belongs to a certain sect and that those from other sects are not Muslim. By the time the boy reaches the age of 18, he cannot but see people through a sectarian lens. When these boys return home after graduating from madrasas, they propagate their views to their peers, becoming conduits for spreading sectarian hatred in society at large. With time, they attract many a young man, who lacks opportunity or promise to progress in life, towards their sectarian ideologies. Many of them, then, receive military training in camps mainly in the tribal areas and come back to their hometowns and villages as accomplished sectarian assassins. Punjab government officials dealing with sectarian terrorism confirm that there are many thousand young men across the provinces who have received some kind of training in militancy and target killing during recent years.

Madrasas remain the main breeding ground for training recruits. There are 9,221 madrasas in Punjab but only 3,153 of them are registered with any government department, official documents show. The documents seen by the Herald reveal that out of 4,230 Barelvi madrasas, only 1,512 are registered; out of 4,154 Deobandi madrasas, only 1,366 are registered; out of 636 Ahl-e-Hadees madrasas, only 224 are registered; and out of 201 Shia madrasas, only 51 are registered. Close to 50 per cent of all Deobandi madrasas in Punjab, according to official records, operate in the southern districts of the province.

The officials, however, are quick to clarify that only a few hundred madrassas have public affiliation with sectarian organisations. Refraining from pointing out which madrasas belong to which militant or sectarian group, officials say those with an open sectarian agenda exist in cities like Multan, Gujranwala and Lahore.

Promotion of sectarian sentiments, however, is not limited to Deobandi madrasas; Shia madrasas do just that, as actively as their Deobandi counterparts. “Madrasas of both Shia and Sunni sects play their role in promoting hatred among their students,” says Akhtar Hussain Zaidi who runs the main Shia mosque in Bahawalpur. In theory, hate material is not part of madrasa curriculum of any sect, but passing negative remarks against members of other sects is routine practice among students and teachers of madrasas. “Teachers verbally brainwash pupils,” says Zaidi. It is also at madrasas that students get exposed to speeches and writings of the main leaders of their sects, thereby imbibing a strong hatred towards those belonging to other sects.

Communicable disease

Hate material generally spreads through books, pamphlets, posters and, perhaps most importantly, through speeches by prominent leaders of sectarian organisations. Jhangvi, the SSP founder, gained all of his following because of his rousing, yet decidedly vitriolic, public speeches, which – propelled by cheap audio cassettes – captured the imagination of an entire generation of Sunni activists across central and southern Punjab. Of late, however, most of the propagation of hate material has shifted to cyber space, cell phones and social media.

Chilas city - GD

Officials dealing with sectarianism in Punjab point out that it was easy to stop a sectarian leader from delivering a speech or to confiscate books, audio cassettes or any other published or recorded material, but it is impossible to stop people from propagating their sectarian views through the Internet or from sending each other hate messages through Facebook or their cell phones.

“Sending hate messages [through the Internet or cell phones] has become common for the last couple of years,” acknowledges Sohail Zafar Chattha, Rahimyar Khan’s DPO. Engineer Ashfaq Ahmed, the general secretary of ASWJ in Punjab, confirms the trend when he says that his group has “lodged around 500 complaints against hate messages sent through cell phones in different parts of the country”.

ASWJ’s Moavia says propagating hatred through cell phone messages and social media sites is playing a negative role in provoking the sentiments of people. “The government should make religious scholars of both sects sit on the table to figure out a solution to the problem. There should be a complete ban on hate propaganda either through books or through social media and cell phones,” he says.

Chattha, however, says all that the government can do is filter the Internet for hate material and try to get to the source of a hate message spread through a cell phone. And this is exactly what he and his associates have been doing, he says. Rahimyar Khan police arrested four people involved in circulating such messages six months ago, he adds.

The divide within

Another problem the government is trying to grapple with is internal divisions within Sunni sectarian organisations. For years, since the mid-1980s, SSP and LJ had been the face of Sunni sectarianism in Pakistan. But the organisational structure of both these groups withered away in the early 2000s. Even though most Deobandi/Sunni sectarian activists are still known by the public to belong to SSP, institutionally, they belong to ASWJ, whereas LJ is now merely the name for a loose group of Sunni sectarian militants who no longer follow an organisational structure or hierarchy.

In at least one part of the public imagination, however, SSP, LJ and ASWJ are interchangeable. “A number of people are, on the surface, leaders and activists of ASWJ but, practically, they champion violence. In fact, there is no great difference between ASWJ and LJ, as the former is a nursery which provides manpower to the latter,” says Fida Hussain Ghalvi, the vice-president of the Shia Ulema Council in Punjab.
However, ASWJ leaders vehemently reject this perception. Moavia, who heads the party in Rahimyar Khan, claims that “ASWJ activists do not participate in LJ activities”. According to him, his party strictly ensures that its registered workers do not take part in any violent activity. “If some people take part in such activities in the garb of ASWJ workers, it is not the party’s fault,” says Moavia.

Engineer Ashfaq Ahmed, the general secretary of ASWJ in Punjab, endorses Moavia’s argument. “Those who support terrorism and violence can never be the part of ASWJ. Those who use guns to achieve their goals must not be associated with us,” says Ahmed.
But Malik Ishaq, long the second most important leader of LJ after Basra, is now vice-president of the ASWJ and – if sources close to him are to be believed – is demanding a key post within the organisation. When he was released from jail in May, 2013, he joined the ASWJ on the condition that he will be given an important position in the party. But he was given only a nominal position. “ASWJ leaders fear he may overshadow them if he is given a key post in the party,” says a police officer.

Ishaq’s son, Malik Muhammad Usman, a bearded man in his 30s, tells the Herald in Rahimyar Khan, that his father has renounced violence as a means to achieve his objectives. Sitting in a small room lined with six AK-47 rifles, a repeater gun and two bags of ammunition, Usman warns: “If Shias continue to hurt the feelings of the Sunnis, we will also resume taking the right action against them.” Even if that means quitting ASWJ, he adds. “If [Ishaq] changes his non-violent policy after his release [from the Punjab government's protective custody], he will quit ASWJ, even before the party decides to do something about him.”

Moavia, on the other hand, insists that ASWJ will not support Malik Ishaq if he continues to command LJ. “If that happens, the party’s Shoora will take the right decision, in this regard,” he says. Usman responds to this with a shrug: “We are the actual SSP”. Officials fear that a falling out between the followers and critics of Ishaq within the ASWJ may split the organisation and lead to bloodshed.

Action begets inaction

If and when that happens, the government will be ill-prepared to handle the situation — like always, perhaps. Officials say there is no national policy to combat sectarian violence, not even a state-sanctioned response to sectarian propaganda. “The state has no counter-narrative [to sectarianism],” says a senior official in Lahore.

Law enforcement agencies are generally ill-equipped and not trained enough to combat sectarian violence. The Punjab Police have a Counter Terrorism Department but it lacks the wherewithal to perform effectively. For one, it has no “listening” ability, officials say. It cannot intercept communication between sectarian killers and groups and has no formal links with the intelligence agency that has the “listening” ability, they add. Due to gaps in institutional cooperation, the police often receive information too late to use it effectively. “We lack real time information and thus are unable to strike at the right moment,” says a Lahore-based police official.

At the local level, the provincial police still operate through thanedaars, the Station House Officers (SHOs), who are neither trained in fighting against sectarian killers nor are they motivated to do the job. Even the Counter Terrorism Department has to go through a local SHO to monitor or arrest a sectarian hit man. Local police and SHOs, however, wouldn’t dare arrest a hit man if he is taking shelter in a madrasa. If and when that happens, it is always followed by rowdy protests by teachers, students and supporters of that madrasa, says the official.

As per Punjab Police’s record, arrests made on charges of sectarianism and people sent to court for trial in such cases are far less than the actual number of cases registered in this regard. Only 12 of the 20 cases of sectarian murders registered in Punjab, between the beginning of 2008 and August, 2013, have been sent to a court for trial. Even more disturbing is the fact that the police have arrested only 88 out of 366 people nominated in such cases.

Dr Rizvi says the state lacks capacity to curb or even control sectarianism. The government has a weak policing and legal system, he says, and it refrains from proceeding against sectarian activists, fearing opposition from religious groups and parties. “Most importantly, the State lacks the will to eradicate or, at least, control sectarianism,” he says. “But life will become difficult if it is not controlled,” he warns. “Not everyone can migrate to another country [to stay safe].”

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, however, rejects claims that law enforcement agencies in the province do not have the ability to counter sectarianism. He also denies that the provincial government has a soft spot for Sunni sectarian organisations, as is alleged by many Shia activists, especially with reference to Phul Shah’s assassination in Gujrat, and media commentators who view some recent electoral alliances between ASWJ and PMLN suspiciously. Punjab is witnessing less sectarian violence as compared to other provinces; not because of some secret deal the provincial government has cut with some sectarian organisation, Sanaullah says, but because of better vigilance and preventive measures. “We are more organised and more awakened [than other provincial governments]. That is why we are preventing violence. Peace is not the result of any agreement; it is because of the fact that we are on our toes,” he tells the Herald. “We have recently arrested a very dangerous group of terrorists from Raiwind; an al-Qaeda operative from the Punjab University; a top terrorist leader from a Punjab city and some extremists from a couple of Gujranwala madrassas. Why would we make these arrests if we had an agreement?” says the minister.

Malik Ishaq believed to be a leader of banned organization Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is release on bail.

Sanaullah claims it was the PMLN’s government in Punjab that in the late 1990s, smashed “the rackets of two warring sects involved in bomb blasts and killings” in the province. “We never allowed them to regroup,” he adds. Many sectarian activists once linked to Sipah-e-Muhammad or SSP are now living in different parts of the province, after their organisations were banned, says Sanaullah. “But they are under a strict watch and are nabbed when even an iota of suspicion of their involvement in any violent activity arises.”
Responding to allegations that sectarian activists operating from and based in Punjab are responsible for killings in places like Quetta and Gilgit-Baltistan, he says the Punjab government has offered to hand over Malik Ishaq and ASWJ chief Muhammad Ahmad Ludhianvi to Balochistan if a case is registered against them or if there is any evidence of their involvement in sectarian violence there. “But no evidence was given and there was no case against them.”

The light at the end of the tunnel?

Sanaullah’s rejoinders notwithstanding, there is consensus among government officials, observers and sectarian activists that Punjab is sitting on a sectarian powder keg, waiting to explode. As incidents in Rahimyar Khan and Bhakkar indicate, any small provocation has the capacity to trigger a chain of events too difficult for the government machinery to handle.

In some places, such fears have convinced people of the need to do something about them. In Khairpur Tamewali, a small town in Bahawalpur district which was wrecked by sectarian violence in the 1990s, people have gathered together across the sectarian divide, under the banner of a bipartisan peace committee, to ensure that no untoward incident takes place.

In May 2010, the town could have revisited its gory past had the peace committee not acted promptly and with a presence of mind. At the time, graffiti appeared in a local neighbourhood, which, ostensibly, was offensive to Hazrat Umar and Hazrat Usman — the two companions of the Holy Prophet, revered highly by Sunnis. Serious tensions followed as charged ASWJ activists from nearby villages started thronging Khairpur Tamewali to avenge the offense. Members of the local peace committee, however, told them to wait until the culprit behind the graffiti was revealed. When the committee ultimately found out that the graffiti had nothing to do with sectarianism, everyone went home peacefully. “We found that two children of the area, namely Umar and Usman, quarreled with each other and expressed their mutual anger through graffiti,” says Makhdoom Syed Mahmoodul Husain, a Shia member of the committee.

Interviews with local residents reveal that the main reason behind peace and sectarian harmony in Khairpur Tamewali is the positive role of religious scholars and influential leader of both sects. “Sunni clerics accompany Muharram processions and Shia leaders pay regular visits to Sunni madrasas,” says Mufti Muhammad Abdullah As’ad, the principal of a local Sunni madrasa and the member of the peace committee. “Such gatherings and visits have removed misunderstandings and played a vital role in bringing people of both sects close to each other,” he tells the Herald.

The members of the committee ensure that all Muharram processions follow their prescribed route and observe mutually agreed timing. They also ensure that Sunni activists do not raise any objectionable slogans while a Shia procession is passing through their areas. If and when an issue arises, no matter whether big or small, the committee members immediately intervene and resolve it before it leads to an unpleasant incident, local residents say. “Even if sectarian violence erupts in the entire country, the peaceful atmosphere of Khairpur Tamewali would not be disturbed,” says Husain.
Peace committees are similarly effective in maintaining sectarian peace in Multan. “Clerics of both sects often try to provoke people but members of the peace committees play an effective role in maintaining peace and harmony,” says Amir Dogar, a senior leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party in Multan.

For a peace committee to be able to maintain peace, however, its members have to come up to one condition: They have to be sincere for their cause. When members are not sincere, they make great speeches in meetings of the committee but when they go into their respective communities, they do the exact opposite of what they had said in their speeches, says Israr Hussain, a member of a peace committee in Bahawalpur.
Basing the peace and harmony of an entire province on as elusive a commodity as sincerity may turn out to be not a good idea, after all.

Two reporters from Lahore contributed to this report but their names have been withheld due to security reasons