A disaster foretold


- Photo by Arif Ali

– Photo by Arif Ali

It was August 6, 2013, and the data had just been processed.

Dr Kristofer Shrestha, a research scientist, sat in his third-floor office in the environmental sciences and technology building at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, and opened the Indus river basin dashboard on his terminal. Two maps sprang up on the screen, both of them showing Pakistan along with some parts of its neighbouring countries.

The map on the left showed the country covered in a blue-and-green blot — evidence of a rainy weather system moving in from the east. The map on the right showed the Indus river system and its tributaries, with small blue dots to mark the location of each barrage and dam. The first map told Shrestha about the expected rainfall for that day and the second told him how much water was expected to flow through each blue dot on the same day.

Underneath the maps was a forecast slider, marked Day 1 to Day 10. As his cursor hovered over each forecast day on the slider, the maps changed colour, corresponding to the amount of rainfall expected on each day. On Day 8 and Day 9, the model he was operating showed heavy rainfall over the northern parts of the Indus. He quickly clicked on the link marked “Accumulated Precipitation”. The map changed colour showing how much water was expected to accumulate in different parts of Pakistan during those days. As he moved from Day 1 to Day 10, the map turned red, showing sharply rising levels of water accumulation across many parts of Punjab and Balochistan.

Shrestha might have been the first person in the world to see that Pakistan was just about to face a flood. After studying other data related to water flow forecasts in the rivers and water inflows at major dams, he wrote a short email to the principal investigator of the Indus river basin flood forecast project, alerting him that the model was showing “a high likelihood of elevated streamflows” 10 days down the road.

The principal investigator, Dr Peter Webster, has a quarter century of experience of working on predicting monsoonal floods in northern parts of the subcontinent. His office was down the hall from Shrestha’s. Webster opened the dashboard on his computer and, after a brief discussion with Shrestha, made a call to his contact in the World Bank to ask them to alert the Pakistani authorities that heavy rains and floods may be coming their way in 10 days’ time.

Here in Pakistan, his alert fell on deaf ears. “There is complete disinterest in our work in Pakistan,” he says in a telephone interview. The floods came as predicted. The Pakistan Meteorological Department described the August rains in 2013 as “exceptionally on higher than normal side” and the “ninth highest monthly rainfall since 1961”. Statements issued by Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), as reported in the press at the time, said more than 1.5 million people were affected by the resultant floods.

Five floods in five seasons

With flood waters having caused large-scale destruction in the first two weeks of September this year, Pakistan has just had its fifth consecutive year of monsoon-related floods. Each of the five floods was predictable with a ten-day lead time. In the case of the ones in 2012 and 2013, the forecast was actually made and an alert sent to the authorities in Pakistan by Webster’s team.

Why have there been five consecutive years of heavy rainfall followed by flooding in Pakistan? This year, Webster and his colleagues have published a large, analytical paper in which they take a close look at the storm structures that produced three consecutive years of flooding in Pakistan between 2010 and 2012.

“Striking similarities between all three floods exist,” they write, adding that the “flood-producing storms exhibited climatologically unusual structures” in all three cases. So, we had three consecutive years of highly unusual storms, each of which bore striking resemblance to each other. This suggests that the monsoon systems that have governed rainfall in northern India for millennia might be undergoing a structural change. “If these were natural phenomena, you would have seen this sort of thing occur in the past,” says Webster. “Clearly the climate has changed.”

What was so unusual about these storms? And what were the similarities between them?
Under normal conditions, weather patterns that produce rainfall in northern parts of the subcontinent differ between the eastern and western ends of the monsoon system. Over the Bay of Bengal, where the monsoon system originates, a depression sucks in high levels of moisture from the ocean air, and creates layered clouds, one on top of another, known as “stratiform clouds”, spread over a large area. The resultant storm system is “less intense, but much more widespread and productive of precipitation”. Hence, the rains in the east are gentler than they are in the west, but in both regions they cover a large area and last quite long.

In each of the three years the authors of the paper studied, large stratiform clouds “embedded with wide convective cores, rarely seen in this region” somehow travelled from the Bay of Bengal, where they are normal, across the subcontinent and unloaded their enormous cargo of moisture in a short, intense burst over Pakistan. In 2010, this system was pushed northwards, into the indentation formed by the meeting of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush mountain ranges. Once the storm system collided with the mountains, it was pushed upwards, causing it to cool rapidly and thereby offloading its moisture in a short burst over northern Pakistan, causing flash floods.

The dashboard for the Indus river basin flood forecast model, developed at Georgia Institute of Technology, shows the forecast created on August 6, 2013. Note the forecast slider below the map, where Day 10 is highlighted. The red areas on the map show the extent of flooding forecasted in 10 days.

The dashboard for the Indus river basin flood forecast model, developed at Georgia Institute of Technology, shows the forecast created on August 6, 2013. Note the forecast slider below the map, where Day 10 is highlighted. The red areas on the map show the extent of flooding forecasted in 10 days.

But, in the subsequent two years, the same storm systems veered southwards instead, due to an absence of a south-to-north wind, appearing over Punjab and Sindh. The intensity of the rains was lower in those two years and much of the rains fell outside the Indus basin. As a result, the swelling of the rivers was also not as intense as it was in 2010.

The shifting of these Bay of Bengal storm systems towards the west is one common anomaly in each of the three flood years. Another puzzling anomaly in these three years is a link between the storms in Pakistan and an intense heat wave in eastern Europe which created a high pressure trough above the Himalayas. This high pressure system, rarely seen before, served as a natural barrier, a massive atmospheric wall running from Tibet to the northern reaches of Afghanistan, that apparently deflected an otherwise important wind that always blows over Pakistan from the Afghan plateau. That wind is dry and warm, and usually caps the moist winds coming from the Arabian Sea where the western fringe of the subcontinent’s monsoon system primarily draws its moisture from. Because this moist air is capped on top by the dry and warm air from the Afghan plateau, the moisture does not coalesce into large storm structures. But in each of the three flood years between 2010 and 2012, “[w]arm air from the Afghan plateau did not flow out over Pakistan”, reads the latest paper by Webster and his team. “Rather, a deep layer of moist air flowed into the region from the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The high pressure trough above the Himalayas, therefore, played a crucial role in the storms of all three years,” it says — first by creating the wind patterns that caused the Bay of Bengal storm system to travel westward, then by blocking the warm dry air from the western Afghan plateau which caps the moisture the seas blow into our weather. Large moisture-laden clouds, therefore, arrived over Pakistan during each year from across the Gangetic plains and freely joined with those coming from the Arabian Sea to form gigantic storm systems over the Indus basin.

The volume of rains that fell over Pakistan in a short period of time was staggering in 2010. Cumulatively, up to 6,000 millimetres of rain fell over much of northern Pakistan that year. In the next two years, this amount declined somewhat — exceeding 2,000 millimetres in some areas in 2011 and just touching 1,000 millimetres in 2012.
In their papers, dating from one written in February 2011, Webster and his colleagues have pointed out another common theme between the three flood years: The storm systems that resulted in the floods may be highly anomalous but they were all predictable with high levels of confidence up to ten days in advance, in some cases even more. In the February 2011 paper, titled Were the 2010 Pakistan Floods Predictable?, they find that “the July 28 [2010] event was predicted almost eight days in advance with a probability larger than 60 per cent”.

Their latest paper extends the scope of the analysis further. The storm systems, that produced the floods in each of the three years studied, arose from a combination of global and regional weather patterns. The global climatic patterns can be very accurately modelled because the data required for that exercise is readily available in databases like the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), an intergovernmental organisation supported by 34 countries, and located in the UK. Forecasting specific regional storms “is not possible at this time”, although “the large-scale environments conducive to the development of [regionally directed] storm systems that produce flooding in South Asia” can be forecast with “considerable accuracy”.

To underline this point, Webster built a model for the Indus river basin. The model draws more than 40 million meteorological readings from the ECMWF database every day and runs them through a series of computational processes so complex that they require a computer server with 64 cores and a processing speed of 2.3 gigahertz to operate. The model couples these computations with river flow data from Pakistan – or whatever of it is available – and computes water flows into the Indus river as well as its tributaries that will result from the rainfall being forecast, the absorptive capacity of the terrain, the spread of vegetation, the solar energy signature over the entire Indus basin and more. It takes the system four to five hours, every day, to ingest the data and process it, before yielding a detailed forecast for the next 10 days.

The model then tells you how much rain to expect where, how much accumulation of water will occur in what region and what river flow will be at each hydrological station on each forecast day. The model began providing its first operational forecasts in August 2012. In the first few weeks of its operation, it forecast large floods in Sindh. Daily forecasts made from August 31 [2012] onwards “consistently predicted main-stem flows in the Indus to peak between September 11 and 13”, says Shrestha. They alerted the authorities in Pakistan.

As if on cue, the rains began on September 8, 2012, and turned into a deluge in a matter of days. The hardest hit part of the country was Sindh, as shown by the model 10 days earlier, where up to three million people were affected, according to the NDMA. By the end of the month, Pakistan was asking for international assistance to fight the floods.

The model can predict rain very accurately, even when it is dealing with anomalous storm patterns. But, in order to predict streamflows at precise locations, it needs river flow data from each of the hydrological structures on the Indus river system. The creators of the model, however, have found that the government of Pakistan is not willing to share this data with them. They, therefore, have developed a system to download daily reports from the Pakistan Meteorological Department website which contains some of this information.
In 2013, they updated the model further by including river flow data in it, and this is when it yielded the flood forecast in August that year, giving detailed streamflow figures as well. As a rule, the more data you can feed into the model, the more precise the results it will give. “It needs to be upgraded every year,” says Webster. As data from an outgoing year is fed into it, the model better understands the relationship between atmospheric events and the hydrology on the ground.

So how does advance alert help? The model can tell you the likelihood of a flood, its location and intensity and effects on each individual river of the Indus river system. The real game actually begins after an alert has been issued. With advance warning, embankments can be strengthened, dams can be emptied out, barrages can be reinforced, breaching priorities for embankments that lie along the path of the flood can be drawn up in time and residents can be alerted so that perishables and livestock can be moved to higher ground.

Pakistan is blessed with a highly developed river management system which can be effectively used to mitigate the full impact of a flood. For a clearer idea on how this would work, consider the floods of this year, which began due to unusually high rains over the catchment areas of the Chenab and Jhelum rivers. The first flood alert was issued by the Pakistan Meteorological Department on September 3, 2014, just over 48 hours before the flood peak arrived in Pakistan from India. When the alert was issued, water level at Mangla Dam reservoir stood at 1,227 feet (this same level had been obtaining since mid-August, at least). The Indus River System Authority (IRSA), responsible for overseeing the distribution of river water among different parts of Pakistan, had been releasing water from the dam very slowly since July 28, anticipating rains. Inflows at the dam were around 20,000 cusec during those days. Then, suddenly, on September 4, the first surge arrived, with inflows jumping to 95,000 cusec. The IRSA responded to the flood alert issued a day earlier by raising outflows only slightly — to 30,000 cusec.

The flood peak arrived on September 5, when inflows jumped to 310,000 cusec but outflows on that day were brought down to 15,000 cusec — presumably, in an attempt to arrest the floodwaters. In a single day, water level in the dam rose by eight feet – a staggering increase for a reservoir of Mangla’s size – and the water level in it touched 1,236 feet. On September 6, 2014, the inflow of water rose to 413,000 cusec and water level in the dam rose to almost 1,240 feet. Since top water level that Mangla Dam’s reservoir can reach is 1,242 feet, further increases in the water level could not be accommodated, so the dam’s spillways were opened. Outflows jumped from 15,000 cusec to 282,000 cusec on September 6, 2014.

The resultant surge in the Jhelum river combined a few days later with a similar surge travelling down the Chenab, at the confluence of these two rivers just upstream from Trimmu headworks [see diagram on pg. 57]. Trimmu is where the majority of the breaches had to be made to prevent the headworks from getting washed away. Three breaches were made, including at least one in the embankments around the barrage itself. This is where most of the flooding occurred.

With advance warning, Mangla could have been emptied out much sooner, making it possible to absorb the floodwaters surging down the Jhelum river. With no additional water flowing in from the Jhelum, the peak flood in the Chenab could have been relatively better managed at Trimmu, possibly without significant breaching of dykes. All downstream structures – Panjnad, Guddu and Sukkur – could also have easily handled the floodwaters. The flooding would not have been nearly as damaging as it has turned out to be.

Pakistan’s water managers frequently ask for more infrastructure – dams and barrages – as a flood control measure. But how will they operate this infrastructure in the absence of lead time in flood alerts, given the current state of flood forecasting in Pakistan? Without advance warning of a major flood event, along with attendant streamflow forecasts, hydrological infrastructure will only be a silent spectator to any flood, at best, and a liability to be protected by breaching embankments, at worst.

Part II of this story can be read here. 

The funny side of politicking in Karachi

funny side of

Worldwide, cities are sometimes ranked as alpha, beta or gamma based on their economic, cultural or political importance. Our very own Karachi is slotted in as a beta city, which is odd since it feels like an orphan left to fend for itself. It is a massive city, so big in fact that if you are lying or telling the truth that 19,000 containers disappeared in the city from its port no one will know better. Or if there is a Mohajir Republican Army, and if Tatooine insurgents have taken up attacking our armed forces installations. Widely regarded as a cosmopolitan city where people from all over Pakistan congregate to discover why they can’t possibly live together, it is a city of lights illuminated by the disco ball of gunfire.

As a cultural hub it does its best to ensure its leading luminaries are recognised for their services, like Major General Charles James Napier who first annexed the city for the British. Gunfire no longer an option for the deceased colonist, they have instead swathed him in red light. On the plus side, you can get feisty crabs on Karachi’s beaches, fine restaurants and Napier Road.

To make your way around, best to familiarise yourself with Do and Teen Talwaar chowks. If they build Sangsaar Chowk, then the trifecta will be complete. Despite the complex web of troubles that this city faces, Pakistan is lucky to have media anchors who know how to explain the web of intrigue that plagues it. Chief amongst them is Iftikhar Chaudhry who surprised everyone by boldly claiming that the police and the rangers had failed in the city. With this bombshell the rules of journalism were rewritten, an APNS award is surely in the offing. Iftikhar Chaudhry is not to be confused with Javed Chaudhry, who also has a moustache.

Taking cue from Pakistan’s leading journalist, Lord Altafmort of Edgeware Manor & Coffee House celebrated the successful transition to democracy by asking for the army to take over Karachi. The PMLN [Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz] in turn decided to wage war on cheap mobile phone calls. The greatest victim in Karachi is the peaceful Bohri community who keep getting confused when the players in Karachi talk up the conflict and all the dead bodies appear. Would a canvas not smell as cloth if it was called a duffel bag?

Despite the murders, target killings, violence and extortion, the bright spot in Karachi’s politics is that it is secular in nature which makes it different from the murders, target killings, violence and extortion sported by religious fanatics in the rest of the country.
There is also a lesson to be learned from the politics of the city. The PPP [Pakistan Peoples Party] in its previous term in government extended a policy of reconciliation to the MQM [Muttahida Quami Movement]. Over time that became a policy of Olympic gymnastics in keeping them in government, taking cue from that period the MQM is currently using the PPP as a trampoline. Former besties, PPP and MQM are now being beasties to each other. On the plus side, IQs of schoolchildren who follow the news in the city are doing remarkably well in English literacy tests. It’s hard not to do well when the headlines are nothing but alphabets, APC, ANP, MQM, PMLN, KESC, etc.

Mamnoon Hussain, who has been elected the new President of the country, is from Karachi. But that won’t make much of a difference because the previous President, from Zila Bambino in Karachi, couldn’t make much headway either. The only real saving grace: the people of Karachi. They have been through so much and contribute even more to the well-being of the rest of Pakistan. The people are more urbane, the women visible and integrated. Maybe it’s due to the soothing sea breeze or Hassan Jahangir.

It seems there is a slow consensus Karachi needs an operation. Let’s hope our hospitals with a poor record of preventing post-op infections prevail.

Fasi Zaka is a columnist and a radio talk show host who also works in television.


From the Editorial Desk – The case for peace

A good peace is a bargain, a better peace is an understanding and the best peace is an agreement. As far as Pakistan and India are concerned, a strong argument can be made that a lot needs to change before both sides can take even the first steps towards some kind of a bargain, a deal, a give and take. For the current mood on both sides of the border is generally not of bargaining but haggling, not dealing but dallying, not giving but taking.

The question is what must change before there is an environment conducive for peace to take root. Analysts, diplomats, impassioned insiders and interested outsiders, everyone seems to have attempted to find an answer. Many have actually come up with helpful suggestions. Some of these suggestions, indeed, have already worked, even though by default. Take, for instance, the need for both societies to open up to each other in order to overcome deep-seated prejudices and reality distorting stereotypes. The two states have done precious little to ease travel restrictions, to facilitate the movement of books and newspapers across their fenced border and to allow the exchange of ideas between citizens on a sustained, institutionalised basis.

However, it has been the information and communication revolution, and rising civic activism that have created a space shared by the people from both countries, or at the least by a tiny clique among them, where the states, their borders and their restrictive writs don’t matter. When we can’t get an Indian newspaper, we read its Internet edition; when citizen groups can’t meet in Delhi or Lahore, they can always hold a meeting in Kathmandu or Colombo.

Some people may turn back and say that all such interactions – intellectual and physical – are confined to a bubble which does not have anything to do with the reality that is being represented, let alone rectified. And, like all bubbles, it is vulnerable to a mere prick of the real. The reality, they point out, is that the vast majorities of people in the two countries remain at best indifferent and at worst hostile to each other. If anything has changed at all, they argue, it has not changed for the better. For instance, there may have been a reversal of fortunes, so to speak. Most Indians, nowadays, display a strong aversion to anything with a Made in Pakistan mark, except our singers and musicians, exactly the way most Pakistanis used to hate everything Indian, except movies made in Mumbai.

Like all arguments, though, it is only half valid and has another side which is not so bleak. Many Pakistanis exposed to the Indian media are enamoured by the prosperity that the enemy on the other side of the fence has achieved over the last two decades. Many in the Pakistani intelligentsia are fascinated by the sustained Indian democracy, which chugs along merrily through one election cycle after another despite its endemic corruption, its myriad fissures and frictions over religion, caste and ideology and its endless bickering over the distribution of spoils of a raging economy.

On the Indian side, the enemy no longer looks as formidable as it did until recently. In spite of our nukes, we are no longer hovering over the Indian radar as an ominous omnipresence. Either the Indian horizon has become large enough to be able to see us for our real size or we have successfully diminished our stature by playing the bad guy for far too long. No matter what the case, the net result is that today’s India sees Pakistan as a nuisance that can be ignored without too much discomfit.

Decidedly, positive feelings about the Indian economy and democracy do not go very far in making almost the entire Indian state and most of Indian society palatable for most Pakistanis. And no matter how indifferent Indians want to become towards Pakistanis, they cannot get rid of their next-door neighbour that still has the capacity to inflict serious damage on their state and society, both in a direct confrontation and through a hundred mutinies by proxy as has been the case since long.

But it is here that an unlikely window of opportunity opens itself. India’s economic success and the strength of its democratic institutions, for example, can serve as sources of inspiration for Pakistan to follow. If we, too, can invest in human resources as aggressively as many regions in India have done; if we can create a peaceful environment in our cities which allows investment and commerce to prosper as cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad have done; if we can have the same kind of certainty about election cycles as India does, the same level of trust in our voting systems as Indians have and the same amount of confidence in the institutions of the state observing their boundaries as they have shown in India — these are certainly great things to learn and follow.

There is admittedly much that India and the Indians have to ponder about. Scores of millions in that country have, after all, failed to partake in the spoils of its economic boom and its democratic experience. But the popular indifference among Indians towards Pakistan, perversely, can be helpful for the Indian government vis-à-vis Pakistan. The cut-to-size Pakistan is no longer an issue in India that decides the fate of political parties and leaders as it used to in the distant past. So, this Indian government, and the next, should not worry about popular reaction, if and when it decides to make peace with Pakistan.

The New York meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh marks the beginnings of haggling that both countries are required to do if they have to arrive at some kind of bargain. Even the haggling has not happened for quite some time now. The next step, we hope, will come as an honest give and take, and a good peace. To turn this into the best peace that there can possibly be the two sides must open venues for better mutual understanding and an eventual agreement on how best to harness South Asia’s resources for the collective good of the people of the region.

Journal Observations

June 1, Saturday
I’m back in the province while Nawaz bhai takes the capital; even as kids he never let me play with his toys. I recited a poem by Mir to calm myself down.

July 1, Monday
He leads parliament and I’m stuck here listening to the LDA [Lahore Development Authority] workers complain about contractors again. I spent five years tearing down every plaza I could find in Lahore, I deserve better.

Some day, dear diary, some day I’ll be in the federal government. Till then I’ll just roll up my sleeves and read more impassioned poetry at trade union conventions. My powers of verse have improved tremendously over the years — I never commanded such crowds during college recitals.

July 25, Thursday

Talked to a director from the Lahore Waste Management Company. He told me Lahore was producing 5,000 tonnes of annual waste. I asked him to up that number by another 20; I don’t want us to fall behind Karachi.

August 3, Saturday

After the successful laptop distribution scheme, my team has come up with more youth-oriented ideas. One of them suggested we hand out tablets as well but I fail to see the youth getting excited over packets of Panadol.

Meanwhile, the Metro Bus Service remains a resounding success, a true pioneer story for Lahore. Someday, my name will be on every street sign and bus stand, right where the pigeons come to relieve themselves.

August 21, Wednesday
Opened my Twitter account today and noticed I had hundreds of mentions. I was trending in Lahore along with heat and dengue.
There was also a rumour online that one of my children has gotten married to the grandson of a retired Indian army officer. I hope it wasn’t Hamza.

August 27, Tuesday
Met a Chinese delegation about those solar-powered street lights. I was quite frank with them and said: “Look, in Pakistan, we mainly use street lights at night. What good are the ones that only work under the sun?” Their representative replied in a strange language I didn’t understand at all, probably Pashto.

They also showed us a blueprint for a solar-powered electricity plant in Cholistan. We accepted their design and sent them home with our customary goodwill gesture — free laptops.

August 28, Wednesday
Today I am a sad panda. People keep accusing me of being a bit of a playboy but they should know that I have been unswervingly loyal to all my wives and girlfriends.

September 8, Sunday

Was shaken awake today by my visibly upset and confused personal assistant. I was told to get dressed and come downstairs quickly; Nawaz bhai had almost gone through the entire breakfast table on his own.

September 14, Saturday
Nawaz bhai called me to his side today and said we are going to negotiate with the terrorists. I was almost on the phone with his in-laws when I realised he meant the other ones.

September 18, Wednesday

Went with Nawaz bhai to Turkey. Their prime minister came to receive us, escorted by two young men. I asked him which one was Behlul. He smiled sheepishly, but I assured him we knew all about his country. We watch it every night on television.
I sat through some of their reserved and self-conscious speeches before I took the stage, recited Jalib, and broke five of their microphones. This is how it’s done in our country, I said.

September 24, Tuesday
Saw Nawaz bhai on television listening to Obama’s speech. He had the same expression on his face as he used to have when mother taught us mathematics;
I don’t think he understands the American accent, or mathematics.

Journal Observations

Let me begin with a disclaimer.

I, chairman of CNG (Chaudhry Nisar Group) do categorically demand that I am not to be confused with the CNG wallahs my dear friend Khwaja Asif went after until he ran out of fuel. Nor am I going to tolerate any criticism of the state which I have been diligently protecting against the advances by fallible creatures such as the Pakistani president and prime minister.

That done, I do solemnly declare that I have been acting solemn even before we got our government back in May. Fourteen years spent well in getting rid of Sheikh Rashid and his silk route to politics and shedding a few unwanted Chaudries 150.6 kilometres downhill from Rawalpindi.

As for me and my loyalties, they do not change. I lose and I win, I am in opposition or I am in the treasury, asking tough questions of the soldier or fighting by and from his shoulder, it is simply no use trying chakrbazi with this no-nonsense man from Chakri. I take my seriousness seriously. You will never have me resorting to Rehman Malik gaffes to lighten up the atmosphere. The people thought better of it and since then I have been doing the thinking on their behalf. Have been thinking about a terrorism policy, what else.
While I think and think it deeper still you can reserve your mischievous remarks about this imaginary losing grins and gaining power stuff. You can ask Mian Sahib instead, and ask him how just happy and proud my work must be making him right now.

The problem with taking up a job in the interior ministry is that you are always in the forefront, facing the media. And you know these journalists: The only time they have been responsible was when I myself held them responsible for that freak Sikandar affair. But for this extremely responsible media in this case, Nisar knows his gallis and streets well enough to block a psycho from sneaking through.

In the past once I got down to creating hurdles in the path of mischief-makers even Benazir Bhutto would find it so very difficult to break through and roam free in the capital. Do you think that was foul? If you do, you know nothing about history. She was only a PPP head then and not yet a national Pakistan leader.

We were the first to discover the true qaumi leader in BB Shaheed just as we have constantly refused to be cowed down by some other so called qaumi variety. These qaumis must always be kept at a distance with the threat of a military operation hanging over their heads — unless they are asking for one in which case they must be denied forthwith. These particular qaumis are as bad as the commies who once walked the corridors in Gordon College. We never allowed them in at the Aitchison where they were crafting future rulers out of us.

Let me return to the topic and let me remind Khurshid Shah’s truncated jiyala force that my leader Mian Nawaz Sharif was the first to rush to the spot and see BB’s rise to the status of a national leader that cold December 2007 evening. She lay there motionless, ensuring the highest national leader’s honour for herself as well as willing Mian Sahib to carry on the good work only mature leadership can take up earnestly.

We respect BB just as we had respected her father a few years after his execution. He was a great leader. BB was great. Zardari is bad. Imran Khan is bad but his candidate in NA-53 is worse. He has to be the worst of them all.

You too, take care.

Forum: Legal talk

Should Pakistan extend the moratorium on death sentences?

Soon after coming into power in 2008, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) put a five-year moratorium on executing prisoners on death row. The new administration in Islamabad, however, has decided not to continue the moratorium after it expired on June 30, 2013, sparking a nationwide debate on ending or retaining death penalty. The Herald put together a panel to discuss the issues arising out of the moratorium and its withdrawal as well as the legal, cultural and religious questions concerning death penalty.


Asad Jamal


Ali Dayan Hasan


Ehsanullah Shah









Asad Jamal, one of the two jurists on the panel, is a leading advocate of the abolition of death penalty while Barrister Ehsanullah Shah, the other legal expert on the panel, champions capital punishment as the most effective deterrent to crime. The third member of the panel, Ali Dayan Hasan, is the Pakistan director for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based independent organisation dedicated to defending and protecting human rights worldwide.


Herald. What do you think about the government’s decision to withdraw the moratorium?

Ehsanullah Shah. Under our present circumstances, not extending the moratorium is not a bad thing. Death penalty, indeed, is a good deterrent. There isn’t much conclusive evidence to state otherwise.

Ali Dayan Hasan. The moratorium should continue. Death penalty is an inhuman punishment. Pakistan has one of the highest numbers of people on death row in the world — well over 8,000. Even if they are guilty of the crimes they have been convicted for, we have no way of knowing if their convictions are sound. Given how the criminal justice system works, most convictions do not meet international due process and fair trial standards.

Asad Jamal. All the reasons and factors which led to enforcing the moratorium remain as they were in 2008. Pakistan’s criminal justice system remains as flawed as ever; there is no assurance for due process and fair trial.

Pakistan must also fulfil its obligations under international law, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which states that, “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life” [and] “no one shall be subjected to … cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” States today are heavily inclined towards putting a moratorium on executions and abolishing death penalty. According to Amnesty International, 140 countries have so far abolished death penalty either by declaring a moratorium on executions or by removing the punishment from statute books. The number of such countries was 123 in the year 2000 and just 79 in 1988. Even in states that want to retain death penalty – for example, India – there is a tendency to use it on the rarest of rare occasions.

Shah. There is a toss-up between convicting a potentially innocent man and letting go of a guilty man, the problem being that you are risking multiple other innocent lives who might suffer at the hands of the released guilty man.

I believe capital punishment is a necessary evil at the moment. Based on whatever little psychology I know, death penalty would be enough to make one think at least twice before committing a capital offence.

I fail to see how international conventions on arbitrary punishments apply to Pakistan. There is nothing arbitrary about legal procedure here. If death sentences could be handed out irrevocably by lower courts, then this argument would make some sense. But there is an exhaustive appeals procedure in place. That is anything but arbitrary.

Jamal. Arbitrariness in decision-making processes and unfairness of procedures and deliberate violation of due processes is an internationally recognised problem. This happens even in the best of systems.

Herald. In Pakistan, where Shariah laws are constitutionally and legally supreme over all other laws, is it even possible to talk about abolishing death penalty?

Shah. Now that the issue has been stirred, there will be a massive public backlash if the moratorium is not withdrawn. Like it or not, Pakistan is a democracy and the fact of the matter is that a majority of our population is pro-death penalty for various reasons. It would be highly undemocratic if the government were to not respect the mandate of the people. Tomorrow someone may decide that voting is not good for people and, before you know it, you are living in a fascist dictatorship. If one were to take a strictly legal argument, to not have death penalty – which is mandated by Islam – would be unconstitutional because Article 2A of the constitution states that Pakistan shall have no laws against Islamic injunctions.

Hasan. First, the entire business of ‘Islamic’ provisions trumping fundamental rights in the constitution is highly controversial. Secondly, even after accepting religious and cultural arguments, there is still room to ensure that death penalty is effectively not used. The issue is not of religious sanction but of constitutional protection of the right to life. Also, the number of offences inviting death penalty in Pakistan is staggering. Nothing prevents a reduction in the number of such offences.

Jamal. There is no consensus among different schools of Islamic jurisprudence and different Islamic states on the scope of death penalty. Even the Islamists have to take a utilitarian position on the effectiveness of death penalty. They cite perceived improvement in crime rate wherever death penalty is imposed.

Even if it is acknowledged that capital punishment is an element of Islamic tradition, it may be argued that Islam prescribes a more limited scope for death penalty. The demand for immediate executions to comply with Islamic ‘tenets’ sounds even less convincing when viewed in the context of Islamic concept of pardon by the family of a victim of bodily harm.
There is room within the Islamic tradition to reconsider death penalty. There is this concept of ijtihad — in a new set of circumstances, old traditions can be revisited and modified without violating the fundamental principles of Islam.

Let us assume that the moratorium is lifted today. How do we plan to execute all the death row prisoners whose convictions have become final? Would we like to execute all of them simply because we have blind faith in something which is, in fact, of limited utility? Reviving death penalty with more than 400 people under the threat of being immediately executed, Pakistan runs the risk of being seen as a killer state.

Shah. I am not in any way saying that we should have death penalty because Islam mandates it. I am simply stating that there will be a public backlash. With regards to the position that there is no evidence that capital punishment is a deterrent, there is also no evidence to support the contrary either. There are various studies that show that executing one murderer on average saves about seven lives. Other variants of this study support even higher numbers.

Jamal. Data shows that death penalty does not contribute to a reduction in crime rate. In Canada, for example, homicide rate per 100,000 people fell from a peak of 3.09 in 1975 – the year before the abolition of the death penalty for murder – to 2.41 in 1980. In 2000, homicide rate in Canada was 1.8 per 100,000 people and 5.5 per 100,000 people in the United States, where death penalty is still applied. Some American states that reinstated capital punishment during the 1970s have not seen their crime rates drop. On the other hand, the states which did not reinstate death penalty have not witnessed a rise in the crime graph.

Shah. Do you think that putting a person behind bars for the rest of his natural life is not cruel, or even unusual?

Jamal. I am not saying that there will be no problems attached to life imprisonment. Long-term imprisonment without the possibility of parole is being increasingly seen as cruel and inhumane and a recent decision by the European Court of Human Rights has held so. But to feign that there is no alternative to death penalty is misleading. Instead of reviving the death penalty, we should be more concerned about our criminal justice system, prisons reforms, police reforms and, above all, the prevention of crime through better social conditions.

Europe has a lower homicide rate despite the fact that the European states don’t have death penalty. Despite the fact that people there know that they will not be hanged for committing murder and, in fact, may be able to come out of prison after some time, they are still less likely to kill than those in a country like Pakistan which retains the death penalty.

Shah. It is not the absence of death penalty that leads to the fall in homicide rates, but vice versa. Crime rates in Europe fell before the countries there did away with death penalty.
Jamal. Which means you need to recognise that there are other factors which lead to lower crime and homicide rates. Why not work in that direction instead of executions?
Shah. How do you deal with a terrorist responsible for taking hundreds of lives? If you put him behind bars, the next day, his organisation will take a school bus hostage and demand his release. Are you willing to take responsibility for the lives of those children?

Jamal. The answer to that problem lies elsewhere — in the enforcement of the state’s writ.

Herald. Without abolishing death penalty, the moratorium on executions only prolongs the agony of those on death row…

Hasan. Yes. Being in legal limbo is abusive and unfair. But there is nothing more unfair than being put to death. It is irreversible.


*Should Pakistan extend the moratorium
on death sentences? 

Yes 62%
No 38%

*The above question was posed to readers online during the discussion.


Maheen. Is abolishing death penalty possible?

Jamal. Apart from lack of direction and misconceived concepts about Islamic law, there is also international politics. Pakistan has since long aligned itself with the countries primarily based in the Middle East. Since 1980s, these countries have put up great resistance against international efforts to abolish death penalty. Professor William Schabas, in his article titled Islam and the Death Penalty, notes it was during Ziaul Haq’s regime that a lot of ‘scholarship’ was generated to establish Islamic roots of death penalty. The aim of the whole exercise by Zia was to create a constituency for himself and deprive the citizenry of its civil rights.

JT. What about terrorists killing people unabated? Will there be no death sentences for them either?

Jamal. Terrorism does not exist because we don’t execute the perpetrators but because we can’t investigate cases and can’t ensure convictions. Studies show that certainty of conviction rather than the harshness of punishment deters crime. The proponents of death penalty argue that many death row convicts involved in terrorism continue to operate terror cells from prisons. Is it because there is a moratorium on executions or is it because we have a weak state that cannot make its prison system foolproof? Does this mean that prisoners who are not on death row have not been operating and running gangs from prison? Are we arguing for instant extrajudicial killings by saying that terrorists shouldn’t be jailed? If the prisons cannot be secured to stop death row convicts from operating from them, then why we should have prisons at all?

Hasan. The idea that capital punishment is used – effectively or otherwise – against high-profile militants is not backed up by data. In any case, you do not deter or end terrorism by hanging people. You do that through effective counter-terrorism policies and by creating a rights-respecting rule of law. Also, the moratorium has not led to an increase in terrorist activity in Pakistan.

Javed. Islam adheres to the concept of ‘an eye for an eye’. What is wrong with that?

Jamal. The concept of an eye for an eye may have been an improvement on the popular concepts of justice in the pre-Islamic days because it introduced the concept of proportionality in the penal system. Today, such a concept has become an articulation of revenge rather than of justice.

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The crisis of will

The ongoing energy crisis is arguably the biggest challenge Pakistan faces as a nation. Since its emergence in 2006, the problem continues to grow both in dimension and size. It initially appeared in the form of electricity shortages but the scarcity of gas has also become a serious problem since 2009. Issues related to electricity generation capacity are being compounded by an unprecedented escalation of energy prices. The government’s efforts throughout this period have been all but an eyewash. Not only that, ironically, some key officials in the policymaking and decision-making circles, and other concerned influential lobbies, have made the most of the crisis to multiply their fortunes through blatant corruption and extortion. Subsequently, the chronic apathy and malpractices of the ruling elite have only made a bad situation worse.

The shortfall of electricity has grown from around 2,000 megawatts in 2006 to nearly 8,000 megawatts in 2013. Over this period, the duration of load-shedding, even in major cities, has jumped from three hours to as much as 20 hours per day.

The tariffs for electricity and gas, similarly, have jumped by over 100 per cent. Circular debt is another quagmire that cropped up in 2006-2007 and has now become a gigantic challenge for the power sector and the national economy. This article presents an autopsy of the major governance-related blunders that created and fostered the energy crisis. It also reflects upon the dimensions and implications, as well as, sustainable solutions for the problem.

Tarbela Dam water spill - USE THIS

Was the energy crisis avoidable?


The present energy crisis has not appeared overnight. The signs were obvious for a good number of years but the authorities failed to react in time. How well the relevant authorities were prepared to anticipate any challenges can be observed from the fact that on March 18, 2004, in one of his policy briefings at the Pakistan Development Forum, Aftab Sherpao, the then minister for water and power, predicted an electricity deficit of less than 1,500 megawatts by 2007. By December 2007, the shortfall grew to as much as 4,500 megawatts, more than three times the forecasted figure. Senior power sector officials claim that as early as 2002, the government was categorically told that a severe energy crisis was set to hit the country within a few years unless effective measures were taken to enhance the electricity generation capacity.

A former senior official of the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) claims that his department requested, on at least 13 occasions between 2003 and 2006, the then prime minister and president, to set up new power plants to match the rapidly growing demand. The timely warning, failed to receive any appreciation. Such warnings were, in fact, snubbed. When in 2002, the acting Wapda chairman wrote to the government to give serious consideration to the approaching crisis, he was told: “Stop raising false alarms.”

Have governments done enough to resolve the crisis?

The energy history of the country reveals that, apart from a couple of exceptions, no regime has done enough for the energy sector. The short-sightedness of successive regimes over the last three decades has had a detrimental impact. The governments have failed to look beyond their tenure in office, and have adopted a project-oriented approach rather than a goal-oriented one.

A series of blunders made by successive regimes over the last three decades clearly manifests the problem. For example, hydropower is the main strength of Pakistan’s power sector but apart from the 1,450 megawatt Ghazi Barotha, no new significant hydropower project has been accomplished in this period. The other main indigenous energy resource, coal, has also been continuously neglected. It is noteworthy that China and India respectively produce nearly 80 per cent and 70 per cent of their electricity from coal, whereas in Pakistan, the share of coal is even less than one per cent.

The haphazardly orchestrated Independent Power Producers (IPPs) of 1990s – given their controversial bidding process, inflated tariff structure and excess generation capacity — are another example of reckless policymaking and decision making. Dumping of the State Engineering Corporation’s indigenisation of power plants initiative of 1993-1994, to prepare grounds for the lucrative IPPs, is another huge scandal not much heard about. Renewable energy is another overlooked resource. Across the world, huge developments have been made in the areas of solar and wind power, both in the developed and developing countries. Even our neighbouring countries such as China, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have made tremendous achievements in this respect. In Pakistan, however, renewable energy is yet to make any notable contribution.

When it comes to energy policies, the situation is no different. There have been several energy policies in the country over the years; none, however, could deliver. These policies have been quite narrow in their scope. The famous 1994 power policy, for example, focused mainly on IPPs ignoring other energy resources and technologies. Similarly, the 2006 renewable energy policy, as the name implies, focused on renewable technologies alone. There have been hydropower policies and oil and gas policies, all falling short of providing a robust and coherent approach on national energy issues. It is, therefore, imperative to formulate an integrated and visionary energy policy that covers all the major aspects including oil and gas, power sector, hydropower, coal, nuclear power, renewable energy, energy conservation and management, energy security and energy marketing and trading.

The recent past provides an excellent reflection on the characteristic weakness of the governments to come up with a comprehensive energy policy. Ever since the disruptive arrival of the energy shortages in 2006, no meaningful policy has come about to overcome them in a sustainable manner. Some of the key appointments by the previous government in the energy sector – Adnan Khwaja as the head of Oil and Gas Development Company Limited, Tauqeer Sadiq as the chairman of the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority, and Dr Asim Hussain, first as an adviser and then as a minister for petroleum and natural resources – were ample evidence of the lack of urgent and serious attention that these departments required. One finds it difficult to comprehend the wisdom behind appointing a medical practitioner to run the crucial energy ministry.


The Karkey Karadeniz Electrik Uretum of Turkey is the most expensive
ship-mounted power plant in the country, charging about 41 rupees per unit

Were rental power plants necessary?

The existing thermal power plants are underperforming by 3,000 to 5,000 megawatts because of lack of fuel (oil and gas) supply. The underperformance of oil-based thermal power plants is especially huge even when their share in electricity production has jumped from 16 per cent in 2005 to 37 per cent in 2012. The question that arises here is what is the reason for bringing ‘rented’ thermal power plants if the existing thermal power plants are unable to function on full capacity due to the lack of oil supply? Consequently, we have had rental power plants which received payments in tens of millions of dollars without supplying a single unit of power. The ship-based Turkish Karkey power plant – instead of its promised 230 megawatts has hardly produced 30 megawatts – is a clear example in this regard. The fallout of this project has been extremely ugly on numerous fronts, financially as well as in terms of Pakistan-Turkey relationship. The ongoing Karkey dispute, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, reminds us of the Hubco saga of the 1990s. The generous tariff structure offered to rental power plants also raised eyebrows and again resembled the IPPs scandal of the 1990s. The reckless tariff mechanism allowed these rental power plants to charge exorbitantly for the electricity they produced. The electricity generated from the Karkey rental power plant, for example, is reported to have cost 41 rupees per kilowatt-hour.

A pragmatic alternative to rental power plants would have been to address the issue of circular debt, to control transmission and distribution losses and thefts, and to revamp the ageing power plants of Wapda and Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco).

Is circular debt a problem of governance?

Circular debt is the amount of cash shortfall within the Central Power Purchasing Agency (CPPA), which purchases each unit of electricity generated in the country and then sells it to distribution companies (Discos). Due to the shortfall – which results from the difference between the actual cost of producing and supplying electricity, and the revenue collected by Discos from customers – the CPPA cannot pay power plants. The second factor in the accumulation of circular debt is insufficient payment by Discos to CPPA out of the collected revenue as these distribution companies give priority to their own cash-flow needs.

Technically, circular debt results when one entity withholds payments due to inadequate cash flows to discharge its obligations to its suppliers. The action of one entity has a knock-on effect on the rest of the entities in the supply chain. Each of the subsequent entity withholds its payments thus squeezing the operability of all. This revenue shortfall cascades through the entire energy supply chain, from electricity generators to fuel suppliers, refiners, and producers. This results in a shortage of fuel supply to the public sector oil-based electricity generating companies and IPPs, reducing the amount of electricity they generate by 3,000 to 5,000 megawatts, which in turn leads to load-shedding.

Circular debt is primarily a consequence of bad governance. It was created during the Pervez Musharraf regime when in 2006, the government decided to freeze electricity tariffs in the wake of an upcoming election (a typical tactic by governments to avoid making tough and unpopular decisions before the polls) while oil prices in the international market were skyrocketing.

Other major causes include ineffective tariff regulation, poor revenue collection by Discos, hefty transmission and distribution losses and thefts, and delayed and incomplete payments by the Ministry of Finance on subsidy provided to consumers as well as by the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) for the electricity it purchases from the CPPA.
The volume of circular debt at the end of fiscal year 2012 was reported by the Planning Commission to be over 800 billion rupees. The real extent of the problem is, however, much lower, at 400 billion rupees. (Circular debt figures usually mentioned are the sum of the receivables of each organisation in the supply chain which ends up exaggerating the amount because of double counting. After all, one party’s payables are the other party’s receivables, and logically these should cancel out each other.)

Pakistan Looming Bailout

Undeterred by load-shedding, Pakistani embroiderers work by candlelight – AP photo

Is there transparency on the issue of energy crisis?

Since status quo is the very essence of Pakistan’s political culture, transparency in the energy sector is, therefore, almost an alien phenomenon. Forget about transparency in projects and contracts, even information on the nature and intensity of energy crisis as shared by concerned authorities is often inconsistent and misleading. There is thus a great deal of ambiguity about the issues facing the energy sector.

Utilisation of the installed power generation capacity, for example, is an issue of great uncertainty. How, for instance, a shortfall of 5,000 megawatts, representing a 25 to 30 per cent gap between demand and supply, translates into 16 hours of load-shedding? Either the shortfall is much greater or there are other mechanisms and agendas to manipulate load-shedding which the public is unaware of. Similarly, there are uncertainties on the issue of circular debt as well, not only in terms of its precise origin and fallout, but also on the billions of rupees paid to retire circular debt.

Is there an issue of capability?

The energy crisis also suggests that there is scarcity of the right type of skills and professionalism among the ranks of policymakers and decision-makers. The state of affairs inevitably implies that successive regimes over the last decade have fallen short of showing due level of competence and commitment required to propel the energy sector forward in a healthy fashion. When a former deputy chairman of the Planning Commission was inquired about the dearth of competence, he replied: “Owing to nepotism, the system in general lacks expertise and capabilities.” A former head of a main energy department responded to the question by saying that “policymaking and decision-making forums do lack qualified experts.”

The energy departments have not only lost their cutting edge in conventional energy systems but they have also failed to build their capacity to embrace modern technologies. Pakistan does not have expertise in nuclear power generation (nuclear power plants are developed by China and we only get the training to run them). When it comes to renewable energy, energy conservation and management, we are almost clueless. Even in hydropower, the experts we developed during the construction of Tarbela and Mangla dams are almost all retired so when a new project starts there will be a serious shortage of technical experts.

The energy sector largely remains dependent upon foreign expertise on almost all fronts such as the development of project proposals and feasibility studies, design and engineering, manufacturing and commissioning. For the last many decades, training and development programmes were almost non-existent in Wapda/Pepco.
It, therefore, has been a lethal combination of bankruptcy at the policymaking and decision-making levels, and sheer weaknesses at the departmental levels that Pakistan has been pushed into such a disastrous crisis. Sliding down from a state of power affluence in 2002-2003 to a stage of over 40 per cent deficit in demand and supply by 2006-2007, and then a continuous slide downhill — as a matter of fact no other country in the world, even in Africa, has seen such a downfall in a time and age when countries across the world have energy sustainability as their top priority.

Is there a sustainable solution to energy crisis?

The energy challenges are undoubtedly grave but can surely be tackled — the gap between demand and supply can be efficiently bridged and the affordability of energy can be improved. A sustainable solution to the energy crisis lies in the utilisation of indigenous resources. Pakistan has to realise its strengths. In electricity generation, for example, emphasis has to be placed on hydropower and coal-based thermal power. A radical change in the generation fuel mix is crucial. Owing to distorted policies over the last three decades, the fuel mix has greatly shifted from hydropower to thermal power. The share of hydropower – which is by far the most economical – has receded from 70 per cent in 1970s to nearly 30 per cent in 2013. It is an eye-opening reality that the cost of electricity generation through hydropower is only 10 per cent compared to that of thermal power. In terms of thermal power, the priority must be on coal. Oil-based thermal power – the most expensive of the current options – needs to be abandoned.

Dam-based hydropower project shall offer a number of subsidiary benefits — such as additional water storage capacity and a cushion against flooding. The current water storage capacity in Pakistan is only for 30 days which is very low considering the country’s power generation and agricultural needs. India, on the other hand, can store water to meet its needs for 120 days.

There are countries than can store water to satisfy their requirements for up to a year. It is extremely crucial for Pakistan to go for the development of large as well as small dams to optimise its water storage capacity. Dams will also offer a cushion against the impacts of natural calamities such as drought and flooding. An argument often cited against the construction of large-scale dams is that of shrinking water resources because of global warming — global warming and its impacts on the natural water cycle is a reality. A positive approach to this threat, as is the trend across the world, is that we make the most of every drop of water available to us. Even in our neighbourhood, both China and India are presently developing tens of large-scale dams, but we are building none. It is noteworthy that China has completed the world’s largest hydropower project, Three Gorges Dam, only last year with a total capacity of 22,500 megawatts. Just to put things in perspective, this single project is almost equivalent to Pakistan’s total power generation capacity.

The utilisation of indigenous coal and hydropower, however, are medium to long-term projects and need some serious political will (especially in terms of developing provincial harmony) and resource mobilisation.

The short-term solution to load-shedding lies in control over system leaks and thefts, and reconditioning dysfunctional thermal power plants. On top of these, through effective load management, and energy conservation and management programmes the shortfall of electricity can be substantially curtailed.

The writer is a senior lecturer at the Glasgow Caledonian University, UK. He is the author of Energy Crisis in Pakistan: Origins, Challenges and Sustainable Solutions


From the Editorial Desk – Nothing but the whole truth

We sow seeds of retribution in the land of conflict and hope for roses of peace and prosperity to grow; in our quixotic pursuit of enemies from alien lands, we tilt at windmills and expect to make things right by slaying them; we brag and boast our way to beg and borrow, and expect our lenders to silently hand over the money and be grateful that we haven’t gone bust yet; we quarrel, clash and destroy within and without; we don’t trust each other and neither does the world trust us. We don’t see, we don’t listen, we don’t pause and ponder — our hearts are sealed.

O, the land of the pure where the accused are declared guilty even before they are charged, where the guilty sit on judgment upon the innocent, where the wicked hoist the flag of morality and where the illiterate and the uncouth determine the limits of social and cultural decency. The path we are treading blindly is sure to lead us to a hasty and self-inflicted disaster, if it hasn’t yet. We don’t doubt, we don’t suspect, we don’t question — our minds are numbed.

In the battle for hearts and minds, we have been won over by a lethal mix of ignorance, frivolity and brutality. We use violence to get what we don’t have, from unearned respect to ill-gotten recognition, from worldly goods to divine redemption. We loot and plunder, we burn and demolish, we maim and kill — our fate is decided.

Or at least it seems so, unless we embark on immediate restraint, introspection and course correction, both as a state and a society. Where do we stand as a state? Our economy is moribund, our institutions – for maintaining peace and public order, for delivering justice and providing public goods – are dysfunctional and our relationship with our neighbours is strained, if not entirely hostile. The basic law of the land, the constitution of the Islamic republic, is more a source of conflict than a protector and guarantor of the supremacy of law, equality, human rights and diversity within unity. The parts are fighting among themselves over what kind of whole each one of them wants to be coalesced into, whilst the whole is at war with its parts over how it wants them to come together. The constituent units of the federation are at odds on almost everything that can keep them together and the federation is wavering between being patriarchal to turning paternalistic and, as a result, ends up being neither.

Where are we placed as a society? Our culture is confused, our history is confounded, our morality is warped and our past, present and future are all muddled in a way that doesn’t allow us to see the beginning as distinct from the middle and the ending. Nothing we hear, say, see or do seems to have any context or any background. Every day we stoop to new lows of mediocrity. We obfuscate, we confound, we lie and yet we insist on retaining the moral high ground. We see others’ foibles as blunders but remain blissfully oblivious to our own.
Faced with such a dire state of affairs, what ought we be doing? Exacting selective justice on the whims and fancies of those perched on the exalted bench? Feeding frenzy into media by hyping up crimes that those on the wrong side of the political divide have committed? Taking on individuals and leaving aside institutions? Acting holier-than-thou even when caught with one hand in the till? Colonising and suppressing our own people while protesting that others are violating our sovereignty? Condoning the foulest of murderers, who by their own admission, have killed thousands amongst us over the last many years, by saying that it is merely our own people gone astray?

What do we do about ourselves? Let us start by confessing that all of us have contributed to the mess we find ourselves in, some more so than others. The judges have legitimised military takeovers and made decisions that violate every norm of natural justice and every canon of fairness. The media has obfuscated, lied and confounded — sometimes in its pseudo-nationalistic fervour, often for petty gains and almost always in the rush to beat others in breaking the bad news. The generals – with active help from their subordinates within the khaki, civil servants, public intellectuals and even some politicians – have toppled elected governments. (Let us not mention the judges again, lest the lordships take umbrage). The civil and military bureaucracies have devised one fanciful scheme after another to keep certain areas in the country under the yoke and certain sections of society under their thumbs while at the same time collaborating (secretly) with foreigners to let them romp over our sovereignty — or whatever is left thereof. The mullahs, the military, the politicians have all colluded with religious and sectarian militants, helping hooligans dictate terms to everyone else.

But we have only tried half solutions to escape this quagmire, from selective justice to brutal persecution, from purges to suppression, from coups to conciliation. Nothing has worked and nothing will unless we start thinking about a comprehensive solution. The way to do that lies in the realisation that the challenges facing us are grave. Without this, we will continue living in a fool’s paradise conjured by our public intellectuals where, just by putting a few individuals behind the bar and condemning a few others to the gallows, everything will be alright. After all, the proponents of this utopia aver, with the most just of judges over-lording us, the most patriotic generals fighting for us, the most pious politicians leading us and the most enlightened intellectuals guiding us, how on earth can we keep going wrong? All we need to do is get rid of a few rotten tomatoes amidst us.

Except that this has never worked in the past, nor will it in the present or the future.
Let us take the first step towards a comprehensive solution by starting to tell truths we have been hiding from ourselves and by embarking on a democratic, inclusive dialogue – without obfuscating, lying and confounding – with the hope that telling the truth, and nothing but the whole truth, may one day lead to the reconciliation we so badly need. n

From the Editorial Desk — Building upon the present

There must have been a moment, after the exhilaration ebbed and the headiness of triumph subsided, when Nawaz Sharif’s resounding success in the polls appeared to him to be a pyrrhic victory of sorts. After all, much like the Greek King Pyrrhus, who remarked upon defeating the Romans in 279 BC that just one more such victory would utterly undo him, there is a great deal that lies ahead in the five years that Sharif has won himself that could potentially undo him too: a worsening energy crisis, a sinking public sector, tumbling foreign reserves and the creeping surge of militancy. Sharif will have to prove himself on many, if not all these fronts. If results of the elections just past are anything to go by, the electorate has proved itself to be an unforgiving one.

Yes, he has built the bomb and the motorway and, most recently, a shiny new bus-transport system – but the need of this hour is a road map for peace and provincial harmony. Much has been made of his expressed preference for dialogue with the Taliban – “Is it such a bad option? It is the best available option” – so let’s instead talk a little about the latter. A great many people have interpreted the election result as a death knell for the federation, given that each province appears to have chosen a different party to represent it, ostensibly along ethnic lines. Granted, our federation has always been a little doomed, given that one province can, in terms of the sheer multitudes contained within it, outweigh the rest of the country. And of course, the fact that Nawaz’s support is derived almost entirely from this very province doesn’t make his mandate to rule any less legitimate — to argue otherwise would be to blaspheme against the notion of one-man, one-vote. But another aspect of a noisy, inclusive democracy – the very best sort of democracy, we argue – is attention to (and autonomy for) smaller, frailer voices, to people and places and indeed provinces that otherwise risk being drowned in the din.

On one level, this autonomy remains safeguarded through the 18th Amendment. The lack of a two-thirds majority in the national legislature will also likely hamper any residual temptation that Sharif may still harbour to embark on the sort of legislative joyride he seemed to very much enjoy in the aftermath of the 1997 election. But it still remains necessary for a national politician to exhibit a national mindset, through words as well as deeds. Which basically means that our prime minister-in-waiting cannot be excused for extolling the voters in Punjab – just his voters, lets face it – for their ‘wisdom’, lamenting the ones in Sindh for siding with ‘tradition’, and chiding those in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for succumbing to ‘emotion’. What the Sharif brothers would do well to remember but have usually tended to forget – as most political forces emanating from Punjab have tended to forget – is that the discourse in smaller provinces has always revolved around the delivery of rights rather than the delivery of services. You can come to Karachi and promise the city a Metro Bus of its own, but there’s a high chance that the local electorate still won’t vote for you; put it down to tradition or emotion — or perhaps a lingering distaste for a rather colonial style of governance. After all, the British built roads and railways in the Subcontinent, but they’d never have been able to get themselves voted into power.

And where does Balochistan figure in this troika of wisdom, tradition and emotion? All Sharif had to say on the matter at that point in time was that the province, being tribal in nature, still voted for the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz, a self-congratulatory observation that neglected the fact that large parts of the province didn’t vote at all, be it due to security concerns or disgruntlement or a straight-out lack of faith in the democratic process. Among the provinces, it is Balochistan’s grievances that most urgently require attention and that the ruling party must devote the better part of its energies towards. This will require working in tandem with the two indigenous parties that have been successful in the elections – Mehmood Khan Achakzai’s Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and Dr Malik Baloch’s National Party – to ensure that the people of Balochistan feel as if they are represented in parliament. It will also require extending a hand to parties that opted to not participate in the elections, particularly nationalists of the more radical variety. Most of all, however, it will also require letting go of the Sharif’s aforementioned tendency to govern via what can only be termed ‘conspicuous construction’. If the failure of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s Aghaaz-e-Haqooq Balochistan Package is anything to go by, the problems of what so often appears to be this country’s step-province won’t go away simply at the sight of money or with the promise of buses and bullet trains.

Complaints and identified discrepancies

NA 47 Polling station: 20 Document of evidence: Statement of count There were 557 female voters, but not a single woman turned up to vote

NA 47
Polling station: 20
Document of evidence: Statement of count
There were 557 female voters, but not a single woman turned up to vote

NA 117 Polling station: 89 Document of evidence: Statement of count The presiding officer did not mention the registered voters on the statement of count

NA 117
Polling station: 89
Document of evidence: Statement of count
The presiding officer did not mention the registered voters on the statement of count

NA 117 Polling station: 153 Document of evidence: Statement of count According to the statement of count, 465 votes (100 per cent turnout) were polled at this polling station. However, the registered voters mentioned on the statement are 862.

NA 117
Polling station: 153
Document of evidence: Statement of count
According to the statement of count, 465 votes (100 per cent turnout) were polled at this polling station. However, the registered voters mentioned on the statement are 862.

NA 117 Polling station: 146 Document of evidence: Statement of count According to the statement of count, 630 votes (100 per cent turnout) were polled at this polling station. However, the registered voters mentioned on the statement are 1,021.

NA 117
Polling station: 146
Document of evidence: Statement of count
According to the statement of count, 630 votes (100 per cent turnout) were polled at this polling station. However, the registered voters mentioned on the statement are 1,021.

NA 117 Polling station: 188 Document of evidence: Statement of count According to the statement of count, 798 votes (100 per cent turnout) were polled at this polling station. However, the registered voters mentioned on the statement are 1,386.

NA 117
Polling station: 188
Document of evidence: Statement of count
According to the statement of count, 798 votes (100 per cent turnout) were polled at this polling station. However, the registered voters mentioned on the statement are 1,386.

NA 264 Polling station: 138 Document of evidence: Statement of count According to the statement of count, this polling station had a 100 per cent voter turnout

NA 264
Polling station: 138
Document of evidence: Statement of count
According to the statement of count, this polling station had a 100 per cent voter turnout

NA 174 Polling station: 67 Document of evidence: Statement of count In Form XIV there are 1,390 registered and polled vote (100 per cent turnout), but according to the final polling station list, the number of registered voters are 2,083

NA 174
Polling station: 67
Document of evidence: Statement of count
In Form XIV there are 309 registered and polled vote (100 per cent turnout), but according to the final polling station list, the number of registered voters are 2,083

NA 174 Polling station: 249 Document of evidence: Statement of count The total in the final polling station list is 1,643 (893 males and 750 females) but in Form XIV there are 912 registered and polled votes

NA 174
Polling station: 249
Document of evidence: Statement of count
The total in the final polling station list is 1,643 (893 males and 750 females) but in Form XIV there are 912 registered and polled votes

NA 50 Polling station: 346 Document of evidence: Statement of count According to the statement of count, 527 votes were polled at this polling station. However, the registered voters mentioned on the statement are 520.

NA 50
Polling station: 346
Document of evidence: Statement of count
According to the statement of count, 527 votes were polled at this polling station. However, the registered voters mentioned on the statement are 520.

– Compiled using evidence and reports provided by the Free and Fair Election Network, Ghulam Dastageer, Maqbool Ahmed, Moosa Kaleem, Abid Hussain, Faridullah Chaudhry and Shafiq Butt. Our readers can find details and scanned copies of cited evidence by visiting our website.