Saturday, November 17, 2012
Associated PressA top Afghan peace mediator hailed Pakistan's recent decision to free nine members of the Taliban who favor negotiations, saying Saturday it was a sign Islamabad is willing to help bring the militant group to the table and end Afghanistan's 11-year-old war. The cooperation of Pakistan, which has longstanding ties to the Taliban, is seen as key to jumpstarting the stalled Afghan peace process. The Afghan and U.S. governments accuse Islamabad of backing insurgents — an allegation Pakistan denies — and say many militant leaders are hiding in the country. Afghanistan needs Pakistan's help in reaching out to top Taliban leaders, but still insists that peace talks be led by Afghans, saying it will fight those who try to interfere. Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of the High Peace Council who led a delegation to Islamabad this week, said Pakistan's prisoner release marked a shift in the neighboring country's policy. In the past, the Pakistanis have arrested Taliban figures interested in peace talks with the Afghan government, he said, but now the government is releasing them and pledging to give them safe passage to negotiations. "It seems that Pakistani officials have realized that a close cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan can be effective for the peace initiative," Rabbani said. "Of course, this is a vision we have been insisting on for a long time." Rabbani, whose delegation spent four days in Islamabad this week meeting with high-ranking government, political and religious leaders, said Pakistan has pledged to release additional Taliban prisoners who will be allowed to stay in Pakistan, return to Afghanistan or seek residence in a third country. While nothing can guarantee they won't rejoin Taliban fighters, Rabbani said he was confident that they would continue to cooperate with the peace council. "We will be in contact with those released," he said. Some members of the peace council suggested that Pakistan's religious and political leadership might be having a change of heart — in part because of violence committed by Pakistan's branch of the Taliban movement. "This is the first time that we really saw some changing of the minds while we were speaking," said Qayumuddin Kashaf, a member of peace council and head of the top religious council in Afghanistan. He said that in the past, Pakistani religious leaders insisted that insurgents were waging a holy war in Afghanistan. "Now we see some changing of the mindset because the security situation in Pakistan is very bad if not worse than Afghanistan." Others in Kabul believe, however, that Pakistan may simply be playing a waiting game, trying to appease Afghanistan with small gestures until international troops leave Afghanistan and the Taliban can try to mount a comeback. Despite the prisoner release, the peace process still has little traction and has experienced many setbacks, including the assassination of Rabbani's father in September 2011. Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president and the first leader of the peace council, was killed in his Kabul home by a suicide bomber posing as an emissary from the Taliban. It's unclear whether the Taliban are interested in negotiating peace, but the insurgent group welcomed the release of the prisoners. "Without a doubt, releasing prisoners fosters confidence between two neighboring countries and their nations," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement issued Friday. During the delegation's trip, both countries appealed to the Taliban to join the peace process and sever ties with al-Qaida and other international terror networks. They said Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States would provide safe passage to members of the Taliban who want to talk with negotiators. They agreed to work with the international community to remove prospective Taliban negotiators from the U.N. sanctions list so they can participate in any peace talks. The sanctions include a travel ban, arms embargo and assets freeze. Afghanistan and Pakistan also agreed to hold a conference of religious leaders and scholars from Islamic countries to address violence in the name of Islam, council members said. The peace council did not identify the prisoners who were freed, but an Afghan official familiar with the peace process gave The Associated Press a list of eight. They were: —Nooruddin Turabi, former Taliban justice minister. —Jahangirwal, a special assistant to Taliban leader, Mullah Omar. —Qutub, a Taliban leader. —Abdul Salaam, former Taliban governor of Baghlan province. —Maulvi Matiullah, the Taliban's director of the customs house in Kabul. —Mahamad, the Taliban's former governor of Kunduz province. —Sayed Saduddin Agha, a former Taliban commander. —Allah Dad, the Taliban's former deputy minister of communication. The ninth prisoner released was Anwarul Haq Mujahid, the son of the late Mohammad Yunus Khalis, who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. He has joined his family in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, according to a cousin and family friend who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Afghan officials are still hoping for the release of the Taliban's former deputy leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was captured in Pakistan in 2010. Baradar was reportedly conducting talks with the Afghan government that were kept secret from the Pakistanis.
http://www.sunherald.comA Pakistani lawyer accused the military of sending thugs to beat him up after he challenged the army chief in court. Inam Ur Raheem, a retired military lawyer, said three vehicles surrounded his taxi Wednesday night in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. Several unidentified men jumped out and attacked him with sticks, leaving him with cuts and bruises. He claimed they said they were there to teach him a lesson. The attack came a day after Raheem filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court challenging the validity of a three-year extension given to army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in 2010. The army denied any role in the attack Friday, calling Raheem's allegations baseless. Read more here: http://www.sunherald.com/2012/11/16/4307906/pakistani-lawyer-beaten-after.html#storylink=cpy
http://tribune.com.pkMembers of banned organisations are involved in incidents of bank robberies and other crimes in Karachi, more than the Taliban, said CID Functional Crime Unit head Raja Umar Khitab. Speaking to Roznama Express, SSP Khitab said there was no proof of Taliban’s presence in the Old City area or Lyari, however, reports have been received regarding the presence of banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). On the issue of rising extortion cases, the SSP explained that summoning information regarding extortionists’ hideouts takes up to one week and till that time, the suspects have already shifted to another place. Members of banned organisations team up with Lyari gangwar suspects and distribute chits among businessmen and traders. The chits have their numbers on them, which are used by police and other agencies to locate them, he detailed. Locating the extortionists takes up to 5-7 days and within that time, people have already paid extortion after coming under immense pressure and the same happens in kidnapping cases, the SSP said. The kidnappers take ransom within a week and release the kidnapped person, while most of the families do not even register kidnapping cases. The SSP lamented that the technology available to the law enforcement agencies is not up to the mark and a great deal of crimes can be curbed in the city if the technology if upgraded.
EDITORIAL : Daily TimesAfghanistan’s High Peace Council (HPC) delegation led by chairman Salahuddin Rabbani has returned to Kabul with a partial success in getting some middle level Taliban prisoners released from Pakistan’s custody. Differences on the list of prisoners were reported during the HPC’s sojourn in Islamabad. The HPC was desirous of more senior Taliban prisoners being handed over, considering this a necessary condition for pushing the potential peace process with the Taliban forward. Of particular interest to the Afghans was the release of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Mulla Omar’s one time second-in-command, and Mullah Toorabi and two other insurgent commanders. However, despite Islamabad not acceding to this request, the door has been left open for their later release should the initial process yield positive results. The responses to the development have been fairly predictable. The Afghan government has welcomed it, while the Taliban have dismissed it out of hand, saying the released prisoners are no longer part of the Taliban and therefore their release will make no difference. Besides, the Taliban spokesman reiterated, they still stand by their position that the Karzai government is a puppet and they will only negotiate with the US. Deputy Chief of the US Mission in Pakistan Richard Hoagland too has welcomed the release while carefully distancing Washington from any hint of a role in the outcome. Hoagland was at pains to stress that this was a bilateral mater between Pakistan and Afghanistan, but expressed the hope that it may open the door to meaningful negotiations. It may be recalled that the US efforts in the past to open a channel of communication to the Taliban foundered because, in the case of Mullah Baradar, our ISI did not deem it fit to allow unfettered access to the Americans and reportedly sat in on the meeting, while the Qatar initiative for talks proved abortive when the US dragged its feet on the release of five Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay. The 12-point joint statement at the end of the HPC’s visit, while it failed to reveal the names of the released prisoners, emphasised the long standing demand of the Afghan government that the Taliban sever links with al Qaeda and other international terror networks. The proposal has been mooted that in order to facilitate the process of contacts, the Taliban negotiators’ names could be removed from the UN sanctions list, which inhibits their ability to travel. As the Qatar initiative’s failure demonstrated, it is not clear what the Obama administration’s policy on this issue is. Mulla Omar’s still being on the wanted list of the US is considered one obstacle, while the recent designation of the Haqqani network, a group closely allied to the Taliban, as a terrorist organisation by both the US and the UN could prove another stumbling block. There is little doubt that all parties to the conflict have their eye on the looming withdrawal of ISAF forces from Afghanistan by 2014, with any residual US military presence in the country still far from a settled matter. Clearly, the apprehension that Afghanistan might well spiral downwards into more chaos and conflict after 2014 has all regional and international players worried. If the partial acceptance of the HPC’s request for prisoner releases by Islamabad is any guide, it may be that these apprehensions are finding expression in the willingness of the Pakistani military establishment to explore the possibility of a different, negotiated course rather than continued reliance on proxy actors to ensure an outcome favourable to Pakistan’s interests. The proxies strategy is by now clearly yielding diminishing returns in the shape of the home grown Taliban movement in Pakistan, with a nexus and support from at least the Haqqani network. When the openly declared enemies of the Pakistani state are being helped and supported by the one time protégés of the military establishment (the Haqqanis), there could not be a more cogent argument for a rethink in the interests of peace and stability in Afghanistan, which cannot but help something similar emerging in Pakistan too.
Editorial:The Frontier PostIf state institutions that are supposed to ensure rule of law and socio-economic justice are themselves involved in legalizing corruption, this will lead to institutionalizing fraud and irregularities to inculcate the worst dishonesty that would strengthen corrupt practices as a culture to further destabilize Pakistan. The question arises out of a the Federal Board of Revenue scheme to allow tax evaders to whiten their black money and assets at home and abroad within three months against a nominal one-time charge. The federal cabinet astonishingly approved the damaging scheme the other day and also granted blanket exemptions to tax dodgers from investigation by the National Accountability Bureau and the Federal Investigation Agency. The schemes will now be presented to parliament through a bill probably hopefully next week. FBR believes that the schemes will bring 3.1 million more people into the tax net, including frequent travelers, owners of multiple bank accounts and those living in posh areas but not figuring on the tax roll. These corrupt people will be able to benefit from the Tax Registration Enforcement Initiative and the Investment Tax Scheme, 2012, within three months. Black money will be whitened if a tax evader pays Rs40,000 to legitimize assets worth up to Rs5million in the first month. Those availing the offer in the second month will have to pay Rs50,000 and in the third month Rs70,000. The scheme is the brainchild of the new FBR chief Ali Arshad Hakeem who probably thinks that one corrupt practice can be fought with another. But as two wrongs cannot make one right, his novel plan cannot work, at least in a society which is now embracing the norms of democracy and institutional supremacy to move to a civilized culture. The FBR should have been worried about affluent Pakistanis paying one of the lowest tax in the world. Pakistan is a home of around 180 million people and only 260,000 of them have paid tax consecutively for the last three years. Their overall contribution has been a paltry 9.1 per cent of GDP last year, among the lowest in the world because the country has one of the least effective fiscal regimes across the globe. The government should, instead, have cracked down on tax-evaders, not letting them off the hook particularly when the FBR chairperson says that he is in possession of the entire data of tax evaders including politicians, businessmen, cricketers and showbiz people. But he has preferred to wait for the parliamentary approval of the new scheme that, according to him, would create an environment where it would not be difficult to hit them. If the data of all tax evaders is already available, the government should publish a tax directory and shame the evaders instead of bringing out this scheme that is bound to destroy an already fragile tax system that is afraid of the big and the powerful. And who can be sure of the parliamentary approval of the plan when influential people are there to frustrate the passage of any law hitting their vested interests. This seems difficult also because the next parliamentary elections are not far away and the country’s elite club would have a great leverage in its hands. Nevertheless, the whole legal edifice of the scheme is tilted in the favour of a particular class and, therefore, unfair to those who pay tax. It is also discriminatory in favour of cheaters and evaders and certainly falls within the mischief of the violation of the constitution. The International Monetary Fund bailed Pakistan out with an $11.3 billion loan package in 2008, but the deal was ended last November after Islamabad rejected strict reform demands, largely over tax. The IMF has repeatedly warned Pakistan that it needs to make urgent structural reforms to boost growth, currently scraping along at around three per cent, enough to absorb its rapidly growing population into the workforce. It also told Pakistan to introduce general sales tax, which it says could generate another three per cent of GDP in revenue and introduce property taxes. A shortsighted government is currently focusing only on meeting its target of collecting 2.37 trillion rupees in tax this year, 10.1 per cent of GDP, up from 1.33 trillion in 2008-9 for which the highly controversial amnesty scheme no matter how dangerous it would be in future.