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No wonder people would like to leave Pakistan to work in Malaysia but none would want to migrate in the other direction. To achieve the status of an Asian Tiger like South Korea, Pakistan`s income per person needs to mul-tiply seven times. How long would that take? Even if the economic rate of growth increases from the existing Eve per cent to 7pc and is sustained year after year, it would take over 25 years to reach where South Korea is today. Getting there in 15 years would require a growth rate of 12pc which is way beyond anything Pakistan has ever achieved.

Gradually, a narrative took hold in Pakistan: our courts do not, and will not, pass adverse orders against Takht-e-Lahore. And in light of this narrative, developed over three decades, we all made peace with cases such as Hudabiya Paper Mill, and the Model Town massacre. We made peace with the fact that Nawaz Sharif will rule over us till he dies. And then his children will carry forward this torch. Till the day when mountains are scatter like carded wool.

So, what kind of Pakistan can we realistically hope for in the aftermath of Panama? Will the country become less tolerant of `democratically elected` criminals? Will the sterling services of the Supreme Court and the JIT have a lasting and spreading impact? Or will kleptocracy corrupt and cynical governance reassert itself? One swallow a spring does not make! The political and media intelligentsia in Pakistan are by and large loud, superficial and irrelevant.

Their views which implicitly accept pathological political norms as reality and encourage low expectations uphold a violently anti-people and antirational status quo. Any suggestion of the need to address the root causes of Pakistan`s declining viability is dismissed as unrealistic. These views serve political elites who have poisoned nearly every institution of Pakistan.

On Friday, the Supreme Court reserved its judgment in what is also termed as the Panamagate case. Will this allow the media a pause in its frenzied attention to Nawaz Sharif’s struggle for political survival? Not likely. The usual suspects will continue to chew the cud. Consequently, numerous issues and events that relate to the lives of the people and are critical for the well-being of our society will be grossly underplayed. In many ways, this is how we have stumbled through one political crisis after another without diligently attending to the mounting deprivations of our lives. Even in politics, it is not easy to be candid about the secretive aspects of how the game of power is played in Pakistan. It does not help that the political class retains its propensity to behave in a suicidal manner.

What is happening out there? The political opposition against Nawaz Sharif is not united the way the non-PTI parties were in 2014. The core protagonists continue to be the PTI and JI. The MQM is skirting around the issue. The ANP remains distant. And smaller parties in Balochistan are looking at the power play on top of the federation with disbelief and a cultivated silence.

AN annual report by the US State Department has yielded a familiar verdict on our counterterrorism record: while some successes have been acknowledged, Pakistan has allowed externally focused militant networks to flourish. But the significance of the latest assessment is twofold: it is the first report to be compiled by the Trump administration and it has come ahead of the unveiling of a revised US strategy in Afghanistan. Taken together, it suggests that the US is, indeed, drifting towards taking a harder line against Pakistan on this country`s alleged support for militancy. A rocky Pakistan-US relationship is not in the interest of either country, so perhaps both sides need to acknowledge the shortcomings in their respective approaches. Where the US is concerned, the almost casual disregard of Pakistan`s intensive counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts is a continuing problem. As Operation Khyber-IV in the Rajgal Valley of Khyber Agency has demonstrated, Pakistan is intensifying its operations against the militant Islamic State group in the region, an important goal that it has in common with Afghanistan and the current US administration. The unexpectedly fierce response by the Afghan defence ministry to Pakistan`s outreach to Afghanistan over the operation in Rajgal Valley is hardly conducive to regional cooperation in the fight against militancy.

Who is conspiring against the Sharif government? Why are pro-army media channels and parties, i.e. PML-Q, castigating the PML-N and the government? What can one get from DG-ISPR’s statement on the army’s neutrality in the Panama case? Hypothetically, will the army back the SC to implement its anti-Sharif(s) decision? These are very crucial questions in. The following is an attempt to contextualise it within the broader context of civil-military relations in Pakistan. The Pakistani army has been central to politics and to the state since1947. It has ruled directly for 34 years, and in the remainder, has dominated state and society indirectly.

Among other issues, PML-N lawmakers suggested that the JIT went further than the mandated 13 questions, ignored state-to-state channels for documentation confirmations by using legal firms instead and was out of line in tapping the phones of witnesses. Not only this, but the government alleges that JIT Head Wajid Zia’s family member’s law firm was paid an exorbitant amount as a consultancy fee, the claim of Ishaq Dar being a tax evader was refuted by the proof of returns filed in 35 years and that JIT members were deliberately looking to plant evidence against the Premier and his family.

Given that the SC has reserved its ruling, one cannot anticipate how the judges have interpreted the PML-N’s version of the story, but one thing that is clear is that some of the allegations levelled by the government are not completely outrageous. For starters, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s tax returns have been the subject of many a debate, but his decision to bring these to court as evidence might just mean that the JIT was wrong about this. And if the investigative agency missed the facts in one aspect of the case, there might be other errors as well.

It’s the mischievous money trail that has so far eluded even the most vicious inquisitors (the Joint Investigation Team). Nine volumes of the JIT report with big ‘EVIDENCE’ marked on cartons not only failed to find any substantial trace of the money trail, but also tried to add to the burden of investigation by opening up some closed cases. The investigation heavily relied on rebutting the lacunae in an otherwise half-baked story of witnesses who remained steadfast in not spilling the beans.

A careful reading of that plan document shows agriculture is, in fact, one of the biggest priorities for the Chinese government when they look at CPEC not transit trade, not power plants. There is no mention of agriculture on the CPEC website (accessed on July 19). But the recently announced National Food Security Policy, which went almost completely unnoticed as was undoubtedly the intention, contains a couple of paragraphs which show that the government is, in fact, moving fast to create an enabling environment to facilitate the entry of Chinese enterprises into Pakistan`s agricultural sector. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this. The agrisector is in dire need of investments. But the fact that this is being done with some care to ensure no attention is brought to bear upon it is curious.

This is the direst need of the time that is running out of our hands – and we have wasted lot of time already – not constructing a major storage facility after Tarbela Dam, which was completed in 1974. There is no doubt that through the efforts of the federal and provincial governments, thousands of megawatts of electricity are going to be inducted in the national grid by the end of 2018, if all goes well with the blessings of Almighty Allah. But in all fairness, the lingering problems of shortage of electricity and water can only be solved on a permanent basis in a satisfactory manner with the construction of the multi-purpose Kalabagh Dam.

But the implication that the court took action at the behest of the military is to stretch the conspiracy theory too far. Those conspiracy theorists conveniently evade the question why the Panama leaks should not have led to the call for an inquiry into the scandal. The holder of the country`s highest elected office must be more accountable than anyone else. Sharif had ample opportunity to come clean on the issue in parliament, but the contradictions in his and his family`s statements ultimately landed them in this situation.

So far, Sharif has kept the party intact and there is no sign of cracks or defection, as he has called the meeting of the parliamentary party amid reports that a resolution reposing confidence in his leadership would be placed before the National Assembly. As PML-N finalises its strategy after back-to-back meetings, the PM has decided to challenge the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report, take all legal measures available and not to succumb to the pressure from the opposition parties Sharif has a rich experience of almost 40 years in politics, during which he remained chief minister of Punjab twice and the prime minister thrice. He has a team of veterans like Raja Zafarul Haq, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Shahbaz Sharif, Khwaja Mohammad Asif, Khwaja Saad Rafiq, Pervaiz Rasheed, Ishaq Dar, Mushahidullah, Amir Muqam, Sardar Mehtab, Ahsan Iqbal, Sheikh Aftab, Ms Tehmina Daultana, Rana Sanaullah, Abid She Ali and others.

The opposition’s joint press conference outlining the strategy against the government going forward might have put many uncertainties to rest. The path to be taken has seemingly been established; Khurshid Shah has been designated as the point-man in the opposition camp, with PTI and other political parties throwing their weight behind him. However, there are rumours still, of dissention in the PTI camp – PTI politician Babar Awan’s statements outside the Supreme Court reflect that the party has not reached a consensus as to what the policy might do to pressurise the government. Beyond demanding a resignation, Senator Awan called for snap elections immediately. This is something PTI must not pursue. While the opposition might see the Nawaz government at its weakest in terms of popular support, it is naïve to assume that PTI might be able to successfully challenge the ruling party on home soil in Punjab in elections held immediately. Imran Khan should not be on the wrong side of political wisdom, in an agitation movement yet again. Looking to go solo at a time when the opposition can pressure the government much more collectively is not sensible. To make this current battle against PML-N manageable – PTI needs to keep its allies close, and stick to the demand for resignation, a demand that is much more achievable and realistic.

If they must go down, the PML-N and the Sharifs are not going down without a fight. They cannot afford to. The contours of this fight are becoming clear by the day and soon we will know what it will look like finally as the protagonists enter the final stage of the conflict. We are getting there faster than we had expected – for ‘fast’ is the keyword for all who have produced, performed in and managed the Panama drama. For those not in the habit of fooling themselves and others, the drama was never about the ‘corruption’ of the Sharifs but about their virtual expulsion from politics and the weakening of the PML-N to the extent that leaves it in no position to pose the perennial territorial problem in matters which matter. The trajectory of political and judicial events around the Panama issue would have been very different otherwise.

HE army chief`s call for an `open debate on all aspects of CPEC` is to be welcomed, but a few irritants stand in the way before any such debate can happen. The first irritant is the lack of disclosure by the government of many of the crucial details. Specifically, the long-term plan needs to become a public document, and greater debate ought to have gone into its finalisation. Details regarding the financing, the Special Economic Zones and the concessions being given to Chinese enterprises could also be more transparent. When this newspaper ran the details from the longterm plan developed by the Chinese government for CPEC, people were genuinely surprised to learn that the scope of what is planned under the corridor projects goes far beyond power sector investments and transit trade. To this day there has been no specific denial from the government about the contents of that report, which has lent credence to the idea that what is in fact being developed under the plan is a far larger engagement than the government is willing to admit. The second irritant is the extremely defensive language the government adopts every time questions about CPEC are asked, accompanied with reminders that `an enemy of CPEC is an enemy of Pakistan`. This is a childish attitude and if an open debate is to take place on all aspects of CPEC, then defensive reactions of this sort will have to be dispensed with.

However, the real trial will be in the court of public opinion. The calls for resignation are based on the belief that the public is not really interested in judges crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s of a judgement against Mian Nawaz, so much as appearances of propriety or impropriety. That Mian Nawaz attracted accusations is enough to establish for many that he should be voted against. Such accusations reflect either guilt or insufficient dexterity. However, it is possible that voters might regard any judicial conclusions of guilt more as reflecting cleverness of the kind that is needed by a political leader.

The ball is now in the opposition’s court – how will they respond to Nawaz Shari refusing to step down? The instinctive action would be to build on the pressure, hold rallies, protest in the streets and try to force the government’s hand. Tempting as that option may be the opposition must stay away from it. Protests like the Dharna have divided opinions sharply across the Pakistani populace, and with the majority of the country behind the opposition on this issue, sparking a divisive and damaging confrontation will only weaken that position. Furthermore, this is exactly what the government is looking for – an attempt to forcibly remove the PM from office. This would justify his ‘victimhood’ narrative, undermine the opposition’s support and provide him with the rhetoric needed to fight back in the 2018 elections.

There are already some positives to come from the JIT report. There had been a lot of worrying that obstacles were put in the way of the JIT to prevent it from doing its work.    The integrity of government institutions was called into question and there were doubts over whether the JIT would be able to operate freely and independently.            The final report shows that not to be the case, as the JIT seemed to have access to all the documentation and help it needed; and has properly left the final matter to the Supreme Court to adjudicate. The political class, however, has shown no restraint. Imran Khan, always the first to leap to the most extreme conclusion, has demanded the immediate resignations of both Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif. The PPP has echoed that demand. The PML-N has been equally aggressive, with Maryam Nawaz rejecting the report outright. The last thing Pakistan needs right now is yet another period of political instability along the lines of what we saw during previous dharnas against the government. Politicians on all sides need to trust in the process and in the Supreme Court to allow this case to be decided in a less-heated atmosphere. Justice must now be allowed to take its natural course

To be sure, stepping aside now would not be an admission of guilt. It would, in fact, be a necessary sacrifice for the protection and strengthening of the democratic order. The country does not need and cannot afford the distraction of an incumbent prime minister fighting corruption charges in the courts. Moreover, with the JIT report now public, the principal PML-N allegation that the Panama Papers investigation is nothing more than a witch-hunt stands significantly diminished. Anti-democratic forces may exist in the country and they may wish Mr Sharif ill, but none of that prevented Mr Sharif and his family from providing evidence to the JIT that would corroborate the family`s claims. The JIT conducted its entire investigation while the political stakes were crystal clear to the country and to the Sharifs themselves. Surely, the Sharif family should have gone the extra mile to provide evidence and explanations to the satisfaction of a reasonable investigation. As the JIT report makes clear, the Sharifs have not done so.

For too long have Pakistani politicians hidden behind the 'over-reach' of the security establishment. True, the establishment has been meddling with issues of governance pertaining to internal security and foreign policy. Pakistan's international isolation also stems from policies adopted during long stints of Generals Ayub, Yahya, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf.But the key question staring us all in the face today is whether the security establishment's ingress into affairs of governance absolves politicians of corrupt practices and fraudulent conduct? There is no reason why Pakistan will sink into a constitutional crisis if the prime minister steps down. After all, democracy and the Parliament do not hinge on the fate of a single person alone.

An example of the violent engagement between the old and new religions is evident from the long altercation between the local Balti religion of Bon Chos and Buddhism. The confrontation between both eventually turned into a civil war in the 8th century and continued until the emergence of Ali Sher Khan Anchan in the 16th century. Buddhism exterminated Bon Chos through the power of the sword. So it is a myth that Buddhism is essentially a peaceful religion.

Finally, the PML-N must be prepared to do the right thing for the sake of democracy. Prime Minister Sharif`s supporters may rightly argue that the PML-N`s majority in parliament is because of Mr Sharif, but the constitutional position is clear: the PML-N government can exist without Mr Sharif. If the Supreme Court does rule that Mr Sharif must stand trial on corruption charges, a grave blow will have been struck against the legitimacy of Mr Sharif personally. At that point, it may become morally necessary and politically inevitable for the prime minister to step aside. It is Mr Sharif`s right to fight any legal charges against him to the very end, but neither he nor the PML-N should forget their responsibilities to the democratic order

In general, the mullah’s role is considered neither exploitative nor productive. The perception that the mullah was included in the category of kasabgar – manual labour/skilled people – was established after the end of the Pakhto period. Available evidence seems to suggest that, like the Maliks and the Khans, at this stage the mullahs were also from leading tribes. During this period, land used to be set aside for special purposes like running ‘hujras’ and setting up mosques....In Pashto, the term mullah is used for ‘prayer leader’ or priest. According to Dr Sultan-e-Rome, the mullah ‘usually performs imamat (leading the prayers) in the mosques and teaches the Holy Quran and Islamic injunctions to the people.’ Therefore, a mullah must be distinguished from pirs, and religious and spiritual leaders like Syeds, Miangan, Akunds, Sahibzadas, and Shaikhs etc. At the same time, many pirs and Syeds may prefer to lead prayers as they dislike to be led by someone inferior to them. But this superiority is purely based on spirituality and lineage. Yet, prayer leaders of grand Jamia mosques have a higher status even those of landlords. The picture of the mullah painted by most writers is closely associated with feudal era.

And as far as economics are concerned, as is the case with any grand initiative, there are short- and long-term implications, as well as short- and long-term winners. For the time being, the sectors of infrastructure and energy would appear to have benefited the most. On July 3, the 1,320-megawatt Sahiwal Coal Power Plant, CPEC’s first mega initiative, was completed in a record-22 months. The project will generate 9 billion KWH of power per year, and meet the energy needs of 10 million Pakistanis. Across Pakistan, similar projects, including the 660-megawatt Thar Coal-fired Power Plant Project in Sindh, the 870 megawatt Suki Kinari Hydropower Project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the Gwadar Port and Free Trade Zone – vital elements of CPEC – in Balochistan, are also set to demonstrate tangible progress. Surely there isn’t and can hardly ever be an even spread of projects among all regions, in Pakistan or elsewhere. If China’s own reform experiences are any indication, there is a process through which concrete benefits are felt by different communities. In the long term, everybody wins. For China, those in the coastal provinces were generally the first to reap the fruits of reform, followed by inhabitants of the more inland areas. While China’s reform cannot be replicated as is, the Chinese naturally perceive Gwadar as a new Shenzhen on the horizon – in a positive commercial sense. The success of Shenzhen, a fishing town of 314,000 people in 1979that’s become an urban metropolis of 10 million-plus residents with a $300 billion GDP in 2016, is deeply entrenched in Chinese collective memory as companies flock to Gwadar; meanwhile, the practice of establishing overseas naval outposts and stationing troops in a foreign country are alien and inconceivable concepts to China, which remains a constitutionally anti-imperialist, anti-hegemonic and anti-colonial state.

There can be mass desertions from the PML-N like the ones engineered by Musharraf in 2002 following his dirty referendum. But Nawaz Sharif was able to return to power with a large majority in 2013, thus being the only politician whose career survived incarceration at the hands of a military junta in Pakistan’s history. Those who were axed by the Ayub government including Iskandar Mirza Soharwardy, Feroz Khan Noon and a host of others, never made it back. Z A Bhutto did not survive Zia’s military coup in both body and soul. Nawaz’s survival record as a three-time prime minister is his greatest asset.

The US and India are unequal powers. As the practitioner of the Art of the Deal, Trump will not be shy to exercise the leverage which the US will progressively acquire over India, eg, to open India`s restrictive trade regime or curtail its traditional ties with Russia and Iran. To sustain the `partnership`, India will have to learn to bend, often, to America`s will, compromising the `independence` of its foreign policy...While the US will wish to use India to strategically harass China, it may be more reluctant to support all India`s aims against Pakistan and other smaller neighbours. As a `global` power, the US will want to retain direct influence over Pakistan and other South Asian states rather than delegate this to India.

Today, it is neither martial law nor any military rule like that of Musharraf in the country. It is PML-N government and the PM and his family are facing a case in the Supreme Court. This is also not the SC of the past but the one which we all consider as an independent judiciary, which has already sent one PM home six years back and now another PM's fate hangs in the balance.Therefore, the chance of major defection in the party could only be possible in case both Sharifs face political exit or due to power struggle within the PML-N or in the family. The party at present appears to be standing behind Nawaz Sharif, but the real test will be after the final verdict and more importantly, how Sharif reacts and decides about his line of action

The Modi-Trump Summit must help wake up Pakistan’s policymakers to take into account this crucial development and evolve new and creative policy responses to meet new emerging challenges. It is in our own national interest not to let the pretext of terrorism become an easy excuse and we need to fully implement our stated policy of not letting our territory be used by terrorists against any country. Past liabilities and baggage need to be dispensed with immediately. Let no militant bring a bad name to the Kashmiris’ peaceful struggle, and we should prove to the world that there is no cross-border terrorism. Similarly, peace in Afghanistan has a direct bearing on us and we must do what is genuinely required before being threatened to do more

It is a popular argument that all troubles in Balochistan are the making of either the federation or the Punjab province, whereas hardly any questions are raised on what exactly the rulers in Quetta have achieved thus far. You talk about the political responsibility that the Baloch must bear, the counter, and again a popular opinion confronts you that the ones who rule are the stooges of the Punjabi establishment. You talk about Baloch youth to learn the modern skills and try creating their economic narratives across Pakistan, a counter argument comes that they should be provided with opportunities within their own areas. Leaving the motherland is against the nationalist pride, one learns at that moment

The JIT will report to the bench and either suggest nothing new – the bench will then decide whether any one of them feels as bad as the previous two blaming the PM for failing to clear his name despite the opportunity and weigh in with those ordering his removal. Or the JIT will say they have evidence either confirming what is suspected, or one which denies the assumption of a misdeed in which case the bench shall happily recess while retaining its 3-2 judgment in favour of the government

The general belief is that you are corrupt and you are dishonest. Asif Zardari says so. As do others, like Pervaiz Elahi. Even some media anchors say so. And some judges have found your statements contradictory. The JIT has accused your government of hindering the process of accountability. Judges have passed stern remarks about government officials. In every press conference by the opposition you are called corrupt. So you must be corrupt.

Throwing law and procedure, due process, fair investigation, bar of evidence against this legend of your corruption is irrelevant. This is not the case here. The case is that we believe you are corrupt and if you fail to change our belief you are bound to be corrupt. It is as simple as that.

The Tillerson view is different, and he prefers to handle the issue at a regional level and that means including India. With the US currently on something of a charm offensive with the Indians and Indian Premier Modi about to visit the White House a shift in focus was inevitable. The implications are complex. The US has made very clear the lack of trust that exists in respect of Pakistan; and it has been notably silent on the Kashmir issue but the matter cannot be avoided indefinitely and India will be anxious to avoid any internationalisation of the conflict. The Trump administration may have little time for old and established positions and India may find itself between a rock and a hard place — keen to advance trading relationships whilst protecting its position vis-à-vis Kashmir. India and China are both players in Afghanistan and both are being courted by America which is not courting either us or Afghanistan. Interesting times.

Since 2013, the PPP has repeatedly claimed that it is on the brink of renewal, with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari vowing to reinvigorate the party’s fortunes in Punjab. That this has failed to happen is plain to see and it is not difficult to see why. For one, as has been discussed in this column in the past, the institutional landscape of Pakistani politics has been undergoing a slow but radical transformation since 2008, with the devolution of power to the provinces under the 18th Amendment and the creation of local government beholden to the ruling parties at the provincial level ensuring that opposition parties across Pakistan simply lack the means through which to access and disburse state patronage or exercise an effective check on their counterparts in power. This provincialisation of politics – with power and the levers of patronage being placed in the hands of the provincial governments – has meant that parties have an incentive to consolidate their hold over their respective provincial strongholds while simultaneously confronting an increasingly adverse and difficult electoral landscape in other parts of the country. Put simply, while the PPP can make effective use of its control over Sindh to discipline its politicians and mobilise the support of its voters, both through the judicious use of state patronage, it has no such tools at its disposal in Punjab, where the PML-N has systematically centralised power in its own hands.

Nawaz Sharif with all his flaws, some of which are unfixable, symbolises civilian ascendancy. First his election was delegitimised and for two years the opposition and sections within the establishment launched a massive movement. He did not resign and the charges of rigging could not be proved by a high level judicial commission. Yet the Panama case is altogether different. The best thing to have happened since last year is that public demand of accountability and institutional failures are being highlighted. One can only hope that this political momentum will be directed towards substantial reform of institutions and effective legislation by the next Parliament. Otherwise it would reinforce a fundamental truth not lost on anyone in Pakistani politics, regardless of their political persuasion.

It is obvious that Pakistan has no easy options. Yet, the official government stance that no decision will be taken without consulting parliament is the correct one. Pakistan, it appears, has little leverage and not enough influence to act as mediator in the GCC crisis. Saudi Arabia is a country that Pakistan has a strategic and long-term relationship with. Disagreements or differences in the short term ought not to obscure the foundational reasons for a close Pak-Saudi relationship. At the same time, Pakistan cannot afford to follow an ally no matter how close to Pakistan blindly. It is not clear why Gen Sharif himself believes his continued command of the IMA can help Pakistan. The general ought to surrender his command and allow Pakistan to follow its true national interest

Balochistan is the only province that has middle-class politicians elected to parliament. While it is socially conservative and economically backward, the province is politically progressive, unlike Punjab where the situation is reverse. Even parties led by sardars – like the BNP – promote middle-class leadership, with roots in student activism. Despite a largely traditional society and structure, the Baloch political movement has been progressive and secular in its essence.The lack of economic development in Balochistan is rooted in politics. Had there been political will and resource availability, developing Balochistan would not have been a big problem. The province does not have a large population, but there has been an influx of immigrants and refugees from Afghanistan. There are close to two million Afghan refugees in the province, which is no doubt a burden on education and health infrastructure

All initial speculation on the review seems to suggest that America will likely adopt a stricter line towards Pakistan under a Trump presidency. The fear for Islamabad is that the review has been set to coincide with the tried-and-failed formula of adding a few troops here and there and then scape-goat the Pakistani state when it all goes belly up. Indeed, the review reportedly has in place a contingency plan of sorts in case this happens. Reducing aid further is said to be on the cards, as is the beefing up of the much contested drone programme here. Another ‘threat’ could possibly be a rescinding of Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally. Though this brings us little substantial benefits — a possible ‘demotion’ would represent a symbolic blow to Pakistan-US relations.

Will the removal of Nawaz Sharif lessen corruption? It will increase it. Will it stabilize Pakistan? No, because for stability we need democracy over the long-term. If we remove Nawaz Sharif, we will either end up with a hung Parliament and thus no progress over the next five years or worse, with no Parliament. The politicians will again get the signal that if you cannot win elections you can use other routes to power. Others will sit out the next decade and then make a comeback at the right time. It will be exactly as it has been. Déjà vu all over again. Pakistan is experiencing Groundhog Day ad nauseam, but with no learning.

WHAT was the drone doing inside Pakistani airspace? The confirmation by the Foreign Office on Wednesday that the Pakistan Air Force had shot down an Iranian drone over Panjgur, Balochistan and the silence thus far by Iranian officials suggest that the drone did not accidentally slip into Pakistani airspace. The location also hints at increased Iranian surveillance of a region in which CPEC projects are in full swing. The latest incident along an already tense Pak-Iran border ought to serve as a warning to both states: address through dialogue the apprehensions of the other or risk an unnecessary and undesirable escalation in tensions that neither country can afford at this juncture.

In order to have sustainable economic growth and adequate foreign exchange, Pakistan needs to eradicate the trade deficit and ensure that the balance of trade becomes favourable for Pakistan. This requires a series of initiatives to be taken. First, the alignment of the production structure will need to be prioritised. Currently, Pakistan primarily exports in the areas of cotton and cotton products. Although there has been a change in trend and more manufactured goods are being exported as compared to raw materials, Pakistan needs to diversify its export base which requires diversification of production structure. The industrial policy should encourage the establishment of heavy, basic and engineering industries

On June 12During a recent visit to Afghanistan and subsequent interactions with senior government leaders including Dr Abdullah, former president Hamid Karzai and other security officials, I came to the conclusion that the Afghan leadership – across the board – is fully convinced that the Taliban and the Haqqanis are operating from Pakistani soil. This means that the Afghan leadership has effectively persuaded the new US administration that any political or negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict is not a viable option and that their enemies be chased beyond the Durand Line as well.

People are not clear whether the case will be finally decided before the next election. Para 91 of the judgment says that the special bench on receiving the report from the JIT could refer it to the accountability court which sounds logical. That may be the right route of any corruption case. The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal hence the Sharifs should not be denied their right to exhaust the trial at the lower court. But there is confusion that in a Para 5 final judgment it has been said that on receiving the JIT report the case could be referred to the chief justice of Pakistan for trial by the special bench of Supreme Court. My lawyer friends believed it would be the special bench of the Supreme Court and not the accountability court which would decide the fate of the prime minister’s family

Moreover, social media is inundated with the evidence of how fund raising campaign is in full swing in FATA, Chaman and other areas of KP and Balochistan for ‘Jihad in Afghanistan’. Not too long ago, Pakistan’s key politicians including Imran Khan and PML-N’s sitting federal minister Gen (Retd.) Abdul Qayyum were saying that the violence in Afghanistan is not terrorism, but Afghan struggle against ‘foreign occupation’, thus legitimising the gory events that the state of Pakistan condemns in the statements issued after almost every major terrorist attack in Afghanistan. The sincerity of all these statements becomes suspicious when siting as well as former officials keep parroting these mixed statements, which not only damage Pakistan’s goodwill among the Afghan people and leadership, but also confuse our own masses

"...India continues to be unrepentant about its role in Afghanistan. On the surface, this is understandable: Big Momma India helping out orphaned Afghanistan. In reality, India’s interest in Afghanistan is principally strategic and malign. Pakistanis are most likely correct to be paranoid about India in Afghanistan. But Pakistan’s responses to this threat have been self-effacing, at best: alienating Afghan refugees, and Afghan public opinion, demonising all Afghans as supportive of the TTP and allowing deliberate provocations by the Ghani-Modi combine to successfully trigger over the top reactions. In this scenario, where so much of the core strategic problems are the same today as they were in 2009, no matter what decision James Mattis and the Pentagon make, or advise President Trump to take, they will find themselves in the same overarching sleeper hold that Obama, McChrystal, and later Petraeus dove into at West Point."

No matter how well we try and twist the narrative, one cannot help but suspect that some unwanted people may indeed be hosted on our land by the authorities. We may in fact be able to find a lot of evidence about this scattered across the country. Those possibly hosted in ‘sensitive’ areas might be cringing everytime a statement comes from Foreign Office or Ministry of Defence to the effect that across the board action is being taken against all militants. The question remains: why the hesitation in naming Taliban and Haqqani network? Our generosity towards‘some leaders’ might have strategic causes. That is, we need them as our insurance policy in a rapidly changing scenario along the western border. Who knows when the post-drawdown US forces are further scaled down yet another Taliban insurgency gets to power — a la 1996!

It would not be surprising, therefore, for India and the US to use all the resources at their disposal to launch a concerted propaganda campaign to discredit CPEC in the eyes of the people of Pakistan and among its influential circles. This is precisely what is happening right now. Rumour mills are working overtime through media and otherwise to create all sorts of doubts among the Pakistani people about the real intentions of China and effects of CPEC on Pakistan. A ridiculous rumour that is being bandied about is that through CPEC China would acquire a controlling influence in Pakistan turning it into a Chinese colony. There couldn’t be anything more preposterous than this charge which has no basis in reality. CPEC has been voluntarily agreed between two sovereign nations and is designed to serve their best strategic and economic interests. Its projects would bring badly needed investment in Pakistan in such sectors as energy, which has been facing a huge power shortfall, transport, communications, agriculture and industry. Many of those making the above mentioned outlandish accusation because of their well-known Western leanings would have been quite happy to support the plan if it were US or some other Western country offering to invest on such a vast scale in Pakistan

The Astana Summit is historic for Pakistan and will have long term repercussions in the region. Prime Minister has rightly mentioned in his speech that “the SCO had been transformed into true transcontinental organisation. The SCO played the role of sheet anchor for regional progress and prosperity in view of the global changes.” As a torchbearer of peace in the region, Mr. Sharif congratulated first India for becoming full members of SCO but the hawkish remarks of Mr. Modi in his speech showed that the policy makers in India are not in a mood to normalise relations with Pakistan. Pakistan is pursuing its policy of peaceful coexistence and non interference. Sooner or later, Indian leaders would also realise that the panacea for all ills is in dialogue and having good neighborly relations in the region

Whatever way one looks at it, the electoral deck as it currently stands is still stacked in favour of the ruling party. They have comfortable margins in most seats, and will likely use this year`s provincial annual development plan to shore up support in places like Lahore and Rawalpindi divisions, which are expected to be more competitive. In an earlier piece, I mentioned that the prime minister`s disqualification and a hasty leadership transition in PML-N remains the surest way of triggering defections of strong, electable candidates, and producing the kind of swing the PTI needs. This is also the benchmark that PTI has set in its public statements, and as the numbers given earlier highlight, seems to be the only thing they can pin their hopes on for 2018