EDITORIAL: Rightsizing dilemma - Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Source : www.dailytimes.com

A damper has been put on the hopes that the government finally awakened to the extra-large size of the federal cabinet, which is incurring exorbitant expenses, but delivering modestly. The prime minister said on Sunday that the government is not going to take this decision immediately, but would ensure that the strength of ministers is in line with the provisions of the 18th Amendment. Other news reports suggest that the PPP is annoyed with the law minister who has been accused of spilling the beans of the PPP’s core committee meeting, which mulled over a plan to ‘rightsize’ the cabinet. That there is a need to reshuffle the cabinet is undeniable, given the fact that with the passage of the 18th Amendment, several ministries and departments that have been transferred to the provinces. Also, the PPP is under immense pressure from the opposition to introduce reforms, which includes reducing its expenses, an effective way to do this is by reducing the size of the cabinet. It seems that considerations other than efficiency and merit will be the deciding factors in the selection of new cabinet members, as the PPP is looking to keep the estranged coalition partners, MQM and JUI-F, sweet.

This seeming volte-face on the part of PPP suggests that within the party the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Law Minister Babar Awan has been accused of overstepping his mandate and divulging the sensitive details of the party’s core committee’s meeting without consulting the prime minister. According to news reports, the party leadership wanted to take the coalition partners into confidence before announcing its decision. It is a sad commendatory on the internal organisation of the PPP and how the government is being run at the highest level. Now that the cat is out of the bag, it is hoped it would not prevent the government from looking for a fine balance between political considerations and principle of good government in reshuffling the cabinet, which is only part of the solution. There is also a need to introduce reforms in bureaucracy to ensure efficiency and good governance.

The Punjab government has announced the abolition of 550 top-tier posts in the administrative machinery of the province, as part of the aggressive austerity drive. While one agrees that in times of economic difficulty, the government must become lean and mean, it is hoped that in abolishing 550 posts from BS-17 to BS-22, the Punjab government did not overlook concerns for effective governance and service delivery. After all, compared to the expenses involved in other ill-advised projects, such as the Sasti Roti Scheme, initiated by the Punjab government, this slash would save the exchequer a relatively humble amount, but it would serve as a symbolic gesture that the government is setting its own house in order. Also, it is questionable if merging of the departments of ‘Social Welfare, Women’s Development and Baitul Maal’ and ‘Zakat and Ushr’ with the Child Protection Bureau of the Home Department to create a new Social Protection and Zakat Department is a wise decision. There is already very little that the government is doing in terms of focused work on specific areas of social development. Women’s development and child protection are two critical areas that concern a large disadvantaged section of society. It is hoped that merging these two separate departments would not dilute their efficacy and work. In the end, it is the balance between austerity and good governance that should determine where to cut expenses within the government. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Death of Colonel Imam

After the murder of ex-ISI man Khalid Khawaja in May last year and the release of journalist Asad Qureshi sometime later, the kidnappers have dealt with their third hostage, ex-ISI official Sultan Amir Tarar, known to most as Colonel Imam — ‘the godfather of the Taliban’. There is some obscurity in regards to his death; some reports claim that the militants killed him due to his family’s inability to pay the ransom and some claim that he died of a cardiac arrest. Whatever the case, the colonel’s body is still in militant custody. Khalid Khawaja was killed by a relatively lesser-known group of terrorists called the Asian Tigers, believed to be a sectarian extremist group affiliated with the Punjabi Taliban. It is believed that the Colonel was handed over to some other group but all these claims are as murky as the deaths themselves.

Whatever the cause of Colonel Imam’s death, the fact remains that the ISI’s jihadi protégés have turned on their masters. It is no longer a simple relationship that exists between the two — the militants working subservient to their masters. A number of incidents where the security forces have been the targeted by militants corroborate this argument. Now individual ISI officials who had direct links with the jihadists have been eliminated. Colonel Imam was a controversial figure because, even in retirement, he staunchly advocated for peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. The fact that he was kidnapped and is now dead signals some deep divides between the militants and the ISI, and also points towards the nexus between the Afghan Taliban and the homegrown variety of militants as the Asian Tigers initially demanded that key Afghan Taliban leaders being held in custody be released.

In the wake of Colonel Imam’s death, the military in Pakistan may have little choice but seriously consider starting a full-blown operation in North Waziristan. The deaths of both Khalid Khawaja and Colonel Imam have shown just how incapable the security forces are in controlling the militants that are now thriving within the country’s borders. The military is committing a strategic suicide by siding with the Afghan Taliban, and the deaths of two of its own ought to awaken key military and intelligence officials out of their jihadi-nurturing death wish.

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