The meeting, the leaks and the aftermath  


States have secrets and those secrets must be protected. There is nothing unusual or embarrassing about that. There is a certain global protocol that is practised when it comes to dissemination of certain classified information or its reportage. Notwithstanding the ‘importance’ of the agenda of a meeting, it is the prerogative of any party present in that meeting to decide whether its proceedings or details be kept a secret or made public through media. All over the world, media follows a certain protocol when it comes to dissemination of information regarding high-level meetings, and unauthorised leaks are frowned upon, even taken a serious notice of in some cases. What is important is to take into account the agenda of the meeting, and what part of it is supposed to be kept confidential, and how it affects the state narrative on one issue or the other.
However, what Minister of Interior Chaudhry Nisar in his press conference on Sunday failed to point out was what exactly in Dawn’s story “Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military” violated the Official Secrets Act of Pakistan. And even if it did violate the Official Secrets Act then conflating that with a national security breach is inaccurate. Surely, for anything to be a national security breach it would have to be far more concrete than just building an undesirable narrative. However, by labelling it so, Nisar has done what the state has been doing since its inception: monopolising the definition of national interest and using that as justification for vilifying those who sing a tune different from that of the state orthodoxy.
As far as the sacking of Minister for Information and Broadcasting Pervez Rasheed is concerned, there are several questions left hanging. Nisar said that Rasheed was sacked because he knew about the story but did not prevent it from being published. Keeping in view the content of the story, how was it that the Minister of Interior did not know about it? And surely the allegedly multiple sources that leaked the story did not do so out of carelessness. There must have been an agenda behind it, and odds are that there was not one but multiple people privy to it. Whose agenda it was or what it was trying to achieve are still questions that can only be speculated about as the story itself has had multiple and even conflicting consequences for all parties concerned.
It was not just the story itself that made waves across the political setup after being published, but it was the manner in which it has handled. Were three refutations from the Prime Minister Office really necessary given that from the start it had been declared false and fabricated by government? If the content of the story was not true then what it said was nothing new as these allegations have been around for quite some time and a simple denial would have sufficed. Moreover, at a time when Pakistan needs to show the world that it is a progressive country, which protects fundamental rights, was it really wise to put Cyril Almeida, the journalist who wrote this story, on the exit control list?
The overreaction on part of government casts doubt on the denial of Nisar on the issue of civil-military tension. It is a reality that power dynamics in Pakistan are such that non-elected institutions continue to hold a great deal of influence in policy making spheres, and in certain cases they are the final arbiters. And so even if the leaked story that presents an altercation between civilian and military officials is itself not accurate, the very fact of it being leaked would suggest that there is some tension, if not before then surely afterwards, between the civilian government and the military establishment. However, whatever the case may have been, things must be not be mishandled enough that they go out of hand. In all of this, what is best for the future of Pakistan is a measured solution to any issue that may exist. Prosperity and greatness for Pakistan lies only in the continuation of the democratic setup and in civilian supremacy.
It would do well for all parties involved to keep this national interest in mind.
Collaboration of China’s SEP and Pakistan’s K-Electric
Though ironic, the systematic standstill that eclipses all affairs of K-Electric — a corporation that proclaims of generating “energy that moves life” — can no longer be ignored. An agreement to set forth significant changes in key ownership was signed on Sunday wherein the Shanghai Electric Power (SEP) Company Limited took over a majority stake in the company from its former private investor, Abraaj Group.
In the light of its previous phenomenal successes achieved in maintaining an uninterrupted power supply of Shanghai, China’s commercial and economic hub, it is hoped that the SEP will help alleviate Karachi’s energy woes. Despite being established as early as 1913, K-Electric (then known as the Karachi Electric Supply Company — KESC) has incessantly suffered from a glaring absence of long-term policies to develop it along sustainable lines. Thus, what could have emerged as a viable source of energy as well as job opportunities remained stuck at a series of impasses between its stakeholders, management and workers. However, such a dismal state of affairs also had a direct and disastrous implication on the lives and economies of Karachis residents. On top of making harsh summer months even more unbearable, power outages greatly facilitated the decline of an already crippling industry and dilapidated commerce in the country’s largest city.
The continual losses incurred by the corporation to the national exchequer in addition to its crumbling infrastructure were believed to be reduced if not eliminated in the wake of its privatisation in 2005. Nevertheless, the last few years have achieved nothing more than a further exacerbation of financial crisis at the hands of energy theft by residential, commercial and industrial consumers alike. Its critical dearth of funds even led to an unprecedented power outage across Karachi for more than a day in 2008 when the local municipal electric authority pulled its plug over unpaid bills. Not much has changed ever since as Karachi continues to suffer from an unrelenting power crisis, large layoffs on numerous occasions and frequent strikes against extended load shedding and unattended faults in transmission lines.
In the midst of such disheartening times, the SEP’s resolve to build upon the existing infrastructure to ensure a provision of better services to K-Electric’s customers sounds like a solid call for development. China’s diligent business discipline that has significantly fuelled its galloping economic upturn in the last three decades is a secret to none. If the SEP implements the same ideals of hard work and efficiency while working in the Pakistani market, Karachi’s power generation might also experience a similar success. Nevertheless, K-Electric cannot be revolutionised, at least sustainably, without active assistance by the authorities with regard to all administrative affairs. Both the SEP and Pakistan together need to carve out an effective line of action that overcomes technical shortcomings in addition to acting against non-paying customers. The shambolic energy infrastructure has already cost Karachi a large number of business opportunities. It is hoped that the present collaboration would finally set the stage for its robust economic as well as societal growth.