SC says DG Pemra, AG tried to ‘mislead’ court by submitting ‘incomplete’ Nehal Hashmi speech

The Supreme Court on Monday expressed displeasure with Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Director General Haji Adam and Attorney General Ashtar Ausuf for submitting a different version of Senator Nehal Hashmi’s speech from the one that aired on TV channels.

A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal, was conducting a hearing of the case pertaining to the incendiary speech given by Hashmi in which the since-ousted PML-N leader seemingly threatened the SC-appointed joint investigation team (JIT) probing the Sharif family’s business dealings abroad.

The SC had issued Hashmi a show-cause notice for maligning the judiciary on June 1.

During Monday’s proceedings, the bench reviewed material submitted before the court by DG Pemra, who was presented as a witness by the prosecution, and concluded that Adam and the AG had attempted to mislead the court by providing an incomplete record of Hashmi’s speech.

Earlier in the day, Adam had submitted CD recordings of Hashmi’s speech to the court, along with a transcript of the speech and a list of all the TV channels that aired it the day it was delivered. The recordings were played in the court room during the hearing.

“The material that has been shown [before the court today] does not contain the elements [of Hashmi’s speech] that amount to contempt of court,” the bench observed after watching the recordings submitted by Pemra.

The material submitted before the court is incomplete, the bench observed, expressing its displeasure with the AG and Adam.

“No channel showed the entire speech. Rather, all channels aired different sections of the speech,” the AG told the bench.

DG Pemra told the court that the regulatory body takes notice of material that is aired on TV when it violates the code of conduct.

“If TV channels have shown the content that is not included in the records [submitted before the court], DG Pemra will not go home — instead, he will go to jail,” Justice Azmat Saeed remarked.

The version of the speech aired on ARY News was also shown in court on the order of the judges.

Justice Azmat Saeed reminded Adam that as he appeared before the court as a witness, he had taken an oath to “say nothing but the truth.” The judge asked the witness why the transcript of the version of the speech aired on ARY News was not attached to the material submitted before the SC.

“As prosecutor, you have attempted to mislead the court,” Justice Azmat Saeed told the AG. “We will send your witness to jail.”

During the hearing, Hashmi’s lawyer, Hashmat Habib, asked the court to allow him more time to submit another reply before the bench “to clarify the circumstances under which Hashmi delivered his speech”.

Reminding the lawyer that he had already submitted a 27-page reply, the bench allowed him to submit his additional statements and directed him to present his witnesses in the next hearing.

Post-Panama Pakistan

Judgement has been reserved. The verdict is expected any day. Will it be based on a majority of three or five justices? No clarity. Either way, even if the prime minister manages a Houdini-like escape he is unlikely to survive in office. What will be the implications of ousting an elected but disgraced prime minister for the next general elections and for the country? A potential watershed! Can such a prime minister successfully play political martyr? Possibly! Would Punjab back a disgraced if not disqualified prime minister against the national interest? Probably! What impact would that have on national unity? Negative! Can the PTI electorally win Punjab? Only if the PML-N disintegrates! Will there be comprehensive, independent and sustained political accountability? Unlikely!

In defence of the convicted, disqualified or disgraced prime minister, his supporters will argue that he is not the only discredited political leader; that his accusers and rivals are no better and probably worse than him; and that he has brought about unprecedented infrastructural development and a middle-class consumer boom, especially in Punjab. Such arguments will have political traction, particularly if there is no credible political accountability for all.

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 choice on offer, while not ideal, should still be clear enough.

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 anti-rational 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.

The impending consequences of decades of evil governance on the one hand, and of converging economic, demographic and environmental catastrophes on the other, are ignored — unwittingly by the common people and deliberately by elitist rulers and their cohorts. Accordingly, it may be futile to hope that a historic Supreme Court verdict alone will trigger political, social and civil society movements for more responsible governance.

This would require movement towards comprehensive national transformation. Hope is always in order, but of itself cures no malady. The current power, social and class structures — which inevitably produced ‘Panamagate’, and an endless series of national crises and humiliations — remain firmly in place. If they are not challenged and changed, the corrupt and violent status quo will continue, including malignant ideologies and political treachery. In this perverse context, the Sharif family has been as much cause as symptom; as much villain as victim.

If the verdict reflects current hopes and expectations it could, within its limits, have a constraining influence on corrupt practices and self-indulgent policymaking which have brought the country to the brink of state failure. It could provide an opportunity for a cleansed politics to come to grips with a whole spectrum of challenges. The Supreme Court and the JIT, accordingly, deserve the appreciation of the nation for providing a window of opportunity for the emergence of nation-changing possibilities.

However, I must admit to considerable scepticism as to whether the current range of political parties and leaders are sufficiently endowed or even inclined to undertake the task of realising these possibilities. Of the three major ‘national leaders’ one may soon become a convicted political delinquent; another cannot escape the same fate if there is any justice; and the last is largely untried, often inconsistent, but far cleaner and more committed than the others. The choice on offer, while not ideal, should still be clear enough for the electorate.

There are a range of domestic and external challenges. Domestically, they include maximising investment in education, technology and infrastructure; prioritising human security and rights protections; developing an active, comprehensive, and confident civil society; institutional reforms that circumscribe administrative and political impunity including corruption and arbitrary and dishonest decision-making; enlightened and informed Islamic interpretation and instruction to ensure spiritual and material success in the 21st century; a legal framework to give effect to such reforms; and developing rational priorities and trade-offs for successful national outcomes. This will require an end to competing power centres at apex levels which confuse policymaking. Civilian supremacy must become non-negotiable. These are the primary challenges to address if Pakistan is to survive and thrive in the 21st century.

Externally, the challenges include dealing with global, international, regional, neighbourhood and bilateral developments. The adverse impact of negative external developments on the security and stability of Pakistan will depend on its ability to address and overcome its domestic challenges. Domestic challenges are primary while external challenges are derivative. Address the primary challenges successfully, and even major external challenges will become manageable and resolvable. But if primary domestic challenges are neglected, sensible longer-term external strategies — which lend coherence, direction and effectiveness to shorter-term policies — will be ignored. Opportunity costs will mount forever.

In his remarkable book, Age of Anger, Pankaj Mishra writes of the “hypocrisy, cynicism and egotism of self-serving elites behind the rhetoric of democracy” in 19th-century Europe. These elites only “worked to protect the rights and freedoms of privileged individuals and failed to confer democratic citizenship on ordinary people, let alone bring them economic rewards or restore their sense of community”. Mishra might well be writing about contemporary Pakistan or India. In such a society, he notes, even the “posher inhabitants are condemned to fear and anxiety about the rising [or uprising!] masses”. Just like here!

Accordingly, ideologically right-wing, politically conservative and military or clerical leadership will not serve the multifaceted interests of the poor who are the majority. Only social, humanitarian and sustained people-based movements can build a new politics for a new Pakistan. They will need servants, not bourgeois, fascist or charismatic ‘leaders’ — who fear to address root causes.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

By:   Ashraf Jehangir Qazi

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan

Uber rival Grab to raise $2.5 billion in new financing

Southeast Asian ride-hailing firm Grab said Monday it expects to raise $2.5 billion in financing, mostly from China’s Didi Chuxing and Japan’s Softbank, as it strengthens its lead over rival Uber.

Didi, China’s ride-hailing leader, and mobile giant SoftBank will invest up to $2.0 billion while $500 million is expected to come from other new and existing investors.

Grab said it amounts to the largest single financing in Southeast Asia.

Both Didi and SoftBank are already investors in Grab.

The Singapore-based firm said it would use the fresh funds to bolster its leading position in the ride-hailing industry and invest in a mobile payment platform called GrabPay.

“We are delighted to deepen our strategic partnership with Didi and SoftBank,” said Anthony Tan, Grab’s group chief executive and co-founder.

“With their support, Grab will achieve an unassailable market lead in ridesharing, and build on this to make GrabPay the payment solution of choice for Southeast Asia.” Grab said it has a market share of 95 percent in third-party taxi-hailing and 71 percent in private-vehicle hailing in Southeast Asia, far ahead of main rival Uber.

Grab offers private car, taxi, motorbike and carpooling services in seven countries and 65 cities across Southeast Asia, a region of 650 million people.

“Starting with transport, Grab is establishing a clear leadership in Southeast Asia’s internet economy based on its market position, superior technology, and truly local insight,” said Didi founder and chief executive Cheng Wei in a statement.

“Both companies look forward to working together with communities and policymakers across Asia to fully embrace the extraordinary opportunities in the upcoming transportation revolution.”

Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive of SoftBank, described Grab as “a tremendously exciting company in a dynamic and promising region.”

We can’t save every child but can do it for one little girl: Sunny Leone on adopting a baby girl

Actor Sunny Leone ─ a former adult movie star and most recently a 2016 laureate of BBC’s 100 Women series ─ loves breaking stereotypes. And this time, she’s done it by holding a little girl’s hand as her own.

Leone and her musician husband Daniel Weber of six years have officially adopted a baby girl, The Indian Express reported Friday. They call their toddler Nisha Kaur Weber, who carries the last names of both of her adoptive parents with her maiden name.

Little Nisha hails from Latur, Maharashtra, and will turn two years old coming October.

In an interview with Hindustan Times, Leone and her husband shared the ups and downs of the adoption process.

“For me, it has just been lots of paperwork for two years and then one day, that’s it. You get an email that you have been matched with a child. It’s so crazy,” Weber told the English-language daily.

The parents are well-aware of the challenges that come with adopting a conscious, 21-month-old child.

“We have read up and consulted our friends about how to cope with her at this stage,” Leone said, adding the couple knows it will take Nisha some time to adjust in her new environment.

“Of course, we are going to have to adjust a lot of different things but I do believe that God brings people in your life and does things for you only when you are ready for it,” the new mother said. “She has come to us at 21 months, so she is mobile, can function, and going to be able to communicate with us.”

“Also, we have a great network of people and family around us. She is still a tiny baby right now, so we can structure our lives and figure out how we are going to move forward with projects,” the star added as she spoke about balancing family with the couple’s careers.

Leone, who was raised in Canada, said she always felt heartbroken when she’d see children living a life in poverty.

“While going to the airport, you cross this overpass and see little kids with no clothes, no shoes or no food, and it’s heart-breaking,” she said.

“Maybe, we can’t save every child but can do it for one little girl,” the actor added.

“They (the orphanage) gave her everything that they could but she is still underweight, and still needs a lot of care. And we are ready.”

“Nisha chose us, we didn’t choose Nisha,” Leone added.

“I believe God sent her to us and said, ‘this is going to be your baby,” the new mom said.

“I look forward to her growing up to become an independent and being her own woman,” Leone said.

While Saif Ali Khan is warring between “genetic investments” and racehorses, a little girl has found guides for life in a very non-genetic way.

We wish the very best to the Kaur-Weber family!

Bankers fear rupee will fall again

The uneasy calm that prevailed in Pakistan’s forex market prior to the July 5 massive decline in the rupee’s value is still not over and a debate is raging about whether the local currency will fall again.

This debate became more intense as recently released data showed that the current account (C/A) deficit swelled to around $12.1 billion in FY17 from $4.867bn in FY16.

Most bank treasurers are almost sure the State Bank of Pakistan would not hesitate in letting the rupee fall again. For them, it is not a question of ‘why’ but just a question of ‘when’.

“Let’s see when the SBP lets the rupee find its real value,” says the treasurer of a local bank.

“The rupee has been put on life support in an oxygen tent after the sharp and swift reaction of the Ministry of Finance, but fundamentals of the external account are not lending any support to the local currency.

“I believe that the SBP will now allow a gradual depreciation of the rupee. It will not keep it where it is today,” he says.

Between July 6 and July 20, the rupee has regained much of the value it had lost to the dollar in the July 5 downward readjustment.

On July 20 it closed in the interbank market at Rs105.34 against the dollar, up from Rs108.24 on July 5 and slightly down from Rs104.90 on July 4, one day before it depreciated in one go.

Senior bankers say this swift recovery in the rupee’s value is not due to any substantial change in the supply of dollars in the interbank market, implying that the credit for it goes to the central bank’s intervention.

They, however, remain tight-lipped on whether the SBP intervened by selling dollars in the interbank market or by persuading banks to postpone or minimise their own dollar buying as much as they can.

Though the current account deficit is just too huge and should theoretically take its toll on the rupee’s health, the overall balance of payments (BOP) improved in FY17 giving policy makers a solid reason to argue that things are not that bad on the external sector.

In FY17, a surplus of $1.946bn was booked in the BOP against a deficit of $2.652bn in FY16. But this happened against the backdrop of heavy external borrowing of no less than $10.1bn, according to sources in the Ministry of Finance. About 37pc, or $3.7bn, of this amount came from China alone.

Senior bankers say the BOP surplus of FY17 cannot provide a justification for keeping the rupee artificially stable now, particularly when the C/A deficit has risen past $12bn and SBP forex reserves are falling.

Forex reserves held by the SBP fell to $15.478bn as on July 14 this year from $18.271bn at end-December 2016, a sharp decline of 15pc in just six and a half months.

The ballooning current account deficit and falling reserves of the central bank have a more direct impact on the dynamics of exchange rate than a BOP surplus and that, too, obtained through external borrowing.

By the time this write-up is published, the newly appointed SBP governor, Tariq Bajwa, would have announced his first monetary policy. “If the SBP goes for monetary tightening, it would get a cushion for keeping the rupee stable for a little longer,” according to a foreign bank executive.

“The rupee supply is high and it is overvalued.

Most treasurers are almost sure that the State Bank of Pakistan would not hesitate in letting the local currency fall again. For them, it is not a question of ‘why’ but ‘when’

If the SBP cannot let it find its real worth immediately due to government pressure, it might choose to say goodbye to a stable monetary policy stance and begin to increase the policy rate. That will make sense.”

Regardless of whether the SBP also considers a change in monetary policy stance, the new governor has announced his priorities and has sought banks’ cooperation in implementing them.

After spending more than a week with his colleagues at the SBP and after getting policy briefs by them, Mr Bajwa met heads of banks and told them he wanted progress on agricultural and SME lending; outreach of banking in least-served geographical locations, particularly Balochistan; Islamic banking; cyber security; and retail payment system.

He also informed banks that he wanted to streamline and improve the export/import of foreign currency notes, foreign currency transactions at the bank branch level, and restructuring and rescheduling of non-performing loans of the textile industry.

“Whereas all the above-listed items merit priority action, accelerating implementation on them and getting the desired results needs years, not months,” says another foreign banker.

“Financial markets at this stage are looking for a reliable, serious clue from the central bank on how it looks at the current exchange rates,” he says.

Meanwhile, the SBP has increased vigilance of exchange companies and required them to make online reporting of all transactions in detail so that the exact sources of forex inflows and outflows via these companies could be checked.

This measure has been taken to avoid any speculative attack on the rupee.

The central bank is also pushing both banks and forex companies to facilitate overseas Pakistanis in sending remittances back home through official channels.

Only a dramatic rise in exports and home remittances (two major sources of non-debt creating inflows of foreign exchange) can ward off the pressure on the rupee at least for the time being, senior bankers say.

But whether such a dramatic rise can come in the short run is a million-dollar question.