Where is Ehsanullah?
IT is curious that despite Ehsanullah Ehsan, former spokesman of the banned TTP and later its splinter group Jamaatul Ahrar, having engineered a miraculous ‘escape’ from the security agencies’ custody in January, there seems no effort to recapture him. In fact, the government has barely mentioned him at all except to confirm his flight, which Interior Minister Ijaz Shah undertook to do in the most offhand, cursory manner during a chat with journalists. Ehsan, meanwhile, does not appear to have opted for a low profile. A Twitter account reportedly used by him has been fairly active, and reflects the bloodthirsty mindset one would expect of his kind. Among the more disturbing recent tweets from this account is a death threat against PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, saying that the latter would meet the same fate as his mother, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. On Friday in the upper house of parliament, the PPP rightly demanded to know what Ehsan’s current status was, with Senator Sherry Rehman asking why he was not in custody. Further, she said, the government must disclose the details of his ostensible escape and tell the nation who had a hand in it.
Not many people will ever forget the chilling smugness, even glee, with which Ehsan would claim his organisation’s responsibility for carrying out acts of heinous violence. His surrender to the security forces in April 2017 was described by the then DG ISPR as evidence of the low morale of terrorist organisations in the face of the military operation. No details were given at that time about how the surrender came about, or whether it was part of an immunity deal. Ehsan himself, however, had much to say in an interview to a private TV channel, distancing himself from the TTP and accusing them of carrying out terrorist attacks at the behest of RAW and NDS. Ehsan’s escape in January this year, announced in a short video message on Feb 6 by the latter himself — thereby confirming a report to the effect in an Indian publication a few weeks prior — was met with shock and anger in Pakistan. A group representing the families of the APS massacre victims went to court, seeking contempt of court proceedings against a number of government, security and intelligence officials for the development.
That this mouthpiece of depraved terrorist organisations is able to roam free, apparently making his noxious ideas public and hurling threats against members of Pakistan’s political class, is outrageous. That the government believes it can remain tight-lipped about this issue is unacceptable. The public has a right to know more about the circumstances surrounding Ehsan’s so-called escape. Until individuals like him pay the price for the evil they have done, there can be no justice for the victims of their crimes and no peace for the grieving families left behind.
THE large jump in the non-debt, job-creating flows of FDI into the country last fiscal is an encouraging sign in the wake of the challenges posed by Covid-19. The long-term foreign investment is reported by the State Bank to have spiked by 88pc to reach $2.6bn from the previous year. According to the bank’s data, the power sector, telecom industry, and oil and gas exploration sectors have attracted the largest portion of fresh foreign capital, mainly from China, Norway and Malta. Indeed, these are the second highest FDI flows into Pakistan in the last 11 years. Yet, it remains less than 1pc of the nation’s GDP and much below the real economic potential of a country of 210m. Another major problem is the concentration of FDI in domestic-oriented sectors, which in the long run has significant foreign exchange costs for the country in the shape of outward remittances of profits and dividends.
Given the long history of Pakistan’s balance-of-payments woes and its need to boost industrial output, especially for enhancing its exports, the country has always been looking to mobilise foreign resources, mostly in the shape of official assistance. Since official bilateral and multilateral assistance has been increasingly scarce for the last one decade, or comes with stringent political and policy strings attached, developing countries such as Pakistan are left with little choice but to muster long-term FDI as well as boost their exports and workers’ remittances to support their balance-of-payments position. Sadly, Pakistan has never been a choice destination for long-term investors. Nor have successive governments tried to make it a policy priority like other regional nations. We especially have negligibly low FDI in the export-oriented industries. There are a number of factors — poor regulatory environment, bureaucratic red tape, inconsistent business and economic policies, a weak macroeconomic framework, country perception, etc — that have led to mobilisation of low FDI volumes despite offering a liberal policy regime. While FDI flows account for less than 1pc of Pakistan’s GDP, our regional rivals, such Bangladesh, India and Vietnam, have successfully attracted foreign investment up to 5pc to 6pc of the size of their economy, and mostly in the export sector. With our exports and workers’ remittances feared to remain subdued during the present fiscal because of Covid-19’s effects on the global economy, the government needs to take urgent remedial policy actions to maintain the present FDI momentum and direct it towards the export-oriented manufacturing industry.
WHEN need inspires innovation, Mother Nature is more than willing to help out. Pakistan’s National Parks Service is the result of an interplay of economic requirements, environmental considerations and human and natural resources. It is modelled on the American agency, and its inaugural programme, the Protected Areas Initiative, was launched at the start of this month. It is going to cover 15 national parks in the first phase. The ultimate aim is to prop up designated green areas across the country, promoting them from their current status as ‘paper parks’. Just as Prime Minister Imran Khan is impressing upon fellow Pakistanis the importance of thinking green, the national parks initiative is being promoted as a crucial landmark to realising the PTI’s vision. It is indeed a promising venture whose fulfilment could lend more credence to the PTI’s insistence on declaring its 10 billion-tree campaign a tsunami. The government is introducing the first phase of the project as meeting the economic needs of the local community. Some 5,000 jobs are going to be on offer for the community. Hopefully, a sense of ownership will also be the outcome of the local connection.
The initiative appears to put the country on the right path towards a better, more livable natural environment. Officials say they realise that this positive development has to be backed up by policy and legislation ensuring greater protection of parks and green areas. The sooner this is done the better since much time has already been lost. Pakistan declared the Khunjerab National Park a sanctuary for rare species way back in 1975 — during the tenure of the country’s first popularly elected government. The venture paid dividends but something happened along the way which allowed greed to encroach on Pakistani green. Forty-five years later, the trees, the parks, the greenery are all part of a sanctuary we desperately require for ourselves as a threatened species gasping for breath. It is a sanctuary within reach that we can no more afford to ignore.
Published in The DAWN, July 20, 2020