People worth paying attention to
The incumbent Muhammadu Buhari is facing off against businessman Atiku Abubakar during a tenuous time for Nigeria’s economy and its security situation.
Update: Just hours before polls were due to open, Nigeria’s election commission announced it was postponing the election for one week, citing logistical concerns. The vote will now be held on Saturday, February 23.
The BBC reports that several of the commission’s offices around the country have been set on fire, resulting in thousands of electronic smart card readers and voter cards being destroyed. “There have also been claims of shortages of election material in some of the country’s 36 states,” the BBC notes.
Nigeria will get to choose a new president during the country’s national elections on Saturday, February 16.
Incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari, of the All Progressive Congress (APC), will face off against Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president and business man, who is representing the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). (There are also a slew of minor party candidates, but the election is really a contest between the two.)
One major worry heading into Saturday’s elections is that the vote will be rigged, potentially to favor Buhari. Nigeria’s elections have also been marred by violence in the past, and while an expert currently in Nigeria told me the country is “cautiously optimistic” about peaceful voting, the threat of conflict breaking out remains.
Here’s a quick list of the key things to know about Saturday’s presidential election, and why it matters.Meet the two major candidates: Buhari and Atiku AP Photo/Sunday Alamba Nigerian presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party attends an election campaign rally at the Ribadu Square in Yola, Nigeria, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019.
Lots of people are running for president, but only two seem to really have a chance: Buhari, and Atiku Abubakar, who most people just call “Atiku.”
Buhari is a former general who briefly ruled Nigeria in the early 1980s during a period of military dictatorship. He won a historic election in 2015 by promising to crack down on corruption and stamp out extremist groups such as Boko Haram.
The group gained international attention in 2014 after it abducted hundreds Nigerian schoolgirls, but has terrorized and killed thousands and displaced at least 2 million people in the northeastern part of the country since 2009.
Buhari’s victory in 2015 marked the first time an opposition candidate denied an incumbent president a second term, a turning point for Nigerian democracy.
Buhari says he’ll take Nigeria to the “next level” if he’s elected to a second term, but his four years in office have been somewhat lackluster: He has failed to deliver on his biggest promises about corruption and security, and the economy has struggled during his tenure.
Many of Buhari’s critics also see him as being a bit checked out, especially since the 76-year-old has been absent for long stretches due to poor health. (There was even a fake news story circulating that Buhari had died and been replaced by a body double, which he had to debunk.)
“Buhari’s tenure — most observers think that it has not been a good four years for Nigeria,” Ken Opalo, an associate professor at Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, told me. “He’s been unwell, he hasn’t been as bold as he had promised in terms of needed reforms that could push the Nigerian economy, and despite his personal record as a non-corrupt person, there’s definitely lots of corrupt people around him.”
Atiku is positioning himself as the alternative to Buhari on the economy, asking Nigerians if they’re better off now than four years ago. As a successful businessman, his record is appealing to those who hope he can be a potential job creator, and embracing the slogan “get Nigeria working again.”
Atiku has vied for the presidency in the past; five times, to be exact. He’s also been dogged by allegations of corruption, and has been banned from traveling to the US due to his ties to corruption cases. (He received a temporary reprieve recently and was allowed to visit Washington, DC.)Nigeria’s economy and security situation are big issues among voters
The Nigerian economy has struggled during Buhari’s tenure. Nigeria slipped into a recession in 2016, and though the economy has rebounded in some areas, poverty and joblessness remain high. Nigeria had the worst-performing stock market in the world last year.
Buhari is promising more state-driven reforms and public investment, whereas Atiku is promoting his business acumen and advocating for more private-sector initiatives, including privatizing Nigeria’s state-run oil corporation, which could shake up the oil-dependent economy.
Security problems also loom over the race. Buhari promised to uproot Boko Haram, and the terrorist group did lose a lot of its territory during his tenure, but the group and others like it are far from being eliminated.
Nigeria has also seen a recent uptick in violence. Boko Haram also splintered, giving birth to an ISIS-linked militant group, the Islamic State in West Africa Province. This group has staged multiple brazen attacks, including one on a Nigerian governor’s convoy this week near the border with Cameroon.
The central part of Nigeria is also becoming mired in clashes between farmers and herders over land for grazing; statics from Amnesty International say the conflict claimed more than 3,600 lives last year.
Regional and identity politics are also important factors in Nigeria’s election. Atiku and Buhari are both Muslims from the north of the country, and they’ve managed to form political alliances with other regions — Buhari with the southwest and Atiku with the southeast — to try to gain more support.There are concerns over whether the elections will be free and fair AP Photo People protest the suspension of Nigeria’s Chief Justice Walter Nkanu Samuel Onnoghen, in Abuja, Nigeria, on Monday, January 28, 2019.
It’s not really clear who is leading the race right now, but experts say Buhari, as the incumbent, is likely to have an edge.
There are also widespread fears that the election will be rigged.
Nigeria’s elections have been rigged in the past — that’s why Buhari’s win in 2015 seemed so remarkable. Atiku’s opposition party, PDP, has alleged wrongdoing, though Buhari has insisted he’s upholding free and fair elections.
Still, worries persist. A recent Guardian analysis of voters registered in Nigeria since January 2018 found that new voter registration increased by almost exactly the same percentage in all of Nigeria’s states. One analyst called that “statistically impossible,” which could indicate potential irregularities.
Another red flag: In January, weeks before the election, Buhari suspended the top judge on Nigeria’s Supreme Court over his alleged failure to declare some foreign assets. The suspended judge would have been in charge of ruling over any election-related disputes. But many critics — including Atiku — called the move anti-democratic.
Patrick Ukata, a lecturer at the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington, said he had a sense that Atiku would win if the elections were free and fair. “No one in their right mind would vote for more of the same,” Ukata told me on Friday.
A rigged election could also potentially be dangerous. The 2015 election, which Buhari won as the opposition candidate, was largely peaceful — but in 2011, an estimated 800 people died in post-election violence.
Experts I spoke to said sporadic violence is always a risk, especially on the local level, but conflict on a national scale seems unlikely. For one, Atiku and Buhari are both from the same region, religion, and ethnic group, which make it less likely that anger over the elections will escalate into sectarian conflict.
Western governments, including the US, have encouraged the candidates to embrace the results, whatever the outcome. A US State Department spokesperson released a statement Friday saying that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had spoken to both candidates and they had made a “public commitment to renounce violence and to accept the results of a credible process.”
Ukata said Nigeria seems cautiously optimistic that Saturday’s elections will be largely peaceful. But, he added, the “expectation of violence is always there.”
At least five people were killed and multiple others were injured.
A shooter killed at least five people and injured multiple others, including police officers, at the Henry Pratt Company building in Aurora, Illinois, on Friday afternoon.
Police responded to the shooting, killing the gunman. The shooter is believed to have been a worker who was being fired at the Henry Pratt Company, a manufacturing warehouse.
The story is still developing. Here’s what we know, and don’t, so far.What we know
- Around 1:20 pm local time, police officers responded to reports of a shooting at the Henry Pratt Company building in Aurora, Illinois, city Chief of Police Kristen Ziman said at a press conference. They quickly responded to the shooting, with five officers suffering gunshot injuries.
- Officers engaged with the gunman and killed him.
- The shooter killed at least five other people, Ziman said. One other person was injured.
- The injured police officers were stabilized, a city spokesperson told WGN-TV.
- The shooter was identified as Gary Martin, believed to be an employee at the Henry Pratt Company. He was being fired on Friday, Ziman said.
- Prior to the shooting in Aurora, Illinois, there had been 38 mass shootings so far in 2019, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The organization defines mass shootings as events in which four or more people, excluding the shooter, were shot but not necessarily killed in a similar time and place.
- The shooting comes one day after the first anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, shooting.
- President Donald Trump tweeted in response to the shooting.
Great job by law enforcement in Aurora, Illinois. Heartfelt condolences to all of the victims and their families. America is with you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2019
- Both US senators from Illinois tweeted as well.
My heart breaks for Aurora. I'm tracking updates on the situation with my staff. Thank you to the members of law enforcement who are responding to the emergency.— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) February 15, 2019
I am monitoring the situation in Aurora, Illinois. This is a scary, sad day for all Illinoisans and Americans. Thank you to the brave first responders who risked their lives this afternoon and apprehended the shooter.— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) February 15, 2019 What we don’t know
- The identities of the victims
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan plans to borrow another 200 billion rupees ($1.44bn) to help clear power sector debt destabilising the finances of the government and private power producers, a senior official tasked with energy reforms said.
Pakistan’s economy and society have been racked by a decade of chronic electricity shortages which have crippled its manufacturing sector and stoked voter anger in the South Asian nation of 208 million people.
Electricity shortages have erased in the last 12 months but years of mismanagement and funding shortfalls for subsidies have led to accumulated power sector payment arrears, or “circular debt”, soaring to 1.4 trillion rupees ($10.1bn).
Independent power producers (IPPs) angry with late government payments have warned they face a financial crisis, while economists fear rising circular debt will further widen Pakistan’s yawning fiscal deficit, a key part of ongoing bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund.
Pakistan earlier this month raised 200bn rupees through an Islamic bond to ease financial crunch in its power sector, but critics say much more needs to be done.
Nadeem Babar, head of the Task Force on Energy Reforms created by new Prime Minister Imran Khan, told Reuters the government plans to ease financial pressures on power generation companies by taking another 200bn rupee loan by April.
“That total of 400bn will not bring the outstanding amount down to zero, but it will pay it down substantially to a point where no generator will be at risk of shutting down or having liquidity issues,” Babar told Reuters on Thursday.
The loans are a key part of the government’s strategy to rethink how it deals with power arrears and will give the government breathing room to enact wide-ranging reforms, Babar added.
He said Khan’s government is looking to save money by moving power sector arrears from the balance sheet of the IPPs on to the balance sheet of government-owned distribution companies.
Under Pakistan’s power purchasing system, IPPs bill the government monthly for the power they produce, but when the government fails to pay up, power generators take commercial bank loans to stay afloat and the government is hit with financial penalties for late payments.
“In the past, to keep debt off the government’s power companies’ balance sheet, the government has allowed a run up of the same debt on IPP balance sheets - but at what cost?,” said Babar, who is currently writing Pakistan’s 25-year future energy policy.
“The finance minister has understood and agreed that it is nonsensical that we are paying about three per cent higher interest rate to keep this debt off our balance sheet when we acknowledge that it is our debt,” said Babar.
Pakistan hiked electricity prices in January and the new tariff, set to gradually increase over the next two-and-half years, will drastically slow the accumulation of circular debt and will eventually help eradicate it, Babar said.
Transmission losses and theft are also being aggressively targeted by the government, he added.
Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2019
ISLAMABAD: United States Chargé d’Affaires Ambassador Paul Jones on Friday called on Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua to convey “an important message” from the Trump administration, a Foreign Office source said.
The meeting took place in the aftermath of a suicide attack in India-held Kashmir, which has raised tensions between Pakistan and India.
“The US Embassy had sought the meeting,” said embassy’s spokesman Richard Snelsire, but he did not divulge the contents of the meeting.
A source, however, said the message pertained to the post-attack situation.
The White House had, in its reaction to the attack on the Central Reserve Police Force bus in Pulwama on Thursday that left 44 paramilitary personnel dead, asked Pakistan “to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil”.
The statement had said the goal of those terrorist groups was “to sow chaos, violence, and terror in the region”.
The attack, the White House said, strengthened its resolve to bolster counterterrorism cooperation and coordination with India.
A State Department statement, meanwhile, said: “We call on all countries to uphold their responsibilities pursuant to UN Security Council resolutions to deny safe haven and support for terrorists.”
American National Security Adviser John Bolton also spoke to his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval.
Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said Beijing wanted relevant countries in the region to make joint efforts to combat terrorism and preserve regional peace and security.
“China will continue to deal with the relevant listing issue in a constructive and responsible manner,” he said while responding to a question about Beijing’s technical hold on listing of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar by the United Nations.
Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2019
GILGIT: Emergency measures are being taken to mitigate the effects of a possible disaster which may be caused by Shisper Glacier surge and possible burst of an artificial lake in Hasanabad village in Hunza.
The Shisper Glacier, a few kilometres from Hasanabad village, started to surge in May last year. The unusual surge has blocked water flow from a stream originating in nearby Muchuhur Glacier, which normally falls into Hunza river at Hasanabad, thus forming an artificial lake.
The glacier is moving towards Hunza at a speed of seven metres per day and water level in the dammed lake is also increasing with each passing day, posing a threat to downstream areas.
Authorities conduct aerial visit of Shisper Glacier surge, artificial lake created by it
Commander of the Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA) Maj Gen Ehsan Mehmood Khan, Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Secretary retired captain Khurram Agha, Director General of the Gilgit-Baltistan Disaster Management Authority (GBDMA) Farid Ahmed and heads of the departments concerned along with representatives of local community carried out an aerial visit of the Shishper Glacier on Thursday to assess the emerging situation.
Addressing a community gathering in Hasanabad, the chief secretary and the FCNA commander assured the local people of their support in case of any untoward incident.
The chief secretary directed the relevant departments to carry out an assessment of houses and means of livelihood of the vulnerable people of Hasanabad.
He said that as per the contingency plan the GB government had stockpiled 40,000 wheat bags and medicines to cope with any crisis in case of a disaster.
According to an official press release, a team of experts, also from several national organisations, has been monitoring the movement of the glacier and its effects through satellite and ground visits since November 2018.
According to the experts, blasting/leakage of the Shisper Glacier through any means is not possible due to the surging nature of the glacier and its vast width.
After going through the reports, the experts and the GBDMA have come to the conclusion that three scenarios are possible in coming weeks in the event of a lake burst and/or further surging of the glacier towards human settlements.
Under the first scenario, it is expected that the lake will gradually release through crevices and the glacier may also melt gradually, resulting in normal to slightly above normal discharge of water. This situation will not create any hazard to the local people and installations downstream.
Under scenarios 2 and 3, medium to heavy discharge of water is expected which depends on weather conditions. A sudden rise in temperature during June and July may result in rapid melting of the glacier and a lake burst. This may create a hazardous situation, which can affect the people and installations downstream.
The press release said a contingency plan had been prepared to cope with any emergency situation.
According to it, the GB government is undertaking several proactive measures. Mock exercises for evacuation of people are being carried out. Safe routes for evacuation and safe havens have been identified to relocate the residents of Hasanabad in case of high water discharge from the lake during summer.
Protective work to safeguard public and private properties is underway and will be completed in given time frame. Funds to the tune of Rs31 million have been released to carry out protective works of urgent nature.
Arrangements to safeguard the irrigation channels and water supply networks from Hasanabad stream to central Hunza are to be undertaken.
In case of blockade of the Karakoram Highway at Hasanabad, a road network will remain linked to upper parts of the region through an alternative route via the Sas Valley, Nagar.
A makeshift bridge has been arranged by the National Highway Authority which will be shifted to the site of a bridge that may be washed away in case of a lake burst.
To reduce the risk of food shortage, the food department is stocking up food supplies for four to five months.
Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2019
ISLAMABAD: Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Friday invited German companies to take advantage of Pakistan’s investor-friendly policies, especially in the fields of energy, infrastructure development and agriculture.
During a meeting with his German counterpart Heiko Maas on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, the foreign minister also urged the German firms to take advantage of Pakistan’s investment policies in the fields of food processing, energy, mining, manufacturing, water and waste management, a Foreign Office statement issued here said.
The two expressed satisfaction over the current level of bilateral relations and agreed to translate this friendship and mutual goodwill into a strong political and economic partnership.
The foreign minister appreciated trade and investment relations and welcomed the entry of Volkswagen into the Pakistani market.
The two foreign ministers discussed a wide range of regional and international issues.
Underscoring the importance of peace and stability in Afghanistan, Mr Qureshi said that Pakistan was facilitating the ongoing talks between the United States and Taliban as a shared responsibility and in good faith.
He expressed the hope that the talks would result in an intra-Afghan dialogue leading to lasting peace in the country.
Mr Qureshi highlighted the continued atrocities perpetrated by the security forces in India-held Kashmir.
The two foreign ministers agreed to work closely to enhance bilateral cooperation in all areas of mutual interest.
Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2019
LAHORE: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who is serving seven-year imprisonment in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption case, was shifted to hospital on Friday for cardiac treatment. This is his third shifting to hospital since his detention at Kot Lakhpat jail.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has, meanwhile, objected to the shifting of its supreme leader to the Jinnah Hospital which, it claimed, “lacks facilities to treat heart patients”. As the Jinnah Hospital has been declared a ‘sub-jail’ for Mr Sharif by the Punjab home department during his stay, some PML-N leaders were not allowed by the hospital administration to see him.
The Punjab government has formed a five-member (fifth) special medical board, headed by Prof Dr Arif Tajamal of Allama Iqbal Medical College/Jinnah Hospital, to examine and conduct the former premier’s medical tests and submit its recommendations to the Punjab government.
PML-N claims Jinnah Hospital lacks facilities to treat heart patients
Earlier, the (fourth) multi-disciplinary medical board of the Services Hospital said Mr Sharif’s treatment was possible in any specialised cardiac health facility in Pakistan. After examining the results of all his tests, the medical board reached a unanimous decision that Mr Sharif, 69, needed some kind of cardiac intervention. “For the purpose, he should be shifted to a cardiac institute. Mr Sharif has cardiac issues because of his previous history of some diseases, including high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney problem,” said the board.
Subsequently, Mr Sharif’s personal physician Dr Adnan Khan had requested the Punjab government to provide him round-the-clock expert cardiac care at a facility where cardiology intervention and multidisciplinary backup were available.
PML-N spokesperson and former information minister Marriyum Auranzeb has demanded immediate shifting of Nawaz Sharif to a cardiology specialist medical facility. “After failing to prove corruption, the PTI is venting its frustration by playing with the health of Mr Sharif,” she said.
Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2019
ISLAMABAD: Syed Nasir Hussain Shah, Sindh minister for works and services, has alleged that the former chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) did not treat leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) fairly and with justice.
“We hold courts in the highest esteem and believe that courts will provide justice to us — but the former CJP was not fair with us,” Mr Shah said while addressing a media talk here on Friday.
Without naming former CJP Mian Saqib Nisar, the Sindh minister said: “His remarks in the court were different from the court decision regarding PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.” He said in a sarcastic tone: “Maybe someone else wrote the decision.”
Mr Shah had just returned from Bajaur where he went to condole with the families of three labourers who were murdered in Larkana recently. He was accompanied by PPP leader Nazeer Dhoki.
He said an initial grant of Rs500,000 had been given to the family of each slain labourer, adding that the Sindh government would announce a compensation package for the grieving families soon.
The Sindh minister claimed that the cases against PPP leaders were baseless. All matters related to these cases belonged to Karachi, but the former CJP ruled that trials of former president Asif Ali Zardari, his sister and others would be held in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, he added. He claimed that all these cases and the report of the joint investigation team were being used for a smear campaign against the PPP leadership.
Mr Shah clarified that Mr Zardari and his sister were owners of sugar mills and all financial transactions being used in these cases were related to their sugar mills. The allegations of money laundering against them were baseless, he added.
Answering a question about the performance of the Sindh police, the minister expressed confidence in the police department and said the law and order situation in Sindh had improved significantly.
Mr Shah responded angrily when asked about reported moves by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) to dislodge the PPP government in Sindh.
“The only government that is stable and sound in the country is the PPP government in Sindh and those trying to create disturbance in its work will fail,” the minister said, adding he believed that such moves were initiated in a bid to divert people’s attention from real issues.
The Sindh minister said when the PTI was asked to fulfil promises it made with the country’s people before the election, its leaders raised some non-issues, such as “NRO will not be given to anyone”.
“My question is who is seeking an NRO from the government and does Prime Minister Imran has the power to give an NRO to anyone,” he added. Mr Shah said the incumbent federal government was expert only in making u-turns.
He said the PPP would resist any move against the status of the 18th Amendment.
Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2019
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will consider all available options to retaliate for the Indian government’s decision to withdraw Most Favoured Nation status, Razak Dawood, the prime minister’s adviser on commerce, told the media on Friday.
The response came from the adviser while giving briefing to media at the office of board of investment on the two-day visit of Saudi Crown Prince and high level business delegations.
Mr Dawood went on to say that Pakistan might take unilateral measures against India or revoke concessions under the South Asia preferential trade agreement (Sapta) and might take up the issue in the Geneva-based World Trade Organisation.
New Delhi withdrew the MFN status to Islamabad, which it granted in 1995, on Thursday after the attack on Indian forces in Pulwama.
The grant of this status means that a country will treat all WTO member states equally in matters of tariffs on imports.
Pakistan may revoke concessions under the South Asia preferential trade agreement
New Delhi had made a similar attempt in 2016 following an attack on its forces at Uri, in India-held Kashmir.
Instead of withdrawing the MFN status, Indian government imposed ban on Pakistani actors working in Bollywood.
An official of the commerce ministry told Dawn that Pakistan might include more items in the negative list, a list of items not importable from India.
In March 2012, Islamabad placed 1,209 items on the negative list and opened up rest of the products for trade with India. Before that decision, Pakistan used to trade with India only in 1963 items. “We may increase the number of items in the negative list to restrict trade with India,” the official said.
On a bilateral basis, the official said, additional tariffs might be imposed on Indian-origin products or trade might be restricted at the Wagah border.
The official said Pakistan might also consider withdrawing all concessions offered to India under the Safta arrangement. At the multilateral level, Pakistan might take up the issue at the WTO, the official said, adding that nothing had been finalised so far.
Pakistan’s exports to India stood at $288.134 million in 2004-05 and reached $350m in 2016-17 in the wake of liberalisation of the trade regime with India. Indian exports to Pakistan were $547.458m in 2004-05 and shot up to $2 billion in 2016-17.
The unilateral trade liberalisation in goods and services, after resumption of the composite dialogue in 2004, benefited India whereas Pakistan’s exports stagnated.
The tripling of exports to Pakistan is despite the fact that Islamabad has placed 1,209 products on the negative list.
But the official said the Indian government’s decision to withdraw MFN status would have negligible impact on Pakistan as the current regime suited India more.
Although there exists no negative list for Pakistani products in India, non-tariff barriers (NTBs) are used to limit access of Pakistani products to the Indian market. It was because of these lop-sides benefits which compelled the Indian government to reconsider withdrawal of MFN status to Pakistan in 2016.
In 2011, Pakistan reiterated its intention to transition from the positive list import regime — only 1963 items were importable from India — to a negative list regime and subsequently move toward full normalisation of trade relations by complete elimination of the negative list.
The PPP and PML-N governments took several steps to liberalise the trade regime with India on a unilateral basis. The PML-N had even offered several proposals to take trade relations to the “next higher” level to exploit its full potential.
The World Bank, in a recent report, said trade between Pakistan and India was valued at a little over $2 billion, but it could go as high as $37bn.
The current trade between the two countries is much below its full potential.
The potential could be harnessed only if both countries agreed to tear down artificial barriers.
India’s major exports to this country include skimmed milk, vegetables, chemicals and tyres. Pakistan’s major exports to India include dry dates, gypsum, cement, chemicals, petroleum and oils obtained from bituminous minerals.
Pakistan and India currently use three stations for trade — trade across LoC, the Wagah border and Port Qasim, Karachi.
Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2019