And how it has played out
While the general elections were just a few weeks away, some people thought that these would either be postponed or not held at all. They cited rising terrorism, religious militancy and weakening law and order situation, particularly in Karachi, Khyber Pakhtunkhaw (KP) and Balochistan as the reason. This shows that there is a mindset in Pakistan for which security concerns are more important than the continuity of the political process. They may not be adherents of Allama Tahir-ul-Qadri’s creed; nonetheless, his slogan of ‘siyasat nahi, riyasat bachao’ explains somewhat their predicament.
This mindset has not grown out of the ‘wave of terrorism’ afflicting the country for the last two decades rather it has roots deep in the colonial past. Ian Talbot in his latest book on Pakistan explains this phenomenon by arguing that the areas that constitute this country today were actually a part of the British ‘security state’ in pre-partition era, meaning thereby that institutions of representative democracy were sacrificed at the altar of national security. With volatile Afghanistan next door and the hovering Russian giant beyond, the British imperialists could not afford to nurture democracy as these areas had to be used as what the scholar Tan Tai Yong call a ‘garrisoned state’ for military expeditions. It was because of these strategic considerations that while the representative institutions were grafted in today’s India at the end of the nineteenth century, the Simon Constitutional Commission Report as late as 1930 outrightly rejected the political participation of the masses in the provinces of Balochistan and NWFP (today’s KP). The slow pace of electoral politics in this region can be further understood from the fact that till 1947, only the Quetta Municipality was allowed to elect its members out of the whole of Balochistan. And don’t be surprised by the fact that the regions of Gilgit and Baltistan got a representative assembly only in the 21stcentury.
To some extent, all this also explains why democratic institutions evolved at a different pace in India and Pakistan. Historically, it was impressed in the minds of the people living here that security concerns were more important than political issues. After partition of the subcontinent in 1947, the Pakistani state inherited the mantle of the British ‘security state’. With India refusing to accept its creation and Afghanistan staking claims on its Pakhtun areas in NWFP by observing 31 August as the ‘Greater Pakhtunistan Day’, security issues took precedence over the growth of political institutions. On top of it, the All India Muslim League which was just a political party but by claiming to be the creator of Pakistan identified itself as the entity that represented the will of the state as well. This metamorphosis of a party into the state had far reaching implications on the political evolution in the country.
Now, any threat to the Muslim League could be termed as a threat to national security. The state that felt threatened from its neighbours was equally afraid of the actors within, who dared to challenge its worldview. Several examples can be quoted in support of this premise. In 1948, the Kalat National Party was banned in Balochistan. The same year the Azad Peoples Party was formed with Abdul Ghaffar Khan as President, Abdus Samad Achakzai as Vice President and G M Syed as General Secretary. The party was killed in its infancy when its leaders were imprisoned for long time just because it envisioned a non-communal and secular Pakistan on socialist ideals which clashed with the religion based communal nationalism touted by League, the party in power.
Such an attitude by the ruling party bred a culture of political intolerance towards the opposition from the very beginning. Although every democratic society accepts the existence of political pluralism and conflicting viewpoints, exactly the opposite happened in Pakistan. The provincial elections of 1951 testify this trend. It was none other than Quaid-i-Millat Liaquat Ali Khan, under whom the ruling party, the Muslim League used the state’s power not only to rig the elections and violate the sanctity of the ballot box but also witch-hunt the opposition. The rigging was so pervasive that a new term ‘jhurlo’ was coined for the first time in popular jargon. Rigging is one thing but Premier Liaquat went to the extent of branding all the politicians opposed to his party as ‘traitors’ and ‘dogs’. He stated that all those political parties that did not subscribe to the ideology of the League were unpatriotic and declared that “the formation of new political parties in opposition to the Muslim League is against the interest of Pakistan”. Fast forward to the ‘90s and we heard the same harangue from a new generation of League leaders against another party. This time the PPP’s leader Benazir Bhutto was denounced as a national security threat.
The approach of dubbing the entire opposition as ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘wrong’ was not limited to Liaquat Ali. The example set by him was emulated by League’s central and provincial leaders as well. Khan Abdul Qayyum, the strongman of the League in the NWFP squeezed the ‘Red Shirts’ of Abdul Ghaffar Khan after the ‘Hazara Plot’. He was equally vindictive towards those ‘friends’, who had left the League and started a new party to challenge his power. One such figure was Pir of Manki Sharif, who was kicked out of the province just because he had founded the Awami Muslim League.
At the federal level, the Communications Minister Sardar Abdur Rab Nishter tried to stifle the voices of regional protest by branding them as fifth columnists. He went on to declare, “Regional patriotism is simply repugnant to Islam”. In this way the political repression of the League was submerged with the religious sanction. This strategy was effectively used by the Leaguers in the 1946 general elections as Talbot succinctly notes that “its campaigners had declared that anyone who voted against the League was a ‘kafir’ and would not be buried in a Muslim graveyard”.
Such rhetoric engendered intolerance towards any political opposition. This totalitarian attitude was all the more dangerous because the League was the oldest and the biggest Muslim party in the subcontinent and ruled unchallenged for several years after the creation of Pakistan. The political model that it set was replicated by other parties as well. In the ultimate analysis, it was not a democratic model based on the principle of “live and let live”. That is why instead of providing good governance the politicians settled scores against one another. A new tendency of dragging in the army was introduced when one group of squabbling politicians found it too difficult to overthrow the ruling group. General K M Arif, who served as General Zia’s Chief of Staff justified the military intervention in his book, ‘Working with Zia’ by stating that it was due to absence of “reconciliation, accommodation and tolerance among the quarrelling politicians”. However, the last five years have shown that the politicians have at least matured in this regard. Not only did they refrain from calling in the army but quite successfully neutralised those few voices which still clamoured for the martial law in some areas of the country. The PPP government that just completed its term was probably the first government that broke the old mould of political intolerance by promoting the culture of live and let live.
The writer is an academic and journalist who can be reached at [email protected]
A return to the East of Suez
When Pakistan came in to being in 1947, the world was passing through a peculiar phase that was marked by the end of World War II. In essence, the creation of Pakistan, and India, was as much an outcome of the global situation, as it was an output of local struggle for independence. The timing was obviously the key. Had the Great Britain been as strong, it probably would have never agreed to the indigenous demands. In this respect, the tussles of European powers that were playing out in different regions of the world played a significant role.
The World War II ended one phase of eternal global power competitions, with US emerging supreme, and commenced another one, which came to be known as the Cold War. The Cold War that was fought on many continents and over many decades, met its end in Afghanistan, with the eventual demise of Soviet Union.
It was followed by a decade of strategic confusion in the US; for the first time it did not have a comparable enemy to contest with. And, in the academic and strategic thinking circles, an introspection continued on what this meant for its foreign, economic, and defence policy. The 9/11 starkly ended that and this decade of ambiguity and war on terror was unleashed. Now, the world stands at a juncture that neither appears to be the middle nor the end of this particular chapter.
This is where the parallels of history come into play; that is to judge where we are in comparison to previous struggles. After all, past is the best gauge for the future. The concept of proximity is essential to human existence, without it much confusion and chaos can emerge. One of the most basic and important functions of any leader is to provide a vision and a sense of direction. However, often times they misdirect the people or claim success prematurely for political gains, and this overtime leads to the kind public apathy we are witnessing today.
Looking at the past for clues is a tricky business as there is no ready-made one-to-one comparison available. One of the ways to go about it is to develop trends and patterns that to some extent explain the present circumstances. Once that has been done, to look to the past to observe and understand the similarities. This study hopefully should provide clues on what mistakes not to make, and defines the path to move forward.
PoliTact had projected in the last year’s forecast that a new era of western intervention was on the way. This, however, was already happening in one form or the other, as part of the campaigns against terror and the removal of rogue tyrants. A more dangerous development was the European economic recession accompanied by resurgence in nationalist fervor, which does not reflect well on the future of European Union. History tells us, anemic fiscal conditions accompanied by resurgence of nationalism, can be a combustible mixture.
The alarm is this situation will cause the European powers to compete with each other, and shift the tensions to other regions of the world, where their interests are paramount, like the energy rich Middle East. Furthermore, the focus will inadvertently also be on the downtrodden places, from where the fodder for future resistance is likely to come from.
In this context, when France arrived in Mali in the beginning of the year to conduct counterterror activity, a dangerous escalation was taking place. PoliTact pointed out at the time that this move would likely be matched by other aspiring European powers, in hopes of protecting and establishing their own zones of influence. And, the extremists, or the future resistance fighters, in turn would exploit the French present even further.
On April 29th, UK based think tank that deals with defence and security affairs, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), presented a ‘Return to East of Suez’ policy brief. The paper suggests that Britain is considering placing its land, sea, and air forces across the Middle East, for touch and go type operations that increasingly look likely. The report suggests that Arab awakening, the situation of Iran and Syria, has made the Middle East highly volatile and Britain has to prepare policy options on how to respond.
According to the report, the potential missions could be in support of the American and NATO operations, but could be taken independently as well. And, it goes on to ease European worries that Britain is looking to operate outside of European security arrangements. In a larger framework, as US pivots to the Pacific, UK may be pivoting back to the Middle East. Whether this is a coordinated move is not known yet, nonetheless, it would likely involve reaction from other emerging and established global powers.
But how does this relate to the present-day Pakistan and India, both nuclear powers now, with India aspiring for a seat on the Security Council and a member of BRICS.
While there is no world war going on, the struggle against terror is being conducted in many nations and with many allies. Although there have been successes, the conflict is not over by any standard. It is now fully embedded with the tussles related to the shift in global balance of power, as being witnessed in the case of Syria. The Al-Qaeda linked Jabahat al-Nusra may be getting support from some Gulf nations, while on the other hand, Hezbollah is backed by Iran, and then there is the western and Arab supported Free Syrian Army (FSA).
How the dynamics of Syria unfolds will provide clues to the next phase of the campaign against terror. In the AfPak region, Afghan Taliban are allegedly supported by Pakistan, and there is growing evidence suggesting some TTP factions may be in bed with the Afghan government including other foreign elements. And, then there are the India oriented jihadists.
The present stage looks like a phase in which the shape of alliances is confusing and opposing sides are not clear. The British pivot to the Middle East, when and if it occurs, will help to bring some clarity to this. What this means is that a much more serious act is likely to follow, if the present trajectory continues.
The writer is chief analyst at PoliTact, a Washington based futurist advisory firm (www.PoliTact.com and http:twitter.com/politact) and can be reached at [email protected]
Think: why are we perennially taking the wrong path?
With elections nigh there’s no point in making predictions. With so many assassinations though, we should make a ‘Democracy’s Revenge Park’ in memory of its martyrs.
What will happen will happen, though one can say that barring some horrible event elections will go ahead unless the anti-Taliban parties of the three provinces being targeted by terrorists boycott them. Unlikely, for they would be out in the cold, but it would throw a big spanner in the works. My worry is: will all big players accept their validity given that terrorism obstructed their campaigns and they get fewer seats than they expect or if Imran Khan’s Tsunami turns out to be a splash? Credibility of elections is at stake, as is the system.
Last week I was part of a panel discussion on ‘Pakistan at the Crossroads’ in the Islamabad Literature Festival of the Oxford University Press organized beautifully by Ms. Ameena Saiyid and her team. They deserve praise and congratulations. I learned something when some Baloch Pathans vented their anger on the panel, I particularly, for not knowing what we were talking about. They had attacked Prof. Dr. Rasul Bakhsh Rais a day earlier during a panel discussion I was moderating. I realized how much they wanted to differentiate themselves from the Pathans of Pukhtoonkhwa and how much anger and resentment they harbour against the State. When I thanked them for adding to my knowledge and suggested that we should all think about how to assuage their anger and bring them back into the mainstream, they suddenly mellowed. Afterwards they climbed the stage and the person who hectored me kissed my hand, thanked me and said that he would give me a return ticket to come to his place in Balochistan to eat ‘sajji’, the delicious whole roast lamb they cook on wood fire.
Afterwards we continued our discussion outside the building in a most civilized manner. I realized that there is good in everyone if only we searched for it and how easy it is to bring the alienated to one’s side with a little love, understanding and sympathy. The big lesson is that one can co-opt people with honey instead of poison. We keep using poison all the time against a people we don’t know and a place we have never seen.
When has Pakistan not been at a crossroads, not faced a decision that would change the course of its history? Not being used to normalcy we would feel unwell if we were not at a crossroads at any time. Sadly, we always take the wrong turn. But let it continue for this is an evolutionary learning process and we the people will eventually find the correct path.
And that is precisely the point: whereas a crossroads gives one four roads to choose from, we are actually at a fork. One is the correct path that leads to water that is the source of life and the other the wrong path that leads to destruction of mind and body. As Muslims we have no option but to take the correct path or Shaarey, the path that leads to the well. We have always taken the Satanic path rather than the Divine path for we have abdicated our thinking to the cleric masquerading as scholar who abducted our faith long ago and now tells us what our religion is and how we ought to practice it when God has already told us so in the Quran. Please dwell on the two words I have used – ‘faith’ and ‘religion’, ‘Iman’ and ‘Deen’ – for we have made them into two different things and foisted the ‘Mazhab’ of a man-made Sharia on us to divide the Muslim community. God’s Sharia or guidance is already in the Quran. Faith is what matters: how one practices it is religion that is enunciated clearly in the Quran, so why do you need the cleric? Don’t get lost in debates about how many angels can stand on the eye of a needle. That is neither faith nor religion but dogma. Clerics have turned religion into a collection of dogma, customs and rituals some of which pre-date the faith and become the self-appointed bureaucrats of religion run by churches, de facto and de jure.
So let us see whether on May 11 we take the correct path or the incorrect one once again. The four roads at this crossroads are all incorrect paths on which ruling class misguides us. The correct path has to be found through experience, through failure. That is evolution. As Hazrat Ali (RA) said, “Unfortunate is the man who knows no failure for he doesn’t get a chance to know God.” I would add that he doesn’t get a chance to see his own smallness either in the larger scheme of things.
Actually, the wrong path can often lead to the right path through successive misguidance and abdication of one’s own thought process. That is what I was indicating when I said a few weeks ago that whatever the outcome of the elections it will not be good in the short term but will enhance the realization that we are on the wrong path and need to find the correct one. And we will. My heart tells me so, as does my head.
Think: why are we perennially taking the wrong path? Is it that we are collectively stupid or that the roadmap given to us by beneficiaries of the iniquitous status quo masquerading as leaders is incorrect so as to preserve their own benefits and privileges?
Think: why was the prosecutor in the Benazir murder case assassinated? By putting blame on Gen Musharraf, Pervez Elahi and others, did her real murderers perhaps drop a veil on themselves by sending us on the wrong path? With Musharraf unexpectedly returning and giving a candid statement to the investigation team, the veil is in danger of being lifted.
Think: why was Khalid Shahinshah, one of Benazir’s security men standing alongside her on the stage while she was speaking making suspicious gestures? Why was he killed a few days later? Why was his killer killed in turn? You don’t have to be a genius to take your thinking in the right direction. Think: don’t go by drawing room hearsay and teahouse gossip.
Think: will General Musharraf be alone on trial for Benazir’s murder or will it expose her real killers? They must be besides themselves with worry. Is that why they are desperate that he should accept exile again so that they are off the hook? If he agrees they would send him off with another honour guard.
Think. Why are terrorists rampant in three provinces and not in the Punjab? Who do the Taliban want in power? Referring to Mullah Omar’s Afghan government, the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif said on November 17, 1998: “We need a Taliban type system in Pakistan”, and “The Taliban are running the government better.” What does that tell you?
Think. Why does would-be deliverer Imran Khan keeps making excuses for the Taliban, as this newspaper editorialized the other day? If Imran wins big so much the better for these two softies on the Taliban in the Punjab would negate one another and Nawaz Sharif will find it difficult to form a viable coalition government that will make space for obscurantists. While we want God’s Islam we don’t want the mullah’s ‘Talibanisation’.
Think: Nawaz Sharif used his heavy majority in the National Assembly to pass the 15th Amendment that would have brought us very close to becoming Taliban clones. Mercifully, before the Senate could pass the Act into law Sharif committed political suicide. This election is not likely to get him a two-thirds majority again but the danger of being soft on the Taliban remains. Think.
Think. For 33 years Pakistan’s politics has revolved around pro-Bhutto and anti-Bhutto forces. That is evaporating but now our politics revolves around pro- and anti-Taliban forces, a backward movement actually. But then how else does one get obscurantist forces of darkness out of our system, just as it seems that we are on the cusp of getting fascism out of our system – the use of the most progressive rhetoric to further the most retrogressive ends, like strengthening feudalism by nationalizing industry and breaking the urban back?
Think. Is only Musharraf on trial but the judges too? That is good: let judges and lawyers expose themselves by their own hand and inadvertently save the judiciary, a vital institution in a democracy and an Islamic state, instead of being ‘martyred’ again to return as heroes.
The next government will be a wobbly caretaker and it will be a miracle if it completes its term. Let it fall on its face so that the system can be exposed for what it is and we can move on and hopefully get on to the correct path.
Think. Why do I think that even if elections don’t take us out of the quagmire we are headed in the right direction albeit on the wrong path? Not because I am an incorrigible optimist who grasps at silver linings in the darkest of clouds but because only by repeatedly taking the wrong path will this man-eating system eventually collapse and our eyes and minds finally open to recognize the correct path. Then we will see.
The writer is a political analyst. He can be contacted at [email protected]
A choice between electing the lesser of the evils
In a week’s time, on May 11th, 2013, the ‘tired, poor, and huddled masses’ of our nation, yearning to breathe free, will once again be afforded their democratic right to caste their vote, and elect fresh representatives for governance. And this exercise, of casting the ballot, is arguably the most sacred privilege in a democratic dispensation. It is the singular virtue that sets apart a democracy from other forms of government. It represents the single most important right, through the exercise of which we choose to be governed according to our own aspirations, and can claim to be masters of our own national destiny.
As a result, in essence, the casting of the ballot is not simply a privilege, but more importantly, the most solemn responsibility of each one of us.
In theory, it is fascinating that every five years we get to (legally and constitutionally) overthrow the government. In Pakistan’s case, however, the theory is as far as the fascination extends. Because at the shores of the theory, start the bare sands of reality. And the reality is this: the impending election, divorced from individual passions that any of us might have for certain political parties, is a choice between electing the lesser of the evils.
Lets start with getting the obvious out of the way: the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and its allies (namely: PML-Q, the ANP, and the MQM) are not, at least realistically, in a bid to form the government in the center. There is an outside chance that some combination of these parties return to some form of power (in case the electoral process returns such a split that none of the other parties can form a government in themselves, or with a possible coalition, and the small fragments magnet together to scratch out a weak government). In realization of their abysmal performance over the past five years, and no plausible excuse to hide behind, these political parties (especially the PPP) do not even seem to be making a serious bid for political power. There have been no major political rallies or jalsas by the incumbent coalition partners, no sloganeering on television talk-shows, and no real presence in significant parts of even those constituencies where they had previously won in the 2008 elections.
The contest, effectively, is then just a two-party race: that between the entrenched political machinery of PML-N and the newly minted and untested (but ever so exuberant) razakaars of PTI. And this race, for all intents and purposes, will be decided in the plains of Punjab, which is the ‘home-ground’ of the PML-N for several decades now.
The PML-N is contesting on the slogan of their performance in Punjab, compared to the rest of Pakistan, over the past five years. Their claim is that, while the rest of the Pakistan faced corruption charges, and despondent performance by the federal government and respective provincial governments, Punjab, under PML-N has made (marginal) advances (in terms of infrastructure projects). And using this as a tool – mixed with half-baked dreams about how they ‘created’ the atomic bomb, and were ‘considering’ selling electricity to India in their previous government – they are trying to pose as the only party with (some) track record of good governance. But in their rhetoric of past performance and good governance, they forget to mention the episode of ransacking the Supreme Court, being in bed with the khakis (in fact, being the creation of Army), and the Asghar Khan claims (now sanctified, in part, by the Supreme Court). Nonetheless, when compared to the PPP regime, this appeal of the PML-N, even if it is simply a case of picking the lesser evil, does not seem as bad.
The appeal of PTI is more primitive, idealistic, and untested in nature. Having emerged as a national political force to reckon with only about two years back, believing in them is an act of faith. Not having been in power, ever, they do not carry the baggage that other major political parties carry. The plight of the people of Pakistan cannot be pinned on them as a party (though it can be pinned on several individual members of PTI). And having admirably worked out and published policy papers on different sectoral reforms, their appeal to the nation, at the hear of it, is one of “trust me! I can fix this”. And what they lack in experience of governance, is made up by the exceptional fan-following (even cult) of their leader. While supporters of other political parties, when asked, say that they are voting for ‘PPP’ or ‘Noon-League’, the PTI supporter, in all constituencies across Pakistan, would proudly declare that they will be voting for “Imran Khan”. And his appeal, as an individual, of being a straight-shooter and honest man, seems sufficient to drown out the fact that his party is flanked by faces that have never been straight-shooters or honest individuals. Khan Sb.’s rhetoric of the other parties being a ‘drama’ with the same characters taking turns on center stage, seems enough to veil the Achilles’ heel that his party too is far too populated the same tested and discarded characters, this time in different costumes.
Less than a week of campaigning is left, which will be followed by voting and swearing-in of the new government. As we all gear up to caste our votes, and then wait for the results with abated breath, it is hard to wish for or pray for the success of any individual party. The only prayer that I find myself articulating, is that for Pakistan.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at: [email protected]
Are the Tailban above the law and the Constitution?
Relentless and merciless bombings and violent attacks by the Taliban directed against the leaders and members of three major parties, the ANP, the PPP and the MQM, have dissolved the morale of the state. If such incidents continue, there is a real danger the elections would be reduced to a mere farce, a sick joke practiced on the helpless, captive people of Pakistan.
In times like these, people naturally look to our national “saviors” for help: both the traditional saviours clad in khaki and the new saviours clad in black robes. As the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry declared in Islamabad lately: “In recent years the judiciary has successfully emerged as a saviour...”
The SC judges have been hyper active during the last couple of years, continually issuing judicial and contempt notices to the shivering babus and puny politicians on anything their majesties deemed appropriate. Yet, suo motto actions and court summons took a back seat in this game of political tag. Isn’t the horrendous massacre of about 50,000 of our citizens, men and women, civilians and soldiers by the Taliban, not enough to warrant such notices from the judiciary? Isn’t the massive loss of human life in our country of greater public importance than the price of a samosa or the transfer of a section officer, for which the judges have issued notices at the blink of an eye?
Our grand saviour has been shouting pearls of wisdom such as, “Nobody is above the law” or “ Everyone has to respect the Constitution.” Really? May one humbly ask the Chief Justice if these lofty admonitions are applicable to the armed Taliban also? Are Tailban above the law and the Constitution? If not, what actions has the judiciary taken against them?
On the contrary, it seems that our bold and independent judiciary would go to any length to avoid invoking the ire of the Taliban/Jihadi murderers. We are all aware of how the courts have released and set free most of the terrorists accused of execrable crimes on one flimsy ground after another, thus giving them leeway to continue with their carnage.
As far as our other longstanding traditional saviour, the Army, is , it lives in a cabalistic world of it’s own, issuing arcane and enigmatic speeches once in a while that leave the public scrambling to figure out the true message embedded in their statements. People have practically given up trying to remind the Army of its constitutional duty to defend the country from our internal enemy, the Taliban/Jihadists.
It is now being reported that the Army has decided to deploy about 50,000 troops on the Election Day in order to ensure that elections are free and fair. But impartial elections are not a product of a single day; they are a culmination of a long period of uncorrupt management.
Free and unfettered campaigning by the political parties is the very essence of democratic elections. And if half the number of political parties and their candidates are effectively prevented from doing so because of targeted threats, attacks and bombings that hinder their political meetings, while the other half of the political parties and their candidates are able to campaign in complete freedom and security, then the elections cannot be deemed free and fair by any stretch of the imagination.
Imran Khan made a shockingly false statement, shocking even by Pakistan’s political standards, when he claimed that the Taliban had no hand in murdering Benazir Bhutto. Will he also say that they are not responsible for all the suicide bombings and attacks that have killed tens of thousands of our civilians? He is trying these new tactics of appeasement either because he is so desperate to get votes or out of fear and behind-the- scenes coercion by the Taliban forces.
The same goes for those supine, fundamentalist political parties who have gotten a free pass from the Taliban. Their silence and acquiescence of the Taliban’s atrocities will come to haunt them, especially after the elections, when Taliban will come to collect their pound of flesh from them.
There can be no doubt that if murderous attacks, lethal threats and ensuing mayhem by Talibans/Jihadists are not immediately stopped, then the elections would amount to a farce, a gross violation of Pakistan’s electoral laws and its Constitution, and would stand in complete disregard of the guidelines set by international laws such as the Declaration on Criteria for Free and Fair Elections adopted by the Inter Parliamentary Council in 1994.
In that event, the nation might as well be prepared to face a fiery maelstrom of such intensity that will obliterate any vestiges of national stability, viability and hope.
The writer is a US-based corporate attorney, author and independent analyst. He can be contacted at: [email protected]
The rebuilding process must commence in earnest
The speech of the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) in Rawalpindi on the occasion of the Yaum-e-Shuhadda has elicited positive as well as negative response. The positive reaction primarily relates to the contents of the speech while the negative response questions the credentials of an army chief to lace his address with political insinuations.
Reiterating that elections will be held on May 11, General Kayani pleaded for the ushering in of an era of true democratic values in the country. He laid down three pre-requisites for eliminating the prospect of the traditional hide-and-seek between democracy and dictatorship: awareness and participation of the masses, rising above the ethnic, linguistic and sectarian biases and giving primacy and precedence to the larger public interest over personal interests. If this were not achieved, he warned, “be it democracy or dictatorship, governance would continue to remain a means of self-aggrandisement and plundering national wealth and resources”.
Seeking abnegation of the prospect of retribution, he pleaded for voting on the basis of honesty, sincerity, merit and competence for ensuring continuity of the democratic process. He said: “We must never forget that success of any system resides in coming up to the aspirations of the masses. The success of democracy is intimately linked with the well being of the nation”.
His right to make political comment notwithstanding, General Kayani has unequivocally drawn the broad contours of the way forward for Pakistan. In fact, it came as a timely reminder less than ten days from the national elections which are expected to be violent and divisive. Already, numerous gatherings of the political parties have been targeted by militants and there are un-abating threats for continuing the terror spree in the future. Some self-acclaimed ‘liberal’ political parties which remained coalition partners for five long years in the federal and provincial governments are exploiting the phenomenon alleging that they are being forced out of the election race. In the process, they forget that, for all the years that they were together, they did practically nothing by way of formulating a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and policy. Instead, through inaction, they pushed the country in the lap of the militants who continued to hit targets of their choosing including some highly strategic defence installations.
The Army Chief has also come against the use of the ethnic, linguistic and sectarian biases in the realm of politics. This signifies another step forward in eliminating the prospect of the division of society along these undesirable lines which has caused immense damage to the state in the past and, if not tackled, would continue to do so in the future also.
By embracing the war on terror unequivocally, the General noted: “The menace of terrorism and extremism has claimed thousands of lives. However, despite all this bloodshed, certain quarters still want to remain embroiled in the debate concerning the causes of this war and who imposed it on us. If a small faction wants to impose its distorted ideology over the entire nation by taking up arms and, for this purpose, defies the constitution of Pakistan and the democratic process and considers all forms of bloodshed justified, then does the fight against this enemy of the state constitute someone else’s war?” I believe this decisive declaration of ownership of the war on terror signifiers a strident step forward in combating the gruesome spectre of militancy in the country. I don’t remember a time in the past when a COAS took such an unambiguous and hard line against terrorism. This could only come about after extensive deliberations and gauging the damage that the deadly spectre has inflicted on the country and its people including the army and other security institutions. This could also be a timely comment on the lack of performance on this critical front by the last ‘democratic’ government and could spell a meaningful step forward in prioritising the components of the national paradigm in the future.
There has been much speculation, mostly motivated by the political pundits who had an axe to grind of their own, around the military’s perceived softness in dealing with the spectre of terror and that it stands for negotiations with the militant groups in preference to using force to eliminate them. This, in fact, has been a convenient means to hide their own weaknesses in the realm of policy-making and putting together a comprehensive anti-terror strategy. By reiterating the need to fight terror and owning up the war as Pakistan’s war, the army chief has banished the demons of uncertainty and has thrown the ball in the court of the politicians to devise an appropriate programme in this regard.
This also poses a serious challenge to the political parties, mostly right of centre, which have been advocating for the pulling out of troops from the restive areas in the FATA and elsewhere as part of their election campaign. This reflects a serious level of naiveté and an infatuation with a desire to succeed in the elections even at the cost of national stakes. Two things must end: one, the seeking of votes in the name of religion and two, determining the national policy paradigm that conforms to some self-righteous guidelines. If Pakistan is to rid itself of the spectre of terror, it has to come clean on the need to fight it to the bitter end. Pakistan’s survival lies in confronting the menace rather than embracing it under one pretext or the other.
Much has been ceded to the army voluntarily in the past by the political governments more out of incompetence than any other reason and much more may be ceded in the future. Faults cannot be picked in strategies that work for national betterment. If the civilian government lacks the will to undertake critical assignments like the war on terror, and if there is commonality of objectives between the civil and the military commands, there is no harm in handing over the charge to the one institution that has the resolve and the wherewithal to handle it. This would be well within the constitutional parameters. Not doing this out of fear that the army may move in to take over reflects a lack of confidence by the civilian administration in its own ability. But the country must not suffer because of this. Once the priorities have been clearly spelt out, the responsibilities should be appropriately assigned to organisations which are competent and equipped to handle them. Any further lack of resolve is bound to hurt Pakistan’s prospects of extricating itself from the demonic clutches of extremism.
The writer is a political analyst. He can be reached at [email protected]
Denied: 9.1 per cent of Pakistan’s overall voter base
The Supreme Court’s ruling over the expat Pakistani vote case opens up a Pandora’s box of allegations and accusations that can be hurled at various institutions over whose fault it was that a large chunk of eligible voters will not be able to vote in the May 11 general elections.
It does not take long, however, to identify protagonists of the two-year saga that ended like the finale of a B grade soap opera, with a terribly unsatisfactory conclusion to the plot and a little bit of cheap hope for the future sprinkled on the top.
The Overseas Voting Rights was a petition moved in the Supreme Court by Imran Khan in 2011. During the course of hearings, the ECP had insisted on two reasons why it could not allow expat Pakistanis to vote in elections 2013: no infrastructure, no legislation. Then, in February 2012, the Supreme Court and the ECP indicated that overseas Pakistanis would be able to vote in the upcoming elections. That was a glorious victory for Captain Sahib, who then directed his attention towards changing his Tsunami to a Tsunama and promptly forgot all about the case.
However, on September 26, 2012, the ECP had deferred the overseas Pakistani’s right to vote citing that it wouldn’t be possible for general elections 2013. Again, the ECP representatives maintained that Pakistan did not have the technological infrastructure to conduct secure and transparent polls overseas. Furthermore, the ECP insisted that it did not have the required legislation from the PPP-led government for international polling.
Naturally, the solution to this deadlock was first, getting the infrastructure and second, the legislation. For this purpose, the Supreme Court summoned NADRA officials, many months too late, to give an explanation over how polls could be conducted abroad. NADRA told the chief justice that it did, in fact, have the technological know-how to make overseas polling possible. Strangely, though, NADRA said the systems would be tested in early May, and for this purpose, the Foreign Office had sought permission from at least 10 countries. Testing merely days before the elections? Really? Shouldn’t that have been done months and months ago, since the case itself had been in the court for years and the election announcement had come two months ago?
While it is commendable that NADRA scrambled to action to ensure expat polling, and while the Foreign Ministry did not dilly dally in seeking approval from other governments for the elections, it must be remembered that overall, these efforts served no purpose. You cannot test your international polling booths just ten days before the elections. You cannot guarantee the security of the system or the accuracy of the ballot count. In the same vein, who is to blame for action being taken so late? Why were overseas Pakistanis, who make up at least 9.1 per cent of Pakistan’s overall voter base, not made a priority? If every Pakistani vote counts, then is the Pakistani vote from abroad any less of value?
NADRA and the Foreign Ministry, then, get less flak for this than the two institutions that had locked horns over the issue for two years. And it became apparent that in this dance-off between the Supreme Court and the ECP, the government was the biased referee.
When NADRA and the Foreign Office gave the green signal for conducting overseas elections, the ECP then turned to the government for the last argument that seems to always work for everyone, including the media, the Supreme Court and the civil society: no legislation. Curiously though, while the ECP has the wisdom and the authority to reject election hopefuls because their ideological views were questionable, for everything related to bringing some real change to the electoral system, it needs permission or legislation.
The ECP, in planning this election, has been notoriously erratic. But the one thing it has been consistent with is that it has not allowed for major policy changes in the electoral system. This was evident from quashing the NOTA ballot and showing flagrant disregard for the Supreme Court’s ruling of June 2012 regarding the electoral reforms petition moved by Abid Hassan Manto. As I wrote before, the NOTA ballot could have been possible had the ECP not refused to seek legislation from the government, which was not hard to do. An ordinance takes one day to be signed by the president and be approved. The ECP never asked and the government never offered.
The same thing happened with overseas Pakistani’s right to vote; the ECP said, “Okay, we may have the technology, but we still don’t have the legislation.” In the subsequent reply that was sought by the Supreme Court, the government took ECP’s side and came up with an excellent reason why it can’t pass the required legislation: no mandate.
The government maintained that it was beyond its mandate to make a policy decision. Never mind the bailout plan the caretaker government has silently accepted ‘in principle’ from the IMF that will allow the fund to introduce major restructuring of public sector enterprises and banking sector. Because that is not a policy decision at all! At the same time, this government has refused to try Musharraf, has failed figure out a fix to the electricity load-shedding, failed to provide security to the former coalition partners who are clearly being targeted and has failed to implement the decisions of the Supreme Court for the very elections it has taken up oath for.
Anyone else seeing the synchronized dance here?
Naturally, amidst the government’s hesitation in drafting legislation and the ECP’s never-ending tantrums and foot dragging over the issue, it is no wonder that the case was closed less than 12 days before the election with the sad hope that maybe next time, expat Pakistanis would not be so unlucky.
Meanwhile, let us remind ourselves of some key facts about this very important group that has been excluded from the electoral process. Overseas Pakistani workers are the second largest source of foreign exchange remittances to Pakistan after exports and over the last several years, the foreign exchange remittances have maintained a steady rising trend, with a recorded increase of 21.8 percent from $6.4 million in 2007‐08 to $7.8 million during 2008‐09. In 2009‐10, Pakistanis sent home $9.4 billion, the 11th largest in the world. By 2012, Pakistan increased its ranking to 10th in the world for remittances sent home at $13 billion per annum.
The right to vote from abroad is established in about 115 countries, according to a report from 2007 by the Institute of International Democracy and Electoral Assistance. In 2005 Iraq national elections, the country voting program allowed voting in 36 cities and 14 countries through external polling stations. Indonesia, which allows for a mixed procedure of personal, postal, and proxy voting to its expats had a cost of $6 million only in the 2004 general elections.
Why overseas Pakistanis were turned down from voting in this election, no one knows. Was it because the PTI has a strong international voter base? It would not have mattered; the PTI’s chances of a sweeping victory in Pakistan are very few when it is competing with so many mainstream political parties with much more seasoned politicians.
It is important that this case not be forgotten for the next elections, as it is too late for anything to be done now. The ECP, then, must be held accountable if it fails the Pakistani community abroad once again. But then again, there are five years more to go and we might only know in 2018, ten days before the election, if the policy of exclusion is to be maintained.
The writer is Web Editor at Pakistan Today and tweets @aimamk
Running with the democratic hare, hunting with the Taliban hounds
The overseas Pakistanis as well are concerned by the increasing mayhem of those who support democracy, liberal and civilised way of life back home. Premeditated violence against liberal parties and escalating Taliban terrorism to close doors of political arena on them is being strongly manifested in growing number of protests by those parties who are being singled out by Taliban as their obvious targets. Enough have been said, demanded and protested for protection and establishment of level playing field.
While protests/strikes are being observed every day in the affected three provinces, in London a similar rally was held outside Pakistan High Commission on April 28. The British media too is not oblivious of the dangerous situation and doubts are being cast about the legitimacy of the elections. Some are even describing it all as deliberate pre-poll rigging to defeat liberal elements and victory at gunpoint for the obscurantist forces or their supporters.
The three parties most affected by the violence are seeking common strategy to secure themselves in what they describe premeditated terrorism to keep them out and their voters away from polls threatening democratic transition in Pakistan. Daily strikes by terrorists as are being witnessed largely in Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta targeting the ANP, the MQM and the PPP have made it clear that it is more of an ideological war – a war between progressive forces and those who want to Talibanise Pakistan. More so it is a battle between liberal forces that want to revert to Quaid-e-Azam’s egalitarian Pakistan to save it from those extremists who want to capture it and convert it into a Talibanised state of their own.
While one can understand the predicament of the liberal forces that are so far undeterred – at an enormous cost in lives – in bravely facing the increasing bloody onslaught, it is time for others who are on the other side of the political divide to stop running with the democratic hare while hunting with the Taliban hounds. These short sighted elements blinded by their pursuit of possible immediate electoral gains do not realise what could ultimately be for them in store in the longer run.
Students of World War II history would instantly recall the memorable and hair-raising words of German Protestant pastor Martin Niemller (1892-1984) – words that earned for him immortal fame for being an outspoken critic of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi rule. Why I recall him now is extremely relevant to the fast deteriorating situation due to widespread and ever-increasing terrorism by Taliban and birds of their feather in Pakistan.
Though a German nationalist, Martin Niemller emerged during the Nazi rage as an unconcerned and unaffected spectator only to burst out in desperation words that were to become a lesson in history for those who remain silent witness to the elimination of their political opponents thinking themselves safe in any society or country where retrogressive phenomenon such as Taliban raise their head. I quote here Martin Niemller’s ‘First they came’ and why he remained silent to be followed by a deluge: ‘First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.’
We are just few days away from elections. There is wide spread Taliban terrorism in cahoots with other anti-state elements marring the prospects of elections. The PPP, the ANP and the MQM, the three major political parties with liberal and progressive ideological credentials, have been singled out by them as their cold-bloodied victims while others who can be described as rightist or religious parties have been spared of their wrath.
This is reflected in the lukewarm condemnation of the massacre of innocent supporters of their ideological opponents by those who have been allowed a field day in electioneering in the biggest province of the country because they see eye to eye with Taliban. No doubt there is reason to believe that there is something more than meets the eye – almost unwritten collaboration for obvious electoral gains.
History is a great teacher for those who are willing to learn a lesson from it. To carry the point home it needs urgently to be realised that no doubt today the liberal elements are the targets and others opposed to them might get results in polls favourable to them. That would be too good to be true.
What matters is to understand the end game of the Taliban. It is not just victory against those who oppose them ideologically. The Taliban want to capture the state of Pakistan first by defeating their opponents and then to move on by having pliable elements in power who could pave way for them to attain their ultimate goal of converting Pakistan into a Talibanised island cut off from rest of the world.
As such who do not oppose Taliban for their immediate political gains in the elections would ultimately find themselves to be in a predicament much similar as Martin Niemller’s when there would be nobody left to speak for them. Our political leaders and all others who matter must stand up and speak out before Taliban take over. Their strategy is self-evident. They are trying to prove that the state of Pakistan is toothless and they can bulldoze their ideology and impose it too as an alternative to democracy. It is a battle for now or never.
The author is the High Commissioner for Pakistan to UK.
There is little common ground to make parleys meaningful
The army has finally announced its policy towards the Taliban. Gen Kayani says the war the army is fighting is Pakistan’s war and that anti-democratic forces would never be acceptable. He said that considering the war against terrorism as the war of the armed forces alone can lead to chaos and disarray that cannot be afforded. In his words, the fact of the matter is that today it is Pakistan and its valiant people who are the target of this war and are suffering tremendously.
Neither the JI, JUI-F and JUI S nor the PML-N and PTI are owning this war. They believe the country has been dragged into the conflict by the US. The sooner it comes out of it, the better for it.
With PPP, ANP and MQM already favouring military operation against the TTP, this should be the ideal moment to bring on board all other parties to form an anti terrorist front comprising all major parties. One is however not sure if Gen Kayani really means what he says. If the army is seen to be genuinely keen on getting rid of the militants, even parties which display a soft corner towards them will start distancing themselves from the TTP.
Religious parties share much of the agenda of the terrorists but they have strong differences over how to implement it. Like the Pakistani Taliban, the JI, JUIF and JUI–S too want the rule of Shariah in Pakistan. Religious parties are also willing to concede to the minorities, the status of second-grade citizens. They are against the empowerment of women and while they favour female education, which differentiates from the TTP, they are opposed to co-education as there are to allowing women to work side by side with men. They believe that the men and women are not to be treated as equals.
The Jamaat-e-Islami cadre is known for narrow-mindedness and intolerance. Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba which is the party’s student wing takes recourse to violence to suppress the liberal and leftist organizations. It opposes the mixing up of male and female students at the campuses and has set up a reign of terror in educational institutions wherever it has any significant presence
The Deobandi seminaries run by the JUI-F and JUI-S also impart extremist views. Some of their students later join the militant groups associated with the TTP. In the past, these seminaries have produced cadre for the Afghan Taliban, some of their top leaders being the products of Pakistan’s Deobandi madaris
Some of the activists of these parties have affiliations with the militants as they have received military training from common instructors. They have also fought together in Kashmir with the army’s backing.
But one important thing religious parties do not share with the TTP is the latter’s opposition to elections. Religious parties are keen to use all avenues provided by democracy, and that includes elections, to foist a system no different from that supported by the TTP. As JUI-S leader and head of Darul Uloom Haqqania Samiul Haq put it on Tuesday, voting isn’t just a democratic duty but a religious one as well. He rejected the Taliban’s view of voting as being ‘un-Islamic’. These parties not only support elections but also the election of women to the assemblies.
There is no difference of goals but of tactics to achieve them. The assumption of power by the Justice and Development Party in Turkey and the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt through ballot has provided the religious parties extra incentive to contest the polls. Whatever TTP might do, religious parties in Pakistan will not boycott the polls.
The JI, JUI-F, and JUI-S trio opposes the use of force against the Taliban. They instead demand a negotiated settlement with the militants. The security agencies have old links with the leadership of these parties. If it really desires to wean them away from the terrorist outfits, it has enough clout with the leadership of JI, JUI-F and JUI-S to get this done.
While the PML-N which was nominated a guarantor of peace by the Taliban presents itself as a moderate conservative party, many party loyalists are characterized by a streak of extremism. The PML-N has inherited Ziaul Haq’s prejudice against the minorities particularly Shias, Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians. Similarly it has no policy on, or any concept of, the empowerment of women. The PML-N thus shares a number of traits with the religious parties
The PML-N also makes use of the sectarian card whenever it finds that the LeJ sympathisers, who in half a dozen Punjab constituencies are able to muster a couple of thousand votes, can act as a game changer in a highly contested election. The party feels no compunction while entering into an electoral understanding with the banned network.
The PML-N is however a party of the business community. Like the class that it represents, it is scared of lawlessness and wants restoration of peace in the country. The party had taken on the communal terrorists when in power during the late 1990’s. At the time, it was also willing to help the US take out Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The party’s manifesto envisages a number of steps to contain the incidence of terrorism. These include the integration of FATA into the country‘s political mainstream, educational reforms so that madrassahs follow the same syllabus as the government schools, amendment in anti-terrorism laws and overhauling and modernizing the security sector, including the enhancement of the capacity of the counter insurgency forces. While it will continue to talk about dialogue with the militants to placate its extremist fringe, the party would support the army if finds it to be really serious about wiping out the threat of terrorism with force.
The PTI which claims to represent the new middle class comprising highly educated professionals, specialists and urban youth is more sympathetic to the TTP than the PML-N, thanks to its top leader. Imran Khan does not want to give his opponents a chance to delve in his past. He thus makes use of religious symbolism much more than the Sharifs. In PTI ads, he is sometimes shown offering prayers. Addressing a minority convention of Christian Community in Lahore last year Imran Khan declared that he wanted “to make Pakistan a state like Khilafat-e-Rashda where every citizen lives in peace and complete harmony.”
Many think Imran is simply naïve. The PTI chief hopes to win the war against terrorism for instance through dialogue in 90 days when the TTP is not even willing to talk o him. While in New Delhi last year he claimed that even terror leaders can be transformed. “I am sure they can be put into nation building, human beings can change. I will make them realise that militancy is not a solution.”
Interestingly Imran condemns the Mumbai attacks and has vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. His highly questionable ideas include the belief that suicide bombings are a reaction to drone strikes, that there was no violence from militants in the country before February 2004 when the military entered Fata, and that the people of Fata support the Taliban because they are convinced that it is a movement led by freedom fighters.
There is a perception that the army is keen to enlist the services of the religious parties, the PML-N and PTI to hold dialogue with the TTP in case it is needed in days to come. Many believe there is little common ground to make parleys meaningful.
The writer is a political analyst and a former academic.
In a war of attrition, the militants are calling the shots
The ongoing terrorism in the north western region carved up in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and federally administrated tribal region is an overstretching of what has been going on in the neighbouring Afghanistan. The devastation in Peshawar and other Pakistani towns and cities is what has been wrought because of what has been happening in Kabul, Kandahar and other cities of Afghanistan during the last few decades.
Fazle Subhan Abid, a young and popular Pashtun poet laments the happenings in Peshawar in his popular ballad sung by Hashmat Sahar as
“Pa Pekhawar ke parhar ma jodawa, La da Kabul parhar war ghaley na de,
Dalta la bal da veeney jam dakawey, Hagha dak jam de laa ghutaley na de”
Do not bleed Peshawar, for Kabul’s wounds have not healed yet, you haven’t finished gulping the blood of one, and yet you are planning another (Translation courtesy: Zalan Alam)
Alas! The entreaties went unheard; Peshawar has been bled for years and the wounds have been passed around the other parts.
The city has braved the bomb blasts and suicide attacks targeting secular politicians, civilian and security officials, assaults on police stations and RPG attacks on residential areas. Hardly a day passes by when it doesn’t go through the trauma, sound of the bomb blasts and noise of sirens rushing towards the scene and the news flash on the TV screens with Google maps imagery to identify the location and competing with each other on the scores of people killed and wounded in the incident
Surviving through the existential fear, some people may obliterate it with the catchy term ‘resilience’ but for most when feelings of despair are high, having barely any choice or alternative left, they will hardly find themselves in agreement with this. There underlies a deep sense of desperation among the people, which emanates from the inability of the security apparatus to forestall most of the attacks.
It is quite unrealistic to expect an overall preclusion of the terrorists’ attacks as fighting terror or withstanding their demands may have a political cost attached to it, and the political parties who have corroborated with military offensives against the militants are bearing the brunt of that support. But what perturbs many is the insistence of the higher military echelon for a consensus or more broader ownership of the ongoing war. Perhaps it is a case of without a will, there being no way.
The security apparatus has constrained itself to proportional responses to various act of terrorism. Small incidents of terror are pushed aside while some are responded with raids and surgical operations by the law enforcement agencies with claims of nabbing the alleged masterminds of a particular attacks, while at military level, casual bombing of the militants’ hideouts in various tribal agencies or direct clashes resulting in killing of adherents of Taliban make it to the news.
The territories known for Taliban concentration and presence are ‘no go’ areas. Military deployment around the entry and exit points does make it hard for the militants to pour out towards the settled areas. The repeated attacks on military check posts reflects the militants’ frustration with these arrangements. But these arrangements have been challenged on various occasions when militants came in large number to attack a police station and took away the severed head of a Police officer Khursheed Khan or the recent Peshawar grid station attack when militants fired dozens of RPGs at it from a distance, and then entered the premises, tortured and killed WAPDA officials, policemen and security guards, destroyed machinery worth tens of millions and took along four officials to the neigbouring Bara areas.
The leadership and the hardcore elements of Taliban are alive, well and safe in their dens and lairs planning and perpetrating assaults against their adversaries at the political front, issuing video footages and threatening messages lashing out at the ANP, the PPP and the MQM and making phone calls to the TV channels after every aggression
While political elements in good books of the bad Taliban either justify or ignore their assaults on liberal political forces, the Taliban have been elevated to the status of some rating agency, which has the discretion to award peace and immunity from the attacks on performing well or punish harshly with blasts and assaults on the basis of bad administrative performance.
The way militancy was dealt with during the last five years has been criticized by various quarters, each having a different set of arguments. The pro-Taliban political parties or religio-political groups have criticized the military offensives against the militants with the false assertions of Taliban representing the general populace of the areas they occupy, or the notion of revenge emanating from the mishaps and misgivings during the military offensives or by the drone attacks targeting militants using civilian populations as a human shield. The losses incurred to the militants or civilian populations at the hands of security forces are disproportionately lower than the losses and suffering of the civilians and law enforcement agencies at the hands of terrorists.
The liberal circles criticized the previous governments for lack of multipronged and comprehensive strategy regarding militancy, and of ceding space to religious groups bowing to their demands on many issues, while persisting nature of military influence in issues of national security has credence at the political and intellectual fronts. The overarching influence has been demonstrated well at different occasions to show the restraints on the role of political government i.e. Mumbai attacks, Kerry Lugar bill, the COAS extension suggested at Corps commander meeting and the Memogate scandal.
The threats to secular and progressive forces have not been responded to by the state institutions and the outcry of the ANP, the MQM and the PPP for a level playing field too has fallen on deaf ears.
The timid response to the terror attacks has dragged us into a war of attrition against an enemy which has aimed to wear us down over a period of time by using urban warfare causing civilian losses, propaganda tactics to create friction and dishonorable means of combat against those at the first line of defense, that is the Police and LEAs and political forces whose ideology and interests are in conflict with them. The rest are abiding by the rules determined by the militants.
Ali Arqam is journalist and researcher based in Karachi. He can be contacted at [email protected] interacted on twitter at @aliarqam
Is to tell them you’re satisfied with your belief system
Following a decade of global terrorism, our country is increasingly facing a growing tide of conservatism that has swept over everything from the legal system to educational institutions. In a survey conducted by the British Council on the youth vote, an overarching majority has voiced support for religious, conservative parties. Although we commonly associate fundamentalism with men in beards and ill-fitting shalwars, it discreetly manifests itself in many different forms—housewives sticking to the parameters of their homes, young children who are taught not to question, unsuspecting individuals inducted into religious cults, legislators who believe in the absolutism of law, amongst many others. There have been innumerable instances when I have come across seemingly sound people but when the conversation challenges their beliefs they become defensive, dismissive and angry. Fundamentalism is not only about the symbolic or the performative, it is rather about the mindset that adheres to absolutism and enforces that certain beliefs/principles are beyond question. The rigid adherence to a set of principles and the supposition that they are exclusively correct, breeds intolerance towards any opposing views and stigmatizes the anyone who dares to digress.
Before coming face to face with a fundamentalist, it is essential to understand how their mind works—and rest assured, it is at a tangent with the thought process of a liberal progressive human being. What they believe in is of far less significance that how they come to the realization of their established ‘truths’. Regarding religious and moral matters, fundamentalists have binary brains. There is no grey area in their minds when it comes to God or the Quran or much else for that matter. To a fundamentalist, everything is black and white, yes or no, truth or lie which explains why they are able to speak with such assuredness about their beliefs even when facts indicate otherwise. If you use grey relativistic talk, situational, tentative, hypothetical—it will translate to black. They claim to be 100 percent certain of their beliefs and they will demand the same for you. For this reason, fundamentalists are as dismissive of liberal Muslims as they are of atheists or other “non-believers.” If you offer an interpretation that is slightly different from their literal reading they will take that opportunity to point out your inferior understanding or reiterate that you are alienated from the truth. For them, natural disasters are the wrath of God, women are temptations and whatever the Mullah is saying must be right because, despite his inferior intellect, lack of education and sup-par Arabic, he, by some divine mechanism, is able to understand the word of God better than us plebeians. Fundamentalists are people who respond to most questions about their beliefs by the proclamation—“because God said so.” Rationality and logic are eradicated from in their day to day discourse and they would rather stick to their moral code, like slave soldiers, no matter how archaic, discriminatory or unwarranted it seems to be. They fail to grasp the power of their own minds—if God wanted to create clones who behaved and believed in the same way, he won’t have endowed humanity with a mind altogether.
The agenda of a fundamentalist is to homogenize thinking and subsequently convert you—or eradicate your kind altogether. This contempt towards difference is apparent through their need to establish an uncontestable moral code and label behaviors as intrinsically wrong- all people from other sects, non-believers, liberals, secularists, drinkers, gamblers, music enthusiasts, dancers are all on the wrong path, no matter what their reasoning is: “because God said so.” By showing a disregard for their agenda, you have already won. The simplest way to counter a fundamentalist, and one that I personally ascribe to, is to tell them you’re satisfied with your belief system—“No thank you, I do not believe in what you do. I am perfectly happy with my life. You follow your religion and I will follow mine.” After a few attempts, they will hopefully back off and at most pass a snide remark or say “tobah.” If you indulge in conversation, however, be careful. You might be opening yourself up to lengthy a monologue of wherein they attempt to display their knowledge and reassure themselves that they are important servants of God. If you display any uncertainty in your argument, fundamentalists will view that as a weakness and insecurity, consequently strengthening their resolve. If you simply walk away, you are ignoring them and their attention seeking tactics.
The way to deal with fundamentalists on a day to day basis, whether it is a preacher or a strict aunt, is to know that there are happy, well-informed people in the world who do not think like them. Don’t worry about changing their minds— that is a hard and nearly impossible task to carry out. You are not the one with the issue and you do not have to be burdened with ‘correcting’ the world—that is a fundamentalist’s mission.
The writer is a staff member of Pakistan Today and holds a degree from Mount Holyoke College.
Through the election bullet
On May 1, 2013, 22,000 troops and 50,000 ‘law enforcers’ entered 12 districts of Balochistan to “conduct a free-and-fair election”. The existing number of troops in the areas shall not be revealed to us, nor the fact that de facto these areas had been no-go areas for the military since the current Baloch insurgency started in 2005. With the entry of troops, the possibility of free-and-fair elections in the province has ended. Rather the Baloch people shall have elections shoved down their throats with a gun to their head.
It does not matter if the Baloch people want to give their stamp of approval to the selection processes of the Pakistani state. Rather, the pretense, or the formality, that ‘the Baloch people’ confirm their stamp of faith in the State, shall be obtained, under the sound of the boots of the fine men in khaki. If it wasn’t quite obvious when the operation was announced, the Balochistan home secretary made it clear the day before the operation: the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), the Balochistan Republican Army (BRA), the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLA), the United Baloch Army (UBA) and the Lashkar-e-Balochistan (LB) would be targeted.
No one seems to recall that the outrage over the kill-and-dump of missing persons – or “kidnapped Baloch” as Muhammad Hanif chose to clarify – by state agencies was about individuals from the same groups. Over 300 bodies of these missing persons had been recovered since 2011 – all the killings blamed on the Pakistani state. The calls for the past three years, since the announcement of the token Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package in 2009, had been for the withdrawal of army troops from Balochistan and accountability of the agencies, neither of which could be delivered during the PPP-era.
Back in 2008, President Zardari also issued a token apology to the Baloch people. But with nothing changing on the ground, with one after the other Baloch nationalist being killed-and-dumped, the resentment amongst the Baloch people has grown deeper. Bodies have been returned to each district.
Nothing has also changed about the conception of development being applied to the province. The great hallmark that the 18th amendment was supposed to be was circumvented with imprudence. The control of the Gwadar Port was handed over to China and the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline started in the two month period the Balochistan government had been dissolved earlier this year. The so-called failure of the never existent Balochistan government was in fact that failure (or complicity) of the state apparatus in the spate of Hazara killings – duly stopped the minute the establishment’s aims in the province were achieved.
But the joke about the current military operation in Balochistan runs much deeper. It comes on the back of five years of the PPP-led coalition governments at both the province and centre denying accusations that a military operation was underway in Balochistan. It is a bit strange that the caretaker government has taken it upon itself to take on the mandate of announcing a full-blown military operation in Balochistan.
This is not to say that the fears expressed by government schools teachers are not well-founded. The discontent with the Pakistani state is such that government schools in a number of districts in Balochistan have not been able to display the Pakistani flag for a number of years.
The Balochistan caretaker setup has pointed to security threats to candidates and election officials in Balochistan as reason for announcing the current military operation. But the question is how important are the political parties contesting polls in Balochistan to the Baloch people? Let us name them: the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Jamaat-i-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, the National Party and the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M). Only two of these parties have any credentials so to speak of in Balochistan. Of these, the National Party leadership, including Dr Malik and Hasil Bizenjo, spend the bulk of their time in Islamabad, while the BNP-M chief Akhtar Mengal was in self-exile from the country until the interim setup took over. However, the bulk of the nationalist movement has chosen to keep itself outside the trapping of the upcoming polls.
Apart from the dismissed NAP government of the Bhutto era, Balochistan cannot be said to have ever had any semblance of ‘representative government’. Nor does there appear to be any serious resolve on part of the Pakistan establishment to give Balochistan representative government. Sources from within the state say that, as a lesson from the separation of East Pakistan, they now fear any nationalists coming into power through the ballot and presenting something akin to Sheikh Mujib’s Six Points.
This is why there are army men in nine districts, including Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Awaran, Washuk, Khuzdar, Kalat, Mastung, Kharan and Gwadar districts. The question is what will the cleanup operation mean on the ground? “Not a single militant will be spared by May 11” is what the caretaker provincial home minister said. Bullets and arrests have been promised. It is another way of saying: expect more kills-and-dumps, unreported raids on villages and more anger from the Baloch.
When national newspapers continue to express worries that “there is no election excitement in Balochistan”, it appears they are delusional. Elections are a celebration of a belief that participating in the processes of the state can offer deliverance. Barely anyone in Balochistan believes such. If the Baloch people, as a whole, feel disenfranchised from the processes of the state, then why bake up this cosmetic drama of an election in the province?
Let us learn to call a spade a spade: these are not measures to secure the elections, this is a full-blown operation against Baloch nationalists.
For Baloch nationalists, the province was made to join Pakistan at gunpoint. Now, it appears, after a sixth decade long insurgency, it will be made to enter elections at gunpoint. The consequences, it must be said with regret, are fated.
With the military presence in Balochistan, there cannot be a ‘free-and-fair’ election. Let us not subscribe to any such mistaken notions. Another farce is about to be created in Balochistan in the name of representative government. All the efforts at reconciliation of Baloch nationalists should be considered abandoned. Balochistan is being held hostage in the name of the elections. The consequences will not be pretty.
The writer is the general secretary (Lahore) of the Awami Workers Party. He is a journalist and a researcher. Contact: [email protected]
How perception trumps facts at any given time
Sometimes perception is almost more important than the reality. This is exactly the case in Pakistan’s political minefield. Righteousness is tearing apart our country and it does not seem to matter what the facts are. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but not facts. Perception is created and twisted so effectively that if the facts do not coincide with perception, conspiracy theories are produced to correspond to it.
It is the function of all-powerful media to renew or reverse our perception. The media pundits shake up the familiar situation, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.Once the perception is built, nothing can undo it. Take for example Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, the man in charge of the transition of power in Pakistan. He has stainless decades of service to the nation, shining with honesty and integrity. That is the general perception but let us take account of what the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has actually achieved under his auspicious leadership.
According to news reports, ECP has simply failed to prevent 55 candidates from Punjab, belonging to 10 different sectarian groups, from contesting the general elections despite the fact that intelligence agencies had warned the ECP. After a 14-day period during which the eligibility of nearly 25,000 candidates were examined under the criteria laid down in articles 62 and 63 of the constitution, no one has been disqualified for tax evasion, non-filing of tax returns, defaulting on payment of bank loans or for false declaration of assets and liabilities. At least 35 former members of national and provincial assemblies who failed to get their degrees verified from Higher Education Commission (HEC) are running for May 11 elections.
The TTP is targeting the liberal parties like PPP, ANP and MQM in election campaign. On the other hand, there are no threats to other parties including PTI and PML-N. How can Fakhrudin G Ebrahim term these elections as free and fair, since level playing field is being negated to the three important political players?The only response from ECP on this alarming situation is nothing but deafening silence.
Recently, I had a chance to interact with and observe the operations of ECP officials. I was utterly surprised to see that, Farkhru Bhai, as he is called among his close circles, is treated as merely a symbol of integrity and his subordinates don’t even trust him to talk to the media. “He sometimes doesn’t know what he is saying. We don’t want him to make any factual errors while talking to the media,” said an ECP official while denying us the interview Fakhru Bhai had earlier cordially committed to give. After that, he was not even allowed to speak to us. It left me consternated if the octogenarian election commissioner was even allowed to take his own decisions or he was being manipulated and is too weary to stand up for himself. I personally feel he just wants the elections to be held on time, by any means, so that he can go home triumphant.
The perception about him, however, is that of an upright man, struggling to fix all ills for ‘free and fair’ elections.
Talking about perception, one cannot ignore the myth of Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s incorruptible omnipotence. An epitome of justice and integrity, as goes the perception, but a quick glance at the facts without going into the details of the decisions taken in our national interest, reveals uncomfortable truths.
Iftikhar Chaudhry is an institution in himself, literally. There has been no dissent in any major constitutional case in the past years. During the days of Lawyers’ Movement, courts have somehow assumed themselves to be the representative of the people. Judicial activism has gone to an extent of populism. Judges, along with media, have formed a parallel establishment, sending elected prime minister home while ordering the arrest of another, as was done in the past by the military dictators. The double standards, exhibited during the Memogate case and the way Arasalan Iftikhar case was dealt with, is no secret. At one point, it was even difficult for the media to defend the courts. According to a report by the US State Dept, ‘every three out four terrorists are acquitted by the courts’. Judges have issued contempt notices to the politicians for not obeying their orders while keeping hush when the agencies did the same in missing persons’ case.
As for the perception, he is the messiah, the righteous one, the saviour.
The real test case of this curse of perception is President Asif Ali Zardari. Nothing has benefited media more than his notorious image, which was sold to the nation round the clock, for five years. The stamp of Mr 10 percent is still wet on him and obviously, according to some, he had Benazir Bhutto murdered so that he could become the president of Pakistan.
Contrary to the perception, his achievements are historic and unprecedented. From the passing of 18th amendment bill and giving away of his powers to the parliament to the first ever completion of the democratic government’s tenure, Zardari has made history while others have merely made headlines.
His smart handling of party and state affairs during the ongoing judicial activism, smear campaign by the media, pressure from the military and other political opponents, natural calamities and the pugnacious wave of terrorism in the country have visibly unnerved and frustrated the harbingers of his doom.
There is a lot of hullabaloo about corruption but even a journalist like Ansar Abbasi or Kamran Khan cannot point out one corruption scandal that involves presidency. Credit must also be given to his nerves for listening to such callous criticism against him and remaining neutral and dignified.
Other than that, his sharp focus on foreign policy has set Pakistan’s position right on the international front. Our relations with UK and US are excellent, so are our ties with China. We have achieved much access into EU and its markets. We are back in the Commonwealth and playing a positive role. We have no disputes with the Muslim world. Gwadar port agreement and Pak-Iran gas pipeline projects will go down in the history as a turning point for our economy and regional stability. Let us also not forget the immense pressure from the US government to halt this deal. Zardari’s most laudable achievement is a gradual shift in the relationship between India and Pakistan and a policy shift in the strategic depth doctrine in Afghanistan.
Although, the above-mentioned and several other steps are not popular among masses and media, the fact remains that Zardari has proven himself to be a successful and visionary statesman. But then again, as Gustave Flaubert once said, “There’s no truth in the world. There is only perception”.
The author is a senior producer in a news channel and can be reached on twitter @zeekhan_
Every country where the US has intervened has been worse off because of it
It is surprising how US intelligence agencies’ inability to differentiate between Taliban and al Qaeda – despite 12 long years of war in Afghanistan – is confounding the road to disengagement in late 2014. It has also complicated shutting down Guantanamo Bay, something President Barack Obama promised on his first campaign trail. And much worse, it has led to near-complete breakdown in communication with the most important partner in the war – Pakistan. Hence the recent scramble towards a workable solution in Brussels.
Yet Brussels was predictably, perhaps deliberately, vague. Kerry thought, after “extensive talks”, that “results are what will tell the story, not statements and press conferences”. And Karzai’s “let’s hope forward for the best” was pretty much the same as our foreign secretary Jilani’s “We are looking forward to a very productive and forward-looking session”. If the past provides any insight into the present, Karzai and Pakistan’s foreign office exchanged accusations, Kerry sat wide-eyed, and Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani chain-smoked. The result? More power to the Taliban.
After ISAF lost steam on the field some years ago – British forces in Helmand even bribed local Taliban to the tune of some millions to point their guns the other way – the new approach has been reconciliation with certain pockets of Taliban. But which former Taliban chieftains to take on board and what to offer them, has only increased differences within the coalition. First the Americans and Afghans pressured Pakistan into releasing high profile detainees, then the Americans flew a few to Qatar, and then Karzai got upset over being kept in the dark about the Doha initiative, and then the process unraveled. All the while, Washington refused to entertain Kabul’s requests regarding Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo, even after the CIA cleared them of serious charges.
The lumping together of Taliban and al Qaeda is a throwback to the days when George Tenet headed the CIA, from a little before till a little after 9/11. And while the Americans could be forgiven for confusing the two groups back then, adhering to the same thesis shows they expect the on ground narrative to fit their understanding of things, instead of the other way around. This inflexibility has also led to sharp differences with Pakistan, and harmed Islamabad’s counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy, which has focused on pitting militant groups against each other.
The Afghan Taliban, though subscribers to the same Wahabi extremism as al Qaeda, do not share the latter’s expansionism. Their “war with the West” is limited to Afghanistan, and will last only so long as foreigners occupy their country. The Americans still do not understand their widening cleavage with al Qaeda, especially since the ‘foreigners’ expanded the theatre of war into Pakistan and bankrolled the TTP. Mulla Omar forbade the Taliban from engaging with the Pakistani military. And the TTP, despite public allegiance to him, favour al Qaeda’s tactics.
The Pakistani intelligence realises that a post US withdrawal clash between the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda is imminent, which is why it has exploited differences in the two groups, and their proxies, to contain al Qaeda advances in the tribal area. And the Americans, showing little appetite to such developments, have targeted both camps with drone strikes. Some of their initiatives, like focusing exclusively on ‘good Taliban’ pockets bolstered by Pakistan, indicate the CIA might even be deliberately sabotaging the ISI efforts of five or more years. The only outcome can be stoking the insurgency on the Pakistani side till at least the American drawdown.
More recently, the NYT’s report, and Karzai’s admission, of the CIA bringing “millions of dollars”, sometimes in plastic bags, to the Afghan presidential palace, only confirms doubts that the Americans have been without a workable strategy ever since they realised the limits of the military offensive. And since much of the money has gone to tribal chiefs as well as Taliban commanders – as per Kabul’s own admission – the disconnect between Washington’s stated goals and the ground reality has become more apparent.
This failure to really understand the war-on-terror enemy also led the Americans into far worse adventures in the Middle East as it tried to take control of the so called Arab Spring. Libya descended into Salafist chaos as soon as NATO strikes dislodged Gaddaffi, and Washington’s Gulf darlings spared little time in funneling jihadi armies into Syria as world focus shifted to Damascus. Again sticking to the old paradigm – that the old anti-Israel Iran-Syria axis is the biggest enemy – led the Americans to ignore the jihadi threat, and it turned a blind eye to Saudi/Qatari initiative of using religious extremists to unseat the Alawite Baathist regime and weaken their Shi’a nemesis Iran.
The GCC and US/Israeli interests may have been aligned initially, but if the al Qaeda aligned al Nusra front is able to dislodge the Assad regime, Israel and America will have the most to lose, placing them in the same camp as Iran. In one of modern geo-politics’ greatest ironies, the Israelis and their American friends will realise, as soon as petrodollar funded Salafi rockets start landing in Tel Aviv and Tehran, that they have more in common with the biggest regional enemy since the fall of the Shah’s peacock throne than oil monarchies they have held so dear all these years.
In all the wars and ‘interventions’ since 9/11, the Americans and their allies have left every country they have targeted worse off than before, be it Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. And little will change if they decide to indulge militarily in Syria. And in all these adventures, they have failed to realise that the biggest threat has come from al Qaeda fanatics, and those fanatics have had their bread and butter, and their arms, come from the Saudi establishment and its friends. Yet Washington continues to cajole Riyadh and its allies. It seems America does not understand who its real enemies are.
The writer is Middle East Correspondent, Pakistan Today, and can be reached at [email protected]
Election Diary - 5: Dissecting the high-sounding, catch-all party programmes
Election campaign and the disposition of political parties can be judged at two levels: the election manifesto and the statements of the top party leaders, and the issues and questions that get highlighted in the constituency-based electioneering. It is important to examine how do candidates project them to the voters and what kind of demands the voters make on them. The issues at the two levels, the leadership and the constituency, are not necessarily identical which often cause problems for the parties in the post-election period, especially for the party that assumes power.
The party manifestos are high-sounding, catch-all documents that attempt to sell the dreams of a better future. The impression that the manifestos create is that the political parties have workable solutions of the problems of the state and society.
The manifestos are important because they reflect the top leadership’s perspectives on national and global issues and their preferred political, economic and administrative direction for the political system. The manifestos for the May 2013 elections are strong on promises and visions of the future but weak on giving the plans of action to realize the goals. There is a noticeable absence of understanding of the ground realities of Pakistani politics, economy and society. There is no recognition of the declining capacity of the Pakistani state to perform its basic function. Its effectiveness and implementation capability has declined.
Therefore, the notion of increase the tax-to-GDP ratio from 9 to 15 percent, as claimed by the PMLN, appears unrealistic in view of the undocumented nature of Pakistani economy, increased political power of the business and trader community, especially their capacity to shut down markets and block main roads in the urban centres. Further, the PML-N depends heavily in the political domain in the Punjab on the business and trading community it says it wants to tax.
There is hardly any clear-cut ideological divide among the political parties when one examines the socio-economic agendas of major political parties. In fact, ideology is missing from the electoral context. Islamic political parties, especially the JUI-F, are focusing on worldly socio-economic agendas similar to other parties. However, Islamic parties often raise the issue of implementation of the Sharia and making Pakistan into a genuine Islamic state without giving the details of institutions and processes they want to establish in order to realize their version of Islamic state. Some of them raise the slogan of ‘Islam is in danger’ and that they would not allow secular system in Pakistan.
Ideology surfaces in the election campaign when we look at the violence employed by the Pakistani Taliban and their affiliates in the course of the election campaign. The Taliban are targeting liberal-left and democratic parties, i.e. the PPP, the ANP and the MQM. Their election meetings, party offices and leaders are being targeted by bombings and suicide attacks. Islamic parties and others on the right like the PML-N and the PTI that are known for sympathetic attitude towards the Taliban are relatively free to engage in electioneering, although these parties adopt security measures for their election meetings.
On shortages of electricity, the PML-N leader, Shahbaz Sharif, promises to overcome this problem in two years and the PTI would need three years to address this problem altogether. The PPP blames the PML-N for sabotaging its efforts for power generation in the past. However, no party provides the plan of action for generating more power or saving wastage and line losses. Above all, how would they mobilize resources? How would the PTI and the PML-N get Western, especially the US, assistance when they want to completely revise the current U.S-Pakistan relations? The PTI wants to end ‘American slavery’ and withdraw from ‘American-sponsored’ war on terrorism.
With the exception of the PPP, the MQM and the ANP, the political parties have a vague stance on terrorism in Pakistan. All parties condemn terrorism but none other than the above named three parties are willing to criticize any group involved in terrorism even when a group takes the responsibility of the terrorist attack. The Jamaat-i-Islami and Islamic parties subscribing to Wahabbi/Deobandi and Ahle-Hadith (Hadees) Islamic traditions either support or strongly sympathize with the Taliban. The groups and parties associated with the Barelvi and Shia Islamic traditions are publicly critical of the Taliban and sectarian groups.
The PTI treats terrorism as an internal security issue and wants to abolish militant wings of political parties but its silence over the militant Islamic groups using violence is rather surprising. In fact, the PTI’s perspective on war on terrorism and security operations in the tribal areas overlaps with the Pakistani Taliban point-of-view.
The PML-N maintains ambiguity on the violent activities of the Taliban and other militant groups, although it condemns terrorism in principle. Both, the PMLN and the PTI are talking of changes in government policies on terrorism and the long term socio-economic development of the tribal areas. These parties are not addressing the immediate threat of terrorism by the Taliban and other militant-sectarian groups. Given the strong presence of conservative and hard line Islamic groups and sectarian organizations in the Punjab, the PMLN and the PTI are courting them for votes.
The PMLN has offered a detailed set of guidelines for salvaging Pakistani economy. It also talks of revamping and privatization of the state enterprises that are suffering perpetual losses. How practical is the suggestion of privatization when the labour unions oppose it? The PML-N will not get any support from the PPP or the PTI for this purpose. All political parties do not talk of land reforms with fixed maximum land ceiling.
The manifestos of the major political parties want to pursue friendly interaction with the international community, especially the neighboring countries. There is no manifestation of hostility towards India. In the public meetings and statements of the political leaders there is hardly any reference to India and Kashmir. Even Islamic parties are not talking about Kashmir, although they may refer to Kashmir and water issue in formal statements. India and Kashmir do not appear to be on the political radar of the political parties. The attempts to play up anti-American sentiments by the PTI and Islamic parties have not got much response. The focus is on domestic issues.
When we compare the leadership discourse and manifestos with election campaigning in constituencies these appear to be two worlds far apart. No high policy matter is being taken up there. Only local, constituency related issues are discussed. We will discuss this aspect of election campaign in some later article.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.