Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Karzai’s bizarre response A report in the New York Times says President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan received wads of cash over the past decade from the CIA, ostensibly to buy influence amongst the troubled country’s warlords. President Karzai in his response has tried to put a positive gloss on this underhand largesse by arguing that the money was used for ‘good causes’ such as operation objectives (whatever that means), helping wounded and sick people and house rents (!) and ‘other objectives’. This bizarre explanation would be laughable if it were not so tragic as a reflection of what the Americans and their local Afghan allies have wrought in that unfortunate country. Allegations of corruption against the Karzai government have dogged its footsteps throughout the last 12 years of occupation. But now comes the revelation that some (if not most) of that corruption was fuelled by the US’s own actions in trundling wads of cash to Karzai without any accounting of how that money was spent or where. This will only increase suspicions that this ‘under the counter’ cash mostly was swallowed up by Karzai and his cronies. One US official has been quoted in this context as saying that the biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the US itself. Admittedly, the nation building enterprise that Bush touted in Afghanistan and Iraq was inherently difficult for an occupying force, if not impossible. Nevertheless, instead of ‘building’ (infrastructure, industry, jobs), if the US was only interested in doling out cash in the hope of buying the loyalties of Karzai and the Afghan warlords, this was not only a pathetic idea, it clearly has not worked either. Afghanistan after 12 years under US/NATO occupation lies prostrate as an economy and a society. Then we hear unrealistic statements from US officials about what they are leaving behind after all the effort in money, lives, etc, expended in and on Afghanistan. If an authentic voice is to be heard, it is that of the outgoing French ambassador to Afghanistan: “We should be lucid: a country that depends almost entirely on the international community for the salaries of its soldiers and policemen, for most of its investments and partly on it for its current civil expenditure cannot really be independent.” What the corruption wrought by the US and the rake-off by its local satraps has done is to leave Afghanistan without the wherewithal to stand on its own feet once the US/NATO forces withdraw. Waiting in the wings are the Taliban, conceptually ready to take over once the almost inevitable collapse of the comprador regime in Kabul sets in without the level of external crutches on which it has been hobbling along. When the final word is written about Bush’s misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, no doubt history will record imperial hubris, catastrophic mismanagement of these occupied countries, and a legacy that should act as a salutary corrective to great power arrogance.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Elections scenario The coming elections present a scenario familiar in some respects but unrecognisable in others. The string of blasts in Quetta, Karachi, Peshawar and DI Khan bear the imprimatur of the Taliban that have vowed to disrupt, if not stop, these elections. One can therefore only sympathise with and admire the courage of those who have put life and limb on the line to carry through the democratic process. Three parties in particular, the PPP, the MQM and ANP, have been singled out by the terrorists as targets because of their secular leanings. The rest may be cocooned in silence, but post-elections they may not be able to remain as sanguine that they are safe, since the Taliban have made no secret of their antipathy for democracy. The winners in particular may well prove to be at risk across the board in the future. Given the rash of violence, voices are being heard asking for the postponement of the elections. These have been categorically countered by President Zardari and Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebraheem with the vow that the polls will not be delayed even one day. Overseas Pakistanis will not be able to vote in this election given the inability of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the caretaker government to put the arrangements for their voting in place in time. However, given the Supreme Court’s interest (and ire at the prolonged delay of two years in the matter before it), there is every likelihood that this will come to pass long before the next elections. The final tally of candidates for 1,170 seats for the National and four provincial Assemblies makes impressive reading, despite the controversial process of scrutiny of nomination papers that brought the strange behaviour and approach of the returning officers into the limelight. According to the ECP, for the National Assembly’s (NA’s) 272 general seats, 4,671 candidates are in the field. For the 60 reserved seats for women in the NA, 258 candidates are in the running. For the reserved seats for minorities in the NA, 71 candidates are vying for 10 seats. For the 577 general seats in the four provincial Assemblies, 10,958 candidates are in the running, with 559 for 128 women’s reserved seats and 175 for 23 reserved seats for minorities. In any electoral contest, let alone one in a country beset with myriads of problems compounded by violence, this would be an impressive tally, testifying to the strength of commitment of the political class to the democratic process. However, despite the impressive numbers of candidates and the by now universally acknowledged critical importance of this democratic transition for the first time in the country’s history, there is a dark side too. First and foremost, it has to be admitted that barring a few new faces, the same cast of characters is likely to return to the Assemblies. As a class, the politicians have not exactly come out smelling of roses over the last five years. The former incumbents in particular are facing the chickens coming home to roost of five years of largely ineffectual government whose bad odour is made worse by allegations and charges (unproved so far in any court of law, it must be pointed out) of unbridled corruption and mismanagement. The PPP and its ally ANP stand squarely in the dock on this count, with the president being forced to approach the ECP regarding the campaign of ‘vilification’ being carried out against the person of the president, particularly by the PPP’s main rival, the PML-N. The president feels constrained to reply to these allegations after the Lahore High Court case in which he pledged to distance himself from partisan politics, but the fact that until recently he was the Co-Chairperson of the PPP has left him open to being dragged into the electoral fray without the right of public reply. The received wisdom at the moment amongst analysts is that the PML-N is on the rise, the PPP weighed down by the incumbency factor as much as internal problems of leadership and the threat from the terrorists, the PTI, despite its vigorous campaigning, albeit a credible challenger by now, still has a mountain to climb before it can displace the two main parties. The MQM and ANP, despite relatively stable constituencies in their areas of influence, are directly in the line of fire of the terrorists and having to tailor their campaigns accordingly. Whichever way the chips fall on May 11, the sceptics hold to the pessimistic view that the problems confronting the masses, whether unemployment, inflation, energy or sundry others are unlikely to yield to betterment no matter who wins. This mood of pessimism amongst the masses may dampen enthusiasm for the polls and affect turnout, but the historic juncture this election represents nevertheless is undeniable.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Recognition of necessity The federal caretaker government, through Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Irfan Qadir, has thrown up its hands before the Supreme Court (SC), expressing its inability to put General (retd) Pervez Musharraf on trial on treason charges under Article 6. The AGP in his five-page submission before the three-member bench hearing five petitions to initiate a treason trial against Musharraf clearly spelt out the caretaker government’s position that such a trial was beyond its mandate. The government was fully extended in its duty to provide security for some 20,000 candidates all over the country, coordinating for this purpose with the police, security forces and the Election Commission of Pakistan. Besides, citing various precedents from international law, the AGP argued that the mandate of the caretaker government was confined to conducting the day-to-day business of the government in preparation for handing over the reins of power to the next elected government after the May 11 elections. The government was reluctant to initiate any action or take any step that would bind the hands of the incoming elected government or confront it with an irreversible situation. In similar vein, the AGP went on, the caretaker government was not entering into any agreements wit the IMF or other international financial institutions, as this too would be considered ultra vires of its mandate. It may be recalled that Moeen Qureshi, that imported caretaker prime minister, during his short stint had committed the country to a programme with the IMF that the incoming elected government then had to live with, arguably to its detriment. The court was less than pleased with the response of the caretaker government and Justice Jawwad S Khwaja remarked that it appeared the government had neither taken, nor intended to take any steps towards initiating a treason trial against Musharraf. Justice Khilji Arif Hussain remarked that it appeared that despite the court’s orders, the Ministry of Interior too has neither acted nor plans to take action against the former dictator. This was confirmed by the statement in court by the Joint Secretary of the Ministry that no file, notes, or any other material was available on record to show that any action had been undertaken to lodge a complaint under Article 6 and the High Treason (Punishment) Act 1973 or a special court created for the purpose under the Criminal Law (Amended) Special Courts Act 1976. In the last hearing on April 17, Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Acting Secretary Sohail Qadeer Siddiqui had informed the court that the Law Ministry did not have any document indicating the initiation of any process against Musharraf for subverting the constitution. He also pointed out that according to a law notification of December 29, 1994, the Interior Ministry was responsible for taking such action. In the meantime the court was approached by Musharraf’s legal team to be allowed to see their client, a right denied for the last 3-4 days. The bench directed the relevant authorities to allow such a meeting. Another dramatic development ensued when Musharraf’s lawyers told the SC that Musharraf’s mother was critically ill in Dubai and he wished to travel to be by her side. Since his name is on the exit control list, only the court could provide relief in this regard. The court in response asked for a written request to this effect and it would then consider it. The courtroom drama aside, ex-generals have weighed in with their concern if not outrage at the humiliating treatment being meted out to a former COAS, especially at the hands of lawyers opposed to Musharraf. They said the military was watching the situation closely and appealed to COAS General Kiyani to intervene and save Musharraf from further humiliation, otherwise Musharraf’s supporters would themselves rescue him from the unwanted attentions of the militant lawyers. The recognition of necessity by the caretaker government that it neither has the mandate, time or capability to touch the hot potato of a treason trial against Musharraf is worthy of some sympathy. The ex-servicemen’s take on the situation is much more ominous, albeit not unexpected. The historic first of an ex-COAS and president being dragged through the courts offends the traditional dominance of the military in Pakistan’s public life. The developments inside and outside the court also point to a simple fact: fulminations against Musharraf and the desire to see him brought to justice aside, the requisite courage and will to prosecute a dictator to the full extent of the law is still a distant dream in Pakistan.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Musharraf’s continuing saga Musharraf’s saga since returning to the country shows no signs of coming to an end. New twists and turns emerge every day. Having spent a night as a 'guest’ at the police headquarters in Islamabad, the Anti-Terrorist Court (ATC) that had refused an extension of his pre-arrest bail and ordered him arrested, acceded to the request of the police that Musharraf being a high profile person, an ex-army chief and president, and threats against his life emanating from many quarters, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban terrorists, Laal Masjid aggrieved, Bugtis, etc, Adiala Jail Rawalpindi, where he would normally have been sent, was full of terrorists who could pose a serious security threat to Musharraf’s life. The Jail authorities too were reluctant to take the responsibility for Musharraf's safety inside Adiala Jail. The arguments having weight, the ATC accepted the police’s request to declare Musharraf’s farmhouse in Chak Shahzad a sub-jail and house him there under strict security for 14 days until his next appearance before the ATC. The charge in the ATC against Musharraf stems from an FIR instituted against the former COAS and president in 2009 for removing and confining 60 judges of the superior judiciary in their official residences after the promulgation of an emergency on November 3, 2007. In addition to this case, Musharraf faces charges in the murder cases of Benazir Bhutto and Nawab Akbar Bugti as well as the Laal Masjid affair. While a three-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) has been set up to hear the five petitions for charging Musharraf with treason on the same charge of the treatment of the superior judiciary and will hear the case today, the Laal Masjid report presented in the SC in March has been made public. It does contain some strange recommendations. While giving the army authorities a clean bill of health, it pins the blame for the operation on Musharraf, then prime minister Shaukat Aziz and Musharraf’s political allies at the time (which arguably would include the PML-Q and the MQM). Can it be envisaged that when Musharraf was be-all and end-all, being simultaneously COAS and president, that the military authorities had no say or role in the handling of the Laal Masjid operation? While the report singles out the authorities at the time for blame, it ignores the role of the militants holed up inside the Masjid. One may recall their vigilante actions to ‘cleanse’ society of perceived ‘sin’, defiant armed resistance to the writ of the state from within the Masjid, and their myriad provocations, including killing a security forces officer, the immediate cause of the triggering of the operation. The report goes on to recommend that Jamia Hafsa be allotted the plot on which it stands and be rebuilt, without going into the issue of the illegal occupation of the Jamia Hafza militants of the adjacent Children’s Library. It then indulges in homilies about mainstreaming madrassa curricula and allotting plots for madrassas in every housing scheme! Perhaps the background of the retired judge who is the author of the report in the Federal Shariat Court has coloured its conclusions. Meanwhile in the farmhouse in Chak Shahzad, visitors are not allowed, even family members have to seek permission, and his lawyers and All Pakistan Muslim League party leaders were not allowed to see him on Sunday. Adiala Jail staff is deployed at the sub-jail and responsible for Musharraf’s kitchen out of concern at the risk of attempts to poison him. The charge of terrorism under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act has been added to the FIR against Musharraf on the orders of the ATC. It would appear therefore that the jaws of the self-inflicted trap are closing around Musharraf. However, all the calls for a trial on treason charges emanating from different directions seem to be ignoring the elephant in the room. While the proclamation of an emergency is an embarrassment for incumbent COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and others in the military top brass, the judges of the SC hearing the treason petitions could be seen as a party in the case and therefore not in a comfortable position to hear the case. On the other hand, no one seems to be mentioning the coup of 1999 that overthrew a democratically elected government. Perhaps because that would be even more embarrassing for the judiciary that gave that coup its endorsement and even allowed Musharraf to assume the mantle of Chief Executive for three years with powers to amend the constitution. Once you open the door a crack to the ghosts of the past, it is difficult if not impossible to keep some inconvenient ones out.
Akhtar Mengal walks a tightrope Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal, chief of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), is embarked on a highly risky game by returning to Pakistan after four years self-exile to lead his party in the elections. The process of his return began with his appearance before the Supreme Court (SC) last year, where he reiterated the litany of complaints the Baloch have against the state, including the phenomenon of abductions, torture and dumping of the dead bodies of Baloch nationalists all over Balochistan (and now Karachi). Akhtar Mengal and his party boycotted the 2008 elections in protest at the troubled conditions in Balochistan. The killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006, continuing military operations, the kill and dump campaign of the hated Frontier Corps and lately their mercenary death squads recruited from local tribes, all these had persuaded Akhtar Mengal that for safety he should repair abroad. The threat was not idle imagination. His party’s secretary general, Habib Jalib Baloch was gunned down on a Quetta road in broad daylight. Other activists of the party too have suffered the unwanted attentions of the security forces. Informed observers of the situation in Balochistan are convinced that the return last year by Akhtar Mengal to appear in the SC was not happenstance. Clearly, such a move would require some preliminary contacts with the establishment and their explicit or tacit nod for Mengal to return. The appearance in the SC proved the first gambit in what by now appears a calculated strategy to get back into mainstream politics through the upcoming elections. In the process, Akhtar Mengal has brought upon himself and his party the anger and threats of the Baloch nationalist insurgents. They have unequivocally stated that they will treat as an enemy anyone who participates in these polls, which they argue are intended to continue the grip of the state authorities over the province and a continuation of the repressive policies that have been in evidence since the early 2000s. One indication of the seriousness of the insurgent threat is the recent attack on Sanaullah Zehri that killed his son and others. The danger of course is that the already fragmented Baloch nationalist movement, divided along the lines of tribe, ideology and aims, may, if further such attacks are mounted against the moderate nationalist parties (including the BNP-M) participating in the elections, runs the risk of sinking into inter-tribal feuds. One indication of the tightrope walk Akhtar Mengal is currently precariously engaged in is the manner in which he has been trying to hedge his bets. On the one hand, he has been pressurising the authorities to improve the ground situation in the province by means of a cessation of the repression and release of the ‘missing’ persons, arguing that fair, free and transparent elections are impossible without the improvement in the political climate expected after such changes. This has the added advantage of reasserting his nationalist credentials. On the other hand, Mengal has defiantly brushed aside the insurgents’ threats by asserting that he and his party will not be cowed by any threats. It remains to be seen whether Akhtar Mengal is able to pull off what would be no less than a Houdini-like escape act by leading his party into the elections while avoiding or staving off any attacks by the insurgents. No one should need reminding of the fraught consequences if Akhtar Mengal and the BNP-M suffer any setback at the insurgents’ hands.
Friday, April 19, 2013
The General in his labyrinth Latest reports in the drama surrounding General (retd) Pervez Musharraf speak of his being transported to police headquarters in Islamabad from his farmhouse in Chak Shahzad, where he had fled after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) refused to extend his pre-arrest bail on Thursday in the case of illegal detention in their residences of 60 judges of the superior judiciary after promulgation of the PCO of November 3, 2007 (the Emergency). After the refusal, the IHC ordered the arrest of Musharraf and asked the police to add the charge of terrorism in the FIR against Musharraf. However, police present in the court made no move to comply with the court’s orders. Musharraf’s security detail whipped him out of the court and transported him to his farmhouse in Chak Shahzad. The IG Police Islamabad was summoned for Friday by the IHC to explain why his officers were negligent in carrying out the arrest orders of the court and what, if any, action he had taken against them for dereliction of duty. Musharraf’s legal team attempted to file a pre-arrest bail petition in the Supreme Court (SC) but were unable to do so for lack of time. The hearing was expected on Friday. The incident left egg on the caretaker government’s face, despite the iteration by Federal Information Minister Arif Nizami that the court’s orders would be carried out, come what may. Although the latest development of Musharraf being taken to police headquarters promises the caretaker government has finally decided to put its money where its mouth is, the episode poses a challenge for the caretakers. Meanwhile the Chak Shahzad farmhouse may not remain available to Musharraf as a retreat and safe haven for long if the SC’s orders are complied with within three weeks by the Capital Development Authority (CDA). The SC has ordered that all the palatial homes built by the rich and powerful on farmland originally leased to persons displaced from Islamabad for purposes of agricultural cultivation be demolished since they violate the rules and regulations. Musharraf has clearly fallen on hard times. His arrival in Karachi did not evoke the teeming thousands of supporters he had dreamed of. His pre-arrest bail in some cases against him stands, while the bail in the judiciary detention case now hangs in the balance in the SC. He has been knocked out of the elections. To add to his woes, a petition has been moved in the Anti-Terrorist Court Quetta by Jamil Bugti to summon Musharraf in the Nawab Akbar Bugti killing case. In the Senate, members were apoplectic at the security and protocol being given by the caretaker government to Musharraf, complaining that at the same time security was being withdrawn from politicians arguably at risk because of Musharraf’s legacy, and the caretaker government was dragging its feet on charging Musharraf with treason under Article 6. The incensed Senators wanted to end the duality of law for civilians and those in uniform, as the treatment of Musharraf seemed to reflect, and for him to be administered ‘exemplary’ punishment. Musharraf’s ill-advised (from his own interests’ point of view) return to Pakistan has put the cat among the pigeons. The military is doubly embarrassed. It had reportedly advised Musharraf not to return, the latest such missive being dispatched just one month before the commando decided to conduct his latest ‘raid’. The military’s fears were for his security as well as the prospect of an ex-COAS being dragged over the coals in the courts. Although he has been provided what appears to be sufficient security by the government and his own guards to prevent any untoward development in the former apprehension, the latter one is being witnessed ever since he arrived. The military embarrassment can only be imagined in being caught in the bind of protecting their ex-COAS while being helpless to prevent the course of the law (in civilian hands). The fears of a military-civilian clash, in which if history is any guide, the latter may come out the poorer, may well be exaggerated. Times have changed. The very fact that an ex-COAS is being arrested is in itself a historic first and its significance given Pakistan’s history of military interventions and dominance cannot be understated. Whatever else democracy may or may not have delivered, it has made possible the grinding of the wheels of justice, which, as we know, grind slowly but extremely fine.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Earthquake and after The 7.8 magnitude (on the Richter scale) earthquake that struck southeastern Iran and southwestern Pakistani Balochistan on Monday has left devastation in its wake. It was the most powerful earthquake to strike the region in five decades. On our side of the Iranian border, the town of Mashkail in Pakistani Balochistan was the worst hit. The remoteness of the region, scattered communities, lack of paved roads and electricity, limited mobile phone coverage and no proper medical facilities means difficulties in estimating the human and property loss. So far, reports say 5,000 people have been affected in the area, 2,000 homes and 150 shops destroyed, at least one person killed in Iran and 40 in Pakistan. The National Disaster Management Authority says 105 injured people have been treated. A military rescue effort has been mounted, with 16 badly injured people transported by helicopter to Quetta for treatment, while another eight others, including four young children from one family, are still awaiting evacuation by helicopter after an attempt on Wednesday was aborted by a dust storm. They were expected to be evacuated on Thursday. These are the lucky ones. Fifteen to twenty injured reportedly had to endure a 45-minute, bone-shaking journey to the Iranian border to reach a hospital. Meanwhile in devastated Mashkail, while some survivors prayed for the dead, others dug through rubble with spades and even knives to try and receiver their meagre belongings. According to Frontier Corps commander Major-General Obaidullah Khattak, nine doctors were on the scene, which portrayed a picture of just three tents in the town, with people scared to return to their homes for fear of aftershocks, a 5.7 magnitude tremor having set nerves on edge again on Wednesday. At least five government buildings housing administrative and revenue offices were reported damaged, along with a school and a hospital. The US has offered aid, including an offer to its favourite enemy Iran. The UN Secretary General too has said they are ready to offer assistance, but this has yet to be concretised. The tragedy is of course a tragedy wrought by the awesome forces of nature, about which man can do little. However, the destruction and loss of life aside, the conditions revealed in this corner of Balochistan have exposed the heart-rending poverty and deprivation in most of Balochistan. Tall claims about ‘development’ and bringing the province at par with the rest of the country sound even hollower now. The irreducible fact is that Balochistan’s treatment at the hands of the state as an ‘internal colony’ since independence has rendered the province and its people destitute, without rights, and terribly oppressed. It is this treatment, which has consistently continued through civilian and military regimes in our history that has finally, and perhaps inevitably, stoked separatist sentiment to such an extent that a whole generation of frustrated and angry young men are today perched on top of their mountains, fighting a guerrilla war for independence. If only wiser counsel had prevailed earlier, and even now, the addressing of the genuine grievances of the Baloch dating back to 1948, redressal of the worst atrocities and repression, embrace of the Baloch as equal citizens of Pakistan had been in evidence, things may not have come to such a pass. Years ago, in 1970, after the elections in that year, a typhoon struck what was then East Pakistan. The ineffective, if not absent rescue and relief effort arguably hardened opinion in East Pakistan against the Central authorities and the perennial bogeyman Punjab, and underlay the final break with Pakistan to emerge as today’s Bangladesh. Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. If the rescue and rehabilitation effort in Balochistan post-earthquake falters or is seen as inadequate, the only forces to gain traction from such a development will be the separatist insurgents. Even the moderate nationalists by now wedded (seemingly irrevocably) to participating in the looming elections will be embarrassed and shamefaced in such a situation. It is in the interests of the state and the fragile unity of the country for the authorities not to conduct the rescue and rehabilitation effort in their business-as-usual style, but to make all-out efforts to bring relief and succour to the poor, wretched and devastated victims of the earthquake.
Monday, April 15, 2013
ECP’s new code of conduct The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has re-elucidated in some detail its code of conduct for the elections so as not to leave any doubts about its will to ensure peaceful, free and fair elections. Interestingly, the reiteration of the part of the code of conduct that has aroused the most interest is when the ECP lays down in clear terms that no one will be allowed to seek votes in the name of religion or sect. Of this more later, but there are other aspects of the code that underline the determination of the ECP to fulfil its task to the hilt. To take a few examples. Forced eviction of voters from polling stations, providing transport to bring voters to cast their ballots have been declared crimes. No voter can take a ballot paper out of a polling station. No political activity or polling camps will be allowed within 400 yards of any polling station. No campaign will be allowed against any person or party on the basis of religion, ethnicity, caste or gender. No speeches will be allowed arousing parochial or sectarian emotions or provoking a controversy between genders, communities or linguistic groups. Candidates are expected to uphold the people’s rights and freedoms guaranteed in the constitution. No bribing of voters, intimidation or impersonation, holding of public meetings 48 hours before the polling will be tolerated. Participants are expected to refrain from the deliberate dissemination of false and malicious information, not indulge in forgery or disinformation to defame rivals. The carrying or display of weapons in public meetings, processions, or on election day is strictly banned. Any aerial firing, crackers, explosives at public meetings, at or near polling stations is strictly banned. What this menu amounts to is the desire or ambition of the ECP to conduct what may later, if all the ECP’s wishes come to pass, be seen as one of the most sanitized elections in Pakistan’s history. Whether the code of conduct outlined by the ECP will prove acceptable in practice, and especially closer to polling day, remains to be seen. Traditionally, elections in Pakistan are rather more raucous affairs than the vision or picture the ECP has drawn. Given the plethora of weapons the country is virtually drowning in, the ban on carrying, displaying, using them is a big challenge to the law enforcing agencies as well as the ECP itself. We can only wish it luck in this perfectly desirable but perhaps utopian venture. Control in the cities may be tighter, but the vast rural areas may not be possible to police throughout the country on the day. Those areas are notorious for the grip of large landowners with the power of life and death over millions of peasants. ‘Civilised’ behaviour cannot be guaranteed if the large landowners feel their political position or expected victory threatened by ‘upstart’ commoners. This could pose a violent challenge to the ECP’s desires. Nevertheless, difficulties notwithstanding, the ECP must be lauded for setting out the ground rules for what promises to be Pakistan’s most historic election ever. To return to the issue of attempting to garner votes through religion and/or sectarian or other discriminatory means, let it be said at the outset that all the ECP has laid down is according to our constitution. That paramount law does not permit any discrimination on the basis of religion, sect, gender, caste or any other basis. All citizens are equal, with equal rights in the eyes of the supreme law. It is another matter that in real life, that ideal is increasingly practiced more in the breach. The EP has rightly blocked all such attempts to prevent any chance of an outbreak of conflict along these divisive lines. The candidates and parties have every right to canvass votes on the basis of their programme, track record and character, but not at the expense of any, and particularly vulnerable, section of the people. Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s objection to the ECP’s ‘secularism’ in not letting parties like the JUI-F exploit the emotional attachment of the people with Islam does not hold water in the light of the constitutional provisions. All parties, including the religious ones, must rise above narrow partisan considerations in the interests of a smooth, civilised, hopefully violence-free election.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Taliban offensive? Three events on Saturday have given rise to fears that the Taliban may be beginning an offensive, either connected to the severe fighting in the Tirah valley of Khyber Agency, and/or to disrupt the upcoming elections to the maximum. First, a bus was bombed at Mattani near Peshawar on the Peshawar-Kohat Road, resulting in nine dead and about the same number injured. The bus was shattered, police speculating whether it was a suicide bomber on board the bus or a magnetic bomb attached to the vehicle. The dead and injured included women and children, once again demonstrating the monstrous indifference of the terrorists to innocents caught up in their dastardly actions. No claim of responsibility has yet emerged, but the possibility of the bus attack being in reaction to the pressure the terrorists are feeling from the concentrated offensive of the military in Tirah valley remains a viable explanation. On the other hand, the fact that the election office of an independent candidate was bombed in Miransah, the main town in North Waziristan, conveys the message that the Taliban may be concentrating in the month left to the elections on maximum disruption through sowing fear amongst participants and voters. This suspicion is strengthened by the fact that the candidate in question, Kamran Khan, is a former legislator from North Waziristan who sided with the previous government led by the PPP. Again, no claim of responsibility has surfaced so far. The icing on this terrorist cake is the destruction of another boys’ primary school in Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency and setting on fire of the houses of two members of the anti-terrorist peace militia. Educational institutions are already closed in Bara because of a curfew connected to the fighting in the Khyber Agency. The terrorists have destroyed 70 schools and educational institutions in Khyber Agency in the last three years. Whether the apprehension that the Taliban may be starting an anti-election offensive is correct or not, the security forces and the people cannot let their guard down, especially in the run up to the polls. Not that being vigilant during the next few weeks will make the problem of terrorism go away, but this is a crucial and sensitive few weeks. Of course the anti-terrorist struggle, protracted and difficult as it will be, lies ahead and transcends the limited window related to the elections. But no amount of effort will succeed against the terrorists (and risk many more lives of the security forces into the bargain) unless the critical elements required in such a struggle are put in place as soon as possible. First and foremost, without an overarching anti-terrorist body that encompasses civilian and military, federal and provincial authorities under one roof is created at the earliest, the anomalies and gaps in the security structure will always remain vulnerable to exploitation of its shortcomings by the terrorist enemy. This body must house a comprehensive and unified data base that enjoys input from all intelligence sources, whether civilian or military, federal or provincial, No turf territoriality can be allowed if this effort is to succeed against a wily and tenacious enemy hardened in guerrilla and asymmetrical warfare. Whether the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) brought into being in the dying throes of the last government serves this purpose is open to question, since it is not clear whether all the stakeholders are on board and accept the role intended for NACTA. Second, intelligence should first and foremost be geared to tracing out the structure, devolved and scattered as it is, of the terrorists with a view to infiltrating their ranks, garnering real time intelligence and using it to pre-empt terrorist acts rather than always be reacting to them. Turf wars delayed and may have rendered toothless the final product produced over five years in the shape of NACTA. Without getting bogged down in trying to create another agency, it would be in the fitness of things if all the stakeholders examine the efficacy of NACTA and its mode of operation without waiting for the next government to arrive. This is a task that transcends who is in power since the struggle promises to be long and bloody.
Saturday, April 13, 2013
Secrets, deception, and plain lies For the first time, a Pakistani former leader has admitted that Pakistan had some role to play in the US drone strikes programme in FATA. General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, in an interview with CNN, has acknowledged his government secretly signed off on drone strikes. Pakistani leaders, including the previous PPP-led government, have for long criticized the drone programme as ‘counterproductive’ and insisted they had no part in it. Musharraf’s admission lifts the lid off this ‘secret’ duality of public and private postures by successive governments, even if Pakistan could not by any stretch of the imagination have been considered to have control over the drone programme or targeting. In fact, at some point, the US decided it was too risky consulting its ostensible Pakistani ally since some targets appeared to have been forewarned, allegedly by Pakistani military intelligence, and escaped before the drones struck. Musharraf’s attempts to put the best face on his belated admission by stressing that targets were only approved on two or three occasions, and that too when they were isolated and there was little or no chance of collateral damage, appears to be a post-facto window dressing. The fact is that the drone programme may have, if Musharraf is to be believed, had initial Pakistani support given, as Musharraf himself says, the difficulties of terrain, a tenacious and dangerous enemy, and the serious problems of counterinsurgency in FATA, but later, public approbation may have compelled Musharraf and later leaders to protest the programme in public while acquiescing in it privately. Reports to this effect have regularly appeared in the media. Former US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson’s cable regarding a discussion on drones with former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and former interior minister Rehman Malik indicates in clear terms the duality Pakistani leaders had adopted as a matter of policy by 2008, if not earlier. Drone strikes in FATA have been a fact of life since 2004, a date not without significance, given that it was the year the Pakistani army ventured into FATA against the militants for the first time in Pakistan’s history. That campaign was inspired by the threat local, Afghan and foreign Taliban posed to Pakistan’s security (not to mention Afghanistan’s), backed by al Qaeda. Nek Mohammad was one of the local militant leaders accused of harbouring al Qaeda elements that had fled across the border when the US invaded and occupied Afghanistan in 2001. At the time of his death in June 2004, contradictory accounts circulated that he had been killed by a drone strike, whereas the Pakistani military claimed it had killed him by a missile strike of its own. Now Musharraf has confirmed that it was indeed a drone that eliminated Nek Mohammad. Duality of policy has been at the heart of the Pakistani policy vis-à-vis its purported alliance with the US before, during and after the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. The Bush administration’s threatening posture in the wake of 9/11 persuaded the Musharraf regime that there was no option but to sign on in the so-called war on terror. However, Musharraf opened the door to elements fleeing across the border in the face of overwhelming US force, elements that included Afghan and foreign Taliban and al Qaeda. FATA aside, the infamous Quetta Shura of Mulla Omar continued to tantalize as to its existence and location amidst Pakistani denials. In other words, Musharraf adopted the dual policy of ostensibly allying with Washington while turning a blind eye to al Qaeda elements in FATA, supporting a resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan from Pakistani soil, and only presented with exquisite timing the odd al Qaeda leader caught in the cities whenever it suited his purpose to obtain further largesse from Washington. This game continued for years, until it unravelled in the fray over the Raymond Davis affair, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, and the Salala check post attack by the US/NATO forces that killed Pakistani soldiers. The ability of Pakistan to extract concessions and aid from the US has been in precipitate decline since then, and promises to dwindle further after the US forces leave Afghanistan in 2014. Already, the Pakistan Counter-insurgency Capability Fund is being closed, according to the US State Department. Washington will no longer be over a barrel after 2014, and the first likely impact will be a reduction, if not petering out, of US aid for Pakistan except for some peripheral social sectors. Pakistani decision makers had better tighten their belts and prepare for not only dwindling US aid, they must also be prepared to face lack of cooperation from international financial institutions, in which Washington's influence and weight cannot be ignored.
Friday, April 12, 2013
A belated outreach Caretaker Prime Minister Justice (retd) Mir Hazar Khan Khoso has belatedly woken up to the need to reach out to the angry, disgruntled and alienated Baloch (who arguably comprise not just the insurgents but the overwhelming majority of the people of Balochistan). He has now appealed to people who answer to this description to cooperate with the government for the conduct of elections in a free and fair manner. He argues that the people of Balochistan are desirous of participating in these elections, therefore the disgruntled Baloch leaders should respect and submit to their will, irrespective of differences with the government. Strangely, during the ongoing briefings by the top officials of the Balochistan government, it was revealed that stringent security was in place despite the fact that one million names had been deleted from the list of voters in the province. Now this is a very serious and non-transparent development. One million voters in a sparsely populated province is nothing to be sneezed at. Provinces like Balochistan already arguably are under-enumerated because of the scattered population, tribal structures and forbidding geography. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) must explain how and why these one million names have been deleted, what the figure for the electorate has now been reduced to, and whether it is credible in relation to the total population and demographics of the province. Despite the claims of stringent security, the briefings also revealed that ECP staff are receiving life threats, sensitive areas have been defined, and it is claimed steps have been taken to deal with these issues. With due respect, it is difficult to take the efforts of the caretaker prime minister in Balochistan seriously, since they reflect a complete disconnect from the ground realities. Quetta is nothing if not a city under siege, evidence of which is the proliferation of check posts, the heavy presence of security forces, and the sense of insecurity that grips the citizens. In the remoter parts of the province, under- or not reported at all, the situation is arguably even worse. Nationalist and dissident sources speak of widespread and continuing atrocities by the Frontier Corps (FC) and its mercenary death squads. People are afraid to move around freely, let alone participate in election activity. The only ‘free and fair’ election that can be held in these circumstances is an election carried out in a virtual graveyard. If the caretaker prime minister and his interim government are truly interested in holding a credible (not just free and fair) election in Balochistan, they will have to wrest matters in the province from the vice-like grip of the military and the security forces (including the military’s intelligence agencies). For the last five years, it became quite obvious fairly quickly that neither the federal nor the provincial government called the shots in Balochistan. The military was (is) in charge and its policy and approach towards the province was to use repressive force, decapitate the intelligentsia of that society, and thereby crush brutally all sentiments of nationalism or separatism. All this shortsighted approach managed to achieve was a hardening of nationalist opposition to the oppression, and stoking the fire of separatism even more. If only our military would itself sum up the results of its use of force against a people struggling for their rights and correct course. In the absence of such a ‘miracle’, the least caretaker Prime Minister Justice (retd) Mir Hazar Khan Khoso can do is to persuade the military, FC, security forces and mercenary death squads to halt their murderous activities until at least the elections are over. This minimum step would be unlikely to persuade all dissidents to temporarily at least alter their focus to the elections and even participate in them. But it may persuade some, and is certainly worth trying if the present impasse between the repression of the military and the armed resistance by the insurgent nationalist groups is not to wind the province down the road of a farce instead of a credible election.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Balochistan conundrum The largest in area, smallest in population, poorest in development province of Pakistan, Balochistan is once more in the news. Caretaker Prime Minister (PM) Justice (retd) Mir Hazar Khan Khoso travelled to Quetta to acquaint himself with the ground realities in the troubled province. After receiving briefings from the Balochistan provincial authorities on law and order and other issues, Justice (retd) Khoso pledged fair, free and transparent polls in Balochistan and directed the provincial government to provide foolproof security to the political leaders and voters. He also celebrated the participation of the (moderate) nationalist parties in the elections, characterizing the development as beneficial for the province and the country. While the caretaker PM’s wish list can hardly be faulted, it misses the elephant in the room. First and foremost, the PM, who himself hails from the province, by now must be all the clearer about the impediments to his wishes. First and foremost, the insurgency in Balochistan is still very much a fact of life, and although it touches Quetta peripherally if at all because of the heavy presence of the security forces in the capital, the interior of the province is quite another matter. The by now notorious Frontier Corps (FC) not only continues its abduction, torture, kill and dump policy against Baloch nationalists and the province’s intelligentsia, it has by now installed in place mercenary death squads under the command of local tribal sardars (chiefs) who carry out the horrendously oppressive policy with impunity under the patronage of the FC. Insurgency-hit areas are particularly vulnerable to such killings. Even if the threats of the insurgents against anyone participating in the elections prove difficult to implement effectively, given the limited means at the disposal of the insurgents, how can anyone imagine normal electioneering activity in areas where a climate of fear prevails because of the FC and its mercenary death squads’ activities? Second, while the PM is within his rights to ‘celebrate’ the participation of moderate nationalist parties, he knows well that apart from the BNP-M, the rest of these parties were already in parliament over the past five years. Their participation therefore is hardly a breakthrough. The BNP-M however, is another matter. Its leader Akhtar Mengal, after his appearance before the Supreme Court last year, has returned to lead his party in the elections. However, he too is constrained to hedge his bets by pointing to the problems outlined above and questioning how fair, free and transparent elections can be held without holding those responsible for the killings accountable and compensating those who suffered at the hands of these murderous policies. Tantalisingly, he is keeping his powder dry by refusing to rule out the option of a last minute boycott if things do not improve. This allows him to retain his nationalist credentials while exerting pressure on the authorities to accept his demands. The intriguing question however, is whether, after his party’s decision to participate, he will do so even of the situation does not improve to his satisfaction. Former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif too made a simultaneous pilgrimage to Quetta where, amongst other political leaders, he met Akhtar Mengal. Putting balm on old wounds, Shahbaz said the removal of Akhtar Mengal’s government in 1997 was a mistake that even Nawaz Sharif has owned up to publicly. The two sides agreed seat adjustments for the coming polls. Shahbaz underlined the importance of cooperation between the democratic forces to keep all sinister elements at bay. Mengal appreciated Shahbaz’s visit and extension of goodwill and support on the problems afflicting Balochistan. This bonhomie cannot be considered normal business on the eve of elections. Its significance lies in the context of the widespread antipathy towards Punjab by large sections of the people of Balochistan, a perhaps unfair castigation of the people of Punjab, whereas the target of the Baloch’s wrath should be the state’s establishment, in which admittedly the Punjab elite has a more than fair share. One can only wish that the recognition of the need to apply soothing balm on the wounds of the Baloch had been extended before the elections to the insurgents in order to return Balochistan to peace on the basis of addressing the genuine grievances of this province treated like a stepchild throughout our history.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Pandora’s box There is hardly ever a dull moment in Pakistan. The country is still reeling from the troubling nomination and scrutiny process for the elections. Before it could catch its breath however, another intriguing conundrum has emerged. This concerns the five similar petitions before the Supreme Court asking the court to try General (retd) Pervez Musharraf on treason charges under Article 6 because of the imposition of emergency in November 2007. On the first day of the hearing of the case, unpleasant exchanges between the defence counsel and those of the petitioners marred the proceedings, while the defence counsel and the two-member bench of the SC comprising Justices Jawwad S Khwaja and Khilji Arif Hussain also exchanged some stirring remarks. Musharraf’s counsel Ahmad Raza Kasuri saw the petitions as a conspiracy to keep his client away from participation in the elections. He therefore requested the case be postponed till May 20, i.e. after the elections, so as not to restrict his client’s electioneering. The court however, rejected his plea on the ground that since the respondent was not required to put in a personal appearance during the preliminary hearings, there was no need to delay the case so long, and therefore the next hearing, at which the defence counsel would be expected to respond to the petitioners’ charges, would be on April 15. The next line of defence trotted out by Kasuri was even more interesting. He argued that ‘others’, including incumbent COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani were also part of the promulgation of the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) regarding the emergency, and therefore should also be summoned. This, and the exposure of many ‘bigwigs’ from behind the curtain would open a Pandora’s box. Implied in the argument was throwing down the gauntlet to the court to see of it had the courage to summon a serving COAS and other ‘bigwigs’. The smokescreen sought to be thrown up revolved around other holders of high office, e.g. top Generals, Governors, the prime minister, etc, being equally responsible and therefore Musharraf should not be singled out in this regard. This line of argument did not cut much ice with the court however, which stated clearly that whatever happens, including the opening of Pandora’s box, justice would be done and be seen to be done. As to the ‘other’ actors, the court confined itself to the answer that notices had only been sent to the respondents named in the petitions. Nor did the court find Ahmad Raza Kasuri’s typical arrogance in describing the judges as ‘schoolboys’ when he was such a senior counsel amusing. However, the bench did not accede to the petitioners’ appeal that Musharraf be placed under arrest. In response to Kasuri’s assertion that Musharraf had reservations about some judges, the bench said these should be conveyed and if found valid, the concerned judges would recuse themselves and a fresh bench could be formed (in passing, it may be noted that Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has already recused himself from the case). During the hearing, the ministry of interior confirmed in compliance with the court’s directive that Musharraf's name had indeed been put on the exit control list earlier, and that the notification had been renewed. One can now clearly understand why the military establishment pressed Musharraf not to return to the country to participate in the elections after a four-year self-imposed exile. Their worst nightmares are now beginning to come true. First and foremost that feared embarrassment if, as has now come to pass, Musharraf’s enemies decided to take him on. There is little doubt that the judiciary has so far not shown any animus against the respondent in this case, despite all that he did to the superior judiciary. Now inevitably, and even at the hands of the defence counsel, the military top brass faces being embarrassed and made controversial by being dragged into the case at this crucial juncture on the eve of the elections and when the armed forces are heavily involved in fighting the terrorists. This is quite apart from the nightmare of the security threats to Mushrraf’s life. Whatever else he may or may not be, Mushrraf after all is still an ex-COAS, and the army would not like to see their former chief humiliated or dragged over the coals. The country waits with bated breath to see the outcome of this historic first, where a military coup-maker (twice, it may be added, 1999 and 2007) would be held to accountability for his violation (sadly only the 2007 one) of the constitution.
Monday, April 8, 2013
Continuing disquiet over scrutiny process The polity continues to express disquiet over the manner in which the scrutiny process is proceeding. Some big guns, including former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf have had their nomination papers for the elections rejected, although on questionable grounds. Further, the anomalies in the manner in which the Returning Officers (ROs) are accepting or rejecting nomination papers, often accepting a candidate in one constituency while rejecting him in others, speaks volumes about the chaotic and anarchic scrutiny process. To prove the point, Raja Pervez Ashraf’s papers have been rejected in his native Gujjar Khan on the grounds that there are charges and allegations against him in the Rental Power case, while General (retd) Musharraf’s have been accepted in Chitral (albeit rejected in three other constituencies) on the grounds that the charges of murder and treason against him have not yet been proved in a court of law. When we last checked, neither had Raja Pervez Ashraf been convicted in any case against him. Does the time honoured principle of ‘innocent until proved guilty’ still hold for all cases or is it to be applied selectively? So what are the criteria and principles on which the scrutiny process is supposed to be conducted, and is there any uniformity in it? The ROs have become a power unto themselves, without any guidance or training in how to conduct the scrutiny. Hence the lack of uniformly applicable principles on which the candidates are tested. As a result, absurdities such as testing candidates’ Islamic credentials and knowledge of religion, not to mention personal details, have crept into the scrutiny process with a vengeance. Unfortunately, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has chosen to distance itself from the way the process is playing out as the better part of valour. Nevertheless, the ECP cannot so easily absolve itself of responsibility for the mess. The ROs may be judicial officers in their other avatar, but in the scrutiny process they are acting as agents of the ECP. How then can the ECP turn its face away from the spreading chaos by trying to hide behind the facade of ‘no power to issue directions to the ROs’? So much for the loudly touted independence of the ECP headed by Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebraheem. On the other hand the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry feels no hesitation in addressing a series of meetings of ROs up and down the country in which he continues to encourage them to do their duty without fear or favour and according to the law. Quite apart from the inappropriateness of the CJP addressing the ROs per se, and that too at this sensitive moment in the middle of the scrutiny process, his words are having the effect of the ROs relying increasingly on the provisions of Articles 62 and 63 to judge the suitability or otherwise of candidates. We have repeatedly pointed out in this space that the credentials of these articles are, to put it mildly, suspect, since they were the brainchild of dictator General Ziaul Haq, are vague, subjective and legally unsound, and therefore cannot by any stretch of the imagination be made the basis for deciding the fate of candidates, the Supreme Court’s view on these articles notwithstanding. The other day, the architect of the 18th Amendment, Senator Raza Rabbani of the PPP revealed that it was the JUI-F’s slippery Maulana Fazlur Rehman who opposed the deletion of these articles from the constitution. He might as well have added that the Maulana had plenty of support from the right wing forces in the parliamentary committee seized of the matter, not to mention some of the political ‘scions’ of the Zia dictatorship. The chaotic and anarchic scrutiny process has disappointed all the democratic forces. If some big and small guns nevertheless manage to slip through the ROs’ dragnet, it will owe more to luck and the particular RO rather than any systematic approach to what constitutes an acceptable or unacceptable candidate. Let us hope the country can be spared further angst through the process of appeals against the ROs’ decisions to the election tribunals, which appear to have their work cut out for them, given the possible volume of such appeals and the short time available for deciding them.
Friday, April 5, 2013
The Pakistani Inquisition The political scene in the run up to the elections gives the impression of surprising and confusing twists and turns. The scrutiny process of candidates’ nomination forms has thrown up some strange (and some hilarious) anomalies. Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif (along with sundry family members and Senator Ishaq Dar) are confronted once again with the ghost of the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case. This involved the alleged default on a loan of Rs 3.5 billion. NAB, one of the state institutions called upon by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to assist in the scrutiny of candidates’ nomination forms, has informed the ECP that the Sharif brothers are defaulters in the case and therefore ineligible to contest. Further they are accused of accumulating wealth beyond their known sources of income through misuse of authority while in power. It must be noted though, that the case in question was instituted in the Attock NAB Court on March 27, 2000 when Nawaz Sharif was incarcerated not far away in Attock jail. The suspicion at the time, irrespective of the merits of the case, was that it was a move by the Musharraf dictatorship to sully the image and reputation of the overthrown prime minister. This is not the only source of trouble for the Sharifs. The PPP has objected to Nawaz Sharif’s candidature in NA-120 for being a ‘defaulter’ in the Asghar Khan case, while the PTI has objected to Shahbaz Sharif’s candidature in NA-129 because he has references against him in NAB. The Sharifs have been asked by the respective Returning Officers (ROs) to submit their replies in writing today. Senator Pervaiz Rasheed, the PML-N spokesman, has already refuted all these charges by claiming that there was no discrepancy in the assets declared by the Sharifs. This is not the only case of political rivals trying to pull each other down before the elections. Even Imran Khan has been the target of objections against his candidature by a rival. On the other hand, PML-N former MNA and known columnist Ayaz Amir has had his papers rejected by an RO on the grounds that he had written a column against the ‘ideology of Pakistan’. Ayaz was quite right (as were others) in questioning what that ideology was. No one knows for certain, but much mischief can and has been wrought in this undefined ideology’s name. Some observers have characterised the rejection of Ayaz Amir’s papers for expressing ideas as ‘Orwellian’ (Big Brother is not only alive and well, he is watching you with an eagle’s eye). Other casualties of the scrutiny process are Faisal Saleh Hayat (for water theft) and Abid Imam (son of Syeda Abida Hussain). Sadly, all this ‘mischief' on the eve of the elections is being wrought under the umbrella of Articles 62 and 63. Under fire for what is going on (disqualifications left and right, with the prospects of long drawn out challenges before the election tribunals), the ECP has distanced itself from the scrutiny process by arguing the ROs are judicial officers and the ECP cannot, and has not, issued any directions to them on how to conduct the scrutiny process. However, critics of these shenanigans are blaming the Supreme Court (SC), and particularly Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry for the mess. They say the SC’s order of April 1 (April Fool’s Day, incidentally) strictly held the ROs to apply the provisions of Articles 62 and 63. This is criticised as an illegal direction to judges from the SC. On the touchstone of Articles 62 and 63 and the rigorous verbal interrogation of candidates regarding knowledge of Islamic provisions, the scrutiny process is more and more resembling the methods of the Spanish Inquisition of yore. Ironically, although Musharraf’s condition of a graduation degree for standing in elections has been done away with (which was a serious blow against universal franchise and as it turns out, Musharraf’s sweet revenge on the country that rejected him finally), the fake degrees submitted by many parliamentarians to participate in the 2008 elections are catching up with them with a vengeance, and if proved fake, are taking them down as lacking the honesty and integrity Articles 62 and 63 prescribe for candidates. Inevitably, the conspiracy theory mills have started to grind, seeing the hand of the establishment or, in the present context the judiciary, behind the attempt at a wholesale discrediting of the political class to pave the way for…? If large numbers of candidates, and especially prominent figures, are knocked out even before the electoral contest has begun, it will inevitably cast a long shadow over, and perhaps even bring into question, the credibility of the upcoming elections. That way lies enormous peril.
Thursday, April 4, 2013
‘None of the above’ In an unexpected surprise move, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has decided to include a box on the ballot that will allow voters who do not want to vote for any of the candidates in their constituency to mark the ‘none of the above’ option. The only problem in implementing the decision is that it has no legal cover. A proposal was floated to this effect in the last parliament but failed to find legislative traction. The only way legal cover can now be provided to the move is for the ECP to move a summary to the caretaker prime minister to have a presidential ordinance issued. Needless to say, time is of the essence since the election date is looming, and before that the date for ordering the printing of the ballot papers is close at hand. Some observers have commented that Pakistan has once again followed in the footsteps of Bangladesh (the caretaker regime to hold elections being another example) by instituting the ‘none of the above’ option for voters. In principle, the innovation provides relief to that category of voters who may not be particularly enthusiastic about or enamoured of the slate of candidates on offer. It would save such people from the necessity of casting their vote for the least of all the ‘evils’. According to the ECP, if in any constituency 51 percent of the voters exercise the ‘none of the above’ option, a fresh election will have to be held in that constituency. The unanswered question though is what happens if the same raft of candidates re-presents itself the second time round? Will that mean no election or representation from that constituency? How will the ECP get over this hump? But quite apart from the fate of individual constituencies where the electorate may or may not return one of the candidates on offer, if the ‘none of the above’ option emerges as the preference of a large body of voters, it would be a severe indictment of the political class as a whole. Unlikely as such an outcome may prove, given the grave limitations of our political culture, in which traditional loyalties and those manufactured by economic, political and social coercion dominate in large parts of the country, and particularly the rural areas, it remains an intriguing possibility. Seeking the reasons for such a denouement is not likely to tax the brain. The last five years alone (never mind the rest of the 60 years of the country’s existence) provide a sufficient if not overwhelming basis for the mood of disillusionment and pessimism about the future that has gripped most if not all the people. Unemployment, inflation, energy shortages and the general misery of everyday existence have eroded the people’s faith in a better or brighter future to be delivered to them. It will not, unless they organise themselves to seize it for themselves However, the clamour for it notwithstanding, ‘change’ is neither well defined nor adequately understood. The tsunami mirage of Imran Khan still has huge holes, gaps and unexplained means to achieve all the goals his party has enumerated, none of which are the basis of Imran’s youth following. This demographic bulge, which renders Pakistan a ‘young’ country, is less inspired by what the PTI is saying than disillusioned and reacting to the ‘older’ parties and their political culture on the one hand, and gushing over Imran Khan’s undeniable charisma on the other. It is a sign of the times that the young are relatively unlettered in politics and unable to bring to bear the critical intellectual tools required to dissect the PTI or any party’s political stances and positions. It is also the irony of the times that this young following is unable to get its head around the ‘soft’ corner Imran Khan has for the Taliban, under the mistaken notion that they represent some sort of romanticised Pashtun warrior culture to be admired and emulated. This leaning of Imran’s is as far removed from the lived experience (books seldom making up the source of young people’s worldview these days) of our youth as it is possible to conceive. Yet the contradiction is neither reflected in nor finds expression inside the PTI rank and file for a different path. Contradictorily and sometimes frustratingly, Pakistan is nevertheless wading through the muck of our inherited past and striving, while trying to keep its head above the water in the interim, to break out to a better shore on the other side.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Purge time It seems that with the departure of the previous government, open season has been declared on politicians vying to be re-elected. The judiciary in particular, with the Supreme Court (SC) leading the charge, appears in a mood to make up for all the frustration it may have suffered for four years since its restoration in 2009 in not being able to lay its hands on the politicians in power or at the very least elected as parliamentarians on various charges. A whole raft of developments seems to point in this direction. On April 1, the SC decreed the deadline of April 5 for 189 ex-parliamentarians to get their educational degrees verified or face disqualification. The list of parliamentarians under ‘threat’ includes some big names, who now run the risk of being knocked out of the electoral contest even before it has begun. The SC has instructed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to conduct a ruthless scrutiny of the nomination papers of all aspirants to elected office. In the parliamentarians’ fake degree case being heard by a three-member bench of the SC headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the court was of the view that an illiterate person would be acceptable as a candidate in the elections, but not one who practices deception. The logic of this position stems from the fact that although the Musharraf-imposed condition of a graduate degree for being elected to parliament has been done away with, these ‘erring’ parliamentarians are now being tested on the touchstone of Article 62 of the constitution as ‘non-ameen’ (not truthful). If the sword dangling over the heads of these parliamentarians (including some leading lights of the mainstream parties) comes down, the raft of candidates will appear ‘thinner’. In case someone thinks that these remarks about the judiciary are misplaced or exaggerated, one only has to look at the non-bailable arrest warrants issued by a Federal Anti-Corruption Court against Amin Faheem and others, the SC’s suo motu notice of two former prime ministers, Yousaf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashram’s granting of illegal CNG stations to alleged favourites, Raja sahib’s cases before the SC regarding the RPPs, road projects in his constituency and the OGRA case, amongst others, to get the picture. The redoubtable Jamshed Dasti has been disqualified for a fake degree, amongst other lesser fry. It would appear that the judiciary is bent upon ‘catching up’ with all the cases of alleged crimes and misdemeanours against various politicians from the previous assemblies to ‘cleanse’ the list of candidates in the forthcoming elections of all taint. Article 62 has become the instrument not only for determining the integrity of all candidates, reports speak of its clause (e) being employed to check the candidates’ knowledge of Islam during scrutiny of nomination papers. Now these developments give rise to a number of concerns. Unless the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and the ECP have undergone a complete transformation overnight, it seems difficult if not impossible for them to complete a task in a few days that they have been unable to bring to closure in three years. Second, the objection in principle to Articles 62 and 63 rests on the fact that these were inserted by General Ziaul Haq for malign purposes, do not define the criteria for judging the candidates’ character in clear, legal terms, are inherently dependent on subjective judgements, and therefore are flawed as constitutional provisions, with the exception of parliamentarians having been proved guilty in a court of law of hanky panky. Unfortunately, for all its monumental changes to the constitution through the 18th amendment, the political class could not find the political consensus or will to do away with these remnants of the Zia dictatorship. If large numbers of politicians are ‘axed’ from the electoral race because of these articles, it will revive memories from Pakistan’s past of politicians being kept out of elections through means such as the EBDO and other non-democratic tools. The end result will resemble nothing less than the purges communist regimes in the past were accused of and roundly condemned for. Not a happy thought for a country attempting to put democracy on sound footings.