Monday, September 25, 2017
The return of Nawaz Sharif Rashed Rahman Punditry and forecasting are both inexact ‘sciences’. Sometimes, the line between the two gets blurred. Something of this nature has overtaken the Pakistani commentariat regarding the plans of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif. By and large, our commentators and analysts got it wrong when they almost unanimously predicted that Nawaz Sharif would not return to the country and would rather stay put in London where his wife Kulsoom Nawaz, the successful candidate in Lahore’s NA-120 recent by-election, is undergoing treatment for cancer. But then perhaps one should not blame the commentariat too much, since they relied on whatever received wisdom was floating around. However, the outcome of their punditry should serve as an object lesson that received wisdom too needs to be digested critically, and judgement reserved until all the facts have been gathered. Nawaz Sharif has returned to Pakistan, reportedly against the advice of close members of his family and the ministers of the PML-N government. Their argument was that the outcome of the Panama case shows that the whole process has little to do with the charges of corruption and more to do with a political coup. Nawaz Sharif himself buys into this argument, pointing out that the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s (SCP’s) verdict of July 28, 2017 had nothing to do with the charges brought and that he was disqualified on the grounds of a relatively minor technicality. The fate of his and his family’s review petitions (dismissed) and the appointment of a SCP judge to supervise the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) proceedings in the four references filed against the Sharifs and Ishaq Dar has further convinced Nawaz Sharif that neither did he receive fair treatment nor justice, nor can he expect anything different in the NAB references. Why then, in the face of this opposing tide, has Nawaz Sharif decided to return to Pakistan and face the music? The crucial huddle in London between Nawaz Sharif and the leadership of the PML-N in London proved a deciding factor. Legal advice and reportedly Shahbaz Sharif’s take persuaded the former prime minister to gird up his loins and face the references on solid legal grounds. The advantage of such a course lies in the weak case likely to be made out in the NAB references. Since the SCP had ordered the filing of these references within six weeks, there was no time for NAB to reopen investigations into these cases. The NAB references therefore perforce rely on the SCP-appointed Joint Investigation Team’s (JIT’s) report. Irrespective of whether certain reports claiming that NAB investigators themselves are not convinced of the JIT’s findings providing a solid case are true or not, the fact remains that the JIT findings may turn out to be inadmissible as evidence. Many legal eagles have described the JIT’s findings as weak and faulty since they largely rely on media reports and documents obtained in an ‘informal’ fashion both inside Pakistan and abroad. Such ‘evidence’ does not fulfil the criteria for admissibility in a court of law. Be that as it may, and the days ahead will reveal more on this account, the disadvantages of staying away in self-imposed exile and avoiding appearance in the references were obvious. No doubt the experience of the exile suffered by the Sharifs after General Musharraf’s coup informed this view. Returning to face what may turn out to be weak and eventually inconclusive references would obviously rebound in Nawaz Sharif’s favour. Second, returning allows Nawaz Sharif to take charge of the party fully once again now that the Electoral Reforms Bill 2017 has cleared the way for disqualified Nawaz Sharif to once again don the mantle of the PML-N’s head. His presence inside the country could also help ward off challenges or differences within the ruling party, whether these are stoked by outside forces or the ambitions of some PML-N leaders within. The Muslim League as a party enjoys the dubious distinction of disintegrating or carrying out internal leadership ‘coups’ when the incumbent leader gets into trouble with the powers-that-be. Nawaz Sharif himself owes his rise to paramount position within the Muslim League to his accepting the patronage of dictator General Ziaul Haq when he removed his own handpicked prime minister Mohammad Khan Junejo in 1988. Nawaz was hoist by his own petard after Musharraf’s 1999 coup when the Chaudries abandoned him in his time of trouble and forged the King’s Party, the PML-Q. It is also salutary in passing to meditate on the fate of the PML-Q subsequently. With his hands on the reins of the party as its restored head, Nawaz Sharif is positioning himself to fight the good fight against the campaign launched against him for dubious purposes. The seemingly orchestrated from behind the scenes campaign is a familiar gambit when the establishment wants someone out of power. Now that the superior judiciary seems to be going along with the ‘get Nawaz’ effort, it would do well to remember that the track record of our judiciary in endorsing military coups in the past and cooperating with dictators against democracy leaves a great deal to be desired. Trust and confidence in a judiciary restored after it was decapitated by Musharraf in 2007 has been eroded, first by the controversial jurisprudence created by former Chief Justice Ifitkhar Chaudhry’s court, later by the proceedings in the Panama case. Denials notwithstanding, such political earthquakes tend to revive suspicions about the role of the establishment as the author of these anti-democratic manoeuvres. Pakistan is most unfortunate in being unable to shake off this legacy of establishment interventions to disrupt the political and democratic process. That is the main reason no democratic political system has been able to take root in this country. It is precisely such manoeuvring that lost us half the country in 1971, and threatens to destabilise the remainder now. The struggle for democracy has consumed almost all the political capital of Pakistan to date. Even progressive forces were subsumed within the folds of this struggle, especially during periods of military dictatorship, which have so far consumed half our life as an independent country. Such legerdemain has persisted for 70 years. It remains to be seen if it can persist for another 70 without serious disruption. If the people of Pakistan, the real sovereign in any political construct, one day come to the conclusion that enough is enough, dark portents threaten. email@example.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com
Sunday, September 24, 2017
Scaring foreign investors away The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the World Bank’s arm for this purpose, has ruled that Pakistan’s government had ‘expropriated’ the assets of foreign investor Karkey Karadeniz Electric Uretim A S, a Turkish firm, when the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) declared its contract to supply power from four ship-mounted generating plants on rental basis “non-transparent, illegal and void ab initio” in March 2011. The SCP held that an increase in the upfront payment from seven percent to 14 percent violated the transparency provisions of Articles 9 and 24 of the Constitution and Section 7 of The Regulation of Generation, Transmission and Distribution of Electric Power Act, 1997. It ordered Karkey to repay its advance of $ 180 million and the detention of its four vessels anchored in Karachi. Since the issue was taken up by the court of then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry through a suo moto notice under Article 184(3), no appeal was available. Karkey decided to take its case for breach of contract to the ICSID and has now reportedly won a $ 700 million damages claim. In a similar vein, the ICSID is seized of arbitration proceedings in the case of Reko Diq, a copper and gold mining project in Balochistan. That project too was cancelled by the SCP under Article 184(3). In this case, an even larger award is expected. While the government hopes Karkey will accept an out-court settlement, the Reko Diq case is likely to blow a big hole in our finances. The brief facts of these two cases are that Karkey was contracted under the Rental Power Producers policy by the then PPP government to supply 232 MW power for five years at a contract value of $ 560 million in 2008. After about a year, Karkey withdrew, accusing the government of failure to honour sovereign payment guarantees. Amidst allegations of corruption surrounding the contract, the SCP stepped in in 2009. In the Reko Diq case Tethyan Copper Company (TCC) went for international arbitration after the SCP concluded that the terms offered by TCC were disadvantageous to Pakistan. Since TCC had sunk considerable resources in geological surveys of the area and producing a feasibility report of the project, it has taken Pakistan to the ICSID to claim damages. For many years now, the global community has been expanding protections for foreign investors against arbitrary actions by host governments. Toying with foreign investors’ stakes therefore is now fraught with prohibitive penalties through international arbitration forums such as the ICSID. The Karkey contract fell prey to internal political rivalries when Faisal Saleh Hayat (of the PPP Patriots then, who is now back in the PPP) and Khawaja Asif, the current foreign minister, challenged the project on grounds of the standard procedures not being followed. Reko Diq faltered amidst complaints by Baloch political leaders that the province, and Pakistan, was being hard done by in the project. These two cases and the current controversy about LNG imports point to the need for domestic political rivalries to be kept out of foreign investment issues. They also point to the need for adherence to the law and rules when signing contracts with foreign investors and during implementation after. Last but not least, they illustrate the pitfalls of the superior judiciary’s activism in such cases under Article 184(3). The Karkey judgement, and the expected one on Reko Diq, indicate that the SCP failed to take account of the penalties threatened under international arbitration. As it is, Pakistan is hardly the preferred destination for foreign investment. To that if is added foreign investors’ concerns about incumbent governments and their successors sticking to the terms of binding international contracts, we already have a milieu that discourages foreign investors visiting our shores. Now these two international arbitration cases are bound to further erode Pakistan’s credibility and standing as a fit destination for foreign investment.
The contemporary (post-Soviet) struggle for revolutionary change Rashed Rahman This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the Russian communist revolution of October 1917. The hundred years in between have been the most violent in human history. The explanation for this phenomenon is incomplete without a recognition of the central role of revolution and counter-revolution during these 100 years. Mankind’s aspiration for a just and equitable society is almost as old as mankind itself, certainly as old as the emergence of private property, classes, and the state. All these were outgrowths of the ancient agricultural revolution, which freed large parts of humanity from the precarious existence of primitive hunter-gatherers and led to settled communities. The ancient civilisations that arose on this foundation were riverine, as this was the only reliable source of fresh water in sufficient quantity to sustain cities. The three great examples of such civilisations are our own Indus Valley, Mesopotamia and Egypt, all more or less contemporary and, as the archeological record shows, in contact and trading with each other. These ancient civilisations and those that followed were based on the subjugation of those who worked the land and provided the riches enjoyed by their ruling elites. This subjugation took the form of slavery and serfdom in the west, the Asiatic mode in the rest of the ancient world (this mode of production rests on the state controlling agricultural production through irrigation and public works and exacting tribute in cash or kind from the peasantry). Subjugation and the extraction of surplus required repressive force, hence the evolution of the state as an instrument of the class rule and domination of the ruling elite. Revolts and rebellions against this extremely repressive system were either crushed bloodily or at best led to a change of rulers without denting the system per se. It was not till the advent of full-blown capitalism, starting from the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century, that the glimmer of a systemic change that would abolish the ancien regime first presented itself as a distinct possibility. In its native home in the west, the capitalist mode of production concentrated a scattered peasantry in cities and towns, crowded them into factories for long hours of backbreaking work, and relegated them to slums to live in. It is these miserable conditions of life and work that spontaneously gave rise to working class solidarity through trade unions at work and poor people’s social clubs during whatever scarce leisure time was on offer. The new emerging working class thus now began to take on the hues of a class-in-itself, without yet having achieved the status of a (conscious) class-for-itself. Many utopian meanderings later, the general idea of a just and equitable society, now clearly expressed as socialism, was placed on firm scientific foundations. This scientific socialism, enunciated by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the 19th century, posited that capitalism, undoubtedly the most dynamic and innovative mode of production in mankind’s history, was also at the same time producing its own gravediggers: the working class, a section of society with no means of production to its name and only its labour power to sell in order to survive. Certainly in Europe of the 19th century, this appeared a real prospect. However, with the defeat of the 1848 revolutions in Europe and the crushing of the Paris Commune of 1870, counter-revolution and reaction seemed paramount. It was not till the early 20th century that revolutionary hopes were once more awakened. But they emerged in new form since the expected revolutions in the developed capitalist countries of Europe, such as Britain or Germany, had not materialised and ‘backward’ Russia was showing signs of revolutionary ferment. It is a testament to the wisdom and scientific approach of the founders of Marxism that far from being a dogma as uninformed or motivated critics have tried to paint the philosophy, they were open to a revisit of their earlier views if the circumstances changed. About Russia their initial scepticism, especially in the case of Marx, gave way to the acceptance of the possibility of a revolution in comparatively backward and undeveloped Russia. Czarist Russia was a bundle of contradictions, the main one being the conflict between an absolute monarchy and the economic, political and social changes being triggered because of developing capitalism. These contradictions came to a head in 1905 in the aftermath of Russia’s defeat in the Far East at the hands of a rapidly modernising and rising Japan. Revolution not only broke out in Russia, it threw up a new form of political power of the people: the soviets (councils) of workers, peasants and soldiers. Although the 1905 revolution was crushed, the memory of the soviets as a new form of people’s power re-emerged in 1917. The trigger for the 1917 revolutions in Russia proved to be the First World War (WWI). An absolutist monarchy out of touch with its people’s misery and demonstrating its incompetence on the battlefield fell prey to a general uprising of the people in February 1917. The revolution abolished the monarchy and declared a democratic republic. Most revolutionaries (including Lenin’s Bolsheviks), not to mention reformers, believed this democratic phase of the revolution would last for an extended period of time, such was the relief and euphoria at seeing the back of Czarism. However, the one man who thought differently changed the course of Russian and world history by arguing that Russia was ripe for a socialist revolution. That man was Lenin who, upon returning from exile, enunciated his April Theses to persuade his own Bolshevik Party that the revolutionary iron was hot, especially considering the reluctance of the interim government of the Cadets Party to negotiate a badly needed peace with Germany and its insistence on continuing a losing war. On the contrary, the Bolshevik slogan of ‘Land, bread, peace’ struck such a chord with the masses that the party soon gained a majority in the soviets. By July, the Bolsheviks were in a commanding position and began to prepare the insurrection that was launched and proved successful in October 1917. The declaration of a socialist state and society in hitherto backward Russia shocked the international bourgeoisie and persuaded 22 capitalist countries to support the monarchist White Guards against the revolution with money, weapons and even troops. However, a revolution that enjoys the unstinting support of the masses is difficult to defeat. The Bolsheviks not only defeated this panoply of local reactionary and foreign imperialist forces, their victory rang the bells for a new era in world history. The victory of the Russian revolution in the civil war and against imperialist intervention by 22 countries soon after the socialist takeover in October 1917 was achieved after four years (1918-22) of bloody conflict through the length and breadth of the country. It demonstrated the strength and resilience of a people mobilised by a revolution they owned and supported because it had declared itself for the people and against their erstwhile oppressors and exploiters. However, a country already reeling under the privations of WWI was further placed in enormous difficulties because of the ravages of the civil war/imperialist intervention. While the Russian revolution was marching to new victories and demonstrating that the capitalist front had been decisively breached in the largest (by area) country in the world, albeit with significant hangovers of serfdom (abolished in law in 1861) and underdevelopment, the revolution in the rest of Europe was defeated, bloodily in Germany in 1918 and Hungary in 1919. With the retreat of the revolutionary wave in the wake of WWI, the choices and chances of long-term survival of the Russian (by now the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR, encompassing the extent of the Czarist empire) revolution, appeared bleak. Until the October 1917 revolution, the article of faith amongst Marxist revolutionaries was that without a revolution in (by now defeated) Germany, any revolution in Europe, including the Russian, was doomed. Even Lenin subscribed to this received wisdom. However, history had now placed the Russian revolutionaries in the unenviable position (and, some argued, opportunity) of building socialism in the inhospitable terrain of an underdeveloped country with the barest rudiments of industrialisation and a vast reservoir of peasants relatively recently liberated from serfdom. The slogan of Socialism in One Country proclaimed by the Bolsheviks was as much a pragmatic recognition of the hand dealt them as an admission that backward Russia could not look for succour, support and sustainability from the revolutionary forces in the advanced countries of Europe. The task before the Bolsheviks was formidable. How to lift a huge country (albeit with enormous, untapped natural resources) from its virtually medieval darkness into the light of the modern day exercised the minds of the Bolsheviks. With his characteristic clarity, Lenin summed up the challenge by focusing his government’s economic efforts on electrification (a huge task) to provide the energy base for rapid industrialisation. Having nationalised the commanding heights of the economy, the revolutionary regime gave the working class unprecedented rights, the peasants land under a redistribution of the vast lands owned by the nobility and aristocracy, instituted universal education (including adult literacy), healthcare, skills training and universal employment. In addition, they transformed the ‘prison of nations’ as the Czarist Empire was known, into a country with equal rights for all the nations and nationalities in the USSR, including cultural and linguistic rights. Taken as a whole, these revolutionary policies brought enormous change in the lives of the overwhelming majority of the people and evoked in them the spirit of living and dying for the revolution. The example of the Russian revolution inspired generations of revolutionaries all over the world. If the problems inherited from WWI, the seizure of power and the civil war/imperialist intervention were not enough, soon after the death (premature due to sclerosis of the brain as a result of an assassination attempt on him in 1918) of Lenin in 1924, the spectre of fascism began to raise its ugly head in Europe. Italy succumbed to the scourge in 1922 (Mussolini), Germany in 1933 (Hitler). In the latter case in particular, the Nazi Party fed on resentment at the harsh terms imposed by the victorious allies on Germany at the end of WWI through the Treaty of Versailles and the misery of generalised unemployment, hunger and starvation for the working people during the Great Depression (1929-39). In echoes of the development of fascism in Europe, Japan in the east and Spain in the west also exhibited features of fascism. As the immediate threat from fascism grew from a rapidly rearming Germany under Hitler, while the continuing hostility of the other imperialist countries remained a fact of life, the Soviet government embarked on rapid industrialisation, even at the cost of agriculture and other needs of the people based on the argument that either the Soviet Union must catch up with the imperialist countries to be able to defend itself or it would be exterminated. To stave off an attack from Germany, the USSR made a non-aggression pact with Hitler, hoping that he would confine himself thereby to the conquest of the rest of Europe in what Moscow saw as another inter-imperialist war for a redivision of the world (WWI was the first such conflict, and in many ways fed into WWII). However, the USSR under Stalin, Lenin’s successor, gravely underestimated Hitler’s ambition of world conquest and hatred of communism. Having conquered the rest of Europe and driven the British off the continent, Hitler launched a surprise offensive against the Soviet Union in June 1941. The element of surprise, relative technical inferiority of the Soviet forces, and the blitzkrieg (total war) tactics of the Germans initially overwhelmed the Soviet defences and brought Hitler’s legions within striking distance of Moscow. Basing himself on the rapid conquest of the rest of Europe through this unprecedented total war strategy, Hitler thought the Soviet Union would succumb before the onset of the severe Russian winter. However, he had not factored into his calculations the resilience of the Soviet people and revolution. Hitler’s offensive bogged down after its initial rapid advance in the face of the determined resistance of the Soviet people against terrible odds and degenerated into a war of attrition, with the sieges of Leningrad and Stalingrad reflecting the strategic stalemate. Meanwhile Japan had brought a reluctant US into the war through its sneak attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941. Now the fascist Axis powers, Germany, Italy and Japan, faced on paper a formidable alliance of the capitalist powers with the socialist USSR. However, the air war over Britain, the American war in the Pacific and the allied war in North Africa notwithstanding, the USSR bore the brunt of Hitler’s cruel hordes. Starting from the defeat of Hitler’s siege of Stalingrad in February 1943, the Soviet people turned the tide against Hitler, finally defeating him virtually alone (until 1944) on the eastern front at the cost of 26 million dead and many more millions wounded. Arguably, as honestly admitted by British military historian Basil Liddell-Hart, the Soviet Union virtually singlehandedly defeated Hitler while the allied effort came towards the fag end of the war. WWII shook the world order to its roots. Movements for independence and national liberation from colonial control broke out and accelerated in the wake of peace. ‘Peace’ does not fully fit the situation, since a divided Europe between the capitalist west and the socialist east entered the Cold War, punctuated by rebellions against the communist regimes of Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968), crushed by the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact forces’ interventions. On the other hand, the part liberation of Korea and Vietnam characterised the growing desire for independence of the colonies in what came to be called the Third World. The Chinese revolution’s triumph in 1949, the Cuban revolution in 1958 and the renewed anti-colonial, anti-imperialist liberation war in Vietnam (not to mention the indeterminate conflict in Korea 1950-53) inspired the outbreak of guerrilla wars throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America. It seemed at that historical juncture that the advance of socialism was looming on the horizon and the day of colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism was done and dusted, especially given the inspiring example of the Vietnamese people’s heroic resistance against superpower the US and their complete victory in 1975. The Vietnam War radicalised the whole 1960s generation and this phenomenon changed the social (if not political) world of their elders beyond recognition. However, the owl of Minerva had not yet spread its wings and the liberatory hopes of the Third World came to be dashed eventually at the end of the 1980s. Guerrilla movements were defeated in the Third World, and even where they succeeded in capturing power, soon discovered the process of capitalist domination of their economies by a world order still largely in the grip of capitalism, and in which the socialist camp’s best efforts to aid and help these newly liberated countries proved inadequate. Guerilla movements in the Third World virtually ceased to exist in the 1990s, notwithstanding some notable examples such as Colombia (that long running insurgency is currently in the process of a turn from civil war to a negotiated peace settlement). And in 1991, the Soviet Union imploded and re-emerged as the Commonwealth of (15) Independent States. That construct, aimed at keeping close ties between the newly independent countries that hitherto constituted the USSR, did not prove long lasting and withered on the vine. The process of the collapse of socialist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union that began with the 1989 collapse of the Berlin Wall was now complete. The factors that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union are complex and multi-layered, but if one overriding one can be identified it is the inherent difficulties and problems of constructing socialism in a comparatively underdeveloped country, and that too in the face of unremitting hostility and sabotage by the imperialist powers. That inevitably leads the revolution and its leadership into a siege mentality, where survival against imperialist subversion and the ever-looming threat of attempts to restore the ancien regime dominate over all other considerations. The war communism imposed on the USSR during the life-and-death struggle against the monarchist White Guards and their imperialist supporters soon after the 1917 revolution inevitably produced great hardship for the Soviet people, including hunger and in some areas, starvation. The victory of the revolution in this conflict was therefore achieved at great human cost and suffering. Immediately after the end of the civil war, the Bolsheviks introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP) to stimulate a revival of the economy, offering concessions to the rich peasantry (kulaks). Lenin predicted that after its overthrow, the resistance of the expropriated capitalist and large landowning classes increases ten-fold. The class struggle, therefore, could only intensify, despite the revolution’s victory. This perceptive view re-emerged in Stalin’s work, Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, after the victory in WWII. His prediction about the need to intensify the struggle against the class enemies of the revolution reflected what hindsight reveals was the growth of capitalist restoration forces that had quietly gathered force as a result of the devastating losses, human and material, in WWII, which fed into a resurgence of silent resentment against the deprivations experienced since the revolution. Stalin’s repression of ‘counter-revolutionary’ dissent, both outside and inside the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), led to his denunciation by new leader Nikita Khrushchev in a secret speech to the CPSU Congress in 1956. The leak of the speech (allegedly by the US CIA) evoked unrest in Hungary that year, aimed at an overthrow of the communist regime that had emerged there and in many countries of Eastern Europe after the Soviet Red Army liberated them from the Nazi yoke on its way to the final defeat of Hitler in 1945. The Hungarian uprising was crushed, but the questions and issues it threw up were never satisfactorily resolved. These included the nature, not only of the eastern European communist regimes, but even the Soviet Union itself. The ravages of war, the needs of survival of the revolution in the face of awesome internal and external odds, the unwise and unfettered repression of any and all dissent within the CPSU, even if it was not necessarily counter-revolutionary, had alienated the party and government from the people. The 1968 crushing of the Czechoslovakian experiment at reform in the direction of ‘Socialism with a human face’ proved that the Hungarian example was not an isolated phenomenon. Both countries’ developments exposed serious contradictions within the communist system. If the crushing of movements that appeared to Moscow to reflect counter-revolutionary tendencies in Eastern Europe was problematic, the adventure in Afghanistan (1979-89) proved the last straw. This invasion and occupation ostensibly was mounted to save the Afghan revolution, being led astray, it was argued, by Hafizullah Amin, who had overthrown and killed Nur Mohammad Tarakai, the leader of the 1978 revolution in Afghanistan. In the process, time has revealed, it killed off the Afghan revolution and accelerated the process of collapse of the Soviet Union itself under the weight of its internal contradictions. The backdrop to the 1991 collapse was the attempt by Mikhail Gorbachev, elevated to leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, to reform the Soviet system under the rubric perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). What Gorbachev and the Soviet Union learnt to their cost is that an arguably stagnant, bureaucratised and alienated-from-the-people system is at greatest risk when it tries to reform. To add to the simmering cauldron of discontent, it became clear later that Gorbachev had embraced social democracy and abandoned Marxism despite having been elevated to the leadership of the Soviet Union. The rest, as they say, is history. The collapse of the Soviet Union provoked unabashed triumphalism in the capitalist west, with British Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously declaring: There is no alternative (to free market capitalism). In the wake of the capitalist west’s victory in the Cold War, unbridled capitalism expanded horizontally into the former communist countries as well as the rest of the world (globalisation). It appeared that the bourgeoisie’s victory was so complete that Marxism and socialism were declared passé or even dead. But the Red Mole (Revolution) has a peculiar tendency to prove the reports of its demise as premature again and again after every defeat and retreat. The 1999 Seattle protests against the world’s grouping of pre-eminent capitalist countries (G-7), the Occupy Wall Street movement, the focus on the one percent filthy rich of today’s world in sharp contrast with the inequality and immiseration inflicted on the rest of the 99 percent, the resurgence of the Left in Latin America and Europe, all indicate that capitalism’s claims of final victory (the ‘End of History’ thesis, amongst others) is once again flying in the face of history’s lessons. The human aspiration for a just and equitable society remains alive and kicking in the contemporary context. The struggles against capitalist-imperialist domination will no doubt adopt different forms and paths (as they are already embryonically indicating), not perhaps the classical forms of the revolutions of the 20th century. But for all its undoubted development of the modern world, capitalism in its moment of greatest triumph still faces the spectre of the peoples of the world challenging the system and, if history is any guide, overcoming or changing it in the direction of a just and equitable society. To understand the world today, including Pakistan, requires an understanding of how the modern world evolved out of the womb of pre-capitalist societies. In Europe, feudalism gradually was impregnated with new ways of producing things and new ways of understanding things, the latter in particular the result of technological and scientific advances that fed into the ideas associated with the Enlightenment. The old order incrementally gave way to and was overthrown/replaced by the new, not always peacefully, often accompanied by violence, including revolutionary violence. Even societies that managed the transition relatively peacefully, were impelled forward by the example of revolutions in their midst (the English, French and American revolutions standing out in this regard). In Asia, despite the argument that similar processes were at work, the encounter between Asian and western societies soon revealed the advantage the new form of production (capitalism) had over traditional societies. In the Americas and Africa too, the gap between indigenous societies and the colonisers was glaring. The conquest by colonialism of most of the known and ‘newly discovered’ world had a catastrophic impact on the latter while providing a fillip for the former. In the light of this movement of history and its laws of motion so brilliantly enunciated and analysed by the founders of Marxism, what is the way forward? The prospects of revolutionary struggles appear dim at present. What they need is a clearly articulated theoretical framework that lays bare the heart and workings of the globalised contemporary capitalist system and serves as a guide for practical struggles. Those struggles need first and foremost to rely on and develop the organisational weapon to serve as the motivating force for the mobilisation of the working masses to throw off their chains and march forward towards the realm of light and freedom. It is these tasks to which our people must now dedicate themselves.
Thursday, September 21, 2017
Trump’s bluster In his first address to the UN General Assembly, US President Donald Trump resorted to threats and bluster at a forum dedicated to peace and reconciling conflicts. Striking a belligerent and jarring tone that upset the world’s UN delegations gathered there, Trump threatened to totally destroy the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and hinted at rescinding the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 group that includes the US. It should be remembered that the Iran nuclear deal is a model of engagement in exchange for assurances of restraint to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation. International inspectors and the other P5+1 member states, the UN and the rest of the world are satisfied that Iran is keeping up its end of the bargain. But this does not seem to satisfy Mr Trump. Amongst criticisms that fly in the face of these facts, Trump adds on that the deal has failed to rein in Tehran’s ‘subversive’ role in the Middle East. In the first place, this was never part of the nuclear deal nor any other ‘deal’, so Trump’s expectation is totally misplaced. Secondly, what has Iran’s so-called subversive role been in the Middle East? It has been on the side of regimes in Iraq and Syria that are defending themselves against terrorist movements and their backers in the US and the west. If anyone has played a subversive role in the region, it is the US-led west and its regional satraps such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Iran therefore is on the right side of history and justice in these conflicts. As far as the DPRK is concerned, Trump’s extreme bluster is guaranteed to harden Pyongyang’s resolve to defend itself against the threat of annihilation of a country of 26 million souls or, at the very least, US-desired regime change, and will probably lead to greater acceleration of its nuclear weapons and delivery systems programme. It is the siege mentality engendered in the DPRK by the continuing presence of US troops in South Korea 64 years after the Korean war ended and the aggressive regional US-led coalition that includes Japan that has produced and continues to reproduce the DPRK’s reliance on nuclear and missile deterrence against these real and palpable threats. To those like Trump who assert that ‘Rocket man’ Kim Jong-un is on a suicide mission, it is enough to remind him that the US did engage with the DPRK under the Clinton administration in the mid-1990s, which produced a deal along similar lines as the one with Iran: nuclear restraint in exchange for easing sanctions and other concessions. Washington reneged on that agreement, solidifying suspicions in Pyongyang that the US wishes it no good. Calls for engagement with the DPRK as the only feasible solution to the ratcheting up of nuclear tensions in the Korean peninsula came in response to Trump’s aggressive speech from almost all the major powers and the UN. Similarly, the run of international opinion on the Iran deal is that it would be a blunder to rescind it. Trump in his hallucinatory vision wants to return the US to global pre-eminence in all respects through threats and bluster. This is of a piece with his misleading election campaign rhetoric that queered the pitch of the US presidential election and brought him an unlikely victory. But that was not to be the worst of it. The sanguine view, based on past experience, that presidential candidates soon after assuming office are compelled to tone down the angularities in their campaign rhetoric in the light of domestic and global realities, turned out to be wishing for the moon. This turn towards realism and maturity was not for the likes of our Don Quixote of the 21st century. He wants to wave his magic wand (more like wielding a big stick) to ‘fix’ everything in today’s world in Washington’s favour. A more simplistic, or more dangerous project in the hands of the most powerful man on Earth is hard to imagine.
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Alternative narrative Members of the Senate on September 18, 2017 emphasised building an alternate national narrative as envisaged in the National Action Plan (NAP) to root out the menace of militancy otherwise the counterterrorism plan may turn out to be a ‘non-action plan’. Some Senators also expressed grave concern over allowing banned terrorist outfits to attempt mainstreaming themselves through contesting elections under new names. The reference no doubt was to the newly formed but not yet registered Milli Muslim League, believed to be a front for the Jamaat ud Dawa, a.k.a. Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. Its candidate stood in the recent NA-120 by-election as an independent candidate since the Milli Muslim League has yet to be accorded legitimate status by the Election Commission of Pakistan and managed to get almost 5,000 votes. The Senators wanted the noose around the proscribed militant outfits tightened to prevent them reinventing themselves under new banners and even striving for electoral legitimacy. While the members of the upper house were all praise for Operations Zarb-e-Azb and Raddul Fasad, which have largely flushed out the terrorist groups from their long standing bases in the tribal areas, they contrasted this success with what appeared to be the shelving of the NAP. Further, that the remnants of Ziaul Haq’s so-called jihad must be erased from minds and memory. PPP’s Senator Farhatullah Babar, the mover of a motion on the subject on September 11, said this could not be accomplished by guns and bullets alone without addressing the mindset associated with terrorism. He pointed out that it is educated elements who are involved in such activities, in sharp contrast with the popular image of terrorists as wild-eyed fanatics. The next generation of terrorists, it was underlined, would emerge from academic institutions. During Ziaul Haq’s regime, he went on, jihad was ‘privatised’ (in direct contradiction with Islam’s teaching that jihad could only be waged by the state) and religion used as a tool for retaining an illegitimate grip on power. It may be ventured at this point that not much has changed in this regard since, except perhaps that Ziaul Haq is no longer around to lend support to the ‘privatised’ jihad by non-state actors, who have morphed from an externally pointed weapon into an internal threat. Balochistan National Party-Mengal’s Senator Dr Jahanzeb Jamaldini said his party workers were receiving death threats and as a result, 27 workers had left the party. It remains to be seen whether a Senator from Balochistan’s complaint in this regard will be addressed satisfactorily or simply add to the litany of long standing complaints and grievances of the people of that province, including, but not limited to, the scandal of ‘missing’ persons. Meanwhile the MQM’s Senator Mian Mohammad Ateeq Sheikh innocently inquired of the house why the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) had not been made fully operational yet. It may be recalled that NACTA fell prey to former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar’s wanting to monopolise the counterterrorism turf by refusing to allow NACTA to be under the prime minister, as envisaged in the NAP, and instead took it under his wing and virtually strangled it. Many Senators dilated on the malign effects on society of Ziaul Haq’s narrative’s inclusion in our textbooks and curricula. Almost three decades later, this narrative could still not be removed and replaced, as PPP’s Senator Sherry Rehman argued, by Mr Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech to the Constituent Assembly. Fond hope that given, as the honourable Senator herself dilated, the treatment of suppression that speech suffered from for years. Perhaps even more alarmingly, she pointed out that 70 percent of our proliferating private satellite TV channels have internalised and are parroting Ziaul Haq’s unfortunately abiding narrative. It is not as though only the Senators are aware of the shortcomings of the counterterrorism effort. Witness the very public exchange of statements between former and current ministers of the government on the issue of ‘getting our own house in order’. First Chaudhry Nisar fulminated against Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif regarding his remarks on these lines. Then Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and now Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi have chimed in in support of Khawaja Asif and indirect refutation of Chaudhry Nisar’s fulminations. Whether Chaudhry Nisar is trying to defend his record in office over the last four years or is simply purblind to the threat the homegrown terrorists represent, his attacks on his own government betray a state of disarray in the ruling party after the Panama verdict. A chink of light is represented by Ahsan Iqbal’s revealing that the government is contemplating a set ‘curriculum’ for Friday sermons to take the sting out of the scorpion’s tail and help reshape the national narrative away from extremism in a healthier, more positive direction. More power to the elbow contemplating such a long overdue move.
Monday, September 18, 2017
Have the people spoken? Rashed Rahman Not unexpectedly, the PML-N has won the NA-120 Lahore by-election. Kulsoom Nawaz has been elected to parliament but unfortunately is under treatment in London. After she recovers, it remains to be seen whether her health will allow active participation in politics. By-elections are seldom an accurate barometer of political trends or the electorate as a whole’s predilections. Nevertheless, they do provide indicators of which way the wind is blowing. This by-election had a great deal riding on it in the context of the July 28, 2017 verdict of the Supreme Court disqualifying Nawaz Sharif and the subsequent dismissal of the latter and his children’s review petitions by the court. Imran Khan had in his usual overblown style cast the by-election on Nawaz Sharif’s vacated seat as a battle between the latter and the judiciary. If that formulation were to be accepted, the result has not turned out as Imran had hoped or predicted. Having said that, what has the result of the NA-120 by-election indicated? Since this constituency has been Nawaz Sharif’s stronghold (he has been elected three times from there), the final tally of votes, 61,254 for the PML-N, 47,066 for the PTI, suggests that the culture of patronage is still alive and kicking. However, the PTI’s candidate Dr Yasmin Rashid’s making inroads into the PML-N’s vote bank, with the margin of victory having shrunk from about 40,000 votes in 2013 to 14,000 now, could mean some element of disappointment amongst the people of the area at Nawaz Sharif’s failure to deal with the constituency’s problems and meet the people’s needs and aspirations. This could be a reflection of a breach in the implied social contract of votes in exchange for addressing these issues. The turnout was near the norm from past experience of by-elections: 33-36 percent. Of the 44 candidates in the field, 41 have had their deposits confiscated for failure to garner sufficient votes, including the PPP (fourth with 2,692 votes) and the Jamaat-i-Islami (105 votes). Surprisingly, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s recently launched Milli Muslim League came in third with 4,268 votes. How the mighty have fallen. Asif Zardari tried to brush away this pathetic showing with inanities in a press conference in Peshawar yesterday, but this cannot hide the decline of the once mighty PPP. Although polling was largely peaceful, the usual set of complaints and criticism of the by-election came forth from both main contending parties. Federal Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafique complained about the Election Commission of Pakistan’s refusal to extend the voting time despite voters turning up in bigger numbers towards the end of the day. PML-N also alleged that many parchi holders were denied their right to vote and that 60 of their campaign workers were picked up by the law enforcement agencies the night before the polling. With a PML-N government in power in Punjab, if this is true, some other agency must have been responsible for this skullduggery. In turn Dr Yasmin Rashid, the PTI’s losing candidate, has raked up the issue of about 23,000 unverified votes in NA-120, on the basis of which she has vowed to challenge the election result. This inability to lose with some grace is typical of the PTI’s political culture, betraying an anti-democratic mindset and a sense of entitlement beyond reality and the facts. Remember the hullaballoo Imran Khan raised about four seats in the 2013 general elections that led finally to the prolonged sit-in by the PTI in Islamabad in 2014? It seems that when the PTI is unable to win electorally, it refuses to accept the results and perhaps is tempted to take advantage of any ‘shortcuts’ that may be on offer. This trend introduced in politics by the PTI may result in a free-for-all, winner- (by any and all means) takes-all syndrome that is fraught with the risk of even bigger crises and jolts to the democratic system. Senator Farhatullah Babar argued the other day on the floor of the house that micro-management of politics from behind the curtain (back seat driving, as he put it) risks greater conflict and may pose a serious new threat to the democratic project. That suggests a greater adherence by all stakeholders to the existing rules of the game, until such time as there is a consensus across the board on changing those rules to ensure greater transparency and credibility in the electoral process. What the impact of the PML-N’s win in a beleaguered atmosphere could have on the larger political environment may only become clear once the dust has settled in NA-120. But there is a troubling theory doing the rounds these days. This envisages the powers-that-be having decided on a course of incremental decapitation of the political class through the accountability process, leaving at least the main parties headless and arguably adrift. Reference is made as proof of this theory to the National Accountability Bureau’s initiation of references against Nawaz Sharif, his children and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, reopening decided cases against Asif Zardari, and perhaps others. It is argued that the tactic of knocking out Zardari’s lieutenants from under him through corruption charges has not yielded the results perhaps expected. So the need is being felt to go for the top leadership, but this time across the board. Imran Khan had better be careful since his hopes for support from the establishment to come to power may end up in him being used once again for limited goals and then being dumped again. Even if this theory is correct and is incrementally implemented, it will neither succeed in uprooting corruption, which is endemic to the existing system from top to bottom, nor in reducing the main parties to nothingness, if the result of the NA-120 by-election is any guide. If, however, this project succeeds in decapitating the political class, that would open up a dangerous vacuum of leadership at the heart of politics, with uncertain results and fallout. One wonders if the authors of this scheme have thought about what or who would replace the discredited leadership. The discontent with our democratic project as it stands is rooted in the dashed hopes for continuity of the democratic process helping to evolve a transition to a better leadership for the country. However, this hope has failed to fructify because of dynastic politics and the domination of strong individual leaders. In such a milieu, new talent is thwarted by the lack of any internal democracy in the political parties worth the name and the fact that only the filthy rich can afford to take part in elections. The existing political class has a vested interest therefore in a continuation of this situation. This means electoral and democratic reform that could help the emergence of a second rung leadership groomed to take over from their elders is likely to go abegging. A ‘democratic’ system without the ability to overcome its obvious class biases and other flaws is a ‘system’ always teetering on the brink of perfect storms to come. firstname.lastname@example.org rashed-rahman.blogspot.com
Saturday, September 16, 2017
Review petitions’ dismissal Not entirely unexpectedly, the five-member larger bench of the Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed the review petitions moved by the Sharifs against the July 28, 2017 judgement that disqualified Nawaz Sharif as prime minister. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who headed the larger bench, announced the short order dismissing the review petitions “for reasons to be recorded later”. That brings to an end the more than a year and a half affair that began in April 2016 when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists exposed the Sharifs’ offshore assets as part of the Panama Papers. In its July 28, 2017 verdict, the SC had relied on Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, which respectively lay down the grounds for disqualification of elected representatives and the qualifications for them to be elected. Since the SC in that verdict had relied on Article 62(1)(f) to disqualify Nawaz Sharif for failing to declare his undrawn salary from his son’s company in Dubai, the issue of the tenure of his disqualification remains unresolved. Article 62(1)(f) does not specify the tenure of disqualification. If precedent be something to go by, former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was disqualified by the SC for contempt of court and sentenced till the rising of the court to remain ineligible for election for five years. A separate five-member bench of the SC is to determine the disqualification period of Nawaz Sharif. While retaining the right to disagree with the July 28, 2017 judgement, and even subjecting it to reasoned criticism, the Sharifs should now refrain from throwing barbs at the superior judiciary and instead prepare to fight their legal battles in the trial courts poised to take up the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB’s) references against Nawaz Sharif, his children, and Ishaq Dar. Even though the review petitions’ dismissal came on the eve of the by-election in Lahore’s NA-120, Nawaz Sharif’s vacated seat, it would be a mistake to rely on street power or agitation as a defence against Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification or the references now dangling over the Sharifs’ heads. The defence counsel of the Sharifs did express concern before the larger bench regarding a fair trial for their clients in the presence of a judge of the SC overseeing the trial procedures. However, the larger bench attempted to reassure the petitioners that no observation of the SC will influence the trial court and no prejudice will be allowed. The larger bench also explicated the position that the SC had only addressed the constitutionality of the matter, while the criminal side would be dealt with by the trial court. The SC’s July 28, 2017 verdict and now the dismissal of the review petitions have left the legal community divided in their interpretation of the jurisprudential implications of the judgements. These views, especially critical ones, have found an echo in parliament. On the International Day of Democracy on September 15, 2017, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani and PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar made trenchant comments on the current emerging situation. The Senate Chairman reiterated the constitutional position that all state institutions must respect the trichotomy of power amongst parliament, the executive and the judiciary. Raza Rabbani argued that any state institution that misused its power was undermining democracy. There is a need, he emphasized, to learn from our mistakes and strengthen parliament if the democratic project is to succeed. Senator Farhatullah Babar referred in cryptic manner to the totally new form of threat to democracy. He likened it to a model of back seat driving without responsibility or accountability. The person at the wheel, he added, was outmanoeuvred by the real controllers of vital levers on the rear seat. Such a construct, he went on, was fated to meet a disastrous accident. So the argument rages on and is unlikely to go away soon. The Sharifs nevertheless must fight the fight of their lives through legal, not street power, means, in a mature adherence to the strategic patience they need to embrace.
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
FATA mainstreaming The federal cabinet has on September 12, 2017 approved the extension of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and Islamabad High Court to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) as the first step towards implementation of the long overdue reforms in the country’s troubled tribal areas. A bill for this purpose will soon be presented in parliament and after its passage, the colonial legacy of the Frontier Crimes Regulation, which amongst other controversial anomalies allowed collective punishment for crimes and other transgressions, would be abolished, followed by the normal laws of the land being enforced in FATA in a phased manner. This effort will be accompanied by a massive development programme of some Rs 110 billion, to be financed by allocation of additional resources from the divisible pool after the concurrence of all stakeholders. It bears mention that the provinces have yet to concur with this development package. A National Implementation Committee (NIC) under Prime Minister (PM) Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has been constituted to oversee the political, legal, administrative and developmental mainstreaming of FATA. The NIC in its first meeting last week decided to install a transitional mechanism to be headed by a chief operating officer for the transitional period. Besides the members of the FATA reforms committee that initially drafted the FATA programme earlier this year, the PM, COAS, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Chief Minister and the Commander of the 11th Corps have been included in the NIC. The PM has directed the Minister for Law and Justice to fast track the legislative and administrative measures for mainstreaming the tribal areas so that the people of FATA can enjoy the same fundamental rights as the rest of the country (notwithstanding the sad fact that those rights are available to the rest of the citizens of the country more in the breach). The NIC has also approved fast track recruitment of police and the redeployment of some elements of the Frontier Constabulary, after training, to perform police functions in FATA. To put the whole scheme in some perspective, in March 2017 the federal cabinet under former PM Nawaz Sharif had approved a series of steps for the proposed merger of FATA with KP and a 10-year reform package. In May 2017, the government convened a special session of the National Assembly (NA) to present three bills, including the 30th Constitutional Amendment, in the light of the FATA reform committee’s recommendations. However, the former PM withheld the bills after Mahmood Khan Achakzai and Maulana Fazlur Rehman forcefully argued against the merger. Some analysts see this as the FATA merger being tangled in an electoral cobweb. If and when FATA is merged with KP, the latter’s provincial assembly seats will increase by 23 but there may be some loss of seats in the NA and Senate, the former if FATA NA seats are reduced on the basis of population, the latter because FATA’s Senate seats will cease to exist. General Musharraf’s regime legitimised the raising of FATA’s NA seats to 12, double its share in population, by inserting a table as Clause 3 of Article 51 detailing the seats of each province and area. However, this insertion is in contradiction with Article 51(5), which enjoins seat distribution in accordance with population. The changes in seats allocation and possible delimitation of constituencies in the light of the 2017 census have the potential to create problems amongst the stakeholders unless all these anomalies are dealt with in consonance with the merger proposal. When reform and mainstreaming of the tribal areas held in thrall to the strategic and control considerations of the colonial occupying power for so long are contemplated, perhaps the wisest course is to make haste slowly, taking into consideration the potential problems listed above plus any others that may crop up during the incremental exercise. There is of course no going back on abolishing the draconian colonial regime and structures that have deprived the tribal people of their rights as citizens for so long. However, since the process is complicated and fraught with potential pitfalls, the best path may be to introduce reforms in a considered manner while taking on board all stakeholders, but especially the people most affected by the changes, i.e. the people of FATA.
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
The elephant in the room The opening ceremony of the new judicial year at the Supreme Court (SC) in Islamabad on September 11, 2017 saw a number of speeches regarding the dispensation of justice in a democratic society. Chief amongst the speakers was the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, who dilated on the necessity of the independence of the judiciary for a true democracy. He added that each state organ needs to perform its duties and functions in accordance with the constitutional scheme of things, particularly the three pillars of the state, i.e. the executive, legislature and judiciary. Without making express reference to the July 26 Panamagate case verdict, the CJP, perhaps responding to the criticism that has been heaped on the judgement, clarified that the SC does not write judgements to please anyone or settle scores, but renders judgements in the fine scales of justice. He explicated the requirement of judicial review whenever any authority or functionary of the state acted against the constitution or law, an explanation most present on the occasion took to be a reference to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Express reference or no, the Panamagate verdict appeared to be on a lot of minds at the full court reference, assuming, if one may so put it, the avatar of the elephant in the room. Most speakers too, like the CJP, did not make any direct mention of the verdict but it seemed to cast a long shadow over the proceedings. Attorney General (AG) Ashtar Ausaf argued that recent events do not augur well for the trichotomy of powers that underlies the development of a constitutional democracy. He regretted the fact that political issues were brought before the court instead of being resolved on the appropriate forums for the purpose, chief amongst which is parliament. Most analysts agree that Nawaz Sharif made the fatal mistake of not strengthening parliament during his four year stint as prime minister and this flaw contributed to his ouster through a petition that the SC had initially rejected, but which was later taken up in the backdrop of Imran Khan’s threatened fresh lockdown of Islamabad after the Panamagate revelations last year. Touching on the role of the media, the AG expressed the hope that it would not evolve into a parallel ‘people’s court’, a reference perhaps to the readiness of the media, especially electronic, to pronounce judgement on judicial matters even before they have gone through proper judicial proceedings. On the other hand, Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Mohammad Ahsan Bhoon rejected criticism of the verdict without reasoning when all the facts were available on record. He was confident that the verdict would eventually prove a hallmark in the annals of history, helping to bring on the basis of the principles enunciated therein other institutions, hitherto considered sacrosanct, within the accountability net. Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Rasheed A Rizvi was less sanguine about the verdict’s place in history. He expressed his bitterness regarding the inclusion of members of Military Intelligence and the ISI in the Joint Investigation Team set up to probe the matter. Citing the Asghar Khan case, he argued that military interference in political matters evoked finger pointing at both the military and, in the Panamagate case, at the judiciary itself, considering the political sensitivity of the issue. He forcefully argued that the SCBA did not believe that the only independent and honest people capable of an impartial inquiry against a sitting government belonged to the armed forces. Corruption, he added, was a massive challenge and the judiciary had to fight the menace but it should be seen to do so impartially for the sake of its own reputation and standing. He pleaded for the Imran Khan petition that led to the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif not to be the last such but instead to widen the scope of accountability to include other prominent individuals, families and institutions. The arguments raging around the SC verdict in the Panamagate case are unlikely to abate soon. But one aspect that has been highlighted by the affair is the need for a forum for appeal against the verdicts of the SC, particularly when it takes up a matter under Article 184(3). During the discussions on the 18th Amendment in 2010, one proposal was to create a constitutional court to provide such a forum but alas consensus could not be built around the idea and it was eventually dropped. But the need has manifested itself as never before in the wake of the Panamagate verdict. Ideally, it should be the judiciary itself that should point the possible way forward in this eminent regard.
Saturday, August 19, 2017
Council of Common Interests reconstitution Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has reconstituted the Council of Common Interests, but the move has raised some questions that need answering. In the first place, contrary to the provisions of Articles 153(1) and 154(3), which lay down that the Council of Common Interests is appointed by the President on the advice of the prime minister, the new reconstituted Council of Common Interests was announced by the prime minister with seemingly no reference to the President. Second, whereas the eight members of the Council of Common Interests include the prime minister, the chief ministers of the four provinces and three other members, the reconstituted Council of Common Interests has replaced two federal ministers from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan with two federal ministers from Punjab. Although replacing the federal ministers for overseas Pakistanis and religious affairs with the federal ministers for finance and industries makes sense, this has resulted in the Council of Common Interests now having four members from Punjab and six of its members belonging to the PML-N. This outcome has raised eyebrows since it is being interpreted as the PML-N government being more interested in consolidating its power than addressing inter-provincial or Centre-provinces matters. The logical corollary of this perception is that it reflects the government has an eye to the looming elections (by 2018 at the latest). If this is correct, it betrays a lack of understanding on the part of the government regarding the fundamentally important role of the Council of Common Interests in the affairs of the federation, particularly at a juncture when the pattern of different parties being in power in some provinces and the Centre has become more or less the norm. The Council of Common Interests is constitutionally mandated to formulate and regulate policies on all matters in Part II of the Federal Legislative List, an outcome of the abolition of the concurrent list through the 18th Amendment. These subjects include the census, electricity, minerals, oil, gas, ports, federal regulatory authorities, the supervision and management of public debt, national planning and national economic coordination. Of these, the major issues to be addressed by the Council of Common Interests and which could be the cause of discord in the federation include approval of the census, national water policy, and the supply of gas to domestic consumers. The affairs of the federation have been a sensitive area in our history. Before the 18th Amendment, the Council of Common Interests met irregularly and relatively infrequently. To address this problem, the 18th Amendment provided that the Council of Common Interests has to meet every 90 days. Such meetings may assume a greater importance now in the light of the sensitive and potentially fraught matters outlined above. The Council of Common Interests should not appear, as the reconstituted one does, as heavily loaded in favour of the Centre and Punjab, where the PML-N is in power. Nor should the reconstitution have been carried out in the arbitrary and constitutionally controversial manner it has. The more credibly that process is carried out, the more the Council of Common Interests would enjoy the credibility to mediate intra-provincial and Centre-provinces issues, which after all is its raison d’etre.
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Bargaining chip After his exertions of the long march from Islamabad to Lahore, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif continues to rail against what he describes as the unjust verdict of disqualification by the Supreme Court. In the process, he has been lamenting the derailing of his development agenda, pointing to the accomplishments of his four-year tenure in the fields of infrastructure and energy. Obviously smarting from his dismissal, he bemoans the chaos in Pakistan during the last 70 years, the most pointed reference being to the breakaway of East Pakistan in 1971 to emerge as Bangladesh because of the failure to respect the people’s mandate expressed through the ballot box. He has expressed the fear that a repetition of such a step could lead to a similar disaster again. Nawaz Sharif has been making the case for a constitutional amendment regarding the provisions of the judiciary’s working. By this he obviously has his eye on Articles 62 and 63 and 184(3). It is plain that for any constitutional amendment to pass muster in the present parliament would require the cooperation of the opposition, especially of the PPP, and especially in the Senate. However, his ‘feelers’ in this regard have been met by a firm rebuff by the Chairman PPP, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. The young PPP chairman has categorically ruled out any support to the PML-N government’s desire for a constitutional amendment. He argued that given the turmoil in the country, any such move would run the risk of producing a clash between institutions that cannot be afforded at present. Besides, he says, no amendment could benefit Nawaz Sharif’s reinstatement as he has been disqualified by the apex court. He accused the government of striving to transgress all limits after the SC verdict. The PPP, he went on, was practicing the politics of principles and would never come to Nawaz Sharif’s rescue again. Bilawal’s sentiments were echoed by the PPP’s Leader of the Opposition Khurshid Shah, who said it should be left to the next parliament to decide about any amendments to Articles 62 and 63. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah also reminded us of Nawaz Sharif’s opposition to amending Articles 62 and 63 while the 18th Amendment was being discussed. The PPP is angry with Nawaz Sharif for failing to appreciate the PPP’s support during the 2014 Imran Khan-led sit-in in Islamabad. In undertones it accuses his government of putting PPP stalwarts like Dr Asim Hussain in the dock. It is also alienated from Nawaz Sharif because of his studied indifference during his four years in office towards parliament, to the extent of hardly appearing in the house. The PPP had been arguing throughout this period that the democratic forces could only chart the path forward through the strengthening of parliament and situating it centre-stage in the state’s institutional structure, but was disappointed by Nawaz Sharif’s ignoring it. In stage whispers the PPP is expressing the view that Nawaz Sharif got what he deserved for this flagrant lapse. Be that as it may, the PPP may just be taking this hard line position more as a bargaining chip than a final stance. What it would take for Nawaz Sharif to overcome the PPP’s stated hostility is not clear. Of late, Nawaz Sharif has waxed nostalgic about the Charter of Democracy he signed in exile with the late Benazir Bhutto, and which he seemed to forget soon after her assassination in 2007. Whether the provisions of the Charter can be revived and provide the foundations for a reconciliation with the PPP is in the realm of conjecture. Having said that, the chairman PPP may learn at some point that the word ‘never’ is never the final word in politics.
Afghan Taliban’s open letter The Afghan Taliban have taken opportunistic advantage of the Trump administration’s reported struggling with future policy in Afghanistan by addressing an unprecedented open letter to the US President, warning him that the military situation on the ground is “far worse than you realise”. Sending in more troops, the letter goes on, will only result in more self-destruction of men and material. It castigates the Afghan government as “stooges”, “lying, corrupt leaders”, repulsive sell-outs” who care neither for US interests nor those of their own country and are providing “rosy pictures” of the military position. The Taliban boasted that the only reason they were not seizing cities was for fear of civilian casualties. If this last statement is to be believed, it reflects a rare sensitivity on the Taliban’s part regarding innocent lives, something they are not famous for. US troops currently number 8,400, a steep drop from the 100,000 six years ago. The remaining contingent is mainly in a training and advisory role to the Afghan security forces who are struggling to contain the Taliban advance in many rural areas, let alone defeat them. The senior US commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, has requested several thousand additional troops. Influential voices, including Republican Senator John McCain, have urged an “enduring” US military presence. But they are up against scepticism in the White House. US President Donald Trump and several top aides have criticised the years of military intervention in Afghanistan and the high cost of aid to that benighted country. US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has told reporters the administration is “very, very close” to a decision and all options are on the table. US officials though caution that it will likely take several weeks for a South Asia strategy to be approved. The Taliban have twisted the knife in the administration’s wounds by stating in the open letter that they have noted Trump has “understood the errors of (his) predecessors” and “resolved to thoroughly rethink a new strategy”. It cautioned the US President against a number of warmongering Congressmen and Generals in Afghanistan who were pressing him to keep the war going in order to preserve their military privileges. Foreign occupation, the Taliban went on, is the “main driver of the war” and the private contractors (like Blackwater) option that has been in the news of late is hardly a better choice than the unsuccessful trained and disciplined US and NATO troops. The Taliban may be taking advantage of the US administration’s difficulties in Afghanistan but they are enabled to do so by the disastrous results of the US invasion and occupation of that country in the wake of 9/11. Then US President George Bush used a sledgehammer to swat the al Qaeda fly after it attacked the US mainland in a first, Americans having perhaps been lulled into complacency because of two oceans on either side of the country, which they may have believed would protect them. The shock of 9/11 aroused a revengeful anger in the US, which Bush responded to by an invasion that arguably helped spread fundamentalist terrorism throughout the region and further abroad. His successor Barack Obama, elected on a platform of ending Bush’s two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, blundered in announcing withdrawal deadlines from both Afghanistan and Iraq. All his opponents on these battlefields had to do then was wait him out. It is another matter that the ‘peace’ President Obama triggered two more wars on his watch in Libya and Syria. For the US now, the best option remains leveraging their much reduced presence in Afghanistan for talks and a negotiated political solution with the Taliban. However, learning from past mistakes, this is perhaps only possible if the Taliban are convinced that reduced presence or no, the US is in Afghanistan to stay until an acceptable political solution is hammered out. There is no more need to issue any further withdrawal deadlines or loud announcements of troops’ enhancement. In any case the former option should be contingent on the Afghan security forces’ incremental capability in denying the Taliban insurgents a victory.
Monday, August 14, 2017
70, and counting… Rashed Rahman Watching the usual proliferation of flags, buntings and young people out in cars and on motorbikes to celebrate Pakistan’s Independence Day, with special importance this year because the country has completed 70 years in its journey, one hesitates to dampen the mood of celebration. However, as a thinking citizen, it is impossible to contemplate this journey without being reminded of the precarious state of affairs facing Pakistan. The question that stubbornly refuses to let one alone is: what exactly are we celebrating, independence from colonial rule or partition leading to a separate state of Pakistan? Or both? Has the Pakistani identity, if we can presume such a creature exists despite our diversity and complexity as a society, evolved as non-India or anti-India? Or can it claim a hue that is all its own, positive, not a negation of the other? The negative identity ignores the critical reality of our diversity that survived partition and its accompanying mass migration and communal massacres in favour of an imagined community that is Muslim alone and exclusively. It goes without saying that the scars of the wounds of partition have only partly healed. The older generation that lived through those seminal times has suffered by now considerable natural attrition. The in-between generation received the story of partition from the lived experience of their elders and was therefore comparatively less bitter against the ‘other’. The present generation is further removed from those tragic events and in many cases, no longer carries the baggage of their elders. So what is the legacy of partition? It is the eventual inevitability of the separation of a state overwhelmingly Muslim (partly because of the exodus of religious minorities to India during partition and to a lesser extent, ever since) when the last hope of a united India with provincial autonomy and 10-year constitutional guarantees for the large Muslim minority faded with the sabotage of the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 by Congress Party leaders. But the inevitable was rendered horribly tragic by the British colonial authorities’ rushed, botched partition and handover of power to the two new states. Lack of preparation and the failure to protect religiously diverse communities living peacefully together for hundreds of years (some critics argue this was a British neo-colonial ploy to keep Pakistan and India permanently at loggerheads and therefore dependent on the world powers), resulted in communal riots breaking out and the mass migration of some 10 million people from their homes to the other side, the largest mass migration in history. The immigration routes of hapless people going both ways became virtual slaughterhouses, with rape and egregious butchery thrown in for good measure. The die was then cast for Pakistan-India hostility and the evolving view of each being the ‘permanent’ enemy of the other. Kashmir, the long lingering agenda of partition, became the core issue of conflict, added to in later years by wars and jockeying for advantage over the other side. By now, both states are nuclear-armed but the hostile rhetoric emanating from both sides, far from abating in the light of the threatening nuclear shadow, has grown shriller. The India factor explains a great deal in the country’s trajectory away from Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s vision of a secular, democratic, modern state towards one in which national security seemed to trump all other considerations. Adventures with religious extremism to fight proxy wars in the neighbourhood have rebounded with a vengeance to consume our own society in the cauldron of religious fanaticism and terrorism. The national security state arguably lost us more than half (in population) of the country in 1971. The remaining Pakistan is beset with serious problems. The challenges facing the country include international, regional, internal and systemic. Amongst the first named, the drift away from an angry US because of our role in Afghanistan in backing the Taliban against the foreign and indigenous government forces, which some optimists dismiss with the notion that China will replace our former patron, could end up posing incremental serious consequences in the years to come. If Washington has so far acted with restraint despite calls in the US Congress for cut off of aid and sanctions against Pakistan, it is not only because the logistics of their presence in Afghanistan demand keeping the transit route through Pakistan open, it is also because the superpower has its eye on the region and the Pakistani military’s potentially critical role in the playbook unfolding there. Similarly, notwithstanding Washington’s irritation with Pakistan’s partial actions against terrorists while continuing covert support to the Afghan Taliban, Islamabad cannot ignore the benefits of staying on the right side of the US, nor the latter’s clout to harm Pakistan and its interests. Regionally, Pakistan has so far maintained a wise distance and neutrality in the sectarian wars raging and threatened in the Middle East, with their potential for spillover into Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. The current trend of exacerbated tensions with India because of the uprising in Kashmir and India’s attempts to suppress it by extreme force while blaming Pakistan for the troubles has led to the breakdown of the 2003 ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC). This has also led to the reversal of intra-Kashmiri interaction across the LoC. Internal security, whether because of terrorism or the Baloch nationalist insurgency (with the latter’s implications for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor project), will remain on top of the country’s agenda for the foreseeable future. But the most crucial issue for Pakistan’s future is the inability to date to provide a consistent system to run the country. Despite all the military coups and authoritarian interventions to remove elected governments in our history, the consensus on the democratic project as the only feasible and viable system to keep the country on track and on the path to a better future remains intact, albeit battered by its critics. Essentially, the project asks how governments are to be chosen, how they are to govern, with what separation of powers and checks and balances, and how they are to be removed. The answers lie in the concept of the sovereign as supreme, i.e. the people. Governance must look to parliament as the supreme authority. Other state institutions must function within their constitutional ambit. No government should be removed except by an appeal to the electorate. Simple? Yes, but what a thorn-strewn path it is in our history. If such a democratic system that allows room for dissidence and delivers to the people their deepest aspirations for a better life can be forged in the still hot cauldron of our political life, Pakistan can look forward to the next 70 years with confidence and hope. If not, the outlook appears dire to some, sappingly stagnant to others. All other options having been tried and found wanting, there appears no escape from the necessity to soldier on in assuring the democratic project continues to march forward and overcomes with good, intelligent political strategy, all the considerable obstacles in its path. email@example.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com
Sunday, August 13, 2017
Institutional dialogue The Senate on August 10, 2017 proposed an intra-institutional dialogue amongst the military, judiciary, parliament and the executive on the way forward after the disqualification of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the subsequent political fallout of that Supreme Court (SC) decision. During the discussion on the proposal, there seemed to be a convergence of views on either repealing or suitably amending Articles 62 and 63, which provided the basis for the SC’s verdict. Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani argued in the house and subsequently on other forums that an institutional clash was not in the interests of anyone, certainly not the country, and to avoid that, an intra-institutional dialogue had become the need of the day. A Senate Committee of the Whole would soon be convened to finalise the steps necessary to bring about such a dialogue. In the house there also seemed to be an emerging view that Article 184(3) should be amended to provide for appeals against the SC’s decisions on questions of fundamental rights. Most speakers, while dilating on these issues, provided the harshest ever criticism of the military and judiciary for the second consecutive day running. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif too came in for a bit of stick, particularly from the opposition PPP. The party’s Senator Farhatullah Babar perhaps best summed up the issues by first criticising Nawaz Sharif’s track record and then posing four fundamental questions to the house. Babar roundly critiqued Nawaz Sharif’s culpability in weakening parliament (by largely ignoring it); rejecting repeal or amendment of Articles 62 and 63 when the 18th Amendment was being discussed; rejecting the setting up of a constitutional court with equal number of judges from all the provinces after agreeing to it in the Charter of Democracy; seeking the disqualification of the PPP’s former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani through the courts, and joining hands with the agencies against three PPP governments (including rigging the 1990 elections). Despite that, Senator Babar continued, he could not support the SC verdict, which reminded him of the Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan case in the 1950s. In that case, a technicality had been relied upon to disband parliament. In the present Panama case, parliament mercifully remained intact but a prime minister was disqualified on a technicality of another kind. This throwback to the past should make parliament wiser, he said. The country has been reeling from crisis to crisis since the infamous Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan case. Parliament should now rise above partisan considerations. Senator Babar then posed four questions to parliament. (1) Will parliament define sadiq and ameen, which remain undefined even under Article 260? Are these terms only to be applicable to members of parliament? Whether judges are sadiq and ameen even after taking oath under a PCO and ‘legalised’ subversion of the constitution? Whether a General epitomised sadaqat and amanat even if he suspended the constitution and when tried on that charge, fled the court and was given protection in a hospital where the police could not enter? (2) Since the Panama papers were about accountability, will parliament take the bull by the horns and make legislation for across the board accountability of all the high and mighty regardless of whether they were elected representatives, judges or Generals? (3) Whether parliament must permit the use of Article 184(3) in which no appeal lies, contravening thereby the provisions of Article 10-A, promising a fair trial? (4) Whether parliament would now proceed to create a constitutional court as envisaged in the Charter of Democracy? The debate in the Senate has squarely put its finger on the fundamental flaw in Pakistan’s constitutional and political structure. While the dialogue proposal and its accompanying critique and arguments are unassailable on the touchstone of logic and cannot therefore be easily dismissed, it tends to ignore the elephant in the room. Putting the genie of an overbearing military establishment back in the bottle merely through a dialogue appears difficult, if not a pipe dream, especially given the state of mutual mistrust and suspicion currently rife amongst the institutions named in the proposal. Only if the politicians deliver to the people and carve out a credible system of democratic governance will it be possible to arrive at civilian supremacy over the armed forces in the long run, and that too not without a concerted and consistent political struggle that places parliament centre-stage in the affairs of the polity and state.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Electoral Reform Bill 2017 The parliamentary committee on electoral reforms set up in 2014 under the chair of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has after three years of mulling over the matter, finally tabled a Bill for the purpose. Provided it passes muster in parliament, the Bill attempts to address the anomalies and long standing complaints about our electoral system. Most elections in our history have been accompanied by greater or lesser accusations of cheating, rigging and bad management. The last 2013 election too had its share of such complaints. In fact that election has been dubbed the ‘Returning Officers election’ because of the perception that these officers were either incompetent, motivated in some way or the other, and indifferent to the plethora of complaints by the stakeholders in the process. In this and past elections, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has often been under fire for not doing its job. Given this background and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf’s (PTI’s) charges of hanky panky in the 2013 elections, parliament decided to take the bull by the horns and set up the committee. The thorny nature of the issues confronting the committee, stretching back over the years, may be one explanation for the extraordinarily long deliberations it went through. The other may be the distraction of the government, including Dar, because of the political challenge thrown up by the PTI. Nevertheless, now that the belated Bill is on the floor, its provisions need assessment. The thrust of these provisions is to enhance the autonomy and increase the independent functioning of the ECP. Thus, for example, the Bill proposes initiatives by the ECP regarding the preparation of voters’ lists (the yet to be announced results of the census may not be available in time for the exercise this time round), delimitation, simplification of nomination papers, installation of surveillance cameras, penalties for violations, women voters’ turnout, the powers of polling day officials, expediting the resolution of election disputes, implementation of a Code of Conduct and a transparent Results Management System to ensure expeditious counting, compiling and dissemination of election results. The ECP is charged with preparing an action plan to implement these proposals at least six months before the elections, a tight schedule if ever there was one. The Bill empowers the ECP with full administrative powers to control and transfer election officials during elections and take disciplinary action against them for misconduct. The Chief Election Commissioner shall have full financial powers, including powers to create posts within approved budgetary allocations. The ECP would be empowered to make rules without the prior approval of the President or the government, such rules being subject to prior publication, seeking suggestions within 15 days. The ECP would be authorised to redress complaints and grievances during various stages of the election process, other than challenges to the election itself under Article 225. ECP decisions in such matters would be appealable before the Supreme Court. A potentially ticklish provision is the scrutiny by the ECP of the wealth statements of parliamentarians, with false declarations inviting unseating. This provision should now be read with reference to the Supreme Court verdict disqualifying Nawaz Sharif. A transparent, efficient, credible electoral system is the starting point of the democratic project. It is critical to overcoming the legacy of controversies after every election, which sometimes have led to big political crises. Such a system puts elections centre-stage as the preferred mode of change of governments. It is a sine qua non for according legitimacy to elected governments, something we should aspire to if the history of election quarrels is to be put to rest. An autonomous, empowered ECP is essential for this goal. However, any system is only as good as the people who man it. The appointment therefore of the Chief Election Commissioner and other members of the ECP must enjoy consensus across the political divide, particularly since they would now be empowered to run elections independently.
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
The rules of the game It is heartening to hear COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa emphasise upholding the rule of law and supremacy of the constitution. In an indirect manner, he also indicated that the army was committed to its job of national defence and security, implying, in the minds of some commentators, that the institution he heads is not intervening in politics. These statements come as a direct refutation of the views expressed by General (retd) Pervez Musharraf the other day, in which he counterposed saving the country as more important than adhering to the constitution. Of course, the absconder from justice and former military dictator was attempting a mea culpa for all he wrought during his years in power. The malign effects of Musharraf’s policies, including twice violating the constitution and being responsible for the murders on his watch of Nawab Akbar Bugti and Benazir Bhutto, are still with us in the form of a nationalist insurgency in Balochistan and political instability in the country as a whole. And it is worth mentioning that he managed to escape from the country and the treason and murder cases against him to enjoy life in Dubai and continue to pontificate from there on national affairs. General Bajwa on the other hand, was expressing the sense of the Corps Commanders meeting he had just presided over. The military, as no one knows better than the COAS, has its hands full with the war against terrorism and the security issues on our borders. Unfortunately, given the history of our country, whenever politics takes a turn for the worse, as is the situation after Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification by the Supreme Court, the military willy-nilly gets dragged into the fray even if it does not wish to. It is therefore refreshing to hear the COAS categorically focus on the military’s critical tasks while adhering to the rule of law and the constitution. Nawaz Sharif’s march from Islamabad to Lahore along the GT Road will probably have occurred by the time these lines are printed. However, there are portents of trouble. The security agencies are emphasising that terrorist threats loom and asking Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N marchers to adhere to the security plan they have chalked out. There are also fears of clashes along the way between PML-N and PTI supporters. Nawaz Sharif, while putting on a show of popular support after his ouster, must calibrate his steps carefully so as not to contribute to exacerbating the instability that threatens. Arguably, his interests lie in remaining within the confines of the law and peaceful protest so as to improve the chances of his successor, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s government serving out the rest of the tenure of the PML-N government and thereby positioning the ruling party to make an even stronger showing in the coming elections. Instability at this point could tempt non-democratic forces to attempt once again aborting the march of democracy and imposing technocratic solutions that have failed in the past and are likely to fail again. While the political culture of the Muslim League (in all its manifestations over the last 70 years) is not that of a party of protest, if anything the opposite (malleable), the circumstances nevertheless compel a public show of strength by the PML-N to dispel depression in its ranks, keep up morale, close ranks and pave the way for an even greater triumphal return to power in the next elections. This scheme requires stability and normality. If the PML-N in its wisdom has decided on a show of strength, there are voices advising against such a course. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah of the PPP advised Nawaz Sharif on the eve of the march not to indulge in such actions in the month of August and so close to August 14, which Independence Day has acquired a seminal character because of the country’s 70th birthday. Nevertheless, the people of Pakistan deserve to be served by their political leaders in a manner that helps the country to remain stable, deal with the internal security and external defence challenges with the help of both the civilian and military leadership and pave the way for a better future for Pakistan and its citizens.
Monday, August 7, 2017
Politics in the time of 62/63 Rashed Rahman A disturbing exacerbation of the trend towards unsubstantiated accusations, allegations and downright abuse against political opponents has been witnessed since the Supreme Court verdict disqualifying former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. A flawed but still relatively civil political culture that has been the hallmark of the Pakistani polity despite the fraught and tragic history of the country stands threatened with obliteration. The trend started with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf’s (PTI’s) rise since 2011. Not only did Imran Khan and other leaders and spokesmen of the party adopt this new uncivilised and downright rude behaviour, their trolls on the social media have by now raised it to a ‘fine’ art. The PTI’s main rival parties, PML-N and PPP, had hitherto refrained from descending to the same level. That restraint, particularly in the case of the PML-N, appears to be fraying. The ability of the mainstream media to frame issues with context and objectivity has fallen victim to the ratings race (in the case of the electronic media) and to the self-censorship adopted by the media as a whole. The officially certified truth, which independent media looked at askance and critically in the past, appears to rule the roost and arguably serves the purposes of powerful state institutions that are not answerable to the people. The biggest victims of the rudeness and abuse proliferating in society generally and the mainstream and social media in particular are women. Perhaps this does not come as a surprise to informed observers and human and gender rights activists. MNA Ayesha Gulalai, formerly of the PTI, has been roundly abused, threatened, and painted as a tool of the PML-N after she revealed that Imran Khan had sent her inappropriate text messages that constitute sexual harassment. In the storm of abuse and threats to her and her family, the more important revelations about the PTI’s political culture and alleged corruption in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) where the party is in power got drowned out. Ayesha Gulalai’s three main criticisms of the PTI’s culture were: (1) ill treatment and under representation of women; (2) Imran Khan’s intra-party favouritism, and (3) rampant corruption by KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak and central leader Jahangir Tareen. In a move decried by the PTI as a partisan moral witch-hunt against Imran Khan, newly elected Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi suggested on the floor of the National Assembly that a parliamentary commission should be set up to address Gulalai’s accusations against Imran Khan. That idea was at first rejected by the PTI, but later seems to have been grudgingly accepted so as not to seem disrespectful of parliament (not a new charge against the PTI). The commission has been announced with 20 members, 13 from the treasury benches and seven from the opposition. Imran Khan and PTI spokesmen continue to crib about such a body not being credible as it is stacked with their opponents. Had the parliamentary commission also addressed the other, main accusations of Ayesha Gulalai, it would perhaps have enhanced its status and credibility. The re-emergence of Ms Ayesha Ahad with damaging accusations against Hamza Shahbaz Sharif of marrying her under false pretences and then dumping her and subjecting her to brutal treatment just after Ayesha Gulalai’s j’accuse against Imran Khan and the PTI, raised similar conspiracy theories as ascribed to the previous accuser. If Ayesha Gulalai was castigated by the PTI as a tool of the PML-N, Ayesha Ahad is being trashed as the PTI’s counter-stroke to discredit Hamza Shahbaz. In the process, irrespective of whether both women are truthful or not, a storm of misogyny and dirtying women in general and these two in particular has broken out. This reflects the obvious male chauvinist culture that still dominates our society. But it also hits at women in public life, professions and politics on the basest foundations. In a civilised society and functional justice system, both sets of accusations could have been tackled by libel and defamation laws. In Pakistan, however, such laws are weak and given the dysfunctional crisis of our judicial system, impossible to redress through the courts. Hence the worthies across the political divide who have sprung to the defence of their respective leaders have had recourse to the most vile and contemptuous attitude towards women. A democratic polity requires restraint and politeness even when critiquing or attacking one’s political opponents. Now that the floodgates of abuse of opponents and rivals have been thrown open, there is no telling what the eventual fallout for the democracy project will be. On balance, the PPP has shown the most restraint and maturity of the three main parties. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has pointed to the damaging effect of such language and behaviour towards political rivals in a still weak democracy attempting to find solid foundations. Our older and more experienced politicians could do worse than pay heed to these wise words from a relatively young head. The free-for-all that our political discourse has descended into, with copious helpings of abuse on top, has the potential to dangerously unsettle our political landscape. On the eve of Nawaz Sharif’s triumphal march down the GT Road from Islamabad to Lahore tomorrow, amidst fears of PML-N-PTI workers’ clashes en route, it may be useful to draw some lessons from the experience of an elected PML-N government facing from day one a hostile PTI intent on capturing power (by hook or by crook, it is alleged by its detractors). The biggest mistakes of Nawaz Sharif over his four year incumbency were to ignore his own real strength, i.e. parliament, and ignoring and therefore self-isolating himself from his staunchest erstwhile support, the PPP. Only now, when he has been shown the door by the Supreme Court under Article 62(1)(f) has he voiced ‘nostalgia’ for the Charter of Democracy. The Charter attempted to address, on Benazir Bhutto’s initiative, the problem that had bedeviled democracy in the 1990s. Rival parties turned repeatedly to unelected power centres to topple their rivals. The political class (or at least that section of it that still adheres to democracy as the only way forward to a stable polity), must relearn the lesson that when rivals transcend parliamentary and democratic norms, i.e. attempt to do down their rivals in a no-holds-barred manner, the only beneficiary is the deep state. In what may come increasingly to be defined as ‘politics in the time of Articles 62/63’ (given the incremental falling back by every Tom, Dick and Harry on these hangovers of General Ziaul Haq’s military dictatorship after the Supreme Court’s verdict), the political class needs to revisit the rules of political contention a la Charter of Democracy to keep the subverters of the democracy project at bay. firstname.lastname@example.org rashed-rahman.blogspot.com