By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
28 August 2015
The Myth and the Modern World
By Elf Habib
Shuja Khanzada and the Lej
By Syed Kamran Hashmi
The System under Welcome Assault
By Ayaz Amir
By Saadia Gardezi
Pakistan's Afghan Problem
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
The Electoral Mess
By I.A. Rehman
Does Islamabad Really Care About Balochistan?
By Zahid Ali
August 28, 2015
Most Muslim leaders and preachers keep portraying the world as one that is divided into Muslims and non-Muslims, blaming the various sufferings and scourges afflicting Muslim countries as punishment merely for being Muslim countries while the rest, particularly the western world, which is predominantly Christian, has been persistently and systematically conspiring to undermine the potential progress and predominance of Muslims. However, any realistic and unbiased analysis reveals this entire perception and gripe to be utterly whimsical. The first evident fact is that the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is the only organisation built on the basis of religion in the present world. No other comparable non-Muslim interstate structure exists nor has it existed since alliances formed during the crusades. Even the alliances emerging during the sectarian wars in medieval Europe targeted rival Christian sects and not Muslims or those belonging to other faiths.
The next great phase in Europe, primarily marked a struggle against interference of the church in state power, privileges and policies, led consequently to a struggle for the people’s rights and for representative governments. This was further stimulated by scientific discoveries, industrial revolutions, innovations for rapid and mass manufacturing, marketing, commercial rivalries and quest for the control of colonies. Scientific discoveries also enlightened human thought making it question the concepts and beliefs congealed for centuries through religion, superstition, hearsay and tradition. The human mind, infused with new findings in biological, physical, chemical and astronomical realms, could not connect to the narratives about the genesis of life and universe such as the world being created in six days, seven skies structured with the stairs and steps, the sun, stars and the moon suspended from them like giant globes and an insignificantly smaller span of the earth’s life in contrast to the veritable evidence of a succession of species spread over millions of years on it.
Their impact on western thought, attitude, behaviour, beliefs and culture evidently became quite unstoppable and morphed into a vividly manifested evolution of thought, beliefs and behaviour that, over the last two centuries, have been even more marked than Darwin’s evolution of the species. It nudged these societies to question any belief without evidence, obedience to any government, ruler or authority founded without their explicit consent and participation, and the rules and strictures set up without their approval. Having endured the ravages of centuries’-long religious wars, they realised the futility of feuds, fights and confrontations to enforce any celestial stipulations. They accepted the inevitability of tolerance, peace and pluralist societies, preferring to settle conflicting issues and concerns through consensus, and embraced democracy as the most pragmatic pattern to attain the most optimum and acceptable policy options from disparate beliefs, opinions and aspirations.
Democracy inherently accepts dissent and diversity of creeds, customs and cultures culminating into pluralist societies. It negates the supremacy of any particular religious dictates and their imposition as an instrument of state policies. These attributes, generally termed as secularism, became the western norm. Religious belief and practices consequently plummeted across these nations. Even non-Christian migrants were elevated to their highest state echelons including the cabinets. The percentage of believers, as per various surveys, for instance, has fallen to about 19 percent in Scandinavia, 27 percent in France, 42 percent in the UK and 54 percent in the US.
These statistics evidently erode the basis that brands them as ‘the Christian world’. Having almost left their own ancestral faith any belief-based conspiracy cannot be imagined by them. Some of them have been openly shielding Muslims from their militant and terrorist brothers. Another obvious fact is that this democratic, secular and pluralistic thought now has also been spreading to some Muslim countries like Turkey, Tunisia, Libya, Indonesia and Bangladesh. The segments suffused with this, however, still lack the strength, activism and organisation to counter the relatively more conservative discourse and antagonism against them. The withering of the Arab Spring, persistence of discriminatory religious codes and intolerance in countries like Pakistan, struggling to sustain democratic dispensations, aptly illustrate the same conflict. This mindset ergo cannot be blamed only on the west but it is an inevitable result of changing global events, imperatives and the exigencies needed to learn from them.
So, the world, rather than being divided between the Muslims and non-Muslims, is divided into these two broad and disparate mindsets about life and religion. One accepts these realities and moves with the times, assimilating the emerging imperatives, while the other remains locked in an idealistic, irretrievable past. The west has relegated religious choice to the prerogative of its citizens and strives instead to improve the quality of their life, security, skills, peace and resources. The conservative Muslim mindset, in contrast, still mostly serenades the past, promoting divine injunctions and the passion for their literal implementation. It rejects even the most evidently instructive phenomena and the most incontrovertible evidence contrary to their crusade to mould states, cultures and entire socioeconomic systems into an inalterable static pattern. It tolerates no dissent, diversity or regional and ethnic affinities. The militant Muslims’ drive for a grand global caliphate, for instance, ignores even the most patent failures in managing much smaller multiethnic states. Religion could not save Pakistan, Sudan and Yemen from splintering, could not knit different Arab countries into a single government and it could not preempt the battles and feuds battering various “brother Muslim states”. Yet it is still believed to be a binding elixir for all the global Muslim states. The obsession for an excessive force to eliminate entire obstacles likewise ignores the fate of some most robust and ruthless fascist empires.
These passions, unfortunately, are the perpetuation of a peculiar mindset that ignited endless religious wars and ravages. Its continuation in a fast shrinking and intertwining world where Muslims are generally more dependent on the non-Muslims can become even more catastrophic for the former. So, rather than walloping the western attitude and so-called conspiracies, this mindset has to be realistically remedied to reap success and a symbiotic rapport with the rapidly altering imperatives.
Elf Habib is an academic and freelance columnist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
To avenge the death of their leader, Malik Ishaq, in police custody, the Lashkar-e-Jhnagvi (LeJ) perpetrated a suicide attack against the interior minister of Punjab, Shuja Khanzada, last week killing almost 20 people along with the most outspoken critic of sectarian organisations.
Upon the news of Malik Ishaq’s demise, the media at first reported that the supporters of the militant leader had attacked the police convoy that was transporting him while he was being relocated and set him free. Six police officers were wounded in the ambush and 14 detainees lost their lives, one of them being Malik Ishaq himself. Afterwards, Shuja Khanzada clarified the stance of the government. He said that the leader of the LeJ had been strategically eliminated as a part of the National Action Plan (NAP), explaining that there was no place for extremists like him anymore in society and that the government was determined to go after anyone and everyone who had been involved in terrorist activities. His statements in a way confirmed what many of us were suspecting to begin with: there had been no attack on the police convoy and the infamous sectarian leader was killed in a ‘fake encounter’.
Now, after the suicide attack on this prominent member of the Punjab cabinet, analysts have raised questions about the not-so-foolproof security provided to Shuja Khanzada even when his name had popped up in the militants’ hit-list, the competency of the Punjab police that had failed to protect its own boss and about the accuracy of the intelligence information state institutions share with each other. Sure, all these questions raise genuine concerns about our readiness to deal with the terrorist blow back but what they do not ask, which they must, is how come these organisations are still so powerful after two years of a country-wide military operation, including in the North Waziristan Agency, once known as the epicentre of worldwide terrorism? Did we not reassure the world that we had broken the backbone of these outfits and congratulated ourselves already? Have we not proclaimed that all the ‘miscreants’ were on the run hiding from law enforcement agencies? That their network did not exist anymore because their headquarters had been bulldozed to the ground? That they had suffered heavy casualties and had lost the capability to hit us back?
None of these claims seem to be true after the death of Mr Khanzada, who was first warned by the terrorists weeks ahead of the tragedy and was given enough time to take precautionary measures. My fear is that we could not have taken enough precautions anyway, even if the police had done everything right. With the current strategy of pounding all suspected terrorists with artillery fire and striking their hideouts with jet bombs, the state is still not fully prepared to take on the vast network of these organisations and eradicate the nuisance altogether. Its apparatus is too weak. The enemy sits way too deep undercover and lies far beyond the reach of gun power. The use of sweeping force alone in such circumstances can work for some time and in some places but it does not guarantee a good outcome. On the contrary, the indiscriminate use of force can create more problems than it can resolve. Remember the US invasion in Iraq? Did it yield the outcome one had hoped to get?
Let me explain a little more about why I say the state is too weak to handle the crisis by asking a simple question: why did the state prefer to kill Malik Ishaq instead of prosecuting him? The reason is not difficult to reckon: everyone knows we did not have enough evidence against Malik Ishaq to keep him in custody. And, without evidence, he was bound to get out on bail and eventually shed off all the charges against him. You see, this is where our weakness lies: the incapability of various institutions to gather evidence and build an effective case against suspects. Killing is just the quicker answer. My second point is: upon the killing of Malik Ishaq, the response (or lack thereof) of the liberals was lamentable. They should have stood up against the policy of extra judicial killings but they kept quiet. Even the most out spoken human rights’ activists felt so exhausted that they did not retaliate against the way the LeJ leader was executed.
Honestly speaking, the state cannot behave like the terrorists do, which is to capture, torture and then eliminate suspects without giving them the opportunity to defend themselves in a court of law. If the state gets its hands dirty and behaves irresponsibly, it exposes its weakness and loses its moral superiority. No war can be won without having that moral conviction; we have to keep that in mind. As far as guns are concerned, terrorists have guns too and they have soldiers who can die for their cause as well. They may also have an ideology that keeps their men energised. What they do not have is justice, the law and a system that guarantees a fair chance to everybody, a network of organisations in place to hold the powerful accountable and force them to abide by the rules.
One argument in defence of extra judicial killings could be that the US did not try many of the Guantanamo Bay inmates or known terrorists like Osama bin Laden in a court of law. True, but al Qaeda did not operate in the US nor were its members US citizens. Most, if not all of its seminaries, financiers, supporters and operatives stayed outside the country. Essentially, the US was/is fighting a war of terror that is not homegrown while Pakistan is fighting a homegrown enemy. In fact, we face a Frankenstein’s monster that we thought would never enter our home while it trampled upon the peace in our neighbourhood.
Syed Kamran Hashmi is a US-based freelance columnist. He tweets at @KaamranHashmi and can be reached at email@example.com
August 28, 2015
The status quo, this malaise which has got us down, turning a promising country into a basket case – it’s hard to remember but we did have promise decades ago – would be the Republic’s death if allowed to persist. How much mediocrity and corruption can any society endure?
In 1965 our GDP was bigger than that of South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong. The Gulf emirates were nowhere. Cadets and officers considered it a matter of pride to train in our academies. Staff College, Quetta, was highly regarded. PIA was not the joke it has become. We were a more dynamic country than Hindustan. And you could have a drink without forfeiting your lease on the Hereafter. Look where we now are.
So anything that shakes the status quo, any blow to it, is good and to be welcomed. The Middle East got its shakeup, its Arab Spring, through the masses. That mood has turned sour but it was good while it lasted. Pakistan is getting its Arab Spring not through the masses because the masses, bless them, are fast asleep but – hold your breaths – from the army. (Although expect not the liberati, tuned to a different sort of music, to acknowledge this. The liberati are still living in a different age.)
The democrats were flinching and making excuses. So they cowered before the forces of terrorism. Their standard response to any emergency was that circus, far superior to anything pulled by the Lucky Irani Circus, called an all-parties conference. There, fortified by biryani and meat, they would talk for hours and come to none but the most vapid conclusions.
And the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan would be laughing up their sleeves and bomb another bazaar and ambush another military convoy and the democrats, solemn-faced, would brandish another olive branch and belt forth another love song to peace and the virtues of negotiations.
The army, let us not forget, was the begetter of our sorrows, nursing notions of ‘jihad’ and strategic depth from which arose the various founts of terrorism. But it has corrected course and decided on a new path, taking on the challenge of terrorism not only in Fata but Karachi and, sporadically, also Punjab. Malik Ishaq was considered untouchable. He and his leading players stand eliminated.
Now comes news that Brahamdagh Bugti – who as the real successor to his grandfather, Nawab Akbar Bugti, commands respect not only in his own tribe but the broader penumbra of Baloch nationalism – is open to negotiations. No better news has come out of Balochistan for a long time, which is again a reflection of altered circumstances. The security forces now seem to have the upper hand. But since the call to arms is never enough, Brahamdagh’s offer should be taken up. It is high time young men stopped ‘disappearing’ in Balochistan and high time the Baloch came in from the cold.
On the political front the MQM leadership is running out of options. Its resignation ploy may have had some effect on the federal government and such of its allies as that all-weather thermometer, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, but very little on the army which is behind the operation in Karachi. Meanwhile the money-laundering case is gathering pace in London – and Altaf Hussain’s harangues on television are mercifully heard no more. If on no other count but this, the Karachi operation would be deemed a success.
And Asim Hussain, long considered the closest thing to Asif Zardari, has been taken into custody. As principal sidekick to the former president he had earned a reputation for his real or alleged exploits in the financial field. After the raid on the Karachi Building Control Authority – also said to have a close connection to that bottomless pit, Bilawal House – Mr Zardari had threatened fire and brimstone (the Urdu translation is more colourful but let that pass).
Then wisdom dawning he thought it best to repair post haste to that last sanctuary of every high-placed Pakistani, the princely emirate of Dubai…from where he has not been heard of since. Khurshid Shah has spoken of Asim Hussain’s plight, but from Mr Zardari there has been not a squeak.
Strangely enough the person wearing the longest face, longer even than Asif Zardari’s and Altaf Hussain’s, is someone else: the prime minister. Whether at the Convention Centre on Independence Day, sitting next to the army chief, or at the Presidency at the swearing in of the new chief justice, the prime minister’s countenance was a study in glumness. What’s the source of his unhappiness?
The cynical view is that he and his coterie are finding it hard to digest the army’s ranking in public opinion. The more plaudits the army wins the deeper and more marked becomes the PML-N’s depression…so talk the cynics, and as we know there is no shortage of this breed in our climate.
But this is hardly the army’s fault, nor that of the cynics. When the country was in a bad way last year democracy’s champions were not even fiddling. That at least would have been some entertainment. Like a flock of pigeons they had closed their eyes…and were locked up in their own pursuits. Left to them the country would have been at the mercy of the Taliban, and begging for terms from them.
Other worries have cropped up too. Out of the four constituencies Imran Khan had held up as examples of rigging, the decision in three has gone against the PML-N. And the party while putting on a brave face is reeling from this outcome.
The PTI had lost ground after the judicial commission verdict which did not endorse its viewpoint about election rigging. It has recovered much of it with these three decisions (a hat-trick as its supporters are describing it). Sensibly, however, the PML-N is fighting the by-elections instead of going to the Supreme Court (as Saad Rafique had done earlier).
So the stage is being set for three exciting contests: two in Lahore, one in Lodhran. Their impact will be far-reaching…for they will show which way the wind is blowing. If the PML-N loses, the entire election of 2013 is called into question. If Imran Khan loses, the steam goes out of his challenge. Neither side, therefore, can afford to lose.
Pakistan is passing through a peculiar phase. There is outward stability, ensured by the armed forces and their war on terrorism. But coupled with this overall stability, the democratic system is being buffeted by one storm after another.
The PPP is out of any meaningful reckoning, which is something to be thankful for. The MQM is being defanged, its terror or militant wing being taken out by the Rangers and other security agencies. The PML-N is facing other pressures.
On its mind is this troubling thought: what if the engines of accountability now mainly busy with the affairs of Karachi turn in its direction? There is no shortage of skeletons in the party’s cupboards. And there are the two ticking bombs of the Asghar Khan case and the Model Town firing incident.
The Asghar Khan case has the potential of unhorsing the PML-N leadership. It’s only by the grace of the stars that it has escaped reckoning on that account. The Model Town case is another tinderbox which if ignited can consume the party’s Punjab leadership.
All these developments are quickening and enlivening the pace of national politics. The status quo has dragged Pakistan down and is keeping it there. As long as it stays in place the country can know neither peace nor realise its real potential. But the status quo is coming under assault and that is something to be welcomed…and perhaps encouraged with open arms.
One would have thought that social media would become a tool for empowering women, but research has proven otherwise.
Emerys Schoemaker, a PhD scholar at the London School of Economics (LSE), conducted research in Pakistan and published some findings this month at LSE’s South Asia blog. He is of the view that Internet adoption is following established gender lines and this may reinforce established family dynamics. For Shoemaker, the narrative around social media is very simplistic. He questions technology’s potential to ‘liberate oppressed women’.
The numbers back the claim. A survey of 900 mobile data users in three Punjabi cities concluded that 85% of male respondents reported that they mostly use Facebook, compared to only 47% of female respondents. By contrast, 45% of women say they usually use WhatsApp compared to only 13% of men.
To understand the story behind these figures, Schoemaker interviewed mobile Internet users Punjab. He narrates the story of Saima, who wears a full-face covering niqab, who saw WhatsApp as private or, “‘Ghar ki bat” (‘Of the House’). In contrast, Facebook was public. Shoemaker has termed this phenomenon “Digital Purdah”.
And it’s not just the women who maintain the gender difference, men do too. Men often have multiple accounts, with a Facebook profile for their male friends (and in most cases nearly all their friends are male) and another account for their family. The reason? To maintain everyday segregation in digital life as well. They don’t want other men to see family pictures, especially of female family members. “This is our culture,” said one of the respondents to Schoemaker during his research.
Though some women also have multiple Facebook accounts, mostly used to contact and communicate with men outside their families, the dominant behaviour maintains gender segregation. Women are kept hidden in public life, and stay hidden on the Internet as well.
The way that women use Facebook has much to do with privacy concerns. The ‘context collapse’ format, where one page hold a single, easily viewable timeline, puts too much of our lives together in one place. Additionally, there are issues with a user managing their privacy on Facebook.
The problem may seem benign but there are growing numbers of cases of cybercrime against women in Pakistan. Men have been arrested for creating fake female accounts and blackmailing women. Women regularly have their pictures stolen and photoshopped onto pictures of naked women to be used for blackmail. There have been more than 170 complaints of cybercrime against women this year in Punjab according to the Federal Investigation Agency (no figures were available for the remaining three provinces). None of the cases was successfully prosecuted because women usually reached a compromise with the suspect.
The more one explores the issue, the worse the situation seems to get. According to a human rights organisation that focuses on communication technology, Bytes For All, in one case an online hate campaign urging the rape and murder of a prominent human rights defender resulted in shots being fired at the woman and her husband. She had to suffer death threats and photos of her family were found and posted online. In another case a 14-year-old girl was blackmailed into submitting to repeated gang rapes after her boyfriend threatened to post online a video he had secretly shot of the two together. The police instead of helping her, got her date of birth wrong and then refused to term it statutory rape.
Sites like Facebook have huge potential, from being a platform for entrepreneur ship to a space for advocacy of issues. To be so scared that one cannot engage in discussions online, from the safety of ones own home, is a new low for gender equality in Pakistan.
This does not and cannot mean that women should start deleting their Facebook accounts. The problem is not in the women and their desire to communicate and share online. The problem is the male mind-set that sees women as fair game to be hunted. It is already bad enough that Pakistani women have restricted mobility, need the permission of male family members to work and travel, have limited access to education and jobs, and are easy targets for abuse and violence. At least men can leave them alone on the Internet!
The writer is a member of staff.
August 28th, 2015
PAKISTAN is a unique country on many accounts. Ours is a confessional state, sharing a stage only with Israel amongst modern polities. We have an all-powerful army that is synonymous with the ‘ideology of Pakistan’. And we have long-standing enmities with two of our immediate neighbours, India and Afghanistan.
It is an indicator of how peculiar the Pakistani psyche is that we have never truly reconciled to our geographical inheritance. Having insisted on carving out a country from the ruins of the British Raj, we then proceeded to engage ourselves in an unending quarrel with the folks next door, which in a strange way threw — and continues to throw — the whole project of Pakistani nationhood into doubt.
But I will not digress. My concern in this column is with our Afghan ‘problem’— a festering wound that refuses to heal, despite the voices of sane people on both sides of the border, and indeed, the world.
The state has always treated ethnic Pakhtuns with suspicion.
At the beginning I would like to clarify that the Western powers that are today apparently the biggest backers of peace between ourselves and the Afghans are anything but mutual well-wishers. Washington and its lackeys have waged war in the region for at least 40 years — in fact, 200 if one goes back to the days of the Russian and British empires.
Washington is now war-weary amidst recognition that Taliban remain as much a reality today as they did 14 years ago when the so-called war on terror first began. Its recent initiatives are acknowledgements of its failures, and should not be taken to mean that its obsession with strategic interests has given way to a genuine concern for the well-being of Afghanistan’s — and the region’s — people.
But what the Western powers have done — and continue to do — in our region cannot allow us to gloss over what we have done and continue to do. Perhaps most damningly, the Pakistani state has always treated the ethnic Pakhtuns within Pakistan as threats, who are viewed at best as suspicious, and at worst as agents of Kabul.
That Pakistani Pakhtuns have an affinity with their brethren across the Durand Line is to be expected. Is it not true that Punjabis separated by the partition of 1947 tend to realise that they have much more in common when they come into contact with one another than the respective states of India and Pakistan have led them to believe via doctored textbooks and sensationalist medias?
Yes prominent Pakhtun nationalists have, since the time of partition, explicitly challenged the basis of Pakistani statehood. But then, many Pakhtuns have also ingratiated themselves with the Pakistani establishment by taking up positions within the middle and higher echelons of the civil and military bureaucracies, and a case can easily be made that highly mobile working and lower-middle class Pakhtuns have been integrated into Pakistan’s economy and society more than any other ethno-linguistic group in the country.
Yet it takes very little for us to tag Pakistani Pakhtuns with the ‘Afghan’ label and then criminalise them accordingly.
The nameless Pakhtuns who live in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) are regularly branded as ‘terrorists’ and ‘miscreants’, usually after they have been killed by security forces in ‘counterterrorist’ operations. More often than not these defenceless thousands are said to be backed by Kabul.
The situation is bad in the black hole that is Fata but it is scarcely better in major urban centres. Pakhtun katchi abadis from Karachi to Lahore to Islamabad are regularly caricatured as havens of crime. Racial profiling by the police is common and the poorer one is, the higher the chance of being harassed by state personnel in the name of ‘security’. The state’s general attitude spills over into society at large — as is evidenced by the many jokes that circulate about the ‘dumb Pathan’.
In recent times police and administrators have even been found warning property-owners not to rent rooms to Pakhtuns, acknowledged as Pakistani citizens, evicted from a katchi abadi in the capital.
For the record, it is bad enough when Afghans to whom we gave refuge when jihad was in fashion in the 1980s are scapegoated for the state’s failings, but for Pakistani Pakhtuns to be systematically disenfranchised and violated in urban centres in the country with the backing of a pliant media and dumbed-down urban middle class is outrageous.
I am not suggesting that we naively assume that neighbouring countries harbour only good intentions towards us. But continuing to use the bogey of the ‘security threat’ to cultivate enmity with neighbouring countries, and then, worse still, criminalising Pakistani Pakhtuns under the guise of being ‘Afghan’ is unacceptable. Or at least it should be to many more of us than it is at present.
Aasim Sajjad Akhtar teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
August 27th, 2015
THE verdicts of the election tribunals announced so far and the debates generated by them have amply demonstrated the need for review of the safeguards created for ensuring fair elections.
These safeguards are: use of indelible ink on voters’ fingers; affixation of voters’ thumbprint on the counterfoils of ballot papers; bar to canvassing and the presence of unauthorised persons inside polling stations; preparation of the statement of the vote count (Form 14) and ballot paper account (Form 15) by the presiding officers; and the Election Commission’s effective control on not only the polling staff and returning officers but also administrative and security services that have anything to do with the electoral process.
There is a near consensus in the country that these safeguards have not yielded the desired results. Probably they are designed for polling officials and a public at a higher level of intellectual development than what Pakistan at present exhibits. Let us take them one by one.
Due attention is not paid to ways of fighting the culture of poll manipulation.
In 2013 complaints were received that indelible ink was not being used at a large number of polling stations. At some places the polling staff said they had not received indelible ink and that they had to buy ordinary ink from the market. There is no evidence that these complaints were conveyed to the ECP and remedial measures adopted during the polling.
Much reliance was placed on the possibility of verifying authentic voting from the voters’ thumbprints on the counterfoils of ballot papers. Two problems arose. It was not possible to guarantee that Nadra had absolutely correct prints of all voters’ thumb marks or that the presiding officers were able to take proper thumb marks at the time of polling. This resulted in difficulties in matching the marks on ballot papers with the Nadra record. In other words, the scheme required efficient making of thumb impressions at both ends, something that could not be taken for granted.
Further, the high cost of verifying the thumbprints by referring to the Nadra record meant that only the very rich could afford the cost of ballot verification. The impossibility of using this verification on a large scale exposed the inadequacy of the safeguard.
Complaints of lack of discipline at polling stations in 2013 were a legion. Canvassing was done within the premises of polling stations and candidates’ henchmen, often armed, enjoyed freedom of the polling station at many places, especially in the rural areas.
It has been proved more than once that many presiding officers did not fill up Form 14 (statement of vote count) and Form 15 (ballot account) and bags in many cases were not properly sealed or stored.
All these problems were aggravated because the Election Commission had no control over the poll staff, from returning officers to the security personnel. The question is whether the lack of ECP’s control over what was happening at polling stations was due to its failure to exercise is authority or whether there was no possibility of monitoring the conduct of the poll staff, especially the returning officers.
Theoretically, once a general election is called, the Election Commission acquires extraordinary powers to oblige all branches of administration to help it hold free and fair elections. Experience has shown that the administration neither heeds the bar to postings and transfers of public servants nor is it possible for the ECP to supervise the conduct of the polling staff.
Traditionally, the election authorities have depended on judicial officers to manage the elections as they are supposed to be free from political biases and capable of withstanding pressures from powerful candidates and executive authorities. These assumptions have come under serious challenge. Pakistani society is said to have been polarised to an extent that no public functionary can be expected to be completely non-partisan. That is why the EU observer mission in its report on 2013 election suggested that the ECP must have its own duly trained staffers as returning officers.
The main problem with the safeguards tried hitherto is that due attention is not paid to ways of fighting the culture of electoral manipulation. Given the slightest possibility, most of the candidates, if not all, have been seen as keen to manipulate the polling process in their favour. All remedial measures have centred on laying down penalties for unfair practices and on efforts to expedite the disposal of election petitions. How far the latter strategy has worked can be judged from the fact that many election petitions related to the 2013 general election are undecided more than two and a half years later.
While there is much that the ECP is answerable for, its complaint that its proposals for changes in the relevant laws made before the 2013 election did not receive due respect from the political authority cannot be summarily rejected. Some of these issues are now being discussed in the parliamentary committee on electoral reform.
Whatever one’s views on the competence and impartiality of the Election Commission of Pakistan the continuance of the challenge to the fairness of the 2013 election is bound to affect the system of governance and the political discourse. What is happening now is that if the findings of the judicial commission offer the government some comfort the unseating of the National Assembly speaker revives Imran Khan’s faith in dharna. Endless rounds of such contest are not good for the health of the democratic system.
The government has two options: to go on living from one verdict on the 2013 polls to another or resolve the contentious issues by completing the process of electoral reform within six months or so and calling for a fresh general election one year before it is due.
The second choice is unlikely to appeal to lovers of legalistic semantics but those who accept democracy as a system of give and take might not fail to see its merits.
August 27, 2015
This August 14th, approximately 400 Baloch insurgents lay down their arms in Quetta to renounce violence. This surrender to the security forces, however, does little to offer prospects of peace in Balochistan in the long run. Analysts believe that the fighters fear that their struggle has gone down a cul-de-sac without much chance of success. Malik Siraj Akbar, a Baloch journalist argued the same point in the Huffington Post.
I’m a Baloch myself, and I speak from personal experience when I say – we have been alienated. Since the integration of Balochistan into Pakistan, it has faced more problems than any other province in the country has and these remain unaddressed, to date. And this turmoil, the province is in today, is the result of corrupt policies made in Islamabad; to put it simply, Balochistan has become used to brute force and basic human rights violations.
The alleged involvement of Indian authorities, that certain individuals are being funded by India to explicitly jeopardise developmental projects, in the province is also a sign of the dilapidated affairs and poor security structure in the province. While to some extent I believe this to be a comical claim, simply because these ‘insurgents’ were said to have surrendered to the authorities, it is still something that Islamabad would need to carefully tackle.
But, to me, all of this shows how the central government in Islamabad is beating about the bush, instead of dealing with what is most important – peace in Balochistan.
As violence, enforced disappearances’, mutilated bodies, mass graves, military operations and attacks on security forces continue to haunt the Baloch, the one question that remains on their minds is, when? When will they see peace again? Will it be in their lifetime?
Four hundred insurgents surrendering to security forces in Quetta is not a victory; neither for Pakistan as a whole, nor for Balochistan. To many of us, this surrender is only a ploy concocted by certain politicians aspiring to bag the role of the next chief minister in the province. And in Balochistan’s current political scenario, this seems most likely.
The activist Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur stance was correct when he stated,
“Those who will accept this dirty money are surely not those who have any love for Balochistan and assuredly they will not have it for Pakistan either; their loyalty is to money.”
As per the Murree Accord – collectively signed by the National Party (NP), Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party – Dr Malik Baloch was to leave his post as CM halfway through his five-year tenure.
Dr Allah Nazar Baloch, the head of the banned Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) stated, during his early political career, that Dr Malik lacks a comprehensive plan to heal the wounds of the Baloch people. He claims that Dr Malik was trying to treat the symptoms without diagnosing the illness; a recurring issue with the politicians in this province. In recent months, however, the successive government of Dr Malik has also failed to convince the Khan of Kalat to return to Pakistan.
Since 1948, there have been approximately five uprisings mainly centred acquiring provincial autonomy and/or control over the natural resources belonging to the province. Each insurgency reveals the same story; brutality, sheer mistreatment of the situation and sentiments of the people of Balochistan, and countless fundamental rights being trampled upon.
We cannot be certain as to how long this cyclical insurgency will last, but it is apparent that the mistreatment of the masses and the geo-economic deprivation of the Baloch people will only result in further aggression against the state narrative.
On June 26th, Balochistan’s government apex committee announced a general amnesty plan for all home-based insurgents ready to renounce violence and lay down arms. Under this plan, small-time fighters will be paid Rs500, 000, mid-level commanders will receive one million rupees and top commanders will be given Rs1.5 million. The condition upon which this monetary is formed; the insurgents who accept the offer cannot go back to ‘banned groups’.
This simple monetary solution to such a gigantic problem only goes to show the level of interest and understanding our government and courts have of the conditions in Balochistan. Pray tell, what happens when the money runs out? Do we sit with our fingers crossed, hoping peace will prevail?
The lack of a comprehensive plan that can result in long-term peace in the province is the need of the hour. Balochistan requires more than just a superficial, unmindful amnesty plan. Islamabad will have to do better than that if it truly wants Balochistan to see peace.
The author is a Washington WA based journalist and a human rights activist. He tweets as @ZSajidi (twitter.com/ZSajidi)