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Indian Press ( 27 Oct 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Indian Press on Pakistan Opposition Alliance and Pakistan Generals: New Age Islam's Selection, 27 October 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Bureau

27 October 2020

•  Pakistan Opposition Alliance’s Political Inclusivity Is Both Its Strength And Weakness

By Shyam Saran

• Outwitting The Generals

By Bhopinder Singh

• Chittagong Hill Tracts: Factional Clashes: Factional Clashes

By S. Binodkumar Singh


Pakistan Opposition Alliance’s Political Inclusivity Is Both Its Strength And Weakness

By Shyam Saran

October 27, 2020

Leaders of opposition party 'Pakistan Democratic Movement' Maryam Nawaz, second left, and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, right, wave to their supporters as they arrive to attend an anti government rally, in Karachi, Pakistan, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

It is strange that the momentous political developments currently unfolding in Pakistan have barely registered here in India. The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) was formed in September by the leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Fazal-ur-Rehman, but constituted by 11 political parties, representing virtually the country’s entire political spectrum. It has brought together the two mainstream but rival political parties, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by Bilawal Bhutto and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) led by the exiled Nawaz Sharif, but currently headed by his daughter Maryam. More significantly, the PDM has also given a national platform to regional parties and provincial leaders from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, who have been targeted by the Pakistani military for demanding regional autonomy and an end to repression.

This is the first time that the Punjabi heartland was listening to voices from the periphery and connecting with its hitherto marginalised people. This is an important development in itself. The PDM has so far held three massive political rallies, in Pakistani Panjab’s Gujranwala on October 18, in Karachi two days later, and in Quetta on October 25. A certain political momentum has been generated and is gathering strength and this could trigger significant changes in the nature of the Pakistani state and how it engages with the outside world, including India.

The political inclusivity that the PDM represents is both its strength and its weakness. It has politically isolated Prime Minister Imran Khan and, therefore, undermined the credibility of his powerful military backers. That he has managed to inspire such disparate parties to come together on the same platform to oppose him, speaks to his incompetence. But in demanding his ouster, the PDM’s real target is the powerful military.

In his speech broadcast from London, Nawaz Sharif explicitly accused the Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and the ISI chief Faiz Hameed as responsible for rigging the last elections and installing Imran Khan as prime minister. This is a frontal attack on the army and if allowed to snowball, it has the potential of eroding its overpowering influence in the country’s politics. In the past, the army has been able to manipulate political parties and leaders, playing off one against the other. If the coalition holds together, this tried-and-tested playbook may not work. But while the PDM has come together to oust Imran Khan, it does not seem to have a game plan for the day after.

How do they propose to bring the military to heel? What kind of federal structure could be put in place to address the deep grievances of smaller provinces and ethnic groups? At what point would the movement consider its mission accomplished and revert to competitive politics, which is the essence of parliamentary democracy? How do the PDM leaders propose to tackle the acute economic crisis that Pakistan is facing, compounded by the pandemic? On all these and other key issues, the disparate nature of the group may preclude even a broad convergence.

The Pakistani Army may believe that given these contradictions within the PDM, it may be best to let it roll on and then dissipate. If that were indeed to happen, then the military would end up even more entrenched than it already is. It is possible that the PDM may continue to gather popular strength and support and this may be seen as an existential threat by the army. It may resort to violent repression and assume power frontally as has happened in the past. This could add to Pakistan’s external isolation, particularly if a Democratic administration takes office in Washington. However, China, which has deep and longstanding relations with the Pakistani Army, will continue to provide it political shield and economic support. A weak Pakistani military or one which is forced to return to the barracks does not suit China, even though Pakistani civilian governments have also given priority to the relationship.

As a liberal democracy, India would normally welcome the emergence of the PDM and its struggle to establish a truly civilian democracy in Pakistan. A diminished political salience of the Pakistani military could only be a positive development from India’s point of view. Unfortunately, the PDM leaders had harsh words to say about Prime Minister Narendra Modi and bracketed Imran Khan with him. Imran was accused of complicity in “selling out” Kashmir. Just as Pakistan has become a ploy in India’s domestic politics, so is India on the way to performing a similar role in Pakistani politics. Not long ago, we had marvelled at the fact that in the Pakistani elections in 2013, which brought Nawaz Sharif to power, India was barely a factor in the election campaign. This new dynamic will make it difficult for the two countries to deal with each other as they would any other state based on a cold calculus of interests.

In managing India’s relations with other states, one must retain the space for constant calibration and adjustment, particularly when the external environment is in constant flux as it is today. India’s neighbourhood first policy must include the means to manage the relationship with Pakistan in order to ensure that it does not become an enduring constraint. If any shift in posture is precluded by domestic political compulsions, the calibration required by foreign policy imperatives becomes impossible.

Despite the fraught state of India-Pakistan relations, we should take a keen interest in the exciting political drama unfolding among “the people next door.” Whichever direction the movement takes, whether it fails or succeeds, its impact will reverberate outside its borders, affecting our region and beyond. On balance, its success could open the door to a potentially positive re-engagement. And, perhaps, there is a lesson here for India’s own fragmented political opposition, struggling to retain its political relevance in a BJP-dominated universe.


Outwitting the Generals

By Bhopinder Singh

27 October 2020

In one stroke, Sharif has torn the traditional Pakistani cover of the ‘civilian govt’ and made the military directly accountable and responsible for the country’s fate

Mian Saheb is an unlikely Pakistani politician who has spent a career trying to be someone he really isn’t. When the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader and former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, was incarcerated in jail and was asked about his health, he had spouted Mirza Ghalib, “Unko dekhne sey jo aa jati hai muh par raunaq, woh samjhtey hai ke bemaar ka haal acha hai (On seeing her, my face lights up and she presumes that I’m much better now).” The portly Punjabi politician is the principal Opposition leader to the reigning Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, except that he is not based out of Pakistan (declared “absconder” of bail and currently in the United Kingdom) and is actually of Kashmiri ethnicity (paternal side from Anantnag and maternal side from Pulwama). Nevertheless, the thrice elected and the longest-serving PM is a trapeze artist who revels in managing contradictions. Sharif has now fired his most calculated salvo against the Pakistani “Deep State” or military.

In Pakistan’s stuttering democracy, the ubiquitous shadow of barrel-chested military men operating out of Rawalpindi headquarters is mentioned only in deferential whispers — addressed euphemistically as Farishtas (angels) or Khalai Maqlook (alien creatures), who usually manipulate from the background. And occasionally they step in formally, like Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia-ul-Haq or Pervez Musharraf. But the veteran of Pakistani intrigues has broken traditions of indirect allusions and brazenly name-called the Chief of Pakistan Army Staff, General Qamar Bajwa, along with the infamous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to be the real movers and shakers of Imran Khan’s Government. In one stroke, Sharif has torn the traditional Pakistani cover of the “civilian government” and made the military directly accountable and responsible for the country’s ongoing and inevitable fate and predicament in the public imagination.

Sharif’s current democratic grandstanding notwithstanding, he himself is a product of the Pakistani military establishment and its machinations. While it is widely presumed that Sharif was born of the former military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq’s personal preference, it was actually another quintessentially slippery Pakistani General, Ghulam Gilani, to whom Mian Saheb owes his political initiation.

Lieutenant-General Ghulam Gilani’s colourful past had included taking a year-long sabbatical to fight in the Kashmir valley as an “irregular” (Indo-Pak war of 1947-48), fighting the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars, serving as the Director-General of the notorious ISI, partaking in Zia-ul-Haq’s coup d’état, which was ironically code-named “Fair Play” and ill-advising Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto till his end to the gallows.

Later, General Zia appointed Lieutenant-General Ghulam Gilani as the Governor of the all-powerful Punjab province, where he deliberately plucked out an ostensibly safe, non-feudal and pliant industrialist, Nawaz Sharif, to be the Finance Minister of Punjab. The urbane, obliging and malleable Sharif soon wormed his way to be the Chief Minister in the dark and transformational days of Zia’s Shariaised Pakistan, even though Sharif was hardly a modicum of religious piety.

Though not really a Punjabi, feudal or a military man, Sharif was a player, manipulator and a survivor. Soon after Zia’s mysterious plane crash, he tactically aligned with religious parties, took ISI’s beneficence and split with a rival faction within Zia’s political party, Pakistan Muslim League (Pagara group) to later form Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) or PML-N. Sharif’s then rival Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan People’s Party) had earlier paid a more personal price of losing her father in the fight against the Pakistani Generals but Sharif was more conversant with the inner workings of the “Deep State.”

But even the wily Sharif has erred, miscalculated and underestimated the power of Pakistani Generals. Mian Saheb has had to deal with six Pakistani military chiefs (including appointing four of them personally) and has the dubious record of fractious relations with all, without exception. Sharif’s first appointee, General Waheed Kakar, had later pressurised him into resigning as the PM. By Sharif’s second term, he had inherited Benazir Bhutto’s appointee, General Jehangir Karamat, with whom Sharif  differed and who he forced into a premature resignation. In hindsight, hardly-the-wiser, Sharif selected an ostensibly safe Mohajir, General Pervez Musharraf, who not only initiated Kargil on his own but also bumped off Sharif to Saudi Arabia after yet another coup d’état. In his third innings as the PM, Sharif had to tread carefully with the unpredictable General Pervez Kayani (appointed earlier by Sharif’s bête noire, Pervez Musharraf), who, too, extended his tenure unilaterally. Sharif’s third personal and unlikely (again superseding others) choice of General Raheel Sharif was to be no different with the “Army House” routinely calling all shots and defining the “red lines” for the Sharif dispensation.

General Raheel Sharif elicited embarrassing retractions (for example, post Ufa summit), policy flip flops and publicly lectured the civilian Government on corruption (for example, Panamagate). But it is the fourth personal choice of Sharif who is at the centre of the ensuing gambit, General Qamar Bajwa — who too superseded others and was supposedly apolitical and low profile. The Generals have historically got the better of Nawaz Sharif, because they consistently outwitted or bulldozed Mian Saheb by tactically propping his political rivals with no real ideological preferences, except for protecting their own institutional turf. The invaluable cover and protection to the Pakistani military was afforded by the façade of the civilian Government.

This time, Sharif has drawn blood, redrawn the battle lines and for once, boxed the military generals into a huddle. Unfortunately, for the Pakistani generals, the Imran Khan Government is failing desperately at all levels and the “Deep State” or the Pakistani military  is unable to extricate itself from the “Titanic” portents.

The Pakistani public is increasingly restive, suspicious and convinced of the military ghosts at work. And the Generals cannot be saddled with the “failures” of the civilian Government as they delegitimise the institution that has thrived despite the humiliations of 1965, 1971 and Kargil. Sharif has punted on forcing the military establishment to pull the plug on the Imran Khan Government, as they have historically done, whenever in such situations. This time, Mian Saheb may just have outwitted the Generals?


Chittagong Hill Tracts: Factional Clashes

By S. Binodkumar Singh

October 26, 2020

On October 20, 2020, Ratan Chakma (24), a member of the MN Larma faction of the Parbatya Chattogram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS–MN Larma) was shot dead by unidentified assailants in the Babupara area of Baghaichari Upazila (Sub-District) in Rangamati District of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). PCJSS-MN Larma blamed the members of the Santu Larma faction of the PCJSS (PCJSS-Santu Larma) for the murder.

On October 15, 2020, Sa U Pru Marma, a former Union Parishad (Local Government Body) member, was shot dead in the Rowangchhari Upazila of Bandarban District in CHT. He was a supporter of the PCJSS–MN Larma. Locals said that he might have been a victim of long-standing factional clashes between the PCJSS–MN Larma and PCJSS-Santu Larma.

On October 10, 2020, Bachmong Marma (45), an activist of PCJSS–MN Larma, was shot dead at a tea stall at Jamchhari Bazar under Sadar Upazila in Bandarban District. Locals said that the victim was pulled out of the tea stall and shot dead at point blank range in front of the local people.

CHT is spread across 13,189 square kilometres and consists of three Districts – Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban. The region experienced two decades of insurgency, between 1977 and 1997, over the ethnic tribals’ demand for autonomy and land rights. More than 6,000 Government soldiers and rebels, as well as 2,500 civilians, were killed during the conflict. Though the insurgency terminated with the signing of the CHT Peace Accord on December 2, 1997, between the Government and the undivided PCJSS led by Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larmaaka Santu Larma, violence in the region continued due to rivalry between splinter groups of PCJSS.

According to reports, till June 2020, more than 600 people have been killed in CHT in such clashes, since the signing of the Peace Accord in 1997. These include over 200 members of PCJSS-Santu Larma, 312 members of parent United People’s Democratic Force (UPDF), 85 members of the PCJSS–MN Larma, and 10 members of UPDF-Democratic.

After the signing of the Accord in 1997, factionalism became rampant in PCJSS ranks and the group witnessed multiple splits. The first split came in 1997 itself, when Prasit Bikash Khisa formed UPDF-Prasit Khisa, after leaving PCJSS in protest against the Accord. The second split occurred in 2007, when a faction led by Sudha Sindho Khisa formed PCJSS-Reformation. The parent group split again, into PCJSS-MN Larma and PCJSS-Santu Larma, in 2010. In the meantime, UPDF-Prasit Khisa also suffered a split with the formation of UPDF-Democratic, led by Tapan Jyoti Chakma aka Borma aka Jalwa in November 2017. All these splinter groups are currently working as regional political parties. The other regional political parties active in CHT are Somo Adhikar Andolon (SAA) and Parbattya Bangalee Chattra Parishad (PBCP).

Meanwhile, according to locals of the region, all factions are involved in extortion from the wood trade, kitchen markets, cattle markets, transport and others. Intelligence sources indicate that these groups are collecting millions of BDT from people from all walks of life in CHT and are buying weapons with part of this money. According to law enforcement and intelligence sources, all factions have special armed wings, with sophisticated arms like rocket launchers, automatic sniper rifles and heavy machineguns.

On October 13, 2020, two members of the Prasit Khisa faction of the United People's Democratic Front (UPDF-Prasit Khisa) were killed and a Bangladesh Army soldier was injured in a gunfight in Rangamati District's Naniarchar upazila. The incident took place in the Burighat area of the Upazila, when an Army patrol went to the spot to arrest some armed extortionists of UPDF-Prasit Khisa.

Meanwhile, these regional parties are gradually losing control over CHT politics. In the last General Elections held on December 30, 2018, the Awami League won all three constituencies in the CHT. The Awami League-backed candidates also won the majority of the chairman and vice-chairman seats during the Upazila Elections held in five phases on March 10, March 18, March 24, March 31 and June 18, 2019. In the earlier General Elections held on January 5, 2014, PCJSS senior leader Ushatan Talukdar defeated the Awami League-nominated Dipankar Talukder in the Rangmati Hills, though the Awami League bagged the Bandarban and the Khagrachhari seats.

In another sign of their weakening political status, the UPDF-Democratic and PCJSS–MN Larma formed an alliance with the Awami League on December 16, 2018. This created a sense of panic among the other factions of the PCJSS, as they feared losing their long-standing political influence in the area, apprehending that Awami League's increasing influence would further diminish their long-standing sway in CHT. These developments have made the various factions jittery, contributing to escalating tensions and violence between the splinters.

However, Dhaka's failure to implement the 1997 Accord in a timely manner has also provided these groups with the grounds to 'justify' their actions. On December 1, 2019, Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma aka Santu Larma, President of PCJSS-Santu Larma, at a press briefing on occasion of the 22nd anniversary of signing the CHT Peace Accord alleged,

Although the government is claiming that they have implemented 48 articles of the accord, the truth is that they have so far implemented 24 articles, with 15 others partially implemented. Some 34 articles are yet to be touched.

There are 72 articles in the CHT Peace Accord.

Echoing similar sentiments, on August 6, 2020, Bangladesh Adivasi Forum General Secretary Sanjeeb Drong asserted,

Awami League in their election manifesto for the 2008 national polls, promised the country's ethnic groups that they will form a land commission to protect the rights of the indigenous people living on plain lands. Even in the manifesto for the last general elections, the ruling party said they will continue their efforts to establish the promised land commission. But nothing official has yet been done regarding the issue.

Land disputes are the main issue in CHT. Even if all the provisions of the CHT Peace Accord are implemented, without a solution to the land disputes, the locals insist, everything else would be meaningless.

The core issue is that Bengali settlers have grabbed land of the indigenous Jumma people. According to the Census of 2011, CHT has a population of around 1.6 million, including around 845 thousand indigenous Jumma people and 752 thousand Bengali Muslim settlers. In 1947, the Jumma population was 98 per cent and Bengali population was around two percent of the total population of CHT. According to the CHT Peace Accord, the land occupied by the Bengali settlers was to be given back to the indigenous Jumma people.

Strong action by the Security Forces against the armed factions is, of course, necessary to contain their violence and restore peace to CHT. However, unless the issues of land disputes and the full implementation of the 1997 Accord are addressed, the tensions and resentment of the indigenous people is likely to translate into periodic upsurges and violence. Dhaka’s fulfilment of its promises to the tribal people of CHT is a necessary condition for an enduring peace.


S. Binodkumar Singh is a Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

Source:  South Asia Intelligence Review


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