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Pakistan Press ( 16 Oct 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan Press on Liaquat Ali Khan, UNHCR and Human Rights: New Age Islam's Selection, 16 October 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Bureau

16 October 2020

• UNHCR and the Refugee Crisis

By Amir Hussain

• Remembering A Leader: Liaquat Ali Khan

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

• Geopolitics of Nagorno-Karabakh

By Inam Ul Haque

• NAB versus Human Rights

By I.A. Rehman

• One Silver Lining

By Samuel Earle


UNHCR and the Refugee Crisis

By Amir Hussain

October 16, 2020

According to the UNHCR, there are some 70.8 million forcibly displaced people across the world today including 41.3 million internally displaced persons, 25.9 million refugees and some 3.5 million-asylum seekers.

Fifty-seven percent of these refugees come from Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan and 80 percent of refugee influx is hosted by neighbouring countries. The magnitude of international conflicts and civil strife within states has increased over the years as wars and insurgencies continue to shape international politics. Forced displacement and statelessness is a continuing threat to millions of lives around the world and it is not going away anytime soon. International organizations like the UNHCR do their best to address the humanitarian crisis caused by wars and conflicts, but we need to buttress their efforts through collective actions.

In our conventional national debates on forced displacement, we usually end up doing some calculations of net losses in economic and political terms. Forced displacement of people will of course have spillover economic and political consequences for neighbouring countries – with visible implications on livelihoods, peace and social cohesion. That is why it calls for collective planning and concerted action to minimize political and economic cost and also to address the humanitarian crisis with empathy rather than with econometrics.

In the absence of planning, Pakistan has suffered from the political and economic burden of hosting millions of refugees in the last three decades. Having said this, it is important to contest the debate regarding the refugee crisis in Pakistani media which tends to blame Afghan refugees for all social, economic and security related ills. It is important to understand that Pakistan opted to go with world powers in reshaping Afghanistan from the days of the cold war which, inter alia, entailed getting international assistance to host refugees. It was not out of any altruism or a sense of helping the Afghan brethren; it was all about money and politics. Those who wanted to carve out a new Afghanistan in the aftermath of the cold war left this impoverished country to bleed internally once their political objectives were met.

The protracted internal strife in Afghanistan is one of the longest unsettled conflicts in the world without any chances of peace and harmony to prevail in the foreseeable future. Pakistan, being amongst the top refugee hosting countries in the world along with Turkey, Germany, Uganda and Sudan, will need assistance to deal with this humanitarian crisis amicably. That is exactly why the UNHCR needs to expand its operations in Pakistan to build on its ongoing good work. In addition to IDPs, refugees and asylum seekers, there are millions of stateless people with no political entitlement of citizenship and right of representation as well as no access to basic services like education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.

Some experts suggest that one must classify stateless people into two categories. One is the situation of benign statelessness, which involves no right of representation and citizenship. Under this category one can include people of Gilgit-Baltistan as an example of benign statelessness in the context of Pakistan as they do not have the right of representation in the national politics and hence no citizenship rights.

The other category is the situation of absolute statelessness which includes all those who are not entitled to political, social and economic rights. The UNHCR must come up with two separate strategies to address the plight of the people under these two categories of statelessness. There are many untold stories of agony, violence, harassment and torture faced by forcibly displaced people which must be told to sensitize the world. Forced displacement is not a choice; it is coercion, up-rootedness, horror, death and loss of human dignity.

Long ago in November 1995, I joined a campaign run by some community development institutions to help 30,000 Afghan refugees who were forced out of their country. Taliban rule was not fully established in Afghanistan then but there was internal strife for the control of mainland Afghanistan. As a young volunteer, I had the opportunity to visit refugee camps in the then North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan and to collect some horrible stories of miseries and agonies inflicted upon poor Afghans by the warring factions and proxies of the world powers. The stories I collected were the firsthand account of the refugees who lost everything including the right to live in their own homeland but most of them had not lost the hope for a better future.

A highly educated Afghan man in his early forties narrated some heart-wrenching stories of how his family and others managed to escape extermination at the hands of the Taliban in the southern province of Kandahar in June 1995. His whole family was kept in a dilapidated house filled with stains of blood, the smell of of explosives and screams of injured and dying people all around. All women were asked to leave after two days, the men who resisted were killed or taken to custody, and most of them were then disappeared. This educated man could escape by acting dead by the dead bodies in the compound of that decrepit house. In the darkness of the night when the Taliban left the compound he managed to escape the death trap.

In the refugee camp this gentleman organized the people into small groups to teach them English language, history and basic numeracy. He was optimistic that ‘one day these refugees will enter Afghanistan as educated people to serve their country and to help restore peace rather than killing their compatriots under a tribal instinct of retribution’. Despite living in subhuman conditions in refugee camps, this educated man and many others like him strived to contribute for a better future for their compatriots and were optimistic that peace will return to their country. We must bring forth such emotive stories and we must acknowledge that being a refugee does not undermine human potential to contribute to make the world better.

In the autumn of 1995, the Taliban took over Herat province near the border of Iran and those who escaped found no refuge until they crossed borders into Iran and then to Pakistan through Taftan border. There were a dozen families from Herat amongst refugees whose stories of horror still haunt me and some of them continue to live under subhuman conditions in a refugee camp near Pishin in Balochistan. Development workers must visit those refugees and their stories must be told to the world.

In the year 2000, as students in our university days we created a platform of migration and refugee studies with the primary objective to organize awareness-raising programs about the refugee crisis and issues of forced displacement among the university students. Under this initiative, we organized conferences and invited the UNHCR and other agencies to share their wisdom on forced displacement. It worked well for the university students and we were able to expand the group. The stories we collected as students still influence my work as a development professional. I hope that the UNHCR and the government of Pakistan will work closely to address the unresolved issues of Afghan refugees and stateless people living in Pakistan.


Remembering a leader: Liaquat Ali Khan

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

October 16, 2020

The day of 16th October reminds us of Pakistan’s first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, a great personality whose selfless contributions for our beloved country were ever-lasting. He was a close companion of the founder of Pakistan. He was a true patriot who was assassinated by anti-state elements, exactly 69 years ago on October 16, 1951.

It is said that Quaid-e-Azam moved to London due to the failure of the Round Table Conference in 1930 and decided to retire from all political activities. Liaquat Ali Khan made sincere efforts to convince Quaid-e-Azam to return and re-organize the Muslim League.

Although Liaquat Ali Khan belonged to a wealthy landlord family of Karnal, he adopted a simple lifestyle. Being the first prime minister of a newly-established state, his goal was to transform Pakistan into a prosperous country. After Quaid-e-Azam, he tried his best to safeguard the national interests. Even today, Liaquat Ali Khan’s historic sign of a fisted punch has a symbolic significance to counter Indian aggressive intentions against Pakistan.

Liaquat Ali Khan also proved himself a visionary leader with a strong grip on international relations. He preferred to visit the US in order to promote cordial relations with west. His historic visit resulted in Pakistan becoming an active part of the US-led Western bloc.

The main objective of the establishment of Pakistan, according to Quaid-e-Azam, was to create a role model independent state where all citizens, regardless of majority or minority affiliations, have the freedom to play their due role for the development and prosperity of the country. The historical speech of Quaid-e-Azam to the assembly was the practical evidence of his intentions. Following the vision of Quaid-e-Azam, Liaquat Ali Khan also remained active till his last breath to protect the rights of minorities. He believed that all citizens should have religious freedom and equal civic rights.

Regrettably, vulnerable minorities on both sides of the border became targets of oppressive elements after the partition of the sub-continent. Being prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan stepped forward to play his role to control atrocities against innocent people. He reached Delhi on April 4, 1950 and signed a landmark agreement with his counterpart Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to protect the minority communities living in the two countries.

On the occasion, the leadership of both countries agreed to protect the fundamental rights of minorities, including freedom of speech and worship. Under the Liaquat-Nehru Pact, any conversion occurred during a period of communal disturbance was considered an act of forced conversion. The agreement further declared that: “Those [oppressive elements] found guilty of converting people forcibly shall be punished.” Most importantly, it was decided to empower local minorities by establishing minority commissions in each country.

In my view, the assassination of the first prime minister of Pakistan during a public possession is still a mystery but his unconditional love for Pakistan is an open secret. Even during his last moments, he was praying to God for the protection of Pakistan. He was rightly honoured with the public title of Shaheed-e-Millat (Martyr of the Nation) and was buried in the premises of Quaid-e-Azam’s mausoleum in Karachi.

For the last 70 years, October 16 demands that we must find a reliable solution to the problems of the minorities in our country. In India, the local Muslim minister is responsible, from day one, for looking after the evacuee trust properties belonging to minority Muslims. Unfortunately, no Pakistani Hindu citizen has been considered eligible to supervise the Evacuee Trust Property Board since the last seven decades.

Today, in Naya Pakistan, we must keep struggling to fulfil the pledges of the Shaheed-e-Millat and to rectify the mistakes of past governments.


Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.


Geopolitics of Nagorno-Karabakh

By Inam Ul Haque

October 15, 2020

The international system is reliant on national clout and effect. It will only gear up if a nation or a group of nations, through its actions, threatens the global status-quo. Traditionally, the dominant powers dislike threats to the established order as it may usher in uncertainty. There are crises and disputes among nations that are brought to the limelight only if parties to the dispute try and change the regional and/or global status-quo.

Nagorno-Karabakh or Artsakh — as the Armenians call it — in southwestern Azerbaijan, is one such legacy dispute. Some analysts see it as a conflict between Muslim Azerbaijan and Christian Armenia. That view is grounded in the conquests of Turko-Persian Seljuk Empire (1060-1307 AD), when Christian Armenia was firmly under Seljuk suzerainty.

The enclave is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is populated by ethnic Armenians, therefore, supported by Armenia. In 1923, the Soviet Union established it as an Armenian-majority autonomous oblast (province) of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) having a high degree of self-rule. Now it is a self-declared independent country, not internationally recognised.

The Karabakh Range separates the enclave from Armenia, then the Armenian SSR. The enclave, under the USSR, spread over some 4,400 square kilometres, however, presently it occupies some 7,000 square km after capturing Azerbaijani territory. The region is generally mountainous, forested and rural with some light industry and food-processing plants. Xankändi (formerly Stepanakert) is its capital. It is surrounded on almost all sides by Azerbaijan except a thin strip of land in the southwest, connecting it to Armenia.

During 1988, Armenians of the enclave demanded transfer of their oblast to the Armenian jurisdiction against the wishes of both, the Soviet government and the Azerbaijan SSR. War ensued between the ethnic Armenians and Azeris in the enclave in 1991, after the USSR’s collapse. Karabakh’s Armenian forces, with full support of Armenia, occupied much of southwestern Azerbaijan, including the territory connecting the enclave to Armenia. A ceasefire agreement in 1994 was negotiated by Russia and a committee called the “Minsk Group”, created by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). However, there has been no lasting resolution to the conflict.

The self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh declared its independence in early 1992, held elections thereafter and approved a new constitution in a 2006 referendum. Azerbaijan considers all these actions illegal under international law. A 2008 landmark agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan pledged movement towards a resolution; however, episodic clashes have occurred throughout the 2010s. A breakdown in diplomacy led to clashes in July and late September this year, hence the recent escalation.

On October 10, both Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to a limited ceasefire brokered by Russia, including prisoners exchange and removal of dead from the battlefield.

During the earlier war in the 1990s, Azerbaijan had put an economic blockade of land-locked Armenia as the war spread beyond Nagorno-Karabakh to the southern part of Armenia-Azerbaijan border. That may happen again if the situation escalates. Then, most of Armenia’s logistics were brought through traditional rail and road network from the Caspian Sea port of Baku, capital of Azerbaijan. Georgia was of limited help, Armenia had no relations with Turkey and roads across Armenia’s short frontier with Iran, to the south, were inadequate for heavy truck traffic. The United States provided 33,000 tons of American grain to Nagorno-Karabakh through Armenia after bread shortages. It airlifted critical items like baby food and medical supplies. That situation has marginally changed.

In the 1990s, 75% of the enclave’s population of 162,000 constituted ethnic Armenians after more than 600,000 Azeris and 200,000 Armenians were displaced. Armenians were outnumbered two to one by Azeris, prompting the US State Department to warn the largely isolated Armenia of a “national catastrophe” in December 1992. Today some 9.9 million Azeris face up to 2.9 million Armenians.

During recent build-up, Armenia killed an Azeri general and other officers in a missile strike on an Azerbaijan Army base in July this year. In the ensuing clashes, the enclave’s capital city, Xankändi, has been hit with missiles and suicide drones. Azerbaijan’s second largest city Ganja, and a hydroelectric station were struck in powerful rocket attacks causing losses. And Azerbaijani drones flew within 20 miles of Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. Ground operations have caused territorial losses to the Armenians.

The next targets could be oil and gas facilities on either side, affecting oil and gas supply to Europe. Azerbaijan accuses Armenia of firing rockets using its territory; ostensibly to invite Azeri retaliation, triggering Armenia’s defense pact with Russia. Turkey is solidly behind Azerbaijan. Any escalation beyond the enclave would draw in Turkey and Russia as Russia has a military base in Armenia and is treaty-bound to protect Armenia.

Russia and France support Armenia’s claim that Turkey deployed Syrian militants to Nagorno-Karabakh, besides using F-16s, thanks to the Armenian diaspora in the US, France and Russia.

Azerbaijan, frustrated by international inaction, seems resolved to fight until it has full control of Nagorno-Karabakh as the Minsk Group has not made any material advancement towards a lasting peace settlement. Its meeting in Geneva on October 8, 2020, with France and Russia — the other co-chairs — was convened nearly two weeks after the conflict. The US seems preoccupied with the pandemic, a popular uprising in Belarus and Trump catching corona.

Russia has been able to at least negotiate a tenuous ceasefire on October 10, as both countries were erstwhile socialist republics. Both use large-calibre, Russian-made Smerch (tornado) rockets and Russia has been supplying the same weapons to both sides for decades.

Azerbaijan rightfully seeks to control all the territory within its UN-recognised borders besides restitution for some 600,000 people displaced by the war in the 1990s. Armenians in the enclave fear Azerbaijani rule. While the Azerbaijan government suspects that the enclave’s Armenians will ultimately opt to join Armenia, it is prepared to allow them “cultural autonomy.”

This festering conflict is far from being settled and would most likely continue till the time the enclave is fully absorbed by Azerbaijan that enjoys all the legal, moral and administrative authority to do so. Azerbaijan has been boldly supporting our Kashmir cause and there are reasons to believe they have Pakistan’s moral and material support in their hour of need, in a just war.


NAB Versus Human Rights

By I.A. Rehman

15 Oct 2020

THAT the National Accountability Bureau has little respect for human rights is widely known. The extent to which human rights are violated by NAB can only be established by documentation, a process in which this institution is obviously not interested. Surprisingly, NAB victims too have not attempted a record-based assessment of this important institution’s performance. In this situation a fact sheet prepared by former senator Sehar Kamran can only be welcomed. The first shocking fact presented in this report is that NAB is allegedly responsible for causing 12 deaths.

— Aslam Masood was extradited to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia in February 2019. It is said that grilling by NAB caused him to suffer cardiac arrest and he died in NAB custody.

— Aijaz Memon suffered a heart attack in Sukkur jail and died in a hospital nearly three months after being taken into custody by NAB for embezzlement.

— Advocate Zafar Iqbal Mughal was arrested on Oct 11, 2019. His health deteriorated over 86 days in NAB detention. He was transferred to a hospital where he died four days later.

The number of people who have died in NAB custody is frightening.

— Raja Asim remained in NAB custody for five years during which time his trial had not concluded. Delay in providing treatment for pneumonia is said to have caused his death in NAB custody. His death, it is alleged, was announced after a delay of five days.

— Retired Brig Asad Munir committed suicide to escape humiliation by NAB. In his suicide note he requested the country’s chief justice to take notice of NAB authorities’ conduct “so that other government officials are not convicted for the crimes they had not committed”.

— Muhammad Nasir Sheikh of KDA was arrested in November 2015. Held without prosecution for more than three years, he died of cardiac arrest while in NAB custody.

— Prof Dr Tahir Amin of BZ University, Multan, failed in his bid to commit suicide and later on died in NAB custody.

— Qaiser Abbas was arrested in August 2018. On complaining of pain in his heart he was rushed to a hospital on Oct 1, 2019. He died the same day while still in NAB custody.

— Chaudhry Arshad of Rawalpindi suffered a heart attack during interrogation by NAB and died in its custody.

— Muhammad Saleem of the Lahore Development Authority was arrested in September 2017 and sent to jail on judicial remand. When his health deteriorated he was shifted to a hospital where he died while still in NAB custody.

— Prof Javed Ahmad was arrested by NAB and sent to Lahore camp jail on judicial remand. He died in the jail. Post-death photographs showed his body still wearing chains.

— Abdul Qavi of KDA was arrested in November 2015. He died in Karachi Central Jail two years later while in NAB custody.

This is a frightening account of NAB victims’ mortality rate and one wonders whether it is matched by any accountability institution in the world. This by itself calls for a judicial probe to determine the legitimacy of NAB procedures and their admissibility in any system of civilised justice. In most cases NAB’s claims on its victims fall in the category of civil liability for which special and humane procedures were devised by the colonial rulers. The defaulters were kept in detention for periods not exceeding 14 days at a time at special detention centres outside the prison system.

One of the most fundamental objections to the NAB procedures is the use of detention to gather evidence against the detainees. The bail plea of Mir Shakilur Rahman was opposed during the early phase of his detention on the ground that evidence against him was still being collected. There are similar stories of numerous other victims of NAB’s arbitrary procedures. The common factor is the use of detention and torture to gather evidence.

NAB has been able to get away with blue murder on the strength of the myth that all means adopted to fight corruption are fair and that the ends justify the means. These myths are used by vindictive minds to justify torture to obtain evidence and secure convictions. While cases of successful prosecution are publicised nothing is said about the sharks that are left untouched. If such practices are continued for long, the corruption of the anti-corruption brigade will dwarf the corruption of the people chosen through a highly selective process.

There is great weight in Sehar Kamran’s argument that NAB’s actions violate a number of constitutional guarantees of human rights. These are contained in: Article 8 that holds laws inconsistent with fundamental rights to be void; Article 9 that guarantees security of person; Article 10 that offers safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention; Article 12 that bars retrospective punishment; Article 14 that affirms inviolability of dignity of person; and all the articles that protect the basic freedoms. Above all, NAB tactics fall foul of Article 14 (2) that bars torture to extract evidence as most of the evidence used by NAB is allegedly extracted through torture.

Quite a few extremely harsh strictures have been passed on NAB by the National Commission on Human Rights, the Supreme Court and almost all the high courts. That these admonitions have had no effect on NAB suggests the state’s complicity. Thus the state becomes answerable for all the human rights violations committed by NAB. It is a responsibility any civilised government will be loath to accept.

Tailpiece: Many voices were raised last week for the release of Baba Jan, the hero of not only Gilgit-Baltistan but the whole of Pakistan, but not as loud as his status as a prisoner of conscience and the scale of injustice done to him demand. His continued imprisonment as a result of conviction for a concocted offence is a stigma Pakistan cannot live with. The state must redeem its prestige by withdrawing all cases against him.


One Silver Lining

By Samuel Earle

October 16, 2020

Fear-mongering is understandably in fashion this year, with prophets of doom having no shortage of new material to draw upon. But amid the endlessly bleak portents of our collective future – birds falling out of the sky in the United States, hundreds of whales washing up on Australia’s shores, a succession of ‘worst-ever’ natural disasters, set against a ‘worst-ever’ US presidential election and a once-in-a-generation pandemic – there is at least one silver lining: the urgency of tackling climate change seems, finally, to be sinking in.

Joe Biden, a stalwart of the status quo and favourite to win in November, is campaigning on the most ambitious climate change package in history. Totalling $2 trillion, and injecting some much-needed vitality into his veteran candidacy, the plan promises a complete transition to clean electricity by 2035 and net zero emissions by 2050.

China, currently the world’s biggest emitter, has announced it will phase out fossil fuels by 2060. Much of Europe is on the same path. Boris Johnson, who has spent much of his career ridiculing wind energy, has now re-branded himself as a champion of the cause. The leaders who still refuse to follow suit – blindly clinging to the fantasy that free-market capitalism will correct itself – now sound less like the custodians of economic orthodoxy they could once claim to be, and more like the heirs of Homer Simpson: “Stupidity got us into this mess, and stupidity will get us out.”

Admittedly, the gap between rhetoric and reality is always hard to identify when it comes to climate change action, and so any optimism should come with caution.

Leaders and CEOs love to pronounce their deepest commitment to the planet in public, only to subvert climate change policy in private. The boom in ‘environmentally friendly’ consumption has offered citizen-consumers a pastiche of political transformation, robbing the cause of its radical urgency, and proving far more effective at reducing the number of guilty consciences in the world than levels of carbon dioxide. According to a 2018 study, 70 percent of people in the UK and US believe that protecting the environment is primarily down to individual consumers – when just 100 companies are responsible for more than 70 percent of global emissions since 1988. As French sociologist, Guy Debord once warned: “capitalism could appropriate even the most radical ideas and return them safely in the form of harmless ideologies.”

Yet there are signs that the ground is shifting. As governments across the world advocate the timed closure of the fossil fuel industry, a fundamental tenet of the neoliberal era loses its ascendancy: the belief that if markets are left unregulated society’s problems will solve themselves.

Excerpted from: ‘The left’s belated, and bittersweet, victory on climate change’



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