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Pakistan Press ( 28 Nov 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan Press On Recognising Israel, Afghan Constitution And Myanmar: New Age Islam's Selection, 28 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

28 November 2020

•  Rumours Of Recognising Israel Keep Recurring

By Asad Rahim Khan

• Safeguarding The Witness

By Jawaid Akhtar

• Negotiating The Afghan Constitution

By Raja Hamza Anwar

• Pakistan Democratic Movement Examined

By Shakeel Ahmed Shah

• Pakistan Democratic Movement May Head Towards Breakdown

By Mohsin Hassan

• The Eastern Question - Part II

By Fahd Humayun

• Elections In Myanmar

By Khalid Bhatti


Rumours Of Recognising Israel Keep Recurring

By Asad Rahim Khan

28 Nov 2020

“I WAS standing and he came in a group and shook hands with me,” remembered Gen Pervez Musharraf. “…He asked me how I was, I asked him how he was. That’s very good.”

The script wasn’t quite Nixon in China, but we take what we can get. In the fall of 2005, Pakistan’s generalissimo went to New York and shook hands with Israel’s Ariel Sharon — soldier, statesman and blood-sodden war criminal.

The romance may even have taken off but for the general’s dwindling capital. Over the next three years, Musharraf would drive Balochistan to disaster, persecute judges, ramp up missing persons, and escort Asif Zardari out of prison and into the presidency.

Mr Sharon, for his part, sank into a coma, the kind of end he had never afforded the women and children his militias had hacked to death in Sabra and Shatila, their bodies arranged in garbage piles. The Musharraf-Sharon meeting proved little more than a sly handshake, if between two of America’s most beloved dependents.

Yet here we are again: every 20 years or so, the deepest parts of our deep state call for fresh thinking. True believers take up the cause of the state of Israel — if ‘state’ can be taken to mean the world’s most ferocious apartheid project. While every green passport dubs Israel the forbidden land, rumours of recognising it recur.

Rumours of recognising Israel keep recurring.

“There is pressure,” the prime minister told an interviewer some two weeks ago, “because Israel has a large impact on America,” but that he’d never recognise it (the source of the said pressure was left unsaid). There then followed a series of trial balloons, almost exclusively by pro-establishment voices, urging recognition.

Their reasons remain hollow. First, there’s the loopy notion, advanced more by Orientalist romantics than scholars at home, that Pakistan and Israel are long-lost twins: promised lands built on religion and threatened by enemies.

They aren’t. Pakistan was a mass movement for the subcontinent’s Muslims to breathe free, and it became the world’s largest Muslim-majority state at birth. “Pakistan was of course nothing like Israel in this particular respect,” wrote historian David Gilmartin, “for the areas that became Pakistan were already occupied by tens of millions of the Muslims in whose name the state was created.” Zafrullah Khan, the Quaid’s foreign minister, opposed Palestine’s partition for the same reasons at the UN.

By contrast, Israel was the result of a settler militia driving out 700,000 Palestinians from their homes, and cleansing many more from the adjoining areas — Mr Sharon participated by lobbing grenades and getting shot in the groin and stomach. The cry of ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’ is a Zionist fairytale; just as calling Pakistan a ‘Muslim Zion’ is, in the words of Mr Gilmartin, an act of historical erasure.

Next comes that saying as old as death: ‘nations have no permanent enemies, only interests’. Our sages wrongly credit this to Henry Kissinger, a man whose brilliant realism enabled death squads in Chile and rivers of napalm in Vietnam (the quote is actually from the long-forgotten Lord Palmerston). But even leaving aside how perverse the Kissinger school has been, it may be best to examine what interests stand to benefit and where.

Some suggest greater closeness to Washington, though this has been a placebo at the best of times. Others point to the UAE and Bahrain’s push for recognition, driven in part by the Arab states’ opposition to Iran. But Pakistan has nothing to gain and everything to lose from siding with either Riyadh or Tehran: Islamabad shares strategic ties with one country, and a massive land border with the other. Winking at Israel would upset Iran, to no great gratitude from the Gulf.

Finally, recognition would tear Pakistan’s single-most salient cause to pieces: the right to self-determination for the Kashmiri people. Not for nothing are Modi’s crimes in India-held Kashmir most likened to a West Bank formula, in tribute to Israel dropping white phosphorous on screaming civilians. If Hindutva was directly inspired by the Nazi dream, Israel has proven its most ironic mirror.

In sum, Pakistan will win no new friends, risk losing the ones it already has, enrage its people, condemn the Palestinians to oblivion, and cede the Kashmiris to their occupiers, all to recognise a settler colony that only ever expressed interest in bombing Kahuta in 1984. Until the emergence of a viable Palestinian state — loath to happen anyway under Netanyahu’s coalition of maniacs — Pakistan has no business weeping for Zion.

As is so often the answer, it would be best to return to the ideals of Mr Jinnah instead. It was soon after Israel’s declaration of independence that its founder, David Ben-Gurion, reportedly fired off a telegram to establish diplomatic relations with Pakistan. The Quaid didn’t reply; nor did he have to.

Mr Jinnah knew the difference between oppressed and oppressor.


Safeguarding The Witness

By Jawaid Akhtar

28 Nov 2020

THERE is frequent reference to and comment on witness protection, or more accurately the lack thereof, but one is often left wondering whether the issue is properly understood in the first place. In an editorial published on Nov 20, this paper has rightly highlighted the need for witnesses to be protected in order for justice to be better served.

It is a truism that the criminal justice system needs the participation of witnesses for justice to be administered. Witnesses must feel secure and confident in order to give the best evidence. Sadly, while it is true for other jurisdictions also, the prevalence of witness intimidation, coercion and murder in Pakistan is at a level where the criminal justice system cannot function effectively. When witnesses are murdered within court precincts, even in courtrooms as in one recent case, it is time to worry.

Solutions proffered are churned out — new identity, relocation, etc — as though they provide a magic solution, with little thought being given to practicalities, financial and human resources, not to mention the impact on the protected witnesses and their families. In Pakistani culture, where the concept of family goes well beyond the immediate family, the problems are multiplied many times. Imagine the implications of relocating a family far from their home without the proper support, financial or practical, that serves not only their daily requirements but also their emotional and psychological needs.

Something is seriously wrong when channels broadcast footage shot in police lock-ups and give details of victims.

So if that is the problem, what is the solution? It is neither simple nor cheap, is the answer.

Many law-enforcement agencies around the world recognise that there is a serious threat to the security of their information, and this, as much as anything else, can compromise the safety of victims and witnesses. This threat is not always external — arguably the internal threat is much more serious. For example, it is quite common to note both in print and electronic media the details of victims, witnesses and even informants — with a total disregard not only for due process and legal proceedings but also the safety of the witnesses involved. One has to ask how the media acquired that information, and even more importantly, why and how the law-enforcement agency revealed that information. One knows there is something seriously wrong when television channels are broadcasting footage shot in police lock-ups and giving details of victims, including in sexual offence cases.

Rather than thinking in terms of witness-protection programmes involving new identities and relocation (which may be necessary in some cases) it is more beneficial to think in terms of witness safeguarding which would include witness protection. All elements of the criminal justice system must identify the points of vulnerability for the witness as they make their journey through the process from the start of the investigation to the post-conviction period. This then allows witness needs to be identified, which in turn are required to be addressed by the most relevant agency.

Whilst there is existing legislation that is specifically designed for the protection of witnesses, the reality is it is not much more than a paper law whose implementation is virtually non-existent due to lack of budgetary provisions, operational procedures and training.

Some basics security measures can be implemented at little cost and they may suffice in most cases. This can include basic security advice and some target hardening of the witnesses’ places of business and residences. However, even before these measures are considered, there is a need to identify what other measures can be taken by the criminal justice system to safeguard witnesses. For example, giving evidence from behind screens or via video link, thus not revealing the identity of the witness, are measures that can help to mitigate risks. If the legislation does not provide for these measures, then the legislature needs to take urgent action.

So, what if that isn’t enough? The more complex, resource-intensive measures necessary in the more serious cases where the threat cannot be mitigated by the foregoing measures also need to be available. However, these measures require a national agency to take ownership, supported by the relevant legislation and appropriate budgetary provisions, to coordinate the work of local witness-protection units. None of this will be of any use if the security measures in place are not sufficiently robust to safeguard the information. If agencies are not seen to be capable of keeping secure the personal information of victims and witnesses (or worse still, are unable to do so due to corrupt practices) then no witness-protection programme can succeed.

Of course, for any such scheme to work the witness has to agree to participate and enter into a contract with the responsible agency. For their part the agencies involved — from law enforcement to the prosecutors to the judiciary — have to play their part and be open and honest with the witness as to what is available, achievable and in what circumstances. False or misleading promises will benefit no one and only serve to discredit the agencies and endanger lives.

In order to address the issues highlighted it is suggested that the following actions be taken:

— Develop a national witness-safeguarding strategy, which includes a specific witness-protection scheme.

— Develop an operational framework and policy guidance that meets the strategic aims of the witness-safeguarding strategy.

— Legislate as necessary to meet the aims of the witness-safeguarding strategy and support the associated policy guidance.

— Make reasonable budgetary provisions to implement the witness-safeguarding strategy.

There is plenty of good practice on how this can be achieved but it is not simple or cheap. But then neither is life.


Negotiating The Afghan Constitution

By Raja Hamza Anwar

November 28, 2020

The recent diplomatic exchanges between Pakistan, Taliban and the Afghan government have marked a savoury start right from Abdullah Abdullah’s visit to Pakistan this year that was followed by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Afghanistan. The United States on the other hand is in a haste to put a lid on the simmering squabble they have connived to create. Until now, America has bypassed the Afghan government in the brokering of a peace agreement by unilaterally initiating negotiations with the Taliban. America’s handling of the negotiations serves to exude a strong sense of dominance that the Taliban have at the negotiating table, due to their unmatched appetite for violence.

The inevitable scenario would be a constitutional arrangement where the Taliban’s idea of an ultra-conservative national identity is likely to be imposed on all Afghan stakeholders. In such a constitutional set-up, the rights of the minorities to freely profess their faith as well as women to have the basic right to education or, at the least, the freedom to move without being accompanied by a male family member, may not be embraced by the Taliban.

In the Afghan context, constitution-making will be a particularly sensitive issue as debates and negotiations will be heavily polarised and torn between ideological lines. No constitution is a self-executory instrument and it depends on the people for its enforcement. Therefore, the development of consensus is a pre-requisite of constitution-making, as it represents being legitimated by the people. With a lack of shared values that would naturally play a cohesive role in the constitutional dialogue in Afghanistan, the initiation of any intra-peace dialogue can potentially conflagrate the differences that would risk turning constitutional debates into battle zones. Then, instead of fostering compromise between the government and the Taliban, the constitution-making will become a source of exacerbating tensions which, in Afghanistan’s scenario, would skid the state back into violence.

To avoid the Talibanisation of the negotiation process, Afghan constitution makers should avoid making decisions about certain fundamental rights and values at this critical juncture. Deliberate omission and avoiding reaching a conclusive judgment regarding contentious issues will avoid the possibility of an overt conflict. Postponing controversial decisions in Afghanistan’s context, such as determining the rights of minorities and women at the start of the constitution-making process, would create an environment for continuous political interactions between the Taliban and the government that may eventually mature into the dispensation of these rights.

Proponents of the neo-liberal idea would certainly be exasperated by this incremental process for tightening the noose around fundamental rights that have become the hallmark of progressiveness. On the contrary, incremental constitutional development rests on the evolution of societal norms and values that will eventually force political actors to recognise these rights through the political process. Thus, it paves a smooth way for state institutions to operate without having to destroy the entire edifice on which the system of peace and cooperation is built.

The American experience is a testament to the success of incremental development of rights and values. During the American constitution-making phase, there was an intense debate over the rights of the American citizens to legally own and trade slaves. The significance of this issue was such that, had the framers abolished slave trade during the negotiation process, they would have failed to negotiate the US Constitution as it stands now. Instead, the framers agreed to defer the question of slave trade till the year 1808 so the people of that era would deliberate on the provision of slave trade. Coming to the present, not only does the American Constitution not bear the scars of its illiberal past. By contrast, it has taken over the role as the flag bearer of freedom and equality throughout the world.

Decades of turmoil that have wreaked havoc on the people of Afghanistan have also engulfed the entire region into conflict. For an enduring Afghan peace settlement, it is imperative to maximise on the commonalities instead of conflagrating the issues that may potentially rupture the peace process. As Americans withdraw and the Taliban gain an edge in the negotiations, the Afghan government must adhere to the process of incremental development instead of ramming the Taliban with recognising liberal and progressive rights. It is a unique irony that the use of the proverbial haste makes waste candidly applies to the Afghan intra-peace dialogue. Though the diplomatic prelude between Pakistan, Taliban and the Afghan government sounds like an optimistic chapter yet, exorbitant compromises will have to be made for any party to go home victorious.


Pakistan Democratic Movement Examined

By Shakeel Ahmed Shah

November 28, 2020

Ross Douthat, while analysing the political history of alliances in the 20th century, observed that there are “plenty of examples from twentieth-century history where, out of fear of liberalism or Communism, religious conservatives made alliances with secular populists and nationalists, and it ended going pretty badly for everybody.” Not sure if it is the fear of liberalism or Communism but a number of conspicuous and non-conspicuous fears have tied the liberals, nationalists and conservatives together in the shape of the 11-party alliance called Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM).

But who fears what? It is difficult to establish but easy to guess. A common conjecture made by those who disagree with the PDM is that the major comprising parties fear accountability which has and is likely to expose more of their corruption scandals. But meanwhile the PDM has an important agenda of reforming the accountability process and making it more effective. Who knows what it actually means.

A meticulous observation of the resolutions and narratives coming out of the PDM and its leadership indicates some disconnect. On one side Maulana Fazlur Rahman is keen about ousting the incumbent government — he resonated this narrative during and after September’s multi-party conference hosted by the PPP. On the other hand, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was reported saying that Nawaz Sharif’s objective is to “change the system and not the removal of the present government”.

Apart from these gaps in the narratives, intentions and objectives, elections in Gilgit-Baltistan played a very crucial role to determine the strength of the alliance. Not all PDM parties participated in the election but those leading the PDM were definitely active in G-B. Out of the major PDM parties, the PML-N, PPP and JUI-F participated in the electoral process by fielding their candidates in various constituencies.

Had there been a true alliance, they would have bargained on seats by fielding and supporting common candidates in different constituencies, but this did not happen. Instead each party supported its own candidate in each constituency resulting in the loss of many votes. For example, in GBLA-II, two of the strongest candidates were from PPP and PML-N running against each other. This did nothing but divide their vote bank. By joining hands in G-B, the PDM could have proved its strength by forming a PDM-led government in the region, but it didn’t. It relied on conventional political slogans and moves, including the allegation of rigging and mass protests, and Gilgit saw violence recently.

The scenario of G-B speaks loudly that the member parties of PDM want to play as a team, but wish to be recognised individually as well. This attitude is lethal, particularly for alliances which are formed by parties with ideological differences.

The opposition parties in Pakistan are older than the governing party. It is the time that being more politically sound, these parties show political sanity. It is known to all these parties and politicians that their role is to serve as an alternative for the discontented voters and not just wait for another election to set their emblem on the ballot paper.

Rather than engaging in politically misaligned ventures, opposition parties should focus on public demands and devise more non-aggressive political ways to translate public interests and demands into policy. Yes, there are those in the opposition who already do their best, but for some, PDM is just a shield to hide their own political incapacity.

In sum, PDM can become a strong opposition force but only if its course is corrected.


Pakistan Democratic Movement May Head Towards Breakdown

By Mohsin Hassan

November 27, 2020

Is PDM heading towards breakdown? A detailed and critical analysis of the sessions, meetings and rallies by the opposition parities’ leaders of the newly formed Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) leads to the conclusion that the alliance negated its core agenda adopted at the very outset of it launch or adopted during their own terms of government or share in it. The creation of National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the charges against Asif Ali Zardari and blames on each other are a few examples.

Further dents are visibly appearing as PTM’s Mohsin Dawar has announced that he is not affiliated with the PDM, because he has continuously been ignored. Whereas Gen (retd) Abdul Baldir and former Chief Minister of Balochistan Sanaullah Zehri have already left the alliance. It is now clear that the PML-N leadership, despite an opportunity arising out of the sad demise of the Nawaz Sharif’s mother, is not returning to Pakistan; this has caused a major psychological and moral dent to the PML-N Quaid in particular and the PDM in general. “Nothing can be more sacred and important for a man than his parents”, they observe, but by not accompanying with her body, he has almost alienated himself from political arena of future.

Likewise, Bilawal Bhutto has contracted coronavirus, right at a time when his sister was going to wed and he has just come back from a busy election campaign in Gilgit-Baltistan. The fact that the PDM had defied all requests and SOPs to save the leaders and their followers from the deadly demon, which has now resulted in many contracting Covid-19 positive. This has left a resentful mark in the eyes of general public.

Fazlur Rehman of JUI, Zardari of PPP, Maryam Nawaz of PML-N, Asfandyar of ANP, Mehmood Achakzai of PKMAP and six other opposition parties forming the PDM are the most seasoned and experienced politicians of our country. But, together they have made a serious political blunder by continuing adamantly holding public gatherings at the cost of lives of the general public amid the vast and wide spread of deadly coronavirus. This is something which they shouldn’t have insisted upon only in defiance of the government. Somebody in the PDM should have told them that coronavirus is neither political nor does relate to PTI. It is threat to everybody’s life. It attacks lethally at gatherings and inflicts heavy casualties like it did in Italy and Iran. Same has happened with Bilawal Bhutto, and one wishes that he may recover soon, come healthy and sound.

The second wave of coronavirus is spreading at intense pace due to which more than 50 deaths are being recorded daily, averagely. It may take more than six months to receive the vaccine and only solution left is the safety measures which the PDM is adamantly ignoring. Yes, they may not accept it because it’s against their political ego, but they must kindly understand that the common sense directly relates to the lives of innocent people. Their gathering in large numbers, at your call, for your vested interests, will put their life at risk of death as the resurge of coronavirus is already playing havoc due to mishandlings by the government. This is like going insane to fulfilling venomous objectives. Playing with people’s life is a deliberate attempt to obliterate masses – for the sake of no return. If PDM continues to doing so, and the cases of coronavirus contract increase manifold, the public sentiment will vote against them, which will obviously be a political death of PDM.

This ‘happy’ marriage of convenience by opposition’s political parties finds it difficult to proceed further under Maulana Fazlur Rehman, whose agenda is to talk against the state institutions only. All the political parties are losing their vote banks due to the statements of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who is said to have close relations with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. Moreover, the opposition parties have accepted Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s leadership for a political convenience, they are cashing in on Fazlur Rehman’s grievances as well sentiments against the government. Fazlur Rehman also knows it – so there stays lack of trust in between everyone. Maulana Fazlur Rehman may have a political clout because of his acumen in the affairs, but he has not a leadership quality as such. The leaders of Nawaz Sharif team and Zardari-led PPP understand this fact but they might be using him as the PDM head for their own political convenience.

On the other hand, however, a foreign news service, which has a record of accurate, impartial, independent journalism, has in its one of the articles on Maulana Fazl-led PDM surprisingly given a view that seems contrary to its tradition; there are so many factual mistakes and outright misstatements. While writing about the arrest of NS’s son-in-law the article forgets to mention that he did violate law by disrespecting the Quaid’s mausoleum. It also deplores ‘censorship’ on Mohsin Dawar’s speeches, but misses that the PML-N had itself not invited him to the rally, while Fazlur Rehman stops him from attending PDM meetings. Regarding banning NS’s speeches live, why not the same can be questioned about Trump’s allegations, which Twitter and TV have stopped to cover live? Why should there be double standards when the content of NS’ allegations against 2018 elections is almost the same as Trump’s? On NS disqualification, the article obfuscates the context; he was disqualified by a 5-member bench of the apex court in July 2017, a year before the elections, in Panama leaks case and he was convicted in graft cases involving his London flats.

Whatever the fate may be of the PDM, it is yet to be seen but it is in the interest of general public that the opposition parties must stop holding rallies and public gatherings in order to save lives of their leaders and followers. The opposition parties are really pulling crowd but at the risk of their lives. If one man catches the coronavirus from a public gathering, imagine he will spread it not only in his family or office or mosque, but everywhere, multiplying the coronavirus positive cases. If this continues, the people would reject PDM and the opposition may head towards an obvious breakdown.


The Eastern Question - Part II

By Fahd Humayun

November 28, 2020

Will peace with India ever be possible? Before the ascent of Narendra Modi, there were certainly a greater number of optimists in Pakistan who believed that not only was peace between the two countries possible, but that it was in Pakistan’s long-term interests to have better relations with its eastern neighbour.

Almost seven years on, the relationship between the two countries is perhaps the worst it has been at least descriptively speaking since the dark events of 1971. This is because even in moments of acute crisis since, there had always existed, normatively at least, an elite-understanding that total rupture was diplomatically and militarily cost-prohibitive. But notably, and for reasons and events undeniably linked to the BJP’s populist resurgence after the Manmohan Singh era, today both India and Pakistan find themselves at a point where that consensus no longer holds.

This raises a number of important legacy questions around the attempts made by Islamabad’s leaders this last decade in reaching out to New Delhi and trying to move the relationship forward. Were they wrong in trying to appease a regime whose considered opinion was to revise its territorial boundaries? Should Pakistan not have extended as many olive branches as they did, often at political cost to the figures extending them?

These are incredibly difficult questions to answer, in part because for one they presuppose the amount of agency Pakistan had in dealing with a post-26/11 India that was transforming in ways we perhaps didn’t fully understand. These questions also discount a chronology of events – such as the eruption of widespread anti-India sentiment in the Valley in 2016, and the arrest of Kulbhushan Jadhav that same year that came pass not due to Pakistan’s attempts to build equity with the BJP, but despite them. But setting these problems aside for a moment, it may be slightly unfair to suggest that even if our leaders could go back in time, they ought to have behaved differently.

For one, the sowing of the seeds of the BJP’s maximalist intentions South Asia predates the events of the past 20 years. Two, for a country that has cyclically experienced democracy and dictatorship, one thing that Pakistan has done rather well is maintain some semblance of mainstream political consensus on the overarching tone and tenor of our relationship with India. This is of course a byproduct of the fact that foreign policy with India has always been heavily securitized and that, barring the Musharraf dictatorship, policy formulation on India has necessitated buy-in from political stakeholders, both democratic and institutional, before being implemented.

The greatest domestic friction to occur over India since 2008 was arguably during PM Nawaz Sharif’s third premiership when, by initially retaining key security portfolios (foreign affairs and defence) the then-prime minister fueled a widely held belief that the Sharifs were placing a premium on individualizing and privatizing diplomacy with India, rather than resorting to an institutionalized search for pathways forward. The Sharif-Jindal episode that led to a ruckus in parliament added to an unfortunate impression that Nawaz Sharif was a lone ranger on a mission to improve relations with India.

The reason this was unfortunate was because it was simply not true. Until August 5, 2019, there was actually fairly little disagreement in any center in Pakistan on the importance of turning a page and starting afresh, should India reciprocate. And for all the apparent dysfunction in civil-military relations between 2013 and 2018, even the military it seemed was invested in a regional future embedded in trade, regional stability and dialogue. And so when disagreement did surface over Mian Sahib’s going out on a limb on India, the nature of the disagreement by and large tended to be procedural rather than substantive: detractors took issue with pace, timing and sequencing, as opposed to the logic of outreach itself. Let it be remembered that while the BJP’s sweeping victory in 2014 was symbolic, so was the unanimity of support in Islamabad for Sharif’s decision to attend his counterpart’s swearing-in.

That said, there is also an argument to be made that after 2014, as India steadily became more and more self-assured and imbibed in its regional demagoguery, Pakistan should have become less and less sanguine about the possibility of a viable peace between the two countries. When it came to power six years ago, the BJP had already signaled in its manifesto the intention to unilaterally revoke the special status of Jammu & Kashmir.

The party’s anti-Muslim bonafides were hardly new. Within months of its ascent, Modi and Doval began endorsing an incremental increase in the number of violations along both the Line of Control and Working Boundary resulting in the loss of civilian lives. By the time Pathankot and then Uri rolled around, followed by India’s systematic downgrading of relations and cancellation of talks, the absence of any institutional desire in New Delhi to improve ties had been made amply clear.

What then does this say about first PM Sharif, and later Prime Minister Imran Khan, who both risked strategic space for diminishing returns by reaching out to India? Here the answer is simple, and should go to both leaders’ credit as statesmen looking to build bridges. They overestimated India’s own rationality and the desire of India’s new ruling elite to work towards a better collective future for South Asia. And they underestimated the appetite India’s new rulers had for a relationship characterised by structural incompatibility.

These conclusions are important because there is a lot for Pakistan’s present leaders and political classes to learn, especially folks prone to reflexively politicising memory of the last decade of Indo-Pak relations, and associated outreach to India, for domestic gain. There are also lessons here on how Pakistan can and should talk about India on the international stage – that is, if India has reaffirmed its own strategic pre-eminence as Pakistan’s principal external threat, there should be no ambiguity in who bears responsibility for making that choice.



Elections in Myanmar

By Khalid Bhatti

November 28, 2020

Myanmar’s parliamentary elections took place on November 8, but Rohingya Muslims and some other ethnic groups were not allowed to participate in them. This was the first election after the genocide of the Rohingya in the Rakhine state in 2017.

It was the second election since the power-sharing agreement between the military junta and the National League for Democracy. As expected, the NLD won with a landslide and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) suffered a humiliating defeat.

According to the results announced by Myanmar Union Election Commission, the NLD led by Aung San Suu Kyi won 396 seats to form government for a second term. The party increased its majority in both houses of parliament. The NLD had won the previous elections and formed government after signing a power-sharing deal with the military junta.

The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, the main opposition party, won 26 seats, and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, representing the ethnic Shan minority, won 15 seats. The Shan, whose homeland is in eastern Myanmar, are the country's largest ethnic minority. The USDP has called the election unfair and refused to accept the election results, but the election commission has rejected its claim as well as its demand for a fresh vote.

Having the majority control of parliament does not give the NLD full control of government, though. The army-drafted constitution of 2008 grants the military 25 percent of the total seats, enough to block constitutional changes. Several key ministerial positions are also reserved for military appointees.

The civilian led Union Election Commission cited the dangers of the ongoing combat between government forces and ethnic minority guerrillas, but independent journalists and human rights groups believe that the decision to cancel elections in certain areas was political and seems to be to keep parties hostile to the current government out of parliament.

One of the guerrilla groups, the Arakan Army, has said that it will extend a unilateral ceasefire to December 31 to allow by-elections to be held in areas of Rakhine province where voting had been cancelled.

This election once again shows that, despite problems of consolidating power and solving long-standing issues of the economy and ethnic nationalist conflicts in the last five years, the support base of Suu Kyi and the NLD is still widespread and strong.

Despite their tarnished image, Suu Kyi and the NLD are the only ones with grassroots outreach across Myanmar. The NLD played a leading role against the military junta and for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Thousands of NLD workers and leaders were put in prison and thousands forced into exile.

People still relate to it as a historic opposition, as a bulwark against military rule. Despite the failures of the peace process and the rising anger towards the party in some ethnic minority regions, it has been able to maintain its support base not only in the Buddhist population but also in some other regions.

The NLD and Suu Kyi’s government came under severe criticism after failing to protect the Rohingya from a genocide in which state forces and extremist Buddhist groups were involved. Aung San even failed to condemn the genocide in clear terms.

It will be interesting to see how the NLD uses its increased majority in parliament to assert itself. The party will potentially have the opportunity to follow through on promised reforms that would reduce the power of the military junta. So, a major power struggle seems to be on the cards. This struggle between a more confident NLD and the powerful military junta will determine the future course of Myanmar. This struggle will decide whether democracy will flourish or the military will continue to call shots under the power-sharing agreement. Myanmar suffered nearly 50 years of isolation and decay under a strict military rule, and Aung San Suu Kyi herself spent many years under house arrest before the generals began to loosen their hold on power and the first elections were held in 2011.

This time, though, the ballot was seen as a referendum on Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, which maintained its popularity at home even as the Rohingya crisis damaged its international reputation. Polling was cancelled in conflict areas within the country, affecting some 1.5 million people.

International and domestic observers said the vote went smoothly and without major irregularities, but there has been criticism of the commission’s lack of transparency and its cancellation of the polls across many ethnic minority areas, which sparked more outrage in already restive areas.

There is some relief among a few ethnic minority communities after the crushing defeat of the Union Solidarity and Development Party -- the military’s political proxy which openly promotes Islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism against the Rohingya community.

There is systemic denial of basic human rights and citizenship for the Rohingya as a Myanmar-based national community with its own linguistic and ethnic identity. A Los Angeles Times’s editorial dated November 14 correctly pointed out that, “nothing has tarnished Suu Kyi’s international reputation and disillusioned her admirers more than her refusal to protect Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, one of the most oppressed populations in the world. Sadly, many human rights activists who once revered her now believe she is a Myanmar Buddhist who simply does not recognize the rights of the Rohingya to be full citizens.”

The hybrid regime in Myanmar has shown no sign of reversing its genocidal policies towards this protected group. One Myanmar journalist Ben Dunant brilliantly described the situation in Myanmar in a national daily: “Journalists and activists who dare to criticize a popular government have reported regular abuse from outraged members of the public, and demonstrations in favour of press freedom have not attracted more than a few dozen participants. The outcome of the election suggests there is little electoral cost to the government [in] putting its critics in jail because few voters have sympathy for them. It exposes the vast gulf that exists between human rights discourse and popular sentiment.”

This election has shown that the majority of the Burmese electorate did not seem to be overly concerned about the fact that the Union Election Commission established by Suu Kyi’s puppet-president Win Myint canceled elections, either wholly or partially, in over 50 predominantly minority townships and villages, on grounds of security.



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