Category Archives: Politics

Pakistan’s elections bring hope and uncertainty

By Zubeida Mustafa

Last week’s elections in Pakistan yielded predictable outcomes, which could take the country in an unanticipated direction. Preliminary results announced Friday by the Election Commission of Pakistan give the victory to Tehreek-e-Insaf (also known as the PTI, or Justice Party) of the cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan. Although his party missed a clear majority in the National Assembly, it should be able to easily woo a few independents to its side to form a stable government.

If there is an unpredictable factor, it is the reaction of the major mainstream parties after their emergence as the losers, especially the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He and his daughter are now in prison after being found guilty of graft in a property case. A multiparty conference of the main losers (in which the Pakistan Peoples Party did not participate) has rejected the results of Wednesday’s voting and demanded new, transparent elections. Will they pay the PTI in its own coin by staging sit-ins to disrupt life in the country, as Imran Khan did in the years following the 2013 elections?

Even prior to last week’s elections, it was widely alleged that the “Miltablishment”—-the country’s military leadership—was creating conditions that improved the prospects of the PTI. Khan is viewed as the darling of the generals. The military establishment’s move to selectively push graft cases against his rivals on the pretext of accountability while turning a blind eye to the wrongdoings of Khan’s cronies was seen as a one-sided attack on the corruption pervasive in Pakistan’s politics.

In the weeks preceding the elections, there were protests from the media as well as from some members of the judiciary against interference from “hidden hands.” What seems to give credence to these charges now is the preliminary statement issued Friday by the EU Election Observation Mission. While praising the Election Commission’s role in the conduct of the polling, the statement categorically said that the “electoral process of 2018 was negatively affected by the political environment.” It spoke of the playing field not being level and of “lack of equality of opportunity” for all contestants.

The U.S. State Department shared the EU observers’ concerns and questioned the fairness of the voting. Pointing out flaws in the elections, the State Department spoke of constraints placed on freedom of expression and on association during the campaign period.

Meanwhile, the PTI’s Khan has promised the people a naya (new) Pakistan. His victory speech, delivered even before the results were officially confirmed, was widely hailed as a statesmanlike and conciliatory piece of oratory.

The 65-year-old prime-minister-to-be said all the right things in a calculatedly correct tone. This was refreshing after the vitriolic outbursts from all sides during the election campaign. Attributing Pakistan’s problems to corruption and the collapse of governance, Khan promised to rebuild all national institutions and root out graft. He assured the nation that he would create a welfare state to lift up the poor and the underprivileged. He promised to try corrupt officials and apply accountability across the board.

This was music to the ears of the people of this country of 208 million, ruled for decades by status-quo forces that have failed to pull most of them out of poverty. But such promises have been made before. The only difference is that the PTI is at the helm for the first time.

What is significant is the refrain one hears from political observers and analysts: We must wait and see whether the promised reform will actually happen. Skeptics are abundant, but the young, savvy and educated who hold privileged positions are euphoric and say the new leadership should be given a chance.

Many people are tired of the turbulence and violence that often occur when political parties stage protests and rallies. Near the end of the campaign for this month’s elections, three suicide bombings killed three candidates and 180 people. Then came another bomb attack on election day, killing 31 people in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan.

What should interest foreign powers is the line the prime minister-elect will take on foreign policy. In his victory speech, Khan spoke about that policy ambiguously. He didn’t mention his views on defense and security, which could have stirred controversy. He was vocal about bringing peace to the region—without saying how he will treat militant elements, some of which he has expressed admiration for in the past.

Khan mentioned his goals regarding six other countries, but he adopted such an unspecific, broad stance that he succeeded in not stepping on any toes, including those of Pakistan’s defense establishment, which is firmly in control of foreign policy. He said he would seek to:

• Strengthen relations with China
• Bring peace in Afghanistan (to help bring peace in Pakistan) and have open borders between the two countries
• Develop mutually beneficial relations with the United States
• Build stronger ties with Iran
• Help Saudi Arabia resolve its internal tensions
• Improve relations with India, if its leadership agrees; end the blame game between Pakistan and India; stop human rights violations in Kashmir.

The speech was a safe statement of intent; it called for no specific commitments that might be controversial. But a closer look at some of Khan’s previous statements shows him to be anti-U.S., to have reservations about China’s economic practices, to be more pro-Saudi Arabia than many Pakistanis would prefer, to be a hard-liner on India, and to have a soft spot for militants—be they in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Kashmir. Weave into this narrative the military’s own concealed agenda and you will be left guessing as to what the future might hold.

Pakistan, especially its army, has had close ties with China since the 1950s. Islamabad and Beijing have provided each other with unequivocal support—military, diplomatic, economic and political. Sino-Pakistan friendship, said to be as high as the Himalayas and as deep as the Indian Ocean, has benefited both nations in their conflicts with India. Pakistan has used its relationship with China to neutralize the U.S. when the need arose. Today, a time when Pakistan is in deep economic crisis, China’s One Belt and One Road initiative, with its promise of $900 billion infrastructure aid for 65 nations, is a boon for Pakistan, which has yet to become self-reliant.

Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. have seen ups and downs since the war in Afghanistan began, but they have never before reached the current low, demonstrated by President Trump’s 2017 announcement of his “fight to win” policy in Afghanistan, a declaration in which he accused Pakistan of providing havens for terrorists. Then, in his first tweet of 2018, Trump said the U.S. “had given it [Pakistan] more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit.”

Trump also strengthened the hawks in the Pakistan army when he invited Pakistan’s historical enemy India to “help us more with Afghanistan.”

Islamabad’s relations with India have worsened since 2008 when terrorists suspected of coming from Pakistan attacked Mumbai. The previously intermittent dialogue between the two countries remains suspended.

Many believe that in the coming months the new government will make compromises to get everyone on the same page. Khan’s ex-wife, Reham Khan, a television presenter, said in an interview that Khan was known for his “U-turns.” Others—with less of a personal history—agree. Najam Sethi, the editor of The Friday Times, a political weekly published from Lahore, wrote, “Imran Khan … is a different kettle of fish. He may have embraced the Miltablishment as a tactical move but sooner rather than later he will begin to challenge the conventional wisdom of the national security state handed down to him. That’s when all bets will be off.”

The only conclusively reassuring feature of these elections is the failure of the numerous candidates from terrorist groups. Not one of them won. That was the people’s verdict.

Source: Truthdig

 

Please follow and like us:

The new mandate

 

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

Election day is over: Homage first to the dead – victims and martyrs of our political and institutionerrors – and then thanksgiving for that abiding commitment to home and country apparent in the collective spirit of Pakistan’s people. Provincial governments bicker in the Council of Common Interests; power-accreting centralists fiddle with demographics, delineations and more – yet people in the injured unequal units converge and concur in a quest for good governance and a democratic determination of the way to it. Continue reading The new mandate

Please follow and like us:

Elections and elections

 

by  RifaBy By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

 ON the brink of the 2018 elections, first time voters are probably so caught up in making their own electoral history that they are more liable to be dismissive than mindful of the past. But for older more seasoned voters, sobering recollection of other elections is inevitable.

Elections-1969 foundered on the curious logic of the majority being labelled ‘secessionist’. Bhutto, though also politically guilty, heroically salvaged morale in what was no longer West Pakistan but merely Pakistan. The rebound to ten years of Ayub’s dictatorship was not just a push for democratic rights and the emergence of fresh civil political alternatives. Ambitious politicians had recklessly exacerbated nationalisms and exploited political alienation in pursuit of personal and party empowerment. Continue reading Elections and elections

Please follow and like us:

The party goes on

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

IT disconcerts political interventionists that political parties—be they cultist or ideological—do not come and go by virtue of registration paper alone. They have a ground reality. Disqualify the leader, even ban the party, but adherents adhere. Popular support—overt or covert; subverted or repressed—will always remain a challenge for reformists who need to oust superfluous leaders/parties that have yet to be democratically nullified by the voter. Continue reading The party goes on

Please follow and like us:

‘The moving finger . . . ‘

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

IS Pakistan’s political process moving in the direction of Ayub’s basic democracy with its manageable electoral college of basic democrats? Senate elections– as quite dramatically opposed to results in bye-elections to PA and NA seats post-Panama– have shown how readily political satisfaction may be obtained for and by the wise who are convinced they know better than the broader mass when it comes to picking appropriate parliamentary personnel. Democratic purists may not describe senators as public reps, but perhaps the intention is to revamp the manufacture of suitable public representation.

Thus, given the shortcomings embarrassingly apparent in parliament, some have been touting proportional representation and party lists. Others recommend reducing the minimum voting age: the young have such a fresh untutored approach. A like-minded school would facilitate expat voters who are away from it all and so can be trusted to be more objective about things back home than locals with antiquated party preferences who live too close to the ground for the right perspective. Then take electoral procedure and preliminaries:  Delineating constituencies afresh should be understood as necessary updating and revision: Not gerrymandering to compensate for earlier gerrymandering. Continue reading ‘The moving finger . . . ‘

Please follow and like us:

Mind’s input


By Zubeida Mustafa

THE problem with the policymaking process in Pakistan is that it receives very little intellectual input. In an authoritarian system, decisions are taken arbitrarily by a dictator or his coterie and that is why these are regarded as flawed.

But in a democracy, as we claim to be, it is unforgivable that the government should ignore the advice of those who “engage in critical thinking, research and reflection about society and propose solutions for its normative problems”. Wikipedia terms such people as intellectuals.

It would be valid to ask how many such intellectuals we have in Pakistan. Not many, it would seem, given the paucity of facilities and opportunities for research in the social sciences in public-sector institutions of higher education and the elitist approach of the private universities many of which also restrict freedom of expression causing students to live in a bubble. Continue reading Mind’s input

Please follow and like us:

Playing with hellfire

TLYRA dharna

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

MUCH significance is being attached to the rise of the TLYRA (Tehreek-e- Labaik Ya Rasool Allah) and its political face TLP (Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan) ; and the MWM (Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen). There must be finer points of differentiation in party postures but the new bodies seem a Maulana TQ’s PAT derivative in terms of political leverage (intent is a matter of speculative personal opinion). But the future may be fraught with menacing linkages.

In 2012 Maulana TQ baulked from venturing to show how his national electoral vote-bank matched the heft of his staunch foot soldiers in road-camps. Awesomely righteous he remains; but a comparatively familiar game changer does not occasion the anxiety the undefined goals of these fresh but by-electorally promising moral stalwarts do – or, perhaps even more pertinently, could be projected as embodying. They are not waving the Daesh flag (anyone can chalk walls or paste posters of any sort) but they have made their debut  customized to the current international perception of militant Muslim obscurantism. Their apparent success and the government’s apparently craven surrender enables international global-jihadism terrorist-risk-perception tanked up thinkers to move Pakistan a notch higher on the flashpoint watch-list of alarmingly unstable, no matter how wistfully democratic, extremism prone Muslim countries. Continue reading Playing with hellfire

Please follow and like us:

Fragility

Sabeen Mahmud was killed for her liberal views

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

JUST a few weeks ago there was an example of the inter-related fragility of our political-religious equilibrium. The wording of the oath for elected representatives was altered. The drift of reaction was that the reworded version insulated avowal of the finality of prophet-hood.

The previous wording was rapidly restored before cries of heresy and the like gained violent momentum. But the matter gave clerical-conglomerate cause for a rally; and the fact of the cancelled alteration is there to be referred to by those who choose to find Islamic intent deficient in the way persons or parties of their naming practice politics. Continue reading Fragility

Please follow and like us:

Narratives

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

You cannot exclude the religious factor in Pakistan, whatever you dub the republic and to whatever you ascribe the founding urge. And it can be asserted with equal validity that the secession of East Pakistan and proclamation of Bangladesh demolished the two-nation theory commonly claimed to be the rationale of Pakistan’s creation. Or that the RSS and Modi’s Hindutva confirms it. The communal Hindu-Muslim power struggle is a continuity in the subcontinent’s historical chronicle around which narratives fabricate –- some spontaneous and incremental; others conscious and didactic. They are often supplementary and reactive. Continue reading Narratives

Please follow and like us:

Much ado about something

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

MUCH has been made of the legislative dexterity that allowed Nawaz Sharif to return to being official president of the eponymous PML(N). What leaves anonymous citizens confused is that there are (at least) two starkly different interpretations of that bit of legislation.

One reading has it that the move exposes parliament as a farcical misrepresentation where parliamentarians connive in trampling public interest underfoot and are better circumvented in the cause of the state’s eco-political interests. The other reading is that parliament is to be congratulated for asserting its electorally mandated legislative powers and has embarrassed extra interventionism. It’s a tug of war figuratively speaking right now, but the mandated government and the mandated opposition seem determined to keep on pulling till something snaps. Continue reading Much ado about something

Please follow and like us: