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Indian Press (23 May 2017 NewAgeIslam.Com)


Getting Mullahs Out Of Constitution’s Way: New Age Islam's Selection, 23 May 2017





New Age Islam Edit Bureau

23 May 2017

Getting Mullahs out Of Constitution’s Way

By A Surya Prakash

Let’s Talk About Women’s Rights

By Flavia Agnes

Pakistan's Army Will Never Allow Talks

By Harsha Kakar

Pandora's Box

By Amulya Ganguli

The Reformist Landslide

By Ramin Jahanbegloo

Iran Votes For Reform

By Rakesh Sood

The United States Of Myanmar?

By Nehginpao Kipgen

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau

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Getting Mullahs out Of Constitution’s Way

By A Surya Prakash

23 May 2017

Supreme Court’s verdict on triple Talaq can be a turning point for both the minority community and the concept of gender parity. Let’s keep our fingers crossed

Last week, a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court completed its hearing of a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of triple Talaq.

While India awaits the court’s judgement, the circumstances surrounding this case itself offer hope that after a long, long, time there is some movement towards ensuring that Muslim women, like all other citizens, will get to experience in full measure, the safeguards provided in the Constitution especially in regard to equity and equality.

The reasons for such hope are as follows: Despite the oppressive social environment in which they live, thousands of Muslim women are openly coming out against triple Talaq and are demanding a formal end to this obnoxious, one-sided system of divorce. Second, unlike the Congress Governments of the past which lacked the will to assert the supremacy of the Constitution when it came to personal laws, the Narendra Modi Government has taken a firm stand to uphold core constitutional values. It has said before the court that “gender equality and the dignity of women are non-negotiable, over-arching constitutional values”. It has asked whether in a secular democracy, religion can be a reason to deny equal status and dignity, available to women under the Constitution. And, while personal laws serve the purpose of preserving diversity, can they undermine gender justice, which “is a constitutional goal of overwhelming importance and magnitude”. This is in tune with the statement which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made more than once: The Constitution is the  country’s supreme text.

Third, there is a growing national mood to end anachronistic practices and celebrate the freedoms that are enshrined in the Constitution. The mobile revolution (Indians own 1,200 million Cellphones); the emergence of the social media and millions of close knit WhatsApp groups which have triggered an information revolution that the patriarchs can never block; and most importantly, the rising literacy levels among women including Muslim women, have all contributed to a situation where in some correction may be possible in respect of the terrible mistakes of the past.   

Thanks to some concessions made at the time when the Constitution was written and the exigencies of electoral politics over the last 70 years, some of the most demeaning and unconstitutional provisions in Muslim Personal Law, have been dignified as ‘law’ and allowed to override key constitutional provisions that guarantee gender equality, equality before law and equal application of laws and right to life and dignity.      

Over the last seven decades, problems such as these have festered for a long time because of the absence of clarity on where and how to fit minority rights and religious rights into the overall constitutional scheme. The problem dates back to 1946. Eight months prior to the partition, the Constituent Assembly had begun work to draft a democratic Constitution for undivided India. The Muslim League wanted elections be held on the basis of separate electorates for the Hindus and the Muslims.

But, even before this exercise could get anywhere, partition became a reality and most of the leaders of the Muslim League moved over to the separate Muslim State they wanted —Pakistan. But, some stayed back.

When India’s Constituent Assembly resumed its work, the leaders of the Congress were hoping for some sanity within the Assembly as they picked up the threads to write a democratic Constitution.  But they got the shock of their lives when Pocker Sahib, a member from Tamil Nadu, demanded that elections to the Central and Provincial Legislatures should be held on the basis of separate electorates. He argued that “non-Muslims would not be able to understand the needs of the Muslim community and that; therefore, the Muslims should constitute a separate electorate”. Leaders like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Govind Ballabh could not believe their ears. A fresh demand for a separate electorate was emerging a fortnight after the creation of Pakistan! Patel threw his hands up and said, “In this unfortunate country, if separate electorate is going to be persisted with even after the division of the country, woe betide the country. It is not worth living in.”

The leaders stood firm and nipped this mischief in the bud, but they did not remain firm on the issue of a common civil code. Thanks to sustained resistance from Muslim members, the idea of a common civil code was put in cold storage and moved to the Chapter on Directive Principles of State Policy. Muslim members objected to this as well. But BR Ambedkar refused to yield. He said the state had the right to legislate on issues like marriage and succession. But, the fact was that despite creation of Pakistan, leaders of the Congress buckled under the pressure of the so-called representatives of the Muslims, who chose to stay back, and deprived India of a common civil code that would have ensured that all personal laws were within the ambit of the Constitution of India’s core ideals.

Thereafter, within decades of independence, competitive electoral politics led to the appeasement of Muslims, which is reality was reduced to appeasement of the mullahs.

The Congress, since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, mastered this art and treated the Muslims as a vote-bank. It constantly appeased the mullah by signalling to him that his personal laws would never be touched and that the common civil code was just a chimera. Later, other political parties got into the act and vigorously pursued the politics of mullah appeasement. As a result, in 1963, when the Union Government wanted to set up a committee to examine the changes in the Muslim Personal Law in Islamic countries, there were vehement protests from the clerics and the idea was abandoned. In the later decades the mullahs forced Indira Gandhi to abandon a move to bring in a common adaption law. They forced Rajiv Gandhi to bring in legislation in Parliament to undo the Supreme Court’s historic verdict in the Shah Bano case, which gave relief to a divorced Muslim woman in distress.

As stated earlier, the circumstances are now fortuitous. This case, therefore, can be the turning point. Let us keep our fingers crossed!

Source: dailypioneer.com/columnists/edit/getting-mullahs-out-of-constitutions-way.html

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Let’s Talk About Women’s Rights

By Flavia Agnes

May 23, 2017

The concept of a dissoluble contractual marriage is the contribution of Islamic law to the world.

Now that the dust has settled on the marathon hearing of the triple Talaq case, it is time to examine the various strands of arguments advanced before the Supreme Court and ponder upon the core concerns.

The first argument, as we all know was put forward by attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi. He advocated a ban on all Talaq, not just instant triple Talaq. When asked how Muslim husbands will divorce their wives, the AG said: “You ban it today, and we will bring in a new law tomorrow.”

Mr Rohatgi argued that it was not a majority-minority issue but of intra-community gender equality which will bring Muslim women on par with the women of other communities. There was not a word about gender discrimination under the Hindu law!

The lone supporter of this position was Bebaak, a recently-formed, loosely-affiliated collective of a particular brand of feminist groups, represented by the well-known proponent of gender equality, senior counsel Indira Jaising, who pleaded that all personal laws must be tested against the touchstone of fundamental rights and that it is not a Muslim issue but the concern of 50 per cent of the Indian population. 

The second position advanced by various Muslim women’s groups was to declare triple Talaq as one pronouncement, as held by the Delhi high court in 2008 in the Masroor Ahmed case. They also pleaded the point, which I have advanced since Shayara Bano filed her petition about a year ago, that the Supreme Court ruling of 2002 in Shamim Ara had already laid down the procedure for pronouncement of Talaq and the same must be affirmed.

Several lawyers, including Arif Mohammed Khan and Salman Khurshid, experts on the pristine Muslim law as well as those representing Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), which had spearheaded the campaign for a ban on triple Talaq, put forward their views. What is bad in theology can never be a good law and cannot be considered as an essential practice of Muslims in India, they argued. However, they advanced a cautious approach of minimalist intervention and argued that as several courts in the country had already laid down the law, the test of constitutionality was unwarranted.

The third was the elaborate argument advanced by Kapil Sibal for the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), who pleaded that matters of faith and belief cannot be tested against Articles 14 and 15 (equality and non-discrimination) of the Constitution as they are protected under Articles 25 and 26, which are also fundamental rights. Mr Sibal argued that when instances of arbitrary utterances of triple Talaq are rare, what was the need for a suo moto reference and pointed out that the AIMPLB had already come out with an eight- point procedure for Talaq.

What was most intriguing was that the core concern of the entire litigation — protection of economic rights of women — did not get fore-grounded in the marathon discourse. Women’s rights of residence, maintenance, custody of children and a lumpsum provision for the future did not find a place in the entire debate. There was a presumption even among those espousing the feminist cause that the fundamental rights of women under Article 21, the right to a life with dignity, will be protected if the violent and abusive marriage lingers on until a civil divorce on fault grounds is secured.

Only those not familiar with the ground realities of litigation in trial courts would have been naïve enough to advance the argument that all Muslim divorces must occur only under judicial scrutiny and that alone will ensure gender justice, a situation nonexistent even under the codified Hindu law which permits customary divorces.

It is indeed ironic that every single petitioner who approached the Supreme Court with a complaint against instantaneous talaq pleaded a long history of domestic violence. In all judgments that were relied upon, including Shamim Ara, the core concern for the women was maintenance. During these proceedings, the husband’s lawyer had produced a Talaqnama drawn by him under the erroneous presumption that this would absolve his client from the obligation of paying maintenance under the Muslim Women’s Act (MWA) of 1986 (following the controversial Shah Bano ruling in 1985).

In each case, the courts had upheld the woman’s right to maintenance and invalidated the sham divorce through Talaqnama.

The point that after the MWA, a divorced woman is entitled to a fair and reasonable maintenance for her future was completely missed out.

None of the women who had come before the court on the plea of instant divorce had availed of this remedy, nor were they even aware of it. When this point was raised earlier with representatives of the BMMA, which was spearheading the campaign, the response was that Muslim women are too poor to go to court to claim this remedy.

Yet before the Constitution Bench, it was pleaded by Bebaak that the courts alone can protect women’s rights since all community practices are unjust to women, a position similar to the one advanced by the AG on behalf of the government.

Even more shocking, the secular-feminist arguments rested on the premise that marriage is a status and a right against the world at large (right in rem), and not just contractual obligations between the concerned parties.

The concept of a dissoluble contractual marriage is the contribution of Islamic law to the world. From its inception in the seventh century, a Muslim marriage was based on the theory of consent and contract, concepts that were alien to other matrimonial jurisdictions.

Any move to change the essential character of the Muslim law from its conceptual contractual moorings will be a retrograde step.

While the world is moving from a status-based sacramental and indissoluble marriage to a contractual marriage, which can be dissolved not just by mutual consent but also on the grounds of irretrievable breakdown, it was strange to hear the arguments advanced on behalf of those who claim to be non-conformist, endorse open marriages and live-in relationships to make Muslim marriages more difficult to dissolve, under the guise of protecting women’s rights.

Even if triple Talaq is stuck down, will it be possible to enforce conjugality upon an unwilling husband? Such a move will only result in an increase in the number of Muslim women being deserted. As per the 2011 census, the number of deserted Hindu women was 19 Lakh as against six Lakh divorcees. These deserted women live in limbo, not married not divorced and lack the resources to approach the courts for even the minimum of maintenance. By making divorce difficult, we should not force a similar fate upon Muslim women.

If the marriage has broken down irretrievably, it is not in the interest of the wife to continue in such a marriage as it violates her dignity.

Even if the court strikes down instant and arbitrary Talaq, and lays down a mandatory three months of Iddat period to explore reconciliation, if the husband is adamant that the marriage had broken down irretrievably, it might not bring about a great change in the ground reality of Muslim women.

What needs protection is the woman’s right to live in safety and dignity, her rights over her children and her right to a provision of a lumpsum settlement for her future, remedies which already have statutory protection.

Source; asianage.com/opinion/oped/230517/lets-talk-about-womens-rights.html

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Pakistan's Army Will Never Allow Talks

By Harsha Kakar

May 23, 2017

The Pakistan envoy to the US, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, recently blamed India for stalling the peace process. He stated that Pakistan was always ready and willing to start the dialogue process but India was not.

He went on to add that bilateral ties were affected due to delay in the negotiation process. In the same breath, he stated, “India is using force and committing horrendous human rights violations in Kashmir.”

Similar suggestions for talks have been made by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his foreign affairs advisor, Sartaj Aziz.

Every international leader visiting Pakistan is requested to be an intermediary and the joint statement at the end of the visit states his willingness to help.

The Turkish President prior to his visit to India echoed the same words, which found no takers in Delhi. The desire for talks by representatives of the Pakistan government could be due to a variety of reasons.

First is the shakiness of the present regime. Nawaz came to power with the promise of improving relations with India. He has been unable to even commence dialogue; hence his main promise remains unfulfilled. Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the main opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has repeatedly raised this subject. Nawaz’s involvement in the Panama papers, now under investigation, might lead to his indictment, reducing his present tenure.

Elections are due next year and even if Nawaz survives the Panama crisis, he would have little to show, hence may face defeat.

Secondly, there is the increasing rift between the powerful deep state and the government. With open support to terrorism in both India and Afghanistan, it has ensured that Pakistan faces antagonists on both fronts. The civil government has desperately attempted to improve relations on both sides, but to no avail. India cancelled talks post Pathankot. Pakistani officials did comment that terror strikes should not derail talks. They have commented that the only way forward is to continue talks irrespective of terror strikes, but it cut no ice in Delhi. The Afghan president turned down an invitation to visit Islamabad.

Thirdly, Pakistan needs to project itself as a nation seeking peace, while India turns its back on it. It repeatedly suggests multiple options for talks, even attempts to send personal messages through couriers, Sajjan Jindal being an example, however receives no answer. Its sincerity has always remained in doubt, solely because the core issue of terrorism has been unaddressed. Pakistan’s active interference in Kashmir has reduced chances of talks.

Fourthly, Pakistan is being clearly viewed as a terror producing factory. Its products have been exported to Afghanistan and India and may soon enter China.

It is also losing trust of Iran. To safeguard its image, it plays its own terror card, blaming India and Afghanistan as sponsors of terror on its soil. Its announcements of talks to resolve issues are also aimed at projecting itself as a victim, rather than the benefactor.

However, none of its actions have won it any sympathy. The latest battle ground emerging is Kulbhushan Jadhav.

The visit of industrialist Jindal to Pakistan and his personal interaction with Nawaz only increased the distance between the army and the government.

Nawaz did make a statement that the visit was his initiative, thus indicating another attempt to resume dialogue.

The Pakistan army reacted immediately.

The beheading incident and the announcement of death sentence to Kulbhushan, both under its tutelage, ensured an end to resumption of talks.

Everything is now back in cold storage, despite temporary relief being granted by the ICJ. For the civilian government, relations with India are essential for growth and development.

Whether India has a hand or not in the insurgency on Pakistan’s western borders is not the question, the fact is that India has a greater hold on Afghanistan than Pakistan, hence the ability to influence the Afghan government. Islamabad is aware and desires peace, but the army is unwilling.

The CPEC is strictly dependent on the security of routes and of Chinese citizens employed for its monitoring and development. Attacks on them and projects under construction can offset it, leaving Pakistan in financial doldrums. Attacks are already increasing in tempo in Baluchistan and could soon spread, after all CPEC also transits through the area dominated by the Pakistan Taliban and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

It could offset the delicate economic balance which would enable Pakistan to repay its loans. In such a scenario, it is the civilian government which would lose face, not the army.

Pakistan’s army remains unconcerned, after all its generals have limited exposure to economics and diplomacy, though they believe they cannot submit the power they possess. Further the careful nurturing of the Pakistani mind into believing that India seeks its downfall and is suppressing human rights in Kashmir would be shattered if talks commence and progress.

As has been aptly said, while nations have an army, the Pakistan army has a nation. For the civilian government, peaceful resolution of issues with all its neighbours is the answer. Antagonism on two borders, with an increased threat from the third, only weakens the polity.

While it faces internal brickbats, the military gains credit despite its failures since it projects itself as the saviour of the nation. Pakistan’s Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) cracks down on anyone who criticises the army on social media; but not the government.

Thus, the perpetual battle between the polity and the army would continue. The polity would continue to strive for talks in every forum, while the military would obstruct. Never once has the all-powerful army chief even mentioned talks as an answer to resolve issues.

For India, the choices are limited. Every time it has taken a step forward, it has been stabbed in the back.

Hence irrespective of offers, unless the Pakistan civilian establishment gains control over the army, ignoring talks is the only solution.

Source: thestatesman.com/opinion/pakistan-s-army-will-never-allow-talks-1495491825.html

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Pandora's Box

By Amulya Ganguli

May 23, 2017

From the time of Pakistan’s independence to the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1989, Pakistan was known for its close ties with the US, which made analysts jokingly refer to the three “As” which dominated Pakistan ~ Allah, Army and America.

The main reason for Pakistan’s proximity to the US was its fear and dislike of India ~ a much larger neighbour which was presumed to have refused to accept the sub-continent’s Partition in 1947 and, therefore, was unwilling to accept Pakistan as a legitimate country.

Hence, Pakistan’s arms agreements with the US in order to boost its defence’s vis-à-vis India.

The end of the war in Afghanistan and the rise of terrorism in Pakistan led to a rupture with the US.

Earlier, too, the strain in ties between the two countries because of Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear programme had brought China closer to Pakistan, so much so that theirs was described as an all-weather friendship.

However, there may well be a twist in the tale of this camaraderie because, as the respected Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, has said, the Belt-Road Initiative (BRI) “envisages a deep and broad-based penetration of most sectors of Pakistan’s economy as well as its society by Chinese enterprises and culture. Its scope has no precedent in Pakistan’s history”.

Nor is there any precedent in the history of colonialism where a country has spent billions of dollars on building roads, ports, dams and special economic zones, as China is doing, in another country ostensibly for economic development but paving the way for establishing its own hegemony by pouring in capital, labour and technology.

As the Dawn has noted, thousands of acres of agricultural land will be leased to Chinese enterprises for projects relating to seeds, irrigation, fertilizer, processing units for fruits, vegetables, meat and grain along with storage and transport systems.

There will also be a construction of “safe city” surveillance facilities from Peshawar to Karachi with 24- hour recording of roads and markets.

In addition, fibre-optic cables will be put in place not only for the Internet, but also for television programmes which will be engaged in “disseminating Chinese culture”. Two dams will be built in the Gilgit-Baltistan region (which India claims as its own), displacing an estimated 28,000 people and submerging important archaeological sites.

Evidently, there is much more to BRI than the building of a road from Kashgar in Xinjiang in China to the Gwadar port in Balochistan in Pakistan, especially because China has taken note of the risk posed by the security situation which has been described as the “worst in recent years”.

It is worth asking in this context whether India has been right ~ or wrong ~ in keeping away from the BRI jamboree in Beijing.

Those who want India to be a part of BRI believe that it will gain from the surge in business deals along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which the Chinese ambassador in India wanted to rename to please India before his bosses in Beijing shot down the proposal.

But an acceptance of CPEC will mean an acceptance of the fact that the “corridor” passes through territories which India says is under Pakistan’s and China’s illegal occupation.

Can India afford to legitimize such a land grab for the sake of dollars ? What is more, these are areas where there already have been protests against Chinese “imperialism”, as has been reported from Gilgit, Hunza, Skardu and Ghizer, and also from Hambantota port in Sri Lanka which has virtually been taken over by the Chinese because Colombo could not repay the $1.2 billion loan given by Beijing.

Not surprisingly, BRI has been called Chinese debt-trap diplomacy, which is intended to increase Chinese leverage over the debtor nations. India may well prefer, therefore, to wait and watch since the BRI is riddled with unanswered questions.

In all probability, India’s main interest will lie not so much in trade and investment opportunities as in seeing what impact the increasingly large Chinese presence in Pakistan ~ there are already 8,000 Chinese personnel working in the 210 ongoing projects in the country ~ will have on the security situation, especially on the various terrorist networks such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed ( JeM), Tehreek-e-Taliban ( TeT), the Haqqani group, the Al Qaida and others. Some of these outfits, such as the LeT, are nurtured by the Pakistan army and the ISI for targeting India while the JeM will have a soft corner for China because it refuses to allow the UN to brand its leader, Masood Azhar, as a terrorist.

But there are others like the TeT which specifically targets Pakistan for not being Islamic enough. There is little doubt that these will not like the influx of Chinese troops, ostensibly for the sake of protecting the CPEC, but, in effect, strengthening Pakistan’s security apparatus, thereby hampering the terrorist operations. For these terrorist groups, there is also the question of “culture” via the television programmes controlled by Beijing.

For the Jihadis, the dominance of their country by the atheist Chinese will be detrimental to their ideal of imposing the Shariat or the Islamic religious, social and behavioural doctrine on Pakistan. The BRI, therefore, can open a Pandora’s box.

Source; thestatesman.com/opinion/pandora-s-box-1495484916.html

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The Reformist Landslide

By Ramin Jahanbegloo

May 23, 2017

Iran is a key player at the heart of the Middle East and West Asia. Apart from its obvious strategic importance, Iran is also a self-declared defender of the Shia cause around the Islamic world. This being said, Iranian politics is difficult to manage, with a complex structure and a complicated reality on the ground. And Iranian decision-makers are well aware of this.

The recent presidential election and the second landslide victory of Hassan Rouhani is more than ever a true exemplification of such a complexity, which is often missed by foreign analysts of Iran. As such, the Iranian population always surprises world public opinion by the level of its complexity and pragmatism. Despite a highly flawed electoral system, where the elections are neither fair nor free, Iranian eligible voters participated massively in the presidential elections with a 75 per cent turnout. More than 40 million votes were cast on Friday, May 19, reported by the Iranian Interior ministry, a number higher than the 56 per cent turnout in the 2016 US elections and the 65 per cent turnout in the recent French elections.

The reason is simple: Supporters of incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, who was running for a second term, came out in force to vote and to stop the election of his ultra-conservative opponent, Ebrahim Raisi, the custodian of the holy shrine of Imam Reza in the city of Mashhad and a member of the Supreme Leader’s trusted circle. As such, once again, Iranians voted against a candidate who was considered to be favoured by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This has now become a well-known pattern among the Iranian population since the presidential election of 2009 and the tragic events that followed it.

However, this year’s presidential election in Iran has been politically and economically more significant and meaningful than the previous landslide victory of Rouhani in 2013. First of all, in the eyes of many Iranians, this election was a way to re-affirm and consolidate the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran, the United States and five other world powers. Secondly, the landslide re-election of Rouhani is presented to the Europeans, and especially to the Trump administration, as an expression of the moderation and peaceful will of the Iranian people.

Despite Trump’s undermining of the nuclear deal with Iran, and his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s arch enemy in the Persian Gulf, the Iranian people who re-elected Rouhani expect him to do more in his second term to bring about peaceful measures through diplomatic management and the pursuit of improved relations with the world. Interestingly, while the Trump administration and its Middle Eastern allies put pressure on the Islamic regime in Iran to return to a policy of isolation, Rouhani and his future cabinet will have a hard time ensuring the survival of the Iran deal as well as engaging in more proactive action against the Islamic State, within a security framework for the Middle East.

Last but not least, the re-elected president needs to go back and retackle immediately Iran’s social and economic problems such as unemployment and growing inequality, which affect millions of young Iranians. Everyone, including Rouhani, knows that the economy is the Iranian government’s Achilles’ heel. Rouhani’s main opponents have taken advantage of this weakness during the past four years of his presidency and even in the three television debates before the election.

Rouhani was even criticised very recently by the Supreme Leader Khamenei who implicitly stated that he understood the “pain of the poor and lower class people with his soul, especially because of high prices, unemployment and inequalities”. Even during the election campaign, Rouhani’s main opponent, the ultra-conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi vowed that, if elected, he would fight poverty, corruption and unemployment.

Moreover, Rouhani will continue to face pressures from the Iranian hawks to adopt tougher stances on foreign policy issues, including the conflict in Syria. Surprisingly, despite the signature of a nuclear agreement with world powers, Rouhani’s influence on Iran’s foreign policy remains very limited. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Quds Force continue to support Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. It goes without saying that this new victory strengthens Rouhani’s political mandate to integrate Iran with the global economy. But the extent of his success will depend on the cooperation of Iran’s conservative establishment, led by Supreme Leader Khamenei.

It will also depend on the future actions taken by US President Donald Trump, whose recent talks in Saudi Arabia have focused on ways to contain the Islamic Republic’s regional influence. Speaking alongside his Saudi counterpart in Riyadh on Saturday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he hoped that Rouhani would use his mandate to enforce broad change.

According to Tillerson, the US wants Rouhani to “begin the process of dismantling Iran’s network of terrorism” and put an end to ballistic missile testing. The international community needs to wait and see up to what point Rouhani can loosen restrictions on cultural and social activities and push civic boundaries zealously guarded by hardline conservatives.

Last Friday, the Iranians decided to stand on the side of popular sovereignty rather than divine sovereignty in yet another election that had all the frustrating signs of making the fate of a nation. The majority of Iranians chose a way out of the crisis, rather than just a president. As a result, in the next four years, President Rouhani will continue to swim with Iranian and American sharks in the troubled waters of the Middle East and the world. His success or failure in addressing Iran’s deep-seated domestic and international problems will understandably be a major issue in the consolidation of his power, but also that of Iranian civil society which struggles to protect human rights and civil liberties in Iran.

However, one thing is clear: The message sent by the Iranian voters who voted for Rouhani against the hardliners in Iran will increasingly segue into the question of who will decide the future of Iran. After all, this is what this presidential election was really about. It was about Iran’s choice between change and continuity.

Source; indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/hassan-rouhani-iran-presidential-elections-the-reformist-landslide-4668839/

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Iran Votes for Reform

By Rakesh Sood

May 23, 2017

But President Rouhani’s challenges, domestically and with the U.S. and Arab neighbours, are just beginning

After a difficult campaign, President Hassan Rouhani won a crucial second term in Iran’s presidential elections held on May 19. A high turnout of 73% helped him score a convincing victory over his principal challenger Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric, in the first round itself, winning 57% of the votes compared to Mr. Raisi’s 38.5%. More than two-thirds of Iran’s voters are in urban areas and most of them are Rouhani supporters; therefore as voting hours got extended to midnight indicating a high turnout, the mood in the Rouhani camp turned jubilant.

A Difficult Campaign

In 2013, Mr. Rouhani had campaigned and won on a platform that focussed on bringing sanctions to an end, which he was able to achieve in July 2015 with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a nuclear agreement concluded with the P-5 + 1. The sanctions relief has had a positive impact on the economy with oil exports up and GDP growth hitting 6% last year though expectations were higher. In a TV debate in the run-up to the election, Mr. Raisi described the JCPOA as ‘a cheque that Rouhani had failed to cash’.

Opinion polls had favoured Mr. Rouhani, because Mr. Raisi, though close to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was considered a relative newcomer to politics. However, concern grew when Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, a former Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) pilot and the Mayor of Tehran since 2005, withdrew from the race in support of Mr. Raisi, who had spent most of his life in the judiciary before being appointed custodian of the shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad last year. He also controls Astan-e-Quds Razavi, one of the wealthiest foundations, and is seen a possible successor to the present Supreme Leader who is 77 and in poor health.

Therefore Mr. Rouhani’s decisive victory is a shot in the arm for the moderates coming after the elections in February last year for the Parliament and the Assembly of Experts where the moderates and the reformists had registered significant gains.

Rouhani’s Constraints

However, given Iran’s complex governance structures, President Rouhani will have to tread carefully as his powers and those of the directly elected 290-member Parliament are constrained by the non-elected authorities. The key power centre is the Supreme Leader who is appointed by the Assembly of Experts and in turn appoints the heads of radio and TV, the armed forces and the IRGC, the Supreme National Security Council, the 51-member Expediency Council and the higher judiciary. He also chooses six members of the powerful Guardian Council, with the other six nominated by the judiciary. The Guardian Council in turn vets candidates for all elections, presidential, parliamentary and the 88-member Assembly of Experts. It cleared only six candidates out of the more than 1,600 who filed nominations for the presidential contest; rejections included former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s nomination. In addition, it approves all legislation passed by Parliament to ensure its consistency with Islamic jurisprudence. A dispute between Parliament and the Council is resolved by the Expediency Council. The Assembly of Experts is directly elected and its primary role is to appoint the Supreme Leader, critical during Mr. Rouhani’s second term.

Mr. Rouhani’s principal challenge will be to sustain economic growth and nudge the reform process forward in order to tackle unemployment, currently running at over 12%, and higher among the youth. He has promised to expand individual and political rights, enlarge women’s role and ensure greater accountability. Some of these will be challenged. While his victory margin is a clear endorsement for reform, the Supreme Leader will play a critical balancing role. It is interesting that, in his immediate remarks, he praised the Iranian people for the impressive turnout, but did not congratulate the winner.

In foreign policy, Mr. Rouhani will present the image of a moderate and more outward-oriented Iran. He is no stranger to Iran’s complex politics. From 1989 to 2005, he was Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, reporting to the Supreme Leader, and handled the nuclear negotiations during 2003-05. During this period, he also served a term each as Deputy Speaker of Parliament and as member of the Expediency Council. Following Mr. Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005, he quit. After being elected in 2013, he persuaded the Supreme Leader to shift responsibility for the nuclear negotiations to the Foreign Ministry and let Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif take the lead.

In addition to managing his home front, the other challenge for Mr. Rouhani will be keep the JCPOA going in the face of the U.S. Congress’s and now President Donald Trump’s declared hostility.

Dealing with Trump

During the election campaign, Mr. Trump had called it the ‘worst deal ever’ and threatened to tear it up as soon as he was elected! Subsequently, he seems to have modified his position, realising perhaps that it is not just a bilateral agreement with Iran but also includes Russia, China, the U.K., France, Germany and the European Union. In April, the Trump administration certified that Iran was abiding by its obligations but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson added that a 90-day policy review would be undertaken in view of ‘Iran’s alarming ongoing provocations’.

More recently, on May 17, the Trump administration continued the sanctions waiver (under Section 1245 of the National Defence Authorization Act 2012), needed every 120 days even while imposing sanctions on seven Iranian and Chinese individuals and entities on account of missile proliferation activities. In April, a slew of human rights related sanctions were imposed. In mid-June another waiver, this time under the Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act, will need to be renewed if the JCPOA is to be sustained. These are necessary because in 2015, the Republican-dominated Congress rejected the JCPOA and U.S. President Barack Obama used executive authority to waive U.S. sanctions but these waivers need to be renewed periodically.

The JCPOA was the outcome of protracted negotiations over more than a decade, during which Iran had steadily built up its nuclear capabilities, especially in the enrichment domain, and in 2015 was estimated to be only months away from acquiring enough Highly Enriched Uranium to produce one device (approximately 25 kg) though Iran consistently maintained that its programme was exclusively for peaceful purposes. Given deep suspicions however, the JCPOA with its extensive inspection and reporting obligations was the best way to prevent Iran from developing a military nuclear capability for the next 10-15 years. Opponents say that while cheating is unlikely, they fear that Iran will retain its nuclear appetite after abstaining during the 10-15 year period and resume its activity once the inspection obligations expire.

The Saudi Factor

Perhaps the most troubling problem is the new embrace of Saudi Arabia that was in evidence during Mr. Trump’s visit. It raises the prospects of greater U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen and can push relations with Iran into a confrontation. In 2016, there were 19 ‘incidents at sea’ between U.S. and Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf. The most serious was in January 2016 when the IRGC held two U.S. vessels and 10 servicemen, accused of trespassing in Iranian waters. The crisis was resolved within hours, thanks to some quick phone conversations between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Mr. Zarif. That link is missing today.

It is all the more ironic because Iran is the one country that is opposed to the Islamic State. Yet the U.S. is keener to bless the Saudi-created Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism, a grouping of 41 Sunni nations, under the command of former Pakistani Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif. It remains unclear what the role of this coalition is, to fight the IS or Iran or in Yemen, or to secure the Gulf monarchies!

For the last quarter century, the U.S. practised dual containment of Iran and Iraq, a policy that suited both Israel and Saudi Arabia. Mr. Obama’s push for the JCPOA was driven by a desire to extricate U.S. policy from this stranglehold and expand options. If a return to the Saudi embrace creates additional tensions and a collapse of the JCPOA, it could push Iran to cross the nuclear threshold with much wider regional implications. Mr. Rouhani’s challenges are just beginning.

Source: thehindu.com/opinion/lead/iran-votes-for-reform/article18525837.ece

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The United States Of Myanmar?

By Nehginpao Kipgen

May 23, 2017

Various models of federalism are on the table at the Panglong conference

Myanmar is to hold the second round of the 21st Panglong Union Peace Conference in its administrative capital, Nay Pyi Taw, from May 24 to 28. A major issue at the meet will be the question of federalism.

During the government-led Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) meeting in Nay Pyi Taw on May 12, the committee agreed in principle to grant the seven states and seven regions permission to draft their own constitution on the condition that they would not break away from the country.

The UPDJC, headed by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, includes representatives from the ethnic armed groups, political parties and the government. The Panglong conference is likely to discuss the question of self-determination and the drafting of the Constitution by states and regions.

Rooted In History

The question of federalism or autonomy in Myanmar goes back to the pre-Independence era. It is an important historical issue which unified and divided the country. The idea of forming a union government that would give equal status to all citizens brought together different ethnic groups at the Panglong conference of 1947. It has also divided the country psychologically and emotionally when the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League, the first elected government after Independence, failed to fulfil the political aspirations of the ethnic non-Burmans.

When the non-Burman ethnic groups pushed for autonomy or federalism, alongside having a weak civilian government at the centre, the military leadership staged a coup d’état in 1962. Though incorporated in the 1947 Constitution, successive military governments construed the use of the term ‘federalism’ as being anti-national, anti-unity and pro-disintegration.

Until as recently as 2011, when the State Peace and Development Council military government allowed the Union Solidarity and Development Party led by President Thein Sein — himself a former military general — to form a quasi-civilian government, one could land in jail for advocating federalism.

With gradual democratisation, the Thein Sein government accepted the concept of federalism, one of the core principles of the ongoing peace process with the country’s ethnic armed groups.

As a pro-democratic party, the National League for Democracy has been supportive of a federal government. But nobody really knows what type of federalism Myanmar will eventually have.

Opinions on different federal systems such as symmetric federalism, asymmetric federalism, dual federalism, cooperative federalism and creative federalism have been discussed by policy makers and scholars.

Symmetric federalism could be a major problem since the Bama or Burman majority dominates the seven regions plus the union territory of Nay Pyi Taw. Even if the majority Burmans propose such arrangement, the minorities may oppose it on the ground of being politically disadvantageous.

Asymmetric federalism may be opposed by some minorities who feel that they would be outnumbered. Many within the ethnic minorities feel that the majority Bama/Burman/Myanma group should be given only one state in line with other ethnic groups to establish genuine federalism.

Dual federalism may be acceptable to the federal government, but the states may find it too invasive or intrusive.

Cooperative federalism, though an ideal solution for some, is an unlikely arrangement as it could lead to a power stalemate between the state and federal governments, making it difficult or even impossible to reach a compromise over important pieces of legislation.

Creative federalism could be a problem to implement if the two governments are unable to reach a consensus.

Due to the scattered population of several ethnic groups, the other concept widely discussed is a non-territorial federalism. In other words, self-determination should not be confined to a well-defined territory.

Possible Solution

The non-territorial federal structure could be a possible solution, well suited to the demands of some ethnic groups. On the other hand, it could also be a source of conflict between different ethnic groups and even constrain relations between the state and regional governments which have a mixed population.

Given the hybrid nature of the political structure, there is also a danger that the government or the military leadership would push for a ‘Myanmar Way to Federalism’ similar to the idea of ‘Burmese Way to Socialism’ during the days of the Burma Socialist Programme Party government led by General Ne Win, or something along the lines of a “flourishing and disciplined democracy”, as enshrined in the 2008 Constitution.

The ethnic minorities envision a federalism which is based on an equality of rights for all ethnic groups and a guarantee of a certain degree of autonomy over their people, territories and resources.

It is a positive development that the government has allowed not only the use and discussion of federalism but also the drafting of a Constitution by individual states and regions. Such a development may be construed as a case of Myanmar moving forward in its pursuit of a federal government.

Source; thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-united-states-of-myanmar/article18525853.ece

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URL: http://www.newageislam.com/indian-press/new-age-islam-edit-bureau/getting-mullahs-out-of-constitution’s-way--new-age-islam-s-selection,-23-may-2017/d/111246





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