New Age Islam Edit Bureau
01 March 2018
After The Latest Verdict
By I.A. Rehman
Strengthening Peace in Afghanistan
By Talat Masood
Financial Action Task Force Correctly Faults Pakistan
By Mian Nadeem Ijaz Ahmad
In The Time of Morality
By Imtiaz Alam
By Sadia Tasleem
The Panama Roadblock
By Kamila Hyat
Big Boys’ Rules
By Chris Cork
An American Obsession
By Hassan Niazi
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
March 01, 2018
THE Supreme Court’s order of Feb 21, whereby Nawaz Sharif was dislodged as president of the PML-N, has raised many questions that need to be satisfactorily answered in the interest of democratic politics and the judiciary’s independence.
First, it seems necessary to remove the impression that the apex court has encroached upon the jurisdiction of the Election Commission of Pakistan. It may be a wrong impression, but it ought to be erased because the ECP is believed to be wholly responsible for deciding how any election is to be held, and who is to vote and how. The courts come into the picture only when a decision of the ECP or its officials or an election tribunal is challenged for lack of legal justification.
The Supreme Court has invoked in its order against Nawaz Sharif Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. It is not clear that this point was adequately addressed during the hearing, and whether Nawaz Sharif’s counsel was given an opportunity to discuss it. Jurists are usually unhappy with decisions made on grounds that are not examined during the hearing.
The court made many weighty observations during the hearing regarding the judiciary’s power to set aside acts of parliament on grounds of inconsistency with the Constitution. However, little has been said about the power of parliament to change the Constitution. Two instances of parliament’s power to undo the effects of judicial verdicts may be recalled.
When the Quaid-i-Azam was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly of the British colony of India, he realised that the Muslim community was protesting against the Privy Council’s verdict on Muslim waqfs that was not in accordance with Islamic code. To have the apex court’s wrong undone, he came to the legislature with his Musalman Waqf Validating Bill in 1911. The measure was the first private member’s bill to become law. This is how the people’s right to relief from unfair judicial verdicts came to be respected.
In England, some trade union workers were tried and sentenced for squatting in protest against their friends’ eviction from their quarters. The government passed a bill through parliament that legitimised trade union workers’ protest against evictions, and the convicts were released.
The order of Feb 21 says that a person who is held ineligible to head a party cannot do anything for his party, mercifully only during the period of ineligibility, because of the bar against him under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, which are applicable only to members of legislatures. It is not clear how and under which law disqualifications under Article 63 extend to a political party and, if this transition is valid, how will any head of a department/enterprise be exempted?
The order is perceived to interfere with the right granted to all citizens under Article 17 to form and join a political party, subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law on certain counts. Besides, each political party must account for the sources of its funding.
If a party violates the conditions mentioned in Article 17, the government alone has the authority to make a declaration to this effect and only then does the matter go to the Supreme Court. Nothing is said about Articles 62 and 63 here. Would any reference to the latter articles then amount to making a new law, something outside the judicial domain?
Senior lawyers, including S.M. Zafar and Khalid Anwar, have termed the court’s argument weak. They and other critics must be heard.
Incidentally, it has been pointed out that sadiq and ameen were the attributes of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) for which the Makkans respected him and invited him to resolve their disputes. It has been asked why these qualities are being sought in members of Pakistan’s legislatures, as nobody knows what is hidden in the baggage of the lawmakers.
Some time ago, I had the pleasure of reading in a Supreme Court judgement a most stirring call to move beyond the Objectives Resolution and reject the so-called heory of basic features of the Constitution:
“The temptation to read too much into the Objectives Resolution, whether as the preamble to the Constitution or an operative part thereof by reason of Article 2A, must be strongly resisted. The historical antecedents of the social, political and economic agenda spelt out in the Resolution has already been laid bare. It is in the very nature of constitutions that they must change in ways big and small and whether by way of judicial exposition or in the exercise of the amending power. To artificially bind down a constitution on the basis of a doctrine such as that expounded by the Indian Supreme Court would be a gross disservice to the development of constitutional law.
“… Every institution and each organ of the state has its own role to play. That realisation and acceptance ensures that the constitutional balance is maintained. The court should not do anything that imbalances the Constitution. It should never assume in its own favour that it is the ultimate arbiter in all constitutional matters. That, ultimately, is what the basic features doctrine is about. This court has in the past refused more than once to adopt this theory (or any variant thereof). It ought again to do so.”
Who said that? None other than Justice Saqib Nisar, who fortunately is the country’s chief justice today.
Has anything happened over the last couple of years to justify abandonment of the golden principles enunciated in the excerpts given above? One should like to hope that citizens’ apprehensions regarding the curtailment of their basic rights will be removed in the detailed judgement.
Tailpiece: What has been provoking lawyers to break out in loud laughter is the report that the PTI chief has congratulated his lawyer for successfully pleading his case relating to the Election Act, 2017.
Strengthening Peace In Afghanistan
February 28, 2018
The US pressure on Pakistan that it should cut links to Afghan and Indian-oriented militants remains unabated. Not only that all US assistance has been suspended but it takes a leading role in ensuring that Pakistan is placed on the grey list of nations by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for not undertaking sufficient measures to curb terrorism financing. This punitive measure was initiated despite Pakistan’s last-minute efforts to fully comply with the FATF regulations by banning and taking over all assets of Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliates through a presidential ordinance.
Equally unsettling is that earnest attempts by Pakistan to build trust with the Afghan government have so far failed to yield results.
More troubling is the reality that it is difficult to decipher what exactly is the goal of America in Afghanistan. President Trump has indicated that his country’s troops would stay in Afghanistan as long as it deems fit giving an impression that it is not in a hurry or no fixed datelines as Obama had given. This policy apparently is to give confidence to the Afghan government and its people and put pressure on the Taliban. Moreover, President Trump has adopted an offensive posture contrary to the defensive and reactive policy of his predecessor. The major difference is increased deployment of special forces and intensification of air power. Apparently the assumption is that air power will play a decisive role in bringing the Taliban to their knees. The current policy probably aims at replicating what had happened in 2001 when the Taliban suffered heavy losses and retreated. But will this intensification of military muscle make any difference this time? If we look at the ground situation, it is not very promising as reliable sources indicate only 50% to 60% of area is under control of the Afghan government. The Taliban’s influence is primarily in rural areas with local warlords also retaining a stronghold in some districts.
Nonetheless, President Trump has been saying that we will beat the Taliban to submission and is in no mood to negotiate. Astute observers of the Afghan situation believe that the US would only negotiate from a position of strength, implying when 70% to 80% of Afghan territory is in government control. Is this ambitious figure attainable is a big question mark. No doubt, the US has the staying power even if it is restricted to main cities. By not engaging directly in conflict their casualties have been minimal in recent months, further reinforcing their resolve to remain. But the Taliban’s staying power is even greater and that has been proven time and again. If the US intensifies conflict they would melt away in the countryside only to make a comeback at an opportune time. Moreover, buying for more time after 17 years of brutal conflict seems unsound. Foreseeing all this Pakistan has been advocating political dialogue and engagement as the best course.
There are other factors that will influence the Afghan outcome. If Pakistan is pushed to the wall its ability to cooperate with the US will recede, not improve. Paradoxically, the US is extremely impatient with Pakistan but in sharp contrast its own policy is to wait out the prolonged Afghan conflict.
Adversarial relations between the US and Russia are also not helpful in the context of Afghanistan’s stability. Furthermore, if President Trump decides to revoke the Iranian nuclear deal it could tempt Iran into supporting anti-American forces in Afghanistan.
At present the US priority is on the military domination of Afghanistan. There is scant interest in political development of the country or political engagement with the Taliban. Apparently, the rationale is to create a favourable military environment and then engage from a position of strength. The US or the Afghan government has proposed no specific peace plan but it is believed there is not much that they are prepared to concede. A few governorships and minor ministries could be offered. Trivial changes to the constitution to make it more Islamic may be possible. These proposals have been discussed in track two meetings and probably suggested informally to the Taliban leadership, which they seem unwilling to accept.
Another hindrance is that after the death of Mullah Omar and Mullah Mansoor, the Shura has lost the grip that it had over its followers. For any Taliban leader to negotiate a peace deal and ensure its compliance would be relatively difficult. Essentially, they have to reconcile among themselves to be able to push a peace deal and have it broadly accepted by the rank and file. Then there is a strong element among the younger Taliban leadership that believes a military victory is feasible.
The Taliban leadership should not overlook the grim reality that even if the Afghan government collapses militarily and politically it would not end the country’s woes. In all probability, Afghanistan will end up with several power centres and deeply fragmented. As it is, tension between Tajiks and Uzbeks has increased in recent months raising the spectre of further turmoil.
It is these multiple factors that reinforce Pakistan’s position that greater emphasis should be laid on political engagement of warring factions. These are worrisome outcomes for Afghan neighbours and no country would be affected more than Pakistan if the situation deteriorates further. In these circumstances the best course for Afghanistan and Pakistan is to cooperate and stop blaming and undermining each other. Regional support and regional solutions are the way forward. What gives hope that despite difficult times Afghans have never spoken in terms of national identities! They are Afghans first and Afghans last. Every nationality is united when it comes to the concept of Afghanistan’s identity.
It is also true that Afghanistan despite the heavy toll of civil war has significantly changed for the better in many ways. There is certainly greater emphasis on education and one finds a different worldview of the younger generation. All they need is to find a way out for finding peace internally. That will not happen by blaming Pakistan or others but engaging sincerely among themselves.
March 1, 2018
What does an ostrich do when it feels threatened? It hides its head underground! The ostrich feels that by not looking at it, the threat will go away.
It was no surprise then to see Pakistani ostriches — locally known as policymakers — bury their heads underground as they waited for the shrill threat of being grey-listed by the FATF to pass them by.
In the aftermath of this FATF grey-list fiasco, our government has once more cemented the fact that Pakistan has become a case study in how not to run a country’s fiscal, internal and foreign policy.
Once again, we watched as our policymakers instead of coming up with a solution themselves, looked towards China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to help in extinguishing the fire, which such a placement signalled in the international arena. Our “ allies” kindly obliged, only for our not so prudent foreign minister, interior minister and adviser on finance to tweet away that support and help by breaking confidentiality of closed-door meetings.
Pakistan has previously been placed on the FATF watch list from 2012 to 2015. This was due to its failure to pass the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act. In 2015, Pakistan passed the law and was removed from the FATF list. However, no serious action was taken against those groups and individuals designated as terrorists by the UN. This meant there was no catching or curtailing of UN-designated terrorists and financing entities (even if Pakistan had reservations) like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e- Mohammed (JeM), Hafiz Saeed and associated financial ‘charities’. The half-hearted measures taken were again an invitation for the FATF to put Pakistan on the watch list.
Over half a century of blundering has come home to roost. A consistent ostrich-like attitude has remained prevalent in policy formulation since 1963 once the US had decided that Pakistan and its worldview were different. The progressively changing international environment for the past 54 years has always been seen in a short-sighted, almost cavalier manner by Pakistan’s national security and foreign policymakers. Not good when we have to contend with Trump’s USA and how Pakistan is in its cross hairs although it can be argued that it was not any different during Obama’s time in office.
In the last week of August 2017, an embarrassing financial shock hit Pakistan’s premier Habib Bank Limited’s New York branch. The US authorities cited the bank branch for money laundering to a “good guys” list which included identified terrorists, illicit arms dealers, Iranian oil shippers and a money transaction business with Saudi Arabia’s private Al Rajhi Bank which had dealings with al Qaeda affiliates. What was truly disturbing was the citing of HBL’s failure to adequately identify, as per law, the Saudi bank’s politically exposed customers belonging to Pakistan’s dynastic ruling family. HBL resultantly had to close its US operations and pay a fine of $225 million (negotiated downwards from an initial $630 million).
The FATF had cautioned Pakistan in February 2017 and again in November 2017 during its International Cooperation Review about its support to LeT, JeM and Jamatud Dawa(JuD). Apparently these notices were also swept under the carpet.
In spite of FATF warnings and even private advice by its ‘friends’, the statements given by government officials have been nothing short of baffling. One minister retorted by saying that Pakistan had been on the FATF watch list till 2015 and despite that its economy grew. Another stated that Pakistan had taken many steps for checking terror financing and was winning the war against terrorism. Some even interpreted the three-month respite given by the FATF till June as a victory. However, facts on the ground belie these claims.
The armed forces and other law-enforcing agencies have undertaken meaningful kinetic operations. These operations have been very successful but are only one small part of the definitive solution to finish off the existential threat faced by the terrorism scourge. The Anti-Extremism bill is still stuck in the National Assembly because there seems to be a power struggle between the defence and interior ministries as to which should ultimately be in charge of its implementation. The National Action Plan (NAP) made with such fanfare after the Peshawar school massacre in 2014 remains similar to its acronym, “napping”. Out of NAP’s twenty points unanimously approved by all political parties, only two points relating to military action have been achieved. The rest of the eighteen points which require legislation, governance, financial oversight (exactly what the FATF has caught Pakistan for), madrasa regulation, etc, are all lost in oblivion. The National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) is the fulcrum for Pakistan’s anti-terrorism policy. It is also point 4 in NAP. That Nacta remains a mere point in NAP and nothing more.
What the (in) action of our government shows is ineptitude and lack of seriousness with regard to tackling the terrorism issue. Pakistan is a country beset by terrorism of all shades but has yet to agree on a definition of ‘terrorism’ across all parties.
The government seems to be fighting a war against its own judiciary, financial accountability mechanisms, law enforcement agencies and military, there is little wonder that terrorists (morphed from criminals, thugs and religious zealots) will continue to have a field day. The question really to be asked is, given our internal lack of governance, lack of foreign policy and corruption-ridden fiscal policy, why are our government officials baffled when the rest of the world does not believe our narrative on terrorism?
Jolts like being placed on the FATF’s grey list will continue with many more to come especially if we have a financial system only catering for certain groups or families to take the people’s national treasury abroad illegally and preachers of religious violence like Khadim Rizvis and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah being mainstreamed and given electoral space.
The consequences that Pakistan faces due to this drift in its fiscal, internal and foreign policies are disastrous to say the least. Pakistan’s friends are in a quandary as we continuously place them in awkward situations. China has now to see first whether it can withstand economic pressure on its multi-trillion dollar business in the West. Saudi Arabia has had to be placated by the deployment of our troops, about whose strength and role the defence minister has refused to brief parliament about. Turkey is stuck in Syria and seems to be replaying the history of what happened in Afghanistan when its neighbours helped its people with good intentions.
Postscript: Pakistan’s argument of respect and recognition for its sacrifices in the war against terror must be restructured. As it stands, the world does not believe in Pakistan’s narrative. Even its closest allies counsel privately on this. It is imperative that the policymakers and public intellectuals in this country realise that if Pakistan does not wrap up or reorient the internal circus that plagues it, then the doors of our allies will also close — CPEC or no CPEC.
Yet again the spectre of General Ziaul Haq is looming large across the land of the pure as the apex court in its sovereign prerogative continues to interpret the still-mutilated 1973 constitution – perhaps on the ‘ground rule’ of ‘morality’. Certainly, the immoral cannot be mixed with the undiluted moral.
Before the general elections, if they are at all held, the Senate elections have been hit with a crisis of legitimacy with the disenfranchisement of the major party of the country, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. As a result, the gates of horse-trading for seats in the prestigious federal representative Upper House’s elections have been widely opened. With Nawaz Sharif’s name being tainted under Article 62-1-f for not being “sagacious, righteous and non-profligate and honest and Ameen”, the PML-N’s nominees and members of assemblies have been condemned to become freelancers.
The Senate is the supreme institution of the federation and has earned great prestige for its meticulous legislative business and policy interventions. But it has been subjected to this sordid fate because of a ‘minus-one’ mortal being. As Article 17 of the constitution is being read in light of articles 62 and 63 – and with the Objectives Resolution having been made a substantive part of the constitution by Gen Zia – deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif has also been declared ineligible to head a party. If this logic is extended further, how can the party name carry his initial? How can he remain even a member of the party or “form an association or union” or even vote? The matter is, however, far more crucial than a person; it extends to a whole range of fundamental rights, constitutional rule, role of various institutions and sovereignty.
Since our successful agitation against Gen Musharraf’s emergency rule, and for the restoration of an independent judiciary, we have been witnessing a hyper-active judiciary – with the exception of the moderate periods of CJs Justice Jilani and Justice Jamali. After it’s restoration through our street agitation, the apex court in its unrestrained prerogative to interpret the constitution and almost infinite suo-motu powers has been at liberty to intervene in the matters of the legislature and the civilian part of the executive. The constitutional logic for that revolved around the concepts of ‘trichotomy of power’ and the ‘basic structure of the constitution’, which remains ambiguous even though the framers of the constitution had clearly perceived that sovereignty belongs to the people of Pakistan to be exercised by their elected representatives.
As a compromise between the religious and secular parties, the Objectives Resolution was not made an operative part of the constitution. Despite a very contradictory jurisprudence, the superior judiciary’s overall persistent view has been as such: the power structure is dichotomous, which entails separation of powers; being a law-making body parliament is supreme, but the constitution may override its own maker; and, ultimately, the constitution means what is the discretion of their Lordships ie, the judiciary is supreme as only it knows the letter and/or spirit of the constitution.
There was great optimism after the passage of the 1973 constitution that the people of this country would be sovereign in determining their destiny the way they wanted through their free will to be exercised by their unbridled right to franchise. But, unfortunately, this was not to be. Despite Article 6, three subversions to the constitution took place and martial rule was self-servingly justified under the ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Trichotomy of power was subsumed by the monolithic power of chief martial law administrators, separation of power became a dead letter with the rubber stamp of a PCO-judiciary and those demanding their fundamental rights were subjected to crimes against humanity.
Even if direct military rule gave way to brief democratic intermissions, Gen Zia’s Article 58-2(b) empowered Pakistani presidents to send packing elected assemblies and governments. The ouster of government was usually done at the behest of, or in collaboration with, the then army chiefs – with the exception of Gen Kakar; and the Supreme Court justified three out of four dissolutions of assemblies.
One had thought that after the removal of Article 58-2(b) and passage of the 18th Amendment the era of autocratic removal of elected governments and assemblies was a thing of the past.
But with the exit of Gen Musharraf, who was allowed to get away scot-free, a new struggle started among various institutions of the state for their share in the post-martial-rule quasi-democratic dispensation. The security apparatus was adamant to continue their hegemony; and the judiciary got into a tug of war with the civilian part of the executive and the legislature to have a greater say, beyond its customary judicial domain.
As we see clear polarisation between elected and non-elected institutions and an ongoing power struggle between the de-facto and de-jure power structures, a debate is taking place among various jurists about the basic structure of the constitution. Since parliament is close to the end of its tenure and politicians are at each other’s throats, it cannot make effective legislative intervention – particularly after what happened to the ruling PML-N before the Senate elections in Balochistan and its disenfranchisement as a party to participate in them. As opposed to the retrospective validation of acts of military dictators, and even the decisions of the Justice Dogar-led PCO-II Supreme Court, the doctrine of past and closed transaction was dispensed with to delegitimise the allocation of party tickets by the party head of the PML-N.
We believe the honourable chief justice when he says that he “has no political ambitions or agenda to follow”. But, with due respect and veneration, we observe the most destabilising political consequences of some of the much-debated judgments against the former prime minister on the overall democratic transition in the country. The ‘minus-one’ theory is almost close to fruition with the ouster of Nawaz from both office of the PM and of party leader.
What is more disturbing is that fundamental rights are now being judged on the morality rule – as Gen Zia had envisaged for his own political objectives. We do need a strong and independent judiciary to protect citizens’ fundamental rights against the excesses of the all arms of the executive, and a judiciary that keeps the due process of law and justice, without either encroaching into the domain of representative institutions or indulging in the power games of the powers that be.
We painfully watch our citizens ‘disappearing’ as the judiciary are able to do precious little in this regard. Strange are the times in the reign of morality, when morality cannot be said to be soaring very high.
ON Jan 13, 2018, people in Hawaii were shocked to receive text messages warning of an imminent missile attack. After what many said were the most horrifying 38 minutes of their lives, they received a second message that it was a false alert, the result of human error at the emergency operations centre. But in the context of a simmering crisis between the US and North Korea, the possibility of a missile attack seemed real, and with it the potential for nuclear war.
Too often, debates about nuclear weapons revolve around concepts of operationalising nuclear deterrence, escalation ladders and flexible responses. But these debates tend to obscure the fact that nuclear weapons are real and their use is not impossible. A crisis sparked by a false alert, fake news, an inflammatory tweet, a social media gimmick, a computer glitch, a hacked network — any of these could spark conflict that results in nuclear weapons being used.
Ironically, attention drawn to a US-North Korea crisis or other potential flashpoints makes the nuclear establishment in Pakistan fairly comfortable. After all, we are not the focal point of what we often think is the Western media’s negative attention. But does that mean there is no cause for worry about a nuclear war in South Asia?
All is not well between India and Pakistan. In recent times, the Indian air chief has threatened to target Pakistani nuclear assets, while the Indian army chief talked about calling Pakistan’s “nuclear bluff”. The DG ISPR warned of a befitting response. All this on top of the ever-increasing levels of violence along the Line of Control.
These reminders of the fault lines and sabre-rattling between India and Pakistan call for introspection, for thinking through our preparedness to deal with crises, and to gauge our ability to protect citizens from our own follies. We must revisit our fundamental beliefs and unstated assumptions about the possibility of crisis and a war that may turn nuclear.
Advocates of nuclear deterrence believe that nuclear weapons prevent war and therefore their inhumanity in some strange ways serves the cause of human survival. Nuclear proliferation optimists flaunt the deterrence role of nuclear weapons by referring to what John Lewis Gaddis called an era of ‘Long Peace’ — itself a debatable notion for those familiar with the intense arguments between Gaddis and our very own Eqbal Ahmad. Eqbal brought home the brutality of the supposed Cold War and ‘Long Peace’ by looking at it from the perspective of its victims.
However, the nuclear industry and deterrence discourse of the Cold War has made nuclear weapons fetish objects and nuclear deterrence sacrosanct for many here as elsewhere. We are fond of quoting Bernard Brodie’s 1946 observation that, “from now on the chief purpose of military strategy is not to win wars; it is instead to prevent one”. Quite often we treat this as a departure point to teach nuclear deterrence during the Cold War without realising that Brodie’s voice was not reflective of a consensus; it was just one among many voices. In fact, the US and the USSR never thought a nuclear war was impossible and spent considerable effort and money planning to fight one.
And yet, nuclear war didn’t break out. Was it because it looked too real? Was it because it was too deadly and the human mind too sane to blunder into a nuclear inferno? Or was it mere luck, as former US defence secretary Robert McNamara suggested? It is as difficult to answer these questions as it is to determine the precise role of nuclear weapons in preventing war during the Cold War. But it is important to keep thinking about these questions and how they apply to South Asia today. There are no assurances that nuclear weapons won’t be used.
Indeed, the fact that we in Pakistan assume that nuclear deterrence prevents large-scale wars itself may create enough reasons for both India and Pakistan to opt for escalation in a crisis.
Yes, a nuclear war is too dreadful an idea to think about; too inhuman to contemplate. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are wars, and savagery and brutal weapons that have the ability to annihilate human species from the face of this earth. Our inhibition does not change the fact that organisations and states continue to develop the instruments of death and destruction without guilt or remorse and many people in many places endorse those weapons with pride.
In sum it is important to understand that the possibility of escalation in a future crisis in South Asia cannot be precluded only because we know nuclear weapons are too deadly or because others have not fought nuclear wars. It is equally important to resolve conflicts and find ways to reduce and eventually eliminate all weapons of mass destruction in South Asia and elsewhere.
Ever since the Panama leaks affair first surfaced in April 2016, it has, for quite natural reasons, dominated national headlines and shaped the country’s political environment.
However, the manner in which the matter has been handled has resulted in a complete standstill in the functioning of the government and the state’s normal affairs.
The latest point of contention between the superior courts and the executive, over who has the power to legislate and how the courts should act, is only the latest chapter to have been added to this long story. The tendency of senior judges to make observations and sometimes even controversial remarks – a tendency we also saw in Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry – simply means that what should be quiet, sombre judicial matters are instead being played out before the media. The media, as we well know, further adds to the problem by playing up every comment and adding its own malicious twist to the tale.
As a result, we have become completely engrossed in the never-ending Panama affair instead of focusing on the many grave issues troubling the nation, region and people. The Panama case has already resulted in the somewhat controversial disqualification of a prime minister and now also his removal from the leadership of his own party. The ensuing chaos means that no efforts are being made to resolve the country’s other problems. Too much energy has been put into handling the multiple cases filed against the Sharifs and debating the apparent intrusion of the courts into areas that, some legal experts suggest, lie beyond the sphere allocated to them in the constitution.
Let’s consider this through an example. According to multiple surveys, Sindh now has the worst rate of malnutrition among all the provinces of the country. Around 57 percent of children under the age of five in the province are stunted, and the number is even higher in some districts, including Tharparkar. There has been immediate criticism of the Sindh government. This, of course, is entirely justified. A government that has been in power for over eight years should have been able to direct adequate attention towards saving its people from such miseries. But there are complexities to look at. According to Dr Baseer Khan Achakzai, the director of the Nutrition Wing in the federal Ministry of Health and a respected nutritionist, Sindh among all other provinces has spent the highest amount of money on addressing malnutrition issues. Despite this, no significant improvement has been witnessed.
The problem lies in implementing the collaborative plans of the federal health ministry and international donor agencies. The nutrition support programmes of the World Bank for example, have not been able to run simply because there is a standstill in the country’s affairs at all levels, notably the centre. Changes in ministries; uncertainty over the status of prime ministers; the removal by the courts of officials appointed by the federal government have contributed to the situation.
High-level meetings and sensible decision-making involving all the four provinces are required. The Council of Common Interests should be meeting following increasing concerns over the 1990 water agreement between provinces and the need to alter it to ensure fair distribution to all the federating units. This cannot happen, at least in part, because of the turbulent nature of governance at the centre. Who is to be blamed for this? Should the people suffer because our institutions are unable to ensure the smooth working of the system? These are questions that we should perhaps be asking alongside those concerning the Calibri font and the matter of the salary given to Nawaz Sharif from his son’s company.
There are many other examples. The ongoing protest of the Pakhtun community as well as the recent reports of the leaders of this movement being targeted and killed, deserve a discussion in parliament. But parliament has itself been largely paralysed for the past two years because of the events occurring outside of it and the manner in which they have been capitalised upon by the opposition political parties. There are of course leading players among these parties. They need to be asked if the fate of the people matters less than the outcome of a case that is already shadowed by multiple concerns regarding the JIT formed to examine the charges against the Sharif family, the behaviour of NAB and other related matters.
We certainly need to tackle political corruption in our country. We all know that it exists. But the only way of achieving this is to produce tangible evidence against any individual involved in this malpractice so that a precedent can be set. Judging by the recent by-elections in Punjab – the legitimacy of which is now itself under doubt after Nawaz Sharif’s removal as PML-N’s president – the sympathy of people still lies with those accused of corruption. Clearly they are not convinced that the Sharif family has wronged them.
The process we are now witnessing is, in fact, what bolsters corruption and makes it easier for others to engage in it too. Rather than settling in with what is now beginning to look quite suspect, we should be questioning why our law and order system has been unable to find evidence against the many political leaders accused of massive corruption. Remedying these issues should perhaps be a key concern for courts and other institutions. When people perceive the unjust actions of a particular individual to be just, the results are never positive. This is what has happened in Nawaz Sharif’s case, who alongside his daughter has played his cards well and won over considerable support from the ordinary people – even those who did not previously support him. That the late Asma Jahangir, never a supporter of the PML-N, took the principled decision to take up cases involving the party leaders who spoke out for Nawaz Sharif highlights this injustice.
It should be a priority of all the state’s institutions to ensure that any work that enhances governance is not interrupted by the various dramas that unfold on the political stage. The danger that Pakistan faces of being placed on the watchlist of the US-led Financial Action Task Force, the global standard setting body for combating money laundering and financial terrorism, is a grave one. Pakistan has been warned that it has 90 days to either act or be placed on the list.
The question is whether the country has enough decision-making power for its cabinet to act jointly and decisively. This cabinet has after all just undergone a change last year, and works amid conjecture that more change may be on the way. In fact, had better governance and better diplomacy been practiced some months ago, Pakistan could have avoided falling under such a danger. The government as it stands right now is weak in its ability to handle these risks. It has also been unable to function even as the focus remains on the ongoing judicial action and the future of the PML-N.
The bumbling and incompetence that surrounds the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) decision-making process and the grey-listing of Pakistan is well documented elsewhere, and instead this column will look at the human and perceptual issues that produced this debacle. This is not going to be pretty.
Pakistan went into the plea-bargaining stage with no leverage. It had nothing to sell. The goods that were in the basket were a belated and half-hearted attempt at diversionary action, the taking over of a vast network of charitable resources run by a banned organisation led by a man who has considerable public support — as do his good works. It is rich, well run and effective both as a serial provider and as a first responder in the event of natural disasters. Beyond this there was very little. Money continues to flow into extremist groups nationwide. They operate openly secure in the knowledge that their narrative has no effective counter. Going to the negotiating table with all this on display for the sceptical members of the FATF was never going to fly or move any hearts and minds.
Size matters. It really does. And with America in hammer-down mode vis-a-vis Pakistan it was able to twist arms and pull something from its own basket. The Chinese were effectively bribed with a promise of a senior FATF position — something they have long sought — and other supporters of Pakistan were nudged into line leaving Turkey as the hold-out. Saudi Arabia, our dearest brother, stuck the knife in to order. Game over.
Then there were the players. In real terms the Pakistan side was made up of small-time semi-pros that lacked clout and some of whom were relatively inexperienced, and certainly not up to playing at a table with poker-faced thugs that eat babies for breakfast. They may be big boys at home, ministers even, but they are small fry outside these borders.
Now let us consider the poisoned tweet, and this really did get right up the collective noses of the FATF. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif was in Moscow at the time of the FATF meetings, and he delivered a monster gaffe by announcing that Pakistan had escaped being placed on the grey list days before any such decision was made — or not made as it happened. The FATF proceedings are all in camera, with the understanding that the substance of the meetings and the internal manoeuverings remain out of the public eye. The FM’s tweet drove a coach and horses through those protocols and Pakistan in that unguarded moment suddenly became (even more) untrustworthy, unreliable and one to be cautious with when it comes to doing business.
That tiny tweet also illustrates a systemic weakness in the diplomatic, ministerial and governmental fabric — a lack of statesmanship. None of the party leaders currently on the field display an ounce of this quality. Again outside the safety of the home bubble there is none that have the gravitas and stature that would mark them as statesmanlike. That command attention and a listening ear, a head inclined in their direction around a table ringed with big guys. Paradoxically the only statesmen we have are women and none are currently in play beyond bit-part roles.
So here is the pain. Pakistan is a small country that is perceived as an irritation and potentially a proliferator of global terrorism. If not now, today, then certainly in the past. It plays the victim card at every opportunity and is a slippery customer, ducking and diving as it negotiates a world that plays by Big Boys Rules. Our boys in the FO are not big. Those that get sent to carry the messages of the Land of the Pure are political cyphers, few schooled in the wiles of geopolitics. They are led by intellectual pygmies and are little better than patrolling feudals hoping that when push comes to shove they are going to be able to punch above their weight. The FATF delivered a thrashing. The government is to conduct an internal review. I expect no change.
Picture this in Trump’s America: On a Wednesday morning in Parkland, Florida, a Muslim immigrant enters Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, massacres 17 people with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle.
Now the aftermath: a Republican calls for stricter immigration laws, bans on Muslim immigrants, maybe talks of a Muslim registry? As Trump imagines, rubbing his hands together in anticipation of all the fear and hate he can exploit. Even if, under the American Constitution, some of his proposed ‘solutions’ are deemed unconstitutional; hard decisions, says Trump, must be taken for the safety of the American people.
Parkland exposes the hypocrisy of Trump and his fellow Republicans. The problem is not immigrants, the problem is easy access to guns in America, which Republicans have created and must attempt to deflect at each opportunity by blaming others. However, when people like Nikolas Cruz, Adam Lanza or Stephen Paddock carry firearms to inflict damage upon Americans, Trump and his fellow Republicans have nobody to blame but themselves.
As an outsider I never quite understood the American obsession with allowing people as young as 18 years of age to carry deadly weapons. While countries like the UK made it increasingly difficult to obtain firearms, the American narrative ran in its opposite. Much of this, I learned, was due to the Second Amendment to the US Constitution: the right to bear arms.
By effectively giving its citizens the right to own guns the American Constitution has made legislative measures attempting to remedy the issue like that of the Nikolas Cruz’s nigh impossible. So far, any legislative measures trying to curb access to guns has either been ineffective, or frustrated by the interpretation of the Second Amendment by a Republican majority Supreme Court. Therefore, leaving to do away with the archaic guarantee giving citizens the right to bear arms the only way to deal with the issue.
This shouldn’t be difficult as the amendment bears no relevance to the America of today. Its historical origins suggest it was never meant to give a ‘personal right’ to citizens, to carry concealed handguns wherever and whenever they wanted; it was never meant to allow for AR-15 style rifles in the hands of 18-year-olds. History points to the opposite. For its drafters, the perspective gained from the War of Independence was crucial. The war effort relied heavily on small militias; the need to retain such armed militias was seen as necessary if the newly-created federal government turned tyrannical against the individual states. That fear has proved, over the course of 200 years, to be unfounded. Yet, even if we ignore that, it was the freedom given to state armies to fight back against the tyranny of the federation that concerned the framers of the American Constitution when they drafted the Second Amendment. Not the use of guns for non-military purposes like hunting and personal self-defence.
Unfortunately, the latter view that prevails in America of today, giving people like Nikolas Cruz the right to carry a firearm, is unlikely to change any time soon. The Republican composition of the Supreme Court guarantees that. The Americans can therefore only hope for the repeal of the Second Amendment. However, even this effort is doomed to fail. With the large amount of funds being pumped into the Republican Party coffers by the NRA, it is difficult to see the required numbers for a constitutional amendment coming together in a Republican Congress.
The Republican gun obsession is the reason for the deaths of young children in Sandy Hook — not Muslims. The grasping on to an archaic constitutional provision is the reason for Parkland — not Mexican immigrants. The NRA’s backing of Trump’s presidential campaign is the reason why there have already been eight school shootings in America in 2018 without Trump addressing the issue.
With Florida, we can only hope Republicans finally see the truth and stop trying to make fools out of the American people by blaming its minorities.