New Age Islam Edit Bureau
20 February 2018
By Adeel Mukhtar Mirza
By Mudassir Saeed
Pakistani Boots On Foreign Soil
By Kamran Yousaf
Failed Tactics and Strategic Paralysis
By Mosharraf Zaidi
Why Trump’s Pak Policy Dooms Afghan Peace
By Touqir Hussain
Augmenting Democratic System
By Malik Ashraf
Strains Produced By Globalisation
By Shahid Javed Burki
High Noon For Noon?
By Fahd Husain
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
February 19, 2018
An effective de-radicalisation strategy adopts distinctive methodologies. Just as religious fanaticism is driven by different elements, the ways to deal with countering them must be assorted too. In this connection one must consider the Chinese de-radicalisation model which relies on five techniques separately to solve five distinct classes of issues.
These five strategies are characterised as follows: ideological issues ought to be explained by methods for a belief system, cultural issues ought to be illuminated by methods for culture, folk traditions ought to be treated with a demeanour of respect, religious issues ought to be comprehended as per religious principles, violent fear mongering ought to be fought in accordance with the rule of law and by methods for iron-fisted activities. The ‘five keys’ are distinguished as the ideological, social, customary, religious, and legal keys.
The approach of ‘four prongs’ alludes to a blend of the accompanying four strategies: squeezing by correct faith; counteracting by culture, controlling by law, and popularising science. Squeezing by correct faith, implies utilising the right interpretation of faith to clear up the general population’s comprehension of Islam, stir their brains, and quell radicalism, counteracting by culture implies looking for compelling and viable answers for balancing fanaticism and managing individuals to modernisation. ‘Controlling by law’ implies making the best of the part of law not just in directing social conduct and countering religious fanaticism yet in addition in controlling social desires and building social agreement. ‘Promoting science’ implies spreading the information about and advancing the utilisation of science and innovation to direct the general population to maintain science, expel numbness, and deny radicalism.
The approach of ‘three contingents’ alludes to the strategy of strengthening three principle groups of individuals, the administration can rely on to keep up peace and security: security forces, instructors/teachers and religious figures.
The ‘two hands’ refer to the one ‘firm hand’, which cracks down on terrorists, and the other ‘firm hand’, which educates and guides people. For the soft measures to be effective, the hard measures are absolutely necessary. For instance, if it is not for the crackdown, local officials will not have had the guts to enforce the law, local people will not be ready to assist the government in arresting terrorists and extremist manifestations.
The ‘one rule’ refers to the policy of ‘ruling the country according to law’ (the Chinese interpretation of ‘the rule of law’). The emphasis on the law suggests the determination of authorities to change their previous de-radicalisation practices, which were not firmly based on the law. This approach is well elucidated by Zhang Chunxian: “Regardless of ethnicity or religion, everybody must strictly follow the law; any appeal or aspiration must be expressed and satisfied in a lawful manner.”
As far as Pakistan’s de-radicalisation efforts are concerned, the recent ‘Paigham-e-Pakistan’ fatwa as well as ‘Swat De-Radicalisation Programme’, ‘Project Mishal’, and ‘Punjab De-Radicalisation Programme’ are steps in the right direction as it would portray a ‘soft and positive image of Pakistan’ and highlight Islam as a religion of peace, brotherhood, tolerance and accommodation. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal had spoken of course correction as a goal at the launch of the ‘Paigham-e-Pakistan’ fatwa, citing it as a need to ensure peace and stability. The minister also called for greater introspection instead of hypothesising about conspiracies. According to him, there must be willingness to be accountable in order to undertake these measures. In addition to these Pakistan’s de-radicalisation programmes, using education, print and electronic media, cultural diversity, youth participation and women’s empowerment as key tools to prevent violent extremism can be a suitable way forward. Finally, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) should prepare a more coordinated strategy in collaboration with all provinces and institutions to de-radicalise Pakistan.
February 20, 2018
It is election year. The end of another democratically-elected government is here. For a country like Pakistan where democracy remained hostage to recurrent military coups, and which enjoyed its first ever peaceful democratic transition only one general election ago, the successful completion of another democratic tenure will be a landmark achievement. But not everyone seems content, and there are reasons for that.
As for many sceptics, democratic functioning in this country is essentially flawed. The state of the elected government remains in constant crisis. They associate the general failure of democracy in Pakistan to the failure to uphold rule of law and guarantee fundamental rights and facilities to citizens. And since democracy has failed to deliver these, it is, therefore, no longer valued among citizens.
The recently published edition of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Democracy Index has ranked Pakistan among ‘hybrid regimes’, compared to its previous ranking as ‘flawed democracy’. It is because The EIU’s White Paper cites Pakistan as a ‘very dangerous place for journalists, who face physical and death threats on a regular basis’.
It is a fact, and a grave one, that despite functioning under democratic rule for the past ten years, the country’s core governance institutions did not improve. In some areas, either forcefully or willingly, responsibility has been handed over to some unelected institutions. Since these institutions, donot represent the public, they cannot address their demands either.
In one of his influential books ‘Political Order in Changing Societies’, Samuel P Huntington argued that, “The primary problem of politics is the lag in the development of political institutions behind social and economic change.” According to Huntington, political stability in a demographically and socially evolving community depends upon the capability and workings of its political institutions.
At one point in her book ‘Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State’, Dr Maleeha Lodhi voices similar concerns about the relative low pace of political development vis-à-vis socio-economic progress. “Representational and electoral politics”, puts Dr Maleeha Lodhi, “have remained stuck in an old mode and increasingly lagged behind the social and economic changes that have been altering the country’s political landscape. The economic centre of gravity has been shifting but politics has yet to catch up with its implications.”
Viewed from Huntington’s lens, and as observed by Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan is experiencing rapid economic and social transformations – from increasing urbanisation to growing industries, and from expansion in mass communication to the rise in automation – creating new demands and expectations among the people. But the country lacks the required political institutions capable of responding to these transformations.
However, it is important to point out here that some powerful, unelected institutions have for long played an overwhelming part in Pakistan’s political process. The country is familiar with recurrent military coups which have caused disruptions and destabilisation. Without these recurrent military coups, there would not have been Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf – whose prolonged dictatorships ended up perpetuating violent and anti-democratic dynamics in the country.
There is also an increasing involvement of money in the election process. The 2013 general election was arguably the most expensive election of the country’s history, but more money is expected to be poured in to influence this year’s general election. The general perception is that ‘the candidate who raises the most money wins, and that for every vote there is a price tag’. Resultantly, parliament has become a club of rich politicians who spend more time serving special interests of groups, than protecting the people they represent.
Nevertheless, political parties have increased citizens’ participation in the political process. But how far this participation translated into their overall political influence is questionable. Whether it is the ruling PML-N or the major opposition parties, the PPP and PTI, all lack strong organisational structure to rally their supporters and mobilise their activists. All around the country, interests and insults, rather than issues and ideologies constitute the core of political debates. Political parties have failed to develop themselves as avenues for channelising their voters’ preferences to parliament and into policies.
According to one scholar, the post-2013 Pakistan is struggling with two opposing dynamics. First, the political corridors of the country continue to be populated with the same conventional feudal, tribal, religious and business elite. Second, the upper middle class is no longer interested in joining the country’s dominant civil and military institutions. It is those from the rather humbler backgrounds – the lower middle class – who join them now. The new elite, according to the scholar, is more conservative and, therefore, more inclined towards authoritarian impulses than towards democratic values.
It is also starkly undeniable that the people today face severe inequalities in their social and economic realms. The persistent level of inequality is relentlessly disturbing the balance of power in society. What needs to be an otherwise healthy middle class is left with no other choice but to struggle with these conditions. The interplay of these socio- economic deprivations darkens the workings of our political institutions as it ultimately benefits the few and burdens the many. It is unfair that our society is not only unequal, but also less secure and undemocratic.
In short, Pakistan does not have a fully operational democracy. It has still not come close to even becoming a democratic state. Therefore, the assertion that democracy does not suit Pakistan and that it should rather be replaced with technocracy is essentially flawed, because it is not the majority that is ruling this country and determining the government’s policies; it is, in fact, quite the opposite. Pakistan is more like an oligarchy where government policies reflect the collective will of only a small subset of its citizens – the elite.
The need is to make our governance more inclusive so that the poor, marginalised and vulnerable get to play a powerful role in policymaking. To fight our governance problems, we must establish political institutions that are more responsive to the needs of the general populace. Unless efforts are made to build strong political institutions and establish a ‘government of the people’, any political discussion taking place within the confines of air-conditioned rooms and conference halls will remain quartered somewhere between the polemics of politicians and the pointless plans of policymakers. As for the standard of peoples’ lives, there will always remain something inherently rotten in the country.
Pakistani Boots on Foreign Soil
Last Thursday Pakistan took a major policy decision on the deployment of its troops in Saudi Arabia. Given the sensitivities attached to the move, the military’s media wing in its terse statement clarified a few crucial points.
Firstly, troops are being sent as part of the longstanding bilateral security cooperation between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. This means that it has nothing to do with Pakistan’s role in the forty-one-nation Saudi-led coalition formed ostensibly to fight terrorism. Secondly, troops who are already stationed in the Kingdom and fresh contingent would not be deployed outside Saudi Arabia. The deployment is only meant for ‘training and advise mission,’ says the army.
But despite this explanation, the announcement has triggered debate and is bound to invite scrutiny from the opposition. In fact, the government has already been asked to share details before parliament.
Dispatching troops to Saudi Arabia is tricky, although this is not the first time Pakistan is deploying its men in uniform there. Over 13,00 Pakistani soldiers have already been stationed in Saudi Arabia as part of a 1982 agreement between the two countries.
But the fresh deployment has raised eyebrows because it comes at a time when Saudi forces are undertaking a military campaign to quell the Houthi rebels in Yemen, reportedly backed by Iran. Riyadh has been pushing Islamabad to commit troops for its campaign in Yemen for quite some time now. In 2015, the government took the Saudi request to parliament, which passed a unanimous resolution outlining guidelines for Pakistan’s engagement with Saudi Arabia. Parliament while supporting Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, set certain red lines. And those include staying away from the conflict in Yemen. The snub caused an unprecedented strain in ties between the two countries. However, some semblance of normalcy was restored between the two countries after Pakistan joined the controversial Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition and allowed its former army chief general (retd) Raheel Sharif to head the grouping. Still, Pakistan was reluctant to send additional troops to Saudi Arabia.
So, in this backdrop what has really prompted Pakistan to rethink that policy? Firstly, Islamabad has longstanding strategic and defence ties with Riyadh. The oil-rich Kingdom was one of the few countries which came to Pakistan’s rescue during times of crisis. After Pakistan conducted nuclear explosions in May 1998, Saudi Arabia bailed out Pakistan to avoid its economic meltdown because of the West’s crippling economic sanctions. Some would rightly argue that Pakistan also paid a heavy price because of its strategic ties with Saudi Arabia. The contemporary phenomenon of violent extremism in Pakistan can certainly be traced back to Saudi Arabia. But despite such pitfalls, Pakistan can’t afford to antagonise Saudi Arabia.
Secondly, Pakistan is in the eye of a storm due to serious external challenges. The US is bent upon punishing Pakistan for its alleged double game in the fight against terrorism. Washington’s latest move to place Pakistan on the list of countries which finance terrorism can seriously undermine its economic progress. With Pakistan’s relationship both with its western and eastern neighbours at its lowest ebb, it needs partners which can come to its rescue. Pakistan certainly looks to Saudi Arabia for help. And that help may not just confine to financial assistance but also includes Saudi Arabia reaching out to the US for addressing Pakistan’s genuine grievances.
Having said that deploying additional troops in Saudi Arabia can cast a shadow on Pakistan’s ties with Iran. The good news though is that Pakistan has taken Iran on board before making the latest move. Qatar is another country that must be concerned and closely watching the Pakistani decision. But before the formal announcement, the army chief paid a secret visit to Doha to assure the Qatari leadership that Pakistan’s troops would not become part of any military adventure outside Saudi Arabia. All this demonstrates that Pakistan is walking a tightrope and any misstep can have grave consequences.
Failed Tactics And Strategic Paralysis
I was lucky to be among thousands at Asma Jahangir’s Namaaz-E-Janaza. Lucky for two reasons. One, because the opportunity to pray for a fellow Muslim – and one that had stood up and defended the weak, the oppressed and the vulnerable in the holiest of Muslim traditions – is a religious obligation and a spiritual opportunity. And two, because it meant that I got to avoid watching the funeral on television, as Pakistan’s low-grade, low-intellect, on-the-cheap media sucked the soulfulness out of even a funeral. Hot air coursed thick and fast through our national discourse for 48 hours after the funeral – the faux controversies do not even merit mention – and then, as usual, a new ambulance could be chased, tails wagging.
In terms of a national commitment to stupidity, we are surely not alone. Watching India wage Hindu jihad on itself, or the United Kingdom’s struggle for independence from the European Union, or the United States adopting a hit reality TV show as its overarching ruling family all proves how utterly stupid Facebook, high fructose corn syrup and the globalism of ‘me, me, me’ has made all of humanity. Alas, laments (like charity), must begin at home.
Here at home, for decades, we have allowed small men to make big decisions. Every sub-culture in the country is by definition peripheral, but for the sprinkling of the symbolic ajrak, or namak mandi, or Allan Faqeer video clip. Then when a gorgeous young man gets taken out by the consensus extrajudicial murderer of the decade – then all hell breaks loose. But slow, like Kylie Minogue. The retardation caused not by anything nearly as delightful as Kylie, but rather by a failure of the national imagination to calculate how many angry tribesmen and university graduates with highlander Pashto-heavy accents can tweet Hashtag across international borders. Pakistani capacity to process Mehsud suffering from Karachi to Khyber grew exponentially as Ashraf Ghani, that once-great hope for Afghanistan, reduced himself to Zalmay Khalilzad levels of trolling.
The win? The indignity of the Watan card, a frontrunner for least favourite IT project in the country for many years, would suddenly be no more. As a federalist committed to pluralism, I was elated. As a national security hawk, I was concerned. If the Watan card could be so swiftly done away with, why had we been humiliating so many fellow countrymen for so long? If the purpose it served was so easily jettisoned, why did we have it in the first place? And perhaps equally, if it was necessary in the first place, then why was it dumped so unceremoniously, so fast? Are we safer with it or without it? Anyone?
These questions are the luxury of those, like me, that like to think about strategy as something worth having, pursuing and being attached to over long periods of time. Among the criticisms that many national security establishments face the world over is that they are excellent at tactics, but not so good at strategy. But there is a fundamental underlying flaw in this framework. It assumes that there even is such a thing as strategy. The evidence backing this assumption is flimsy, at best.
If the only dimension you ever operate in is tactical, then you never have to worry about downstream consequences in the way that a strategist would. This makes sense for people that are only going to be in a job for short periods of time, like say, three years.
In high-risk under-developed areas, many aid workers and donor organisations post people for one year, or what is known as one-plus-one: which is a fancy, and shorthand way of saying one year to start with, and another if you want to keep collecting the hazard pay (though, in fairness, the cost of living and high risk bonuses available in the past have largely evaporated from the aid compensation structures in Pakistan circa 2017, largely owing to vastly improved security and a fast-approaching status as an honest to goodness middle-income country). The point being, that short tenures are a classical structural guarantor of tactical thinking. Aid agencies are structurally wedded to tactics, rather than strategy, and this helps explain at least some of the frequent strategic failures of aid, despite plenty of tactical wins.
Pakistan’s military is no different. Though made up of exceptionally talented and brave soldiers, it is a lumbering behemoth of a bureaucracy that is institutionally addicted to short-termism and tactical thinking. It uses the word ‘strategy’ as a shorthand for tactics, and in doing so, lubricates Pakistan’s single-track path to strategic paralysis.
Economically, Pakistan has unnecessarily chosen to become more servile to China than it needs to be, adding China to a list of other debtors, such as the IMF, that undermine its fiscal sovereignty.
Socially, it has allowed foreign powers like Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States and India to establish dominant, overpowering narratives about history, identity and the present that undermine the official narrative with the ease of a warm knife passing through butter.
Militarily, the bravery and skill of the individual soldier is in no doubt, but the country does not enjoy any competitive or comparative advantage against its principal rival, India.
I have been reading about Elon Musk and Space X this weekend. So to space! India has over 170 satellites orbiting the Earth, the first of which was launched on an Indian rocket in July of 1980, less than a year after the first Indian rocket launch ended up in the Bay of Bengal. Pakistan has three satellites in the earth’s orbit, none of which were launched by Pakistan. India’s space programme is among the most innovative and economical in the world. Pakistan’s is run by a two-star general who was passed over for promotion.
These kinds of facts tend to rattle and anger defenders of the status quo in this country, but the status quo should take a quick look in the mirror before continuing to blow the same hot air into the national discourse that it has since before Bangladesh was a thing.
This week, the Financial Action Task Force meets in Paris. The FATF is the intergovernmental body that sets standards for countering things like money laundering and terrorist financing. Among the top of the agenda for the FATF is whether to place Pakistan on a terror-financing watch list. Why? Because the US, the UK and several other countries feel that Pakistan has been too soft on Hafiz Saeed and the array of acronyms fashioned to fool his own people, the people of Pakistan, and people around the world.
While most of his own people and the people of Pakistan have consumed textbooks designed to sustain fairy tales that exclude people like Bacha Khan from them, the world at large sees what is happening. A new political party by the name of Milli Muslim League has been mainstreamed into politics precisely at a time when the military felt that a corrosion of the right-wing flank of its bête noire, the PML-N, would be good for national security. But maybe our strategic geniuses have just been taken by surprise by all the hullabaloo, and evil old Uncle Sam has just conjured up these ‘Trump’ed up charges to punish Pakistan for losing the war in Afghanistan?
Well maybe. But Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was listed in the Al-Qaeda Sanctions List of the United Nations Security Council on May 2, 2005. Almost thirteen years ago.
Hafiz Saeed was listed on December 10, 2008, two weeks after the Mumbai attacks. Over nine years ago.
The Milli Muslim League was launched in August 2017. About six months ago. But crucially, two months after the FATF referred Pakistan’s case to the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering in June of 2017.
We already know that this is not the profile of a country that knows how to manage its strategic affairs, but the real question, given timelines, the mind-boggling series of decisions, and the mind-numbing propaganda against its own citizens, is this: does any of this qualify even remotely as sound tactics? Whether strategic or tactical, does it feel like Pakistan is winning on any front?
FOR a 16-year-long war in Afghanistan, whose failure lies in an endless list of complex causes — including flawed strategy, incoherent war aims, return of the warlords, rise of fiefdoms and ungoverned spaces, corruption, power struggles and a competitive and conflict-prone regional environment — US President Donald Trump has one simple solution: get rid of the Haqqani Network and Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. And if Pakistan does not oblige, cut off aid.
Like the Afghanistan war, the equally complicated US-Pakistan relationship is also being narrowly defined, thereby obscuring the many different ways it can serve or hurt the very American interests that the Trump administration is trying to serve. It is certainly true that Pakistan has a lot to answer for, especially for its illicit relationship with the Taliban. But sanctuaries did not play a defining role in the war’s failure, nor will their eradication, if they still exist, play a salient part in its success. Sixteen years into the war, Washington has shown no better understanding of the complexities of Afghanistan and the region than when it invaded the country in 2001.
The 1980s war against the Soviets and the subsequent civil war had raised the profile of the mullah and jihad, and changed not only Afghanistan but also the adjoining tribal territories in Pakistan. Home to millions of Afghan refugees and base to mujahedeen, these territories almost became like one country along with the areas across the Afghan border. Pakistan’s heartland too was affected by the religious infrastructure spawned by the 1980s war and by Islamabad’s own follies, to which Washington made no small contribution, first through the ISI-CIA sponsored jihad in Afghanistan, and then by sanctioning Pakistan in 1990 and leaving it to its own devices. The Taliban were an extension of this slow unravelling of Afghanistan, and strategic overreach of the Pakistan Army and societal changes in the country.
Former US President George W. Bush made grievous mistakes upon America’s return to Afghanistan. It was a strategic mistake to try to defeat al-Qaida by defeating the Taliban, who were not going to fight but instead run away to Pakistan. The focus should have been on al-Qaida. The context of dealing with the Taliban was fixing the fractured Afghanistan through its reconstruction and stabilisation with a new ethno-regional balance acceptable to all the Afghans. That is what you call nation-building. But Washington, of course, would have none of that. Instead, Bush outsourced much of the war to warlords and rushed to institute democracy, guided by the need to get domestic support for the war and by a flawed view that democracy is nation-building.
In Afghanistan, democracy did not help. It made Hamid Karzai dependent on the political support of warlords and regional power brokers, the very people who had brought Afghanistan to grief in the ’90s. This led to corruption, power struggles and bad governance, facilitating the return of the Taliban which led a resistance that was part insurgency, part jihad and part civil war. And by creating a dual authority — their own and Kabul — Americans set up a perfect scenario for a clash of personalities, policies and interests, making for a poor war strategy.
Now Trump is seeking a military solution for the conflict. There is a talk of a political solution, but that seems to be just a Plan B in case the military option fails. The suspension of aid to Pakistan is aimed at pressuring Islamabad to help Washington defeat the Taliban. But Pakistan is finding it hard to oblige without relinquishing its national interests in favour of US aid, and in the face of public humiliation by Trump. It will not do so in this election year, and not in an atmosphere where Pakistan sees the Indian threat having doubled with India’s increased presence in Afghanistan from where it is allegedly helping orchestrate terrorist attacks on Pakistan. If anything, this should enhance Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban.
The Taliban is the biggest card Pakistan has to secure its interests in Afghanistan, and it won’t give it up easily unless it knows what comes next. Pakistan also feels the US strategy will not succeed and may in fact backfire. A disinherited Taliban retreating from Afghanistan would be a much greater threat to Pakistan and to the US, especially if the Taliban joins forces with other jihadi and Islamist groups. The Washington-Islamabad standoff thus continues. Pakistan feels it can take the heat, and that if Washington dials up the pressure, it will fall back on China. A Pakistan closely aligned with China could conceivably take a harder line against India. If the US continues to see China as a threat and India as a balancer, what would serve US interests better: An India whose resources are divided by a two-front deployment, or one that has friendly relations with Pakistan? For that, Washington should not burn its bridges with Islamabad. A relationship with Pakistan would also give the US leverage against India. Furthermore, it will be useful to have Pakistan on its side in a region that is increasingly coming under the strategic shadow of Russia and the creeping influence of Iran. Most importantly, Pakistan’s role remains critical in stabilising Afghanistan, and in helping Washington’s counter-terrorism efforts.
The Taliban trust China and its guarantees that they would not be betrayed. But the Chinese need support from Washington and Kabul. The Quadrilateral Consultative Group process offered the prospect of such support. But the Trump administration prefers the military option and going it alone, and that also suits Kabul: This way, at least the Americans will likely stay for the long haul. What is needed is a new relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Only together can they deal with the Taliban, politically if possible, and militarily if necessary. Counter-insurgencies are essentially a governance issue. Afghanistan needs to conciliate the areas under the Taliban control, and Pakistan should help by making its lands inhospitable to them. And both must work on joint border management and resolution of the refugee problem. This is a long-term plan, but it is doable. US engagement with them would be essential to their success, as would be China’s involvement.
But the US is not thinking in these terms. Instead, Trump has defined the Afghanistan war very narrowly and in immediate terms as a terrorism problem. American soldiers under attack from sanctuaries in Pakistan, rather than the war itself, preoccupies the Trump base. As for the military, it is only thinking of the military solution, and that also highlights the sanctuaries issue. So, right now, US-Pakistan relations are stuck, which makes prospects of any political solution in Afghanistan quite dim.
The writer, a former ambassador of Pakistan, is adjunct faculty at Georgetown University and Syracuse University.
THE most lamentable aspect of politics in our country is that the political parties have turned it into an industry that acts as a conduit to build fortunes instead of serving and delivering to the masses. There is a mad race to reach the corridors of power by all means, mostly illegitimate and clandestine. That is why we witness conspiracies to topple the representative governments before the completion of their mandated tenure or not allowing them to work unruffled by road-blocks erected with malicious intent.
When all attempts to dislodge the government failed the focus shifted to thwarting the PML (N) to win majority in the ensuring senate elections. To the chagrin of the democracy loving segments of the society the main political parties including PTI and PPP even tried to use the platform of PAT to create a commotion in the country and echoes of dissolution of some assemblies and mass resignations of parliamentarians also resonated on the political landscape of the country. That move failed because the people simply refused to be part of any conspiracy to destabilize the system by not attending the Lahore rally of these parties contrary to the expectations of their leaders. That stopped the cleric from Canada to go ahead with his plans to send the government home and he had to exit the scene mortified and humiliated.
Finally the country is going to have senate elections in March. However what is happening behind the scenes is a national shame. We saw the toppling to PML (N) government in Balochistan and those savvy of the situation talk about massive horse-trading by PPP to win at least 6 to 7 senate seats from the province notwithstanding the fact that it does not have even a single MP in the provincial assembly. We hear similar attempts to buy loyalties of the MPs in KP where PPP aims at securing at least 3 seats. Reportedly the situation in FATA is also not different. Out of 26 senators of PPP in the senate 18 are retiring. The PPP is hell bent to increase its tally in the senate by clinching some seats from other provinces. Reportedly billions will change hands in the process and do not forget money is no problem with our politicians.
It is however pertinent to point out that it is not happening for the first time. Senate elections have invariably been used to shower political favours and minting money. Money has been changing hands between the people desirous of becoming senators and those who had to elect them. The practice has been more entrenched in smaller provinces. The MPs are not there to serve the people but to mint money through favours or any other opportunity that works to their advantage. Senate elections are the last opportunity for them to fill their kitties and why not when they have spent millions on their own elections. Some circles in Pakistan have been demanding direct elections for the senate seats to eliminate this detestable practice of bribing the MPs for clinching the prestigious position of a senator. I think the time has come to give a serious thought to this possibility. I have in my columns also been advocating the adoption of proportional representation for election to the national and provincial assemblies. The present system of elections on single constituency basis promotes a system of graft and entitlement. The number game gives rise to horse-trading and black mailing of the party leaderships by groups of MPs.
In the proportional representation system the people vote for the party and then each party is given representation in the legislature according to the percentage of votes obtained by the party. It remains the privilege of the party leadership then to nominate their best men to represent them in the parliament. The other advantage of this system is that it helps in forming a truly representative parliament where even the smaller parties are also represented on the basis of the percentage of votes obtained by them, particularly the regional parties. The adoption of this system would almost remove all the major afflictions of our political system. The proportional representation system is best suited to a multi-cultural country like Pakistan and can also help in addressing a number of social fault lines that mar national integration and unity.
We have had enough of crass politics steeped in the culture of self-aggrandizement. It was right time for our political parties and parties to start thinking about promoting national interests and bringing in a system of governance that delivers to the people. The desired reforms can come only through Parliament with the collective wisdom of the parliamentarians. It is therefore incumbent upon the political parties to rise above their narrow political interests and work collectively to strengthen the democratic system by undertaking the process of cleansing it from the afflictions that it suffers from. The parties must realize that their interests are inextricably linked with the national interests. Their continued adherence to the present system, the knack for clinching power through hook and crook and use of money in buying loyalties would not only weaken democracy but would also keep them vulnerable to the machinations of the anti-democracy elements. Our salvation and progress lies in strengthening the democratic system, a recipe prescribed by Father of the Nation.
Globalisation as an economic philosophy came into vogue following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and reigned unchallenged until the near collapse of Western capitalism in 2007. This way of thinking was built on what at that time seemed the inspiring work of two popular academics. The first, Francis Fukuyama, an American sociologist, put out the notion of the ‘end of history’ that he developed in a book that carried that title. With the Soviet Union having disappeared as a political entity from the world map accompanied by the collapse of European Communism, Fukuyama came to the conclusion that bloody ideological strife of the 20th century had come to an end. The West’s liberal democracy had won and would be adopted in time by the entire world as the most viable and durable system of governance. History, if it is to be seen as a conflict between ideas, had indeed ended.
A similarly powerful case was made by the Chicago economist Milton Friedman in favour of free markets, unconstrained by governments. In his book Free to Choose, published in 1980, a dozen years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the doyen of conservative economic thinking, argued that “the world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests.” Ronald Reagan was a Friedman disciple and the contribution he made to the collapse of the Soviet Union gave him an authoritative voice in policy circles. The president put it famously, “government is not the solution; government is the problem.” This fervent advocacy of free trade and the efficiency of unregulated markets led to the development of ‘The Washington Consensus’, so called because of the policy content in it was provided by economists working in the institutions located in the American capital. This line of thinking was directly responsible for the Great Recession of 2007-09.
The Great Recession occurred while China was enjoying the benefit of an alternative economic philosophy and a differently managed political system. The Chinese believed in an activist state. There was a precedence to this in the state that provided the ‘mai-bap’ functions in the colonial system run by the British in India. According to this interpretation, the state’s role was not only to supply all manner of basic services to the citizenry, it was also to protect domestic enterprises from excessive foreign competition. Those who believed in free trade came up with what came to be called the ‘infant industry argument’, according to which it was right to protect those enterprises that were in the early stage of development. The infant industry approach came to be embedded in the international trading system that evolved in the post-Second World War era.
The philosophical father of economic protectionism was Alexander Hamilton whose contribution to the development of the state in the United States was lauded by the popular Broadway musical Hamilton recently staged in New York’s Broadway theatre district. He was the founder of the American financial system whose followers included the Germans, the Japanese and, indirectly, the Chinese.
While the benefits from the process of globalisation became apparent, especially after the establishment in 1995 of the World Trade Organisation, it took time for those who were adversely affected by it to rebel against its basic principles. Donald Trump in the United States and various rightist movements in Europe took sharp positions against those they disparaged as ‘globalists’. They took up the case of those who had seen serious reductions in their economic wellbeing. Jobs were lost because a large number of Western enterprises that needed low-skilled and low-wage labour moved to the countries where such workers were available in abundance.
Donald Trump, the new and unpredictable political leader of the United States, took a dim view of the impact of globalisation on large segments of his country’s population. This was a much narrower interpretation of globalisation; Trump turned ‘globalists’ into a term of abuse. Denouncing and rejecting the “false song of globalism” during the long campaign for the US presidency, Trump, the new American leader, moved quickly. On his first third full day in office, he cancelled the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional trade deal with Japan and 10 other Pacific-Rim countries. This was an American-inspired initiative and as seen by Barack Obama, Trump’s predecessor, it would have brought tremendous benefits to the American economy. Trade among these 12 nations would have followed the American system of corporate governance.
Trump then went on to denounce Canada, Germany and South Africa for exporting more to the United States than they imported from his country.
Not well-versed in economics, he became obsessed with trade deficits. Whichever world leader he met and whichever country he visited, he made abundantly clear that his aim was to achieve a balance in trade between his nation and with other countries. If large trade surpluses other countries had with the United States could not be quickly eliminated, he wanted them to be put to use to benefit his country. For instance, while suggesting a new approach to solve the long-running American-led war in Afghanistan, he proposed that New Delhi should use its large surplus with the United States to aid Kabul.
Trump opposed all multilateral trade agreements; those that had already been negotiated and those that were in the works. He declared his unhappiness with the terms president Bill Clinton had accepted in negotiating the North America Free Trade Area involving Canada, Mexico and the United States. Trump had been persuaded by his trade advisers that large trade deficits were bad for his country’s economy. In the article in this space next week, I will discuss how China has now become the leading exponent of globalisation.
February 18, 2018
As Nawaz Sharif took his seat on the stage in Lodhran on Saturday afternoon, you could see him struggling not to break into a wide grin. Only six months earlier he had been left for dead politically by all and sundry — a lonely, dejected and crestfallen figure expected to quietly ride into the sunset. And yet today here he was surrounded by his closest people waving to a crowd that had delivered him a stunning victory in a constituency that was expected to vote for his staunchest opponent.
Suddenly the defeated man is the man to defeat in Elections 2018. Is this high noon for Noon (N-League)?
In the Lodhran by-election, the victory of Nawaz Sharif and the vanquishing of Imran Khan has sealed and stamped a growing perception that the PML-N is gaining momentum in Punjab at the expense of a de-focused, dithering and doubting PTI. With less than a hundred days to go before the present assemblies are dissolved and a caretaker set-up enters the fray, time is clearly not on Imran’s side. The fog of politics has yet again played a trick on those who had pocketed victory before victory had been achieved. And yet in these foggy times, some things are getting clearer by the day.
The impact of the Lodhran victory is not confined to the constituency itself. In the wake of what is clearly an ‘upset’, many people are debating what won the election: Nawaz’s narrative, Shehbaz’s development work or clever management at the local level? There are plenty of arguments to support each position — and yet none really matters.
The fact is that a victory has been achieved against all odds. It is this reality, and not the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’, that is shaping perceptions, beliefs and political calculations beyond the constituency. Lodhran as a symbol means much more than Lodhran as a constituency election. Had the PTI won, this victory would have amounted to nothing more than a validation of a generally accepted reality that since 2015 this was Tareen territory. Even today the PML-N winning candidate — who is revelling in his proverbial fifteen minutes of fame — is a diminished figure in comparison to the number of votes he has polled. He may fade into relative oblivion once the raucous celebrations end but the political ripples generated by the Lodhran victory will continue to lap against the stony shores of the looming elections campaign.
They will do so because they corroborate a widely held belief that no one does the science of electioneering better than the PML-N. This maxim holds true if applied to the argument that the Nawaz/Maryam narrative won the Lodhran fight; it holds true if transplanted on to the logic that Shehbaz’s quiet and steady development in the area won dividends; and it also hold true if correlated to the reasoning that it was deft local management that triggered an avalanche of votes for the PML-N.
If such logic holds true for Lodhran, would it not do the same for other constituencies in Punjab? The Sharif quiver, as it appears now, has many arrows: Nawaz/Maryam narrative of defiance, the doer/deliverer image of Shehbaz, the wide array of electables in important constituencies backed by the massive battle-hardened electoral machinery of the party, the well-oiled and coordinated party organisation and structure at the grassroots level and the nimble yet coarse science of election-day management. That’s a lot of electoral ammunition for the war that lies ahead on the other side of May 31.
What then is the best that could happen for the PML-N in the next hundred days? Nawaz and Maryam get acquitted in the trial. If that happens, the Sharif juggernaut would be near impossible to stop.
More importantly, however, what’s the worst that could happen? Nawaz and Maryam get convicted by the court and are sent to prison pending their appeals. This means they are handcuffed, put in a van, transported to prison and locked inside. The real deal. Not the hospital-type ‘incarceration’ that the rich and powerful are accustomed to. This could be followed by a Supreme Court decision removing Nawaz as president of the party while another decision upholds his lifetime disqualification. If all this were to happen, father and daughter would not only be in a lockup, they would be out of the electoral scene completely.
At this point two narratives will smash into each other in a cosmic collision. The Sharif narrative will say a biased judiciary was expected to give such a verdict and therefore this confirms what they have been saying since Nawaz was disqualified. Through such a narrative they would attempt to turbo-charge their campaign which from then onwards would revolve around the victimhood slogan. And if Nawaz and Maryam are videoed in handcuffs this would be a ‘gift’ that the Sharifs would gladly accept. In a charged political atmosphere, such an image would set their voter base on fire. Or so they hope.
The Imran narrative will say the conviction has proved what he has been saying all along: that Sharifs are guilty. This narrative will declare the guilty verdict a validation of Imran’s consistent stand and a resounding victory for his cause. The narrative will try and paint Imran as the lone crusader against corruption whose successful vanquishing of Sharif is proof enough that he is worthy of wearing the prime ministerial crown.
If the verdict comes by mid-March, both parties will have roughly four months to wage the war of narratives on the campaign trail. The legal process would be over; the political process would be in high gear. Whoever wins the narrative will win the election. It may be as simple as that.
And Yet, Will It?
So far the biggest success of the Nawaz/Maryam campaign has been to snatch the narrative away from the opposition. Till July last year Imran campaigned on an anti-Nawaz crusade and nothing else. He was what Nawaz was not. Then came the disqualification verdict. Nawaz was out of a job. Imran was out of a narrative. In ‘mujhe kyon nikala’ (why was I ousted?) Nawaz found a new narrative. Imran did not. He still kept on making it all about Nawaz whereas it should now have been all about Imran.
Imran has four months to turn this around and make this election about him. If by June the election still seems like it’s all about how good Nawaz is and how bad Nawaz is, then it will become fairly clear that the election is all about Nawaz. Whichever way you look at it, this cannot be good for Imran Khan.