New Age Islam Edit Bureau
21 May 2018
By Huma Yusuf
The Role of Religion in Polls
By Muhammad Amir Rana
The Lure of the City
By Mubarak Ali
A Counterproductive Strategy?
By Umair Javed
Truth Shall Prevail
By Syed Talat Hussain
A Legacy of Deficits
By Fahd Humayun
By Samantha Krop
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
May 21, 2018
OUR prime minister on Friday joined leaders
from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to condemn the recent
violence in Gaza, the “brutal” and “criminal” actions of Israel, and the US
decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Our prominent role in the special
meeting fits the religio-nationalist mood that has gripped Pakistan in recent
years; its simple messaging resonating with our righteous patriots: up with the
Muslim world, down with the US and Israel.
But indignant fist thumping cannot mask the
truth. Saudi Arabia has sided with Israel in efforts to undermine Iran and
check its regional ambitions. The Gulf Cooperation Council remains at
loggerheads a year into the dispute. The Saudi-led conflict in Yemen rages,
fuelling one of the worst humanitarian crises of recent times. The horrors in
Syria seem endless. Sectarian hatred is deeply entrenched across the Muslim
world, with particularly violent ramifications in the Middle East.
The anti-US posturing is also ambivalent at
best. While condemnation of the embassy move has been almost universal —
encompassing not only members of the OIC but also many European and Asian
countries — the rejection of US policies is hardly that resolute. Washington
and Riyadh, for example, are enjoying revitalised relations spurred on by
mutual suspicion of Iran (and Saudi Arabia’s dispute with Qatar, a US ally, has
barely registered as a bone of contention).
The weakness of the OIC is reflected in the
outcome of last week’s meeting. All the outrage cumulated in a plan to express
solidarity with the Palestinians and lobby other countries not to move their
embassies to Jerusalem — hardly a game plan to tackle the worsening plight of
The sound and fury of the OIC meeting
highlights our challenges.
The sound and fury of the OIC meeting
highlights the challenges ahead for Pakistan. At a point when our Foreign
Office is faltering — as pointed out by Moeed Yusuf in these pages, writing
about the snub our new US ambassador’s appointment represents for the
diplomatic corps — we seem ill equipped to navigate the complex foreign policy
landscape of the Middle East.
A show of Muslim unity serves to accentuate
the fact that one of Pakistan’s trickier foreign policy puzzles is
simultaneously managing relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran. Much has already
been written about the need for Pakistan to juggle the relationships to prevent
a return to the proxy sectarian war of the 1990s, and to continue to benefit
from both Saudi benefactors and the opportunities for trade, energy
connectivity and counterterrorism cooperation that Iran offers closer to home.
This need is more urgent since America’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
In the event that European efforts to save
the deal fail, Tehran would likely resume its nuclear programme. That in turn
could stir Saudi aspirations of becoming a nuclear power. In this scenario,
Pakistan could face pressure to support such a move with all its implications.
The failure of the Iran nuclear deal could
also present Pakistan with a new juggling act. Our typically binary foreign
policy calculations make much of our tilt away from the US, and into China’s
arms. But what if the US decides to push its attempts to weaken Iran further,
either by targeting Iranian nuclear facilities in conjunction with Israel, or
seeking regime change, as certain White House officials have hinted is the
ultimate goal? In that scenario, Saudi Arabia would back America’s aggressive
anti-Iran posturing, while China, which has opposed the US’s withdrawal from
the agreement, would see an opportunity to strengthen ties with Tehran, drawing
it further into the Belt and Road Initiative. How would Pakistan manage the
competing interests of its key allies?
All this would be further complicated by
the fact that Pakistan in some ways benefits from the collapse of the deal,
despite our initial official statements in support of Iran. Further
obstructions to doing business with Iran will limit the competition for Gwadar
from Chabahar, and also stymie India’s plans to trade with Afghanistan via
Iran. Seen this way, Pakistan is more aligned with the US than it would like to
There’s also a domestic angle to consider.
Pakistan’s support for Palestinians is ethical and necessary. But there’s a
twinge of hypocrisy in our vehement condemnation of the human rights violations
and brutal killings of Palestinians gathering in opposition to unjust policies.
After all, closer to home, Pakistani citizens who gather to protest killings,
displacement and humiliation are met with intimidation and media blackouts.
The idea of Muslim unity in the face of
gross injustices may be a beautiful one. But there is little beauty in our
world today. And Pakistan seems ill prepared to protect its interests — and
those of all its citizens — in the midst of growing complexities.
May 20, 2018
THE political landscape in the country is
changing fast with the approaching elections. The religio-political parties
have also set their tone, indicating a rise in religious sentiment in their
electoral campaigns. However, the TV cameras appear more focused on political
turfs in Punjab and Karachi. In the heartland of the political arena, the processes
of remoulding the PML-N and reconstruction of the PTI also continue.
A few recent by-elections in Punjab and KP
triggered a debate, which gradually faded away, on the religious factor in
general elections. Even the assassination bid on Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal
failed to revive the debate on a threat that could affect the upcoming
Apparently, using religious sentiments for
acquiring political gains is not confined to religious parties; mainstream
political parties have also mastered the art. However, religious sentimentalism
is not merely political rhetoric; it has become a life-threatening reality to
the extent that mere dissent can bring harm. Although political parties
condemned the attack on the interior minister, no one dared challenge the
driving force of religious sentimentalism. Perhaps they are not willing to do
what they perceive as tantamount to putting their political careers at risk.
The ruling party is an obvious target of the hatred arising out of this phenomenon,
but also avoids facing it. Otherwise, it would not be able to run its electoral
It remains to be seen how religious
sentimentalism will play in the general elections. But it could become a big
challenge for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and security
institutions to ensure that polls are conducted in a free and fair environment.
At the same time, it would be a huge task for major religio-political parties
to keep a distance from some new actors who tend to encourage violent religious
Traditionally, religio-political parties
have struggled to find an inspiring agenda and narrative.
Traditionally, religious parties have
struggled to find an inspiring agenda and narrative in the general elections.
Their primary focus has remained on Islamisation of the state and religious
socialisation of society. Their worldview is constructed on the notion of the
ummah that helped such parties secure a few electoral gains in 2002, mainly in
KP and Balochistan; the US invasion of Afghanistan was a major factor in their
The alliance of six religiously inspired
parties, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), successfully exploited anti-US
sentiments in those elections. However, by the time of the 2008 elections, the
anti-US agenda had lost its appeal. Since then, such parties have been trying
to make their manifestos and slogans more attractive for the general public
while adopting mainstream political discourses.
In the 2013 elections, two major religious
parties, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI),
attempted to build their image as anti-status quo and, to a certain extent, as
anti-establishment actors, but these slogans also failed to attract voters.
Indeed, in 2013, between them, the religious parties secured five per cent of
the total votes, which was the second-worst performance of such parties after
the 1997 elections when amongst all religious parties, only the JUI-F secured
two National Assembly seats.
The JUI-F, JI and smaller religious parties
have revived the MMA as an electoral alliance and their leadership hopes they
can repeat the 2002 results. The MMA is missing the emotional appeal it had in
2002, and will build its electoral campaign around four major themes:
protecting democracy; Islamisation; anti-extremism; and to a certain extent,
To counter its influence in KP, the PTI has
entered into an electoral alliance with another one of the JUI’s factions led
by Maulana Samiul Haq after donating huge grants to his religious seminary in
Akora Khattak. Maulana Sami was an active player in the Difa-i-Pakistan Council
(DPC), an alliance of religious and small political parties formed after 24
Pakistani soldiers were killed by American planes along the Afghan border in
2011. The banned Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan and the banned Jamaat ud Dawa were
other active members of the alliance. These three parties have an image of
being pro-establishment actors in Pakistan. Maulana Sami tried to convert this
alliance into an electoral alliance with the help of the SSP and JuD.
The JuD’s political face, the Milli Muslim
League has decided not to be a part of any alliance of religious parties
because, first, the registration of the party is still pending with the ECP,
and second, it wants to shed the tag of ‘religious’ party. It wants to be
considered a mainstream political actor and will enter some broad-based
electoral alliance. Because of the registration issue, MML members will contest
elections as independent candidates.
Maulana Sami, the SSP and a few of their
DPC allies could form an alliance of religious parties similar to the one they
formed in 2013. However, the chances of their electoral success are bleak. Yet
the alliance would be used not only against the MMA but also other mainstream
parties, mainly to challenge their patriotic credentials.
The MMA will focus on KP, Balochistan and
some constituencies in Karachi; Punjab, Sindh and the Hazara belt of KP will
remain open for other religious parties as well. In these areas, all religious
parties appeal to people to some extent, and which could be translated from
hundreds to a few thousand votes, depending on the attraction of their
electoral narratives. The Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan of Khadim Rizvi, its
breakaway faction the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Islam, the Nizam-i-Mustafa Muttahida
Mahaz, the MML, and small and large sectarian organisations will capitalise on
their constituencies in these regions. There is little doubt that these parties
will exploit religious and nationalistic sentiments.
If such sentiments reach at a level where
it could trigger hatred against political opponents, violence could be the
outcome. In this scenario, the religious vote base in these regions may slip
from the hands of the MMA and shift to new sectarian and hyper-nationalist
The hatred and violence will help new
religiously inspired actors maximise their vote bank. This might not translate
into electoral success but will surely increase their street power and weight
as pressure groups.
Oswald Spengler, a German historian, was
working as a teacher at a school when the idea to write a book on the rise and
fall of civilisations cropped up in his mind.
He resigned from his job and devoted his
time towards writing this book. He published ‘The Decline of the West’ in 1918.
During his lifetime, he witnessed stiff competition among European nations that
led to World War I. Spengler also explored the results of the Industrial
Revolution, which completely altered the way of life in European society.
Factory smoke blackened the site and polluted the fresh and fragrant air.
Workers in these factories worked under subhuman conditions.
The Industrial Revolution made people yearn
for a pre-industrial society dotted with green fields surrounded by thick trees
and filled with the pleasant sounds of birds. The life of peasants was simple
during the pre-industrial era. They enjoyed nature’s beauty and were deeply
attached to the land that provided them with sufficient food. They preserved
the natural environment and didn’t extract more resources from it than was
required. The cultural values that originated and developed during this period
did not focus on accumulating more money at other people’s expense.
Humans broke their ties with nature when
they decided to build cities. In cities, humans became hunters and wandered
from one place to other. They eventually lost their attachment to Mother Earth.
According to Spengler, the history of
mankind is the history of cities, where state institutions emerge along with
their paraphernalia – kingship, bureaucracy, army and administrative setup.
Art, literature, sculpture and other branches of knowledge flourish in cities. Cities
tend to nurture great writers who only become famous when they leave villages.
When a city is fully populated and developed, it creates its own spirit. The
difference between a city and a village is that the latter is a friendly place
that is close to nature while the former constructs its own environment. The
differences between villages and cities produces varied characteristics among.
The mentality of a weaver or a cobbler from a German village is not the same as
that of a citizen of Berlin.
In the early period, buildings in various
cities represented nature. The Doric pillars, the pyramids in Egypt and the
Gothic churches appear as to be rising from the depths of the earth. They not
only provide shelter but also ensure serenity under their shadows. With time,
the architecture of buildings became far removed from nature.
The language of cities has changed to such
an extent that villagers fail to understand it. Urban art, culture, literature
and architecture, therefore, become alien to villagers. Cities are populated
and destroyed. But villages remain intact. While most cities in Greece have
been wiped out, the villages remain alive. Similarly, the city of Mohenjodaro
was reduced to ruins. But the villages that surrounded the city continue to
exist and represent their culture.
Rulers built and rebuilt cities according
to their needs. For instance, Napoleon III reconstructed Paris and Bismarck
changed the entire structure of Berlin. In this process, villages are neglected
and remain in their original shape. However, such is the charm and fascination
of a city that when once a villager arrives and settles down, he prefers to die
on the footpath of a city rather than return to his birthplace.
The most important city is the capital of a
state. This is where rulers and aristocrats build palaces, beautifying them
with gardens, fountains and waterfalls. They also build zoos in an attempt to
enjoy nature. These are artificial means of representing nature in cities. In
the 17th and 18th centuries, when a ruler was displeased with a noble, he
rusticated him and sent him to a village as a form of punishment.
The irony is that history records the
achievements of the ruling classes and religious leaders who live in cities and
ignores the contributions made by villagers to human civilisation. Despite some
external changes, villagers retains their ancient faith and often believe in
Whenever the bourgeois bring change, it is
only confined to the city. The adjoining villages remain unaffected by these developments.
Two factors emerge as a symbol of power in cities: wealth and belief in
rationality. These factors eliminate all religious, ethnic and linguistic
differences and make city life more cosmopolitan.
Over time, a city gradually decays and
loses its importance – politically and geographically – and the ruling classes
replace it with a new city. For instance, the Muslim capital of Medina was
changed to Kufa. The Ottomans shifted the capital from Bursa with Istanbul.
After Fatehpur Sikri, the Mughals adopted Agra and Delhi as their capital
cities. When traders overpower the aristocracy, they reshape cultural values
and traditions. This is evident in the way that North American traders
annihilated the culture of South America.
Oswald Spengler romanticised and admired
the feudal culture of the medieval period. He viewed the new political, social
and economic changes that occur during his time as a sign of the West’s
NAWAZ Sharif’s (now) controversial
interview in this paper serves to bolster the confrontational positioning
chosen by his faction within the party. In the absence of any detailed
reasoning from his end, this is a perfectly valid assumption. Similarly, in the
absence of any explanation for what they seek to gain from this positioning,
one can assume that he sees his defined political goals being best served
through a confrontation with the judiciary and the military.
In the debate following the remarks, some
commentators have pointed out that Sharif’s democratic credentials appear to
have surfaced only after his ouster from office. What did he do to expedite the
Mumbai attack trial or limit the influence of the military while he was in
office, they ask. What was done to strengthen parliament or the sanctity of the
vote? Some (if not all) are valid critiques, and from the normative perspective
of principled politics, stand on solid ground. What they do miss, however, is
the occupational compulsion dictating the actions of any politician.
Winning and retaining office/influence
remains the primary objective of a careerist politician. What they do in and
outside of office flows from this objective. Applying this basic framework to
Nawaz’s actions since July 2017 helps peg all the recent chaos to a means-ends
That Nawaz’s personal political career is
at a dead-end for the immediate future is more or less confirmed. The odds of
him returning to elected office in any capacity are contingent on an
unprecedented upheaval in electoral and party politics. Admittedly, the same
was said when he was shipped off to exile during the Musharraf era, but the key
difference this time around is that it’s happening within the bounds of a legal
system that enjoys some manner of constitutional and political cover. It’s an
ouster of a qualitatively different kind than the one seen last time.
If confrontation is Nawaz’s chosen route to
retaining political influence, then defecting and staying in the
establishment’s good books are means for retaining elected office for many in
Given this context, his primary objective
appears to be retaining outside influence through his daughter and their
faction within the party. It’s not clear if this is a self-serving strategy or
some form of paternal affection, or a combination of the two. What is safe to
assume is that Nawaz’s political actions are in service of this particular end.
Here’s where it gets a little more
complicated — politicians can be deeply committed to the means used to serve a
particular end, but it’s far from given that they’ve picked the right ones.
Political strategy is often clouded by poor feedback and echo chambers, hubris
and ego trips, and a lack of information and a failure to understand the
context. In this particular case, if the aim is to improve his faction’s
standing within the party, and ensure that it does well in the general
election, the means actually appear to be counterproductive.
The ‘theory’ introduced by Nawaz & co.
is that a story of confrontation and victimisation works well internally in the
party and with their core electorate. Getting people riled up about his
encirclement by what he terms ‘khalai makhlooq’ is a way of consolidating
support, and consequently, getting people within the party to fall in line
behind his faction.
As highlighted by myself and several others
on these pages, there is little empirical evidence of this actually happening.
In a piece published in late February, I pointed to the lack of data that back
Nawaz’s claim of enjoying a boost in popularity on the back of his narrative of
victimisation. Since then, polling data published by Gallup shows the PML-N
with its thinnest lead over the PTI in these past five years. Similarly, Nawaz’s
favourability ratings as documented in a recent survey by Herald appear to have
fallen, with a sizable segment of the sample holding strongly negative views.
Even if survey data is deemed insufficient,
qualitative evidence through both history and recent events seem to point
towards the counterproductive nature of Nawaz’s strategy. In most elections,
ideological appeals have only worked with core urban voters, who are mobilised
outside of conventional factional or patronage-based strategies. It is entirely
possible that Nawaz’s narrative is resonating with PML-N supporters in the
cities and towns of Punjab, but it is also an overriding truth that cities and
towns of Punjab constitute a smaller fraction of the total electorate.
The electoral keys to the rest of the
province lie with patricians and their brokers who’ve dominated this occupation
for decades. A few months back, one particular point underscoring Nawaz’s
narrative was that despite his ouster, the party was holding together. There
were no large-scale defections, and his decision-making continued to reign
supreme. Fast forward to the last few weeks, and this reality appears to be
changing. Defections have gained steady pace, and dissolution of the assemblies
will likely speed up the process. If confrontation is Nawaz’s chosen route to
retaining political influence, then defecting and staying in the
establishment’s good books are means for retaining elected office for many in
It is a long-standing tragedy of Pakistani
politics, and coincidentally of Nawaz’s present predicament, that ideational
appeals hold little sway on the electoral map. The next three months will thus
answer a riddle that lies at the heart of our recent political chaos: either
Nawaz has read what many (including those defecting) have simply failed to
read, which is that confrontation does work both in Punjab and within the
party; or Nawaz has gotten it horribly wrong, and in the process, ruined his
chance of retaining outside influence on the party, and the chances of his
party actually doing well in the election. Going by recent trends, it
increasingly looks like the latter will be the correct answer.
Bow to the truth for its buoyancy. It pops
up from strange locations, at odd times, in the weirdest ways possible – to the
embarrassment and humiliation of those who attempt to kill and sink it. A pushy
army chief careening his career forward by using muscle and the marvellous
power of the great institution fortune put under his command; a head of the ISI
high on his unassailable position peddling political agenda of the crassest
kind; shady donors loaded with money; feuding politicians desperate to outdo each
other in a game of snakes and ladders played on a rigged electoral board. This
about sums up the famous Asghar Khan case in which dollops of money (by the
90s’ standards) was moved through accounts into the pockets of various
politicians apparently to influence the outcome of the 1990 elections, which
Nawaz Sharif had won and which were widely believed to be massively rigged.
There is nothing new in the information
summarised above. This is all included in the detailed October 19, 2012
judgment of the Supreme Court which had found generals and Younus Habib, the
donor, the then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan and the recipients of these funds
to be involved in illegal activities deserving of legal actions against them.
But the case has come up for investigation after decades of dormancy, because
the Supreme Court has now ordered FIA to proceed with the probe and determine
penalties. General Aslam Beg and General Durrani, ageing and frail, are both
being probed by investigators.
The FIA probe has taken all the old ghosts
of history out of the box, refreshing our short national memory about this
defining phase in politics. General Beg and General Durrani are slugging it out
against each other, one blaming the other of vendetta and the latter suggesting
– as he had previously in his signed affidavit that became the basis of late
Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s petition to the Supreme Court – that he was only
following orders from his top boss.
“I, Lt Gen. (r) M Asad Durrani…do hereby my
oath and state on solemn affirmation as under: …In September 1990 as DG ISI, I
received instructions from the then COAS…General Aslam Beg to provide ‘logistic
support’ to the disbursement of donations made by some businessmen of Karachi
to the election campaign of [the] IJI (Note: the 9 party alliance that won the
1990 elections and threw up Nawaz Sharif as prime minister for the first
General Durrani’s affidavit was given in
1994 when he was enjoying ambassadorship in Germany, appointed by the very
Benazir Bhutto, against whose party he had supposedly facilitated the stealing
of elections in 1990. Ironies! Gen Beg, in his recent declaration before the
FIA investigation team, lays the blame squarely on the shoulders of General
Durrani, making him sound either like an independent operator who pushed his
political whims through the power of his portfolio or someone working directly
in cohorts with the then president, the late Ghulam Ishaq Khan.
General Beg’s unflattering account of Gen
Durrani’s conduct makes for painful reading, considering the positions that
both the generals have held in the past. General Beg suggests that he in fact
warned General Durrani against dragging the army into ‘political engineering’.
It is unclear how a DG ISI who was well connected within the civilian setup
would end up dragging the army into political engineering against the wishes of
the sitting army chief, but so is the argument that the former army head makes
in his defence. Regardless of who was pulling the strings and who shares the
biggest chunk of responsibility in deforming what could have been a fair and
square electoral exercise strengthening revival of democracy after the demise
of Ziaul Haq, the justification for this distressing plot is even more
This comes in the shape of another sworn
statement – by Brigadier Hamid Saeed Akhtar, who was directed by the earlier
Supreme Court bench to make his representation on the matter. He had been named
as the top member of the team involved in opening accounts for the money
transfer and also playing a central role in the eventual political engineering
that took place.
The long and short of his statement (he was
posted as head of Military Intelligence in Karachi) in the October judgment of
the Supreme Court is that the PPP government (1988-1990) had pushed the city of
the Quaid to the brink of mortal disaster and murderous mayhem and operations
such as the one carried out in Pucca Kila Hyderabad against Urdu-speaking
Mohajirs had forced their party to look for Indian help. His statement also notes
(strange for his rank and responsibilities) that earlier that year “the PM had
also publicly criticised the army or enriching uranium to a level which was not
acceptable to big powers. She also gave an interview to BBC in which she
mentioned …her support to India in crushing Khalistan movement….(she also)
criticised the army for conducting the annual exercise in the Sindh province
without her consent.”
Continues the mighty brigadier: “ISPR had
to clarify through a press release that under the law [the] COAS was not
obliged to seek anyone’s permission for conducting training exercises in any
part of the country. All such events were reported by the print media (the
equivalent of electronic media at present).”
Other parts of the brigadier’s statement
complete the charge sheet against the sitting government by accusing it of
offering jobs to Al-Zulfikar workers in government institutions like the
Railways, PIA and Customs. He then delivers his final judgment on the status of
the first PPP government: “[the] general perception of the common man [how he
came to this conclusion in a country of 120 million remains a mystery] was that
the ruling party had got the votes but lacked the vision to run the country.”
This charge sheet serves as the basis of
his explanation for carrying out the patently illegal orders of General Asad
Durrani to open bank accounts and then use the donated funds to be distributed
among politicians and to other agencies. Although he does not say that, what
becomes clear from his statement is that in the brigadier’s estimate the
Benazir Bhutto government deserved to be sacked and replaced by a more reliable
and patriotic arrangement, which did not pander to the interests of foreign
powers and did not raise silly questions on matters of national security.
It is possible that the brigadier, the army
chief, the DG ISI, the then president and all those who took part in this vile
exercise of rigging the 1990 elections and piecing together a patchwork of
reliable politicians in power did so believing that they were doing the right
thing. Just as possible is the scenario in which they took extreme liberties
with the constitution and, while going against their oath to the office,
defended their actions in their heads and in official meetings on the ground
that this was the ‘need of the hour’.
What is impossible is that both the
generals could have ever factored into their calculations the possibility of
coming face to face with their past in the twilight of their lives. When in
power they must have considered themselves beyond the reach of any law or
accountability, and must have pushed ahead with their own agendas without any
sense of restraint. But life is stranger than fiction. It grinds mountains to
dust and shrinks oceans to scorched earth. Now they in their eighties and in
the dock explaining their untenable positions to investigators. What a fall
Would they have done things differently if
they had known what could come their way as a consequence of their actions?
Maybe. But then you never know. Those who came after them have not done things
differently, even though they have had a long list of failed political
experiments before them. They learnt nothing from history, thinking – like
General Beg and General Asad Durrani did – that they could crush truth under
the heel of their power to turn the constitution into a living joke.
The Asghar Khan case makes for maddening
reading. How could so few do so much destructive work against the will of so
many? What drives you totally insane is the knowledge that the template set by
the two has survived so long.
The odds that the PML-N was going to be
remembered for having contributed meaningfully to Pakistan’s foreign policy and
reputation-building abroad were never high to begin with. But Nawaz Sharif’s
latest blunder on India has only resurrected the ghosts of his party’s gross
mishandling of foreign policy. Three performance deficits stand out.
The first has to do with the party’s
marginalisation of democratic institutions. This was most recently on display
with the leadership’s sudden and unexplained missive to deploy troops to the
Middle East at the behest of Saudi Arabia. Over the course of the past five
years, political stakeholders across the aisle have had to work hard to resist
getting sucked into yet another geopolitical conflict. But the PML-N’s penchant
for letting executive declaration override parliamentary injunction, both
during and after Nawaz’s tenure, managed to delegitimise the policy process.
In 2015, a joint session of parliament
commendably debated Pakistan’s involvement in Yemen, and settled for
neutrality. Ideally, Yemen should have been a brave and principled turning point,
reflective of parliamentary prerogative feeding into foreign policy
formulation. But what followed was a tale in strategic missteps, from
privatising diplomacy with India to disregarding parliamentary deliberation
into Pakistan’s involvement in the 36-nation Islamic Military Alliance. The
former cost the ousted prime minister space and territory in India, while the
latter showed an autocratic unwillingness to demonstrate parliamentary
leadership, galvanise legislative bodies around key national security conversations,
and encourage political debate.
On China, meanwhile, this government
rightly made CPEC its focus but the PML-N leadership dragged its feet when it
came to addressing political misgivings on feasibility, regulatory reach and
enforcement, and the awarding of contracts. On average, consistent
non-transparency by a PML-N that operates like a close cabal has only added to
democratic anxiety and compromised hard-won civilian agency.
The second failure has to do with the
gradual but preventable erosion of Pakistan’s international standing, made
worse by the political inertia at home. Micro-management of key portfolios
simply left too much undone in strategic ministries. Pakistan’s return to the
FATF grey-list in March was as much a result of institutional lethargy as it
was a monument to the failure to appoint a full-time foreign minister, the
delay in the government’s outreach to the Trump administration, and the usual
indecision when it came to filling key ambassadorial posts.
Pakistan finally regained membership of the
strategically vital UNHR Committee in 2017, but it should never have lost the
seat in the first place. And Islamabad should not have responded with silence
after India’s National Investigation Agency quietly cleared Pakistani state apparatuses
of involvement in the Pathankot attack in 2016. On Kashmir, the government
chose an unwieldy diplomatic strategy of dispatching envoys to foreign capitals
to highlight Indian brutality in IHK, sans a clear follow-through, feedback to
parliament, or efforts to mount a sustained and robust diplomatic and political
defence of the Kashmiri cause.
The reconstitution of the parliamentary
committee on national security took place four years after the government was
formed; during these years thr country would have benefited from informed and
inclusive deliberations on foreign policy. Finally, it took a full five years
of foot-dragging before the cabinet division was instructed to fill the empty
Pakistani chairs at 14 international universities in the US, UK and Turkey,
Iran, Egypt, China, meant to be conduits in the service of image-building
The third and final failure has to do with
a lack of strategic vision defining Pakistan’s engagement abroad. Although
gains were made in ties with China, Saudi Arabia and Russia, relations with the
US, Iran and Afghanistan soured. While many of these setbacks had to do with
externalities beyond Pakistan’s borders, relationships left on autopilot only
invite miscommunication. The next government, whoever’s it will be, will have
to work hard to repair ties on these fronts. This includes advancing
broad-based relations with both Riyadh and Tehran, not as indivisible goalposts
but as mutually reinforcing prerogatives embedded in a clear understanding of
Pakistan’s own interests. Pakistan can also not let the US’s pullout from the
international JCPOA frustrate the regional search for improving ties with Iran.
Javed Zarif’s last visit to Islamabad only underscored Pakistan’s own
sluggishness in operationalising the Iran-Pakistan Preferential Trade
Meanwhile, disengagement with the US is in
neither side’s long-term interest. A new government in Islamabad will have to
continue developing cross-party and multi-stakeholder consensus on the contours
of the future Pak-US engagement, to ensure civilian-military uniformity on what
will be Pakistan’s foremost foreign policy challenge in a changing
neighbourhood. The new government must also prioritise the reset with Russia.
Despite the recent surge in defence and economic partnerships with Moscow, a
Russian head of state has yet to visit Pakistan. The next prime minister will
be in a position to extend an invitation while looking to build up bilateral
trade, defence and infrastructure cooperation, including expediting the
North-South gas pipeline.
Finally, a second consecutive democratic
transition at home is as good an enabler as any for policymakers to think
pragmatically and innovatively about a foreign policy that is responsive to
national interests, and the next decade of international relations. Locating
Pakistan in a new world order requires defining its role in a meaningful way,
which can only be done with vision and leadership.
The United States of America’s Declaration
of Independence states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men
are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of
Happiness.” The Declaration of Independence is a document that Americans uphold
to the highest standard, yet the words in that sacred sentence continue to be
violated along the United States/Mexican border.
Walter Ewing of the American Immigration
Council writes, “Immigrants in detention suffer from physical abuse, inadequate
food and medical care, lack of access to legal counsel, coerced signing of
removal documents, and prolonged (sometimes permanent) separation from
Before immigrants even cross the border
into the United States, they are faced with situations that no human being
should ever have to experience – often originating in flight from brutal
cartels or corrupt armed forces. They are then exposed to intense temperatures,
threat of assault, lack of water, and exploitation. To add to the gratuitous
cruelty, Border Patrol officers have been caught dumping water canteens left in
the vast desert stretches by immigration activists and humanitarian
Ewing states that “Prevention through
deterrence” is a tactic used by immigration enforcement officers to “redirect
the flow of unauthorized immigrants into ever-more isolated and dangerous
terrain with the explicit aim of placing them in “mortal danger.” The result:
5,287 pointless deaths of border-crossers from 1998 through 2008.”
Suddenly the words “certain unalienable
rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” no
longer apply to people who grow up outside of the United States borders.
Immigrants are being rounded up like cattle and given the worst possible
detention conditions. Mothers and their children sleep on the concrete floors
of cells with one blanket to share between them. Men stay huddled together
outside in freezing temperatures deprived of food and water. The conditions
they are forced to live in while at these detention facilities are severe
violations of the human rights the United States says they uphold.
Now, of course, Jeff Sessions and Donald
Trump have decided to take babies from their mothers’ arms at the border. Did
the US really sign that Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
According to the U.S Customs and Border
Protection website, the agency is exists to: “To safeguard America’s borders
thereby protecting the public from dangerous people and materials while
enhancing the Nation’s global economic competitiveness by enabling legitimate
trade and travel.”
Growing up the daughter of hard-working,
law-abiding immigrants, I would always hear of stories of the suffering people
experienced along the border. My parents are not “dangerous people” and I find
it troubling to label immigrants as such. Most are just people who seek a safer
life, a more free life – the American Dream.
This nation was built on immigration. In
September 1620, the first pilgrims came to the New World. They endured the
66-day journey so that they could have more opportunities than they would have
had in England. The pilgrims came over the treacherous sea to escape a life
that was not making them happy. There really is no difference in the stories of
the immigrants coming to the United States now.
Like the Pilgrims, immigrants know the
risks but they push their fears aside hoping for something more. How can we
call this nation great when we take part in hurting human beings who just want
the opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?