New Age Islam Edit Bureau
21 September 2017
Balochistan: Disturbing Trends
By Muhammad Akbar Notezai
Whither Doomsday Scenarios?
By Khalid Saleem
A Message from the By-Poll
By Kamila Hyat
Rohingya Muslims: Morality and
By Shahid M Amin
Stop Disgracing the Institutions
By Mohammad Jamil
Lessons from the By-Election
By I.A. Rehman
By F.S. Aijazuddin
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
September 21, 2017
IN Balochistan, before the census began, it
was believed that the results of the exercise in the province would lead to a
hue and cry among the Baloch. However, they were not as irked as expected. For
in the lead-up to the census, the question on every Baloch tongue was: are we
going to turn into a minority in our own province?
Disaggregated results of the percentage of
ethnic and minority groups in Balochistan are awaited, but the provisional
results released make it very clear that the Baloch are still a majority group
in the province.
These results also demonstrate that the
population of Quetta city has increased manifold. Within a span of 19 years, it
has jumped from 700,000 to about 2.2 million. This should be cause for concern
for both local Baloch and Pakhtuns in Quetta. While the city in the 1980s —
during the Afghan ‘jihad’ next door — had started to resemble a mini Kandahar
because the latter’s politics and culture were being transferred to Quetta,
Kandahar today looks like a mini Quetta because of the population explosion in
It is an open secret that Afghans in Quetta
and elsewhere in Balochistan have acquired CNICs. Moreover, in the past the
Hazara Shias used to own the key businesses in the city, but that is not the
case any longer. Hundreds of Hazara have lost their lives in sectarian
killings; this has not only restricted them to their secured enclaves but
spurred many of them to migrate to Australia. Today, it is Afghans who own
businesses in Quetta. More than the local Baloch, this has repercussions for
the Pakhtuns who have for centuries lived in the city. It is highly likely that
in the near future they (Afghans) will gain control over the resources of
Pakhtuns in Balochistan.
Quetta’s Pakhtuns should be concerned about
the census results.
Unlike in the past, the Pakhtunkhwa Milli
Awami Party (PkMAP), the largest Pakhtun nationalist party in Balochistan, now
supports and refers to Afghan refugees as their brethren. They also wanted them
to be included in the census while the Baloch nationalists adamantly opposed
Historically, the Baloch and Pakhtun
leaderships have together struggled for the rights of the people of
Balochistan, but their differences have driven them apart. Over the decades,
these differences have taken the shape of rivalry. Ironically, the PkMAP was in
favour of the census, but is opposing it after the provisional results despite
the fact that they show the Pakhtun population as having increased compared to
Baloch nationalists also are opposed to the
census because, according to them, many Baloch have left their homes since the
beginning of the fifth Baloch insurgency in 2000 and moved to neighbouring
districts in Sindh and Punjab provinces. There are thus a great number of
Baloch internally displaced people. It was this that prompted Balochistan’s
former chief minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch to write to the federal government
to cancel the holding of the census in the province until or unless the Baloch
IDPs return to their native places.
The security establishment, however, is
taking the credit for successfully conducting the census without much of an
uproar in Balochistan. Here, it is worth mentioning that the voter turnout in
the 2013 general elections was at an all-time low in Balochistan. That is why
the security establishment did not want the conviction of hard-line Baloch that
they’d be turned into a minority group in the province to be proved correct.
Baloch separatists had also asked the Baloch not to participate in the census.
Had the Baloch proved to be a minority group, it would have served the
interests of the hard-liners.
Interestingly, although various Baloch
factions, particularly the Balochistan National Party-Mengal and the National
Party had publicly opposed the census, they had privately exhorted their
workers and the overall Baloch population to take part because a boycott could
have proved disastrous for their political survival. They are already
apprehensive about the demographic changes that CPEC and related Chinese
investments in Balochistan will bring to the province. Meanwhile, the census
appears to have proven false the claim by Baloch nationalists that there are
three million Afghan refugees in Balochistan.
Lastly, Balochistan is a multi-ethnic
province: its population in the previous 1998 census comprised 55 per cent
Baloch and 30pc Pakhtun with the remainder including Hazargi-, Urdu-, Punjabi-,
Sindhi-, Seraiki-, and Persian-speaking groups. While it is time the state
utilised census data for better development of its largest province, this
census data, as previously, is likely to pit ethnic groups in the province
against each other, particularly the Baloch and the Pakhtuns.
September 20, 2017
For long one’s date of birth is believed to
have a bearing on the character and wellbeing of an individual. Whether you
believe in horoscopes or not, the fact remains that these somewhat ghastly
harbingers do cast a looming shadow of sorts and that not only on persons of a
sensitive temperament. Our neighbours across the border to the east are, of
course, firm believers in such astrological marvels. Virtually nothing is
permitted to take place without due clearance from a chap who dabbles in this
occult science. Even such an otherwise resolute leader like the late Indira
Gandhi, one is told, allowed her actions to be swayed by her favourite
soothsayers. Many in the West, motivated though by the scientific spirit, still
are not fully immune to the influence of those who read into the influence of
movement and juxtaposition of the planets.
When those who had something to do with
Roman mythology designated Mars as the god of war, they had no way of looking
into the future, the Oracle notwithstanding! They could have had no inkling at
all about the events of 9/11 or, indeed, the ensuing war on terror. But such is
the way of nature in the topsy-turvy world of today. Beset as it is with
pestilences such as globalisation and doctrine of pre-emption, they appear to
have come into juxtaposition somehow. If the aforementioned does not make sense
to the reader, one must hasten to explain that it is not meant to. Whoever
thought the New World Order was ever designed to make sense to the common man,
One craves the indulgence of the reader to
recall a stinging news item of several years ago, datelined Phnom Penh, which
conveyed the earth-shaking news that soothsayers from the hosts, India and Hong
Kong, meeting in a tent outside a temple in the heart of Cambodia’s capital,
had declared that a close encounter with Mars would spell disaster — natural or
manmade — to Earth. Apparently, sometime after the doomsday prediction in
question, Mars was to pass closer to Earth than at any time in the past 60,000
years. Sceptics’ shrugs notwithstanding, the soothsayers’ predictions were not
entirely off the mark, though.
At this point, the gentle reader may well
be tempted to ask as to where all this is leading. Humankind has surrounded
itself with the wherewithal of all kinds of explosive matter — not to talk of
WMDs — and has, thereby, become disaster prone. The work of the soothsayer has,
as a consequence, become somewhat simpler than what it used to be in the days
of yore. The world today is like a tinderbox, with flashpoints spread all over.
The doomsday merchant merely has to point to the more crises-prone areas. Given
the trigger-happy lot that sits at the helm of affairs, chances are that, the
soothsayer will hit the jackpot. Prizes these days should be reserved for those
who are the harbingers of glad tidings rather than those who predict doom.
Since times immemorial, men of vision, or
men who feign to have a vision of sorts, have taken delight in predicting the
end of the world. Mercifully, most of them have been proven wrong. But still,
the game lingers on. Some have linked these scenarios to astrological
phenomena, others to changes linked to a man’s propensity to court disasters.
Either way, it is something to be wary of.
Technological advancement has placed man in
an unenviable situation in which he has acquired the capability to destroy the
earth, several times over. Just why he feels the need to do that, leaves one in
a bind. And yet, humankind is out to add newer and more potent means of
self-destruction to the already formidable arsenal. The doomsday merchant, to
his credit, merely deigns to predict the destruction of earth. It is not for
one to sermonise, but to draw the line in the sands of time. To procrastinate
may well amount to courting disaster!
The by-poll in Lahore to fill the seat
vacated by Nawaz Sharif was important in many different ways. Of course, the
multiple posters of Kulsoom Nawaz and her arch rival Dr Yasmin Rashid dominated
the campaigning process. There was also the occasional picture of PPP leader
Faisal Mir pinned up on poles – perhaps to simply complete a formality. As we
all saw, the by-poll demonstrated the dramatic loss of the PPP’s power as a
major party in Punjab, with Mir eventually collecting just over 1,000 votes.
What was significant – and possibly
alarming – was that 11 percent of votes were picked up by candidates from two
extremist religious groups. Sheikh Azhar Hussain Rizvi of the Labbaik Ya
Rasulallah collected just over 7,000 votes. The group is a coalition of several
small religious parties that campaigned by holding posters of Mumtaz Qadri, who
was convicted and executed for the murder of former Punjab governor Salmaan
Taseer in 2011.
While six percent of votes went to the
group, five percent were collected by Muhammad Yaqoob Sheikh. While he was
contesting as an independent candidate, Sheikh essentially represented the
Milli Muslim League (MML), which is currently seeking registration. Sheikh
claimed nearly 6,000 votes while the votes of the more traditional religious
parties, such as the JI, failed to reach a respectable figure. The PPP also
remained in the fifth position, barely making a mark in the vote bank.
The appearance of Qadri as part of the poll
campaign in a major Lahore seat suggests how great the threat of extremism is.
In many circles, he has already been given the status of a national hero
despite being executed for the former Punjab governor’s murder. Images on
social media show small children being taken to his grave to salute Qadri.
Of course, the JuD or the MML – the party
that is currently in evolution – are not responsible for this alone. But when
the ECP and others who wield power permit banned outfits that hold at least
some extremist ideas to participate in polls, mixed messages are sent out to
the people. On the one hand, we have been told that under the National Action
Plan, which was devised in January 2015, even the teaching of hatred at mosques
and madrasas would be penalised and maximum efforts would be made to create
tolerance in society.
While there is no evidence that these small
religious groups will have a major impact on the 2018 elections, there are
precedents of organisations that have been banned under the country’s laws
participating in polls through different mean. The Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan – an
organisation that played a key role in giving rise to sectarian hatred through
its fiercely anti-Shia message – has taken part in polls even after the ban was
placed on it. The group has been an ally of the PML-N in Punjab and has in a
few constituencies openly declared support for its candidates, even when it has
not fielded a contender of its own. In some parts of the country, such
patronage for a particular party can have an extremely powerful impact.
Similar dangerous liaisons between banned
outfits and mainstream political parties have been brokered in other parts of
the country, with most major parties being guilty of this in one way or the
other. This raises questions about their commitment to tackling extremism and
all the violence that it has brought to our nation.
It is also difficult to assess why the
higher authorities do not make an attempt to push these organisations out of
the mainstream. Connivance between some of these organisations and the
Pakistani establishment has been referred to multiple times over the past few
weeks by the US, the Brits and other nations. If there is no connectivity, why
don’t we make this more obvious by compelling major parties to adhere to the
tenets of NAP that they all sat together and signed in the aftermath of the
massacre at a school in Peshawar?
Allowing outfits that may have terrorist
leanings to enter mainstream politics is an extremely dangerous trend. It is
precisely for this reason that suggestions from certain quarters that even
sections of the TTP should be mainstreamed have been fiercely challenged on
multiple occasions. The proposal continues to be made. We can only hope that we
do not see a day when a TTP candidate, who has participated in the mass murder
of people in various parts of his own country, is permitted to contest a poll.
It is perhaps encouraging that Sheikh
collected only a small number of votes compared to the two strong women who
battled it out for the seat. Nevertheless, 4,000 votes is not a miniscule
number. It is true that many of these votes were most likely polled on the
basis of the excellent social work carried out by the JuD in many parts of the
country, including the neglected outskirts of NA-120. But these efforts should
not disguise the fact that the group also sends out dangerous messages,
especially in relation to jihad, enemy states in the region and other issues of
significance within the country. We cannot neglect the fact that Hafiz Muhammad
Saeed has been accused of various crimes – even if these charges have yet to be
proved in court.
From this arises another important matter.
If the JuD and other groups can organise themselves to carry out efforts that
benefit the people by providing food services, sanitation-building drives,
schools and other facilities, why can’t our political parties, with their vast
resources, manage the same? It is, after all, shameful that in NA-120 – the
home constituency of a former prime minister – residents openly say that clean
drinking water is not available to them.
The recent focus on this constituency –
which includes some of the most congested areas of Lahore – also revealed that
adequate streets, sewerage facilities and other basic amenities were not
available to people. It appears that the PML-N had paid little heed to the
constituency between 2013 and the recent by-poll.
The same would also be true of other
constituencies – even those won by key leaders from all parties – everywhere in
the country. Larkana, the home of the Bhuttos, is one of the most rundown towns
in Sindh, with poverty visible everywhere. In Peshawar – from where the PTI
draws its strength – observers have noticed that the condition of the people
has failed to improve in terms of civic amenities or other facilities despite
the many claims that have been made in this regard.
Such lapses, of course, promote extremism.
They open up space for candidates who hold up Mumtaz Qadri or others like him
as heroes to occupy the political space. If we are to succeed in tackling
extremism and the horrors that it brings, the political parties will need to
play a genuine role in putting aside the self-interest that they will need to
abandon any alliances with groups that put forward messages of hatred or believe
that killing an individual can be justified.
Multiple alliances of this nature have been
formed in the past. When we consider this, documents such as NAP lose all
meaning. They merely seek to fool people and the world into believing that our
leaders are committed to tackling violence. If they genuinely intend to send
out this message and prevent incidents such as the one that led to the beating
of a 17-year-old Christian boy to death in his high school in Vehari, we will
need to go beyond cosmetic measures.
All political parties must lead the way
during the 2018 elections and show that protecting their own interest is
secondary to doing deals that, on the whole, hurt their country.
Rohingya Muslims: Morality and realpolitik
WORLD has been shocked by the cruel
persecution of Rohingya Muslims by the police and army of Myanmar, egged on by
Buddhist priests and a highly nationalistic population. In the last one-month,
about 300,000 Rohingyas have fled their homes to take refuge in neighbouring
Bangladesh. They have told stories of horrible atrocities, amounting to a
virtual genocide. But two important neighbours, China and India, have endorsed
Myanmar’s policies. Many observers are puzzled by the stance of these two
countries. China has often supported oppressed peoples in the world, including
Palestinians. India claims to be the largest democracy in the world. Even more
puzzling is the defiance of world opinion by Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Prize
winner for Peace, who had struggled for years to uphold human rights in Myanmar
and today is in a position of authority in her country. The explanation for
these paradoxes is that in international politics, cold-blooded calculation of
national interests, called realpolitik, overrides morality.
The Rohingyas are an ethnic Muslim minority
of about 1.5 million people, who migrated to Arakan (renamed as Rakhine) from
Bengal (now Bangladesh), during British colonial period. The British had
conquered Burma in 1825 and ruled over it as part of British India. After Burma
gained independence in 1948, it adopted a harsh policy towards Rohingya
Muslims. They were viewed as illegal Bengali immigrants, different in race and
religion from Buddhist Burmese. They were denied citizenship in their own
country. Their lands have been confiscated by the military and handed over to
Burmese settlers. When General Ne Win seized power in 1962, he launched
military operations to crush Rohingyas. Many fled to Bangladesh which, however,
showed little sympathy. In mid-1990s, Bangladesh even forcibly repatriated
200,000 refugees to Myanmar.
Independent studies conducted by the UN
have confirmed evidence of increasing incitement of hatred and religious
intolerance by ultra-nationalist Buddhists, led by monks. Police and armed
forces have conducted ‘summary executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary
arrests and detentions, torture and ill-treatment and forced labour’ against
Rohingyas, termed by the UN High Commission for Refugees as ‘crimes against
humanity.’ The latest violence started in August 2017, when some Rohingya
militants reportedly killed a dozen Myanmar policemen. The official response
was brutal and a veritable genocide has been launched, with killings, burnings
and rapes of Rohingyas that have forced lakhs to seek refuge in neighbouring
Bangladesh. An overpopulated country, Bangladesh has for years shown
insensitivity towards the plight of Rohingyas and shut its borders to any influx
of refugees. But this time, Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena has been forced by
pressure of international opinion —by the UN, Turkey and others— to accept
these refugees temporarily. International humanitarian aid has been promised
and is on its way. Pakistani public opinion, always sympathetic to Muslim
causes, has induced Islamabad to speak out on the Rohingya issue.
There is strong international pressure on
Aung San Suu Kyi, who is virtually her country’s Prime Minister, to put a stop
to the atrocities against Rohingyas. In the past, she was seen as a fighter for
democracy and human rights. Instead, she has accused the Rohingyas of resort to
terrorism. Evidently, she fears that most of her countrymen, who are strongly
nationalist, would turn against her if she speaks up for the oppressed Rohingya
and she would be deprived of power and public support. She does not dare to
defy the powerful military as well, which has issued a tough statement: ‘We
have no policy to negotiate with terrorists.’ Therefore, realpolitik is behind
her decision to overlook moral considerations.
China has issued a statement endorsing the
Myanmar government’s stance. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang stated on
12 September that China supported the Myanmar government’s efforts to ‘uphold
peace and stability’ in Rakhine, adding: ‘We hope order and normal life there
will be recovered as soon as possible’. China has made heavy investments in
Myanmar and is currently building a transit route through Myanmar. This will be
a crucial energy corridor that will reach the sea in Rakhine state. The
pipeline will cost nearly $10 billion. There is an 868-km railway project,
parallel to the Shwe natural gas pipeline adjacent to Rakhine. The
trans-Myanmar infrastructure will link China’s Yunnan province to the Bay of
Bengal. China has long been competing with India for influence in Myanmar.
Another reason that could be influencing China’s stand on the Rohingya issue is
its worry about Islamist secessionists in Xinjiang province. Realpolitik is
clearly guiding China in its stance towards Myanmar.
Indian Prime Minister Modi, who visited
Myanmar recently, has supported Myanmar’s policy towards Rohingyas, mainly for
geostrategic reasons. Some observers hold there is a “Sino-Indian Great Game”
taking place in Myanmar. India is worried about China’s rising influence in
Myanmar and is determined not to be left out. There are concerns in India over
China’s extensive military involvement in ports, naval and intelligence
facilities, specifically the upgrading of a naval base at Sittwe, a major
seaport located close to Kolkata. India is also cooperating to modernize
Myanmar’s military. It is the largest market for Myanmar exports.
These realpolitik motives explain India’s
turning a blind eye to genocide of Rohingyas. Moreover, Modi’s Hindutva
philosophy is basically anti-Muslim. He is worried by the strong separatist
movement in Indian-held Kashmir and views Rohingyas as Islamist secessionists
and extremists. Many Muslim countries have spoken out forcefully against
persecution of Rohingyas because Myanmar is of marginal importance for them.
But when it comes to Indian atrocities in Kashmir, Muslim countries are silent
because their national interests could be hurt by antagonizing a big power like
India. Here again, realpolitik prevails over morality.
Stop disgracing the institutions
COMPULSIVE detractors of Pakistan,
pseudo-intellectuals and some analysts and panelists have the penchant for
disgracing institutions especially military. A few political leaders also
denigrate military perhaps on the assumption that by weakening the military
they will become stronger. Or perhaps they wanted to cover up their failures
and foibles. On Saturday, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that Pakistan is
being destabilised internally as part of an international conspiracy to prevent
the ‘nuclear power’ to become an economic power. But at the same time, he
alleged that some institutions wanted to usurp the powers and authority of
Parliament, adding that as per reports there is an office from where NAB
officers are being pressurized by an influential person to reopen Hudaibiya
case. He also said that there was no precedent of appointing monitoring judge
to oversee cases of an individual in the judicial history of the country.
But it is not true, as there were many
cases in the past when monitoring judge was appointed. Ahsan Iqbal further said
that “an elected prime minister had been ousted, which had no precedence, and
he had not been given a right to appeal.” He forgot that Yousuf Raza Gilani was
also ousted by the Supreme Court when he was convicted for contempt of court.
Anyhow, PML-N leaders have been claiming about economic turnaround, but fact of
the matter is that economy is in dire straits. More than four years down the
line, the ruling party has still to show some reforms to pull up the sagging
economy to provide jobs to the unemployed and allocate adequate funds for
social sector. In fact, the government has not been able to achieve any of the
economic targets. Remember that a strong economy is sine qua non for strong
Some political parties and leaders have
their share in roiling civil-military relations. Memogate scandal during PPP
government; and more recently Dawn leaks by the incumbent government were
efforts to denigrate military. A few ministers in the present government
continue to insinuate that military and judiciary have colluded against
Sharifs. In an interview with a private TV channel on September 05, 2017,
Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said that internationally banned outfits
including Lashkar-i-Taiba (LeT) and Jash-i-Mohammad (JeM) are operating from
within Pakistan. “We should impose some restrictions on the activities of the
elements like LeT and JeM, so that we can show the global community that we
have put our house in order. We need to ask ourselves, have we acted upon the
National Action Plan (NAP) in letter and spirit.” There is a widespread
perception that the civil side of the government failed to implement the NAP.
The debate is also raging in the media on
the statement of Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, and analysts and panelists
demand of him to explain as to why the present government has failed to implement
NAP. There were many reports in the media that during 2013 elections PML-N
candidates were seen running campaign with the leaders of Ahle Sunnat Wal
Jamaat, which was rechristened after a ban of Sipah-i-Sahaba. Raza Rumi, a
Pakistani journalist and policy analyst, in his newly published book, ‘The
Fractious Path: Pakistan’s Democratic Transition’ notes: “In Pakistan, the most
disturbing political feature is the kowtowing to militant outfits by local
political parties for electoral gains. Most notably, the Pakistan Muslim
League-Nawaz has entered into local, unwritten agreements with the Ahle Sunnat
Wal Jamaat. Such an alliance may favor the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in the
short term, but would have a high cost to Pakistani society overall.”
In fact, army has been absolutely neutral
since 2008; however politicians have been trying to paint military in poor
colour in order to run the affairs according to their whim and fancy. After an
attack on an anchorperson in 2014, a private channel had maligned the military
and the ISI, which had annoyed the military top brass. At that time, addressing
the officers at Special Services Group (SSG) Headquarters at Tarbela in April
2014 the-then Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif had said: “The army
respects all the institutions of the country but will also preserve its own
dignity and institutional pride at all costs”. In fact, military top brass is
sensitive to the sentiments and feelings of majors and colonels who command the
units on ground. Our political leadership should know that nowhere in the world
the military is voiceless, and has a say in the national matters.
Even in the entrenched and established
democracies their input and assessment of threat perceptions is given
importance, and becomes the basis of policy making. This is the way to go about
it in Pakistan; otherwise political leadership may not end up with a situation
wholly undesirable. Since the appointment of General Qamar Bajwa, there was
complete understanding between the government and military over all national
matters; but Dawn Leaks had marred that relationship. Differences had emerged
because the government tried to convey an impression that military was
hindrance in taking action against militant groups, and also in improving relations
with neighbours. It is true that praetorians and politicians were contemptuous
of each other for different reasons; but after 2008 elected leaders were
responsible for the deterioration in civil-military relations. Anyhow, the
elected members and ministers should try to solve the problems faced by the
common man; and this is the only way to make Parliament relevant and
By I.A. Rehman
NOW that the hullabaloo generated by the
NA-120 by-election is over, a serious study of the exercise should begin, for
there are lessons in it that must not be ignored.
It was a well-contested poll and although
the turnout at 39 per cent was much lower than in 2013 when it was 59pc, it was
pretty high for a normal by-election. However, for this specific by-election,
it might be considered low since the main rivals had raised the stakes to
abnormal heights. The localities won by the two main contenders respectively
will be better identified when disaggregated returns from polling stations are
studied, but it is already clear that the PML-N and PTI can claim overwhelming
support in very few localities although both have a substantial presence in all
parts of the constituency.
That the percentage of women’s votes cast
to their share of the total is significantly lower than men’s should be cause
for concern. Again, polling station-wise analysis will show in which parts of
the constituency women voters’ turnout was lower than elsewhere and the reasons
for this will need to be explored.
The outcome shows that both the main
contenders have lost. The PML-N has managed to retain this constituency but its
vulnerability in the next contest has been exposed. The victory margin is so
thin that if the environment continues to worsen for the Sharifs, or even if
all factors remain the same, the PTI could overtake its rival. The fall in the
PML-N’s share of the vote by around 10pc and PTI’s gain by 3pc are significant
pointers of the trend for change. (The PTI was supported by several parties and
its bag includes the votes provided by these parties.)
The PML-N and PTI can claim overwhelming
support in very few localities.
The PTI has lost not only by failing to
capture a Nawaz Sharif stronghold but also, and more importantly, by being
unable to establish that Imran Khan’s time has come. The message from NA-120 is
that if the weather remains favourable for Imran Khan his party could upstage
the PML-N in Punjab. But the road to Prime Minister’s House will still not be
clear for him because there is a Pakistan outside Punjab too, however
vehemently the Punjab leaders may deny this, and that part should not be taken
for granted by anyone.
Both parties dragged the Supreme Court into
the electoral squabble. The PML-N consistently argued that those voting for it
would reject the Supreme Court verdict in the Panama case while the PTI
maintained that a vote in its favour would amount to an endorsement of the
court’s decision. Both were in the wrong and their assumptions were unfair to
the apex court.
That 60,000 people voted for the PML-N in
spite of Nawaz Sharif not being found Sadiq and Ameen and liable to face trial
in an accountability court is a reflection of the country’s political culture
and nothing else. Likewise, the PTI’s claim that it represented the Supreme
Court is untenable because a majority of the people voting for it on Sunday had
most probably voted for it in 2013 ie before the Panama Papers were leaked. The
judiciary has perhaps much to account for but let it not be dragged into
Both sides have their complaints. The PTI
is challenging the increase in the total registered votes by 29,000. This means
an increase by 9.8pc over four years. In the same constituency, the electorate
increased by about 15pc during 2002-2008 and by about 10pc during 2008-2013. It
should not be difficult to sort out this matter. The PTI has also protested
against the use of state resources in the League’s campaign. But government support
does not always help the candidates. If it did, no government could have been
voted out of power.
The PML-N also complained of a
disadvantage. It was fighting an election under the banner of a leader who had
recently fallen from grace and whose review petition had, by a strange
coincidence, been dismissed only a couple of days earlier. Its allegation that
some of its effective activists had been picked up the night before certainly
merits serious probe. The party has itself to blame if Shahbaz Sharif preferred
a Turkish bath to watching the Sunday contest.
These complaints can be redressed and the
Election Commission should be helped to overcome the problems it faces instead
of being used as a punching bag by all and sundry.
The party that has lost the most is the
PPP. Its continued decline not only in Lahore but also at the national level
bodes ill for the future of democracy in Pakistan. Though no longer a left
outfit, it is the only party in parliament that can occasionally challenge the
right’s aberrations. As the rightist parties’ hold over national politics gets
stronger, the state is bound to become vulnerable to pressure from the extreme
right and everybody knows the kind of disaster that this would entail.
A significant aspect of this election is
the rise of two extremist outfits in this constituency — the Barelvi Labbaik Ya
Rasulallah party and the Deobandi Milli Muslim League. They came third and
fourth respectively and together polled almost 13,000 votes. Well-informed
circles are divided on this development. One view is that these extremist
elements will cause distortions in the electoral process while the other
viewpoint is that ultimately all extremists will have to be tamed by bringing
them into the mainstream. Which side is correct will be decided by how the
national affairs are managed.
The most serious question thrown up by this
election is whether the military will be involved in the 2018 elections to the
extent witnessed last Sunday. The country can hardly afford that. Besides, the
presence of military personnel in polling booths is incompatible with the
concept of free and fair elections. It could also affect the army’s image. It
would be in the military’s own interest to tell the civilians to carry their
THE recent by-election for NA-120 in Lahore
has been a contest between a doctor and a patient: Dr Yasmin Rashid a
gynaecologist versus Kulsum Nawaz, under treatment for lymphoma in a London
hospital. It is only in Pakistan that such shadow boxing at a distance could
yield a result. Only here, even before the official results have been
announced, could the losers complain of electoral dyspepsia.
NA-120 is a constituency with 321,786
voters. (PML-N numerologists saw the last three digits as a sign.) The turnout
(39.4 per cent) ought to have been higher, considering the constituency has
142,144 female voters and both the candidates were women. The verification
process could have been neater. Every voter has a CNIC. Each could have been
checked from Nadra’s biometric records. Instead, only 30,000 out of the 126,860
who voted were tested biometrically, leaving the glaring loophole (through
which the PTI has jumped, claiming that 29,000 suspect votes stand unverified.
Such a figure might have been hidden in a landslide; in a majority of only some
14,700 votes, it assumes contentious significance.
The NA-120 result is viewed differently by
stalwarts using the same PML-N binoculars. Has Maryam Nawaz, who campaigned on
her absentee parents’ behalf, succeeded in retaining her family’s seat, or has
she failed for not enhancing his previous majority of almost 40,000 votes?
Maryam’s ‘uncles’ are already giving her gratuitous
That Maryam Nawaz has emerged with a
political contour of her own is now undeniable. To the press, she is the Ivanka
Trump of Pakistani politics, a step away but illumined by the spotlight that
surrounds her father. Within the PML-N, she is being compared to that other
Daughter of the East — Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.
Is there a similarity between them? Yes,
for one reason. Maryam Nawaz, like both Benazir Bhutto and Indira Gandhi, has
to contend with the dismissive condescension of her ‘uncles’. In Benazir’s
case, her uncles were Mumtaz Bhutto, Maulana Kausar Niazi, Ghulam Mustafa
Jatoi, Jam Sadiq Ali and Abdul Hafeez Pirzada. In Mrs Indira Gandhi’s, the
‘Syndicate’ consisted of K. Kamaraj, Sanjiva Reddy, S. Nijalinagappa, S.K.
Patil and Atulya Ghosh.
Maryam Nawaz’s ‘uncles’ have already begun
giving her gratuitous tutorials. Saad Rafique — her father’s single-track
railways minister — has advised her publicly “to be cautious in her speeches”.
Chaudhry Nisar — a loyal acolyte of her father for 33 years — has been part of
her father’s inner circle since Maryam was 11 years old. Chaudhry Nisar, no
longer the powerful minister of interior, ventilates his pique (some critics
call him ‘The Incredible Sulk’) against his mentor Nawaz Sharif privately and
with uncharacteristic indiscretion publicly. He now targets the daughter. He
discounts any comparisons with Benazir, saying Maryam can consider herself a
leader only after, like Benazir, she spends time in prison. (He himself did
He taunts Maryam as only ‘the daughter of
Nawaz Sharif’, forgetting perhaps that Benazir Bhutto happened to be only the
daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, that Sri Lankan Chandrika Kumaratunga was the
daughter of Solomon and Sirimavo Bandaranaike (both prime ministers), and Aung
San Suu Kyi the daughter of Aung San (the founder of modern Myanmar).
The results of NA-120 throw into relief
once again the questionable efficacy of democracy as a political system in a
politically immature, erratic country like ours. Is there any merit in a system
that rewards the winning party first past the post and punishes those who were
only marginally behind? Should we, simply because we were once a British
colony, imitate Westminster when we have neither the Thames nor the Old Bailey
nor the monarchy nor an unwritten constitution?
Why do we have to ape the West? Patently we
have a speaker whose voice is unheeded, a leader of the opposition behind whom
(it is happening to Syed Khursheed Shah) the smaller parties are reluctant to
line up, and treasury benches when the country’s treasury is in foreign bank
accounts, beyond the claws of legal retrieval.
There is an argument to be made for having
a system of representative government. Let the seating in the National Assembly
be reconfigured into an inclusive circle, not demarcated by divisive aisles.
Let each party be given seats in the national cabinet representative of the
number of votes it secures in the elections. Like that, policies and decisions
would reflect and resolve the needs of all 207 million (and still counting)
Pakistanis citizens, not whet the appetites of a lucky coterie.
The COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has
disclosed that he wants enhanced interaction with parliament. He has stopped
short of recommending a National Security Council. Since 1978, when he came of
age, Gen Bajwa must have been voting in every general election. Like the rest
of us, he too must wish our warring parliamentarians would interact
occasionally — with each other.