New Age Islam Edit Bureau
28 October 2017
Pink Rays of Light
By Abbas Nasir
By Irfan Husain
Democracy and the People
By Amir Hussain
Morale Della Storia
By Dr Haider Mehdi
500 Years of Reformation
By Dr Mubarak Ali
The Demise Of Multilateralism
By Syed Mohammad Ali
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Pink Rays Of Light
By Abbas Nasir
October 28, 2017
HAVING seen a photograph on Twitter of Islamabad’s Faisal Mosque lit up in pink lights to mark October as the breast cancer awareness month, I took the liberty of retweeting it but the reaction from some social media users left me benumbed with shock.
My personal stake in breast cancer awareness stems from my own loss. My mother died aged 48 from the disease in 1979 after a valiant five-year battle during which she suffered immense pain with remarkable stoicism.
Awareness then, of course, of how to detect breast cancer early was patchy compared to today when early detection is said to be key to successful treatment. It can be stopped in its tracks due to advances in treatment be it chemotherapy/radio therapy or other equally effective means to target it.
Breast cancer is curable if detected early. What is not is a regressive mindset.
Despite these advances, even today delayed diagnosis often means the sufferer may eventually succumb to the killer disease. This is why, like millions around the world and in Pakistan, I support and add my humble voice to any attempt aimed at raising the level of awareness.
Therefore, the response of one social media user who was supported by some others left me shocked and angry. “I don’t want to think of body parts as I enter the mosque to pray,” this one person retorted on Twitter.
When I tried to engage with him and tried to share the anguish of losing someone dear to breast cancer, his terse reply was: “Paint your own house pink in your mother’s memory but leave the mosque alone.” At this point, I gave up arguing with him.
What is wrong with so many of us? My own reading of every faith is that each enshrines a message of love of humanity and upholds human values. Why do so many of us see our faith as something that mandates we detach ourselves from humanity altogether? Who is thus interpreting our religion to so many of us?
Why else would someone object to the most iconic site in the capital city, which is visible from far and wide, being used as a poignant reminder of a killer disease that destroys families and spreads grief and despair?
This Friday’s newspaper carried a news story about a seminar on breast cancer at a medical university in Karachi where experts shared the alarming fact that breast cancer deaths in Pakistan are now the highest in Asia.
It was reported that one in nine Pakistani women will develop breast cancer at some point and that currently 40,000 women were dying from it each year. The seminar heard that early detection saved lives and that a mammogram was an effective detection tool, particularly for groups designated as high risk.
Experts told the seminar that cultural taboos in society were hampering early detection as women were reluctant to talk about it. This is utterly tragic as, aside from mammograms, self-examination is one of the first means of detection.
One earnestly hopes that the person who did not want to be reminded of ‘body parts’, despite being supported by some on social media, did not represent a more widely prevalent thinking, twisted and perverted as it is. For that would be an incurable cancer.
We have already earned the dubious distinction of being among a couple of countries which are still not polio-free although it has taken the loss of many lives and huge mobilisation efforts to immunise our children.
What we surely do not want is that taboos and ignorance continue to play havoc with our women, because a treatable disease, when detected early, is allowed to fester for such a long time that it takes the sufferer’s life.
PS: Just as I was finishing this column, I heard of the reprehensible attack on Ahmed Noorani, a journalist working for The News, Islamabad. He was assaulted en route to work by six men on motorcycles. I was relieved to hear that despite receiving head wounds, he is conscious and being treated in hospital.
I can say with the assurance that comes from over three decades of journalistic experience that Noorani’s attackers will never be found, let alone punished. Yes, I have also heard that the incident took place near Zero Point right under a CCTV camera.
CCTV cameras have a way of malfunctioning when the all-powerful perpetrators of such excesses are merely teaching a lesson to someone who represents a dissenting voice. I’d be very surprised if at the time of the attack the camera was actually functioning.
It would be a safe bet to say that the state had a hand in the attack on the journalist, and, no, I will never have proof as I did not when my good friend Saleem Shahzad was killed or when Hayatullah was kidnapped, shot and dumped in Fata, and many others went the same way in the tribal areas.
I also have no proof that numerous kill-and-dump victims in Balochistan, including some journalists, were summarily executed by the authorities. How can I, a mere journalist, have proof when commissions of judicial inquiries have concluded their reports in broad generalities?
What I do know is Pakistan, even under a quasi-democratic dispensation now, is as intolerant as ever and journalists seemed to have cross hairs pasted to their backs. When the authorities misuse, even abuse, their power, their monopoly on the tools of coercion is weakened.
Armed Baloch separatists are now pressurising the media for favourable coverage by physically threatening newspaper distributors and have stopped delivery of all newspapers in the province. Extremist religious groups are not far behind and often use blasphemy as a weapon in a country whose love of Islam’s holy personalities is never in doubt.
The media has braved many onslaughts in the past and will survive this one too with fortitude and, hopefully, refused to be silenced.
WHICH institution is believed to have caused the most damage to Pakistan? It’s a tough question as they have all competed to outdo the others.
But according to Javed Hashmi, a senior member of the PTI until a couple of years ago, it is the higher judiciary. In a newspaper report of a press conference he addressed recently, Mr Hashmi is quoted as alleging: “The Supreme Court has caused more destruction in the country than any other institution.”
For the sake of self-preservation, he went on to add: “I know that if I say anything about the current Supreme Court, it will amount to contempt of court.” The report added that, according to Mr Hashmi, many of the judges had “sworn to get plots”. However, he did clarify that he was not talking about the current lot of judges who, he said, were saints.
Uninformed verdicts may have caused much harm.
Amen to that. But we should be careful about what we wish for. Remember those heady days when thousands fought on the streets for the independence of the judiciary, and the reinstatement of Iftikhar Chaudhry as chief justice? Lawyers were in the forefront of the struggle, and look at them now as they go around threatening and beating up judges, cops and witnesses.
As to Mr Hashmi’s allegations that some judges had previously claimed plots in a controversial manner, I am witness to one such case.
Somewhere in the mid-1990s, I saw a letter from then chief justice Nasim Hasan Shah to the chief minister of Sindh in which he claimed that as he had to visit Karachi regularly on official work, he would like a plot to build a house. A plot was duly granted and quickly sold.
I wrote a column here on the scam under my old pseudonym of Mazdak, and then went off on a holiday to Skardu. These were pre-internet days, and I had no idea about the firestorm my article ignited in my absence. Shah issued a contempt notice to the editor, the redoubtable Ahmad Ali Khan.
His instruction to the Dawn lawyer was not to reveal my identity as I was then a civil servant. My late friend Ardeshir Cowasjee turned up with a legal team as well. On the appointed day, I was later told that the courtroom was full of journalists and human rights activists. Apparently, when he arrived, the judge was taken aback to see such a large crowd, and invited Khan Sahib, as he was universally known, to his chamber for a private conversation.
There, he said that he admired Dawn, but was disappointed with my column. Khan Sahib replied that if my column had been inaccurate, he would publish a clarification. His reported response was a classic: “Your columnist claimed that I had ‘flogged the plot overnight’. Actually, I sold it a month after it was allotted to me.”
Twenty years on, the Supreme Court is vastly more independent. However, it is seen by some to be using its powers without exercising much restraint. It is worth considering whether making politicians and bureaucrats jump through the hoops at the drop of a hat and frequent interventions contribute to the destabilisation of the political system. Earlier, it was the defence establishment that was assigned this task, but now controversial judgements are seen to be weakening elected leaders.
There is no denying that our politicians have given judges plenty of ammunition, but physically eliminating one prime minister, sentencing another for contempt, and disqualifying a third one for not declaring a small salary he never drew appears to be a record of sorts. And, as has been pointed out, uninformed judgements in past years may well have caused incalculable harm to the economy.
From Reko Diq to the privatisation of the Steel Mills, a lack of knowledge of international law has been on display. Pakistan has already lost the arbitration case over the cancelled mining contract for Reko Diq. In the Steel Mills case, the highest offer was rejected by the Supreme Court because, as the short order reportedly said, the deal had been conducted in “indecent haste”. Over a decade and billions of rupees in losses later, the biggest state enterprise remains barely functional for lack of funds, and is acquiring further liabilities. Take a bow, Iftikhar Chaudhry.
Meanwhile, in a recent reply to a question in the Senate reported in this newspaper, we were informed that a retired judge or his widow are entitled to the following benefits: a monthly pension of Rs800, 000; one driver; one ardali; 3,000 free local calls; 2,000 units of free electricity; and 2,500 cubic metres of free gas amounting to Rs50, 000.
And we all remember the unseemly tug of war over Iftikhar Chaudhry’s official bullet-proof Mercedes when the retired chief justice refused to return it to the government. Clearly, he had his priorities right.
With all the gnawing and nibbling from within, what will be left to celebrate for Pakistanis in 2018 will be the completion of terms by two consecutive democratic regimes. Something strange is taking place in this country. People seem to be content with the continuation of civilian rule as a way forward rather than returning to what some political experts term as the ‘zero-sum game of military dictatorship’. There is also a growing realisation within the establishment to let democracy flourish – with certain caveats vis-à-vis key matters of national security.
The only people who do not seem to realise the significance of this popular political mood are our politicians who still vie for power even if it means destabilising the country. During the last five years, the political leadership has invariably been embroiled in a never-ending fight for power. Even those self-proclaimed claimants of a ‘new Pakistan’ are playing the old tactics of the 1990s in their bid to reach the top seat of power. In this power-philia the real losers are the citizens of Pakistan who want a stable and workable democracy to take roots in this country.
Democracy is not about the upper realm of power but about civic engagement, downward and horizontal accountability and – most of all – about people. Democracy is about freedom of expression, association, art, culture, creativity and aggregation of voices from below. It is about the sovereignty of the people; ultimately, democracy is a process of liberation of body and mind from the domain of enslavement – be it religious, cultural or economic.
Unfortunately, our democracy is bereft of people-centric political ideals and imagination. It is more about family dynasties, expediencies, rent-seeking, corruption and accumulation of power. It is not dictatorship per se that has haunted our polity; it has rather been incompetence, self-centredness, greed, fear and our trajectory of dependence on international capitalism.
In the 1980s, Pakistan became the most favourite nation of Western powers even though it was the most brutal period for Pakistani citizens that resulted in the suppression of the people’s voice. Western powers poured in billions of rupees each year and helped consolidate and sustain a dictatorial regime for 12 years at the cost of democracy. Freedom of expression, accountability, public participation, good governance, civic engagement, gender equity and all those lofty political ideals the West claims to uphold were trampled with the unconditional support extended to dictators by global capitalism.
In 1999, Pakistan saw another military coup which was propelled with support from Western powers at the cost of civil liberties. Consistent struggle by the people of Pakistan forced Musharraf to exit, but the scars of such regimes have not fully gone yet. Our myopic political leadership has not been able to offer a viable alternative to dictatorship – despite facing consistent political lynching in the past. The citizens of the country have never supported dictatorial regimes but the political leadership has disappointed the people and there is dwindling faith in democracy too. Having said that, the people of Pakistan have always stood by newly emerged political leaders – from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Imran Khan – with the hope to see political transformation in favour of common citizens.
Nonetheless, it would be unfair to draw an analogy between the political strategies of ZA Bhutto and Imran Khan as both deployed diametrically opposed approaches to mobilise public support. Bhutto was an avid reader of the poplar mood and a strong political mobiliser while Imran Khan has essentially remained a mercurial character with an elitist political outlook.
In the 1990s, the two dominant political parties – the PPP and the PML – played a dirty game to destabilise each other in their quest for power. They were the biggest obstacles in the democratisation of Pakistan, with a visible disdain towards the people they claimed to serve. Their political wrangling, lack of statesmanship, anti-people economic policies and unabated corruption created viable conditions for dictatorships to flourish. These political leaders had to get the comeuppance for their lack of political will, vision and intent to create an inclusive democratic rule. But they do not seem to have learnt any lessons and we see the advent of another era of political impasse in their quest for power.
The PPP and the PML-N are now joined by the PTI whose leadership seems to know no bounds to gain power. The PTI’s political leadership has not been able to provide an alternative political strategy that goes beyond an anti-Nawaz rant. The people of Pakistan want to see a clear roadmap and a long-term strategy of economic and political stability, employment and improved access to social services. Like its political rivals, the PTI is embroiled in the dilemma of tending to an over-ambitious Imran Khan and the expectation of its voters to concentrate on delivering what it promised for Naya Pakistan. In the PTI, however, all is old – except for Imran Khan himself, whose insistence on a new Pakistan is equal to his becoming the prime minster.
The PTI has failed to evolve an alternate political leadership for a long-term political change in Pakistan. It has become a hotchpotch of electable, feudal and political opportunists who would love the continuation of old Pakistan. They are the beneficiaries of the political status quo – quite contrary to the claims of ‘Naya Pakistan’, which does not seem to take roots even in the province where the PTI is in power.
In its topsy-turvy political history of democracy, the people of Pakistan have seen the dismemberment of one half of the country and the declaration of some citizens as non-Muslims. We are doomed to fail as democracy when its caretakers, the political leaders, resort to religious shenanigans to gain political mileage.
Jinnah’s political ideals of a secular, democratic and modern Pakistan could never be translated into reality. The contradiction between secular political ideals and an ideological religious state will continue to polarise Pakistan. The political conundrum of ideological legitimacy amidst the rise of ethnic and secular identities will never be resolved without an equally powerful counter-narrative of nationhood. Our political parties must come up with an alternative political discourse to cement the political fissures appearing on the horizon of a debilitating state.
It would be a travesty of popular will if we condoned the democratic undercurrents that have been inherent to politics in Pakistan and which make it a resilient nation. It would be too early to predict whether the country will enter its third phase of democratic transition, but it is obvious from the popular mood that Pakistan may not want another era of dictatorial rule.
The resilience of people to fight for their political rights has multiplied in the age of a free flow of information and technology. It is high time all stakeholders realised that Pakistan will never grow as a nation if we do not learn to rise above parochial power games and invest our energies to create a true democratic Pakistan.
October 27, 2017
Let us start from the bottom up: conclusion first and details later. It is rather an unusual practice in English journalism, but this imperfection is desired here to alert the readers of the argumentative improvisation that is going to be an impetus to reverse reasoning. For as witnesses to history, we, as citizens of a country and as human beings, go backwards into the past to examine events and historical realities. How else can we get to know anyone, any nation, or for that matter, a political leadership without going into their past?
Clarity about important national issues are also linked and intertwined with the past. In other words, neither appreciation nor understanding of vital national events is possible without reference to past history. To go forward, we need to step backwards first.
Let us get back to the moral of the story: it is shameful to personally submit to an idea, concept, notion, ideology or specifically to a particular political leadership when such a submission leads to the loss of personal integrity — when one loses one’s balance of rationality and intellectual equilibrium, against all common sense, to an extent that it compromises the fundamentals of decent and appropriate political behaviour.
I have always wondered in amazement how the stalwarts of a national political party in Pakistan that had immense popularity among the masses at one time and was founded by no other than Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, could have handed over the reins of this political machine to a person on the bizarre production of a piece of handwritten paper. But a more important question than that is: what democracy on earth gives the right to a person to establish a hereditary hierarchy in a democratic political structure? In fact, in a democratic sense, this kind of thing is unheard of. And yet, it is true. It has happened in Pakistan amazingly and unbelievably. Not only that, it is happening again — repeatedly and without any serious challenge or formidable opposition to it by anyone, especially the very stalwarts of the two major political parties, the PPP and the PML-N.
Bhutto aggressively promoted his daughter, Benazir, as his successor and leader of the party as if the Peoples Party and Pakistan were the prerogative of the late PPP leader. Benazir allegedly handed over the leadership to Asif Ali Zardari on a piece of handwritten paper napkin. And now, obviously, Zardari has unilaterally handed over the leadership to his son, Bilawal.
Sadly and unfortunately, this undemocratic practice is also being wholeheartedly espoused by Nawaz Sharif, the disqualified ex-prime minister, who has imagined in earnest that no one other than his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, should rule this unfortunate nation following his unceremonious exit. The promotion of dynastic rule seems to be a vital element of Nawaz’s future political plans and landscape. He has already unilaterally elevated his daughter Maryam as the de facto leader of the party. The absurdity of this situation is that Nawaz sees no contradiction to democratic principles in his dynastically planned political disposition.
The two major parties have devised this future for our “democratic” Pakistan. And it seems some people loyal to Nawaz and Zardari, respectively, are buying into this idea of family rule.
After all, perception management is a reality of our times. Who knows what propagandists are capable of. As we all know, an American public relations company in Washington, on the payment of a massive fee, has convinced Nawaz that his political comeback in Pakistan is within reach. Mind it, this PR establishment was recommended to Nawaz by no other than Zardari, who, at present, is attempting to negotiate yet another NRO for himself and his family with immodest insolence and shameful unscrupulousness. It appears that all of these Pakistani political actors consider the Pakistani masses as a herd of sheep and a crowd of fools. They think they can get away with anything.
The real problem in this respect resides with the prominent stalwarts of both the PPP and the PMLN. Let us start by examining the political behaviour of some of the major political actors of the PPP. Naturally, to begin with, I’m tempted to question the political wisdom and claim to the adherence to democratic principles of the famous and talented constitutional lawyer, a long-time prominent leader of the PPP, a former law minister, a leader in the movement for the restoration of honourable judges during the Musharraf era, a well-known revolutionary writer and poet, a darling of TV talk shows, and above all, a life-long self-proclaimed democrat to the core of his bones. A reasonable and legitimate question to ask him is: why does the honourable senator and constitutional law expert, a democrat, stand behind Bilawal? Does not the respected senator see a blatant violation of democratic principles in solidarity with the advancement of hereditary leadership? How does the senator justify this peculiar political behaviour — which is subversion of democracy and an instrument to promote an anti-democratic structure and culture in Pakistani politics.
An even more important question is: Why doesn’t the said senator challenge this brand of Zardari politics and leadership in party elections? Indeed, the senator is well-qualified, capable and perhaps popular enough to attempt it. The vital question is, democratically speaking, what holds him back?
Similarly, Qamar Zaman Kaira and Sherry Rehman, among many other long-time party stalwarts, are not challenging the party leadership and are continuing in an alliance of perpetual subversion of fundamental democratic covenants by supporting inherited leadership in a major national political party.
It is about time that someone in the PPP took the first step against the heightened excesses of personalised politics and let democratic values flourish. There has already been enough of Bhutto-Zardari damage to Pakistani politics and society. Enough is enough — and it needs to end now. Someone within the party needs to tell the ex-president and co-chairman of the party that his time is spent, and neither he nor his protégé and designated chairman of the party are needed. The PPP and its workers are awakening from their slumber now, and so are the Pakistani masses.
The PML-N is even more irrelevant to contemporary politics. Instead of presenting the required legal evidence to the court and the nation, the Punjab Lion has unleashed the Punjabi lioness to get consolation through a meaningless soliloquy against national institutions, including the Supreme Court and the military establishment. The issue is simple: tell the courts and the nation how you have amassed such massive wealth, seemingly beyond your known sources of income. As such, it is expected that you have amply misused your political power for unmitigated economic gains. In political parlance, it is defined as corruption.
This is, in essence, the point of democratic dispensation and rules. There are no two opinions on this subject anywhere, any place, with any ideology or in any form of government.
The issue is: how can Pakistan survive with a corrupt dynastic political leadership on either side of the coin?
In 1517, Martin Luther (d 1546), professor of theology at the Wittenberg University nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church, challenging the authority of the Pope. He was prompted to do this after observing the sale of indulgences to collect money, an act that exploited the religious sentiments of the common people.
While this was an apparently insignificant event, it changed the course of history. Before Luther, many religious reformers had made attempts to revive the original teachings of Christianity and purify it from polluted rituals and traditions, which had gradually seeped into the institution of the Papacy and the Church. Such was the power and hold of the Church – and its collusion with political authority – that reformation movements were brutally crushed before they had achieved any success in getting the support of the common people.
One of these reformers was John Huss (d 1415), a Czech priest who raised his voice against the corrupt practices of Church and gained popularity among his disciples. He was invited by the Imperial Diet consisting of the holy Roman emperor and the representative of the Pope to present his religious views. Huss was given assurance of safety. However, when he pleaded his case, it was rejected and he was arrested and tried as a heretic, and then burnt alive in 1415.
Another religious reformer was Girolamo Savonarola of Florence (d 1498). Savonarola faced the same fate because he condemned the Pope and the irreligious practices of the Church. For a short while, young people gathered around him with fanatic religious zeal to follow the original teachings of Christianity. However, the Pope excommunicated him and ordered the authorities of Florence to punish him. Savonarola was arrested and hanged publicly in 1498. Martin Luther was aware of the fate of these reformers, who had failed to bring any change in the religious structure of the Catholic Church and had instead faced tragic death. Realising the risk, he took a bold step, with courage and conviction, to purify a distorted religion.
Although he was excommunicated by the Pope, Luther was saved from the persecution of religious authorities because the German princes supported him.
There are at times moments in history that make reforms and revolutions against established traditions successful. For Luther, the political situation of Germany was appropriate to his religious views against the Pope and the Church. The German princes too were eager to end Papal interference in their internal affairs. Every year, a huge amount in the shape of religious taxes was taken away to Rome by the Church authorities, where it was spent on the Pope and the Cardinals. Luther was, therefore, patronised by the prince of Saxony, who kept him in a castle, away from Papal authorities. Here, Luther translated the Bible into the German language, giving people the opportunity to have direct access to the holy book.
Luther also had the advantage of the availability of the printing press. His books and pamphlets were widely spread throughout Germany. The people of Germany extended their support for religious reforms. However, when his followers acted violently against churches, he condemned these acts and urged his followers to remain peaceful.
Similarly, when in 1525, the peasants of Germany – following in the footsteps of Luther – revolted against the political authority of feudal lords; Luther condemned their revolt and sided with the princes, advising them to crush the rebellion with an iron hand. The great rebellion of the peasants ended after their slaughter by the organised armies of the rulers. This approach by Luther changed the character of the reformation, which became magisterial in order to defend the interest of the princes.
Luther’s reformation brought fundamental structural changes in the Christian church. The sect founded on the basis of Luther’s ideas was known as Lutheran or Protestant. It ended the domination of the authority of the Pope. Luther and his followers also abandoned the practice of celibacy; the Protestant church also discarded certain religious rituals.
Luther’s reformation movement also inspired some other religious reformers such as Zwingli in Zurich, John Calvin in Geneva, and Henry VIII of England, who established the Anglican Church. This ended the unity of Christiandom and Europe was divided into two different sects: Roman Catholic and Protestant. As the Protestant countries were liberated from the clutches of Papal authority, their creativity and innovation in the field of knowledge blossomed. Their societies rapidly developed in trade and commerce and became economically prosperous, compared to the Catholic countries which lagged behind.
The Roman Catholic Church, however, also launched a counterreformation to overcome its weaknesses – especially a new religious order of Jesuits devotedly engaged in restoring the credibility of the Roman Catholic Church. Another step taken by the Catholic Church was to send missionaries to Asian and African countries in order to compensate for the loss of its followers in Europe. The religious reform movements became a model for other religions whose leaders also made attempts to revive the original structure of their religion and make it relevant to the need of time.
The Demise of Multilateralism
The multiple conflicts and deprivations plaguing our world today demonstrate an evident crisis of multilateralism. One wonders what it will take to make the international system, with its plethora of rules and mechanisms for cooperation, as well as varied agencies, more effective in terms of making this world a better and more stable place.
It took the unprecedented devastation caused by WWI to create the momentum to formulate a League of Nations, and its failure to avert WWII, led to its dissolution, and creation of the prominent multilateral agencies of today, with mandates ranging from facilitating trade to addressing environmental concerns, to improving the lives of women and children.
However, the existing system of multilateral engagement is by no means perfect and the policies it has encouraged to achieve economic growth and prosperity for all have not only failed to deliver, but often exacerbated other problems. Multilateral engagement has also been unable to prevent armed conflict in any meaningful way in much of the developing world. International humanitarian law also remains marginalised, and fundamental humanitarian principles are easily ignored by states and non-state armed groups, within the varied theatres of conflict plaguing much of the global South.
Accompanying these lacklustre results, is the growing distrust in the idea of globalisation and respect for international norms, even within the advantaged global North. Under the Trump government, the US has distanced itself from a major climate change agreement, it has made cuts to UN budgets and other international humanitarian and development aid. The EU has changed with Brexit and several European countries which were parties to the UN 1951 refugee convention have abandoned their legal responsibilities.
Therefore, for all practical purposes, frameworks like the UN refugee convention, the Paris climate change agreement are in a shambles, and the International Criminal Court remains unable to punish perpetrators of major acts of violence.
While by no means perfect, multilateralism’s demise is not good news either. Without multilateral engagement, the ability of the so-called international community to address Herculean tasks such as climate change and other global challenges will be further compromised.
Ideas for reforming multilateral engagements are already on the table, such as the ‘Planning from the Future’ study conducted by King’s College London, the Feinstein International Centre at Tufts University and the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute, which focuses particularly on reforming multilateral capacity to address humanitarian needs.
This recent report offers a diagnosis of what ails the system and a broad outline of what change could look like. It rightly points out how the humanitarian architecture today has not changed much since the 1950s, it’s only much bigger. While institutions have grown in terms of size, scope and number, and advances have been made in the technique of humanitarian response, the key issues of leadership and decision-making have not been addressed.
The multilateral system remains under-represented and over-proceduralised. Moreover, post-9/11 counter-insurgency agendas have heightened the securitisation and militarisation of humanitarian action. There is urgent need for humanitarian action to become more anticipatory, effective and accountable in terms of its approach to crisis response. Humanitarian action must be neither ‘of the North’ nor partial to any agenda, particularly in conflict situations. It should be able to work with a broad constellation of actors, including warring parties, national and regional disaster management authorities, civil society and the private sector, while retaining its independent character.
While there is need to overhaul a range of multilateral organisations, including those meant to facilitate trade, provide international finance, and promote development in general, those instruments and agencies focused on addressing humanitarian concerns is a good place to start, given the varied natural and manmade disasters threatening the world today.