New Age Islam Edit Bureau
26 February 2018
Reversing the Downward Spiral
By Bina Shah
A Double Squeeze
By Cyril Almeida
What Indian Presence In Chabahar Means
By Dr Raza Khan
By Anees Jillani
By Nazish Brohi
Lonely In Paris
By Syed Talat Hussain
The Noble Steeds
By Zaigham Khan
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Reversing The Downward Spiral
February 25, 2018
SOMETHING is terribly wrong with the status of women and girls in Pakistan today. A host of embarrassing results in gender equality studies illustrates this starkly. The one most often quoted: Pakistan sits in the second to last position on the 2017 Global Gender Gap index — below countries like Rwanda, Egypt, Bangladesh and even Saudi Arabia. The nation performs poorly on all the major indicators: women’s economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment; only Syria does worse than Pakistan in these areas. And only Yemen did worse than Pakistan in 2016, when we were also in the second to last place.
A report from the UN on gender equality published recently indicates that the poorest Nigerian women still fare better in nutrition than women at a similar poverty level in Sindh. Malnutrition, food insecurity, school completion, access to drinking water — Pakistan fared worse than the other three countries included in the study: Colombia, Nigeria, and the United States.
Recently, another disturbing report was published in The Lancet examining poor maternal, child and adolescent health indicators. Pakistan, like other Muslim-majority countries, had lower rates of contraceptive use, family planning, antenatal care, skilled birth attendants, measles vaccinations, DTP3 vaccinations, and worse access to improved water and sanitation facilities than non-Muslim countries.
This situation is usually blamed on poverty: women simply don’t have equal access to basic healthcare, nutrition or education, which are already in short supply in Pakistan. But the Lancet study directly linked poor maternal health to a lack of pro-women legislation in Muslim countries: domestic violence, marital rape, emotional violence and physical violence are not sufficiently prosecuted or punished in countries like Pakistan. How Pakistani women are treated under Pakistani law negatively affects their health.
In short, women and children are more likely to get sick and die in Pakistan simply because of the burden of being female. This is called a “disproportionate burden of disease” according to Ariba Moin, Huda Fatima and Tooba Fatima Qadir, Pakistani doctors who participated in a Women Leaders in Global Health Conference of 2017, which highlighted the importance of women leadership in health worldwide.
Pakistan’s patriarchal society that blocks pro-women laws from being implemented is also responsible for a lack of female leadership in its health sector. As Dr Moin et al wrote in a letter to the Lancet, in Pakistan, women make up more than 70 per cent of the academic medicine population, but only 3pc of legislators and senior health officials in the country. While Dr Sania Nishtar was health minister in 2013, Pakistan’s ranking in the health and survival index improved greatly, but Pakistan needs dozens, if not hundreds more women in positions to make decisions about women’s health if there is any hope for widespread change in women’s health. Yet with 70pc of Pakistan’s female medical school graduates not even entering the profession after qualifying, this seems like a long way off from achievability.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s another link to poor performance in women’s health indicators: women’s contribution to Pakistan’s economy remains undervalued and undercounted, particularly in the backbone of Pakistan’s economy. Not the factories, the banks, or the offices, but the agricultural sector, which provides a livelihood for over 40pc of the nation’s workforce and where women perform a myriad of tasks — harvesting and planting, caring for livestock. The women themselves don’t even recognise this as ‘work’, instead calling it ‘chores’ in addition to their responsibilities of childcare and homemaking.
Haris Gazdar is a social scientist who studies women’s labour in Pakistan’s agricultural sector. In 2017, his LANSA study of Pakistan’s agricultural labour force and its effect on women’s health and nutrition in rural Sindh found that not only was women’s work unrecognised and unpaid; but worse, all the work that they did in the fields, often while pregnant or nursing without adequate food, caused them and their children to suffer from malnutrition and stunting.
While women’s empowerment is thought to lead to higher income and better health — and this is more likely true in cities, as well as among the rich and more educated — the agricultural work that Pakistani women have always done in large numbers in the rural areas is directly causing poorer health for them and their children. According to Gazdar, women must be recognised as workers by the state, employers, communities and by the women themselves. Formulating a law to this effect is a vital first step towards protecting their rights and promoting their well-being.
At the same time, as Dr Moin and her colleagues observed, we need women in health leadership positions who can institute gender-sensitive health awareness programmes for women and men, health education for communities so that the burden of care is lifted off the shoulders of women, and immediate action to improve the health and nutrition of women labourers. It is imperative that such an effort is not politicised, and that high-up appointments are made only on candidates’ ability as leaders to improve the lives of Pakistan’s women and children.
A positive development, among all the gloom: according to Haris Gazdar, the Sindh Assembly recently passed a law that brings agricultural workers and other informal workers into the ambit of the existing labour law. “This creates a mandate for policy reform and an opportunity for activism on specific measures,” he says, calling it a considerable step in moving forward the discussion on the rights and well-being of women agricultural workers.
But we need much more, and fast. Improving women’s health requires a top-down, bottom-up strategy that includes strong policy, prescriptive measures, and firm political positions on gender equality that focuses on what’s solid, replicable and scalable in this diverse and populous nation. And as always, pro-women legislation must be strongly enforced as of now, to reduce the cost of gender-based violence on women’s mental, emotional and physical health. Only then will women and their children have a chance of not just surviving but thriving on all counts in our country.
February 25, 2018
NAWAZ got squeezed — again — domestically, the boys got squeezed internationally and between those two confusing, seemingly unconnected things:
Did FATF just save democracy in Pakistan?
Let’s start with the Nawaz stuff. For better or worse, no one has to pretend any longer that the specific chain of events is predictable or that it does not primarily have something to do with the boys.
Because to argue either of that would imply someone could have predicted an on-time Senate election minus PML-N candidates. The timing has been slick, the execution so precise that you almost have to marvel at it.
First came the Balochistan ruse. Easy enough to explain, small enough to disregard, the coup-inside-the-assembly lulled folk into thinking the danger had been absorbed, a bullet dodged.
Phew. So that’s what they had in mind. OK, let’s get on with the business of the rest of the elections. It drew the PML-N into its next mistake: nominating halfway decent, relatively senatorial candidates.
If the N-League had a clue what was coming next, they would have gone with Gullu Butt-types as candidates. Y’know, the kind who would go to the mattresses for the Sharifs.
But the PML-N made its move, nominated mostly goody-goody types, the nomination process closed, the ball left the N-League’s court and, bam!
Suddenly, Nawaz is no longer N-League president and, suddenly, the N-League doesn’t have any Senate candidates. The whiplash-inducing turnaround has also forced a marvellous inversion.
If the N-League cancels the Senate election in Punjab or tries to delay the overall Senate election by fighting it out in the courts, it will be the N-League that is fighting democratic continuity.
And if the N-League elects its own candidates as independents, the N-League will have to wait and see which side of the aisle the incoming senators choose.
You almost have to marvel at it.
But it still doesn’t make the ultimate problem go away.
Predicting the specific chain of events may no longer be possible — predicting an on-time Senate election minus N-League candidates would have been beyond magic, it would have been sorcery — but the final impasse is the same.
The boys haven’t ventured down this path, walked us all this way, only to let Nawaz win the next election and saunter back into power. But Nawaz hasn’t come all this way, put up mystifying defiance and arrived at the threshold of a common-sense defying fourth win, just to chuck it all away.
You don’t have to be a Senate candidate to know a collision is inevitable. If the boys won’t back down and Nawaz can’t back down — that leaves just one option:
Which brings us to this FATF business. Forget the specifics of what it entails and when and how. The experts may eventually tell us or, more likely, events will.
But already it is apparent that FATF is happening because of the US, more specifically the Trump administration. Committed to a military strategy in Afghanistan and determined to raise the cost on Pakistan for defiance, the Trump approach comes down to asking:
What are the Haqqanis worth to you, Pakistan? What is the LeT worth to you? What is Jaish worth to you?
The answer to those questions is unknown to you and me and everyone else. Other than you-know-who, of course.
But for democratic purposes, it may be enough to know that the questions are being asked. Because the Trump administration is trying to get at the boys to force them to answer those questions.
You can see where this is going.
If in the domestic arena the boys won’t back down and Nawaz can’t back down, leaving only the C-option — the external dimension means the Trump administration would jump all over the C-option if it is activated.
FATF as a demonstration of the inventiveness and eagerness of the US can only mean a coup in Pakistan would give the US a straight run at Pakistan. It would strip away the pretence and it could strip away the hesitation and the need to carefully ratchet up pressure on Pakistan.
So, did FATF just save democracy in Pakistan?
There lies the illusion democratic types can be misled by.
The convoluted, theoretical version is the enemy’s enemy is a friend. That somehow a beneficial alliance can be cobbled together. The more pedestrian, realistic explanation is the desperation of the weak: the boys under serious external pressure may open up political space domestically for the civilians.
But for all the wailing and hysteria when the US turns the screws, there is another side. Sure, the US is definitely probing and pushing and raising the costs on Pakistan. The US wants to know what the Haqqanis, LeT and Jaish are worth to us.
But there are two other questions; questions few want to admit that Pakistan — the boys, essentially — has been asking of the US. The questions:
What is Afghanistan worth to you, America? And what is your relationship with us — Pakistan, a nuclear state — worth to you?
The answers to those questions have never been good. At least not good in a democracy-chasing sense that our major political parties, right and left, have desperately wanted the answers to be.
FATF has signalled inventiveness and fresh determination by the US against the boys. But in a way it has also signalled more of the same, rustling around for pinpricks and warnings.
Democracy is, and will remain, a domestic struggle. A Pakistani struggle.
What Indian Presence in Chabahar Means
The agreement between India and Iran to hand over operational control of a section of the Iranian seaport of Chabahar to New Delhi is a significant strategic development. The port is located just 90km away from the Pakistani deep-seaport of Gwadar. The most important feature of the Iranian seaport is that it can serve as a transit route for India to trade with Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia sidestepping Pakistan. For years, New Delhi has been eyeing its presence in Chabahar for economic and strategic reasons. India could not desirably increase its trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia as Pakistan has been reluctant to allow India overland access to Afghanistan and beyond through its territory. For Pakistan giving economic concessions to a strategic rival, India, without getting any worthwhile financial gains is against its national interest. Noticeably, in the age of geo-economics with stress on economic globalisation, inter-regional and intra-regional and cross-regional economic integration and interdependency, Pakistan considers its geostrategic interests more important! After getting operational control of a part of Chabahar port, India would be able to increase its trade with Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia manifold.
Its successful endeavours to have operational control of Chabahar seaport would be extensively beneficial in economic terms. However, the location of the seaport plus the timing of getting control of Chabahar compels one to think that a regional power like India must have solid strategic reasons to have presence there. In particular, India’s anti China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) stance and activities makes one suspicious of the mere economic justifications of taking operational control of Chabahar. India and China are growing trading partners but for all intents and purposes are strategic rivals having territorial disputes.
Ostensibly, CPEC is a pure economic project but India thinks of it as a design by Beijing to have a strategic advantage in the region particularly the Indian Ocean. Strategic apprehensions have been forcing India to somehow get control of Chabahar in order to offset Chinese presence and reduce its strategic advantage in Gwadar.
By giving India operational control over Chabahar, Iran may have again strained its relations with Pakistan, which had been growing in recent months after years of cold mistrust. China, an important trading partner of Iran, would also not appreciate India’s presence in Chabahar. In President Donald Trump’s South Asia policy, India is of significant importance. Washington considers India as cornerstone of ‘stability’ in the region. Pakistan and China think the US wants to see Delhi’s hegemony in the region. Thus the US thinks of India’s role in the context of ‘hegemonic stability,’ an important theory of international relations. Along with India, Tehran thinks it could dominate Afghan trade and provide an alternative route of integration of South and Central Asia. This strategy aims at bypassing Pakistan. Pakistan has already lost a sizable portion of its exports to Afghanistan. A key reason for this declining Pak-Afghan trade is that after part of the Chabahar port has been made operational much of Afghan trade has got diverted to Iran. Tehran may not have overtly opposed Pakistan but it has had its reservations on Islamabad’s role in Afghanistan which it thinks has been against Iranian interest in Afghanistan. This is despite the fact that Iran for the last few years has had developed working relations with the Afghan Taliban. The regions, in which Iran, Pakistan and India are located, could benefit from Chabahar and Gwadar if the two seaports reinforce each other instead of competing for economic and strategic advantage(s). The future of the inhabitants of the regions of Central and South Asia as well as the wider Middle East hinges on regional economic integration and the opportunities this may generate.
A LONG time ago while studying in the UK, a discussion amongst my group of Pakistani friends centred on Pakistan’s plight.
We all wondered why we cannot progress like many other countries, particularly in the West. The reasons we posited varied from the hilarious to the extremely serious. I would like to share with you one explanation we did not come up with at the time, as I discovered it gradually after spending decades here, and that is the presence of the wrong person at almost every public position.
I say ‘public’ as this may not always be true for private positions. It is an extremely serious issue that is getting worse with time. From top to bottom, analyse anyone holding a position whether at the political, bureaucratic or judicial level and you discover that the person is usually incompetent, inefficient and, many times, corrupt.
A few examples should suffice to illustrate the point. And it is possible that even this may not be required as any person of average intelligence can discover it for themselves.
People making the appointments in Pakistan tend to be insecure and thus select their relatives and toadies, who can follow their instructions and not intrigue against them. The selection criteria is seldom if ever based on whether the person is suitable; much more important is the assurance that the person will remain subservient and in the appointer’s camp for all times to come.
This situation is different from that in the developed world where the appointer during selection is not thinking of his own interests but those of the country and the institution where the appointment is being made. As a result, the institutions in the latter category of countries thrive and advance while they deteriorate further in our part of the world.
After all, what kind of result can one expect if a Master’s in Islamiat or Urdu literature is appointed head of the space programme or the food authority or agricultural research? And a Master’s in physics is put in charge of higher education? And so on and so forth. Sometimes of course, one can develop an interest in a field that is different from the subject that one is educated in; after all, one need not be an MBA to excel in business.
If you look at the political parties’ setup you realise that their leaders appoint people at key positions with a view to having their party members, and governing and executive committees, endorse their decisions. All candidates selected to contest elections are chosen on the basis of their relations with the party leadership and their ability to remain subservient at all times.
Some research would uncover that legislators from each province and each party are often inter-linked. It thus becomes difficult if not impossible for an outsider to enter the political fray. Now compare this with the members of the UK House of Commons or the US House of Representatives where even children of bus conductors or tailors or immigrants can aspire to become members. The difference in quality is there for all to see in the proceedings of the houses.
The judiciary has lately started declaring many appointments unconstitutional. Although the judgements are many times unclear and do not really point in a decisive direction, judicial intrusion results in further retarding the process of appointments; the governmental and bureaucratic authorities sometimes get such cold feet that they refuse to take any decision. Some say that the process of appointments within the superior judiciary itself suffers from the same ailment.
Some appointees are office-bearers of the bar associations who just a few years back were asking their lawyer colleagues for votes. How can they suddenly change upon assuming the office of a judge, and do justice while listening to the same colleagues, is worth pondering.
This is a chronic national problem and not something that can easily be resolved. And it is for this very reason the private sector at times thrives where the governmental one fails to perform.
The private sector is motivated by the need to make a profit; all other considerations fade into the background.
The governmental sector meanwhile is not to serve but to simply find employment and make money for yourself and your family.
You may not be interested in the field you are supervising and may lack the incentive to serve the institution you are in, but as long as you are serving your masters and making some money for them and for yourself, you are doing just fine in Pakistan.
IN mystery novels, people who disappear are a trope: why they vanished, how they vanished, where did they vanish to. Not so for us. Abduction of citizens by security agencies is documented by the government’s Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances and by the Supreme Court in its judgements. The commission recommended filing criminal cases against 117 officials involved in enforced disappearances, yet there’s no known case of even a single prosecution.
Impunity refers to those in power not having to face the legal consequences of their actions. The powerful maintain political control by communicating they are beyond laws and that people are helpless. And no, impunity can’t be offset with football tournaments and Independence Day festivals. There’s an African proverb, the axe forgets, but the forest remembers.
The arguments about missing persons — whether or not the number is inflated, whether or not they’re anti-national by the establishment’s definition of national interest, whether or not they’re atheists — are smokescreens. They create a moral haze that filters citizens allowed the law’s protection from those morally excluded from it.
Hence the exposure of brutality by state officials does not lead to support for victims. It took Dr Yousuf Murad Baloch over 12 years to go public with the torture he was subjected to when he went missing, chronicled by the Balochistan Times, but it did not create even a ripple. It’s not surprising then that most ‘re-appeared’ remain silent unless they are able to leave the country.
Forced disappearances were systemically introduced in the Musharraf years but impunity in Pakistan is still not institutionalised like in other countries through formal civil-military pacts, executive pardons, amnesties or laws. Baltasar Garzon, the jurist who issued an arrest warrant for Chile’s Gen Pinochet declared, “Impunity as absence of justice, is the second of two assaults on the law and the dignity of victims, second only to the original crime itself … far from being transient, it endures until subsequent governments or judges repeal it.”
Spain tried ignoring what happened under a military regime through a wilful amnesia it called the ‘Pact of Forgetting’. It ended up, 70 years after Gen Franco’s dictatorship was imposed and almost four decades after it was over, realising that strengthening its democracy was possible only if it recognised the persecution, violence and suffering inflicted, and passed the Historical Memory Law to rectify it.
Impunity casts a dark shadow over important positive steps that state security agencies have taken against terrorism in Pakistan, and emboldens some within to take actions that may not have institutional approval. Countries transitioning from authoritarian to democratic regimes have used a range of actions, from truth commissions and criminal prosecutions to creating memorials, reparations and reform of institutions.
Nawaz Sharif tried it, by attempting to put Gen Musharraf on trial for treason for subverting the Constitution. But going by the severe backlash and the army’s institutional recoil, the push was probably too soon, given that stakeholders were still strategically entrenched. The ruling party also could not push through anti-graft laws that covered the military and judiciary.
The PPP had a better idea of symbolically focusing on Gen Zia’s dictatorship through the retrial of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, since there’s now general consensus that the regime was a disaster, and its main players are no longer around, lessening the degree of resistance. I’m tempted to write they lost the plot, but they didn’t have one to begin with. That it was just a populist bid and not seriously thought through was clear by their negligent, idiotic handling of the case, by their not planning to bring in testimonies of the MRD resistance, and squandering a historic opportunity by not legislating to declassify the sealed military archives of the Zia era.
If we aren’t yet ready to account for what happened in FC forts in the ‘war on terror’, we can start with what happened in Lahore Fort, Machh, Baldia camp and Kot Lakhpat during Zia’s regime. Ignoring these doesn’t make their history go away. Centuries back, the Roman Senate tried to expunge history through ‘damnatio memoriae’ — condemnation of memory — in which every statue, coin, plaque, document and reference to emperors was wiped out, to make it seem like the event or person never existed. That we know they tried this is proof it didn’t work.
For democracy, impunity must be dismantled and every politician with any understanding of politics knows this. The challenge is to do so without derailing democratic progress. It requires walking on a tightrope that’s a patchwork of jugulars. Every misstep will draw blood but there’s no choice. It will not dissipate on its own. An Arabic proverb this time: trust in God, but tie your camel.
Lonely in Paris
February 26, 2018
The lessons from the Paris meeting of the Financial Action Task Force last week are very obvious and quite clear. The first is that we cannot tell the world all that we tell our own people through officially sanctioned news releases about the state of affairs on the counter-terror front.
There are none, or very few, takers of our case as we plead it at international forums. The establishment’s reluctance to an open and genuine debate and the silencing of critical evaluations of how far we have gone in meeting world concerns have deprived our policy of rational direction and honest appeal. Politicians are made to praise all that is happening against organised terror. Anyone raising an eyebrow is browbeaten by the media’s paid pipers and then made to pay a heavy cost of speaking the truth in other ways.
This regime of fear and silence may have worked to sustain an image of greatness domestically, and may have produced legends of our own liking, but it has cut off national and policy thinking from ground reality. Policymakers are no longer interested in finding out the truth about their own counter-terror actions; the people are no longer willing to believe anything other than the story that the whole world is against us and that is why they want to put us in the category of nations that ave not done enough in quashing organised networks and their actions.
The Paris fiasco has put us back in the focus of tighter scrutiny of performance against terror financing, and indicated that nobody reads our press releases or fancy tweets. Nor does anyone watch or is impressed by the two dozen analysts who are deputed on media screens to constantly hammer the global conspiracy theory of the world being unfair to us. Our talking points on counter-terror suffer from an inherent credibility problem. We dish out the same cock and bull story to the world that we sell in the domestic market through the force of arm-twisting. The world can check facts on its own. They have means to verify our claims. They come to conclusions not on the basis of fanciful theories laced with bombastic speeches but by piecing together evidence from varied sources. So when they make a case they are not like the JIT of Panama fame or NAB in case of Ahed Cheema.
They have evidence – hard core, incontrovertible evidence to drill holes in our statements. And then we give them evidence on a platter: just list what has happened in Pakistan involving the JuD, the Tehreek-eLabaik, Khadim, Akora Khattak – and then see it from an outsider’s perspective. This has been happening for a long time now, for almost two decades and yet we have not changed our ways of arguing our case through shouts and screams knowing full well that it lacks the force of fact. Paris was not different. Little wonder the result hasn’t been different.
Another lesson is that we have put our allies (in the sense of international politics where countries’ interests are aligned to create harmony of stance) in very awkward situations. Now they are not willing to back us on every forum just because they happen to be our allies. Saudi Arabia did not change its final stance despite our troop diplomacy. China did not stick its neck out in the final count because it knew which way the world of reality spins. Turkey had the best of both worlds: Ankara knew standing for Pakistan won’t materially change the situation in our favour and therefore there would be no costs to its relations with Washington and at the same time it would please Islamabad by a gesture of support. It would have been a different story had Turkey’s vote been the decider in the count on Pakistan’s probation for three months before being put on the Grey List. Ankara would have gone with the rest of our friends.
The third lesson from Paris is that every time we attempt to skate around our global commitments we end up with a broken leg and a tougher climb in the next phase. In Paris as the first round unfolded and gave us the hope of defeating US-Britain sponsored and Germany and France backed motion to put us on the ‘grey list’ of terror financing, we assumed that the world had been convinced. We did not realise what lay ahead – a strong US and allies manoeuvre to quash the initial success. Then in order to ward off a second round of voting we negotiated a tougher deal of scrutiny. In the end we could not prevent the second round of voting and are now stuck with a much tighter and more pointed list of questions whose answers we have to deliver in the next three months to avoid the prospect of slipping from the grey list to the black one – which means massive economic encirclement, poor global ratings, tough hits on global financial transactions, banking and borrowing besides of course a terrible dent to our image as a serious and responsible member of the international community, to list just a few costs.
In other words, we went to Paris after taking delayed and superficial action against groups and individuals at home and by claiming to the domestic audience (who else) that we had done enough but are now back from Paris with a heavier set of questions to answer. Why do we do this to ourselves – to our own land, to our own country, to our own people? Why?
There is no answer to the question except that our domestic focus is totally different from where it ought to be. Our priorities are to make or break governments, to play musical chairs, to rig and manipulate, to throw tough decisions under the carpet and pretend that we have cleaned up the mess thoroughly and then listen to and enjoy our own half-truths with pretended satisfaction. This speaks of a great crisis of competence, qualification and calibre. The manner in which we have conducted ourselves at international forums on every critical moment leaves one with little doubt about deep personal and institutional deficiencies in the policymaking apparatus.
On top it, every time a policy disaster happens the reaction is simply to find easy punching bags and then lay into them. First it was the absence of a foreign minister. Now it is the presence of the foreign minister. First it was the presence of Nawaz Sharif. Now it is the presence of Khaqan Abbasi. At a different level, punches fly towards the media, columnists, bloggers, social activists. They are dubbed as traitors, ‘Pakistan Dushman’ and all the dark labels that anyone can conceive. ‘If only they had written in our favour…..’ By doing that we think we have identified the real challenge behind our failures and that these ‘enemies’ at home need to be defeated for us to win foreign and defence policy successes. This is a delusion – the equivalent of Imran Khan trying to become prime minister on the back of good-luck charms and voodoo magic, neglecting his party’s performance.
The real reason the world is increasingly turning a deaf ear to our pleas is the absence of relevant facts from what we say. It is what we do at home that haunts us abroad. John F Kennedy was on the dot when he spoke of US priorities in a turbulent age: domestic policy, he said, can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us. In case of Pakistan, our domestic policy has started to kill our foreign policy and together both are defeating and humiliating us repeatedly. It is sad to see that even after Paris we still don’t get this reality. Amazing! Totally depressing!
It will be hard to find a parallel to such a pyrrhic victory in three centuries of democratic development. When was the last time political party went to a constitutional court to seek restrictions on freedom of association and their own functioning? This is called cutting off the nose to spite the face and our politicians have done it wonderfully since the very beginning.
Victory was guaranteed to political parties who went to the Supreme Court with their writ petitions against the Election Act 2017. It is a time of transition when non-elected institutions are keen to peg their tents inside parliament. They find parliamentary horses neighing at their doors, offering them a ride to the inner sanctum of the temple of the people where the magic of legislation takes place. With such noble steeds at their service, they don’t even need to unsheathe their swords. Somnath is theirs without a battle. Congratulations to Ayaz Khan Niazi and Ayaz Zardari.
“The triumph of unelected institutions over the representative ones is now complete,” wrote Babar Sattar in these pages a couple of days ago. When elected institutions are defeated, the downfall belongs to the people. In Imran Khan, we have the greatest Trojan horse this nation has ever had. From the unassuming, almost funny Chaudhrys of Gujrat to the prince of Banigala, the Trojan horse technology has come a long way.
The Trojan horse may be a great contraption. But it remains ineffective until someone pulls it into the besieged city. Asif Ali Zardari has done the trick. The city lies in ruins – almost. Zardari himself has metamorphosed from a frenzied warrior who is resolved to strike brick with brick to a pliant indentured labourer serving at the national brick kiln. It is only his smile that remains a constant.
Why did he do it? This question raises images of brazenfaced defences given on television screens with fake emotionality. The arguments essentially boil down to this: he did it because the PPP has been wronged for so long, particularly at the hands of Nawaz Sharif in the 1990s. It should be a wonderful explanation if you are a psychoanalyst explaining the working of a criminal mind. Your subject has turned into a murderer because of childhood trauma. Does that justify an icon of democracy turning into a collaborator and sidekick of a demagogue? The ANC under Mandela might have burnt South Africa to ashes by using the same argument.
I argued in my last column that authoritarian populist politicians are doing the job that is normally done by authoritarian rulers. They do it not through their numbers but through their capacity to harass, intimidate and threaten. The populists get real traction when other parties that see their fortunes dwindling try to ride the wave created them. They fail to realise that the populist’s medicine is their poison. Imran Khan’s sails have swelled since the PPP jumped on his ship. His popular appeal might have dwindled since 2013, but his destructive capacity has increased manifolds. His job is almost done.
Their real magical ingredient is the PPP. In Europe, mummy parts from Egypt were regarded as a miraculous medicine called Mumia vera aegyptiaca well into the 20th century. The PPP is the Mumia vera aegyptiaca for the PTI. Asif Ali Zardari, with good support from his sister, might have killed and mummified the PPP, but it is not without use altogether.
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, two Harvard professors, have come up with some interesting arguments about the erosion of democracy in recent times in their influential book ‘How Democracies Die’. They argue that political norms are as important to democracy as rules and laws. They outline two crucially important norms: “mutual toleration or the understanding that competing parties accept one another as legitimate rivals, and forbearance, or the idea that politicians should exercise restraint in deploying their institutional prerogative”.
However, demagogues “attack their critics in harsh and provocative terms – as enemies, as subversives and even as terrorists”. In Pakistan, they also attack their enemies as blasphemers and it means an invitation to vigilantes to eliminate them physically. They also warn that: “[a] demagogue’s rise to power tends to polarise the society, creating a climate of panic, hostility, and mutual distrust.”
Pakistan’s two most important political parties had reached the same conclusion when they signed the Charter of Democracy in 2006. No amount of wisdom could have foreseen the eruption of an authoritarian populist on Pakistan’s political stage at that time. It was two months later that Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone and Evan Williams launched Twitter.
Despite all setbacks and difficulties, both the PPP and PML-N stuck to democratic norms till 2013. Their legislative achievements during the period will remain unparalleled for a long time to come. The 2013 elections started the Trumpian era in Pakistan – an era defined by Imran Khan’s politics.
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt warn that: “isolating popular extremists requires political courage. But when fear, opportunism or miscalculation leads the established parties to bring extremists into the mainstream, democracy is imperilled”. Political parties showed that courage during the first Dharna, but recoiled in terror thereafter. The results are in front of us.
Ziaul Haq wanted legislators to be ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen’. My lords have extended this privilege to leaders of political parties as well on the insistence of the political parties that went to the court. The judgment states that: “…a party head must necessarily possess the qualifications and be free of the disqualifications contemplated in articles 62 and 63 of the constitution.”
This is because: “the Election Act 2017 empowers a party head to perform multifarious functions that have [a] direct nexus with the process of elections to... parliament and to matters relating to the affairs of political parties having parliamentary presence”. By extending ethical qualifications required for legislators to political parties, this verdict also restricts Article 17 that guarantees freedom of association in Pakistan. One wonders why our lords are not required to fulfill the same qualifications since they review legislation adopted in parliament.
The verdict fits into the framework of the PTI because its leader is the only one who is ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen’ in the country. Perhaps, no one has been so truthful and sagacious since the time of great caliphs. Perhaps, it also suits the new PPP because all labourers at a brick kiln are bound to be ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen’ since they know the consequences of being something different.
However, it should worry the people of Pakistan who must protect their right of representation as well as their right to form political parties and lead them. Let me leave you with these words from that must-read book (in the contemporary world):“democracy’s assassins use the very institutions of democracy – gradually, subtly and even legally – to kill it.”