New Age Islam Edit Bureau
06 December 2017
The Era of Mobocracy
By Hussain H Zaidi
Saudi Arabia in Transition
By Amanat Ali Chaudhry
Pakistan in the Chinese Orbit
By Shahid Javed Burki
How to Fix the System
From Bhutto to Bilawal
By Zahid Hussain
Syrian Refugees Trapped in a No Man’s Land
By Sara Kayyali
Payback in Yemen
By Mahir Ali
Pills That Kill
By Rafia Zakaria
Egypt Is Mourning
By Shrouq Tariq
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
December 6, 2017
In the mid of 2014, the Imran Khan-Tahir ul Qadri duo cultivated the crop. Towards the end of 2017, Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLRY) leadership has reaped it. During these three-and-half years, Pakistan’s democracy, no more than a house of cards as it has always been, has degenerated into a mobocracy.
The question of whether such theatrics, which put the nation through the hoop, will bring the government down, send the assemblies packing, or upset the applecart of democracy, has become at best of secondary significance. Instead, whether the state of Pakistan can hold itself against the emerging political (dis) order has assumed primary importance.
Democracy may or may not be the best form of government. But by all accounts, it is the most difficult political system to sustain. The reason for this, as pointed out by the philosopher Plato centuries ago, is that freedom which lies at the root of democracy is potentially constructive as well as destructive. The freedom of expression and of assembly, for instance, can be used to keep the government on the right track. Alternatively, it can be abused to destabilise the system itself. Herein lies one of democracy’s potentially fatal contradictions.
For democracy to take root, it has to overcome not only the resistance of anti-democratic forces but, as in today’s Pakistan, this internal contradiction as well.
The relationship between freedom and authority is a perennial political question. Members of a political society must have some freedom and the government must have some authority – but how much? Different forms of government answer this question in different ways. An absolutist government concedes minimum freedom to the people, while arrogating to itself maximum authority.
By contrast, a democratic dispensation gives maximum freedom to the people while itself exercising minimum authority consistent with an orderly government. Therefore, freedom, with all its positive and negative potential, assumes paramount importance in a democracy.
If the government suppresses and represses the governed and relies on force to sort out political problems, it ceases to be democratic. But if the governed turn their freedom into a licence to do anything they like, such as taking the law into their own hands, the polity passes into chaos and anarchy and democracy is degraded into mobocracy.
In the end, the difference between democracy and mobocracy is that the former is subject to rule of law and constitutionalism, whereas the latter sets aside such ‘constraints.’
To put it differently, democracy consists in the exercise of freedom constructively, while in mobocracy freedom is exercised in such an irresponsible and free-for-all manner that it becomes destructive of the very foundations of democracy. To quote the incomparable Plato again, mobocracy is democracy perverted.
Mobocracy would reduce elections and parliament and all other democratic institutions to nothing. If a government commanding an absolute majority in parliament can be sacked by a mob, it doesn’t matter the least whether a party fares good or bad on the electoral front, or even whether the elections were held in a transparent manner or rigged. Whenever it is found to be expedient, a mob can be put together to pull the government down.
Why is mobocracy taking root in Pakistan? The answer to that lies in the social structure. A society has two methods available to it in dealing with dissent and disagreement: one takes the form of dialogue, debate, logic and argumentation; the other relies on force and coercion. The first method draws sustenance from the rule of law and respect for civil liberties; the second thrives on show of strength and a culture of repression.
A society putting its trust mainly in force is a fertile ground for mob behaviour – of which mobocracy is the prime political expression. Such a society exhibits a strong tendency for sanctifying killings and other forms of violence in the name of a collective cause inspired by creed, sect, ethnicity or race and pursued with fanatic fervour. All that is needed to mobilise a group for action is a precipitating event – the enactment of the Elections Act, 2017, for example.
Mob behaviour is an expression of both cultural conflict and organisational failure. It lays bare cleavages and schism present in a society. That’s why the action earns both approval and disapproval, admiration and condemnation. One side regards the perpetrators as heroes serving a ‘noble’ cause; for the other they are despicable villains. The behaviour also signifies the failure of both formal and informal methods of social control.
Mob justice clashes with the principle of rule of law, which is the lifeblood of the body politic. It’s not for a mob but for formal public institutions to prosecute, convict and punish an offender. The mob is neither a reliable judge of what is fair; nor is it interested in doing justice per se. It’s only actuated by the desire to revenge upon a convenient target for its allegedly mischievous actions.
Not only does mob justice signify a weakening of the formal methods of social control, it also erodes the faith of the people in the state’s ability or willingness to protect their life, property and religious symbols – the very raison d’être of the state. This makes public authority even weaker. Mob justice assumes even more threatening proportions when it is prompted, and justified, by an appeal to faith.
The social structure in Pakistan is becoming increasingly conducive to violent behaviour. Blood sport seems to have become the favourite pastime for a large section of society, which rejoices in killing for the sheer fun of it. Society is increasingly becoming fascistic and fanatical, bigoted and brutal, belligerent and extremist, while the voices of dissent and reason, of sanity and moderation are being ruthlessly suppressed.
Political and cultural factors have combined to bring our society to this gruesome state. In the past, on quite a few occasions, the constitution was abrogated or suspended and a lawfully elected government was dismissed. Those extra-constitutional actions embodied the message that force is the recipe for political problems and that anyone mustering enough strength was entitled to govern and exact obedience from others. When the claim to political power rests on the ability to coerce, the faith of the rest of society in peaceful conflict resolution is shaken.
Over the years, Imran Khan has tried to inject strong doses of morality into politics: the cancer of corruption is eating into the vitals of the body politic. If a thorough surgery is not performed by hanging the corrupt lot in one go, the entire political edifice will collapse. Since the elected institutions are averse to doing that, let’s get this done by the mob. Such has been the PTI’s alluring narrative. The TLRY has gone one step ahead and injected even more potent doses of religion into politics. It’s a game fraught with mortal dangers. But the game has started and where it will end up is anybody’s guess.
While religion can provide a moral basis to politics, unfortunately in our case it has been abused for political purposes and given a militaristic interpretation. In the eyes of many religious outfits, killing innocent non-Muslims or Muslims of another sect is jihad if it helps promote the cause of their creed. A society where poverty, unemployment and ignorance are endemic and an analytical, rational approach to problems is lacking and where lethal weapons are easily available, it is not much difficult to use people as a tool for committing violence in the name of religion.
Saudi Arabia In Transition
We are living in interesting times marked by massive transformations that have informed the global order. While the gradual American withdrawal from its traditional global leadership role has been matched by the peaceful rise of China as the harbinger of globalisation, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is undergoing a historic transition under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, known as MBS in the international media.
Described as the Saudi version of the Arab Spring, the changes brought within the kingdom by MBS appear to be set on the path of an ambitious restructuring. The only difference is that the Arab Spring was a bottom-up phenomenon in the Middle Eastern countries that were under its influence but failed miserably in having an impact. However, in the case of Saudi Arabia, a top-down restructuring, led by the country’s 32-year-old crown prince, has been witnessed.
The scale and depth of what Saudi Arabia is currently going through was amply reflected in the headlines about the arrests of leading royals and businessmen in, what has been described as, an anticorruption drive. In an interview with Thomas Friedman of The New York Times on November 23, the crown prince said: “our country has suffered a lot from corruption from the 1980s until today. The calculation of our exports is that roughly 10 percent of all government spending was siphoned off by corruption each year, from the top levels to the bottom. Over the years, the government launched more than one ‘war on corruption’ and they all failed. Why? Because they all started from the bottom up”.
While critics are quick to paint the anticorruption drive as an attempt to humble the powerful rivals and strengthen the crown prince’s grip on the levers of power, the government expects to collect “around $100 billion in settlements”.
In order to understand what exactly is happening in the kingdom, it is important to get the context right. The Saudi Arabia of today has been shaped by three key events of 1979: the occupation of the Grand Mosque in Makkah by Saudi puritanical extremists who singled out the ruling family for all manner of allegations from corruption to a brazen surrender to Western values; the Islamic revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
These mega events put the kingdom on the path of orthodoxy in an effort to outcompete the Iranian religious establishment. At home, the ruling family entered into a partnership with the influential Wahhabi clergy to cement its hold on power. On the external front, the kingdom – together with Pakistan and the US – started an international jihad to free Afghanistan from the clutches of the Red Army. In all three fronts, Islam was pushed to the centre of the policy debate.
Mohammad Bin Salman’s efforts to reshape the Saudi state – both as a polity and a society – is marked by his plans to bring moderate Islam to Saudi Arabia and implement his Vision 2030. His vow to give birth to a more moderate Islam is reflected in the baby steps that he has taken towards achieving this goal, such as curbing the role of the religious police and giving women the permission to drive. In other words, he is asking his people to judge his government “not on the touchstone of piety but on performance”, especially the key performance indicators (KPIs) such as health, education, economic growth and unemployment. He seems to have chosen a relatively less religious and more secular Saudi nationalism to redefine the Saudi identity.
In his interview with Thomas Friedman, the crown prince instructed the journalist: “do not write that we are ‘reinterpreting’ Islam. We are ‘restoring’ Islam to its origins and our biggest tools are the Prophet’s (pbuh) practices and (daily life in) Saudi Arabia before 1979”.
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which was enunciated by Mohammad Bin Salman in April 2016 to break free from the shackles that have halted the growth of the Saudi state, is triggered by the new realities that the kingdom is facing. Saudi Arabia faces the biggest youth bulge, with 70 percent of its population under 30 years and roughly 25 percent of them with no job. Around two lakh Saudi young men and women are studying abroad and 35,000 of them are coming home with foreign qualifications, looking for productive and rewarding careers in the non-oil economic sectors.
Traditionally, since its discovery, the Saudi economy has thrived on the strength of oil that has provided 90 percent revenues, giving the kingdom unprecedented power and prestige in the world. Since 2005, the Saudi economy has grown at an average of 5.5 percent annually with $300 billion going towards the government treasury every year. However, oil prices have plummeted since 2014. A barrel, which was sold for $100 for much of the decade, is now available at $20. The oil prices are unlikely to bounce back, with the experts describing $100 oil as “an aberration that would not recur [without] an international crisis”.
Vision 2030 seeks to reduce dependence on oil as the principal source of revenue generation and promotes self-reliance in all sectors of the economy. “Our vision is a strong, thriving and stable Saudi Arabia …with Islam [as] its constitution and moderation as its method.” That is how Mohammad Bin Salman, the architect of the plan, described the guiding vision underlining his ambitious project.
The intended privatisation of the national oil company, Saudi Aramco, which is known as the “crown jewel” and “golden goose” of the kingdom, underscores the message that “nothing is secure from the sweeping change”. The sale of a five percent share of the oil giant is expected to fetch $100 billion.
The reforms have not been without pain. A majority of Saudis – who have seen good times as their basic necessities are provided for by the state at little or no cost – have had their subsidies on water, energy and electricity reduced. In September, the government cut the salaries and other benefits offered to government employees who comprise 60 percent of the workforce. This has suddenly slashed their take-home salaries by 30 percent. Though the decision was subsequently reversed, the message that was sent across was loud and clear: the days of the state’s largesse were over.
The economic strains generated by reduced oil revenues are manifest from the fact that the foreign currency reverses fell below $500 billion in May this year – the lowest level in four years – with the result that the deficit was funded in part by drawing down reverses that stood at $750 billion in 2014. This practice cannot continue.
The space for women in the Saudi economy is increasingly expanding. Vision 2030 aims to encourage the participation of women from 22 percent to 30 percent by 2030. Women constitute 60 percent of university graduates and symbolic steps are already underway on this count to involve them in public affairs. With a view to increase the role of Saudi women in the economy, a woman was named as the chairperson of the Saudi stock exchange. A woman heads a major bank while another has been appointed to lead women’s sports.
However, the goal of diversifying the economy by encouraging privatisation is proving to be a hard nut to crack. Though the government has earmarked $53 billion for the development of the private sector, the challenge lies in continuing with the reform process to achieve sustainable results.
The leadership of the crown prince will be the key to ensure that the reforms process is taken to its logical conclusion. Getting embroiled in the fight for regional supremacy is another challenge that the Saudi leadership will have to take measures against so as to focus on internal consolidation.
Chinese philosopher Laozi famously said: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Surely, the kingdom has started on a long but unpredictable journey of a massive transformation.
Pakistan In The Chinese Orbit
December 4, 2017
Changes in Pakistan’s external environment have pushed it towards seeking a closer alliance with China. This is happening in response to the hardening of Washington’s position towards Islamabad in the context of Donald Trump’s evolving approach towards Afghanistan. The White House believes that America’s position in Afghanistan is due to Pakistan’s tolerance of extremists who are operating out of the sanctuaries they have established in the country’s tribal areas. The Trump administration is also developing close relations with India. In late November, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, went to India and was hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In a study prepared for a Washington-based think tank, Shirin Tahir-Kheli and I concluded that Islamabad should give a clear message to Washington that while in the past it might have relied heavily on America’s financial assistance, that need not be the case any longer. Now, in China, Pakistan has a source for the needed capital. In the three periods when Washington was deeply engaged with Pakistan, capital inflows helped the country achieve high rates of economic growth. But Washington came into the country for its own reasons and left, often abruptly, when it no longer needed Pakistan.
CPEC: a tale of success that still leaves a lot to be desired
But China has longer-term interests in the geographic space of which Pakistan is a part. The way China has begun to deal with its neighbourhood is sometimes referred to as ‘geo-economics’. This implies the use of economic instruments to achieve geopolitical goals. Robert Blackwill and Jennifer Harris explored the concept in their 2016 book War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft, calling China “the world’s leading practitioner of geo-economics, but it has also been perhaps the major factor in returning regional and global power projection back to an importantly economic (as opposed to political-military) exercise.”
Shunned and often scolded by the United States and shunted aside by Narendra Modi’s India, Pakistan has moved firmly into the Chinese orbit. This move will have positive consequences for both Pakistan and China. Given this dramatic shift in Pakistan’s external orientation, policymakers in Islamabad should keep a careful watch on how the Chinese are developing their approach to the world outside their borders. Three developments are influencing the way Beijing is looking at the world: reaction of the rise of Donald Trump in the United States, the consolidation of power in the hands of President Xi Jinping and the adoption by Beijing of a new economic growth model.
In a tweet followed by a television interview, President Trump called Xi the “king of China.” While the description is exaggerated, it does raise the question as to how Xi has been vaulted into a Chinese pantheon occupied only by Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ is now celebrated as the guide to a ‘new era’ for China. The ‘new era’ is a term used repeatedly by Xi in his long address to the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party held in October 2017. Xi planned his rise carefully, using citizenry’s disgust with pervasive corruption in the Chinese political and economic systems to consolidate his hold. Pamir Consulting, a leading advisory firm working on China, provides some indication of the toll the anti-corruption drive has taken. The campaign led to the prosecution of 278,000 members of the Communist Party, including 440 ministerial or provincial officials, and 43 Central Committee members. The military was not spared, either. Under the campaign, 13,000 officers were sacked and more than 50 generals were imprisoned for corruption. Having thus cleared the decks, Xi brought in his own people. Of the 25 members of the Politburo, 17 are Xi’s allies while four of the seven members of the Standing Committee — the highest policymaking body in the country — are closely aligned with the president.
Pakistan’s Debt Trap Is Real
Having consolidated his hold over the Chinese system, Xi has begun to focus on the world at large. Five years ago when he was appointed Secretary General of the Communist Party and the country’s president, Xi spoke of China’s ambitions to be a regional power. In the long speech given at the 19th Party Congress, Xi raised his ambition and presented an agenda for China’s growth through 2050 that would turn his nation into a “modernised strong country that will dominate technology, finance and security and develop strong connections with the world.” Gideon Rachman, who contributes a widely read column to the Financial Times, recently wrote about Chinese challenge to the West. This is working on three fronts: ideological, economic and geopolitical. China’s political model can be sold to the rest of the world as an alternative to America’s promotion of democracy. In this endeavour, Beijing is being helped by the way Trump is governing in America. China is also increasingly confident that it can combine tight political control with continued rapid economic growth and technological innovation. China is now the leader in many new technologies. It is a leading presence in a range of fields, including robotics, drones, solar technology and artificial intelligence.
It is in geopolitics that China will have the greatest impact. While the United States has the capacity to challenge Beijing in the open seas, it is in land connectivity that the Chinese will rule supreme. The heavily promoted Belt and Road Initiative is aimed at developing “new markets for China across Eurasia — with infrastructure links across central and south Asia towards Europe and Africa,” notes Rachman. “Twenty Chinese cities are now connected to Europe by direct rail links and the amount of freight sent this way has quintupled since 2013, as routes such as Chengdu to Prague and Wuhan to Lyon establish themselves.” By placing itself in the Chinese orbit, Pakistan can take advantage of this evolving system based on the concept of ‘geo-economics’.
Pakistan needs to change its direction and set up a strong knowledge economy. Countries that are investing in science, technology and innovation are progressing rapidly and, thereby, increasing the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.
The gap has become so wide that the Muslim world now appears to be at least 200 years behind the West in terms of science and technology. This is illustrated by the fact that Harvard University has produced 151 Nobel Prize winners, Columbia University has fostered 101, Cambridge University has produced 94 and the University of Chicago has cultivated 89. Meanwhile, not a single Nobel Prize has been awarded to scientists in the Muslim world for research that has been exclusively carried out within a Muslim country.
Similarly, about 8,000 scientists have been elected as fellows of the prestigious Royal Society (in London) since 1660. But only four of them have originated from the Muslim world. It is interesting that two of these scientists have worked in Pakistan’s premier research institute, the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences at Karachi University (late Prof Salimuzzaman Siddiqui and this writer).
However, we cannot make a transition towards a knowledge economy without a visionary, competent and honest leadership. Pakistan is going through the worst economic period in its history, with the national debt drowning the country and rapidly pulling it into a state of bankruptcy. Pakistan’s total external debt was $33,172 million in the third quarter of 2004. This was the debt accumulated after 57 years of our existence. What followed was a disaster that was largely the result of an NRO that brought corrupt regimes into power. Our rulers have looted and plundered at will, fully supported by foreign financing agencies, and the external debt has now reached $82,981 million in the second quarter of 2017 – an increase of 250 percent. If this money had been used for investment in productive ventures –such as boosting agricultural productivity, constructing large dams, establishing top educational institutions or improving healthcare – then a huge loan may have been understandable. But this was not done and there is little to show for what was borrowed.
The 18th Amendment has allowed a much greater share of the national budget to be transferred to the provinces. In Sindh, this has largely resulted in corruption, with little to show on the ground. The rural areas of Sindh now appear to be completely devastated.
The massive land-grabbing scams, particularly those that have surfaced in Sindh, have remained public knowledge. Only the Supreme Court can act under the current political system to take the elements involved in these scams to task. Under former COAS General Raheel Sharif, there was hope that the military will continue to exert its muscle to ensure that the National Action Plan would be implemented to rid the country of terrorism and corruption. However, matters appear to be getting worse.
The overall future scenario looks grim and immediate remedial steps need to be taken. The two essential ingredients that are required for the survival and prosperity of a nation are effective justice and a high-quality educational system that unleashes the creative potential of the youth. Unfortunately, both elements have deteriorated rapidly in Pakistan. The decline has been triggered by our rulers since a perceptive, educated population are averse to allowing corruption to prevail.
An example of the failure of the justice system to deliver is the fact that there are three higher education commissions in Pakistan. One of these is a federal body while the other two are provincial entities that have been established in Sindh and Punjab, respectively. Universities in Sindh and Punjab receive regular conflicting notices from the provincial and federal HECs and they are often confused about whose directives they should follow. The best way to destroy a country is to destroy its educational system so that the minds of its youth fail to blossom.
I had filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 2010 when the then government had tried to fragment the HEC and hand its pieces to the provinces. The Supreme Court had decided in 2011 that higher education was a federal subject and its status was protected under several clauses of the 18th Amendment. However, in blatant contempt of the Supreme Court’s decision, the Sindh and Punjab governments went ahead to form parallel HECs. This has duplicated the functions of the federal body and has, consequently, resulted in chaos in the higher education sector.
Along with Marvi Memon, I filed a joint petition in the Sindh High Court in February 2013 against the legality of forming a provincial HEC when a federal body still existed and there was a clear order from the Supreme Court that higher education could not be devolved to the provinces. Almost five years have passed and the Sindh High Court is still “considering” the matter.
It’s a pity that the future of our youth is being destroyed while our justice system remains dormant. It is time that the Supreme Court took suo motu action to disband the provincial HECs as these bodies are illegal and defy the court’s 2011 decision.
How do we climb out of this mess? Early elections, as proposed by Imran Khan, are not the answer as the electoral process is thoroughly corrupt. Elections are invariably unfair and never reflect the actual public sentiment. The process is under the stranglehold of the corrupt and powerful ‘electables’ who control the votes. The same corrupt people will, therefore, repeatedly assume power, irrespective of how many times you repeat a corrupt election process. This is precisely what the foreign enemies of Pakistan want.
Holding elections without thoroughly cleansing the country from those who have been involved in massive corruption will be a major disaster. An interim technocratic government is thus the need of the hour. The system must first be cleansed and changes must be made within our constitution to ensure that we are on the correct path.
December 06, 2017
At 50, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is not even a shadow of its past glory. Founded as a party of change and later evolving into a party of resistance, it is now a tragic spectacle of a dying legacy. Once the most powerful political force with its roots deeply entrenched in the masses, it has been reduced to a regional party, thus leaving a huge gap in national politics that is hard to fill.
The PPP has become more of a family business enterprise having little connection with the people that it once claimed to represent. Can the attempt to resuscitate the party under a third-generation Bhutto succeed? It seems doubtful that just the Bhutto name would help regain the political space that the PPP has lost.
It may be true that the PPP still espouses a more progressive ethos than most other mainstream national political parties. But the leadership seems completely alienated from the changing social, political and economic dynamics. It will need much more than dynastical appeal and shrine politics to lift the party up.
It is not just Bhutto family charisma but a new political programme and strategy that are needed to mobilise the new generation of Pakistanis looking for change. They will certainly not be impressed by mere slogans of ‘jiye Bhutto’. More important is what the party represents today and what kind of change it promises to bring.
Indeed, the party has some highly dedicated old guards still surviving in its ranks, but they seem completely out of place in the politics of wheeling and dealing that has been mastered by Asif Ali Zardari. Under his stewardship, the party has lost its traditional connection with the masses that, in the past, had helped the party survive some of the worst forms of state repression and bounce back after electoral setbacks.
Can the attempt to resuscitate the party under a third-generation Bhutto succeed?
Restoring the populist character of the party will indeed be the biggest challenge for the young Bilawal Bhutto Zardari who still has to go through the rigour that his illustrious mother had experienced. Living most of his life outside and now thrown into a leadership role without any real experience of the tricky game of politics or understanding of those who play it does not make it easy for the inheritor of the most formidable political legacy. It is also important to learn from the party’s history of struggle and the mistakes it has committed that caused its downfall.
It was half a century ago when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, undoubtedly the most charismatic politician this country has ever produced, founded the PPP that subsequently changed the Pakistani political landscape forever. With its socialist programme and populist slogans, the party instantly drew the support of the youth, the working class and the urban middle class across the country.
Having served as federal minister in Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s military government, Bhutto was not a novice in politics. His deep understanding of history and exposure to the outside world rendered him head and shoulders above other political leaders of the time. Bhutto formed the PPP after leaving the government following the disastrous 1965 war with India.
It is imperative to take cognisance of the domestic political dynamics and the international environment of the late 1960s in order to understand the PPP’s politics and its phenomenal rise as a popular political force. It was a period when popular movements for change swept across the globe and unrest against the military government in Pakistan had turned into a mass uprising.
Pakistan was ripe for change. Bhutto’s slogan of Islamic socialism and nationalism instantly struck a chord with students and the intelligentsia demanding restoration of democracy. Bhutto became a symbol of hope. His greatest contribution was that he gave a voice to the common people. Not surprisingly, the PPP emerged as the largest party in what was then West Pakistan in the first general elections in the country’s history.
But history would not judge Bhutto favourably for his role in the political crisis after the elections that ultimately led to the disintegration of the country. However, he certainly lifted the morale of a defeated nation. He rebuilt a truncated country and gave it a constitution. One of his greatest contributions was to diversify Pakistan’s foreign policy by shedding the traditional one-dimensional approach of dependence on the United States.
Bhutto’s authoritarian style of governance and his sweeping nationalisation of industries and financial institutions had, however, drawn intense criticism. Yet it did not affect his mass popularity. His ouster by a military coup and his judicial murder changed Pakistan’s political landscape forever. It has made him immortal in Pakistan’s political history.
While Benazir Bhutto took her father’s legacy forward, she also emerged as a leader in her own right, giving the party a new direction in the changing situation. Like her father, she had a strong grasp of history and her connection with her supporters was admirable. She suffered jail and hardship in exile more than any other political leader. She led the democratic struggle against the worst military dictatorship.
Although the people voted her twice into power, it was a constant struggle against the security establishment that tried to block her every step. Her first government lasted for only 18 months, while the second was cut short halfway through her term. Undoubtedly, her own inexperience and the allegations of widespread corruption charges involving her husband also contributed to the downfall of her governments.
There may be some criticism of her signing the National Reconciliation Ordinance with Gen Musharraf, but that move paved the way for elections and ultimately led to the restoration of democracy. She was the only leader who bravely challenged the militants and religiously inspired extremists who eventually caused her death.
Her party returned to power after her assassination. But the leadership gap left by her death has never been filled. The ascension to power of Asif Zardari brought a fundamental change to the party’s philosophy leading to its virtual downfall. It is certainly not an auspicious moment for the party to be celebrating its 50th anniversary.
December 6, 2017
In a no man’s land along the Syria-Jordan border, an estimated 55,000 Syrians escaped the horrors of Syria’s conflict only to languish, abandoned in the desert as one country after another evades responsibility for their safety and wellbeing. Some have been there since at least June 2016.
In a statement to the media on November 9, Jan Egeland, the United Nations humanitarian adviser on Syria, highlighted the complexity of the Syrians’ situation. Considering Jordan’s total refusal to provide aid across the border, he said, the UN with the help of Russia and the United States has finalised a plan that would provide aid from inside Syria. “Insha Allah soon,” he said.
“Insha Allah soon” is not good enough for the desperate people stranded there. Their situation is steadily deteriorating, as the winter cold sets in.
The Syrians are living in makeshift tents and mud huts in deplorable conditions in an informal camp known as ‘Rukban,’ in a desert area just north of a raised sand barrier, or ‘berm’ near the convergence of the Iraqi, Syrian, and Jordanian borders. They were trapped there when Jordan sealed the border following an attack on its soldiers there that was claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in June 2016.
In addition to denying Syrians the right to seek asylum, Jordan’s border closure has impeded delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid and severely restricted humanitarian agencies’ capacity to operate there. The last partial aid delivery was almost six months ago and reached only 35,000 people, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
On October 8, Jordan announced an end to even limited humanitarian assistance to Rukban from its territory. Its foreign affairs minister, Ayman Safadi, said that Rukban camp “will never be a Jordanian responsibility.” He said that aid must come from the Syrian side. The Syrian government itself has made no promises to deliver aid to the camp and has a long track record of blocking humanitarian assistance to opposition-held areas leaving people there to starve.
When aid groups have tried to deliver aid from government-held areas into rebel-held areas, in addition to the serious difficulties of getting the government’s permission, they have experienced ongoing hostilities, removal of life-saving material from aid packages, inconsistent access, and attacks on humanitarian convoys.
We recently spoke to four residents at the berm by phone. Abu Ahmed, a refugee from Palmyra who arrived in the Rukban camp over a year and a half ago, described the chaos, poverty, and suffering that characterises life there. He said his wife has severe kidney problems, which he blamed on polluted water and the lack of adequate medical care.
“She is in a lot of pain,” he said. “It doesn’t go away. She is the mother of six, the youngest is only one and a half years old. If something happens to her, it will be a catastrophe for us.”About the closed border, he said, “If my wife poses a national security threat, then you can cuff her when you let her in, but please let her in.”
Other residents told us they had not had access to drinkable water for 15 days, resulting in diarrhoea and dehydration for children and adults. One resident said that “the water is so salty, it is as though we are drinking from the Dead Sea.”
Jordan should not reject any Syrian seeking asylum at its border and send them back to face persecution or worse. Tragically, at this point, the issue is not about fundamental principles, but rather about what, at a minimum, Jordan needs to do to prevent deaths in the desert. The immediate need is to allow life-saving aid to cross its border into Syria, but it should also allow in vulnerable individuals and those needing medical care. The plan by the UN, US and Russia to work on a cross-line delivery from Damascus should help to calm any concerns that Jordan has that it will be left to bear the responsibility for Rukban on its own.
Other countries with a stake in the conflict, such as the US and Russia, also have a role in ensuring the safety and well-being of those at risk. However, international collective action has been consistently marred by diverging interests and backsliding on commitments, even for issues as noncontroversial as access to aid. This failure has spelt catastrophe for people on the ground, with Rukban as only one in a string of horrific examples.
Residents of Rukban need a place where they are safe - where their children do not come under attack or starve to death. The US, Jordan and Russia should stop passing the buck and resolve the serious humanitarian crisis in Rukban camp now. The critical, immediate imperative is for Jordan to re-instate cross-border aid delivery and allow the most vulnerable people to enter the country. The absence of real political will and quick collective action is hampering any solution, and the clock is ticking.
ALI Abdullah Saleh survived several assassination attempts during his decades at the helm in Yemen, but the former president’s luck ran out on Monday.
It remains unclear whether he was killed in a fire fight or summarily executed by his, until very recently, Houthi allies as he fled Sanaa, the Yemeni capital. It remains to be seen precisely what effect his sudden excision from the scene will have on the devastating war in the country he led for more than 30 years.
Saleh was no stranger to switching sides. In fact, it was something of a habit with him. He allied himself firmly with Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, only to succumb to the lure of American largesse following the USS Cole attack by Al Qaeda affiliates in 2000 and even more notably post-9/11, with US agencies allowed free rein to pursue their prey via drones. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was subsequently designated as the deadliest arm of Osama bin Laden’s outfit.
As a young soldier, Saleh fought on the side of the Yemeni republican forces backed by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser against the Saudi-supported forces of regression in the 1960s, but as president he slipped in and out of Saudi favour. The kingdom expelled 800,000 Yemeni workers in retaliation against Saleh’s support for Saddam, but it did not want him gone when the Arab Spring reached Sanaa in 2011. Saleh was eventually persuaded to make way for his vice-president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi — who in recent years has been based mainly in Riyadh.
During Saleh’s extended tenure as president, his energies were frequently devoted to combating Houthi rebels, so it was something of a surprise when he aligned his forces with theirs in the fight against Hadi and, latterly, the Saudi-led military coalition spearheading Operation Decisive Storm. But at the same time he tentatively kept open channels to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, and UAE diplomats are believed to have been instrumental in persuading Saleh to reconsider his allegiances yet again.
Saleh was no stranger to switching sides.
Saudi media had lately begun referring to him as “the former president” rather than “the deposed dictator”, and it is rumoured that the offer involved either his return to the presidency or his son’s induction as the new leader. On the other hand, it has also been suggested that the all-powerful Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, holds a grudge against Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali, after the two of them almost came to blows a couple of years ago. So, who knows?
What’s clearer is that last week’s volte-face immediately spawned a battle for the control of Sanaa, which had hitherto jointly been held by the Houthis and forces loyal to Saleh. The latter lost out, and their chief sought to escape. He didn’t get very far.
Analysts fear that the removal from the scene of a perennial player will intensify the conflict, with both Saleh loyalists and the Saudis, who had hailed the ex-president’s betrayal of his latest allies as a breakthrough, hungry for revenge. The short-term consequences may indeed conform to that scenario. But the bigger picture of the region’s richest nation devoting a substantial proportion of the firepower it readily obtains from the US, Britain and France to punishing its poorest neighbour remains unaltered.
Saudi media routinely refers to the Houthis as Iranian militias, which is plainly inaccurate. The extent of Iranian involvement in the conflict is likely to have increased since the Saudi onslaught, but citing it as the main reason for pursuing the aggression was always fallacious. And let’s not forget that the Saudis and Emiratis expected Pakistan to jump at the chance of providing human fodder for the war.
Pakistan demurred, much to their dismay. But it provided a chief, in the shape of Raheel Sharif, for the so-called ‘Muslim Nato’ that Bin Salman subsequently drummed up, which could only be intended, in the medium term, to serve as a force dedicated to the obstruction — or destruction — of Iranian influence in the region. And, however deleterious one might assume Iran’s role and ambitions to be, could they conceivably be worse than Saudi designs — which lately have been closely aligned with the Trump-Netanyahu playbook, not least in respect of Palestinian fortunes?
What role, if any, the ‘Muslim Nato’ might be playing in Yemen is, conveniently, unknown. What is well known, on the other hand, is the extent of the humanitarian catastrophe the conflict has spawned, including the worst cholera epidemic of modern times, and famine on a scale that puts Syria in the shade. A considerable proportion of the blame for these crimes against humanity can only be attached to the future custodian of the holy shrines and his blinkered allies.
Saleh’s departure from the scene may not turn out to be an immediate boon for Yemen, but his considerable responsibility for its horrendous fate can hardly be denied.
A LITTLE over a month ago, the intelligence branch of the Lahore police carried out an investigation into the drug inspectors charged with the task of ensuring that medicines sold to the public were safe for consumption and were not counterfeit or beyond their expiration dates. The result of the investigation, published in a report provided to various news agencies, revealed that 64 of the 121 drug inspectors were involved in some level of corruption.
The consequences, of course, can easily be guessed: hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis consuming medicines they think will make them or their children or their elderly family members healthier, are being duped. The medicines are either not what they say they are, or are old, or doctored in some other way. They will not make the patient better; they may well make the patient much sicker.
This is not an old problem in Pakistan. Many will remember the catastrophic debacle that took place at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) in January 2012, when at least 100 cardiac patients at the institute died because they had been administered wrongly constituted anti-hypertensive medications. The faulty ingredients lodged in the patient’s bone marrow, reduced their ability to produce white blood cells, and hence the ability to fight infection.
A WHO report reveals that 10pc of all medicinal products available for sale in poor and middle-income countries are either expired, tainted or unsafe.
Several drug brands were involved. By the time the cause was discovered, and the usual kinds of inquiries ordered, the affected patients, most of whom were poor, had already died a horrendous and needless death.
Not much, it seems, has improved. If the police report is to be believed (such are the options in Pakistan), and a good half of the drug inspectors entrusted with the task of ensuring that catastrophes like the one at PIC do not recur, are corrupt, then we are all playing a game of Russian roulette. Past incidents are not the only cautionary tales in this regard; recent statistics back up the sordid nature of these scams.
A report released by the World Health Organisation just last week revealed that 10 per cent of all medicinal products available for purchase in poor and middle-income countries are either expired, tainted or unsafe in some way. The most frequently problematic drugs include antibiotics and anti-malarial drugs, so everything from a bad case of bronchitis to life-threatening malaria can expose unsuspecting patients who put their faith in the pills that kill, or at the least, fail to cure. Unsurprisingly, children, smaller in size and weight, are the most vulnerable to the dangers of contaminated or counterfeit or expired medications. What grown-ups may be able to endure often kills them.
None of this seems to be much cause for concern for the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap). Not only is there no system via which the public can be informed of advisories or warnings about the possibility of counterfeit or contamination issues, there seems to be no oversight of drug pricing either.
A case in point is that of a certain cancer drug. A news report published last month revealed that the sale price of 100mg capsules of this drug was Rs31,000. This is despite the fact that the import price of the drug is stated on official paperwork to be Rs7,225. Even though the matter has been raised before Drap by the federal drugs inspector, there has been no resolution. The situation, obviously, is ripe for even further exploitation, for someone to come in and sell fake or faulty pills for a cheaper price.
In the meantime, those already suffering, the cancer patients forced to buy the drug at inflated prices, are made to suffer more because of delay and corruption and gross ineptitude. Many others undoubtedly cannot purchase the drug at all, and will die.
If the pills don’t kill directly, it seems they do so by their prices, which render medication inaccessible to many who cannot afford to pay more than five times their actual price. While the case of this cancer drug is one that actually has come to the attention of the authorities, there are likely thousands of others being similarly sold at prices beyond the maximum stated on the import paperwork.
In such circumstances, when regulation agencies look the other way, corrupt inspectors don’t care about lives, and suppliers search for every chance to adulterate content and inflate prices, all consumers must look out for themselves. Some strategies suggested by WHO to detect whether a drug is legitimate include analysing labels to note grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, looking at all dates available on packaging to ensure that they are not expired, looking at pills to ensure they are not discoloured, degraded or smell unusual, and ultimately discussing with your pharmacist or doctor if you feel a medicine is not working. Feeble as they may seem, these strategies may end up saving time and possibly lives.
As far as regulatory authorities and the government itself is concerned, there seems to be little cause for hope. If there is anyone at all at Drap who cares about the vulnerable position of consumers, the 64 drug inspectors found to be corrupt in Punjab must immediately be fired. In addition, Drap must immediately develop a system via which information about medicines suspected to have been adulterated, counterfeited or subjected to tampering is shared with the public via advisories on television, radio, and the social media.
In an age where everyone is carrying around a mobile phone, this regulatory agency can quite easily provide such information to millions of consumers who are currently in the dark. As for the patients themselves, those taking medicines for heart trouble or diabetes or really any medical condition at all, they must remember that everywhere on the market are pills that kill.
HEART rending shock waves were felt not only in Egypt but in the region and all over the world also as a result of massive shooting in Rawdah mosque in the northern part of the Sinai peninsula, in which deadly terrorists took away 235 innocent lives with many still trying to survive. After this terrorist attack the question arises, why Bir al Abed? Why did they choose innocent Egyptians from this part of the country? Apparently the habitants of this village refused to comply with the demands of the militant groups, said ‘NO’ to terrorists and refused to provide them a safe haven in their village. These innocents paid heavy price for this refusal as we witnessed. Looking into a broader perspective, we will look into the reasons and the implications attributed to this attack.
Firstly, Egyptian army succeeded in their fight against terror to push them round the corner and expel them from the main cities of the north Sinai such as Al-Arish and Sheikh Zuayed. The terrorists met with great frustration and stared to launch attack on soft targets. To inflict collateral damage to the people of Sinai and the central government in Cairo the accomplishment in breaking the backbone of these groups on the western border with Libya especially after the great achievement of taking down of scores of militants in the area which was carried out by the group called Al Murabiteen.
Secondly, the political success of the Egyptian government by mediating between the two major Palestinian factions – Hamas and Fatah – has completely famished the line of supply and support to these militants. After the reconciliation between the Palestinians, Hamas has shown great cooperation with the Egyptian authorities and provide them with information that lead to inflict several strikes to the hideouts of these terrorists inside and outside the peninsula. Thirdly, observers believe that the Egyptian government, its intelligence and security agencies have to enhance its coordination with the Palestinian authorities in order to tighten up the circles around these groups to dry up and bury these terrorist groups under their own line of supply and financial support that comes through a clumsy border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip and other parts of Sinai, particularly when the Egyptians decided to handover the administrative control of the Rafah passage to the Palestinian authorities.
Fourthly, the other important development that could also link the reason behind this barbaric attack is advancement of Egyptian security agencies to knock down the biggest espionage network that was working within Egypt with the support of international agencies that led to the arrest of 29 Egyptians and some other foreign nationals. ISIS and its faction groups sharing the same ideology of establishing khilafat in the region and whosoever goes against them, is called a Kafir as per their definition. These groups have faced severe damage after the Iraqi forces pushed the ISIS fighters out from Mosul and other Iraqi cities towards the Syrian border.
A military operation called ‘revenge’ was launched as the first action in which several militants taking part were killed. President Abdul Fattah Sisi immediately affirmed to the Egyptian people in his televised speech that Egypt after this barbaric massacre is stronger than ever and will fight back all terrorists in its land and beyond. Egypt is targeted through regional designs to divide the region and destabilize the Egyptian State, involving the US and Israel as they plan to resettle the Palestinians in north Sinai to enable Israel to expand its resettlement plan in the Gaza Strip. The Financial Times reveals that the Egyptian government has repulsed the pressure from both Washington and Tel Aviv over the past four years and the alternate was to launch such an operation through these guerrilla groups inside the Egyptian territory in order to turn the tribal community in Sinai against the government.
The latest in devour by the American Administration of Donald Trump to pressurise President Sisi was through a message sent by an envoy to Sisi during his recent visit to Cyprus in which American Administration confirmed huge investment in Egypt to help revive the economy and help Egypt to secure its western border as well as resolving the water crisis with Ethiopia which is building a dam that can reduce Egyptian allocations of the Nile water which Egypt sees a direct threat to its national security. In return of these offers, Egypt has to agree to give away parts of northern Sinai especially Al-Aris, Sheikh Zuayed and Bir Abd. Egypt is confronting a regional strategic war. Egyptian government and people are determined not to compromise under any circumstances or pressure against its national security and sovereignty.