Empires rose and fell in the history but none fell before the rise. The empire (a metaphor) characterised by his appeal to the masses’ passion rather than territories that is christened by (Imran) Khan, a cricketer turned philanthropist and later a politician,
saturates the nation morally as does a mystic inspires his folks about the virtues he is determined to cling to, no matter what the cost, even life, if he has to sacrifice. This blizzard of hope has taken roots in a country soaked in corruption, anger, ethnic schism, poverty and incessant malicious blackmail from the top for last about six decades, turning the peace mongering society into fractured islands of violence.
His election campaigns sparked the ardent desire among his supporters to do something that could serve as a beacon for the posterity, heralding an era of peace and tranquillity. Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), that translates as ‘Pakistan Justice Movement’ is his platform from where he speaks extempore and with conviction. Truth drips from his every word, cutting through the thick layers of vile deception that wraps all politicians (a few exceptions apart), contesting 11 May 2013 general elections in Pakistan.
Fall and Rise of Khan
An edifice of empire with ‘centre’ orientation, yet an ideological one was building up fast. Everyone would love to rush to his rallies and those not finding the option feasible would get glued to TVs from the sofa brink. Then something struck like a bolt. Only three days before the elections, millions of his fans saw the towering Khan plummeting from 16 feet crashing platform. Hundreds of hearts were near to cease. It was as if the dream of Pakistan was shattering. The hope for emergence of a brilliant, meaningful and prosperous state where justice ruled was inclined to abandon us much faster than the falling Khan.
He sustained head injury and went unconscious for a while. The fall had occurred. Millions hands went up high above the shoulders; beseeching God to give him and Pakistan a chance. Lo and behold, All-knowing, All-seeing, the Merciful and the Magnificent answered prayers within minutes. Khan was back to senses, talking as if the hope had reinvigorated, pushing the entire nation in a fit of mix of jubilation and responsibility. Country appeared rising from the fall as did Khan who was on fast pace of recovery, consoling his fans from hospital bed to be calm and thrust ahead to realise PTI manifesto. He did not utter a single word to explain or complain, how and why he was tossed off the platform. With hands on the pulse of the people of Pakistan, he knew the scale and intensity of their anguish and at a critical moment he did not want to stoke their anger further. He aimed high. Brush with angel of death appears to have given him an added feel of aroma of ultimate success even if it was partially elusive this time on conclusion of current elections.
Spark of Hope
During his electioneering campaign, Khan sounded scary warnings about inevitable Tsunami to corrupt politicians and some top government functionaries against whom cases are pending in higher courts for swindling billions of rupees from state’s coffer. Tsunami, he described, would wash away all evils, the corrupt and others committing acts of felony but hiding behind the safety net that democracy affords even in the countries where rule of law is flouted or seen applying to the down trodden only. An elite class is above it, even when its crimes are abhorrently heinous. Dawn of 11 May witnessed an unimaginable phenomenon. Young, old men, women and children wrapped in PTI flags were reaching the polling stations before the doors opened.
Khan labelled the PTI performance akin to defeat amidst wide spread rigging episodes in Punjab and Karachi. However he was hilarious about the youths’ fervour with which they toiled day and night for the party. PTI has recovered from long drought. In 2002 elections, the party had yet not geared up and Khan won solitary National Assembly seat from his native constituency, NA-71 Mianwali. In 2008, PTI boycotted the general elections as a protest against the dictator, Gen Musharraf’s policies. During the five years break, it concentrated on organisational aspects and opinion mobilisation that led to its impressive performance, now in 2013. Jumping to National Assembly with 33 seats in pocket, emerging as leading party in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa (KP) with 34 seats and in Punjab with 22 seats, its leadership has proved that PTI is a force in national and international politics to reckon, with potentials of yet longer, perhaps trampling leaps during 2018 elections.
Summary of the election results which are yet to be officially declared amidst wide spread rigging charges, several parties have sounded, shows PML (N), a party led by Mian Nawaz Sharif has secured formidable position in National Assembly at the federal level and also in the Provincial Assembly of Punjab. PTI of Khan swept in KP with ‘Independents’ and JUI (F) on the trail prominently. Province of Sindh has been bagged by PPPP and in urban centres, MQM has made significant gains. Baluchistan has been the arena of nationalist parties where major parties have not been able to demonstrate their electoral power. Significant numbers of seats have been clinched by ‘independent’ candidates throughout the country with apparent motives to trade off their pivotal position as the bargain chips while extending cooperation to the leading party’s race to the power corridors. In a short stipulated period, they got to join some party but in the process, there have been instances in the past that they earned millions of rupees in exchange for the electoral support to the party wishing to ascend the podium.
Ground Realities and Future Projections
Some pleasant and bitter realities have emerged. PPPP led by Asif Zardari, the scandal-prone ruling party, has been reduced to non-entity in the national assembly as well as in the provinces except in its strong hold of Bhuttos (Sindh) where it managed to keep the nationalist tinge alive despite claiming to be the secular party. Indulgence in massive corruption and allowing coalition partners to blackmail it during the entire previous term in exchange of letting the party to run the highest offices at the federal level are the main causes of its downfall. No issue of the public concern when the nation sweltered under the weight of power crises or inflation and hopeless law and order situation, were addressed by the party seriously. They consumed the term in the struggle of their survival.
PML (N) has clinched dominating position at National Assembly and Punjab Provincial Assembly. The populous province of Punjab alone has more than 50 % share in the total electoral tally. With coalition partners that it may enlist, it is likely to rule Baluchistan as well. It would be unfair, though not impossible if it attempts to hijack PTI mandate from KP to constitute PML (N)-led government through alliance with smaller parties. Thus the party is confronted by interesting paradox which, if not handled with care could ruin its index of good governance.
PML(N) has the tendency to flout the majority mandate as it did during its previous term by locking horns with Chief of Army Staff, Gen Pervez Musharraf. As the prime minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif had the prerogative to appoint a chief of his own choosing but the manner he proceeded with to remove him was loathsome for the entire army. He wanted to prove himself an unbeatable macho and the Army chief a humble taxi driver as if the chief was to change the wheel only, forgetting that Army is extremely disciplined and respected institution. Even if he has learnt from his tragic episode of removal by Gen Musharraf, he is likely to fail on certain issues as one reads from his statements in last couple of days when he has yet not taken over the coveted office of the Premier. Hate for Army runs in his family genes for reasons best known to him to the extent that his brother, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, who shared PPPP government until March 2013 as the chief minister of the largest province of Punjab, gets hostile even to the retired Army officers. If ever any of them approached him for the redress of grievance, he took pleasure in giving cold shoulder to him if not an insult of the kind.
On the national and international issues, PML (N) is likely to fall trap to the glitters that are not to heal the wounds of people of Pakistan who have been afflicted with during the last about two decades. Its leadership rule would be characterised by love and hate only as it has no middle position, extremely vindictive to the foes and forgiving to its well wishers, no matter the degree of crimes they commit. Within last few days, talk of the town is that US and Saudi Arabia lent Sharif Brothers unrestricted financial support to prevent Khan Tsunami sinking PML (N) to the depths of nonentity. A journalist reportedly has pulled a loud shot through a column, claiming that to defeat Khan from Lahore constituency, Sharif Brothers doled out money to rig the election to the tune of 850 million rupees. Also their vengeance was at peak against PTI when they made two deplorable moves in Khan’s native constituency in Mianwali by forcing Humair Hayat Rokhri, a traditional winner family, to withdraw and leave field open for Obaidullah Shadikhel alone to win from Khan. Not stopping here, Sharif Brothers are alleged to have opened the treasure chest filled by US and Saudi Arabia for their candidate to defeat Khan, no matter what the price. Mercifully the tons of money could not purchase the proud people of Mianwali. The proofs are yet to surface from the level of wide spread gossips. Fortunately gossips in Pakistan are generally more authentic than the government inquiry commissions who produce concocted , distorted and corrupt reports.
There is a considerable hate for US but saner elements are of the opinion that powerful US must be respected and moved along as a partner. However no one, like Khan had declared, is inclined to be subservient to US. Royals of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are predominantly respected by every Pakistani, being the ‘khadim-ul-harmaain al-shariffain’ but interference in Pakistani politics to such an extent to defeat a sincere, truthful and dedicated leader like Khan is against the teaching of Islam. If the Royals had to side with anyone, they should have sided with PTI on merit or stayed away from PML(N) whose past record is quite tainted.
The Elusive ‘Maulana’
JUI (F), led by canny Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, is one case in the entire exercise who has gained in 2013 general elections despite lending support to dictator to the hilt for the entire duration until 2008 and his notorious Legal Framework Order (LFO) that has been overturned by the judiciary. He is capable of speaking from the dais to scold US and Jews but off the scene, he can beg concessions from them. He is one man who has not been discovered or if the masses have registered his lust to remain part of every government minus political morality, they have not held him accountable by shunning him off on the eve of general elections. It appears as a research topic to ascertain why proud people of FATA and other provinces have failed to measure his follies.
PTI is likely to do well in whatever capacity it finds itself. The leadership is sincere, mature, educated and young. Even if the conspiracies by old hacks force it to play the opposition role that is equally crucial as it would have been in power. Striving for the rule of law, prevalence of justice no matter who is in the dock must remain their cardinal points of conduct. With the larger picture yet to emerge, PML (N) should be best advised to dampen its arrogant and revengeful history. It must heed PTI and other sincere political parties for the conduct of internal affairs and about the matters of foreign policy, an area it is woefully ignorant, at best emotional. Mian Nawaz Sharif, just on receiving the felicitation messages from foreign dignitaries, has started showing his cards that should have taken months to reveal in exchange for national gains. Deficit of brinkmanship was legible on his face. On the hand, the party has to root out corruption, as it has festered in Punjab even during their recent rule for several years. Dispensation of justice and building up the institutional capacity of the departments must be its top priority. It must remember claims are easy to make but need Herculean effort to implement. If peace in the country, self-sustaining economic recovery and diplomatic palpability, not necessarily through alien shadows, is not achieved the soonest possible on merit of our national interests, then we are headed for status quo. Such a monster of despair must cause shudder to every Pakistani because none can endure a corrupt and inefficient as well as biased government for yet another term. One would wish happy governance to PML (N) at the Centre, in Punjab and possibly Baluchistan, to PTI in KP and to PPPP in Sindh. Long live Pakistan and its lustrous Khan.
Author is a retired Brig Gen from Pakistan Army, holds Master’s as well PhD degree in International Relations and has authored a book. Writes frequently, has participated in several national and international conferences/seminars. (email@example.com)
SAARC against COVID-19: Is everybody in?
On 15th March, under the initiative led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, distinguished dignitaries of SAARC nations came together through a video conference and joined their hands to chalk out a common strategy to fight against the deadly COVID-19 in the region. They raised their concerns about the disease and shared possible preventive measures among themselves. This initiative received a huge appreciation both from member states and other parts of the world. Notably, SAARC leaders did not meet on a regional platform since after attending the 18th SAARC Summit. In 2016, the 19th SAARC Summit was scheduled to be held in Islamabad was later got canceled.
In the video conference, the Indian Prime Minister expressed his faith in regional cooperation. He proposed the establishment of an emergency COVID-19 Fund that can be utilized by any member states for meeting up their cost of immediate actions. India has made an initial offer of USD 10 million for this fund. Simultaneously, all SAARC members have made a significant contribution to this fund including Afghanistan (USD 1 million), Bangladesh (USD 1.5 million), Bhutan (USD 100,000), Maldives (USD 200,000), Nepal (USD 831,393.45), and Sri Lanka (USD 5 million). Pakistan is the only SAARC member that has yet not made any contribution to the fund (data is collected on 25th March 2020 from the website of SAARC Disaster Management Centre.
During the video conference, Pakistan Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza made a remark on Kashmir that was howsoever unrelated to the mandate of the video conference. Article II of the SAARC Charter specifically mentions that “Cooperation within the framework of the Association shall be based on respect for the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of other States and mutual benefit.” Pakistan is an essential part of the SAARC region. It is a home for around 12% of the South Asian population. As of 25th March, it has the highest number of people affected by a coronavirus, that is, 887 in the region. This makes it more important for Pakistan to actively engage with the joint measures for the welfare and prosperity of the region.
There is a difference between politics and pandemic. Both of them should not be mixed at this juncture. Our development has been halted. Our movement has been restricted. Recently, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has also called for an immediate global ceasefire. We are not living a similar life, as we were a few months ago. This is a crucial time when countries should keep aside their differences and come together facilitating each other in the common fight against such global concern.
SAARC is aptly being utilized in these challenging times when the COVID-19 virus has already infected 1647 people and causing the death of 20 people from the region. The initiative aimed to discuss measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the region. SAARC is founded upon historical and cultural ties among its member states and advocates for a co-operation for the development of the region. Preambular paragraph of SAARC Charter specifically recognizes the commonalities within the region and provides for cooperation to:
“Aware of the common problems, interests, and aspirations of the peoples of South Asia and the need for joint action and enhanced cooperation within their respective political and economic systems and cultural traditions;”
It further provides, “Convinced that regional cooperation among the countries of South Asia is mutually beneficial, desirable and necessary for promoting the welfare and improving the quality of life of the peoples of the region; Recognising that increased cooperation, contacts and exchanges among the countries of the region will contribute to the promotion of friendship and understanding among their peoples;”
Similarly, Article I of the SAARC Charter provides the objectives of this Association that includes: “to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and to improve their quality of life; to contribute to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems; to promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields”. Indeed, SAARC can bring all members together and collectively overcome this pandemic. Also, the effective co-operation among its members can play a significant role in the success of this initiative.
On 26th March, SAARC Health professionals shall meet again to share their experiences and build up joint actions for the prevention and cure of the disease. It will be pertinent to observe the role of SAARC members in their collective fight against COVID-19. What advancements will be brought to its status after the eradication of this disease? How SAARC members will proceed jointly before the international community? These are a few questions that can be answered over time. Meanwhile, this initiative has provided a good opportunity for the region to strengthen its loose ties while fighting against COVID-19. The SAARC initiative on COVID-19 is making good progress. Member parties are significantly willing to cooperate. If everything goes well, SAARC could re-emerge as a significant voice in the global east.
SAARC Video Conference: Reclaiming the Humanness
The opportunity provided by crisis in the backdrop of worldwide emergency due to lethal Corona pandemic (Covid 19) has re-set the button to once again appreciate the values of human connectivity and to co-exist on March 15, 2020 in South Asia as well. A call by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi in a bid to foster collective thinking amongst the SAARC countries after a hiatus of four years, was a welcome step responded enthusiastically by all the member states. Reclaiming the space essential for a multilateral or even a bilateral dialogue, particularly between Pakistan and India, scuttled by the protracted and historically generated acrimony, this nature’s intervention has a lesson to learn from, as humans. It is a lesson needed much more than ever, against merciless encroachment allowed to the politics of might through arms race, nuclear supremacy and economic concentration. Already, the arrogance of nationhood has significantly destroyed the peace of the stressed habitat belonging to the South Asian region occupied by 3% of the world’s landmass and 21% of world’s population. The SAARC countries have even agreed to set up COVID-19 fund with India contributing an initial corpus of $10 million. All the leaders shared country situations and experiences in the aftermath of the outbreak of COVID-19, as well as measures taken by them to control the spread of the virus. They also recognized the need to analyze and address the long-term economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region and continue with the consultation process through meetings at the ministerial and experts’ level; identifying the Nodal Experts to take further action on the proposals discussed during the Conference; and formulating a comprehensive regional strategy against COVID-19 through the SAARC process and other appropriate steps.
South Asia has managed to resist the COVID-19 assault so far, given the vast region it covers but the unpredictability continues to loom. How long will this sense of cooperation and coordination prevail and help the nations of the region transition the defunct SAARC? It is direly essential to improve the immunity required to counter unprecedented challenges? How sustainable will these measures be in the absence of building confidence ruined so brutally over the years?
The Advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Dr.Zafar Mirza, in his address to the video conference of South Asian Association Regional Cooperation (SAARC),very pertinently pinpointed the member states; India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhuttan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, and urged them to gear up its resources as a region to fight against the deadly virus collectively. However, while highlighting the core human issue, realizing the freedom of Kashmiris living in Indian Occupied Kashmir forcefully quarantined for more than 200 days is could be the first step of not only towards the humanness, but also would encourage the importance of unanimity. India itself was the first one to have taken the Kashmir issue to the world’s international forum, UN, way back in 1958 while respecting the collective solution of the outstanding issues. The issue has taken an ugly curve due to India’s non-compliance with the UN decision of holding plebiscite. Instead Kashmiris are suffering from worst denial of human rights by using the brutal mechanism of state terrorism. They are being constitutionally ripped off their demand for self-determination. More so, the exponential rise in communal progrom seen in the recent past has further exasperated the fear of non-secular behavior. The contradiction in the primary role itself along with the fancied or may be masquerated in a perpetual hypocritical policy already fractures the collective mechanism proposed by India itself. India needs to do more to initiate a human gesture.
Already, founded in 1985, the cooperative outcomes denied by the pain of non-socialisation of the member states particularly after the Uri attack, mainly initiated by India during the 19th SAARC Summit, which was to be held in Islamabad in November 2016; undermined the vitality of regional integration. In March 2018, during his visit to Kathmandu, Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi once again sought the help of Nepal, the chair of SAARC, to revive the organisation by convening the pending Summit in Islamabad. Pakistan has also solicited the support of Sri Lanka. Aimed at achieving peace, freedom, social justice, and economic prosperity by promoting a shared understanding, good neighbourly relations, and meaningful cooperation, improving the quality of life in the member countries by fostering self-reliance, promoting mutual assistance, and strengthening the relations has been a baseline objective. However, the mismatch between SAARC’s ambitions and achievements has been unfortunately profound. Unlike the other regional forums like European Union (EU), The South East Asian Association of ASEAN etc,no tangible economic or political benefits have been realised by SAARC so far. It is mostly termed as a case of ‘retarded regionalism’. Regrettably, the regional behavior of India has also not been very encouraging, since no initiatives have been portrayed by India to transcend the parochial politics with Pakistan as a co-member of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) unlike the other smaller states of the organization. In fact, the behavior had been on the contrary with continuing strategic offense. The resonance of surgical strikes, the pronounced offensive nuclear doctrines, the politics of diplomatic and economic isolation desired for Pakistan, all add more weight to the disrespect of peaceful co-existence rather than the cooperative and coordinated step. The re-buttoning of SAARC is a welcome opportunity and holds silver line, yet the journey holds massive ifs and buts for its structure to sway the temporariness in the call. The mechanism of this Regional Association has to be strengthened with more permanent sincerity.
Trends on Afghan Peace Agreement
The long awaited and much deliberated Afghan Peace Agreement has finally been concluded. However, amid the celebrations and new found hope, naysayers rightly point out the fragility of the painstakingly negotiated agreement between USA and the Taliban. Skeptics rightly bring to forth the unhappiness of the Afghan government, which was not given any weight during the “two-sided” agreement. The intra-Afghan talks have been scheduled between Taliban and the Government as the next phase of the peace process; however, a question arises that which government should the Taliban talk to? The comical situation of two individuals taking up their oath as the president of the country certainly does not do any favors.
The basic aim of the enduring Afghan Peace Agreement between the two conflicting parties that were first held in Doha was to standstill the longest and superfluous war of the history of mankind. The global actors however possess special geopolitical interests in Afghanistan which directly or indirectly effects the Afghan peace process. There exists a reality related to the peace accord that remained unobserved not only at regional level but globally as well. President Ashraf Ghani defined the success of the agreement as “disruption the status quo” but what is this status quo Ghani was referring to? The never-ending eighteen years long war between the Afghan Taliban’s/forces and the United States of America and the improvised rule of the Karzai and later Ashraf Ghani on the Afghanistan under western influence is the status quo if given a reality check – nothing beyond that.
President Trump of the U.S. had made his reservations on the U.S. led Afghan war time to time and has been seen keen to deescalate the prolonged war. Even before his selection as a President, he was critical of the unending Afghan war and made a commitment – when in power, he’ll withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan. The reality persists that the Afghan war has been badly hurting U.S. economy and U.S. forces. In other words, the occupation of an unruly and tribal Afghanistan has once again proved to be another misadventure by yet another superpower. Clearly, the U.S. had decided long ago to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan but was in search of a face-saving exit which came in the form of this agreement. The U.S, however, will not lose its interest in the region and the clout it enjoys over the Afghan Government. Keeping in perspective the unpredictable personality of President Trump; one can not rule out the reversal of the peace agreement, as it may be a mean of winning the next term.
Russia and China have actively supported the Afghan peace process and have facilitated the resumptions of talks. With the peace agreement and eventual withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, Russia will definitely term it as a sweet revenge for the humiliating defeat dealt to her by the USA after its invasion of the country in late twentieth century. China will surely like to have a sigh of relief with the superpower not breathing down its neck and pose a constant threat to its trade initiatives through proxies. Both countries will then try to exert their influence on the country through various proxies as part of their expansionist strategies.
There is no doubt that an enduring peace on the western border of Pakistan would directly benefit Pakistan in every conceivable way. Instability in Afghanistan precisely damages Pakistan in a full spectrum – thus, tranquility in Afghanistan will help Pakistan not only with the tribal apprehensions on the western border but also expand the economic ties, primarily in the shape of CPEC into Afghanistan which indeed is a territory with huge geographical and economical potential. The expansion of CPEC from just north-south to east-west will bring along its own perks to the entire CPEC project which will benefit not only Pakistan and China but the people of Afghanistan as well. Pakistan also looks forward towards a friendly and cooperative regime in Afghanistan as a result of the peace talks; which has a reduced Indian influence over its foreign policy.
Talking about the Indian role in Afghanistan which previously was active and dominating for quite some time has been clearly marginalized during the Afghan Peace Agreement. Despite investment of huge capital with a goal to find a strong strategic partner in South Asia primarily to counter Pakistan – India dooms to a partial failure as Pakistan played a vital and active role in the Afghan peace accord. Though, India will not easily give up on their geopolitical motives in Afghanistan, they might act as spoilers with opportunities to sustain and instigate conflict in the region.
The real stakeholders in the peace process are the Afghan people. It is unfortunate that despite being played in the hands of other powers; the country is still strife with conflict and does not show a united front. Tribalism and parochial approach by different Afghan factions has only brought them short term benefits and a sense of false security. Everyone is happy with whatever little clout they enjoy and no one thinks of the benefit of the Afghan nation as a whole. Perhaps, this is the “status quo” that the President of Afghanistan was referring to while showing his discontent with the peace pact. The never-ending eighteen years long war between the Afghan Taliban’s/forces and the United States of America, the improvised rule of the Karzai and later Ashraf Ghani on the Afghanistan under western influence – this is the status quo to be exact. How the various factions approach the intra-Afghan peace talks yet remains to be seen.
In view of the domestic conflicts in Afghanistan between various factions, peace in Afghanistan would remain a dream even after the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces until and unless good sense prevails in the region. It certainly requires the will of the facilitating nations like U.S, Russia, China and Pakistan to ensure that the process goes towards an amicable end. The only spoilers to the peace process are the Indians and the Afghans themselves.
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