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South Asia

Gasping Democracy and Our Unrelenting Kleptomaniacs

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan

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The ‘melodrama’, every Pakistani is witnessing, for last couple of months, portrays a national tragedy of its kind. It is baffling to see as high an office as that of Prime Minister (PM) indulging in sinister manoeuvres,

which strike at the roots of lustrous institutions like Judiciary and Pakistan Army. Yet the irony is that the PM who happens to be the constitutional Supreme Commander (SuCo) and his mentor, the President, he seeks guidance from, are under cyclic attacks of hallucination ever since the dawn of ‘Memo-gate’. The institutions that stand guard to establish writ of the government and protect the constitution are under cross-wire of Pakistan People Party’s (PPP) top guns, who also ‘cry wolf’ incessantly.

However, more they gaffe and groan, more they sink in the quagmire of their own making.

PPP chief whip, Dr (pseudo) Babar Awan appears in rhythm with him to reinforce malignant campaign as vociferously as he defends shamelessly his claim of being a PhD from US University that never existed.  Judiciary, perhaps after withholding its months-long restraint, finally took notice of their blatant defiance and served them the ‘contempt of court’ notices. Not to mention their lesser lies but the Himalayan one, they tell from across the rostrum amidst flashing cameras to claim that ‘they have never defied Judiciary’, lamenting concurrently that conspiracies are being hatched against the ‘parliament’ and the ‘people mandate’ for PPP. Being the ruling party, they carry heavy baggage of suspected treason, misconduct, corruption and nepotism. The have resorted to adopting a flawed hypothesis that their confrontation with Judiciary and Army would win them people’s popularity for second lease of life in forthcoming general elections in 2013.

Anyone keeping tag of the events would sequentially list all unashamed government’s attempts to block the dispensation of justice despite the apex court’s clear directions for conduct of transparent proceedings. To save an ‘above-the-law’ scion of two political stalwarts, Shujaat and Pervez of PML (Q) from possible retribution in the wake of massive, more than proven fraud and embezzlement charges, PPP embraced these politicians to win their party support. Ditching the political morality and the public trust, invested in them could never deter them just because greed of power in their lexicon has precedence over all virtues. The deal inscribed a shameful chapter of history of the time when crimes against the accused were liquidated. Intelligentsia, if writhing in pain, is justified to express their anguish on sight of their shenanigans, bulldozing way through crippled lower court. Unfortunately, in the land of pure the politicians justify all wicked games under the label ‘politics’ because they have taken oath and thereafter prevails a dirty tradition here when often immoral, brazenly offensive acts stand condoned. Rather than serving the masses, ‘democracy’ has been turned into a safe haven for plundering the national wealth by its standard-bearers. What a trial when the state was in prosecution role and what a fantastically ‘honourable’ acquittal of the accused while PM who leads ‘supreme parliament’, claims to ‘respect and obey the Judiciary’. In fact, he rubbed on his toes the Supreme Court instructions for appointing honest officers for transparent investigation and seeing the charges through to the logical end. If no evidence comes up before the court and the prosecution witnesses turn hostile, Judiciary cannot act as vagabonds to hand down any punishment. That distinguishes virtues from the vices.

The apex court verdict about NRO (National Reconciliation Order) in unambiguous terms was also trashed by the PPP. PM cronies openly defied and mocked Judiciary rather in poetic overtones. PM’s defence lawyer, pursuing ‘Contempt’ hearing made frightening revelation. He said there was no action left in NRO that was feasible to implement and PM thought it expedient, not to write letter to Swiss authorities to extricate public money stashed by the plunderers because his law team had given such recommendations. Mr. Aitzaz Hasan had no answer when the Bench reminded him about PM’s obligation of heeding to the court’s judgment and not to the law team’s summaries.

As if NRO and successive corruption scandals, generally cracked by vigilant media every fortnight were not enough. In between landed another bombshell—‘Memo-gate’ purported to be the brainchild of Hussain Haqani (former Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington) and with the alleged connivance of PPP leadership. It shocked every Pakistani on the suspected chicanery of some top black sheep to plot against a sensitive institution that is fulfilling its obligations under challenging scenario in credible ways. What added to the masses fury even more was the unprecedented vitriolic reaction demonstrated by PM and his patron, not to mention their cronies. Resultant immensity of panic, which struck the PPP leadership, at least benchmarked the devastating potentials of the episode, meaning that ‘Memo-gate’ was not any ‘Hoax-gate’. PM and the patron invented some pernicious themes to blackmail Judiciary as well as Army. He went, regrettably, beyond limits to accuse the Army and Spy Chief of serious allegations. His lie could not sustain long and had to retract his accusations. To show some feather in the cap, he fired the Secretary Defence because he refused to tow his line and submitted his ‘affidavit’ to the Supreme Court on the court’s instructions. Even non-professional would understand that the Secretary was bound to endorse his version and not the pack of lies if he was dictated to by anyone else. This way, PM has bagged colossal angst of the entire Army that holds such officer like the Secretary Defence in great esteem because of his clean conduct for about four decades. The mode and manner, he was shown the door, could be condemned to any extent because he was humiliated for his principled stand. SuCo did it because he ‘respects all the institutions.’

PPP and PM’s aversion in recent years for the Army is least masqueraded. He travels hundreds of KM to offer condolences for a bureaucrat who died during a road accident, a justified gesture of generosity and care for the deceased’s family. Conversely, SuCo is not inclined to show military grace ever to render his symbolic shoulder-support for a few seconds to the funerals of several dozen soldiers who sacrificed their most precious asset, life, for the country at Salala Post on Afghan border. The sacrifices rendered by the martyrs are acknowledged whole-heartedly because when Army stands guard round the clock in treacherous terrain and at dizzy heights up to 21000 feet, 180 million people have peaceful and sound slumber. The beauty of the entire zealous dedication is that Army does it as a sacred duty that it owes to the fellow citizens.

The country is in grip of curses, imposed on it by the rulers. The way all PPP government blunders are dumped in a basket called, ‘conspiracies’, it is a strange paradox that embezzlement cases surfacing in last over four years have links invariably to the President and PM’s advisors or their chosen fraudsters. A record flare for the less educated youth to rehabilitate him is also a golden feather in PPP’s hat when PM appointed a matriculate as Chairman OGDC and let the PhDs rot. OGDC is Oil and (natural) Gas Development Corporation that is corruption den for the corrupt. Yet PPP’s chief as well as minor whips rattle without blink because ‘they respect all institutions’. They may be right by a fraction as in their reckoning at least, ‘corruption’ has also become an institution in Pakistan, genuinely loved by them. PPP government has singular honour to preside over 8500 billion rupees ($8b) going down the ‘corruption’ drain during its rule since 2008. Thanks to recent Transparency International’s mind-boggling report. Only the black hole in the universe could suck in such a big amount. Implicitly, this party or some of its individuals have bigger corruption-holes than the black hole. That is how they leave democracy gasping for survival. In the mean time, monstrous ‘hunger’ is devouring the poor masses gradually but consistently. It is indeed a grave situation in Pakistan.

One would extend appreciation for the sober and honest voices within them who are in minority. However, their silence, by squelching their conscience off, makes them party to their leaders’ abhorrent misdeeds to share equal if not greater responsibility. Best service to render is to the state and not to the corrupt individuals who tend to perpetrate tyranny. ‎ “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent,” said Thomas Jefferson.

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan is a retired Brig Gen from Pakistan Army, served 32 years. A veteran of ‘1971 Indo-Pak War’ has been instructor in officers’ Pakistan Military Academy, commanded Divisional as well as Corps Artillery. Holds first class Masters degree in International Relations and PhD degree, acquired in 2002-2007 from University of Peshawar, Pakistan. Authored a book, writes frequently in national and international media. Has attended several seminars and conferences within the country and abroad on invitation. Travelled to Switzerland (twice), UK, US, UAE, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Germany (twice). Cambodia and Thailand. Email: dr.makni49@yahoo.com

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South Asia

Pakistan PM’s Saudi affair likely to backfire

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Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia flourished during the previous government headed by Nawaz Sharif, primarily due to his personal business interests in the Kingdom and friendly association with members of the Saudi royal family. Despite the criticism at home, Sharif never missed an opportunity to eulogize the Saudi rulers and support their wrongs.

During Sharif’s tenure as Prime Minister, while Pakistan’s ‘love affair’ with Riyadh blossomed, relations with Tehran plummeted. When the ambitious gas pipeline project was shelved by the Sharif government in 2015 under the Saudi pressure, some experts couldn’t resist the temptation of reading the obituary of Iran-Pakistan friendship. It seemed game over.

But the political transition in Islamabad this year rekindled hopes of a new foreign policy taking shape in Islamabad under the populist premier Imran Khan.

In his victory speech, Khan made it categorically clear that he would like to strengthen ties with allies in the Middle East, including Iran and Saudi Arabia. During his first meeting with the Iranian envoy to Islamabad, Khan reiterated his desire to bolster ties with Tehran and revive important projects that had been put on the backburner by the previous political dispensation, including the gas pipeline.

Experts termed it a “significant shift” in Pakistan’s foreign policy as his predecessor was seen overtly inclined towards stronger Pakistan-Saudi relations than Pakistan-Iran relations. Writing in The New Arab, Dr. Fazzur Rahman Siddiqui, a fellow at Indian Council of World Affairs, said with the exit of Nawaz Sharif, Saudi Arabia had lost a reliable ally who never concealed his affection for the Gulf states in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular “for both personal and strategic reasons.”

It was widely believed that Khan’s approach will be different from Sharif and he will not yield to covert pressures from Washington or Riyadh. At least that is what appeared.
When Khan embarked on his first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, keeping alive the tradition set by his predecessors, he sought to underscore that Riyadh will remain a priority for Pakistan’s foreign policy. Pertinently, it was President Hasan Rouhani of Iran, not King Salman of Saudi Arabia, who first extended an invitation to him.

But the faith in his leadership or his vision for ‘Naya Pakistan’ (new Pakistan) was not yet dented. The massive army of his followers on Twitter ensured that the public opinion, or at least the opinion of netizens, was firmly in favor of his leadership and policies.

As the country’s fiscal deficit inflated to 6.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the 2017-2018 financial year, Khan panicked. He boarded the plane to Riyadh again, this time to seek funds. To woo the Saudi rulers, Khan said Riyadh had “always stood with Pakistan in difficult times and the Pakistani government and its people highly acknowledge it.”
Speculation had been put to rest. Khan was walking in the footsteps of his predecessor.

Following his second visit to Riyadh, Saudi regime announced $6 billion in financial support to Islamabad. It corresponded with the international outrage over the cold-blooded murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Even as many world leaders boycotted a Saudi investment conference, the so-called ‘Davos in the desert’, over Khashoggi’s death, Khan attended the event.

On asked why he attended the conference when many other world leaders had turned down the invitation, Khan said Pakistan was “desperate” for Saudi loans to shore up the flailing economy.

“Unless we get loans from friendly countries or the IMF, we actually won’t have in another two or three months enough foreign exchange to service our debts or to pay for our imports. So we’re desperate at the moment,” he was quoted saying by the Middle East Eye.

Khan conceded that his immediate foreign policy priority was maintaining good relations with Saudi Arabia despite unprecedented outrage over Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi officials or the outcry over Saudi’s horrendous war crimes in Yemen.

Pakistan, which had previously maintained a neutral stance on Yemen war, might now be forced to support the Saudi onslaught there, some observers fear. If Khan can ignore a reprehensible crime like the killing of Khashoggi because of Saudi petrodollars, it can be expected that he will support the Saudi war crimes in Yemen also, although he has so far resisted doing that.

While Khan has adopted a strong and unwavering stance against the US, he seems to have succumbed to the temptation of being subservient to the Saudi Kingdom, for funds. That is where he risks losing the goodwill he has earned back in Pakistan and in the international community.

At a time when the world is saying ‘no’ to Saudi Arabia, Khan is part of a tiny minority that is going against the tide. This approach will only isolate Pakistan and it has isolated Riyadh and Washington.

Being subservient to Saudi interests also means that Khan will be forced to toe his predecessor’s line on Iran. If that happens, Islamabad will again be forced to shelve the gas pipeline project, which is being described as critical to Pakistan’s energy requirements.

Khan is walking a tightrope. Wisdom lies in taking informed decisions in the best interests of Pakistan keeping in view long-term goals. In the cricketing terminology, the cricketer-turned-prime minister could do well by playing the forward defensive shot rather than the mistimed stroke in the air.

First published in our partner MNA

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South Asia

Pakistan a peace loving nation

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Muslims when meeting each other greet “Peace be upon you”. Islam is the religion of Peace and Love, Islamophobia is the creation of a few minds only. There is no doubt that there exists few criminals in every society, every religion, and every country, but such exceptions, may not be used to blame the whole nation, religion or country. Since its independence Pakistan has been promoting peace and stability around the world. Pakistan’s Peace-keeping missions have been playing important roles around the world to maintain peace in troubled areas. We are major contributor to Peace-Keeping Force and have been part of almost all of UN Peace-Missions, during the history of 7 decades. Pakistan is supportive of any efforts by any nation towards promotion or maintenance of peace.

Recently, UNGA’s Disarmament Committee adopted Pakistan’s resolutions with an overwhelming support, in New York on 9th November 2018. Three resolutions proposed by Pakistan were adopted by the UN General Assembly’s First Committee with an overwhelming support. The whole world supported Pakistan’s resolution while India was the only country to oppose them.

In fact, the resolutions highlight the importance of regional approaches to disarmament, which complement global disarmament efforts and stress the need to promote confidence building measures for enhancing regional and international peace and security. The resolution on conventional arms control was adopted by a large majority of 179 countries. India was the sole country to vote against the resolution.

Earlier, a big victory for Pakistan came, on November 1stwhen the Committee also adopted Pakistan’s resolution on assuring non-nuclear weapon states against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons by 122 votes. The First Committee of the UN General Assembly which meets annually deals with disarmament, global challenges, and threats to peace that affect the international community and is mandated to seek solutions to global security challenges by considering all disarmament and international security matters within the scope of the UN Charter. Pakistan’s role in disarmament was admired and non-proliferation of uranium. We strongly condemn biological and chemical weapons and strictly adhere to UN decisions.

Pakistan is a responsible country and always exploring the opportunities of peace. Pakistan has always initiated the peace process with India and sincerely tried best to resolve all issues with India, including Jammu and Kashmir, by a peaceful dialogue. Pakistan respects UN, Respect UN mandate, Respect UN Charter, and wants others to do the same. It believes in diplomacy, and there is precedence that some of the more complicated issues around the world, has been resolved by diplomacy, then why not Pakistan-India issues be resolved by dialogue too.

We support the supremacy of UN and all nations must respect the UN. We always stand with the oppressed and raise voice for the victims. Our struggle for justice and righteousness is always admired. We keep on struggling for global peace and be part of any peace process around the world.

The Indian opposition to Pakistani resolution and persistent refusal to leave Kashmir has exposed the true Indian face. The recent International Amnesty report on Human Right violation in Kashmir was a big blow to India. Indian atrocities against its own minorities and lower caste Hindus is condemned widely. Indian opposition to the UN resolution on Palestine is also an example of India’s international position.

It is time that serious notice is taken by the UN, International Community and all conscious individuals to stand up for International Peace, Justice and Human Rights.  We all should keep on struggling for a better world for our next generation. We should be united for “Peace, Stability and Prosperity” for humanity globally.

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South Asia

The Making of Modern Maldives: A Look at Maumoon Gayoom

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Authors: Srimal Fernando and Pooja Singh

Former Maldivian President Maumoon Gayoom occupies an important place in Maldivian political history largely because he guided this equatorial island nation to unprecedented levels of economic growth and also through tough times when democracy was challenged. Gayoom has a national as well as international reputation that made his name familiar to the rest of the South Asian countries. It was after his return from Nigeria’s Ahmadu Bello University as a lecturer, Gayoom commenced his political journey as a close aid of prime minister Ahmed Zaki in mid-70’s and later as a cabinet minister under Ibrahim Nasir. Gayoom’s leadership embarked on a more reformist approach in the first two terms during his presidency. He was able to take credit for the rise of the tourism sector and an increase in the fish productivity. In Male, as well as in the rest of the Maldivian islands, building of small fisheries harbors were accelerated under the rapid development programs initiated under his presidency. When one looks at the Maldivian foreign policy, Maumoon was credited as one of the key founders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in 1985. Hence, he raised global awareness on climate change on the international arena. In this context, especially the awareness on small island nations facing rise in sea water levels which affects the livelihood of the islanders was a key theme which brought international attention. On the development side, the Hulhulemale reclamation project and the upgrading of roads and other infrastructure initiatives that he implemented are highly credited for by the Maldivians. In fact, the people’s president who visits the islands regularly was named as “A Man for All Islands” by the famous author in his book about Gayoom’s biography.

Early in his administration, former president introduced socio-economic experiments in reawakening the islands. His administration accelerated the economic growth in the twenty Atolls from Northern Haa Atoll to Southern Seenu Atoll instilling a degree of optimism and enthusiasm among the Maldivians. Yet another economic achievement in the tourism sector was the increase of luxury resorts from two in 1978 to hundred by 2008. Gayoom’s career is most relevant due to his performance and for changing the country’s political system to a multi-party democratic system where the power is vested on the citizens.

Another milestone during his tenure was to expand the average income of Maldivians from US$ 377 in 1978 to US$3,654 in 2008. However, towards the end of his presidency, the first signs of irreconcilable difficulties with the Maldivian opposition led by Mohamed Nasheed, the leader of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) started emerging in 2000. The Maldivian pro-democracy movement started in Male in 2003 and then moved to other Islands. As a result, Maldives adopted a multi-party political system and in 2008. In the same year the presidential campaign came to a climax where in the second phase of the presidential elections, the confident president had felt a constant sense of uncertainty since most of the opposition presidential candidates supported Mohamed Nasheed, the leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party. Gayoom lost the election and Nasheed the opposition leader assumed presidency.  The courageous former president Gayoom transferred the presidential powers to the newly elected president smoothly.

In fact, the reformist former president Gayoom formed the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party and later, he was one of the key founders of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) where his half-brother, Yameen Abdul Gayoom shared powers within the party. Hence, Qasim Ibrahim, a former finance minister under Nasheed’s government and also close confidant of president Gayoom led the Jumhooree Party (JP) which combined with PPM in 2013 presidential elections.

Unfortunately, in 2012 the overthrow of president Nasheed one of New Delhi’s closest allies in South Asia shocked the diplomatic circles on both sides of Asia as well as in the west. It took more than five years for Gayoom’s PPM party under the presidency of Yameen to return to power. However, due to widespread corruption and authoritative rules under Yameen’s presidency, many of the opposition party members such as former Maldivian president Nasheed, Jumhooree Party leader Qasim Ibrahim and many other political leaders who opposed the undemocratic rule were prisoned through unlawful means.

During the darkest period of the Maldivian politics from 2017 to September 2018, the lone voice of the public opposition belonged to a few opposition leaders such as, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih cannot be forgotten. In the same period, former president Gayoom, Nasheed and several opposition members created a united opposition to unseat president Yameen and his majority party rule through democratic non-violent means. One of the major reasons for this change by Gayoom in Yameen’s leadership was the widespread corruption and the authoritative rule. Finally, president Yameen prisoned former president Gayoom and his son, Faris Maumoon. This was one of the main reasons where large number of Gayoom supporters broke away from PPM led by president Yameen. This reason influenced the 23rd September 2018 presidential elections where opposition common candidate Ibrahim Solih saw a massive victory margin against president Yameen.

One could argue that, Gayoom, the president who guided Maldives to economic prosperity was the same charismatic leader who guided the South Asian Island nation towards democratic maturity. Maumoon Gayoom has been the most unpredictable political influencer in the modern political making of Maldives.

*Pooja Singh, a scholar of Masters in Diplomacy, Law, Business at Jindal School of International Affairs, India.

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