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South Asia

Gasping Democracy and Our Unrelenting Kleptomaniacs

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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

Taliban and the crisis in Afghanistan

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Source: Twitter

In 2021, the Afghan Taliban took back control of Afghanistan after fighting a rebellion for twenty years. The Taliban reformed and began regaining territory less than 10 years after the American-led invasion that overthrew the previous regime in 2001. In line with a 2020 peace agreement with the Taliban, they staged a swift assault as the US started to evacuate its last forces from Afghanistan.

Even though they promised to preserve the rights of women and communities of religious and racial minorities, the Taliban have enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law. The Taliban have failed to provide Afghans with sufficient food supplies and economic possibilities as they have evolved from an insurgent organization to a functioning administration.

Numerous instances of human rights violations have been documented by the UN mission in Afghanistan. Because the Taliban scared off journalists and put limits on press freedom, more than 200 news outlets had to close. Activists and protesters have been tracked and forcefully disappeared, and their government has ruthlessly suppressed protests. They also reinstated the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which was previously in place, and enforced laws against actions judged to be contrary to Islam. They instructed judges to apply their version of sharia in November 2022; in the following weeks, authorities resumed public hangings and floggings.

Women’s rights have been undermined. Due to restrictions put in place by the Taliban, girls are not allowed to go to high school, and women are not allowed to go to college or teach there. The group banned women from working for local and international voluntary groups in December 2022. According to estimates from the UN Development Program (UNDP), limiting women’s employment might cost Afghanistan’s GDP up to 5%. Amnesty International reports a substantial increase in the number of women jailed for defying discriminatory rules, such as those requiring women to cover their whole bodies while in public and to only appear with male chaperones. In addition, there are now more child marriages.

The UNDP says that the Taliban’s rule has also taken away the gains that Afghans made in their living conditions in the 20 years after the US invasion. In a study from October 2022, the organization claimed that practically all Afghans were living in poverty. Since the takeover, the economy has contracted by up to 30%, and there have been an estimated 700,000 job losses. More than 90% of individuals are impacted by food insecurity. The problem is getting worse because several countries and international groups have stopped giving aid, which is vital to the economy and public health.

International observers are nonetheless worried that the Taliban pose a danger to national and international security through their funding of terrorist groups, especially Al-Qaeda. Taliban leadership might convert Afghanistan into a haven for terrorists who could launch attacks against the US and its allies, despite Taliban pledges that the country’s territory wouldn’t be used against the security of any other country. The violence has also increased along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, which has always supported the Taliban. Tehrik-e-Taliban, a terrorist organization commonly referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, has gained strength due to the Taliban’s ascent to power. The organization broke off a cease-fire with the Pakistani government in 2022 and began carrying out assaults throughout the nation. Officials from Pakistan have charged the Afghan Taliban with giving the extremists a safe harbor in their country.

For many years, the Afghan government relied on help from a number of countries; according to 2019 World Bank research, contributions from foreign partners funded 75% of the government’s public expenditures. Many of these countries stopped off aid when the Taliban took control, fueling concerns about potential future economic turmoil. Nevertheless, aid rose in 2022 as donors sent more than $2.6 billion. The US has donated more than $1.1 billion in help since the coup. However, according to UN authorities, the pledges fell short of the nation’s humanitarian requirements.

Many Western countries, most notably the US, shut down their diplomatic posts in Afghanistan when the Taliban took power. Diplomatic relations and recognition have been withheld from the Taliban regime, which refers to Afghanistan as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The UN General Assembly has also postponed a decision on who would indefinitely represent Afghanistan at the UN. The Taliban are now being investigated by the International Criminal Court for suspected atrocities, including crimes against humanity, committed against Afghans.

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South Asia

Decoding Donald Lu’s Visit: A Positive Upward in US-Bangladesh Relations?

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The U.S Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Donald Lu paid a visit from January 12 to 15. During his brief but swarming itinerary the two parties discussed various issues ranging from diplomatic to political. Interestingly, this is the 11th visit of any U.S high-official in the past two years. The frequent swapping of delegations from the both sides pose a critical juncture between the U.S-Bangladesh relationship. Experts believe that recurrent visits from US high-ups are definitely an auspicious sign between the relationship of the two nations. Therefore, the visit of Donald Lu is an offshoot of the “growing reciprocity and renewed engagement” between Dhaka and Washington.

Needless to say, Bangladesh has a long standing and steady relationship with the US since the latter recognized the former shortly after independence on April 04, 1972. Recently the US-Bangladesh celebrated the completion of 50 years of bilateral relationship and US President Joe Biden termed this as “robust partnership”. Amid such backdrop, it goes without saying that the recent visits signal to a significant positive tie-up between the two parties and the visit can be interpreted in the context of international and domestic backdrop of international politics.

The US is the largest market for Bangladesh’s RMG export. Naturally, the issue of GSP reinstatement plays a key role in bilateral camaraderie. Under such circumstances, Lu’s visit is important to hold talks of economic in the context of Bangladesh’s growing needs, especially after the LDC graduation. Moreover, in the annual Global Firepower 2023 Military Strength Ranking, Bangladesh is placed 40th out of 145 nations. On the other hand, Bangladesh came in 12th place on the GFP review’s list of ‘Strengths on the Rise,’ which emphasizes national military powers based on strong growth patterns until 2023. In this context, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and Acquisition and Cross-servicing Agreement (ACSA) agreement indicates to a deeper and strategic engagement from the US rationale.

Bangladesh’s stands at the heart of a strategic position of the US’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, which aims to counter the increasing footprint of China in the Indo-Pacific region. However, Bangladesh maintains a neutral position in terms of its foreign relations and has been carefully helming without taking any side of any major powers. Washington’s focus on free and fair election is important to maintain a stability in the greater Bay of Bengal neighborhood- an important feat in it’s IPS. Conversely, Bangladesh values economic partnership to sustain her ongoing upward trend. However, at the same time Bangladesh should be careful not to succumb to any pressure, a case in point when the Foreign Minister announced that the US proposed strategy is being vetted under the lens of economic opportunity.

On the domestic fore, arguably, the U.S has been advocating for a free and fair election, upholding democratic values, and condemning extra judicial excesses. However, continuous engagement between the two parties resulted helping to mitigate tensions and create a more positive atmosphere. The crux of Donald Lu’s visit is to reaffirm democratic ideals in state mechanism, rule based international system and Bangladesh to be part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy. Accordingly, Bangladesh has committed to hold a fair election and the recent decline of the controversial RAB’s extrajudicial excesses reported by Human Rights Watch as well as peaceful demonstrations of the opposition have been markedly praised by Donald Lu. From Bangladesh’s perspective rescinding of sanctions, reinstatement of GSP, and more support for Rohingya Refugees were reiterated. More importantly, Dhaka’s impartial foreign policy goals align with Washington’s interest in the South Asian region and it will be of American interest to consider Bangladesh as an important ally in the geopolitical chessboard of the Indo-Pacific region.  

However, the visit is also crucial for Donald Lu who is accused of meddling with the internal affairs of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. But, Donald Lu manifested his diplomatic acumen to “manage the fissures of the diplomatic ties’ and “highlight on the areas of convergence” in the recent visit. Evidently, the past year has been tumultuous for South Asian nations, following the collapse of Colombo, the Pakistani Economic Crisis and the revolving debt crisis around the region. Amongst her neighbors, Bangladesh has endured relatively steady political and economic pursuit. Therefore, US needs to formulate a comprehensive South Asian policy to accommodate the interests of the respective nations on its own merit.

Bangladesh’s relationship with the U.S is vital in both economic and political stance. Continued engagement and partnership between the two states is critical for the security of South Asia as well as Bangladesh’s ongoing economic prosperity. On a pragmatic tone, it would take more than just this one visit for Bangladesh to solve these complex geopolitical issues. For now, the visit has symbolized strengthening of U.S-Bangladesh relationship going forward by exonerating the mutual interests to diplomatically resolve pressing bilateral issues and elevation of continuous engagement.

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South Asia

Praiseworthy Development of RAB in the Last Year

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Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) image source: benarnews.org

On December 10th 2021, the United States of America (USA) announced sanctions against Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and its seven current and former officials on allegations of Human Rights violation. Such unilateral decisions of the US on the elite force surprised many. But Bangladesh chose to respond maturely through diplomatic communication. Since then, Bangladesh increased diplomatic engagement with the US, a method lauded by many as ‘prudent’ also.

Since the sanction, Bangladesh enhanced its effort to uphold the Human Rights situation in Bangladesh. RAB as an elite force also acknowledged the sanction and behaved in a more professional way. And it seems after one year, there are significant developments regarding both RAB and government policy. Foreign dignitaries and organizations are also lauding these developments.

Efforts from Bangladesh

After the announcement of the sanctions, Bangladesh immediately contacted the US diplomatic institutions to understand and assess the situation. As a part of the efforts, Bangladesh established Human Rights Cell in the Foreign Ministry under its United Nations wing.

Bangladesh also increased its diplomatic communications with the US, not necessarily because of the sanctions, but also due to growing geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific region, and commitment to deepen bilateral relations with the US. In the last two years, both countries undertook 18 bilateral visits of mid and high-level. Bangladesh sent 7 delegations to the US while the US sent 11 delegations including Donald Lu’s latest.

Both countries also hold the bilateral Partnership Dialogue and Security Dialogue in March and April of 2022. In the same year, they also celebrated 50 years of their anniversary. Bangladesh’s foreign minister also met his counterpart in April 2022.

While many rogue states such as North Korea, react to the US sanctions by projecting hard power or test-launching missile, Bangladesh resorted to diplomatic means to raise and provide an update about the agenda to its counterpart. Almost in all diplomatic meetings, Bangladesh raised its concern about the sanction. Bangladesh even gave a ‘non-paper’ dossier to Under-Secretary Victoria Nuland, when Nuland came to Bangladesh in March 2022.

Significant Developments

Since the US sanctions on 10th December 2021, the allegations of extrajudicial killings have gone down in Bangladesh. It has reached zero after one year. There were no new allegations of extrajudicial killing by RAB for the last 13 months. RAB’s name was not also mentioned in any other allegations or negative deeds. Therefore, RAB is maintaining a ‘clean record’ at least for last 13 months or so.

Apart from that, the Human Rights situation also improved in Bangladesh in the meantime as the government gave extra effort to project the situation to the international community. During Under Secretary Nuland’s visit in March, she also acknowledged that the situation has improved.

The US Assistant Secretary Donald Lu also acknowledged the further development regarding the allegations against RAB. Secretary Lu visited Bangladesh on January 14th and 15th. He also acknowledged the falling extrajudicial killing in Bangladesh. He also said that there was ‘tremendous progress’ in reducing extrajudicial killings after the US sanctions.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Kamal also told the media that the US delegation is satisfied with RAB’s current activities. In another expert talk with The Business Standard, the Home Minister further said that the US also praised the actions of Bangladesh in combating militancy, terrorism, arson, and radicalism.

Apart from the US, global watchdogs are also acknowledging the fact. Human Rights Watch World Human Rights Report 2023 mentioned that there is a ‘drop-in abuse’ in Bangladesh (See Page 68).

Such transformation in the US perspective within only 13 months regarding a sanction is very unique considering the history of sanctions. Bangladesh’s diplomatic efforts and commitment to upholding Human Rights deserve praise in this regard. Till now Bangladesh is dealing with the issue prudently.

Lifting the sanctions in a diplomatic manner will require making it a national security interest for the USA. An elite force with a ‘clean record’ and its die-hard effort in curbing terrorism and militancy, fighting drug and human trafficking, and anti-piracy drive can easily draw US national security interest in this region. And RAB has the ability to become so. Considering the historic relations between the US and Bangladesh, the Sanctions are the only ‘strain’ in this bilateral relationship. Lastly, as there are praiseworthy developments, both countries are likely to pass beyond this issue in the near future if Bangladesh continues to maintain the positive trend.

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