Seldom has a country gone through an agonising period of trial and tribulation more severely than Pakistan for last about a decade and half.
Fall of the dictator in March 2008 ordinarily should have ushered in a new era of peace and prosperity at the dawn of democracy but the dream remained elusive. It was not because of lack of virtues that democracy presents to any nation but the rulers, instead of nurturing it carefully were hell bent to ensure that it gasps under the weight of their malignant follies.
The safety chutes, democracy affords to circumvent governance deadlocks, were employed by the ruling Pakistan People Party (PPP), instead as the means to lure in political support for survival from the coalition parties, ‘Awami National Party’ (ANP), Pakistan Muslim League, Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) and ‘Mutahida Qaumi Movement’ (MQM), as criminal trade off. Now the state is bracing up for general elections by midyear.
All the ruling coalition partners have extremely tainted record. Survival being the most sought for pursuit, the government has been obliged to over look massive corruption, heinous crimes and rampant nepotism committed by their party heavy weights, though some were clearly adjudicated with specific awards by the judiciary but were rubbed on the toe. Two extremes are interesting as well as deplorable. First, never ever Pakistan, since independence in 1947, has had an honest and courageous judiciary as it has now under the auspices of Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan. Secondly, never ever any government mocked and blatantly defied judiciary verdicts as did President Asif Ali Zardari and his administration, which carries the heaviest political baggage of questions that it has to answer at certain point of time, some lethal one.
More Questions than Answers
The current five years tenure is expiring in mid March and the constitutional provision makes it mandatory to hold general elections within 90 days of dissolution of the government under an independent election commission. But questions are lurking in every sane mind whether elections would engulf us as a monster or would prove as panacea for all rampant ills. The pointers are that elections would result in emergence of political alliance that would foster the corrupt and criminal gridlock of the rulers yet again for the coming term. Even if the ruling coalition is knocked out through the sagacity of voters, the second layer of possible coalition among Pakistan Muslim League, Nawaz (PML-N) and Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam,Fazal (JUI-F) happens to surface as contender with some other minor parties’ support, would mean yet another futile alternative as both parties have dubious record of performance. JUI (F) remained an ally of the dictator to lend him crucial support all along his rule of tyranny in tandem with PML(Q) and PML (N) governs the largest province of Punjab, almost half of Pakistan if population is taken into account. Its performance has the only lustre of presenting a Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, who can sob on the stage, lamenting about common man suffering at the hands of corruption mafia. Other than occasional emotional outburst, he did nothing to prevent his bureaucracy from exploiting poor people lest he might lose their ‘help’ during general elections where it always plays unseen role. In other words, he proved himself during the entire tenure of about five years as a magician who always criticised the ruling parties at the federation incessantly to obfuscate his failings and attain political mileage against them.
Democracy Perverted by Politicians But Some Parties are Vibrant
The civilised world would be spell bound after knowing that democracy has seen the worst degree of perversion in Pakistan. The political parties like PML(N), PPP, MQM, PML(Q), ANP and JUI(F) have become single family or person’s maid. Their leaders boast around in royal regalia who either never accept intra party elections or concede to the extent of ‘mock’ exercise with precondition that their dynastic hold would not be challenged, ever since these parties were founded. Dissenters, if any are ruthlessly eliminated. Where nature came to rescue the democracy, the party reacted shamefully by retaining the leadership within the family by fielding a son or a daughter in the arena. While the world takes pleasure from the concept of universal acceptance of democracy as the just system to govern the nation states, our dynasties are well and safe under royals with a small badge of ‘democracy’ displayed off and on for appeasing the West. Since 1971, the country has been, for the same reason, either under PPP or PML(N) rule and when these two parties blundered, the vacuum was filled by Martial Law.
There are political parties which have the support at grassroots level like Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by famous cricketer turned philanthropist/politician, Imran Khan or the one led by Munawar Hassan, Jamat-e-Islami, (JI) considered as balanced Islamic party where discipline, honesty and patriotism reside and thus they are in position to deliver. Their success, however, is contingent upon big ‘if’ and that is the conduct of fair and free elections. Unfortunately, independent election commission which has not matured as yet in its role has been foxed already by the ruling elites. The government had devised several modes to fool people and twist the laws to their convenience by handing down billions of grants to their party legislators/cronies in the name of development schemes of the public concern. To make the matter worse, there is almost no accountability of such funds that are consumed on production of false documents because the major chunks of money-grants go to legislators. In other words, the ruling parties have purchased their vote bank before the constitution of care taker government for overseeing impartial conduct of elections and transition of power. Even if the care takers could claim honest conduct of general elections later on, they may be justified but tragedy they might know is that the elections had already been rigged before they stepped in. Now the dilemma which cannot be prevented and emanates from the fear of guilt that haunts at least three parties very clearly and sadly they are the ones ruling the roost. PPP, PML-Q and MQM have huge stock of criminal cases against them. If not voted back to power, which is least likely despite their clever manoeuvres, they would prevent/hinder smooth transition of power under fabricated pretexts. Stoking law and order situation in province of Sind where they have appeal on regional/ethnic basis is a dangerous option they would resort to. PPP, MQM and ANP maintain potent militant wings that are an open secret by now. When such scenario is a reality on the horizon, coupled with ongoing play of fissures getting deeper every day, is there any justification of holding general elections.
Emerging Paradigm of Geo-Political Environments
Casting look in wider perspective, political and economic landscape of the country is extremely distorted. While the government managed to put up a fake democratic face to the international community, internally its performance has been horribly pathetic and the world knows it. According to Transparency International (TI) report, the government has presided over 8000 billion rupees ($ 80 billion) corruption during its tenure. In fact some local sources have been quoting much more figures with credibility hard to believe. In the mean time, profit churning public organizations like Pakistan International Airline, Pakistan Railways, Pakistan Steel Mills, WAPDA and Tourism Corporation etc have gone pauper. Law and order situation throughout Pakistan is in shambles. Corrupt practices have permeated to every layer of governance. Common man, while rupee devalued 100 percent against US dollar since 2008, is aghast to see apathy meted out to him. Inflation is sky high.
There is growing unrest in Baluchistan, Sind (Karachi), Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) and Gilgit-Baltistan province. War on terror is taking heavy toll on country’s meagre resources. Sectarian and ethnic killings by mushrooming militant groups have hung the country’s fate by a fragile thread. Writ of the state is precarious, options narrow and leadership deficit monumental. Decade long war in Afghanistan has sucked in Pakistan to the limit from the western border. As if it was not enough, hostilities simmer on the eastern borders along the Line of Control (LOC) with India as well. A major chunk of over a million-strong Indian Army is brutalising Kashmiris across LOC in full view of civilised world for decades. Geo-political expediencies have quelled the ethics of the international standard bearers of the humane values to prevent the subjugation and human carnage.
Pakistan Army, an institution held in high esteem by people at large, faces the spectre of war on multiple fronts including the one that has nuclear connotation in the fold—and then election are just around the corner. Pakistani nation has the potential to brave these scenarios but shudders to perceive that the general elections, instead of heralding any significant democratic change would mean, at best, status quo with increased violence and added dent to national unity. This is scary appreciation and no one wants to remain under the yolk of corrupt rulers who have trashed the rule of law or face trauma of impending civil war, though in lesser intensity it has been already unleashed. In Pakistani brand of democracy, the ruling elite and their cronies when persuaded to abide by rule of law by the courts, react as if an act of sacrilege has been committed to ditch their honour. The way government has stood for five years suggests that name of democracy was perverted without shame. No party ever showed the guts to admit failures and vacate the power seat for other party that could manage the affairs rather wisely or seek early elections. In the meantime, rot compounded when billions of rupees corruption was consummated by those who were supposed to prevent it. Within the ruling elites, there is hardly any leader who, given the chance, could resist temptation of massive illicit gains. Pakistan’s security forces are managing the national security dilemma in a chivalrous ways but for the duration of election campaign and actual conduct, need to maintain security would not be confined to the polling booths only to protect the voters but the entire population against any threat of terror. In other words, defence forces shall by thoroughly committed, draining thus their domination of war zones from the threatened eastern as well as western borders. Should there be confluence of national and international conspiracies to destabilise Pakistan, there would not be more opportune time than the occasion of general elections to implement it. Instability in Pakistan means geostrategic threat of wider dimensions. Pakistan has its borders contiguous to Iran, Afghanistan, China, India and has a long coastal stretch of Arabian Sea. Taking the regional situation into account and changing paradigms of geo-politics coupled with nuclear capabilities of the regional powers; soon dimensions of threat become perceivable, connecting with the distant actors also.
Possible Way-out Strategy
Conversely, our major political parties have failed to show flare for the emancipation of masses except when sloganeering from the stage to woo their vote bank. Most of them are power hungry, would compromise to any extent and cling to each other to evade worthwhile accountability. Does the nation see any promise? In all probability, elections would be ruinous exercise. What could be the way-out strategy to steer the country away from crises?
As an alternative, plant a national government of a few dozen honest people, like Imran Khan, Dr. AQ Khan, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Maulana Munawar Hassan etc with limited years mandate to achieve national coherence, retrieve hundreds of billions of tax payers’ money from the fraudsters, flush out rogue elements and criminals, disregard to any other consideration, denying them the capability to buy every vote and then go for the luxury of general elections supported by judiciary and Army. Conversely, under the obtaining geo-political environments, election results would stoke divisive forces more than lending any balming effect to our national unity. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, ‘Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choices are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education’. Let us heed to the time-tested dogma. The proposition becomes meaningful by postponing the elections and educating the masses about inevitability of clearing the garbage first that the dictator and the ‘democratic’ government have heaped during last 13 years. ‘Seize the moment’ to recognise the vagaries of time and resort to measures that would steer Pakistan through internal turmoil intact.
COVID-19 May Become ‘Pandemic Plus’ for Certain Countries and People
As the world grapples with COVID-19 and ponders over its ultimate toll, it may actually turn out to be a pandemic plus kind of a scenario for some people, countries and regions.
Lingering conflicts, already prevalent diseases and natural disasters – on top of a host of political and governance issues – may actually render novel coronavirus an exacerbated threat for people in certain parts of the world.
Think about countries such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Libya. Years and decades of unending armed conflict means inadequate, if at all, healthcare apparatus in most parts of these countries. Even a very low rate of COVID-infections would simply be beyond the capacity of the system to handle, leaving countless people to die haplessly.
Take Afghanistan, for instance. While the number of infections right now is low at around 400 with around a dozen deaths reported, it is emerging that some 2,00,000 refugees and migrant workers returning from Iran are not being tested – raising fears that a wave of large scale infections may just be around the corner. In case of Yemen, the grave extent of hunger amongst a large chunk of population also means dangerously weak levels of resistance against any illness. The situation is by no means any better in war zones of Syria and Libya.
Refugees and Temporarily Displaced Persons (TDPs) face added vulnerabilities. Millions of Syrians in Turkey and Afghans in Iran and Pakistan live in crowded, ill-equipped camps. So, perhaps worse, is the case for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in Bangladesh. Poor living conditions and little-to-no access to quality healthcare may translate into much higher risk, even with a small-scale outbreak of this hard to contain virus. Social distancing and isolation are unthinkable in such unfortunate settings.
In Pakistan, this is also the start of time when the cases of Dengue fever begin. For past several years, every year the country loses dozens of lives with thousands of infections crippling the services at Out-Patient Departments (OPDs) of public hospitals at their peak in summer. Right now, OPDs of public hospitals are already closed to safeguard spread of COVID-19. It is a nightmare to imagine the peak of the two difficult-to-deal-with diseases striking together, or even one following the other, in a short span of time.
Over past few months, countries from East Africa to Middle East to South-West Asia have faced devastating locusts’ attacks on their standing crops – worst ever since 1993. Food crops of millions of hectares across these three regions have either been devastated already, or on verge of being lost to these little flying creatures. Unhindered supply of food items can hardly be overemphasized in times of a pandemic. Unless taken proper care of, locusts remain a serious threat to food security of tens of millions of people.
More importantly, experts are warning that millions of eggs have already been laid by locusts in countries such as Pakistan, and new mating / reproductive seasons also loom. This tells us that coming cotton and maize crops would also be in danger, mostly so in the poorest parts of affected countries where farming is the lone livelihood.
Oppressed populations are another group facing added danger. The world is well aware of the virtual curfew in India Held Kashmir (IHK) for over eight months now, since August 5, 2019. Situation in occupied Palestinian Territories is hardly any different either. Strict controls over medical supplies and essential items, and sources of information, are all set to multiply the impact of a pandemic once it outbreaks in such environments.
And it sadly is not the case only for occupied territories of Kashmir and Palestine. Ruling Bhartia Janta Party’s (BJP) attitude towards 200 million plus Indian Muslims – especially recent laws aimed at their exclusion – make the Muslim population of India all the more threatened when a pandemic breaks out in such a vast, overly populous but ill-equipped country. Reports of Muslims truckers transporting essential supplies in this hard time have already starting to emerge, and public statements of politicians are fanning the fire of anti-Muslim communalism.
And last but not the least, crippling sanctions on certain countries. It has widely been reported internationally that US sanctions are severely limiting Iran’s response – amongst one of the worst affected countries – towards COVID-19. Tehran is not able to easily import essential supplies for its fight against the virus that has already killed some 4000 Iranians.
Now it is coming to the fore that US sanctions are also hampering supply of medical and humanitarian aid not only to Iran but also to Cuba and Venezuela – particularly the aid being sent by China and its corporate. This indeed is a serious humanitarian dilemma for the countries subjected to sanction. Good to note however that voices, international as well as from within the US, are starting to be raised on inhumane impact of these restrictions.
Upended risks call for special attention, on part of governments and international institutions. Let us hope the world can realize this, coming up with timely and targeted response.
Pakistan’s Corona Fight: Through Faith or Foolishness?
Science has given lucid understanding of diseases and also provided medicament for it. In this 21st Century, science and technology has occupied almost all the areas of human life starting from medical to cosmos. The ongoing global pandemic of corona virus has put almost all the world into psycho-economic misery. People have shortage of food and medical supplies and governments are busy in controlling human loss. China’s Wuhan city which is said to be the birthplace of Novel Corona virus has returned to normal life because of the effective control of Chinese government and its policies. The Italy has been devastated because of the most-deaths caused by Covid-19 and Spain is also one of the badly affected countries. The US and UK have also announced their policies to combat N-corona virus and are also briefing their nations about the estimated death toll.
Pakistan is a starkly unique nation in that regard. It does not mean that Covid-19 has not hit Pakistan rather majority of the Pakistanis are taking this pandemic as mere insignificant disease. In response to WHO’s warning ,Pakistan’s government announced partial lockdown of cities and majority of the public and private institutions are shut down to avoid further spread of Covid-19.Apart from Urban centers people are determined to fight N-Corona virus through their faith and they believe N-Corona cannot kill them until the will of God. There is no doubt that almost all of the divine religions believe in it but this thinking seriously undermines scientific findings. By not abiding instructions of the government, its hard to avoid killer bug. People at large are terming it the wrath of God and advocate that everyone should seek His mercy. On the contrary under such a crisis hoarders are making large sums of money by creating artificial shortage of food and grocery items. Masks, sanitizers and other products have already disappeared from the market. This simply is the organized hypocrisy of so-called religious ones.
In response to government’s appeal not to offer prayers at mosques there have been an outright reaction from people at large. Some radicals termed it as the conspiracy of Jews and Christians to halt prayers at Ka’aba(the holiest place for Muslims).In the meanwhile clergy in Pakistan did a press conference on national media and Ulema(from all school of thoughts) sat together and urged people to offer Juma(Friday) prayers in the mosques. This act was against governmental policy to fight N-Corona virus and seriously undermined the writ of the government. Even faith advocates that “follow your Emir(ruler)”This way Prime Minister Imran Khan is the democratic ruler(emir) but his instructions were openly violated. In Pakistan Tableeghi Jamaat(preachers party) was no less than others in flaunting disobedience to government orders. Majority of the Pakistanis wait response from religious clergy to act and government tried its best to telecast Ulema messages on national television to aware about the pandemic (Covid-19) and urged people to stay home. Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Shaikh of Al Azhar and Supreme Council also issued a Fatwa that Juma Prayers can be suspended during such a critical time. Pakistan’s most powerful constitutional body the council of Islamic ideology(CII) chairman Qibla Ayaz also issued a statement that masses should pray home instead of going mosques because there is a fear of pandemic spread to others. This crisis of Covid-19 had more cases in Pakistan found among pilgrims coming back from Iran and Saudi Arabia. The pilgrims coming from Taftan(Iran border) had to stay at quarantine centers which were not well equipped and the supplies of food and shelter were inadequate. That led pilgrims to (most of them affected) to break quarantine and escaped. It caused spread of Covid-19 to others too. National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) briefed the government and shared the details with people about the supplies (ventilators, masks, medical kits, testing kits) coming from China.
China being time tested friend stood by Pakistan otherwise medical staffers were reluctant to perform duties in some parts Sindh and they went on strike. Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken several measures to effectively control the spread of Covid-19 and avoid economic loss. Pakistan’s chief of Army staff General Qamar Bajwa also urged the entire nation to stay united in such a critical time. There are acts of kindness and charity all over to help the poor and needy to avert starvation. There are crackdowns on hoarders and price hikers. But if the people are fighting against covid-19 through their faith, then faith advocates humanity, honesty and generosity too which profit makers lack at this juncture. Ramadan (holy month of fasting) is imminent and this behavior is likely to prevail. There is a grim challenge of countering misinformation on social media where various religious figures incite people to oppose government orders of banning Friday prayers at mosques. Some so called Ulema are terming it a conspiracy against Islam and its followers. None of them is talking of its cure because they either lack scientific knowledge or do not believe science. Pakistani masses are fighting corona virus pandemic because of their lack of knowledge, it’s the same as a cancer patients survives a cancer until he/she comes to know about it. The moment a patient is diagnosed with the cancer, he/she no longer survives. Sometimes ignorance is a bliss but that bliss does not last longer in case of pandemic. I conclude my argument here that science has the power to cure diseases. It also provides remedies to most lethal diseases but Covid-19 vaccine is not made yet and if science fails, faith consoles the victims. But the faith guidelines should come from government instead of any random Ulema.
Bajwa-Imran Visit to China and Rumours about CPEC
It was a rumour for a long period that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) had been dying because of various reasons along with the negligence of the present government. In this regard, there are two popular narratives about the CPEC and Pak-China relations. One perspective which has been floating within Pakistani society since long is that because of American and Indian pressure regarding CPEC and Chinese involvement within the country, Islamabad has stopped the work on the projects that come under CPEC. Besides, Pakistan has been pressurized through International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to withdraw from Chinese investment within the country, therefore, it faces various difficulties in continuation of projects. While another perspective portrays an optimistic picture of the whole scenario where work on CPEC projects is in process and 13 projects worth $11 billion have completed. The projects such as M-5 (Multan to Sukkur Motorway), 2×660MW Port Qasim Coal-Fired Power Plant, 50MW Dawood Wind Farm, and 100MW Jhimpir Wind Farm have been completed which show the progress and success of CPEC. Also, the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and their talks about CPEC as well as point of view regarding CPEC show that both the Army and government are on the same page to continue the projects under CPEC.
Moreover, the formation of CPEC Authority which keeps the surveillance upon CPEC related works is also the evidence of the seriousness of government regarding CPEC. Furthermore, both the representative from Pakistan showed the intention of making relations between both nations namely China and Pakistan even stronger through engagement in multiple businesses and trade-related activities. Though American pressure creates many difficulties for Pakistan to continue the project still there is much progress in many projects related to CPEC. Moreover, America does not want China to rise at regional as well as global level. In this regard, the United States tries to counter Beijing actively on various grounds. Likewise, the American “Pivot to Asia” or “Rebalancing” policy aims to counter and restrict Chinese influence in the Asian continent including countering its engagement in the Asia-Pacific. However, Washington has been trying to contain Beijing but its economic growth shows the success. Therefore, it is considered the right time for Pakistan to shift its tilt towards China rather than an unbelievable, unpredictable, and weak alliance with America. Furthermore, Islamabad has been testing and observing the friendship of America which mostly remained seasonal and based on a specific issue after the fulfilment of objectives, Washington uses to ignore Islamabad even in its difficult times.
Pakistan through proper utilization of the CPEC initiative could boost its economy and get rid of American bloc which has a great share in the destruction, deaths, terrorism, underdevelopment and backwardness within the country. Many of the writers dub the CPEC and Chinese involvement in Pakistan as game changer which would take Islamabad towards the path of peace, prosperity, development, progress, and innovation within multiple fields. It is said that Pakistan could serve as the “Israel of China” because of various reasons it may be economic, political or financial which can be useful for the development of Beijing as well as Islamabad. As Israel keeps much importance for the US and it cannot compromise on its interests even at the cost of opposition and criticism from many states. Such as Washington’s “Deal of the Century” including support of it at every global forum. In the same manner, the South Asian region particularly Pakistan carries great importance for China which could connect Beijing with various natural rich resource nations of the Middle East and Central Asia. Moreover, it also paves the way for Beijing by connecting it with many other important countries of various continents of the world. Therefore, China has been struggling to create peace in the region. Furthermore, Afghanistan is the major nation which suffers from instability and security problems that also left effects on regional stability. Therefore, China wants to solve the Afghanistan problem for making it stable which will pave the way for the completion of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Concerning the Afghan issue, Beijing sees Islamabad as an important state which can play a decisive role in solving the Afghan problem as well as bringing peace in the region resultantly stopping the long-standing war at Afghanistan’s land. Peace and stability in Afghanistan could serve multiple interests of China because Kabul provides the land route for China to reach the Central Asian states that ultimately connects it with Europe. Therefore, China has been struggling hard to secure its national interest. That can easily be achieved if China will be successful in generating the dominance and influence over the South Asia region. Furthermore, this region is considered the testing grounds for the success of the Chinese initiated project namely BRI. As for American bloc and the other entities which are not happy with the rise of China are concerned, they also know the importance of this region for Beijing. It is mostly agreed that the success of BRI depends upon the successful completion of projects within this region. Therefore it is observed that if Beijing would be successful in the completion of projects all over South Asia than no one can beat and resist China on becoming the dominant or global power. In this regard, Washington will not allow Beijing to take its place easily. So it uses multiple strategies to contain China such as pressurizing Pakistan to withdraw from BRI, Strengthening relations with India and prolonging Afghan issue, and putting new sanctions on Iran.
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