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General Elections Pakistan-2013: Rendezvous with Monster or Messiah

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan

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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.

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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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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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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