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Afghan Refugees: A vision for the 19th SAARC Summit

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There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one’s native land. -Euripides 431 BCE

The unprecedented internal civil/ethnic conflicts have been causing a gross violation of human rights in terms of internal and external displacement. Consequently, some of the countries of the universe have been entrapped and crippled in refugee’s crisis. Afghanistan has also been facing a refugee crisis for the given of its political instability, underdevelopment, terrorism, fundamentalism, the presence of NATO forces.

Afghanistan has become a full member of SAARC in 2007. The SAARC was established on December 8, 1985, focussing on lofty and idealistic objectives such as the promotion of welfare and quality of life, acceleration of the economic growth, social progress, and cultural development and create mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems etc. The Afghan refugees have been facing myriads of problems despite such lofty and idealistic objectives of the SAARC. Against this background, the main focus of this article is look for, does SAARC take the notice of the plight of the Afghan Refugees to translate its objectives into reality by policy options? Does it have any refugee policy, if not, could it be made a part of the agenda for the 19th SAARC Summit (Islamabad-Pakistan) taking place in November 2016?

Afghan Conundrum

Scholars like Morgenthau (1948) and Malhotra (2009) have argued that the nation states have been fighting with each other to acquire more and more power to make their geopolitical space in the zero sum game. Afghanistan has been entrapped in the geopolitical cobweb. On account of its strategic location and richly endowed minerals attracted the intervention of the external powers like Russia, US, NATO and several other regional actors. The geopolitical and geostrategic interests of these players, made it battle ground till date by creating the dreaded terrorist organizations and Mujahedeen to fight with the Soviets. Later on, these groups became out of control and have expanded in many regions/countries. Responding to 9/11 attack, the Operation Enduring Freedom was launched which further complicated the Afghan refugee crisis. Out of this military solution of the terrorism, the people of Afghanistan had paid the price with internal and external displacements.

Afghanistan Refugees: A Rationale

The scholar like Ruiz and Emery (2001), have argued that the Afghan refugee crisis goes back to more than three decades. Since the Afghan-Soviet conflict, 26 million refugees have been compelled to run away from their homes either temporarily or permanently. The intervention of Soviets started the Afghanistan refugee crisis. Moreover, the violence and atrocities perpetrated by the Mujahideen forced the hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the country. The second critical phase for the afghan refugees during the Taliban control in 1994. The Taliban offensive had compelled about 1,50,000 Afghans to leave Afghanistan. The Afghan refugee crisis has been the product of unrelenting civil/ethnic conflict, unabated human rights violations, underdevelopment, lack of basic necessities of life like education, health, sanitation, unemployment, warring factions, and lastly the Operation Ensuring Freedom. As per the UN Commission on Human Rights special rapporteur on Afghanistan (October 2000), pointed out that the country has been in,

“A state of acute crisis—its resources depleted, its intelligentsia in exile, its people disenfranchised, its traditional political structures shattered and its human development indices among the lowest in the world.”

SAARC sans refugee policy

The SAARC was established in 1985, with prioritized objectives such as the promotion of welfare and quality of life, acceleration of the economic growth, social progress, and cultural development of the South Asian region. The plight and crisis of the refugees have been making fun of these objectives of the SAARC. For the given of critical problems of refugees, yet the SAARC has been failed to put its refugee policy in place till date. See the inflated number of the refugees, Haque (2012) has labelled the South Asian region as a “refugee melting pot”. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has mandated to protect and support the refugees across the world including the South Asia, by UN itself or at the request of refugees generating or hosting country, assisting in their repatriation and resettlement to a third country. The other instrument like the Convention on the Status of Refugees (1951) also governed the refugee crisis of the South Asian region. Though all the SAARC members have adopted generous approach towards the refugees but still they are hesitant to ratify the instruments governing the refugees such as the Refugee Convention (1951) and Protocol (1967), thus, individually and regionally lacking legal instruments to handle the refugee crisis of the region.

Vision for the 19th SAARC Summit

The SAARC countries have been hosting 10 per cent of global refugee population, yet it is lacking refugee regime. SAARC members are still reluctant to ratifying the refugee conventions and protocol. Moreover, no provisions have been made in their respective constitutions. Even it has been argued that the SAARC members also remained passive to make national legal framework to sort out the refugee problem. Notwithstanding of the generous approach in providing shelter, the refugee policies of the each members of the SAARC has been based on adhoc administrative decisions.

Refugee problem in the South Asia is very critical. Since Afghanistan entrapped in the ethnic/civil war during the last three decades, hence it has been facing serious refugees’ crisis. Afghanistan is full member of SAARC since 2008. It has been holding strategic importance as it a bridge link between South, Middle and Central Asia. The Afghan refugee crisis has security implications for not only for the South Asian region rather across the boundaries of other contiguous regions as well. Thus, it becomes important for the SAARC to take some steps for the resolution of this problem.

According to the available statistics of UNHRC, about 2.7 million have been registered as Afghan refugees in Pakistan, are living in 380 camps. Apart from these, many hundred thousand refuges have remained unregistered and live on their own resources in the same country. About 75 percent of Afghan refugees live in Northwest Frontier, 20 percent in Baluchistan and 4 percent in Punjab Province.

The number of Afghan refugees in Iran, is stood between 2 and 2.25 million (Khorasan-700,000; Sistan-Baluchistan-250,000; Kerman-50,000; Tehran- approximately 200,000 to 300,000; Mashbad-250,000 and the rest in nine other provinces. However, it has been argued that Afghan refugees settled in Iran also included about 200,000, who had settled prior to the Soviet invasion and about 400,000 who have been working at that time as seasonal laborers, tradesmen, and nomads in Afghanistan. Afghan refugees have also been lining in India and according to UNHRC, stood at 10,000. However, Putz (2015) has argued that the audit report of the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), data of refugees living in Pakistan and Iran are difficult to verify independently.

The 19th SAARC Summit (Islamabad) is taking place in November 2016. Till date, SAARC is lacking refugee regime. Even at the individual level, the member countries have been following the adhoc system to deal with the refugee problem. Since the 19th SAARC Summit will held in Pakistan, which is hosting the highest number of the Afghan refugees. Thus, it is highly recommended that refugee crisis of Afghanistan should be taken seriously on board. Since, the countries hosting the highest Afghan refugees, are going to participate in the 19th SAARC Summit, take this case on board seriously, so that the long term resolution of this   could be seen.

Dr. Bawa Singh is teaching in the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India-151001. bawasingh73[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

“Haqeeqi Azaadi” or “Political Invasion”?

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You call it a “Long March” or an “Azaadi March” or a “Haqeeqi Azaadi March” and lastly according to some people “Political invasion of the capital”; whatever attempt it may be, the impact of this “Long March” will not be “Short” at all. Seems like history is repeating. Yesterday, it was PTI, later it was TLP, then JUIF, PDM & now again PTI. This reminds us about a Supreme Court’s historic judgment on Faizabad Sit in by Supreme Court, which is quite relevant again in these crucial times. The historic judgment of Supreme Court on Suo moto quotes that “The leaders of the dharna intimidated, hurled threats, abused, provoked and promoted hatred. The media provided unabated coverage. Inflammatory speeches were delivered by irresponsible politicians. Some unscrupulous talk-show hosts incited and provoked citizens.” Isn’t the situation once again similar? Doesn’t it seem like history is repeating? Few analysts consider it to be a worst kind of situation.

Supreme Court writes in its judgment that “the freedom of speech and expression and of the press are fundamental right. However, these rights cannot be used to denigrate or undermine the glory of Islam, security or defence of Pakistan, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, or commission of or incitement to an offence.  He categorically mentions that “PEMRA Ordinance mirrors the restrictions as set out in Article 19 of the Constitution and further prohibits broadcasts which are, “likely to create hatred among the people or is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order or is likely to disturb public peace and tranquility.” So, Supreme Court has already given clear instructions that if some event is likely to disrupt peace and tranquility, media broadcasts can be prohibited.

Insiders say that we are in a dead end and this is the most crucial time of history for Pakistan, especially when the economic fate has to be decided by IMF on 25th May when Imran khan marches on Islamabad. So let’s playout the possible upcoming scenarios which political stakeholders may have to consider;

  1. Marching towards Islamabad with huge crowds is one thing but forcing a government to dissolve assemblies with this crowd is another thing. Imran Khan very well knows this is a do or die situation for his political career as well. He knows his March will only succeed if he can force an early election.
  2. Bringing larger mobs to Islamabad will only be fruitful if there is some kind of disruption by the present government or by the PTI itself. IK knows that a prolonged sit in without happenings in the red zone won’t be impactful.
  3. PTI leaders have been repeatedly convincing people including government employees, Army officers and police to bring their families in their Haqeeqi Azaadi March. The question which arises is that “Why IK doesn’t bring own family members to join the “Jihad” or “Haqeeqi Azaadi”?
  4. IMF has to take crucial decision on Pakistan’s economic fate. Without an IMF Package, a Srilanka type scenario may arise. The decision will come on the same date as of long march, on 25th May. This is a do or die situation for Pakistan’s economy. So the leaders of this March should definitely come with a futuristic economic plan and tell the masses how will they get rid of this dire economic situation.
  5. While Srinagar Highway will be full of Marchers led by the so-called Ambassador of Kashmir, a big decision is expected to come from Srinagar about Yasin Malik. Unfortunately, it is expected that his sentencing maybe announced on 25th May as well.

The government also has limited options. They are arresting leaders of PTI. They are raiding houses in their own panic mode which will further incite the situation. The removal of fuel subsidiary has become inevitable and when it happens it will be the most unpopular decision. Rising, Inflation will cut purchasing power. Finalization of IMF program has brought them to a dead end.

The dread is in the air. 25th May is around the corner. It is Crucial. It is Do or Die for Pakistan. We must fear!!

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South Asia

When Politics turns Personal; The Toxic Allegations & Accusations become a Norm

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Image source: timeofpakistan.com

There is something happening beneath this political turmoil which is NOT looking good!!

Whenever Political landscape turns into a Personal battleground, defeats become unacceptable. These past few days are a perfect case study to see that how Political elite in Pakistan has done whatever it took it to stay in power. In this power grab scenario, there could be numerous losses including the integrity of institutions. We have unfortunately entered into a very dangerous phase, where some political stakeholders have put all stakes at risk, where they have stretched their limits beyond a constitutional limit, all to gather mass support, all to stay in power and avoid defeat. Is it a threat of losing power? Is it a double game? Is it a practical hybrid war we are fighting?  Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be good. All is at stake, all is at risk and all is toxic.

As if the political temperature was not noxious enough, Shireen Mazari Saga took place. Once again, accusations, allegations and assumptions started pouring in against the state institutions. Soon after her arrest, her daughter, a lawyer herself Imaan Zainab Mazari alleged that her mother was beaten by male police officers during the arrest. But few minutes later, a video clip surfaced that showed clearly that her mother was arrested by Female Police officers in broad daylight and as per the law. Lie number 1 of the daughter stood exposed. Within moments, without any cogent evidence the lady, known for many controversies in the past targeted state institution for such an act, although the anti-corruption already had taken responsibility of her arrest.

Abuse of power can never be tolerated, regardless of who it targets or from where it emanates. This mantra is true and everyone has an equal belief on it but let’s take a deep dive to see that how politics turned dirty in this case, how blame game took place and how this entire episode was used as a tool to churn propaganda against Army leadership and Armed Forces.

1. The anti-corruption police had arrested Shireen Mazari and she herself accepted that Prime Minister and Interior minister were responsible for my arrest. But the mother daughter nexus brazenly started blaming institutions without any solid evidence. Shouldn’t there be an inquiry on this too?

2. PTI was always of the opinion that why courts were opened mid night to send IK packing while he wasn’t listening to anyone however when same court gave a verdict in favor of PTI ex minister, late night, it was celebrated and much appreciated by Shireen Mazari & IK who have been spearheading anti judicial tirade until recently. Isn’t it blatant hypocrisy? Judicial inquiry has been ordered by the Court which is a positive sign, but the serious allegations which Mazari nexus have raised must also be inquired during this newly formed judicial inquiry. Should the Judiciary not question them on hurling these baseless allegations?

3. The present government, whose Police itself arrested Shireen Mazari disowned this attempt. Attorney General displayed his ignorance about the matter in front of the court. So, somehow the government created this impression in the public eye that they are not to be blamed for the arrest of Shireen Mazari. Was it a double game? Or a deliberate effort to discredit institutions?

Pakistan is already facing serious economic downfall, political uncertainty and civil strife. PTI has also announced Long March to Islamabad on 25th May which is likely to further exacerbate already fragile political and economic instability. It has become quite evident now for achieving petty political ends, our political elite has no serious resolve to address the crisis confronting the country. Country is being deliberately pushed to limits of economic and political dead end. The political immaturity and lack of vision to handle the crisis situation is also hurting the repute of institutions amidst internal political wrangling. If political leadership doesn’t come to grips of the critical situation prevailing which is likely to aggravate further in coming days, people of Pakistan in particular and the country in general are likely to suffer unprecedented damage. Political elite must put its acts together and steer the country out of prevalent political and economic crisis by showing sagacity and political wisdom until it’s too late.

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South Asia

Accusations to Acknowledgement: The Battle of Article 63 A

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The weather is heating up. As the May is ending, Political temperatures are soaring. The fate regarding the country’s political and economic stability will be measured in the upcoming days. Earlier, PDM built momentum by taking on institutions. Maryam Nawaz raised the temperature by targeting key personalities and institutions. Allegations were bursting against the institutions in all dimensions. Today, we witness reversal of roles. Accusations have been outflowing in every Jalsa by PTI. But now suddenly, the “accusations” turned into “acknowledgment”. “Complaints” started transforming into “Compliments”. Is it the change of narrative? Is it another U-turn? Or is it the restoration of confidence in the institutions? Where will this chaos end?

The Supreme Court’s “decision” or as they say “opinion” or “binding” on Article 63 A has raised some pertinent questions on the status of CM Punjab election? In the interpretation of Article 63 A of the constitution, the Supreme court categorically condemns the practice of horse trading by calling it “a cancer afflicting the body politic”. Supreme Court in its decision of 3-2 rejected the vote count of these dissident members against the party directives. So the future of the Chief Executive of Punjab is now under threat because it is contrary to what happened in National Assembly. The political instability continues and the situation is messy.

In light of this verdict, Hamza has a support of 172 MPAs in Punjab assembly but at the same time, he also has 4 dissenting members which draws the figure to 168. Now further moving ahead, PTI and alliance also has a collective figure of 168 votes minus 21 dissenting members. The situation here in Punjab is way too complex now. A support of 186 members is required for a clear majority in Punjab assembly to formulate a government. This current Punjab government can either fall through a governor led vote of no confidence or a Supreme court order. The governor even has a right to dissolve the assembly with his discretionary powers according to Article 112 (2) of the constitution. Supreme Court has already made its decision on cross voting against Party fiat.  Now legal experts are interpreting the decision in their own dictionaries. What will happen in Punjab? What will happen on the federal level? Will there be an election call? If so, what will be the care taker setup? Will there be a fresh mandate? Who will make the hard economic decisions?  Lot needs to be answered in these crucial times.

From “My judges disappointed me” to “Thankyou Supreme Court”, a lot has happened and a lot is ready to take place. Islamabad is full of gossips, interpretations, whispers and predictions these days. There is something seething under this political turmoil. The Red zone is under a lot of pressure whether politically or economically. Pre – Elections, Elections and then Post elections, we have a lot of consequences of a lot of hard decisions. But hard decisions need to be taken. Question is who is ready to make the hard choices? Be Afraid!!

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