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Will the real Pakistan stand up, please?

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Two headlines this month beg the question US officials have been grappling with for more than a decade: Will the real Pakistan stand up, please?

Pakistan’s The News reported that the government had designated Islamabad as a pilot project to regulate Friday prayer sermons in the city’s 1,003 mosques, of which only 86 are state-controlled, in a bid to curb hate speech, extremism and demonization of religions and communities.

The project is modelled on procedures in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt that are primarily intended to exert political control. The Islamabad project is in part designed to counter mounting criticism by the Trump administration, which has suspended funding to Pakistan, as well as growing unease in China over what Pakistani militancy could mean for its massive investment in the country.

It is also intended to support Pakistani efforts to evade blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a 37-member inter-governmental agency that polices adherence to anti-money laundering and funding of political violence measures.

The government has drawn up a list of 44 subjects on which prayer leaders should focus in their sermons. They include women rights; Muslim unity; Islamic principles of trade, cleanliness and health; concepts of an Islamic state; the importance of hard work, tolerance, and honesty; and the notion of the finality of the Prophet Mohammed.

The belief that Mohammed was the last prophet or Khatm-e-Nabuwwat is core to Muslim faith. Yet, it has allowed Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatives and others to whip up popular emotion in pursuit of political objectives, nowhere more so than In Pakistan where a draconic anti-blasphemy law has aided and abetted them.

The military late last year mediated an end to a weeks-long blockade of a main artery leading into Islamabad that disrupted traffic in multiple cities to protest a perceived softening of the government’s adherence to Islam in a proposed piece of legislation. The protesters successfully called for the resignation of the justice minister for failing to refer to Prophet Mohammad in a constitutional bill.

The second headline reported that Islamabad High Court judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui demanded in a ruling that parliament “take measures which can completely terminate those who scar (the belief in Khatm-e-Nabuwwat).”

Justice Siddiqui sits on the bench of a courthouse that last year had graffiti in a corridor demanding that blasphemers be beheaded. Mr. Siddiqui, who has defined blasphemers as terrorists, was ruling in a case brought before him by some of the protesters who had blockaded traffic that would effectively bar from public service Ahmadis, a sect considered heretic by orthodox Muslims because it views its 19th century founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, as a prophet.

Pressured by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan in 1974 excommunicated Ahmadis in a constitutional amendment that enshrined the principle of Khatm-e-Nabuwwat as integral to the Islamic faith. Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq criminalized Ahmadi practices a decade later by barring Ahmadis from “posing as Muslims” or using Islamic titles, greetings, scriptures or calls to prayer.

Mr. Siddiqui’s ruling appeared to contradict the government’s effort to get a grip on expressions of Sunni Muslim supremacism that amount to hate speech and discrimination of the other in a country in which extremism has been fuelled by intolerant, anti-pluralistic views.

The ruling, despite paying lip service to constitutional guarantees of “complete religious freedom, including all the basic rights of the minorities (Non-Muslims)” and the state’s obligation to “protect their life, wealth, property, dignity and protect their assets as citizens of Pakistan,” spotlights contradictions in the constitution.

On the one hand, the constitution recognizes the principle of Khatm-e-Nabuwwat. On the other, article 20 enshrines the notion of freedom of religion while article 27 bans discrimination in recruitment for public office.

Without explicitly identifying Ahmadis, Mr. Siddiqui said it was “alarming” that “one of the minorities” was “often mistaken for being Muslims” due to their names and general attire. He warned that this “can lead them to gain access to dignified and sensitive posts, along with benefits.”

Human rights activists and lawyers have called for the ruling to be challenged in the Supreme Court. “This is clear hate speech. What is the judge asking them to be terminated from? Their jobs? Doesn’t that take away their basic right to life and dignity?” said lawyer and human rights activist Jibran Nasir.

The plaintiffs in Mr. Siddiqui’s case were supporters of Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TPL), a political front for Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLR), which glorifies Mumtaz Qadri, who was executed in 2016 for killing Punjab governor Salman Taseer because of his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

Tens of thousands attended Mr. Qadri’s funeral and his supporters have built a well-frequented shrine to honour him in his home town. Lawyers associated with TPL have instigated multiple blasphemy cases in Pakistani courts.

The Lahore-based Centre for Social Justice estimated that at least 1,472 people have been charged with blasphemy 1987 and 2016. Of the 730 Muslims charged, 501 were Ahmadis.

Activists and scholars argue that a rollback of the country’s blasphemy law which applies the death sentence to those convicted is a requirement if Pakistan is serious about combatting extremism. A study by political scientist Nilay Saiya of 51 Muslim majority countries concluded that those that enforced ant-blasphemy laws were more susceptible to political violence.

“Both the concept of blasphemy and the prescription of any sort of punishment for its occurrence stand contrary to the Qu’ran… The modern invocation of religious defamation laws stems from political leaders in Muslim-majority states…who have exploited such laws as a crafty way to use religion for political purposes including inflaming religious sensibilities, silencing criticism of the regime, generating patriotism, fostering national cohesion, co-opting Islamic supporters, and undercutting detractors,” Mr. Saiya said.

Mr. Saiya argued that blasphemy laws encourage militants to attack with impunity individuals, homes, places of worship, and businesses of those believed to be blasphemers in the knowledge that the state will turn a blind eye to their actions.

“Violent non-state actors thus feel empowered to commit acts of terrorism with little or no fear of governmental reprisal because blasphemy laws, in effect, lend the authority of the state to religious figures and reinforce extreme views. Rather than control the forces of extremism, blasphemy laws appease and encourage them. The result, expectedly, is that states that attempt to curry favour with radicals embolden them to take matters into their own hands; eventually such countries fall prey to violence carried out by those same radicals,” Mr. Saiya said.

“The vagueness of the (Pakistani) language concerning blasphemy allowed radicals to interpret the code in very loose ways and open-endedly persecute those believed to be guilty of defiling, in any way, ‘the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad’… Pakistan’s blasphemy law thus opened the floodgate for extremism and terrorism which the government was unable to subsequently control,” Mr. Saiya added.

Given Mr. Saiya’s analysis, both headlines represent Pakistan. The problem, however, is that the Pakistan that wants to reign in supremacism, hate speech and extremism has little chance of succeeding with out far-reaching political and legal change that would uproot the vested interests of the Pakistan that sees religious and political militancy as a useful tool.

That may be a step too far for those interests even if they recognize a need to be seen to be advocating change with band-aid solutions like trying to control Friday prayer sermons.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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South Asia

Promoting Projects and Practices in Community Health in India

Prof. Pankaj Jha

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Street scene in India, August 2020. © UNICEF/Vinay Panjwani

One of the most populated countries in the world, India has been facing problems with regard to well-being of its citizens while sustaining their developmental needs. The need for better health facilities, and developing antidotes for new kinds of pathogens and viruses have made the task more challenging. The respective governments, pharma companies, and testing labs are trying to develop safe trial mechanisms and developing safeguards for protecting the lives of vulnerable sections of society. Within India, the community health programme involves the non-governmental sector, healthcare professionals, economics aspects and social interaction through people and voluntary workers. While the health ecosystem exists, the problem has been finance, support and critical knowledge repository. India did well to address issues such as polio vaccination and creating community awareness for regular medication against tuberculosis. There is a mounting impact of chronic diseases in economic and social sectors, need for quality health services in the wake of changing demographics, and increasing life expectancy have made matters more complex.

In terms of understanding the requirements for building better resilient and health-conscious societies, it is important that the vaccines, lifesaving drugs, and medicines should be developed with certain generalised regulations which can improve the health of the society and address problems faced by people living across regions. While India is a subcontinent comprising of all geographical features, it is also a cauldron of different ethnic communities, and physical features which provides exceptional opportunities for testing and developing medicines which can cater to different physical and pathological profiles of people. Within India, one can find people with different levels of immunity. As the eating and food habits have been different, there is higher incidence of diabetes, hyper tension and cardio diseases in a cross-section of people. It has also been seen that people who are above 40-70 years of age have been more vulnerable to pandemics, and other communicable diseases. A sizeable mortality profile of people suggests that.

In this context it becomes very important that medicines which should be developed should have a better shelf life and give results which can be corroborated with testing facility, with a cross-section of people. The results have usually varied with regard to people with different eating habits and also nutrition factor. Pandemics such as COVID-19 have brought to the fore that India has better resistance mechanisms which has helped in relatively less mortality rate when these people have been infected with COVID-19. The duration of sickness because of COVID -19 has varied from five days to more than three weeks. In such certain times, it has been found that because of lack of any effective medicine or any sure shot diagnostic mechanisms the treatment has prolonged and the recovery has been slow. In terms of legal and other regulatory mechanisms, it has been found that most of the clinical trials which are done in India enroll the vulnerable  and poor people and human trials are conducted. There is a grey area of medical compensation and addressing post-tests complications from legal point of view.

For India it has become imperative to develop projects and conduct feasibility studies through government mechanisms rather than through medical companies. While projects have been undertaken to study different kind of diseases that school children and adults will be facing in the next two decades, it has been found that most of the complications will be related to teeth, eyesight, anxiety and mental well-being. However, in the case of pandemics and community health programmes it has been encouraging signs that initiatives such as creating awareness with regard to AIDS, mental well-being, depression and anxiety disorders have been fruitful and rewarding with institutionalising counselling and telephone helplines. Most of the programs have been done and supported by NGOs as well as a few voluntary organisations.

The projects and programmes which can be initiated in India should address core issues. Firstly, the incidence of non-curable diseases, depression, immunity disorders, other issues related to community transmission, and the development of proper safeguards and awareness with regard to pandemics and life-threatening diseases. Secondly, the COVID-19 has opened a Pandora’s box with regard to the incidence of diseases which impact community, and thereby also affect government health budget. Lastly, it is necessary that India will have to create medical soldiers and inform voluntary workers so that the community transmission and community health well-being should be addressed on a priority level.

As the COVID vaccine is in different trial stages, many countries are looking for testing facility in India and also conduct human trials, as legal structure in medicinal trials is still in infancy. India needs to address the issue of IPR on developing vaccines and medical history should be addressed jointly as it has been found that many western countries have been purchasing medical history of the patients living in developing Asia, providing vaccines through great testing mechanisms and subsequently using copyright laws to deny cheap medicines to the larger community.

 In this regard it is important that India should conduct research on immunity vectors of its population and develop generic drugs which can help in protecting communities from most transmissions. It is also pertinent to note that in terms of the temperature variance across India it provides unique testing opportunities in different conditions. However, there is a need for a holistic approach and therefore it is important that training and sensitisation of the personnel working in this field is of paramount importance. Initiatives related to preventive and therapeutic services is critical. Also, looking for quick alternatives would save the lives of personnel.

Just like any emergency, there is a need for rapid action medical force which can provide immediate assistance and better cognitive abilities track critical illnesses and the reasons thereof. It has been seen in the case of midwifery and associated postnatal diseases that it has worked wonders with a better equipped and knowledgeable person existing in each society for better assistance and awareness.

The critical importance of voluntary workers is that with sufficient technical assistance (which might come from government and state units) gives them confidence and also strengthens their application of knowledge for better informed public health practices and policies. Technical assistance and quick action through centralised control centre has to create the first line of defence in case of a pandemic. 

The institutes which have been working in this field are Public Health Foundation of India, Indian Institutes of Public Health and All India Institute of Hygiene & Public Health, which have been disseminating information through online workshops, seminars, and social media. They have created affiliates and sister agencies working in the field all across India. Networking of public health institutions in medical education need to address issues such as environmental health and countering new kind of diseases which are dominating.

This clearly highlights the fact there is a need for understanding pandemics, developing awareness among communities about public health, and stress on hygienic environment, conducting long term  research on emerging diseases and promoting research in tropical medicine.

India need to allocate separate fund for public health initiatives and promote exchange of medical workers with third world countries for better understanding the nuances of medical and health research. In fact, in most of the think tank meetings, public health and awareness is not listed as topics whenever Track II dialogues are held. There is also a need for better practices in public health, education, and developing health demonstration projects, barefoot nurses and doctors, strengthening an eco-system of education, training, and scholarship. Developing traditional medicine and making it easily accessible should be the bulwark against diseases. Restructuring Community Medicine/ Preventive and Social Medicine colleges which impart this kind of education in developing countries is required as the number is relatively less. Across developing world scholarship in community medicine and hospital administration is low and needs structural financial support. The data collection and diagnostics apparatus need micro management to create better response chain. COVID-19 has provided the reason for public health to be taken as a national initiative.

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South Asia

Sino-India Himalayan Chess Game: Breakthrough or Stalemate?

Vineet Malik

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The continuous geopolitical blame game between India and China hasn’t witnessed any positive development with respect to either sides pulling back their respective troops, dragging the recent skirmish even further till winter.

In 45 years, India for the first time has witnessed a conflict-like situation vis-a vis China which witnessed the martyrdom of 20 troops on June 15thand rounds of shot firing in the LAC where the Indian Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed about the PLA first initiating the firing ,after which the two sides have constantly held each other responsible for increased tensions whereas India has tremendously shown goodwill, hopefulness and looking at many factors to keep the ties stable. The year 2020 was supposed to be the 70th Anniversary of Sino-India Cultural ties where unfortunately, the celebrations were overshadowed with this recent border mishap.

The Himalayan Chess- Game

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s scepticism on the territorial claims and debate on Aksai Chin are not new, which has its roots to the abrogation of article 370, the recently changed rule declaring Ladakh as an integral portion of the Indian Union was unfavourable to the Chinese side, reiterating about India getting into a strategic misadventure by violating their own territorial sovereignty and national interest and the former justifying on those and trying to flex its muscles in the Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley, Gogra, Kongka La, Depsang.

Border infrastructure is becoming a new method for these two aspiring Asian powers to assert their economic cum political interests with respect to further claiming of territories leading to the road towards being victorious, where the Indian side has further increased its focus viewing the strategic ramifications in the neighbourhood .by providing 8 bridge infrastructure projects each  in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh , which India requires to ensure easy connectivity in harsher terrains, promote tourism, distance reduction in order to reduce time for movement of goods to ensure welfare and safety for troops and natives residing in high terrains which again China suspiciously looked at in its counter statement, blatantly opposing any infrastructure in disputed boundary.

Notable defence experts, Victor Gao and Prem Shankhar Jha, opined that China is aiming at a strategic bargain and believe that this move of the Indian side developing infrastructure in Ladakh could be a counter to the Chinese G219 highway , covering a distance of 179 km connecting Xinjiang and Tibet which is in close proximity with Daulat Beg Oldi, where a 450 metre bridge over the Shlyok river was constructed last year which was only accessible by air before the construction of this project .

Amidst this prolonged crisis, 7 rounds of the India China Military Commander Meetings were held on a frequent basis at the Line Of Actual Control, in order to maintain tranquillity, peace, further enhancement of mutual understandings and deterrence to reduce the chances of an armed conflict, nevertheless there has been no proper agreement and the troops aren’t stepping out from their current positions either side.

Also, even the recent Moscow visits of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister, Mr. S Jaishankar in September for meeting their respective counterparts, haven’t been completely fruitful where they have also held discussions on showing respect towards each other on territorial claims and not cause these ties to deteriorate towards an upper trend which means that no country wants to compromise on its territorial claims and any change in status quo, which has led to unprecedented uncertainty in the relations as of now.

CCP Apprehensions of an Alliance

Chinese scholar, Fu Xiaoqiang , in his article, stated about India creating unnecessary tensions in the border leading to further straining of relations which are motivated by selfish political agendas. He also felt that India is being persuaded by the US to join an alliance like structure such as the Quadrilateral Initiative and set preferences with respect to choosing friendships with countries such as Japan and Australia, which have a common perception likewise India, regarding China as a potential competitor in the region.

Currently, China is fearing any conflict or alliance like structure with respect to its role in spreading the pandemic for which it was hiding its strategy, due to which these justifications are being used by Xi Jinping to protect his own image in the masses so that no crisis or dissent arises which could put the Communist Party’s survival and reputation at stake at a time where he is being questioned about the corruption and internal party pressure. There is a reason behind why China is involved in scapegoating on this conflict to show an innocent and a positive image by blaming Indian politicians using nationalism to mobilise the public, narrating their growth story, ideology, rich historical as well as cultural heritage, where the same goes for the dragon’s promotion of their nationalism  as well.

Alliances are important for India but they will take time to come in support if any mishap takes place in the neighbourhood, keeping India under uncertainty with regards to its strategic autonomy, it was following for many decades.  These alliances can be useful only to deter an enemy organising territorial strikes and put the latter on check creating some amount of fear and introspection.

Recently, steps have been undertaken by the Indian government to ban Chinese products and apps due to surveillance plus information threats in security. It is looking towards making itself self-reliant (aatmanirbhar) to reduce any more dependence on countries which have their own interests which could change anytime, if it doesn’t suit them which could be seen through India’s past experiences, where the same mistakes can’t be repeated again like 1962 or 1975, at a time when the multipolar world is moving towards Asian multi-polarity where China is currently at an edge.

Concluding Points

The Chinese feel that the ball is in India’s game to choose between the have’s or have not’s while looking at the opportunity costs involved .The dragon is basically assessing the elephant’s capability and coping strategies in the winter, leading the standoff to be extended even further for which it is crucial for India to enhance its capacity in order to build up on its equipment, give support to the troops and further focus towards economic development in the borders.

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Immediate broad-based Reforms needed in the Political system of Pakistan

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Image source: Pakistan PM’s website

Opposition parties have launched a comprehensive campaign to de-seat the PTI Government by its grand show of power on 16 October 29020 at Gujranwala. All major opposition parties attended the Jalsa, and opposition leaders delivered speeches, criticizing the PTI government and even the military.

In a democratic country, it is common practice for that opposition to criticize the ruling party. Pakistan, with no exception, has a long history of agitations, protests, strikes, criticizing, rallies, blames on the ruling party, from opposition parties. Even PTI also played a very aggressive role as the opposition party in 2014, against the Government of PML-N. It was the longest Dharna in the history of Pakistan, and the first time protesters entered into Parliament house, PTV, Pak. Secretariate and sensitive areas, etc.

But the current behavior of opposition since 16 October is even more severe and blame on Pakistan Military is rather unacceptable. However, PTI ministers are also giving irresponsible statements. The ruling party must maintain political temperature under control. The opposition wanted to create chaos and confrontation, but the ruling party should mild-down the conflicts and manage the situation to complete its tenure. Either the ruling party’s ministers, spokespersons, advisors are unaware of consequences or lacking the understanding of the real issue.

Till this moment, the masses of Pakistan are not convinced with the narrative projected by the opposition parties, but neither happy with the ruling party. The common man is concerned with the issue he faces daily – inflation, price-hike, jobs, health care, education, social justice, and welfare. The ruling party failed to deliver, and the common man kept suffering.

Indeed, the masses do not love opposition, but neither the ruling party. It is their sufferings, which might help the opposition to convince them to stand the Government.

The majority of people are still admiring PM Imran Khan and believe that he is honest and a man of integrity. Yet, he failed to recover the economy or provide any relief to the common man. He was unable to recover to looted money from corrupt politicians of past governments. He also failed to punish the national criminals too. However, the people of Pakistan acknowledges his contribution toward foreign policy, Kashmir issue, and International relations, where Pakistan’s narrative was projected appropriately and improved the county’s image.

The people of Pakistan think that all wrongdoings by the ruling party are due to his wrong cabinet,  nothing to do with PM Imran Khan himself. His economic team, imported and landed by helicopter, are failed to revive the national economy. Although the oil prices in the international market have dropped to record low levels, even minus yet, Pakistan could not improve its economy. Even due to the Pandemic, Global Financial Institutions have extended a helping hand, yet, Pakistan could not improve its economy. The Sugar crisis or Wheat crises are traced back to the ruling elite, and responsible is sitting on the right and left side of PM.

The intellectuals of the nations think that PM Imran Khan might be a pious person. Still, he is responsible for selecting his team – consisting of foreign nationals, dual nationals, elect-ables, corrupts, and incompetents ministers and advisors. It was his choice, and he could have refused to take anyone into his team if he was not satisfied fully. If there were some pressures from certain quarters, he should stand against such pressure. He should have judged the person before admitted into his team. He knows the importance of merit, and he has announced on several occasions the importance of merit. Even though if he misjudged anyone and admitted into his team, but it is never too late; as soon as he understands the person and found unsatisfactory, he can change immediately.

The country is passing through a very critical era, the geopolitics are changing too rapidly, challenges are enormous, and time is too short. Pakistan can not afford the luxury of any mistake anymore. The nation needs unity, the right policies, appropriate reforms, legislations, merit, and consistent hard-work. Attention may not be diverted and struggle with a clear focus and pre-set goals. Divide, intolerance, extremism, corruption, incompetency are the curse for a nation, must be averted.

Although PM Imran Khan is a visionary leader and has all the leadership qualities to lead the nation, but alone may not be able to achieve anything. A strong team, equipped with knowledge, wisdom, patriotism, honesty, and integrity, needs the time. Reforms based on proven successful experience, addressing the futuristic issues are required urgently. The nation has the potential to revive its past glories.

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