Shahbaz Sharif says: `Despite having 100 per cent support of the institutions, the inept government of Imran Khan failed to deliver’. We were not even given 10 per cent support of the institutions” (Dawn dated October 24, 2019). When out of power, inept politicians scold the `Establishment’. In similar vein, Imran Khan gave vent to his frustration in his autobiography, Pakistan: A Personal History, October 17, 2011 edition) upon winning only one seat in first electtoral contest. Furious at `Establishment/ISI’, He wrote, “No politician in this country’s history up till then had ever beaten the establishment” (p.225). He adds, “[ISI’s Major-General Ehtisham] Zamir gave me the ISI’s assessment of how many seats each party could get in the autumn elections… Sadly this has been a legacy of intelligence agencies in Pakistan, who without a proper broad based analysis, have made decisions which have proved disastrous for our country”. He recalls, “This was my first experience of dealing with the ISI”, pages 222-223, ibid. “Consequently a lot of potentially good candidates abandoned us. The ones that were left were turned on by the ISI; its agents either threatened the Tehrik-e-Insaf candidates or cajoled or lured them into Musharraf’s PML (Q)…Some candidates gave up altogether, telling me they could not fight the ISI. They said they would be wasting their money”.
“Authority” under Pakistan’s Constitution: According to Pakistan’s Constitution (1973), “sovereignty” belongs to Allah Almighty, and “authority” is reposed in elected representatives? The Constitution, a written one, categorically spells out separation of powers between legislature, executive and the judiciary. Yet, Pakistan’s constitutional history reflects that various organs had been encroaching upon each other’s domain. Doubtless, `nothing is as simple as its looks at first sight’ (Murphy’s Law).
Civilians themselves invite military for intervention: In mid-1950’s Isikander Mirza appointed serving general, Mohammad Ayub Khan, defence minister in his cabinet. Unable to subdue agitation, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto banked on General Ziaul Haq to quell popular Pakistan National Alliance movement. During sit-ins against MNS’s government, Imran Khan, now prime minister, and Tahirul Qadri 9minhajul Quran) held meetings with army chief. Now, ahead of 31st October Long March, Maulana Fazlur Rehman met army chief.
Establishment’s Composition: What is composition of the invisible, yet ubiquitous and decisive Establishment? Ayesha Sideeqa Agha tried to map its contours in her essay `Mapping the “Establishment” (Ishtiaq Ahmad and Adnan Rafiq, Pakistan’s Democratic Transition: Change and Persistence, pp.53-71). Besides, following books try to peek into the “Establishment”: (a) Maleeha Lodhi’s Pakistan: Beyond ‘The Crisis State’ (2011), (b) Anatol Lieven’s Pakistan: A Hard Country (2011), (c) Javed Jabbar’s Pakistan: Unique Origins; Unique Destiny? (2011), and (d) Aqil Shah’s The Army and Democracy.
Civil-military discord: Lack of Establishment’s support for the PML-N government was due to divergent perceptions about foreign policy concerning India. MNS’s government launched aman ki asha, desire for peace, media campaign, spearheaded by Jang Media Group. AB Bajpayee, then India’s prime minister was given rousing welcome. En route, live size cow models were installed to show veneration for cow. The visit resulted in Lahore Accord. Re-elected PML-N government kept up its policy of rapprochement with India. The jingoist Narendra Modi developed affinity for Mian Nawaz Shareef. He even called on MNS at the latter’s Jaati-Umara private residential estate (near Raiwind, Lahore)
Military’s offish attitude towards MNS was portrayed in media as an issue of civil-military relations. But, Saamuel P. Huntington, in his 1957 book Soldier and the State views this `issue’ as `an issue of civilian control of the military. He postulated ` a good balance of civil military relations was where the armed forces are subservient to political leadership’. Feaver also thought `a good balance depended on the `civilian leadership’s capacity to punish military for disobedience’. The erudite scholars’ vision of civilian control is relevant to cultures they discussed in their works. Their ideas do not appear to sync with Pakistan’s socio-economic milieu. Pakistan’s society and polity is nowhere near even Turkey where military dominated popular ethos.
Army is unwilling to cede its space in defence and foreign affairs to civilians, who, it regards as corrupt and incompetent. A social-media rumour was that MNS wanted to divest army chief’s powers through legislative amendment. The `Establishment’ acted fast to ensure that MNS did not enjoy majority in Senate also. An Inter-Services Public Relations release is self-explanatory `if you try to clip the army’s wings, it will react. It did react to forestall MNS (Yaroslav Trafimov, `Pakistan leader’s predicament shows power of the Deep State. Prime Minister Sharif Tried to Emulate Turkey’s Erdogan, Now Risks Sharing Fate of Egypt’s Morsi’, Wall Street Journal September 9, 2014). The Journal reported `After winning elections by a landslide last year, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif quickly moved to emulate another budding Muslim democracy, Turkey, in neutering the army’s political might’.
Ayesha Siddiqa Agha is of view that Pakistan’s military exercises its hegemony through not only politico-economic power but also intellectual power. The intellectual power, according to her, is exercised through `ISPR/ISI, Strategic Pans Division, military-created think tanks, military-sponsored journalists, military in universities, and partnership with ideological groups’.
Who wields `authority’: the venal politicians have any grass-root support. As such, when they are booted out, there are no tears in anyone’s eyes. The military `usurpers’ soon emerge as heroes, soldiers of fortune. History is witness to egoistic clash between bureaucracies, judiciary and the Parliament in Pakistan. It is not military, alone, but also other stakeholders vied for wresting `authority’ from contestants’ hands.
Shortly before pronouncing his verdict on Dosso case, Justice Muneer declared that ‘when politics enters the portals of Justice, democracy, its cherished inmate, walks out by the backdoor’.
The king-pins in various institutions, remained at daggers drawn, oblivious of jurist Jean Bodin’s dictum, majesta est summa in civas ac subditoes legibus que salute potestas, that is ‘highest power over citizens and subjects is unrestrained by law’. Bodin explained power resides with whosoever has ‘power to coerce’. It does not reside with electorate, parliament, judiciary or even constitution. The force of circumstance may enable bureaucrats, judge, politico, and even a praetorian ruler to usurp `authority’ excluding others, or sharing it with others’
Julius Caesar and Napoleon also harboured extra-constitutional thoughts. During his self-crowning in 1804, Napoleon said, “What is the throne, a bit of wood gilded and covered with velvet. I am the state. I alone am here, the representative of the people”. Napoleon told Moreau de Lyonne, “The constitution, what is it but a heap of ruins. Has it not been successively the sport of every party?” “Has not every kind of tyranny been committed in its name since the day of its establishment?” Take gen Zia of Pakistan. While addressing a press conference in Teheran, he said, “What is the Constitution?” “It is a booklet with ten or twelve pages. I can tear them up and say that from tomorrow we shall live under a different system. Is there anybody to stop me? Today the people will follow wherever I lead them. All the politicians including the once mighty Mr. Bhutto will follow me with their tail wagging (ibid. pp. 87-88). Dicey said, “No Constitution can be absolutely safe from a Revolution or a coup detat”.
Alas! All the soldiers of fortune, in uniform or civvies, were mortal. Pakistan’s PM-weres and PMs-to be should take the cues. Remember Nehru said, “Pakistan, I would not have that carbuncle on India’s back”. Patel called Jinnah ‘poison’.
Sand-dune leaders: Pakistan has no charismatic leader to confront military eyeball-to-eyeball on various issues (power sharing, defence allocations, etc.). Bolman and Deal say `Great leadership begins when a leader’s world view [Weltanschanschauung] and personal story, honed over years of experience, meet a situation that both presents challenges and opportunities’. They add, `Great leaders test and evolve their story over time, experimenting, polishing abandoning plot lines that don’t work, and re-inventing those that do. Bad stories often lead to disaster, but good ones conjure magic’ (Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E Deal, How Great Leaders Think: The Art of Reframing, 2014, Jossey-Bass, page 193). Weltanschauung is a German word which literally means `world view’. The word combines “Welt” (“world”) with “Anschauung” (“view”), which ultimately derives from the Middle High German verb schouwen (“to look at” or “to see”). It is a particular philosophy or view of life; the world views of an individual or group. It is a concept fundamental to German philosophy and epistemology and refers to a wide world perception. Additionally, it refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs forming a global description through which an individual, group or culture watches and interprets the world and interacts with it.
Study of leadership styles across swathes of literature indicates that the two traits, a `world view’ and a `story line’ are common in all business leaders (Steve Job, Penny, Eisner, Ford, and Rockefeller). Or, in political leaders like Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Lincoln, whether you abhor or adore them. Some management texts sum up leadership styles (Robert Blake and Jane Mouton) through grids of `concern for people’ (country club, human orientation) and `concern for results’ (task orientation). The leaders share their `world view’ with people who fall in line to leave behind a legacy, a story. China’s XI, again and again, reminds his companions to tell China story, and tell it well, to the world. Pakistani pseudo-leaders have no story to tell.
Hitler, otherwise viewed as a psychopath, explains his `world view in Chapter 1 of his autobiography (Weltenschauung and party, page 298) Mein Kampf (My Struggle). He says `Thus we brought to knowledge of public those first principles and lines of action along which the new struggle was to be conducted for the abolition of a confused mass of obsolete ideas which had obscure and often pernicious tendencies’. In his autobiography (written in prison), Hitler reviews all aspects of German life, the World War I defeat, collapse of the Second Reich, `the mask of Federalism’, `propaganda and organisation’, `German post-War policy of alliances’, and Germany’s policy in Eastern Europe’. His efforts to forge alliances with adversaries reflect that he was a rational flexible man. Napoleon’s `world view’ (like Julius Caesar’s) is less pronounced than his lust for `power’ and contempt for `constitution’ (a la ZA Bhutto, Zia, et al). Pakistan’s prime ministers and prime-ministers-to-be forgot French jurist Jean Bodin’s dictum `majesta est summa in civas ac subditoes legibusque salute potestas, that is ‘highest power over citizens and subjects is unrestrained by law’ (Roedad Khan, Pakistan: A Dream Gone Sour, p. 179.). Napoleon told Moreau de Lyonne, “The constitution, what is it but a heap of ruins. Has it not been successively the sport of every party?” “Has not every kind of tyranny been committed in its name since the day of its establishment?”
Today, we have no leader, like Quaid-e-Azam, with a `world view’, no `story line’ of sustained committed struggle. MJ Akber rightly observes `The [Pakistani] political leaders act like sand dunes. They move in the direction the wind blows’ (Akber, In Pakistan Today, Mittal Publications, New Delhi, p. 216). John R. Schmidt agrees, ` The mainstream political parties in Pakistan can best be viewed as patronage networks, whose primary goal is seeking political offices to gain access to state resources, which can then be used to distribute patronage among their members’ (The Unravelling, Pakistan in the Age of jihad, pages 36-37). Why it is so? Stanley A. Kochanek unpuzzles the conundrum by pointing out `Parties in Pakistan are built from the top-down and are identified with their founders. The office holders are appointed by the leader. Membership rolls are largely bogus and organizational structure exists only on paper’ (Interest groups and Development, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1983, p.64). `Most political parties are non-democratic in their structure, character and outlook. The process for leadership selection is not by election, but by nomination. Political parties have no links with policy process as personalities rather than issues matter’ (Saeed Shafqat, Contemporary Issues in Pakistan Studies, pp. 247-256).
Street power: Our chequered political history tells that street power is more important than parliamentary supremacy. A political leader without such power is a wasp without a sting, or maybe, to his denigrators, a snake without fangs. Here I quote from Roedad Khan’s Pakistan: A Dream gone Sour. The author is witness to palace intrigues from Ayub Khan to General Zia. While musing over Bhutto’s execution, he says, “The fatal mistake made by the PPP leadership was to fight the battle for saving Bhutto’s neck in the court room only (p. 69). Zia told the author, “It is his neck or mine… Instead of mobilizing street power, the PPP concentrating on collecting appeals for mercy from foreign heads of government..Agartala Conspiracy Case was withdrawn not because prosecution case against Mujeeb was weak, but because over a million people were out on the streets of Dhakka (p. 70).’Bhutto had betrayed the common people who regarded him as their champion and who shared his ideals and dreams. With the loss of that base, he was totally isolated and at the mercy of the khaki [army] (p. 78).
Right to revolt: Do the people in a land of sand-dunes have the right to revolt? Liberalist philosophers suggests there is a limit beyond which obedience to rule of law is no longer sacrosanct. Locke suggests when government no longer fulfils its duty to provide for the common good, individuals have the right to rebel against it; the [social] contract has been broken’. Abraham Lincoln said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” Were he a Pakistani, he would have swirled and swooned in his grave to see life-like caricature of his dictum here.
Lip service in manifestos and Constitution: Manifestos are fanciful mementos, eclectic product of religious dictates and fancy provisions in our constitution. They have short life of one-political term unless truncated by praetorians.Article 37 of our constitution relates to `Promotion of social justice and eradication of social evils’. Clause 37 (e): provides `reduce disparity in the income and earnings of individuals…’ (differentials of wealth of an ordinary citizen and a politician?). Article 38 is about `Promotion of social and economic well-being of the people’.
Clause (d) directs `provide basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief, for all such citizens, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, as are permanently or temporarily unable to earn their livelihood on account of infirmity, sickness or unemployment’ (what about others who work without enough money to make ends meet or get medical treatment?). What about across-the-board accountability?
Plight of Pakistan’s Federal Government `Services’ Hospital: FGSH is the only hospital to treat civil servants and their families in Rawalpindi Islamabad area. For political expediency, the government has `entitled’ general public to this hospital. As PIMS charges fees for lab tests, so the whole population from Rawalpindi to Murree Hills and even Azad Kashmir with ICT/Rawalpindi CNICs falls swarms upon this hospital.
After outbreak of dengue, this hospital became `unserviceable’ for civil servants, including over 70 years’ old retirees like me. There is no window to serve elderly civil servants in labs, clinics, Emergency or at medical store. They too have to queue up for long hours like `general’ crowd. The officers’ ward is occupied by unauthorized `sifarshees’ with little room for officers.
In an emergency like Dengue outbreak, all hospitals, civil or military, private or public, should share patient load equitably. Alternatively, the handful of civil servants and their families should be entitled to general treatment at military hospital through some insurance-based or revolving-fund mechanism.
Plight of Defence Paid Servants: Upon retirement, such servants are disentitled from the medicare they had been receiving during service life. They are not entitled to allotment of plots or flats by Defence Housing Authority. As such, after retirement they find themselves poorer than Church’s mice.
Compassion demands that `civilian officers paid out of defence service estimates’, and their families should, at least, be entitled to same treatment as admissible to their serving brethren. I, for one, was shocked to find that after 39 years’ service, I had been disentitled from medical treatment I enjoyed during serving years. My daughter fell sick, and was practically denied any treatment at civil-government medical facilities. I fell back on Ali Medical who charged me non-reimbursable, hefty 80,000 rupees.
Do revolutions come from Heavens? Human beings created a social contract wherein they bartered some of their naturally derived freedom to get security from a sovereign ruler. They did so as in a state of nature they were `solitary, poor, nasty, brutish …’ (Hobbes). Locke suggests when government no longer fulfils its duty to provide for the common good, individuals have the right to rebel against it; the
contract has been broken’. The US Declaration of Independence a’ la Locke provides that it is citizens’ duty to throw off a despotic government and provide new Guards for their Security.
An average Pakistani believes that revolutions are not made, they come about from Heavens. He is unmindful that a revolution, revolt or rebellion is `as natural a growth as an oak’ (Wendell Phillips). Yet, the bitter truth is that `a government which is united’ [by mafias in every sphere of life] `cannot be toppled’ (Plato). Apathy had been a feature of pre-partition society also. Till 1857, Moghal `emperors’ lived on British dole, less than one lac (Jaswant Singh’s Jinnah: Partition, India Pakistan). History of intruders is no history (Marx).Only a handful of rajputs committed johar (suicide en mass like Jews at Masada) when besieged or defeated.
The masses remained silent spectators to War of Independence (Sepoy Mutiny 1857) and isolated uprisings in Bengal _ Faraizi movement 1830-57, Santal Pargana 1855, Indigo districts 1859-61, Tushkhali 1855, Indigo districts 1872-75, Pabna 1873, Chhagalnaiya 1874, Mymensingh 1874-1882 and Munshigang 1980-81. David Hume, not any Indian, created Congress followed by four English presidents.
Aware of selfishness of the Indian people, the British created a class of chiefs (chieftains) to suit their need for loyalists, war fund raisers and recruiters in post -`mutiny’ period and during the Second World War. Peek into the pre-partition gazetteers and you would know the patri-lineage of today’s’ tiwanas, nawabs, pirs, syed faqirs, qizilbash, kharrals, gakhars, and their ilk. A gubernatorial gazetteer states, `I have for many years felt convinced that the time had arrived for the Government to try to introduce some distinction for those who can show hereditary services before the Hon’ble Company’s rule in India ceased. I have often said that I should be proud to wear a Copper Order, bearing merely the words `Teesri pusht Sirkar Company ka Naukar’ (servant to ruling East India Company for the third generation).
Some pirs and mashaikh even quoted verses from Holy Quran to justify allegiance to Englishman (amir), after loyalty to Allah and the Messenger (PBUH). They pointed out that Quran ordained that ihsan (favour) be returned with favour. The ihsan were British favours like titles (khan bahadur etc.), honorary medals, khilat with attached money rewards, life pensions, office of honorary magistrate, assistant commissioner, courtier, etc. A tiwana military officer even testified in favour of O’Dwyer (Jallianwala Bagh massacre) when the latter was under trial.
Health-care for all: Pakistan could learn a lot from Ayusman Bharat and Thailand’s success in achieving universal healthcare in 2002. Thai lesson is importance of tight control within very limited resources at their disposal. They initially excluded high cost treatments such as renal dialysis and organ transplantation. They then went on to build a careful architecture which allowed them, through their Health Intervention and Technology Assessment Program, to clearly specify medically validated protocols and associated prices for all the available services, including diagnostics and medicines.
Born slaves: Population in the Sub-Continent has a slavish mentality. They are change-averse. Gandhi astutely perceived psyche of the Indians (Pakistanis included) (a la Tolstoy’s A Letter to a Hindu) that Indians themselves allowed themselves to be colonized for their own material interests. Otherwise there was no way 30,000 `rather weak and ill-looking Britons could enslave 200 million `vigorous, clever, strong, and freedom loving people (Stegler, 2000). He lamented that Indians had become `sly sycophants and willing servants of the Empire thereby proving to the world that they were morally unfit to serve the country. Gandhi’s ethos sound reverberated in revolutionary ideologies of several revolutionary movements. If government and people are nationalistic, there would be no need to overthrow them (Lincoln’s dictum `Government of the people for …’). SunYat-sen (China) translated Lincoln’s principles into nationalism, democracy and socialism. Marx theory of society postulated that economics determines the socio-political realities. Marx visualized god as creation of human hands, rather than His hand guiding the humans. Lenin envisioned a professional core to lead the revolution.
Mao like Gandhi was rueful at passivity and docility of people. He wanted people to struggle (douzheng) to smash prevailing social inhibitions in such a dramatic and traumatic way that participants could never again re-establish their pre-struggle relationship. Mao says `If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself. If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution you must take part in revolution. All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience’. `A person learns to swim in the water not in a library’ [of how-to-swim books] (Paulo Freire). Sanerro Luminoso (the Shining Path) also advocated Mao’s ideas of prolonged guerilla warfare as the only way to overthrow the government. Paulo Freire points out “To affirm that men and women are persons and persons should be free and yet do nothing tangible to make this affirmation a reality is a farce’.
Ayub Khan added the chapter of 22 families to the English-raj aristocracy. About 460 scions of the pre-partition chiefs along with industrial barons created in Ayub era are returned again and again to assemblies. Pakistan’s successive ruling coteries are a miracle that defies common sense and principles of political science.
Politicians in Pakistan should do soul searching. Why people do not come on streets when the jackboots kick them out. It is because they have no grass-root support. They should at least provide for health-care, now in shambles. The politicians go abroad for medical treatment. As such, they do not care a fig for shabby medi-care in Pakistan.
Jubilant PTI should take a cue from Bhutto’s fate. It should shun clientele politics and do some pro-poor legislation. At least come up with a national healthcare and education policy. Waterston in Development Planning suggest `nucleus’ approach. Let government attend first to neglected handful of defence-paid civilians. Thereafter, a universal health-care, probably insurance based, be evolved. If Thailand could do it why can’t Pakistan? Let’s pray our sand-dune rulers come up with, at least a uniform education, healthcare and housing policy.
None of the scholarly works, being second-hand accounts, circumscribe the `Establishment’ fully. They remain esoteric mumbo jumbo. I, for one suggest, that Shahbaz/MNS, together with Imran Khan, with invaluable inputs from fall-guy Chaudhry Nisar, should, for the benefit of posterity, write a first-hand expose of `obnoxious actions of Pakistan’s Establishment’ (RK Kaushik, Pakistan’s Establishment a migraine we must live with , The Statesman February 21, 2019).
Let India loosen pressure on Imran Khan to enable him to fulfil his lofty promises. After all, he is not really “an ISI stooge”, or “a cobra in India’s backyard” (News. Statetimes dated July 29, 2018).
Status of Minorities in Pakistan
In February this year, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, posted a tweet condemning the Delhi riots and stated that anyone who targets the non-Muslim minorities in the country or their places of worship will be dealt with strictly. For all the resolute comments that Mr Khan has made for protection of minorities in Pakistan, the reality showcases a completely different scenario. The status of religious freedom is almost minimal, minorities have been unjustly prosecuted under the blasphemy laws and there have been targeted attacks on the non-Muslim citizens and defenders of human rights. This article aims to assess the condition of Minorities in the country and the unjust use of blasphemy laws as a tool of oppression.
Forced Conversions: A chronic problem
On October this year, Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl, was abducted right outside her house in Karachi. She was forcibly converted to Islam and married off to her abductor, a 44- year-old man. The police denied these claims and asserted that it had sufficient proof to prove that the girl converted and married off on her own volition. To make matters worse, the Sindh high court validated the marriage (even though the legal age is 18), and stated (based upon falsified documents) that Arzoo was old enough to make her own decisions. This case isn’t a one off and there have been multiple instances in the past where underage girls from minority religions have been abducted and forcefully married off after conversion. A few months ago, a Hindu teenage girl, Simran Kumari was abducted from Ghotki in Sindh and converted to Islam. She was also married off to her abductor and her parents were stopped from visiting because of them being ‘Kafirs’ . Mirpur Khas, Sanghar, and Ghotki are some of the districts that have had the highest number of such incidents and all of them come under the province of Sindh. These incidents are more than just ordinary cases of forced conversion, they are a reflection of deeper issues rooted in economic, social and cultural status of the minority communities.
Most of the minority communities have been traditionally engaged in jobs associated with low income such as daily wage labour and any scope of upward economic mobility is limited. Amar Guriro, a senior journalist states that many Hindu and Christian women convert due to their poor financial condition, and that Muslim men easily lure these women on the pretext of providing better financial and living conditions . But investigations in the past have revealed that economic hardship might be a factor in these incidents but it isn’t the only factor, and in most cases, the women yield to their abductors due to fear of their lives. There have been cases where after a woman is abducted from a village, large groups of Muslim men drive around the village with loudspeakers in their cars shouting “the victory of Islam”. The main reason behind this is to instil a psychological fear and ensure that the minority communities do not take legal recourse. It’s unfortunate that even if the victim’s family were to lodge a First Information Report, it would make no difference. The police, political representatives and the judiciary are usually in cahoots, and any form of protest would be at the cost of endangering their own lives. This is clearly seen in majority of the cases where the victim is usually below 18 years of age, even though as per a recent amendment to the penal code, the legal age of marriage for girls is 18 years. The police play a huge part in providing forged documents as proof to the judges who readily accept it without questioning the legitimacy and let the accused go scot free.
The blasphemy laws in Pakistan pose another set of problems for the minorities, and are one of the strictest in the Islamic world. They were inherited from the former colonial rulers back when Pakistan was a part of India and a British colony. During the reign of the military government headed by General Zia-ul-Haq, few other clauses were added to these laws which criminalised certain acts such as insulting Islam’s Prophet, speaking against the holy Quran or using derogatory language against important religious scholars. According to the data given by National Commission for Justice and Peace, there were a total of 1540 blasphemy cases which came up till 2018 and out of those 1540 cases about 50% cases had a non Muslim as the accused even when they constituted very small share of the total population . The Ahmadiyya’s, a Muslim minority, are the worst affected by these laws. The Ahmadiyya community is a sect of Islam which has its roots in India and was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Unfortunately, the Ahmadiyya community faces a lot discrimination world over and is generally regarded as non-Muslim in most of the Islamic countries. According to the second amendment in Pakistan’s constitution, the Ahmadis are considered as non-Muslims in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Ahmadis have had repeated allegations of blasphemy against them due to the fact that their religious beliefs contradict the verses in the Quran and are therefore equal to speaking against it. This is completely ironical to the fact that Pakistan’s constitution clearly states that each and every single religious community has the right to profess, propagate and practise their religion. For the other minority religions, the blasphemy laws act as a means of seeking revenge or showing dominance for the majority Sunni Muslims. In May 2019, Ramesh Kumar Malhi, a Hindu veterinary doctor, was accused of wrapping medicines in the pages containing verses of Quran because of which his clinic and a few other shops belonging to the Hindu community were burned down . Similarly, in 2018, a 25-year-old Christian man was accused of sending blasphemous texts because of which Muslim mobs raided the houses of Christians living in the area and threatened to set their houses on fire. In both the incidents, the police filed no cases against the offending mobs. In most of the cases, it is important to note that the reason for charging someone with blasphemy is usually due some other personal conflict entirely unrelated to the charge of blasphemy and is usually used as a means to extract revenge.
These blasphemy laws represent the sorry state of freedom of speech in the country. The idea that anything with regards to religion is sacred and cannot be contested leads to the formation of dogmatic opinions. While it is understandable that the blasphemy laws only apply to statements meant to defame a religion, but since these laws come under the purview of the Federal Shariat Court to determine what is Islamic or un-Islamic, even well-intentioned constructive criticism is considered blasphemous. John Stuart Mill, one of the most influential thinkers of classical liberalism, in his book ‘On Liberty’ talks about the role of freedom of speech and expression. He says “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”. The reasoning behind this is to show how important it is to allow divergent views to be spoken about clearly, and even if there is disagreement about the truthfulness of a particular view or opinion, there’s always a possibility that it might contain a certain element of truth. The inability of a country to tolerate divergent views is representative of its insecurity towards criticism and change. This eventually leads to its downfall as even the most common and rational arguments are sometimes suppressed.
Subpar Standard of Living
While the cases above represent some of the worst atrocities against minorities in Pakistan, their everyday lives don’t provide a very bright picture either. There has been discrimination in the past with regards to employment, such that sanitation work or daily wage labour work was restricted to non-Muslims only. Even with regards to education, there have been reports where the students from the minority religions have faced religious slurs or have been plainly discriminated by the teachers. Some of the textbooks portray the minorities in a negative light and completely negate their existence when recounting the history of the country, this reinforces an anti-minority mindset within the young adults and prevents the minorities from enrolling in educational institutions which restricts their social and economic upward mobility. In general, at least in the rural areas, non-Muslims have faced violence and many have lost their lives too. There have been numerous cases where houses of Hindus and Christians have been burnt down, their men, women and children killed or forced to leave the village. Temples and Churches have been destroyed in many areas, such that only a handful remain. A survey by the Pakistan All Hindu Rights Movement showed that out of a total of 428 temples that were present in the country during independence only 20 remain today.
While the government of Pakistan refuses to do anything, human rights lawyers and non governmental organisations present a ray of hope. In the past, journalists, activists and human rights lawyers have actively taken up cases of forced conversion, religious violence and misgovernance. This has made justice an achievable reality, even if it is only for a handful of cases. But the downside to this is that by saving the lives of others, the activists and lawyers have put their own lives at risk. There have been many instances where activists and journalists have received threats and backlash from religious extremists, some have even lost their lives. On 5thJune a journalist who had been criticising the government and the military was abducted in Lahore and detained without any proper warrant . Similarly, a co founder of an NGO working for the rights of young women was randomly detained and put on an exit control list, restricting her ability to travel overseas.
Imran Khan’s inability to take firm action against the oppression of minorities in Pakistan is an indication of their worsening condition in the country. His ostrich approach makes him preach about the inexistent tolerance that Pakistan has for non-Muslims on various
International forums. It would be wise for him to first start taking constructive steps to improve the situation in his own country before concerning himself with the issues of his next-door neighbour. The tough balancing act that Mr Khan has tried to play between supporting a tolerant Pakistan and the Islamic clerics at the same time has clearly failed. Zahid Hussain, an analyst and author states that Imran Khan, right from the time that he came to power, did want a tolerant Pakistan, but not at the cost of losing support of certain extremist elements. The problem is, instead of carefully balancing the two, he empowered the extremists, nullifying any bit of chance there was for improving the condition of minorities.
Theorizing The teesta River Water Dispute
Teesta River originates in the Himalayas and flows through the states of Sikkim and West Bengal to merge with Jamuna in Bangladesh (Brahmaputra in Assam). The river drains nearly 95 per cent of the state of Sikkim. It covers 3,225 square kilometres across the districts of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri in West Bengal before entering into Bangladesh. It is the fourth longest transboundary river of Bangladesh that flows down from India.
In Bangladesh, Teesta River covers 9,667 square kilometres with an estimated population of 9.15 million as in 2011.1 According to the estimates provided by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics 2012, 21 million people are directly or indirectly dependent upon the river water for their livelihoods in Bangladesh. It covers nearly 14 per cent out of the total area under cultivation in Bangladesh.
This river has been a point of contention between India and Bangladesh since 1950s and 1960s when India and former East Pakistan began discussing proposed projects on the river. Immediately after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, the Indo-Bangladesh Joint River Commission was set up to carry forward the talks over the sharing of river waters in 1972.
The Teesta barrage, hydropower projects and dam constructions over Teesta in India has led to a disturbance in the flow of river water downstream, i.e., in Bangladesh. Though the hydropower projects and dam constructions are also being carried by the Bangladesh government on its side of the river.
Bangladesh, that gets lesser share than that of India of the Teesta River water, claims for an equitable share which is unacceptable to the state of West Bengal. Negotiations over the same have been going on since 1983. The matter is still over the table with an unresolved dispute.
A significant amount of Teesta’s water flows only during wet season i.e., between June and September, leaving scant flow during the dry season i.e., October to April/May which paves way to the issue of equitable sharing during lean season. The 50-50 allocation of the river water could have been agreed to but it was opposed by the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamta Banerjee, who claims that it would be unfair to West Bengal since it would adversely impact the water-flow available in the state.
The stakeholders here are not just the Indian state and the Bangladesh government but since water is a state subject, the Indian state of West Bengal is a large party to the matter whereas Sikkim has highly been ignored (which is also a point of highlight for the critics).
Bangladesh claims that an equal water sharing is essential for them since their basin dependence is higher than that of India’s and also, that the downstream nature of Bangladesh makes them vulnerable since any construction by India affects the water flow available to them. Apart from the farmers getting adversely affected, the inadequate flow of water has also created siltation. Thus, these are reasons enough to get India’s attention towards this issue.
However, West Bengal’s concerns can also not be ignored which states that Teesta has dried up due to which an acute drinking water problem has been caused apart from another issue which states less availability of water for irrigation needs.
In 1983, an ad hoc arrangement was made between India and Bangladesh wherein both agreed to share 75 per cent of river water with India using 39 per cent and Bangladesh 36 per cent. The remaining 25 per cent was to be distributed after some further studies. In 1997, a Joint Committee of Experts was formed to examine the matter. It took until 2004 for a Joint Technical Group to be formed which drafted an interim agreement for the sharing of the river water during the lean season. However, in 2005, the JTG admitted its inability to come up with a solution.
In 2005 itself, the Joint River Commission stated that the river will not be able to meet the needs of both the countries during the lean seasons, hence, any agreement that is made will have to be based upon shared sacrifices. In 2010, the two countries agreed to resolve the matter expeditiously and drafted some principles for the sharing of river water during the lean season.
In 2011, the agreement was to be signed during the visit of the then Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, to Dhaka, Bangladesh. However, it fell through when the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamta Banerjee protested against the proposed allocation of 50 per cent of the river’s water to Bangladesh.
Since then there have been bilateral discussions on the dispute between the two countries but they have been unable to reach upon a mutually agreed agreement. Something that has been continued to be a major sore point within the bilateral relations of India and Bangladesh!
Teesta barrage, whose construction started in the late 1970s, is the largest irrigation project of the entire eastern region. It aims at utilizing the potential of Teesta River in hydropower generation, irrigation, navigation, and flood moderation. India, being the upper riparian country, controls the flow of the river water into Bangladesh from the Teesta barrage. Even Bangladesh has constructed a barrage downstream that provides water for agriculture and irrigation to the drought prone areas of northern Bangladesh.
Bangladesh argues that the construction of Teesta barrage has drastically reduced the availability of water downstream, especially, in the dry season. On the other hand, it’s not just Bangladesh that is facing such issues, India is facing such issues as well. A reduced availability of groundwater due to underground tunnelling has been witnessed which has impacted agricultural productions and livelihoods in the region. The drying up of natural springs and local water resources, the matter which also needs to be addressed, has resulted in growing scarcity of drinking water. An increasing number of landslides have also been witnessed in the mountainous regions of Sikkim.
Development of hydropower projects and the construction of dams are majorly held responsible for all such issues. It has been a growing concern in India and something that the environmentalists, scientist, social activists have all cautioned against. Changes in the river, which have largely been due to the dams being constructed on the Teesta are being witnessed, including frequent changes in the course of the river, delta formation, high rates of siltation, increased erosion, and siltation of agricultural land in the areas surrounded by the river.
Availability of water for irrigation is a key issue, particularly for West Bengal, as highlighted by local communities. It is estimated that the availability of water for irrigation be reduced due to the series of proposed dams since every hydropower project is estimated to absorb at least 5 per cent of the river’s running water.
Similar is the situation with Bangladesh as well where farmers are being forced to rely on tube wells to pump underground water which has resulted in increased cost of production and also, reduced areas under cultivation. In many areas, increased siltation of riverbed has caused widening of the river which has resulted in bank erosion and flooding.
The Perspective Of Institutional Economics
The dispute is still hanging somewhere unable to find itself a reasonable solution. It is not just about the point of contention regarding the sharing of water, that how much water should India consume or how much of it should Bangladesh take away from the river, but it is also about the environmental concerns and the way it is impacting the humans. Maybe, if India takes up the discussions regarding sharing of some of the benefits that it would gain from its hydropower projects, it could happen that the dispute might be solved, but that would not solve the environmental concerns altogether.
Environmental economics, a strand of economics, offers one such solution which talks about using a price signal in waiving off a particular dispute. But in order to do that, you need to own that particular resource which is not possible in the case of a river. The market, thus, cannot allocate the resource using a price signal since there are no specified property rights, therefore, none of the state can boast of ownership. The lack of property rights disables either of the state to be able to sell it or rather, in this matter, be able to negotiate a settlement using a ‘price’ signal on the basis of cost-benefit analysis. Similarly, one state cannot also exclude the other state from using the river water since it’s a common environmental resource for both the states.
This indicates towards the presence of externalities that happens when there are lack of property rights and people utilize their utility not considering what additional/negative utility others may get from it. In such a problem, institutional economics, another branch of economics, has some solution to offer. Elinor Ostrom, an American political economist talks about common pool resources that people have managed successfully for generations. She says that these resources should be managed in communities where people can collectively come and decide and set up some rules that should match the local conditions since different regions have different ecosystems.
Here, in the context of the Teesta River dispute, the major thing that is missing is the ‘people’ and their participation in forming a consensus over the usage of river water. The local communities are the major stakeholders of the river water and it is them who are being majorly effected but they have been kept away and everything has just boiled down to politics and the bilateral equations between the two states. This leads us to understand the issue from the lenses of political ecology.
Political Ecology And Its Links With The Dispute
Political ecology is that branch of geography that emerges from ‘critical geography’ and makes this basic point that physical environment in which we live in is not just natural but is characterized by a constant human intervention making it a ‘built’ environment. And since we live in such environment which is partly and very deeply influenced by human beings themselves, social and human processes should be right at the centre of our analysis.
Political ecology fundamentally connects questions of environment with questions of political processes and political power, something that is clearly visible in the dispute in discussion. It also draws insights from political economy, particularly, Marxian political economy to draw this connection between environmental issues, political power, and political and social processes.
David Harvey, one of the renowned scholars of political ecology, talks about the phenomenon of ‘Accumulation by Dispossession.’ This phenomenon talks about the existing social relations between the capitalist class and the farmers/working class. This talks about how the farmers are being left with no other option than to lose their lands and become a victim at the hands of the industrial development.
Here, in the context of Teesta River dispute, something similar is happening. On one hand, while the government and a section of civil society is happy with the expected benefits of the hydropower project like employment, energy sufficiency, new revenues, on the other hand, local communities, environmentalists, scientists, and activists are concerned about social, cultural, and environmental aspects of these projects. More such projects are proposed, more the economic and industrial development but only at the cost of environmental development and also, at the cost of the livelihoods of the local communities!
The politics of the two countries, their asymmetric relations, and their urge to economic and industrial development has costed the local communities their livelihoods. For the authorities concerned, it’s about their political ego, their incapability of meeting the local needs through the existing water share, but holistically, this matter is not just about that. Undoubtedly, it continues to be dominated by political procedures but what matters the most are the local communities who are suffering on both the sides of the borders. It is these people who are losing their livelihoods, lands, and the allied opportunities but have been kept away from the major procedure of decision making. The sufferers are none but the environment itself whose course is being decided by the humans and also, the humans – but only the ones that are dependent upon the same environment for their livelihood opportunities. Rest that remains is the politics!
As Sri Lanka struggles with Chinese debt-trap, Maldives moves closer to the Quad
The Indian Ocean’s geopolitical currents have witnessed drastic transformation this year, particularly in the past three months, with India shedding the exclusive right of its sphere of influence over the Indian Ocean, by allowing the United States in its own backyard. Washington and New Delhi seems to have entered into what few analysts call a ‘soft alliance’.
Sri Lanka and Maldives are strategically located in the northern section of the Indian Ocean, and have long been historically, culturally, and geopolitically under India’s sphere of influence. But, things are beginning to change as Chinese debt-trap looms over these islands.
The Quad grouping, consisting of India, Japan, the United States and Australia, has demonstrated its collective military might in the maritime sphere of India with the recently concluded annual Malabar naval exercise. It also led to the emergence of new dynamics of cooperation in previously reticent areas, built upon confidence in each other’s abilities and consciousness of where it stands in the newly unravelling geopolitical equation.
India’s new strategic comfort with bringing in partners from the Quad partners lying external to the Indian Ocean Region, namely the US and Japan into its long-held exclusive sphere of influence signals a tilt in strategic imperatives for New Delhi in favour of the US that too in an evolving cold war-like situation involving Washington and Beijing with different set of countries rallying behind each side.
India has recently welcomed the US-Maldives Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in September, this year. The following month saw US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Male where he announced Washington’s intent to open an embassy soon.
Less than three months after the defence pact with Washington, Male signed a new agreement with Tokyo this month, for availing a Japanese grant of $7.6 million to strengthen the archipelago’s Coast Guard capacities, in a second major pact with a Quad member.
New Delhi’s newfound willingness to work with external actors in the Indian Ocean is a sign of strategic comfort stemming out from realist foreign policy considerations to expand its circle of friends and coalition partners in its own backyard against a common and more powerful adversary, Beijing, with which it also have decades-long tensions in the Himalayan frontiers.
Even though both these two countries succumbed to disproportionately superior Chinese economic might since the past one decade, it seems Maldives has somehow managed to come out of its dangerous level of dependency on China since Ibrahim Mohammed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party assumed presidency of the island nation two years back in November 2018.
The Sri Lankan economy went into a tailspin since the civil war ended in 2009. The country’s exchequer was badly in need of financial support to sustain itself. It was also the time when Beijing just began to project its military and economic power in its neighbourhood and beyond as the flamboyant 2008 Beijing Olympics concluded.
The island of Sri Lanka soon acquired new geoeconomic significance when President Xi Jinping launched the most ambitious infrastructure project of this century in 2013, the Belt and Road Infrastructure, connecting three continents with the Indian Ocean as its epicenter of vitality.
With BRI, a tangled web of debt-trap rapidly began to loom over Sri Lanka as Beijing pumped-in investments into the war-battered island with malicious intentions.
The story of handover of Hambantota port, strategically located in the southern tip of Sri Lankan coast, to China for a 99-year lease in 2017, and the Colombo Port City project being built with Chinese assistance are just examples of how economic leverage gained geopolitically advantageous positions for Beijing overlooking the Indian Ocean. These assets are going to play a significant role in the connectivity of BRI’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’ aspect.
Chinese-led projects are built and managed by Chinese workers themselves as they do in any other part of the world, naturally bringing presence of Chinese personnel to the areas where it operates.
The BRI, however, enhances Sri Lanka’s significance in what theorists call the String of Pearls, wherein Beijing attempts to encircle India by a series of ports and maritime installations under its control in the Indian Ocean such as the overseas military base in Djibouti, Gwadar in Pakistan, and the ports in Bay of Bengal under Chinese influence hosted by either Bangladesh or Myanmar. Chinese submarine presence is also a new reality, particularly in areas surrounding the Malacca Straits.
All these factors naturally brought New Delhi closer to Washington to formulate a ‘collective strategy’ against the expansionist tendencies manifested by Chinese behaviour. At the same time, India has been taking proactive steps in its individual capacity to boost ties with other island and littoral states in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), like Mauritius and Seychelles where India’s listening posts to monitor sea-lanes also operate.
The Indian Navy has always been the first responder to any HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) situations in the IOR which earned significant soft power and respect for India in the countries of the region. This vision has been immortalized in India’s maritime doctrine for regional cooperation in the Indian Ocean, SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region), that was unveiled in 2015.
With the entry of the US, which already has its presence in the British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia lying mid-way of the ocean, that too with India’s approval, and France in Reunion in the western Indian Ocean, the geostrategic picture of IOR is beginning to change.
Maldives stands as a good example of how to overcome Chinese dominating agenda by boosting cooperation among democracies. But, the Abdullah Yameen-era nightmare of Chinese debt burden is still far from over. In fact, Sri Lanka too is well aware of the Chinese trap from which it yearns to decouple itself. But, Colombo is left with limited options or alternatives to do so.
The renewed Indo-US strategic cooperation, if not translated into offering a viable solution to the debt-trap conundrum, Sri Lanka might irreversibly evolve into another extension of Beijing’s legs in the Indian Ocean threatening the sovereignty of democracies in the region.
Recent steps in the strategic realm are welcome, but the Indo-Pacific democracies, particularly India and the US, should cooperate with these two key island states more in the economic realm as well, if possible near to the extent of Beijing as a collective move.
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