Since the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan in mid-August 2021, the general public, media, and academic environments have tremendously discussed the event’s security implications. Nevertheless, these discussions have focused on physical security threats. Conspicuously missing is the ontological aspect of security, relating to how security involves metaphysics of life – being, feeling alive, real, or sense of inner self. Therefore, the overarching objective of this piece is to explore this overlooked critical insecurity that has engendered urban Afghan responses. While helping to fill the existing gap in the security discussions, it serves a policy relevance, drawing policymakers’ attention to metaphysical insecurity when dealing with the impending humanitarian crisis. Why are urban Afghans petrified about the Taliban second-coming to the extent of opting for death by falling from a moving plane?
In a conversation with a colleague the days following the takeover and American desperate evacuation efforts, he was astonished about the actions of the people who climbed onto the wings of the military plane: “What was wrong with these people [Afghans]? Didn’t they know that they would fall and die? Did they think that they could hang on in the air until the plane landed?” The answer to his questions and the central argument this piece drives is that the urban Afghan public’s anxieties and uncertainties surrounding the Taliban takeover create ontological insecurity that threatens their existential conditions – ordinary living or sense of being in the world. Therefore, their actions, including chasing a taxiing airplane and clinging to its wings, were consequent attempts to reacting to the anxieties to their feeling of aliveness or realness. Rural Afghans might relatively coexist with the Taliban due to the congruity of their unique understanding and interpretation of Islam. Thus, I focus on the urban population with a modernized view of Islam and a taste of Western culture, putting them at odds with the Taliban and rural folks. Some rural people even abhor urbanite culture and consider it un-Islamic.
Security may underpin various explanations. However, a common matrix is that security entails freedom from threats to core values. Thus, we can have a security language implying metaphysics of life – ontological security. Ontological security is an emotional phenomenon concerned with “the confidence that most human beings have in the continuity of their self-identity and in the constancy of the surrounding social and material environments of action.” In simple terms, it denotes having a consistent or continued sense of being or self-identity and having that sense accepted and affirmed by others and having that acceptance and affirmation guaranteed consistently. Therefore, an ontologically secured person is an individual who has a “sense of his presence in the world as a real, alive, whole, and, in a temporal sense, a continuous person” and can go out into the world and meet others with similar conditions. An ontologically insecure person develops anxieties on the assurances derived from an existential position. They may feel more innately unreal than real, more dead than alive, and consistently questioning their identity and autonomy in their ordinary living circumstances. Therefore, everyday life “constitutes a continual and deadly threat.” That is, an ontologically insecure person has life without feeling alive – a walking dead-man.
International relations research generally agrees that states pursue security and survival. Therefore, we can think of the state as an ontological security-seeking agent. It gains legitimacy by performing core responsibilities, including human security – averting dangers to human safety and survival that living conditions such as poverty, abuses, repression, disease, environmental stress, hunger, and armed conflict cause. Thus, it acts as a structure or institution for the citizens to achieve ontological security, reducing existential anxiety and making life intelligible. The state – not church/mosque – mediates between life and death. Therefore, in parts of the world where it cannot perform this role, it has no basis for claiming legitimacy, and ordinary living constitutes a great sense of existential anxiety. Understanding it from this point, we can understand the psychology of, for example, men and women who brave through the Mediterranean Sea on rickety boats into Europe.
For urban Afghans, a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is not devoid of existential anxiety. There is uncertainty that Afghanistan can seek its ontological security, let alone serve as an ontological security structure. There is a fear of losing jobs, status, or once held privileges, and daily activities like schooling or sports. There is little confidence in the continuity of their self-identity in the immediate environment the Taliban supervises since there is an incongruity between urban Afghans and the Taliban’s ordinary living. Thus, the former believes that it is unlikely the latter would consistently accept and affirm its sense of self that makes them feel alive or whole.
Urban Afghans existential anxiety is due to prior experience with the Taliban. From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban accorded women the most circumscribed role in society, banning their education and public appearances. In some cases, Taliban officials beat women for “wearing white socks [because] that is the color of the Taliban flag.” The sixteen public codes prohibited citizens from watching television, those who risked watching blackened windows. The Taliban detached the hands of people accused of stealing, imprisoned people for wearing British or American hairstyles or trimming the beard, prohibited music and dance at all public places, including wedding ceremonies. Taliban administered all punishments publicly, and everybody was required to attend.
We are humans. Thus, there are many circumstances under which anxieties may be normal or a more general condition. Ontological insecurity triggers questions to our identity and autonomy, and we may express fear of the unknown from time to time due to some uncertainty. However, anxiety is not an absolute condition; there can be degrees. Low levels may be insignificant and associated with relative stability, while higher levels can unsettle a person’s inner being. It is emotionally related, and in most instances, we cannot answer the arising questions rationally. Therefore, “when they are profound and chronic, as irrational, these feelings are more the result of emotional supersensitivity than irrationality.” The feelings arise due to the uncertainty a prevailing situation would have on the self and his continuous existence or living as a normal person. Therefore, urban Afghans’ direct fear of physical safety in the belief that the Taliban would harm them due to incongruent identities, combined with the danger to human security, is significant enough to create metaphysical insecurity, affecting their existential conditions. The existential anxiety is due to prior experience with the Taliban between1996 to 2001. Thus, the thought of the Taliban coming back with the 1996-2001 governance overwhelms their human nature and innately kills them. It creates a feeling of having a life without being alive.
Therefore, people clung to the plane not because they did not know that they would fall and die. However, they believed that if they could hang on and arrive at the next destination – although the chances were zero – it’s bingo because that assures them of living as a temporally continuous person. But if they should fall and die, they have lost nothing because it is the same as living in Afghanistan – life but feeling unreal and dead. It suggests that individuals preferred natural death, even by falling from a moving plane, to feeling living-dead. Nevertheless, why would Afghans have uncertainties about the Taliban second-coming and not assume that the Taliban has changed? It is because mistrust is a crucial component of ontological insecurity. Thus, Afghans cannot trust the Taliban since the latter is the source of the former’s feeling dead inside. Therefore, ontological security that discusses individuals’ sense of safety in the world includes a basic trust of other people. The trust serves as an emotional inoculation, protecting people against future profound existential anxiety that enable them to maintain hope of consistent acceptance and affirmation even in the face of later draining circumstances. Unfortunately, previous Taliban rule prevented Afghans from having this inoculation.
There are glimpses that urban Afghans’ anxieties about their existence or feeling of aliveness are not unfounded. For example, universities have reopened, and curtains or boards separate women from men. Therefore, understanding this metaphysical security would enable us to thoroughly discuss Afghans insecurity vis-à-vis the Taliban takeover with sufficient nuance.
A long way of solidarity: a voice for the voiceless Kashmiris
Every year on February 5 Pakistan observes Kashmir Solidarity Day. It aims to demonstrate Pakistan’s support and solidarity with the people of Indian-occupied Kashmir, and their continuing liberation struggle, and to honor Kashmiri martyrs who sacrificed their lives fighting for Kashmir’s independence.
Every year, on Kashmir Solidarity Day, Pakistan expresses its political, moral, and diplomatic support for the righteous fight of our Kashmiri brothers and becomes its voice in the international forums.
Kashmir’s discord carries historical as well as contemporary events that hinder its political future.
Historical account of the humiliation of Kashmir’s people
The history of conflict dates back to 1947. In the June 3 plan, the princely state offered a choice between India and Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh deceived Pakistan and ceded Kashmir to India through a standstill agreement, which sparked an uprising of Pashtun tribesmen and the Hindu nationalists and RSS to organize a program against Muslims, killing between 20,000 and 100,000 Muslims. On October 27, 1947, Indian troops landed in Kashmir to fight against the Pashtuns and the local armies; this led to the first India-Pakistan war. During the war, India’s prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, promised a referendum: “The fate of Jammu and Kashmir is ultimately decided by the people; the pledge we have given is not only to the people of Kashmir but also to the world.” “We will not and cannot back out of it.”
India referred the dispute to the United Nations a little more than two months later. A resolution passed on August 13, 1948, asking both nations to withdraw their forces; once that happened, a referendum was to be held, allowing the people of Kashmir to decide their political future. But the Indian troops were never withdrawn, and the referendum never happened. On January 1, 1949, the ceasefire was agreed upon, and Kashmir became a disputed territory. Over the next 70 years, India and Pakistan fought three wars over Kashmir.
In Indian-administrated Kashmir, India maintains around 600,000 troops in Kashmir, who have committed human rights violations like rape, torture, and enforced disappearances that continue today. The number of people killed in Kashmir is estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000, which shows the ruthlessness of the so-called largest democracy in the world.
Situation after the abolishment of articles 370 and 35A
On August 5, 2019, the Indian government abrogated Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian Constitution, which granted Jammu and Kashmir a special status and autonomy. The Indian government enforced a curfew, disrupted communication connections, arrested political leaders, and deployed extra soldiers in the area, generating widespread resentment and demonstrations.
Since the abolition of Articles 370 and 35A, human rights abuses and violations in Kashmir have increased significantly, with claims of widespread mass arrests, torture, and extrajudicial executions by Indian security personnel. The Indian government has also restricted freedom of speech, assembly, and the press, making it impossible for citizens to openly express their thoughts and report on the state of the area.
In addition, the Indian government has been accused of fostering demographic changes in the area through the settlement of Hindu migrants, which has resulted in a fall in the percentage of the Muslim population and degradation of the Kashmiri people’s distinctive cultural and religious identity.
International human rights groups have shown concern about the situation in Kashmir and demanded an independent investigation into the reported human rights breaches and abuses. About 87 civilians have been killed by the Indian forces since the abrogation of Article 370. The international community has also advocated for a peaceful settlement to the issue that takes the Kashmiri people’s rights and interests into consideration.
The situation in Kashmir remains severe, and the continuous violence and human rights violations continue to provide the international community with a formidable task. The region’s political future is still unknown, and a sustainable resolution to the war has not yet been found.
Pakistan’s Advocacy for Kashmir
Pakistan has made several attempts to resolve the ongoing conflict in Kashmir and has sought international backing for its stance on the matter. Pakistan has repeatedly discussed the Kashmir issue at the United Nations and other international forums, stressing the need for a peaceful settlement of the conflict based on the self-determination principle and the right of the Kashmiri people to choose their destiny. Pakistan has also made diplomatic attempts to garner international support for its viewpoint, notably via the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Non-Aligned Movement.
Pakistan has also endeavored to provide political, diplomatic, and moral assistance for the Kashmiri resistance movement. India has accused Pakistan of financing terrorism in the area based on information that Pakistan supports separatist organizations in the region. Pakistan has denied these allegations and advocated for a peaceful settlement according to UN Resolution 47 (1948), which calls for a ceasefire, and UN Resolution 51 (1948), which calls for a plebiscite to be held in the region to determine the will of the Kashmiri people.
Despite these attempts, the situation in Kashmir remains unresolved, and a permanent resolution to the conflict has not yet been reached. The issue remains a significant source of conflict between India and Pakistan and a problem for the international community.
Kashmir’s political future remains uncertain and is the subject of ongoing discussion and negotiation between India and Pakistan, as well as international engagement.
Currently, the territory is split between India and Pakistan, with India administering the greater part and Pakistan the smaller. The Line of Control (LoC), which divides the two managed territories, has often been the scene of tension and bloodshed.
There have been appeals for a peaceful conclusion that takes the rights and interests of the Kashmiri people into consideration. Some have suggested the concept of “self-determination,” in which the people of Kashmir would have the right to choose their destiny through a referendum or a negotiated solution between India and Pakistan.
Kashmir’s political future is unpredictable and vulnerable to the continuous dynamics of the war as well as the shifting political and strategic objectives of the major regional countries. The international community still has a big part to play in finding a solution, and India, Pakistan, and the other countries in the area are likely to have to be involved and support any lasting solution.
Sri Lankans deserve a clean break from the past
The decision of former president Maithripala Sirisena to run for president pits two unpopular, establishment candidates against one another. With both Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe involved in past political turmoil and the current economic crisis, Sri Lankans deserve a clean break.
While a presidential election cannot be held until 2024, the Sri Lankan Electoral Commission recently announced local elections for February. With no popular mandate and as the only member of his party, President Wickremesinghe is expected to face an embarrassing defeat in the poll, but it is unlikely to bring down the government.
The announcement that Sirisena would run as president comes at a pivotal time for Sri Lankans.
Wickremesinghe warned this week that the Sri Lankan economy could contract by up to 4% this year, after shrinking 11% last year.
Last year, the island nation descended into turmoil, with an economic collapse leading to its worst crisis in years. Foreign currency shortages, runaway inflation and a recession left the government unable to make debt repayments and left Sri Lankans desperately short of food and fuel.
This led to unprecedented unrest, particularly in the capital Colombo, resulting in the deaths of protesters and police, with hundreds more injured or detained. The protests culminated in the storming and occupation of the presidential palace, forcing Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country, with Wickremesinghe replacing him as president.
Sirisena has a chequered history in Sri Lankan politics.
Sirisena was part of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s cabinet before defecting to the opposition and winning a surprise election victory against Rajapaksa in 2015.
As President, Sirisena formed a close partnership with Wickremsinghe, appointing him Prime Minister, before the two spectacularly fell out. This culminated in the sacking of Wickremesinghe in 2018, replacing him with Mahinda Rajapaksa. At the time, Wickremesinghe claimed that the move was “unconstitutional”.
This led to a constitutional crisis and power struggle between Wickremesinghe, Rajapaksa and Sirisena, with the former President dissolving parliament and calling snap elections. Sirisena then decided to not seek re-election, leaving office in early 2019. He was replaced as president by Mahinda’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Recently, the Sri Lankan supreme court ordered Sirisena and several other top government, police and intelligence officials to pay millions of rupees in compensation to the victims of the 2019 Easter bombings in Colombo. The court found that Sirisena, as former president, ignored multiple warnings about an imminent terrorist attack weeks before the deadly event took place.
But Wickremesinghe is also no saint.
Wickremesinghe, a six-time prime minister, won a parliamentary vote with the backing of the Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party to replace Gotabaya Rajapaksa in July 2022. For this reason, he is accused of owing his position to the family.
Upon gaining the presidency, Wickremesinghe immediately cracked down on protesters, condemning the protests as “against the law” and calling protesters “fascists”. Under his watch, more than 140 protesters have been arrested and its leaders driven into hiding.
In August 2022, the United Nations condemned his government’s crackdown on protesters. The UN also criticised the repeated use of emergency measures, such as curfews, calling them a “misuse of emergency measures”.
The president has also been accused of delaying this poll, claiming the economically crippled country cannot afford to spend 10 billion rupees on a local election. However, the election commission decided to proceed despite the president’s request. Nonetheless, this raises doubts about Wickremesinghe’s respect for the democratic process.
What Sri Lankans desperately need is political stability and good economic management so the country can dig its way out of its worst crisis since independence.
Sirisena and Wickremesinghe offer neither. The former is struggling to finalise a bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund and both are notorious for poor political decision making and unpopular with a public desperate for change.
Therefore, Sri Lankans are faced with two establishment candidates who only offer more of the same.
The solution, at least for the time being, is for Wickremesinghe to call a presidential election so the next president has a clear mandate by the people. This will assist in forming a stable government and in bailout negotiations with the IMF.
Power also needs to be decentralised through ambitious political reforms that allow for wider participation and decision making in parliament. While, admittedly, this would be difficult under both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, it is the first step in dealing with corruption and nepotism in Sri Lankan politics.
Presidential candidates serious about solving the countries problems also need to focus on key issues, such as rebuilding the economy, accountability for human rights and rebuilding political integrity and public trust.
Only once this is achieved, and Sri Lanka has shed itself of its dysfunctional political past, will it be able to recover.
A Hybrid Political System for Pakistan: A Proposal
The political system of Pakistan is an amalgamation of Islamic, British, and Indian influences, shaped by a multifaceted array of religious, ethnic, and regional factors, making it a culturally rich and ever-changing landscape. Pakistan is renowned for its powerful military establishment, which has traditionally wielded significant influence in determining its political direction. The nation’s political history is characterized by cycles of military rule, punctuated by several coups, followed by phases of democratic rule, though the military has continued to exert a significant degree of influence in the country’s politics. Furthermore, Pakistan has had to contend with the pernicious threat of extremism, with various militant groups operating within its borders and perpetrating terrorist attacks, which have destabilized the nation’s political, social, and economic stability.
This article aims to shed light on the challenges faced by the political system in Pakistan, specifically concerning the current political turmoil the country is experiencing. It also suggests a potential solution to stabilize the system and bring about a revolution in the way politics is conducted in Pakistan
The challenges faced by Pakistan’s democracy are compounded by the elite classes’ actions. The country is currently facing significant upheaval, which can be attributed to several factors. The lack of solid democratic institutions, frequent military takeovers, and the involvement of powerful military and civilian elites are among the underlying causes of the country’s political instability. Additionally, ethnic and regional conflicts, poverty, and economic growth issues further exacerbated political instability. The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, as well as political unrest in neighboring countries, have also had an impact on the country. Furthermore, Pakistan’s history of military control, political corruption, and a lack of a deeply ingrained democratic culture have all contributed to the volatility in its political system.
The current political quagmire that plagues Pakistan is multifaceted, primarily stemming from a dearth of political acumen and a paucity of commitment on the part of leaders to prioritize the exigencies of the populace over their own personal and factional interests. This has led to a diminution of public confidence in the political system and government officials. Furthermore, the military’s prolonged political intervention and sway history has exacerbated a lack of democratic stability and accountability. Another critical conundrum that has impeded the country’s political evolution is the preponderance of corruption and nepotism in every government agency, rendering it difficult for citizens to repose trust in government officials. As a result, there is a burgeoning loss of faith in institutions of all varieties, with people losing trust in the government, corporations, and political leaders.
Furthermore, the failure of successive governments to address the issue of corruption has further undermined public trust in the political system. The permeation of corrupt practices in every government institution has made it difficult for citizens to have faith in government officials, leading to a general disillusionment with the political system. Additionally, the lack of transparency and accountability in government operations has enabled corrupt officials to operate with impunity, further eroding the public’s trust in the political system. The aforementioned issues have resulted in a political climate marked by a lack of stability and continuity, hindering the country’s economic and social development. It is imperative that the political class and other stakeholders work towards addressing these issues to ensure that the political system can effectively serve the people’s needs and promote the country’s long-term stability and prosperity.
Proposing A New Way to get stability in Political System?
A hybrid political system combines characteristics of many political systems, such as democracy and autocracy. Two examples are a semi-presidential system, which combines a prime minister and a president, and a federal system, which combines a central government with regional administrations. Hybrid systems can also include components of other kinds of democracy, such as a parliamentary system combined with a robust presidential system. These systems are frequently viewed as a compromise between competing political ideologies or as a means of balancing the strengths and shortcomings of various systems
If the official replaces the current political system with a hybrid one, it could be very beneficial. One of the main advantages of a hybrid system is that it allows for a balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of government. In a presidential system, the executive branch is separate from the legislative branch, with the president having a lot of power. In a parliamentary system, however, the executive branch is accountable to the legislative branch. In a hybrid system, the executive branch has some independence from the legislative branch but is still responsible for it. This helps to prevent too much power from being concentrated in one person or group and also helps to protect citizens’ rights and to avoid abuse of power.
An additional benefit of implementing a hybrid system is that it may facilitate more efficient decision-making by leveraging the strengths of both presidential and parliamentary systems. In a presidential system, the separation of powers can result in stalemates and prolonged indecision, while in a parliamentary system, the government can swiftly collapse if it loses the legislature’s support. A hybrid system, on the other hand, can offer a balance of stability and agility, allowing for more prompt decision-making while maintaining the accountability of the executive branch. Furthermore, considering Pakistan’s history of military involvement in politics, a hybrid system can provide a mechanism to hold the military accountable to the civilian administration and reduce the likelihood of military intervention.
It is imperative to acknowledge that a hybrid system may not be the ultimate remedy for all of Pakistan’s issues, and its successful operation would require meticulous planning and execution. Nevertheless, this system could potentially provide a glimpse of sustained stability in Pakistan’s political landscape, and it is incumbent upon the authorities to consider this system as a viable option to circumvent further obstacles.
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