Friday, 16 March 2018

Democracy’s reversal I.A. Rehman

THE dust raised by the Senate elections will take time to settle. The election of a member from Balochistan as the Senate chairmanwould have been considered a step towards democratic development if the manoeuvring that preceded it had been above board. But as the sun went down last Monday, Pakistan’s efforts to develop into a democratic state suffered reverses on five counts.
First, the threat that the Senate could play a vanguard role in the consolidation of democratic norms was warded off. The sequence of events that began with the change of government in Balochistan concluded with the passage of the Senate into the establishment’s ward.
The country was denied the possibility of having a Senate chairman who enjoyed the trust of both the treasury benches and the principal opposition group, an opportunity any democratic country should have welcomed. The reasons Mr Zardari offered for ditching Mian Raza Rabbani, as an afterthought deceived no one. The beans had been spilled earlier by Shaikh Rashid when he said that Raza Rabbani’s election again as the Senate chairman would cause a clash between important institutions. What he had indicated was his or somebody else’s desire to strengthen a particular institution’s hegemony over all organs of the state.
Things might not turn out the way they appear to have been ordered and the members of the Senate may accept the challenge of strengthening democratic values, but at the moment the Senate seems to have been neutralised in favour of the establishment.
All hopes that the Senate could strengthen the democratic project are dissipating.
Second, Mr Zardari has dealt the PPP a grievous blow. What persuaded him to throw away the chance of having his party member in the Senate chairman’s seat may not be impossible to fathom. If he thinks he has saved his skin forever, he could be disillusioned sooner rather than later. The last JIT has not yet been formed. It is perhaps time for him, in deference to the memory of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, to hand over the reins of the party to his children and workers with cleaner hands. They may still be able to save the party from passing into history over the next few years.
That the decline of the PPP is a matter of national concern can easily be pointed out. The political landscape is dominated by the right and extreme right. The disappearance of the PPP even as a nominally left-of-centre party and the elimination of any difference between it and right-of-centre parties will make the state even more vulnerable to pressure from the extreme right than it already is. This will reduce the state’s ability to meet the challenge of religious extremism and undermine its capacity to evolve a rational policy towards the nations of the world, especially Iran, India, the US and Afghanistan.
Thirdly, the PML-N was again found wanting in strategic planning required to meet the call of the moment. It should have known from the very beginning of the process to elect new senators that its nominee for the chairmanship of the upper house had no chance of winning. The steps taken to queer the pitch for the Senate elections were not going to be wasted by allowing a PML-N party member to fill the chairman’s slot.
It was perhaps not a good idea to choose Raja Zafarul Haq for the sacrifice. The days when he could be the opening batsman for his side are over.
To contest an election against the Asif Zardari-Imran Khan axis, somebody from Balochistan might have made a little more sense. Even better would have been withdrawal from the electoral contest. The speech Mir Hasil Bizenjo made after the election process was over would have served as an explanation for the boycott. The PML-N’s disregard for real political work will darken democracy’s prospects.
Fourthly, the possibility of using the Senate elections to educate the people in the role of the upper house in the country’s affairs, especially in promoting a democratic dispensation, was ignored by all the parties concerned as if they had a compact not to let the people know how important the Senate’s democratic role is. Everyone who mattered was counting the horses that needed to be protected against the horse-traders’ designs. There was no discussion on the pros and cons of the proposal to have direct elections to the Senate, nor on any means to improve its role in maintaining discipline in the state’s financial affairs. It seems engaging the people in a discourse on the part the Senate can and should play in strengthening the federal system was not on any party’s agenda.
Fifthly, what impact will Mr Sadiq Sanjrani’s election as Senate chairman have on Balochistan’s politics?
The state has a long history of co-opting into the power structure notable figures from Balochistan — from Jam Ghulam Qadir and Nawab Akbar Bugti to the federal ministers and chief ministers in recent times — but these persons have almost invariably been used to serve the centre’s interest and not Balochistan’s cause. One should like to hope Mr Sanjrani is an exception, but as matters stand, Balochistan is likely to be more closely controlled by the federal agencies than has been the case hitherto.
No elected government of Balochistan has been allowed to exercise its constitutional authority in the key areas of governance such as the need to settle matters with the nationalist elements or putting an end to enforced disappearances or allowing the province the right to manage its resources. If this situation does not change soon Balochistan’s crisis may become more insoluble than ever.
The shadows of authoritarianism are becoming longer and longer and it may be necessary to use the coming general election to mobilise the people for yet another movement for the restoration of democracy.
Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2018

Thursday, 15 March 2018

The Right to Peace and Security, speech of Dr Shabir Choudhry in the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva

The Right to Peace and Security, speech of Dr Shabir Choudhry in the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva on 14 March 2018.

Title: The Right to peace and Security

I begin in the Name of Allah Almighty and most merciful.

Growth of extremism and violence

Peace and security is a fundamental right of every human being. It is sad to note that these fundamental rights are courageously violated by the governments and their proxies in Pakistan and Pakistani Administered Jammu and Kashmir.

Extremist groups who are acting as proxies of the establishment are working hard to radicalise the society in Pakistan and areas of Jammu and Kashmir under their control. Because of fast expansion of these extremist groups known as strategic assets of Pakistan, space for moderate and secular minded people is shrinking.

Many Pakistani writers, journalists and human rights activists claim that extremism, violence and religious intolerance is spreading under ‘supervision’ of the establishment. Radicalization is systematically planned, nurtured, expanded and exported to achieve foreign policy and strategic objectives. In this context, indoctrination of regionalism, sectarianism and religion is widely ingrained.

Blockade of Islamabad by Molana Khadim Hussain Rizvi and around 1500 of his followers last year; and inability of the government to take any effective action against them manifested that they had full support of the secret agencies and men in uniform. The civilian government was unpleasantly humiliated and made to surrender under the supervision of the army officers. The protesters were rewarded with cash payments; and what leaders of the protest received is not known.

Despite this bitter fact, Pakistani government claim that they are fighting extremism and terrorism; and expect the international community to accept their narrative. They erroneously believe that they can continue with their policy of promoting extremism, terrorism and religious intolerance under the cover of holy name of jihad. Many wise and liberal minded Pakistanis feel religious groups and establishment are the root cause of Pakistan’s many problems.

Imtiaz Gul, a Pakistani writer and political analyst, in his article, ‘FATF setback - Pakistan is a victim of its own inaction, writes and I quote:

‘And withdrawal of support at FATF must also make the civil-military elites realise that the policy of using non-state actors for foreign policy objectives (be it the lashkar, the jaish or appeasement of Haqqanis) enjoys zero tolerance among the international community… In retrospect, there is little doubt that the romance with the word K (read Kashmir) has bled Pakistan profusely. It has generated a dynamic that has become a financial noose around the country’s neck. 1 Unquote
Because of activities of extremist religious groups and secret agencies, practically there is very little space left for civil society and human rights activists of Pakistan, Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistani Administered Kashmir.
Asian Legal Resource Centre in written submission made to the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, said and I quote:
‘ALRC would like to draw the UN Human Rights Council’s attention to the rise in violence against Human Rights Defenders in Pakistan. It is unfortunate that human rights defenders, bloggers and social activists have conventionally been considered an irritant to state policies in Pakistan, and are often targeted by the state as well as non-state actors. 2 Unquote
LOC Firing

I am seriously concerned on continue exchange of firing between India and Pakistan on Line of Control, which kills and injured people of Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the divide. This testing of weapons and exchange of fire had made lives of people a living hell, as there is no peace and security for them, their children and their live stocks.

It is a wrong propaganda of Pakistan and their supporters that only Indian bombs kill; and Pakistani bombs don’t kill and injure people and animals on the other side of the divide.

I strongly condemn this and demand immediate stop to this killing of innocent people. However, if armed forces of both countries want to fight and test their new weapons, they can do that on the international border. Please don’t make my homeland and battleground.

In conclusion, we have suffered since 1947 on both sides of the divide. How long more we need to suffer before we get justice and our unfettered right to determine our own future. There is no peace for us. We need security from forces of oppression, extremism, terrorism, intolerance and hatred.

I urge the UN and the international community to take urgent measures to stop suffering of the people of the former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir.

1.   Imtiaz Gul  FATF setback - Pakistan is a victim of its own inaction, published in Daily Times, March 3rd 2018.

2.   Written submission of Asian Legal Resource Centre to the Nations Human Rights Council’s 37 the Session on 28 February 2018. ALRC-CWS-37-011-2018