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April is almost over which means that the country’s most anticipated political event is almost upon us. Yet, an ominous silence has replaced the traditional pre-election euphoria, where thousands gather to cheer on for their leaders; big promises are made in grand rallies and historic speeches are recorded in the weeks leading up to elections.

 

By:Aima Khosa How scared are our politicians? April is almost over which means that the country’s most anticipated political event is almost upon us. Yet, an ominous silence has replaced the traditional pre-election euphoria, where thousands gather to cheer on for their leaders; big promises are made in grand rallies and historic speeches are recorded in the weeks leading up to elections. The election of 2008, for example, was a grand political spectacle where Nawaz Sharif and late Benazir Bhutto raced from city to city to assert their political might. Perhaps it was Benazir’s brutal assassination that has subdued the politicians now, or perhaps it is Musharraf’s trial that has pushed the election from center stage – either way, one must admit the days leading up to the elections have been engulfed in a strange political tension between various political quarters. The roots of this tension can easily be traced to security woes of the country; in the last few weeks, almost all mainstream political parties have come under attack. The news of these attacks come in short spurts and then fades away, only to appear once more. Often these attacks are targeted towards high-profile politicians, as in the case of Bilour of ANP and Zehri of PML-N. Other times, these attacks target political workers, as in the case of various independent candidates and MQM workers. It is feared that these attacks will escalate in their nature and magnitude as the election date draws closer. The previous election was delayed by a few weeks because it was marred by a high-profile assassination. Will Pakistan’s weak caretaker government manage to restrain the public and hold the elections if there was, God forbid, another high profile targeting? And if not, if the conspiracy theories of elections getting delayed are to be believed, what kind of political violence will be required to manage the delay of the polls Khoso’s interim government is so determined to hold? The ANP leadership has categorically stated that the elections must not be delayed even by a second. This statement was issued even as Ghulam Ahmad Bilour was reeling from the attack on an ANP meeting. This is because the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa constituency, a waning ANP stronghold, can still get the party decisive votes in the province in the next government. Bilour has said that he would hold the COAS, the CEC, the president and the chief justice responsible if anything happened to him. It is almost reminiscent of Benazir’s statements after the October attack on her rally in Karachi where she feared for her life under Musharraf’s presidency – who, interestingly, is currently on trial for her assassination case. The PML-N leadership too, has sensed victory in the upcoming polls and will not stand for a delayed election only because it could have a lot to lose if the polls are not held on May 11. At the same time, Nawaz Sharif and his entourage are aware that Big Brother is watching and Big Brother is dangerous. For his security, Nawaz Sharif has hired a helicopter for his transport and may be gifted 20 bullet proof vehicles from his Saudi friends for the transportation of his senior leadership. Yet, he remains conspicuously missing from public eye – unless you count the television campaign ads and the sporadic appearances the former premier makes. PML-N has suffered damage in Balochistan with the president of the party’s chapter in that problematic province coming under an attack that left his son, nephew and brother dead. Zehri survived and fresh questions emerged: who targeted Zehri? Was it the usual ‘Baloch tribal rivalry’ that led to such a personal attack on the PML-N leader in Balochistan? The Baloch are, after all, not very fond of PML-N and Zehri is its immediate representative in the province. Or was the attack a part of some systematic targeting that is a part of the dark threat to politicians at this critical juncture? PPP, too, has come under attack and has beefed up security and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has had to make very few public appearances as the poster boy of the PPP campaign. However, political quarters were strangely silent in condemning the attack on ANP, while half-hearted statements stressing on ‘solutions to militancy’ were issued. So how nervous are Pakistan’s political leaders at this point, with elections so near? Will they get the votes they want while running silent campaigns? Interestingly, election campaigning begins at least three months before the elections. So far, a lot of candidates still have not been issued tickets or are not eligible to contest in elections – there can be no campaigning if there are no candidates. Another bad sign for the elections? The central question still remains; will the elections get delayed? Constitutionally, it is not a possibility unless a situation is created where the caretaker setup has no option but to delay the polls. The caretaker setup itself is not mandated beyond a stipulated period to remain in power and its main job is to watch over the elections. Even if it somehow manages to extend that period, it shall not be strong enough to sustain itself for long. Neither will political forces, largely led by Nawaz Sharif, stand for a delay in polls. The speed with which Nawaz Sharif handled the Qadri debacle earlier this year by unifying Punjab’s political forces in the face of an uncertain situation points to how badly Nawaz to regain his glory days. Nawaz’s biggest foe, however, is still in the President’s House and there is no knowing what tricks President Zardari may have up his sleeve to tip the political balance back in PPP’s favor. At the same time, there is always the Army factor. Seemingly, Pakistan’s armed forces are embroiled in four crucial situations: an operation in Tirah valley and Orakzai Agency, watching over the election process, its former COAS going through a public trial and the rehabilitation process of the affectees of earthquake. Would the GHQ be able to orchestrate a behind the scenes delay in the polls while it has its hands full with the other crises it has to handle? Simply put, May 11 and its political significance in Pakistan’s history still stands. It will take outright chaos for that date to be pushed back. So then, are delayed polls worth the damage? The writer is Web Editor at Pakistan Today and tweets @aimamk

http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/04/20/comment/columns/pakistans-silent-election/

 

To venture an educated guess post this conscientious but rather presumptuous utterance, Mr Walker never knew what hit him. On the other hand, if he was not systematically charged with corruption, tax fraud or other fabricated tests of human endurance, then outside of a miracle, the only explanation is that the bureaucracy was simply uninterested.

Syed Bakhtiyar Kazmi In the absence of credible party positions on real issues, the electoral process will only be about feudal-cum-tribal battles in most constituencies “Britain has invented a new missile. It’s called the civil servant — it doesn’t work and it can’t be fired” — Walter Walker. To venture an educated guess post this conscientious but rather presumptuous utterance, Mr Walker never knew what hit him. On the other hand, if he was not systematically charged with corruption, tax fraud or other fabricated tests of human endurance, then outside of a miracle, the only explanation is that the bureaucracy was simply uninterested. And let there be no doubt, nothing is outside the purview of the bureaucracy; a highly disciplined, ultimately unified and faithfully protected institution, cultivated over generations under a straightforward ideology, my way or the high way, all or nothing! The Commonwealth nations will remain eternally and infinitely grateful to the Empire for this awesome bestowment: long live the civil servant; notwithstanding Mr Churchill’s observation that some civil servants are neither servants nor civil. Anyone can shuffle or reshuffle them around, but in time, nothing can endure a conflict with a civil servant. The public service is a self-immortalising absolutism (doesn’t work, cannot be fired and are not elected!), which mere politicians or mere journalists can, admiringly, never even begin to understand. However, what the genre of politicians and journalists do understand very clearly is to avoid, like the plague, comrades who have invoked the wrath of a civil servant. This article is not about bureaucracy bashing, it is about the importance of manifestos, which unfortunately, currently are tantamount to nothing! And the persistent reader will again ask, but what does bureaucracy have to do with manifestos, and that is exactly the point: nothing! Finally grinning on nothing! In the history of democracy, what can perhaps be asserted without any fear of reprisal is that the populace has never ever read a single page of any manifesto, prior to using its hallucinatory vote. More on why votes are hallucinatory in some other article some other time. For the moment, the origin of this article lies in wondering whether the bureaucracy shying away in shadows within the corridors of powers, responsible for the eventual implementation of a manifesto, ever took these documents seriously. The answer, after a lot of reflection, most likely not! And why is this line of thought prescient? Unpretentiously, because in spite of great advances in technology, the combined knowledge of all brilliant minds of the modern era has failed in inventing any substitute for the inconspicuous civil servant, the unelected masters of the universe. Even democracy, the darling of civil society, fails at this juncture. “No matter how good you are, don’t ever let them see you coming. That’s the gaffe my friend. You gotta keep yourself small. Innocuous. Be the little guy...” John Milton in the movie The Devil’s Advocate. So, what if there was an innocuous department in the caretaker government specifically responsible for approving manifestos, prior to parties being granted election symbols, and in case of rejection, the findings to be considered for assessments under Articles 62 and 63; after all, breaking promises is a sin. At the outset, life will surely become difficult for the authors. Since everyone will be simultaneously filing on the closing date, the current opportunity to cheat or improve upon the last available manifestos will evaporate. Original and imaginative thought will be required to convince the competent authority. Manifestos also do not follow bureaucratic norms, which is necessary since irrespective of the criticism, the civil service, amongst other things, is known to be meticulous about form. Most likely, the concerned department will notify a standard format for the manifesto, setting out in triplicate the information required therewith. Amongst other things, to qualify for any credible analysis, the singular percept currently lacking in every party’s manifesto is an explanatory analysis of their previous manifestos. This proposition has universal applicability. While those in power definitely need to defend their performance against the unrealistic promises made just a few years ago, those yet to be blessed with absolute power also need to clarify changes in their vision over time. Without exaggeration, those who have frequented the corridors of the Pakistan secretariats can easily visualise the file noting of the much feared Section Officer, if subsequent editions of the manifesto do not analyse past performance or clarify the catalyst for change in earlier versions. Assuming the impossible, the respective parties resubmit their manifestos after necessary amendments regarding historic performance, perchance disguised by tall claims and questionable data. That just would not do with the bureaucracy. At the end of a long process, each and every historic assumption will either get supported by tons of paper or conversely subjected once again to an adverse file note. Frankly, once on the file, only the elders of the services can unlock the mischief of the noting, and that is hardly a frequent occurrence. Accordingly, at this point in time, the manifesto will be relegated to the dreaded record room, where it will lie until perhaps the next elections. Assuming the fantastic, probably only in the case of those clamouring for a change, alterations from the last document, especially in the absence of historic performance, are accepted and the Section Officer can finally move to the next step, or is it the next hurdle? Horribly, the ghostwriter misunderstood the format. Each assertion or futuristic claim needs to be supported by valid verifiable data and assumptions, has to be quantified and needs to be accompanied by a timeline. Also, curriculum vitae of the technical team together with their proposed portfolio are a must. Finally, Key Performance Indicators need to be precise and concise for ease of reference and future monitoring. Accordingly, “I am directed to inform that the competent authority has deferred approval of the subject manifesto until it is resubmitted after regularising the matters set out therein.” The intent today was not to ridicule manifestos; in fact, quite the opposite, the intent was to highlight that the most important document in the electoral process has become a mere formality. In the absence of credible party positions on real issues, the electoral process will only be about feudal-cum-tribal battles in most constituencies, and the populace can hardly be blamed for voting for the candidate rather than an ideology. Truly, after scanning a few, none of the existing manifestos qualify for consideration under a bureaucratic process, and since the masses are too naïve to analyse fanciful futuristic claims, manifestos will remain a ritual. The complete lack of enthusiasm by the champions of democracy, on this key, perhaps paramount matter, is rather perplexing for the lonely but avid and passionate opponent of democracy. Don’t just do it, do it right! If things continue as they are there will be manifestos, manifestos everywhere with not a drop of sense. Perhaps next week, the recently issued manifesto for change can be subjected to a bureaucratic analysis, so ‘wit’ for it! For the time being, looking forward to back to golf! Cheers The writer is a chartered accountant based in Islamabad. He can be reached at syed.bakhtiyarkazmi@gmail.

The Daily Times, 16 April 2013

 

 

The Baloch ‘sub-nation’ finds itself caught between two crucial options at present: intensify the insurgency and disrupt the coming elections through the bullet or cast votes and have their voice heard through the ballot.   By Tariq Khosa   The Baloch ‘sub-nation’ finds itself caught between two crucial options at present: intensify the insurgency and disrupt the coming elections through the bullet or cast votes and have their voice heard through the ballot.   According to Dr Allah Nazar who commands the separatist Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), the elections would be “nothing but a tool deployed by the central government in Islamabad to suppress the voices and demands of the Baloch people”.   Akhtar Mengal, the leader of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), resisting pressure from radical nationalists, has chosen the path of a democratic struggle. He, along with other prominent Baloch politicians like Mir Hasil Bizenjo, Dr Abdul Malik, and Talal Bugti, has decided to contest the coming elections. Democracy is their preferred option in place of insurgency.   But for Nazar, “If Akhtar Mengal takes part in this sham of an election, he will have compromised with the very same security establishment that has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Baloch”. Akhtar Mengal, sensitive to Baloch resentment, tried to address their concerns in an open letter to the Supreme Court before his arrival last month to participate in the elections with strong reservations.   Mengal counted “60 mutilated bodies, 70 targeted killings and 100 missing persons” since his court appearance in September 2012. “The heirs of missing persons are suffering an agony which only they can relate to, and are losing hope in the justice system,” read the letter. He had called his four-day tour in September a “last stand” and added that “elections will become selections” if they are held in “the war-zone that has become Balochistan”.   It is keeping this inner struggle of the Baloch in mind that the state and society should try and understand the mindset and trials that are pulling the nationalists in two opposite directions — a lawful struggle through constitutional means or a separatist and violence-driven campaign against the federation.   Allah Nazar is the prominent face of the Baloch insurgency. Apart from the BLF, three other key Baloch militant organisations that advocate the secession of Balochistan include the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and the Baloch Liberation United Front. Analysts believe that Nazar has successfully spread the insurgency beyond the traditional strongholds of the rebels to the non-tribal western parts of the province, where insurgent attacks on security forces have arisen.   Believed to be the most influential figure among the radical Baloch youth, Nazar represents a tragic case study of an educated young man abandoning a professional career for an armed uprising from the mountains of western Balochistan. He belongs to a middle-class family from Mashkay, a town in Awaran district.   Born in 1968, he chose to become a doctor by initially getting admitted in Ata Shad University of Turbat in 1986. As a result of his hard work and determination, he not only secured a medical seat in Bolan Medical College Quetta but was also awarded a gold medal in gynaecology in 1999.   Like most Baloch activists, he was actively associated with the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO), the student wing of the Balochistan National Movement (BNM) which is now called the National Party. After parting ways with the BNM in 2002, Nazar founded the Azad faction of the BSO, which is pro-independence and supportive of the armed resistance.   In March 2005, he was picked up by unknown gunmen from a flat in Karachi and remained missing for around a year. He resurfaced in August 2006, and was jailed in Quetta for several months. After his release on bail, he went into hiding again and this time he took refuge in the mountains near Turbat to lead the insurgency against the state.   Security officials estimate that overall there are about 1,000 militants of which the core are around 250. The BLF has 300-400 fighters. However, in his interview with a Quetta-based journalist, Nazar claimed that there are more than 6,000 fighters in their ranks and the number is growing.   The Nazar-led armed insurgency may not be very large but it has given rise to a new phenomenon: the educated, non-tribal insurgent from a middle-class background. This new insurgent profile is quite unlike the customary insurgent base that usually has consisted of uneducated tribal fighters and, indeed, he is the first non-tribal head of a militant group in Balochistan.   The main challenge in the forthcoming elections would be a joint strategy of all major militant organisations to sabotage the democratic process in an extremely fragile caretaker governance framework. The intentions are clear as on March 12, the Hyarbyar Marri-led BLA targeted and killed Mohammad Ziaullah Qasmi, the district election commissioner in Quetta. “We will not let Pakistan hold elections in Balochistan,” said the BLA’s spokesperson. The Brahmdagh Bugti-led BRA is likely to soon close ranks with the other separatist factions.   Against this grim scenario and internal struggle between radical nationalists promoting insurgency and the Baloch political parties treading the democratic path, the recent gestures of the Election Commission of Pakistan that has promised to address the concerns of the parties in providing a level playing field, and the visit of the army chief to Quetta and his urging all political parties in the province to participate in the coming elections, are certainly positive and will strengthen the cause of democracy.   This is a defining and critical moment in our history and all the stakeholders of state security must back up and support the Baloch who are grudgingly but knowingly becoming part of a democratic process to seek redress of the grievances that had forced their activists to choose militancy over democracy. It is time to heal their wounds and reach out to them with affection. The Baloch can break but won’t bend. Let this strength in their character be the force harnessed carefully for a strong and prosperous Pakistan.   The writer is former IG Police Balochistan.   The Dawn, April 15, 2013
 

The May 2013 election is going to be the most crucial election in Pakistan’s political and constitutional history. It will decide the direction of Pakistan’s political system, either maturing towards enduring democracy or continued political instability. On March 16, 2013, Pakistan passed through an important moment of its political and constitutional history.

Abdul Basit The election process will carry the political debate forward from ‘restoration and survival of the political system’ to a ‘performance-based accountable system’ The May 2013 election is going to be the most crucial election in Pakistan’s political and constitutional history. It will decide the direction of Pakistan’s political system, either maturing towards enduring democracy or continued political instability. On March 16, 2013, Pakistan passed through an important moment of its political and constitutional history. The first elected civilian government and parliament completed a full five-year term in office (2008-13). The next general election is scheduled to be held on May 11, 2013 to elect a new government. It is a milestone in a country which, since its creation in 1947, has seen three martial laws, repeated dismissal of civilian governments through extra-constitutional manoeuvring and troubled civil-military relations leading to perpetual political instability and uncertainty. It signifies that despite various challenges, the country’s parliamentary system is maturing. The peaceful transfer of power from one democratic civilian government to another will further strengthen the country’s fragile democratic process. Public resentment against the outgoing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led civilian government’s failure to manage a slowing economy, curb the endemic corruption in government institutions and failure to overcome enduring electricity breakdowns (up to 18 hours a day at the peak of summer) makes this achievement a hollow milestone. With a modest GDP growth of 3.7 percent, Pakistan is the slowest growing South Asian economy. At the same time, the volatile security situation stemming from the government’s failure to rein in the sectarian and the Taliban militant groups hardly wins any applause from Pakistanis. The May 2013 elections are the most crucial in Pakistan after the 1970 elections, which led to the dismemberment of the country, with the east wing now known as Bangladesh breaking away. These elections will decide the direction of Pakistan’s future political outlook. It will be the first opportunity for the electorate to try to vote out a civilian government and decide who replaces it. In the last few years Pakistan’s political system has become a heavily contested domain. Unlike the last two elections, a wide array of political actors is contesting the May 2013 elections. The Baloch nationalist political parties, cricketer-turned-philanthropist-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Party of Justice) (PTI) and right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), which boycotted the 2008 election, are participating in the 2013 election. Moreover, the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) of the former military ruler Pervez Musharraf has also announced to run in the upcoming elections. Musharraf has returned to Pakistan on March 24 to officially start his election campaign. At the same time, Khan’s impressive political gathering in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab, on March 23 has set the alarm bells ringing for the two mainstream political parties, the PPP and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The May 2013 elections are about a different set of issues: In the May 2013 election the issues are more pressing, and relate to the domestic economy as compared to issues that shaped voters’ choices in the 2002 and 2008 elections. Therefore, it will require more nuanced and policy-oriented election manifestoes from the political parties to win over the electorate, instead of lofty and hollow rhetoric. The 2002 elections were held a year after the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan. They were heavily centred on the anti-US sentiments and voted to power a six-party religious alliance, the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and southwestern Balochistan provinces. The pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) formed the government at the Centre, along with wining majority seats in Punjab and Sindh provinces. The PPP and PML-N did poorly in the 2002 election because their top leadership was in exile and elections were heavily rigged in favour of pro-Musharraf political forces. Meanwhile, the 2008 elections that catapulted the PPP and PML-N into dominating positions were contested on three major issues: the Red Mosque Operation in Islamabad (July 2007), restoration of Pakistan’s superior court judges deposed by Musharraf (March 2007) and the assassination of the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (December 2007). In the 2008 elections the PPP greatly benefited from the sympathy vote on Bhutto’s assassination in interior Sindh. Meanwhile, in urban Punjab, the PML-N exploited the anti-Musharraf sentiments emanating from his decision to conduct a military operation in the Laal Masjid and dismissal of the superior judiciary. For some years now, the PPP and PML-N have dominated electoral politics in Pakistan. The PPP has always enjoyed popular support in interior Sindh and rural Punjab. Meanwhile, urban Punjab has been the hub of the PML-N. The outcomes of elections in Balochistan and KP have been varied. The rise of the PTI as a third major political force on Pakistan’s political landscape has made the electoral environment more competitive. Notwithstanding a six percent decrease in its public ratings in the last six months, the PTI is still the second most popular political party in Pakistan after the PML-N, according to the US-based International Republican Institute (IRI) survey. The 2013 elections are going to be a three-way contest unlike the two-way-contest between the PPP and PML-N in the past. The urban, upper middle class supports the PTI in Punjab and KP. The overwhelming number of young voters in the electoral lists can be the game changers in the 2013 election. Out of an electoral list of 83 million, 47 percent registered voters are between the age of 18 and 35 — approximately 39 million people. According to the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), out of these 39 million people, around 30 million are those who until three years ago were not listed in the electoral rolls. These 30 million voters included people who turned 18 in the last three years and did not have national identity cards until now or had identity cards but were not registered in the voting list. Faced with a plethora of internal and external challenges, a peaceful transition of power through free and fair elections is essential for the strengthening of the democratic institutions in Pakistan. The election process will carry the political debate forward from ‘restoration and survival of the political system’ to a ‘performance-based accountable system.’ The writer is a Senior Analyst at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR), a constituent of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He can be reached at hafizbasit@yahoo.com

The Daily Times, 11 April 2013

 

The fresh election is just about a month and a bit away. This is no revelation for any of us nor the fact that the democratically elected government (are we all in agreement that it was indeed a democratically-elected one?) is the first one to have completed its five-year tenure without interruption in the 65-year-old history of Pakistan.

Mujahid Eshai

Change indeed! Hopeful candidates genuinely afraid of submitting nomination papers lest their not so worthy deeds become public knowledge The fresh election is just about a month and a bit away. This is no revelation for any of us nor the fact that the democratically elected government (are we all in agreement that it was indeed a democratically-elected one?) is the first one to have completed its five-year tenure without interruption in the 65-year-old history of Pakistan. But as they say, better late than never. At least it has happened and we all continue to hope and pray (as we do most of the time) that this behaviour shall be followed in future as well. So, there we are! Should we also conclude that our leaders exhibited a greater sense of maturity than before during these five years, notwithstanding the charges of friendly opposition, or that apathy towards the solution of problems afflicting the masses reached new heights, again notwithstanding glorious projects like the Metro Bus system, Daanish Schools and the great Laptop distribution scheme? There were riots against non-availability of electricity and gas, be it the natural or the CNG type, massive price hikes, immense infrastructural damage due to floods, drones and the Tehreek-eTaliban Pakistan (TTP), and consequential devastation of the people’s lives. However, these matters, perhaps in our best traditions, should be forgotten and the thin reed of hope for the best firmly clasped in our hands, as we venture forth to cast our very precious vote for the next five years. What the future may hold looks grim as the circular debt is reported to have reached Rs 782 billion, government domestic borrowing into trillion of rupees, the electricity shortfall despite the very decent weather has already reached 5,000 MW, unemployment is increasing and the foreign exchange reserves are falling rapidly. At the same time we are told that the expatriates continue to send a billion dollars per month; the number of ‘lawns’ offered to the masses presumed to be recoiling under recessionary conditions has increased since the previous year; new restaurants keep on opening with huge custom base in the afternoon and evening in the urban areas; car and motorcycle sales continue unabated; and God is being kind by allowing us to have bumper crops. So where are we going? Are we moving backwards or forwards? It would appear we might be going round and round in a circle, tightening the umbilical cord with which we are tied to the incomprehensible system controlling our lives around our necks, and which no politician or for that matter even ourselves show any inclination or desire to do away with. The signing of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline certainly was a step in the right direction, and let us hope that the new lot that comes in holds on to this path unhesitantly. The awarding of the rights to manage and operate the Gwadar Port was another sensible step not only for the immediate present but also the future. Change not only in the weather but also the political climate is being felt. Whether the expected change is transformed into reality remains to be seen, but the onus thereof lies squarely on the young voters and the women in Pakistan. What is very good and has certainly helped control noise pollution is the no-nonsense and correct attitude of the Election Commission of Pakistan. Well done, so far Judge Sahib! But please remain within the ambit of conducting the election in a fair and proper manner. Your action in the State Bank matter was totally incorrect as it in no way impinges on how the election may or may not be conducted. A man, whose curriculum vitae was read by all newspapers and brings with him plenty of banking experience within and outside the country has been unnecessarily targeted. Discipline must be maintained by even those within the Election Commission, otherwise the example that you may be trying to set will go wrong. Change indeed! Hopeful candidates genuinely afraid of submitting nomination papers lest their not so worthy deeds become public knowledge. Eligible candidates are few and far between and becoming difficult to be lured on to the party platforms. The number of independents appears to be growing. Is that not in itself a verdict on the faith the electorate has in the parties? This business of contesting from more than one seat must be banned. Not only is the right of a party worker being denied but is the cause of unnecessary burden on the exchequer, as there would inevitably be by-elections on the seats that the winner gives up. Should any one still desire to contest from more than one seat then that person must be made to pay for the entire cost of the by-election. Contesting from many seats does not prove anything except ones’ own lack of confidence in oneself. Manifestos have been released. They are full of the same rhetoric. Not a single one of them tells us how a party may get rid of the circular debt. What mechanism will it follow? It would appear that these manifestos are not about how a party will improve things but only about the prospect of some goodies on offer if you vote for it. Empty promises with no clear cut vision! The writer is a Chartered Accountant and can be contacted on mujahid.eshai@cbspk.com

The Daily Times, 9 April 2013

 

Foreign policy rarely decides elections anywhere in the world. Pakistan is no different. The country’s upcoming polls will most likely reflect disappointment in the current government and hopes for a better one, but the result is unlikely to serve as a popular mandate on foreign policy.

By Frederic Grare, Reece Trevor Foreign policy rarely decides elections anywhere in the world. Pakistan is no different. The country’s upcoming polls will most likely reflect disappointment in the current government and hopes for a better one, but the result is unlikely to serve as a popular mandate on foreign policy. And because long-term national interests and structural factors generally determine foreign policy, such policies often persist regardless of who holds political power. Decisionmaking on Pakistan’s foreign affairs is an increasingly complex process reflecting a growing number of interest groups and external factors. Elections therefore affect foreign policy mostly on the margins, but they can and do influence decisions and set the trend for future developments. Civil-military relations and how they influence threat perception and the definition of the national interest will likely remain the biggest variable in Pakistan’s foreign policy. And the elections will help determine how much space civilian leaders have to operate. The elections are unlikely to produce a wholesale change in Islamabad’s thinking, but might enable a shift in how Pakistan conducts foreign policy. The competing political parties in Pakistan have defined their foreign policy priorities only vaguely, and the likelihood of coalition building will further dilute each party’s ability to enact its preferred policies. Should the mainstream parties win an overwhelming majority, their task will be easier in foreign policy. But if the election produces a divided parliament with no clear majority, the demands of coalition politics will grant more marginal parties—with more extreme views—a disproportionate role in policymaking. This will also allow the military and the intelligence agencies to more easily manipulate the decisionmaking process. Depending on the results, Pakistan’s next government could be more cooperative in its foreign relations and even show less tolerance for state-sponsored terrorism in order to help pursue its regional and global objectives. Such a result could, over time, change Pakistan’s relations with its neighborhood and help define a new South Asia.

The Military's Role The Pakistani military deserves its reputation for political engineering. Often operating behind the scenes, it has been known to make and unmake majorities and governments to maintain its primacy and impose its will. Most analysts see the army as the real decisionmaker in matters of foreign policy and defense, even when a civilian government is in office. Historically, the military has undoubtedly imposed major political constraints on the definition and implementation of Pakistan’s foreign policy. But it still bears noting that some high-ranking civil servants and major political parties have traditionally shared the military’s views on foreign policy. Nonetheless, in recent months the civilian government has enjoyed slightly more political space on foreign policy. The military’s influence on foreign policy has clearly changed over the past five years. Before 2011, the military professed its loyalty to the democratic system and the elected civilian authorities, but it showed a complete disregard for the government’s opinion on defense and foreign policy matters. For example, only a few weeks into President Asif Ali Zardari’s term in 2008, Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani slammed the new government over Zardari’s remarks on a nuclear no-first-use policy on Indian television. Similarly, Zardari’s hopes of a rapprochement with India were dashed after the Mumbai terrorist attacks, which were allegedly engineered largely by Pakistani security forces. And the military had almost complete autonomy in determining Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan. However, the series of serious incidents that characterized 2011 marked an inflection point in the relationship between the military and civilians over foreign policy. Prior to this point, the dominant perception was that the United States and the international community needed Pakistan much more than Pakistan needed them. Things changed in 2011. The raid against Osama bin Laden and the resulting suspicion that Pakistan may have provided shelter for years to the most wanted man in the world contributed to Islamabad’s international isolation. But things changed most significantly after U.S. forces mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border checkpoint near Salala. Islamabad’s retaliatory closure of overland supply routes for U.S. forces in Afghanistan certainly increased NATO’s costs, but it also produced the unintended consequence of demonstrating that the United States was capable of operating in the region without Pakistani support. A growing economic crisis and the prospect of a “divorce” from the United States forced Pakistan’s security establishment to rethink its posture and opened up new opportunities for the civilian leadership. For instance, the Zardari government has been able to begin a gradual rapprochement with India. While this policy shift would likely have been impossible without tacit military acceptance, it was nevertheless engineered by the civilian government on its own initiative, convincingly suggesting an expanded role for elected civilians in foreign policy.

Public Opinion Even with greater space for civilian leaders to operate, the impact of public opinion on foreign policy is surprisingly absent from most debates on Pakistan’s external affairs. William B. Milam and Matthew J. Nelson argue that populism is a political constant in Pakistan’s foreign policy. They feel that the military and its intelligence agencies cannot generate new public beliefs, but can only shore up existing ones by suppressing countervailing views. Pakistan’s elites—both civilian and military—“are properly afraid of the street and its protest power,” and essentially follow public opinion rather that direct it. This argument undoubtedly contains an element of truth. No system, no matter how authoritarian, can survive without a minimal threshold of popular support. Specifically applied to foreign policy, the argument is also valid because no Pakistani leader can afford to run afoul of popular nationalism. All issues implicating Pakistani sovereignty are potential landmines for policymakers. In the past, the military has turned this dynamic to its advantage, portraying myriad controversial foreign policy issues—including the Mumbai attacks—as matters of state sovereignty in order to ensure popular backing. Public views on foreign policy have also evolved considerably over the past ten years, varying in both substance and intensity. For example, most Pakistanis may not feel particularly strongly about the Kashmir dispute, despite the issue’s prominent status in Islamabad’s foreign policy. There is widespread sympathy for the cause, to be sure, but support for going to war over it is much more limited. And public views of India have changed, often with surprising speed. In 2004, for example, part of the public became much more open to improving relations with India after religious political parties were mobilized in favor of rapprochement. This allowed Pervez Musharraf to take some relatively bold initiatives and demonstrated that public opinion could be influenced in one direction or another. But even where fundamental elements of Pakistani national interest are concerned, public opinion never dictates the instruments of policy implementation. Political actors retain the ability to implement policies—be they confrontational or cooperative—as they see fit. In other words, there is ample space for political actors to determine the way foreign policy is implemented.

Political Parties Distinctions are apparent among the foreign policy agendas and statements of the main political actors. The parties generally converge in their articulations of major foreign priorities—particularly relations with the United States and India and the Kashmir dispute—but diverge significantly in their policy prescriptions. Of course, public manifestos and official statements are often both vague and mercurial, and therefore imperfect predictors of future policies. Nevertheless, public statements serve as useful illustrations of points of convergence and divergence in the major actors’ foreign policy thinking and possible future actions. While the major political parties generally agree about Pakistan’s relationship with China, they divide sharply on relations with the United States. The religious political parties of Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam and Jamaat-e-Islami and their allies, including Tehreek-e-Insaf, strongly criticize the current U.S.-Pakistani relationship. But the mainstream parties—both the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League—are more accepting of Pakistan’s ties with Washington. The religious parties never miss an opportunity to portray the current government’s foreign policy as weak, implying or asserting that it has allowed Washington to threaten or coerce Pakistan. In the past five years, both Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam and Jamaat-e-Islami have called for the Pakistani government to distance itself from United States. These religious parties oppose alignment with non-Muslim states and demand an end to American drone strikes. The Defense of Pakistan Council (Difa-e-Pakistan), a collection of some 40 religious groups, political parties, and banned militant organizations, takes an even more categorical stance, favoring a complete end to U.S.-Pakistan relations and increased support for the Afghan Taliban. Tehreek-e-Insaf, led by former cricket superstar Imran Khan, is surfing the same wave of anti-Americanism. Khan blames successive Pakistani governments for compromising Pakistani honor and security by working with the United States and, according to Malik Siraj Akbar, “terms U.S. assistance to Pakistan a curse that has, in his views, transformed the Islamic Republic into an American colony.” In the same spirit, Tehreek-e-Insaf condemns U.S. drone strikes and argues that Taliban ideology is not a threat to Pakistan. By contrast, none of the mainstream parties reject relations with the United States, although they too take into account the prominent anti-Americanism in the country. According to its manifesto, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will “strengthen and enhance friendly relations and deep rooted economic ties with all countries of the world,” suggesting a broader policy of nonalignment. Similarly, the PPP credits itself with “reframing a more enduring, balanced and clearly defined partnership with the US, rooted in mutuality of interest and respect, while securing the largest-ever economic assistance package for Pakistan,” implying that mutual respect was missing in the past. At no point does it question the need for a strong relationship with the United States. When it comes to Afghanistan, both sets of parties tend to condemn U.S. policies toward Kabul and denounce the consequences for Pakistan. The parties vary, however, in their specific approaches to Afghanistan. As noted above, Tehreek-e-Insaf sees no Taliban threat to Pakistan, while the PPP argues for “Pakistan’s outreach to the Afghan government, as well as the opposition parties, and its support for a comprehensive reconciliation process led and owned by the Afghans.” India occupies a distant second place on the parties’ lists of priorities. The parties all identify Kashmir as the primary irritant working with Pakistan’s eastern neighbor, but there are clear divides on how best to deal with the issue and manage the relationship. The mainstream parties all seek an expanded dialogue with New Delhi. The PML-N references the need to resolve the Kashmir issue in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions and endorses a peaceful and negotiated settlement of all disputes with India, while the PPP wants an honest and sincere dialogue. By contrast, the religious parties demand that the most-favored-nation status granted to India (although not yet implemented) be revoked. Tehreek-e-Insaf, however, takes an original position designed to satisfy its relatively broad electoral base. To appease the Islamist wing of the party, it takes a hardline on Kashmir and strongly condemns drone strikes. At the same time, it acknowledges its more moderate liberal elements in its advocacy of cordial working relations with India and support for an improved relationship with the United States based on normal trade relations rather than foreign assistance. Overall, the parties’ electoral agendas align in their perceptions of Pakistan’s geopolitical environment and national priorities. They differ, however, in their views on how best to realize the nation’s objectives. Mainstream parties advocate a much more cooperative approach based on more robust engagement with both the region and the world.

Election Prospects How these elements will play out in the upcoming elections remains unclear and will depend in large part on electoral mathematics. Assuming the military continues its relatively hands-off approach to foreign policy, the victory of the PML-N or the PPP will likely lead to a much more peaceful approach to foreign policy. Recent polling data show an advantage for the PML-N. An average of 36.5 percent of Pakistanis nationwide plan to vote for a PML-N candidate, placing the party far ahead of Tehreek-e-Insaf (16 percent), the PPP (15.5 percent), and the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (3 percent). These results should be viewed with caution, however. Because Pakistan’s parliamentary system allocates seats by electoral unit—not on a national basis—nationwide statistics may not tell the full story of the election. Moreover, as no party gets a clear majority at the national level or in the provinces (with the exception of the PML-N in Punjab), it is all but inevitable that the election will produce a coalition government and these dynamics are difficult to predict through polling alone.   It also remains to be seen if Tehreek-e-Insaf will realize its objective of upsetting the status quo and challenging the mainstream parties. The party suffers from a significant gap between its popularity and its perceived electability, suggesting that its high visibility and strong media presence may not translate to a victory at the polls. Finally, it is impossible to rule out electoral manipulations of some sort. Although the international community judged the 2008 elections to be free and fair, the Electoral Commission of Pakistan later determined that about half of the entries in the voter rolls were fraudulent. At this point, however, most analysts remain optimistic that the 2013 elections will be transparent and legitimate. Coalition politics is therefore likely to be the rule of the game, so a consensus foreign policy is unlikely to emerge. What Can the Elections Achieve? The military’s apparent laissez-faire attitude toward foreign policy, the relatively similar policy approaches among the mainstream parties, and the current electoral predictions all point to one conclusion: the elections are unlikely to produce a sea change in Pakistani foreign policy. The results will determine, however, the degree of legitimacy and political maneuvering space the winning party or coalition may enjoy, with significant implications for foreign policy. Should one of the mainstream political parties secure a decisive victory, Pakistan will be more likely to pursue cooperative policies at the regional and international level. Mainstream parties on both ends of the ideological spectrum have demonstrated in the past a greater tendency to try to resolve disputes peacefully, so it is reasonable to expect that they will continue to behave this way once in power, provided they receive a clear electoral mandate. But if narrower electoral margins force the PPP or the PML-N to align with a broader range of coalition partners—especially smaller and more radical parties—those more marginal parties may wield disproportionate influence in the policy arena and open venues for subsequent manipulations. As such, even free and fair elections are unlikely to produce an entirely novel definition of Pakistan’s strategic environment and threat perception, but they are very much part of an incremental evolution toward a more peaceful Pakistani foreign policy. Source: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 4 April 2013

 

One can be left rather perplexed trying to figure out the number of Baloch nationalist parties out there and their many factions and sub-factions. Even though one can say the same about Sindhi nationalist outfits as well, the difference is that unlike the Sindhi parties, the Baloch parties actually have it in them to win national and provincial elections.

Nadeem F Pracha

One can be left rather perplexed trying to figure out the number of Baloch nationalist parties out there and their many factions and sub-factions. Even though one can say the same about Sindhi nationalist outfits as well, the difference is that unlike the Sindhi parties, the Baloch parties actually have it in them to win national and provincial elections. The question is, if almost all Baloch parties and their factions have the capability as well as a history of winning NA and PA seats, and the fact that, more or less, they all stand for the same things, why don’t they simply merge into becoming a single and more effective electoral unit? One reason is that in spite of the fact that all Baloch parties and factions have roots in left-wing politics, are staunchly secular, and analyse the economic and politics issues facing Balochistan with almost similar lenses, they are divided on the basis of class and in their solutions to tackling these issues. For example, some Baloch parties claim to be made up of middle-class Baloch leadership and are likely to criticise another Baloch outfit of being under the influence of a Baloch sardar or tribal lord. Secondly, some Baloch parties believe in solving the many problems that the Baloch nationalists have faced from the state of Pakistan through political and democratic means, whereas other Baloch groups support an armed insurgency as the solution. At the moment there are about 10 Baloch political parties operating in the troubled province. The leading parties in this respect are Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), BNP-Awami, National Party (NP), Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) and Baloch Republican Party (BPR). Apart from these there are various factions of the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO) and insurgent groups such as Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF). Out of these, the two BNP factions, NP, JWP and maybe BPR are expected to contest the May 11 general election. The BNP factions emerged from the Balochistan National Party (BNP) formed in 1996. The BNP itself surfaced from Balochistan National Movement (BNM) that sprang from Balochistan National Alliance (BNA), a left-wing alliance of youth leaders belonging to BSO and radical Baloch politicians. BNA was formed in 1987 and managed to win two NA seats from Balochistan in the 1988 elections. It evolved into becoming Balochistan National Movement that split into BNM-Mengal and BNM-Hayee. The Mengal faction then became Balochistan National Party (BNP) but that too split into BNP-M and BNP-A. The National Party (NP) emerged in 2004 when the BNA-Hayee faction merged with the Pakistan National Democratic Party (PNDP which itself was an evolutionary offshoot of the Pakistan National Party (PNP), formed in the late 1980s as a centre-left Baloch party that shunned Baloch separatism. The PNP failed to win any NA seat in the 1988 election. In 1990 it won one NA seat and none in 1993. In did not take part in the 1997 election and had become the Balochistan National Democratic Party (BNDP) for the 2002 elections but failed to win a seat. In the 2008 elections it merged with BNM-Hayee to become National Party but couldn’t win any NA seat. Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) was formed in 1989. It won two NA seats in 1990, 1993, 1997 and one in 2002 but boycotted the 2008 election. Recently, a faction split from JWP and formed the Baloch Republican Party. Before it split into three factions, the Balochistan National Party (BNP) won three NA seats in 1997 but failed to win any seat in 2002. After the split, only the BNP-A faction contested the 2008 election, winning just one NA seat. None of these parties seem inclined to launch a joint electoral venture for the forthcoming elections. Yet, interestingly, almost each and every party mentioned here has roots in a united political singularity called the National Awami Party (NAP). Formed in 1957, NAP was an outfit made up of mainly Punjabi and Mohajir communists merged with leading Sindhi, Baloch, Pakhtun and Bengali nationalist groups. Many believe that had the promised direct general elections been allowed to take place in 1958, NAP was in a position to win the largest number of seats in both the wings of the country (East and West). NAP was banned in 1959 when Ayub Khan imposed martial law. It revived itself as the country’s largest left-wing party in 1962, broke into two factions at the onset of another leftist party, the PPP in 1967. The pro-China faction of NAP became NAP-Bhashani and the pro-Soviet faction became NAP-Wali. The Wali faction (named after Pakhtun nationalist, Wali Khan) was the larger faction, having in its fold leading Pakhtun and Baloch nationalists and Marxist Mohajir and Punjabi members. During the 1970 elections, NAP-Wali won the largest number of NA and PA seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan. It managed to form coalition governments in these two provinces whereas Sindh, Punjab and the Federal government went to Bhutto’s PPP. In 1973, the Bhutto regime dismissed the NAP set-up in Balochistan (on charges of instigating a Baloch separatist movement). The KP government resigned in protest. On the plea of the federal government, the Supreme Court banned NAP in 1975. With most of NAP’s leadership in jail, the remaining Baloch, Sindhi and Pakhtun members of NAP formed the National Democratic Party (NDP) and became part of the anti-PPP alliance, the PNA, for the 1977 elections. However, after Ziaul Haq’s military coup (in July 1977), differences erupted in NDP and its Pashtun, Sindhi and Baloch leaders formed their own nationalist parties. In 1986 these parties merged once again to form the Awami National Party (ANP). But by the time the 1988 elections were held, ANP had become a Pakhtun nationalist party when the party’s Baloch and Sindhi leadership broke away to again form their own localised outfits. Out of these only some Baloch outfits (apart from the Pashtun version of ANP), has exhibited any ability to win seats during NA and PA elections.

The Dawn, 8 April 2013

 

As Pakistan approaches its next general elections, scheduled for 11 May, questions have arisen once again about the fairness of the electoral process. The problem stems from Pakistan’s long history of meddling in politics by unelected institutions of state, euphemistically referred to as “the establishment.”

By Farahnaz Ispahani As Pakistan approaches its next general elections, scheduled for 11  May, questions have arisen once again about the fairness of the electoral process. The problem stems from Pakistan’s long history of meddling in politics by unelected institutions of state, euphemistically referred to as “the establishment.” In addition to direct military rule for half its life as an independent country, Pakistan has always lived in the shadow of the ubiquitous influence of generals, judges and civil servants. If Ayub Khan was the man who laid the foundations of Pakistan’s praetorian creed, General Zia-ul-Haq created structures for limiting democracy that would outlast him. Zia-ul-Haq drastically changed the constitution and legal regime in ways where reversing these changes has proved difficult even a quarter century after his death. The outgoing Pakistani parliament completed its term and amended the constitution to make it closer to what it was originally intended to be. But the poisoned legacy of Zia-ul Haq endures, enabling the establishment to use Islam as the instrument of control and influence over the body politic. Soon after the elections were called, Pakistan’s human rights and democracy icon Asma Jahangir tweeted:  “Please read Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution before closing your minds. Witch-hunting will start selectively.” These articles were inserted by Zia-ul-Haq and are still retained in the Constitution because conservative and Islamic parties refused to amend it over the preceding five years. Article 62 lays down that a candidate for parliament must demonstrate that “(d) he is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic injunctions; (e) he has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practices, obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins; (f) he is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law; (g) he has not, after the establishment of Pakistan, worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan.” Article 63 disqualifies a Pakistani from becoming an MP if: (g) he has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or morality, or the maintenance of public order, or the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the Armed Forces of Pakistan”. The Election Commission of Pakistan is now using these articles to pre-select candidates. Returning Officers are asking candidates to recite specific verses from the Quran, prove that they pray five times a day and, in case of a woman candidate, even respond to the question “How can you be a good mother if you serve in parliament and are too busy to fulfil your religious duties as a wife and mother?” Columnist Ayaz Amir, who is part of Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, has been disqualified from running as a candidate because he wrote articles that were “disparaging” about the ‘ideology’ of Pakistan. Ironically, militant and terrorist leaders have had no problem in meeting the litmus test of religious sagacity and commitment to Pakistan’s ideology. Nomination papers of Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi, who heads Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a reincarnation of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, were cleared even though he has publicly acknowledged his role in the killing of Shias in the country. A few of us saw this coming some years ago. The establishment started with my husband, former Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, who has battled the establishment and its ideology, especially through his book ‘Pakistan Between Mosque and Military.’ He was dubbed a ‘traitor’, stopped from leaving the country by the Supreme Court even though he faced no legal charges and tarred through the establishment-controlled media. The Supreme Court was criticised by the International Commission of Jurists for acting outside the law to impose its view of patriotism in Husain Haqqani’s case. Soon after that, I was handpicked and disqualified by the Pakistani Supreme Court on grounds of having dual nationality even though Pakistani law allows citizens to retain dual citizenship with several countries. The Supreme Court seemed to suggest that the law allows judges, generals and bureaucrats to hold two citizenships but not elected members of parliament. Subsequently, the Supreme Court even refused to share information with parliament about judges who are dual nationals. The unstated argument seems to be that unelected institutions are superior and can be trusted more than mere mortals elected by ordinary people. From the establishment’s perspective, Pakistan’s politicians cannot be trusted to lead or run the country even if they manage to get elected by popular vote. The political system must somehow be controlled, guided or managed by the unelected institutions who deem themselves morally superior and even more patriotic than those supported by the electorate. This patrician approach is reflected in the assertions of Generals Ayub, Yahya, Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf at the time they took power in coups d’état. It can also be found in the constant efforts by Supreme Court judges and civil servants to second-guess the people by deciding who is and who is not eligible to run in elections. The establishment may have allowed parliament to complete its term and refrained from another direct coup but it is still far from accepting the basic premise of democracy – the supremacy of parliament among institutions and the right of the people to vote whomever they choose. Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament.

The First Post, 7 April 2013

 

Syed Mansoor Hussain

Pakistan is the only purported parliamentary democracy that I know of where a sitting government has to resign and be replaced by an ‘impartial interim’ government before elections are held

Amidst all this load shedding the upcoming Pakistani elections are providing some badly needed comic relief. What is desperately needed is a compendium of all the questions being asked from candidates by ‘returning officers’ and all the objections being raised about their qualifications as well as the responses if any. Such a compendium will be of great benefit to future comedians, historians, social scientists and students of human evolution. Of the questions asked and of the objections raised that were recently reported two are worthy of immediate discussion. The question is about recitation of verses from the Quran. Of the objections the most piquant is the one raised against Mian Shahbaz Sharif that he does not have a beard and, therefore, under the constitution cannot be a good Muslim.

The objection about the beard is easy enough to figure out since both the Chief Election Commissioner as well as the Chief Justice of Pakistan do not have visible beards but then these two are not contesting for a seat in the Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament). Personally, I strongly believe that this question is important enough to be eventually adjudicated by the Federal Shariat Court.

As far as reciting verses from the Holy Quran is concerned, if any candidate wishes to avoid it, I can suggest a way out. This is something I witnessed a few years ago as a member of a committee to interview candidates applying for a highly technical position in a major public hospital. The chair of the committee, a devout Muslim but rather bereft of requisite technical expertise kept asking the applicants to recite different verses from the Holy Quran. Some did, some could not; however, one applicant gave the best answer that can be used by all ‘candidates’ to avoid answering such questions. He said, I am not in a state of ‘ritual purity’ (wuzoo), therefore, I cannot recite from the Holy Quran. That left the chair of the committee speechless!

I do have some suggestions about the ‘training’ of ‘returning officers’. First the returning officers must go through intense courses that include the study of the Holy Quran with at least one good exegesis of a compendium of the Hadees Corpus, of a detailed history of the Muslims and a detailed history of Pakistan including in particular a course on the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’. And then they should go through a ‘transparent’ examination held by authorities in these fields and if they pass they may be allowed to act as returning officers.

Other suggestions are about the sort of questions candidates should be asked. Once candidates known to be convicted of serious crimes are excluded, the Election Commission of Pakistan should have a uniform questionnaire for all the others. In this connection, the Election Commission of Pakistan must prepare a booklet of acceptable questions and answers in the areas mentioned above as well as from the constitution of Pakistan and make it available to all candidates in advance. Then a random list of questions should be prepared from this booklet for the prospective candidates.

At the time of ‘filing’ their papers all candidates must be asked to read out aloud Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech preferably in the language it was delivered. Second, there should be about 10 questions, five about Muslim history and five about Pakistani history. A random selection from the above booklet could be: 1. Of the first four Caliphs, which ones were not related to the Prophet (PBUH) by marriage? 2. Name three Muslim Caliphates that existed at the same time. 3. Name the Muslim Physician who wrote ‘Qanoon fil Tib’ (The Canon of Medicine) that in translation was a standard text book in Europe until the 17th century. 4. What is the origin of the word Algebra? 5. Who won the Battle of Plassey?

In Pakistan history: 1. Name the second governor general and the second prime minister of Pakistan (past readers of this column might know the answer). 2. Who was the last governor general and who was the first president of Pakistan? 3.When and why was March 23 declared a holiday? 4. What is the difference between the ‘Two nation theory’ and the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’? 5. Name the two people that held the office of chief martial law administrator, president and prime minister of Pakistan.

As far as questions about Islamic ‘doctrine’ are concerned, that in my opinion is a nebulous area and I shall not even venture there. About the constitution, one question about the ‘15th’ amendment might be quite enough.

Finally some thoughts on ‘interim governments’. Pakistan is the only purported parliamentary democracy that I know of where a sitting government has to resign and be replaced by an ‘impartial interim’ government before elections are held. This is clearly a sign of rampant national paranoia institutionalised in our constitution. That said, I wonder how many of my readers can recall the name of the last interim prime minister of Pakistan or the interim chief minister of their province. I just looked it up five minutes ago and still cannot remember their names. But if Najam Sethi as the interim chief minister of the Punjab is able to reinstate Basant in Lahore, I will remember his name for as long as I live. Clean, fair and transparent elections? Meh!

Here are the answers for the questions above. Muslim history: 1- None, the first two were fathers-in-law and the second two were sons-in-law. 2. Ommayads in Spain, Fatimids in Egypt and Abbasids in Baghdad. 3. Ibn Sina (Avicenna). 4. From al Khwarizmi’s (Algorithm’s) book ‘Al jabr wal muqabila’’. 5. Robert Clive when he conquered Bengal. About Pakistan History: 1. Khawaja Nazimmuddin held both positions. 2. Major General Iskander Mirza held both positions. 3. March 23 was Republic day when in 1956 under the first constitution, Pakistan became a Republic instead of a Dominion. 4. No idea. 5. General Ayub Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

The writer has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at smhmbbs70@yahoo.com

The Daily Times, 6 April 2013

 

ISLAMABAD: Timely parliamentary elections and a stable and credible government are crucial for Pakistan to obtain fresh external funding and address its dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

 


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