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India's farmers rise against mounting rural distress By Lekshmi Parameswaran

Months after Kisan’s Long March in Maharashtra that took the country by storm, yet another march reached the capital.

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How Will Elections Impact Pakistan's Foreign Policy?

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

The Baloch electoral enigma

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

Elections 2013: The Pakistan establishment strikes back

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

The elections approach!

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

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