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The futility of war Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed

Sahir Ludhianvi composed this poem after the 1965 India-Pakistan War. Its message is as relevant as it was then: only both sides are laced with nuclear weapons.

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Pakistan’s silent election

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/

Manifesto, manifesto everywhere but..

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

Ballot or bullet

 

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

Pakistan’s fragile democratic transition

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

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