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India–Pakistan power play 2019: A Sri Lankan perspective By Piyumi Fonseka

The Indian subcontinent is home to two of the largest armies on Earth. Not only are the armies of India and Pakistan among the world's largest, but they have stood on alert facing one another since the dissolution of the British Indian Army in 1947.

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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

Timely elections an effective new govt key to Pakistan’s creditworthiness

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.

Why a democratic transfer of power is possible in Pakistan

By Anuradha Rai The whole world is watching Pakistan with anticipation, hoping for a successful democratic transition -- amid fears of a threat to its upcoming general election. Incidents such as the Canadian-Pakistani cleric Tahir ul Qadri’s march and the Supreme Court’s verdict against the Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf underline this fear. It is even speculated that the military establishment is behind the spread of such a fear psychosis. The fear of military involvement was underscored when a close aide of the Prime Minister, Fawad Chaudhry, remarked: “The military can intervene at this moment as the Supreme Court has opened a way for it.” However, the military was seemingly not involved, and there is no strong evidence to prove otherwise. After the Qadri issue was successfully resolved by a historic consensus among all the political parties – with all of them supporting the democratic government and rejecting demands to include the military and the Supreme Court in the transitional government -- belief in the democratic system was restored. This was further cemented when the Supreme Court denied Qadri’s demand to reconstitute the Election Commission. There are several vital reasons why Qadri’s demands would be detrimental to the democratic transition of power in Pakistan. Important among them is that the Pakistan Army is busy fighting the insurgent group Tehreek-E-Taliban (TTP) and has little time to engage in the internal politics of the country. On external matters, on December 23, 2012, the news agency Reuters and others reported that the powerful army chief had made reconciliation with the warring factions in Afghanistan and promoting peace with the Taliban his top priority. There is a signal that the army, under the leadership of General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is changing its attitude towards involvement in the political process of the country. Arguably, Pakistan’s most powerful man, he has earned a reputation as a thoughtful commander who has curbed the military's tendency to intervene overtly in politics. In a speech to officers in Rawalpindi in November 2012, Kayani indicated that the army’s conception of its role in Pakistan and the region was changing, arguing, “As a nation we are passing through a defining phase… We are critically looking at the mistakes made in the past and trying to set the course for a better future.” Kayani has also supported Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in holding repeated rounds of discussions with her Afghan counterparts. Moreover, against the backdrop of consultations within the ruling coalition on dissolving Parliament ahead of the next general election, expected to be held in May 2013, Kayani had a two-hour meeting with the Prime Minister on January 31, 2013, most likely to indicate the army’s support to the democratic process of Pakistan. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has passed many judgements that have threatened the stability of the government. The court seems determined to resolve the issue of President Asif Ali Zardari’s involvement in corruption cases, but at the same time has realised that any strong measures against the current government could create a vacuum of power and heighten lawlessness, leading to state failure. It has, however, kept the issue of corruption charges against Zardari alive, as demonstrated in the dismissal of former Prime Minister Syed Gilani on charges of contempt of court. Also testimony to this are the court’s directive to reopen the NRO case on July 12, 2012, and orders to the new Prime Minister to start investigations in the case by writing a letter to the Swiss authorities. It had even ordered the arrest of Ashraf in a Rental Power Projects case on January 14, 2013. However, with the current developments and the government’s move to appoint an interim government in the coming days, the Supreme Court seems more concerned for the success of the upcoming elections. In a bid to quell unease in the country that democracy may be derailed, the court on January 30, 2013, restrained the military and civilian high commands from doing anything that might delay the upcoming general election. Another reason for the possibility of a peaceful transition of power is the willingness of the opposition parties. The ruling and opposition parties have agreed on the issue of strengthening the democratic system of the country, and a democratic transfer of power. They acknowledged that any conspiracy against the ruling government will put the democratic process in deep trouble. This mutual understanding of the parties helped resolve the crisis that started with rejecting Qadri’s demands and showing support to the ruling coalition. The conciliation between the political parties was an important move. According to the ‘Islamabad Long March Declaration’, the government agreed to dissolve the National Assembly before its term ends in mid-March, giving 90 days until elections are held. These are significant developments that show that Pakistan is capable of democratic transition, a peaceful first in its history of 65 years. With the legislature, clergy and army supporting transition, aided by the political parties, history is being written. (Anuradha Rai is a Senior Research Fellow, Centre for International Politics and Disarmament, JNU. To leave feedback or contact the author please contact southasiamonitor1@gmail.com)

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