‘Sun has set on Pakistan’s democracy


‘Sun has set on Pakistan’s democracy’


Recent events in Pakistan demonstrate the sad and tragic path that appears to be taken inside Pakistan. In the words of former head of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan I.A. Rahman the recent Senate elections demonstrated a reversal in Pakistan’s efforts to develop into a democratic state. According to former head of Pakistan Radio and veteran journalist Murtaza Solangi subterfuge led to the election of Sadiq Sanjrani as Chairman of Pakistan’s Senate.


According to Rahman there are five reasons why the “sun went down” on Pakistani democracy.


First, “the threat that the Senate could play a vanguard role in the consolidation of democratic norms was warded off. The sequence of events that began with the change of government in Balochistan concluded with the passage of the Senate into the establishment’s ward. The country was denied the possibility of having a Senate chairman who enjoyed the trust of both the treasury benches and the principal opposition group, an opportunity any democratic country should have welcomed.”


Second, “Mr Zardari has dealt the PPP a grievous blow. What persuaded him to throw away the chance of having his party member in the Senate chairman’s seat may not be impossible to fathom. If he thinks he has saved his skin forever, he could be disillusioned sooner rather than later.”


As Rahman points out Pakistan’s political landscape is now “dominated by the right and extreme right. The disappearance of the PPP even as a nominally left-of-centre party and the elimination of any difference between it and right-of-centre parties will make the state even more vulnerable to pressure from the extreme right than it already is. This will reduce the state’s ability to meet the challenge of religious extremism and undermine its capacity to evolve a rational policy towards the nations of the world, especially Iran, India, the US and Afghanistan.”


Thirdly, “the PML-N was again found wanting in strategic planning required to meet the call of the moment. It should have known from the very beginning of the process to elect new senators that its nominee for the chairmanship of the upper house had no chance of winning. The steps taken to queer the pitch for the Senate elections were not going to be wasted by allowing a PML-N party member to fill the chairman’s slot.”


Fourthly, “the possibility of using the Senate elections to educate the people in the role of the upper house in the country’s affairs, especially in promoting a democratic dispensation, was ignored by all the parties concerned as if they had a compact not to let the people know how important the Senate’s democratic role is.”


Fifthly, “The election of a member from Balochistan as the Senate chairman would have been considered a step towards democratic development if the manoeuvring that preceded it had been above board.”

Solangi’s article provides the detailed political intrigues that led to the Sanjrani election and dates it back to the election of the Chief Minister of Baluchistan in late 2017.


According to Solangi while “TV pundits went into a frenzy, predicting the dissolution of the Balochistan Assembly by the new chief minister of Balochistan to be followed by that of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, to shatter the electoral college for the Senate elections” the real “plan was first to rout the PML-N government and reduce its upcoming majority in the Senate to stall any legislation in future that could possibly reincarnate a disqualified and humiliated Nawaz Sharif. Many attempts were made in the recent past to bring a motley of forces, including religious zealots, against Nawaz Sharif to weaken and bruise him, rather than politically kill him.”


First “Soon after the nomination process was completed for the Senate elections, the Supreme Court issued a detailed verdict on the Election Act 2017 and struck down its Article 203 under which a disqualified Nawaz Sharif had become king maker again, despite his disqualification. Under the verdict, all decisions made by Nawaz Sharif were not only declared illegal but no protection was provided to his decisions either. All of a sudden, all PML-N ticket holders in the Senate lost their party affiliation and the Election Commission stripped them and declared them Independent candidates.”


Second “The next round was to gain as many Senators as possible to prevent the PML-N from securing a simple majority in the upper house and finally deprive it of the posts of chairman and deputy chairman. A split in the MQM ranks deprived it of two Senators and forced it to settle on just one Farogh Nasim. Raza Rabbani, one of the top architects of the 18th Amendment, was given a Senate ticket after many old guards and Chairman Bilawal threw tantrums before former President Asif Zardari. Huffing and puffing Farhatullah Babar’s wings were already clipped from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where Asif Zardari was able to pull two Senators with barely five MPAs. The biggest surprise in Punjab was Chaudhry Sarwar not only getting elected but also getting the highest votes. Even the PPP who got nothing in Punjab, got three times more votes than their actual number of MPAs.”


Following this “The heroes of the coup d’etat in Balochistan got six Independent Senators elected. They also had the backing of two PML-N Senators who were close relatives of Sanaullah Zehri. The PML-N had 33 Senators but Ishaq Dar, despite his election, couldn’t come, so they were already one vote short. FATA Senators always swing to the side of Miltablishment, and most of them did. Everybody in the know, knew of the late night huddles in Islamabad under the supervision of the engineers of the anti-Nawaz change. A remarkable feat was accomplished by Imran Khan’s backers when he announced that he would hand over his 13 Senators to the newly liberated Independent Senators of Balochistan. Asif Zardari didn’t lose the opportunity and gunned straight for this non-entity group. It was politically immature, so it was quickly awed and gave its power of attorney to Asif Zardari to make the final decision. As soon as the news came out, this riled the PTI rank and file.”


Next, “This disheartened the PPP old guard and the young Chairman Bilawal. They tried their best on the night of March 11 to persuade Asif Zardari to change his mind and accept a ruling alliance offer to announce Raza Rabbani for the top slot. Zardari knew better to stick to the Miltablishment that has been speaking against the 18th Amendment and its architect Rabbani. Zardari not only stuck to his guns but forced Bilawal to make the unpopular announcement of bowing before the Askari group and demoting Saleem Mandviwalla as the deputy chairman option. Nawaz Sharif’s plan B in case Raza Rabbani was not accepted was Hasil Bizenjo. But Akhtar Mengal upped the ante and said his Senator would not support Hasil Bizenjo. PkMAP and the JUI-F were not too excited about Hasil Bizenjo. As Nawaz Sharif found himself in an awkward position, Bizenjo bailed him out by dropping out of the race, leaving him with no choice but to choose Raja Zafarul Haq over the others. Now the battle for the deputy chairman’s nominee began. JUI-F and PkMAP both wanted the slot. Nawaz couldn’t anger any one of them. Cricket came to the rescue and the toss was decided in favour of PkMAP, angering the JUI-F. On the afternoon of March 12, when the voting began, all JUI-F Senators disappeared from the Senate hall, causing panic in the government ranks. After half an hour later, ministers and party big guns were able to bring them back.”


Finally “As the counting began and the ballots were being dropped in the baskets clearly marked for Sadiq Sanjrani and Raja Zafarul Haq, journalists kept counting. As the magic number 53 for Sadiq Sanjrani was counted, the face of his polling agent, Farooq Naek, broke out into a smile that was so wide it was visible even from the press gallery. Raja was still in the 40s range at that point. The die was cast. The empire and the umpire had ensured that the victory of the coerced coalition and the Noon saw its worst afternoon. The rest, as they say, is history.”

HRCP: Government Should Appeal IHC Ruling on Declaration of Faith

HRCP: Government Should Appeal IHC Ruling on Declaration of Faith

On March 9, 2018, the Islamabad High Court announced its verdict on a case concerning controversial amendments made to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath in the 2017 Elections Act. The court ordered that it was critical that all citizens be easily identifiable by their faith and that applicants for public offices would need to declare their beliefs before being considered eligible for any jobs.

Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, interpreted to Article 5 of the Constitution to mean that it was “mandatory” for every citizen, Muslim or non-Muslim, to “declare their true faith”, otherwise they could be guilty of “betraying the State” and “exploiting the Constitution.” The Judge also expressed his alarm that referred to ‘one of the minorities’ as being those who were “often mistaken for being Muslims” due to their names and general attire and that this was wrong as it would “lead them to gain access to dignified and sensitive posts, along with benefits.”

In a recent press release the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan asked the federal government to appeal this decision of the court.

The HRCP “is appalled by the recent IHC ruling that makes a declaration of faith mandatory for government and semi-government job applicants, including for the armed forces, judiciary and the civil services. This ruling has serious repercussions for all religious minorities, not least the Ahmadiyya community. Requiring a faith declaration for computerized national identity cards, passports, birth certificates and entry into voter lists will further choke the capacity of minorities to exercise their fundamental rights. These requirements will only enable and deepen institutional discrimination against minority communities.”

The HRCP noted that “it was he state’s responsibility to protect all its citizens, regardless of their ethnic, religious and regional identities. The honourable court’s ruling, it cautioned, could lead to an increase in instances of aggression and violence against the Ahmadiyya community in particular. The consequences of this ruling could be deadly for members of this community, given their already precarious personal safety situation in the country.”

HRCP on expulsion of Pashtun and Baloch students by Punjab university administration

For the last few days a large number of Pashtun and Baloch students of Punjab University have been observing a sit-in outside the office of the vice chancellor, demanding the administration restore their fellows expelled recently. Their argument that they are being discriminated against simply because of their ethnicity is cause for tremendous concern.

In January 2018 a clash between different student groups at Punjab University’s Quaid e Azam campus in Lahore resulted in cases of terrorism being registered against a number of students and over 200 students were arrested. The majority of these students were Pashtun and Baloch students.

In a recent press release the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed “grave concern” over these actions of the administration of the Punjab University. Soon after the incident the university administration followed up by sending show cause notices to these students and suspended some of them in February 2018. The arrested students were eventually released on bail and were promised that the terrorism related charges would be dropped.

However, as the HRCP statement points out: “The cases that were registered against the arrested students are still in effect and the bail of the students, who were released, can be cancelled at any time which can result in their arrest.”

Further, “The students demand to be treated with respect and any campaigns against the Pashtun and Baloch students branding them as being “Anti-Pakistan” in the university should be taken notice of by the administration, which should further ensure that such campaigns are not allowed in the university campuses. The impression that the university administration has been targeting Pashtun and Baloch students because of their ethnic identities is cause for grave concern.”

Pakistan: Tyranny of the religious majority

Rafi Aamer

Justice Shaukat Siddiqui of Islamabad High Court in Pakistan ordered this past Friday that all citizens of Pakistan will be required to disclose their faith upon joining any state institution.

In his essay titled On Liberty, John Stuart Mill argued that if an individual’s right to hold an unpopular view is not protected, a democracy can become a tyranny of the majority. In Pakistan, it is becoming extremely difficult to have a faith that is different from the majority making Pakistan a tyranny of the religious majority.
From the very beginning, Pakistani minorities have been seeing a constantly shrinking space for them. One of the hardest hit minorities in Pakistan is Ahmadiyya community (derogatorily called Qadianis). They have been on the mercy of the Muslim majority of Pakistan since the very early days of Pakistan. Apart from frequent hate attacks against Ahmadi individuals, a large number of Ahmadis were killed in the 1953 and 1974 riots.

In 1974, in quite an unprecedented move in the history of modern parliamentary democracy, Pakistani parliament declared members of Ahmadiyya community to be non-Muslims. To make their lives further difficult, the martial law regime of General Zia ul Haq, in violation of Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, enacted Ordinance XX in 1984 which prohibits Ahmadis, among other things, calling their places of worship masjid, reciting the Kalima and greeting others with saying Assalamo Alaykum. These laws have created a culture of intolerance and hatred towards Ahmadis in Pakistan. Many Pakistanis are found offering justifications for these laws. Through an organized propaganda campaign, Ahmadiyya community has been dubbed as anti-Pakistan despite producing some of the most distinguished individuals both in the civil services and the armed forces of Pakistan. Due to that propaganda campaign, hatred towards Ahmadis and mistrust about them permeates all levels of the society. According to a study conducted by Tariq Rahman in 2009, the teachers and students of elite schools of Pakistan believed that Ahmadis did not deserve much of civil rights.

The verdict referred to at the top of this article by Islamabad High Court was of a case concerning a recent controversial constitutional amendment regarding Khatm-e-Nabuwat; the very issue that was used to declare Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. In a bizarre interpretation of Article 5 of the constitution of Pakistan that demands loyalty of the citizens to the state, the judge decreed that not disclosing one’s faith is being disloyal to the state. He ordered every citizen to disclose their true faith upon joining the civil services, the armed forces and the judiciary. One fails to understand what the faith of a person has to do with performing his/her duties. The judge expressed the fear that by not disclosing one’s faith, “they” can gain access to sensitive posts. There has never been any evidence of Ahmadis or members of any other minority being involved in anti-state activities. It is quite unfortunate that a judge of a high court is as gullible to mere propaganda as a common man in Pakistan. Justice Siddiqui also ordered that the faith of all citizens must be mentioned on all state-issued documents including the birth certificates. The judge did not specify how to ask newborn babies their faith so it can be recorded on the birth certificate.

All of this flies in the face of fundamental human rights. The freedom of expression includes the freedom of non-expression. No one should be forced to reveal personal information that can be used to discriminate against them. In an intolerant culture where minorities are targeted with impunity, where churches are burnt down and Christians are burnt alive by violent mobs, where underage Hindu girls are forcibly converted and married to Muslim men in an institutionalized manner, the verdict of Islamabad High Court is tantamount to exposing the minorities of Pakistan to even more persecution. This reminds one of the Nazi party ordering Jews to wear a distinctive badge on their dresses to identify themselves. What is next? A Pakistani holocaust?

Pirs and Power Politics in Pakistan?

Members of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan far right Islamist political party shout slogans during a sit-in in Rawalpindi, Pakistan November 10, 2017. REUTERS/Caren Firouz


Pakistan’s march forward as an ideological state based on Islam have resulted in a constitutional set up that discriminates against minorities, an educational system that teaches entire generations to see non-Sunni Pakistani Muslims as ‘others’ and a society that believes it has the right to deliver instant justice to any supposed blasphemer or unbeliever.

It has also provided both political and social power to religious ideologues of all hues, from Hafiz Saeed to Khadim Hussain Rizvi and Pir Hameeduddin Sialvi. In a recent piece noted analyst Khaled Ahmed has referred to this phenomenon as “a mental asylum broken loose.”

As Ahmed notes: “Pakistan has fallen afoul of the Lovers of the Prophet who look funny but who can gather large rural crowds marching into cities hating the luxury of sinful living. Last year, the Barelvi Beast came out as Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (“Here I am O Holy Prophet!”) and paraded an abusive scoundrel, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, as the millennial defender of the Prophet PBUH who would bring the government down, which he didn’t, but got to cause a rift between the all-powerful army and the elected government crippled by the Supreme Court for not being sadiq (truthful) and ameen (honest) like the Prophet PBUH under Article 62 of the Constitution.”

Further: “There are far too many rich religious leaders with nothing to do who hate democracy as an alien system forced on the people to take them away from Islam. They fatten on the shrines that stud Pakistan’s countryside and were once the benign repository of singing-and-dancing fakirs embedded in South Asia’s culture of peaceful coexistence. Imagine if the custodian of the shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya were to gather his disciples and march on New Delhi threatening universal annihilation.”

Ahmed ends his piece by noting: “Everyone wins except Pakistan.”