Why is Pakistan continuing to Slide?

Whither Pakistan and does anyone care where we are going today?

In his latest piece, veteran journalist Irfan Hussain tries to answer the question about “Our Missing Mojo.”

According to Hussain, “Older readers will recall that there was a time when Pakistan punched above its weight, and was taken seriously in international forums. Now, our green passport is listed at fifth from the bottom by the Henley Passport Index that ranks the acceptability of passports by other countries that permit their holders entry on arrival. Thus, Japanese passports, at the top of the index, are accepted at the airports of 190 countries, while 33 nations extend a similar courtesy to Pakistani passports. Even this number seems a bit high, considering the hoops Pakistanis are made to jump through when applying for a visa to most countries.”

Hussain traces the “slide to the bottom” to a number of factors: “So why have things got so bad? Wars have consequences, and this is something past generals did not manage to grasp. The 1965 war over Kashmir under Ayub Khan, the 1971 war under Yahya Khan, and the absurd Kargil conflict unleashed by Musharraf all had one thing in common: they were led by generals who had seized power through coups. Out of the three wars, the 1971 conflict with India has left the deepest scars, and not just because we lost on the battlefield. The bloody civil war and the widespread killing of Bengalis tarnished Pakistan’s image around the globe.”

Further, 1971 “was followed by decades of increasing levels of extremism that led to terrorism on a huge scale. Minorities and foreigners have been targeted, and the state and security personnel challenged as never before. As a result, the abiding image of Pakistan abroad has been that of a breeding and training centre for jihadis. Although the security environment has improved considerably over the last year, many still see the country as ground zero for the global jihad. Every now and then, televised images of ferocious, bearded men holding the country to ransom are beamed around the world.”

Also, “Constant political upheavals have not helped in changing this perception. Elected governments have either been turfed out by the military establishment, or destabilised by ambitious rivals. A hyperactive judiciary has added to the political uncertainty.”

Also, according to Hussain, “the rest of the world is tired of the 70-year-old Kashmir problem, and even our closest friends no longer talk about implementing the old UN resolutions on the Valley. This may seem unfair, but who said life was fair? The reality is that India is a huge market, and its soft power gives it a clout few countries can match. And our two-faced posture towards the Taliban in Afghanistan has served to lose us friends in the West, with Nato soldiers being killed and wounded by fighters who allegedly found shelter in our tribal areas. Small wonder our stock in Washington is the lowest it has been in decades.”

Military courts are undemocratic, says HRCP

We at New Pakistan are concerned about the recent decision by the Government of Pakistan to table a bill seeking to extend the tenure of military courts beyond end January 2019.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) too has released astatement expressing “grave concern” because “the institution of military courts is an anomaly in any democratic order that claims to uphold the fundamental rights and freedoms of its citizens. It is the state’s duty to uphold the rule of law in a manner that ensures that every citizen is entitled to due process and a fair trial. Equally, it is the state’s duty to uphold the rule of law to ensure the security of its citizens. These are not mutually exclusive obligations. Moreover, there is little evidence to show that military courts have succeeded in increasing respect for the rule of law. The perception of ‘speedy justice’ is no substitute for rooting out the militant extremism that led to the institution of these courts in the first instance or indeed for taking the time to train and equip domestic judicial and police mechanisms that are, and ought to remain, responsible for maintaining civilian law and order under a civilian mandate.”

Further, “To argue against military courts is not to undermine the horrific circumstances under which they were set up, but the incidence of terrorism cases has decreased since the Army Public School massacre in 2015 – this implies there is no justification for allowing military courts to continue. HRCP also remains troubled by the secrecy surrounding military court proceedings, the extremely high conviction rate of these courts and the possible means used to achieve such rates. All these are against the norms of justice. The recent Peshawar High Court judgment, which set aside the convictions of over 70 persons tried in military courts, underscores these concerns.”

Finally, “Should the government succeed in extending the life of military courts, it will run the serious risk of undermining attempts to reform the criminal justice system – measures that are sorely needed, especially among the lower courts. Extending the life of military courts also contravenes Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Pakistan is signatory. In the long term, outsourcing justice is not the answer.”

No Parks, No Libraries, No Cinema, No Music Events: Sorry State of Pakistan’s Youth

Physical activity and sports are critical to the growth and development of youth. The 2017 United Nations Human Development Report for Pakistan, however, portrays a sad story about the Pakistani youth and their involvement in social and civic activities.

Based on the 2015 Youth Perception Survey, “of 7,000 odd youth surveyed, when asked about access to recreational facilities and events, 78.6 per cent said they had no access to parks, 94.5pc had no access to a library, 97.2pc had not been to a live music event, 93.9pc had not been to a sports event, 93pc did not have access to any sports facilities, 97pc had not been to a cinema — and 71.7pc reported that they did not have access to or attend any of the above activities or events.”

According to a column in Dawn, it appears that Pakistan has gone backwards in this arena as well. During the 1980s, “more than three decades ago, we had regular physical education sessions and had sports in our school: cricket, hockey and football in particular, but also table tennis and a couple of other sports. There were regular inter-class tournaments, and the school teams participated in inter-school tournaments. More than the school though, our neighbourhood had lots of children, and we used to have teams for almost everything. Some of the teams were even organised as clubs. We attended different schools, were part of different social and economic groups, but we played together and played almost any sport we could get excited about. When the Pakistan team played cricket, we all played cricket. When Pakistan used to win hockey tournaments, we would all catch hockey fever. We used to play cricket or hockey almost every evening, and matches were played on the weekends. The experiences of my friends, of around the same age group, is also similar.”

Further, “even elite schools do not seem to give the same importance to sports that they once did. We hardly ever hear of inter-school tournaments now. Even at the college and university level, sports have lost some of their importance. When Government College used to play Islamia College at cricket, it used to be quite an event in Lahore. We do not hear about such matches anymore. At a recent public event, Najam Sethi also lamented the demise of school-based sports activities. He also linked Pakistan’s poor performance in sporting events at different levels to the demise of school and college level sporting activity. Schools used to be nurseries for cultivating cricket talent. They are no longer so. Colleges and universities, at one point, were producing players who would go on to make their name on the international stage. This does not happen anymore.”

Finally, “the issue is not just about sporting performance. It is much deeper and broader. Sports are activities that not only shape the body, they shape the mind as well as the community. People learn to work, play and interact with each other through communal activities. They learn how to perform individually as well as collectively, as members of a team. They learn how to cooperate and how to compete. A lot of this is about citizenship. Sports can be an important element of education, and an effective and meaningful way for engaging our youth. But, for this to happen, we have to start thinking locally again. Schools have to become the hub for supporting sporting activities. Local governments and communities have to step forward to provide the needed support. Resources are important, but, the willingness and ability to organise is even more essential than money. Local governments have to create spaces (grounds, tracks, courts, etc) but these need to be managed by schools and/or local groups.”

Pakistan Dissident Unsafe Even in Exile?

The Pakistani deep state’s tentacles extend beyond the shores of Pakistan as they try to suppress dissent around the world.

In a recent piece, journalist Taha Siddiqui, who is living in exile in France after surviving an assassination attempt in January 2018, describes in detail how he and his family face threats even in exile.

According to his piece in The Washington Post, “On Jan. 10, 2018, I survived an abduction and possible assassination attempt by armed men who stopped my taxi in the middle of an highway in Islamabad, Pakistan, when I was on my way to the airport. Luckily, I escaped. I believe the attack was orchestrated by the Pakistani army, which has been threatening me for years over my journalistic work on military abuses in Pakistan.Since the brazen assault, I have fled Pakistan with my wife and five-year-old son, and we now live in self-imposed exile in France. After the attack, several well-wishers told me that if I did not stop speaking about the Pakistani military, I would be shot dead the next time they came for me. So I decided to speak up from the safety of exile. But now, even in exile, I feel unsafe.”

According to Siddiqui, “I was in Washington last month for a conference organized by Pakistani dissidents in exile like me, when I received a call from U.S. authorities. I met with the officials, who told me they had intelligence about an assassination plot against me if I were to ever return to Pakistan. I was further advised to stay away from Pakistani embassies around the world and also Pakistan-friendly countries. Other Pakistani dissidents in exile have received similar warnings. The U.S. intelligence officials told me they believe that, after Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, repressive regimes such as the one in Pakistan have been emboldened to silence critics, not only at home but also abroad. It certainly seems that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who may have ordered the hit on Khashoggi, is going to get away with this murder, as the Saudi royals’ global relations remain unscathed.”

Further, “every time I leave my apartment, enter public places or simply walk on the streets in Paris, I am paranoid about being followed. Every time I stand on the subway platform, I fear that someone may push me on the tracks at the last moment. One year after my attack, the harassment, intimidation and threats have followed me abroad, too, and have forced me to think whether it is all worth it. As someone recently told me: If they are obsessed with silencing a journalist and his ideas, it probably means that his ideas are powerful and worth listening to.”

Dissident Pakistanis concerned over attempts to alter country’s Constitution

The increasing attempts by Pakistan’s military and judiciary to alter the country’s constitution and reduce the autonomy of provinces and ethnic groups led the South Asians Against Terrorism & For Human Rights (SAATH) Forum, a group of dissident Pakistani intellectuals, writers and human rights activists, to release a statement expressing grave concern.

The SAATH Steering Committee, which includes prominent personalities like former ambassador to U.S. Husain Haqqani, Dr Mohammed Taqi, Rashed Rahman, Gul Bukhari, Dr. Asim Yusufzai, and Taha Siddiqui, said that “unelected individuals were casting doubt over the landmark 18th amendment to the constitution of Pakistan,” taking away whatever remains of democratic rights.

“We are perturbed to note that first the Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had cast aspersions over this unanimous piece of legislation through his so-called Bajwa Doctrine by likening it to Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman’s Six Points and now the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Saqib Nasir has attempted to create controversy over an amendment, which is as important as the 1973 constitution itself,” the statement said.

“By insinuating that the 18th amendment was not debated by the parliament, the CJP is trying to muddy the waters around not just this amendment but the constitution itself, the lawmakers and indeed the people’s right to elect their representatives,” the SAATH statement continued.

According to the prominent Pakistani democrats, “The 18th amendment represents the will of the Pakistani people residing in the four federating units of the country and the original spirit of the 1973 constitution.

The statement continued that the amendment was thoroughly discussed by various political parties represented in the parliament at the item as well as groups outside the parliament and came to fruition through the broad consensus of the lawmakers.

“The 18th amendment has done away with the virulent mutations introduced into the constitution by assorted military dictators and has blocked the way for any aspiring usurper,” SAATH pointed out

SAATH members said, “The Pakistani parliament, through this amendment, has delivered the quantum of provincial autonomy and the fiscal resources that the framers of the 1973 constitution had envisaged. It has delivered an independent, permanent election commission and electoral reforms, in line with the spirit of parliamentary democracy.”

“The SAATH Forum believes that the remarks by the unelected individuals impugning are not one-off, random comments. They are part of a concerted effort by the unelected forces to upend the multi-party parliamentary system,” the statement asserted.

SAATH said, “The smearing of the 18th amendment, the blatant gagging of free press, hounding of rights activists and a witch-hunt against the politicians under the garb of accountability, are a systematic campaign to steer the country towards a monolithic, if not one-party, state.”

According to SAATH, “Pakistan is a multi-ethnic, multicultural state where the federating units have rich resources and manpower and even richer cultural heritage. Any attempts to deny the people their rights and resources by rolling back the 18th amendment are bound to backfire.”

The SAATH Forum called upon “the Pakistani people, political parties, civil rights activists and opinion leaders to jealously guard the 18th amendment and the constitution, which it is a part of.”