The Begging bowl endures

Crowdsourcing for funding dams, selling buffaloes and cars to boost exchequer reserves and continually seeking bailouts from old allies like Saudi Arabia appear to be Prime Minister Imran Khan’s economic policy. On his recent trip to Riyadh to attend the Saudi investment conference, Prime Minister Imran Khan managed to secure a $ 6 bn bailout package from Saudi Arabia, an immediate $3 bn infusion to bolster Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves— a loan Pakistan has to return after one year – and $3bn in oil imports on a “buy now pay later” basis.  
 
This is Khan’s third visit to Saudi Arabia in just as many months as Prime Minister. He attended the high-profile conference despite calls from Pakistani human rights activists to join many other countries in boycotting the conference to protest the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
 
According to the Washington Post, “In a televised address Wednesday, Khan said he secured a “great package” from Saudi Arabia. He said Pakistan was at risk of going into default if it did not secure aid from friendly countries as well as the IMF, and that without the Saudi aid, the country would have had to seek a much larger bailout from the global lender.”
 
As Imad Zafar states in ‘The desperate begging bowl is no longer metaphorical,’ “Throughout his electoral campaign and even after assuming power, Imran Khan constantly maintained that the biggest hindrance towards Pakistan’s development is debt servicing and taking external loans. In his first speech to the nation, Imran reiterated this and promised not to beg anyone for loans or help.”
 
Yet in an interview to Middle East Eye before Khan went to Riyadh, the Pakistani Prime Minister stated that his country was “desperate” and needed Saudi largesse. “The reason I feel I have to avail myself of this opportunity is because in a country of 210 million people right now we have the worst debt crisis in our history. Unless we get loans from friendly countries or the IMF [International Monetary Fund], we actually won’t have in another two or three months enough foreign exchange to service our debts or to pay for our imports. So we’re desperate at the moment.”
 
This, Zafar, asserts “s an embarrassment for the entire nation that our prime minister not only refused to condemn what is one of the worst human rights violations in recent memory, but also openly admitted that we are “desperate”. The begging bowl is no longer metaphorical, and now that we have taken their money, we cannot utter a word against Saudi Arabia or its inhumane crimes. Is this the philosophy of the current government? If we have a monetary interest from any country, we will turn a blind eye towards all atrocities, the way we have when it comes to Khashoggi, and the way we have to the thousands of dead bodies in Yemen.”
 
Veteran journalist, Ejaz Haider, message for Imran Khan “To sum up: Mr. Prime Minister, do not ad-lib; do not go anywhere without hard preparation; stick to the prepared text; if you aren’t interested in a particular area, delegate to whoever knows it best.” This is because you cannot “Begin by telling everyone that you are ‘desperate’? Should that be your opening hand? It’s not about keeping something secret. Everyone knows Pakistan needs money and the economy is tanking. So, that’s not the point here. The point is how do you approach the table? As someone who declares, before any negotiations have begun, that he is desperate? Or, as someone with a plan, someone who knows his own weaknesses but also that of the other side in order to create space for himself to negotiate?”
 
The $6 bn package from Saudi Arabia alone is not enough to solve Pakistan’s massive problems, it involves unnecessary moral compromise, it might drag Pakistan into the Yemen conflict, and it is strange that the Prime Minister is bragging about borrowing.

What Good Does Another ‘Kashmir Day’ Do?

For the last seven decades Kashmir has driven Pakistan’s foreign and security policy. Pakistanis have the right to believe that Kashmir should form part of Pakistan. But the first priority of every Pakistani government should be to provide for the average Pakistani citizen, not some cause that may take decades to be fulfilled.
 
The Interior Ministry issued a notification today that October 27 would be observed inside Pakistan as Black Day “throughout the country to express support and solidarity with Kashmiri people in their unprecedented peaceful struggle for their right to self determination. According to the interior ministry notification Thursday, the government has urged the public to wear black arm-bands, observe one minute silence at 1000 hours, besides offering Fateha for martyrs of Indian occupied Kashmir on the day.”
 
Just two days earlier, Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari stated at a seminar at Republic University College on the occasion of Youm-e-Tasees Day of Azad Kashmir that “Pakistan needs to aggressively put forward concrete proposals for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute on the basis of the United Nations resolutions.”
 
The same day Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke at a seminar on Kashmir at the National Press Club and stated that all of Pakistan “was united on Kashmir issue which was also a main component of Pakistan’s foreign policy.”
 
Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa while on a visit to the Line of Control echoed these views and reaffirmed that “the Kashmir issue continues to be a “core unresolved agenda” and warned against “misadventure” against his country.”
 
This recent announcement of an additional Kashmir Day – we already celebrate Kashmir Solidarity Day on February 5 every year – is only aimed at raising the temperature within Pakistan. It will not result in Pakistan obtaining any international support, and will certainly not help the Kashmiris.

Pakistan’s Never-ending Clampdown

The international media and global human rights organizations have a negative view of Pakistan primarily because of our abysmal human rights, censorship and clampdown on the press and on freedom of expression. As if things could not get any worse Pakistan’s recent crackdown on international aid agencies has led to a pushback from many Western countries. 18 international agencies “most of them working on human rights issues, were ordered to leave Pakistan over recent months after being refused registration.”

 

According to the wire service Reuters, diplomats of many Western countries including the European Union and the United States in a recent letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan “expressed “serious concerns” about this crackdown on aid groups. This letter was a follow up to a similar letter sent in September to the Interior Ministry.

 

The letter to the Prime Minister stated that “the groups did not get a proper explanation for why the government had ordered them out and there was a “lack of transparency” in the registration process.” The diplomats stated: “We are writing to express serious concerns with respect to recent developments. Restriction on civil society risks affecting Pakistan’s international reputation as a genuine partner on human developments and undermining confidence of the international donor and business community.”

 

Further, the letter said that the impact of expelling the groups would be “significant”, and would imperil some of development goals championed by Khan. “Restricting INGO operations will affect millions of poor Pakistanis. In 2017 alone, the INGO sector reached 34 million people with humanitarian relief and development assistance. This will mean thousands of Pakistanis employed by INGOs and local partners may lose their jobs.”

 

Pakistan, however, “has long viewed foreign-funded aid groups with suspicion and many members of the powerful military believe that Western countries often use such groups as a cover for spying.”

Naya Pakistan Annoys another neighbour -Iran- just like Purana Pakistan

Pakistanis are fond of stating that the only neighbor with whom they have conflictual relations is India. However, the truth is that all of Pakistan’s immediate neighbors, India, Afghanistan or Iran, have been unhappy with Pakistan over its policies of providing safe havens to jihadi groups that attack its neighbors.
Time and again relations between Tehran and Islamabad flare up and it has to do with Pakistan’s support for and safe havens given to   
 
On October 16, 14 Iranian security personnel including Revolutionary Guards were kidnapped on the Iran-Pakistan border by Jaish e Adl, a Sunni militant group that has safe havens inside Pakistan. Iran has demanded that Islamabad “use all possible means” to free them.”
 
A spokesperson for Jaish e Adl, Ebrahim Azizi said: “’This morning Jaish al-Adl forces attacked a border post in Mirjaveh and captured all their weapons.’ The group also claimed responsibility on its Twitter account. Azizi said the attack was retaliation for what he called the Iranian state’s oppression of Sunnis in Sistan-Baluchestan, a mainly Sunni province with a long history of separatist unrest.”
 
Foreign Minister Javed Zarif spoke with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi as the “abduction caused a friction between the two countries, as the Iranian foreign ministry summoned the Pakistani envoy in Tehran to convey its concerns over the issue.” According to Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qasemi, “militant groups operate from safe havens in Pakistan.” The Revolutionary Guards also issued a statement: “We expect Pakistan to confront these terrorist groups that are supported by some regional states, and immediately release the kidnapped Iranian forces.””
 
While Pakistan maintains that it is doing all it can, we must remember this is not the first time that something like this happened. It has happened in 2017 and 2017. In previous cases of such cross-border clashes, Iran has threatened to hit militant bases in Pakistan unless Islamabad took action.
 
If Pakistan wants to improve relations with its neighbors, it will need to do more than claiming that a new government in power. It will need to implement policies that will reassure these neighbors.

Asma Jahangir’s cause lives on

On October 13-14, a two-day conference was held to pay tribute to Pakistan’s world renowned human rights activist, Asma Jahangir. The conference centered on the theme ‘Justice for Empowerment’ and was attended by human rights and civil society activists, political leaders and lawyers from around the world. Speakers included Pakistan Peoples Party chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Awami National Party leader Afrasiab Khattak, federal minister for human rights Dr Shireen Mazari, former speaker of the National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and former secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Ahsan Bhoon SC Bar Association President Kamran Murtaza.

 

Ambassadors from various countries also attended the conference, including HE Jean Francois Cautain (head of the European Union Delegation), HE Koebler (Germany), HE Ingrid Johansonn (Sweden), HE Margaret Adamson (Australia) and HE Ajay Bisaria (India). Among international guests who travelled to attend the conference were the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG (former justice of the High Court of Australia), Kirsty Brimelow QC (chair of the Human Rights Bar Committee, England and Wales), HE Annika Ben David (Sweden’s Ambassador at Large for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law), Kamla Bhasin (Indian poet and activist) and Dr Nimalka Fernando (attorney and women’s rights activist, Sri Lanka).

 

The two-day conference had nine different sessions where speakers shared ideas. The participants of the First Asma Jahangir Conference on Saturday resolved that the imposition of censorship in the name of national interests must end as it is detrimental to the fundamental rights.

 

According to a statement released by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan “The conference resolved that the state must protect citizens’ fundamental rights, lift the ban on non-government organizations and cease the harassment of human rights defenders. All political parties must have a new charter of democracy to set ground rules for protecting the democratic process – and the major political parties must take the lead in doing so. Judicial overreach must be checked, since it impinges on the constitutional role of other state institutions. The Supreme Court must consider formulating parameters for taking suo moto notice. Freedom of expression must not be curtailed by the state and undeclared censorship of the print and electronic media must cease. Parliament must approve a new bill for the independence of PEMRA according to the recommendations of the Media Commission report.”

 

According to a news report: “The participants expanded their great gratitude to the vision and legacy of Jahangir while discussing the rule and law situation in the country. They devised strategies for the promotion of justice by strengthening the rule of law and democracy, protection of fundamental rights, ensuring the independence of judiciary and mainstreaming gender-related issues.”

 

According to former head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, IA Rahman “the whole nation has become silent with the silence of Jahangir. While throwing light on her life, he admitted that she had great courage which could not be measured. “She was a voice of every voiceless. She was committed to defending democracy and rule of the law in the country.”

 

Awami National Party (ANP) leader Bushra Gohar, gave a speech during “Strengthening Democracy and Rule of Law” session, and “said that true democracy could not prevail in the country since the military had intervened throughout history either directly or indirectly. While criticising the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, she said that the situation has become worst for democracy in the country. “Chief justice and Imran Khan have become sandbags and there is a need to know who is behind them,” she added.”

 

Panelists from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal, and the United States (US) also “discussed cybercrime awareness, suggesting the need of improvement in the current data protection laws. Furthermore, the panelists also concluded that a distinction should be drawn between cybercrime and cyber-terrorism. “Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression for Youth and Students” session concluded that there is a dire need to give importance to the autonomous academic freedom.”

 

Speakers at the “Freedom of Expression and Shrinking Spaces for Dissent” session “discussed the oppression and forced disappearances of journalists in Pakistan and around the world. The panel also concluded to empower Article 19 in its true letter and spirit. The “Justice for Empowerment” session included a panel discussion on the outdated and discriminatory labour laws and its effects on the working women.”

 

According to HRCP: “Pakistan must implement legislation to criminalize forced disappearances. The government must prevent the use of torture by adopting the 2014 bill passed by the Senate. The conference resolved that the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances must prosecute the 153 identified officials responsible for enforced disappearances. The conference also resolved that there was a disproportionately large population of under-trial prisoners, which represented a deep flaw in the justice system.”

 

Further, “Pakistan must revise the education syllabus to remove portions that discriminate against religious minorities. The state’s appeasement of religious fundamentalism must end and the Christian minority must be protected in the face of new threats. Laws that discriminate against minorities must be abolished.”

 

And, “the law on sexual harassment against women in the workplace is not being implemented: there are hardly any cases under this act before the ombudspersons despite numerous women reporting sexual harassment. The law should be refined to introduce the crime of “sextortion” and sexual bribery as introduced in Bangladesh. On transgender rights, the conference resolved that the Transgender Persons Act 2018 must be implemented in letter and spirit. It was recommended that a monitoring body for the implementation of current protection laws for the transgender community be established. Broad-based measures must be taken by the government, media, civil society, essential service providers and the education sector to increase awareness of transgender persons and their rights across society.”