Pre-poll rigging through other means

Following is an article by Dr. Tariq Rehman published in Express Tribune.

The bomb blasts ripping through the ANP, the MQM and, though to a lesser extent, the PPP have been called a new kind of rigging. The idea of the Taliban, who take responsibility for every such attack, is to deter the leaders of these parties from addressing people in the time-honoured political jalsa. Whether it works or not is still to be seen. There is, after all, a possibility that the people will cast sympathy votes for the underdog, forgetting the corruption (or, at least, the anecdotal perception of it) of the ANP and the PPP. But the idea that hundreds of people will lose their lives and thousands will be injured before the elections is appalling. We all know how we have come to this pass and it is in bad taste if I say “didn’t I tell you” for the umpteenth time so let that pass. The parties in question are right in demanding protection for their leaders but their offices and workers are just too many to be protected. This is probably the most unique and sanguine form of pre-poll rigging in the history of elections and I cannot predict its fallout.

There is another form of pre-poll rigging which is weighted against the secular democratic parties. First, take the very translation of the word “secular”. Our Urdu writers generally call it ladiniyat which literally means “without faith” or “having no religion”. But this translation falsifies the history of the term. This term is based on the theory of the separation of religion from governance. Europe learned to separate the two spheres after hundreds of years of wars of religion and millions of blighted lives through nearly 600 years. Religion was officially declared a personal matter and the function of the state was merely to ensure that everybody is given the right to practise it without harming others. This was exactly the principle enunciated by Mr Jinnah in his August 11 speech to the Constituent Assembly. And precisely because it was to the very body which was supposed to make the Constitution, he made it clear that religion will not be the business of the state and that people will be free to believe in whatever they liked. But then what other translation can be used? There is dahriyat which means “of the earth” since dahr means “the earth” but this came to be reserved for atheism in the translations of philosophy in the early 20th century so this term is even worse than the one we use now. My own suggestion is alami where alam means “world” and the “i” is added to show that it is an adjective.

The other form of subtle subversion of the secular parties is that they are forced to be apologetic and to use the vocabulary of the religious parties. This is partly their own fault. After all, was it not ZA Bhutto himself who tried to appease the religious right by injecting religious provisions which all previous governments had resisted and no subsequent government dared remove? And then, was it not the PPP whose ministers pandered to the religious right so that some members attended the jalsas condemning the killing of their own governor, while others waxed eloquent in the jalsas condemning the same incident. To a lesser extent, the ANP, or rather some members of it, did similar things though the MQM did not. However, this is a small part of the story. The narrative of the religious parties became mainstream thanks to the efforts of Ziaul Haq and now, whether it translates into votes or not, it defines political debate. This means that the secular parties are playing on other peoples’ wicket. That is why their performance is contradictory and sometimes hypocritical. This culture can be changed with effort but there is no chance of doing it for this election so the parties of the religious right have a natural advantage for now, which is a form of the inherent pre-poll rigging factor.

Yet another factor is the incumbency factor, which is also against the PML-N in Punjab, but the extent of the anecdotal evidence, the court cases and the media trials which the PPP has had to suffer is unmatched. Although most of our problems are because of wrong policies as I have written earlier, the social media and the jokes industry, to say nothing of the regular media, points only to the corruption which biases the voters against the PPP and the ANP. There is one kind of bias which is against all politicians and this we must guard against both in Pakistan and India. It is that everybody attacks politicians and politics without taking into account other decision-makers. This gives the impression that only the politicians are in politics whereas many other players are. Politicians are maligned in cinema, stories, jokes, media and the social media. That this happens all over the world is no consolation if you remember disasters like the “charge of the light brigade” which emerges as a piece of heroism instead of a monumental folly. And what price the battle of the Somme? And, indeed, all the failed battles for which generals go scot-free. What is wrong with this is that if one shows politicians as crooks and fools and if courts love to handcuff and fetter them as our returning officers did, the public will lose faith in the democratic process itself. This is already happening in many democratic countries so the turnout in elections is often low even in stable Western countries. But those are stable countries, whereas in Pakistan, if people lose trust in politicians the alternatives are the military and some form of fascist right-wing autocracy. How many people want that?

Assault on the ANP – Dr. Mohammad Taqi

The ANP on its part has not only energised its ideological base but has also given the rest of Pakistan a fair warning of what is coming their way

The Awami National Party (ANP) has
come under a series of terrorist attacks in the last two weeks. The terror spree started with a bomb attack in Peshawar on the party’s former provincial minister Arbab Ayub Jan, who narrowly escaped. The ANP leader from Swat, Mukkaram Shah, was not that fortunate. He was assassinated in an improvised explosive device attack. And then came the carnage in Peshawar city last week when a suicide bomber targeted the ANP leaders Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour and his nephew Haroon Bilour, whose father Bashir Bilour was martyred in a similar attack in December 2012, as they were about to address an election rally. Fortunately, Haji sahib and Haroon survived the attack in which several policemen, party workers and young children died. But the ANP cadres and leaders did not buckle. The Pashtun nationalist party did not cave in ideologically or politically. The fearless Mian Iftikhar Hussain rushed to the tragic scene. Along with the late Bashir Bilour, he has been the ANP’s first-responder to many such bombings, charging in when others would flee. A knee jerk response might have been to call for boycotting the elections; Mian Iftikhar cautioned against delaying the elections even by a second. Similarly, unflinching statements came from the ANP’s senior leadership including the party chief, Asfandyar Wali Khan.

But a flurry of callous remarks and loose talk by the rightwing political parties, particularly the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), blamed the ANP — the victim — for bringing it upon itself. While Nawaz Sharif has kept mum about Taliban terrorism, the PTI chief Imran Khan has reiterated that the terrorists target the parties that sided with the US in the War on Terror (WoT). Khan is also a candidate from the Peshawar National Assembly constituency where scores perished in the explosion that targeted his opponent Haji Bilour. If the ANP is being targeted for going after the terrorists, are Khan and his ilk safe because they sided with the terrorists and provided the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) ideological space for over a decade portraying them as ‘nationalist freedom fighters’? Frankly, Khan’s slurs linking attacks on the ANP to the WoT are an insult to the Peshawarites who lost children and loved ones and whose vote he seeks. Another poisonous remark came from Maulana Fazlur Rehman who called the ANP a dead snake that has become politically irrelevant.

Notwithstanding the disingenuousness and hate of the anti-ANP elements, they go to show that the elections, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at least, would not be decided on the basis of the ANP’s performance as the outgoing ruling party but its stance vis-à-vis the Taliban terrorists. And it is becoming increasingly clear that the bullet not the ballot may be the deciding factor. While the terrorists have failed to confine the ANP candidates and cadres to their homes, the latter continue canvassing door-to-door, imperilling their lives. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the provincial and federal caretaker governments are nowhere to be seen as if in a sinister coincidence. If anything the ECP had ordered the candidates’ security removed but later denied issuing such a directive. The relentless Taliban assault on the ANP, complete inaction of the present authorities and the Taliban apologists like Khan and Rehman going into overdrive is making the elections a lopsided affair. Cornering the ANP this way may not technically be pre-poll fraud but has most certainly rigged the scales against it. It appears that the stage is being set to either keep the ANP out of the future assemblies or worse, delay the polls to have a political dispensation ideologically aligned with the Pakistani deep state as the latter gets ready to play its final hand in Afghanistan post-2014.

The Pakistani security establishment has claimed for some time that it desires peace in Afghanistan but not many are buying it. In his opening statement at the US Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing with General Joseph Dunford on the Situation in Afghanistan, the committee chair US Senator Carl Levin said last week that “the greatest challenge to Afghanistan’s security isn’t the Taliban but the Pakistan-based sanctuaries for militant extremists launching cross-border attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan has said that it supports a stable and secure Afghanistan, but its actions belie its words.” General Dunford, Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, in his testimony reiterated, “There have been intelligence reports that link the ISI particularly to the Haqqani network.” What was not mentioned at this testimony but is well known is that the TTP continues to use the logistic and training facilities run by the Haqqani network in North Waziristan. Of note is that several Pakistani analysts and the so-called foreign policy elite nominally condemned the attacks on ANP but for years have vociferously advocated a greater future role in Afghanistan for the Taliban and the Haqqani network.

The Pakistani establishment getting its ducks in a row before a major showdown in Afghanistan is not without precedent. At the height of its proxy war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Pakistani deep state created a pliant party-less parliament in 1985. Benazir Bhutto was considered too ‘unreliable’ to be allowed at the helm in the post-Soviet withdrawal period and was shown the door in 1990 to bring in a then military-friendly Nawaz Sharif. The religious parties conglomerate, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, whose acronym MMA was dubbed ‘military-mullah alliance’ by many, was eased into power in 2002 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan to provide an irritant-free sanctuary to the Taliban in the post-2001 period. The results of all these maneouvres have been utterly disastrous for the Pakistani people, especially the Pashtuns. But it seems that the deep state continues with its policy of using the Pashtun lands as a buffer zone and the Pashtuns as a sandbag against the monsters it unleashes in Afghanistan.

The ANP on its part has not only energised its ideological base but has also given the rest of Pakistan a fair warning of what is coming their way. Unfortunately, barring the MQM’s Altaf Hussain and some muffled voices from the PPP, not many have heeded the ANP’s call. The beleaguered ANP has revived a slogan from the PDPA’s final phase in Afghanistan: Watan Ya Kafan (Fatherland or death/shroud). This defiant note also has a certain resignation in it that makes me deeply worried. But I also know that the death that was rained on Kabul in 1992 did not stop there and it won’t stop with Peshawar, something the Pakistani heartland does not realise yet.

Pakistani Taliban suppress campaigns with attacks on secular parties

Following is an article published in Foreign Policy Magazine by Jennifer Rowland that new Pakistan team though is worthy of a replug.

Taliban play politics

In Pakistan’s northwest, the secular Awami National Party is coming under sustained fire from the Taliban, with deadly attacks and threats forcing ANP candidates to stage small, tense meetings rather than the large-scale rallies that usually define Pakistani politics (NYT, AP). Even in the southern port city of Karachi, some 40 ANP activists have been killed over the past six months, effectively stifling the party’s campaign there. Asad Munir, a retired Army brigadier who worked for Pakistan’s intelligence agency, says, “The most effective campaign is being run by he Taliban. They are holding the state of Pakistan hostage, and doing their activities as they want.” Bonus read: Daud Khattak, “Pakistani Taliban’s deadly game of politics” (AfPak).

An antiterrorism court in Islamabad on Saturday ordered former president Pervez Musharraf held for another two weeks until May 4, when he will face charges over his detention of the country’s top judges while he was in power in 2007 (NYT, NYT, Post, Reuters, AFP). Pakistani officials said Musharraf would be placed under house arrest at his fortified compound outside the capital, declaring it a “sub-jail,” and no visitors will be allowed. The country’s caretaker government said Monday that it will not file treason charges against the former president, but will leave the decision to do so up to the government elected in national election on May 11 (AP, ET).

Prime Minister hopeful Imran Khan told thousands of supporters at a rally in Dera Ismail Khan on Sunday that he would order a pullout of Pakistani troops from North Waziristan and, “The money that is spent on the war in the tribal areas will be spent on the welfare of the people” (ET). Pakistan “will not be a slave to anyone,” he told the cheering crowd. Pakistan’s Ahmadis say they will not participate in the upcoming elections because they are still forced to identify themselves as non-Muslims on their ballots (ET). The campaign of radical Sunni Muslim cleric Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi is making Pakistan’s Shi’a Muslims uneasy; they accuse Ludhianvi of rhetoric that has fueled sectarian attacks on Shi’as for decades, and fear that if he wins a seat in parliament he will be able to incite even more of these deadly attacks (Reuters). Ludhianvi’s main opponent in the district of Jhang, in the heart of Punjab Province, has been banned from the race.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Iran last week also almost entirely demolished the small Pakistani town of Mashkel near the Iranian border, and aid has been slow to reach the isolated victims (AP, BBC). Four Pakistani soldiers were killed and six injured in a roadside bombing in North Waziristan on Sunday (The News, ET/AFP). Militants in Balochistan launched grenade attacks on the homes of an Election Commission of Pakistan official (injuring his teenaged daughter), and the president of the Baloch National Party on Sunday (ET). And gunmen killed two workers of the Awami National Party in the Pishin district of Balochistan.

Worrying stats

Taliban attacks have increased 47% in the first quarter of 2013 from their level during the same period last year, from1,581 to 2,331, according to the well-respected, independent monitoring group, the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (NYT). The U.S. military and the Afghan Ministry of Defense have so far refused to release their statistics on attacks this year, but the sharp increase in attacks has been widely documented in the media and by groups like the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, raising concerns that the Taliban is launching a concerted attempt to test the Afghan security forces as they take the lead on security from NATO troops in the country.

Insurgents killed six police officers at a checkpoint in the eastern province of Ghazni on Sunday, while a suicide bomber killed three civilians at a market in neighboring Paktika Province (AP). And Taliban militants cut off hands and feet of two men they accused of helping escort NATO convoys. Members of the Taliban in eastern Logar Province said they had captured all eight Turks and one Russian who were on board a NATO-contracted helicopter that was forced to make an emergency landing in bad weather late on Sunday (Reuters, Pajhwok).

NATO military officials say that Taliban militants were able to blow up a half-dozen U.S. Marine fighter jets and kill two Marines in an attack on Camp Bastion in Helmand Province last fall because the base commanders had scaled back patrols of the perimeter and left watchtowers unmanned (Post).

The pot industry in Pakistan

Politicians are not the only ones suffering at hands of the Taliban in Pakistan’s northwest. The country’s hashish producers in the fertile Tirah Valley report that the Taliban have largely taken control of the area, and with it they have obtained control of the marijuana crops and the lucrative hashish trade (Post).

— Jennifer Rowland

Iftikhar Über Alles

By elections held last weekend were marred in the minds of the public by the unfortunate incident which took place in the competition for PS 53. I am writing, of course, of the infamous slap that was shown on TV in what seemed like an endless loop. This incident has already thrown the provincial seat into question as the accused Waheeda Shah evidently won the vote, but may lose the election based on her action as Election Commission Pakistan (ECP) is reviewing the incident. Of course, now not just the ECP but the Supreme Court too has taken notice! While no one denies that the incident should be properly investigated, it should be asked whether this is the proper use of the Supreme Court’s suo moto powers.

The infamous slap was not the only incident to take place. Who could have missed the footage of ANP supporters flouting the law with airial firing in Mardan that was broadcast all day?

Or what about the tragic crime in which PTI supporters of Shah Mehmood Qureshi fired at PPP workers and murdered poor Farhan Mughal in Multan?

While guns were brandished and arial firings used to intimidate voters – and in at least one case brutally murder a rival party supporter – the Chief Justice has taken notice of…a slap?

This raises two important questions. The first obvious question is why the Chief Justice takes notice of a slap while murders and firings go ignored?

Article 184(3) grants the Supreme Court suo moto powers to take notice of ‘a question of public importance with reference to the enforcement of any of the Fundamental Rights conferred by Chapter I of Part II’. The Chief Justice has probably justified to himself by referring to Article 14 which protects ‘the dignity of man’.

But Chapter I of Part II of the Constitution also protects a right to education (Article 25A) and the right to profess, practise and propagate his religion (Article 20). Pakistan finds itself today facing a crisis on both fronts, where too many of our children are going without education, and our minorities are living in fear for their lives. Waheeda Shah’s slap may have insulted the dignity of one woman, but our failures in education and tolerance are insulting the dignity of over 1.5 crores. Why does the Chief Justice not take these issues as seriously?

And this is not the only issue. Chapter I of Part II also entitles every citizen to ‘a fair trial and due process’ (Article 10A). Why is the SC taking suo moto notice of an incident before it has the opportunity to go through due process? Waheeda Shah has already been called by District Returning Officer Ali Asghar Siyal to record her statement, and ECP has called the APO who suffered the slap to give her statement as well as DSP Tando Mohammad Khan Irfan Shah who was present at the time. ECP has also called Waheeda Shah on 6th March for hearing of the complaint against her actions.

Waheeda Shah’s action is a serious incident that should be investigated. The statements of those present should be taken and Waheeda Shah should be given the opportunity to explain herself also. She should not be judged before all the evidence is available, but she should not be given a free pass either. Whatever the ECP decides, then if it is not considered fair or just, it can be taken to court and work its way through the system.

This is the second problem. The incident took place on Saturday, and less than one week later already the Chief Justice is taking suo moto notice of the incident? For a justice who has repeatedly vowed to restore ‘rule of law’, he seems to forget that rule of law requires that due processes and procedures be allowed to run their proper course. The Supreme Court is not intended as the personal court of Iftikhar Chaudhry’s whims. It is the ‘Court of Last Resort’ – once all other institutions have judged an issue, if still it is not decided to the satisfaction of all parties, then they can appeal to the Supreme Court to hear their case.

Instead of using his suo moto powers in an arbitrary manner, the Chief Justice should observe proper restraint and allow due process and, indeed, the ‘rule of law’ to take its course. He should only take suo moto notice when there is no other option available – certainly not while other institutions are in the middle of proceedings on the same issue. Not only would this help to strengthen institutions, it would also give the Supreme Court the time necessary to actually close some of the cases it has already taken notice of. Pakistan needs a stronger rule of law. We do not need Iftikhar over all.

Lords and Masters

There seem to be two common ideas that PTI walas are pushing in their support for their Kapataan: One is that Pakistan needs Dignity, Integrity and Self Respect. The other is that PTI has achieved a sweeping popularity, or to use the unfortunate choice of metaphor of PTI General Secretary Arif Aliv, a ‘tsunami’. The first issue I have dealt with before. Today, though, I want to address the issue of PTI and democracy.

Last weekend, Islamabad lawyer and PTI wala Babar Sattar wrote another ode to the rising Kaptaan that made some curious claims about the role of democracy in Pakistan. According to Babar, “support for democracy in Pakistan is waning because people are losing faith in the electoral system as a mechanism for change”. I found this very puzzling. How can people lose faith in the electoral system after only one election? Thankfully, Babar explains it for us mere mortals.

If all that the electoral process can do is either maintain the status quo or redistribute power in varied proportions amongst the same discredited players, should we not brace up for a long dark night with no stars on the horizon? If democracy continues to be defined by this garbage-in-garbage-out politics, how will continuity of the process help?

In case you have not had the privilege of legal training, let me decipher this for you. The electoral system is a failure because people are electing the wrong leaders. Democracy is only good if it results in the right outcome. And who decides what is the right outcome? Apparently, Babar Sattar does.

But Babar is no dummy. The problem, he explains, is that the people have not had a choice that represents pure, selfless good. According to Babar Sattar, “this is where Imran Khan offers a glimmer of hope”. Because unlike MQM which is “out of ideas”, ANP which has “lost its ideology and its soul”, Babar Sattar says PTI offers the following:

  • “[Imran Khan] has positioned himself right of the centre in the company of good-for-nothing religious parties company of good-for-nothing religious parties”.
  • “The structure of [PTI]…can’t boast of reputable second-tier leadership, transparent decision-making processes and internal democratic mechanism that would prevent it from evolving into another autocratic party masquerading as a champion of democracy”.

The good news, according to Babar Sattar, is that despite the fact that his party is filled with a third-rate anti-democratic leadership that keeps company with good-for-nothing religious parties, Imran Khan brings a lot to the table. For example, Babar lists the following:

  • “Celebrity”
  • “A career of distinction as a sports hero”
  • “Philanthropy”

Babar admits that these are not “not endearing” qualities, so he goes on to list what I guess are supposed to be Imran Khan’s “endearing” qualities. Please allow me provide a brief translation for those who have not been fully indoctrinated into the ‘Cult of the Kaptaan’:

  • “Ability to speak unhesitatingly with candour” (Translation: He speaks without thinking.)
  • “Dogged faith in his own ability to foster change” (Translation: He’s an unrepentant narcissist.)
  • “His perseverance in politics despite being dismissed by pundits as a viable alternative to the mainstream parties” (Translation: He refuses to learn from his mistakes.)

According to Babar, Imran Khan believes that “ordinary people are the lords and masters of Pakistan”. Of course, it’s these “ordinary people” who keep electing “garbage”. One would think that if Imran Khan truly believed that ordinary people are the lords and masters of Pakistan, he would respect their decisions in elections.

And this brings me back to the question of this transparent attempt by PTI supporters to put into people’s heads a belief that PTI has massive support even though they can’t seem to win any elections. Does PTI believe their own hype? Or are they preparing to take another beating in the next elections by preparing to term the elections as bogus when they don’t win?

In an ironic turn of events, the American Ambassador to the UN Susan E. Rice yesterday congratulated the people of Tunisia on their elections.

Finally, the United States congratulates the Tunisian people on the reported high turnout in Sunday’s elections for a Constituent Assembly. This is a milestone on the Tunisian people’s path from dictatorship to a democratic government founded upon respect for the will of its citizens. We look forward to working with the people and government of Tunisia, including the new Constituent Assembly, over the next phase of their country’s historic transition.

The Americans are congratulating Tunisia after the people elected a moderate Islamist government (surely not their top choice), while PTI terms the people elected by Pakistanis as garbage. It makes you wonder really believes that the ordinary people are lords and masters of their own fate?