The American Election’s Lesson for Pakistan

USA election Hillary ClintonThey say trouble always comes in threes. First India elected Modi. Then UK voted for ‘Brexit’. So maybe we should have predicted that America would follow suit and elect Donald Trump. What does this mean? Nobody really knows, though everyone seems to have a prediction. Some are saying that this will finally bring the downfall of America. Some are predicting that it unites the Ummah against America. Many are worried about their overseas family members, and some are predicting that all overseas Pakistanis will now come home. The only thing anyone knows for certain, is that no one knows what will happen, but it will probably not make anything easier for us.

There is one interesting thing about the election, though, that I want to mention. It is what happened the next day after the election. After losing a very close election to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton went on TV and gave a speech and said this:

“Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.”

President Barack Obama who is the leader of Clinton’s party also gave an official statement where he said this:

“We are now all rooting for his (Trump’s) success in uniting and leading the country,”

No dharnas. No long march. Clinton did not file cases with the Election Commission. She didn’t make any accusations of rigging. There’s no ‘Go, Trump Go!’ Clinton’s party lost, and then she told her workers and activists to ‘give Trump a chance’. The leader of her party said he was rooting for Trump to succeed. Can you imagine this happening here?

If this is not shocking enough, let me tell you something else: Clinton is accepting the election results even though she actually got more votes. How did she lose if she got more votes? American elections have something called the ‘Electoral College’ which is a complicated system that allocates votes based on the number of seats in the Congress. The winner is usually the person who gets the most votes, but sometimes, like in this election, the person with the most votes can actually lose. Sounds like it’s not fair? Maybe it’s not fair, but the system still works because politicians accept the results because they respect the law.

American democracy works even though it is obviously not perfect because politicians and people respect the law, even when it works against their own interests. Even when it seems like it’s not fair, they still respect the law instead of trying to cheat it. This made me think: Instead of trying to predict what the American election means for Pakistan, maybe we should take a lesson from it – Even when democracy is flawed, it can still be successful if only we will accept and respect the law.

 

Democracy for Kashmir but not Karachi

Waseem Akhtargestures from an armoured personal carrier while being taken to jail after his arrestPolling took place on Thursday for 41 constituencies of Azad Kashmir Legislative Assembly, and special accommodations were made for over 40,000 Kashmiri refugees also. This election is of particular symbolic importance because it is taking place while Kashmiris in Indian-controlled Kashmir are suffering human rights atrocities at the hands of Indian security forces. However, as unofficial results are eagerly awaited across Pakistan, we should also be asking whether we support democracy for Kashmir but not for Karachi.

Karachi elections were held over seven months ago, though the individuals elected have not been permitted to take their offices. Actually, it’s worse. They have been arrested and denied bail by Pakistan security forces. Now it has been reported that Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar has been handed over to the infamous SSP Rao Anwar known as ‘King of Encounters’ for the number of people killed without any trial under his watch and has even been suspended for giving sensationalist press conferences accusing suspects of being RAW agents.

King of Encounters SSP Rao Anwar

Now we are left facing the question of whether democracy in Pakistan is rigged for hyper-nationalists only, or whether we are really interested in letting the people choose their own fate.

Now, about those billions…

Pakistan Rupees

As is so often the case in politics, the lead up to Senate elections has proved to be much more controversial than the actual elections. Accusations of rigging and horse trading abounded, and even PTI has gotten a taste of what it means to be in the hot seat. At the end of the day, however, the high-pitched wailing about ‘billions’ at play were best summed up in less than 140 characters by Cyril Almeida:

And so, as always, the world continues to turn and politicians prepare for the next battle. Now that we have put this chapter behind us, let us return to a question that remains unanswered…where did all those billions go?

No, not those billions…

Those:

Rs5.5 billion foul play in defence funds

The Auditor General of Pakistan has unearthed financial foul play of billions of rupees in spending of funds in Pakistan’s defence sector. The audit report on the accounts of defence services for the fiscal year 2011-12 finds that Pakistan’s defence organisations misused funds or violated prescribed rules during spending of funds exceeding 5490.961 million rupees.

And those:

Defence ministry fails to recover Rs1.5bn from its 81 officials

A defence ministry representative informed the meeting that the 81 military and civilian officials were investigated and found guilty of having embezzled Rs1.53 billion from the accounts of the Military Engineering Services (MES). This sum was siphoned off thanks to fake purchases, fictitious spending and fraudulent payments.

I look forward to reading Farrukh Saleem‘s detailed report…

Azadi March: Is Media Only Capable Of Destroying?

media panic

The Nation today has called on Nawaz to address the public and correct Imran Khan’s incorrect claims regarding elections.

Nawaz Sharif must come out of the ministerial veil and tell people his side of the story. Unlike Khan, he is lucky to have facts on his side. With so much at stake here, there can be no half measures. The Prime Minister must address the public on national television. His speech must identify the massive loopholes in Imran’s narrative. People should be told that the government has no control over the functions of the Election Commission. That the Election Tribunals have already dealt with 73% of the cases lodged. That no reform or ‘change’ can be achieved through abrupt mid-term elections, especially since they will be conducted under the same system Imran claims to be crusading against. 

This recommendation has one major problem, though, which is that people are unlikely to take the Prime Minister seriously. Most likely, he will be seen as saying whatever is necessary to protect his own job. The Nation does raise an important point however which is that much of what Imran Khan is saying is factually incorrect.

My question is, if a major politician is giving incorrect statements, isn’t it the job of media to correct them?

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Minorities in a Naya Pakistan

The following article was published in The Hindu. The author, Ayesha Siddiqa, is a commentator based in Islamabad and author of  Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy

Naya Pakistan is the new buzzword in the country. It is the campaign slogan of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, and it speaks to those who are seeking not only a new leadership but also new Pakistan. There is an expectation that with this election must come a Pakistani renewal that would be more in keeping with the original promise of Partition, instead of the present corruption, poor governance and the absence of any sense of security. Many see the country suffering from the burden of an inept leadership and an expensive partnership with the United States in its war on terror, and believe Pakistan has paid too high a price for this. In the past few years, the media seems to have put the burden of both internal mismanagement and skewed external relations on the ruling Pakistan People’s Party. With new leaders like Imran Khan on the horizon, it is believed that a positive change is in the offing. Although it is not clear that Mr. Khan will be the ultimate winner in the elections, it is taken for granted that the new 40 million votes added to the voters’ list, including those of the youth, will favour the cricketer-turned-politician.

Turnout uncertain

However, there is a lot of uncertainty underlying the change mantra. Given the fact that the voter turnout in past elections was low, it is still not certain how many will show up for the election today. In provinces like Balochistan, the voter turnout in the 2008 election was as low as 20 per cent. Countrywide voter demotivation could get compounded by the threats being issued by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has warned people, especially in the tribal areas and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, against going anywhere near a voting booth. Thus far, there have been numerous murderous attacks by the TTP against the previous ruling combine of the Pakistan People’s Party, the Awami National Party, and the Muttahida Quami Movement, targeting its leaders, candidates and campaign rallies. The TTP has declared these parties liberal-secular and thus deserving of its ire. The irony of course is that none of the three parties challenged terrorism and radicalism in the country despite being in power for five years.

Even if voters overcome these challenges to come out and vote, there is no evidence yet that a Pakistan under a different leadership can bring about the sort of renewal that is required for the task of nation-building. Nowhere is this more evident than in the attitude of political parties to the religious minorities. There are 2.9 million non-Muslims in the country formally registered with the National Database and Registration Authority. Of this, the biggest number is of Hindus (approx 1.4 million), followed by Christians (1.2 million), and then others which include Ahmedis, Zorastrian, Bahai, Sikh, Buddhist and even a handful of Jews.

Pakistan, which opted for separate electorates for its minority communities at the time of Partition, took the decision to integrate these communities in the political mainstream by abolishing that system in 2002. But in other ways, the process of integration of the minorities has been non-existent and, thanks to the overall ideological-political climate in the country, the attitude towards them is one of violent intolerance.

After many such incidents of violence targeting them and their mosques, the Ahmedis, for instance, are feeling more ostracised and threatened than before by the growing latent-radicalism in the country. The community was declared non-Muslim by the Bhutto government in 1974. Mainly concentrated in Central Punjab, the Ahmedis have opted to boycott these elections as none of the political parties seems to heed their concerns.

Earlier in the campaign, Imran Khan, who spoke about changing Pakistan from his hospital bed after his fall this week, issued a formal press statement contradicting the video footage about the party’s plan to revisit the law declaring Ahmedis non-Muslims. The video clip had gone viral on social media and the ensuing controversy forced Imran Khan to make the statement that he believed in the finality of Prophet Muhammad. But shockingly, he went on to add that no one from his party had sought Ahmedi votes. More than anything else, that declaration raises worrying questions about a national party’s agenda. Notwithstanding differences on interpretation of faith, the right of Ahmedis to life and inclusion in politics has to be ensured. It is also interesting that Imran Khan used the term ‘Qadiyani,’ which the Ahmedis in Pakistan consider derogatory.

The situation in relation to other political parties is not encouraging either. Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, which is trying to maintain control of the largest province of the country, is entrenched in an electoral partnership with the defunct militant Deobandi organisation, Sipha-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), that is contesting elections under the title of Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat (ASWJ). The party’s rabidly fundamentalist posturing in Punjab does not bode well for the Ahmedis, or for the Shia community. In these last few months, the Shia community has been violently targeted in different parts of the country, especially in Balochistan, by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an offspring of the SSP. The Shias are not a minority, but their relentless targeting is a result of the mainstreaming of Deobandi and Wahabi discourse in society and politics in general.

Misuse of blasphemy law

The Christian community is not happy either. In the past five years, there was a noticeable increase in the number of attacks on Christians using the blasphemy law. The Zia-era legislation condemns anyone guilty of blaspheming against the Prophet of Islam to death. The law is frequently manipulated to settle personal scores and disputes over land, especially by land mafias that are spread across the country. Some ministers of the PML-N were allegedly behind some of the attacks.

A similar situation seems to prevail in Sindh where Hindus feel increasingly insecure and abandoned like everyone else by what was once Bhutto’s party. Many PPP candidates are wealthy land-owning wadheras; some of them have well-known links with criminal gangs and militant outfits. The Hindus of Sindh will probably vote pragmatically for the PPP in areas dominated by the party, not out of loyalty, but to safeguard their interests and buy security, seriously deficient in Sindh.

Unlike the Hindus in South Punjab who mainly consist of the scheduled castes, the Sindhi Hindus include castes that are more affluent. They dominate business and industry in rural Sindh but consider themselves a threatened species primarily due to the abysmal economic and security conditions in the province. In upper Sindh, they say that the banyas dare not even show off their wealth for fear of attracting unwelcome attention, usually in the form of kidnappings for ransom. The overall increase in poverty and poor governance in the province have raised ordinary people’s threshold as far as crimes against rich Hindus are concerned. No one is outraged if some of their wealth gets stolen or extorted.

A bigger concern for Sindhi Hindus in recent years pertains to forced conversion of upper caste Hindu girls to Islam. Their economic influence has not translated into sufficient political clout to generate support among the political elite of Sindh to solve this particular grievance.

Wadhera-mullah combine

The lack of political engagement does not help counter the influence of religious wadheras or the wadhera-mullah combine which is now increasingly behind the conversion issue. It was in 2012, for example, that the conversion scandal involving a pir of the Bharchundi shrine became public. Mian Mithu, as he was popularly known, was also a PPP member of the National Assembly. He was instrumental in converting a local Hindu girl, Rinkle Kumari, to Islam after one of his men facilitated her abduction and then married her off to a boy she allegedly had an affair with. As Rinkle’s Talraja caste has some influence in Ghotki and adjoining Dharki, where it even has a huge shrine of Sacho Satram Das, the PPP eventually abandoned Mian Mithu.

Pakistan’s renowned Sindhi playwright, Noor-ul-Huda Shah, believes that there is a tendency to treat conversions, especially of upper caste girls such as Rinkle Kumari, as a trophy. The pride in converting upper caste Hindu girls could also be linked with the gradual spread of militant organisations like the SSP, JeM and LeT in interior Sindh. Piggybacking on the shoulders of the religious party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, the various militant outfits are said to be engaged in several cases of violence including the killing of three Hindu boys in Khairpur who were suspected of involvement with Muslim girls.

The efforts made by some Hindus in the last couple of years to migrate to India caught media attention. Though most people in the community still consider Pakistan their country and would not leave, political parties have paid scant attention to their problems.

For the minorities in Pakistan, the biggest question is whether this election will help them negotiate their safety and security in a society and polity increasingly drifting towards the right wing. So far, no political party has had the courage to provide a reassuring answer.