What really happened on May 11? – Farrukh Khan Pitafi

This is a cross-blog post taken from Express Tribune. The writer hosts a show called “Capital Circuit” for News One and tweets @FarrukhKPitafi

May 11, 2013, left behind a watershed moment. It was the day when we witnessed the triumph of hope over fear. Defying the omnipresent threat of terrorist assault, Pakistanis came out in hordes and voted for change. It sounds really stupid but before this day, we never had civilian to civilian transition through democratic means. And yet, there is a significant part of our elite that is bent on delegitimising and discrediting the democratic process by shoving whatever passes as evidence of rigging in our face. And this leads us to a host of questions.

First, if there was widespread rigging, who was cheated out of victory? Was it the PTI or the incumbent PPP? You can fairly rule out the PPP because of its abysmal five-year performance and lack of proper election campaigning. That leaves us with the PTI. To ascertain if the PTI’s mandate was really stolen, let us see what was being projected before and on the Election Day. The Economist had already hinted that the PML-N seemed in clear lead. With a number of caveats, Gallup Pakistan had predicted that the PML-N would not only win but get a clear majority.

If you recall my piece “Towards a true democracy” that appeared on the Election Day, I had made two predictions and given one pointer. I wrote: “I see a huge turnout despite all odds. But contrary to general expectations, this voter surge will not benefit a single party… Secondly, I don’t foresee a hung parliament. With the help of pre-poll alliances, the front runner, I believe, will be able to conveniently form the government.” And the pointer was my own vote. I had pointed out that since it had come down to a choice between two conservative parties namely the PML-N and the PTI, I had decided to go for the former.

On that day, I had with me a meticulously prepared list showing the PML-N bagging 111 seats. This list was prepared with a conservative approach and the PPP and the ANP were shown doing slightly better. And yet, there was so much noise around us that I had to endure reluctance while mentioning this conservative estimate in our election transmission.

But if the verdict was that clear that it was visible to the naked eye, was there no rigging at all? Of course not. There was rigging and has always been there. Remember that three majors parts of the country are seriously troubled, namely; Fata, Balochistan and Karachi. Given the situation of law and order there, you cannot rule out the possibility of huge manipulation. But that’s a given and you cannot magnify it beyond proportion. With the passage of time, the situation will improve. And in the case of Karachi, even the protesting parties are to blame. In 2008, through our columns, people like me begged the PTI not to boycott the elections for it was being viewed as a serious contender. But Imran Khan, in his infinite wisdom, does not listen to anybody and hence, is partially responsible for what is happening in Karachi.

But if rigging was not that widespread, why are so many anchors and politicians making so much noise about it. The answer is that on May 11, unfounded expectations of some parties bloated beyond imagination dashed to the ground. A huge part of the elite was mobilised by the PTI, the kind whose voice is heard internationally. But this class mistook their support for the entire nation’s. On my polling station, I witnessed very vocal PTI voters who were quizzing the silent majority. If you revealed that you were not going to vote for their party, they would argue with you ad nauseam. And many ended up lying about their choices. As for anchors, I know there are some conscientious people too but many of our friends simply didn’t want the PML-N to win for one reason or another. When it did, they moved in to discredit the process. With time and due process, all anomalies and attitudes will be corrected. But the truth is that this day marked a huge transformation and we are a democracy today. We need to deal with it.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2013.


The Rocky Road Ahead

Following is an article published in Daily Dawn by columnist Abbas Nasir who is also former editor of Dawn.

A WEEK after a majority of the registered voters exercised their democratic right it is time for some reflection and to assess how the scenario will pan out.

What’s sticking like a sty in my eye right now is how the caretakers, the Election Commission and even the army are congratulating each other on the conduct of ‘peaceful’ elections and how they haven’t even said a word about those who weren’t allowed to campaign.

The election day bombing of an ANP office in Karachi which killed nearly a dozen people was just one among a spate of incidents which claimed over 100 lives in a matter of weeks and should have served as a sobering thought for key state functionaries patting each other on the back.

Of course, this isn’t to brush under the carpet misgovernance, corruption or a lackadaisical attitude towards lawlessness which would have weighed heavily against the incumbents anyway. But equally valid is the argument that the three secular parties were unable to take their case to the electorate.

This isn’t to suggest this would have changed the outcome of the election but would have at least ensured a level playing field. Perhaps, even belatedly, those in positions of authority should say a prayer for all those who were killed by the Taliban for merely campaigning, for asserting their democratic right.

Ironically, the critical state of the country and the mountains of challenges that lie across its path dictate that there isn’t much point in pondering the past, and to move on. Even those affected by the Taliban’s bloody ban on electioneering have accepted the result for, they say, democracy’s sake.

So, what does the future look like? One indication came in a statement by PML-N MNA and negotiator Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, yes, the one who slew the change dragon in Lahore. “I can confirm we have a majority now but can’t give you exact numbers as people are joining every hour.”

The results have yet to be notified but the PML-N’s stunning victory has led to a deluge of independent elected members joining the party — even small parties such as the National People’s Party whose leader has announced a merger with the Raiwind Royalty’s party.

It is becoming clear that, short of constitutional amendments, the PML-N will have complete control to do as it pleases at the federal and Punjab level. This can only be good as success or failure will be clearly attributable to the policies and implementation of a single party and not a coalition muddle.

Everyone lauded the maturity of Mian Nawaz Sharif in publicly stating that since the PTI emerged as the largest single party in KP its mandate should be respected. As a result, the conservative government there is likely to be stable, that is, till it falls foul of the PML-N.

Balochistan is a different story. The PML-N’s contrived numerical superiority as elected members from the pool of independents and even the PML-Q rush to join it will give its chief minister’s candidate, Sanaullah Zehri, no more moral authority than his predecessor Aslam Raisani.

If the PML-N leadership has really come of age it should ponder whether offering the chief minister’s slot to one of the Baloch nationalist parties will be in greater national interest. Admittedly, none of these nationalist parties would have secured a majority on its own given the political landscape.

However, that these parties defied not only threats of retribution from armed separatists but also in some cases had to face up to the nastiness of those running election campaigns with as much impunity as they have allegedly run death squads, should amount to something.

What greater demonstration to seeking a resolution of Balochistan’s issues within the confines of Pakistan’s Constitution and on the floor of the assemblies could there be? Surely, the state can reward their gesture better than by delaying, withholding and allegedly changing their results.

So, a real test of statesmanship awaits the Sharifs but I doubt they’ll rise to the occasion on this one. If prominent nationalists are not in government, the PML-N chief minister will have to proactively control state excesses or Balochistan would be pushed further into the separatists’ lap.

The Balochistan government formation story is yet to unfold fully. One can talk more definitively of Sindh. Whether Qaim Ali Shah is reinstalled as chief minister or it is Hazar Khan Bijarani or Nisar Khuhro or even Owais Tappi they all face the same challenge.

Roads, infrastructure, development more generally and even provision of jobs (on merit and without seeking kickbacks from the poor unemployed) can all come later. The first and foremost priority for the Sindh government ought to be law and order particularly in Karachi.

This must be the most dramatic failing of the last coalition; even more than the unending tales of corruption and price-tagged decisions. If the MQM is part of the new set-up as well, it is even more incumbent on the two to deliver a safe environment to their devoted voter.

This is in their self-interest. As the statistics show, voter loyalty patterns are shifting at least in urban Sindh. And if a viable alternative appeared in the rural parts of the province, the current rulers can rest assured they’ll rapidly lose their traditional support in the absence of delivery.

Also, the elected provincial government will ignore law and order at its own peril. With a central government belonging to a party which isn’t exactly enamoured of the warlord-like attitude of the Sindh coalition particularly in Karachi it can only speed to its sacking by repeating its past mistakes.

For all the political parties, the electorate and the media the euphoria generated by an election campaign (even if all parties couldn’t participate equally or at all) will soon be a thing of the past — such is the daunting agenda that lies ahead.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

After Vote, Pakistan’s Strongest Ally Should Be India

Following is an editorial published in Bloomberg Magazine.

As every leading candidate has proudly noted, tomorrow’s parliamentary elections in Pakistan will mark the first civilian transfer of power in that country’s 66-year history. To ensure it’s not the last, the winner should turn to an unlikely ally: India.

Whichever party takes power in Islamabad will almost certainly have to cobble together a coalition to rule. The new government will inherit a looming foreign-exchange crisis, hours-long blackouts that have provoked street riots, and overlapping insurgencies and sectarian wars that have claimed thousands of lives. Though army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has resisted the temptation to restore military rule, he will retire soon. His successors may not be so restrained.

None of Pakistan’s ills has a quick fix. But one key decision would immediately help jump-start the economy, lower regional tensions and reduce the army’s influence in politics: lifting long-standing barriers to trade with India.

The benefits of a border more open to commerce are indisputable. Trade between India and Pakistan — currently less than $3 billion annually — may grow tenfold or more if existing restrictions were to be lifted, according to an April report produced by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Millions in revenue are currently lost via smuggling and informal trade. Some estimates put the potential for Indian investment in Pakistan at $50 billion.

Fraught Border

Equally important, a more open border would be a less fraught one. The army’s obsession with the “Indian threat” drives Pakistan’s most dangerous policies. It fuels the world’s fastest-growing nuclear stockpile and diverts the lion’s share of the country’s limited resources to defense. It has led the military to lend unofficial support to anti-India jihadist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the deadly 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai. Pakistan has also backed Taliban factions in Afghanistan as a means of countering Indian influence there.

A remarkable consensus in favor of freer trade with Pakistan’s archrival has now developed across the political spectrum. In November 2011, the government pledged to grant its larger neighbor “most-favored nation” status — a decision that could not have been made without the support of the military. (India afforded Pakistan the same status in 1996.) All of Pakistan’s mainstream parties have endorsed an economic rapprochement. The front-runner — Punjabi magnate and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — has made increased trade and economic progress central to his appeal to voters.

Informal Barriers

Pakistan has yet to follow through on its 2011 pledge. Now is the time to do so. The next government should immediately trim back the list of 1,200 Indian products that still cannot be imported. Some of these restrictions are meant to defend Pakistani farmers, say, from cheaper Indian crops. But mostly they protect well-connected lobbies: More than 500 of the banned goods affect the automobile, iron and steel industries.

India needs to do what it can to help the next Pakistani government. Though India’s list of banned imports is much smaller, other informal barriers still impede Pakistani exports. It takes six months for Pakistani companies to get approval to ship cement to India, for instance. The government in New Delhi should strive to eliminate such roadblocks and to improve transport and logistics links across the border. Better trade facilities alone could pump up Pakistan’s exports to India by 200 percent.

Both sides need to act quickly, before another terrorist attack or domestic political controversy derails the current momentum. India’s next government could well be led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, whose base remains deeply skeptical of Pakistan’s trustworthiness. (Elections must be held before the end of next May.) The impending U.S. pullout could turn Afghanistan into another shadow battleground for the South Asian rivals, much like the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Delay has allowed past opportunities for reconciliation to slip away. Neither Pakistan nor India — whose own economy is slowing dramatically — can afford to let this happen again.

To contact the Bloomberg View editorial board: view@bloomberg.net

The politics of hate

Following article by Azam Khalil is a cross post from The Nation newspaper. The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television.

“Whosoever hateth his brother
is a murderer.”
– I John III

With about one week left in the general elections, it seems that Pakistan is ‘becoming a focal point’ of politics of hate. It is unfortunate that several politicians have been using foul language against their opponents during their election campaigns. According to international analysts, it looks like Pakistan is at war with itself. Thus, the politics of mudslinging that is currently going on must not be overlooked, since this attitude could ultimately damage the democratic process in the country.  Against this backdrop, the statement of the Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, on Martyr’s Day at the GHQ in Islamabad, in support of the elections and about the menace of terrorism is, indeed, a wake-up call mainly for those who were saying that “the war on terror is not Pakistan’s war.”

Political analysts assume that the message was not only directed toward those who supposedly have a soft corner for the militants, but also the international community, which presumes that the next government will be formed by a rightwing party, creating more problems for the world and denting the efforts to eliminate terrorists and their networks.
On the internal front, the terrorists have attacked three main political parties – the PPP, the MQM and the ANP – that had taken a principled stand against the militants, who want to impose their own brand of Islam in the country.

Unfortunately, the whole situation is now virtually turning the political arena into a one-sided match, where at least the PPP does not seems to be seriously contesting the elections. For example, none of its top ranking leaders have yet addressed the workers in their election campaigns. While there may be a genuine threat for the PPP, the MQM and the ANP, it does not mean that they should abdicate from the democratic dispensation in the country. Some candidates of these political parties on their own are trying to rally the people in their favour. At the end of the day, however, this may not be enough for the parties under threat to perform according to their full potential. It would have been better if all the democratic forces had  united against those who are trying to disrupt the election process by sending a clear signal that bomb blasts cannot impede the journey of democracy in Pakistan.

It is unfortunate, however, that this has not happened. Rather the politicians are creating opportunities for the extremists to strike at will, which has led to fear and despondency among the people.

If not now, it is expected that may be after the polls are held, the politicians will find the time to sit together and create conditions where intolerance and hatred are discouraged. Having said that, it would be prudent on the part of the politicians not to allow the temperatures to rise to an extent from where it may become impossible for them to return to normal conditions.

It is also important to note that the Election Commission of Pakistan has so far performed in a lacklustre manner and failed to implement some of its basic regulations, which are essential to hold free and fair elections. The process of scrutinising the nomination papers of prospective candidates too was faulty, while some of the decisions taken by the courts were beyond the people’s intellect.

Finally, the mere fact that the election process is proceeding on a bumpy road is in itself no small achievement. This will pave the way for subsequent elections in the country, so that democracy and the people can prosper.

A threatened transition

Following article by Raza Rumi  is a cross post from Express Tribune

The democratic transition has finally met its gravest challenge. As Pakistan moves to the general elections in 10 days, it is not clear how fair and free would these elections be. In the 1990s, the establishment manipulated the results and electoral outcomes. The decision of the Asghar Khan case is on record now that shows how the establishment engineered the results in favour of a right-wing coalition of their choice. Such direct interference in political affairs culminated in the coup d etat of 1999.

The return of democratic rule had kindled the hope that Pakistan’s civilian institutions would be stronger and perhaps, a more rational civil-military engagement will ensue. The political parties achieved much in the shape of constitutional restructuring and ensuring that they did not compromise on an extraconstitutional solution for alleged misgovernance. A few months ago, it was hoped that neutral caretakers and a vigilant Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) would steer the country through the elections process.

However, the Pakistani state and its wilful outsourcing of jihad to militant organsiations are now haunting the democratic and electoral process. The so-called Pakistani faction of the Taliban has drawn the line between the acceptable and unacceptable electoral solution. Ironically, they are mirroring the approach of their erstwhile masters by indulging in pre-poll manipulation. The instruments are violence, coercion of public opinion backed with somewhat aggressive media campaigns. The ANP, the MQM and the PPP are facing the music for being liberal and secular and for backing military operations against the Taliban.

Not that the performance of these three parties was exemplary, especially with respect to law enforcement, but the truth is that they did not control the security policy of the country. The security policy intertwined with our foreign policy — a friendly Afghanistan and containment of India at all costs — drives our foreign policy agenda. The provincial governments could have done much more in terms of policing and strengthening the legal framework, which remains in shambles since the defacto abolition of the Police Order of 2002. It should be remembered that the civilian law-enforcement agencies suffered heavy casualties in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Fata and continue to remain under attack.

In the last month, scores of political workers from the moderate political parties are dead and dozens of attacks have been carried out. The frequency, speed and planning of these attacks demonstrate that the intelligence apparatus is lagging and little coordination exists. The most worrying aspect is how Karachi or at least parts of it have turned into little havens for militants where they are holding courts.

The caretaker interior minister, immediately after his appointment, became controversial, as he could not resist praising one particular leader and making predictions on who might win the election. The interim administration obviously did not do anything to assure the public that it might have been a case of misplaced enthusiasm. Who is in charge of security? Paramilitary forces are stationed in Fata, Balochistan and parts of K-P. They are under the control of civilian institutions but headed by the military. Similarly, the chief of the ISI is a senior military official. What is unclear is if someone is making these agencies talk to one another and coordinate to prevent the attacks on political workers.

How come the state does not know where the leaders and operatives of the TTP are located? Their spokesperson is quoted in Urdu columns and appears on TV as well. This kind of retreat by the state and media is mind-boggling. The paradox is that the TTP find democracy and elections un-Islamic and yet want to influence their course. More worrying is the silence and sometimes cajoling by the parties on the right of the centre. Some have even thanked the TTP for not attacking them and others have appealed them not to attack. The entire campaign has turned into a farce. In Punjab, the major contestants are promising the moon to the public without even mentioning the issue of terrorism. Is it naiveté or just short-termism that they are not focusing on these critical issues?

The net result could be that the voter turnout will be lower in the smaller provinces and higher in Punjab. This is neither good for the federation nor for our fragile democracy. By capitulating to the Taliban, are some political parties not ceding space to militias that impose their ideology through terror?

Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2013.