Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb ANDREW JOHNSON

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

ANDREW JOHNSON         Monday 01 September 2014
One of Islam’s most revered holy sites – the tomb of the Prophet Mohamed – could be destroyed and his body removed to an anonymous grave under plans which threaten to spark discord across the Muslim world.

The controversial proposals are part of a consultation document by a leading Saudi academic which has been circulated among the supervisors of al-Masjid al-Nabawi mosque in Medina, where the remains of the Prophet are housed under the Green Dome, visited by millions of pilgrims and venerated as Islam’s second-holiest site. The formal custodian of the mosque is Saudi Arabia’s ageing monarch King Abdullah.

The plans, brought to light by another Saudi academic who has exposed and criticised the destruction of holy places and artefacts in Mecca – the holiest site in the Muslim world – call for the destruction of chambers around the Prophet’s grave which are particularly venerated by Shia Muslims.

The 61-page document also calls for the removal of Mohamed’s remains to the nearby al-Baqi cemetery, where they would be interred anonymously.

There is no suggestion that any decision has been taken to act upon the plans. The Saudi government has in the past insisted that it treats any changes to Islam’s holiest sites with “the utmost seriousness”.

But such is the importance of the mosque to both Sunni and Shia Muslims that Dr Irfan al-Alawi warned that any attempt to carry out the work could spark unrest. It also runs the risk of inflaming sectarian tensions between the two branches of Islam, already running perilously high due to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

Hardline Saudi clerics have long preached that the country’s strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam – an offshoot of the Sunni tradition – prohibits the worship of any object or “saint”, a practice considered “shirq” or idolatrous.

Dr Alawi, director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, told The Independent: “People visit the chambers, which are the rooms where the Prophet’s family lived, and turn towards the burial chamber to pray.

“Now they want to prevent pilgrims from attending and venerating the tomb because they believe this is shirq, or idolatry. But the only way they can stop people visiting the Prophet is to get him out and into the cemetery.”

For centuries Muslim pilgrims have made their way to Mecca in order to visit the Kaaba – a black granite cubed building said to be built by Abraham, around which al-Masjid al-Haram, or the Grand Mosque, is built, and towards which every Muslim faces when they pray.

This pilgrimage, or hajj, is a religious duty that has to be carried out at least once in a lifetime.
Many go on to make their way to the nearby city of Medina to pay their respects at the Prophet’s tomb.

Al-Nabawi mosque around the tomb has been expanded by generations of Arabian rulers, particularly the Ottomans. It includes hand-painted calligraphy documenting details of the Prophet’s life and his family. Dr Alawi said the plans also call for these to be destroyed as well as the Green Dome which covers the Prophet’s tomb.

The Prophet is venerated by both branches of Islam, Sunni and Shia. The strict Wahhabi sect is a branch of the Sunni faith, however, and removing the Prophet could further inflame tensions between the two groups .

The current  crisis in Iraq has been blamed on the Shia former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarianism, which alienated the Sunni, leading to the uprising. Isis, also known as Islamic State, which holds swathes of Iraq and Syria, and which murdered the American journalist 
James Foley, is a Sunni organisation.
Mainstream Sunni Muslims would be just as aghast at any desecration of the tomb as the Shia, Dr Alawi said.

The Independent has previously revealed how the multibillion-pound expansion of the Grand Mosque has, according to the Washington-based Gulf Institute, led to the destruction of up to 95 per cent of Mecca’s millennium-old buildings. They have been replaced with luxury  hotels, apartments and  shopping malls.

King Abdullah has appointed the prominent Wahhabi cleric and imam of the Grand Mosque, Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, to oversee the expansion project – necessary to cope with the huge number of pilgrims who now visit each year.

Dr Alawi says the consultation document for the al-Nabawi mosque in Medina, by the leading Saudi academic Dr Ali bin Abdulaziz al-Shabal of Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, has been circulated to the Committee of the Presidency of the Two Mosques.

Several pages of the consultation document have just been published in the presidency’s journal. They call for the destruction of the rooms surrounding the tomb – used by the Prophet’s wives and daughters, and venerated by the Shia because of their association with his youngest daughter, Fatima.

The document also calls for the Green Dome, which covers the tomb and these living quarters, to be removed, and the ultimate removal of the Prophet’s body to a nearby cemetery.

The al-Baqi cemetery already contains the bodies of many of the Prophet’s family, including his father who was removed there in the 1970s, Dr Alawi said. In 1924 all the grave markers were removed, so pilgrims would not know who was buried there, and so be unable to pray to them.
“The Prophet would be anonymous,” Dr  Alawi added. “Everything around the Prophet’s mosque has already been destroyed. It is surrounded by bulldozers. Once they’ve removed everything they can move towards the mosque. The imam is likely to say there is a need to expand the mosque and do it that way, while the world’s eyes are on Iraq and Syria. The Prophet Mohamed’s grave is venerated by the mainstream Sunni, who would never do it. It is just as important for the Shia too, who venerate the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima.

“I’m sure there will be shock across the Muslim world at these revelations. It will cause outrage.”
The Independent was unable to contact the Saudi Arabian embassy, but it said in a statement last year: “The development of the Holy Mosque of Makkah al-Mukarramah [Mecca] is an extremely important subject and one which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in its capacity as custodian of the two holy mosques, takes with the utmost seriousness. This role is at the heart of the principles upon which Saudi Arabia is founded.”


Sunday, 31 August 2014

Despite Protests, Pakistan’s Sharif Remains Popular

Despite Protests, Pakistan’s Sharif Remains Popular
Amid ongoing protests, 64 percent of Pakistanis have a favorable view of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Despite massive protests in Islamabad calling for his ouster, Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif remains widely popular among the Pakistani public, according to a new opinion poll.
On Tuesday Pew Research Center released a new opinion poll that found that 64 percent of Pakistanis have a positive view of Prime Minister Sharif, compared to just 32 percent who view him unfavorably.
This makes Sharif more popular than Imran Khan, the former cricket star turned opposition politician who is leading the protests demanding that Sharif step down. According to Pew, just 53 percent of Pakistanis have a positive view of Khan, compared to 24 percent who view him unfavorably.
Most tellingly, Sharif’s popularity has remained largely stagnant while Khan’s is in sharp decline. In the weeks before he was elected to his current position, Pew found that around 66 percent of Pakistanis viewed him favorably– just 2 percent more than currently do. His current 64 percent approval rating is also 2 percent higher than it was in 2012 when just 62 percent of Pakistanis held a favorable view of Sharif.
By contrast, Khan’s favorability ratings have continued to decline precipitously. His current favorability rating of 53 percent is down 7 percent from last year and a striking 17 percent from 2012.
These numbers suggest that Pakistanis are largely happy with how Sharif has been governing the country, while they are less satisfied with how Khan has been handling himself outside of it. At the same time, the survey is based on face-to-face interviews conducted with 1,203 respondents between April 15 and May 7, 2014, long before the current round of protests.
Still, other measurements suggest that Pakistanis have been largely satisfied with Sharif’s governance. For example, while only 25 percent of Pakistanis feel their country is headed in the right direction, this is a more than three-fold increase from last year when only 8 percent felt that way.
Similarly, those saying that the economy is in good shape have more than doubled over the last year, from 17 percent in 2013 to 37 percent today. Another 36 percent of those surveyed believe that the economy will improve over the next 12 months.
Pakistan’s military continues to be far more popular than either Sharif or Khan, however. A shocking 87 percent of Pakistanis say the military has a good influence on the nation, up from 79 percent last year.
Despite Sharif’s popularity, protests continue to grip Islamabad and are now entering their 14 day. After talks between the government and opposition leaders broke down on Thursday, both Khan and Tahir ul-Qadri, a cleric who is also leading the protests, predicted that Khan would step down before day’s end.
Don’t bet on it. Besides lacking much in the way of public support, the Wall Street Journal is reporting thatSharif is close to reaching a deal with the military in which the premier will relinquish control over security affairs and strategic foreign policy to the generals. As Ankit and I discussed on last week’s podcast, it is likely that the military has been tacitly supporting the protests in a bid to gain more influence over Sharif. Sharif would only willingly give the control over security issues and strategic foreign policy if the generals promised to withdraw any support for Khan and Qadri. If anything, the protests are likely to end soon with their demand for Sharif to resign unmet.


Saturday, 30 August 2014

State action, Tausif Kamal

State action, Tausif Kamal
The government would be legally justified to physically remove the PTI/PAT protesters from their present location who are stifling not only the city, posing a grave national risk, but also adversely impacting the national economy

The drama being played out in Islamabad is a farcical tragedy. It is a farce because a lone minority representation of people is challenging to bring down the country’s entire political system, and a tragedy because, in the process, it is eroding whatever little authority the state or the government is left with, while causing huge losses to our precarious national economy with long term damage to the country’s image, democracy, morale, unity and stability.

The two greedy, power hungry and egoistic demagogues, Imran and Qadri, along with their crazed followers, are like political vultures feasting upon the helpless carcass of a dying state. Pakistan has now been adjudged as the 10th most fragile state in the world (Foreign Policy 2014 survey on status of world states). Along with Pakistan in this bottom category of failed states are states like Somalia, Sudan, Congo and Mali.

We have been witnessing for the last three or four weeks a subversive and debilitating siege of our capital city of Islamabad by this handful of PTI and PAT zealots, and the corresponding near paralysis of the state apparatus to confront and end this brazen, ubiquitous lawlessness. There exists the real and looming threat of the total collapse of state authority if no action by the state or the government is taken.

Supporters of PTI/PAT cite the provisions of freedom of speech and expression in our constitution to justify their lawlessness, fascist like raid, 24/7 ranting and sit-ins in Islamabad. Though this guarantee of freedom of speech is valid, it is by no means absolute and without any restrictions. For instance, the right to speak against the judiciary and the armed forces is expressly curtailed in the constitution. More importantly, the right to incite violence or rebellion against a lawful government or to create and promote public disorder by words or conduct is also illegal, unconstitutional and strictly prohibited. The hateful, provocative, subversive and abase speeches of both Imran and Qadri along with their conduct clearly constitute such unprotected, unlawful speech and conduct.

As far as the citizen’s right to protest and the right to peaceful assembly, embedded in freedom of speech, is concerned, it is also not limitless. It does not give a licence to protest and assemble anywhere, anytime in the country. The US Supreme Court has consistently ruled, in such landmark cases as Boos vs Barry, Grayned vs City of Rockford, New York Times Co. vs Ed Sullivan, Plumhoff vs Rickard and Wood vs Moss, that the right to free speech and assembly is restricted in the face of a “compelling national or governmental interest” or to counter a “grave public risk”. Consequently, the government, in order to safeguard vital national interest, retains full authority to prescribe the place and time of peaceful assembly and protest.
In no democratic country of the world are citizens allowed to protest, sit, sleep, camp, make speeches anywhere, anytime they so desire for as many days as they want. Can you hang your dirty laundry, sleep for weeks in front of the US Congress, White House, or 10 Downing Street? To do so would mean anarchy, maelstrom and lawlessness.

The Pakistan government thus has a legitimate, compelling national interest not only in protecting key government buildings, foreign embassies and national institutions and to keep the arteries of the capital city open and accessible to all but also in preventing the collapse of the national economy. In order to perform this duty, the government would be legally justified to physically remove the PTI/PAT protesters from their present location who are stifling not only the city, posing a grave national risk, but also adversely impacting the national economy.

If the present imbroglio ends with an inconclusive whimper by virtue of the army’s intervention, it would nonetheless lack finality, authority of the government and state action. For one thing, a laconic outcome will not prevent ambitious charlatans in the future from orchestrating similar marches to the capital. On the other hand, such marches and dharnas (sit-ins) may provide  a convenient leitmotif and a shot to some at gaining power via a quick and easy shortcut without the imperative of the long political grind and majority vote.

This failure of assertion of state authority by the PML-N government is analogous to another recent debilitating chapter in Pakistan’s history: the rise, murderous assault and relentless onslaught by the Taliban/jihadists against the people and state of Pakistan. Yes, ultimately a final offensive was undertaken but not before the loss of thousands of citizens’ lives, destruction of property and assault on security bases.

In this connection, we should remember how, before the launching of this operation, a large segment of our population created hyperbolic hype about the fiery retaliation of the Taliban. We all know now that this phantom fear never materialised. Along similar lines, in the present dharna some are advising against using any force in any event whatsoever because of the exaggerated threat of nationwide violence and upheaval by a minority of the people. Our government it seems is acting on a mistaken assumption that force at its disposal can never be constructively used. Well, the whole concept of the nation state is based on its monopoly of coercive force and its willingness to use it for the maintenance of order, protection of the people, defence of the constitution and for the enforcement of its laws.

This is by no means an avocation of the use of force cart blanche but only that the government must be able and ready to employ it when and if necessary to protect legitimate national interests. If the government or the state does not use its inherent power when necessary then the state is bound to wither away. As the maxim goes: you loose it, if you do not use it.

The writer is a US-based attorney, author and independent analyst


Friday, 29 August 2014

The Pretender to Pakistan’s Throne, Foreign Policy


In 1960, president and field marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan, Pakistan's first military dictator, built the city of Islamabad almost from scratch. Pakistan's original capital, Karachi, was roughly 800 miles away from his headquarters in Rawalpindi, and Ayub Khan -- as the story goes -- wanted to reduce his commute in order to more easily serve the requirements of both his military office and the presidency of Pakistan. In relatively short order, Rawalpindi had a new twin city and Pakistan had a new capital. Instead of flying from one office to the next, Ayub Khan could now walk, jog, or drive.
That little slice of Pakistania illustrates the most important rule of the decades-long contest between Pakistan's unruly civilian democrats and its unconstitutional military rulers: When the Army wants something, it gets it.
Since Aug. 14, Islamabad has been in a state of constant uncertainty and insecurity. Politicians opposed to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have been leading a sit-in of thousands of protesters demanding nothing less than the resignation of Sharif -- who has been prime minister twice before and deposed in coups both times.
Today in Pakistan, there are two big questions: Is the military attempting to stage-manage Sharif's third exit? And is his political tormentor, the temperamental former cricket star Imran Khan (unrelated to Ayub Khan), the Army's choice as his replacement?
Two separate camps are conducting the Islamabad protests against Sharif: Khan leads one, and Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, an anti-Taliban cleric formerly based in Canada, leads the other. The two leaders are a study in contrasts, but they share one explicit objective -- to oust Sharif. Pakistani fatigue with the saga has been growing, and on the night of Aug. 28, the Army became explicitly involved as a guarantor of talks between the opposition camps and the government. The announcement of the Army's role as the adult in the room is nothing new for Pakistan, and though expectations are that the crisis is petering out, protests could continue as long as Sharif stays in power.

Where did this mess begin? The 2013 elections brought Sharif back to power for a third term and saw Khan's party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice), emerge as a major force in politics. Khan's complaints that Sharif stole the election received little attention until Qadri entered the picture. A colorful cleric with a superb network of philanthropic activities and a politically insignificant but deeply committed corps of disciples, Qadri has a history of agitating against democratically elected governments. When Qadri announced his decision to return in June from his adopted home in Canada to Lahore to launch yet another agitation, alarm bells went off for Sharif.

On June 17, things took a tragic turn. Already exercised by the 100 degree-plus Fahrenheit heat and smarting at the way senior leaders within Sharif's government had spoken of Qadri, supporters of the clericclashed with police in Lahore's tony Model Town neighborhood. Fourteen people died, including a teenager and at least two women, with much of the blame for the violence placed squarely on police brutality. The Model Town tragedy galvanized Qadri's supporters and stripped Sharif of whatever moral high ground he had. The shifting national mood after the affair buoyed the opposition's spirits, and Khan could smell blood.

In July, Khan announced his decision to march on Islamabad -- with the objective of ousting Sharif -- on Aug. 14, Pakistan's Independence Day. On Aug. 10, Qadri announced that he would march on Islamabad as well. The processions to Islamabad received wall-to-wall coverage from Pakistani media, with some questioning whether the size and diversity of the protesters deserved such lavish 24-hour exposure. As it has dragged on across two weeks, the crisis has developed a momentum of its own. Khan has planted himself and several thousand protesters in front of the Pakistani parliament building, insisting that he will leave only when Sharif resigns.

Few, if any Pakistanis, would argue against the substance of Khan's complaints -- that the electoral process needs major reforms and that corruption throttles the economy. Instead, most debate focuses on just why Khan is so confident that he will succeed in dethroning Sharif -- despite the prime minister's nationwide support and Khan's falling stock.

Khan's bravado is, on the surface, perplexing. His level of popular support has dropped significantly since the May 2013 election, and his performance since then has been pedestrian, at best. His speeches at these protests have been cavalier, even vulgar: He threatened to send his enemies to the Taliban so that the group could "deal with them," according to the New York Times. He denigrates parliament and the prime minister; in one speech, he proudly proclaimed that the fear of protesters has caused Sharif to "wet his pants." This is hardly the kind of leader whom soldiers from any country would want to call boss -- much less the ultraconservative ranks of the Pakistan Army.

For some, this kind of confidence only comes from the knowledge of having the support of Pakistan's military brass. Could it really be betting the house on Khan?
For some, this kind of confidence only comes from the knowledge of having the support of Pakistan's military brass. Could it really be betting the house on Khan?
Probably not. Pakistan's military faces a hostile India on its eastern border and a dysfunctional peace process in Afghanistan on its northwestern one. In between, it is trying to stamp out the remarkably resilient and potent Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, against which it recently launched a massive operation in the remote Pakistani region of Waziristan.Now is not a good time for the Army to manage a chaotic political transition.

And removing Sharif would probably complicate the country's fiscal situation. Pakistan is a poor country with an even poorer record of fiscal management. Outside aid is vital to the country -- be it from the IMF and World Bank or from friendly nations like the United States, China, and Saudi Arabia. International lenders hate instability and coups, and they have a long-standing man-crush on Sharif and his team because they are the big-business, Barbarians-at-the-Gate-type capitalists who love to privatize things while disproportionately taxing the poor instead of the rich. Khan, on the other hand, is a wild man when it comes to economic policy. Just this week, he instructed Pakistanis living abroad to stop using legal means of sending home remittances and once again start using the hundi system -- the preferred cash-mobility solution for terrorists everywhere.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who unsurprisingly is a close relative of Sharif, is surprisingly good at what he does: managing exchange rates, borrowing cheaply, and stamping out dissenting views on the economy. While growth is still sluggish, Dar has convinced lenders that Pakistan is becoming a less risky investment. Bureaucrats from the World Bank and IMF love him because he is an old-school chartered accountant. Sharif loves him because he is family. And though the Army may not love him, they probably like Dar a lot more than they like the prospect of dealing with Khan's cuckoo ideas about how to get remittances to Pakistani shores.

Many in the armed forces think Sharif is being needlessly vindictive in pursuing legal cases against Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the former chief of army staff who seized power from Sharif in October 1999, imprisoning Sharif and later exiling him to Saudi Arabia. Now Sharif is pursuing a case against Musharraf, who is stuck in Pakistan, unable to leave because of a court injunction related to a treason case against him -- though Sharif's people insist the motivation is rule of law and not revenge.

Additionally, Sharif's overtures to India, especially to its newly elected Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, may make some of the generals deeply nervous. Sharif accepted Modi's invitation to his inauguration, and in a break from Pakistani tradition, Sharif did not meet with separatist leaders from Kashmir whom Pakistan supports. If Pakistan and India become normal neighbors, the military's influence in Pakistan automatically decreases. The hawks clearly won't go easily.
But the fears of Sharif improving relations with New Delhi too quickly have likely been assuaged by the rank incompetence with which he implements decisions. Even if he wanted to, Sharif cannot move any faster than a bored glacier on a cold day. He is hamstrung by an obsession with surrounding himself with loyal but inept advisors and bureaucrats.
Sharif has severely undermined his own rule. His shambolic treatment of his own party members, to say nothing of the opposition, is legendary -- often ministers can't get meetings for weeks on end. The presence of his family members in government grates all segments of Pakistani society: Dar's son is married to Sharif's daughter, Asma Nawaz. Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif is his younger brother; Water and Power Minister Chaudhry Abid Sher Ali is his nephew, as is prominent parliamentarian Muhammad Hamza Shahbaz Sharif. If only his strategic vision for the country were as consistent as his nepotism.
On the other hand, the best thing Sharif has going for him is the quality of his competition. 

Pakistan with Khan at the helm would be a disaster of epic proportions -- and that's even with the country's extremely high tolerance for shambolic leadership.
Pakistan with Khan at the helm would be a disaster of epic proportions -- and that's even with the country's extremely high tolerance for shambolic leadership.
Khan may be the world's oldest teenager, with a captive national audience. He thumbs his nose at political niceties and employs an invective that dumbs down the discourse. Like Justin Bieber, Khan focuses on electrifying the urban youth who genuinely believe him to be a messianic solution to the disenchantment they feel about their country. And Khan's understanding of Pakistan's problems is probably only slightly more sophisticated than Bieber's. Khan does not have the policy chops to fix what ails Pakistan: The crux of his efforts during these few weeks has been that he, not Sharif, should be prime minister.

Sharif is a known entity and one easy to tame. Khan is wild and unpredictable. He proudly calls his supporters junoonis -- or "crazies." The military might enjoy the troubles Khan gives the prime minister, but it is unlikely to tie its institutional fortunes to unstable and irresponsible political actors like Khan. Pakistani democracy under Sharif will continue to muddle along as it has in the past. Pakistan optimists will be disappointed, because this crisis is unquestionably a setback for democrats. But things could be worse. For now, the most Khan is likely to achieve in challenging Sharif is further strengthening the military's already strong hold on key decisions guiding the country's future.
As Americans watch in horror as Syria, Libya, and Iraq come apart, perhaps they will warm to the idea of a Pakistan managed by its highly disciplined and professional armed forces. That would be exactly the wrong conclusion to draw from the political chaos in Pakistan. Now more than ever, Pakistan needs the rest of the world to reiterate its strong support for democracy.


Our weak democracy, Babar Ayaz

Our weak democracy, Babar Ayaz
Unfortunately, in Pakistan within days of an elected government’s swearing in, people start to ask: How many days do you give this government? The charitable question would be: Will this government complete its five-year term? 

Such doubts are not misplaced. The people of Pakistan have lived through unstable political times since the country’s birth. This brings us to an essential question: why is democracy so weak in Pakistan? Within 15 months of its swearing in Nawaz government is struggling to manage the ongoing civil military tension backed by Imran Khan’s movement against the government and a parallel call for a revolution by Dr Tahirul Qadri. This makes this question more relevant and urgent.

Let’s briefly review a number of factors that set the political, social and economic course of a country. As the British in India moved towards self-rule in the early 20th century, which was based on democratic principles, the Muslims, being a minority, began to fear ‘Hindu majoritarian rule’. Basic demands during the Pakistan movement were secular in nature – demands for a higher share in jobs and assemblies in Muslim minority provinces and more autonomy for Muslim majority areas. These demands evolved and expanded in the claim for a homeland for the ‘Muslim nation.’ 

The Congress, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, was not willing to budge and wanted a strong central government on the strength of their brute majority. Thus the insecure Muslim minority was not sure that the democratic system, though it claimed to be secular, would protect their interests.
Next, Pakistan’s establishment ran away from democracy in 1970-71 when the Awami League in East Pakistan, which represented 56 percent of population of the country, was able to rule in association with NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Balochistan and perhaps Sindh. It did not accept that the Awami League in the then East Pakistan, with the support of smaller provinces in the west, had the right to have a constitution leading to maximum autonomy for the provinces.

Democracy was born weak in Pakistan. Though both India and Pakistan came into being envisaging a parliamentary system, Jinnah decided to be the governor general of the newborn country instead of prime minister. This was to control the government, as he had the power to dissolve it.

Democracy is also supposed to provide equal provincial autonomy to the provinces in a multi-ethnic federation. But a strong desire for domination by the centre created distrust between the federation and the provinces from the beginning. Within eight days of Independence, Dr Khan Sahib’s majority government in NWFP was dismissed by the centre on August 22, 1947 under section 51(5), which gave powers to the governor general to keep the provinces under his control. 

In Sindh, Muhammad Ayub Khuro’s government was dismissed on April 26 1948 because he protested against depriving Sindh of its port city Karachi and the influx of refugees in the province – which is a contentious issue even today. 

In 1948, the people of East Bengal were told by Khawaja Nazimuddin that the national language of the state would be Urdu and they could choose the provincial language. This was rejected by the Bengalis, in spite of Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan’s intervention, and many people were killed in Dhaka in the language movement in 1952. 

All such measures taken by leaders who played a significant role in the making of Pakistan clearly portrayed their undemocratic mindset. As a result, we have had seven governments in the first 11 years – this included the assassination of the first prime minister, the dismissal of governments by the governor generals, and forced resignations.

The assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan and the dismissal of his successor Nazimuddin are also linked by some to their refusal to join the regional military alliance under the US.

In the 66 years of its history, Pakistan has been ruled directly by three military governments for 33 years – half of its life. I am not counting the fake democracies established by General Zia in 1985 and General Musharraf in 2002, because they remain on record as ‘the Zia government’ and ‘the Musharraf government’.

If we analyse this situation, we can see that for 33 years we had military governments, and for about two year there were several interim governments. In the remaining 31 years, we have had 13 political governments, of which only the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Zardari governments ruled for five years each. That means 11 political governments did not survive an average of even two full years. How on earth can democratic dispensations perform in such unstable conditions?
The question is: why has the military ruled Pakistan directly for 33 years? And even when we have an elected government, why is the ‘invisible government’ the real master? In the Legatum Prosperity Index, only the military in Pakistan scored as ‘good’, while all other civilian related factors scored either average or poor.

Thus the chronic struggle between the country’s military and civilian governments is basically a conflict between highly developed modern institutions – civil, military and judiciary – and quasi-feudal political forces. Pakistan’s political parties’ growth has been retarded because of long spells of military rule, the dismissal of elected governments before they completed their term, and lack of democratic culture. 

All the major parties do not hold fair elections within their parties, so the leadership revolves around a personality or a family. The PTI and JI hold elections, but the former also lives on the cult of Imran Khan’s personality. Even the parties that are led by the urban elite or the middle class have a feudal mindset and so ultimately it is one-person rule.

The political parties’ biggest folly is that their provincial and federal leaders are not willing to share power with local governments. Hence they are not holding local bodies’ elections, and Pakistani democracy is suspended in the air without a sound local government foundation.

Politicians are financed and black mailed by the ‘invisible government’ to tow the pro-establishment line, aided by many in the media. There are a lot of politicians who believe that to come to power, they should have military support. This leverage is fully exploited by the top agencies to keep the elected government on a tight leash. 

One key factor in favour of democracy in Pakistan is the people’s belief in it. In the May 2013 elections, 56 percent of votes were cast. If we take the average turnout of the last seven elections – over 43 percent – it shows people’s real interest in democracy and political parties. In spite of these parties’ weaknesses, people prefer to support democracy as it gives them access to the sources of power.

Sixty percent of Pakistanis live in rural areas and vote mostly for quasi-feudal representatives because they have access to them. But the influence of the feudal class is declining as they cannot take their constituency voters for granted unless they are helpful when needed. Contrary to textbook knowledge, the landed classes support the democratic system because it gives them a share in power.

Pakistan’s middle classes and big business are now leading the political narrative – three chief ministers are from the middle class and one is from an industrial family. Similarly, ministers heading important ministries are from this class, and the number of middle class representatives in the assemblies is increasing in every election.

Over this period, major parties have matured and are not willing to derail the democratic system by playing into the hands of the establishment. By and large, the media supports democracy and is against derailing the democratic process.

Another factor which shows that, given a full term, parliament can perform was the major legislative work was done by the PPP government – the18th Amendment changed 101 articles and clauses of the constitution. A big leap forward towards provincial autonomy was taken in the 18th Amendment and the 7th National Financial Commission (NFC) Award – something that has remained a disputed issue in the history of Pakistan.

The PPP, with the consensus of other parties, removed Article 58 (2) (b), which had been inserted by General Zia and gave the president power to remove an elected government and dissolve parliament. Zia had followed in the footsteps of the founders of the country where the governor generals exercised this power at their whim and dismissed six governments.

Now we come to the question of why the military establishment is the most organised and wealthy political party in Pakistan. Reason: Pakistan was born with the feeling of insecurity. Because its existence was based on a less imagined rationale. Add to that the opposition of the Indian Congress Party to the creation of Pakistan. The loss of Kashmir to India and the military stand-off soon after that created India paranoia in Pakistan; hence the urge to build a strong military and alliances with the US. Right from Jinnah downward, Pakistan sold its geo-strategic position to the US and other western nations. This resulted in the creation of a security state with revanchist attitude. Consequently, the military not only has a domineering security role; it also dictates important foreign policy decisions.

The national security and foreign policy of Pakistan have failed so far. The country is facing serious consequences at home, and is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world. It is thus evident that a paradigm shift is required to redeem Pakistan, and that is only possible if it can build a peaceful co-existence with India and Afghanistan. This would consequently weaken the military’s control on politics, and strengthen democracy. 

In view of on-going tension between Pakistan’s civilian government and military establishment, the following probable political scenarios are emerging:

Most probable scenario: Nawaz Sharif’s government is tamed to abide by the dictates of the establishment and is allowed to complete its term.

Second probable scenario: Nawaz mishandles Imran Khan’s march, the so-called revolution of Tahirul Qadri, and remains adamant that Musharraf cannot be released; this could result in the army pushing him to hold mid-term elections. 

Least probable scenario: an army takeover. At present, it is not in the military’s interest to take over because of internal security threats and increasing regional political pressures.
The writer is the author of the book ‘What’s Wrong With Pakistan?’ 

Email: ayazbabar@gmail.com 

What if India Becomes a Member of the SCO?


·         Reports suggest that India, Pakistan, Mongolia and Iran will be invited to become full members of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation.

·         If true, India’s membership could have a major impact on its relations with China, the United States and Russia.

·         It could also have a paradigm-changing impact upon India-Pakistan relations, with a radical effect on India’s energy security and its overall economy.

·         For its part, the Government of Pakistan could diminish the Army’s influence on foreign and security policy, reduce its military budget and re-allocate that saving to urgently-required energy, water and food security initiatives.

·         All in all, SCO membership would be a superb opportunity for India’s economic, political and social development, but much thought must go into examining the terms and conditions, not to mention the implications, of that membership.

The SCO – composed of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – was created in 1996, for the most part to demilitarise the border between China and Russia. Uzbekistan was made a member in 2001 and the organisation, which was called the Shanghai Five until then, renamed itself as the SCO. More recently, its activities have included military co-operation, intelligence sharing, and counter-terrorism drills between its member states. Some analysts see the SCO as a major anti-US instrument of Russia and China in Central Asia. Others, however, believe that underlying friction between Russia and China precludes a unified organisation.
Should India, Pakistan, Mongolia and Iran become members of the SCO, the organisation will comprise a land mass that extends from Europe’s eastern border to the Pacific Ocean and from the Arctic to the Indian Ocean. It will include the populations of China and India, estimated at 2.4 billion or a full third of the world’s population, the major energy resources of Iran, Mongolia and Russia, and the wherewithal to pose a political and security counter to NATO. On the economic front, the rising economies of China, Russia and India could counter the economic clout of the United States and its allies.
A major question is why China, which had previously opposed India’s membership in SCO, changed its mind. 
It is common knowledge that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi addressed India’s membership in the SCO on the side-lines of the BRICS summit in Brazil in July this year. It is possible that China, noting that the Bharatiya Janata Party won sufficient seats to govern in its own right and not be held hostage to coalition politics, could now effectively pursue economic, social, security and political reform.

It is equally possible that Russia pressured China to grant India membership in SCO because of New Delhi’s perceived shift towards the West after the US replaced Russia as India’s largest defence supplier.
Recognising India’s shift towards the West, China might also have decided that it would be more beneficial to have India in a position whereby New Delhi could be influenced to side with Moscow and Beijing instead of Washington and London. Furthermore, given the animosity generated towards China by its activities in the South China Sea Beijing may be sensitive to the fact that it cannot have a state that is actively building ever-closer ties with the West on its continental border, let alone one that could be influenced to turn hostile towards it.

It is, however, in the energy sector that China has more cause for worry. In November 2013, Vietnam offered India seven oil blocks off its coast to prospect, including three on an exclusive basis. 
When China objected, Vietnam and India together stridently announced India’s right to explore for oil in the Vietnamese exclusive economic zone, part of which is claimed by China. India has also announced its right to free navigation in the South China Sea, thus ignoring China’s claims to it. China can ill afford to have an antagonistic India in its west, especially one which is growing ever closer to the West, when it needs to concentrate on events in the East and South China Seas.

Essentially, China stands to gain more than it loses by withdrawing its opposition to Indian membership in the SCO.
It is pertinent to try to determine why an offer of membership was made at this time, assuming it was made or is to be made at all. It could be that China and Russia are trying to prove a point to the US; Modi is to meet US President Obama in September. It is possible that the issue of India’s support for Russia will be dealt with during this meeting. At a recent meeting with Indian officials, US Secretary of State John Kerry was informed that India would take no part in US sanctions against Russia due to its actions in the Ukraine. Instead, much to Kerry’s disappointment, India stated that Russia had every right to act in the Ukraine. In essence, India was making the point that it would pursue its own agenda of non-alignment and would take no sides. This runs counter to US objectives.
On the one hand, the US seeks to contain Russia and China, at this time the two most important countries in the SCO, and simultaneously bring India within its orbit. If India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia become members of the organisation, it would be a blow to US strategy and simultaneously prove a boon to China and Russia.

Finally, it is necessary to attempt to discern how membership in the SCO might benefit India. Given India’s chronic shortage of energy, membership in the SCO, especially if Pakistan and Iran also accept membership, will pay particularly rich dividends. As noted previously, the Russian-Chinese oil and gas pipelines could be extended to India. This will have the obvious benefits of enhancing India’s energy security by diversifying its sources. 
It is Pakistan’s membership, however, that will give India cause to rejoice. Assuming that common membership will lead to better relations and a large reduction in the tensions between the two countries, India could arguably re-visit the creation of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India and Iran-Pakistan-India pipelines. 
For its part, Pakistan could levy a negotiated transit fee on the energy supplies to India while, simultaneously, using the pipelines to alleviate its own shortfalls in energy supplies. Increased energy supplies will create an enlarged manufacturing sector in the Indian economy, which results, in turn, in more and better employment opportunities, better education and a higher standard of living.
An obvious drawback that could jeopardise this scenario is the Pakistani Army, which sees itself as Pakistan’s defence against all threats including, in its perception, a successful India. The Pakistani Army, moreover, is currently allocated approximately 22 per cent of Pakistan’s budget. It is difficult to envision the Army leaders willingly giving up that proportion of funding, and the attendant power, to a civilian government. Another is the militant groups that were either created by the Pakistani Army or are controlled by them. These groups, which have been used to wage a proxy war against India, will now have to be made to cease their attacks on India and refrain from anything that could provide India with either benefit or advantage.

If Pakistan could neutralise these two threats, it could itself move away from the verge of becoming a failed state and allow the government to formulate foreign and security policy, as it rightfully ought to do.