Dawn – Religious freedom

Huma Yusuf

Op/Ed, 20 November 2017. The State Department recently missed its legal deadline for designating ‘Countries of Particular Concern’, a list of nations that violate religious freedom in a “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” manner.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the body that recommends which countries should be designated, criticised the State Department for the oversight, stating that it “tells violators of religious freedom around the world that the United States is looking away”, and is unlikely to take rights violations seriously.

Pakistan is among the 16 countries that the USCIRF has recommended feature on the list, not surprisingly, and not for the first time. However, the State Department has yet to designate Pakistan as a CPC, presumably to avoid tackling the sensitive issue of religious freedoms as part of an already fractious bilateral relationship.

What would make us stop maltreating minorities?

Anyway, it is unlikely that a designation would motivate Pakistan to check the blatant violation of religious minorities’ rights.

Souring relations with the US, the astute recognition that religious freedom violations are not a high priority issue for the Trump administration, and a growing reliance on China for support at international fora mean that the designation, in the unlikely event that it were to occur, would be ineffective.

So what would motivate Pakistan to tackle the escalating persecution of religious minorities? This question is particularly pertinent as the hostility against religious minorities intensifies with state complicity, whether in the form of legislation, parliamentary discourse or unchecked street agitation.

External pressure in the form of the CPC designation or other condemnation from powers that can offer inducements (defence cooperation, trade deals, aid) has been the most effective in making states behave themselves: think of Turkey keeping human rights violations in check and respecting press freedom while still aspiring for an EU membership.

But in a multipolar world in which some of the ‘poles’, China, Russia, have little regard for human rights, external pressure is less compelling.

The fact that countries where rights violations are routine are signatories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and similar rights treaties is also meaningless. Institutions such as the UN that uphold such treaties are weakening, and their credibility has eroded in the face of multiplying humanitarian crises in places such as Syria and Yemen.

The argument that religious freedom promotes peace by reducing the likelihood of faith-driven or sectarian conflict also falls short in Pakistan’s case. Our country is wracked by lawlessness, and religion-related violence is just one of many security challenges.

A decade of indiscriminate terrorism has also made sectarian violence comparatively palatable.

Moreover, our state’s blunt way of dealing with conflict in the form of para/military operations hardly distinguishes between religiously motivated violence and other forms of conflict.

In Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen argued that economic and social development is facilitated by freedom, and that any form of ‘unfreedom’ hampers progress and prosperity. By this argument, states should promote religious freedom to facilitate an overall environment in which freedom is respected and protected, in other words, rights beget rights, which in turn beget growth.

But Sen’s premise will have few takers in Pakistan where too many vested interests benefit more immediately from rights violations, whether in the form of extrajudicial killings, abductions, worker rights violations or religious persecution as a rent-seeking activity.

When moral, social and diplomatic drivers fail, money usually succeeds. Many countries have been spurred to improve their human rights record in order to attract foreign investors who fear the reputational risks of handing over wealth to rights violators.

However, as Pakistan embraces CPEC as its big growth plan for the coming decades, this aspect can become increasingly irrelevant. Chinese companies are unlikely to ask the state to improve its track record on religious freedom or other human rights.

In the absence of any compelling reason to check religious persecution, Pakistan’s minorities are falling victim to political expediency whereby the short-term gains for political parties and other power brokers of taking aggressive positions against the most vulnerable are too attractive to overlook.

Ultimately, as a nation, we will have to find an internal motivating factor to support religious freedom. That motivating factor will have to be the realisation that if one group’s rights can be trampled today, then our rights (whoever ‘we’ may be) can be trampled tomorrow.

Since there is no predicting who will hold power, whether political or institutional, in the decades to come, we can only take ease in the idea that our religious and other freedoms are protected no matter who’s in charge. Sadly, such insight is hardly our forte.

The writer is a freelance journalist



Dawn – India ‘positively’ responds to Pakistan’s offer about Jadhav

Baqir Sajjad Syed

Islamabad-Federal Capital Territory-Pakistan, 19 November 2017. India has ‘positively’ responded to Pakistan’s offer for a meeting between convicted Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav and his wife, but made a few ‘requests’, a diplomatic source said on Saturday.

Islamabad last week took New Delhi by surprise by offering a meeting between Jadhav and his wife and it took a week for the latter to respond to the gesture, which Pakistan had said was on humanitarian grounds and as per “Islamic traditions and jurisprudence”.

It should be recalled that earlier Islamabad had denied multiple requests from Delhi for consular access to Jadhav and had so far not taken a decision on the visa application of Jadhav’s mother Avantika, who wanted to visit Pakistan for a meeting with her son.

Directors general of military operations hold unscheduled hotline interaction over continuing ceasefire violations by India along LoC.

New Delhi did not make public its response to the offer. The media came to know about it through a tweet by Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal, who also heads the South Asia directorate at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Indian Reply to Pakistan’s Humanitarian offer for Commander Jadhav received and is being considered,” Dr Faisal tweeted.

No details about the Indian response were, however, released.

A diplomatic source talking to Dawn said one of the requests was that Jadhav’s mother be also permitted to meet him.

Jadhav’s mother, it should be recalled, had earlier submitted a petition against her son’s death sentence and had also pleaded to the federal government to intervene for his release.

The source said that the tone of the letter was positive and indicated New Delhi’s desire to avail the offer.

Jadhav, who was captured by Pakistani security forces on 3 March 2016, in Balochistan, was sentenced to death by a military tribunal earlier this year for his involvement in terrorism and espionage.

His appeals against the conviction have been rejected by the military appellate court and his mercy petition has been lying with Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa.

India has challenged Pakistan’s refusal to grant consular access to the spy in the International Court of Justice. The ICJ is hearing the case and has restrained the Pakistan government from executing him till it decides the case.

Meanwhile, Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of India and Pakistan held on Saturday evening an unscheduled hotline interaction over continuing ceasefire violations along the Line of Control.

The hotline conversation was requested by Pakistan.

Pakistan’s DGMO Major General Sahir Shamshad Mirza protested over targeting of civilian population.

India has violated ceasefire along the LoC over 1,300 times so far this year in which 52 civilians have been killed.

Two civilians were killed in truce breaches on Friday in Chirikot and Nezapir sectors.


Dawn – Guru Nanak, Wali Qandhari and other stories about how Hasan Abdal got water

Haroon Khalid

Hasan Abdal-Panjab-Pakistan, 16 November 2017. Overshadowing the vast complex of gurdwara of Panja Sahib, one of the most popular Sikh shrines, associated with Guru Nanak and located in the city of Hasan Abdal in Pakistan, is the tallest mound in the region, rising high above its other shorter cousins.

The entire city of Hasan Abdal is this interaction between mounds and planes, the narrow alleys with their wooden jharokas, abandoned Hindu temples, tall minarets of mosques and some recently constructed plazas, rising and falling as the earth beneath them breathes in and out.

However, there is something spectacular about this mountain. The scatter of the city, its ancientness, pales in comparison with the permanence of this mound.

The focal point of this historical city is the shrine of Guru Nanak, a vast complex protected by tall walls. Every year, hundreds of pilgrims descend upon this gurdwara from all over the world to celebrate different religious festivals including Baisakhi and Guru Nanak Gurpurab, the birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism.

This year as well, when Sikh and other devotees of Nanak come to Pakistan to participate in his birthday celebrations, Gurdwara Panja Sahib will be one of the places pilgrims will be allowed to visit by the Pakistani state.

No Muslim, besides representatives of the state, will be allowed within the premise of the gurdwara.

The legend

Right next to the main entrance of the gurdwara manned by police officials, a tiny stream flows into the shrine.

The legend goes that the stream once flowed from a spring on top of the hill, near which lived a local religious figure named Wali Qandhari.

This spring was the only source of water for the inhabitants of Hasan Abdal.

But once Nanak arrived and started gathering a congregation around him, Qandhari felt jealous and angry as his popularity declined. It is believed that Qandhari stopped the flow of water downstream.

Needing water, the people appealed to Qandhari to let the water flow as before. “Go to your Guru, the one you visit everyday now and ask him for water,” he is supposed to have responded angrily.

The inhabitants of Hasan Abdal went to Nanak, who sent Bhai Mardana, his disciple and companion, to plead with Qandhari, who in turn is said to have refused angrily and turned him away with the same response.

Nanak sent him again, and then again, but to each time come back with the same response. Eventually, Guru Nanak is said to have removed a stone from the ground under his feet, making a stream of water gush out of the earth.

Qandhari’s spring, as per the legend, is said to have dried up because all of its water had come gushing out from under Nanak’s feet. In his wrath, Qandhari is supposed to have hurled a boulder towards Nanak, which he is said to have stopped with his right hand, leaving a permanent mark on the rock, thus lending this gurdwara its name – Panja Sahib.

It now rests in the sacred pond created from this stream of water, facing the main shrine, as pilgrims form a long queue to place their hand where once Nanak is said to have rested his fingers.

Many festivals

The climb up the mountain, which Bhai Mardana is believed to have undertaken thrice to plead with Qandhari, is arduous.

On a barren mountain interspersed with a few trees, the authorities have in the past few years constructed a pathway. Many Sikh and Hindu devotees who come to visit the shrine of Nanak also sometimes travel up this mountain.

At the time of Baisakhi when the courtyard of Nanak’s gurdwara is swarming with pilgrims, there is a festival arranged here as well. There is a separate date for another festival at the shrine which is unique to it.

Graffiti on some of the rocks on this mound present another form of religiosity. “Allah O Akbar”, it says. On a cool morning a few years ago when I undertook this trek, there were several people whom I saw on their way to the lone shrine at the top of the mound.

These were young students in school and college uniforms, families with picnic baskets, a few devotional pilgrims carrying their slippers in their hands, intentionally attempting to make this spiritual journey more difficult for themselves.

Midway, there was a small bazaar, while there was another one right outside the shrine, selling not only religious paraphernalia but also refreshments.

In an empty ground behind the shrine, there were a few dervish preparing a hashish cigarette, with the panorama of the world with its people engaged in their daily grind at their feet.

Standing at the edge of the cliff, the gurdwara seemed far away, beautiful with its white dome and a green pool.

Many stories

In the Sikh tradition, Wali Qandhari is an arrogant saint who refused Mardana water and then hurled a rock towards Nanak, for his Muslim devotees he is Baba Hasan Abdal, who lends this city its name.

There are several stories associated with the saint. Some suggest that he prayed on the top of this mountain and then mysteriously disappeared, which is why he is also referred to as the Zinda Pir.

There is no grave inside the shrine, but a green box has been put up by the authorities to collect donations made by the pilgrims.

Another narrative suggests that the saint was responsible for extracting two streams from these mountains that now flow through the city.

In this version, he was not the jealous or arrogant saint who refused Mardana water, but rather the benefactor who gave the city the gift of water.

There is yet another story associated with the pond at Hasan Abdal which recalls its reverence in the Buddhist tradition.

Hasan Abdal happens to be approximately 20 km from Taxila and the Chinese Buddhist traveller Hiuen Tsang, who travelled to India in the 7th century CE provides a detailed description of his trip to a place about the same distance from Taxila, with an ancient tank covered with lotus flowers, where devotees would come to pray for fine weather and rain.

The pond, according to Hiuen Tsang, had become sacred because of a boon bestowed on a Buddhist king, Elapatra, by the gods.

With relics of ancient Buddhist cities and stupas in all directions around the town, Hassan Abdal in ancient India fell within the geographical location of the famed Gandharan civilisation.

While there are three stories that describe the origin of this pond, there is only one thing common in all of them – its sacredness.

This article was originally published on Scroll and has been reproduced with permission.

Haroon Khalid has an academic background in anthropology from LUMS. He has been traveling extensively around Pakistan, documenting historical and cultural heritage. He is the author of Walking with Nanak, In Search of Shiva: A study of folk religious practices in Pakistan, and A White Trail: A journey into the heart of Pakistan’s religious minorities.


Dawn – No trace of the missing

Op/Ed, 15 November 2017. Missing persons continue to remain undocumented and missing, and it appears that the courts and parliament are powerless to do anything about this terrible blot on Pakistan’s human rights record.

On Monday, seemingly helpless representatives of the federal and KP governments appeared in the Supreme Court empty-handed; they had been required by a special bench to present basic data on the country’s 45 declared internment centres.

The information that had been demanded included up-to-date lists of detainees, the offences they have been charged with, whether or not they had faced trial and the length of their incarceration, in sum, the bare minimum information the state should have for any individual in its custody.

But the court simply gave the representatives another fortnight to produce the data.

Meanwhile, following a meeting of the Senate Committee on Human Rights, Senator Farhatullah Babar has called for setting up a new commission on enforced disappearances because the existing one has failed to produce results and to publish a six-year-old report on missing persons.

Taken together, the events suggest a defiance of the law by some elements within the state and an abdication of duty by other parts of the state to ensure that citizens have their rights and institutions act according to the law.

What is particularly dispiriting is that despite the passage of several years and facilitation by the law, the state appears unwilling to take a reasonable position on the issue.

The first military operations in the country are now more than a decade old, while the Action in Aid of Civil Power Regulations, 2011, provided a legal framework to bring missing persons within the ambit of the law.

Surely, by now a reasonable solution to what is admittedly a vexing problem ought to have been found.

The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn at this stage, however, is that there are some state elements that reject the notion that accountability and transparency ought to apply to at least some security issues.

The public, the courts, parliament, the governments and, indeed, the families of the suspects, simply have to trust the judgement of nameless and faceless figures wielding great power over the lives of alleged terrorism, militancy and extremism suspects.

Certainly, the long fight against militancy calls for special measures and greater flexibility in dealing with an internal threat that is shadowy and evolving.

But the state’s duty is to progressively bring its actions within the ambit of the law, that is what separates the justness of the fight by the state from the terrorists, militants and extremists who seek to inflict harm on the country and its people.

Today, there is no justification for defiance of the law, just as there is no rationale for the continuing phenomenon of missing persons.


Dawn – Empty words?

Wasim Khalid

Op/Ed, 10 November 2017. Former spymaster Dineshwar Sharma is currently on a five-day visit to India-held Jammu and Kashmir after being appointed by the Indian government as interlocutor for talks with all the ‘stakeholders’ there. According to Sharma, all “legitimate aspirations” of the stakeholders will be addressed.

It took the pro-Hindutva BJP government more than three years to realise the futility of using force to suppress the freedom movement in India-held Kashmir. Until now, the government has mostly relied on a muscular policy to tackle the groundswell for azadi among the Kashmiris.

The right-wing regime has given unbridled authority to security forces against rebels, pro-freedom ‘protesters’ and people’s resistance on the ground.

It has also taken extreme steps against resistance leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and Yasin Malik. Many of their aides and workers have been arrested on terrorism charges, such as receiving secret funds from Pakistan to foment unrest in Kashmir.

The dialogue offer in Kashmir is a ruse

Military operations in Kashmir gained pace after the killing last year of popular militant commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, Burhan Wani. Since last July, more than 250 people, including 150 rebels, have been killed by the forces. More than 15,000 have been injured.

Lead-coated metal pellets have left over 400 young boys and girls in Kashmir partially or completely blind. However, these draconian measures have failed either to deter the protests or stem the flow of youngsters into the rebel ranks. It is against this backdrop that New Delhi has appointed Sharma as an interlocutor.

The appointment of a point man is not only a tacit acceptance of the failure of its policy in Kashmir, it is also an indication that New Delhi is feeling cornered on the Kashmir dispute.

However, the Joint Resistance Leadership of Geelani, Mirwaiz and Malik has ruled out talks with the interlocutor, terming the initiative a joke. Sharma’s assertion, J R L said, that he is coming to the valley to “restore peace” rather than address the dispute or talk about its resolution in keeping with the overwhelming majority sentiment of the Kashmiris, limits the scope of any engagement with him and makes it an exercise in futility.

The biggest supporters of a peace initiative on Kashmir are the forces itself. In an interview, Director General of Police S P Vaid warned that another trigger could spark another large-scale uprising and the forces “can’t do much in such cases”. Policymakers in New Delhi are also aware that Kashmir is a powder keg.

For any initiative to be meaningful, New Delhi will have to swallow its ego and talk to the Kashmiri leadership that represents the sentiments of a majority of the people, as well as to Pakistan. Interlocutors have always been used as crisis managers to ward off international criticism.

Since 1953, New Delhi has deputed interlocutors 11 times for talks in Kashmir to douse the fires of revolt.

Pro-freedom leaders will never engage in talks without Pakistan being on board. New Delhi must realise that any meaningful initiative on Kashmir without Pakistan is unlikely to succeed.

For the man on the street, the dialogue offer is nothing but a ruse, no more likely to have an outcome than the last time. On that occasion, the report prepared by the three-member team of interlocutors who met people in all three regions after the 2010 uprising never saw the light of the day.

Even talks for the sake of talks need some atmospherics. New Delhi needs to first take some confidence-building measures in Kashmir. It needs to set political prisoners free and end military repression and the hounding of pro-freedom protesters and leaders. It needs to first listen to the people without conditions.

Nothing of that sort is forthcoming. Sharma’s authority has been already been belittled by senior BJP leaders such as Minister of State Jitendra Singh Rana, who stated that there is no issue in Kashmir and Sharma will talk about development.

Sharma himself reduced the importance of his mission by stating radicalisation is a bigger challenge in Kashmir. Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat has made it clear the military operations will continue with full vigour.

Kashmir observers here believe that the interlocutor has been appointed to supplement the ongoing security operations by calming down the volatile situation rather than address the larger political question.

Their premise holds substance since the talks offer is a home ministry initiative, unlike previously when prime ministers would directly back such initiatives.

For the moment, it seems that the appointment of an interlocutor with a narrow mandate is to only address the ‘law and order issue’. If that is the case, it will further discredit Indian-sponsored dialogue processes and even further delegitimise pro-India Kashmiri politicians seeking a solution within the Indian constitution.

The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist

Wasim Khalid


Dawn – PTI, PPP lash out at strongly worded PML-N reaction to SC verdict

Amir Wasim

Islamabad-Federal Islamabad Capital Territory-Pakistan, 9 November 2017. The Supreme Court’s detailed verdict rejecting the review petitions of the Sharif family members against its July 28 order has caused uproar in political circles with opposition parties and the legal fraternity taking opposing sides.

A hard-hitting statement issued by the Pakistan Muslim League-N, after a meeting chaired by deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif at the Punjab House, prompted a harsh response from the opposition parties, including the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Pakistan People’s Party, which lashed out at the ruling party for its direct criticism of the judiciary.

The PML-N, however, found support from a section of the legal fraternity when prominent lawyer and activist Asma Jahangir voiced concern over the language used by the judges in their order.

The PML-N through a statement “rejected” the court order which, it said, contained some “inappropriate remarks”.

Asma Jahangir deplores language used in SC judgement [centre/italics]

It alleged that the judges had tried to “influence” lower courts and said, “…the bench through its order has… also before time announced the judgement in the appeal (to be filed later).”

“The detailed verdict is a very unfortunate example of malice, enmity, anger and provocation from beginning to the end,” says the statement, adding that “the use of insulting and humiliating words for Mr Nawaz Sharif (in the verdict) cannot be a matter of pride for any court in the world.”

The party also took a strong exception to the use of poetry by the judges only for, what it states, raising the issue of “leadership”.

“The nation knows that it were the (political) leaders who had founded this country and offered sacrifices for it. And they (political leaders) have made this country a nuclear power. They have suffered jails, sent on exile and were hanged.

But still they were declared disqualified,” says the statement, while indirectly criticising the July 28 verdict of the SC court disqualifying Mr Sharif as member of the parliament for not disclosing his Iqama (residence permit) for Dubai.

The PML-N also made an indirect attack on judges for validating military rule in the past and taking the oath from the dictators.

“The doctrine of necessity was invoked to provide justifications and orders that allowed the dacoits to operate. Orders were issued allowing the dacoits to play with the Constitution. The question spreading over 70 years is that of justice and not the leadership,” it says, adding: “The leaders are facing the courts even today. We would like to know where are the dacoits?”

It ended with the same verse quoted in the SC ruling, but with one word changed to imply that Pakistan’s current socio-political turmoil was a result of the apex court’s inability to provide justice.

Tu idhar udhar ki baat na kar, yeh bata qafla kyun luta / Mujhe rahzanon se gila nahi, mujhe teri munsafi ka sawal hai (Do not beat about the bush, tell me why the caravan was robbed; I have no complaint with the dacoits, but the question is about your justice), concludes the statement.

Meanwhile, PTI chairman Imran Khan, through a statement on a social media website, lashed out at the ex-PM for his open criticism on the judiciary.

“Nawaz Sharif should be ashamed of himself for openly attacking judges of the Supreme Court simply because they exposed his ill-gotten money and corruption,” Mr Khan said in a message on his official social media page.

PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari said by declaring judicial verdict as judges’ anger, Mr Sharif had exposed his “anti-democratic agenda” and it validated the PPP’s stance that in the prevailing situation, holding a meeting with Nawaz Sharif or any cooperation with him would mean becoming his collaborator in his anti-state conspiracy.

Talking to PPP leaders, the ex-president said, “One hand, … Shahbaz Sharif and federal ministers issue statements against me and on the other, they send messages to me for a meeting”.

Asma Jahangir, talking to reporters, regretted the remarks passed by the judges, saying judiciary believed that all the institutions had failed and only it could bring improvement in them.

Ms Jahangir said that never ever the court had disqualified a person on corruption charges while hearing petitions under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.

“We should all ponder as to who has fooled us and when” she said while referring to an observation of a judge in the SC that “one cannot make fool all the people all the time”.

“We know that politicians are not clean. But we cannot be fooled that he (Nawaz Sharif) has been removed because of dishonesty,” she said.


Dawn – An inevitable crisis

Umair Javed

Op/Ed, 6 November 2017. Headlines from these last four months suggest Pakistan is experiencing a serious political crisis. Television talk shows and newspapers are referring to the permanent precariousness of democracy. The military is heard making periodic references to political and economic stability.

Opposition parties want an early election to resolve an as yet unstated problem, while the ruling party is sending out reminders of why technocratic rule and dictatorships are never a solution.

The nature of the conversation in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, and other seats of power is a bit confusing given the reality elsewhere. Unlike previous instances of political unrest, existing conditions in the country appear to be fairly stable.

Contrary to what we saw in 2014 or 1977 or 1968, there’s no mass mobilisation by the political opposition, nor are there any spontaneous protests against the government. While there might be one in the near future, there’s no major macroeconomic crisis unfolding in the present, as was the case in 1999.

Unlike in 2007, there are no major food shortages (except tomatoes) and inflationary pressures on household expenditure appear relatively muted. Finally, the energy crisis is no worse than it was in 2013, while violence by non-state actors of any shade is at its lowest in a decade.

And yet, because the elite who matter, politicians, judges, generals, are positioning themselves as if navigating a crisis, the country dutifully finds itself in one.

The PML-N has been around for three decades, and this is the first time it’s been forced to think about a leader other than Nawaz Sharif.

The headline narrative is that this impasse was triggered by the Panama Papers. It is now escalating due to the attempts of a disqualified and under-trial prime minister (and his daughter) to stay in power, both in their party and, by corollary, in the country.

In this version of the story, there is nothing inevitable about the crisis. It’s simply been made worse by the confrontational rhetoric being pushed by Nawaz and his team, and the strains his brand of politics is placing both within the ruling party, and between the ruling party and other institutions.

There are a few things this version of the story gets right. The Panama leak was indeed an exogenous event. It is also true that Nawaz’s personal agency does matter here. He believes his disqualification was a larger conspiracy, and his ensuing politics, which includes positioning his daughter in the party, is creating pressures on the system.

However, what existing analysis gets wrong is on the question of inevitability. Because everyone’s hung up on the completely exogenous nature of the Panama Papers leak, they miss out on the fact that at its heart, the current crisis is about the strength of the PML-N as an organisation, and the ongoing tussle for its control.

Think about it this way: the PML-N has been around for three decades, and this is the first time it’s been forced to think about a leader other than Nawaz Sharif. There are quite a few people (including his own brother and nephew) who think they deserve a shot at something bigger.

There are others who think their proximity to the disqualified prime minister makes them better candidates for a leadership position. Everyone else in the party is busy hedging their bets.

Some want Nawaz to stay away from Pakistan, as a distant figurehead, so they can garner votes in his name, without having to deal with the mess that comes with his confrontational politics. Others have privately hitched their cart to Shahbaz’s horse, thinking that the powers that be are inclined to look favourably upon him.

This is what a first-time leadership transition looks like in a weak organisation. Put simply, there is no blueprint or tested mechanism in place to select the next leader. Since most of this is happening within a family, we have to bear the ignominy of a slow-moving, passive-aggressive pantomime, complete with conspiracy and fratricide.

What’s made this worse is that over these last three decades, the party’s MNAs and MPAs have been more than willing to sustain this weak organisation. They saw little need to invest in the party structure because they felt the gravy train of votes, access and a permanent majority in Punjab under Nawaz would continue indefinitely.

So confronting a situation without Nawaz, and with family tensions on the rise, there’s no existing mechanism that can amplify their voice in the leadership transition. All they’re left with is charting out different escape routes.

The reason why there’s a degree of inevitability to this is because the PML-N falls short of the two dominant models of party structure in South Asia.

Unlike the Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan or the BJP and the left in India, it doesn’t possess a well-built organisation or strong internal democracy that can push out an old leader and elect a new leader based on his or her political performance and commitment to party ideology.

It has also fallen short of the PPP and Indian National Congress model, where one family (and, more importantly, one leader in that family) exercises complete control over the party elite, possesses a direct connection with its support base, and is able to control a leadership transition.

So regardless of two enterprising German journalists and the weakly secured IT system of a big law firm, the crisis that we’re witnessing would have taken place at some point in the near future. Maybe not before 2018, but certainly within the next five years as age and family ambition would have undercut Nawaz’s grip on the party.

Unfortunately for those who are tired of political bickering and internecine fighting, this state of affairs will continue till a stable status quo emerges within the PML-N. And then a few years down the line, much of this will likely be replicated once the PTI attempts to move past Imran Khan.

The writer is a freelance columnist



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Dawn – Policy soon to resolve party rifts, Sharif tells aides

Amjad Mahmood

Lahore-Panjab-Pakistan, 5 November 2017. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif held consultations with senior party leadership here on Saturday and assured them that he would frame a policy to iron out all internal differences within the party cadre.

Although Mr Sharif and his younger brother Panjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif have time and again rejected reports of internal rifts, the PML-N has been marred by a tug of war between the next generations of the Sharifs, Maryam and Hamza, a disgruntled former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, unwelcoming remarks of federal minister Riaz Pirzada who questioned the election of Mr Sharif as party president and so many similar issues.

Mr Sharif, who arrived here from Islamabad the day before, consulted various PML-N leaders to discuss the future line of action in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict in the Panama Papers case, the subsequent accountability process and the party’s internal issues.

Decision to launch mass contact drive

National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq and Chaudhary Munir, among others, called on the ex-PM at the latter’s house in Raiwind.

Apparently worried and looking to catch up with the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Pakistan Peoples Party preparing for the upcoming general elections, the leaders decided it was time to take the PML-N into election mode and launch a mass contact drive.

Rally in Abbottabad on 12th

Those who were consulted by the PML-N president also felt that since the PTI and PPP had already begun their election campaigns, it would not be wise for the PML-N to procrastinate.

Sources said the first public meeting would be held in Abbottabad on 12 November, while the schedule for other meetings would be announced later.

Apparently, the participants of the meeting were united in their decision to focus their attention on south Punjab, where the PTI has been organising its events.

Speaker Sadiq apprised the PML-N chief about the apparent reasons behind why opposition parties were now backing out after arriving at an agreement regarding the delimitation of constituencies in light of the recently held population census.

The former PM was quoted as urging the NA speaker to use his good offices to remove the reservations, if any, regarding the draft law so that the issue would not delay the general election which is due in nine months.

Later while speaking to journalists, Mr Sadiq said he had convened a meeting in Islamabad on Monday to address the reservations of some parties, particularly from Sindh, on the issue of delimitations. The meeting will also be attended by the officials of the Statistics Division.

Responding to a question, he said there was no room for a technocrats’ set-up in the Constitution.

Those who could not come to power through votes were trying to introduce the set-up so that they could enjoy power. He jibed at “those who had gotten their sherwanis stitched” (those ready to take oath as ministers), saying that they could forget about a technocrats’ set-up for at least the next 30 years.

About the PTI chief’s threat to stage another sit-in, Mr Sadiq said the previous sit-in had not born the PTI any fruit, and neither would another sit-in.

To a question about the protocol provided to Mr Sharif during his accountability court appearances, the NA speaker said those who were being critical about the issue ought to remember that Mr Sharif was a thrice-elected prime minister who had fought the all-important war against terrorism, which is why he needed tight security.

Talking to journalists separately, the railways minister warned the parties opposing the draft delimitation law that their actions could jeopardise the government’s efforts to hold the general elections on time.

He also asked PTI chairman Imran Khan to take a break from public meetings and work to get the delimitation law passed so that the election could be held as soon as possible.


Dawn – Selective accountability?

It may be a consensus decision, but it is a wrong one

Op/Ed, 3 November 2017. All parliamentary parties have rejected including the military and judiciary in the ambit of a new accountability law, dealing a blow to the hopes of a unified, across-the-board accountability mechanism.

There is a twofold objection to including the military and judiciary in the same mechanism as other public servants: both have their own mechanisms that are already functional; and their inclusion in a law covering politicians would threaten to politicise them if the accountability mechanism is manipulated and abused.

However, neither of those reasons are adequate or acceptable.

Arguably, the internal mechanisms of both the military and judiciary are not as effective as they ought to be and since the very purpose of overhauling the regime for public servants is to create an independent and autonomous organisation, the issue of politicisation can be addressed at the outset.

Unhappily, parliament itself has created several excuses for other institutions to keep themselves out of the purview of a new accountability law.

The issue ought to have been addressed years ago, with both the previous PPP-led coalition and the current PML-N government having vowed to introduce a new law.

Instead, all governing parties have found it mutually convenient to drag out the matter, while the PTI has preferred street politics over federal legislative strengthening.

And with parliament taking up the matter of accountability in the midst of Nawaz Sharif’s and his family’s legal woes and allegations of interference in the democratic process by some state institutions, there may have been doubts about the intentions of the government at the moment.

An across-the-board accountability bill could have become embroiled in Mr Sharif’s political war with other institutions.

In the end, parliament has exposed its continuing weakness by not even being able to debate the matter or put forward recommendations for a transparent and effective mechanism across all institutions of the state.

Failure at this stage, however, does not mean failure in perpetuity.

If a new national accountability commission with meaningful powers and true autonomy is established and it goes on to effectively carry out the task given to it, the process of accountability in the country could gradually be depoliticised.

Once it becomes clear that parliament has created a good law and the new or overhauled commission is an example of democratic strengthening, it may become possible to expand the latter’s mandate.

To target corruption is not to target institutions; indeed, reining in corrupt officials strengthens institutions.

Parliament is the supreme lawmaking body in the country and uniformity of laws across institutions is a desirable outcome.

If this parliament does not have the courage to implement across-the-board accountability, future legislatures should revisit the matter.


Dawn – There has been no change: A year on since law passed, men still kill women for ‘honour’ in Pakistan

Karachi, 31 October 2017. A year since new laws came into force aimed at stemming the flow of “honour killings”, scores of young women in Pakistan are still being murdered by relatives for bringing shame on their family.

The shocking murder of social media star Qandeel Baloch, allegedly by her brother last July, turned the spotlight on an epidemic of so-called honour killings and sparked a fresh push to close loopholes allowing the killers to walk free.

Last year in October, the joint sitting of both houses of parliament finally passed two key pro-women bills that had been pending assent for a long time.

The move at that time was cautiously hailed by women’s rights activists. More than a year on, however, lawyers and activists say honour killings are still occurring at an alarming pace.

At least 280 such murders were recorded by the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan from October 2016 to June of this year, a figure believed to be underestimated and incomplete.

“There has been no change”, Benazir Jatoi, a lawyer who works for the independent Aurat Foundation, a women’s rights watchdog, told AFP.

“In fact, the Peshawar High Court twice acquitted a man of honour crimes after this law was passed,” she added.

The legislation mandates life imprisonment for honour killings, but whether a murder can be defined as a crime of honour is left to the judge’s discretion.

That means the culprits can simply claim another motive and still be pardoned, said Dr Farzana Bari, a widely respected activist and head of the Gender Studies Department at Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam University.

They can do so under Pakistan’s Qisas (blood money) and Diyat (retribution) law, which allows them to seek forgiveness from a victim’s relatives, a particularly convenient means of escape in ‘honour’ cases.

Bari called for a study on the murders of women over the past year to ascertain the scale of the problem.

The convoluted courts system also often sees police encouraging parties to enter blood money compromises, circumventing the beleaguered judicial system altogether.

“Forgiveness and compromise negates justice”, Jatoi said.

Asma Jahangir, one of Pakistan’s most acclaimed human rights lawyers, agreed, telling AFP: “The law will be implemented once the courts function”.

Glaring double standard

The roots of ‘honour’ killings lie in tribal social norms which remain prevalent across South Asia and dictate the behaviour of women in particular.

Women have been shot, stabbed, stoned, set alight and strangled for bringing “shame” on their families for everything from refusing marriage proposals to wedding the “wrong” man and helping friends elope.

Men can be victims too, but the violence is overwhelmingly aimed at women.

The double standard is glaring.

Generally Pakistanis will accept a man who has committed rape, a senior police official who has overseen honour killing investigations told AFP.

But “if a woman is even suspected of an affair, it is considered a shame for the family and not forgiven”, the official, who asked to remain anonymous as he was not authorised to speak to media, told AFP.

“People even sympathise [with] and praise the men who murder their women for so-called honour,” he said.

Even when the state does take steps to implement the law, as with the murder of Qandeel Baloch, the wheels of justice often get stuck in the mud.

Baloch achieved notoriety in Pakistan with her social media antics.

Her brother Waseem told reporters that “of course” he had strangled his sister, finding her behaviour “intolerable”.

Baloch’s heartbroken parents vowed they would give Waseem no absolution.

But well over a year later, the trial is still grinding its way through the courts.

This length of time is not unheard of for murder cases.

Outdated, arbitrary, patriarchal code

For Jatoi, the issue goes far beyond the courts, from the elites, where the political leadership fails to understand the issue, to the rural masses, where illiteracy and poverty help perpetuate it.

Rights activists have called for change for years, and Pakistan’s young, urbanised population often take to social media for campaigns such as last year’s #NoMoreKillingGirls.

But Jatoi said Pakistan as a society has been unable to move past the meaning of “honour”.

“Only when we widely condemn the act will we stop seeing proud murderers… telling of how they killed a woman because she breached an outdated, arbitrary, and patriarchal ‘honour’ code of which no one knows the rules.”