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Farewell President Zardari

Here is something I wrote for TFT, analyzing President Zardari’s tenure

President Zardari has set a new record of being the only democratically elected President to have completed his term and left the office without handcuffs, disgrace or an exile order. The ongoing transition to democratic rule after three decades (1977-2007) of direct and indirect military rule is not going to be a smooth ride. Pakistan’s civilian institutions remain weak and vulnerable to systemic crises. That Zardari bolstered the cause for civilian rule in an incremental manner will be remembered in history despite the reservations of critics in the political arena as well as the media.

In 2008, the decision of the PPP to field Zardari as a candidate was met with public uproar largely constructed by Pakistan’s media industry, which primarily caters to an ‘urban’ and ‘middle class’ demographic. It was said rather authoritatively that Zardari was unfit for office; and not just due to his alleged corruption during his wife’s tenure as the Prime Minister. Pundits opined that he lacked ‘capacity’ and an understanding of Pakistan’s complex issues. In fact, a major newspaper group’s editor and some of its TV hosts predicted on a regular basis that Zardari would be out of power within months.

None of these uncharitable predictions proved true. If anything, Zardari was able to muster support from his old, bitter rivals and made alliances across the political spectrum. For the first time in PPP’s history, it ruled all four provinces as well as the centre, and even bagged a majority in the Senate for after 1977. These extraordinary political skills stunned even Zardari’s sworn enemies. The multi-party coalition enabled the PPP government to undertake unprecedented structural reforms in the shape of the 18th, 19th and 20th Amendments to the Constitution of Pakistan. Gilgit-Baltistan was declared a de facto province with an improved rights’ framework and work was started to address Balochistan’s marginalization. After the new National Finance Commission Award, the development budget of the province increased threefold. Most importantly, the state’s obligation to protect the poor from price shocks was articulated through a successful income support programme, which by now serves millions of poor households and empowers women. Reform process in FATA was also commenced, though it remains stymied due to the conflict in the region.

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September 19th, 2013|Politics, Published in The Friday Times|4 Comments

‘Greater rights’ abuses will ensue unless Pakistan’s elected institutions assert themselves’

An interview of – Ali Dayan Hasan (Director, Human Rights Watch) taken by me, published in TFT December 30 – January 05, 2012 – Vol. XXIII, No. 46
Q. HRW has consistently commented on civil-military relations in Pakistan. Why is this aspect of Pakistan’s politics so important for human rights?
Since 2008, Pakistan has made yet another attempt at a transition from direct military rule to rights-respecting constitutional governance. But history teaches us that this moment is as fleeting as it is special. It would be naïve to assume that the 2008 general election has transformed power relations in the country. Pakistan remains a praetorian state structured and geared to service, above all, the needs of a military that remains every bit as convinced as ever that Pakistan’s national interest is synonymous with its institutional priorities and the preservation of its position as the final arbiter of political power and patronage. Indeed, Pakistan’s foreign and national security policies are primarily controlled by the military. In the absence of civilian oversight, and given the military’s history, greater abuses will ensue unless Pakistan’s elected institutions assert themselves.
Q. What are the worrying flashpoints in HRW’s view?
It is hardly a secret that the government and the military are engaged in both a legal and political confrontation over the so-called “Memogate” affair. HRW finds it reassuring that both the Supreme Court Chief Justice and Army chief General Kiyani have ruled out military intervention. Indeed all arms of the state must act within the constitutionally determined ambit and in aid of legitimate civilian rule. In this context, justice must both be done and be seen to be done. Pakistan desperately needs a full democratic cycle and a peaceful transfer of power from one civilian administration to another. Should this process be derailed, the constitutional safeguards and legal rights protections created since 2008 may suffer irreparable damage. […]

January 24th, 2012|human rights, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times|0 Comments