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The politics of Imran Khan and Dr Tahir ul Qadri

My latest column for Express Tribune published under the heading: “Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri & a dharma”

Pakistan’s electoral system is far from perfect. Like most other state functions, electoral laws and practices need to be reformed. In a democracy, this is to be undertaken by the legislature and through a multiparty consensus. The allegations of rigging since May 2013 are all too familiar. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which garnered 19 per cent of the total votes(and fewer seats in the National Assembly) has been crying foul of ‘massive rigging’. Now exactly after a year of elections, and quite cynically exercising power in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), the party is launching a protest through a sit-in in Islamabad. Concurrently, another self-styled reformer, Dr Tahirul Qadri, is also launching a protest against the ‘system’. We all have serious reservations about the ‘system’ but the alternative provided by Dr Qadri is vague as well as populist.

These two protests come in the wake of recent tensions between the civilians and the military. Given Pakistan’s history, the PTI’s protest and the return of Dr Qadri from the safe environs of Canada are termed being ‘sponsored’. It is difficult to ascertain the veracity of this perception. However, the timing of these protests against the credibility of a parliament — of which the PTI and its leader, Imran Khan, are part of — is somewhat problematic. This time the responsibility of rigging is being termed a collusive project of the ruling PML-N, the judiciary and the largest television network, ie, Geo Tv. […]

Pakistan silently watches the rise of Narendra Modi

My analysis – Pakistan: Cautiously pessimistic about Modi’s expected rise to power – first published here:

A decade of UPA-Congress rule in India ends with limited progress on the Indo-Pak relations.The fact that outgoing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, despite his good intentions, could not visit the country of his birth even once sums up the structural constraints of this troubled relationship.

The first few years of Congress rule witnessed major developments in back-channel diplomacy and, if Pakistan’s former foreign minister Khursheed Mahmud Kasuri is to believed, a major breakthrough on the issue of Jammu & Kashmir was on the anvil before domestic political crisis led to the weakening and eventual ouster of General Musharraf in 2007-2008. In the later phases of bilateral diplomacy, modest achievements on trade and visa liberalization were realized. But the legacy of the 2008 Mumbai attack continued to haunt the trajectory of the bilateral relations for the past six years. Terrorism and rise of non-state actors in Pakistan shaped the public opinion and it seemed that political initiative of the Singh administration was almost always hostage to the power of corporate media that did not allow the evolution of a well-calibrated Pakistan policy in India.

This is a tough legacy for the incoming government in India. And even more so for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is expected to emerge as the single largest party in the Indian lower house of parliament. Though it is far from clear whether the BJP will form the next government, pundits in New Delhi and the doyens of Indian media have already garlanded Narendra Modi a few times over.

Narendra Modi – a controversial figure

In Pakistan the reputation of Mr Narendra Modi precedes him. He is viewed as a controversial figure specifically as a right-wing hardliner who espouses the Hindutva ideology and someone who advanced his political career on the rhetoric of hating the Muslims and their place in India’s past and present. Seen as an architect of the anti-Muslim Gujarat riots of 2002, his persona justifies the creation of Pakistan. Modi is an archetype that informs the Pakistani mind about the evil design of Hindus. Many Pakistanis believe his current political standing on the other side of the border is a reward for his anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan ‘ideology’. […]

May 12th, 2014|India, Indo Pak peace|3 Comments

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

Nawaz Sharif, a veteran of Pakistan’s political tumult

CNN’s Jethro Mullen weighs in on Nawaz Sharif

The strongest contender to become the next Pakistani prime minister is hardly a newcomer to the country’s political stage.

Nawaz Sharif, 63, has had a long and rocky career that includes two stints as prime minister during the 1990s, ordering Pakistan’s first nuclear tests, a showdown with the nation’s powerful military, time in jail and years of exile.

After spending the past several years in opposition to the governing Pakistani People’s Party (PPP) — which has struggled to tackle the country’s crippling problems of militant violence, chronic power shortages and a flagging economy — Sharif now has a shot at another stint in office.

But observers say his positions on key issues such as Islamic extremists and relations with the United States remain vague, raising uncertainty about what kind of approach he would take if his Pakistani Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) were to succeed in forming a government in the national assembly following general elections this weekend.

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June 13th, 2013|development|1 Comment

Zia’s unfinished business

My latest for Express Tribune

The ghost of General Ziaul Haq and his drive to turn Pakistan into a theocracy continues to haunt us. Under immense pressure from the courts and clerics, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is seemingly undertaking a purge of politicians who may not be ‘righteous’ under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution.

These articles emanated from the desire to create an Islamic legislature where only the “sagacious”, “righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen” could hold public offices. How can we define these vague terms, which are open to interpretation and abuse?

Articles 62 and 63 also suggest disqualification if a candidate is deemed to be against the ‘ideology of Pakistan’. Sadly, that very term was coined under the influence of Jamaat e Islami and General Yahya Khan’s comrade Gen Sher Ali contributed to its adoption for cynical reasons. History is a witness to Gen Yahya’s own conduct and the utter disdain he had for his Bengali subjects. The genesis of this term therefore is self-serving and purely hypocritical. Soon, the same junta trumpeting the ideology of Pakistan led an army action against Pakistanis and the events of 1971 remain a blot on our collective conscience. […]

April 7th, 2013|Pakistan, Published in the Express Tribune, Religion|8 Comments