Archive | South Asian Politics


Posted on 16 March 2017 by admin

  Dr. Hasan Askari

 Two deplorable incidents involving the members of the National Assembly took place on January 26 and March 9. In both cases the members of the ruling PMLN and its arch rival PTI were involved. In the first incident, the members of these parties exchanged punches on the floor of the National Assembly. In the second incident, the two members belonging to PMLN and the PTI made controversial remarks about each other’s leader on the floor of the house. As they came out of the house into the lobby they exchanged hot words and the PTI member attempted to punch the PMLN member. Other members intervened to stop them. Later, the PMLN member held a press conference and made obnoxious remarks about the PTI member and the PTI chief.

 In Pakistan, political leaders and parliamentarians often use non-democratic and un-parliamentary language to address their political adversaries. It is quite common for them to talk about their political opponents in a contemptuous manner. Others who may not make rude and ill-mannered remarks are unable or unwilling to stop their party colleagues from adopting such a negative disposition that brings bad name to democratic institutions and processes.

 Several factors explain the decline in the quality of political discourse and the use of outrageous remarks by parliamentarians. First, parliamentary elections have become such an expensive exercise that only sufficiently wealthy people can take part in it. Certain professions in Pakistan have thrown up a large number of wealthy people during the last two decades, who are convinced that their economic clout gives them a license to pursue their agendas any way they wish. These people hardly care about democratic values and norms except when these serve their political agendas.

 Second, political partisanship has intensified so much that most leaders equate their party interest with the national interest and do not hesitate a moment in rejecting the viewpoint of their rival political party. There is very little, if any, regard for consensus-building, merit and professionalism. The partisan interest rides supreme.

 Third, major political parties encourage their activists to adopt a tough and insulting disposition towards the activists of the rival political parties. The major confrontation is between the PMLN and the PTI as the latter is attempting to challenge the former’s monopoly of power in Punjab. Their members are often engaged in mud-slinging against each other which has lowered the quality of political discourse.

 Fourth, political talk shows on the private sector TV have also contributed to degrading political interaction among the competing political parties. Many anchors and producers invite the political leaders to their programmes who have the reputation of engaging in verbal fights with their rival party leaders. A leader is likely to get more invitations for TV talk shows if he/she develops the reputation of making controversial remarks or heckles the political rivals. Most political parties have “loose and rude” talkers who are praised by the party top leaders for neutralizing the arguments of the political rival. The PMLN has excelled in preparing a team of party activists whose only task is to “praise Nawaz Sharif and condemn Imran Khan” on the media. Such TV shows have contributed to diminishing decency in political exchanges

 Fifth, the party top leaders do not reprimand their parliamentarians or other activists for their indecent and un-parliamentary disposition. The top leaders like Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan do not regularly attend the parliamentary session that gives an opportunity their respective party members to engage in free-for-all speecesh in the house. The absence of top leader from the house also causes the quorum problem. A good number of members do not turn up for the session or stay there briefly.

 The overall governance pattern negates the principles and spirit of democracy. Instead of creating viable democratic institutions and processes the focus is on building personalized political fiefdom. Professionalism, administrative nonpartisanship and judicious handling of state resources and socio-economic development are replaced with unconditional loyalty to the chief. All development work for the people is projected as personal favours of the ruler. As all favours and distribution of state resources is done by the ruler at the personalized level, there is a race in the political party for showing allegiance to the chief. One way of achieving this goal is to praise the chief all the time and adopt a derogatory disposition towards political adversaries. Such a political culture is the major obstacle to democratic consolidation. Democratic structure and rituals may survive but their substance and spirt is missing.

 The above statement on the poverty of democracy in Pakistan is not meant to make a case for discarding it. The deficiency in Pakistani democracy is correctable provided the top political leaders of the major political parties agree to mend their ways. They need to turn political parties into autonomous political machines with internal democracy. The culture of sycophancy needs to be replaced with professionalism and experience. The top leaders must attend the assembly sessions with greater frequency. They must make sure that the members attend the sessions regularly, take part in the proceedings and maintain the decorum inside and outside the house. This will improve the quality in Pakistan.


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Strong military presence at Pak-Afghan border to continue

Posted on 09 March 2017 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari

   The 13th summit conference of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) was held in Islamabad on March 1. This organization aims at promoting greater economic, societal and trade cooperation among its member state that include Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.  The heads of state or government participated in the conference with the exception of Afghanistan that was represented by its ambassador in Islamabad. Since it was the conference of heads of state or government (President, Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister) the representation of a country by its local ambassador is viewed as a low level representation.

    The President or Chief Executive of Afghanistan did not come to Islamabad to express diplomatic displeasure over Afghanistan’s strained relations with Pakistan, especially Pakistan’s decision to close  all crossing-points on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This has suspended bilateral trade and movement of people through the official border crossing points.

   Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan have remained troubled for the last several years. Mutual distrust is very high at the official level.  The interesting aspect of this troubled relations between Pakistan and Afghansitan is that if you move away from Afghanistan’s official circles and their affiliated groups, there is hardly any resentment against Pakistan.  At the common people level or among the business circles of Afghanistan, there is a keenness to maintain close and cordial relations with Pakistan.

   The current breakdown in the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan can be traced to the series of terrorist attacks in different parts of Pakistan, especially in Lahore and Sehwan Sharif, in mid-February.  These attacks were traced back to Pakistani Taliban groups based in Afghanistan. The Afghan government rejected Pakistani claims that Pakistani Taliban and the Jamaatul Ahrar were based in Kunar and Nangarhar regions of Afghanistan.

       Pakistan strengthened its security arrangements on the border and targeted the Pakistani Taliban and Jamaatul Ahrar camps  on the Afghan side of the border by heavy guns. Pakistani troops stayed on the Pakistani side. Afghanistan protested about the firing into Afghan territory without entertaining Pakistani complaint of the Afghan territory being used against Pakistan by Pakistani Taliban and its allied groups. Pakistan closed all border crossings with Afghanistan in protest on February 17. As Pakistan gave a list of 76 wanted Taliban based in Afghanistan to the Afghan government, the latter sent a list of 85 persons wanted by Afghanistan.

   The February 2017 incidents happened against the background of the history of  problems in the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The Afghan Foreign Office, Security and Intelligence are dominated by people who were in the past associated with what was then described as the Northern Alliance, dominated by Tajik and Uzbek who contested the Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

      As Pakistan supported the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance leadership turned against Pakistan.  Most of the Northern Alliance leaders had spent time in India and had developed closer interaction with Indian establishment.  As the Indian presence in Afghanistan was virtually reduced to zero during the Taliban years, they supported the Northern Alliance fight against the Taliban.  Both shared anti-Pakistan sentiments.

     Now, for the last several years, the Afghan government has given enough space to India in Afghanistan to pursue its anti-Pakistan agenda from Afghanistan. Indian intelligence cultivates and funds Pakistani Taliban and Baloch dissident groups.

    Whenever there is some major terrorist attack by Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan, the Afghan government accuses Pakistani intelligence agencies for master-minding such attacks.  It also wants Pakistan to expel all Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani group from Pakistan.  For this demand, Afghanistan enjoys the support of India and the United States.

   On the other hand, Pakistani Taliban and their allied groups are based in Afghanistan and Pakistan wants that Afghanistan should not let them use Afghan territory as their safe-haven against Pakistan.    Similarly, Pakistan wants Afghanistan to restrain Indian role against Pakistan from Afghanistan.  The Afghan government rejects these Pakistani complaints and insists that Pakistan’s ISI should not cultivate Afghan Taliban.

    The reality of the situation is that there is a movement of militant elements both ways on the Pakistan-Afghan border. The Afghan government is neither interested in strengthening border control nor it want to control the activities of Pakistani Taliban from Afghan territory.  However, it wants Pakistan to take action against Afghan Taliban inside of Pakistan.

  These differences in their approaches to terrorism became more visible in the course of the recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan.  After getting convinced that Afghanistan would not take any punitive action against Pakistani Taliban and Jamaatul Ahrar based in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army decided to take a tough line towards Afghanistan. It bombed the terrorist hide outs of Pakistani Taliban on the Afghan side of the border, increased monitoring of the border and suspended the movement of people and goods across the Pakistan-Afghan border.

    Pakistan’s military and civilian authorities view the present Afghan leadership as an ungrateful lot that refuses to recognize Pakistani sacrifices for Afghanistan going back to the 1980s when Soviet military intervened in Afghanistan. Pakistan still plays host to about two million Afghan registered and unregistered refugees.

   Pakistan is expected to keep a strong military presence on the Pak-Afghan border, target Pakistani Taliban hideouts in Afghanistan without entering Afghanistan, and keep under check trade and movement of people between the two countries.  Even if the Pak-Afghan border is opened, there will be strict enforcement of entry rules and an active monitoring of the border by the Army and paramilitary forces.


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7 killed as three suicide bombers attack Pakistan court

Posted on 25 February 2017 by admin

TANGI, Pakistan (AFP) – At least seven people were killed when multiple Taleban suicide bombers attacked a court complex in northern Pakistan Tuesday (Feb 21), the latest in a series of assaults which have raised fears militants are regrouping.

One bomber was briefly on the loose inside the busy complex in the Tangi area of Charsadda district but was killed by police some 20 minutes after the attack began, officials said.

A second bomber was shot dead by security forces and a third died when he detonated his vest outside the main gates of the facility in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, according to police.

The attack was claimed by the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) faction of the Pakistani Taleban, which carried out a series of apparently coordinated assaults last week including a powerful bomb blast in Lahore which killed 14 people.

Earlier this month the group vowed a fresh offensive on targets in Pakistan including the judiciary.

“So far seven people have been killed and 15 wounded,” Suhail Khalid, district police chief, told AFP, adding that a lawyer was among the dead. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office condemned the latest assault.

“We are a steadfast nation and will not be deterred by such attacks. Our government will continue to fight against terrorist elements and we will succeed,” a statement said.

The three attackers had opened fire on police and thrown grenades as they tried to battle their way into the complex, Khalid said. “Bomb disposal experts told us that each bomber was wearing seven to eight kilogrammes of explosives,” he told reporters.

Hundreds of people including lawyers, judges and citizens normally attend the court complex. An AFP reporter at the scene said the area was littered with human remains, while a pile of law books stained with blood and riddled with bullets lay strewn outside an office.

Police scoured the area for evidence as military helicopters whirred overhead. An old man whose four-year-old grandson died in the attack wept.

Another man who witnessed the attack, Muhammad Hussain, said he was about to enter the complex when he heard the blast. “When I looked up I saw three armed men, hurling grenades and opening fire,” said the 35-year-old civil servant, adding he sought shelter in a nearby police barracks from where he heard the gunbattle.

“This continued for some minutes and then I heard another big bang. Some minutes after a policemen told me that it’s all over.”

Lawyers and the judiciary are frequent targets in Pakistan. Among last week’s assaults was a bomb blast targeting a van carrying judges in Peshawar, which killed their driver.

Last August JuA along with the Islamic State group claimed a suicide bombing in Quetta that killed 73 people, including many of the southwestern city’s legal community.

Police and troops had been on high alert in Pakistan after last week’s wave of attacks, which killed more than 100 people. Most, including the Lahore bomb, were claimed by JuA, a faction of the Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP, or Pakistani Taleban) group.

But the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group claimed the deadliest of last week’s assaults, a suicide bomb at a Sufi shrine in Sindh province on Thursday which killed 90 people and wounded hundreds.

The emergence of ISIS and a TTP resurgence would be a major blow to Pakistan, which had enjoyed a dramatic improvement in security over the past two years after a military-led crackdown begun in 2014.

Islamabad launched a violent crackdown in the wake of the recent attacks, saying it killed dozens of “terrorists” and carried out strikes on militant hideouts along the border with Afghanistan.

Hundreds of families have been displaced by the firing on both sides of the border, according to officials.

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Posted on 15 February 2017 by admin

  Dr. Hasan Askari

  Conflict is on the rise in Pakistani politics. Two major political parties, the PMLN and the PTI, are persistently hostile towards each other in their statements inside the parliament, in public meetings and TV political talk shows. Often time they use non-democratic idiom. On January 26, 2017, the PMLN and the PTI members exchanged punches on the floor of the National Assembly. This incident is the proof of the growing tensions between the two major political parties. In this growing conflict between the PMLN and the PTI, the PPP is pursuing a two tracks strategy. Asif Ali Zardari adopts a soft approach towards the PMLN but Balawal Bhutto often adopts harsh disposition toward Nawaz Sharif and the PMLN. However, Balawal makes sure that he is not seen as a partner in the PTI’s political struggle against the PMLN. It is not clear what will be the ultimate disposition of the PPP as Pakistan moves closer to the general elections.

 The growing conflict in Pakistan’s politics can be explained with reference to two important events: the news about a national security meeting in the prime minister house that blamed the Army for supporting some militant groups; and the on-going Panama Leaks case in the Supreme Court.

 The PMLN federal government would like to sleep over the news item issue. It is not keen to officially disclose if it has received the delayed report of the inquiry about the publication of the news item. The report may or may not be released to public but the government appears confident that it can set aside the matter by taking some dummy action. The Army top command is very unhappy on this issue but it does not have any easy option to take a direct punitive action against those responsible for fabricating the news item and getting it published. This will, however, adversely affect civil-military relations that are currently showing some stability.

 What worries the federal government most is the Panama Leaks case in the Supreme Court because the former has lost the initiative in this respect. It was able to deflect the PTI pressure on the Panama Leaks until the matter came before the Supreme Court. The federal government’s concern has increased since the Supreme Court, in another case, temporarily suspended the operations of three sugar mills of the Sharif family that were shifted surreptitiously to Southern Punjab and asked the High Court to take up the matter for final settlement.

 The PMLN leaders are now pursuing four media strategies to cope with the Panama Leaks case. First, they are putting up a brave face that they would come out successfully from the Supreme Court and that, as Nawaz Sharif’s name does not figure in the Panama Leaks, no action can be taken against him.

 Second, some of the PMLN activists are invoking Nawaz Sharif’s electoral mandate in the 2013 general elections to argue that a popularly elected leader cannot be removed except by the votes of people. This is an indirect message to the Supreme Court, which is a non-elected institution as well as to the PTI which got less votes than the PMLN in the last elections, to stop thinking about removing Nawaz Sharif.. The PMLN activists are also talking of a conspiracy to dislodge an elected prime minister. Another argument suggests that the people will not accept the removal of an elected leader. The PMLN did not make these arguments when the Supreme Court removed the PPP Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from his office in June 2012.

Third, a major media campaign has been launched by the federal and the Punjab governments to highlight their contribution towards socio-economic development and welfare of the people. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is inaugurating some section of motorway, some electricity generation plant or a development project even if it is incomplete. The federal government is also highlighting what it describes as the major achievements in the economy which is on way to a take-off. All this is being done to demonstrate that the opposition’s political campaign and the court cases are undermining the government that is working for the welfare of the people.

 Fourth, the PMLN activists have intensified their criticism of Imran Khan and his senior colleagues and have accused them of corruption, incorrect declaration of personal wealth and assets, and the use of influence by some opposition leaders to get their bank loans write-off. Several members of the federal cabinet and senior party leaders, including paraliamentarians, have made their reputation for harsh and personalized criticism of Imran Khan.

 The response of the PTI stalwarts and media persons is equally harsh. The Sharif family, especially Nawaz Sharif, is the main target of their criticism. His governance and political management are also criticized. The PMLN and the PTI engage in polemics against each other in TV political talks shows. Some of these TV programs end up as shouting matches between the activists of these two political parties.

 Whatever the judgement of the Supreme Court, the conflict between the PMLN and the PTI is expected to persist and they will continue to blame each other for the problems of the common people. The bitter verbal exchanges between the PMLN and the PTI make it difficult to discourage religious and cultural intolerance that has taken strong roots in Pakistan during the last three decades. Democratic values of tolerance, political accommodation through dialogue and mutual respect will remain weak in Pakistan.

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Civil government and military working together to fight terrorism

Posted on 08 February 2017 by admin

 Dr. Hasan Askari

 The politics in Pakistan is currently experiencing positive and negative developments. Two most significant positive developments are improvement in civil-military relations and the renewed determination on the part of the military and the civilian government to control extremist religious groups that use violence to advance their religio-political agendas.

 With the appointment of the new Army Chief at the end of November 2016, the differences between the civilian government and the Army are no longer visible. They are working in cooperation on security and counterterrorism issues. The Army top command is showing patience on the news item controversy. The civilian government had appointed a special committee to look into the complaint of a news item about the national security meeting in he prime minister house that blamed the Army top command for showing partisanship towards militant groups. The Committee is expected to finalize its report in this month. The Army is waiting to see what this committee has to say what the Army command thought to be an effort to malign the Army. If the civilian government hushed up the matter, it will have negative impact on civil-military relations.

 The civilian and military authorities are more cooperative for countering terrorism. The decision to put Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and his colleagues under house arrest was taken jointly by the federal government and Army-Intelligence authorities. However, the federal and the Punjab governments are still not in favor of the Army or the Ranger resorting to anti-terror operation in the Punjab in an autonomous manner. The PMLN does not want that its monopoly of power in Punjab is weakened by the presence of any institution or political party that is not fully under its full control. In the past, some federal ministers and one Punjab minister used to condemn the top brass of the military for their expanded role and the military rule. Their harsh statements used to undermine the federal government’s relations with the Army. Now, these ministers are silent. If they return to their old policy of public denunciation of the Army top brass, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will have difficulties in dealing with the Army.

 One negative development in Politics is that the relations between the ruling PMLN and the major opposition party, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf, have deteriorated to such an extent that both sides use rude and insulting language about each other. The media team of the PMLN uses harsher phrases about Imran Khan and other PTI leaders than the PTI leaders criticizing Nawaz Sharif. This has spoiled the political environment. In late January2017 the PMLN and the PTI members exchanged punches on the floor of the National Assembly.

 In this government-opposition equation, the PPP is playing a dubious role. Asif Ali Zardari continues with his soft policy towards the PMLN. However, Bilawal Bhutto is vocal in his criticism of the PMLN, especially Nawaz Sharif. He led a highly anti-PMLN procession from Lahore to Faisalabad. The PPP leaders from Punjab also want to pursue confrontation with Nawaz Sharif in order to revive the PPP in the Punjab. They prefer Bilawal’s political style. There are two problems for the PPP in the Punjab. First, Zardari’s preference appears to be for Nawaz Sharif rather than Imran Khan. It is quite possible that he participates in the next election with informal cooperation with the PMLN. The second problem is that Bilawal is not consistent in pursuing his politics. After every five-six weeks, he goes abroad. He does not have continuous interaction with the party workers and activists. He visits them in Punjab like a high profile guest rather than their leader. The PPP will have to change its leadership style as well as politics if it wants to stay as a credible party in Punjab.

 Another negative aspect of politics is that the federal government seems to have been overwhelmed by the Panama Leaks case in the Supreme Court. There are many gaps in the defense arguments of the Sharif family. Up to now the lawyers of the Sharif family have not been able to provide credible proof of source of money as well as its route, how it moved from one place to the other, and when and how the flats were purchased? The uncertainty about the outcome of the Supreme Court case is causing much anxiety in the government circles.

 There can be four possible outcomes of the case: The charges against the Sharif family are rejected altogether; there is nothing negative about Nawaz Sharif but some members of his family get blamed for money laundering and hiding facts; Nawaz Sharif and the family are held responsible for money laundering and corrupt practics; a commission is appointed to investigate the money trail and flat ownership in detail.

 If the Sharif family is not framed in this case, it will be a moral victory for them and the probability of Nawaz Sharif getting reelected in the next general elections will be very high. However, Imran Khan will continue to contest the government on corruption and poor governance. If Nawaz Sharif is disqualified, the PMLN will select a prime minister as an interim arrangement until some member of the Sharif family is available for that task. The most challenging task will be to keep the party together in this interim period. In any case, Pakistan politics will continue to pass through uncertaintie that will adversely affect the government’s capacity to pursue the programs for the welfare of the common people.

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Ugliness prevails Pakistani politics as Panama Leaks case is heard in court

Posted on 01 February 2017 by admin

 Dr. Hasan Askari

 The Panama Leaks case proceedings in the Supreme Court of Pakistan have caused much bitterness between the activists of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf.

They exchange bitter remarks and charges and counter charges against each other in the media talk when the Court adjourns the day’s proceedings. On January 27, 2017, the activists of these two parties used abusive language against each other and got involved in fist-fight on the floor of the National Assembly. Now, they are engaged in blaming each other for the ugly situation in the National Assembly. All this shows that the activists among the parliamentarian lack democratic culture and they cannot see anything beyond their narrow party interests. This is an insult to the parliament and democracy in Pakistan.

 The ugly scenes on the floor of the National Assembly have revived the debate in Pakistan on the future of democracy. The other questions that are being discussed include why and how democracy functions smoothly in some countries but runs into problems in other countries? What are the pre-conditions for its continued working? Can democracy succeed in the absence of a democratic culture in the society?

 Despite various disappointment from the current elected provincial and federal governments in Pakistan, democracy remains the most popular system of governance. This system of government gives freedoms and rights to people which no other political system offers. However, people cannot live only with freedoms. They need basic human and civic facilities, personal security and a decent livelihood.

 Democracy evolved gradually in parts of Europe, North America and Australia which are considered good examples of democracy in action. Pakistan and most Asian and African states adopted democracy after the end of the colonial rule in the post-World War ll period. A large number of them faltered on road to full democracy. This gave rise to different types of democracy.

 The rulers in many countries associate democracy with political status-quo; any challenge to their rule is described as an anti-democracy behavior of the opposition. History gives us many example of the rulers who come to power through democratic means but they adopt authoritarian disposition to manage the state affairs. At times, the ruling party uses its majority in the parliament to impose what is described as the “tyranny of majority” over the opposition groups by denying them their due role or passes laws that undermine the spirit of democracy. Democracy is such a delicate system of governance that, despite the holding of fair and free elections, it may not show progress towards democratization in a sustained manner. It can experience reverses, slow down or falter altogether.

 The key issue is that any political and constitutional system does not become democratic only by labeling it democratic. What matters most is the “spirit” and “essence” of democratic norms and values. How far the political and societal leaders have imbibed the values of democracy and to what extent they manifest these values in management of the affairs of the political system? To what extent the main players in politics show restraint, moderation and mutual accommodation through consultation?

 Fair and free elections are integral to democracy but having elections is not enough to ensure democracy. This is the minimal or limited meaning of democracy. The ideal model is the Liberal Democracy which includes fair and free elections plus a number of other attributes.

 Democracy calls for a constitutional rule that is based on liberal political values that emphasize elected governance, the rule of law, equal citizenship for all, civil and political rights and basic freedoms, independent judiciary and civil and political rights should be protected not only against the excesses of the government but also against threats from powerful societal and non-governmental groups.

 It is imperative in democracy that those who exercise state power must be accountable to the people for their actions. Major governmental transactions, especially those involving state funds, must be transparent and open to public scrutiny. Democracy must ensure that state resources are not being used in a highly partisan political manner. Corruption and nepotism must be discouraged. If a democratic government cannot control corruption, it is bound to fail.

 No democracy can succeed if it does not provide basic human and civic needs of the citizenry. The state must assign a priority to education and health care for all; provide basic civic facilities and opportunities for earning respectable livelihood. Further, the democratic state must make sure that the disadvantaged sections of the society are taken care of. The affirmative action is needed for backward classes of people and regions as well as those suffering from poverty. The state must intervene in the economy and societal affairs in order to ensure that they get the state protection and support for leading their lives in a decent manner.

 These conditions for liberal and human-friendly democracy show that sustaining democracy is a formidable task. It requires continuous effort on the part of the rulers as well as the public to secure and strengthen democracy. In fact, active citizenry is a pre-condition for genuine democracy.

 Pakistan has a liberal democratic constitution and its federal and provincial governments are elected. However, there is a crisis of the quality of democracy. Pakistan’s democracy is challenged by poor governance, widespread corruption, the government’s failure to provide basic services to common people and religious-cultural intolerance and terrorism. There is a need to work hard to cope these challenges in order to improve democracy’s effectiveness and quality.

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Afghanistan needs Pakistan and vice versa for stability in region

Posted on 26 January 2017 by admin

 Dr. Hasan Askari

  Pakistan and Afghanistan share culture and history but their relations are currently strained. These relations reflect distrust between Pakistan and Afghanistan and both have complaints against each other. Their relations experienced a new crisis when, on January 10 when suicide bombing and planted bombs in Kabul, Kandahar and Lashkargah (Helmand province) killed 57 people and injured some people.

 In Kandahar, the bomb was said to be hidden in a sofa in an official building in the Governor’s security compound. The bomb killed 12 people in the building, including five officials of the United Arab Emirates who were on an official visit. The UAE ambassador to Afghanistan and the Governor of the Kandahar region were injured.

 The Afghan Taliban took the responsibility for the explosions in Kabul and Lashkargah but they maintained that they were not involved in the Kandahar explosion. The Afghanistan government did not wait for any investigation of these explosions and blamed Pakistan and especially the ISI for these explosions. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani claimed that the Afghan Taliban have “safe-havens” in Pakistan and they come from there to engage in violence and killings in Afghanistan.

 The Government of Pakistan condemned the attacks and rejected Afghanistan’s claim that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies were involved in the bombing or the Afghan Taliban have their bases in Pakistan for engaging in violence in Afghanistan.

 Three days later, a large number of Afghan staged a strong protest outside the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul condemning and criticizing Pakistan for its support to Afghan Taliban. This protest had official Afghan blessings.

 Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa telephoned Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, expressing his grief over the loss of human life. He also sought Afghanistan’s cooperation for countering terrorism in the region and for effectively regulating unauthorized movement of people. The Afghan President was not forthcoming for effective border control and repeated his complaint of the Afghan Taliban operating from Pakistan,

 The worsening of the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan led the Commander of the U.S. Central Command, General Joseph L. Votel, to visit Islamabad and meet with the Army Chief and other top commanders to defuse the situation. It may be mentioned here that currently there are about 9800 American troops based in Afghanistan that are under the overall control of the U.S. Central Command.

 The Afghan government blames Pakistan for every major bombing or violent incident in order to cover up its inability to assert its authority over large parts of Afghanistan. The Afghan Talban control parts of Afghanistan and challenge the Kabul government from time to time to demonstrate their strength. The Afghan National Army and the Police, trained by the U.S. and the NATO, are not always successful in coping with the Taliban fighters. The real security challenge to the Kabul government is internal which is unable to cope with. There is another reason for criticism of Pakistan. The ruling elite in Afghanistan are divided. The notion of external enemy united them. Anti-Pakistan sentiments are integral to the Afghan nationalism as advocated by the Kabul government since 2001-2002.

 If the role of the Taliban and other militants is to be contained, both Afghanistan and Pakistan will have to cooperate. As the unauthorized movement of militants in both ways on the Pakistan-Afghan border, the Afghan and Pakistan security forces will have to work together to strengthen security arrangements on it. Surely some Afghan Taliban move from Pakistan to Afghanistan and return. In the same way, Pakistani Taliban, including their top command is based in Afghanistan and these Pakistani Taliban cross over into Pakistan for engaging in violence against Pakistan’s security forces and their rival militant groups.

 Afghanistan talks only about the Afghan Taliban and reuses to pay any attention to Pakistani compliant about the presence of Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan.

 The Afghan Taliban senior leaders may be identifiable but their activists cannot be identified because of their ethnic and linguistic overlap with the Afghan refugees based in Pakistan and the local Pakhtun population. Not all Afghan refugees are not in favor of the Kabul government. This gives space to Afghan Taliban activists to hide. The best strategy to deal with this problem will be an effective border control to restrict the movement of Afghan and Pakistani Taliban across the Pakistan-Afghan border.

 Another problematic issue in the Afghan situation is the increased influence of India’s security and intelligence establishment in Afghanistan. The closer interaction between the two causes much concern in Pakistan’s official circles because they are convinced that India is using Afghanistan to provide funding to Pakistani Taliban and some Baloch separatist elements in order to build security pressure on Pakistan.

 Instead of cultivating cooperation with Pakistan to jointly counter Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan President is trying to bypass the government of Pakistan for tackling Afghan Taliban. He approached Maulana Samiul Haq to control the Talban and restoring peace in Afghanistan on January 19. This effort may not succeed because the political profile of the Afghan Taliban has improved because Russia and China are now cultivating them. This is being done to counter the Daeesh (Islamic State Organization) in Afghanistan. China and Russia are also encouraging them for a political settlement in Afghanistan which may not be to full satisfaction of the resent Kabul government.

 Afghanistan cannot succeed in restoring peace within its territory all by itself. It needs to work with Pakistan and take into account the current Russian and Chinese interest in the region. Peace and stability in Afghanistan is beneficial to both Afghanistan and Pakistan and it will reduce the concerns of Russia, China and many other states about the spillover of Afghanistan based radicalism and terrorism.

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Gap between rich and poor increase as Pakistan’s exports falls

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

  Dr. Hasan Askari

  There is a general agreement at the international level that stable economy holds the key to dealing effectively with internal social and economic challenges and external security problems. A good economy that ensures a secure future for people increases the capacity of the state to play an active role at the international level. A state will always face strong diplomatic pressures if it is heavily dependent on foreign loans, economic assistance, and it has declining exports.

 There is a debate in Pakistan on the strengths and weaknesses of its economy and how far it affects Pakistan’s choices for foreign policy and domestic affairs. The official circles and the ruling PMLN express strong satisfaction on what they describe as an outstanding performance of the economy. They talk of the Vision 2025 and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to emphasize that Pakistan would in the next decade become one of the leading “emerging economies” of the world. The official circles argue that Pakistan has successfully completed the IMF Economic Restructuring Program and that the World Bank, the IMF and several important economic review groups appreciate the economic achievements of the Muslim League government. The growth of the economy at the end of the financial year in June 2017 is expected to be over 5 percent. The foreign exchange reserves with the State Bank of Pakistan and other Pakistan banks have exceeded 23 billion dollars.

 This official Pakistani optimism about the Pakistan’s economic development is not shared by non-official and independent circles. They argue that Pakistan’s economic performance gets appreciation from the IMF and the World Bank because its government is running the economy in accordance with the guidelines given by these international financial institutions. If it diverts from their advisories, it will face their criticism. Further, the IMF also warns Pakistan of the hazards and risks in its economy.

 The latest data released by the government of Pakistan shows that exports have been falling for the last several years. In 2012-13, Pakistan’s exports were $ 24.5 billion which declined to $ 20.8 billion at the end of the last financial year in June 2016. The remittances from Pakistanis based abroad declined by 2. 27 percent during July-December 2016. Pakistan’s total foreign debt is $ 73 billion at the beginning of January 2017 which has exceeded the approved higher limit of 60 per cent for the ratio between public debt and Gross Domestic Product. Pakistan’s total foreign exchange reserves amounted to $ 23.16 billion at the end of December 2016. However, in view of decline in exports, foreign remittances and foreign direct investment, the increase in foreign exchange reserves can be explained with reference to the loans available to Pakistan and the bonds floated by the PMLN government over the last three years.

 If we analyze these two views of Pakistan’s economy, it can be argued that the economic development in Pakistan is imbalanced. Economic development is limited to some sectors of the economy. Its rewards have been limited to a small section of populace from the upper and ruling sections of population to the middle class. The people from the middle to the lower strata of the society have faced increased economic pressures and difficulties. Daily life for these people has become difficult because of price hike at the retail level in the shops for the food and other items that are needed for running a kitchen. Though Pakistan produces enough food for all population, all people do not get enough food for two meals a day. A good number of people go hungry or they have to rely on charity and voluntary meal distribution centers run by some people or organizations.

 In Pakistan, the number of people who make over one hundred thousand Rupees a month has increased during the last ten years. The economic sectors that have experienced much expansion are banking, Information Technology, Telecommunication and real estate business, private sector education and private health care. However, for illiterate and half-literate Pakistanis, the job opportunities have not increased significantly. The industry has shown little expansion that could accommodate such people. Agriculture has also shown nominal progress during the last financial year.

 Consequently, the gap between the rich and the poor sections of population has widened. The allocations for social and human development sectors are inadequate. The government run education and health care systems range from medium to low quality which has increased problems of the poor section of the population. All this is causing alienation among common people from the political system. Some of these people become vulnerable to extremist appeals.

 The federal and the Punjab governments prefer to build glamorous and publicity oriented projects like motorways, modern bus service on selected routes and local trains which provide relief to a limited number of people. They also offer personalized favor programs to win over the loyalties of the selected populace. Therefore, the PMLN governments at the federal level and in the Punjab have announced several personalized favor-schemes like lap top distribution, Kissan package, Industrial relief package, scholarship schemes for the students in the name of the PMLN top leaders, the health care card scheme, provision of buses to schools in Islamabad and other favors that are distributed directly by the Prime Minister or Chief Minister Punjab.

 The policy of personalized favor scheme and the government’s tolerance for corruption have given economic relief to some people. However, there is a need to have long term economic development projects that benefit all people and all regions. Greater attention will have to be given to overcoming economic inequality in the society and how to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on external loans and grants.

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Good and Bad for Pakistan in 2017

Posted on 11 January 2017 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari                  

       Pakistan is expected to experience three positive and three negative developments in 2017. The three positive developments that are going to be a source of strength include the progress on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), prospects of improved relations with Russia and the growing Russian and Chinese interest in facilitating political accommodation between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghanistan government.

       The negative developments are the problems in the relations with India and Afghanistan, increased strains in the Pakistan-U.S. relations under the new U.S. administration headed by Donald Trump, and Pakistan’s internal disharmony and political polarization.

     Pakistan’s success depends on how it cashes on the positive developments and contains the fall-out of the negative developments.  This objective can be achieved if the leaders in power are committed to serving the ordinary citizens and engage in equitable socio-economic development.

       The CPEC offers a much needed opportunity to Pakistan to strengthen its economy and crate ample job opportunities for its people. It is equally beneficial to the Chinese economy, especially the economy of the Xinjiang province. China gets a new sea access through Gwadar in a region where no country is hostile towards China. It stands to gain economic dividends so much that Gwadar remains important for China even if there is no military use of this seaport. However it will take 8 to 10 years of sustained effort on the part of China and Pakistan to make this project a reality.  The political and professional steps Pakistan adopts in 2017 will go a long way to complete the project as quickly as possible.  Pakistan needs to recognize that it can cash its geographical location if roads, railways and pipelines through its territory connect four regions, i.e., Central Asia, the Middle East, Xinjiang region of China and South Asia.

      The prospects for improved relations between Pakistan and Russia offer a major breakthrough for Pakistan in the regional affairs. Traditionally the Soviet Union/Russia was close to India and it had a problematic relationship with Pakistan.  Now, as India moves closer to the United States, Russia is exploring new options in the region.  Pakistan is one such option that Russia wants to cultivate. Pakistan’s response to this opportunity has been slow.. Up to now, important decisions have been made in-principle for Russia’s contribution to Pakistan’s economic development and the two countries are about to finalize a deal for supply of helicopters and limited military equipment to Pakistan. These measures materialize quickly.  . Further, Pakistan and Russia have been talking of expanding trade but there has not been any significant increase in their bilateral trade over the last two years.

    Third positive development pertains to the on-going internal turmoil in Afghanistan. China and Russia are now taking a direct interest to facilitate a dialogue between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government. These two states are better placed than Pakistan to pursue peace inside Afghanistan because both the Afghan Taliban and the Kabul government want to cultivate these two states. Pakistan alone cannot pursue the peace agenda in Afghanistan because there is a lack of trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Pakistan is now extending full support to, and working with, Russia and China for seeking political accommodation and peace in Afghanistan.

    While strengthening these three trends in regional and bilateral domains, Pakistan will have to manage three negative aspects of its foreign policy. The relations with India have touched their lowest point in 2016 as the Modi government in India promoted Hindutva based ultra-nationalism and engaged in a massive campaign at the global level to get Pakistan designated as the terrorist state. There are little, if any, prospects of improvement in their relations in the next six months. Similarly, Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan have run into serious problems over the last two years. Both sides have a list of grievances against each other.  There are difficulties in Pakistan’s relations with Iran. Pakistan’s leadership does not show practical interest in getting gas and electricity from Iran, which the latter attributes to the increased Saudi influence on the Nawaz Sharif government.  The scope for expanding bilateral trade between Pakistan and Iran has not been fully explored.

      New developments to the disadvantage of Pakistan are expected to crop up in Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. under Donald Trump.  The U.S. economic assistance, already on decline, is expected to further go down in the first Trump budget It will be a challenging task to deal with the unpredictable Trump Administration.

      The growing internal political disharmony and polarization in Pakistan are likely to adversely affect the performance of the government so far as the delivery of basic services to the common people. Even if Nawaz Sharif overcomes the challenge of the Panama Leaks, his government will drift from crisis to crisis in 2017.

    Pakistan will have to overcome these negative developments in order to cash on the three positive developments.  The government must assign the highest priority to reducing disharmony and conflict in the society.  The current economy serves the people in power and the rich. It should be turned an economy that serves the common people and reflects equity and fairplay.   The dissatisfaction of the common people makes them vulnerable to the appeals by extremist and hardline religious groups that promote bigotry and intolerance in the name of some kind of religious and political ideology.

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Can Bangalore win its battle against rubbish?

Posted on 11 January 2017 by admin

The southern Indian city of Bangalore was long known as the garden city, famed for its lush public parks and gardens, trees and hedges. But four years ago, it was renamed the garbage city, after it began drowning under mounds of rubbish. Some concerned citizens, however, are working to clean up the city, writes the BBC’s Geeta Pandey from Bangalore.

On a Sunday morning, about two dozen young men and women arrive outside the Aishwarya Agate apartment complex in the JP Nagar district, armed with paint, buckets, brushes and rollers.

For the next few hours, these volunteers from the non-governmental organisation Youth for Parivarthan (Youth for Change) get busy, trying to beautify the wall across the compound.

Ugly fading pamphlets are peeled off, the grey wall is hosed clean with a jet of water, a coat of terracotta paint is applied, patterns are drawn with chalk and then painted over with fine brush-strokes.

“We did our first project in June 2014. There was a small children’s park near my home, filled with garbage. It would stink all the time, everyone was complaining about it,” he told the BBC. “So one day, I thought we should stop complaining and start acting.”

Mr Amarnath and a few of his friends went and cleaned up the place. Then they painted the park walls and installed benches to dissuade people from throwing rubbish there again.

Bangalore is often described as the Silicon Valley of India. The city has witnessed rapid growth in the past two decades.

But along with that prosperity have come problems like traffic snarls and thousands of tonnes of daily garbage.

The city of 11.5 million people daily generates 8,000 tonnes of rubbish which is collected and transported to landfills outside the city, says Bharath M Palavalli of Fields of View, a non-profit which has been working to create awareness about Bangalore’s garbage problems.

By law, this garbage should be segregated at source between wet food waste and dry recyclable waste like plastics and paper.

“Ideally what happens in Vegas should remain in Vegas,” says market researcher and civic evangelist V Ravichandar.

“Garbage should be sorted and dealt with in the neighbourhood and only 15% should go to landfills.”

But civic authorities have long followed the policy of collecting and transporting all the city’s garbage to nearby villages instead.

The flaws of the policy became glaringly obvious in 2012 when garbage collectors went on a strike over a pay dispute with the civic authorities and the city began to drown in rubbish.

Mr Ravichandar describes what happened next as “a perfect storm”.

“At the same time, one landfill was closed by the pollution control board for being environmentally hazardous, and another was shut down because local farmers protested.

“For two weeks, untreated waste was being dumped on the city streets daily. It had been drizzling for days and there were things putrefying,” says Mr Ravichandar.

But that became the turning point for the city when it came to garbage management.

With more awareness, residents in many areas have now begun to segregate their garbage and dry waste collection centres have come up in several neighbourhoods.

“In areas where people are more aware and the residents’ associations are strong, rubbish is getting picked up regularly and things have visibly improved,” Mr Ravichandar says.

But many “black spots” remain in the city – and that’s where groups like Youth for Parivarthan come in.

The wall across from the Aishwarya Agate apartment that the volunteers are beautifying today used to be a garbage dump until a few days ago.

For the past 14 years, resident Purushottam Joshi says every time he stepped out of the gates, he would be greeted by the stench of rotting garbage.

“We petitioned the local legislator, our MP, the district collector, even the police, but nothing happened. Now I’m very happy that these young men and women have done this wonderful work here,” he says.

Home-maker Lavanya Shankar says she’s “extremely happy” to see the “extremely clean” wall. “This is the street where we live, where our children play, and it’s wonderful to see this change,” she says.

Mr Amarnath says their reward is the appreciation they receive from the public.

“Initially we would spot places to fix, but now people write to us on social media, seeking our help. Earlier, people thought we were just jobless youth, with nothing to do. But ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched his Swachch Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign), public support has been growing for us.”

As the volunteers pose for a photograph in front of the finished wall, they say they know that their efforts are like “a drop in the ocean”. But, as Mr Amarnath says, “every drop must count”.

“If we want to see the change, we have to be more involved and aware. If we sit at home and think the government would do everything, then nothing would get done.”

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