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Time to create Rakhine as a Muslim State for Rohingyas

Myanmar insists that Rohingyas are interlopers from Bangladesh despite most of them living for generations in western Rakhine state of Myanmar, they have long been denied basic political rights and liberties. Bangladesh does not accept that Rohingyas have a Bengali lineage. Anthropologists believe that Rohingya roots trace back to Saudi Arabia, who migrated to Myanmar (Burma) around 7th & 8th century AC. Except Bangladesh and Myanmar who think such a return as a good idea, there are hardly any buyers of such forced eviction. United Nations doesn’t want forced eviction to happen. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned that forcing the first batch of about 2,200 Rohingya living in refugee camps to ground zero of mass violence against the minority Muslim group would be a “clear violation” of core international legal principles. Human Rights groups have called the move “dangerous and premature.” A number of Human Rights groups say “they are shocked”. Even the people who will be affected the most, Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, are upset that their future, once again, is being decided without their input.So far Aung Suu Kyi’s leadership performance has been derisive. No one expected governing to be easy for her, as country’s leader. Her election had ended more than a half-century of military rule; yet the hegemony has not retrieved; and Bonapartism is galore. In pursuit of her over ambitious political objectives, she has been used and discredited by Junta. Suu Kyi had declared ending the long-running ethnic insurgencies that have torn the country apart as her top priority, but her lacklustre peace effort has proved ineffective. Ever since fighting between government forces and ethnic groups has been spiralling up. Though World has been shocked by reports that the military has carried out atrocities, including rape and murder, against the Rohingya, Aung Suu has said little on the matter and done even lesser. Her government’s growing suppression of speech on the Internet seems perverse for a onetime democracy icon who spent 15 years under house arrest. No wonders her popularity is on decline. Growth has slowed and foreign investment has dipped significantly. Suu Kyi faces daunting challenges. In rebuilding the country, she must overcome decades of mismanagement and profiteering by previous military governments that enriched the generals and their cronies and brought the economy to its knees. The biggest stain on Suu Kyi’s record may be her government’s brutal treatment of the Rohingya, and her tepid response to it. Prevailing World order is known for acting very fast in Muslim versus non-Muslim conflicts where outcome is likely to benefit non-Muslims. And it shows criminal negligence when Muslims are likely to gain through political settlement of any such conflict. When pushed too hard, conflict is settled in a way that it’s a paralytic outcome, ensuring mitigation of equitable advantage to Muslim faction of population. Some of the conflicts like Kashmir and Palestine are deliberately kept on back burners as their settlement would benefit Muslim segment of respective population. Myanmar’s Rohingya conflict also falls in “let ferment” category. Likewise is the situation about Afghan and Yemen crisis, as well as simmering Middle East and North African Muslim countries. Muslims are right to assume that current World Order has not served them a fair deal; and unless there is a significant change in its format, Muslims will continue to be marginalised at state, community and individual levels. But the billion dollar question is that how long the current World Political Order would take to assume ownership of Myanmar crisis? Time has already reached for declaring Rakhine as a sovereign State where Rohingyas could live peacefully and practice their religion peacefully.

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Crossfire of Afghan peace processes

Afghanistan rivals failed to reach a breakthrough on holding direct peace negotiations during international talks in Moscow, the latest international effort to end the conflict. Russia had invited representatives from the United States as well as India, Iran, China and Central Asian Republics; all hailed the Moscow Format Consultations on Afghanistan as an opportunity to “open a new page” in Afghanistan’s history and seek an end to the war 17 years after the US-led invasion. This was the first meeting of the Moscow Format with participation of Afghan High Peace Council representatives and Afghan Taliban delegation from its Qatar political office. Pakistan views the Moscow Format meeting as a step towards lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is caught in cross-fire of multiple peace initiatives through more than a dozen processes. Most of the ongoing Afghan peace processes are nothing more than a trash. Afghan peace is the biggest challenge of this century, haunting the comity of nations. It needs a quality peace process under the UN auspices, underwritten by P-5 members of UNSC; and led by UNSG’s special envoy of the stature of late Kofi Annan.

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Civil and Military judicial systems: Need for bridging the gap

Military judicial systems, the World over, are known for delivering swift, speedy and credible justice during extraordinary times. Especially so when the routine of the run judicial system is unable to deliver justice due to any of the accepted multiple genuine reasons. Post 9/11 setting threw up such extraordinary environment when circumstances had rendered the normal judicial channels ineffective, particularly when it came to punishing hard core terrorists. This situation prevailed for about fifteen years and none of the terrorist was awarded meaningful penalty for heinous crimes, it was often observed that those arrested on these accounts were promptly granted bail and were repeatedly caught committing same crimes again and again. Under these conditions National Action Plan was formulated to counter terrorism and military courts were setup for a limited time. These courts served the purpose and award of meaningful punishments to had core terrorists helped in quelling the waves of terrorism promptly.Military courts were established for two years and during this period civil judiciary was expected to fix its weaknesses and be able to re-takeover the task. However, it failed to do so, so the military courts were asked to carry out the task for another two years; this period is to end in January 2019. However, civilian courts are still no better than what they were in January 2015. It is yet another testimony of the lack of faith in the country’s criminal justice system and the sheer ineptness of political system to reform it. Reasons that led to setting up of military courts continue to persist. And it goes to the credit of swift action by military courts alongside military operations that terrorism is on its fag end. Certainly Army’s Judge Advocate General’s team will have to answer many question, as to why pointed out technical gaps and procedural voids were not plugged-in during the trial proceedings. While at the same time, PHC bench needs to account for basing such decision mainly on technicalities, while mainly ignoring the substance matter, and that too in case of heinous crimes. There are many rungs between capital punishments and outright acquittal and one does not have to go berserk to jump straight from capital punishment to acquittal option without preferring to choose from whole assortment of lower degree punishments. Under the circumstances remanding the case for retrial should have been a win-win situation for all sides. Hopefully, a worthwhile solution would be found out. Army needs to undertake capacity enhancement of its JAG branch to avoid recurrences. And PHC should avoid outright choking of one of the parliament approved and constitutionally established judicial sub-system.

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Pakistan asks America to keep its troops in Afghanistan till stability

In a clear departure from its earlier position, Pakistan has cautioned against the US forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan without first achieving the complete peace and security in the country. “Pakistan has been reiterating that the US forces should stay in Afghanistan till the achievement of complete peace and stability,” Foreign office spokesperson said at the weekly briefing on October 18. “I would like to draw your attention to the chaos in the aftermath of the withdrawal of USSR [Union of Soviet Socialist Republics] in the late 1980s. The region cannot afford anything similar, at this time,” he added. Provincial governor, Police and Intelligence chiefs were assassinated in an attack in Kandahar province while the top American commander in Afghanistan General Austin Miller narrowly escaped. Probably, it was an inside job. Over thirty percent polling stations are not likely to open due to violence during October 20 parliamentary polls. Afghanistan is undoubtedly in a chaos, and Pakistan's concerns about post US pullout are not unfounded. May be Pakistan is anticipating a sudden pullout by President Trump. Whatever, the people of Pakistan need to be taken into confidence over this change of stance.

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Do we need NACTA?

Expectations from National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) had all along been unrealistic; it was over-projected as panacea for all societal shortfalls leading to mushrooming of terrorism. NACTA, for years, has been marred by a dearth of human resource. During the heat of counter terrorism operations, this entity often came under severe criticism for its inaction. NACTA never spoke for itself, at least publically, and found safety in silence. As on September 30, 2017, NACTA was a parking place for 47 (BPS17-22) officers and 90 personnel (BPS1-16). And recruitment of 53 core personnel and 198 (BPS 1-19) was under process. Now, once counter terrorism activities are nearing their fag end, another revival of NACTA is being attempted. Since its inception, there has been a tussle between the Prime Minister’s Office and the interior ministry over operational control of NACTA. Prime Minister has reportedly decided to retain control over Authority. It is a good decision because countering terrorism is a multi-disciplinary activity and interior ministry alone cannot handle it. Other problem is that law and order is a provincial subject and NACAT neither has its provincial extensions nor has control over provincial counter terrorism departments. And unless rules of business are amended, in the role of authority, NACTA would invariably come in conflict with federal and provincial interior ministries. Viable options are: have provincial extensions of NACTA and amend the rules of business governing working relationships between federal and provincial law ministries, create a provision to have countering extremism and terrorism as common responsibility of federation and provinces; Or, disband NACTA at federal level and devolve its functions to provincial NACTAs; Or, reconfigure NACTA from Authority to Commission format with a mandate to define horizons for counter terrorism effort and perform an advisory role to federal and provincial interior ministries. Whatever model is adopted, there is a need to change its composition from an extension of police department and give it a look of a body with national representation. It should have a Chairperson, and slot should be filled by a person of national repute. Beside other tasks it should act as a think tank mandated to keep an eye on all factors leading to mind-set of violence and extremism within segments of Pakistani society; and give viable recommendations for preventing it well before reaching terrorism threshold.

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UNSG Report on Afghanistan

United Nations' Secretary General Mr António Guterres has submitted quarterly report on Afghanistan to the Security Council. According to the report, Afghanistan’s mainstream political parties and political movements have intensified their efforts ahead of October parliamentary elections with politicians insisting on reforms in the election system. Between 15 May and 15 August, UNAMA recorded a total of 5,800 security incidents. On the peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the UN chief’s reported noted that the momentum in support of a peace process with the Taliban continued, aided by the increasingly active engagement of civil society and religious leaders calling for peace between government and the Taliban. In 2018, 178,002 people were newly displaced by conflict and the demand for trauma care for victims of war increased to 24,687 cases in 2018, an increase of 14 per cent compared with 2017. The report says that a total of 210,724 Afghan citizens, including spontaneous returnees, deportees and refugees, returned to Afghanistan during the reporting period. Former President Sibghat ullah Mujaddadi and a number of parliamentarians have called for the BSA to be assessed. They opined that the agreement has not been successful in the fight against insurgency. In the meanwhile, Taliban and the US are preparing for second round of their direct talks in Doha.

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Elusive Afghan Peace: Between Fire and Ceasefire

In an interesting development while Afghan government announced four days cease fire on Eid eve, Taliban refused to assume a cease fire posture and took their operations to Kabul, at least notionally, where they fired rockets on Presidential palace; though rockets missed the mark. The ensuing hours-long battle involving insurgents’ rocket attacks and military airstrikes ended with the death of two insurgents. “Two attackers were involved. The enemy was firing mortars,” General Murad Ali Murad, commander of Kabul´s garrison, told a press conference. Taliban assault coincided with President Ashraf Ghani’s conditional offer of a three-month ceasefire on first day of Eid. If Americans are looking for good news from the battlefront, then Afghanistan is not the place to look. Taliban are having success after success against the best equipped army in the world. District Faryab has fallen, and fate of over 100 Afghan troops hangs in balance; just miles from Kabul, battle is raging in Ghazni with predictions of its fall. Americans had been begging for Eid ceasefire during three rounds of their direct talks with the Taliban. Afghan government has also been contacting the local leadership for the ceasefire. Some Muslim states and other countries had also approached Taliban for accepting ceasefire proposal. Earlier reports had Taliban in control of the bulk of Ghazni city and surrounding districts on the outskirts. While the Interior Minister was claiming that Taliban were being pushing back to just small pockets of resistance. The Taliban, by contrast, maintain that they remain in control of most of the city. US military statements, unsurprisingly, continue to downplay what they called an “inconsequential fight”, saying they view the Taliban in the area as “isolated and desperate,” and insist that control of the city remains with the government. NATO’s command in Afghanistan has been intentionally misleading the public about the status of seven of Ghazni’s districts. Three additional districts have also been overrun by the Taliban. Resolute Support claimed these seven districts were under government control. In reality, the Taliban physically controlled the terrain while the Afghan government operated them remotely from Ghazni City. Battle for Ghazni has been quite fierce. Over 100 security force members were killed during a recent Taliban attack. The city hospital was reported overcrowded with hundreds of wounded people and dozens of bodies and people desperately searching for relatives among the dead and wounded. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was providing dressing packages and oral and intravenous medicine to treat wounded at the provincial hospital. The ICRC also sent fresh water and electricity generators for trauma surgeries and delivered material for the management of remains. The ICRC is organizing emergency water supplies by trucks to cover the needs of about 18,000 people. “They were facing severe shortage of food and drinking water and the power supply”. Fleeing citizens reported. A humanitarian crisis may just be in the making. In the Faryab province, the Afghan forces surrendered after a 48 hour siege; the Afghan Army base in Ghormach District was surrendered outright to the Taliban. Security forces ran out of ammunition and badly needed reinforcements, which never came. Government troops apparently had no choice but to give up. Over 40 surviving troops were taken prisoner in the surrender. For the second time in the week, Taliban insurgents attacked and overran an Afghan Army base in the country’s north, this time in Baghlan Province. The offensive lasted for about five hours, and left the Taliban in control of the military base and a nearby police checkpoint; Taliban killed nearly 50 Afghan police and soldiers and took 36 prisoners. Taliban have overrun large parts of another army base in northern Afghanistan. The insurgents had captured tanks and ammunition in Chenayeeha army base, in Ghormach district of Faryab province, in an offensive that began on August 12. “We have not been able to enter the base. Large parts of the base are still under the Taliban control,” a local spokesperson said. The Ministry of Public Health confirmed the death toll had risen to 48 in the suicide bombing in a classroom at an education academy in Dasht-e-Barchi, in Kabul. Government sources reported that over 70 security force members had been killed and dozens more wounded in battles on several fronts around the country including Baghlan, Zabul and Kandahar provinces. Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reported on August 15 that more than 64,000 Afghan civilians were either killed or wounded during the past nine years, with the Taliban causing 70 percent of the casualties. A similar UN report indicates that more than 5,100 Afghan civilians had suffered casualties in the conflict over the first six months of the ongoing year which indicated that a large number of Afghans continued to be victim of terrorism. Presumably the US led occupation forces are in the process of abdicating their responsibility in the rural Afghanistan and have decided to even handover some of the urban districts to Taliban as a part of preliminary bargain. Taliban have risen from the ashes and are now a force to reckon with. Afghan government is under tremendous pressure as Taliban threaten new districts. Hundreds of people have been killed or wounded, on several fronts, in clashes during the last two weeks. Contrast this bloodbath with what the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during an unannounced visit to Kabul on July 09 that there was “now hope” for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. “An element of the progress is the capacity that we now have to believe that there is now hope,” Pompeo told a press conference. “Many of the Taliban now see that they can’t win on the ground militarily. That’s very deeply connected to President Trump’s strategy”, he added. Earlier in January this year, President Ashraf Ghani had offered the Taliban peace talks without conditions. United States has dropped its previous refusal to talk to the Taliban; and both have spoken directly in Qatar, where they maintain a political office. Systematic retreat indicates that while maintaining a state of denial, Americans may have actually covered a substantial space for reaching a political deal with Taliban. Now America is contemplating addition of Zalmay Khalilzad, as Presidential Special Envoy on Afghanistan. Zalmay, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, is known for his anti-Pakistan and anti-Taliban leanings. His appointment is meant to impress upon Taliban and Pakistan that the US is serious about talks to end its longest war. The US military commanders now openly acknowledge a stalemate in the fighting. Afghan peace continues to be as elusive as it had ever been.

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Election 2018 & Beyond

Winners and losers of Elections 2018 have kept up the national tradition, whereby, winners praise the elections while losers reject it. Participation in the elections was enormous, and nationwide. According to Election Commission of Pakistan, voter turnout was over 55.8 percent while over 47 percent women also caste their ballot. For the 272 general seats in the National Assembly, 3,459 candidates were in the run including 1,623 from Punjab, 824 from Sindh, 725 from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and 287 from Balochistan. In case of general seat of provincial assemblies, 4,036 candidates contested for 297 seats in the Punjab, 2,252 for 130 seats in the Sindh; 1,165 for 99 seats in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and 943 candidates for 51 seats in the Balochistan. Over the years, conducting the elections is becoming more and more a security enterprise; over 371,000 soldiers were deployed for security duties during the election, including their presence inside each polling station. Keeping in view diametrically opposite stance on the credibility of elections by the two sides—Winners and Losers— it may be too early to pass an accurate judgement about its level of fairness; more so when Pakistan has a history of controversial elections. And in most of controversy related cases, credible evidence to support the rigging claims surfaced too late to benefit the aggrieved party; conscience of the whistle blowers, more often than not, pricked too late to be of any practical use. The only exception to this pattern was Election 1977. When, after the national assembly voting, the losing side walked away enbloc, from the remaining process, boycotted the provincial elections scheduled on third day of rigged national assembly polls. Political conglomerate, Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) took a two track approach, negotiating for settlement backed by a peaceful, yet paralysing, protest movement. Their effort dragged on for a long time; and in the meanwhile, military walked in. Rigging allegations in most of such controversial elections, have generally, proved to be right. However now, environment does not support 1977 like scenario, PMLN and PPPP are looking forward to coexist with PTI’s federal setup provided latter lets them have their safe heaven, Punjab and Sindh respectively, with a reasonable free hand. If this combination gets a sustainable traction, then agitations will be confined to few small parties which will not be able to mobilise worthwhile public support. However, if PTI chooses to hitch up only one of the two main rivals, most likely the PPPP, then the other would join the smaller parties and carry forward the agitation to a reasonable degree. Hence, in either of three combinations, no countrywide agitation is foreseen, at least in immediate timeframe. Scenario could change dramatically if a credible whistle blower, like a senior insider of ECP props up and puts forward sufficient evidence in support of rigging. Situation in Sindh is quite clear i.e. PPPP would form the provincial government; in Punjab, much will depend whether PTI takes a statesmanlike approach to let PMLN form and run the government in Punjab or take a short sighted approach of installing its own government by wooing smaller groups who are dying to come forward and do poodles. International assessments in the run-up to Election 2018 were hardly kind towards Pakistan’s democratic system and associated processes. Most of the predictions pointed towards a military engineered hung parliament leading to a weak government, which would remain bogged down with its day to day survival, leaving the political arena free for the military’s interventions as an accepted norm. Every Tom Dick and Harry liked to play the theme of pre-poll military intervention in favour of Imran khan. In all likelihood, the theme was over played. And there were different voices as well. For example in an interesting July 23 piece for Aljazeera, “Is Imran Khan the Pakistani military's 'favourite son'?” Michael Kuglelman commented: “Given Khan's personality and policy positions, there's reason to doubt that he is the army's blue-eyed boy. A big storyline in the lead up to Pakistan's July 25 election has been the nature of the relationship between Imran Khan, the cricket star-turned-politician and leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, and the country's powerful military. According to the insinuations of some top leaders with the incumbent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, the military is working behind the scenes to engineer an electoral outcome that results in a government helmed by Khan. It's a theory - one could certainly call it a conspiracy theory - embraced by many commentators inside and outside Pakistan. Indeed, Pakistan's army - which has held direct power for nearly half of Pakistan's 70-year existence, and has enjoyed an outsize role in politics when not in direct control - does have a strong incentive to undercut the PML-N, with which it sparred frequently in recent years, and to help propel the PML-N's main challenger, the PTI, to victory… However, the notion that the military would actually be comfortable with Khan as its man in Islamabad is questionable. Indeed, given considerations of personality and policy positions, there's reason to doubt that Khan is the military's blue-eyed boy. The army prefers a predictable and pliable civilian leader. Khan, however, is known for being mercurial and stubborn. Even some of Khan's positive traits - like his charisma and supreme self-confidence - could be liabilities for the military, because these qualities suggest he would be unwilling to defer to higher authority. Cult of personality types aren't known for being submissive. Ironically, a potentially more palatable prime minister choice for the military hails from the very party that the armed forces may be trying to undercut. Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of Nawaz, would be the PML-N's candidate for premier if it wins the election. While lacking his brother's charisma, he has a solid reputation as a capable and steady politician, and he gets along well with the military. Strikingly, in a recent interview with the Financial Times, Shehbaz Sharif called for the PML-N and the military to improve their ties. If the military truly has a favourite son, Shehbaz Sharif may have a better claim to the title than does Imran Khan. Meanwhile, Khan expresses some views that are at odds with the military's. Khan regularly expresses strong support for Pakistan's armed forces, and he has signalled his willingness to work with the army. "It is the Pakistan Army and not an enemy army," he said in a New York Times interview in May. "I will carry the army with me." In a country where the military's tentacles extend deep into politics, such comments from civilian leaders who aspire to ascend to the top echelons of power should come as no surprise. And yet, dig a bit deeper, and the differences begin to emerge. Khan has taken strikingly positive positions towards Iran; he has lambasted US President Donald Trump for his anti-Iran speeches, and he has even said Pakistan should "become like" Iran… Additionally, Khan's shrill and strident anti-American messaging - he once vowed to shoot down American drones if he were to be in power - likely unnerves the military, which hopes to salvage Pakistan's sputtering relationship with the US… The military is firmly behind these counterterrorism efforts - and welcomes the "American money" that helps finance them. Earlier this year, however, Washington suspended $1.1bn in aid amid worsening US-Pakistan ties. In early 2018, Khan repeated his criticism that Pakistan shouldn't be fighting its own people… However, given his personality, it's hard to imagine him happily ceding ground and giving in to the military; he's more likely to defy than to defer. Accordingly, there's a strong possibility that a Prime Minister Khan would spar with the military, exacerbating tensions in a civil-military relationship that already experienced ample strain during the last few years of the PML-N-led government. Such a dynamic could usher in a fresh period of political volatility in Pakistan. Ultimately, for Pakistan's military, the type of government is more important than the person that leads it. A weak and divided coalition is easier to influence and exploit than is a strong and united administration”. Notwithstanding, the strong perception about Imran Khan’s under the table relations with military are likely to persist. Ironically, he will be faced with an uphill task to recover back the authority on foreign policy and security related domains that military was able to wrench from the PMLN government due to leverage provided by Imran Khan’s long sit-in, during 2014, in Islamabad. People will wait and see how his fresh equation with military evolves. Apart, prospective Prime Minister’s Victory speech was reassuring and refreshing. Hopefully, he won’t get bogged down in cosmetics and would go ahead with substantive reforms. Likewise, the tone of All Parties Conference indicated that the loser elements are more likely to settle down with fate accompli after making face saving noises. With elections 2018, Pakistan has transitioned from a two to three party political system as for as Federal government making is concerned. Pattern of split mandate—federal government not forming its own party governments in all provinces—has sustained itself. Religious Right as well as remnants of the Left politics stand routed. Karachi is liberated from a four decades long pervasive and perpetual ethnic tainted fear. And the “Jeep” mystery stands buried, deep down, under the weight of people’s mandate. Alongside, myth of military supported parties and individuals also stood exposed. A distinctive feature of voting this time was unpredictability. The surveys and impressions were generally subjective, rather than reflective of likely voter behaviour. Three-way party contest has its own complexities and, besides, there were so many spoilers. Most analysts played safe by suggesting a razor sharp contest by placing the three main contenders at around 70 National Assembly seats, and drawing a scary confrontational scenario with competing smaller parties in King Maker role; lucky that it did not happen so. Bloodiest elections of Pakistan’s History ended with usual political undertones. On the Election Day also, 31 people were killed in a suicide bombing in Quetta. It was a stark reminder of the security challenges facing the new government. With Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf poised to form the new governments at the Centre and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, all other major parties across the country have cried foul over attempts to rig the elections and blamed the ECP for failing to conduct transparent polls. As usual, the Election Commission was quick, to reject the allegations; it blamed National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) for delay in result announcement saying that the NADRA communication device did not function well. NADRA rejected the EC claim—a familiar post election blame shifting environment in Pakistan. Polling was conducted peacefully in most parts of the country, with no major incident of rigging reported during the day. However, while the vote count was still under way, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz — the main contender to the PTI — rejected the election results and said: “Rigging has been committed in the elections. The puppet mandate [to PTI] is not acceptable. We will only accept the people’s mandate. It is unfortunate that the people came out of their homes to cast the votes in such a harsh weather but their mandate was stolen,” he said. He announced that his party would adopt all available political and legal options, as “we cannot leave that matter like this”. He hinted at a joint strategy by taking on-board other complainant parties. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) also raised almost similar complaints of foul play. Most parties have claimed that their polling agents were forced out from polling stations without being provided with Form 45 (the statement of vote count) by presiding officers. Speaking on the occasion, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto tweeted: “It’s now past midnight & I haven’t received official results from any constituency I am contesting myself. My candidates [are] complaining polling agents have been thrown out of polling stations across the country. Inexcusable & outrageous.” The silver lining was that, in a historic first, women in some conservative parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab came out to cast their votes as candidates sought to fulfil the legal requirement of minimum 10 per cent women’s turnout to validate their result. Women in tribal areas and other conservative areas had traditionally been barred from voting in the past general elections, as the practice of keeping women from voting had been a well-entrenched norm under verbal and written agreements between candidates and family elders in such areas. For the first time in the country’s electoral history, the ECP had annulled the result of Dir Lower (PK-95) by-polls in 2015 after finding that none of the registered women voters had cast votes. This deterrence has worked. In Balochistan, too, women voted in numbers. The real Hero of 2018 Election was the electorate—the commoners in the street. In a bitterly polarised environment and biased predictions, the Voter could not be restrained even by harsh weather. Voter was, by and large, disciplined and composed, indicating that electorate duly value their right to vote. This sort of commitment of the people will add resilience to our democratic process. Perception has it that democracy in Pakistan is continuation of interplay between the filthy rich, moderated by institutions, with people’s wellbeing a low priority item on their agenda. It is indeed a dangerous assertion that has undermined Pakistan’s democracy, within and its image projection outside the country. Reality is that a typical Pakistani commoner has consistently and courageously demonstrated a commitment to the electoral process. There is a strong and visible change in the behaviour of Pakistani people where they have started questioning the time tested political leaders for their non-delivery over their promises. This has led to defeat of previously tested political leaders and erosion of major political parties. Few factors made these elections unpredictable: behavior of the voter falling in age bracket of 18 and 29, pre elections surveys on this count were, by and large, non-professional and judgmental; although there was a strong perception that youth may vote for the PTI, there was equally strong likelihood that, like earlier elections, they could be tamed by their elders; number of contestants was un-precedently high, especially with religious affiliations and those disgruntled party ticket hopefuls whose wish was not granted by their respective parties; most of them contested as independents. They were expected to erode the voters of their ex- parties; there was a perception that those using the “Jeep” symbols were miltablishment supported, and that Jeep group could emerge as a political force to reckon with. Likewise there were different scenarios being postulated with regard to Karachi, all hoping retention of overall Muhajir texture in one form or the other. Electorate shattered all these myths, and threw up clear mandate for parties rather than individuals. The PML-N is known for having an efficient and well tested electoral machine and for mastering the art of election-day activism. It had announced to undertake discrete measures to counter rigging, but it did not work and PML is one of the most articulate claimants of rigging. Three party contest was expected to throw up surprises, and it did. Now the gene is out and it can’t be forced back into the bottle. So everyone has to eventuality adjust to the reality. So called pre-poll rigging failed to achieve the objective of fractured mandate leading to a shaky coalition of the unwilling. Federal government is poised to be fairly stable, at least initially; and so is the situation in KP and Sindh. Split mandate in Punjab may continue to make interesting turns on day to day basis. Balochistan has its own dynamics where stability would rest of a proportionately huge conglomerate style cabinet. The post tooling and retooling has begun to put in place viable governments. Challenges facing the federal government are phenomenal. Inter-institutional wrangling, inefficient bureaucracy, politicised police, corrupt revenue system lethargic lower judiciary, well entrenched corruption in Public Procurement System, unsustainable Defence spending, Current Account Deficit of US$ 18 billion, dysfunctional power transmission and distribution system, circular debt approaching Rs 700 billion, external and internal borrowing crossing 40 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), bleeding State Enterprises , resurgent terrorism and looming water shortage are some of the domestic challenged. External challenges are equally wholesome: President Trump and Prime Minster Narendra Modi are unlikely to ease their squeeze; IMF conditions for bail-out are likely to be tougher than ever; exiting out of vicious cycle of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) listing is another daunting task; externally sponsored cross borders terrorism is unlikely to end any time soon, return of Afghan refugees is not in sight, so on and so forth. With an anti-status quo mind-set and promises of tall reforms agenda, the platter of the new federal government is any way over loaded. Like all contemporary modern democracies, Pakistani version of democracy has its peculiarities whose roots are firmly grounded in historic, socio-economic, cultural and sectarian dynamics. Its best feature is that people are spring-loaded towards democratic process. They have made a couple of very powerful rulers quit through peaceful urgings. They abhor inefficient and corruption tainted governments and are also not kind towards electoral rigging and governance failures. They are short on patience with regard to nonperforming governments for which a typical tolerance time is of 2-3 years. Generally, people want unacceptable regimes to change through electoral process; but when in terrible mood, there are some isolated voices for military takeover as well. Governments are made by rural vote, which is captive to ethno-sectarian and local power dynamics; and governments are toppled through urban agitations which have dubious promotors, financiers and string pullers. Typical span of a military takeover has been around a decade. Despite some of the very good development works and efficient governance, all ex-military rulers are publically condemned to derogatory term “dictator”. Military rulers may have ensured a semblance of efficient governance, better revenue collection and financial discipline; they all lacked political acumen and made mistakes, some of which were indeed political blunders. Towards their fag end, they were all found hobnobbing with same “dirty politicians” for prolongation of their rule. As a general practice, judiciary’s role has been opportunistic (with rare exceptions), it routinely sanctifies all successful regime changes, under one pretext or the other; and condemns them only when “usurper” has either departed or his power has declined beyond redemption. Media is still struggling to achieve a balance between “truth” and “accepting compensation” for not telling the truth. And Social Media is a typical representation of a dangerous trend of misplaced power without responsibility and accountability; while truth is still busy putting on its boots, falsehood reaches half of the World. Relationship between formal and informal State institutions is more often bumpy, and harmony is a rarity. These entities are often seen making alliances amongst themselves to paralyse functioning of remaining institutions. None of the duly elected Prime Ministers and most of the Parliaments could not complete their terms. And, most of the times, transition has been problematic. Need was felt to amend the 1973 Constitution 31 times; of these, the processes reached logical end 25 times. Majority of these amendments hovered around rewriting inter-institutional (im) balance; most of such efforts were subsequently undone and, at times, redone. Lax criteria and poor scrutiny allows shady persons to become a lawmaker. Making it to parliament by such people is seen as strengthening their positions in the local fiefdoms and covering own criminal trails; when in parliament, they do not support governance and transparency friendly law making. Tendency of amassing political power within family has touched dangerous proportions, politics of “electables” have made the political parties captive to, say, a dozen of families, whose members are found at leading tiers of all mainstream political parties; no matter which party come to power, the strategic interests of these families are perpetually protected at the cost of well-being of a common man. Smaller political parties play the role of King Makers when there is no clear winner; and their political broker like leaders extract much more power than their legitimate share. Most people blame certain apolitical institutions for making the polls controversial, but one cannot altogether absolve the politicians of the mess in which we have ended up. A significant section of our political leadership has a track record of entering into marriage of convenience with the entities notorious for interfering in the elections; and especially so when they find that they have no chance of winning the electoral race through fair and transparent process. National political leadership has repeatedly failed to lead the nation and bridge differences to ensure stabilization of political processes and strengthen democratic institutions. This is a well-known fact that all candidates use all means at their disposal to win the elections, be they fair or unfair; and at the end of the election the winner individual or party is crowned for rigging. Crying hoax is a common feature in such elections the World over, some real some fictions. Accusations of Russian inference in the US elections and Pakistan’s interference in recent elections of Indian state of Gujarat are some contemporary bizarre examples. New government may not be able to resolve most of these daunting problems, but it cannot afford to leave any one of mentioned issues unattended. While appearing in a struggle to overcome all the challenges, government must prioritise a few vital areas to mitigate the hardship of under privileged segments of masses. While there are credible domestic and international concerns that polls were rigged in favour of PTI, overall, Election 2018 has enhanced the national stature at home and abroad and improved Pakistan’s image amongst the comity of nations. Need of the hour is that the victorious parties and individuals must approach politics with a more democratic and conciliatory spirit. And for losers: for the sake national stability, politics must not be allowed to return to an era of open warfare akin to 1990s. Hopefully, all political parties and political individuals will soon put behind post electoral bickering and reconcile to the realities that be. We wish good luck to the new governments and expect them to do well.

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People of Kashmir: A tough nut to crack

Month of July has special significance with regard to struggle of Kashmiri people. Two events “Martyrs day” and “Kashmir’s Accession to Pakistan day” are commemorated of 13 and 19 July respectively. Martyrs' Day is observed in Kashmir and the World over in remembrance of 22 Kashmiris killed on 13 July 1931 due to reckless firing by the state forces of Dogra ruler. On that day Kashmiris were peacefully agitating outside the Central Jail Srinagar, where an innocent Muslim Abdul Qadeer was being tried on the charge of terrorism and inciting public against the Maharaja of Kashmir. They were buried in the compound of Kanqah-i-Maula. The place is since known as Mazar-i-Shuhada (Tomb of Martyrs). So, Indian strategy of mixing up terrorism with legitimate struggle of Kashmiri people predates India’s independence from the British Raj. A historic resolution was passed unanimously by the people of the Muslim-dominated state in a meeting of the All Jammu Kashmir Muslim Conference held at the residence of Sardar Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, the founder President of AJK on July 19, 1947 at Aabi Guzer in Srinagar demanding the then Dogra rulers to materialise the accession of the Jammu Kashmir state to Pakistan honouring the decision and the categorical viewpoint of the majority population of the Muslim-majority Jammu & Kashmir state. This day is marked as “Kashmir’s Accession to Pakistan day". Awareness about plight of Kashmiris is picking up momentum. And powerful voices are now worried about HR violations in Kashmir. The latest in joining the ranks of those expressing serious concern over quandary of religious minorities, in India, is the US State Department, which showed its disappointment over refusal of the Indian Government in allowing a delegation of the US Commission on International Freedom to visit the country to have first-hand knowledge of trampling of human and fundamental rights in India. This is for the third time that the delegation has been denied visas and the motives are quite understandable. And only recently, the UN Human Rights Council has documented details of what is happening with Kashmiris, urging the UN General Assembly and Security Council to take up the issue seriously. Though India claims to be the biggest democracy and champion of secularism, its denial of access to the outside world clearly means it has something to hide. National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) of South Africa has confirmed that it will be investigating Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi for his involvement in war crimes and HR violations in Kashmir. Fast Forward 2018: Kashmir continues to be occupied by India against the will of Kashmiri people. Indian Occupied Kashmir is burning. Hundreds of Kashmiri men, women and children have been killed over the past two months; more than 150 civilians have been blinded by the use of lethal pellet guns; and more than 10,000 men, women and children have been seriously injured because of the indiscriminate firing by occupying Indian forces. While Indian claims that pellet guns are non-lethal, the Doctors Association in Kashmir has clearly said that the embedded pellets in the bodies of the victims were causing fatal lead poisoning and put pregnant women at serious risk. Further, the toxic lead deposits in children’ bodies would stunt their growth. Kashmiris in IoK are under siege in their own land. The use of sexual molestation and rape, as an instrument of state terror, is a norm. Peaceful demonstrations are a crime, political meetings are banned and true representatives of Kashmiri people had been incarcerated. There are prolonged curfews and mobile telephone and internet blackouts in IoK. Indian occupation forces in the occupied territory are hunting down innocent citizens involving draconian black laws. Today, hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris are campaigning against the Indian repression to attain freedom and realization of their right to self-determination. Now two years after the martyrdom of Burhan Wani, his legacy for struggle for self-determination lives on. Martyrdom of Burhan Wani has infused new vigour in the indigenous freedom struggle of innocent Kashmiris who have been fighting for their right of self-determination for almost seven decades. Burhan Wani’s martyrdom has handed down the baton of freedom struggle to the youth of Kashmir, a fact recognized by a recently released report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In a recent Conference, President Azad Jammu and Kashmir, has appealed to the Canadian lawmakers to develop a bipartisan approach for the promotion and protection of human rights of Kashmiris in IoK. He made this appeal to the Canadian Senate and the House of Commons while addressing a Kashmir Conference at Hamilton, Canada, organized here by the Pakistan Business Association of Hamilton. He especially urged the Human Rights Committees of the Canadian Senate and the House of Commons to take note of the report on the human rights situation in IoK recently released by OHCHR, discuss it and support its recommendations. He highlighted two of the reports’ recommendations, namely, the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry by the Human Rights Council to ascertain facts on the ground and repeal of two draconian laws – Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Safety Act. The Conference was also addressed by Scott Duvall, Member of Canadian Parliament, Ken Stone of the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War, Mr. Chris Macleod of Cross Border Litigation Group, and Dr. Zafar Bangash, Chairman of the Friends of Kashmir Committee. Scott Duvall, MP, said that he would take back suggestion for focus on Human Rights Council’s Kashmir report in the Human Rights Committee of the House of Commons. Chris Macleod endorsed the idea that more attention must be given to the human right’s situation in IoK and in this regard the Human Rights Committees of the Canadian Senate and the House of Commons should play a role. Ken Stone said that the Kashmir Conference has been convened to hear the cries of the Kashmiris struggling against denial of self-determination in IoK. He said that in early 2017 he had visited Azad Kashmir and had found it to be truly free. In Azad Kashmir, unlike IoK, there was no presence of the Army in cities and towns, no gun-toting soldiers, no barricades and no sign of the people of AJK being repressed. Despite India’s state terrorism and savage oppression, the people of Kashmir and Pakistan believe in peaceful means and would continue to urge India to resort to dialogue and diplomacy. It is the responsibility of the UN and international community to avert a major war over Kashmir, which is a grave and potent risk. India should renounce the path of terrorism and violence and come back to diplomacy to resolve this issue within the political parameters defined by the UN Security Council Resolutions. Back in 1949, Canada’s General AGL McNaughton, in his capacity as President of the Security Council, had played an active role in the resolution of the dispute and on 22 December 1949 had proposed an impartial plebiscite in the territory to determine the future of Jammu and Kashmir and settle the dispute in accordance with the freely expressed will of its inhabitants. Stone said “occupation is a crime from Kashmir to Palestine”. And that solution given by the UN Security Council mandating a plebiscite to allow Kashmiris to determine their political future was the most viable, prudent and practicable dispensation. India is continuing occupation of IoK and brutalization of the Kashmir people in its attempts to illegally integrate the Occupied Kashmir to the Indian State. The Kashmir Conference also passed a resolution which unanimously calls on the UN to assume its responsibility to organize the Kashmir plebiscite under its supervision; and urges the UN to investigate all massacres, gang rapes, fake encounters, forced disappearances and wilful blinding of the Kashmiris. The resolution also called upon India to cease forthwith all human rights violations in IOK; and called on its government to allow UN/ independent investigations into the human rights situation in IoK; and to withdraw all its troops including armed constabulary from Jammu and Kashmir, particularly from cities, towns and villages. The world must break the cycle of appeasement of India. While the world, especially the western countries know fully well that Indian occupation forces are on a murderous rampage in the IoK and are committing crimes against humanity there, even then, the majority of the western nations have chosen to be silent on the issue or look the other way. This encourages and rewards Indian impunity in IoK and is tantamount to complicity in the Indian crimes. Moreover, plebiscite is not a dated instrument; Canada has recently held a plebiscite in Quebec.

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FTAF fiasco

There were tall claims that Pakistan was unlikely to be placed on the grey list of the global financial watchdog as the country had made enough progress to meet international anti-money laundering and terror financing standards, such euphoric environment had been created before and during the previous FATF plenary meeting as well. There is a need to float realistic expectations before such international events. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has formally placed Pakistan on the grey list due to ‘strategic deficiencies’ in its anti-money laundering and terrorism financing regime. The decision came despite Pakistan had demonstrated reasonable progress in three out of four major areas of FATF concerns. In prevailing World Order, nothing works better than American pressures. During February plenary, the US and the UK went out of their way to by-pass the standard FATF procedures and jointly arm twist the FATF for nominating Pakistan for the grey list in June, regardless of its February-June period effort and progress; they were also joined by France and Germany. Decision is politically motivated and is part of American strategy to pressurize Pakistan to settle some other scores. Pakistan has undertaken to work towards effective implementation of the Action Plan, while staying in the grey list. A similar situation took place in 2011 when Pakistan was included in the grey list and was taken out in 2015 after it successfully implemented the Action Plan. FATF identifies jurisdictions with strategic AML/CFT deficiencies in its two public documents: FATF Public Statement (call for action)– commonly known as black list—and Improving Global AML/CFT Compliance— nick named as grey list. It is an on-going process; these lists are updated three times a year. Interestingly, FATF does not use grey list/blacklist terminologies. Pakistan has undertaken to demonstrate that authorities are identifying cash couriers and enforcing controls on illicit movement of currency and understanding the risk of cash couriers being used for terrorism financing. During the intervening period Pakistan government did strenuous hard work to plug the gaps. Ambitious laws were enacted. Finance ministry improved institutional mechanisms for handling anti-money laundering and countering financing terrorism issues. Coordination between the State Bank, Banking institutions and law enforcement agencies had also been strengthened to curb money laundering and terror financing. Pakistan has recently addressed issues raised by the FATF through a tax amnesty scheme, while Securities and Exchange Commission has issued Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Regulations (2018). National Security Committee has also reaffirmed its commitment to cooperate with the FATF. Through its Action Plan, Pakistan has demonstrated to the world that it was ready to go an extra mile to curb money laundering. Pakistan will have to deliver on the first goal by January next year and complete all the 26 actions by September 2019,” it is indeed a tight schedule. One wonders whether Pakistan has requisite mechanisms in place to implement and steer such an ambitious plan. Caretaker government would do a great service by forming a national commission to identify and punish all those responsible for letting the things reverse back after Pakistan’s previous journey to blacklist was over. Remember Ayan Ali case? And who protected her? Carrier is enjoying quality life abroad.

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