Posts Tagged ‘ Benazir Bhutto ’

The Problem with Pakistan’s Democracy

By Farahnaz Ispahani for Foreign Policy

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On Sunday, former military dictator Pervez Musharraf was at last given permission to run in the parliamentary elections scheduled for May 11, but only in the northern district of Chitral. Two other districts rejected his nomination papers, and his application in Islamabad is still pending. Elections officials in Pakistan, acting under directives of the country’s Supreme Court, have excluded several candidates — among them Musharraf — from running in the elections. This pre-selection of candidates is based on controversial Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, decreed by military ruler General Zia ul-Haq in 1985 as part of his Islamization agenda. These articles forbid anyone who does not meet the test of being a good Muslim or patriotic Pakistani from becoming members of Pakistan’s parliament. Until now, the highly subjective criteria of these provisions have never been implemented in practice.

This time around, the Election Commission of Pakistan has allowed officials in each parliamentary district to vet candidates. The result is a mish-mash of arbitrary decisions. Almost 100 members of the out-going legislatures, many of them deemed popular enough to win re-election, have been disqualified for producing fake college degrees at the last poll, when the generals mandated the possession of one as a pre-condition for membership in parliament. The law was changed by parliament in 2008 and it is questionable why, after serving for five years, these politicians are being challenged now.

Former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf was disqualified on grounds of unproven corruption allegations. Musharraf was barred from running in two districts while being found sufficiently sagacious in another. The leader of the opposition in the outgoing parliament, Chaudhry Nisar Ali, was similarly found to be lacking in the criteria in one district where he filed his nomination papers, while being allowed to run in another.

The last few days have witnessed the spectacle of Election Officers asking candidates to recite specific verses from the Quran, prove that they pray five times a day, and in the case of a female candidate, even respond to the question “How can you be a good mother if you serve in parliament and are too busy to be fulfill your religious duties as a wife and mother?”

The pre-qualification conditions have adversely affected liberal candidates while favoring Islamist ones. Columnist Ayaz Amir, who is part of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, has been disqualified from running as a candidate because he wrote articles that were “disparaging” about the ‘ideology’ of Pakistan. Militant and terrorist leaders have had no problem in meeting the litmus test of religiosity and commitment to Pakistan’s ideology. Nomination papers for Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi, who heads Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a reincarnation of a banned terrorist organization, were cleared even though he has publicly acknowledged his role in the killing of Shias in the country.

In addition to facing discrimination from election officials, liberal politicians must also contend with threats from terrorists – threats that have not persuaded the judiciary or the permanent state apparatus to enhance security for these politicians. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has warned that candidates and rallies of ‘secular’ parties like the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement, and Awami National Party (ANP) would be targeted, and the targeting has already begun. The ANP lost one of its finest leaders, Bashir Ahmed Bilour, a few months ago. The TTP took credit for the murder.

The elimination of liberal political figures must be seen as part of the process of creeping Islamization, as well as the permanent militarization of Pakistan, which began during Zia ul-Haq’s military dictatorship. Using Islam and a narrow definition of patriotism to limit the options available to voters is nothing new. It is a direct outcome of Pakistan’s long history of dominance by unelected institutions of state, euphemistically referred to as the ‘establishment.’ In addition to existing under direct military rule for half its life as an independent country, Pakistan has always lived in the shadow of the ubiquitous influence of generals, judges, and civil servants.

No elected parliament was ever allowed to complete its full term until this year. But instead of allowing voters to choose the new government in a free and fair election, the establishment wants to make sure that the voters have only limited choice at the polls. A direct military coup is no longer feasible. The politicians, led by President Asif Zardari, have foiled bids by the judiciary to virtually become the executive. The battle between elected leaders and unelected judges has come at great cost to several outspoken individuals in the country’s politics. Now, an election with pre-qualification could ensure the establishment’s supremacy without overtly pulling back the democratic façade.

From the establishment’s perspective, Pakistan’s politicians cannot be trusted to lead or run the country even if they manage to get elected by popular vote. The political system must somehow be controlled, guided, or managed by the unelected institutions who deem themselves morally superior and even more patriotic than those supported by the electorate. This patrician approach is reflected in the assertions of Generals Ayub Khan (1958-69), Yahya Khan (1969-71), Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988) and Musharraf (1999-2008) at the time they took power in coups d’état. It can also be found in the constant efforts by Supreme Court judges and civil servants to second-guess the people by deciding who is and who is not eligible to run in elections.

General Zia ul-Haq created structures for limiting democracy that would outlast him. He drastically changed the constitution and legal regime in ways that have proved difficult to reverse, even a quarter century after his death. The outgoing Pakistani parliament completed its term and amended the constitution to make it closer to what it was originally intended to be. But the Islamic provisions introduced by Zia ul-Haq persist, enabling the establishment to use Islam as an instrument of control and influence over the body politic.

Article 62 demands that a candidate for parliament demonstrate that “he is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic Injunctions; he has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practices obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins; he is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law; and that he has not, after the establishment of Pakistan, worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan.”

Article 63 disqualifies a Pakistani from becoming an MP if “he has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or morality, or the maintenance of public order, or the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the Armed Forces of Pakistan.”

Both constitutional provisions provide considerable leeway to an ideological judiciary to influence the electoral process and exclude critics of the establishment from the next legislature. The recent celebration and positive commentary over parliament completing its term should not distract us from an ugly reality. Pakistan’s establishment may have refrained from another direct coup, but it is still far from accepting the basic premise of democracy – the supremacy of parliament among institutions and the right of the people to vote for whomever they choose.

Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament and former Media Advisor to President Asif Ali Zardari, as well as a writer and minority rights advocate.

Western Peace Activists March in Pakistan Against Drone Strikes

By Mark Mcdonald for The New York Times

Dozens of Western peace activists, including 32 Americans, participated in a convoy in Pakistan over the weekend to protest deadly American drone strikes in the tribal belt between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The motorcade was almost certain to be turned away Sunday from entering South Waziristan and the town of Kotkai, the hometown of the founder of the Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani government, as my colleague Salman Masood reported, was expected to block the group.

The activists, most of them from the group Codepink, object to the civilian deaths that occur in the aerial strikes against Taliban fighters and other militants. (Rendezvous recently explored the controversy over drone warfare in a piece, “Are Drone Strikes Worth the Costs?”)

“We kill a lot of innocent people,” said Medea Benjamin, a cofounder of Codepink and part of the delegation in Pakistan. She called the attacks “barbaric assassinations.”

Speaking of the tribal areas, she said, “This is a culture that very much believes in revenge, and then they seek revenge by trying to kill Americans. So we are just perpetuating a cycle of violence and it’s got to stop somewhere, and that’s why we are putting our bodies on the line by trying to go to Waziristan to say no.”

Ms. Benjamin said her group also was participating in the march to “put significant pressure on the Obama administration to come clean about these drone attacks, to recognize how inhumane and counterproductive they are.”

Before the convoy got under way in Pakistan, members of the Codepink delegation met with Richard E. Hoagland, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, and he was presented with a petition calling for an end to the drone strikes.

“I wish I could tell you how enormously, enormously careful the various deciders are before there is any strike these days,” Mr. Hoagland said. “I know you object to any strike at all, absolutely, I know that, but I wish I could also tell you the extreme process that is undertaken to avoid what is very sadly called ‘collateral damage.’ ”

“I looked at the numbers before I came here today,” Mr. Hoagland told the group, “and I saw a number for civilian casualties that officially — U.S. government classified information — since July 2008, it is in the two figures. I can’t vouch for you that that’s accurate, in any way, so I can’t talk about numbers. I wanted to see what we have on the internal record, it’s quite low.”

The so-called “peace march” — which was more like a motorcade — was organized by Tehreek-e-Insaaf, the opposition political party led by the cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan. In a recent profile in The New York Times Magazine, the writer Pankaj Mishra called Mr. Khan “Pakistan’s greatest sportsman and now its most popular politician since Benazir Bhutto.”

“His long and uncompromising opposition to American presence in the region,” the article said, “not only pleases assorted Islamic radicals; it also echoes a deep Pakistani anger about the C.I.A.’s drone attacks, whose frequency has increased under the Obama administration.”

Before the march, Mr. Khan said of the campaign of drone strikes: “It’s totally counterproductive. All it does is it helps the militants to recruit poor people. Clearly if they were succeeding, these drone attacks, we would be winning the war. But there’s a stalemate.”

In an interview on BBC Radio 4, Mr. Khan said Pakistani government officials were “completely complicit” in the U.S drone efforts, “covertly and tacitly giving their approval.”

If he becomes the Pakistani leader, Mr. Khan said, he would appeal to the United States and the United Nations to halt the aerial attacks. If those appeals failed, he said, he would have the Pakistani Air Force begin shooting down the drones.

In a scathing opinion piece Sunday in the Express Tribune newspaper from Karachi, the attorney and commentator Saroop Ijaz said Mr. Khan’s march was principally linked to domestic Pakistani politics. He also objected to Mr. Khan not denouncing Taliban suicide attacks that have killed numerous civilians. An excerpt from his commentary, headlined “Game of Drones”:

This is not about Waziristan, this is not even about drones; this is about politics and very dangerous and cowardly politics. By indulging and showing indecent deference to these murderers, Mr. Khan is insulting thousands of those dead in suicide attacks over these years.

By all means, go and play your political games and make populist, unrealistic promises, but a line needs to be drawn when the memory of thousands of our martyrs and the survival of our society is at stake. Unless, of course, Mr. Khan can give us his solemn word that his new friends are willing to lay down their weapons and stop killing our innocent civilians.
The journalist Ahmed Wali Mujeeb recently spent nearly a month in Waziristan. A condensed excerpt from his report for the BBC:

The drones do not suddenly appear over the horizon, carry out the attack and leave. At any given time of the day, at least four are hovering in the sky, emitting a distinctive and menacing buzzing sound. They call them “mosquitoes.”

“Anybody who has been listening to the buzzing all through the day usually can’t sleep at night,” says Abdul Waheed, a tribesman in North Waziristan. “It’s like a blind man’s stick — it can hit anybody at any time.”

Taliban and local tribesmen say the drones almost always depend on a local spy who gives word when the target is there. Some say the spy leaves a chip or microchip at the site, which guides drones in for the kill. Others say special marker ink is used — rather like “X” marks the spot.

Anyone coming under suspicion is unlikely to get a hearing. The Taliban kill first and decide afterwards if the suspect was involved or not. It is better to be safe than sorry, they say.
Jennifer Gibson, an attorney with Reprieve, a legal charity in Britain that represents a number of Pakistani drone victims, was a researcher in Pakistan for the recent report, “Living Under Drones,” a joint project by the law schools at Stanford University and New York University.

In a commentary for The Los Angeles Times, Ms. Gibson said drones did not simply fly to a target, launch their missiles and then withdraw to a distant base. Instead, she said, drones were “a constant presence” overhead, “with as many as six hovering over villages at any one time.”

“Parents are afraid to send their children to school,” she wrote. “Women are afraid to meet in markets. Families are afraid to gather at funerals for people wrongly killed in earlier strikes. Drivers are afraid to deliver food from other parts of the country.

“The routines of daily life have been ripped to shreds. Indisputably innocent people cower in their homes, afraid to assemble on the streets. ‘Double taps,’ or secondary strikes on the same target, have stopped residents from aiding those who have been injured. A leading humanitarian agency now delays assistance by an astonishing six hours.”

Pakistani President Chooses Party Stalwart as New Premier

By Salman Masood for The New York Times

President Asif Ali Zardari has chosen a party stalwart, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, to replace the ousted prime minister, Pakistani news media reported late Wednesday.

Mr. Shahabuddin, who was serving as textiles minister when the Supreme Court dismissed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and broke up the cabinet on Tuesday, will file his nomination papers before the election commission on Thursday. Khurshid Shah, a senior leader of the governing Pakistan Peoples Party, said a special session of the National Assembly would be held Friday for a confirmation vote.

The nomination of Mr. Shahabuddin came after hours of negotiations between party officials and the other members of its governing coalition. Officials said he was Mr. Zardari’s first choice, but he faced mild resistance during a meeting at the president’s house on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Shahabuddin belongs to an influential family from the southern part of Punjab Province, which has been a stronghold of the Pakistan Peoples Party. He has held several positions, including deputy finance minister in the early 1990s. He was considered close to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The country’s economy, militants in the tribal badlands and troubled relations with the United States over reopening NATO supply lines would be among the issues facing him if he was confirmed. But he may face another challenge by the Supreme Court, which has been pushing the ruling government to reopen a Swiss corruption investigation against Mr. Zardari. Mr. Gilani’s refusal to do so led to contempt charges and his dismissal.

Most analysts expect Mr. Shahabuddin would fight such pressure, as Mr. Gilani did.

Raza Rumi, the policy director of the Jinnah Institute, a research group in Islamabad, said that the nomination of Mr. Shahabuddin indicated continuation of the governing party’s policies. “Mr. Shahabuddin is an experienced parliamentarian, but he will face a tough choice to balance loyalty to the president and deal with an assertive court and a restive opposition,” he said.

Pakistan Supreme Court Convicts Prime Minister

As Reported by The Los Angeles Times

Pakistan’s Supreme Court convicted Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Thursday of contempt for failing to revive a long-standing graft case against President Asif Ali Zardari, a ruling that could eventually result in the premier’s ouster and ramp up political tension in an important but troubled U.S. ally.

The court opted not to sentence Gilani to a maximum six months in prison. However, under Pakistani law, a conviction could entail disqualification from the office he has held since 2008.

The verdict comes at a time when the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, stewarded by Zardari and Gilani, is especially vulnerable. As elections approach, the party faces a public intensely dissatisfied with its performance on issues such as a stagnant economy and crippling power shortages.

Within hours of the ruling, handed down by a seven-judge panel, opposition leaders called for Gilani’s resignation.

“He should step down without causing further crisis,” former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who leads the Pakistan Peoples Party’s archrival Pakistan Muslim League-N, told a Pakistani television channel. “The prime minister himself invited this situation.”

But members of Gilani’s team suggested the Pakistan Peoples Party would defend his right to stay in office. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira called the ruling “a very unfortunate day for this country and for democracy,” but said the court’s ruling did not explicitly call for Gilani’s disqualification as prime minister.

Ultimately, Zardari and other party leaders will have to weigh the benefits of staving off Gilani’s removal from office through legal and legislative maneuvers against the political damage that could come with trying to keep him at the helm of government.

“Essentially, it will go to the court of public opinion,” said Cyril Almeida, a leading columnist for Dawn, an English-language Pakistani newspaper. “The media and political opposition will say you have a prime minister convicted, so morally he should not stay on as prime minister. … What might happen is someone might petition the Supreme Court, saying, ‘This is your order, so please disqualify the prime minister.’ That seems likely to be the next step.”

The contempt conviction stems from a case in Switzerland in which Zardari and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, were convicted in absentia in 2003. The couple were charged with taking kickbacks from Swiss companies during Bhutto’s rule in the 1990s. They appealed, and the case was dropped in 2008 at the request of the Pakistani government.

Since 2009, the Supreme Court has repeatedly demanded that Gilani’s government write a letter to Swiss authorities asking that the case be revived. Gilani refused, contending that, as president, Zardari has constitutional immunity from prosecution.

Pakistan PM Prefers Jail to Writing to Swiss

As Reported by Agence France-Presse

Pakistan’s embattled Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Thursday he would rather go to jail than obey a court order and ask Switzerland to re-open graft cases against the president.

Gilani’s remarks revive speculation that he would rather risk losing his job than capitulate in a two-year showdown with the judiciary that culminated last month with him being charged with contempt by the Supreme Court.

He has always insisted that President Asif Ali Zardari is immune from prosecution as president and says the cases against him are politically motivated.

“If I write a letter it will be a violation of the constitution, which is treason and which carries the death sentence,” Gilani told PhD students in central Punjab province, with a few in the audience shouting “do not write, do not write”.

“If I don’t write, I will be convicted for contempt, the punishment for which is six months’ imprisonment,” Gilani said. “It’s better to face six months’ imprisonment than face the death sentence.”

Pakistan’s top court last week ordered Gilani to ask Switzerland to reopen corruption cases against Zardari by March 21.

It was the first time the court asked Gilani personally to write to the Swiss. It previously addressed repeated demands to the government since revoking in 2009 an amnesty freezing legal proceedings against key politicians.

Zardari and his late wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, were suspected of using Swiss accounts to launder about $12 million in alleged bribes paid by companies seeking customs inspection contracts in the 1990s.

Playing to the gallery, Gilani asked the students in Bahawalpur district whether he should write the letter, to which the audience shouted: “No, no.”

“Ok, we will send your message to the court and tell them that they should charge parliament with contempt of court because parliament has given immunity to the president. All heads of state all over the world have this immunity.”

Zardari is so tainted by corruption allegations that he is nicknamed “Mr 10 Percent”. He has already spent 11 years in jail in Pakistan on charges ranging from corruption to murder although he has never been convicted.

Pakistan Vows to Arrest Musharraf for Bhutto Assassination

By Reza Sayah for CNN

Pakistani authorities vowed Tuesday to use the international police agency Interpol to arrest former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in connection with the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

“The government is moving for his (Musharraf’s) red notice,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik said, referring to the Interpol’s international arrest warrant.

“We will get him through Interpol to Pakistan.”

Malik made the announcement as part of a progress report of the four-year-long assassination probe that was presented to provincial lawmakers Tuesday in Bhutto’s home province of Sindh. The briefing lasted several hours and was broadcast live on Pakistani TV.

Bhutto was assassinated in a gun-suicide attack in December 2007, shortly after she came back to Pakistan from self imposed exile to take part in the 2008 general elections.

Malik and the head of the investigation team said former Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud plotted the assassination and paid the equivalent of about $4,500 to a network of Islamist militants to carry out the killing.

Using a Power Point presentation, pictures and video to outline the evidence they had gathered, authorities said Mehsud had Bhutto killed because she supported the west’s war against Islamist militants. Investigators said they collected much of their evidence from the accused plotters’ cell phone records before and after the killing.

Last November a Pakistani court charged five alleged Islamist militants with aiding the suicide attacker and two senior police officers for failing to provide adequate security.

Musharraf has also been accused of failing to protect Bhutto. In February 2011 a judge issued an arrest warrant for Musharraf after he didn’t show up to court for questioning.

Musharraf has been in self-imposed exile ever since he left Paksitan in 2008. Last August authorities confiscated his property in Pakistan and froze his bank account. The former military ruler has denied having anything to do with Bhutto’s killing.

In Tuesday’s briefing Malik and investigators said Musharraf rejected Bhutto’s request to use a western private security contractor for protection when she returned to Pakistan. They suggested Musharraf intentionally left Bhutto vulnerable because he felt politically threatened by her return.

“It was the duty of the government to provide the prime minister with protection,” Malik yelled at one point. “Why did you not give security? What was the problem?”

Pakistani Prime Minister Due in Court For Contempt Hearing

As Reported by CNN

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan is due to appear Monday before the country’s Supreme Court, which plans to charge him with contempt in relation to a long-running struggle over old corruption cases.

Gilani is locked in a standoff with the Supreme Court justices, who are demanding that he ask the Swiss authorities to revive corruption charges from the previous decade against President Asif Ali Zardari and others.

Gilani has refused the court’s demands and could be jailed for six months if the justices find him in contempt. The court on Friday rejected an appeal by Gilani’s lawyers against the summons to face the contempt charge.

The lawyers have argued that the prime minister has not followed the court’s order because Zardari enjoys immunity in Pakistan and abroad as a president in office.

Gilani said in an interview over the weekend with the satellite news network Al Jazeera that he had an “extremely capable” lawyer and didn’t believe the court would jail him on the contempt charges.

If found guilty of contempt, the prime minister could be forced from office. But his lawyers have said he would keep his position unless electoral officials disqualified him.

Gilani served more than five years in prison between 2001 and 2006 on corruption charges brought by the previous military regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf — counts he said were also politically motivated.

The corruption cases that the Supreme Court now wants reopened stem from money-laundering charges against Zardari and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. A Swiss court convicted them in absentia in 2003 of laundering millions of dollars.

After Musharraf granted a controversial amnesty in 2007 to Zardari, Bhutto, and thousands of other politicians and bureaucrats, Pakistan asked the Swiss authorities to drop the case. In 2009, the Pakistani Supreme Court ruled the amnesty was unconstitutional and called on the government to take steps to have the cases reopened.

The government has not done so, and the court apparently lost patience. Since Gilani is the head of the government, the court justices view him as responsible.

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