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Syed Ali Raza Abidi

Over the past 64 years Pakistan like any other newborn has had its ups and downs. The teens were spent under the rule of dictators, but as the country reached maturity, democracy was called in to take over the country’s affairs. But that did not last for long, as the dictators were not very much interested in letting the non-uniformed citizens govern in spite of elected representation. Then again during the 90’s power was offered by the Army to political parties, but to the one who would had promised to work under their ‘guidance’. PML-N and PPP took turn to practice their perceived operation of a democracy, but in reality, these political forces cannot be blamed totally as for most of the unpopular decisions the strings were pulled from elsewhere. This is regardless of the fact that both elite leaderships had continued politics of revenge and oppression of the smaller groups, and neither of them spared MQM from their wrath.

Unfortunately for them even in 2011 the MQM, PTI and APML still remains a threat to their power statuses.

In 1999 the dictators and the people have had enough of the democratic system, because it was becoming, hypocritical, misbalanced, and most of all divided on ethnic basis. Democracy after the golden jubilee did not get any stronger but used as a immunity cover by the selfish few who had the license to abuse power.  This system also upset the military which, was not used to being told by its people and surely did not appreciate the increased civilian involvement with its internal, covert and external operations.

At 55 Pakistan was given the opportunity to take up a specially tailored military-cum-civilian setup, which formed of handpicked politicians out of the best members from the failed political parties. This ‘Militocracy’ arrangement in fact worked very well for the country, and unlike the previous governments which had added to the woes of the middle-class and the common man, this system actually performed and gained International recognition with fame for the country. With any benefit will come sacrifice, and especially when you are weakness comes control of the stronger.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf the only democracy promoting dictator started off very well, but once he was at his highest point of fame he had to be brought down, because the US felt he cannot be trusted due to his popularity and overall acceptance ratings by the countrymen and the rest of the world, which might hurt their war in Afghanistan if Pakistan increases its influence. Must note that these invasions were because of the same US secret service reports with which they went into Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction, and Afghanistan to hunt down Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. I still wonder why didn’t the US invade the countries of the nationals whom were responsible for flying the planes as destructive missiles?

At exactly 60 years of age, no one in Pakistan could have imagined that the future will become worse than the past, and whatever progress achieved by the country will destroyed within months. Musharraf made the following mistakes which I find difficult to comprehend as to why would the General not see it coming!

  1. Understandably, Gen Musharraf did not have much choice or any possible ways to ignore the US Military’s bullish statements “Either you are with us, or you are against us” and “We will bomb you back to the dark-ages”. I wait to see what the current rulers in Pakistan do, when the US puts its foot down, and finally says to the country “Either you give Raymond Davis to us, or forget about all and any cooperation, and we will evict him ourselves, after bombing you back to the dark-ages” This was a dire mistake Musharraf and the establishment made just at the beginning of taking on the country for pleasant reforms.
  2. Then Musharraf was either gullible or fell for the Maulvi’s and offered them the belt along the Afghanistan border to rule for 5 years. This was the time terrorism in reaction to the treasure hunt started by the US, which is not found to-date. MMA got to play its role in breeding terrorism, while the rest of the nation was busy with the “philosophy of enlightened moderation, progress, development, major investments, educational reforms, and improvement in the quality of life index.
  3. His third mistake was to trust PML-Q with the handling of the red mosque political crises, when he should have known that there were more of such extremists whom were given birth by MMA and nourished by the parties forming this alliance. Roots of this problem also lead to the first mistake General Musharraf made of agreeing with the American to fight their war on terrorism, which was later converted into our war courtesy of the religious quarters in Pakistan.
  4. The last nail in the coffin of Musharraf ‘s presidency was the removal of the very rebellious Chief Justice of Pakistan who he himself appointed. This remains the most mysterious case, as until today, despite of the CJP installed back (politically) in office after the roller-coaster-country-destabilizing-ride has not been asked to counter or defend the charges on which he was initially asked to go home. Most of the parties who supported CJP’s movement for restoration of “Judiciary” have disassociated themselves with extreme regrets.
  5. Uniform removal, NRO and Elections of 2008 cannot be called mistakes, but its fall out did help with weakening the General further.

Ch. Iftikhar taking oath from President General Pervez Musharraf

If Osama had not attacked the towers, Pakistan would have become a true land of opportunities for the rest of the world, like it was until the year 2007. Some will never forgive the partnership of Musharraf, PML-Q and MQM as the best things that could have happened to Pakistan, setting aside your political differences. This country had just started to benefit from the excessive investments brought in all sectors, but kiya karrain, kisi buddbakht ki nazar lag gaie!

We may find all the reasons to hate Musharraf, his APML and partner MQM for continuing with the Militocracy. All the numbers, figures, examples go to waste when we see the plight of the people of Pakistan, and our currency printing up to Rs. 2 Billion burden of today, in order to keep the dying economy alive. If democracy heads for the right direction, it is a responsibility of all to help it evolve, but when it leads to disaster and mid-term changes, then it is time to compare which what you have seen or had, and what the current rulers have taken away from you!

Hey, wasn’t this supposed to be a democracy as the best revenge, but against who..  the people or the dictators?




Asif Zardari got married to Tanveer Zamani according to Muslim Shiyat Bylaws in Dubai last week.

The ceremony has not been held.

However the marriage religious vows, paper work and prenuptials have been confirmed. Nine black goats, 6 cows and 1 camel was sacrificed at this sacred occasion.

This happened 3 years after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

She is a Mediterranean descent American resident, and she lives in Gramercy Park, Manhattan, New York.

Zamani is a practicing physician and known to be a Bhutto party loyalist.

She earned PhD degree in International Politics from UK. She owns estates in London, Dubai, Islamabad and Manhattan.

Zamani is a known Democrat and supported  Obama’s 2008 election campaign. She actively participated in Obama’s Health Care reform bill to make it a law.

Recently, she has been prohibited to attend the public political meetings due to her security issues. Pres. Zardari in a meeting with Obama on 1/14/11 in DC, requested his help in acquiring security for Zamani.

It has been claimed that Zardari is among the four richest men in Pakistan.

It has been noticed that with the advent of Zamani in his life for the last 8 months, he has changed a lot.

He seemed to find refuge in trusting her loyalty to him more than the party. The couple might have faced many domestic, social and political issues before they decided to turn this long distance, under cover- relationship  into a life time partnership.

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{January 16, 2011}   Ek Zardari …..

According to news reports, Asif Ali Zardari was advised to tag ‘Bhutto’ to the name of Belawal at the time of his birth on September 1988 to give continuity of ‘Bhutto’ legacy. He out-rightly rejected it saying he wanted his children grow up as Zardaris. BB accepted his stance. She saw a strong man in his personality full of determination typifying Sindhi tribal culture submitting to his will. So strong was his hold on her personal life. This was the time when she was just coming out of desperate vulnerability after losing her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) and exposing herself to practical politics. Her father had always been a protective shield for her and she lived under his shadow. AAZ came in her life when she needed a strong man to lean on. A brawny AAZ replaced a strong ZAB; a husband replaced a father. Some might say that nature didn’t play a fair game with her.

 

When she was building her political career as the youngest Muslim prime minister of a major Muslim country; her husband was busy building his career in making quick buck through corruption. Soon, he became known as Mr.10% eroding her political image. When she was told about his corrupt practices, she found herself helpless. On one the hand, she, as prime minister, was fighting politico-military forces which restricted her political power to Islamabad; on another, she was living a private life under the dense shadow of her husband. She was trapped from all sides living a frustrated life hidden from the public. Quoting an example; once an honest Member of CBR (he was made Chairman CBR after his retirement) refused AAZ to ‘favour’ him in an unlawful case. AAZ complained to BB. The PM called the member to her office and in front of AAZ told him to do the needful. He politely declined giving his reasons. Frustrated as she was, she lifted the file and threw it at him. The bureaucrat slowly picked up the file and threw it back in her direction. At 12 midnight he was made an OSD at the behest of AAZ.

 

The next evening, he narrated the story putting major blame on AAZ, proving the point that she lived under his shadow. When foul money started rolling in political roulette during the vote of no confidence movement, she saw the parliamentarians were bundled to Changa Manga and Swat. It was then, she was made to realise how important it was to have a lot of money to keep upper hand in political dealings. From there on the 10% ratio started climbing up in scale and she looked the other way. In her mind he was strengthening PPP’s kitty; while in reality (as reported in press) he was striving to get a place in the list of top hundred billionaires of the world. As a result, she was removed from premiership on corruption charges and was put behind bars. This was the political aspect of his personality. There was a familial too. When she was behind the bars for most of his corrupt practices; he, instead of sharing her pains, made her pregnant in the cell. Incredible as it sounds, she behaved like an obedient wife accepting his desires and let him take part in an act which could be the last thing on her mind.

 

Time moved on. While the cases against her were still heard in the courts, the establishment collided with Mr. Nawaz Sharif and he was alsode-seated on the same grounds that she was removed earlier. It was her turn now. She was made the prime minister for the second time by the powerful forces in the name of fair democratic elections. This time, she had learnt her lesson in Pak power politics. She let her husband loose and in short period, he surpassed the 30% mark. When she was busy achieving national and international political goals; he was busy accomplishing his goal of building his financial imperium. In the process, he hit another goal and made his wife prime minister pregnant showing his power over her in the most primitive tribal fashion. Though this time she was aware of his corruption but his other activities disappointed her. She confided in her old friend who lives in Finchley, London and poured her heart out when she found out that he bought a luxurious Lockwood property in Surrey for his supposedly girl friend. It was then her friend realised that AAZ’s hold over her had a strong element of fear

 

It was after her removal from power the second time she decided to de-load the hold he had over her. As a first step, she used him as bargaining chip while jailed in Pakistan. After successful negotiations with Musharaf government, she arranged for him go abroad but not before she gave him a chance to prove his political weight in Lahore. He failed in that. Later, he ended up in New York where he stayed for medico-legal reasons until just before her return to Pakistan. It was during those days when a lady friend journalist of BB; Marianna Babar, came up with a story that their marriage had hit rock bottom and it was at the brink of breaking. According to reports even their assets were divided. A few weeks later the same story was taken up by an Indian Magazine; Outlook. By then, she had already made a deal with Mr. Nawaz Sharif by signing CoD and was negotiating with Gen Musharaf brokered by the UK and the US governments. She was advised not take a step that would have negative impact back at home. Also, she wanted to keep a fatherly figure over her children. Being a loving mother she did not want to hurt them. Thus the news of split was rebutted. According to her close friends, she had decided to keep him away from the politics and let him look after family business and take care of their children. The social, familial, cultural and political hold he had on her had come to an end at last. The brutal politics had converted her into a woman of steel.

 

The conspiracy theorists who believe in US’s hands behind her forthcoming murder, state that the Americans played double game with the couple. They negotiated with BB and kept Zardari as her husband before her return to Pakistan so he could play a special role designed for him. They say the American psychologist and psychiatrist Dr.Philip Salteil and Dr.Stephen Riech played with his mind while protecting him from Swiss and London courts for mental health reasons. To support their argument, the conspiracy theorists quote psychotherapists like Paul McKenna known to change personalities using hypnotic techniques. They believe AAZ had been brainwashed during his treatment for dementia. Could that be the reason AAZ telling a spiritualist from Pakistan in October 2006 in New York that he had an important role to play in global politics to avert the clash of civilisation?

 

The question is, was he really advancing in spirituality or showing symptoms of brainwashing and mind-control? There is a grey area between spirituality and mental health-related symptomatology in which the ongoing patterns of feeling, thinking and behaviour are said to be caused by underlying belief systems which can enhance what may be perceived as divine command or egoism. Can he be placed in the grey area? A spiritualist is known for his uprightness, honesty, flawless character and mood stability. A brainwashed patient with mental health problems on other hand, suffers from temper unsteadiness, emotional outbursts, concentration problems, turning back on his promises and accumulation of irrelevant words in his utterances among other things. It looks like President Zardari’s present record is not different from the one he had in the past. He collected all the people with bad reputation around him. For them the business is as usual-make money through any mean. A former foreign secretary said something like this about his friends, ‘We were having dinner at this posh restaurant (in NY) and in walked Asif with a group of men who would never be seen in polite company.’

 

Finally, it was Mr. Asif Zardari himself who refused to tag ‘Bhutto’ to the name of Belawal. It is President Asif Zardari who has tagged Bhutto’ to Belawal’s name after having psychotherapy (hypnotherapy) in New York. Did the therapy turn him into a spiritualist or someone else? And what about his recent speech of telling PPP workers not to shout ‘Ek Zardari Sub Pe Bhari’. Instead he told them to yell ‘Jee Ye Bhutto’. To make his position known, he tilted his neck in his usual style and gave a long howl of ‘Jee Ye Bhutto’. Spirituality or no spirituality, can he really score political points by tagging ‘Bhutto’ with ‘Zardari’ or achieve political grounds by yelling ‘Jee Ye Bhutto’ after what he did to the poor people of Pakistan in his two and a half years of presidency? He is right about one thing, the motto ‘Ek Zardari Sub Pe Bhari’ has no wind left in it.

The end

 



{January 11, 2011}   When politics trumps the economy

Dr Maleeha Lodhi
The writer is a former envoy to the US and UK, and a former editor of The News.

 

 

 

 

 

By winning back the MQM’s support in parliament, the PPP-led coalition has managed to avert a potential collapse and ease a political crisis. But this has been secured at a heavy price – the abandonment of urgent reforms that have put the economy in serious jeopardy and will place the government in a bigger bind later.

When the MQM walked out of the ruling coalition the PPP saw itself confronted with a choice between saving the government and saving the economy. To no one’s surprise it opted for the first. Political expediency trumped the urgency to fix the economy.

The PPP government first announced the decision to reverse the fuel price increase that was to take effect from the start of the new year. This was followed by the deferment of legislation in parliament to enforce a reformed general sales tax – demanded by much of the opposition and the MQM.

These decisions won the government a political reprieve that may yet turn out to be temporary. But they entail serious repercussions for an economy in disarray especially if compensating actions are not taken to offset the impact on an unsustainable fiscal situation. And these will also not be politically easy to take.

The rollback of the petroleum price decision will involve an additional subsidy of at least Rs5 billion or $53.8 million a month. As an IMF spokesperson put it, the bulk of this subsidy’s benefit will go to higher income individuals and large companies. Most deleteriously it will add to a spiralling budget deficit, which will likely be financed by printing more currency notes. The inflationary impact of this will soon offset the ostensible ‘benefit of rolling back the fuel price’.

The government’s economic team hopes to limit the damage by persuading its political principles to remove the fuel subsidy after one month – when the political crisis begins to recede. But it is not clear how such a weak government will make another policy U turn especially when the political environment remains charged and its position so fragile.

If the government fails to reduce the burden of the subsidy, mobilize additional revenue and cut inessential expenditure, the fiscal deficit will soar to a record level – around eight per cent of GDP. Financing such a large deficit mainly by borrowing from the State Bank will accelerate inflation, begin to deplete foreign exchange reserves and put pressure on the exchange rate.

The external side could then rapidly deteriorate and the present ‘record’ level of foreign exchange reserves slip quite quickly (as there is no offsetting financing and the oil import bill is rising) despite the continued robust inflow of workers’ remittances. The government will then be compelled again to seek external funding.

As the programme with the IMF is off-track loan disbursement by the Fund remains suspended. This together with the oil price decision will make it harder to receive financing from other international financial institutions – the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Instead of phasing out subsidies and address the vexed circular debt problem the latest government move compounds it. In the absence of other action on energy sector reform this will further complicate management of the country’s crippling energy crisis.

In an imploding fiscal situation created by the failure to mobilize revenue, limit expenditure and stem the losses in public sector enterprises including the energy utilities the government has been resorting to printing more currency notes as a politically convenient way to cover the widening fiscal gap. In an environment of high inflation further borrowing from the central Bank will undermine public confidence in the country’s currency, fuel greater inflationary expectations, move the economy towards dollarization, and push it a step closer to a state of hyperinflation.

Thus the celebration over the government’s rollback of the fuel price increase and RGST by most political leaders and much of the media overlooks the grave implications of these decisions in contributing to a deepening fiscal crisis and the danger this poses for the country’s stability: the prospect of runaway inflation which is the most cruel tax on the poor, erosion of everyone’s real purchasing power, retarding sluggish growth, crowding out the private sector, deepening poverty and ultimately engendering civil strife, even political instability.

It has been left to finance minister Hafiz Sheikh to warn parliamentary leaders about the gravity of this situation and the inflationary impact of continuing general subsidies particularly at a time when domestic resource mobilization measures in the form of the RGST are stalled in parliament. Many leaders seemed to understand the heightening risks but are unable to square the economic imperative with their politics.

Little understood by many who virulently oppose the RGST is the fact that this is the single most effective instrument that can generate substantial revenue. This is not to suggest that a VAT-like measure can unilaterally solve the country’s fiscal problems but its ability to enhance tax revenue by 2-3 per cent of GDP in the medium term makes it a more important option relative to others.

The unstated presumption behind the lack of official resolve on reforms and a similar attitude among opposition politicians is that the US-led international community will prevail on the IMF to resume lending and prevent an economic collapse in a strategically vital country. The stream of messages sent by Islamabad to top officials of the Obama Administration to weigh in with the Fund indicates this.

These have so far got little traction. Instead, in a public rebuke, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the reversal of the petroleum price increase and described this as a mistake. Ministers of other development partners have been more blunt in stating that their country’s taxpayers cannot be expected to help when Pakistan cannot get its own taxpayers to pay up.

Government leaders and others may therefore be miscalculating that Washington can or will ask the Fund to bail Islamabad out. At a time when the IMF is participating in programmes that entail sharp adjustments in many cash-strapped European countries is it realistic to think that it will apply different performance criteria here?

Can IMF funding be expected to resume to Pakistan without any national revenue effort or correction of fiscal policy and an automatic, flexible mechanism for administrative price adjustments that is by some measure symmetric and fair? Absent structural reforms to deal with the haemorrhage in public sector enterprises and worsening circular debt as well as significant control of expenditure, can any rescue plan even work?

Irrespective of what the IMF does, the growing economic disarray in the country should concern all leaders in and out of government. An economy with no direction and no policy reforms to halt the slide and the spectre of dangerously high inflation should engage the attention of all public representatives.

Tough economic decisions will ultimately have to be taken but the longer they are postponed the greater the adjustment that will be required. The political pain of necessary reform will have to be shared if Pakistan is to be saved from an economic breakdown.

This means forging a political consensus on a set of reform measures needed to restore financial stability. This can only be achieved by an informed debate in parliament and the media and an agreement not to politicize economic problems on whose resolution rests the very future of the country.

In today’s strained political environment evolving consensus on a minimum reform agenda may seem a vain hope but the alternative – a descent into economic chaos – should serve as a reminder of what might happen if no policy correctives are implemented. This ought to urge different stakeholders to review their stance of putting short-term expediency before the country’s economic security. After all without such stability their political gamesmanship will be in vain.



{January 10, 2011}   A week in opposition

By: Javed Malik

When the Karachi-based political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, walked out of the federal cabinet, political observers were essentially split in two different opinions.

 

Some dismissed it as just another short-lived political maneuver aimed at getting better cabinet slots, which would also act as a power tool to pressurise the government into giving MQM a greater role in decision-making, at least in the provincial government. Others saw it quite differently. They argued that the MQM, which has been making a deliberate effort to position itself as a mainstream political force now wishes to reach out to a much larger audience outside their traditional stronghold of urban Sindh. Having realised that this goal cannot be attained if they continue sitting on the treasury benches, MQM has made a carefully thought out decision to move away from a government that was loosing its popularity and struggling with allegations of corruption and bad governance. This latter opinion gained further steam when the MQM having left the cabinet a few days earlier, then took the next logical step to formally sit on the opposition benches. Political observers were now beginning to take MQM’s stance more seriously. A glance at the print and electronic media at that time would tell you that MQM’s standing in the public eye had also received a boost.

MQM has historically suffered with an image problem. The reasons for this perception (right or wrong) we will leave for another day, but for now I can tell you their stance had certainly made a somewhat positive impact on its image building exercise. However, the sudden change of heart after meeting the beleaguered prime minister might have reversed it all. It has also, once again, confused many friends of MQM within the media, and all of a sudden those who were always predicting that the party would not last long in the opposition were now having a field day all over the news channels taking credit for their political farsightedness. MQM’s departure from the government may have been confusing for some, but the haste with which they have returned back to the treasury benches has baffled everyone.

This calls for a serious soul-searching for the MQM policy-makers, as they would now be faced with an onslaught of questions about their priorities. MQM has a plethora of media savvy speakers, and I am sure they would do their best to explain it all away but I sincerely hope that in doing so they don’t use the famous (or should be say infamous?) cliché that “we did this to save the system”.

On the other hand Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani is apparently claiming victory for having ‘won back’ his allies to cling on to power for some time longer.  Is it really a victory or has the prime minister dug himself deeper into trouble.  Political observers are already questioning whether the prime minister in his haste to save his government may have ended up making commitments to the MQM, which quite frankly, he is in no position to deliver. It is also true that his own economic managers, who were heavily relying on the RGST and a hike in petroleum prices, are now left with a huge hole in their revenue projections. It would be interesting to see how they will now balance their books while keeping the IMF at bay, petrol prices low, and without imposing the RGST. Having said that they would also have to make provisions for providing relief to the common man who seems to be sinking deeply below the poverty line.

So, in a bid to save his own premiership has Mr Gillani bitten off more than he can chew? Only time will tell. From our part we can always wish him luck.

The people of Pakistan have been carefully watching the developments with keen interest, thanks to our media, and in my view, every political party whether in government or opposition is now under the spotlight. It is for the people to decide whom they will support, and that is an encouraging sign. Let us see how they react to MQM’s quick stint in opposition, which lasted only for a week? Or how they would view the stance taken by the JUI-F, which has called for the prime minister’s removal?

Of course, they also have a choice to celebrate with Prime Minister Gillani for having saved his premiership. Or are they more likely to identify themselves with Nawaz Sharif’s agenda of reform that aims to address some of the major issues facing Pakistan? One can only hope they choose wisely, for that is what democracy is all about.

Javed Malik is a noted television anchor and Executive Director of the UK-based The World Forum

 




Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi

The threats to the Pakistani state include socio-cultural intolerance, religious extremism and the use of violence to pursue self-articulated narrow ideological agendas. If these negative trends are coupled with a faltering economy, there is little hope for a stable, democratic Pakistan.

ANALYSIS: New opportunity and old challenges…

Reconciliation between the PPP and the MQM is a major relief to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani who had been running around last week to muster support to save his government. The MQM has adopted a two-step strategy to join hands with the PPP. In the first stage, the MQM is returning to the official benches and will wait and see if the prime minister fulfils the commitments made to the MQM regarding its political interests in urban Sindh, especially Karachi. If the MQM is satisfied with the progress and the revived PPP-MQM relationship works smoothly, it will return to the federal cabinet in the second stage.

It is a love-hate relationship between the PPP and the MQM. They often dislike each other’s politics but, as the two major political forces in Sindh, they cannot afford to fight with each other all the time. They build pressure on each other to improve their bargaining power but tend to settle down after some noisy discourse and troubled interaction. The MQM has one advantage. Its political domain is limited to urban Sindh, enabling it to stay focused on limited issues and function more coherently. The PPP, on the other hand, is not merely entrenched in rural Sindh but has support in other provinces too. It has to accommodate the concerns of a wider and diversified political spectrum, making political management a cumbersome exercise.

The changed political environment is expected to enable the federal government to devote more attention to serious political and economic problems and the growing polarisation between the religious groups and others in the aftermath of the shocking assassination of Salmaan Taseer on January 4, 2011.

This assassination by a religious zealot has brought to the surface what most of us were not prepared to admit: the major threat to the Pakistani state and society comes from within. These threats include socio-cultural intolerance, religious extremism and the use of violence to pursue self-articulated narrow ideological agendas. If these negative trends are coupled with a faltering economy, especially neglect of the poorest of the poor, there is little hope for a stable, democratic Pakistan.

These problems cannot be addressed without taking tough decisions about the economy, governance and political management. No government can do this without the support of other political parties and societal groups. The opposition political parties are not willing to extend any support or offer an alternate plan of action to resolve these issues. Their partisan outlook does not enable them to look beyond their immediate political interests, i.e. the failure of the federal government.

The latest crisis developed when the JUI-F and the MQM separately decided to quit the coalition and move towards the opposition. Both had their own grievances and decided to walk away at a time when the federal government was under internal and external pressure. However, no single opposition party could move a vote of no-confidence against the federal government. Only the PML-N can initiate a vote of no-confidence but it cannot succeed without getting the support of at least three parties and independent members. It could not put together such an opposition coalition quickly enough.

Two other factors restrained the PML-N. First, Nawaz Sharif cannot become prime minister because he is not a member of the National Assembly. Therefore, the PML-N would have found it hard to create a consensus within the party on any other name and then win support from other political parties to secure the required votes for removing the present prime minister, getting a new prime minister elected and then ensuring a vote of confidence for him. Second, the PML-N knew that its coalition government would have to depend on the support of the smaller parties, including the parties that had betrayed the PPP. This would have made the PML-N hostage to the smaller parties.

The PML-N has therefore adopted the policy of waiting and watching. However, it decided to build pressure on the PPP by giving two deadlines — one of three days and the other of 45 days — for taking steps to implement the proposed PML-N agenda. The PML-N ultimatum has lost relevance due to the return of the MQM to the government’s side.

If Nawaz Sharif forces the PPP ministers to quit the Punjab cabinet on the non-fulfilment of his agenda, it will amount to shooting himself in the foot. The PPP and the PML-Q are likely to work together, which will increase pressure on the PML-N government. If the PML-Q is able to win back its forward bloc, the PML-Q-PPP coalition may opt for a vote of no-confidence against the PML-N government in the Punjab.

The stage for the return of the MQM to the government was set by the latter’s decision to withdraw the enhanced prices of petroleum products on January 6, a questionable decision on economic grounds. However, it gave political space to the prime minister to win back support and provide face-saving to the MQM to return to the PPP’s side. This decision has also won some goodwill for the PPP at the public level.

The federal government has now retrieved its majority. However, long-term survival depends on winning more support and addressing acute economic problems that seem to have compounded with the reversal of petroleum prices, low industrial productivity and little new investment.

The federal government faces the additional challenge of resurgent religious extremism and militancy that will consolidate its gains in the aftermath of the assassination. The orthodox religious groups, unable to assume a commanding role through the electoral process, view street agitation and intimidation as effective instruments for pursuing their religious agendas. They are expected to continue with street agitation, emotional religious appeals and threatening statements to force their choices on society.

Opposition parties like the PML-N, PML-Q and others are not expected to help the federal government stem the current tide of religious extremism. They are interested in their immediate agenda of getting rid of the PPP government. They are not bothered about the long-term implications of religious extremism and militancy for the state and society.

The federal government needs to pay immediate attention to sustaining a stable coalition, quickly taking steps to salvage the economy and curbing the growing polarisation between the religious and other sections in society. It is a tall order but anything short of this threatens the long-term survival of the federal government, if not the current democratic political order.

The writer is a political and defence analyst



{January 9, 2011}   The real blasphemers

The issue of Aasiya Bibi’s alleged blasphemy became one of the hottest topics for debate in 2010. At a very basic level, the question that everyone sought to answer is this: How are we, as Muslims, meant to deal with blasphemy?



This question has a simple answer: we should ignore people who are accused of blasphemy and tell them that the great man whom they are supposedly targeting in their acts of blasphemy was the one who taught us to ignore their actions and focus on more positive things in life.

There are several passages in the Quran which mention acts of blasphemy committed against the prophet and the message of Islam, three of which are more important than the others. None of these passages contains any indication that those found guilty of blasphemy ought to be killed. If there was a punishment for blasphemy in Islam, it should have been clearly mentioned in the Quran, especially in the passages where occurrences of it during the prophet’s lifetime are mentioned.In the first passage that refers to blasphemy, the Quran informs us that hypocrites used to attend the Prophet’s (PBUH) gatherings intending to tease him. They used to say “ra‘ina” (please say it again), twisting their tongue to prolong the vowel sound ‘I,’ so it sounded like they were saying a different word which meant “our shepherd”.

 

Instead of condemning the perpetrators to a punishment, however, the Quran said: “Believers, don’t say ra’ina; instead say unzurna and listen carefully (so that you don’t need to ask the Prophet to repeat his statements),” (Quran; 2:104). The word unzurna, like ra’ina, served the same purpose.

Another passage says: “Believers, don’t make such individuals from amongst the people of the book and the disbelievers (of Makkah) your friends, who tease and make fun of your religion. And fear Allah if you are true believers. When you are called for prayers, they make it an object of ridicule. This they do because they are a group of people who don’t know (the truth),” (Quran; 57-58). Had the intent of the divine law been to kill those who made fun of religion, this passage would have been an appropriate occasion to make this fact unambiguously clear. Instead, the believers were asked to ignore ‘blasphemous remarks’ and were told to refrain from befriending these people.

A third passage in the chapter titled “Hypocrites” talks about the designs of the leader of the hypocrites and his followers, who, during one of the expeditions of Muslims beyond Madinah, blasphemed against the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions in the following words: “They (the hypocrites) say ‘When we shall return to Madinah, the honorable shall expel the mean from there’, even though honour is for Allah and His messenger, and believers, but these hypocrites are unaware,” (63:7-8). Indeed what Abdullah Ibn Ubai’i, the leader of the hypocrites, and his followers said was blasphemy. The message of God, however, only clarified the truth in response to the blasphemy they had uttered. Abdullah Ibn Ubai’i later died a natural death in Madinah. Despite the fact that he was living in the very city that was ruled by the Prophet (PBUH), he wasn’t put to death nor did he suffer any lesser punishments in retribution for the act of blasphemy he and his companions were guilty of committing.

If the Quran does not sanction specific punishment for blasphemy, why then are Muslims bent upon demanding death for blasphemy? The answer is that according to some Hadith, some disbelievers were killed for being guilty of blaspheming against the Prophet (PBUH) during his lifetime.

The reality is that, as has been clarified above, there is no punishment for blasphemy in Islam. The only exception is this: according to divine law, those people who directly received the message of God through His messengers were destined to be killed if they rejected and condemned it. This was a law that was specific to the direct addressees of the prophet only. It has been clarified in the Quran that such people were destined to receive the punishment of death, in one form or the other, after a certain God-ordained deadline was reached. That deadline had already arrived for the disbelievers of Makkah thirteen years after the prophetic mission had started, at the time when the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions were forced to migrate from the city to Madinah. The first phase of that punishment took care of the entire leadership of Quraish, the clan that ruled Makkah, two years after the migration in the Battle of Badr. That process continued for different people on different occasions. When the people of the book, the Jews and the Christians, denied the Prophet’s (PBUH) message, they too became eligible for the same punishment. However, in their case the punishment was relaxed: they were forced to live the life of second-rate citizens and pay Jizya, the non-Muslim tax (Quran; 9:29). Only those Jews and Christians who had not only denied the Prophet’s (PBUH) message but had also gone on to tease, insult, and threaten his life, were considered worthy of being killed like their counterpart polytheist disbelievers of Makkah.

Clearly, such punishments were meant to be applicable only to a certain group of people living in a particular era. Their crime and the rationale for their punishment have both been mentioned in the Quran. Their punishment wasn’t based on a Shari’ah law; instead it was based on God’s own direct intervention. For the rest of the people, the general rule mentioned in the Quran states that blasphemers are meant to be ignored- this was meant to continue to remain applicable for all times to come.

According to the Quran, only two types of criminals can be sentenced to capital punishment: those who are guilty of murder, or those who create mischief on earth. Anyone who took the life of another soul for reasons other than these two, according to the Quran, would be as if he killed the entire mankind. (Quran; 5:32) The law stipulating capital punishment for the act of blasphemy therefore is clearly against the Quranic message of the verse referred to above.Of course, one could say that blasphemy is a form of ‘creating mischief on earth’ — but this argument is not valid because ‘creating mischief on earth’ has been described in the Quran like this: “Those who wage a war against Allah and His messenger and strive to create mischief on earth.” That crime is committed when an individual or a group commit murders, burglaries, or rapes and cause the life, property, and honour of innocent citizens to be harmed. Indeed, making profane remarks about the prophet is a crime, but the one committing it neither declares a war against Allah and His messenger nor does he struggle to create mischief on earth.Islam’s message is of peace and tolerance. Bigotry, aggression, and extremism have nothing to do with it. Those who promote the latter evils in the name of Islam are the real threat to the propagation of its message.




The governor of Pakistan’s wealthiest and most populous province was shot dead in the capital Tuesday by one of his own guards, who later told interrogators that he was angry about the politician’s stance against the country’s blasphemy law, officials said.

The killing of Punjab province Governor Salman Taseer was the most high-profile assassination of a political figure in Pakistan since former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007, and it rattled a country already dealing with crises ranging from a potential collapse of the government to a virulent Islamist insurgency.

The killing could also add to concerns about inroads by Islamist extremists and fundamentalists into Pakistan’s security establishment and represented another blow to the country’s Pakistan’s embattled secular movement.

Taseer was a member of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party and a close associate of the president. The governor was vocal on a range of subjects, even using Twitter to get across his views.

Punjab is a major base and recruiting ground for Pakistan’s powerful military and security establishment, which many fear is coming under the increasing influence of religious fundamentalists as Islamist movements have spread in Pakistan. Some analysts have suggested that fundamentalist members of the security establishment pose a greater threat of Pakistan nuclear proliferation than militant groups such as the Taliban.

In recent days, as the People’s Party has faced the loss of its coalition partners, the 56-year-old Taseer had insisted that the government will survive. But it was his very public stance against the blasphemy law that apparently led to his killing.

Pakistan’s blasphemy law has come under greater scrutiny in recent weeks after a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. The law effectively orders death for anyone convicted of insulting Islam.

Taseer had said Bibi should be granted a pardon, a stance that earned him opprobrium from Islamist groups across the country as well as threats, according to Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minorities.

“I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing,” Taseer wrote on Twitter on Dec. 31.

Source : huffingtonpost.com

 




By: The Hindu

China and Pakistan on Sunday decided to strengthen communication  and coordination in regional affairs  on “hotspot issues” like Afghanistan, and agreed to “advance pragmatic cooperation” in pursuit of common development and enhance collaboration in border management.

In a joint statement issued at the end of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s three-day visit to Pakistan, the two countries reiterated their resolve to work in tandem on major

international issues including United Nations reform, climate change, and food and energy security. Earlier, addressing a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament, Mr. Wen assured Pakistan of China’s steadfast support while maintaining that terrorism should not be linked to any one country or religion.

Acknowledging Pakistan as an important member state of the region, the Chinese leader said Islamabad played a vital role in safeguarding peace, security and stability. “The Chinese side held the view that Pakistan has made great efforts and endured great sacrifices in fighting terrorism, and reiterated that it respects the counter-terrorism strategy constituted and implemented by Pakistan in light of its own national conditions,” said the statement.

The two countries reaffirmed their resolve to cooperate through bilateral and multilateral frameworks to fight terrorism, separatism and extremism — all of which threaten regional peace, stability and security. On the specific issue of Afghanistan, the two voiced support for the unity and territorial integrity of Afghanistan, and also Kabul’s bid to advance peace, reconstruction and national reconciliation.

Rejoicing in their enduring relationship that turns 60 next year, China and Pakistan shared the view that “against the backdrop of a complex and ever-changing international and regional situation, it is of high significance to consolidate and deepen the China-Pakistan all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation”.

In keeping with this spirit, both voiced respect for each other’s territorial integrity and the joint statement reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to the One China policy. Pakistan also supported the “peaceful development of cross-Straits relations and China’s reunification” and the efforts made by the Chinese government to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

On developmental matters, China and Pakistan have decided to intensify cooperation in infrastructure development, energy and agriculture on a priority basis. Currency swap arrangements will be established and qualified Pakistani banks will be allowed to open branches in China.

While the possibility of establishing trans-border economic zones will be explored by both sides, Pakistan has decided to establish a Special Economic Zone for Chinese businesses to attract more investment from China.

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