Thursday, May 31, 2018

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Insecurity, fraud undermine upcoming #Afghan elections

Elections in Afghanistan are vital for the war-torn country to continue the democratic process that started after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, but most people in the country show little interest in elections.
Afghanistan's parliamentary and district council elections are scheduled for October 20 of this year, but attacks by militant Islamists have already raised concerns whether the elections will be held on time.
Taliban and "Islamic State" (IS) continue to target voter registration centers in different parts of the strife-torn country. An IS-claimed attack at a voters' office in Kabul last month killed 57 people, including women and children, underlining the fact that the participation in the election process comes with a huge risk for the Afghan people.
But a lack of security is not the only reason behind people's reluctance to participate enthusiastically in the election process; the voting procedure, marred with fraud and irregularities, has left many people pessimistic about the entire system.
Lack of interest in elections
Political commentators say that many Afghans have little faith in the election process.
"Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) has the responsibility to restore trust among the Afghan people in the electoral procedure, but it has so far failed to do so," Fazal Ahmad Manawi, former head of the IEC, told DW.
The IEC launched a campaign in April to register at least 14 million voters before the October polls, but so far only 4 million have registered.
Manawi said that even the 4-million figure was exaggerated and that he doubted its accuracy.
"We know that fewer people actually registered," Manawi said.
The current state of the Afghan parliament is also a reason why many Afghans are not interested in the election process, say experts. Human rights activists accuse Afghan lawmakers of nepotism, corruption and even crimes like smuggling. People fear the next parliament will be no different.
"Candidates who use illegal money to contest and win elections won't care much about the voters. They will only be interested in getting their money back once they get elected," Naim Ayobzada, head of the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan NGO, told DW.
The only way forward
Despite electoral frauds and Afghans' lack of interest in the October polls, many believe that elections are the only way forward for a country struggling to get on its feet. The continuation of democratic process could be the only option for Afghans to make their voices heard and defeat unlawful forces, including militants, analysts say.
A good omen is that a number of educated young candidates are also running for parliament and district councils. This gives hope that Afghanistan could see better governance in the years to come should the democratic process continues.
Obiadullah Azizi, a candidate for a district council in Balkh province, hopes the participation of youth in the election could turn things around for his country.
"People must vote for young, educated and committed candidates who I believe will represent them best," he told DW.
Tariq Iqtedari of the Generation Positive organization has launched a social media campaign to urge voters to cast their ballot wisely.
"We should not make any mistake. Those who buy votes will definitely compromise on our national interests," the organization said in a Facebook video message.

#Pakistan - Political Immaturity

Amidst suggesting a caretaker Chief Minister and then taking the recommendation back almost immediately, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) has certainly been active in its demands for the care-taker government. It has now followed with further demands for the caretaker Prime Minister, Nasir-ul-Haq, to remover certain appointments the party is not happy with, particularly that of Ali Jahangir Siddique, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States.
The complaint came in the form of a letter, penned by PTI’s spokesperson Fawad Chaudhary, which said that Siddiqui is “facing NAB cases” and to make him an ambassador is equivalent to the “murder of national interest. Chaudhary today demanded that Siddiqui’s appointment be declared void and that a “competent and seasoned” person be chosen to replace him.
It is true that Siddique’s appointment has been controversial since the start, considering the fact that he was relatively young and inexperienced for the job, and there were suspicions that Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s past affiliations with him may have resulted in the appointment. Chaudhry’s accusation that Siddique is being investigated by NAB is true, however, the weight of this is uncertain considering the national debate that NAB has been overstepping its bounds.
Even if all the allegations against Siddique are true, to expect the caretaker PM to take such an actively political step is highly irresponsible of PTI and reveals the party’s political immaturity. Such a demand is clearly out of the mandate of a caretaker PM. Siddique has been appointed by an elected government and should be removed from his position by next elected if required. Removal of the envoy will only serve to propagate the PTI view ahead of the elections. Such decisions should be left to the incoming government. The current Caretaker PM should focus on running the executive and holding an unbiased election.

#Pakistan - #FATA in the interim

The FATA-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa merger is a done deal. And this is a good thing. The process of transition is to be completed within two years. Yet the journey from starting point to final destination has already got off to a rocky beginning.
The President still has to sign off on official paperwork; meaning the 31st Constitutional Amendment. This is no biggie given that this piece of legislation had to first go before Parliament, which it duly did on Sunday. Both Upper and Lower houses as well as the KP assembly gave their due stamps of approval. Moreover, it makes sense to first ink the FATA Interim Governance Regulation, 2018 — a set of provisional rules with which to govern the tribal areas during the adjustment period.
The big takeaway from this is the repealing of Frontier Crimes Regulation (FRC); that draconian colonial overhang that is responsible for trampling on the fundamental rights as well as aspirations of the tribal people. Something that it has taken the Pakistani state more than seven decades to undo.
Except that the new interim Regulation appears to have done this in name only. The ‘promotion’ of the Political Agent to Deputy Commissioner is highly problematic given the powers that come with it. These include having the authority to fine entire communities if there “appears good reason to believe” that residents of a particular village have abetted a crime, failed to arrest those involved or suppressed evidence. Then there is the question of the Council of Elders which will hear all criminal cases. This is a jirga by another name and the Deputy Commissioner enjoys the freedom to appoint its members. The most worrying part of all is how the new Regulation provides that no civil court has the jurisdiction to challenge anything in the tribal areas. Thus what happens in FATA stays in FATA; quite literally.
All of which raises important questions.
The most crucial being: why did the FATA Interim Governance Regulation, 2018 not go to Parliament? This is a legitimate query.
We understand that there was no malevolent intent on the part of the outgoing government. That being said, this will cause problems for the new set-up. For now that the KP and Sindh assemblies are already dissolved — and with Balochistan and the Punjab completing their respective tenures tomorrow — the people of FATA and KP will likely have to wait until the next Parliament to receive clarity on several points. These include the possibility of introducing a sunset clause to the Regulation as well as resolving once and for all the issue of civilian court jurisdiction.
Yet as things currently stand, the incumbent regime has effectively thrown out the baby with the bathwater. That is, in its rush to put the merger on the books — so as to avert any future stalling on this front when new assemblies are elected — it has bypassed the elected representatives of the tribal people. This “Doctrine of Necessity” is a serious misstep. Indeed, it strengthens the hands of political players such as Maulana Fazlur Rehman. The latter has never been backwards in coming forwards regarding his staunch opposition to the merger on the grounds that only a separate province would afford the people of FATA true self-determination.
Sadly, the tribal people of Pakistan will have to wait until a new set-up in KP is elected to decide just how much better off they will be. In the interim.

Pakistan’s censorship model An image- and identity-obsessed country

On May 12, Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest and most prestigious English daily, published
an interview with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in which Sharif uttered four relatively oblique sentences: “Militant organizations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?” He was referring, ostensibly, to Lashkar-e-Taiba’s involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attack. Lashkar and its leader, Hafiz Saeed, have not been held accountable, and the trial has stalled in an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan.

The alleged connections between Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and militant non-state actors that target India such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba are well known outside Pakistan, but less understood within the country—deliberately so, since this serves to maintain the perception of the army’s moral supremacy.
Sharif’s interview created an instant furor in Pakistan. Many Pakistanis are skeptical of his motives as he fights for his political survival after being disqualified as prime minister by the Supreme Court last year on corruption-related charges. Sharif says the charges against him are politically motivated, and suggests they were pursued by a military that disliked his independence. He is punching back whenever he can.


After the Dawn interview was published, the Pakistan Press Council served the newspaper’s editor with a notice that it breached the council’s code of conduct by publishing content that “may bring into contempt Pakistan or its people or tends to undermine its sovereignty or integrity as an independent country.” Distribution of the newspaper was subsequently blocked in parts of the country.
No one doubts the military’s involvement in this censorship. It is the latest example of a steadily accumulating set of suppressive measures it seems to be taking against the media in recent months, to various ends: to control its own narrative and maintain its hold on the country, to control Pakistan’s global image, to weaken Sharif, and to try to meddle in the upcoming general election this July.
Both Pakistan’s military and its civilian government want to project the image of a country that has successfully tackled its security issues. The military has given tours of a cleaned-up Waziristan, which had been off-limits to the media during the army operation against the Pakistan Taliban in that area. Its ministers and ambassadors give a standard spiel abroad that touts Pakistan’s successes against domestic terrorism and the Pakistan Taliban—especially in the wake of criticism from the Trump administration—deflecting away from connections with the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Afghan Taliban. It is true that the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan has decreased drastically in recent years, as have deaths as a result of violence. But terrorism continues at a lower tick, and extremism thrives, as attested to by the street power of the fundamentalist group Tehreek-e-Labaik, whose signature concern is the preservation of Pakistan’s regressive blasphemy laws.


But groups like that don’t bother the military (it refused to take physical action against Tehreek-e-Labaik protesters in December 2017, and handed out money to them when the protest disbanded). The biggest thorn in the military’s side right now, other than Sharif, is the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (or PTM; Tahaffuz means protection). The movement alleges widespread human rights abuses by the military, including forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, during the army operations against the Pakistan Taliban in the country’s northwest in the last decade. It has led fiery rallies across the country and in Pakistan’s urban centers, with a charismatic 24 year-old, Manzoor Pashteen, at the helm.
Coverage of the movement is all but blacked out in the Pakistani media. That is not surprising, since they make some quite shocking claims: that the military is connected to the (Pakistan) Taliban—even going further and saying they are one and the same—and that under cover of the military operation, the military shuffled the Taliban to Afghanistan.
I had heard this exact narrative and rhetoric from a group of Pashtun students at a university in Lahore three years ago, in 2015, while I was conducting focus group interviews for my book. My discussion with these students had lasted for hours—and I came away surprised and with a deeper understanding of Pakistan itself. My interviewees were intensely critical of the army and angry over what Pakistan’s northwest and tribal areas were going through. They questioned Pakistan’s religious ideology, something I had not heard much of elsewhere. They noted that their views would have them branded as traitors. But their most stunning remarks came when I asked them who was conducting terrorism in Pakistan. They linked the army to the attack that killed more than 130 schoolchildren at the Peshawar Army Public School in December 2014. They were skeptical of the Zarb-e-Azb military operation, arguing that the media blackout was covering up collusion with the Taliban.
In my book, I noted that these students’ nonconformist views on the Pakistan narrative were refreshing to hear; but on the connections between the army and the Pakistan Taliban—which had attacked so much of the army itself—they seemed conspiratorial. Nevertheless, it was a significant perspective that I hadn’t heard before, and I only heard it again when the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement went mainstream this year.  
Because the state has banned coverage of the movement, most Pakistanis don’t know about, or understand, the grievances of other ethnicities against the state—similar to a media blackout of the insurgency in the restive province of Baluchistan. Prominent op-ed writers, for the first time in many years of writing for the same newspapers, have seen their columns on the PTM pulled; in turn, their write-ups about crackdowns on media freedom are also being censored. This means that a proper, national conversation cannot be had about these issues. The movement is being discussed on social media, where you see two echo chambers: those against the movement, and those supportive of it. In the absence of open coverage, there is no political discussion about the military’s alleged abuses—nor questions raised by PTM enthusiasts about what the movement gets wrong about the army’s connections to the Pakistan Taliban versus the Afghan Taliban, or where its rhetoric peddles in conspiracies. Nor, in this blackout, can Pakistanis understand how many terrorists were actually in the mix in the cleanup undertaken by the Pakistani state in the tribal areas. The PTM demands a truth and reconciliation commission. The state owes it that, but before that, it owes the movement, and all Pakistanis, an open national conversation.


Pakistan’s military believes it can clamp down on dissent via censorship—and continue to control the image and identity of the country as it has defined it, as an Islamic state under threat from India. Ethnic grievances and military abuses brought to light by the PTM, and Sharif’s discussion of non-state actors targeting India (thus implicating Pakistan in aggression against India), threaten the state-cultivated image of the country and sully the military. So, it keeps them under wraps.
The military’s censorship is selective—not blanket, à la Erdoğan in Turkey—which gives it plausible deniability. While coverage of the PTM is blacked out, its rallies have been allowed to continue. Not all journalists and bloggers critical of the military are disappeared or threatened—but some are, enough to have a chilling effect and to lead to self-censorship. Television channels critical of the military are taken off air, or given a lower rung on the lineup.
To what end? Given the existence of social media, the military only comes in for more criticism internationally. But in the country, it succeeds in controlling its image. And so it continues. Yet it has chilled the national debate and discussion, and only alienated those already marginalized. Pakistan needs only to look to 1971, when its eastern half seceded to form Bangladesh, to see the potentially disastrous effects of such ethnic and political alienation. The right approach to its own citizens and to criticism is clear: engagement, not censorship.

Bilawal Bhutto to contest 2018 general elections from Larkana

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has announced to contest forthcoming general elections from NA-200, Larkana constituency.
Announcing his decision following a meeting of the party’s parliamentary board at Bilawal House on Thursday, Bilawal said Larkana had elected Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto with overwhelming majority in every election they contested.
He said that election 2018 was a huge test for, what he called, jiyalas and democratic workers. He urged the supporters to gear up their preparation to ensure victory of the candidates across the country.
Earlier on Thursday, the board conducted last round of interviews from candidacy aspirants for eight seats of the national and 17 of the provincial assembly from the division.
Interviews from candidates from five divisions of the province were completed on Wednesday.
Other members of the board present during the interviews included President PPP Women Wing Faryal Talpur, Senator Sherry Rehman, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Syed Khursheed Shah, Murad Ali Shah, Naveed Qamar, Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, Waqar Mehdi and Shagufta Jumani.