Saturday, July 21, 2018
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari addressed an election gathering in Nagarparkar on Saturday and said that he was struggling for the rights of the people by taking part in the active politics.
Bilawal said PPP has given a new manifesto, which contains important points to bring the revolution in the country. He said the PPP government would establish food centres in every union council so that the poor people are able to overcome malnutrition and hunger during droughts.
Dawn's correspondent in Mithi, Hanif Samoon reported that the PPP chairman said nobody would be allowed to amend the Constitution to deprive the deserving women of Thar from getting stipend under Benazir Bhutto Income Support Programme (BISP).
"Those conspiring to deprive the women of their stipends will have to face stiff resistance from PPP members in the assemblies," he added.
But who is leading the most effective campaign is evident by the pattern. As all the leaders are conspicuous by their mannerism, some politicians even need to have lessons on how to speak in public notwithstanding their years-long exposure in the political realm.
From amongst all the political leaders, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has been running the most real campaign devoid of any rhetoric.
Sobriety of language and prime focus on the party manifesto is the hallmark of his election speeches.
In Punjab, he is challenging the PML-N and the PTI as the two right wing parties having soft corner for the Taliban. He is telling the people that PPP is the only progressive party with an ideology to make the country a social welfare state freeing it of extremists.
Bilawal started off his maiden election campaign from Sindh and entered South Punjab for onward journey to the KP province.
He then reached northern Punjab touring across various districts along the GT Road. He got a rousing welcome wherever he went.
PTI chief Imran Khan is leading the most aggressive campaign compared to other leaders as the elections are around the corner.
Imran Khan is addressing more than six rallies at a stretch. His frequency of rallies is more than all. One day, he is seen addressing rallies in at least three cities. Yesterday, he was present in Lahore before noon. Then he was seen at various public rallies in Bahawalpur in the afternoon. In the evening he was in Multan the same day.
But in Punjab, he has started receiving a lukewarm response from the public compared to his previous rallies. Empty chairs were staring him in the face at a recent gathering at Jhelum held in the constituency of his spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry.
Imran Khan reportedly also expressed his dismay over the poor showing that day.
Also, a small gathering at Shahdra town in Lahore welcomed the PTI chief on Thursday last. A small number of people showing up at Khan’s rallies close to the July 25 vote should be a cause of worry for the party leadership.
Unlike Bilawal, Imran is using a harsh and at times filthy language for his political opponents evoking harsh criticism from the people especially at the social media.
He was also summoned by the Election Commission this week to explain his position. Nonetheless, his legal aide Babar Awan has assured the ECP authorities on Khan’s behalf that his client would now be careful in selection of words while speaking against his detractors. To make the things even worse, former KP Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattack followed the suit when he called PPP supporters “sons of prostitutes” at a public gathering.
Not only this, Khan’s campaign is also marked by violent clashes as recently witnessed in Karachi. PML-N chief Shehbaz Sharif is running a delayed but an aggressive campaign in the absence of Mian Nawaz Sharif. It was delayed mainly because of Mian Nawaz Sharif and Maryam’s return from London and their subsequent imprisonment just two weeks before the polls.
At the election rallies, he is disseminating a modified version of Nawaz Sharif’s narrative by getting soft on the establishment and the judiciary. But he is also selling his development work undertaken in the last five years. It includes setting up of power plants, construction of roads, underpasses, metro buses and his orange train project.
Private conversations with a couple of extremely highly placed officials at two civilian security institutions have entailed shocking revelations and explained how so many of these candidates escaped legal scrutiny in the first place ; the PML-N government literally stone-walled attempts to amend the Anti Terrorist Act 1997 (ATA 1997) and the Public Representation Act (PRA). All proposals to this effect were literally shelved and officials told to keep quiet by the wheelers and dealers of the N-League.
And low and behold, this happened despite concurrence by key military intelligence agencies, officials revealed.
The local government elections in 2015 had in fact provided the trigger for proposed changes to the ATA in particular because as many as 147 independents were among the nearly 900 successful candidates to District Councils in Punjab. And among them these independents were several associates/ former members or supporters of several banned outfits.
Officials said they proposed amendments only after the prime and chief minister ordered arrest of all 4th Schedulers in the wake of the Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park suicide attack in March 2016. But the Sharif brothers as well as their ministers were found unwilling to subject these groups to greater legal scrutiny.
They managed to contest and succeed because of lacunas or ambiguities that exist even in the somewhat upgraded ATA. Taking advantage of these shortcomings in the ATA and PRA, many unwanted people end up contesting elections. Under the existing legal framework, courts have little legal reason to bar any body from elections – as long as they avow allegiance to the constitution and are not convicts.
A very senior official privy to the proposals said the staggering success of several radical right-wing zealots alarmed them all and they thought the best way to stop them in future was to amend the ATA and the PRA, and thus constraining the legal space on them as the first major hurdle.
Those amendments would have narrowed the space also on the people, who are every now and then placed on the 4th Schedule, a list of people found to be or suspected to be involved in anti-state activities, delivering hate speeches and/or activists of religious outfits not yet banned but related with militancy in any way.
But privately, senior members of the ruling PML-N even accused these counter-terror officials of obstructing the functioning of people or groups who were either on the terror watch list or were already proscribed.
The simple reason, one can infer from this foot-dragging approach, was the that the ruling party was disinclined to annoy these groups because of their value in electoral contests, said the officials. Electoral considerations weighed heavily when asked to facilitate amendments and make the ATA more lethal against religious extremists, who do enjoy support on ground.
This is also manifest in the fact that most of mainstream political parties have entered into some sort of arrangements or understanding with members of extremist groups to avoid “attrition and minimize competition.”
These so called adjustments flow from two simple ground realities; these groups wield substantial social influence on the ground and can be extremely handy during the electoral process. And secondly, how can a court bar a Pakistani citizen, who fulfills constitutional obligations and possesses the legally requisite number of supporters, from contesting elections for the mere fact that he/she may be member or supporter of a banned militant outfit?
By Ben Farmer
Except the cleric pledging support to the sportsman-turned-politician was Maulana Fazal ur Rehman Khalil, the founder of a banned terrorist group who remains on an American terror watchlist.
The endorsement from the veteran jihadist as well as the open campaigning of known extremists ahead of this week's general election has again bought attention to what rights groups say is the worrying role of militancy in a close-fought election.
Leaders of banned militant groups have been able to stand as candidates and mainstream parties have been accused of cosying up to them for votes.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan this week expressed alarm at “the stealthy reappearance of banned outfits under other names and the fact that the state has conferred political legitimacy on them by allowing them to contest the elections”. “That their campaigns have consistently misused religion to peddle a dangerous, divisive rhetoric is cause for serious concern,” the commission said in a statement.
Maulana Khalil, an Islamabad-based cleric, is not standing in the election, but has backed Mr Khan's Pakistan Justice Movement party (PTI).
A veteran of the jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, in 1985 he founded the militant Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen (HuM) group. The organisation, which is banned by both Pakistan and America, later focused on Kashmir. The US State Department describes HuM as "a Pakistan-based terrorist organisation that seeks the annexation of Kashmir into Pakistan and poses a direct risk to US, Afghan, and allied interests in Afghanistan". In February 1998, Khalil signed up to Osama bin Laden’s call for attacks on US and Western interests. He no longer leads the group, but concerns about his activities saw him put on an American terrorist watchlist only a few years ago.
Other leaders of militant groups are contesting seats, sometimes as independents, or for front parties.
The Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) group is banned in Pakistan for inciting sectarian violence against the country's Shia minority, but several of its leaders are standing in the poll.
Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, who runs the group, was taken off Pakistan's own internal watch list last month as he prepared his candidacy.
Another high profile figure, Hafiz Saeed, has a $10 million US bounty on his head and is accused of masterminding the Mumbai attacks. Yet while he is not standing, his Milli Muslim League party is fielding more than 200 candidates. While radical Islamists have traditionally won little of the vote themselves, major political parties have been busy courting them with polls putting Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Mr Khan's PTI neck and neck. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former prime minister for the PML-N visited the ASWJ for ask for their support earlier this month.
“All major parties try to have these extremist outfits on their side to secure seats in areas where these groups hold strength”, the political analyst Zahid Hussain told the Daily Times. “These extremist outfits should not have been allowed to contest elections in the first place. Their presence in the electoral process puts a question mark on the state’s efforts against terrorism. Their campaign is based on hate speech, and their involvement in the elections will further radicalise the society.” Pakistan was last month put on a international finance “grey list” for its failure to crack down on money laundering and the funding of terrorist groups.
Western allies including Britain have long pushed Islamabad to do more to curb militant groups on its soil.
By Maria Abi-Habib and Salman Masood
The phone calls started last month, said Rana Iqbal Siraj: intimidating, anonymous demands that he defect from the party that governed Pakistan for the past five years and tried to curb the power of the military. Soon, he was summoned by state security officials who delivered the same message.
Mr. Siraj, a candidate for the legislature in Punjab Province, stayed with his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which was built decades ago around former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Then in June, roughly a month before Election Day, security officials raided his business at the behest of the military, Mr. Siraj said in an interview.
“They are trying to ruin me financially by raiding my warehouse and beating my staff,” he said, adding that he was considering moving his family abroad for their safety. “What am I at fault for? Just because I’m running on the PML-N ticket?”
Mr. Siraj and fellow party members said the aim of the raid was to weaken the former governing party’s chances by forcing its candidates to defect ahead of national elections on Wednesday that are shaping up to be a referendum on the military and its interference in Pakistan’s democracy.
That military campaign has been likened by some candidates to a soft coup, and has included sidelining candidates who are out of the military’s favor, censoring major news outlets and persecuting peaceful political movements.
The military has ruled Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country, through various coups for nearly half the country’s history since it gained independence in 1947. Even during civilian rule, the country’s generals have wielded enormous power, setting the agenda for the country’s foreign and security policies and tolerance of extremist groups — including the Afghan Taliban in its fight against the United States-backed government in Afghanistan next door.
As prime minister, Mr. Sharif ran afoul of the military early on by trying to assert control over foreign and defense policy, which is seen as the army’s domain. He also tried to improve ties with India, Pakistan’s archrival, and opposed the military’s embrace of terrorist groups, members of his party say.
In Wednesday’s election, voters will choose provincial legislatures and the country’s Parliament, which will appoint the next prime minister. Officially, it will be only the second democratic transition between civilian governments in the Pakistan’s history, after the last election in 2013.
The PML-N accuses the army of pressuring the country’s courts to disqualify its top candidates, including Mr. Sharif, who was sentenced to prison this month. At the same time, some candidates who are on the government’s terrorism watch list have been cleared to run. The main Pakistani Army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, denied at a news conference this month that Mr. Siraj was targeted because he belonged to the PML-N, saying that he had been the subject of a government investigation for a year and a half. General Ghafoor would not specify the nature of the investigation, and he denied that intelligence agencies had been involved in the raid on Mr. Siraj’s warehouse.
Other high-profile PML-N candidates have defected to Mr. Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or P.T.I.
Mr. Khan said that while he has a productive relationship with the military, he is not receiving any help from it. Candidates are joining his centrist party because they are fed up with traditional parties that have failed to deliver, he said. “When you have poor-quality leadership without the moral standing, you have a void and someone will always fill it,” Mr. Khan said in an interview at his home in Islamabad, referring to the military’s track record of coups and political interference.
The P.T.I. is popular with voters under 35 who are hungry for change and make up 43 percent of the electorate.
But the military’s influence over Pakistan’s courts and its muzzling of the news media have cast a shadow over Mr. Khan’s party and its rallying cries for change and transparency. Mr. Sharif and his daughter and political heir Maryam returned to Pakistan this month to face arrest after being convicted of corruption and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. He had already been forced to resign last year by Pakistan’s Supreme Court in a case involving undisclosed luxury properties the Sharif family owns in London. The Sharifs say those rulings were politicized, with the courts pressed by the military to bar them from politics. On Saturday, a judge of the Islamabad High Court accused the military’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, of meddling in the judiciary and forcing the justices to rule against Mr. Sharif and his relatives. The speech by Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui to lawyers in Rawalpindi was the latest public indictment of the military’s interference in politics. The parts of the speech that were critical of the ISI were not aired by local television news networks but short video clips went viral on social media.
The judge accused the ISI of influencing and pressuring the court that convicted and sentenced Mr. Sharif and his relatives. On July 17, the Islamabad High Court deferred the hearings of the appeals by Mr. Sharif against the court verdict until after elections.
“In this election, what’s at stake is the fate of Pakistan,” said Hina Rabbani, a former foreign minister who is running with the Pakistan Peoples Party, a rival of the PML-N. “I may hate Nawaz Sharif for his political choices, but I believe the system needs to self-correct, and we can no longer allow external forces to correct it. The only thing that can correct the system is elections.” The 2013 election was important because it was the first time power had been transferred from one civilian government to another, Ms. Rabbani said. “But for the next 10 years, we’ll be holding our breath with every election.” Mr. Khan, who made Mr. Sharif’s removal from office almost a personal mission, sees the situation differently.
“To say the army castrated Nawaz Sharif — Nawaz Sharif was castrated by his own corruption,” he said. “The unlevel playing field you see is that they have minted this country,” he said, referring to the endemic corruption among Pakistan’s top political parties. Although Mr. Khan has a good chance of becoming prime minister, the military is likely to insist on curbing the next government’s ability to shape defense and foreign policy, risking Pakistan’s further international isolation.
“The military finds itself in a tight corner,” said Raza Rumi, the editor of The Daily Times, an influential newspaper based in Lahore. “They want a hung Parliament that doesn’t focus on cutting the military’s budget or curtailing its foreign policy. Instead, they want a government that focuses on cleaning the streets and planting trees.” Whichever party forms the government will inherit a raft of problems: domestic terrorism; terrible relationships with neighboring India and Afghanistan; deteriorating ties with the United States, once a major ally; and a sputtering economy.
Last month, Pakistan was returned to a “gray list” by the Financial Action Task Force — a global body that fights terrorism financing — for not doing enough to counter Islamic extremists operating from its territory. The listing could affect the country’s ability to raise funds internationally. At the beginning of this year, the Trump administration cut more than $1 billion in annual security aid over Pakistan’s support for terrorist groups. (The Pakistani military denies supporting terrorists.) The military believes it can weather the storm by turning to China, which is spending some $65 billion on infrastructure and other projects in Pakistan, as well as doling out billions in loans. “The question the whole nation is asking is what does the army want and why this level of interference?” said Ahmed Rasheed, a foreign-policy analyst and author. Like others interviewed, Mr. Rasheed said he believed the military wanted a weak government, with the P.T.I. at the helm of an unwieldy alliance in Parliament.
While the PML-N, which held a supermajority in the last Parliament, may win the most votes, it will struggle to form a government if the military pressures potential coalition partners. Analysts say Mr. Khan’s party is likely to be able to form the next government by cobbling together a coalition with smaller parties and independents. But the military risks a severe backlash, Mr. Rasheed said, in part because social media has increased scrutiny of an institution once seen as sacrosanct.
“For the first time, not just the elite, but the public is now aware of the army’s major role,” Mr. Rasheed said. “It’s now talked about at the village level.”
When Gul Bukhari, a journalist and vocal critic of the military, was abducted in an army-controlled area of Lahore last month by unknown assailants, including men in military uniform, the news spread quickly online. Pakistanis took to social media, including Twitter, to demand that Ms. Bukhari be freed, and within hours she was returned home. Ms. Bukhari said the public outcry had played a large role in her quick release.
“It was a demonstration of the immense power of social media in our times,” she said in an interview.
The traditional news media have also stood up to the military, as happened this spring when the newspaper Dawn and the TV channel Geo News complained that their distribution was being disrupted in parts of the country that the military administers.
Many candidates are nervous about the military’s unusual decision to deploy some 371,000 soldiers to monitor the election, including inside polling stations. But Khurram Dastgir Khan, a PML-N candidate who was defense minister in the last government, said social media had made the military and its allies more careful about overt interference. “Things come out — they can’t be kept hidden anymore,” he said. “It’s unfeasible to use the draconian measures of two decades ago. Society has moved forward and technology has moved forward.”
There are no campaign posters in the Pakistani town of Rabwah, and no election rallies on its streets. Though they could be an influential bloc in a key electoral battleground, nearly 90 percent of its residents will not vote in a July 25 poll.
The people of Rabwah, in Punjab province, are predominantly Ahmadi Muslims, and abstain from elections due to what they say are discriminatory laws that target their minority sect. Pakistan’s election laws place Ahmadis on a separate voter registration list categorizing them as non-Muslim. Community leaders say this violates their right to religious self-identify as Muslim.
“It’s a matter of our faith so there can be no compromise on that,” community spokesman Salim Ud Din told Reuters.
Pakistan’s Election Commission did not respond to requests for comment. In a letter sent to Salim Ud Din, the commission said it was “following law which cannot be changed by the commission”.
Community leaders say anti-Ahmadi rhetoric has intensified in the lead-up to Wednesday’s general election, as politicians seek to shore up support among religiously conservative voters and head off the challenge posed by two new Islamist parties.
Last year, a row over proposed changes to the election law that would have eased some of the barriers on Ahmadis participating in elections saw the group denounced on the floor of Pakistan’s parliament, while one of the new Islamist parties held street protests.
The Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslims but their recognition of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the sect in British-ruled India in 1889, as a “subordinate prophet within the fold of Islam” is viewed by many of the Sunni majority as a breach of the Islamic tenet that the Prophet Mohammad was God’s last direct messenger.
By law they cannot call their places of worship mosques or distribute religious literature, recite the Koran or use traditional Islamic greetings, measures they say criminalize their daily lives.
A SENSE OF CITIZENSHIP
Syed Qamar Suleman Ahmad voted for the first and last time in the 1977 election.
Three years earlier the sect had been declared “non-Muslim” by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government. But Ahmad says he still voted for the PPP, because they fielded the best candidate in his constituency.
“Back then the election was still on the basis of being Pakistani, not on the basis of being Muslim,” he said. “There was a sense of excitement.”
Bhutto was overthrown and later hanged by military ruler General Zia ul Haq, whose government barred Ahmadis from identifying themselves as Muslim. Ahmad has not voted since.
Masood Ahmad Khalid, who last cast a ballot in 1970, remembers missing his bus and having to walk a long distance to the nearest polling station.
“My father was very particular about voting,” he recalls, adding that the right to vote reinforces a sense of citizenship. “It’s not about wanting to vote, it’s about being given my rights.”
Salim Ud Din released a statement on July 13 saying the Ahmadi community would once again be disassociating from the elections due to Pakistan’s discriminatory laws. “We have a very rich history of participating in politics,” he said, adding that Pakistan has allowed itself to be controlled by the religious right. Election observers believe if the country’s 500,000 Ahmadi were to participate, their vote could swing the results of more than 20 closely contested seats in Punjab, the most populous province where Pakistani elections are won and lost.
“They (the religious right) know we are an organized community, educated, so when we are involved we can have an influence,” Ud Din added.
One of the men buried in Rabwah’s well-manicured graveyard is Chaudhry Zafrulah Khan, Pakistan’s first foreign minister. Community members often refer to him, saying the country’s founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah chose an Ahmadi as Pakistan’s first representative to the world.
To comply with laws forbidding Ahmadis to identify as Muslim, the Ahmadi community have erased all Islamic inscriptions from Khan’s gravestone.
پاکستان پیپلزپارٹی کے چیئرمین بلاول بھٹو زرداری نے کہا ہے کہ وہ تمام قوتیں جو سمجھتی تھیں کہ بھٹو اور بے نظیر کی شہادت کے بعد پیپلز پارٹی ختم ہوگئی ، ملک بھر میں کامیاب ریلیاں ان قوتوں کو جواب ہے۔