Sunday, October 21, 2018
[Read Khashoggi’s last column for The Post before his disappearance] -Jamal Khashoggi: What the Arab world needs most is free expression
By Jamal Khashoggi
I was recently online looking at the 2018 “Freedom in the World” report published by Freedom House and came to a grave realization. There is only one country in the Arab world that has been classified as “free.” That nation is Tunisia. Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait come second, with a classification of “partly free.” The rest of the countries in the Arab world are classified as “not free.”
As a result, Arabs living in these countries are either uninformed or misinformed. They are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives. A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative. Sadly, this situation is unlikely to change.
The Arab world was ripe with hope during the spring of 2011. Journalists, academics and the general population were brimming with expectations of a bright and free Arab society within their respective countries. They expected to be emancipated from the hegemony of their governments and the consistent interventions and censorship of information. These expectations were quickly shattered; these societies either fell back to the old status quo or faced even harsher conditions than before.
My dear friend, the prominent Saudi writer Saleh al-Shehi, wrote one of the most famous columns ever published in the Saudi press. He unfortunately is now serving an unwarranted five-year prison sentence for supposed comments contrary to the Saudi establishment. The Egyptian government’s seizure of the entire print run of a newspaper, al-Masry al Youm, did not enrage or provoke a reaction from colleagues. These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.
As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate. There was a time when journalists believed the Internet would liberate information from the censorship and control associated with print media. But these governments, whose very existence relies on the control of information, have aggressively blocked the Internet. They have also arrested local reporters and pressured advertisers to harm the revenue of specific publications.
There are a few oases that continue to embody the spirit of the Arab Spring. Qatar’s government continues to support international news coverage, in contrast to its neighbors’ efforts to uphold the control of information to support the “old Arab order.” Even in Tunisia and Kuwait, where the press is considered at least “partly free,” the media focuses on domestic issues but not issues faced by the greater Arab world. They are hesitant to provide a platform for journalists from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen. Even Lebanon, the Arab world’s crown jewel when it comes to press freedom, has fallen victim to the polarization and influence of pro-Iran Hezbollah.
The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power. During the Cold War, Radio Free Europe, which grew over the years into a critical institution, played an important role in fostering and sustaining the hope of freedom. Arabs need something similar. In 1967, the New York Times and The Post took joint ownership of the International Herald Tribune newspaper, which went on to become a platform for voices from around the world.
My publication, The Post, has taken the initiative to translate many of my pieces and publish them in Arabic. For that, I am grateful. Arabs need to read in their own language so they can understand and discuss the various aspects and complications of democracy in the United States and the West. If an Egyptian reads an article exposing the actual cost of a construction project in Washington, then he or she would be able to better understand the implications of similar projects in his or her community.
The Arab world needs a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events. More important, we need to provide a platform for Arab voices. We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education. Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face.
By Fred Kaplan
The message is clear: You can get away with anything if you flatter Trump’s ego.America’s top diplomat has just told the world’s tyrants that they can do anything they want, even murder a prominent American resident, as long as they’re generous to President Trump.
The message was sent in the form of an official readout from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting on Tuesday with Saudi King Salman:
The Secretary thanked the King for Saudi Arabia’s strong partnership with the United States. The Saudi and the King discussed a number of regional and bilateral issues. The Secretary also thanked the King for his commitment to supporting a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation of Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Pompeo, you will recall, was dispatched to Riyadh to tell King Salman in no uncertain terms that he had to come clean on what happened to Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist who hasn’t been seen since Oct. 2, when he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. It is now all but certain that Khashoggi was tortured and killed.
Yet now we see—from the State Department readout and from the photos of the meeting, which show the secretary and the king shaking hands and smiling broadly—that Pompeo’s mission to Riyadh was nothing more, or less, than a visit of reassurance that everything will soon return to normal as long as the key players devise a cover story that isn’t quite 100 percent inconceivable (and 99.4 percent is good enough).
The story seems to have been written. It started with Trump’s remark that maybe Khashoggi was murdered by “rogue killers,” as if rogues could somehow infiltrate the Saudi Consulate. (Many on Twitter instantly wondered if these rogues were related to the 400-pound couch potato who, Trump once said, might have hacked into Hillary Clinton campaign’s emails.) Now the Saudis are putting out the word that Khashoggi was killed, but by accident, during an interrogation that went wrong. Even if one were disposed to believe this, it amounts to an admission that he was tortured—which, by itself, is nothing that a U.S. president should shrug off.
So why, in her readout, did Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, refer to Khashoggi’s “disappearance” and sign off on the incredible notion that the king will conduct a “thorough, transparent, and timely investigation”—much less thank him for the pledge?
The readout is a disgrace from top to bottom. The U.S.-Saudi “partnership” has been in decline, and properly so, for years. It was founded on nothing more than our dependence on their oil; the dependence has long passed, a reassessment of the relationship is overdue, and the Khashoggi incident should be the occasion for that reset—not for another round of bonhomie and gratitude.
As for the “number of regional and bilateral issues” that the two discussed, some “transparency” would be welcome here. Presumably it involved new, less blatant ways of bombing Yemen and plotting regime change in Iran—the two main pillars of our “partnership” these days. It is time for Congress to step in and cut off sales of ammunition now.
Lest people suspect Trump has personal motives for brushing this under the rug, he went out of his way Thursday morning to tweet, “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter).” Trump has always framed this denial in uncharacteristically careful language—he doesn’t have financial interests in Saudi Arabia or Russia. He has never disputed reports that the Saudis and Russians have investments in him.
At a 2015 campaign rally, Trump boasted of the Saudis, “They buy apartments from me. They spent $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much!” CNN recently reported that a Saudi lobbying firm paid Trump’s hotel in Washington more than $270,000 for stays in the five-month period between October 2016 and March 2017. The Washington Post reported that Trump’s hotels in New York and Chicago have had a rush of visitors from Saudi Arabia in recent months.
Then there is the blatant button pushing. The Saudi royals feted Trump with plush carpets, sword dances, and a major arms deal during his first visit there—which was also the first foreign trip of his presidency. The deal listed $15 billion worth of U.S. arms, not $110 billion, as Trump has claimed, and only $4 billion worth of actual contracts have been signed. Even so, it’s worth noting that one purpose of U.S. arms sales over the decades has been to bind the customer to America’s geopolitical interests—not the other way around.
The Pompeo episode fits a pattern. Trump has shrugged off North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s heinous treatment of his own people, saying that he’s a “tough guy” who took over a “tough country,” and, besides, he’s written Trump “beautiful letters.” At a rally not long ago, Trump said of his relationship with the Pyongyang dictator, “We fell in love.”
Trump has also discounted the murder of Russian ex-spies, at the hands of current Russian spies, on British soil, noting that the killings didn’t take place in the United States. So much for close allies, so much for international law, so much for values of any sort that transcend a buck and a round of genuflection, however disingenuous.
And so much for the notion that a secretary of state should pursue interests broader or deeper than those of the president’s all-too-malleable ego. Many of Pompeo’s predecessors have treated the Saudis with more respect than was warranted, but, even at the height of our oil dependency, few would have bowed quite so deeply as he did in his meeting on Tuesday with the king. President George W. Bush let a planeload of Saudi citizens make a quick exit from the United States in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, when most other planes were grounded, but neither he nor Condoleezza Rice thanked them for their service on the way out.
BY FRED KAPLAN
This month, for the first time, the U.S. armed forces are
recruiting young men and women who weren’t yet born when the invasion of Afghanistan took place.
The war has been going on for 17 years now (17-year-olds can enlist with parental consent), making it the longest war in American history. Yet we are no closer than we have ever been to accomplishing our objectives, in part because those objectives have been so sketchily, inconsistently, and unrealistically defined.
In fact, the Taliban is gaining strength; other jihadist groups, including ISIS and a revivified al-Qaida, are joining the fight (against the Afghan government, Western forces, and the Taliban); the Afghan Army is suffering casualties at an alarming rate; the chaos is spiraling to unsustainable levels.
Just Thursday, a gunman wearing an Afghan Army uniform opened fire at a security meeting in a government compound, killing two top provincial governors, wounding three U.S. officers, and just missing the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, who was the apparent target of the attack.
There is no road to victory in sight. And there probably never was one.
It is worth recalling how we got to this point. One month after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a combination of CIA commandos, U.S. special forces, and Afghan guerrillas—backed by brand-new smart bombs—overthrew the Taliban government, which had given sanctuary to Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist group. That December, at a conference in Bonn, Germany, Western leaders installed Hamid Karzai, an Afghan who had spent years in exile, as the interim leader of a Western-style centralized government in Kabul.That may have been the original sin in our policy. Afghanistan—a mountainous, sparsely populated, largely illiterate country, where power has long resided with local or regional tribesmen or warlords—seems inherently ill-suited for that form of government.The second, and ultimately larger sin occurred shortly after the Taliban’s ouster, when President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared that the war was won and done—and refocused their attention, and resources, on the impending invasion of Iraq.
As it turned out, Taliban and al-Qaida forces hadn’t quite left the premises. Meanwhile, the Karzai government had a predictably hard time securing its hold and providing basic services. The loyalty of the people was up for grabs, as were large chunks of territory, and the Islamist militias contested them.
In 2006, the U.S. turned over its ever-dwindling military operation to NATO—whose leaders were looking to take on a new kind of mission in the post–Cold War era and thought Afghanistan might be a testing ground. These allies thought they were signing up as “peacekeepers.” Yet when they sent their troops out on patrol, the Taliban came out to fight. Suddenly, each country in the coalition insisted on “waivers,” dozens of them, all told. One country would send air support but not ground troops, another would fight on the defense but not the offense—resulting in a fragmented, feckless command structure. A small contingent of U.S. forces, fighting al-Qaida militias on the eastern border with Pakistan, stayed independent of NATO and killed lots of terrorists, but this had little effect on the shape and security of Afghanistan.During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama depicted Iraq as the bad war and Afghanistan as the lamentably ignored good war, and pledged to pull out of the former while doing more in the latter. In his first months in office, he held 10 meetings with his National Security Council to decide on an Afghan war policy. Critics accused him of indecisiveness, but a bigger factor was bureaucratic incoherence. At one meeting, an official suggested that the U.S. support effective provincial governors rather than the central apparatus in Kabul. Obama asked which provinces could best use the support. No one knew, so he scheduled another meeting and told the officials to find out the answer by then.
The big debate in those meetings was between those who argued that we should merely supply and train the Afghan Army, using U.S. forces only to fight al-Qaida terrorists on the Pakistan border, and those who argued that we should wage an intense counterinsurgency campaign. COIN (as the term was abbreviated) would require a larger U.S. military presence and a huge aid-and-advisory effort to help Karzai run an effective government. The idea was to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people by providing them with security and services. Then, support for the Taliban would melt away.
All of Obama’s military advisers recommended a COIN strategy, which they estimated would require an additional 40,000 U.S. troops. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates were the main advocates of the limited approach, which would take only 10,000 more troops. Then Gates changed his mind, persuaded by the COIN side’s arguments, and the debate was over.
However, in a final meeting in December 2009, just with Gates and the top officers, Obama asked whether they were confident that, with the COIN strategy and the extra troops, they could help the Afghan Army control more than half the provinces within 18 months. If you’re not confident, he said, I’ll go with Biden’s approach. If you are confident, keep in mind, this is all you’re going to get. If the experiment doesn’t work after 18 months, I’ll stop the strategy and withdraw the surge troops. Everyone present said they were confident—though, in fact, most of them were not. Historically, COIN campaigns take years to achieve their goals, if they work at all, but the advisers figured that they’d at least make enough progress after 18 months to convince Obama to give them a few more brigades.
Exactly 18 months later, Obama announced that he was ending COIN and pulling out the surge troops. Publicly he said that he was doing so because they’d succeeded, citing the killing of Bin Laden in Pakistan (an operation that had no relation whatsoever to the COIN campaign in Afghanistan). But his advisers knew—and were shocked—that he was merely making good on his promise: He wasn’t giving them the few more brigades that they’d requested.
Obama reverted basically to the Biden plan. Shortly before leaving office, he decided to keep 8,000 troops in Afghanistan, as a counterterrorism force for the region, without any illusions that it would help build Afghanistan itself into a more stable or prosperous country.Critics say Obama made a strategic error by publicly announcing when he planned to withdraw the surge troops; this put the Taliban on notice that they could simply wait out the United States, then step up the fight after we’d gone. Theoretically, the critics had a point. But in fact, the Taliban put up a very fierce fight during those 18 months; they showed no sign of hanging back.By contrast, President Donald Trump announced in August 2017 that he was sending a few thousand more troops to Afghanistan and imposed no timetable for their withdrawal; they might stay there forever. This has had no effect on the Taliban’s behavior either.It is likely that no U.S. military campaign—whether based on COIN, counterterrorism, or some other principle—would have much chance of success, and this has been clear for nearly a decade. Early on in the Obama phase of the war, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the main obstacle was “clearly the lack of legitimacy of the government.” Sen. Lindsey Graham asked, “We could send a million troops and that wouldn’t restore legitimacy in the government?” Mullen answered, “That is correct.”
Corruption has long been endemic in Afghanistan. The centralized government, with presidentially appointed governors relying on bribery and patronage, intensified the problem. The flood of money swooshing around the country in the form of U.S. aid—billions of dollars, worth more than Afghanistan’s GDP—only exacerbated the problem. In some cases, ineffectual governors paid the Taliban not to attack their provinces—meaning U.S. aid was subsidizing the Taliban.
Mullen and Gen. David Petraeus, when he was a commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, frequently said that the war could not be won by military force alone, that there would have to be a political settlement. They also argued that the U.S., NATO, and Afghan forces needed to rack up a series of tactical successes, in order to negotiate from a “position of strength.” The problem was that these big successes were never achieved, nor were any preparations made for peace talks, in the event of some moment of dominance.
The main problem was that the U.S. officers and officials running Afghan policy didn’t know much about Afghanistan. On at least one occasion, they opened tentative peace talks with somebody claiming to be a Taliban leader who wasn’t one at all. They launched drone strikes on native Afghan Taliban militias, who were fighting for myriad motives, making no distinction between them and foreign jihadists—much less exploring ways to drive a wedge between the factions.During the height of the COIN period, they tried to help the Afghan government provide basic services to the population. But David Kilcullen, a former infantry soldier and COIN scholar who advised U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, says they would have done better helping provide justice. In areas where they are in control, the Taliban has set up its own courts, highway checkpoints, and recruitment centers—all of which, Kilcullen says, are viewed by local people as fairer and less corrupt than those operated by the Afghan government.When Trump came into office, he was inclined to pull the remaining 8,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. He wound up adding another 5,000 (though without announcing the precise number). His national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, helped clinch the deal by showing him a photo from the 1970s of some women in Kabul wearing miniskirts—as if that proved Afghanistan could once again be a normal country. Secretary of Defense James Mattis also briefed him on what he depicted as a “new strategy”—pounding the enemy, relaxing the rules of engagement, and integrating diplomatic, economic, and military power to achieve victory—when, in fact, this was nothing new and certain key terms, for instance victory, were left undefined. More than a year after his escalation, nothing in Afghanistan has changed, except that the Afghan Army is shredding and the deaths are on the rise. Bob Woodward’s book, Fear, quotes Trump telling aides that he should have stuck to his instincts—though he hasn’t since acted on his regrets either.So, what to do? Most analysts, on all sides of the issue, agree that simply pulling out would spark disaster—anarchy, civil war, the return of a terrorist regime, the strengthening of ISIS—in a region of nuclear powers and great instability already.
A negotiated settlement is the only way out. The Taliban seem disinclined to negotiate at the moment, since they’re winning on the battlefield. But they might be lured to peace talks if the reward were sufficiently enticing, and the only reward that might bring them is the prospect of a U.S. withdrawal—though not an unconditional withdrawal. Afghanistan is a nexus of international interests and intrigue. China, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan all have geopolitical and economic interests in its future. America’s relations with all four countries are dismal at the moment; yet, we depend on at least one of them at any given time for basing and overflight rights to supply our troops there—which means it isn’t entirely out of the question to work with at least two or three to contrive a peace.
China, which has investments in Afghan copper mines, has offered to help train troops to fight off jihadists, if just to protect its mercantilist interests. So has, to a lesser extent, Russia. Washington has resisted on both counts, not wanting to share the territory. This is shortsighted. China, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan all have their reasons to oppose a jihadist-controlled Afghanistan, and—whatever our other issues—we should form an international conference, perhaps mediated by a U.N. agency or some other neutral power, on Afghanistan’s final status. This would have to be done with Pashtun, Tajik, and other ethnic factions, as well as with elements of the Taliban—which, unlike al-Qaida and ISIS, is made up of local Afghans. (If we were to look at Afghanistan with fresh eyes, as if the past 17 years hadn’t taken place, we might well view the Taliban—preferably a Taliban embedded in a multiethnic Afghan political order—as an ally of convenience in the fight against ISIS.)
Timetables would have to be set, with benchmarks and step-by-step measures of Western military withdrawal and internal political settlement. If we get closed out of mineral rights, if the process ends up strengthening the bonds among Russia, China, and Iran, well, so be it. Afghanistan isn’t likely to settle into a land of harmony for many years. Let someone else take up the burden.
By Madeeha Anwar
A delegation from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global financial watchdog monitoring terror financing and money laundering, has reportedly expressed dissatisfaction with what it called inadequate measures Pakistan has taken to curb terror financing and fix anti-money-laundering laws.
The nine-member delegation of the Asia Pacific Group (APG), an FATF entity that overlooks Asian countries, concluded its 12-day visit to Pakistan on Friday after meeting officials from the country’s ministries of finance and foreign affairs as well as the central bank to assess Pakistan’s progress and compliance with the FATF’s recommendations.
In its report presented to Pakistani authorities Friday, APG reportedly pointed to problems in the country’s legal system and urged Pakistan to address inadequacies in the supervision of nonprofit and charitable organizations.
The APG’s recent findings will also be submitted to the FATF’s main headquarters, which will evaluate Pakistan’s progress and decide whether the country should remain on the FATF’s gray list or be removed next year following measures taken by Pakistan to address the global watchdog’s concerns.
Pakistan was placed on the FATF’s gray list in June over its alleged failure to comply with the global watchdog’s guidelines to crack down on terror financing.
Islamabad was placed on the gray list before, in 2012, where it remained until 2015.
Effects on economy
Some economists in Pakistan fear that the country’s continued failure to satisfy the FATF’s demands could mean the country runs the risk of being moved from the gray list to the black list. They also fear such an action would undermine Pakistan’s fragile economy, which is facing a debt crisis.
“Pakistan’s economy right now is no doubt in a fragile state. Pakistan is seeking help from IMF and fighting to get out of the gray list. If Pakistan remains unsuccessful in satisfying the APG body, there could be consequences, and there are chances the country could be placed on the black list,” Muhammad Zubair Habib, a Karachi-based economist, told VOA.
Earlier this month, Pakistan sought financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help address some of its economic challenges.
Ayub Mehar, another Pakistani economist, told VOA he believes the real problem lies in Pakistan’s banking sector and its existing infrastructure, which has known loopholes that allow militant groups to launder money.
“The team specifically mentioned the flaws in our organized banking system, financial markets, investment in the stock market and the corporate sector. They have pointed towards the lack of enforcement mechanism against the money-laundering and terror-financing channels,” Mehar said.
“Pakistan’s banking system has improved immensely, and one cannot open an account without biometrics and certain verifications,” he said. “But it’s the old bank accounts of individuals and organizations that need to get verified, too, as they were opened before this new system.”
Some analysts, such as Waqar Masood, who once served as Pakistan’s secretary of finance, believe the problem is not a lack of new laws but rather enforcement of existing laws.
“The main problem is not the laws, but the forceful implementation of these existing laws. If Pakistan is serious to get out of the gray list, the country will have to ensure to forcefully implement the laws,” Masood told VOA.
Over the past year, Pakistan has passed new legislation to combat money laundering and terror financing in an effort to show that Islamabad is taking the FATF’s concerns seriously.
In June, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), the country’s national financial body, introduced the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Regulations.
SECP also banned individuals and groups placed on terror watch lists by Pakistan and the U.N. Security Council from collecting funds.
The legislation allowed Pakistan to halt the operations of the U.N.- and U.S.-designated terror groups Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), both linked to Hafiz Saeed, who is a U.S.-designated global terrorist accused of orchestrating the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that killed more than 160 people, including six Americans.
But many analysts accuse Pakistan of being selective in its attention to militants and their financial networks, alleging that Islamabad cracks down on militants that pose a threat to Pakistan while overlooking other groups that operate outside the country. Pakistan has denied such allegations.
Terror financing remains a big challenge in Pakistan. The terror groups allegedly continue to collect large sums of money in the name of religion and welfare for the poor.
The militant outfits also use foreign funding, drug trafficking, extortion from businesses and kidnapping for ransom as ways to generate wealth.
The terror groups also depend on the Hawala system, a parallel banking system, to launder their money, which according to some analysts is not adequately scrutinized by authorities.
“There is no doubt Pakistan has introduced substantial reforms in its banking sector over the past few years. The problem is not the banking system, but the other informal money channels the terror groups continue to use easily,” Pakistani economist Mehar said.
- Terrorists have to be deprived of financial support
No Pakistani administration likes the country to be put on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). But each one has stopped short of taking appropriate measures to stem money laundering and terror financing. Early this year a Pakistani delegation had apprised the FATF of steps Islamabad had taken in the desired direction. These were considered unsatisfactory and the country put on the list in June.
In July the National Security Committee (NSC) made a high-level political commitment to combating terrorism financing and approved the new action plan submitted by the government to FATF. In August, soon after being appointed finance minister, Asad Umar told the Senate that FATF had given Pakistan 15 months to comply with its requirements. The minister said the inter-governmental organisation had identified 27 deficiencies in Pakistan’s financial system, including currency smuggling, hawala and terror financing of proscribed organisations. He promised in the house that the government would be addressing all the objections raised not only to satisfy the international community but also because it was in Pakistan’s own interest to get rid of terrorism financing.
On Friday the delegation of the Asia-Pacific Group (APG), an arm of the FATF, made damaging observations about Pakistan’s performance vis-a-vis blocking the terrorist funding. It presented a long list of deficiencies .The APG concluded that with this pace Pakistan was unlikely to get out of the grey list.
During the last few years confidence has grown among certain quarters that they can turn a blind eye to the activities of certain “banned groups” as they receive donations and continue violent activities under different names. Some of these groups are even being mainstreamed to provide them political legitimacy. The false sense of immunity should have been shattered after close allies China and Saudi Arabia sided with FATF members who voted to grey list Pakistan. Keeping the eyes closed to ground realities will further isolate the country and might even bring international sanctions. This will be against the interests of the common people who want peace and stability in Pakistan and friendly relations with the countries in the region.
The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has lost the PK-71 seat to Awami National Party (ANP) in Peshawar. ANP’s Salahuddin won the by-election, securing 11,257 votes with his rival candidate from PTI, Zulfiqar Khan managing to bag 9,854 votes. Independent candidate Dildar Khan came third with 5,409 votes, according to unofficial results. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had announced by-elections on the Peshawar seat after The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Shah Farman assumed charge as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governor. PK-71 (Peshawar VI) A total of five candidates were contesting for the slot, however a close contest is expected between Awami National Party’s (ANP) Salahuddin Mohmand and PTI’s Zulfiqar Ali – the brother of Shah Farman. The ANP candidate was being supported by an alliance of different political parties, including Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), PPP and Mutahhida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). A total of 86 polling stations have been established across the constituency, where 133,451 voters – 79,836 men and 53,615 women – will cast their votes.
The current political standing of PML-N is thus; the president of PML- N and former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif is in jail while his brother and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif faces an uncertain future.
Out on bail, he awaits judicial enquiry and trial over his alleged unexplained wealth divulged by the Panama leak. However, the party’s lowest point had been not so much the trials of the party bigwigs being charged for corruption and misuse of power, but of losing Punjab to PTI. Despite numbers, it failed to cobble together a government in the province, its seat of power following the general election in July this year. For the PML-N this might have sounded a death knell.
"Get Punjab, get control"
There is a saying in Pakistan, familiar to those who are well versed with the murky politics here, that – get Punjab and you get control. Strange as it might sound, history has proven that an opposition government in Punjab is any premier’s nightmare.
Hence, for any political party it is crucial to have one’s government in Punjab for its survival at the centre, or less dramatically, for it to function smoothly."Flashback to the late Benazir Bhutto’s tenure as prime minister and the constant headache and political manoeuvring engineered by the Sharifs in Punjab. Punjab was their fiefdom and remained so for the past many decades, with the exception of losing ground in Musharraf’s tenure.
If we look at the July 2018 scenario, we find the Sharifs traumatised and shaken by the corruption allegations, breakaway dissidents, lack of leadership or direction and the alleged power tussles within the party preceding the elections.
Not to forget the widespread allegations of electoral rigging in July not just by the PML-N but the PPP and other parties. Consequently, the PML-N lost ground to PTI. Losing Punjab despite having adequate numbers in the Punjab assembly because of aggressive PTI hustling and cobbling together a coalition, an effort Machiavelli would have been proud of, served a bigger humiliation for the Sharifs’. Punjab, it seemed was done and dusted with.
PML-N looking for a lifeline
Thus, any victory, however small in the by-election would be a lifeline at this point. Especially, if there is any chance of regaining Punjab. This is a real possibility as PML-N gains numbers in the assembly and, if, the party displays acumen and political dexterity in fanning dissent, in the form of disgruntled members already sniffing around to unseat Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar. PML-N could succeed in clawing its way up again.
Even if such a possibility does not materialise, it could recoup and form a formidable opposition to Buzdar’s government in the province. Shahbaz’s untimely arrest before the by-election also induced sympathy for the PML-N in Punjab and went in its favour in the by-polls.
The Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s justification behind PTI’s loss to PML-N in the by-election because of premier Imran Khan’s inability to canvass should serve a reminder to PTI for its political future. For, Chaudhry spells out what many believe, that the PTI is a personality-led Khan show. Many would argue the same for PML-N and PPP – that has never been able to muster the strength and national vote bank after the loss of Benazir Bhutto.
In Pakistan, personality driven politics and dynastic rule still rules the roost despite the changes evident in the political system brought about by social media driven campaigns, growing awareness among the lower income groups, and defeat of many political heirs in the last election. The political system cannot be simply relegated to neat compartmentalisation. The very same commanding personalities are fallible and their success subjective to several intermeshed dynamics. Pakistan’s powerful military for one.
It is also hard to ignore the alleged rigging of July blamed on the army despite the rejoinders issued by the Inter Services Public Relations Pakistan [ISPR]. The by-election is being hailed as vindication of the alleged rigging charges by the opposition that has now re-emerged in strength. However, if PTI numbers were boosted by help from other ‘sources’ in the general election why was it not thus helped in the by-polls?
It could be that those ‘sources’ believed that a clean sweep was necessary to break the PML-N and ensure a majority PTI government in July but once the PTI was in place it would be able to secure the few seats being contested in the by-polls. The other objective of the July polls might have been to ‘help’ a compliant Khan desperate for power after a long arduous struggle and to once and for all cripple the old guard. This does not mean that PTI lacked any strength or that the public were not desirous of a change of political leadership among the people. But the way the electoral process was conducted in July was dubious to say the least.
And, as Chaudhry also noted in the case of Khan, personality led politics is a strong factor. The same goes for PML-N and PPP now being steadily reinvigorated after years by Bilawal Bhutto.
Power play in Pakistan is all about balance
Any political savvy knows how crucial it is to maintain good ties with the military, the most powerful institution in the country. Despite the outward adherence to democratic norms, the balance of power between the executive, the judiciary and the military has been fragile and tricky. All three need to be on board for formation of foreign policy, defence, governance and law and order. A head of state that knows how to balance this would be ideal, the problem is that power injects wilfulness and defiance. And thus, the circus begins.
Khan’s egoism and zero tolerance for advice leave alone diktat is legendary. Instead of baring fangs at opponents, PTI should focus on the economy and governance. Blaming past government policies while crying hoarse about its magic economy revival plan this past year has not helped either.
For now, the PTI should draw a lesson from its own victory and consequent defeat for its constituency is derived on idealism and promises of deliverance.
Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal on Saturday said that the government has no real economic policy other than hiking prices.