The Supreme Court of Pakistan has fired a volley at the beleaguered civilian government. In its latest decision, the Court announced that "The Government is not taking interest to observe the order for the last two years," adding that "the Court has taken an oath to defend the Constitution. The Prime Minister respected the party over the Constitution."
"The Order" the Court is referring to is a 2009 ruling overturning an amnesty agreement, known as the National Reconciliation Ordinance, that prevented President Asif Ali Zardari and hundreds of other politicians from being prosecuted for corruption. The agreement was signed into law in 2007 by then-President Pervez Musharraf to ease Benazir Bhutto's return to the country and enter into a power-sharing deal.
To an outside observer, the Court's decision is an encouraging sign that the country's judiciary is at last taking a stand against corruption. That the Court would warn Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that disregarding the order might disqualify him from office was something of a milestone. The reality, however, is more complex — as are most official acts in Pakistan.
The PPP government that rode to victory following the shocking assassination of its leader Benazir Bhutto in December of 2007 was in a strong position to address and resolve the what had been the most serious threats to democracy since the country's founding: affirming the power of the civilian government and establishing of the rule of law across the board. Despite the support of the people and the good will of the international community, Pakistan's leaders instead chose to punt, presumably to give the fragile government time to establish itself after a decade of military rule. While the Court's ruling highlights just one decision that was not implemented, there are numerous other examples of other pressing matters that stalled or were swept under the rug, including the investigation into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and failing to appeal the blasphemy law. The PPP's Salman Taseer was gunned down in broad daylight by a member of his own security detail because he was very vocal against this black law.
The PPP government that now is playing the victim card had many chances to put the all-powerful army and notorious ISI in their place. The party instead preferred to opt for political survival. In 2008, an attempt was made to bring the ISI under Ministry of Interior, but the decision was taken back almost immediately. A few months later the Army Chief and the DG ISI were asked to remain in their positions. In fact PM Gilani recently admitted that he actually "begged" the men to stay. The next day he backed down from this embarrassing revelation. The Osama bin Laden saga provided the government an opportunity on a silver platter to exert its power over the military. Even the Army and ISI's most ardent supporters were brutally critical and demanding accountability and forceful action. Again, the civilian government snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Meanwhile the PM and his cabinet members benefited from dumb luck. Gilani, an exceptionally corrupt and incompetent leader, has been spared the withering scrutiny and criticism that has focused on Pakistan's notorious President Zardari. The government largely ignored the country's escalating woes. The nation has been plagued with a shortage of natural gas, electricity and petroleum; a crumbling railway network; a near-dead national airline and other industries teetering at the brink of a total shut down, all owing to the mismanagement of the government. The only growth in Pakistan has been poverty, lawlessness, terrorism and cynicism.
Each crisis exposed the bipolar character of Pakistani society. Instead of respecting the rule of law, the government changed the subject by responding the criticism by appealing to nationalism by standing up for the country's "sovereignty" or adopting the attitude of "if you're not with us you're against us." The latest example of the government's unwillingness to take responsibility, even if the outcome results in embarrassment, is the imbroglio dubbed Memogate, that led to the very public resignation of former Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani. The Ambassador, who has a reputation for being too clever by half and is also known for switching sides, had long been the object of lurid fascination in Pakistan, viewed with suspicion, jealousy and resentment. He was known for his gasconade of having kept the U.S.-Pakistan relationship from falling apart. He is accused of conspiring with a wealthy Pakistani-American, Mansoor Ijaz, of appealing to the U.S. government to intervene in the event of a coup. Now residing in the Prime Minister's house surrounded by tight security while awaiting the outcome of an investigation, Haqqani says he fears for his life. It's worth mentioning that there are 180 million Pakistanis who fear for their lives on a daily basis, without the provision of the amenities that the former ambassador enjoys.
Whether the investigation of the circumstances surrounding the notorious memo should be handled by the courts or the parliament is a valid issue that remains the subject of much debate. What is abundantly clear is that this is a scandal that cannot be swept under the rug. Intense media interest has exposed a government in chaos and paralyzed by inaction. Vicious internal politics have left the president, the prime minister, the Supreme Court, opposition parties, the Army and the agencies jostling for position.
Meanwhile the political crisis has thrown the sharp divisions in Pakistani society into stark relief. Seething public anger is being exacerbated by opportunists exploiting mass frustration and resentment. If you express pro-U.S. views you are labeled an agent, anti-Islamic and anti-Pakistan. But if you say that Memogate is an a issue that needs to be resolved then you are seen as pro-military, anti-democratic and aligned with sinister forces wishing to bring the PPP government down. In its attempt to play the victim, the government has resorted to a tried and true strategy: Blaming the media and suggesting that the mess is one big conspiracy. The Army Chief, interestingly, agrees that there's a conspiracy – against the army.
The Memogate story is more than just another Pakistani intrigue. The impression of a President resorting to appealing to American officials to rescue him from his own army is one of weakness, a desperate man hanging by a thread. The government officials on one hand claim that they will not allow a state with in a state, and on the other that they have good relations with the army.
If the government is running scared, they have themselves to blame. If the people's elected representatives had taken advantage of the many opportunities to stand up for the rule of law, civilian authority and democracy, they could have commanded the loyalty of the public as well as the respect of the international community. Now fearing the decision from the Apex court on the 'Memo' issue and orders to implement NRO-related decision have cornered the government. The PPP government, with all its incompetence and mismanagement, wants to fall victim. Because of years of inaction and putting the interests of politicians over the people they were elected to serve, Pakistan's weak child of a democracy could succumb to the common cold. And the public will pay again.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this writing are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of League of India, its Editorial Board or the business and socio-political interests that they might represent.
This article was first published at Huffington Post here
Swaraj to Embark on China and Mongolia Visits
China had earlier said that the visit of the External Affairs Minister will further enhance political trust between the two countries.
NEW DELHI: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is leaving for China today on a 4-day visit. She will participate in a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
She will hold talks with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi tomorrow. This will be Swaraj’s first meeting with Wang after he was elevated last month to be the state councillor.
China had earlier said that the upcoming visit of the External Affairs Minister will further enhance political trust between the two countries.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying had said that the visit would also elevate the China-India strategic cooperation partnership.
Sushma Swaraj will be also on a two-day visit to Mongolia from 25th of this month. This will be the first visit of Swaraj to Mongolia. The last visit of Indian External Affairs Minister to Mongolia was 42 years ago.
During her visit, Swaraj will co-chair the 6th round of India-Mongolia Joint Consultative Committee meeting, IMJCC, with Foreign Minister Tsogtbaatar, covering a range of issues including, inter alia, political, strategic, economic, educational and cultural ties. The last meeting of IMJCC was held in New Delhi in 2016.
During her visit, the Minister will also deliver the keynote address at the Kushok Bakula Birth Centenary Celebrations in Ulaanbaatar commemorating the birth anniversary of Late Venerable Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, a highly revered Buddhist leader and monk from Ladakh, India and a former Ambassador of India to Mongolia.
Bakula Rinpoche as the longest-serving Indian Ambassador to Mongolia made a seminal contribution to the promotion of India-Mongolia ties.
Oli’s India visit: Resetting Bilateral Relations for Mutual Benefit
The principal purpose of the visit was to remove the mistrust that had emerged in the bilateral relations.
After a brief interlude of turbulent bilateral relations starting September 2015, a U-turn appears to have been effected in India-Nepal relations after the December 2017 elections in Nepal. Prime Minister Modi congratulated the top three political leaders of Nepal over the telephone on December 21 for holding the elections successfully.
Exactly a month later, he congratulated the UML chairman and then PM-in-waiting KP Sharma Oli over the UML-led left alliance attaining a majority in Parliament and offered India’s unconditional support for and commitment to work with the new government in Kathmandu.
As part of confidence-building measures, on February 1, Modi sent External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as special envoy to discuss bilateral relations with the left alliance leaders, and especially with Oli. Media reports indicated that the Swaraj visit took place upon a special request from Oli to Modi. During that visit, Swaraj conveyed Modi’s message and also invited Oli to undertake an official visit to New Delhi after assuming office.
The U-turn culminated in Prime Minister Oli’s three-day official visit to New Delhi starting April 6. The visit is widely rated as most successful and historical. In contrast to Oli’s previous visit in February 2016, as well as to the visits made by Prachanda and Deuba in September 2016 and August 2017, respectively, the current visit of Oli has been characterised as remarkably different.
First, Oli was received at the airport by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who is second in rank in the Modi cabinet.
Second, not only was Oli’s first foreign visit to India but even his first official meeting as PM took place with Indian business leaders on which occasion he invited Indian investors to Nepal.
Third, the two leaders held a one-on-one meeting for over one hour at Modi’s residence before the delegation level meeting. Such one-on-one meetings rarely happen during visits of high level delegations to India.
Fourth, other than the 12-point regular joint statement, three special statements on agriculture, rail linkages up to Kathmandu, and inland waterways were issued during the visit.
Fifth, for the first time in the last three years, the joint statement did not mention internal issues of Nepal such as amendments to the new constitution, the inclusion of minorities, Madhesi, etc.
Last, but not the least, both leaders found synchronization between their favourite development frameworks – ‘Sabka Sath Sabka Bikas’ and ‘Samriddha Nepal Sukhi Nepali’.
Purpose of the Visit:
The principal purpose of the visit was to remove the mistrust that had emerged in bilateral relations in the wake of Nepal’s adoption of the new constitution and India’s reservations about some of its provisions.
The relationship had reached a new low when Nepal unilaterally recalled its ambassador and cancelled its President’s India visit in May 2016.
A thaw emerged only after the completion of the Parliamentary elections in December 2017.
While addressing Nepal’s Parliament before his three-day India visit, Oli said that “the visit is aimed at deepening the relations that have subsisted between Nepal and India since ages.”
From the Nepali point of view, the other purposes of the visit could have been to seek India’s support for economic development, move forward on the implementation of past agreements and ensure a mutually cooperative relationship.
Nepal also wanted to re-frame its bilateral relationship with India in the context of recent domestic and regional developments.
Mutual Feeling to Mend Relations:
For its part, India too undertook unilateral steps towards course-correction. This, despite all those internal issues in Nepal that had created the rift in bilateral relations remaining unaddressed.
There could be many reasons for India’s course correction.
First, since India values democracy, Modi personally felt that the public mandate in favour of the UML-led left alliance needs to be respected and that India should support institution building in Nepal under a popular government.
Second, this realization in New Delhi may have also been occasioned by changes at the bureaucratic level — those officials who dealt with Nepal affairs ever since the constitutional promulgation process had left their desks in the foreign office and agencies from March 2017 onwards. It is possible that new officials posted in key positions and tasked with following Nepal perhaps started looking at the bilateral relationship from a different perspective.
Third, domestically, Modi came under tremendous pressure to improve relations with neighbouring countries and especially with Nepal with which India shares a multi-layered relationship. The Indian media was particularly critical of Modi’s Nepal policy in the post-constitution period.
Fourth, the more than 70% voter turnout and the active participation of Madhesis and Janajatis in Nepal’s three-level elections – local, provincial and federal – under the new constitution forced India to revisit its earlier position, shed reservations on the constitution and modify policy towards Nepal.
Even as India reached out to the new government in Kathmandu, the Oli government had its own reasons to respond positively to the Indian overtures.
First, it needed massive developmental assistance to fulfil its poll promises like roads, rural electrification, drinking water, irrigation, jobs, hospitals, industrial zones, railways and airports.
Despite China’s increasing economic cooperation with Nepal, India continues to remain Nepal’s largest trading and business partner.
Further, India is the only transit country for Nepal’s third country trade despite having signed a transit agreement with China in March 2016.
Second, the Oli government also realized the requirement for massive funds to implement federalism through the creation of the necessary administrative infrastructure in the provincial capitals.
Since China opposed federalism in Nepal, the Oli government was not sure about receiving Chinese financial support for that purpose.
Therefore, it decided to explore the prospects for India’s support in this regard. And third, politically, Oli might have felt that rapprochement with India could prevent the formation of a non-UML government in Kathmandu given the slow progress in the unification of the two left parties and intra-party factionalism in the UML. If such a situation were to unfold, Oli could seek the support of the Terai-based parties to remain in power.
Therefore, despite winning the elections on a nationalist plank by projecting India as an interfering neighbour, Oli chose New Delhi as his first port of call. He was well aware of India’s obsession about every new Nepali PM undertaking the first official visit to India. He could undertake the visit with confidence without being apprehensive of its fall-out on Nepal’s relationship with China because the latter, in a statement issued in March 2018, appreciated Nepal’s effort towards adopting an independent foreign policy and “developing friendly and positive relations with its neighbours.”
Earlier, China had also advised Nepal to maintain good relations with India. Chinese analysts argue that such a rapprochement between New Delhi and Kathmandu could create the ground for trilateral cooperation and successful implementation of BRI projects in the Himalayas.
No doubt, the purposes of the visit have been achieved and a new phase of relationship has begun with India acknowledging Nepal as an ‘equal partner’. While the visit has set a new tone in the relationship, it has also brought fresh challenges to the fore in terms of each country addressing the other’s concerns.
Certainly, the challenges are more for India than they are for Nepal. There is a trust deficit in Nepal because of the Indian reputation for delaying implementation of various projects. This has sent a wrong message to Nepal that the delays are deliberate.
After Oli’s latest visit, which has created new expectations in Nepal, India needs to seriously address this problem of delivery-lag.
Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.
Commonwealth to Take Action on Cybersecurity by 2020
The declaration is the world’s largest and most geographically diverse inter-governmental commitment on cybersecurity cooperation.
LONDON (England): The Commonwealth countries have unanimously agreed to take action on cybersecurity by 2020.
In a landmark declaration at the end of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London, the leaders of 53 countries agreed to work closely to evaluate and strengthen their cybersecurity frameworks and response mechanisms.
A release issued, termed the declaration as the world’s largest and most geographically diverse inter-governmental commitment on cybersecurity cooperation.
It followed an announcement by the UK government pledging up to 15 million pounds to help the Commonwealth nations strengthen their cybersecurity capabilities. It also aims to tackle criminal groups and hostile state actors who pose a global threat to security.
The leaders also expressed their strong support for the multilateral trading system and adopted a six-point connectivity agenda to boost trade and investment links across the Commonwealth.
They also agreed on a bold, coordinated push to protect oceans from the effects of climate change, pollution and over-fishing.
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