Monthly Archives: March 2011

Supreme Court Bar Association President Warns of “Judicial Dictatorship”

Asma JahangirThe President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association, Asma Jahangir, warned of creeping “judicial dictatorship” and an attitude of intolerance towards other government institutions following a recent Supreme Court decisions. Though the Chief Justice may believe that his court is acting in the best interest of the nation, it is important that he allow other institutions to grow and develop independently.

At issue is the appointment of retired Justice Deedar Shah as chairman of the National Accountability Bureau, the nation’s primary anti-corruption agency. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ordered Justice Shah to step down following claims by opposition politicians that the retired Justice is a supporter the governing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). According to Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) spokesman Siddiqul Farooq, the constitutional requirement for consultation on the appointment “means seeking the consent of the opposition.”

Ms Jahangir does not take issue with the need for a consensus-based consultation, but strongly objects to the court, “as it provided for the chief justice of Pakistan to decide the matter if the leaders of the house and opposition were at dispute over the appointment.” This is not the first time that concerns have been raised over the court’s interference in politics.

The core question is not regarding the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, but rather what is the effect of extending the sphere of the Court’s influence to matters that belong to the public sphere or other branches of the government. The 18th amendment case is an example of the Supreme Court ruling on (and possibly against) the unanimous consensus of the elected representatives of the people.

Another example is the suo moto (of its own motion) notice taken by Lahore High Court’s Divisional Bench on the high price of sugar in the country. The superior courts in Pakistan are empowered to take suo moto cognizance of any matter the court feels is in public interest. In general terms, this power means the court can take up a matter and rule on it without anyone approaching the court. The court fixed the price of sugar at 40 Pakistani Rupees per kilogram, ignoring the market forces influencing the price. The court’s credentials in economic management are open to debate. Although driven by the best of motives, the outcome was that neither the price nor the supply stabilized. This was question for the economists and Parliament, not for the courts. Similar examples can be found in the Supreme Court declaring the levy of the Carbon Tax as invalid and the annulment of the privatization [PDF] of the Pakistan Steel Mill.

Pakistan’s political parties demonstrated earlier this year that, while negotiations may appear to be messy at times, the parties are learning how to work together to reach consensus on important issues. This learning process must be allowed to continue without interference from the courts. Pakistan’s justices may believe that they are acting in the interests of the people, but by circumventing due process and intervening in political affairs, the courts are stunting the maturation of Pakistan’s democratic system.

Musharraf: Dictatorship Good, “No Comment” on his role Bhutto assassination

Gen. Pervez MusharrafDeposed Pakistan dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf spoke with BBC about the recent pro-democracy movements in the Middle East. During his interview, Musharraf stated that “good dictatorship is better than bad democracy.”

Asked about his role in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and whether he had any prior knowledge of the attack, Musharraf replied, “I don’t want to discuss that.”

This latest statement of Musharraf’s anti-democratic political philosophy comes a week after the former dictator defended torture under his regime. Asked by BBC’s Peter Taylor if he believes “the ends justifies the means,” Gen. Musharraf answered, “Yes,” and went on to say that the British government gave “tacit approval for whatever we were doing.” The British government denies that any approval, tacit or otherwise, was given for torture.

President Zardari Addresses Parliament

President Asif Ali Zardari today addressed a joint session of parliament today and laid out the state of the nation in 2011. The president began by recognizing the sacrifices of Pakistan’s religious minorities in the fight against extremism and intolerance, described the progress Pakistan has made in both political and economic reforms since 2008’s democratic elections, and the nation’s continued commitment to democracy, justice, and “defeating the mindset that preaches violence and hatred.”

Pakistani ‘Citizens for Democracy’ Demand Justice

Citizens for Democracy letter writing campaign

Citizens for Democracy (CFD), a coalition of Pakistani professional groups, NGOs, trade unions, student unions, political parties and individuals outraged by the consistent misuse and abuse of the ‘blasphemy laws’ and religion in politics, recently held a letter writing campaign in Karachi during which 15,000 letters were posted demanding an end to vigilante violence and justice for the late Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti and Governor Salmaan Taseer.

At a camp set up in front of Jahangir Kothari Parade, opposite Park Towers, Clifton, Karachi, people signed and posted letters addressed to the president, prime minister, interior minister, chief justice of Pakistan, and Chief Ministers, for interfaith harmony and action against calls for violence and vigilante justice. The letter demands that notice and action be taken against the rampant lawlessness in Pakistan, in an atmosphere “in which extremist and militant forces are operating with impunity, and where calls to murder and violence are publicly made, celebrated and rewarded”.

Referring to the murder of Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti and governor Salmaan Taseer, the letter urges the government and its functionaries to swiftly apprehend, charge, try and punish their murderers. It urges political parties, parliamentarians and government functionaries “to take a clear stand” on the blasphemy issue: “no citizen has the right to cast aspersions on the faith and beliefs of any other citizen or to term someone a ‘blasphemer,’ ‘kafir,’ or ‘non-Muslim’.”

The campaign aimed to dissipate the atmosphere of intimidation, draw people out of their homes and enable them to speak up and voice their concerns by directing them to the relevant authorities. The signature campaign will be taken to other parts of the city including North Nazimabad, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Boulton Market etc., as well as to other cities of Pakistan.

Anti-democratic groups in Pakistan such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Jamaat-ud-Dawa may be able to materialize large street protests at short notice, but their nuisance factor is far larger than their actual influence among the public. Most hard working Pakistani families have neither the time nor the inclination to make their voice heard through burning tires and chanting slogans in the streets. Unfortunately, this is too often used to claim that there is no popular support for democracy, justice, and tolerance in Pakistan. Nothing could be further from the truth.

By organizing a family-friendly event where ordinary Pakistani citizens could come out and peacefully express their desire for democracy, justice, and tolerance, ‘Citizens for Democracy’ was able to demonstrate that, despite the often dour headlines, the people of Pakistan have not given up on Jinnah’s vision of a Pakistan “where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another,” a Pakistan based on “this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.”

Ambassador Munter Statement on Raymond Davis Confirms DoJ Investigation

The US Embassy in Islamabad released the following statement by Ambassador Cameron Munter today.

Ambassador MunterThe families of the victims of the January 27 incident in Lahore have pardoned Raymond Davis.  I am grateful for their generosity.  I wish to express, once again, my regret for the incident and my sorrow at the suffering it caused.

I can confirm that the United States Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the incident in Lahore.

I wish to express my respect for Pakistan and its people, and my thanks for their commitment to building our relationship, to everyone’s benefit. Most of all, I wish to reaffirm the importance that America places in its relationship with Pakistan, and the commitment of the American people to work with their Pakistani counterparts to move ahead in ways that will benefit us all.

Pakistan moves to mainstream FATA

Last month we wrote about the need for Pakistan to extend democratic reforms to the nation’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in order to undermine militant groups’ ability to exploit the existing political and legal structures to their own advantage. Last week, English-language daily Dawn reported that democratic reforms for FATA may be on the way.

In a rare show of unity, nine mainstream political parties here on Wednesday demanded implementation of political, social and economic reforms, including enforcement of the Political Parties Order 2002, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

A consultation process should be initiated with the people of Fata and an economic development package be implemented in the tribal areas to bring it at a par with other parts of the country.

This effort demonstrates not only progress in the political development of the tribal areas, but in the ability of the nation’s mainstream political parties to reach consensus and work together for the national interest. That such moves towards increased democratization continue even as the country is under siege by militant groups provides further evidence for an improving political order in Pakistan. The US should support this effort by the nation’s political parties to work together in bringing Pakistan’s tribal areas into the political and legal mainstream.

House Resolution Expresses Condolences For Assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti

Federal Minister for Minorities Mr Shahbaz Bhatti

Members of Congress introduced a resolution expressing the condolences of the House of Representatives to the people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan upon the assassination of Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti and called on the United States to renew its efforts with international partners in the Human Rights Council and the United Nations General Assembly to promote religious freedom and tolerance in accordance with international human rights standards.

The bi-partisan resolution, H. Res 164, was introduced by Rep. Christopher Smith of New Jersey and co-sponsored by Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York, Rep. Michael Capuano of Massachusetts, Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Rep. Daniel E. Lungren of California, Rep. Jackie Speier of California, Rep. Walter Jones, Jr. of North Carolina, Rep. Jean Schmidt of Ohio, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, and Rep. Albio Sires of New Jersey.

The resolution recognizes the vision of Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, for a nation of religious plurality and equality, and expresses support for the government’s actions to promote religious tolerance and the rights of minorities in the country including President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani’s appointing the first cabinet-level official on religious minorities in 2008 and the allocation of a quota of 5 percent of all federal jobs for members of minority religious groups.

The resolution also recognizes that extremist groups for have used the blasphemy laws to trigger sectarian violence, intimidate members of religious minorities and others with whom they disagree, and exploit these laws for their own political ends including falsely accusing Muslims and non-Muslims alike for the settling of personal disputes,. The resolution further recognizes that the law is used against Muslims more than any other religious group.

In addition to expressing condolences on the assassination of the Minister, the resolution calls on the US to “assist efforts to protect the religious freedom of all Pakistanis through prioritizing the prevention of religiously motivated and sectarian violence, enhancing training for local law enforcement including emergency response and scene investigation, prompt and thorough investigation of any incidents of violence, and training of judges on inter- national human rights obligations.”

The resolution was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday.

Pakistan Embassy Hosts Memorial for Fallen Minister

Pakistan’s Embassy in Washington hosted a memorial for fallen Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti on Wednesday. Pakistan’s Ambassador, Husain Haqqani, was joined by American officials including US Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero in calling for increased religious tolerance the world over.

Husain Haqqani speaking at a memorial for Shahbaz BhattiHusain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, said he decided to hold a service for Bhatti at the embassy as there was an “unconscionable silence” by many Pakistanis who in their hearts are respectful of other faiths.

“When Shahbaz Bhatti was murdered and we remain silent, some of us have died with him,” Haqqani told the service attended by US officials and Pakistani expatriates.

“If we are silent, we allow evil to win,” Haqqani said. “It is unacceptable, it is un-Islamic, it is not what Pakistan was founded for, it is not what Pakistanis living abroad can be proud of as Pakistanis and — if I may use a term that has been abused in Pakistan — it is blasphemy.”


Thomas Friedman’s Woeful Misunderstanding of Pakistani Politics

Thomas FriedmanThomas Friedman on Sunday compared Pakistan’s ISI to Egypt’s Amn al Dowla, the security agency responsible for propping up Hosni Mubarak’s police state, and asks why the US continues to provide billions of dollars in assistance to Pakistan while we cheer the fall of autocratic regimes in the Arab world. Friedman troublingly mischaracterizes the relationship between the ISI and Pakistan’s civilian government, and his conclusion – that the US should cut aid to Pakistan – is ultimately misguided.

According to Friedman, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence “dominates Pakistani politics” and is “the twin of Hosni Mubarak’s security service.” This is fundamentally incorrect. While it’s true that Pakistan’s ISI plays a heavy hand in Pakistan’s domestic politics, unlike Mubarak’s use of Amn al Dowla to intimidate and oppress political opposition, Pakistan’s ISI operates largely outside the control of the civilian government.

Egypt under Hosni Mubarak would be better compared to Pakistan under Gen. Musharraf – an autocratic regime that used the looming threat of extremism and regional instability to extort support for its security services and the personal fortunes of its officers – not present day Pakistan. Democratic elections in 2008 brought to power a civilian government, but Pakistan’s military establishment was less sidelined than removed from the spotlight.

Unlike Egypt, Pakistan has a popularly-elected civilian government that is struggling to build power in a country dominated by a military-intelligence apparatus that operates outside of its control. Following a meeting between Pakistani cabinet officials and the head of ISI, one Pakistani newspaper reported that, one attendee “dared not be arbitrarily fired.” Pakistani columnist Cyril Almeida described the power dynamic more bluntly:

By now the cat is out of the bag. When the interior minister, the ex-foreign minister and the all-powerful spy chief met to decide the fate of Raymond Davis, two of those gents were of the opinion that Davis doesn’t enjoy ‘full immunity’.

One of those two has now been fired by Zardari. The other, well, if Zardari tried to fire him, the president might find himself out of a job first.

Thomas Friedman falsely equates the ISI with Pakistan’s government, but it is a well-known fact in Pakistan that the two are presently in competition for control of the nation. And the two sides in this competition are not equally resourced.

As described by Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa in her book, Military Inc., Pakistan’s military dominates not only the nation’s security, but it’s economy as well, controlling much of the private sector and extensive land holdings. Pakistan’s parliament ostensibly controls the purse strings, but it is another accepted fact that the military sets its own budget. The military’s resources also include a massive patronage network, an established recruitment and command infrastructure, and the Inter-Services Public Relations agency – the intelligence agency’s propaganda wing.

Diverting aid from Pakistan will not weaken anti-democratic forces in the nation’s military establishment. It will, if anything, make it stronger and less pliable to pro-democracy influence. Nations such as China and Iran would quickly fill any military assistance void left by a diversion of US aid, and the civilian government would find itself without the leverage it needs to strengthen its hand in opposition to military influence over the nation’s foreign and domestic policy.

Even cuts that specifically target military aid would be counterproductive at this time. While it’s true that much of Pakistan’s military still sees India as the most pressing security issue, threats to cut military assistance are unlikely to change this perspective which has deep ideological and historical roots. Moreover, there are signs that the military’s strategic focus is beginning to change. Threats to cut aid are more likely to abort rather than encourage any reorientation and will be used to justify continued support for jihadi militant groups as irregular defense forces. This would be devastating.

As Pakistan’s President Zardari noted in The Washington Post,

Our nation is pressed by overlapping threats. We have lost more soldiers in the war against terrorism than all of NATO combined. We have lost 10 times the number of civilians who died on Sept. 11, 2001. Two thousand police officers have been killed. Our economic growth was stifled by the priorities of past dictatorial regimes that unfortunately were supported by the West. The worst floods in our history put millions out of their homes. The religious fanaticism behind our assassinations is a tinderbox poised to explode across Pakistan. The embers are fanned by the opportunism of those who seek advantages in domestic politics by violently polarizing society.

Pakistan today looks like what we may increasingly see emerge in countries like Egypt and Tunisia – military and intelligence establishments that, decoupled from civilian control, operate with their own agendas. They are states within states, operating without oversight or accountability. Mr. Friedman is correct that Egyptians and Tunisians will have to develop their own democracies, and this is exactly what the people of Pakistan are doing right now. We should not abandon them as they struggle to uproot the “deep state” and replace it with effective civilian democratic institutions.

Where Friedman is correct is in his recognition of the importance of investment that strengthens civilian governance and institutions. This is exactly what the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill passed in 2009 represents – a change in focus from supporting Pakistan’s military establishment to strengthening civilian institutions. Unfortunately, this aid is not being dispersed quickly enough to meet the nation’s needs.

According to a GAO report released earlier this year, only $179.5 million of $1.51 billion in US civilian aid to Pakistan was actually dispersed in 2010. The US should concentrate on finding ways to get this funding to projects that will make lasting improvements in the lives of Pakistanis and strengthen civilian governance in Pakistan.

Support for emerging democracies should not be played as a zero-sum game in which the latest entrant to the democratic community receives support at the expense of those that came before. Pakistan represents not the autocratic regimes of the past, but the delicate stage in democratic development during which nascent civilian governments attempt to supplant entrenched military and intelligence institutions.

Abandoning new allies as they struggle to secure civilian control will set back democratic progress for generations. Cutting aid to Pakistan would not weaken the nation’s “deep state” and promote democratic reform. More likely, it would be a catalyst for Pakistan to revert to a military state buttressed by a fundamentally anti-democratic ideology. If any outcome is “totally out of proportion…with our interests and out of all sync with our values”, it is this.