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Thursday, October 8, 2020
Pakistan Press on Enforced Disappearances, Criticising the Establishment and Trump’s Lies: New Age Islam's Selection, 8 October 2020
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
8 October 2020
• Raw Deal for Enforced Disappearances
By I.A. Rehman
• Criticising the Establishment Doesn’t Make Anyone Anti-State
By Zahid Hussain
• Perception Vs Reality
By Javid Husain
• Trump’s Lies Take USA to New Lows
By Hafeez Khan
Raw Deal For Enforced Disappearances
By I.A. Rehman
08 Oct 2020
ENFORCED disappearances have been making headlines for quite some time. The families of victims of enforced disappearance have sustained their protest without a break and judicial censure of the executive’s fumbling has become more strident.
The Islamabad High Court suggested that the prime minister should be sensitised to the issue of enforced disappearances. In response, a committee headed by the law minister was set up to look into the matter. The other day, the Supreme Court chief justice took the Balochistan police chief to task for presenting a substandard report on disappearances.
While these references to laudable-looking interest in enforced disappearances sustain the illusion that something is being done to deal with one of the country’s main scourges, the painful reality on the ground is that the government’s principal instrument for tackling the issue of enforced disappearances is still a good-for-nothing organisation called the Commission of Inquiry into Enforced Disappearances (COIED).
Created in 2011 on the recommendation of a three-member commission of retired judges of high courts, this commission has done little to address the central task, ie putting an end to disappearances. Before the commission’s tenure expired last month, the International Commission of Jurists and Pakistani civil society organisations had called on the government to not extend the commission’s life. However, the government deemed it prudent to extend its tenure by three years and retain its incumbent head.
The critics of COIED do not deny the need for an organisation to help the government to end enforced disappearances, but they have consistently demanded a body that can deliver. They have been ready to put their trust in the existing commission if its need for adequate human and financial resources could be met.
The reasons for lack of confidence in the existing commission are well known. From March 2011, when it inherited 238 cases from the commission of judges, to the end of September 2020, this commission received only 6,548 new cases, giving us a total of 6,786 cases on its roster. Nobody believes that the victims of enforced disappearance in the country number only 6,786. Quite obviously, a large number of people do not report to the COIED as they have little faith in it.
The lack of confidence in the commission is most clearly marked in the case of Balochistan that reported only 514 cases during more than nine years as against 2,881 cases reported by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 1,619 by Sindh and 1,413 by Punjab.
A complete record of the performance of the COIED by its own admission yields the following figures: cases received till Sept 30, 2020: 6,786; cases disposed of: 4,718; persons returned home: 2,150; persons found at internment centres: 842; persons found in prisons: 529; persons who died: 216; cases deleted: 981; cases pending: 2,068. Last month was a relatively good one for the commission which disposed of 76 cases as against the 34 fresh cases received during the month. For those who value human liberty, the number of fresh cases within a month is too high for complacency.
A look at the 76 cases disposed of last month does not offer comfort either. Eleven of these cases were dropped for not qualifying as enforced disappearances. Of the 65 persons claimed to have been traced, 53 are said to have returned home, five were found detained at internment centres, four were found in prisons, and three had died.
The details about the persons who have been traced read like fiction. For instance, the story of Rehman Gul from Peshawar. The note about him says: “Rehman Gul ... has returned home. He appeared before the commission … and stated that he was abducted on 21.7.2018 and that he was set free on 1.1. 2020 and he returned home. He has furnished no details regarding the persons involved and the place of detention. No further (action) is required, the case is closed.” Case after case furnishes evidence of the desire of the commission and the person who has been traced to protect the identity of the persons responsible for abducting and detaining innocent people.
There is hardly a case where the COIED can claim to have recovered a victim of enforced disappearance. Anyone who is released by his abductors wants to get home as fast as he can and is too frightened to speak of his ordeal. The commission can at best be taken as a keeper of the record.
One of the causes of the failure of the COIED, apart from its flawed mandate, is the government’s inability to find a regular head for it. The charge has been assigned to retired justice Javed Iqbal, who is heading the all-important National Accountability Bureau. It is grossly unfair to burden him with the additional responsibility of tracing missing persons. The two assignments contradict each other. As NAB chief he is required to uncover serious crime and as the head of COIED he has to cover up a festering sore.
With each passing day the existing arrangement for dealing with the victims of enforced disappearance becomes more and more incongruous. A fresh beginning has to be made. First of all, enforced disappearances must be made a crime under the Penal Code and forums set up to try and punish all those responsible for such disappearances.
Secondly, Pakistan must ratify the relevant UN convention and extend every possible cooperation to the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances. It is also necessary to lift the cloud of fear that prevents the people from airing their grievances against the law-enforcement agencies. There is no earthly reason for withholding the release of the report of the judges commission of 2010. Its release may open up new ways of dealing with enforced disappearances.
Above all, the government must recover its will to address the issue of enforced disappearances that is causing indescribable agony to thousands of victims’ families and bringing the country a bad name in the councils of the world. The sooner Islamabad recognises its duty to the victims of enforced disappearances the better.
Criticising The Establishment Doesn’t Make Anyone Anti-State
By Zahid Hussain
07 Oct 2020
A RELIC of the British colonial past, sedition laws have been used with impunity as a tool to suppress fundamental democratic rights in this country. There have been very few Pakistani leaders who have not been accused of sedition and anti-state activities. Even writers and journalists have not been spared.
A large number of opposition leaders including two former prime ministers, retired generals, and other former holders of important public offices have now been booked on sedition charges and for anti-state activities. Interestingly, the case has been filed on the complaint of an obscure individual.
It was apparently Nawaz Sharif’s virtual address from London to an opposition conclave in Islamabad that has raised the spectre of this draconian law against the former prime minister. The others are accused of listening to the ‘seditious’ speech that was telecast live on electronic media. The government maintains that it didn’t have anything to do with the filing of treason cases. But can a police officer act on his own on such a politically sensitive issue?
The three-time former prime minister has been accused of being an ‘Indian agent’. It was the incumbent prime minister who fired the first salvo blaming Sharif of ‘working on an Indian agenda’.
Taking their cue from their leader, the party spokesmen launched a campaign of vilification against the opposition leaders. Politics now seems to have descended into sheer vulgarity with rival groups questioning each other’s patriotism. Such an ugly spectacle may not be new to Pakistani politics, but things had never hit such a low before.
Sharif’s scathing criticism of the role of the security establishment in the country’s politics seems to have been the main reason for action against the former prime minister. There has been little in Sharif’s speech that other political leaders have not said before. It has been criticism of the unlawful and unconstitutional indulgence of a state apparatus acting outside its mandate. How can it be described as an act of sedition and anti-state activity?
Justifying the sedition allegation, the prime minister’s spokesman maintained that criticism of the security establishment is defiance of the Constitution. He did not refer to the other, more important clause of the Constitution that prohibits members of armed forces’ involvement in politics. This country has repeatedly witnessed the suspension of the Constitution and usurpation of power by the security establishment. Over the decades, the latter’s deep involvement in political affairs under civilian rules has also not been a secret.
Virtually all elected civilian governments have had the bitter experience of what is commonly described as a ‘state within a state’. Their own failings notwithstanding, elected governments have never been fully autonomous in taking decisions on key national issues. It’s also no secret how the intelligence apparatus was used to destablise the civilian leadership and prop up pliant politicians.
This dark game has been going on for the past seven decades. Political parties would all too willingly assume the role of pawn in this game of chess. This has also been a major cause of perpetual political instability in the country. The involvement of the security establishment is perceived as much more pronounced in the present political set-up than under previous civilian dispensations, pushing the establishment much deeper into political affairs. Naturally, this makes it the target of the opposition’s attack.
What makes establishment elements more controversial is the perception of their involvement in extra-constitutional activities and partisan role. From the opposition parties’ perspective, the establishment leadership has become a part of the current political dispensation which affects its professional responsibilities.
Criticising the establishment for wrong policies and excesses doesn’t make anyone anti-state. In fact, greater harm is done when there is a perception that national security institutions have become involved in politics. Observers have alleged that there are elements among them who did more damage to the institution’s reputation than its critics over the years. Today, the sedition cases filed against the opposition leaders will once again drag the establishment deeper into the political battle between the government and the opposition.
This campaign of labelling opposition leaders ‘anti-state’ and ‘Indian agents’ indicates the government’s weakness and state of panic. It’s not the threat of the opposition alliance, as much as its own ineptitude that has caused this nervousness in the ranks. The prime minister needs to focus more on improving his government’s performance than policing the patriotism of political rivals.
A number of recent scandals have worsened the Khan government’s predicament making it more vulnerable to the opposition’s attack. The latest sensational revelation by a former FIA chief that he was asked by the ‘highest authority’ to file cases under anti-terrorism and treason laws against some senior PML-N leaders raises serious questions.
The prime minister allegedly admonished the former chief for not pursuing corruption investigations against the Sharif family. The revelation came in an interview, exposing the government’s claim of strengthening state institutions.
There is a view that the current civilian set-up has done more damage to civilian institutions than any administration in the recent past. As previously, there is an attempt at using law-enforcement agencies against political opponents. In fact, it is such actions that have brought the opposition parties together to challenge the PTI government. Despite the perception that it is supported by the establishment, it will be hard for the Imran Khan government to defend itself.
Labelling the opposition ‘anti-state’ may not help the government to confront the most serious challenge yet to its rule. Such charges are certainly not good advertisement for the government that has come to power on the promise of delivering good governance and to establish the rule of law.
It should not be the right of those in power to decide who is a patriot and who is not. Many of those who are not tired of displaying their ‘patriotism’ may not consider it wrong to usurp the rights of other people.
Pakistan’s political landscape is like a fairy-tale world where what one sees is not the reality, and what is real is not visible as the reality is hidden under layers of secrecy and deception.
On the face of it, we are a constitutional democracy ruled by the representatives of the people but in reality state policies are not run the way democratic states would be run. The constitution provides for freedom of expression and association but in reality there is undeclared censorship in the country and shrinking space for political dissent.
The economy is virtually on its knees with negative growth rate and high levels of unemployment, poverty and inflation, but the government’s spin masters led by a group of incompetent economic managers imported from Washington would like the nation to believe that the economy is in a fine shape. The overall situation on the external front also is not much better either.
Apparently, the government’s spokespersons believe that what matters is public perception and not reality. Their emphasis, therefore, is more on propaganda rather than policy formulation with the objective of creating a perception favourable to the government even if the truth is a casualty in the process. Such an approach in the short run may work to the advantage of the authorities at the helm of affairs by projecting a narrative which appeals to the people. However, in the long run such an approach to handling important national issues has the potential of causing grievous harm to the country because when the reality asserts itself, as it will ultimately, the nation will be found unprepared to deal with its adverse consequences.
Such an ill-conceived approach on the part of leaders and policy makers carries dangerous implications for the security and progress of the country and the welfare of its people. It is a sure recipe for the continuation of policy mistakes leading to serious setbacks and disaster. These considerations underscore the importance of freedom of speech and association as well as a healthy debate in managing national affairs. Unfortunately, the reverse is happening in the country with the government and the hybrid system bent upon pushing their own narrative on important issues, irrespective of its demerits and shortcomings.
Consequently, the space for political dissent has shrunk as growing censorship of the media has taken hold and the process of accountability is increasingly used for political victimization. The emphasis has unfortunately shifted from the formulation of sound policies to propaganda blasts and from facing harsh realities to presenting appealing narratives to the nation. The height of this ill-conceived approach was when an official spokesman declared haughtily some time ago that only if the media were to praise the prevailing situation in the country for six months, the nation would soon scale the pinnacle of progress and prosperity.
Little wonder then that the country’s economy has taken a nosedive, high levels of poverty, unemployment and inflation have wrecked the lives of the down-trodden, justice is not within the each of the common citizen, lawlessness and corruption are on the increase, and the nation is politically destabilized encouraging centrifugal forces. Meanwhile, government spokespersons are busy painting a rosy picture of the situation in the country. Unless this flawed approach is checked through appropriate course correction measures, the country will slide towards a major national disaster.
The situation is not much different on the external front. The Modi-led and Hindutva-driven BJP government in India annexed Jammu and Kashmir in August last year. Pakistan subsequently referred the matter to the UN Security Council at least three times with a request for holding a meeting to debate the issue and urge India to abide by its obligations under its relevant resolutions. Unfortunately, on each of those occasions, the UNSC after informal consultations declined to hold a formal meeting thereby sending the signal that Pakistan and India should deal with this issue bilaterally.
Instead of facing this reality head-on and drawing the right policy conclusions from our failure, the government presented the UNSC’s informal consultations to the nation as its formal meetings for the consideration of the Kashmir dispute. As for the OIC, despite the present government’s initial efforts to woo Saudi Arabia and the UAE, our requests for an emergency session of OIC foreign ministers to discuss the Kashmir issue have not succeeded so far. To rub salt in our wounds, the UAE for the first time in the OIC history invited the Indian foreign minister as the guest of honour at the OIC Foreign Ministers Conference held last year.
The current government came into power in 2018 primarily on the basis of a simplistic but appealing narrative which held corruption responsible for the political, economic, administrative, judicial and social ills of the country. The people were told that once corruption was eliminated, the country’s problems would be resolved and it would embark on the road to progress and prosperity. The reality, however, was much more complex. Corruption undoubtedly was and remains a major issue. Every possible effort, therefore, must be made for its eradication through a transparent and unbiased accountability process.
Accountability, however, should not become a tool for political engineering and victimization as has been the case in Pakistan in the recent past. In addition to accountability, the country also needs the right mix of political, economic, security, judicial, administrative and social policies and reforms to overcome the serious problems of poverty, economic stagnation, unemployment, inflation, illiteracy, scientific and technological backwardness, lawlessness, and social and economic injustice confronting it.
It is here that the PTI government has been found wanting. It needs sincerity of purpose and deep soul searching to identify its shortcomings so as to make progress on the various national fronts. That, however, wouldn’t be possible unless it brings about a radical change both in its approach and policies in dealing with national issues and its political opponents. Propaganda blitz and demonizing the opposition leaders will simply not do.
Fifties and sixties were an era of Hollywood classics dominated by Cowboy movies. The stories revolved around good versus evil. Upright underdog standing up to the big bad greedy rich. These action, drama and exciting flicks impacted the young. Good prevailed over evil. It shaped behaviours and promoted a value system.
This influence extended beyond US borders. Since the end of the Second World War US influence and culture has dominated globally. It promoted standing up for your rights, equality, and justice. A Political leader’s words had credibility. Any deviance caused a big uproar. All this changed in 2016 when President Trump took office.
His tenure has been a soap opera with a new episode each day or night. Events unfolded during the day or through Trump’s tweets at night. A Presidency run on twitter. The US democratic institutions evolved over two centuries.There is the written law and unwritten norms and practices followed.
As a capitalist society businessmen and politicians interact but each remains within their own domain. It creates a sense of propriety protecting against conflict of interest. In a two party system both Democrats and Republicans promote their beliefs and agenda allowing the voters to choose their leaders.
The three power centres House, Senate and Presidency are not always controlled by the same party. Yet they manage to conduct appropriate governance through negotiations across party lines.
He is the most indebted American President with a personal debt upwards of 400 million dollars. It makes him extremely vulnerable to his debtors and that is a security risk
National interest takes precedence over partisanship. It started to diminish during President Obama’s tenure. Having a black President sharpened the divide. The Republicans, better described as Conservatives and Democrats as liberals, started to polarize around their core values.
This polarization came to fore in the last year of Obama’s 2nd term when a Supreme Court justice died and had to be replaced. The Republican Senate majority blocked his nomineefor a full year. Reason: it should be the prerogative of the new President. This cause d’être was turned on its head in 2020 by Senate Republicans when Justice Ginsburg passed away a month before elections. They are ramming their nominee through brute force of Senate Majority in less than 30 days.
Supreme Court in USA is extremely important. All its nine Justices are appointed for life. They mostly lean the same as the party appointing them. They were evenly poised till President Trump got the opportunity to appoint two of them. Ginsburg was a liberal. A third conservative Justice will tilt the balance 6-3 in their favour.
At stake are issues that will shape American society for decades like Roe v Wade, Obamacare and many more key social issues. Trump is already mucking the waters to delegitimize elections by tying up matters in court. There is no better way than stacking the deck in your favour. This manipulation would help him when his financial misdeeds find their way to the Supreme Court. It will harm the institution, but Trump doesn’t care.
US President is arguably the most powerful person in the world. It requires dignity, grace and a paternal approach exercised by most incumbents. Not in Trump’s case. He has a serious moral deficit. Instead of draining the Washington’s swamp he has replaced it with an immoral swamp of indecency.
In his tweets and speeches he is mean, insults his rivals and makes upfalsehoods. He has demoralized the nation and severely damaged US standing internationally. He has polarized and divided the American people creating wounds that will take years to heal. He demeaned the nations’ heroes who laid down their lives in service of the nation as “losers and suckers”. It is one of the lowest periods in American Presidency.
The pandemic has been grossly mismanaged. USA is 4% of world’s population yet it has over 20% of total deaths. Trump continues to defy science. Wearing a mask and social distancing could have saved 100,000 US lives. Yet he politicized it bringing tragedy into US households. It borders on criminality. Having contracted the virus himself he must reflect on this approach to save future lives. He has emerged as the World’s leader in incompetency.
Recent revelations of his tax records have confounded Americans and folks around the world. He is the most indebted American President with a personal debt upwards of 400 million dollars. It makes him extremely vulnerable to his debtors and that is a security risk. He bullies one and all in his desire to dominate except Putin. In his case he becomes mushy. Why?
He left Paris accord on climate change as denier of science. The fires in California and tornadoes and floods in the South are clear indicators of what the future holds. Trump doesn’t care, he is too busy monetizing his office to get re-elected to avoid prosecution.
He has yet to show any empathy for George Floyd, Breoanna Taylor or other black lives lost. Instead he is busy stoking racial prejudice. He would not condemn white supremacy; instead he is arming his militias as “election watchers”. He told “ProudBoys” terroristsbefore a TV and online audience of nearly 100 million to “stand back and standby”. Americans already numbed by continuous scandals are outraged.
Trump’s efforts at creating controversy in postal ballots will fail.The whole situation is building up to a crescendo where the nation will speak on 3rd of November. This election will have a historical turnout. I believe American Congress and Presidency will be decided by margins unseen in recent history. Republicans will take a beating at the hands of President Donald Trump.