Questioning the deep state

30 Jan

While the missing activists, including Salman Haider, have been returned to their families, there are a series of concerns, questions and demands for accountability that remain unheard, actively ignored or deliberately unanswered. Despite the fact that these activists have been returned, it remains true that their lives are under threat as a result of the decision taken, at the state level, perpetuated by select media personalities, to level unsubstantiated and dangerous allegations against them.

Their return may seem like the end of this chapter but that is far from the truth. God alone knows of the psychological and physical torture they endured for the duration of their illegal and unlawful detention. One begins to see more and more clearly why the State of Pakistan is yet to sign and ratify the Convention on Enforced Disappearances (CED), one of the nine core international human rights conventions. It is worth mentioning that out of these nine conventions, while Pakistan has ratified/acceded to seven, implementation and compliance under provisions of the same is appalling.

In the relief that we may feel at the return of these activists, we must ensure that we do not lose sight of the battle ahead. It is a battle we surrendered in long ago when we gave the military establishment carte blanche to abduct persons at their whim and fancy, in contravention of not only our Constitution but also our international legal obligations. It is a battle we must resume, not for ourselves but for the safety of our children who we hope to raise in a society where their fundamental Constitutional rights cannot be infringed (at least not without severe repercussions).

For how long will we shamelessly ignore the plight of families whose loved ones from FATA and Balochistan still have no idea where they are, or if they’re alive or dead? Will we continue to call ourselves a ‘resilient’ nation in the face of these crises when this word is nothing more than a blanket over pure apathy?

In the meantime, who will guarantee that the right to life of these activists will be safeguarded against radicals who were unleashed on them as a consequence of false and baseless propaganda to justify their illegal detention? Do we trust the state that violated their Constitutional rights to protect and promote those very rights now?

The names and faces change but the tactics of the deep state remain unchanged. The fact remains that this institution has no idea what their Constitutional role is or how to stay within the bounds of authority granted to them. Worse still is the naïve, ill informed and hyper-nationalist response of the general populace.

We never seem to learn from our past. We continue to remain in denial whenever any sort of genuine and legitimate criticism is leveled against the military establishment. To call it a “holy cow” is an understatement – it is effectively tantamount to blasphemy to question the deep state.

Have we become so indoctrinated that we roll over and accept all sorts of violations of the Constitution in the name of ‘national interest’? What this ‘national interest’ is has never been defined and it is within that ambiguity that the deep state thrives. It is free to pick people at random because our consciences are dead and it is far simpler to accept the “national interest” narrative than to open our eyes.

The caretakers of this ‘national interest’, however, require what any modern day propaganda machine flourishes as a consequence of: influencing the media. From Dr. Shahid Masood to Aamir Liaqat, the state has its grip on the leashes of media personalities who have huge fan followings but no sense of responsibility or ethics.

Ironic then that there was this huge uproar following Cyril-gate when the military establishment has its people all over the media, consistently feeding them information and expecting in return that their bidding be done. After all, who wouldn’t want the guarantee of security and protection from the only institution that effectively has control over whether you live or die? Perhaps, the next time you hear a television anchor telling you that he has reliable information from his ‘inside’ sources, question the source that feeds him/her the same way so many of you were so quick to pounce on Cyril and Dawn in the pursuit of “national interest”.

Anyone who dares to question is faced with dangerous labelling. While the previous trend had been to label those who questioned the deep state “traitors”, “anti-Pakistan”, we have now seen life-threatening labeling emerge, from “blasphemer” to “anti-Islam”. We have been, throughout our collective history, silenced through the weapon of fear and oppression. Very few dare to speak out and those who do are told to tread with caution, in fear of that labeling. But it is this caution that has ensured successful use of this weapon against us.

So while we try to figure out where we stand and how we move on from here, we must first have our questions answered. Why were these activists illegally detained instead of being put through due process of law, had they committed any offence (as the allegations against them suggest)? How many people within Pakistan have gone ‘missing’ and what has the state done/is the state doing to ensure they are recovered? Maybe just begin by asking why the need to make people go ‘missing’ in the first place? Is that how civilized societies operate?

Is it for the preservation of ‘national interest’ that families are separated and voices different from the rest silenced? Is this ‘national interest’ worth damaging the minds and bodies from which dissenting voices emanate – voices that strengthen the system by questioning what is wrong with it? For what have we ceded our civil and political rights and liberties? Is this ‘national interest’ or the interest of an institution whose sole purpose has been to control the narrative from day one? The answers may shake the entire foundation of our society but they are the first step in resolving this crisis.

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Yet another missed opportunity

30 Sep

This piece has been co-authored by Imaan Mazari-Hazir and Rana Adan Abid. The writers are lawyers.

 


 

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s address to the 71st session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly (GA) has received a rather mixed reaction at home. Many who usually criticise the Prime Minister lauded him for conveying Pakistan’s stance rather effectively and eloquently to the international community. However, many took a position on the alternative side of the fence. This piece attempts to identify the politico-legal implications flowing from the premier’s address in New York in the context of recent regional developments.

If one were to believe Pakistani and Indian media, particularly electronic, they would find themselves engulfed in a mad, nonsensical frenzy. One might actually believe we were about to go to war. In fact, some have even gone as far as to deem war ‘necessary’ and encourage it.

Meanwhile, allegations continue to surface against Pakistan, whether leveled by Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, or seen from US lawmakers who moved a bill to declare Pakistan a ‘state-sponsor’ of terrorism. There are ignorantly construed links being drawn between the status of Balochistan and that of Jammu and Kashmir under international law. Flights are being cancelled to certain areas within Pakistan while the Indians move heavy ammunition to the Line of Control (LOC). Social media, too, is plagued with this hype-fuelled debate on which army can defeat the other and inflict a higher degree of damage.

What is being constantly forgotten in this frenzy is the crucial role of legal policy and diplomatic channels. It was this forgetfulness that could be felt in the general reactions to the Prime Minister’s address. Indeed, the premier’s speech could have instead been a speech inspired by Modi-style Pakistan bashing before the international community, but what we continue to ignore is that it is this disproportionate reaction from India that demonstrates the strength of the indigenous Kashmiri struggle.

While the Prime Minister demonstrated great strength and commitment in remembering Burhan Wani, he fell short of being able to highlight the cause he died fighting for. Instead of discussing the illegality of the Indian occupation of Kashmir, the Prime Minister’s speech contained much of the same rhetoric Pakistani politicians have been regurgitating for decades, devoid of any substantive legal or diplomatic measures.

The Prime Minister did, indeed, throughout the course of his speech, repeatedly remind the UNGA of Security Council (SC) commitments on the Kashmir issue. Whether it is for better or for worse, the self-determination argument on its own has been unable to stand before the international community. Instead of recognizing this hurdle and simultaneously developing the case for Kashmir from an International Humanitarian Law (IHL) perspective, we refuse to do our homework.

The use of pellet guns to suppress the indigenous Kashmiri struggle for the right to self-determination falls out with the bounds of any legal cover for the use of force. Even if we look outside the law of peacetime, during which the human rights paradigm is applicable, there is a strong legal case to be made that India is in violation of IHL standards, owing to the war-like situation in Kashmir. The crucial question here is: did the Prime Minister’s advisers prove to the international community that the actions of the Indian state are in clear violation of established principles and norms of international law? Was his speech both diplomatically sound and legally defensible? Equally important, did the Prime Minister say everything he could have given the timely opportunity?

Under UNGA Resolution 1514 (XV) inter alia, the inherent right of all nations to political self-determination is well recognized. Not only do UNGA resolutions carry undeniable weight in the making of customary international law, as the statements of the only body with a near universal membership, they reflect the state of the global conscience at a given time. When these UNGA resolutions were passed, the world was stepping out of the age of empires into an age of nation-states. Unfortunately, the political impasse between India and Pakistan has rendered impossible any meaningful exercise of this right of self-determination.

And all this while the United Nations, for all its commitment to lofty ideals and the promise of a plebiscite in Kashmir, has been unable to live up to its own word. In that sense, the Prime Minister was not only right to wholeheartedly support the Kashmiri struggle for freedom but was spot on for holding both India and the international community, at large, accountable for the lack of implementation of the UNSC and UNGA resolutions on Kashmir.

However, given what a prime time opportunity this was to garner international support through diplomatic pressure, the Prime Minister’s lack of mention of the IHL violations carried out by the Indian government and intelligence agencies was regrettably poor strategy.

Further, in the context of allegations from Indian quarters of state, as well as the Indian media, it was alarming that there was hardly any sound heard from the Prime Minister on Indian interference within Pakistan’s borders. All the while that India is building up this image of Pakistan as a ‘terrorist’ state in the international community, did our Prime Minister not think it wise to defend Pakistan’s own right to exclusively regulate its domestic political affairs as a State, without intervention from India, as mandated by international law?

It seems that one of the foremost tenets of the UN Charter, reaffirmed in the Nicaragua case (1986), before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), i.e. of non-interference in the affairs of another state, was neglected throughout the Prime Minister’s address. There is well-documented evidence in the reports issued by the BBC which incriminate the Indian state by disclosing evidence of them funding MQM in Pakistan. Perhaps, that and related documents could have made for a second dossier exposing the reality of India’s propaganda before the international community, which is not only misleading but damaging to Pakistan’s strategic interests.

While it certainly does not benefit Pakistan or Kashmiris to take the offensive here, it bears to note that, by all means, it was our Prime Minister’s rightful position to defend the national sovereignty and political independence of Pakistan, while also being able to shift the paradigm of discussion to IHL violations being committed by India in Kashmir. Instead, we heard the same rhetoric and wasted yet another opportunity to present our own case as well as the independent one for Kashmir before the international community.

 

Stop moral policing

19 Jul

People from my generation often come across social media posts urging us to be “Diana in a world full of Kim Kardashians”. Often, you laugh and think that there is a clear distinction between being one kind of woman or another. Women, not just in Pakistan but across the globe, are constantly fed mixed messages throughout the course of our lives. Through advertisements and mainstream media, we are constantly taught that we are only as valuable as our bodies are attractive. Through social media, we are subsequently named and shamed for ‘exposing’ our bodies. Our parents tell us that we should cover up what is ‘precious’ but everywhere we go and everything we see tells us otherwise.

Who are the victims in this cycle of confusion? Always women. It is women who are forced by societal and economic pressures to take their clothes off. It is women who attack other women for being just a piece of flesh when they give into that pressure. It is women who wage war on one another’s characters and allow men to label us owing to our own insecurities and jealousy. It is indeed true that women are our own worst enemies. The ultimate winner? Patriarchy, of course!

It is no wonder then that there is such divided opinion on Qandeel Baloch’s murder. There are very few of us who can honestly argue that we never mocked Qandeel or put her down because of the choices she made in her life or her actions on social media. However, the majority of us would never condone murder. It is from this that our dilemma arises: we condemned her during her life so how can we criticize her death without aligning ourselves with who she was and what she did? Why are so many of us towing the same line of argument: “You may not agree with Qandeel but that didn’t mean she should have been killed”.

Contrary to what we may believe, Qandeel never lived for us nor was she seeking our acceptance of her lifestyle choices. Throughout her life, one had heard awful things women would say about Qandeel but not once did I ever hear Qandeel make a misogynistic remark about another woman. While the rest of us put her down for owning her sexuality and exposing our society’s firmly embedded hypocrisy, Qandeel didn’t reinforce the misogyny surrounding our criticism of her. She continued to do what she wanted, while supporting her entire family, including her brother who killed her.

Why do we feel the need to distance ourselves from her actions when she never aligned herself to any of us in the first place? It is because we, ourselves, are so confused about right and wrong that we instantly reject and condemn anyone we believe falls out with our warped conceptions of morality. Many criticized Qandeel, accusing her of using ‘cheap tactics’ for fame. Was it the fact that she was famous and we are not that we felt the need to label these tactics ‘cheap’? The irony is that the same elite that called her cheap is the same elite that wouldn’t think twice before opening a Playboy or watching a Western or Indian music video in which there is a lot more nudity than what Qandeel ever displayed.

As if it wasn’t enough that the media and all of us were giving attention to someone we loved to hate, the media thought it should go one step forward. PEMRA, which is so quick to ban people from appearing on TV, had clearly joined in on this endless nap the State seems to be taking. Was PEMRA too deep in slumber to realize that the media had crossed a serious red line in broadcasting Qandeel’s NIC and passport? The same media which reports the incidents of honour killing, acid crimes and violence against women had ensured that yet another girl from a conservative locality may fall prey to such attacks.

That is not to say that there was an expectation that Qandeel would be murdered – if we genuinely believed that ‘she had it coming’, we are just as sick and depraved as her brother who murdered her. There is, however, a concept of media ethics which seems lost on Pakistani media. When one is aware of the fact that women in this country, particularly from South Punjab, are commonly the victims of atrocious violence, why would anyone play with another human being’s life in the way that our media did?

Let’s be clear: there is no justification for murder. Our likes and dislikes aside, there is no one who deserves to die. There is no ‘honour’ in killing. When will we realize that we are not moral police for anyone except ourselves? It is neither our responsibility, nor should it be expected of us, to impose our sense of morality on others. When women shame other women, the only winners are those who inflict the worst kind of suffering on us as a collective – the men that suffocate us, beat us and tell us how to live our lives.

To conclude with some food for thought, in the words of J.R.R Tolkein, for all of us who should be ashamed of ourselves to the core: “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends”.

 

 

Acknowledging our hypocrisy

24 Jun

Will we remember two weeks from now who Dr. Chaudhary Abdul Khaliq was? Will the cold blooded murder of this Ahmadi doctor stay etched in our collective conscience? More importantly, when will we finally stand up and say “enough is enough”? Considering the death threats actor Hamza Ali Abbasi has received on simply asking a question regarding the business of the state, the most likely answer we can give is in the negative.

On interaction with some very educated and accomplished people within this country, one finds a unanimous consensus that Ahmadis are non-Muslims. Getting into that debate is like placing a bulls-eye on your forehead and asking the right-wing to come and shoot you in the face. So let us put that debate to an end – let us not discuss whether a particular group is Muslim or non-Muslim. Let us talk about what the real issue is: does any State have the right to persecute and discriminate against those it is contracted to protect, regardless of their colour, faith or any other such factors?

We, in Pakistan, are the first to condemn Israel, Donald Trump, the monks in Myanmar and all other state and non-state actors that demonize, target and persecute Muslims. While that is all well and good, it is time we acknowledge our blatant hypocrisy. The Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan introduced within our supreme legal document Article 260(3)(b) which defines a “non-Muslim” as “a person who is not a Muslim and includes a person belonging to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist  or Parsi community, a person of the Qadiani Group or the Lahori Group who call themselves ‘Ahmadis’ or by any other name or a Bahai, and a person belonging to any of the Scheduled Castes”. This is a strange provision, particularly considering the preceding sub-provision, i.e. Article 260(3)(a) which defines a Muslim as “a person who believes in the unity and oneness of Almighty Allah, in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH), the last of the prophets, and does not believe in, or recognize as a prophet or religious reformer, any person who claimed or claims to be a prophet, in any sense of the word or of any description whatsoever, after Muhammad (PBUH)”.

It is clear from a first-reading of Article 260(3)(a) that a Muslim is very clearly defined. What was the need to define non-Muslims when we have already, in the aforementioned provision, explicitly stated that anyone who does not believe in the finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH) is not a Muslim? It seems like nothing more than an insecure state, representative of an insecure population, trying desperately to prove the strength of their faith.

As if this wasn’t enough, our insecurity peaked under the leadership (or lack thereof) of Zia-ul-Haq, who inserted Sections 298B and C into the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). This alteration in the PPC has created a situation where an Ahmadi can be sentenced to death for something as basic as affirming their faith. What is beyond rational comprehension is that, if the Constitution defines a Muslim as someone who recognizes the finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH), then why would we be putting people to death who the majority recognizes as non-Muslims for observing their own faith?

Even more confusing is the Federal Shariat Court’s (FSC) rationale in Mujibur Rahman v Government of Pakistan, in which it was asked to determine whether Ordinance XX ‘was contrary to the injunctions of the Holy Quran and Sunnah’. The FSC stated that parliament was merely prohibiting Ahmadis from ‘calling themselves what they [were] not’. If Ahmadis are not what they claim to be and if we are all aware of this fact, why do we need the legislature, executive and judiciary to institutionalize persecution against them? We didn’t even stop there – the FSC made it a point to state that the death penalty was more appropriate a punishment for Ahmadis than life imprisonment.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is presenting an image to the international community that we deserve privileges like the GSP Plus Status and so forth despite the fact that we are in clear violation of our commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, particularly Articles 17 and 18 which protect the rights of individuals to privacy and freedom ‘either individual or in community with others and in public or private to manifest’ their religious beliefs. In fact, Article 18(2) of the Covenant places on us an obligation to ensure that ‘no one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice’. What greater coercion exists than the threat of death?

Empty words of condemnation are not enough. In May 2010, two Ahmadi ‘places of worship’ were attacked in Lahore when gunmen opened fire on worshippers during Friday prayers. Over 90 people died and 110 were injured. In December 2012, over 100 Ahmadi graves were desecrated by gunmen in Lahore. Ahmadi doctors have been the target of gunmen all over the country for longer than one can remember. The Constitution, the Penal Code and the practice of the courts has created unlimited liability for Pakistan’s Ahmadi population.

The United Nations Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities issued a statement against Ordinance XX in 1985, calling on Pakistan to repeal the instrument in order to protect the rights of Ahmadis. Of course, Pakistan, as per usual, chose not to comply. And then our eyes fill with murderous fire when anyone points out that Pakistan is a graveyard for minorities. It is about time we put aside our emotions and address this issue rationally once and for all.

No more

27 May

The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has yet again proved that it needs to be either immediately abolished or re-staffed with progressive, Islamic scholars as opposed to the current handful of cavemen that constitute the CII. Since its inception, the CII has made a mockery out of religion and this country. One isn’t sure whether to ignore or react to its preposterous recent proposal for a rather ironically titled ‘women’s protection’ bill.

The contents of this proposed bill include the following:

  • Husbands allowed to ‘lightly’ beat their wives if the latter are defiant (whether this defiance is with regard to being ordered around or a refusal to dress in accordance with their husband’s wishes)
  • Beating is also permissible in the following circumstances:
  • Where a woman refuses to wear hijab;
  • Where a female interacts with strangers;
  • Where she speaks loud enough that strangers can hear her;
  • Where a female provides monetary support to persons without prior consent of her spouse.
  • Ban on co-education after primary education
  • Ban on women from taking part in military combat
  • Ban on women welcoming or interacting with foreign delegations
  • Ban on male-female interaction
  • Ban on female nurses attending to male patients
  • Ban on females appearing in advertisements
  • Abortion after 120 days of conception should be declared “murder”

This is not the first time the CII has endorsed discrimination and violence against women, nor will it be the last until they are, in no unclear terms, shut-down for this shameful proposal. The fact, however, remains that a vast majority of men in Pakistan subscribe to many of these stipulations in any case. This is primarily because we have a dearth of actual Islamic legal scholars in Pakistan and, in the absence of the same, have allowed a handful of uneducated, bigoted and intolerant cavemen to hijack our religion.

Further, there are very few, if any, female Islamic legal scholars not only in Pakistan but in the entire world. Women have, from day one, been the victims of religious misuse resulting in oppression and subjugation. Mainstream interpretations of Islam have largely been shaped by the understanding and experiences of men as opposed to women – something Islam itself never mandated. There is not a single part in the Holy Quran that solely authorizes men to become the custodians of religion and religious understanding. Then why is it that very few women, especially in Pakistan, have allowed themselves to be oppressed in the name of religion instead of providing the alternative (read: female) understanding of Islam, the Holy Quran and Hadith?

The State of Pakistan, despite being an Islamic country (at least in name), has systematically indoctrinated its largely illiterate population with its own warped conceptions of religion, which are often shaped by oppressive cultural norms rather than the essence of religion itself. Globally, religion has been constantly polluted by cultural norms which not only have nothing to do with religion but are in direct contravention of many Islamic principles and stipulations. Some of these harmful cultural norms and practices include Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), ‘honour’ killings, gang-rapes as punishments, child marriage and violence against women generally.

Our Government reinforces, at every stage of our lives, that we are either one man’s property or another’s. Before marriage, we are our father’s property and cannot breathe without his consent and after marriage, we are our husband’s property and the same repression applies. Our narrative against harmful acts and practices against women is centred on the idea that we, women, are ‘someone’s mothers, sisters, daughters and wives’. Why must women be any of the aforementioned to be respected and treated with inherent dignity which is an inalienable human right possessed by every single human being? There is a single word that answers this question and that is fear.

It is inherently human to fear what we cannot control. Whether we fear death or the future, it is a known fact that human beings have a fear of the unknown. Through the systematic exclusion of women from the process of interpreting religion, not only are our interpretations of religion warped but they are also alarmingly violent and discriminatory.

Protection of the orthodox, Pakistani Muslim male ego was initially a personal burden that women had to bear but courtesy of wide-scale misrepresentation and abuse of religion, it is not only institutionalized but embedded within the foundations of our society. Not all but definitely a large number of Pakistani men believe Islam affords them the right to treat women as their property and to use particular verses of the Holy Quran, taken out of context, to justify any force used to protect their property rights.

Owing to the fact that my knowledge of Islam is limited, I am not going to get into a debate on what Islam permits and what it prohibits. However, armed with even rudimentary knowledge of Islam, one is cognizant of the fact that the Holy Quran cannot be quoted in parts as every single line is placed in a particular context. Yet, we see the religious right in Pakistan misusing and misquoting the Holy Quran to justify violence against women and alienation of women from the public sphere. How ironic considering the high degree of respect our Holy Prophet (PBUH) not only demanded for women but also practiced throughout the course of his life.

While the religious right, dominated by bigoted men, wrongly believe that they are following Islam when they talk about beating wives and excluding women from the public sphere, the State is silently endorsing these warped conceptions of religion by allowing institutions like the CII to remain intact.

Considering the fact that Islam is a religion for all human kind, it is time us women step up and take the wheel. The sound of our voices instils fear in those using religion to oppress us because they are well aware of the fact that once we publically take ownership of our religion, their fragile egos will be torn to shreds. That is not to say that all Pakistani men desire the oppression and subjugation of women but those who stay silent in the face of this bigotry are as culpable as those who openly promote it. Those who lock women within the confines of their homes; those who tell women to cover up instead of looking down; those who use fear and force over tolerance and reason – all such persons must be told that we refuse to tolerate this for any longer than we have.

Now is not a time for silent acceptance – now is a time for Pakistani women to come together and actively fight against this oppression and bigotry. We must speak up, loud and clear: there is no God but Allah – and Allah has not once mandated, in the Quran or otherwise, the exclusion, alienation and subjugation of women for the promotion of archaic patriarchal notions being used to protect the fragile ego of the religious right.

The King’s Party

24 May

The Prime Minister addressed Parliament not too long ago. A long-awaited clarification was expected but, as rightfully stated by Khurshid Shah, the address confused more than it clarified. Instead of presenting complete and authentic documentation, the Prime Minister chose to submit a handful of pictures to the Parliament with some Arab men, supposedly showing a purchase being made. No documentation as to these purchases was ever provided or even mentioned.

Worse still, Nawaz Sharif assumed that Parliament was so naïve that he could present an excel sheet with the amount of tax he has paid, without providing any details as to total income or wealth to justify or corroborate the percentage of tax being paid. All in all, there was nothing even slightly impressive about the Prime Minister’s address and definitely no clarification.

The opposition, on the other hand, staged a walk-out which has its merits in that they made a strong statement loud and clear that they would not be validating the Prime Minister’s address. However, they also came out looking less ‘parliamentary’ than a man who barely ever attends Parliamentary sessions himself.

With all this politics being played, confusion and chaos were bound to ensue. To add to the feeling of helplessness and frustration, the Chief Justice refused to head a Judicial Commission without said commission being specifically authorized under a new legislative instrument. The fact, however, remains that this rejection of the Government’s initiative was expected by those sitting in the corridors of power to begin with. It was nothing more than a tactic to buy additional time, in the same manner that Nawaz Sharif’s address was a tactic aiming to do the same.

The PMLN Government has another two years to hold onto their power. Rarely has such an absolute majority and heavy mandate been given to a political party in Pakistan. Instead of strengthening the democratic system that brought them in, the PMLN has chosen to identify itself as the King’s party (of course forgetting what happened to King Musharraf’s party). In doing so, they have created a hurdle for themselves that they could have easily avoided by simply de-linking Maryam Nawaz and the Prime Minister’s sons from the party. Instead, the PMLN Government has chosen to go down with the Prime Minister and his family.

On the other hand, we have recently discovered that Imran Khan, leader of the PTI, has an offshore company of his own. Why he chose not to declare this fact before pointing fingers at the Prime Minister is beyond comprehension. If, as he keeps insisting, there was no wrong-doing on his part, then why did he wait to be outed rather than making this information public at the very beginning? Moreover, even in Mr. Khan’s case, there are certain facts that don’t add up. To avoid paying capital gains tax in the UK, why would someone hire an entire legal team to create an offshore company, which would cost them around the same amount, if not more, than they would be paying in tax?

This isn’t the cherry on top though. The irony of the entire situation is that Khurshid Shah and the PPP are taking a stance against corruption. One has always known that our politicians are ready to compromise national interest for self-interest, but must we remind the PPP that it changed two Prime Ministers just so that they didn’t have to write a letter to the Swiss authorities?

The million-dollar question that remains though is: what will come of this disaster? Will the PMLN continue to identify itself as Nawaz Sharif’s party and not the sitting government that owes its electorate certain obligations that it has been unable to fulfil? Will the PTI take to the streets on its own or will they be accompanied by the entire opposition? What role will the military establishment play in all this and how will it affect General Raheel Sharif’s extension?

One can only assume that the Government will drag on the circus for as long as it can get away with it while the PTI and PPP will try and keep up their alliance for as long as the PPP knows no concrete action will be taken against the corrupt as that would inevitably bring them down with the PMLN. There are, of course, some elements within the PPP hoping that the corrupt within their own party are finally removed from the political scene. Pakistan, as usual, will suffer – economically and politically. After democracy has only begun to take its roots in Pakistan, this instability will likely result in calls for the military establishment to take over as it has done in the past.

While all this chaos consumes us in the Federal Capital, the south of Pakistan is witnessing some alarming but familiar developments. Mustafa Kamal’s return and the emergence of his Paksarzameen party is a reminder of how Altaf Hussain and the MQM initially emerged on Pakistan’s political scene. The monsters we spend all our resources and time fighting are those we create, nurture and facilitate ourselves.

In the meantime, Nawaz Sharif faces immense pressure to come clean by the very same institution that nurtured him under Zia and then threw him out under Musharraf. Bit of a tight spot to be in – conceding space to the military is not a wise option but is the order of the day considering the fact that the PMLN Government has done nothing to reform the criminal justice system. Military courts may need to operate for a longer period than expected, despite the sunset clause within the 21st Constitutional Amendment. Still, the Sharif brothers will continue on fooling themselves with their laptop schemes and motorways not realizing that these cosmetic ‘gifts’ will not matter if there is no one alive, well and able to use them.

To call the status quo in Pakistan a circus is an understatement – and to look for a saviour is instinctive. Accountability must prevail but who will be the sacrificial lamb? If the PMLN wishes to hold on to its government, it might be best for them to extract Nawaz Sharif and his family from the scene and focus on the development of their party as a democratic entity rather than an hotchpotch of the falling King’s men.

Climate change: a reality

24 May

 

As usual, environmental law and regulation remains the last item on the global agenda, despite the fact that it is the most pressing issue in need of the international community’s attention. There has been yet another massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – this time as a result of a crude oil leak from a Shell facility off the coast of Louisiana. Even more alarming is the fact that Shell was unaware of the leak until the same had been identified by a helicopter.

Shell’s response? Five boats were sent to remove as much oil from the surface as possible. On the 16th of May, Shell and the US Coast Guard agreed to bring to an end ‘skimming operations’ after the 88,200 gallon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Their apology? Well, they didn’t present one. From a statement on their website, they stated instead: “No release is acceptable, and we remain focused on safe operations”. [1] Just to put this into perspective, after nearly 90,000 gallons of oil leaked from their facility, Shell did not have the courage or dignity to apologize for this massive oversight.

This isn’t the first incident of this kind though. Since 2012, around 500,000 gallons of oil have polluted the Gulf of Mexico.[2] In fact, there is a spill in the Gulf every single year – lest we had forgotten the 87-day oil leak caused by BP in 2010. There is often some apparently massive amount being paid by the corporation for its negligence but this amount cannot, in reality, measure up to the loss of human life and the disastrous environmental impacts resulting from these leaks.

Despite this, the international community, barring a handful of environmental organizations and a few promises made by some states at international conferences, seems to accept these oil spills as they occur, assuming that some financial compensation will actually reverse the damage caused by gross corporate negligence. What is a few billion dollars to a huge corporation? Is it really a deterrent? Obviously not, because had it served as a deterrent, we would’ve seen a fall in the number of oil spills the Gulf of Mexico is subjected to each year.

Apart from oil spills though, we seem to have all our ‘priorities’ in order. Examining Pakistan’s policies with regard to environmental law and regulation, it seems that we can’t think beyond this narrow understanding we have of what environmental law is and how we are supposed to regulate under it. Despite massive flooding, intense and prolonged heat waves and average temperatures rising across the country, Pakistan’s efforts in countering, or at the very least reducing, the effects of climate change remain absent.

The only province that has, to some degree, taken climate change seriously is Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the Government had launched its ‘Billion Tree Tsunami’ programme (excuse the fact that its title is a tad ironic). More recently, they have taken a giant leap, particularly by Pakistani standards, and planned to ban the production, sale and use of non-degradable plastic products. If followed through, this could be a model for the other provinces to follow, provided the existence of political will to do so.

One would have imagined that it wasn’t possible to further weaken environmental safeguards in Pakistan but in a desperate bid to bring in investment, we have lost sight of the fact that this investment will have a higher cost than benefit in the absence of environmental protections in place. There is absolutely no point in bringing in investment if no one, or hardly anyone, will live to reap the benefits of it. Alas, we repeatedly fail to understand that development can and should be sustainable.

After declaring the Paris Agreement a ‘landmark in the history of our planet’, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has suddenly forgotten its existence. Under the Paris Agreement, Pakistan is required to submit periodic reports on its progress with regard to the targets set out by the Agreement. As Pakistan has a terrible track-record with submitting compliance reports to the human rights treaty bodies, one would assume the same non-serious attitude is being adopted with regard to the environment.

What exactly is our climate change policy? From the grass-root level, we see the State’s inability to convey to its population the gravity of climate change. Burning garbage out in the open, widespread and constant use of plastic bags, chopping down trees to build roads rather than investing in public transport – that seems to be our climate change policy.

The fact remains that even if we institutionalize a climate change policy, the real struggle relates to monitoring and enforcement. We have several laws in this country on a range of subject-matter but these remain effective only on paper. Climate change cannot just be addressed by instituting a policy or drafting legislation – there are concrete measures that must be taken to ensure that we address this existential threat.

 

 

[1] http://www.shell.us/media/2016-media-releases/update-5-shell-gulf-of-mexico-response.html

[2] http://bigstory.ap.org/article/5ec84bea289743de91c688046006acbd/coast-guard-shell-line-leaks-88200-gallons-gulf