Showing posts tagged as "elections"

Showing posts tagged elections

16 Oct
Afghanistan’s Political Transition
Kabul/Brussels  |   16 Oct 2014
Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, inherits a government that is running out of money and losing ground to the insurgency. As foreign troops withdraw, the new government must stay united and move quickly on reforms.
In its latest report, Afghanistan’s Political Transition, the International Crisis Group examines the politics surrounding the deeply contested 2014 presidential election, analysing threats and opportunities. Any election during an escalating civil war will never reflect the full breadth of popular opinion, and the polls were marred by substantial fraud. Still, the most peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history creates opportunities to improve governance, reduce corruption and steer the country toward greater stability.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
The formation of a national unity government including Ghani and his election rival Abdullah Abdullah presents opportunities to stabilise the transition, preventing further erosion of state cohesion – but it also poses risks, particularly of factionalism within Kabul. Afghanistan and its donors must focus on the stability of the government while implementing the reforms promised in Ghani’s manifesto.
Ethnic tensions became more acute during the second round, in particular, as ethnic Pashtuns and Uzbeks rallied in large numbers around Ghani and his running mate Abdul Rashid Dostum; at the same time, Abdullah’s ticket became identified mainly with ethnic Tajiks and some Hazara factions. Reducing such mistrust will be crucial if this political transition is to survive.
Some of the political fallout from such a divisive process could be addressed with a transparent review of lessons to be applied to strengthen the 2015 parliamentary and 2019 presidential elections. Such a review, with the potential for reconsidering laws, regulations and even the constitution, may allow for some dilution of the winner-takes-all presidential system.
In the short term, Ghani and Abdullah must steer the government through urgent business, including satisfying the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF), to prevent Afghanistan from being blacklisted by financial institutions and ensure continued donor support.
“Ghani and Abdullah will need to continue serving as voices of restraint as they strive to make the unity government function, and they deserve to receive international support in these efforts” says says Graeme Smith, Afghanistan Senior Analyst. “The Afghan government cannot afford to drift, and any disunity in Kabul will affect the country’s ability to fight its battles and pay its bills”.
“While the two candidates’ power-sharing deals may be imperfect, they have also opened a conversation about revising the overly centralised presidential system”, says Samina Ahmed, South Asia Project Director and Senior Asia Adviser. “Afghanistan needs constitutional reforms to dilute some powers of the presidency and give more responsibilities to elected local officials. This would help mitigate factional tensions in the government and lower the stakes in future elections”.
FULL REPORT

Afghanistan’s Political Transition

Kabul/Brussels  |   16 Oct 2014

Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, inherits a government that is running out of money and losing ground to the insurgency. As foreign troops withdraw, the new government must stay united and move quickly on reforms.

In its latest report, Afghanistan’s Political Transition, the International Crisis Group examines the politics surrounding the deeply contested 2014 presidential election, analysing threats and opportunities. Any election during an escalating civil war will never reflect the full breadth of popular opinion, and the polls were marred by substantial fraud. Still, the most peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history creates opportunities to improve governance, reduce corruption and steer the country toward greater stability.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:

  • The formation of a national unity government including Ghani and his election rival Abdullah Abdullah presents opportunities to stabilise the transition, preventing further erosion of state cohesion – but it also poses risks, particularly of factionalism within Kabul. Afghanistan and its donors must focus on the stability of the government while implementing the reforms promised in Ghani’s manifesto.
  • Ethnic tensions became more acute during the second round, in particular, as ethnic Pashtuns and Uzbeks rallied in large numbers around Ghani and his running mate Abdul Rashid Dostum; at the same time, Abdullah’s ticket became identified mainly with ethnic Tajiks and some Hazara factions. Reducing such mistrust will be crucial if this political transition is to survive.
  • Some of the political fallout from such a divisive process could be addressed with a transparent review of lessons to be applied to strengthen the 2015 parliamentary and 2019 presidential elections. Such a review, with the potential for reconsidering laws, regulations and even the constitution, may allow for some dilution of the winner-takes-all presidential system.
  • In the short term, Ghani and Abdullah must steer the government through urgent business, including satisfying the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF), to prevent Afghanistan from being blacklisted by financial institutions and ensure continued donor support.

“Ghani and Abdullah will need to continue serving as voices of restraint as they strive to make the unity government function, and they deserve to receive international support in these efforts” says says Graeme Smith, Afghanistan Senior Analyst. “The Afghan government cannot afford to drift, and any disunity in Kabul will affect the country’s ability to fight its battles and pay its bills”.

“While the two candidates’ power-sharing deals may be imperfect, they have also opened a conversation about revising the overly centralised presidential system”, says Samina Ahmed, South Asia Project Director and Senior Asia Adviser. “Afghanistan needs constitutional reforms to dilute some powers of the presidency and give more responsibilities to elected local officials. This would help mitigate factional tensions in the government and lower the stakes in future elections”.

FULL REPORT

2 Oct
QUICK FIX IN KABUL | SUNE ENGEL RASMUSSEN
THE GHANI-ABDULLAH DEAL KEEPS THE PEACE, FOR NOW.
At a high school in Kabul on Sept. 22, Ashraf Ghani, dressed in crisp white shalwar kameez and black jacket, was almost shouting. “We are not just responsible for protecting the vote of the people,” he said, “but also to protect people’s lives!” This, Ghani’s first speech as Afghanistan’s president-elect, was ostensible explanation for why the Afghan people had had to wait more than three months since the last ballots were cast to find out just who would succeed Hamid Karzai as the war-torn country’s next leader.
Between the end of the vote and the power-sharing agreement finally being reached between Ghani and his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, it had appeared likely that the controversial presidential election might push Afghanistan back into civil war. Talks between Ghani and Abdullah had repeatedly broken down. More than once, it got so bad between them that their campaign workers participating in the U.N.-monitored vote audit got into fistfights. Fearing loss of influence as a result of the political crisis, the country’s warlords threatened to create their own government. It took U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry a number of personal visits and some 27 phone calls to Ghani and Abdullah to even get the two candidates in the same room.
FULL ARTICLE (Newsweek)
Photo: State Department/US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan/flickr

QUICK FIX IN KABUL | SUNE ENGEL RASMUSSEN

THE GHANI-ABDULLAH DEAL KEEPS THE PEACE, FOR NOW.

At a high school in Kabul on Sept. 22, Ashraf Ghani, dressed in crisp white shalwar kameez and black jacket, was almost shouting. “We are not just responsible for protecting the vote of the people,” he said, “but also to protect people’s lives!” This, Ghani’s first speech as Afghanistan’s president-elect, was ostensible explanation for why the Afghan people had had to wait more than three months since the last ballots were cast to find out just who would succeed Hamid Karzai as the war-torn country’s next leader.

Between the end of the vote and the power-sharing agreement finally being reached between Ghani and his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, it had appeared likely that the controversial presidential election might push Afghanistan back into civil war. Talks between Ghani and Abdullah had repeatedly broken down. More than once, it got so bad between them that their campaign workers participating in the U.N.-monitored vote audit got into fistfights. Fearing loss of influence as a result of the political crisis, the country’s warlords threatened to create their own government. It took U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry a number of personal visits and some 27 phone calls to Ghani and Abdullah to even get the two candidates in the same room.

FULL ARTICLE (Newsweek)

Photo: State Department/US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan/flickr

16 Sep
Fears of unrest cloud Afghanistan as election dispute drags on | ALI M. LATIFI, SHASHANK BENGALI
As Afghanistan’s disputed presidential vote nears an uncertain conclusion, fears are mounting that post-election unrest could threaten the fragile political order that the United States has struggled for 13 years to help build.
Recent developments have raised questions about the ability of Abdullah Abdullah — the one-time front-runner who has alleged a conspiracy to rig the results against him — to pacify supporters if he, as expected, is declared the runner-up.
The concerns have increased as he has clashed with rival Ashraf Ghani over the details of a power-sharing proposal, brokered by the Obama administration, in which the new president would cede some decision-making authority to a chief executive from the opposing camp.
FULL ARTICLE (LA Times)
Photo: UNAMA/Fardin Waeza/United Nations Development Programme/flickr

Fears of unrest cloud Afghanistan as election dispute drags on | ALI M. LATIFI, SHASHANK BENGALI

As Afghanistan’s disputed presidential vote nears an uncertain conclusion, fears are mounting that post-election unrest could threaten the fragile political order that the United States has struggled for 13 years to help build.

Recent developments have raised questions about the ability of Abdullah Abdullah — the one-time front-runner who has alleged a conspiracy to rig the results against him — to pacify supporters if he, as expected, is declared the runner-up.

The concerns have increased as he has clashed with rival Ashraf Ghani over the details of a power-sharing proposal, brokered by the Obama administration, in which the new president would cede some decision-making authority to a chief executive from the opposing camp.

FULL ARTICLE (LA Times)

Photo: UNAMA/Fardin Waeza/United Nations Development Programme/flickr

Where delaying elections can build peace | Landry Signé and Grace Kpohazounde
Elections are crucial to peace processes in post-conflict countries, but their organization before sufficiently addressing the root causes of conflict — and ensuring the serious political commitment of former belligerents — can jeopardize the achievement of sustainable peace and successful democratic transition.
On Jan. 28, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2134 to address humanitarian, security and political concerns in the Central African Republic after a military coup and civil war, which had accelerated state collapse. Resolution 2134 called for the holding of elections “as soon as possible, but no later than February 2015 and, if possible, in the second half of 2014,” giving barely a year to the then-interim government and all the parties (or belligerents) involved to create trust among parties, reorganize the disintegrated administration, disarm factions, ensure security and create a credible electoral management body.
FULL ARTICLE (The Washington Post)
Photo: Catholic Relief Services/S.Phelps/UNHCR Photo Unit/Flickr

Where delaying elections can build peace | Landry Signé and Grace Kpohazounde

Elections are crucial to peace processes in post-conflict countries, but their organization before sufficiently addressing the root causes of conflict — and ensuring the serious political commitment of former belligerents — can jeopardize the achievement of sustainable peace and successful democratic transition.

On Jan. 28, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2134 to address humanitarian, security and political concerns in the Central African Republic after a military coup and civil war, which had accelerated state collapse. Resolution 2134 called for the holding of elections “as soon as possible, but no later than February 2015 and, if possible, in the second half of 2014,” giving barely a year to the then-interim government and all the parties (or belligerents) involved to create trust among parties, reorganize the disintegrated administration, disarm factions, ensure security and create a credible electoral management body.

FULL ARTICLE (The Washington Post)

Photo: Catholic Relief Services/S.Phelps/UNHCR Photo Unit/Flickr

9 Sep
Grace Mugabe poised for political power in Zimbabwe | David Smith
Even as he received red carpet treatment in Beijing last month, lauded by China as an “old friend” and “renowned leader”, Robert Mugabe was in danger of being upstaged by a colourful, charismatic presence at his side. His first lady, Grace Mugabe, sporting a series of vivid outfits during the official visit to China, was once a lowly member of the presidential typing pool. Then she caught Mugabe’s eye. Now the woman better known to headline writers as “DisGrace” or “First Shopper” is making a surprise entrance on to the political stage and, it is speculated, might be central to her autocratic husband’s plan to build a dynasty.
The 49-year-old was recently nominated as leader of the ruling Zanu-PF’s women’s league, as well as having a place on its central committee. She insists she is ready. “The time has come to show people what I am made of,” she told a crowd in Mazowe, the Zimbabwe Standard reported. “People should learn to wait for their time… I had never dreamed of entering politics, but you have approached me and I am ready to go.”
FULL ARTICLE (The Observer)
Photo: GovernmentZA/GCIS/flickr

Grace Mugabe poised for political power in Zimbabwe | David Smith

Even as he received red carpet treatment in Beijing last month, lauded by China as an “old friend” and “renowned leader”, Robert Mugabe was in danger of being upstaged by a colourful, charismatic presence at his side. His first lady, Grace Mugabe, sporting a series of vivid outfits during the official visit to China, was once a lowly member of the presidential typing pool. Then she caught Mugabe’s eye. Now the woman better known to headline writers as “DisGrace” or “First Shopper” is making a surprise entrance on to the political stage and, it is speculated, might be central to her autocratic husband’s plan to build a dynasty.

The 49-year-old was recently nominated as leader of the ruling Zanu-PF’s women’s league, as well as having a place on its central committee. She insists she is ready. “The time has come to show people what I am made of,” she told a crowd in Mazowe, the Zimbabwe Standard reported. “People should learn to wait for their time… I had never dreamed of entering politics, but you have approached me and I am ready to go.”

FULL ARTICLE (The Observer)

Photo: GovernmentZA/GCIS/flickr

3 Sep
Afghan turmoil threatens NATO’s ‘mission accomplished’ plans | ADRIAN CROFT AND MIRWAIS HAROONI
(Reuters) - NATO will declare “mission accomplished” this week as it winds down more than a decade of operations in Afghanistan but departing combat troops look likely to leave behind political turmoil and an emboldened insurgency.
The embattled country is also suffering a sharp economic slowdown.
NATO had hoped its summit in Wales on Thursday and Friday would herald a smooth handover of security at the end of this year from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to Afghan forces. It then plans to cut back its role to a smaller mission to train and advise Afghan troops.
The 28-nation alliance had also hoped to celebrate Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power by inviting a new president to share the spotlight with U.S. President Barack Obama and the other 27 allied leaders.
Instead, NATO diplomats privately admit that the backdrop to the summit is the “worst case scenario”.
FULL ARTICLE (Reuters)
Photo: U.S. Navy Photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist (SW) Jeremy L. Wood via Chuck Holton/flickr

Afghan turmoil threatens NATO’s ‘mission accomplished’ plans | ADRIAN CROFT AND MIRWAIS HAROONI

(Reuters) - NATO will declare “mission accomplished” this week as it winds down more than a decade of operations in Afghanistan but departing combat troops look likely to leave behind political turmoil and an emboldened insurgency.

The embattled country is also suffering a sharp economic slowdown.

NATO had hoped its summit in Wales on Thursday and Friday would herald a smooth handover of security at the end of this year from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to Afghan forces. It then plans to cut back its role to a smaller mission to train and advise Afghan troops.

The 28-nation alliance had also hoped to celebrate Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power by inviting a new president to share the spotlight with U.S. President Barack Obama and the other 27 allied leaders.

Instead, NATO diplomats privately admit that the backdrop to the summit is the “worst case scenario”.

FULL ARTICLE (Reuters)

Photo: U.S. Navy Photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist (SW) Jeremy L. Wood via Chuck Holton/flickr

2 Sep
LINK

Political vacuum in Afghanistan | All media content | DW.DE | 02.09.2014

Political vacuum in Afghanistan | Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi

DW’s Reporter reports on insecurity as the political uncertainty in post-election Afghanistan continues.

COMPLETE VIDEO (Deutsche Welle)

25 Aug
Populist’s Brash Tactics Stir Fears of Crisis in Pakistan | DECLAN WALSHAUG
LONDON — Only last year, Imran Khan was casting himself as the savior of Pakistani politics: a playboy cricketer turned opposition leader who enjoyed respect and sex appeal, filling stadiums with adoring young Pakistanis drawn to his strident attacks on corruption, American drone strikes and old-school politics. When Mr. Khan promised that he would become prime minister, many believed him.
Now, though, Mr. Khan’s populist touch appears to have deserted him. 
He led thousands of supporters into the center of the capital, Islamabad, a week ago in a boisterous bid to force the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom he accuses of election fraud. But the crowds he attracted were much smaller than his party had hoped, and the protest movement has been messy, inchoate and inconclusive. 
FULL ARTICLE (The New York Times)
Photo: Mustafa Mohsin/flickr

Populist’s Brash Tactics Stir Fears of Crisis in Pakistan | DECLAN WALSHAUG

LONDON — Only last year, Imran Khan was casting himself as the savior of Pakistani politics: a playboy cricketer turned opposition leader who enjoyed respect and sex appeal, filling stadiums with adoring young Pakistanis drawn to his strident attacks on corruption, American drone strikes and old-school politics. When Mr. Khan promised that he would become prime minister, many believed him.

Now, though, Mr. Khan’s populist touch appears to have deserted him. 

He led thousands of supporters into the center of the capital, Islamabad, a week ago in a boisterous bid to force the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom he accuses of election fraud. But the crowds he attracted were much smaller than his party had hoped, and the protest movement has been messy, inchoate and inconclusive. 

FULL ARTICLE (The New York Times)

Photo: Mustafa Mohsin/flickr

21 Aug
Conflict Alert: Protecting Pakistan’s Threatened Democracy
Islamabad/Brussels  |   21 Aug 2014
A little over a year ago, Pakistan entered an unprecedented second phase of democratic transition, with one elected government handing power to another by peaceful, constitutional means. This fragile transition will be gravely threatened unless a fast-escalating political crisis is urgently defused. The protests rocking Islamabad threaten to upend the constitutional order, set back rule of law and open the possibility of a soft coup, with the military ruling through the backdoor. Renewed political instability at the centre would imperil any progress that has been made in addressing grievous economic, development and security challenges. The government’s moves, supported by the parliamentary opposition, to accommodate some of the protestors’ demands – particularly as regards electoral reform – are welcome. It is worrying, however, that protest leaders appear adamant in rejecting such outreach. Crisis Group calls on the political and military leadership to continue adherence to the constitution and enforcement of the rule of law, while permitting the right to peaceful protest. 
Protesting with several thousand supporters in front of the national parliament in Islamabad, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Imran Khan and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s (PAT) cleric-cum-politician leader Tahirul Qadri are demanding Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation. Beyond that their demands diverge. Qadri has called for resignation of the government, dissolution of all legislatures and formation of a national government to enact sweeping constitutional reform that would replace parliamentary democracy with a neo-theocratic order. Khan, who has prime ministerial ambitions, has claimed that massive rigging by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, segments of the media and many other institutions and individuals deprived him of victory in the May 2013 national and provincial elections. He wants those responsible for rigging tried for treason, Sharif’s resignation, dissolution of the national parliament, formation of a neutral interim government and new elections. While threatening the PTI’s resignation from the national parliament and the Sindh and Punjab provincial legislatures in which he has very limited representation, he has yet to decide a course of action in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KPK) where his is the governing party.
The government cannot absolve itself of all responsibility for the impasse, including confrontation between the police and Qadri’s followers in Punjab’s capital, Lahore, that resulted in the deaths of several PAT supporters in June and foot-dragging on Khan’s initial demands for a limited electoral audit. In the face of the Islamabad protests, however, it has thus far exercised restraint, concerned that any attempt to use force could further inflame sentiment, exacerbate the crisis and give spoilers opportunity to disrupt the democratic process. Further, it has accepted Khan’s original demand to recount votes in some disputed constituencies. It has also accepted his demand for a judicial probe into rigging, having requested the Supreme Court to set up a commission to investigate conduct of the May elections; and has responded positively to Khan’s critique of the ECP and the electoral process by constituting a parliamentary committee, including PTI legislators, to develop proposals for meaningful electoral reform. However, Khan has rejected these concessions and moved the goal posts, rejecting the elections entirely and calling for new polls.
All the major parties in the national parliament, including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which leads the opposition and was in power until losing to PML-N in 2013, have strongly opposed any steps to derail democracy. They urge Qadri and Khan to resolve their differences with the government peacefully and vociferously reject demands for the dissolution of national and provincial legislatures. Elected representatives from Sindh and Balochistan consider the crisis a tussle for power between Sharif, Khan and Qadri – all from Punjab, the most populous province – and a threat to the budding democratic institutions. Justices of the higher courts, including the Supreme Court of Pakistan, have called on the government and protestors to refrain from anything that would undermine constitutionalism and rule of law. Pro-democracy activists and civil society organisations, including bar councils and associations and journalist unions, also vow to protect democratic institutions and governance. 
Khan and Qadri appear bent on upping the ante. They have reneged on commitments to the government to restrict their activities to areas allocated for their respective demonstrations outside the “Red Zone” that includes the legislature and Supreme Court, the prime minister’s official residence and secretariat and many embassies. To avoid violence, the government has allowed them to enter this sensitive area, but the crisis would escalate if Khan follows through on calls to his followers to seize the prime minister’s residence unless Nawaz Sharif immediately resigns. Despite a past record of his followers resorting to violence, including against law enforcement officials, Qadri insists his protest will remain peaceful. He has yet to moderate demands for an end to the entire political order.
Khan’s and Qadri’s refusals to moderate their demands and the increased potential for violence have brought the military in more directly. Even before the crisis escalated, the government had given it the responsibility, under article 245 of the constitution, to secure the capital. It is now in charge of protecting all important Red Zone buildings, including parliament. Prime Minister Sharif, his brother and Punjab Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan have met with army chief General Raheel Sharif, apparently to seek army support or at least neutrality. Nisar has strongly rejected suspicions in some political quarters of a high-command role in fuelling the crisis, given its displeasure with the government’s decision to try former army chief and President Pervez Musharraf for treason and Khan’s and Qadri’s own ties with the defence establishment. 
That said, with several platoons of troops and paramilitary forces now facing off against demonstrators in the Red Zone, the dangers of military intervention have multiplied. If Khan’s threat to storm the prime minister’s residence or Qadri’s to cordon the National Assembly are realised, there could be bloody confrontation or, as in past political crises, an indirect military intervention. In the high command’s first public response, the head of Inter-Services Public Relations, Major General Asim Bajwa, called on all “stakeholders” to demonstrate “patience, wisdom and sagacity” and “resolve the prevailing impasse through meaningful dialogue in the larger national interests and public interests”. There is in this an implied risk that past military interventions – including the removal of three elected governments in the 1990s – cannot be ignored: that the military might decisively enter the fray if it judges the politicians to be insufficiently wise.
If democracy is to survive and stability preserved, it is essential that political and military leaders: 
Exercise restraint:
While Qadri has few stakes in the system and little interest in sustaining it, Khan’s party, which had its best electoral results in 2013, must understand that disruption of the democratic order could deprive it of the chance of forming governments by legitimate means. It should in particular cease calls to attack public property, including the prime minister’s residence or parliament. The danger that infiltrators, including terrorists and violent extremists, could exploit the situation to attack elected representatives, security personnel, diplomats or even demonstrators to provoke violence, cannot be ruled out. The government should allow the demonstrations to continue – peaceful protest is a constitutional right – while ensuring that citizens, public property and embassies are protected. 
Respect constitutionalism and protect democratic institutions:
The government, parliamentary opposition, demonstrators and the security apparatus must all respect the constitution and rule of law. Otherwise it would be next to impossible to resolve Pakistan’s security challenges, including militancy and terrorism that have claimed thousands of lives. The threat or use of force to advance political goals empowers spoilers and cuts the country’s moderate moorings. The abrogation of constitutions and closure of democratic avenues to address grievances and demands by successive dictatorial regimes fuelled political polarisation. The various components of the federation must not be led to believe that their interests and priorities could again be made hostage to extra-constitutional power deals. 
Hold meaningful negotiations:
The government must continue its efforts to seek a negotiated settlement of the crisis with Khan and Qadri, but should not allow the military to dictate the outcome of the bargaining process or concede to any demand that undermines constitutionalism, democratic governance and the rule of law. If Khan and Qadri are to convince the public their actions are in the national interest, they must respond constructively to such overtures.

Conflict Alert: Protecting Pakistan’s Threatened Democracy

Islamabad/Brussels  |   21 Aug 2014

A little over a year ago, Pakistan entered an unprecedented second phase of democratic transition, with one elected government handing power to another by peaceful, constitutional means. This fragile transition will be gravely threatened unless a fast-escalating political crisis is urgently defused. The protests rocking Islamabad threaten to upend the constitutional order, set back rule of law and open the possibility of a soft coup, with the military ruling through the backdoor. Renewed political instability at the centre would imperil any progress that has been made in addressing grievous economic, development and security challenges. The government’s moves, supported by the parliamentary opposition, to accommodate some of the protestors’ demands – particularly as regards electoral reform – are welcome. It is worrying, however, that protest leaders appear adamant in rejecting such outreach. Crisis Group calls on the political and military leadership to continue adherence to the constitution and enforcement of the rule of law, while permitting the right to peaceful protest. 

Protesting with several thousand supporters in front of the national parliament in Islamabad, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Imran Khan and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s (PAT) cleric-cum-politician leader Tahirul Qadri are demanding Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation. Beyond that their demands diverge. Qadri has called for resignation of the government, dissolution of all legislatures and formation of a national government to enact sweeping constitutional reform that would replace parliamentary democracy with a neo-theocratic order. Khan, who has prime ministerial ambitions, has claimed that massive rigging by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, segments of the media and many other institutions and individuals deprived him of victory in the May 2013 national and provincial elections. He wants those responsible for rigging tried for treason, Sharif’s resignation, dissolution of the national parliament, formation of a neutral interim government and new elections. While threatening the PTI’s resignation from the national parliament and the Sindh and Punjab provincial legislatures in which he has very limited representation, he has yet to decide a course of action in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KPK) where his is the governing party.

The government cannot absolve itself of all responsibility for the impasse, including confrontation between the police and Qadri’s followers in Punjab’s capital, Lahore, that resulted in the deaths of several PAT supporters in June and foot-dragging on Khan’s initial demands for a limited electoral audit. In the face of the Islamabad protests, however, it has thus far exercised restraint, concerned that any attempt to use force could further inflame sentiment, exacerbate the crisis and give spoilers opportunity to disrupt the democratic process. Further, it has accepted Khan’s original demand to recount votes in some disputed constituencies. It has also accepted his demand for a judicial probe into rigging, having requested the Supreme Court to set up a commission to investigate conduct of the May elections; and has responded positively to Khan’s critique of the ECP and the electoral process by constituting a parliamentary committee, including PTI legislators, to develop proposals for meaningful electoral reform. However, Khan has rejected these concessions and moved the goal posts, rejecting the elections entirely and calling for new polls.

All the major parties in the national parliament, including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which leads the opposition and was in power until losing to PML-N in 2013, have strongly opposed any steps to derail democracy. They urge Qadri and Khan to resolve their differences with the government peacefully and vociferously reject demands for the dissolution of national and provincial legislatures. Elected representatives from Sindh and Balochistan consider the crisis a tussle for power between Sharif, Khan and Qadri – all from Punjab, the most populous province – and a threat to the budding democratic institutions. Justices of the higher courts, including the Supreme Court of Pakistan, have called on the government and protestors to refrain from anything that would undermine constitutionalism and rule of law. Pro-democracy activists and civil society organisations, including bar councils and associations and journalist unions, also vow to protect democratic institutions and governance. 

Khan and Qadri appear bent on upping the ante. They have reneged on commitments to the government to restrict their activities to areas allocated for their respective demonstrations outside the “Red Zone” that includes the legislature and Supreme Court, the prime minister’s official residence and secretariat and many embassies. To avoid violence, the government has allowed them to enter this sensitive area, but the crisis would escalate if Khan follows through on calls to his followers to seize the prime minister’s residence unless Nawaz Sharif immediately resigns. Despite a past record of his followers resorting to violence, including against law enforcement officials, Qadri insists his protest will remain peaceful. He has yet to moderate demands for an end to the entire political order.

Khan’s and Qadri’s refusals to moderate their demands and the increased potential for violence have brought the military in more directly. Even before the crisis escalated, the government had given it the responsibility, under article 245 of the constitution, to secure the capital. It is now in charge of protecting all important Red Zone buildings, including parliament. Prime Minister Sharif, his brother and Punjab Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan have met with army chief General Raheel Sharif, apparently to seek army support or at least neutrality. Nisar has strongly rejected suspicions in some political quarters of a high-command role in fuelling the crisis, given its displeasure with the government’s decision to try former army chief and President Pervez Musharraf for treason and Khan’s and Qadri’s own ties with the defence establishment. 

That said, with several platoons of troops and paramilitary forces now facing off against demonstrators in the Red Zone, the dangers of military intervention have multiplied. If Khan’s threat to storm the prime minister’s residence or Qadri’s to cordon the National Assembly are realised, there could be bloody confrontation or, as in past political crises, an indirect military intervention. In the high command’s first public response, the head of Inter-Services Public Relations, Major General Asim Bajwa, called on all “stakeholders” to demonstrate “patience, wisdom and sagacity” and “resolve the prevailing impasse through meaningful dialogue in the larger national interests and public interests”. There is in this an implied risk that past military interventions – including the removal of three elected governments in the 1990s – cannot be ignored: that the military might decisively enter the fray if it judges the politicians to be insufficiently wise.

If democracy is to survive and stability preserved, it is essential that political and military leaders: 

Exercise restraint:

While Qadri has few stakes in the system and little interest in sustaining it, Khan’s party, which had its best electoral results in 2013, must understand that disruption of the democratic order could deprive it of the chance of forming governments by legitimate means. It should in particular cease calls to attack public property, including the prime minister’s residence or parliament. The danger that infiltrators, including terrorists and violent extremists, could exploit the situation to attack elected representatives, security personnel, diplomats or even demonstrators to provoke violence, cannot be ruled out. The government should allow the demonstrations to continue – peaceful protest is a constitutional right – while ensuring that citizens, public property and embassies are protected. 

Respect constitutionalism and protect democratic institutions:

The government, parliamentary opposition, demonstrators and the security apparatus must all respect the constitution and rule of law. Otherwise it would be next to impossible to resolve Pakistan’s security challenges, including militancy and terrorism that have claimed thousands of lives. The threat or use of force to advance political goals empowers spoilers and cuts the country’s moderate moorings. The abrogation of constitutions and closure of democratic avenues to address grievances and demands by successive dictatorial regimes fuelled political polarisation. The various components of the federation must not be led to believe that their interests and priorities could again be made hostage to extra-constitutional power deals. 

Hold meaningful negotiations:

The government must continue its efforts to seek a negotiated settlement of the crisis with Khan and Qadri, but should not allow the military to dictate the outcome of the bargaining process or concede to any demand that undermines constitutionalism, democratic governance and the rule of law. If Khan and Qadri are to convince the public their actions are in the national interest, they must respond constructively to such overtures.

19 Aug
The Waxing Crescent | MARIANA BAABAR
On Independence Day, along with revered state heroes, a nation needs to celebrate contemporary feats of heroism too. This August, Pakistan has been celebrating the achievements of 21-year-old Samina Baig. After conquering Mount Everest, Samina, with her brother Mirza Ali, is now heading towards Mount Elbrus in Russia. Having already had the better of the highest continental peaks in Argentina, Antarctica, Tanzania and Alaska, Elbrus will make them the first Pakistani siblings to have conquered all the highest peaks in seven continents.
But Pakistan’s government of the day has little time for celebrating the feats of the girl from Shimshal valley in upper Hunza. At the vanguard of the forces bes­­ieging it are hijab-clad, sloganeering women from Punjab, headline-grabbing footsoldiers of Can­ada-­­­­based firebrand cleric Allama Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awa­mi Tehriq (PAT). With expectations and apprehensions surro­u­n­ding Qadri’s Inq­ilab March from Lahore to Islam­abad on Aug­­ust 14 reaching a fevered pitch as the date draws near, all eyes are on the so-called ‘chicks with sticks’.
FULL ARTICLE (Outlook)
Photo: Gul Hamaad Farooqi/GroundReport/flickr

The Waxing Crescent | MARIANA BAABAR

On Independence Day, along with revered state heroes, a nation needs to celebrate contemporary feats of heroism too. This August, Pakistan has been celebrating the achievements of 21-year-old Samina Baig. After conquering Mount Everest, Samina, with her brother Mirza Ali, is now heading towards Mount Elbrus in Russia. Having already had the better of the highest continental peaks in Argentina, Antarctica, Tanzania and Alaska, Elbrus will make them the first Pakistani siblings to have conquered all the highest peaks in seven continents.

But Pakistan’s government of the day has little time for celebrating the feats of the girl from Shimshal valley in upper Hunza. At the vanguard of the forces bes­­ieging it are hijab-clad, sloganeering women from Punjab, headline-grabbing footsoldiers of Can­ada-­­­­based firebrand cleric Allama Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awa­mi Tehriq (PAT). With expectations and apprehensions surro­u­n­ding Qadri’s Inq­ilab March from Lahore to Islam­abad on Aug­­ust 14 reaching a fevered pitch as the date draws near, all eyes are on the so-called ‘chicks with sticks’.

FULL ARTICLE (Outlook)

Photo: Gul Hamaad Farooqi/GroundReport/flickr