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Impartial electoral body

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The constitutional watchdog for holding elections is under the scanner. The Chief Election Commissioner, over the period of time, has come under scrutiny by PTI for his alleged favouritism. This is a debatable issue and one that needs an impartial probe as the head of ECP cannot be removed at whims and wishes. The unanimous resolution, in the absence of PML-N legislators’, in the Punjab Assembly demanding CEC’s dismissal has upped the ante. The floor also called for the holding of early general elections to bring the country out of the political and economic crises. Though resolutions are non-binding as per law, what they come to assail is an opinion of sorts and undoubtedly further an impression in the political premise, per se.

The resolution seeking the resignation of Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, and reconstituting the commission, will go a long way as political heat picks up. The verbatim goes on to blame CEC and the commission for alleged biasness, and for being in collusion with the ruling elite. It used the word ‘conspiracy’ to illustrate the act of dislodging the PTI government of then Prime Minister Imran Khan under a foreign plot. It said that the only way out is to hold fair and free elections to settle the dust on prevailing political anarchy.

PTI has been upbeat in its campaign against the incumbent, and it is hoped that a similar vote will also come its way from the assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. PTI holds no brief for CEC as he has been quite vocal in opposing the introduction of EVMs at polls and expediting the hearing of the foreign funding case. Coupled with this, he moved the Supreme Court against the instant holding of elections when PTI was ousted in April. Thus, this resolution seeking his dismissal just furthers the envelope.

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The election body has a primitive role to play in public representation. It goes without saying that the maturity of democracy rests in an invincible and powerful election commission. As the country inches closer towards general elections, an impartial electoral body is indispensable.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2022.

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Opinion

Words and truth are poison together

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Religions, wars, deception, hatred and so forth have touched human existence ever since human beings went through what is called the Cognitive Revolution i.e. when humans gained the ability to imagine things and to lie about them and more importantly when they gained the ability to communicate. Some call it the gift of language. Alternatively, it could arguably be called the curse of language too.

Neil deGrasse Tyson says that if someday there ever would be an encounter between humans and some alien civilisation, from a distant planet, that is intelligent, the communication would only happen in math and science. Words would be useless in such a situation. Besides, words have brought troubles throughout human history in the form of wars, cultural misrepresentations, religious dogmas, racial and national hatreds and so forth. There is one crucial difference between words and numbers — only the latter doesn’t lie.

However, that truism is actually rather seriously not understood. Because here is the sucker: words are capable of speaking and showing the truth very well, but we don’t like words that are true. We can deal with 2 plus 2 equals 4 but we can’t deal with words calling us a thief even if we have spent a lifetime stealing things. No thief wants to be called a thief. You have heard that before. What you have never heard is 5 doesn’t like to be called 4. The mindset is that words are for storytelling and entertainment, let numbers take care of the truth.

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The truth is that we actually like to get a good strong whiff of lies everyday otherwise we might feel empty. At the breakfast table, the disturbing news of someone’s brutal death on TV is quickly moved away from by changing the channel where we might come across some commercial ad using glamorous words and gestures to tell nothing but lies, which we find entertaining. Our Facebook posts are nothing but lies because true expressions will cause problems.

If you have seen the movie Liar Liar with Jim Carrey, you’d know that he attracts hatred and anger from people when he is incapable of telling lies just for one day. When words and truth combine, all kinds of unfortunate and explosive things happen. When a certain private channel tried to combine the two back in 2007, General Musharraf banned the channel. When Edward Snowden tried it, he not only had to run for his life but he continues to live in exile. Speaking of which, not too many changed how they communicate or make purchases but almost everyone wants to jump on the latest tracking device that Snowden warned about i-e the smartphone.

This week, words and truth were combined by Pakistani politician Shehbaz Gill. It didn’t end well for him. Recently, some journalists also tried to create an amalgamation of truth and words and they miserably failed too. Even the very popular leader Imran Khan is no longer in power because he dared playing the alchemist too and the result was a bad explosion.

Pakistan is but a weird nation. Words may not be able to move us but numbers aren’t a success story either. Forget India, forget PML-N or those who play the shenanigans in the shadows; the real and the most serious threat that Pakistan faces, and which is also a national security threat, is the threat of climate change. And numbers have been speaking to us about this threat. The noise about how serious the threat of climate change is comes to us in scientific and mathematical languages. However, it seems that the truth is the ultimate poison in Pakistan. Whatever it combines with, words or numbers, the result is a sorry state.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2022.

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Opinion

The meaning of Karbala

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History is replete with occasions when some individuals proved to be larger than life and spiritually immortal by preserving moral principles against all trials and tribulations. Evil exists in various forms and manifestations that grows on lust and spreads like epidemics through ignorance only to be subdued temporarily by the ‘right’ force. Imam Husain (RA) offered the supreme sacrifice to carry on the tradition of total submission to Allah (SWT) on the one hand and to resist tyranny of the time on the other with a message for posterity to emulate his example.

The slogan of ‘Islam rejuvenates after every Karbala’ reverberates everywhere at the beginning of Muharram (the first month of Islamic calendar) and culminates on its 10th day when every pious Muslim is expected to make a firm determination to fight on tyranny and evil until truth ultimately prevails. Utopia aside, this triumph of good over evil would salvage humanity from man-made sufferings and enable it to focus on progress-for-all rather than wasting energies on lose-lose relations. Unfortunately, the prevailing global order is skewed in favour of evil which calls for radical transformation.

What Imam Husain (RA) wanted to see was a state run by men of high moral standards and unblemished character which could inspire the Muslims in general to embody Islamic values in every sphere of life. He could not see Islam to be confined to performing certain rituals on particular occasions with no role whatsoever in politics. He was convinced that evil on top would have trickle-down effects on the masses. Unlike us, he considered his oath of allegiance as a sacred trust to be discharged under conditions set forth by the holy Quran and Sunnah. This sublime attitude needs revival in electing rulers under democracy which is closer to the concept of Shura and consensus in Islam.

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The Muslim world in general continues to grapple with a persistent vicious cycle of degeneration due primarily to losing sight of its moral roots and spiritual destiny. Its abysmal and marginal role in world affairs reflects its drift from the right path. The Muslim Ummah should have been a monolithic body characterised by unity of thought, shared purpose and joint action as ordained by Allah (SWT) to symbolise monotheism — the foundation of Islam and fountainhead of Muslim character. Despite so many efforts, this avowed and most cherished goal of becoming an Ummah seems to be a fantasy thanks to identity crisis as a result of sectarian differences, diverse cultures, and most importantly economic disparities.

At the heart of sacrifice at Karbala lies a spirit of liberation and perseverance. Imam Husain (RA) declined to accept a ruler who was using coercive means to attain and sustain power like our rulers do today. He could neither be deterred from his mission by a formidable army nor by any incentives carried by the oath of allegiance to an unqualified ruler. He opted to be martyred and his family massacred just to protect and promote the Islamic ideals of equality, justice and peace. Our failure to understand the true meaning of Karbala would make us passive recipients of tyranny.

The 10th of Muharram should not just be a day devoted to performing a few ceremonial activities with no practical steps ever taken to fight pervasive corruption, persecution of oppressed communities and other social, economic and political injustices. This day should remind the Muslim rulers that Yazid, despite suppressing every dissenting voice and eliminating all opposition, went down the history as the most cursed ruler. For ordinary Muslims, this day symbolises a constant struggle for truth, justice and equality against all odds through non-violent legitimate means.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2022.

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Opinion

Dialogue with TTP: lopsided rationale

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Pakistan flew in tribal elders, Ulema, officials and stakeholders to ‘convince’ the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to reconcile for peace in Kabul this summer, under the supervision of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), specifically the ‘Haqqani’ Group. The talks, commenced in October 2021, stand stalled as TTP apparently is unwilling to budge from its core demand of reversal of erstwhile FATA’s merger with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Requiring a constitutional amendment, such reversal is not happening. There are also reported objections by Pakistani interlocutors over TTP’s insistence to remain armed back home, consequent to a peace deal.

During the latest push to take the peace talks forward, a second Pakistani tribal delegation arrived in Kabul on 30 July 2022, following an Ulema delegation earlier, led by Mufti Taqi Usmani. Ulema also pressed TTP to lay down arms and return to Pakistan. The agreed ceasefire holds on paper at least, and Pakistan did release some TTP prisoners.

On June 22 this year, the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) was briefed by Military leadership during a closed-door session in the PM House. The over-arching rationale for talks with the terrorists’ outfit touted by the government was/is “the fear of TTP fighters joining ISIS/Da’esh”. This is as flimsy a rationale as it can get.

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TTP touches a raw nerve. The memories of the APS Peshawar attack, killing innocent kids only because they studied in an Army school, are still fresh. The beheadings of countless soldiers and security personal all along, the kidnappings for ransom, the nihilist bombing of mosques even, still disturbingly flash back. The terrorist outfit does not respect Pakistan’s Constitution/laws, and strives for a state within a state. TTP’s continued reign of terror against security forces continues, whenever the lure of fake peace, lowers our guard.

So, as mentioned in earlier writings, it is not a sincere desire for peace that drives the TTP calculus. Pakistan’s stern warnings to the IEA of shutting down TTP safe havens inside Afghan territory; airstrikes on TTP’s hideouts on 16 April 2021; and IEA’s ‘impatient keenness’ to get rid of this legacy issue to regain sovereign control of the entire Afghanistan are the real drivers behind IEA/TTP peace overtures. Pakistan in December 2021 unsuccessfully targeted a senior Taliban leader, Faqir Mohammad, through a reported drone strike in Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province. TTP’s re-entry this week into Peochar Valley, Swat was perhaps a ‘recce in force’ aimed at gleaning the security ‘pulse’.

TTP also realises that the Afghan swamp will eventually dry up for them, as continued usage of Afghan safe-havens upsets an ‘indispensable’ Pakistan, something that the IEA cannot afford. And like all insurgencies, TTP’s ‘exhaustion point’ (culminating point in military parlance) neared due to fatigue, casualties, falling recruitment and unfavourable politico-military environment may be reached sooner than later.

IEA crackdown on TTP is a divisive issue within Afghans for various reasons like IEA still finding its footing, presence of ISIS, and embarrassment the IEA faces over the US drone killing al-Zawahiri, etc. Moreover, reportedly the Qandahari component of IEA does not look eye to eye to Haqqanis’ protégé — the TTP. TTP and Haqqanis remained aligned during Jihad against the US/NATO.

So, Kabul/Islamabad’s fears that an estranged TTP/its splinter groups could swell ISIS ranks are misplaced for varied reasons. One; irrespective of the outcome of peace talks, die-hard TTP cadre has and will elope with Da’esh. Life without violence is meaningless for such nihilist elements. Two; in that eventuality, having pacified the ‘reconcilable elements’ within TTP, it would be operationally helpful for IEA to concentrate on ISIS alone, rather than looking over its shoulders towards an unpredictable TTP cadre. Three; ISIS threat is overblown and manageable for a combined IEA-Pakistan (indirect) Military enterprise. Four; ISIS plus or minus the TTP hardliners will have to be dealt with by both countries irrespective, now or in near future. And lastly, defeating and eliminating TTP from the Afghan soil will enhance IEA standing, regionally and internationally, paving the way for its ultimate recognition and economic salvation.

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Pakistani Military/veterans and important national stakeholders are also not supportive in entirety of blank amnesty to TTP. Hard-nosed negotiations evoking riwaj (traditions), tribal laws and sharia, as necessary, need to drive the process. The ‘state’ concedes but only after the ‘citizens’ accept state sovereignty, lay down their arms, apologise and guarantee good conduct in future. In doing so, as mentioned previously, the ‘black elements’ with heinous crimes are dealt with/eliminated, using the stipulated process. If history is any guide, it was not too far in the past, when the British Army, using native troops, would exact revenge and reparations in the same mountains, whenever the Empire’s rights were infringed upon. Holding nerve is name of the game.

Due to differences among political parties for the anticipated outcomes, parliamentary oversight committee constituted will ensure sidelining of any unconstitutional or illegal TTP demands. Military should drive and spearhead the process, but its ultimate ownership must squarely rest with the Government of Pakistan.

As a way forward in ‘fighting and talking mode’ that the TTP seem to prefer, Pakistan in collaboration with/acquiescence of IEA, should continue to target TTP cis/trans-frontier. According to Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), in 153 militant attacks, causing 293 deaths during first six months of 2022, most were attributed to TTP. A TTP armed with sophisticated weaponry left behind by withdrawing US/defeated ANA troops needs to be confronted forcefully, as any other outcome will embolden segments within the IEA to realise their grand designs, if any, for the region.

Afghan Taliban’s ascent to power and continued support enhances Pakistan a ‘positive leverage’ with IEA. Hopefully there would be little need for Pakistan’s ‘coercive leverage’ like the April airstrikes. Domestically, shunning complacency, TTP’s Swat-like incursions must be eliminated with full force. In a pragmatic policy calibration, Pakistan should take IEA on board for neutralising TTP. One hopes the August 7 killing of TTP leaders including Omar Khalid Khorasani inside Afghanistan’s Paktika province had some harmonisation.

Politically, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, the IEA spiritual leader, be persuaded to decree against TTP renegades who target a Muslim Pakistan, misuse Afghan soil/hospitality and violate IEA commitment to the World.

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Coup from within should to be our ‘Main Effort’ now.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2022.

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