A Report on the US Election 2020

Syed Sharfuddin

The author of this Report, Syed Sharfuddin, served as Special Adviser at the Political Affairs Division, Commonwealth Secretariat, London, from 2000-2006. In that period he observed elections in many Commonwealth countries and contributed to the Reports of various Commonwealth Observer Groups.

The Commonwealth does not observe elections in non-member countries. Where it does, the observation is subject to receiving an official invitation from the concerned government and the Commonwealth Secretary-General certifying that the observation will add value to the democratic practice and processes in the election holding country. Democracies with strong electoral systems have their own local observers who endorse the election and certify that it is conducted freely and fairly and reflects the will of the people. Although all countries have their own local observers, in weaker democracies they lack neutrality and public legitimacy. These countries need neutral and non-partisan international observers to give a seal of approval for their elections.

Commonwealth observers are drawn from various Commonwealth countries and comprise constitutional experts, heads of election management bodies, retired politicians and representatives of the media, women’s groups, youth organisations and democracy strengthening non-government organisations. Sometimes the Commonwealth deploys its own staff team to observe elections. At the conclusion of their observation, they submit a report to the Commonwealth Secretary-General for onward transmission to the concerned government and electoral bodies before making it public.

The US never was nor is a Commonwealth member even though it may indisputably qualify for membership of the association on the basis of its strong democratic credentials and its former constitutional association with Britain. Therefore, it is inconceivable to think that the Commonwealth will ever constitute an observer group to monitor a US presidential election. However, the 3 November US presidential election has brought to the fore many aspects in common with the election of a Commonwealth country that it is hard to resist its analysis against the standard Commonwealth election observation template.

When Commonwealth election observers visit a country holding a general election, they examine its legal and electoral framework, the prevailing domestic political environment, its election preparations and availability of level playing field for all political actors. A few days before the poll, the Commonwealth mission deploys its observers and experts to monitor the campaign, the voting process, the count and tabulation of results. The mission also ensures that the results reflect the free will of the people and are credible and accepted by all stakeholders, including the major political parties and candidates. The Commonwealth observers’ report, which is issued in the corporate name but in their individual capacity, also mentions any shortfalls noticed by the mission in the conduct of the election as a whole, as well as includes recommendations for improvement, based on the country’s democratic strengths and international best practice.

In my analysis I have relied on the reports of the three international organisations, the OSCE, ODIHR and OAS, which deployed observers in many US states to observe the November election. I have also relied on the reports of other US domestic organisations, coalitions and media election-cells that followed continuously developments related to the US election not just on the Election Day, but also many days before and after the election. While I have used the Commonwealth template to analyse these elections, my analysis is entirely personal and does not represent the official position of the Commonwealth Secretariat or its Secretary-General who alone has the authority to constitute a Commonwealth mission to observe elections in member countries or comment on their outcome.

The 2020 US Election
This was one of the most participated elections in the US electoral history. According to many reports, nearly 160 million voters exercised their franchise compared to the 136.5 at the 2016 election. Before Election Day, more than 93 million Americans had cast their ballots. A majority of these voters was believed to be Biden supporters. On the Election Day, a majority of those who voted in person was believed to be Trump supporters. This estimate was confirmed as President Trump took the lead in the early count from the polls, while vice president Biden came from behind to lead the race in the later count from postal ballots.

At the 2020 election, four presidential candidates were registered in a number of states. Two of them were the incumbent Republican President Donald Trump who was running for a second term in office and former vice president Joe Biden who was the Democrat candidate against President Trump. An additional 80 presidential candidates, including 27 women, appeared on various state ballots. The US media-houses established special election cells to cover the electoral campaign. However, only President Trump and vice president Joe Biden received the most media coverage nationwide.

The presidential election was also combined with the election of the US Congress, comprising the House of Representatives and the Senate. There were 1,113 candidates, including 340 women, competing for the 435 vacant House seats. 151 candidates, including 42 women, competed for the 35 vacant Senate seats. Eleven candidates for the House stood unopposed. Elections were also held for state and local executive offices, state legislatures in 44 states, as well as 66 state judges in 31 states, along with various referenda and initiatives. At least 27 LGBTIQ candidates across 21 states and 13 persons with disabilities in eleven states appeared on the ballot for federal elections.

Electoral College
The Electoral College was established by the founding fathers of the federation but over the years it has undergone various amendments in the US constitution, losing its original spirit but retaining its key function. The Electoral College is formed after the states certify the results of the election in their counties to the House. The College comprises 538 electors. Its composition in each state is based on the state’s population. The College indirectly chooses an executive team of president and vice president from the same political party through a secret ballot a month after the November election. If the College fails to elect the president or vice president, the power to elect the executive head of the federation and his deputy is transferred to the US congress. In a dispute over their election, the US Supreme Court has the final authority to declare the winner.

The rules about the conduct of the Electoral College are not very clear although customarily they vote for the executive team in line with the popular vote. In as many as 32 states, electors can be fined or replaced in accordance with the respective state law if they do not vote in accordance with the popular vote. The ‘first past the post’ system combined with the ‘winner takes all’ principle in deciding the winner gives all the reserved electoral-college seats in a state to the winning political party, even if the popular vote in that state is cast in favour of the losing candidate. In every US election the results map of states represents either the red colour for the Republicans or the blue colour for Democrats. A winning team of president and vice president requires the combined strength of 270 electors from any combination of all the federating states and the District of Columbia to force the opposition team to concede the election.

Under the US constitution, presidential and vice-presidential candidates must be natural born US citizens, at least 35 years old, and resident in the US for at least fourteen years. Senate candidates must be at least thirty years old and citizens for at least nine years. Candidates for the House of Representatives must be at least 25 years of age and citizens for at least seven years. Both senators and representatives, when elected, must be residents of the state in which they are elected.

Election Administration
In the US, election administration is huge, running into thousands of officials. It is also highly decentralised, with no federal body mandated to oversee the entire electoral process. While this reflects the devolved feature of the federation, it also makes the US election a highly complex process with each state having its own laws and regulations for the conduct of election. In this equation the lawyers and courts have a much greater say in the conduct of election than politicians or other stakeholders. States are responsible for administering various elections with duties often delegated to some 10,500 jurisdictions across the country. In many states the ruling party appoints its election management body. However, in twenty states, including the District of Columbia, election management bodies are either bipartisan or independent.

The Campaign
The campaign for the 2020 election was heavily undermined by the COVID-19 pandemic. It limited the traditional political rallies, which unlike the campaign rallies in other countries are festive and colourful events. However, disagreements on topics of healthcare, Covid-19 response, police reforms, racial justice, gun laws, jobs, manufacturing and the environment bitterly divided the voters along party lines and threatened the racial and ethnic unity which has been the hallmark of the country’s strength and diversity. The long political process which started from the presidential primaries in the states of Iowa and New Hampshire yielded two final candidates in the form of the Republican President Trump running for a second term and former vice president Joe Biden who beat his party mate Bernie Sanders to emerge as the top Democratic challenger.

An interesting feature of the 2020 campaign was that the major presidential candidates were male and senior citizens. Joe Biden’s choice of a woman, Kamala Harris as his vice president nominee, was a strategic move, which helped him win women and minority votes. In the months before the election, over 400 lawsuits were filed in 44 states, some of which were still before the courts when the polls opened on 3 November. These lawsuits increased hundredfold after the Republican campaign challenged the results of the election in many states demanding a halt to the counting of postal ballots after November 4, and a recount in many states, some of which was allowed by the courts. From May 2020 until the close of the poll, there were more than 12,000 protests against the political and criminal justice system. A majority of these protests were peaceful and called for racial justice and police reforms.

Voter Registration and Identification
Although the US public takes its voting right seriously and the constitution protects the political rights of citizens, an estimated 5.2 million citizens are disenfranchised due to a criminal conviction, with many of them having already served their sentences. These restrictions disproportionately affect racial minorities. It is estimated that about 1.3 million African Americans are unable to vote as a result of these policies.

Voter identification requirements vary across the states. In 34 states voters are required to show identification before voting, with 18 of these requiring a photo ID. In 16 states, as well as in the District of Columbia, other identifying documents such as verification of signatures or showing personal information may be sufficient at the polling station. Absence of clear rules makes it hard to apply the same criteria for identification throughout all counties in all states. Where a voter’s address or identity cannot be established or where his name does not appear on the voter register, a provisional ballot can be issued at the polling station to enable the voter to cast the vote, subject to acceptance by the authorities at the counting stage. On 3 November a number of voters personally came to vote even after having cast their ballot by mail because they were unsure that it would be delivered to their respective county centre in time for counting.

Presidential Debate
In the November 2020 election, the outcome of the first presidential debate organised by the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) became controversial after the event, with various stakeholders expressing dismay at the undignified tenor of the event. The two presidential candidates, especially the incumbent president, kept interrupting their opponent throughout the debate. This prevented them from addressing the key political and economic issues meant to inform the viewers about key electoral promises and polices.

The second debate was ultimately cancelled following President Trump’s Covid-19 infection and his surprisingly quick recovery, and also due to his refusal to participate in an online debate. His team also accused the CPD of bias and unacceptable aggressive style of the moderator at the first debate. Instead, two separate town hall debates, featuring each of the candidates were aired simultaneously, with the audience posing questions.

The third and final debate was conducted as initially planned. In response to the controversy arising from the first debate, the microphone of the opponents was muted during their opening positions on the agreed topics.

Vote Count
The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the weaknesses in the timelines for postal ballots to reach the county offices and be counted in time because a record number of postal votes, numbering around 27 million had not reached counting centres by the polling day. A majority of Democrats had preferred to vote ahead of the polling day resulting in extraordinary postal transactions and pressure on the postal service for timely delivery of the postal ballots to the respective election offices. This also added to the workload of election staff deputed for vote counting and tabulation. Months before the election, President Trump had talked about voter fraud through the postal ballot; yet states did not make advance preparations to adequately deal with the expected large volume of postal ballot, nor took sufficient steps to assure the Republican campaign that President Trump’s concerns were unfounded or had been satisfactorily allayed. Where states made arrangements to provide alternative voting methods due to Covid-19, there were fewer problems.

Election expenses
Even by conservative estimates, this was the most expensive US election in the country’s history with about 14 billion US Dollars after all reports are filed post election. There was also an increase of 100% in campaign expenditure over the 2016 election. The US will need to place a cap on this this sharp rise in campaign expenditure in order to reduce the influence of the rich corporate donors on the elected representatives and, without questioning their integrity, affect their independent judgement when making laws and national policies for the American people.

Role of the incumbent President
This report will be incomplete if it did not mention the way President Trump took these elections. From the very start he played the role of a spoiler in the game and continued to be a non player after the tabulation showed that he remained far short of the required 270 electors to win the second term. His supporters, excluding the hardliners, were shocked at his refusal to concede the election without a bitter legal fight. Some senior Republicans publicly expressed their frustration with this attitude advising President Trump to accept the defeat and exercise restraint. This had a positive impact to the extent that for a few days after 4 November, President Trump stopped writing his early morning Tweets claiming that he was the winner in the election. It was hoped that ultimately, after recounts in some battleground states he would accept the results of the election without making a conceding statement.

It is customary that when an election is announced, the lame duck administration does not make any policy change or take action which may impact of the ability of the next administration to act independently. However, despite this established tradition President Trump went ahead with the appointment of a Judge of the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created by the demise of the conservative Justice Ruth Bader Kingsburg. Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination was announced by President Trump less than a month before the 3 November poll. Moreover, a week after the election, President Trump replaced three top Pentagon officials in the Department of Defence with persons who, according to news reports, were among his strong supporters in the first term. As of writing this paper, President Trump also refused to allow his officials to provide security briefings to the President-elect Joe Biden because this would contradict Trump’s legal challenge to the victory of Mr Biden in the election.

Concerns about post election violence or civil unrest were proved incorrect in the aftermath of the vote count, even through the announcement of results in some states was delayed and president Trump did not help things by unilaterally declaring his victory and casting doubts on the genuineness of the yet to be counted postal ballots. Credit for this goes to the American public for having faith in their system and to the election administrators in the concerned states who assured the people that they will not certify the results until each and every vote is counted. A majority of the leaders of the two main political parties called for unity and placed their full weight behind the electoral process to auto correct any mistakes. Vice president Joe Biden also delayed his victory speech until it was clear that he had comfortably crossed the required 270 mark in the polls.

Election Observation
The US is quite advanced in domestic election observation and has successfully shared its experience with nascent and emerging democracies around the world through USAID programmes. The US presidential election is monitored by thousands of local volunteers and observers in different states. Political parties also field official observers at polling stations to observe the transparency of the voting and counting process.

At this election, in addition to several hundred local organisations and grass roots election watch groups, a national, nonpartisan election protection coalition coordinated with more than 300 local, state and national partners and deployed 45,000 observers for the election. It also ran a 24/7 hotline operated by some 43,000 volunteers to provide election information to voters and answer their concerns and questions. Some organisations also conducted pre-poll surveys and provided nationwide legal support for disputes arising during the polls. National media houses also conducted pre-poll surveys and deployed reporters for election observation on the polling day.

Three international organisations, namely the OAS, OSCE and ODIHR deployed their observers for the November Elections. The OSCE deployed 52 observers, drawn from 39 participating states. It covered 30 states, as well as the District of Columbia. The ODHIR mission comprised 50 observers. The OAS sent 28 observers and experts drawn from 13 OAS countries. Their observers were present in four states and the District of Columbia.

The US president and vice president are indirectly elected by an Electoral College instead of the direct popular vote. Although the system is an essential feature of US federalism and has worked for over 140 years, it would be advisable for the Congress to review this arrangement and let the people directly elect their chief executive and his deputy through popular vote. This will also remove the present anomaly of a candidate receiving the popular vote but not becoming president because he fails to get the 270 votes from the Electoral College. This is an emotional issue for the US voters who may need a public debate on this change to reach a consensus on how to elect their president every four years.

In many states, ex-felons are not allowed to vote in an election. This disenfranchises the Afro-American and ethnic minority voters more, as a large number of ex-convicts who have served their time belong to this group. At this election the state of California decided to give its ex-felons the right to vote which is a welcome start. Other states ought to follow California’s encouraging example to amend their electoral law for the future. While the US constitution lays great emphasis on individual freedoms and importance of representative government, this restriction needs a review, where applicable, to make the voting exercise more inclusive and fair for all communities.

There is a need for states to review current procedures for postal ballots, taking into account the fact that in the future more voters may use the postal ballot or vote online instead of physically visiting the election booths on polling day. Over the past few elections, automation and smart IT equipment have been successfully integrated into the US election machinery. This experience can be used to improve the process through which the timelines for postal ballots are set up, and arrangement are made for their collection and delivery by US mail to the relevant counting centres. The aim of this review should be to finalise the results and tabulation within hours of the close of the polls instead of days, thereby making the process more credible, transparent and indisputable by losing candidates.

Some states have installed automatic ballot reading machines. These cannot provide an audit trail in the event these are challenged by a candidate. The physical hand count of the ballot papers in the state of Georgia in the aftermath of the 3 November election should be used as an example to minimise counting errors and create an audit trail to be randomly checked in the event of a challenge, instead of a recount of the votes in the entire county or state.

There are 18 states, which do not allow independent observers to have access to the polling stations, or their laws do not specifically provide for international observation. Although in the 2020 election this could be a valid reason due to Covid-19 concerns, the restriction does not sit well with the requirement of transparency and voter confidence. All states should enact legislation to open up polling places for voting, count and tabulation to local and international observers in addition to the party representatives currently permitted. The argument of space constraints does not hold ground because these are the same arguments cited by other democracy-deficit countries where the US has been advising election management bodies to be more transparent in the conduct of their polls and count.

The US Congress should consider making it illegal for the outgoing president to make senior level appointments to the Supreme Court and other government departments three months before the November election, including after the election day until the inauguration of the new president in January. This legislation would also need to restrict the power of the Senate to confirm any presidential nominations made during this period.

The Commonwealth Latimer House Principles on the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judiciary are universally applicable to democracies, including the US. The power of the president to appoint his chosen judges at the US Supreme Court negates one of these principles if the party of the president has a majority in the senate, as was the case during 2016-2020. This has the potential of making the president commander of the armed forces, which he is under the constitution, as well as commander of justice. Such concentrated power was formerly associated with emperors. In a democracy too much authority should not be vested in one person especially if he holds the nuclear codes.

There has been a lot of talk about the reform of the US electoral system in the area of disenfranchisement of ethnic minorities, gerrymandering and removing out-dated and contradictory regulations, expanding voter education and standardise electoral procedures across states. The US will do well to establish an independent and neutral body to resolve election related disputes. These reforms will improve the US democratic system, as well as enhance its image in other countries to promote representative democracy.

At this election, as in all previous US elections, the question of campaign financing raised questions. The difference this time was rise of many grassroots fundraising organisations in individual states which raised campaign funds not only for their favourite parties in the respective states but which also funded campaigns of their party’s candidates outside their states. After the political dust settles in the New Year, the US congress may consider creation of a bipartisan federal body to come up with uniform rules and procedures for all aspects of election related expenditure and implement these across all states. This body should be made fully empowered and responsible to enforce the rules governing federal campaigns and finance.

The Commonwealth as a Brand
The Commonwealth name is not copyright protected worldwide but the Commonwealth remains a global brand, which represents the collective strength of its 53 diverse members. However, the Commonwealth has not capitalised on this advantage and has remained inward looking. For instance its rich election observation work of over 40 years spreading over 40 countries with a record 160 election observations, is unparalleled in its peer election observation bodies, yet its collaboration with other democracy organisations outside its membership is limited. The Commonwealth has also not shown any keen interest to use its expertise to assist and promote democracy globally.

In the United States, the Carter Centre, the National Democratic Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy, Ford Foundation, Democracy International, the US Institute for Peace, and a host of other democracy organisations can share their experience with the Commonwealth and even join hands with it collectively observing elections abroad, if the Commonwealth is willing to enter into partnership agreements with them for collaboration on broader election observation and making its technical experts available for democracy promotion in fragile or conflict affected countries across the globe. This would benefit the Commonwealth more than its collaborating partners. While its partners would benefit from the Commonwealth’s comparative advantage and expertise in democracy promotion activities, the Commonwealth can use their technical personnel and resources to meet the demands of democracy promotion in member countries.

In order to reach this partnership, the Commonwealth will need to shed off the fear of US institutions dominating the Commonwealth landscape. Due to its small budget and the majority of its members being small states or weak economies, the Commonwealth fears that getting closer to the bear could end up in a fatal hug of the beast leaving them overpowered and unable to play the role of an equal stakeholder in such a partnership. However, the few but successful contacts established between the Commonwealth and the US democracy institutions in the past, do not support this assumption. Moreover, the terms of the partnership can be written in such a way as to retain its independence in all aspects of election observation, such as choosing election observers according to the established Commonwealth criteria, writing their terms of reference, deploying experts, and writing and finalising observers’ reports. Where partner organisations can be useful to the Commonwealth is the post election period when the important work of helping countries to implement the recommendations of the observer reports starts. Due to lack of resources most of the time the recommendations of observers are not followed up at all, and where these are pursued, they do not continue to be supported until the next election in the concerned country.

It is also true that the Commonwealth is not financially well endowed to play a larger role globally, observing elections in non-member fragile democracies or focusing on the world’s large democracies to learn from their good practices, identify their comparative advantages and use these to enrich its own democracy work. The United States is a vast country and its quadrennial presidential election is like observing elections in 50 countries for choosing a common president and vice president, as well as electing their state and federal legislators and local representatives. But there are ways to go around this problem and make an opportunity out of a challenge in order to remain a world leader in the area of election observation, which the Commonwealth is eminently qualified to claim.

It is true that the Commonwealth does not have the budget to observe a US election even if an invitation was secured from the State Department for the Commonwealth to send observers. But it can collaborate with the OAS to jointly observe the US presidential election because thirteen of the 35 members of the OAS are Commonwealth countries. The OAS observer mission to the 2020 US presidential election, included two observers from Canada and Trinidad and Tobago. The OSCE also joined hands with OHIDR in observing the November 3 election and issued a joint report of their observation. The pattern of international organisations joining hands for the common purpose for undertaking large and resource intensive projects is something the Commonwealth democracy programme should look into and integrate in its activity.

The Commonwealth election observation has sometimes been misunderstood as a one sided activity where the more experienced democracies in the membership happily monitor elections in the weak and fragile democracies in the organisation but without practicing reciprocity or issuing return invitations to them to observe their elections. This makes Australia, New Zealand, India, Canada, the UK and few other countries which do not invite the Commonwealth to observe their elections stand in one group, while a large number of African, Caribbean and Asian members which are always too eager to request the Commonwealth to observe their elections and issue a certificate of good health as a mark of approval, stand in the other group. This approach is fundamentally wrong because it creates a feeling of a membership of political un-equals, whatever the reality. In actual fact, the strong democracies in the Commonwealth have a lot to share with the fragile democracies in terms of good practice and how democracy theories and election laws are correctly interpreted and implemented on the ground. In non-election time, some of these countries do contribute to election observer missions or organise election-related workshops to share experience with the election management bodies of other member counties.

In some countries annual platforms for this purpose have existed such as the democracy workshops of the Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy, but these can never be a substitute for the election officials of a third country observing a live election and seeing how local election offices are involved at grass roots level for managing an election, training election staff, improving postal and physical voting procedures, employing ITCs in the count and tabulation and improving complaint processing mechanisms. This also gives the observers an opportunity to point out the inherent weakness of a mature democracy such as those witnessed in the US election lately and their reports could be helpful in improving processes and procedures for next election.

All this requires a rethink of the way the Commonwealth undertakes its election observation activity, how it collaborates with other outside institutions for effective partnerships and how it finances these activities for the Commonwealth’s own and from other externally funded resources. The Commonwealth should draw up a new comprehensive election observation strategy for Heads’ approval at the next CHOGM to continue the good work it has been doing with greater efficiency and retaining its long-term leadership role in this area.

The 2020 US election was the largest electoral participation by the American people in choosing their political representatives freely without any violence or intimidation. There was no evidence of cyber manipulation of the votes, nor any clandestine interference by another country. There were also no large scale voting or counting deficiencies or systemic wrongdoings. Although voters in some states received fake robotic text messages advising them no to go out to vote on 3 November but do it the next day, a large number of voters visited the polling stations and voted freely. The polling staff in all the states, including the US postal service staff, did an excellent job of meeting the extra workload and discharged their duties responsibly and with diligence. Law enforcement agencies ensured the security and safety of the voting public, as well as polling staff. Political parties also behaved responsibly by following the due process in referring complaints and issues to the relevant election managers and their legal teams. Despite the negative impression generated by some media reports that this was a crazy and controversial election, the election process as a whole was robust and credible. The response of the election management bodies was also positive and helpful in renewing the confidence of the American people in the ability of their time tested electoral system to address the problems effectively and reach satisfactory resolution. However, this election has highlighted quite a few issues and there are many lessons to learn but good news is that the US democracy has both the resilience and resources to implement any learning in its future electoral processes.

13 November 2020

For further reading please see reports of the OSCE-PA and OAS observer missions.

The UN General Assembly Session after Covid

By Syed Sharfuddin*

For the first time in post world war history, the UN General Assembly is holding a virtual plenary session at the GA Chamber at its headquarters by the FDR Ave in Manhattan, New York. This year world leaders are delivering their country statements through video link from their home countries. As we all know, no one listens to these speeches except media and diplomats who are paid a salary for doing so. These speeches are more for domestic audiences than for international actors. There is also nothing new in these statements which contain a formula mix of each country’s known international positions and domestic policies which impact on their commitment to UN positions, resolutions, declarations and loads of other international covenants and protocols.
It therefore makes economic sense to make such virtual sessions a permanent feature of the UN annual activity. Yes there will be a small collateral damage by way of loss of bilateral meetings of leaders in the margins of the UNGA, but these meetings were hardly substantive. These meetings provided only a photo opportunity to small leaders for shaking hands with tall leaders and addressing a joint press briefing to look equal. Heads of developing countries also found these meetings as an opportunity to reach out to the rich and powerful countries who run the world, the international financial institutions, the UN and its huge institutional family.
If the online country statement delivery experiment turns out to be successful then staggering these speeches like in the old days when a Daily Journal was compiled informing everyone which country head was scheduled to speak on an allotted day or time would make no sense. Online speeches can always take place individually or simultaneously in a span of 24 hours taking into account the differences in international time zones. In the new format, the President of the GA should request leaders to upload their speeches on the first day of the opening of the session. The UN bureaucracy can webcast these speeches live as these are delivered and within 24 hours add subtitles in the approved UN languages. Any one can access these speeches on the UNGA website without waiting for the present system of delivery which has a minimum wait of three days in its duration. Imagine how much UN cost will be saved by cutting down on the format and doing away with the simultaneous interpreters and paperwork. How much carbon print will be reduced by leaders and their entourages not flying to New York on jets and returning within a couple of days. Savings from not hiring those petrol guzzling bullet proof Limousines and extra long Saloons will help those countries who find it hard to get the money to attend the UN session in NY year after year. The citizens of Manhattan will be grateful for not having all these multinational foreigners disturb their lives, as well as traffic, in the monstrous last days of September. The US will take a sigh of relief for not having to deploy so much security detail on the incoming visitors and keep an eye on the unwanted characters. Countries too will be happy not seeing renegade foreign funded NGO representatives shouting negative slogans against their countries and governments in pickets and protests organised outside the old rickety UN building. Bloomingdales’ and Macy’s annual sales will go online with rich leaders from poor nations using Amazon delivery or instructing their PRs to collect the merchandise at their missions and despatch to their capitals by normal cargo. Most of this shopping is done by the ladies of the household to pass time while their miserable husbands are busy attending UN contact group meetings and attending UN business at unearthly hours.
I know old habits die hard and there will be a strong push from everyone to revert to the old format of the UNGA. But realistically this year’s online session, forced by Covid 19, is the best thing that has happened to the UN and should remain in place for the foreseeable future. Let us not forget that fanfare and flashy protocol cars aside, the real UN work is done behind the scenes by hard working diplomats sitting inside the UN Secretariat and at the over two hundred foreign missions, technically called Permanent Missions to the UN in New York, the seat of the UN.

*The author was Alternate Representative of the Commonwealth at the UNGA Sessions from 2000 to 2006. The Commonwealth is accredited to the UN as an observer organisation and is invited at the UNGA without speaking slot.

Hagia Sofia: Changing Hands of History

By Syed Sharfuddin*

In ancient times monarchs and emperors relied on the display of sheer power and its outward symbols such as land, property, buildings and cattle to command servitude and obedience from their subjects. In traditional societies foreign expeditions were a legitimate means of acquiring additional revenue and resources to pay for security and loyalty. That world order of sorts was entirely power based. The king had the final say and what he said was the law. Might was right. The king owned land (mulk) and men. He rewarded his subjects for their bravery in battlefield or took away their lives for their mistakes and omissions. The king was the head of the executive, legislature and judiciary. The lords under the king owned peasants and their chattels. In that world order, it was obligatory for the subjects of a conquered nation to pay tributes and taxes and embrace the customs, language and religion of the victor even if he did not force them to do so. Sometimes power and moral values were combined to symbolise the victory of truth over falsehood. This is how the Pharaohs ruled ancient Egypt. When their power weakened, the Hebrews accepted the religion of Moses and prospered in the kingdoms of David, Solomon and Joseph. This is how a pagan Rome disowned its gods and goddesses to embrace Christianity under the reign of Emperor Constantine I during 306-337 CE. This is also how Islam spread in the Arabian and North African lands when Muslims expanded their faith and influence through trade and foreign expeditions. In the newly discovered world of American hinterland, the doctrine of manifest destiny justified the forced conversion of Amerindians to Christianity by European missionaries.

Then came the next world order in the so called civilised world in which the conquered subjects were given the freedom to keep their cultural practices, religion and language but show complete allegiance to their new rulers, whether it comprised a king, an oligarchy or a ruling class. However, as part of asserting his sovereignty, the new monarch, and the ruling class for that matter, either destroyed the physical symbols of the old order they defeated such as palaces, monuments and worship places or acquired these as their own. Over time, the losing nation also lost its cultural values and icons, which merged with the superior culture of the new rulers. Sometimes, the merger resulted in a hybrid culture retaining some of the stronger and popular features of the vanquished people.

During the Muslim rule of the Iberian Peninsula, architecture was used as a symbol of political power and cultural dominance over the locals. The Umayyad Caliph, Abdul Rahman, built the grand mosque of Cordova and Madinat al Zahra as symbols of his power and grandeur. But when Muslim rule ended in Spain and was replaced by Christian rulers, they took possession of Muslim icons and claimed these as their own. The grand mosque of Cordova was converted into a cathedral. It never reverted to its original status.

The Almohids who succeeded the Umayyads in Spain did not follow their predecessors’ tradition of constructing grand architectural monuments. Instead, they built palaces and mosques made of bricks in simple designs. The great mosque of Seville was built by a Spanish builder, Ahmad bin Baso on the orders of Almohid Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf (1163 to 1184 CE). Ahmad Baso was a master mason from Andalusia and had built many buildings for the Almohids in Cordova and Gibraltar. The mosque took ten years to complete in 1198. The base of its tall minaret served as the place of Azan. However, after the defeat of the Almohids in 1247 CE, the successor Christian ruler, Alfonso X, converted this mosque into a cathedral and ordered that the minaret of the mosque be used as the bell tower. The minaret still survives in Seville and is known as La Giralda. Alfonso X and his family are buried in the grounds of the old mosque, which was converted into a cathedral.

Alfonso X also removed Muslims from positions of power and authority in Seville and brought in the hitherto cast away Jews to replace them. They settled in areas vacated by the Muslims, and formed colonies in Barrios San Bartolommeo, Santa Maria la Blanca and Santa Cruz. Alfonso X also designated three mosques to be converted into synagogues. These Muslim worship places never returned to their original state in Christian Spain. In 2020, a retired Muslim footballer from Spain, Oumar Kanoute raised $1 million on an online fundraising campaign to build the first purpose built mosque and a Muslim cultural centre in Seville in over 800 years.

When Sultan Mehmet II, also known as Mehmet the Great, defeated the Byzantine emperor Constantine XI and conquered Constantinople in 1453, he changed the name of the conquered city to Istanbul and also converted its famous cathedral Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Documents relating to the archives of the building show that Sultan Mehmet II paid compensation to the priests of Hagia Sofia in order to meet the Islamic provision that no land or building can be used as a mosque unless its owners have been paid its sale price in full settlement of any claim. Sultan Mehmet II was under no obligation to do this because the rules of war in those times allowed the victor to claim all fallen properties as war booty. When he turned the historic building into a mosque, he also established a charitable foundation, built a market, an inn and a public bath, and added shops in the surrounding areas to form part of a trust to cover Hagia Sofia’s running expenses.

Hagia Sophia was built in 537 CE and served as the cathedral of the Eastern (Greek) Orthodox Christendom. During this period it also served as the cathedral of the Roman Catholics from 1204 to 1261. Hagia Sophia held the status of a mosque from 1453 to 1934. In 1934 it was turned into a museum in order to generate income to pay for the restoration of the ancient edifice. However, as the fortunes of the Ottomans waned with the decline of their power, the rising maintenance expenses of Hagia Sofia became difficult to meet from the income of the trust. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire the new Turkish Republic looked for ways to raise funds for the maintenance of the historic monument, which had acquired a sacred status also for the Turkish Muslims in addition to its Christian minority. Following approval by the founder of Turkey Gazi Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1934, the iconic building was officially declared a museum in February 1935. From 1935 to 2020 it operated as a museum containing some of the most ancient frescos, statues and religious symbols of Orthodox Christianity preserved by Turkey.

The phenomena of the religious landmarks of a fallen dynasty becoming the worship places of the successor regime of another faith were not unusual for Turkey. It was observed all over the world in keeping with the old tradition. In India, the ancient Babri mosque of Ayodhya built in 1528 on the orders of the first Moghul Emperor Babar, continued to serve the local Muslims for over four centuries until India’s independence in 1947. Two years after the independence of India, the Hindus claimed that Babri mosque was constructed on a plot of land, which was the sacred birthplace of their god Ram. In 1992 the Babri mosque was attacked and burnt down by Hindu fanatics. Indian courts remained seized of this matter for nearly seventy years. In November 2019 the Indian Supreme Court ruled that a Hindu temple should be built on the site of the fallen Babri mosque and Muslims should be given an alternate site to build a new mosque.

The Ketchaoua mosque in Algiers, which was constructed by the Ottomans around 1516 and was further expanded in 1792 by Dye Hassan Pasha was acquired by the invading French armies in Algeria in 1830 and converted into a cathedral in 1832. It was used as a church for the next 130 years. In 1962, after Algeria gained independence from the French, the Algerian people reclaimed the cathedral and converted it back into a mosque.

Islamic art and architecture in Seville, the Balkans and Russia, which had earlier witnessed Muslim domination, met the same fate. These monuments were acquired by the new rulers and absorbed in their religious and cultural traditions as part of their heritage.

A new international order was adopted by the allied powers after the end of the second-world war. This new order established the United Nations and the Bretton Woods System and sought to adjust to the new realities of maintaining world peace, decolonisation and rise of nation states. Countries in the new international order were made to sign new international conventions and protocols governing the laws of war and peace, human rights and conduct of inter-state relations. Freedom of religion and safeguarding the places of worship of minority communities became part of the international human rights instruments and national laws of many new republics. Along with these new norms of international conduct, the principles of sovereignty, political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of another country and cooperation for peace also became the salient features of this new world order.

It is unwise to divide history in different silos and apply our present value system to comment on them. What happened centuries ago as part of the evolution of human development, such as large scale conquests, acquisitions, slavery and missionary expeditions cannot be judged in the light of our present day norms, in the same way as we wouldn’t want the future generations to find us at fault for following the value system we observe today as a result of our collective human experience. People who find the Ottoman, Spanish, French and Moghul acquisitions in ancient times wrong forget that they are judging the past from the advantage of hindsight and under completely different circumstances and rules of human existence. Similarly, those who are unhappy with the Turkish court’s decision restoring the status of Hagia Sofia today are in a denial of the past. They need to acknowledge that Hagia Sophia served as a mosque for over five centuries prior to 1934 in keeping with the laws of war prevalent in Europe in those times. Even when the post-world war new international order was drawn up, states were not required to return the ancient buildings and worship places acquired through foreign conquests to their rightful but dispossessed heirs. Indeed it is a credit to Turkey for preserving the historic sites and monuments of ancient faiths and cultures and safeguarding these as the most valuable treasure of its rich cultural and historic collection.

The question whether the Turkish cabinet’s 1934 decision was a correct decision, which has been annulled by the 2020 ruling of a Turkish court, is irrelevant. Turkey is a sovereign democratic and independent country and its judiciary has overturned the decision of a previous Turkish legislature. What is important is that since 1453, Hagia Sophia has not been used as a cathedral. Whether the people of Turkey keep it as a museum or use it as a mosque or combine the two functions in a new arrangement is not going to make Hagia Sophia a cathedral again. It is no surprise therefore that the dissenting voices against the Hagia Sophia decision are coming from the same quarters who are not prepared to give any space to political Islam in democratic governance. In many countries, public polls show how popular opinion changes over time. There is no contradiction in the two decisions taken by Turkey about Hagia Sofia in 1934 and 2020; 85 years ago it suited Turkey to declare this historic monument a museum; now it suites Turkey to reclaim Hagia Sophia as a mosque.

The people of Turkey had always wanted Hagia Sophia to be restored to the status of a mosque. Throughout Turkey’s modern history it remained a controversial subject. The court ruling does not call for removing Christian symbols from the historic building, including the large hall where five times prayers will be performed by visiting Muslim tourists and locals from 24 July. The building will continue to remain open for foreign tourists as before. The frescos of Holy Mary and archangel Gabriel, which are located in the direction of the Qibla will be made invisible through the use of lasers when the prayers are said. Jesus, Mary and Gabriel are also considered holy in Islam although Islamic tradition requires that due to their revered status they should not be physically depicted in any art form using conjecture.

By restoring the status of Hagia Sophia back to the mosque and still deciding to keep it open for foreign tourists with all the historic icons of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in place as before, Turkey has once again shown to the world that secular Muslim Islam is totally compatible with the international values of religious harmony and inter-faith tolerance, human rights and democratic values. It has also left an important question mark on other pluralistic societies where Muslims are in minority, about how the majority population in those countries treats its religious minorities and worship places, and to what extent those countries are prepared to reconcile with a past, with which they may feel uncomfortable, but which they cannot blot out from their history.

*Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a former Special Adviser for Political Affairs, Commonwealth Secretariat, London, UK (2000-2006). He also served as CEO of Muslim Aid, UK from 2010-2014. He can be reached at sharaf.sharfuddin@gmail.com

One teleVision, Three Countries

Syed Sharfuddin*

Last September in the margins of the UN General Assembly Session in New York the President of Turkey and Prime Ministers of Pakistan and Malaysia met and agreed to launch a joint TV channel to counter the rising trend of Islamophobia in the US and Europe by bringing the rich heritage of Islam to their viewers’ homes, and promoting the values of keeping faith, tolerance, family responsibility, rule of law, justice and human rights within the Muslim community globally.

Every year, dozens of high-level meetings take place in the margins of the UNGA which draw media headlines at the spur of the moment but with no subsequent follow up or results. However, this was not a meeting for a cheap photo opportunity. The popular TRT series Dirilis Ertugrul recorded one million new subscribers on YouTube in the two weeks since its release on Pakistan state TV on 1st Ramadan. http://[https://www.aa.com.tr/en/culture/turkish-tv-series-set-to-break-youtube-record/1835014]. Although Turkish TV dramas are popular in many Islamic countries and have been dubbed in many languages, this is the first time a state broadcaster has been asked by its Head of Government to air the series and given the public an opportunity to watch it in their own language in line with the spirit of the New York meeting.

Turkey’s public national broadcaster TRT is well placed to give a practical meaning to the idea of forging a coalition of Islamic countries’ TV broadcasters, starting first with Pakistan and Malaysia and then adding others, with a view to bringing their cumulative resources on one platform and to start an international TV channel that captures the rich heritage of Islamic civilisation worldwide. To reach a global audience, the medium of this new channel will need to be English, with all programmes recorded, dubbed or subtitled in this language. English is widely understood in the parts of the world where the problem of Islamophobia is most prominent.

TRT TV has many digital TV channels which focus on news, traditional music, dramas and documentary feature films. Some of these are also aired in other languages on satellites signals in Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. Its international news channel, TRT World, is watched in millions of households all over the world on TV and mobile devices. But all of these channels focus on Turkey reaching out to its expatriates and friends abroad and reporting on matters which are important to discuss from its national perspective. A quality TV channel which promotes the interests of multiple state players joined by a common objective is still very much lacking in the current scenario.

In starting a new TV channel the main requirement is content because in a 24/7 broadcasting range, content flows like a roaring river. A TV content must remain fresh and continuous in order to capture and retain the interest of viewers. Usually repeat programmes lose old audiences. News coverage can provide some fresh content on a daily basis but a new news channel was not what the Summit of the Three visualised in New York last year. Besides, there is no point adding one more Muslim news channel to the list of successful channels already operating globally such as Aljazeera, TRT World and Arab News TV.

From the content point of view, if the resources of three countries are pooled together, there will be no deficit of material. What will be required is converting most of the existing comedy, cultural dramas and documentaries into English for a global audience. But only one broadcaster should have the coordinating role to frame rules for ensuring balance and standardisation. TRT is well placed both in terms of resources and content to take a lead role, working in coordination with PTV in Pakistan and RTM TV1 in Malaysia.

In parallel with this work, the telecommunication authorities in the three countries should agree to allocate at least two transponders on their national satellites to enable their national public to watch foreign broadcasts of the partner countries in their homes. For example Turkey can allocate one transponder to PTV World and one to RTM TV1 on TRT satellite to enable Turkish and foreign viewers in Turkey to watch the programmes of these channels. In return, Pakistan should allocate two transponders on Pak Sat to TRT World and RTM TV1 for Pakistani viewers to be able to watch Turkish and Malaysian state TVs. Similarly, Malaysia can enable PTV World and TRT World to reach its domestic viewers through Malaysian state satellite. This will, of course, require a trilateral agreement between the telecommunication authorities to mutually extend these facilities to each other on a reciprocal basis.

This will also require necessary provisions in these agreements to comply with the international principle of not using another country’s territory or resources, in this case national satellite, to attack a third country with which the host country enjoys good relations. Another thing to watch will be the nature of programme coverage of the country’s home broadcaster because if it’s programmes do not appeal to a broader international audience, it will find its viewership decline to the extent of threatening the viability of the bigger project.

A bulk of TV viewers in all the three countries comprises of cable TV subscribers. This is not only a smart way of avoiding ugly dish installations at roof tops but also a safer option. However, in cable TV, the choice of selecting TV channels for viewing packages rests with the cable provider and not with the viewer. The broadcasting regulator governing the operation of cable TV in the three countries should make it obligatory for its cable TV providers as a requirement of securing licence that they will not obstruct the TV broadcasts of the partner countries in their cable coverage, or charge their subscribers additionally for viewing these channels.

With the development of IPTV, the digital TV packages offered by PTCL in Pakistan, Turk Cell in Turkey and the state IPTV provider in Malaysia should ensure that their IPTV Apps include the designated TV channels from partner countries as part of their free local TV package.

The vision that came out from the New York meeting of the three leaders last year is not something that can be translated in six months to a year. It requires some serious ground work to draw up the TORs of the project; the individual responsibilities three countries should mutually share to dub existing programmes and produce new ones; and buy in the commitment of private sponsors to finance the project successfully.

The project should also be launched in two stages. By next September, the three countries should finalise an agreement to host the state broadcasters of each country on their national satellites for access by their public. The second stage in the project should be the launch of a global TV, with the three countries providing the backbone of its content and mutually hosting it on all those regional satellites where they have ownership or beaming rights. Overtime, as progress is made, more countries can be added, as the coalition of the willing in the Islamic world is strengthened.

The old Chinese saying: “the journey of a thousand miles starts with a first step” is a time tested truth. Pakistan has taken the first step with the official viewing of Ertugrul in Pakistan. The next steps will follow.

* Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a former Pakistan diplomat and a former CEO of Muslim Aid UK.

Coming of a Prophesy?

By Syed Sharfuddin

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عُمَرَ أَنّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ يَا مَعْشَرَ الْمُهَاجِرِينَ خَمْسٌ إِذَا ابْتُلِيتُمْ بِهِنَّ وَأَعُوذُ بِاللَّهِ أَنْ تُدْرِكُوهُنَّ لَمْ تَظْهَرْ الْفَاحِشَةُ فِي قَوْمٍ قَطُّ حَتَّى يُعْلِنُوا بِهَا إِلَّا فَشَا فِيهِمْ الطَّاعُونُ وَالْأَوْجَاعُ الَّتِي لَمْ تَكُنْ مَضَتْ فِي أَسْلَافِهِمْ الَّذِينَ مَضَوْا وَلَمْ يَنْقُصُوا الْمِكْيَالَ وَالْمِيزَانَ إِلَّا أُخِذُوا بِالسِّنِينَ وَشِدَّةِ الْمَئُونَةِ وَجَوْرِ السُّلْطَانِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَمْ يَمْنَعُوا زَكَاةَ أَمْوَالِهِمْ إِلَّا مُنِعُوا الْقَطْرَ مِنْ السَّمَاءِ وَلَوْلَا الْبَهَائِمُ لَمْ يُمْطَرُوا وَلَمْ يَنْقُضُوا عَهْدَ اللَّهِ وَعَهْدَ رَسُولِهِ إِلَّا سَلَّطَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ عَدُوًّا مِنْ غَيْرِهِمْ فَأَخَذُوا بَعْضَ مَا فِي أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا لَمْ تَحْكُمْ أَئِمَّتُهُمْ بِكِتَابِ اللَّهِ وَيَتَخَيَّرُوا مِمَّا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ إِلَّا جَعَلَ اللَّهُ بَأْسَهُمْ بَيْنَهُمْ

Translation: Ibn Umar reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “O Muhajeroon, there are 5 things with which you will be tested with and I seek refuge in Allah that you will live to see them. I) Promiscuity will become widespread among people and for that, they will be afflicted by plagues and diseases that were unknown to their forefathers. 2) They will cheat in weights and measures and for that they will be struck with famine, calamity, and the oppression of rulers. 3) They will withhold charity from their wealth and for that rain will be withheld from the sky, and were it not for the animals, there would be no rain at all. 4) They will break their covenant with Allah and His messenger and for that Allah will enable their enemies to overpower them and take away what is in their hands. 5) Their leaders will not rule according to the Law of Allah and derive no benefit from what Allah has revealed, and for that Allah will cause them to become enemies of each other.” [Source: 1.KItab Al-Fitan, Sunan Ibn Majah 4019. 2. Al Muhaddis Al Bani Khulasa Hukum Al-muhaddas Sahih fi Sahih Al Jame: 7978].

This Hadith is supported by Surah-Al-Suaara in the Quran where the social habits and commissions of eight different nations have been narrated which were akin to the above transgressions in different measures. Allah’s sent His Messengers to guide each nation, but most of them refused to accept the divine guidance and instead chose to face the consequences which led to their destruction and end.

It is not a secret that in the global Muslim community all of the above signs exist with such great clarity that no explanation is required to elaborate on the condition of the Muslim community living in Islamic countries. Ironically this community has the world’s greatest manpower, natural and mineral resources and a rich cultural heritage. Yet, nearly all the on-going conflicts in the world involve Muslims, either as aggressors or partners of aggressors, or as victims of conflicts, whether as refugees or communities caught in the crossfire. Intra-Islamic conflict costs Muslims thousands of lives and dollars every year with no end in sight. Leaders in the Islamic world remain autocratic or are terribly inefficient when elected in democracies. The economic condition of these countries, despite abundant resources, is dependent on external forces.

There is rampant under-development, unequal distribution of wealth, enormous disparities in welfare and social safety nets, and absence of justice and opportunity for the common man. Most of the Muslim leaders are not truly independent as they depend on external powers for political legitimacy and control. And finally, in the health and food security sector Islamic countries are often hit by famines and locust swarms, rendering millions at the mercy of international aid agencies. As if all this was not enough, the coronavirus pandemic is knocking on their doors after taking nearly 100,000 lives in China, Europe and the Americas.

I am not a doomsday advocate but I can say for sure that the pandemic of coronavirus has changed our world in a way we never imagined in our wildest dreams. How could anyone predict that a tiny little virus, which does not have a life of its own, could force a global lockdown and send the economies of many developed countries nosedive into recession at a level not seen since the Second World War.

On the ethical level, the pandemic of coronavirus is the reality of the world we have constructed since the last major pandemic, known as the Spanish Flu of 1918. In our cultural advancement and technological revolutions, we are helpless when confronted with the mysteries of nature. We pay lip service to human solidarity but at the same time we like the idea of nation-state to be divided into races, faiths, ethnic identities. We just don’t stop there; we also like to classified into nationalist groups, social orders and gender types. After doing away with the Berlin wall, which symbolised division, we embarked upon the grand project of constructing walls on our national borders in order to prevent the less unfortunate come to our homes and share our cakes and ale; and we have named our project a necessary measure for national security and economic prosperity.

We have divided ourselves into groups of rich nations and poor nations; those who have veto power at the UN on matters of global peace and security and those who have to comply with the decisions made by a minority over majority; and we decide in select chambers who would have peace and who should face conflict and destruction. We have built warships and air shields to defend ourselves from nuclear threat but we have not learnt the lesson from the past hurricanes that devastated the Philippines or earthquakes which raised to ground Haiti that when disaster strikes, it does not differentiate between people: black or white, rich or poor, young or old, sick or healthy, the faithful or those having no faith. Our problem is that as long as a UFO does not hit us, it does not exist. When China was fighting the coronavirus in the end of 2019, the rest of the world did not care. Business was as usual until it became unusual on our turf three months later in 2020.

On the religious level, the Pundits, Priests, Rabbis and Imams have been saying that we should not accuse coronavirus of harshness. For the orthodox communities, coronavirus is simply following the orders of the Supreme Lord who released it to teach humanity a lesson for discarding His message of compassion, peace, mercy, kindness and good behaviour. The world had steered away from the divine script and sought to change the laws of nature by tinkering with the genetic code of life of humans and animals; developing harmful weapons and chemicals; polluting our earth and space with industrial effluent, toxic waste and dangerous gasses; installing countless satellites in space and creating infinite electro-magnetic fields and rays which penetrate human body seemingly doing no harm to it externally; rewriting the codes of social behaviour and taking end of life decisions based on economic forecasts and actuarial algorithms. In April, during the commemoration of Passover, Good Friday and the start of Ramadan, thousands of faithful begged to the Lord Almighty in individual and congregational prayers to forgive the commissions of man and save the world from further destruction and collapse.

On a scientific level, virologists and epidemiologists said this is a phenomenon which repeats itself in cycles in all epochs; more recently it was SARS, then came MERS and now covid-19. As soon as a vaccine is found, it too will become extinct. Humanity pays a price for every learning curve and the present death toll is unfortunate but an inevitable part of human advancement. As of writing this piece, several countries have begun research on different vaccines, which will enter human trials as soon as the necessary regulatory approvals have been secured.

On a political level, world leaders were focused on the coronavirus in the context of saving the lives of their nationals and reversing the steep decline of their national economies.  According to estimates, the global economic growth forecast is registering between 4 to 6% decline in the GDP of Europe and other countries by the end of the first quarter of the year threatening a global recession. Every country is counting its dead daily as if keeping a track of the goals scored at the football world cup. How long this macabre scene will last, no one knows.

It is becoming clear that in a post covid-19 world, a new international order will be redrawn by the powerful countries taking into account the lessons learnt from the performance of totalitarian regimes and free democracies in dealing with the current pandemic. But let it not be a repeat of the post world war 2 arrangement where only the victors decided an international order for the rest of the world and imposed their conventions on every state to follow without consulting their peoples. It is interesting that the Bretton Woods System and the establishment of the League of Nations, the precursor of the UN, predate the independence of many Afro-Asian countries which became independent as part of the decolonisation process and had to accept many international conventions and protocols which pre-dated their independence.

We should not forget that the country most effective in containing the coronavirus disease is not a free democracy (China) and that the democracies which take pride in their liberal institutions (the US & EU) have not done well in stopping this disease, nor the global recession that is predicted to engulf the world in the remainder of 2020. Therefore the creation of a new international order will need to take into account the fine balance between political totalitarianism and free market economy as both have shown to have different strengths. China saved its nationals from coronavirus deaths to a considerable level despite being the most populous nation on earth, while Italy, the US, Spain, France and the UK could not do so with equal haste and efficiency.

In the new international order the role of international institutions should also be critically reviewed. Rules need to be redrafted to make these institutions more credible and more democratised. The inability of the UN to prevent conflicts, refugee flows and disaster mitigation, and of the WHO to predict and prevent this pandemic have already come under strong scrutiny. Part of the reason for their underperformance is that the rich and powerful countries have stopped taking global institutions seriously. Some developed countries, notably the US, have used their high contributions as a tool to politicise multilateral decision-making in their favour.

A unipolar world will not suit the new international order. It should not be an order where a country decides to limit export of a medicine needed by its population to treat the symptoms of a disease but reverses its decision after receiving a phone call from another powerful country threatening of ‘consequences’ if the shipment of the medicine were stopped due to its national interest. It should not be an order where the owner of a natural resource in not the country where it is based, but another more powerful country which has the ability to destroy it, if its terms are not accepted. It should not be an international order where the raw material from a country is exported in cents per metric ton but after processing, it is imported by the same country in Dollars per metric ton.

Countries should put together their own protocols and policies based on thought provoking ideas and social requirements. The world has changed and especially the poor and disadvantaged will suffer most in all aspects of their daily lives. We are all in the same boat no matter where we come from and what we believe in. In a strange way, isolationism has become the key word for human survival in a globalised world.

The lesson from the coronavirus disease is poignant. It is the new mantra of “survival of the fittest” in humanity’s post-modern evolution. It implies that if you haven’t got the strength as an individual or as a nation to beat the new pressures that confront you, the lease for your survival in a highly competitive world will soon run out. Is the world prepared for this grim scenario? Certainly not, because humanity demands that in the march of civilisation we take our weak and vulnerable along with us, even if we have to pick them on our shoulders.

اللهم إني أعوذ بك من السلب بعد العطاء ومن الشدة بعد الرخاء ومن الفقر بعد الغنى ومن الكفر بعد الإيمان

Say: O God, I seek refuge in You from taking away the goodness after you have given, from hardship after prosperity, from poverty after wealth, and from unbelief after faith.

April 9, 2020.

The Commonwealth in Conundrum

By Syed Sharfuddin

This month the Commonwealth celebrated the return of Maldives to the organisation taking its membership tally to 54 sovereign states. However, against the tranquil background of colourful flags and welcome speeches, there were also grey clouds looming over the future of the organisation, and in particular the performance of the current Commonwealth Secretary-General who is completing her first term of office next month. According to Commonwealth convention, the Secretary-General of the organisation is automatically eligible for a second term, subject to confirmation by Heads of Government at their next meeting, called CHOGM in Commonwealth parlance. But it seems that the current Secretary-General may be the first to be denied a second term due to poor performance. The next CHOGM will be held in Kigali, Rwanda in June 2020.

The Rt Hon Baroness Patricia Scotland QC was elected Secretary-General at the Malta CHOGM in 2015, defeating two other candidates – Sir Ronald Sanders of Antigua & Barbuda and Ms Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba of Botswana. There was another African candidate in the race but his nomination was withdrawn by his Head of Government a week before the CHOGM.

At the end of the term of Mr Kamalesh Sharma in 2016, it was the turn of the Caribbean region to nominate a candidate for the position of the Secretary-General. In the event, two candidates were nominated from the region – Sir Ronald Sanders from Antigua & Barbuda and Baroness Patricia Scotland from Dominica. Sir Ronald secured the support of 10 of the 12 countries from the Caribbean region, but Baroness Scotland had the backing of the UK, the country of her residence, career and nationality. From Africa, the two candidates were a former Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General from Botswana, and a former Foreign Minister from Tanzania. Like the Caribbean region, the African region was also divided over their regional candidate for the post of Secretary-General.

Baroness Patricia Scotland  was born in Dominica (West Indies) but grew up in the UK and was trained as a successful barrister. In 1997 she was nominated by Prime Minister Tony Blair as a Labour peer in the House of Lords. At the Malta CHOGM two rounds of elections were held in which Sir Ronald lost the first round, and Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba lost the second round. The vote was so close in the second round that Botswana demanded that a third round be held to decide a clear winner but the CHOGM Chairperson (Malta) declared Baroness Patricia Scotland to succeed Kamalesh Sharma as the next Secretary-General.

The appointment of Baroness Patricia Scotland changed the power balance in the Commonwealth and tilted it heavily in favour of UK, which had previously made way for other member states to occupy the top position at the Secretariat. Although she was originally a Caribbean candidate, she was and remains for all practical purposes a British Secretary-General having UK nationality and UK Peerage. According to the founding documents of the Modern Commonwealth adopted in 1949, the Monarch of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, as well as other Dominions and Realms is the Head of the Commonwealth. The Headquarters of the Commonwealth is located in London. In 2018 the UK also became the Chairperson of CHOGM by virtue of hosting the last Commonwealth Summit in London. The UK currently has four positions in the Commonwealth: the Head of the Commonwealth, the Head of the Secretariat, the HQ of the Secretariat and the Chairmanship of CHOGM.

This is not to say that the UK’s responsibilities are not commensurate with the high status it enjoys in the Commonwealth by virtue of its position as the linchpin of the organisation. The UK’s contribution to the annual budget of the Commonwealth Secretariat is one third of its total budget; the UK charges no rent for housing the Secretariat at Marlborough House in the heart of central London, including its security, furnishings and maintenance which runs into thousands of GBP each month. The UK Government provides diplomatic immunity and tax exemptions to Commonwealth Secretariat staff serving as international civil servants. Other major contributors to the Commonwealth Secretariat budget are Australia, Canada and New Zealand, followed by other middle-income countries.

The Memorandum establishing the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1965 envisaged a Secretary-General who would be a Senior High Commissioner. However, in practice only two out of the six Secretaries-General elected so far were senior diplomats – Sir Arnold Smith from Canada (1965-75) and Kamalesh Sharma from India (2008-16). The other four Secretaries-General were a former Foreign Minister of Guyana, Sir Shridath Ramphal (1975-1990), a former Foreign Minister of Nigeria, Chief Emeka Anyaoku (1990-2000), a former Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, The Rt Hon Don Mckinnon (2000-08) and a former Peer and Attorney General from the UK, Baroness Patricia Scotland (2016).

The Commonwealth Secretariat suffered a great deal during the tenure of Mr Kamalesh Sharma (2008-16). He was a great diplomat but lacked the management skills to run a large organisation whose members have diverse and often conflicting interests. They are also not easily given to compromise or consensus. Mr Sharma also did not have the clout and political profile to reach out to a President or Prime Minister over the phone and get their approval on an issue at hand. It was during Sharma’s time that Canada stopped its voluntary contribution to the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC) resulting in drastic cuts in the Secretariat’s development and technical assistance programmes. During Sharma’s two terms, on the whole the Commonwealth was marred by mistrust and loss of confidence. The Commonwealth’s advocacy and advisory programmes declined considerably and human rights concerns in member countries became a sharp reminder of the fundamental values, which the Commonwealth is committed to uphold in its Charter.

In 2016 Baroness Patricia Scotland took over a fractured Secretariat and a financially challenged organisation. The Board of Governors of the Secretariat, comprising Commonwealth High Commissioners in London, as well as the small but influential Finance Committee of the Secretariat, comprising representatives of selected High Commissions, had high expectations from the new Secretary-General to fix the problems and turn the Commonwealth around like in the old days before it went sliding down under Sharma’s administration. The new Secretary-General unfortunately failed to meet these expectations and landed the organisation in deeper mess and controversy even though she executed these steps with all the good intentions in mind for achieving cost efficiencies and enhanced performance.

The new Secretary-General annoyed many senior staff by concentrating decision making in her office. She virtually rendered her senior management team out of work by reaching out to the third tier of staff and decided not to renew the contracts of the three Deputy Secretaries-General when their terms expired. This was a fundamental mistake as these deputies represented different regions and voices of the organisation. She also undermined the democracy and good offices work of the Secretariat by merging the political affairs directorate with the more technical, legal and governance directorate of the Secretariat and kept the post of director political vacant for over a year.

The result was a number of staff departures. Those who stayed were scared, overworked and demoralised. The primary complaint against her is that after assuming charge she discarded the previous reports on the restructuring of the Secretariat and awarded an external contract to review the programmes and management roles of the organisation to a former Labour colleague Lord Patel of Bradford on her personal recommendation by waiving the requirement of calling an open tender. At the time of getting the contract, Lord Patel’s firm KYA Global had assets of £971 and debts of £48,762. His firm received over £250,000 as fees for the review of the Secretariat. Her  critics, who include among others, Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, point out that this was not only against the Secretariat rules but also a clear conflict of interest. A KPMG audit later identified “significant weaknesses” in the Secretariat’s procurement procedures. Baroness Patricia Scotland’s supporters who comprise mostly the Caribbean countries, Nigeria and Namibia have said that she is being targeted by the old Anglo Saxon Commonwealth because she is ‘black’ and that the Secretariat did not break any rules and obtained value for money in the contract awarded to KYA Global to recommend measures to modernise the Secretariat.

However, the audit report was only the last straw on the camel’s back. A lot of criticism had piled up against the current Secretary-General in her first term. In January 2017 the BBC reported that officials at the British Department for International Development (DfID) were unhappy with her poor leadership. To support the Secretary-General the FCO appointed an acting chief operating officer at the Secretariat whose salary came from the British treasury. In December 2018 an employment tribunal awarded compensation to a Deputy Secretary-General who accused the Secretary-General of breaching her employment contract and terminating her after two years. Earlier in the year, a staff member posted in the Secretary-General’s office had also won compensation for unfair dismissal. He was hired by Kamalesh Sharma but was relieved of his duties after Baroness Patricia Scotland took over from Sharma. Commonwealth’s major donors see these payouts as a serious governance issue because this money, if saved, could have gone to fund some of the development projects of the Commonwealth.  The current Secretary-General is also accused of self-projection and concentration of authority. Her visits to member countries have been unnecessarily long and often without senior staff. Recently, the Secretary-General visited India for five days to attend the annual strategy conference of the Observer Research Foundation. She also visited Swaziland for four days.

It appears that there are twice as many countries that are not in favour of the current Secretary-General getting a second term compared to the one third who may wish her to carry on for another four years. Australia, the UK, Canada and New Zealand have decided to stop their contributions to the Commonwealth Secretariat pending the publication of the independent auditor’s report and until they secure the assurance that she will step down after June 2020.

This is not the first time an incumbent Secretary-General has received opposition from member countries for a second term. In 1979 Secretary-General Sir Shridath Ramphal was threatened by India when his first term came to an end but the opposition did not gain momentum and he was re-elected to a second (and indeed third) term unopposed. At the 2003 Abuja CHOGM, Commonwealth Secretary-General Don Mckinnon actually had a Minister level candidate from Sri Lanka officially stand against him in the election. Even though many African Heads who were angry with Mckinnon over Zimbabwe voted for Sri Lanka’s candidate, Don Mckinnon managed to get a clear majority for a second term. Unless Baroness Patricia Scotland resigns from office, she is likely to relive the experience of Don Mckinnon at the Kigali CHOGM in 2020, but the odds are very much against her.

The Conservative government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has no love remaining for a Labour Peer who has regrettably proved to be divisive for the organisation at a time when the UK needs reliable trading partners in the Commonwealth following its exit from the EU. The UK also realises that even if the majority of developing countries from the Caribbean and African regions back Baroness Patricia Scotland for a second term, she will not be able to receive much cooperation from the old Commonwealth who control the funding of most Commonwealth programmes, including Commonwealth’s technical assistance and economic development projects. The UK government is likely to advise the current Secretary-General to step down if it can find a suitable replacement for her. But the challenge is to find a person who is both capable of steering the organisation out of troubled waters and is also well known internationally to secure the agreement of Commonwealth Heads at the next CHOGM in June 2020. A quiet head hunting is currently ongoing and some names have been mentioned, including that of the Foreign Minister of Kenya, who may be in a position to become Baroness Patricia’s replacement.

It cannot be ruled out that the old Commonwealth group’s criticism of Baroness Patricia Scotland would be seen by some African countries in the prism of racism, as hinted at a Board of Governors’ meeting in London last week by the High Commissioners of Nigeria and Namibia. But let us not forget that in 2003 some African countries had challenged the second term of a ‘white’ Secretary-General. At Kigali, African Heads may use the advantage of a CHOGM being hosted by an African country to claim that it is Africa’s turn to fill the Secretary-General’s post if Baroness Patricia Scotland cannot continue for a second term. It is ironic that it was African countries themselves who breached the precedent of regional rotation by supporting an African candidate in 2015 when it was the turn of the Caribbean to have its Secretary-General. Interestingly, Baroness Scotland combines three regions in one person. She is non-white by descent (African), Caribbean by her country of birth (Dominica) and European by her nationality (British). The rotation principle is therefore completely out of the window for the position of the new Secretary-General. The race is open for any capable person who has the capacity to comprehend and manage the finances and programmes of the organisation for its members and who possesses the political clout and intellectual ability to restore the lost place of the Commonwealth at the global stage.

It cannot be left unsaid that many of the Commonwealth’s current problems are rooted in the unwillingness of donors to provide enough funds for the Commonwealth to retain staff expertise and implement its development projects across the diverse regions of the Commonwealth. An example is the election monitoring function of the Commonwealth for which funds are always found but there is little or no provision in the Commonwealth budget to support member countries’ poverty alleviation programmes or livelihood support projects. With a modest budget, the Commonwealth’s bigger and ambitious mission cannot be achieved.

At their next CHOGM, Heads may elect Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates to run the Commonwealth but unless governments are willing to provide sufficient resources to the new Secretary-General, not much would change. To repopulate a jungle and bring back its lions, elephants, buffaloes and flora and fauna to the dried waterholes, it is important to preserve the rainwater and stop land encroachment. But if countries contribute peanuts and expect to see lions, they will only get monkeys.

London: 9 February 2020

* Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a political analyst. He served as a Special Adviser in the Political Affairs Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat from 2000-2006.

Seven Ways to Strengthen a Federation

By Syed Sharfuddin
In order to strengthen the federation of a pluralistic state (multi-ethnic and multi lingual population) where minority communities (sub-nationalities) are often distrustful of the majority and end up shouting human rights violations and organising protests every now and then, the following political arrangements may be useful for enhancing the unity and cohesion of the state.

1-The post of President of the federation should be rotated among all federating units. The President should be appointed for a two year term. Malaysia follows this practice for appointing its monarchs by rotation.

2-The post of Governor of each federating unit should be rotated among representatives of its constituent districts. Governors should also serve a two year term. This will enable political representation of smaller nationalities in a province.

3-Each constituting unit of the federation should contribute manpower at the rate of 25% of its active defence forces comprising the army, navy, airforce and para military personnel. This will take away the grievance of smaller units that the military is dominated by personnel from the majority province.

4-Each constituent unit of the federation should draw a target of financing 10,000 inter-linguistic and inter-provincial marriages of its eligible youth each year. Free marriages will result in integrating diverse groups in the national stream.

5-All men in the federation should have razor cut bald heads and married men should wear rings (right hand finger #2); and all women of the federation should wear fresh flowers on their ears (right ear for unmarried women and left ear for married women). This will create a true national identity and national pride in the people.

6-On the National Day of the country the state should serve free soup and bread to all its citizens through soup kitchens and panahgahs. This will encourage people to go out of their homes and participate in national events without worrying about putting a meal on the table in the evening.

7-On the Independence Day of the country (If different from its national day) every family should cook vegetable biryani and kheer and send it to its immediate neighbour family to deepen brotherhood and friendship among people. This will create good vibes and enable people to get to know their neighbours better.

A Solution for PIA Woes

BY: Syed Sharfuddin

This is a follow up to the article by Dr Tahseen Mahmood Aslam about PIA’s management challenges printed in the Weekender last Friday. The national flag carrier of Pakistan has reached a point where it needs to be placed under interim emergency measures. This is a bitter pill which ailing organisations run with public money are often forced to swallow when faced with serious governance issues with no signs of improvement in sight. The situation of PIA is further complicated by the fact that it is a massive organisation where if one of its operations is profitable, two others are in the red. And when PIA plans to shed off its loss making operations, it is stopped from doing so by whistle blowers who appear out the woodwork crying corruption. PIA’s employee unions are not prepared to allow any tough administrative decisions calling for massive admin and staffing cuts. The courts are also approached for protecting the rights of people affected by a major restructuring of the organisation in public interest.

PIA was born at a time when it was fashionable for newly independent countries in Asia and Africa to invest in sectors that required large public investments, which were beyond the pockets of national private investors. In return, these investments also gave the newly independent countries a much-needed national identity in the world. Between this self created necessity and the resulting advantage, almost all post-colonial countries either inherited or set up a national airline, a national shipping carrier, a national broadcaster, a national telecommunications agency, a national postal service and a national railway service. At that time, these projects were seen as important symbols of a sovereign state in the same way as its national flag and national anthem. In some countries such as Pakistan, these organisations also became the largest employers for the state satisfying the needs of its citizens to get jobs and get involved in the running of the country.

The CV of PIA as a commercial institution is reminiscent of a university student who got A stars throughout his primary and secondary exams; then passed his A levels with a reluctant B, but is now struggling to barely pass his university courses. Everything has been tried – tuition, external coaching, changing subjects and even taking a gap year; but nothing seems to be working. What remains is a stark choice of either closing down the national airline and privatise its domestic and international operations or place it under emergency measures with a view to reviving its past glory and profitability.

The reform of PIA should come in two stages. The first stage is a final attempt to let the organisation reform itself utilising its internal resources and strengths. The second stage should be initiated only if the first stage fails. Of course, the second stage will come with more drastic measures that will be highly unpopular with PIA employees, unions and vendors. But it is the only way to save the failing airline. A dying patient in an ICU ward cannot keep his marital, paternal or fraternal commitments. Something must give in, and when it comes to saving the corpus itself, all others can take a back seat.

The First Stage
The Government should expand the Board of PIA with 30% women Directors on the Board, which is a major omission and a clear sign why the Board is not able to overcome the management problems in PIA. Women are better managers than men, especially in corporate environment. The expanded Board should be in place in the next three months. If any Directors need to go, these should be the senior government servants represented on the Board. They are busy people and have no experience of running an airline on commercial lines.

The Government should task the Board to carry out a review of the administration and management of PIA and require from its existing senior management team to improve governance, financial management, increase airline outreach and profitability and underpin performance throughout the organisation to save it from total collapse under its own weight. The newly drawn key performance indicators (KPI’s) should include reduction of deficit in the PIA budget, 10% increase in flight operations; 10% increase in revenue from passenger and cargo carriage and 10% downsizing in admin expenditure through internal cost savings. The Board should be given a maximum of one year to produce desirable results.

The government should support the national airline in negotiating agreements with other countries on flight connections, passenger lifting, code sharing, additional aircraft acquisition on lease and other measures to help the airline’s modernisation and linkages with other international tour operators. In this stage, the government should give a clear mandate to the airline Board and senior management but should not interfere in PIA governance until the one-year deadline has lapsed.

The Second Stage
If the Board and the existing senior management of PIA fail to act with responsible care and skill, and fall short of their responsibility to oversee the affairs of the airline by improving performance against the given KPIs, the government should dismiss the Board and fire the existing management team and place PIA under the direct control of the President of Pakistan as an emergency measure. The President should be assisted by an ad-hoc all-party special committee of the parliament, appointed by the Prime Minister in consultation with the leaders of main opposition parties.

For the interim, the President of Pakistan should appoint a Change Manager in PIA who will be a national or dual national of Pakistan and an expert in salvaging ailing organisations. He/She will have full powers of the Chairman and the CEO to make whatever changes are needed in PIA to rescue it from corporate demise.

The TORs of the Change Manager should clearly define areas of PIA that need separation and self-sufficiency by maintaining integrity of funds, functions and operations. The Change Manager should identify profit making areas in PIA from within its international flights sector, domestic flights sector, cargo flights sector, chartered flights sector and non-flight real-estate investments sector,. The Change Manager should ring-fence those operations which are making persistent loss and need load shedding.

The loss making ring-fenced areas of the airline should be restructured drastically for revival on self-financing basis. Where this is not possible these should be stripped down for auction to the private sector to operate on lease.

The profit making areas of the airline should be supported with heavy IT investment, aggressive marketing, innovative operations and staff reduction strategies for increased profit turnover. In the international airlines area, PIA should adopt the model of other successful international airlines that have itemised costs for every service and added these on to flight tariffs.

Although PIA has already started doing this to a certain extent, it can further make progress by keeping airfares the low to remain competitive internationally, but charge separately for inflight meals, seat allocation, speedy boarding, baggage check-in, SMS or email confirmation of boarding pass and in-flight supplies such as blankets, newspapers and entertainment equipment. As part of cost cutting measures, all commissions to travel agencies, sales agents, suppliers and vendors should be stopped. Rented shop floors and offices should be vacated and shifted to cheaper rent buildings. All supporting staff should be made redundant. Technical and executive staff should be multitasked to make their own phone calls, write their own reports and correspond on their own corporate email addresses. Flight staff should receive only salary but no airline incentives nor free travel vouchers. New sectors should be opened where the airline can pay for its operations and show profit after deducting costs.

The emergency measures should be introduced with a view to reinforcing the point that the airline has reached the verge of collapse and cannot continue on ‘business as usual’ model. Any staff that cannot accept the changes to be introduced for PIA’s survival can resign and leave without compensation.

The Change Manager should be given a free hand. His term should be for a fixed, non-extendable two-year time limit to turn around the airline and improve its profitability. The Change Manager should directly report to the President of Pakistan. His salary should be capped at a level agreed by the parliamentary committee and should come from PIA budget. Should a need arise to continue the interim arrangement for another year or two years for stability and profitability of the organisation, a new Change Manager should be recruited who is capable of carrying forward the airline on the new foundation laid by the outgoing Change Manager.

During the period of emergency measures and change management, all posts in the organisation should be terminated and automatically renewed on a two-year contract, renewable against performance and KPIs. Salaries should be revised. All currently admissible facilities for housing, transport, education, medical treatment, qualification allowance, or paid leave for staff should be valued in cash and merged with one take home but taxable salary. Government should exempt PIA under law from making any new appointments on the basis of employment quotas. PIA employee Unions should be disbanded for at least five years, and any existing supply or procurement contracts should be reviewed. The Change Manager should have full powers to renegotiate them on new terms to meet the requirements of a restructured national airline.

When PIA is completely changed in a period of 2 to 4 years, a new Board should be appointed which in turn will recruit a new CEO of the airline. The new CEO will then decide which areas of the airline are to continue doing profitable business and which to be closed, if required, based on the work done by the Change Manager to carry forward the airline.

The new Board members should be Pakistanis or overseas Pakistanis and qualified in their respective fields of expertise to have successfully led or operated a large profitable organisation. They should not include any political appointees or senior officers from civil or military bureaucracy and include at least 50% women. An international recruitment firm should shortlist Board members that should do likewise in selecting the CEO of PIA through an international public advertisement.

Prior to initiating these measures, the Parliament should enact a law to place PIA under emergency measures. The act of parliament will protect PIA from any lawsuit filed by a dismissed employee or discontinued vendor or anyone else in the name of public interest and give the court the legal cover to quash such petitions.

It will be naïve to think that there are no competing interests in the restructuring of the national airline. A strong lobby of workers would resist change because it could mean an end of their perks and jobs, irrespective of whether or not the airline is able to pay for them.

There are also political and business interests that will want to see PIA go down as a national airline so that they can benefit from its dismemberment and privatisation.

There are also federal and provincial interests where loss of jobs by a large number of people belonging to one province or ethnic group may be viewed as an attempt by the federal government to disregard provincial representation in the organisation.

There will also be spoilers who would resist change in order to save their own reputation because they couldn’t improve the ailing organisation when they were in charge and when gross neglect, incompetence and corruption set the rot in the organisation.

Whatever the challenges, PIA is a national airline of Pakistan and its issues must be addressed wisely with one step at a time. If PIA was once a rising airline of Asia flying great people around, it can again become a top airline given the intention and effort to make PIA serve Pakistan and its people because they deserve better.

Size Matters: A Case for Enlarging the Composition of Pakistan Parliament

By Syed Sharfuddin*

The structure of state governance in modern times with few exceptions comprises the executive, the legislature and the judiciary each of which are independent of each other to the extent possible according to the system of government followed in a country. Pakistan’s system of governance is parliamentary democracy modelled after the British Westminster Democracy and codified in the 1973 Constitution with all its amendments up to date.

It is said that dictatorships and oligarchies are more efficient and cost effective in delivering political governance compared to representative democracies because the former do not need to follow the requirement of consulting the people except those in position of power. But democracies by their very nature require wider public engagement and consultation. They go through a lengthy process of political debate and enact legislation through a cumbersome legislative process requiring many readings of bills and presidential assent. Their decisions, whether in cabinet or in parliament, are ideally reached by consensus and failing this, by majority vote.

The same principle applies to small and large legislatures. It is easy to enact laws and exercise oversight function by a small legislature compared to a large people’s assembly which is neither cost effective to elect, nor easy to manage and service. But just as democracy is a political necessity for the smooth governance, peace and political stability of a state, a larger legislature is also a necessity for a country, and more so in a federation, which is home to diverse ethnic, linguistic and/or religious populations and regions.

While cost may be one discouraging factor against a larger legislature, there are other mitigating factors, such as confusion and deadlock in reaching decisions due to large number of un-coordinated voices in the assembly or too many committees resulting in over-planning and fragmentation of legislative work. One way to regulate these forces  is to strike a balance and equation between four functions of legislation: 1) the method for electing representatives to parliament; 2) the rules drawn up for legislation; 3) the degree of diverse public representation in parliament; and, 4) the basis of representation through well defined constituencies and electoral quotas.

The present composition of federal parliament in Pakistan is 342 seats in the National Assembly (lower house) and 104 seats in the Senate (upper house). The 342 seats in the National Assembly are made up of 272 general seats for single-member geographical constituencies directly elected on first past the post basis; 60 reserved seats for women and 10 reserved seats for non-Muslims. Against this allocation, women and minority representatives are elected through an indirect proportional representation system where each province is a single constituency for women and the whole country is a single constituency for non-Muslims. In their election, due weightage is given to political parties represented on the general seats. Women seats are allocated proportionally to political parties, which secure more than 5% vote in the national election.

In the Senate 104 seats are filled by an electoral college of members of the national and provincial assemblies . Each of the four provinces, Balochistan, Sindh, Punjab and Khyber PK are allocated 23 members, comprising 14 general seats, four seats for women, four seats for technical experts including religious experts and one seat for non-Muslims. The Federally Administered Tribal Area is allocated 8 seats. Islamabad federal capital is allocated four seats of which two are general seats, one for women and one for technical experts.

Provincial Assemblies are directly elected through adult franchise at the time of general elections for the federal parliament. The Punjab Assembly has 371 seats, Sindh Assembly has 164 seats, Khyber PK Assemby has 124 seats and Balochistan Assembly has 51seats. The number of seats in each provincial assembly depends on the population spread in that province. Women representation in the provincial assemblies is under 20% and religious minorities are under 5%.

There are no reserved seats in the national parliament in either house for khawajasaras, the equivalent of LGBTQ community in Pakistan, or for handicapped persons both of whom are classified as vulnerable groups, although political parties are encouraged by the Election Commission to nominate them from their political platform. There are also no seats reserved for retired military officers or defence personnel in parliament despite the fact that the military has always played a major role in the politics of Pakistan even under civilian democratic rules. There are also no reserved seats in the parliament for Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan regions.

At the time of the 2017 census, Pakistan’s population was 190.32 million. Taking into account displaced persons during the military operation against terrorists, un-counted women in rural areas and the passage of time since the last census, the population figure could be well near 200 million at the end of 2019. Considering this population, the composition of elected representatives in the National Assembly is considerably very low. In Cuba, which is a country of 12 million people, the size of its national assembly is 605. The Chinese National Congress has 2287 delegates who meet every 5 years to shape policy and decide political positions. In Italy where the population is 61 million there are 630 members in the Chamber of Deputies (lower house) and 315 members in the Senate (upper house) all of whom are elected through adult franchise. In Britain, which is the mother of all democracies in the Commonwealth, for a population of 65 million, there are 650 members in the lower house (House of Representatives) who are directly elected and 793 members in the upper house (House of Lords) who are appointed. Pakistan’s population is three times more than Italy’s and Britain’s population. Ideally, its National Assembly should consist of 1026 members and the Senate should have at least 520 members.

There is a good justification why Pakistan parliament should be enlarged by at least three times from its present composition. Firstly, the parliament of Pakistan is considerably under represented given the large scale of the country’s administrative division comprising Districts (129), Urban Councils (2055), Rural Councils (8145), Local Authorities (9398) and Military Cantonments (56). Secondly, while the executive and the judiciary branches are very well represented in the government, as well as adequately staffed, the parliament is not as much resourced either in the National Assembly or in the Senate. Thirdly, the representatives who get elected to the parliament do not truly represent the diversity of the population, which has its roots in sections of the society other than the wealthy or land-owning people of Pakistan. Although there are quotas fixed for women, technical experts and minorities for representation in parliament, nearly 30 diverse communities or professions do not find their interests directly represented in parliament. Finally, a large parliament would be able to deliver quality performance by enabling its members to develop expertise in different areas of legislation, reduce institutional corruption, spend more time in the constituencies, strengthen committee work and block any one or few political parties or interest groups from shirking responsibility or dominating  the legislative function for their own interests as against the people’s, as has been often the case.

One of the reasons why not much thought has been given to increasing the size of the national parliament in Pakistan is the economic cost of the legislative efficiency where the efficiency of parliament is directly related to its size. While the cost of electing, maintaining and managing a sizeable legislature compared to its legislative output will always work out to be high, a larger legislative could in return result in satisfying the smaller federating units of their higher and more visible representation in parliament; a more efficient and action-oriented committee structure; and a productive division of labour in delivering legislative and oversight functions.

In a large legislature, the government spending would naturally be met through taxes raised in each constituency, thereby reducing the overall revenue collection in the national exchequer. But this can be offset by checking wastage and corruption through a better oversight function and by reducing the salary and perks of the members. For example, the honorarium of an MNA in an enlarged parliament should not exceed the maximum salary of a Grade 19 officer in the federal government. A similar reduced salary scale should apply to Senators. A political ethic should be promoted that they are the leaders of the country who are there to serve, and not to profit or seek privileges and perks. There is also no need to start constructing huge buildings to accommodate the additional members of the enlarged parliament under one roof. The existing infrastructure of the National Assembly and the Senate in Islamabad is sufficient to accommodate a large number of representatives on benches arranged in the Westminster style seating instead of the current First Class airport lounge type seats, which are ideal to relax but totally unfit for public service. A robust committee structure will also mean that all MNAs or Senators will not be required to meet frequently and when they do, a full house session can be convened at the Islamabad Convention Centre where they can make use of all the audio-video and conference facilities available to them at parliament.

A large legislature would also increase the size of the wish list for development projects each constituency would expect its representative to deliver. This expectation is but natural and also happens in the present parliament where people expect the ruling party to deliver on its electoral promises. The case for finding project finance can be turned around by making the larger legislature enact laws and oversee policies, which do not benefit only a privileged section of the population but generate income and growth using the untapped potential of human and natural resources and their clever management and allocation in each of the constituencies.

A parliament comprising over 1000 members can never be a rubber stamp parliament, nor it is possible to do horse trading with its members if they have been elected through adult franchise in a multi-party political system. The strongest argument in favour of having a larger parliament in Pakistan is the political and social conditions in the country, which have dramatically changed from the time when the 1973 constitution was adopted to run a truncated country emerging from the dark shadow of the 1972 breakup of East and West Pakistan. The phenomenal increase in population in which vote-eligible young persons form the majority, the emerging regional voices that need to be heard and given weight and the necessity of looking after the needs of a diverse and frustrated pluralistic society demand that the composition of the National Assembly and the Senate should be increased to at least three times it present membership through a constitutional amendment in the 1973 Constitution. In fact, the National Assembly and Senate seats in Pakistan are fit to serve a country of 42 million, not 200 million population.

Of course the argument of increasing the size of the parliament will be meaningless if more of the same representatives are added to these hallowed chambers for the sake of representation, legislation, ratification of signed international treaties, their enactment into local laws, budgetary allocations and oversight of high-level public appointments & functioning of government ministries and departments. A fundamental reform of the way party workers are nominated and given tickets by political parties also needs to be written into law. We have seen that the affirmative action for women representation has brought many women to high political and decision-making levels but not necessarily improved the quality of parliamentary performance except satisfying feminist groups about gender statistics. We have also seen how money politics has made the entry of good political material into parliament impossible, resulting in same faces and families taking turns at every election under the same or different party flags. In fact the term ‘electable’ used for such persons in the 2018 general election of Pakistan forced a popular reform party to change its electoral strategy and give them preference over its own political workers for grant of electoral tickets.

This reform can be implemented by a constitutional amendment expanding the seats in the National Assembly from 342 to 1026 to be contested generally against single constituencies, and in the Senate from 104 to 520 seats, representing 100 seats for each of the four provinces, 50 seats for AJK representation, 50 seats for Gilgit-Baltistan representation and 20 seats for Islamabad federal capital. The representation of AJK and GB may require further amendment of the Constitution in Article 257, which needs to be reviewed. Some current practices also need to be replaced by other good practice such as abolishing quotas for women, technical experts and non-Muslims for representation in parliament and replacing these by making it mandatory for political parties to nominate at least 33% women; 10% non-Muslims; 10% ex-military officers, 3% handicapped and 2% khwajasaras from their party platform for the general seats. Where political parties lack such diverse membership, they should be assisted by the Election Commission to start a broad based party recruitment drive.

With a larger pool of Senate seats it should be possible to allocate all the seats to a wider section of the population representing various professions and diverse interest groups comprising political workers, fishermen, miners, ex-MNAs & MPAs, farmers & farm workers, trade union members, retired judges, barristers & bar members, bankers, financial experts, academics, media persons, doctors, nurses, social workers, businessmen, vendors & traders, ulema, youth representatives, retired military officers, senior citizens over 70 years of age, transporters, builders, engineers, general contractors, hoteliers, IT professionals, retired bureaucrats, ex-diplomats, scientists, artists, poets & writers and housewives. Political parties must be obliged to nominate at least 3 persons from each of the above professions/group for the Senate elections to make up the total of 100 seats allocated to each province.

The Election Commission should also follow this up by changing some of the electoral rules for political parties. For example, multiple-constituency candidacies for general election should be made illegal as it usurps the right of other deserving political workers to become candidates because an influential person in the political party gets nominated against multiple constituencies. A political party, not meeting the electoral requirements should be heavily fined, including the possibility of it’s de-registration for consistent violation of electoral rules.

These changes will make the country’s legislature more effective in representing the diversity of the people through their chosen political parties and enable this important state institution to exercise an efficient and qualitative legislative and oversight function freely within the existing constitution and political system. However, to do so the parliament will also need to manage its large size effectively, and given the necessary political space and provided the required technical, IT and administrative support to enhance its capacity.

25 December 2019

*The writer is an ex-diplomat, an election expert and a political analyst for South Asia region.

Kashmir’s Instrument of Accession: Separating Myth from Reality

Syed Sharfuddin

This paper examines the chronology of accession of Kashmir with a view to finding answers about the timing and authenticity of the instrument of accession signed by the ruler of the State of Jammu & Kashmir on 26 October 1947, which is the date of accession according to official Indian account. Some scholars have refuted this stand and relied on the evidence that the Maharajah of Kashmir signed the instrument of accession after Indian troops landed in Srinagar on the morning of 27 October 1947. This leads to the question would such accession be valid in law if it were extracted through blackmail and duress.

On the eve of the partition, there were 565 officially recognised princely states in British India, which covered 40% of land and 23% population of the Colony. The Government of India Act 1935 had provided the establishment of an all India federation, subject to 50% of the princely states joining it to be effective. In the event, the princely states did not join and the federation never materialised.

Subsequently, in January 1946, provincial elections were held in British India to ascertain the wishes of the people in regard to the creation of the new successor dominions of India and Pakistan. Princely states did not take part in these elections.

The British government had introduced the concept of Paramountcy in the governance of princely states which established the authority of the ruler over his subjects. Princely states were excluded from the partition of British India. Their rulers were given the option to accede to the successor dominions of either India or Pakistan. Unlike the Government of India Act 1935, the option of claiming independence was not explicitly given to the princely states in 1947.

The Paramountcy principle ran contrary to the democratic principle of the 1946 provincial elections of British India. According to this principle, the ruler was supreme in deciding the fate of his state. Vallabhbhai Patel opposed this principle because he feared that after the British left India, the rulers of princely states would declare independence instead of joining the successor dominions. It is, however, ironic that while India benefited from the Paramountcy principle in Kashmir, it opposed its application in Junagadh and Hyderabad. In Kashmir, what suited India was the Paramountcy of the ruler but in the other two states India chose instead, the Paramountcy of “popular interests and welfare.”

This explains the motif behind India’s annexation of those princely states which opted to remain independent against the wishes of the Indian Viceroy Lord Mountbatten and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The states, which were subsequently taken by India, were: Hyderabad (annexed in 1948 along with Junagadh), Pondicherry (1951), Goa, Daman & Diu (1961), Sikkim (1975) and occupied Jammu & Kashmir (2019). The only exception was Bhutan but to remain independent it had to surrender part of its sovereignty to India in the Indo-Bhutan Treaty of Friendship 1948.

In July 1947 the Indian States Department despatched a draft Standstill Agreement to all the rulers of princely states in India suggesting its finalisation at a conference to be held in Delhi on 25 July 1947. The Standstill Agreement provided for the continuation, for the time being, of all existing agreements and administrative arrangements in matters of common concern between the acceding state and the successor dominion. The Government of India made the acceptance of Standstill Agreement conditional on accession by the concerned states.

At the July 1947 meeting, which was chaired by the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, a proforma draft Instrument of Accession was also distributed and agreed by the rulers. Most rulers agreed to the Standstill Agreement. They also agreed to accede to the successor Indian dominion on 15 August 1947.

The Hyderabad police action, carried out on the direction of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel with the knowledge of Nehru (II) resulted in the deaths of 40,000 Muslims.

The fighting in Kashmir cost an estimated 100,000 Muslims dead and refugees in the Jammu massacres and about 20,000 Hindus and Sikhs in the Mirpur massacres.

These numbers are far greater than the murder of 2000 Muslims in the Gujarat riots in 2002 and the earlier killings of 3000 Sikhs in the 1984 Delhi riots.

Maharajah Hari Singh’s State of Jammu & Kashmir was not a stable political entity. Long before partition, he had lost control of Gilgit Agency and Northern areas, which were leased out to the British from 1935 to 1947. Maharajah Hari Singh’s writ in Poonch, Bhimber and Mirpur was marred by popular dissent and hatred, caused due to his discriminatory treatment of his subjects, high taxes and humiliating treatment of the descendants of his grandfather’s family of Dhian Singh. His subjects in these areas did not consider Hari Singh as the “spiritual heir” to his predecessor Maharajah Pratap Singh who died issueless and without a son. Maharaja Hari Singh’s loyal subjects were concentrated in Kashmir, Jammu and Laddakh. In the Srinagar valley most of his subjects were Muslims who were supporters of either National Conference of Sheikh Abdullah or Muslim Conference of Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas.

Faced with these circumstances, the Maharajah needed time to decide the future of his state. In a telegram sent to the successor dominions of India and Pakistan on 12 August 1947, Prime Minister Ram Chandar Kak wrote: “Jammu & Kashmir Government would welcome Standstill Agreements with India/Pakistan on all matters on which these exist at present moment with outgoing British India Government. It is suggested that existing arrangements should continue pending settlement of details.” Pakistan agreed to sign the Standstill Agreement in the hope that the Maharajah will make the popular choice of acceding to Pakistan. India invited the Prime Minister to visit Delhi to negotiate the agreement. In October 1947, Maharajah Hari Singh replaced Ram Chandar Kak with Mehr Chand Mahajan. The Standstill Agreement was never signed by India.

There were two reasons which made Pakistan hopeful that the Maharajah, if he could not keep Kashmir as an independent state, might join Pakistan: the Maharajah distrusted Congress leaders, including Nehru and Patel and felt no Hindu affinity toward India because he was himself a non-practicing Hindu. He had also placed Sheikh Abdullah in jail. (VI). Hari Singh’s sole interest was to save his position and his state.

Indian historians have stated that Pakistan violated the Standstill Agreement by sending tribal militias to Kashmir, thereby provoking India to react in the manner it did on 27 October 1947. But in reality, Jinnah had no information about the tribal rebellion(VII).

What was happening in the State of Jammu & Kashmir following the partition of India was an internal struggle for power, which involved only Maharajah’s subjects. The governments of Pakistan was not involved. In fact Pakistan was so careful in maintaining its neutrality in Kashmir that when Major William Brown sent a cable to his commanding officer in Rawalpindi informing him that Gilgit had acceded to Pakistan, Col Iskandar Mirza wanted him disciplined for stepping out of his responsibilities as CO of Gilgit Scouts. How Gilgit and Baltistan got out of Kashmir is another story we will discuss on some other occasion. The Government of Pakistan also kept quiet on the requests of accession of Hunza and Nagar for weeks until Liaqat Ali Khan was told that if Pakistan did not accept their accession they would seriously consider joining Russia.

The command of the Indian and Pakistani army in the early days of the independence was in the hands of British military officers who were under strict orders from their Supreme Commander, Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchenleck not to commit their officers in any situation. The people in Poonch, Gilgit and the North West were outside the control of the Pakistan state.

When M A Jinnah leant about the Indian intervention, he made a radio broadcast on 28 October and declared that “the Government of Pakistan cannot recognise accession of Kashmir to India, achieved as it has been by fraud and violence”.

While things were deteriorating in Kashmir,

I have come across criticism that while things were deteriorating in Kashmir,Muslim League leaders in Pakistan made no effort to cultivate Sheikh Abdullah or the Maharajah. (VIII).  But it is a fact that Pakistan made attempts to engage with Maharajah Hari Singh over the question of accession. But his Prime Minister gave cold shoulder to the envoy of M A Jinnah, Major A S B Shah who visited Kashmir in October 1947 to negotiate the terms of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. Maharajah’s officials not only refused to give Major Shah a meeting with the Maharajah but also told him to get lost.

But India was busy sending wireless equipment, arms and ammunition to the Jammu & Kashmir State to bolster Maharaja’s fighting capacity. In September 1947 India also sent a military Adviser to Jammu & Kashmir State. He was a serving member of the Indian army. The new Prime Minister of Maharajah Hari Singh, Mehr Chand Mahajan was a friend of India. He was also a member of the Punjab Commission whose Chairman Sir Cyril Radcliffe connected Kashmir to the Indian Punjab by awarding Batala and Gurdaspur to India which according to the partition formula of June 1947, should have come to Pakistan. According to Professor Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, Lord Mountbatten was concerned about India remaining in the Commonwealth after independence, and therefore he influenced Sir Cyril to provide India access to Kashmir through Punjab.

It is said that Maharajah Hari Singh would not have rushed to accede his State to India, had there been no large scale Muslim tribal invasion of his State from the west. This is only party true. The Maharajah had already made up his mind to join India and not Pakistan, unless he found a way out to remain independent. He was gradually losing control over his State so much so that by October 1947 he was sure Srinagar would fall, forcing him to flee to Jammu.

The Poonch uprising had its roots in the historical hatred of the locals toward the Maharajah. A similar uprising had taken place in Poonch in 1830 during the reign of his grandfather Gulab Singh. In the NWFP, the tribal Pathan advance toward Kashmir was in retaliation for the death of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims in Jammu at the hands of Dogra army on the eve of the partition.(IX)

Chronology of Accession

The chronology of the instrument of accession revolves around four days – from 24 to 27 October 1947.

24 October 1947

On 24 October Maharaja Hari Singh sent his Deputy Prime Minister R L Batra to Delhi to discuss his terms for conditional accession. On the same day, the tribals cleared many road blockades to continue their advance toward Srinagar. Hari Singh fled in panic to Jammu.

Lord Mountbatten felt that if Kashmir fell, a large tract of territory, which he thought ought to go to India would end up in the lap of Pakistan. Mountbatten did not like M A Jinnah and did not want him to appear victorious over Kashmir

25 October 1947

The next day, on 25 October 1947, Indian Defence Committee met and concluded that if nothing was done, Srinagar will fall to the rebels and Kashmir will be lost to Pakistan.

Lord Mountbatten felt that if Kashmir fell, a large tract of territory, which he thought ought to go to India would end up in the lap of Pakistan. Mountbatten did not like M A Jinnah and did not want him to appear victorious over Kashmir. Moreover, he did not want Nehru to be thrown to the hawks in the Congress such as Vallabhbhai Patel who had been saying all along that Kashmir should be taken by India in the same way as they took Hyderabad.

Nehru played his cards smartly. On 25 October he sent a telegram to Prime Minister Clement Attlee in London, highlighting the geo-political implications of a lost Kashmir for India, and by implication, for Britain and the Western world. The telegram read: “Kashmir’s northern frontiers … run in common with those of three countries – Afghanistan, the Soviet Union and China. The security of Kashmir … is vital to the security of India”. By referring to the great game politics of the region, Nehru ensured British acceptance of the military action India was going to take to stop the advance of Azad Kashmiri militia for liberating Kashmir. It also satisfied Mountbatten who was concerned about the safety of about 450 British subjects living in Kashmir.

On 25 October, Secretary V P Menon flew to Srinagar to meet the Maharaja and other Kashmiri Pandits such as D P Dhar and Dwarkanath Kachru. He returned to Delhi with Kashmir’s Prime Minister Mehr Singh Mahajan and a couple of Indian army and air force officers who had done their recce of the Valley to finalise Indian counterattack in Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah also flew to Delhi and stayed at the residence of Jawaharlal Nehru.

All that was left now, was to get the Maharajah to sign the instrument of accession. His Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister were in Delhi to conduct negotiations.

In principle, Mountbatten did not want India to send troops in Kashmir without the signed letter of accession by the Maharajah. But the gravity of the situation forced him to approve Indian deployment prior to receiving the signed instrument.

26 October 1947

On 26 October 1947, several sets of negotiations took place in Delhi involving Sheikh Abdullah, Mehr Chand Mahajan, V P Menon, Lord Mountbatten, Jawaharlal Nehru and Baldev Singh, Minister of defence. The agenda of these meetings was India’s military action, future relationship between the State of Jammu & Kashmir and the Indian Union and relations between Hari Singh, Sheikh Abdullah and Mehr Chand Mahajan.

Mehr Chand Mahajan demanded from Nehru unconditional Indian military help. In return, Nehru wanted concessions from the Maharajah comprising a signed instrument of accession and Sheikh Abdullah becoming the Chief Minister of the State. Mahajan said if Indian army did not help, he would go to Lahore and seek help from Jinnah. The agreement did not take long to reach but it was subject to the approval of the Defence Committee.

The Maharajah who was in Jammu was unaware of the bargain his Prime Minister had made in seeking Indian military help in return for inclusion of the National Conference of Sheikh Abdullah in the governance of the State.

Later that day, the Indian Defence Committee met and received a report from V P Menon on the advance of the rebels. Menon reported that things were so bad that the rebels could reach Srinagar in the next 12 hours and there could be a bloodbath in the Valley involving Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs. Lord Mountbatten was extremely angry. He felt that Jinnah masterminded this advance to get Kashmir for Pakistan.(X)

In principle, Mountbatten did not want India to send troops in Kashmir without the signed letter of accession by the Maharajah. But the gravity of the situation forced him to approve Indian deployment prior to receiving the signed instrument.

Nehru asked Mehr Chand Mahajan and V P Menon to fly to Jammu and inform the Maharajah what had been agreed, and obtain his signature on the instrument of accession. Mahajan refused to leave until if was confirmed to him from his sources in Srinagar that Indian troops had landed in Kashmir. In his estimation, Mahajan had accomplished what Maharajah had instructed; get India’s help without the signature of the Maharajah on the instrument of accession.(XI)

In his memoirs, V P Menon claims that he travelled from Delhi to Jammu on 26 October and returned with the instrument of accession signed by Hari Singh. But according to another record, V P Menon told the British Deputy High Commissioner in Delhi on 26 October that he will fly to Jammu next day. From three other sources, namely, Nehru’s letter to Maharaja dated 27 October, Mehr Chand Mahajan’s autobiography and Maniben Patel’s memoirs it is confirmed that Menon did not arrive in Jammu before 27 October well after the start of the Indian military operation in Srinagar. (XII)

From these documents, it is clearly established that in the night of 26 October when arrangements were being finalised for Sikh soldiers to reach Srinagar by the break of dawn, there was no letter of accession in the custody of India. At a dinner with the English reporter of the Calcutta Statesman, Lord Mountbatten also confirmed that: “the Maharajah’s formal letter of accession was [still being] finalised”.(XIII)

According to Indian records, Hari Singh wrote a letter to Lord Mountbatten on 26 October 1947 with which the signed instrument of accession was attached. This was probably the letter V P Menon drafted for the Maharajah in Delhi on 26 October and got him to sign it on 27 October. Alastair Lamb finds it hard to believe that the Maharajah, having fled from Srinagar in a hurry and worried about his future, would have retained his wits to write such a letter himself on 26 October. The letter said: “it was my intention to set up an interim government and ask Sheikh Abdullah to carry out the responsibilities in this emergency with my Prime Minister”. Alastair Lamb questions as to how the Maharajah could have accepted Sheikh Abdullah, who he had imprisoned until a month ago, to be involved with the setting up of the interim government in Jammu & Kashmir. Lamb also points out that for many years the Government of India did not make public the signed instrument of accession, which was “attached” to Maharaja’s letter.(XIV)

It is possible that Mountbatten was aware that the instrument of accession and the cover letter which bore the date 26 October 1947 was eventually going to be signed by the Maharajah on 27 October, irrespective of whether it preceded or followed the Indian military deployment in Srinagar on the day. What was important for all sides at that time – India, Maharajah, Sheikh Abdullah and Mountbatten – was to save Srinagar before it was run over by the desperate bands of the Pathan tribes and soldiers of Major Khurshid Anwar and Colonel Akbar Khan.

27 October 1947

There are various Indian accounts about the signing of the instrument of accession on 27 October. Alastair lamb writes that the first Indian batch of Sikh soldiers landed in Srinagar at 9:00 am. According to one account, the Maharajah signed the instrument of accession before the Indian troops landed in Srinagar. Another account says the instrument was signed at “first light” on the morning of 27 October.(XV)

The India White Paper on Jammu & Kashmir says that on 25 October 1947 the Government of India directed the preparation of plans for sending troops to Kashmir but troops were sent on 27 October following the signing of the instrument of accession. (XVI)

Neither the proposal for  going to the UN nor holding a plebiscite in Kashmir came from Pakistan.

28 October 194

Lord Mountbatten could not envisage a truncated India, which depended on Pakistan for the source of its riparian waters. He went along with the false Indian narrative of “troops deployment following the accession” knowing that Pakistan could react in retaliation and a situation of an inter-dominion conflict could arise in the Commonwealth resulting in a major crisis, involving King George VI as Head of the Commonwealth. In fact when M A Jinnah leant about the Indian intervention, he made a radio broadcast on 28 October and declared that “the Government of Pakistan cannot recognise accession of Kashmir to India, achieved as it has been by fraud and violence”.

Jinnah proposed sending Pakistani soldiers to Kashmir, but he was prevented from doing so by Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck. Auchinleck suggested that if Jinnah insisted on this course of action, he would ask General Gracey to withdraw all British officers from Pakistan armed forces.

On 28 October 1947, Lord Mountbatten replied to the Maharaja’s letter of 26 October 1947 which said: “it is my government’s wish that as soon as the law and order have been restored in Kashmir and her soil cleaned of the invaders, the question of the State’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people”.

Following Mountbatten’s suggestion, Prime Minister Clement Attlee wrote to Prime Minister Nehru on 30 October 1947 proposing a detailed plebiscite plan for Kashmir.

On 1 & 2 November 1947, Jinnah and Sheikh Abdullah accepted the plebiscite idea. Nehru also said that his government was committed to organising a plebiscite in Kashmir (XVII)

On two occasions, following the accession of Kashmir, Nehru avoided a direct contact with Jinnah in order not to commit himself to the mechanism and date of the plebiscite. (XVIII)

Part of the blame for the Kashmir tragedy goes also to the leaders of two main Kashmiri political parties. On the question of accession, there was no interaction between Sheikh Abdullah of National Congress and Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas of Muslim Congress.

The British government made 7 attempts to mediate in the Kashmir conflict but Nehru managed to stay away from any meaningful discussion on any proposal.

On 1 January 1948, India took the Kashmir issue to the UN Security Council appearing before the world body as the victim of aggression by Pakistan. The same policy seems to be directing India’s present foreign policy on Kashmir: to present itself to the international community as the victim of attacks by Pakistan based terrorists.


Accession of Kashmir to India was achieved by fraud and violence and, as such, was illegal and unacceptable. The letter of accession has never been made officially public by India. In 1971 it appeared in the printed letters of Vallabhbhai Patel in 1971. In 2016 an Indian researcher Venkatesh Nayak posted true images of the signed copy of the instrument of accession kept in the National Archives of India [https://thewire.in/history/public-first-time-jammu-kashmirs-instrument-accession-india/amp/].

Indian military action in Kashmir on 27 October 1947 preceded the signing of the instrument of accession which made its status in Kashmir one of occupying force. There is no information available until now about the conditionalities attached to Maharajah Hari Singh’s signed instrument of accession. The Maharajah signed the same proforma instrument, which other rulers signed when acceding to India. Therefore, it does not stand to reason why Kashmir was treated differently from Hyderabad or other former princely states? Was Sheik Abdullah bribed to accept accession in return for the special status of Kashmir provided in Articles 35A and 370 of the Indian Constitution which lasted 70 years. And if those statutory protections are now gone, doesn’t Kashmir get back falling in the same position as existed on 26 October 1947. These are questions arising out of India’s own record on Kashmir.

If the process of accession was complete in the case of Kashmir, as claimed by India, it is not understood why Lord Mountbatten, only a day after the Indian intervention in Kashmir called for the “question of accession to be settled by a reference to the people”. Prime Minister Clement Attlee also supported the plebiscite.

Part of the blame for the Kashmir tragedy goes also to the leaders of two main Kashmiri political parties. On the question of accession, there was no interaction between Sheikh Abdullah of National Congress and Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas of Muslim Congress. The lack of trust between them encouraged V. P. Menon to paint a grim picture of Srinagar and claim that it was sliding toward a civil war. This influenced Mountbatten to review his earlier stance that ‘accession should precede intervention’ in order to authorise the despatch of Indian troops to Srinagar on the morning of 27 October 1947 to avert a bloodbath of the civilians.

It should be realised that while going to the UN and calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir may keep the Kashmir dispute alive internationally, none of the two options is ever going to materialise.

Neither the idea of going to the UN nor holding a plebiscite in Kashmir came from Pakistan. However, while the initiators of these ideas (India and Britain) have abandoned their support for these options, Pakistan has strongly clung to them as possible solutions for the Kashmir problem. It should be realised that while going to the UN and calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir may keep the Kashmir dispute alive internationally, none of the two options is ever going to materialise. The UN will never be able to force India to accept international mediation on Kashmir. Similarly, there will never be a plebiscite in Kashmir because the preconditions for its conduct will remain controversial and never be met by either country fully.

A solution will need to be found in establishing Pakistan’s own historical, constitutional and political claim on Kashmir.

Historically, Pakistan should use the formula of partition, which took into account the principle of majority view when determining the accession of the princely states, notably in the case of Junagadh, Hyderabad and Kashmir. On the basis of this principle, Kashmir belongs to Pakistan and not India.

Constitutionally, Pakistan needs to amend the 1973 Constitution in regard to Kashmir and change Articles 1 and 257 by two third majority of the constituent assembly to establish its claim on Kashmir in law.

Politically, Pakistan should integrate Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Kashmir and the Occupied Kashmir as the 5th, 6th & 7th provinces in the federation. The 7th province should be inducted when conditions are conducive for its inclusion in the federation of Pakistan.

Let me also make a reference to a sensitive subject, which no one wants to touch for the time being. It is the option of Independence for Kashmir. Lord Mountbatten and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru were both opposed to the option of independence of princely states. The states, which did not join India on the eve of partition and instead opted for independence did not remain independent for long and were sooner or later annexed with India. Therefore the question of accession to be settled by a reference to the people of Kashmir, if it is ever allowed, will be to either to join with India or Pakistan. The third option does not exist in the context of the historical precedence of princely states.

London: 1 October 2019

About the author:  Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a former diplomat and a former Special Adviser in the Commonwealth Secretariat, London. He specialises in South Asian politics, conflict resolution and election observation.


i. Alastair Lamb, Kashmir: Birth of a Tragedy 1947, Roxford Books, UK 1994; Andrew Whitehead, A Mission in Kashmir, Chapter 5, Penguin India, 2008; Mr Abdul Majid Zargar, Kashmir Accession Document Shrouded in False Myths, zargar271013.hm, www.countercurrents.org; Dr Abdul Ahad, Kashmir: Triumph and Tragedies, Chapter 23, Gulshan Books, India, 2012.
ii. According to the Sunderlal Committee’s report, which was not released until 2013, the number of Muslims who died during or after police action in Nizam’s State ranged between 27-40,000. According to another report, the number was 40,000. Pankaj Mishra, India at 70: The Passing of Another Allusion. New York Times, 11 August 2017.
iii. Christopher Snedden, Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris, Oxford University Press, 2015.
iv. Das Gupta and Jyoti Bhusan, Kashmir and Kashmiris, Springer 2012.
v. Hari Singh’s love of western clothes and a liberal lifestyle was one of the reasons why Maharajah Pratap Singh, who was a devout Hindu, did not name Hari Singh (his nephew) as heir to the throne of Jammu & Kashmir. Instead, Maharajah Pratap Singh named Jagat Dev Singh from the Dhian Singh’s family line from his grandfather side as his “spiritual heir”. The British Indian States Department, however, overruled Pratap Singh’s Will and appointed Hari Singh as the Maharajah of Jammu & Kashmir, possibly because they could exploit his weaknesses about which they had ample information during his student period in London.
vi. Neither the Northern tribesmen nor the Gilgit Scouts were under Pakistan’s control, although, according to the Governor of NWFP, Sir George Cunningham, the officials of the Pakistan government were of two minds – either to turn a blind eye to the developments, or to express concern that this will precipitate the Maharajah to act in panic and join India.
vii. Safeer Ahmad Bhat, Jammu and Kashmir on the Eve of Partition- A Study of Political Conditions, South Asian Studies: Vol. 32, No. 2, July – December 2017, pp.285 – 295-
viii. Ibid
ix. Ian Stephens, Pakistan, London 1963.
x. M C Mahajan, Looking Back, London 1963.
xi. V P Menon, The Story of the Integration of Indian States, 1956.
xii. V P Menon, Ibid; LP&S/13/1845b,ff 283-95-India office records; M C Mahajan page 154, op cit; Nehru’s letter of 27 October to Maharajah Hari Singh, India office records; Ian Stephens, op cit; and Noorani-Frontline 24th March 1995.
xiii. An instrument of accession bearing the signatures of the Maharajah and Mountbatten was included in the collected correspondence of Sardar Patel. The text of instrument is the same as was approved for all princely states in the meeting of rulers on 25 July 1947. Sardar Patel’s Correspondence 1945-50 Vol I, Durgadas, New Light on Kashmir, Ahmedabad, 1971.
xiv. J Korbel, Danger in Kashmir, Princeton 1966.
xv. India White Paper on Jammu & Kashmir, New Delhi, 1948
xvi. The idea of plebiscite first came from Nehru on 30 September in the context of Junagadh whose Muslim leader had acceded to Pakistan.
xvii. Nehru did not accept Jinnah’s proposal to convene a special conference on Kashmir in Lahore on 29 May even though Mountbatten had agreed to it. Criticising Nehru, Sardar Patel said: “for the Indian PM to go crawling to Jinnah when we are the stronger side and in the right, would never be forgiven by the people of India.” Mountbatten tried again by joining the meeting with the meeting of the Defence Committee in Lahore on 1 November but Nehru again stayed away feigning this time, diplomatic illness. At this meeting, Mountbatten tried to assure Jinnah that the Maharajah had signed the letter of accession to India but His Majesty’s government wanted the people to decide the fate of the state through a plebiscite.

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