Celebrating Pakistan’s Independence Day 2022

Syed Sharfuddin*

Every year on the 14th of August Pakistanis all over the world celebrate their country’s independence with hamd e Baari Taala and riwayati josh o jazbah (thanksgiving and fanfare). This year on 14 August 2022, 225 million people will celebrate the Independence Day of Pakistan in many ways, recalling the events of the partition and reflecting on the lessons learnt and the progress made over the last 75 years since independence. They will also be joined by about 9m overseas Pakistanis who live and work abroad.

In many ways, Pakistan’s creation is akin to the creation of Israel and modern Turkey. Like Israel, Pakistan is the only country in the world that claims its sovereign and independent territorial existence for its people’s pursuit of a separate religious identity and faith. Like Modern Turkey, Pakistan is the successor state to the old Taxila and Mohenjo-Daro civilisation, and the Moghul Empire which was replaced by the British prior to the partition of India in 1947.

In our daily discourse mostly on social media and otherwise, we come across two distinct groups of Pakistanis. The first group of Pakistanis is so proud of their country and its achievements that it cannot bear any criticism of whatever area or shortcoming needs improvement and reform. They have the same attitude toward the political parties and institutions they support and cheer for. Then there is the other group which sees only rot in everything and is not prepared to appreciate the point of view of the other group and acknowledge the achievements this country has made over the last 75 years despite its share of forced geo-strategic compulsions and its struggle in promoting the fundamental values of democracy and enhancing federalism in a pluralistic society. In between these two extremes is the silent majority whose opinion is measured only during elections, or occasionally in civil society voices when a certain social issue acquires national importance such as a natural calamity or an extraordinary event. If you want to know what is happening in Pakistan today, it depends very much on who you speak to, what TV news channels you watch, which newspaper you read and whose point of you comes closer to you own version of current developments and prospects.

The strength of diversity lies in respecting the views of others and allowing a healthy debate to reach fruitful outcomes. Those who take Pakistan’s Independence Day seriously strive for this objective and I have no doubt that Pakistanis by and large share this goal.

Some of you who have an interest in Pakistan or those who keep abreast with the daily news at home must be looking at the ongoing financial and political uncertainty in Pakistan and wondering what is there to celebrate this year when the country has nothing to show as an achievement or even a roadmap that carries the promise of overcoming the current political and financial crises.

To be honest it is a myopic view and one that can be easily parked within the broader context of developments that dot the map of progress made in the last seven decades. Pakistan started its journey as an independent country from a point where it had no funds to pay salaries to its employees and no home-grown food to feed the thousands of migrants coming to the new country after witnessing firsthand, the violence and death of the partition. The refugee problem was so big that by 1950, nearly all major cities of Pakistan had 50% population which comprised immigrants. Pakistan not only welcomed and housed the refugees from India in 1947, but it also accommodated in later years, thousands of Iranian refugees after the Iranian revolution and over 3m Afghan refugees in two waves for over 40 years.

At independence, Pakistan inherited a fragile state apparatus. The assets between the two countries were unfairly divided at a ratio of 17 for India to 5 for Pakistan. Financial and other disputes arising out of non-delivery of assets to Pakistan took 13 years to settle. Pakistan got the bulk of irrigated land and the canal system, but manufacturing and infrastructure were in India. Pakistan had only one port which was largely underdeveloped, and its so-called airports were mere fields for planes to land. The military division was 65 to 35 in favour of India. In civil service, India had 1056 officers whereas Pakistan got only 157 which included 50 Britons. At independence, it looked like a country that would not survive even 6 months but it recovered and surprised the world by doing better than many countries in the early years.

75 years is not a very long time in the history of nations. Many countries during the first 75 years of their independence went through difficult times. They also made use of opportunities and benefited from them. If we look at the first 75 years of today’s two great powers, the US and China, we can appreciate how their independence witnessed interesting times and demanded meeting national challenges with courage and wisdom.

During the first 75 years of its independence, the US fought a revolutionary war with Britain; it went to war with Mexico; its constitution was amended 12 times and it fought a civil war over the question of slavery. In taking opportunities, the US purchased or annexed as many as 6 states and as many territories from their colonial administrators.

In the case of the People’s Republic of China, it inherited a nation of opium addicts with Mongolia and Taiwan having left it already and Tibet attempting to secede from its territory. Its experiment with the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward resulted in the death of estimated 30 million people. China reversed its one child policy after the failure of yet another experiment to control demography. It earned global notoriety in the Tiananmen Square killings before bringing political and economic reforms. China faced natural and man-made disasters such as earthquakes that killed 380,000 people, and 30 million people lost jobs as a result of the Asian financial crisis of 1998. China faced violent protests in Tibet in 2008 and in Hong Kong in 2019. China’s advantage in cheap labour and focused economic development made it the powerhouse of the world.

Pakistan also faced its share of misfortunes and opportunities in the 75 years of its existence. The first was its inability to capture Kashmir when in 1948 the tribal fighters were only 13 miles away from Srinagar. Then in 1971 Bengal seceded from Pakistan to form Bangladesh. Pakistan lost 80,000 people in the war against terror, including $150b in economic costs and was left to resettle 3.5m IDPs. In 1999, Pakistan was at the brink of default on its external payments, but it survived and entered a programme of economic restructuring and macroeconomic stability. Pakistan also made use of opportunities that came its way. It purchased Gwadar from Oman in 1958 for $ 2b which was paid to the Sultan of Oman by the Aga Khan. It responded to India’s nuclear explosions in 1998 with its own explosions to give a comprehensive and permanent cover to the country’s security. Its collaboration with China to develop a trade and economic corridor from China to the Arabian Sea via Gwadar is a strategic decision whose significance for the development of the region will be fully realised in the coming decades.

It is not unusual for countries to experience difficult times and recover after a loss. We have the example of Britain which, in the years following World War II, granted independence to its colonies around the globe, ending its imperial status. It also lost Chagos Islands to Mauritius and returned Hong Kong to China after 150 years of British rule. Today’s Russia, which is the successor state of the former Soviet Union saw the Union collapse in 1991 resulting in the independence of many new states which were once part of the former Soviet Union.

Pakistan is naturally endowed with a resilient population, rich mineral resources and a variety of flora and fauna, thanks to its diverse geography and four seasons. It is the 5th largest populous country in the world; it has the 6th largest standing army, its Indus basin is the world’s largest contiguous surface water irrigation system in the world; and in terms of land mass it is one of the largest countries in Asia and the 35th largest in the world. Pakistan ranks 11th in the world in the use of mobile phones and is fast becoming an exporter of IT services. Yet, Pakistan is not an emerging market economy, nor is it a member of the G20 group of most industrialised countries. Although its poverty rate has decreased in recent years, it is still 39.3% today.

Despite a rank of 57.6 on the global human asset index, Pakistan scores poorly at 154 in the human development index. Since becoming a member of IMF in 1950, Pakistan has signed 35 financial arrangements with the Fund, the more recent being in the three past governments from 2008-2011, from 2013-2016 and from 2019-2022. Pakistan owes the Fund $1.01b under the RFI and RCF facility which it drew in April this year in addition to $4.1m it owes in extended arrangements. Pakistan is committed to future repayments of SDRs, including interest, to IMF amounting to $445m in 2022; $1,09b in 2023; $1.35b in 2024; $837m in 2025 and $424m in 2026. Its overall foreign debt servicing is in addition to these figures.

It is not a bad thing for governments to borrow to reduce their budget deficits. All governments do that. The problem arises when foreign borrowings do not serve to create wealth and save foreign exchange to service their debt and give a reasonable return to the economy.

Right after independence, Pakistan embarked on rapid economic development. Its growth rate was over 5% per annum on average for 4 decades. Starting from a stage where it had to import all its food grains in 1947, Pakistan became self-sufficient in commodities and became a major exporter of cotton, in addition to wheat and rice. Similarly, with a zero start in manufacturing in 1947, Pakistan achieved an impressive manufacturing production capacity in steel, sugar, fertilizer, industrial chemicals, cement, electricity and gas generation, and construction and road networks.

However, there was little development in the human resources sector. Health, education and social development did not receive required attention. Its external debt increased steadily from $20.66b in 1990 to $116.5b in 2020, resulting in a sizable proportion of the GDP going toward debt servicing. In 2021, the ratio between Pakistan’s external debt and its GDP was 74%. Inequality of income distribution remained high at 49%. With a poverty rate of 39% in 2021, Pakistan was 57 out of 78 in the list of countries with people living in poverty. It was also 120 in the list of 150 countries with working age population unemployed at 50.2%.

There are many reasons why Pakistan did not continue with the impressive economic progress it made in the years following independence and why it did poorly compared to many developing lower middle-income countries which were at one point far behind it.

The roots of the problem go back decades. It is no use blaming one political party or another or the civilians or the military for not consistently pursuing the development route. There have always been external factors that impacted on domestic policy. But the main reason is there was always a toxic mix of populist politics (as exemplified by some of Pakistan’s popular civilian prime ministers) on the one hand, and the entrenchment of entitlement culture (as exemplified by the military and feudal and parliamentary privileges) on the other, which prevented good governance and pursuit of growth oriented economic policy.

There were also three other contributing factors:

The first factor was let’s eat the egg and not wait for chicken.
Instead of replicating the advances made in manufacturing and infrastructure in human development sector, Pakistan’s politicians and policy makers prematurely started celebrating their progress. In the words of Professor Joan Robinson which she used in the late 1950 to describe the economic boom of Sri Lanka, “we ate the fruit before we planted the tree”.

The second factor was consumer economy.
When Pakistan graduated from the World Banks’s low-income country to lower middle-income country index in the 1990s, it was no longer qualified for any special treatment in foreign aid, concessional financial arrangements and special export quotas. Due to this change, Pakistan’s economy was exposed to global capital markets and credit rating agencies. Pakistani politicians and policy makers did not make the necessary adjustments in fiscal policy and did not legislate for state bank’s independence which led to continued budget deficits and balance of payment problems in later years. There was also total mismatch in spending and income generation through exports, taxes and domestic savings. Successive governments kept spending the money and the State Bank kept printing the Rupee to meet the demand. When this was exhausted, external borrowings were used to pay for imports and debt servicing. Pakistan does not qualify for any concession available to the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs).

The third factor was aid dependency.
Pakistan’s politicians were not economically literate to realize that the country will end up with an unsustainable level of foreign debt if it did not avoid the debt trap. The Iran-Iraq wars, the two wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s geo strategic position in the region encouraged leaders to maximize receipt of foreign aid instead of relying on indigenous growth and exports. The efforts of the policy makers were focused less on economic reform and macro-economic stability and more on strengthening Pakistan’s bargaining position in the great power rivalry. Some of it was no doubt unavoidable, but it was never the least desirable option of the previous governments. Pakistan is now caught so deeply in this trap that the economic impact of Covid, the war in Ukraine and resultant global price increases in fuel, energy and commodities make it impossible for Pakistan to come out of it in the short term.

For the way forward, I suggest 3 solutions.

In the immediate future carry out comprehensive structural reforms in the economy and accelerate disinvestment of state-owned enterprises to get the needed foreign exchange for stabilising balance of payment situation. This will help forthcoming debt servicing and pay for essential imports to keep the industries working. The government and people must understand that the good times are over and a departure from the consumer economy to investment economy is unavoidable.
In the medium to long term, strengthen fiscal management responsibility and focus on attaining a GDP growth of 5% on average. This will be possible if macroeconomic stability is maintained for wealth creation and creating a suitable environment for foreign investment and domestic savings.
Pakistan’s institutions and political stakeholders must reach consensus on maintaining political stability for investor confidence, abandon populist policies and create public confidence to support government’s austerity measures. People must understand that replacing parties and leaders in government, even with regular elections, cannot itself put things right. If possible, a national truth and reconciliation mechanism should be put in place to create national harmony with a view to improving business climate and improving economic indicators. Pakistan can return to recording high level growth if its people are given the right leadership and policy to carry on with a Can Do, but not, Busines as Usual attitude.

* Syed Sharfuddin is a former Political Adviser at the Commonwealth Secretariat London. He also served as a diplomat in Pakistan Foreign Service and was CEO of a disaster and emergency NGO, Muslim Aid UK.

Interpreting Article 63-A of Pakistan Constitution on the Disputed Result of the Punjab CM Election and various Supreme Court Judgements of 2022.

Syed Sharfuddin*

Guess what is the most important point of tomorrow’s session of the Supreme Court (SC) (25/7/22) in consideration of petition No 22/22 dated 22 July 2022 – case of Ch Pervez Elahi vs Deputy Speaker of Punjab Assembly.

The 3-member bench of the SC will consider whether under Article 63-A of the Pakistan Constitution only the parliamentary party itself can issue direction to its members for voting on certain matters including election of PM/CM, or whether the Head of the party can also issue this direction on behalf of the parliamentary party. The said Article does not go into this detail. The 3-member bench will also consider, hopefully, whether in giving such directive the head of the political party will observe the democratic tradition of representing the majority opinion of his party and not take an arbitrary decision on his own. Article 63-A does not clarify this in the event of the head of the party being someone other than the head of the parliamentary party, i.e., is not a member of the house. The defection article, as it is called, was part of the omnibus 18th Amendment which is a flagship amendment in the constitutional history of Pakistan in delegating powers from the Centre to the provinces and has contributed to strengthening the federation. Since the 18th amendment was passed after a long spell of military rule and came only two years after the first multi-party democratic election of 2008, it leaves many things to interpretation which is unhealthy from the point of application of the amended articles to sensitive political situations. It also gives the Judiciary an upper hand in reading the intent of the legislature on disputes arising from these Articles, including Article 63-A.

The dispute over counting or disregarding the vote of the ML-Q legislators at the election of the Chief Minister (CM) is complex. Had it been simple, the SC in its short judgement of 23 July 2022 would have either declared the petitioner the new CM or would have declared the incumbent candidate as elected CM instead of restraining him as a caretaker CM with limited powers until the case is fully heard.

On the face of it, and going strictly by the interpretation of Article 63-A in the SC judgment of 17 May 2022 concerning the status of defection of legislators of the National Assembly against their party head, the ruling of the Deputy Speaker of Punjab Assembly (PA) given on 22 July 2022 is correct and he is right in disregarding the votes of the 10 legislators from ML-Q party in the election of the Chief Minister of Punjab. However, as a constitutional interpretation by the SC always takes into account the intent of the framers of the constitution and purpose of the drafters of its subsequent amendments, the reason for adding Article 63-A to the constitution in 2010 was to discourage one or several members of a parliamentary party from voting against their party line resulting in the betrayal of the mandate given to them by their electorate at the time of their election, and also to end allegations of corruption and moral bankruptcy which has been a bane of floor crossing history of Pakistan’s current and previous parliaments.

At the vote of CM held on 22 July 2022 in the PA, it was observed that all the 10 legislators of ML-Q altogether disregarded their party head’s direction to the point that they were unanimous in rejecting it, irrespective of whether it was taken with or without their consent/knowledge. It is for this reason that the parliamentary head of the party has come to the SC to seek redress for not given the votes needed to show his majority in the election of the CM of PA.

It is also noted that the petitioner who is a member of the concerned parliamentary party was himself a candidate in the election of the CM. The direction of the head of the party to his parliamentary party members to vote for a candidate other than from his own party is against the spirit of defection. In fact, by issuing such an unusual directive, the head of the party himself defected from the party line and committed the very act which Article 63-A aims to discourage for going against the party line.

The SC should take the view that as the party head acted arbitrarily in his individual capacity and did not represent the will of his parliamentary party, with not a single member of the parliamentary party showing agreement with him, the direction conveyed in his letter of 22 July 2022 is ultravirus and inadmissible for disregarding the votes exercised by the parliamentary members of the ML-Q party in the election of CM. The non-circulation of the party head’s letter to ML-Q members is immaterial in this regard. It is also not the responsibility of the Speaker to disclose the contents of the letter to the House before a roll call of vote. What is material is that the party head’s decision was either not known to them or was deemed by his parliamentary party to be undemocratic that did not represent the wishes of the parliamentary membership. Consequently the Deputy Chairman’s decision to disregard the 10 votes of ML-Q was incorrect. As such, the votes cast by the members of ML-Q on 22 July 2022 were in accordance with the spirit of the constitution and do not fall under the purview of Article 63-A and the interpretation of the SC judgement dated 17 May 2022.

The SC bench meeting on 25 July 2022 should therefore rule tomorrow that the petition is admitted and Deputy Speaker should be instructed to announce the revised result in the next session of the PA to be convened immediately in which he should announce Ch Pervez Elahi as the CM of Punjab.

The SC should further direct the parliament to amend Article 63A whenever it can muster the required two third majority in order to clarify it to the extent it requires updating in the light of the several interpretations of the SC given in its recent decisions on this matter.

In the interest of satisfying all parties to this dispute, the judges could also decide to expand its 3-member bench to a full 5-member bench as requested by the defendant. It will, however, make little difference in the outcome of its verdict. Since the CJ is present in this bench and he was also present in the previous 5-member bench, in no way it should be subsumed that it is a lesser bench. In my view if Justice Mandokhel and Justice Miankhel are added to the 3-member bench it would strengthen the petitioner’s plea because in their dissenting notes in May 2022, these two had written that the SC should simply interpret what is written in the constitution and not assume the role of law makers. Therefore, if you go by their argument, the votes of ML-Q legislators must be counted first and any complaint of their defection to the EC should be forwarded later by the party head. This is what the constitution says. This would mean Pervez Elahi becoming CM with immediate effect.

The wily politicians of the country understand that while the public is only interested in finding out from the SC whether or not the party head has the authority to give direction to his parliamentary party about voting in parliament and on that basis which of the two candidates is the CM-elect, this case is far more significant than the fate of CM Punjab. In fact it targets the fundamental lever of Pakistan’s political party system which legitimises the stranglehold of the head of a political party over the entire membership of the party. If Hamza Shahbaz loses this landmark case, it means Chaudhry Shujaat, Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari, Molana Fazlur Rahman, Asfandyar Wali and Imran Khan et al will lose their unchallenged supremacy in their respective parties and become subject to the democratic principle of survival of the fittest. If Chaudhry Pervez Elahi wins this case, then a new tradition will be established whereby these unchallenged party heads for life will lose their grip on their parties and the Supreme Court ruling will oblige them to consult their parliamentary members and listen to them instead of taking arbitrary and undemocratic decisions in the name of the party. It is despicable that the Bhuttos and Sharifs have been unwilling to find persons of gravitas outside their families to lead their parties for decades. If this happens, it will be a new beginning in Pakistani politics. It is for this reason that the absolute heads of dynastic parties have come together to prevent the 3-bench panel of the SC from giving its verdict and are pressing for the full SC bench to hear the case.

The military establishment should welcome this change of wind because like the people it too is tired of the fired bullets and old faces in Pakistani politics. The nation awaits the judiciary to help break this monotony and allow an injection of new blood in the veins of Pakistan’s ailing democracy in which political parties become its strong pillars instead of remaining the laughing stock of the institution.

*Mr. Syed Sharfuddin is a former Special Adviser, Political Affairs, Commonwealth Secretariat, London, UK.

Wavela: Observations of an Overseas Pakistani about the Fatherland

By Syed Sharfuddin

It is always good to touch base with the Fatherland and breathe the air of the place where one was born and grew up playing all sorts of desi and not fit for Olympics games in the less crowded playgrounds and streets in the days gone by. I have been coming to Islamabad from England every year to touch my roots and relive the past in the present. This year was different as I had returned after a long gap interspersed by the Covid pandemic and global travel restrictions. But it was useful in the sense that the longer I stayed away from Pakistan, the better I was able to look at it objectively. Of course, this was from a personal perspective based on my own experience.

The result of my public encounters and private introspection led me to conclude that Pakistan needs some socialist intellectuals of the 1950s once again to reclaim our national spirit and promote the socialist principle of egalitarianism which is completely discarded in the prevailing capital market and free trade regime. Indeed, we have made much progress, but it has also allowed an unfathomable rich and poor divide to grow along with the population as the byproduct of development. As hard times have hit every country in the world this year, Pakistan’s economic problems are making the poor poorer everyday, which is a genuine worry because it undermines the principle of equality and makes democracy’s one man one vote theory difficult to practice. To be brief I will cite in this essay a few observations and offer some suggestions to illustrate my concern.

Yesterday afternoon, as I was walking outside my home in a busy residential sector of Islamabad, I saw old women and frail labourers sitting along the walkway waiting for help in the form of handouts from the pedestrians and passing cars. Then I saw a big SUV slowing down and a hand coming out of the driver’s window holding some currency notes. I couldn’t be sure about the colour of the notes as a blue note is a thousand rupees, a green is five hundred and red is a hundred. But the man who received the money seemed extremely grateful. Inspired by this noble gesture, I also gave some spare change to an unskilled labourer sitting a few steps away. Thanking me for my help, he said no one had hired him for the day. One kilometre away I witnessed similar scenes. People stared at me expecting I will give them some charity. Many were professional beggars who craftily sent their kids after me to pester for alms but on the other hand, many were also quiet. They spoke not a single word to ask for money. Their looks did their talking. An elderly baba who was selling fruit on a rickety trolley, however, pleaded with me to buy some mangoes from him because he had not sold any in the day. When I said the reason why he wasn’t able make a sale was because his mangoes were priced at Rs 300 a kilo while the market rate was Rs 250, he said the difference was his profit.

Considering that the temperature was 45C that day, I thought he deserved some help because he was at least trying to make a living by selling fruit instead of taking to begging. Given his position he appeared perfectly justified for jacking up the price of his mangoes to increase his profit margin. But he was no different from the those big profiteers in possession of large stores of sugar, cement, flour, fertilizer, medicines, UPS batteries and other essential commodities who also faced the heat of the adverse economic impact and considered themselves guiltless for ignoring the market in order to maximise their profit. In the end I bought a kilo of mangoes from the old man despite my ideological difference from his theory of making profit.

Then I noticed that most of the SUVs in the shopping centres were driven by the drivers of invisible owners who were probably sitting in air conditioned houses as their hired servants did all the shopping for them. These drivers were lucky because they had jobs and they could ride in those big vehicles worth fifty lakh. They even had the discretion to give small change to the beggars while shopping for their Sahibs. In the evening they take their Sahibs and Begum Sahibs to meet their friends for dinner at homes worth twelve crore or more.

Out at the clubs in the Rawal Dam area and in E-9, only the privileged people go for socialising. The don’t haves go to fast food joints and open air restaurants in sector markets where one basic meal costs around Rs 500. I had tea in F11 markaz in an open air sitting arrangement. The concoction cost me Rs 50 and a Naan Rs 20. There I saw many hungry faces passing by and many middle class husbands ordering takeaways to make their wives happy that tonight’s meal will be ‘bahir ka khana’, as opposed to ‘ghar ka khana’.

There are many other things unique to this country. We try to find local solutions to global problems. For instance, to reduce buildup of traffic on four crossings in Islamabad, the Capital City’s traffic police has found a novel solution unique in the world. It has blocked many such crossings by placing boulders in the road openings from where motorcycles can take a right turn, but four-wheel vehicles cannot. To take a right turn, a car driver must continue ahead for a kilometer or more and then take an awkward U turn in order to come back and then take the left turn. I thought as petrol prices have doubled people will ask questions about the logic of going the proverbial extra mile to take a right turn on many intersections, but drivers seem to have accepted it the traffic norm.

Another thing that got my attention was that many traffic lights that could benefit from solar energy panels remain dependent on grid electric supply which means that during load shedding hours, which are frequent in summer, traffic police personnel wearing thick cotton polyester uniforms are deputed to manage traffic under the blazing sun. In British India, traffic police wore khaki shorts in summers which looked funny but were airy and provided relief to the traffic cop. In 70 years of independence we are not only still there but gone a step back. The challenge of high temperature awaits the Islamabad administration’s attention to turn it into an opportunity to generate solar electricity for making their traffic lights work automatically.

A few years ago, a lot of large metal cat lights were placed on highways of Islamabad and Rawalpindi which were far more effective in tearing tires than illuminating in the dark. Someone must have charged the government for this work as metal was used in these road marking lights. This year I saw that these were removed from many roads. The highway authority must have received the feedback that they were a nuisance. Someone must have again charged the government for doing the removal of these lights.

A lot of revenue to the tune of crores of rupees is lost by Islamabad traffic police every year by not placing solar powered CCTV cameras at key traffic lights and parking areas to generate money from fines for traffic violations such as jumping red lights, over speeding or double parking in shopping areas. Here too, local solutions are devised for this problem by building very high road humps that hit the chassis of the cars or placing more road barriers for preventing double parking and not suspending the registration of cars driving against the flow of traffic in shopping areas.

I saw no less than ten big cars in a month on the roads of Islamabad with the sign “Applied for Registration”. The issuing authority was not the traffic department but individual car dealers from different cities. I asked a friend if this is allowed. He said it is not allowed but no police constable will risk his job stopping any of these big cars because their owners are big people with very long hands, longer than the law.

Real estate is a booming business in Pakistan. I don’t know about other cities, but I do know that whoever is somebody in Pakistan owns a house or a flat in Islamabad. In the federal capital the Capital Development Authority (CDA) has the final say on the allotment of land for residential or commercial purposes. CDA is also responsible for collection of property tax, as is the Islamabad Mayor’s office responsible for collection of water and sewerage charges. CDA and Islamabad property registry office lose crores of rupees of revenue every year by remaining outside the sale purchase deals of apartment buyers with the builders of apartments. Every new buyer of a new or old apartment pays an ownership transfer fee amounting to 3 or 4 lakh rupees to the apartment builder but not to the government. In CDA’s books individual apartment owners are not legal and registered owners of their addresses. In CDA’s books the registered owners are those who purchased the plots from CDA and got the permission to build apartments on those plots of land. Yet CDA sends every apartment owner a property tax bill each year. Many private housing societies in Sector E-11 have defied the CDA and given ownership rights through registry to the home and apartment owners. There are two parallel rules in operation in one capital city.

CDA has also bent down to political and government pressure frequently to change the capital’s master plan by adding unplanned streets, observing benign neglect for illegal encroachments on slopes adjoining rainwater passages, and blocking public roads for certain sensitive offices which want to keep the public away from their access points for security reasons but they do not want to relocate their offices to places where there is less public movement. Often the law enforcing agencies are the beneficiaries of such exceptions.

And yet despite this interesting maze of local logic applied in parallel with international good practice, people seem immensely grateful for what they have. This is perhaps due to the strong Sufi tradition which runs deep in Pakistan’s rural, as well as urban population. The rich may call the poor crooks and the poor may call the rich corrupt but no one, not even a street urchin is prepared for a revolution. They happily accept all that happens in their lives is fate. Afterall, they are one people under God. It is only a matter of whoever is lucky and got the opportunity to rise in rank and file. They pay the same sales tax and buy petrol at the same price. They eat the same roti and drink the same tea Alhamdulillah.

The only common thing between the rich and the poor is a social entente which is characterised by exploitation, corruption and cutting corners. Often they take turns to do this to each other. The rich pay income tax through their nose but they also make the drivers, maids and servants work at their homes 24/7 on very small salaries. And why shouldn’t they do so. They provide free accommodation and free meals to their underlings and never assert their ehsan on them. But this does not make them generous or large hearted. They send their drivers to stand in long queues at filling stations on the very whiff that government is going to raise petrol prices. They always fill out the lucky draw lottery form at Dubai International Airport to win that dream sports car which is not roadworthy on Pakistan’s roads. They are always out for bargains whether buying land or hunting for Swati furniture or banded clothes.

The maids and servants on the other hand are no angels either. They exploit the class under them . Promises are never kept by them, contracts are never honoured. Their commercial deals are based on chicanery and cashing in an opportunity. The housemaid or cook you employ will be gone tomorrow if your neighbour offers them 500 rupees extra in their salary. This social culture is one where big fish eats small fish. In this culture survival means either being a big fish or being together with the school of the big fish. And in case you feel like making a complaint or writing pro bono suggestions to improve things, your communication will not be read, or if it is read by mistake it will not be answered. I did a test run of this by making few attempts before writing this piece. Once I got a phone call where the person calling was in a hurry to close the case; on another occasion I got a proforma email acknowledgement but nothing on substance and on several other occasions, no reply ever came. However, I will continue to knock the door and push the envelope because life is another name of forward movement.

No Confidence Motion and Pakistan Constitution

Syed Sharfuddin*

The concept of no confidence vote in a parliamentary democracy is based on the premise that political power rests with the people and they have the right to choose or reject a government formed in their name. This right is exercised through people’s elected representatives in parliament. While the tenure of an elected government is fixed for five years, the timing for its dissolution is left open ended, emphasising that the executive shall remain in office so long as it enjoys the confidence of the majority in the legislature.

Almost every democratic country has a history of no confidence votes which have been historically less successful than their original intent. The first time a no confidence vote was used was in 1782 in the parliament of England when legislators, angry over the defeat of the British military by the American volunteer army forced Lord North to submit his resignation to King George III. In the UK there have been a total of 11 prime ministers who were defeated in no confidence motions. In India 27 no confidence motions have been moved in Lok Sabha to date but only three have been successful.

In Pakistan which has had a history of interrupted democracy, two no confidence votes were used against the sitting prime ministers (Benazir Bhutto in 1989 and Shaukat Aziz in 2006) which did not pass. A third no confidence motion was filed on 8 March 2022 against the current Prime Minister (Imran Khan) and is yet to be voted in the National Assembly.

The difference between the no confidence motions in India and Pakistan is that in India the leaders of the house resigned in the wake of no confidence motions submitted by the opposition and refusal or absence of support to them from the coalition partners (V P  Singh in 1990, Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1996 and H D Deve Gowda in 1997), but in Pakistan the leaders of the house decided to face the vote of no confidence motions and were successful in retaining their office. This same pattern is visible in the vote of no confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan who has decided to confront it in the National Assembly instead of tendering his resignation and calling a fresh election as demanded by the combined opposition. However, one Pakistani Prime Minister (Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy) was not allowed to seek a vote of confidence in 1957 and resigned under threat of dismissal by President Iskandar Mirza.

In the Westminster style of democratic governance, a motion of no confidence is a vote of impeachment against the entire council of ministers, including the prime minister. When it is passed by the majority of legislators, the government must resign or in the alternative, offer to dissolve parliament and/or call for a general election. No confidence motions are usually brought on account of serious disagreement on policy issues of governance or on questions of broader national interest or for personal issues of corruption and graft.

In the present no confidence motion in Pakistan against the incumbent Prime Minister, the reasons cited are both policy issues and personality factors. Prime Minister Imran Khan is accused by his political opponents of harming the country’s national interest by unwise economic policies which have led to rampant inflation, uncontrollable price hikes in food items and essential commodities, and visiting Russia on the eve of Russian invasion of Ukraine which allegedly compromised Pakistan’s neutral position in the conflict and annoyed Pakistan’s Western donors and trading partners who have abundantly made it clear that any country siding with the aggressor in the Ukraine conflict will be made to face the consequences of its decision. In Pakistan’s case this has been taken too far as the Foreign Office took exception to the letter of NATO envoys urging Pakistan to condemn Russia in the UN vote and the Prime Minister going public to say he cannot be bowed down to external pressure. On the personality front, the Prime Minister is accused of being reckless and deeply personal in his verbal tirades against the leadership of the opposition and critics of his government, including the media. The army has stated that it is neutral and does not want to get dragged in the matter. However, the military’s interests are served better by not making the US, UK, EU and other Western allies unhappy with Pakistan, even though they welcome Pakistan’s growing ties with Russia and support continuation of Pakistan’s economic and strategic cooperation with China.

The Prime Minister avoided a similar vote of no confidence last year when in March 2021 his Finance Minister lost a crucial election in the Senate, by pre-empting it with a vote of confidence which he won with 178 votes in the National Assembly , as against the required number of 172.

In countries where there are fragile federations or political parties are fragmented and region based, the frequency of no confidence votes is relatively high. As a safety measure for political stability, these countries place restrictions on the number and process of initiating no confidence motions in legislature. Historically, no confidence motions do not have a high success record in world parliaments. Some constitutions also include a defection clause to discourage legislators from switching their membership or vote in the legislature from the party on whose ticket they were elected to another party during the legislative tenure of parliament. Sometimes these restrictions encourage former members of old parties who are electable in their constituencies to form small parties and avoid the defection clauses because they can exercise influence on a minority government by joining government coalition with the ability to switch support from the ruling party to the opposition when it suites them. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s governing party PTI has 155 members in parliament which is supported by 23 legislators from its coalition partners comprising 7 from MQM, 5 each from PML(Q) and BAP, 3 from GDA, one each from AML and JWP, and one independent member. The opposition consists of 163 members, comprising 84 from PML(N), 56 from PPP, 15 from MMA, 4 from BNP, one from ANP and 3 independent legislators.

There are two types of no confidence motions: a regular motion of no confidence, and a constructive motion of no confidence. The regular motion of no confidence is prevalent in many parliamentary democracies. This system calls for the removal of an existing government and beginning the process of either replacing it by another government or calling for a general election through a vote, supported by the majority of legislators in the legislative house. The voting is done either secretly, or through a vote of Ayes or Nos or through a division of the house, usually with no third option of abstaining. In the regular motion of no confidence a government can be brought down if those who are supporting the motion are larger in number than those against whom the motion has been moved. Usually, in the regular vote of no confidence, the majority of the total number of legislators elected to the house is not required to determine the success or failure of the motion, as long as those who are present and taking part at the time of the voting pass or reject the motion. The onus of proving that they have the required majority to bring a government down rests with the opposition parties that have moved the motion of no confidence and not with the government against whom the motion is moved. There are some limitations placed on the regular motion of no confidence such as the minimum number of legislators required to bring a motion to the floor of the house, the requirement of a quorum and whether it is a secret ballot.  

A constructive motion of no confidence on the other hand severely limits the ability of the opposition to vote out government. A constructive motion has two safety features which are not present in the regular motion of no confidence. These are the requirement that a majority of the total membership of the House should pass a motion of no confidence as against the majority of those present; and an agreement must be achieved on an alternate candidate who would be voted in to replace the leader of the house against whom the vote of no confidence is passed. Where these requirements are not met, the motion of no confidence fails. A constructive motion of no confidence is therefore a vote for a new government to replace the one which is being removed by a vote of no confidence. In a constructive vote of no confidence, a government can survive even if it has the support of only one or two members, as long as the rest of the members are not agreed on an alternate candidate to form a new coalition government.

The constructive motion of no confidence is further strengthened by the caveat of having a higher number of legislators who can present the motion or a resolution of no confidence against a sitting government. On a global average this number varies between 10 to 25 percent of the total number of legislators. Pakistan has placed this limit at 20 percent which means that a motion of no confidence should have at least 68 or more signatures to be accepted by the Speaker of the National Assembly for taking necessary action. A second method is to place a limit on the number of no confidence motions that can be introduced in the same session and the interval between them. The Pakistan constitution places no limit on the number of no confidence motions that can be initiated against a government but in the Rules of Business (Rule 113) the time limit for resubmitting a resolution of no confidence to parliament is 6 months.

The constructive motion of no confidence is also strengthened by allowing slightly longer time to the government to react to the motion. It can vary from 48 hours to 2 weeks. In Pakistan’s case it is roughly 2 weeks.

The system of constructive motion of no confidence is followed by the parliaments of Germany, Spain, Hungary, Slovenia, Poland, Belgium and Israel. Three of the seven countries are former east European states. Two of these countries, Belgium and Israel introduced this system not due to historical tradition but as a result of political reforms. The system encourages continuity of government during the term of parliament and prevents smaller coalitions partners from extracting higher political concessions from a government struggling to keep its majority in parliament.

There are three ways through which a government can be constitutionally dismissed in Pakistan. The first is under Article 58; the prime minister advises the president to dissolve the National Assembly and call fresh elections before the expiry of the electoral term of parliament. The second is under Article 91 (7); the president may ask the prime minister to seek a vote of confidence from the National Assembly if he believes that the prime minister does not command the confidence of the majority of the Assembly. The third method under Article 95 (1 to 4); a resolution for a vote of no confidence, moved by not less than 20 percent of the total membership of the National Assembly, is passed against a sitting prime minister by a majority of the total membership of the National Assembly.

The Pakistan constitution combines the features of both the regular and constructive forms of vote of no confidence without making it mandatory that in the event of a vote of no confidence vote having been passed by the National Assembly, the same Assembly should simultaneously elect a new leader of the National Assembly to form a new government.

Article 95 of the Pakistan constitution, read with Articles 58, 63 (A) and 91 (7), provide guidance about the conduct of vote of no confidence. The procedure for initiating a motion or resolution of no confidence and taking a vote on it is provided in the Procedure and Conduct of Business of the Pakistan National Assembly, 2007. Rule 37, read with Rules 323 and 38 of the Rules of Business, state that the Speaker has a period of 14 days from the date a resolution of no confidence has been received by him to bring it to the floor of the National Assembly for action. In addition, the Speaker has the discretion to call for a vote on the resolution between three to seven days of the circulation of notification of the resolution, during which time he may also set aside a number of days for a debate on the motion. On the conduct of the poll, Pakistan follows the most transparent but democratically questionable method of members voting by an open vote by the division of the house. At the election of the Senate Chairman in 2021 the Supreme Court set aside the request of the government to cast an open vote and instead ruled in favour of the secret vote.

Since the restoration of civilian democracy in 2008, Pakistan’s political parties have placed a great deal of emphasis on parliaments completing their full term of five years. Cutting short a term through a vote of no confidence or a snap election called by a prime minister is an expensive affair for countries like Pakistan which have large budget deficits. Over the years there have been efforts to strengthen the office of the prime minister by removing the obstacles placed on his authority by intermittent martial laws. In 1997 two landmark constitutional amendments were adopted to strengthen the office of the prime minister. The 13th amendment removed Article 58(2B) of the constitution which was introduced in the constitution in 1985 by General Zia ul Haq. The 8th amendment, as it was called, gave the president the authority to dismiss a sitting prime minister and his government on charges of corruption.

The 14th amendment further strengthened the position of the prime minister by giving the heads of political parties the authority to dismiss a legislator who was elected on the party ticket for breach of his party’s discipline or voting contrary to party direction. Article 63-A of the constitution states that a legislator who was elected on the ticket of a party may be deemed to have defected and unseated after due process, if he resigns from the membership of his party or joins another parliamentary party, or votes or abstains from voting contrary to the direction by his parliamentary party when the Assembly takes a vote on the election of a prime minister or chief minister, a vote of confidence or no confidence, or a money bill or a constitution amendment bill.  

In 2003, the omnibus 17th amendment giving legitimacy to General Musharraf’s Legal Framework Order restored the defunct 8th amendment in Article 58 in a different form and empowered the president to dissolve the National Assembly without consulting the prime minister or a resolution passed by the legislature. It also made the president’s action subject to reference and approval of the Supreme Court. However, under a civilian government in 2010, the 18th amendment removed this power from the president and gave it back to the National Assembly.


Since the constitution includes many features of a constructive vote of no confidence, the parliament should consider adding to it the condition that the passage of a vote of no confidence should be dependent on the opposition being able to elect a new leader of the house in the same session which votes to bring a government down by a majority vote of no confidence to guarantee continuity of governance, political stability and avoiding an expensive election exercise outside the parliament’s fixed 5 year term. If the opposition fails to get the required majority for the proposed alternate leader of the house, then a no confidence motion passed against a sitting prime minister should be declared null and void. In other words, the same majority that votes to bring down a sitting government should be in a position to vote in a new government as long as they have 50% plus one vote of the total number of house in their favour.

Parliamentary democracy encourages continuity of the political process through the representative institutions of the people. It is when these institutions fail to perform their function or are denied their role, the question of fundamental rights of people comes into play. As long as the National Assembly is functioning and the parliamentary parties are able to exercise their rights under the constitution as the representatives of the people, there is no reason why the parallel route of agitation and mass rallies should be simultaneously followed by opposition leaders. The government should enact a law outlawing political agitation, mass rallies and public ‘dharnas’  if the parliamentary route for resolving political issues is open to political parties under law and if the judiciary is playing its role to ensure that the opposition gets the required space within the political system to challenge the government on corruption charges, matters of national interest and important policy issues. There is also a need for the parliament and the judiciary to work together to reinforce parliamentary good conduct and promote high standards of interaction between the government and opposition political parties and their leadership, in particular discouraging their political workers to use abusive language and shun the disgusting vocabulary of vagabonds and street urchins. That the political elites should be told to censor their language is itself most regrettable, let alone them advising their workers to be careful in shaping an acceptable discourse of political debate in the country.  

A debate has ensued in political circles about the interpretation of Article 63A of the constitution whether the vote of a legislator who has voted against the party direction in a vote of no confidence in the National Assembly is to be counted or discarded for deciding the result. The government’s position is that if the ruling party has decided not to be present in the National Assembly when the vote of no confidence is in progress , the very presence of a legislator from the ruling party is an act of defection and it is right for the Speaker to discount his vote. The opposition on the other hand believes that the reading of the Article 63A is unambiguous about the defection and its due process, and that it does not prevent a legislator from exercising his fundamental right to vote. In the event of a constitutional crisis arising out of a tie on a vote of no confidence, this question is likely to go to the Supreme Court creating further instability in the country. The parliament should reconsider amending this Article to clearly state whether a vote cast by a defecting legislator in a vote of no confidence is to be denied or counted to decide the result.

Finally, in a parliamentary democracy power rests with the people who elect their representatives to exercise it on their behalf in the act of governance. However, in reality the political representatives of the people rarely connect with the people except at the time of election. When an opposition threatens the government with a vote of no confidence or when a government defends it in the Assembly, it is hard to establish whether the legislators are indeed reflecting the will of the people or pursuing their own personal agendas to advance their political careers. It therefore make a strong case for the political reform of the electoral system and within it the replacement of the regular system of no confidence vote with that of a constructive system of no confidence vote as has been done in Belgium and Israel. If Pakistan does this, it will be the first country in the Commonwealth to take the first step toward strengthening parliamentary democracy by one more notch.

*Mr Sharfuddin is a political analyst and a former Special Adviser, Political Affairs, Commonwealth Secretariat, London UK (2200-2006).

Russia-Ukraine Conflict: A Neutral Analysis

Syed Sharfuddin*

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 did not come as a surprise to anyone except Ukrainians who did not take the warnings of the US and other NATO members seriously. What was a surprise for Russia was the resistance put up by the Ukrainian leadership and regular armed forces who made it extremely hard for what Moscow though would be a walk in the park with its overwhelming land troops equipped with medium to long range artillery. As of writing this essay on Day 16 of the invasion, Russia has not been able to break the national resistance to enter Ukraine’s capital Kyiv. But most of the South and East Ukraine has fallen to Russian occupation and it is a matter of days that Kyiv would also fall to Russian troops. To understand why Russia launched the invasion into Ukraine, and whether it was necessary, one needs to look at the post world war global world order, which was refined and reinforced in the 1990s by the US and its allies following the dissolution of Soviet Union and the rise of China as a rival economic power. This essay, however, does not discuss history but focuses on the present conflict and the factors that surround its complicated nature.

Apart from the misery of the Ukrainians who have been used as a football by the big powers, with more than one million becoming refugees and 400,000 people uprooted internally from their homes and hundreds who died in missile attacks, this conflict has exposed the deep fault lines that underpin the existing world order for the maintenance of global peace and security. It has also exposed the double standards that are followed by the powerful states to justify and maintain their dominance of this order both within and outside the UN system.

Russia’s Position

In President Vladimir Putin’s view, this military operation (he does not want to call it a war) would not have been necessary if NATO had not moved away from its assurance of the 1990s that it would not expand to the Baltic states in Eastern Europe posing a direct threat to the sovereignty and security of Russia. Vladimir Putin holds the present government in Ukraine responsible for killing 14000 people in the Russian majority regions of Donetsk and Luhansk which proclaimed independence from Kiev subsequent to the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. According to the Russian narrative, Volodymyr Zelensky supported the Ukrainian armed forces with funds, equipment and entertainment shows on the frontline in the separatist region of Donbas, but he also promised to implement the 2015 Minsk Agreement and agreed to respect the civil and political rights of the Russian-speaking population in Eastern Ukraine. After his election in 2019 he reneged on his promise and instead of mending ties with Russia, he started to court the US for NATO membership. To win the US support, Volodymyr Zelensky banned Russian-language newspapers and TV channels, imprisoned his political opponents and outlawed opposition political parties in Eastern Ukraine and sent thousands of Ukrainian troops and Neo-Nazis in Donbas to eliminate pro-Russia separatists. Early this year, the debate whether Ukraine should apply for membership of NATO and abandon its policy of staying neutral in any future confrontation between Russia and the US, or maintain the status quo culminated in favour of the former view prevailing in the government. President Putin saw this as Ukraine crossing the red line and after failing to get reassurance from NATO that it would not deny Ukraine membership of the Western defence alliance if it applied for it, he ordered Russian army to move into Ukraine before Ukraine’s application for NATO membership was submitted and approved officially.

The Russian objectives in its military operation against Ukraine are a neutral and non-nuclear Ukraine, its demilitarisation from the Eastern regions inhabited by the Russian-speaking population, denazification (whatever it means), recognition of Russian Crimea and recognition of the independent states of Donetsk and Luhansk. According to Russian leaders, these terms are non-negotiable.

Russia sees the NATO reaction to its invasion as a contradiction of what the US and NATO did elsewhere in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, replacing their leaders with pro-West puppet regimes who were imposed on their peoples through the use of force. Instead of encouraging President Zelensky to negotiate peace with Russia, Vladimir Putin accuses the West of escalating the war by supplying arms and mercenaries, while launching a hysterical propaganda against Russia and enforcing a strict sanctions regime against Russia. 

NATO’s Position

The US and NATO do not Trust Vladimir Putin. They believe that he wants to restore the glory days of the former Soviet Union by keeping its neighbouring states under Russia’s sphere of influence. The West regards this conflict not as Russia’s war but as Putin’s war of wanton ambition. On Ukraine’s membership question, NATO has taken the position that every country has the sovereign right to decide its future and join a defence pact that it considers necessary for safeguarding its independence and sovereignty. The West regards the invasion of Ukraine by Russia as a violation of the principle of non-interference and respect for the territorial integrity of states, which is backed by international law and upheld by the UN and OSCE. The US and NATO have made it clear that instead of imposing a no fly zone over Ukraine or deploying NATO troops inside Ukraine to stop the Russian advance, they will supply lethal arms to Ukraine to defend itself and use economic sanctions against Russia which will exact a heavy economic cost on Putin’s government and its supporters. These sanctions include suspension of the SWIFT banking system for Russia, freezing financial assets of Russia and Russian banks and its billionaire oligarchs in Western countries, boycotting Russian commercial aviation, banning investment and trading contacts with Russia, ending the Most Favoured Nation status in trade and placing a freeze on its oil exports. US corporations in technology, food and consumer goods and European car manufacturers have closed their operations in Russia resulting in thousands of job losses for the Russians. The Russian Rouble and stock market is under severe market pressure. In addition, foreign fighters have gone into Ukraine to fight Russian troops alongside Ukraine’s regular army and freshly trained civilian volunteers. The strategy of NATO is not to fight Russia directly with NATO forces but to exact insurmountable pressure on Vladimir Putin to isolate him from his people or force him enough to withdraw from Ukraine in a humiliating reversal of his invasion order.

The US and its European allies believe that Ukraine is not the last stop of Russia. They draw a parallel between Hitler’s Germany which kept on taking European countries by force to fulfil its ambition as the dominant power in Europe. The Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as well as Finland, Hungary and Poland share this assessment and have asked NATO to remain prepared to invoke article 5 of the NATO charter if a NATO member state is attacked by Russia. An appeasement of Russia in Ukraine could embolden Vladimir Putin to move further into Europe to create rebel enclaves of Russian population sympathetic to Moscow. However, NATO is reluctant to engage in a military showdown against Russia which could easily escalate to a nuclear war which no one, including Russia, wants to fight because if it starts, there will be no one left to claim victory.

Instead, NATO is confronting Russia on other fronts. Besides imposing the toughest economic sanctions, NATO is fighting Russia on cyber space, media and public relations. The Russian viewpoint of the war is completely blocked out in the US and Europe on TV, newspapers and social media. Western public is furious against Russia watching atrocities committed by the Russian artillery on civilians in many Ukrainian cities, including those under Russian siege. This is reciprocated by Russia and Russians are only getting information that Kremlin approves for public release in Russia.

Within NATO there are different views on the application of sanctions and confronting Russia. Ukraine’s repeated calls to NATO to intervene militarily resulted on deaf ears. Joining the sanctions’ call, Germany suspended the construction of Russian gas pipeline NORD-2, but it did not suspend NORD-1 which brings Russian gas to Germany to meet its energy shortfall. Hungary did not join the US call to boycott the import of Russian oil. Poland wanted the US to deploy jets and declare Ukraine a no fly zone but the US did not want to escalate the conflict to a higher military level. Slovenia has asked NATO members to stop all imports from Russia. Although Turkey voted yes for the General Assembly resolution, it did not officially condemn Russia for the invasion but called it “unacceptable”. Turkey is a NATO member but it also has good relations with Russia and Ukraine and is committed to facilitating negotiations between the two sides. Ankara made a mediation attempt by hosting a trilateral meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia Ukraine and Turkey in Antalya on 10 March 2022, which ended after one session making no progress on ceasefire, but agreeing that the possibility of future talks should remain open ended.

Impartial Position

The UN Security Council meeting on 26 February 2022 and the subsequent UN General Assembly meeting of 2 March 2022 seeking to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine and calling on the the parties to end hostilities were quite revealing in their voting pattern. While the majority of the member states supported the West’s position in voting for the resolution which was adopted at the General Assembly by an overwhelming majority, 35 states abstained and 12 did not participate in the voting. States that abstained included three nuclear states namely China, India and Pakistan, as well as many Asian and Gulf States. These states have full sympathy for Ukraine whose people are going through a humanitarian catastrophe, but these states do not want to be a party to the power struggle between one side and the other. In choosing to be non-partisan, these states want to keep good relations with all major powers, be it China, Russia, the US, UK or the EU. They do not want to be told that if you are not with us, you are against us. Unfortunately, the West has not accepted the right of these countries to remain neutral in this conflict. Prior to the UN General Assembly vote in New York on 2 March 2022, Western Envoys posted in Islamabad wrote a joint letter advising the government of Imran Khan to condemn Russia for invading Ukraine. The letter was rejected by the Pakistan Foreign Office as an attempt to influence its neutrality. Pakistani social media is full of speculation that the West is quietly working with the opposition to pass a vote of no confidence against Imran Kahn in Parliament and force him out of government. The opposition in Pakistan has accused the Prime Minister of visiting Moscow on the eve of Russian invasion of Ukraine. On 10 March addressing a Press Conference the federal Minister for Interior of Pakistan confirmed the speculations that the vote of no-confidence tabled in the Parliament by the combined opposition was because of Ukraine, and for the government’s refusal to comply with the demands of the West. If the vote of no-confidence fails, the West may as well use other levers such as tighten IMF conditionality on the next tranche of payment, or retain Pakistan on the grey list of FATF for an indefinite period. The US State Department has an office which monitors the voting pattern of countries on US-sponsored resolutions at the UN and calibrates US foreign and security policy toward them accordingly.

It is reasonable to assume that the number of abstentions on the UN General Assembly vote would have been higher than 35, had the West not actively lobbied and put diplomatic pressure on politically vulnerable and foreign aid dependent countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and South America to vote in favour of the UN resolution. It is interesting that after voting against the UN Security Council resolution on Ukraine on 26 February 2022, the UAE changed its position and voted in support of the UN General Assembly resolution on Ukraine on 2 March 2022. South Africa was also in the same dilemma. After initially announcing that South Africa will remain neutral in the Ukraine conflict, the South African Foreign Minister issued a statement prior to the UN vote in support of the NATO position. The statement was, however, retracted later after the ANC leadership decided to stand firm on its neutral stance in keeping with its long standing policy of not getting involved in big power rivalry.  

NATO Membership

Like the EU expansion in Europe since its inception, NATO has also been expanding in Europe to counter Russia’s perceived threat. NATO was founded in 1949 by 12 states from Europe and North America comprising Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the UK and the US. In the 1950s Greece, Turkey and Germany joined NATO. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary joined NATO in 1999. Five years later in 2004, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia became NATO members. NATO continued to expand further admitting Albania and Croatia in 2009, Montenegro in 2017 and North Macedonia in 2020. The US wanted to make Ukraine a NATO member in 2008 but did not go as far as inviting Ukraine to apply due to reservations of Germany and France. Vladimir Putin is extremely sensitive to NATO’s expansion in Europe which he regards as a Western strategy to encircle Russia from the west, as well as through the south from the Black Sea. The root cause of the present conflict in Ukraine is the refusal of NATO to announce that it will not make Ukraine a member of NATO.


The Ukraine conflict has revealed cracks in the post-world war political and financial order which needs a thorough overhaul, taking into account the shifting power balance away from the world war II victors to new economic and geo-strategic state-actors that either did not exist as independent states back in 1945 or were not directly involved in the setting up of the order following the great war. The present order is simply not relevant even for the powers that conceived and sustained it and which worked for them for 77 years after the end of the world war.

This is more so in the financial markets where few countries with Reserve currencies control the net value of world liquidity. The Bretton Woods system was abandoned by the US in 1971. The US Dollar is no longer linked to the US gold reserve except that the Green back has the sovereign guarantee of the US Government. The exchange rates of many raw material and commodities supplying countries are fixed through an unfair and unequal system based on the basket of Reserve currencies where the theory that the more a country devalues its currency the greater are its exports prospects, undermines the value of the work of farmers and manufacturers of exporting countries. This is how shops like Primark manage to sell a Made in Bangladesh jumper cheaper than a cup of Starbucks coffee. The exporting countries do not get the fair value of their products because of the unfair exchange rate which is heavily in favour of Reserve currency countries. This is a completely different subject not related to the present topic but it shows that the existing global financial system also needs a major overhaul, which the Ukraine conflict has come to highlight in the wake of stagflation threatening many countries.

The UN which was established primarily to prevent armed conflicts in the world has failed in its primary mission. The big powers that established the UN did not care for this failure because a serious war never came home on the territory of Europe or the US to disturb the peaceful lives of their citizens. The P5 are no longer the sole powers that can decide on matters of peace and security, using the UN Security Council in which they monopolise decision-making under Chapter vii of the UN Charter. The decision making mechanism for peace and security has moved away from the UN to NATO and G7 forums, which is even more dangerous because it excludes a lot many regions and countries affected by conflicts. The General Assembly has no mandate to impose its resolutions on the states that ignore UN resolutions with impunity. The democratisation and overhaul of the UN is necessary to restore its credibility and make it relevant to prevent future conflicts and wars.

The inter-dependence of states due to globalisation came under strain due to worldwide Covid-19 restrictions in 2021 and now it is challenged in 2022 by the war in Ukraine. Countries are realising that dependence on other states is not necessarily a good thing as supply chains can be chocked and create economic slowdown, even if temporarily. Germany depends on Russia for natural gas for 50% of its energy requirement, and France 25%. NATO members are now talking about cutting their dependency on Russian fossil fuels and investing in renewable energy. It will take time to reduce or completely switch this dependency, but it will be a major shift toward nationalism and self-sufficiency for European states. Russia and China may also reduce their dependency on Europe and the US for technology and diversify their exports to the emerging markets in Asia and South America or engage in bilateral trade between them forming an economic and strategic block to counter the Western dominance. For South Asian nations, this would pose both an opportunity and a challenge because countries in this region have their own territorial disputes and they are not insulated from the ramifications of wider global developments.

The toughest sanctions imposed by the West against Vladimir Putin’s regime will not impact on Russia in the short term so as to force a withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine without achieving the objectives of the military operation. These sanctions will hurt Russian economy and development in the long run, but at the same time the sanctions will push Russia to explore new economic partners and use a financial system away from the SWIFT to move money internationally and collaborate with the Chinese who are already operating a digital money transfer system similar to SWIFT. Russia will also reduce its dependence on the US Dollar and other Reserve currencies of the West and could develop an alternate currency, including an online digital currency for trade with the outside world. Russia and China have the capability to put an alternate currency trading system in place. Russia’s high energy reserves can also be used to dictate the terms of trade by forcing the buyers of Russian fossil fuels to pay for their purchases in the currency Russia chooses outside the US Dollar and Western banking system.

Reducing dependence on other countries will encourage Germany and Japan to invest heavily in their defence forces. The two countries seem ready to take this route in the coming years. While Australia, the US, UK and France will benefit from this investment by supplying their defence technology and improving their economies through defence exports, in the long run it will be a very dangerous world where each country will have indigenous military capacity to threaten a neighbour with armed conflict. Countries which have a strong economic and defence capability can always be held to ransom by far right nationalist leaders winning elections on populist slogans and using their muscle power to bully smaller neighbours.   

While Russian troops are still in Ukraine, in the immediate future NATO will have to rethink its strategy of dealing with Russia if it does not want to use military force to avoid a danger of escalating the war and brining it inside the territory of NATO members. This will mean NATO either conceding the point that Russia has a right to feel sensitive about its “zone of influence” just as the US feels strongly about its “zone of influence” in South and Central America, or NATO carrying on with a long drawn regime of punitive sanctions against Russia which will in turn hurt not only NATO members but will also have a negative global impact on all countries. Already, Russian retaliation has halted cooperation with the US and UK in the production of rocket components and launch of non-commercial satellites in space. Stopping exports of luxury cars and goods to Russian buyers will also hurt US manufacturers in terms of reduced sales.

The Ukraine war has also shown the double standard of countries which have been preaching human rights to others away from their homes. The racist treatment of non-white and non-nationals fleeing Ukraine by the Ukrainian authorities, as well as their poor welcome by the countries where they walked to seek refuge was most unfortunate because they were not in some uncivilised continent but in Europe. The Ukraine war also shattered the stock image of a refugee being black skinned or brown eyed. In the 70 years interregnum since the world war, Europe had almost forgotten that refugees could also be blonde, blue eyed, wear the cross, look healthy and speak the same language as the hosts.

The Ukraine war has also thrown away the myth of freedom of expression and thought. As soon as Russian troops invaded Ukraine, European countries blocked the news coming out of Russia to their public and concentrated only on showing the atrocities committed by the Russian troops on civilians, including heart breaking accounts of people fleeing their homes, maternity homes being bombarded and heart wrenching scenes of homes and buildings destroyed in Russian missile attacks. The sanctions story is also dominated by what the West has imposed on Russia without reporting on the sanctions Russia has imposed on the West in retaliation. International television stations such as Al-Jazeera and TRT News have struggled to remain neutral because any violation of the neutral reporting protocol can shut down their transmission in NATO states. Newspapers are, however, relatively independent in publishing opinion pieces which cover all aspects of the conflict.

There is no denying the fact that the moral responsibility for carrying out aggression against Ukraine rests with Russia, and not with Donetsk and Luhansk which are seeking self-determination in an attempt to break away from Ukraine. There is also no question about the sovereign right of Ukraine to decide in its own interest whether it wants to join NATO or remain neutral. But having said that why wasn’t this applied to Serbia, Indonesia and Sudan when the West supported the self determination of the people of Kosovo, East Timor and South Sudan and insisted on their secession as independent countries. But in the breakaway states of Ukraine, Kashmir, Northern Cyprus, Palestine and now Afghanistan, the West has not supported the principle of the right of self-determination of the people who want to live independently as internationally recognised states. The contrast is too obvious to be obfuscated through a media block out, economic brow beating or display of force.

The main beneficiary of the showdown between Russia and Ukraine, and by implication Russia and US, is China which has chosen not to take any sides, but it has indirectly supported Russia. The thought of Taiwan becoming Ukraine is worrying if China at any point in the future follows the example of Russia to invade Taiwan. Would NATO pre-empt this scenario by making Taiwan a member of NATO? And how far is NATO willing to go to contain Russia’s ambition to re-write the past and create a union of East European and Central Asian states which once comprised the former Soviet Union. It would have been far better if after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1988, the US had offered NATO membership to Russia emerging fresh as the successor state of the Soviet Union. In fact, a unipolar world did not require an enlarged NATO but a strengthened UN. But the past cannot be rewritten neither by Vladimir Putin nor by the leaders of NATO. Meanwhile the world is crying for Ukraine which badly needs peace.

*Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a former Pakistan diplomat and a former Special Adviser, Political Affairs, Commonwealth Secretariat, London (2000-2006).

A New Perspective on the System of Governance in Pakistan

[While the debate for a presidential system of government has revived in Pakistan in 2022, the author proposes a new governance structure for the country, including the military’s representation in Parliament.]

Syed Sharfuddin

A discussion on replacing the current parliamentary form of government with a presidential form is doing rounds in the recent conversation of Pakistan’s political pundits and social media stalwarts. While this topic is not new, its resurgence is indication that the matter is not settled yet and may well be tried in the next power reshuffle if it is possible to do so within the democratic mechanisms available under the 1973 constitution and the laws enacted under it. The government has denied that any such system is under consideration. The opposition fears that it is a part of a covert plan of the establishment to consolidate power in the hands of one person instead of collective governance provided in the constitution of Pakistan. Analysts think it is testing the waters to see the public reaction. There is also the conspiracy theory that the establishment would prefer to deal with one person at the top for running the government instead of negotiating with the multiple poles of power which require tedious consensus building, taking much time and energy and sometimes even covert funding but achieving little or no results.

Pakistan went through the presidential system of governance five times under Iskandar Mirza, Ayub Khan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf. The civilian presidents were Iskandar Mirza who was replaced in the military coup of 1958 and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who became prime minister after the adoption of the 1973 constitution which opted for a parliamentary system of democracy. The other three Generals who ruled as presidents, chose the presidential system because they were martial law administrators and for the most part when they were in power, the constitution was suspended. Every time power was restored to the civilian leadership, Pakistan returned to the parliamentary form of government.

In parliamentary democracy political power is collectively exercised by the prime minister who is the chief executive of the state and head of a cabinet comprising the most trusted members of his team. There is also a non-executive president, who is the symbolic head of state but not head of government. In presidential democracy on the other hand, political power is vested in the authority of the president who is both the head of state and the head of government. In this system the president is held in check by a unicameral or bicameral legislature which can impeach him for breach of the constitution but cannot reject his policies unless it is a money bill requiring majority assent of parliament in addition to that of the president. This is the basic framework of democratic governance, although every country has introduced some unique features in its constitution which seek to address the peculiar requirements of its society and ethos of its people.

One of the weaknesses of the parliamentary system is that it demands a highly charismatic prime minister who is able to successfully take his policies through the system by winning the backing of the less reluctant backbenchers of his own party, as well as keeping his coalition partners happy, if there is a coalition government. The prime minister also needs to take into account the stance of the opposition and needs to have sufficient voting strength in the legislature for the passage of government-sponsored bills and implement his government’s agenda. Where these features are absent, especially in fragile federations and conflict-affected countries, a prime minister is reduced to a majordomo because the political system does not give him the power to push his bold agenda forward. President Erdogan of Turkey realised that his hands were tied in a non-executive presidency prior to the 2016 failed military coup. He used his popularity to win a referendum that enabled him to abolish the post of prime minister and replace the parliamentary system with a presidential form of government. In his new capacity, Erdogan managed to push though his economic agenda without having to go through a long winded political process. That he was able to do so is no guarantee, however, that the military will not cease power in Turkey again, or that Turkey will always have a charismatic leader like Erdogan.

In a presidential form of government, a mediocre president runs the risk of bringing much controversy to his office and even destroy democracy if the opposition is not strong or if the military does not interfere to stop the country sliding fast on the road to instability and chaos. What saves such situations is the strength of the country’s constitution, a history of legislative precedents to overcome political crises, people’s respect for the rule of law and a commitment by political parties to adhere to democratic principles without blindly following their party position. A recent example of this was president Trump who is still facing court cases for incitement to armed insurrection of the US Capitol by his party’s hooligans in January last year on the eve of the inauguration of President Biden. What saved the situation in the US last year was its strong democratic system and the commitment of the sate governors and legislators to remain united, rejecting violence and bipartisan politics. The proponents of the presidential form of government should not lose sight of these essential requirements and the long-term view of the system where authority is concentrated in the president with no guarantee that he will always take correct political decisions in the interest of the country. Many African countries have adopted the presidential form of government, but their record does not add up to represent best practice.

In fragile or security-prone federations, states have domestic pressures from their constituent units which takes a large slice of government pie to satisfy the key stakeholders. Concentrating power in a few hands can lead to a feeling of isolation and neglect on the part of remote and economically less-performing federating units, which Pakistanis are too familiar with in a discussion of small versus big provinces. A presidential system could upset this delicate inter-provincial balance, especially in hard economic times.

In my view it is neither easy nor wise for Pakistan to replace the existing Westminster style parliamentary system with a US style presidential system. What Pakistan can do, however, is to give the president a substantive role in governance instead of keeping him as a figurative head of state while real power is vested in the prime minister. If the office of the president was abolished by the constitution, no one will probably notice. To make the president meaningful and relevant in the present system, he must have a popular mandate and an active role that compliments the work of the executive. For that to happen, the president should be directly elected by people instead of an electoral college of legislators. Because Pakistan’s provinces are not at the same level of development and are also diverse in demography, the president should not come from the same province as that of the prime minister. Any politician or technocrat who has at least once been a member of the provincial or national legislature or served as governor of a province should be eligible to contest the election of the president. He should not belong to a political party and should stand independently, as long as he meets the candidacy criteria prescribed in the constitution.

The functions of the president and prime minister should be redefined by amending the relevant chapters of the 1973 constitution. Since the president is the symbol of federation, three subjects, namely defence, foreign affairs and inter-provincial coordination should be transferred from the purview of the prime minister to the office of the president. In addition, the president should be given the constitutional authority to appoint, instead of acting on the recommendation of the prime minister, provincial governors, chief election commissioner and other members of the commission, chief justice and other judges of the superior judiciary, chiefs of defence forces, governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, and chairmen of National Accountability Bureau, National Security Council and National Disaster Management Authority. Any transfers or removals of these position holders should also be done by the president without the advice or influence of the prime minister or leader of the opposition. As the supreme commander of the armed forces of Pakistan, the president should be mandated to consult the military chiefs as frequently as is necessary and inform the prime minister about his consultations, where required.

The ISPR media cell, Foreign Office spokesman’s office and President’s press and media office should be merged into one federal information agency. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the prime minister’s media office should continue functioning as at present. Each agency should focus on matters which fall under the respective responsibility of the president and the prime minister.

However, to provide checks and balances, all ambassadorial appointments made by the president, ratification of foreign agreements and treaties, and decisions concerning defence and security matters should be scrutinised by parliament and approved by the two houses. On his part, the prime minister should focus on economy, stability, connectivity, investment, agricultural and industrial growth, trade, healthcare, education, housing, infrastructure development, environment and social care. The president should retain the power to ask a prime minister to show his strength in the house if he feels that the prime minister has ceased to enjoy the support of the majority of the parliament. Similarly, parliament should retain the power to impeach the president if it feels that the president has violated the constitution or breached any law.

I have mentioned earlier in this essay that every country adapts democracy to its own particular circumstances. Therefore, it is not necessary that Pakistan should strictly follow the presidential and parliamentary models of the West for choosing a form of government which meets its requirements. It is not a secret that in the past, sharp differences have existed between the president and the prime minister, for example, Gen Ziaul Haq and Muhammad Khan Junejo and Farooq Laghari and Benazir Bhutto.

The new model of governance could give rise to a cold war between the president and the prime minister for concentrating power in one camp at the expense of the other, irrespective of the fact that the functions of each office would be clearly defined in the constitution with no room for conflict of interest or duplication. However, to ensure against a political impasse caused by rivalry between the president and the prime minister for control of political power, the constitution should require that if as a result of such rivalry, the president succeeds in removing a prime minister through a vote of no confidence, he too will have to resign within 90 days of the departure of the prime minister and seek a fresh mandate from the people. Similarly, if a prime minister succeeds in removing a president he cannot work with through a vote of impeachment, he too will have to resign within 90 days of the departure of the president and call a general election to seek a fresh mandate from the people. The election of the president should be held at the same time as the general election to save costs.

The constitution should also make it clear that the president is the head of the federation/state and in-charge of three departments (defence, foreign affairs and inter-provincial coordination) and the prime minister is head of government and in-charge of public finance, taxation, interior and all other departments the constitution places under the federal government. The respective media departments of the president and prime minister should also strictly stay within the areas their principals have been assigned in the constitution.

The proposed changes in the executive set-up will have a positive impact on the quality and output of governance. The legislature will continue to perform its function as defined in the constitution for accountability of the executive, representation of people and enactment of legislation to facilitate the work of the executive and the judiciary. The new arrangement will enable the prime minister to focus on the country’s economic development and monitor the performance of his ministers without getting dragged in controversies, in addition to concentrating on the business of parliament. By bringing some key statutory appointments under the sole authority of the president, these institutions will be free from any real or perceived pressure from the prime minister or any other quarter, as has been traditionally alleged by the opposition in every government in the past, with the present government being no exception. The prime minister and his cabinet will take cognisance of the fact that an independent election commission, an impartial accountability watchdog and an independent judiciary on whom they can exercise no influence will make it much harder for them to claim success of government without delivering on their election manifesto. Their focus should be no political point scoring but delivering on their promises to showcase their performance. This will also result in making the opposition responsible and focused on national issues instead of engaging in polemics and personal attacks against government ministers.

It is not just the political system that needs fixing but also the role of the military which should be formalised in the country’s political process. Despite what is said in Western democracies about the military being subordinate to political leadership, the fact is that in times of war or national crisis in any country, the people who actually call the shots are the military elites. In those situations, civilian rulers simply become their Generals’ mouthpiece. Since independence, Pakistan has been perpetually under a security threat from its bigger and bitter neighbour India. This is not a myth or a self-imagined fantasy. If India was a well-wisher of Pakistan, the riots that accompanied the 1947 partition could have been avoided with the Indian National Congress agreeing with the Muslim League a formula for peaceful population exchange. The Treaty of Lausanne worked out a formula for the peaceful exchange of two million Turkish-Greek people in 1923 without any bloodshed. If India were a friendly neighbour, the state of Bangladesh would never have come into being as an independent country until the dissenting leaders in East Pakistan reached a political understanding with West Pakistan to secede without a single person dying on either side.

In regard to the present challenges, the twenty years’ insurgency in Afghanistan has left deep impact on Pakistan’s security, economy and foreign policy. The recent RSS threats of genocide of Indian Muslims and ‘correcting the demographic imbalance’ in the illegally annexed Jammu and Kashmir make Pakistan’s eastern border extremely dangerous every day. With these compulsions, to say that the military should simply sit in the barracks and not interfere with political governance shows lack of understanding of the country’s past experience and its serious ongoing and future challenges. That the military should stay as a department of the government may be fashionable in the West because this applies to countries that were once at war with each other but have now learnt to live as peaceful neighbours. It is regrettably not true of Pakistan nor the region where it is situated.

I have a proposal that goes a step further than the debate on the presidential form of government. It calls for a new constitutional amendment allowing a selected number of serving military personnel to be represented in parliament as the voice of an important stakeholder in discussing and legislating on the security and development policies of the country. These representatives should be serving officers from the three forces at the level of commodore, brigadier or air commodore and above. They should come to parliament on deputation for a fixed term of 5 years and then return to their service. They should be elected on non-party basis by the serving and retired military personnel in the country forming a separate voters’ list. For their election to be meaningful, the military should nominate at least thrice the number of representatives intended to be sent to parliament through their separate voters’ list.

By giving the military a constitutional role in the democratic decision-making process of Pakistan it should be every one’s hope and commitment to firmly shut the door for ‘Ottoman palace intrigues’ and the negative ‘Byzantine propaganda’ that is churned 24/7 by hostile agencies and their misguided converts to malign the public against the defenders of Pakistan.

Giving representation to the armed forces in parliament is not a new idea. The constitution of Uganda under Article 78 envisages the inclusion of the representatives of the army, along with representation of youth workers, persons with disabilities and other groups in parliament. Their number and procedure of election is determined by Uganda’s parliament from time to time. The constitution of Pakistan, under Articles 51 and 59 envisages the representation of women, technocrats and minorities in parliament according to a certain formula. The representation of the military is excluded from these groups. But it is time that these Articles are amended to allow formal representation of the military in parliament according to a set formula which should be almost equal to that of current reserved women seats in the National Assembly and Senate. As a matter of fact, to enhance the role of women in Pakistani politics, the reserved women’s seats in both the Houses should be abolished and replaced by a constitutional amendment which should statutorily require all political parties taking part in the provincial and national Assembly elections to field no less than 50% women among their candidates for the general seats in all provinces. After the passage of the constitutional amendment, if political parties fail to follow this requirement at a general election, the Election Commission should cancel their registration and stop them from campaigning until such time they meet the 50% requirement of women candidates for contesting the elections.

There is a need for the political leadership to tolerate the military’s penchant for political power for two reasons: firstly, because the military has been closely associated with politics for more than half the age of Pakistan; and secondly, because the civilian leadership has itself encouraged the Generals to fill the vacuum in institutions which the civilian administrations of the time were unable to run, manage and perform efficiently, until such time that military moved in to clear the civilian mess almost everywhere from ailing industries and failed mega projects to utility companies, air transport, election monitoring, public health and polio vaccination to establish a new normal in the country, and until it was too late to call for their exit.

The ‘civilianisation’ of the military is a one way process in which a fully trained force meant for the defence of the frontiers of the state also provides civilian professional services in road building, power generation, education, housing, healthcare, food production, telecommunications, heavy industry, cyber security and technology. But this is a unilateral process because in this arrangement the military does not allow reciprocity to the civilian authority to do military’s job or assume any of its roles in the defence forces. At the most, civilians are allowed to help the military in maintaining accounts books, provide air and naval support roles and run the defence ministry’s bureaucracy. The military also does not want to make army training compulsory for all citizens because in a pluralistic state where there is a history of clandestine separatist organisations being propped up and funded from abroad to work as proxies of foreign powers, a national military preparedness and training service can prove to be a disaster for the unity of command and discipline of the regular forces.

In states where there is a history of political military overlap of power, it is important for the armed forces to remain fully trained and professional. It is also important that the distinction between military officers and their civilian counterparts is clearly defined and kept separate. In countries where this delicate balance was not maintained, there was a breakdown of security and order. Examples of this breakdown are the experiences of Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic.

But this is not a phenomena which is unique to Pakistan. In China, the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) was closely involved in building infrastructural projects in China for many years. In Latin America and Africa many counties employed their military in national development projects. In any disaster situation in the world, the military is the first to respond with clearing debris and opening roads in aid of the civilian administration. A civilian democratic government does not mean a complete divorce from the involvement of the military in the administration. The military is always an integral part of the political and decision-making process, but they are not the sole decision makers.

The challenges faced by Pakistan internally, as well as externally in the region require regular and close coordination between the military and civilian leadership. In Pakistan’s case, civil-military balance is heavily impacted by the external security environment relating to India, Afghanistan, Iran, China, the Middle East and the United States. This means that even if the country is not at war or in active combat mode, the army cannot just sit in the barracks doing its routine training and waiting for the civilian government to deploy it when needed. The military needs to be pro-active and often ahead of the game to warn the government of the impending danger and threats. In a volatile situation it also makes sense for the civilian administration to use the expertise of the military not just during war, but also in time of peace. This augers favourably for a constitutional amendment to formalise the military’s role in politics by bringing its representation in parliament as an important stakeholder and partner in the security and development of Pakistan.

Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a former Pakistani diplomat and a political analyst. He served as a special adviser for political affairs at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London from 2000 to 2007. He also formerly served as CEO of Muslim Aid, UK from 2010 to 2014.

Unity of Church and State: The Islamic Political Model

Syed Sharfuddin

As the philosophical and political discourse of the past century has been dominated by western ideas about state politics and popular culture, no one in the Islamic world is unfamiliar with the theory that the unity of a nation-state, which is itself a legacy of the west’s two world wars, can only be safeguarded if there is separation of the church and state enshrined in its constitution. Numerous examples are given in support of this intellectual argument, citing former empires and pluralistic states which broke apart when their political systems came under pressure from popular movements for political and economic freedom and keeping the church and state under one crown. Interestingly, when advancing this argument other factors such as poverty, exploitation, ethnicity, ideology and religion are pushed behind the mainstream argument.

In the Islamic political system, tracing it as far back as to the life of the Prophet, peace be upon him, state and religion are not separate pillars of power but are two sides of the same coin. In a conceptual Islamic state, combined power is exercised by the same sovereign authority or entity that governs the state in the name of the sovereign. It is another topic whether Islam spread by sword ( a function of state power) or by good and just governance (a function of God’s ministry, i.e. church), but in an Islamic polity, a Muslim ruler is not merely the symbolic commander in chief of the armed forces, but he is also the Emir or leader of the faithful. This is not a novel idea because other Abrahamic religions also followed this principle until a few centuries ago when they abandoned this in favour of having two separate heads of power, one being supreme (the state) and the other being subordinate to it (the church). However, in practical terms, the Jewish state of Israel remains a religious state for all practical purposes and the UK which is the mother of democracies has a monarch whose official title is ‘Head of State of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island and other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth and Defender of the Faith’.

In his book ‘The Great Arab Conquests’ published by Hodder and Stoughton Limited, London in 1963, ISBN 0-7043-333368, the author Lieutenant General Sir John Bagot Glubb, KCB, CMG, DSO, OBE & MC writes: “the fact that Muhammad’s career transformed him from something resembling an Old Testament Prophet into a politician, a ruler and a lawgiver, has profoundly affected the development of Islam to this day. All the Apostle’s successors automatically followed his example and combined religious and political rule. Islam never witnessed the rivalry between pope and emperor which so often disturbed medieval Europe. The Islamic lay state, in which the government is independent of the religious hierarchy, is a novelty of the last forty years, in imitation of Europe…This attitude finds its origin in the fact that Muhammad made himself the political as well as the religious ruler of his people, and that government has ever since been combined with religious leadership in Muslim states, at least until the twentieth century. This identification of religion with political rule has been a fundamental cause of misunderstanding on the part of Europeans in Muslim countries. Non-Muslims are inclined to be critical of the intervention of Muslim religious teachers in politics and to ask why they do not limit themselves to their proper field of spiritual teaching, leaving politics to those whose concern they are. But this separation of the religious from the political is a Christian viewpoint. To the old Muslim, if not to the modern Arab nationalist, religion and politics were inseparable.”

As we enter 2022 in a few months, this criticism of Islamic state that promotes cooperation between the state and church is getting sharper and louder from within the Muslim community than from non-Muslims, whose position is known since long. But these are people, undoubtedly well meaning Muslims, who have been deeply influenced by western political thought. Their measure of success is material ascendency for monetary gain. They think that if the clergy in Muslim states is pushed back to perform only worship with no room for political contribution, the state will progress rapidly and achieve development. They forget that the requirements for successful governance are more than the practice or preservation of faith; these are good economic policies, better systems which weed out corruption and inefficiency and encourage independent and working institutions. If anything, the clergy helps to enhance these values in governance. It is opposed to neither the separation of powers nor rewarding efficiency.

There should be no cause of concern if a modern Islamic state appears keen to rediscover its deeper roots and makes the clergy partners in governance instead of keeping it away against popular aspirations. The fact that today many Muslim-majority states that have decided not to declare Islam as their official religion have managed to carry on happily is a matter of time. As soon as the western political model of separation of church and state loses its shine or is replaced by another political ideology (for history is witness that no civilisation or ideology is permanent except the universal values of justice and freedom) all those countries would require a political readjustment with their Muslim-majority populations which would eventually bring them to comprise with the church. I therefore welcome the efforts on the part of the state of Pakistan to continue to talk to its Muslim clergy for reaching a mutually agreed governance system that guarantees peace and justice for all, while at the same time does not alienate the church from the state as two mutually separate power poles.

There are two disadvantages which a separation of church and state model handicaps Muslim majority states. One is the distrust of the clergy about their secular governors which leaves them free to encourage to form a ‘de-facto state’ within a de-jure state based on sharia law as opposed to state law. The second is the ineffective writ of government because the authorities cannot use force against their fellow Muslims and subject them to harsh punishments just because they demand the state to be sensitive to Islamic values and principles. By combining the state and clergy, not only the clergy can be won over and kept in check against going too far to resemble the “khawarij’, but the state can also exercise its writ with effective control having gained the confidence of its majority population that it is working not for a section of the society but for the entire society.

TLP Protest and the Power of State: A Matter Revisited

Syed Sharfuddin

The past few days in the politics of Pakistan have been reminiscent of the sunset days of the PML-N era when a small but significant interest group, best classified as a non-state actor, played on the most sensitive Muslim religious issue in the country and used it to hold the government of the day on tenterhooks leaving it undecided whether to use police force to end its widespread public protest or follow the way of compromise through negotiations.

Last April, when the government was faced with the TLP protest of similar magnitude, it decided to enter into a dialogue with the protestors in the wider national interest of peace and tranquillity. The negotiations and resulting agreement signed between TLP and the government achieved the objective of ending the protest but at the cost of three big give aways: 1) acceptance that TLP is a political force which cannot be ignored or proscribed; 2) admission that the government’s hand can be forced in matters of foreign policy by mob action; and 3) acknowledgement that the ideology of TLP concerning the Prophet of Islam is the same as that of the government. This meant that: 1) the government could not prevent TLP from fielding its representatives at coming local and national elections; 2) the government could not assert its role of making foreign policy and agreed to place the TLP demand before Parliament ; and 3) that there was no ideological difference between the government and TLP on core issues, even though they differed on tactics.

TLP says it is out on the roads again in October 2021 because the government breached the signed agreement to take its demand to Parliament for a decision. The government’s position is that it submitted a resolution in Parliament on this matter, and that the demand of TLP is invalid because the French Ambassador is not in the country. Then, there are issues of TLP engaging in violence resulting in the tragic death of police officials; conflict between its demand and action which violates the teachings and Sunnah of the Prophet for tolerance and good public behaviour; breach of a written agreement by the government; and question on the government’s credibility and ability to assert its will on non-state actors with authority.

The aim of this article is not to go into the background of this repeat episode, which is already covered in the media, but explore the options for the government in dealing with such issues in the future.

There are four fundamental issues that need wider public conversation to reach a national consensus. These are, namely, the power of government and the calibre of those who govern; the role of state institutions to regulate non-state actors within the ideological moorings of the State; balancing legitimate state authority versus people’s democratic right to protest; and the role of government and political parties.

1) The power of government and the calibre of governors

People often ask why the writ of the government is openly flouted in Pakistan by non-state actors, including informal religious outfits and organised opposition parties? While it is correct that at every occasion, the State seems helpless, but this is not by choice. There are political coalitions or pluralistic compulsions which prevent the government from coming hard on an activity where its authority is challenged, including with armed resistance. It is not an easy task to establish a political equilibrium. While the government has the means to electronically listen into people’s personal conversations, issue search warrants for suspected persons, enter their residences and even arrest those suspected of flouting the law, the government cannot cross the established red lines because of democratic and human rights considerations, and the adverse reaction of civil society which has its sympathisers internationally. This delicate balance is also affected by how well prepared the government is in enforcing its political will and whether those tasked with the mandate to govern have the integrity and courage to implement policy into action. It cannot work if those who are vested with authority are unsure of their own positions or if there is a history of political insecurity. Sometimes, the cabinet is also not united on policy matters and the statements of two or more ministers on the same issue are contradictory or confusing. The buck in a parliamentary system for all such contradictions stops at the door of the Prime Minister who must be seen to be in-charge of his team and ahead of everyone’s game. Always in a crisis, he must be visible and lead from the front.

The PTI government may rightfully claim credit for acting wisely last April in defusing the crisis and not showing full force of the State in ending TLP protests, but it has certainly failed on consistency of policy. For example back in April it was ludicrous for the interior minister to rush to announce that his ministry had decided to approach the cabinet to ban TLP as a political party without due process but two days later the interior minister presided over a meeting with TLP leaders and reached an agreement with them to end the protests peacefully. It was also embarrassing that the Prime Minister, who is so rightly against the dishonouring of Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, and who addressed the UN General Assembly about Islamophobia, made no hard hitting statement, nor took any action last year when the French government officially supported the reprinting of the offensive cartoons by a French magazine in the name of freedom of speech. On the TLP crisis, the Prime Minister said one thing in his speech to the nation holding firm on not giving in to the key demand of TLP, but the very next day he appreciated his interior minister sitting down with TLP elders to sign an agreement accepting that in return for TLP ending the protests, the government would send their demand about the French ambassador’s return to France to Parliament for a decision. In October the interior minister again offered an olive branch to TLP to talk to government and end their protest in the interest of peace and security of the country. The mixed signals are too confusing to the public. It is hard to say, when everything is considered, where the government stands on TLP’s status.

The question of government credibility does not rest only with domestic audience. It is noted internationally. Once the international community starts to suspect that a country’s leader cannot be trusted for his word, then there is nothing left for the government machinery under that leader to convince the world that you are serious about a matter which they consider important. Pakistan has been through this storm before and we know that in the previous US governments, there were officials who did not trust Pakistan’s commitments.

Unlike the Turkish President who is unequivocal on the question of blasphemy against the Prophet, the Pakistani leadership has indirectly conveyed to France and the EU the wrong message that its had stand against the blasphemous cartoons is meant only to appease the mullas domestically. In conveying this message, the Prime Minister is not alone. He is joined by the whole caboodle of liberal politicians, many of whom, are represented in the PPP, ANP, BAP, and also to a certain extent in PML-N. Pakistani social media also shows this major ideological divide. On the one side are the liberal civil society, media and overseas Pakistanis living in the west who couldn’t care less about western far right media writing about the Prophet, or French lawmakers outlawing Islamic head-gear for French Muslim girls attending schools. On on the other side are those Pakistanis who genuinely think that raising their voice against Islamophobia is important, even though it is a bit late in the day to revisit this issue, and not helpful because Pakistan needs friends in the west to take Pakistan out of the FATF grey list, continue with their aid and trade programmes and support its Afghanistan policy for improving the uncertain security situation is the region. The TLP protest has come at the wrong time and is outdated considering that the cartoon controversy is over a year old.

The issue about the French Ambassador is something the Prime Minister’s Office or the Pakistan Foreign Office should have put to rest by acting immediately without wasting much time which gave TLP the excuse to take it up on behalf of the people of Pakistan. Last week the Turkish President threatened to expel ten western Ambassadors from Turkey on the ground that it was not their business to comment on the Turkish activist Osman Kavala who is under arrest and trial on charges of overthrowing the government in the failed 2016 coup. The reaction from Erdogan was so quick and credible that the US and some other western embassies retracted their statement the next day and Erdogan accepted their response. The matter was finished even before it could go to Turkish cabinet for approval of action. It is true that Turkish Lira tumbled in the week when all this was happening, but it was not a big cost to pay for protecting the sovereignty and credibility of the Turkish State internationally. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s leadership could not handle the problem of one foreign government and its Ambassador credibly on time. Islamabad does know very well how such things are done but it is terribly scared to risk anything, without realising that not taking action on time also costs the nation, if not the leaders personally.

The TLP demand for sending he French Ambassador home as PNG makes no diplomatic sense. As Ambassador he is only a high official of his government sent to establish secure communication between two governments. His function is not to make or change French policy but to act as a high representative of his government who acts professionally with tact and sensitivity. Sending the high representative packing to his home or downgrading diplomatic relations with a country makes sense only if an unacceptable act by a foreign envoy or a hostile act by his government requires a swift and proportional response. The host government alone can decide on such matters and no other entity, party or NGO can force the government to do so on its behalf. When signing the agreement with TLP last April, the government should not have accepted that it would table the TLP demand for the return of the French Ambassador before Parliament.

Three subjects, namely, national defence, conduct of foreign relations with sovereign states and printing currency are federal subjects and no federating unit, let alone a political party or religious group, has any authority to start dictating heir terms in these areas. The role of Pakistan Foreign Ministry is to advise the government through its envoys what is best and possible in the interest of the country. The interior minister has said that the French Ambassador is not in the country and may not return. His staying or returning is a matter only for the French government to decide. If Pakistan has any problems with the policies of the French government, it should take it up with Paris at the higher political level through diplomatic channels. The Pakistan Prime Minister has spoken to the people of Pakistan about Islam, morality and good deeds. He should also speak to the foreign diplomatic corps in Islamabad over a working lunch that if any foreign government condones or supports its ‘intellectual terrorists’ to cause anger and violence in the Muslim world through blasphemy against the Prophet and hate speech against Islam, Pakistan would consider it as an unacceptable act against its friendship and bilateral relations. The Prime Minister should also direct the Foreign Office to draw up a list of Islamophobia promoting entities and countries and move the UN and the Organisation of Islamic Conference to react reasonably and proportionately. This may include such action as issuing official protests, boycotting their products; stopping to attend conferences held in these countries, putting a freeze on their tender submissions or commercial deals, and temporarily suspending sporting activities with them.

2) Role of state institutions to regulate non-state actors within the ideological moorings of the state

This issue has been publicly debated at every public and official forum in the last ten years. However, what is new is that when the State has a constitution, which declares Islam as the state religion of Pakistan; when the elected leader of the country is a practicing Muslim and talks about making the country a welfare state modelled after the State of Madina; and when the state broadcaster dubs and airs for two years a Turkish TV play Dirilish Ertugrul which is half history and half fiction but it takes the entire country, as well as the Muslim Ummah all over the world by an audience-following never witnessed before, then you are obviously talking about a nation that is not prepared to ignore blasphemy against its Prophet, as well as its religious icons, and that its people expect their government to react strongly if the government of a western country where the blasphemous act has occurred wilfully to hurt or infuriate Muslims does not condemn such act or refuses to take action to stop it.

We live in a funny world. Governments and humanists who were so loud in condemning the destruction of the ancient Buddhist icons in the Bamian province of Afghanistan during the first Taliban rule in 2001 are not bothered with the insults hurled at the Prophet of Islam from their lands. Many tears have been shed over reversing the status of Hagia Sofia in Istanbul from a museum into a mosque but not a word has been said about the disappearance of ancient classical mosques in Seville, Cordova, Malta and Greece where Muslims once lived, worshipped and ruled. Most of these mosques were turned into churches. The long conflict in Syria for and against the incumbent Asad regime has resulted in the destruction of a rich historical heritage common to the adherents of three great Abrahamic faiths. No one bemoans this great loss. The far right in Europe has no problem with the whole humanity wearing face-masks to protect against the spread of Covid-19, but it has issues with innocent young Muslim girls wearing Hijab in deference to their beliefs. No one should be allowed to get away with blasphemy of the Prophet of Islam whose name, when recited in public, results in billions of hands rising to touch their hearts as a mark of deep respect for Muhammad, peace be upon him. The same rule of respect should apply to the gods and founders of all recognised religions.

Strictly speaking, TLP protests do not fall under the category of a non-state actor challenging the power of the State. Their leaders have not called the government to resign. TLP is a registered political party in Pakistan, or was so until it was shut down arbitrarily without involving the election commission or invoking a due process by the interior ministry. They still have the third largest political following in Punjab, which is Pakistan’s largest province. TLP has two elected representatives in Punjab’s provincial assembly.

This TLP protest is not new. This party has held similar protests earlier on one single issue, but the government did not take action despite promising to do so. In 2018 during their mass protest in Rawalpindi, some political parties tried to take advantage of TLP protest by demanding new elections. A lot of foul language was used in those dharnas, including verbal attacks on the State’s constitutionally protected institutions. Against the high tempers and the fluid political background of the country, the TLP episode was only a small jolt in the present uncertain situation. The PTI government which did not condemn the 2018 protest by TLP when it was in opposition then, should have known that a sleeping giant could always wake up one day to challenge its power, yet the government did nothing to remove the root cause of the problem, except join the giant in its sleep.

Pakistan’s present and past civilian governments have not fully used the available state institutions and apparatus, such as the Council of Islamic Ideology or the Ministry of Religious Affairs to bring about an understanding between the State and the religious parties (not just political parties) on issues that have caused confusion and distrust between the State and clergy. Not too long ago, a federal Minister of PTI government with no formal religious education attacked the Moonsighting Committee for being out of times for physically sighting the Ramadan and Eid moons. His seemingly well-meaning but controversial actions caused more harm than good in promoting goodwill between Muslim secularists and orthodox Muslims. It is not just this government that has been casual about religious sensitivity. The last government also did not realise that an important Annex was removed from the Election Amendment Act 2018 which resulted in a nationwide protest over certification of the finality of prophethood. Another past government had ministers in the cabinet who did not want official Qaris at the opening of parliamentary committee meetings , yet they themselves could not recite Quranic verses from Surah Al-Akhlas correctly on microphone.

The issues where the government needs to work hard include inclusive reform of the madrassas and their state financing, incorporating Imams and Muezzins in its state employee structure, and drawing TORs for their recruitment, employment and retirement and delivering a pre-approved single Friday sermon all over the country under the authority of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. This will be possible only if the clergy sees these government institutions as sincere and qualified for promoting Islam and finding common ground, and which are run by officials who are not corrupt and who could be trusted with the religious knowledge and services they provide. The government also needs to address issues around application of blasphemy laws in relation to cases brought against poor and uneducated minority citizens; protecting and checking the status of principal witnesses who are called to testify and the way FIRs are drafted and filed by police; challenging the insistence of Ahmadis to defy the 14th amendment and their boycott of electoral rolls, which result in distrust against their community; and the more recent question of blasphemy of the Prophet by foreign-based provocateurs who clearly have an agenda to foment hatred and violence in the Muslim communities and countries, and who are officially protected by their governments for carrying out such racist and divisive acts.

3) Balancing legitimate state authority versus democratic right to protest

Organising protests is an essential feature of democracy and defines the political space in which the government and opposition parties operate. In a representative democracy, protests are not the right of political parties alone. Any interest group or gathering of citizens has the right to start or join a public protest in a democracy. In western countries protests are staged against the policies of the government on issues the protestors do not agree with. Sometimes their demands are ignored and at other times these are accepted fully or partially and result in change of policy. A protest is organised to register a dissenting point with the government, but it is not meant to force the government to accept it fully and immediately. A normal political protest is different from a popular revolution. Protests can happen many times in a year; a revolution happens only once in many years. Unfortunately, in countries where democracy is nascent or has repeatedly suffered from military or authoritarian rule, protests have not evolved into an established form of political expression. The Arab Spring protests resulted in premature revolutions in countries which were not prepared for post-revolution governance, resulting in great loss of life, instability of state, and devastating impact on the economic well-being of their people. Last year Sudan went down this slippery road. Today it is under a second military takeover. In fact, there are more examples in Africa to quote but I do not want to digress from the topic at hand.

In Pakistan, protests do not take place to convey a message of dissent to government. They sound more like a clarion call for a people’s revolution that thunders loud but never happens. The protesting side believes that the government has to bow down to its demands or else go home. The long history of political protests in Pakistan shows that these have been used to bring down a weak government through violence or by creating unstable conditions, which enable the military to intervene in the name of restoring peace and stability. This is how Ayub Khan’s rule was ended in 1969; and how the lawyers’ movement forced General Musharraf to convene multi-party elections in 2008. Since then, a good understanding has been reached between political parties that a regime change through public protests is not the best thing for democracy. However, they have yet to develop the understanding that the place to protest and make political noise is Parliament and not the back-end of someone’s else’s protest on the street or conversations on social media or debates on the country’s private TV channels.

Last April it was to the government’s credit that it showed flexibility and agreed to listen to the demands of TLP to end their protest in the long hot days of Ramadan. Although the interior minister’s U turn so soon after a threatened administrative action against the party was a surprise for the country, it was in retrospect a good thing in clearing the position of TLP as a party which has no hand in terrorist activities. The Sarina Hotel bombing in Quetta on 21 March, only a day after the successful talks between the government and TLP, is evidence of how foreign enemy planned to exploit the TLP protest to destabilise Pakistan and achieve multiple aims. Planning and executing a terrorist act from overseas using local sleepers does not happen quickly, and that’s why the enemy failed to anticipate how quickly the TLP protest would end. The enemy could not fast track the planning for its proxy terrorist act. Another lesson for the government is that if public protests on religious questions are allowed to continue without taking urgent and reconciliatory prudent action, Pakistan’s enemies will try to take advantage of it and make the situation worse.

4) Role of government and political parties

There are justifiable questions on the performance of government for not finding a permanent solution to the irritating religious issues resurfacing frequently despite its best intention to make Pakistan a moderate Islamic state. However, the silence of other political parties, as well as role of other religious parties during the peak of the TLP crisis is most unfortunate and unacceptable. As the country’s opposition they have a responsibility to set aside politics when it comes to issues like Kashmir, Palestine, Afghanistan, Islamophobia, attacks on the honour and character of the Prophet, and the defence of Pakistan. The opposition and other religious parties have often failed to meet this expectation leaving the government and TLP to sort this out between them. It is most unfortunate that some security personnel have lost their lives and public property is torched and in retaliation many protestors have been arrested for disturbing peace. This circus must come to an end with prudent policies that are not just aimed at shutting up the mulla but should go deeper than blaming only one side and addressing inefficiency and inertia within the government and concerned agencies on tackling sensitive issues.

5. What’s Next

The government must learn to make contingency plans on matters of utmost importance to the country where public sentiment cannot be ignored. It must learn how to create space for public protests and draw up a modus operandi for their organisation and acknowledgement and ensure that it will deal with them not by force but through flexible yet firm hand. On the question of protecting Islamic icons, values and traditions, there will always be a difference between the orthodox and liberal Pakistanis. This difference must be respected and nurtured as part of Pakistan’s rich ethnic and cultural diversity. However, if the country’s constitution envisages Pakistan to be an Islamic State and be guided by the holy Quran and Sunnah in its affairs, then the State should use its mandate, resources and institutions to bring about a new ‘entente cordiale’ between the clergy and the State to work for the common objective together, and not as mutually exclusive forces. The alternative is to follow the example of Bangladesh and change the constitution declaring that religion is a private affair of Pakistanis and nothing to do with the State. However, a referendum, not a constitutional amendment, will decide it, should God forbid, things go out of control that far.

Rewriting a new Afghan Constitution: A Briefing Paper

Syed Sharfuddin

The G7 countries met virtually on 24 August under the chairmanship of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and demanded that Taliban must extend the deadline for foreign troops to leave Afghanistan beyond August to complete evacuation of all US and NATO troops, as well as stranded foreign nationals in Kabul and those Afghans who do not wish to live under a Taliban rule. The G7 statement also repeated the call of the UN Security Council (UNSC) made at its meeting on 16 August for Taliban to observe human rights and prevent terrorist acts against third countries. The only difference was that while the UNSC statement did not mention Taliban by name, the G7 did so as an indication that there is now an acknowledgement that the next government in Kabul will be formed by Taliban and they will be making the future decisions in Afghanistan. President Joe Biden, however, did not agree to the G7 demand. He insisted that the US was on course to complete the ongoing evacuation operation by 31 August. He also said that extending the deadline in the absence of an agreement with Taliban, which was not expected, will endanger the security of the US and other foreign troops remaining in Afghanistan after the August deadline.

Regrettably, the G7 call carries the potential of conveying a confusing message to the Afghans who are afraid of atrocities and human rights violations in a future Taliban government. After the airport is cleared and those Afghans whose papers are complete fly out of Kabul, thousands more will be getting ready to leave Afghanistan by air, land or long walk in the next few months to claim asylum in the countries which contributed troops to ISAF in the past. But their expectations would remain a pipe dream against the hard reality of international dynamics. The West had not foreseen such a large emigration of Afghans coming so soon, and neither is the public in the US, EU, UK, Australia and Canada ready to welcome new waves of refugees from Afghanistan. If this happens, thousands of Afghans will be disappointed and become marginalised in their own country because of the false hopes being built by civil society and media.

Ideally, the US and NATO should extract guarantees from the Taliban for giving the Afghan people full civil and political liberties and respecting their human rights in return for a Taliban government’s recognition by the UN and international institutions, including access to the much sought after trade and financial institutions such as the WTO, IMF and the World Bank. Afghanistan is a richly endowed but GDP wise a poor nation, but it is a member or partner of over fifty  intergovernmental, regional and international organisations. This may look like a huge burden for a small country to be representing itself in this high number of organisations, sometimes duplicating and at other times working at cross purposes, but it is also a huge reservoir for starting constructive engagement and promoting global good practice with the Taliban. It will be a waste not to use this great network of knowledge and resource for the rebuilding of a new, peaceful, just and rules-based Afghanistan owned and run by Afghans themselves. By not agreeing to the demand of his European allies in the G7 to extend the 31 August deadline, President Biden seems to be in favour of not pushing Taliban too much in a corner to force them to take unwanted extreme measures which would only add to the instability of Afghanistan in an already volatile strategic region which remains an active theatre of great power rivalry close to Iran, China and Russia.

On their part, the Taliban should not prevent any Afghan who has valid documents to travel to another country freely and without intimidation. The life and property of those Afghans who do not agree or welcome Taliban should be fully protected, and their rights should be recognised and granted by the new rulers. The Taliban have an opportunity to clear their image as barbarians and human rights violators. If any doors are to be knocked in Kabul by their fighters, they should be knocking these doors to offer scared people food and transport to the airport, should they have the right travel documents. As custodians of a new Islamic government in Afghanistan, the Taliban should follow the example of prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, when he entered Makkah ten years after Hijrah. They should force no one to stay in Afghanistan against his/her will. This will be their first major test the world will be watching closely.  

What has happened in Afghanistan in August 2021 is not less than a revolution. Afghans have paid dearly until this moment whether they supported Taliban or fought against them. Their capture of Afghanistan was not a peaceful and constitutional transfer of power from one party to another. A Taliban-led government cannot automatically expect to be recognised by the UN and other countries. Taliban also cannot, as a matter of routine, lay claim to Afghan overseas assets and development funds committed to the former government of Afghanistan by international financial institutions. They will need to work their way to earn it back. They will need to show with their actions in the next few months and years that they are capable of running a responsible and law abiding government.

But the revolution also gives Taliban advantages. They are not obliged to follow the commitments the previous government made to its international partners, or continue with the projects the previous government signed with foreign investors and countries. They are free to renegotiate investment agreements with overseas private investors, institutions and governments. They can launch an inquiry into corruption and kickbacks on commercial deals made by the leaders of the previous government. They are also free to impose limits on the number of foreign diplomats a country can send to its embassy in Afghanistan or open consulates or trade offices in their country. They can sign new treaties of friendship and cooperation with their neighbouring countries or request technical assistance from third countries if faced by brain drain in the short term. They do not have to give a blanket approval for accepting the UN and international covenants without adding any reservations on clauses which contradict their Islamic ideology. They do not have to stop narcotics production or sell arms they have acquired in the war booty to third parties in order to pay their officials salaries. They do not have to give any guarantees that they will not use unconventional methods to defend Afghan territory if it is attacked from outside. All these instruments are now open to Taliban for fresh negotiations with international organisations and third countries. Everything is on the table for negotiation on both sides.

The Taliban have postponed the announcement of their government structure until after the withdrawal of the US and NATO troops from Afghanistan. This has more to do with their own internal issues than international troops withdrawal. It is hard for them to reach power sharing arrangements within their ranks on forming an inclusive government with Pashtun, Hazara, Tajik and Uzbek leaders, women and tribal elders. It will be even harder for them to make compromises on implementing their Islamic ideology and its acceptance by the people of Afghanistan. They will also need to make compromises when political expediency, pluralism and diversity require them to go slow, when they are writing the new laws and regulations.

The Taliban have indicated that they will keep the 2004 constitution of Afghanistan but change it to incorporate their vision of an Islamic Emirate. The 2004 Constitution is a document which was adopted without wider consultations among Afghans. It was drafted with the help of Afghanistan’s external partners. As a primary legal document of the country, it must be Afghan written and Afghan owned. The Taliban were not part of the of the constitution writing process. It was drafted in a hurry in December 2003 and approved and ratified within one month in January 2004.

Even from the perspective of a modern democratic constitution, the 2004 constitution lacks many important features. It provides for an independent election commission (article 86) but it is silent about the appointment, terms of reference and statutory funding of the chief election commission and other members of the commission. The 2004 constitution provides for the establishment of an independent human rights commission (article 58), a central bank (article 12) and an attorney general (article 64.11), but it does not provide for the establishment of an independent public services commission (article 50), an armed forces commission, a truth and reconciliation commission, an inter-provincial disputes resolution council, an auditor general and an independent police commission. Afghanistan needs these institutions backed by the constitution in order to overcome its special vulnerabilities through its internal political processes.

With regard to the Islamic character of the constitution, it is clear that an attempt was made by the framers of the constitution in 2003 to give it an Islamic baptism without much thought. For example, article 4 of the constitution states that “national sovereignty in Afghanistan shall belong to the nation, manifested directly and through its elected representatives.” In the Islamic system of governance, sovereignty belongs to Almighty Allah and is exercised by the people on earth as his representatives, who in turn mandate their leaders to govern them in their land according to the teachings of Quran and the sunnah of prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him. However, the people retain the power to change their leaders if they do not follow Allah’s commands in the function of governance, especially in administering justice, ensuring peace and providing livelihood and sustenance. This concept is missing in the constitution. In another example, article 64.11 mentions, among others, the appointment of the head of the Red Cross. It could be a typo but it reveals the written source. In Islamic countries, including Afghanistan it is known as Red Crescent.

In the Afghan constitution, the idea of presidential form of government is derived from the US system. However, the safeguards provided in the US constitution to prevent a situation where individual electors might be inclined to choose a leader from their own tribal and political circle, creating the danger of a crippling post-election deadlock are not provided in the Afghanistan constitution. Afghanistan is a deeply divided state with as many as 14 recognised ethnic nationalities. It is also divided along linguistic and sectarian lines. These safeguards are necessary to give confidence to ethnic and religious minorities that they will not be swept by the tyranny of majority in the name of democracy. Under article 6, the presidential candidate is not obliged to provide the names of two vice presidential running mates on the panel from another ethnic group or region. There is also no provision to break a tie if the two vice presidential candidates receive the same number of votes as happened in the US elections in the year 1800 resulting in a political crisis and leading to 12th amendment.

The 2004 constitution mentions ‘national treason’ twice in articles 69 and 78 but it does not define what constitutes national treason and what should be the sentence for a person who commits this crime and is convicted by the courts.

In articles 3 and 35, the constitution says that no law shall be enacted that contravenes the “tenets and provisions of the holy religion of Islam” and that “manifestos and charter of political parties shall” also abide by this restriction. However, in article 34 relating to the right of expression, no restriction is placed on individuals to respect the religion of Islam and refrain from expression of “thoughts through speech, writing, illustrations, as well as other means” that attack the beliefs, principles and values of Islam, as enshrined in the Quran and sunnah, including attacks on the Quran, the personality of prophet Mohammad and members of his noble household, and his companions.

Articles 7 and 8 relating to multilateral and bilateral relations of Afghanistan should be amended to state that “the the guiding principles of Afghanistan’s foreign relations will be: promoting regional and global peace and cooperation, respecting the territorial integrity of other states, pursuing friendly relations with Islamic and other countries, applying the UN principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and actively pursuing mutually beneficial economic and trade relations with Afghanistan’s regional and external partners.

Afghanistan has been through wars for most of its history. Defence of the fatherland is a quintessential part of the Afghan national character. However, the document is silent about the composition and mandate of the armed forces of Afghanistan and the appointment of the chiefs of the army and air-force. The constitution also does not mention that the military commanders will be subservient to civilian authorities and overthrow of a civilian elected government by the military overtly or covertly will amount to national treason and invoke capital punishment for those involved in treason. Only under the powers of the president, article 64.3 states that the chief executive of the country is the commander in chief of the armed forces.

The 2004 constitution incorporates the concept of social welfare by making the state responsible for providing free of charge education up to college level (article 43), free healthcare and medical facilities (article 52) and financial support to families of martyrs and handicapped persons (article 53). However, the constitution does not state anywhere that the country will follow the principles of social welfare economy. Instead, the constitution declares in article 10 that the state shall protect and encourage market economy. The article should be amended to say that “the guiding principles of Afghanistan’s economy will be Islamic social welfare system and a privately-owned but state-guided free trade and individual enterprise that supports investment, services, equality of opportunity for all citizens, and fair division and circulation of national wealth.”

The 2004 constitution is silent about the territory that comprises the state of Afghanistan. Articles 1 and 21 should be amended to read: “the territory of a sovereign, independent and unitary Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan shall comprise 34 provinces (wilayaat) each of which will be an integral part of the indivisible Afghan state. The capital of Afghanistan shall be Kabul.”

The articles relating to the judiciary should be sufficiently amended to incorporate in the country’s criminal justice system the traditional Afghan system of dispensing justice by involving the local jury and fast tracking the process to avoid delays in the judicial process. This system has been practiced by Taliban in the areas under their control and was popular with the people.

The texts of the oaths of the President, ministers and higher judiciary in articles 63, 74 and 119 should be removed from the main body and placed as annex to the constitution.

Given that Taliban will need to satisfy many smaller minority groups and ethnic populations about the decisions they make in the new government, there is a need to expand the composition of the House of Elders (Mashrono Jirga) hundred percent from the present 102 to 204. Of these, 102 members should come through the procedure stated in article 84 of the 2004 constitution but the other 102 members should consist of the tribal leaders and religious elders representing the ethnic and regional breadth of Afghanistan, as well as gender representation, irrespective of whether they supported the Taliban or the previous governments. These representatives should be elected by the local Jirgas of people from their respective tribes and regions for a fixed but renewable term.

If Taliban use the present constitution as the basis of forming a new government, President Ashraf Ghani’s escape from Kabul together with his entire team of two vice presidents, foreign minister and other ministers, makes it impossible to implement articles 67 and 68, as well as 69 to appoint a new chief executive and his team through fresh elections. The Taliban can also ignore the procedure of forming a new government in the 2004 constitution but still announce new elections within 3 to 6 months. However, holding elections  before a new constitution is agreed and adopted would be a meaningless exercise and could weaken their hold on power.

For amending the existing 2004 constitution, Taliban can use the procedure provided under article 150 of the 2004 constitution. They can use the present independent commission (article 157) or appoint a new independent commission to amend the 2004 constitution. Alternately, they can dismiss the previous Loya Jirga and start the process of drafting the constitution from the scratch. However, they should not throw away the work that has been done so far and has the agreement of many parties and groups, if not them. They should therefore announce a new interim and inclusive administration with a view to drafting, as a first step, a new constitution in a period of 12 to 18 months, using the 2004 constitution as the basis of their new draft. In the next stage, the new draft constitution can then be presented for a national debate. The government can then convene a Special Loya Jirga, constituted only for the purpose of discussing and approving the new constitution. This should be followed by an announcement for a free, inclusive and multi-party election in Afghanistan, observed by local and international observers, hopefully in 2024 or earlier, if possible.

*The author Syed Sharfuddin is a regular contributor to the Weekender. He is a former Pakistan diplomat and a former Special Adviser for Political Affairs in the Commonwealth Secretariat, UK (2000-2006). He is also a former ex-officio board member of the Commonwealth Human Rights Commission, UK Chapter.

Afghanistan: Collapse of a Government or a Grand Strategy

Syed Sharfuddin

Executive Summary

This essays argues that the major reason for the fall of Afghanistan was Taliban fighters’ surprisingly quick move into Afghan provinces and the capital Kabul in August 2021 in a matter of weeks rather than months. It cannot be doubted that the Taliban had prepared for this move in advance, making deals with local Afghan leaders where possible, and using violence or twisting arms where required. Their organised and speedy advance was not foreseen by the intelligence community, nor by diplomats who were assisting the US and UN-led peace process in Doha, New York and other cities for a political settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan.

The unexpected refusal of the former Afghan government to confront Taliban militarily added to the failure of expectations for holding the ground and preventing a total collapse of the government and its institutions. Had a civil war ensued, which seemed imminent, it would have been bloody, dirty and prolonged. It would have threatened the territorial integrity of Afghanistan and gone deep in the country along regional, ethnic and sectarian lines. It would have inevitably forced the UN Security Council (UNSC) to mandate the creation of a UN Peace Keeping Force in Afghanistan replacing US and NATO troops with UN peacekeepers.

The seeds for such a scenario were sowed in the Doha peace talks, which began cautiously in 2018 between the US and Taliban. The talks did not initially include a road map for a political settlement of Afghanistan but focused only on Taliban ceasefire and phased US troops’ reduction and withdrawal. The former government of Afghanistan was not part of the Doha peace process from the very start of the talks except when the exchange or release of Taliban prisoners was discussed between the US and Taliban. It was only after February 2020 when a peace deal had been reached between the US and Taliban that the US and UN started talking about the political future of Afghanistan following the US troops’ withdrawal. By then, it was too late for the former government to extract any concessions from Taliban. On their part, the Taliban regarded the former government of Afghanistan as a puppet administration imposed by force from abroad whose days were numbered with the dates of the US troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Despite the surprise takeover of Afghanistan by Taliban and an expected new and peaceful beginning announced by them, the country remains exposed to armed conflict and proxy wars in a post US/NATO troops free Afghanistan, reinforced by the geopolitical location of the country in the arena of great power rivalry for political influence and global trade routes. They have been tied in so many knots of international conditionalities that their goose appears to be dressed up for an easy meal. But no one could guess that the Taliban would be back after 20 years. They could still surprise everyone despite the odds being against them at the national and international level.


Everyone from military analysts to political leaders, war veterans, intelligence community, Afghans, Indians, Americans and Europeans is asking one question: “Why were Taliban able to retake Afghanistan so easily and quickly when in the assessment of Afghanistan’s friends and supporters, the former government of Mr Ashraf Ghani was well armed and claimed to be under control of the situation?”

After the collapse of the former Afghan government on 15 August 2021 with dramatic scenes of Taliban fighters taking photos in an empty presidential palace in Kabul and saying they were waiting to hear from their leadership what was the next task for them, President Biden said in a televised address to the Americans that evening that he stood by his decision to pull out US troops from Afghanistan by September 2021. But he also blamed the former Afghan government for surrendering to the Taliban and refusing to fight against them, despite the superior firepower and aircover of the Afghan armed forces which the US had ensured after spending $82 billion in creating, funding and training the Afghan military in the last twenty years.

The Big Conversation

Western analysists are trying to find answers to the question what went so wrong in Afghanistan that an investment of over 2 trillion dollars, spent over the last 2 decades did not produce any results when it came to defending the country against a tribally based and loosely organised group of hard core militants not backed by any country in the world. A number of reasons are being advanced. These include the US decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and its bad timing, backing the wrong horse in the race, failure of military intelligence, the rising influence of Taliban in those areas of Afghanistan where the writ of the former government was missing, rampant corruption of Afghan leadership at the centre and the provinces, a bad criminal justice system and poor governance, and fatigue on the part of the Afghan people to carryon fighting after the US troops left the country without giving an agreed political roadmap for the future of Afghanistan

A Fall Guy

There have been accusations against Pakistan from some retired Western diplomats, resident news reporters and NGO personnel, who served in Kabul, that Pakistani agencies created, armed and trained Taliban. But if the US, NATO and the UN could not find any evidence to support those allegations, revisiting these now is no more than a hogwash and amounts to passing the blame of failure to a weaker ally. These diplomats forget that working in a foreign country with the host government 24/7 for a couple of years creates sympathy for the host government of the day and they no longer remain impartial and neutral. This condition is known as “localitis’ in the Foreign Ministries of many countries. To mitigate this, governments keep rotating their diplomats and expatriates on their posts. Pakistan was and remains a partner of the US and NATO on the war against terror but like the US which changed its policy last year about not sending troops to fight in foreign conflicts, Pakistan has also taken a decision that it will not be involved in other countries’ wars in the future. 

Doha Talks

The seeds of Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban were sown in the Doha negotiations which started cautiously in the capital of Qatar in 2018 and gained momentum in the spring of 2019. The negotiations were long and protracted and had no timeline. Eventually the US and Taliban reached an agreement in February 2020. In November 2020 at the end of his first term, President Trump announced a reduction in active US military presence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. After Trump, President Biden followed on his predecessor’s policy of cutting down US involvement in foreign conflicts and decided that US troops will leave Afghanistan by May 2021. He later extended this date to September 2021. The February 2020 peace agreement agreed at Doha did not include the political future of Afghanistan after US troops’ withdrawal. The US assumed that the former government in Kabul will remain in-charge of Afghanistan and defend itself against the Taliban, who are already subject to sanctions’ measures under the 1988 UN sanctions regime, which is implemented through the 2011 UN Security Council (UNSC) Sanctions Committee . Taliban are still regarded as a threat to peace, stability and security of Afghanistan in the UN documents. In many capitals of the world, they are seen as a threat to human rights, liberty, peace and security of the world.

The Cost of Withdrawal

The exclusion of the former Afghan government from the Doha agreement of February 2020 meant that whatever the Taliban offered to the US in their peace deal was limited between them and the US, and did not apply to the former government of Afghanistan except when exchange of prisoners was involved. An intra Afghan dialogue commenced in September 2020 to reach a political settlement of the conflict but it was too late to extract any concessions from Taliban who were aware that the US would not be militarily supporting the puppet government in Kabul indefinitely. President Ghani on his part insisted that Taliban announce a ceasefire and agree to his government’s terms for a peace deal. Could this be a neglect on the part of the US not to include the political settlement of Afghanistan in the February 2020 peace deal is hard to say. But the historical record of foreign troops’ withdrawal from conflict countries is poor in supporting the claim that the departing powers care about resolving ongoing disputes politically and peacefully after them. Take for instance the recent examples of Somalia and Iraq. Going further back in time, the departure of the British from the Indian subcontinent in 1947 shows a similar pattern. There was no agreement on the boundary in Punjab or the status of Muslim majority princely states in the dominion. The partition itself was bloody and painful because no thought was given to peacefully manage the mass migration of Hindus and Muslims between the two newly independent countries. In Afghanistan two major mistakes were made: 1) absence of the former Afghan government in the Doha peace talks from the beginning, and 2) absence of a timely agreement on the political roadmap of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops from the country.

Flawed Assessment

The US assessment that the former Afghan government was capable of defending itself against the Taliban was wrong, even though Taliban had gained more firepower in the last few years and had captured many remote regions of Afghanistan. The US and NATO miscalculated that the withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan would result in reduction of Taliban’s attacks and dampen their appeal to the people of Afghanistan as freedom fighters against foreign troops. But it was obvious that their fight was not against foreign troops only. They were after political power which was snatched away from them by force in November 2001.

The US was also wrong in concluding that if Taliban continued their attacks against the former government, it would mount a credible defence for at least between three to six  months. During this period, the US and NATO countries among the P5 could move a resolution at the UNSC to establish a peacekeeping force for Afghanistan. A friendly India at the UNSC would be too happy to support the passage of such a resolution by the Council on grounds of responsibility to protect. The US and its NATO allies would have also agreed to provide supplementary funding for the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Afghanistan and a contingent comprising military and intelligence officers from many troops-contributing countries including from India and other non-Western countries would be effectively based in Afghanistan to stop the Taliban advance and overthrow of the former government by force. In August, a panel of experts set up by the UN Human Rights Council had suggested to the UNSC to consider invoking Chapter VII for Afghanistan. It allows the Council to respond to threats of peace, or acts of aggression by authorising military and non-military action. Decisions taken by the UNSC under Chapter VII are mandatory.

As an added option, the former government, in the event of a civil war and attacks on civilians, could request a Muslim country such as the UAE, Morocco or Turkey to provide troops to defend Kabul, Kandahar, Heart, Badakhshan and Mazar Sharif against Taliban attacks. Under international law asking a foreign government to send troops to supplement a country’s defence force against militants would be deemed legitimate which would push Taliban deeper in the quagmire of war crimes. But their quick takeover of Afghanistan before the end of August pre-empted all these options.

Changing Deadlines

One of the reasons for their quick movement was the uncertainty of US troops’ withdrawal date. President Trump lost the election in November leaving in limbo the claim that the US would reduce its troops’ presence in conflict countries. President Biden decided to follow through the announcement of his predecessor but in April 2021 he changed the May 1 deadline negotiated with the Taliban to 11 September 2021 to coincide with the anniversary of the Nine Eleven incident. The Taliban were not consulted about the extension and were unsure about September, lest the Biden Administration change this deadline again. The Taliban were also unsure about the outcome of negotiations at the Doha talks which resumed in 2021 involving the former Afghan government for a political settlement. Formation of an interim government of national unity which would include Taliban representation and calling new elections were not on the agenda of these talks. Meanwhile the agreements Taliban had made with individual provincial governors and army commanders individually to cooperate with them were drying on the vine. They had little option expect to move fast to achieve their military objectives in the summer.

Multilateral Diplomacy

While the actual situation on the ground in the years prior to Taliban takeover was mainly dictated by what happened in the military theatre, there was no shortage of diplomatic activity to seek peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. But these efforts were focused on strengthening the government in Kabul and asking Taliban to reduce violence and agree to a ceasefire, respect human rights, especially rights of women and minorities and not allow the areas under their control to be used for terrorist attacks against the US and its allies. In these negotiations, Taliban were no one’s favourite and suffered from their image as a backward and unorganised militant group.

The UN Secretary General (UNSG) periodically appointed Special Representatives (SR) to Afghanistan. The current SR is Deborah Lyons of Canada. She briefs the UNSC periodically on the situation in Afghanistan. She is also a member of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). The Mission was established in 2002 on the request of the Afghan government. Its mandate has been subsequently extended by the UNSC periodically to support the Afghan government, assist peace and reconciliation efforts and monitor human rights and protect civilians. This year in March, the UNSG additionally appointed Mr Jean Arnault of France as his new Personal Envoy on Afghanistan and the regional issues. The UN officials have worked closely with the diplomats and special representatives of the US and other NATO countries  to support the presence and mandate of foreign troops in Afghanistan. The UNSC also implements the 1988 Sanctions Committee mandate in proscribing and delisting members of Taliban by the US and other governments.

Security Council’s Engagement

In the wake of the fast deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan in August, the UNSC met on 6 August for a closed briefing and consultations on Afghanistan. Under rule 37 of the Council’s Rules of Procedure, it invited the Permanent Representative (PR) of the former Afghanistan government to the UNSC to brief members. But India blocked an invitation to the PR of Pakistan to brief the Council on Pakistan’s consultations with the Afghan government and Taliban for promoting peace and security in Afghanistan. The UNSC did not issue a statement at the end of its meeting.

The Council met again on 16 August 2021 under the Presidency of India and issued a statement reiterating its earlier demands made to the Taliban. It took cognizance of the change on the ground after 15 August 2021 but did not mention Taliban. In a clear indication that recognition of the de-facto situation in Afghanistan was a long way away, the Taliban were referred to in the UNSC statement as “all parties”.  

The UNSC statement copied the demands made by the US administration from the Taliban. These were earlier reiterated by the US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad who attended the resumed Doha talks on 12 August. These talks, however, collapsed due to the non-arrival of the Afghan High Council Representative at Doha on 15 August 2021. In that meeting Taliban were expected to agree to commit themselves to observe a comprehensive ceasefire, refrain from use of force, respect human rights, including rights of women and minorities, denounce terrorism and engage in an inclusive, Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process for a political settlement to maintain the status quo in Afghanistan.

The fact that this meeting did not take place and an agreement was not reached with the Taliban is the biggest failure of multilateral diplomacy on Afghanistan.

Taliban’s Military Strategy

The multiple layers of US and NATO military strategy supplemented by bilateral and UN diplomatic efforts to keep the Taliban under a straightjacket were timed out by the speed of Taliban’s move to different provincial capitals from end July to mid-August 2021 starting from the periphery and ending with the encirclement of Kabul on 14 and 15 August. On their part, the Taliban ensured that their peace agreement with the US concluded at Doha in 2020 was not violated. Technically, their agreement with the US had ended in May 2001 but they went along with the US extension in the withdrawal date without giving any commitments. They did not have any peace agreement with the former government to honour.

Having been left out of the Doha talks until November last year, and recovering from the shock that it will be all alone to fend for itself after the US and NATO troops had left Afghanistan by the end of the month, the former government in Kabul came under great pressure. Moreover, despite its bold claims to defend itself, its unpopularity with the Afghan government troops who had been underpaid, under fed and unmotivated did not help mount a defence of any sorts, let alone put up a good fight supported by air cover which the Taliban lacked. The Taliban capitalised on this weakness effectively. President Ashraf Ghani was not alone in his decision to leave the country. He had received credible reports that any armed resistance against the Taliban fighting machine would collapse like a pack of cards, leaving him and his close associates at the mercy of Taliban as war captives.

It is important to mention that Taliban had done elaborated planning before they moved to capture Afghanistan’s provincial capitals. They expanded their control in the rural areas by  exerting pressure through threats and offering social services where the government had completely failed to run basic services for the people. By July 2021, they were already in control of half of Afghanistan. They made deals with the provincial governors for surrender in return for money and other inducements, perhaps including a general amnesty or a role for them under a Taliban government. The Taliban started from the North where they expected the hardest resistance and moved to the South. They also started from the periphery cutting out supply routes before coming to the urban cities. They capitalised on the demoralised Afghan army and coerced their family members to ask them to sell them weapons and not take up arms against Taliban fighters. The Taliban fought a perfect guerrilla battle of modern times.

At the same time, the Taliban kept their political representation in the Doha talks, showing willingness to talk to the representatives of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation even when their fighters were entering the palace of the former President who had fled the country on 15 August with the message that he did not want to cause any bloodshed by fighting the Taliban. The Chairman of the Afghan High Council Mr Abdulla Abdulla never reached Doha on 15 August 2021 to achieve what he had discussed with the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken ten days before: “to accelerate peace negotiations and achieve a political settlement that is inclusive, respects the rights of all Afghans, including women and children, allows the Afghan people to have a say in choosing their leaders and prevents Afghan soil from being used to threaten the US and its allies and partners.” It was too late in the day by a losing side to offer Taliban a power sharing arrangement and then not show up when they were ready to talk peace with the former government in Doha on the day Kabul fell to their fighters without any armed resistance.

Political Minefields

Taliban’s political strategy is at present unknown. Perhaps the capture of Afghanistan came too soon for them. They are now trying to agree among themselves and with their allied partners a political arrangement for the future governance of the country reflecting their Islamic ethos and also meeting the expectations of the international community to be recognised as a legitimate, responsible and representative government. Afghanistan is a country with rich tribal, ethnic, sectarian and political diversity. If Taliban do not play their cards with political wisdom and inclusive governance, they could meet resistance from places such as Panjsher Valley where the First Vice President of the former government, Amrullah Saleh, former Defence Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, and Ahmad Massoud can become a problem for them in the future. The 300,000 Afghan army which melted away in the air still harbours hard core anti-Taliban commanders who can be organised by a disgruntled political group and used against the Taliban. Former President Hamid Karzai and Head of the still uncertain National Reconciliation Council, Abdulla Abdulla, are also potential threats to a Taliban government if they do not respect the political rights of minorities and repeat the mistakes of the earlier 2001 first Taliban government which made them unpopular in Afghanistan, as well as in the comity of the world. These potential pitfalls can be exploited by foreign powers who may want to settle scores with the Taliban for causing them humiliation and create small pockets of armed resistance witch overtime could become hotbeds of proxy wars, once again pushing Afghanistan into instability and conflict.


Capturing Afghanistan from the former government without a major battle was the easier part for the Taliban. Keeping Afghanistan united and peaceful and securing recognition from the international community to play their part as a government that respects international conventions and agreements and promotes democracy, peace and human rights is a much harder task the Taliban now face as they form the next government of Afghanistan. They also have a long road ahead clearing the political minefields inside the country and the institutional hurdles Western powers and multilateral institutions will place on their way. The country’s rich mineral wealth and sensitive geo-strategic location may also cause Afghanistan to remain unstable and in conflict for a long time before it can see the dawn of peace which has evaded the Afghan people for over half a century. But then, no one could guess that the Taliban would be back after 20 years. They could still surprise everyone despite the odds being against them at the national and international level.

*The author Syed Sharfuddin is a regular contributor to the Weekender. He is a former Pakistan diplomat and a former Special Adviser for Political Affairs in the Commonwealth Secretariat, UK (2000-2006). He is also a former ex-officio board member of the Commonwealth Human Rights Commission, UK Chapter