Category Archives: Democracy

Coming of a Prophesy?

By Syed Sharfuddin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 9, 2020.

Seven Ways to Strengthen a Federation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Syed Sharfuddin*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 December 2019

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

Kashmir’s Instrument of Accession: Separating Myth from Reality

Syed Sharfuddin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While things were deteriorating in Kashmir,

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

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

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

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

Chronology of Accession

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

24 October 1947

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

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

25 October 1947

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 October 1947

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27 October 1947

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

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

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

28 October 194

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London: 1 October 2019

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

Notes:

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

Also see:
https://www.countercurrents.org/zargar271013.htm
https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/32578917.pdf
https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-349-11556-3_10
https://www.academia.edu/385642/HISTORICIZING_PAKISTAN_S_KASHMIR_POLICY
https://thewire.in/history/public-first-time-jammu-kashmirs-instrument-accession-india

Post August 2019 Status of Jammu & Kashmir and Options for Pakistan

By Syed Sharfuddin*

Following the 5 August 2019 action by India withdrawing the special status of the Indian Held Kashmir granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and declaring it as two Union Territories on 6 August 2019, there was a strong reaction in Kashmir, as well as in Pakistan but also a national consensus that despite the serious implications of India’s illegal action on the future of the disputed territory, Pakistan would not go to war with India on this action as a first option. The retaliatory but non-belligerent measures agreed by Pakistan’s National Security Committee under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister on 7 August 2019 following an angry joint session of the Pakistan Parliament were as follows:

1. Downgrading diplomatic relations with India;
2. Suspending bilateral trade with India;
3. Reviewing bilateral arrangements with India
4. Matter to be taken to the UN, including the Security Council;
5. Pakistan Independence Day on 14 August to be observed in solidarity with the brave Kashmiris and their struggle for the right of self-determination;
6. 15 August which is India’s Independence Day to be observed as a Black Day in Pakistan.

In addition to these measures, the Prime Minister of Pakistan also directed that:

1. All diplomatic channels be activated to expose the brutal Indian racist regime’s design and human rights violations;
2. Pakistan Armed Forces to continue vigilance;
3. The Special Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir to remain seized with the issue.

The measures did not include Pakistan closing its airspace for all international civilian and cargo traffic bound to/from India. The airspace was opened on 15 July after it remained closed since 26 February following India’s failed airstrike in Balakot. The Kartarpur Corridor for Sikh pilgrims was also not affected by these measures.

The problem with these measures is that these have a short shelf life and will soon be forgotten. In a couple of months the world will get tired of news about Kashmir and move on to discuss other problems. This changed status-quo of the IHK would become the new norm in India-Pakistan relations. Having lost the IHK to India forever, Pakistan will start hearing bolder and more aggressive Indian claims on Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

On social media, a number of other suggestions were circulating. These suggested that following India’s action, the Line of Control had ceased to exist and the border between India and Pakistan had reverted back to the old ceasefire line. It was suggested that Pakistan should unilaterally abrogate the 1972 Simla Accord and deny India the opportunity to take the position that India-Pakistan disputes cannot be taken to the UN and should be discussed bilaterally between the two countries.

A more daring suggestion was that Azad Kashmir government should unilaterally declare independence in consultation with Pakistan on behalf of the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir as it existed at the time of the Partition in 1947. Following this move, Azad Kashmir should apply for membership of the UN and the OIC, supported by Pakistan and other countries such as Turkey, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. The social media posts went on to say that the Muslim leadership of IHK, including Hurriyat Conference leadership was deeply concerned about its future and would readily support cessation from India. At the international level, the nature of an inter-state dispute involving two countries would change from a bilateral matter to that of self-rule for the Kashmiris, forcing the UN Security Council to intervene. A new independent State of Azad J&K can sign a defence pact with Pakistan to defend it against any Indian aggression.

These suggestions hardly make any difference to the shifting status quo in Kashmir. The problem with abrogating the Simla Accord is that at least it provides a fig leaf for considering the disputed Kashmir issue bilaterally, especially in the absence of any new international mediation or peace initiative on Kashmir. The BJP Government in India will be only too happy to bin a Congress-negotiated agreement and abandon this platform for holding a dialogue with Pakistan on Kashmir. Secondly, Azad Kashmir declaring full independence will mean giving encouragement to separatists elsewhere in Pakistan. The suggestion is also unworkable globally. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Western Sahara and Kosovo have been standing in the queue for international recognition for a long time and not succeeded. More recently, Barcelona declared independence after a referendum but its declaration was shot down by the EU. It won’t happen at all in the case of Azad Kashmir.

But thinking loud and out of the box is good because conventional approaches have not forced India to sit with Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute. These have got Pakistan nowhere in the past 7 decades and are unlikely to improve the situation in the future except bring grief and more coffins.

A rather unconventional but democratic and non-Jihadi option, which might strengthen Pakistan’s claim on Kashmir in the long run is to bring Kashmiri leadership and people from all parts of Kashmir to met in a Grand Congress in the UK. In exercise of their political will in lieu of the long denied plebiscite, they should pass a people’s resolution overturning the Maharajah’s arbitrary and unfair accession to India with their democratic and popular accession to Pakistan. Following this, the Azad Kashmir Assembly should meet and pass a similar resolution and give Pakistan a clear mandate to claim the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir through a constitutional amendment in the 1973 Constitution, defining its status as the 6th province of Pakistan in Article 257 and showing its territorial boundaries as existed at the time of partition in 1947 in Article 1.

It may be recalled that in its ruling of 17 January 2019 on the granting of fundamental rights to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, including the right to self governance, the Supreme Court of Pakistan did not allow the federal government to grant a provisional provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan, pending a final settlement of the Kashmir dispute. It only allowed the government to  promulgate an Ordinance which was duly vetted by the Court. The Court was concerned that nothing in its judgement should affect the disputed nature and status of Kashmir.

India’s unilateral annexation of IHK may be used by Pakistan to invoke the well known international principle of rebus sic stantibus related to fundamental change of circumstances and claim the disputed state of Kashmir as Pakistan’s territory. This principle allows states to withdraw concessions or commitments made prior to the fundamental change of circumstances. Recently, President Trump has withdrawn from a nuclear agreement with Iran to which US was a state party along with Iran and the EU.

Using this principle, the federal government can also approach the Supreme Court of Pakistan to review its January 2019 ruling in regard to Gilgit-Baltistan becoming the 5th province of Pakistan on the basis that by its action of 5 August 2019, India has disregarded all norms of international law and UN resolutions concerning settlement of bilateral disputes, thereby freeing Pakistan of its obligations to regard Gilgit-Baltistan as a disputed territory.

There is a possibility, even though unlikely, that India’s Supreme Court might strike down the action of BJP government on the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir and find the process ultra vires, including the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act, which goes against the spirit of Article 370, if it is restored by the Court in India. However, it should not prevent Pakistan from going as far as India has already gone in its constitution in claiming the state of Jammu and Kashmir to give parity to its claim.  India’s claim was incorporated in the Indian constitution as early as 1949 following the alleged instrument of accession by the Maharajah of Kashmir which was challenged by the tribal people of Jammu and Kashmir, including Northern Areas, as well as Pakistan.

This is a democratic and constitutional solution, away from violence and agitation of the last 7 decades, but it will require patience and hard work to reach fruition. This is also the path, which the country’s founding father, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah would have taken, if he were alive today.

For details of this recommendation, also see India’s Illegal Annexation of Kashmir Opens New Opportunities for Pakistan

London 9 August 2019

*Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a former diplomat and a former Special Adviser for Asia in the Political Affairs Division of Commonwealth Secretariat London (2000-2006).

Okey, We Bought Imran Khan’s Dream last July but What’s Next!


By Syed Sharfuddin

Last July I was packing my bags and tidying up my papers to fly to Pakistan. The assignment was to accompany the Commonwealth Observer Group for the 2018 General Election as an independent Political Consultant. While in Pakistan I observed that the dream PTI leader Imran Khan sold to the public for a Naya Pakistan had made deep impact on the mindset and imagination of the middle class, especially women and young persons and those entering the job market. PTI was winning and the electoral campaign said so clearly. Imran Khan had his critics too, most of whom belonged to powerful feudal dynastic families in Sindh and Punjab. They feared for the loss of their own power and privileges in the political Tsunami that was overtaking the length and breadth of the country. The second and third tier of rival politicians who were considered electable in their constituencies, jumped ship and joined PTI. Some of them even got tickets to contest election from PTI platform and some who were not that lucky stood as independents.

I also noticed that the military, which was not interested in manipulating the elections or changing the results of the ballot on the night of the count, and the judiciary which found itself unwillingly caught between the devil and the deep sea with high profiled corruption cases, were both covertly pleased that finally Pakistan was going to take a breath of fresh air with the victory of PTI. The opposition’s allegations of military rigging the election under the pretext of providing security cover were eventually proved false.

The road to PTI victory was not smooth. Coming very lose to election date, and often incomplete, judicial verdicts on the corruption cases of the outgoing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members and a covert externally-funded global cyber campaign to link the Pakistan military with PTI’s campaign had soured the electoral atmosphere and divided the media which fuelled controversies and conspiracy theories in the traditional fashion of singing the tune of whoever gave them political advertisements and stuffed their pockets, euphemistically called lifafas. Pakistani social media also contributed to this senseless blitz without realising the damage they were doing to the reputation of the country. In this unfortunate discourse Imran Khan unwittingly painted Pakistan as a corrupt and misgoverned country. In the first few months of his Prime Ministership he continued to harp on this narrative in his meetings with foreign dignitaries and overseas investors, little realising that the image that went out to them was of a country they should not trust and stay away from by a barge pole.

Not only the campaign was bitter and conveyed the impression of absence of level playing field, in the night of the poll count the disappointing performance of the results management system which was jointly built by NADRA and ECP, left a bad taste in the mouth regarding Pakistani politicians who remained true to the reputation of not conceding their electoral defeat gracefully.

Following the elections, PTI emerged as the largest party in the National Assembly but it could not secure outright majority in the House, which was another proof that the elections were not rigged. The talk of selected Prime Minister therefore appears both irresponsible and undemocratic indicating lack of faith in the political process which is the result of a parliamentary consensus by politicians themselves. In the provinces, PTI won Punjab and KPK but needed coalition partners in Sindh and Baluchistan to form majority governments.

Since coming to power last year, the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has discovered that governing a country like Pakistan is no mean task. It has also learnt the importance of doing thorough homework before making any political promises because it is only after being in government that a leader comes to appreciate the true state of affairs and the pressures that decide the common denominator in taking national decisions. A perfect example of this is the electoral promise of PTI that it will not go to the IMF for emergency financing, or the claim that the looted money which was illegally sent abroad by corrupt politicians will be repatriated to Pakistan with the help of friendly countries and the international anti-money laundering bodies.

In the last 12 months in which two and a half budgets were given by the government, including the one just passed in the National Assembly, revenue collection has been less than forecasted, inflation is rampant and foreign debt is higher than ever in the history of the country. Despite large injections of cash Dollars amounting to 9 billion, 3 billion each from Saudi Arabia, China and the UAE, the foreign exchange reserves of the country have not been able to prevent the steep fall of the Pakistani Rupee vis-a-vis the US Dollar. The recently signed IMF agreement has come with tough conditionalities calling for radical restructuring of the economy, an overhaul of the revenue collecting apparatus, expansion of income-tax base and putting an end to government subsidies on utilities and food items designed to be poor friendly. The restructuring is taking a toll on the ordinary public, as well as the business sector which has been hit hard by low investments, high import tariffs and a bearish stock market behaviour. Manufacturing has suffered due to high costs of production and utilities, rising interest rates, cuts on export credits, low export yields and disappointing results in the exploration of oil and gas reserves in the country’s potentially promising subterranin fields. Many from the middle class and the poor who expected a quick change in their circumstances are disenchanted and think they made a mistake voting for PTI. The opposition is also not quiet. It keeps flogging the government for every word they say and every bill they bring to parliament to debate and enact.

In this situation, the  military has found a firm place for itself in the major decision-making institutions of the country by becoming members of the country’s key economic bodies, the National Development Council and Economic Advisory Committee. The military is also represented or has visible presence in the National Security Council, National Counter Terrorism Authority, National Disaster Management Authority, Civil Aviation Authority and Airport Security Force which is quite understandable given the security and defence challenges Pakistan faces internally, as well as on its external borders. But while their representation in civilian and political institutions may be good-intentioned and tactically helpful, in the broader context of democratic governance it is an overkill. The reason is because the military enjoys the status of a neutral, non-partisan and credible institution which could act like an A&E call to 911 when needed by civilian government. The military should always stay invisible in the background as a final deterrent to caution inept politicians, and in times of crisis call on them to put things right or else face a mid-term election. The military’s formal institutional presence in the political decision making forums of the country undermines their role as a neutral arbiter and as an insurance policy against disaster.

A number of Pakistanis think that the military is actually running the country from the shoulder of Imran Khan who is Prime Minister only in name. They point to the present harmony in the civil-political relations not as a sign of stability but as the capitulation of civilian authority by the military. These people draw their inspiration from liberal civil society, anti-military and anti-Islam lobbies and friends of India and the Sharifs, some at home (muted) and many overseas (vocal). Irrespective of their intentions, their argument holds ground to the extent that while the military is excellent as a rescuer in a disaster situation, it is unhelpful in governing the country by proxy and taking decisions which dominate, if not bypass, national and provincial political processes in a federation. The hybrid semi democratic rules of Generals Ayub, Zia and Musharraf are seen by many as democracy’s dark periods, each of which kicked Pakistan back into the past instead of leading it to the future.

In many ways Pakistan is today re-living the political history of Bangladesh in the years 2006-2008 during which an extended interim government, covertly supported by the Bangladesh military, cleaned up the mess left by the government of outgoing Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia and paved the way for Awami League to win the December 2008 election and form a government in January 2009. The example of Bangladesh may not be perfect because in Pakistan the interim government lasted only over 2 months and not 2 years. It took office on 1 June 2018 and resigned on 18 August 2018 when Imran Khan was sworn in as Prime Minister. But the fact remains that in the present Pakistan government, which is the third democratic civilian government since General Musharraf gave up power, a press release from DG ISPR carries more weight than a press release from the Ministry of Information or the Prime Minister’s Office. There is no country in South Asia other than Pakistan where the military leadership is given more space in the country’s electronic and print media for news, photos and statements. Even foreign envoys and visiting overseas dignitaries find it necessary to pay a courtesy call on the COAS after calling on the PM or FM. The powerful religious lobby ‘bows’ to no one except the military. DG ISPR’s Twitter account which comments on developments ranging from sports events to development projects, which are purely civilian matters, is run in parallel with the Tweets of some of the more energetic and media-savvy Ministers of the present Cabinet whose job is to keep PTI in the public eye. At least in Bangladesh, after the initial hiccups, the government of Sheikh Hasina took full control of the political process from the military and cleaned up corruption and graft using the parliament and judicial institutions, leading to political stability, investor confidence, rapid economic growth and elimination of extremist voices. Could Pakistan do the same using its elected political capital with precision and come out clean from the muddy waters?

But Pakistan is not Bangladesh. It has its own security threats, political processes and developmental paradigm. It has its friends and its enemies. In a nutshell, Pakistan is personified by its national cricket team which is capable of touching the zenith of success in one match and in another match falling to the ground like a busted missile which is going nowhere. Interestingly, this unpredictability gives Pakistan a unique advantage. Neither its public nor the international players who are interested in this country can completely write off the present government, or the country for that matter, nor can they embrace it fully until the results are final.

It is fair to say that having completed one year out of the mandated five years in its electoral term, it is too soon to judge any government’s performance, let alone that of the PTI government in Pakistan. Therefore the dreamers will have to go on dreaming for at least another couple of years to see whether the austerity measure and resulting economic reforms are working for the country, and whether a Naya Pakistan is finally coming to take shape. While the critics of PTI may continue to boo the government for its shortfalls or gaffes, and while the supporters of this government may continue to applaud every step it takes for better or worse, Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government must be given space and time to do the right things this country needs. After all, Pakistan is only 72 years old in the journey of a thousand years.

7 July 2019.

Background Note:
1. On 28 July 2017, the Pakistan Supreme Court while ruling on the petitions of PTI Chairman Imran Khan, MNA Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and other political leaders, disqualified ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from politics and directed NAB to file three references — Avenfield Properties, Al-Azizia and Flagship Investment — against Nawaz Sharif and other members of his family in the NAB accountability court. 2. On 6 July 2018, an Accountability court of Judge Mohammad Bashir convicted ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the Avenfield Properties reference and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. 3. On 24 December 2018 another Accountability court of Judge Mohammad Arshad Malik convicted Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia reference and awarded him 7 years’ imprisonment, besides imposing fines of Rs1.5 billion and $25 million on the former PML-N leader. 4. In January 2019 the Ex PM’s  legal team filed an appeal, as well as a petition against the decision in the Al Azizia steel mills case. 5. In July 2019 the family of PML(N) which includes the top leadership of the party alleged that the Accountability Court’s Judge Arshad Malik was blackmailed to give a verdict against the ex-Prime Minister under duress. They produced a video clip and an audio recording in support of this allegation. The allegations were refuted by Judge Arshad Malik as false, and based on doctored evidence.

Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a political analyst and a former Pakistani diplomat. He was Special Adviser in the Political Affairs of Commonwealth Secretariat in London from 2000 to 2006, and CEO of Muslim Aid UK from 2010 to 2014.

Yemen Crisis: Who is Involved

Old SanaaMany observers are seeing the ongoing Yemen civil war as a shrewd attempt by Iran to come close to Saudi Arabia’s borders through proxy. They also see the largely GCC-supported military ‘Operation Decisive Storm’ led by Saudi Arabia as an attempt to maintain the power status quo in the region and avoid an AQ & IS advance in Yemen to confront the Shiite-led movement Ansurallah (Houthi). There may be some truth to that analysis but it is not the whole truth. Yemen was ruled by an autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh for 33 years who had his own problems with the Houthis. When Ali Abdullah Saleh left power after the ripples of the now extinct Arab Spring reached the shores of Bab El Mandab, the country faced a power vacuum as is often the case with the collapse of authoritarian regimes. Political negotiations which followed Saleh’s departure to write a constitution acceptable to the major stakeholders remained inconclusive. The last straw was the collapse of the National Dialogue Conference initiated in 2013 to work out constitutional arrangements for a government of national unity.

The Houthi movement takes its name from Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who launched an uprising in Yemen in 2004. Its present leader is Abdul-Malik al-Houthi. Last September the Houthis captured Sanaa and toppled the widely unpopular transitional government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The peace agreement that was signed for working out a formula for sharing power acceptable to all sides did not hold and fighting broke out in January 2015 resulting in the current civil war.
In the domestic theatre of current fighting, one side is made up of the militias, mostly Sunnis and from the south of Yemen, who are supporting President Hadi who has fled to Saudi Arabia. Fighting against them are most of the Zaydi tribes from the north of Yemen, including the Houthis who are in alliance with Ali Abdullah Saleh and his political party. The Houthi-Saleh coalition is an alliance of convenience. The Houthis have access to vast amounts of weapons, warplanes and firearms purchased during the time of Saleh’s rule. They are also assisted by former military advisers who oppose Hadi. In return, Saleh gets a formidable fighting force full of religious zeal and battlefield prowess from the Houthis to destroy the supporters of Hadi who is an enemy of both Saleh and the Houthis. It is believed that Saleh is not fighting to get back to power himself but he wants protection for his life and the wealth he has amassed during his long rule of Yemen.
In addition to the direct confrontation between the Houthis and Hadi supporters, a secessionist movement is also fomenting in the South of Yemen where a socialist-oriented republic existed between 1967 and the late 1980s. Although no statements have been issued by separatists, the flag of the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen has been seen flying in some demonstrations prior to the start of the present conflict.
In the regional theatre of the rising smoke of war, on the one side are Sunni-led GCC countries except Oman who are opposing the advance of the Houthis to take over Yemen by force through an unholy alliance with the supporters of the former ruler. On the other side stands Iran as it benefits indirectly from the advance of the Houthi rebels in the south of Yemen by means of expanding its influence in the Arab region and reaching out to the Shiite-Arab population in the Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia.
It is noteworthy that to date neither the Chairman of the OIC Summit (Egypt) nor Saudi Arabia which is leading the military strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen has convened an emergency session of the OIC Foreign Ministers on the situation of Yemen. At the 12th OIC Summit in February 2013 the OIC leaders had mentioned Yemen in their Final Communique commending the achievements of the GCC countries to resolve the crisis in Yemen and achieve a peaceful transition to power.
Instead, the situation in Yemen was discussed at the 22-member Arab Summit in Cairo last week (28 March 2015) which endorsed General Sisi’s suggestion to form a Joint Arab Defence Force to meet the challenges facing the Arab wold.
As long as there is use of force, there is little hope that the GCC or UN brokered talks can bring any lasting settlement for the crisis in Yemen and keep it a united country under a democratic constitution and government of national unity.

Islamabad. 1 April 2015.

Yemen map 1

 

Why the Dharna has not Gone Away: A Political Analysis

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Contrary to Government’s assessment that the PTI and PAT public protest in Islamabad which started in August 2014 would have limited shelf-life and will not last beyond a few weeks, the Islamabad dharna – literal meaning in Urdu – stay put – has continued to attract the people and become a family affair beyond the voices of angry young men. If the growing interest in the daily speeches of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qardi are any guide, the protesters do not seem to be going away any soon despite the hot sunny days and monsoon rains of the last two months and the soon-to-come wintery nights of October. Media channels which compete with each other to replace old news with new headlines discovered to their surprise that the most watched channels by Pakistanis in the last few weeks were not entertainment programmes but news channels providing daily coverage to the dharna. Even housewives seem to have forsaken their favourite TV soaps to watch the happenings around the neighbourhood of Islamabad D-Chowk and Blue area on a daily basis. And now the protest is reaching to other cities and is covered live on You Tube, Whats Up, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Pinterest by its supporters and critics.
No one in his wildest dreams imagined that soon after the protesters reached Islamabad last August, the Prime Minister will pack up and leave Islamabad and agree to resign from his position, as demanded by PTI and PAT supporters. True that there were a few days in the early phase of the dharna when the role of the armed forces was not clear and the Government suspected the usual trick, namely the third force to usurp its democratic authority. However, after the armed forces made it clear that it was not their business to clean up the mess politicians had made, the Government knew for sure that the dharna will not be able to shake its writ and legitimate authority to govern until the next general election mandated by the constitution.
Despite this reassured position, the Government lost political ground considerably from where it stood in July when the dharna was still in the offing. All the steps it took to address the protest backfired on itself. Events went in favour of PTI and PAT instead of reinforcing the position of the government. The coming together of the main opposition PPP under the already discredited former President did not help build the image of the Prime Minister who was seen dining and feasting his political rival in Lahore and reasserting his legitimate right to govern as the elected prime minister of the country. A major concession granted by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to PTI by establishing a judicial commission to inquire into Imran Khan’s allegations of rigging of 2013 general election was much too late to call off the dharna. The initiative was badly timed and was handled unwisely by the Prime Minister. Even the terms of reference of the commission drafted by the law secretary left much to be desired.

A joint session of parliament convened by the Government to address the points raised by Imran Khan and to a lesser extent by Tahir ul Qadri lingered on for days but regrettably failed to address the main issue. It offered no solution beyond asserting the authority of the parliament as the representative institution of the people. The joint session also ironically exposed the intellectual level of the honourable members of this august house who were watched live by the people of Pakistan fighting their petty battles, making street-wise statements and raising points of order like students in a special measures public school. Barring a few notable exceptions worth admiring, most of the speeches avoided the real issue and kept repeating the known positions of their parties. The joint session confirmed the negative public impression that the people’s representatives are nothing more than the guardians of their own personal egos and party interests in the name of parliamentary sovereignty and public service.
The dharna also took political parties by surprise. The fast momentum of the dharna gave them not enough time to define their respective stand. MQM which is a party of ordinary hard working people could not align itself with PTI despite the fact that both parties challenge the class-based status quo of the country’s decadent political leaders. Both MQM and PTI want to bring a democracy that serves the interests of people instead of their masters. PAT and PTI also could not articulate the terms of their co-habitation despite being parallel strands of similar, if not the same revolutionary movement and ideology. JI which is a coalition partner of PTI in KPK province decided to remain neutral and impartial and even took the role of a mediator between the Government and its KPK ally. The official opposition PPP played a good-cop bad-cop role. On the one hand, PPP leaders of the opposition in the house and senate continued to criticise the Government for the irresponsible and laid back manner in which they handled the crisis from the beginning of the protest, following the Model Town killings in Lahore, till the squatting of PTI and PAT supporters on the Constitutional Avenue in Islamabad. The PPP Don, Mr Asif Zardari and his former Interior Minister Rahman Malik, on the other hand, adopted the good-cop role and threw their weight on the side of the Prime Minister and the Government assuring their support for the continuation of democracy and the present status quo.
The judiciary which has luckily stayed out of any political controversy and is seen as a credible arbiter decided not to use its authority to take suo-motto notice of the situation and give a ruling that could satisfy all concerned in a manner that was within the confines of the constitution and the demands of the protesters. It was surprising that given its record of suo motto notices in the past on small issues, the Supreme Court decided, much like the armed forces that it will not intervene and leave the politicians to clean the mess they have created themselves.
The President, being the commander of the armed forces, a symbol of the federation and an authority that sits as the head of state of the republic was in an ideal position to intervene and mediate between the concerned political actors. However, the President did not stand up to the occasion and did not prove the worth of his coveted high office. To add insult to injury, his Governors in Punjab and Sindh were more visible trying to do something about the crisis even though they are not constitutionally mandated to play this role as supporters of the government in the absence of the President’s initiative to whom they report and represent in their respective provinces.
Negotiations carried out on various tracks for a resolution of the crisis lacked legitimacy and produced confusion but not results. At first the Government did not take PTI and PAT leaders seriously. Then it welcomed the efforts made by JI. Then a government mediation committee was formed in which the Governor of Punjab was also included although he is not represented in the Parliament. Then came the Jirga of Mr Rahman Malik who claimed that his mediation was the most successful and soon people will hear the good news of reconciliation. Finally, it all came to nothing. This shows that either the Government did not take the dialogue seriously or was mislaid by the Sherpas in the political parties who wanted to take credit for their own mediation initiatives. Mr Rahman Malik’s enthusiasm to jump in a row which was initially not PPP’s but was between PML-N and PTI is a clear evidence of this failed approach.
The above answers the question why the Islamabad dharna has not gone away. But more importantly, there are three main reasons for its success: the dharna leaders are speaking the language of the people and they are loving it; the dharna has given people a social platform to get out of their cramped homes every evening and celebrate culture in a country that has no entertainment, no sponsorship of sports and no theatre for the ordinary folks; and the protest has baffled the Government as to what to do next because force has not worked and its benign neglect is being misinterpreted by many as its weakness to act. The Government has also failed to give the impression of business as usual. Foreign investors have cancelled their visits to Pakistan, the economy is suffering huge losses every day and the recent flash floods have also taken their toll on the treasury.
The argument of the protesters for a fundamental change of the governance model is strong and convincing; they have the pulse of the middle-class households, women and youth, as well as the ordinary man on the street whose priority is his wallet and not necessarily the need to walk through the complicated maze of politics. Their speeches are getting better every day despite repetition and are reaching out more to the public, the longer they are staying in Islamabad.
Songs and dance substituting classical police beatings and blood bath in what is seen essentially as a long and arduous struggle for change is a new dimension of the dharna. Instead of making it a dangerous place to be, the dharna has continued to provide a venue for young persons to meet and have fun while their parents watch them from home on their TV screens and some even join them for a break from the hard life of power outages and increasing prices of commodities of daily use. Reminds me of the days when as a young student in Islamabad I joined public protests against President Ayub Khan not knowing why I was saying ‘Go Ayub Go’ and without realising what were to follow after he was gone in 1969.
So far, the Government has decided to ignore the protests but this wilful neglect is seen by PTI and PAT supporters as tacit admission of guilt and denial of reality, especially against the background of the alleged self-serving democracy of the parliament and bad governance of the executive. The attitude of some of the cabinet ministers has been uncharacteristically hostile and they have not convinced the people that they retain the moral high ground to govern, even though they have the legal authority and constitutional backing to remain in power until their full term is served. Combined with this lack lustre performance is the work of government ministries and departments, including provincial governments, parastatals and loss making public corporations which has hardly anything to show as a role model of good public service. There are small exceptions of individual sacrifices and exemplary performances but these are only patches of greens in the large barren hinterland.
What Should the Government do in such circumstances -continue to ignore the dharna and let the economy bleed through its Achilles heel or let go something that resolves the crisis and still gives it the moral and legal authority to call the shots. If I were the Prime Minister who believed that the majority of the people supported his policies of making Pakistan a strong powerhouse of growth and development, I will take the high moral ground of reshuffling the cabinet and announcing fresh elections within 180 days. I would in the meanwhile revamp the election commission and appoint a capable administrator – not a retired judge as tradition dictates – to head it. In the first 90 days I will freeze postings and transfers, put a hold on all new contracts and foreign agreements and focus on elections. I will organise a national census, call local elections, mandate the election commission to update voters’ lists and assign the judiciary and parliament to look into the grievances of the dharna protesters. In the remaining 90 days I would make way for a neutral, impartial and capable caretaker administrator to make arrangements for a fair and independent election for the nation. I would focus on my party leadership and start my campaign in full swing when all other political parties do the same. In 180 days the nation will know who is a genuine leader and who is politicking. But before I do that, I need to have confidence in me that I am a leader and not a follower. I would show the nation that I lead my party and my supporters from the front instead of being led by my advisers and cabinet colleagues, even though taking decisions by consensus is usually a good thing. But leadership in political cul-de-sacs demands leading on time and from the top.
Syed Sharfuddin
London: 28 September 2014

 

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The Trouble with Caretaker Government

SharafThe idea of holding free and fair elections under a neutral caretaker government sounds attractive for two reasons: a level playing field for all contestants and an administration which is entirely neutral safeguarding the integrity of the ballot. Both these assumptions, even though well-intentioned, have adverse implications for the future of democracy.

Appointment of a caretaker administration implies that the incumbent government does not enjoy the confidence of political parties for facilitating a free and fair election and should resign before the poll. In developed democracies, there is no concept of swearing in a caretaker government to conduct the immediately following general election. The outgoing government remains in office until such time elections have been held and a new parliament is formed, although such governments do not take policy decisions nor act in a manner that may impact on the function of the new administration.The 1973 Constitution of Pakistan envisaged a similar setup for the conduct of general elections. However, the death of General Zia in 1988 and subsequent dismissals of governments in the 1990s under Article 58-2(b) necessitated the formation of caretaker governments to oversee fresh elections. Regrettably, the elections conducted by those caretaker administrations did not result in setting any high standards which should justify the continuation of this practice. No election in Pakistan has been without controversy.

The caretaker clause in Article 224 of the Constitution, which was introduced by the military government under the LFO of 2002, allows the president and the governors in the provinces to appoint caretaker governments and cabinets without any defined parameters. The only restriction imposed is on the caretaker prime minister and the chief ministers who are not eligible to contest the immediately following election of such assemblies.

Caretaker governments are usually a feature of new democracies or countries coming out of the shadows of a civil war. Pakistan does not fall in either category. Pakistan’s democratic institutions are fairly developed and its political parties and civil society have a degree of sophistication which is comparable to that of advanced democracies.

Another difficulty with caretaker cabinets is that these are not responsible to anyone except the president or the governors in the provinces. If the president becomes controversial in an election, the credibility of the entire caretaker government is at stake.

Like other issues in democracy, elections are a process of acquiring maturity over time. If anything requires strengthening it is the power of the election commission to conduct a fair election and prevent abuse of power or authority by those not authorised to exercise it under law. It should be ensured that the army, police and the bureaucracy are placed at the disposal of the election commission.

Those cabinet ministers who intend to actively support their party candidates or those who themselves wish to contest the election should not be allowed to misuse government vehicles, property, staff and funds for the campaign. The challenge of democracy lies in accepting responsibility and following the rules; not by keeping the practitioners of democracy insulated from the reality of politics.Whatever the outcome of the popular vote, it should be respected in the true spirit of democracy and the Constitution. Even a hung parliament deserves the right to be given a chance to cobble together fragile coalitions. Democracy comes stronger with such experiences. Artificial solutions based on expediency actually harm democracy in the long run.

If a national consensus is not developed to show zero tolerance for electoral fraud and polling irregularities, and a culture of honesty and integrity is not promoted actively, a caretaker cabinet or government, howsoever neutral and honest, can do very little to reverse the systematic rigging of elections. Bangladesh offers living proof of the limitations which undermine public confidence in the caretaker government’s ability to conduct a transparent and credible election.

What is more important is a level playing field for all political parties, a state broadcaster which allocates equal time and coverage to all contestants, a community of media which sets its own codes of conduct for the coverage of election, a civil service which is completely apolitical and an election commission which is financially and administratively autonomous and enjoys the confidence of political parties and civil society.

What is also important is an electorate which is free from violence and intimidation to express its will on the day of the poll, without ghost voters lurking in the electoral rolls or stuffed ballot papers found in the boxes irrespective of whether these are transparent or opaque.

A caretaker government can never be a replacement for these important features of a free and transparent election, even if that cabinet is truly committed to its goals.

The tradition of appointing a chief election commissioner from the judiciary also needs to be reviewed. In India, the post of the chief election commissioner is regarded as an administrative position because elections require constant administrative supervision and management. The judiciary performs a highly specialised function. It interprets laws enacted by the parliament and also decides on issues of law when disputes are brought before it for a ruling.

The argument that a senior judge has the ability to interpret electoral laws better than a civil servant does not hold much ground because 90 per cent of the work of the chief election commissioner is about the management and administration of elections, and only 10 per cent is concerned with the framing of electoral laws and their interpretation. Besides, a chief election commissioner can always appoint a senior lawyer as a member of the commission, or request a court to interpret a law if there is doubt on its application in the context of elections.

An election commission which is headed by a judge of a superior court cannot substitute the court itself. Any person can challenge the decisions of the election commission before the higher judiciary. That being the case, it makes sense not to appoint the head of the election commission from the judiciary. What we need is a complete separation of powers.

The 1973 Constitution, as amended by the LFO, provides for a caretaker government to supervise the next election. It is a foregone conclusion that after the assemblies are dissolved on completion of their term in November, the present government would leave office and a new caretaker administration would be formed.

In ideal circumstances, this should not be the case. Article 224 deserves to be rewritten to recapture the spirit of the 1973 Constitution. This would be yet another step towards restoring full democracy in Pakistan.

This article was published by the author in the daily Dawn on 22 October 2007. http://m.dawn.com/news/1070581/dawn-opinion-october-22-2007