What Is It Going to Take to See Assad for the Butcher He Is?

Source: abc news

I often ask myself this question and hardly get any reasonable answers.

Sometimes I wonder how people are still defending Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad and any conspiracy theory that finds him innocent. But then again, in a world in which Nazism is alive and well, and in which you ironically and stupidly have “brown Islamist Nazis,” pretty much any political opinion is not a shocker.

But you do feel disappointed and low when you see a lack of inclination to face facts among otherwise liberal and reasonable folks.

Sadly, sometimes the guilt of our liberals living in a fundamentalist society, regardless of Shia or Sunni background, and their contempt of Saudi Arabia can make them rather root for Iran or turn a blind eye to its sinister influence in the world. But it goes well beyond reasonable politics to keep on apologizing for and insisting on supporting a despot whose record speaks volumes of his atrocities.

I know that some of my liberal friends see the expansion of the influence of Iran as a solution for the Saudis, of course not giving a second’s thought to what it might hold in the future for Israel. But I see that as much of a problem as the unchecked Saudi influence. Or perhaps the growing Chinese and Russian influence.

This is why the decline of the American influence on international affairs has been devastating. We have seen two very contrasting versions of American liberalism with both President George W. Bush and President Obama. An invasion of Iraq and then complete withdrawal. If one action made matters worse, the other certainly did not help. And that is a pretty objective observation unless you are a Democrat.

Bashar Al-Assad is the latest of the many brutal butchers and psychopaths who has taken up the mantle of torturing and murdering their own people. Not a democratic leader by any means and someone who is extremely cynical in his perception of reality, if you ever hear him speak. After carrying out several chemical weapons attacks on his people before, his regime is thought to have struck again with his latest sarin gas attack. With accounts of eye witnesses and activists, as well as evidence from the US military, clearly disputing the narrative of Assad’s military denying involvement like always. Now being skeptical is fair but Assad sympathizers such as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) thinks she would take Assad as a war criminal if proved to be responsible for this attack, clearly unaware of his history of earlier actions. It is really convenient how Democrats accept and condemn their Russian propaganda.

The strongman argument is often given to justify his regime. That Assad keeps the extremists at bay and is a secular but distant dictator. However, with the irreversible damage caused by the Syrian Civil War, this argument has lapsed for Assad and is not true anymore. He is not the great stabilizer anymore. You could instead argue that Putin is instead. And since with President Obama’s half-hearted intervention, Syria has almost been completely destroyed. So, what are we keeping Assad in for now, knowing that he carries out chemical attacks on his own people? But to acknowledge this argument, during the early years of the Syrian civil war, I used to believe Assad should stay too.

Of course, it has been explained to me that American intervention has only made matters worse in the Middle East. But with Islamists and humanitarian crises around in the region, the argument of nonintervention is absolutely nonsensical. That is why the long-term military occupation of Syria remains to be the only viable solution. And of course, it is very unreasonable to expect of Americans to give that sacrifice for the world. The key is to make other nations pay their due share, including Pakistan of course, whether as a part of the Saudi or the American coalition. But preferably the latter.

Policy and tactics for the future aside, I think at least it is time for the deniers of Assad’s atrocities to simply face facts. How many chemical attacks has the Assad regime carried out on its people? And how many more would it take to finally say that enough is enough?

I commend President Trump for at least recognizing the great moral problem at hand and acting at least in some capacity with his limited missile attack to make his intentions clear to the Assad regime. But unfortunately, this action is nearly not close to what is needed. While I support it, if I were to disagree with it, it would be for that reason. The faux liberal outrage you are seeing at the attack is more from isolationists defending their favorite dictator than bleeding heart anti-war activists.

The world must not stop short of anything less than comprehensive military action to depose Assad and end his illegitimate reign. And if it does indeed risk starting the third world war, it only speaks volumes of the evil of Russia and Iran as states for protecting a despot like Assad in this day and age. Sadly, many among our ranks stand for their insistence to be on the wrong side of history despite their commitment to democracy and liberty.

I wonder how many more chemical attacks would it take.

Sadly, given the apathy of the majority in the world toward the atrocities of both the Islamic State and the Assad regime, it helps us understand what happened during the reign of the Third Reich. While I am aware that the world was horrified to learn the troubling reality of the concentration camps after the Second World War, I doubt it would have changed anything. I doubt if they would have done anything substantial to prevent the atrocity had they learned about it earlier. At least, the world we live in today would not have bothered to take any action.

We are clearly not bothered about what the Syrian people are going through.

Even if that is untrue, we clearly do not seem bothered about what Assad is up to.

And it is so bad that we would manufacture things out of our behinds to apologize for his despotic rule.

 

Time to Ban the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Young Fascist Goons Nationwide

Source: Babar Shah/PPI

Jamaat-e-Islami is a political organization which appears to rule the hearts and minds of a majority of urban people in Pakistan despite their dismal electoral performance. This statement would be heartening for a supporter of the Islamist party still struggling to make a dent in the secular wall of Punjab and Sindh.

One of the reasons to demonstrate that is the complete lack of checks and control over their band of young fascist goons, the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT). Any given elected civilian government and even the military establishment are heavily under the influence of their ideological supremacy. They promise to establish Sharia in Pakistan despite having already influenced the theocratic elements in the Pakistani constitution. This is other words means that we are a work in progress to reach the excellence of the Islamic State (in Iraq and Syria).

The IJT are in the news again for disrupting a cultural event in the public educational institution Punjab University held by a secular Pashtun student organization PSF. This obviously resulted in a clash that has seen many injured and the environment of calm and peace destroyed for thousands of students in Lahore. Yes, this is Punjab we are talking about.

This is not for the first time of course and it surely would not be the last. Just a simple internet search about news related to them should suffice. Exhibit A.

I wish it would be the last straw that would have us say that enough is enough.

The pioneers of violence in student politics and the prime factors resulting in the creation of counter fascist (not counter-fascist) secular movements like APMSO, the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (Islamic Student Organization) has remained a menacing force in politics in Pakistan. The Islami Jamiat Talaba pretending to be representative of a democratic party and democratic values, always resort to violence for a reason. Because they actually work on a theocratic logic (which is never democratic) and are trained to silence everyone that holds a different world view. Because that is just the way religion works.

Also, it is about time we stop buying the same arguments about the alleged democracy of their mothership, the Jamaat-e-Islami, because that is precisely how they work as well. At least they promise Sharia in their manifesto in addition to what we have in Pakistan. Their so-called democratic process of electing an Emir is the biggest farce you are ever going to see.

Offering us the worst of the both worlds, the IJT is a mixture of toxic Islamist ideology and second hand anger fueled by misplaced male hormones, a trait they share with their secular brethren. This group of goons, just like the undemocratic party they represent, should be immediately banned from participating in politics nationwide in educational institutes at least. And there are valid reasons why.

Ask yourself this question honestly. How many times have you heard the activists of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba have disrupted cultural and educational activities? While I know that the secular and progressive student unions do not have a clean sheet to offer as well and I am not a fan, there is simply no parallel when it comes to the history the Jamiat enjoys. And that too, completely unchecked. Even in the overwhelmingly theological International Islamic University Islamabad, the organization (which enjoys a complete totalitarian control there) has been known to disrupt mixed gender conferences in its relatively and nominally secular business school.

I know a lot of my friends would disagree and I would understand, but I was relieved that student unions were banned by military dictators during my days in college. Because that offered the students some peace due to the break in regular violence. Still in those days, the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) enjoyed unchecked influence not only in institutions heavily funded by Muslim majority Gulf states but also in various public secular institutions like the Punjab University.

They had always been a major force in the Karachi University at least. They introduced weapons and violence in the politics of Karachi under the secure guidance of our state which kickstarted the shitstorm the city is in today. But even that is a smaller and long forgotten crime in comparison to the good work they are doing every day.

The biggest reason to ban the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) is simply the fascist, authoritarian, and totalitarian ideology they are poisoning the minds of our youth with. They abuse the freedoms offered by the democratic process to push their theocratic agenda and aim to make Pakistan a far more frightening state than Iran or Saudi Arabia.

I know a lot of people would jump to attack this piece as endorsing undemocratic ideas but sadly the IJT and their sympathizers do not know the first thing about democracy. Yes, even the political party of Adolf Hitler won a popular vote election and then suspended democracy. So, just having an election is not democracy, unfortunately.

Like other authoritarians such as Communists, fascists and Nazis, the Jamaat-e-Islami, IJT, and their ideology are the very anti-thesis of democracy, make no doubt about it.

I know the title of this piece is kind of ridiculous because any time to ban the IJT nationwide is good and it should have been done long ago.

And of course, whenever a ban on student unions is indeed put in place, the solution is to punish everyone for their crimes.

Because why discriminate against totalitarian theocrats?

Thanks to them, we have a theocratic constitution anyway.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Pandering to the Authoritarian Ally

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

In perhaps a not so unprecedented move, the Pakistani interior ministry has ordered the shutting down of Pak-Turk schools and the staff to leave the country by November 20.

It was not too long ago that the same Interior Minister ordered the Save the Children organization to shut down, only later to reverse the decision. But there are many ways this case is far worse.

In an utterly shameless manner, the Turkish President claims that the organization of his rival is a threat to Pakistan’s national security. The Turkish President accused Fatehullah Gulen to have orchestrated a failed military coup in July 2016, apparently all the way from Pennsylvania. This also resulted in a cruel purging of dissidents from government service and arrest of political workers.

The PTI had called for the boycott of the Turkish President’s address to the parliament out of spite for the Prime Minister, or perhaps because he is “disqualified” now. I would have had much more respect for them, or for any other Senator or MP, had they expressed their protest when such humiliating and unacceptable language was being used by the Turkish head of state. But more than that his pressures for banning the Pak-Turk schools should be condemned.

What is even more outrageous is his defiant behavior toward the Pakistani press rightfully criticizing the ban. Typical despotic behavior from him that has not been unheard of. While his government may not welcome the criticism from the Pakistani press, our press and our people supporting freedom should not welcome his comments and actions either.

The fact that the Sharif brothers would go to any degree to appease their personal allies is one problem. But what about Pakistan’s sovereignty? That would have already been invoked had the demander would have been the United States.

Just like we have done so many times before, we have ensured an authoritarian ally that no one is safe in our country as long as they are opposed to them. So, it is not just about Fatehullah Gulen, if you are Dalai Lama, you better not enter Pakistan or we could hand you over to China.

The question remains if we are to give up our sovereignty of offering safe shelter to the Turkish employees of the Pak-Turk schools, then what exactly is our argument with India? Why are we not listening to India about which terrorist group should be taken action against or not? And it appears that India’s problem with Hafiz Saeed holds a lot more weight, even if he happens to be a natural citizen.

If our moral compass really supersedes our political and territorial sovereignty, then what is the resistance to not listening to India, signing an extradition agreement and handing over the likes of Hafiz Saeed? If diplomatic relationships are everything and more important than the freedom of local and foreign citizens staying in the country,  then why not take this necessary step to put an end to the current diplomatic crisis with India? Purely because of their grievance with Hafiz Saeed. Other than the fact that Pakistan thinks that he has not done anything wrong.

This may be a false equivalence, but enough of an argument that would never work on deaf ears. Let us talk about our loyalty and devotion to the Turkish people instead, arguably the most loyal allies Pakistan would ever have.

It could be argued that the Pakistani government would not have a choice considering the diplomatic pressure from Turkey. However, at what cost are we strengthening our diplomatic relations?

The question is not even about political and territorial sovereignty. Again the problem remains to be our government’s insensitivity to the right of freedom of access. Not only have they deprived the Pakistani people of an independent service entity, but they have taken away an option for education, which violates the freedom of education. Especially in a country in which the government is not doing much about education anyway, despite passing the meaningless free education clause.ee

Our stance, as a nation and as a people, remains with the rule of democracy in Turkey, no matter who is elected.   For that reason alone, even the most liberal commentators would support the regime of President Erdogan and his party. However, we must never become a party to his partisan vendetta against his rivals.

Our loyalties in terms of alliance and friendship should remain with the people of Turkey regardless of their political and religious leanings. What is more important is that our loyalties must remain with all the Turkish people and not just those who are in power.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Politics of Shipping Containers

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

A government is supposed to protect the interest of its public. But what to do if it becomes the biggest hurdle in their way?

Now for the uninitiated, the politics of shipping containers probably sounds like manipulating the trade at the port, not that that was never a problem, but these shipping containers are contributing to the economy around a thousand miles from the shore. In the federal capital and in a very different way too.

We had all suffered the consequences of the blockade during the 2014 sit-in protest by PTI and PAT.  Now it is time to brace ourselves again to dread getting out on the roads and to find our way out of the gridlock. The question is, who has the time and money? No matter which side you are on, you would be forced to either stay home or join the political tamasha.

Can you blame the entire problem on the PTI and Sheikh Rasheed protests? Probably you can, because the containers were not there a couple of days ago. But here they are now. Still, they are not put into place by them. The fact of the matter is that the government can possibly handle this situation in another way. Imposing Section 144 is not the solution to every problem.

So I wonder if it is the fault of the protesters or the Federal Interior Ministry itself that people like me cannot go to work when they should be able to on a regular weekday. Of course, we are not fully aware of the reasons why shipping containers are used to block roads, perhaps to block suicide bombing trucks, who knows? But ever since these blockades have started appearing on our roads, the lives of the people of the twin cities have never been the same.

While the party in power uses shipping containers to block access from roads, the one in the opposition would use it as a stage to prolong, if not perpetuate, the misery. PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s recent call to shut down the capital is just one such example, which has already sent the stock market crashing even when the actual sit-in protest has not taken place yet. To add insult to injury, he has decided to challenge the orders from the Islamabad High Court forbidding the shutdown.

The fact of the matter is that the people want to get on with their lives and are sick and tired of the storms of made-up revolutions that our political leaders like to stir in a teacup. Clearly, most of the people reject the politics of shipping containers, something which could even be a threat to our fragile democracy. But like always, this silent majority remains without a voice.

What is even worse is that the government that warns protesters of refraining from interrupting public life is doing all it can to make things miserable for them. This is what the politics in Pakistan have come down to, only to strengthen the ignorant belief that democracy is not fit for a “country like Pakistan.” Whatever that means.

Perhaps we cannot get past the days of tear gas because we have not evolved from rioting and destroying to the peaceful protest that is often met with ridicule in our society. Perhaps we would really attain the ideals that we speak so fondly of when we really start supporting peaceful, liberal democratic values on the ground and learn to respect the democratic process.

Out of all the rights of the people that the government is responsible to uphold, perhaps the most underestimated in Pakistan is the freedom to access. People are simply too willing to give too much for too little. This reflects the way our government thinks and it also offers an insight into our minds as well. This probably means that our days of living in an authoritarian state are not over and neither is the will to resist it. Or if things have improved indeed, we have still not been able to shake off the hangover from our past of dictatorships.

I hope some day our protesters would learn to make their point without blocking roads and that our governments could restore order without taking any lives.

Is it too much to ask?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Pakistan’s Turn to the Dark Side

Source: ARY News

Source: ARY News

If the recent foreign policy developments for Pakistan did not have you worried, then it is time for serious reflection. Ever since President George W. Bush left office, you can feel a distance between Washington and Islamabad. The differences between the two countries were particularly seen at their worst when Pakistan decided to carry out nuclear tests in 1998 during the term of the Clinton administration.

While Pakistan and China have always had very strong ties since the 1970s, but nothing like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has ever been seen before. It promises great prosperity for the future, but skeptics see it as yet another neo-colonial scheme in the region which could bring more harm than good. Not to mention the control it could possibly offer to the Chinese authorities in Gwadar.

Of course, the irony is not lost on the Pakistani left progressives and former communists who have been struggling against the military establishment since the 1950s. They recall how Afghan Jihad was mobilized by Pakistani military and masterminded by American National Security experts, out of fears of Soviets reaching the shores of the Persian Gulf. They also recall the harsh bans they had to endure during the Cold War years.

But let’s face it. The CPEC is too grand to be said no to. The magnitude of the project is so grand that even India would have agreed to it, had it been a primary beneficiary. The fact that Pakistan is turning to partners other than the United States and Great Britain for its economic and trade development sounds perfectly fine. Though you can’t help but wonder if the economic development comes at the cost of military alliances and other illegible footnotes.

Especially since the killing of Osama Ben Laden at the hands of US Navy Seals in Abbottabad, a humiliating episode for the Pakistani state, Pakistan’s position in the Western alliance has never been more precarious. The difference of interest between Washington and Islamabad on military action against certain militant groups in Afghanistan and within Pakistan have even worsened the tensions in the Obama years.

With the gulf of military cooperation apparently widening with a more disinterested US administration, Pakistan is apparently seeking new avenues with more sinister powers. On the surface, it was a welcome development that President Zardari paid a rare visit to Moscow in 2011 and that for the very first time, the Russian military participated in joint military exercises with Pakistan on Pakistani soil. Such an occurrence would have been unimaginable in the 1980s.

There is only one problem. Vladimir Putin and his open intimidation of the Western world. Not only that, his close association with Iran and the brutal Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad. At a time when Aleppo has become the greatest battlefield for the conscience of the world, it may not be the best time to favor Russia over the Western world. So let’s just hope the military exercise is just a harmless affair of two old rivals on the road to friendship.

Probably it has been a long while that Pakistani nationalist commentators have been dreaming of Pakistani statesmen standing up to the US authorities on an equal standing. Even though we have had a tradition of strong diplomatic figures from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Abdullah Hussain Haroon. So you could expect that Senator Mushahid Hussein Syed’s recent comment at a Washington think tank about the United States no longer being the superpower of the world would see much appreciation.

The only problem is that the statement of the Prime Minister’s envoy could be tantamount to an needless provocation. It could work all very well in terms of harnessing diplomatic leverage and probably it would be unwise not to make soft threats, but if behavior such as this is overdone, it could surely affect Pakistan’s future with the Western world.

Furthermore, it is important to choose your words. Not sure how calling the United States “a declining power” is so flattering, no matter what your objectives are. It has only been a slight sign of Pakistan drifting away from and slipping into the Chinese and Russian camp, other than the usual cockiness of Senator Mushahid Hussain, who is free to get carried away after retirement as much as he wants. It is just that the China-Russia camp does not offer the best of values in human civilization.

It is only a fair point to make that it takes two to tango. Perhaps the United States does not require the partnership of Pakistan as it used to during the twentieth century or perhaps it is sick and tired of nurturing the Pakistani military without the satisfactory fulfillment of its objectives. However, the United States still favors Pakistan enough with its more traditional and liberal politicians largely refraining from supporting a Liberty Caucus resolution in the Congress to declare Pakistan a terrorist state.

Even though the situation is far from being apocalyptic, the direction Pakistan is heading is certainly not that bright. There is nothing wrong in stating that we are living in a multi-polar world today, neither is there any harm in pursuing trade and commerce ties with the likes of China and Russia. But it would be wise not to burn bridges with long-time allies, whose values and humanitarian record we need to identify with more than authoritarian powers.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s greatest strategic concern India has been significantly improving its diplomatic standing in the West, even reaching out to Israel, since the fall of the Soviet Union. At the same time, India has not been alienating rival China and old ally Russia in its pursuit toward a freer and more vibrant economy and strong defense. Pakistan surely needs to take its diplomatic lessons from its bitter rival, despite India’s petulant insistence to isolate Pakistan diplomatically. At least the missed diplomatic opportunity with Israel cannot be emphasized enough.

As citizens, we can only hope for Pakistan to pursue more liberal and democratic policies and to stand with global forces representing such values than otherwise.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Sectarian Diplomacy to End Sectarian Terrorism

Source: Times of Israel

Source: Times of Israel

This September, the New York Times featured a surprising piece from the Iranian foreign minister. Reading the article, you would find that he has curiously coined a new term for Islamic terrorism: “Wahhabism.” But sadly, it is not as clear as it sounds.

While you would occasionally come across the term used by Shia social media warriors every now and then, it certainly has not been a part of the mainstream with such political connotations. But now that it is, it effectively condemns an entire school of Islamic thought and apparently calls for its annihilation, correct me if I am wrong please. Imagine the outrage among our progressive liberals had the Saudi foreign minister made such an appeal to get rid of Shiite Islam.

Either the Iranian foreign minister is extremely naïve or wants to instigate divisive sectarian action from Muslims on purpose. While you could argue that the complaints against the Wahhabi school of Islam are not completely without substance, what about his verdict? If the Saudis are doing so with their action, such rhetoric surely would contribute to the problem. And I say this while appreciating that Iran needs its fair share of public relations to improve its image in the western world as well.

It is hard to interpret anything else from the term “Wahhabism” and “getting rid of it from the world,” which sounds a touch too sectarian a solution to end a sectarian problem. Unless it is really a new expression for Saudi foreign policy or radical Islamic terrorism as practiced by ISIL, Boko Haram, and Al-Qaida, instead of the theological school. Especially because like all Shias and Sunnis, not all Wahhabis must believe in militant and expansionist Islam apparently. At least not openly, like the rest.

I don’t recall if ever before a high-ranking diplomat has ever called for the annihilation of an Islamic school of theology. Either that or the title of the opinion article is terribly misleading. I find it shocking that a prestigious publication such as The New York Times would provide a platform to such outrageous ideas. But then again, it is also an effective way of publishing an insight into how the Iranian regime sees the world.

The main point in the article was much needed though that the Western world should wake up to the excesses of the Saudi foreign policy around the world. There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia has been a disgraceful ally of the West due to the kingdom’s regressive and even malicious policies in the region. Saudi Arabia also needs to be called out for its anti-Iran aggression. Even arguing for sanctions against Saudi Arabia for its human rights violations makes perfect sense, but probably not what the title of his article suggests.

The point about the correlation of Islamic militant activity with the presence of Saudi funding of theological schools abroad is interesting, but does that mean that the very theology of Wahhabism is exclusively responsible for it? It is possible but consider this. Are Islamic militancy, expansionism, and enforcing of theocracy exclusive to Wahhabi Islam? Furthermore, are Wahhabism and the Saudi regime one and the same? More importantly, are all Wahhabi Muslims extremists and militants?

In my opinion, the Koranic literalism and strict monotheism of Wahhabism have done more harm than good in terms of tolerance and harmony in more diverse and almost pluralistic Muslim societies such as Pakistan, but I am not sure if it should be banned as a theology or if we should “rid it from the world.” We are well aware that this has been a standard of freedom of religion in the Islamic Republic of Iran, or even in Saudi Arabia. But why should the free world follow those undemocratic values?

In making his case, the Iranian foreign minister pretends as though Islamist tendencies are absolutely absent in schools other than the Wahhabis. Sadly, the regime he represents deny that assertion. Furthermore, Iran also regularly backs Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist organizations that target Israel, if not other militant and political activity in the region. Especially, when Mr. Zarif speaks of the brutalities of the Syrian rebels while defending the sociopathic policies of the Assad regime, which is probably still using chemical weapons against its citizens.

At the end of the article, the Iranian foreign minister graciously invites the Saudis to join the fight against “Wahhabism.” What a joke. But this probably implies that by “Wahhabism,” he actually means radical Islamic terrorism instead of the Wahhabi school of theology. Though I am not sure if that means that either of the countries is in a position to reject Islamic militancy, which remains to be their weapon of choice.

In the very same article, the author declares Wahhabism a “theological perversion.” How terribly confusing. However, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the apparently cheerful Iranian statesman who does not dress like an Iranian cleric, does not come across as such a confused man by any means. He has a successfully negotiated nuclear deal with the United States under his belt, resulting in the lifting of some economic sanctions.

With a diplomat as brilliant and capable as Zarif, I think he knows perfectly well what he is writing about. In any case, it is a desperate attempt to counter the Saudi PR offensive he complains about.

The confusion that the article produces seems to be a case of deliberate ambiguity that could make the most out of the general ignorance of Islam among Western audiences. However, it needs to be called out for the nonsense that it really is. Not to take away from the fact that the credibility of the messenger ruins whatever traces of sincerity could be found in the message.

Probably the Iranian foreign minister should stop confusing everyone and join the rest of the world in referring to Islamic terrorism with the word that everyone understands. Terrorism. After all, you are not going to fight “radical Islam” unless you say the words.

A version of this post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Direct Election Reforms Needed in Local Government Polls

Source: dawn.com

Finally, the much-promised local government elections have been held all over Pakistan. The result of these elections is important for pointing out a clear discrepancy in the electoral system. Everyone has been looking at the party tally as in the case of the general elections, but it is at this level that the irony of this system reveals itself so strongly. The citizens of Pakistan cannot even elect their mayors directly, and it is up to their Union Councilors to elect the candidate nominated by their party.

While this form of election is based on the model of the British parliamentary system, direct election reforms for local government have been introduced even in Great Britain. It only makes sense that people have a say in at least the immediate leadership of their town, instead of a majority party decision enforced on them like an insult.

People do deserve a chance to directly elect the person responsible for making executive decisions governing their political jurisdiction. I would go on to argue that the same should be true for the election of legislative representatives and the head of provinces and the federal government. This is why the Presidential system makes more sense in terms of electoral rules and division of power to some people.

However, on the other hand, many people argue that the indirect election makes the election of more intellectual members possible. For a country where the majority of voters agree on establishing an Islamic Republic and would actively oppose a secular movement, this would seem like a good choice. However, indirect election of the mayor does not even make any sense in the current scenario and it is certainly not good for democracy.

The indirect election is primarily an instrument of establishing the authority and control of the party leadership, which almost always dictates votes in the legislature. This form of legislative election kills the freedom of the individual legislator, and in the case of executive election, it becomes an extension of the control of the party leadership in dispensing and spending local government funds.

It is important to understand that executive positions are very individual-oriented. It is probably not very different to evaluating a candidate for a job position. I would argue the same is true for the legislators, but probably those positions could be compromised for the banner of the party ideology on the ballot. This is why at least an exception should have been expected in the case of the election of the mayor.

The local government structure clearly requires further reform, and as pointed out by the MPs of the MQM, warrants more authority and funding as well. Until the local government structure is improved, you cannot expect democracy to flourish at the grassroots and for people to solve their own problems instead of waiting for bureaucratic machinery in a distant capital.

One of the fundamental ways to establish the credibility of the democratic system is to empower people with choices. We need to have faith in the people and have respect for their vote.

The constitutional provision for the direct election of the mayor could go a long way in this regard.

A version of this post was published in The Nation blogs.