View from the neighbourhood

View from the neighbourhood

A weekly look at the public conversations shaping ideas beyond borders — in the Subcontinent.

View from the neighbourhood
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. (File)

Same-page problem

The December 8 editorial in Dawn brings up an interesting facet of contemporary politics in Pakistan, one which has its roots in the very structure of the country’s political institutions and their interactions with each other. “The same page mantra”, as the editorial describes it, pertains to the “leaderships of the federal government, the military and the superior judiciary” working “together in the pursuit of peace, progress and prosperity”. As his government continues to weather a series of crises, Imran Khan has increasingly welcomed the cooperation from the military and judiciary. “While such cooperation is entirely welcome where constitutionally appropriate, at moments Mr Khan’s comments have appeared to resemble those made by a junior partner thankful for a helping hand and pat on the back by other institutions,” the editorial claims.

Dawn’s contention is that the contours of cooperation and coordinated action must be led by the executive and legislature, democratically elected, rather than the military. It says: “There is the reality of an imbalance in power between the civilian and military sides of the state and of an intrusive superior judiciary. Those realities have combined to reduce the space for civilian governance in the country. Mr Khan will not recover that space simply by making verbal declarations; the prime minister will need to demonstrate a decision-making and policy-setting capacity that he has not so far.”

The editorial seems to suggest the PM Khan ought to be more circumspect in his public declarations of gratitude and that “institutional harmony must be constitutionally appropriate at all times”.

Tweet talks


Irfan Hussain, a senior columnist with Dawn, argues that the “childish exchange” on Twitter between the foreign ministers of the India and Pakistan shows just how low the diplomatic discourse has sunk between the two. “When our foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, triumphantly tweeted that Imran Khan had ‘bowled a googly; by opening the Kartarpur corridor for Sikh pilgrims, he seemed to be unaware that Khan was a fast bowler who probably never bowled a googly in his life,” he writes. Meanwhile, the response from Sushma Swaraj “betrayed a singular lack of wit”.

Hussain then gives an honest, if likely unpopular analysis of Pakistan’s diplomatic situation: “Today, more than ever, Pakistan is isolated as it has tried to garner support from friends. Even China recommends bilateral talks to sort out the matter. Time after time, we have looked to the UN to implement its resolutions to hold a plebiscite, but no member of the Security Council wants to offend India by questioning its claim to sovereignty. The truth is that the world is sick of the Kashmir issue.”

Given India’s “economic and military rise”, it has little incentive to reciprocate Pakistan overtures for peace, writes Hussain. He is also fair when he points out that “Vajpayee visit to Lahore was followed immediately by Musharraf’s misadventure in Kargil. In the eyes of the world, Pakistan is the prickly aggressor in South Asia”. He then suggests that Pakistan bring India to the talking table, as it cannot afford a prolonged arms race and diplomatic isolation. India, of course, must be at least mildly open to dialogue and peace.

Peace paramount

The Bangladesh Election Commission (EC) has concluded scrutinising the nomination papers for the forthcoming general elections in the country, and campaigning by candidates is set to begin with full force. As this phase of electioneering gets underway, the December 9 editorial in The Daily Star flags several issues: “Firstly, we would like to see peaceful politicking leading up to December 28. In this regard, the administration, particularly the police, has an important role to play. And the political parties, the ruling party mainly, must prevail upon their candidates and their supporters to desist from postures that may provoke violence. Nothing should be done to mar the atmosphere.”

Second, there are still concerns over the lack of a “level playing field”. Sitting ministers and legislators do have the advantages of their office and the symbols of the state, which they have a sanction to use in their official capacity. But they must ensure that such privilege must “neither be flaunted nor exploited by the MPs or ministers”.

The thrust of the editorial is this: First, “the role of the government and the ruling party is highly crucial because they still call the shots. In order to hold a free and fair election, they should ensure that the voters are allowed to choose their candidates without fear or intimidation. It is important for the administration to rise above any political consideration, particularly those involved in electoral duties. Objectivity and non-partisanship must be reflected in their actions.”

And second: “Those responsible for holding the elections should be prepared to fend off any violence. But above all, political parties must not abdicate their own responsibilities and jeopardise peace.”