The Governor of Pakistan’s lawless Balochistan province says the Army may be summoned in the provincial capital city, Quetta, after a dramatic escalation in ethnic and sectarian violence, writes Malik Siraj Akbar:
On Saturday, April 14, at least eight members of the minority Hazara community were shot dead in two separate attacks in Quetta. These attacks come immediately after a number of similar attacks in the recent weeks in which the feeble Hazara minority community has been singled out and victimized. ………….
In the midst of all the gloom, some remarkably positive initiatives have been taken by Balochistan’s political forces which provide some hope for a democratic solution to the issue. For instance, the Awami National Party, a Pashtun nationalist group, sent a delegation of its senior leaders in Quetta to meet with the HDP leadership to condole the recent loss of human lives. …. Baloch nationalist groups such as the National Party and the Balochistan National Party (BNP) also fully supported a call for a shutter down strike in Quetta city on Sunday to articulate solidarity with the Hazaras.
What primarily is wrong … is the government’s unwillingness to officially act against underground Islamic terrorist groups in Quetta with the alleged support of the Pakistani intelligence services. With local protests totally failing to guarantee the safety of the Hazaras and the provincial government to crack down on terrorist networks, the international community can play a critical role in taking up the Hazara massacre with Islamabad.
The governing council of the Community of Democracies has appointed Maria Leissner (right), Sweden’s Ambassador-at-Large for Democracy, as the group’s first Secretary-General-Designate.
‘Her appointment marks a major step in the Community’s transformation from a forum for democracies to convene into an operational hub for democracy assistance and promotion,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today.
“As chair of the CD’s reform working group and a key leader of the intergovernmental coalition’s revitalization over the last two years, Ambassador Leissner has brought together a diverse array of partners to provide concrete support for democracies in transition,” she said.
Drawing on expertise from the Club of Madrid‘s network of democratically elected former presidents and prime ministers, and 21st century technologies developed by Google and OpenText, the network allows democratic leaders to access the experience and insights of counterparts who have successfully navigated transitions.
Supporters of Syria’s democratic opposition should adopt “a bottom-up strategy” that enhances assistance to grassroots activists operating in-country, a new analysis suggests.
Such an approach should incorporate both exiled and internal opposition groups and “encourage the emergence of a legitimate national political leadership,” according to Syria’s Political Opposition, a report from a Washington-based think-tank.
Burhan Ghalioun, the Syrian National Council’s leader, remains “committed to a secular political agenda,” the report notes, but evidence suggests that the Muslim Brotherhood is exploiting the group as a ‘front’ organization, and the group’s access to funds from Islamist networks in oil-rich Gulf states give it disproportionate influence:
While the Muslim Brotherhood might not have an extensive network in Syria, it does maintain a vast network abroad and is influential in the SNC . To date, the Brotherhood forms the most cohesive political bloc within the council, which has allowed it to capitalize on divisions among the other blocs and consolidate its authority. Furthermore, it has access to funds through high-level connections in the region built during years in exile and a powerful network of supporters in oil-rich Gulf countries. Much of the SNC’s funding comes from these connections, resulting in the Brotherhood’s monopolization of council finances and resources.
“The real test of [Ghalioun’s] leadership capabilities,” the report notes, “will be in whether or not he is able to establish more connections to those on the ground and gain wider legitimacy among activists and protestors in the grassroots movement.”
The opposition’s failure to form a united front against Bashar al-Assad’s regime has frustrated external supporters, but policymakers must accept “that they may not get the chance to sit across the table from a single opposition party, but rather will have to work directly with the nascent political-military structures that have formed at a local level,” writes Elizabeth O’Bagy, the report’s author and a Syria specialist at the Institute for the Study of War:
The key to creating an effective national opposition lies in connecting the established national coalitions with the grassroots political movement. Policymakers must identify and understand Syria’s political opposition, both in exile and on the ground, in order to develop a clear vision of their aims and a better strategy for support. Any successful U.S. policy in Syria should focus on constructing a viable alternative to Assad’s government.
The most well-known and widely recognized established political opposition coalition is the Syrian National Council (SNC). The SNC is based in Istanbul and functions as a loosely-aligned umbrella organization comprised of seven different blocs: the Muslim Brotherhood, the Damascus Declaration, the National Bloc, the Local Coordination Committee (as representatives of the grassroots movement), the Kurdish Bloc, the Assyrian Bloc, and Independents.
The SNC has not meaningfully engaged with local opposition forces, and is losing credibility and influence within Syria as the conflict grows more militarized.
The other significant established political opposition coalition is the National Coordination Committee (NCC). The NCC is based in Damascus and favors a negotiated political settlement and dialogue with the regime. This stance has made the NCC less popular amongst the grassroots opposition movement.
The grassroots movement functions at a local and regional level through coordination between the local coordinating committees and revolutionary councils. This movement has become tactically adept, better organized, and more cohesive, developing nascent political structures.
The local coordinating committees, called the tansiqiyyat, form the base unit of organization. As the movement has grown, urban centers have developed oversight councils called the revolutionary councils to manage the committees within specific districts.
The revolutionary councils are the main organizational structure for the grassroots political opposition. They manage the activities of the tansiqiyyat, organize protests, and coordinate with the armed opposition.
The Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) is the largest grassroots coalition. It represents roughly seventy percent of the revolutionary councils and the majority of the local coordinating committees. The armed opposition cooperates with the grassroots political opposition and a number of insurgent groups have shown a willingness to work under the guidance of the revolutionary councils.
The lack of secure communications equipment has hindered the grassroots opposition’s ability to coordinate above the local level because the government retains the overwhelming capacity to monitor, track and suppress greater organization at a national level.
The established political coalitions such as the SNC have articulated a national vision for a post-Assad future and have received nominal support from the international community, yet they lack strong networks and popular legitimacy inside Syria. On the other hand, the grassroots political opposition has gained the support of the people, but it lacks a national vision and united front as the basis for international support.
The United States must consider adopting a bottom-up strategy that provides better support to the grassroots movement operating within Syria. This entails developing better relations with critical elements of the grassroots movement and working with key individuals who have deep networks of supporters within Syria but also maintain ties to the SNC or the NCC.
A bottom-up strategy would provide an avenue for U.S. support that incorporates both national and local opposition groups and encourages the emergence of a legitimate national political leadership.
Malaysia’s parliament today approved a controversial new security bill to replace the recently repealed Internal Security Act. The new measures curtail the ISA’s notorious provisions that gave police powers of indefinite detention of suspects without trial.
“Rights activists nevertheless say the bill remains vulnerable to abuse,” AP reports. “Opposition leaders insist it’s a government ploy to introduce superficial changes ahead of national elections expected within months.”
Malaysia’s prime minister defended the new act as an essential defence against post-communist threats to democracy, but the measures have come under attack from rights groups and opposition figures that portray the measure as a pre-election ploy and a threat to civil liberties.
Tabling the bill for a second reading, Prime Minister Najib Razak said the legislation is needed to defend Malaysian democracy from new threats.
“The country not only needs a shield, which is the people’s political maturity, but also a weapon in the form of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Bill,” he said. “While the two ideologies [of communism and terrorism] are different, they have the same goals, which is to change the administration through violence and unconstitutional means.”
The premier has been cultivating a reformist image following the repeal of the repressive Internal Security Act and additional political reforms, but civil society groups believe the new bill is a retrograde step.
The new measure would give the police “broad powers to conduct searches and intercept communications without judicial warrant, making the force susceptible to abuse of power,” said Suaram (Voice of the Malaysian People), a nongovernmental rights monitor.
“The history of human rights violations by the police…clearly shows why the police should not be given such broad powers,” it said, highlighting the historic “lack of justice and accountability” for violations by the security forces.
The opposition has a genuine chance of winning the forthcoming elections – if they are genuinely free and fair. In that respect, the government’s harassment of Bersih, the leading election monitor, is an ominous sign, some observers suggest.
“It looks like the same old, same old from Umno-linked NGO Perkasa,” The Malaysia Chronicle reports, “which on Tuesday applied for a permit from the police to organise the ‘Raja Berdaulat, Kasih Dijunjung’ assembly on April 29, a day after the joint Bersih 3.0 rally for free and fair elections.”
The poll is yet to be scheduled, but official media attacks on the opposition suggest that it could be “imminent,” says former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.
Unimpressed by the government’s recent reforms, the opposition leader believes Malaysia is failing to provide a model of democratic development for the Muslim world.
“We are no longer a democracy at a time when there are great changes sweeping the world,” he said recently, following his acquittal on politically-motivated assault charges.
He hopes the poll can be a watershed by moving the country beyond the “race-based politics” that the ruling UMNO party has used to pit majority Malays against Indians, Chinese and other minorities, and in developing a genuinely liberal, pluralist democracy.
“Once you are transformed into a relatively vibrant democracy, then you actually allow for space,” he said this week. “And that latitude is essential for the mushrooming of ideas. That, to me, is very critical when you talk in terms of economics or cultural empowerment.”
Suaram is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.