Qadri’s faux revolt a grave threat to Pakist­an’s democr­acy

Tahirul Qadri’s faux revolution is the graves­t challe­nge to Pakist­an’s democr­atic proces­s since 2007, writes Raza Rumi, a director of the Jinnah Institute. *

Just as we thought that Pakistan was reaching a major watershed in its political history, the old specter of religion misused for politics has arisen to haunt us. At the time of writing these lines, tens of thousands of spiritual disciples of a moderate mullah have assembled outside Parliament House in Islamabad, claiming to represent 180 million Pakistanis.

The central character Dr Tahirul Qadri, neither elusive nor transparent, is a man with a mission. His agenda — couched in reformist language and anti-corruption jargon — is vague and rhetorical, except that it brazenly disregards a consensus that the Constitution of Pakistan drafted, restored and amended with historic struggles. Pakistan’s history is nothing but the quest for domination by unelected, post-colonial institutions trying to prevent democracy from taking root.

The underlying argument for autocracy and top-down governance has been the supposed “incompetence”, “corruption”, and “ineligibility” of civilians to govern the country. Similarly, from Iskandar Mirza to General Musharraf, all military strongmen have made similar claims about the inability of the political class to manage national institutions. Pakistani children read textbooks that glorify autocrats and ‘saviors’ of all kinds, and their acceptance for authoritarianism is pretty high by the time they enter adulthood.

This is why Tahirul Qadri’s faux revolution is both suspicious and dangerous for the future of Pakistan’s democratic trajectory. We know that the military has denied any role in spurring this ‘revolution’ and, frankly, there is little evidence to counter its claim. However, the advocacy of unconstitutional solutions to Pakistan’s political problems smacks of the GHQ script used in 1958, 1969, 1977 and 1999. The same obsessions — corruption, misgovernance, incompetence and ‘loot maar’ — appear to be the underlying reason for this revolution.

The other dimension of this ‘revolution’ concerns the assumed shift within Pakistan’s security doctrine. There have been reports of a big strategic rethink underway, which attempts to replace jihadist Islam with a moderate face in line with the global pressure on Pakistan to do something about its Deobandi-Salafi strategic assets. One reality is getting clearer: the impending transfer of power, managed and overseen by civilians through parliamentary processes, is not seen as a great idea as it might squeeze the already-shrinking space for military domination in Pakistan’s public life.

The forthcoming elections, now facing a question mark, are likely to return a prodigal-son-gone-rebel Nawaz Sharif or the wily chess player Zardari back into power. Such a prospect is troublesome for many within the enclaves of Pakistani state power. Therefore, the failed ‘Bangladesh model’ of neutral technocratic caretakers looms on the limited imagination of the power-wielders.

Regardless of what happens next, this is the gravest challenge to Pakistan’s democratic process since 2007 when Benazir Bhutto was murdered in Rawalpindi and the country was gripped by anarchy and uncertainty… Pakistan’s out-of-control electronic media needs to remember that by celebrating extra-constitutional deviations, it may just be inflicting self-harm by curbing its own future freedoms.

*Director of the Jinnah Institute, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

This extract is taken from a longer analysis published in The Express Tribune, January 17th, 2013.

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Continuity, not change: the Obama presidency and the democracy tradition in US foreign policy

The Obama administration’s approach to democracy promotion is marked by continuity with its predecessors, says a new analysis. But the bipartisan consensus in favor of advancing democracy may be eroded as the rise of authoritarian powers “will make the projection of American political values more difficult, resistance to it easier and the promotion of competing alternatives more likely.” 

The record of Obama’s first term in office “confirms that, for all the difficulties and contradictions it produces, US presidents persistently fall back on democracy as a theme and goal of their foreign policy,” Nicolas Bouchet writes in International Affairs, the journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs.  

“Predictions that the presidency of George W. Bush, with its ‘Freedom Agenda’ tied up with the controversial and unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, would inoculate American leaders against the urge to shape the political evolution of other countries, have proved wrong,” he asserts.  

Democracy assistance “gained an institutional foothold” in the early 1980s, he notes, citing the formation of the National Endowment for Democracy and its four core institutes: the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, the Free Trade Union Institute [now the Solidarity Center] and the Center for International Private Enterprise. 

Bouchet identifies three levels at which advancing democracy abroad influences US foreign policy: 

The ideational level locates the source of the democracy tradition in the relationships among deep-rooted American beliefs about political order, national identity, national interest and international relations. Over time, at the strategic level these beliefs have shaped American aspirations and influenced the setting of broad goals that include the spread of American political values abroad. However, it is mostly in the past 30 years or so that these strategic goals have been translated gradually into concrete actions designed to promote democracy in specific countries at the policy level. 

The degree of continuity between successive administrations has been obscured by the realism–idealism debate, argues Bouchet, co-editor of US Presidents and Democracy Promotion (Routledge, forthcoming 2012). 

“Despite the differing approaches and emphases of successive administrations, there has been a great degree of continuity in US democracy promotion since at least the Reagan years—both on the positive and on the negative side.” 

“Where it concerns democracy, the case for continuity rests on two arguments,” he contends:

first, that the projection of liberal values has traditionally been one central element of American strategic thinking; second, that this has rarely been the uppermost priority, nor has it generally been allowed to supersede vital economic and security interests where they have clashed. In short, democracy along liberal lines is one fundamental national interest that the United States traditionally has pursued abroad after or alongsidesecurity and economic interests.  

With respect to the pro-democracy revolts of the ‘Arab Spring’, the Obama administration has “shown willingness, at least once confronted with the inevitable, not to try to dictate the path of transitions, certainly when compared to American engagement with Russia and other post-communist countries in the 1990s,” says Bouchet: 

As he begins his second term, Obama stands squarely in the mainstream of the democracy tradition and in line with his predecessors, and there is no evidence to date that his presidency will mark any great shift …That is not to say that the democracy tradition is impervious to forces of change or is bound to keep moving in the direction of more democracy promotion by the United States in more cases.  

….any significant change in the democracy tradition, and especially any retreat from democracy promotion, should be expected to come not through the agency of particular presidents but from realignment in the international balance of power. Should global changes in that direction continue over the long term, with the rise of different democratic and autocratic powers, they will make the projection of American political values more difficult, resistance to it easier and the promotion of competing alternatives more likely, and may perhaps even erode the world-view of US leaders that is based on the inseparable intrinsic and utilitarian value of democracy to their country. 

RTWT

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Pakistan govt agrees pact with ‘moderate’ cleric Qadri

Pakistan’s government has reportedly agreed a pact with Tahirul Qadri, the Muslim cleric behind the Tahrir Square-style protests in Islamabad.

“Qadri is often been presented as a ‘moderate’ Sufi scholar who famously wrote a 600 page fatwa against terrorism in 2010 which won him international applause,” writes analyst Syed Hamad Ali.

“However while his work to counter extremists has brought him his share of admirers, there hangs a question mark over the extent of Qadri’s own moderating influence,’ he notes:

For example, one video doing the rounds over the internet shows Qadri giving what appear to be two contradictory statements on blasphemy – the subject of so much controversy in Pakistan. In one clip he is shown speaking in English where he says: “Whatever the law of blasphemy is, it is not applicable on non-Muslims. ….. It is just to be dealt with Muslims.” Yet then in Urdu in a different clip he says: “My stance was … that whoever commits blasphemy, whether a Muslim or a non-Muslim, man or woman – whether be a Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu, anyone – whoever commits blasphemy their punishment is death.”

The ruling coalition today reached an agreement with Qadri, “who led thousands of anti-corruption protesters on to the streets of the capital, as both sides tried to defuse the latest political crisis and end four days of demonstrations,” according to reports:

Tens of thousands of Pakistanis frustrated by power cuts, economic mismanagement, relentless corruption and the inability of the government to curb terrorism by Islamist extremists have thrown their support behind Mr Qadri…..

Mr Zardari’s Pakistan People’s party and other opposition parties accused him of undermining democracy just as the government was preparing to step down ahead of a general election due by the first week of May. That would be the first time in the country’s 66-year history – much of its spent under military rule – that one elected administration finishes its full term and makes way for another.

The resilience of Mr Qadri’s supporters nevertheless surprised some observers.

“These people have stuck it out in a difficult situation. The government did not expect this protest to last for so long,” said one Pakistani intelligence officer.

Some analysts believe the cleric is being covertly backed by the country’s restive military.

“Qadri’s rise is not the only reason Pakistanis have to worry about the soldiers,” says The Economist:

On January 15th the Supreme Court suddenly ordered the arrest of the prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, over a long-running bribery scandal. The court, along with the army, has long been hostile to the government. There is talk in Pakistan of a “Bangladesh option”, a reference to a quiet coup in that country, engineered by the army in January 2007 and legitimized by the judiciary, leading to a two-year suspension of democracy in favor of unelected technocrats.

“All elections in Pakistan have been overseen by the military except in 1977 – and even that government was later annulled by an Army dictator,” says Raza Rumi of the Jinnah Institute, an Islamabad-based think tank.*

“The military has been sidelined from the equation; and if elections happen under this understanding, it will be a major shift in civil military imbalance.” The military wants to stop this from happening at any cost, he says.

If the military is indeed supporting him, it would reflect a shift in the Pakistani military’s strategy, say analysts, which has alternatively supported and shunned extremist groups.

“Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri is a moderate cleric and his version of Islam challenges the extremist groups like the Taliban, but this does not mean he should be involved in the governance of the country – we are already suffering from the mixing of state with religion in the past because of the military,” stresses Rumi.

Qadri is a proponent of the Barelvi school of Sunni Islam, in opposition to the Deobandi school associated with the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban.

But Barelvi adherents are also “known for holding Taliban-like orthodox and militant views,” says analyst Tufail Ahmad:

The Barelvis are criticized by Deobandi scholars for sanctioning bid’ah (innovation) in Islamic practices such as some spiritual forms of singing, music, and dance prevalent at numerous shrines of Sufi mystics across South Asia. In Pakistan, the Taliban are known to be followers of the Deobandi school and have bombed several Sufi-Barelvi shrines in recent years. Literally, thousands of religious organizations, owing their allegiance to the Deobandi and the Barelvi doctrines, are active in Pakistan and India. In Pakistan, Barelvi and Deobandi followers have attracted media headlines for armed attacks and for preaching violence against each other, as recently as in 2010.

Barelvi follower Mumtaz Malik Qadri assassinated liberal provincial governor Salman Taseer for criticizing the country’s blasphemy laws.

Qadri’s position on democracy is also ambiguous, notes Ahmad, South East Asia director of the Middle East Media Research Institute:

Before arriving in Pakistan, Tahir-ul-Qadri was interviewed from his base in Canada by a Pakistani journalist about the relevance of democracy. Qadri responded: “I am neither a representative of the Western world nor I am coming [to Pakistan] with any agenda of Western democracy. Rather, right from the beginning I am opposed to this notion [of democracy] itself. My notion, my concept, and my teachings are that every country has a right to develop its own model of democracy in consonance with its political, social, economic, and geographical situations.”

The Barelvis are criticized by Deobandi scholars for sanctioning bid’ah (innovation) in Islamic practices such as some spiritual forms of singing, music, and dance prevalent at numerous shrines of Sufi mystics across South Asia. In Pakistan, the Taliban are known to be followers of the Deobandi school and have bombed several Sufi-Barelvi shrines in recent years. Literally, thousands of religious organizations, owing their allegiance to the Deobandi and the Barelvi doctrines, are active in Pakistan and India. In Pakistan, Barelvi and Deobandi followers have attracted media headlines for armed attacks and for preaching violence against each other, as recently as in 2010.

Qadri is a complex man of contradictions, says REF/RL analyst Daud Khattak:

He calls himself Sheikh-ul-Islam and gets his supporters to swear allegiance to him on the Koran, but he hates to be called “maulana,” a term regularly used to refer to religious scholars in Pakistan.

He promises to bring true democracy to Pakistan even though critics claim he does not bat an eyelid when seeking the help of undemocratic forces to overthrow the elected government.

He claims to be a pro-democracy revolutionary, but he did not appear to mind supporting a military dictator in 2002.

He wants “true, pure, and honest” democracy but has so far been unwilling to disclose the source of the huge amounts of money he has spent on mammoth gatherings, a long protest march, and a camp to accommodate demonstrators.

“Lost in all the hubbub is one basic fact, a potential game changer in the history of Pakistan’s badly choreographed dance with democracy: the current government is on the cusp of being the first ever Pakistani government to complete its full term,” writes Islamabad-based analyst Adnan Khan:

The importance of that milestone cannot be understated in a country with so many skeletons in its closet. What’s promising in Pakistan is how far it has come over the past decade: it now has an independent (though occasionally over-zealous) judiciary, a free (though sometimes inflammatory) press, a politically weakened (though still potent) military. Taken together, the progress made is one step in a long journey, a journey that ultimately has no end.

RTWT

* The Jinnah Institute is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

 

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Burma enters ‘stage two’ of transition

China today rebuked Myanmar and called for an immediate ceasefire between Myanmar government forces and ethnic minority rebels after an artillery shell flew over the border and landed inside China for the second time since late December,” Reuters reports.

Beijing called for an end to the conflict between the military and rebel forces in the northern Kachin state.

“The call marks a rare public criticism of Myanmar’s government by China, which has cultivated close relations with its southern neighbor and invested heavily in the country’s natural resources,” the FT reports:

China’s rebuke surprised some diplomats who noted that Beijing has been a key supplier of military hardware to Myanmar’s army. “Quite possibly the shells that fell into China could have been supplied by Beijing,” said one western diplomat.

“One of the most laudable achievements of Myanmar’s ongoing process of democratic reform,” The Economist suggests….

….has been the ceasefire agreements the new government has signed with all of the major ethnic insurgent groups—all but one, that is: the Kachin, under the banner of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), fight on. Unfortunately, that single conflict has become big and ugly enough to cast a lengthening shadow over the rest of Myanmar’s progress.

At the beginning of the year footage shot by Free Burma Rangers, a quasi-military, humanitarian-support group, clearly showed helicopter gunships attacking rebel positions. …. According to some analysts, even in the darkest days of the old military regime, air power was never used in this way against the ethnic militias.

Kachin activists have called for international pressure, including sanctions, to be maintained on the government until the conflict is resolved.

“If you look at it right now, even in the different ethnic areas all the companies are run by the government,” Kachin activist Bauk Gyar, told a meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy. “Therefore if you open the road to people coming and doing business, the ethnic people will have to suffer more than before,” she said.

The Kachin conflict threatens to undermine the country’s reform process, which is set to enter a new stage.

“Myanmar is set to unveil the most comprehensive outline yet of its planned reforms over the next three years,” the FT reports:

The proposed reforms, detailed in a 45-page document, will be presented this weekend to the first main gathering of donor governments and organizations since President Thein Sein came to power in early 2011. Donors, including governments and international organizations, will in turn pledge to “align assistance” with the country’s national and local priorities, consult civil society and local communities, and use “conflict-sensitive and inclusive approaches” to support peace and state-building.

Donor governments and organizations are expected to sign a non-binding agreement with the government that will form the basis of aid and assistance plans for the country. Some Yangon-based diplomats described the so-called “Naypyitaw Accord” as symbolizing “stage two” of the country’s emergence from decades of diplomatic and economic isolation under harsh military rule.

The government will pledge in the accord to strengthen the rule of law, promote transparency in aid management and public administration and accelerate peace building, political reforms and development initiatives, among other measures.

“This is a critical moment for Myanmar,” said one southeast Asian diplomat. “They have to show they are getting across the issues, that they are getting their house in order – donors need to see there is a real sense of priorities and awareness of how to achieve them.”

The basis of the accord is a document called “framework for economic and social reforms”, drafted by Myanmar’s ministry of national planning and economic development as well as state-funded think-tanks.

The report outlines proposals – including a series of “quick win” reforms achievable within three years – aimed at building what the government calls “sound foundations for medium and longer-term development”. Ultimately, the report says, the changes will transform Myanmar into a “modern, developed and democratic country”.

RTWT

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Libya still ‘a state in search of itself’?

Libya was one of the few democratic success stories of 2012, according to the latest Freedom in the World survey from Freedom House, the US-based rights watchdog.

“Having ranked among the world’s worst tyrannies for decades, the country scored major gains in 2012, especially in the political rights categories,” the report said.

Freedom House now ranks the North African state as “Partly Free” (4 for political rights and 5 for civil liberties) rather than “Not Free” (7 and 6). But some analysts fear that new-found freedoms are vulnerable and embryonic state institutions fragile until the government’s authority is extended across its entire territory.

It is premature to call Libya a democracy, said Larry Diamond, a professor and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “Political order is still so fragile there,” he told a discussion of the report at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

“The command by the state over the means of violence is still so inadequate that I think state building remains a major challenge,’ he cautioned. “And until the militias can be reined in and the authority of the democratically elected state now, Freedom House judges, can be firmly established, there’s still tremendous fragility and vulnerability in the unfolding story in Libya.”

The state’s inability to rein in Islamist and other militias threatens to undermine Libya’s democratic prospects, as anticipated in a report from the National Endowment for Democracy which addresses the country’s transitional challenges.

Libya’s transitional authorities – weakened by their lack of democratic legitimacy – have struggled dealing directly with these militias,” says Juan Garrigues, a Research Fellow at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB) and a Senior Advisor at the Dialogue Advisory Group.

“Transitional authorities’ and militia’s claims throughout the last year that armed groups would come under the control of the state once a legitimate government was in place will now be tested,” he writes for Open Democracy:

The question that remains is whether these militias will hand in their weapons once, and if, the security forces are strong enough to secure the country (as the militias claim) or whether the armed groups will hold on to these weapons until they feel their principal interests and objectives are secured (as some others suspect).

Libyans’ sense of pride and responsibility has ensured relative stability until now. However, if the second scenario emerges and militia commanders refuse to disarm and continue to consolidate their power through exploiting their growing political and economic ties, Libya’s hope of becoming one of the Arab Spring’s few success stories could quickly dissolve.

“Despite successful parliamentary elections in July 2012, Libya faces numerous obstacles to state development,” says the Middle East Policy Forum:

Rife with internal divisions and regional tensions, Libya struggles to achieve national cohesion and advance the political process. Moreover, the country’s fractious and divisive political environment inhibits institution building and complicates efforts to restore internal security. In light of Libya’s institutional and security challenges, the following panelists will discuss current developments and prospects for Libya’s political future.

“Libya: A State in Search of Itself”

Featuring:

Dr. Mary-Jane Deeb

Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress

 Dr. Karim Mezran

Senior Fellow, Rafiq Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council

 Ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm, Moderator

Director, Middle East Policy Forum

 RSVP HERE

 January 24, 2013

6:30 pm – 7:45 pm

Lindner Family Commons

Room 602, 1957 E Street NW

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