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Dawn Columns: 08.07.2019


Defections' season

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob

IS the season of defections [وفاداری بدلنا] here again? Media reports regarding 15 PML-N members of the Punjab Assembly calling on Prime Minister Imran Khan a week ago gave rise to speculations[اندازے، قیاس آرائیاں] of possible defections or formation of a ‘forward bloc’. A federal minister claimed later that the Sindh governor could replace the PPP government in Sindh with a PTI-led government within 48 hours of receiving the prime minister’s go-ahead as several PPP legislators were ready to switch sides. 

Read: 15 PML-N MPAs meet Imran at Banigala: PTI

Another federal minister said that several PML-N MNAs were also ready “with their joggers on” to support the PTI government. All this indicates that some kind of defections from political parties opposed to the party in power at the centre are being contemplated[کسی چیز پر غوروفکر کرنا]. The ruling party that depends on the support of its allied parties to maintain its majority and the government at the centre and in Punjab may fall prey to the temptation to lure opposition members to sustain itself. 

Read: 37 PML-N MPAs have almost formed a forward bloc, claims Rashid

Opposition members may have their own reasons to revolt and support the government. Mostly, these reasons are not based on ideology or principles but on the politics of convenience. Many have skeletons in their cupboard [چھپے ہوئے راز] and are, therefore, unable to withstand pressure from a government which is ready to pull all the stops. Lawmakers sustain their constituency politics by promising their constituents all possible help in their daily problems with the local administration or by arranging infrastructure development in their area. Both these categories of promises are almost impossible to keep if the provincial and federal governments decide to block the efforts of an Assembly member. Opposition members of the Assembly, therefore, despite legal provisions against defection[پارٹی چھوڑ کر چلے جانا], are vulnerable [جو اثر قبول کرے] to the carrot-and-stick tactics of a government which is willing to use institutions like police, intelligence and local administration that it has at its disposal.

The law on defection is clear and leaves no room for ambiguity[شک، دو مطالب ہونا].

The law itself is very clear; there should be no ambiguity in the minds of those trying to play around it. Article 63A of the Constitution prescribes six conditions in which a member of a parliamentary party may be considered to have defected from the party, and, therefore, is subject to disqualification as a legislator. 

The first condition is resignation from the party to which the legislator belongs; the second condition is joining another parliamentary party. The remaining four conditions relate to voting in the legislature contrary to the direction of the parliamentary party when electing the prime minister or chief minister, deciding a vote of confidence or no-confidence, debating a money bill like the budget and deciding a constitutional amendment. The Constitution still provides ample room to a legislator to exercise his or her independence without being seen as a defector. For example, legislators can vote for or against a bill other than the money bill or constitutional amendment bill according to his/her conscience without facing disqualification. Similarly, a mere meeting with the prime minister or chief minister and seeking help for development of one’s constituency does not mean that one has defected. 

Article 63A in its current form, represents a balanced approach achieved after a number of iterations[repetitions] over the years. There was no defection clause in the original 1973 Constitution which was in line with the practice of several developed democracies such as the UK where, despite some celebrated cases of defection, no legal provision was introduced to disqualify the member who had defected. 

It was during Nawaz Sharif’s second term as prime minister in 1997 when Article 63A was inserted in the Constitution through the 14th Amendment. This article, in its original form, was much more vast and stringent[strict] in scope. For example it provided for defection and disqualification of a legislator if he/she “(a) commits a breach of party discipline which means a violation of conduct and declared policies or (b) votes contrary to any direction issued by the Parliamentary Party to which he belongs”. Article 63A was substantially amended during Gen Musharraf’s rule through the Chief Executive’s Order in 2002 and later validated through the 17th Amendment in 2003. The amended provisions diluted the original stringency of the law and limited the scope of defection to only a few areas. 

The provisions of Article 63A were further amended under the 18th Amendment in 2010 when the article was rephrased. Voting against party direction on a constitutional amendment bill was added to the scope of defection. The power of the parliamentary party head to send the declaration of defection to the presiding officer for onward dispatch to the ECP to notify the vacating of the seat held by the defecting legislator was given to the party head — a substantial change in favour of the latter as the head of a parliamentary party, if different from party head, could at some time join the defecting legislators. 

Despite popular belief to the contrary, the Constitution does not have a provision for a ‘forward bloc’ in a parliamentary party. Even if a large number of members of a parliamentary party defects, the provisions of Article 63A will still apply to the defecting members as declared by the party head. The Indian constitution’s 10th Schedule, though broader in scope, contains a provision of two-thirds of total members of a parliamentary party merging with another parliamentary party and in that case both the members of the merging party and the remaining members would not be deemed to have defected. 

The writer is president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency.


Twitter: @ABMPildat

Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2019


CoolMeeting POTUS [Important]Cool

Updated July 08, 2019

 THE prime minister will meet the president of the US on July 22. The Foreign Office will prepare essential briefing materials. Leaders ignore them at their peril[رسک، خطرہ]. Pakistan-US relations are not good. American arrogance of power and Pakistan’s punching above its weight are to blame. The prime minister will need to convince Trump not to blame Pakistan for US failures in Afghanistan and to assure him that he will do his best to enable the US to exit Afghanistan without loss of credibility. This will require actions more than words.

Pakistan’s relations with the US are important. But their scope is limited. The benefits of a better relationship with the US, while important, are circumscribed [حدود کے اندر محدود کرنا] by the priority it gives India as the fulcrum of its Indo-Pacific strategy. This will not change.

US concerns about Pakistan relate to Afghanistan, ‘terrorism’ and alleged nuclear unreliability. The US regards Pakistan’s Kashmir policy and nuclear doctrine as destabilising and specifically aimed at its strategic partner, India.

Pakistan’s concerns are essentially that the US has not extended it the respect and sympathy due a sovereign country that has extended it much-needed cooperation. Pakistan is chastised [کسی کو سخت سست سنانا]or incentivised to the extent it complies with US dictates. Pakistan cannot agree with the US on everything.

Pakistan’s relations with the US are important. But their scope is limited.

The US sees Afghanistan as a test case. The Afghan peace-facilitating effectiveness of Pakistan will determine the balance of reward and punishment. To transcend this absurd situation[بے تکی], Pakistan must address Afghan suspicions that its Afghanistan policy is India-focused. Afghans see this focus as incompatible with a genuine respect for their independence and sovereignty. Ironically, Afghans accuse Pakistan of the same arrogance Pakistanis attribute to Indians and Americans. Investing in Afghan goodwill is plain commonsense. The blame game is a mug’s game [پانی میں مدھانی چلانا].

The US views Kashmir as an irrelevance in a power-driven world. It sees Kashmiri freedom fighters as ‘terrorists’ similar to Baloch militants. It holds Pakistan responsible for the costs it has incurred and for the sufferings of the people of Kashmir. It regards neither UN resolutions nor nuclear weapons as relevant to a solution. The US also notes China does not support Pakistan on Kashmir. Tibet and Xinjiang ensure that. The US explicitly and China implicitly suggest Pakistan learn to live with the status quo in Kashmir so that the human rights situation there can improve, and the prospects of nuclear conflict recede.

Indian excesses in occupied Kashmir are regularly reported in US and UN human rights reports. But as long as India remains a strategic partner, its relentless repression of the people in Kashmir will not have strategic relevance for the US.

The US knows its policies on a whole range of international issues are legally, morally and strategically untenable [ناقابلِ دفاع]. But its only concern is leverage. It uses FATF and the IMF against Pakistan. FATF and its India-led APG are making demands that are impossible to satisfy within the given timelines, and IMF is laying down conditions that are designed not to be met.

The IMF bailout package merely aggravates [کسی بری صورتحال کو بدتر کرنا] the debtor and supplicant [منتیں کرنے کا رتبہ] status of Pakistan. Celebrating the prospect of another $40 billion of foreign debt is the measure of our political and intellectual bankruptcy. Over several regimes and an unchanging power structure Pakistan has followed derelict political, economic, security and diplomatic policies. Policy disasters, however, are never considered reason enough to change them. This syndrome is fatal.

The prime minister will meet an egotistical, insensitive, ignorant, and morally challenged showman POTUS. Interlocutors in Congress, NSA, State, Pentagon, CIA, academia and media, and maybe leading Democratic candidates will be more formidable. They will articulate US and Pakistani criticisms of the prime minister’s policies. The prime minister will need to come across as open to constructive criticism and willing to listen to helpful and sympathetic advice. He does not have any lack of confidence. While his criticisms of errant predecessors are in order, after a year in office, the buck stops with him[ذمہ داری ان پر آکر پڑتی ہے]. 

He must candidly state his policy context which comprises Pakistan’s survival and welfare imperatives. He will not compromise them under any circumstances. The US must respect this commitment if it is to contribute to peace and stability in South Asia. The prime minister should caution that a US or Israeli assault on Iran will destroy Pakistan’s security environment including any prospect for peace in Afghanistan. It will unleash a scale of terrorism in the Middle East that will eventually topple every pro-US regime in the region. It will completely destabilise Pakistan-India relations despite glimmers of possible forward movement.

The prime minister may convey the following:

(i) There should be no militant and military activity from either side of the LoC;

(ii) Pakistan cannot accept the status quo in India-held Kashmir. The cause of a problem cannot be its solution;

(iii) Pakistan will reach out to India to develop a comprehensively improved relationship in which a principled Kashmir settlement acceptable to Kashmiri, Pakistani and Indian opinion can be achieved;

(iv) The US must realise that if Indian atrocities in IHK continue and measures to forcibly alter the composition of the Valley population are taken, no Pakistani government can just bear witness to such a crime;

(v) The US, as global leader, has a global humanitarian, political and security obligation to ensure against such dangerous developments;

(vi) Pakistan knows its responsibilities as a nuclear weapons power and the US should deal with it on a non-discriminatory basis, which it has not;

(vii) Supporting India against Pakistan is no recipe for peace;

(viii) Pakistan places the highest priority on developing broad-based cooperation and mutual understanding with the US; 

(ix) Pakistan’s strategic relations with China will never be aimed at US interests;

(x) The US should avoid using the IMF, FATF, sanctions, etc as leverage against Pakistan;

(xi) Trump deserves congratulations for his initiatives towards North Korea; and

(xii) An invitation to Trump to visit Pakistan at an early date, and play a critical peace-building role in South Asia in the interests of over a billion and a half people. 

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.


Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2019


Marvel & mystery

Zarar Khuhro

IN a rare piece of good news, last week we learnt that France will be returning some 445 relics [نوادرات] of the Indus Valley civilisation that were smuggled out of Pakistan over the years and were meant to end up in museums, galleries and private collectors in the West. 

The network came to light in 2006, when French authorities intercepted [منزل پر پہنچنے سے پہلے اپنے قبضے میں لے لینا] a parcel containing terracotta pots [جلی مٹی سے بنے ہوئے] claimed to be about 100 years old. On examination, they turned out to be thousands of years older — burial objects likely stolen from Balochistan. The investigation led to a gallery which yielded even older stolen artifacts as old as 6,000 years — belonging to the Mehrgarh civilisation which was a precursor[جو پہلے وقوع پذیر ہوا ہو], or perhaps a part of, the larger Indus Valley civilisation.

The other piece of good news is that this gives me the opportunity to write about the fascinating Indus Valley civilisation itself. Now, when we usually think of this wonder of the ancient world we think of Moenjodaro and Harappa, and perhaps Mehrgarh. But — and research is constrained here — in actuality the entire civilisation encompassed an area roughly the size of (and perhaps a little larger) than modern-day Pakistan. 

The civilisation offers tantalising clues.

Take the archaeological site at Kalibangan in the Indian state of Rajasthan where we find evidence of the world’s first furrowed field[کھیت جس میں کیاریاں بنی ہوں]. Or Rakhigarha in Haryana which displays the same incredible urban planning — wide roads and an organised sewage system — that is a hallmark of this lost civilisation. Then there is Dholavira in Gujarat which boasts reservoirs that give us a tantalising [exciting] glimpse into how advanced their water-management system was. Along with this a step-well has been discovered which is said to be three times the size of the Great Bath at Moenjodaro. 

Perhaps the most fascinating of these sites is the one at Lothal in the Indian state of Gujarat. In an echo of Moenjodaro, ‘Lothal’ also means ‘hill of the dead’ and is the site of the first known dock[place where ships harbour] in the entire world, which connected Lothal to the Arabian Sea via the Sabarmati river. And this is when it gets really fascinating; as wide as the spread of the Indus Valley Civilisation was, its trade routes went even further, reaching all the way to ancient Mesopotamia in the West, who knew these proto-Dravidians as the ‘Meluhhans’ (the word is likely derived from the Dravidian words ‘mel-akam’ meaning ‘highland country’. 

Archaeologist Jane McIntosh writes: “ships from Meluhha docked in Mesopotamian ports; some Meluhhans settled in Sumer; and there is a seal belonging to a Mesopotamian whose job it was to act as an interpreter of the Meluhhan language. On the other hand, there is nothing to suggest that people from Mesopotamia reached the Indus, so it is clear that the Harappans conducted the trade between the two civilisations.” 

One major export from the IVC to the West was sesame oil, which was known as ‘ilu’ in Sumerian and ‘ellu’ in Akkadian, and it is likely that this was derived from the Dravidian word for the same, which was ‘el’ or ‘ellu’, another tantalising clue to how interconnected the ancient world was. 

Harappa (near modern-day Sahiwal) also provides clues as to the extent of the trade network, as beads seashells and stones have been recovered from the site, which were not available locally. But perhaps the most incredible find is of a trading outpost located at Shortugai, near the Oxus river near the northern border of modern Afghanistan! From here lapis lazuli was mined and exported to the Indus Valley, and even shipped as far afield as Sumeria. Flourishing trade requires a uniform system of weights and measurements, and indeed a standardised system for such also existed, as did a ruler with measurements marked out in units that resemble modern inches.

We already know of the brilliance of this civilisation’s urban planning, with wide roads, organised housing and a sewage system that was only replicated[make an exact copy] in Europe in the 18th century. Indeed, were residents of Harappa to take a look at the sewage flooding so many Pakistani towns and villages there is little doubt they would have been appalled.

But what is also notable is that, unlike other ancient civilisations we find little evidence of an organised military, and have yet to discover the great palaces and military murals [براہِ راست دیوار پر بنی ہوئی تصویر] that were a hallmark of Assyria and Babylon. What is truly unfortunate is that to this day, their script remains undeciphered, and it is unlikely that a Rosetta stone [a key to some unsolved mystry] will be stumbled upon [کوئی چیز اتفاقاً مل جانا] , unlocking this great mystery. 

Another mystery is that we don’t know exactly how this civilisation perished[تباہ ہوئی]. There is evidence of invasion, but it is unlikely that this was the leading cause. Indeed, in a grim warning from the past, it seems that climate change may have been the culprit, causing drought and mass migration that led to a collapse of order and, ultimately, civilisation itself. Indeed, here are signs for those who observe. 

The writer is a journalist.

Twitter: @zarrarkhuhro

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