The Return, Nay, Resurrection, of RG

Resurrected Rahul Gandhi is amazing. He is no longer the half baked political understudy, but is a vociferous argumentative, often wrong, but a case of receiving ovation from his followers. Rahul Gandhi is smart. Rahul Gandhi is the one-man army taking on the evil government.

Rahul Gandhi has been resurrected. Rahul Gandhi 2.0 is here. Ever since he returned from his so-called sabbatical, Rahul Gandhi has been all over the news. It’s like he is the new Sunny Leone that India just can’t have enough of.

He went to Kedarnath, taking on the grave risk of losing his secular credentials, and reported feeling a ‘fire-like’ energy inside the temple. But of course, he completed the trek on foot, thereby showing us all just how down-to-earth he is. News report after report provided regular updates on the progress of his trek, ostensibly to pay tribute to the people who died in the terrible floods 2 years ago. Better late than never, like a wise man once said.

Since then he has followed up with a padyatra through Vidarbha to show solidarity to the poor farmers who are all dying because, clearly the Modi government has stabbed them in the back. Of course nature or the policies of the previous governments are all Modi’s fault. Because he is the upgraded Rahul Gandhi 2.0, he has no memory of the ten years his government was in power in the midst of thousands of farmer suicides and a country wallowing in poverty and malnutrition. But come on now, let’s not get distracted.
Rahul Gandhi 2.0 has taken on the government in Parliament single-handedly, using Harvard-certified catch-phrases such as ‘suit-boot ki sarkaar’. Again, looking at how much the kurta-pajama clad leaders have done for the country in the last few decades, we wouldn’t mind people wearing suits and boots. If we can’t have leaders who care, at least let’s have ones that look good, no?

Detractors would say that Rahul Gandhi is a brilliant PR campaign in the making. One that would make a blind man want to buy a pair of expensive Ray Bans. One that would make a diabetic gulp down a two-liter bottle of Coke. One that would make a country of a billion people be convinced that the great new hope, the man who will set everything right, the man who has all the right ideas, the man who tore his own government’s ordinance in an inspiring show of bravado, is here. Acche din 2.0 have arrived.

The one little problem is that Rahul Gandhi may have been educating us all about the evils of the government, but Economic Times called his bluffs on its front page just yesterday. From claiming that his government hiked the MSP for wheat from Rs 640 to 1400 per quintal whereas Modi only increased it by Rs 50, (when in reality his govt’s increase was over 10 years with the increase in 2013 being a mere Rs 50), to claiming that farm growth was 4.1% under his government as compared to Modi’s 1% (when during 10 years of UPA, it was 1% for at least 4 years), it is a bunch of half-truths that he is spouting, to much glee of the various Congress lovers, op-ed writers and of course the party coterie. After all, like a wise man said, statistics are like bikinis, hiding more than they reveal. Easy to guess that we Indians love bikinis, going by Bollywood movies these days.

Also, when it comes to politics, there is no right or wrong. He who shouts the loudest is right. For now he seems to be doing a good job of that. And he has those cute dimples to boot. Who can resist so much charm?

While Rahul Gandhi 2.0 is doing such a great job, hopefully somebody would ask him where he went for his sabbatical? One would think that leaders of such stature, such noble-blooded people with flawless fair skin and carefully groomed stubble can’t just disappear all of a sudden. One would think they have a duty to the nation where there are no casual or earned leaves. One would think they would explain at least where they were or what they were doing.

Was Rahul Gandhi meditating on top of a Himalayan mountain, praying (on one leg, for added effect) for a change in his party’s fortunes and an increase in FDI inflow into India? Was he working in the Gangetic plain trying to save the endangered dolphins? Was he negotiating the much-hyped MFN status with Pakistan? Was he trying to broker a peace deal between Israel and Palestine? Was he reading Chetan Bhagat’s books? What kind and noble act was he doing?

What happened during those two months that suddenly Rahul Gandhi has gone from just Rahul Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi 2.0? How did he manage a version upgrade in 2 months when software majors take years to complete a major overhaul? How did Rahul Gandhi become so awesome all of a sudden?

Unless he has always been awesome. It is just that he never gave us a chance to find out.

Maybe he should indeed tell us where he went so that we can also follow his footsteps and return as upgraded 2.0 versions.

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Indian Economy’s Greatest Deficit- Missing Entrepreneurs

The crisis in the economy, today is one of the undersupply of entrepreneurs. Supply has dramatically reduced despite our obvious need for more entrepreneurs.
All things, goods and services, have a demand and supply side. The same holds true for entrepreneurship, albeit somewhat differently. Society needs entrepreneurs to create jobs and new products. They are the ones who have capital to invest or ideas that spur innovation. There is, therefore, “demand” for entrepreneurship, though it isn’t consumed in the manner of pizzas, smartphones, movies or financial services.
The “supply” side is even more complex. Unlike for wheat or real estate, there isn’t a price-based market mechanism that causes the supply of entrepreneurs to increase to match demand. Nor does the notion of oversupply apply to entrepreneurs. In that sense, they are ethereal like a god. We want them but don’t seem to know how — never mind the priestly incantations of business gurus who claim they do.
The crisis in the economy today is one of the undersupply of entrepreneurs. Supply has dramatically reduced despite our obvious need for more entrepreneurs. Barring the odd Sachin and Binny Bansal (Flipkart), Kunal Bahl (Snapdeal), Bhavish Aggarwal (Ola) and Naveen Tewari (InMobi), there have been hardly any entrepreneurs of consequence in the past few years. And all of them are confined to a narrow business segment of e-commerce or mobile-enabled services.
Compare this to the first two decades of liberalisation, which saw the rise (and decline) of scores of new capitalists in varied sectors. There were N.R. Narayana Murthy (Infosys), Azim Premji (Wipro), Shiv Nadar (HCL) and B. Ramalinga Raju (Satyam) in IT; Dilip Shanghvi (Sun Pharma) and K. Anji Reddy (Dr Reddy’s Labs) in pharma; Naresh Goyal (Jet Airways) and Rahul Bhatia (IndiGo) in aviation; Uday Kotak (Kotak Mahindra), Rana Kapoor (Yes Bank) and R. Thyagarajan (Shriram Group) in banking/ finance; Subhash Chandra (Zee), Kalanithi Maran (Sun Group) and Raghav Bahl (Network18) in media.
Then, of course, we had Sunil Mittal of Bharti (telecom), Anil Agarwal of Vedanta (metals, mining and oil), Gautam Adani (ports, power and agri-business), Vivek Chaand Sehgal of Motherson Sumi (auto ancillaries), Kishore Biyani of Future Group (retail), Tulsi Tanti of Suzlon (wind power), Virendra Mhaiskar of IRB (roads) and the big “Andhrapreneurs”: G.M. Rao and G.V.K. Reddy (airports, power and roads), L. Rajagopal of Lanco (power and construction), C. Visweswara Rao of Navayuga (ports and construction), and E. Sudhir Reddy of IVRCL (roads and water). Besides, one could point at new entrepreneurs making it big even in “old” industries — Ashok Jiwrajka of Alok Industries (textiles) and Narendra Murkumbi of Shree Renuka Sugars. The promoters of some “old” business houses were no less entrepreneurial — Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, Kumar Mangalam Birla, the Mahindras, the Munjals, the Jindals, the Bajajs and the Ruias. They took their extant businesses to global heights and entered new sectors. That level of entrepreneurial activity is clearly missing in the present decade.
The reason isn’t the obsolescence of the entrepreneurial function resulting from a complete satisfaction of our economic wants, which Joseph Schumpeter had once hypothesised might leave “little motive… to push productive effort still further ahead”. Nor does it reflect the lack of an ecosystem conducive to fostering entrepreneurship. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have produced so many entrepreneurs during the 1990s and 2000s. Creating Silicon Valleys may be a good but not a necessary idea.
The present crisis is a crisis of confidence. During the boom, we had no dearth of businessmen wanting to start new ventures and expand through direct investment or outright acquisition. Equally, there were willing lenders who believed that cash flows from projects would comfortably meet future debt-service obligations. This was essentially confidence, comprising two elements. First, the “animal spirits” of entrepreneurs, which also rubbed off on financiers. Second, the context in which all this was happening. Economic reforms opened up new sectors — from telecom and aviation to infrastructure — for private investment, apart from providing access to global finance and markets, hitherto non-existent. This, along with a new language welcoming of private initiative, led to the unleashing of animal spirits that Keynes famously described as “a spontaneous urge to action”.
Such flourishing of enterprise in response to new contexts has historical precedent. We know how the Great Depression wreaked misery across the industrialised West. Not many, however, know it was also a period that launched the first big wave of Indian industrial entrepreneurship. The import tariff hikes resorted to by the British — purely for revenue considerations, because of the general collapse of trade — induced many a Bania trader-speculator to establish sugar, paper or cement plants for the first time. Ramkrishna Dalmia, Jamnalal Bajaj, Karam Chand Thapar, Gujarmal Modi, the Bajorias and the Singhanias all emerged as industrialists on the back of protective tariff walls erected in the Thirties. The case of sugar is particularly illustrative. As many as 105 new mills came up between 1931-32 and 1936-37, following the imposition of an effective 185 per cent import duty.
If the 1930s marked the emergence of private industrial enterprise in India, the 1990s probably represented its second coming. The decline of entrepreneurship being witnessed is a by-product of the end of the optimism that characterised much of the first two decades of liberalisation. Like many such previous long waves of optimism, this one also ended due to excessive risk-taking and piling up of debt by corporates. Although the banks are the ones left holding the bag, the ultimate victim of their reluctance to lend is enterprise itself. Today, over half of India’s top 500 corporates are overleveraged. The earnings of a third of them are insufficient to service interest on debt. These firms cannot be counted on to take fresh risks.
But the real tragedy is there aren’t too many new ones, either, to replace those on their deathbed. Right now, it is mostly destruction and very little creation; practically everyone has withdrawn into a shell and no one’s investing. While the Flipkarts, Zomatos, Quikrs and BigBaskets may be exceptions, they aren’t enough. The astronomical valuations of many of these firms are proof of vanishing investment opportunities elsewhere in the economy.

Differentiate between Sin and Crime: Desperate Need of Pakistan

When the line that differentiates sin and crime disappears in a society, chaos ensues. And that is what is happening in Pakistan. Falling in love is no crime. But those who do, often pay the price in Pakistan; some with their lives. So is the possibility of your suffering in case you drink. lat me make it clear that the situation in India is also, thanks to rabid Hindutava, fast deteriorating, but it shall not be as bad as in Pakistan, and that simply because the civil society is not going to tolerate this nor shall the courts permit it.
Yousuf, the protagonist in the TV soap Mera Naam Yousuf Hai, falls in love with Zulaikha and is tortured by the police at the behest of Zulaikha’s father. The account is fictional, but the story is real for many who have been thrashed by the police or others for the cardinal sin (not crime) of falling in love.
The TV soap identifies two fundamental wrongs in most archetypal Muslim-majority societies: First, local customs are still the basis of many taboos in the society that are presented as sins. Falling in love is one example. Islam does not prohibit it, but the society treats it as sin. Second, not all sins are crimes, and it is not up to the police to interpret sins as crimes.
Earlier this week, Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s President, had asked the police to confine their activities to their specified roles, and not assume the clergy’s role of interpreting Islam. President Rouhani is concerned that the arbitrary interpretation of Islam and its enforcement by the police would lead to chaos. “If we tell them [the police] you are the seminary and you can also interpret Islam, there would be chaos,” he warned. President Rouhani’s attempt to limit the role of the police and vigilantes in Iran is nothing short of a sea change.
The police and the members of the Basij (volunteer religious police) in Iran often transcend their designated roles. They try to interpret and enforce Islam as they see fit. I witnessed this abuse of power firsthand, in 1992. Sitting in a park in Mashhad, I could hear the Basij using loudspeakers to publicly shame parents whose daughters’ hijab did not meet the Basij standards.
There is a Basij in every Muslim-majority country, albeit with a different name and scope. Pakistan does not have an official Basij, but the Jamaat-e-Islami, its student wing, and other similar religious outfits act as moral police and brutally force their religious biases onto others.
In January 2014, for instance, members of the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) tortured a male student for sitting next to a female student outside of the vice chancellor’s office. The IJT affiliates beat the male student and humiliated him further by forcing him to march through the campus. This happened in front of the campus security who did not try to protect the life and property of students. The security personnel were perhaps concerned for their own safety, or maybe they shared the moral inclining of the IJT vigilantes.
The victim later explained to a reporter that the IJT activists beat him because they believed male and female students should remain segregated at the Punjab University. And this was only because the IJT believes such co-mingling of men and women is prohibited in Islam.
Moral policing is partly a structural flaw. Such violent acts are common at most public-sector universities in Pakistan. However, it is not the same at private-sector universities, where male and female students study together. Why the difference between public and private sector universities, you may ask.
First, the private-sector universities, unlike the public-sector universities, do not have politically driven admission quotas that let academically undeserving students to enroll. This prevents the undeserving IJT sympathisers from enrolling in the private-sector universities.
Second, the private-sector universities expel students for violation of the student code of ethics. Public-sector universities failed to expel even those students who beat up professors.
Third, learning takes precedence over the public manifestation of one’s religious beliefs at the private sector universities.
If read carefully, it is obvious that the Iranian President is treading prudently on the path to add distance between organised religion and the nation state. He is highlighting the difference between explaining religious dictates and interpreting and enforcing them.
“All teachers in schools, universities and, of course, in the seminaries whose mission is to understand better and express religion,” he explained but warned “you cannot just tell anyone … (to) interpret” Islam.
A few days before this year’s Valentine’s Day, a couple of billboards began appearing in Karachi asking young people to say no to Valentine’s Day because it promoted obscenity and contradicted the teachings of Islam. The anti-Valentine’s Day campaign is the brainchild of the cultural wing of an organisation called Tanzeem-e-Islami (TI), and that is akin to India’s Shiv Sena. TI is a non-political Islamic organisation that was formed by Islamic scholar, Dr. Israr Ahmed, in 1957 when as a young member of the fundamentalist Jamat-i-Islami (JI) he resigned from the party after it had decided to take part in Pakistan’s mainstream politics.
The TI functioned as a conventional religious organisation sharing Dr. Israr’s commentaries on the Quran and Hadith with the few followers that it had gathered between 1957 and the late 1970s. However, TI’s following began to grow after General Ziaul Haq pulled off a reactionary military coup in July 1977. In 1981, the the state-owned Pakistan television channel, the PTV, was asked by Ziaul Haq himself to give Dr. Israr a weekly show. The show became one of the first in Pakistan in which an Islamic scholar would sit in front of an audience and deliver lectures on Islam.
The first season of the show mostly saw Dr. Israr delivering lectures on his understanding of the Quran, Hadith and the Shariah. But, alas, as can be expected from most famous religious personalities (of any faith), Dr. Israr too began to add moral and political dimensions to what were once strictly academic religious proclamations.
Since hijabs and burqas were not all that common among middle-class women at the time, in 1982 Dr. Israr approached his show’s producers and exhibited his irritation at seeing ‘uncovered women’ in the audiences that were selected for his TV lectures. What’s more his irritation in this respect also became the basis for Zia’s Ministry of Information to ask women newscasters, and actresses in TV plays to be ‘modestly dressed’, and with the least amount of make-up.
This was also the period when various women’s organisations were pouring out onto the streets of Lahore and Karachi to protest against what they thought were the Zia regime’s discriminatory and misogynistic policies and laws against women. But just when these women were being baton-charged by the cops, women newscasters on TV began appearing with dupattas on their heads and no make-up! A woman newscaster reading the news on PTV in 1982. It was around this time that the government asked all women newscasters to cover their heads with dupattas. In TV plays women stopped being shown in western dresses or without a dupatta. In fact, western dresses were only allowed to be worn by men and that too by those playing villainous roles.
The farce did not last long, but Dr. Israr was successful in getting his female audience wrap their dupattas tightly over and across their heads. In 1983, Dr. Israr began punctuating his lectures on Islam with his thoughts on what he believed was the need of the hour for Muslims around the world: A worldwide caliphate.
It is believed that Zia knew well about Dr. Israr’s ideas about the caliphate and gave permission to PTV to allow the scholar to relate his desire to see the enactment of a modern-day Islamic caliphate. The idea was to Zia’s liking because it not only gave a kind of religious justification to a dictatorship supposedly based on the dictates of Islam; it also eschewed and undermined any call for restoring liberal democracy in Pakistan.
Emboldened by the fact that he was being given space and a countrywide audience to listen to his ideas about the caliphate, what Dr. Israr did next would put even the wily, Machiavellian Islamist like Zia in a quagmire of sorts. After making his women audience to wrap their heads up with dupattas (hijabs were still a distant invention in Pakistan), he now wanted to see all women in Pakistan doing the same in public.
But since Zia’s Islamisation project was still relatively new, and Saudi and Iran funded Islamic outfits in Pakistan had yet to develop the kind of roots they did from the late 1980s onwards, the Zia regime could only play around with the convoluted idea of ‘female modesty’ on TV, and that too not without facing constant resistance.
As mentioned earlier, women organisations were protesting against Zia’s laws on the streets but a time came when some women employees of PTV also refused to follow the moral dictates of the regime. For example, after appearing for a few weeks without make-up, some women newscasters on PTV refused to read the then all-important propaganda package (the main 9’oclock news) called Khabarnama.
The news had begun to be read by two newscasters from 1980 onwards, a woman and a man. After appearing on the screen without make-up for a few weeks, PTV’s leading women newscasters eventually refused to read the news. For almost a week, the 9 o’clock news was presented by two men. Embarrassed by the episode, Zia’s Information Ministry advised him to tone down the policy. Zia did just that and the newscasters returned.
An Urdu newspaper quoted one of the women newscasters saying that they felt insulted by the policy because they were wise enough to understand what was right and what was wrong. She also went on to say that the government should not be interfering in women’s personal matters. Mahtab Rashidi was a learned and good humoured Sindhi woman who used to host a popular show on PTV called ‘Aap Ki Baat,’ in which she used to read and answer letters written by PTV viewers about various programs offered by the channel.
By 1983 she was the only woman on PTV who was hosting a show without covering her head with a dupatta. The Information Ministry kept asking the producers of the show to request Ms. Rashidi to follow the Ministry’s new duppatta-on-the-head policy, but to no avail. Rashidi’s laid-back style of hosting and humour had bagged a huge fan following that also included some members of the Information Ministry! Nevertheless, still angry for being made to retract its no make-up policy by the rebelling women newscasters, the Information Ministry finally decided to get a bit tough on Rashidi. ‘Who are they to tell me what is right and what is wrong?’ Rashdi was reported to have said about the Ministry. She said she was doing the show in normal, simple clothes and she was wearing the dupatta exactly where it was supposed to be worn. ‘How will wearing the dupatta over my head make me a better and more moralistic woman?’ She asked. ‘And why is this being dictated to me by men?’ Suggesting that the issue of women’s modesty was for the women to decide and not for finger-wagging males obsessed by how a woman should dress, she stormed out of the show. She was not to appear on PTV until after the demise of the Zia dictatorship in 1988.
Zia had been happy in the knowledge that Dr. Israr’s lectures on faith and the Caliphate were working to his advantage and in a way giving scholarly and even divine justification to his rapidly unfolding Islamisation project and his political and legislative manoeuvres (undertaken to ‘Islamise Pakistan’s politics and society’).
But during a period (early 1980s) when the dictatorship was facing stiff resistance from leftist and progressive student groups on campuses, and on the streets by the PPP-led nine-party alliance, the MRD, and by various women’s organisations, he asked PTV to start giving extensive coverage to all series being played by the Pakistan Cricket team. Under the captainship of the team’s new skipper, Imran Khan, the Pakistan team was performing extremely well and Zia wanted to use this to his advantage through PTV.
But shortly after Imran’s team had devastated the visiting Australian and Indian Test sides in late 1982 and early 1983, Dr. Israr was incensed when he heard a couple of young women in the audience of his weekly lecture on PTV talking about how Imran had taken 40 wickets in the 6-Test series against India (1983).
Once the audience settled down in the studio and TV cameras began rolling to record his lecture, he quickly talked through his usual meditations on the holy book and the Shariah, but then after pausing for a moment he diverged to announce that sports like cricket should be banned in Pakistan. ‘Cricket is making Pakistanis ignore their religious obligations,’ he said. The cameras kept on rolling. ‘I am convinced that cricket matches should not be shown on TV.’ The cameramen and the producer of the show were by now scratching their heads. What was Dr. Israr up to? The audience remained quiet. He then added: ‘Even after the showing of matches on TV is banned, only men should be allowed to go to the stadium to watch these matches.’
This particular episode was not aired on PTV. In fact, Dr. Israr suddenly vanished from the mini-screen. His fans began to phone in and ask PTV why Dr. Israr was not appearing on TV anymore. PTV devised a convoluted response: ‘Dr. Israr is not well but he will return to do his show as soon as he regains his health.’ Some three weeks later the Udru daily, Jang, broke the news that Dr. Israr was in good health and that it was what he had said during the recording of his weekly program that got him withdrawn from PTV. Jang quoted Dr. Israr repeating his demand of getting the showing of cricket matches banned on TV and that only men should be allowed to go and watch matches at the stadiums. However, this time he went a bit further: ‘Have you seen how cricket bowlers rub the ball when they are preparing to come into bowl?’
Dr. Israr said the bowlers ‘suggestively rub the ball’ on the flashy parts of their body (the backside) and across their groins. He specifically signalled out Imran Khan. ‘Our mothers, sisters and wives watch all this on TV and in the stadiums,’ Dr. Israr complained. He was of the view that a player like Imran Khan (who was considered to be a sex symbol and a ‘playboy’ around the cricketing world at the time), does the groin-rubbing routine in the most obscene manner and (thus) ‘corrupts the minds of young Pakistani women.’ Dr. Israr accused him of rubbing the cricket ball across his groin ‘in the most suggestive manner’ and ‘corrupting young women.’ He then went on to call upon the Zia regime to ban showing cricket matches on TV and the entry of women at cricket stadiums.
As mentioned, Zia’s Islamisation project and the proliferation of Islamic evangelical organisations in Pakistan in the early 1980s were still a relatively new and rootless phenomenon. At the same time Zia was facing a number of political and ideological challenges and resistance from large sections of the population, especially due to the many controversial ‘Islamic laws’ he was planning to unfold. Such challenges were being thrown up not only by secular political parties but also by organisations looking after the interests of the Shia Muslim sect and the then largely moderate Barelvi Sunni sect, both of whom had become alarmed by the way Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich gulf monarchies had begun to establish mosques and seminaries.
Zia did not respond to Dr. Israr’s demands. But being an admirer of the volatile Islamic scholar, he advised his Information Ministry to ask Dr. Israr to continue doing his TV program, but stick to talking about Shariah and the Caliphate and leave the cricket commentary to famous cricket experts and commentators of the time, such as Iftikhar Ahmed, Chisty Mujahid, Omar Kureshi and Muneer Hussain.
So it wasn’t that PTV chucked out Dr. Israr. Dr. Israr huffed and puffed his way out himself. He had insisted that his talk on how cricket was corrupting women be allowed to air on TV. But when PTV chopped that portion of his lecture out, he refused to do the show anymore. Dr. Israr would only rarely appear on TV after this. But he had already bagged a sizable following that grew even more when Zia’s Islamisation project finally began to kick-in from the late 1980s onwards and especially after the mid-1990s when a number of Islamic evangelical organisations emerged and successfully competed to bag large urban middle-class followers.
In the late 1990s during the rapid proliferation of conservative evangelical outfits in Pakistan that were all supplementing the growing interest in religious rituals and thought among the urban middle-classes, TI began to evolve a cultural wing of sorts as well.
Also, and just like many other Islamic evangelical organisations in the country, TI’s ‘cultural’ initiatives have squarely focused on issues of morality, or rather female morality. The liberal sections of the media and population have often criticised many of these organisations of navel-gazing about trivial issues, and spending millions of Rupees on largely imagined and inconsequential moral issues in a country being haunted by religious extremism, sectarian violence, terrorism, rising rates of crime and unemployment, misgovernment and corruption..’
One of the books authored by Dr. Israr that discusses his concept of the modern-day caliphate. Many of Dr. Israr’s detractors have blamed him for trivialising his own work and image. They believe that unlike Islamic scholars like Javed Ghamdi or Islamic thinkers like Muhammad Iqbal, Dr. Israr, in spite of being a highly learned man, couldn’t control his ‘mullah instincts.’ Some women organisations accused him of being a misogynist. One member of such an organisation told me: ‘I laugh whenever I see these nice, white and polite billboards asking people to say no to Valentine’s Day. I laugh because they are being financed and put up by an organisation that was formed by Dr. Israr.’
In 2006 (during the Musarraf dictatorship), the government held a large ‘mixed marathon’ in Lahore that was open to both men and women. Men and women from some European and African countries also participated in the marathon. The Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), the alliance of a right-wing religious parties responded to the ‘threat’ by holding rallies against the marathon. One of these rallies took place outside the Karachi Press Club. The rally was also joined by Dr. Israr and some of his supporters. One of journalists covering the rally was a young woman with a camera and in a sleeveless top. She tried to approach Dr. Israr for a comment but he refused to talk to her. She persisted and he finally turned his attention to the young journalist. But not before telling a colleague of his: ‘Dekho! West nein iss haramzadi* ka huliya hi badal diya hai!’ (Look! The west has totally changed the look of this obnoxious woman!’(*Haramzadi also means a woman born out of wedlock). So yes, do say no to Valentine’s Day. Otherwise you know what you are.
Consuming pork is sinful and forbidden in Islam. However, Islamic law does not prescribe whipping or incarceration to those who consume pork. The religious doctrine may prohibit certain behaviours and consider them sins. This does not make those acts a crime. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has taken up the task of determining if the physical punishment prescribed for the use of alcohol under the Prohibition (Enforcement of Hadd) Order of 1979 is Islamic. Earlier, the Federal Sharia Court declared that the current punishment for consuming alcohol is un-Islamic. A five-member bench of the Superior Court will hear the government’s appeal against the FSC’s verdict. This landmark case will open the much-needed debate on the difference between sin and crime in Pakistan.
Since the mid-seventies, Muslims across the globe have faced violent political movements that used religion to further their political causes. Such movements have emerged as revolutions (Iran), military coups (Pakistan), and rebellions (Egypt), and ultimately radicalised the respective societies. The perpetrators behind these political movements used Islamisation as the smokescreen to advance their political agendas. Harsh punishments were introduced into the legal systems, using religion as justification.
A systematic review of all these politicised legal frameworks is now in order. The Law should deal only with crime and leave sin as a matter between man and his Maker.
Alcohol consumption is a crime in Pakistan and several other Muslim countries. The Pakistan penal code, under the Prohibition (Enforcement of Had) Order of 1979, awards 80 lashes to those convicted of consuming alcohol. This raises several concerns. Muslim jurists and theologians document sufficient evidence to confirm alcohol consumption, like usury or pork, is forbidden. However, the evidence to suggest that alcohol consumption is a punishable crime is not without controversy. A consensus (Ijma) on how to deal with alcohol has eluded Muslim jurists for more than a millennium.
Under the Islamic law, the definition of a crime and its punishment originate either as Hadd (defined explicitly in Quran or the Sunnah) or as Tazeer, which are discretionary punishments awarded by the jurist (Qazi). The former military dictator, late General Ziaul Haq, set out to revise the legal frameworks in Pakistan. He was motivated to enforce his personal views about religion on the rest of the society. His regime introduced laws that blurred the line between sin and crime. He criminalised certain behaviours that for centuries, had remained outside the domain of legal frameworks.
While alcohol prohibition was initiated by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, it was General Zia’s regime which declared alcohol consumption a crime punishable by 80 lashes. The dictator willfully and deliberately committed high treason by suspending the Constitution of Pakistan. It served his interests to criminalise the rest of the society so that he may enjoy immunity from high treason, which he continued to commit for 11 years until his death in 1988.
The 40/80 dilemma : At present, consuming alcohol is punishable by 80 lashes in Pakistan. The popular discourse and the commonly held belief in Pakistan is that this punishment is based on religious injunctions, which enjoy consensus (Ijma). This may not be true. These punishments are more in line with the Hanbali school of thought, which is followed in Saudi Arabia. General Zia was inspired by the Saudis and hence his legal interventions bear a strong resemblance to the Saudi/Hanbali legal system.
The Quran addresses alcohol consumption at five different instances. In certain verses, the Quran prohibits alcohol (khamr) consumption. There is, however, the fact that Quran does not prescribe a penalty for consuming alcohol. The only reference for such a punishment during the life of the Holy Prophet is a Hadith by Anas Bin Malik, who recalled that the Prophet prescribed 40 lashes for someone accused of consuming alcohol. The 40 stripes were administered with two palm branches. Still, many jurists do not consider this reference a strong precedent to treat alcohol consumption under Hudood. They believe it falls under discretionary punishments (Ta’azir).
Historians have documented the controversy of 40 or 80 lashes that lasted for some time. Even today, the Maliki, Hanbali, and Hanafi schools of thought consider 80 lashes as the punishment, whereas the Shafi’is consider 40 lashes. Since the Islamic legal traditions did not provide for formal prosecutors, investigators, and other officials needed to investigate an allegation; the Qazi exercised significant discretion in settling disputes.
This raises certain interesting concerns related to prosecuting those accused of consuming alcohol. Given the paucity of reliable examples from the Sunnah regarding alcohol consumption, Muslim jurists developed much of the legal frameworks centuries later. For instance, what constitutes as proof for alcohol consumption? If someone’s mouth smelled of alcohol, Imam Malik and Imam Hanbal considered it sufficient proof of alcohol consumption. Imam Shafi’i and Imam Abu Hanifa, on the other hand, considered this insufficient because of other factors that may be making the mouth smell of alcohol.
Then there is the question of possession of alcohol. Is it a crime to possess alcohol? Some Muslim countries consider it so and award physical punishment for possession. Imam Abu Hanifa had an interesting take on this matter. He argued that if a person were to be punished for possession of alcohol, they might as well be punished for fornication in light of possessing sex organs.
Is it 40 or 80 lashes? Can one substitute palm branches with a can or leather whips? What constitutes as proof for consumption? These are not trivial matters. But the Hudood laws in Pakistan paid no attention to these details.
The controversy is not about prohibition, but about how to enforce it. The Quran is silent on this matter and the Hadith does not cover the matter in sufficient detail. This makes a strong case of saying that alcohol consumption may not be dealt under Hudood, because no fixed punishments have been prescribed in either the Quran or the Sunnah.
What should Pakistan do?
The purpose of this piece is not to advocate abolishing all regulations regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol. Even western countries, where consuming alcohol is legal, the sale and consumption of alcohol is strictly regulated. In Canada, serving alcohol at public places without a permit carries a hefty fine. Driving under the influence of alcohol carries severe penalties, including fines up to $5,000 and six months of imprisonment. In the United States, it is illegal to serve alcohol to persons under 21 years of age.
It is also not the purpose of this piece to downplay the harmful impacts of alcohol consumption on a society. In 2012, 10,322 people were killed in traffic accidents caused by alcohol-impaired individuals in the United States alone. This accounts for almost one in three traffic-related deaths in the United States, where the police arrested over 1.2 million drivers in 2010 for operating vehicles under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
Yhe British Medical Association revealed that alcohol was a factor in 60-70 per cent of homicides, 75 per cent of stabbings, and 50 per cent of fights and domestic assaults.
The purpose of this article is to raise awareness about the legal and historic constructs that should inform prohibition laws in Pakistan. The 1979 Hudood Ordinance made alcohol consumption a crime. That was not the case before. The result is that low-income consumers are forced to consume inexpensive harmful moonshine while the well-off freely obtain imported alcohol.
The consumption of alcohol in Pakistan and its abuse has not declined since prohibition, though given the substitution of commercially produced alcohol with moonshine, incidents of alcohol-poisoning did rise significantly. At the same time, the Hudood laws convicted mostly low-income individuals who lacked the means to mount a legal defense. Such discrimination against the poor can be addressed if alcohol consumption is regulated rather than criminalised.
When the line that differentiates sin and crime disappears in a society, chaos ensues. Examples of this are common in Pakistan. Mobs of believers attack with impunity those who did not fast during Ramazan. In fact, innocent people have been murdered by enraged mobs because some believed Ramazan to be over a day sooner than the rest.Nothing damages pluralism in a state more than a statute, which attempts to impose the majority’s ritual values while impinging upon fundamental rights of a minority. The Ehtram-e-Ramazan Ordinance of 1981 achieves exactly that. The Ordinance bars any person, who is ‘under obligation to fast’, from eating, drinking or smoking in public places during the fasting hours of Ramazan. Similarly in those hours, restaurants and hotels are not allowed to serve food to such persons. Anyone found in contravention of this Ordinance can face maximum imprisonment of three months. Its recent implementation resulted in 25 arrests only in Faisalabad.
After three decades since Zia-ul-Haq promulgated this Ordinance, the law still has many takers. Any government will think twice before scrapping this Ordinance as doing so will invite the irk of conservative elements. The law itself is ambiguous and clashes with other clauses of our constitution. No wonder the dictator felt the need to protect the Ordinance with this clause: “The provisions of this Ordinance shall have effect notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force.”
The argument that the law’s primary purpose is to maintain sanctity of the Holy month has no ground to stand on. The Ordinance clearly deals with only people who are ‘under obligation to fast’. Legally speaking, non-Muslims or Muslims who are not under obligation can still eat in public. But then again who wears the faith on sleeve in public? Or is it something marked on the foreheads? As a result, the minority is susceptible to this law as well.
Yet, many still continue to live in delusion – believing that implementation of such laws will protect the faith from our own indulgences; or somehow the ‘spirit of Ramazan’ is being enforced providing us with some semblance of living in an ‘Islamic State’. It is supposed to give respite to the collective conscience that the mores and norms of majority are being translated into laws.
Forget the fact that a sick man, who of course carries no certificate waiving his ‘obligation’, going on work away from home, cannot eat in public places. Forget the fact that the spirit of Ramazan is endangered by street-side Dhabhas where the working class eats and not by the flurry of food commercials on the TV screens. Forget the fact that the restaurants are now closed for all – for under ‘obligation’ ones and for others alike. After all, according to article 20 of the constitution: “In respect of access to places of public entertainment or resort not intended for religious purposes only, there shall be no discrimination against any citizen on the ground only of race, religion, caste, sex, residence or place of birth.”
If the real purpose of the Ordinance was to force the Muslims to fast, then there have been many similar experiments from Zia’s era to know the futility of it. That is why some rituals, values and a particular way of life are meant to be ‘facilitated’ and not ‘imposed’. It is primarily a question of letting each and every citizen of this country exercise his basic right to consume food/drinks whenever, wherever he wants to. It is ridiculous to think that majority would take away this basic fundamental right in order to address its sensitivities.
Imagine if the same vigilante justice becomes the norm and people are beaten because they did not pray at a mosque or the mosque approved by the vigilantes. In fact, this is already taking place in the lands controlled by Muslim militias in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan.
Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s former prime minister, articulated the need to distinguish crime and sin: “What is considered sinful in one of the great religions to which citizens belong isn’t necessarily sinful in the others. [The] Criminal law therefore cannot be based on the notion of sin; it is crimes that it must define,” he eloquently argued.Years later, similar voices are emerging from the Muslim world; we need to hear more of the same.

Performance Audit of First Year of Modi & Manmohan

Comparisons , they say, are odious. But it is always desirable to audit performance. It becomes all the more imperative, as the acolytes of Sonia are crying hoarse over the alleged underperformance of Modi.
Direct comparisons are difficult, considering that Singh was in his second term in office. Modi carries Singh’s economic legacy, which worsened considerably by the end of the term, attributed by observers to a global downturn and misgovernance. But these indicators that form the basis of audit only offer a broad statistical evaluation of the first years of Modi and Singh during UPA-2.
There are great similarities between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first year in office — which he completes on May 26 — and the corresponding first year of his predecessor, Manmohan Singh’s last term. In seven of 12 indicators evaluated by IndiaSpend, the data reveal a similar trend — a reasonable economic performance after an economic downturn.
However there are visible variations as well. The large variations in the first-year period centre on:
Industrial production: In Modi’s first year, the index of industrial production (IIP) for eight core sectors (coal, crude oil, natural gas, refinery products, fertilisers, steel, cement and electricity) grew 5 per cent during 2014-15 against 4.2 per cent the previous year. In Singh’s first year, the IIP for six core industries (crude oil, refinery products, coal, electricity, cement and finished carbon steel) grew 10.4 per cent, compared to 2.8 per cent in the previous year 2008-09.
Exports and imports: In terms of dollars, exports and imports declined 2 per cent and 0.5 per cent, respectively, in 2014-15 from 2013-14. In Singh’s first year (of his second term) exports and imports declined far more sharply, 4 per cent and 5 per cent, respectively, in 2009-10 compared to 2008-09.
Nuclear energy: With the commissioning of the Kudankulam Unit-1 of 1,000MW in Tamil Nadu during December 2014, India’s installed nuclear capacity reached 5,780MW in 2014-15 from 4,780MW in 2013-14, an increase of 21 perccent. In 2009-10, it was up 10.6 per cent from the previous year.
Economic Growth: Overall gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2009-10, at constant prices, was reported to be 8.9 per cent. After a change in calculation and base year, GDP growth is estimated to be 7.4 per cent for 2014-15.
Agriculture: Agriculture, which employs about 600 million Indians, registered growth of 1.1 per cent in 2014-15 compared to 0.8 per cent during 2009-10. The numbers indicate a long-standing — and worsening — crisis.
Foreign-exchange reserves: Forex reserves increased 12 per cent from $341 billion at the end of 2014-15 as compared to $304 billion at the end of 2013-14. For Singh in UPA-2, they increased 5.4 per cent from $241.7 billion at the end of 2008-09 to $254.9 billion in 2009-10.
Coal: Coal from India’s mines increased 8.2 per cent in 2014-15, later falling into a controversy over botched allotments, one of the reasons for the decline in UPA-2’s image. In 2009-10, production increased 8.1 per cent. Performance of the coal sector is expected to improve with the re-allotment of 67 coal blocks through an auction, although Modi’s figure of Rs 2 lakh crore ($31.25 billion) windfall is now contested.
Petroleum: In 2014-15, consumption of petroleum products (diesel, petrol, LPG and the like) increased 3.1 per cent, compared to 3.2 per cent during 2009-10. India’s demand for petroleum products is expected to grow 3.3 per cent in the next financial year, according to the oil ministry.
Electricity: A good indicator of an economy’s health, installed electricity capacity in 2014-15, rose 10 per cent against 2013-14. In 2009-10, it increased 7.7 per cent over the previous year.
Renewable energy: With pressure on India to cut carbon emissions renewable energy — it is responsible for 12 per cent of India’s total installed power — growth rates were high during both terms. The total installed capacity of renewable energy reported a 7.56 per cent growth in 2014-15 and growth of 17.20 per cent in 2009-10.
Non-performing assets: NPAs of public sector banks increased 17 per cent from Rs.2.27 lakh crore in March 2014 to Rs.2.73 lakh crore in December 2014, a carry-over from UPA-2. Public sector bank NPAs had increased 23 per cent in 2009-10 over the previous year. NPA growth rates of this magnitude can destabilise the banking system.
I leave to the readers to judge for themselves the performances of the two leaders.

Territorial limits: A Look at Paradoxical ABG

The tragic deaths of the ambassadors of the Philippines and Norway, and the wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian ambassadors, in a helicopter crash in Gilgit-Baltistan has drawn the world’s gaze to that remote, mountainous region. It was also in the news last month, when Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) from Xinjiang to the Gwadar port. Much of the CPEC passes through Gilgit-Baltistan.
Though under Pakistani control, the region’s legal status remains ambiguous. It does not find mention in Pakistan’s constitution. It is not a province of Pakistan. In 1994, Pakistan’s supreme court said these areas “are part of Jammu and Kashmir state but are not part of ‘Azad Kashmir’”.
This huge territory, more than six times the size of so-called Azad Kashmir and part of the erstwhile princely state of J&K, was known as the Northern Frontier during British rule. It came under Pakistan’s control after November 4, 1947, when the British commander of Gilgit Scouts, Major William Alexander Brown, declared its accession to Pakistan. Brown, who was awarded the MBE and the Star of Pakistan, was an employee of the maharaja of Kashmir. In his book, The Gilgit Rebellion, he says, “as a liberal member of the world’s paragon of democracy, I considered that the whole of Kashmir, including Gilgit Province, [should] unquestionably go to Pakistan in view of the fact that the population was predominantly Muslim. Partisan, traitor, revolutionary, I may have been, but that evening my sentiments dictated that if the Maharaja acceded to India, then I would forego all the allegiance to him”. In April 1949, the region was dissociated from Pakistan-occupied Azad Kashmir, named the Northern Areas of Pakistan and placed under the direct control of a joint secretary in the federal ministry of Kashmir affairs and Northern Areas affairs.
Azad Kashmir, Balistan and Gilgit present a paradoxical scene. Administered , controlled and managed by Pakistan, yet they pretend to be independant. Whenever a Pakistani media outlet publishes the map of Pakistan, it makes an effort to ensure that Azad Jammu and Kashmir as well as Gilgit-Baltistan are included in the country’s territory. The two regions are also an integral part of Pakistan’s commercial and economic markets: goods, services and people travel from Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan to Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan – and vice versa – without any border controls and taxation. Sost, one of Pakistan’s busiest trading posts with China is located in Gilgit-Baltistan and the Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Project, one of the largest electricity production projects in the country is being built on the confluence of two rivers in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistan’s constitution, however, does not so much as mention Azad Jammu and Kashmir or Gilgit-Baltistan. And yet, in a twist of irony, residents of the two regions are subjected to all taxes — including income tax, which all Pakistani citizens have to pay. Here are some such inconsistencies.
Pakistan’s territory does not include Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. Yes, but the door is left open for them. Under the 1973 Constitution, the territories that comprise Pakistan are “the Provinces of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh; the Islamabad Capital Territory… [and] Federally Administered Tribal Areas.” The country’s territorial limits also include “such states and territories” that are already included in Pakistan “whether by accession or otherwise”. There is clearly no mention of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan among the constituent parts of the country.
Yet the two regions are entirely dependent on the government of Pakistan for all their financial and development activities as well as in matters of defence, economy and foreign policy. This dependence derives its legitimacy from various agreements made between the government of Pakistan, the rulers of small principalities in Gilgit-Baltistan and the leaders of the Muslim Conference, a political party in the pre-1947 princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. Those agreements emerged after the 1948 war between India and Pakistan led to the division of the princely state into two parts — one controlled by India and consisting of areas such as Jammu, Srinagar and the surrounding valley, as well as the Buddhist region of Ladakh, and the other controlled by Pakistan and consisting of areas such as Mirpur, Muzaffarabad, Neelum Valley and Gilgit-Baltistan.
The two regions are entirely dependent on the government of Pakistan for all their financial and development activities, as well as in matters of defence, economy and foreign policy. “Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Balistan have special relations with Pakistan,” says Idrees Abbasi, law secretary of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir government.
Originally, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan were a single territorial unit. In 1970, the latter was separated from the former and renamed as the Northern Areas. Political and community leaders in Gilgit-Balistan have been demanding for decades that their region be integrated into Pakistan, but successive governments in Islamabad have resisted those demands. The integration may give the signal that we have accepted the de facto division of Kashmir; it will weaken our claim on the entire former state of Jammu and Kashmir — this is how the Pakistan government justifies its decision to keep these regions outside the constitutionally-mandated parts of Pakistan.
In 1974, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto abrogated the State Subject Rule, the law that protected local demographic composition. As Sunnis streamed into Shia-dominated Gilgit-Baltistan, sectarian feuds were spawned. Under Zia-ul Haq, the Shia-Sunni and Shia-Nurbakshi riots broke out, allegedly staged with state connivance. Worse was to follow in May 1988, when tribal Lashkars, reportedly after receiving a nod from the establishment, abducted local women and massacred thousands of Shias in Gilgit.
In 2009, the Pakistan government promulgated the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order. Designed to create the impression of liberal self-rule, this executive order is another in the series of paradoxes that characterise Pakistan’s policy towards the region. Devoid of any constitutional authority, it provides for a 33-member Gilgit-Baltistan legislative assembly and a local administration headed by a chief minister. The real powers, however, continue to be vested in the Gilgit-Baltistan Council, headed by the Pakistani prime minister. All office bearers in Gilgit-Baltistan have to sign an oath of allegiance to Pakistan. But even the elections to this toothless assembly have not been held on time. The last assembly’s term ended in November last year and the region has since been handed over to a caretaker government. Elections are scheduled in June. Gilgit-Baltistan has also suffered the consequences of growing Islamist militancy. Many of the Taliban who escaped from Swat and adjoining areas found shelter in Gilgit.
The Constitution, however, provides that Pakistan’s geographical limits are not final yet. These, therefore, include areas which in the future may join the country “whether by accession or otherwise”.
If and when, for instance, the dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir is settled, Pakistan may include the whole – or parts – of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir in its territorial limits — depending on how the dispute is settled, of course. The Constitution, therefore, provides that parliament “may by law admit into the Federation new States or areas on such terms and conditions as it thinks fit.”
These are self-ruled autonomous regions.Yes, but restrictions apply. On October 24, 1947, politicians based in what became Azad Jammu and Kashmir formed a war council with the support of the Government of Pakistan, says Abbasi. The council was headed by Sardar Muhammad Ibrahim, the leader of a political group which resisted Jammu and Kashmir’s controversial accession to India. This war council worked as the government of the Pakistani-controlled region for all political purposes. “In the system, which prevailed from 1947 to 1960, the person holding the confidence of the working committee of the Muslim Conference (the Kashmir-based political party that supports the region’s accession to Pakistan) was nominated as the president of Azad Jammu and Kashmir,” reads the website of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly.
In 1960, a 24-member state council came into being. This was to be elected by union councillors who were in turn directly elected. The councillors were also to elect the chairman of the state council who would be the president of the region. With some variations, this system continued for the next decade.
In 1970, after the Northern Areas were separated, a new form of government was introduced in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Under this system, the 24-member state council as well as the president of the region were to be directly elected through adult franchise. The system also provided that the central government of Pakistan was to be responsible for three subjects: implementation of the resolutions by the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP), foreign affairs and defence. “But Islamabad disbanded the new system as the military government at the time did not like the assertive attitude of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir government,” says a senior member of Azad Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly, on condition of anonymity.
In 1974, an interim constitution was promulgated, which provided a partially parliamentary form of government for the region, with a bicameral legislature. Under this constitution, the first legislative chamber is an elected house: the Azad Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly which in turn elects a prime minister; the second chamber is the state council which includes the region’s president and prime minister and three members of its legislative assembly but is dominated by nominees of the government in Islamabad. The prime minister of Pakistan is its chairman. No law can be passed and implemented in Azad Jammu and Kashmir unless it is ratified by the state council. The last and most powerful tier of this system is a federal ministry that oversees all the administrative (including appointment and transfer of senior bureaucrats, judges and policemen) and political activities, such as the holding of assembly and council sessions and the passing and allocation of the budget. Subjects such as defence, security, foreign affairs and foreign trade, currency and coins are exclusively the responsibilities of the Government of Pakistan under the interim constitution, according to the legislative assembly. Islamabad also has the power to appoint the president of Azad Jammu and Kashmir who serves as the nominal head of the state.
The Government of Pakistan has the power to appoint the governor of Gilgit-Baltistan. Most important subjects, in any case, remain out of the purview of the regional government and legislature.
In 2009, the Government of Pakistan renamed the Northern Areas as Gilgilt-Baltistan and promulgated an ordinance to provide for self-rule. The ordinance resulted in a 33-member Gilgit-Baltistan legislative assembly elected through adult franchise. The assembly then elects a chief minister. The other institution established by the ordinance is the Gilgit-Baltistan Council, headed by the prime minister of Pakistan and dominated by members nominated by Islamabad. It has the final authority to pass or reject laws. As in the case of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the Government of Pakistan has the power to appoint the governor of Gilgit-Baltistan. In any case, the most important subjects remain out of the purview of the regional government and legislature.
The newly-appointed governor of the region, Birjees Tahir, is a member of the National Assembly from a central Punjab constituency, besides being a federal minister. The chief election commissioner appointed earlier this year to hold Gilgit-Baltistan legislative assembly elections, Justice (retd) Tahir Ali Shah, has been a judge of the Lahore High Court and is alleged to be affiliated with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PMLN).
Although the systems of government in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan look more or less the same (both have limited levels of autonomy and are entirely dependent on the Government of Pakistan for financial resources), people in the latter region feel that those in the former are still getting a better deal. “There is growing realisation among the political elite [in Gilgit-Baltistan] that our government does not get the level of constitutional protection enjoyed by the one in Azad Kashmir,” says Jamil Nagri, a reporter in Gilgit-Baltistan. “The government in Islamabad should not be able to pack up the self-government system in Gilgit-Baltistan as and when it likes,” he adds.
Officials in Azad Jammu and Kashmir say their self-rule is just as illusory as in Gilgit-Baltistan. “Since we are not a part of the federation of Pakistan, we do not have the right to demand financial resources as a matter of right,” says a senior Azad Jammu and Kashmir government official. “These financial resources are given to the regional government only as special grants and their continued flow is totally dependent upon the whims of the government in Islamabad,” he adds.
The two regions do not have representation in Pakistan’s legislature. According to the 1973 Constitution, Pakistan’s federal parliament – the National Assembly and the Senate – shall consist of members who are the citizens of those areas which are constitutionally part of Pakistan and are elected from those territories. Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Balistan are not part of Pakistan’s territories constitutionally speaking, so they don’t have any representation in the federal parliament.
Yet, Pakistani political parties and leaders figure very prominently in the politics of the two regions. In a by-election held in late March 2015 in Mirpur for the Azad Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly, the winner, Barrister Sultan Mehmood, was running as a nominee of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and his rival, Muhammad Ashraf, belonged to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Even Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), which otherwise is confined to just Karachi and Hyderabad, has representation in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly. Similarly, all major Pakistani political parties, including the ruling PMLN, are fielding candidates for the Gilgit-Baltistan legislative assembly elections scheduled for June 8, 2015.
Pakistan’s superior courts have no jurisdiction in the two regions. They have their own judicial systems. The judicial system in Azad Jammu and Kashmir is different from that of Pakistan. “There are Islamic courts which deal with criminal cases. Trials take place in these courts according to Islamic law,” says Abbasi. “For civil cases, however, we have a judicial structure similar to the one in Pakistan,” he says. The forum for appeal in criminal cases is the Shariat Court; in civil cases, the region’s high court is the appeal forum. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial forum in Azad Jammu and Kashmir which not only hears appeals against the decisions of the judicial forums below but also has the authority to adjudicate over constitutional and human rights issues. Since 1993, the chief justice of the high court has also been acting as the chief justice of the Shariat Court.
The Supreme Court and the high court in Azad Jammu and Kashmir were constituted under the region’s interim constitution. The Shariat Court was set up as a result of a law passed by the Azad Kashmir legislative assembly in 1993. Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Balistan are not part of Pakistan’s territories constitutionally speaking; so they don’t have any representation in the federal parliament.
Even though Pakistani laws don’t apply in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and the writ of Pakistani courts doesn’t extend to the region’s territories, the government in Islamabad has the power to appoint judges in a large part of the superior judiciary there (though the choice is restricted through a nomination process conducted by the chief justices of the region’s Supreme Court and high court). In the Shariat Court, however, the judges are appointed by the prime minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, says Abbasi.
The district and lower courts in Gilgit-Baltistan are quite similar in structure and functions to those established in Pakistan. A 2009 federal law has set up a Supreme Appellate Court there as a forum for appeals in all cases. Unlike the Supreme Court in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, however, it does not have the power to review laws passed by the region’s own legislature. The appointment of all three of its members, including its chief justice, is made by the prime minister of Pakistan without having to consult anyone. Among many other things, this is one major reason for Gilgit-Baltistan’s elite to complain that their region does not have the same degree of self-rule that Azad Jammu and Kashmir has.
This troubled region is now an important piece in a larger geopolitical puzzle. The contested Siachen glacier lies there. Gilgit-Baltistan is also the only land connection Pakistan has with China, and it adjoins the 225 km-long Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan. Reports of China’s military presence in Gilgit-Baltistan may be exaggerated, but there are at least 35 ongoing Chinese projects in PoK. Meanwhile, the Karakoram highway, unusable for the last five years, has been repaired by Chinese engineers and is likely to be reopened in November. The construction of the CPEC will mean increased Chinese involvement and presence. As PM Modi visits China this week, dealing with the recent strengthening of the China-Pakistan linkage will be on his agenda. Gilgit-Baltistan is the weakest joint in the China-Pakistan link.

Friends No More : Pakistan Take Care!!

Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia and its GCC allies have been damaged significantly by Islamabad’s refusal to join the Arab coalition formed to push back the Iran-linked Houthis in Yemen. The Saudis were ‘jolted’ by Pakistan’s position and the manner in which it was reached.
For several decades, Pakistani leaders have professed bonds of brotherhood and solidarity with the Saudis and other Gulf states. They have vowed eloquently to defend Islam’s holy places. They have treated the Gulf’s rulers with extraordinary deference. Many Pakistani political leaders are personally and politically indebted to these rulers.
At the state level, Pakistan has frequently relied on the financial largesse of the Gulf states, especially during times of crisis. Millions of Pakistanis work and live in these states, annually remitting close to $10 billion back home. The Pakistan armed forces have provided extensive security support and training to these countries. There was even a widely held assumption that Pakistan has extended a ‘nuclear umbrella’ to Saudi Arabia in case it faced an existential threat.
The erosion of Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia will weaken, not enhance, its leverage with Iran. The fumbling manner in which Pakistan’s response was evolved added insult to Saudi injury: endless and inconclusive cabinet meetings; the defence minister’s public announcement upon return from consultations in Riyadh that the Saudis had asked for “ground, air and naval forces”; the reference of the request to parliament, designed to provide a thinly disguised alibi for the government’s negative response, subjecting the Saudis to unprecedented and gratuitous public criticism in the process; Islamabad’s reception of the Iranian foreign minister while the parliamentary debate was under way, creating an impression that Pakistan’s negative response was the result of Iranian intervention; the offer to ‘mediate’ between Saudi Arabia and Iran after such a maladroit performance was considered ‘laughable’.
Though seething, the Saudi leadership preserved its characteristic calm, leaving it to the UAE deputy foreign minister to express the disappointment and anger of Pakistan’s ‘closest’ Arab friends. While the Pakistan Foreign Office discreetly refrained from responding, the interior minister did so, escalating the spat further.
According to Pakistani officials, the Saudis have ‘understood’ Pakistan’s position following the hastily arranged visit of the prime minister, accompanied by the army chief, to Riyadh. This seems highly unlikely. Politeness is often mistaken for acquiescence. A well-placed Saudi official believes that the damage to the relationship will be ‘long-lasting’ and take considerable time and effort to repair.
It is unlikely that the Saudis and other GCC states will retaliate by deporting Pakistani workers. But it could influence their future recruitment policies. Financial support and concessional oil supplies may not be forthcoming in future. Strategically, the Saudis and their allies may move closer to India.
This diplomatic fiasco could have been avoided if Pakistan had closely analysed the evolving strategic scenario in the Gulf and anticipated the Saudi request. The ill-considered US military interventions of the last decade have enabled Iran to enlarge its influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and, now, Yemen, virtually encircling Saudi Arabia. This has also contributed to widening the region’s sectarian fault lines.
Iran’s role will enlarge further once it concludes its nuclear deal with the major powers and frees itself of sanctions. Indeed, it may be able to play this larger role in collaboration with the US, whose first priority now is to battle the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and other Sunni ‘terrorist’ organisations, rather than contain Iran.
The advance of the Iran-backed Shia Houthis in Yemen and ouster of its elected president — made possible by US-Saudi mismanagement of former president Saleh — was the straw that broke the back of Saudi patience. The Saudis formed the Arab coalition to accumulate military capability that would compensate for the absence of US security support. They expected two countries in particular to fill the military gap: Egypt and Pakistan. The Egyptians immediately declared their support although the precise nature of their military contribution to the coalition remains uncertain. The Saudi expectation of Pakistan was even higher, given the battle experience of the Pakistan Army and the long tradition of military cooperation between the two countries.
Pakistan’s reluctance to support the coalition was reportedly due to its concern about Iran’s reaction. Pakistan’s relations with Iran are vital for several reasons: controlling insurgencies on both sides of the Balochistan border; stabilisation of Afghanistan; the sentiments of Pakistan’s Shia minority; prospects of mutually beneficial economic cooperation.
But several factors need to be considered in this context: one, Yemen is vital for Saudi security; it is a distant power play for Iran; two, international legality is on the Saudi side. It is defending an elected president. Its objectives, if not its tactics, have been endorsed by the UN Security Council; three, Pakistan’s support for the coalition could have been calibrated to conform to international legality, for instance, by stationing troops defensively on the Saudi side of the border; providing military advisers; deploying naval vessels to implement the UN embargo against the Houthis.
In any event, Pakistan-Iran relations are complex and multi-dimensional. At present, Iran’s relationship with India is closer than its ties to Pakistan. It is India’s largest oil supplier and a huge market for Indian goods, despite sanctions. India and Iran are building a port at Chabahar and a road link to Afghanistan and Central Asia that is designed to circumvent Pakistan. And, Iran continues to nurture its ‘friends’ in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The erosion of Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia and the GCC will weaken, not enhance, Pakistan’s leverage with Iran. Equally, the erosion of Saudi influence in the Gulf and the Levant will skew the regional power balance further towards Tehran. Pakistan is an integral part of this power balance. It cannot sit out the game. It must play an active role to promote outcomes that are consistent with its national interest and international law and which do not allow any state to dominate the region.
To this end, it should engage in open-ended consultations with Saudi Arabia and other GCC states to identify possible areas for strategic cooperation not only in Yemen but across the region. Simultaneously, Pakistan should also engage Iran, not only on bilateral issues and Afghanistan, but to find common ground for cooperative solutions to the sectarian conflicts that rage today across the Gulf and the Levant.

Hats off, or Shall I say Turbans off to Modi’s Master Stroke

With barely three million people deep inside the Eurasian steppe and sandwiched between Russia and China, Mongolia is an unlikely destination for Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week. China will certainly loom large over Modi’s three-nation tour, beginning Thursday. For, Modi is trying to move the Sino-Indian relationship out of the stasis that it finds itself in. Given his focus on “Make in India” and attracting foreign direct investment, Modi would want to end India’s prolonged political neglect of South Korea, one of the world’s leading economies, located at the heart northeast Asia. But Mongolia? Why has Modi chosen to be India’s first prime minister to visit Mongolia?
Some point to Mongolia’s potential as a source of natural uranium and other valuable minerals for India. But New Delhi already has agreements on uranium supplies with many countries from where it is easier to ship uranium than the landlocked Mongolia. Others would see rivalry with China as the driver behind Modi’s brief sojourn in Mongolia. If China spends so much political energy in cultivating India’s neighbours in the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean, it has been argued, Delhi should be doing the same on China’s periphery.
Mongolia is indeed a very sensitive neighbour of China, and the investment of the PM’s time in Mongolia seems worthwhile. To be sure, there has been a geopolitical dimension to India’s engagement with Mongolia. Over the last few years there, India and Mongolia have steadily expanded their defence exchanges and security cooperation.
But there are also limits to any Indian powerplay in Mongolia. With just two neighbours, with whom Mongolia has had difficult relations in the past, Ulaanbaatar has no interest in provoking either Russia or China by undertaking activities hostile to them. Like all small states with large neighbours, Mongolia wants a measure of “strategic autonomy” from them. The country, however, carefully calibrates its partnerships with other major powers. It also had to carefully circumscribe its relations with the Dalai Lama amid Chinese protestations.
Over the last quarter of a century, Mongolia has diversified its relations with an approach that is called the “third neighbour” policy. Originally developed vis-a-vis the United States in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, Mongolia has sought active cooperation with Germany, Europe, Japan and Korea. Ulaanbaatar has also taken to multilateralism, regional and international. Mongolia holds annual multilateral military exercises on its soil called the “Khaan Quest”, and has participated in UN Peacekeeping Operations. These activities have already given Mongolia an interesting global personality.
Spiritual Neighbour
For Mongolia, India is more than a third neighbour — it is the “spiritual neighbour”. Buddhism travelled to Mongolia in different periods from India and Tibet to emerge as the dominant religious faith over the last two millennia. It has survived the Stalinist-era oppression of religion, when Mongolia became part of the Soviet sphere of influence after the Bolshevik Revolution.
India was the first country outside the socialist bloc to establish diplomatic relations with Mongolia in 1955. Reviving its religious heritage and celebrating its new democratic orientation have become the major attributes of Mongolia after the 1990s, and India figures prominently in both domains. If the Mongolian state has put special emphasis on reaffirming the nation’s cultural identity, it might have found the right man in Modi.
During his travels over the last year — whether it was offering prayers to Lord Pashupatinath in Kathmandu, Nepal, meditating at a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan or visiting the Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka — Modi has put shared religious heritage with neighbours at the centre of his regional engagement. Mongolia, then, offers many possibilities for Modi’s cultural diplomacy.
Dharma Connection
Modi, who used to express his interest in Buddhism when he was the chief minister of Gujarat, has now lent it a special mission in shaping the future of the subcontinent and Asia. Speaking in Delhi earlier this month on the occasion of Buddha Purnima, Modi said, “Without Buddha, the 21st century will not be Asia’s century.”
Modi has talked about the possibilities of restoring historic Buddhist sites in the subcontinent and promoting tourism by integrating them across borders through modern transportation facilities. If spiritualism and economic development are presented as two sides of the same coin by Modi, his three-nation tour this week will see Buddhism at the very forefront of India’s new Asian outreach.

A Larger Strategic Vision: India Needs Enhance Attention to its Western Flank

The three-day visit of the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to New Delhi and the discussions have provided India an opportunity to recalibrate its ties with Kabul and also strengthen its ties with western countries- the flank mostly neglected. Concerns have been raised over Ghani’s Pakistan tilt ever since he became president last year. But security and geopolitical compulsions have put Ghani in a tough spot. With the US gradually scaling back the number of troops it has in Afghanistan and the Afghan army far from ready to impose its authority and subdue the Taliban, Ghani may have little choice but to seek rapprochement with Islamabad. New Delhi-Kabul ties stand at a crucial juncture. This visit took place against the backdrop of Indian concerns that Ghani has been tilting towards Pakistan. He has shelved a defense deal envisaged by his predecessor Hamid Karzai and New Delhi, sent Afghan military officials for training to Pakistan and is cooperating with Islamabad to combat Pakistani Taliban. In return, he hopes Islamabad will prod Afghan Taliban to come to the negotiating table.
Seen in this context Ghani’s rapprochement with Islamabad may be necessitated by the exigencies of the Afghan situation. With the US pulling out its troops from Afghanistan and Taliban insurgency showing no signs of fading away, Ghani needs Pakistan if a dialogue between Kabul and Taliban is to succeed. That said, India has acquired significant stakes in Afghanistan over the past decade, especially through its infrastructure projects there. Besides, India enjoys significant soft power in Afghanistan. All of these can be enhanced if New Delhi refrains from treating the India-Afghanistan-Pakistan trilateral as a zero-sum game and focusses on a larger strategic vision for West and Central Asia.
Towards that end, Ghani has sought greater participation of the Indian private sector in Afghanistan’s development. Trade between the two countries is far below potential. This can be boosted by the development of Iran’s Chabahar port which will open up an alternative trade route to Afghanistan instead of relying solely on the existing land route via Pakistan. In fact, the Chabahar route will also improve India’s access to energy-rich Central Asia. PM Modi has already stressed that India stands shoulder to shoulder with Afghanistan for the latter’s development. He would also do well to let Kabul know that it has an all-weather friend in New Delhi.
This makes even more sense – from Ghani’s point of view – if the Taliban is going to be a part of a future political solution to Afghanistan’s woes. True, as things stand it appears that Pakistan is well poised to regain its strategic depth in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal. This in turn means that India will need to think hard about how it wants to protect its stakes in Afghanistan that it has acquired over the past decade.
One obvious way it can do this is by ramping up economic cooperation with Kabul. In fact, economic ties could be the basis of a larger West/Central Asian strategy for New Delhi. So far, trade between India and Afghanistan has been limited by the land route over Pakistan. But this can change with the development and operationalisation of the Chabahar port in Iran. New Delhi plans to invest $85 million to set up and operate a container terminal and a multi-purpose berth at Chabahar. Further, it plans to build a road-railroad network from Chabahar to Milak in Iran so that it can link up with the Zaranj-Delaram road in Afghanistan which it has already built.
The Chabahar sea-rail-road route will allow India to trade with Afghanistan while bypassing Pakistan. Chabahar will also allow India to boost its trade with Central Asia via the Iran-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan rail link which opened last year. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slated to visit Central Asian nations in July. One of those countries, he will be visiting is resource-rich Kazakhstan. The latter recently re-elected its long-standing President Nursultan Nazarbayev for another term with a landslide mandate.
Kazakhstan is perhaps the most stable former Soviet republic in Central Asia. Its vast energy reserves can fuel India’s industrialisation dreams and enhance India’s economic footprint in the region. This is also the right time to boost Kazakhstan-India ties as the Central Asian nation has embarked on an industrial modernisation programme with emphasis on innovation for the next five years.
This is necessitated by the fact that the Kazakh economy today is energy-dependent and the fall in global oil prices has affected Astana to some extent. However, the Kazakh leadership had the foresight to insulate the country from the vagaries of international oil shocks by setting up a national fund from oil and gas revenues. Since 2005, the fund has been delinked from the country’s budget, giving the Kazakh government room to manoeuvre.
What all of this means is that the Kazakh economy has a lot of potential for Indian investment. Add to this the fact that Kazakhstan has massive reserves of uranium – the country accounted for 37.82% of global uranium production in 2013, the largest output – and the New Delhi-Astana partnership makes sense on a diverse range of parameters.
Taken together, Afghanistan can be India’s doorway to Central Asia while Kazakhstan can be the fulcrum of India’s interests in that region. A new focus on West/Central Asia smoothly dovetails into India’s objective of increasing its strategic depth in the region. With this in mind, New Delhi would do well to enhance its cooperation with Kabul at this critical juncture and script a new chapter in bilateral relations with Astana.