Category Archives: Pakistan

International Crisis Group : Reforming Pakistan’s Electoral System

Pakistan’s dysfunctional electoral system has hampered democratic development, political stability and the rule of law; major electoral reforms would bolster a still fragile democratic transition.

via International Crisis Group : Reforming Pakistan’s Electoral System.

Reforming Pakistan’s Electoral System

Asia Report N° 20330 Mar 2011

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Electoral rigging has hampered Pakistan’s democratic development, eroded political stability and contributed to the breakdown of the rule of law. Facing domestic pressure for democracy, successive military governments rigged national, provincial and local polls to ensure regime survival. These elections yielded unrepresentative parliaments that have rubber-stamped extensive constitutional and political reforms to centralise power with the military and to empower its civilian allies. Undemocratic rule has also suppressed other civilian institutions, including the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which is responsible for holding elections to the national and four provincial assemblies, and local governments. With the next general election in 2013 – if the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government completes its full five-year term – the ruling party and its parliamentary opposition, as well as the international community, should focus on ensuring a transparent, orderly political transition through free, fair and transparent elections.

General Pervez Musharraf’s eight-year rule gravely eroded the ECP’s already limited independence, impartiality and competence, reducing the institution to providing a façade of legitimacy to military rule. Handpicked chief election commissioners (CECs) oversaw widespread rigging of two local government elections, a presidential referendum, and a general election. Musharraf’s Legal Framework Order, enshrined in the constitution though the seventeenth amendment, massively distorted the political system, tilting the electoral playing field towards the military’s civilian allies, including the Islamist parties.

These constitutional distortions were repealed in April 2010, when parliament unanimously passed the eighteenth amendment to the constitution, undoing Musharraf’s political legacy and introducing new provisions to strengthen parliamentary democracy. The amendment package enhanced the ECP’s independence by making the appointment of its key officials more transparent and subject to parliamentary oversight. The CEC and other ECP members, previously appointed by the president, will now be selected through consultations between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, and subsequently vetted and approved by a joint parliamentary committee comprising, equally, government and opposition members. While encouraging, this is only the first step in a longer process of electoral reform.

To curtail opportunities for the military to manipulate the political process, the ECP must be made independent, impartial and effective. The commission remains poorly managed, inadequately resourced, under-staffed and under-trained. Promotion prospects for ECP personnel are limited, and recruitment policies fail to attract strong candidates; top positions tend to be filled by civil servants from the regular federal bureaucracy, primarily because ECP officials lack the necessary skills. There are no systematic training programs for ECP staff, and the organisation devotes few if any resources to researching and analysing past elections and raising important electoral issues.

Electoral reform on all fronts is urgently needed. Highly inaccurate voters lists are responsible for disenfranchising millions. Polling procedures are often manipulated; accountability mechanisms for candidates and political parties seldom employed; and the electoral code of conduct routinely flouted. Dysfunctional election tribunals, characterised by corruption and prolonged delays, prove incapable of resolving post-election disputes. Such internal weaknesses constrain the ECP from overseeing credible elections and an orderly political transition.

The ECP has taken some steps to address these problems. In May 2010, it produced a strategic five-year plan, with significant international assistance, listing fifteen broad electoral reform goals, divided into 129 detailed objectives with specific timeframes, which range from improvements in voter registration and election dispute management procedures, to the creation of a comprehensive human resource policy. Although there were some, albeit limited, steps towards meeting targets for 2010, more substantive progress is unlikely unless parliament assumes political ownership over the plan, oversees its implementation, and holds the ECP accountable for unsatisfactory progress.

Credible elections, however, require far more than just structural reforms. Many discriminatory laws remain in place, including easily manipulated qualification criteria requiring electoral candidates to be of good Islamic character. Moreover, an interventionist military high command appears bent on shaping the political order to its liking. Although the PPP’s main opposition, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) has repeatedly expressed its support for the democratic transition and refusal to unseat the elected government via unconstitutional means, it must match rhetoric with action. In the past, both the PML-N and the PPP have instead chosen to collude with the military at times.

A new population census, originally due in 2008, is scheduled for August-September 2011, presumably followed by a large-scale redistricting exercise. The last redistricting, under Musharraf in 2002 and 2005, ahead of national and local elections respectively, was designed to serve narrow political objectives. Political violence and ethnic conflict could be sparked countrywide by a flawed census, gerrymandering and a rigged election.

The international community, too, particularly the U.S. and EU, should realise that a flawed general election in 2013, if not sooner, would pose a serious threat to Pakistan’s stability. Donors and Western capitals should immediately shift their programs and advocacy to support for a smooth political transition, rather than wait for the election season to begin.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To the National and Provincial Governments of Pakistan:

1.  Transform the parliamentary subcommittee on electoral reform to a permanent, full committee.

2.  Increase the independence and improve the functioning of the ECP by:

a)  appointing without delay new members of the ECP, according to the provisions of the eighteenth and nineteenth constitutional amendments;

b)  granting the ECP complete financial autonomy by passing legislation providing for budgetary allocation to the commission, reflecting to the extent possible its determination of needs;

c)  making the ECP’s code of conduct part of the electoral law, and requiring the ECP to revise it for each electoral cycle;

d)  requiring that the ECP’s nominees for election tribunals be approved by the permanent parliamentary committee on electoral reform;

e)  ensuring that all federal and provincial executive authorities assist the ECP, as required by law, particularly in enforcing the code of conduct, including provisions relating to the use of government resources for electoral purposes;

f)  ensuring that all executive officers deputed to electoral duties are subject to ECP supervision, and not of their parent department; and

g)  removing the condition that the CEC and members of the ECP be retired judges, instead opening up the selection process to people of integrity and experience.

3.  Submit the ECP’s five-year strategic plan for review and a vote by the permanent parliamentary committee on electoral reform which should make amendments where necessary; require regular reports by ECP officials on steps taken to achieve the plan’s objectives; and hold ECP officials accountable for unsatisfactory progress.

4.  Ensure that a new population census is carried out in August-September 2011, as scheduled, as well as a credible redistricting exercise ahead of the next local or general election, based on the new census; empower the permanent committee on electoral reform in the National Assembly, and similar committees in the provincial assemblies, to hold public hearings on the ECP’s redistricting exercise, to review and approve the redistricting plan for national and provincial constituencies; and subject final approval to vote in the relevant legislature.

5.  Remove all qualification criteria for electoral candidacy that are based on vague definitions of moral suitability, including adherence to Islamic injunctions.

To the Election Commission of Pakistan:

6.  Prioritise the timely implementation of the Five-Year Strategic Plan (2010-2014).

7.  Enhance accountability of voting processes, election officials and electoral candidates by:

a)  ensuring to the extent possible that all electoral constituencies are roughly equal in population size, and abide by other criteria in the Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974;

b)  revising the code of conduct for each electoral cycle;

c)  barring temporary election staff from officiating in their home districts, and taking action against those found guilty of corruption or bias;

d)  instituting an independent mechanism for challenging the appointment of polling officials;

e)  providing election observers unfettered access to polling stations;

f)  rejecting the proposed incorporation of electronic voting machines (EVMs), and instead improving the existing system of paper ballots and manual counts through better training and neutral observation;

g)  simplifying complaints and appeals procedures by reducing the number of administrative personnel tasked with processing petitions, and streamlining all relevant administrative mechanisms; and

h)  introducing robust measures for scrutinising annual statements of assets and liabilities filed by parliamentarians, and prescribing punishments, to be administered by the ECP, for elected officials filing false statements.

8.  Improve the polling process by:

a)  prohibiting candidates from contesting elections in more than one constituency;

b)  implementing complete computerisation of the voter registration process, including photographs of voters as a further guarantee against bogus voting; publishing the final voters list on the ECP’s website; and abiding by the new constitutional requirement for revising the list annually;

c)  preparing a permanent list of polling stations through consultations with all stakeholders, providing their locations on the ECP website and providing written explanations for any changes made by district returning officers; and

d)  expediting the pilot project on computerised electoral rolls and expanding it countrywide.

9.  Improve infrastructure, enhance training and research, and increase human resource capabilities by:

a)  implementing a comprehensive human resource policy, preparing job descriptions for all positions and devising a clearly defined path of career progression for all permanent staff;

b)  recruiting ECP officials in Basic Pay Scale (BPS)-17 through the Federal Public Service Commission, and establishing an Electoral Service of Pakistan along the lines of other occupational groups in the federal civil service;

c)    recruiting qualified people from the non-govern­ment sector as temporary staff for election day duties, rather than strictly from the executive; and determining the terms and conditions for temporary staff recruitment, investigating misconduct and taking disciplinary action against polling officials found guilty of misconduct;

d)  developing specialised courses in electoral administration, taught by professional instructors;

e)  expanding the role of the Federal Election Academy by equipping it with trained staff and improved facilities;

f)  adopting a comprehensive training program with two components: a basic orientation course that familiarises recruits with the history, functions and powers of the ECP, and its conduct of previous elections; and specialised instruction in specific areas of electoral administration, such as the preparation of electoral rolls, delimitation of constituencies and electoral dispute resolution; and

g)  establishing training programs for all temporary staff recruited for electoral duties on the role and functions of the ECP, responsibilities in managing assigned polling stations, and effective response to poll-related violence.

To the International Community:

10.  Support a still fragile democratic transition by prioritising democratisation programming, sending unambiguous signals to the military high command that any interference in the political process will be unacceptable and would result in the suspension of military assistance; and shift the focus of programming and engagement towards ensuring a credible and orderly political transition after the next general election.

11.  Acknowledge that elections are not a purely technical but an intensely political process and adjust programming to engage beyond the bureaucracy with the full spectrum of stakeholders, including parliament and political parties, and secure political ownership at the national and provincial levels over election-related programs.

12.  Support the development of specialised training programs for dedicated instructors in electoral administration.

13.  Provide the ECP with technical support towards timely completion of its five-year strategic plan, with particular focus on:

a)  developing a comprehensive ECP information technology (IT) policy, including modernising the ECP’s IT Directorate, as well as supporting a strong IT infrastructure at the ECP secretariat, provincial election commission offices and field offices;

b)  computerising electoral rolls and building a serviceable electronic voter database;

c)  establishing linkages between all polling stations, and between polling stations and the computerised voter rolls;

d)  building a serviceable electronic database to track electoral complaints; and

e)  providing geographical information systems to digitally map electoral areas and ensure that constituency delimitation takes place along scientific lines.

14.  Insist that the Strategic Plan Management Committee (SPMC) and the Review, Assistance and Facilitation Team (RAFT), be activated and made accountable to donors.

Islamabad/Brussels, 30 March 2011

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Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan – Opinion – Al Jazeera English

Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan
Pakistan needs to reform its military and intelligence services in order to rid itself of terrorist activity.
Last Modified: 04 May 2011 11:00
The killing of Osama bin Laden by United States special forces in a helicopter assault on a sprawling luxury mansion near Islamabad recalls the capture of other al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistani cities. Once again, we see that the real “terrorist sanctuaries” are located not along Pakistan’s borders with Afghanistan and India, but in the Pakistani heartland.This, in turn, underlines another fundamental reality – that the fight against international terrorism cannot be won without demilitarising and de-radicalising Pakistan, including by rebalancing civil-military relations there and reining in the country’s rogue Inter-Services Intelligence agency.Other terrorist leaders captured in Pakistan since 9/11 – including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Al Qaeda’s third in command; Abu Zubeida, the network’s operations chief; Yasser Jazeeri; Abu Faraj Farj; and Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the coordinators of 9/11 – were also found living in cities across Pakistan. If there is any surprise about bin Laden’s hideout, it is its location in a military town, Abbottadad, in the shadow of an army academy.

This only underscores the major protection that bin Laden must have received from elements of the Pakistani security establishment to help him elude the US dragnet for nearly a decade. The breakthrough in hunting him down came only after the US, even at the risk of rupturing its longstanding ties with the Pakistani army and ISI, deployed a number of CIA operatives, Special Operations forces, and “contractors” deep inside Pakistan without the knowledge of the Pakistani military.

In recent years, with its senior operations men captured or killed and bin Laden holed up in Pakistan, the badly splintered al-Qaeda had already lost the ability to mount a major international attack or openly challenge US interests. With bin Laden’s death, Al Qaeda is likely to wither away as an organisation.

Yet its dangerous ideology is expected to live on and motivate state-sponsored non-state actors. It will be mainly such elements that will have the capacity to launch major transnational terrorist attacks, like the 2008 Mumbai strikes. Even in Afghanistan, the US military’s main foe is not al-Qaeda but a resurgent Taliban, which enjoys safe haven in Pakistan.

That is why the spotlight is likely to turn on the terrorist nexus within Pakistan and the role of, and relationship between, state and non-state actors there. Significantly, as the CIA closed in on bin Laden, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullens, for the first time publicly linked the Pakistani military with some of the militants attacking US forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s homegrown militia continue to operate openly, and the Pakistani army and intelligence remain loathe to sever their cozy ties with “extremist” and “terrorist” elements.

For the US, Pakistan poses a particularly difficult challenge. Despite providing US$20billion to Pakistan in counterterrorism aid since 9/11, the US has received grudging assistance, at best, and duplicitous cooperation, at worst. Today, amid a rising tide of anti-Americanism, US policy on Pakistan is rapidly unravelling. Yet Pakistan, with one of the world’s lowest tax-to-GDP ratios, has become more dependent than ever on US aid.

Even as the US exults over bin Laden’s killing, the US government must recognise that its failed policy on Pakistan has inadvertently made that country the world’s main terrorist sanctuary. Rather than helping to build robust civilian institutions there, the US has pampered the jihadist-penetrated Pakistani military establishment, best illustrated by the fresh $3billion military aid package earmarked for the next fiscal year. After dictator Pervez Musharraf was driven out of office, the new Pakistani civilian government ordered the ISI to report to the interior ministry, but received no support from the US for this effort to assert civilian control, allowing the army to quickly frustrate the effort.

After coming to office, US President Barack Obama implemented a military surge in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, however, he implemented an aid surge, turning it into the largest recipient of US aid, even though the Afghan Taliban leadership and al-Qaeda remnants remained ensconced in the country. This only deepened US involvement in the wrong war and emboldened Pakistan to fatten the Afghan Taliban, even as sustained US attacks continued to severely weaken al-Qaeda.

Make no mistake: the scourge of Pakistani terrorism emanates more from the country’s Scotch whisky-sipping generals than from the bead-rubbing mullahs. It is the self-styled secular generals who have reared the forces of jihad and fathered the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jalaluddin Haqqani militia, and other groups. Yet, by passing the blame for their ongoing terrorist-proxy policy to their mullah puppets, the generals have made the US believe that the key is to contain the religious fringe, not the puppeteers.

In fact, Pakistan’s descent into a jihadist dungeon occurred not under civilian rule, but under two military dictators – one who nurtured and let loose jihadist forces, and another who took his country to the very edge of the precipice.

Without reform of the Pakistani army and ISI, there can be no end to transnational terrorism – and no genuine nation-building in Pakistan. How can Pakistan be a “normal” state if its army and intelligence agency remain outside civilian oversight and decisive power remains with military generals?

With bin Laden dead, the only way that al-Qaeda can reconstitute itself is if the Pakistani military succeeds in reinstalling a proxy regime in Afghanistan. Until the Pakistani military’s vice-like grip on power is broken and the ISI cut down to size, Pakistan is likely to remain Ground Zero for the terrorist threat that the world confronts.

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, is the author of Asian Juggernaut  and the forthcoming Water: Asia’s New Battlefield.

A version of this article first appeared on Project Syndicate.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Source:
Al Jazeera

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Dead man and the sea

Dead man and the sea.

Dead man and the sea

Dead man and the sea

We asked world famous occult medium, Mr. Abdul Qadir Awami Badami, to connect and communicate with Osama bin Laden’s soul, to ask him what really happened on the night he was shot dead in Abbottabad …

Mr. Osama, can you hear me? Mr. Osama?
Bubble … bubble … bubble

I think I have made contact with the departed soul. Mr. Osama, can you hear me?
Yes, where am I? Is this heaven?

No, sir, you are at the bottom of the sea.
Sea? Hmmm … yes, it does seem that way. Am I dead?

Well, yes. Kind of.
Hmm … how did I die?

I was hoping you could tell me that.
All I remember is that it was night and I was waiting for the Kakul guys to get my dinner, and then I heard these ’copters and thought maybe the Kakul guys were throwing me a surprise party or something and I got very excited, and …

The Kakul guys used to give you dinner?
Well, yes. Biryani on Mondays and Tuesdays, chicken chowmein on Wednesdays, steak on Thursdays, mixed veggies on Saturdays and Sundays …

And on Fridays?
On Fridays I used to call them over for dinner. One of my wives makes a darn good Yemeni stew.

I see. So they knew you were hiding there?
Of course, they did! They’re my wives!

I mean the Kakul guys.
Oh. Well, according to their intelligence reports, I was some rich Arab camel breeder and exporter.

Really? They didn’t bother to cross-check?
Let’s just say, I was not on their radar.

Must be the same radar that failed to pick the American ’copters …
I tell you, my men have better radars, hehehe … bubble, bubble..
By the way, you said that I was in hiding?

Weren’t you in hiding?
Not at all!

Then why did the Americans take 10 years to find you?
Those fools don’t know much about caves.

But you weren’t hiding in a cave, sir.
My friend, let me tell you, all of Pakistan is one big cave!

Then did the Pakistanis really know you were in the country all along?
My friend, they wouldn’t have been Pakistanis had they not known. Hehe … bubble, bubble.

Huh?
Never mind.

So you are saying they knew?
Well I was … excuse me, I think I have a fish stuck in my ear. *Plop!* Ah, a red snapper! So, what were you saying? By the way, what is your name, brother?

Abdul Qadir Awami Badami
That is a strange name. Are you by any chance a Hindu?

No.
Hmm … I guess I will have to kill you anyway.

But you are dead.
Oh, right, of course. Then I guess I will kill some fish instead.

Are you a seafood fan?
No, I just like killing infidels.

Infidel fish?
Yes, you have a problem with that, you idol worshipper!

How can fish be infidel?
Look at them! Swimming in the sea, all naked!

But they are fish!
And stark naked! Shameless.

Whatever, tell us about your stay in Pakistan
It reminded me of home.

Saudi Arabia?
No, Afghanistan, but with better cars and escalators.

But you’re a Saudi.
I’m a Muslim first. The best there was. And if you disagree I will get you killed. You are a Christian Crusader anyway.

No.
Non-Muslim!

Human being.
Infidel!

Any difference between human beings and Muslims?
Of course there is. That is why we only kill human beings.

But you and your al Qaeda and Taliban friends have killed thousands of Pakistani Muslims.
They were all bad Muslims.

How can you say that?
I don’t say.  I blow!

No, you say, while others blow...
Those who blow have true faith.

Even the small children and infants who have died in these attacks?
Yes!

So people who blow themselves up in mosques, shrines and markets are the only true Muslims?
It is much more complicated than that. A very complex concept.

Please explain.
You see, only those Muslims who blow themselves up in mosques, shrines and markets are the only true Muslims.

But that’s what I said.
You did?

Yes.
I see … you Hindu!

Why did you say that?
Because you worship idols.

But to some, you are an idol too.
I am an ideal.

A pretty violent one though.
Yes, mashallah.

But I’m not forcing my beliefs on you.
That is because you are a chicken!

So I should impose them on you?
Yes. Come on, I invite you to convert to my faith. Where is your suicide jacket?

Where’s yours?
I deal in suicide jackets, not wear them, fool.

I know so many Muslims who are nothing like you.
They are not Muslims!

Then who are they?
Human beings! Ugh!

But I thought a good Muslim also meant being a good human being.
Jewish propaganda!

What?
Well, as I … excuse me, I think I see a shark approaching.

Why don’t you move from there?
No worries. You know that red snapper that got stuck in my ear?

Yes…
Well, I trained it to become a suicide bomber. It just exploded over the shark’s head!

But the shark did not attack you!
But it could have.

You’re sounding like George W. Bush. He, too, was into pre-emptive strikes, remember?
Ah, good ol’ Bushy. He was good for my business. But this Obama guy turned out to be different.

Different, how? In policy and in strategy?
No, in colour. He is black.

A human being, nevertheless.
That is the problem. The whole world should be Muslim, instead.

Yes, just like Bush wanted the whole world to become American.
Ah, good ol’ Bushy. Those were the days. Right, I guess I’ll kill you now.

But you’re dead. Buried deep in the sea.
They buried me here?

Yes, the Americans buried you in the sea.
Wow! Has Obama converted to Islam?

What do you mean? You were a Salafi, right?
Yes. I am amazed. How did he know we didn’t believe in marked graves?

But some of your fans around the world are criticising him for not giving you a decent Muslim burial.
Infidels!

So you are happy that they buried you in the sea?
Of course! Otherwise bad Muslims would have made a shrine at my grave. We blow up shrines, you know.

Yes I do. But this is amazing. You are actually happy at what Obama did?
Yes, but minus the shooting-me-in-the-head part, of course.

So you do remember that you were shot in the head?
Well, I really do have this bad headache and … well, I’ll be dammed! There’s a hole in my head! The buggers did shoot me!

The Americans?
Yes, who else? The Pakistanis?

So Pakistanis weren’t at all involved in your assassination?
Well, their only contribution to this was that on that fateful, tragic night they delayed my dinner. Buggers.  Had to be shot on an empty stomach.

But the Taliban are blaming them and saying that now their top target is Pakistan.
Really? What was our top target before my death? Guatemala?

You tell me.
Hmmm … better warn Mullah Omar.

Why, is he hiding in Pakistan too?
Follow the dinner trail, follow the dinner trail …

So the Pakistanis did know you were there, right?
Pakistanis don’t know where they themselves are, forget about knowing where I was. What is the Pakistani media saying?

Some of their TV anchors seem shocked and sad.
Yes, one of them once worked as a cook for me and another used to give me great massages.

Can you name them?
No. Don’t want to give them undue importance. Let the ISI do that.

The ISI gives them importance?
Sort of.  They give the ISI great massages too.

Can you be more specific?
Yes, I can. I. Want. To. Behead. You. You. Hindu. How is that for being specific, you cunning Jew?

Human being.
Same thing.

Whatever.
Chicken! Come on fight me, you Buddhist coward!

I am disconnecting from you now. May God deal with you in whatever way he thinks you are to be dealt with.
Darn. I almost forgot. You are right. Now I will have to meet the maker. Do you think he likes seafood?

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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International Crisis Group : Reforming Pakistan’s Electoral System

Pakistan’s dysfunctional electoral system has hampered democratic development, political stability and the rule of law; major electoral reforms would bolster a still fragile democratic transition.

via International Crisis Group : Reforming Pakistan’s Electoral System.

Reforming Pakistan’s Electoral System

Asia Report N° 20330 Mar 2011

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Electoral rigging has hampered Pakistan’s democratic development, eroded political stability and contributed to the breakdown of the rule of law. Facing domestic pressure for democracy, successive military governments rigged national, provincial and local polls to ensure regime survival. These elections yielded unrepresentative parliaments that have rubber-stamped extensive constitutional and political reforms to centralise power with the military and to empower its civilian allies. Undemocratic rule has also suppressed other civilian institutions, including the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which is responsible for holding elections to the national and four provincial assemblies, and local governments. With the next general election in 2013 – if the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government completes its full five-year term – the ruling party and its parliamentary opposition, as well as the international community, should focus on ensuring a transparent, orderly political transition through free, fair and transparent elections.

General Pervez Musharraf’s eight-year rule gravely eroded the ECP’s already limited independence, impartiality and competence, reducing the institution to providing a façade of legitimacy to military rule. Handpicked chief election commissioners (CECs) oversaw widespread rigging of two local government elections, a presidential referendum, and a general election. Musharraf’s Legal Framework Order, enshrined in the constitution though the seventeenth amendment, massively distorted the political system, tilting the electoral playing field towards the military’s civilian allies, including the Islamist parties.

These constitutional distortions were repealed in April 2010, when parliament unanimously passed the eighteenth amendment to the constitution, undoing Musharraf’s political legacy and introducing new provisions to strengthen parliamentary democracy. The amendment package enhanced the ECP’s independence by making the appointment of its key officials more transparent and subject to parliamentary oversight. The CEC and other ECP members, previously appointed by the president, will now be selected through consultations between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, and subsequently vetted and approved by a joint parliamentary committee comprising, equally, government and opposition members. While encouraging, this is only the first step in a longer process of electoral reform.

To curtail opportunities for the military to manipulate the political process, the ECP must be made independent, impartial and effective. The commission remains poorly managed, inadequately resourced, under-staffed and under-trained. Promotion prospects for ECP personnel are limited, and recruitment policies fail to attract strong candidates; top positions tend to be filled by civil servants from the regular federal bureaucracy, primarily because ECP officials lack the necessary skills. There are no systematic training programs for ECP staff, and the organisation devotes few if any resources to researching and analysing past elections and raising important electoral issues.

Electoral reform on all fronts is urgently needed. Highly inaccurate voters lists are responsible for disenfranchising millions. Polling procedures are often manipulated; accountability mechanisms for candidates and political parties seldom employed; and the electoral code of conduct routinely flouted. Dysfunctional election tribunals, characterised by corruption and prolonged delays, prove incapable of resolving post-election disputes. Such internal weaknesses constrain the ECP from overseeing credible elections and an orderly political transition.

The ECP has taken some steps to address these problems. In May 2010, it produced a strategic five-year plan, with significant international assistance, listing fifteen broad electoral reform goals, divided into 129 detailed objectives with specific timeframes, which range from improvements in voter registration and election dispute management procedures, to the creation of a comprehensive human resource policy. Although there were some, albeit limited, steps towards meeting targets for 2010, more substantive progress is unlikely unless parliament assumes political ownership over the plan, oversees its implementation, and holds the ECP accountable for unsatisfactory progress.

Credible elections, however, require far more than just structural reforms. Many discriminatory laws remain in place, including easily manipulated qualification criteria requiring electoral candidates to be of good Islamic character. Moreover, an interventionist military high command appears bent on shaping the political order to its liking. Although the PPP’s main opposition, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) has repeatedly expressed its support for the democratic transition and refusal to unseat the elected government via unconstitutional means, it must match rhetoric with action. In the past, both the PML-N and the PPP have instead chosen to collude with the military at times.

A new population census, originally due in 2008, is scheduled for August-September 2011, presumably followed by a large-scale redistricting exercise. The last redistricting, under Musharraf in 2002 and 2005, ahead of national and local elections respectively, was designed to serve narrow political objectives. Political violence and ethnic conflict could be sparked countrywide by a flawed census, gerrymandering and a rigged election.

The international community, too, particularly the U.S. and EU, should realise that a flawed general election in 2013, if not sooner, would pose a serious threat to Pakistan’s stability. Donors and Western capitals should immediately shift their programs and advocacy to support for a smooth political transition, rather than wait for the election season to begin.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To the National and Provincial Governments of Pakistan:

1.  Transform the parliamentary subcommittee on electoral reform to a permanent, full committee.

2.  Increase the independence and improve the functioning of the ECP by:

a)  appointing without delay new members of the ECP, according to the provisions of the eighteenth and nineteenth constitutional amendments;

b)  granting the ECP complete financial autonomy by passing legislation providing for budgetary allocation to the commission, reflecting to the extent possible its determination of needs;

c)  making the ECP’s code of conduct part of the electoral law, and requiring the ECP to revise it for each electoral cycle;

d)  requiring that the ECP’s nominees for election tribunals be approved by the permanent parliamentary committee on electoral reform;

e)  ensuring that all federal and provincial executive authorities assist the ECP, as required by law, particularly in enforcing the code of conduct, including provisions relating to the use of government resources for electoral purposes;

f)  ensuring that all executive officers deputed to electoral duties are subject to ECP supervision, and not of their parent department; and

g)  removing the condition that the CEC and members of the ECP be retired judges, instead opening up the selection process to people of integrity and experience.

3.  Submit the ECP’s five-year strategic plan for review and a vote by the permanent parliamentary committee on electoral reform which should make amendments where necessary; require regular reports by ECP officials on steps taken to achieve the plan’s objectives; and hold ECP officials accountable for unsatisfactory progress.

4.  Ensure that a new population census is carried out in August-September 2011, as scheduled, as well as a credible redistricting exercise ahead of the next local or general election, based on the new census; empower the permanent committee on electoral reform in the National Assembly, and similar committees in the provincial assemblies, to hold public hearings on the ECP’s redistricting exercise, to review and approve the redistricting plan for national and provincial constituencies; and subject final approval to vote in the relevant legislature.

5.  Remove all qualification criteria for electoral candidacy that are based on vague definitions of moral suitability, including adherence to Islamic injunctions.

To the Election Commission of Pakistan:

6.  Prioritise the timely implementation of the Five-Year Strategic Plan (2010-2014).

7.  Enhance accountability of voting processes, election officials and electoral candidates by:

a)  ensuring to the extent possible that all electoral constituencies are roughly equal in population size, and abide by other criteria in the Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974;

b)  revising the code of conduct for each electoral cycle;

c)  barring temporary election staff from officiating in their home districts, and taking action against those found guilty of corruption or bias;

d)  instituting an independent mechanism for challenging the appointment of polling officials;

e)  providing election observers unfettered access to polling stations;

f)  rejecting the proposed incorporation of electronic voting machines (EVMs), and instead improving the existing system of paper ballots and manual counts through better training and neutral observation;

g)  simplifying complaints and appeals procedures by reducing the number of administrative personnel tasked with processing petitions, and streamlining all relevant administrative mechanisms; and

h)  introducing robust measures for scrutinising annual statements of assets and liabilities filed by parliamentarians, and prescribing punishments, to be administered by the ECP, for elected officials filing false statements.

8.  Improve the polling process by:

a)  prohibiting candidates from contesting elections in more than one constituency;

b)  implementing complete computerisation of the voter registration process, including photographs of voters as a further guarantee against bogus voting; publishing the final voters list on the ECP’s website; and abiding by the new constitutional requirement for revising the list annually;

c)  preparing a permanent list of polling stations through consultations with all stakeholders, providing their locations on the ECP website and providing written explanations for any changes made by district returning officers; and

d)  expediting the pilot project on computerised electoral rolls and expanding it countrywide.

9.  Improve infrastructure, enhance training and research, and increase human resource capabilities by:

a)  implementing a comprehensive human resource policy, preparing job descriptions for all positions and devising a clearly defined path of career progression for all permanent staff;

b)  recruiting ECP officials in Basic Pay Scale (BPS)-17 through the Federal Public Service Commission, and establishing an Electoral Service of Pakistan along the lines of other occupational groups in the federal civil service;

c)    recruiting qualified people from the non-govern­ment sector as temporary staff for election day duties, rather than strictly from the executive; and determining the terms and conditions for temporary staff recruitment, investigating misconduct and taking disciplinary action against polling officials found guilty of misconduct;

d)  developing specialised courses in electoral administration, taught by professional instructors;

e)  expanding the role of the Federal Election Academy by equipping it with trained staff and improved facilities;

f)  adopting a comprehensive training program with two components: a basic orientation course that familiarises recruits with the history, functions and powers of the ECP, and its conduct of previous elections; and specialised instruction in specific areas of electoral administration, such as the preparation of electoral rolls, delimitation of constituencies and electoral dispute resolution; and

g)  establishing training programs for all temporary staff recruited for electoral duties on the role and functions of the ECP, responsibilities in managing assigned polling stations, and effective response to poll-related violence.

To the International Community:

10.  Support a still fragile democratic transition by prioritising democratisation programming, sending unambiguous signals to the military high command that any interference in the political process will be unacceptable and would result in the suspension of military assistance; and shift the focus of programming and engagement towards ensuring a credible and orderly political transition after the next general election.

11.  Acknowledge that elections are not a purely technical but an intensely political process and adjust programming to engage beyond the bureaucracy with the full spectrum of stakeholders, including parliament and political parties, and secure political ownership at the national and provincial levels over election-related programs.

12.  Support the development of specialised training programs for dedicated instructors in electoral administration.

13.  Provide the ECP with technical support towards timely completion of its five-year strategic plan, with particular focus on:

a)  developing a comprehensive ECP information technology (IT) policy, including modernising the ECP’s IT Directorate, as well as supporting a strong IT infrastructure at the ECP secretariat, provincial election commission offices and field offices;

b)  computerising electoral rolls and building a serviceable electronic voter database;

c)  establishing linkages between all polling stations, and between polling stations and the computerised voter rolls;

d)  building a serviceable electronic database to track electoral complaints; and

e)  providing geographical information systems to digitally map electoral areas and ensure that constituency delimitation takes place along scientific lines.

14.  Insist that the Strategic Plan Management Committee (SPMC) and the Review, Assistance and Facilitation Team (RAFT), be activated and made accountable to donors.

Islamabad/Brussels, 30 March 2011

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Another death, another day

Another death, another day.

Another death, another day

Another death, another day

The Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti was killed today in an attack on his vehicle in Islamabad.

Two gunmen fired on Bhatti’s vehicle in I-8/3 area of the capital. He was taken to the hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

No surprises here. Another voice bold enough to speak out against the madness that has gripped the country has been silenced.

Bhatti, a Pakistani Christian, had been an outspoken critic of the misuse of the controversial Blasphemy Law and according to his colleagues he was facing death threats from those who just wanted him to shut up.

After former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer’s assassination at the hands of a uniformed extremist more than a month ago, Bhatti has become the second high profile victim of the violent fanaticism being demonstrated by those who want the Blasphemy Law to stay put, without any amendments whatsoever.

Why shouldn’t these madmen continue the way they have been so far – slaughtering innocent men in the name of faith, taking out highly-charged rallies condoning the murders and using mosques to announce their list of those who (according to them) are wajibul qatal.

Why shouldn’t they, indeed. Because who are they afraid of? Not the state, not the government, not the law. All three have simply capitulated in front of the psychosis that is ever so often being presented to us through TV talk shows, mosques and cyber space as the ‘true faith.’

Forget the state, the government and the law. One never knows where they stand on anything anyway. The government is weak and is more interested in its own Machiavellian survival, blackmailed into further submission and paranoia by an anarchic, double-talking group of allies and an opposition still stuck in limbo between Riyadh and Raiwind!

And the state? Well, what can be expected from a state that has a history of both creating and hosting exactly the kind of faith-driven lunacy each and every Pakistani is now engulfed in?

For years a convoluted narrative has been circulated by the state, the clergy, schools and now the electronic media: i.e. Pakistan was created in the name of Islam (read, a theocratic state). Thus, only Muslims (mainly orthodox Sunnis) have the right to rule, run and benefit from this country. ‘Minority’ religions and ‘heretical Islamic sects’, who are citizens of Pakistan are not to be trusted. They need to be isolated constitutionally, socially and culturally.

What else? Yes, parliamentary democracy too cannot be trusted. It unleashes ethnic forces, ‘corruption’ and undermines the role of the military and that of Islam in the state’s make-up. It threatens the ‘unity’ of the country; a unity based on a homogeneous understanding of Islam (mainly concocted by the state and its right-wing allies). Most of our political, economic and social ills are due to the diabolical conspiracies hatched by our many enemies.

Now the same state is struggling to control the glorified monsters that it created. These monsters have no fear of their creator. The state is hapless and stunned; only good to play silly games with its subjects. The Pakistani state is not grounded in reality. In fact it is not grounded at all. It is a fantasy that has now started to rot and look redundant. It is a 63-year-old daydream about being pious, just and strong. And yet it has been anything but.

No one trusts the Pakistani state anymore – ironically not even those who want to make Pakistan look and sound macho, ghiaratmand and devout.

Going fascist

So now I wonder, who applauded the killing of a ‘blasphemer’ this time.

Bhatti was shot not only because he was vocal about the controversies that surround and emerge from a man-made law that is considered divine, he was also shot because he was from a minority religion in this country.

By the way, men like Taseer too are a minority: an orthodox Sunni Muslim but secular and liberal. Think about it.

The state and its religious allies have for long collaborated to continue sidelining and alienating the non-Muslim and non-Sunni minorities, so much so that there are actually state-approved history text books out there which to allude them as enemies.

It seems as though Pakistan’s survival can only be justified by the number of enemies we can concoct. As if there is no honour in being a country that does not have or cannot make any enemies. The whole ‘jihad’ industry that we have constructed, the fatwah factories and an army of twisted apologists, their performance and credibility is measured by the number of ‘enemies’ they can either kill or pinpoint.

The bad news is that such beliefs are symptomatic of a society that has started to respond enthusiastically to the major symptoms of fascist thought.

Symptoms such as a xenophobic exhibition of nationalism, a disdain for the recognition of human rights, identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause, supremacy of the military, obsession with national security, the intertwining of religion and government, disdain for intellectuals and the arts, and an obsession with crime and punishment.

We do not debate. We only react and then huddle up behind our flimsy and lopsided historical and national narratives about ‘Pakistaniat’. We manifest our destiny as conquering Muslims, cursing the world for our ills, looking out for ‘infidels’ and ‘heretics’ among us, or for scapegoats in the shape of media-constructed punching bags.

We are going nowhere. We are only busy constructing walls around ourselves. Societies that do this have lost their will to keep up with and positively compete with the world at large. It begins to isolate itself, cut-off from the outside world and only allowing itself to be compared to its own mediocrities.

So then, the whole world is against us, right? But I am convinced once we have shut ourselves up from this cruel, scheming world, we will then turn on each another (actually, we already have).

The goras have to go, then the religious minorities, the Shias, the liberals, the Sindhis and the Baloch and the Pukhtuns, the Deobandies and the Wahabis, the Barelvies will then begin cleansing ‘bad Muslims’ from among themselves. Qadris vs. the Chishtis vs. the Naqshbandis, and so on and so forth.

Such madness can only vanish when it eats itself. Unfortunately, by then very few will be left to celebrate its end.

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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How Obama Lost Karzai – By Ahmed Rashid | Foreign Policy

How Obama Lost Karzai – By Ahmed Rashid | Foreign Policy.

How Obama Lost Karzai

The road out of Afghanistan runs through two presidents who just don’t get along.

BY AHMED RASHID | MARCH/APRIL 2011

View a slide show of Hamid Karzai’s tumultuous nine years as president of Afghanistan.

A few weeks before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, an exiled Afghan leader I had known for nearly 20 years paid a visit to my home in Lahore. His name was Hamid Karzai, and his problem, he told me, was that he was rapidly losing faith in the West’s concern for his country.

Karzai was the scion of a prominent Pashtun family in southern Afghanistan, one with a deep-rooted enmity for the Taliban regime. The Taliban, which had ruled the country since 1996, had gunned down Karzai’s father in front of a mosque in the Pakistani city of Quetta two years earlier. Now the younger Karzai was clandestinely sending money and weapons across the Afghan border for an eventual uprising against the ruling regime. But he had just been served notice by Pakistan’s all-powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) that his visa had been revoked — the Taliban, with its close links to the Pakistani intelligence agency, had urged the ISI to get rid of him. Karzai was making the rounds of Western embassies in Islamabad to ask whether anyone would support him if he went inside the country and raised the standard of rebellion. But nobody offered to help. Several ambassadors refused to see him.

By the time U.S. bombers pounded the last remnants of the Taliban out of Kabul just a few months later, everything had changed. Karzai had gone from pariah to president and, in the eyes of the U.S. government, from combatant in an obscure regional conflict to vital strategic partner. Yet when I met with Karzai not long ago at the presidential palace in Kabul for a lengthy conversation, one of many in the decade since our pre-9/11 meeting in Lahore, it was remarkable how much his relationship with the United States seemed to have come full circle.


Take a look at Hamid Karzai’s tumultuous nine years as president of Afghanistan.

Once again, Karzai now appears mistrusting of the West’s long-term commitment to his country. He considers the Americans to be hopelessly fickle, represented by multiple military and civilian envoys who carry contradictory messages, work at cross-purposes, and wage their Washington turf battles in his drawing room, at his expense, while operating on short fuses and even shorter timetables. “In the time an American wants Karzai to act, the president is still cooling his cup of tea,” one of his advisors complained to me.

Over the course of the last decade, the few U.S. officials whom Karzai trusted have one by one moved on, leaving the Afghan president alone with his conspiracy theories. Of late, he is convinced that the Americans want to get rid of him, even as he stubbornly refuses to reckon with the aspects of his rule that might make them wish to do so: his own administrative failures, growing corruption in the top ranks of his government and family, the rigged presidential election that won him a second term, and above all his failure to articulate a vision for the future of his country. Last fall he reportedly told top U.S. officials that of the three “main enemies” he faced — the United States, the international community, and the Taliban — he would side first with the Taliban.

Ironically, 2010 was supposed to be a new “year one” for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, when the Americans, after years of neglecting the country in favor of Iraq, finally invested the resources necessary to defeat the Taliban and rebuild the country. Instead, things got worse. Last year saw the highest death toll of U.S.-led coalition forces since the beginning of the war, increasing civilian casualties, and the spread of the Taliban insurgency, once contained in south and east Afghanistan, into the north and west as well.

At the heart of the failure, both a cause and consequence of it, is the tattered U.S. relationship with Karzai, an alliance that has cost the United States more than $330 billion and nearly 1,400 soldiers’ lives, but is now at the lowest ebb of its nearly decade-long history. U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration plainly do not trust the Afghan leader, or even much like him. Apparently convinced that cleaning up the Afghan government is more important to the country’s stability than Karzai himself, U.S. authorities have mounted increasingly confrontational anti-corruption investigations of his inner circle.

From the Afghan president’s perspective, Washington treats him with a mixture of insult and confusion. During Obama’s December visit to U.S. troops at Bagram air base outside Kabul, bad weather prevented him from flying by helicopter to the nearby capital. Rather than wait for the weather to clear — a matter of hours perhaps — Obama left without seeing Karzai. It was a snub that Afghans will not forget. A few days later, Vice President Joe Biden said that U.S. forces would be out of Afghanistan by 2014 come hell or high water — and then told Karzai in mid-January that U.S. forces would stay beyond the deadline.

Both Karzai and Obama seem to be in a dangerous state of denial about the degree to which they need each other, instead making divergent plans for how to wind down the war that can’t be accomplished without the other’s help. Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, thinks he can fight his way out of the present conundrum by inflicting mortal blows on the Taliban; Karzai wants to negotiate a peace agreement with them, even relying on the assistance of his old enemy Pakistan if need be. But the road out of the conflict runs through a close U.S.-Karzai relationship, whether either of them likes it or not, and today that relationship is imperiled to a degree that it never has been before.

Throughout Afghan history, an ever present concern for political and physical survival has been an extremely important part of Afghan rulers’ psyches. No recent ruler has died peacefully in his bed. U.S. diplomats of an earlier generation understood the implications of this: that building trust required more than just money and guns. In a prescient 1972 report, filed months before the last Afghan king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, was deposed in a coup, U.S. Ambassador Robert Neumann wrote, “For the King and leadership group, survival is the first objective with all other goals considered secondary. The result is an excessively cautious governing style which invariably seeks to balance off external and internal forces perceived as threatening the regime’s power.” The same could be said of Karzai today. Handling a wary president preoccupied with keeping his own head requires a personal touch — something that Obama, for all his renewed commitment to the fight, sorely lacks.

WHEN THE UNITED NATIONS CONVENED a meeting of Afghan factions to choose Afghanistan’s post-Taliban president in Bonn, Germany, in December 2001, there was really only one man in contention. Everyone knew that the new interim head of state had to be a Pashtun; the Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and had ruled the country for 250 years. There were only two Pashtun leaders who had returned from Pakistan to take on the Taliban after 9/11, and one of them, Abdul Haq, had been captured and executed by the embattled regime two months earlier. That left Hamid Karzai.

By that time, Karzai had come to trust and depend on the Americans. When he and his band of Pashtun warriors were surrounded by the Taliban in southern Afghanistan a few days after his return to the country, the CIA had rescued him and fully backed his uprising. U.S. diplomats lobbied the world for his appointment as president, to no objections. From his first day in office, Karzai depended for security on the warlords of the Northern Alliance, who commanded vast CIA-funded militias. He had an empty treasury and no security force of his own. Appearing with President George W. Bush in the White House’s Rose Garden in January 2002, Karzai declared, “Afghanistan is a good partner. It will stay a good partner.”

But reality sank in quickly. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and other Western leaders pledged never to abandon Afghanistan again, but their commitments of money and manpower never matched their rhetoric. Sufficient funds to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and economy did not arrive, and the U.S. and NATO military commands refused to deploy troops outside Kabul after the initial invasion, instead funding — over Karzai’s objections — the warlords who ruled over the country’s hinterlands like medieval barons. With an impending invasion of Iraq to plan, all the Bush team really wanted on the Afghan front was peace and quiet.

The shift of U.S. resources and international attention from Afghanistan led to a growing bitterness toward the West in Karzai’s inner circle, a disenchantment that eventually reached the president himself. I met Karzai every few months during this period, and with each meeting his complaints grew louder: The United States, he believed, was failing to answer his demands for help in building electricity infrastructure and roads and rehabilitating some 3 million returning refugees. He repeatedly pointed out Pakistan’s clandestine continuing support of the Taliban, especially after the Taliban re-emerged as a guerrilla insurgency in 2003.

Through it all, however, Karzai remained intensely loyal to Bush, who, even if he failed to deliver, made an effort to maintain close personal ties with the Afghan leader. Karzai was also close to two international interlocutors — Lakhdar Brahimi, head of the U.N. Kabul mission, and European Union emissary Francesc Vendrell — and was even willing to take tough criticism from them.

Karzai was only rarely so at ease in his dealings with the U.S. officials Bush dispatched to Kabul. The first Bush-era ambassador, the astute and intellectual troubleshooter Robert Finn, tried to lay down a proper state-to-state relationship with the Afghans. But Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were already preoccupied with Iraq; Finn could secure little of the money, aid, or U.S. troops that Karzai badly wanted.

Karzai got on famously with Finn’s successor, Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American who was a great charmer and schmoozer and, on account of his unique double portfolio — he was both ambassador and Bush’s special representative in Afghanistan — enjoyed direct access to the U.S. president. Khalilzad also had the benefit of timing. He was tasked with producing U.S. achievements in the run-up to Bush’s 2004 reelection bid and Karzai’s own presidential election the same year. Karzai’s interests and Bush’s were once again briefly aligned: Both needed Afghanistan to look like a success story.

Khalilzad had fought and won the argument in the White House that Afghanistan needed more resources, and he arrived with the first serious development money allocated since the war and a driving thirst to get things done. Karzai was flattered by the attention “Zal” paid to him; Khalilzad was also the first U.S. official to side with Karzai and publicly criticize Pakistan’s role in harboring the Taliban, winning further Afghan admiration — as well as the enmity of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

But when Khalilzad moved on in 2005 to take over the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, he left behind few lasting achievements. U.S. funding and attention evaporated again as election-year exigencies faded and the war in Iraq took a turn for the worse. The Americans became obsessed with “quick impact projects,” which were largely aimed at satisfying local tribal power brokers and did little to kick-start Afghanistan’s economy or rebuild its infrastructure. Funding for the Afghan security forces remained grossly inadequate: From 2002 to 2009, $20 billion was spent financing them, less than is projected to be spent in 2010 and 2011 alone.

Khalilzad was followed by Ronald Neumann, an experienced diplomat whose father Robert had been the prescient ambassador to Kabul in the 1970s. But Neumann arrived at the worst possible time, as Iraq was swallowing up the bulk of U.S. resources and the U.S. Congress had begun to demand better results and more accountability from Afghanistan. Karzai found himself deluged with visiting members of Congress, all giving him different advice and orders. At the time, though he was still far from hostile to the United States, he grumbled to me that entertaining delegation after delegation was making his life miserable.

By the final years of Bush’s presidency, U.S. dealings with Karzai had become a tangle of mixed messages. William Wood, Bush’s ambassador in Kabul from 2007 to 2009, arrived in Afghanistan fresh from fighting the drug cartels in Colombia as the U.S. ambassador there and was under pressure to repeat the performance in Afghanistan, where opium production was booming. Wood demanded that Karzai order aerial spraying of the poppy crop in the country’s turbulent south. Karzai, fearing a farmers revolt, refused and began to mistrust Wood. The ambassador was also undermined by Bush, who spoke regularly with Karzai via videoconference and refused to push the Afghan president on drugs or other embassy priorities, such as corruption. These conflicting signals from Washington set the stage for Karzai’s dealings with Bush’s successor, a relationship that would grow more dysfunctional even as the Taliban insurgency spread and the Afghan people’s frustration with the United States grew.

FOR DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Afghanistan was the good war: a foreign-policy cause that allowed presidential hopefuls to establish their national security bona fides while keeping themselves clear of the debacle in Iraq. Among them was Sen. Barack Obama. “I believe this has to be our central focus, the central front, on our battle against terrorism,” Obama said in a July appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation. “I think one of the biggest mistakes we’ve made strategically after 9/11 was to fail to finish the job here, focus our attention here. We got distracted by Iraq.”

I met with Obama just before he took the oath of office, shortly after he had received briefings from the Bush administration and suddenly realized that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan was far worse than he had been led to believe. Key decisions on more troops, money, and other issues had been held back throughout 2008 as Bush decided to pass them on to his successor. Obama wasn’t taking the reins of a good war — he was inheriting a foreign-policy quagmire.

Obama arrived in office with a laundry list of issues he wanted Karzai to address: nepotism and corruption in the Afghan government, lack of good governance, and the country’s proliferating drug trade. But none of Obama’s top White House advisors had any recent experience with Afghanistan or knew any of the players there well. Karzai felt deeply insecure as he now knew nobody in Washington, and nobody was making the effort to get to know him. Even as Obama committed far more resources to Afghanistan in his first two years in office than Bush did over eight years in two terms, the Afghan leader grew convinced that the new U.S. president was out to get him. He began to fear for his political survival.

Friction between Karzai and Obama’s team first came to a head during Afghanistan’s 2009 presidential election. In the lead-up to the August vote, Karzai was convinced by his advisors that Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy, was trying to get rid of him by encouraging other candidates, such as Northern Alliance leader Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, to stand against him. The presidential palace buzzed with rumors that the CIA and Britain’s MI6 had lined up massive resources to unseat Karzai.

In fact, Holbrooke was leading the charge in Washington to convince the administration and Congress to commit more resources to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but his good intentions did not seem to convince Karzai. When the election results were disputed amid claims of vote-rigging, Holbrooke intervened to try to salvage the results, asking Karzai to stand for a second round of polling. But the move seemed to confirm the worst suspicions of Karzai’s aides about Holbrooke. It was left to Sen. John Kerry, rather than a member of Obama’s own team, to smooth over the relations. Even today, Karzai still refuses to accept that the election was flawed, and he still thinks that the Americans were trying to unseat him. Months later, Karzai’s senior aides told me repeatedly that they still believed the United States wanted Karzai to lose.

The botched election — which cost some $150 million and two U.N. officials their careers — and Karzai’s worsening paranoia became a catalyst for the Obama administration’s internal debates over its Afghanistan policy, which was subjected to a detailed review in the fall of 2009. Civilian officials, most notably Biden and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, were unnerved by Karzai’s mercurial behavior and a resurgent Taliban. They fought for scaling back the U.S. investment in a conflict that no longer seemed to have much prospect for success.

Karzai was “not an adequate strategic partner,” Eikenberry wrote in a Nov. 6, 2009, cable to Washington later leaked to the New York Times, adding that the president and his advisors “assume we covet their territory for a never-ending ‘war on terror’ and for military bases to use against surrounding powers.” Karzai and his aides, in turn, were furious that they were never asked to be full partners in Washington’s policy review. Once again, they thought, the Americans were making decisions about Afghanistan without consulting the Afghans. When Obama declared in December 2009 that U.S. troops would start pulling out of Afghanistan by July 2011, Karzai — who had not been consulted in the matter before the speech — was shocked.

On the other side of the debate from Eikenberry was counterinsurgency guru Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, who reportedly wanted to double down on the war with a surge of as many as 50,000 troops. Karzai’s aides told me they trusted McChrystal; the general seemed to truly understand the Afghan leader, deferring to him in decision-making and treating Afghan criticism of U.S. military tactics with respect and thoughtfulness rather than rejecting it out of hand.

When I met with McChrystal in Islamabad in early 2010, I was taken aback by his understanding of the Afghan environment. That this austere former special-operations commander understood how to demonstrate his respect for Afghan dignity and sense of sovereignty while still largely getting his own way was a revelation. Early on, McChrystal persuaded Karzai to travel around the country with him in an effort to enhance both U.S. and Afghan government prestige. The enduring picture of McChrystal in Afghan eyes is of the most powerful U.S. military officer in the country humbly sitting cross-legged on a carpet at Karzai’s feet while Karzai addressed tribal elders. When McChrystal was forced to resign in June over his comments about top U.S. civilian officials in a Rolling Stone article, Karzai begged the White House not to sack him.

But it is Eikenberry who remains in office, though he has never quite recovered from the leak of his cable; it has damaged not only his own standing in Kabul, but also that of the State Department. More than a year later, some of Karzai’s aides still can quote verbatim from the memo.

Friction between Karzai and Obama’s team first came to a head during Afghanistan’s 2009 presidential election. In the lead-up to the August vote, Karzai was convinced by his advisors that Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy, was trying to get rid of him by encouraging other candidates, such as Northern Alliance leader Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, to stand against him. The presidential palace buzzed with rumors that the CIA and Britain’s MI6 had lined up massive resources to unseat Karzai.

In fact, Holbrooke was leading the charge in Washington to convince the administration and Congress to commit more resources to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but his good intentions did not seem to convince Karzai. When the election results were disputed amid claims of vote-rigging, Holbrooke intervened to try to salvage the results, asking Karzai to stand for a second round of polling. But the move seemed to confirm the worst suspicions of Karzai’s aides about Holbrooke. It was left to Sen. John Kerry, rather than a member of Obama’s own team, to smooth over the relations. Even today, Karzai still refuses to accept that the election was flawed, and he still thinks that the Americans were trying to unseat him. Months later, Karzai’s senior aides told me repeatedly that they still believed the United States wanted Karzai to lose.

The botched election — which cost some $150 million and two U.N. officials their careers — and Karzai’s worsening paranoia became a catalyst for the Obama administration’s internal debates over its Afghanistan policy, which was subjected to a detailed review in the fall of 2009. Civilian officials, most notably Biden and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, were unnerved by Karzai’s mercurial behavior and a resurgent Taliban. They fought for scaling back the U.S. investment in a conflict that no longer seemed to have much prospect for success.

Karzai was “not an adequate strategic partner,” Eikenberry wrote in a Nov. 6, 2009, cable to Washington later leaked to the New York Times, adding that the president and his advisors “assume we covet their territory for a never-ending ‘war on terror’ and for military bases to use against surrounding powers.” Karzai and his aides, in turn, were furious that they were never asked to be full partners in Washington’s policy review. Once again, they thought, the Americans were making decisions about Afghanistan without consulting the Afghans. When Obama declared in December 2009 that U.S. troops would start pulling out of Afghanistan by July 2011, Karzai — who had not been consulted in the matter before the speech — was shocked.

On the other side of the debate from Eikenberry was counterinsurgency guru Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, who reportedly wanted to double down on the war with a surge of as many as 50,000 troops. Karzai’s aides told me they trusted McChrystal; the general seemed to truly understand the Afghan leader, deferring to him in decision-making and treating Afghan criticism of U.S. military tactics with respect and thoughtfulness rather than rejecting it out of hand.

When I met with McChrystal in Islamabad in early 2010, I was taken aback by his understanding of the Afghan environment. That this austere former special-operations commander understood how to demonstrate his respect for Afghan dignity and sense of sovereignty while still largely getting his own way was a revelation. Early on, McChrystal persuaded Karzai to travel around the country with him in an effort to enhance both U.S. and Afghan government prestige. The enduring picture of McChrystal in Afghan eyes is of the most powerful U.S. military officer in the country humbly sitting cross-legged on a carpet at Karzai’s feet while Karzai addressed tribal elders. When McChrystal was forced to resign in June over his comments about top U.S. civilian officials in a Rolling Stone article, Karzai begged the White House not to sack him.

But it is Eikenberry who remains in office, though he has never quite recovered from the leak of his cable; it has damaged not only his own standing in Kabul, but also that of the State Department. More than a year later, some of Karzai’s aides still can quote verbatim from the memo.

To Karzai, the message of indifference at best — and outright hostility at worst — continued from the White House. Not only did the ambassador remain, but even after the Obama administration decided to dispatch a major surge of 30,000 U.S. troops to the war in late 2009, top U.S. officials made statements or visited Kabul without bothering to inform Karzai in advance. In March 2010, when national security advisor James L. Jones complained to reporters that Karzai had not done enough to improve governance “since day one” of his second term, Karzai blew a fuse, and Obama had to warn his subordinates to treat the Afghan president with respect. Last July, one of Karzai’s closest advisors, Mohammed Zia Salehi, was arrested by a U.S.-led Afghan anti-corruption force on charges of corruption. Karzai, determined to spite the Americans, freed him.

Bob Woodward’s unflattering portrait of the White House’s internal deliberations over Afghanistan in Obama’s Wars, released last fall, further damaged the already shaky foundation between Karzai and Obama. For Karzai, it was unprecedentedly naive of a sitting U.S. president to allow his cabinet’s intimate deliberations to be made public (not to mention the book’s claim that the CIA believed Karzai to be “manic-depressive”). By October 2010, relations were so fraught that Karzai stormed out of a meeting with Eikenberry and Petraeus over contracts with private security firms, which Karzai had abruptly announced he was canceling, again telling his shocked interlocutors that he’d be better off joining the Taliban.

When I met with Karzai in November, I asked him why he had turned against the West. He vigorously objected to the premise of my question and challenged me to recall any time in the nearly three decades we had known each other that he had ever been anti-Western. Still, he made it clear that he no longer trusted the United States, its representatives, or their advice. Petraeus’s brusque, aggressive approach to the war has made Karzai nervous and angry. (The president’s aides have fueled his mistrust, feeding him rumors that Petraeus is in a hurry because he aspires to the U.S. presidency and is simply using Afghanistan as a steppingstone, rumors Petraeus has repeatedly denied.) Karzai has come to believe that NATO’s counterinsurgency and counterterrorism strategies are both failing. And he is now threatening to turn to Iran and Pakistan for help in mediating with the Taliban — whose repositioning as a patriotic nationalist force he seems to take seriously — as long as the United States refuses to do so.

The fault is not the Obama administration’s alone, of course. Karzai has been belligerent, stubborn, and mercurial, at times refusing to accept logical arguments. Several European ambassadors with whom I spoke in Kabul argue that both sides deserve a share of the blame — Karzai for sparking crisis after crisis, and the United States for letting him down again and again, allowing the situation to deteriorate as far as it has and not listening to Karzai when he has legitimate complaints, such as the excessive civilian casualties, the high-handedness of contractors, and the failure to rein in Pakistan’s support for the Taliban.

But the root of this dysfunction is simpler than all that: It is the non-relationship between Obama and Karzai. The U.S. president has been striking in his refusal — or inability — to get on with Karzai, never working to create the personal rapport the Afghan president enjoyed with his predecessor. It is Obama, not Bush, who has committed massive resources to Afghanistan while trying to improve the tattered U.S. reputation in the Muslim world. But Karzai still considers the Bush era a golden age for his presidency, a time when Karzai could pick up the phone any time and talk to the American leader.

Despite what the Obama administration may think about the acute failings of the man, getting rid of Karzai is not an option. Afghanistan is not Vietnam circa 1972; Karzai is a twice-elected president, one whose victories were endorsed by Washington and the international community. Kabul’s educated urban elite and many among Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun ethnic groups may remain critical of the Karzai government, but it is still popular in large parts of the country, enjoying an approval rating of more than 70 percent in mid-2010, according to an Asia Foundation survey. Karzai’s critique of U.S. military tactics and his attempts to talk to the Taliban resonate with many Afghans, in part because they reflect the facts on the ground.

In December, the Red Cross warned that security in the country was at its lowest point since the overthrow of the Taliban, with record numbers of civilians killed or displaced by fighting. Insurgent attacks jumped 66 percent from 2009 to 2010, according to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office in Kabul, and Taliban shadow governors now operate in all but one of the country’s 34 provinces. Last year 711 coalition troops were killed, the highest total in the nine-year war, and there was a 20 percent increase in civilian casualties, mainly at Taliban hands.

As such grim statistics suggest, many of the Obama administration’s criticisms are justified. Karzai has never put forth a coherent vision for his country. He has allowed corruption to eat away at the gains made by development agencies, elevated his own family, and miserably failed to build a government capable of delivering services and justice to the Afghan people. Eager to absolve himself of these failings — of which he is perfectly well aware — he now believes that if he could bring the war to an end with a peace agreement with the Taliban, then Afghans and the international community would forgive his past sins.

Absolution may be long in coming. In my conversations with Karzai and his aides about “reconciliation,” or even just talking to the Taliban, it has been painfully obvious that the Afghan leader has no clear vision or plan. How would real negotiations, rather than the talks about talks that have occurred so far, take place? What would be on the table, what red lines would both sides lay down, and how and where would the discussions proceed? In my interviews with former Taliban, it seems they have a better idea of the agenda than the Afghan government does.

It is too late, however, for the Obama administration to bring Karzai back into the fold with more promises of troops and aid. What is needed is genuine common ground: a shared political strategy to end the war. Both sides already agree on the need to win over Taliban foot soldiers and have put forward a common plan and money to do it. But there is still no agreement on trying to engage top Taliban leaders.

Of course, talks may not be a panacea. The Taliban may already be too fragmented and divided, too ideologically driven, or too controlled by other regional powers to come together around a peace deal. But what is important for Karzai, desperate to end a war that has raged off and on for the last 30 years, is to try.

So far, the Americans don’t agree. But talking to the Taliban is perhaps the only option now that can put them back on the same track as Karzai — and that is the only road that leads out of this conflict. Besides, if there is one thing that Obama and Karzai still share, it is the knowledge that the alternatives to that scenario are too horrible to contemplate.

 

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Will revolution spread to Pakistan? The country is ripe for revolt, though it would mean ousting the army

  • Declan Walsh
  • Police use batons to disperse protesters at Karachi airport in Pakistan. Photograph: Shakil Adil/AP

    As Hosni Mubarak reluctantly retired last Friday night, another revolt was reaching its climax in Pakistan. For four days the workers of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the national carrier, had been on strike. Some 25,000 passengers were stranded, including me.

    I was stuck in Quetta, a tense, paranoid city near the Afghan border where the security forces are engaged in a ruthless cat-and-mouse game with nationalist rebels; it is also a supposed refuge for the one-eyed Taliban leader Mullah Omar. As the skies emptied of planes, guests from my hotel fled Quetta by car, crossing the sprawling deserts, or chancing the rickety 22-hour train ride to Karachi. I stayed put.

    On TV the picture flipped from ecstatic crowds surging through Tahrir Square in Cairo, to Pakistani riot police baton-charging PIA workers at Karachi airport. The strike was over planned reforms. PIA is a bloated, sick elephant. It has 400 employees per aircraft – about three times the norm – and last year it asked the government to pay $1.7bn (£1.06bn) in debt. But the unions objected to plans to rationalise the workforce, and demanded that managing director Aijaz Haroon resign. And so on Friday night, under immense pressure, he went, resigning at the same time as Mubarak fell in Egypt.

    As the screen filled with ecstatic revolutionaries surging through Tahrir Square, a note of envy sounded among Pakistanis on Twitter. Could the glorious revolution spread to their country? “I wish, wish, wish Pakistan could be next,” wrote the author Fatima Bhutto.

    Pakistan certainly seems ripe for revolt. It is perpetually on a knife edge – extremists plot and explode bombs, senior politicians are assassinated, society seethes with discontent. A slim upper crust floats in a bubble of wealth and privilege – the local version of Hello! offers coverage of upper-class toddler parties – while the poor grind along under soaring food inflation and 12-hour power cuts. Regional tensions threaten to pull the country asunder. In Quetta, residents were shivering in their homes because the rebels had blown up the gas pipelines four times over the previous week.

    “We’re in a bad way,” one mournful lawyer told me before I left, glancing over his shoulder to see if intelligence officials were evesdropping.

    Some analysts compare the mood to Iran in 1979, when a restive middle-class upended the American-backed Shah and opened the door to theocratic Islamic rule. Yet on the ground in Pakistan, the whiff of revolution is faint. For a start, the country is too fractured. Take Karachi, a sprawling megalopolis of 16 million people, about the size of Cairo. Control of the city is divided between a patchwork of political, sectarian and criminal gangs. All are heavily armed. Protests against Pervez Musharraf in the city four years ago pitted rival groups against each other, triggering a bloodbath.

    The bigger problem, perhaps, is that there is no dictator to overthrow. Pakistanis already have democracy, elections and a vigorous press. But among the educated classes, few want to engage with the political system, considering it dirty and corrupt. And so they focus their frustration on their president, Asif Ali Zardari, a fantastically unpopular figure. Locked into his fortified Islamabad palace, Zardari is portrayed by a hostile media as aloof and corrupt, a schemer and a shyster. Many people are prepared to believe the most lurid stories about him, including that he plotted the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, in 2007. Zardari-hating has become a virtual fetish among the chattering classes.

    Some of this is warranted – his government disastrously bungled the recent blasphemy furore, and is struggling to deal with the case of Raymond Davis, an American official who shot two people dead on a Lahore street. Corruption is certainly rife, although many of the wilder stories are almost certainly exaggerated. But the hard truth is that power in Pakistan resides inside the gleaming halls of the army headquarters, where liveried generals hold the keys to the country’s nuclear weapons – more than 100, according to one recent count – and control policy with India, Afghanistan and America.

    And so a true revolution in Pakistan would see the army being ousted from power– except that would be tricky, because it isn’t officially in charge.

    The real danger, however, may lie in the dark clouds gathering over the economy. Ccompanies such as PIA are sucking the Treasury dry; last week’s strike demonstrated scant political will to get them into shape. On the revenue side, the rich refuse to pay tax – the tax-to-GDP ratio is a disastrously low 9% and many politicians pay just a few hundred pounds tax per year. To plug this hole, the government has resorted to printing money at an alarming pace. Few doubt it is unsustainable. Over tea in his office, a senior western diplomat told me the economy was his “number one priority”.

    Economists say the bubble could burst in a matter of months – rocketing inflation, a crashing currency, capital flight. If that happens, trouble could stir on the streets, notwithstanding Pakistanis’ amazing tolerance for adversity. But it’s unlikely to have the same clean lines as the Egyptian revolt. And its consequences could be just as unpredictable.

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