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Dr Reeza Hameed: Parliament’s role in electing the President

When the Office became vacant, on 13 July 2022, Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled from Sri Lanka under cover of darkness to an unknown destination. Even before his departure he had been in hiding. On the day he left, the country was informed that Gotabaya Rajapaksa had appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as his stand-in during his absence abroad. The reason that Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave for the appointment was that by virtue of his absence abroad he was unable to discharge the powers, duties, and functions of his office. In fact, it was clear to everyone that he was unable to function as President even before he went abroad. On 9 July, he fled his official residence to some location unknown to the general public. He went abroad because he was unable to function in his office. This was the actual reason as to why Gotabaya Rajapaksa had appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe. Hence, the appointment does not fit in with Article 37(1) and is constitutionally questionable.

A vacancy occurred before 13 July by virtue of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s desertion from office. By vacating his office, he would be deemed to have resigned from office on 11 July causing a vacancy to arise under Article 38(b) as of that date. When a deemed resignation occurs, it would be futile if not absurd to require a formal letter of resignation. The Constitution provides, by Article 40, that where the office of President becomes vacant in terms of Article 38 (1) of the Constitution, Parliament shall elect as President one of its members who is qualified for election to the office of President, to hold office for the unexpired period of the term of office of the President vacating office.

The formal resignation that Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised to send on 13 July came in only on 14 July but even before that, by 11 July, Parliament had been acting as if there was in fact a vacancy. Following upon a meeting of the party leaders on 11 July 2022, without waiting for the letter of resignation to arrive, the Speaker issued a statement announcing that nominations for the next president will be presented to parliament on 19 July, and a vote will be taken on 20 July 2022.When on 13 July Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed the Prime Minister to act for him, he had already left that office and was powerless to appoint anyone to act in his place. In lawyer’s parlance, he was functus officio.

Parliament is an electoral body

When the office of the President becomes vacant, Parliament will elect a President in terms of Article 38 (1) of the Constitution and in accordance with the provisions of the Presidential Elections (Special Provisions) Act No. 2 of 1981. Section 2 of the 1981 Act states: “The provisions of this Act shall apply when the office of President shall become vacant in terms of Article 38 (1) of the Constitution.” 

Section 4 of the Act states: “The occurrence of a vacancy in the office of President shall … operate as a summoning of Parliament to meet within three days of such occurrence.” The Secretary-General of Parliament shall inform the members of Parliament of the date and time fixed for such meeting.

It is the Secretary General of Parliament, not the Speaker, who is responsible for conducting the election, functioning as the Returning Officer. 

Parliament meeting to elect a president is not a legislative body exercising legislative power. It is an electoral body with the members of Parliament acting as delegates of the people. As delegates, they are bound to give effect to the wishes of the people. The people must be able to voice their wishes and give them instructions with regard to the choice of candidates and voting. The people must have a say in what their delegates will do on the polling day, and this requires the process to be open and transparent. 

Amenable to Court’s Jurisdiction

The proceedings in Parliament relating to the election of the President are amenable to the jurisdiction of the Courts. The 1981 Act specifies the circumstances in which they may give rise to proceedings before courts. 

Bribery and undue influence

Parliament when it enacted the 1981 Act was concerned that corruption could taint an election. This is evident from the provisions in the Act making every person who commits the act of undue influence of bribery guilty of an offence. A person convicted by a Magistrate may be liable to a fine not exceeding five hundred rupees or to imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding six months or to both such fine and such imprisonment. 

The Act prohibits and penalises such conduct to ensure that the election does not turn out as an auction giving the seat to the highest bidder. The Act further provides a remedy to challenge an election if there is proof of bribery or undue influence. 

The Act allows a candidate or a member of Parliament to challenge the result in the Supreme Court on any of the grounds specified in section 19 of the Act. The grounds on which such a challenge may proceed are: 

that the offence of bribery or undue influence at the election has been committed by the candidate who has been returned or by any person with the knowledge and on behalf of the candidate who has been returned; or 

that the result of the election has been materially affected

by reason that the offence of bribery or undue influence at the election has been committed by any person who is neither the candidate who has been returned nor a person acting with his knowledge and on his behalf; or

by the improper reception or refusal of a vote, or

by any non-compliance with the provisions of the Constitution or of this Act; or

that the nomination of any candidate has been wrongly rejected.

An election petition may be presented by any candidate at such election or by any member of Parliament. It may be presented at any time after the date of publication of the declaration of the result, but not later than thirty days from the date of such publication.

As Parliament in electing a President will not be functioning as Parliament stricto sensu but as an electoral body discharging a statutory function, breaches of any of the duties under the Act may be enforced by invoking the fundamental rights jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 126 of the constitution and the writ jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal under Article 141 of the constitution. Such proceedings could for instance arise if upon a vacancy arising the Secretary General fails to take any of the steps, he must take under the 1981 Act. 

Evidence of proceedings in Parliament may be produced before the courts in those proceedings. The provision in the Parliamentary Privileges Act, that proceedings in Parliament shall not be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament, has no application to the proceedings before the courts. 

In lieu of a conclusion

The main parties have been engaging in negotiations behind closed doors giving the impression that the people have nothing to do with the election that is to take place. They should take the public into their confidence and inform the public about the discussions they have been having and the vision they have as to the future. They should also pay heed to the voice of the people.

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A president in hiding is no president

Dr Reeza Hameed: The fact that he has to go into hiding in an unknown country is an indication that he cannot rely on his own service chiefs to guarantee his safety. Gotabaya Rajapaksa has effectively made himself a lame duck of a President

The popular uprising against the Rajapaksa regime started with the demand for the resignation of President Rajapaksa and the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Mahinda Rajapaksa to his credit saw the writing on the wall and quit, but Gotabaya Rajapaksa did not. The President appointed MP Ranil Wickremesinghe who entered Parliament through the nominated list to fill the vacancy caused by Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resignation, inviting the people’s ire against Ranil Wickremesinghe as well. The people took to the streets on 9 July demanding the resignation of both Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe storming the President’s House and the Presidential Secretariat. Gotabaya Rajapaksa went into hiding. 

In the meantime, as was reported, the party leaders met to reach agreement on finding a replacement for Gotabaya Rajapaksa whose resignation was expected on 13 July. Gotabaya Rajapaksa did not resign on 13 July as he had promised. On that day, the Speaker made an announcement that Gotabaya Rajapaksa had left to a nearby country and that Gotabaya Rajapaksa, acting under Art 37(1) of the Constitution, had appointed the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to act for him. 

Moreover, according to a BBC report of Monday 11 July, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office said in a statement it had been informed by Mr Rajapaksa that he would step down on Wednesday 13 July. The Speaker told the BBC on Monday 11 July that the President had left Sri Lanka and was in a nearby country and that the latter would submit his resignation on 13 July. The Speaker later retracted his statement made to the BBC that the President had left the island.

Under Article 37(1) the President may appoint the Prime Minister to exercise the powers, duties, and functions of his office. He may make the appointment if he “is of the opinion that by reason of illness, absence from Sri Lanka or any other cause he will be unable to” exercise them himself. An appointment under this article of the constitution does not result in his resignation. For a vacancy to arise under Article 38(1) of the constitution, the President will have to tender his resignation from his office in writing to the Speaker. Instead of sending his resignation, he has absconded. 

Appointment has to be temporary

The appointment of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as acting President was by a gazette extraordinary No 2288/19 of 13 July 2022. 

The gazette extraordinary gives the President’s reason for the appointment as “my absence from Sri Lanka” and that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will exercise the powers duties and functions of the office of President “during such period of my absence from Sri Lanka.” The word “period” carries with it the notion of a length of time. The phrase “during such period” implies that the appointment has to be time specific, but there is no mention in the gazette extraordinary of the period for which the appointment has been made; “absence from Sri Lanka” is the reason for the appointment, not its duration. In order for the phrase “such period” to make sense, the gazette must mention a time period. It did not.

The appointment under Article 37(1) cannot be for an indefinite duration. It must be time specific. It is meant to fill a temporary absence abroad. 

That the appointment under Article 37(1) has to be temporary is reinforced by a reading of Article 37(2) under which the Prime Minister may be appointed to act for the President if the Chief Justice is of the opinion that the President is temporarily unable to exercise the duties and functions of his office, and is unable to make an appointment under Article 37(1). In that case the Chief Justice may communicate his opinion to the Speaker, leading to the temporary appointment of the Prime Minister to act in place of the President during such period. It should follow that where the President is able to make an appointment, it should be a temporary appointment. 

Differences of opinion may arise as to what is meant by “temporary” but, if the period is not specified, it is not possible to say whether the appointment is temporary.

No one knows for certain as to where the President is now or for how long he would be away from the country. The president of the country simply can not go away indefinitely, even if he appoints another to act in his place. His whereabouts cannot be a secret.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa has deserted his office and made himself incapable of exercising the duties and functions of his office. By his own admission, by going abroad, he has rendered himself unable to perform the functions of his office. In any other situation, a person who goes into hiding and is not available to discharge his functions would be deemed to have vacated his office. 

By going into hiding the President has intentionally violated the constitution. Going into hiding is not one of the reasons for making an appointment under Article 37(1).

It is not known whether, and if so when, Gotabaya Rajapaksa would return to Sri Lanka. It is possible that the President may not return to Sri Lanka at all during the term of his office, as a member of the United Kingdom Parliament has on 13 July called for an international arrest warrant to be issued for the arrest of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. 

In the final analysis, a president is required to be physically present in Sri Lanka to be able to effectively perform the functions of his office. He was elected to office, and the mandate given to him by the electorate is personal.

He is responsible to Parliament for the due exercise of the powers, duties, and functions of his office. As a member of the cabinet, he must attend cabinet meetings to discuss and decide on important matters of government policy. He has taken an oath of office to uphold the constitution, and that oath is not suspended, simply because he has appointed someone to act for him. 

He cannot discharge his responsibilities under the constitution by laying on his back somewhere nobody knows or by sitting behind a laptop. The fact that he has to go into hiding in an unknown country is an indication that he cannot rely on his own service chiefs to guarantee his safety. Gotabaya Rajapaksa has effectively made himself a lame duck of a President.

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Crisis in Sri Lanka: Lessons for Pakistan

Expert says political elite of Sri Lanka failed to reach consensus on how to run their country. Pakistan is not going to default on international loans, moot told

The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) organised a seminar on ‘Crisis in Sri Lanka: Lessons for Pakistan’ on Saturday. Introducing the subject, the PIIA chairperson Dr Masuma Hasan explained Sri Lanka is going through an economic crisis, which is said to be the worst crisis in the history of the country.

“There are food shortages, people are protesting. So there is both a humanitarian and political crisis. A couple of days ago, the Sri Lankan prime minister said that their economy has totally collapsed. They defaulted on their international loans,” she said, and added: “We decided to call this seminar because many here in Pakistan think that this country will follow the same pattern as Sri Lanka.” Dr S. Akbar Zaidi, the executive director of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Karachi, said he does not think that Pakistan was going to default on its loans. He said:

It’s highly improbable that we will … Right now the countries that have defaulted post-pandemic are Lebanon, Zambia and Sri Lanka. But here Pakistan is in an International Monetary Fund [IMF] programme, which Sri Lanka was not.

He further elaborated that Sri Lanka was a richer country than Pakistan, stating:

Poorer countries are given loans at a lower rate, but Sri Lanka was given loans on a higher rate … Still, default is not the end of the world, but it makes life very difficult as it gives way to unemployment and inflation and we are already there.

Dr Farhan Hanif Siddiqi, director and associate professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, said that the political system in Sri Lanka combined with ethnic and cultural issues caused a vicious cycle there. 

He also said that the political elite of Sri Lanka failed to reach consensus on how to do politics or how to run the country, which is also a big contributory factor in what is happening in Sri Lanka today.

“In 2015, their presidential system was changed into a parliamentary system. Then in 2020, they were back to the presidential system. Now, again they are calling for a parliamentary system. It does not go well with that nation,” he said.

“Even though the Tamil Tigers were defeated, the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka is an underlying problem. A younger generation might even mobilise themselves in the future. And when politics does not address the underlying conflicts, then they grow. We are facing a similar issue in our Balochistan,” he said.

Dr Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, joined in through a video link to provide a better picture of what is going on in his country at the moment.

He said that just four years ago, Sri Lanka was called a middle-income country by the World Bank. Sri Lanka was also a great tourism destination. “But in the last three months, the value of Sri Lankan currency has fallen by 100 per cent. Now 70 per cent of our population eats less. Now, Sri Lanka is known as the seventh-most malnourished country in the world. It is being compared to Somalia.”

“In Colombo, we see enormous lines or queues for petrol and diesel at the pumps. People park their cars there for two days and more, and go home because there will be no fuel until there is supply. There is no gas to cook food. We do it on electric hot plates. The universities have been closed. Education has been shifted to online. There is a shortage of medicine even and we are thankful to Pakistan for sending us medicines. And the immediate blame for all that is happening in Sri Lanka has fallen on the current government. The people are angry. They feel terribly betrayed. They think that the country cannot import petrol, diesel, gas and medicine because it has run out of dollars. On May 9, there were riots where the people attacked the homes of ministers. It led to the resignation of the president, who was portraying himself as the king,” he said.

“The majority principal is entrenched in Sri Lanka, but we also have other groups such as the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Tamils who came here from India many years ago. They all speak Tamil, but the country’s language is Sinhala. When decisions are taken, the Sinhalese do not take the minorities into consideration. The Tamil language is spoken by three of the four communities in Sri Lanka, but the parliament made Sinhala our national language, which has also led to a sense of insecurity among the minorities. So many minorities in Sri Lanka also feel powerless as our army, too, is 95 per cent Sinhalese,” he explained.

Published in Dawn, 26 June 2022

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‘Muslims are now considered internal enemies in India’

‘Hidutva is xenophobic’: Javed Jabbar argues Hindutva was fascism before Hitler and Mussolini

The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) recently held a seminar on ‘The Status of Minorities in India’ . Former Senator Javed Jabbar and academic Prof Dr Mohammad Waseem were two speakers who shed light on the subject. Speaking on the occasion, Javed Jabbar articulated his thoughts brilliantly by stating at the beginning that in India there’s ‘unclear majority that imperils clear minority’. He said the three concepts of Hindu, Hinduism and Hindutva are three distinctive, separate concepts. The word Hindu does not occur in any of the three sacred texts of Hinduism. For hundreds of years there was no concept of who is a Hindu because the people living in South Asia were driven by caste. 

At the same time, another odyssey began, which was the quest for Hindu identity because Hindus now had to decide ‘we have always been a majority, how do we now acquire power and become the ruling majority over the minority that has ruled us for 800 years.’ So out of the two odysseys, the Hindu one took a regressive turn.

He argued 1857 is normally considered the tragic end of Muslim rule. “Tragic yes, but it was the end of monarchical Muslim Mughal rule due to the callous murder of the two sons of Bahadur Shah Zafar by a British officer. When that happened, 800 to 900 years of certain conditioning of the Muslim psyche had to begin a new odyssey. ‘How do we now become a minority?’ He said:

Mr Jabbar said Hindutva is not a belief in Hinduism. It is very specific. You can only be a Hindu if your parents are Hindu or if you’re born in what they consider is Hindustan. “This was fascism before Hitler and Mussolini… Hindutva is not a product of the BJP-RSS extremism alone, it incorporates the latent covert trends running through a certain segment of India’s polity for several decades.

‘Hidutva is xenophobic’

Dr Mohammad Waseem, Professor of Political Science, Department of Social Sciences, Lahore University of Management Sciences, said elections mean that you count every citizen belonging to multiple cultures. Earlier majoritarianism in India was secular, but now it’s faith-based. The ghettoisation of Muslims has taken place in India because of the BJP. Muslims now tend to live and stick together. 

He pointed out that in India, Muslims are now considered internal enemy. As a result the minority is otherised.

Dr Waseem said that all of this has given birth to vigilante culture which is part of the neo-normal politics in India. Gao raksha incidents are an example. All nationalisms invent their sacred points. In India, the force of law has been converted into the law of force. A law enforcement agency like the police takes Hindus’ side, using the law of force against Muslims. “Muslims are labelled Pakistanis and Pakistan is enemy country.”

He said Hindutva is xenophobic in nature. Patterns of resistance have emerged, though, such as new generations of Muslims are now documenting what’s happening. He added Muslim future in India is far from right.

Earlier, Dr Masuma Hasan welcomed the guests to the seminar and introduced the speakers to them.

Published in Dawn 29 May 2022

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A Step Back in Time: The Ukraine War’s Weight Over the Energy Question

On June 20, 2022, as Russian state-controlled gas provider Gazprom announced its decision to slash natural gas flows to its Western European clients via the Nord Stream pipeline to 40% capacity, Germany – followed shortly after by Austria and the Netherlands – took the decision to turn towards their coal-fired power plants to try to curb natural gas consumption. Of this policy measure, Germany’s economic minister Robert Habeck lamented that “[i]t [is] bitter but indispensable for reducing gas consumption.” Habeck’s statement was issued on June 19, amid fears of gas shortages vis-à-vis the continuation of the Russia-Ukraine crisis since February this year. Such a move, one might say, could be viewed as an exercise in self-reliance to reduce dependencies on gas imports. However, upon looking at the wider picture, it is difficult to shake off how Germany – the state that sought to lead the ‘green energy’ movement – is now compelled to re-consider its climate action ambitions win to the incumbent geopolitical developments. 

To better understand the implications of such measures through the center-periphery dichotomy, it is imperative to establish the context of the politics of natural resources in relation to the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Russia, the largest natural gas exporter in the world and home to some of the largest gas reserves, accounted for 45% of the European Union (EU)’s gas imports in 2021. Following the Russian decision to recognize the “independence and sovereignty” of the ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ (LNR) and ‘Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR)’ regions of Ukraine in addition to Russia’s invasion of the stated territories, the United States (US) and EU instituted a series of coordinated sanctions in response to what was viewed as a belligerent move by Russian President Vladimir Putin. This sanctions regime was met by Putin signing a decree demanding payment of foreign gas to be made in rubles from 1st April 2022. 

While Denmark, Finland and Poland have decried this decree as tantamount to blackmail, with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen lambasting that “[t]his is totally not acceptable… [and is] a kind of blackmailing from Putin,” countries such as Germany are facing an even more precarious conundrum. In addition to being Europe’s largest economy, Germany saw Russia accounting for 55% of the state’s gas imports in 2021 and 40% in the first quarter of 2022. 

The case becomes more convoluted when one factors in Germany’s role as a global environmental leader – one which spearheaded several climate goals for Europe, most notably the total phaseout of coal target for the year 2030 and the EU’s decision to increase the share of renewables in the bloc’s energy production to 40%, also targeted for 2030.

One cannot help but question how the suspension of environmental concerns (especially from its most vocal proponents) in the face of complex geopolitical developments is given justifications, while those states located in the ‘periphery’ were heavily criticized for proceeding ahead with Russian oil imports. It appears in the realm of energy politics, only the ‘periphery’ will be trapped within moral dilemmas while the ‘center’ can afford to simply sidestep them. Whether it is Germany, Denmark, or the United Kingdom (UK), it is puzzling to see some of the champions of environmental activism now stepping back in time and justifying their decisions to revive coal power-plants. 

Concomitantly, there is a profound sense of urgency in the Western bloc to branch out and seek alternative suppliers for oil imports to curtail Russia’s weight over the global energy market. A notable instance of such a development is illustrated in the US’ State Department permitting Italian oil company Eni SpA and Spain’s Repsol SA to begin shipping Venezuelan oil to Europe in a bid to reduce dependence on Russia. It is worth mentioning that when the Venezuelan oil industry was hit by a wave of US-led sanctions in 2019, Russia was quick to fill the gaps experienced by US refiners, according to a David Smilde. What is particularly intriguing, Smilde notes, is that the US’ Gulf-coast based oil refinery industry is suited for a heavier grade of crude oil such as Venezuela’s or Russia’s, with light oil grades like Saudi Arabia’s or US shale drillers being unsuitable, infrastructurally. This context leads to the question: is it exclusively in the Western bloc’s jurisdiction to establish and re-establish who is the new global ‘antagonist’ or who is the new ‘ally?’ An affirmative answer indicates that the global order is one which is fortified by Euro-centric and Western-centric concerns which, by extension, are shaped to represent international concerns. 

If the periphery attempted to challenge the Western-centric setting and re-setting of the international order, charges predicated on the ‘enabling’ of anti-democratic and authoritarian regimes (in addition to not ‘doing enough’ on the climate front) would be lodged. Upon probing such accusations, it appears as though there exists a certain monopoly over narratives by the ‘center’ that transcend beyond the domain of energy politics. By continuing to entrench this power-play whereby the application of moral standards and considerations markedly differ according to where one is placed in the center-periphery dichotomy, we only run the risk of deepening mistrust, derailing opportunities for conflict resolution and international cooperation and harkening back to (neo)colonial power relations. 

Ana Tawfiq Husain is a Dean’s Fellow and Lecturer in the Social Development and Policy Program at Habib University, Karachi. She attained her MA in International Relations from King’s College London and her BA (Hons.) in Social Development and Policy with a Minor in History from Habib University.

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Pakistan in an Age of Turbulence

Fighting for Democracy: The personal price of a the much-celebrated Movement for the Restoration of Democracy

Former civil servant Dr Masuma Hasan’s memoirs, scheduled to be published from the United Kingdom on March 10, are a personal as well as political history of Pakistan. Dr Hasan had a ringside seat to political events, not only as a bureaucrat but because of her marriage to politician Fatehyab Ali Khan, who fought against and was imprisoned by both Gen Ayub’s and Gen Zia’s dictatorships. Set out below is exclusively published in Eos, with permission, an excerpt from Dr Masuma’s book, Pakistan In An Age Of Turbulence, which covers the formation of the much-celebrated Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in the early 1980s.

The old woman sat on her haunches, native style, under a tree in the compound of Central Jail Karachi. I was sitting under the same tree, on a stone, waiting for the tiffin carrier to be returned to me. She was a small woman, poorly dressed, with teeth stained by paan and tobacco, her uncombed hair twisted into a tiny plait.

Just as in hospitals and clinics, patients in waiting rooms are curious about one another’s illnesses, the relatives of prisoners are also inquisitive. She had come to visit her son and had apparently lost another son to crime. After pleading before the ‘sahibs’ running the prison, she had managed to meet him across a grilled window.

Unaware of the procedure for getting permission to see her son, like most marginalised persons, she could only beg and plead. Rubbing the palms of her hands together, she said: “When I finally met him, he asked me, mother, have you brought roti salan for me? And when I answered no, I haven’t, he burst into sobs.” In despair she wailed, “How would I know that he wanted roti salan?” How could she have known, really, that the food served in prison was inedible? 

Her anguish broke my heart because I had gone to the prison to take roti salan for Fatehyab [husband and politician Fatehyab Ali Khan]. The Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) had been launched.

Many politicians have taken credit for inspiring the movement after it became evident that [Gen] Ziaul Haq’s appetite for power was unrelenting. They met him when he called them, received his messengers, attended banquets he hosted for foreign visitors, and tried to ‘persuade’ him to hold elections. They could hardly have manoeuvred a showdown with the army under the brutal terms of martial law.

Ziaul Haq easily found collaborators among the parties which could not resist the lure of power. Members of the Muslim League, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Mufti Mahmood’s Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) and Nasrullah Khan’s PDP [Pakistan Democratic Party] were sworn into his cabinet on August 23, 1978 and sent packing eight months later, on April 21, 1979.

Two prominent politicians, Sherbaz Khan Mazari and Asghar Khan, have written their memoirs and both used this ‘lull’ to go abroad on holiday. The former records several meetings with Ziaul Haq and participation in state banquets for the British prime minister James Callaghan, the Shah of Iran and president Sardar Daoud Khan of Afghanistan in 1978, and his surprise at finding other politicians such as Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi and Kausar Niazi also present. 

He often received Lt Gen Fazle Haq in “his unofficial capacity as one of my oldest friends” [as Mazari puts it in his book A Journey to Disillusionment], who briefed him on political happenings and tried to convince him to join Ziaul Haq’s nominated cabinet, which he refused. However, on February 4, 1978, he attended Ziaul Haq’s special conference on national issues, as did others, which he described as “a grand and artful exercise.”

Asghar Khan, who had long aspired to become the prime minister and considered his Tehrik-i-Istiqlal as the real opposition — and it was, indeed, studded with many famous names in public life — also met Ziaul Haq, in the fantasy that he could be persuaded not to hold the local bodies’ elections or tinker with the Constitution.

Ziaul Haq, on the other hand, found one excuse after another for postponing the elections he had promised for October 1978, and told him that his own PNA [Pakistan National Alliance] colleagues had “begged” for this postponement [as Asghar Khan details in his book My Political Struggle]. Asghar Khan dined with Ziaul Haq, attended banquets for foreign dignitaries, and flew with him for the opening of the Thakot Bridge on the Karakoram Highway. He liaised with Ziaul Haq through lieutenant generals Faiz Ali Chishti and Fazle Haq.

It is difficult to assess what turn events would have taken if the leading politicians had refused to have any dealings with Ziaul Haq. Both Mazari and Asghar Khan had close friends in the army and hoped, no doubt, that their own parties would gain in a future political dispensation. 

However, the Jamaat-i-Islami was firmly behind Ziaul Haq and so was Pir Pagaro; [Nawabzada] Nasrullah Khan had collaborated, and Wali Khan openly cooperated with Ziaul Haq and advised him not to hold elections. He and his wife had “a good understanding with Ziaul Haq” [as he describes it in My Political Struggle].

In his ‘real’ martial law, Ziaul Haq banned all political activity, imposed strict censorship and cruel punishments for even minor acts of a political nature. He had already terrorised the people with his regime of whipping, lashing and fear of amputations. The people of Pakistan had never been subjected to such systematic savagery.

In desperation, these politicians turned to one another and to [Zulfikar Ali] Bhutto’s widow to form a common front against martial law. It took many months and the process can be followed in the memoirs of Benazir Bhutto, Sherbaz Mazari and Asghar Khan. Fear of martial law and lack of courage had, as Asghar Khan said, prevented them from sinking their differences. 

They were probably encouraged by the first lawyers’ movement, which started in August 1980, and led to the arrest of many lawyers who were tried by military courts. Asghar Khan even considered accepting an interim government in which Ziaul Haq could continue as the ‘constitutional president’ until elections were held.

According to Mazari, the first step towards the formation of the MRD was the initiative his National Democratic Party (NDP) took to contact other parties for a joint programme for the revival of democracy in August 1980. They proposed that the movement should have four basic demands: lifting of martial law, restoration of the 1973 Constitution in its original form, elections under this Constitution and greater provincial autonomy.

A July 1988 file photo shows an MRD meeting at Bhutto’s residence in 70 Clifton | White Star Archives
A July 1988 file photo shows an MRD meeting at Bhutto’s residence in 70 Clifton | White Star Archives

The PPP, which had given the first draft agreement through Pyar Ali Allana in December 1980, tried to hang on to Bhutto’s controversial constitutional amendments but had to give in. On February 5, 1981, Mazari received Nusrat Bhutto’s signature on the document and affixed his own and so, he writes [in A Journey to Disillusionment], “the MRD was formed.”

In the meeting on February 6, 1981, at Bhutto’s residence in 70 Clifton, Nusrat Bhutto requested that Fatehyab Ali Khan of the Mazdoor Kissan Party and Mairaj Mohammad Khan of Qaumi Mahaz-i-Azadi should be allowed to participate. They had “to sit outside all through the duration of the meeting while their case was argued” [according to Mazari’s A Journey to Disillusionment]. After the leaders affixed their signatures on MRD’s declaration, Mazari writes dismissively: “Even Mairaj Muhammad Khan and Fatehyab Ali were now invited to sign the document.”

The Central Jail Karachi was established in 1899. Many prominent leaders had been held there, the most famous being Mohammad Ali Jauhar of the Khilafat movement. Today, a ward is named after him in the prison. Bhutto was imprisoned there and, later, many MRD leaders, including Bhutto’s wife and daughter.

Having failed to motivate or bribe her party members to launch a popular movement against Ziaul Haq, Nusrat Bhutto turned to the men who had not lifted a finger to save her husband’s life. Indeed, they had scant respect for him and many of them had been victims of Bhutto’s oppression. 

As we have seen, the choicest epithets are used for Bhutto in Mazari’s memoirs. Asghar Khan’s views about Bhutto were no less flattering. Apparently they did not doubt the fairness of the death sentence handed down to Bhutto by the Lahore High Court. Asghar Khan had met Ziaul Haq on March 12, 1979, three weeks before Bhutto was hanged, but did not plead for his life. He did, however, on one occasion, have the grace to attend Bhutto’s trial in the Supreme Court.

The senior politicians who signed the MRD declaration did not have much love lost for one another either. Mazari considered Nasrullah Khan as an expert in the intrigue of backroom politics with “an abundant store of political guile.” He [Nasrullah] had met Bhutto clandestinely during the PNA movement and always had “a personal agenda” [as Mazari writes in A Journey to Disillusionment]. 

Asghar Khan thought that, if left alone, Nasrullah Khan would have agreed to all Bhutto’s conditions for an agreement with the PNA. He had no real party, survived on political alliances and parleys, was not politically reliable, suffered from complexes and was a reactionary.

On the other hand, Mufti Mahmood of the JUI was not strongly opposed to Ziaul Haq, was flexible in his approach and would stay with any grouping so long as he was made the leader. Asghar Khan wrote [in My Political Struggle] that although Mazari was anti-Zia, his party would play to the tune of the military government.

Benazir Bhutto mentions [in her autobiography Daughter of the East] the feelers sent by the PNA leaders to her mother, who had become chairperson of the PPP. It was a difficult decision for Nusrat Bhutto to take. How could she forget Asghar Khan’s words at a PNA rally: “Shall I hang Bhutto from the Attock Bridge or from a Lahore lamp post?” The senior leaders of her own party had deserted her. “Today it is Jatoi,” she told her daughter, “tomorrow it will be somebody else.” 

Fatehyab Ali Khan courting arrest on August 18, 1983, in Karachi during the Movement for Restoration of Democracy | Courtesy the writer
Fatehyab Ali Khan courting arrest on August 18, 1983, in Karachi during the Movement for Restoration of Democracy | Courtesy the writer

Although her rigid handling of the initial PPP movement against Ziaul Haq has been criticised, joining the MRD was a resolute act as well as a bid for survival, even if the PPP was just a “rabble” [as Raja Anwar writes in The Terrorist Prince]. The irony was not lost on Benazir, who watched the politicians drinking coffee out of her father’s china, sitting on his sofa, using his telephone. The PNA was riven by internal fissures and ‘betrayals’ by its leaders who were deeply suspicious of one another and talked only through emissaries.

Whatever these differences, the MRD charter was signed on 6 February 1981 on a four-point programme: lifting of martial law, restoration of the 1973 Constitution, holding of general elections, and release of all political prisoners.

There were nine signatories to the declaration: Nusrat Bhutto for the Pakistan Peoples Party, Sherbaz Mazari for the National Democratic Party, Mahmud Ali Kasuri for Tehrik-i-Istiqlal, Nasrullah Khan for Pakistan Democratic Party, Fatehyab Ali Khan for Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party, Fazlur Rahman for Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, Mohammad Abdul Qayyum for Azad Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference, Mairaj Mohammad Khan for Qaumi Mahaz-i-Azadi and Khawaja Khairuddin for one faction of the Muslim League.

Following the hijacking of a PIA aircraft to Kabul on March 2, 1981, by Salamullah Tipu, the Al-Zulfikar agent, there was a severe crackdown on the MRD and thousands of people were arrested across the country.

However disdainful the old guard may have been about the leftist parties in the MRD, Fatehyab’s signature on its declaration brought the Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party (PMKP) (popularly known as MKP) into mainstream national politics for the first time. 

A word about the party itself. It was founded on May 1, 1968 by Afzal Bangash, after he quit the National Awami Party. In 1970, Major Ishaq Mohammad of the Bhashani NAP faction in West Pakistan merged his group with the MKP. Its mobilisation focus was the peasantry, which had risen in armed revolt in the 1960s and 1970s in [the then] North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) against the private armies of landlords and the repression of successive governments in that province. 

Masuma Hasan with her brother Kazim Hasan (centre) and husband Fatehyab Ali Khan | Courtesy the writer
Masuma Hasan with her brother Kazim Hasan (centre) and husband Fatehyab Ali Khan | Courtesy the writer

The confrontation in Mandani in July 1971 is regarded by the party as its glorious defining event. Although it led to the death of 20 peasants in a day-long pitched battle against 1,500 armed police, the peasants were victorious.

The party gradually enlarged its base among the peasants in Peshawar and Mardan districts, Malakand Agency, Swat and Dir and in parts of Kaghan and established links with peasants in southern and western Punjab. It participated in the movement against Ayub Khan in 1968-9. 

Its first national congress was held in Shergarh in Mardan District, where 5,000 delegates assembled, in spite of the presence of armed security forces. It considered the PNA movement as reactionary and warned that it would lead to a military takeover. 

But soon internal differences arose on strategy and the party split into three factions, led by Afzal Bangash, Sher Ali and Ishaq Mohammad. However, its continuity was best represented by Afzal Bangash’s group, which was generally recognised as the MKP.

The second or unity congress, also held at Mandani in July 1979, was a historic event in which over 5,000 delegates again participated from all over the country, in spite of martial law restrictions. Earlier, the PWP [Pakistan Workers Party], led by the veteran trade unionist Mirza Ibrahim, had merged with the MKP. By this merger, the MKP became a real peasants’ and workers’ party. The Mandani congress was attended by observers from numerous leftist parties and a message was also received from Benazir Bhutto.

At this congress, Afzal Bangash was elected as president, Fatehyab as vice president and Sardar Shaukat Ali as secretary general. Fatehyab had joined the PWP when it was established in 1972. Eventually, other leftist groups, such as the Mazdoor Majlis-i-Amal, Punjab Jamhoori Front and the Muttaheda Mazdoor Mahaz, merged with MKP in Punjab, further broadening its base.

The MKP had a genuine grassroots base among the peasantry, different from that of liberal parties whose following in NWFP consisted mostly of landlords. Its political programme called for a “people’s democratic system in Pakistan”, leading to socialism.

It viewed Pakistan as a federation of provinces which had come together in an equal and voluntary union, and in which the provinces would have complete autonomy. Its economic programme, with respect to landholdings and industry, was similar to that of other socialist parties. Different nationalities and ethnic groups would be given equal rights and fundamental rights would be universal, irrespective of nationality, religion, sect, caste, race, colour or gender. 

Women had a special place in its programme, although the party’s base in NWFP was among very conservative peasantry. Women would have equal rights with men and no political or official position, employment or profession would be closed to them. 

A file photo shows an MRD procession in Multan with Fatehyab Ali Khan (left), Hussain Bakhsh Narejo (centre) and Rao Sulaiman, the then Secretary General of the Mazdoor Kissan Party (right) | Courtesy the writer
A file photo shows an MRD procession in Multan with Fatehyab Ali Khan (left), Hussain Bakhsh Narejo (centre) and Rao Sulaiman, the then Secretary General of the Mazdoor Kissan Party (right) | Courtesy the writer

The MKP published extensively in Urdu and the regional languages. The popular struggles led by the party gave birth to a large volume of literature, song and music. No other party paid so much attention to political education as the MKP. Under its leadership, the peasants won many battles against the state machinery and landlords, against evictions, rent-racking and unpaid labour, and hundreds of its leaders, cadres and supporters laid down their lives in this struggle.

After the clampdown on the MRD, Fatehyab was arrested near Naudero on 4 April 1981, travelling with my brother Arif and our friend, Aftab Manghi, and brought to the Central Jail Karachi. He had gone underground in interior Sindh on March 9, 1981 and proceeded to Garhi Khuda Bakhsh for Bhutto’s death anniversary at a mammoth gathering.

The Central Jail Karachi was established in 1899. Many prominent leaders had been held there, the most famous being Mohammad Ali Jauhar of the Khilafat movement. Today, a ward is named after him in the prison. Bhutto was imprisoned there and, later, many MRD leaders, including Bhutto’s wife and daughter.

The social ostracism which I encountered after Fatehyab’s arrest was incredible, but not unexpected. My friends stopped contacting me and inviting me to their homes. Even if they were concerned about my welfare, it was not in their interest to be seen in my company. Their husbands had jobs, property and business interests to protect. They saw no reason to expose themselves to harassment for the sake of friendship. Gradually, but surely, they moved me out of their lives. Some even advised me to leave Fatehyab for good. The situation in my office also changed dramatically. My colleagues stopped recognising me.

Except for my private secretary, Rahmatullah Baig and my peon, Mannu, who were perturbed but caring, for the others I had ceased to exist. My colleague Amjad Ali Saqib, to whose friendship I owe a great deal in life, was cautious in the office but met me often at home. There was, I have heard, a barrage of anonymous and not-so-anonymous letters to the establishment in Islamabad, about my complicity in the movement against Ziaul Haq when, in truth, I was so busy trying to hold my family together that I was quite unaware of the outside world.

Matters came to a head on March 31, 1981, when I was sitting with the director, Iftikhar Ahmad Khan, in his office. He was blessed with a sense of humour and often discussed political issues with me. A few minutes later, there was a telephone call from Islamabad from Ijlal Haider Zaidi, the establishment secretary. 

The expression on the director’s face changed and he asked me to leave the room. Shortly afterwards, he summoned me to say that Zaidi was furious and could no longer deal with the stream of complaints pouring into Islamabad against me. He asked me to apply for leave. I believe this was called ‘forced leave’. He insisted on six months’ leave but I did not agree to more than three months.

Some of my most vivid memories of those days relate to the time I spent at the prison gate, waiting for the tiffin carrier. In contrast to the attitude of my friends, colleagues and neighbours, the ordinary people were kind to me.

My removal from the official scene may have eased the tension that Zaidi claimed he suffered on my account. He hailed from Shahbad which was close to Panipat and had formed part of the constituency from which my father [Khwaja Sarwar Hasan] contested the elections in 1937. As establishment secretary, he was trusted by Ziaul Haq but he also held my father in great esteem.

Although making me inconspicuous may have played its part, I was probably not dismissed from service because of the regard which [politician and lawyer] A.K. Brohi, who was Ziaul Haq’s trusted adviser, had for me. Brohi was closer to Ziaul Haq than Zaidi. And, in any case, a faculty position in a training institution was hardly an important job.

In a sense, the ‘forced leave’ gave me respite, more time to spend with the children and look after Fatehyab from outside the prison. Our lives settled into a regular pattern. After the children went to school, I bought provisions and cooked for Fatehyab and some of his fellow prisoners. It was improper to send food for only one person, as all the political prisoners took their meals together. 

I took the food to the prison gate and waited for the tiffin carrier from the previous day’s delivery to be returned to me. In the beginning, I prepared both lunch and dinner but, later, an agreement was reached among the prisoners’ families to divide the task.

Some of my most vivid memories of those days relate to the time I spent at the prison gate, waiting for the tiffin carrier. In contrast to the attitude of my friends, colleagues and neighbours, the ordinary people were kind to me. Shopkeepers and tradesmen in our neighbourhood enquired about Fatehyab, and the owners of Gharib Nawaz Hotel, where I purchased food when I was too tired to cook, always asked about his health, although they blasted their employees if the portions handed out to me were large. 

The police guards at the prison were Sindhis who were all sympathetic to the PPP. Nusrat Bhutto was also detained in prison at that time and her staff drove with her food right up to the main gate. A really stylish constable oversaw the movement in and out of the compound, twirling his thick moustache and frequently blowing his whistle. 

“Why,” I asked him one day, “do you let Nusrat Bhutto’s car drive straight to the main gate, while I have to walk all the way from the road?” “Because,” he answered, “her husband was a badshah [king], when your husband becomes a badshah, I will let in your car also.” I understood his simple logic.

My sons, Hasan and Asad, and I lived in a rented house in KDA Scheme One. The house opened on an unpaved dirt street, along which ran a deep stretch of water full of weeds which the odd angler frequented. In winter, Siberian cranes rested on the water. It was the darkest path in the entire neighbourhood. There were no street lights and people were afraid of entering it after dusk, but we had got used to its spookiness.

Often we had no domestic help because the police harassed our employees so much that they ran away. The chowkidar of the neighbouring house knew that Fatehyab was in prison and the children and I were all alone. He told me not to worry and that he would patrol the street a few times during the night. Often, as I lay awake, I could hear him thumping his heavy stick on the ground as he made his rounds outside. Whoever he was, I am grateful for his kindness.

In those times, so treacherous for my sons and me, my mother’s house was a haven of peace and tranquillity. She provided the stability in my children’s lives which I could scarcely muster in running around to look after Fatehyab’s welfare. She loved Fatehyab, his decency, cultivated manners, restraint and integrity, and she believed in his political mission. Never once did she suggest that he should give up his political engagements. She was the mainstay of our lives. Never failing in his affection and care, my brother Arif was a formidable source of strength and became a father figure to my sons.

My in-laws made some appearances, although they were so numerous that, if they had only taken turns, my life would have been easier. Other relatives were either scared or unable to express their concern, except my cousin Asima and her husband, Naqi Zamin Ali, who stood by me through it all. There was also the sympathy of some of my father’s friends, such as Ali Maqsood Hameedi, who were anxious about Fatehyab’s welfare.

Political prisoners were allowed visits from family members or friends once in two weeks, other prisoners could be visited once a week. But this facility was not automatic and permission had to be obtained from the home secretary each time. 

During Fatehyab’s detentions and imprisonments, I dealt with a number of home secretaries, including Mazhar Rafi, Nazar Abbas Siddiqui and Ahmad Sadik. I was fortunate that they met me and were courteous to me. The relatives of less-known and poor prisoners were not so lucky; it was not easy to get past the bureaucratic barriers in Sindh secretariat, but they persisted. One person whose kindness touched me was the deputy home secretary, Ghulam Husain Soomro, who always granted permission ‘according to rules’ immediately and assured me that I was his ‘sweet sister’.

The first time the children and I met Fatehyab after he was arrested was in Bahadurabad police station and later in the prison on April 9, 1981. We went into the outer portion of the prison, or mari, with our small parcels of provisions and the cigarettes he could not do without. 

A warden sat in the meeting room with us as Fatehyab came from the inner prison. Fatehyab entered with a smile on his face and addressing me said, “Now don’t unload yourself here.” We had to smile, there could be no complaints, no tears.

The writer is a scholar, former diplomat and top-level bureaucrat who retired from the civil service as Pakistan’s Cabinet Secretary in 2001.

She is currently Chairman of The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, President of the Board Governors of the Aurat Foundation, and Syndicate member and Selection Board member of the University of Karachi. Her book Pakistan In An Age Of Turbulence was published by Pen & Sword Books

Excerpted by permission of the author

Published in Dawn, EOS, 6 March 2022

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Pakistan and Bangladesh have much to learn from each other 50 years later

Prime minister Benazir Bhutto visited Bangladesh in 1989. She had asked for that visit, which the then Bangladesh President Irshad accepted …

“The independence day of Bangladesh March 26, 1971 and Dec 16 is seen by that country as the day of liberation. In Pakistan around this time the mood is generally sombre with reflection of the past,” said former foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar on Thursday.

He was delivering his keynote address at a conference on ‘50 Years Later: The Future of Pakistan-Bangladesh Relations’ at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA).

“We have to acknowledge that the Bengali leaders made enormous contributions to the making of Pakistan, which was also acknowledged by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The resolution of Pakistan was also moved by A.K. Fazlul Haq. If Jinnah were alive and if he had been asked the worst decisions of Pakistan, he would have said that it was to refuse and deny the results of the 1970 elections along with deploring the action that was taken on March 24, 1971 by West Pakistan,” he said.

The former diplomat said he is often asked about his best assignments during his career to which he has to say from 1986 to 1989 when he served as ambassador of Pakistan to Bangladesh. “It was the best time. I got to meet all leaders, intellectuals, people in the media and civil society. We did discuss serious matters, but objectively and without anger though the differences of 1971 are still there,” he said.

“As a former diplomat, I’m not blaming any political party but every time the Awami League is in power, we have issues. The government under the Awami League has raised serious allegations and questions. They also demand an apology from Pakistan for the atrocities of 1971. But an apology is not that simple. The 1974 documents clearly address deep regret of events and atrocities. Bangladesh demands war reparation, distribution of assets, etc.

Experts discuss future of Islamabad-Dhaka relations at PIIA conference

“While I was the ambassador in Bangladesh, former late prime minister Benazir Bhutto visited Bangladesh in 1989. She had asked for that visit, which the then Bangladesh president Irshad accepted. The issues did come up but such things cannot be decided just like that. Such issues are an impediment to the progress and relations of both countries.

“It is sad that despite sharing the history of 1947, there’s so little interaction with Bangladesh here. The culture of Bangladesh is extremely rich in art, music, dance, etc. Why not have cultural exchanges? Pakistan would be happy to have an exchange programme for students. We can also offer hundreds of scholarships in various fields and Bangladesh, too, can reciprocate,” he said.

‘Let’s resume communication’

“Yes, the impediments are serious but there is no reason why we can’t be talking. There is an absence of debate not at the public and private level or the diplomatic level. But Pakistan and Bangladesh relations do have a future. I appeal, let’s resume communications. We have much to share and much to learn from each other,” he concluded.

Earlier, while reminding the significance of Dec 16, 1971, PIIA’s chairperson Dr Masuma Hasan said that it was when Pakistan was dismembered and Bangladesh formally became an independent and sovereign state. “The date is etched in the minds of millions of people in Pakistan and Bangladesh. History has few parallels to the events of 1971, which led to the second partition of the subcontinent and changed the political landscape of South Asia,” she said.

“In the last 50 years, much water has flown under the bridges of the Indus and Brahmaputra. The global and regional landscape has changed, with a multi-polar world, the phenomenal rise and outreach of China, an assertive India, and the continuing role of the United States. In the regional context, rising from the ashes, Bangladesh has made remarkable economic progress. Whatever the irritants of the past, the people of the two countries share a common historical identity, strive for the same values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and freedom of expression. Both countries are members of Saarc and other international organisations and they vote on the same side on many international issues. For the future of Pakistan-Bangladesh relations, there are many positive trends,” she said.

‘We didn’t leave like thieves’

Syed Sikander Mehdi, former Karachi University professor and chairperson of the Department of International Relations, said that the personal memories of West Pakistanis who went to East Pakistan for business and educational purposes are soft. These people still miss Bangladesh. But their memories are not recorded here. “The people from East Pakistan who settled down here before the break-up or after 1971 also have oral memories that have not been published. I did my schooling, college and university education in Dhaka. I was an activist in my student life. I remember us students protesting the Vietnam war, the dictatorship of Ayub Khan. Our family lived in the Bengali area till our migration from Dhaka in late 1972. I had very close relations with my Bengali teachers before and after the military operation. I had a job, my father had a job, too and we had no economic compulsion. When I told my teachers that we were leaving, they hosted a dinner for my family. So we didn’t leave like thieves. But after coming here we saw a headline in the newspaper, which read Bihari na khappay. We cannot wish away the past but we need to write more and talk more about all this,” he said.

Former Professor at the Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, M Shahiduzzaman said that he was a former student of Sikander Mehdi. “We were sad when he left. Many years later when my students and myself visited the University of Karachi we found him like he has always been, a human being whose soul lies with us,” he said.

Meritorious Professor of International Relations and former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Karachi, Dr Moonis Ahmar, observed that Pakistan and Bangladesh relations were seeing a paradigm shift in 1974 with the signing of the agreement in Delhi but then this paradigm shift stopped. 

“We have been moving two steps forward and four steps backward,” he said, while adding that Sheikh Hasina Wajid, the daughter of the man denied premiership here, should be invited over and asked to address a joint session of the Pakistan parliaments. And Pakistani PM Imran Khan can do the same when he visits Bangladesh. 

Ambassador Rafiuzzaman Siddiqui and Dr Raunaq Jahan also spoke.

Published in Dawn, 17 December 2021, written by Shazia Hasan

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50 Years Later: The Future of Pakistan-Bangladesh Relations

16 December 1971 is a historic date for Pakistan and Bangladesh, when Pakistan was dismembered and Bangladesh formally became an independent and sovereign state. The date is etched in the minds of millions of people in Pakistan and Bangladesh. History has few parallels to the events of 1971, which led to the second partition of the subcontinent and changed the political landscape of South Asia. Regarded as a civil war, there were calls for accountability in Pakistan, however it is celebrated as the war of liberation in Bangladesh. Unlike most other people who have separated, it was the majority population which chose to part ways with the minority. Looking back, 50 years later, the unusual structural configuration of the Pakistani state may have contributed to its break-up, with two wings separated by over 1000 miles of unfriendly territory.

The majority homogeneous population of the eastern wing, far distanced from the seat of government, felt marginalized and was denied power, in spite of victory in the general elections of 1970. The tragedy of 1971, steeped in violence and bloodshed, was avoidable and all informed opinion had pleaded for dialogue and a political solution. However, politicians, historians and analysts from the two sides have given opposing narratives of the tragedy, and to this day, both Pakistan and Bangladesh are dealing with the collateral damage of the trauma, both physical and emotional.

In the last 50 years, much water has flown under the bridges of the Indus and Brahmaputra. The global and regional landscape has changed, with a multi-polar world, the phenomenal rise and outreach of China, an assertive India, and the continuing role of the United States. In the regional context, rising from the ashes, Bangladesh has made remarkable economic progress.

Whatever the irritants of the past, the people of the two countries share a common historical identity, strive for the same values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and freedom of expression. Both countries are members of SAARC and other international organizations and they vote on the same side on many international issues. For the future of Pakistan- Bangladesh relations, there are many positive trends. It is a time to reflect and move forward.

Ambassador Riaz Khokhar

Speakers’ Profiles

Ambassador Riaz Khokhar is a former career diplomat who served as the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan from June 2002 to February 2005. Few Pakistani diplomats have worked on as many important assignments as Ambassador Khokhar. He was Pakistan’s envoy to Dhaka, New Delhi, Washington DC and Beijing before leading the top post of the Foreign Service of Pakistan. He also served as adviser to prime ministers Benazir Bhutto, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi and Nawaz Sharif and was appointed as Special Envoy on Inter-Faith Dialogue by prime minister Shaukat Aziz.

Dr Moonis Ahmar

Dr Moonis Ahmar is former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, and Meritorious Professor at the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi. He was also Chairman, Department of International Relations, University of Karachi and is Director, Program on Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution. His field of specialization is conflict and security studies, focussing on the South and Central Asian regions. He is the author of several books on different themes of International Relations.

Syed Sikander Mehdi

Syed Sikander Mehdi is former Chairperson of the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi. He has taught International Relations and Peace Studies at Dhaka University, Karachi University, and universities in Austria and Spain. He was visiting research fellow at the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo, Norway; Henry Stimson Centre, Washington DC; and Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan. He has published on peace education and culture, nuclear proliferation, refugees and migration, and war and conflict.

Mr M. Shahiduzzaman

Mr M. Shahiduzzaman is a former Professor of the Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka. He completed his post-graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Center for International Affairs, in 1978 with late Prof Norman Palmer. He completed his Master’s degree in International Studies from The Monterey Institute of Foreign Studies in 1976-77 and was awarded Outstanding Foreign Student of the Year-1977. He also lectured at the Naval Post- Graduate School, Monterey, California, USA in 1976.

Dr Kaiser Bengali

Dr Kaiser Bengali is an economist with over 45 years’ experience in teaching, research and policy advice in Pakistan. He was Consultant for Economic Affairs and Head of the Chief Minister’s Policy Reform Unit, Government of Balochistan, Adviser to the Chief Minister of Sindh for Planning & Development, Managing Director of the Social Policy & Development Centre, Karachi, and the first head of the Benazir Income Support Programme. He has taught at the Applied Economics Research Centre, University of Karachi, and the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science & Technology.

Dr Rounaq Jahan

Professor Rounaq Jahan is a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, Dhaka, former Senior Research Scholar and Adjunct Professor at Columbia University (1990-2010), and Professor of Political Science at Dhaka University (1970- 1982). She headed the Women’s programs at UN Asia-Pacific Development Center, Kuala Lumpur (1982-84) and the International Labour Organisation (1985-89). She was Research Fellow at Harvard, Chicago and Boston universities and Rajni Kothari Professor at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi, in 2010. She is the author of Pakistan: Failure in National Integration and several books on the politics of Bangladesh.

Ambassador Rafiuzzaman Siddiqui

Ambassador Rafiuzzaman Siddiqui was a career diplomat who served as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Bangladesh from 2016 to 2018. He also served as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Kenya and Permanent Representative of Pakistan to UNEP & UN-Habitat. He was Director General (Afghanistan and ECO) and Additional Foreign Secretary (Europe) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Islamabad. He is currently working as Adviser – Corporate Affairs at United Marine Agencies (UMA).

Dr Masuma Hasan

Dr Masuma Hasan is Chairperson of The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, President of the Board of Governors of Aurat Foundation, and Syndicate member and Selection Board member of the University of Karachi. She was Cabinet Secretary to the Government of Pakistan; Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office in Vienna, IAEA, UNIDO, and all other international agencies in Vienna where she chaired the Group of 77; ambassador to Austria, Slovenia and Slovakia; Director of the National Institute of Public Administration Karachi.

Greetings from The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs

You are cordially invited to attend our Conference on 50 Years Later: The Future of Pakistan-Bangladesh Relations on Thursday, 16 December 2021 from 11:00 am to 4:35 pm (Pakistan Standard Time).

We welcome your physical presence at the Library of The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs to participate in the event. All Covid-19 SOPs will be strictly followed. 

You may also join the conference on Zoom:


Webinar ID:                         878 0821 3923

Webinar Passcode:              171111

The concept note, programme, and speakers’ profiles are attached.

Dr Tanweer Khalid
Honorary Secretary (She/Her)

The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs
Aiwan–e–Sadar Road
Karachi, Pakistan

50 Years Later: The Future of Pakistan-Bangladesh Relations

Thursday, 16 December 2021 11:00 am to 5:00 pm

Registration 11:00 am – 11:45 am

Inaugural Session

11:45 am – 12:00 pm
Purpose of the Conference
Dr Masuma Hasan, Chairperson, The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs.

12:00 pm – 12:30 pm
Keynote Address
Ambassador Riaz Khokhar, former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan.

Session I
A Time to Reflect

12:30 pm – 12:35 pm
Chair: Dr Moonis Ahmer, Meritorious Professor of International Relations and former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi.

12:35 pm – 12:55 pm
Remembering Bangladesh in Pakistan
Syed Sikander Mehdi, former Professor and Chairperson of the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi.

12:55 pm – 01:15 pm
Removing Stereotypes for Future of Pakistan-Bangladesh Relations
Mr M. Shahiduzzaman, former Professor, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka.

01:15 pm – 01:45 pm

Question and Answer Session

1:45 pm – 1:55 pm

Concluding remarks by the Chair

01:55 pm – 03:00 pm

Session II
Positive Trends for the Future

03:00 pm – 03:05 pm
Chair: Dr Kaiser Bengali, Economist, former Consultant for Economic Affairs and Head of the Chief Minister’s Policy Reform Unit, Government of Balochistan, and Adviser to the Chief Minister of Sindh for Planning & Development.

03:05 pm – 03:25 pm
50 Years of Bangladesh: Achievements and Challenges
Dr Rounaq Jahan, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh, former Adjunct Professor, Columbia University, USA, and author of Pakistan: Failure in National Integration.

03:25 pm – 03:45 pm
Memories of Bangladesh and its Transformation
Ambassador Rafiuzzaman Siddiqui, former High Commissioner of Pakistan to Bangladesh, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Islamabad, and Adviser, Corporate Affairs, United Marine Agencies (UMA).

03:45 pm – 04:15 pm

Question and Answer Session

04:15 pm – 04:25 pm

Concluding remarks by the Chair

04:25 pm – 04:35 pm

Farewell Remarks
Dr Masuma Hasan, Chairperson, The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs.

Refreshments 04:35 pm – 05:00 pm

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Revisiting the Non-Aligned Movement: A Blueprint for a Multi-Polar World?

Only a few weeks short of the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, the United States under President Biden withdrew all US troops from Afghanistan. Weeks after the US announced the impending withdrawal, the Taliban swiftly began capturing large swathes of Afghan territory. Now, the Taliban are back in control in Afghanistan, as undeterred as they were prior to the US invasion of the country. For Pakistan, the present moment calls upon us to reflect on our previous policy of alignment with US foreign policy goals and the price we have paid for aiding and abetting America’s War on Terror in our backyard. At this critical juncture, it may be helpful to revisit the ideals that gave rise to the NAM, Non-Aligned Movement. Given the failure of American intervention in the Middle East, in Ira , Syria, Libya, Yemen, and in Afghanistan, is a strategy of Non-Alignment then the best way forward for states in the Global South? 

The premise of a Non-Aligned Movement was first proposed during the Bandung conference of April 1955, six years before the Non-Aligned Movement was formally initiated in Belgrade in 1961. The premise for the Non-Aligned Movement was based on the conviction of many of the leaders present at Bandung that it would be in their common interest to form an independent third bloc that would remain impartial to the Cold War – the economic and ideological war being waged between the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union. Attended by leaders of 29 newly decolonized countries across Asia and Africa, most notably Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Ahmed Sukarno of Indonesia, and Gamal Abdal Nasser of Egypt, Bandung is remembered as “…the seminal moment in the political formation of postcoloniality.” (Young, 2006) Together, the leaders present at Bandung represented some 1.5 billion people, which was at the time equal to 54% of the world’s population.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Discussion, Iraq, Politics, The Middle East, United States

‘Afghanistan’s future will shape Pak-US relations in near term’

‘The Future of Pakistan-US Relations’ was the topic of a discussion organised by The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on Saturday. Delving into the subject, former Pakistan ambassador to the US and UK, and Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, Dr Maleeha Lodhi said that after the Cold War, after Russia’s leaving Afghanistan and now after the US pullout from Afghanistan, it is the third time for Pakistan and USA to be redefining of relations.

“Throughout these years there have been many highs and lows with benign disengagements in between. Our relations have been driven by world events and geopolitical storms. And even at times of close alliances, there has always been an elephant in the room such as India or Pakistan’s nuclear programme,” she said.

“Whenever Pakistan has sought US support during regional conflicts, it has been disappointed by Washington’s stance,” she added.

“The US has always seen Pakistan as a tactical player. The ties we had or have were principally a function of America’s war in Afghanistan. The US had an Afghanistan policy but not a Pakistan policy,” she pointed out. “Sometimes this convergence worked in mutual benefit testified by the joint struggle of both countries during the Russian war in Afghanistan,” she pointed out.

She said that now that the global environment is in a state of flux there is a predominant trend of competition rather than cooperation.

“The reality today is the standoff between USA and China. America has a policy of restraining China. And Pakistan wants to avoid this crossfire or confrontation. Its a tough act. Pakistan will not be a part of it as it wants future ties with both countries.

“Meanwhile, US interest is in insuring Afghanistan doesn’t again become a base for terrorist groups. It wants Pakistan’s help in this regard, to counter terrorism and this is what future relations between Pakistan and USA will be based on. So there will be cooperation in only some areas,” Ms Lodhi pointed out.

“Already the mood on Capitol Hill is very negative about Pakistan on account of the perception that Islamabad’s support for the Taliban over the years was a contributing factor to the US debacle there. The Biden administration has not said this but the view is prevalent in US policy circles. It has built up a toxic environment in Pakistan-US relationship,” she added.

“Afghanistan’s future will influence, even shape Pakistan-US relations in the near term. Another factor that will affect the relationship concerns the dynamics of the triangular US-Pakistan-India relationship. Islamabad recognises that India has a pivotal role in Washington’s Asia policy and is in fact America’s strategic priority. It is not the growing relationship between Washington and Delhi that concerns Islamabad but the security impact that their strategic cooperation may have on Pakistan, the augmentation of India’s defence and strategic capabilities obviously has implications for Pakistan’s security,” she pointed out.

“If a key element of US’s strategy to counter China is India, this also impacts its relations with Pakistan. The US has always supported India and hardened its posture towards Pakistan, almost encouraging India to be more aggressive towards our country,” she said.

Former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN, Geneva, Zamir Akram, Dr Adil Najam and PIIA chairperson Dr Masuma Hasan also spoke.

Published in Dawn, 24 October 2021

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