On 27th March 2021, in front of hundreds of thousands of people, in a rally, former Prime Minster of Pakistan, Imran Khan openly announced meddling of “ foreign elements” in Pakistani political crisis. He waved the letter at the massive crowd gathered in Islamabad. He termed the letter as “threatening”, sent by US and is seeking his removal as the PM.
This statement came when Imran Khan was about to face a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly. He was expected to lose this motion as many of his allied parties have joined the coalition of Opposition Parties. Opposition parties that had formed a coalition consisting of thirteen plus parties are called as Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). The opposition was not quiet about their discontent with the government’s performance in economic and political arenas. They said that Khan has failed to revive the country’s economy that was damaged by COVID-19.
An operation of regime change funded by external powers was underway, he said. The opposition lawmakers have the backing of US government. He claimed the letter to contain the evidence of an international conspiracy to remove his government.
He stated that the memo said “if the no-confidence motion passes, Pakistan will be forgiven, if not, there will be consequences.” The letter was given through Pakistan’s Ambassador and was specifically against Imran Khan and his role as a premier.
The letter was sent by the then ambassador to US – Asad Majeed. This was on the basis of Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu. Asad Majeed has now been replaced by Ambassador Masood Khan. The cable was sent a day before the opposition submitted the no-confidence motion, on March 7. A diplomatic cable from the Pakistani ambassador was cited as a proof in which it was said that an American official warned there would be “consequences” if the PTI Chairman remained Prime Minister after his recent visit to Russia. Imran Khan went to Moscow in late February. The visit took place on 24th February, the same day Russia invaded Ukraine.
The opposition responded by considering such a letter as fake and a ploy to avoid the vote of no-confidence.
US categorically denied sending such ‘threat letter.’ The US department emphasized that no government agency or any official had sent a letter to Pakistan on the current political situation. A State Department spokesperson said, “According to some diplomatic sources in Washington, the letter could be a diplomatic cable from Washington, drafted by a senior Pakistani diplomat.” Later in another statement, amidst the political turmoil it further said that “USA supports the peaceful upholding of constitutional and democratic principles”
The vote of no-confidence was to take place on 2nd April 2022, but Parliament’s deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, blocked the vote in a surprising move. He said that the vote reflected “foreign interference” and went against the constitution, quoting Article 5 that asked for loyalty to the state. Soon after, the PM dissolved the parliament and called for quick elections. However, the opposition responded furiously and considered this move as “unconstitutional” and treason. A petition by PDM was submitted to the Supreme Court of Justice. The Court ruled that the Deputy Speaker’s ruling was in contradiction “to the Constitution and the law and of no legal effect, and the same are hereby set aside”. The ruling was erroneous. The same was ruled for Presidential decision of dissolving the National Assembly. The Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet’s position was restored.
According to the court’s ruling the session was to be conducted on 9th April. It was prolonged with the speaker adjourning the session three times and stretched out speeches by PTI officials. Though the political situation on Saturday was extremely dramatic with rapid and usuals steps being taken. The Speaker and Deputy Speaker resigned just a few hours before the clock struck 12. Finally, the vote of no-confidence took place on 10th April and Imran Khan became the first Pakistani Prime Minister to be ousted through such a motion. Shehbaz Sharif became the 23rd Prime Minster after a vote the next day. It was followed by PTI members resigning en masse.
Moreover, Russia and China entered the political crisis. On 6th April, Russia lent support to Imran Khan by accusing USA of committing “another attempt of seamless interference” in domestic matters of Pakistan. Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said this was done to “punish” Imran Khan. China also got involved in the situation by warning US against ‘interference in Pakistan’s internal matters.
US-Pakistan relations had started to slightly strain with Pakistan’s partnership with China strengthening more with time. They were also affected by more American focus on India to counter China in the region. China’s rapid rise has been perceived as a threat to USA’s position as a unilateral world leader.
Many doubt the presence of such a letter and consider it a plot penned down by Imran Khan to remain in power. However, other than Khan’s visit to Moscow, other factors have also added to America’s discomfort with Imran khan.
The visit was publicly condemned by the Biden administration. In addition, the US diplomats in Pakistan prompted the government to issue statements about Pakistan condemning the Russian invasion. They also asked for supporting resolution by the United Nations General Assembly on Russia ceasing the conflict. Pakistan abstained and voiced demands for dialogue and diplomacy.
Pakistan’s Independent foreign policy under Imran Khan’s government had also been a problem for America. Though no major changes were made to the foreign policy, former PM’s vocal stature had also caused problems. His stance on Palestine, Kashmir and Islamophobia on global platforms foreign policy with China, Russia and Afghanistan and his reluctance of normalizing relations with Israel have stirred unease from some countries. Also, Khan’s leadership in the Muslim World becoming more popular.
History records that Pakistani soil has been used by America multiple times for furthering their own interests. From Cold War to War on Terror, we have always been ready to provide assistance to US. Recently, Pakistan’s active role US-Taliban Peace deal and in the evacuation process as well.
The fact cannot be denied that America always, especially after its victory as unilateral leader in Cold War, has heavily influenced Pakistani politics. Many times, it has intervened directly and indirectly as well.
It is worth noting that Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto has also claimed that an American conspiracy to remove him from power. Due to his refusal of giving up Pakistan’s nuclear program. He told US had “threatened” to make an example. Afterwards, in a mysterious plane crash General Zia died for which US is blamed by many Pakistanis. This was due to Zia becoming a liability for Washington in 1989 after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. In the mid-2000s, Richard Boucher, the former assistant secretary for State for South and Central Asian Affairs repeatedly met Benazir Bhutto when she was focusing on returning to politics and was seeking reconciliation with General Musharraf. In 2008, Pervaiz Musharraf’s ouster was achieved by Bush administration more openly through his naive collaboration. The incident took place because of USA’s relation that General could no longer mobilize public support for the American “War on Terror.”
America has always interfered and participated in other countries’ domestic affairs. It has a long history of meddling in the political affairs of other countries. Such a history spans over at least a century and since the end of Second World War, it extends into all regions of the world. It is characterized by subversion and overthrow of foreign regimes.
So, such an act shouldn’t be a surprise. It has done such things numerous times. Regime change in Iraq, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya are prime examples of such operations. From Latin America to Middle East, America’s history has been fraught with such strategic interventions. Recently, President Biden himself declared to remove Russian President Putin. Though it was retracted by his team.
With such a long track record, the foreign conspiracy orchestrated by US to remove Imran Khan seems plausible. In addition, the strained pattern of Pak-US relations with numerous points of contention, give strength to regime change operation. Though, Imran Khan’s move to publicly announce the US move will have serious ramifications for him in the future.
Nowadays, after his removal as a PM, Imran Khan is enjoying the massive support of common people in Pakistan and even abroad. Huge number of protests were conducted all over the country for him. His party demands immediate elections. It will be a difficult journey for Imran Khan and his party members under the government of opposition with PML-N Shehbaz Sharif leading it.
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Following the commencement of the Covid-19 epidemic, passenger rail services between Bangladesh and India were discontinued in March 2020. Before the suspension, two trains ran between the two countries: the Maitree Express between Dhaka and Kolkata and the Bandhan Express between Khulna and Kolkata.
But it’s a piece of good news for both Indian and Bangladeshi people that passenger train services between India and Bangladesh resumed Sunday (May 29, 2022), two years after they were suspended owing to the outbreak of the pandemic on March 28, 2020, with the Bandhan Express departing Kolkata for Khulna and the Maitree Express departing Dhaka for Kolkata. The Mitali Express, a third train has been already hailed by the two countries’ railway ministers on June 01, 2022.
Mitali Express, the third passenger train service connecting Bangladesh and India, began operating on Wednesday morning (June 01, 2022). In nine hours, the train will travel 513 kilometers between New Jalpaiguri and Dhaka (Dhaka Cantonment station).
The Indian Railways Headquarters in New Delhi hosted the flag-off ceremony. The event’s main guests were Bangladesh’s Railway Minister Nurul Islam Sujan and his Indian counterpart Ashwini Vaishnav. The train will run on the Haldibari (India) – Chilahati (Bangladesh) line from New Jalpaiguri in India to Dhaka Cantonment Station in Bangladesh.
The new train and resumption of the two train services would not only improve people-to-people contacts between the two countries, but it is also intended to boost tourism between them. Shopping malls, hospitals, and low-cost hotels are also expected to be built in the vicinity, allowing people to move around the stations more easily. In the next days, a hospital, shopping malls, and low-cost motels must be available near the station. But both parties must remove all hurdles and complexities regarding the bilateral trans service. Visa- related complexities should be addressed properly. The Target should be the welfare of the people from both sides. Millions of Indian and Bangladeshi citizens would be grateful to the Indian and Bangladeshi governments for restoring the train services. It would be much better if the procedure could be made more fluid.
This will help definitely enhance trade between the two countries, flourish tourism. The rail link will improve rail network access to the region’s key ports, dry ports, and land borders, supporting regional trade growth and encouraging regional economic and social development. The benefits of both products and passenger travel will be available to ordinary citizens and businesspeople in both countries. As a result, it will strengthen people-to-people communication even more. It will facilitate commercial activity and allowing more people to contact with one another.
The two countries have been collaborating in an effort to improve and expand rail connectivity. Both sides are working on a number of projects, and some historic railway lines are being restored at the same time.
The Bandhan Express was resurrected by reactivating a long-dormant rail link between Kolkata and Khulna, Bangladesh’s third-largest city. The Barisal Express served this route until 1965, when it was halted due to the India-Pakistan war. Bandhan was revived in 2017 by Narendra Modi government and PM Sheikh Hasina administration.
Following the launch of the Maitree Express between Kolkata and Dhaka Cantonment in April 2008, the Bandhan Express was the second train to depart. It spans the distance between Kolkata and Khulna, passing through Petrapole and Benapole on the way to meet the needs of people from both countries.
Since its inception, the Maitree Express has been a huge success. The 90 percent occupancy rate on the tri-weekly route between Kolkata and Dhaka used to be the norm. Now, the Mitali Express has been started to run between New Jalpaiguri and Dhaka in North Bengal. PM Modi announced this train during his March 2021 visit to Dhaka.
Both countries’ governments have been attempting to improve the rail link between them, and not simply through passenger trains. In August 2021, the two countries resumed regular freight train service between Haldibari, India, and Chilahati, Bangladesh, on the newly restored link.
The Haldibari-Chilahati train link between India and East Pakistan was also operating until 1965, when it was shut down owing to the war. At the time of Partition, this was part of the broad-gauge major line connecting Kolkata and Siliguri. On this route, the two sides expect at least 20 freight trains to cross the border each month.
Trains continued to run between the two countries after the Partition because they were once part of a single, seamless railway network under British authority. As a result, the infrastructure to connect the two sides via railways was substantially there.
Policymakers on both sides saw this as an opportunity to strengthen diplomatic ties by allowing products and passengers to traverse borders. Between India and Bangladesh, five rail routes have been restarted thus far. Petrapole (India)-Benapole (Bangladesh), Gede (India)-Darshana (Bangladesh), Singhabad (India)-Rohanpur (Bangladesh), Radhikapur (India)-Birol (Bangladesh), and the Haldibari-Chilahati connection are among them.
According to the media reports, stone chips, ballasts, grains, and other items are commonly transported to Bangladesh. CONCOR, a railway PSU, has begun container shipping with private clients’ Fast Moving Consumer Goods. Typically, the goal is to develop a speedier and more cost-effective freight link by weaning them off of the sea route. The Eastern Railway of India made it easier to import de-oiled soya cakes from Bangladesh last year.
Around 1.2 million tonnes of the cargo were transported via train in October of last year, rather than the customary route between the Nhava Sheva port and the Land Customs Stations, Petrapole Port.
“India would never go back on its word in this endeavor,” stated the Indian rail minister recently, assuring Bangladesh of full assistance in improving the latter’s rail system. It is true that India can help Bangladesh enhance its railway infrastructure, particularly in the conversion of the entire train network to broad gauze. He called the Mitali Express “another another milestone” in the strengthening of India-Bangladesh ties.
According to the media reports, the 17 railway projects in Bangladesh that India is funding are the largest component of India’s three separate lines of credit given since 2011, accounting for 25% of the total soft loans.
Dhaka and New Delhi have agreed to work out the details of India utilising rail transit through Bangladesh after receiving a proposal from Indian Railways (IR).
Indian trains will pass through Bangladesh between Sealdah and Haldibari in West Bengal, as part of the proposal. Trains will enter Bangladesh via the Gede-Darshana (Chuadanga) border and exit via the Chilahati (Nilphamari)-Haldibari border to reach Siliguri in this instance.
At the moment, India has access to Bangladesh’s road network. The proposed route will be the first rail transit infrastructure linking the two countries in more than half a century if both governments approve it.
There were eight railway interchanges between India and Pakistan before the 1947 division. Only five of them are currently operational: Benapole-Petropole, Darshana-Gede, Rohanpur-Singabadh, Biral-Radhikarpur, and Chilahati-Haldibari.
According to the media reports, in April this year, the IR presented the plan to Bangladesh Railway (BR). The infrastructure of the route from Gede-Darshana-Ishwardi-Abdullpur-Parbatipur-Chilahati-Haldibari.
The IR delegation also aimed to enhance the number of trains departing from India and passing through various places in order to facilitate freight transfer from one carrier to another.
Apart from freight trains, India and Bangladesh have been operating two passenger trains for numerous years. Now, third train has been added in this list. The Gede-Darshana junction is currently used by the Maitree Express between Dhaka and Kolkata. Between Khulna and Kolkata, the Bandhan Express runs. After a 55-year absence, rail communication between the two countries via the Chilahati-Haldibari route resumed in December 2020. Today, the Mitali Express, a third passenger train, resumes service.
The IR now has the opportunity to reestablish the ancient Siliguri-Sealdah route via Bangladesh, thanks to the resumption of train service on the Chilahati-Haldibari route.
According to the media reports, the proposed transit facility will save nearly three hours of journey time. At the moment, Indian trains must travel 573 kilometers from Sealdah in Kolkata to reach Siliguri. If the new route can be used, the distance will be reduced to merely 200 kilometers. Trains from Siliguri passed through Haldibari and entered Chilahati in the former East Pakistan en route to Kolkata before 1965. This line was permanently closed after the Indo-Pak conflict in 1965.But the Resumption of India-Bangladesh passenger and freight train services will provide benefits for both Bangladesh and India.
Transit of IR trains through Bangladesh may be a win-win situation for BR, IR, and the people and trade of the two nations. But there must have communication between the Northeast and Bangladesh, and the Akhaura-Agartala railway link must be resumed for both freight train and passenger tarin as soon as possible which can mark yet another significant milestone for the two countries. The increased connectivity between the Northeast and Bangladesh is intended to boost trade between the two countries.
This will strengthen not just people-to-people ties, but also trade and tourism between the two countries, particularly in the North East. In the future, it might be a link in an ambitious Asian Railway network that opens up Asean countries for trade while also serving as a success route
Because Dhaka and Kolkata are already connected by rail, there is a possibility of connecting this network to Kolkata. This was the road from Kolkata to Siliguri before 1965, but it was closed after the 1965 war. Once the route is open, the distance between Kolkata and Siliguri or New Jalpaiguri will be cut in half. People can benefit from that. Thus, the Resumption of India-Bangladesh passenger train services is a milestone in the strengthening of bilateral ties.
Kashmir Valley, known for its scenic gardens, picturesque landscape and exquisite lake was a popular tourist destination for people across the world in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Popular movie films were shot here and people across the world admired the serene beauty of the valley. But all this reversed in early 1980’s and the valley got occupied with insurgency and mass protests and killings which took at least 45,000 lives.
This paper will examine the geo-political security situation of the world that led the insurgency in 90’s. It will first examine the conditions under which J&K was acceded to India. Then, it will examine the reasons of the insurgency of 90’s and also access the Indian Government’s response. Towards the end, it will provide solutions to improve the situation in Kashmir.
The independence of British India happened amidst the Cold war. With Nehru being a socialist, the Anglo-American nexus decided to cultivate Pakistan as dependable member in order to contain communism in South Asia. When the princely-state of Jammu-Kashmir was given the option to either join India, Pakistan or remain independent, the Anglo-American nexus wanted Kashmir to become part of Pakistan or to remain independent so that it could remain within the sphere of their influence as part of strategy of containment.
Due to the Muslim-majority in the region, Pakistan also desperately wanted Kashmir. But Maharaja Hari Singh, then ruler of Jammu-Kashmir delaying his decision to join any country and opposition from Sheikh Abdullah, the popular Muslim leader, to join Pakistan feared Karachi. This led Karachi to plan a tribal invasion to make the state join Pakistan. With invasion in Kashmir, Lord Mountbatten and General Lockhart worked feverishly behind the scenes to prevent India retaliate the attack. They did not want the cities of Domel and Muzaffarabad, which shared borders with then communist Soviet Union, China and Afghanistan, to go in the hands of Indian troops. Furthermore, the Anglo-Americans wanted to woo the Muslim world after their mandate in Palestine.
They even advised India against attacking Pakistan citing ‘great risks and dangers’ but the Indian administrators insisted on action. With Britishers helping New Delhi evade infiltrators merely on purpose of ‘evacuating garrisons’, they deliberately took the case to United Nations as proper course of action and simultaneously promised full military preparations for counter-attack. Nehru, then Indian PM, accepted the proposal hoping to solve the conflict and hoping Britishers to keep their part of the agreement. But in the UNSC, British proposals were always supportive of Pakistan and Kashmir’s invasion and accession was hardly taken into account.
But UN resolution accepted the legality of J&K accession to India and called for withdrawal of invaders from Kashmir and a subsequent plebiscite. Thus, even though Jammu-Kashmir was formally integrated with India with the support of both Maharaja and Sheikh Abdullah, the efforts of the West left the princely state spit between India and Pakistan and called for asking ‘the will of the people’ after withdrawal of Pakistan’s troops. Since then, aspirations of Kashmiri’s for independence never disappeared from their consciousness.
Geo-political security Context
Since that time, Pakistan has waged many conflicts and fought wars over Kashmir but Kashmir remained calm till the early 1970’s. But a sudden demand of plebiscite and insurgency increased after 1975. The geo-political security atmosphere of the world is attributed to those factors.
During that time, USA was engaged in containing communism in Afghanistan. It used the policy of hybrid warfare to handle the situation and funds for the same were channelled through Pakistan, the US ally. Pakistan used these funds to train jihadis to bleed the red communists but the money was also used to increase insurgency in Kashmir. As a consequence of Washington’s massive funding and warfare tactics, the Red Army was defeated in 1989. This left the vacuum for the jihadis, trained during the ten-year (1979-1989) war in Afghanistan no war to fight, prompting the Pakistani generals to divert full tactics of Kabul in India. This is well-evident from the fact that insurgency and dissatisfaction of locals with the Indian Armed Forces was at its peak after USSR’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Police found themselves outgunned by the militants who possessed sophisticated weapons like grenades and rocket launchers (Priyanka, Sumit). USA, well-aware of Pakistan’s tactics, wanted Kashmir to be boiling to prevent India from gaining access of the communist Countries.
Soviet Union, aware of American intentions, supported India in Kashmir issue at various instances. But with the sudden defeat of USSR in 1989 and demand of independence from various republics weakened its support to India. On the contrary, this boosted USA’s support and gave spirit to Kashmiris to fulfil their dream of independence. January 20, 1990 was set as independent day and on January 19, mass killings of Pandits took place to rid Kashmir of its non-Muslim population to aggravate its stance of joining Pakistan.
The Saudi influence of Islamization of Kashmir also started in the same period. A Muslim conference was organized by Saudi religious people in 1979 and Jhelum Valley Medical College was established in 1980. The JV medical college served as a measure source through which large sums of money were channelled into Kashmir and planted the seeds of Islamic fundamentalism in Kashmiris. The doctors and staff in the college further spread these messages. In 1980’s, there was clearly an orchestrated campaign to change the Kashmiri people. Several madrassahs and mosques were set up that trained the jihadists and propagated these agendas. Jagmohan, then Governor of the state noted the violence to perturb particularly on Friday nights as crowd dispersed from the mosques. ‘Islam is in Danger’ was the sentiment that mobilized the youth that period. This further brewed hated towards the Kashmiri pandits.
With the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the triumph of Ayatollah, who talked of liberating the enslaved Muslim world, further gave confidence to the secessionist movement. The Jamaat-I-Islami party of Kashmir spread rumours that Ayatollah’s ancestors had come to Kashmir and that he was related to Kashmiri Muslims. These developments became a matter of pride for Kashmiris who did not even mind the Shia factor of Tehran.
Thus, Pakistan, with the support of Americans and Saudi world resorted to the ideology of communalism and proxy war to win Kashmir. Several operations such as Operation Tupac and Ripe Apple theory were launched to fight for the cause of oppressed Kashmiri Muslims. With increase in Islamabad’s defence cost and the low-cost proxy war, Pakistan wanted to bleed India and make it inefficient to control situation in the valley, prompting Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. In 1990 almost a thousand of the elite Kashmiri Muslims were on the payroll of the ISI and in 1989, the Indian government estimated that about 10,000 Kashmiri youth had gone to Pakistan to undergo training.
While Indian government, involved with its own political crisis and change of governments, did not intervene much in the matter. In 1977, when Indian government withdrew its support of National Conference (NC), even Sheikh started speaking about the plebiscite and independence. In 1980, Sheikh’s government started Islamization of Kashmir and began changing names of about 2500 villages and delivered communal speeches in mosques. In his autobiography, Sheikh referred Pandits as ‘mukhbir’ or ‘the informers of Indian government’. The 1987 rigged elections further increase the support of the insurgency. The uneducated, unaware youth, engulfed with unemployment got sentimental in believing the communal speeches and into believing that liberation of Kashmir would help his cause.
All these external and internal influences played an indispensable role in Kashmir for youth to dream about independence who started perpetuating insurgency throughout Srinagar. When the Kashmiri youth dissatisfied with their plight were offered arms and money by Pakistanis, they became the reason of insurgency. All this happened till 9/11 attacks when foreign influences and funding to Pakistan halted and many youths gave up arms and started seeking alternatives to fulfil thrust for autonomy. But even today, Kashmir faces the problem of insurgency and the grievances of youth remain unresolved.
Despite the influence of both external powers and domestic factors in aggravating the problem in Kashmir, India has taken various steps to control the rising insurgency.
According to Jagmohan, between January 1 and January 19, 1990, 319 violent acts were reported in Kashmir. This led Indian government to impose Presidential rule and impose Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the valley in 1990. There was deployment of massive troops, and paramilitary forces. Around 20,000 militants were killed and the militancy was managed to a great extent. All these strategies led insurgents to give up violence and fed up of the countering, they stopped attempting violence. Several cases of violent activities have still been noted after 1990’s but they are of much less momentum.
Kashmir can become an integral part of India if proper resources and policy measures are introduced in the valley by both the national and local governments. The need is to bring the requisite infrastructure, educational and employment opportunities for its resident along with boosting the tourism industry. Alternative employment opportunities and psychological trainings to militants should also be provided. Despite the enormous cost spend on fighting terrorism, the government now needs to shift the focus of this cost to alleviate poverty and bring good opportunities for the youth.
With the removal of Article 370 and the introduction of J&K Reorganization Act, the region has come directly under Centre’s rule and has started receiving socio-political equality, education, jobs, reservations and other rights enjoyed by people in other parts of country. All these steps would lead to stability and peace and is inviting private ventures and businesses in Kashmir that would lead to development of the region, creating employment for the youth. The rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits back in the valley and the provision of domicile rights to POK refugees have further aggravated the process of bringing and recognizing different religions and ethnicities in the valley. The government inviting ‘misguided’ youths for employment opportunities is also a step in the right direction.
With the direct control of centre government in Kashmir, militancy could be also contained by undertaking physical and preventive measures with the help of military in the short-run. But rather than bringing a revolution, evolutionary measures need to be adopted by the stakeholders through conducive measures. All this would slowly but surely bring an evolution in Kashmir.
To some it might be a small local body elections in Balochistan but the way people of Balochistan have spoken in these elections is unprecedented and very encouraging in so many ways. The message delivered by the people of Balochistan in these elections is crystal clear i.e. they have full confidence in the state of Pakistan and they want to contribute fully in the development & progress of Balochistan. Local body elections result also gives us a reality check that there is always a stark difference b/w rhetoric and ground realities. Few key questions that emerge out of the results of local bodies elections are; while a river of opinions, images, videos and perceptions is gushing out of our screens on hourly basis but does it have the steam to sway an election on ground also? Can hate mongering & divisive style of politics alter the outcome of an electoral politics? The answer lies in the recent Local government elections held in Balochistan where Balochi people have spoken loud and clear. While all mainstream political parties were able to get sizeable share, it was mostly Independent candidates who won the elections. Is it a new wave of the real change? Has the wind of change started from Balochistan? The hard reality of concerns, it appears, can clearly confront the gentle breeze of perceptions and this is what Balochistan proved in its recent local government elections. These elections have busted so many myths if we dive deep in it. Let’s take a look at a few messages the people of Balochistan have conveyed to all relevant stakeholders through the polls;
• The local body polls held in Balochistan after a lapse of almost 10 years proved that Balochis proudly stand with the constitution of Pakistan. One of the highest turnout in the history of Balochistan/ Pakistan has proven that the people of Balochistan stand firmly with the state. They believe on democratic electoral processes and their willingness to be part of democratic dispensation in the province. In 32 out of 34 districts, approximately 17000 candidates appeared under various political platforms. Overall turnout remained 60% which is one of the highest in the country. The turnout in Turbat was 61% making it the highest after 1988 elections. The participation of women candidates in these local body elections is unprecedented and not only did women participate in the electoral process as candidates, but the turnout of women voters also remained encouraging. But what is extremely surprising is that independent candidates have won almost 1300 seats in municipal corporations. The next party which secured seats is JUI-F with a win of 98 seats and the ruling party of Balochistan, Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) has secured almost 70 seats. Mainstream political parties like PMLN, PPP or PTI also secured the seats with PTI having the lowest number among these three contemporary parties.
• This raises serious questions on Imran Khan’s conspiracy mantra and style of politics. Is Imran Khan political rhetoric only prevailing in the urban centres or is it only limited to his keyboard warriors on Social media? Because if people of Balochistan had believed in his conspiracy mantra, then the outcome of local body elections would have been different. Elections result clearly indicate that concerns and issue of the common people are way different than much trumpeted political narrative of PTI and other nationalist parties which secured lesser number of seats. People have chosen to side with the state to resolve issues related to their basic necessities instead of the flawed narrative of “Haqeeqi Azaadi”. Does it mean Imran Khan’s message of conspiracy is not finding space on ground? Is it a reality check for Imran Khan and his conspiracy mantra? It’s further confirmation can be made during next local body elections in Punjab and other provinces at later stage.
• One more factor, which clearly has been authenticated on ground is the establishment’s apolitical role in Balochistan’s local body elections. The clean sweep of “Haq do Tehreek” in Gwadar proves a free and fair election in the province as the party leadership kept protesting against the federal and provincial governments all along and kept disrupting the normal routine in the city for long time. One point which merits attention is that Haq do Tehreek under Maulana Hidayat ur Rehman carried out its movement completely following the political discourse and constitution of Pakistan and followed the democratic path even during its agitation spread over months. They spearheaded the public protests and engaged in talks with members of the provincial government at the same time. Eventually, it was people of Gwadar who chose them as their representatives in local bodies. Same party leadership would now work in constitutional ambit to resolve issues of the people and strengthen roots of democracy in Balochistan. It has also shown how people can obtain their rights in a manner that does not involve riots and violence. With peaceful agitation they got the results in local body elections through a political discourse. This proves that one cannot blackmail the state through disruption of peace and political process based on dangerous ideologies.
• The conduct of successful local body elections in Balochistan actually marks the beginning of Balochistan’s support for the national discourse and is a befitting response to hostile elements like India and all sub-nationalist terrorists’ who continue their failing efforts to undermine peace and stability in Balochistan. The credit goes to law enforcement agencies, civil administration, people of Balochistan and most importantly the soldiers who sacrificed their lives to maintain peace and stability in the province.
It’s important to debate that the 18th amendment to the constitution has guaranteed the financial and political autonomy to the provinces. Today is the right time to convert that financial and political autonomy to its full manifestation. These Local body elections have paved the way for Balochistan’s development and allocation of funds through implementation of local bodies dispensation at grassroot level which is the need of the hour. All relevant stakeholders need to keep these local representatives relevant in their wards by providing them adequate funds for development of the province as per the 18th amendment. Else, the true dividend of these encouraging results would not trickle down to grass root level and it will also not translate into the real development Balochistan has been longing for decades.
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