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- Journal of Humanitarian Assistance - -

Political Complexities of Humanitarian Intervention in the Pakistan Earthquake

By Thomas Bamforth

Published on January 16, 2007
Aims and structure of this report

The aim of this paper is to provide a socio-political introduction to the main issues that have been or may be encountered by international agencies working in Pakistan for earthquake relief post the October 8 earthquake in Northern Pakistan. The report argues that humanitarian agencies, despite pretences to neutrality, have fed into existing political fault-lines and seeks to provide an overview of how this has happened and to make recommendations on how agencies might better navigate the political dimensions of humanitarian relief in a sovereign nation under military rule.

The report is divided into the following sections:

  • Introduction – humanitarian intervention in a sovereign state under a military government

  • The military in Pakistan – a brief history

  • Sources of ethno-regional conflict in contemporary Pakistan

  • Political parties and the marginalization of civil society under military rule

  • United Nations, the international community and military government

  • Conclusions and recommendations

Introduction – humanitarian intervention in a sovereign state

A common and noticeable theme that emerges in discussions with humanitarian relief workers is the observation that Pakistan is a sovereign state. For many workers, their previous experiences have to a large extent been limited to ‘complex’ situations (where humanitarian emergencies are the result directly or indirectly of armed conflict) rather than natural disasters which are merely ‘complicated’. The typical CV of a relief worker includes stints in Darfur, Bosnia, Kosovo, and East Timor in which the areas’ respective juridical status is undefined and which are marked by the absence of a recognized or enforceable state structure. In such situations, relief agencies can act under the principle of an a-political humanitarian imperative with comparatively little concern for state structures or the political impacts of humanitarian intervention.

This is not the case in Pakistan. The October 8 2005 earthquake, while causing substantial damage and loss of life across NWFP and PAK (including the loss of an estimated 10,000 military personnel) , has not significantly threatened the government, state structure or the national economy. International agencies have consequently found themselves working with, and at the invitation of, the military-led government. Overall coordination of the relief effort formally lies with the Federal Relief Commission (FRC). Some agencies describe their activities as extensions of the government, while others, such as UNHCR, provide ‘technical advice’ to the government on camp management. Organisations such as NATO operated under a 90-day mandate in the form of a personal invitation from General Musharraf rather than an invitation from the federal parliament. Under the 1973 Constitution, held in abeyance since 1999 , only parliament is sovereign and has the power to extend such invitations. In addition, Pakistan has been regarded as a ‘frontline state’ since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (and the region has been of extreme political sensitivity owing to its geopolitical position since the days of Kipling). Pakistan and India have fought three and a half wars (1947, 1965, 1971), with the ‘half’ war being a significant incursion by regular army forces into Kargil in Indian Administered Kashmir (IAK) in 1999. Between 1990 and 2001 Pakistan was under international sanctions as a result of its pursuit of nuclear weapons and further ‘democratic’ sanctions were imposed as a consequence of General Musharraf’s military coup d’état in 1999. Since 2001, Pakistan’s ‘frontline’ status has been restored, and its military regime legitimized internationally, as a key ally in the overthrow of the Taliban and in the ‘War on Terror’ against al-Qaeda.

Humanitarian agencies consequently find themselves acting in a highly politicized international and domestic environment. Despite the importance of emphasizing a de-politicised ‘humanitarian space’, the presence of humanitarian agencies plays into many of the political fault-lines of contemporary Pakistan. These include relations between the centre and the provinces, the ambivalent constitutional status of Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK), legitimisation of military rule, sectarianism, civil conflicts and insurgencies, devolution and the further alienation of mainstream political parties. The politics of earthquake relief may have significant future ramifications for internal power struggles within Pakistan. This may in turn affect the working environment for many international agencies, especially those intending to remain in the country into the reconstruction period. Further, a more politically informed approach to disaster relief may produce reconstruction strategies that will be more sustainable in the longer term.

The military in Pakistan

Since its first military coup d’état in 1958, Pakistan has been ruled either directly or indirectly by military governments. Despite recurring elections, on no occasion has the incumbent political party been voted out of office. Transfer of power has proceeded by military intervention which, for Pakistan’s last three elected Prime Ministers – Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif - has resulted in execution and banishment respectively. In his 1999 speech, General Musharraf, like previous coup leaders, justified his actions on the basis of the corruption of the previous regime. Berating what he termed the “sham democracy” that had existed in Pakistan, General Musharraf issued a Proclamation of Emergency in which the country’s 1973 constitution was suspended. In its place, clause (f) of the Proclamation disposed that: “the whole of Pakistan come under the control of the armed forces”. On the same day, the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) No. 1 was issued which provided that presidential orders would supersede all other legislation, including the constitution. In 2002, seeking to formalise a role for the military in the state, Musharraf introduced the Legal Framework Order (LFO). The LFO sought to undermine the position of Prime Minister and move power away from the head of government to strengthen the powers of the head of state. The substantial powers that accrued to the President further undermined the autonomy of the provinces. Under the LFO, the President could: dismiss the National Assembly , approve senior court appointments, and appoint provincial governors (with similar powers at state level to those of the president). The role of the military was given constitutional power through the LFO’s establishment of the National Security Council (NSC), a military steering committee, whose limited remit covers “strategic matters pertaining to sovereignty, integrity and national security of the state; and matters relating to democracy, governance, and inter-provincial harmony”. In addition, the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) stipulates that presidential orders override all other legislation, including suspending the constitution, and that the actions of the military government are not subject to legal challenge or review. The combined effect of the LFO, PCO and NSC is to enure the centralisation of political power and the dominance of the military over state and civilian parliamentary structures.

Nonetheless, Pakistan retains a democratic façade. A referendum on Musharraf’s continued rule and Parliamentary elections were held in 2002 and supposedly non-party ‘local bodies’ elections were held in 2005 for Union Council (town councils) and District, Tehsil (sun-district) and city Nazim (Mayor) and Naib Nazim (Vice-Mayor) positions. Paradoxically, the stated aim of Musharraf’s military coup was the re-establishment of ‘genuine’ democracy. In his first address to the nation on assuming power, he stated: “this is not martial law, but only another path to democracy. The armed forces have no intention of staying in charge any longer than is absolutely necessary to pave the way for true democracy to flourish in Pakistan”.

While the 1999 coup caught the crest of a wave of disaffection with Nawaz Sharif’s corrupt and increasingly authoritarian government, the trigger was political maneuvering over Kargil. In response to stated government policy of engaging in confidence-building measures (CBMs) over Kashmir with India’s BJP government Musharraf, whom Sharif had promoted over the heads of several more senior generals to be Chief of Army Staff, authorized an incursion into Kargil and Drass in Indian Administered Kashmir by militants backed by regular forces. The ensuing military disaster led to a face-off between the Prime Minister and Musharraf over whether the affair had been militarily or politically mishandled. While the Kargil affair may have triggered military intervention, the basic fault line between civil and military authorities had existed for some time with growing concern in the army about negotiations over Kashmir and the subordinate role for the military enshrined in the 1973 Constitution, as evidenced by Prime Ministerial interference in the choice of Musharraf as army chief. Perhaps more importantly, however, the strategy of military cooperation with elected governments came to and end as the high command believed “that the coup would best serve their personal interests and the corporate interests of the armed forces”.

To achieve dominance over the domestic political landscape and to demonstrate the regime’s democratic credentials internationally, Musharraf followed the example set by previous military rules in Pakistan: Generals Ayub Khan and Zia-ul-Haq both of whom used the concept of plebiscitary democracy to bypass established constitutional procedures for the election of the heads of state and government. Ayub Khan’s techniques of regime legitimization are in many ways the model for Musharraf. The One Unit system sought to undermine alternative power bases by dissolving the separate provinces and creating a single province in Pakistan’s Western Wing (the Eastern wing, now Bangladesh, being more populous and separated by 900 miles of Indian territory). It also provided that the country’s two wings would have legal parity, despite the fact that a majority of Pakistan’s population lay in the East and undermined the federal principal outlined in Pakistan’s previous governing documents: the Government of India Act 1935 and the 1956 Constitution. Further, the One Unit system sought to remove the apparently centrifugal forces of provincial constituencies and political party power bases. The ‘Basic Democracies’ system was introduced in 1958 and provided for non-party elections in 80,000 constituencies which would then form the grass roots component for more easily malleable indirect elections to higher government tiers. In this way, Ayub Khan, like Musharraf, sought to remove the power of provincial governments and to undercut the electoral basis for political party opposition to military rule.

Musharraf’s devolution plan, introduced in 2000, sought to achieve exactly the same ends as Ayub Khan’s Basic Democracies – the political application of the military principle of ‘unity of command’. The introduction of ‘grass roots’ democracy was a substitute for democratization at national and provincial levels. The purpose of devolution to local government was to: depoliticize governance, create a new political elite that would undermine established political opposition, demonstrate democratic legitimacy to internal and external audiences, and undermine the federal principle in which the political, administrative and fiscal autonomy of the provinces was constitutionally guaranteed. Further, while the plan sought to emasculate the basis for electoral opposition to the regime, it also provided for military control of the administrative apparatus. The National Reconstruction Bureau, the agency responsible for the design and implementation of the devolution plan, replaced the posts of District Deputy Commissioner and Commissioner with that of the District Coordination Officer (DCO). While the former traditionally controlled the executive, judicial, and revenue functions of the district, under the new system the DCO became subordinate to the elected District Nazim who accrued judicial and revenue responsibilities. In this way the administrative functions of local government have become politicized and are part of a strategy to extend military influence into the bureaucracy. In its own analysis of devolution, the National Reconstruction Bureau noted that “the end of the domination of the bureaucracy by one group is a necessary pre-condition for the attainment of administrative power by the Army and the creation of conditions for national reconstruction”.

In large part, this drive to obtain and retain political control is a product of economic imbalance as a result of military spending. The prominence of the military’s role in Pakistan is because of the threat – real, perceived and invented – of Indian military strength and the dispute over Kashmir. As a consequence, the country has the ninth largest military in the world amounting to 620,000 people and a defence budget of approximately 7% of GDP (this is educated guesswork as the annual budget contains only one line on defence expenditure, defence salaries are often entered under the civil administration costs, and defence expenditure is not open to parliamentary scrutiny). Combined expenditure on health and education amounts to less than 3% of GDP. Major theatres of military operations are against the Baloch tribal and sub-nationalist insurgents in Balochistan, Kashmir where 250,000 army personnel are stationed, and Wazirstan where 70,000 troops are deployed. The army possesses, inter alia, 114 helicopters (sufficient to provide the majority of logistical support for earthquake relief operations) however approximately 80 of these remain in Waziristan where it is thought that Osama bin Laden and remnants of al-Qaeda may be hiding. The commanding heights occupied by defence in the division of national resources is further shown by the governments’ continued decision to purchase US$1.1 billion worth of F-16 fighter planes from the US, temporarily put on hold owing to the earthquake.

The socio-economic ramifications of such high spending are enormous. Pakistan’s human development indicators place it behind other countries in the region such as India and Sri Lanka. 28 million people live below the poverty line, two-thirds of the adult population is illiterate, one quarter of infants are underweight and malnourished. With the highest population growth in the region, at 3.6% per annum, Pakistan’s population growth outweighs its economic performance. An estimated growth rate of 6.6% (revised down to 6% as a result of the earthquake) is frequently cited as an example of the government’s successful economic management, along with its apparent control of the current account deficit. However, were it not for the economic boom in investment and soft loans that came after September 11, and augmented by donor pledges for earthquake reconstruction, it is thought that Pakistan’s military-incurred debt burden would be economically unviable. Further, Pakistan’s recent high growth rate and rise in per capita income fails to address issues of distribution. With a limited manufacturing sector, the country’s source of export income is industrial agriculture based in the Punjab (where the overwhelming majority of the armed forces come from, and are compensated with agricultural land). Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK) and the North West Frontier Province are less economically developed and play a comparatively small role in the national economy. It is significant that despite increasing growth rates unemployment, particularly in urban areas, also remains high.

A further consideration in the economic disequilibrium caused by the state’s burden of military expenditure is the stifling of the private sector. Property ownership and possession of agricultural lands lies with both retired soldiers and Pakistan’s traditional landed aristocracy. Economic and investment planning is run largely by army backed corporations who have monopoly rights in sections of the economy that will be fundamental to reconstruction. The Army Welfare Trust, Fauji Foundation (Army), Shaheen Foundation (Air Force), and Bahria Foundation (Navy) have expanded operations into the banking, airline, insurance, real-estate, and manufacturing sectors. In transport and construction, monopolization has forced out the private sector and further concentrated economic control in army hands. As Ayesha Siddiqa, Pakistan’s leading scholar of defence economics, writes: “The military planners hope that an economic revival would reduce external pressures to decrease military expenditure. What must be realized is that the military’s prolonged intervention in politics is detrimental to economic progress and development”.

While the government’s stated objectives may be the restoration of ‘genuine’ democratic government, the establishment of extra-constitutional and parliamentary bodies such as National Security Council (NSC) and the manipulation of electoral and administrative systems would suggest a serious attempt by the military to centralize and consolidate political power. To some extent, this has occurred before under Ayub Khan and Zia-ul-Haq. However, international agencies working in this environment may find themselves participants in an ongoing process of political realignment aimed less at the establishment of transparent democratic government than at the army’s quest for complete political, administrative and economic control.

Sources of ethno-regional conflict

Despite concerted attempts to create a sense of overarching national identity, Pakistan is marked by its ethno-linguistic and ethno-regional diversity in which bargaining for political power and the distribution of resources is based on perceived communal interests. Communal divisions between the major ethnic groups, Bengalis (up till 1971), Punjabis, Sindhis, Urdu-speaking immigrants , Pashtuns, and Baloch, and between these groups and the state have played a significant role in the development of Pakistan (which is itself is a product of the partition of British India along ethno-religious lines in 1947). An “integrationist” approach to national identity, combined with attempts to centralise state political and economic power, led to a further ethnically based partition of Pakistan in 1971.

Pakistan in 1947 was a composite of two wings separated by 900 miles of Indian territory – an ethnically and linguistically homogeneous East Pakistan made up of Bengalis, and West Pakistan dominated by the Punjab. Despite representing 54.2 percent of the entire population, East Pakistan was subservient to the political and economic domination of the West which derived much of its income and funds for industrial development from the exploitation of Bengali (East Pakistani) jute. Constitutional manipulation by both military and military-guided civilian governments sought to institutionalise the West’s dominance and the underlying motivation for General Ayub Khan’s 1958 military coup was to prevent the prospect of a Bengali majority in the National Assembly. With the introduction of democratic elections and the abolition of the One Unit system in 1970, the Bengali Awami League gained a healthy majority of seats in the central government to govern both West and East Pakistan. The victory of a Bengali political party in a system of government whose military, bureaucratic and economic power was predicated on the dominance of the Punjab meant that the military postponed the transfer of power. The resulting civil unrest in Bengal and the attempt to suppress opposition with the use of force led to a declaration of Bengali independence which was achieved following the India-Pakistan War in 1971. In the division of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh, attempts to centralise power through the manipulation of constitutional arrangements, the neglect of both ethnic and provincial demands, and the attempt to maintain the position of the military at the expense of democratic and civilian decision-making exacerbated ethnic divisions and led to a further state partition along ethnic lines.

Similar forces are currently at play in Pakistan’s internal politics. The Punjab dominates the military and represents the wealthiest and most populous part of the country with approximately 60% of the population. Its prosperity is based on industrial agriculture which in turn is based on a constant supply of water from the Pakistan’s only water source - the Indus River system. Significantly, since the earthquake discussion of the construction of the Kalabagh Dam and Bhasha Dams in NWFP has intensified with reports that funding for the mega-project has now been approved. Recent reports that the government has abandoned the Kalabagh Dam project in favour of the smaller and comparatively less controversial Bhasha Dam indicate a strategic retreat rather than a fundamental change in policy. It is no coincidence that the approval came shortly after the November 2005 donor’s conference in which US $6.2 billion were pledged for reconstruction of the earthquake affected region. Similarly, funding of Balochistan’s controversial Gwadar Port project has also increased. At the same time, however, there has been an intensification of military activity in Balochistan, where the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s representative, Asma Jahangir, was fired upon by members of the Frontier Corps when she went to investigate deaths as a result of military action near the Sui gas plant. In addition, almost 300 people have died as a result of renewed military action in North Waziristan since January 2006. These conflicts are ongoing, but their recent intensification shows the extent to which the centre’s appropriation of political and economic power, especially through natural resource management, fuels ethno-regional conflict in Pakistan.

With the bypassing of the National Assembly, the suspension of the 1973 Constitution which established a Council of Common Interests for the resolution of inter-provincial issues, and the emasculation of provincial legislatures through the devolution plan, there is no political mechanism for the resolution of disputes between the provinces and between the provinces and the centre. Consequently, as the opposition Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz’s (PML-N’s) spokesperson Siddiq ul Farooq has stated, in the context of Pakistan’s water crisis the country should be on a “war footing” and that the proposed Kalabagh Dam would “endanger the federation”.

In a similar vain, the academic Kaiser Bengali has written “water shortage is not just an issue of natural scarcity; it is a socially generated scarcity as well, created as a result of social and economic policies … Water scarcity is, thus, a function of politics”. Pakistan is one of the most irrigated countries on earth with 19 dams, 43 main canals with a conveyance length of 57,000km all of which are dependent upon the seasonal flows of the Indus. The centrality of this irrigation system to Pakistan’s economy and society is evident in that the country uses 80% of all water resources; agriculture produces 22% of GDP, employs 50% of labour force and represents 55% of exports. With a growing economy combined with a rapidly growing population, it is argued by some analysts that large-scale hydro-projects are the best means of controlling the water supply in order to increase agricultural production.

The complications, however, go to the heart of Pakistan’s political and ethno-regional tensions. In Balochistan, whose capital Quetta will run out of potable water within the next 20 years, the potential diversion of water resources is a matter of both economic and personal survival. In Sindh, the lower riparian province, the economy has already been damaged by reduced water flow into the Indus Delta, which has allowed the incursion of sea water and has caused the salination of agricultural land. This has produced adverse effects on coastal ecosystems causing desertification, soil erosion and a deterioration in the quantity and quality of the water supply to Karachi. In NWFP, the location of both the Kalabagh and Bhasha Dams, serious concerns exist about building such projects in an earthquake zone near to major towns such as Nowshera. The three provinces (Sindh, Balochistan and NWFP) further oppose the plan on the grounds that it would contravene the 1991 Water Apportionment Accord and give increase water resources and the benefits of hydro-electricity to the Punjab. The drive toward the construction of major hydro-projects feeds into competition between provinces, each of which represents a dominant ethno-linguistic group, and between the provinces and the centre. It further contains similarities with the twin props of the Bengali separatist movement: economic exploitation and political under-representation.

The scarcity of water raises the potentials for conflict in Pakistan due to its scarcity, inter-provincial tensions on water-sharing and the issue of bilateral water sharing between India and Pakistan (especially since the expiration of the Indus Water Treaty between the two nations). Furthermore, there are existing ethnic and regional tensions that are drawing Pakistan into a state of civil conflict with insurgencies expanding especially in the largest though least developed province of Balochistan.

The province of Balochistan was forcibly amalgamated into the Pakistani federation in 1948 and has been the venue for five successive armed operations by the Pakistani army and in response an equal number of insurgencies. The current insurgency has spread to almost all the districts in the province and erupted in response to the decades of provincial marginalisation. The core issues of the Balochistan conflict are lack of provincial autonomy and central control of Baloch economic and natural resources. The conflict has affected the industrial development in the region since the populace is demanding social, health and educational development before the pursuit of mega-projects. The heavy-handed military crackdown of the Pakistani army in Balochistan has displaced numerous people and swelled the feelings of alienation amongst the Baloch people from the Pakistani state. The conflict seems no sign of abating and if anything is bound to spill into other provinces.

Another conflict that is increasingly engulfing the Pakistani army and creating instability across in the country is the presence of al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in the northern tribal areas adjacent to Afghanistan (North and South Waziristan). These militant forces have been thwarting military campaigns by the Pakistan army but these constant clashes have displaced hundreds of people from the region. In pursuit of eliminating these militants, the Pakistani army has gone into the region is full force but the ensuing clashes have primarily affected the local populace rather than rooting out the militants.

With General Musharraf’s seizure of power in 1999, and in the military’s attempts to gain a measure of political legitimacy for itself, while undermining both provincial autonomy and political parties (other than those sponsored by the government), the military government is manipulating precisely the same forces that have previously threatened the stability of the state and repeating the same mistakes that led to the break up of the country in 1971.

NWFP and Kashmir

Though not an immediate concern, there is likelihood that dissatisfaction with the Pakistani government especially their lacklustre performance in rescue and relief operations could be the catalyst for a political agitation. There have already been protests and violence in Muzaffarabad and Chikoti over the forced removal of the affectees. Already there is increased support for political and separatist groups that advocate the rejoining of Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK) with its Indian sister territory into a separate nation.

In NWFP, where the MMA government is increasingly becoming estranged from the federal government and there has always been groundswell support for Pashtun nationalism, the Pakistani army’s performance should be closely watched. Further, despite complaints from the army about the effectiveness of the NWFP Government in providing relief, much of this aid has been directed through NGOs sponsored directly by the Islamist political parties that make up the governing MMA coalition. Islamist relief organisations have a free reign in relief work in NWFP, which, as opposition representatives, is of concern to the federal government. Should the government take concrete steps to address the issue it could galvanize support for the MMA and send its cadres out onto the streets.

In Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK), there is the highest likelihood of political agitation and small-scale violent outbreaks. With the Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK) government sidelined especially after the earthquake, no attempt to rebuild the civilian administration and a complete lack of local control in the affairs of the state, the sense of alienation and distance from Islamabad has been compounded. Significant and controversial political issues of immediate concern in Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK) are: moving the capital to Mirpur or rebuilding Muzaffarabad, forming a national government in Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK), holding elections, agitation by opposition members of the Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK) Assembly and the rebuilding of the district governments. The World Bank/Asian Development Bank for NWFP was directed towards Peshawar whereas the aid for Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK) had to be channelled through Islamabad since Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK) is constitutionally barred from directly conducting foreign trade or foreign aid negotiations unlike Pakistan’s four other federating units (the provinces). This client relationship that Muzaffarabad has with Islamabad will be further played out when large sums of money for reconstruction are spent without any real input from Kashmiri politicians.

One of the possible concerns stemming out of Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK) is the extension of an insurgency in the region for complete independence from Pakistan due to the client relationship and the lacklustre performance of the Pakistani army and government in earthquake relief and reconstruction operations. Most Kashmiris on both sides of the border would prefer an independent state in treaty agreements with India and Pakistan but Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK) over the decades has been fractured into smaller administrative regions for complete control from Islamabad. Balitistan and the Gilgit Agency, both traditionally part of the Kashmir region, have a separate status in Pakistan than the adjacent Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK). This decades long process of political, economically and socially controlling Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK) might have been welcomed by the local citizenry were it not for the constitutionally ambivalent status of the region that has resulted in its neglect.

Political parties and the marginalization of civil society

The main obstacle to internal state stability in Pakistan is the absence of an empowered mechanism, such as the National Assembly (parliament), which can be used as a means for establishing negotiated resolutions to political and provincial disputes. As Nasim Zehra, of Harvard University’s Asia Centre, writes: “Pakistan’s repeated experience with [cyclical crises] only point to one fundamental truth: that without a credible state system and genuine democracy functioning with an independent judiciary and an independent Election Commission, Pakistan is unlikely to experience lasting stability and internal harmony”. The 1973 Constitution provided for a political mechanism for the resolution of provincial disputes in particular. However, the National Economic Council (NEC), which promised consultation with the provinces in respect of financial, commercial, social and economic policies, and the Council of Common Interests, which had jurisdiction over complaints about natural resource usage, including the use, distribution, and control of water supply, have never been convened. Instead, the changeover of political power proceeds by crisis of military legitimacy (such as defeat in the Indo-Pakistan war in 1971), or military coups or dissolution of democratically-elected governments in the case of Pakistan’s previous Prime Ministers Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif.

Political change by crisis results from the emasculation of political parties. Re-writing the political system and electoral manipulations marked Pakistan’s electoral processes in the 2002 National Elections, the 2002 Referendum on military rule, and the 2005 Local Bodies Elections. Official figures state that in the 2002 Referendum a 94.7% yes-vote was returned in answer to the question: ‘Do you want to elect President Musharraf for the next five years for the survival of the local government system, restoration of democracy, continuity and stability of reforms, eradication of extremism and sectarianism and for the accomplishment of Jinnah’s concept?’. The 2005 Local Bodies Elections, in which 60 people died more than 500 were injured, were marred by gerrymandering, government favouritism, and extensive rigging including ballot stuffing, intimidation and seizure of voting stations. Further, Pakistan’s main political opposition figures, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif remain in exile in Dubai and Saudi Arabia respectively. While the centre has attempted to manufacture a replacement national political party in the form of the Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q), this suffers from a lack of both internal cohesion and popular support outside of some quarters in Punjab. As a consequence, the government has relied upon minority Islamist parties such as the Muthahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) coalition and, to a lesser extent the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), to prop up its electoral power base. The military-led government under General Musharraf has also cajoled, bribed or coopted other regional and mainstream secular parties to splinter and some of their members have formed micro-parties of the same name to join in General Musharraf’s PML-Q coalition at the provincial and federal level. The ostracisation of alternative political leadership, the suppression of centrist and secular political parties, and the attempt to de-politicise local elections have seen the emergence of religious parties as an electoral force, especially in NWFP and Balochistan. These manipulated elections have laid the groundwork for the further consolidation of political power by the centre in the upcoming National Elections in 2007. As the Network for Consumer Protection observes: “the problem confronting Pakistan through its history is not primarily that of a weak party system, but the absence of political dispensation resulting in the denial of space to political parties to function both in office and in opposition”.

For effective and relevant reconstruction in the earthquake affected areas, a top down approach where the military decides and executes reconstruction will result in a rebuilding process that has no input from local stakeholders and further marginalizes the role of civilian institutions in the country. The reconstruction phase has barely begun and there are almost daily reports of protests against the dictatorial polices of ERRA, the complete control of the Pakistani army in the distribution of compensation money and the favouritism evident in handing out reconstruction goods to pro-military groups and leaders for the benefit of these groups members. What the Pakistani military-led federal government fails to comprehend is that their complete control of the reconstruction process, when it fails to rebuild to the desires of the populace, will result in exacerbated anti-military feelings and will give rise to extremist forces that would be better suited to nurture this resentment. Allowing mainstream political parties in parliament and civil society groups to be involved in the reconstruction phase will not only brings in broader representation but also valid suggestions and experience of these groups/organisations into the reconstruction process.

Political parties

This sub-section intends to convey the presence of mainstream political parties within Pakistan and their parliamentary coalitions. It is the below mentioned political arties that have significant presence in the federal and provincial assemblies which have been repeatedly marginalized under the current military government especially in the wake of October 8 2005 earthquake.

1. Pakistan Muslim League

The two largest Muslim League blocks are the PML – Nawaz Sharif (PML-N) and the PML - Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) both of which claim direct descent from the All-India Muslim League that was the political organization instrumental in the advocacy and creation of Pakistan. Both are centrist parties, slightly to the right of the Pakistan People’s Party, and favour generally conservative pro-business platform based on economic privatisation and deregulation. PML-Q, however, is a military-created party whose leaders have primarily defected from PML-N after the 1999 coup and when bureaucratic, military and corporate patronage switched to the newly established PML-Q. The popular basis of the PML-Q lies in the Punjab and consequently it lacks the national appeal of the PPP or the PML-N. Further, as an artificial political creation reliant on state patronage and direction the party has “little sense of common identity or purpose”. As the ‘King’s Party’, the PML-Q now holds power in the National Assembly and Punjab’s Provincial Assembly. It also holds power in alliance with the MQM in Sindh and the MMA in Balochistan.

There are some one-person only PML wings within the national parliament but their support is limited to the charisma of that one leader and that one person is the only representative within the National Assembly.

2. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)

The PPP is a centre-left party that emerged in opposition to Ayub Khan’s military government in 1967. Its rise to prominence and power owed much to the charismatic, albeit somewhat authoritarian, leadership of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto whose populist Islamist socialist political platform included economic equality, social justice and land redistribution. While under Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir, the party moved closer to the political centre and advocated and more social-democratic position in an effort to win corporate confidence alienated by her father’s nationalisation program in the 1970s. The PPP’s 2002 Manifesto maintained that it four tenets are: democracy, religious tolerance, equal economic opportunity and what it termed ‘people power’. The PPP is the largest single opposition party in Sindh, Punjab, and in the National Assembly. It currently operates in partnership with the PML-N in the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD) coalition.

The ARD is itself a sixteen-party coalition and is the largest opposition group in the National Assembly though General Musharraf did not allow the main constituent party, the PPP to become the official opposition nor the ARD coalition. Its political platform argues for the right of elected governments to govern and for the withdrawal of the military from political activity. The ARD charter further aims at enhancing the powers of the Prime Minister, strengthening the judiciary, and placing the military and intelligence services under civilian leadership. Despite being the largest opposition party, the MMA leader Fazlur Rehman was appointed national opposition leader as a means of ensuring the MMA continued support for the government.

3. Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)

The MQM represents mohajirs – primarily Urdu-speaking Muslim migrants from India who arrived in Pakistan after 1947 – is has its power base among the urban middle and lower classes in Sindh. The MQM governs in coalition with the military-created PML-Q and receives government patronage in opposition to the PPP, whose main voter base is in rural Sindh. In response to the centre’s favouritism of a self-confessed immigrant’s party, a number of Sindhi nationalist parties have emerged calling for a separate state. As with similar nationalist parties in NWFP and Balochistan, Sindhi nationalist parties have been able to mobilise support against the mohajir-Punjabi dominated centre in support of provincial autonomy – especially with regard to the centre’s proposals for hydro-projects such as the Kalabagh Dam and Gwadar.

4. Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA)

The MMA is an alliance of six religious parties of which the dominant forces are the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazlur Rehman (JUI-F). JI came to prominence as the preferred political party of Pakistan’s conservative military ruler Zia ul Haq during the 1970s and 80s and was supported during the US-sponsored jihad in Afghanistan. The JUI-F is somewhat more puritanical. It runs the largest network of madrassahs in Pakistan and the party’s ideology emphasises the establishment of a pan-Islamic state along the lines of the seventh century Islamic caliphate. The party is the largest within the MMA coalition and its ethnic base is almost exclusively Pashtun. The MMA itself evolved into a political party from the Pak-Afghan Defence Council in 2001 in opposition to the US-led military campaign against the Taliban. Its current prominence in both NWFP provincial government and in the National Assembly owes more to military support against the PPP and PML-N than to inherent popularity. The MMA coalition is also a fractious one in which smaller parties, emerging from the now defunct Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (which took up the banner of political Islam under the British Raj and opposed the establishment of Pakistan), are sceptical of the ties between the JUI-F and the government.

United Nations, the international community and military government

1. UN/INGOs and the military

The national and international humanitarian response to the October 2005 earthquake has been profoundly influenced by the pre-eminence of military men in Pakistan’s political and administrative set-up. Other than raising issues of aid accountability and transparency, long-term engagement of the army will undermine the process of democratisation and increase the jihadi threat to domestic and regional security. Already, the role of jihadi and sectarian outfits in humanitarian activities is a source of concern for people in the Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK) who are far more moderate in their religion and amongst civil society groups. As these groups gain legitimacy for doing relief work, bolstered by the military’s support, religious radicalism that feeds the jihadi movement and intra-Islam sectarianism will increase. This is coupled with an almost complete exclusion of the civilian administration and elected bodies from relief and rehabilitation schemes especially at the district and provincial level. Army officers represent the government of Pakistan at every level of macro and micro decision-making. As a result, jihadi groups emerged as the most effective relief force in the quake-fit areas and filled the gap left by the official institutions. By gaining credentials in the “heart and minds” battle, the jihadi offshoots may substantially strengthen their political base in the quake-affected areas of Kashmir and NWFP. In the case of Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK), the accentuated role of jihadi groups could further exacerbate the political situation since regional elections are to be held in June 2006 where secular mainstream Kashmiri parties could be replaced by political fronts of jihadi groups.

The Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) was appointed for carrying out post-disaster damage assessment, reconstruction and rehabilitation of quake affected areas. Led by the Pakistani prime minister and responsible for undertaking every task linked to reconstruction, the ERRA will make the military-led government the key player in reconstruction at the expense of the federal legislature and provincial assemblies. Instead of empowering the affected local authorities, the ERRA will be the perfect tool for weakening them. It is likely to undermine the legitimacy of local bodies across the region. The way the government will transfer the tasks to the civilian authorities remains a concern of its survival strategy. Strengthening its supremacy in the region by undertaking every responsibility, the military is willing to control and sideline any form of civil society in the region.

2. Transparency and accountability

Financial management of relief and reconstruction, especially under ERRA remains a significant concern. In Transparency International’s 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index of 158 countries, Pakistan rated rather poorly, standing close to the bottom at 144. There are further concerns that relief funds are concentrated in a single account – the President’s relief fund – that is privately held and not subject to scrutiny by parliament or any other legally constituted body. This institutionalised secretism extends to ERRA. Section 11 of ERRA’s funding charter states that: “No suit, prosecution, other legal proceedings shall lie against the Authority, the Council, The Board, the Chairperson, or any member, officer servants, advisers, experts or consultants in respect of anything done in good faith”.

3. Compensation

This absence of accountability has impacted the government’s compensation plans with accusations being made that compensation is being used to shore up political support. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called for an independent monitoring system given the weakness of local authorities and the absence of meaningful accountability standards in the distribution of compensation payments: “Accusations of corruption in the distribution of compensation and relief goods, of mismanagement and lack of clear-cut policies also point to the urgent need for an independently-controlled system of monitoring”.

4. Relations with ‘non-humanitarian organisations’

The close relationship between the military-led regime and the international community on the ground created a bridge between the international organizations and the Islamic welfare organizations. By supporting the international relief operations, the Pakistani government was able to establish close ties with Islamic NGOs and to articulate the various humanitarian spaces in regard to its own political agenda. The confusion between both humanitarian international and Islamic spaces was substantially encouraged by the military-led regime. Moreover, it created the conditions to marginalize effectively the role of the Pakistani civil society in the operations. Currently under the military umbrella, international organizations are facing a constant contradiction on the ground between their traditional mandate which aims at providing quality aid to every affectee and the necessity to access survivors who live in the Islamic-led refugee camps and the distribution of relief goods.

Most of the Islamic organizations are currently registered by the government as “non humanitarian organizations”. This parameter has widely encouraged the international organizations to set up relations and various forms of cooperation ranging from assessments, relief and distribution with the Islamic welfare branches in order to get access to the affectees the Islamic organizations have in charge. OXFAM provided various services such as water sanitation in Jamat-ud-Dawa’s camps in Muzaffarabad in order to comply with the international standards. UNHCR provided “camp management training” in Mansehra to spontaneous camp managers from Islamic branches among others. IOM supplied Jamat-ud-Dawa (the renamed Islamic militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba) and Al-Khidmat in Balakot. After serving Pakistan’s strategic interests in the Kashmir region for over a decade, the jihadi outfits see themselves as extensions of the army and have a close working relationship with local military commanders. The majority of religious parties and their welfare wings operating in affected areas are pro-military and receive goods and assistance from the military-controlled relief operations in the districts of NWFP and Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK). With upcoming elections in Kashmir in 2006, and general elections in 2007, the prominence given to non-humanitarian relief agencies as a result of the earthquake may translate into greater political power at the polls for jihadi groups and the Islamist parties whose ‘humanitarian sub-groups’ are operating in the earthquake affected regions.

The political use of jihadi groups and the ‘humanitarian wings’ of Islamist political parties by the Pakistani army is in line with the ‘axis of authoritarianism’ (Pakistani military, Jihadi groups and Islamist political parties) that has stemmed the democratic institution in Pakistan since its conception. Rather than engaging mainstream secular political parties; as General Musharraf claims he is doing with his ‘enlightened moderation’ concept, the Pakistani military has further nurtured extremist forces especially in the earthquake-affected region. Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK) is Pakistan’s most literate and politically and religious moderate region but the earthquake devastated most schools in the region. Under the watchful eye of the Pakistani military, Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK) could very well lose this status as madrassa schools are spring up under the guidance of banned Islamist outfits and there is resurgence to Islamisize the region. Pakistani-administered Kashmir (PaK) is fermented by Islamist groups as the next region to educate young men into extremist ideologies to continue the jihad in Indian-administered Kashmir along with other Muslim regions where these men can be sent to fight for the rights of Muslims and to establish an Islamic caliphate.

Conclusions and recommendations

While the idea of the ‘humanitarian imperative’ and a-political ‘humanitarian space are central to relief operations, the UN and the international community nonetheless feed into a complex and changing political environment through their very presence. Working closely with the military and jihadi groups only make them political actors whose resources, wittingly or not, can be used to further domestic political agendas. This is especially the case as we move from the rescue and relief operations into the reconstruction/rehabilitation phases. The following are some measures that can be used by international organisations working in Pakistan to counter their existing, if apparently inadvertent, political partisanship:

  • Stress local partnerships with secular NGOs and civil society groups, rather than ideological or missionary groups.

  • Develop mechanisms to empower locals (residents) and district governments’ and consult them in the decision-making process about reconstruction and rehabilitation in the earthquake-devastated areas.

  • Seek to ensure that elected federal and provincial legislative bodies, rather than the military, oversee and scrutinise relief and reconstruction operations.

  • International Organizations must shift their approach from being ‘embedded’ with the military to one that involves effective partnership with the civil society.

  • Demand that the official relief and reconstruction agencies are duly constituted by parliament and contain civilian and cross-party representation.

  • Ensure that there is proper accountability for the earthquake relief funds by stressing on the Pakistani government to appoint an independent monitor to review how the funds are disbursed.

  • Interviews

  • Much of the information for this report was derived from more than 20 interviews in early January with representatives from the following agencies:

  • ICG, USAID, Editor – Daily Times, European Commission, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front, Kashmir PPP, Norwegian Defense Research Council, Rural Development Policy Institute, Pakistan Army, PPP – Spokesman for Benazir Bhutto, ECHO, Sungi Development Foundation, Network for Consumer Protection.

  • Main References

  • A. Books

  • Abbas, H., Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2005.

  • Bennett Jones, O., Pakistan: Eye of the Storm: Vanguard, Lahore, 2002.

  • Brown, M. & Ganguly, S. (Eds) Government Policies and Ethnic Relations in Asia and the Pacific, MIT Press, Cambridge Mass., 1997.

  • Chesterman, S., Ignatieff, & M., Thakur, R. (Eds) Making States Work: State Failure and the Crisis of Governance: UNU Press, Tokyo, 2005.

  • Cohen, S., The Idea of Pakistan: Vanguard, Lahore, 2005.

  • Haqqani, H., Pakistan Between Mosque and Military: Vanguard, Lahore, 2005.

  • Jafflerot, C., Pakistan: Nation, Nationalism and the State: Vanguard, New Delhi, 2002.

  • Khan, H., Constitutional and Political History of Pakistan: OUP, Karachi, 2005.

  • Kukreja, V., & Singh, M. (Eds) Pakistan: Democracy, Development and Security Issues: Paramount Publishing, Karachi, 2005.

  • Ziring, L., Pakistan at the Crossroads of History: Vanguard, Lahore, 2004.

  • B. Reports/Academic Articles

  • International Crisis Group

  • Authoritarianism and Political Party Reform in Pakistan – ICG Asia Report 102 (Islamabad/Brussels) September 2005.

  • Unfulfilled Promises: Pakistan’s Failure to Tackle Extremism – ICG Asia Report 73 (Islamabad/Brussels) January 2004.

  • Devolution in Pakistan: Reform or Regression? – ICG Asia Report 77 (Islamabad/Brussels) March 2004.

  • Kashmir: The View From New Delhi – ICG Asia Report 69 (Islamabad/Brussels) December 2003.

  • Kashmir: The View From Islamabad – ICG Asia Report 68 (Islamabad/Brussels) December 2003

  • Pakistan: Madrassas Extremism and the Military – ICG Asia Report 36 (Islamabad/Brussels) July 2002.

  • Kashmir: The View From Srinagar – ICG Asia Report 41 (Islamabad/Brussels) November 2002.

  • Kashmir: Confrontation and Miscalculation – ICG Asia Report 35 (Islamabad/Brussels) July 2002.

  • Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

  • Quake: Many Miles to Go (December 2005).

  • International Peace Academy

  • Kashmir: From Peace to Progress - August 2005 (available at:

  • Fédération International des lignes des droits de l’Homme

  • ‘In Mala Fide’: Freedoms of Expression, of Association and of Assembly in Pakistan -December 2003 (available at

  • Behra, A. D., “The Supporting Structures for Pakistan’s Proxy War in Jammu & Kashmir”, Strategic Analysis (25/3) June 2001 (available at

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