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Daily Times Editorials – 14th May 2016

The suspension of Brazilian president

In a political crisis that even puts to shame the unflattering stereotype
of ‘Third-World’ politics, the incumbent president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff was suspended for six months after the Senate overwhelmingly voted in favour of her suspension. While the Senate vote was quite soberly conducted, the earlier proceedings of the lower house, the Congress, were embarrassingly boisterous as members brazenly cheered for the vote in favour of impeachment. Things look ominous for the Brazilian president as the Senate will conduct the hearing of the corruption charges over which President Rousseff has been suspended, and the suspension vote already exceeded the two-thirds majority that will be required to impeach the president in the hearing.

The Brazilian political landscape is muddied by the fact that the majority of the country’s political leadership is embroiled in corruption charges. The vice president of Brazil, Michel Temer, who will likely succeed Rousseff if she is impeached, is himself facing impeachment. Moreover, he has been twice investigated over bribery charges and receiving kickbacks. As if this is not unsettling enough, the Speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha,interim Speaker of the lower house, WaldirMaranhão; and Leader of the upper house, Renan Calheiros, the person who spearheaded Rousseff’s impeachment, all face serious corruption charges. In fact, compared to them, the charges against Rousseff of breaking budget laws are relatively mild. This suggests that the proceedings against Rousseff are motivated not by the desire to curb corruption but are rather focused on her ouster.

The movement for the ouster of the leftist president Rousseff needs to placed in the larger framework of the Brazilian economic crisis in order to better understand it. Brazil’s economic crisis is characterised by low GDP rate and industrial slump, and amidst this turmoil the Rousseff government is facing increasing pressure as unemployment levels are shooting up. Leftist governments usually adopt Keynesian economic policies to deal with economic slumps, and this involves greater government spending to generate demand. However, this approach to economic policy is opposed by the dominant neoliberal economic camp that advocates austerity and supply side measures. The pro-bourgeois policies of neoliberalism naturally have no place for leftist governments. Moreover, the forces of neoliberalism work in subtle ways as the discourse itself and the power of the international lending institutions behind it serve to perpetuate the supposed wisdoms of neoliberalism. This means that in the atmosphere in which the merits of neoliberalism are championed policies of leftist governments are shunned for their supposed anti-development agenda. This vilification of the left becomes all the more intense in case of an economic crisis. These forces seem to be at play in the impeachment movement of Rousseff, as Vice President Michel Temerhas indicated that upon succession he will initiate austerity measures in order to solve the economic crisis in Brazil. It is indeed tragic that Temer is turning one of the few mainstream leftist parties remaining in the world into a centre-right party. While one may disagree with the politics of the left, but it cannot be denied that leftist political parties do bring a much-needed difference of approach in the political discourse. As the space for the left continues to shrink day by day, it must be realised that overwhelming homogeneity saps the diversity of meaningful choices for the voters to choose from. And this in turn emasculates the entire democratic system.

JI leader’s hanging

Pakistan, once again, has become entangled in a diplomatic row with Bangladesh after Pakistan National Assembly passed a resolution condemning the execution of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leader Moti-ur-Rehman Nizami in Bangladesh. The resolution expressed serious concerns over the hanging of Nizami and punishment to 14 other people in cases that took place before the creation of Bangladesh. Pakistan’s foreign office has also expressed concern over the hanging. The relations between both countries have not been on good terms since government in Bangladesh led by Prime Minister Hasina Wajid initiated the prosecution of those who were convicted of crimes against humanity during the 1971 war. Pakistan’s foreign office has publicly criticised these executions in Bangladesh, reminding it of its founding father’s promise contained in the 1974 tripartite agreement signed by Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, under which Dhaka had agreed not to proceed against those whom it had accused of ‘war crimes’ during the 1971 separation. Bangladesh is carrying out the execution of war criminals through the war crimes tribunal that was established in 2010.

The ongoing execution spree has also been castigated by several international organisations, human rights groups and international legal figures that have raised objections to one-sided court proceedings and credibility of these trials. Though the execution of war criminals is an internal issue of Bangladesh, yet the procedure being adopted lacks transparency. The UN and other world bodies have taken notice of the violations. International rights groups have urged Bangladesh to put a halt to executions of anyone accused of war crimes as death penalty is always a human rights violation but its use is even more troubling when the execution follows a flawed process. It has been alleged that Nizami had been hanged following another ‘flawed trial’ by the country’s International Crimes Tribunal (ICT). Nizami was sentenced to death by the ICT in 2014 for his role in mass killing, rape and organising the massacre of some intellectuals during the war.

Bangladesh government needs to address concerns of Pakistan and the world regarding the execution of war criminals. It needs to do away with the flawed trial of convicts. A reset in ties between both states has become mandatory. The prime ministers of both countries should come forward and play their due role in reducing tension. Pakistan needs to adopt a forward-looking approach while dealing with Bangladesh. And Pakistan should avoid escalating tensions with Bangladesh as it is a sovereign state. Bangladesh government should also review its policies of orchestrating a campaign against political opponents. At the same time, the execution of war criminals is an internal issue of Bangladesh, over which Islamabad can express its reservations but it should not increase tensions with Dhaka. Any interference in the internal affairs of another country results in souring of bilateral relations. Pakistan should not interfere in those matters that offend the other state. If there is any human rights violation, the UN and other world bodies are there that can intervene and take Bangladesh to task but Pakistan should not get involved in any controversy. On the contrary, Pakistan should develop friendly relations with Bangladesh instead of creating more rifts. It is time for introspection and corrective action. All matters should be resolved amicably. Both states should head for normalising ties instead of indulging in unnecessary controversies.

The rescue of Ali Haider Gilani

In a rescue mission that was part of a joint counterterrorism campaign by the United States and Afghan security forces named “Operation Freedom’s Sentinel”, Ali Haider Gilani, the son of former prime minister of Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gilani, was finally rescued after being held in captivity by al-Qaeda for three years. The kidnapping of the former premier’s son was shrouded in mystery as there were competing claims regarding the affiliation of the kidnappers. While Gillani suspected the local banned outfit, Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) to be involved in the kidnapping of his son, the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar ruled them out on the basis of a released video that suggested otherwise. Even the issue of ransom was opaque since Gillani claimed that the kidnappers did not want ransom but the release of certain prisoners from Adiala Jail, while in a released video Ali Haider had pleaded that a ransom of 500 million rupees be paid for his release. Ali Haider’s return would surely help in answering some of these questions, but, regardless, this entire episode points to the fact that these militant organisations, especially the al-Qaeda, use high value political targets as leverage for temporal gains.

Despite the atrocities committed by religious extremists, popular opinion continues to believe that their actions are motivated purely by ideology, albeit based on misguided principles and misappropriated interpretation of scripture. However, this explanation does not hold itself to the fact that most of the abductions by extremist organisations are done to demand exorbitant ransoms. In fact, a report by The New York Times revealed that the al-Qaeda funds a major part of its operations by kidnapping foreign tourists in Africa and then forcing their governments into paying ransom for their release. This shows that the actions of extremist organisations are based on temporal imperatives in which little role is played by higher religious principles. It is mainly about the acquisition of money, and when foreign patronage dries out, these organisations resort to such activities to keep themselves funded.

On an international level, the rescue of Ali Haider Gillani is an important development for the multilateral relations of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US. Amidst the growing bitterness between Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly over accusations by Pakistan of Indian subversive activities carried out through Afghan soil, this repatriation may serve as an opportunity to improve relations. Pakistan government should make use of this good gesture on the part of Afghan government, and work towards sorting out its concerns. However, it must be realised that the US continues to immensely influence Afghan policies, and Pakistan should be wary of that. Indeed, the United States made diplomatic capital out of this opportunity as US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter commented that the raid on the al-Qaeda hideout “demonstrates the growing capabilities and effectiveness of the Afghan security forces.” This implies the supposed success of the US policy in Afghanistan, suggesting that the US army has managed to strengthen local Afghan military forces. Viewed in the broader framework of regional politics in which emerging powers such as China, India, and Russia are trying to increase their influence, the US is trying to reassert itself its influence in the region. Hence, Pakistan should play its cards right in this incredibly fluid mesh of diplomatic manoeuvres. It should make the most diplomatic capital out of these opportunities and work towards improving relations with its neighbours. However, it should realise that hard alliances and unshifting positions are not only démodé, but also they would limit Pakistan’s options and prevent it from making full use of the new dynamics that dictate regional politics. The future of Pakistan depends on how it manages its position at the international level, and this is one area where the state needs to show a great degree of foresight.

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