ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Democracy Does the Heavy Lifting, Handle It with Care

The right to vote has been a leading factor in an otherwise desultory history of post-colonial state-building in Pakistan. This insight, however, comes with twist-in-the-tail implications for the theory and practice of democracy in the country.

Growing Influence of the West Asian States on Pakistan

The nature and extent of political involvement and influence of the Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirates governments in Pakistan seem far more direct and intrusive than ever before. There is no single explanation for this and there can be many possible answers. The west Asian advice to Pakistan is no different from that of the US, so are the Saudi and UAE governments speaking on behalf of the Americans?

Judicial Activism vs Democratic Consolidation in Pakistan

In a ruling hailed as historic by his supporters, the restored chief justice of Pakistan struck down as unconstitutional some of the actions taken by former President Pervez Musharraf. A reading of the verdict and of the politics leading up to it suggests that the judges are on a collision course with the elected government, and that retrospective judicial vigilance may hinder rather than aid democratic consolidation. More importantly, it is not clear how the judges and their supporters plan to use the power they are busy acquiring with respect to the key challenges facing state and society.

No News Is Good News

As the Awami League-led government in Bangladesh completes its first six months in office, domestic politics is calm on the surface. The current quiet could be due to the disarray among the opposition. But there may be dark clouds looming behind the horizon. One such issue is the construction of the Tipaimukh dam in Manipur. Sharing of water between India and Bangladesh and threats to Bangladesh's resources have together always been an emotive issue and the opposition has been quick to seize on Tipaimukh as an example of a decision by India that is inimical to Bangladesh's interests. That India has not revealed all the details about the dam and its likely impact makes this a potential tinder box.

Pakistan's Wars Within Islam

Pakistan's wars on both its western and eastern borders as well as the war with itself, have been created by the very same institution - the intelligence agencies within the security establishment. It is this institution, which needs to be neutered politically in order to end these wars. The choices are not between supporting or making one interpretation of Islam over another, but between a democratic position and a militaristic one.

Pakistan: Chaos unto Order?

The Pakistani military finally appears to have embraced the war against jihadi militancy as its own. If so, an important shift in perception and policy has taken place. Past experience, however, demands caution before coming to any hasty conclusions. Things are chaotic enough in any case, for there to be sufficient material evidence to support optimists and sceptics alike. It is possible, nevertheless, to post milestones that will need to be crossed if we are to decisively move in the right direction.

Awami League Government: So Far So Good

The Awami League-led government in Bangladesh, which completed 100 days in office, has received public approval, as expressed in opinion polls, for its management of the economy and for how it tackled the Bangladesh Rifles mutiny. The one explicit concern of citizens is that the AL cadre, including the student wing of the party, have begun to be involved in criminal acts, exactly as they did during the 1996-2001 government of the party. Overall, despite tensions that continue to simmer beneath the surface and in the face of economic problems, the elected government of Sheikh Hasina seems to be in a stable position.

The Ulema, Deoband and the (Many) Talibans

Historical scholarship tends to see a continuity in the ulema of south Asia - from the Deoband seminary in the 19th century down to the Taliban of Afghanistan and north Pakistan today. Such an assessment unfortunately ignores the discontinuities and breaks that have taken place in the traditions of Pakistani Islam. It also ignores the fact that Pakistan is increasingly influenced more by the religious influences to its west than by a south Asian identity.

One Step Forward, Marching to the Brink

While much of Pakistan's "civil society" celebrated a famous victory in the restoration of judges sacked by Pervez Musharraf in November 2007, it continues to display an indifference bordering upon negligence to the existential threat to itself. President Zardari's bungling and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif's irrational ambitions brought a welcome relief to the jihadi apparatus at the precise moment when the noose around it looked like tightening.

State of Shock

The aftermath of the uprising by the Bangladesh Rifles in the last week of February poses a major challenge to the two-month old Awami League government of Sheikh Hasina. The government acquitted itself creditably in the crisis, but the civilian government's relationship with the army (which lost dozens of officers in the mutiny) remains tense. A failure to get to the root of the uprising could leave the door open to the forces that wanted to destabilise the newly elected government to strike again.

Criticising Democracy or Criticising Government?

Although the February 2008 elections were probably the fairest ever held in Pakistan the elected government has been repeatedly attacked in the media. Given the historical, political and institutional context, the problems of an elected government in Pakistan are unfortunately perceived to be the failure of the democratic system itself, blurring the distinction between government and the system under which it functions.

Sri Lanka sans the LTTE?

With the impending total defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, this secessionist group will cease to be a political force in Sri Lanka. But will there be a political solution to the ethnic conflict in the aftermath of the government's military success? Events in the coming weeks and months will show the extent to which President Rajapakse can open up a new political process to lay the foundation for a new polity in which the majority as well as the minority communities can live in dignity, equality and coexistence. However, in the short run it is difficult to envisage a situation where the government will give priority to any extension of the existing devolution framework towards greater regional autonomy. Usually, one-sided military victories are not followed by major political reforms.

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