Pakistan in a state of drift

A quick look at the goings-on in Pakistan shows that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, backed up by the all-powerful military, seems to be in trouble since 11 opposition parties, under the banner of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), are out to unseat it. Will they succeed? We cannot be sure. The Pakistan establishment knows how to play twin cards of terrorism and Islamophobia. However, right now it is faced with a severe financial crisis, says the author

Pakistan’s famous cricketer turned Prime Minister Imran Khan must have realized to his discomfort that fast bowling on a complex political pitch does not work even with outside support of the powerful military. Things have gone from bad to worse for Imran Khan since the country’s rival opposition parties recently joined hands on a single platform. Altogether, 11 political parties have come together to launch the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) under the presidentship of seasoned political leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the Jamiat Ulema-e- 11 Islam (F). The Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) are part of the PDM outfit.

The target of the multi-party alliance is the ouster of Imran Khan from the seat of power. Its major focus is on the growing unemployment among Pakistani youth and rising prices of essential goods. They also very much resent the increasing interference of the military in domestic issues. In a way, this is not a new phenomenon. Pakistan’s armed forces have always called the shots in the conduct of internal affairs by a civilian establishment. As it is, in 73 years of its existence, Islamabad has been under military rules on four occasions. Even otherwise, Pakistani Generals have invariably used civilian Prime Ministers to serve their goals and interests. The present lot of Generals have found in civilian Imran Khan to be a convenient “puppet” while projecting his regime as a “hybrid” model of governance!

As a novice amidst complexities of politics and intricacies of governance, Imran Khan is surely not up to the mark as Prime Minister. No wonder, we have often seen bizarre happenings carried on by varied forces relating to human rights violations, enforced disappearance of politically rival elements, extreme cases of blasphemy, legally inconsistent judicial rulings and overall political unrest. Such incidents show poor governance of the Imran Khan establishment. Interestingly, the ongoing state of drift in Pakistan has made the military set-up equally vulnerable in the public eye.

Naming Pakistan’s top military officials – General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Lt. General Faiz Hameed – former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif blamed Lt. General Bajwa for horse trading and manipulating the 2018 elections to install Imran Khan as PM. “You have to give account for crime and pushing Pakistan towards destruction”, said Nawaz Sharif while addressing a virtual rally from London. He also condemned the serving ISI chief Faiz Hameed, a close associate of General Bajwa, in his virtual address from London to the PDM rally in Gujranwala.

There are surely wheels within wheels in running of the Army-directed Imran Khan’s civilian administration. Amidst Pakistan’s confusing setting, we cannot be sure of tomorrow’s turn of events, including “unity” among PDM alliance partners. Of course, the Pakistani Generals’ idea is to strengthen the working partnership with Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party as a cover-up for power since they wish to avoid taking power directly yet again. True, Imran Khan and General Bajwa are on the same page today. This is what has prompted an Islamabad analyst to say: “Make no mistake. Mr. Khan will complete his term in office”.

I cannot be sure whether the Pakistan Democratic Movement would succeed in unseating the military-backed Imran Khan’s civilian government, notwithstanding the fact that we have of 12 late seen growing internal rifts, political, religious and sectarian issues, besides the stark reality of bad governance.

A Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) activist Amjad Ayub Mirza has slammed Imran Khan for the country’s poor state of affairs. He has gone to the extent of saying that Pakistan “is at war with itself”! Ironically, Pakistan’s Generals see themselves as the solution to Pakistan’s multidimensional problems, ignoring their own contribution to the country’s never-ending problems. But then, who can directly take on the all-powerful army of Islamabad? Apparently, Pakistan has been caught in a vicious circle of its own making. The Generals keep alive the sense of insecurity among the people. Meanwhile, big money is spent on maintaining the sprawling military establishment. Who cares, if the country’s economy suffers terribly in the process?

The moot point is: can Islamabad’s economic crisis upset the Imran Khan-General Bajwa’s political partnership? It is not easy to predict Pakistan’s tomorrow. For the present, the PDM rallies and the emergence of Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Mariyam Nawaz have put the Army on the defensive. Still, we cannot overlook Imran Khan and Army’s evergreen cards of terrorism and ‘Islamophobia’ against India as well as some Western countries. In fact, New Delhi’s challenge has been the way Pakistan has been exploiting the Islamic card to create conditions of destabilization through terror tactics.

We may ask: how long will Pakistan continue to play its terrorism card in the face of a severe economic crisis? As it is, Financial Action Task Force (FATF) continues to put Pakistan on its grey list. At its latest three-day virtual plenary session, Paris-based global watchdog categorically asked Pakistan to swiftly complete its full action plan by February 2021. It may be recalled that FATF had placed Pakistan on the grey list in June 2018 due to “strategic deficiencies” in its Anti-Money Laundering / Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) regime after a push from India supported by the US, the UK, and other European countries. Pakistan is committed to a 27-point action plan but has failed to meet the deadline.

It is well-known that Pakistan continues to provide safe havens to terror entities and individuals and has also not yet taken any action against notorious terrorists like Masood Azhar, Dawood Ibrahim, Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, formally named by the UN Security Council.

Will Imran Khan’s government act in the next four months?

Well, the FATF listing makes it extremely difficult for Pakistan to get financial aid from the IMF, the World Bank and the European Union. Will Imran Khan’s government act now against the terror groups and their leaders when it is facing a severe financial crisis?

I am not sure if military-controlled Pakistan is ready as yet to give up its old proxy war against India to grab Kashmir by hook or by crook! India will have to work out new strategies and action plans to deal with Pakistan, which is fully backed up by China.

Child trafficking demands new strategies and action plans

Amidst the ongoing pandemic-infested atmosphere, India is faced with multi-dimensional socio-economic problems, some old and several new. Most leaders and their parties swear by their commitments to tackle these problems, but for all practical purposes, they grope in the dark. They not only lack vision but also the ability to think afresh or plan beyond their self-centered goals. Opportunism is the name of their game. In this prevailing free-for-all competitive politics, the wielders of power and their collaborators freely indulge in rhetoric and hardly bother about post-COVID-19 problems.

The area of my primary concern right now is the plight of lakhs of vulnerable children. As it is, even in normal poverty-stricken times, both children and their parents in rural and urban areas have a very precarious existence. Theirs is a life of struggle for sheer survival. The pandemic has made their existence worse. The collapse of the economy has increasingly pushed these children and desperate parents into dangerous slots of exploitation and trafficking.

The United Nations has defined trafficking of children as the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, kidnapping of a child for the purpose of slavery, forced labour and exploitation” for various purposes. What has given the problem a dangerous dimension is that human traffickers have been capitalizing on the current pandemic to target jobless migrants and out-of-school children. According to a UN estimate, as many as 25 million people are victims of labour and sex trafficking. What has made the situation alarming is that trafficking these days has become underground and hence is less visible to the law-enforcing agencies. 9 India is said to have a high volume of child trafficking. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, one child in India disappears every eight minutes. The worst victims of this crime are the children of the poor and marginalized communities.

As per a report published by the U.S. Department of State, “India is a source, destination and transit country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking”. The worst sufferers of these widespread crimes are lowest caste Dalits, tribal communities, religious minorities and economically the most disadvantaged groups in the social strata.

Over the period of 2010 to 2014, 3.85 lakh children went missing across the country; 61 percent of these were girls from Andhra Pradesh. These girls are often forced into prostitution or begging rackets. What is more, families in dire economic conditions are compelled to sell their children for the sex trade or send them to work in industrial units, within the bounds of a toxic environment. Equally pathetic is the life of 20 lakh children living on the streets of India’s towns and cities.

I must compliment Dipankar Ghose of Indian Express for his three-part investigative report which gives horrific details of sharp surge in child trafficking following the Covid-19 national lockdown. This phenomenon has certainly sent alarming signals to the central authorities. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs had asked all state governments three months ago to set up Anti Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) in every district on a “most urgent basis”. Regrettably, eight states, including COVID-19 hotspots of UP, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Jammu and Kashmir, are yet to set up these units.

The Home Ministry letter of July 6 had made it clear to DGPs and Chief Secretaries of the States that lack of funds “can no longer be used as an excuse” But then, who cares? This is the tragedy of the country’s state of affairs. This reflects poorly on governance. We must not accept such poor shows in this critical area of ensuring children’s safety and their welfare. Child protection has to be taken up as a priority task by the Central and State governments at all levels.

In the first place, proper awareness needs to be created by school, community and panchayat authorities to strengthen the safety system for vulnerable sections of children and their parents.

Second, the District Child Protection outfits and the Juvenile justice system must be fully accountable for effectively dealing with the cases of trafficking.

Third, the police, the Directorate of Social Welfare and the juvenile justice system must act in a coordinated manner in intricate areas of rescue and follow-up action.

Fourth, prompt action needs to be taken against human traffickers, particularly against those who operate freely in slums and other backward areas of the country.

Lastly, the authorities need to ensure better functional coordination with NGOs and other relevant agencies for proper rehabilitation of the rescued children. In fact, the severity of problems demands a better flow of information and communication in the areas of rescue, restoration and rehabilitation of the trafficked victims.

It needs to be acknowledged that the child trafficking crisis has somewhat galvanized the official rescue system. This is how “officials and aid workers have stepped in to liberate children in distress. Still, the present system is far from full proof. It has many holes in its functional operations which must be plugged to make it an effective instrument of children’s safety and rehabilitation.

Data presented in the Indian Express probe reveal the enormous challenges of the task ahead. Between March and August 2020, there were as many as 27 lakh distress calls received by the childline set up by the Ministry for Women and Child Development; only 1.92 lakh interventions could be initiated. What is more, there were as many as 10,000 cases of child marriage. Surprisingly, in poorer states like Jharkhand, child trafficking increased by 600 per cent during the lockdown period.

Hard facts are disturbing. In any case, this grim situation calls for effective strategies and drastic plans of action. The protection of children and women in distress has to be taken as topmost responsibility not only of today’s governing authorities but also by citizens at large. What is required is a balanced vision of modern India. This demands creating the fabric of an integrated and forward-looking society for the uplift of children and their parents caught in the vicious circles of trafficking. We have to make the system and the rulers more responsive to the needs of the poor and backward communities.

—By Hari Jaisingh, veteran journalist

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Journalist, South Asian Analyst