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Pakistan Rising?


The current crisis could be seen as an opportunity for democracy to flourish.

September 26, 2014

Once again, Pakistan is getting international attention because of a crisis. For several days, a series of rallies and sit-ins against the elected government closed all shops, banks and offices in Islamabad.

Although a march of thousands over tens of kilometers, culminating in a violent sit-in in front of the Parliament sounds “chaotic,” or like it might be a sign of “a crisis,” and “deepening instability,” a closer look might reveal quite the opposite. Protesters still linger in front of the Parliament, but it seems clear that the current government will survive this ordeal. After more than sixty years of shaky democracy in Pakistan, the current government’s ability to withstand some public pressure and avoid a military takeover demonstrates democracy is firmly taking root in Pakistan.

Pakistanis, like Americans, love to criticize their government and its politicians, but in this case, despite their grievances over the shortage of electricity, higher prices and poor security, the general public did not join the “revolution.” Contrary to the image of massive protests in the streets, the current protests have been staged by two different, relatively small political groups: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), led by Imran Khan, with a total of thirty-three seats out of 446 in the two houses of Parliament, and Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT), which has no seats in the Parliament.

During the first week of the shut down, I went to a major shopping area. A small ice cream vendor with his portable machine was open. I asked him why he didn’t go closer to the demonstrators, as they were asking for food and snacks. He replied, “No, thank you. I don’t need that kind of a degrading income. I can see beyond the slogans. What they are doing is not in favor of our country.”

The root of the current crisis is far from the media image presented of the people railing against a bad government. Rather, it comes from the ongoing struggle between civilian and military authority.

There was a time in Pakistan’s history when any uprising would become a reason for a military takeover. Once in power, the military would start tampering with the Constitution and maneuvering the Judiciary to legitimize their rule. We have spent nearly half our independent existence under military rule.

In the past, political parties would also maneuver to get the military to undermine their opponents. However, in 2006, towards the end of President Musharraf’s reign, the two main political parties signed a pact called the Charter of Democracy, which not only framed the major structural changes that both parties would support to ensure strong independent democratic institutions, but also prevented them from making deals with the military, no matter who won the election.

After the election of 2008, the agreement held, despite breaches from both sides. By 2010, there was sufficient agreement for all political forces to undertake the difficult exercise of reforming the Constitution. During a year-long process, a committee formed of fourteen political parties ranging from the most secular to most religious, altogether proposing over 100 changes in the Constitution. These were combined in the 18th Constitutional Amendment, which was passed unanimously by both houses of Parliament. The reforms included giving greater autonomy to the provinces, ensuring the independence of the judiciary and many other changes to bring the Constitution back to its democratic form of 1973. One significant change was to eliminate the article that allowed the president to use his discretion to remove any government from power. In addition, the office of the president ceded most of its authority back to the prime minister, further weakening the ability of the military to use constitutional means to undermine a government. The military reacted badly to this, but failed in its attempts to undermine the implementation process.

The current government won a clear majority in the 2013 election with 190 seats in the National Assembly and a total of 204 in both houses. It immediately asserted its role in foreign policy as well as in national security, an area that the military had always claimed as its arena. They also brought the former president Musharraf to trial for his role in undermining the Constitution. This move was also quite unpopular with the military establishment.

The most remarkable aspect of this current crisis, something that has never happened before, is that the opposition parties stood by the government against these attempts to derail the democratic process. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), with a total of eighty-seven seats in both the houses, is leading the opposition parties and has assured full support to the government. In addition, most of the intellectuals, media and the general public stood together against this undemocratic attempt to unseat the elected government. Out of a population of over 180 million, barely 20,000 protested. Despite the calls from Imran Khan for the whole country to join him in this “revolution for a New Pakistan,” the public did not join him. A few rallies of his party workers in Lahore and Karachi were held in solidarity, but it appears the nation has seen this clearly as a power struggle and has taken a stand with the elected government, despite dissatisfaction on many issues.

An editorial by a leading newspaper, Dawn, on September 2 concluded: “The army is hardly being ‘neutral.’ It is making a choice. And it is disappointing that choice is doing little to strengthening the constitutional democratic and legitimate scheme of things.”

Political commentators would normally view an outcome where a democratic government held the military at bay as quite a healthy process for an “emerging democracy.” However, it is rare that any analyst these days is able to see the glass half-full when it comes to Pakistan.

Although the crisis is not fully over, it is realistic to believe that Pakistan’s democracy has been strengthened by this. In a country like ours, with huge armed forces and a history of coups, it will likely take years to achieve a real balance between the civilian and military authorities. However, we should give some credit to Imran Khan for creating a situation where all the other political parties in the Parliament, including his own allies, stood in solidarity for democracy. Perhaps this could be the beginning of a “New Pakistan.”

 Fouzia Saeed is Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Director of Mehergarh: A Center for Learning. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.





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This time the Eid celebration (one of the two biggest Muslim holidays- 15-16-17 October)  for Pakistanis mean sharing the pain of our fellow citizens of Balochistan who have lost their homes and loved ones in the recent earthquake. The issues of the difficult terrain, the spread of the population and militant insurgency in the area have been the biggest challenges in the way of getting the relief there. However, the commitment of the Chief Minister, Dr Malik, the efforts of the Balochistan Government and the Army’s initiatives have been extremely helpful. People are donating but the level of help that should go from the citizens all over the country and friends from outside the country needs to be upscaled.

I want to make a special request to all my friends inside and outside Pakistan to send their donations around Eid. Banks are open in Pakistan  on Monday and Tuesday. This will be a more meaningful qurbani (sacrifice). This sharing of pain has to continue until we get support to all those that have been affected. More than 300,000 have been effected in the last two weeks The death toll is higher than 600 with over a thousand injured. Eighty percent of the houses in the affected areas have been destroyed or damaged.

Send your donations today to

Account Title:  Chief Minister’s Balochistan Relief and Rehabilitation Fund

National Bank of Pakistan, Civil Secretariat Branch Quetta

Branch code-0173

Account No. 3261-3

Swift Code: NBPAPKKA


The south western province of Pakistan suffered a major earthquake on the 24th of September. The 7.7-magnitude earthquake followed by another 7.2-magnitude earthquake and destroyed Awaran and Turbat districts of Balochistan Province. This has been a series of earthquakes with constant aftershocks which has increased the destruction. This indeed is a big challenge for Balochistan’s Government and the new Chief Minister. Help from friends across the globe will be appreciated.




Iftikhar Baloch, who had set up a bedroom right next to his office in the Geology Dept of Punjab University, was terminated for gross misconduct in 2011.  To everyone’s surprise, the University has received instructions to reinstated him in his job on June 12th, 2013.  The Interim Governor, Syed Ahmad Mahmud, used a window of opportunity to push his friend back into the University.  Earlier, Mahmud’s cousin, former PM, Yusuf Raza Gillani, made several attempts to get him reinstated, but the PM’s safarish attempt was blocked when the PM’s own National Implementation Watch Committee (for the anti sexual harassment laws) supported the strong stand taken by the Punjab University officials .  However, the Interim Governor is related to Yusuf Raza Gillani and the power of Iftikhar Baloch’s support network remains strong .

In 2010, after years of female students  filing complaints with the University officials, finally one brave PhD student  reported him to the police after an attempted rape.

The powerful professor had been bragging for years that no one could touch him because he was a class fellow of the PM Yusuf Raza Gillani. He was quite right because no complaint about him ever succeeded. Even after the sexual harassment laws were passed, the police initially quashed Shabeena’s formal complaint. Nevertheless, Shabeena  persistently pursued the issue. She and her husband sold their modest car and whatever they could to pursue the case.

In November 2010, CM Shahbaz Sharif, launched a special inquiry into the matter as soon as it had come to his attention. Senior Police officers and other officials conducted an extensive inquiry on the campus, interviewing many  students and faculty in a responsible manner. This additional information was added to the FIR that had been finally registered on 1st November 2010 (FIR No 450/10) with charges of section 376, 506, 511 PPC against the professor.

In compliance with the newly passed anti-sexual harassment law, the Punjab University VC and other senior officials conducted their own inquiry. Both thorough inquiries found the Professor at fault.  The University issued a termination notice on 8th December 2010 on the basis of recommendations of the inquiry committee . Charges proven after the inquiry included “allegation of molestation/ sexual harassment against prof. Dr Iftikhar Husain Baloch stands proven…Forgery is proven…Presence of sexual toys / sexual gadgets is proven. The civil society and the media hailed the brave and responsible decision of the Punjab Government.

Immediately, Iftikhar Baloch initiated a war against the University. In Lahore, the, then, Punjab Governor, Latif Khosa, put pressure on the University to take the professor back. In Islamabad, a Parliamentary Committee on Privileges of Government Employees, created an excuse to intervene in the case, called the VC of Punjab University to a hearing, humiliated him and issued written instructions that Baloch should be re-instated.  Civil society was outraged by this naked attempt at using the Parliament to override a valid University decision.  Fortunately, the University refused to back down in the face of this high handedness.  On the personal side,  family members of senior officials of the Punjab University and the complainants were threatened. Still, the University stood behind its decision.

Finally,  two year later, Baloch has been able to secure some support. A woman judge on the Lahore High Court was found who would issue a ruling that the Governor had the authority to make a final decision in this matter. The Governor had his office quickly compile the necessary paperwork and signed the orders to reinstate him. Who is not familiar with ‘khatta’, the paperwork done to cover tracks and to hide sins.

Baloch was terminated based on findings of both the police and the University inquiries.  These findings have not been overturned, only his termination has been quashed.  No such pervert should have a place in a Pakistani educational institute. Whatever ‘special inquiry’ has been undertaken to return Iftikhar Baloch to his post must be immediately reviewed.  Why the LHC had to give the final authority to overturn the legal University decision to the Governor also needs to be assessed.  The Punjab CM said in a cabinet meeting today that “the culture of nepotism, corruption and favouritism needed to end, the rule of law must prevail.”   We need to see the CM take charge of this case and show his support for a dignified environment in the educational institutions.

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PML N headed by Nawaz Sharif had a sweeping win in Pakistani Elections in 2013. PPP, Benazir Bhutto’s party was the second largest party and PTI, lead by Imran Khan was on the third number.  In general the guestimates were proven to be somewhat correct +_ 5 seats. However, the western belief that Pakistanis support parties with Islamic ideologies and therefore are in favour of providing safe havens for militants was totally dispelled. Jamat-e Islamai, a comparable party for Muslim brotherhood, got 3 seats at the national level and Jamat-e Ulema- Islam (JUI) got 11 seats out of 272 seats for elected representatives. In total the House has 342 seats and not more than 15 would be occupied by the religious parties. This makes it about 4 – 5 % of the seats.  Historically Pakistani people have not voted for such parities more than 6%. The only exception was during Musharaf’s time with a coalition of all religious parties together  formed the government of Kyber Pukhtoonkhwa. 

People have made themselves heard. In the face of risks of being killed by the militants. They want democracy and they have chosen their leaders clearly. 

An article from DAWN is attached for a fuller picture of the winning parties and their geographical locations.




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Everyone Should Accept The Collective Mandate of Pakistani People

Congratulations to Pakistani nation for showing such bravery in the face of threats of militants!
After the victory was clear, it was noticed that those who were disappointed started ridiculing other parties and Punjab bashing on the social media.  Perhaps its time for us to relearn that once the result is announced we need to accept and celebrate the collective outcome. That is because we should have faith in the collective voice of people. This is an important part of democracy that we have to learn. All the competition and campaigning is allowed before the election but once the outcome is there we all need to accept it. 
Those citizens who are new to this process and became politically active recently do need to learn this part. Lets not set negative behaviors as patterns for our younger generation. We are a maturing democratic nation. Our leaders from other parties who did not win as they expected have accepted the results gracefully and those who have won accepted the victory in a humble manner, that is what the citizens should do also. 
Lets all celebrate our civilian transition and a high turn out. Lets also celebrate the results as we accept collective mandate of the people. Thank you to the interim Government! We will thank ECP when their job gets done, after resolving Karachi and Balochistan. 
Thanks to media for encouraging people to go out and vote and continuous reporting of results. People did miss the old style election transmission with celebrities and short programs. These were more like extensions of the talk shows. The spirit was great though.
Fouzia Saeed 



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 Despite attacks from the militants, targeting specifically political party offices and election rallies, it has not stopped the Pakistani nation to come in large numbers and vote today. One thing is clear that Pakistani people want to continue their democratic rule and no other form of government.

The whole nation, as well as those interested in the future of Pakistan are on their toes to find out the results of this election. The international media continues to cast a negative shadow by highlighting more of the bomb blasts than the courage of the Pakistani nation with headlines like ‘Bomb Blast cast shadows over Pakistan’s elections’. I would say the ‘bomb blasts could not stop the Pakistani nation from voting’. Pakistani media however has played an important and positive role in getting the message out for citizens to use their right to vote. The civil society was organized and well equipped to monitor election and reporting violations of the Code of ethics for elections on an hourly basis.

People have their own favorites but I am giving a few websites to track results and live discussion. Also at least one set of predicted results by a colleague.

Bilal Hasan Khan, a well-trained pollster himself, worked all day yesterday and sent us these predictions last night.  The turnout seems to be exceptionally high today, and for that Bilal (by SMS) is predicting an additional 10-15 seats for PTI!  The total number of constituencies is 272, so 137 makes a majority.  In the table below we see PML-N and its ally PML-F getting a majority:












34 ± 5






126 ± 6






6 ± 4






60 ± 6




















Note by Bilal: Predictions for 12 seats are missing due to non-availability of candidates’ lists.  So this prediction is for 260 general seats. These predictions are not scientific but based on triangulation of previous election results and latest survey results (which may be unreliable at the provincial level). (Thank you Tariq Husain for this information)

Regardless of which party gets the majority PAKISAN HAS ALREADY VOTED FOR DEMOCRACY!


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We have long complained about the feudals and tribal chiefs from Balochistan getting into politics and keeping this an area of dynastic rule. Each province has gone through its own dynamics but the people of Balochistan have suffered the most from the double jeopardy of undemocratic influences from Islamabad and from their own tribal elite. Provincial devolution and autonomy have opened the path for new possibilities for change.

Balochistan has always been an intriguing place. While Pashtuns in the north have a horizontal tribal power structure, the Baloch in the centre are very hierarchical, with their identities and rank tied strictly to their tribes. The southern Baloch tribal structures are not rigid and for decades, there has been a strong influence of modernism from across the Gulf. The central Baloch people remain stuck in their tribal traditions, ready to react aggressively to any deviation and always tense with Pashtuns. In contrast, the people of the south and west have been neglected by those in the central area.

Sometimes, being neglected can be a gift. The poor people of southern and western Balochistan have long gone abroad for jobs and sent back remittances for their families. This also resulted in exposure to international ideas which opened up the area to a greater diversity of values. They started educating their girls, involved their youth in productive activities and brought about change in their social hierarchies that could show the province how autonomy and not separation could be a midway to resolve Balochistan’s problems.

The ideas of the school of visionaries that developed in Balochistan from the times of Ghaus Bakhsh Bazinjo have never died. While the focus of the media has remained on separatists and big tribal leaders, the politics of ethics, vision and nationalism has survived and bloomed in the southern and western parts of Balochistan. Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, the head of the National Party, with his team of middle-class politicians, can be seen as a ray of hope that can significantly change the path of politics in the area and maybe, the nation. He set up thousands of schools when he was the minister for education and continues to groom women to join his party. Yet, he remains in the shadows of our election discussions.

In the past, such progressive and secular parties were ignored. Close to the elections, their core workers were tied down, blindfolded and thrown into remote areas for a few days to get them out of the way. This time, the Baloch militants are attacking them directly. Dr Malik narrowly escaped an attack just a few days ago and his workers also continue to be attacked. The election commission has to take notice of this and protect such parties there.

What we have been slow to realise is the change in the Pakistani nation that has gradually taken root over the past five years. Many who previously could not even dream of losing power are now at the mercy of popular opinion against them. Parties have chosen committed, middle-class people as candidates, adjusted seats with the Hazara Democratic Front, taken the risk of giving tickets to women candidates and avoided backing from major Baloch tribal powers. Observing these changes, one starts to gain faith in our democratic process.

In the coming days, we will see the election campaign unfold to its height. Provided that conditions are made somewhat safe, popular support will culminate in unexpected results. Let’s keep an eye on south Balochistan.

By Fouzia Saeed  Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2013.