Student Action Committee-USA

Adil Najam : Pakistan: Forever In The Eye Of The Storm

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Adil Najam spoke at MIT on Thursday, 31 January, at an event held at MIT. Regarding the current situation in Pakistan, Prof. Najam said it has four main elements:

  • Economic instability: Prof. Najam highlighted the fact that the stock market in Pakistan has done very well, even in the face of bad news. He also mentioned the high level of inequality that exists in Pakistan, which means that some workers can get one month’s salary in one Rs.5000 note, while a middle-class individual can afford to spend that same note in one outing.
  • Political unrest
  • Sectarian unrest
  • Ethnic violence: Prof. Najam noted that ethnic unrest exists between people from different provinces – Balochistan, NWFP, Punjab, Sindh – as well as within provinces – Saraiki and non-Saraiki in Punjab.

Prof. Najam also discussed Pakistan’s “perpetual democratic deficit” in Pakistan in a historical perspective. He highlighted four factors behind this:

  • Inept politicians
  • Zealous military
  • External hegemons
  • Impatient public

He said that, despite the current set of crises in the country – removal of the judiciary, emergency rule, crackdown on the media, arrests of political workers and protesters, murder of Benazir Bhutto, armed battles in Balochistan and NWFP, flour shortage – he is hopeful for the future of democracy in Pakistan. Calling Pakistan a democratic nation under an undemocratic state, he noted how ordinary people have been willing to come out on the streets in protest despite facing attacks and arrest.

Prof. Najam said that he believes the series of crises will bring Pakistan to a tipping point very soon, in the same way that a hike in sugar prices brought about the end of Ayub Khan’s government. He said people will demand change when they become fed up, but he stressed that being fed up is not enough to build a sustainable democracy, since people might forget their anger against autocrats after a few years, and they might be willing to accept military rule again if a democratic government fails.

In particular, Prof. Najam said he was hopeful that telecom technology – such as SMS – would allow Pakistanis to keep themselves informed and to communicate with each other in case of any repression of the electronic media. He stated that more SMS messages were sent on 3 November 2007 – after emergency rule was imposed – than on any other day in Pakistan.

Regarding elections, Prof. Najam said he believes there will be elections at some point in 2008, even if they are not held on the 18th of February, as scheduled. However, he said it is unlikely the elections will be free and fair even if every vote is counted, since rigging is “in the mix,” given the circumstances in Pakistan.

On the “War On Terror,” Prof. Najam said that he believes it is not true that the Musharraf regime has not done enough to fight terrorism. Instead, he said, Musharraf has probably delivered more than any of the other leaders in the “War On Terror,” and the accusations of under-performance made by foreign governments are not valid. However, he said that the Musharraf regime has failed in making the “War On Terror” relevant to Pakistanis and to Pakistan’s interests, resulting in the view that it is America’s war being fought with Pakistani troops and on Pakistani soil.

In response to a question regarding the influence of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Prof. Najam said that he believes if there is one single thing that could be more beneficial to democracy in Pakistan – and elsewhere – it would be the dismantling of intelligence services. He said that the intelligence services create unaccountable and invisible centres of power which act like a shadow government within the country.

Prof. Najam ended his talk with a discussion of how the four factors behind Pakistan’s democratic deficit might be removed in the near future. Regarding inept politicians, he said that it is possible that figures – he named Aitzaz Ahsan, Hamid Mir, and Shahid Masood as examples – who are asking questions of the current government today will be the ones answering questions as leaders in a few years’ time. He said that it is also possible that the military will decide to take a step back from politics for at least a few years to deal with the fallout of the current regime, which has discredited the military in many ways. Regarding external hegemons, Prof. Najam said that new leadership in the global powers could take a different approach towards Pakistan and stop supporting dictatorial regimes. Also, he said that it is possible that the Pakistani people will be more patient with future democratic governments, and be less-inclined to accept military rule as an alternative. He said that, while it is not likely all four of these conditions will be achieved in the near future, any one or two of them will be enough to break the cycle that creates Pakistan’s democratic deficit.

Written by SAC-USA

2 February 2008 at 8:10 pm

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PPP at Amnesty International USA: An Eye Witness Account

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Pakistan People’s Party representatives Ms. Sherry Rehman, Dr. Javaid Laghari, and Ms.K. Palwasha spoke at an event hosted by Amnesty International USA and Washington-Pakistan Forum (WPF) on Jan 24th, 2008. The agenda of the talk was to discuss the current crisis in Pakistan and its implications for human rights. However, the primary topic of the talk by the People’s party leaders turned out to be the demand for UN probe into Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and more importantly the discussion of strategies that Musharraf and his government is using or will use to rig the elections. Miss Palwasha highlighted intricate details of how the election-day rigging will take place. There was also a note of threat in their message (Sherry Rehman said it in so many words at Brookings and as well as at AIUSA) that if they lose the elections, they would not be able to stop their workers from coming on the streets. In short, they talked about different scenarios except for what they will do if they win the elections.

The team had made the same speech at Brookings the day before. At Brookings, PPPs attempts to convince the audience that the elections will be rigged made sense. But at AIUSA and WPF where majority of the audience consisted of Pakistani Americans and Pakistani journalists, these kinds of arguments seemed out of place. We do not need to be convinced that Musharaf and Q-League will attempt foul play in elections. What we want to know is what PPP will do after the elections, in case they win. What alternative to military government are they providing?

So during their speech, we all patiently waited for question and answer session. The first question, of course, was about PPP’s position on reinstatement of judiciary. Sherry Rehman in response to that question explained how judiciary should be appointed rather than answering the question one way or the other. Quite understandably, the question was asked again by someone else and Sherry Rehman’s response was the complaint that the session is becoming a wrangling session. The third question was what PPP is doing to bring political leadership together against the military. Their response to that was again a completely irrelevant discussion of PPP’s recent activities. By that time, everyone in the audience had become quite hopeless. Response to every question was a stream of irrelevant ! PPP team must have realized that also, that they took leave almost 15 minutes into the question and answer session. However, quite a lot of scenes followed after that. A lot of old very ardent Bhutto supporters were present in the audience…people who felt betrayed and showed it.

As a member of SAC-US, I had talked to all the members of the PPP team the day before at Brookings and had told them about the MoU that we wanted PPP to sign with us. The MoU demanded that PPP work towards the reinstatement of the deposed judges, withdrawal of restrictions (Code of Conduct and PEMRA ordinance) on the freedom of print and electronic media, withdrawal of restrictions on the right to assembly and the right to protest. I was told to get in touch with everyone and was duly given contact information of everyone on the team. Having contacted them and not having received any reply (which I expected), I had decided to take this issue up at AIUSA meeting. So after the meeting ended I went up to Dr. Leghari and Sherry Rehman separately and showed them the MoU. They told me to email them the MoU and said that they were eager to sign it. I will email all of them a copy of the MoU. I will also ask them to communicate with us about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in the MoU but I know that we will not get any response from them.

Not just as a member of SAC but also as their constituent, I have a right to know what they will do if I vote for them.

Written by SAC-USA

2 February 2008 at 8:00 pm

Posted in SAC

PML-N Deal With President Musharraf

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According to recent news reports, Shahbaz Sharif – brother of PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif and likely candidate for Prime Minister – has entered negotiations with Brigadier (R) Niaz – who is a close friend of both Shahbaz Sharif and President Pervez Musharraf.

Inside sources suggest President Musharraf has offered Shahbaz Sharif a role in the government following parliamentary elections on 18 February, provided the PML-N drops its demand for the reinstatement of the Pakistani judiciary removed on 3 November 2007.

SAC-US is deeply concerned about these negotiations, since dropping the demands for the reinstatement of the judiciary would be a violation of the terms of an informal agreement the PML-N leadership recently reached with SAC Lahore and SAC Islamabad.

Please spread the word, and contact PML-N members to register your protest against these undemocratic negotiations. Contact information for Shahbaz Sharif and other PML-N members is listed here.

Written by SAC-USA

23 January 2008 at 9:31 pm

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SAC Press Release

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Launch of Student Action Committee – USA Chapter for the restoration of Democratic Process in Pakistan

Washington DC. Jan 5th 2008; Pakistani students from universities from different states of the United States launched Student Action Committee-USA as an independent chapter of Student Action Committee Lahore and Islamabad. The primary purpose of the Committee is to work towards the restoration and development of a democratic political process in Pakistan. The short term objectives of SAC-US include the restoration of judiciary to its pre-Nov 3rd status; the establishment of an independent election commission and an independent interim government so as to ensure free and fair elections; the withdrawal of restrictions on the Pakistani media; the abrogation of any constraints on the rights to assembly, campaign and protest; and the release of thousands of students, lawyers and political workers currently in government custody.

SAC-US is a non-partisan group that does not endorse any political party but seeks collaboration on points of mutual agreement with other individuals and organizations, including political parties in Pakistan and the Government organizations in Washington DC. SAC-US also seeks to cultivate a long-term relationship with the US media.

Written by SAC-USA

17 January 2008 at 9:28 pm

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SAC-USA Is Active

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SAC-USA held its first meeting yesterday. In addition to a set of objectives, the SAC agreed upon the following short-term activities:

  • Members will organise awareness-raising events on campuses in her or his area. At least one event will be held by the second week of February.
  • Members will organise protests following the awareness-raising events. Protests in different areas will be staged simultaneously shortly before the elections in Pakistan.
  • SAC will collaborate with other organisations to promote advocacy on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC. An event is being planned on the Hill, tentatively scheduled for 7 February.
  • SAC will begin cultivating a long-term relationship with the US media, starting by distributing a press release to media contacts in the second week of January.
  • SAC will communicate, and establish a working relationship, with SAC Lahore and SAC Islamabad.

Written by SAC-USA

6 January 2008 at 12:46 pm

Posted in SAC