Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan

Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan
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Nawabzada Hajji Lashkari Raisani (center), a former senator and a candidate from NA-263 Quetta, is pictured during an election campaign in Quetta, Pakistan, on January 22, 2024. (AN photo)
Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan
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Election posters are installed along the street in Quetta on January 24, 2024. (AN photo)
Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan
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Candidates of the Pakistan People's Party campaign for the upcoming general election in Quetta on January 24, 2024. (AN photo)
Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan
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Election posters are installed along the street in Quetta on January 24, 2024. (AN photo)
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Updated 13 February 2024
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Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan

Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan
  • Majority of Balochistan’s 442 candidates come from well-established tribal political backgrounds
  • Analysts say free environment could end ‘political engineering’ and bring change to province

QUETTA: For many like 38-year-old Mohammad Abid Hayat from the Pakistan National Assembly’s NA-263 constituency in the southwestern Balochistan province, the 2024 general elections come with little hope of change for voters who say political parties are following a decades-old pattern of promoting dynasties over grassroots politics.

Pakistan’s political landscape has long been dominated by well-established families, including the Sharif clan of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, a wealthy industrialist family from Punjab, and the Bhutto dynasty of feudal aristocrats that has ruled the southern Sindh province for decades, given the country two prime ministers and whose scion, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, has now set his sights on the PM’s office.

Other than periods of military rule, the two rival families and the parties they founded swapped the reins of power frequently throughout the 1990s and formed governments until only recently, when cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan came to power through general elections in 2018 and ruled until 2022. But even 80 percent of Khan’s winning candidates in the 2018 elections in Punjab were dynasts despite the party rallying behind an anti-status quo banner, according to research by Dr. Hassan Javid, a former associate professor of sociology at LUMS who now teaches at the University of the Fraser Valley in Canada.

After Khan’s ouster from the PM’s office in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April 2022, Sharif’s younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, became prime minister until late last year, when he handed over the reins of government to a caretaker administration constitutionally mandated to oversee the next general elections, scheduled for Feb. 8.

In Balochistan, too, the country’s largest but most underdeveloped province, it is families, or tribes, who have been at the helm for decades. Out of 16 National Assembly seats from Balochistan province, 442 candidates are eligible to contest the upcoming elections, with a majority coming from tribal and well-established political backgrounds.

“There are many political families and tribal leaders who have been contesting elections under family-based politics for years,” Abid, a salesman at a local medical store, told Arab News on Quetta’s Patel Road, part of the NA-263 constituency where he will cast his vote.

“Dynastic politics discourages political workers who start their career from a grassroots political level from coming out to represent their people on the mainstream political ground … dynasties in politics erode voters’ trust … ahead of the general polls, it should end now.”

Syed Ali Shah, a senior journalist and political analyst based in Quetta, the provincial capital, said that despite having strong roots in the province, candidates from known families would face “tough competition in 95 percent of provincial and national assemblies.”

Journalist Saleem Shahid, who has covered general elections in Balochistan for the last five decades, agreed that independent candidates from non-political and middle-class backgrounds would prove to be a challenge for powerful candidates in some constituencies of the provincial capital, but added that “weaknesses” in the system served as an impediment to “common candidates” getting elected, such as political parties, armed with big money and vote banks, continuing to back known faces.

“Political parties have to nominate common people as their candidates, and political procedures should be allowed to continue without interference so it will change people’s mindset to elect candidates with strong ideological backgrounds,” Shahid, who is the bureau chief for the daily Dawn newspaper in Quetta, said.

Still, a large number of independent candidates who hail from middle-class and lower-middle class families are contesting powerful political dynasties, tribal influencers and businessmen in the coming election, Shahid added.

Javed Ahmed Khan, 60, who is contesting from the provincial constituency PB-43 in Quetta district, said that he was running in general elections for the first time “to counter political dynasties and wealthy candidates who can’t even understand the basic issues of common voters.

In an interview with Arab News, he said: “Why can’t the son of a poor man become a politician or member of the parliament? They (wealthy candidates) vanish after being elected and close their doors on voters.”

“WHY DYNASTIES THRIVE”

But change will be a long and bumpy road in Balochistan, where the average resident lives on no more than $2.50 daily, while more than 90 percent of people lack access to clean drinking water and medical facilities, and rural illiteracy surpasses 90 percent. About 70 percent of the population live in remote rural areas and rely on well-connected, well-heeled dynasts and tribal leaders to provide everything from jobs to facilities like schools, water and gas.

Therefore, weakening dynastic politics will require urbanization of the province and changes in the very structure of its political economy and governance model, experts say.

The military’s outsized role in the running of the province, which has for decades been plagued by a low-level insurgency by separatist militants, and borders key rival nations like Afghanistan and Iran, also does not help, Quetta-based Shah added.

In Balochistan, there is a long and well-established history of the military pushing tribal elders and so-called “electables,” or candidates with large vote banks and political and economic clout, into preferred political parties or newly established ones ahead of each election, such as the Balochistan Awami Party, which was founded ahead of 2018 elections, thereby reinforcing the power of traditional families and well-entrenched tribal chieftains. The military denies that it interferes in political affairs.

“Since Pakistan’s creation, the country has been ruled by military dictators, hence dynastic politics have thrived,” Shah added.

Canada-based Javid agreed that Balochistan’s major problem is that the powerful establishment had backed so-called electables for the last three decades.

“The establishment’s political interference should end to stem dynastic politics from Pakistani society,” the professor told Arab News. “Not only in Balochistan’s tribal society, the political dynasties ruling over the people in Sindh and Punjab provinces as well are based on community and ethnic-based politics.”

Take the Raisani tribe, whose former senator Nawabzada Hajji Lashkari Raisani is an independent candidate from NA-263 Quetta city. Raisani’s elder brother, Nawab Aslam Raisani, is contesting 2024 polls for a provincial seat, PB-35 Mastung, from the platform of Pakistan’s key religious party, the Jamiyet Ulma-e-Islam. His nephew, Nawabzada Jamal Khan Raisani, is a national assembly candidate in NA-264 for the Pakistan People’s Party.

Speaking to Arab News, Lashkari Raisani said that political dynasties existed all over the world, from the Gandhi family in India to the Kennedy or Bush families in the US.

“In the US, the Kennedy and Bush families have been doing dynastic politics,” he said. “It is not an issue because in parliamentary politics, vote has a significant importance (no matter what family you are from).”

Another candidate, PPP’s former senator Rozi Khan Kakar, who is a national assembly candidate from NA-263, and whose younger brother Noor ud Din Kakaris is standing for the provincial seat PB-41, defended his brother’s nomination, saying that the ticket was given on merit.

“My younger brother is an active party worker who served as the party’s district president for five years and established 200 new units in Quetta,” Kakar said. “Hence, he was nominated as the party’s election candidate on PB-41 by the central leadership based on performance, not on my personal will.”

Many voters believe that the power to break the status quo lies in their hands, urging ordinary people in Balochistan to throw their weight behind pro-poor parties and make efforts to organize around a progressive economic agenda.

“In 2024 polls, I request the voters to support election candidates belonging to middle-class families,” said Alam Khan Kakar, a voter from Quetta’s PB-41 constituency, “in order to get rid of political families ruling for three generations for their personal gains rather than delivering for the public.”

“MATURITY WILL TAKE TIME”

Analysts say that “free and fair” elections in the province are the only solution to bring new faces into politics.

Though Balochistan is famous for “political engineering” ahead of general polls, Javid said that “a change in political leadership from middle-class backgrounds” is possible in the next one or two elections, depending on whether a free political environment is allowed for candidates and voters.

For 2024, the sociologist does not see much hope for new faces “because the political dynasties will change their party affiliations but the faces will remain the same.”

The cost of holding elections also keeps out new entrants in the impoverished region.

Shah, the analyst, said: “Today, the expenditures for contesting elections have reached millions of rupees, thus it is a daydream for a middle-class man in Balochistan.

“We are in a transition period but maturity will take time.”


Thousands of Rohingya feared trapped in fighting in western Myanmar

Thousands of Rohingya feared trapped in fighting in western Myanmar
Updated 4 sec ago
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Thousands of Rohingya feared trapped in fighting in western Myanmar

Thousands of Rohingya feared trapped in fighting in western Myanmar
  • Residents of Maungdaw town, inhabited primarily by the Rohingya, told to leave ahead of a planned offensive by the Arakan Army against Myanmar ruling junta forces

Tens of thousands of Muslim minority Rohingya are feared to be caught in fighting in western Myanmar, as a powerful armed ethnic group bears down on junta positions in a coastal town on the country’s border with Bangladesh.
The Arakan Army (AA), which is fighting for autonomy for Myanmar’s Rakhine region, said late on Sunday that residents of Maungdaw town, inhabited primarily by the Rohingya, should leave by 9 p.m. ahead of a planned offensive on the settlement.
The AA’s attack on Maungdaw is the latest in a months-long rebel onslaught against the Myanmar junta, which took power in a February 2021 coup, and now finds itself in an increasingly weakened position across large parts of the country.
“We are going to attack the remaining posts” of junta, the AA said in a statement, asking residents to stay clear of military positions in Maungdaw for their own safety.
A junta spokesman did not respond to a call seeking comment.
Around 70,000 Rohingya who are currently in Maungdaw are trapped as the fighting draws closer, said Aung Kyaw Moe, the deputy human rights minister in Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government.
“They have no where to run to,” he told Reuters.
Thousands of Rohingya fled toward neighboring Bangladesh last month, seeking safety from the escalating conflict, although the neighboring country is reluctant to accept more refugees.
Their movement was triggered by battles in and around the town of Buthidaung, around 25 km (15 miles) away to the east of Maungdaw, that was captured by the AA after intense fighting during which the rebel group was accused of targeting the Rohingya community.
The AA denies the allegations.
Rohingya have faced persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for decades. Nearly a million of them live in refugee camps in Bangladesh’s border district of Cox’s Bazar after fleeing a military-led crackdown in Rakhine in 2017.


Norway gives $103 million to Ukraine to secure electricity

Norway gives $103 million to Ukraine to secure electricity
Updated 7 min 44 sec ago
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Norway gives $103 million to Ukraine to secure electricity

Norway gives $103 million to Ukraine to secure electricity
  • Norwegian PM says the fund will go toward repairs in the Kharkiv area
  • Kharkiv has been hit particularly hard by Russian attacks recently

OSLO: Norway said Sunday that it would provide 1.1 billion kroner ($103 million) to Ukraine to help repair its energy infrastructure and secure the country’s electricity supply before next winter.
“Russia is carrying out massive, systematic attacks to paralyze the power grid, but Ukrainians are working day and night to maintain essential electricity supplies for the population,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said in a statement.
According to new estimates, more than 50 percent of Ukraine’s power production capacity has been destroyed, the government said.
“We are in close dialogue with Ukraine on how it can use these funds most effectively. The Ukrainians themselves have the best insight into what is needed,” Store said, adding that it was important to begin infrastructure repairs before the onset of winter.
Norway said it had already been decided that 120 million kroner would go toward repairs in the Kharkiv area, which has been hit particularly hard by Russian attacks recently.
Solar panels will be installed at seven maternity units and operating theaters in the Kharkiv area, Store said in the statement, which was issued as he attended a Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland.
In 2022, Norway provided 2.1 billion kroner in funding to the Ukrainian energy sector, and 1.9 billion kroner last year.
The Scandinavian country has pledged 75 billion kroner in military and civilian aid to Ukraine for the five-year period 2023-2027, with funding allocated each year in line with Ukraine’s needs.
 


Philippine ship, Chinese vessel collide in South China Sea: Beijing

Philippine ship, Chinese vessel collide in South China Sea: Beijing
Updated 17 June 2024
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Philippine ship, Chinese vessel collide in South China Sea: Beijing

Philippine ship, Chinese vessel collide in South China Sea: Beijing
  • China's coast guard says “Philippine replenishment ship ignored many solemn warnings from the Chinese side”
  • China has been trying to force a Philippine troops stationed in one of the disputed reefs by blocking supply missions

BEIJING: A Philippine ship and a Chinese vessel collided near the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea on Monday, Beijing’s Coast Guard said.
Beijing claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, brushing aside competing claims from several Southeast Asian nations including the Philippines and an international ruling that its stance has no legal basis.
China deploys coast guard and other boats to patrol the waters and has turned several reefs into militarised artificial islands. Chinese and Philippine vessels have had a series of confrontations in disputed areas.
On Saturday, new Chinese coast guard rules took effect under which it can detain foreigners for alleged trespassing in the disputed sea.
Beijing’s coast guard said in a statement Monday that a “Philippine replenishment ship ignored many solemn warnings from the Chinese side.”
It “approached the... Chinese vessel in an unprofessional way, resulting in a collision,” the statement said.
Beijing accused the ship of having “illegally broken into the sea near Ren’ai Reef in China’s Nansha Islands,” using the Chinese name for the Spratly Islands.
“The Chinese Coast Guard took control measures against the Philippine ship in accordance with the law,” it added.
Manila has accused the Chinese coast guard of “barbaric and inhumane behavior” against Philippine vessels, and President Ferdinand Marcos has called the new rules a “very worrisome” escalation.
China has defended its new coast guard rules. A foreign ministry spokesman said last month that they were intended to “better uphold order at sea.”
China Coast Guard vessels have used water cannon against Philippine boats multiple times in the contested waters.
There have also been collisions that injured Filipino troops.
The Group of Seven bloc on Friday criticized what it called “dangerous” incursions by China in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is a vital waterway, where Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also have overlapping claims in some parts.
Most recently, however, confrontations between China and the Philippines have raised fears of a wider conflict over the sea that could involve the United States and other allies.
Trillions of dollars in ship-borne trade passes through the South China Sea annually, and huge unexploited oil and gas deposits are believed to lie under its seabed, though estimates vary greatly.
 


Biden pushes Gaza ceasefire deal in Eid message

Biden pushes Gaza ceasefire deal in Eid message
Updated 17 June 2024
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Biden pushes Gaza ceasefire deal in Eid message

Biden pushes Gaza ceasefire deal in Eid message
  • The US has been pressing Israel and Hamas to formally accept the ceasefire deal greenlighted by Security Council members last week

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden used his Eid Al-Adha message to Muslims to advocate a US-backed ceasefire deal in Gaza, saying Sunday it was the best way to help civilians suffering the “horrors of war between Hamas and Israel.”
“Too many innocent people have been killed, including thousands of children. Families have fled their homes and seen their communities destroyed. Their pain is immense,” Biden said in a statement.
“I strongly believe that the three-phase ceasefire proposal Israel has made to Hamas and that the UN Security Council has endorsed is the best way to end the violence in Gaza and ultimately end the war,” he added.
The United States has been pressing Israel and Hamas to formally accept the ceasefire deal greenlighted by Security Council members last week, which would allow an initial six-week pause to fighting.
Eid Al-Adha, which marks the prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son to God, saw a rare day of relative calm in Gaza after Israel announced a “tactical pause” in fighting near Rafah to facilitate aid deliveries.
The president highlighted American efforts to “advocate for the rights of other Muslim communities” facing persecution, including the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Uyghurs in China.
He said “we’re also working to bring a peaceful resolution to the horrific conflict in Sudan,” which has been gripped by fighting between the country’s army and a rival paramilitary group since April 2023.
On the domestic front, Biden’s message Sunday also promised a crackdown on Islamophobia in a direct appeal to American Muslims, a key voting demographic in the Democrat’s reelection bid against Republican rival Donald Trump.
“My Administration is creating a national strategy to counter Islamophobia and related forms of bias and discrimination, which affect not only Muslims, but also Arab, Sikh, and South Asian Americans,” Biden said.
 


Nuclear arms more prominent amid geopolitical tensions: researchers

Nuclear arms more prominent amid geopolitical tensions: researchers
Updated 17 June 2024
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Nuclear arms more prominent amid geopolitical tensions: researchers

Nuclear arms more prominent amid geopolitical tensions: researchers
  • The nine countries are the United States, Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel

STOCKHOLM: The role of atomic weapons has become more prominent and nuclear states are modernizing arsenals as geopolitical relations deteriorate, researchers said Monday, urging world leaders to “step back and reflect.”
Diplomatic efforts to control nuclear arms also suffered major setbacks amid strained international relations over the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in its annual yearbook.
“We have not seen nuclear weapons playing such a prominent role in international relations since the Cold War,” Wilfred Wan, director of SIPRI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programme, said in a statement.
The research institute noted that in February 2023 Russia announced it was suspending participation in the 2010 New START treaty — “the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty limiting Russian and US strategic nuclear forces.”
SIPRI also noted that Russia carried out tactical nuclear weapon drills close to the Ukrainian border in May.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has upped his nuclear rhetoric since the Ukraine conflict began, warning in his address to the nation in February there was a “real” risk of nuclear war.
In addition, an informal agreement between the United States and Iran reached in June 2023 was upended after the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October, SIPRI said.

According to SIPRI, the world’s nine nuclear-armed states also “continued to modernize their nuclear arsenals and several deployed new nuclear-armed or nuclear-capable weapon systems in 2023.”
The nine countries are the United States, Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel.
In January, of the estimated 12,121 nuclear warheads around the world about 9,585 were in stockpiles for potential use, according to SIPRI.
Around 2,100 were kept in a state of “high operational alert” on ballistic missiles.
Nearly all of these warheads belong to Russia and the United States — which together possess almost 90 percent of all nuclear weapons — but China was for the first time believed to have some warheads on high operational alert.
“While the global total of nuclear warheads continues to fall as Cold War-era weapons are gradually dismantled, regrettably we continue to see year-on-year increases in the number of operational nuclear warheads,” SIPRI director Dan Smith said.
He added that this trend would likely continue and “probably accelerate” in the coming years, describing it as “extremely concerning.”
Researchers also stressed the “continuing deterioration of global security over the past year,” as the impact from the wars in Ukraine and Gaza could be seen in “almost every aspect” of issues relating to armaments and international security.
“We are now in one of the most dangerous periods in human history,” Smith said, urging the world’s great powers to “step back and reflect. Preferably together.”