Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A Deposed Dictator Turns to Democracy

Flood Devastation
 By Ayushman Jamwal

A few months ago, the nation of Pakistan was devastated by floods which led to the deaths of 1500 people, displaced millions and severely damaged the national infrastructure. The floods opened a can of worms in the international media about the nation’s problems, ranging from the weak governance in co-ordinating damage control, poor infrastructure to the free movement of militant organisations.

History has shown us that national calamities have been the initiators of political and social change sparked by the will of the citizenry to safeguard their ways of life. Pakistan’s recent ordeals have similarly signalled the political rise of an unlikely national personality – General Pervez Musharraf.

General Musharraf ruled Pakistan with an iron fist after he took power through a bloodless coup in October 1999, overthrowing the national government of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) and exiling its leader, the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. The coup had been initiated after Sharif had ordered his dismissal from the post of Pakistani Army Chief of Staff.

The General had a reputation for an aggressive approach towards resolving the dispute over the Kashmir region with India. In May 1999, he entered Pakistan into an armed conflict with India over Kashmir, and suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Indian armed forces.

In 2006, General Musharraf ordered the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti, the leader of the Jamhoori Watan Party, a nationalist political organisation in the Balochistan region of Pakistan. Bugti was an influential advocate against the General’s dictatorship and lobbied for greater constitutional rights for the people of Balochistan. His death established him as a martyr for the Balochistan separatist movement and transformed his political campaign into an insurgency for a free Balochistan, leading to widespread violence across the Pakistan.

In 2007, the Pakistani people vehemently rose up against the General’s rule. In March that year, he sacked the Chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, along with sixty judges of the national judiciary.

In July, he laid siege to the Lal Masjid (Red mosque) in Islamabad, which was controlled by Muslim extremists. A majority of the country supported the General’s move to rid the capital and the mosque of militant control. However, the siege led to the deaths of 154 people and razed the mosque to the ground, causing public support to turn into public anger at the execution of the military operation.

In November, he suspended the constitution and imposed a media ban, declaring a state of emergency under the fear that the remaining national judiciary would decree his presidency as unconstitutional.

Each act was followed by widespread public and political agitation which led General Musharraf to hold and even participate in national elections in February 2008. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won the majority at the Centre while the General’s backed Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid) fared very poorly. Afterwards, he went into self-imposed exile in the UK.

General Musharraf
On the 1st of October 2010, General Musharraf announced the launch of the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) at the National Liberal Club in Whitehall, declaring his aim to fight for a Pakistan Parliamentary seat in the 2013 general elections.

At the launch event, he referred to the Pakistani military as the “centre of gravity” of the nation, to which the people turned to for solutions when dismayed by the national political institution. The General stated that the APML’s objective is to introduce a “new political culture” in Pakistan, to develop faith in the civilian government and reduce public dependency on the military.

Since the announcement, the General has been campaigning in the UK, the US and Honk Kong, developing support amongst Pakistani expatriates and raising funds for his political party. He has also initiated a recruitment drive in Pakistan.

The General claims that a majority of his support is rooted in the Pakistani youth, highlighting that his Facebook page has gained over 300,000 followers in the past five months.

The launch of the APML has given him a large media platform, through which he has made many controversial statements. Speaking to Tod Robberson of The Dallas Morning News earlier this month, he said, “Pakistanis are not like the West and Americans, who are overly obsessed with democracy”. He argued that as long as the social problems in Pakistan, like poverty and unemployment, were tackled, the nature of government did not matter to the people.

General Musharraf has widely criticised the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) for corruption, stating that billions in American aid was filling the pockets of politicians besides helping the country tackle its problems. “None of them are capable of delivering Pakistan from the darkness that it faces today," he said in a speech at the Asia Society in Houston. As one of the US’s former allies in the War on Terror, he stressed that his administration never stole American aid meant for the people of Pakistan.

Regarding relations with India, the General has accused successive Indian governments of supporting terrorists and Baloch separatists in Pakistan. In an interview with the German magazine, Der Speigel, this month, he admitted to his administration’s hand in training underground militant groups in Indian occupied Kashmir. He said that “it is the right of any country to promote its own interests when India is not prepared to discuss Kashmir... and is not prepared to resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner.”

The conditions on the ground in Pakistan are problematic for General Musharraf’s political ambitions. On July 31, 2009, the Pakistan Supreme Court declared his imposition of emergency in 2007 as an illegal, unconstitutional and treasonous act under Article 6 of the Pakistani constitution. Taking the cue from the Supreme Court, Pakistani politicians namely Nawaz Sharif, the current Opposition leader at the Centre, are lobbying the PPP government to use Interpol (the International police) to bring the General back to Pakistan to face trial for treason.

New President Asif Ali Zardari

Advocating the same, but going notoriously further, Talal Akbar Bugti, son of the slain Nawab Akbar Bugti, earlier this month offered a bounty of one billion rupees (7.3 million pounds) and one thousand acres of land to any person who beheads General Musharraf. The PPP, on the other hand, has so far been silent regarding the General’s political goals.

The launch of the APML has been encouraged by the unpopularity of the Pakistani political institution. The nation’s current President, Asif Ali Zardari, has been internationally condemned for his tedious response to the floods, to Pakistan’s wider social problems like unemployment, inflation and poverty, and for his renowned reputation as a corrupt politician. Even the Central Opposition party, the PML-N, headed by Nawaz Sharif, is publically regarded as corrupt political organisation with private interests. They are seen as the roots of the public apathy towards politics, currently prevailing in Pakistan.

However, Zardari’s and Sharif’s unpopularity isn’t considered enough for General Musharraf to make a significant return to state affairs. According to Faizaan Khan, a third year Business management student at Cardiff University from Karachi, “The people in Pakistan are sick of the corrupt practices of the politicians from the PPP and the PML-N.” “While they yearn for a political solution, General Musharraf is not that solution”, he said.

Even though the General still holds support in the Pakistani military, the majority of the civilian population consider him a threat to democracy, civic society, and the international reputation of Pakistan. “Musharraf was intelligent and diligent, but he lacked the understanding of the sensitivities associated with religion and castes, and committed mistakes which a majority of Pakistanis will never forgive”, said Chaudhary Badar Iqbal, an Electronics and Communications engineering student from Rawalpindi.

With the current levels of public discontent with politics in Pakistan, General Musharraf will gain some measure of public support. However, the history of his rule as President is all too clear in the minds of the current power holders and people in Pakistan, which to a great extent will prevent him from making a strong political comeback.

Friday, 2 July 2010

‘Time’ for death?

By Andrew Gill        
On Friday 18th June 2010 Ronnie Lee Gardner was strapped into a chair in his Utah penitentiary, backed by concrete and lined with sandbags. A white target was attached to his shirt, placed directly over his heart before a prison guard began counting backwards from five. When the count got to two, five volunteer guards opened fire unleashing four bullets into his body, ending his life. Gardner’s crime was double homicide, and the punishment method has drawn attention once more to the debate on whether there is a necessity for Capital Punishment in the modern world.
Almost every society has had a concept of Capital Punishment or ‘The Death Penalty’, which has been used to sentence and deter a number of crimes from public disobedience to murder, and everything in between.  However, where corruption and miscarriages of justice are always a possibility, does this very permanent and possibly outdated punishment have a justifiable place?
Capital Punishment has divided World opinion with Europe and much of the West abolishing the practice, whilst major spheres of influence like the USA (34 states) and China as well as less economically developed countries continue to apply it.  The chart sourced by Amnesty International indicates the minimum number of executions that they are aware of carried out by each country in 2009.

The executions in the chart were carried out by hanging, shooting, beheading, stoning, lethal injection and via the electric chair. The Chinese figure is an estimate based on previous years and media evidence.
According to Amnesty International two thirds of the World’s countries have abolished Capital Punishment in law or practice, whilst 58 countries still retain this form of punishment for what is considered ‘ordinary crimes’. Generally this penalty is reserved for acts such as murder or high treason, whilst other countries have it for theft, rape, sex with a minor and terrorism. In some nations, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, the death penalty is also used to condemn ‘unnatural’ acts such as homosexuality and other ‘crimes against religion’ like adultery. A shocking consideration to the argument is that Uganda attempted to pass legislation making homosexuality punishable by death in 2009, suggesting that as some countries are getting rid of the death penalty, others are attempting to use it more freely and apply it to acts that the majority of countries would not recognise as criminal. This raises the question of what ‘ordinary crimes’ justify the use of the death penalty, which varies dramatically through culture and religion within the specific countries to what is a criminal, unnatural or sacrilegious act.
A major argument in favour of the death penalty is the search for justice and retribution, suggesting that the criminal should pay for the crime they have committed and suffer in a similar but equal way. The conservative perspective also accepts the death penalty as a measure to stop re-offending and to remove the individual from the ‘system’ reducing long term costs and future issues like parole.  

It can also be considered that the threat of Capital Punishment can be an incentive for helping the police, with the defendant assisting the investigation or giving evidence in another trial for a commuted sentence to life imprisonment. However some argue that the action of plea bargaining is similar to emotional torture in the sense that it is threatening the defendants life for information and is a violation of their human rights. This argument continues in a somewhat unjustified sense that a criminal condemned to the death suffers far worse than any crime they committed, for example in Japan the condemned are not given a date for their execution. Instead they are given a week to live and if they are still in their cell by the weekend they have another week. This could be considered cruel and unusual however generally the sympathies here lie solely with the people affected by the criminal acts and not by the emotions of the murderer, child molester or rapist.
The pro argument is opposed by the UN’s aim to abolish Capital Punishment. This is supported by Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “Everybody has the right to life...” The counter argument also suggests that the sanctity of life is far greater than any actions committed regardless of how heinous and evil they are. The BBC’s Ethics Guide suggests that
“...retribution is used in a unique way in the case of the death penalty. Crimes other than murder do not receive a punishment that mimics the crime - for example rapists are not punished by sexual assault and people guilty of assault are not ceremonially beaten up.” This implies that the death penalty is heavy punishment and may be pursued out of vengeance rather than rectification, a notion backed by the US Catholic Conference which was quoted as saying “We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing.”
Supporters would like to justify the use of the death penalty as a form of consolation or to gain a degree of closure for the families involved while others would argue that killing someone will not undo the acts that they have performed and therefore it is unnecessary to take their life as it would brutalize society.
Another aspect of the debate is whether Capital Punishment acts as a suitable deterrent to prevent an increase in crime. It stands to reason that the death penalty would serve as a stern warning to would-be murderers, giving clear and unpleasant consequences to one’s actions; however this can’t always be justified as it has been argued that in some instances the person involved can be in such an emotional or mental state that they don’t consider the outcome before acting. Therefore the idea of deterrence can only be to discourage premeditated crime but cannot be used to deter crime entirely.   
            So far I have only skimmed across the religious perspective that is usually associated with this heavy topic, and there is just cause for this. Although most denominations of religion are very quotable and have direct and indirect perspectives on this issue, numerous academics have highlighted that there are contradictions and hypocrisies within the religions’ own teachings and different rationalizations of the chosen text. The most common example of this is from the Bible in Exodus 21:24 which states “eye for (an) eye”, which has been scrutinized in and out of context. This leaves the argument too complex to analyze in a blog, but may be better suited to a multiple volume text of human history.
            The competency of the judicial system and its possible flaws are also an important aspect to the debate. For example in the USA, jurors presiding over a Capital Punishment case must be ‘death eligible’, meaning that they must be willing to convict the defendant even though the sentence could be death. This leads to a bias in the system as those who conscientiously object to the death penalty would not make themselves ‘death eligible’ and would not be on the jury, whilst people who are eligible would have less objections to the punishment. These flaws are further highlighted by the statistics associated with US legal aid, suggesting that the US judicial system does not provide poor defendants with adequate legal representation. They suggest that of all the defendants sentenced to death who receive legal aid, three quarters will be executed, a figure which drops to as little as a quarter if they can afford to pay for a lawyer. This clearly shows a major systematic flaw proving that even the most celebrated judicial structures can hold bias based on influence, class, money or racial prejudice.
            The troublesome viewpoint of this issue comes into effect when a state gets it wrong and unjustifiably condemns a person to death. For instance the case of Cameron Todd Willingham of Huntsville, Texas, who was found guilty and sentenced to death for the arson of his home killing his three small children in 1991. In the time between being found guilty and the date of execution there was overwhelming evidence and testimony to suggest that it was an accident. Still this man, who had lost his children, spent over a decade in prison and refused to resort to plea bargaining for his life, citing his innocence was executed by lethal injection in 2004. Whether Willingham was innocent or not, there was a strong counter argument against his conviction supported by reliable witnesses and enough incriminating evidence to get a retrial, but this was still this was overlooked.  This begs the question how in this modern age can it be considered acceptable to execute first and ask questions later?
This leads me back to the argument that there is a lack of state regulation and control. It is a realistic concern that if a mix between rogue, unsanctioned or non-transparent states, like China, continue to execute without sufficient evidence or what we would consider to be just cause, we could be looking at a bleak future, and scenes that may be more associated with George Orwell’s novel 1984. A recent story in China emphasizes the unjust application of the death penalty and the lack of state regulation.  A decade ago, Zhao Zuohai was imprisoned for the murder of his neighbour after they had been seen fighting and the neighbour went missing. Shortly after a headless decomposed body was found and Zuohai arrested. He was initially sentenced to death for the crime, but fortunately it was commuted to 29-year prison sentence. In May 2010 the missing neighbour appeared in Zuohai’s home town to claim benefits much to the shock of local town’s people. It later transpired that Zuohai had been subjected to beatings and had had fireworks set off by his head until he provided sufficient evidence to be convicted. He lost his wife, most of his children were adopted and he also had to endure prison.  If the original sentence had been enforced this man would have been unjustly executed due to the state’s motivation for a confession, albeit it a false one. This demonstrates that there are many flaws to judicial systems and shows that with a lack of control and regulation the death penalty can be used as a tool of oppression.
Quite simply the ‘death penalty’ is a barbaric, outdated punishment and deterrent that gives the state too much control over life with a lack of regulation and respect for human life. Time served with no chance of parole as a punishment, although potentially difficult for the victim’s family to accept, will ensure that falsely convicted people do not die as a result of inaccuracies, misleading evidence and bias in the judicial systems, especially in terms of crime matching sentence. I feel that pro death supporters are looking for revenge for the victim’s rights, which can be understood if not condoned, but in doing so it would infringe upon the offenders basic rights to life. I am not saying they need to be ‘mollycoddled’ but as a morale argument it cannot be justified to kill another for closure. It is also too difficult to define what crimes warrant a death sentence, which is why if all crimes carry prison terms it will echo international unity, especially on controversial executions like homosexuality and adultery and end a catalogue of systemic flaws. In short I believe the application of the death penalty is too imperfect to work in modern society and should be abolished or, as this is very unlikely to happen, it should be heavily regulated by an International body.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Western Sahara: Africa's last colony?

For over 30 years the lands of the Western Sahara and its people, the Sahrawi, have been in a deadlock of conflict, violence and non-identity. The main actors within this conflict have failed to find a resolution to the problem and still abide by a flawed compromise nearly 20 years old. This has resulted in disaster for all of the countries involved in this land dispute: Algeria still has over 100,000 Sahrawi refugees living on their border, Mauritania suffer from intense trafficking problems and economic problems, Morocco still has the heavy economic burden of supplying 120,000 troops to patrol the Moroccan Wall and the Sahrawi are still displaced and have no land to call their own. The UN has failed to find a compromise to this ongoing land dispute and is still financially burdened by the problem. Clearly existing efforts to define, determine and distribute the lands of the Western Sahara have been unsuccessful, insufficient and ineffective; will there ever be a solution and who is responsible for finding it?

Independence and Conflict

Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony was granted independence in 1975 with disastrous results.
As soon as the Spanish left, the land was plunged into conflict as Moroccan and Mauritanian armies invaded Western Sahara to claim the land as their own. Mauritania, however, withdrew its forces within 3 years and subsequently declared their recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
Morocco, on the other hand, pursued and battled the guerrilla resistance of the Sahrawi people; ultimately winning with the construction of the Moroccan wall (or ‘Wall of Shame’ to the native Sahrawi people) which stretched all the way across Western Sahara. This wall effectively took all of the useful Western Saharan land and left the Sahrawi people with a ‘free zone’: simply a mass of uninhabitable desert. Morocco also surrounded the wall with millions of land mines, making the wall the most heavily land mined region on earth and rendering it not only inhabitable but highly dangerous.

The Sahrawi Perspective
The Sahwari now reside mostly in the town of Tindouf in Algeria and there are over 100,000 refugees living in camps there, as well as it being the main Polisario army base. The Polisario Front is a Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement working for the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco. They claim Western Sahara is their native home and that they should have the right to self determination under the UN Resolution 1514 (XV) which states the’ right of colonised peoples to independence’. In 1975, the UN enforced this resolution but this was ignored and deemed to be invalid by Morocco. A solution was then proposed in which a referendum would be put to the Sahrawi people with the cooperation of Morocco where they would choose whether or not they wanted to be Moroccan or an independent nation. Morocco, however, negated their support for this; ending all long term prospects for a solution. Forty years on the Sahrawi people are still waiting for the right to self determination, with no sight of their circumstances changing.

The Moroccan Perspective
Morocco claims the western conception of law regarding the region ignores the affected terrirories’ historical and judical tradition: its view is that because Morocco has existed for centuries, the source of its sovereignty as well as the path of its borders do not follow from a Western conception of a nation-state. Instead, the historical tie with the Cherifian sultan who is also, according to the doctrine of the Moroccan monarchy, “the Commander of the faithful” constitutes the foundation of its sovereignty.They rejected the referendum proposed by the UN in 1975 for this reason and also as it meant there is a high possibility they will lose their land in Western
This ongoing battle to keep the Western Sahara, however, is not easy or sustainable for Morocco. The cost of building the wall and supplying the wall with its 120,000 troops (a figure higher than the Sahrawi population) has taken its toll on the country economically, with key areas such as health, education and domestic security suffering.
Furthermore, Morocco’s actions have also had significant political costs such as their forced exit of the African Union and relations with other African states as Morocco is seen within Africa as an occupying power, in particular with neighbouring Algeria and other Maghreb countries as their economic agreements are now suspended due to this conflict with an estimated $3Billion loss over the 5 countries per year.

The International Perspective
The UN’s involvement with the Western Sahara conflict began with the establishment of the ‘United Nations Mission for the Referendum of Western Sahara’ (MINURSO) which was put into place to create a referendum for the Sahrawi people, this, however, was unsuccessful. Therefore, the UN’s primary involvement with the conflict now is that of providing aid and managing the refugee situation, rather than attempts to find a political solution. The UN spends an average of $45Million a year on these efforts, not including the cost of the Security Council activity, the different special envoys of the UN Secretary- General, and international aid for the Tindouf camp refugees.

The Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS) are an advisory body to the Moroccan Governement and have been in place since 1970. Recent developements have been very promising with Morrocco proposing autonomy for the southern provinces in western Sahara this is supported by the Polisario and could be the break through they have been looking for. This however does have complications as Algeria do not support this and have now closed Moroccan/Algerian borders this poses problems for the people in the Tindouf camps as they cannot pass through the Moroccan border, this emphasises increasing fears from the international community on human rights abuses within the camps.

This conflict is now over 30 years old and with no current or foreseeable solution; international bodies such as the UN should be finding new ways of addressing the stalemate between the two countries as this conflict puts strain on all who live in and around it. What should the UN be doing? Should other bodies and nations get more involved? And is there a realistic solution to the end of this bitter conflict?

By Chloe Smith

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Armenian Genocide Recognition

On the 4th of March 2010, a US Congressional Committee was given the task of deciding whether or not to recognise the Armenian Genocide. They voted 23 to 22 in conviction that the killings were in fact an act of genocide despite discouragement from the Obama government. The question arising here is why nearly 100 years after the events; governments are only just recognising what happened in Armenia as genocide. So why are they reluctant to speak up and label the massacres as genocide?

Article Two of the UN Convention on Genocide of December 1948 describes genocide as carrying out acts intended "to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group".

During the years of 1915-1917 it is estimated that around 600,000 Armenians were massacred through acts such as death marches, mass burnings, deportations, drowning and poisoning. This does not include the 25 concentration camps set up to exterminate the Christian population of the Ottoman Empire. It is also forgotten that the Armenians were not the only victims within this genocide; it is the conviction of the International Association of Genocide Scholars that the Ottoman campaign against Christian minorities of the Empire between 1914 and 1923 constituted genocide against Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontian and Anatolian Greeks. The Turkish government still refuses to acknowledge the killings as genocide on the basis that ‘there was no systematic attempt to destroy the Christian Armenian people’. So what does constitute an attempt to destroy a people?

20 Countries have recognised the killings as genocide including Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy and Russia, yet controversially the European Union has said Turkish acceptance of the Armenian genocide is not a condition for Turkey's entry into the bloc. America has also not wanted to recognise the killings as genocide, despite one of Obama’s election campaign promises being to identify the killings.

So why are countries reluctant to acknowledge the genocide? Many countries are reluctant to recognise the events as genocide for diplomatic reasons as Turkey takes offence to any country that recognises the events officially as genocide. In 2006, France held a parliamentary vote which would make it a crime to deny that the Armenians suffered genocide. The bill never became law, but Turkey consequently cut off all military ties with France.

The decision that has now been taken by the US Congressional Committee on the 4th of March 2010 has led to Turkey now withdrawing their ambassador from Washington, despite the fact that the Obama government recognised that the decision of the Congressional Committee to acknowledge the events as genocide could not only jeopardise USA and Turkish relations but also the fragile peace between Armenia and Turkey.

The fragile relationship between Turkey and Armenia is also a significant factor within this debate. After years of hostility and war, the two countries signed a pact (which is not binding and has not been ratified) in 2006 to open diplomatic ties and their shared border and some countries fear recognising the genocide could increase hostility between the two countries.

What does the British government say? Britain’s stance is currently that ‘the events of 1915 should be left to historians.’ The regional assemblies of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all now recognise the genocide which begs the question why not the national parliament? The same argument lies within the USA; as 42 out of 50 states have officially recognised the genocide, why is it so difficult for the federal government?

It would be unthinkable for any country not to recognise the Holocaust, Rwandan Genocide or the Srebrenica Massacres, so who decides what constitutes a genocide? Should it be about governments and diplomacy, or about people and victims? And why in this modern age are politicians still disinclined to use the ‘G’ word when addressing conflicts such as Darfur?

By Chloe Smith