Gaza, Pakistan and Erosion of Rule of Law

The message is loud and clear: we need a cool-down period for healing and for putting the country back on the path.

Posted on 03/16/24
By Imtiaz Gul | Via The Express Tribune
Pakistan has seen unprecedented crackdown on Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf, free speech and civil liberties since Imran Khan’s ouster through an engineered parliamentary coup, lead by its adventurous generals. (Photo via video stream)

The larger picture emerging post February 8 elections is both explanatory as well as worrying. Should one assume that with the completion of, albeit disputed, electoral process after the swearing in of Asif Ali Zardari as the 14th President of Pakistan, a big bargain is unfolding with a loud and clear message to the PTI: fight it out at the Election Tribunals but don’t expect quick decisions on the contested seats, meaning thereby forget about it for the term of the current parliaments, and be content with the seats that you have gotten in national and provincial parliaments. You may keep making noises but anything beyond that would entail adverse consequences. More coercion and pressure is likely to continue.

Why? President Zardari, Nawaz Sharif and other bigwigs have all been talking about the need for a ten-year period that the country needs for economic revival and consolidation.

The message is loud and clear: we need a cool-down period for healing and for putting the country back on the path. All major stakeholders — the president, the prime minister, their political allies and the army — appear to be in unison on this agenda and in no mood to budge, come what may! And shocking events before and after the general elections testify to that resolve — all at a big cost to democratic norms and the rule of law, prompting one to think of what the Indians have done in Kashmir and the Israelis in Southern Gaza.

It is tempting to imagine that one Gaza is happening on the Palestinian territory, with Gazans being bombed and butchered like never before. The other Gaza, as a PTI leader suggested, is happening in Pakistan. Why draw such a brutal comparison?

Brutal massacre in Gaza symbolises almost everything that contravenes every aspect of the international humanitarian law and the UN charter. Israelis don’t care even about the muffled disagreements and calls for ceasefire from within the US state apparatus. Israel has criminalised association with, support for or even life near Hamas (as has been the case in Gaza), and resolved to vanquish the Palestinian organisation.

Pakistanis are suffering another kind of Gaza: even a semblance of support for PTI or Imran Khan has literally been criminalised like the Israelis have criminalised life in Gaza and killed over 31,000 Palestinians for their — thus far unquantified, unsubstantiated — support to Hamas. I call it unquantified because it is women, children and elderly non-combatants who constitute the dominant bulk of casualties since October 7.

As we bemoan Israeli brutalities against unarmed Palestinians, we also see that any sign of support or sympathy for the PTI here in Pakistan is as much prone to adverse consequences as is the risk of Palestinians being suspected as Hamas supporters. In the case of Israel, powers that matter — the US, the UK and, France and Germany i.a. — have allowed Israel to continue the massacre in the name of security. These nations appear to be equally unfazed by the erosion in democratic practices here in Pakistan. They simply seem to have turned a deaf ear to the long trail of claims and allegations about the systematic election rigging — which is still resonating in and outside the assemblies. No official protest out of the capitals or parliaments of these countries on the Israeli carnage in southern Gaza, or the Indian oppression in Kashmir. Similarly, these western nations appear to have chosen to look over the complaints on the election process here out of geopolitical considerations.

Even if detractors dismiss the Gaza-Pakistan analogy as unfair and far-fetched, events on March 10 were hardly heartening, the conduct of the police in particular, as it forcefully battled with PTI protesters in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Karachi and Peshawar. The obvious objective was to harass, demotivate and send away protesters. Hundreds, if not thousands, are still incarcerated, many of them awaiting trials at the military courts.

This also amounts to disregarding the quest for a better democratic, rule-of-law based order in the country, probably drawing inspiration from Turkiye, Bangladesh and India. In all three cases, the rulers have emasculated rivals through legal and administrative measures, pushing them to the wall.

Other countries in democratic transition are drawing their own lessons from the hypocritical western exceptionalism on the rule of law and democracy. Over 31,000 deaths and none of the big nations dare stop Israel from the genocide. Farcical as it sounds, President Biden’s “port for aid to Gazan Palestinian” reflects the duplicity. On the one hand a literal blank cheque to the Israelis for mass murder, and on the other offering crumbs to the helpless victims of that aggression.

Western nations’ geopolitical acquiescence has indeed encouraged corrosion of democratic practices in many countries across the globe. It has also blown the lid off the façade of rule of law that the West so proudly touted. They screamed about the alleged concentration camps in Xinjiang but are criminally silent on the atrocities being committed by authoritarian regimes, including Israel.

This article was first published in The Express Tribune. Click here to go to the original.

Views expressed in articles published in PakistanWeek do not necessarily represent its opinion. 

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