People trying to steer it away from the Sharks

Foreign interests in Pakistan’s elections 

By S. M. Hali

The strategic location of Pakistan, its vicinity to the Strait of Hormuz, its close proximity to China, India, Iran and Afghanistan, make it viable for foreign intervention. With the war in Afghanistan, drawing to a close and the scramble for vested interests to secure the energy corridor from the Central Asian States to the Arabian Sea, make Pakistan a juicy target for control. Foreign occupation has given way to foreign intervention installing a pliable government in Islamabad so that vested interests can continue to call the shots.

Pakistan’s eastern neighbour India has a vested interest as to who will hold the reins of the next government. Iran would be interested too but would not meddle in Pakistan’s domestic politics since it can backfire on Tehran. China has tremendous interests in Pakistan but it does not need to worry as any future political dispensation in Islamabad too would continue to harbour excellent relations with the People’s Republic of China and secure PRC’s interests. That leaves the US of A and the UK.

As the election date in the country approaches closer, a tremendous increase in diplomatic maneuvering, social activity and interaction is becoming pronounced. Foreign diplomats especially those hailing from UK and US are leaving no stone unturned to collect significant information pertaining to seat adjustments, political alliances and announcement or making of the care taker cabinet in the future set up designed to conduct the general elections in the country. Their social contacts and socio-political interactive sessions are mainly focused on key political figures and insiders of different political parties. Such meetings of political leaders with foreign diplomats obviously carry serious implications for the state of Pakistan with long-term repercussions for the people of Pakistan. Unfortunately own domestic media remains dormant on this significant development ignoring national interests. This also exhibits their general trend to remain indifferent to palpable national cause and indirectly facilitate foreign influence in own political system.

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There is a dire need for domestic media to get involved in the execution of transparent, free and fair elections in Pakistan. Whereas it is the primary duty of the Election Commission of Pakistan to ensure that the general elections in Pakistan are free and fair, but media is the watchdog of the society. It is very much involved in the electoral process but it is fulfilling only its secondary and tertiary responsibilities. It is generating debate among the various participants; thrashing out various issues and presenting the contestants in the elections’ views and stance on the issues so that the voters can decide to whom they should present their vote. However, there is a need to generate media response on the interactive meetings of foreign dignitaries (diplomats) with the key political figures at a time when the elections are around the corner. Our media houses, both print and electronic must focus on forestalling foreign influence on own political system. Some cases in the point are: US officials of political section, US consulate Lahore including Mr. Michael Gray Political Consular, Zahir Shah Durrani Political Advisor and Consulate General (CG) herself have increased interaction with political figures of different political parties. Mostly meetings are held at Consul General’s residence, politician’s residences and even at different restaurants of the city.

Frequent meetings between Ms Nina Maria (CG) and different politicians have taken place while Michael Gray, Political Consular Us Consulate and Mr. Rick Political Consular US Embassy, Islamabad have been discussing political situation in the country with different political figures.

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On 23rd February 2013, a delegation from British High Commission Islamabad, visited Lahore and held meetings with Syed Ihsan Ullah Waqas, Liaqat Baloch and Farid Paracha, (JI), Mian Manzoor Ahmed Watto (PPP), Ms Asma Jahangir (Former President SCBA/President HRCP), Mian Imran Maqsood (PML-Q), Najam Sethi (Journalist and now caretaker Chief Minister of the most populous province Punjab), Ishaq Dar (PML-N) and Senator Jahangir Badar (PPP).

A high profile delegation headed by US Ambassador Richard Olson and Robert Menandez Chairman Senate Committee for Foreign Affairs visited Lahore twice and met politicians including Mian Nawaz Sharif.

Some politicians from all major political parties act as informers for US and UK diplomats. These include Rana Mashood Ahmed (PML-N), Fawad Ch (PPP) and Umar Sarfraz Cheema (PTI).

Office of CM Punjab offers exceptional protocol to US Consulate Lahore. Foreign Services Nationals (FSN) of US Consulate are used to interact with politicians and bureaucracy.

In order to hide the information on interactive meetings of foreign diplomats, political parties use office of Secretary Information to suppress the news on electronic media. Similarly US Consulate also uses its office of Press Attaché’ and FSN to stop the press in highlighting the subject meetings.

A different type of foreign intervention has been observed. On 24th March 2013 a few selected Pakistanis were conferred with “Foreign Friends of Bangladesh Award” by Bangladeshi Prime Minister (PM) Sheikh Hasina Wajid. The recipients of awards from Pakistan were mainly those whose fathers had opposed Army Action in the erstwhile East Pakistan and supported the Indian supported secessionist movement spearheaded by Mukti Bahini. The award of late Faiz Ahmed Faiz was received by Ms Saleema Hashmi who obliged her host by resorting to anti Pakistan rhetoric, which was music to the India leaning Bangladeshi Government. She said,” The Pakistan Government should formally apologize from the people of Bangladesh for the atrocities committed by Pakistan occupation army during the War of Independence in 1971”. Virtually within days of her anti Pakistan statement in Bangladesh, she was selected as a Minister in the interim Punjab Government by Najam Sethi, who himself had remained embroiled in anti state activities during the Baloch insurgency of the seventies.

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The elevation of these individuals to prominence in the care taker set up despite their well known anti state bent is puzzle that is hard unravel. It has only encouraged the people who leave no stone unturned to defame Pakistan to further their agenda even on foreign platforms and or at the cost of belittling the nation.

The people of Pakistan have learned a lot from their past experience. The voters hopefully will cast their votes with intelligence and sincerity and elect the right people for the right job. The political candidates too must have learnt their lesson by now and realized that holding public office is a trust and once elected, they cannot abuse that trust. To uphold their electability, they must serve the constituencies they represent and work hard to uplift their state.