Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Don’t Let Pakistan's Military Hijack Democracy

It may be messy, but Pakistan’s democracy is worth saving.

As Washington mulls the Islamic State’s advances and Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, Pakistan’s democratically elected government is facing massive protests backed by some in the military and intelligence community. Led by Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri, thousands of protesters are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a year after his victory in an imperfect but nationally and internationally accepted election. With covert military support, Khan is also demanding new elections and Qadri a utopian political system overhaul.

Pakistani democracy is messy but military dictatorship – direct or indirect – is not the answer. So the protesters should stop currying favor with the army, and Prime Minister Sharif should work with the protestors to find a constitutional solution that covers electoral and governance reforms.

Washington should support democracy so nuclear-armed Pakistan, next door to Afghanistan, can focus on combating Al Qaeda and its partners. In the last 12 years the likes of Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, sectarian terrorists and violent separatists have killed nearly 20,000 Pakistani civilians and 6,000 security personnel. Civilian leadership over the Pakistani military will decrease provocative policies towards India like supporting insurgents today only to fight them tomorrow. Moreover, a stable South Asia needs more democracy, not less. Democracies are less likely to go to war with other democracies.

The current showdown between the protestors and the government is due to last year’s national elections, the prime minister’s attempt to reign in the generals by supporting peace with India, and the trial of former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf. Indeed, Javed Hashmi, Khan’s number two, who was recently fired, said that Khan and Qadri plotted with the Army and its intelligence agency, ISI, to oust Prime Minister Sharif. Demanding Sharif’s resignation is the military’s attempt to regain lost power.

Last May, defying Pakistani Taliban threats, millions of Pakistanis voted for their country’s first democratic transition. With an historic turnout of 55 percent, nearly 15 million voted for the current Sharif administration and 8 million for Khan. Qadri did not even participate.

The European Union’s Election Observation Mission report called the 2013 elections the “first national elections held under legal obligations of the treaty [UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights]“. The report noted “no grave violations of the Election Commission of Pakistan’s Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Candidates,” and stated “most of the polling booths observed were rated as satisfactory or good.”

Observers from the National Democratic Institute and Asian Network for Free Elections noted that the “administration of elections was much better than in the past and that both officials and the public were better informed.” Based on directly observing over 38,000 polling stations, Pakistan’s Free and Fair Election Network reported that 1 percent of polling stations were physically captured and 3 percent had incidents of ballot stuffing.

That said, these election observers also highlighted serious problems, including religious, sectarian and gender discrimination of candidates, and the lack of oversight of temporarily appointed vote counters by the Supreme Court. The election commission did not have the authority or resources to actively oversee vote counters or provide swift remedies.

Even after the elections were largely accepted, the Sharif administration showed poor judgment and impeded Khan’s demands for investigating voter fraud, which galvanized support against the government. Soon after, Sharif’s brother ordered the police to harass Qadri’s supporters in Punjab, and the ensuing clash left 11 dead and over 100 injured. The relatives of dead were not permitted to file a police complaint for over two months.

Certainly, the protestors have a legitimate gripe: electoral reform. Most Pakistani political parties agree on decreasing future voter fraud, but they don’t support Khan and Qadri’s solution: force the prime minister to resign, replace the Sharif administration with military-approved caretakers, and then hold new elections.

The constitutional solution lies in the halls of the parliament, not military headquarters. Sharif’s offer to facilitate an independent judicial inquiry and strengthen the parliamentary committee tasked to investigate electoral fraud are steps in the right direction. The prime minister must also support constitutional amendments to devolve power by creating new provinces, so the largest province and Sharif’s stronghold, Punjab, does not always get the lion’s share of revenues and parliamentary seats. This will go a long way in placating the legitimate discrimination against smaller provinces such as Balochistan, which is inflamed by violent separatists.

Sharif must also decrease cronyism, starting by inviting Khan and Qadri to join his cabinet, which today is dominated by Sharif’s relatives and business partners. Finally budget, foreign policy, and defense-related parliamentary committees should be strengthened to improve the civil-military balance and encourage bipartisan legislation.

Washington can help by using its leverage. Most of Pakistan’s military is armed with American weapon systems and platforms such as the F/16 fighter jets, cobra gunships, and naval surveillance platforms. Of the $28 billion in aid America gave to Pakistan over the last 12 years, $11 billion was in direct support of combating terrorists and insurgents. While the Pakistani military did go after armed groups directly threatening its existence, it has yet to eradicate groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani Network, which have wreaked havoc in Afghanistan and India.

For years the United States gave billions to Pakistani generals to gain security for Washington and stability in Islamabad; today there is little of both. Besides putting pressure on Pakistani generals to go after the entire Al Qaeda conglomerate, Washington should continue to make its aid conditional on the existence and stability of Pakistani democracy.

Pakistan has a plethora of problems: economic decline, ubiquitous terrorism, government inefficacy and corruption and the ultimate failure of creating an inclusive nation state. But Pakistan today has a few silver linings. In the last three weeks, leaders of 11 political parties spoke in favor of constitutional democracy, urging the prime minister not to resign under pressure from protestors. The current chief of the army, General Raheel Sharif, seems to have backed off from overtly supporting the protesters, and many in the media are openly criticizing the retired generals and spy chiefs involved in supporting Khan and Qadri.

At the same time, many parliamentarians are chiding the Sharif administration for slow economic growth and cronyism. This is the beginning of constitutional democracy – when political winners and losers resolve differences in the parliament without colluding with generals or inciting violence. To encourage this trend, Washington should reinforce conditions for foreign aid to Pakistan, including those related to strengthening democracy and combating terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani Network.

Democracy is messy; just look at the aftermath of the Arab spring and the current crisis in Iraq. Still, if democracy is consolidated with inclusive politics, it outlives and outperforms any dictatorship.

Haider Ali Hussein Mullick is a lecturer at the Naval Post Graduate School and Adjunct Professor at the Naval War College.


The Killing of the Sikhs

Rising attacks and religious desecrations are forcing Pakistan’s Sikhs from their homes.

On September 6, Harjeet Singh was sitting in his herbal medicine store in the Nothia Bazaar area of Peshawar when two armed men entered the shop and opened fire. Harjeet, 30 and a member of Pakistan’s Sikh minority, succumbed to his injuries while his attackers escaped.

Peshawar is the capital of Pakistan’s north-west province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), which has become the epicenter of militancy and violence in Pakistan over the last decade. Just two days before this attack, another Sikh was stabbed to death in Mardan, another city in KPK. Amarjeet Singh was at his cosmetics shop, when the shutters were pulled down. He was found later that evening by his son- stabbed to death in the warehouse adjacent to the shop.

In early August, two unidentified men fired on three members of the Sikh community in Peshawar. One teenager, Jagmot Singh, was killed and two others were injured.

“Sikhs are under attack because they can be distinguished from other people because of their turban,” says Haroon Sarab Diyal, chairman of the All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement,. “We are in no position to name the culprits but we know these are attempts to further destabilize Pakistan and frighten the community.”

In a report issued by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) in 2014, Pakistan was declared one of the most dangerous countries in the world for religious minorities. The report mentioned militant groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SPP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TPP) and Jaishul Islam, which attack, threaten and abduct minorities. According to a U.S. State Department Report on religion in 2008, there are some 30,000 Sikhs residing across Pakistan, many in the north-western provinces of KPK and Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

“Sikhs are not sending their children to schools or to their businesses now,” says Haroon Sarab Diyal. “The evening and night prayers are not held any more. We all know it is because of the attacks. If they give a statement or witness testimony, they will be in trouble.”

Following Pakistan’s general election in 2013, there was a new government in KPK. The new ruling party, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI), is led by the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who came to office opposing an operation against militants, proposing dialogue instead, and claiming that Pakistan’s army cannot win this “American war.” Khan even suggested that the Taliban should be allowed to open an office in KPK. Critics of his party believe that this has given the militants a free hand in the province and made minorities more vulnerable.

“This is the seventh attack in seven months,” says Amarjeet Malhotra of the Awami National Party, the main opposition to PTI. “PTI’s government has no writ in KPK. Now TTP and Taliban are free to do anything. There is no one to stop them. Six Sikhs have been killed.”

Outlawed TTP militants from neighboring areas have infiltrated the Tirah valley (also in the north-west of Pakistan). Some of the roughly 40,000 people who were internally displaced from the valley were Sikhs. In 2013, the Pakistan military launched operation in an attempt to establish control there for the first time. The army now claims that the area is free of militants.

Many of the Sikhs displaced from the Tirah Valley have adopted Pashtun traditions and culture. Most of them dealt with herbal medicine, spices, groceries, or were farmers. Since their displacement they are in a hurry to return home and restart their businesses. But these internally displaced Sikhs have not been able to return to the lush green Tirah valley, which is still not secure.

“After the Sikhs were killed in Peshawar this August, Al Qaeda took responsibility,” said Amarjeet Malhotra, a senator from KPK. “The government did nothing. These parliamentarians are a weight on our country. They do nothing.”

Sikhs are also exposed to kidnapping threats from militant groups. The kidnappers demand unaffordable sums and then kill the victim if not paid. In February this year, two Sikh businessmen were kidnapped in Dera Ismail Khan. They were released after allegedly paying a hefty ransom of Rs. 4 million ($38,953), although one of the victims denied paying.

In January 2013, a 40-year-old Sikh was kidnapped by the militant group Lashkar-e-Islam in Khyber Agency (tribal areas in the north-west of Pakistan). He was later beheaded and his mutilated body was dumped in a sack with a note accusing him of spying for a rival group.

Asked about the attacks on the Sikhs in KPK, Suran Singh, minister of Minorities for the province and a member of the ruling PTI, fumes. “Did you ask Sindh and Punjab (other provinces in Pakistan) what they have done for the minorities? Our province is on the frontlines of the war on terrorism. We have a border thousands of kilometers long near Peshawar through which militants can enter. We have limited the drone attacks in the first 14 months of our government and there have been no suicide bombings.”

Meanwhile, the Sikhs have also clashed with other minorities. In March last year, a rift emerged between the Hindu and Sikh communities in Shikarpur, Sindh. Sikh students were in uproar after the head of Shikarpur’s Jai Samadha Ashram was photographed holding the Sikhs’ holy book without his head covered, drawing symbols on it. Photos of the act, considered disrespectful to the book, circulated on social media. The outraged Sikh community eventually received an apology. In Pano Aqil, meanwhile, a group of Hindus tore Sikh scriptures placed in a Hindu temple in mid June. They were later arrested because under Pakistani law, destroying any religious scripture is considered blasphemy. A compromise was subsequently reached, after the head of the temple apologized. Pakistan Sikh Council Chairman Sardar Ramesh Singh confirmed that the desecrations have taken place in other parts of Sindh, like Shikarpur, Mirpur Mathelo and Dadu.

“Many Hindus in Sindh consider Guru Nanak as their guru and are now converting to Sikhism,” explains Pakistani Punjab’s first Sikh MP, Ramesh Singh Arora. “There is a lobby that wants to stop that and therefore dishonored the Guru Granth Sahib.”

This week, at least five Sikh families have decided to move to India because of the security situation. However, the Indian visa requirements have become tougher. Most pilgrims have to submit a written document saying they will not seek asylum in India and will return to Pakistan before their visas expire. The Pakistani Sikh community, which has lived in Pakistan since partition and has been affiliated with a violent separatist movement in the Indian Punjab in the 1980s, is not welcome in India.

Since last month, the PTI has been on a sit-in in Islamabad, protesting what it claims was vote rigging in last year’s general election. Many of PTI’s leaders, including Imran Khan, have been seen in Islamabad more often than in KPK. Opposition members, including Senator Amarjeet Malhotra, have been critical of the PTI’s absence and alleged neglect during this period. However, Suran Singh rebuffs the criticism.

“We fixed the police which had third-rate equipment, no protection jackets or CCTV cameras. The chief minister of KPK and I met the victim’s family, attended their funerals and gave them compensation. I went to the murder site, picked up the bodies myself, and went for their prayers. The minorities are not the only ones in danger, everyone is.”

Ammara Ahmad is a web editor at the Daily Nation, in Pakistan. She holds a Masters in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has appeared in Pakistani newspapers such as The Express Tribune, The Friday Times, The News on Sunday, Viewpoint Online, and The Nation, as well as in Malaysiakini and Indian newspapers such as Tehelka and DNA India. In the past, she has been a National Press Foundation Fellow and Fulbright scholar. 



A phone call to friends on the mainland indicates a lack of awareness of any Hong Kong protest and those who are aware appear not to give a damn anyway. 

Attitudes to the so-called “Umbrella Revolution” (umbrellas for deflecting police mace) are much the same on the Island as people go about their business as normal despite having to step over 50,000 youths.

Okay here’s the rub; Beijing wants to put up its own candidates for the 2017 Hong Kong elections, allowing HK residents only a choice from Beijing’s choice. 

Only 25 per cent of HK residents object, they are mainly youngsters and student activists who are not yet integral to the workings of the monetary monolith. The remaining 75 per cent see Beijing’s interference as inevitable and just want to get on with business.

Beijing is resolute and unwavering in its disputes with Taiwan, Tibet and over Japan’s Senkaku Islands, so there’s little chance it will succumb to a few Hong Kong student radicals staging a sit in.

Beijing has scant regard for human rights, it restricts the social media “menace”, manipulates media and deals with Islamic terrorism in a way the West wishes it could. Basically, Beijing does what it bloody well wants. 

In this scuffle it holds all the cards, both legally and pragmatically, for the simple reason that Hong Kong’s sole interest is in money, actually there’s not much else on the island to be interested in. 

China’s economic success is due to treading a fine line between capitalism and communism... it’s just that regular calls for that pesky principle of democracy get in the way sometimes.

And it is the only one of the big four that has wisely ignored the Middle East.

During talks with the Brits in 1982, Deng Xiaoping of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), told Margaret Thatcher, in reference to Hong Kong, that, "I could walk in and take the whole lot this afternoon". 

That was true then and it’s even truer since the 1997 handover. But that’s a solution of last resort for the mainland and it won’t be necessary.

Time is on Beijing’s side and the protesters resolve will soon wane as they tire of sitting their skinny bums on hard asphalt and wander back to uni.

Crowds of 50,000 for China don’t even register on a population scale of 1.4 billion.

Pickering Post

Philippines PM Aquino’s reformism hits a dead end

Aquino’s reforms were, at first, very successful. Economic growth accelerated to the highest among ASEAN nations. Corrupt politicians were held accountable — Arroyo was charged with plunder while Aquino’s congressional allies removed Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, a ‘midnight’ Arroyo appointee accused of obstructing Aquino’s anti-corruption drive. More people paid their taxes after a Bureau of Internal Revenue crackdown. And pro-administration candidates dominated mid-term congressional elections in 2013.

Credit rating agencies such as Fitch gave Aquino’s administration a vote of confidence as well, upping the country to investment grade. The Philippines steadily improved its ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, moving from 129th of 177 countries in 2011 to 105th in 2012 and to 94th last year. Aquino seemed to be moving fast along a ‘straight path’.

But over the past 12 months Aquino’s reform drive has run into a dead end.

In 2013, there were revelations that corrupt legislators employed fake non-governmental organisations (NGOs) set up by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and others to divert pork barrel funds into their own pockets. After initial hesitation, Aquino — seeking to limit the outcry from his middle class base — agreed to abolish the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) that had been used to pay the fake NGOs.

Aquino was not initially blamed for this pork barrel scam — the president-appointed ombudsman indicted three opposition senators. But Aquino was accused of shielding his allies in Congress by limiting the Commission on Audit investigations of the scandal to before he took office in 2010. Aquino’s opponents also claimed that money had flowed to legislators to vote for Corona’s impeachment, trial and conviction.

In the absence of a strong party system, patronage has long been the only way for a president to ‘get things done’ in the Philippines. Fidel V. Ramos, generally considered the most successful reformist president before Aquino, was particularly adept at pork barrel spending to push through reforms.

Aquino’s artful concealment of the necessity for presidential pork was ‘outed’ when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on 1 July this year that major components of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) — which Aquino defended as a necessary instrument to quickly disperse unspent funds from other programs to higher priority projects — were unconstitutional.

Aquino lashed out at the Supreme Court in his penultimate State of the Union address, leading to fears that he would try to impeach its members (including his newly appointed chief justice) or slash its budget. Aquino also hinted that he might push for constitutional change to allow him to run for a second term, raising old fears of Marcos-style continuismo (continuing indefinitely in office).

But his congressional allies abandoned him both on his challenge to the Supreme Court and his call for constitutional change. His poll ratings have dipped sharply and Aquino — accustomed to high levels of popularity — now faces political isolation as a lame duck president.

Philippine politics appears to have gone through yet another case of a popular leader brought low by cascading scandals and failed promises. Aquino himself admitted his pledge to clean up the Bureau of Customs had failed miserably and recently appointed a new Custom’s chief to try again.

But in Aquino’s case, the fall from grace is particularly striking given his narrative of ‘good governance’. Graft remains, and Aquino’s family continues to resist the court-ordered land redistribution of his family’s huge plantation Hacienda Luisita.

Growth in the Philippines remains profoundly unequal.

Under Aquino, the Philippines has experienced impressive macro-economic growth, fuelled by remittances from the 10 per cent of the country’s population working abroad — often in menial jobs — and business process-outsourcing, primarily call centres that are largely foreign owned and can easily be moved to another country. While the service sector has boomed, agriculture — the economy’s biggest sector — has performed dismally.

Last year, economist Cielito Habito calculated that the growth in the aggregate wealth of the country’s 40 richest families in 2011 was equivalent to over three quarters of the increase in the country’s GDP that year . Unemployment, already the highest in ASEAN, has risen during much of Aquino’s presidency, while poverty has hardly dipped. Self-reported poverty has actually risen. Aquino has poured money into a Brazilian-style conditional cash transfer scheme that has met with some success but critics say he should concentrate instead on universal social services and creating jobs. The administration’s list of major completed infrastructural projects is also lean.

Vice President Jejomar Binay (who defeated Aquino’s vice presidential bet in 2010; presidential and vice-presidential candidates are elected separately in the Philippines) is widely seen as a leading contender in the 2016 presidential election — although his bid has been tarnished by a plunder case (for a supposedly overpriced parking garage said to involve payoffs) recently filed against him, which his supporters claim was instigated by Aquino allies.

Binay became a national political figure through his promotion of social welfare when mayor of Makati, Metro Manila’s business district. This suggests that Aquino’s inability to stick to the ‘straight path’ may have shifted the focus of the next campaign to the plight of the country’s poor who lack access to decent jobs, adequate education, health care and other social services.

Mark R Thompson is Director at the Southeast Asia Research Centre (SEARC) and Professor of Politics at the Department of Asian and International Studies, City University of Hong Kong.


What happened to the Asian Century?

Whatever happened to the Asian Century? You'd think it was already over given the way it's vanished from our public discussion. It's two years since Julia Gillard launched the Asian Century White Paper with great fanfare. The Abbott Government has since toned down the Asian Century rhetoric but the opportunities and risks highlighted by the white paper are just as prescient. It forecast that "almost all our economy and society" will be affected by the momentous changes taking place to our north and warned "a whole-of-Australia effort" was needed to deal with a social and economic transformation as "profound as any that have defined Australia throughout our history."

When I returned home from a three-year stint as Fairfax's India correspondent, shortly before the white paper's release, I was struck by how ill-prepared Australia seemed to be for the economic and political emergence of Asia's giants.

There was a one dimensional storyline about Asia that focussed almost entirely on trade opportunities that would flow our way as the region's cashed-up middle-class grew over the next couple of decades. There was little discussion about how hard it will be to effectively sell our goods and services into those complex, fast-changing markets. While trade with Asian countries has ballooned, and we're taking more holidays in the region, this has not translated into widespread curiosity to learn about the cultures and societies of Asia. Even though our economic future depends on Asia, our knowledge of its many cultures is surprisingly limited.

Nor did there seem to be much discussion about how Asia's well-educated middle class workers will compete with Australian workers. Visit any one of India's many IT hubs and it's clear that many more jobs in big industries including finance, information technology, design, administration and professional, scientific and technical services could be outsourced in future.


I assumed the white paper's high profile release showed Australia was finally engaging with the implications of economic change in Asia in a more sophisticated way. While the report is far from perfect, its central message is important: Australia is well placed for the Asian Century so long as we make some difficult preparations. It calls for a better educated, Asia-savvy workforce and stresses the importance of nurturing innovation. Despite these timely suggestions it's been pretty much business as usual. The rapid disappearance of debate about our response to the Asian Century reeks of complacency.

If Australia is to flourish in the Asian Century we're going to have to be bold and inventive. But some of our top economists think Australia is showing signs of being too risk averse. In March the Reserve Bank's Deputy Governor, Philip Lowe, drew attention to what he sees as a "subtle, but important" change in the way we think about risk and innovation. "Our preferences appear to have shifted in such a way that we increasingly focus on risk mitigation and risk control," he said.

Examples of our collective risk aversion are everywhere – from the many financial products on the market, to the design of children's playgrounds and even the vast amount spent to reduce the probability of blackouts. Limiting risk isn't a bad thing of course – the capacity to do it is one of the benefits of living in a wealthy, high-productivity economy. But Lowe thinks we are playing it too safe. "People need to be able to take risk, they need to be able to be rewarded for risk and we need to innovate to find new ways of doing things better," he told a Parliamentary Committee last month. "I think it is about somehow enlivening the entrepreneurial, risk-taking and innovation culture so that we can be the type of country that has high value-added, high wages and high productivity. I think culture is important here."

The Nobel prize-winning economist, Edmund Phelps, has drawn attention to the need for a culture of "economic dynamism" in modern societies. He believes recent trends at work in western cultures have stifled the desire and incentives to be inventive. "Economies today lack the spirit of innovation," Phelps wrote in an article for project-syndicate.org last month.

The risk-aversion that has crept into Australia's culture threatens to sap the economic dynamism that will be vital to our prosperity in the decades ahead. One response to rising competition from developing countries like China and India is to boost the number of students pursuing degrees in science, engineering, information technology and mathematics. But Phelps warns that's not enough – modern economies also require workers deeply immersed in literature, philosophy and history. Studying the humanities "will do more than provide young people with a set of narrow skills; it will shape their perceptions, ambitions, and capabilities in new and invigorating ways."

While technical expertise will be important, Australia also needs those who can think imaginatively and come up with creative solutions to complex challenges. Most of all, we'll need a culture that encourages people to have a go.

We're not going to thrive in the Asian Century by being complacent and risk averse.
Matt Wade is a Fairfax economics writer.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/what-happened-to-the-asian-century-20140930-10nxt9.html#ixzz3EptYNAtI

Is Xi Losing Control of China's ‘Peripheries’?

Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan — they’re all connected and Xi’s losing control.

As tens of thousands of activists continue to defy the authorities in Hong Kong by occupying entire city blocs in the heart of the city, and with weekly reports of escalating violence in restive Xinjiang, the central government in Beijing seems to be losing its grip on what the Chinese regard as the “peripheries.” Recent comments by President Xi Jinping about yet another piece in China’s puzzle of instability—Taiwan—suggest that the leadership may be panicking.

Before we proceed, it’s important to point out that the two territories and Taiwan are different issues altogether: The first two are politically part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) while Taiwan is a self-ruled entity operating under its own set of rules and constitution, that of the Republic of China (ROC). Furthermore, Taiwan is democratic and was never part of the PRC, whereas Hong Kong was “returned” to the PRC in 1997 and can only aspire to a democratic system, a situation that is at the heart of the current impasse in the former British colony, while Xinjiang is ruled with a mix of intermarriage, displacement, and repressive policies under a veneer of economic development and “ethnic harmony.”

Still, fundamental differences notwithstanding, Beijing has proposed—imposed, rather—a one-size-fits-all solution for Hong Kong and Taiwan, known as the “one country, two systems,” or 1C2S, model. Despite the model showing cracks in the one territory where it has been applied, as evidence by Hong Kong’s angry response to China’s White Paper on 1C2S in June, Beijing is adamant that it is equally viable as an instrument by which to bring about the “re-unification of China,” or, to put in terms that better reflect reality, the annexation of Taiwan.

The 1C2S formula has been implicit for years as relations across the Taiwan Strait ebbed and flowed. Nevertheless, the Chinese leadership had until recently been cunning enough to know that stating this outright would be counterproductive, aware that 1C2S had very little appeal among Taiwan’s 23 million people, even those who tend to vote for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), a party that generally identifies more and favors closer relations with China. Consequently, while 1C2S remained a constant for China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in its engagement with its counterparts in Taiwan adopted a seemingly more conciliatory position and agreed to negotiate under the so-called “1992 consensus,” whereby both sides agreed there is “one China,” but differed on its interpretation. The creative formula was vague enough to allow for the substantial rapprochement that has occurred between Taipei and Beijing since the election of President Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT in 2008.

Beyond serving as a platform for dialogue, the 1992 consensus was good enough for the Chinese, as it succeeded in halting what it feared most—a gradual slide in Taiwan towards de jure independence. For all his faults, Chinese president Hu Jintao, Mr. Xi’s predecessor, showed patience on the question of Taiwan. As long as things moved in the “right” direction—and there is no doubt that the 20 or so agreements signed between the two sides since 2008, added to the explosion in cross-strait tourism and exchanges, was the “right” direction insofar as Beijing is concerned—Hu adopted a “go slow” approach to unification, which largely succeeded in drawing Taiwan ever closer into its orbit without unduly alarming the Taiwanese population.

It was only a matter of time before this well-calibrated balancing act by Beijing would come undone after Xi replaced Hu. There were plenty of warning signs, starting with China’s increasingly assertive behavior in the East and South China Seas and its more nationalistic, if not belligerent, tone on Sino-U.S. relations. Xi, who wasted little time ridding himself of his political opponents to arguably become the most powerful and ideological Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, is an impatient man. Consequently, whereas Hu was content with neutralizing Taiwan, Xi seems intent on dealing with the problem once and for all. And developments in Hong Kong, added to the Sunflower Movement’s occupation of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan earlier this year—whose impact was not, despite Mr. Ma’s claims, short lived—appear to be fueling that impatience by raising the specter of the permanent “separation” of Taiwan from the “mainland.”

To put it simply, Xi seems to have run out of patience not only with Taiwan, but with President Ma’s KMT as well. Despite the rapprochement that has occurred under Ma since 2008, Beijing hasn’t been able to initiate overtly political talks about Taiwan’s future, which was the plan all along. With fifteen months left to his second and last term in office, Ma has probably delivered as much as he can to Beijing. His party is divided, Ma’s image has been severely hurt by the Sunflower, and whoever aspires to filling his seat in 2016 will, given electoral pressures, be compelled to adopt a more centrist position, which by default means imposing more brakes on cross-strait dialogue (at least during campaigning).

A Chinese government that understands the tremendous pressures facing Ma and the KMT at the moment would take a step back and wait for future opportunities. Inexplicably, Xi has done the opposite.

During a meeting with a delegation led by Yok Mu-ming, chairman of Taiwan’s New Party (NP), and Hsu Li-nung, chairman of the Taiwan New Alliance Association, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sept. 26, Xi abandoned all subtlety and affirmed his view that “one country, two systems” was Beijing’s “guiding principle” in solving the “Taiwan issue.” Although Xi had already met with representatives from the KMT, this was the first time that a Chinese leader met with overtly pro-unification politicians in Taiwan. In all, about 20 pro-unification groups from Taiwan were present at the meeting with Xi.

In his remarks, Xi dispensed with the conveniences of the 1992 consensus and affirmed that Taiwan and China belong to “the same China” and added that 1C2S was the best way to “bridge the cross-strait political divide.” Expressing impatience with the “status quo,” Xi argued that secessionism was “intolerable” and that both sides must curb forces that stand in the way of the dream of unity.

Seemingly unwilling to admit that very few Taiwanese experience such dreams in day- or nighttime, Xi then stressed that China understands and would presumably respect the “social system” and “living style” of the Taiwanese people. Left unsaid was what China would do with Taiwan’s political system—its democracy.

Xi’s decision to meet with the pro-unification groups and to bluntly propose 1C2S as the only formula to deal with Taiwan is as difficult to understand as it is counterproductive. Within 24 hours of Xi’s remarks, President Ma, Premier Jiang Yi-huah and Mainland Affairs Council Minster Wang Yu-chi were all forced to state that “one country, two systems” was unacceptable to Taiwan and that Taipei continued to operate under its “three noes” policy of “no unification, no independence, and no use of force.” Ma, who had recently come under fire for comments about the two Germanys serving as a model for future relations between Taiwan and China, also re-emphasized that the ROC was a sovereign country built upon democratic ideals.

While threatening to damage trust between Taipei and Beijing, Xi’s remarks also further undermined the little credibility that Ma’s still enjoyed with the Taiwanese public and forced the Taiwanese president into a corner. It was now clear that the status quo and the 1992 consensus, which had buttressed Taipei’s entire China policy since 2008, were no longer good enough for Beijing. All of a sudden, Ma’s careful management of cross-strait ties was coming undone, the illusion exposed.

So why did Xi do what he did, knowing that this would put Ma, his safest counterpart in Taiwan, in a bind? One possible explanation is that Beijing understands that Ma has been neutralized by both the Sunflower Movement and the pressures arising from the 2016 elections. There are already signs that Beijing has been bypassing the KMT and dealing directly with influential leaders at the local level across Taiwan. Initial research by some Taiwanese academics, who recently discussed their work with this author, has yet to draw a full picture of the network upon which the PRC relies to funnel money and influence into Taiwan. Nevertheless, enough is known to positively state that the liberalization that has occurred under Mr. Ma has created manifold opportunities for Chinese officials, investors, and intelligence agents to inject money into Taiwan in return for political favors. Moreover, initial findings by a Taiwanese academic also point to possible role as go-between by a former presidential candidate, who has met with Xi and whose son, a candidate in the Taipei mayoral race in late November, runs a foundation in Hong Kong that, according to sources in the financial industry, is reportedly very close to Chinese “princelings.”

It could very well be that the CCP under Xi has run out of patience with the KMT and is aware that it won’t be able to get what it wants under a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration—a distinct possibility from 2016—and that it sees its greatest hopes through cooperation with parties such as Yok’s NP, or gangster Chang An-le’s Unification Party, Taiwan-based organizations that while unelectable (Yok’s party only obtained 10,678 votes, or 0.08 percent of the total, in the 2012 elections), are ideologically in-tune with Xi (Chang, an ex-convict and head of the Bamboo Union triad who has reinvented himself as a politician, has been a vocal proponent of 1C2S since his return to Taiwan in June 2013 after spending 16 years on the run in China). Given the irrelevance of such parties in Taiwanese politics and their ostensible ties with the Chinese intelligence apparatus, we can conclude that Xi, having lost faith in his ability to use Taiwan’s democratic system against itself, has decided to bypass Taiwan’s democratic institutions altogether by cooperating more closely with parties and associations that would have done rather well under Mao’s doctrine of “constant revolution.” (In case anyone has any doubts about his interest in reviving Maoism, Xi has repeatedly emphasized the need to revive Maoist thought, warning that failing to do so would result in the demise of the CCP and “chaos” across China.)

Another explanation for Xi’s otherwise counterintuitive move last week is that Beijing is seeking to force the KMT to deliver more political concessions by playing the more Beijing-friendly parties (Yok’s, Hsu’s, Chang’s) against Ma’s party, though Beijing’s ability to do so would be severely undermined by the lack of appeal that those parties have with Taiwanese voters.

Two other options present themselves. One is that Xi’s advisers are so bad as to believe that Taiwanese indeed share the “dream” of unification the Chinese leader was referring to last week. Given the deeply flawed nature of authoritarian regimes, this wouldn’t be the first time that the man at the top was denied intelligence that contradicts his views of the world. Another possibility is that the crises in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, added to pressures that are unknown to us given China’s opaque system and signs that Taiwan is “slipping away,” may have combined to create a sense of panic among the CCP leadership, forcing it to emit edicts that threaten to undo years of calibrated policy on the Taiwan “issue.

Whatever the explanation, Xi’s about-face presages greater tensions across the Taiwan Strait, and perhaps an intensification of Beijing’s assault on Taiwan’s democratic institutions.

The Diplomat

Indonesia, with the largest Muslim population in Asia, is one of the most vulnerable states in Southeast Asia to possible infiltration from members of the Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS).

Although the capacity of violent extremist groups remains low, this could change with the eventual return home of an unknown number of Indonesians now fighting in Syria and Iraq who will have the training, combat experience, and leadership potential now lacking in Indonesia’s extremist community, according to a new report issued last week by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis.

The report examines the ISIS support network in Indonesia, how it emerged, who joined it and how it has evolved. While the government’s response has been forceful, it still needs to translate decrees into action, the report continues. A small group of Indonesians inspired by an activist named Bahrum Syah with links to an extremist organization once known as Al Muhajiroun and Anjem Choudary, one of Al Muhariroun’s founders, have become the engine of the pro-ISIS network.

“The appearance of ISIS may be a rare example of international developments becoming a direct driver of jihadi recruitment in Indonesia,” the report notes “In the past, the drivers have been overwhelmingly local. When Indonesians went to Afghanistan to train in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, they were spurred by repression at home and the desire to develop the capacity to fight Suharto,” the strongman who fell from power in

The bombing campaign of Jemaah Islamiyah between 1999 and 2002 was sparked by communal conflict at home, in Ambon and Poso. Despite all the rhetoric about support for Palestine, very few Indonesians have ever gone to fight there. But, as with a long list of European countries the appeal of ISIS is different, “a combination of religious prophecies involving Sham (greater Syria); the string of victories in Iraq in June that gave a sense of backing a winner; the resonance of the concept of the caliphate; and sophisticated use by ISIS of social media.”

Somewhat fortunately, ISIS has also triggered a bigger backlash than ever seen before in the Indonesian Muslim community, “suggesting that support will stay limited to a fringe of the radical fringe. The individuals involved are nonetheless dangerous, and it is cause for concern that inmates of high security prisons continue to be among the most active propagators of ISIS views and teachings. Indonesian prison management has improved in recent years, but there is a long way to go.”

The appearance of the ISIS phenomenon means the incoming Jokowi government will have to decide whether to continue the counter-terrorism policies of the Yudhoyono government or ramp them up, including by pressing for strengthened legal tools.

“Either way, it is critical that leadership of the counter-terrorism effort be left in the hands of the police, who over the last decade have accumulated all the institutional knowledge of radical networks.

Whatever strength ISIS has in Indonesia today appears to be centered in the prisons where police intelligence units rolled up previous jihadi units involved in the bombings of the Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in Jakarta, among other terrorist activities. As the Arab Spring upheavals rocked the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, these jihadis regarded the fall of dictators as the first step toward the establishment of the caliphate.

One critical area is obviously prison management. Stopping the translation of ISIS pronouncements will not stop their dissemination but it could slow them down and in any case could be a test case of ability of the Indonesian prison system to manage prisoners, their visitors and their communications, the report continues. Prison officials need much more explicit training in what is and is not allowed and ensure that tight control is maintained over communication and reading materials.

The Jokowi government also needs to follow through on Yudhoyono’s instructions to strengthen the capacity of the immigration service to monitor the comings and goings of ISIS supporters. This means more coordination with Detachment 88 and BNPT in providing watch lists for officials at ferry terminals and airports as well as timely sharing of information with governments in the region, especially Malaysia. Any bureaucratic obstacles to that sharing should be reviewed. It also needs to consult with other governments before issuing visas for radical clerics such as Anjem Choudary and Omar Bakri.

Indonesia, the country risk organization says, “does need a number of stronger laws to enforce its commitment to banning ISIS. For example, at present it is not illegal for Indonesians to travel overseas to take part in military training, and it should be. At the same time, Indonesia needs to avoid the temptation to turn the current anti-terrorism law into something that more resembles an Internal Security Act like Singapore’s, with provisions for lengthy preventive detention without trial. In the absence of new laws, the government may have to fall back on prosecuting some ISIS organizers under Criminal Code provisions that punish criminal incitement.

President-elect Jokowi will likely defer to his security advisers on the issue of counter-terrorism but he needs to think very carefully about staffing key positions. If the head of BNPT changes, for example, it is important that it stay with the police, not the army, and that that the danger posed by ISIS is not seen as an opening to give a greater role to the Indonesian military. It is the counter-terrorism police who have the institutional knowledge, the intelligence networks and the track record to manage the problem, although the high rate of deaths of suspected terrorists in police operations over the last two years also needs to be brought down.

Finally, the incoming government also needs to rethink a strategy for counter-radicalization, including through the development of a social media strategy. This is where BNPT and the Yudhoyono government have been weakest. It should not have taken a video posted on YouTube on 23 July to convince the government that ISIS was a threat, when incendiary teachings had been taking place across Indonesia for the preceding year.

The Indonesian government has reacted more forcefully to the appearance of IS than to any other extremist movement in memory and so has the mainstream Muslim community. The difficulty will be to translate genuine concern into meaningful change in terms of new legislation, improved immigration controls and better management of prisons.

But, the report recommends, there needs to be improved monitoring of Indonesians already in Syria and their possible return. Four have died there. There needs to be stricter monitoring of foreigners in Indonesia, better supervision of prisons where terrorist prisoners are held, stepped-up security in areas known to be home to radical networks such as Poso, Ambon, East Java and Central Java, deployment of “soft power” in an effort to be led by the Minister of Religion and involving community leaders and clerics to try to guard against the influence of ISIS teachings and firm punishment against those involved in terrorist activities. Asia Sentinel


Monday, September 29, 2014

The two faces of Thai authoritarianism


A decade ago, Thaksin was practically unchallenged in Thailand. He had earlier squeaked through an assets concealment trial on a narrow and questionable vote after nearly winning a majority in the January 2001 election. A consummate politician and former police officer, Thaksin benefited from extensive networks in business and the bureaucracy, including the police and army.

In politics, his Thai Rak Thai party became a juggernaut. It devised a popular policy platform, featuring affordable universal healthcare, debt relief and microcredit schemes. It won over most of the rural electorate and even the majority of Bangkok. Absorbing smaller parties, Thai Rak Thai virtually monopolised party politics in view of a weak opposition.

Thaksin penetrated and controlled supposedly independent agencies aimed at promoting accountability, particularly the Constitutional Court, the Election Commission and the Anti-Corruption Commission. His confidants and loyalists steered these agencies. His cousin became the army’s Commander-in-Chief. His police cohorts were fast-tracked to senior positions, including his brother-in-law, who became national police chief. Similarly, Thaksin’s business allies and associated partners secured plum concessions and choice government procurement projects.

After his landslide victory in February 2005, Thaksin became the first prime minister to be re-elected and to preside over a government composed only of one party. But his virtual monopoly on Thai politics and accompanying hubris inevitably got the better of him. Making a lucrative business out of politics led to his demise in the September 2006 military coup. Thaksin’s rule was democratic on paper but authoritarian in practice.

Yet Thaksin’s legacy is already strong. His subsequent proxy governments in 2008 and 2011–2014, under his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, were politically paralysed by anti-Thaksin street protests. When Yingluck looked poised to complete her term, Thaksin’s Pheu Thai party came up with a blanket amnesty bill that upended her government, assisted by the independent agencies that had turned against Thaksin in the 2006 coup. The putsch on 22 May 2014 was merely the knock-out blow on an ineffectual administration that was not allowed to govern.

Now the pendulum has swung to the other, authoritarian end. General Prayuth now heads a regime with no democratic pretences, ruling with absolute power. His is a military government both on paper and in practice. The tone of the 22 May coup clearly signalled that the military would dominate politics, epitomised by the general himself becoming prime minister.

Prayuth’s allies under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have now taken key portfolios relating to the Thai economy and society, foreign affairs and internal security. The structure of power under the NCPO is clear.

Two months after seizing power, the NCPO rolled out an interim constitution and appointed a National Legislative Assembly (NLA). Today the NLA is filled not with business cronies and spouses of politicians but with military classmates and siblings, who in turn chose Prayuth as prime minister. The caretaker prime minister then selected his cabinet, more than one third of which is military. The National Reform Council (NRC) will soon be formed, leading to a constitution-drafting committee, which will be nominated by the NRC, NLA, cabinet and NCPO.

Like a politburo, the NCPO is thus the nexus of this interim governing structure, comprising the NLA, cabinet, and NRC. This monopoly of power is reminiscent of the Thaksin juggernaut a decade ago. It was a parliamentary dictatorship then as it is now. But the fundamental difference is that the current authoritarian period completely bypassed the electorate.

Prayuth enjoys the same immense personal popularity as Thaksin did. His no-nonsense state of the nation speeches have been to the point and delivered in appealing tones. The NCPO’s anti-corruption campaign is popular and would certainly score more points if it dared to aim at higher-up corruption schemes and concessions, not just low-hanging fruits like extortion rackets that run motorcycle taxis and the state lottery.

Prayuth and the NCPO also benefit from the fact that public expectations started from a low base. After six months of anti-government street protests and policy paralysis, the coup was a relief. Everyone had to make do with the coup because there was no initial alternative in the face of continuing martial law. But reality will start to bite as the military-dominated government starts its day-to-day work. The next 14 months of the NCPO’s timetable to return to democratic rule may be long and hard.

The military-backed government faces a tall order dealing with the grievances and expectations of a neglected electorate. Those who spoke out against the political monster that the Thaksin regime eventually became must now be wary of the potential for the military-backed government setting on a similar path. Unaccountable power with absolute authority and direct rule is inadvisable in Thailand. Past experiences in the 1960s, early 1970s and 1991–1992 have shown that such governments eventually end in tears.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak teaches International Political Economy and is Director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.


In stout defence of Hong Kong's civil society

It must have seemed like a miracle to watch Hong Kong emerge from its ignominous beginnings to become one of the great cities of the world. The speck of land taken at gunpoint by the British after the Opium Wars grew into the most vibrant sanctuary in all of Asia for merchants, writers and dissidents to create, make money and learn to tolerate each others' points of view. For Australians, what was once a shopping destination is now home to 70,000 expatriates and a crucial gateway to mainland China and the region.

The miracle ingredient which distinguished Hong Kong was not democracy, which Britain refused to deliver, but rule-of-law. The freedoms that came from clean, impartial and independently administered courts enabled Hong Kong's unique mingling of Chinese traditional folk society and Western civil society. It produced global banks, vibrant newspapers, thriving businesses and also formidable police and impartial courts that were envied by nations that had been far more generously endowed.

When the integrity of Hong Kong's legal institutions were threatened by corruption in the 1970s, the city simply invented a new one. "A new and potent force of public opinion emerged," says the Independent Commission Against Corruption on its website, explaining how it came about. "People pressed incessantly for the government to take decisive action to fight graft."

The legacy of ICAC is enough alone for the people of NSW to invest themselves in the future of Hong Kong's rule-of-law.


The irony, and tragedy, is that the legal freedoms that made Hong Kong great were also vulnerabilities that the Chinese Communist Party could patiently exploit. As Kang Zhengguo from Yale University told a conference in April, the party established "networks of subversive agents, planting the seeds for the future erosion of Hong Kong freedoms even while taking advantage of them".

Those seeds of subversion lay mostly dormant or at least unnoticed for nearly one-third of the 50-year period in which the party promised to leave Hong Kong's system basically unchanged after the 1997 handover. When those seeds sprouted this Hong Kong summer, however, the impact was more immediately chilling and destructive than almost anybody feared.

Last month Beijing announced that its long-awaited procedure for "democratically" electing the chief executive from 2017 would exclude candidates it did not like. The harsher-than-expected decision led directly to the "Occupy Central" civil disobedience campaign which attracted the world's attention on Sunday, after riot police failed to disperse protestors with tear gas. 

The greater tragedy, in the Herald's view, has been the systematic but largely silent erosion of the institutions of civil society that made it safe for the party to make that announcement. Police investigations have been compromised, triads have mobilised  and even the city's great multinational banks  – HSBC and Standard Chartered – have allegedly been co-opted to squeeze the financial lifelines of pro-democracy voices, as the Herald revealed in relation to the Apple Daily's Jimmy Lai on May 31. 

The pressure has been too much for some who had been holding out. Tony Tsoi Tung-ho, publisher of a thriving online news and commentary website called House News, abruptly closed his website on July 20 and replaced it with this online message: "A wave of white terror envelops this society, and I feel it. And, as a businessman who often travels up to the mainland, I have to admit every time I cross the border I would get jittery. Am I just being paranoid? That feeling is inexplicable to outsiders. But what unsettles me most is my family also feels this pressure, and they worry about me all the time ... That breaks my heart."

The pressure on those who continue to hold out, most notably Mr Lai, is growing by the day. On July 1, the anniversary of the handover, sophisticated actors hacked into his systems. Last month they leaked the contents of (legal) political donations to Beijing-friendly media. Most recently, and most worrying, ICAC – the organic achievement of Hong Kong's civil society – raided his home.

The Herald urges authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing to respond to the weekend's peaceful protests in a peaceful manner that is worthy of China's great power aspirations. And we firmly stand with the vast majority of Hong Kong's 7.5 million people who are fighting to defend the institutions that have made their great society work. On a wider view, with implications for people everywhere, they are fighting to extract a cost, however inadequate, when China's current rulers attempt to make the world safer for themselves by eroding the ideals and practice of the rule of law.

The ‘Halal’ Scamming of Australians ... meanwhile Maccas coughs up $330,000 PA for heart tick

A South Australian company is paying one of many competing Islamic Halal Certification “services” (AFIC) an undisclosed monthly fee for its seal of approval. But Scholle Industries Pty Ltd, based in Elizabeth, is a manufacturer of plastic packaging (plastic is derived from oil) and has apparently been able to assure Muslim fraudsters that all oil wells are facing Mecca.
Farcical Halal certification is being exposed as nothing more than an extortion racket adding to the cost of almost every type of purchase and governments are failing to act to protect Australians from this Islamic curse on our retail trade for fear of an Islamic electoral backlash.
Coercion, and threats by the Islamic “certifiers” to economically cripple Australian manufacturers and processors who refuse to pay up are being ignored by authorities.
Since the scam has been exposed, Aussie shoppers are refusing to buy product with the Halal certified label and the little Arab motifs are disappearing from shelf products everywhere like pork pies at a Passover, but the payments and the threats remain.
Halal certification headquarters are based in Saudi Arabia with Indonesia (MUI) administering the Asian arm and many various competing Australian “certifiers” operating both nationally and in most States. 
Total income from the world-wide scam is a reported $1.2 trillion, with Australia contributing a mere billion or so while our Defence Force wonders where the hell the House of Saud gets the money to pay the Islamic State.
It was reported here earlier this year that one major Aussie meat processor, who refused to be identified, claimed he had been told to pay $27,000 a month for halal certification or risk being banned from exporting. 
Mr Stephen Kelly, an executive of the Japanese-owned Nippon Meat Packers in Queensland, said last year that MUI had already banned his abattoirs from selling meat to Indonesia because he had procured his “certification” from one of MUI’s Australian opposition certifiers, AHFS.
Meanwhile the Heart Foundation’s “tick of approval” is proving another fraudulent impost on embattled Aussies with “ticks” being thrown to pizzas, deep-fried chips and pies, if the right amount of money is paid of course. 
MacDonald’s has forked out millions over the past eight years to have the Heart Foundation's “tick” of approval on their junk food.
The Heart Foundation is a (cough, cough) non-profit organisation but their “advisers”, “consultants” and executives drive very nice cars, live in very nice houses and take extended, very expensive and all exes paid overseas trips to study other "ticksters".
If this government was able to get rid of the carbon tax, Halal, Kosher and the “tick” taxes should be a piece of piss.
Pickering Post