Pakistan to tap Lankan experience for a vibrant democracy – Dr. Nafisa Shah

Dr. Nafisa Shah is the Vice Chairperson of the Executive Committee of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA). She is a Member of Pakistan National Assembly, Chair of the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD), General Secretary of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus and a member of parliamentary standing committees on Finance, Minorities, Economic Affairs and Statistics.

She frequently writes for publications such as The News and represents Pakistan at international conferences. Formerly, Dr. Shah was the Nazim (Mayor) of Khairpur district. Her reporting on environmental problems, development and gender issues won her acclaim at home and abroad. In 1993, Dr. Shah received All-Pakistan Newspaper Society’s Best Article of the Year award and was included on United Nations’ Global Roll of Honour. In recognition of her ground breaking research work, Dr. Shah was admitted as a Chevening Scholar to the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Oxford University. After completing her Masters in Social and Cultural Anthropology, Shah enrolled in a doctoral program in anthropology at Oxford University.

Upon returning to Pakistan in 2000 for her field research on Karo Kari (Honour killings) in upper Sindh, Dr. Shah was drawn into active politics. She contested Khairpur’s local body elections and won. From then on, she has worked as a committed public representative. After spending 10 years in conducting research, Dr. Shah completed her doctoral thesis on “Honour, Violence, Law and Power: A Case Study of Karo Kari in Upper Sindh”, at the University of Oxford in 2010.

The Pakistani Parliamentary delegation led by Dr. Shah who arrived to Sri Lanka to participate in the 58th CPA Conference paid a courtesy call on Speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament Chamal Rajapaksa while the CPA deliberations were put in place at the BMICH on Wednesday.

Dr. Shah in an interview with the Sunday Observer commended the speech made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the opening ceremony of the 58th session of the CPA conference and described it as a very bold and forthright speech made by a state leader. She said the President spoke of the Sri Lankan experience of waging a very difficult war against terrorists. The President outlined how democracy helped him to successfully fulfill that task of eradicating terrorism. Dr. Shah also said that she genuinely appreciated what the President said about the politics of human rights that some countries should not be allowed to use human rights as a “buzz word” to impose their agendas on other countries.

Dr. Shah said Sri Lanka’s reconciliation and the post conflict development are commendable. President Mahinda Rajapaksa is extremely charismatic and has done well for Sri Lanka. The development in the North and the East is transparent. She said the process of reconciliation in progress and she believes Sri Lankan nation pays best to carry forward that process. She also said President’s speech was very impressive and also extended an open invitation to the Commonwealth delegates to visit the North to witness the development drive launched by the Government.

She said Pakistan needs to learn how Sri Lanka manages its nation-building program while strengthening democracy. She also said that they are happy to tell that Pakistan has democratic sensation now. We tell the world that despite the challenges, democracy has been firmly restored in Pakistan now. What Pakistan needs more than anything else is to stabilize democracy on its soil. It would provide space to Pakistan and the means to confront this with the support of its true neighbours specially, Sri Lanka. Pakistan is contemplating as to how the Sri Lankan experience could be utilised to build a vibrant democracy and restore political stability in Pakistan.

Q: How do you view the deliberations of the CPA conference and its outcome?

A: I think it went very well and I have to congratulate President of the 58th CPA Conference Speaker of Sri Lankan Parliament Chamal Rajapaksa. I also want to congratulate the CPA staff primarily its Secretary General and the Chairperson of its Executive Committee for holding an excellent conference in Sri Lanka. The General Assembly sessions of the CPA went very well and one of the objectives was the setting up of the office of the Association and Primarily the Chairperson was to review the status of the CPA and that was done successfully. Very important decisions were also made at the General Assembly. We held a number of good workshops which showed the concerns to the communities in the Commonwealth. As a whole, I think the conference went very well and the topics were relevant to the present day needs. The excellent arrangement and the hospitality displayed by the Sri Lankan Government and the Sri Lankan people will be long remembered. We will remember the wonderful moments we had and even in the small way the services rendered by the staff and those in the protocol division and the security arrangements and also those who provided us various services. Therefore, all these turned out to be a very wonderful experience to us.

Q: Most of the countries opposed the resolution to appoint a Commissioner for Human Rights. Is there a key need to appoint such a Commissioner at this particular juncture?

A: I personally think that there were arguments both for and against the appointment of a Human Rights Commissioner. There were several views in between. From the Pakistan’s viewpoint and in my capacity as the present Vice Chairperson of the CPA, I think it is important that the Commonwealth values such as democracy, rule of law, separation of powers and fair elections should be upheld.

These are central to the Commonwealth. At the same time it is the Commonwealth way to work through consensus and to ensure that every part of Commonwealth and every country no matter how large or small should be comfortable and agree to the decisions reached.

At this stage, we need to promote democratic values within the Commonwealth where we work together in a spirit of partnership and mutual cooperation. If there is no consensus, individual concerns have to addressed. There could be different concerns, and opinions and perhaps different methods too.

Q: Cannot the Commonwealth be reoriented as a dynamic body to help direct member states beset with terrorism or foreign instigated anti-Government movements?

A: Of course, I think terrorism must be condemned. Pakistan is a victim of terrorism. We face terrorism from within the state and from anti-state factors. As a Pakistani, I would say we need a very strong voice from all global bodies against terrorism. Similarly I believe countries such as Sri Lanka which suffered under terrorism had it eradicated. The world community needs to understand that the ordinary people are very badly affected by terrorism. The affected communities need to start from the scratch. We all need to be concerned about the growing terrorism and address its root courses.

Q: The role of Parliament in conflict resolution specially in multicultural societies is paramount. How could the CPA extends its patronage to make it a more effective instrument?

A: Definitely, I think the CPA is probably the most diverse global association of Parliaments, as it tries to reach out to the provincial and the regional parliaments. It is an organisation that addresses the issue of diversity. Commonwealth can only be enriched by more diversity and recognition of diversity at every levels. It also reflects the aspirations of different segments of populations such as women, youth and elderly people. So we also need to specially look at different sections. I am happy to report that we have also agreed to ensure that there is an yearly Youth Parliament for which we train young people. We are also looking at seriously on how to promote the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP) Association though provision of bigger budget and better support to enable them to carry out the programs across the regions.

Q: Did the CPA in its deliberations lay key emphasis to get more women representation in Parliaments?

A: I think it is very important to have more representation of women. In Pakistan what we have a quota. There are positive discriminations and the states have to drive a mechanism by which affirmative action can be put in place. There are several countries across the world such as Europe an, African and Asian who have successfully implemented affirmative action. I recommend that initially as a temporary measure, affirmative action may be put in place to accommodate women in parliament. First and foremost, political parties have resolve whether they would give more seats and select more women candidates at General Elections.

Q: What is the outcome of the discussions you had with the Speaker of the Sri Lankan parliament Chamal Rajapaksa?

A: We consider Sri Lanka a close and true friend of Pakistan. We have close ties with each other and helped each other in our difficulties. We had a very cordial meeting with Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa and we discussed how Sri Lanka can assist Pakistan in strengthening democracy. The Sri Lankan experience on democracy is vital for Pakistan. Pakistan has now successfully completed its first term of democratic Government. We would like to see more political stability and democracy in Pakistan. Therefore, the CPA conference will be extremely important to the two Parliaments. We spoke how two Parliaments can engage with each other at multiple levels and strengthen the democracy in Pakistan and the democratic culture in the two countries.

Q: If Sri Lanka has a good record and responses, will it be an impetus for other nations to come and influence us?

A: I describe President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s speech at the opening ceremony of the CPA conference, as bold and forthright. He spoke of the Sri Lankan experience of waging a very difficult war against terrorists. The President also spoke how democracy in his country helped him to eradicate terrorism. At the same time, we appreciate what the President spoke about the politics of human rights. He said some countries should not be permitted to use human rights as a “buzz word” to impose certain agendas on other countries. I don’t think any country needs to be told about these values. We want to promote rights according to our constitutions. There are lots of global organizations, and global partnerships on strengthening the right agendas. There is a UN Human Rights Commission which is quite strong and all the countries in the world endorse it. There was an appreciation of Sri Lankan President who has done well for his country.

Q: What are the Sri Lankan experiences that you can absorb to strengthen democracy in Pakistan?

A: The common experience between Sri Lanka and Pakistan is the very painful conflict. Sri Lanka had experienced it for three decades. Sri Lanka resumed negotiations and attempted to get the support of international mediators. But eventually the nation came together and decided to ward off the peril. This is the best way for Pakistan as well. We are facing internal and regional war situations and I think we need to learn how Sri Lanka manages its nation building program and strengthening democracy. We are happy to tell you that we have democratic sensation now. We tell the world despite all the challenges, Pakistan has firmly restored democracy. What we need more than anything else is to carry forward democracy uninterruptedly and ensure the democratic stability. I am sure that will provide us space and the means to confront this with the support of our true friends and neighbours specially, Sri Lanka. Pakistan is concentrating on how the Sri Lankan experience could be obtained to build a vibrant democracy and restore political stability.

Q: How do you view the post conflict development and integrated reconciliation which is in progress in Sri Lanka at present.

A: President Mahinda Rajapaksa is extremely charismatic and has done well for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s post conflict development is commendable. The development in the North and the East is transparent. I refer to the President’s speech as very impressive and also make an open invitation to the delegates of the CPA conference to visit the North and witness its development. I know that the IDPs were a big challenge to the Sri Lankan administration. However, issues are solved successfully. I believe the Sri Lankan Government has a big majority.

What Sri Lanka’s efforts are transparent because there is an open invitation to the world to visit the North. President Rajapaksa spoke to the world community and invited them to witness the reconciliation being implemented in Sri Lanka.


A tribute to Benazir Bhutto


  For decades, Benazir Bhutto mesmerized the people of Pakistan. Her beauty, charisma, exuberance, and intellect gave her a string of qualities that rallied people around her. But more than all this, what gave her a mass appeal, were the circumstances under which she took on the mantle of Pakistan Peoples Party, her father’s Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s most important legacy. A young woman in her mid-twenties took on the challenge to lead Bhutto’s party after he had been hanged in a farcical trial by a military dictator. General Zia’s coup brought a repressive regime, when many People’s Party workers were incarcerated, hanged, lashed, and several thousands went underground for years. The young and fiery Benazir Bhutto, leaving her own suffering aside, became a source of strength for her party, which she would lead from the front henceforth.

The Bhutto persona has been the backdrop to all of my life. I experienced Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s rise and fall as a child, and then Benazir Bhutto’s powerful presence, through my father, who has been on the PPP landscape ever since its inception and has remained a central political figure in the party. My own relationship with Benazir Bhutto was formal, with few communications, but I always awaited her occasional assignments for the party that she would send out from time to time. Of course, Benazir also gave me the first major push into Pakistan’s murky politics by nominating me for the position of Nazim of my home district.

Benazir adeptly transformed tragedy, oppression and threat into opportunity. She withstood arrests and exiles with admirable courage. Her contributions towards strengthening and evolving Pakistan People’s Party are impressive. As a party head, she sang praise for those workers who suffered during the Zia regime, and those who gave their life. She managed to string together dissenting groups and individuals, and manage the conflicts within the party, and yet be cohesive force. There were important continuities of the organization from Bhutto’s time. The concept of the ‘PPP worker’ continued to be its defining feature. Under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the PPP worker, called jiyala, was defined as a vocal, highly emotional, full of fervour, aggressive, straight speaking party activist, who would tell it straight to the higher leaders of their weaknesses. The PPP worker did everything from raising slogans, to participating in meetings to mobilizing people on the ground, to resolving the day-to-day issues. And most importantly the worker was fearless, immune to government pressures, threats, arrests, and FIRs. This highly stylistic PPP worker has survived all trials and travails.
It would be more difficult to discuss Benazir’s contributions as a Prime Minister, primarily because even when she was at the helm of power, her rule was subject to back door intrigues by the dark forces, and was allowed little space to execute her policies with a free hand. Here too, she was sinned against, not for once being allowed to stay in power for the five years that people voted her for.

If I were to choose one enduring legacy in all of these aspects – it would be of her role in defining the shape and agenda of popular politics in Pakistan. From Movement for Restoration of Democracy to Alliance for Restoration of Democracy, Benazir Bhutto’s politics could simply be summed up as a struggle for restoration of a democratic order in a country that is increasingly perceived as a failed and fragmented state hostage to a cartel of greedy and roguish commando generals reeking of US dollars, arms, nuclear and drug trafficking, conspiracies of terror, sleazy deals– and bloodshed.

As she landed from her Dubai flight, we all noted that even physically she had become larger than life itself. She seemed to be caste from marble, and she seemed invincible, standing out as a surreal image, as someone descending from the skies. She was the quintessential heroine, a mythical character, and the stuff of a Greek legend.

In her election rallies, the tone and tenor of Benazir’s speeches riveted the crowds, and her voice echoed far and wide. She continued to voice the needs of the dispossessed and the poor. Her language was simple and crisp, but she spoke a fairy tale script, a classic battle of good against evil. “I have come to save Pakistan,” she repeated often. These made the entire nation believe that she would conquer and rescue their country from the forces of evil. Of course she knew very well that the road was rive with dangers, that there were conspiracies to end her life. But even at her most vulnerable, see seemed the most invincible. Her last images show her fighting posture, her confidence and her will.

Eventually her idealism and her belief that good will prevail over evil killed her. And of course, her love for her people killed her. She said in one of her interviews, that on Oct 18th, her procession was bombed because “They don’t want me to meet my people – but I will meet my people.”

On that fated evening, she came out of her Toyota sunroof, to meet the people she loved and who loved her. She raised her hand and said, ‘Jiye Bhutto’ “Bhutto lives,” as her final answer to her snipers, as they ended her life… And so, Benazir’s family narrative of dramatic and heartrending sacrifices endures in her own death.

In her twenties, Benazir buried her father at Garhi Khuda Bux, Bhutto ancestral graveyard. She then began to build the mausoleum, where she buried her younger brother Shahnawaz, and later Murtaza Bhutto both killed by the similar conspirators who took the life of the elder Bhutto. When she returned to her ancestral home two months back, her first visit was to Garhi Khuda Baksh, where she sat and recited verses from the Quran in front of her father’s tomb for a long time. She surveyed the work on the mausoleum, and paid homage to her elders. Who could tell then, that what she was examining in detail, would be the place where she would permanently rest in a few weeks time. Garhi Khuda Baksh would, from now on be not only the country’s most important political shrine, but one which treasures its history of political struggle and sacrifice.

We, the people, instinctively know the insidious and shadowy killers of Benazir Bhutto. We can sense them. We know it’s not Taliban or their mutants. They are far more sinister. We have seen them attack us before, by attacking those we have raised to pitch battles against them. But we don’t know yet how to name them.

But Benazir Bhutto’s shadowy killers must know that physical death does not stop history from taking its course. And Benazir has already set the terms of history in this region. In this Benazir was always a step ahead of her killer’s plans. Her prophetic words that echoed in all her later speeches were: “How many Bhuttos will you kill, a Bhutto will come out from every house” – and “Yesterday Bhutto lived; today also, Bhutto lives, already showed that Benazir had already moved beyond life, and become an icon.

In her death, she is even more powerful a symbol of strength and resistance than Benazir who lived among us. And the People’s Party is more entrenched than ever. As I overheard a PPP worker, “PPP is now more than a political party, it is a fiqh.”

If people loved Benazir Bhutto on the eve of her death, they worship her now. All over in the country, her photographs have been put up as garlanded shrines. If people cheered and followed her before her death, they have now become her devotees. The enemies of the populist politics have created a cult called Benazir, which will continue to fight the shadowy dark forces in this miserable land. Siyasi murshid siyasi pir, Benazir, Benazir.