- - Elections will be held, and the caretaker government will do all it can to ensure security and a peaceful environment
- - Govt providing a level-playing field to all registered parties
- - Youth are emotional, but certain boundaries of civility must not be crossed
- - There is a lack of debate and deliberation in parliament
- - Some groups have been using the victim card in Balochistan
- - Only the state should have a monopoly on violence, and all stakeholders must agree to this
- - No government-to-government contracts yet under SIFC; mechanism in place for deliberations
- - Action against smugglers to continue, pays dividends in revived local businesses
- - Only undocumented Afghans being sent back, not registered refugees
- - Pakistan is not a signatory to refugee sections of the 1951 convention but continues to host them
- - Govt monitoring mistreatment of Afghan returnees, and action will be taken against those who exploit the situation
- - The Constitution bounds government to implement decisions, and the same will be the case in the Faizabad case
- - Constitution was flouted with defiance shown towards the Constitution from both sides that led to court orders on elections not being implemented
If the Supreme Court issues an order directing the ban of a political group, the caretaker government led by Interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar has said they will honour any such orders and implement it, as he cleared the air about holding elections and providing a level-playing field to all political parties in electioneering among other thorny subjects.
PM Kakar said this in an exclusive interview with Naya Daur on Wednesday. The nearly hour-long interview covered several key issues, including elections, repatriation of undocumented and illegal aliens, and the issues in Balochistan, among others.
In the beginning, Caretaker Prime Minister Kakar was asked whether elections will take place as indicated by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), to which he responded in the affirmative. Kakar's appointment by 'mutual decision' by the elected prime minister and leader of the opposition in August was solely to manage affairs of the state and ensure a conducive environment is created to hold polls across the country per the time limit enshrined in the Constitution.
Kakar responded in the affirmative.
He went on to provide an academic argument over why an air of uncertainty continues to hang over the country while stressing the need to stick to the route of elections.
"Whenever we say we are a 'transitional democracy', people usually look at it from different angles. Whenever something has to be settled, it goes through different phases. Some of them are healthy phases, and there are unhealthy phases. This is a natural process. Other nations have passed through this process and have developed, but we are still going through that process," he explained.
"When you are going through a phase of abnormalcy, you experience various jolts, and there are various expectations that some people can meet, others can't. We are in that process," he said, adding, "This is why I repeatedly urge that if we allow this process to continue, it will improve, become more refined, will become better. If we halt it, we will be the worse for it."
On ensuring peaceful and fair elections are held with results acceptable to all parties, Kakar said that to the extent of being peaceful, his administration will try and "address the security challenges through administrative responses to translate into a peaceful environment."
On political parties accepting results, he said, "I believe this is beyond our control. If one political party or two or three decide that they will not accept the elections, then I believe that is obviously beyond our control or our mandate."
Asked about complaints from some parties that they are not being provided with a level-playing field or some are being pushed out of elections, Kakar said that he had no doubts that all political parties will participate in the elections, including the party about which people ask, but do not take the name of, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
"They, too, will definitely be a part of this process."
On the allocation of electoral symbols, Kakar clarified that it did not fall within the purview of the caretaker government.
"The election commission has a role to play in this. If there is any party that feels aggrieved, there is a remedy for this available," he said, referring to the electoral tribunals and the courts.
"I do not think the caretaker cabinet or the caretaker government has a direct role in this matter. It would be a little ridiculous on our part," he said before adding, "We will ensure that the ECP will play its due role."
Pressed further on providing a level-playing field to all parties, Kakar stated there were no obstacles.
"I feel the level-playing field is available to all parties, whether it is the JUI-F, the PPP, the PML-N, or the PTI," he said.
"Whoever wants to stage political rallies, electoral canvassing, finalising electoral candidates [they can do so]," he said and posed whether at any time or place any of these activities were impeded by any practical decisions taken by the federal caretaker cabinet or the caretaker government or the provision of the level playing field was denied?
"Every political party has a right to create a perception. They have to contest an election and need to go to the people. At times, they go via rhetoric through populism or some tangible slogans as well. Our political parties go to the public with a mixed narrative to secure votes," he said, adding that some parties like to use the victim card to gain the sympathies of the voter.
"They would go and say they are being discriminated against and being victimised," he said, adding that complaints of not being provided a level playing field is "quite normal and not very serious that requires a lot of attention."
Asked about whether parties will be allowed to hold political rallies, Kakar said the Constitution ensures the right to assembly and for parties staging a rally for electoral purposes.
"The right to assembly is there for any individual or group or a political party," he said.
Kakar added that if, for any reason, the right is denied, there are laws which require that an explanation is provided as to why such a right is being denied.
"You cannot simply deny the right based on Anwaar does not like the faces of people supporting the PML-N or the PTI or the PPP. Hence, they should be denied permission. This is not possible."
He continued that when people feel that a law has been improperly applied, there are forums to seek remedy for that as well.
"This is how systems work. If the system works, we will try, to the best of our abilities, to make it fair [for elections]."
The caretaker prime minister said that the current political situation in the country is not at a point which would require greater engagement or an intervention from the government.
Continuing on the topic of certain political parties feeling disadvantaged, Kakar said that he does have an immediate suggestion to change the political opinion or behaviour of the public.
"There is no such political question before us that requires us to call for a round table conference or invite the leaders of all parties for a conference where political opponents sit facing each other and ensure they hold talks, get political rivals to hold a dialogue with each other."
He reiterated that elections are about to happen. "Some parties think they have an advantage while some think they are at a disadvantage."
In his view, Kakar said that the current situation was similar to the one in 2018, 2013, 2008, and 2002.
"Unfortunately, this is a continuation of a perception [of one party having a clear advantage over others]."
Just because the PTI at this moment perceives itself to be at a disadvantage, Kakar said that it does not make the current environment very unique.
"Am I denying that these perceptions did not exist in the past? Absolutely not; do they not exist today? Yes, they do; should they be there? Absolutely not."
He noted that now, public opinion is easily expressed and can be quite unforgiving.
"On Twitter, they spare no one. But this does not solve the problem. It does create animosity amongst those responsible for making decisions. You must think about that," he stated suggestively.
"If creating animosity serves their purpose, then they can do that too," he said, noting that people had a right to express themselves.
"But if it is counterproductive for them, then my suggestion would be that they should avoid it."
Faizabad Dharna case and ban on political parties
On the ongoing Faizabad case, PM Kakar remarked that he will respond to it when the verdict comes.
"My personal inclination is to abide by the decision of the court," he said.
"We are constitutionally bound to the verdict; it is not a favour we are extending to the Supreme Court," he said, suggesting that any such action would not be voluntary.
Asked if the court does give such a verdict, would his government implement it or defy it like it was done in the case of the provincial elections? Kakar explained there was more at play there.
"Unfortunately, from both sides, it was flouted, and defiance was shown towards the Constitution, and it has happened as a natural psychological reaction and not a planned conspiracy.
"When we talk about the orbit of the Constitution, it applies to everyone and not that it does not apply to any one institution and not others. We have to bind ourselves and them to the Constitution; only then will this cycle operate normally. Otherwise, the powerful will do what they will."
Youth and anger management
With clips from the kind of questions posed to him and his answers during his visit to the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) went viral earlier this week, Kakar said that the only solution was to engage in dialogue as he explained what the cause of his experience.
"The iconoclastic phase of your life after turning 18-20 is where you believe that standing up to your icons is a heroic act, without realising what is its moral basis, to what extent is its standing, is it right or wrong from an intellectual angle," he said, adding that most believe that by posing such questions they stood up to a minister or a prime minister, or the state or authority.
"This is romanticised," he said, adding, "I have passed through this phase, so I understand the sentiments."
He went on to explain how he was involved in the politics of the left and how he later moved closer to the centre from the right.
"I have had all the experiences. I have participated in rallies; I was part of student politics where I would often object to the political positions adopted by my teachers and would debate with them."
Kakar warned that sometimes youngsters cross the bounds of civility.
"I consider all of these phases as normal."
He added that the country's political leadership, social leadership, academia and intelligentsia need to work together to provide direction to the youth.
"One major problem that we have is that 'who' is saying it has become more important than 'what' they are saying," he said, adding that the local intelligentsia and the international intelligentsia were far more interested in the label behind Anwaarul Haq Kakar.
"They are least interested in the subject matter of what I say and are more interested in who is backing me."
He added that such people are prisoners of their preconceived notions, which they are unable to shake off and break free from.
"We are unable to hold a dialogue with an open mind," he said, adding, "We have to connect and talk to all of these people. At some places, we will have to show aggression, and at some places, we will have to show tolerance and connect with them in a mix and match."
Necessity of caretaker setups
Asked about the fact that the Constitution does not have a set period for the caretaker setup to remain in power and that this could lead to a very scary situation, Kakar said that this was a political question and that there are political answers for it.
"Even on the existence of interim governments, there are questions whether it should exist or not," he asked.
"If you ask me, as a student of politics, that caretaker setups are needed, my answer would be that there is no apparent need for it."
He said that if a political system is mature enough where the incumbent ruling government, like in other settled democracies, conducts the elections, the results are announced, and there is a peaceful transfer of power, and the incoming government takes over the role and responsibilities of holding elections.
"In the 1990s, when even as part of caretaker governments, people were allowed to contest elections. But when a very partisan role appeared, there was a suggestion to have a neutral caretaker government," he explained.
"I don't believe having a caretaker government is the path to becoming a settled democracy," he said, adding that this was the parliament's job.
Asked if this should be clarified in the Constitution, Kakar agreed.
"These are the very deliberations that [we need to have]."
He lamented that whenever legislative business is brought up in Parliaments, there are no discussions.
"Unfortunately, parliamentarians do not mull over it; they do not hold deliberations. There are no discussions. Heads of different political parties, they take the decision they want to take on whatever basis, they then inform their members to pass the laws," he complained.
"If we foster, have an actual environment of fostering discussion in the Parliament, whether it is in the Senate, or provincial and national assemblies, where people like Anwaar Kakar should take up these issues as a private member bill. It should be tabled on the floor instead of being subjected to a few television programmes and fizzling out.
Deprivation in Balochistan despite representation
With Kakar hailing from Balochistan, he was asked why there is a continuing sense of deprivation amongst the province's populace even though they have a parliament and are represented at all levels.
Kakar said that in the provincial constituencies, many people believe that they have been deprived because of their identity, and this narrative appeals to them.
"It does not matter if it [this narrative] is rooted in reality or not; they do not talk on the merits of it," Kakar said.
The impact of such politics, he pointed out, was that the young people genuinely feel they are the victims. By your, mine or anyone else yardstick to measure it may be different, but the young, emotional and angry truly believe that they are on the right path and set off to achieve that target, he said.
He blamed opinion makers and politicians who have promoted the idea that just because they are Pashtun or Baloch, they have been mistreated and deprived,. A story of a victim card has been attached to create a political narrative,. This political narrative has continued over the years.
"I have promoted politics against this kind of politics," he said, adding that some people politicking at the federal level were duty-bound to respond to this victim card through good governance and more transparent governance.
"But as a federal minister, chairman senate, provincial minister who get involved in smuggling or taking commissions, kick-backs or those who adopt a counter-narrative and are comfortable with me privately but publicly we remind each other of our domains, then this will not solve the problem," he said.
"Unfortunately, this cycle continues uninterrupted."
Asked about the recent statements from Balochistan National Party (BNP) Chairman Sardar Akhtar Mengal, Kakar initially appeared confused, asking which Mengal was being asked about, noting they were a large clan.
But when clarified that the question was about the complaint of enforced disappearances, public grievances and other government policies, Kakar replied that it has to be two-way traffic.
"They also need to take some steps that make our task easier," he said, adding, "The perception is that the state has taken all the wrong steps and that they are the victims."
He pointed to how the Constitution states that neither individuals nor groups can have an armed militia.
"Sardar Akhtar Mengal has worked for supremacy of the Constitution, and he has continued these efforts," Kakar said, alleging, "But his brother, Javed Mengal, runs Lashkar-e-Balochistan which is an armed group and is involved in terror acts."
'No good violence or bad violence'
He blamed separatist groups such as the BLA and BLF for creating an armed conflict in the province.
"When administrative measures are taken against them, there are occasions when questions are raised against the conduct of the state as well," he conceded.
"If the process to diagnose and understand the conflict in Balochistan is not corrected, you cannot move towards a solution," he stated.
He discredited the perception that police or law enforcement agencies take action against Baloch for no cogent reason.
"The armed groups have killed thousands in Balochistan. Not a handful or a few hundred, but thousands."
He pointed towards the attack on a police station in Turbat where labourers had sought shelter in a police station. In the attack, police officers and labourers were killed, he said.
Asked if he would implement the same law in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the erstwhile federally administered tribal areas (Fata) and areas bordering Afghanistan, Kakar clarified that, in his view, there was no difference between the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the BLA.
"One segment in our intelligentsia thinks that one group are terrorists, but the other group is a political question. I want to put to them that there cannot be good violence or bad violence."
He explained that the violence of TTP is religiously inspired, ethnically inspired and even politically inspired.
"You will have political parties killing each other tomorrow," he said, adding that this is why everyone spoke up against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement's politics and violence in the 1990s.
"If there is a group that exploits its right for peaceful protest and forms armed groups," he said, reminding that similar experiments have taken place in the world where political groups had militant arms, but the question was, do we tolerate that given our Constitution?
"We will all have to agree that the monopoly for violence belongs to the state. First, we agree to this principle, and then, whoever violates it, we can look at all violators from the same angle," he asserted.
Asked that since there are socio-economic and political causes for the violence and that is where state culpability lies, he said that he does not believe in the complete rationalisation of violence per anthropological approaches.
"Otherwise, the TTP has a stronger narrative than the BLA because it cites the Holy Quran, Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and social poverty," he said, adding that it will get very difficult to counter such a narrative.
"Hence, if we follow the basic roles and responsibilities of a nation-state, it would make all of our lives easier. However much you rationalise violence, it should not be acceptable."
He said that the reasons provided for the violence were not justifiable: I don't have money, I did not get royalties from gas, hence I should kill four labourers from Rahim Yar Khan, I force passengers to disembark from their vehicles and gun them down by the roadside. What sort of a response is this?"
Instead, he suggested that elected representatives need to be held accountable.
"Go catch Anwaar Kakar, catch [Senate Chariman] Sadiq Sanjrani, why don't you catch Sardar Akhtar Mengal, who was part of this government for a year and a half? Go inquire how much development funds Mengal took while in power, how many jobs he helped create, how many disappeared people he helped retrieve," Kakar said, adding, "Hold us accountable."
"Killing people is not the answer."
Contracts under SIFC
Caretaker Prime Minister Kakar was asked about the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) and the contracts signed with other governments thus far.
"So far, we have no government-to-government (G2G) contract," Kakar clarified. He added that to ensure the contracts signed are not like some contracts signed in the past, which turned out to be detrimental for the country, he said that they had designed a mechanism for deliberating contracts and agreements with an executive committee comprising the senior-most individuals from civil and military organisations.
"They have hired financial advisors and consultants, and the best international practices of the corporate sector are deliberated," he said.
For example, in mining, he said that you could mine the ore and export it, or you can opt for value addition.
"Worldwide, the journey of modernisation has been through value addition," he said, adding that this realisation exists in the executive committee of SIFC.
"With regards to agriculture as well, overall, there is an economic sense."
On the contracts with independent power producers where Pakistan has found itself drowning in crushing circular debt after signing contracts to pay for unused capacity, Kakar said that his government was trying to rationalise them and doing as much consultation and planning for it.
"Let me tell you, I do not represent a cartel. I am anti-cartel. I hail from the lower-middle class, and I intend to keep my image that way," he said.
"I believe in the larger good or the people-centric approach, and we are moving in that direction."
Kakar said that Pakistan has tremendous potential in the mineral and agriculture sectors. "If that is not used for the public good, then the social unrest will become terrifying for the elite and socially disadvantaged classes."
"Having some sense, I would not want to become a part of any such foolish move that considers or contributes to it."
Maltreatment of Afghan refugees
Asked about incidents of Afghan refugees being forced to return to Afghanistan and being mistreated, Kakar said that this was not official policy.
"Our cabinet meetings are minuted; they are part of the public record. In our last cabinet committee meeting, I categorically and unequivocally translated that if there is any compromise in the dignity of any illegal Afghan returnee, then lawful responses will be taken. We will penalise those responsible," he asserted.
"We have not started this drive so that some SHO can use this as an excuse to start minting money."
However, the caretaker prime minister admitted that in such situations, there is a possibility that the vulnerable are harassed, even sexual harassment.
"We are all humans and exploit such situations," he said.
However, he added that they had communicated clear instructions through official channels via the interior ministry to the police chiefs in all four provinces and that they are actively monitoring the situation as well.
"It is possible that violations happen. I cannot give you a guarantee that we are living in such an ideal condition that the exploitation of people in these circumstances is not possible. Even in a place like Europe, there are illegal and economic migrants there which are exploited too."
He reiterated that if they get a complaint about the border management, police or any other government service or law enforcement, the government will penalise them.
On the principle of the decision to send illegal migrants back, Kakar said that irrespective of whether past governments had this realisation or not, if there are illegal aliens or undocumented migrants, they need to go back. However, he said these individuals can return after following the regulated regime with a passport and valid visa.
"We can talk about a liberalised visa regime," he said, but asserted that "unrestricted travel across borders minimises Pakistan's social, political and economic visibility, and that needs to be tackled.
Asked if the government would show flexibility for those migrants who were born in Pakistan but remain undocumented, Kakar said that when they are born in Pakistan, it creates an identity document in the form of a birth certificate.
He clarified that Pakistan was not sending back registered Afghan refugees under the return policy.
"We are not going after the 1.7 million registered Afghan refugees," he said.
He said that those under the radar were undocumented aliens and those who were living in Pakistan on stolen identity.
He also took the opportunity to strike back at critics of his statement that Pakistan was not bound under the 1951 convention to give shelter to refugees because we are not a signatory to the convention.
Kakar said that someone had criticised the caretaker prime minister and that this was factually incorrect.
However, Kakar clarified that Pakistan is a signatory to only parts of the convention which relate to prisoners of war, providing treatment to the sick and injured, and not attacking civilians and civil infrastructure.
"We are not a signatory to the additional conventions relating to refugees," he reiterated. "Despite that, we have hosted them for our cultural obligations, our moral obligations for our social obligations, and we will continue doing that."
On those migrants born in Pakistan, Kakar said that these individuals can approach the relevant forums and claim remedies from there.
"We will not say they cannot even go to court."
He went on to ask why Pakistan does not want to implement a system which is in vogue elsewhere in the world.
On the question of confiscating properties of migrants forced to return, Kakar rejected the notion.
"Are we a Nazi regime which will usurp their properties? No, not at all; people can go to civil litigation; there is a remedy there."
He explained that through a rational approach, they were trying to design a rational society. Pakistan, he said, faces a lot of challenges, and undocumented migrants are one of them.
"You need to have a database of your society, how many are locals, how many are foreigners, what do they do. If we do not have this, how will we balance our budgets, how will we manage our social sector, and how will we learn how many out-of-school children we have? Entire dispensation of the government revolves around such data."
Asked if, through this move, he recognises the international border with Afghanistan, Kakar responded in the affirmative.
"I am the prime minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan; who am I to suggest, even in its insinuation, that it is not an international border? Of course, it is an international border, and the whole world accepts that."
It is not for me; it is for the United Nations; it is for over 140 countries, all of whom accept it as an international border, he said of the Durand Line.
On the action against smuggling, Kakar affirmed that the action will continue.
"Regarding the Afghan transit trade and from Iran, the management of smuggled goods continues. As a result, the mills shut in several cities have started getting orders again and have started working, creating jobs," he said.
He explained that smuggled goods, such as silk, were hurting local manufacturers and, ultimately, on tax revenues and Pakistan's social standing.
"Overall, it was a big crisis and challenge for our governance."
In a swipe at past administrations and detractors alike, Kakar said that people used to take smuggling as routine.
"If I take some names, it will anger them," he said, adding that people would try to rationalise smuggling by stating that Balochistan has no industry nor agriculture, hence, the youngsters have no option but to do smuggling.
"You have to make decisions per the overall health of the society and economy."