Even as Palestinians reel with shock at the failure of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to directly demand a ceasefire in their blood-soaked homeland, nearer home, South Asia must brace itself for fierce electoral contests in its two biggest countries. Fully-fledged governance elections are a civic luxury the Palestinians have never, ever, experienced. Not even the vaunted ‘World Court’ has thought it urgent enough to demand a ceasefire in that tortured, ‘Holy’, land.
Next week, Pakistan goes to elections that are months late. In early April, India expects to vote but, given the early pre-poll campaign fervour of the ruling Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP), Indians may feel like they will be queuing up to vote much sooner. Unsurprisingly, the BJP and its Hinduthva allies are already busy whipping up religious buoyancy among its vote banks.
General elections are scheduled in Pakistan for February 8 to elect 336 representatives to the 16th National Assembly. This number includes small groups of differently selected representatives to ensure a minimum representation of women in the Assembly and, also to ensure representation for minority religious groups. The total number of registered voters in Pakistan stood around 127 million at the Election Commission’s latest count in mid-2023. This is up from 106 million in the 2018 count, including 59.22 million men and 46.73 million women voters.
Traditionally, there were two major parties, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N), led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by former Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. He is the youngish grandson of revered nationalist political leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was controversially put on trial by the military Government of the time and executed. Bhutto’s daughter, Pakistan’s first woman Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, succeeded him as party leader but was later assassinated within weeks of her return from political exile.
All attention is on how Pakistani cricketing-turned-political-hero Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party will fare next week after its candidates were initially compelled to contest as independents following a highly controversial court order annulling their party’s election symbol – a cricket bat. PTI members and supporters are claiming that the blocking of its symbol is a ploy by the military-backed caretaker Government to ensure the party’s defeat. A few weeks ago a Court order reinstated PTI’s Bat symbol. But the damage has already been done to the election campaign. Pakistan remains the South Asian country with the lowest literacy after Afghanistan and party symbols are critical to maximising voter participation since many voters cannot read party and candidate names.
Khan remains in jail after conviction on what most observers say are exaggerated charges of corruption and election rigging. South Asians are broadly familiar with such political ploys by regimes in power to ensure their own electoral survival. The PTI, mainly on Imran Khan’s personal popularity as well its balanced policy package, became the largest party in the previous elections of 2018.
India, too, faces similar uncertainties after the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections scheduled for early April. This is not so much due to political repression of opposition parties as due to socio-cultural turmoil already rising from the Hindu majoritarian triumphalism being whipped up by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Coalition Government in early anticipation of the hustings.
Although most analysts expect the BJP-NDA to win in April, they are also aware that the Government is nervous about a reduced majority in the Lok Sabha which, in turn, will not augur well for electoral success at future State elections. Given that it is the economic downturn that is creating the political downturn, the BJP is emphasising its traditional mantra of Hindu dominance.
Last week, billions of rupees were spent in inaugurating the monumental Lord Ram Mandir (Rama Temple) in Ayodhya, Central India, under the patronage of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, one of India’s most popular political leaders. Political observers agree that the costly ceremony was a major plank of the BJP’s election campaign.
In recent months, the BJP coalition has not lost any opportunity to emphasise the grandeur of India’s ancient civilisation which, Hindu nationalists insist is specifically Hindu – something which secular historians and archaeologists deny. The greater the emphasis on this Hindu dominance, the worse the actual social experience of many minority religious and ethnic groups who must then suffer a corollary diminution of their own cultural identity.
Hinduthva activists in the Indian English language media are now referring to the Ram Mandir as India’s own ‘Vatican’. India is not the only South Asian nation to be bedevilled by the political use of religion and culture for power gains.
All of this, however, is simply meaningless frippery to the Palestinians in their besieged ghettos of the West Bank and Gaza.
Even as these lines are read, readers are assured of more babies and children killed, men and women killed, more mental illness and more maiming in the Gaza Strip. The death toll in Gaza nears 27,000 by the minute. And the Strip’s urban and social infrastructure is now rubble – universities, libraries, cultural centres, schools, hospitals, food and medical storage facilities. Fuel, water, electricity supply are only memories. And so are people’s homes.
As the Israeli military onslaught continues, there is nothing else to talk about other than the above horrors – not negotiations, not humanitarian efforts, not political interventions and not even legal actions, despite the hyperbole over the ‘World Court’.
On Friday, the ICJ delivered its much-awaited ruling on ‘provisional measures’ in the interim prior to taking up the substantive plaint of ‘Genocide’ filed against Israel by South Africa. As far as media statistics indicate, the ICJ ruling at The Hague, Netherlands, was the most watched Court ruling ever.
Due to the false expectations of many across the world who are impassioned by the sick spectacle of ongoing genocide done so blatantly and with such impunity, the ICJ ruling was actually a damp squib.
The 17 judges of the ICJ’s full bench, ruled on many things but not exactly what litigant South Africa asked for, neither what the inflamed world society had been hoping for, and certainly not what the suffering, starving, dying, shell-shocked Gazans so desperately need. No ceasefire, no end to the holocaust.
Across the world, most analysts had no expectations of a ceasefire ruling by the World Court, knowing the highly political nature of the ICJ system. The World Court, after all, is not a conventional, neutrally appointed, judicial institution. Its appointments, funding and maintenance are all under the control of the UN system and the big powers, especially, the ICJ’s originators, namely the Western power bloc. What the Court delivered was well within that political power framework.
Its recognition of the legality of the South African plaint is no more than the assertion of the Court’s ‘stamp’ at one of the more crucial junctures of international law. Its ruling recognizing the ‘plausibility’ of genocide is also a necessary stamping of its moral-legal authority over the world’s so-called ‘rules-based’ system.
But in responding to South Africa’s appeal for urgent interim measures to actually stem the carnage, the ICJ announced that the Court would impose its own ‘measures’ rather than those requested by the plaintiff.
Thus, no mention of a ceasefire at all. Rather, the ICJ asked Israel to do more or less what it says it is doing anyway: i.e. prosecuting a war (of ‘self-defence’) while ‘avoiding’ civilian casualties and humanitarian problems. This is also what Israel’s sponsoring powers, the West, have also begun parroting in recent weeks as they began to realise how severe the global backlash was.
So the ICJ told Israel to avoid genocide. But it has not told Israel to halt its war, which is Israel’s primary tool of the ongoing genocide. Thus, Israel could very well return to the Court in a month’s time, as stipulated and dutifully report that it had done its best to avoid genocide in continuing its war “against terrorism”. The ICJ has no enforcing powers. That lies with the UN, especially the Security Council (UNSC).
Since the ICJ has not made any directly substantive interim rulings, there is little that anyone – including South Africa – can take to the UNSC for enforcement.
And it will take literally years for the substantive merits case to be fought and decided. It is likely that the Palestinian crisis will be politically resolved long before the ICJ rules on the genocide charge – either guilty or not guilty.
For Gazans and worldwide sympathisers, the ICJ ruling is nothing more than a sugar-coated bitter pill of continued genocide. The sugar coating is that the World Court has grandly acknowledged that, indeed, genocide was going on.
For the West, however, any hope that the ICJ’s grandiose recognition of ‘genocide’ will recover any credibility for the ‘Free World’ is a lost hope – lost in cyberspace, as it were. Even as the ICJ sittings were going on, the whole world was watching the massacres and devastation going on.