The need for speed
Hit and run
Monday, May 05, 2008
While the PPP and the PML-N dance this perverted
version of political polka on native and sandy shores over the “judges”
issue, the glee which is being generated in the camps of the PML-Q
and the Presidency has not been seen since the first US aid package
was received. Back at the farm, the plebs who came out in droves
to vote the last lot out is waiting for some sort of dividend. Far
from focusing on the economic mess we find ourselves in, the leadership
of both parties is wasting a lot of time on an issue which should
have been resolved as per the Murree Declaration. All this bickering
publicly does not do wonders for either political party or its leadership.
Perhaps power has a unique way of short-circuiting
one’s memory, but both Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari had promised
the people of Pakistan that the new government would not repeat
the mistakes of the past and would work together to resolve the
plethora of problems which have previously been swept under the
carpet. Far from engaging in the much anticipated spring cleaning,
both of them resemble two sumo wrestlers squaring off in a ring
while smiling for the camera before and after the match. Sporting,
yes. But efficient use of statesman-like power – absolutely
The longer the two sides take to resolve the matter
of the judges the more hallow their claims of national reconciliation
will sound to other parties and players in the political circus
of Pakistan. For the first time in years people have hope and a
lot of expectations which seem to wane with each day that the judicial
issue remains in limbo. If this coalition is to survive and form
the basis of a paradigm shift in Pakistani politics, Nawaz Sharif
and Asif Zardari will need to put their egos aside and get to work
– and fast.
Pakistan faces an energy and food crisis like most
of the world, and while other countries are looking for innovative
ways to solve both, Pakistan is hoping for divine intervention as
usual. Selling off profitable national assets like PSO will only
deliver short-term budgetary relief but will exacerbate the power
crisis in the long-term. Breaking out of the vise of oil marketing
companies should be the government’s leading priority. Apparently,
any initiative to look at alternative energy sources like wind and
solar is attacked as “inefficient” by powerful lobbies
bankrolled by oil companies – hence, no serious traction even
though it’s the way of the future.
While everyone in Islamabad seems to be busy eating
nahari, the rest of the country is facing a serious food crisis.
An inefficient supply chain peppered with 18 different stages of
middlemen ensures that neither the consumer nor the farmer sees
any benefit. Rising fuel prices are juicing up prices like a banker
on coke. And if there isn’t serious government intervention
very soon, things can possibly turn very ugly for just about everyone.
Playing the blame game, while cathartic, is not helpful for anyone,
especially us poor sods who are at the receiving end.
Half of our elected representatives are farmers
while the other half are involved with businesses of some sort –
with this combination surely we should be able to come up with an
effective food security program. Farming yields have risen astronomically
yet Pakistan is where it was in the 1960s at the time of the Green
Revolution. It seems like forty years have passed us by with everyone
just sitting on their backsides waiting for divine intervention
as usual. With the corporations getting ready to jump into the business
of farming, the government will need to regulate the industry to
ensure that the small farmers and the consumers don’t get
shafted yet again, though I’m not holding my breath.
Both Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have spent several
years in the wilderness and I am sure are grateful to many friends
overseas. Nawaz Sharif was the beneficiary of Saudi largesse while
Mr Zardari made many new friends in the UAE, the United Kingdom,
and North America. I hope that they don’t rush to show their
gratitude to their new (and old) friends in the form of the privatisation
process as Shaukat Aziz was – not that there’s much
good stuff to sell anyway. I would recommend the good old shikar
of some endangered houbara bustard, a cracking good Lahori meal
or some sajji, and a thank you note as opposed to large tracts of
land to build yet another plaza or something which belongs to the
Pakistani people to begin with.
The writer is an entrepreneur andbusiness consultant.
Email: shakir@ gmail.com
or the same old story?
Monday, May 05, 2008
October 12, 1999, was the day when Nawaz Sharif’s
government was ousted. If we are not suffering from selective amnesia,
we would remember that there was a sigh of relief. The perception
was that a political dictator had been set aside. The truth is that
we all should pinch ourselves to be reminded of the realities that
envelope us in the landscape of political leadership that we have
to bare with.
Sick of Musharraf’ policies and the presence
of the US in Afghanistan, a large number of voters opted to side
with the so-called, principled stand of Nawaz Sharif in the February
elections. The stand was no other than the judges’ issue,
which had been mishandled by the previous government, exploited
by the political parties and thus was an easy case to be hijacked
by Nawaz Sharif. And so the advisers of Nawaz convinced him to keep
on repeating this as an anti-Musharraf slogan not only to take all
the anti-Musharraf vote for his party but also to absolve him of
the greatest sin ever committed in the history of Pakistan —
the 1997 storming of the Supreme Court of Pakistan by the hooligans
of his party at the time of Justice Sajjad Ali Shah.
A new politically correct face was in fashion at
the time of these elections and both Zardari with a trimmed moustache
and a well-trained look and words to utter that are not his own,
and Nawaz Sharif — a pro-judge restoration policy —
were able to take good advantage of it in the elections. They are
indeed good politicians, but are they indeed honest enough to come
to the expectations of the poor people of our country? Between the
two leaders scurrying off to Dubai and hurrying back, the public
is in a state of paralysis. Where do the judges stand? Are we fools
to be taken in by all the discrepancies that are revolving around
the two leaders. How on God’s earth can the so-called technocrat
assistants of Zardari and the political wizards of Nawaz Sharif
be dealing with inflation, shortage of electricity and price hike
of essential commodities in a seven-star hotel facility in Dubai?
Are these negotiations on the judiciary issue or is all this eyewash?
Most political leaders, because of less time for
democracy to flourish in our country, are power hungry. They want
absolute power, a vice attributed to dictators, but as applicable
to most of the political leadership of our country. Late Benazir
Bhutto wanted that in the form of a totally subservient judiciary,
Nawaz also followed suit and desired a subservient COAS in the form
of Gen Ziauddin, in spite of having the security of a two-thirds
majority, thus destabilizing the political environment and giving
way to army rule. The great criticism on the role of the armed forces
in civil institutions which is absolutely justified was in fact
encouraged and introduced by Nawaz Sharif in the form of recovery
of bills of WAPDA at the time of his two-thirds majority.
The history of these leaders and others cannot be
condensed in this one article but we need to remind ourselves that
we need to learn and guide ourselves by these historic events. And
may I remind you that the protagonists in this glimpse of history
are none other than the present coalition. Some of us fools are
forced to believe that they are changed people and better leaders
after their exiles. This is indeed not our fault, since there is
a serious lack of leadership in the present political scenario.
However we need to strengthen our institutions for this country
to be able to survive. The judiciary has already been compromised
by falling into the hands of the political parties. We need to chalk
out ways to enhance the functioning of all our institutions, whether
education, health, or the judiciary. We need to pave a path for
the restoration of the judges, not by anti-state activities but
through some form of legislation that would not allow any unconstitutional
Some journalists and column writers, politicians
and businessmen in this country call the existing government leaders,
statesmen. Vow. After pondering over the past is it naivety to announce
that or is it something more dangerous? Are they shrewd enough to
fool the uneducated and also the so-called great drawing-room experts
or will we call their bluff? Let’s ask ourselves what has
changed after the elections, the foreign policy or the price hike?
We are seeing a volley of attacks on “poor
Mr Zardari” for having tried to have a “reconciliation
environment for the larger interest of the nation” succeed.
By the way, the same “larger interest” the people of
our country hated at the time of the PML-Q and Musharraf era. He
is being blamed for being cast in the same mould as Musharraf, and
the same analysts are making a mistake yet again by giving credit
to Nawaz Sharif for sticking to his stance.
For God’s sake let’s be realistic. The
Murree accord — which has already changed names, God knows
what would happen to the content of it — is still not clear.
Nawaz does not seem to want to relinquish his hold in Punjab, so
why break his relationship with the PPP at all levels. I smell ambition
here! Isn’t it great how everyone is getting a share in the
government by stating that they are desirous of keeping the spirit
of reconciliation? Indeed, how convenient!
It is the responsibility of the civil society, journalists,
politicians and professionals to participate in the efforts for
nation building. Each one of us is responsible for this tremendous
task. May God enable us to be true to our selves and this country.
The writer was a federal minister for information
technology in the previous government. Email: awaisleghari @hotmail.com
Saturday, May 03, 2008
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad. He is
a Rhodes scholar and has an LL.M from Harvard Law School
The Bhurban Accord has failed, as actions speak
louder than words. On the anniversary of the launch of the lawyers'
movement, the PPP and PML-N made an unambiguous commitment before
the nation to restore all deposed judges "on the same position
as they were on Nov 2, 2007, within thirty days of the formation
of the federal government, through a parliamentary resolution."
The PPP has chosen to renege on its commitment, thereby flouting
the elementary promise made by the coalition to the people of Pakistan.
The part of the Bhurban Accord dealing with the judges' restoration
had three components: one, an agreement on the principle that Gen
Musharaf's actions of Nov 3 were unconstitutional and needed to
be reversed unconditionally; two, the modality of restoration was
to be an executive order backed by a parliamentary resolution; and,
three, a timeline of thirty days. Now that the PPP is backtracking
by calling for restoration through a constitutional package, or
by making the resolution for restoration contingent on such a package,
the disagreement between the coalition partners becomes one of principle,
and not of modalities. For modalities must follow the logic of the
To recap, if the Nov 3 actions of the general, including
the ouster of judges, are regarded as unconstitutional, they can
be undone by an executive order (backed by a resolution merely to
add moral weight). But if the actions and the ruling of the Dogar
Court purporting to legitimise the general's second coup are treated
as constitutionally binding, the deposed judges are history and
can only be brought back to life through a purpose-specific, one-time-use
constitutional amendment. In such event we would be accepting that
the whims of the man in uniform can trump the collective will of
the nation expressed through the Constitution, and regressing back
to the times when rule of law was a concept no larger than arbitrary
rule of men.
Let us now revisit the legal obstacles to restoration
through executive order (previously identified by the general's
cronies) that the PPP has suddenly woken up to. One, that the sanctioned
strength of Supreme Court judges is 17, and will rise to 27 if the
deposed judges are restored – a number not permitted under
law. And, two, that the restoration through a resolution/executive
order could be suspended by the Dogar Court and trigger another
constitutional crisis. The answers to these questions depend on
our starting point.
If the starting point is that the deposed judges
are constitutional judges who have been unlawfully restrained from
performing their duties since Nov 3, the sanctioned strength of
the court need not be enhanced to accommodate their return. They
are the legitimate judges who can only be removed pursuant to Article
209, and their resumption of duties is automatic once the illegal
restraint applied on them is removed. However, should the PPP be
inclined to accommodate the midnight appointees of the general that
stuffed the court after Nov 3, as it is, the strength of the judges
would need to be enhanced by an act of parliament pursuant to Article
176 of the Constitution to legitimise the continued presence of
such post-Nov 3 judges on the bench.
Second, is there a real danger that the Dogar Court
might suspend an executive order, sanctioned by an overwhelming
majority of Parliament, to restore the deposed judges? Not without
the PPP's tacit support. The primary instinct of the Dogar Court
is one of self-preservation. That instinct led it to declare valid
all unconstitutional actions of the general, as its own legitimacy
was rooted in those actions. And once it is evident that the deposed
judges are being restored by the incumbent executive with the parliament's
support, the PCO judges will not jeopardise their coexistence with
the deposed judges by attempting to block their return through a
And, in any event, will the legal validity of such
edict be any greater than the one already passed by them in an attempt
to provide legal cover to the general's Nov 3 actions? If we begin
to treat the Dogar Court's rulings as binding, then the entire debate
about the judges' restoration is redundant. Thus, the Dogar Court
will take its cue from the PPP, and will only obstruct the government's
restoration measures if the PPP is inclined to using technical legal
arguments as crutches to send the deposed judges off into the sunset.
This, then, raises the associated question as to what happens to
the judgments already rendered by the Dogar Court. Do they all fall
with the fall of the Dogar Court?
There are at least two ways to address this conundrum.
One, the restored constitutional court, headed by Chief Justice
Chaudhary, can be left to deal with the issue on a case-to-case
basis. And, two, a constitutional amendment can be brought in to
provide cover to the decisions rendered by the Dogar Court, except
those aimed at validating the Nov 3 actions of the general. The
second option will obviously be preferred by the PPP, as it would
also provide constitutional cover to the order validating the NRO,
fears regarding the future of which is a major hurdle in the way
In short, we neither need an act of parliament nor
a constitutional amendment to restore the deposed judges, so long
as our starting point is that the general lost his mind on Nov 3.
But an act of parliament is needed to retain the post-Nov 3 judges
and a constitutional amendment could be required to keep the revived
Supreme Court from reconsidering questions addressed by the Dogar
Court. But if we link the restoration of deposed judges to an act
increasing the size of the court or to a constitutional package,
we are yet again punishing a few good men in robes who stood up
to the general's tyranny on Nov 3, in order to protect those who
abetted his subversion of the Constitution. Is this the precedent
of reward and punishment we wish to endorse as a nation? Should
those sticking up for principle carry the burden of sins committed
Giving more time to the coalition partners will
do no magic tricks, for the real dispute is over the principle of
unconditional restoration. There are probably few issues in contemporary
history that have been pondered as rigorously as that of restoration.
The unconstitutional nature of the general's second coup has been
in discussion for six months now. And the options for restoration
available to the parties voted into power on Feb 18 have been discussed
threadbare over the last two-and-a-half months. No more time or
gentle persuasion will bear fruit. The lawyers and the civil society
will have to brave it out in the streets if the deposed judges are
to be restored unconditionally.
The reason is simple. The PPP has unfortunately
positioned itself in a manner that it can no longer reap any benefit
from a principled restoration of the Nov 2 judiciary. In making
evasive promises to "strength the judiciary as an institution"
while contriving a constitutional package aimed at easing Chief
Justice Chaudhary out of office and bringing Justice Dogar back
into play as chief justice, Mr Zardari has made his intentions clear.
With no political incentive to restore the judges, the PPP will
only do the needful if the cost of its inaction becomes prohibitive.
And that will not happen in the absence of a forceful street movement
that brings insurmountable pressure to bear upon the PPP-led government
to do the right thing.
The leaders of the lawyers' movement have continued
to respond to PPP's flip-flop on the judges' issue with patience
and maturity, suspending disbelief and giving the coalition the
benefit of good intentions. But the moment for reckoning is now
here, and, as they say in legal parlance, time is of the essence.
The issue of restoration not only hangs like the sword of Damocles
over the future of the coalition but is also paralysing the existing
courts with PCO judges pallid with worries about their own future.
As a bipartisan interest group, the lawyers' movement can no longer
afford to abide by hollow words of politicians.
It is time to end this phase of the lawyers' movement
with a final push. Rather than continuing with the ineffectual weekly
token strikes, there is need to boycott all legal proceedings in
all courts for a month to send a clear message to the PPP-led government
that the resolve of the black coats to uphold the rule of law is
still unfaltering. Let us not forget that the first phase of the
lawyers' movement, from March 9 to July 20, 2007, was actually aimed
at ensuring that the Supreme Court does not succumb to the general's
pressure. In this last phase, marked by the expiry of the coalition's
self-imposed deadline, it is time to put the executive and the parliament
on notice that the legal fraternity is still a vital stakeholder
loath to unsavoury compromises on the issue of judicial independence.
was written before the announcement by Nawaz Sharif that the deposed
judges would be restored by May 12.
Email: [email protected]
Saturday, May 03, 2008
Now that a transition to democracy has taken place,
we need to start preparing for the next step forward: a progressive,
enlightened and humane society. It is possible for societies afflicted
by widespread poverty and squalor to surmount their dreary and dismal
conditions without going to war and looting other countries. Through
hard work, dedicated leadership and intelligent policies and planning
spectacular success can be achieved.
I am particularly thinking of Sweden, where I lived
for nearly 35 years, and Singapore, where I am currently based,
as examples of successful transformation from sprawling poverty
to enviable standards of living.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Sweden was
one of the poorest nations, in the farthest corner of northern Europe.
So poor was it that nearly half its population migrated to the United
States. Today this nation of some nine million is a global leader
in high-tech industries and the service sector, and its Volvo and
Saab vehicles are world-renowned. It is also the fairest society
on earth when it comes to the basic needs for a secure and dignified
life. When Singapore became independent in 1965, it was infested
with Chinese secret societies that ran gambling dens, brothels and
the drugs trade. Today this nation of barely 4.5 million is the
17th richest in the world. It provides excellent services and facilities
for trade and commerce, having initially made its mark in high-tech
manufacturing and industrial production.
In both these countries a strong political party
-- the Sveriges Socialdemokratiska Arbetareparti (Swedish Social
Democratic Workers' Party) and the People's Action Party, respectively
-- led the nation forward and used state power to create conditions
for economic growth and rising standards of living.
Swedish social democracy has historically been more
attuned to egalitarian reforms, while in Singapore the change from
erstwhile Fabian socialism to free-market principles has not meant
that the state has abdicated its duty to provide cheap and good
housing to citizens, excellent education and vocational training
and an extremely safe and secure social milieu free from violent
crime and drugs. As its economy grows, Singapore is expanding subsidised
healthcare facilities for those who really need help.
Historically, social democracy was a democratic
tendency within the broad socialist movement that emerged in 19th-century
western Europe that, in contrast to orthodox Marxism-Leninism's
theory of armed revolution and one-party rule, believed in free
elections and an open society. Equally, in contrast to liberal democracy's
celebration of unbridled laissez-faire capitalism and human egotism,
social democracy always believed in a strong and active state with
a strong social policy as a complement to the human need for solidarity
The question now is: how should Pakistan be transformed
into a social democratic polity? There is no denying that we need
a party that can organise mass support behind a social democratic
programme for change and transformation.
The PPP would probably come closest to the description
of a social democratic party. The late Ms Bhutto had revived the
original PPP commitment to roti, kapra aur makan (food, clothing
and shelter). However, it is not clear to what extent this goal
is still dear to her successors. Another problem is that a social
democratic party must rely primarily on the working people and intellectuals,
while the PPP is dominated by landlords and other conservative sections
of society, especially in Sindh.
On the other hand, the PML-N corresponds more to
a liberal democratic type of party but only in economic terms of
a free market. After all, liberal democracy is not only about free
capitalism: it is also committed strongly to the freedom of religion
and conscience, thought and opinion. Historically Nawaz Sharif has
a bad record on these emancipatory aspects of liberal democracy.
Under the circumstances, one can either work towards
a new party of the working people and concerned intellectuals, which
holds regular elections not only at the level of state and government
but also within the party or, more preferably, begin a concerted
and focused campaign to propagate social democratic ideals and principles.
In the longer run, if the need for establishing a new party gains
wide support then one can move towards that goal. In this regard,
it is important that we initially imitate the Singapore model instead
of the Swedish one, because without economic growth and wealth egalitarian
reforms become hollow and are reduced merely to slogans. Ownership
of private property should be given proper legal coverage, let trade
and commerce flourish and people encouraged to set up businesses.
But the taxation system should be structured in a way that those
who use the facilities of the state -- its laws, rules and regulations,
bureaucratic machinery, international contacts and facilities and
other such services -- pay more tax than those who do not. In such
a tax regime notorious political-industrial families and other scoundrels
would have no chance of tax evasion and there will be no room for
contrived defaulters of bank loans. Also, the vast economic holdings
and interests of the military should be brought under the jurisdiction
of our tax system. On the other hand, spending on better education
and vocational training would be considered an investment rather
than a favour to the poor.
We need to encourage the growth of a culture of
meritocracy, but with provisions for the poor and historically-disadvantaged
to get out of the rut of crushing poverty and move forward. A two-pronged
developmental strategy is needed that puts a high premium on hard
work and talent while simultaneously developing a level playing
field by undermining structures which sustain parasitical landlords
and tribal chiefs.
The state must ensure the following minimum to all
people: clean drinking water, a functioning sanitation system including
proper toilets, reasonable housing and a basic health system and
transparent government. Indeed, philanthropy and charity will have
a major role to play to make Pakistan a fair and caring society,
but overall societal management must rest with the state and the
elected representatives of the people.
The writer is
a professor of political science and a visiting senior research
fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), National
University of Singapore. Email: [email protected]
in holding free elections
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
The prime minister in his first address pledged to undertake election
reforms and ensure free and fair elections and the Chief Election
Commissioner has reportedly set up a committee for electoral reforms.
Around the same time, the European Union made public its report on
the Feb 18 elections, according to which there are "enduring problems
with the framework and conditions for elections in Pakistan." It spoke
of "suspicious results, implausibly high turnouts and questionable
margins of victory" in a number of constituencies.
There are several "framework problems" that inhibit free and fair
elections but the one that stands out above every other is the role
of the intelligence agencies. "Enduring problems" and "suspicious
results" will continue to haunt our elections until the intelligence
agencies are restrained from playing politics. That they have been
manipulating elections and denying the people their mandate is now
On Feb 24 The News published a report under the caption "The man who
rigged '02 polls admits it all, blames Musharraf." It was based on
a talk of the newspaper's correspondent with a former major general
and number two in the ISI, who revealed how the agency had manipulated
the 2002 general elections by using the NAB and other instruments.
Although the former officer issued a clarification the next day, it
actually appeared to confirm what he was quoted to have said in the
The clarification, sent to a news agency and not to The News or its
correspondent, claimed that the ISI did nothing on Election Day, but
admitted that the agency played a role in "political management prior
to the election." It claimed that the agency had been involved in
such political management since 1975 under the directions of the government.
The former Agency officer also bemoaned that his personal views had
been played up by The News as if it was a confessional statement of
He may have been right in complaining, as he did, that his personal
views had been played up, by The News, but that did not alter the
reality that the agency had been engaged in what he called political
management before the polls, which is nothing but election rigging.
Former Democratic majority leader in the US Senate, Tom Daschle, visited
Pakistan in October last year at the head of an international delegation.
Addressing a press conference on Oct 21 he said that the delegation
had reasons to believe that attempts were made by the ISI and other
security forces to manipulate the electoral process. These attempts,
he said, included, "efforts to influence local officials responsible
for elections administration and to convince certain individuals not
to seek their parties' nomination or to switch allegiances." Isn't
it "political management prior to the elections"? Daschle raised the
matter with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, but nothing came out of it.
A former head of the same agency has publicly stated how he helped
bring together some political parties on one platform and carved out
the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) in 1988 to prevent the PPP from
forming a government on its own. When asked about the agency's role
in the elections he admitted in an interview with a Karachi-based
monthly magazine that "only conditions were created that were favourable
to certain results (in the elections)." If this is not election manipulation
and rigging, what else it is? For a long time he insisted that he
did no wrong. To his credit, however, he recently admitted that what
he did was a mistake.
Yet another former head of the same agency submitted a sworn affidavit
that he distributed 140 million rupees taken from a private banker
among politicians and political parties. That affidavit is on the
record of the Supreme Court, where the case is pending since 1997.
No one knows who authorised the executive to draw from the bank's
public money and donate it to the agency. The Army chief at the time
later claimed that he had directed the agency to ensure proper audit
and disbursement of the amount placed at its disposal. Surprisingly,
he did not ask the agency as to who authorised collection of the funds
and for what purpose it had been given to the agency.
When political parties are cheated and the people's mandate is stolen
by the intelligence agencies, when the manipulators in these agencies
themselves confess to stealing the mandate and when independent foreign
observes question the "faulty framework" of elections, it is time
that reforms are undertaken and the agencies are stopped from meddling
in politics and elections. Indeed, without the reformation of the
agencies no election reforms would be meaningful.
For the reformation of the agencies the political wing of the ISI
should be disbanded. It has been claimed that the wing was set up
through an executive order in the mid-Seventies. If that indeed is
true, it would take no more than another executive order to disband
The MI, ISI and IB should be barred from meddling in elections and
putting together political parties. Such meddling should be made a
criminal offence by a civil court for any military official or intelligence
official found so involved.
The chain of command of the intelligence agencies should be clearly
defined and enforced. The position taken by the government before
the Supreme Court in the missing persons' case on April 27 last year
that in their operations the ISI was not under the control of the
defence or Interior Ministries is absurd.
Those who have any interest in fair and free elections must demand
that the covert and overt involvement of our agencies in manipulating
elections must be exposed and finally terminated. Select Committees
of the parliament must be allowed to question the agencies. This attitude
that patriotism and safeguarding national interest is the sole prerogative
of the agencies and that criticising them gives comfort to the enemy
is most hypocritical and has only undermined the security of the country.
Elected representatives in the parliamentary committees are no less
patriotic and no less guardians of national interest.
The explanation generally offered, that the agencies allowed themselves
to be involved in political activities because the government of the
day asked them to do so, is spurious and most naďve. Every member
of the armed forces is under oath not to engage in any political activity.
To say that they violated their oath on the instructions of the government
is a poor reflection on the officers too readily agreeing to violate
their solemn oath and cannot be accepted.
The writer is a former PPP senator and served on the Senate's human
rights committee. Email: [email protected]
|Ratting on the judges?
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
M B Naqvi
By judges one means the judges deposed through the PCO manoeuvre
by Pervez Musharraf on Nov 3 last year. The event's background is
clear. The year-long lawyers' movement has inspired, indeed transformed,
millions of people and Mr Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the
CJP, is now the symbol of resistance to a non-democratic ruler.
In particular Punjab is now in the vanguard of the movement for
democracy. This has to be kept in focus.
Feb 18 election was held against the backdrop of two major developments.
One has been mentioned; the lawyers' movement is still being heartily
supported by most of the media, civil society and many political
parties, particularly those of the APDM. The second was controversial
and its details are secret: This was a deal between Gen Musharraf
and Ms Benazir Bhutto. It was brokered by the US and British governments
and the rest of the west supports it.
The election results have shaped the new coalition government. Its
largest component, the PPP, is the beneficiary of the National Reconciliation
Ordinance; it is therefore promoting reconciliation all round which
seems to have been the main purposes of the deal. The present government,
based on reconciliation between the PPP and the PML-N and statesmanship
of Mian Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari will survive only if these
two parties can implement the Murree Declaration in letter and spirit.
The outlook is clouded.
The Charter of Democracy was signed in 2006 between Benazir and
Nawaz and the Murree Declaration of the PPP and the PML-N was signed
on March 9 this year. The latter is more specific. The first job
of the new government was to restore the Nov 3 deposed judges to
their offices within 30 days without any let or hindrance and unconditionally.
Has that happened?
Well, it looks as if this first job is unlikely to be done within
the agreed timeframe. There is a deadlock. The PML-N insists that
the judges be restored forthwith and unconditionally through an
executive order after the NA passes a resolution. Most Pakistani
jurists, including many retired Supreme Court judges, think that
a simple notification by the Law Ministry is enough for the purpose.
But the PPP seems to have reasons to oppose this and it is making
restoration conditional on constitutional amendments that require
a two-thirds majority which might not be there, especially in the
upper house, the Senate. The PPP boss, Asif Zardari, supposedly
has a grudge against senior judges for not giving him any relief
in the cases that owed themselves to Nawaz Sharif's vendetta. He
is supposed to be bitter on that score. It is claimed that the PPP
wants not merely the restoration of certain individuals but is interested
in the independence of the judiciary as an institution. These differences
between the two bigger constituents make for an existential crisis
for the Gilani government. It had better beware.
At any rate, the original momentum has been lost. The day the new
PM ordered the release of the judges from their confinements, he
could as well have ordered their reinstatement as Aitzaz Ahsan and
others had recommended. That would have been that. Now, the president,
the Q League and other Musharraf lovers seem to have readied themselves
for a counter offensive -- whatever shape that takes. Maybe the
PPP, under one scenario, will succeed in reconciling with the Q
League, the MQM and miscellaneous others at the cost of the PML-N.
That would radically alienate lawyers, media and aware citizenry.
That won't be good for the PPP.
Nawaz League, thus isolated, will be in an excellent position as
the true champion of democracy; Punjab is already its fiefdom. Next
time the prize will be much of Pakistan, if only Nawaz's leadership
can evolve an attractive economic programme and satisfies people
on the autonomy issue. The PPP might then seize failure from the
jaws of Feb 18 victory. It may even have a hard time preserving
Generally, the conditions in the country could not have been worse.
On the top of the list is the economic mess the previous regime
has left. There is a clear and serious shortage of wheat that was
exacerbated by the outgoing government's actions in allowing some
exports and letting hoarding and smuggling to go on. There is also
a horrible shortage of electricity. The country is expected to suffer
outages of electricity for 10 hours everyday for several years to
come. Why? because Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz's crew had other priorities
than generating more power. Other foodstuffs are also in short supply.
The economic situation is worsening by galloping international prices
of crude oil and foodstuffs. Expensive fuel means higher transportation
costs all around and the whole inflationary cycle then moves up.
Foodstuffs have necessarily to be imported; their prices are nearly
four times the normal ones. Poorer countries are in a pincer of
high food and high fuel prices. Who has any ideas to do something
at the international level? Naturally Pakistan cannot do much about
it. But adequate articulation on behalf of poor developing countries
will go some way to keep the PML-N in the public eye as a party
that cares for the poorer peoples.
Then, the management of the economy so far has been third-rate.
Budget deficit is over 6 per cent of GDP. Exports are stagnating
around $19 billion while imports are surging and may go beyond the
$30 billion mark. Then, although considerable amounts of cash were
received, Islamabad has continued to borrow at home and abroad.
Pakistan has grown in foreign indebtedness too. The situation is
scary; the main worry this year is that the current account deficit
might touch $ 12 billion, maybe more.
The point is that the Gilani government has given us no new vision
of how the country has to be rescued from its huge problems. Apart
from the judges' issue, there is the rise and rise of the Taliban
and other Islamist groups that want to establish their own Khilafat.
It worries the rest of the world. There is now a regular insurgency
in NWFP's tribal areas and it is spreading into the rest of Pakistan.
There is also another insurgency in Balochistan where the Balochistan
Liberation Army is battling the state. The people in Sindh are unhappy
and divided. They want a new deal. Does this government show any
Moreover, looking at the government's recent appointments, there
is not much difference in the flavour of the PPP-led government
and the Musharraf-led government of recent past. Look at Mr Hussain
Haqqani, a respected member of American think-tank and academic
communities, as ambassador to America. The hitherto ambassador there
is coming back to become national security adviser, the man the
Americans trust. Similarly, there is Rehman Malik and others who
are regarded as good persons by Americans. This government, if it
lasts, might prove to be more pro-American than the last one. Many
people are now wondering what was the Feb 18 voting exercise for
Is anything going to change? The lawyers and the judges stand for
undiluted democracy, rule of law, independence of the judiciary
and separation of powers. Is that on the government's menu today?
Today's conditions look like the last scene in the Animal Farm of
George Orwell where the ordinary four-legged pigs peeped in from
outside and saw their leaders negotiating with the once-bad two-legged
creatures and they could not distinguish one from the others.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
The National Assembly has unanimously passed a resolution calling
on the government to ask the UN to set up an international commission
to probe the December 27 assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The government
is expected to swiftly follow up by making a formal request for such
an investigation to the UN Security Council. The demand for a UN-led
inquiry into Benazir's tragic death has been a consistent demand of
the PPP and her family, but had been turned down by the former caretaker
The PPP has sought a probe along the same lines as the investigation
by a UN commission into the February 2005 murder of Lebanon's former
prime minister Rafik Hariri. The suspicion of foreign links to that
assassination, carried out when a massive bomb targeted Hariri in
Beirut, had been a key factor in calling in the UN in that case. It
must also be noted that even three years later, any definite verdict
in the case has still to be reached. It must be noted that as a body,
the UN is not well-known for its efficiency or its decisiveness.
In this regard, it is unclear what a probe will achieve. The Scotland
Yard team that visited Pakistan early this year found itself handicapped
by the lack of available forensic evidence -- given the murder site
was washed minutes after the killing -- and the failure to conduct
a post-mortem. It is assumed the UN may wish to look at broader factors
behind the crime, but it is impossible to say how they will set about
this or what success they may have. But perhaps, in one way or the
other, the UN probe may have a therapeutic impact on a nation that
remains traumatized by what took place some three and a half months
ago in Rawalpindi. It may, indeed, also turn up new facts -- but perhaps
its most important purpose will be to put ghosts to rest and help
Benazir's family, the PPP and the nation come to terms fully with
what has been the most dramatic political assassination in our history.
|Untangling the web
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
M B Naqvi
Conspiracies seem to be everywhere and are straining the bedrock coalition
between the PPP and the PML-N on which the Gilani government rests.
It is widely believed that the PPP remains committed to the deal US
brokered between Ms Benazir Bhutto and President Pervez Musharraf
Now, the Feb election results show that it was a reasonably free poll.
But the verdict returned a split parliament, necessitating a coalition
government -- not a part of Pakistani politicians' experiences. Hopefully
they will pass the test. But complications are many because the presidential
camp's intrigues and those of its supporters have various divisive
and mischievous programmes. They want to be a part of the government
so as to prevent the restoration of at least Mr Justice Iftikhar Muhammad
Chaudhry. But if these intrigues succeed and the CJP is not restored
it will result in the ouster of the PML-N from the coalition government.
That would please Musharraf and the US no end.
Remember, the Americans, NATO, other western powers and the phalanx
of social and economic elites not only support Musharraf but also
his friends' schemes. Don't underrate the Musharraf regime's strength.
As COAS of Pak army, his government enjoyed the support of not only
all the elites but of so many of the 2002 election's winners.
This establishment has not disappeared, nor is it weak. It comprises
the bureaucracy that controls the civilian and paramilitary coercive
apparatus and can command help of the army under both Army Act and
the constitution. Although the current army chief is trying to be
politically neutral, it does not necessarily hurt Musharraf. True,
he does not have the same control over the intelligence services.
But the army's neutrality means that the it will not be supporting
anti-Musharraf moves and forces. That leaves Musharraf with the panoply
of bureaucratic power including civilian coercive apparatus.
There are hints that he can still use that blunt sword of Article
58 2 (b). If the political push comes to the shove, Musharraf can
rely on at least police, the Rangers and other paramilitaries. Some
fear he has quite a chance, especially after the MQM's, PML-Q)'s and
PPP's strategy of weakening the lawyers' movement by dividing them.
This has partially succeeded. One believes that Aitzaz Ahsan, Munir
A Malik, Ali Ahmed Kurd, Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, Wajihuddin Ahmed et
al would be able to maintain unity among the lawyers and hopefully
the movement will not fizzle out. Much rides on that.
Let's not forget the external dimension. Pakistan is among the last
some colonies where foreign hegemonic forces still exercise power.
Why is it so? Partly because Pakistan has an army that cannot be supported
by only Pakistan's economy. It requires external aid, especially if
it is to do the job that the Americans want it to do. They are hard
taskmasters. They have implicitly threatened that if their brokered
deal between the PPP and Musharraf is not respected, America will
cut its aid for the Pakistan army; they would even probably take direct
military action on Pakistani territory in order to fight terrorists,
the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Which party in parliament would stand up
to Americans? Probably only Nawaz's league.
Nawaz correctly seized on the lawyers' movement that has changed Punjab.
His position in Punjab is now unassailable. He is now in a position
to give a new election date and can hope to go on to win the ensuing
elections. All he has to do is to do some homework with regard to
other provinces. For that he needs to transcend his economic conservatism.
Can he do that? Who knows? But so long as he sticks to his 'restore
PCOed judges' plank, his hold on Punjab will go on becoming stronger.
If the lawyers' movement gets finally divided and starts fizzling
away, it would be a tremendous setback to hopes of democracy in Pakistan,
probably for a long time to come. The year 2007 memorably produced
a symbol of resistance and compelled civil society, media and many
political parties to start struggling for democracy. It all but succeeded
and it looked Musharraf would have to go. But that has not happened
largely because of the PPP's steadfast support for Musharraf camp
and US intervention.
Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari's Murree Declaration and the earlier
Charter of Democracy are documents that can still guarantee democracy.
If the deadlock inside the government between the PML-N and the PPP
over the restoration of the judges can be resolved and the judges,
including Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, are restored, everything else
will be on course: Pakistan's democratic forces have shown that they
do not happily take dictation on details of the war on terror, though
they regarded the problem of Islamic extremism as Pakistan's own.
As such they would have to find a suitable strategy to tackle it but
that will leave the task of renegotiating limits of American power.
American strategy is based on superior firepower, based on intelligence.
But intelligence in Afghanistan and in tribal areas of Pakistan is
a tricky matter. Historically, informers in the region tend to work
both sides of the street. The point is that a purely military approach
is foolish for a Muslim state to implement in its own Muslim areas.
The Taliban have in recent years been winning the hearts and minds
of the people because of US methods; they are raising as an alternative
state. True, Pakistan has to counter it effectively through a political
strategy with a minimal military muscle that will have to remain subordinated
to political methodology.
Americans do not agree with this. Gilani government technically presides
over the establishment that originally sustained Musharraf who is
still the symbolic head of that establishment. Since he is still supported
by the various social and economic elites and also the bureaucratic
apparatus, his power and moves should not be treated with contempt.
Not that democracy should not be pursued vigorously. But that requires
guts in leadership.
What does that mean? It means preserving the PPP-PML-N alliance intact.
It also implicitly means restoring all the judges without clever-by-half
treachery. Above all, it requires a firm and honest discussion with
the Americans over how the war on terror is to be conducted inside
Pakistan, while the terms of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan's
cooperation can remain but and its limits will need to be clearly
Pakistan has also to come up with a new and realistic Afghan policy.
Unrealistic dreams of mini-imperialism of Pakistan's own vis-ŕ-vis
Afghanistan will have to go. Afghanistan should be treated like any
other foreign country and now that it has been admitted into SAARC,
Pakistan should have a special policy of cooperation with Afghanistan
without trying to gain any extra advantage.
For the rest, the civil society, the media and the lawyers must be
respected and given what they want: They do not want favours: only
independent judiciary and a democratic constitution. Democracy has
to be preserved and developed with the government staying within the
confines of law and Constitution. Reform of the constitution is the
preliminary task of the new government, so that it can solve people's
day-to-day problems whole-heartedly. Economy needs to be revamped
and set on the road to a development that creates more jobs, stabilizes
prices and promotes health and education for the masses, without forgetting
to develop agriculture and industry optimally.
The writer is a veteran journalist and freelance columnist. Email:
|Revenge, sweet revenge
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
On September 28 last year, I received an SMS from a friend who wanted
me to join a peaceful protest on the Constitution Avenue. As I got
late for a couple of hours, I received another SMS asking me to rush
to a hospital where he was lying with multiple fractures. The hospital
presented the scene of a war-zone medical facility as there were not
enough beds to accommodate lawyers, civil society activists and journalists
who had just received a tutorial on enlightened moderation in front
of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The injured included Aitzaz Ahsan
who was mercilessly beaten in front of TV cameras. Police, in the
meantime, were trying to frisk away the injured lawyers to lockups
for further investigation.
The Musharraf government, from the very beginning, made a systematic
use of torture as an instrument of political control. Political leaders
and activists, journalists, lawyers and sometimes ordinary citizens
were abducted, tortured and then dumped on a deserted road. An extended
ordeal waited the troublesome or the "winnable" politicians whose
services were required to serve the national interests. They were
kept in prolonged custody, mostly illegal, and were tortured or intimidated
into submission. The PML-Q, leading the pack of collaborators, was
fully involved in this confederacy of shame and used similar means
to entrench itself in power. In my own district, Muzaffar Garh, almost
a dozen simple councillors were booked on fake charges and faced imprisonment
and torture for supporting a district nazim who belonged to the PPP
and had impolitely declined several offers to join the Lota League.
Lacking any political legitimacy or moral authority, the whole edifice
of the Musharraf regime relied on his conversion machinery that stood
on the pillars of reward and punishment. There was in fact a huge
lota-manufacturing plant that was euphemistically called the National
Accountability Bureau (NAB). The weakest became collaborators and
slightly stronger were silenced. And of course, there were those who
decided to fight on come what may.
For the common people, these ordeals served as the refiner's fire
that separates gold from the dross. The people's verdict showed what
they had in their mind, dross belonged to Musharraf, the tormentor,
and gold to the political parties --harassed, maligned and tormented
for eight years. Going back to my district, the people rewarded the
nazim's party with all the five seats in the National Assembly of
Pakistan. Newly elected member of the National Assembly include a
councillor who led the resistance.
Those who think that hurling a shoe or two at some leading instruments
and apologists of the Musharraf regime amounts to the most heinous
crime of the century need to think again. Life, limb and property
of a common citizen is more important than the whole crop of mushrooms
grown on the compost of a dictator's stable. What happened to Arbab
Rahim and Sher Afgan was bad, not for the two gentlemen perhaps as
it benefited them but for lawyers and democratic forces. Such actions
are bad in taste, they go against the spirit of democracy and flout
the basic principles for which lawyers have fought so valiantly and
sacrificed so much.
For more than a year, lawyers have been organized in the form of a
movement and have shown incredible unity in the face of adversity.
However, they are not a political party or a cohesive group as such.
They are the most vibrant section of Pakistan's civil society and
their movement symbolizes the assertion of Pakistan's civil society.
To use a bit of development jargon, they are rich in social capital,
large in numbers, organized democracy, middle class economically and,
unlike NGOs, not tainted by foreign money. Even after their movement
reaches its immediate goal, they have a crucial role to play in Pakistan's
democratic development. Those who want to discredit their movement
are in fact trying to stab democracy in the back.
The media should learn to make a distinction between policies and
action of the lawyers' movement and bar councils and the actions carried
out by individual lawyers or groups of lawyers. Lawyers themselves
need to find ways and means to repudiate those colleagues who are
too unruly or follow someone else's agenda. Democratic forces must
realize that there is hardly a time more risky and more fraught with
dangers than the moment of victory. There have been incidents of stealing
newborn babies from hospitals. Some zombies, cursed in their wombs,
are lurking in the shadows to steal the beauty just born -- the democracy.
We must remain vigilant and keep the bonfire alight till dawn turns
into the broad daylight.
The writer is an Islamabad-based development consultant with background
in journalism. Email: zaighamkhan@ yahoo.com
|A golden reform opportunity
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
The writer is an Islamabad-based security analyst
All political efforts must be made by the PPP leadership to reverse
the April 13 breakdown of PPP-MQM talks. The people of Karachi, Sindh
and indeed Pakistan
cannot afford a falling out between the two major political forces
of Sindh. The MQM leadership's assurance that it will support the
PPP government's correct policies in Sindh notwithstanding, this breakdown
does not augur well. If the post-1989 political history of Sind is
a guide, then an active PPP-MQM discord will strongly militate against
political peace in Karachi and Hyderabad.
The PPP's political reconciliation efforts led by its chairman Asif
Zardari had, until the MQM pullout, been on a roll. The PPP has still
not given up. It is continuing with its efforts to bring back the
MQM into the fold of the Sind cabinet. Politically reasonable demands
seeking power-sharing on the basis of a fair formula must be met,
since that forms the basis of a workable coalition. Also, where possible,
Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) must be taken to clear accumulated
cobwebs of distrust.
While the compulsion for an MQM-PPP coalition government in Sindh
is a compelling one, clearly a coalition 'at all costs' will be unwise.
Any demand by either coalition member that could potentially undermine
peace and security could in fact undercut the very purpose of building
a coalition which is to promote political peace, purposeful policy-making,
credible functioning of state institutions and efficient functioning
of the government. Therefore while the PPP-MQM dialogue must be brought
back on track it should not be done with the attitude that says it
should be done no matter what the cost.
The MQM's decision to pull out from what had appeared to be a 'done
deal' is being viewed as a first reversal to the PPP's national reconciliation.
His effort to successfully manage a broad-based coalition at the Centre
and in the provinces has been a feather in the hat of a formerly controversial
Asif Zardari. Even his detractors concede that Zardari has deftly
managed to advance the desperately-needed agenda of national reconciliation.
In Sindh, he cajoled and convinced those within the PPP who were against
a PPP-MQM coalition. At the Centre he reassured his principal ally
the PML-N that an MQM-PPP coalition was necessary. The PML-N, with
which the MQN had already established indirect contacts, conveyed
its 'no-objection' to both the PPP and the MQM leadership.
Irrespective of whether the presidency or the Americans seek MQM partnership
in the ruling alliance, this Zardari effort at reconciliation and
at coalition-making with the MQM is essential from the point of view
of Pakistan's political stability. The MQM is after all a party which
despite being perceived by many as one that resorts to terror tactics
does enjoy peoples' mandate. It now has seats both at the Centre and
the provinces. Enlightened self-interest and pragmatic politics prompted
the PPP leadership to seek a coalition arrangement.
What seemed to have been a smoothly progressing PPP-MQM dialogue,
with intermittent telephonic contacts between chairman Asif Zardari
and Altaf Hussain, got derailed soon after the April 9 burning and
killings in Karachi. The MQM publicly identified the dialogue-breakers.
These included the lack of hospitality in Naudero by the PPP leadership
when the MQM arrived to participate in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's death
anniversary. The MQM gesture was indeed a grand one and their expectation
of more hospitable PPP attitude is justified. The PPP's explanation
that the mourning ambience surrounding death anniversaries prevents
extending proper hospitality is just lame. But for the MQM to go to
the extent of pulling away from a near coalition arrangement because
of this would be excessive.
The MQM's second publicly stated complain against the PPP is the appointment
of Shoaib Suddle as IG Sindh. Yet Suddle, a professional law-enforcement
man carrying no burden of a sullied past, is a welcome appointee.
The MQM's complaint against Suddle is that he has committed excesses
against the MQM and that there is great resentment within MQM supporters
and especially among the families of those killed during Suddle's
earlier posting. On April 12, during the MQM-PPP negotiations, the
MQM opposed the Suddle appointment who they blamed for extra judicial
killings of MQM workers. This MQM assertion is in contrast with those
who experienced, with the previous appointment of Suddle, the containment
of Karachi's bloody days.
The MQM's third concern could be the petitions filed in the Sindh
Election Commission tribunal seeking suspension of the election results
in four constituencies of Karachi. The PPP has alleged election-day
rigging by the MQM in these constituencies. The MQM, according to
PPP sources, hopes that PPP will withdraw these petitions. The PPP
has no apparent plans to do so.
In Sindh and, especially in Karachi, the writ of the state, indeed
a credible and not partisan state, needs to be established. The PPP
government also intends to conduct an inquiry into the May 12 and
April 9 killings. Alongside these inquiries there are reports that
MQM Haqqiqi, originally an offshoot of the MQM and now a strong opponent
of it , will be allowed to resume its political activities. During
the MQM-regime its political space was completely squeezed.
The new Sindh government's agenda would be of concern to the MQM because
it could politically undermine the MQM. Clearly the MQM's perennial
concerns, some flowing inevitably from its violent politics, have
surfaced. The MQM could fear administrative hostility too; something
that sections of the MQM did openly indulge in. But indeed what better
way of preventing needless harassment and a fair deal for itself at
the hands of the new Sindh government and administration, than being
part of the government and administration.
The PPP will continue to re-engage with the MQM. It will be the MQM's
choice that will determine if a coalition is possible. The MQM's leadership
must re-engage. It must, with all its concerns view re-engagement
as an opportunity to reorient its politics away from violence towards
what has evidently been its strength; running an efficient administration
and mobilizing public support for their public-government partnership
for efficient governance.
The current ruling coalition, despite all its reservations, does genuinely
seek to reintegrate the MQM in genuine, popular mainstream politics,
without the crutches of the establishment and violence. This is a
golden opportunity for the MQM to transition towards a popular law-abiding
political party. There is much political space for a reformed MQM.
As Pakistan's mainstream political forces move towards self-reformation,
the MQM leadership's shunning of this opportunity for self-reform
will be at its own peril.
Email: [email protected]
|MQM in opposition
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Bringing an end to the speculation regarding the state of PPP-MQM
relations, that has continued now for days, the MQM has announced
it will be sitting in the opposition. The decision follows a deadlock
in talks between the two parties, with the appointment of Shoaib Suddle
as the inspector-general of the Sindh police emerging as a key point
of contention (some reports have also suggested that the talks broke
down over division of ministries). Suddle, a controversial figure
to say the least, has been blamed by the MQM for the multiple murders
of activists carried out allegedly by the Sindh police during the
time he was DIG Karachi in the mid-1990s, during the tenure of the
second PPP government. The PPP-SB has also condemned the re-appointment
of the same team of police officials that it says was involved in
the 1996 killing of Mir Murtaza Bhutto and has said it will stage
protests. In fact, Mr Suddle was one of the accused in the murder
trial of Murtaza Bhutto and six other men.
While the MQM has blamed the PPP for its ‘non-serious’ attitude during
talks, the PPP has indicated it will attempt to re-continue the reconciliation
process, possibly through a meeting by Asif Ali Zardari with Altaf
Hussain in London. But for the present, the breakdown in the talks
comes as the first major blow to the efforts by Mr Zardari to put
in place a government of ‘national agreement’. In this context, Mr
Zardari’s high-sounding words of praise for Mr Hussain during his
visit to Nine Zero just days ago seem both overblown and rather immature.
This is all the more so particularly after the events in Karachi of
April 9 when at least 12 people died, including five who were burnt
alive, in a day of senseless violence. There are also apprehensions
-- and not entirely unfounded -- that the failure of the PPP to reach
agreement with the MQM could signal a renewed phase of turbulence
and conflict in the country’s largest city. There are many who say
that the hold the MQM has over the city more or less amounts to a
certain degree of blackmail over any government in power and the PPP’s
eagerness to get the party of Altaf Hussain on board is obviously
tied in to these realities.
This having been said, it must be noted that any meaningful process
of reconciliation must be backed by actions that demonstrate goodwill,
and not just words. In this respect, the appointment of police officers
who carry with them a big burden of distrust is unfortunate. As Mr
Zardari himself has stated on more than one occasion, the country
needs a fresh start. The best way to achieve this is to ensure that
those appointed to key posts are seen as being persons of integrity
and good standing in the eyes of people. Whereas the PPP may have
confidence in the loyalty and efficiency of its team, this perception
is not widely shared. Appointments based on the basis of what seems
like loyalty to a specific group will always lead to fears of the
past policies of vendetta being continued. These are sentiments the
PPP should indeed have been well aware of as it set about the process
At the same time, the terrible culture of violence that has taken
root in Karachi must be ended in one way or the other. The people
of the city have suffered far too long; the fear that constantly stalks
streets must be vanquished so that Karachi can regain its standing
as a city within which the heart of the country beats. The PPP, which
has formed its government in Sindh, must now carefully consider how
this task can be achieved -- and then devise policies for the purpose
so that the descent into chaos so often seen in Karachi over the past
years can be thwarted.
|Shouldn’t we be more
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
I got a call from my wife in Lahore from Islamabad, saying atta is
not available in Islamabad and if I could bring some. I sent the servant,
who came back to say that he could get only two bags of 5kg as the
store had run out of atta.
As I finished with him, the lights went off: load-shedding. The Chinese
emergency lights, which have been conking out regularly, refused to
work. So I had no option but to sit in pitch darkness for an hour
and reflect over our state of affairs.
When the lights came back and the TV got switched on, there were two
windows on the screen of a the popular news channels, one showing
the carnage in Karachi with dead bodies of lawyers burnt alive being
brought out, and the other the press conference of Mr Dar telling
us how the previous government had fudged figures and spent Rs522
billion without budgetary allocation, and how our foreign exchange
reserves were depleting fast, and official inflation was recorded
Now if all this is not enough to make a person despondent, what is?
It is even depressing for a fortunate person like me, who can be counted
in the top few percentile of the country’s population. What would
be the state of mind of the millions, who form the majority of this
country? But, then, despondency is a sin in our religion and as a
wise man said, "Despondency is ingratitude; hope is God’s worship."
I therefore decided to attempt to think positive and analyzes, to
see what is in the half-filled glass, rather than concentrate on the
On the positive side, the best think that has happened to us is the
reawakening of civil society. The affluent segments of society have
woken up and have repeatedly borne the brunt of law enforcers by demonstrating
for rule of law. Important and respected citizens, retired army officers
and civil servants have written joint letters to highlight incongruities
in the system. The media has helped by covering and, projecting these
The second positive thing is the unprecedented and sustained movement
by the lawyer community for rule of law at the expense of their livelihood,
their body and limb and even their lives. They are sending the message
that the judiciary is an institution to reckon with and not a walkover
of the past, and that they are going to stand by their chief; in a
way similar to the institution of the army, which does not take kindly
to their chief being touched.
The third positive thing is the fight-back by the media to assert
its independence. It is back in full cry and relaying a blow-by-blow
commentary on all events. This is not only keeping the rulers on their
toes, but is also keeping the public informed and educating them politically.
Resultantly, the level of debate in every household, office or farm
in the country is of a better quality, as the discussants are better
There is, however, one caveat in this positive thing, that the electronic
media will have to learn to self regulate itself and not go overboard
in its desire to be one-up on its competing channel.
The fourth positive thing is the principled and firm stand taken by
the judges dismissed on Nov 3, against an arbitrary, illegal and despotic
order. As someone said, when savages wish to have fruit, they cut
down the tree and gather it—that is exactly what has happened. The
tree of judiciary was cut down for the election of one person. A judge
who in the past used to acquiesce has taken a stand and in the process
and has become a hero. Human nature is such that it goes for the underdog.
The fifth positive thing is that at this critical juncture both Nawaz
Sharif and Asif Zardari seem to realise how important taking the right
decisions is. That is why they decided to rise above their short-term
interests and agreed to work together, as manifest in the Murree Declaration.
One sincerely hopes that they stand by it.
While one major party is being very firm on the issue of the judiciary,
the other would like to be pragmatic and flexible. Pragmatism is laudable,
as ground realities are different from ground realities; also there
is much to be said for flexing in the face of a strong gust, rather
than breaking by staying inflexible. However, statesmanship demands
that on some issues a firm stand is taken. The crisis of judiciary
facing this country is one such issue.
Let us assume that the judiciary is either not restored or restored
with caveats. In that situation you would have bestowed legitimacy
to the action of Nov. 3. Similarly, if you go through the process
of undertaking a constitutional amendment to achieve the objective,
you would be acknowledging that the action of Nov.3 was legitimate.
In such a scenario, the struggle of the past one year by the civil
society, the lawyer community, and the political parties will have
gone down the drain and, regardless of what happens to Musharraf,
there would not a precedent to act as a deterrent to a future adventurer
from the army. We may have a law-abiding general commanding the army
this time, but what is the guarantee that the next general will not
dig out all the old PCOs and martial law orders of Gen Musharraf and
simply put them into effect again? The judiciary is the only shield
in the armour of the civilians.
As they say, "A politician thinks of the next election, a statesman
of the next generation; a politician looks for the success of his
party; a statesman of that of his country." One hopes that having
seen the ups of down of politics for the last two decades and having
held power two times each (Mr Zardari through his wife), the two men
have matured from politician into statesmen. What this country needs
are a couple of statesmen, rather than politicians. If that happens,
my half empty glass of optimisms will be completely full and the nervous
investors will not only come back but the task of Mr Dar to put the
country back on the road to economic progress will be that much easier.
The writer is a former federal secretary. Email: [email protected]
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience
in national and international reporting.
Are Pakistanis masochistic? Why are they not protesting about prolonged
power outages that are making their lives a living hell? Instead
of protesting about Arbab Rahim and Sher Afgan Khan Niazi’s lynching,
who by the way came out surprisingly unscathed physically and emotionally
and were trundling from one TV studio to the next playing the victim,
the masses should be demanding immediate remedies from the government
to end their energy torture.
Where’s the civil society? Where are the human rights groups? Where
are the fat cats NGOs supposedly toiling for the betterment of ordinary
Pakistanis? Should they not all gang up and stand to demand that
the new government address the energy crisis on a war footing? Fattened
on the ‘breaking news’ syndrome that became our staple diet post-March
9 last year, our hunger for sensationalism and luridness on the
electronic media keeps us away from real life issues.
In such ‘exciting’ times where images of ex-VIPs being whacked repeatedly
generated by a mob hysteria, which viewer would care to watch a
sober, serious discussion on ‘bijli ka buhran’?
Was MNA Ayaz Amir really serious when he asked the prime minister
to work in candlelight during a power outage? Let me take fellow-columnist
Ayaz Amir’s capital suggestion a step further by recommending coal
to the PM. Thar coal fields should be the government’s next watering
hole. Gather all the petroleum experts and cart them to the coalmines.
"Coal is cool" should be their credo. "It’s the answer to our 40
per cent energy deficit currently resulting in prolonged power cuts,"
says Musharraf’s former petroleum minister.
Usman Aminuddin continues: "Pakistan has the second largest coal
reserves in the world after US. Thar is the fifth largest coalfield
in the world." As Musharraf’s petroleum minister, Usman did not
last for more than three years because of politics and vested interests
which began to mine in. He left in a huff. "I am a technocrat, not
a politician." Usman introduced the mass use of CNG in Pakistan.
It was under his watch that oil was discovered in NWFP for the first
time. He resurrected the dead Saindak project which was shut down
abruptly in 1996 for lack of working capital. "We earned billions
in exports from Saindak which was a rich source in gold and copper.
Do you know that Pakistan has the second largest copper deposits
in the world after Chile?" Warming up to the theme: ‘What is it
that Pakistan does not have?’ Usman says "We produce 16 major minerals
in the world. We’re the only country that has pink topaz!"
However critics say that the contract awarded to the Chinese to
mine Saindak in 2002 for ten years is faulty. A technical body for
monitoring and evaluation of the production and export of copper,
gold and silver at the Saindak project should have been constituted
before the copper and gold assets were handed over to Chinese. And
now Shaukat Aziz government is being accused by the auditor general
for causing an accumulated loss of Rs16.439 billion to the exchequer
for the Saindak project!
Usman Aminuddin who has spent 50 years in oil and gas industry is
convinced that the petroleum and mineral ministry is the "only ministry
which can change the fortunes of this country." While he has snatched
back millions from individuals who stole money from the ministry,
he could have gotten more had he not been halted by powers that
be. He doesn’t want to expose the Musharraf government, instead
he says that aggressive drilling for hydrocarbon fuel in offshore
areas and Balochiston can turn Pakistan into a country which can
be in a position to meet its domestic needs as well as export to
the world outside.
So who’s stopping Pakistan from developing its potential?
Sadly, it’s been the rulers of the day.
Since the Constitution of Pakistan declares mining to be a provincial
subject, political vested interests have kept hostage the exploration
of coal and other mineral resources. "I was not willing to be the
one to change the Constitution." He did however constitute a taskforce
and invited the Chinese to work out feasibility plan for Thar. "China
invested $26 million, but when the tariff could not be worked out,
they got fed up and left." End of Thar.
"I don’t claim reinventing the wheel, all I’m saying is that coal
is our future. We can generate our electricity from coal. In America
coal generates 52 per cent of its energy needs and increasing, in
China it is 82 per cent and increasing; in India it is 62 per cent0
and increasing but in Pakistan it’s only 0.6 per cent and static!"
The above facts should shock all Pakistanis out of their wits. But
will they? Instead of suffering load shedding for years to come
(and don’t you believe the new government promises that it will
end in three years) why are we not clamouring for coal as a lifesaver?
Instead of nattering all the time about the 17th Amendment or Article
58-2 (b) or about the PCO judges, why are we not demanding that
coal be made a federal subject? Who are we afraid of? The local
wadera or the thanedar of Thar?
Usman suggests small gasification plants in rural areas for domestic
and commercial use as an "ideal solution." He says that he sanctioned
one plant for Bhakkar which never took off. "Had it become a reality,
it would have paved the way for many such plants."
All of Usman’s ‘action plans’ evaporated into thin air. No wonder
he threw in the towel and preferred playing golf instead of trying
to convince his cabinet colleagues to act and act speedily. "I had
predicted that the price of oil will go above $100 a barrel (in
2000) but no one listened. I kept insisting that we adjust our prices
according to the international market, but no one had the courage
to do it. Everyone was afraid of the political fallout."
At the risk of losing his neck, the desperate petroleum minister
went a begging for oil to Baghdad after 9/11. The Iraqis ‘welcomed’
him with daggers drawn. They raved and ranted at Musharraf having
joined Bush in ‘war on terror.’ At the end of the day Usman pulled
it off. He bagged a good deal from Iraq which pledged a whole ‘block’
of its oilfields for Pakistan. The Americans got wind of it and
killed the deal immediately. Pakistan was kicked out by the Americans
and warned never to set its sights on Iraqi oilfields. End of story.
Currently 50 per cent of Pakistan’s energy needs are being fed by
natural gas. "The Sui gas fields alone are providing 45 per cent
of energy. By 2010, the flow would go into a serious decline," says
Usman. With the IPI (Iran, Pakistan & India) gas pipeline in
the doldrums and the TAP (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan)
never taking off and even if both the projects were to start, it
would take five years for the pipelines to be constructed. "What
are we going to do until then?" asks Usman while painting a horrific
scenario in the years ahead. "Yes you can buy as much oil as you
want, but you’ll have to pay a fortune for it. The gas is not an
alternative as laying of gas pipelines will take forever…"
Let’s talk solutions, I say to him in a bid to cut the Gordian knot.
"Coal is your future," he repeats infinitum. "You control the supply
and the pricing because coal is your own product; you don’t have
to ask any foreigner for a favour." Forever ember! "With a $2 billion
investment in coal gasification and chemical procedure, you shift
away from subsidy, define a tariff and open up shop for business.
Give it to the first person who gives you the price you (government)
are demanding." Conserving energy is another way of cutting down
consumption. "It can be done easily if there’s a political will."
The most important immediate solution is request Saudi Arabia to
give $1billion worth of oil gratis as it has done in the past. When
Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister, the Saudis sold oil to Pakistan
at concessional prices which involved reducing the quantity of oil
sold and extended the period over which the oil was to be sold.
"The prices of petrol today are hurting the poor man, not the rich
in Pakistan," says Usman Aminuddin. "Petrol is heavily taxed because
it’s considered a rich man’s fuel. That no longer holds true. The
rich drive SUVs that run on diesel or cars that run on CNG. Its
the poor on the motor bikes or the tractors using petrol."
Will someone act?
Friday, April 11, 2008
If the assaults on Arbab Ghulam Rahim and Dr Sher
Afgan were condemnable because they militated against one's inherent
sense of decency, the violence and killings in Karachi have added
a sinister dimension to the situation. These were not incidental
happenings. Groups of armed men deliberately targeted buildings
housing law chambers and offices of bar associations. Cars were
also burnt in different parts of the city to create fear and a sense
of insecurity. It was an organised attempt to intimidate in which
human life was not considered of any consequence.
The timing of the Karachi killings has given a new
colour to earlier happenings concerning Arbab Rahim and Sher Afgan.
While sad and inexcusable, they had at first appeared spontaneous.
Now many questions are being raised. Why did Arbab Rahim insist
on visiting the Sindh Assembly after he had been treated shabbily
a day earlier? Was it done to provoke an incident in the full glare
of the media? He could have easily sat out for a week and taken
oath after things had settled down. But, no, it seems he wanted
an unpleasant incident and walked deliberately into it.
What followed later also seemed like a well-orchestrated
plan. The MQM immediately boycotted the Sindh Assembly session and
Q League leaders descended on Karachi. Press conferences followed
with rapidity from all and sundry with the purpose to make the PPP
government look bad. But this was not enough for those who were
plotting against the revival of democracy. The lawyer's movement
for the restoration of the judiciary also had to be made to look
wicked and evil. And it was here that the Sher Afgan incident became
It is difficult to say whether the good doctor deliberately
walked into the lion's den which for him, given the current state
of tension, must be places where lawyers congregate. At the very
least, he could not have expected a favourable response from the
law community given his open support to the dictatorial actions
of the-then Gen Musharraf. But let us say that it was not a conspiracy
and he had genuine legal business and had to go to a law chamber.
Yet, what happened later creates huge misgivings.
He was locked up inside for nearly five hours and,
thanks to live coverage, the event was visible to everyone in the
government. Yet no attempt was made by the police to rescue him.
By all accounts, there were not more than two hundred people at
the scene. Was it so difficult to disperse them and take Sher Afgan
out? Anyone with even a little experience of law-enforcement will
tell you that it could easily be done. Yet, Aitzaz Ahsan had to
go there and try to use his moral authority to calm the situation.
Aitzaz only realised later that he had been put in an untenable
situation. If the gathering was entirely of lawyers, he could have
handled them, despite some black sheep, because they have immense
respect for him. It is clear now that some other elements, possibly
sent deliberately by interested parties, were determined to make
an incident. Thus, a small situation in law-and-order terms became
potentially big. Police was unwilling to use force, and without
force, the agent provocateurs were not ready to leave. They did
their business on live television. The lawyer's movement was tarred
with a black brush.
The Karachi situation is also being orchestrated
essentially in the context of the judiciary's restoration. The MQM
and the PPP may have differences over issues of power sharing and
distribution of ministries, but the real situation is different.
The PPP is being told that if it goes ahead with the restoration
of the judiciary, as demanded by its coalition partner, the PML-N,
there is going to be serious trouble in Sindh. The MQM is the only
party aligned to Musharraf that has muscle, and it is showing it.
The message to the PPP is that it can have either a smooth time
in Sindh or a coalition with PML-N. The issue hanging in balance
is restoration of the judiciary, which Musharraf sees as his ultimate
There is little doubt that these conspiracies –
and there is no other way to describe it – are coming from
the Musharraf camp. Time is running out on him and he knows it.
He is fighting a rearguard battle in which he is using his remaining
allies in the political sphere to create a split between the PPP
and PML-N, and thus scuttle the restoration of the judiciary. For
this purpose, he is using the MQM to put pressure on the PPP. But
the sad part is that some in the media have also become a party
to this sinister game.
This is visible from the commentary that is coming
out after the disgraceful incident with Dr Sher Afgan. Those who
are inherently opposed to restoration of the judiciary and covertly
and overtly support Mr Musharraf are using this as a stick to beat
the lawyers' movement and their leadership. The fact that the presidents
of the Supreme Court, the Lahore High Court and the Lahore District
Bar Association actually tried everything to save Dr Sher Afgan
is given short shrift. The secondary agenda is to tarnish the PML-N,
because it is also being dragged into this incident.
I have been saying repeatedly that we cannot move
forward as long as Mr Musharraf holds the presidency. He will just
not allow the political situation to settle down. Some people justify
this by saying that a drowning man will do everything to save himself.
While this may be true in a philosophical sense, in this case the
future of the country is at stake. The nation is bigger than one
individual or his continuance in a particular office. The problem
is that this man or those whose future is directly or indirectly
linked to him, are not willing to recognise it.
But the political forces should have no such illusion.
They must realise that he will not in any circumstances allow them
to take genuine control of power. He will continue to create roadblocks
and hope that enough trouble is created so that he can create a
justification for using 58 (2) (b) to sack all the assemblies. They
should be ready for more troubles like the ones visited on Arbab
Rahim and Sher Afgan. It is an orchestrated plan to scuttle democracy.
What this means is that the political forces need
to cut the nonsense and focus their entire attention on Mr Musharraf.
All this talk of him being a national asset amounts to digging one's
own grave. They should get ready to impeach him. There is no other
way out. If they get distracted and allow dissentions to occur between
them, they should prepare for a short and unhappy stint in power.
valuable to be condemned
Friday, April 11, 2008
Dr Masooda Bano
The beating up of Sher Afgan Niazi by a group of
lawyers in Lahore and the recent clashes between rival groups of
lawyers in Karachi, one representing the MQM, which have resulted
in eight deaths are of course a cause of concern. Aggression of
any form, whether a result of genuine frustration or deliberate
design, is not going to help the fragile political situation in
Pakistan. The concerns of the critics are thus understandable. But
there is also a need for caution that the acts of a few lawyers
or those linked to specific political parties are not used to paint
the entire lawyers' movement black. It must be remembered that the
contribution of the lawyers' movement in reconfiguring the civilian-military
dynamic in Pakistan that has resulted in the post-election optimism
is so phenomenal that a few cases of improper behaviour should not
be allowed to tarnish the entire movement.
One thing is obvious. The lawyers' movement does
not benefit from such incidents. The question then is that what
has caused the Lahore and Karachi episodes. Of course, both cases
need to be explored in detail before specific claims can be made.
It does seem, however, that a conscious effort is afoot by vested
interests to sabotage the movement by such incidences. The fact
that MQM lawyers constituted one of the rival groups in the clash
in Karachi highlights the fact that there are certain political
interests at play. The MQM has after all been a pro-Musharraf party
and, given that Gen (r) Musharraf refuses to let go of the presidential
office even if the only power he still retains is to plan intrigues.
Similar forces could have been behind the thrashing
of Sher Afgan Niazi in Lahore. On the other hand there is also a
slight possibility that some lawyers thought that Mr Niazi had to
be punished for his sins of being such a vocal defender of Gen (r)
Musharraf. That the Musharraf regime has tested people's patience
to the limit is obvious. It is a government that manipulated, embezzled,
lied, and killed blatantly. So the public anger against the representatives
of that regime is clear. Imagine Gen (r) Musharraf is left amid
a crowd without his protective barriers and few would be able to
visualise a rosy scenario. However, despite this it appears unlikely
that the lawyers' will deliberately attack anyone as any lawyer
truly committed to the movement realises that such actions only
have a negative impact on the movement. As for Sher Afgan Niazi,
one has little sympathy for him.
When analysing these cases, it is critical that
analysts and the public do not let these isolated incidents defame
the entire movement. Everyone needs to remember that the current
sense of optimism and change is all due to this movement. If Justice
Iftikhar Chaudhary had not taken that stand, and if the lawyers
had not come out to stand behind him, there would have been no return
of Benazir, Zardari or Nawaz Sharif. The entire political space
for their return was a result of this movement. Without this movement
we would even today have Sher Afgan Niazi and the lot running the
show under the over-confident Gen (r) Musharraf. Is not the mere
thought enough to send a shudder down one's spine? It was the lawyers
who protested against the regime under the scorching sun of the
last summer, it was the lawyers who took severe beatings after the
Nov 3 emergency and now again it is the lawyers who are keeping
alive the pressure for the reinstatement of the disposed judges.
These few incidents of improper conduct have no weight as opposed
to the grand contribution of this movement to bringing structural
changes in Pakistan.
These incidences, however, highlight that vested
forces are still trying to derail the lawyers' movement and subvert
the demand for reinstatement of the judges. The pressures on the
movement's leadership are thus enormous. It is therefore extremely
disturbing to see Aitzaz Ahsan plan to resign as president of the
Supreme Court Bar Association. He is critical to this movement,
now that it is at the climax. He has been giving the movement the
perfect leadership, adopting that defiant tone in all his speeches
since his release. His leadership has been critical in keeping the
pressure on the political parties to stand by their promises and
reinstate the judges. He must not quit now. This is the time the
movement needs him the most. He must rise to the challenge and not
Finally, the PPP should put its house in order.
It has already started to test people's patience by giving conflicting
statements on methods of reinstating the judges. The PPP has yet
to prove that it is actually not playing a double game of appearing
independent yet working with the establishment. The reinstatement
of the judges without any conditions is its main test.
writer is undertaking post-doctoral research at Oxford University.
Email: [email protected]
new leadership need not be so confused
Friday, April 11, 2008
These are charged times and people are desperate.
The vote on Feb 18, the verdict of the people, was not for things
to remain as they were. It wasn't a vote for the status quo. It
was a vote for change.
Pity the people therefore if the choices available
to them fall far short of their expectations. To state the obvious,
the PPP and the PML-N are status quo parties, no doubt capable of
tinkering with the system but wholly incapable of changing it. The
political elite, whichever party it purports to represent, is not
just a product of the status quo but its beneficiary, speaking the
language of populism but desperately lagging behind popular aspirations.
Thus the supreme anomaly of today: the vast disconnect between the
masses and those who profess to lead them.
Charged times give birth to desperate actions. The
roughing up of Arbab Ghulam Rahim and Dr Sher Afgan Niazi are pointers
to the public mood. Anyone associated with the Musharraf regime
becomes a legitimate target of public wrath. And public wrath, almost
by definition, carries within it the seeds of anarchy.
No one can condone such behaviour but that is not
the point. The important thing is to understand why seemingly normal
people behave the way they do when they see a symbol or representative
of the near-defunct Musharraf order (although people around the
beleaguered president still seem desperate for some magic potion
that could give a fresh lease of life to their discredited champion).
Why was Naeem Bokhari roughed up? Why the anger
against Arbab Rahim? Why the madness (and it was madness) which
overcame lawyers and members of the public when they got wind of
Sher Afgan's presence at a lawyer's office near the Lahore High
Because eight and a half years of Musharraf, eight
and a half years of his ruinous policies, have distorted the psyche
of the Pakistani nation. We weren't like this when Musharraf arrived
on the scene. But we have become like this after eight and a half
years of tinpot disaster: economic policies serving the interests
of the rich, a foreign policy at the service of the United States,
sundry military operations on our own soil against our own people,
leaving a trail of blood from the mountains of Balochistan and Waziristan
right to the heart of Islamabad.
An extended dance of death staged against the backdrop
of some of the worst arrogance and bombast the people of Pakistan
have had to endure. They have also had to put up with a constant
stream of lies from some of the greatest monuments to mediocrity
(and hypocrisy) this country has ever seen.
The people's cup of patience was full but what could
they do? So they bided their time. When Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry
defied Musharraf the people made Chaudhry their hero. When they
got a chance to express their pent-up feelings on Feb 18 they did
so in a manner which effectively spelled the end of Musharraf's
long and disastrous dictatorship. He remains president, but as a
shadow of his former self, universally mocked and derided, whether
a burden to himself we don't know but certainly a burden to the
That he still wants to cling to whatever semblance
of authority he has is understandable. Several rings of security
guard his person, the inner-most cordon made up of men from the
Special Services. Without this security where would he be and how
would he fare? He dare not move into the presidency and leave the
safety of what used to be Army House because he is a prisoner of
his own fears, which is worse than any form of impeachment.
But the question is: what hinders the leadership
from heeding the voice of the people? The people did not vote for
the PPP and PML-N so that Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar and Foreign
Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi should be accompanying Musharraf to
China. They did not vote the way they did so that Ahmed Mukhtar
should be extolling Musharraf's virtues as a commodity to be cashed
in the outside world. They voted for conciliation between the two
major parties but not for conciliation with forces that until yesterday
gyrated to the sound of military music.
If peace can be made with the MQM, if Maulana Fazlur
Rehman for little rhyme or reason can be taken aboard the coalition
battleship that passes for the government at the centre, why are
those who matter in the new order of things so allergic to the judges'
Lahore's lawyers may have gone a step too far. Rawalpindi's
lawyers went a step too far when Naeem Bokhari was roughed up. This
is not the way how such matters should be handled. We are an emotional
people, more at home with slogans and the beating of drums than
rational discussion. The lawyers' movement has turned the legal
community into a 'hyper' lot, ready to do battle at a moment's notice.
This is not how it should be but, sadly, this is how---thanks to
Musharraf's obduracy on the judges' issue---it has become.
We have had enough of agitation on this issue. Time
to calm surging passions so that the government can concentrate
on the other problems the nation faces. But to do this we have to
get the judges' issue out of the way. Without going into the rigmarole
of committee-forming, the National Assembly should pass a simple
resolution condemning the assault on the constitution carried out
by Musharraf on Nov 3. Then quietly the deposed judges, without
fanfare or the blowing of horns, should be ushered into the judicial
corridors from where they were dislodged.
After the Sher Afgan affair, the perspective surrounding
the lawyers' movement has dramatically changed. Now it is not just
a question of restoring the deposed judges but of ensuring that
the re-born judiciary we all want should be able to go about its
business calmly without lighting the fires of any further controversy.
Some of Chaudhry's recent actions may not have been
all that well-advised. Should he have gone calling on Asif Zardari
even if it was for condoling with him on the death of Benazir Bhutto?
There are other ways of offering condolences. And should he have
gone to Quetta, there to lead another slow-moving procession? The
politburo of lawyers which has led the lawyers' movement (all of
them my friends, incidentally) may have erred on these two counts.
There are forces which would be all too happy to
destabilize the new democratic order. Look what's happened in Karachi,
almost a replay of the events of May 12 last year. Who has the ability
to unleash arson and violence on this huge a scale in Pakistan's
largest city? We know the answer to this question but our lips are
sealed because that is what discretion dictates. Anyhow, the most
suitable response to what's happened in Karachi is to restore the
And another thing: there should be no question of
retaining the new recruits to the higher judiciary. They have tainted
themselves and their calling by taking service under Musharraf.
They should all be out. I say 'new recruits' because the old judges
who sat in the Chaudhry Supreme Court may have to be retained in
the larger interests of conciliation and drawing a line over the
past. With the exception of course of My Lord Dogar who having collaborated
with the Nov 3 assault on the constitution may like to excuse himself
from the bench for having become a divisive figure, thus doing the
nation a service.
But for Asif Zardari to do the right thing on this
issue he will have to deal with his three legal musketeers: Law
Minister Farooq Naek, Senator Lateef Khosa and Senator Babar Awan.
All three have some kind of prejudice against both Justice Iftikhar
Chaudhry and Aitzaz Ahsan. Asif Zardari has so far not visited the
shrine of Hazrat Bari Imam. Let him do so in the company of these
three gladiators and there urge them to have some mercy on this
As for Sher Afgan, he deserves the legal community's
unqualified apology. What kind of chivalry is this to beat up an
old man? If Sher Afgan was a Musharraf apologist so what? At least
give him credit for being an unrepentant and honest apologist who
stuck to his guns until the last. It's a poor democracy if people
are not entitled to their opinions.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Two incidents of manhandling of pro-Musharraf politicians have suddenly
turned the political scenario into an explosive confrontation between
the ruling alliance and the parties which ruled the country for many
years under the patronage of President Pervez Musharraf. That the
wide media coverage given to these two unfortunate events in Karachi
and Lahore resulted in the immediate and angry reaction all over the
country proves the important role a free media can play in a democratic
society. The TV pictures of Arbab Rahim's shoe beating and dragging
of Dr Sher Afgan built up a media frenzy. Condemnations were in order
and quick. Yet the instant flurry of hyper activity by the opposition
parties, placing the blame in absolute terms even before any inquiry
could be started, forging of new alliances and then the explosion
of Karachi into flames, only indicate that the level of patience and
maturity in our political parties has not yet reached the desired
The intensity of the political reaction maybe perceived
to be an over-kill by the opposition. Pakistani politics and our
cities have seen far more intense scenes of turmoil, violence and
bloodshed in the past but never was the situation described as 'total
anarchy', as many political leaders are now doing. The cold reality
is that the new political governments have not even settled down
in their jobs. Cabinets have not been formed, new administrations
have not been set up and technically the executive control is still
with the same officials and administrators as before the Feb 18
elections. But the chorus of anarchy has been raised to such a pitch
as if the new governments have totally failed to perform their duties
or have adopted sinister policies in total negation of democratic
rights and values. This is not only unfortunate but may prove counterproductive
because if, according to the new opposition, beating up of a couple
of politicians by unruly individuals is anarchy, then what would
they call May 12, or October 18 or Dec 27-like situations.
Everybody should take a step back and think. The
growing perception is that the pro-Musharraf alliance wants a quick
kill or a sudden death to the new setup, possibly before the PPP-PML-N
alliance can take control of the situation and starts to formulate
and implement policies which may not be liked by the presidency.
The opposition has blamed all the incidents, including Karachi,
on their political opponents, without waiting for a second. Live
and instant projection by the media has helped them overshadow the
new governments, busy in finding their feet in their new roles of
governing a difficult polity. Probably the opposition is trying
to provide the presidency some justification to crackdown on the
new setup or to create fissures in the coalition.
If the presidency takes the bait, the consequences
could be catastrophic because the huge mandate against the old setup
cannot just be wiped off the slate before it is allowed to work,
and fail. It has to be given a chance to translate the wishes of
the people into policies and actions. Any precipitate action by
the presidency would simply be cancelling the results of the Feb
18 elections and going back to the autocratic and authoritarian
system, backed by rejected elements. The government has to step
up and take effective control of the situation. The opposition has
to stop in its tracks and think about what it is trying to achieve.
It has to accept that after its defeat in the elections, it cannot
subvert the system by using petty excuses or a couple of odd incidents
and then asking the president to use his powers against democracy.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Karachi has suddenly, and almost mysteriously, flared up into serious
and widespread arson, violence, death and destruction with at least
seven people killed, dozens of cars, buses and offices set on fire,
roads jammed with scared citizens stuck in traffic, markets and petrol
pumps all over the city shut down. Coming soon after the despicable
incidents of the beating up of Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim and Dr Sher Afgan,
and the decision of pro-Musharraf political parties to get together
against the PPP-PML-N alliance, the scale and speed of the violence
baffles the mind. The violence brought back terrible memories of the
fateful day of May 12, 2007 when the Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar
Mohammed Chaudhry was not allowed to come out of the Karachi Airport
and over 40 people were killed in clashes. Yesterday's flare-up was
triggered presumably by a clash on the city courts premises where
some MQM lawyers were allegedly attacked and injured. The incident
could have been linked to the beating of Dr Sher Afgan in Lahore.
The MQM blamed the anti-Musharraf lawyers of attacking their peaceful
protest rally but the lawyers' and PPP leaders termed the events a
grand conspiracy to create a rift between the PPP and the MQM to derail
the new democratic process.
Earlier, another blot on Pakistani politics had
appeared when Tuesday evening in Lahore saw a mob pummelling, pulling,
kicking and otherwise humiliating former minister for parliamentary
affairs Dr Sher Afgan Niazi. Coming only a day after almost equally
unruly scenes at the Sindh Assembly, it suggested a regrettable
descent into uncivilized behaviour. Of course, it is easy to read
conspiracies into these events. Certainly, the possibility of events
being stage-managed has been raised, especially given the almost
eerie similarities between what happened in Karachi and then Lahore.
It, after all, takes little to provoke angered and frustrated people
against those whom they regard as oppressors and, for some, all
members of the previous regime fall into this category. Lawyers'
leaders have already alleged that agencies were involved in the
incident and have also asked why police failed to take command of
the situation. But this can be no excuse for what happened. Those
who have so far been regarded as heroes by civil society must beware
of the tendency that similar movements could turn into mobs. It
would be sad if a truly genuine movement for rule of law and supremacy
of the constitution was marred by such incidents destroying the
norms of decency. There is as such an urgent need to take command
of the situation, before it is too late. Lawyers, political parties
and other democratic forces must take steps in this regard. All
these groups need to ensure that there are no further episodes of
this nature, for they serve only to weaken democracy, and by doing
so add to the many dangers that Pakistan currently faces as it begins
its journey to what many hope will be a new future.
Some questions must, however, be answered. One is
the strange absence of any administrative authority in Karachi (to
stop uninvited people coming into the Sindh Assembly) and Lahore,
where police and authorities had hours to mobilize themselves and
mount a rescue operation to release Dr Afgan and other hostages.
Why did it become necessary for Aitzaz Ahsan to intervene? Why did
police not use force when no party or group had owned the siege?
Why were large parts of Karachi engulfed in flames after a minor
clash between lawyers? Whose interests are being served by this
chain of tragic events and who is the target? Likewise everyone
must see who, if anyone, is benefiting from the turmoil.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
About 353 newly elected MPAs to the Punjab Assembly finally took oath
Wednesday, nearly six weeks after the February 18 general election.
As has been the case within the National Assembly and each of the
other three provincial assemblies, slogans for the late Benazir Bhutto
were raised as the session began. While elections for the speaker,
deputy speaker and chief minister are scheduled over the coming few
days, the results are virtually a foregone conclusion. With the PML-N
and the PPP, the two largest parties in the house, having reached
a power sharing agreement the nominees for all three posts will be
from the PML-N. The young Dost Muhammad Khosa, who enters the assembly
for the first time, will take over as CM during the interim period
before Shahbaz Sharif can win a by-election and formally take command
in the province. It has, however, already been made clear that Shahbaz
will be managing affairs even before this take-over.
With former chief minister Pervaiz Elahi, in a speech
made to welcome new assembly members outside the house, again condemning
the attack on Ghulam Arbab Rahim and blaming Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif
for the violence inflicted on Dr Sher Afgan Niazi, the situation
in the Punjab will see the intense rivalry between the Chaudhrys
and the Sharifs being played out on the political arena. A tussle
is already underway for the control of the historic PML house, while
Shahbaz has pledged to cut administrative expenses and lashed out
on the lavish budget under the Chaudhrys. There are already rumours
that the district nazim of Lahore, sensing the changing tide, may
soon switch over to the PML-N. Given the bitterness of the past
years, such demonstrations of rivalry are inevitable. But at the
same time the people of the province must hope that this does not
detract from the urgent need for good governance, so that problems
which include worsening law and order and a renewed atta crisis
can be resolved swiftly and effectively.
will remain black
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Pervez Musharraf's primary agenda on taking over absolute power was
fighting corruption. Established a few days after Musharraf's coup
in October 1999 there was skepticism about what the National Accountability
Bureau (NAB) would achieve. One fact cannot be refuted: it was universally
welcomed by both the intelligentsia and the masses in Pakistan.
Corruption and nepotism had been so pervasive that
many in our society had given up hope of this evil being curbed,
and despaired whether those who thrived because of this twin-headed
monster would ever be brought to book. From a standing start the
NAB not only fought corruption fairly successfully, bringing credible
evidence to bear to send a number of accused to prison and recover
enormous amounts of looted money.
In the words of the NAB's Brig (Retd) Farooq Hameed
Khan, "Our major achievements include the recovery of Rs223
billion, Rs116 billion in bank default loans, Rs25 billion recovered
through voluntary return/plea bargain, Rs9.2 billion through indirect
recoveries, Rs60 billion through restructuring of bank loans and
Rs12 billion through court fines. Substantial recoveries have been
made in respect of public fraud involving financial scams, Rs8.6
billion repaid to 234,000 affectees of 102 infamous Cooperative
Finance Companies scams, and dozens of public frauds are being presently
investigated and many references filed in Accountability Courts.
Many top executives, directors of forex companies and other private
sector companies are in jail for having cheated the public at large."
Farooq Hameed further says, "for the first
time we have established an institutionalized infrastructure for
accountability in Pakistan. No organisation is perfect, there is
always room for improvement. Institutions are not made overnight,
it takes years to build them. There is need to strengthen organisations
like the NAB whether you name them "Independent Commission
against Corruption" or "Independent Commission for Accountability."
Corruption is too deep-rooted and threatens the basic fabric of
our society. It is linked to poverty, social injustice and unequal
distribution of wealth. Terrorism thrives in a corrupt environment.
If we do not eradicate corruption and its causes, it will have disastrous
implications for the future." The facts as stated cannot be
The National Reconciliation Order (NRO), the blackest
of black laws, negates the very basis of Pervez Musharraf's presence
with respect to his original agenda. The NRO has set the country
back many years. There was certainly a need to compromise with major
political forces in a country where political reconciliation remains
a dire necessity, but blanket amnesty for corruption is unprecedented
in world history. Since we applied accountability selectively maybe
we could have applied amnesty also selectively.
Pakistan's existence depends upon democracy functioning to its full
potential, many of us reluctantly conceded that the NRO was necessary
for political reconciliation, that without the involvement of the
major political parties there was no credibility about governance
in Pakistan. The imminent maturity of the cases abroad in Switzerland
and UK put focus on Ms Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari without fully
realising that amnesty would give many others, some of them profoundly
guilty, a fresh lease of life within Pakistan. Now the chickens
have come home to roost, dozens of people accused of nepotism and
corruption have come back, or are in the process of doing so. The
tragedy is that they are all being appointed to the portals of governance.
Our society may enter the stage of what the NAB's Farooq calls "chaotic
corruption," a free-for-all without any accountability. What
is the message here, but that both nepotism and corruption pay?
What is the message here, but that we will now have more of the
Many returnees will be able to clear their name,
indeed many went into self- exile not because they were guilty but
to escape the NAB's prosecution and incarceration and the persecution
and public humiliation that go with it. The NAB was not always right,
some were victimised wrongly. Many lived lives in penury abroad,
eking out a meagre existence or living on someone's dole. Those
who remained long years in self-exile need to be rehabilitated,
and it is right that Asif Zardari seeks to rehabilitate them. But
it is wrong that those who were known to be corrupt be given high
office, the perception of the hapless millions is that their welfare
and contentment is far less important than those being put into
the governance structure to rule over their lives. Asif Zardari
must put into balance this equation. For the last three months one
has seen nothing but maturity par excellence from this man, nothing
as important as bridging the ethnic Sindhi-new Sindhi gap and efforts
for genuine national reconciliation. He should not throw all this
away by becoming hostage to the loyalty factor and lose public perception
about the sincerity of his motives.
One wishes the PM well, but his announcement about
closing down the NAB was extremely disappointing. If the personnel
of the NAB are guilty of persecution for political and/or individual
gain they must be prosecuted. There must be (and have been) black
sheep in the NAB who were using the mechanism for political purpose
and/or personal gain. They should be investigated and prosecuted,
getting the same punishment they sought for those they targeted.
However, closing down the NAB would have enormous repercussions,
the dire consequences of which are unimaginable for our society
and for the nation. Even as democracy has taken its first uneasy
steps in Pakistan, one fears for its continued existence. While
concerned citizens will fear about corruption becoming rampant again
in society and will write and speak about it in the media, what
about the frustration and anger of those who have the capacity and
potential to reverse these abominations?
According to a recent survey, more than 50% of the
people of Pakistan are on the borderline of starvation, even when
the new wheat crop comes in "atta" (flour) prices will
go back up beyond Rs24-25 per kg from the present Rs17 per kg. Moreover,
it will be in short supply. When the people start to get hungry,
when the summer heat goes up and the electricity failures become
more frequent, and there is shortage of water, whom do you think
they will blame, fairly or unfairly? How long before the masses
are swayed against democracy because of the presence of this corrupt
handful? Public opinion can be very fickle in the face of hunger
and need. The "Bangladesh model" can always be improved
upon and applied in Pakistan.
Asif Zardari needs to immediately replace those
who cannot stand the acid test of integrity in public opinion. It
is not only for his good but that of the nation. More important
than recovering money is bringing people to justice, I have therefore
never believed or accepted the NAB's plea-bargaining. However, the
NAB is a useful anti-corruption mechanism that must continue, albeit
in a different name and with more public confidence in its even-handedness
and purpose. What requires abolition is not the NAB, it is the NRO.
Accountability should not be lost to the people of Pakistan. White
can become grey and then black, black may well be whitened to become
grey, it cannot become white. Black will remain black!
The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: [email protected]
strategy for peace
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Hamid Nawaz Khan
"In a dark room it's hard to catch a black
cat, especially, if it is not there".-- Confucius. Last year
witnessed an upsurge of terrorism and suicide attacks throughout
the country. There are no signs of any letup even this year so far.
Law-enforcing elements appear to be visibly handicapped and incapable
of dealing with the situation. Resultantly, the Frontier province
and its tribal areas are totally destabilized and the rest of the
country is in the grip of fear and insecurity. People are scared
of going to the public gatherings, mosques, markets and even recreational
places. The movement on the roads and thoroughfares is perceived
to be risky and hazardous. Business and economy are adversely affected
while the scope for foreign investment has diminished. The main
targets of these attacks were either some key personality or the
personnel of security forces; although rallies of some political
parties were also hit. For most part, the victims were the innocent
people who were not involved either way. What could be the aim and
objectives of these terrorist and suicide attacks? It could be a
demonstration of defiance and a resolve to give ultimate sacrifice
of human lives for the attainment of selected aim and objectives.
It could also be an expression of taking revenge on those who are
fighting this proxy "war on terror" against their own
people for the sake of the US. Recent pattern shows that, perhaps,
both the elements are present in the ongoing terrorist activities.
The war on terror is definitely perceived to be
an American agenda, which has been vigorously pursued by Pervez
Musharraf's government. It was, therefore, natural for the anti-Musharraf
political parties to distance themselves and rally the crowds on
their side against the prevalent policy on terrorism. Anti-American
and anti-Musharraf sentiments have played decisively in the recent
Voters have totally ignored the claims of the previous
government with regard to economic progress and development works.
Public sentiment now is for seeking peace with the terrorists. Seeking
peace is a very noble aspiration indeed. It is even nobler when
the strong side is keen to look for it. But, is it peace per se
that the new government should look forward to or should there be
certain conditions attached to it?
As a short answer, it must be a conditional peace.
As a minimum, the government should declare a general amnesty for
those involved in terrorist attacks anywhere in Pakistan; provided
they surrender their arms and explosives; shutdown their recruiting
and training centres and give a solid pledge that terrorist activities
inside Pakistan as well as across the border in Afghanistan or India
will cease permanently. Of course, adequate safeguards and peace-monitoring
mechanisms will have to be evolved and mutually agreed in the intended
peace deal. This appears to be a tall task. It is like asking the
leopard to change its spots.
Jihadi organizations particularly Tehrik Taleban-e-Pakistan
have responded positively to the peace overturns. But their message
is also loud and clear. They are willing to cease terrorist activities
inside Pakistan provided they are allowed to wage jihad in Afghanistan
and Kashmir. In other words, tribal and adjacent areas like Swat
and Bajour should be treated as their sanctuary where their own
laws and code of tribal ethics should prevail. Recruitments, training
and stockpiling of weapons should go on unrestricted. Their base
of operation in FATA and Swat/Bajour areas should be accepted as
a "state within a state" where these misguided ideologists
-- further reinforced by "revenge seekers" -- should have
a free band to conduct their jihad in any direction and manner they
feel appropriate. Should the new government opt for peace on these
conditions? It would have two serious implications: Firstly, fresh
terrorists and suicide bombers will be recruited from all over Pakistan
(and even abroad). After training and provisioning necessary material
for attack, they will be sent back and spread over the major urban
centres throughout Pakistan to remain dormant for as long as the
peace lasts. We will find ourselves in a terrible and unmanageable
crisis as soon as the bubble of peace bursts. There may be dozens
of suicide attacks, happening simultaneously, in all major cities
creating catastrophic effect. I may not dwell further on this horrible
Secondly, Pakistan will come under as sharp a focus
as Taliban-ruled Afghanistan at the time of 9/11 even more so as
we are a nuclear-armed Muslim country. We need to seriously assess
the US interest in the region. If the American presence in our region
is based on their national interests, then a change of government
in the US will not make any difference here. If Pakistan is perceived
to be the gateway to Central Asia; if Iran needs to be watched (and
attacked); and if the Gulf states' oil wealth needs to be protected,
then disappearance of George Bush from the helm of American policy
will amount to nothing. However, if American interest in the region
is exclusively restricted to the war on terror, then we can indulge
in the wishful thinking that a reversal of American policy in our
region, on the lines of Vietnam War, may occur after a change of
government in the US. I think that American interest in the war
on terror is not temporary. Our new democratic government will have
to bear with tremendous pressure from the US while it strikes a
peace deal with the Taliban and jihadi elements. We have to charter
our course prudently and realistically.
writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan army.
FCR must go
Thursday, April 10, 2008
"We cannot rein in wild horses with silken
braids," John William Kaye, an influential nineteenth century
British civil servant wrote of "the troublesome tribesmen"
of the North-West Frontier of British India. This line of thinking
formed the basis of a unique political system and special legal
codes enforced soon after the British occupation of the area that
crystallised in the form of the Frontier Crimes Regulation in 1901.
It took the Pakistani government sixty years to realise that the
wild horses, now being reined in through Hellfire missiles, were
in fact countrymen who could be treated like human beings.
After annexing the Sikh empire in 1848, the British
divided the NWFP into two kinds of zones: the Tribal Areas (roughly
the mountains) and Settled Districts (the plains). The British interest
in the tribal areas was limited, as there was not much scope for
revenue generation and these areas were difficult to rule directly
due to their sparse population, difficult terrain and a hostile
population. The tribal areas were not only left semi-autonomous
and untaxed, substantial "subsidies" were also paid to
the tribes in exchange for their remaining loyal to the government
and keeping the peace. In contrast, the British dismantled the tribal
structure and jirgas in the settled areas, where their interests
were stronger, and incorporated them fully into the administrative
and legal framework of the Governor of Punjab.
Since the tribal areas were seen as the frontline
of the Raj, all political activity was banned in the area and the
draconian FCR was introduced. The British did not tolerate any attempt
to initiate political gatherings and organisations in the tribal
areas. An effort was also made to minimise communication between
the settled and tribal areas in order to prevent the emergence of
The FCR is not a penal code, as the name suggests,
but an instrument of subjugation meant to discipline the tribals
and to establish the writ of the government. In drafting the regulation,
the British made use of some customs and traditions prevailing in
the tribal areas, but these were distorted to suit the government's
plan of securing convictions at will.
The British designed the FCR to enable themselves
to rule through a class of handpicked local notables loyal to them.
The area was to be ruled through the jirga, the traditional mechanism
for dispute resolution, but its members were to be handpicked by
government officials. This "small intervention" was a
substantial cultural distortion in an egalitarian society where
mashars, or elders, had been nominated by people and were answerable
The FCR denies people a proper judicial system,
equality before the law and equal protection under the law. Worst
of all, the accused have no right to appeal to a higher court of
law even if the punishment breaks all norms of fundamental human
rights. Innocent men, women and children often become victims of
this black law. Children as young as two years old have been convicted
under the FCR. Family members of the accused are handed a jail term
for no crime of their own but for the alleged crimes of their blood
relatives. The government can also raze the houses of alleged criminals
and their relatives as punishment.
Following the doctrine of collective responsibility,
authorities are empowered to detain fellow members of a fugitive
tribe, or to blockade a fugitive's village, until his surrender
or punishment by his own tribe in accordance with local tradition.
The FCR is contrary to the Constitution and international human
The FCR and the colonial system of governance followed
in the tribal areas is justified in the name of culture. Interestingly,
it is the only area in the country which is supposed to have a culture
that is worthy of being the fountain of law and governance. However,
it is not any contemporary anthropological or sociological understanding
of the tribal areas that defines the riwaj (custom), but more-than-a-century-old
stereotypes of the people of an area developed by an alien empire.
This view of culture considers society as a static entity where
people keep following the same riwaj century after century.
A closer look, however, reveals that it is not the
people's or the government's commitment to riwaj that keeps legal
and political systems in the area frozen in time, but strong vested
interests of the people living in Peshawar and Islamabad. If the
Pakistani state were so committed to the cultures of the land, our
children would be educated in their mother tongues.
During the last three decades FATA has become a
centre of a black economy of billions of dollars, and a tool for
realising a geo-strategic paranoia that goes by the name of strategic
depth. During the Afghan jihad in the eighties, the area was turned
into a garrison for Afghan resistance and a haven of holy fighters
from all over the world. During the same period, the tribal areas
also became a centre of large-scale smuggling and drug trafficking,
winning the unenviable distinction of being the world's largest
exporter of heroin and the largest market of illegal arms. What
kind of economic interests can be attached to the "special
status" of the area should not be hard to imagine.
The "special status" of FATA is maintained
at a horrible price for the rest of the country. It is common knowledge
that drugs emanating from the tribal areas have destroyed lives
of people whose number is many times the population of these areas.
The smuggled goods coming out of these areas have seriously damaged
the national economy, and weapons manufactured and smuggled from
there have made Pakistan one of the most insecure and violent places
on earth. Almost every Kalashnikov that a terrorist wields and every
gram of heroin that an unfortunate addict puffs at comes from this
area. Now the region has also got the distinction of being the capital
of global "jihad."
As coco farmers die without ever tasting chocolate,
an overwhelming majority of the people of the area have never enjoyed
the economic benefits of this huge illegal economy in their midst.
Economic disparity in the tribal areas is staggering and human development
indicators abysmally low. The social fabric of the society has been
torn apart as drug barons, smuggler and religious terrorists now
enjoy enormous power and prestige. The writ of the state is non-existent.
Revocation of the FCR will not serve any purpose
unless the governances in the area are addressed simultaneously.
A process of political reforms should be initiated that leads to
full integration of the area into the NWFP and Pakistan.
writer is an Islamabad-based development consultant with a background
in journalism. Email:[email protected]
in our midst?
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor
Thursday, April 10, 2008
It has been only days since the new coalition was
formed, and there are already suggestions that deliberate attempts
are on to create a rift in the ranks and the kind of chaos that
would sink any ship.
The events in Lahore Tuesday evening, where former
minister Sher Afgan Niazi was beaten by a mob is the latest example
of this. There have been allegations that the action was deliberately
orchestrated. Certainly, it seems rather oddly similar to the events
at the Sindh Assembly where former chief minister Arbab Ghulam Rahim
was also assaulted in similar fashion. There has as yet been no
adequate explanation as to why police, still in the control of caretakers
when each of the incidents occurred, failed to intervene -- though
this of course is no excuse for barbaric behaviour that is completely
There have been other incidents too. The report,
quoting sources, of a 'charge-sheet' allegedly issued against deposed
judges by a petulant Asif Ali Zardari at a closed door meeting of
his party's central executive committee in Naudero is one example
of these. On the same day that the story surfaced, a PPP spokesperson
denied any deviation from the Murree accord reached just a few weeks
ago with the PML-N. Mian Nawaz Sharif too asserted he trusted Asif
Zardari as a 'man of commitment'. But in many ways, by planting
suspicion in minds, by deflating the spirit of optimism that has
been ushered in among ordinary people with the changed political
order, the damage had already been done.
There have been other examples too. The PPP's defence
minister has denied he described President Musharraf as a 'national
asset'; another senior party leader, Amin Makhdoom Fahim, has repeatedly
denied he is a 'mole' for the presidency and the PML-N has been
forced to reaffirm several times that the understanding between
the parties remains undented. Reports of PPP ministers making 'secret'
offers to deposed judges appear to fall in the same category of
accounts based on undisclosed sources.
Rumours that the new 'atta' crisis that has hit
Lahore and other parts of Punjab has been deliberately intensified
by officials still aligned to the outgoing PML-Q government and
reports that attempts are on to cover up massive corruption in the
Punjab Education Department by hastily distributing thousands of
textbooks but claiming receipts for many more than have actually
been given out, are still more disquieting. In this regard it is
unfortunate the formation of the PML-N led government in Punjab
has been delayed so long. In Sindh, news reports suggesting the
person who attacked former chief minister Ghulam Arbab Rahim with
a shoe inside, and later outside the assembly, was affiliated with
the venomous former chief executive have stirred up all kinds of
doubts and misgivings.
To some extent, speculation of one kind or the other
in the media and elsewhere is unavoidable. The difference in the
stance between the PPP and the PML-N on the issue of the judges
has been evident since well before February 18. The same is the
case regarding policy on the US, with the PML-N adopting a markedly
more belligerent attitude. But, despite this, the suspicion lurks
that a deliberate effort is being made to create mischief -- and
that were it possible to trace back the origins of some of these
stories the trail would end somewhere within the corridors of the
The same holds true of some of the pessimistic forecasts
being made regarding the future of the coalition. Whereas cynicism
is always tempting, there is a desperate need too to allow the government
which represents the people of Pakistan a fair opportunity to deliver
on what they have promised.
It is easy to blame journalists for engaging in
conjecture or basing stories on half truths. Indeed, they must bear
some of the burden of guilt. Professionals everywhere are aware
of attempts to feed certain versions of events to the media industry
-- with its insatiable thirst for news. The talk in newspaper offices
is that such efforts to slip in specific stories are currently dominant.
This means that everyone engaged in the process of bringing an item
of news from its source to its audience needs to exercise extra
caution at all stages.
But, the new information managers must also consider
how this phenomenon has come about. The fact is that reporters are
immensely dependant on sources because of the restraints that exist
on their access to almost any kind of official information. The
denial of the right to information -- with curbs having in fact
increased under the inappropriately named Freedom to Information
Ordinance of 2002 -- mean that most in the business of gathering
news must depend on individuals offering it to them in one form
or the other. This creates a situation where there is an immense
vulnerability to distorted or 'planted' news, used to further specific
Various elements in the country, particularly those
within the establishment, have become adept at exploiting this channel
at key moments. Even a cursory study of newspaper editions published
in the runup to the fall of four democratically elected governments
from 1988 to 1999 show the extent to which this holds true, with
a series of 'leaked' stories playing a part in the discrediting
The dishonest and unwise actions of governments,
most often focused only on protecting their own self-interests,
of course made this task all the easier for those who have traditionally
'managed' power in the country and thwarted democratic endeavours.
Such managers are active once more today.
The political leaders of the country, who have so
far displayed statesmanship and a new sense of purpose that seems
to have taken root as a consequence of a long period of combating
ruthless repression by a dictator, need to take steps to guard against
the possible harm a sustained campaign of misinformation can inflict.
The decision, already announced by the PPP, to withdraw
various 'black laws' against the Press and introduce a new, more
meaningful law to grant citizens the right to information, is welcome.
It is only when there is greater ability to reliably know what takes
place in government offices that it becomes possible to properly
verify what is published and avoid manipulation by various elements.
Such manipulation occurs not only at the top echelons of power,
but also at far lower levels, within the bureaucracy, the police
and other government departments. The fact that powerful political
forces, most notably those based in the Punjab, have literally recruited
small armies of journalists, adds to the complications and makes
it essential for media bodies to consider how they can enforce a
viable code of ethics.
But, even in the far shorter run, political parties
need to consider strategy. It is encouraging that these parties
are today a stronger force that ever before, with loyalists who
largely resisted the immense pressure exerted throughout the years
from 1999 to 2007 to switch sides, today largely holding key positions.
To ensure such unity endures the strains of power as it has the
trials of opposition, the parties need to speak with one voice.
A single spokesperson, or indeed several spokespersons should alone
represent the public face of the party -- and ideally the government.
Other ministers, advisors and leaders should be asked to avoid issuing
statements or speaking to the media.
The desire for publicity and an appearance on television
screens, for the sake of longer term good, needs to be reined in
and restraint exercised. Briefings by various key ministries at
weekly, fortnightly or monthly intervals can play a part in ensuring
information continues to flow. Most crucial of all is the need for
the new coalition and its diverse members to prove that they are
willing to stand firm on the tryst they have made with people. If
they remain steadfast in their promise to grant these people a future
that offers hope and a change in lives, and are not lured away from
this route by the ruses of a presidency that now has almost nothing
to offer, no amount of gamesmanship from behind the scene will alter
the broader picture. Indeed, in time, the president -- already isolated
with the exception of his friends in distant Washington -- will
have to give way to the forces of democracy and the increasingly
desperate efforts currently on to subvert the will of the people
will come to an end.
|Challenges of governance
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
The PPP, which now heads governments in the centre, in Sindh and in
Balochistan -- while forming a part of the ANP-led coalition government
in the Frontier, is beginning to find that securing votes is possibly
the easiest part of the democratic process. The shutting down for
several hours of two major television channels in Karachi as the fracas
involving Ghulam Arbab Rahim unfolded in the Sindh Assembly is the
latest example of this. The federal information minister has indicated
a specific political party was involved in the shutdown. While this
may be true, the fact is that events such as these discredit the government.
The raid late last month on the home of deposed Justice Khalilur Rehman
Ramday fits in the same category of actions carried out by unknown
elements, most probably to damage the new rulers. There are some allegations
that even the thrashing of the former Sindh chief minister in the
assembly may have been orchestrated. The boycott of assembly proceedings
by the MQM following this adds to the growing list of worries for
the PPP and its allies.
It is true that so far, particularly in Sindh, a full transfer of
power has not taken place. The PPP as such may lack control over some
events. As it has said, it was beyond its ability to manage matters
outside the assembly. But this cannot be allowed to remain an excuse
for long. The country's new rulers need to take a swift, and decisive
control over its administration. This is all the more true given the
rumours of conspiracies from various quarters. Forces attempting to
subvert the democratic process must not be permitted to succeed. To
ensure their failure the democratically elected forces must ensure
that they take people along with them at every step, continue to take
them into confidence as far as possible and prove that, in the end,
the power of people and the parties that represent them can truly
overcome the many difficulties that currently stand in the way of
priority or slogan?
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
We seem finally on our way to a parliamentary democracy in a coalition
form, with a hiatus of fifty years. It was last in 1958 that a truly
empowered coalition govt. was dismissed by a martial law. Since than
we have either had a dictator or a one party rule. This is how significant
the restart of democracy this time is.
Coalitions by their nature are messy and difficult to run. In a parliamentary
form of government you get them more often than not, and countries
where democracies work, politicians have no option but to live with
The two leaders, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, have shown remarkable
accommodation and maturity so far, despite being old foes, in crossing
all impediments in the way of forging a coalition, much to the disappointment
of the establishment. There is reason to be optimistic about the future
of the coalition, especially because of an apparent good chemistry
between the two leaders, aided by the known propensity of both men
to be men of their word and "friends of friends." However, the real
test of the maturity and farsightedness of the two leaders in keeping
the coalition together will be tested after their common foe – i.e.,
the president – calls it a day.
When the race for the selection of the prime minister was at its peak
and it was reported that Bilawal was coming to Islamabad to announce
the name of the new prime minister, the perception was that perhaps
the need for him to make the announcement was felt because Mr Zardari
would be nominated as prime minister, while a name would be announced
for the interim period.
As it happened, neither did Bilawal make any announcement nor was
Zardari nominated as prime minister, which is all for the better.
Although Mr Zardari has repeatedly said that he does not want to be
prime minister, there were equally strong rumours that he would like
to take over eventually. If Zardari follows this course, it would
not be in his interest or in the interest of his party in the long
run. The role of Mrs Sonia Gandhi is what he would be most effective
For one, if he becomes prime minister the mudslinging against his
person will restart with a vengeance. Secondly, in that scenario,
when the disillusionment with the regime sets in, there will be no
one to blame as he himself will have to take the blame, which will
cause a serious dent in the credibility of the PPP. In the alternative,
the blame can easily be placed on the prime minister and a new party
man appointed to start governing all over again, giving an extension
to the party's rule. Thirdly, the government being a coalition, incessant
irritants, both within the party and with coalition partners, will
continue to emerge. Mr Zardari needs to have the time and the flexibility
to handle them. And, fourthly, handling the establishment appropriately
is most crucial for the survival of the government, for which undivided
attention of Mr Zardari will be very critical.
Meanwhile, the prime minister has taken a good start by ordering the
release of the judges, as the very first thing he did on being elected,
even at the cost of sharing the headlines next day. It also tested
his writ, as the administration promptly complied with his orders,
even though he was not technically prime minister before the swearing
But the thing that is music to the ears of all sensible people was
his statement immediately after his swearing in, reported in the press,
to the effect that "I have learnt during my parliamentary career that
the institutions of the country should be strengthened." He is also
reported to have said that "if the army, the parliament, the judiciary,
the bureaucracy and the media play their defined roles, the country
will come out of the difficulties/quagmire it is facing today."
This is all very well, and the prime minister has stated a universal
truth. The real test of this desire will come when the prime minister
will have to actually implement it. To let an institution develop
and work independently you have to give it autonomy and let it take
decisions which are not always in accordance with your wishes.
The army has overwhelmingly dominated all other institutions in the
last eight years and has taken most of the decisions on their behalf,
so that these institutions have lost their initiative and have actually
atrophied. Now when the army has disengaged itself from civilian affairs
under the new chief, Mr Gilani and the parliament will have to learn
to hear a no from the institutions he wants to rebuild, if the matter
requested is against the rules. Will he be able to tolerate that or
will he also brush it aside in the name of bureaucratic hindrance
and punish the baboo who chooses to resist him, like in the past?
Gone are the days when the chief secretary of a province was a nominee
of the federal government and ran the provincial bureaucracy as its
true head, without fearing for his job from the chief minister. Under
that set up, the officers in the provincial governments mainly looked
up to the chief secretary, who off course made sure, as far as possible,
keeping within the rules and maintaining neutrality, that policies
of the duly elected provincial government were implemented.
In the days of good governance the federal government had the last
word on the selection of the chief secretary and the IG Police in
consultation with the chief minister. Since these important commanders
of the bureaucracy were not unduly beholden to the chief minister
for their job, they could do their job with dignity and neutrality,
which in turn strengthened the institution.
Similarly for the judiciary, the desire of all governments to have
chief justices who are manipulable will hopefully change, if the institution
of the judiciary is to be strengthened. The present struggle for the
restoration of the judiciary is off course likely to be the watershed
in the restoration of that institution.
The real test of Mr Gilani's stated desire will be when he selects
the heads of these institutions. If people with known flexibility
and subservience continue to be appointed as heads of the institutions
that the prime minister wants to strengthen, then we can be sure it
was one more political statement from a politician who only wants
the army to stay away from him but has no desire to strengthen the
civil institution. One hopes that is not the case.
The writer is a former federal secretary.
Email: [email protected]
|Visits from State
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
The visits of State Department emissaries to Pakistan are somewhat
of a routine feature for Pakistan. Deputy Secretary Negroponte and
Assistant Secretary Boucher recently visited Pakistan essentially
on a fact-finding visit, so as to be able to give Washington a full
feedback on how things are shaping up in a post-election Pakistan.
With shots now beginning to be called by civilian political leaders
who are part of a governing political coalition, consisting of the
PPP, the PML-N, the ANP and the MQM, it was time for Washington to
order an on-the-spot survey of how things are going in Pakistan from
the American policy perspectives.
It is too early to be able to state definitely that military rule
has been banished from the Pakistan scene forever. So to that extent
it is not clear what the visitors from the State Department noticed
after the recent shifting of gears from military to civilian and whether
the signals picked up by them are those offering hope and room for
optimism or that there are still any lingering question-marks about
the whole exercise.
On the debit side there is the absence of the politically graceful
personality of Benazir Bhutto. It is not just her party that is missing
her sorely but it is in fact the entire country that is missing her
sure touch, because politics came to her so very naturally. On the
plus side, however, there is the feeling of a broad-based responsibility
having come about and that this may well be the last chance for the
political community of Pakistan to come good and establish its credentials
once and for all before the world community, that it has truly come
of age and can adequately fill up the bill and thus live up to high
On the other hand, there are a number of uncertainties that are likely
to crop up. For instance, the new government's stance may well pose
operational difficulties for the US and Pakistan in implementing their
joint resolve to execute the war on terror. Mian Nawaz Sharif's recent
statement that Gen Musharraf should immediately step down also does
not really help matters in a coalition sort of scenario. So whereas
there is considerable simultaneous movement in the setting up of the
paraphernalia of a new civilian power dispensation in the country,
there is not a corresponding focus on the continuing of the war on
terror as such.
The factors enumerated above are not going to help matters very much
in keeping even a broad-based coalition majority together and propped
up for a longish stretch of time. Even so any coalition government
is always precariously perched from day one and this indeed is its
honeymoon period when public opinion is prepared to tolerate any number
of gaffes and slip-ups that may occur.
It is obvious that the coalition government enjoys a clear majority,
of which there is no doubt whatsoever. But with the passage of time
things can indeed start changing. As the election euphoria begins
to recede in the face of the coalition partners' respective legislative
enthusiasms, there can well be a slowing down of legislative activity.
Also over a stretch of time coalition governments are known to run
into some problems in the treating the priorities of disposal of legislative
business and reform. The realities of sharing power thus naturally
begin to assert themselves and are likely to be felt more and more
in the form of a grind because of the in-built contradictions that
are bound to appear in the day-to-day running of any new government
- more so if it happens to be a coalition.
When the first flush of coming to power has passed, the realities
of governing a country can start making room for cracks and the intra-party
contradictions tend to reappear with all their annoying effects. That
stage may not have arrived as yet, but it is not very far. When the
initial honeymoon period of something akin to a period of ninety days
is over and even if the cracks have not appeared by then the initial
enthusiasm begins to give way to frustration and impatience more so
among the minority partners of the coalition. That stage obviously
has not come as yet because the coalition government has yet to show
its hand on a number of ticklish issues on which it could be faced
with a series of divided opinions.
But surely enough the coalition has to be prepared to run into them
and face them so that they can be comfortably navigated through in
the very early stages of its life. Stuttering and stumbling by the
politicians in the initial stages of the political process can indeed
be quite risky and dangerous for any political coalition, particularly
such as the present one which on the face of things consists of a
goulash of varying sorts. The first and foremost issue for the new
government is bound to be as to how successfully they are able to
deal with the question of Gen Musharraf. The fact of his having held
almost absolute power for as long as eight years at a stretch does
not rule him out as a future power player.
And last but not the least there is the question as to how the new
coalition government plans to go about in solving the intricate and
complicated problems inherited by them in the form of a divided and
disaffected superior judiciary.
The writer is a former principal secretary to Prime Minister Benazir
Email: [email protected]
|From politics to responsible
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
The writer is an Islamabad-based security analyst
The February 2008 election results have given Pakistan's political
forces the parliamentary authority required to become the principal
managers of national affairs. They have acquired substantive, even
if not total, state and government power. Popular support they do
enjoy. The future of Pakistan now depends on how they exercise the
power that they wield and the future of Pakistan's political culture
and the Pakistani political ethos on how popular support is channelised.
Will the next few years witness the evolution of greatly needed responsible
statecraft or a continuation of cliquish, non-institutionalised, and
indeed flawed, decision-making? The cost of irresponsible statecraft
has also been the derailment of the society's journey towards economic,
intellectual, spiritual, cultural and political progress. Blundering
parochial statecraft guarantees dehumanisation of the collective --
of society. Hence the challenge that the coalition government faces
is a huge one. It shoulders the responsibility to pull the people
and the country away from the brink of multiple crises. Early signs
are encouraging while the growing challenges underscore the need to
move ahead on streamlining the business of state and government, at
a rapid speed.
What are the positives? Political power is seeking to address the
divide and the alienation through politically credible steps, including
dialogue and inquiries. The Balochistan Assembly has passed a resolution
calling for talk with the alienated political leaders declared enemies
of the State and hounded by the previous regime. Similarly, on April
1 the NWFP Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution condemning CIA
director Michael Hayden's statement that Al-Qaeda operatives are in
the Afghanistan-border area. The Assembly sought negotiations with
the militants. Clearly, democratic political power is seeking to project
people's concerns regarding Pakistan's security and sovereignty.
There is, along with all this positive, also the chaos that must accompany
return to democracy. The chaos consists of populist passion, an excitement
about the future, an urge to settle scores with past blunderers and
those who caused sufferings, the need to comfort through state patronage
the loyalists wronged in the past, the decision to keep a circle of
loyalists around the pivotal seat of power. The worst of this passion
was the physical assault on Sindh's former chief minister. Irrespective
of his highly questionable, intolerant, ill-mannered and illegal ways,
his manhandling must be condemned. The PPP leadership's decision to
hold a prompt inquiry to take action against those responsible for
the assault is reassuring. Democracy's forward journey does not mean
aping the ways of the manhandled former chief minister.
This is where the political leadership is very crucial. It needs to
"lead from the front" in establishing new ways of tolerance, discipline
and patience, and, above all, making competence and integrity the
indispensables for key appointments. It is when only political and
partisan considerations become paramount that democratic chaos can
devour the virtues of democracy. In Pakistan, where for decades we
have blundered along the path of democracies and dictatorship, people
are seeking the strengthening of democracy's virtues.
The overall early trends of the coalition government are the following:
In the area of political reconciliation encouraging steps have been
taken; on matters of governance it is too early for comment or conclusions,
and on constitutional amendments concrete measures are awaited following
correct promises made in the Murree Declaration. Then, there are the
special challenge areas. These areas would include peace and security
in the tribal areas, ways to lessen on people the impoverishing impact
of inflation, timeline for steps towards responding to the political,
development and security demands in Balochistan.
For a government that has come in with the promise to run an efficient,
respected and effective state and facilitate for the citizens' peace,
progress and prosperity, the need for institutionalised decision-making
is crucial. In a coalition government especially, collaborative and
participatory decision-making is indispensable. The virtue in this
necessity is that a methodically conducted participatory decision-making
process ensures that all aspects of an issue are carefully examined
before policies are made and decisions are taken.
An illustration of unintended and often politically awkward consequences
of anything less than carefully thought-through decision-making is
what followed Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's March 29 first policy
statement in the parliament. Moments after his announcement that the
legal framework for the tribal areas, the Frontier Crimes Regulation,
would be withdrawn, it was decided that instead of being withdrawn,
it will be reviewed by a committee.
The principle cause for faulty decision-making by successive Pakistani
governments has been circumventing the constitutionally laid out institutionalised
decision-making procedures in the Constitution and the Rules of Business.
The PPP and the PML-N can ill afford to circumvent these procedures;
too many challenges, a zero margin of error and a closely monitoring
independent media means blunders and even mistakes will invoke unbearable
costs. Executive power too cannot be exercised outside the laid down
Constitutional, legal and institutional disciplines.
There are effective institutional tools available to "get it right"
in policy formulation, policy implementation and in monitoring. With
its commitment to make the parliament powerful, the coalition government
must ensure that the parliamentary committees begin to responsibly
and wisely exercise the constitutional authority invested in them
to oversee responsible exercise of state and executive authority.
For the ruling coalition, with the right vision for a democratic Pakistan
laid down in the May 2006 Charter of Democracy, to succeed at responsible
statecraft, it must function within these frameworks.
Meanwhile, as Pakistan embarks on its latest democratic journey, the
words of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah--Unity, Faith and Discipline--should
stay relevant. National unity is required around two cardinal objectives:
making food, services and justice accessible to all citizens and to
establishing internal security. Beyond personal faith, we must have
common faith in our ability to succeed in achieving these objectives,
even if we may have differing routes for achieving those objectives.
Discipline, too, is an indispensable for those who exercise authority
and those who support authority. Both exercise of and support of authority
must occur within the discipline of the Constitution and of a legal
framework. That alone is the guarantee against populist dictatorship.
Email: [email protected]
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
For the second time in the new Sindh Assembly, outgoing chief minister
Arbab Ghulam Rahim was pelted with shoes, stones and abuses and had
to be escorted by security guards even while seated in the house pending
his oath as a new MPA. As soon as he took the oath amid intense slogans,
he was made to sign the members' roll while seated and then left in
a hush, with angry Sindhi men and women chasing him in the PA corridors,
some with shoes in hands. The pictures on TV screens were stunning
as his car was stoned when speeding out of the PA premises. Sanity
returned to the house when he was gone except for the MQM walkout
on the issue. The PA galleries were again full of uninvited guests
and the outgoing speaker was helpless. Even PPP leaders could not
control the shouting crowds, full of anger and emotions, especially
when a red rag like Arbab Ghulam Rahim was sitting.
While it is highly deplorable that the sanctity of the house was violated
and Arbab Rahim was subjected to undesirable abuse and harassment,
regretted later sensibly by the new speaker Nisar Khuhro, the episode
reflects the mood of the Sindhis after eight years of autocratic rule
by people like Arbab Rahim and other collaborators of the military
regime. It reaffirms the extreme hatred, anger and vengeance ordinary
Sindhis have for people under whose rule the PPP lost many of its
workers, was subjected to endless persecution, its leaders were hounded,
harassed and tortured and finally the ultimate leader Benazir Bhutto
was assassinated. The PPP leadership has played a mature and pacifying
role ever since Benazir's death and has led the party to a resounding
election victory, yet the emotions of the people have not cooled down.
The slogan of democracy being the best revenge may be good for the
literate and the intellectually elevated, but the common folks still
want to get even, some even physically, for whatever they had to endure
for 12 long years. It is almost certain that whenever people like
Arbab Rahim come into contact with a PPP crowd or a mob, whether on
the streets or inside the assembly, it would be difficult to control
them, unless some kind of political, behavioural and psychological
healing is done to bring their sentiments down. Probably till then,
life for all the Arbab Rahims in Sindh will remain rough.
But the more serious message this recurring episode carries is for
the PPP leadership. The mood of Sindh is not to appease, collaborate
with, support, tolerate or provide a safe passage to dictators, past
or present. The military regime or its collaborators, especially after
Benazir Bhutto's death, are symbols of oppression for the common Sindhis
and any tacit or even discreet cooperation or collaboration, even
under the high-sounding umbrella of national reconciliation, will
be looked at with deep suspicion and anger. When the PPP leadership
goes out of its way, in the name of reconciliation, the supporters
want to see what they are getting in return. The universal sentiment
demands that the state, or the establishment, apologize for the judicial
murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and that the UN be called in to probe
Benazir's murder. This only reflects an urgent need for a quid pro
quo. So far the PPP is the only political entity extending olive branches,
exchanging Sindhi caps, declaring known enemies as brothers and showing
readiness to share power with past tormenters and persecutors. Reciprocity
from the state, the establishment and past foes has yet to be seen
in the same form and substance as offered by the PPP. Sindh will not
easily forget the agony and distress it has been subjected to for
years until they tangibly see what they are offered in return for
the reconciliation. This will remain a major challenge for the PPP
leadership to achieve.
|Peace in Balochistan
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
With 62 MPAs in Balochistan having taken oath, the most positive sign
emerging from the province is the call by the provincial assembly
for a ceasefire and an end to the military operation which has continued
there for over two years. On the eve of the swearing in of members
of the Balochistan Assembly, Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi and
the nominated chief minister Nawab Muhammad Aslam Raisani, who is
to be elected unopposed, both stressed the need for a new era of peace.
Raisani has indeed already initiated a process of talks with militants
and said that Nawab Akhtar Mengal, the jailed leader of the Balochistan
National Party (BNP) would soon be released. These are of course positive
signs. The ball was set into motion by the apology PPP Co-chairman
Asif Ali Zardari sought from the Baloch people. The key to solving
the conflict in Balochistan that has simmered for years is to win
over the trust of people and engage them in a process where they can
play a part in decision-making. The bombing of villages or the killing
of nationalist leaders can create only more hatred and lead to greater
Across Balochistan, the country's least developed province despite
its rich gas and mineral resources, there is a perception that its
people have been neglected and their rights trampled upon. Altering
such sentiments will take time. Attitudes after all take root over
generations, and cannot be instantly dispelled or cast aside. However,
gestures of various kinds can play a part in creating the right environment
for a meaningful process of dialogue. In Balochistan, such gestures
must include the return of hundreds of people who have gone 'missing'
in the province and also an independent fact-finding into the deaths
of men such as Nawab Akbar Bugti and Balaach Marri which have further
fuelled feelings of anger within the province. In addition, the dozen
or so Baloch websites that have been blocked now for over a year need
to be permitted to resume functioning. After all repression of this
kind will only add to the prevailing sense of rage rather that do
anything to persuade people to enter into a new, more equitable relationship
with the state of Pakistan.
The decision to set up new military cantonments in various parts of
Balochistan – again a source of much resentment – also needs to be
reviewed. Same is the case with the checkpoints at various places,
where local people complain they are subjected to harassment by paramilitary
personnel. Unemployment, underdevelopment and the deep-rooted sense
of deprivation are other areas that need to be addressed urgently.
There can, however, be little hope of solving the problems of Balochistan
without addressing the issue of provincial harmony. As the PPP has
already noted, granting the smaller federating units of Pakistan greater
say over their fiscal and political matters is essential to creating
a stronger union. Today, this union faces a crisis. One of the major
areas of friction is Balochistan, and addressing the issues of the
province, which have been aggravated as a result of the hard-line
policies pursued in the recent past, should be a priority during the
|'Ab raj karegi Benazir'
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience
On April 4, almost all TV channels dutifully rolled out footage on
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. It was his death anniversary. Leading the show
was our own PTV, handmaiden to the government-of-the-day. Information
Minister Sherry Rahman had earlier rebuked the state-owned television
channel and its equally dim-witted sister the APP to "improve" their
performance. The truth is that both are like aging courtesans who
have been serving their paymasters for so long that the only thing
they know is to dance to their keepers' tune. But what about the burgeoning
private TV channels? Why did they feel it necessary to resurrect Bhutto
ignored for over a decade? Granted that his party is the ruler today,
but the media's sudden interest in ZAB appeared self-serving. Throughout
the day the growing chorus of TV anchors appeared coddling the PPP.
And this leads me to my second observation of the week that was. The
founder of this nation got visited by a phalanx of freshly-minted
VIPs. After swearing before the nation to serve the country and not
themselves, these leaders winged their way via the VIP lounges, hopping
on to tinted glass SUVs for a ride to Mohammad Ali Jinnah's mausoleum.
With heads covered (if they happened to be women), cupped hands and
eyes lowered, from PM Gilani to ministers and PPP stalwarts, all moved
their lips in a mumble as the cameras clicked and the film rolled.
The next day, readers of various newspapers awoke to a new morn, a
new dawn as they turned the pages to see glossy shots of piety at
the Quaid's mazar. One was 'reassured' that the VIP circus was alive
and kicking as in the past. Nothing changes except change was coined
naught for nothing!
But one thing was different this time. We got to see photos of VIPs
at the graves of their own relatives. From a son-in-law who never
knew his father-in-law, seen spreading a garland of red roses at the
latter's mazar in Garhi Khuda Buxsh surrounded by devotees; we saw
the former chief justice of Pakistan praying at his parents' graves
in Quetta again surrounded by so many others; and we saw the newly
elected chief minister of NWFP Amir Haider Khan Hoti flanked by his
father and others laying a chaddar of flowers at his grandfather Amir
Muhammad Khan Hoti's grave.
Graveyards were the in thing. Even the MQM got Asif Zardari to pay
his respects at the graves of Altaf Hussain's brother and nephew slain
during the second PPP term. Supplementing his graveyard diplomacy,
Zardari later condoled their deaths with the elder sister of Altaf
Hussain. That done, the TV channels relayed a blow by blow, more like
a loud religious lamentation, of Altaf's telephonic address from London
while Zardari and his hangers-on stood to attention for full 30 minutes
as the clock struck the midnight hour. It looked like a scene out
of a science fiction movie at Nine Zero. Over-zealous shaking of hands
was obvious. Today the MQM and PPP workers are going bananas outshouting
each other with slogan mongering which to be fair to them should be
tolerated even at the expense of bursting one's eardrums because they
need to ventilate their pent-up anger against Musharraf's dictatorship.
Zardari and Anne Patterson bicycled in tandem to the altar of Altaf.
Patterson, the peripatetic American ambassador in Islamabad flew to
London to meet the MQM chief and seek his reassurance for supporting
Zardari. When will the Americans let us mind our own business?
But along with the surreal came the real. In an English daily on two
different pages were photos of Pakistani women shaking hands. On the
front page, we saw PML –Q leader Nighat Orakzai shaking hands with
the chief minister-designate Amir Hoti. It was a firm handshake of
friendship. Then on page three was another handshake! Information
Secretary Anwar Mahmood holding Sherry Rehman's right hand in a handshake.
But this handshake looked anything but firm, even though Sherry was
snapped smiling and looking chic in her ivory satin outfit with matching
Showing women handshaking is a good beginning. Speaker of Sindh assembly
Muzaffar Hussain Shah's hugging and hand-holding with the incoming
speaker Nisar Khuro, however, was excessive. What was Shah in his
generic pinstriped suit messaging his successor? "Be kind to me!"
Was that his cry considering he has hogged the speaker's seat for
donkey's years and hobbled his opponents? But the jiyalas are not
in a forgiving mood. Breaking down doors and police barriers, a crush
of PPP party workers cavaliered into the assembly hall, taking over
the proceedings and shouting "Ab raj karegi Benazir."
Sindh's former chief minister, a fellow not many would find easy to
love, with a tongue that latched on to abuse, ridicule, slander and
Benazir-bashing deservedly got a taste of his own bullying. Arbab
Ghulam Rahim reportedly was "abused, harassed and even physically
assaulted" as he tried sneaking in from the backdoor. Imagine the
plight of the man who some months before would strut in as if he owned
Sindh? Now he has to skulk through from the back. His portrait was
pulled down and ripped to shreds as was that of Liaquat Jatoi, Shaukat
Aziz's not so better known minister of power.
Are there lessons to learn for the new ministers? They too could be
casualties once their rule is up. It's too early to say, but the television
appearance on one of the talk shows of the new minister of law was
disappointing, to say the least. Farooq Naek appeared so eager to
score points with the anchor that he lost his dignity and forgot that
he was after all the law minister. "Aap to badhshah log hain," he
said to the anchor who took Naek to task for letting down the sacked
judges. Having been a personal attorney of Benazir Bhutto and Asif
Zardari, is Naek really up to the jumbo task of tackling the judges
issue? His expertise over the last decade lies in appearing and defending
the couple in scores of corruption cases doing the rounds here and
abroad. As one of the architects of the NRO (National Reconstruction
Ordinance) Naek justifiably deserves Zardari's gratitude but not a
law ministry, for taking the wind out of an over-bloated NAB (National
Accountability Bureau) hell-bent on 'catching' BB and Zardari.
What's with Zardari and Aitzaz? Talking heads on TV channels began
their day with the reenactment of a dialogue that took place between
the two. And then throughout the day, we heard an angry Zardari throwing
the gauntlet at Aitzaz saying he can go take his protest to the street
as he keeps threatening. We're told Aitzaz was speechless. This bit
of news is hard to swallow knowing the sharp tongued Chaudhry from
Gujrat who honed his witty repartees from schooldays.
Finally, Zardari pummeled Aitzaz on Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry becoming
too "political" after his house arrest was lifted recently. But if
memory serves me right, didn't Zardari himself receive Chaudhry when
he came calling immediately after his release? In the photo-op, both
were seen smiling wearing their Sindhi caps in a show of camaraderie!
|A matter of style
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
US Deputy Secretary of State John D Negroponte and Assistant Secretary
of State Richard Boucher's visit to Pakistan at a point of time when
premier Yousuf Raza Gilani had hardly taken the oath as prime minister
indicates the immediacy and concern of the United States about the
war on terror being fought on the trans Pak-Afghan border.
The guests from the US wanted to ensure that the transition to full-scale
democratic dispensation in no way impeded the futuristic dynamics
and the modus operandi of the war being fought.
Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif handled the US visitors in different
light and perspective. While Sharif chose to convene a press conference
after his meeting with the twin guests from the US during which he
came strong on them. According to some observers such upfront disposition
was pure brinkmanship. Political pundits opine that the press conference
was essentially held to play to the gallery. Sharif not being in the
driving seat had nothing to lose.
One wonders if he would be equally audacious, had he been at the helm
of affairs. Ostensibly Sharif's offensive disposition sounds both
correct and impressive. But does that imply that Mian Sahib will not
be a partner in the war on terror? The answer does not appear to be
in the affirmative, for Sharif was conspicuously noticeable in the
briefing given about the war on terror by the COAS the other day.
Sharif's tone and tenor seem to have rubbed on to his ministers too.
The other day Saad Rafique, minister for youth affairs, came hard
on the Americans in a TV programme, maintaining that no dictation
would be taken from them. It remains unclear as to what he meant by
dictation. Or was it merely rhetoric?
On the contrary the style and diplomacy of Asif Ali Zardari was more
pragmatic and practical. His message to his guests was subtle entailing
finesse and diplomatic sophistication. The State Department guests
were politely but firmly told the American phrase that "there was
a new sheriff in town". The needful was conveyed to the visitors but
it was done with enormous skill and dexterity.
Perhaps the central difference between the two main coalition partners
regarding the war on terror is one of perspective. While Sharif considers
the war on terror as something essentially an American project, Asif
on the other hand having lost his wife, aptly comprehends that terrorism
is a serious threat to Pakistan and needs to be addressed immediately.
Even otherwise the two partners stand apart, for instance take the
issue of judiciary. While Sharif is strident about the restoration
of the deposed judges, Asif is more concerned about the independence
of the judiciary rather than the rehabilitation of individuals. While
the two leaders are free agents, Sharif's politicking is more emotive
and sentimental. It also smacks of a man who is caught in a bind.
For instance, while dealing with Americans, Sharif appears to be acutely
conscious of how his right-wing voters view his relationship with
Sharif rightly appreciates that as long as President Musharraf is
in the chair, he will be constrained from expanding his role politically
given the current scenario and incumbency. But if he is politically
smart he ought to register the fact that Musharraf is likely to stay
put at least for the immediate foreseeable future. Indications to
this effect are already pronounced by the incumbent defence minister,
Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, who has termed President Musharraf a "cashable
product", one who can fetch money from abroad.
Therefore, if the PPP and Musharraf are to do "marrying-up", then
the big question is, would the grand coalition last?
The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: [email protected]
|Fickle Pakistani liberals
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Welcome to the fickle politics of Pakistani liberals. At any given
time, less than thirty liberal political 'experts' are found rotating
on fifty or so Pakistani television networks regaling us with their
twisted logic. Last week, all of them suddenly re-discovered our late
prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The PPP has every right – and
a moral obligation – to make a show out of the 29th death anniversary
of its founder. But the way our fickle liberals gushed out emotions
in unison, almost on every television screen, begged a question: Where
were they earlier? Does this mark the onset of the 'herd mindset'
in Pakistani media?
Raising an ethical question in Pakistani politics is a contradiction
in terms. But last week I dared offer one: If you have campaigned
hard to boycott the election of a parliament, is it ethical for you
to join this parliament after it has been elected despite all your
efforts? I was referring to Mr Aitzaz Ahsan's decision to try to get
inside our new parliament through the backdoor, a by-election, if
PPP grants him a ticket. Suddenly, I was inundated with lectures on
how it's legal and there is nothing wrong with it. But if you are
a fair-minded person, you can still smell a rat in there. It is far
more convincing – and ethical – to stick to your principles and stay
out of this assembly. President Musharraf, after all, is still around.
Mr Ahsan wanted everyone to boycott a parliament elected under this
president. Why jump the ship of the lawyers' movement now?
And what does Mr Ahsan do when he does not get a good response from
his party? He goes to Quetta with his client, the former chief justice,
and sends indirect warnings to his own party's new federal government
that he is a dangerous man if ignored. How come you didn't hear most
of the thirty or so liberal political analysts on our television screens
put the story this way? It's because hard blows are reserved for the
likes of Arbab Ghulam Rahim. One more sign that in Pakistani politics,
revenge trumps civility, any time.
Pakistani liberals fume when you talk about how Pakistan needs to
evolve its own version of democracy and that we are not suited to
the British democracy no matter how admirable it is. If not checked
in our hands, British democracy has the potential of exploding in
our faces. The deliberate mistreatment given to Sindh's former chief
minister, Arbab Ghulam Rahim, shows that revenge remains an integral
part of our politics. Our political discussions are devoid of any
tolerance for opposing opinions and respect for those who hold them.
You might excuse our tribal and feudal politicians for this culture
but a disturbing fact is that this culture has slipped into Pakistan's
middle classes, the supposed engine of future political change in
While we are busy in these sideshows, real games are being played
out elsewhere. Some of our liberals sprang out to defend a foreign
terrorist, Sarabjit Singh, convicted of killing innocent Pakistanis.
But none of them paused when an Indian supreme court judge took notice
over the weekend of the fact that his country has jailed scores of
Pakistanis without trial, some for more than ten years. The only reason
New Delhi is beginning to take this issue seriously is because of
our firm stand on the death sentence for the Indian terrorist, convicted
after a fair due process.
Another area where we need to show some toughness is Afghanistan.
Make no mistake, our American friends are making all the necessary
preparations to invade our western regions. Washington has brought
unprecedented pressure on the Europeans to beef up NATO contingents
in areas close to our border.
We need to make our American friends understand that Washington cannot
win in Afghanistan if Islamabad does not win too. The post-9/11 deal
has to be a win-win for both of us. And it is not. Stating this specific
reciprocity is far better than a blanket opposition to America's war
on terror. Let's create consensus on this issue. This is a far more
urgent matter than the nonissue of the deposed judges.
The writer works for Geo English. Email: [email protected]
|Euphoria gives way
to hard realities
In the national interest
Monday, April 07, 2008
The writer is editor reporting, The News
The euphoria of forming a new government is giving way to hard realities.
For one, issues on which there was not much agreement and much debate
are surfacing again. The Gilani government is not as keen on restoring
the judges as are the PML-N partners. As things stand, if the judges
are restored, then political misunderstandings with the president
and the establishment may grow. If they are not, relations between
coalition partners may sour. The Murree declaration may come to haunt
Makdoom Amin Fahim has been quite the gentleman. He has accepted the
reality that under the present state of affairs, he may not have been
the most viable candidate for prime minister. Despite the fact that
he has been serving the party loyally and in important positions for
several years now, the party leadership was not keen on his appointment
does not go down well for the party.
People all over Pakistan commented that they wanted to see Makhdoom
Amin Fahim as PM. This unanimous opinion from all parts of the country
shows that the PPP is truly a national party where workers and supporters
think in the national interest. It is an encouraging sign.
It is hoped that Makhdoom Amin has reconciled himself to the party
decision. There are many such players who have positions in the political
parties but no office. Given the history of Pakistan, it is a new
phenomenon. Let us hope those without office do not start vying for
The new set of ministers are now gradually settling into their new
positions. They should not forget that they are supposed to serve
the people and not lord over them. One is wary of the manner in which
some of these ministers have started to act or speak. The attacks
on the office of the president should also cease. This is not in good
The use of official vehicles and property also reminds us of the PML-Q
days. What is the difference then?
President Musharraf, we are told, is not going to quit. He is very
much in place and command. Thankfully he has taken a back seat. Even
the PTV has realised this and is now playing his engagements after
those of the PM. This is clear indication of how things have changed.
It was ironic to see our good friend Anwar Mehmood, king of the information
machinery, welcome Ms Sherry Rehman, as the new minister for information.
Newspaper have printed a picture of them shaking hands. We are hopeful
this is a good sign. It is expected that now the ministry concentrates
on the job of helping the media and not hindering its work. The real
issues need to be focused upon.
There are many areas where the government needs to work. For one,
we are told that nearly half of Pakistan’s 160 million people are
at the risk of going short of food due to surge in prices. The theory
of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz that wealth will eventually trickle
down to the people has not worked out, it seems. This theory has been
disproved at a great cost to the people.
Similarly, data released by the Federal Bureau of Statistics also
suggests that inflation is at an all-time-high in Pakistan. One of
the reasons for high inflation is excessive borrowing by the government.
Another is the rise in fuel prices. We are told hard times are in
store in the coming months. We need to debate government spending
in detail. How much of our money is going where? Why do the Karachi
Corps Commander and the Sindh govenor both need multi-million rupee
BMW cars, for one? Why do our chief ministers need private jets and
our ministers, including the new foreign and defence ministers, get
new Mercedes limousines? The ministers should not have luxury vehicles
and they should not have an army of government guards to protect them.
Our second-timer chartered accountant Finance Minister, Ishaq Dar,
has said that he plans to issue a statement that gives us an accurate
picture of the state of the country’s finances. He claims that the
country’s finances are not in the rosy state that it is claimed they
are and that there are many gaps in the economy. Given that we are
once again tottering on the verge of bankruptcy, as claimed by our
economic managers, it is time to look once again at how to improve
The minister should also issue statements of how much money is being
spent on each of his colleagues as well as people who are part of
the party machinery but not holding public office. How much is being
spent on their persons? The same should be done for all public servants,
both civilian and military. It would also be informative to ask each
minister to give a statement of their assets and wealth at the beginning
of their tenure.
The one filed with the Election Commission may not be as accurate
as we want it to be. At the same time, the statements of those ministers
that were in the previous government should be compared with their
properties and assets at present. Let us see how profitable it has
been to be in government.
Public office is a sacred trust. Let us start believing in this. The
Gilani government also has to work on where it will go from here.
There are too many conflicting signals. Some worrisome statements
have been made which give some idea of the thinking of the Gilani
administration. Naveed Qamar, the once-again privatisation czar, says
that the privatisation policy of the country would be “reversed.”
This does not come across as the most reassuring statement for investors.
And if we are to pull Pakistan out of its current economic predicament,
foreign investment will have to play a major role. The other statement,
made on GEO TV, comes from minister Saad Rafiq, who tells us that
a National Accountability Commission will be set up under the chairmanship
of a retired judge. One wonders what purpose this will serve and who
it will target. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
There is also growing criticism over the appointment of Husain Haqqani
as ambassador to the US, and the recall of fly-away bureaucrats Salman
Farooqi, Siraj Shamsuddin and others associated with the previous
Bhutto regime and, in some cases, with the Nawaz Sharif regime that
followed. One can only say that given the track record of people posted
as ambassadors in the past, Haqqani, who headed a think tank in the
US prior to his appointment, may be a good choice. The same cannot
be said for some of the other bureaucrats brought back in. Personal
loyalty should not be a criterion. Let us not make the same mistakes
The real issue, however, has not been the economy over the past couple
of weeks. It has been the war on terror and the move by the new political
leadership to make sense of this. While quick to clarify that it is
committed to the war on terror, the new government also wants to talk
to militant groups so that there is some sort of peace deal in place.
The ANP government has already started doing this, much to the dismay
of the US administration.
The quick visits by Messrs Boucher and Negroponte to talk to all important
members of the political arena and convince them of the folly of talking
to the militant groups seems to have been fallen on deaf ears. After
a significant briefing by the COAS to the members of the new political
setup, the prime minister said that military action is not the only
way to fight terrorists in the tribal areas and this can be done also
through economic measures and administrative decisions, like the doing
away of the FCR. This is the same line that cost Governor Orakzai
his job. One is hopeful it will not cost Mr Gilani his.
Email: [email protected]
|Facing the urban challenges
Monday, April 07, 2008
Ahmad Rafay Alam
A few newspaper reports from last week, taken from various publications,
when read carefully, reveal the challenges the new government of Punjab
will face when it assumes charge and comes face to face with the challenges
urban planning before it.
The first is a report that an open drain in DHA Lahore is causing
health problems to nearby residents. Originally planned to channel
storm water, this drains is now, like the 16 odd other open drains
in the city, a floating cesspool of raw and untreated sewerage. The
drain that passes through the DHA, like all the other open drains
in Lahore, easily offends and can overwhelm even the heartiest of
men. Not only that, since the noxious and toxic gases emitted by decomposing
waste are well known corrosives, the newspaper report reveals that
the open drain is a constant source of attrition on any metal kept
outdoors. No air conditioner or, worse, generator, is safe!
But the olfactory displeasures of the well ensconced rich are not
the only point to note. The writer of the newspaper report quite dutifully
interviewed all the usual suspects. He spoke to residents of the area,
the secretary of the Punjab Environmental Protection department, the
managing director of the Water and Sanitation Agency, the district
officer of the Solid Waste Management, Lahore, the secretary of the
Defence Housing Authority and even a doctor at Mayo Hospital.
While all agreed that the open drain was a nuisance and an environmental
and health hazard, each one disclaimed any responsibility about doing
anything about it. The DHA said that it was planning to do something
about the drain. The DO SWM said WASA was responsible for brick lining
drains. The MD WASA said that it was the SWM’s responsibility to clean
the solid waste dumped in the drains. The Secretary EPD said that
his department was getting ready to do something about the drains,
but that the cost of any cleanup operation would have to be shared
by the DHA.
The second bit of news is about how the absence of proper road safety
devices is causing accidents on Lahore’s bridges. According to the
report, light-reflecting “cat’s eyes” were either missing or worn
out on several of the city’s bridges, including the ones that are
curved. Apparently, this lack of road markings is are said to be the
cause of many an avoidable accident.
The writer of this report also did his homework. He spoke to the chief
engineer of the Traffic and Planning Agency, the executive district
officer (Works & Services) of the city district government as
well as local motorists. Just as in the previous instance, each government
officer interviewed was quick to disclaim responsibility. The chief
engineer of TEPA laid the responsibility of maintaining the road safety
devices on the Lahore Development Authority and the EDO (W&S).
This is astonishing because the TEPA is an agency of the LDA and the
chief engineer’s explanation is, in reality, an aspersion cast on
his parent organization. Equally quick to lay the responsibility anywhere
but before him, the EDO (W&S) blamed the TEPA for not doing its
job and failing to keep the cat’s eyes in good repair.
Forget the fact that the city’s 16 open sewers are a health and environmental
hazard responsible for untold illnesses and disease; forget the fact
that they smell; and forget the fact that un-repaired road markings
are dangerous. Both these instances are horrifying examples of the
level of sophistication currently employed in urban management. Lahore
is the second largest city in the country and the problems in governing
it are proportionately difficult, if not impossible. Yet the people
responsible for basic government functions like traffic safety and
sewerage management don’t even know the ambit of their responsibilities.
This casual approach to city and urban planning may have been justified
30 years ago, when, other than Karachi and a handful of sleepy metropolises,
Pakistan was largely a rural country. But things are no longer the
same, and the principles which may have applied to urban planning
then do not apply now.
This is a serious matter. The year 2007 was a watershed year because
it witnessed, for the first year in the history of human civilization,
more people living in urban areas than not. Pakistan, in turn, is
South Asia’s most urbanized country. According to the experts, anywhere
between 35-50 per cent of the people in our country live in urban
areas. More recently, a report published by the Planning and Development
department of the government of the Punjab revealed that over 50 per
cent living in the province’s urban areas live in slums (P&D’s
economic report for 2007). That’s right. As more and more people cram
into our already overcrowded cities, most of them will live or already
live in poverty and face the harshest and most inhuman of living conditions.
This is the time to act. The next government faces urban challenge
the likes of which have never been thought of in these parts. With
most of the people living in our cities living in slums, immediate
steps need to be taken lest our cities turn into environmental disasters
or worse, necropolises — the dismal future painted by revolutionary
urban thinkers like Lewis Mumford and Jane Jacobs. And no step forward
is possible if civic agencies still don’t know what the nature of
their responsibilities are.
Nothing approaching an effective sewerage system, nothing close to
effective solid waste management, nothing close to smooth and efficient
traffic can ever be achieved unless the massive overlaps of jurisdiction
between urban and local government authorities are not clarified.
One way or the other, it must be made clear who is responsible for
sewerage and drainage. It must be clear who is responsible for the
planning of traffic (note, not engineering, which is simply another
word for constructing more roads). Only when these baby steps are
taken can the larger strides — like widening the local government
tax base so that the increased revenue can be spent on public utilities
without provincial government interference — can be taken. Only then
can we think of effective decentralization to local governments. Only
then will these governments have the strength to reform the urban
property tax system so that it gives incentive to urban re-development.
Only then can each city identify its strengths and feed them. Only
then will we be able to do sensible things like set city limits so
that the exhausting urban sprawl can be put to an end. And there is
much, much more. We have to start somewhere and we must start now.
To continue with the status quo is to invite catastrophe.
The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct
faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning.
Email: ralam@ nexlinx.net.pk