DAWN - Features; August 20, 2002

Published Aug 20, 2002 12:00am

The right leaders with the right policies

POLITICS in this already politically-battered nation may be taking a new turn, though not necessarily for the better of Pakistan or its people. Judging from recent events in the run-up to the October elections, politics is likely to be polarized not so much along party, ethnic or sectarian lines but along a line which has never been so clearly drawn in Pakistan’s 55 years history as it is in the process of being done now.

The major factor that will be responsible for creating this new polarization is the proposed setting up of the supra- parliamentary National Security Council, in which top officials from the armed forces and the civilian government will be key members. Although the NSC is not a new concept as such, it having been discussed for decades, specially at every military- civilian government transition, its actual establishment will make all the difference between previous transfers of power from military to civilian rule and the latest one.

At the last changeover in 1985, Gen Zia managed to change the basic character of the 1973 Constitution through an amendment — Article-58-2(b) — that empowered the president to dismiss the elected prime minister and his government at will. He got the amendment approved by the National Assembly that was elected through non-party elections in 1985.

The current military government intends to change the spirit of the 1973 Constitution even further by amending the Constitution to provide for the establishment of the NSC. Just like in 1985, the current military regime would naturally be looking towards the new National Assembly that will be elected in the October polls to approve the amendment for bringing the NSC into being. Judging from reports, it seems that it would also want the new National Assembly to revive Article-58-2(b) which had been annulled by parliament in 1997.

The battle lines are already being drawn between those parties and politicians who are being wooed or want to be wooed by the current military regime, and those who are not. The former have come together in a loose coalition called the Grand National Alliance, in which PML(QA) is a major component. The latter consists mainly of PML(N) of the exiled Nawaz Sharif and the PPP of the self-exiled Benazir Bhutto under its new banner of PPP Parliamentarians (PPPP). Both parties have already reached an understanding on seat distribution or adjustment in the October 10 polls, particularly in the NWFP. The PML(N) and the PPPP are being joined by the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), an alliance of six religious parties, which has also reached understanding on seat adjustment with the PPPP and PML(N) separately.

Despite being arch rivals in Pakistani politics for over a decade now, there is a strong precedent to this current PML(N)- PPP cooperation. It happened five years ago in 1997 when the PPP in opposition joined hands with the PML (N) in government to annul Article 58-2(b) by the required two-thirds majority in parliament.

The question is, can these two mainstream parties together now do well enough in the October elections to emerge as a strong block in the National Assembly to prevent a revival of Article 58-2(b) or the establishment of the NSC. This would depend, in large part, on the evolving relationship between the current military regime and members of the Grand National Alliance, particularly PML(QA).

President Gen Pervez Musharraf faces a somewhat more difficult task than did Gen Zia in getting the new constitutional amendments through the National Assembly. In the first place, getting the NSC through parliament will be that much more difficult than it was getting Article 52(b) approved in 1985. In the second place, the only mainstream party then in 1985, the PPP, had boycotted the partyless polls in 1985 under the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD), thus leaving the political field open to Gen Zia’s advantage. This time, however, both mainstream parties have expressed determination to take part in the October elections despite the apparent obstacles in their path.

Besides, history has shown that sooner or later the politician or party that the military establishment supports would inevitably disappoint it. Prime minister Junejo was Gen Zia’s protege, but it was Gen Zia himself who soon found it necessary to dismiss Junejo and his civilian government under the very instrument that the National Assembly led by prime minister Junejo had passed, viz. Article 58-2(b).

Similarly, Nawaz Sharif was groomed by Gen Zia and, after the latter’s death, was supported by the military to form the IJI coalition to counter the PPP in the 1988 elections. But nine years later in 1997, Nawaz Sharif (in government) made a 180 degrees turn by joining hands with the PPP (in opposition) to annul Article 58-2(b), and two years later in 1999 he and his government were overthrown by the military.

The reasons for this trend of development is quite obvious. Military rulers govern by power and through power alone. Civilian politicians, who rule by mandate, may come into power with the support of military rulers, like Junejo and Nawaz Sharif, but sooner or later they will find themselves less answerable to their mentors and more answerable instead to parliament, the people and the man on the street, specially when they find that doing the bidding of the powers that be goes against the opinion and interests of the people.

The political history of Pakistan has been a long sad saga of power struggles between the military and politicians, and among the politicians themselves. This has been played at the cost of the economic and social progress of the country, as well as of the welfare and well-being of the people. As things stand, the power struggles look set to continue if not worsen, and so will the country’s economic and social development suffer further.

There is nothing wrong in wanting to be in power as such. It is this ambition and drive to be in power that has brought many a leader and many a political party into office in many countries with democratic parliamentary dispensations. But a balance has to be struck between wanting to be in power and being genuinely concerned enough to be able to do something concrete to uplift the economic and social interests of the people in general — not just the economic and social interests of only a certain class or group of people.

It is precisely this imbalance that has so far deprived Pakistan of a leader that can turn the country around economically, socially and politically. Some Asian countries that have been fortunate enough to possess such a leader include China, which had Deng Xiaoping; Malaysia, which has Mahathir Mohamad; and Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew.

However, what Pakistan has got so far are a mix of two main types of leaders, both of whom have not been able to set the country on the right path of development: those who ruled with a mandate and who pursued some wrong (and right) policies but whose wrong policies were often overlooked because they were the right leaders, and those who ruled without a mandate and who pursued some right (and wrong) policies but whose right policies could never be right because they were the wrong leaders. What the country needs is a right leader, who enjoys the mandate and confidence of the people, following the right pro-development policies. Pakistan has not been able to throw up such a leader since Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

When journalists begin to get torn between fear and seduction

STUDENTS of a graduate course in journalism last week asked me to compare the quality of freedom available to journalists in Pakistan and India. I said Pakistani journalists had endured far greater hardship than their Indian counterparts, primarily at the hands of authoritarian governments but also at the hands of non- state players such as MQM. More Pakistani journalists had been to jail, more of them faced threats of physical harm than their Indian counterparts. Their tormentors now include religious zealots too.

All this is supposed to have steeled Pakistani journalists to become better watchdogs against wayward establishments. The students wanted to know if the present military government was more media-friendly than its predecessors as was sometimes claimed.

I said there are writers and journalists like Hussain Haqqani who faced considerable threat to their freedom from President Pervez Musharraf’s government but that did not mean that everyone who wrote against the government was being put in the doghouse. People like Najam Sethi are heroes with the more discerning students, and they wanted to know why he was “kidnapped” by a civilian administration.

Writers like I. A. Rehman, Ayaz Amir, Ardeshir Cowasjee, Asma Jehangir figure among the Pakistani writers respected in India for their moral integrity. I told the students that I could barely name an Indian editor since the halcyon days of Chhalapati Rau, Frank Moraes, S. Mulgaonkar and Edatata Narayan who could be idolized as role models.

By contrast today, the number of Indian journalists who have become members of parliament through the patronage of this or that political party is a source of perennial embarrassment to the trade. What is worse is that many more are waiting in the wings to be ushered into the sanctum sanctorum of Indian democracy.

If, going by the spate of political and financial exposes that have surfaced in recent months and weeks, Indian journalism would seem to be cruising at a steady and enviable pace, this was not the opinion of some of the dozen editors who showed up at a rare discussion recently where they warned of the twin threat of “terror and seduction” by the state to their profession.

Home Minister Lal Krishan Advani was quoted as recalling by one or two speakers that during Mrs Indira Gandhi’s Emergency rule Indian journalists were asked to bend but they had crawled.

In an article entitled “Silence of the Paper Tigers”, intrepid journalist Krishna Prasad, who shot to fame with his exposes of the match-fixing incidents, asked the question that was otherwise doing the rounds in everyone’s minds.

“How would the Indian media react if the Emergency were to be declared at midnight tonight, and if the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution were to be suspended?”

What would we do if witch-hunts were launched against magazines that refuse to parrot the establishment line. If flimsy cases were foisted — and dossiers built up — on pesky newspaper journalists. If trouble-making publications were so harassed that they wouldn’t be able to function much less survive. If foreign correspondents were summarily ordered to leave the country for filing not-so-glowing reports. If television channels were banned for showing the other side of a story. If small newspapers were dis-empanelled so that they wouldn’t receive government advertising.

“The good news is that it is a hypothetical question”, quips Krishna. The brazenness of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency (and its failure) is still too fresh in the minds of our political masters to attempt a similar misadventure 27 years later. The bad news is that a subtler, more sophisticated method of muzzling the media has been mastered by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government.

Each of the ‘Emergency’ possibilities listed above — and each of which had the votaries of free speech up in arms in 1975 — has been (or is being) played out in news and board rooms across the country without so much as a squeak in protest, says an angry Krishna Prasad. Guess who is the loser?

In seeking to silence the Outlook magazine with raids on its promoters (after it had exposed the prime minister’s office); in hassling American journalist Alex Perry over his passport (after his profile of Prime Minister Vajpayee in Time); in arresting Iftikhar Geelani under the Official Secrets Act and allowing him to be bashed up in Tihar Jail (after a published document on India’s military presence in Kashmir was found on his laptop); in virtually driving Tehelka.com out of business by choking its funds-flow (after it sullied the BJP’s clean image through the defence scandal); in ordering Al-Jazeera’s India correspondent Nasir M. Shadid to get out (after his reportage on Gujarat and Kashmir); in threatening a ban on Star News in Gujarat (after its coverage of the Muslim victims in Gujarat); in removing 3,000-odd small newspapers from the DAVP (state-run Department of Audio Visual Publicity, a staple source of advertisements) list, the NDA has achieved all that Indira Gandhi did with none of the backlash.

The story of the custodial death by torture of an engineering student in Kerala and the invention of the “Hyderbadi Goli” as a means of third-degree interrogation were exceptions rather than a rule during the emergency. Yes, people were killed as they were in the Turkman Gate incident in Delhi. But humiliation?

According to a current report on the lot of the journalists in South Asia put out by Reporters Sans Frontieres, Kumar Badal’s name figures high up in the list among the incarcerated colleagues. Nepal has surpassed most other states as the leading predator hunting journalists. Bangladesh too features as a nasty place for journalists to work. Pakistan’s name was tarnished further by the murder of Daniel Pearl and so on.

But I am not aware of as a pathetic a case of human degradation as that of Badal. Hear his story in his own words, gleaned from a letter he smuggled out to colleagues in the Indian media, members of parliament and the people of India.

“Implicated in a false case by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) just because I am a journalist working for Tehelka.com, I am suffering imprisonment for the past month. During this time, I was sent to two jails and subjected to sub- human conditions. I helplessly watch CBI sleuths connive with the jail authorities to leave no stone unturned to put me under all sorts of mental and physical pressure, to say the least.

“On the first day in prison, they stripped me naked in front of the jailor’s office, with at least 10 staff members (including the prison officials and the CBI sleuths) sitting and laughing, and a crowd of prisoners was all the time watching the act. Their reason for stripping me in front of the crowd: He is a tehelka.com journalist. Let’s see what he is hiding.

“This was done after they had kept me in custody for 27 hours, and they had frisked me thoroughly (many times) by then. Even if they had wanted to frisk me again in prison, they could have done it in a separate room, and not in public. There was no need to strip me in front of every one. Even as tears rolled down my face, they laughed louder than ever. The CBI officials did this after physically torturing me, and threatening me. Mercifully, the honourable judge at Saharanpur somehow saw through their designs and ordered that two of my lawyers will be with me throughout the period of CBI custody — albeit at a visible distance.

“The CBI got a severe setback and they couldn’t torture me further or put words in my mouth, which was their real intention after arresting me.

“Even after arresting me and getting nothing from me including a tape that was supposed to have been given to me, they are still playing games to put me under further pressure. They make it a point that I don’t talk to the media whenever I am taken to court (that I still managed is another story). When they transfer me to the Ghaziabad court they keep me inside a suffocating hawaalat (jail) and not near the judge’s room where the other accused in this case are kept — to keep me away from the media.

“What do they fear? They are afraid that I might tell the media about the sub-human conditions and the details of the torture meted out to me. I am a journalist with a reasonable track record.

“The only reason I am suffering in this manner is because I am a journalist from tehelka.com, which took up the cudgels to expose the corruption in high places in the governance of the day. The fact that the ruling government’s invisible hand is present in all this harassment doesn’t need any further proof. Right from the arrest of Mr Shankar Sharma to the arrest of Aniruddha Bahal is testimony to the fact.

“The fact that the CBI is showing so much enthusiasm in a false poaching case is itself ridiculous, as if the entire organization has gathered to protect the wildlife of India! The CBI should be asked if they have arrested a single poacher of thousands of elephants or any other endangered species that keep dying in the forests! Did they investigate a single case of the ‘Gujarat carnage’ in which more than 3,000 human beings lost their lives? The CBI is having an independent charge of the anti-corruption branch — are they going to investigate the petrol pump scam of the BJP government which has shocked the nation?”

Badal would be sooner or later released on bail. It is equally likely that the judge too would let him off honourably against the charges stacked against him. But I shall be meeting the students of journalism again next week. What if they tell me that I have exaggerated the incidence of state repression against Pakistani journalists, and they cite all the above examples of state repression against the Indian media, to back their claim? We have to find an answer very quickly.

Uneven field for polls players

IBRAT writes that the visiting European Union delegation’s comment on the government attempt to keep Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif away from the elections is a point to ponder. Besides, its reservations on impartiality and transparency of the October polls are a sort of warning for the government.

The people of the country are happy that the Musharraf government is going to hold elections on Oct 12 according to the ruling of the Supreme Court. However, they are also worried about the government decision not to allow the two leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League to return home, as well as to disqualify them from contesting the elections. These measures suggest that the government wants to ensure that the leaders of its own choice are elected. The comments of the EU delegation have strengthened these apprehensions.

As the elections will be monitored not only by the EU but by other international bodies and countries also, it will be better for the government to keep the election process transparent and the ways leading to it open for all, so that the people can choose their representatives freely, and the the donor countries feel that their opinion is respected. The government must keep in mind the warning of the EU delegation that the agreements with Pakistan can be badly affected if the elections are not held in a transparent way.

Elaborating the same theme, Awami Awaz says that as the country needs a consensus at this critical juncture: it is not wise on the part of the to government to confront the political leaders on matters pertaining to the elections. If the elections are held in this atmosphere of tug-of-war, it will be too difficult for the government to restore the trust of the political parties, as well as of the masses, and satisfy the world community. Hence the need to recognize the ground realities. It is the prime responsibility of a mature and sage leadership to rise above personal or group interests and give priority to the collective interests of the nation.

According to Tameer-i-Sindh, with the promulgation of the Police Order 2002, it has also been ordered that those police personnel who violate this law can be punished with a five-year term and imposition of fine. The new law prohibits the police from resorting to torture, body search without a reason and illegal detention. However, it seems that the Sindh police are unaware of this part of the order. This is why the newspapers of the last few days are, as usual, full of reports about the excesses committed by the police against the people. The government was advised to make the people, as well as the police, aware of the order through print and electronic media before bringing the law into practice. This may be and should be done even now. Otherwise, there might be no change in the anti-people attitude of the police, particularly at the lower level.

Kawish points out that because of lack of monsoon rain the spectre of drought is once again looming large on the horizon of the Thar desert. On the recommendations of the Tharparkar District Council, the district coordination officer has asked the Sindh government to provide relief to the one million people of Thar, who had earlier been hit by drought for three consecutive years between 1997 and 2002. Immediate relief measures are imperative but they cannot improve the lot of the Maroos (poor Thari people) on a permanent basis. For this, a tiny part of the income, generated by coal production in Thar, could be spent on development of local agriculture and livestock breeding, so that rain or no rain the local economy may provide the desert dwellers with some means of livelihood.

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