DAWN - Opinion; May 12, 2002

Published May 12, 2002

Building institutions

By Anwar Syed

IN order to stay on target, it may be useful to spell out clearly the import of our concern here. To begin with, it will be adequate to say that when some persons join together to pursue a given mission, or a set of missions, and establish procedures for pursuing it, an institution has come into being. Each of these three ingredients — persons, mission, and procedures — is essential, and we don’t have an institution if even one of them is missing.

All institutions are organizations, but the reverse is not always true. Organizations may come and go fairly quickly; they need a certain amount of longevity to attain the status of institutions. Their mission should be one that is in accord with the society’s professed values. An association of criminals (“mobsters”), howsoever well organized and internally coherent, will not be received as an institution.

Missions of institutions may change over time, shrink or broaden. This may happen partly because the mission that had initiated the institution has become dysfunctional or irrelevant with the change of circumstances, and the institution concerned must supplement its original purposes with others if it is to continue to flourish or even exist. With the decline of religious zeal, the Christian church has become a gathering place not only for worship but for a variety of social activities — music, dance, games, and discussion of temporal issues — to retain the attachment of its congregation.

NATO, established with the mission of defending Western Europe and North America against the Soviet Union, went into doldrums when, in the mid-1960s, West European governments began to feel that the Soviet threat had receded. That sense of threat has disappeared almost entirely with the demise of the Soviet Union, and NATO has been looking for new or additional missions to keep itself alive and well.

An organization must remain reasonably active, and achieve some visible measure of success in achieving its professed mission, if it is to become an institution. Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan’s Pakistan Democratic Party, Imran Khan’s Tehrik-e-Insaf, and Farooq Leghari’s Millat Party — not to speak of the PML’s several factions — are “do-little” organizations that may never become institutions. On the other hand, the larger PML group, PPP, ANP, and a few others seem to have the potential of becoming institutions, while the Jamaat-e-Islami may actually be one. In the international arena, once again, regional alliances such as SEATO and CENTO never became significant because neither their mission nor their level of activity inspired credibility as institutions.

Want of viable institutions is generally thought to be a principal reason, and evidence, of political under-development in the Third World. Turning to Pakistan, we see that institutions in both the governmental and non-governmental domains actually abound. In the former sphere the obvious ones include legislatures, executive organs (president and cabinet), the bureaucracy, the judiciary, the armed forces, and political parties.

There are literally scores of them in the non-governmental spheres, more notably: schools, colleges, and universities, chambers of commerce and industry, labour unions, bar associations, charitable trusts and foundations (e.g., the Edhi Foundation), and a plethora of professional organizations.

Many of these institutions, notably the charitable trusts and professional organizations, are working reasonably well. What then is the problem? It is that the ones related to government and politics, those where there is power to be exercised, are not working well. Not only are they incompetent in whatever they do, they are often untrue to their professed missions, violate or disregard their own prescribed rules and procedures much too often, and their functionaries take what does not lawfully belong to them.

We don’t have the space here — and happily nor is there the need — to examine each one of the governmental and political institutions in the country. We will limit ourselves to a quick reference to the bureaucracy and then focus on legislatures and political parties. Incompetence and corruption are the bureaucracy’s two main defects. Incompetence may result from inadequacy in the area of “mechanics” — wastefully time-consuming workflow, excessive layers of hierarchy through which each item of business must pass, outmoded equipment, tedious systems of records management and information retrieval.

Outside of mechanics, one should mention the inclination at higher levels to have the final say in all decisions, the accompanying unwillingness to delegate authority, and a corresponding disinclination on the part of lower officials to take responsibility for making decisions even where they have the formal authority to do so. These tendencies result in the accumulation of work at the higher levels to a point where the officials concerned simply don’t have the time or the energy to cope with it. Work does not get done without horrendous delays, and sometime it doesn’t get done at all.

Corruption is a different ball game. It has been commented upon by both laymen and experts, including commissions of inquiry, so often that there is no call for an extended examination of its whys and wherefores. Suffice it to say here that corruption and exercise of power tend to go together, and that the inclination to take unearned rewards comes to persons more readily than the willingness to undertake the toil of earning them.

Self-denial, honesty, and integrity are habits of mind that have to be taught and cultivated, and they have to be reinforced by an on-going system of societal approval and constraints, advancement and punishments.

Inadequacy, more than corruption, is the problem afflicting legislatures and political parties in Pakistan. The trouble with legislatures is that neither their own members nor the other organs of government (the political executive and the bureaucracy) take them seriously.

The executive does not really want to bring business to them. It prefers to rule by “ordinances,” which it promulgates a few days before the legislature is scheduled to meet and, then, soon after it has departed.

During intervals of functioning representative government over the last thirty years, the prime minister came to parliament rarely, and his cabinet colleagues did only slightly better. Members of the ruling party as well as those in the opposition routinely deserted the floor (to drink tea and chat with friends in the cafeteria) in such a large number that meetings had to be adjourned for want of quorum. More often than not, debates were dull, participants unprepared, and their speeches largely irrelevant to the issue presumably under discussion.

I have talked about political parties in a recent article (February 10). A brief statement will do here. Even though they are an important part of the apparatus of democratic governance, their own commitment to democracy is dubious. The managers of most of them are addicted to authoritarianism, and their aspiration for personal gratification is much stronger than their dedication to the public interest. These dispositions on their part generate factionalism in their organizations. Virtually every party in the country is split into numerous factions.

Why are the governmental and political institutions in Pakistan weak and relatively ineffective? One reason may be that we have neglected institutional development throughout our history. One of our most regrettable shortcomings has been our failure to institutionalize succession to rule. We have always emphasized the importance of mutual consultation (“shura”) but never regularized its form or established its procedures. Even the pious caliphs, who were the only ones in Muslim history to have valued “shura,” resorted to it on an ad hoc basis, as and when they deemed fit.

In the Muslim world, from 66l A.D. until relatively recent times, we have never had political institutions. A small bureaucracy for tax collection, a police establishment, and a judiciary did exist in rudimentary forms.

It is not clear whether, or to what extent, any of them was hierarchically organized or integrated over the entire realm or even on a provincial basis; whether regular procedures for recruitment and promotion operated; whether judges worked, each on his own, or did appeals lie from lower to higher courts.

Guilds of tradesmen and artisans did exist; the “bazaris” in Iranian towns were well organized, and even willing to participate in political activity, during the last couple of centuries. But we know of no professional organizations, such as those of public servants, jurists, or physicians.

We seem to have entertained an anti-institutional bias throughout our history. It is difficult to understand why we have been proud of the fact that Islam does not provide for, or allow, an organized “church.”

The Catholic church in Christendom has always been a huge, complex, hierarchical, and effective institution with global reach and influence. Movements within this church, notably the Cociliar Movement during the thirteenth century, gave impetus to the development of consultative and, later, representative institutions outside the church.

Institutions, by their very nature, work as systems of constraint against arbitrariness. Authoritarian rule, which almost always includes an inclination to arbitrary decision-making, is not hospitable to the emergence and development of institutions. In numerous instances during the last fifty years, authoritarian rulers, who began their careers as charismatic leaders heading revolutionary movements (Mao, Sukarno, Nasser, and Qadhafi among others) have created institutions, for the sake of appearances, but kept them weak so that they would not become capable of restraining those who hold supreme authority and power.

Institutions are made to serve the interests of collectivities. They will not prosper until we absorb the idea that the collective interest must prevail over that of individual persons. In Pakistan we have been given to personal, authoritarian and arbitrary rule for centuries. We will begin to protect and nourish our political institutions only when we have really begun to value democracy and its raison d’etre.

An aggrieved and angry Sindh

By Kunwar Idris

NOTHING moves Sindhis more than the prayer of Shah Abdul Latif for everlasting peace and prosperity to their land and to all those who inhabit it. And nothing angers them more when their own neighbours and countrymen deny them what their 18th century saint-poet had wished for them.

It is not mere denial of a right; it is irreverence for they all partake of the bounty of the Shah’s land. These tender emotions and anger came to full play at a day-long Sindh Solidarity Conference convened by Mumtaz Bhutto last Sunday in Karachi. Recounted at length, and bitterly, were injustices and deprivations inflicted on Sindh in return for the shelter and hospitality it had extended — first to the refugees from India and ever since continuously to the migrants from other parts of Pakistan.

The litany of grievances rises to the theme of revenge for damming of Indus and diverting its waters upstream which threatens to lay waste the land the Shah prayed should remain ever green. Before the barrages were built — the first one at Sukkur in 1933 — Indus flooded both the farm land and river delta. With more water drawn upstream the riverine tract of two million acres lies barren and saline sea water has invaded a much larger alluvial deltaic triangle.

A persisting drought is blamed for the shortage of water in the Indus, but only Sindh suffers its brunt. A resolution passed at the convention alleged that it was now receiving only 30 per cent of the normal water supply, reducing the crop output to half while Punjab, the upper riparian, continued to revel in abundance.

So shaken is Sindh’s confidence in the common forum which determines the water sharing among the provinces that the resolution asks for international experts nominated by the UN to mark out the riparian rights and fix the provincial allocations, making the disputes that may arise fit to be taken to the International Court of Justice.

So high run the passions on this issue that even the moderate politicians and lawyers like Mustafa Jatoi, Ilahi Baksh Soomro, Yusuf Haroon and Abdul Hafeez Pirzada did not object to the internationalization of a national dispute. It also shows the waning trust in our own judiciary that even the Supreme Court wasn’t considered impartial enough for arbitration. Sindh’s ministers and irrigation officials couldn’t win the argument in the inter-provincial forum (IRSA) because, the speakers alleged, the contention of Punjab officials is always backed by the growl of a general.

Passion, at times, may be having the better of reason when an economic issue which touches every citizen is discussed in a political forum, but it will be folly for the rulers at Islamabad to treat it as a mere technical issue to be determined in the light of some past agreements or precedents. It has a genuine human and exploitative political dimension too.

Punjab or no other province, it was argued at the convention, has any right over the waters of Indus. Sindh — the river and the land — are inseparable. A fiery maulana tried to clinch the argument by declaring that even under the sharia Sindh had the first and exclusive right over Indus.

The rights over Indus waters and the justification for Kalabagh dam or Greater Thar Canal may not be a subject either for Pakistan’s own shariat court or for the World Court but it needs to be taken out of the clutches of the contending technicians and raised to a platform where its historic and human aspects are given greater and, perhaps, decisive weight. The discontent it has caused may not explode into violence but it can sink into deeper cynicism which in the long run may further weaken the already fragile national harmony.

The water issue pushed the other and older grievances of Sindh to a lower place but the questions of autonomy, usurpation of Sindh’s resources of land and minerals by ‘outsiders’ and the centre and its inadequate share in the services and divisible taxes were all forcefully articulated.

Dr. Hamida Khuhro, Yusuf Masti Khan, Usman Baloch and almost every other speaker called the original 1940 Pakistan resolution a compact among the nationalities, and any among them may walk out if it was not treated as an equal partner. That may remain an ambition or a pipedream but should have served its purpose if it were to provide impetus to the creation of a genuine federation. Devolution without more subjects and resources being assigned to the provinces remains a farce.

The basis of the divisible tax pool, it was demanded, should be the income generated by the provinces and their needs and not population alone. It is a thorny issue which should be linked to financial autonomy of the provinces.

The National Finance Commission award of 1997 was criticized for being unfair to Sindh, without realizing that over its three-year period (1997 to 2000) Sindh received 40 billion rupees less than fixed and promised on the basis of the population. Only the transfer of more taxes to the provinces and not changing the formula for dividing the taxes levied and collected by the federation will really help the provinces. At present, very little is left to dole out to the provinces after the federal government has paid for the defence, debt servicing and its huge bureaucracy.

Population may not be the perfect basis for determining the share of each province in the federal revenues but it is difficult to see all the provinces agreeing to any other formula. The haven’t so far and the much-maligned 1997 award still operates two years after its expiry.

Sindh, indeed, has a share in the services — both civil and military — much lower than its population. But for that it has to blame itself more than the centre or the other provinces. In the Federal Public Service Commission’s competitive examination of 2001, the candidates from Sindh numbered only 21 in a merit list of 60, and that includes the candidates from Karachi which has an English-medium school round every street corner and a glut of universities. What goes wrong and where is for the leaders and educationists of Sindh to ponder.

The military has its narrow recruiting belt. Starting with inhospitable land which forced its inhabitants to join the army for a living, it has over the centuries hardened into a tradition that is hard to break. You can hardly name a general who doesn’t belong to Potohar or the adjoining part of the frontier province (Ziaul Haq was an unenviable exception). All that the Sindhis and other “non-martial” ethnic communities from the other parts of the country can do is to exert pressure to keep the army in the barracks and on the borders but out of politics, the KESC and cricket.

Referendum: the day after

By M.P. Bhandara

IS General Musharraf deserving of the support we gave him before the referendum? Granted his power is rooted in illegitimacy. I supported him as a minority (a label that I dislike) because he did away with the apartheid-like separate electorates.

I support him for his taking generally the right decisions after 9/11. I condone his initial feather-bedding the Taliban in and out of the army. I am prepared to forget his ill-fated venture in Kargil as old history. I consider the man to be decent, honest and clean; the last such in high office was Mr Mohammad Khan Junejo.

I am ambivalent in my support for his grassroots democracy. I would have preferred more provinces; his devolution scheme has diminished the backbone of the deputy commissioner as an institution, which earns my gratitude. The press is about as free as could be in this country. I celebrate the fact that law and order is better. The state does not appear to be supporting ‘holy warriors’ any longer; granted that these hotheads have been decommissioned, but, not demobilized. Financially, bankruptcy no longer stares us in the face. The rupee shines as the dollar dims.

The events of the referendum cast a shadow on the president. The referendum was institutionally rigged. The stories that appear in the press have a ring of authenticity. The president without his dubious victory stood taller before than after this botched event. Has Mr Clean lost his credentials after his first skirmish with politics?

Was the referendum necessary? The majority of the columnists and editors hold the view that it was not. I disagree. A fundamental change in our political ethos and direction has taken place since 9/11. The real issue is not the person but the policy. The opportunity of an honest verdict has been sullied by an overkill on the part of the civil and military establishment to get top results.

A referendum under normal election rules and held in a manner as close as possible to a presidential election would have been a credible exercise. Securing even 51 per cent of a “yes” vote in a referendum held within a general election with, say, a voter participation of 40 (which is the average turnout in a general election), would be a far more solid mandate than securing 98 per cent of the vote with an incredible 70 per cent voter participation. Such figures put President Musharraf in the league of the erstwhile North Korean, Cuban and Soviet-style dictators — a league that he does not belong to, thank God. Dubious referendums as a route to power only stamp dubiety on the holder.

And what if Musharraf had lost a fair and square referendum; he would still be the Chief of Army Staff — an office which in our political culture calls the real shots. A graceful exit after his term as army chief would uphold the banner of decency and democracy.

Our military rulers arrive with a bang but fall like stones. If the general can keep his options open for a graceful exit he would stand taller than any of his military or even civilian predecessors.

I am inclined to support President General Musharraf even though his victory is dubious and the referendum result unacceptable. Why? I consider he and his team has ruled honestly these past 32 months. This by itself is a rarity in our political life. I see him less vulnerable to shabby political compromises which are the meat of Pakistani politics.

Next, every second or third unemployed adult in Pakistan of sound mind and limb wishes to emigrate to find employment and a better living abroad. This includes our holy warriors of all stripes, many who found holy warring a source of employment for want of another. Our immense pool of skill, enterprise and muscle can only be translated into a million new jobs each year if Pakistan is a sanitized entity for the West. We need investment in billions of dollars annually to open up the huge mining, industrial and virgin agricultural lands in many parts of the country. Why go to Dubai when we can bring Dubai here.

There is a vociferous anti-west lobby in Pakistan as in much of the Islamic world. It is usually identified with pro-Islamic parties. The reasons for this we need not examine. Anti-westernism is a historical phenomenon in the evolution of 20th century capitalism. Japanese militarists, Soviet communists, German fascists, Maoists, Cuban Marxists and currently Hindu Mahasabaists, have all in their day of glory been as vociferously rejectionist of the west as Mr Osama bin Laden and his acolytes.

The anti-west stage in the rise of modern capitalism occurs when a society is at a crossroads. The have-nots of an emerging modern society, finding themselves at a complete disadvantage to the haves, translate easily into an embroidery of the distant past, which serves to fortify the rejection of modern values.

Today, after many a battle, the Japanese, Russians, Chinese and Indians hanker for western investment and technology. And in their turn, the Japanese, Chinese and even Indians have become net exporters of western technology so acquired. As a result, living standards in western China, Korea, Malaysia and Thailand have risen tremendously in the past decade. The anti-west rejectionists have been reduced to eccentric fringe groups. The above has relevance to keeping Musharraf around for a further term of five years. Civil society in Pakistan is not strong enough to stand up to the violence of ethnic, sectarian and assorted fanatic anti-west groups. The entire resources — civil and military — of the state, are needed to cross the Rubicon, till such time as the critical mass of modernity takes firmer root.

Was it not unbridled democracy in the nineties that brought us close to the world pariah status classification or an Argentine-type bankruptcy? In any of these situations Pakistan will be in a dire state of collapse.

One fundamental change after 9/11 is that terrorism is a blunt weapon in the war of liberation. it is a medicine with severe side-effects. Unabated terrorism has not won a state for the Palestinians, independence for Kashmiris or even autonomy for the Sikhs and Kurds. But there are other weapons in the armoury of liberation-seeking forces that even our young Turks — foremost of whom at one time was General Musharraf — may now be appreciating. Freedom won by terrorism or by its more glorified name — revolution — will never be stable: historically, it eats up its own children.

To conclude, let the referendum suffer from benign neglect or be treated as a five-billion-rupee non-event. let the October elections be free and fair — a la Yahya’s election of 1970 sans Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif — though the decision not to let in Shahbaz Sharif is quite unwarranted and unfair. In the ensuing tug of war between the president ad his men and the politicians of the assembly, concepts on either side will be debated and discussed; many a sleepless night will pass before compromises are reached. A constitutional package is inevitable in the end with President Musharraf as the icing on the cake.

The writer is a former member of the National Assembly of Pakistan.

Barbie doll

THE passing of Ruth Handler, the creator of the Barbie doll, brought back memories to so many parents whose lives became intertwined with Barbie’s when their daughters were little — and we grownups paid the bill.

I wrote about Barbie in the ‘60s when my daughter was a 7-year-old and said she wanted a Barbie doll. As far as I was concerned, one doll looked just like another, and since a Barbie was only $3, it was a bargain. (In those days Barbie came with just a bathing suit.)

I bought the doll and didn’t think anything more about it.

A week later my daughter came in and said, “Barbie needs a negligee.”

I said, “So does your mother.”

“But there is one in the catalogue for only $3.”

“What catalogue?”

“The one that came with the doll.”

I grabbed the catalogue and found out what the makers of the doll were up to. Barbie was only $3, but you had to buy 200 outfits for her wardrobe — everything from ski suits to tiny mink jackets. Your status in the neighbourhood depended on how many articles of clothing your Barbie had.

I was hoping my daughter would settle for a negligee, but a few weeks later she came back and said, “Barbie wants to be an airline stewardess.”

I put another $3.50 on the line.

Barbie didn’t stay a stewardess for long. She wanted to be a nurse ($3), then a singer in a nightclub ($3), and then a professional dancer ($3). (Note: This was before Barbie acknowledged women’s lib.)

One day my daughter walked in and said, “Barbie’s lonely.”

“Let her join a sorority,” I replied.

She showed me the catalogue, and sure enough, there was a doll named Ken. She cried, “If Barbie doesn’t find a man she will become an old maid.”

So I went out and bought Ken for $3.50. He needed a terrycloth robe, an electric shaver, tennis togs, several double-breasted suits and a tuxedo. You can figure out how much that cost.

Pretty soon I had put up $400 to protect my original $3.

Then my daughter announced that Ken and Barbie were going to get married. “Here is a list of wedding clothes and Barbie’s dream house.”

“Seven-fifty for a house!” I shouted. “Why can’t they live on your shelf like your other dolls?”

I thought after the marriage that they would live happily ever after, but children pick up on everything, and one day my daughter said, “Barbie wants a divorce.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Ken is going out with Midge, Barbie’s best friend — and Midge ($3) doesn’t have a thing to wear.”—Dawn/Tribune Media Services



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