DAWN - Opinion; June 3, 2002

Published June 3, 2002

The referendum: before and after

By Zafar Iqbal

THE country has been referendum-crazy for the last one month. Apart from appearing in peculiar headgear before crowds of people, Gen. Pervez Musharraf probably did gain some experience in public speaking. Most people either like him or at least don’t mind him being around.

Since there was nothing for them to really choose; there was no incentive for any one to vote. The ‘bundobast’ was also lacking. Too many polling booths and not enough bussing arrangements. The ARD and the major political parties went along the path of least resistance by refusing to oppose. They chose the weapon of boycott instead.

The estimates of turn-out have ranged from a hostile 5% to an official 70%. A relatively believable figure of 25% has now appeared. Not that it matters because the Supreme Court has already finessed the issue by saying that the referendum is legal but it still does not change the procedure laid down in the Constitution for electing the president. This problem will be considered when it arises.

The whole thing has been taken as somewhat laughable especially by the writers who in former years, were, great admirers of the late Z.A. Bhutto. The overall reaction in the domestic and international press has been that it has not turned out to be a particularly good idea.

General Musharraf has been “running” on his two-and-a-half-year track record. His government can be credited with the following achievements: the first and most important is that there has been no financial scandal or rumour of a scandal, of even a minor nature associated with anyone in the federal or provincial governments.

The second is the existence of a practically free press even when it has been hostile. On the economic side whatever has happened has been the result of September 11. The general’s main and possibly only contribution has been his prompt acquiescence to the US demands. The rest happened more or less automatically or under the dictation of the IMF and the World Bank.

Law and order problems including sectarian killings have not been contained. The general’s recent rally in Karachi was marked by the assassination of two important MQM figures shortly before the event. There are two opposite sets of rumours. One says the “agencies” have done it; the other that it was on the orders of the MQM high command. The general is, on the whole, better off without immediate MQM support.

On the political side according to Pakistan’s track record, he need not worry about the National Assembly for the time being. Anyone anointed by him will be chosen prime minister. So strong is the bandwagon effect that our politics is almost exclusively the politics of power and not one of principle. As there is no real rule of law, or political neutrality of the official machinery and a general lack of good governance, the whole issue in politics is to be on the side of those who wield power. One hopes that the exceptions to this are growing, but they still have not reached critical level.

The two institutions invented by the army for good governance are the NRB for introducing political and administrative reform and the NQB for catching crooks. Both are presumably well meaning.

The NRB comprises, on the one side, a group of retired military officers supported on the technical side by a group of academics. By the nature of their professions they have had little contact with the real world. The military is a self-contained institution which lives more or less within itself preparing for an eventuality which — in today’s world — most people hope will never arise. They are mainly for the purpose of assuring the external security of the country’s frontiers. Academics are also supposed to lead a somewhat cloistered life.

As Bernard Shaw gibed “he who can, does, he who cannot, teaches.” Although one presumes that they are intelligent and well meaning, together they are currently inhabitants of an ivory tower and are like innocents in the gardens of paradise who have not yet tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge. In other words, they know little about how things actually happen.

As far as devolution is concerned, it was something which should have happened a long time ago. When I was in the old BNR about forty odd years ago. I had floated the idea that as local government institutions the “Basic Democracies” could move in this direction. But it was obviously a suggestion whose time had yet not come. I did not agree with the BD’s as a constitutional device for electing Ayub Khan but nobody minded my disagreement.

The excessive joy at having taken away the powers of a magistrate from the DM seems a bit premature. It is simply meeting the perennial demand of separation of the judiciary from the executive. Whether this is good or bad from the point of view of good governance is yet to be seen. It is also a reasonably documented and well-known fact that corruption normally tends to increase as you descend the administrative hierarchy.

The success or failure of the devolution scheme will depend on meritocratic selection, competence, integrity and political neutrality of the DCO (District Co-ordination Officer). There may be an outstanding Nazim who, on occasions, may have a major impact: but this is likely to be the exception rather than the rule.

The initiative of the NRB in suggesting greater powers for the police is positively dangerous. The police in Pakistan are renowned for corruption and brutality. Conceptually it seems that the thinkers in the NRB have equated the police with the armed services. The armed services are a largely autonomous and self-regulating body for purposes of defending the borders of the country. They do not come into contact with the public in the course of their normal duties.

On this analogy they seem to have conceived of the police as an autonomous and self-regulating body for preserving internal security in the country. The parallel, unfortunately, does not exist. The police are in daily and almost perpetually in contact with the public, generally to its (the public’s) detriment. Most poor or uninfluential people’s wallets are often a bit lighter after they have had contact with a police constable or ASI or SI.

There are no checks and balances on police excesses as the District Public Safety Commission is a toothless body. The District Police Officer can easily defy it. On the other hand, the filing of a “false” complaint against a police official carries a special punishment for the complainant.

The problem that arises is that most police high-handedness and brutal behaviour takes place within the precincts of a police station, rarely in public places. There are usually no independent witnesses. As it is ordinary members of the public have no recourse against the police even if they behave badly n public. This provision will only make mattes worse and should be withdrawn. The problem can be dealt with under the existing law.

In the bad old days of colonial rule an FIR was more or less automatically registered by the police; there were exceptions but rather few; and usually with malafide intent. Now the registration of an FIR seems to have become more or less discretionary. The old practice needs to be restored as there is provision in the law for prosecuting people who register a false FIR. The system of more or less automatically registering an FIR was intact up to Mr Bhutto’s time. After all, Ahmed Raza Kasuri registered an FIR about his father’s murder, naming the sitting prime minister (Z.A. Bhutto) as one of the suspects. Could it happen today?

I understand what the NRB is thinking — but it seems that it has not taken the reality into account. If such reforms go through they will inadvertently make Pakistan a police state. At present — for the poor and uninfluential — it is practically a police state already and is likely to remain so for some time to come. But they can still have some flickering hope of redress.

As far as NAB is concerned they have certainly spread terror. Unfortunately their performance has largely been confined to strong-arm methods for extracting “reparations” from the people suspected of acquiring ill-gotten wealth. The weakness in their operations is the excessive reliance on extra-legal means, rather than trying people through due process of law. As a result the net effect has been rather mixed, particularly on business confidence. Now that they are, according to news reports, also about to involve themselves in civil disputes, one begins to seriously fear the outcome of such an enlargement of their jurisdiction.

Colombia’s get-tough guy

WHILE narco-guerillas and paramilitary armies burned voting materials in distant rural areas, millions of Colombians lined up in scorching heat and soaking rain on Sunday last to reaffirm their commitment to democracy by electing a new president.

Defying violent intimidation, the people showed their resilience. But in selecting conservative Alvaro Uribe — who campaigned on a promise to get tough on the terrorists who had kept the country at war for almost four decades — they also showed that their patience was thin.

For almost four years, President Andres Pastrana tried to bring peace by negotiating with Colombia’s leftist rebels. The experiment failed. The Switzerland-size piece of land ceded by the government was used by the guerillas to produce illegal drugs, launch offensives on civilians, hide kidnapped citizens and stash weapons bought with drug money. Not once did the rebel leadership sit down with the government to discuss peace.

The electorate’s message to Uribe: Restore order and return this country to civility. Pronto.

—Los Angeles Times

Reviewing farm policy

By Shahid Kardar

THE agriculture sector is crying out for a paradigm shift in policy. A strong case exists for policy reforms through a discussion on government policies for wheat and sugar. The next budget and the future government need to overhaul the country’s agricultural strategy.

Take, to begin with, wheat. For the third year running there is a wheat glut in the country, an outcome that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. So much wheat has been lying in stock with the federal and provincial governments, not because all Pakistanis have feasted to their hearts’ content and still there is so much left over.

Quite the contrary, the government has become the biggest hoarder of food through a process that has squeezed consumption. It has been adding more than a quarter of the wheat produced to this rotting stockpile over the last two years. While the net per capita availability of wheat has been falling, an increasing proportion of it available in the country lies impounded in government godowns. All this is happening while more than a third of the population lives below the poverty line and another quarter is surviving on the margin.

The government’s “support price” is the highest price offered in the market and wherever the government has institutional infrastructure to procure wheat farmers dump it there. The policy to procure wheat at high support prices, which then forces the government to raise its issue price to flour mills to ease the burden on its budget so that it can finance the procurement process and the maintenance of this food mountain is totally irrational.

The exercise to buy and stock large amounts of wheat is wastefully expensive to operate and, for the beleaguered budgetary system, unsustainable. By stepping in the government has not only distorted market signals but also entailed buying of wheat whose marketing has entailed subsidies it can ill-afford to finance on a continuing basis. The Punjab government discovered this after acquiring 6.3 million tons of wheat during the year 2000, half of which continues to lie in the open at the mercy of weather and rodents.

Sindh and the NWFP, which were forced to share some of the financial burden of Punjab by buying an additional million tons each for which they did not have enough covered storage space, are faced with similar problems of large high-cost unsold stocks carried forward over the last two years, at a time when the new wheat crop has arrived in the market.

Luckily, the size of the crop this year is about the annual consumption requirement of the country, so that government procurement will not necessarily add to the mountain of unsold wheat stocks. However, unless the flawed procurement policy, aimed at picking up wheat at higher and higher support prices, is changed, a larger sized crop in future years will recreate the year 2000 type crisis.

The federal and provincial governments have historically incurred an annual subsidy of between Rs. 7 to Rs. 10 billion on wheat. But what is classified as subsidy on atta in budgetary allocations is only very partially a consumption subsidy. The bulk of the fiscal cost of the activities related to wheat operations comprises expenditures on incidentals, bagging, handling, storage and stock carrying costs, which go to subsidize the high cost of management, wastage, processing, pilferage and corruption, financial charges contribute 48 per cent to 52 per cent and gunny bags 27 per cent to 30 per cent of the cost of incidentals.

Any relationship between levels of poverty and the allocation for atta subsidy is at best tenuous. This is because of the definition of this subsidy and the manner in which the accounting entry of the subsidy is recorded, whereby higher the stocks the higher the subsidy.

Taking consumer subsidy as a percentage of the price of atta, it is instructive that barely 8 per cent of the total budgetary allocation of the subsidy on wheat actually accrues to the consumer. The inefficiencies in, and poor management of, the government’s wheat marketing operations absorb the bulk of the expenditure in the name of consumer subsidy. Moreover, whatever the element of the wheat subsidy, it is available in the same proportion to even the more privileged segments of society. Hence the need for better targeting of this subsidy in favour of those in real need of assistance.

Tragically, even farmers in whose name the wheat policy has been designed are losers in the long run. The high domestic price makes them internationally uncompetitive. Their wheat cannot be sold internationally without subsidies. The main beneficiaries of these expensive operations are the rich farmers in Punjab and Sindh and the middlemen and the employees of the government’s food departments. The farmer does not get the full support price and these two intermediaries pocket anything from between Rs. 20 to Rs. 40 per 40 kg, all in the name of support to small farmers.

Net buyers of wheat around the country see their consumption being squeezed. Industry finds itself also being penalized; it has to revise wages as food prices increase, raising costs overall and eroding its competitiveness. The demand for manufactured products shrinks because consumers are forced to set aside a larger proportion of their incomes for food. Also, government borrowings in excess of Rs. 50 billion to finance wheat procurement puts upward pressure on interest rates for credit required by industry to finance investments and operations. The policy decision to maintain a uniform national price for wheat throughout the year also acts as a disincentive to the growth of the market in wheat and the development of privately managed storage facilities that could become available to farmers for rent, enabling them to store their produce for sale later.

The present policy, therefore, needs to be scrapped. The subsidy on atta must subsidize consumption, not rich farmers. Agriculture must become efficient to be able to compete internationally. It is true that subsidies provided by rich countries to their farmers distort global prices. But they may be able to afford it. The question is, can we? If we are willing to pay this cost to help farmers, we must, as a nation, identify what other expenditure to give up or who to tax to pay for this generosity.

Similarly, take the case of sugar. The apparent crisis in the sugar sector has seemingly not worked its way through. Sugarcane growers are seething with anger — not being fully paid for cane supplied to the mills last year. Hence their demand that the government should pick up some of the crop at the support price of Rs. 46 per 40 kg.

Sugar mills which were initially saddled with 0.4 million from last year’s production (now down to around 0.2 million tons as a result of the delayed crushing of this year’s sugarcane) and estimated production of around three million tons for this year were successful in forcing the government to enhance the import duty on refined sugar from 20 per cent to 30 per cent. They have also been demanding permission to export at least 0.25 million of domestically manufactured sugar through a government subsidy, since domestically produced sugar is not competitive internationally.

Unfortunately, however, much of the domestic debate on this subject fails to address the fundamental issues pertaining to the sector, the foremost being a failure to recognize that our sugarcane is over-priced. By distorting the relative price mechanism through a decision to support an artificially high price for a crop in which we are not internationally competitive, successive governments induced farmers to switch over to the cultivation of a crop in which our yields are significantly below the world average and the sucrose content of the varieties produced low.

However, and much more importantly, this policy framework encouraged the growing of a crop that not only requires a lot of water (a scarce commodity) — thereby exacerbating the problem of water-logging in many areas — but is being grown at the cost of cotton (a crop in which we have a comparative advantage internationally), rice and oilseeds.

The large number, more than 70, of small-sized sugar mills (with a capacity to produce less than five million tons) and the high support price fixed for sugarcane have seriously impacted upon the financial viability of the sugar industry in Pakistan. The finances of the majority of these mills are precarious. They are teetering on bankruptcy, having incurred huge debts that most of them are not servicing regularly.

Moreover, industry at present is sitting on a large stockpile of high-priced sugar, entailing massive costs of maintaining this stock in inadequate storage facilities. The situation across the border, in India, is much the same. There the industry is lumbered with massive stocks of close to 12 million tons — production having risen in excess of 40 per cent over the past 3 years as opposed to a 8% increase in consumption.

The cost of sugarcane absorbs more than 70 per cent of the cost of production of sugar — which at $280 per ton is much higher than that of more efficient producers like Brazil — the largest producer of sugar. Sugar mills in Pakistan are expected to procure cane from farmers at double the price paid by the Brazilian counterparts. That our yield of below 45 tons per hectare is well below the international average of 65 tons (and 65 to 70 tons in India) and a low sucrose content of below 8.5 per cent compounds the problem. So even exports will not be profitable with international prices now running at below $200 per ton.

The viability of the sugar industry now depends on the pricing of cane and the restructuring of the industry involving consolidation, merger and closure of many of the inefficient sugar mills with small capacities. If there is to be a viable sugar industry there will soon have to be consolidation and merger of some mills and the closure of others. Unfortunately, the policies of provincial governments are irrational and are opposed to this overdue consolidation and shake-up in the industry, which prohibit the relocation and consolidation of mills required to achieve economies of scale and maintain competitiveness in this globalized era.

The high price of cane has pushed up the cost of production, pegging domestic prices at an unrealistic level, making them uncompetitive against imports. Moreover, the policy to keep support prices high has placed a financial burden on sugar mills that they cannot carry. This has resulted in huge arrears in payments to farmers, thereby harming the very community that government policies are supposedly designed to support and benefit.

In the light of the above, it is plain that: a) there is a need to end open-ended procurement of wheat at high prices and opt for the free movement and trading of wheat; b) government intervention in agriculture must shift from aimless subsidization of outputs and inputs to investment in research and development and improved extension services (although by abandoning the present strategy to employ thousands of extension workers in favour of awareness and education campaigns through the media), farm-to-market roads, rural electrification, crop diversification and integration of value addition chains to mainstream crop development.

The writer is former finance minister of Punjab.

Elusive democracy

By Begum Freda Shah

THE countdown to Pakistan’s next phase of instant democracy is under way. But the people are somewhat confused about the modalities of the impending exercise of their votes.

After the referendum, can we look forward to noisy discussion and debate associated with elections, with pamphlets, buntings, TV interviews, publicity about the virtues and qualities of political candidates? If anything is clear, it is that the very same politicians who were shunted out of power, en masse, have now the tacit approval of the general to attempt a re-entry into the hallowed halls of our parliament buildings.

Why has democracy been so elusive in Pakistan? This tragic situation requires indepth analysis by our intellectuals and political scholars. Of course, the first pre-requisite for the success of democracy is that the democratic process must not be interrupted. Any politician who is corrupt or incapable of performing his/her duties to the satisfaction of the people can be removed from office through various existing constitutional and legal means.

It is nightmarish that an entire assembly of elected persons can be dismissed, with impunity, on the whim of one non-elected or indirectly elected individual, merely on the basis of hearsay and rumours spread by political opponents. For a layman, it is baffling that the Supreme Court invariably endorses such illegal action, thereby labelling each and every member of the elected assembly guilty, without any trial or proof.

Nothing substantive has ever been proved subsequently against the overwhelming majority of the ousted legislators. That is not to say that honesty abounds in their ranks. It is more likely that they do not leave behind any trace of their crimes or cover each other — no party daring to expose the sins of the other for fear of being exposed in return, even while levelling wild accusations at each other for public consumption only.

Proper legal action should be taken against those politicians against whom there is clear evidence of corruption, as is always the case with other government functionaries. Can one imagine the whole judicial system or our defence establishment or a complete government ministry shut down because one or a few of its functionaries are dishonest, or suspected of being dishonest?

In fact, there is corruption in every government institution in this country, so should the whole apparatus of government be shut down? The reason why only the elected legislatures are targeted each time is because that is the only short-cut method for indirectly elected titular presidents and over-ambitious generals to attain absolute power.

Emerging democracies, such as ours, are like fragile plants that need to be protected and nurtured with care. Even the old well-established democracies are always in danger of being damaged unless democratic norms and principles are zealously guarded and adhered to by all the institutions of state.

As a first step to our political salvation, it must be made mandatory for all political parties, well before the national and provincial elections, to hold internal elections through an established democratic process. Only when political parties themselves become completely democratic in form and spirit, and adhere to strict internal accountability, will they produce politicians who will function with necessary political propriety.

An educated electorate is, no doubt, another important requirement for the survival of democracy. While the illiteracy rate is very high in Pakistan majority of the Pakistanis are politically aware and well informed about the need for a democratic dispensation for the country’s progress and prosperity. In the past they have repeatedly proved their collective political intelligence.

Pakistanis are intrinsically democratic in nature and are proud of their political legacy. Their ancestors gave shape to Pakistan through a purely democratic and constitutional process. So why were post-Pakistan generations unable to guard their democracy?

Sovereignty lies with the people and the general will of the people is supreme. In Pakistan the silent majority, as it is famously called, has abdicated its civic and political responsibility, thus facilitating corruption among the legislators and within other branches of the government. The apathy of the people also allows minority groups and sectarian and parochial parties a clout far beyond their actual strength. When there is no people’s pressure, the fear of accountability decreases and the democratic institutions within the state start to wither. Recurrent military rule in Pakistan is a natural corollary to the silent majority’s lack of active interest and input in the country’s political development. Majority of the Pakistanis do not even care to vote in the elections and the voter turnout is minimal compared to the size of the voting-age population.

The people, at the very grassroots level, must hold their elected representatives responsible and strictly accountable for their omissions and commissions. It is every citizen’s right, as well as duty, if he has proof of any wrongdoing by an MNA or MPA, to address letters to him or seek direct audience with him to elicit an explanation, or even sue him in court, either individually or in association with other like-minded citizens.

Unless the silent majority finds its voice and its clout, a situation may again be created and the army may again be tempted, if not forced, to remedy through stopgap non-democratic means. While the military, as a whole, is not the real spoiler of democracy — yet politically ambitious generals jump at the opportunity to fill the vacuum created by the people’s negligence to safeguard their own political rights.

No military leadership can provide a viable democracy to the people because the military’s involvement is, per se, a negation of the democratic process.

The advent of ‘controlled’ democracy under the tutelage of the National Security Council that we will be getting, is a very different kettle of fish. The general has broken every rule of democracy since his bionic leap to the top. Yet, on the practical and rational level, the country needed a respite from the uncontrolled under-the-table corruption of the ‘democrats’ who misruled us far too long, and who, for inexplicable reasons, will now be allowed to join the great military quest for democracy in Pakistan.

The writer is a former ambassador of Pakistan.

Conversation with Morarji Desai

By Roedad Khan

I SPENT the last two years of civilian rule (1957-1958) in Fort Sandeman and Dera Ismail Khan as political agent and deputy commissioner respectively.

I had hardly settled down when General Ayub Khan (the Commander-in-Chief) came to Fort Sandeman for Chakor shoot and stayed at the ‘Castle’, my official residence, as my guest for four days. President Iskandar Mirza was also to come, but he had to cancel his visit because of a back problem. Ayub Khan’s entourage consisted of General Burki, Yahya, Hameed and a number of other senior army officers. The drill was to leave early morning and return late in the evening.

Later, the two of us would sit in front of a roaring log fire and discuss local and national issues. Ayub Khan took keen interest in the working of the civil administration and asked many searching questions.

I was a young political officer, but as representative of the Government of Pakistan, Ayub Khan treated me with respect and a good deal of affection — clear evidence of the supremacy of the civil power over the military in those days. Little did I know that in the darkness of the night President Mirza and General Ayub Khan would conspire to abrogate the Constitution and stab Pakistan’s fledgling democracy in the back.

On October 8, 1958, I was in D.I. Khan, when the army struck. I heard over the radio that martial law had been declared and civilian governments dismissed. Ayub Khan was now the chief martial law administrator. The man on horseback was home and dry — Iskandar Mirza, his principal rival, having fallen at the last fence. The military regime heralded a successful revolution and was promptly recognized as a “basic, law-creating fact” by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

It gave the lie to all that I had been taught: “there can be no martial law in peace time” we were told. The country was not at war and there was no civil commotion in the country preventing the judges from going to courts — an essential pre-condition for the imposition of martial law in peace time according to Dicey. We Pakistanis need our myths in the same way as a reader of poetry needs “a willing suspension of disbelief” in Coleridge’s phrase. The supremacy of civilian power and inviolability of the Constitution was one such myth.

A telephone call from a local colonel asking me to report to him along with my superintendent police brought me down to earth with a thud. Reality hit me like a ton of bricks. The scales fell from my eyes. The colonel rattled off a string of directives for compliance within 24 hours: all unlicensed arms to be surrendered; all hoarded stocks of wheat to be unearthed; all prices, including price of gold, to be controlled.

I got back to my office late in the evening in a much chastened mood. The days of civilian supremacy were over. An “iron curtain” had descended on Pakistan. One could hear the “sound of heavy boots ascending the stairs and the rustle of satin slippers coming down”. All attempts on the part of my commissioner to get in touch with me had failed. He was getting panicky because he genuinely thought I had been detained by the assistant martial law administrator who was now my real boss.

It took me sometime to change gear, make necessary adjustments and reconcile myself to the new order. In the end, the instinct of self-preservation prevails. The country hailed a new dawn and the deliverers. Tragically, the imposition of martial law set in motion a train of events that ended in a bloody civil war in the eastern wing and the breakup of Pakistan.

A year later, I was relocated and posted to Peshawar where I met Morarji Desai, finance minister of India. He was visiting Pakistan as a guest of the government. On arrival in Peshawar, Morarji expressed a desire to pay a courtesy call on Abdul Ghaffar Khan. I was asked to make necessary arrangements and escort him to Utmanzai.

On the way to Utmanzai, Morarji asked me how the freedom-loving Pukhtuns had reacted to the imposition of Martial Law. This triggered a lively discussion. “Was it for this”, Morarji asked, “that your people fought so tenaciously? You thought you had found freedom on August 14, 1947. But hasn’t it turned out to be another kind of slavery? Were all Mr. Jinnah’s brave words and deeds to end in this? Don’t you feel cheated and betrayed? I feel sorry for you. Your future looks very grim to me”.

“Until recently, we were all Indians”, I replied. “We are as good and as bad as Indians are. We all share the same weaknesses. You are not much better than us. We have martial law today. You will have it tomorrow”?

Morarji reacted sharply: “No general dare impose martial law in India”, he retorted. “And if he does, Morarji will be the first to face the Indian bullet”. On this grim note, the conversation ended. We had reached Utmanzai.

More than 40 years have passed since that thought-provoking conversation, but Morarji’s words still ring in my ears and haunt me to this day. Like all prophecies, Morarji’s predictions embodied a good deal of wishful thinking, but the fact remains that he was not far wrong.

Every now and then, I ponder over what Morarji had to say and wonder why no member of our National Assembly or Senator is prepared to face the Pakistani bullet or make any sacrifice in defence of our political institutions or our fledgling democracy. Isn’t it a sad commentary on our chosen representatives that when honour calls, they all abandon the ship and swim ashore to safety?

At a dramatic session of the Third Estate on June 20, 1789 Mirabeau made his famous reply to a command from the King’s Grand Master of Ceremonies that they withdraw from the Assembly. “We are assembled here by the will of the nation, and we will not leave except by force”. Shortly afterwards, the King yielded. It is inconceivable that any member of our parliament will ever put up such a heroic resistance or utter such words of defiance.

All our rulers, both civil and military, left behind a splintered, ruined country, torn by conflict, hijacked by thugs and robber barons, and in doubt about its future. Each of them started with a blank cheque of goodwill and popular enthusiasm given to them by the people of Pakistan, and each of them ended with a bankruptcy of moral and political support, leaving the country in worse condition than he found it in.

No wonder, people have lost faith in their rulers, elected or unelected, civil or military. What is worse, they have lost faith in the entire democratic process. Nobody believes in the sanctity of the ballot box or the independence of the election commission any longer. Nobody believes in the independence or integrity of the judiciary, or the objectivity and neutrality of the civil services.

Nobody believes in free, fair and impartial elections in this country and nobody believes in accountability as it is understood in the West. Few Pakistanis seem ready to make any sacrifice or die for anything anymore. The entire country seems crippled by a national “defaillance”. Is it any wonder that so few believe in the ‘Pakistan dream’ today?

Pakistan today presents an image of a country plagued by political, ethnic and sectarian divisions. Never before has public faith in the country’s future sunk so low. There is a widespread and growing cynicism among the people. The country as a whole appears to be adrift, lacking confidence about its future. It is like being on a raft after being shipwrecked and drifting on the off chance of being picked up by a passing ship. Be this as it may, one trait specially developed by Pakistanis in the midst of gloom is their capacity to become inured to the worst possible condition of existence without perceiving that anything is wrong.

“If there is one principle more than any other”, Morley, Secretary of State for India, said, “that has been accepted in this country since Charles I lost his head, it is this — that the civil power must be supreme over the military power”. The British learnt this lesson only when Charles I lost his head. Will Pakistan ever learn from history? The fate of the country and 140 million people is in the hands of President Musharraf and his military colleagues. Like small boys with their hands on a great machine, they take pleasure in casting aside the wisdom of the ages. The ill-fated referendum shattered President Musharraf’s credibility and impaired his ability to govern.

The received wisdom is that Watergate teaches us one basic rule about politics. If a president and his team commit an egregious folly, a cover-up is always worse than the crime. A people may let a king fall, yet still remain a people, but if a king lets his people slip from him, he is no longer a king.



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