Pace & direction of reform
WE live in a world that is constantly changing, for better or worse, whether we like it or not. There is a significant difference between the old days and our times in this regard, which is that the amount and rate of change are many times as great now as they used to be. Change may be planned and directed, or it may proceed quietly, even unconsciously, by the force of example. We call it reform when it makes life more productive, enjoyable or righteous.
It should be recognized that in certain areas of human interaction change that is regarded as improvement or reform by some may be seen as retrogression, even degeneration or corruption, by others. It follows that reform, properly so called, should have some correspondence with the aspirations and values considered desirable by a substantial majority in society.
As a mode of bringing about improvement, reform in contrast, let us say, with revolution, is more limited in scope, gradual in implementation, and wrought usually through the arts of peace rather than violence. Scope and pace are both critical to its success. The reforms ordered by Mohammad Reza Shah in Iran, Ayub Khan and Z.A. Bhutto in Pakistan, got nowhere, because too many of them were brought in concurrently or in very quick succession. Formulated hastily, some of them were misconceived, but even the ones that made sense did not get implemented for lack of the requisite resources — will, energy, time, money, and relevant technology.
General Pervez Musharraf has thrown a torrent of changes upon us that he calls “reforms.” Some of them may be good for the country, others were unnecessary, and still others were frivolous. The retirement of Supreme Court judges at the age of 65, for instance, had not hurt the national interest in any way to which anyone, other than some of the retirees, had a clue. But if we must have the benefit of their accumulated experience and wisdom longer, then why throw them out just two years later (at 67)? Why not let them serve until they are 70, a nice round figure, or for life (as is the rule in America), or until they say they are too tired to work any more?
I refer to this matter only as an example of whimsical and frivolous change. Some of the election-related changes (reduction of the voting age, a college degree as part of the eligibility requirements for contesting elections, disqualification for non-payment of utility bills, enlargement of the size of assemblies) belong to the same category. Changes in the organization, internal administration, and working of our police forces are controversial. Those in the law relating to the press have been denounced by the profession, which means that they are taken as retardation rather than as improvement.
Many of our politicians and politically aware persons disapprove of the general’s self-election as president for the next five years, establishment of a National Security Council to institutionalize the military’s participation in government decision making, enhancement of his discretionary authority in making appointments to several sensitive posts in government, and the restoration of Article 58-2(b) of the Constitution. These measures will also be deemed retrogressive, not reformative.
It would be difficult to name a segment of our public life that does not need reform. But all of it cannot be cleansed in one sweep. That raises, to begin with, two questions: (1) what are the priorities, and (2) who will be the change-makers. In the context of our political culture, the government that the new National Assembly has put in place will be expected to bear the principal responsibility for making improvements. Where should it place its focus in making our lives easier and better?
There will be great temptation in segments of the assembly to cut the president to size, write off the constitutional changes he has decreed, and annul most of his political and governmental restructuring. All of this can be done in due time, but it will be a mistake to rush into a confrontation with him. It will be wasteful of time and energy in that it will create unnecessary crises and distract the government from a more urgent reformist agenda.
Instead of spreading itself thin all over the place as Ayub Khan and Bhutto had done, and more recently as General Musharraf has done, the new government should concentrate the greater part of its reformist endeavour on one or, at the most, two areas. Which ones?
Restoration of public tranquillity, control of crime, eradication of ethnic and sectarian violence (including terrorism), mitigation of bureaucratic corruption, among many others, are obvious candidates. But, while glaring, these tasks cannot be accomplished in a short span of time. Let us then begin with something that is the “mother” of many evils, “umm-al-khabais,” (not in the customary sense of that term which relates to alcohol), and yet readily within the reach of the new assembly to remove, namely, political corruption.
A few steps that deserve to be taken in this connection come to mind: (1) legislators should have no part in the handling of development funds; (2) they should have nothing to do with the appointment, transfer, and promotion of public officials, especially police officers, magistrates and judges, but even school teachers and lower-ranking revenue assessors and collectors (“patwaris”); (3) the law forbidding changes in party affiliation should be kept to prevent “horse trading”; (4) the practice of placing “discretionary funds” at the disposal of the president, prime minister, ministers and other high officials should be discontinued forthwith; disbursement of public funds should be limited to purposes specifically authorized in the budget; (5) spending by civil and military intelligence agencies should be made subject to scrutiny by a special parliamentary committee, or a committee of distinguished retired judges and civil servants, “elder statesmen” ( if this breed can be found in our country), and the serving auditor-general.
The second area that I would commend to our new government is public education. Since the beginning of Ayub Khan’s rule several commissions and committees have investigated its state and submitted recommendations for its improvement. Nevertheless, our system of education has steadily deteriorated instead of improving. Much of the reformers’ attention has been given to higher education. One of our Farsi poets once cautioned thus: khisht-I-awwal chun nihad memaar, kaj; taa surayya me ravad deevaar kaj (when the mason lays down the first brick in a slanted position, the wall will retain that slant even if it rises sky high). Heeding his admonition, I would suggest beginning the reform process with primary education.
There are plenty of experts in this field, and they may be consulted. But all of us, both experts and laymen, know the basic problem: the product of the public primary education school is shoddy. A kid out of the fourth grade does not have even the modest ability to read and write Urdu and do simple arithmetic (divisions and multiplications). I cannot do more than offering a couple of general observations.
It was generally believed in my younger days that education was an area of public service immune from corruption. That has changed. The notion that a person is paid for doing a job, and that it is therefore his/her duty to do it, has deserted teachers as it has others. This has happened not only in primary education but at higher levels as well. Dedication to duty has somehow to be restored.
The teacher’s retort may be that the public authority is getting its money’s worth, meaning that his compensation is much too low for him to do more. I am not sure that this explanation is valid, but it deserves to be investigated and the problem, if there is one, resolved.
Improving the teachers; motivation may take a time, but a related form of corruption can be abolished expeditiously. A few years ago it was found that in Punjab alone thousands of schools, their buildings, teachers, and students existed on paper but not on the ground. Public monies were given, and taken, for a non-existent activity. Putting an end to this despicable practice does not require much more than the will to do it. Those who know the subject better will have useful things to say about the curriculum in primary school. We may want to take a look at the subjects of instruction in primary schools in western and the more progressive Asian countries (Japan, China, South Korea). There is something called the “new math,” which is said to be important, and perhaps its initial stages can be brought in. We have played games with the language issue for the last fifty years to the great detriment of our people.
We have been linking patriotism with Urdu without the slightest intention on the part of our ruling elite to give up English as the working language in the upper echelons of our society and as the medium of access to higher and more sophisticated levels of learning in the great majority of the branches of knowledge. This hypocrisy in public policy has widened the gap between the elite and the mass. The possibility of beginning the study of English in public primary schools should receive urgent attention.
It goes without saying that in our society the government bears the main responsibility for conceiving, legislating and implementing reform. But our experience shows that the government’s record as a reformer has been poor. It needs help from other agents. The two areas of reform discussed above — eradication of political corruption and the improvement of primary education-require, beyond material objects, changes of attitude and outlook. Government can make laws that prescribe penalties for acting wrongfully. But it does not normally succeed as a preacher of moral values and obligations. That enterprise should be undertaken by the ulema, professional opinion makers, and various other organs of civil society.
The end of the road?
POLITICALLY, this has been a very hectic week. First, there was the swearing-in of the president and members of parliament, with some first-timers taking the oath with a nervous, anticipatory shuffle. Then there was the election of the speaker and the deputy speaker, and finally, of the prime minister.
The first event saw a minor change of procedure which went unnoticed by most observers. The president was initially supposed to take the oath of office after the members had decided whom they wanted to see occupying the top slot, so that he could administer the oath to the latter. But he decided to advance both the date and time of taking the presidential oath by virtue of which he would legally and constitutionally hold this office for the next five years.
Was the change in date dictated by possible fears on the part of his advisers who were not sure how things would turn out in the speaker’s election? Reports had been trickling in that the PPP-MMA-PML(N) axis might yet spring a surprise on the day of reckoning, especially since the MQM, embroiled in the controversy over ‘no-go’ areas in Karachi, had been somewhat lukewarm in its response, and the ‘forward bloc’ of the PPP had not yet made its intention known. They feared the worst and hoped for the best.
However, the fact that the oath to the president was administered by the Chief Justice of Pakistan can be interpreted to imply that it has provided due validity to any actions the head of state has taken since October 12, 1999 and any actions he feels he may have to take in the future.
Though the last of the three events — the elections of Pakistan’s sixteenth prime minister, is, from an institutional point of view, the most important, it is the second event that is the most significant, for it is usually an indication of the direction the final vote is likely to take. Interestingly, it provided the most entertainment to the members sitting in the hall and to the viewers glued to their television sets.
The election of the speaker and the deputy speaker of the house by secret ballot got off to a smooth start after the usual hiccups. Soon after the results were announced, the fireworks started. Some of the politicians, elated at the victory of the PML(Q), uttered the usual post prandial convivialities.
But the spotlight belonged to Aitzaz Ahsan, one of the brightest stars in the PPP firmament. He was totally unfazed by his loss to Chaudhry Amir Hussain by 167 to 71, and to Liaquat Baloch who bagged 80 votes. Speaking in flawless Urdu, he raked his consciousness in a powerful indictment of the Legal Framework Order, and warned the assembly against the military’s continuous attempts to clip the sovereignty of parliament.
The new speaker tried to short-circuit the flow of rhetoric, but the gallant PPP lawyer stood his ground and after saying that he was merely offering his congratulations, managed to drive his point home. Irregularities in the form of blank ballot papers were then spotted by some alert opposition politicians whose members left the hall in protest against what they alleged was rigging of the secret ballot and manipulation of the peoples verdict.
However, they returned soon after, a little wiser and less belligerent. While this was going on, the PTV cameraman focused on the two beautiful people of the Tehrik-e-Insaf. Perhaps it did cross his mind that in the whole house a party that stood for justice could muster only two seats.
The post of speaker, although it carries more prestige than power, is nevertheless an important constitutional office, and the right person can exert considerable influence on members of the house. Chaudhry Amir Hussain, who is no shrinking violet, having been in and out of the National Assembly five times, appears to have the right credentials for the job — sobriety, average intelligence and a certain dignity.
Political writers remember with a certain relish what happened in 1985 when the partyless house defeated the candidate supported by the military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, who was certainly the most retrogressive of the men in uniform who ruled to country. If a poll was ever conducted to determine which dictator was the most repressive towards members of the fourth estate, Ziaul Haq would undoubtedly win the title. His crimes against the country’s journalists have been ably chronicled by the veteran journalist Zamir Niazi, who has devoted three volumes to this theme.
Chaudhry Amir Hussain’s patience and temperament was again sorely tested on November 21 when the election for the post of prime minister took place, and a number of verbal missiles were fired from the anti-LFO batteries. The speaker was accused of gross partiality and condemned for his statement that the LFO was already part of the Constitution. In fact, this controversial document has been the cause of considerable confusion and
The actual position is that the president and members of the opposition, who account for around fifty per cent of the National Assembly, have apparently taken an oath under two different constitutions. The president and the speaker are of the distinct view that the LFO is now part of the Constitution whereas the PPP, MMA and the PML(Q) parliamentarians heartily disagree and have categorically stated that they took the oath under the 1973 Constitution, shorn of the controversial Legal Framework Order. The MNAs of the PML(Q) and its fellow-travellers, who are now calling the shots, have been content not to rock the boat and have accepted the LFO with a cheerful diffidence. The president certainly has a tricky legal problem on his hands, which is not going to disappear with time. What one cannot understand is why he did not sort out this issue with the help of the battery of legal experts at his beck and call before the oath-taking ceremony. Surely a reference to Supreme Court would have solved the problem, as it has done in the past.
The dissenting MNAs who protested in the two sessions of parliament might appear to the outside world as agitators bent on disrupting the smooth flow of social intercourse and making a nuisance of themselves. But these are practical men who realize the provisions of the LFO are a permanent barrier to the supremacy of parliament elected by the people.
In retrospect, it appears that the president and the establishment have eventually got the kind of National Assembly that they wanted. Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali as the prime minister. The clerics (who are still wondering what could have possibly gone wrong) are in the opposition, where all liberal, secular-minded Pakistanis want them to be. The PPP, whose power and influence are in gradual decline, is also in the opposition, which is in many ways a pity, because they have some really good people who could have made a contribution to the legislative process.
But the PPP has only itself to blame for the position it finds itself in. From the moment the ARD chief, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, made a frontal assault on Makhdoom Amin Fahim’s ego by informing the latter that he was not Benazir Bhutto’s choice for prime minister, things began to slide. The party became indecisive, and nobody knew whether they had plans to form the government or sit in the opposition. There is also a very real danger that they might not be allowed to form the government in Sindh. Is this the end of the road, or the start of a new highway? Time will tell.
In search of truth
MIR AIMAL KASI, a citizen of Pakistan, convicted of murdering two CIA officials and injuring some others in Langley, Virginia, US on January 25, 1993, was executed by lethal injection in a Virginia jail on November 14. Strapped to a stainless steel table at Greensville correctional centre, Kasi recited, the Kalima and went on softly murmuring the words ‘God is great, there is no god but Allah’ before his breathing stopped.
His dead body was delivered to his relatives who transported it to Quetta, his hometown, where he was buried on November 19 in the presence of thousands of people who had come from all over Balochistan. Kasi remained unrepentant till the end and expressed no remorse for his action.
Mir Aimal Kasi was picked up from a hotel in Dera Ghazi Khan on June 15, 1997, by a team of Pakistani officials and FBI special agents. No formal request for his extradition was ever made to Pakistan and no extradition proceedings were initiated. A few dozen heavily armed personnel, several vehicles and an American C-141 plane took part in the operation. The four-and-a-half year manhunt was finally over. I do not approve of the action of Mir Aimal Kasi but I say it with a heavy heart and deep anguish that the day he was arrested and delivered to FBI agents, in violation of the Constitution and laws of Pakistan, for execution, five years later, will go down in our history as a day of infamy.
All self-respecting Pakistanis must hang their heads in shame for the role of our executive authorities in this sordid, tragic drama. I can understand the keenness of American authorities to grab Kasi and whisk him off to the States, but why did our government at the highest level abet this criminal act? In the past, and I speak with some authority, we never surrendered our national to a foreign country, extradition treaty notwithstanding, and always insisted on exercising our sovereign rights to prosecute him ourselves and punish him if, in the opinion of a competent court in Pakistan, there was sufficient evidence to justify conviction.
This was the established practice and I do not recall a single instance in which, at the request of a foreign country, we either deviated from this practice or denied our citizens the protection of our laws. Why was it not followed in the case of Aimal Kasi?
Under whose orders was Kasi arrested and on what authority was he handed over to the FBI agents? Who sent Aimal Kasi to the Virginia jail in violation of our constitution and laws, to be strapped to a stainless steel table and executed? Where should the burden of responsibility be placed? This is the question that has exercised the people of Pakistan for the last five years. This is a public matter in which we have an obligation to ascertain the facts. The public has the right to know. The irony is that this shameful episode took place, long before 9/11, when we had an elected prime minister and an elected president running the affairs of state.
Now, of course, the picture is completely changed. By succumbing to American pressure we may have secured a temporary reprieve, but at what cost? Pakistan is splattered with American fortresses, seriously compromising our internal and external sovereignty. Foreign troops move in and out of the country without let or hindrance. What is worse, any citizen of Pakistan can be picked up by FBI agents in collusion with our government, and taken out of the country, making a mockery of our independence, our sovereignty and our entire judicial system.
The right to personal freedom is guaranteed in our constitution but the proclamation of this right presupposes security that the right has more than nominal existence. There is no difficulty, and there is often very little gain, in declaring the existence of a right to personal freedom. The real difficulty is to secure its enforcement. In England, the habeas corpus acts have achieved this end and have done for the liberty of Englishmen what the high-sounding declaration in our Constitution has failed to accomplish. Dr Amir Aziz Khan, a highly respected orthopaedic surgeon, was arrested and released on November 19 after a month-long detention on charges of having links with the Taliban and Al Qaeda leaderships.
Some “unknown” persons dropped him at his house in Lahore cantonment on November 19 in the early hours of the morning. Dr Amir Aziz was never produced before the Lahore High Court where a writ petition was filed by his mother. Following his release, the Lahore High Court disposed of the petition as it had become infructuous. “I have been in the custody of Pakistani intelligence agencies in Islamabad where the FBI and CIA officials questioned me”, Dr. Aziz told newsmen who visited his house. The interior minister knew all along who had the custody of Dr Amir Aziz. The High Court knew the devices by which the effect of its ruling was being evaded. Yet it did not summon the relevant authorities requiring them to produce the man before the court or face contempt proceedings and summary punishment.
How will history judge Mir Aimal Kasi? His culpability in the murder of the two CIA officials is not in question. But was the trial fair? Was it impartial? The history of liberty has been the history of observance of procedural safeguards. Didn’t the circumstances in which Aimal Kasi was arrested, kidnapped and whisked off to a foreign country in violation of our laws vitiate the trial proceedings ab initio? Isn’t this defect a trespass on American law? Isn’t it a mockery of morality?
One of the most powerful speeches made in the central legislative assembly in India, in defence of Bhagat Singh, convicted of the murder of an assistant superintendent of police, John Saunders, was made by Mr. Jinnah on September 12 and 14, 1929. In the course of his speech, he said, “I think I am speaking on behalf of a very large body of people when I say that, if there is sympathy and admiration for the accused (Bhagat Singh and Comrades), it is only to this extent that they are the victim of the system of government. It is not that we approve or applaud their actions if they are guilty, which still remains to be proved. If they are guilty of the offence of which they are charged, then I am sure it is not that we admire them or approve of their actions, but, on the contrary, I am sure a large body of thinking people feel that these young men, whatever be the provocations, are misguided in resorting to actions for which they now stand charged...
“Mind you, sir, I do not approve of the action of Bhagat Singh, and I say this on the floor of this house. I regret that rightly or wrongly, youth today in India is stirred up.... you cannot prevent such crimes being committed, however much you may deplore them and however much you may say that they are misguided. It is the system, this damnable system of government which is resented by the people. You may be a cold-blooded logician: I am a patient cool-headed man and can calmly go on making speeches here, persuading and influencing the Treasury Bench. But remember, there are thousands of young men outside. This is not the only country where these actions are resorted to. It has happened in other countries, not youths, but greybearded men have committed serious offences moved by patriotic impulses...
“But now let us see what is the real cause of the trouble... and the last words I wish to address to the government are: try and concentrate your mind on the root cause and the more you concentrate on the root cause, the less difficulties and inconveniences there will be for you to face, and thank heaven that the money of the taxpayer will not be wasted in prosecuting men, nay citizens, who are fighting and struggling for the freedom of their country”.
Jawaharlal Nehru added his voice of protest. “It is very easy”, he wrote in his autobiography “and very fatuous to condemn persons or acts without seeking to understand the springs of action, the causes that underlie them”.
The right to personal freedom is a false notion in our country, a myth and a fiction. It does not exist in Pakistan. What of liberty’s safeguards? First, don’t count on courts. Second, discount the parliamentary watchdogs. Finally, don’t count on political pressure. There is no stream into which this anger can flow. It keeps breaking up in search of a destination. We know from a dozen historical examples where a sense of powerlessness ultimately leads. I have but one goal: that light be shed on this sordid episode. Let an inquiry be held in broad daylight.
A miscarriage of justice has taken place. We will not be able to live with ourselves if we do not see to it that truth is unmasked. My ardent protest is merely a cry from my very soul. I know that precisely because the interests involved are too great and the men who wish to stifle the truth are too powerful, the truth will not be known for sometime. But there is no doubt that ultimately every bit of it, without exception, will be divulged. No matter how deep you bury the truth, it burrows ahead underground and one day it will surface again everywhere and spread like some vengeful vegetation.
Truth carries the power within it that sweeps away all obstacles. And whenever the way is barred, whenever someone does succeed in burying it for any time at all, it builds up underground, gathering such explosive force that the day it bursts out at last, it will blow up everything with it.
Why don’t our American friends try to understand the root cause of the trouble? When a whole people is seething with rage against injustice, it becomes a dangerous enemy because rage does not submit to orders. When it exists in the hearts of millions of people, it cannot be contained by pushing a button. When this rage overflows, it creates suicide bombers and Aimal Kasis, fuelled by the power of anger against which there is no defence.
These are people defending a cause with their hearts and souls and this is the highest level of noble resistance. This is not a regular fight, a regular war where you can choose your target and fight only soldiers. This is almost a desperate situation where young, enraged men and women blow themselves up and whoever happens to be on the seem.