DAWN - Opinion; January 15, 2003

January 15, 2003

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A complex transition

By Talat Masood


WITH Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali now in the saddle, Pakistan can claim to have a quasi-democratic structure, with the ruling political party, PML (Q), and its allies having come into power through an alliance of mutual convenience with the military. The military elite’s motives were, and remain, to use the allied political party for facilitating a smooth transition and to retain a significant share of power in the current dispensation for pursuing domestic and foreign policies in accordance with their world view and institutional and individual interests.

For its part, most of the politicians in power have willingly reconciled with this arrangement as it also allows them to advance their individual group interests and, in quite a few cases, a shield to cover their past misdeeds. The unfortunate aspect is that to achieve these goals the country’s Constitution had to be grossly mutilated, laws and rules changed or modified and ethical values subordinated to the “doctrine of necessity” or expedient pragmatism.

From the military’s perspective, managing pre- and post-election situations was unavoidable for achieving the greater goal of transiting to democracy, preventing the invoking of Article 6 of the Constitution, ensuring continuity of economic and social policies and reforms and overseeing the performance of the elected representatives. They were able to push their programme of action through, knowing that the civilian leadership is weak and in disarray and the “champion” of democracy — the US — will look the other way as it needs them to fight its war on terrorism and also believes that the alternatives are much worse.

Even if one were to accept the logic that the rulers had to resort to these extra-constitutional and unethical practices to ride out a national crisis and that in real life power and values have to be married in accordance with circumstances, the pursuance of such a course cannot continue for long. A country cannot sustain a polity on debased foundations indefinitely and still hope to be able to face the external and internal challenges successfully. Furthermore, if those who have the power want to engineer events and charter a course of history, politics or economics, they should do so to get the best and not be content with mediocrity.

The first priority of the present government should therefore be to move from a phase based on many compromises to one which embraces certain principles and is sustained by institutions and that its leaders abide by the rule of law. Ironically, this task of nation-building and self-correction falls on the very leadership which made many compromises and resorted to opportunistic means to come to power.

The present situation of the ruling party is somewhat unique. Prime Minister Jamali is a consensus candidate of the coalition but the power rests elsewhere — with the president and partly with the parliamentary leader and his associates — which makes his task very difficult indeed. For every major decision the prime minister will have to look to these power centres for approval and guidance. If he tries to assert himself then these contradictions will come to the fore and it could lead to frictions.

On the other hand, the opposition would be willing to support him provided he is seen to be distancing himself from the president and pursuing policies to strengthen the democratic institutions. Interestingly, at least as of now, it is the MMA which has emerged as the principal defender of the Constitution, the torchbearer of democracy and the promoter of good governance.

Of immediate importance is how the ruling coalition handles the delicate issue of the LFO (Legal Framework Order). If it remains rigid on its present stance that the LFO is already a part of the Constitution, then the opposition will keep increasing the pressure on the government both inside and outside the parliament and make governance somewhat difficult. It may also take the constitutional issues to court if the political climate turns in its favour.

Going by past experience, it is easy to foresee that the president’s customary annual speech to the parliament and the budget session could prove troublesome if the opposition remains in a belligerent mood. It would be in the national interest that the two sides come to some understanding on controversial issues, particularly the one relating to the dual role of the president so that the government can divert its attention to the real issues facing the people and the parliament can devote itself to law-making.

Long spells of military rule and failure of the political leadership have weakened major national institutions to a point where the country has become heavily dependent on the military. The foremost task of the present leadership, especially of the president and the prime minister, should be to reverse this trend by strengthening institutions of the judiciary, parliament, bureaucracy and the political parties and gradually civilianize public sector enterprises. If the military continues to strengthen its hold on governance and the civilian leadership remain preoccupied with advancing individual or clan interests, then the country will move from crisis to crisis.

The fact that three months have passed and yet the parliament has not met to engage in law-making or discussing major national issues, or formed parliamentary committees only reinforces the belief that there is no political direction apart from what is prescribed by the military. The major responsibility rests on our political leaders in power as well as those in opposition to gain a greater voice in national affairs, including strategic and foreign policy issues. Unless there is a more open and serious debate on foreign policy and strategic issues Pakistan will remain caught in bind. More than ever Pakistan today needs fundamentally new approaches to handle its relations with India, the United States and the Islamic fraternity. Equally, if not more important is that of economic development.

There is a major disconnect between the government’s policies and the perception of these among the people. Progress made in the macroeconomic field by the military government is praiseworthy but to sustain the policies the leaders have to develop a national consensus, as the transition is usually painful. When the people hear of the official version on the electronic media that the economy is doing fine, they do not feel that they too are better off. People want jobs, security of life, lower costs of utilities and provision of basic amenities of water, food, health, housing and education for their children. They get thoroughly disappointed when they find the civilian and military elite is indulging in a lavish lifestyle at government expense while they have to bear the burden. People also want change and progress. Discussions of all national issues on the electronic media, in the press and at seminars are desirable but cannot be a substitute for parliament.

Regrettably, Pakistan is in the centre of a fresh onslaught by the international media orchestrated by inimical forces and this calls for a united approach so that this offensive could be countered. There are currently three dynamics, which are independently and in unison adversely impacting on Pakistan. One is the extremely hostile India-Pakistan relations which are a replay of old animosities and a reflection of the BJP government’s current jingoistic attitude. The second is the West’s war against Islamic militancy, which in our case partly emanates from the remnants of Al Qaeda many of whom have infiltrated into Pakistan having been pushed out of Afghanistan, and the extremist fringe within the country itself. The third is the selective bias of the major powers regarding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

All these issues directly or indirectly concern Pakistan, and to expect that the military can handle these alone successfully is unrealistic. An attack on Iraq by the US with or without the UN concurrence will generate a surge of anti-American sentiment which would need to be managed with the cooperation of all political forces, especially the right-wing and religious parties. War on Iraq is also likely to impact on the world economy with its cascading effect on Pakistan as well. Surely, the government must be doing contingent planning for building oil reserves and taking other measures to soften the likely impact but it is important to prepare the nation for the unfolding scenario.

War against militancy also requires a comprehensive national strategy. Our own experience has shown that several factors have contributed to the rise of extremism. Erroneous foreign policy and military objectives such as the concept of “strategic depth” and historical legacies of Afghanistan and Kashmir and domestically the failure of democracy and lack of educational facilities all have fostered extremism. Is the military-civilian combine prepared to review the policies in question so that we could move towards a normal tolerant society? The challenge is formidable and would require political and strategic unity within the country forming part of a well-coordinated plan of action.

The Indian leadership seems unwilling to make any conciliatory move till such time that the civilian leadership assumes greater control of the country’s affairs. The BJP government in India is fully exploiting the internal contradictions in Pakistan’s polity and the US concern about Islamic militancy to project Pakistan as an irresponsible state. Ironically, in the present-day world weak and unstable countries are considered a threat to regional and world peace, and India has launched an elaborate vilification campaign in concert with western media and think-tanks to project our real and perceived weaknesses.

Developing a national consensus on major domestic and foreign policy issues will strengthen the government’s hand in dealing with India and managing our relations with the US and other major powers. Additionally, a democratic and stable Pakistan is the best guarantee for keeping the Kashmiri interest alive. The current practice of merely making statements or passing bland resolutions hardly carries any weight.

The establishment of a nuclear command and control authority has been a very positive step in allaying some of the fears about our nuclear programme. Nevertheless, misgivings about the safety and decision making process persist. The most effective way of countering the world’s imagined or real fears about our nuclear programme is to pursue the democratic path whereby the genuine involvement of the civilian leadership in the nuclear decision-making can be ensured. Hopefully, measures have already been taken to integrate the authority of the prime minister in the command and control structure.

The writer is a retired lieutenant-general of the Pakistan army

Back on the old trail?

By S. Asif Majeed


WHILE discussing the return of democracy in Pakistan, a rather outlandish armchair politicians said: “Turn a brick and what do you find? Even the termites are wearing khaki.” It was an unkind remark, but the takeover of many sectors of civil corporate life by military men has gone on largely unnoticed or strangely ignored.

Initiated by Ziaul Haq and barring the civil interregnums when it was less pronounced, the last three years have seen the process come full circle to the extent that going ‘back to barracks’ is an expression our army has long forgotten.

Newsweek in its issue of October 14 published an expose of the enormous powers and privileges exercised and possessed by the military in Pakistan. Albeit, the article was prompted by a wholly avoidable clash between the land tilling peasants and the colonel commanding the 17,000-acre military farms in Okara, but what it sought to expose was the large-scale takeover of normally civil corporate activity in Pakistan by the military.

Newsweek says, perhaps a little uncharitably, “the election of a new parliament will do little to rein in the military, whose spending is strangling the country — army dictators have carved out a world of wealth and privilege for themselves. The armed forces as an institution and individual military men own some of the best pieces of urban and agricultural real estate in the country”.

Islamabad-based physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy has been quoted as saying: “All countries have armies but in Pakistan things are reversed. Here the army has a country.” Lt. Gen. Talat Masood has this to say on the subject: “It’s institutional corruption, pure and simple. Most Pakistanis feel these military privileges such as virtually free land are unfair, if not immoral. The military has no business acting as a feudal landlord. These practices must stop.”

According to an economist, “unless we significantly cut our defence spending no progress can be made to address the core issues of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and economic stagnation. In other countries where the military has skewed the economy, like China, governments have forced their armies out of business.”

The Newsweek article concludes by saying: “Until the generals loosen their grip, the people of Pakistan face a bleak future no matter whom they vote into office.” Writing in response to the article, Commander Azam Khan of the Pakistan Navy, says: “Every Pakistani military dictator has had tainted politicians covering up corrupt practices within the ranks of the armed forces... It may not be an overstatement to assert that a first-class civilian house in Pakistan is only appropriate to be the quarters for a general’s or an admiral’s batman.”

Another letter on the topic is even more to the point: “Everywhere in Pakistan one gets one’s orders from a colonel or a general — even from retired ones. They are everywhere. You can find them in city development authorities, universities, sports boards, railways, energy production centres, the press, telecommunications, police, health, education, logistics, constitutional and even legislative departments. Their first priority is to save their own interests, their ‘state within the state’ of Pakistan. The result? The country is about to become a black hole.”

These comments may sound like overstatements, but are basically true. Take, for instance, the sharp decline in both quality and morale of the civil services. So massive has been the induction of military officers into the starting and middle ranks of the civil services, that many of the directly recruited civil servants find themselves sidelined or passed over. For example, during Zia’s regime as many as 40 army majors were inducted into the Police Service of Pakistan (PSP), carrying their seniority with them. This created strong resentment among civil service incumbents who became junior to them. This created a promotion block and reversed the very principle of ad hoc entry.

In 1949 when Pakistan inherited very few officers of gazetted rank in the PSP, six retired service officers were inducted on an ad hoc basis, but they remained junior to the ones already in place. The present policy in fact turns the very concept of holding an open competitive examination for the civil services on its head. Something clearly has to be done to stem the tide and reverse its effects so far. But can the newly inducted civil government be expected to take this courageous but correct step?

The totem pole of parliamentary democracy put together in Islamabad and in the four provincial capitals seems to be badly in need of being fleshed out and kept erect to protect it from the chilly winds of dissonance that are blowing from within the country and from beyond its borders. Since khaki woollies would not be in order, the only possibility is the cast-offs from the days of late Mohammad Khan Junejo who, in spite of limitations and obstacles, showed the courage and will to strike out in a basically right direction. With no clear majority, the new administration at the centre lacks the backbone to even look askance at the decreed system of governance that remains very much in place.

The only silver lining is the continuing presence of President Musharraf himself. He has shown both mettle and metier by the manner in which he steered the nation through the crisis that followed 9/11. He still remains the nation’s best bet to pull its chestnut out of the fire. But the big question is will he be strong and pragmatic enough to halt the military steamroller and reverse its continuing intrusion into what should normally be the civilian spheres of decision making.

The past is always present

I SAW a cute little bit of paper of 1968 vintage some time ago. Almost an antique, you can say. It was a “flag”, one of the labels that are tagged on to government files and note sheets, and which, put together, go to make up the mystical and mystifying institution of Red Tape. I may tell you at once that the little label was not fished out of an administrative museum or an ancient record office by a research scholar.

The file flag was a relic of the Great Decade of Development of President Ayub Khan who ruled from October 1958 to March 1969, and was printed 34 years ago to commemorate that “historic” decade. It was given to me by a young officer of Pakistan Customs posted at Lahore. The thing seems to have been printed in its millions in 1968, and apparently it continued to be doled out to some offices by the federal government’s Printing & Stationery Department till not so long ago. Who says the administration is wasteful with its stationery? And who says the past is dead and gone?

President Ayub, or the Field Marshal if you prefer, would be so happy in his grave if he could see this symbol of his ‘Decade of Development’ being used after three decades. Unfortunately the country-wide celebration of the decade also marked its rather pathetic finish. It was a sort of anti-climax and ended in a whimper, as they say. Strangely enough, General Zia’s ‘Decade-Plus-One’ also concluded on a tragic note. Its end came with the air crash that took him away. Which proves that even dictators can die without a shot being fired.

Everything ends one day, howsoever glorious and magnificent it may have seemed while it lasted. What does not end, and will never end, is man’s ego, his hankering after wealth and power, his obsession with the present, his inability to look into the future and his refusal to learn form the past. But let me not become too serious about the human psyche.

In the early seventies, I used to fill up every month the pension payment form for my father. At that time, nearly 25 years after the British had left, the form still carried the advice, “Personal presence is not necessary for Indian princes and European ladies.”

Obviously, like the little flag mentioned above, sufficient copies of the pension form had been printed to last through the 20th century. I wrote about it to the newspapers, but the form continued to be made available to all and sundry. My father was neither an Indian prince nor a European lady, but somehow we always managed to get him his pension without a personal appearance.

I don’t know at what stage the stock of pre-independence pension forms was exhausted, for my father died in 1974 and I was no longer required to do the monthly chore for him. But you’ll be glad to know that the words from those old days are no longer there on the current pension form. I wonder what Indian princes and European ladies do now without that exemption.

It is very difficult to get rid of the past. With us it is almost impossible. The more you try to escape it the more it sticks to you and shows itself up embarrassingly in all sorts of places. If you were clever enough to be converted from Sheikh to Syed in the turmoil of partition, someone or other from the old village will always turn up to spoil the show.

You get a 17-bedroom mansion allotted in Lahore in 1947-48 on the strength of the property left in India by your “millionaire” father and some spoilsport will appear from nowhere and tell everyone that in Jullundhur or Agra your family of 17 lived in three rooms. Or they’ll narrate an unsavoury story about what your father used to do with the bones he gathered from the butchers’ shops. People have no use for decency and always want to rake up the past.

President Ayub is already a legend, but the past has not been able to kill his memory. Admittedly his face is only seen in anniversary editions of newspapers or on the rear boards of goods trucks coming from Hazara. But there is no shortage of educated people who say he was the best ruler the country ever had.

Somehow they never got to realize this fact when he was around, and participated enthusiastically in the movement to overthrow him. Then, General Zia did his best, or rather his worst, to get rid of the ghost of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but I think it continued to haunt him till he got killed in that air crash. Initially it was the sheer fact that he was Bhutto’s executioner that weighed on his conscience, but later the dead man’s daughter became a veritable nightmare for him.

Apart from the bad habit of the past to show up in everything, we possess the national habit of living in the past. Take today’s politics in Pakistan.

The PPP and the PML(N) have taken turns to rule from August 1988 to October 1999, but whenever they were in power they couldn’t forget one another’s past performance and continued to accuse and abuse each other for what they did to their opponents. Actually the treatment was identical in both cases.

We remember with nostalgia the so-called great Muslim rulers of the past, conveniently ignoring the seamy side of their character and empire-building and what they did to their own brothers, without making even the slightest effort to learn anything from them and, in the light of those lessons, endeavouring to improve our present politics. No, every Muslim king of the past was a hero, especially so if he had been cruel and intolerant to the adherents of other religions. We should be grateful to historians like Mubarik Ali for telling the truth about the past.

Its not only the case with the Great Decade paper flag. Whether we tend to cling to the past or not, the past is somehow loath to leave us alone. However, as a wise man has said, our only connection with the past should be to forgive and forget the grief it gave us, remember only its happy moments with thankfulness, and in looking at the present and planning for the future, keep its lessons in mind.

Nobody heeds his words. That’s because lessons of any kind are too difficult for us to learn and act upon. We can only fling them in other people’s faces, and step aside nimbly when one of them comes our way.

Saving the condemned

Illinois Gov. George Ryan leaves office Monday, but to the last he is promoting what has become, for a Midwestern Republican governor, a most unlikely signature issue: reform of the death penalty. Mr. Ryan has undertaken an exhaustive review of the state’s capital convictions, and he now describes the state’s system as “terribly broken”.

This past week he pardoned four death-row inmates who had been tortured into confessing — “four more men,” he called them, “who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to die by the state for crimes the courts should have seen they did not commit”.

This weekend he announced that he is taking an even more fateful step: commuting all 156 remaining death sentences, because, as he put it, “our capital system is haunted by the demon of error — error in determining guilt, and error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die”.

Mr. Ryan’s tenure in office has not been a happy one; he leaves office under the ethical cloud of a continuing federal corruption probe. But his willingness to confront the magnitude of the failure of his state’s criminal justice system commands respect. On this issue, he leaves Illinois a better place — and a model for the nation as to how a state can begin facing the problem of the death penalty.

That model, alas, seems to hold little interest for Maryland Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. It’s early, but Mr. Ehrlich thus far has demonstrated a breathtaking lack of concern for the evident problems with capital punishment in Maryland. Even before the release of a University of Maryland study of geographical and racial disparities in capital punishment’s application, he pledged to lift the current moratorium on executions no matter what the study showed.

After the study was released last week, demonstrating that race and geography play huge roles in determining who gets sentenced to die, Mr. Ehrlich said he was reviewing its methodology, and he reiterated that he means to consider death sentences case by case.

Such a cavalier attitude is inappropriate for a man who will wield power over life and death. If the new governor continues to ignore the study results, he will be saying that it doesn’t trouble him that Maryland prosecutors effectively value white lives more highly than black lives. Pretending this unfairness doesn’t exist won’t make it disappear. Mr. Ehrlich may be too busy just now planning his inauguration, but he should take time out to learn from the outgoing governor a few states west.— The Washington Post

Free at last? Not just yet

Don’t say it can’t be done,

The battle’s just begun.

Take it from Dr King

You too can learn to sing,

So drop the gun.

THE foregoing verses constitute the chorus of a children’s song that 83-year-old American icon Pete Seeger has lately been trying to popularize in the United States, combining a post-September 11 emphasis on non-violence with a tribute to the legacy of the Reverend Martin Luther King.

Forty years ago, Seeger played a crucial role in popularizing ‘We Shall Overcome’, which became the anthem of the African-American civil rights movement spearheaded by King, who would have celebrated his 74th birthday today had he not been gunned down on April 4, 1968. Fifteen years after the assassination, Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill designating the third Monday in January as a federal holiday commemorating King’s birth anniversary. That made King, once commonly derided by right-wing whites as a communist agitator, the third person to be honoured this way, after Christopher Columbus and George Washington.

When the Reverend Al Sharpton — a sometimes controversial New York preacher who has in recent years been trying to follow in the footsteps of the Reverend Jesse Jackson and, audaciously, intends to seek the Democratic presidential nomination next year — addressed a congregation to mark the occasion in 2001, declared: “On Monday, in the Mississippi Delta, where they used to lynch us, where they cut our daddy’s genitals, where they raped our sisters and our mamas, in the Mississippi Delta, the post office will be closed, the schools will be closed, the federal buildings will be closed, to honour a black man from Atlanta, Georgia, who kept on dreaming! You won, Martin!”

Amid wild applause, he continued: “Martin! Those who swore you were a communist, those who swore you were a womanizer got the day off, ‘cause it’s your birthday ... It’ll be a holiday ‘cause one black man believed in his dreams!”

Martin Luther King Day signifies, no doubt, the substantial progress that African-Americans have made since the days when peaceful marchers for equal rights were set upon by police dogs in the Deep South. Yet there is the risk of confusing King’s vindication with victory. “I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law,” King said in 1962. A year later, at a rally regarded by some as the apogee of the civil rights movement, he announced: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”

In a nation where African-Americans in higher education are outnumbered by those in custody, where the sort of racial profiling that has lately excited considerable angst among Muslims has always been a fact of life for blacks, King’s vision of complete equality between all races remains a dream. A living dream, perhaps, but a dream nonetheless.

This fact was poignantly brought home in November 2000, when — among a range of other election-related shenanigans by Jeb Bush’s state administration — large numbers of blacks in Florida were stripped of their voting rights. Ironically, a large part of the struggle in the 1960s was for the right to vote — a right denied to blacks in most southern states nearly a century after the formal abolition of slavery. It’s all too easy to forget that during the first half of the twentieth century, African-Americans in many states stood a better chance of being lynched than of running for elected office. In the late 1940s, when a delegation led by the towering activist, athlete, actor and singer Paul Robeson petitioned Harry Truman to stop the lynchings, he told them he didn’t have the resources to spare for such a purpose.

But for the probably illegal disenfranchisement of black voters in 2000, it is likely that the outcome of the presidential contest in Florida would have proved harder to manipulate; let’s not forget that only 10 per cent of African-Americans nationwide voted for the Republican Party in that election. This lends a certain poignancy to Sharpton’s description of George W. Bush’s inauguration as “an insult to the memory of Martin Luther King”.

It has been argued, however, that with Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice on board, the Bush administration can lay claim to being relatively enlightened in terms of racial politics. After all, 40 years ago even a dedicated dream merchant such as King would have probably deemed it over-optimistic to add the prospect of a black secretary of state as well as a black national security adviser to his wish list.

General Powell, who is of Caribbean origin, was courted by Democrats and Republicans alike as a possible vice-presidential nominee ahead of the 1992 election. And Rice — who is profoundly right-wing in her ideological convictions, even though she grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, where the civil rights movement encountered some of its most formidable obstacles while she was a little girl — is being touted by conservative think-tanks as Bush’s running mate in 2004. If that strategy succeeds, she would begin to be seen as a presidential hopeful. However, there is more to this phenomenon than meets the eye. This was briefly brought into focus last October, for example, when the widely respected activist and entertainer Harry Belafonte compared Powell to a plantation slave. “You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master ... exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him,” he said. “Colin Powell was permitted to come into the house of the master. When Colin Powell dares to suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture.”

Cut to the quick, the former chairman of the US chiefs of staff responded that Belafonte had every right to criticize him politically, but that the slave reference was “a throwback to another time and another place that I wish Harry had thought twice about using”. Harry probably thought about it more than twice, and considered it a point worth making — that positions of prominence in public life are attainable only for those blacks who are prepared to occupy them on the white man’s terms. He could have cited the example of Andrew Young, a former King aide whose career as ambassador to the United Nations under Jimmy Carter was cut short because the Washington establishment found his liberal leanings unacceptable.

Following the Belafonte-Powell tiff, the highest ranking Republican in Congress, Senate minority leader Trent Lott, pulled out of a dinner in Belafonte’s honour. Shortly after the November elections that foreshadowed his elevation to majority leader, Lott exhibited no such qualms about attending a celebration marking the 100th birthday of fellow Republican senator Strom Thurmond, a barely reconstructed segregationist who had contested the 1948 presidential election on an openly racist platform. “When Strom Thurmond ran for president,” said Lott in a speech on the occasion, “we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either.”

Bush was consequently compelled to relieve Lott of his leadership responsibilities. A glance at his record shows that the comments were in no way out of character. He remains in the Senate, the Strom cloud having served as a reminder that Capitol Hill is still dotted with remnants of America’s more overtly racist past — a breed more dangerous and insidious than the Ku Klux Klan branches scattered across the South.

Meanwhile, the popularity of outspoken leaders such as Sharpton and Nation of Islam chief Louis Farrakhan suggests that large numbers of African-Americans are well aware that beneath the veneer of equality, racial discrimination lives on, albeit usually in more subtle forms than before. It is reflected in disturbing trends such as higher than average levels of unemployment, lower levels of education, and a disproportionate likelihood of ending up in prison.

Black woes and alienation are compounded, no doubt, by the symptoms of advanced capitalism, and it is instructive to note that the kind of African-American leaders the establishment has steadily feared most are those who have combined the demand for equal rights with the advocacy of some form of socialism. The FBI, for instance, was particularly concerned about neutralizing the likes of Robeson, Malcolm X, Angela Davis and effective radical organizations such as the Black Panthers.

J. Edgar Hoover also wished to drive Martin Luther King to suicide by threatening to reveal details of his extramarital flings. He failed. But mystery still surrounds King’s assassination. James Earl Ray, who was convicted for the murder, died in 1998 still pleading his innocence. Last year, a Florida cleric claimed that it was his father who was actually responsible for the killing, because he considered King to be a communist.

What matters more is that King’s vision of the Promised Land remains unfulfilled. The time has not yet come to rephrase ‘We Shall Overcome’ as ‘We Have Overcome’. It will one day. Hopefully.

E-mail: mahirali@journalist.com