Impasse over LFO

CONTRARY to the hopes raised by reports in the media some time back, there is no sign yet that the government and the opposition are coming round to a compromise on the controversial Legal Framework Order. The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal’s acquiescence in a watered-down Senate resolution on the Iraq war also lent credence to speculation that the two sides might be close to clinching a deal on what indeed has become the central issue in the relationship between the opposition and the government. On Tuesday at a meeting with the PPP Patriots, President Musharraf repeated his stand on the LFO, especially with regard to his position on combining in his person the offices of head of state and army chief. The president thinks that his continuation in office and the powers conferred on him by the LFO will ensure political stability and act as a safeguard against possible disruption of the present transition by another military intervention. He also referred to the regional and international situation and thought a continuation of the present political dispensation was in the nation’s best interest. While the country does indeed need political stability and economic progress, the nostrum the president has offered is today a major source of controversy.

Any stability is phoney if it is dependent on an individual rather than on viable institutions. Nothing testifies to this truth more than Pakistan’s own history where strongmen came up with fancy political theories and enforced them with the help of the state’s coercive apparatus to give their brands of stability to the country. The “system” given by Ayub Khan lasted 11 years, and all the safeguards that had been built into the 1962 framework could not save it from inevitable collapse. No different was the fate of the political order instituted by Ziaul Haq by emasculating the 1973 Constitution. So long as he was alive and wore two hats — those of head of state and army chief — he maintained “stability” by jealously controlling all levers of power. However, his political legacy did not last long after he departed from the scene. Ironically, his own protege, Nawaz Sharif, virtually performed the last rites by repealing the draconian Clause 58-2(b) with which Zia had armed himself.

The situation today is no different. The LFO has all the ugly features of Ziaul Haq’s constitutional package that had disfigured the 1973 Constitution. The post-Zia chaos that raged from 1988 to 1999 underlined the hazards of seeking stability through autocracy. In the case of Ayub and Zia, the plea of stability was merely a cover for perpetuating personal and oligarchic rule. Paradoxically, some of the parties now heading the campaign against the LFO were the ones that were enthusiastic in their support of Zia’s perverted dispensation.

As it stands today, the LFO is incompatible with the fundamentals of democracy. The National Security Council and Clause 58-2(b) ensure that the elected civilian leadership will remain subordinate to, and liable to be dismissed by, men in uniform. A perpetuation of these constitutional aberrations will bring the country sooner or later back to square one, requiring it to begin all over again for a new “system.” The LFO in any case does not enjoy the people’s approval. The best course would be for this controversial package to be put before parliament and let the people’s elected representatives decide which among the LFO provisions to be retained, and which others to be adopted after amendments. The rest of the package must cease to have any validity or force.

Pipeline attack again

FOR the fourth time this year, pipelines supplying gas to the north of the country from the Sui and Qadirpur fields have come under attack. The latest incident took place on Tuesday near Sadiqabad in Rahimyar Khan district, disrupting the supply of gas to a large part of Punjab and the NWFP. While gas company officials claim that they have evidence to prove that the pipelines were deliberately targeted, the police deny that the incident was an act of sabotage — perhaps to absolve themselves of charges of negligence. If the pipeline was deliberately blown up, as evidence seems to suggest, the authorities must begin to tackle the problem as forming part of a wider pattern rather than as isolated incidents. Only a week before the latest incident, there was a massacre in nearby Kashmor where 14 people were mowed down by rampaging tribesmen, representing yet another bloody episode in the long-running feud between the Bugti and Mazari tribes. Early this year, the Bugtis launched a number of attacks on the Mazaris. During the fighting, gas pipelines were hit on more than one occasion cutting off gas supplies to the north.

The Bugtis, who live in the vicinity of the Sui facility, have long targeted oil and gas pipelines as part of a strategy to force the government to accede to their various demands. Tuesday’s attack on the pipelines seems to fit neatly into this pattern. The tribesmen have once again been voicing demands for a bigger share in the royalties from the gasfields in the vicinity. While it is important to sympathetically consider the legitimate grievances and expectations of the local people, the government must make it clear that it simply will not tolerate blackmailing tactics of the tribal sardars whether these have to do with the question of royalties, jobs or any other matter. Apart from causing serious economic losses, frequent attacks on gas facilities serve as a deterrent to foreign investment and exploration activities. The authorities must take firm action against those behind the recurring attacks and also strengthen security arrangements for the protection of the gas pipelines and other installations.

Recurring power outages

THE onset of summer in Karachi has yet again brought much misery to harried residents in the form of prolonged and frequent power breakdowns. That this is happening at a time when the government has just allowed a power tariff increase of 12 paisa per unit is even more galling. However, the regulatory authority, NEPRA, has once again failed to impress upon the state-owned utilities the urgency of bringing down their line and transmission losses. In the case of the KESC, there is also the ever-present problem of illegal ‘kunda’ connections and rigged meters which, by the company’s own admission, cause millions of rupees worth of losses.

The primary reason for the current outages seems to be ‘tripping’, which means that the KESC’s distribution and transmission network cannot take the load when power consumption rises sharply. This, however, is something that the KESC should have planned for since electricity breakdowns have been happening every summer. Failure to adequately maintain and upgrade its distribution network and an inability to cut down line losses has meant misery for the KESC’s customers who for no fault of their own are subjected to endless hours of torture. The KESC should take measures to reduce its line losses, enhance the quality of its transmission and distribution network and uncover the thousands of illegal connections found all over the city. That is one way the company could reduce its losses without burdening consumers with higher tariffs.

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