Governance sans politics

By Anwar Syed

Politics is competitive pursuit of the authority and power to govern. Rarely, if ever, has it been possible to exclude politics from governance. The courts of absolute kings abounded in intrigues, alliances and counter-alliances among notables to have the king's ear, and to keep rivals away from his presence. This was doubtless politics, albeit, covert.

Democratic politics, too, are no stranger to a degree of intrigue, deceit, and treachery. It is not surprising then that politics, democratic or any other, are often said to be dirty. Nor is it strange that many an idealist, through the ages, has longed for a politics-free society, one ruled by a wise man who would make virtue and justice prevail. But Plato's "philosopher king" has never surfaced and taken the throne.

Classical and medieval Muslim thinkers, and some of their followers in our own time, praised self-effacement, condemned ambition, and rated desire for public office as sufficient reason for the aspirant's disqualification. But their quest for the selfless, and yet competent, ruler has been equally unavailing. Those who rejected democracy, because of its imperfections, did not get government of the wise and virtuous; they got tyranny.

Keeping these trends in mind, let us see how we may interpret our present situation. General Musharraf now appears to think that even the guided democracy he had earlier devised, via the seventeenth amendment to the Constitution, is more than we can handle. All indications are that he does not intend to let this amended Constitution prevail in actual practice.

He has been directing the making and implementation of public policy both in foreign relations and domestic affairs. While in office, Mr Zafarullah Jamali said repeatedly that he worked for the general and under his guidance. Yet, he has been sent away. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain will serve as prime minister on an "interim" basis, to yield to Mr Shaukat Aziz after the "powers that be" get the latter elected to the National Assembly.

Spokesmen for the present regime have been applauding the transaction as a peaceful transfer of power the like of which has not been seen in Pakistan. This is not true: there were several "peaceful" transfers during our first parliamentary regime. In any case, the more important question is why this transfer was made at all.

Actually, it is naive to call it a transfer of power. Real and final authority and power remain where they were before. It is only the function of the "errand boy" that has changed hands, which makes the move even more puzzling.

Several explanations have been offered in these columns: (1) that Jamali said more than once that the "uniform issue" had already been settled whereas he should have known that this did not accord with the general's wishes; (2) that he failed to get the MMA's support for Musharraf's election as president, and later for the NSC bill in the National Assembly; (3) that he failed to build enhanced popular support for the general; (4) that he attempted to build his own independent political standing by adopting a conciliatory posture towards the MMA.

(5) It is alleged also that he failed to get the four provincial governments to agree on the terms of an NFC award (regarding revenues sharing with the centre); (6) that the Punjabi members of the National Assembly wanted to see a fellow-Punjabi in the prime minister's post; (7) that the general and his associates in the army feared that extended service as prime minister might mould Mr Jamali into a competent politician with a mind of his own.

In evaluating these explanations, one can proceed from one of two assumptions: either that Jamali was an accomplished politician, or that he was only "fair-to-middling." Those who placed him in the prime minister's office knew that he was no more than fair. They had, then, no right to expect that he would perform miracles, such as swinging the MMA to the general's side on all issues.

Moreover, it was Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, much more than Mr Jamali, who acted as Musharraf's spokesman in negotiations with the MMA. If these negotiations failed to produce the desired results, the blame goes to Chaudhry Sahib.

General Musharraf could have called in Mr Jamali and told him to stay quiet on the subject of his uniform, and one may be sure that he would have done so. He should not have been expected to campaign for Musharraf's indefinite retention of his army post. The PPP "patriots" initiated such a campaign and accomplished nothing other than opening themselves to ridicule as low-lying sycophants. Note also that the settlement of this issue written into the seventeenth amendment cannot be undone except by another amendment, which will be extremely difficult and messy to push through.

That General Musharraf acted to appease the Punjabi MNAs is also not a good explanation. Punjabi politicians have worked well with non-Punjabi prime ministers (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Mohammad Khan Junejo, Benazir Bhutto) in the past. They will become restive on this account only if the higher orders, so to speak, instigate them to go that way.

It is preposterous to interpret Mr Jamali's civility towards the MMA leaders as a move to build an independent support base for himself. He would have to build such a base within his own party if it was going to be of any use to him. A modest measure of receptivity within the MMA circles could not have done anything to advance his political career.

The seventh explanation noted above (that the general did not want to see Jamali grow up to a higher stature) makes sense, and it may have weighed with him and his army buddies. But a couple of other, but related, factors were also at work to which we should now turn.

First, it is not unlikely that Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, more than the generality of Punjabi MNAs, was restive. He coveted high office even when Nawaz Sharif was around. This time he led the campaign for breaking up the PML and putting together the "Q" faction. He is the leader of this group, which is the largest component in the current ruling coalition.

In normal political reckoning he should have been the prime minister to start with. But for reasons, not all of which are known, he was asked to be content with being one of the principal movers and shakers behind the facade of a figurehead prime minister.

He is known to excel in the crafts of political intrigue and manipulation, even if he is not credited with any grand vision for the country, qualities of statesmanship, or interest in the making of high policy. Musharraf may have figured that Chaudhry Sahib might nevertheless turn out to be less amenable to presidential guidance than someone who was altogether harmless as a politician. That is why he was bypassed following the elections of 2002, and why he is now placed in the prime minister's post only on a temporary basis.

We are left to wonder why Mr Shaukat Aziz has been designated to replace Mr Shujaat Hussain. By all accounts Mr Aziz is a good and decent man. He is also reputed to be exceedingly competent in the area of financial management. I do not doubt that the country needs him. But I do wonder why he could not have continued to serve the country and earn our eternal gratitude in his current capacity as the finance minister. Why does he have to be prime minister to bring us greater glory.

In none of the known meanings of the term is Mr Shaukat Aziz a politician. A few non-political persons have worked reasonably well as president in the United States. But I have never heard of a non-political person becoming the prime minister in a parliamentary system of government. One may say that, being a bright man, Mr Shaukat Aziz will soon learn the tricks of the trade and become a competent and well-grounded politician. But the day that happens he will cease to be acceptable to the military establishment. He has been chosen in the expectation that he will remain alien to politics.

I dispute the proposition (advanced in these columns a few days ago) that a prime minister is, first and foremost, an administrator, and that a person can therefore function successfully in that post without being an astute and able politician. In my view, Mr Shaukat Aziz is making a serious error of judgment in agreeing to serve as the prime minister of Pakistan. This decision will bring him a lot more grief than satisfaction. He has our good wishes, but I am afraid these will do nothing for him.

The army in Pakistan has been hearing from both foreign and domestic observers, and it has been convinced, that it is the only stable, efficient, and orderly institution in Pakistan. The bureaucracy, in its view, is reasonably well organized but it is not competent enough and, moreover, it is corrupt. Politics and the practitioners of this craft in Pakistan are unspeakably corrupt and deceitful. They are beneath contempt.

In this reasoning the army alone is the right and proper institution to govern this country. But it so happens that during the last twenty years or so military rule has gone out of fashion and democracy has been gaining ground everywhere. It follows that while the army must continue to direct the country's affairs, it has to do so from behind the facade of a democratic apparatus.

But in this train of reasoning democracy must not be allowed to become real, substantive, or functionally successful; it must never get to be anything more than a facade. It suits the army if democracy in Pakistan continues to fumble, stumble, and fall, and if the political system remains corrupt and dysfunctional. Considering that politics cannot be banished, that it will stay in one form or another, are we to understand that our army would rather have the politics of intrigue than that of an open, democratic variety?

The writer is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. USA. E-Mail: anwarsyed@cox.net.

A dangerous proposal

By Kunwar Idris

Shaukat Aziz is arguably the best man to emerge out of the continuing jostle for power.

Before Mr Aziz is made to swear under the Constitution that he will discharge his duties as prime minister honestly, faithfully and to the best of his ability for the integrity of Pakistan and well-being of its people, he has to satisfy the clerics of the country that he is a Pakistani and not an American agent. That he has started doing assiduously through public broadcasts, press interviews and an expanding cadre of supporters.

The poor of the country would expect of him no more than to rid them of hunger and restore their dignity. They have been told that with his ability and commitment he has turned the economy around. Now with the political power he is likely to acquire, he may enable them to share the benefits of this turn-around. If it doesn't happen, Mr. Aziz's belief or rituals, his antecedents, his carrying or not carrying an American passport or his wife belonging to a Syed clan would be of little consolation to the people.

These are the considerations which make one recall how different was the group led by Jinnah that fought for Pakistan and then steered it through the stress and penury of the first decade of independence. Jinnah himself, of course, had utter disdain for discrimination on grounds of caste, sect, region or even social behaviour unless it was unbecoming in public. But even his deputies of such diverse backgrounds, opinions and social pursuits as Liaquat Ali Khan, Khwaja Nazimuddin, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Ghulam Mohammad and Maulvi Fazlul Haq never thought it necessary to explain, nor the people demanded, what they were and that why they were fighters for freedom and servants of Pakistan.

After them the first, albeit hesitant, departure from this principle of separation of private life from public career came from Ayub Khan because the legitimacy of his accession to power was questioned. Since then it has hardened into a rule. It was, perhaps, too much to expect of Shaukat Aziz to break it but he could have been less concerned about it for he would be, perhaps, the first prime minister after Chaudhry Mohammad Ali (in the mid- fifties) who has got there because of his professional and not political standing.

How instantly and willingly he has thrown away this initial advantage is amazing. He could have paused to think how the assurances extracted from him would help him make his tenure longer and more productive than that of his more adroit predecessors. In any case it was not his politics but his profession that won him the surprise nomination and may also win him a seat in the National Assembly. The parliament will not disown him as leader of the house, he should feel assured, so long as Musharraf doesn't. And once Musharraf leaves the scene no politician or party will be ready to own him.

The campaign course of Mr. Aziz's election is taking him into the quicksand of politics. The seats chosen for him to contest have put him in the centre of the political storm. As prime minister he will find himself indebted to two controversial clans - the Chaudhries of Punjab and the Arbabs of Sindh. He will be compelled to pay that debt many times over. In doing that the impartiality of an administrator in him shall have to succumb to the expediency of politics.

All those political workers who organized his cavalcade and the officials who impounded the vehicles shall have to be rewarded at the expense of the state and at the cost of good administration.

If Mr. Aziz ceases to be an administrative and economic manager, he would be nothing more than just another addition to the plutocratic top of Pakistan's politics. His competent handling of the economy may bring some prosperity but there will be no investment, nor will trade and tourism boom if politics remains as precarious as it is today.

It seems both Gen Musharraf and Mr. Aziz are poised to become full-time practitioners of this brand of politics as were the presidents and prime ministers before them. This suspicion arises from a recent statement of Chaudhry Shujaat that the parliament will soon enact a law permitting the public and political offices to vest in one person.

The head of the government thus would be the head of the majority party as well. In the present environment of acrimony it would divest the administration of whatever little neutrality is left in its dealings with the diverse elements of society irrespective of their political or religious affiliation.

Ask any civil servant or manager of a state enterprise how difficult it always is to persuade a minister to believe that his discretion ends where propriety, rule and law begin. How can a politician ever win an election again if he doesn't help his workers get a job or a plot is a legitimate question posed by every minister. "Follow the rules" was Chaudhry Shujaat's exhortation, "but help my men" when he was a minister in the eighties. He would see no contradiction in that.

Again, one had to see the anguish on the face of Benazir Bhutto in the initial days of her first term as prime minister when some officials told her that she could not allot a plot to the family of a man who had burnt himself to death agitating for her release from prison, nor could she appoint her son as a police inspector as the rules did not allow either. And, indeed, after she was out of power she had to face trial in a court for violating this rule along with the officials who carried out her orders.

From the maladministration in general which shows itself at its worst in the breakdown of law and order, an obvious lesson to be drawn is that the administration at the working level cannot be either fair or effective if the government at the top is embroiled in the chaotic demands of politics. This situation will only aggravate if Chaudhry Shujaat's idea that the president / prime minister should head the ruling party and the district nazim could also be the head of his party at that level finds a political expression. Then not the son of the prime minister alone, but the sons of nazims too will be posting SHOs.

Prime Minister Shujaat's latest directive that the committees of party workers will be formed to "reform" the working of all departments of the federal and provincial governments, will drive the last nail in the coffin of a neutral bureaucracy.

The proposed merger of the government and the party into one entity carries the seeds of fascism without its advantages because our political parties are not organized, nor their cadres are disciplined. It would be ironic for it to happen at a time when an army general is pleading for moderation and a private banker is promising to revive the economy and spread its benefits wider.

Poverty, patriarchy and population

By Feryal Ali Gauhar

International consensus explicitly recognizes the importance of demographic trends on all aspects of development. The discussion of population cannot be excluded from the discourse on strategizing towards poverty eradication and development. It is a well known fact that fertility and population growth are highest in the poorest countries, and that the less developed countries will triple their populations by 2050.

At the same time, urban growth is fastest amongst the Third World countries, with poor rural migrants being driven by environmental collapse, landlessness, and the hope of finding employment. Attacking poverty directly, not just as part of the development agenda, but as a matter of human rights and to reduce inequity within and between nations has become a global priority.

Three billion people around the world live on less than two dollars a day. Since 1960, the world has seen an increase of three billion people; most of them live and die in the poorest countries of the world.

Today, on World Population Day, I would like to place the fact of Pakistan being the seventh most populous state in the world with one of the highest population growth rates within the context of the discourse on fertility and population growth, and I would like to situate this discussion in the context of women's disenfranchisement. Pakistani women have very little decision-making power and are largely excluded from social processes which determine key events in their lives.

More women than men live in poverty, and this disparity has increased over the past decade. Gender disparities in health and education are wider among the poor, and they persist because social and legal institutions do not guarantee women equality in basic legal and human rights, in access to or control of land and other resources, in access to justice or to financial assistance, in employment and earnings, and in social and political participation. These disparities have serious consequences for women themselves, for their families, and for society at large.

Living with the absence of state-sponsored social security, men see women as producers of able bodied sons who will support the family, particularly in old age. The relationship between growing poverty and increasing numbers is not hard to see in the absence of alternative mechanisms which would provide economic security to citizens, empowering not only men but women to take charge of their lives and to strive to reach their fullest human potential, benefiting themselves and their families while benefiting larger society.

In Pakistan, between 1986-1987 and 1993-94, the depth and severity of poverty increased. Similarly, the income distribution across income groups had worsened. Between 1987 and 1998, the richest 20 per cent of the population earned between 41 and 46 per cent of total income while the poorest 20 per cent received less than one-tenth of the total income.

Despite the fact that Pakistan has been involved in family planning for five decades now, the population growth rate is still among the highest in the world, while the number of poor living below the poverty line has increased to over 33 per cent of the population. This is an official statistic - my belief is that almost half of our country's people live below the poverty line as defined by the ability to purchase goods and services necessary for human survival.

Perspectives change on almost everything when the world is viewed through the eyes of those living in poverty. One of the most pervasive concerns of the poor is the constant threat of death. Death of a child, of an elderly family member, of oneself is a real possibility every day. Official mortality and life expectancy data do not convey the persistent reality of this growing insecurity amongst our citizens.

In most cases it is women who suffer the consequences of this insufferable insecurity. Subjected to brutalization ingrained in a patriarchal system where authority rests in male heads of households, women are the last to be asked, especially when it comes to questions of their own bodies and their own fertility.

Women are not allowed to make decisions regarding family size, often going through numerous pregnancies in pursuit of the birth of the male heir whose existence is intrinsically linked to a system which is informed by patriarchal values where women are commodified and objectified, in some cases sold for the rest of the family to survive, or to pay off loans.

When seen with the objectivity of clear vision, it is evident that women lie at the crux of the discourse on development and population, and their absence from consultative and decision-making processes is unacceptable, detrimental and shall prove to be absolutely disastrous if women's voices are not heard and taken seriously today, by state functionaries and the movers and shakers of state policy.

My concerns centre on the failings of state policy, on the need to formulate new policy and strategy which would address population and reproductive health issues within a broad development framework and within the more focused rights-based approach of the empowerment of women as equal partners in development. It is my belief that without taking into consideration the positioning of women within patriarchy and without addressing their resulting marginalization, population issues as well as development will remain within the fashionable realm of rhetoric.

Work towards achieving population goals by emphasizing women's position as key stakeholders helps reduce poverty in several ways. Most importantly, by enabling women to have equal access to health care and education, to meaningful and remunerative employment, to social and political processes, high rates of fertility, maternal and child mortality can be reduced. Long-term demographic and economic data indicate that high fertility raises absolute levels of poverty by slowing economic growth, reducing the poverty reduction that growth would have helped deliver, and by skewing the distribution of consumption against the poor.

Fertility reduction through greater acceptance of family planning counters both of these effects. Investments in improved reproductive health assist in redressing gender inequalities and barriers to social and economic participation.

Therefore, appropriate economic and social policies, combined with access to reproductive health services, can accelerate poverty reduction and the holistic agenda of human and economic development. There are many elements of the existing approaches to understanding poverty, inequality and the process of development that are in need of re-thinking, re-conceptualizing and re-statement, particularly if they are to provide due recognition of the roles and expectations of women.

The first needs to be the paradigm of development itself, the identification of the engines of growth. Instead of seeing the poor as a target group within a framework of economic development, enabling the poor to become economic and political agents could itself become the engine of growth. Thus from a "trickle down", or social net approach, it would be useful to look at what can be called the "bubbling up" theory of growth. This alternative theory argues that putting incomes and political power in the hands of the poor could generate the demand and the voice that would direct development.

It is evident then that, to consider women as being core to the discourse on development and population, and to include them within this new paradigm in a meaningful way, public policy has to go beyond family planning to the broader issues of development which would include improving the social infrastructure; access to food; opportunity for employment; interdependence between the macro and micro elements of the economy; and participation in the organization of production, trade, and government, a democratic framework which includes a rights framework.

The best way of ensuring this is to provide explicitly for women to actively participate in decision-making not only within the family but also in other areas of public policy which affect not just the lives of women but the lives of the future generations which they bear and nurture, the lives, indeed, of the citizenry of a country which has denied itself the potential of becoming a fully developed and responsible member of the world community.

I shall always carry with me the image of the young bride in the drought-stricken village of Sidra Sharif where hunger had stalked the land like a flock of vultures for seven long years. At the time of her marriage, this young woman was gifted a suit of clothes and a pair of sandals as her dowry by her family. When she was to leave her parents' home, she removed her sandals and left them at the doorstep for her younger sister, telling her mother that she would walk barefoot to her husband's home, ensuring that her sister would have what was necessary to start a new life: a pair of new clothes, and the sandals she had left behind.

Perhaps when women are considered seriously for their ability to survive and even flourish despite all odds, when women are allowed the choices which are their birthright, then the issue of impoverishment and growing populations would correct itself merely by correcting the balance of power that exists within the patriarchy.

The writer is United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Population Fund. She wrote this article to coincide with World Population Day which is being observed today.

Polls in Indonesia

It was a notably superlative milestone: At more than 570,000 polling stations on some 14,000 islands spanning three time zones, an estimated 130 million Indonesians - 90 per cent of the electorate - voted this week in the first direct presidential elections in the world's fourth-largest nation (which, not incidentally, happens to be home to the world's largest Muslim population).

In itself, the last week's vote was a victory for home-grown democracy, a major step in Indonesia's six-year transition from military autocracy. And it is just one in a string of national elections in Asia over the past year and a half or so - all the product of internal political evolutions not overtly imposed by the United States (which still doesn't directly elect its president).

The Indonesian voting did not go off without a hitch; there was a pervasive problem with folded ballots, causing them to be double-punched and thus invalidated. No candidate got a majority, forcing a run-off vote in September. But the incumbent - Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Indonesia's founding father - ran behind a former security minister with a relatively clean image, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Indonesia voters weren't happy with her do-little presidency and used their new right to show their displeasure.

There's plenty here for the rest of the world to ponder, starting with the Middle East. More than 80 per cent of Indonesia's 220 million people are Muslim, but there was little Indonesian talk of creating an Islamic state; democracy and Islam apparently can co-exist without formal commingling. Asia's remaining tyrants - most prominently in North Korea and Myanmar - also should take notice: Asia, at one time believed inherently suited to despotism, has become a hotbed of democracy. Many of the elections have been messy and flawed, but the trend of raucous but peaceful voting can hardly be ignored.

From South Korea to Sri Lanka, Asians have been vigorously exercising electoral rights. Last July, Cambodians went to the polls, resulting in a standoff just resolved last week by a power-sharing deal between its two main parties.

This spring, Malaysians rejected hard-line Islamists, Indians kicked Hindu nationalists out of power, the Taiwanese defied China by re-electing their president, and the Philippines may have re-elected a president, but weeks later that's still contested. And let's add Hong Kong, where hundreds of thousands of residents recently marched to press Beijing to allow direct election of the Chinese region's chief executive.

The U.S. role here is indirect at best. Regional peace is one of the main reasons for this flowering, and the U.S. security presence in East Asia aids that.-Baltimore Sun

Opinion

Editorial

New Covid danger
30 Nov 2021

New Covid danger

The government’s messaging around the coronavirus and the potential threat of Omicron must be reactivated.
Updated 30 Nov 2021

Saudi conditions

DECADES of fiscal profligacy have trapped the country in a situation where it not only has to borrow more money to...
30 Nov 2021

Mental health concerns

THE economic and psychological effects of Covid-19, combined with the issues of joblessness and inflation, have had ...
Land misuse
Updated 29 Nov 2021

Land misuse

THE contrast could not be more stark, and elite capture no better illustrated. On the one hand are the middle-class...
29 Nov 2021

Act of altruism

DECEASED organ donation needs to become part of the national discourse. To that end, our lawmakers must adopt a far...
29 Nov 2021

Animal neglect

THE callousness shown by our state and society towards humanity is often such that it comes as no surprise that less...