DAWN - Letters; 16 December, 2004

Published December 16, 2004

Military rule and democracy

With the exception of field marshal Ayub Khan, no other military ruler abrogated the constitution of the day, and after the passing of the 1973 Constitution by the four provinces unanimously, no military ruler has followed the example of Ayub Khan.

Gen Zia suspended the Constitution and declared martial law from 1977 to 1984, after which he started transition to democracy and even if the military was involved in the rise and fall of four civilian governments from 1988 to 1999, the Constitution remained intact.

During the earlier period when Gen Zia died in a plane crash, Gen Mirza Aslam Beg had the opportunity to assume control to ensure stability and continuity of the government.

Similarly, during the second Nawaz Sharif government there was a serious conflict between the organs of state, and Gen Jehangir Karamat could have intervened but both generals did not do so.

Gen Musharraf did take over from Nawaz Sharif in a coup mounted by the army but from the beginning he declared his intention to revert to a true democratic process and the only regret is that he did not do that soon enough in the year 2000.

The present democratic process has thrown up several surprises. The PML-Q did not capture a majority of seats, but a limited democratic process with short sighted and misconceived plans is better than no democracy at all.

We must not forget that even countries like the US and the UK went through a long period of political problems before democracy took root and became a way of life. Much water has flown under the bridge since Gen Musharraf announced his famous seven-point agenda on which he received substantial support from diverse sections of society.

It is possible that 9/11, the war on terror, as well as the need to implement reform policies to achieve a lasting peace with India, have played a part in a deviation from the seven-point agenda.

It is better to have bad democracy than no democracy at all. It is better to have a collective leadership of elected representatives than the leadership of one individual. As for the Constitution of Pakistan, it is the only instrument which has kept this country together and we must give it the sanctity and respect it deserves.

The Westminster type of democracy is not the only type of democracy in the world and we are entitled to choose a pattern of democracy which is best suited to our needs, but this choice must come from the people and not be thrust upon them.

There is enough to indicate that Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was not enchanted with the Westminster type of parliamentary democracy and did not consider it to be ideally suited to Pakistan, but he certainly was committed to a democratic constitution and a democratic form of government structured on Islamic ideals of equality, tolerance, fair play, justice, freedom of speech, expression and worship, sovereignty of parliament, supremacy of the Constitution, independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.

He probably had the US and French constitutions in mind but did not get enough time to develop a constitution through the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. This country was born out of a constitutional and legal struggle with the power of the pen, power of speech and power of vote, and I cannot conceive of a Pakistan different from that conceived by the Quaid.

The good part is that the armed forces have also recognized this and Gen Musharraf will hopefully lead us to a full and true democracy where the will of the people prevails, parliament is sovereign and the Constitution is supreme.

As for the members of parliament, their calibre and performance will improve with each new election. If we look at the calibre and record of parliamentarians in some other countries, things do not look so grim as there are people with indifferent track records everywhere but they have to be made subject to the rule of law without fear or favour and therein lies the key to the success of any system.

We are currently going through a period of high expectations and realization of our hopes and aspirations seem far away, but persist we must while keeping our aim of supremacy of the Constitution, sovereignty of parliament and independence of the judiciary. No short-term solution will work.



Citizens as activists

Recent elections in developing countries, especially in India and the Ukraine, have demonstrated how ordinary citizens can change the destiny of their nations by raising their collective voice to demand that they, the citizens, matter and deserve better.

Through peaceful demonstrations and protests, the citizens of Ukraine have stood their ground in sub-zero temperatures for over two weeks, rejected the rigged election results and forced them to be declared null and void.

The underprivileged citizens of India rejected the BJP government's slogan of "India shining", showing that India was not shining for them and that they deserved better. What is important to most citizens is not as to who governs them but how they are governed. Their demands are quite simple - good governance.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan it seems that we, the citizens, do not matter. The silence-of-the-lamb virus has infected our civil society and we watch in despair as puppet masters who control our destinies manipulate our strings and make us dance to their tunes.

Most of us are quite content to be armchair critics and restrict ourselves to huffing and puffing and shaking our heads in sorrow at the comedy of errors that we have been watching in the corridors of power in Islamabad and the streets of Karachi for three decades. Heroes and villains have suddenly merged into a kaleidoscope of leaders and it has become difficult to judge as to who is who.

And all these adjustments, manipulations, etc., have always been done in our 'supreme national interest' under the doctrine of necessity and in the name of freedom and democracy. What more can we ask for?

I wonder how many of us truly subscribe to what Rabindranath Tagore had written:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free and the world has not been broken
Up into fragments by narrow domestic walls
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake



'Insider trading'

There has been a hue and cry against 'insider trading' in all three stock exchanges. Although the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) has done some damage control, it has done a half-baked job.

One company was recently fined Rs0.536 billion but this will not have an effect since individuals, and not the company, should have been fined. The company will pay the fine but this will eventually affect shareholders whose dividends will be reduced. Why should the company be penalized when an individual was 'insider trading'?

I request the SECP to also investigate powerful stock brokers who have been playing with the stock prices of a large company. Only two or three months ago its share price was artificially brought down from Rs39.50 to Rs29.50. There are daily transactions in the millions of shares for this company. Can the SECP not find out who the buyers and sellers are?

'Insider trading' is having a detrimental effect since foreign investors have refused to deal with the stock exchange in Pakistan with the result that no portfolio investment is making its way here. Not only this, but 'insider trading' has shaken the confidence of the middle class and small investors who have been badly hit by it.

The only answer is to fine insider traders and send them to jail. In many countries insider traders have been fined and jailed for 10-15 years. The SECP should look into the state of affairs of a certain cement company which has been closed for several years due to a dispute between its buyers and the Privatization Commission.

Today almost all cement companies are making millions in profit while this company is accumulating losses. The case has been pending for several years and I appeal to the court to decide the matter as soon as possible to protect small investors. The SECP should also approach the court to settle this case in the public interest.



A question of image

Young but highly talented Indian violinist Anupriya was on a concert tour of Germany when she received an invitation to play classical music in Lahore and Karachi. The Germans cautioned her that it was not advisable to visit Pakistan.

"They made me feel that there would be an armed terrorist in every street, waiting to shoot me, but when I returned to my country, everyone, including my parents, said that it was an opportunity she should not miss. And I am happy I listened to my own people," said a thrilled Anupriya during a recent meeting.

Last month when New Delhi-based art historian Dr Alka Pande was speaking to her husband on the cell phone in a bus taking the participants of an AICA seminar in Karachi, we couldn't help overhearing her.

"I have been to so many places in the world but never have I enjoyed so much as in Karachi. I wish I could have stayed longer," she exulted. "Next time when I come here I'd like to go to Lahore," she told her host in Karachi.

The Indian media is euphoric about Pakistani hospitality, while the western media paints our country in a totally different light. Maybe if more westerners, with whom we have no territorial problems to settle, were to come here, their views about us would change too.

The president of the Paris-based AICA worldwide, Henry Meyric Hughes, was honest enough to say that he had his fears, but the visit proved how unfounded they were. Now the question: how can we change the perspective of the western media about us?



White Pipeline and its effects

Apropos of Mr Malik Safdar Awan's letter (Nov 30) regarding the White Pipeline being commissioned and its after-effects, I wish to make a few comments.

Can Mr Awan tell us how long it took for the pipeline to be commissioned? I am sure it was a multi-year project. If so, then can he explain why those involved in this trade have not planned for this commissioning years ago rather than asking for "compensation" today when the project is to go live?

Mr Awan mentions that, out of approximately 15,000 tankers, almost 7,000 to 8,000 will become idle? Can he explain why this will be so, for I think that almost the same number of tankers will be required to transport diesel from Mahmoodkot to other upcountry and down country destinations.

The only difference will be in the location from where they operate. Similarly, the Mahmoodkot area will also require support of tertiary personnel necessary to maintain and operate the tanker fleets and those who are stationed in Karachi can move there to find employment.

It is because our governmental agencies are operated like charities rather than business concerns that their operations are so highly unprofitable. I request Mr Awan and others like him to be proactive in their business practices and try and adapt to the changing business environment as all successful businesses must.



Pharmaceutical firms & doctors

Many multinational pharmaceutical companies offer doctors benefits such as flying them abroad to attend international seminars and sponsoring their foreign studies so that they can boost their drug sales through these doctors.

One company recently launched a new medicine for dementia in Pakistan. As part of its launch it flew about 70 doctors from all over Pakistan on an all-expenses-paid four-day trip to Bangkok. As usual, some stayed longer than the three nights and others took their spouses and even their children with them.

A conservative estimate of the cost of air fare and stay at a four- or five-star hotel for three nights for 70 people would come to about seven million rupees. This is only for doctors from Pakistan. There were doctors from other countries in the region, as well as the speakers who made various presentations at this drug launch.

There was no justification for spending so much money on a drug launch. Who will benefit from this? How will the company recoup this money? And why were doctors from Pakistan falling over one another to go on this trip? Why was the launch not held in Pakistan at a fraction of the cost?

Companies are prepared to spend large amounts of money on doctors because they know that they can make 10 or 20 times that amount through increased drug sales. Doctors must realize they should not become the mouthpieces and sales agents of companies.

Their first responsibility is to their patients. When a patient goes to see a doctor they are confident that the doctor will take an unbiased decision when they prescribe. What they do not know is what may be influencing the doctor's prescriptions. Companies should stop this and instead use the money to keep drug prices down.


Department of Psychiatry, Aga Khan University, Karachi

Karachi's Civic Centre

This is to draw the attention of the Karachi nazim towards the poor condition of the Civic Centre. The parking lot behind the centre is uneven, dusty and strewn with rubble, causing inconvenience to visitors.

The city government must have earned considerable resources which may be used to improve the area by laying gravel and levelling its surface. Marking the space will further beautify it. The entrance to the parking lot also needs to be improved and, if possible, entry and exit should be controlled on the pattern of the Aga Khan Hospital.

Whether filled or empty, the water ponds in front of the Civic Centre present an unsightly look. It is suggested that they should be filled with earth and turned into flower beds.

To prevent trespassing, railings can be installed around them. This will also add beauty to the overall look of the grand edifice. Besides, more footpaths are needed to facilitate commuting between departments.



Wedding meals

The ban recently imposed on serving meals at weddings is confined to wedding halls or hotels and restaurants. There is no ban on serving food within the four walls of a house.

Meals cost hardly one-tenth of the total expenditure of a wedding. And what about meals for 'mehndis' and 'muqlawas', a function held a day after the valima? Other major expenses are dowry, jewellry for the bride, the groom's mother and sometimes for his sisters and gifts for the groom and his family.

I request the court to review its decision in order to allow citizens to enjoy their festivities.



Child abuse

The news item (Dec 11) regarding the growing child abuse in Pakistan was shocking. The facts mentioned in the story must be a matter of concern to the whole society.

The menace of child abuse needs to be dealt with immediately. Children are our hope for the future. They need to be protected from all kinds of cruelties. The government and NGOs must work jointly and take effective measures to deal with the rising child abuse in the country.



Nadra's reply

This refers to the letter "Nadra's working" (Dec 13) by Mr Khalid Ahmed Khan as regards delivery of NICOP (national identity card for overseas Pakistanis). We would like to avail this opportunity to clear the query which was asked in the letter.

Nadra traced the record of Ms Hiba Khan and would like to inform Mr Khalid Ahmed Khan that his daughter's NICOP card was printed and has been lying for collection at the central district distribution centre, Karachi, since Nov 30. Pigeon hole of the card is 'NICOP' and the location is 23554.


Director Media, Nadra, Islamabad

Senator's PCB comments

With reference to your sports correspondent's depatch published on December 15 in which Senator Enver Baig has repeated his accusation against the PBC, the facts are as follows:

1) The audit of the Pakistan-India cricket series carried out by external auditors, Messers A. F. Ferguson, has been completed. It confirms that no corruption or nepotism took place in the accounting of tickets. The audit report will be available to the Senate Committee.

2) Summaries of contracts of Pakistan's foreign coaches have been sent to the Senate Committee which include their salary package, etc.

3) The PCB would welcome an inquiry by any institution, including NAB. In fact, the PCB has invited the Senate Committee to visit the PCB after the next hearing so that they can familiarize themselves with the working of the board on the ground. There is no cover-up of any activity including ticketing and our audit reports are up-to-date.

4) My respect for the Senate Committee is apparent by my prompt attending of all Senate Committee hearings. The previous postponement (Nov. 30) was not due to the PCB.

5) The new constitution of the PCB is being drafted by important personalities on the constitution committee on whose behalf a commitment cannot be made with regard to a date for completing their draft.

Some of the distinguished members on the committee have since assumed additional important assignments which explains the reasons for delay. The PCB had expressed its hope that the draft constitution would be finalized earlier but under the circumstances the delay is understandable and by no means intentional.


Chairman, PCB, Lahore

Capping profit

This year (2004) the accounts of Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) have shown 30 per cent less profit than in the corresponding period last year. SSGC is a corporate giant and is celebrating 50 years of service.

How it is possible that such a large corporation with Rs54.5 billion in sales earns only Rs1.49 per share annually, with a modest paid-up capital of less than seven billion rupees?

The government has imposed various caps on margins as they also suit it. Besides, the government deducts various taxes. While SSGC's profits are less than one billion rupees, the company paid the government more than Rs10 billion in sales tax, corporate tax and gas development surcharge.

The government wants people to be fair while paying their taxes. Is the government fair by capping shareholders' profit? The government must remove caps on profits so that the larger corporate giants can at least pay face-saving dividends.




On writing

On writing

There is no ceremony or ritual that marks any person as a writer except the simple yet unimaginably significant act of starting to write.


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