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DAWN - Features; 06 January, 2005

January 06, 2005

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Politics and 'military factor'

By A.R. Siddiqi

Mian Nawaz Sharif's information minister (1997-1999) and currently secretary-general of the Pakistan Muslim League, Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, has underscored the endemic importance of the 'military factor' in the country's politics while supporting General Pervez Musharraf's decision 'not to shed' his uniform.

Recalling his promise to quit his army job, the president regretted his inability to keep it since the MMA according to him did not keep its end of the bargain. Therefore, he was not bound to oblige anyone over the issue of uniform. This would inevitably raise the question whether a soldier's word could at all be compromised by political expediency.

The president linked his pledge to relinquish his command job as chief of the army staff with "certain hopes and expectations" that had not been fulfilled. This would suggest some sort of a deal even if there might have been none in a formal sense.

General Musharraf will now retain the dual office of head of state and army chief until the next general election slated for 2007. He singled out two reasons for continuing to wear both hats: "to ensure harmony between the military and (civil) bureaucracy" and maintaining continuity of the 'current' political system.

The formulation raises the question about the respective institutional status of the civil and military establishments as two wings of the administration - each interacting closely with the other while staying within its own sphere. Unless some sort of a systemic distortion or friction may have occurred in recent times, the two should continue to function in harmony over time.

As regards the movement of the political system "in the right direction", what needs to be determined is the exact shape of our political system from the beginning - whether the Quaid's essentially secular democracy (religion not being a function of the state) or Iskander Mirza's 'controlled' democracy or Ayub's 'basic' democracy or Zia's theo-centric democracy or its fluctuating personality-oriented versions under Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

As for Mushrraf's parliamentary politics, dominated by a strong presidency at the top and an embryonic nizamate at the lowest city level, it stays at the crossroads.

The distribution of power and authority between the provincial government and the Nizamats has yet to be worked out. It remains to be seen if the Nizamate would still be able to move on its own steam without the backing of its originators, whether it will meet the fate of Ayub's and Zia's political avant-gardism or will strike roots and survive. Too much personality orientation, did not bode well for and Zia's systems; nor is it likely to bode well for Musharraf's.

Continuity when contigent on an individual (or individuals) can be only at the cost of institutional strength and evolution. This is particularly true of a nation's constitution.

Observed in the breach, it is little more than a sheaf of papers thrown out of the window by an individual or group from a position of absolute power. Followed in observance, it's a nation's and country's best guarantee for legitimacy and continuance of laws in force.

That constitutions in Pakistan have been followed more in the breech than in their observance is not hard to see. Now, about the role of the army as a 'political factor'.

Senator Mushahid Hussain would seek to explain it away in the light of our past history. This cannot indeed be denied in historical terms. But must history be allowed to repeat itself, after all the damage it has done to the nation and the army itself? What do repeated military intervactions have to show for themselves as a fact of our history?

Ayub's rule ended in yet another martial law under General Yahya. Yahya's ended in a national debacle and the break up of the country. Zia's ended in chaos after a mysterious air disaster.

Much the same could also be said about the succession of so-called civilian democratic dispensations. It's one thing for the army to intervene in the event of a grave national emergency, but quite another to function as an endemic 'military factor' in national affairs.

The army chief's uniform may indeed he a 'non-issue' for the people, as Mushahid Hussain put it. But it is an issue alright and a pressing one too. It brought the president himself to the networks to explain the pros and cons of his decision to stay in uniform.

- The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army.

Deaths on the road

By Abbas Jalbani

Grieving over the loss of 31 lives in last week's New Saeedabad accident, Kawish quotes some survivors as saying that the passenger bus collided with the tanker because its driver had dozed off and the wipers of the bus were not working.

The daily writes that Pakistan is among those countries where road accidents take a heavy toll of human lives. Dilapidated roads and inefficient traffic police are not the only factors to be blamed; recklessness of drivers of public transport causes most of such gruesome accidents.

Drivers bribe traffic personnel and violate traffic laws and rule the road. As a result, even minor flaws, non-functioning wipers in this case, lead to fatal accidents.

The rules of safe driving require that a driver should not be overworked and exhausted and should not influence drugs, but the uneducated lot cares little these rules.

The paper suggests establishment of an institution for drivers training with emphasis on safety rules and ethics and making it mandatory for drivers of public transport vehicles to get certificates from it.

It also calls for ensuring that traffic laws are followed in letter and spirit. Awami Awaz points out that an acute shortage of drinking water has resurfaced in Hyderabad which lies on the bank of the River Indus.

The irrigation department says that the canals of the Kotri Barrage, one of which supplies water to the city, were closed earlier this year because of repair work at the Sukkur Barrage and that the Water and Sanitation Agency of the Hyderabad Development Authority had been informed about it in advance.

At the same time, Wasa has appealed to the irrigation department to reopen the canal because its store of water is about to exhaust. The paper says that the crisis recurs every year in the period of canal closure in January but Wasa seldom plans in advance to meet the shortage.

It adds that the existing system is unable to meet the requirement of rising population of the city. The situation calls for new arrangements, including larger storage facilities to ensure an uninterrupted supply of water to the city.

Ibrat supports a resolution adopted by the Shah Sachal Sami International Peace Conference, demanding relaxation in visa restrictions for visits between Pakistan and India.

The paper also calls for lifting of ban on exchange of books between the two countries because the literature produced in the neighbouring states may play a role in accelerating the peace process in South Asia.