DAWN - Opinion; February 15, 2006

February 15, 2006

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A new theme at Davos

By Sartaj Aziz


THE annual meeting of the World Economic Forum at the beautiful Swiss ski resort of Davos, in the last week of January each year, has become a unique international event. This year too it brought together 18 heads of state or government, about 100 ministers, 750 CEOs of the world’s major companies and some 1,000 prominent members of civil society from the media, the academia, the arts and the NGOs. The galaxy of leaders included Chancellor Angela Merkel, Pervez Musharraf, Olusegun Obasanjo, Hamid Karzai, Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan.

“We are facing a fundamental change in the global environment,” the Forum organizers said, “resulting from a number of factors: the emergence of China and India, potential economic disruptions, jobless growth and the continued impact of digitalization on industry and society. These changes have heightened anxieties and insecurity at a time when we see pervasive institutional fragility and ineffective leadership.... Governments, multinational institutions and civil society organizations must adopt new policy designs and innovative approaches if they are to remain effective and credible. In short, we believe that it is imperative that we learn how to unleash our creative potential to tackle the world’s problems”.

Dr. Klaus Schwab, the founder president of WEF, had invited 500 business leaders and prominent experts to explore the theme of “Creative Imperative” under five sub-themes, each with its own set of problems and prospects.

In 15 panel discussions, the participants discussed the far-reaching consequences of China becoming “the workshop of the world and India its back office”. With sustained growth in high-tech and knowledge-based sub-sectors, both countries, home to one third of mankind, had provided the markets with low-cost goods and services that have spurred global growth while helping dampen inflation.

The large Indian contingent led by Finance Minister Chidambram, Commerce Minister Kamal Nath and Mukesh Ambani, chairman, Reliance Industries, did its best to be seen and heard.

“Through a combination of geo-political changes, internal social and economic transformation, India has come of age, with greater self-confidence because of the ability of its people to work democracy”, was their main message.

But many participants also pointed out that the emergence of these two countries was not without risk and disruption. Their insatiable demand for energy was pushing oil prices to new heights. India’s physical infrastructure was in poor shape and one third of its population remained desperately poor. Relations with neighbours were improving very slowly and under the pressure of modernization, its traditional values and customs were breaking down.

China was also facing the daunting task of reducing inequalities particularly between the rapidly growing coastal areas and the less developed countryside in eastern and southern China. Problems of an overloaded banking and financial sector and of environmental degradation also needed urgent attention.

The second sub-theme on the changing economic landscape was discussed in 30 different plenary and panel sessions. The update of the global economy highlighted the impact of the “three imbalances” in the US economy.

Its current account deficit of $650 billion or 5.7 per cent of its GDP, was attracting capital into the US reducing its flow to other countries. Its fiscal deficit of 2.5 per cent on GDP was lower than in 2003, but was making it difficult for the government to meet health care, pension and welfare bills. The inevitable increase in taxes could lead to a slowdown in the US economy.

The third imbalance was the boom in real estate prices relative to interest rates, rents and incomes leading to fears that this housing bubble could burst soon. The real challenge, according to Larry Summers, was to undertake the complex adjustment process that would increase US savings without slowing down other economies.

Many experts discussed at length the ramifications of the energy crisis, the changing dynamics of world demand and the future of alternative energy sources. One panel discussed the issue of dwindling water resources and asked if in a water scarce world, access to clean water should be accepted as a basic human right.

The continuing deadlock in the Doha round of trade negotiations, after the recent Hong Kong meeting echoed in many sessions, leading to a closed door informal breakfast meeting of trade ministers on the sidelines.

The topic of new mindsets and changing attitudes was intended to highlight the impact of global media, marked by hundreds of TV channels, on local cultures and customs, but in Davos, panels dealing with extremism and fundamentalism received most of the attention. “The biggest victim of Islamic extremism may be the image of Islam itself in the eyes of the world” was an important message. Other topics included the changing expectations of the next generation, the impact of digitalization on social behaviour and the inability of the global financial architecture to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

In a session on the future of US leadership, Bill Clinton humorously dodged the question if Hillary Clinton would be the next president of the US. In a reply to a series of question from Klaus Schwab, Clinton said, “Reconciling religious and cultural differences had become a major challenge of our time (besides global warming and increasing inequalities) and that required a change of perceptions and not just change of position or looking for demons. The US should not be afraid of talking to anyone, including those it does not like.”

The scientific and technological advances of the past two decades have meant fewer jobs per unit of output. This, the participants pointed out, combined with the phenomenon of outsourcing has created a crisis for the unemployed youth in many countries. They lack matching skills but are restless and anxious to find job security and incentives for progress.

The rising unemployment rate for the euro area is nine per cent, for the US five per cent and for Japan four per cent. For most countries, the challenge is not only to create more jobs but also to ensure that these jobs translate into livelihoods. Problems of managing pensions of an aging population were also discussed in another session.

The focus of attention for an overwhelming proportion of participants concentrating on regional identities and struggle was the question of what was at state in Iraq. But many other regional flashpoints and the problems of religious and cultural intolerance also came under discussion. Europe’s problems also received considerable attention, especially the dilemma of a falling birth rate, leading to large-scale immigration with its unmanageable problems of security and racial integration.

For many CEOs, there was an unmistakable evidence that the centre of gravity was shifting to Asia, revolving round the dynamic triangle of China, India and Japan. In 1820, it was pointed out, Asia produced almost 60 per cent of the world’s GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity).

In 1990, this had fallen to 18 per cent, but by 2001 it had recovered to 40 per cent. “Has the global power structure recognized the new reality?” was a pertinent question in the minds of many participants.

In one outstanding plenary session, Bill Gates, founder of Micro-Soft, John Chamber, CEO of Cisco, Eric Schmidt, head of Google and Niklas Zennstran the head of the new IT venture, Skype, were exploring the mind-boggling advances in the IT sector and their impact on the global economy. Another exciting event was the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Kemal Dervis, UNDP administrator and Nicholas Negroponte, chairman, MIT Media Lab, to launch the $100 laptop very soon.

By the end of the conference, most participants were still looking for innovative and creative solutions to these complex problems. But many top business tycoons were more concerned with their profits in the coming year and Davos is a thriving place for lubricating transactions on a grand scale. As one commentator said: “Davos operates on a powerful cocktail of greed, ambitious, self “delusion and philanthropy.”

While ministers, bankers and economic experts were discussing these subjects in a charged and animated atmosphere, a large number of celebrities like rock singer Bono, Angelina Jolie, Shabana Azmi, Mike Douglas and boxer Mohammad Ali were creating their own ripples and receiving their crystal awards. Bono announced the launch of a “Product Red”, that would be allowed to any company if it would donate one per cent of the proceeds to the global fund to fight Aids in Africa. American Express has already announced the issue of its new Red Credit Card under this programme. Companies like Gap and Armani are also joining in.

Apart from its well attended annual meeting, the WEF has also launched some other programmes. One of them is the global governance initiative under which it has set up six expert groups of 40 leading experts to monitor the progress being made towards the eight millennium development goals adopted in September 2000 by the UN summit of 180 heads of state.

I attended this year’s Forum in my capacity as chairperson of the expert group on hunger and poverty. These six expert groups submit their assessments to the annual meeting in a consolidated report, which awards a numerical score on a zero to 10 scale to indicate the progress being made by the world in moving towards each goal.

This year’s scores are: peace and security 3/10, poverty 5/10, hunger 4/10, education 4/10, health 5/10, environment 2/10, human rights 2/10. While noting some progress in certain areas, the report says, “Five years after world leaders committed themselves and their countries to a broad and urgent array of global goals, hopes ran high that 2005 would be the “turnaround year”, the year when global efforts would finally begin to match global aspirations for humanity’s future. It was not — but it came a bit closer than cynics expected.” It is obvious that on current trends, a majority of nations will not be able to reach these millennium goals by 2015.

At a personal level, I was somewhat disappointed to find that out of over 500 experts in different fields, invited to join various panels on such a wide range of subjects, there was hardly anyone from Pakistan. In this age of globalization, all nations are trying to improve their competitive position by watching various economic and other indicators, but the real gap facing Pakistan is the “intellectual gap”. In the coming decades, only those nations will move forward which can excel in high tech and knowledge based sectors.

The writer is a former finance and foreign minister.

Life in a one-party state

POLITICAL parties in Pakistan used to charge the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf with trying to build up what is termed as “the king’s party” and thereby planning to have a sort of one-party state. Before the dismissal of Mian Nawaz Sharif as prime minister, the opposition parties, especially the PPP, used to accuse the ruling Muslim League of trying to bring about a one-party government in the country on the strength of its heavy mandate.

For us in Pakistan it is not easy to imagine what life can be in a one-party state. Of course we are international experts in martial law, which is a one-party regime in a way, but a so-called democratic republic with the ruling party being the sole arbiter of the people’s life and death is a different cup of tea altogether.

Zimbabwe has been ruled for more years than I can remember by President Robert Mugabe, once the darling of democracies all over the world. He insists that he is still a democrat at heart and that all those who say he isn’t are traitors to the cause and enemies of Africa. The trouble is that among these is also the Commonwealth which, in its successive summits, has refused to accept his claims to being a great democrat.

There was a report from Harare some time ago that the ruling party stopped the burial of a woman in a small town of Zimbabwe because she had not been a card-holder of the party. Her family had to arrange for her ex post facto membership, or rather her post mortem membership, from a date in 1985, and only after paying the dues and the arrears was able to send her on her last journey.

From the day Pakistan came into being we have not been lucky enough to be compelled to enrol ourselves in any party when we were alive, and when we died there was no farewell party. We never needed a party card, whether to depart from this world or to enter the next one — we just laid our cards on the table, including our ID card, kicked the bucket which had been conveniently placed at our bedside, and caught the next funeral to the graveyard. That was all. No formalities, like for that Zimbabwean woman.

Imagine if there was something like a real one-party state in Pakistan, and that too with a religious bias. In every little thing that you do the party would poke its nose.

I suppose you wouldn’t be allowed to go on a picnic with your lawfully wedded wife without a permit from the party, or marry off your daughter to a non-card-holding young man, and maybe not even give your infant kid a brand of powdered milk that the party doesn’t approve of.

Then, since it is a national trait with us that every political party is split into factions, why shouldn’t the ruling party be so divided, with each faction or sect holding sway over a part of the country? Thus if you are in the domain of one faction you would probably have to swear on the head of your children that you consider the other factions as imposters and kafirs. This would be a new version of one-party state.

For example, let us, for a moment, keep religion and sects out of it and take the Muslim League, or rather the various factions of the Muslim League. If the League were the party in control of the country, there would be four or five different administrations in the land, but it might still be called one- party rule. That way our state would be unique, with no parallel in the First, Second or Third World, or even the Fourth if it comes about.

I decided to discuss the possibilities of the matter with my friend Muslim L. Khan. He was christened Muslim League Khan when he was born in August 1947 but then he adopted the American way of writing one’s name. Khan is a diehard Leaguer, but the trouble with him is that he believes the League can only flourish if he is heading it, and that only he can deliver the goods.

He may be right you know, for there are hardly any goods left to deliver.

However the possibility that Khan may become the ultimate party boss is remote, for why should the Pir of Pagara, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Mr Hamid Nasir Chattha, Mian Azhar and Mr. Kabir Ali Wasti give up their respective sinecures and go into oblivion? Their only identification is the Muslim League, and also the be-all and end-all of their political existence. Where would they go if they were to terminate their connection with the party? Not all of them would be accepted as state guests by Saudi Arabia.

Muslim L. Khan firmly believes that since it was the Muslim League that created Pakistan, only that party has the right and the necessary mandate to decide to do away with it and how to do away with it. If he were to have his way, breakaway factions of the Muslim League would only exist in prison. He would brook no nonsense as a political administrator and thinks that only strict discipline under a League government can preserve the country as one.

The way he sees the whole thing, every citizen will become a party member the day he or she is born. The party will decide when a boy is to be circumcised and when a girl can have her ears pierced.

Every moment in the citizen’s life would be overseen by the party. So much so that anyone choosing to die without the party’s permission would be severely dealt with and would not dare do it again.

I ventured to submit to Muslim L. Khan that so much control over the daily lives of the citizens who have so far had their own way in everything might be resented. “Let them resent if they want to,” he replied, “I’ll make sure that none of the resentment reaches my ears. In any case the people never know what is good for them.”

My next question was, “what sort of countrywide administration do you visualize? I mean elected assemblies and sharing of power with the people?” “Don’t be stupid,” retorted Khan, as if I had said something childish. “The party hierarchy will look after legislation and all higher national issues.”

I wanted to know how a new head of the nation and party boss would be elected after his term was over.

“My friend,” said Khan in his most patronizing manner, “Kindly note that that will happen over my dead body. Literally. The contingency will arise only when I decide to die. I have duly briefed my son about what to do afterwards. So, don’t worry.”

Hudood laws must go

By Zubeida Mustafa


LAST Tuesday was women’s day in the National Assembly. Four bills directly relating to them were introduced in the house. The most important of these was the one moved by the PPP (Parliamentarians) simply titled the Hudood Laws (Repeal) Bill 2005. The Hudood Ordinances, the most anti-women and anti-social of laws to be placed on the statute book in Pakistan, were never brought before the Assembly.

They were promulgated as ordinances by a military dictator and have from their inception remained anathema to most women and human rights activists in the country. Once the implications of the Zina Ordinance came to the forefront, women rallied round the Women’s Action Forum, which was created in September 1981, to fight this evil law.

But once adopted, the Hudood Ordinances have proved to be almost invincible. In the tenure of the present Assembly alone, last Tuesday’s bill was the third attempt to have the Hudood laws struck off. Legislation to repeal the Hudood laws was presented twice before in the house as a clause of the Protection and Empowerment of Women Bill by MNA Sherry Rehman (the first time in 2003 and again in 2004) only to be rejected outright by the speaker on “technical” grounds.

Seeing the summary treatment meted out to the previous bill, Ms Rehman feels that the government might have felt uncomfortable with its provisions since it covered a number of other sensitive matters directly relating to women — universalization of female literacy, prohibition of domestic violence and honour killings and equal pay for equal work. Hence, not to be outdone, Sherry Rehman sponsored the new bill that focuses on only one item, namely, the repeal of the four ordinances (Offence against Property, Offence of Zina, Offence of Qazf, and Execution of the Punishment of Whipping) and the Prohibition Order collectively known as the Hudood Laws. Should one be surprised that the ruling party supported her move and the bill was sent immediately to the select committee?

Not really, if it is recalled that the powers that be have resorted to this ruse to kill a bill they do not like. The introduction of a bill does not ensure its passage. Didn’t that happen to the Cadaver Organ Donation Bill that has been before a select committee of the Senate since 1994, notwithstanding the new bill drafted to update it and the numerous promises made by ministers that it will be taken up soon? Through this procedure a bill is effectively put in cold storage so that it no longer remains in the limelight. Nor can the mover introduce it again and again to embarrass the rulers. Hence, not surprisingly, the sponsor of the Hudood repeal bill is not too hopeful about it actually being enacted in the near future.

Much depends on the political will of the government and its commitment to women’s rights, for without the support of the PML-Q the PPPP cannot mobilize enough support to pass the bill. Some of the arguments used against the Hudood Ordinances have been repeated ad nauseam. Sherry Rehman lists 10 of them as: they violate the Constitution; they were enacted without a parliamentary debate; they have no link with Islam and are man-made laws; several commissions on the status of women have recommended their repeal; they have transformed the nature of tazir punishments; they make minorities doubly discriminated against; they are the most misused laws; they encourage honour killings; they discriminate against the girl child; they reduce the testimony of women to half; and they keep superior courts busy in overturning the sentences of the lower courts.

While the most devastating damage done by the Hudood Ordinances has been to the status of women in Pakistan, they had a far-reaching significance for democracy too. Their political repercussions have been felt intensely. As an integral part of the military’s political strategy of bonding further its nexus with the mullahs, the hudood laws served the interest of the army as well as the religious elements. It may be recalled that February 10, 1979, the day the ordinances were announced by General Ziaul Haq, was Eid-i-Milad-un-Nabi. Religious dignitaries from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries were in attendance at the ceremony in Islamabad which was also graced by the PNA leaders, Mufti Mehmood and Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, who were guests of the government.

The occasion was projected as symbolizing the enforcement of “Nizam-i-Islam”. Explaining “the philosophy of the Hudood Ordinances”, the president had declared that they were intended not “to just chop off hands and stone people to death”. The idea was “to create fear by imposing deterrent punishments”. The political need of the day was to terrorize the people. Four days earlier on Feb 6, 1979, the Supreme Court had upheld Z.A. Bhutto’s conviction by the Lahore High Court. He was hanged less than two months later. The unspoken fear of a public backlash was always present.

Since fear and terror have been the instruments of control used by military dictators and authoritarian religious leaders, it has been ensured that the Hudood Ordinances get firmly entrenched in Pakistan’s political and legal systems. Given the country’s undemocratic structures, the need to create fear has been a basic necessity for those in positions of power.

WAF (Women’s Action Forum) was formed in September 1981 when Fahmida and Allah Bakhsh were sentenced to death by stoning under the Zina Ordinance and women were galvanized into action in their support. Although it is not perceived that way, the fact is that WAF played a profound political role by challenging the authority of this nexus between the army and the mosque. The laws designed to create terror mainly centred round women. That was a considered strategy. In a patriarchal society as Pakistan is, it was easy to make women the victims to silence the male voices. Many of those who might otherwise have challenged the politics of Ziaul Haq would not question the subjugation of women as that has been the norm.

By rising in defiance against the Hudood Ordinances, women broke the shackles of fear and thus paved the way for others to follow suit in adopting the politics of dissent. The Movement for the Restoration of Democracy came later. Politically, Ziaul Haq’s power was shaken and after his mysterious plane crash the army had to restore civilian rule in the country. It was a different matter that the armed forces continued to manipulate power from behind the scenes. But the power of the Islamists was not broken and grew in strength.

Again it was the women-centred Zina Ordinance that became the focus of the struggle against the religious establishment. Every voice that was raised demanding the repeal of the Hudood Ordinances — be it the Commission on the Status of Women headed by Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid or the National Commission on the Status of Women under Justice Majida Rizvi’s stewardship — struck a blow at obscurantism in Pakistan. That is what Sherry Rehman has also done.

This has posed a dilemma for the rulers. On the one hand they pose as the proponents of enlightened moderation — a posture that should logically drive them towards supporting the repeal of the Hudood Ordinances. On the other hand, they do not wish to alienate the religious parties whose support has traditionally provided the army the political legitimacy it has lacked.

Even today when the armed forces are waging the socalled war on terrorism the president does not wish to make a clean break with the Islamists. Besides, the ruling party has a fair share of obscurantists who were nurtured by Ziaul Haq. Supporting the repeal bill would create too many problems for the rulers. Isn’t it easier to sweep it under the carpet? But then the law will continue to be the focal point of the women’s struggle in Pakistan.