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DAWN - Opinion; July 12, 2006

July 12, 2006

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Afghan policy: then & now

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh


OVER the years, particularly since the Saur revolution of 1978 brought an apparently communist government to power in Afghanistan, I have urged that Pakistan’s policies towards that country should be based on an honest assessment of the benefits and costs for our national interests. An assessment of this nature must eschew the temptation to forsake long-term national interests to serve short-term gains.

In this context, I was a strong supporter of the assistance we provided to the Afghan Mujahideen since I shared the conventional belief that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was the first step in the USSR’s ideological and physical advance towards the “warm waters of the Arabian Sea” and that securing a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan was a vital national interest.

However, I looked askance at many facets of the policy we designed to serve this goal. We insisted that religion rather than nationalism should be the motivation for the Afghan resistance. We permitted the Afghan refugees — five million of them at one time — to settle wherever they chose in the country. We permitted the setting up, with foreign financing, of schools and madressahs by our religious parties not only in Afghan refugee camps but in our cities.

We turned a blind eye to the excesses committed on our soil by the Mujahideen, which included the sale of arms and narcotics. And we did not discourage the development of ties between the Mujahideen and our religious parties who went on to use the Afghans as their own shock troopers in the domestic polity and became, in many cases, the arbiters when there were differences between the Mujahideen and the government.

These policies were justified on the ground that the costs they imposed were outweighed by the larger national interest that they served. But the truth was that these policies were designed to serve the narrow goal of regime perpetuation and of creating, for this purpose, local constituencies and bases of support. The larger national interest was sabotaged rather than safeguarded by these policies.

Today it is fashionable to suggest that the evils of weapon and narcotics proliferation, the breakdown of law and order and a whole host of other problems were created by the policies that America, Saudi Arabia and other countries thrust upon us as part of the ‘jihad’ against the Soviet Union. The truth is that in determining the policies of the anti-Soviet coalition towards the Afghan jihad, ours was the dominant voice.

The import of foreign Mujahideen may have been arranged by other agencies but it was at our behest and decision that the “danger to Islam” and not Afghan nationalism was to be the basis for the jihad. It was our decision that the 29 Afghan parties engaged in the jihad be reduced to seven because a smaller number could be handled more easily. We wanted no restrictions to be placed on them since this would affect their ability to wage jihad. It was our decision to allow the schools to be set up outside the refugee camps. It was our decision to ignore the violations of laws by Afghan commanders on our soil.

It was our decision to accept the Mujahideen contention that they were entitled to Pakistan’s support not only to secure the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan but also to instal the Mujahideen parties as the government in Kabul. This kept us involved in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal and made us a party in the civil war that caused more damage to Afghanistan than to the Soviets.

With regard to the Taliban era in Afghanistan there can be no doubt that our policies, including the incomprehensible concept of Afghanistan providing “strategic depth” for Pakistan’s defence, were said to be designed to serve Pakistan’s national interest. However, they were based on inaccurate and stupid, if not dishonest, assessments. It was the flawed policies of that era which reinforced the ominous developments in our tribal areas and the Pukhtun belt of Balochistan during the jihad and created the Taliban threat that we now have to contend with.

Today, if we are serious about moving the country towards enlightened moderation, we need to take a fresh look at the current situation in Afghanistan and to determine what we need to do in order to safeguard our external interests, which coincide with those of the Afghan people even if this is not being fully recognised in either country. We have to do this to prevent further damage to our domestic polity.

The assessment has to be honest and our policies thereafter must be guided by this assessment and not by the interests of those who gain from instability in Afghanistan or those whose vision of Pakistan is at odds with President Musharraf’s “enlightened moderation”. Such an assessment can come only if we acknowledge that the errors of the past have imposed costs that far outweigh the benefits that we derived. It can come only if we shed the belief that our relations with the US are dependent on the latter continuing to need our assistance in Afghanistan. It can come only if we move beyond regarding ourselves as the lead players in the war against terror and acknowledging that in the eyes of much of the world we are at least as much a part of the problem as we are of the solution. On Monday, the UN representative in Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, said that the international community had underestimated the ability of the Taliban to recover from their 2001 defeat and that it should now respond by stepping up support for Afghanistan. Our foreign office spokesman, reacting strongly to earlier accusations (repeated in the Monday press conference when Mr Koenigs said that “...ending the logistical and ideological support from over the Pakistan border is a Pakistan issue. The international community has to press and support Pakistan in that direction”) by this official, is reported to have said that there were other factors, apart from the Taliban, that had contributed to the worsening situation in Afghanistan, and that the role of the drug mafias, warlords and tribal feuds could not be ruled out.

There are other factors such as the diversion of American attention to Iraq in 2003, the misgovernance by and corruption of Karzai administration officials, the presence of warlords and drug barons in positions of power, the pathetic lack of economic development and job creation particularly in the south and southeast of the country and the indifference to the “collateral damage” caused by the war against terror. (In June the Washington Post reported that in the last three months the US had carried out 340 air sorties in Afghanistan as against 160 in Iraq).

There is the fact that the Americans are reducing their troop levels in Afghanistan, and the Taliban and the people of the southern provinces are convinced that the Nato troops being deployed will not have the same resources or the same will to fight. Many Taliban have said that their present offensive is designed to intimidate Nato troops and create a situation in which their deployment is reversed by the pressure of public opinion in the countries from which the troops have been sent.

The Taliban will have read and propagated among the people the news that the Canadian parliament approved only by the narrowest of margins the proposal to extend Canadian deployment up to 2009. Whatever the factors involved the important thing from Pakistan’s point of view is that the Taliban have gained in strength.

The next important point is that the troops that Nato will deploy are too few to provide the “number of boots on the ground” needed to establish a presence and to support reconstruction while winning the “hearts and minds of the people”. In addition the resources being provided are inadequate for the reconstruction needed. Given the extensive debate that preceded Nato deployment and the questions that are already arising in Nato circles about the wisdom of its involvement it is difficult to visualise either an increase in troop levels or in development assistance disbursements. Will the Afghan army perform better than in the past? Will the quality of governance improve in the short or even medium term? It seems unlikely given the constraints under which President Hamid Karzai is operating and the fact that his government is being held responsible for the present mess.

Will the Taliban win in these circumstances? They cannot no matter how much these negative factors constrain the ability of the coalition forces to eliminate them. What they can ensure is that Afghanistan remains unstable and the areas bordering Pakistan ungovernable. What they can ensure is that opium cultivation and smuggling continue. What they can ensure is that there is no possibility of Afghanistan being a safe transit route for South Asia’s import of Central Asian energy and the growth of Central Asia’s trade with Pakistan and the region.

Will the Americans and their Nato partners call upon the “strategic ally” India to assume responsibilities for physical security in Afghanistan as they themselves draw down? Possibly, but it is unlikely that India will yield to the pressure after its sorry experience in Sri Lanka and its reading of Afghan history.

What we should do in these circumstances to safeguard our interests and to provide succour to the Afghans for whom we have, theoretically, a great deal of sympathy and ties of kinship will be the subject of my next article.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

Why we lack good governance

By Zubeida Mustafa


THE state of governance is the single most important factor that determines the quality of public services provided to the citizens of a country. Many independent bodies and aid agencies that have looked into Pakistan’s development problems have attributed the malaise in public services — be they education, health, housing, water supply, transport, or sanitation — to poor administration.

A World Bank and ADB mission, which visited Karachi to discuss the preliminary findings of the Sindh Economic Report last year, wrote, “Poor governance is the root cause of most ills that plague the public sector of Sindh.”

Although this finding was with specific reference to Sindh, it is something that applies to the whole country. The above mentioned report rings a bell when it states that poor governance is due to lack of political will and to weak managerial and technical capacity. Two “avenues” the World Bank and the ADB describe as manifesting poor governance are: lack of merit based recruitments and the high frequency of staff transfers. It is well known that these observations apply to all provinces as well as the federal government.

When people who do not qualify for a job on merit are recruited for political reasons or monetary concerns the quality of governance suffers. They lack the knowledge, proficiency and training to perform the job assigned to them. And when the turnover is rapid, someone who has merit may not be able to make an impact because one needs some time in a post to understand the nature of the work and analyse the strategy that would be most effective.

The fact is that every government that has been in office has used employment in the public sector to promote a spoils system of sorts. With hundreds of thousands of jobs of all calibre under their control, it is not strange that those striding the corridors of power have wanted to dole out these jobs to men and women who are perceived as being loyal to their benefactors. It serves both the parties well. Those at the helm, who very often need a popular base to remain in office, have the reassurance of knowing that they will command unquestioning allegiance and will have nothing to fear from their subordinates.

For those who get employment — in many cases after years of job hunting — a job, even though undeserved, is a boon. They may not even be sufficiently qualified and would never have got employment on merit. Moreover, there are cases of elected rulers collecting huge sums in return for the favour done to them. If in the process the people suffer because governance is not up to the mark or is corrupt, who cares?

The high frequency of transfers serves the same purpose. The Sindh government’s rules of business stipulate that the staff will remain at a post for at least three years before anyone is transferred. But what do we have? In recent years, the tenure of the secretaries of eight key departments has been about 10 months each. Yet any officer who becomes ‘difficult’ is moved out of the way. Others are transferred to a ‘coveted’ post as a favour to reward them for their loyalty. In the police departments thanas are auctioned as some of them are known to be lucrative.

Obviously, all this affects the efficiency of governance and the quality of the services provided to the people. Article 242 of the Constitution provides for the establishment of the Federal Public Service Commission and the provincial public service commissions. Not that this changes the poor standards of education in the country but one can at least hope for the best to be selected.

The commissions have themselves been complaining that the performance of most candidates has been average or below average. On account of this, very often all posts are not always filled due to non-availability of suitable candidates. Thus in Sindh, 17 posts of the 28 advertised for the education department in 2004 were left vacant. In the health department the situation was worse. Of the 361 posts advertised the same year no suitable candidate was found for 284.

Since the commissions are designed to be independent bodies and ostensibly not influenced by political considerations technically it can be assumed that they would keep merit as the criterion for appointment to the services. Because of that these bodies quite often have ended up trampling on the toes of the higher administration.

Take the case of the Federal Public Service Commission. The chairman of the FPSC, a retired general, fell out with the prime minister. To clip his wings, the president promulgated an ordinance reducing the tenure of the chairman and all members of the commission from five years to three years. Not to take things lying down the general went to court. He lost his case in the high court but has now moved the Supreme Court, while the ordinance has been re-promulgated after it lapsed after six months.

In Sindh, too, the chief minister is finding it difficult to come to terms with his commission which has had to put up with the gradual erosion of powers. On February 2, 2006, the Sindh chief minister cancelled the results of the examination the Sindh Public Service Commission (SPSC) had announced the previous day, alleging malpractices. These tests had been held to fill in 700 posts of medical officers. Out of 9,650 candidates who had appeared, 1,672 had been selected for the interview. The matter is now in court.

The chief minister has openly expressed little confidence in the commission and has been accusing it of lacking integrity and transparency. He announced that an inquiry would be conducted into the affairs of the commission. Whether the inquiry has been completed or not is not known. If the inquiry has been held its findings are not public knowledge. Although malpractice was alleged only in the recruitment of medical officers , the government issued a directive to all departments to withdraw all their requisitions being processed by the SPSC. So the commission members sit twiddling their thumbs because they are not being allowed to function.

The icing on the cake is the announcement by the chief minister in June that 45,000 employees will be recruited in various departments of the Sindh government “without involving the SPSC in the process”. He declared that these appointments will be purely on “merit” but on a “contractual” basis for a year.

Since under the SPSC Act of 1989 as amended in 2001 it is the governor who exercises control over the commission, Dr Arbab Rahim now finds himself locked in a tussle with Governor Ishratul Ebad. At stake is the survival of the coalition in the province. Meanwhile, the chief minister denied the rumours that the two coalition partners had reached a compromise and entered into an accord on job quotas for their supporters. Whether there is any truth in it or not one doesn’t know but the City District Government Karachi has proceeded to bypass the SPSC and make its own appointments for senior posts as well.

When this is how members of the administration are selected, can one really have good governance in the country? In this scheme of things can one even hope for honest governance?

Enterprising professions

By Hafizur Rahman


AS a wag says, maybe it’s a sign of progress that more and more young people every day are taking to crime — larceny, dacoity and an unavoidable murder — as a permanent vocation. At this rate (he adds) a time may soon come when families who have no son engaged in any of these activities, may have to hide themselves with shame.

It is heartening to note also (continues the wag) that the intellectual level of persons engaged in larceny and dacoity (and the occasional murder of course) is gradually rising. It is no longer the monopoly of those rejected by society, the riff-raff and the good-for-nothings from the lower classes who didn’t have anything better to do. Gone are the days when a man involved in these acts wore a guilty look and was avoided by the genteel and the noble, even if they were poor. He would rather have died than admitted his nefarious profession. Happily it is no longer so.

In Sindh, it was once said, half the jungle dacoits were graduates. In Punjab nothing could have done more to impart respectability to these enterprising professions than what happened a few years ago in Multan, the city of saints, where apparently the saintly part of the population is all below the ground, safely dead and buried.

The police discovered that a group of four briefless lawyers had been masterminding robberies and other such work requiring legal finesse. The four were also alleged to have killed a companion who had ratted on them, and thrown the dead body in a nearby forest. They might have been justified in doing so for he was only a student of B.A. and had joined the group on false pretences, without first becoming a lawyer. Since he was not academically qualified he had to be disposed of. It was as simple as that.

Lawyers are men of law. In a way they are the most ardent opponents of crime and criminals. With lawyers joining the most popular profession, its ranks are bound to be strengthened. It will be just like important MNAs deserting the opposition and teaming up with the ruling party during normal political times. They say the number of applications for admission to the law colleges in Punjab is likely to be doubled.

The incursion of lawyers into the crime business must have its repercussions. It is true that lawyers are always the first everywhere including politics and the defence of democracy, but do you think the other professions are going to take this complacently? I am sure they are already watering at the mouth. In fact I shouldn’t be surprised if the really intrepid among, say, doctors have not become jealous enough to decide on an immediate change of vocation. Doctors have an added advantage, for, apart from dacoity, they should do well in murder I’ll tell you why.

The Multan lawyers were caught when they killed a companion and hid his body in a forest. This is so because they couldn’t ascribe his death to such Latin phrases as “corum non judice” or “mutatis mutandis.” On the other hand a doctor wanting to get rid of a snake in the grass has only to say that the man died of something called “virus agitatus” or due to excess of “antiphlogistine” in his blood and the body will be given a decent burial.

And if someone bold enough were to shout “murder” and the body was ordered by a court of law to be exhumed for a post-mortem examination, who would conduct the autopsy? You are right. The very same doctor or one of his friends.

Would engineers want to be left behind lawyers and doctors? How can they when otherwise they are the foremost in making money on the sly. The very day they enter a job after graduation and start working, their honest old parents begin looking forward eagerly to the son’s first motor car. And engineers are some who so altruistic and unselfish that if you don’t pay them their salaries they don’t mind.

And they are so obsessed with the thought of public works that they just want to build and go on building. Right in the Mughal tradition, they construct a road one day and re-construct it after three months. Same is the case with public buildings like schools and hospitals. In this respect they are absolute perfectionists. At the same time they are conscious of the fact that doing all this provides employment to thousands of poor people. Again just like the Mughals.

Teachers may be slow to react. As it is, very few of them are able to realise that they are there to teach. By the time the realisation sinks in they are too old for anything. But if they too decide to go the lawyers’ way it will at least be for good reasons. Their salaries are meagre and the element of fazl-e-rabbi eludes them somehow. Actually if you go by economic necessity alone they should have been the first to take to larceny, dacoity and the occasional murder.

You see, lawyers and doctors and engineers are already termed as sharks by unthinking people. I’m sure they don’t do anything to deserve this appellation. At least I have never been held up at pistol point by any of the three. On the other hand the poor teacher has always had a raw deal from cruel fate and an unsympathetic public. The latter, instead of being grateful to him from keeping their children away from the harmful effects of modern education, treat him like a poor relation.

Any do you think maulvis and pirs are going to be left behind while everybody else makes merry by taking to crime as a side business or even as a regular vocation? Certainly not. But let me keep them for another day. They’ll need a whole column for the purpose.

Resuscitating trade

THE Bush administration faces a dilemma in the wake of last weekend’s breakdown of world trade talks. It can allow the hope of freer trade to die, comforting itself that this failure is due mainly to the intransigence of the European farm lobby and to grandstanding by developing countries, foremost among them India.

Alternatively, the administration can make one last effort to resuscitate the talks by making a more generous offer to cut US farm subsidies. Tempting though it is to denounce the hypocrisy of the Europeans and Indians, the Bush team should overlook their infuriating behavior and offer further concessions.

The current round of trade talks was launched in 2001, mainly thanks to US leadership. It foundered at first because US-backed intellectual property rules were impeding poor countries’ access to essential medicines, but the Bush team broke with the pharmaceutical lobby and conceded enough to defuse this argument. Last year the administration followed up with a reasonable effort to push negotiations forward by offering to reform domestic agricultural subsidies that unfairly damage farm exports from poor countries. The response from the European Union and developing countries was underwhelming.

Despite this record, the United States risks being blamed if trade talks fail — as now seems likely. Even though the US offer to cut farm subsidies was more substantive than the reciprocal European Union offer, the US position is not above criticism.

It would involve reforming subsidies so that they damage trade less, but it would not reduce their quantity, and US negotiators have yet to accept a minimalist proposal from Pascal Lamy, the head of the World Trade Organization, that the United States cap its farm subsidies at less than $20 billion annually, roughly their existing level. Meanwhile US negotiators also seek to shelter domestic textile companies from competition from the poorest countries, notably Bangladesh and Cambodia.

Administration officials may argue, rightly, that other countries take even less defensible positions. But their arguments are more likely to find an audience if the US position is beyond reproach. And besides, the Bush administration should judge itself not by the standard of other countries’ behavior but rather by its own principles. President Bush and his officials have repeatedly proclaimed their dislike for the country’s scandalously wasteful farm program and their belief that the United States has benefited from trade. They are correct on both counts, so they shouldn’t hesitate to propose more serious cuts in agricultural subsidies if that’s what it takes to get trade liberalization.

Moreover, the Bush team needs to realize this soon. The president’s trade promotion authority expires one year from now, and Congress is unlikely to renew it.

— The Washington Post