Freedom to loot & plunder?
NAIVELY eulogised political freedom today means little, because it is not accompanied by economic freedom and equal opportunity for all to pursue their dreams — something that the current rulers have taken away with a vengeance. The neglect by the Musharraf-led regime of the multiple issues which have cropped up in the last few years is appalling.
Many of the so-called political compulsions faced by the country today are invariably equated with the top leader’s preoccupation with pleasing the West, and that of his deputies with striking deals of all kinds at home and collecting the spoils of office. Whether it is ceding political territory for an illegally built mosque in Islamabad or buckling under accusations of “not doing enough” on the terrorism front, in an election year it this regime’s economic transparency that has largely gone by default.
Is it simply because the opposition parties are too impotent to take up the challenge? Or, is it that the two main opposition parties carrying the burden of aborted stints in office have stockpiles of corruption skeletons in their own cupboards?
Whatever the reason, the people at large feel utterly disenfranchised today; their opinions, dreams and aspirations find no resonance in the running of their affairs. Isn’t this what amounts to robbing a people of their right of self-determination? Politics is but an offshoot of economics today, which makes it pertinent enough to call to account the rulers when their conduct is not seen to be above board.
Consider the recent goings-on: the stock market scandal was barely shoved aside when the steel mill privatisation controversy surfaced; the PTCL and the KESC privatisation deals, too, were not without question marks hanging over them.
On the heels of these came the leasing out of two islands off Karachi to an offshore developer in a manner that was not considered totally transparent; even the Sindh government reacted to the latest venture as if it were robbery in its backyard.
The land mafia has made hay at the expense of the genuine buyer since the setting up of the present political dispensation. A chief minister, dreaded today by the ‘smaller’ fries in the real estate business for his greed to deal in prime property, is purported to have made several billion dollars in recently acquired real estate alone.
This, while no attention is being paid to formulate a housing policy for the teeming millions who are being pushed further down the poverty line, even by the developing world standards.
Defence housing authorities in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad have appropriated acres upon acres at heavily subsidised rates, only to retail plots at exorbitantly inflated rates to civilian buyers. How many of the latter do not have ill-gotten wealth is anyone’s guess.
Or you may even ask as to how many of such buyers pay how much in income tax. These are but the trappings of a “garrison state” which works as a political and economic arbiter, co-opting the existing mafias and creating a new entrepreneurial ruling class to run and manage the state based on an oligarchic model.
Driving out of Lahore airport the first thing that stares you in the face is a huge signboard placed at the entrance of an archway that leads to the recently wrested land mass now rechristened as the expanded DHA.
Alongside the main artery going to the city stands the just constructed, and yet another, army officers’ residential estate. Several Askari complexes offering posh living dot other appropriated land masses around many other big cities today.
Heavily guarded and ensconced in the safety of their boundary walls, do these enclaves not resemble the Jewish settlements on Israel-occupied Palestinian land? Are they not a constant reminder to the vanquished people that the new owners of the land which they reserve the right to rule are here to stay?
Do our opposition parties fare any better than Hamas and Fatah when it comes to facing the Israelis? Is it simply preoccupation on the part of the opposition parties juggling it out with the general on their respective one-point agendas that has blurred the overall picture of this government’s economic accountability?
Transparency International and world financial institutions have refused to give the country a clean chit on corruption and the overall management of the economy. Inflation continues to run high, with the economy showing resistance to the trickling down of the fruits of growth to ordinary citizens.
The government’s acknowledgment of high inflation has come only in the form of hefty pay rises it has given to the upper tier of bureaucracy, members of parliament and the officer cadres of the Pakistan Army.
For the rest of the salaried workers who comprise an overwhelming majority of taxpayers there has been little reprieve from the free-running forces of the market economy.
The president and his cabinet ministers have flaunted the growth seen in the cellular phone sector, the automobile and electronics industries, for instance, as a benchmark of economic improvement to deflect attention from the actual decline in the purchasing power of the average citizen. The myopia this government suffers from in the political and foreign policy domains is also reflected in the economic sector.
Politics cannot be isolated from the economic wellbeing of a people in the age of a free-market economy. Is the post-9/11 tide of sympathetic viewing of Pakistan by the West now coming full circle that the international economic watchdogs and financial institutions have suddenly resumed the task of casting aspersions on us all over again? This was preceded by the US and the UK reissuing adverse travel advisories to their citizens, asking them to avoid travelling to Pakistan.
What do we do in return? We proudly announce 2007 as a Pakistan tourism year — tourism, that is used to describe the trips home of communities belonging to the Pakistani diaspora.
The opposition parties are so badly pushed against the wall that the rapprochement policy towards India — since the pulling back of troops from the “eyeball to eyeball” positions at which they stood in 2004 — has also become controversial.
This, after Gen Musharraf has done more than one felt was possible by making daring overtures on Kashmir, as was desired in the past of the military by the politically elected governments.
Rancour on the part of the two deposed and politically disenfranchised, exiled, prime ministers aside, there remain question marks over the practical logistics of a genuine South Asian peace process led by a military strongman known for his rash decision-making on the one hand and a democratically elected government, with a strong opposition to grill the latter, on the other. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh does not have as free a hand with Indian foreign policy as does President Musharraf with Pakistan’s.
One is not sure whether the general fully understands the difference between how he runs his country and how India, by comparison, is governed by a process which cannot be subjected to an individual ruler’s wishes, howsoever noble or well-meaning they may be for his own people. This is perhaps why Gen Musharraf to this day has failed to comprehend the failure of his Agra summit talks with the then Indian prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, when, according to the former, all had been agreed between the two leaders’ in a preceding one-on-one dialogue.
Returning to the economic savvy of the president and his handpicked banker prime minister, the two have taken it upon themselves to highlight the benefits of striking a peace deal with India, and thereby building a constituency of vested trade interest which eyes those benefits accruing from burying the hatchet with New Delhi.
Sharing this view wholeheartedly on the surface, while expressing concerns over it privately, are the president’s ruling coalition partners, the PML-Q and the MQM. But because the ruling coalition has fissures in its own ranks, which are all too evident in the bitter verbal exchanges they make no effort to hide, it lacks the confidence to jump on to the bandwagon of peace with India. The prospects of all other parties ganging up against the sitting PML and the MQM rulers in a post-Musharraf dispensation haunts them no end.
This also accounts for the ruling coalition’s low-key response to the handling of the Waziristan and the Balochistan crises. On these two fronts, the political risks involved outweigh the distant prospects of economic gain, which is not possible unless the situation in Afghanistan stabilises. But the military mind thinks otherwise: against all advice, the army went ahead and signed shaky peace deals with the militants in Waziristan; it would not extend a similar olive branch to the restive Baloch nationalists.
This, ostensibly because of an apparent lack of the risk of the nationalists’ cause finding resonance in the rest of the country at a time when the most vocal of the ethnic nationalists, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, has been co-opted by the ruling establishment.
Where, then, lies the hope for a more responsive future governance aimed at addressing the people’s needs? The way the current political dispensation has been custom-made to support indirect military rule which had risked losing its grip on political power, and the way it has since unfolded its mechanisms, it is hard to pin any hope for its reconciliation with the longer-term good of the people.
At the end of it all, whenever that comes, we will yet again find ourselves having to start all over again. By then the price of having lived through a pervasive political inertia, sustained by munching on ‘freedom fries’ of our own, will have become prohibitive.
Building defences for peace
THE preamble to Unesco’s constitution contains these words of profound wisdom: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” The founding fathers of this organisation recognised the role of education, science and culture in promoting peace and harmony.
Yet the world has so far failed to reach these elusive goals. But is it too late to try to build the peace structures that statesmen of yore dreamed of 60 years ago?
The answer to this question came last Saturday when the Human Rights Education Programme, an NGO working for what its name unambiguously spells out, held the ground-breaking ceremony for the Children’s Museum for Peace and Human Rights (CMPHR) that it had been dreaming of for five years. Designed to provide space for children to get together and interact, the museum will be based on the precept that “education must be life-long and socially relevant”, to quote Zulfiqar Ali, the director of the HREP and general secretary of the museum.
Towards this end, the CMPHR plans to sow the seeds of peace (which is meaningless without human rights) in the mind of a child from an early age by using all the modern education methods that are universally recognised as being the key to the development of human personality. Thus there will be galleries putting together exhibits on, what the project’s brochure terms, diversity, nuclear (devastation?), understanding Karachi, children and peace and human rights. Additionally the museum would organise academic and cultural events, workshops, research and resource centres to make the child proactively involved in peace activities.
This is a move in the right direction for two simple reasons. First, change in behaviour and mindset is easier to bring about if it is started early in life. Secondly, the main cause of social disharmony is the absence of knowledge and understanding of the “other”. These basic truths, which are known to all but never consciously applied, were articulated in abundance, but in different ways, on Saturday afternoon at the ground-breaking ceremony.
Tasneem Siddiqui of the Khuda ki Basti fame and chairperson of CMPHR, who can well be described as a friend of the poor, pointed out that Karachi has become a divided city.
People living in one area are not aware of the life and problems of their compatriots in another area because there are no common spaces for the two to meet. Siddiqui spoke of the multi-tiered school system which has at one end the madressahs that look after the entire needs of their students but in the process produce graduates with a “closed mind” and at the other the elite schools providing good education but charging exorbitant fees which are not affordable for everyone.
Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, who performed the ground-breaking and whose son announced a hefty donation for the museum, presented the case for peace and the cause of the young very succinctly. He expressed his dismay at the death of the art of conversation. He feels that people are not networking enough and are ignorant about each other. That, according to him, has led to the fragmentation of societies. The prince who is famous for his youth-centric approach said that when we care for the young we show that we recognise the future.
The fact is that children and peace are closely linked as are children and war. Pakistan is a fragmented society and within its folds are two different worlds that are alienated from each other. One is the world of the rich and the privileged who enjoy all the luxuries they could dream of. The other is the world of the underclass, the deprived and the disadvantaged. These are alienated from each other as there is no interaction between them. As such there is no occasion for them to understand one another. Thus are sown the seeds of conflict.
If the “defences of peace” must be constructed in the minds of men, this process must begin when the man is still a child. Otherwise it becomes too late. If the lesson of love, humanism and peace is taught to a person in his childhood he learns it for life. In this respect Pakistan has failed its children.
They have been taught to hate and fight. The school textbooks spew out hatred and scorn for the “other” — these books are in use in the mainstream schools and not just the madressahs. War and violence are identified with heroism and valour.
One would recall the missiles which dotted our urban landscape a few years ago until they were mysteriously made to vanish. Our television channels screen violent images, so much so that there is no escape from the reality of war, conflict and brutality that have become an everyday feature. We let them absorb all this violence at the most impressionable period of their life and then we have the gall to expect them to grow up to be peace-loving, mild, humanistic and tolerant adults.
The peace museum is a project to be fully supported by each and every one of us as a duty. In fact there should be more of such museums all over the country so that children may learn to hate war and love peace. May the images from Hiroshima and Nagasaki make them detest the deadly weapons of mass destruction we have been glorifying since 1998 when our nuclear explosion made our mountains cry.
When children will see models of the life of an average Pakistani child in the katchi abadis they will begin to understand the rigours of poverty. And thus one hopes, they will learn the importance of social justice without which it is unfair to expect the hungry and the starving to show magnanimity and affection for the affluent who are inclined to be so selfish.
Dialogue with terrorists is not always enough
IGNACIO de Juana has 25 brutal deaths on what passes for his conscience. He was one of Eta's worst murder machines from the 1980s, caught and dispatched to prison. But now his long sentences are somehow deemed served, and he should, quite legally, be turned free — if the Spanish supreme court hadn't suddenly tacked on a dozen, extraneous years for luck. So De Juana has gone on hunger strike. So another chapter in the book of global terror opens.
We were always taught to exalt jaw-jaw above war-war, of course, and perhaps Churchill was right in most of the cases that defined his time. But now things can seem very different. Now jaw-jaw, much too often, is what keeps the pot of war-war boiling. Take De Juana's Spain, run by a soft-spoken prime minister who hopes that talk can end the long nightmare of Basque terrorism. Indeed, for a while, his cautious negotiation offered the appearance of hope. But then, a few weeks ago, a bomb went off in an airport car park, two civilians died — and everything has changed.
A government that prided itself on its peacemaking skills has to snarl and posture instead. An opposition that appeared to be losing the argument is back in business. The great debate about terrorism — deal or no deal? - grows infernally complex again. This is Europe 2007, but the self-same issues fester far and wide.
See how those issues connect. José Luis Zapatero is prime minister of Spain, in part, because mass bombings on Madrid trains blew him and his socialists into office. They'd promised to bring troops back from Iraq. Stop the world, we want to get off? Most voters did. And Eta, the homegrown terrorist foe that had taken 800 lives over four bloody decades? One sort of peace led to another. Last March the remnants of Basque separatism were persuaded along the route trodden many years before by Gerry Adams. They declared a semi-demi-permanent ceasefire. They thought they'd found a perfect partner in Zapatero.
But one blast at Barajas terminal four probably put paid to that. It was a huge blast — and an obvious warning of more to come. You didn't keep your promises, Eta proclaimed. You didn't stop rounding up our men. You didn't let prisoners like De Juana go free. You didn't recognise our political wing. You just strung us along. Now you have to deliver.
There's a degree of bravado here, of course. Eta chose negotiation because it was on its knees. Another government clampdown could well finish the movement as any kind of fighting force. But there is also — to breathe the truth that Madrid prefers not to heed — a flicker of validity to Basque disillusion. Had the peace talks actually started? No. Had terrorists who might have thought themselves safe from arrest been hunted down? Yes. Was recognition of Batasuna still held up by the kind of who-blinks-first questions that dog Hezbollah? Yes, irritatingly so. Were more charges pulled out of the woodwork to keep De Juana inside? Absolutely.
Process, what process? Anybody on the sidelines might reasonably conclude that, if the threat of violence is lost, then so is the pressure that brings governments to the table. Lay down your arms and we'll string you along. Hang around for months and years, while your young fighters give up and marry and have children and lose interest, and you'll lose in any case.
There's the infernal bit, laid bare. Democratic administrations can't talk while the armed struggle goes on — but nor can they easily deliver meaningful (hinted) concessions when the guns are laid aside.
Dacoits of another kind
A retired federal secretary met three brash young men at a society wedding in Karachi some time ago and asked them what they did. “We are dakoos, uncle,” said one of them. He wasn’t joking. The three told the shocked old gentleman how they committed a robbery every three months or so. They were otherwise unemployed, and from the proceeds of their quarterly adventure, they had a jolly good time in Mumbai or Singapore or Dubai.
Maybe it is ‘a sign of progress’ that more and more educated people every day are taking to larceny, dacoity and an occasional murder as side business, and even as a vocation.
At this rate a time may come when families which have no son engaged in any of these activities may have to hide themselves with shame.
It is heartening to note also 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 field for those rejected by society — the riff raff and the good-for-nothing from the lower classes who couldn’t think of anything more lucrative to do.
Gone are the days when a man involved in these activities wore a hunted expression and was looked down upon by the genteel and the impecunious noble. He would rather have died than admitted his nefarious profession. Happily it is no longer so.
It is said that in Sindh half the jungle dacoits are graduates. In Punjab nothing could have done more to impart respectability to these enterprising vocations than what happened a couple of years ago in Multan, the city of saints. Though apparently the saintly part of the city’s population is all below ground level.
The police discovered that a group of four young lawyers had been masterminding robberies and other such work requiring legal finesse. The four were also alleged to have killed a youthful companion who had rattled on them. The body was discovered in a nearby forest.
They might have been justified in doing that for he was only a student of BA and had joined the group on false pretences, i.e. without first becoming a lawyer.
It was like joining a service on the strength of a fake degree. Since he was not academically qualified, the boy 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 fortified. It is just like influential MNAs deserting the opposition and teaming up with the ruling party. One effect of this would be a rush to join the law colleges.
The incursion of lawyers into the business of crime, though only sporadic, is going to have its repercussions. It is true that lawyers are always the first everywhere, including politics. 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 some of the really intrepid among, say, doctors have not become envious enough to decide on an immediate change by taking to larceny and dacoity as private practice. Doctors have an added advantage, for apart from these two activities, they should do well in murder. I’ll tell you why.
The novice lawyers from Multan were caught when they killed a companion and hid his body in the forest. They had to do this 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, a traitor to the cause, has only to say that the man died of “virus filibusteris” or some such imaginary ailment, or due to excess of antiphlogistine in his blood, and the body will be given a decent burial.
Will engineers want to be left behind lawyers and doctors? How can they when otherwise they are the foremost in making money on the side? The very day they enter a job and start working, their honest old parents look forward eagerly to the son’s first motor car. And engineers are somehow so altruistic that if you don’t pay them salaries they don’t mind.
Also, engineers are so obsessed by the thought of public works that they just want to build and build and go on building. Right in the Mughal tradition of providing employment to thousands of people.
Being perfectionists, they construct a road one day and re-construct it again after three months, never being satisfied by the quality of the work. Same is their attitude towards public buildings like schools and hospitals.
Teachers, by their nature, are 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 purely by economic necessity they should have been the first to take to robbery and dacoity.
You see, lawyers and engineers and doctors are already termed as dacoits by unthinking people. I am sure they don’t do anything in the normal course of their professional duties to deserve that appellation. At least I have never been held up at pistol point by any of the three.
In contrast the poor teacher has always had a raw deal at the hands of cruel fate and an unsympathetic public.
The latter, instead of being grateful to him for keeping their children away from the harmful effects of modern education, treats him as something the cat has brought home. If anyone truly deserves a change of scene for the better, it is the teacher.
And do you think maulvis and pirs are going to keep out of the race while everybody else is collecting money by taking to crime as a side business, or even as a wholetime vocation? Certainly not. But let me keep them for some other day. They’ll need a whole column to themselves.
|© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007|