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DAWN - Opinion; March 14, 2007

March 14, 2007


All too familiar a scene

By Shamshad Ahmad

‘FURY said to a mouse that he met in the house, “Let us both go to law. I will prosecute you — Come, I’ll take no denial. We must have a trial; for really this morning, I’ve nothing to do.” Said the mouse to the cur: “Such a trial, dear sir, with no jury or judge, would be wasting our breath.” “I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,” Said cunning old Fury; I’ll try the whole cause and condemn you to death.’

—Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland

Another gauntlet has been thrown in the political minefield of our country. It is so déjà vu, and all too familiar a scene. But this time it is Pakistan’s judiciary, which for half a century was used to legitimise the infamous “doctrine of necessity” to keep the generals in power, and which now itself faces the “music” with its chief adjudicator “abruptly” sent home in an unceremonious and precipitous manner.

A television “whiz” kid from Lahore in an advocate’s “cloak” was apparently chosen to be the Trojan horse in this agonising drama. Remember the myth of a wooden horse devised by the Greeks after their abortive 10-year siege of Troy as a ruse and a ploy to enter the city and overpower the unsuspecting and celebrating Trojans? The gates of the wooden horse have since opened and the Greeks have landed. . The Constitution Avenue in Islamabad is filled with fresh smog. Alas, Pakistan is once again in the throes of a new crisis.

The man at the helm of the country’s apex court had allegedly been “in the line of fire” for some time, and now stands in the mouth of the cannon. The media says he is under house arrest and incommunicado to the outside world. Pakistan’s judiciary has been turned upside down strictly “in accordance with the Constitution.”

It is, however, the same constitution which has been trampled umpteen times in the past and is no more the same document as was adopted by an elected parliament of the country in 1973. Our constitution today is a magic basket with recipes for all tastes. Every one can use it as he likes.

The government now cites Article 209 to justify its action against the ousted Chief Justice which it claims it took according to the law for “misuse of authority.” The legal fraternity and political opponents of the government also cite the same article in support of their contention that the government acted “illegally and unconstitutionally.”

The said article of the Constitution is clear. If “on information received from the Supreme Judicial Council or from any other source, the President is of the opinion that a Judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court, is incapable of properly performing the duties of his or her office by reason of physical or mental incapacity; or may have been guilty of misconduct, the President shall direct the council to inquire into the matter.”

Any action against a judge including his or her removal from office can be taken only in accordance with the findings of the Supreme Judicial Council. It is unequivocally stated in this article that a judge of a superior court “shall not be removed from office except as provided by this Article.” The reference by the president to the Supreme Judicial Council is therefore within his prerogative, which he seems to have exercised on the advice of the prime minister. But there are serious questions being raised by the lawyers’ community on the procedure followed in this case including on composition of the council.

Things have been moving at an electronic pace as if someone was in haste. The announced Supreme Judicial Council has since held its first meeting within hours of the swearing-in of the new (acting) Chief Justice and after hearing the Attorney-general, scheduled the first hearing of the case yesterday (March 13).

Meanwhile, conflicting views are being expressed by government ministers on the one hand and independent legal experts including some of the former chief justices and judges on the other. While the government maintains it acted according to the law, most legal experts insist the president does not have the powers for suspension or making a judge “non-functional”.

Constitutional experts in their print and electronic media commentaries have been stressing that no action except filing of a reference in the Supreme Judicial Council could be taken by the president until the report of the council was presented. The matter which also involves the question of “constitutional trichotomy” obviously now rests with the Supreme Judicial Council, and hopefully the judicial process as envisaged in the Constitution will take its course rightfully.

The exact charges against the ousted Chief Justice have not been made public though speculations abound on whether these charges pertained primarily to the highly “controversial” letter written by a Lahore advocate or involved other more “serious” matters worthy of notice by the Supreme Judicial Council. The only other complaint so far made public was the statement by the Sindh chief minister expressing his “displeasure” with the Chief Justice in “certain” matters about which he claimed to have sent a complaint to the federal government.

The common feeling out there on the street today is that the present action against the Chief Justice was “politically motivated” rather than taken on the basis of any real “acts” of “commission or omission.” Nevertheless, since the matter is now sub judice before the highest legal and constitutional forum of the country, it would be premature and improper for any one to make any comment or judgement on this highly sensitive issue at this stage.

Whatever the nature of the alleged charges of “misconduct” or “misuse of authority” against the Chief Justice, it would perhaps be best to leave them to be probed and judged by the constitutional body in accordance with its constitutional mandate. Perhaps, this is also a godsend opportunity for the government to do some in-depth “soul-searching” and some “stock-taking” of its own patterns of governance in which “misuse of authority” is galore.

Gross abuse of power, frequent and protracted spells of military rule and poor and corrupt governance have not only cost us our entire independent statehood, but also left us with a dismal record of our "omissions and commissions" as a nation. Unsure of our future, we are still struggling through an identity crisis and personality “schizophrenia" tearing the nation apart with no common sense of purpose or unity.

It is time we as a nation did some soul-searching to restore Pakistan’s “raison d’etre” and to improve our image and standing in the comity of nations through a “civilianised” polity in which the “rule of law” reigns supreme. We must return to an authentic democratic order rooted in the will of the people, constitutional supremacy and institutional integrity.

For a country, domestically as unstable and unpredictable as ours, there can be not many choices. In today’s world, our options are limited. In the ultimate analysis, our problems are not external. Our problems are domestic. Putting our house in order is our topmost priority need. We need to overcome our domestic weaknesses through political reconciliation and national confidence-building.

It is also time to rethink our combative approach and to wind down baneful domestic hostilities and inter-institutional clashes. Force or coercion will solve no problems. Grievances must be addressed through constitutional, political and economic means. We cannot afford any more tragedies and national debacles. These are exceptional times warranting exceptional responses to our problems. We must avoid reaching points of no return.

Military operations in Balochistan and Waziristan are undermining the constitutional structure of our federation. Use of military power within a state and against its own people has never been an acceptable norm. It has often been proven as a recipe for intra-state implosions, a familiar scene in Africa. In our own country, we have had very bitter and tragic experiences in the past and must not repeat the same mistakes.

In the context of the issues that now seem to have cropped up in the current “constitutional” crisis, it would be highly desirable for the government to establish a high-powered judicial or statutory body to review the cases of “commission and omission” on the part of all “constitutional office-holders” and political and public officials in every branch of the government, executive, judiciary, legislature.

The bane of “misconduct” and “misuse of authority” is endemic to our entire system and must be addressed in a non-discriminatory manner. Corruption is most prevalent in our elitist and feudalised political class and civil-military establishment.

One hopes the conduct and practices of our public dignitaries holding constitutional offices including the prime minister and the president will also be reviewed to ensure that there is no more “misuse of authority” and actions prejudicial to the dignity of their high offices. These include use of official planes and transport as well as the whole security and protocol paraphernalia for attending private wedding ceremonies, spring festivals, golf championships and political party meetings.

The question of excessive protocol and security for VIP office-holders which is one of the stated “allegations” against the ousted Chief Justice needs to be rationalised and applied equally to the heads of executive, legislative and judiciary branches. If a prime minister or a chief minister can use a special plane and if an IG of a province can have a long motorcade, and if a corps commander can use a BMW, what is the fuss about the head of the judiciary?The “Marco Polo” culture at state expense needs to be given up. Pakistan’s problems are in Pakistan, not in Washington or New York or in London, Brussels or Davos. No heads of state or government anywhere in the world, not even of the most affluent G-8 countries are seen travelling around the globe with such frequency and flair.

Not a single penny of foreign investment, not an ounce of foreign goodwill and not an iota of Allah’s blessings seem to have come to our beleaguered country from countless state and official visits and umrah junkets undertaken with large entourages of political “spongers” and morally bankrupt state-paid “pilgrims.” Even their umrah robes to be worn in the House of Allah are provided at state expense. This is not only a blatant “abuse of authority” but also an abuse of the “faith” to which they all professedly claim to belong.

Amazing things happen in Pakistan. Federal secretaries and provincial chief secretaries have been rewarded for their “services” with the same facilities and benefits including residential plots at state expense as admissible to the army’s two and three-star generals. There could not be a worse case of abuse of power. This must be undone.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

Aversion to manual labour

By Hafizur Rahman

HERE is the government offering easy loans to young men to become artisans, craftsmen and small industrialists, but the problem is that when a boy passes his matriculation, he starts thinking that working with hands is beneath his dignity, even if his family is as poor as a church mouse. Our young people do not like to do labour — manual labour, that is — after being educated.

These are not my words (though I agree with them) but those of a speaker in a meeting organised by an NGO to promote literacy. The speaker was a government officer and belonged to the forest department.

Maybe this gentleman was not averse to manual labour in his youth, or maybe he has forgotten what he was like at the age of 15 when he did his matriculation. But I bet he wouldn’t be able to wield an axe if he was asked to do so now, his long involvement with forests notwithstanding. No self-respecting officer in Pakistan can fix a blown fuse or hammer in a nail without smashing his thumb.

Some years ago when the Punjab governor was to give away degrees at the convocation of the University of Engineering and Technology, the graduates made a fuss about accepting them. They wanted jobs instead. Their slogan was that a degree did not offer better prospects to the educated than the sale of petty goods on a handcart.

The governor could have asked the boys, “Then what about selling things on a handcart till you get an engineering job?” But he didn’t because the graduates would have taken that as an insult.

But, one may ask, what is wrong for a graduate in pushing handcarts and selling fresh vegetables or toys and trinkets? If they were to sell the latter in Lahore’s Anarkali Bazaar and were smartly dressed, I’m sure they could land a nice match, if not a good job, provided the fact of their being B.Sc (Engineering) was prominently displayed on the handcart. The prospective father-in-law is not likely to be fussy about the boy being jobless. After all a job is not as difficult to find as a suitable match for a daughter.

Last year again graduates of the Engineering University and those from the Punjab University paraded in protest on The Mall displaying similar scorn for degrees and clamouring for jobs. Most of them, if interviewed on television, could give you a very convincing homily on the dignity of manual labour, quoting profusely from the life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his sayings to strengthen their arguments.

However, in actual life they find manual labour demeaning. They will prefer to be paid Rs3,000 per month as a white collar worker than take home at least a hundred rupees every day by selling ‘aloo chhole’, a favourite dish of most Pakistanis. Incidentally they contemptuously referred to this possibility during their demonstration with the slogan, “Degree lai ke aloo chhole vecho!”

The great thing about an educated young man going round with a handcart is that he needs no sifarish or an uncle in a high place to be able to do that. The financial outlay too is not much. All that you need is the will to work with your hands and to shed false notions of prestige.

On the other hand, a matriculate has to beg and cajole, and sometimes bribe, to be placed in a berth suitable to his “family’s respectable status,” although he may not have the required academic qualification. He honestly believes that everything is possible if you have someone influential to back you in your quest for a job. This reminds me of an incident. It is not an anecdote but a true story and I can swear to its veracity.

Long ago when Mian Mumtaz Daultana was chief minister of Punjab, his minister for food and civil supplies was subjected to great pressure to appoint a matriculate as an assistant food controller for which the basic qualification was B.A. The minister was a gentleman of integrity but could not resist the pressure of his voters. So he wrote thus on a young man’s case:

“Mr So-and-so is known to me since his childhood. He is very intelligent and belongs to a respectable family with a history of service to the Muslim League. Because of adverse circumstances he could not complete his college education. I am positive that if he had continued his studies he would have been a B.A. by now. Condition of academic qualification is hereby waived. Appointed.”

It was heartening to see that this one lone incident in the Dultana regime was a frequent occurrence when Manzoor Wattoo and Arif Nakai were chief ministers. Educational qualifications were waived without hesitation to accommodate nephews and sons-in-law in lucrative jobs.

Matriculates and graduates, reluctant to do manual labour, should take heart from the example of the retired deputy secretary of the federal government for whom I have great respect. Some years ago, in order to supplement his meagre income, he began selling ‘nihari’ (another delicacy favoured by many) in Islamabad’s Aabpara Market. I salute him because he had the guts and honesty to admit that he could only do that.

This was an odd and rare case because deputy secretaries who retire in Islamabad always have a plot or two up their sleeves, and some have been known to be possessing palatial commercial buildings. This ‘nihari’ man must be a no-gooder as deputy secretary if he couldn’t look after his days of retirement.

It is a national boast with us that none of our ancestors ever did a menial work and always lived off the fat of the land. Also that our forefathers came from Samarkand or Bukhara and were well-known figures in history and didn’t have to work for a living. Because of this illusion, we all believe that we are simply not made for manual labour, nor is it made for us.

Killing education reforms

By Zubeida Mustafa

EARLY this year, education in Pakistan appeared to be on the verge of experiencing a change of a positive kind . But this may not happen now. Those who control power are actively opposed to reforms though they will never acknowledge it publicly. Hence they go through elaborate motions of bringing about a change without actually changing anything.

One has to see what is happening in Islamabad to understand why education reforms can be written off now. When the Musharraf government announced in 2005 — was it under American pressure? — that a new education policy was to be introduced, one did not attach much importance to it.

After all every government that has stayed in office long enough has deemed it a matter of political prestige to announce reforms in the education sector. Pakistan has been rich in policies — 10 so far — but poor in education. But one had to take notice when the process of reform was halfway through and it became plain that this time things were moving in a different direction.

The federal education minister, a retired lieutenant-general and an ex-ISI chief, seemingly wanted to adopt the correct process to produce results. He set about appointing a national education policy review team in September 2005 and Javed Hassan Aly, who had just then retired as a federal secretary, was appointed as its head. Mr Aly modestly laid no claims to expertise in education but he certainly had knowledge and experience of public policy formulation and management processes. That more than compensated for Mr Aly’s lack of experience in the education sector.

The team undertook a “comprehensive process of consultations and pursued a structured methodology” to quote from the White Paper that this exercise ultimately produced. For over 15 months the team consulted eminent experts, invited feedback, conducted studies on previous policies, held discussions with the provincial authorities, visited various districts and wrote 23 Green Papers on different issues. After this exercise a White Paper was produced in December 2006 which was again laid before the public (vide inviting recommendations and suggestions.

After another round of consultations the White Paper was revised and many changes that were suggested were incorporated in it. This document is intended to form the basis of the education policy that Mr Aly had hoped would be announced by the end of March. Following that the strategy of implementation was to be worked out.

Before this could happen, the news came from Islamabad that Javed Hassan Aly had resigned. What is more disturbing is that there are indications that he has pulled out because of differences with the federal minister. The rumours doing the rounds are that the two differed on the approach adopted by the National Education Policy review team. The fact is that for the first time in Pakistan’s history a major policy was being formulated through a participatory and open process. But this has never pleased those who stride the corridors of power because when public participation is invited the policymakers resent it as they feel it inhibits their freedom of action.

It was plain that the education minister, who has obviously been accustomed to running his outfit with a free hand, felt that transparency in policy formulation was restricting his options. Even after the White Paper had been released, General Javed Ashraf Qazi was announcing policy changes which contradicted the recommendations of the White Paper. The message was clear. The education minister had already decided the policy and the entire review exercise meant nothing to him.

Javed Hassan Aly’s departure from the education scene is a great loss to transparent and participatory policymaking. There are some lessons which emerge from this sad episode. The voices from the provinces cry themselves hoarse when demanding provincial autonomy. But where they have the opportunity to make themselves heard they prefer to keep silent. Thus only Punjab and the NWFP governments sent in their feedback to the White Paper. The Sindh and the Balochistan education departments did not bother to respond.

Two months after it had been sent to him, the federal education secretary himself had not read the White Paper. We have no way of knowing what the response was from the stakeholders — the education experts, parents, school managers and so on. The ministry’s website shows 71,269 hits at the time of writing but only 2,057 browsers went to the White Paper site of which just a handful would have read the document.

One positive departure was to be a document detailing the strategy for implementation giving the targets to be realised every year. With the White Paper’s approach so down to earth and practical, the policy was expected to be implemented this time. For instance, while recognising the need for higher financial investments in education the document bluntly states “the current capacity does not promise absorption of such an outlay immediately” (four per cent of GDP as promised by the government). Hence it insists that in the next two years the capacity must be developed to absorb increased investments in education which must planned in a timeframe of eight to 10 years and should be in the range of six per cent of GDP. This increase in outlays “must be made gradual with capacity development as a conditional precedent”.

Further planning of detailed implementation would require a substantial input from the provincial and district governments since projections to be realistic must be based on hard and accurate data. That unfortunately has not been forthcoming. This apathy, indifference and actual opposition to some sensible recommendations has ensured that the education policy will be nipped in the bud.

What will this effectively mean? The masses in Pakistan will continue to be denied good education. The elites who benefit from the current approach will continue to become more and more educated, more and more privileged, and as a result richer and richer. Thus the class divide will continue to grow. This will ensure the failure of democracy, the growth of autocracy, the enhancement of socio-economic injustice and an increase in instability in the country.

Chirac bows out

PERHAPS the best thing that can be said about whoever ends up winning the French presidency this spring is that it won't be Jacques Chirac. The second best thing is that it won't be anybody from the ossified political establishment that has governed France for more than a quarter of a century, first under the 14-year term of Francois Mitterrand and then the 12-year grind of Chirac.

After months of speculation, Chirac finally announced Sunday that he won't appear on the ballot when voters go to the polls April 22. About the nicest political obituary the European media could come up with was that he has been a persistent thorn in the side of President Bush.

Chirac was a stubborn and outspoken opponent of the Iraq invasion who turned out to be entirely correct on one prediction: He warned that it would be a quagmire, and indeed it is. He hasn't been right about much else.

Chirac leaves office with his country enjoying a slightly lower unemployment rate than it had when he took over in 1995, though it is still among the highest in Europe. Economic growth has been sluggish, and the French national debt has ballooned. His ferocious opposition to meaningful change in Europe's notoriously wasteful agricultural supports has helped stall progress in global trade liberalization, helping keep the developing world mired in poverty.

Chirac's lack of discernible foreign policy convictions beyond needling the US "hyper-power" has damaged France's international reputation and hampered critical peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and Lebanon. Even his major accomplishments — helping with the creation and expansion of the European Union — were besmirched by his political bullying of new Central European members, his insistence on turning Brussels governance into a French patronage system and his resounding failure to persuade his citizens to approve the EU Constitution in 2005. As former Socialist Prime Minister Laurent Fabius said Monday: "In relation to the major problems facing France and Europe, it was a presidency of wasted time."

The changing of the guard in France, while encouraging, may yet be more about style than substance. Front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy's free-trade rhetoric and tough-on-crime bona fides sound encouraging, but there are questions about his authoritarianism and real ability to pare back the sclerotic state. Segolene Royal paints herself as a political outsider, yet if not for the novelty of her gender, she's a prototypical Socialist bureaucrat. The dark-horse candidate, fast-rising Francois Bayrou, has positioned himself as the non-establishment centrist.

None of the three candidates are Chirac's anointed successor, though the president is expected to eventually give his grudging support to Sarkozy. But any one of them would almost certainly be an improvement. —Los Angeles Times

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007