DAWN - Opinion; May 06, 2007

06 May 2007

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Insightful and rewarding

By Anwar Syed


DURING my visit to Pakistan last year, an old friend invited me to speak at the Lahore School of Economics, an autonomous, degree-granting private university. At the end of my presentation, the rector, Dr Shahid Amjad Chaudhry, took me to lunch and, as we partook of a fine meal, he invited me to teach a course of my choosing at his institution for a semester, if not longer.

Following my return home and a few phone calls back and forth, I agreed to teach politics of Pakistan for the spring semester of 2007.

Having completed that mission, I should like to share with readers my impressions and feelings. I taught at the school’s main campus, located in beautiful countryside, some 20 miles out of the city, on a road that goes to a small town called Burki.

It is unlike any university campus that I have ever seen. It has an auditorium and a couple of large buildings that house its libraries. The administrative offices, classrooms, a hostel for women, and housing for visiting faculty are located in a series of structures that look like small and quaint brick cottages.

The campus is spread out with acres of playgrounds, green lawns and walkways where peacocks, spreading out their splendid wings, roam around. Trees abound and so do all kinds of singing birds.

The student body at this campus consists of about 2,000 of whom the majority are women. Considering the high tuition rates, it may be assumed that most of the students here come from affluent homes. They are well dressed and look attractive. But they are also a diverse lot.

I saw men wearing beards and traditional native clothing, and others who were clean shaven and dressed in western attire. I saw women wearing the “hijab” and women wearing sleeveless blouses and pants or jeans. Yet, I saw none denigrating any who maintain their own distinctive lifestyles.

This is essentially a school of economics and business management. Of late schools in this league have tended to include courses in the humanities and social sciences in their curriculum. Student interest in these fields is understandably peripheral and most of the courses in them are elective, not required.

The class I taught consisted of 13 MSc and MPhil students. This was, on the whole, a gratifying experience for me. Until then politics for them had been no more than a passing topic of disparaging chit-chat in the cafeteria. But as the course proceeded they became interested, began to ask questions and generate discussion. Some of them challenged my interpretations, which made me happy.

Judging by the grades they received at the end of the semester, it may be said that they all did reasonably well. Beyond their academic performance, they were a very pleasant, indeed a charming, group to interact with.

The rector at the Lahore School is unlike any top academic administrator that I have ever known, and I have known quite a few of them. Learned and cultivated, he is a “gentleman of the old school,” who has seen a great deal of the world. He governs with affection more than strictness. He is kind to the school’s employees, as well as students, sensitive to their needs and problems, and generous almost to a fault. Yet his governance is a model of efficiency and effective.

He has chosen his assistants with great care. Ms Romana Noor, a senior deputy registrar, runs the academic side of things in a most competent fashion. Then there is my good friend, Cecil Joseph, who manages the physical plant and the workforce. Under his supervision “operations” proceed like Swiss clockwork. Notwithstanding his stern bearing, he is capable of good humour and can be engaging company when he is so inclined.

That should do for my experience at the Lahore School of Economics. Not only academic institutions but smaller groups of individuals (mostly retired civil servants) invited me to their clubs to discuss issues of concern to them: what the future held for Musharraf and his uniform, Benazir Bhutto’s career, the “non-functional” chief justice of Pakistan.I was not able to address their questions definitively, or even to my own satisfaction, because I did not fully know the answers. I could offer no more than intelligent and reasoned speculation on any of these matters.

We know that General Musharraf would like to be president for another five-year term and remain the army chief at the same time. But that is only his wish, which may not be the proverbial “horse” he can ride. The legislative authorisation for him to keep both offices will expire on November 15, 2007.

We cannot take it for granted that parliament will pass another bill authorising him to keep his uniform during a second term as president (2007-2012). In case he gives up his army post, the courts may hold that he is ineligible to contest the election for the president’s office. Again, if he gives up his army post, the electoral college (the national and the four provincial assemblies) may not re-elect him.

Any number of persons may run for that office and one of them, other than a former army chief, may come out as the winner. Thus, it is hard to predict what General Musharraf will, or will not, be able to do after his present term expires.

There may not be a “deal” between General Musharraf and Ms Benazir Bhutto at this time. But it is clear that she wants one. She says she is prepared to “work” with the general, and that cooperation between them is a “necessity” for Pakistan. She is beginning to be ambivalent on the subject of his uniform.

One gets the impression that she is getting ready to desert Mr Nawaz Sharif and accept an arrangement with Musharraf even if he decides to keep his army post during a second term. Such a course of action will lower her in public esteem. But she says she is more concerned with the restoration of democracy than she is with her standing in public opinion. It is not known how her “cooperation” with the general will restore democracy.

Ms Bhutto does not want to be a junior partner in a coalition led by PML-Q. She believes that if this party were to be returned to power, “creeping Talibanisation” of the country would continue. She claims that she will put an end to this process if her party comes to power. (Once again an unlikely outcome of an improbable event). She wants Musharraf to break his connection with PML-Q and adopt the PPP instead.But she suspects also that Musharraf has made the “strategic” decision to continue sponsoring extremists in Pakistan to convince the Americans that all would be lost if they were to withdraw their support from him. One may wonder why then she wants to work with him.

In a fair and honest election, which is what she demands, PML-Q will probably lose quite a few seats in the National Assembly, that it had secured in 2002, to PML-N, especially in Punjab. In my reckoning the PPP, relying on its own devices, will win no more than 100 seats in a House of some 340 members.

In other words, it will have to look for several coalition partners to be able to form a government. PML-Q will not want to be its junior partner in a coalition. Nor will the Islamic parties, or even the PML-N if by that time her conciliatory advances to Musharraf have alienated Mr Sharif, which is quite likely to be the case. It will be hard for Ms Bhutto to find allies unless the general, if he is still around, finds them for her, in which case she will owe her office to him and have to be accordingly subservient. What good will the office then be?

Consider another problem. The Constitution in its present version disqualifies her for the prime minister’s office because she has held it twice before. The relevant provision will have to be repealed if she is to have her way. I doubt that the two thirds parliamentary majority required to pass another constitutional amendment will materialise if the purpose is mainly to satisfy Ms Bhutto’s ambition.

The case of the “non-functional” Chief Justice is just as weird. His counsel says Article 209 does not authorise the president to file a reference against a sitting Chief Justice. But this article does not forbid him to do so. In many political systems that which the constitution does not forbid is deemed to be allowed.

The office of the chief executive in most countries has implied and inherent powers beyond those specified in the constitution. That the charges against Justice Chaudhry may be bogus is besides the point. It is wrong to assume that the Constitution and law in Pakistan allow no recourse against a Chief Justice who may in fact be guilty of wrongdoing.

Article 209 requires the president to refer the matter to the Supreme Judicial Council if he has reason to believe that a judge of the Supreme Court has been guilty of misconduct. I don’t think it can be argued that the word “judge” in this article does not apply to the Chief Justice.

Surely he is a judge in addition to being the administrative head of his court. He sits with other judges to hear cases, and his opinion in that capacity carries no more weight than that of any other judge on the bench. As Chief Justice he is no more than “primus inter pares” (first among equals).

Article 209 provides also that if a member of the Supreme Judicial Council is himself the accused in a case being enquired into, the judge next to him in seniority will replace him on the Council. That is why Justice Bhagwandas, next in seniority to Justice Chaudhry, the accused, is currently chairing the Council.

The writer is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, US.
anwarsyed@cox.net

The wrangle over teaching jobs

By Kunwar Idris


DR Hamida Khuhro has been Sindh’s education minister since 2003. In her four years, she has seen off four secretaries of the department and the current fifth holder of the post, Sabhago Khan Jatoi, may not be there for long either.

Worth contemplating here for a moment is what Mr Jinnah told an audience of civil servants at Peshawar in April 1948 “…ministers come and go but you stay on, and, therefore, a very great responsibility is placed on your shoulders.”

Contrary to what the founder of the country thought and wished, in Sindh’s education department secretaries come and go but the minister stays on. The “very great responsibility” therefore is also now the minister’s. Hamida Khuhro is not your usual political minister. She is the daughter of a freedom fighter and a Ph.D.

Past secretaries were all career civil servants and so is the present incumbent. The tenure of a secretary’s posting in a department is normally three years unless it is cut short for some extraordinary reason. It is somewhat puzzling that the chief reason for the quick departure of the previous four education secretaries was no other than their inability to get along with Dr Khuhro. So would it be if the fifth one were also to leave.

Sindh’s education department is thus working contrary to the principle Mr Jinnah had enunciated 59 years ago and also against all other norms of good governance. But this is now true, by and large, of all departments in all governments.

In the event of a conflict between the minister and the secretary, responsibility is either divided or disowned by both in mutual recrimination. The rules of business provide a sure and easy way to resolve differences of opinion between the two: the file is sent up to the chief minister who may agree with one or the other or suggest a third course.

This rule is seldom invoked by secretaries these days for fear of precipitating their transfer — more likely being made an OSD — if the minister is acting with the consent of the chief minister, or even at his behest but without directly involving him, which is usually the case.

How seriously a persistent disagreement between the bureaucrats and the politicians can hamper the delivery of services to the people is best illustrated by a report on primary education recently published in this paper. For want of teachers, almost one-third of primary school buildings in Nawabshah district (738 out of a total of 2,109), the report said, are being used as drawing rooms or barns of landlords.

Nawabshah lies in the heart of agricultural Sindh and every part of this district can be reached by road or rail by inspectors, nazims and ministers. The situation in more distant and backward districts is worse. The number of school buildings lying in disuse or put to the wrong use in the whole province is, however, said to be of the same order as in Nawabshah.

Under the local government laws which, along with the Police Order, form the crux of General Musharraf’s devolution plan, schools — both for boys and girls — are now a subject of the district government. Yet thousands of schools in Nawabshah and elsewhere have become a part of the homesteads of landlords because of a long-running argument at provincial and party headquarters on the criteria and procedure for the recruitment of teachers in which the district governments had but little say.

The process of selection and the merit ranking of individual candidates have been vitiated time and again by an overriding temptation to use the 25,000 vacant posts of teachers as an instrument of patronage. But the existence of vacancies in the thousands now shows that an agreement has not been easy to come by among the contending parties on how this patronage is to be shared.

Maybe the government can now be persuaded to agree to give to the army of restive, unemployed youth an equal chance on merit. It is only the residue of the educated youth who, having tried, fail to get any other job and are resigned to becoming school teachers. The appointing authorities might be giving a fatal push to our crumbling educational system if they were not to pick the best even from the residual pool.

School teachers in our oriental tradition are held in esteem, and the good ones among them are remembered by their pupils for a lifetime. Abdus Salam, when he went to India to receive an honorary degree from Guru Nanak University, took pains to meet the teacher who had taught him mathematics at the Jhang rural school. He put his Nobel medal around the teacher’s neck for, indeed, he had laid the foundation on which Salam later built up his theory of forces at Cambridge and Imperial College, London.

The fading generation of our poets, politicians, bureaucrats, clerics and scientists all had their first lessons in schools run in colonial times by municipalities and district boards or by a community or parochial organisation. It is to our lasting shame that the schools now run by the governments with much bigger resources have been made into a refuge of last resort for political vagabonds and ignoramuses.

The Sindh government can set an example by filling all the 25,000 vacancies of the teachers on merit — nothing but merit — to make its schools as they used to be — places where young minds were honed and characters shaped.

The French choice

IT'S not often that US policymakers have a clear favourite in a French presidential election. Usually even the most palatable candidate is someone like outgoing President Jacques Chirac, who defines his foreign policy agenda mostly by the ways it is opposed to that of the United States.One of the candidates in Sunday's election, Socialist Segolene Royal, fits that mould: "I am not for a Europe than aligns with the US," she bluntly declared in a television appearance last week. But Ms Royal's opponent, Nicolas Sarkozy, is different, at least in attitude. He is openly admiring of the United States; in a visit to Washington last year he impressed both the White House and leading Democrats with his interest in improving French-American relations.

If Washington is quietly rooting for Mr Sarkozy, who has a slight lead in the polls, it is not alone. The 52-year-old Hungarian-born rightist would be a natural partner for German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the likely new British prime minister, Gordon Brown, both of whom want to strengthen economic and strategic ties between Europe and the United States. As important, Mr Sarkozy would be far more likely to undertake the economic reforms that France desperately needs if it is to avoid falling further behind its principal partners in an era defined by globalisation.

Because it has shunned steps that Britain, the Netherlands and even Germany have taken to make their economies more competitive, France's economic position has steadily declined. In a quarter century it has tumbled from seventh to 17th in global rankings of income per capita. Mr Sarkozy understands the reasons: a bloated public sector, ever-rising government spending and a mandatory 35-hour work week that the candidate rightly calls a catastrophe. If Mr Sarkozy has been cautious about talking about remedies -- he has promised to ease overtime restrictions and cut taxes – Ms Royal has made it clear she would worsen the sclerosis. She has promised tens of billions of dollars in new spending on social programs without explaining where the money would come from.

Mr Sarkozy's greatest weakness is his poisonous relations with France's Muslims, including the millions of poor who are isolated in grim suburbs around Paris and other big cities. In another break from French political orthodoxy, Mr Sarkozy has advocated affirmative action measures to help poor minority youths get educations and jobs. But his tough response to rioting in the slums -- he talked about cleaning up "scum" with a power hose -- has made him a hated figure for many young Muslims. Some fear he would be greeted by new unrest early in his term.

Finding ways to defuse the growing alienation of the Muslim minority may turn out to be the next president's biggest challenge. But it is more likely to be solved if France's economy can be turned around and its chronically high unemployment rate brought down. Mr Sarkozy would have a far better chance of pulling that off than would Ms Royal. If he turned out to be a better friend to the United States than previous French presidents, that would be a valuable bonus.

— The Washington Post



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