A movement for reform

By Touqir Hussain

WE have had popular movements in the past but was the latest one triggered by the “judicial crisis” any different? Let us explore this question. Three outstanding articles, by Anwar Syed and Kunwar Idris (July 8) and an earlier one by Masud Mufti have gone to the heart of the issues involved. I hope my contribution carries forward their profound analysis.

A complex of forces embracing a whole spectrum of political persuasions have often joined hands in the past to seek democratic rule in Pakistan, like this movement was trying to do, but these succeeded in achieving no more than a regime change. The system lived on.

The fact is that we have never had a truly democratic government. We have had either civilian or military governments or sometimes a hybrid of the two. The civilian governments were not all that democratic nor were the military regimes so undemocratic. And the hybrid ones were no better than half democracies.

It is pointless to debate whether the army or the politicians have been responsible for Pakistan’s stillborn democracy. The fact is that democracy would not have failed without their partnership. When Lincoln called democracy the government of the people, by the people and for the people, he basically meant a system of government that empowered the people. But unfortunately, “democracy” in Pakistan, whether of political lineage or genetically modified by the army, has only empowered the already empowered. And it has become a government of them, by them and for them.

Pakistani democracy has been a function of its regressive social order, obsolescent political structures and a skewed balance and distribution of power. Politics has been a three-way struggle for power. The three principal actors have been politicians in and politicians out of power and the army. The mullahs held the balance of power while bureaucracy served as an instrument of power.

Because of their facility for stirring agitation, the mullahs were used by the army to destabilise political governments. The latter themselves courted the mullahs to bolster their governance. Pakistani politics became a monopoly. The army, the politicians and the mullahs, aided by the bureaucracy and a pliant judiciary, only needed each other to come to power and did not have to court the public or fear its accountability. This naturally led to unresponsive and poor governance.

As each of the major players in this elitist politics, monopolised by dominant social groups, scrambled for power, the process of destabilisation of governments became unending. In this struggle, the institutions were progressively degraded. Each government undermined them and passed on to its successor an improved “tool box” to manipulate them. All this further damaged the quality of governance.

As the institutions crumbled and became adjuncts to centres of power, the rule of law and social stability were weakened and preyed on by the forces of extremism. The state lacked the political will, moral authority and effective instruments of law and order. The worst affected were the weak and vulnerable strata of society lacking both physical and economic security.

Over the years, this generated an enormous amount of frustration and anger in the country in every segment of society. The liberal intelligentsia protested in the name of freedom and progress, and the weak and vulnerable masses could do no more than despair and contemplate extreme and illusionary avenues to empowerment, swayed as they were by ideologues, demagogues and political opportunists. The national purpose yielded to illusions, emotions and passion for dangerous causes. And the nation paid a heavy price.

So it is not one stakeholder or institution that is responsible for all this. If the politicians really wanted the army to get off their backs the only way they could have done this was by out-performing them like in Turkey. This they never did. The two prime ministers — one in the 1970s, the other in the 1990s — who ostensibly tried to put the army in its place were in reality doing no such thing. By having generals of their own choice whom they thought were apolitical they were not aiming to sideline the army but to have it on their side. They acquiesced in the army’s role as long as it was on their behalf. But it did not work.

In the event, the politicians ended up with lame excuses that they could not perform because of the dominant role of the army; and the army relied on excessive savaging of the politicians and civilians to find a rationale for its appropriation of power. So they both needed each other as an alibi and a pretext. They were allies as well as rivals. This has been the paradox of Pakistan’s politics.

Seen from a historical perspective both the army and the feudal class have been united in the common pursuit of strengthening themselves and their institutional interests. Indeed, their identities fluctuate and often merge imperceptibly.

While the ruling elite only looked after itself, the country’s problems of governance and national cohesion continued to mount over the decades. The common man has remained deprived and disempowered despite the fact the country has registered great economic growth in recent years. But prosperity, even if it is real, does not help a country’s fundamental problems.

The challenges that Pakistan faces such as ethno-linguistic divisions, sectarian conflicts, competing visions of national identity, cultural wars, existential struggles between extremism and moderation, civil-military tensions and tussle between the centre and provinces, and above all, the stranglehold of feudalism and the civil-military bureaucracy are not susceptible to resolution by prosperity.

So what is the solution? Masud Mufti in his excellent article has proposed the formation of a new political party. I doubt if it will work. To succeed, such parties have to latch themselves to a system.

That is how Mr Bhutto’s PPP succeeded in coming to power. In fact, he hitched his wagon to three systems. He drove a feudal wagon wearing a Mao cap and picked up the mullah as a conductor on the way. PPP became Personality, Populism and Patronage, a roadmap that has been in use ever since except that populism has changed its idiom to a religious one with far more disastrous results.

What we need is a reform movement not a political party that should address the fundamental issues confronting Pakistan. What is required is a national re-awakening like the ones that brought about the Meiji Restoration in Japan and launched the Chinese reform movement around the beginning of the 20th century.

America had its own equivalent of sorts in the Progressive Movement. The issues and the context were different from ours but there was a common thread which may have some relevance for us. These were movements led by great patriots and men of learning who had higher purposes in mind and fought for great ideas. They were not politicians, at least not initially.

The reform movement should be apolitical. Yet it would need political action to have an impact. This could happen if the movement becomes a pressure group influential enough to leverage the politicians in power.

The current age of globalisation and information revolution makes it easy for its message to get across and mobilise the people. Fortunately, the media and civil society, that until the age of Internet, satellite TV, globalisation and mass politics, often flirted with the centres of power, are now recovering their autonomy, vibrancy and great potential to be agents of change. They can be aided by Pakistanis abroad, especially the web-connected young generation.

The movement should not fight just for democracy in abstract terms but for conditions that make democracy possible. The need is to reform the social structure and education, combat intolerance and extremism and find a new national purpose and concept of our place in the world — indeed a “new organising idea”.

Only in this favourable environment can one lay the foundation of the democratic ideals of social justice, liberal constitutionalism, the empowerment of people, minorities and smaller provinces, and facilitate the emergence of a Pakistan at ease with its religion and at peace with itself, its neighbours and the outside world.

It is simplistic to think that with free, fair and inclusive elections, democracy will have arrived and will set Pakistan on the road to achieving all this. Electoral democracy does not achieve anything; it is governance that matters. If it rests on democratic ideals and institutions it can lead to a just and progressive society.

Given the gravity of the challenges that we face, the struggle is going to be collective, long and hard. It will need the cooperation and understanding of all stakeholders. Failure is not an option this time round, otherwise we will leave the field clear for the extremists who are already seducing the despairing population with dangerous and subversive recipes of change.

The primacy of civilian rule is a must. But what happens afterwards will determine the future of democracy and of Pakistan itself. Hopefully, the upcoming elections will open up the political process providing a favourable context for the reform movement to act as a pressure group. It has happened in history that the reform agenda in due course gets claimed by the ruling elite under pressure in the interest of its own political survival accelerating the process of change. I remain hopeful.

Pakistan is not a lost cause. Though it has suffered from poor leadership for much of its history, the nation seems to have a great resilience, a strong will to survive, and a faith-based sense of optimism and exceptionalism. Given the enormity of the self-inflicted damage to the country even survival has been a great achievement.

The writer is a visiting scholar at George Washington University.
Email: thussain@gwu.edu

Ill-gotten gains

By Hafizur Rahman


SUCCESSIVE governments in Pakistan go on asserting that illegally acquired wealth garnered by corrupt elements, particularly public servants, will be recovered from them. They will not be allowed to enjoy this haraam ka maal. But how will this be accomplished, even they don’t know.

This exercise, if ever undertaken, is going to have another dimension. Who will supervise the actual recovery of the illegal money? Will it be government servants who are themselves guilty of such accumulations? Or will the work be looked after by the superior courts? Or will the government just beg the “thieves and robbers” to have pity on the nation and make voluntary deporsits in the State Bank of Pakistan? Or, as a last resort, will the army have to do the needful?

I asked my friend Ansari who is a big shot in the federal government what he thought was going to happen. Ansari laughed so loudly that he nearly split his sides open. “Where do you think you come from?” he asked between fits of laughter, “from Utopia?”

“My dear fellow,” he said, “You don’t have to take everything that every prime minister and president says seriously. For example, listen to some recent statements. Any hand that goes for the throat of the poor will be cut to pieces. Anyone sabotaging the government’s welfare policies will be crushed. Those raising the prices of everyday commodities with be dealt like criminals.”

“Then” continued Ansari, “culprits guilty of heinous crimes will be awarded exemplary punishments. Any eye looking at Pakistan with malicious intent will be wrenched out of its socket. And so on and on, ad nauseum. These threats mean nothing. Are you going to believe all this crap about getting illegal earnings back?”

Ansari seemed to be talking sense. He went on and said, “You know I am not the most honest government officer. I am not yet a billionaire but give me a chance and I will certainly become one. I should like to see anyone trying to take away a single teddy paisa from me.”

For my benefit, he sketched out a scenario of the possible efforts that the government could make to get the so-called ill-gotten gains from the so-called black sheep. A separate organisation would have to be set up, perhaps named as the Directorate General of Retrieval of Illegal Money (RIM). This would be welcomed most of all by government officers themselves since it would provide them with new jobs and the clout to extort bribes. Of course it wouldn’t be easy to get a posting in RIM, for everyone might not be able to afford it. There will be a great rush with officers wanting to be transferred to RIM even from such lucrative departments as Customs, Police, Income Tax and the Coast Guards.

Let us imagine (mused Ansari), that on any one day the DG of RIM is having a meeting with his many directors in charge of various departments whose members are alleged to have gathered in a good harvest. He asks one of them, “Well, Director, what is the latest from that Customs fellow? Is he going to cough up? Don’t forget that he has made at least fifty million in the last two years.”

“Sir, he has promised to cooperate,” reports the director. “He will deposit twenty million in the treasury and contribute ten million towards the RIM employees’ welfare fund.”

“Mind you, Director, he is a slippery customer. Don’t be taken in by his whining and his tears. Apply the screw and see how much can be got out of him.” The director assures him that he will not be sparing. “I have made sure, sir, that he won’t have more than twenty million left with him to live on, till of course he is again able to make up fifty million.”

After queries about various other officers who have worked in money-making departments the DG asks about the deputy director working under him in RIM on deputation from the Central PWD. The director tells him that the man has agreed to pay five million into the state coffers as “a peace offering,” or hush money, as it is called.

“Good,” says the DG, and since he is in a happy mood for some reason, he teases the director, “And what about yourself? What are you going to give up?”

“Sir, I was transferred here from Radio Pakistan. I don’t know how or why. What do you expect a former radio man to give up? However, I remember that once I had claimed false TA, and, on another occasion, in a weak moment, I had pocketed the payment meant for Ustad Nanhe Khan, the sitar maestro. These two amounts I have deposited in the treasury. The total comes to 530 rupees only.”

“I know, I know,” says the boss sympathetically. “But never mind. I’ll see that you are compensated for your miserable days in Radio Pakistan. We’ll look after you here.”

There is a pause. The director (ex-Radio) coughs discreetly and says, “Sir, if you don’t mind, sir, may I ask a question?” “Yes, yes by all means,” chirps the DG. “After all how will you learn if you don’t ask questions.”“Sir,” says the director hesitantly, “Since you were attached for two years with the Desert Rangers to prevent smuggling on the border with India, are you also thinking of giving up something?”

“Shut up, director, and mind your own business. In future never speak out of turn.”

All this was Ansari and my imagination. But it can’t be far from reality. Why don’t the powers-that-be stop making promises that can never be translated into action? When senior officers who made billions continue to be given important assignments or are allowed to leave the country, what do you expect? All that one can say is: thieves can’t make thieves disgorge their unlawful earnings.

A grim outlook for labour

By Zubeida Mustafa

RECENTLY Piler, which has been conducting useful research on labour issues, released its latest report titled Denial and Discrimination: Labour Rights in Pakistan. Written by Zeenat Hisam, this report sheds light on the labour sector in the country and provides valuable information for those looking into the status of workers and how the labour movement is faring.

What is most striking about labour rights in Pakistan today is the wide gap between constitutional provisions and legal obligations on the one hand and the situation on the ground on the other. If one looks up the Constitution and the ILO conventions to which Pakistan is a signatory, the impression — false of course — one gets is that the workers in this country have never had it so good.

Five articles in the Constitution specifically provide for labour-centric rights. They prohibit forced labour and child labour; provide for the right to form unions; ensure the right of a citizen to work and choose his profession; speak of equality before law; and provide for humane conditions of work.

Pakistan has also signed and ratified 35 labour conventions that oblige the government to adopt laws to ensure that the workers’ rights are duly protected. In that case, one needs to ponder why the status of labour in Pakistan is so dismal.

What is of greater concern is that the situation is gradually deteriorating and there is little hope that matters will improve in the coming years. Piler’s report paints a grim picture of what is happening on this front. The issue is closely related to politics — the progress towards a democratic dispensation — and the state of the economy. On both scores there is little to give rise to hope. Given the struggle for power that we are witnessing today one cannot expect Pakistan to be converted into a representative constitutional state where human rights are guaranteed — the victory of the judiciary in the Chief Justice’s reference case notwithstanding. Not only are the existing laws not implemented, many of them are trampled upon by powerful rulers.

Take the case of labour laws. Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 and the ILO convention on child labour in 2001 and adopted the Employment of Children Act 1991 that banned the employment of children in 29 (later increased to 34) hazardous occupations.

Today Pakistan has 3.06 million child workers as compared to 2.12 million 10 years ago and many of them are working in industries classified as hazardous, such as carpet weaving, bangle-making, rag-picking and so on.

Similarly, bonded labour flourishes in spite of the laws and court judgments banning it. It is plain that labour laws can be fully implemented only when democratic political structures are introduced and strengthened. Thus alone will it be possible to enforce the existing laws.

How blatantly the Constitution has been violated to the disadvantage of labour is apparent from the move of the government to introduce changes in labour laws through the Finance Bill in 2006.

Through this piece of legislation, that is intended to facilitate the implementation of the budget proposals, the government increased the working hours, allowed employers to make women work till 10pm, added the contract worker to the definition of worker and limited the application of EOBI to institutions employing more than 20 workers. This was possible because the National Assembly has acted as a rubberstamp body and did not try to resist this move.

Similarly, to bypass the constitutional requirement of bringing the Industrial Relations Ordinance 2002 before the Assembly to be adopted as a law or be re-promulgated every four months, Article 270-AA was introduced through the Legal Framework Order and the ordinance was deemed to have become a law.

This devious approach was found to be necessary because IRO-2002 placed restrictions on labour rights and also checked the workers’ right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. These moves were possible because Pakistan was under military rule that gave the government the power to act arbitrarily.

Economic conditions in the country have also placed labour at a disadvantage and weakened its bargaining power. The unemployment rate in Pakistan has increased over the years. According to Piler’s report, in 1974-75 the strength of the labour force stood at 20.4 million and the unemployment rate stood at 1.9 per cent.

In 2003-04, the number of workers had more than doubled to 45 million and the rate of joblessness had jumped up to 7. 3 per cent. A large pool of unemployed workers looking for a job enables the employer to exploit the situation and keep wages low.

The growing incidence of child labour — from 3.4 per cent to 5.5 per cent of the labour force in the above mentioned period and 5.5 per cent today — also allows the employer to manipulate the workers since they are more vulnerable.

It is not clear how globalisation is affecting the labour sector in Pakistan. Since globalisation has allowed big business to shift its factories to Third World countries where labour wages are low — in India a worker earns only 20 per cent of his counterpart in America — jobs are moving to the developing countries. But it is unlikely that Pakistan will gain by the flow to the Third World of manufacturing and service jobs created by the wave of globalisation and technological development.

The poor state of education in the country disqualifies a preponderance of workers from many of the jobs thus created. In fact, jobs will be cut down further because of rationalisation and mechanisation that lead to capital intensive industries that are not labour intensive.

In this scenario, the future of labour in Pakistan is bleak. With the unions, the few that exist and make their presence felt, not making any effort to obtain facilities for education, training and skill enhancement for the workers, can one hope for the workers to become more competitive and thus improve their bargaining position?

Looking for shelter

LAWYERS describe disasters that cannot be foreseen as "acts of God". The term sounds quaint –– and not just because these are secular times. The notion of a disaster outside human control challenges the idea that government is both the cause and the solution to every problem, an idea whose hold on the British imagination has been shown again in the reaction to the floods that have drenched the heart of England.

John Redwood, a Conservative opponent of the big state, was only one of those who pointed the finger at Whitehall. Gordon Brown on Monday correctly highlighted one human responsibility, climate change, although mundane matters of drainage are important, too. More than anything, however, the flooding shows that the fragile conditions for comfortable life remain as vulnerable to the heavens as to any ministerial decision.

It is hardly surprising, though, that this morning's grim realities –– thousands of people forced into emergency accommodation and hundreds of thousands enduring interrupted water supplies –– have led to calls for action. Indeed, there are things the government can do to mitigate immediate misery and to help contain the risks for the future and it has not always done these well.

Flood defences are one example: the £15m cut in the forward-planning budget of the Environment Agency, responsible for them, can hardly have helped it in the last few days. A planned £200m increase in its capital budget might help the agency do better next time, although it will also be important to improve coordination with water companies and local authorities.

When it comes to dealing with flood defences owned by such third parties, the agency's policy remains as clear as ditchwater, as a National Audit Office report underlined last month. Today the Guardian reports that three years since the government first acknowledged that coordination was an issue, it has still failed to put things right.

Getting planning right is the other big question, although it only by coincidence that the government finally published its delayed green paper on that yesterday. The deluge has not diluted its central argument. Factoring flood risks into planning is important and should affect both design and building materials.

But there could be no total ban on building on flood plains, insisted the housing minister, Yvettte Cooper. She is right that a ban would jeopardise Gordon Brown's much-vaunted goal of building 240,000 homes a year. Despite earlier Labour pledges to step up the pace, the number of homes started last year edged down to around 170,000, far below the annual rate at which new households are formed.

A single-minded focus is needed to ensure that the inbalance is corrected, as it must be if housing is not to become even less affordable for poorer families. The trick is to achieve that focus without riding roughshod over local consultation, an anxiety that yesterday's talk about trumping council planning decisions may arouse.

There are other ways to get homes built, several of which were in yesterday's plans. Rewards for councils identify building land could help overcome the not-in-my-backyard impulse, without recourse to central dictat. Dealing with housebuilders –– who sit on thousands of acres where the green-light for construction has already been given to speculate on rising land prices –– could be as important. It is to be hoped that ministers will push ahead with a "use it or lose it" approach to planning permission. The financial straitjacket that for many years stiffled council house-building looks set to be loosened, but not removed. It remains unclear how far new rights to retain receipts from rent and house sales will extend and local authorities wanting to develop their stock are likely to have to do so as part of complex partnerships. Taken as a whole, the package should help encourage the building that has to happen if Britons are to be properly housed.

— The Guardian, London

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007


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