DAWN - Opinion; August 09, 2007

Published August 9, 2007

Underdeveloped at 60!

By I. A. Rehman


FREEDOM, even when limited and facile, is a thousand times preferable to bondage, and there can be no reservation on thanksgiving by the Pakistani people on their state’s 60th birth anniversary. The feeling of jubilation could, however, have been infinitely stronger if it were possible to dismiss the thought of Pakistan’s being an under-developed collectivity even at the age of 60.

Statisticians, especially those who cook up figures for official reports, will disagree and protest. They have for long maintained that Pakistan is a rapidly developing country and should soon join the developed elite. This claim is based on the rate of GDP growth, the burgeoning numbers of cell phones and automobiles in the country, the mushrooming of high-rise plazas and the presence of rich and powerful rulers. Perhaps Islamabad’s role in fighting terrorists by subduing large parts of the country’s population will also be cited as evidence of success in achieving development goals.

Regardless of the value one may put on these indicators of development, we are concerned here with three main indicators of under-development. These are: a lack of maturity in the collective’s thinking, a high level of poverty in the country, and the people’s exclusion from decision-making.

The assumption here is that besides computation of material progress, development must be measured by a country’s ability to take decisions, especially on critical issues, that prove to be wise, timely, and in public interest; by guarantees of a decent and fulsome standard of living for all citizens, especially the poorest and the weakest among them; and by the opportunities the people have of contributing to decisions affecting their lives, both individually and collectively. Pakistan tests positive on all three of the indicators of under-development.

The grievous setbacks and debilitating crises Pakistan has had to face over the past six decades make a pretty long list. The more consequential are: failure to realise for nine years the most vital need for a constitution for the new sate and the compulsions of a democratic, federal and equitable constitution till today; use of unfair means to escape democratic obligations and frequent resort to force to suppress the aspirations of the federating units, especially of the majority population in East Bengal; deliberate and hypocritical exploitation of belief for narrow political interests; neglect of permanent neighbours for the sake of distant, temporary and fickle-minded patrons; reliance on profitless borrowing and disregard for national human capital; and, finally, an incredibly strong devotion to a praetorian polity.

Throughout the years of independence the people have paid heavily for the collective’s lack of capacity to wisely deal with critical issues, to address crises before they become irresoluble. The most frightening aspect of reality today is our apparently firm resolve to prove that the mindset governing Pakistan’s actions and behaviour betrays not only a state of under-development but also suicidal traits of a most dangerous variety.

Nearly 40 per cent of the population of Pakistan lives in abject poverty. What makes the situation more unbearable is that while efforts to enable the poor to move out of the abyss of dehumanized existence have had limited effect, attempts continue to be made to inflate success in fighting poverty by debating and controverting the size of the wretched population. As it is, the criteria used to determine the number of the absolute poor seems quite inadequate.

If lack of opportunity to realise oneself and denial of basic freedoms and fundamental rights are taken into account as determinants of poverty, and there is no earthly reason why these matters should be ignored, an overwhelming majority of the population is likely to be classified as poor. That is under-development writ large and bold.

The least controversial fact about Pakistan is a progressive reduction over the decades of the people’s say in the management of the collective. We began with rule by representatives elected on a narrow franchise and in a pre-Pakistan context. They were inherently incapable of respecting the aspirations of the people, of acting as a responsible outfit. Adult franchise came in 1951 and with it the tradition of avoiding elections or fudging them if they had to be held.

Either way the people’s sovereign rights came under the axe. A decade after the people had created Pakistan by their democratic choice, they were told they were incapable of democratic management of their affairs. For seven years the country suffered the ignominy of living under a constitution ‘given’ by a single man at his discretion. What has followed, except for a short interlude, is autocracy under different masks.

A little deliberation will reveal that the third factor of under-development mentioned above, namely, the exclusion of the people from decision-making, has been the most decisive cause of Pakistan’s unending travail. In almost all crises the state’s destiny was in the hands of small groups whose claims to represent the people could convince their members only or in the hands of individuals who could not even make such claims.

The collective mind’s lack of maturity in the face of crises could possibly have been overcome if larger bodies of citizens had been taken into confidence. In that event a search for strategies to fight poverty might have begun in the 1950’s and not forty years later. An enquiry into the people’s exclusion from decision-making is necessary because Pakistan’s future will not be any better than its past unless matters begin to be decided by the will of the people.

The myth relied upon by the advocates and apologists of autocracy is that the people have no understanding and tradition of democratic politics and therefore the maximum concession to them can be guided/controlled democracy. But the statement that Pakistan did not have an indigenous tradition of parliamentary democracy that was sought to be implanted here is more true about the traditional ruling elite, both of its civilian and military wings included, than about the masses.

It is this ruling elite that has consistently been found wanting in ability to base decisions on public consensus, partly because of its incapacity to appreciate the dynamics of a democratic process and partly out of fear of losing not only its material possessions and privileges but also, and more importantly, its monopoly over power.

A common reason advanced by the country’s permanent establishment for curtailing and shutting off the process of reference to the people is that they lack formal education. Statements to this effect are quite shamelessly made by the establishment’s theorists without any hint of remorse at its own culpability in the matter.

Nobody will deny the part education can play in helping a society manage its affairs. From measuring land and collection of taxes to building of roads and dams and generation of electricity, to running of hospitals and parliament’s secretariat you need adequately educated and trained professionals. But politics, especially democratic politics, is a matter of making choices on the basis of people’s needs so as to ensure the greatest good of the greatest number. No formal education is required for making such choices, as we shall presently see.

The franchise for the elections of 1945-46 that clinched the argument in favour of Pakistan was extremely limited. All the voters had not had the benefit of formal education. Many among them – owners of property, tax-payers, ex-servicemen – were illiterate. Yet they were considered sufficiently qualified to join the most momentous consultative process in the history of British India.

Much before these elections the Quaid-i-Azam had been demanding a plebiscite to determine Indian Muslims’ support for the demand for Pakistan on the basis of a broader franchise, that is, he wanted more uneducated people to be brought into decision-making (because all the ‘educated’ were voters already).

After partition, plebiscite was demanded to decide Kashmir’s future, although a vast majority of the people to be consulted was uneducated. Above all, none among Pakistan’s rulers whose decisions over six decades have been held to lack maturity of mind was uneducated. No, Pakistan’s trials as a consequence of the exclusion of the masses from decision-making cannot be ascribed to their low educational achievements..

Instead, the people have been unable to participate in decision-making, thus condemning the state to be governed by an immature elite and condemning themselves to poverty, because the social structures established before independence were not conducive to democratic governance. And all governments have been guilty of failing to demolish the socio-economic barriers to the people’s empowerment, though a few of them did try to tinker with them. The largest groups of people barred from decision-making councils are: peasants (including their womenfolk), women (outside the agriculture sector), and working people (industrial and trade employees, workers in the informal sector, and self-employed hordes).

Taken together they constitute an overwhelming majority of the people. They are not incapable of contributing positively to decision-making institutions and processes, but they have been prevented from doing so by socio-economic-cultural constraints. Where do these large chunks of population stand 60 years after independence?

• Pakistan was an agricultural country to begin with. The share of agriculture to GDP may have fallen sharply but a majority of the population still depends on it. The state has largely been concerned with raising agricultural output and to some extent with marketing. The rights of the tillers were half-heartedly addressed vide three inadequate and insincerely implemented land reform packages. Despite the fact that the ILO Convention on farm workers’ right to form trade unions was ratified before independence, the state has not encouraged peasant mobilisation.

The bonded haris in Sindh and at some places in Punjab and the Frontier may present extreme instances of exploitation but tillers of the soil by and large are not free anywhere in the country in social and political terms. All women in peasant families are exploited even more than their men. To a large extent, the nature of tenant-landowner relationship and the social resourcelessness of the small proprietor bar the peasantry from entering the area of decision-making.

• Pakistan’s women outside the farming sector have an impressive record of struggle and success but the beneficiaries of their achievements in the political (seats in elective bodies) and the service sectors (jobs in government and private establishments) constitute a small percentage of their total number. The feudal, male patriarchs continue to decide whether a girl can go to school or an adult woman can choose her spouse.

Their right to inheritance is disputed, to say nothing of their broader right to economic independence. Across a large part of the country they are not allowed freedom of vote and many of those elected to local councils are not permitted to perform their functions. It can safely be asserted that a vast majority of women continue to be excluded from decision-making.

• The plight of Pakistan’s working people is particularly pathetic because theoretically they are supposed to be freer agents than peasants and women. They are not. Since 1959, when the Ayub regime began the series of anti-labour policies, and right upto the Industrial Relations Ordinance of 2002, labour has been progressively stripped of the rights it had won after nearly two centuries of struggle.

The right to unionise and the rights of organised workers both have been curtailed. Partly under pressure of economic needs and partly because of union leaders’ short-sightedness, the working people have opted out or have been pushed out of decision-making processes.

What has been discussed here is not Pakistan’s past, the subject is future. The issue is major obstacles to genuine development. Pakistan will remain an underdeveloped nation with an immature mindset in command so long as its peasants remain bonded to absentee landlords (or corporate barons), its women remain in the clutches of male feudal tormentors, and its working people are left to rot as galley-slaves of merciless exploiters.

Pakistan’s ‘deal’ politics

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani


KEEP heart, for the Merchant of Venice also had Portia pleading before a Daniel come to judgment! Actually, Lewis Carroll fits the bill better than Shakespeare for Pakistan’s political ‘deal’ scenario has true Alice in Wonderland quality.

The electronic media in breaking news analysed the undisclosed content of a meeting between the president and Ms Bhutto without being quite sure as to whether such a meeting was or was not in progress. Private channels could at least claim conflicting sources, state TV could only contradict itself!

On PTV the alleged meeting was first dignifiedly denied and then a day or two later implicitly conceded.

Absorbed though we are by speculation, ultimately the details of the deal do not matter. For President Musharraf lost popular public credentials before embarking on the deal and Ms Bhutto is liable to diminish hers after completing it. What makes this secret dealing even more ridiculous is that it has to be anchored in popular endorsement to serve even its own rather limited focus of interest – a continued sanitised democratic place for Musharraf on the strength of Bhutto backing. To debate the manner of General Musharraf’s election – in uniform, post uniform; by the current assemblies or post-elections assemblies – is inconsequential if one is thinking of a real movement towards constitutionality and a civil polity. Formally speaking, it is improper for him to stand; and in terms of realpolitik he is eroded by time: double duty for seven years is enough to prove and disprove the level of performance. It is not a matter of the emperor’s clothes or even his courtiers, it is a matter of the emperor.

Benazir Bhutto has been out of Pakistan since 1997. Despite predictions to the contrary, during this prolonged absence she has stayed a political reality and Pakistan’s most authentic force for democracy. But she may be about to change all that on her way back to direct political participation. Effectively, any deal between the two will weaken Ms Bhutto without strengthening General Musharraf.

At one time, it would have reduced the champions of democracy to despair that Benazir Bhutto was at the point of accomplishing single-handedly what vested interests, the establishment, the ISI had long sought to do but failed: wither her grass roots and hijack her party vehicle while destroying her public credibility and popularity.

Now that the cards are stacked as for a deal, advocates of the electoral inclusion of the mainstream political party leadership may remark it is just as well that flaws in democratic commitment show in pre-electoral deals now rather than post-electoral ones later. Democratic political vitality and endeavour is no longer overly dependent on the PPP effort. In a way, deal-blunders give the lawyers’ peaceful movement further impetus and compel civil society to remain actively engaged with that objective principled effort rather than be distracted by partisan party politics.

All the same, Ms Bhutto is a democratic asset one would grieve to see nullified, and it would be a huge plus to have her unequivocally on the side of those who want no truck with resuscitating and revamping General Musharraf’s deformed parliamentary process and decomposing political persona. If she feels she is helping to avert the proclamation of an emergency and formal martial law by partially cooperating with the existing regime, she is not getting all the factors in the situation right.

In addition to power, restoring the writ of the state requires government that commands popular respect and trust. Any quest for national consensus (especially with a view to neutralising fanaticism) has to include other leaders. Far from inducing political stability there will be a fallout from a piqued King’s party once the Queen’s party is in place.

What is to stop many from rediscovering common cause with a PML-N burgeoning in more principled democratic opposition to deal politics? The MMA (like the ARD) has shown its different emphases but it is not enough to carry one section while pouring scorn on another section of non-secular leadership. How would a post-deal configuration accommodate the strong realities of secular and nationalist Pashtun and Baloch leaders who are unlikely to underwrite a life-support system for General Musharraf?

It is true that wise heads advocate consensus and feel General Musharraf would be well directed in seeking a political dialogue. But the public is not going to endorse the outcome of any dialogue where interlocutors camouflage personal or party expediency. The much graver collective demand is that any such dialogue should deal with the army not having a role in politics rather than focus on ways for it to reinvent that role aided by a change in cast and costume.

Forecasts of civil war

By Gwynne Dyer


"THERE'S going to be a civil war." You heard it all the time in the old Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s. People fretted about it constantly in South Africa in 1994. They have been worrying about it in Lebanon for the past year. Now they're predicting it for Pakistan -- but nine times out of ten, the forecast is false.

The Soviet Union broke up with remarkably little violence, although there were some nasty little wars in various non-Russian republics down south. Apartheid's end in South Africa was astonishingly non-violent, given all that had gone before. There was a ghastly civil war in Lebanon in the late 70s and 80s, but the odds are better than even that there will not be another. And there probably won't be a disaster in Pakistan either.

"We are very scared," Senator Enver Baig of the opposition Pakistan People's Party told the Guardian last week. "If we don't mend our ways, it could spell the end of the country. The Islamists have sleeper cells in every city. We could have a civil war." And if the "Islamists" won that civil war, then people with a worldview not dissimilar to Osama bin Laden's would control a country with 165 million people, an army of 600,000 men, and an estimated fifty nuclear weapons.

But the civil war hasn't happened yet, and it may never come to that. In fact, there are as many hopeful signs as frightening ones in the current turmoil in Pakistan, although it is getting hard to read the tea-leaves.

Pakistan is certainly becoming unstable. The government has effectively lost control in the tribal belt along the frontier with Afghanistan, which is increasingly dominated by pro-Taliban militants. The week-long siege of radical Islamists holed up in the Red Mosque in Islamabad, the capital, in mid-July culminated in the deaths of over a hundred militants and soldiers.

The military dictator who has ruled Pakistan since 1999, General Pervez Musharraf, is a living incarnation of the phrase "one-bullet regime": he has already survived four assassination attempts. More than 200 Pakistani soldiers and civilians have died in terrorist attacks since the Red Mosque incident, and the alarmists are predicting civil war and Islamist take-over.

On the other hand, there is a thriving free press in Pakistan, including (at last) independent television stations that actually report the news. The economy has been growing fast in recent years, and at least a bit of the new prosperity is trickling down to the impoverished majority.

President Musharraf is the fourth general to seize power in Pakistan's sixty-year history, but the country always returns to civilian rule in the end. And late last month Pakistan's Supreme Court, in an act of defiance against military rule, threw out Musharraf's accusations of corruption against the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

The charges were fabricated to ensure that the chief justice did not interfere with the general's plans for another five-year presidential term. (He planned to have himself re-appointed by very same national and regional assemblies, chosen in rigged elections in 2002, that obediently voted to appoint him five years ago -- without any new election to renew their membership.) What actually happened, however, was that the charges turned Justice Chaudhry into a national hero and a focus for resistance to the continuation of thinly disguised military rule.

There is a good chance that this crisis could end in restoration of civilian democracy in Pakistan: that is how all three previous bouts of military rule ended. The fanatics and the extremists dominate the sparsely populated areas along the Afghan frontier because the population there is identical to the Pashtuns across the border who are the main base of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and they have been radicalised by 28 years of foreign occupation and civil war in that country. But the vast majority of Pakistanis live down in the flat, fertile lands along the rivers, and what they want is not martyrdom but peace, justice and prosperity.

They stand a better chance of getting those things if democracy returns, even if previous intervals of democracy in Pakistan have usually ended in massive corruption and paralysis as the political class fought over the spoils. Musharraf is probably on the way out unless he declares martial law under the pretext of fighting the Islamists -- and it is not certain that the army would follow him if he did.

So he is trying for fake democratisation. Twice, in January and again last month, he has met secretly in Abu Dhabi with Benazir Bhutto, the exiled head of the largest opposition party, trying to make a deal that would let her return as prime minister (for the third time) but leave him as president. That would be a big mistake on Bhutto's part, but it wouldn't be the first.

Despite the highly publicised violence in Pakistan, there is little chance that it will fall under Taliban-style rule. There is perhaps a one-in-three probability that Musharraf will cut a deal with Bhutto that leaves him in power for a while, but that wouldn't really end the crisis. And the odds on a return to real democracy within the year are probably better than ever.

It would be nice if Pakistan's fractious and venal politicians could make it work this time. ––Copyright

Commission impossible?

THOSE who root out discrimination for a living are not slow to spot disadvantage when it comes their own way. So the birth of the new amalgamated equalities commission in Britain, which opens its doors in October, was always going to be painful.

The existing quangos that deal with race, gender and disability –– as well as lobby groups representing the new "strands" of sexuality, religion and age –– dug in for concessions (on its remit and the transition timetable) to ensure the new body would pay sufficient heed to their own particular causes. Heated micro-politics have been a distraction from getting on with delivery. The communities select committee last week exposed that –– despite all the costly consultants –– there is still uncertainty about what the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) will be ready to do when it is finally launched.

More serious than the start up-problems, however, is the hostility towards the new body shown by many of those that it is meant to be championing –– especially among disabled people and parts of the black community.

The chief responsibility here does not lie with anti-discrimination lobbyists, but with ministers who have never advanced a compelling rationale for the reform. Indeed, until recently the man appointed as the first chair, Trevor Phillips of the Commission for Racial Equality, was hazy about what the CEHR was for.

When no explanation has been offered –– and when inequality is so entrenched that, for instance, the ethnic employment gap will not close until 2105 –– it is hardly surprising that some see the scheme as a plot to muffle awkward voices.

Yet there are plenty of good arguments for the merger. The problem is that they have not really been made. One rationale, perhaps the driving one, was value for money. Downing Street was concerned that having six different bodies for the six different strands would be complex and wasteful.

A legitimate concern, but a negative one which was never going to enthuse campaigners for equality. More attractive was the suggestion that the single commission would go hand in hand with a single equality act. Campaigners were enthusiastic about a bill that could streamline and strengthen the nine Acts, four European Directives and countless regulations that together make up the Byzantine discrimination laws.

Unfortunately, however, the government has put the cart before the horse, by driving through the merger before modernising the law. And the legislative plans, published in June, do not look up to the job. Campaigners had fought long and hard for the current requirement on public bodies to think through how they serve disabled people.

They are incensed that it will be weakened before being extended to other groups. Feminists, meanwhile, are justifiably despondent at the failure to introduce a system of pay reviews that would reward employers who face up to the earnings gap and tackle it. So threadbare were the proposals that the best gloss that could be put on them was that they might improve the lot of women who choose to play golf in clubs where they are barred from being full members.

Even so, despite its difficult birth, the CEHR could still prove its worth. Nervous ministers have not emphasised the human rights part of the remit. But powers to investigate their infringement could expose discrimination suffered by people –– such as carers or the cared for –– who do not fit neatly into any of the six strands.

The new commission could provide a common underpinning to anti-discrimination by emphasising rights which transcend the intra-lobby turf wars. By making universal rights the issue, the CEHR can see off the charge that discrimination is merely a minority concern.

––The Guardian, London



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007

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