What the opposition should aim at

AS the general election nears, the opposition seems to be rehearsing what could turn out to be a highly emotive election campaign. While its meeting in Rawalpindi on the independence day chanted the slogans of “Go Musharraf go”, Ms Benazir Bhutto partly lifted the veil on the “deal” she is having with President Pervez Musharraf. Never united, the opposition once again seems in disarray despite a facade of unity. While Mr Nawaz Sharif addressed the Rawalpindi gathering on the telephone, Ms Bhutto’s views were contained in an interview she gave to a prestigious American college magazine. Seated on the dais at the APDM meeting were men as disparate in outlook and appearance as Maulana Fazlur Rahman, Mr Asfandyar Wali, Mr Imran Khan, Qazi Hussain Ahmad and others. Yet what brought them together on that dais was a one-point agenda focussing on the personality of President Musharraf. He must go.

As Pakistan’s history shows, the opposition has united time and again only to get rid of a potentate. Beyond that it never had the vision to prepare itself and the masses for the greater task ahead after a military ruler was removed: building and strengthening democratic traditions. The mass movement against Ayub Khan (1968-69) and the PNA movement against Z. A. Bhutto (1977) resulted each time in a military takeover. The anti-government agitations during the political era (1988-1999) did not lead to a direct military takeover, but the army was very much in the picture and was brazenly used by the opposition of the day to advance its political interests. If the movements against Ayub and Bhutto relied on street power that often degenerated into violence, the opposition should have had the wisdom to make a difference between what their objectives were against the dictators and what course they should have adopted against the elected government. Instead, both the PPP and its opponents focussed on bringing the rival government down even if this meant being in alliance with the generals.

It is time all politicians, whether in the government or in the opposition, realised that they should have an aim higher than that of sticking to power at all costs or overthrowing the government of the day in any manner, irrespective of the consequences for the nation. The country needs much more than a change of faces. Musharraf represents a phenomenon — the army’s political role. It is basically against all norms of law and the Constitution, but the aberration has received the stamp of judicial approval several times. The current anti-Musharraf wave must have a specific objective — blocking military interventions in politics forever. The government that comes to power after a truly fair election should be given the chance to settle down and fulfil the promises made to the people during the election campaign, and all its actions must come under the scrutiny of the opposition and the media. But under no circumstances should the government or the opposition act in a manner that is contrary to democratic norms and leads to instability which may again be exploited by some “saviour”. What the people need is an end to the unfortunate cycle in which military and civilian rules follow each other. The people want an uninterrupted continuation of the democratic process, and it is to this goal that all politicians must pledge themselves.

Tackling child abuse

THE figures provided by a local NGO for child abuse in the country should convince both the government and society at large of the need to openly debate a topic that is considered taboo by most. Child sexual abuse is on the rise, and the statistics for April-June show that 815 cases of abuse were reported, as compared to 500 for the preceding three months. It is quite probable that the actual figures run into several thousands. But the majority of these are not reported as the traumatised young victims have no idea where to look for help, especially if the abuser is known to them, which is usually the case. Governed by restrictive cultural mores, their elders, too, prefer not to report the matter, thus encouraging the abuser to target other children as well. Continued sexual abuse results in severe psychological problems for children, who suffer from a range of negative emotions — from fear to depression and guilt. Many grow up into dysfunctional adults, often indulging in sexual abuse themselves.

The government has long talked of a child protection policy to address child abuse, exploitation and other forms of ill-treatment of children. Such a policy must take into account all international and regional commitments that Pakistan has made towards the welfare of children and ensure that all legal safeguards are in place. But as the government mulls over its intended move, children all over the country continue to be exposed to molesters who are present in madressahs, at workplaces, among their acquaintances, and even in the family. Already vulnerable because of their age, poverty exposes most to a variety of shady characters. It is also time for society to realise that by brushing the issue under the carpet, it is actually perpetuating this cycle of abuse. Some years ago, people received a jolt when the serial killer Javed Iqbal confessed that he had sexually assaulted and killed 100 young boys. But the shock society received then has yet to be transformed into action that would ensure that such a horrid crime is not committed again and that child molesters and others of their ilk are relentlessly pursued, arrested and awarded exemplary punishment.

Recreation with responsibility

THIS year’s Independence Day proved that people need more avenues of recreation and entertainment. Celebrations began the night before August 14 and lasted well into Tuesday night. Unfortunately, recreation and noise now seem to go hand in hand. It is common for motorcyclists to remove the silencers from their bikes and speed up and down roads doing “wheelies” or just being loud. One cannot fault them entirely for a majority of them have no other way of enjoying themselves. But as the number of accidents show — five deaths in Lahore and more than 180 injuries — a certain amount of caution needs to be exercised. For example, must drag races occur at major road junctions late at night, especially as these cause so much noise pollution and hazards? Despite a heavy police presence in the capital, one young man lost control of his bike, hit a donkey cart and was rushed to the hospital where he died. Clearly we need more awareness campaigns on road safety and adhering to the law. This is also true for those who equate firing in the air with celebrations; a lot of people have been killed by stray bullets despite a ban on aerial firing.

Authorities need to ask what else people can do to celebrate this, and other, holidays and more importantly how to encourage fun within reasonable limits. Restricting celebrations to certain rituals is not an option, for people will then go all out to find ways to do whatever they are being prevented from doing. Events like Basant in Punjab or the recent Hamara Karachi festival are two examples of festivals and activities that are meaningful and provide much recreation. Similar events should be held all year so that people can enjoy some merriment, away from the anxieties of their everyday life.

Absence of national integration

By Sultan Ahmed

AS Pakistan celebrates its 60th birthday with some people having almost everything they want, and the rulers having a low public rating, some of the deficiencies have become too glaring.

The basic deficiency is the lack of national integration or cohesion which had earlier resulted in the loss of half the country following a stunning military defeat.Then, we have not been able to integrate the vast tribal areas with the mainland. Tribal maliks or sardars rule the roost in their areas and sit in the national parliament making laws for the whole of Pakistan which do not apply to the areas to which they come from. This is a blatant contradiction but only one of the main contradictions in our polity.

In addition, foreigners have infiltrated into the tribal areas and engage in deadly combat with the Pakistani troops in which many die. This is a major failure of our political system.

The provinces concede to the centre enough authority to administer the federation and in return the centre is to recognise the need for adequate provincial autonomy. The provinces want their rights to be part of a balanced federation. But what is constitutionally the right of the provinces has been denied through the political process as the centre nominates not only the governor but also the chief minister and several ministers.

The senior officials of a province who are nominees of the central government support the centre in case of tension between the two. That abridges the provincial autonomy further. This problem could be overcome if the Indian administrative model is followed in Pakistan. In India, the IAS officers who are selected by the centre are apportioned to the provinces to become part of the provincial setup and when the centre needs some of them it borrows them from the provinces but the officers remain loyal to the provinces they come from.

What is stated in the Constitution in favour of provincial autonomy is not practised in good faith. That is all the more so if a country has been under frequent military rule as the latter overrides the Constitution. The inter-provincial coordination ministry is to come up with a new bill augmenting provincial autonomy but it has been put off until after the elections. How acceptable that will be to the provinces, particularly the NWFP and Balochistan, remains to be seen.

What matters is not only what the Constitution says but also what is practised and how often it is suspended or overridden. Anyway provincial autonomy is a very serious issue now with the opposition parties, gaining influence in Balochistan and the NWFP, and the MQM, being in the government, supports full provincial autonomy. The distance between the rulers and the ruled is fast widening, with the people living more in the fear of the police than the criminals. The judiciary has not always been helpful and judgments are not always honoured by the executive, particularly the police. There are also differences between the tribal chiefs, with their infinite authority, and their people and between the feudal lords and the haris. The abuse of the feudal system results in the growth of the bonded labour where the workers suffer for long for defaulting on payment of small loans and even after the repayment is made. And there are differences between different sects and clans which assert themselves during the elections.

All this happens in an Islamic state where religious cohesion is imperative. And we have also suicide bombers in spite of the fact that Islam forbids suicide. Much of Pakistan’s backwardness in economic and social terms is due to gender discrimination, deterring girls from going to schools or doing jobs. Girls are being withdrawn from schools in the tribal areas and forbidden to work and particularly where males work. Pakistan has the lowest number of female workers in South Asia and that contributes to the economic backwardness of the country. Women are playing a dynamic role in Bangladesh particularly in the textile sector.

We continue to depend on foreign aid more and more. We need more aid but also for a large variety of reasons. Our need is so large that Basha dam is now set to cost 10 billion dollars. Foreign aid to Pakistan began with 1.2 million dollars of US aid. I was the first to report it in the Times of Karachi as revealed by Dr Nazir Ahmed, the then additional secretary of the economic affairs. That aid has now swelled to over two billion dollars a year.

As we take up huge projects based on foreign aid, our capacity to execute such projects is in doubt. So aid is also being given to build our capacity to execute large projects. Now aid is given even for police reforms, judicial reforms, tax reforms and administrative reforms and even political reforms. The Asian Development Bank has announced a $400 million aid programme for capital market reforms. The World Bank has offered $350 million for a medium term reform programme to promote sustained, rapid economic growth as its main vehicle for poverty reduction. Of course, we have been getting aid from various sources for poverty reduction.

We got a good deal of aid for Social Action Program I and II and wasted a great deal of that. We are getting a great deal of aid to promote education. Some of the old aid instead of being repaid is being converted into loan for education. We have to make the best use of such aid, totally devoid corruption which afflicts education ministries in the centre and the provinces. There is a lack of serious academic excellence in this highly competitive age.

Unfortunately, we need to have a capacity to defeat ourselves even where we succeed. The classic case is of the peak wheat production of 22.8 million tones this year. Despite a large surplus wheat crop and the ban on exports, the prices have hit their peak. And the hoarders had a field day.

The National Accountability bureau has reported that eight ministers and their friends were responsible for the high price of sugar and its shortage during the last three years. If ministers would indulge in such a game of profiteering, what hope is there for the common man who complains of the high price of sugar.

Some years ago when I returned from a visit of China, at a lunch I was asked why was China making so much progress while Pakistan is lagging far behind. I counted the number of domestic servants present at the lunch and said that in China all the nine servants present there would be working for the state and that makes the state rich while their official employer here felt too happy with the personal attention he received from each of them.

The government claims that unemployment in Pakistan is only six per cent. That includes millions of peons, guards, waiters and other non-productive staff which work to meet our personal needs and do not contribute to the national economy directly.

Then there is corruption at all levels. The money generated through corruption and crime consumes a great deal of the essential goods and pushes up food inflation to about 10 per cent. The corrupt love to spend and keep their friends in good humour.

The Mahbubul Haq Human Development Centre has brought out an excellent report “poverty in South Asia: the challenges and responses” which says the per capita income of Pakistan is $600, of India $620 and of Sri Lanka $1,000. In spite of the convulsions and fighting in Sri Lanka it has the highest per capita income in South Asia, particularly because its educated and active women make a large contribution to that.

Too down to earth

GOOGLE’S decision to dispatch vans across major US cities to take street-level photographs for its mapping service has opened up fresh controversy about the limits of privacy in the digital age.

There are obvious attractions. By clicking “street view” from Google Maps you can move along Sunset Boulevard or a New York street. You can observe both sides of the road and adjust your view through 360 degrees to take in all the buildings around you. This is fine for flat hunters scouting out areas they might want to move to or for diners seeking restaurants, not to mention the new uses that Google’s geeky army of followers will make available for no charge.

There is nothing illegal being done, but at any moment there are enough people on the streets doing something they don’t want others to see, possibly on the other side of a window, to generate complaints. Google will erase embarrassing details if asked, but by then offending images might be embedded elsewhere on the web. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a lobby group dedicated to protecting civil liberties in the digital age, points out that “everyone expects a certain level of anonymity as they move around their daily lives”.

That is true, but the more interesting fact is that, while Google is once again sailing close to the wind, the sound of criticism is muted. A perverse law to emerge from the digital age is that the more personal data there is in the public domain, the less users fret about it. A generation that voluntarily entrusts vast amounts of personal information every day to websites such as MySpace, Bebo and Facebook –– or, like the footballer Frank Lampard, via a mobile phone –– and which is unfazed by the proliferation of CCTV cameras will not be taking to the streets in protest over Google’s latest venture. This is because the benefits seem to outweigh the disadvantages, but also because the digital revolution is breaking down cultural, personal and national barriers in a way that was never expected.

–– The Guardian, London

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007


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