DAWN - Opinion; August 27, 2007

Published August 27, 2007

Defending foreign policy

By Tanvir Ahmad Khan


“After Iraq the USA will find it more difficult to play the benign all powerful hegemony of the neoconservative theory. America invited submission from the world on the grounds of its ‘exceptionalism’. Nothing destroys such mandates of heaven faster than prolonged incompetence.”

— Tom Spencer, March 22, 2007

THE above quote which I use as an epigraph for this piece comes from a speech given by the executive director of the European Centre for Public Affairs at the Pittsburgh University. If I were to select a comparable text from Professor Khurshid Ahmad or worse still, from Qazi Hussain Ahmad, there would be howls that religious extremists and obscurantists do not know the reality of American power. It is not even my intention to challenge that reality.

What we need to recognise is that the fundamental basis of this power projection — a new global empire that had total disdain for the great lesson of history that only those empires last long that rule by consent — was fragile and is already beginning to unravel.

From one end of the globe to the other, governments that have the welfare of their people at heart are beginning to identify problems of international relations in a world that would have seen the American moment come and go. What does one make of the recently held foreign policy debates in the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan against the backdrop of a fast-changing world?

It is not often that Pakistani parliamentarians are permitted to discuss foreign and security policy. To be fair to the government, they have not shown much urgency to do it either. Two recent debates stand out for the fact that the criticism coming from the opposition that exists to audit the government’s performance was countered by the ‘treasury benches’ with much stronger polemics mostly directed against the United States.

Was it a new-fangled technique of sending a message to Washington or of stealing the thunder of those who argue that Pakistan is being inexorably pushed by the United States into a long civil war of its own?

First, we had the parliamentary secretary of defence urging jihad against both India and the United States. The foreign office explained meekly that he had expressed a personal view. Then came an extraordinary anti-American outburst from Sher Afgan, a senior minister of the government.

Whatever drove him to such noble anger, he knocked the bottom out of the case that the Musharraf regime had built with equal passion for six years for hitching Pakistan’s wagon to the American star. Both the gentlemen continue to grace their august offices; Sher Afgan has since even dared the Supreme Court of Pakistan with his outrageous comments on its judgment in the Nawaz Sharif case.

It is not easy to understand this sprawling government with multiple sources of public information. What one can say with certainty is that no other government in Pakistan’s history had been equally successfully in dumbing down the political discourse of this hapless nation.

If the ‘staff plan’ was to use highly inflammatory speeches as a reason for Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri to play the role of a statesman, he rose to the occasion admirably. He reminded the US legislators, officials and media personalities that no government in Pakistan could ignore public opinion and that American indiscretions could make it difficult for the Pakistan government to continue in areas of mutual interest.

It was just as well that he made this connection between the foreign policy of the government and the perceptions of the people of Pakistan because this is exactly what very few decision-makers in the United States are willing to accept and factor into their deliberations.

Pakistan is increasingly regarded as a mercenary state which works hard only to improve the rentier terms. Mr Kasuri has done our people a good turn by putting them back in the political landscape. The nation should note it with gratitude.

Having done it, the foreign minister proceeded to offer the much-needed reality check. I am not sure if he had rehearsed it in the cabinet because in that case the speeches specifically mentioned above would not have been so wild. Pakistan, he argued without any fear of contradiction, could not live in isolation.

No man is an island, said John Donne a long time ago and in the first decade of the 21st century no nation can even pretend to be a sacrosanct island of isolation. In fact, the founding fathers of Pakistan cast a very wide net of relations to escape the gravitational pull of India; mutifaceted international linkages sought by them were a part of the nation-forming process.

Mr Kasuri was also absolutely right in asserting that we should not fail to recognise the importance of a relationship with the United States. Recognition of this importance has never been a controversial issue for us. Governments are, however, judged by the people on how this recognition gets manifested and also impinges on our national interest.

In the quotation that I began this piece with, the key phrase is the American demand for submission; the Musharraf era is under a sharp microscope to determine how far this demand was changed by our diplomacy into cooperation between two self-respecting sovereign states with each prioritising its own national interest.

Mr Kasuri’s great eloquence highlights Pakistan’s sovereignty but does not amount to a closure of the debate that began in 2001 when he was nowhere on the scene and when the leading lights of the Pakistan foreign office quite honestly believed that the world began and ended in Washington.

When it comes to India, there is still a feeling in the Pakistani foreign office that they are struggling heroically against a vast majority — a veritable horde — that is itching to go to war. Philosophers have known this error for centuries. We appropriate wisdom and statesmanship for a tiny elite and create an “imaginary” of the rest drowned in a sea of darkness.

Mr Kasuri’s reference to relations with India has very wide acceptance; the people of Pakistan do want an honourable settlement so that the natural commonalities of a history shared for a thousand years could come into play to mutual benefit.The reality check of the foreign minister on India is well taken. It is for the government to explain as to why some of his colleagues went through the charade of a jihad against India. No responsible opposition member joined that charade.

When it came to the war on terror, the opposition members were closer to the truth than the government side. The manner of Pakistan’s participation in it has imported Afghanistan’s long civil war as well as the more recent Pashtun national resistance in that country into Pakistan.

As in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has given a new lease of life to religious extremism in Pakistan, honed the technology of terrorism, marginalised the moderate religious forces and, in the absence of effective and credible democratic institutions, injected an unprecedented element of violence into the body politic.

Pakistan’s foreign minister quoted the high casualty rate suffered by Pakistani soldiers — many times higher than the figure for the occupation armies in Afghanistan. A huge majority of the Pakistani people considers it as America’s war and their grief over the loss of Pakistani lives has a special sharp edge to it. Each death of a Pakistani soldier diminishes us all. The poignant suffering of the bereaved families resonates into a national experience of waste and futility as every Pakistani knows that it is not the best way to fight the demons of intolerance and bigotry that threaten him.

Pakistan’s parliamentary debate from both sides of the aisle failed to demonstrate a proper measure of soul-searching that is now going on in the United States and Europe.

Iraq is an unmitigated disaster and as James Dobbins recorded it the other day the main game in Washington is the blame game. When the Republicans, Democrats, media pundits and above all former generals of the US army with several hundred years of collective experience amongst them get tired of it, America blames it all on the Iraqis. In Afghanistan’s case, President Musharraf acts as such a lightning conductor.

Afghanistan is, however, not considered a lost case. It can, the argument in the West runs, be salvaged provided President Bush could downgrade the conflict there from his great global war to a question of post-Taliban counter-insurgency. Such a “re-naming” of the conflict shifts the emphasis to “police, intelligence and diplomatic components”.

It changes the dynamics opening up hitherto unexplored avenues for the management and resolution of conflict. It creates the possibility of a dialogue with the resistance and encourages regional countries to assist in finding a solution from which they stand to gain immensely. Mr Kasuri could have assuaged the fears of our own people if he had elaborated a little more on the real initiatives — as distinct from the cosmetic ones — to influence American policy in that direction.

If our US policy now becomes a breathless race to meet the benchmarks established by the new congressional law linking US aid to the American evaluation of Pakistan’s performance in the specified fields, the Musharraf regime should be ready for ever increasing alienation and hostility of the people. This could rip Pakistan apart. The parliamentary debate illuminated some dark corners and offered rationalisation of some decisions but it has not shown the way to save the country.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

Fighting corruption

By Sami Saeed


THE adverse impact of corruption on society is well understood. Corruption is the bane of society; it undermines the very basis upon which the social order rests. Corruption negates the most fundamental norms and values of honesty, integrity and fairness.

The malaise of corruption is rooted in avarice, mistrust and suspicion on the one hand and stems from inequality, injustice and asymmetry of power on the other.

Corruption also impacts adversely upon development. On the one hand, scarce public resources are siphoned off through corrupt practices while on the other, private investment is discouraged in an environment that lacks transparency. As such, corruption retards development, poverty alleviation and public service delivery. As corruption is clearly a form of exploitation, it hurts the weak and vulnerable segments of society more severely. It instils a sense of despair and insecurity among people and detracts from the pursuit of common and constructive objectives.

In recent times, globalisation has added a new dimension to the whole issue of corruption and misgovernance. Benefiting from the opportunities of a globalised world requires countries to provide a transparent and corruption-free framework of governance. Being left out of the global economy on the other hand amounts to accepting a wide variation in living standards as compared to those who have the will and ability to benefit from it. It has, therefore, become imperative for states to fight corruption and improve governance in order to survive and develop in an increasingly competitive and interdependent world.

The menace of corruption is not confined to any particular society but has assumed global proportions. It is evident from the fact that the issue of corruption is being debated throughout the world. The malaise of corruption has infected all societies, developed as well as developing, although its incidence may vary from place to place. The level of corruption in a particular society depends upon the quality of governance which in turn is determined by a host of factors, prominent among which are transparency and accountability, public tolerance and oversight, and the rule of law.

The best and the most effective safeguard against corruption is good governance. Ensuring good governance is the primary responsibility of the state. The core ingredients of good governance are a consistent and predictable body of laws and rules; effective institutions for formulation of public policy and delivery of services; transparent decision-making processes; mechanisms for accountability of political and official elements of government; and a strong civil society participating in public affairs.

The rule of law is the heart and soul of good governance; it is the bedrock upon which the edifice of a transparent and accountable society is built. Our overarching objective should be the creation of a democratic polity and an egalitarian society that requires broad-based structural reforms. It is important to provide nimble, dynamic and accountable governance structures in all spheres — political, administrative, economic and social.

An effective strategy for fighting corruption and improving governance should, therefore, consist of the following building blocks.

First, under the impact of powerful forces such as economic integration, technological advances and diffusion of democratic ideas, a new governance paradigm is taking shape. Governments the world over are pulling back from direct provision of goods and services and assuming the role of enabler, facilitator, policymaker and regulator.

Like other countries, Pakistan needs to focus its attention on evolving a set of rules, processes and institutions that replace control mechanisms by market forces and provide an enabling environment for the private sector. We need to broaden and deepen our economic reforms based upon the principles of deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation. It is important to dismantle cumbersome regulations that clog economic transactions and breed corruption. Structural reforms in the field of trade, taxation, financial sector and corporate governance should be strengthened to provide a hassle-free business environment in the country.

Second, it is important to formulate and effectively implement a set of rules securing property rights, governing civil and commercial behaviour, and providing mechanisms for dispute resolution.

Third, division of power among the judicial, legislative and executive organs of government is essential to check the arbitrary exercise of authority. Parliamentary oversight and an independent judiciary are vital to ensure accountability of public authorities.

Fourth, inherent in the concept of the rule of law is the notion of fairness and social justice. The law should be a progressive force in society and not a vehicle of cementing existing inequalities. Laws for the protection of the socially weak, for a fair distribution of opportunities in society and for elimination of discrimination need to be framed and strengthened. The legal framework can thus make an important contribution to creating an equitable and just society and thereby acting as a safeguard against corrupt behaviour.

Empowering civil society and ensuring fundamental human rights are essential. There should be a major focus on the empowerment of women and the protection of minorities and other deprived segments of society. We need to free women from the shackles of age-old traditions. Social empowerment can go a long way in fighting corruption, exploitation and abuse of authority.

Fifth, a merit-oriented, professionally competent and secure but accountable bureaucracy is the lifeblood of an effective state. Measures to reinforce the quality, ethos and security of the public services should be dovetailed with an effective and objective system of accountability and transparency in government business to check errant behaviour and abuse of authority.

Sixth, it is essential that the process of punitive accountability enjoys a high degree of credibility, which requires that nobody is considered above the law; that the same set of rules apply to all, without any discrimination whatsoever; and that the due process of law is meticulously observed.

Seventh, decentralisation, participation, and competition are some of the means through which preventive accountability can be enforced. Voice and exit mechanisms should be strengthened to improve service delivery and weed out corrupt practices.

Eighth, transparency and accountability are closely interrelated. Secret and opaque processes give rise to corruption. Conversely, disclosure and access to information will reduce the chances of exploitation.

Ninth, a holistic and comprehensive national anti-corruption strategy together with an effective and independent system of accountability need to be adopted.

Lastly, the fight against corruption requires concerted action by all stakeholders within countries on the one hand and active international cooperation on the other. Denying safe havens to corrupt elements, proactive support and assistance in investigation, repatriation of illegal money, extradition of criminals, and above all, linkages between drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorist activities are some of the issues that require serious and sustained action by the world community.

A lot of work has been done to evolve multilateral anti-corruption frameworks such as the Recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, the ADB-OECD Anti-Corruption Action Plan, and the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), to mention a few.

There is, however, a need for greater coordination among anti-corruption agencies, accountability bodies and all governance institutions at the national and international levels. Similarly, bilateral cooperation against corruption can also be a powerful tool for dealing with unlawful practices. Pakistan has always extended full cooperation and support to all multilateral and bilateral initiatives for fighting the menace of corruption.

The menace of corruption can only be effectively tackled through overall governance reform and institutional strengthening. All stakeholders — elected representatives, government officials and civil society — have to create a synergy of thought and action to achieve tangible results. Similarly, countries through bilateral and multilateral mechanisms have to coordinate their efforts to check unlawful trans-border flows and activities. It is only through concerted action that the multi-dimensional problem of corruption can be effectively handled.

The writer is a civil servant. The views expressed by him are his own.
samisaeed7@hotmail.com

What our courts cannot do

By Dr Noman Ahmed


DURING the first month of its working since its rejuvenation on July 20, 2007, the Supreme Court took up different types of cases pertinent to governance. There have been lawsuits involving the usual legal business between various parties.

Petitions by individuals for redressal of their grievances as well as cases involving corporate entities seeking legal alignment of procedural anomalies fall in this category.

The Supreme Court has also taken up matters of prime national significance that would have an impact on the performance of the state. Constitutional matters, the scrutiny of state policies, electoral preparations, cases involving important political leaders, actions by key state functionaries including the president, have been dealt with by the Supreme Court.

In the third category, the Supreme Court has emerged as a monitor and judicial observer on matters traditionally dealt with by the executive but that have a direct bearing on the welfare of common people. Action on matters related to inflation, the violation of zoning and building bye-laws, traffic congestion, the price of medicine, missing persons, organ transplantation, etc are examples. In almost all instances, the declining ability of the executive has been found as the root cause of popular discontent.

It appears that in all the manoeuvrings and political wrangling, the business of the executive has been greatly affected. As a norm, the responsibility of the executive is to plan, deliver and manage the provision of mandatory goods and services to the public at large. Performance indicators show that the executive has gone down in its ranking on a sizable scale, making the masses helpless. The courts have to be approached all the time for seeking relief.

Needless to say, the judiciary can take stock of the situation and direct the relevant organs of the executive but cannot become the executive itself. In desperation, the downtrodden and oppressed consider the Supreme Court and subordinate courts as the last providers of relief in almost every domain of public life. Whereas the reincarnation of the judiciary is a standing reality, other pillars of the state cannot be absolved of their responsibilities.

Much of the rot in the service delivery apparatus is by design, not by default. The regime has let loose forces that have contributed to the total retardation of administrative and regulatory units. The Lahore registry of the Supreme Court has recently ordered the demolition of many buildings that have been constructed in gross violation of building bye-laws and zoning statutes. The regulation, monitoring and control of construction practices are important areas of public management.

The existence of legally valid and technically appropriate building solutions for various facilities are a pre-requisite to healthy lifestyles. Social justice and protection of rights of all concerned interest groups are safeguarded if the buildings and structures are in alignment with prescribed plans, rules and zoning guidelines.

In reality, nascent private interests with active support of various agencies and tiers of government, facilitate the illegal construction of buildings and structures.

Acting on petitions and exercising suo motu jurisdiction, the superior courts have taken action on several occasions with a view to set technically and legally correct precedents for the concerned building control authorities to follow. Sadly, the reverse continues to happen.

The Glass Towers case in Karachi is an example. In its landmark judgment a few years ago, the Supreme Court ordered the developer to partially demolish the illegally extended structure in a bid to rescue public space on the street. While the order was obeyed, many other violations sprang up in the same neighbourhood. This shows the gross impotence of the concerned agency and its possible connivance with ambitious developers.

It is neither the responsibility nor the mandate of the courts to micromanage affairs related to buildings and structures in cities and towns. However, in a situation where the government either shirks its responsibility or prefers to facilitate vested interests, pressure to act rises on the courts. Owing to an enormously large number of instances, the overall situation has gone beyond the capacity of the judiciary to fix all by itself.

The people doubt the honesty of purpose of the executive. Almost the entire population of the country, with very few exceptions, finds itself with no option but to live an inferior quality of life. In many cases, the damage caused by poor governance is beyond repair. People have even lost their lives because of inaction or inappropriate initiatives of the government.

The drowning of two siblings in a Karachi nullah without any protective fence, the death of nine workers in Pakistan Steel owing to the cracking of substandard metal ore and several deaths cause by kite-flying (banned by the Supreme Court) during Basant are some tragic examples.

It is often assumed by the government that unending violations and instances of misconduct would limit the capacity of the courts to take up each individual case to bring relief to the affected parties. This assumption is fairly valid as the courts may reform a few instances of crime but cannot change an environment that reeks of corruption.

The political will to correct the ills in the executive machinery is simply non-existent. In many cases, the interest of political leadership coincides with the conduct of corrupt officers/functionaries.

Many officials who violate the rule book and follow the personal whims of their political bosses are successful in the service cadres. An ex-police chief in the province of Sindh, whose tenure saw the situation in the province come close to anarchy, has risen in rank. After being elevated to the coveted position of a federal secretary, he was even given an extension in service beyond superannuation.

Instead of carrying out their respective duties, the officers and their staff spend their energies following the directives of the political bosses. In return, they receive favours which even the judiciary can do nothing about.

The result in this scenario is the breakdown of the service structure, the demotivation among honest cadres and an overall collapse in institutional capacities. No wonder that a prime institution such as the police have lost credence in

society.

The backbone of the executive used to be the officer cadres. Extraordinarily strict and demanding procedures were adopted to fill these slots with men and women fired by a sense of service. It was their high ability that enabled the bureaucrats of yore to tackle very challenging assignments. Managing disasters and its after-effects, busting criminal rings, ensuring availability of basic goods in emergencies, evolving and sustaining corporations and liaising with the political leadership were the usual tasks dealt with by the civil service.

There was a clear distinction between the political leadership and the bureaucracy. The judiciary used to work closely with the bureaucracy to fix day-to-day problems in society. The political process allowed diverse elements to coexist to a reasonable extent. The objective was to facilitate the life and aspirations of the common man.

The strength of the staff/officers lay in commitment to carrying out their respective tasks, and not in pleasing their high-ups. But the deep (probably irreversible) penetration of political interference has eroded the capacity and moral fibre of the working bureaucracies.

A possible solution to check pervasive anarchy is through consultation amongst the stakeholders. Many bold and far-reaching steps are needed, especially from the top guns in the power echelons. The public sector has to be revived through a carefully designed approach.

The revival of constitutional forums for monitoring the performance of public institutions is the first step. These bodies must also be given adequate teeth to help implement corrective measures. Much improvement can be achieved by empowering the cadres of the civil service. In the final analysis, the onus of execution lies on them.



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007

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