Political violence & future
IF HISTORY is a determinant of political violence then Pakistan has a great deal to worry about. It has never seen a change in administration without some kind of street agitation involving a large number of people.
Whether this might happen again will depend on how much the government in power today is prepared to accept from the judicial system in terms of its interpretation of the law of the land.
What makes societies with weak institutional infrastructure especially vulnerable is the presence of young people in disproportionate numbers in the population. Given the high rate of growth in Pakistan’s population over the last several decades, the mean age of the population has been declining and is now about 17 years.
This means that there are 80 million people under the age of 17 and an equal number above that age. With the voting age having been lowered to 18 years, if clean elections are held the energy that the youth can always muster for political causes can be channelled into productive ways.
If the young lose confidence in the political process they are likely to turn volatile. The youth in all societies are impatient when it comes to demanding change. This is particularly the case when they are encouraged by their elders to resort to demonstrations, even violence, to give vent to their political aspirations.
Pakistan is particularly susceptible to this kind of expression given the fact that its economy has not created as many jobs as required by the five million or so youngsters who enter the labour force every year. That misguided youth can create mayhem was vividly illustrated by the case of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad.
This brings me to the third determinant of political violence in countries such as Pakistan. Rapid economic growth alone will not keep the lid on violent political expression if inequality remains the determining feature of the economy.
The model of growth the country has followed during the Musharraf period did not reduce income disparities or significantly alleviate poverty. A significant proportion of new investments have gone into the sectors which are capital intensive and don’t create many jobs. At the same time, these investments have produced large returns for those who have made them. This has increased the incomes and wealth of the rich, while doing little to add to the incomes of the poor.
What is particularly troubling for Pakistan is the fact that regional disparities have also increased. The two provinces that have done relatively poorly in terms of benefiting from the rapid economic expansion of recent years are situated along the border with Afghanistan.
This is a particularly troubled geographical area. Economic resentment is building up because of the fact that the average rate of GDP growth in Balochistan and the North West Frontier Province is much less than the national average. This has already produced a restless population which would become even more restive if help in the form of economic development does not arrive.
Those economists who have worked on analysing the reasons for perpetual political conflict in Africa underscore the contribution made by the easy availability of foreign resources. Oil and diamonds in Africa have fed political violence.
Although Pakistan does not have natural resources which can produce this kind of money, it has become an attractive country for investments and other kinds of capital flows from the Middle East. The Middle East itself is politically volatile but it is awash with liquidity some of which is being used to promote different ideologies in countries such as Pakistan.
Ever since the early 1980s, when Pakistan aided the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, there has been considerable flow of Arab money into the country aimed at achieving political and ideological goals. This continues to happen even now with private charitable contributions going into religious seminaries some of which encourage violent political behaviour.
Finally, it is the absence of institutions, which could have otherwise intervened if political differences became particularly sharp, that exposes Pakistan to political violence.
The next few days, weeks and months will demonstrate whether the regime currently in power is prepared to let institutions prevail over personal ambitions. If institutions fail to act as intermediaries between different groups aiming to achieve different objectives then violence and anarchy could result.
For reasons such as these, Pakistan has arrived at a very critical juncture of its exceptionally turbulent history. There is much at stake, not only for the country but for the entire world, since political failure in Pakistan could have consequences way beyond its borders. What is it that the political parties, civil society, the media and the establishment do to ensure that the country makes a successful transition from the current system to one based on the rule of law?
There are at least three things that need the attention of these groups.
First, people need to be given confidence that changes demanded by them will happen according to the Constitution as being interpreted by the courts. The courts, in dealing with the issues that are before them, must proceed with deliberate speed and with the objective of creating the case law which would inspire confidence and respect rather than give the impression that old scores were being settled.
Second, the political parties must develop economic programmes that will promise not only rapid growth but economic justice. In this context, the parties must explain how they will use the state to deliver to the people what the energised private sector cannot and will not provide.
How will the PPP translate its historical preference for an active state to meet people’s economic expectations without hurting the economy? How will the various factions of the PML constrain the private sector in order to ensure that the pursuit of profit need not come at the expense of social good?
How will the MMA use the Quran and the Sunnah to promote private enterprise, social advancement and greater interaction of the economy in the global system? How will parties such as the MQM that have narrow ethnic and geographical goals ensure that in pursuing their aims they will not hurt the larger national interest?
Not much is known by the electorate about the economic and social programmes these parties will pursue if they gain access to power. The parties must also indicate how they will deal with the problems in the border provinces that have drawn so much international attention.
Pakistan, a large Muslim country, was not created to become an Islamic state. It was never the intention of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his associates to create a society that would be managed according to some narrow interpretation of God’s word.
The founding fathers won a country that would run its affairs according to the collective will of its citizenry, as expressed in political institutions that allowed broad participation. Pakistan needs to settle this debate in order to move forward.
This then, is a defining period in the country’s history. Its future will be determined in the next few weeks. Let us hope wisdom prevails over self-interest.
How is it our fault?
THE Supreme Court, seized with petition upon petition asking relief from the many abuses that the Constitution of our hapless country has suffered, is speaking, and speaking definitively.
Variously, honourable judges on the bench have said things ranging from them not being in a position to make a ‘lame-duck parliament into a lion’; to ‘inside (the courtroom) we are busy in legal wrangling, outside many political parties are engaged in power-sharing deal(s)’; to politicians wanting the Supreme Court to ‘assume the powers of both the election commission and parliament while the dual office law had been passed by parliament itself’; to ‘politicians are passing the buck (to the Supreme Court)’; to ‘it may be jugglery of words, but how can it be said that the President to Hold Another Office Act, 2004, is for one time when the holder is to continue as the president’, and so on.
Whilst My Lords the judges of the Supreme Court are right that the politicians, both of the so-called opposition, and those who were/are the representatives of the dictatorship; and the dictatorship itself, made unholy deals which landed the country and all of us who sail in her in the straits in which we find ourselves, where else in the whole wide world would you find a uniformed chief of army staff standing for an election?
Far more than everything else, My Lords, how is any of the above political argy-bargy the fault of an ordinary citizen of the country such as I, or other Pakistanis such as my readers? Why should we be denied the chance to elect our future government according to our own preference and free choice, without the looming shadow of the army in the background?
Why should we be threatened with martial law if Musharraf is not elected? Why are we being held to ransom? In short, My Lords, why should we be made to pay the cost of what the MMA did for its own narrow interests: help pass the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution and bringing all of the above aberrations to the fore?How is any of that our fault, My Lords? Should we, the ordinary people of this country, not hope that you will intercede on our behalf? Indeed, should you not reject the too clever by half ‘jugglery with words’ for the good of the people?
Look at the situation in the country barely four days before the filing of the nomination papers for the election of the president, and just 10 days before polling day.
To obviate the threat of protest, an inalienable human right of a free citizen of a free country, all of the leaders of the political parties opposed to the election of the Commando (with the sole exception of the People’s Party, of course, shame upon it) have either been arrested and sent off to jail for 30 days, or are being sought by the police and the ubiquitous intelligence agencies so that they may be apprehended and incarcerated.
Is this the way in which an ‘election’ to the highest office in the land is conducted, even in a halfway civilised country, My Lords? What if the opposition wishes to field a candidate? Is it being given a playing field anywhere near level?Look, indeed, at the new DG of the ISI, a so-called ‘top-most’ confidant of General Musharraf’s publicly busying himself with his bosses’ ‘election’ just days after being appointed to his post. Is it in any way appropriate, My Lords, that a powerful public servant should be using his official clout and only the Lord knows what else, to garner votes for the sitting chief of army staff?
Things are not on even keel in the Fatherland, and will not be until the last vestiges of abominations such as the law of necessity, even ‘jugglery with words’, are finally swept into one of the many sewers that were once our mighty rivers.
And who can best do this cleaning up? None other My Lords than you, the judges who sit in the highest court of the land. More strength to you.
Let me end by referring to two recent TV programmes in which the bedraggled state of the army junta could clearly be seen. In one, the Punjab chief minister, the federal commerce minister, and the chairman of the NRB (aka The National Destruction Bureau) were at each other’s throats, putting the blame for the wheat fiasco on each other.
In the second, an infuriated Ahmad Raza Kasuri, Musharraf’s lawyer, mark, began to abuse and curse the gentlemanly Muneer Malik, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, without provocation. Why, Kasuri even began to shout at members of the audience who were booing him, forcing the two comperes to abandon the programme.
If this is happening before the Commando’s ‘election’ what will happen after he is safely ensconced, My Lords?
We are well and truly up the creek, sirs. But how is any of it our fault?
Bushism of the week: in honour of the duffer, to whose every minion, mainly low, the highest in our land bow and scrape and curtsy, I like to end my pieces with a nugget that has come out of his mouth, dated and witnessed.
I refer to it as the Bushism of the week. Well, this week he surpassed his own high standards and went where the certifiably insane would not dare to tread. Here, then, is the Bushism of the century (and more): ‘I heard somebody say, “Where’s Mandela?” Well, Mandela’s dead because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas.’ — President George W. Bush; White House press conference; Washington DC; Sept 20; 2007. (Thankfully, the great Nelson Mandela is alive — may he live long and continue to inspire lesser beings by his example).
P.S. It seems as if a ray of light is struggling to get through the heavy and dark clouds engulfing Pakistan! News has just come in that the impeccable Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed, former Chief Justice, Sindh High Court, and judge, Supreme Court, is a candidate for the presidency. What else but for the Supreme Court to rule that the presidential elections will be held after the general elections so that the new entrant gets some little time to campaign? Way to go My Lords.
German forces in Afghanistan: mission impossible
THE German military involvement in Afghanistan is the subject of heated debate these days in the Bundestag (German parliament). By the end of November, a decision will be taken on whether to extend the three mandates for the German forces for a further year.
These include participating in the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Tornado surveillance aircraft mission, and contributing to the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
About 3,000 German soldiers are at present stationed in Afghanistan. The centre-left coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has already approved the extension. However, lack of progress in Afghanistan since 2001, the deteriorating security situation, flourishing poppy production and a series of kidnappings and killings of German soldiers and civilians have led to increasing scepticism in recent years. Polls reveal that the majority of Germans, about 64 per cent, favour a pullout this year.
Fearing a too-large minority in parliament opposed to the Tornado mission, the federal cabinet cleverly bundled it with the ISAF mandate, thus outmanoeuvring the plans of the leftist parties to torpedo the mission.
The ISAF mandate enjoys more support across the spectrum of parties from the right through to the moderate left. This way the government has a better chance of pushing an extension of both mandates through parliament.
As regards the unilateral US OEF, a 100 or so German soldiers have been allocated to it, but they have not been operational in the last few years. To this, all parties except the coalition parties, the CDU and partly the SPD, are vociferously opposed because of the high level of civilian casualties being incurred, and because there is no UN mandate for this force.
The objections to the Tornado mission, which began in April this year, are manifold. Until then, German forces in Afghanistan were stationed in the relatively peaceful north, in Mazar-i-Sharif. They enjoyed much respect among the Afghans because they were engaged in reconstruction and because of their cultural sensitivities.
Indeed, the Germans have consistently avoided all exhortations by Nato and the US to take a more active part in the battles in the south, where mostly American, British and Canadian forces engage in conflict with the Taliban. Then the British withdrew their Harriers, to be replaced by the state-of-the-art German Tornado reconnaissance aircraft, equipped with a uniquely sensitive photo technology. At once there were concerns that the surveillance photos could be shared not just with the ISAF but with the OEF mission, which is considered illegal in Germany.
The Germans have been very critical of the idea that the German air force wanted to use Afghanistan as a testing ground for the Tornados. As soon as it appeared likely that parliament would approve their dispatch to Afghanistan, two German nationals were kidnapped in Iraq.
The exact nature and location of the Tornado mission is not under scrutiny — apologists claim that their task includes assessing the feasibility of development projects and spying on smuggling routes apart from hunting down the Taliban. They deny the handing over of surveillances images to the OEF mission. However, critics point out that the same American soldiers serve in the ISAF as in the OEF, so that is a claim impossible to make.
The result is that the standing of the Germans has fallen in Afghanistan. German troops are now seen as part of US strategy. Add to this the failure of Germany’s training programme for the Afghan police, the increasing attacks by the Taliban on German forces in the north and German construction engineers being kidnapped and killed, and the increasing unpopularity of Germany’s involvement in Afghanistan among the Germans becomes evident.
For the government of Ms Merkel, the main reason behind pushing for its continuation is to build bridges with the US whom her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder offended by his populistic stance against the Iraq war.
Among the arguments put forward in parliament for remaining in Afghanistan was that more girls are attending school than before. The counter-argument was that, like before, only one girl in 100 attends school after the first two or three classes, the reason being the remoteness of the schools, lack of security etc.
Another argument, that of improvement in the condition of women, was countered on the ground that the Northern Alliance today in power has always displayed the same attitude to women’s rights as the Taliban.
The lack of a real democratic government in Kabul after six years was also mentioned. One objection raised by a leftist MP was that the German forces had no mandate to intervene in other areas of the world on human rights grounds, so why in Afghanistan? Another MP pointed out that a society could not be reformed by foreigners, and that the impulses would have to come from the Afghans themselves, otherwise there would have to be foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan indefinitely.
The most convincing argument for the Germans in favour of the mission is that reconstruction projects cannot be carried out unless security is provided by the German troops. In the end, parliament is most likely to sanction a further year of German military involvement in Afghanistan.
What that might bring in terms of terrorist reprisals is something the Germans have to be prepared for. That Germany’s security must be defended on the Hindukush, as the former Defence Minister Peter Struck put it in 2001, is believed by even fewer Germans now. In fact, Germany has probably become more insecure because of this.
Thus, while most Germans favour a withdrawal this year, the government cannot afford to antagonise the US by doing so unilaterally. The answer to this dilemma is for all foreign forces to quit Afghanistan, which would also give Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas some relief.
The writer is a Cambridge-educated analyst based in Germany
Waiting for change
MOST Pakistanis have been euphoric about the independence of the judiciary. A defiant judge is now the icon of resistance and Messrs Ali Ahmed Kurd and Muneer A. Malik have become household names. Lawyers in public perception are not heroes in ordinary times but the images of their scuffles with the state authorities have elevated them in the mind of the masses.
In spite of wide coverage of the issue, there has been little analysis of why lawyers sided with the cashiered Chief Justice. This is particularly relevant as the president’s wrath had fallen on the judge and not the practising lawyers. Related to the public perception of the events of recent months is the perspective that equates restoration of the Chief Justice with the independence of the judiciary.
But is that so? The lawyers are being portrayed as the force of positive change in the country. But are they, and can they be the force of change in society?
Most legal systems, including that of Pakistan, by and large are conservative and status quo-oriented. In social engineering, they serve as a venue to contain conflicts so that they don’t spiral into violence.
The effectiveness of the legal system rests in its so-called blindness. It supposedly treats everyone equally while ignoring the gross inequities that mark the various parties that come in quest of justice. As our motion pictures always said, qanoon andha hai (the law is blind). That disability becomes the biggest virtue of the law.
To the blind entity called law as personified in the robe of a judge, lawyers plead the relative merits of their clients’ case. Their erudition and expertise are the weapons they use. Lawyers are, therefore, conduits of the system and act as mediators between the citizen and the adjudicator.
They plead their case to uphold the law of the land, and seldom try to change it. They have occupational interests in the existing corpus of law because their knowledge and expertise centres round it. The lay person not trained in legal jargon is not too familiar with the language and intricacies of the law.
In our military-led political system, institutional boundaries within which the legal system is supposedly erected become blurred. Conversely, lawyers, as major stakeholders in the legal system, would ideally like to retain these boundaries.
The gap between the legal system and practice widens as the authoritarian mode of governance takes deeper roots. If you are Nawaz Sharif, the legal system will take its course, but if you happen to be Faisal Saleh Hayat, the legalities can be circumvented for reasons of political expediency.
In such a system, lawyers, who as suggested are no paragons of revolution as an institution, become one of the victims. Clients don’t turn to lawyers who can argue their case well. They search for people with contact in the right places who will convey their message to the president’s camp office, the prime minister’s secretariat, or secretariats that some political handlers have in London.
Discontent accumulated in the collective memory of lawyers and the tipping point came when the Chief Justice defied the roughshod manner in which the president tried to browbeat him. The rest, as they say, is history.
Why did the police, the minions of intelligence agencies and the workers of certain political parties unleash their wrath on the agitating lawyers? Because all of them were and are beneficiaries of a mode of governance that bypasses and makes a mockery of andha qanoon. It is quite impossible in contemporary Pakistan to draw the line of distinction between the functioning of the police and intelligence agencies. Physical torture is a daily occurrence at police stations. Our spies do not need any court permission to keep a tab on citizens.
Ordinary citizens on a daily basis and high profile personalities like Asma Jehangir periodically are subjected to public humiliation by police and intelligence agencies. Political parties use state resources at their disposal to chase and hunt down political opponents.
When the Chief Justice was unceremoniously removed from office, the police were only too happy to follow up the presidential action and physically humiliate him in public — the way that the president had done in a room full of officials. It was an expression of the pent-up feelings against the Chief Justice who had attempted to rein-in the police and intelligence agencies.
Coming back to our original question: can the reinstatement of the Chief Justice be equated with the independence of the judiciary? Contrary to what is generally believed, my answer is ‘no’. We need to differentiate between the higher judiciary and its activism on the one hand and the judiciary and justice on the other.
The crisis triggered by the removal of the Chief Justice was mainly a conflict at the top and the subsequent change, if any, could mainly be observed at the top level. The judicial system as a whole hasn’t changed much. Corruption and an informal set-up remain the characteristics of a case if you go to the session court in Vehari.
Judicial activism at the top level is something that we ought to welcome and encourage, but reading it as the independence of the judiciary would be going too far. Given the valiant manner in which the lawyers successfully challenged the president’s authoritarian action, can we expect them to be a force of change in society?
Change is an elusive concept and varies. What could be seen as change for me could be regarded as tinkering with the status quo by another. Appreciating the subjectivity involved in the notion of change, one can still reach a reasonable conclusion about what political change the majority in society is desirous of.
Going by newspaper columns and television talk shows, there is a desire to see a change in the political configuration in the country where the armed forces would not have such a prominent role in running the state.
If that is the nature of change the public is aspiring for, unfortunately, the lawyers cannot bring it about.
Such a change can only be affected by re-arranging the existing power structure and that has to be affected by a coalition of political forces, preferably led by a political party, or parties controlled by people who have a genuine interest in changing the present socio-economic configuration.
The writer teaches at the University of British Columbia, Canada
|© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007|