DAWN - Editorial; October 04, 2007

October 04, 2007


The plot thickens

THE plot as scripted by General Headquarters and Washington is making rapid strides towards the denouement desired by the presidency. The COAS-in-waiting has finally been named, the clearest indication so far that President Musharraf will indeed step down as the army chief following his expected re-election as head of state on Oct 6. The symbolic resignations promised by lawmakers affiliated with the All-Parties Democratic Movement were duly tendered on Tuesday, though there is little chance that the gesture will alter the course of events in any way. If the idea was to somehow shear the exercise of credibility, that too may have been pointless for questions of morality have no place in the equation. As is always the case in Pakistani politics, expediency is the driving force and the means irrelevant so long as the chosen end can be achieved. It now seems that what was decided in advance behind the scenes will come to be, unless of course the Supreme Court delivers some last-minute surprises in its hearing of the constitutional petitions filed against Gen Musharraf’s candidature for the presidency. This exercise too has been far from hiccup-free. First a nine-member bench was constituted by the Chief Justice. Its strength was soon reduced to eight members after a judge who cast one of the three dissenting votes in the earlier judgment refused to be part of the proceedings. By the end of the day on Wednesday, a third bench comprising ten members had been formed.

The other major development is the move to promulgate an ordinance granting a blanket amnesty to all politicians and government functionaries who held office between 1988 and 1999 and who were accused in court of corruption but never convicted. Though the amnesty is being touted by the government as an attempt at ‘national reconciliation’, it is clear that the law is being introduced primarily to facilitate Ms Benazir Bhutto’s return to the country, and possibly to the corridors of power. Described yesterday by this paper as a ‘Benazir indemnity package’, the amnesty technically extends to every politician who has held office in the time frame specified by the government. The stellar exclusion from the list of beneficiaries is Mr Nawaz Sharif, who does not meet the criteria set down in the proposed ordinance. A far more seemly and equitable option would have been a grand reconciliation package applicable to all major stakeholders. Given the way events have unfolded, the perception is that Ms Bhutto is receiving preferential treatment. This view is bound to linger and could hurt the legitimacy of the next elections. Ms Bhutto, for her part, claimed on Wednesday that the talks on a power-sharing deal had ‘totally stalled’. She further dismissed news of the government’s amnesty proposal as so much ‘disinformation’.

Still, the degree of ‘civilianisation’ that these manoeuvres may ultimately produce is of course preferable to a military clampdown. Perhaps what we are witnessing now is but the first tentative step on the long road to genuine, representative democracy. Numerous pitfalls lie ahead that can only be overcome through consensus. Far more important than the identities of our future heads of government and state will be their ability and commitment to tackling the most pressing problems of the day — extremism, poverty, inflation, unemployment. That, and not the political game, is the real challenge.

Dismembering Iraq?

EVEN though the autonomous Kurdistan government has welcomed the American Senate’s non-binding resolution calling for a decentralised, federal Iraq, the Arab majority has rejected what indeed is a dangerous move. While Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said the resolution could lead to a catastrophe not just for his country but for the region, Moqtada Sadr, the Shia cleric who commands the biggest parliamentary bloc, and the Sunni Ulema Council have termed it ‘a flagrant interference’ in Iraq’s affairs and an attempt to impose a division of Iraq on the ‘pretext of avoiding violence’. The strongest reaction came from the Arab League, which not only denounced the resolution, it accused Washington of turning Iraq into a base for Al Qaeda. The Senate resolution seeks to divide Iraq into Kurdish, Sunni and Shia units with a weak centre left in charge of border security and oil revenues. The resolution’s supporters claim that the move visualises a federal set-up within the Iraqi constitution and will save Iraq from becoming a failed state.

Mercifully the Bush administration has distanced itself from the resolution. But it itself to blame itself for the messy situation in Iraq. Four and a half years after the invasion, the Iraqis have neither peace nor freedom. While the results of the mid-term polls last year showed how unpopular the war was with the American people, the Bush administration’s policies seem to centre round the optimism expressed by Gen David Petraeus, America’s top commander in Iraq, that the insurgency could be defeated. Peace and democracy cannot be given to Iraq by means that subtly seek to dismember it. Kurdistan is already autonomous. A formal move to decentralise Iraq will serve to spur separatist moves in Kurdistan. This could not only destabilise Turkey and Iran, both of which have large Kurdish populations in areas bordering Iraqi Kurdistan, it could set off a process of fragmentation of the region. Such a scenario will be an ideal ground for the extremists to advance their agenda. Iraq can survive as a state not by the means suggested by the senate resolution but by national reconciliation as emphasised by Mr Maliki in his UN speech last month.

Lal Masjid reopens

IT’S easy to understand why there will be mixed reactions to the Supreme Court’s orders on Monday to reopen Lal Masjid from Wednesday. It wasn’t so long ago when the mosque attempted to override the writ of the state and the army’s belated operation to restrain it had led to a bloody clash with the students of the seminary. That resulted in the death of over 100 people. A few weeks later there were more clashes when the mosque was re-opened and students refused to let the government-appointed imam lead the Friday prayers. So it is only natural that people in Islamabad are apprehensive as to what will happen when Lal Masjid is reopened this time, especially since it has been handed over to people with close links to Maulana Abdul Aziz, currently in custody. Hence the administration must take extra precautions and prove that it has learnt from past mistakes. It must monitor the mosque’s activities to ensure no untoward incident takes place again. It should have realised by now that choosing to turn a blind eye all the while the Lal Masjid clerics were stocking up on arms and ammunition or policing the streets of the capital was the wrong approach. It must not allow anything of the sort to happen again.

A committee has been formed to run the affairs of the mosque, and comprises representatives of Wafaqul Madaris, residents of G6 sector and Maulana Aziz’s wife Umme Hassan. The deputy commissioner of Islamabad is overall in charge. This committee must work to ensure that the mosque is run in accordance with the law. The same is true for the Jamia Hafsa madressah which has also been ordered to be rebuilt by next year. It is hoped that the Capital Development Authority will rebuild the original structure on the plot granted to Lal Masjid, and not on any land that the mosque’s administration had encroached upon over the years.

Against the tide

By M.P. Bhandara

GENERAL Musharraf’s legal and so-called democratic credentials may be poor but his probity for good governance is superior to that of his political opponents. Consider: Transparency International, the highly respected Berlin-based institute, which measures the Corruption Perception Index worldwide, rated Pakistan as the second most corrupt nation in 1996.

This was the mid-point in our decade of democracy during the 1990s; the same institute in 2007 ranked 41 countries as more corrupt than Pakistan. This is not a glamour statistic but a measure of better governance. But, this breaks no news or headlines in a country that professes Islam as its lodestar.

Corruption is a hydra headed monster. If the ruler is corrupt or perceived as such, every minion of state has more or less the right to set up his own bazaar. An international polling entity conducted a survey between Aug 1 and Aug 5 this year questioning 680 persons in Karachi, 287 in Rawalpindi/ Islamabad and 168 in Lahore — a total of 1,135 persons from all strata of society.

One of the questions asked was: which ruler in your perception misused his office most for corrupt endeavours? Nawaz Sharif topped the list with 55 per cent, followed by Ms Bhutto 37 per cent, and Musharraf eight per cent!

Again, this is no news in a country where hypocrisy and bogus sanctimony is a substitute for religion; where slogans and slander masquerade for politics.

The question arises: why are rulers who built palaces from Surrey to Raiwind and from Saudi Arabia to Spain welcomed by the suffering masses? In the name of the stupidity of the many and the superior wisdom of the few, we forget the many insults they inflicted on democracy and the depredations they visited on the treasury during their day of power. Indeed, the slogan of democracy in Pakistan is a mirage, truly the opiate of the masses.

To err is human. General Musharraf has erred badly since March this year. One grievous mistake after another — the sacking of the Chief Justice, followed by temporising on Lal Masjid (why was the law not enforced when lathi-wielding burqa-clad women took over a children’s library?), the events of May 12 in Karachi and finally permitting a foreign power to midwife the evolution of political events in our country.

Perhaps the most grievous error was for General Musharraf to have broken faith. He had promised to doff his uniform by Dec 31, 2004. Had he done so, this ugly September in the Supreme Court could have been avoided. Perhaps, some day General Musharraf may realise that his fixation on the uniform and two offices was unnecessary — a mere red rag to the legal bull.

Prior to March 9, the general was high up in opinion polls; he could have defeated any politician in or out of the country if our Basic Law had permitted a presidential election based on adult franchise. So, why did the general devalue the latent strength of his achievements between 2001 and 2006? Consider: a rising economy, which averaged seven per cent plus in GDP growth over this period. A middle class was truly born in this period.

Consider: nearly as many motorcycles, television sets, mobile phones, domestic washing machines and fans, will be sold this year, as in the entire ‘democratic’ decade of the 1990s. This middle class is liberal by conservative standards, send their girls to schools, and aim for professional education for their sons. The rural areas received more access to piped potable water last year than in the entire decade of the 1990s. The rise in new electricity and gas connections has been likewise astronomical.

Equally impressive was the freeing of the press and the media since 2001. Never in our last 60 years has the press and media been as free as it is today, barring a few recent hiccups. What sort of a ‘dictator’ is he who allows himself to be lampooned on television, abused in the National Assembly, traduced in the press, and allows the judges to overrule his fiat?

On Kashmir and relations with India, Musharraf has earned the undying hatred of the right wing but most of us do realise, that there is no such thing as a ‘1,000-year war with India’, as once promised by the late Bhutto. A flexible approach on Kashmir has put India on the defensive.

Cross-border jihadism which only made life more miserable for the Kashmiris in the valley — caught between two infernos — swayed world opinion violently against Pakistan and sullied the Kashmir liberation movement. It required courage to free the economy from bureaucratic constraints, free the press and give India an honourable opportunity to come to terms on Kashmir. General Musharraf’s is a profile in courage.

As a politician, Musharraf has been less than adroit; he failed to appreciate that after eight years of power, any ruler must reinvent himself, if he wishes to continue in office. The road to reinvention would have been to go to the opposite extreme i.e. seek the mandate of the nation but this was not to be, and is now history.

On Saturday, Oct 6, the electoral college consisting of the members of the National Assembly, the Senate and provincial assemblies will vote in a president, among three contestants.

The voters of this country can only vote vicariously. What should be the criteria for consideration?

To my mind, the debate should be on measurable units of benefits given to the nation by the previous governments in the decade of democracy in the 1990s and the current era. For example, new rural dispensaries and hospitals and no qualified doctors in these, girl students receiving primary and secondary education, number of new safe drinking water outlets, new energy connections, comparison of prices of key commodities in Pakistan compared to the countries in the Saarc region, delays in lower and higher courts.

Instead, the entire focus in this election is on legal issues such as Article 58-2(b) or the uniform question.

This is not to say that constitutional issues are irrelevant. The need is merely to prioritise issues. Constitutional issues concern at best 0.1 per cent of the population, while the government’s ability to reach out and provide social, legal and health benefits to the common man concern 99.9 per cent of the population. Television and other debates should bring about a balance among the concerns of the many and the demands of the eclectic few.

Any comparison between the social and economic benefits received by the nation in the 1990s — the Bhutto-Sharif decade — and the period 2000-2007, makes the former come out so poorly, as to make one wonder why the nation wishes to inflict on itself ‘another decade of democracy’. If the 1990s are a guide, we will be buying again poverty, cronyism, corruption, cheating and a reversal back to ‘ground zero’. Should this be our fate? #

The writer is a member of the National Assembly


Untenable leniency...

Pushto Press: Weesa (Kabul)

IN interviews with Radio Liberty on Saturday, a number of people from Pashtunkot district of the Faryab province implored the government to free them from the clutches of an unreconstructed commander named Shamal. The poor souls — driven from their homes by the strongman — have relocated to Maimana where they continue to receive threats from the bully. The confirmation of Shamal’s highhandedness by local authorities serves as an epithet to the total capitulation of state organs to a handful of warlords in the northern provinces.

It is a spine-tingling fact that the international community, the Afghan government and opposition parties have shut their eyes to the atrocities inflicted on unarmed residents by headstrong commanders who continue to get away with crimes of the darkest dye. While the situation may have slightly changed for the better in parts of Afghanistan, the commoners remain at the mercy of powerful gunmen in the north — thanks to the rulers’ inaction in reining in a small number of obstinate individuals...

This sorry state of affairs does not bode well...in a country where the law is...used as a weapon in a few hands to coerce institutions into silence. How can one expect the downtrodden to lend their weight to a system that does not acknowledge even their fundamental rights...? With citizens still suffering at the hands of regional muggers and drug barons doing a roaring business, governmental claims of towering achievements will obviously ring hollow.

The bleak report aired by the independent radio station must shame the government into action to keep the thugs from perpetuating their sway and scuttling efforts at peace and stability. — (Sept 29)

Accountability at polls

Pushto Press: Wahdat (Peshawar)

A NO-holds-barred confrontation between President General Pervez Musharraf and his political foes over the last few years has not only had a profoundly debilitating effect on the teeming masses, it has also made a mockery of the government’s tall claims regarding the welfare of the poor. ...Musharraf showed former Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali the door to clear the decks for someone he commended as one of celebrated international gnomes. Under renowned economist Shaukat Aziz, he assured the nation, the underprivileged would soon see a turnaround in the economy, an end to food inflation, creation of employment opportunities and the provision of basic civic amenities at their doorstep.

Now that the assemblies have completed their ... tenure...the rulers have little to show for pro-people policies or tangible results of poverty alleviation measures. As central and provincial governments are still harping on ‘unprecedented development projects’ in the country’s chequered history of 60 years, tens of thousands of Pakistanis remain trapped in abject penury, youths stay jobless, children go without education and millions have no access to life-saving drugs...

In the prevailing anomie, what are the achievements that mark a positive change in people’s lives? However, those at the helm don’t balk at placing in the media large ads spotlighting the building of roads, hospitals, educational institutes and gas and power supply schemes. Compared with the oodles of funds pouring into the country as a result of bilateral agreements with many nations, the so-called uplift projects will simply pale into insignificance. Before exercising their universal franchise right … voters should think hard about whom they should catapult into power. — (Sept 30)

— Selected and translated by Mudassir Ali Shah

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007