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DAWN - Editorial; October 06, 2007

October 06, 2007


Whose victory?

IT is now a matter of opinion whether Friday’s short order on the presidential election today has served to remove the political uncertainty that has surrounded the nation since the July 20 decision on the CJ’s case. The government’s euphoria over the Supreme Court’s refusal to stay the presidential election has been dampened by the accompanying caveat that the results of the polling will not be notified till the apex court makes its decision known on the merit of the case. That only postpones the outcome of the current bout of politico-judicial battles. Last week’s six-three judgment dismissing the petitions challenging President Pervez Musharraf’s right to contest the presidential election was based on technical grounds; it did not go into the merit of the case. The position remains unchanged even after yesterday’s Supreme Court judgment, which was unanimous. The opposition must have felt disappointed, though a flicker of hope must still be there, since the apex court is still to give its opinion on what after all is the issue — whether a general can contest the presidential election. Profound and arcane they may be, the implications of the Seventeenth Amendment have served President Musharraf eminently well. What is more, sections of the opposition — the MMA to be specific — supported it and thus made the Legal Framework Order part of the Constitution. For that reason, the opposition leaders would be too naïve if they thought that the courts would give them what they failed to get for themselves on the floor of parliament or on the streets.

The en bloc resignations by the MMA-led opposition will now make no difference to the outcome of the election, since the ruling coalition has enough votes to make candidate Musharraf win without the results being officially notified. With the PPP on board, the electoral process is now moving forward. The opposition, too, legitimised the presidential election by putting up Mr Wajihuddin Ahmed as its candidate, Mr Amin Fahim’s candidacy being little more than the PPP’s show of me-tooism. As for the ‘deal’, even a cursory reading of the national reconciliation ordinance will show the military’s realisation that it cannot call the shots indefinitely and that for a system to be stable, politically legitimate and acceptable to the world as a partner in the war on terror it must have a popular mandate reflecting the plurality of Pakistan’s political and ethnic reality. For the ordinance to be meaningful and truly national, the Sharifs have to be accommodated. Mr Nawaz Sharif is determined to return, and it is only a very foolish government that would like to repeat the Sept 10 drama.

Battered and bruised no less than the government, the opposition must redefine its aim. Getting President Musharraf out of uniform or even out of power is too small an aim; his exit may make the opposition smell the sweet scent of victory, but that will hardly guarantee a bright and democratic future for the nation. What the opposition must do is to try on its own to develop a national consensus whose aim should be a forward move towards a genuine civilianisation of the polity. The nation has suffered too much because of confrontations whose outcome invariably led to regression and to unbridled dictatorship.

Managing water resources

ALL the signs are that the country’s growing water shortage could assume critical proportions in the coming years, especially when the effects of climate change become more pronounced. It is estimated that per capita availability of water fell by almost 80 per cent between 1951 and 2006, and the gap between demand and supply will widen further as the population increases. Experts predict that in roughly two decades’ time, Pakistan will be among the countries hit hardest by water scarcity. Within the next 50 years, when the rapidly receding Himalayan glaciers may have disappeared altogether, at least 90 per cent of available water sources will be exhausted if current trends persist. Of course there is little the country can do individually about climate change and its potentially calamitous effects. But in the current context at least, the root causes of the water shortage lie more in mismanagement and irrational use than in scarcity. Simply put, we waste water on a staggering scale. Agriculture, fed by the world’s largest contiguous irrigation network and the mainstay of the national economy, consumes roughly 95 per cent of all available water resources. As such it is easy to understand why conservation efforts must focus on this sector.

A welcome development in this connection was the National Programme for Improvement of Watercourses, under which some 86,000 waterways across the country were to be brick-lined by the end of 2009. Unfortunately, the Rs66bn project is far behind schedule, with only 33,000 watercourses lined so far, and is unlikely to be completed before 2011. Assuming quality construction, waterway lining and maintenance of banks greatly help control water losses incurred through seepage and the breaching of canals, both natural and deliberate. In the case of NPIW, it is hoped that the project will ultimately save eight million acre feet (MAF) of water, or 7.6 per cent of the 105 MAF fed into the canal system every year. It is also expected to reduce waterlogging and salinity, boost crop intensity and productivity, and ensure greater equity in water distribution. Little headway has been made in other key areas as well, such as levelling of agricultural land and the introduction of water-efficient farming methods. Meanwhile, the expensive telemetry system for monitoring discharges at various points in the Indus water distribution network remains dysfunctional, hampering judicious and equitable supply to end users. These are grave shortcomings which must be overcome at the earliest.

Horrific honour crimes

IT is shocking to read Aurat Foundation’s report that 95 men and 165 women have been killed so far this year in Sindh for karo kari. That this is not headline news is sadly reflective of the government’s attaching low priority to such crimes which contribute to people’s apathy towards them. Those who are horrified by such statistics do not know how to express their frustration or translate that into action. NGOs continue to voice their protests and raise awareness on the issue but need to be joined by civil society as there is strength in numbers. The more people join in, the more likely they are to pressurise the government into taking action. Despite passing an honour crime bill, which carries the death sentence that is rarely applied, honour crimes are continuing, and with impunity. There is also the need to create awareness among the people and educate them about the dignity of women. Attaching family honour to women and commodifying them has been a conventional practice in all societies. Most advanced countries have outgrown this mindset. But unfortunately, in our backward socio-cultural milieu such obsolete concepts continue to hold sway. Not surprisingly, violators are rarely taken to task for their actions.

The problem is that laws are rarely implemented: from difficulty in registering an FIR to problems securing convictions, the odds are stacked against those who want to remove this menace from society. Laws alone cannot bring about a change but their strict implementation can make the much needed difference. A change in mindset requires a steely political will — beyond what we have seen thus far — and widespread awareness campaigns so that people can see for themselves the unjustness of honour crimes.

France’s fast moving leader

By Zafar Masud

TALKING about The Age of Turbulence, the recently published book of memoirs by the Wizard of Fed, former US Federal Reserve Board chief Alan Greenspan, would probably be too much economy-speak for a restful morning. But the point here is Greenspan’s fascination with Ayn Rand and her novel Atlas Shrugged which was published

in 1957 and has never dropped from sales charts since.

Atlas Shrugged is an unabashed ode to individualism, to selfishness not as a vice but as a virtue. In it the American society is suddenly taken over by a surge of trade unions and strikes. So the captains of industry, scholars, inventors, scientists and intellectuals get together and decide to go on a strike of their own …with dire consequences, needless to say, to economic life of course, but more damagingly to collectivist ideology itself.

Unlike the book’s hero, John Galt, France’s newly elected President Nicolas Sarkozy, 52, has never used the word ‘selfishness’ in his utterances but talks regularly about ‘getting up early’ and ‘working more to earn more’. To prove his point, he moves faster than he talks. He is the fastest moving object on the European political scene these days.

Sarko, a nickname expressing affection as well as denigration depending on who you are, uses provocation as his preferred tool to demolish taboos established in France following two decades of Socialist Party rule. Not content with his verbal onslaughts, the president quickly translates them into action.

Hours after his election in May this year, Sarkozy hopped on a flight with wife and children to an unknown destination. A well-deserved rest, he announced, after months of hectic electioneering. As it turned out, he was on the yacht of a billionaire friend docked in the blue seas near Malta. That was his first message to the nation even before swearing in. ‘There is no shame in making money, or in befriending rich people for that matter.’

Hating Americans for whatever they do, but secretly envying them and borrowing their ideas and practices with the passage of time, was another principle inculcated by the Socialists in the psyche of two successive French generations.

Two months after his election the new president decided to go on summer vacation with his family in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. Quelle horreur! Then he had the temerity of revelling in a corn-on-the-cob and barbecue meal with the Bushes at their family estate in Kennebunk Port nearby. He shocked the French Left, but his message hardly lacked clarity. In his own words: ‘I don’t see why I should have given up going to the United States because a small part of the French elite professes an anti-Americanism that in no way corresponds to what the French people think.’ A position with which Alan Greenspan agrees 100 per cent, as he told the French daily Le Figaro in a recent interview.

Political adversary François Bayrou, number three in last May’s presidential race, has likened Sarkozy to a piranha in a goldfish bowl. The extreme reference of course was to the president’s gobbling up one by one stalwarts from the Socialist camp. Bernard Kouchner was appointed foreign minister, Dominique Strass-Kahn was scooped up, right in the midst of his campaign to lead the Socialist Party, to be named the candidate from France to head the International Monetary Fund, a decision applauded by Alan Greenspan and a position confirmed by the IMF governing body on Friday, Sept 28.

Jack Lang, former culture minister, was asked by Sarkozy to draft an important report, as was Hubert Vedrine, once President Mitterrand’s eminence grise. All four have abandoned since then the defeated presidential candidate Segolene Royal in her bid to replace former boyfriend François Holland as secretary-general of the Socialist Party. Sweet revenge!

Not working too hard seemed to have entered the French ethics in the recent past. The Socialists invented the 35-hour work week while the unions pressed for, and got away with, retirement with full benefits at age 50 in certain sectors.

All this has got to change, says the president. He also wants retired people to come back to work if they want to, and is encouraging those still working to earn more by doing overtime. No taxation on these additional incomes, he promises.

Sarkozy has found an enthusiastic aide in Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, another Ayn Rand fan who left a top executive position with the Dutch ING financing group to join his government. She is convinced that the French waste too much time in reveries. ‘Roll up your sleeves and stop thinking!’ she does not fail to remind them now and then. Understandably, the Left Bank intellectuals are quite irked by all this talk of stopping to think.

Sarkozy’s economic programme is much in contradiction with his predecessor Jacques Chirac’s who spent his 12 years in power practically doing nothing despite election promises to do away with state interventionism established by the Socialist Party. Unfettered market forces à l’américaine, Chirac had posited, were as much an anathema to the French psyche as was Soviet totalitarianism. In that sense Sarkozy’s mission now is to pick up the threads where the Socialists had left them more than a decade ago. He has wowed to curtail unions’ powers and make hiring and firing easier in order to reduce unemployment.

France’s mercurial president never stops taking by surprise his own entourage. Encouraged by his rhetoric over Tehran’s nuclear programme that ‘one will have to choose between Iran possessing the bomb and Iran being bombed,’ Foreign Minister Kouchner spoke of preparing for war. A week later Sarkozy told journalists: ‘France’s position is clear. No nuclear weapons for Iran, but an arsenal of sanctions to convince it. Negotiations, discussions, firmness! And I don’t want to hear anything else that would not contribute usefully to the discussion. For my part, I don’t use the word war.’

Probably the biggest obstacle in France’s transatlantic relations and a national sacred cow to boot, in the sense that it was President Charles de Gaulle himself who had pulled the country out of the Alliance in 1966, remains the membership of the integrated military command of Nato. Now Sarkozy is talking of getting a project on returning to the fold in motion too.

No matter which way you look at it, the Sarko locomotive is hurtling on.

Private universities in the doldrums


THERE is a lot of discussion about private universities…but little has been done to improve them. The main problem is the flawed law laid out in a hurry in 1992. To make things worse, the universities did not operate in line with the law.

...The first batch of private universities took off in a better condition. Now many of them — with so-called outer campuses — just sell certificates. Some private universities are over-staffed, some are running short of teachers.

Thousands of students, left out of the race for public universities, rush to private universities only to get disappointed. ...The University Grants Commission, the watchdog of universities, had set up a committee to clean up the mess. But its recommendations did not work out under political pressure of a political government.

This year, the caretaker government stepped in and redesigned the law to shut the ‘outer campuses’. Two-thirds of teachers have to be full-timers. A vice-chancellor must be an academician with 20 years of experience. A private university has to pay Tk25 crore, up from five crore takas, in reserve against permission for the running of the campus.

We should keep in mind that many laws were not enforced in the past. ...Private universities were built for students who failed to enter public universities. Many more students would have gone abroad for higher studies if the system had not been in place. Not everyone can afford it. The concept of a private university is a noble one. But most of them have failed to live up to standards. Most are just raking in money...— (Oct3)

Fakhruddin builds image...


IN his address to the United Nations General Assembly, chief adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed repeated his pledge to hold national elections by the end of 2008. ...For this, strong administrative agencies are a must. Fakhruddin also said it might be possible to hold the elections well ahead of the deadline. ...To live up to the people’s expectations, the government cleaned up constitutional organisations. The chief adviser also reminded people that the election commission had launched efforts to make a correct voters’ list and started dialogue with political parties.

In line with the outcome of a series of talks, the main election office will reform or make laws.

The Anticorruption Commission and the Public Service Commission are the other two institutions that underwent deep overhaul.

It appears that the government is sincere about carving out a clean and strong administration. Free and fair elections and a strong administration have the same purpose — to create a momentum for Bangladesh to move on after the end of the tenure of the caretaker government.

Both at home and abroad, many are in doubt about Bangladesh’s political future — whether political governments after the emergency government would be able to continue reform and development efforts.

“We want a clean government. We are not taking sides...,” Fakhruddin told a gathering of expatriates in New York. In the light of what the government has already done to overhaul the administration, we hope Bangladesh’s future would be built on the present... — (Oct 4)

— Selected and translated by Arun Devnath

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007