Eventful days ahead

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh

EVENTFUL days and weeks lie ahead. Today the Supreme Court will resume hearings on the petitions challenging the president’s eligibility for re-election by the current national and provincial assemblies.

In one sense this can be deemed a non-event, since few people expect the decision to go against the President. But we will have to wait and see. There will also be an academic interest in the reasoning the Court will employ in justifying its decision.

There is greater interest in how the Court will handle the issue of the constitutionality or otherwise of the National Reconciliation Ordinance. On a legal plane the two issues may be seen as entirely different but if considerations of ‘public interest’ outweigh the application of the letter and spirit of the existing law in one case will they not do so in the other?

The other event is of course the long awaited arrival of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and that is of much more immediate interest. The preparations made by the party stalwarts suggest that much of Karachi will be shut sown as the ‘jiyalas’ from all over the country respond to the call to ‘chalo’ to the airport and provide a fitting reception to the returning leader and her entourage.

The current expectation is that there will be no effort by contending political parties to thwart the grand plans of the PPP and certainly no repeat of May 12. Whether such forbearance is prompted by the recent emphasis on national reconciliation or by discreet advice from other quarters it will be, if borne out in practice, a positive development.

The important question however will be whether this display of public support will be enough to eliminate or at least mitigate the damage done to her image and that of her party by the American brokered deal with Musharraf? Will she be able, in her first public speech on Pakistan soil after many years of exile, to restore the Bhutto ‘magic’ and to convince the sceptical masses and the even more sceptical media that transitional rather than transformational politics offered the best prospects for bringing full democracy to Pakistan?

A third anticipated event -- the return of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — is not likely to occur. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has been quite categorical in asserting that the Saudis will continue to play host to Nawaz Sharif for the full 10 years for which he had agreed to go into exile thus quashing rumours that Nawaz Sharif would leave Saudi Arabia for London shortly and then arrive in Pakistan before the end of the month.

This gives the lie in some measure to the president’s hints that Nawaz Sharif too may be allowed to return to Pakistan before the general elections as part of the grand reconciliation process. What will the Supreme Court bench headed by the Chief Justice himself have to say on this subject?

The fourth event -- the dissolution of the Assemblies and the induction of caretaker central and provincial governments — cannot also be long delayed given the announcement by the prime minister that the general elections are to be held in the first half of January. The induction in the NWFP of the highly respected and reportedly apolitical technocrat Mr Shamsul Mulk as chief minister, following the dissolution of the NWFP Assembly, is a positive development.

The question is whether such technocrats with no political ambitions and no agendas of their own will be found and appointed to head the caretaker governments in the Centre.

Certainly the prospects for genuinely free and fair elections will improve immeasurably if this is done. Could such a central caretaker government ensure that the internal political wing of the ISI is made non functional during this period or better still is wound up?

The next question that arises is that if the ISI is not active what happens to the MMA? Given the fissures in the ranks of the MMA, it appears that despite Qazi Hussain Ahmad’s desperate efforts the JUI and JI will not contest the forthcoming elections as one party.

What is even more important however is whether the election rule, requiring candidates to have a graduate degree, will be implemented and whether as a result many of the party stalwarts currently occupying seats in the central and provincial assemblies will be declared ineligible?

As I recall, the Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether the sanads granted by the religious schools can be regarded as the equivalent of graduate degrees. Will this case be scheduled for hearing before the elections? Will this government press for it?

How far will the abysmal record of the Durrani government in the Frontier weigh with the voters of that province? Many of them are calling for an examination of the assets of the erstwhile chief minister and his cabinet colleagues while yet others are asking for an assessment of the contribution made by his government to the growth of extremism in the tribal areas and the adjoining settled districts. Similar noises are gaining in volume and stridency with regard to the MMA components of the Balochistan cabinet.

On the other hand there is no doubt that disillusionment with the ‘pro-American’ establishment has grown through the length and breadth of the country and all politicians with the exception of some elements of the MMA are seen to be tainted in the same way. Will this translate into additional voter support in areas where the MMA does not have to defend a poor record of governance? Or will other more militant independent candidates emerge? If they do will they have support from some radical elements of the establishment?

All these are matters of considerable significance but of even greater significance to my mind is the growing perception that notwithstanding the deployment of 100,000 troops, the situation in the tribal areas is now beyond the army’s capacity to control.

A well researched article by the respected Guardian reporter Jason Burke appearing in last Sunday’s Observer paints an alarmist picture of a complex situation in which fractious warlords, flushed with drug money and contributions from rich sympathisers appear united only in opposition to the Pakistan government and where Al Qaeda appears to flourish with the help of some local support obtained partly through bribery and partly through ideological sympathy.

According to him, Nato officers in Afghanistan concede that there is a danger that the south and east of Afghanistan, already well beyond the authority of Kabul, will effectively translate “de facto autonomy” into independence. That raises the spectre of the confederation of warlord states that is in the process of emerging on the Pakistani side of the border effectively trebling in size with the addition of the Taliban-controlled zones in Afghanistan.’

‘It would be the United Taliban Emirates…. It would be the biggest and most defensible terrorist safe haven the world has ever seen’ he quotes one observer as saying.

One can only hope that these fears are unfounded. One can only hope that means will be found to block the flow of funds to this area and that this in addition to political talks reinforcing military action will succeed in preventing such a fearful denouement.

Architects’ role in city planning

By Arif Hasan

A DISCERNING visitor looking at buildings and public space in any city can easily assess four things. These are the state of the architecture and planning professions in the city; the quality of education provided by academic institutions in these disciplines; the culture of the local government representatives, decision-makers and the elite; and the state of civic agencies. Karachi scores poorly on all four counts.

Over the last decade and a half, a very large number of institutional and public use buildings have come up in Karachi. These include educational institutions, health facilities, pedestrian bridges and administrative buildings.

Except for a handful they are all climatically unsuitable, functionally inappropriate, aesthetically displeasing and of no particular architectural style. Most of them are aggressively monumental and adorned with fake Islamic symbols.

The architecture of the marriage halls is better for at least it has a certain style and reflects its function and the culture of its users.

A few good commercial buildings have been built in Karachi, especially in the last decade. However, most of them fit badly in the urban landscape adding to vehicular congestion at their entrances and exit points, especially to their car parking spaces.

This is more serious in the congested central business district and the old city and on the corridors that have been declared ‘commercial’ by the city government.

The reason for this is that bylaws and zoning regulations for these sensitive areas have been developed without urban design exercises.

An urban design exercise relates various social, environmental, architectural, heritage, governance and infrastructure issues to each other and to the larger city context.

The only time such an exercise was carried out was in the 1950s when volumetric studies were undertaken for the planning of Nazimabad. It is a matter of concern that in this city of 15 million no academic institution offers a degree in urban design, conservation or in urban and regional planning.

In recent times, a lot of monuments on roundabouts have been built by commercial concerns as a ‘gift’ to the city. Again, most of them are aggressive and aesthetically displeasing if not downright ugly. In many cases, the roundabouts and the green spaces developed in them are inaccessible to citizens.

In addition, the city is becoming increasingly unfriendly to pedestrians and to the hawkers and vendors that serve its lower-income citizens. Pavements have disappeared and away from the VIP corridors where the majority of Karachiites live, they are non-existent.

There is no planning for accommodating activities that evolve around bus stops or a proper relationship between them and pedestrian bridges. There are no pedestrian precincts or enforcement of rules related to zebra crossings. Being a pedestrian is simply hell in Karachi and this hell is increasing with every passing day.

The issues above do not say much for the architectural and planning professions. The vast majority of their members produce bad work. Also, as professions they have failed, unlike in many other countries, to influence the decision-makers and their clients.

They must honestly ask themselves why this is so.The issues above do not say much for the decision-makers and clients either.

The present state of architecture and public space is the result of their bad taste, wrong priorities, neglect of heritage, lack of interest in the needs of the pedestrian and commuting public and their failure to involve the best in the profession in the development of the city.

It is only through such an involvement that they can develop the necessary knowledge and institutions required for the creation of a better physical, and hence better social, environment.

For instance, the building of the Muhammad Bin Qasim Park was well-intentioned and is a great contribution to the city of Karachi.

However, if a conservation architect had been associated with it, the new construction would have been somewhat different in colour and texture from the Jahangir Kothari Parade so that the Parade would stand out as a historic monument of a different age.

Also, if architectural professionals had been associated, it is unlikely that the fences would have blocked the view to the ocean and to the entrance pavilion to the Parade.

Maybe, certain aspects such as the street of seashells and fish vendors would have been preserved in the design; the physical and social relationship between the mazaar, vendors and the ocean (which had evolved over time) would have been respected; and the relationship of the various functions within the mazaar would have been enhanced rather than violated.

And, perhaps, lime mortar instead of cement would have been used for conservation-related work.

The recent development projects also point to the need for a major improvement in management and technical skills within local government agencies.

The flyover and underpasses which have been built, except for the Hino Chowk flyovers, are of a very poor quality as compared to those built in other Asian cities. Also, no project is ever completed.

Debris is not lifted, the last paving stones and manhole covers are not installed, the spaces below the flyovers in many cases remain in shambles for months after the completion of the flyovers.

The massive road works that have been carried out in Karachi over the last few years have resulted in terrible sufferings for the people of this city simply because of poor planning and management. The question one is forced to ask is whether this was because of professional constraints or simply because the decision-makers did not care?

To create a better physical environment, the architecture

and planning professions and the decision-makers have to come closer together and this relationship should be institutionalised.

The professions should create a cell with full-time architects working in it for this purpose.

Given the large and lucrative architectural practices in this city, the cost of such a cell is easily affordable. The local government should consult with this cell on all architecture and planning related issues.

It should also be decided that for all institutional buildings architectural competitions will be held and will be judged by an international jury.

In addition, international urban design competitions should be arranged (through an association of the professions and local government) for Saddar,

the inner city and the new developments on the Northern Bypass.

These competitions should be exhibited in a big way and discussions with NGO and CBO involvement should be arranged around them.

This will not only create an awareness of important urban design and architectural issues but, if properly managed, will also create a new vitality in

the professions and in local government institutions which Karachi desperately needs. Many cities, such as Istanbul, have benefited enormously from such a process.

However, for the process to be meaningful, professional institutions and local government agencies have to have a certain level of dedication and competence.

How does one assess this? If it is not there, how does one create it? These are important questions that need to be answered.

In the print and electronic media, many commentators constantly point out that our people do not follow rules and regulations, they are rowdy and in some cases the word ‘uncivilised’ is used. However, it has to be understood that the physical environment to a very great extent determines how people behave.

The difference is obvious if you compare how people behave at the Daewoo bus terminal or at the airport as compared to Badami Bagh or the Cantonment Railway Station. The same difference was visible when travelling in a Karachi mini bus as compared to the green bus (when they functioned) although the people in both cases were the same.

‘National Reconciliation’, really?

By Kamran Shafi

South Africans, who coined the words ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ to make peace between the enforcers of the apartheid regime and the majority black population so that, in the words of the incomparable Nelson Mandela, ‘we might forgive (but we will never forget)’ the horrible excesses of the white supremacists.

So they went through excruciatingly painful paroxysms to banish the demons of torture and murder and rape and beatings and long solitary imprisonment. Our dictator has the gall to call his deal with the leaders of the People’s Party (and the MQM) a ‘National Reconciliation’. Not only that, he actually thinks all it takes is the promulgation of an ordinance, and abracadabra, and there shall be reconciliation.

There are several problems here. If Musharraf actually means national reconciliation when he says the words, does he not think that every institution that has committed excesses must be held to account so that an attempt can be made to repair the fissures and the fractures that threaten to destroy the very country today? That it is not politicians alone, but other organs of state too that have misused, nay abused, their remits?

Let’s start at the top, then, and since it is the most powerful organisation in the country not only by force of arms, but also because it is immensely cash rich by virtue of being the biggest business conglomerate and land-owner; and more than anything else because it has ruled the roost for most of our country’s life, does the Pakistan Army itself not have to reconcile with the people of the country who it has successfully conquered much too often? Does it not have to say sorry for its many acts of omission and commission which have repeatedly brought Pakistan limping back to the same old crossroads over and over and over again? And which today force it to ban the wearing of Army uniforms by, in one case, students of the Armed Forces Medical College in Rawalpindi Cantonment?

Should it not apologise over its horrific role in East Pakistan for all of the years that it was part of the country but specially during the war which resulted in the country breaking up? Let’s be honest for once, for God’s sake, specially those like I who were in the Army then and saw and heard much about what went on in that part of our own country.

When the Commander Eastern Command, none other than ‘Tiger’ Niazi used to exhort the troops — watch my lips, I said ‘troops’, meaning front-line soldiers — to ‘purify’ the Bengalis’ blood! When the penetration power of small arms used to be tested on Bengali freedom fighters (alright, ‘miscreants of the Mukti Bahini’) lined up back to front!

Does it not have to ask forgiveness from the Pakistani people for the kangaroo courts it ran during so-called martial law for the so-called ‘corrupt’ police head constables and revenue patwaris? Should it not beg forgiveness from those it cruelly lashed in public, even journalists, after disrobing them almost to nudity save a thin muslin strip covering their buttocks and trussing them up like animals before slaughter and then setting huge brutes dressed only in loincloths upon them who took a run of several steps before landing the cruel lashes upon their poor bodies? Should the Army not accept its own part in bringing Pakistan to its present sorry pass when we are at each other’s throats? Witness: the Waziristans.

As a part of the process of reconciliation, should the highest officers of the ISI and MI and IB and FIA and police not wash the feet of those mothers and fathers whose sons have been made to disappear for years without end, just as the practitioners of the cruelty under apartheid washed the feet of their victim’s kin, as atonement? Don’t mothers and fathers and wives and sons and daughters, Pakistanis just like Musharraf and his junta, have the right to know whether their loved one is dead or alive; well or unwell; being tortured by the Americans in Bagram or Guantanamo, or by Pakistani ‘agents’ at Mangla or wherever?

Or, indeed, by the Poles or the Czechs or the Brits or the Egyptians and/or others who have joined America’s mindless and stupidly fought war against terror and whose roles in the beastly ‘rendition’ programme are by now well known?

Should the Pakistani police, a largely criminal organisation itself, not admit its high-handedness and criminality against the people, and ask forgiveness of the nation at large, specially the poor and the powerless who get picked on at the drop of a hat most times to show the higher ups that the police is there and ‘working’? What ‘National Reconciliation’ does Musharraf talk about when the ‘clubs’ catering to the elite allow high stakes gambling on their premises, hundreds of thousands changing hands every night, and the poor are arrested for ‘gambling’ Rs50 each; spending years in jail, awaiting trial?

For true reconciliation, should the state not reopen Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s judicial murder case after one of the judges on the hanging bench, Nasim Hassan Shah, who rose to be Chief Justice of Pakistan please note, has admitted on record that the dictator Zia used to be in constant touch with then CJ, Anwarul Haq, and that Anwarul Haq used to ‘advise’ the judges that Bhutto must hang? How can there be sudden ‘National Reconciliation’ when so much muck has accumulated over the years that the cruel and mendacious Establishment has lorded it over us?

This country needs to be reconciled; of course it does, just like other violated countries. But not by the antics of the junta and its new hand-maiden, the Pakistan People’s Party. ‘But who will head the reconciliation effort?’ I hear many of you ask. We have people in this country, friends, pristinely true people who will always do the right thing, never anything unconscionable, who can well lead and make up the commission. People like I.A. Rehman and others like him. They are there — we only have to have faith in ourselves and look for them.

P.S. For those who weren’t around at the time of Zia’s monstrous martial law, a microphone used to be attached to the rack upon which the person being lashed was spread-eagled so that the assemblage could hear amplified sounds of the man screaming in agony as whip after whip landed on his body. And Musharraf has the audacity to talk about ‘National Reconciliation’ when all he is doing is to reward a political party for giving his ‘election’ some little credence.

Looking for professionalism

By Ayesha Azfar

WHILE it may be only too natural to hit out when the chips are down, surely the target should not include team members without whose support no degree of success is possible. Gen Musharraf has not yet relinquished his post of army chief, and it ill becomes a man in his position to publicly criticise those he commands.

To attribute the capture of 200 soldiers in Waziristan by militants to unprofessional behaviour on the part of the troops may not have been wholly untrue, and Gen Musharraf is known to be given to plain speaking. But to say as much on BBC is not only to publicly pass on the buck, it almost amounts to a betrayal.

Imagine the effect on the morale of the 200, who sit huddled in Taliban camps, not knowing their fate. Their captors have already made it clear that the military is not pushed about securing their release. Gen Musharraf’s comments on the troops’ professionalism would only reinforce such fears and feelings of being let down — even if there is a darker truth about the manner of their capture that he prefers to conceal.

Last week, experts summoned by the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee in Washington provided a telling view of the Pakistan Army which, they said, suffered from ‘a weakness of training, a weakness of equipment, and…a weakness of motivation’ plus low morale. Add to this the trauma of being made to fight against one’s own people, and it is easy to see why professionalism is lacking, and why desertions, as reported, are taking place.

Unfortunately, where professionalism is concerned, Gen Musharraf’s own record is poor on this count. Instead of breaking out of a system where politics and the military have continually merged, he has chosen to perpetuate it.

One may heap blame on the politicians for not showing enough spine and being lured into becoming part of army rule, but the general, as a leader, has sent out the wrong message to the army rank and file — that politics and military matters are perfectly compatible.

Obviously, this has not helped shape professionalism, especially at a time when his engagement with power play in civilian matters has left him little time to focus on his other job.

But to come back to the initial point, Gen Musharraf’s open criticism of his troops was in poor taste. Following orders of superior officers, the soldiers were on a difficult mission in a hostile terrain controlled by an implacable enemy and among embittered civilians living in a conflict zone where many are killed.

The battle-hardened Taliban have no qualms about executing captured soldiers, and the top brass in the military should be concentrating on these odds. A better target within the military for Gen Musharraf would have been those who, taking advantage of their ranks and authority, have indulged in pursuits far removed from defence matters, making millions in the process. If professionalism is what he wants, he should begin by sorting out those at the top and then make his way down.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007


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