Economics & new political structure
I DON’T often write about politics but on some occasions it is a subject that becomes difficult to ignore even for a person whose primary interest is economics. The present is one such moment. There cannot be any doubt that what is unfolding at this time is a unique event in Pakistan’s history.
It is unique since, for the first time in the country’s troubled experience, highly centralised power is yielding some of the space it occupies to other players. And this is happening without much violence.
The Pakistani street is a participant in current events but it has eschewed the use of power to confront those who have the formal authority to use it. The dynamics that is now working will proceed and a new political structure will evolve. This will have enormous consequences for the country’s economic future.
I see four trends at this time, each of which will have a significant economic impact. They are: the emergence of new players in the game of politics, deconcentration of power from the centre to the governments at the lower level, the willingness on the part of many to confront those who believe that they have the right to impose their religious beliefs on society, and the reshaping of relations with the outside world.
Once the current electoral cycle is over, there is no doubt that Pakistan will have a new political structure. The concentration of power in the hands of General Pervez Musharraf will yield to greater disbursement as new claimants seek space for themselves in the political system. Most of the new challengers will have broad support from the public. The Supreme Court will continue to assert its newly gained power. As it does this other institutions of the legal system will find reason for checking the power of the executive.
Civil society will exert itself and influence not only those who wield power but also those who influence it. The media — both print and electronic — will champion various causes popular with the segments of society it would want to cultivate for both ideological and business reasons.
Islamabad will lose some of the authority it currently enjoys. It will have to share power with governments at the sub-national levels. Following the elections to the national and provincial assemblies, the interests of the provinces will inevitably diverge from those of the centre. Pakistan, with a population of 165 million, cannot be governed from Islamabad as has been the case for decades. Some of the services the government must deliver can be provided efficiently and effectively only when those providing them are close to the people and accountable to them.
When the history of the first Musharraf period (1999-2007) is written, what will be applauded is the decentralisation of power to the local governments. This devolution is being resisted by those who stand to lose if power devolves to the local representatives of the people.
Among those in opposition to this trend are the provinces who don’t want to lose the authority they are acquiring from Islamabad. Some political parties are also not keen to develop the new system since they are as centralised in their structure as the current apparatus of the government.
The issue of the role of religion in politics and in the way society functions has been contentious ever since the country gained independence.
The question the citizenry must answer is relatively simple: should those who believe that only they know how to interpret Islam for the rest of society have the licence to impose their will? The answer is as simple as the question itself.
A society must be guided by the laws it devises and not by someone else’s narrow interpretation of what the Almighty wants.
And then there is the question of Pakistan’s relations with the countries in its neighbourhood as well as the larger powers. Foreign relations in the past were guided by three considerations: the perceived need to balance the power of India, the need for foreign capital for augmenting the low rates of domestic savings and support for the Muslim world. Will a more dispersed political system continue to view foreign relations from these three angles?
Having pursued an India-centric foreign policy, some among Pakistan’s current political elite, including President Pervez Musharraf, have begun to see the wisdom of benefiting from India’s economic size. With this recognition will come a significant reorientation of foreign policy. Pakistan has, at times, followed America’s strategic interests rather than its own for the simple reason that it has been economically very dependent on Washington. That dependence has declined because of the restructuring of capital flows into the country. This too should lead to change in the direction of foreign affairs.
Then there is the question of Pakistan’s relations with the Muslim world. In this area, the policymakers were guided more by emotions than by the country’s strategic interests. Pakistan, more than most Muslim countries, has unquestionably supported the Palestinian cause. Its championship has been more vocal than that of some of the Arab countries. Even when the late Yasser Arafat failed to support Pakistan on Kashmir, Pakistan’s commitment to the Palestinians did not flag.
The time has come to weigh relations with the Muslim world from the perspective of Pakistan’s national interest rather than on the basis of romantic notions about the Muslim Ummah. Under President Musharraf not enough attention was given by Islamabad to craft the country’s economic strategy in light of political and foreign policy imperatives. The general did well to leave the management of the economy to a group of professionals. The professionals, however, were either not inclined or were not able to strategise on developing an economy that would serve all segments of the population. The result of this approach was that while a decent level of growth was achieved in the gross domestic product, it failed to address a number of problems.
Among these is the continued dependence of the economy on external capital flows and the reliance on a few capital-intensive sectors for producing growth. This approach, in turn, has failed to deal with the high incidence of poverty, low level of human development, continuing economic and social backwardness of women, increasing disparity in income and in the development of different provinces.
Practically no attention has been paid to the development of the institutions that would support growth and alleviate poverty over the long term.
Property rights are not fully protected and the legal structure does not provide protection to investors and consumers. The government has neglected large cities which continue to function without the adequate provision of basic services particularly to the poorer segments of the population.
Islamabad has also failed to develop an export sector that could have taken advantage of some remarkable developments in the global economy. In some areas, the failures outweigh the successes.
With a new political structure evolving, this is a good time to turn the state’s attention towards these economic problems. How that should be done is the subject for next week.
A nightmare foretold
THE dastardly midnight suicide attacks, causing an unprecedented number of deaths and injuries and which rudely interrupted her triumphal second homecoming reception, have made Ms Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan after eight years of self-exile a bigger landmark event than it would have been otherwise.
More importantly, her decision to trash the self-serving advice given by the government to defer her visit until the Supreme Court verdict on sensitive constitutional issues may prove to be the boldest and most fateful decision of her political career. It may arguably also be the best news for democracy in Pakistan.
Whether she entered a deal with Musharraf or not, she has pre-empted him and his allies from obtaining the electoral walkover they had scripted, with her as a junior partner. Although critics have called her decision to go ahead with her visit naïve, shallow and insincere, it may turn out to be a mighty blow for democracy. Now she faces the more challenging task of showing her mettle and astuteness by continuing her political campaign for the revival of democracy and for ensuring
the exit of the military from the political scene. This will be no mean act of courage in today’s Pakistan. If the rumours about the existence of ‘the deal’ were exaggerated before her arrival, the rumours about its early demise are even less credible after the events of October 18 that culminated in the midnight blasts.
Given the high stakes of those who are promoting it, efforts to salvage it will continue to be made.
Musharraf’s telephone call to Benazir and the conciliatory stance being adopted by his political allies after the blast, in contrast to the hostile and mocking attitude displayed before her arrival, can be viewed in this context.
Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution, however, maintains that ‘Ms Bhutto and Mr Musharraf detest each other, and the concept that they can somehow work collaboratively is a real stretch.’
What Ms Bhutto’s return has achieved is to demystify the myth that people are no longer interested in politics and to demonstrate on the streets against the regime and in support of democracy. While the PPP’s claim of mobilising three million people for Benazir’s rally is more hyperbolic than exact, most observers, except Messrs Durrani, Pervaiz Elahi and Sheikh Rashid, consider it as one of the largest and most vibrant political gatherings.
Indeed, while there was rejoicing and jubilation among the organisers and participants, there was a sense of panic among the authorities as the crowd swelled as it moved closer to the Quaid’s mazar. Suddenly, as midnight struck, the carnival turned into carnage.
While conspiracy theories will continue to abound, the authorities will never be completely absolved from being implicated for their responsibility (especially since the Taliban, who usually boast about such achievements, have denied their involvement), unless a high-powered inquiry points its finger at someone else.
The turning off of the street lights and the non-effectiveness of the jamming devices are all significant circumstantial pointers to the existence of a security lapse, if not overt collusion. Ms Bhutto herself is unclear whom to blame for her foretold nightmare.
In her highly excited press conference 18 hours after the disaster, she repeatedly mentioned a group of secret conspirators in the establishment whom she suspected of having plotted the suicide attacks on her. At the same time, she refrained from blaming Musharraf and continued to repeat the rhetoric about a militant minority keeping the whole country hostage in its march towards democracy.
But this is nothing short of mistaking the woods for the trees. The real source of militancy is Musharraf’s eight-year, one-man rule, which has provided it a high moral ground for political existence.
His obsequious alliance with the United States in the war on terror and his unholy alliance with the ‘remnants of the Zia regime’ have forsaken the prospect of democracy. His shameless tampering with the Constitution for protecting his own and the military’s interest has resulted in a sham banana republic democracy.
By virtually banning all genuine political activity for the past eight years, he has promoted a political culture where democratic institutions can’t thrive.
But for the lawyers-led movement, which his regime tried its best to suppress, he would have completely stifled democratic stirrings and would have certainly prevented Ms Bhutto’s return, as he did Nawaz Sharif’s.
What is even scarier is that the government intends to use the tragedy as an excuse for limiting political activities for the election campaign which Sheikh Rashid has already predicted will be “bloody”. This is nothing but an attempt by the regime to absolve itself of its responsibility for protecting human lives.
Instead of using the intelligence services to prevent suicide bombings, which are conveniently deemed unpreventable, they are being used for political purposes to perpetuate the regime.
The forthcoming decisions of the Supreme Court hang as a sword of Damocles over the fates of not only Musharraf, but also Benazir and Nawaz Sharif.
The regime is nervously awaiting the Supreme Court’s nod for Musharraf to be sworn in by the Chief Justice whom he sacked a few months ago. If this nod is not forthcoming, the political scenario could change dramatically and lead to any number of situations — including the oft-threatened prospect of martial law.
Ironically, should Musharraf’s election be declared ultra vires by the Supreme Court, Ms Bhutto’s return could prove providential for paving the way towards a process of genuine reconciliation and enduring democratic governance.
In that case, all those who have criticised Ms Bhutto’s deal as capitulation to Musharraf, including this scribe, will have to hang their heads in shame and marvel at her political skill and prescience.
In case the Supreme Court validates the Oct 6 election, the confrontation between the various political parties is likely to exacerbate and the PML will have a tremendous incumbency advantage.
Gen Musharraf, even if he redeems his pledge to doff the uniform, which is by no means certain, is likely to call all the shots. As per his troika plan, the prime minister will be at best a junior partner and Musharraf, helped by a pliable COAS as an auxiliary, will be the lead horse.
Ms Bhutto, if elected prime minister — which will be a big if under those circumstances — may enjoy more superficial powers in the troika than a Shaukat Aziz, Jamali or Junejo, because of her larger vote bank and genealogy, but she will remain on the presidential leash of Article 58-2 (b) and will be as hamstrung, if not more, as she was during her previous two terms.
She could at best try to move the troika sideways or drag her feet to put a brake on the military’s misadventures. The deal, if adhered to by Musharraf, may help her regain the pelf, but not the power, she lost on being ousted from the government a decade ago. Ms Bhutto will thus have much to gain and little to lose, except the unreliable crutches provided by General Musharraf at the
behest of Washington and London, regardless of the Supreme Court decision, if she now offers an olive branch to all political parties formerly in the ARD to launch a joint campaign to oust the Musharraf regime and to have an interim all-party government for holding free and fair general elections.
This will also prove her credentials for seeking genuine reconciliation in the country and for reaffirming the Charter of Democracy.
The wages of sin
SO then, the American-brokered Mother of All Deals, or MAD, has spawned the first of its many malformed babies. Upwards of 570 poor souls were injured, some of them horribly mutilated; and more than 140 met their undeserved and tragic end.
A festival of dancing and joy by innocent political workers who had gathered in their tens of thousands to welcome their leader back to the country was in a mad instant turned into blood-soaked tragedy.
I went to sleep at 11:30 pm on the night that Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan and woke at my customary hour of 6 the next morning.
I was making my way to the TV to see the rally’s progress when the telephone rang. It was my old friend Prapa from Bangkok inquiring how I was. ‘Fine, Prapa, why do you ask?’ I said. There was a pause. ‘The bomb attacks,’ Prapa said, ‘on Benazir’s rally. I thought you were there.’
‘What!’ I yelled, and lunged for the TV. There it was, in living colour; at the exact moment that I put on the TV, the station was running an old clip which graphically showed bloodied bodies lying about, some writhing in agony, and a man screaming and hopping around on one foot, the other one missing, blown away.
I burst into tears right then, readers, at what has been made of my country and yours: where the ineptness and asinine policies of an army dictator, lord and master of all he surveyed while he held it by the throat for eight long years, has brought it to its present pass; where the obscurantist merchants of death and destruction, their daddies and granddaddies in the establishment looking on benignly, can turn our happiness into abject sadness in the flash of an eye.
Where life, be it that of a man or woman or child, is nowhere near being sacrosanct. Where cruelty and hard-heartedness have taken the place of kindness and compassion.
To add insult to injury, the federal and Sindh governments have fallen over themselves in muddying the waters with instantaneous diagnoses of what exactly happened, including announcing assuredly the exact weight of the explosive used by the suicide bomber.
Newspapers friendly to MAD on the very next day of the carnage have also apportioned blame. But how in God’s name can the Sindh government be so cocksure that the explosions targeting Benazir Bhutto and her rally were caused by a suicide bomber?
And is it not too early in the day, especially in a country where police investigations are not of the highest standard, for the authorities to definitely say X amount of Y explosive was used? I have some little experience of explosives (no, I did not learn how to make time bombs at FC College like our Commando did!) from my days in the army and know that it would be near impossible for a suicide bomber to cause the kind of damage — anyone notice the mangled car? —or the number of casualties.
The possibility that it was a remote-controlled bomb planted in the car simply cannot be ruled out at this early stage of investigations.
Which would lead us elsewhere: while it would still be possible for Al Qaeda to have carried out the bombings due to its effective tentacles in virtually every urban centre in Pakistan, particularly Karachi, the blame could as easily be that of the extremists nurtured and used when needed by the ‘agencies’.
To tell the truth, the bombs in Karachi came as a veritable blessing for the junta at this fraught time for it, made even more fraught by the arrival in the country of the leader of Pakistan’s largest political party as demonstrated by the crowds that welcomed her.
Just see how immediately afterwards Shujaat Hussain, whose king’s party could never manage to gather even one-sixth as many people in all of the six years that it has played second fiddle to the dictatorship, suggested to Shaukat Aziz that political rallies be banned across the country.
One can imagine the size of the cat let loose in the Gujrat dovecote by the quite nonsensical statements coming out of Pervaiz Elahi too.
Be which as it may, and no matter how opposed one was/is to Benazir even talking to an army dictator and thereby giving the army a further inch, she is back and bully for her.
This leads me to say that all who believe in the supremacy of civil society and rule of law and Constitution must stand up and tell the junta and its hangers-on that we have had enough of mudslinging on opposition politicians alone.
That whilst we are aware that there are serious allegations of corruption against politicians opposed to the junta, there are equally serious allegations of corruption against those in the king’s party too. And that the top generals (‘Pakistan’s billionaire generals’, according to The Guardian) are not known for being pure as the driven snow either.
If you don’t believe me, go visit Chak Shehzad, Islamabad the Beautiful, and see the humongous mansions being so lovingly built there.
So then, what next for Ms Bhutto? She must now insist that Nawaz Sharif and his brother be allowed to come back to their country and lead their party in the coming elections.
The political parties must get together on one platform and take immediate steps that would forever consign the army to its barracks and training areas.
Benazir should then address our tribal brothers and sisters and say she is here to put salve on their wounds, inflicted by an unthinking and inept and cruel dispensation too often acting the part of Tonto to the US government’s The Lone Ranger.
Ms Bhutto should say that it is her fervent desire that peace return to the tribal areas, and that henceforth, judiciousness rather than gun-slinging will determine the government’s policies of applying the state’s writ in Fata.
Incidentally, I agree absolutely that foreign terrorism and forensics experts be called in to investigate the Karachi bombings. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you see the faces that exercise will unmask!
P.S. In honour of President George W. Bush’s great intellect, we shall be regaled by his pearls of wisdom every week. Enjoy! Bushism of the Week: ‘I feel strongly that there ought to be fair justice.’ — President George W. Bush; Washington DC, Sept 20, 2007
Re-engineering political processes
WHEN a political party recently announced on TV that the party tickets for the next elections would depend upon the number of persons a candidate could commandeer for the Oct 18 airport show, one knew that politics in Pakistan was still stuck in a time warp.
When we were told that a crowd of three million people would walk the 24-kilometre distance at a speed of 250 metres per hour, one felt sorry for the city that would have to undergo this invasion.
When it was announced that a Muslim cannot kill another Muslim (and certainly not a woman) one felt sad that the story of the caliphate was not well covered by our history books.
The politicos of Pakistan, from the mumbo jumbo variety at one end to the ultra-articulate at the other, share one thing in common. They have not changed. Their clichés, slogans, styles, modes, means and methodologies continue to remain unabashedly the same over the past 60 years.
Pakistan, on the other hand, has changed much. It now takes a few thousand Pakistani rupees to hire a goon to kill a decent soul. It takes, even less — only a few heavenly promises — to convince an under-18 to kill a crowd of hundreds.
Pakistan is no longer a normal country. It is the only country in the world where a military chief also takes part in political elections. It is the only country in the world that is in a state of war but keeps pretending business as usual.
It is the only country in the world where leaders have to be killed or kicked out in order to get their seat vacated. It is the only country in the world whose Constitution is frequently altered to accommodate person-specific changes.
The list of “it is the only country” is long enough to suggest that the normal rules of business simply do not apply and the traditional ‘more of the same’ methods will only yield more of the same results.
The first thing a potential Pakistani leader, worth his or her salt, must do is to undertake a Politics 101 course to learn how politics is conducted in civilised countries.
S/he would learn how people are mobilised without disturbing civic life; how extensive contacts can be made with the masses by using modern means of communication; how popularity can be determined without assembling a crowd and how messages can be cascaded down the party’s rank and file using modern organisational techniques.
S/he would also learn how trees and textiles can be saved by not wasting Rs30 million on paper and cloth banners, and how all that is politically fair can be done without causing the loss of two billion rupees by halting all trade and commerce.
Pakistan must radically change its political ethos and mechanisms if it is to move towards a genuine democratic dispensation.
If 60 years have resulted in just about the same 60 feudal families sharing (by rotation) all the political power then we have an engine whose inlet filters are severely clogged.
The current political recipe is heavily loaded against fresh entrants and is designed only to recycle a specific brand of political products.
A new code of political conduct needs to be devised. Why can’t every political party be given fixed air time on national TV channels to publicly, rationally and at no more than 20 decibels state what exactly they stand for. This may be the best way to reach every Pakistani household.
Why can’t political parties declare their manifesto in all national newspapers? Let the people have something in writing they can hold their leaders accountable for.
Why can’t the assets and tax returns of everyone who contests the elections be conveyed to all voters on websites as well as in newspapers?
The awam ki adalat needs to be given an opportunity to ask the right questions. Pakistan has made considerable improvements in its passport, immigration control, driving licence and ID card systems by introducing a byte of modern technology and a pinch of common sense. Can the same not be done to improve the primitive politicking process of Pakistan?
|© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007|
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