The tasks ahead
THE tumultuous welcome accorded to Benazir Bhutto on her arrival in Karachi was negated by the horrific bomb blasts clearly aimed at the container vehicle in which she and the party leadership were travelling. While the exact size of the crowd that greeted her is disputed, there is no doubt that those who thronged to greet her in what was an atmosphere of festivity and joy far exceeded any that had been seen in more than two decades on the streets of Karachi.
Was Benazir right in ignoring the warnings of a possible terrorist attack and the advice that she keep short the time she spent on Sharea Faisal to the Quaid’s mausoleum for her major speech?
There is no easy answer to the question. On the one hand was the obvious physical danger attached to ignoring what was a genuine threat. On the other was the politically risky course of not demonstrating the degree of support she enjoyed in her home city and province at a time when this had been called into question by the strong adverse public, or at least media, reaction to her ‘deal’ with the much reviled military dictator. In the view of her supporters, perhaps there was no real choice.
If she was to make a comeback after an eight-year absence, the risk involved had to be taken.
Was the tragedy the result of a contrived failure of security? The former prime minister has avoided suggesting that the security personnel provided by the local administration had been negligent. There have been words of praise for the police personnel who along with her ‘Janissars’ lost their lives.
While Asif Zardari had no hesitation in asserting that the assassination attempt was to be laid at the door of the intelligence agencies, she herself said nothing that would jeopardise the reconciliation process.
In fact, she publicly acknowledged the telephonic message of condolences from President Musharraf and reiterated his suggestion that they would have to work together to rid the country of the menace of terrorism and extremism.
There have, however, been questions raised about the streetlights having been switched off and about the unresponsiveness of the authorities to the repeated complaints on this score that her people lodged.
Again, there has been no effort to hold the local government i.e. the MQM responsible for this deliberate or inadvertent lapse.
She has asked for a thorough investigation and has even suggested that foreign experts be called in to help with the investigation — a demand that may in part have been prompted by the offer of assistance made by the American ambassador.
As has happened in the past in Pakistan, no such assistance will be sought on the ground that this would be a slur on our sovereignty.
No result will emerge from the local investigation for which a special team has been constituted. But that would be attributable not to any deliberate government effort at a cover-up, it would be linked to the difficulties attached to finding definitive proof while deploying ill-equipped and poorly trained personnel for a horrendously difficult task.
The finger will, however, point in the minds of the PPP strategists and a large part of the general public at the Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and his Lal Masjid brigade cohorts — or in other words towards the same people who had made attempts on the life of President Musharraf, and who have been responsible for the death of numerous Pakistani soldiers.
This could be seen as creating another tie, albeit a tenuous one, between two people who by all accounts are not particularly fond of each other but must at this time look for and find enough common ground to overcome the alleged antipathy.
Decisions from the Supreme Court on the questions raised about the president’s eligibility to continue in his present office and about the Reconciliation Ordinance have yet to be answered. But assuming that the decisions do not upset the applecart and that the new ‘partnership’ genuinely works, what should be the tasks that lie ahead?
First, both must recognise that the return of Nawaz Sharif is going to be essential if the forthcoming elections are to have credibility.
Neither need be apprehensive about the recent poll figures that suggested a higher popularity rating for Nawaz Sharif than for either of them. If the tragedy in Karachi proved anything at all it was that her charisma has not faded and that it can overcome any doubts that her agreement with the president has engendered.
Second, the apparent dangers notwithstanding, all political parties that are willing to do so must be allowed to campaign in the tribal agencies.
Their campaigns must be aided by an all-out effort by the current or the caretaker government to publicise in these areas the availability of Rs18bn annually for at least the next five years for the development of the area.
The Fata secretariat should provide detailed briefings to the mainstream political parties about plans for the development of the area. Perhaps the parties’ nominees for the elections may be assured that they can tell their constituents that if elected they will have a decisive say in the disbursement of these funds and in determining the location of the development projects.
Third, the caretaker government, comprising one assumes technocrats with no future political ambitions, should be entrusted with the task of taking the stern and unpopular steps needed to cut down on the smuggling of contraband goods and drugs into Pakistan. Check posts may be set up to monitor the movement of goods and personnel from the tribal areas into the settled districts.
There will consequently be loss of employment and revenue in the area. The government must be prepared to see that this is compensated for by the implementation of such labour-intensive projects as road-building or the establishment of additional check posts in the hitherto inaccessible areas through which some of the smuggling occurs.
The caretaker government can also be made responsible at the provincial or, if necessary, the federal level for arresting the ‘Radio Maulana’ who appears to have control of Swat and most of the Malakand Agency.
The current or the future caretaker government must also pursue vigorously with the Supreme Court its appeal for a reversal of the decision which seems to hand over the Lal Masjid to the nominees of the very people who had brought about its destruction.
Promulgating an ordinance on money laundering, approaching our friends in the Gulf to prevent the flow of funds to dubious recipients in Pakistan, enforcing the registration of all madressahs and getting them to provide a modern education along with religious instruction are other tasks that should be undertaken
In other words, if there is to be a joint civil-military struggle against extremist forces, it need not wait for the conclusion of the electoral process but can be started earlier and the political cost, if any, can be borne at least in part by the caretaker government.
A unique crime syndicate
INDIAN movies, so popular in Pakistan, are known for their hackneyed themes. The most common among them is about two brothers, a good one and a bad one, with the latter also turning good after sowing his wild oats to the best of his crooked ability before the last reel has been run.
But I do not recall any film in which every member of a family was a crook, with no reformation in sight by way of a redeeming feature.
Ever since I came to know many years ago that a Pakistani had also been involved in the Great Train Robbery in England, and the fact that it was a young man from Lahore who first corrupted the legendary honest London policeman, I have kept a tab on the sleazy doings of my countrymen in foreign parts.
There has been one story only in which a whole Pakistani family settled in Britain was involved in crime.
It is a unique story, for all the members were found defrauding insurance companies and benefit agencies, right from the elderly father with two heart bypasses to sons and daughters. In fact the most active was a daughter whose complicity with her late father’s ingenious schemes would make a wonderful movie.
Nine members of this family, including the daughter, have been sent to jail by a court for making three million pounds by underhand means.
I have observed that with most of such groups it is a matter of aptitude and self-confidence and feeling comfortable while carrying out misappropriation of money, larceny and robbery and other such crimes.
A car thief once told me, “I don’t have any special expertise. It’s just that whenever I turn my key in a car lock, it opens.” I suppose a genius is like that.
There is a saying in Punjabi, “those who are bad at home are also bad away from home,” meaning thereby that they don’t improve on being elsewhere.
Though it is also a fact that failures at home, in Pakistan, often make good in Europe and America. Maybe it’s an atmosphere of freedom and greater opportunities there that brings out the best in our youth.
The mastermind behind this story was the late father. His favourite game was to manipulate road accidents, and in just four months he ran over relatives on seven occasions. The “victims” then claimed compensation from insurance companies and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board of England.
The family’s first voluntary victim to be hit in an “accident” because of the father’s erratic driving was his son Arif.
Thereafter, in rapid succession, came his daughters Parveen and Yasmin (both of whom were run over twice), and daughter Razia, as also son-in-law Abdur Rashid. They all sought compensation from insurance companies and the Board, and received it.
The masterpiece lay in another trick. Son Zulfikar, 28, was shown a mentally retarded for 15 years and his father attempted to claim a record 1.7 million pounds from the Board after what he said was an epileptic attack in the street. The ruse was exposed when Zulfiqar was seen working at a gym and driving a car. Parveen, described by the judge as the brain behind the scam, pretended to be chairbound, whereas, in fact, she was “active, agile and capable of looking after her children.” She was given five years. I wonder who is looking after the children.
Similarly, Razia, 26, who gave birth to her fourth child during the trial, claimed to be a deaf mute, but a home video showed her singing and dancing at parties.
As stated above, in all nine members of the family were sentenced to various terms by the trial judge who disclosed that she (the judge) had received numerous letters from Pakistanis urging the maximum punishment and deportation for the family for bringing a bad name to the home country.
It was also revealed that the family had managed to transfer more than 200,000 pounds to Pakistan and there were no means of getting the money back.
By Jove, what a family! It’s late head, with his intelligence tuned to self-help by any means, deserved to be an MNA in Pakistan or the president of a national corporation. With him in that position, his sons and daughters wouldn’t have had to devise ever-new methods to milk insurance companies and the Compensation Board.
He would have kept everyone here happy, and sent enough money (in dollars) to them to provide for every conceivable luxury, including expensive flats and Rolls Royce cars, (to manipulate occasional accidents just for the fun of it I suppose.)
There is an expression, “it runs in the family.” I don’t believe you can say that about financial crime and the ambition to make money by hook or by crook. It takes all types to make this world. How is it possible that an unscrupulous man’s sons and daughters and sons-in-law should all be of the same kind? Was there no “black sheep” in the family?
Their tragic saga has not ended by their being sentenced to imprisonment. It has only just begun. Leaving aside the other adult criminals, what are Parveen and Razia and another sister Yasmin feeling about their children as they themselves languish in jail? They all have five each at this young age.
What is the future of these poor kids without their mothers? Or have the girls engaged an ex-convict, through their contacts in prison, to give the children tuition in petty crime? With their record they are quite capable of it.
Cities in economic globalisation
AS recently as the 1970s, many of our great cities were in physical decay and losing people, businesses and their share of the national wealth. As we move into the 21st century, a rapidly growing number of cities have re-emerged as strategic places for a wide range of activities. Critical, and partly underlying all the other dimensions, is the new economic role of cities in national and global circuits.
Much is known about the wealth and power of today’s global firms and global financial exchanges: their ascendance in a globalising world is no longer surprising, given the power of the new information and communication technologies.
Less clear is why cities should matter more today in an increasingly globalised world and in an economy dominated by information sectors that can move through electronic networks. This lack of clarity has to do with the ways in which cities are connected to the global economy. Actually there is no such entity as ‘the’ global economy. What we have is a vast multiplication of global circuits that crisscross the world, some specialised, some not. Different circuits contain different groups of countries and cities. The task then becomes to establish on what global/regional circuits a city is located and what other cities are part of those circuits.
Thus if I were to track the global circuits of gold as a financial instrument, it is London, New York, Chicago and Zurich that dominate. But if I track the direct trading in the metal, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Dubai and Sydney appear on the map. It also brings out the important fact that it is not just a question of competition among cities, but in good part a division of specialised functions with global scope.Not only do global economic forces feed these circuits. Global migration, cultural work and civil society have to work around global issues such as human rights, the environment and social justice. These and others feed the formation and development of global circuits.
These emergent inter-city geographies begin to function as an infrastructure for globalisation. And they increasingly urbanise global networks. Detailed research from the perspective of a given city makes legible the diversity and specificity of each city’s location on some or many of these circuits. If I were doing research on Karachi and Lahore, I would want to know what are the specific global and regional circuits on which these cities are located — there could be 20, 50 or more — many highly specialised others quite minor. These circuits are not always visible.
It is often the case across the world that many residents of a city do not even become aware of the fact that their city might be located on a few or on many global circuits. For instance, the top 100 global service firms have affiliates in 315 cities. Karachi and Lahore are cities that serve as homes to several of these firms.
This also means that a city is connected to specific other cities through each of these circuits. Competition is not the only mode that connects cities. It is also the ongoing need for face-to-face communication that has made cities so strategic in a global corporate economy.
In my reading there is a third element too that affects both global cities and regional or local cities. It is a deeper structural transformation that has to do with the fact that firms in all sectors nowadays buy more specialised services — accounting, legal, insurance, financial, forecasting, communications, and many others. This has led to a rapidly growing intermediate economy of firm-to-firm transactions which has in turn created a growing demand for professionals in all these fields.
Cities are one of the preferred places for doing this professional type of work. Yes, we can access our firm and the needed data from anywhere. But at one point or another, the higher complexity and risks of functioning in an open national economy and in globalised economic sectors makes interactions with other experts necessary or at least beneficial.
At one end of the spectrum this work gets done in global cities, of which there are now about 40 in the world. At the other end are the smaller, more national or regional cities.
The outcomes of this economic transformation get wired into urban space. In this process, urban space itself becomes important in an active way. Thus in both kinds of cities there has been a rapid expansion in the demand for professional workers and a growing presence of both national and foreign specialised service firms.
One outcome is an expansion of high-quality urban office districts, residential and consumption areas, hotels and restaurants, all mostly catering to this new world of work. This has in turn fed real estate development, that includes foreign firms, and the inevitable displacement of weaker sectors, both firms and households, that may have once occupied central urban areas.
This partly explains why architecture, urban design and urban planning have each played such critical roles. Once cities begin to undergo this partial rebuilding they become platforms for a rapidly growing range of regional and globalised activities and flows, from economic to cultural and political. Global tourism is one manifestation of this.
At this point an ironic turn emerges: what starts as a purely economic process, that might homogenise urban space, can become the opposite. A valuing of the deep cultural histories of a city increasingly becomes important for the economy. And we see a growing interest in fine architecture and urban design, whether old or new, and beyond the functional needs of the new economy. In this context, Pakistan’s two metropolises have assumed a whole new significance.
The writer, the Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, is a member of the Committee on Global Thought directed by Joseph Stiglitz and author of ‘A Sociology of Globalisation’ (2007).
Coronation of a puppet
THE singing and dancing by the tumultuous crowds in Karachi on Oct 18 will remain an enigma until the details of Benazir Bhutto’s multi-pronged and hazy deal begin to unfold operationally.
Only time will tell whether it was the spontaneous welcome of committed followers for a charismatic leader, or a stage-managed coronation of a puppet under an international canopy, with the local help of a desperate Musharraf, obliging coalition partners, irresistible army, skilful agencies, political opportunists and invisible American money.
The numbers may be comparable to the 1986 reception, but the qualitative composition of the crowds may not be the same.
The carnival-like reception was indeed a grand show but intrinsically it was as deceptive as the empty rhetoric of enlightened moderation, power-sharing and national reconciliation. The declared objective is to harness moderate elements in the country to defeat extremism. It appears to be a laudable objective but the underlying reality is quite different. It is related to some crucial questions: how do we define and identify the ‘extremists’ and the ‘moderates’? What is meant by ‘we’? Does it mean (a) the people of Pakistan, (b) the ruling elite of Pakistan, or (c) American interests in Pakistan?
The obvious answer gives this sovereign right to the people of Pakistan but the ground realities show that this right has been snatched away from the people by our own kind. Without our permission, Gen Musharraf surrendered this inalienable right to Washington soon after 9/11, resulting in the mysterious rise in the number of missing persons in Pakistan and the detention of a sizable number of Pakistanis in American prisons, secret and otherwise, across the globe.In addition, Gen Musharraf himself extended the definition of extremist to include all those who were opposed to his rule, and his relentless pursuit of enlarging the army’s permanent role and the ultimate goal of constitutionally uniting the two offices of the president and the army chief after his re-election by the dying assemblies. All those who supported him were defined as moderates.
Benazir has never declared in London, Washington, Dubai or on the soil of Pakistan that she was returning to get this right restored to the people of Pakistan. On the contrary, she has repeatedly and loudly endorsed the American definitions of the extremists and the moderates, thereby confirming the role of the US as ringmaster for the Pakistani stage and for herself as an obedient performer. A stage-managed grand reception was thus essential to install her with the appearance of a great and popular leader to dupe the people of Pakistan into fighting an American war.
A stage-managed explosion could possibly be a part of this strategy with a view to including Pakistan in the proposed extension of the ongoing massacre of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this explosion, engineered at a safe distance from her carriage, Benazir was to survive for sure, but hundreds of people were bound to die or suffer injuries.
That is the only role assigned to the people of Pakistan in the affairs of the state by the American interests and the Pakistani ruling elite. They keep dying in significant numbers due to suicide attacks, the guns of robbers, in road and rail accidents, in strikes from the air, in security operations and as a result of stray bomb explosions.
But the prospect of any proof vanishes quickly at the premature declaration that every bomb explosion is a suicide attack even before preliminary investigations — a favourite method habitually employed by the government ever since it started abandoning its responsibilities towards the citizens. The ruling elite has learnt to rule, and forgotten to govern.
The most pressing reason for Benazir’s return is to save the socio-political governing system which is being challenged by civil society since March 2007. Carved out of the mullah-military-wadera collusion against democracy, this is a system of the corrupt, by the corrupt, for the corrupt. That is why the traditional indemnity given to outgoing military dictators in the past is now being graciously extended to civilian governments, also in the name of reconciliation (among the corrupt).
The three partners have successfully kept this system alive through skilful nura kushti (mock fight) over half a century, in which the two civilian partners took turns to either openly join the military dictator or to openly oppose him, to give secret support at the crucial moment.
In 2007, the democratic forces in civil society posed such a serious challenge that the system had to abandon the nura kushti and openly fight for survival in its true colours. The military dictator began to demolish all obstacles without any regard for constitutional, legal, moral or ethical limits. The mullah did not dissolve the NWFP assembly in time in spite of voicing fiery threats for months and years. The heavy wadera vote in the election for the president rescued Gen Musharraf.
All three of them thus saved the system in its worst hour, when even external help had to be mobilised. The US and the UK brokered the Musharraf-Benazir deal, and Saudi Arabia helped in securing the second exile of Nawaz Sharif. Benazir got the best price and has now returned to lend her shoulder to the tottering system.
But the Musharraf-Benazir deal is destined to fail for its major built-in defect, among other reasons. The non-transparent hush-hush arrangement totally excludes the people of Pakistan, who are the biggest moderate element in the country and are the only force capable of neutralising the violent extremists.
All other tried horses of the mullah-military-wadera collusion can be regarded as invisible extremists in reckless pursuit of their own interests. Their track record of half a century has persistently betrayed the people’s cause through the readymade contrivance of a king’s party, comprising the same faces but disguised in a new garb designed by newly emerging power centres.
The Musharraf-Benazir deal will thus be run by such characters as are designed, or programmed, by this system to betray for petty self-interest. For 60 years, they have plundered the national wealth and the people of Pakistan by constitutionally and financially strangulating them.
After indemnity in the form of the National Reconciliation Ordinance they are now regrouping with greater vigour for a bigger kill. They will implement the deal in the only way they have known and benefited, and will enjoy the fruits of American charity by killing the people of Pakistan. This will push the post-1958 anti-people system further away from the people beyond a dividing line of violence between the two.
Benazir’s grand return, therefore, is a good omen for the American agenda and may act as a life-saving elixir for the besieged system, but it does not raise any hope for the repeatedly jilted people of Pakistan. They will have to organise themselves for a long fight against the system on constitutional, legal, political and moral fronts.
Are they up to the task? A very thin slice of time from March 9 to July 20 has revealed that they are fully up to it — provided there is no doctrine of necessity or doctrine of exigency in our judicial dictionary.
|© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007|