DAWN - Opinion; December 11, 2007

Published December 11, 2007

Arithmetic of discontent

By Shahid Javed Burki

THOSE who seek power in a democratic system must learn to look at the economic situation in the society they wish to lead. This should be done from the perspective of those who have been left out and, therefore, are disadvantaged. If their number is large — which is certainly the case in today’s Pakistan — they can be the source of both political success as well as political failure.

They, the deprived and the disadvantaged, can bring to power those who promise to change their situation. That is one way they can reward a party that recognises their situation. That is how they can contribute to political success. Or they can turn way from the leaders and the parties that have promised in the past but not delivered. That is the way they can punish.

It is useful to do a bit of political arithmetic to identify those who may be able to change the Pakistani political landscape the way it was done in 1970. But before doing the arithmetic let me ask an important question: Why is there so much latent political power waiting to be released but still locked up in millions of people?

Some of those who are in this situation lack the skills that would get them productive employment. Some are disadvantaged because the economy is not creating the number of jobs needed by the class of economic groups to which they belong. Some are suffering because they live in the areas that have not been reached by economic growth. As against these there are those who have enjoyed enormous benefits from the performance of the economy in recent years. In providing some numbers I will start with those who have benefited greatly from the recent growth in the economy and work my way down the ladder.

The way the Pakistani economy was managed in the last few years resulted in creating a great deal of wealth for a few groups and for a few people. The benefits from economic growth reached about 10 to 12 per cent of the population, mostly in Punjab and in the large cities. The beneficiaries number about 16 to 20 million of whom about 10 million are potential voters. But no more than one to two million of these will go to the polling stations. The rich and the well-to-do normally don’t vote.

While the fruits of growth were not available to the middle classes, it created expectation that benefits would become available to them down the road with the right kind of public policies. These are the people who could gain access to the economic and social systems with a little bit of help and encouragement from public policy.

Most of those who belong to this category are from the professional classes. They number tens of millions and are scattered around the country, living in hundreds of large and small cities. They would benefit from an economically vibrant society that is also more open. They were at the margins of the system hoping to get in before their hopes and aspirations were dashed by the sudden turn in the political system.

The number of people who hoped to gain in the future is quite large, perhaps 25 to 35 per cent of the population. There are about 55 million people in this category of whom 25 million are potential voters and about 20 million will actually vote.

There are some 90 million people or 55 per cent of the total population who have been largely bypassed by the economic system. About one half of them, or 45 million, are of voting age. About 30 to 35 million of these people will vote.

By failing to address the needs of the last group of people, Pakistani political parties will suffer the same fate that met India’s Bhartiya Janata Party in the elections of 2004. The BJP was confident on the eve of that election that the electorate would reward it handsomely for producing “shining India”. That of course did not happen and an angry electorate with the majority made up of those who had benefited little from the ‘shining’ economy sent the BJP packing, replacing it with a coalition dominated by the Congress Party.

Something very similar has happened in Pakistan. The government headed by Gen Pervez Musharraf was confident that its economic record, with GDP increasing at an unprecedented seven per cent a year for five years, would be appreciated by the majority of the citizenry. Its confidence was so great that it was not prepared to listen to those who were sending signals of caution. Many commentators, including this columnist, kept on reminding Islamabad that macro numbers were hiding many micro problems. But Islamabad was in no mood to listen and has paid a price by sending the country into a spiral of political discontent that has gone on for nine months.

For the last two weeks I have been discussing why the discontent with Islamabad’s handling of both politics and economics has simmered but not turned into a mass movement. I also offered some thoughts on why the professional and middle classes were prepared to take to the street while the poor were willing to watch the situation from the sidelines. Today I will begin to discuss as to what the political parties can do — or should do — to interest the people in their programmes. Thus far the parties have lived on their past and have not revealed how they would manage the economy if they were to gain power.

Success in the next electoral contest will come only to those political parties that are able to win the support of the people not happy with their current economic situation. Continuing with the above arithmetic, it appears that some 57 million people are likely to go to the polls in January. Of these a vast majority — more than 95 per cent — will vote with no assurance that their welfare is the main concern of the parties seeking their support.

This is what makes politics so volatile in the country as it marches towards yet another election. There is a lot at stake in the coming election for the political parties preparing to contest and the leaders who manage them. To win the support of the discontented, the parties and their leaders will need to offer fairly well-developed programmes aimed at improving the welfare of the citizenry.

It is my belief that only those parties will succeed in January that have developed programmes to redress some of the problems created by the model pursued over the last five years. That model was focused on developing the principal cities of the country by promoting the sectors that provided a limited amount of employment and yielded incomes to a very small proportion of the population.

This model will need to be changed significantly to win the political backing of the deprived and disadvantaged. But that can only happen if the people are presented with programmes in which they can place some trust.

I speak for the judges

By Dr Tariq Hassan

I AM not a judge. Yet when I read in the newspapers that the federal government has notified that 24 judges of the provincial high courts, who did not take oath under the PCO, have ‘ceased to hold office’ with effect from Nov 3, my heart went out to them and also to the judges of the Supreme Court who await the same fate.

Alas there is little I can do to help any of them, despite the fact that the government’s action is totally unconstitutional, unlawful, unjust, unwarranted, unethical, improper, and just plainly and simply wrong any way you look at it.

The adjudicator of last resort — the judiciary — has been besieged by the government and there is no credible institution in the country to provide relief, let alone dispense justice to these judges or to anyone else opposed to the government. The legal fraternity and civil society have reacted vigorously and sought the restoration of the pre-Nov 3 judiciary. However, the legal fraternity, though extremely active and vocal, has its limitations and civil society is not as organised. They would need the undiluted support of the politicians to achieve this objective. Ultimately, however, it is all of us, as concerned citizens, who have to ensure this outcome.

Over the years, the government has become adept at arbitrarily removing anyone who dares to withstand its pressure. I recall suffering the same fate in early 2006, when I was notified through the TV channels during Eid holidays that I had ‘ceased to hold office’ of chairman, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, with immediate effect. The government was then at the pinnacle of its power and I had refused to bow to governmental pressure to abandon investigations into the stock market crisis of 2005.

The notification removing me was not only improper but, like the present notification for the judges, had absolutely no legal basis whatsoever. While I did not consider it proper to go public for the sake of maintaining the dignity of the institution I had headed, I did write a letter to all policy board members and commissioners of the SECP and shared with them the circumstances that led to my removal.

I also copied the letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the attorney general in the hope that they would take notice of the illegal and improper way I was removed from office. I had not sought personal vindication but had hoped that the highest judicial and legal officers of the country would take action to salvage the institutional independence and honour of the SECP. However, neither the Chief Justice of Pakistan nor the attorney general took any note of this egregious infraction of the law.

Institutions are more important than individuals. However, as a friend of mine reminded me, it is individuals who make the institutions. The judges who refused to be cowed down by the president and chief of army staff to give judgment in his favour and those who have since refused to take oath under the Provisional Constitution Order are indeed judges who have shown their mettle and who can be relied on to foster and maintain the independence of the judiciary.

They have not only been sent home; they have also been put under house arrest. In causing personal wrong to these judges, the government has in fact dishonoured the institution of the judiciary. While the wrongs done to these individuals may heal in time, the damage done to the institution will leave an everlasting scar on its face.

When Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was sent on ‘forced leave’ in March, I struggled with my colleagues to preserve the dignity of his office. As a concerned citizen, I filed a petition before the Supreme Court for his reinstatement. As a concerned citizen, I also participated actively in the movement for the independence of the judiciary and the supremacy of the rule of law.

As a concerned citizen, I continued to take part in the movement for the restoration of democracy in the country — and got battered by the police while protesting peacefully outside the Election Commission on Sept 29. As a concerned citizen, I continue to struggle with the legal fraternity for the restoration of constitutional rule and the reinstatement of the independent judges who refused to take oath under the PCO, more so because as a person who has suffered governmental abuse I understand not only their personal plight but also the importance of an independent judiciary.

In his article ‘First things first’ (Dawn, Dec 6) Munir Malik urged the political parties to press for the restoration of the judiciary in their charter of demands, and impressed upon them that without an independent judiciary, true democracy will remain a distant dream. I join him in his plea. If the politicians choose not to speak for the judiciary today, there will be no one to speak for them tomorrow.

Let me remind them of the famous poem from the Nazi era that encapsulates the fate of all those who condone injustice: “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a communist; … Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out for me.

The government has indiscriminately arrested not only the non-compliant judges but also lawyers, students and human rights advocates as well as political and social activists. For those of us who are lucky to be free, let us speak for them before the government comes for us.

The writer, a lawyer based in Islamabad, is a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan.

Must history repeat itself?

By Danial M. Noorani

PAKISTAN’S first ever general elections were planned for March 1959. In October 1958 the Pakistan Army under Gen Ayub Khan pre-empted this nascent democracy by seizing power. One of Gen Ayub Khan’s first remarks as head of state was: “We must understand that democracy cannot work in a hot climate. To have democracy we must have a cold climate like Britain.”

The New York Times editorial of Oct 12, 1958 commented: “In Pakistan both President Mirza and the army’s head General Ayub Khan have stated clearly that what they propose and wish to do is establish in due course a free, honest, and democratic government. There is no reason to doubt their sincerity.”

Gen Ayub Khan promoted himself to Field Marshal Ayub Khan, held rigged elections in 1965 and ruled until 1969 when he was forced to resign because of a popular movement.

Forty-nine years later, the fourth Pakistan army general to crown himself head of state, Gen Musharraf who has a history of holding dubious elections and having himself declared president in a legally questionable referendum, has imposed a state of emergency (another term for martial law). He has set aside the Constitution for the second time in eight years. In the last few months, he has cast off 12 Supreme Court judges and put several of them under arrest.

He has had put behind bars over 5,000 individuals, mostly lawyers, judges, human rights activists, journalists and political workers representing the secular opposition. Eight new Supreme Court judges have been sworn in regardless of seniority, the selection based solely on their willingness to swear allegiance to Musharraf. The general has also muzzled sections of the independent news media.

In an interview with ABC on Nov 20, President Bush said the general “hasn’t crossed the line” and “truly is somebody who believes in democracy”. President Bush went on to say: “He’s been a loyal ally in fighting terrorists. He’s also advanced democracy in Pakistan … “He has said he’s going to take off his uniform. He’s said there will be elections. Today he released prisoners, and so far I’ve found him to be a man of his word.”

Bush is talking about the same general who had promised to his nation that he would take off his uniform by the end of 2004. Not only did Musharraf not keep his word, in a television interview the general had the arrogance to say that his mistake was not in breaking his promise, it was “making the promise in the first place”.

Of course, there have been brief interludes of so-called civilian government in Pakistan’s history. These politicians are also the illegitimate offspring of military rule. Some of them are part of a king’s-party version of Pakistan’s founding party, stacked with feudal landowners who provide a semblance of civilian rule to military dictatorship (with names like the Convention Muslim League or PML-Q).

The other civilian politicians allowed by the military to rule for brief periods have basically known that they have limited time to get their hands on the loot, till the next army saviour takes over. Civilian or military, all these governments have considered the constitution an irritant, something to be ignored at best or tossed out the window with impunity.

The only action that can break this vicious chain is the restoration of the independent judiciary and media. For the first time in Pakistan’s existence its people had a Supreme Court that was willing to stand up for the Constitution and rule of law. Elections under the present circumstances are totally meaningless and the Pakistani people know it. As for taking off the uniform, that game has been played before and a wardrobe change does not transform a wolf into a sheep.

The Selection Commission of Pakistan

By Naeem Sadiq

OF the many gifts given to the nation by the Election Commission of Pakistan in 2002, there were some 68-odd fake degree holders and an equal number of those who were either loan defaulters or had their loans written off. Many others had the dubious distinction of being wanted in criminal cases.

It was common knowledge that fake bachelor-degree certificates were officially provided to many from the king’s party while ‘madressah sanads’ were overnight upgraded to degree level to accommodate a large number from the religious clan. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) raised no voice against this official lowering of education standards. The Election Commission conveniently looked the other way when scrutinising the credentials of these parliamentarians, as they were badly needed to act as rubberstamps in Pakistan for the next five years.

As expected, many of these con men rose to great heights, becoming heads of various ministries, chancellors of universities and governors of provinces. Thus for five long years, the people of Pakistan were forced to suffer these spurious MNAs and MPAs who floated in the corridors of power in the same ratio as the spurious drugs in the market.

There were citizens who repeatedly approached the Election Commission and the Higher Education Commission to review and scrutinise the credentials of these shady individuals and unburden the conscience as well as the exchequer of Pakistan, by unseating those whose degrees were fake or had issues with loan defaulting or indulgence in crime.

Despite these repeated requests, the Election Commission and the HEC refused to budge. Their response was bureaucratic and clerical, indicating utter disinterest and helplessness. The fact that these two commissions were ultimately and solely responsible for weeding out this junk never dawned upon them and they kept on feigning naiveté each time the matter was brought up before them.

It is once again the winter of elections. We have the original judges under house arrest, a PCO-ed Election Commission and a brand of new judges intoxicated with the ‘PCO elixir’ that provides job security for the next five years or the next PCO, whichever comes first. The eligibility of candidates and their credentials are being scrutinised under the umbrella of a ‘Personal Constitution Order’ (PCO).

We are therefore utterly vulnerable to the insatiate appetite of a single person who would like to have a parliament that could obligingly indemnify his acts of playing football with the Constitution. The fake degrees, the loans and the crimes of candidates would hardly be issues of consequence before such an obsequious ‘PCO-compliant’ Election Commission. Thus we will once again suffer the calamity of fake degree holders, loan defaulters and criminals who will be our rulers for the next five years.

It is precisely for this reason why we as citizens ought to insist on a retroactive recall of the PCO, the restoration of the judiciary and holding of elections under an impartial Election Commission. We must demand that the Election Commission should ask all potential MNAs and MPAs to submit their original degree certificates, which should be passed on to the HEC for scrutiny and clearance. Likewise the State Bank should scrutinise these gentlemen for loan defaults, the police for criminal cases and the tax department for payment of due taxes.

Finally, these documents, facts and figures should be publicised in national newspapers for the public to know the profile of their future leaders, and to point out the erroneous declarations, if any. The Election Commission and HEC must be held accountable if it is discovered at a later stage that a bad fish was allowed to pass through their net.

The people of Pakistan must vote for only those political parties who insist on retroactive recall of the PCO, restoration of the judiciary and an independent Election Commission as a prerequisite for the January election. Not willing to undertake these steps would only mean yet another five years of misrule by spurious politicians, whose fake degrees and criminal cases were conveniently overlooked by the 2007 Selection Commission of Pakistan.


© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007



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