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DAWN - Opinion; December 25, 2007

December 25, 2007


Redefining governance

By Shahid Javed Burki

A NEW political order is likely to emerge after the next elections in January. All the major parties, except the Jamaat-i-Islami, are contesting the elections. Their participation has given the exercise a certain amount of credibility.

It will also create the opportunity for the parties to begin to reflect on the shape of the government they would like to see function in the country once the elections produce a new set of leaders for the treasury as well as the opposition benches.

The issue of the type of governance most desirable for the country’s circumstances should be of interest not only for those who will occupy policymaking positions in Islamabad. It should also be of interest and concern to those who will operate out of the provincial capitals. And those who will participate in the process of governance from the side of the opposition should also make an attempt to formulate their views on how they would like to see Pakistan governed in the years to come.

There are several questions that need to be asked and debated at this time. The most important of these is how centralised should governance be for people to be well served. In spite of the federal nature of Pakistan’s current Constitution, the fact remains that the process of governance is much more centralised than envisaged by the founders who crafted the basic law of the land some 35 years ago. The reason for this is obvious. For 19 of these 35 years the country was governed by the military and the military believes in centralised command. Now that the military is getting ready to relinquish most of the political authority to the elected representatives of the people, the question arises as to how they would like see the country managed. Here economists can help with providing some guidance.

In recent years, economists have given much thought to the contributions institutions make to economic development and economic growth. In addition to looking at the factors of production that help with the process of growth, they have also begun to examine the influence of institutions and governance. In this context they have arrived at two important conclusions, one concerning institutions overall and the other related to the process of governance. Institutions are important since they help to significantly reduce the cost of transactions among different economic actors. Reducing costs leads to improving economic efficiency.

In terms of governance there is now a consensus that taking government closer to the people helps promote development. “Some 95 per cent of democracies now have elected sub-national governments, and countries everywhere — large and small, rich and poor — are devolving political, fiscal, and administrative powers to sub-national tiers of government,” wrote the World Bank in its World Development Report published in 2000, the start of the new millennium.

There was ample empirical evidence available to show that “successful decentralisation improves the efficiency and responsiveness of the public sector while accommodating potentially explosive political forces.”

When a country finds itself deeply divided along geographic or ethnic lines — which is certainly the case in Pakistan — decentralisation provides an institutional mechanism for bringing opposition groups into a formal and rule-bound bargaining process. This was the reason why the Constitution of 1973 gave more powers to the provinces than was the case with the previous constitutions.

The Constitution provided several devices for satisfying the provincial demand for autonomy. Two of these were especially important. The first was the division of responsibility between the two tiers of government, the federal and the provincial. This was done by specifying in two schedules what was to be in the domain of each government. Unlike the previous constitutions, the 1973 document had only two lists, the federal and the concurrent.

The federal list was divided into two parts, I and II. The second part, as we will see below, was subject to be reviewed by a council appointed by the president in case there were problems about the exercise of power by the governments functioning at the federal and provincial levels.

The assumption was that the federal authorities would get involved in the second list only by exception rather than by rule. That did not happen. In actual fact, Islamabad has not differentiated much between its own powers and those that were to be in the provincial domain. Even sectors such as health, education, agriculture and irrigation which were to be primarily the responsibility of the provinces have had a large Islamabad presence.

The Constitution, under article 153, required the creation of a Council of Common Interests to “formulate and regulate policies in relation to matters in Part II of the Federal Legislative list”. This was a novel feature of the Constitution — one without precedence in South Asia. It was the result of the suspicions that continued to exist among the smaller provinces that their rights would not be protected by the federation since it would necessarily be dominated by Punjab, by far the most influential province in the federation.

The creation of the CCI was not an option but a requirement under the Constitution. However, Islamabad did not establish one; it continued to dominate policymaking even in the areas that were clearly reserved for the provinces without providing any recourse to the federating units to challenge the central government.

The second necessary part of power-sharing between the federation and the provinces was the division of government resources. The fiscal system set up by the Constitution, while giving authority to the federal government to levy and collect a variety of taxes, also required the review of the formula for sharing them among different tiers of government.

For that purpose, article 160 required that “within six months of the commencing day and thereafter at intervals not exceeding five years, the president shall constitute a National Finance Commission” which was required to make “recommendations to the president as to (a) the distribution between the federation and the provinces of the net proceeds of the taxes; (b) the making of grants-in-aid by the federal government to the provincial governments; (c) the exercise by the federal government and the provincial governments of the borrowing powers conferred by the Constitution”.

Once again, even this provision was not strictly observed. The last award by the National Finance Commission was made in 1997. I chaired the NFC as the minister of finance in the caretaker government and we were able to agree on a formula within two months. The Musharraf regime struggled with another NFC for five years but was not able to come up with a new dispensation. What was missing was the political will to allow the provinces greater financial play.

The conclusion one must reach is that Pakistan, in spite of the provisions in the Constitution, has failed to reside much power in the provinces. It is important for both good economics and good politics to rectify this situation and this can only be done if all major players in the political system agree to respect decentralisation and devolution as the foundation of statecraft.

The writing tribe of Sindh

By Ghazala Rahman Rafiq

IT is perhaps the largest literary association in Asia. Known as the Sindhi Adabi Sangat, it is knitted by the Sindhi ukhur and its membership intertwines the cities, towns and villages of Sindh.

Despite a recent structural and ideological controversy within its ranks, the Sangat continues to cackle.

It does so because of an innate academic and artistic dynamism that has sustained it for over 50 years. Its chapters, extending to remote hamlets, give it an atypical range in variety and imbue its collective mind with an equal passion for both Sindhi canonical and modern literature.

Members of this writing tribe of Sindh talk constantly and easily with each other, in magazines and forums across Sindh. They speak and write as exhaustively of Shah Abdul Latif and Sachal Sarmast’s musiqiat as they do of Biloo Dada and Pishoo Pasha (famed Sindhi short stories).

At its recent commemorative conference held at Karachi University, the Sangat offered its usual literary cornucopia and connections. A far cry from the days when Sindhi was officially banned from the university as an examination medium, one could see young Thari anthropologists from Umerkot enjoying fellowship with the Sangat’s octogenarian, Sobho Gianchandani.

A glamorous economics professor from Sindh University shared her Urdu poetry and Mirpurkhas roots in a bilingual presentation (Sindhi-Urdu). And where else could one enjoy a wild rendering of Ho Jamalo while a stranger (from Anjuman-i-Tarraqi Pasand Musanifeen) triumphantly and without preface whispers that Dr Badruddin Ujjan, who prepared his doctoral dissertation on ‘Literary Criticism in Sindhi Literature (1901-1990)’, has defined Sartre’s Nausea in Sindhi as Undur ji Uthal? “This hasn’t been done yet in Urdu,” he adds.

A taste of the openness of the conference came early when Dr Fahmida Hussain (director, Shah Latif Chair at KU) offered the first ember of glasnost when she said that contending Sangatees should sit together and resolve their disagreements. It was a testament to the maturity and sophistication of the organisation that the VC of Sindh University, Mazhar Siddiqui, and Gianchandani publicly pledged to reunite estranged members.

Diversity is a Sangat hallmark. Even its bureaucratic face was varied. The movie-actor looks of Sangat secretary general Dr Zulfiqar Sial contrasted with Iftikhar Arif’s governmental black-on-black outfit at the inaugural session. All linguistic traditions were welcomed and honoured. The solidarity shown with the Sangat by the World Pushto Conference’s Salim Sahib was palpable. Though Sindh’s Malcolm X, Joyo Sahab, was absent, Dr Nabi Bux Baloch, the Sangat’s literary giant, presided and turned ninety during the conference. Thus modern Sindhi literary life definitely came of age ten days ago.

Poets and prose writers from Thatta, Sehwan, Sujawal and Sukkur; school teachers and students from Dadu, Karachi, Larkana and Hyderabad; many with frayed cuffs and malnourished bodies; listened to the brilliant Taj Baloch (editor of Sojhro) read J.A. Manghani’s paper titled ‘Shah Latif and the present social order of Sindh’ and to Jami Chandio’s skilful analysis in ‘The problems of modern Sindhi literature’. Their impoverished appearances belied a ‘high culture’ involvement in intricate academic deliberations.

The applause implied that Taj Baloch spoke for many Sangat loyalists when he said, “I am willing to … clean tables if that is what the Sangat requires.” Some Larkana teachers recalled an absent Taj Joyo’s literary expertise and sheer academic vigour. However, no one seemed to mind that while the conference papers were presented on campus, the musical event had to be held off-campus. Music is forbidden at Karachi University. The KU vice chancellor bussed participants to the Liaquat National Library for a Sindhi music performance, one safe hour’s drive from the university environs.

A Sindhi literary audience is never shy about calling out corrections in chronology and pronunciation. And so it was that weekend. Presenters occasionally defended their point aggressively and a discourse turned into a quick and fiery literary debate because an unshaven youth was offended by an obscure ‘poetic’ gaffe. Although numerous other Sangats have produced greater intellectual richness, deeper analytical studies and have better highlighted the persistent passion and intellectual drive among Sindhi writers, it was nevertheless amazing to watch a shabby (only in appearance) researcher lament that Sindhi poetry has not been semantically appraised with modern French prose.

This was a conference where someone from Naudero could complain, “What is the point of having parts of Grierson’s The Linguistic Survey of India (1898-1928) and Friere’s works in Sindhi when my hometown library doesn’t have copies?” His friend added complacently that these authors have not been rendered in Urdu. And this was the same young man who participated vociferously, using high-class Urdu and Seraiki, in the conference’s multilingual mushaira.

But so much more doesn’t square within this Sindhi academic/cultural/literary milieu. And just as the squalid bathrooms of the university didn’t make sense after one had admired the chiselled patrician face of VC Dr Pirzada at the inaugural session, it is difficult to make sense of the rot within Sindhi-medium schools in Karachi and the rest of Sindh after a Sangat experience. The standard of instruction in Sindh’s public schools is rapidly falling beyond repair and one wonders how the scholarly strength one saw at the conference will be sustained. Sindh’s academic cake seems to be disproportionate, with the icing being thicker than the sponge below. A rich literary tradition that is deep and wide in Sindh and supported by an impressive network contrasts oddly and inexplicably with a decrepit school system.

This issue was somewhat addressed by Dr Qasim Bhugio in his paper titled ‘Language planning in Pakistan and the Sindhi language’. He stressed the urgent need for corpus and status planning of Pakistani languages and the bearing that this work will have on education planning. He mentioned the confusion that has resulted because of planning failures and how the public, particularly parents, struggle between medium-of-instruction choices that are convoluted with the problem of obtaining a decent education for their children. Dr Bhugio’s talk suggested that Pakistan’s multilingualism is an asset to be exploited and not a liability to be ignored. Finally, Shamsher Al-Hyderi, a historian and chair of the Sangat, presented the declaration and resolutions of his Kalam Kabeelo. He asked, “How can the pen tribe look away from the plight of mankind?”

So much is interconnected in the words and spaces that encompass our lives. For instance, the Shah Latif Chair at the KU campus is housed on the far side of even the Bengali department and the Sindhi department seems to be on a noisy sidewalk and below the broader, quieter corridor that off-shoots the Urdu, Farsi and English departments upstairs. But then perhaps these locations are only significant from a paranoiac perspective. And maybe the first Sangat event at KU denotes a shift in the wind and the immeasurable academic, cultural and literary landscape of Sindh will finally be afforded a meaningful space in its capital’s university.

The writer, who holds a degree in education leadership and organisation theories, is associated with the University of California.

Dirty politics

By Afiya Shehrbano

NOW that our fundamental rights (if not the judiciary and the Constitution, as we knew them) are supposedly restored, we are officially free to think and express our dangerous thoughts again.

So several sectors of civil society in Pakistan are coming up for air after a sustained and courageous struggle against a state that (not for the first time) pitted itself against its own people.

There is begrudging acknowledgement from the cynics, who mocked the revolutionary pretenders, that civil society, galvanised by the lawyers’ movement, stood poised for a moment to potentially turn the tide. If they could not dramatically overthrow the regime, then at least they challenged the state enough to make it retaliate with brute force and this pressurised political parties to take sides. For that quintessential moment, the people’s representatives were either with us or against us. That decision is history now.

The arguments that stand in defence of political parties and their leadership, in this process, are interesting. These are not so problematic in terms of the compulsions of the democratic processes in which parties must engage. However, the justifications that sanitise political decision-making are far more troubling. This is a more important discussion than whether a party is boycotting or participating in the elections because it sets a new framework for future debate regarding the role of parties, parliament and the people.

The judges who refused oath under the PCO and the lawyers who have sacrificed their careers for the cause of the restoration of the judiciary thus far are direct casualties of the politics of principle. So if morals and principles are being questioned as impracticable ideals, then one wonders about the impulses behind the much-touted manifestos of the larger, ‘relevant’ parties at least. The Ds and Es of the PML-Q and PPP should then equally be dismissed as non-implementable acronyms. After all they stand for high-sounding, lofty goals such as Equality and Employment and even Devolution and Diversity, and have been drafted from the very same armchairs that the defenders keep attributing as their critics’ base.

If the parties really wanted to take direct, honest and materialist positions, they could’ve merely set their entire pragmatic ideology by addressing critical issues such as ‘Land or Dams?’ and that would have been a meaningful jump off the political fence.

The point is that our political parties are not interested in direct, pragmatic policies — just ways of practically getting in to power and staying there. If this means compromising on democratic principle and accepting a dictator and a decimated judiciary, so be it. Universally there remains very little romance with political parties and most people are quite accepting of the inevitability of politics being a dirty game. However, the criticism is reserved more so for those apologists who from the peripheries abandon their self-reflective lens and dismiss any criticism of party motives as ‘anti-political’.

Instead, this process of challenging, pushing and pressurising should be seen as very political. Is the role of civil society merely to be a passive watchdog or instead to define and challenge the political discourse with all its strength and use the tool of civil disobedience when required? This unwillingness to allow alternative political thought processes attempts to box us into a homogenised electoral democracy rather than one that emerges out of civic contention and debate. The ends of independent civil society action do not have to dovetail into party politics and still can be counted as organised political power.

While it is true that several members of civil society as well as some politicians made ill-informed decisions to join and entrench the Musharraf regime from 1999 onwards, this does not mean that we necessarily use that to excuse the next round of expedients from voluntarily entering the cage themselves and then claiming it a “prisoner’s dilemma” (Aqil Shah, Dawn, Dec 17).

The most successful outcome of the Nov 3 imposition of a martial law has been the ability to invert the debate of fundamental freedoms in such a way that we are questioning the limits and boundaries of acceptable freedoms rather than stretching and pushing for furthering our suffocating spaces. We have imbibed the mindset of the slave who feels guilty for defying the master and for even devising tactics to escape the exploitation.

This is perhaps best explained in Nabokov’s novel, Invitation to a Beheading, where the protagonist, Cincinnatus C., is sentenced to death for being opaque in a world that requires all its citizens to be transparent. His only privilege is to know the time of his execution, which also keeps arbitrarily changing. The director of the jail, jailer and defence lawyer are all the same man and keep changing places in this strange world.

The executioner (also fellow prisoner) and condemned man have to learn to cooperate as victims and collaborators in the final act of the execution. Essentially, Nabokov is making a comment beyond that of the torturous experience of living under a totalitarian regime — he is painting the atmosphere of living under perpetual threat and an unending existence of uncertainty.

In a unanimously agreed upon scenario of complete lack of trust, legitimacy and legality, it doesn’t matter if we elect the director, jailer or defence lawyer — because ultimately we will end up voting for the same man. So the defenders of the political parties should at least begin to feel uncomfortable at this prospect before rationalising that elections are the means to some other magical end.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007