Look ahead to the new year

By M.P. Bhandara

OUR body politic has suffered just too many wounds in the year that has just lapsed. A string of horrible events from March 9 to the dastardly assassination on Dec 27. Most of the wounds were self-inflicted, and can be read as the ongoing struggle for power by its contenders in the years ahead.

The political paradigm has changed dramatically. For all practical purposes an election on Jan 8 cannot be held. Election offices in many cities in Sindh have been torched. We are in a state of shock and turmoil. Basic necessities of life, as of the last days of the year, were not available. Petrol was reportedly selling at Rs120 per litre. If indeed an election is held on Jan 8, the turnout will be insignificant, and marred by unexpected consequences.

The mandate of the caretaker government expires on Jan 15. It can be extended by the Supreme Court given the exceptional circumstances but should it? Would a national government consisting of parties committed to fight the election not be more appropriate? A number of tough decisions have to be taken, the foremost being the increase in POL prices. By not reacting to current international oil prices, a huge hole in the treasury costing over Rs100bn has already been created. The decision brooks no further delay and the caretaker government should react forthwith.

An election cannot be held during the wheat harvest. It must be held either before or after. Since most parties have cast aspersions on the fairness of the election process, a national government will be charged with the responsibility of creating such conditions for the forthcoming election that it deems appropriate.

The national government must be headed by a political personality who commands wide respect. Makhdoom Amin Fahim of the PPP is one such person who has a reputation for moderation and integrity. In case he chooses not to accept a distant political runner, well known for personal and political integrity is Asfandyar Wali Khan and in case the Nawaz League agrees to participate, perhaps the luminous name is Sartaj Aziz who combines intellectual power with integrity. Irrespective of who heads it, the national government should consist of a small cabinet and one hopes that the three persons mentioned above will be its members.

As said earlier the main task for a national government is to create the conditions and atmosphere for a fair election. It should not try and undo the constitutional repercussions of the Nov 3 measures as this will lead to confrontation with the army. Likewise the powers that be must accept all decisions of the national government on the holding of elections. There must be no political role for the ISI in these polls.

The present Election Commission has done a commendable job in creating the fairest and most accurate electoral rolls. The chief election commissioner (CEC) must be given extraordinary legal and fiscal powers to ensure a fair election. My observation of the working of the Indian Election Commission prompts me to suggest that highly respected senior persons (usually retired judges, senior administrators, etc) should be appointed in each district to be the eyes and ears of the CEC in the days leading up to polling and the election itself.

Usually two or three such persons are appointed by the CEC in each district. Election conduct violations are immediately brought to the notice of the CEC and action is often taken by issuing instructions by telephone within the hour. This commendable practice should be followed.

If it is decided to hold elections in May or beyond, certain urban constituencies should be provided electronic voting machines, which are manufactured in India at a low cost. As the SIM card in these machines is burnt into the machine, there is practically no chance of fraud. Let us take advantage of the Indian experience. In a nutshell, let us try and make the next elections the fairest ever after 1970.

The late chairperson of the PPP nominated her husband as the leader of the party. In his turn he has appointed his 19-year-old son as chairman. Till he completes his studies at Oxford and can lead the party, the father will act as the regent. This is most unfortunate. The PPP must cease being a family fiefdom especially in the presence of such distinguished and old party members as Makhdoom Amin Fahim and Aitzaz Ahsan. If the PPP really believes in democracy then the place to start practising it is within the party itself. All our political parties tend to be family fiefdoms. Intra-party elections for office bearers should in future be held under the supervision of the Election Commission and by secret ballot.

Terrorism is the central issue these days. How do we check it? I have stressed repeatedly in my writings (‘Call a spade a spade’, Oct 20) that a correct reading of this so-called terrorism is that it is a war of Pukhtoon nationalism against the military occupation of Afghanistan by the United States and its allies. The entire Pukhtoon belt in Pakistan and Afghanistan, almost to a man, is against foreign occupation and Pakistan’s involvement in the war. By extension, any Pakistani leader perceived as pro-US in this war is a target for assassination.

The US presses Pakistan to ‘do more’. This is exactly what brings together ever closer Al Qaeda and the Pukhtoon Taliban, which are ideologically very separate entities. The US is making the same historic mistake when for two decades it saw China and Russia as a communist monolith. Only by ‘engaging’ China was the mistake recognised. Pakistan played a central role in bringing about this historic reconciliation.

The answer to the Taliban terrorism in our country is to ‘engage’ Mullah Omar with the US. The Taliban are not likely to come to the negotiating table unless the West is prepared to discuss a military withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is my belief that the Taliban in return will be prepared to guarantee that Afghanistan will not re-emerge as a nest for terrorism activities directed against any third country. Germany, France and other Nato countries have indicated their intention of withdrawing their forces by 2010. Will the US public allow its government to fight this war by itself? Remember once again that China was only prepared to talk to the US after a military withdrawal from Vietnam had been agreed upon.

As step one Pakistan should declare neutrality in the Afghan civil war and play the role of a mediator, rather than a combatant, between Mullah Omar, the US and the Karzai regime.

The words of the Russian poet Brodsky ring true in the passages of time:

My dear Telemachus

The Trojan War is now over; I don’t recall who won it.

The writer is a former member of the National Assembly.


Providing access to justice?

By Amjad Bhatti

IN December 2001, the Musharraf regime signed a $350m loan contract with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to initiate a set of composite reforms in the judicial governance of the country.

This four-year initiative called the ‘Access to Justice Programme’ (AJP) aimed at improvements in the justice and police sectors and was supposed to be completed by 2004. Owing to the lack of capacity of the implementing agency, namely the ministry of law, justice and human rights, the project was extended to June 2008.

Against the backdrop of recent events that focused on the judicial landscape of Pakistan, it makes an interesting case to evaluate the impact and implications of this expensive reform project in a justice-deficient country.

Gen Pervez Musharraf, as the self-appointed chief executive of Pakistan, had outlined his seven-point agenda at the very outset of his regime in a midnight speech on Oct 19, 1999. Speedy justice — justice at the doorstep — was one of his pledges to the nation when he seized power. As a follow-up to the chief executive’s public declaration, the former prime minister, Mr Shaukat Aziz, who was holding the portfolio of federal finance minister in Nov 2001, wrote a policy letter to Tadao Chino, the then president of ADB in Manila, requesting him to provide financial assistance to carry out judicial reforms with a core objective to enhance poor peoples’ access to justice in the country.

While referring to the proposed reform initiative, Shaukat Aziz in his letter to the ADB president stated, “Mr President, the AJP (Access to Justice Programme) is a first step on a long road to reforms that will strengthen the rule of law in Pakistan and make a qualitative difference to governance.”

In a swift response to this high-profile request, the ADB president presented his report and recommendations to the Bank’s board of directors in Nov 2001 in which he persuaded the BoD to approve the solicited loan by stating that the AJP will deliver benefits in many domains, which included: (i) greater judicial independence, transparency and accountability; (ii) better citizen-state relations; and (iii) more durable public institutions responsible for delivery of justice.

Subsequently, the requested loan of $350m was approved by the bank in Dec 2001. However, the AJP’s internal evaluation, done by the ADB’s review mission and released in May 2006, observed a number of critical gaps in the project implementation and loan management by Pakistan’s ministry of law. The review report described the process of project implementation as “disappointing” and “uneven”. The 2005 Annual Performance Review observed that “The ministry of law, justice and human rights (MOL) and key implementing agencies (IA) lack experience in leading and implementing complex reform processes.” It further noted that though it had neither the experience nor resources, the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan was assigned responsibility to manage the Access to Justice Development Fund. “This was a design flaw and the management would have been better outsourced to a professional managing agency as was agreed in the 2004 annual review mission and endorsed by the prime minister but never implemented,” the review report conceded.

According to official sources, less than two per cent of the technical assistance fund had been utilised since 2001. In early 2005, after a number of meetings between the ADB and MoL, key activities and timelines were agreed to address critical management issues. However, these agreements were not met during 2005. Therefore, the project duration was extended till June 2008 through a memorandum of understanding — signed on May 15, 2006 — between the ADB’s resident mission in Pakistan and the secretary ministry of law.

Now as the closing date of the AJP draws near — in June 2008 — the justice sector is in the grip of an acute crisis that has hit its internal governance. If the AJP is reviewed for the benefits that were envisioned against the backdrop of the judicial fiasco wrought by the Provisional Constitutional Order of Nov 3, it emerges as a Shakespearian ‘dramatic irony’. The regime in Islamabad has become the victim of its own claims and desires. Principally aimed at ensuring ‘efficient’ and ‘inexpensive’ justice, the AJP has instead cultivated the entrenched executive hold over the judiciary through extrajudicial means and measures.

One of the main objectives of the AJP was to strengthen judicial independence by implementing the policy of separation of the judiciary from the executive at all levels and ensuring that mandates of the judiciary are adequately funded. Contemporary realities speak otherwise. A judiciary that was spontaneously emerging as an affirmative and independent institution under the leadership of deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was packed home and a bench consenting to serve the dynastic interests of the ruling clique was invited to take over.

Subsequently, 63 out of 95 judges refused to subscribe to the dictates of Musharraf’s autocracy. Machiavellian treatment was meted out to the elected representatives of the lawyers’ community, who came to the support of the defying judges. The protesting crowds that included journalists, intelligentsia, students, political workers and rights activists were silenced by the authorities through resort to brutal force under emergency-cum-martial law. The right of habeas corpus was denied to judges, lawyers and other detained political activists. The induction of new judges was made in contravention of a policy of transparency and merit, which was hardly what the AJP had aimed at.

At the conceptual level, a rigorous critique of the AJP was offered by the groups overseeing the strategic interests of international financial institutions in the internal governance of indebted countries. One objective of the AJP was to create “conducive conditions for pro-poor growth by fostering investors’ confidence”. This was interpreted as the bank’s long-standing agenda to mould local judicial systems into guarantors of the flow of global capital through foreign direct investment (FDI). However, the Supreme Court’s verdict which nullified the privatisation of Pakistan Steel was officially termed as a shock to FDI prospects, undermining the strategic objectives of the AJP in the macroeconomic policies of the regime.

Moreover, the first out of 64 policy actions recommended by the AJP document was to “improve policymaking for a more efficient and citizen-oriented judicial and legal sector that promotes access to justice”. In terms of the legal entitlements of citizens regarding their right to be produced in and heard by the respective competent court, the issue of ‘missing people’ was another deviation by the executive, which renders the objectives of the AJP a self-defeating convenience. The so-called terrorist suspects were kept out of the mainstream judicial dispensation. In fact this became one of the crucial points of contention between the judiciary and the executive.

Ironically, the AJP has enhanced the debt portfolio of the country while no impact has been made on judicial governance. It has failed to achieve its proposed objective of ensuring the access of poor people to justice. It has, however, succeeded in financing the executive’s whimsical undermining of the bar and the bench. Ironically, the common people of Pakistan will be required to pay back the loan, which eventually subsidised the political expediencies of the powers that be. Thus the programme has promoted the elitist interest in controlling and manipulating institutional powers for short-sighted political gains.

Sham university reforms

By Pervez Hoodbhoy

GEN Pervez Musharraf’s regime boasts of its successes in science and education at home and abroad. Recently I saw Pakistan’s successes trumpeted by a large official delegation headed by Dr Atta-ur-Rahman, chairman of the Higher Education Commission (HEC), at a conference in Trieste, Italy.

They came to address a special session on science development in Pakistan — the only country that had requested and paid for such special treatment at the conference. Those who did not know about the state of science in Pakistan were amazed by the claims made. Those who knew better were stunned by the flood of self-serving lies, half-truths and deceit.

The claims made were several. A 300 per cent jump in research publications shows that academic activity in Pakistan has vastly increased; nine new engineering universities with European teaching faculty will soon be established; the 3,000 Pakistani students sent overseas for higher degrees will revolutionise the university system upon return; PhDs produced annually from Pakistani universities will soon approach the spectacular figure of 1,500; mathematics is now a strong discipline in Pakistan; and so forth.

The truth is very different. Even though spending on higher education has increased 15 times over the last five years, the improvements have been cosmetic. Genuine science in Pakistan has actually shrunk, not grown, over the last three decades. The trend has not been reversed. Euphoric claims notwithstanding, public university education in Pakistan remains miserably backward by international standards. Its real problems are yet to be touched.

Take the HEC’s first claim: the three-fold increase in Pakistani academic publications. Fantastically large per-paper monetary rewards to university teachers — a practice not adopted anywhere else in the world for excellent reasons — have indeed boosted publication rates. But publishing more papers is not the same as doing more research. Instead, the high rewards have caused an explosion of plagiarism, theft of intellectual property, publication of trivial results and falsified data, and publication of slightly different versions of the same paper in different journals. Most published papers are worthless academically and scientifically.

The reader can readily verify the last point. All that is needed is a computer and an Internet connection. Simply type www.scholar.google.com into your browser, and then the name of any individual scientist or scholar you want. (Academic databases even more comprehensive than Google are available but not free.) A list of publications of that person, together with a count of the number of times his/her papers have been cited by other scholars, will be displayed. Remember that a piece of scientific work is important only if it is useful to other scientists, or to industry in the form of patents that lead to new products (a separate database exists for that). So, in a matter of seconds, one can see which individuals are considered important by the world of science and academia.

The results of such database searches are eye-opening. A majority of papers by Pakistani authors, even if published in international journals by hook or crook, have exactly zero citations (once self-citations are removed). Such papers have contributed nothing. They may just as well have not been written. The average number of citations per Pakistani paper is 3.41 (includes self-citation), which is much below that in scientifically advanced countries.

Still more shocking is the citation record of some of Pakistan’s most well-advertised scientists, whose relentless self-promotion at government expense would be considered a crime in another country. While they have hundreds of papers and books to their credit, most of these have zero citations. Others in their field seem to have scarcely noticed any of their work. On the other hand, the reader can check that about 25-30 other Pakistani scientists, who are unadvertised and relatively unknown, have a far better citation record and a moderately good international standing in their respective fields.

Now for the HEC’s nine Pak-European universities project. This is a stunning disaster. The most advanced university (in terms of construction and planning) was the French engineering university in Karachi. Named UESTP-France, with a completion cost of Rs26bn, it was to have begun functioning in October 2007. There is still no official explanation for why this did not happen, no new date has been set, and no account given of the money already spent.

On the face of it, making Pak-European universities sounds like a wonderful idea. Pakistan would pay for France, Sweden, Italy and some other European countries to help set up, manage and provide professors for new universities in Pakistan. It would be expensive — Pakistan would have to pay the full development costs, recurrent expenses, and euro-level salaries (plus 40 per cent markup) for all the foreign professors and vice-chancellors. But it would still be worth it because the large presence of European professors teaching in these Pakistani universities would ensure good teaching. High-standard degrees would subsequently be awarded by institutions in the respective European countries.

Even common sense said that the project could not work. Perhaps one can persuade beefy mercenaries of the French Foreign Legion to go to some country where suicide bombings happen daily and killing of ordinary citizens by terrorists is routine. But it takes an enormous leap of faith to think that respectable academics from France — or any other European country for that matter — will want to live and teach in Pakistan for a year or more. Travel advisories issued by several European governments warn against even brief visits. That the French professors did not turn up at UESTP-France is scarcely surprising. But, lost to their mad fantasies, HEC planners are now working on the vain assumption that the Germans and Swedes are made of sterner stuff than the French.

A wiser leadership would have aimed for one properly planned new engineering university, set up under the European Union. It would have sought external help for adding engineering departments to existing universities, as well as to massively upgrade existing ones. But these relatively modest goals are unacceptable to the present HEC leadership that believes, like the Musharraf regime as a whole, in grand plans rather than practical, feasible reforms.

Showing the hollowness of the other official claims of progress would take more space than available here. Slick PowerPoint presentations by HEC officials throw one figure after another at dizzying speed giving the impression of fantastic progress. But the intelligent listener must ask many questions: does it make sense to select thousands of students on the basis of a substandard high-school level numeracy and literacy test, and then send them for an expensive graduate-level education in Europe? Will the quality of Pakistani graduates not be further degraded by pushing PhD production far beyond the capability of the present universities?

It is time to end the fetish of buying tons of expensive scientific equipment that, at the end of it all, produce only zero-citation papers and zero patents. Curiously, after a bunch of projects were exposed as phoney, the HEC broke with its past practice and now no longer puts on its website details of HEC-funded projects. It is also time to stop HEC officials and HEC delegates from gallivanting across the globe at public expense on the vaguest of excuses for ‘fact-finding’ missions and conferences.

There must be an independent investigation of the HEC’s plans and financing, a review of its programmes and a full audit of accounts. The inquiry should be jointly done by the future government through the PAC and NAB, assisted by a citizen’s committee. Individual whims and personal ambitions must be checked to protect the national interest. Pakistan is a poor country although, looking at the HEC’s spending patterns, one would conclude the opposite.

In my next article, I shall argue that there are far better uses for the enormous funding that is now available for higher education.

The writer teaches physics at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.

A sense of guilt

By Hafizur Rahman

IN our day-to-day life we take many things for granted, even those that are of a religious nature. For us, they are a matter of routine, and it is only when someone points out how important one of them is that we are taken by surprise.

Either we are unaware about possible implications of that matter, or we simply do not expect it to become a grave issue.

For example, ever since I grew up I have been under the impression that in Islam you don’t need a practising priest for anything, even if it is chanting the azaan in an infant’s ear, or reciting the prayer on somebody’s last journey, which I thought any ordinary Muslim could do, I was taught that even for a marriage to be solemnised the man and the woman had just to take the prescribed vows before the required number of witnesses and the deed was done.

It was as easy as that. A nikah khwan was not de rigueur. Such is the simplicity of Islamic practices. Among maulvis, there are the most learned people and also the most ignorant. The late Maulana Kausar Niazi was the most enlightened maulvi that it has been my good fortune to know. And there was “Maulana” Sabz Gul too who was imam of Habibia Masjid, a small mosque in the outskirts of Peshawar city.

This was many years ago. I was charged with the duty of providing a maulvi to perform the nikah of a friendless young man and an equally friendless young woman. After the ritual was over, I asked everyone concerned to sign the nikahnama, but the maulana said that he was unlettered and would affix his thumb impression on the paper. I’ve still got the document with me. But now I am going through a sense of guilt. You will want to know where this guilty feeling come from.

I’ll tell you how it is. While my family and I had considered ourselves staunch Muslims, our eyes have been opened by a revelation made by a well-known scholar and khatib of Rawalpindi, and we are deeply perturbed. In a sermon reported in a daily newspaper he dwelt on the role of the maulvi in our daily lives. To avoid any misunderstanding, I’ll quote his exact words: “The poor maulvi whom you revile; it is he who made your mother lawful for your father; it is he who chanted the azaan in your ear; and it is he who will say your funeral prayer when you die. What have you given him in return?”

Just forget what we give to the maulvi and all that and concentrate on the three most important moments in a Muslim’s life. It is the thought of these three functions that has caused a commotion in my family.

You see the problem is that for these three significant moments of our lives we did not use the services of maulvis. When my wife and I were married the nikah was read by an old friend of my father-in-law. When my father died his funeral prayer was led by an old friend of his. When our two daughters were born I myself recited the azaan in their respective ears. And although I sport a short beard I can’t be called a maulvi by any stretch of imagination.

So what is the position now? Were all the three occasions (four in fact, the daughters being two in number) properly sanctified? Since those who presided over these rituals were not maulvis, can it be stated with authority that in our case the acts were invested with due religious approbation. Or will the verdict be that ab initio (as lawyers say) they were null and void?

While I can make up for my personal lapse by getting the imam of the local mosque to say the azaan in the ears of my daughters (and their four children who too had suffered a similar fate due to my eagerness to play the maulvi) what about the funeral prayer of my father?

I would hate to be admonished by my father when we meet in the next world, that is if such a meeting is part of the post mortem scheme of the Almighty. But I can ignore that too. My father is not here to tick me off; when the time comes for that we’ll see. But what about my own nikah with my one and the only wife, particularly now that she is no longer in this world? Apparently, according to the Pindi scholar our marriage was more of a deadlock than wedlock.

I don’t know whether Maulvi Sabz Gul of Peshawar later learned to read and write or not, but apparently he was quite adept and successful in the performance of his priestly duties and the fact that he was unlettered was no handicap to him. Those who said their prayers in his imamat also did not consider him less suited for the role. I pray he is alive and well. I wish I could locate him now.

This prayer for his welfare arises from the certainty that he would be able to find a way out of the dilemma in which the learned scholar and khatib of Rawalpindi has placed me and my family. I say this because it is my experience in life that sometimes an unlettered man is better able to find feasible solutions to the practical problems of life than a highly educated and enlightened scholar.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2008


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