DAWN - Opinion; March 27, 2008

Published March 27, 2008

Challenge legislators face

By Zia ul Islam

THE biggest challenge before the new National Assembly is neither the restoration of judges nor bringing down prices. The future of President Musharraf and 58-2(b), questions about a ‘simple majority’ or ‘two-thirds’ vote and other juicy matters being raised by the media are downstream issues that can be tackled later.

The first challenge for the men and women sent to parliament by the people of Pakistan is to secure the existence of the National Assembly and thus the future of the people of Pakistan.

This challenge is the essence of all challenges being debated because none of the other problems can even begin to be solved if the assembly fails to ensure an inbuilt, sovereign existence for itself. ‘Experienced’ wheeler-dealers are already in action, trying to find middle-of-the-road solutions through clever compromises. If the new assembly decides to start functioning under the dark shadow of being dissolved, even as an interim measure, it would have failed in its challenge for existence.

And how can the assembly find sovereign existence? There is only one way: undoing the ignominious rape of the country and constitution that ripped them apart on Nov 3, 2007. If this country is to live without eternal shame, every shred of the fallout from that dishonourable act has to be removed. If the new assembly does not have the courage to erase Nov 3, 2007 from the pages of history, its members better leave now, because sooner or later they will be booted out any way. Those who say it will not happen this time were uttering the same gibberish in Oct 1999 and on Nov 2, 2007.

Pundits in the media and the political arena who have links with the evil forces of the status quo are vigorously advocating the need for peaceful give and take, the sensible approach to compromise and measures that would not rock the boat now that ‘democracy’ has been achieved. They are deceiving the public once more. The democracy received by the nation as a gift is nothing but a mirage. It will take moments to disappear in thin air.

Their best argument is that it is impossible to put the clock back and that there is no way the nation can go back to Nov 2, 2007 without creating more problems than it can solve. They are saying the new government should get on with solving the problems of poverty and inflation and with fighting terrorism instead of getting bogged down in constitutional issues of the past. Let this assembly not forget the fate of earlier houses that fell for this fallacious argument. Each paid the price with its head.

In 1971, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto compromised by not completely undoing the great artwork of the two earlier usurpers. He let them be. The artificial parliament of 1985 went one step further and legitimised all the illegal actions of a usurper. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif digested all the legitimised illegalities without trying to undo them in 1988, 1990 and 1993.

The only assembly that tried to undo some of the shameful vestiges of the past was the one elected in 1997. It did make parliament supreme but failed to complete the job by systematically demolishing all the illegal acts that the usurpers had committed over the years.

Today’s assembly members may ask, “So wasn’t that assembly sent home?” Yes it was. But it was the sacrifice of its members that has brought us to this historic moment. It was essentially the dissolution of that assembly that united the two biggest political parties of the country against further usurpation of people’s rights.

By now there is no doubt in any mind that the only reason usurpers have been dissolving elected assemblies is their lust for power and the knowledge that future parliaments will let them get away with it, just as earlier parliaments allowed their predecessors to go unpunished.

Let the present members be sure that no assembly in Pakistan was ever dismissed because of corruption or bad governance. It is important that the people of Pakistan clear their minds and collective conscience of this guilt that they and their elected leaders are corrupt. This guilt has been deliberately created by usurpers to give them an excuse to grab power. Corruption and mal-governance exist universally and the dictators are as guilty of it as the elected rulers. Many countries have died because of dictatorships, none because of corruption, real or perceived.

Thus, members the new assembly should understand clearly that the only reason they could be sent home in shame would be their failure to undo the acts of Nov 3, 2007. The question is how?

At the outset, the assembly should declare through a simple resolution that the action of Nov 3 was illegal. Next, it should prepare an action plan to undo each and every action taken under the shelter of the proclamation of that day. This will not be an easy task. For example, the power under which the ‘president’ lifted the so-called emergency imposed by the COAS was itself gifted under that proclamation.

A strong multi-party parliamentary committee aided by legal experts will have to examine each and every action, law or order passed between Nov 3 and the restoration of the constitution to recommend to parliament how it can deal with each.

This is not rocket science and simple solutions exist. Once agreed to by the sovereign parliament, they will become law. The restoration of judges, the future of the PCO judges, the fate of the president, the relationship between the presidency, parliament and judiciary will all happen legally and objectively through an act of parliament, one by one and should be completed in one month.

Objectivity is important. Personalities should not come in the way. The aim should be to destroy everything done during the illegal interregnum and save only that which is necessary to avoid vacuum and is in the interest of the nation as determined by parliament. The second step would be to take up the 17th Amendment, examine each and every law, order, ordinance and action validated through it and purge all of them, saving only those that are considered in the national interest by parliament.

This screening has to be based on the principle of elimination rather than retention. Only the most important pieces of legislation should be retained. NAB, NRB, the Police Order, Local Government Order and all other laws and their consequences must be scrutinised clause-wise by parliament.

It is also important to redress the grievances of those victimised during the last eight years or so and to take back undue advantages given to cronies during this period. This is necessary to make people think twice before toadying up to would-be dictators. In time, this parliament should also reopen illegalities validated through the 8th Amendment.

All this is doable. It is neither witch-hunt nor revenge. For 60 years dictators have forced us to live under the dishonourable principle, “First commit illegal acts, then get them validated by force.” Destiny has given the power to this assembly to end this shameless practice. If some heads roll, so be it.

Refusal to learn from history

By Tariq Fatemi

THE world marked the fifth anniversary of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq this week. Five years of bloody strife and conflict have left a fairly stable and prosperous country in ruins.

It has not only seen its industrial and economic infrastructure destroyed, the country may have lost nearly three quarters of a million people in the invasion and ensuing sectarian and ethnic strife. To this must be added the tragic death of four thousand Americans and nearly three trillion dollars going waste in a futile venture.

And yet none of the Bush administration’s charges against Iraq have been proven, nor has any of America’s stated objectives been achieved. If anything, Iraq has become a global centre of terrorism while the world’s sole superpower stands isolated, its moral authority at rock bottom even in countries that are the recipients of American largesse.

Not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority of Americans are counting the days before Bush fades into history, such has been their disappointment with his policies both domestic and foreign. For the rest of the world, Bush has already overstayed his welcome. To them he has come to epitomise all that is ugly about his great country.

But no setback is enough to make Bush pause in his messianic zeal for implementing the neocon agenda. He not only continues to defend the war but warns that a withdrawal would hand victory to the terrorists. He even asserted that the war was “worth it” in spite of “the loss of life and treasure”. Sadly, Senator McCain, his party’s presidential candidate, too believes that withdrawal of US troops from Iraq “could hand over victory to the Al Qaeda”. Senator Clinton has, however, come out strongly against continued occupation, while Senator Obama has opposed this adventure from day one.

There is, however, growing concern that notwithstanding its disastrous Iraq adventure, the Bush administration’s insatiable appetite for foreign adventures, especially those driven by ideological considerations, appear not to have been satisfied. It is in this context that political analysts continue to view with growing trepidation the openly articulated US desire to oust the Islamic regime from Iran.

This it has done on two fronts. First, by pushing for tough UNSC sanctions that would cripple Iran’s economy, on the charge that it was pursuing a nuclear weapons programme; and second, by promoting chaos in Iran by providing monetary and material assistance to anti-regime elements.

Yet the Iranians have gone about their business with a remarkable degree of skill and aplomb. It appears that nothing upsets them or shakes their determination to consolidate the gains of the revolution. The past week, while Iraq was observing the fifth anniversary of the US invasion, Iran went through elections to the Majlis, the country’s parliament.

Although relations with the US were not an issue, the western media had turned it into a referendum on President Ahmadinejad who is viewed by them as virulently anti-American. In reality, the Bush policies have made it impossible for any Iranian politician to advocate normalisation with Washington.

Some six years ago, Bush had warned that he would “not wait on events, while dangers gather” and “not stand by as peril draws closer and closer”. In his recent State of the Union address, Bush denounced Iran for “funding and training militia groups in Iraq, supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon and backing Hamas’ efforts to undermine peace in the Holy Land”. And ominously, he warned, “Know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops.”

Bush also decided to undertake a tour of the Middle East, ostensibly to promote a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Instead he sought to convince the Gulf rulers that their main worry should be the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran to their sovereignty and survival “before it is too late”.

Washington was also upset when Iran decided to start its own oil bourse, known as the Kish bourse, bypassing London’s IPF and New York’s Nymex, both of which are effectively controlled by Washington. The Kish bourse is intended to eventually sell crude oil to the international market in euros rather than dollars. By opening its own bourse, Iran became the first Opec producer to move away from the dollar, an action likely to hurt the American economy.

In such a situation it would be a massive mistake for the US to contemplate an attack on Iran, but such is the Bush administration’s hostility towards Tehran that analysts remain apprehensive about Washington’s intentions. This is disappointing given that the country’s major intelligence agencies, in their National Intelligence Estimate, concluded that Iran was not building nuclear weapons.

Nevertheless, the fact that the Centcom chief, Admiral William Fallon, was constrained to speak out publicly of his fears and then offered to resign, rather than stay on and see his country attack Iran, should make us take notice of the continuing danger.

The lobbying for war remains strong. Norman Podhoretz, one of the fathers of the neoconservative movement, in a recent article cast doubt on the NIE and argued in favour of an immediate attack, claiming that “in 2008 Iran can still be stopped from getting the bomb and millions of lives can be saved”. There are, however, others pointing to the fallacy of US policies that have already unwittingly aided Iran’s drive for regional influence — by ousting two of Tehran’s implacable foes, Saddam and the Taliban.

Prior to the Iraq war, conservative American politician Pat Buchanan had warned that the US had “started up the road to empire and over the next hill we will meet those who went before. The only lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.”

It is truly tragic that the Bush administration has not only failed to treat Iran with the respect it deserves as an ancient civilisation that is also a major regional power, but has maintained a policy of hostility towards it all these years. Is it psychological or political, or a combination of both? Washington appears not to have forgotten the shock of seeing its loyal ally, the Shah of Iran, being hounded out of the country nor the humiliation of seeing its diplomats being kept as hostages.

Veteran British journalist Robert Fisk recently pointed out that there were currently 22 times as many western troops in the Muslim world as there were during the crusades and asks why the Americans and the British are there. Is it for oil, or democracy, or defence of Israel or for fear of weapons of mass destruction or the fear of Islam? He then foresees the US ‘losing’ Afghanistan and Pakistan, just as it has lost Iraq.

He warns: “It is our presence, our power, our arrogance, our refusal to learn from history and our terror of Islam that is leading us into an abyss. And until we learn to leave these Muslim people alone, our catastrophe in the Middle East will only become graver. There is no connection between Islam and terror. But there is a connection between our occupation of Muslim lands and terror.”

It’s the leadership, stupid

By Samia Altaf

THERE is a fascinating article by Andrew Roth ‘Jinnah’s new republic’ in an American weekly (The Nation) datelined Dec 13, 1947 (http://www.thenation.com/ doc/19471213/pakistan) that puts its finger on Pakistan’s most critical weakness — the quality of its leadership.

Reporting from Karachi, the author comments on the country’s first cabinet: “With enormous problems, Pakistan has only a very ordinary set of leaders to cope with them”, barring a few “the other members of the cabinet are all mediocrities.” The exceptions identified by the author were the “brilliant” Mr Jinnah, the prime minister and the finance minister.

In 2008, the problems have become much more enormous and the leadership has become much more mediocre. Even the exceptions at the very top are conspicuous by their absence.

The quality of political leadership went into a steep decline after Mr Jinnah. This was exacerbated by the military’s interruption of the political process that serves as the training ground for new leaders. Instead, military leaders found it in their interest to pick pliable political faces to front for them. And political leaders, in turn, promoted military leaders whom they deemed safe. A process in which incumbents picked others less clever than themselves assured a rapid race to the bottom.

Insecure political leaders, civil or military, are also prone to choosing their key bureaucrats on the basis of loyalty. Mr Ziaul Haq added to a secular decline in critical thinking by making the social sciences subservient to an ideological education in Pakistan Studies. It was no surprise to read Strobe Talbott’s comparison of South Asian bureaucrats in his book Engaging India: “In general, our sessions with the Pakistanis, while occasionally more exciting than those with the Indians, lacked a comparable degree of intellectual engagement…. While Jaswant [Singh’s] team was highly disciplined in every respect, some of Shamshad Ahmad’s colleagues tended to be querulous, surly, and sometimes abusive.”

By way of contrast, Ramachandra Guha’s new book India after Gandhi includes a description of India’s first cabinet in 1947. The 13-member cabinet included three who were not from the Congress party and three who had been lifelong adversaries of the Congress and had collaborated with the British, including the virulently anti-upper-caste Dr B.R. Ambedkar. Gandhi reminded his supporters that freedom had come to India, not to Congress, and urged “the formation of a cabinet that included the ablest men regardless of party affiliation.”

Since then, Indian educational institutions including the globally competitive IITs and IIMs have produced many generations of very competent personnel. The calibre of the key Indian political and technical leaders can be gauged by a review of the CVs of the prime minister, the finance minister and the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, all made available to the public on the web.

The gap with their Pakistani counterparts is revealing and a pointer to Pakistan’s problems of governance and management at every level.

In an increasingly complex, globally linked knowledge economy and with the magnitude of social issues facing the country, it is no longer enough to be very clever and street-smart. Competence and training matter. Granted it is not possible to manufacture a new political leadership overnight but it is possible for the leadership to recognise its handicap.

It should search for the most competent Pakistanis available to head all key institutions and agencies that have a bearing on national development including universities, public enterprises and advisory boards. And this selection should be assigned to a professional recruitment agency subject to the approval of an independent Citizens Commission.

It is time for the political leadership to be humble and it is time to repair the decline of competence that has condemned the majority of Pakistanis to a life of unspeakable misery and degradation.

The writer is the 2007-2008 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Centre for International Scholars in Washington, DC. She writes for:


© DAWN Media Group , 2008



Energy inflation
Updated 23 May, 2024

Energy inflation

The widening gap between the haves and have-nots is already tearing apart Pakistan’s social fabric.
Culture of violence
23 May, 2024

Culture of violence

WHILE political differences are part of the democratic process, there can be no justification for such disagreements...
Flooding threats
23 May, 2024

Flooding threats

WITH temperatures in GB and KP forecasted to be four to six degrees higher than normal this week, the threat of...
Bulldozed bill
Updated 22 May, 2024

Bulldozed bill

Where once the party was championing the people and their voices, it is now devising new means to silence them.
Out of the abyss
22 May, 2024

Out of the abyss

ENFORCED disappearances remain a persistent blight on fundamental human rights in the country. Recent exchanges...
Holding Israel accountable
22 May, 2024

Holding Israel accountable

ALTHOUGH the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor wants arrest warrants to be issued for Israel’s prime...