From malik to mullah
THE Economist generally takes a dim view of every political situation in Pakistan and even dimmer of the ability of its leaders to put it right. One rarely finds an occasion to disagree with this venerable London journal.
Its comment on the emerging electoral alliances and on the selection of the new prime minister has, however, furnished such an occasion.
Asif Zardari, says the journal, has chosen to nominate “a nondescript feudal landlord” Yusuf Raza Gilani as prime minister in the expectation that he would gamely make way for Mr Zardari after he wins a by-election and, simultaneously, had given a sop to the powerful Punjab province.
The Economist has got it wrong on every count. Mr Gilani may not have much to recommend himself but in Pakistan’s hereditary politics hardly anyone does. Jinnah, some of his deputies and the latter-day Ayub Khan, Zulfikar and Benazir Bhutto were exceptions. Now, at least Gilani’s lineage goes back to the imperial legislative council.
Then Gilani’s appointment is no sop to Punjab. In fact the first and chief contender for the job, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, would have perhaps been more welcome there. Maybe Zardari preferred Gilani for being more amenable to his direction than Fahim but one is inclined to trust Asif when he says he has no intention to be prime minister and Gilani would be there for the full five years.
In sharing power with other parties and keeping himself out, Asif is being more clever than generous. He can foresee, as many among us do, that it would be more a sharing of blame as law and order and the economy deteriorate while crime and food prices keep rising.
Cynical comments and gloomy prospects aside, the paucity of enlightened leadership arising from the contemporary social milieu should be a cause of worry. The country has no one to look up to but the old landed gentry and some new rich whose second home is London or Dubai. It is a great irony that all the three contenders for the prime ministerial job hail from a party of workers and peasants that promises ‘all power to the people’. They are not just the country barons, they have the halo of saints as well.
The alternative is the scattered and rowdy political forces of sectarian or ethnic outlook which mercifully people reject at the polls. But still they keep ruling the streets as the elected elite has hangers-on aplenty but no street fighters. The democratic system thus lacks stability even when the elections are fair and the army does not intervene. Now a shaken judiciary and restive Frontier tribes are likely to make it even more unstable.
The prime minister may not be nondescript but his newly inducted policy thinkers and speech writers surely are. In his maiden address they made him say too much signifying too little. The small farmer would not believe that his crops would ever be insured nor the people expect that the government would find a solution for Kashmir where others couldn’t.
A little more needs to be said about the prime minister’s promise of a new package for the tribal areas and repeal of the Frontier Crimes Regulation. Whatever the contents of the forthcoming package, repeal of the FCR has been rejected outright by tribal elders and the clerics have gleefully demanded enforcement of Sharia to fill the void. The issue is now before a committee. Denied the applause, the prime minister now has the time to contemplate and consult.
The infamous FCR, as Mr Gilani chose to describe it, was enacted in 1872 when the tribal areas were not administered at all and the districts of Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Kohat, Peshawar and Hazara formed part of the Punjab province. It was towards the end of the 19th century that Lord Curzon undertook to consolidate the imperial frontier and organised the tribal areas into five agencies — South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Kurram, Khyber and Malakand. Along with the five districts separated from Punjab, they were placed under a chief commissioner at Peshawar which decades later became the North-West Frontier Province.
The FCR is still the law applicable to the agencies now numbering seven but it is really tradition and necessity that determines where the authority of the political agent ends and autonomy of the tribes begins. The degree varied from agency to agency but was respected till the liberators of Afghanistan, now its terrorists, arrived on the scene with their bombs.
The tribal areas have historically been administered by men — the political agent on one side and elders on the other — and not by laws. And that is how it should be even now. The political agent then was backed by his own levies and paramilitary scouts raised from the tribes but commanded by army officers. Now that the terrorists have eroded the influence of the elders and the government itself has undermined the prestige of the political agent, the established arrangement has been disturbed. Repeal of the FCR is inconsequential to the situation.
So complete was the authority of the political agent in colonial times that once Sir John Lawrence grumbled that he had to write to Fredrich Mackeson five times before he could get an answer from him. At the same time Lawrence acknowledged that “no man appreciated Mackeson’s high qualities more than I did — but he let everything else go in order to cultivate the friendship of the tribesmen”. No doubt the tribesmen called Mackeson ‘Kishen Kaka’ and so remembered him long after he was dead.
After independence too the political agents drawn from the civil service administered the tribes relying not on the laws but on their skill and goodwill of the elders. The government hardly ever interfered. At best they sought the commissioner’s advice and some time had to suffer his admonition. The times indeed have changed but many among them (Roedad Khan, Ijlal Hyder Zaidi, Jamil Ahmad, to name just three residing in Islamabad) still could be called upon to advise. Not to be forgotten is the once gutsy scout commander, Naseerullah Babar.
This writer does not count himself in that league but can truthfully state that in the six years that he divided between the Mohmands and Chitral as political agent at the beginning of his career not once did he feel it necessary to invoke the ‘dreaded’ FCR. In Chitral, the Sharia and the customary laws operated alongside the FCR. This writer had to preside over the council of elders of all three but never was bias even alleged leave alone oppression.
When the so-called democratic experiments do not work, one must hark back to colonial remedies that worked and made the Frontier a legend. The first step in that direction should be to group the districts and agencies together under three commissioners who should be reporting to the provincial and not the federal government.
But when all has been said, my friend and former police IG Arbab Hedayatullah, who now lives on the edge of the tribal area, strikes a despondent note. The mullah, he says, has replaced the malik all over. The political agent thus has become irrelevant. Now only the army can tame the child it once fathered.
Reason to be optimistic
POLITICAL development in Pakistan is going well, and the signs I see suggest that it is going to get even better. We witnessed an intriguing event on Feb 18, an election that was generally regarded as fair and honest. Its results were accepted with a good heart even by most of the losers.
This is, in retrospect, an almost unprecedented achievement. Regardless of where the credit for it belongs, the nation has to be grateful for the end result.
In the months preceding the election, the political environment in the country improved. Traditional rivals, who had harassed each other when in power, resolved never to do it again. They shook hands and undertook to work together for the restoration of democracy and related institutions to the exclusion of military interventions.
Their parties, the PPP and PML-N, have joined hands and taken in a few of the smaller parties, to form coalition governments at the centre and in some of the provinces. It took a good deal of negotiating to settle the specifics of power-sharing, but it has been done amicably. The unanimous election of Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani as prime minister, and that of Mr Amir Haider Hoti as chief minister of the NWFP, were greeted as history-making events. Indications are that the ruling coalition can muster a two-thirds majority in a joint session of the two houses of parliament so as to be able to pass constitutional amendments.
The coalition partners intend to reinstate the judges whom Gen Musharraf had removed on Nov 3, 2007. The procedure for undoing his high-handedness may turn out to be tedious but the needful, I think, will be done before long. That too should be a welcome development. What will the reinstated judges do if the validity of Musharraf’s election as president is called into question again? If they hold it to have been invalid, the current balance of governance may be thrown into disarray. This could be a turn of events that Mr Gilani and his party would like to avoid. The judges might then be persuaded to leave the general alone. Pervez Musharraf may then continue to live in the president’s mansion, limited to the very modest role the constitution assigns him. Such an outcome would also be acceptable to the military.
The newly elected speaker and party leaders in the National Assembly expect that attendance, seriousness of purpose, quality of debate, and observance of rules and procedures will all show a big improvement over the previous years. It is heartening that Prime Minister Gilani wants to energise the assembly as an institution. He intends to bring not only proposed legislation but all major policy issues to the house for its consideration. He has reportedly told the visiting American officials that parliament, and not he alone, will review and finalise this country’s anti-terrorism strategy and operations. This was the right stand for him to have taken even if it did not please the visitors.
An era of goodwill would seem to have begun in Pakistan. I sense a change in the outlook of the generality of people on politics. On Feb 18 they rejected the old regime and its ways. The politicians seem to have noticed the public’s new frame of mind, which may explain why the Chaudhries and their cohorts are telling us that they will not be an obstructionist opposition, and that they will even applaud the new government when it is doing the right thing. Various political leaders had for years advocated the supremacy of parliament in the country’s governance. Their quest, it seems, is about to be fulfilled.
Parties of different hues are ready to work together to serve the nation in these difficult times. They have placed ideology on the back seat to do tasks that must and can be done, recognising that politics is the art of the possible. They have not demanded a price for their cooperation. The JUI and MQM did eventually get ministerial posts, but note that they had offered the ruling coalition their support unconditionally.
Pessimists, unwilling to concede that anything good and decent can happen in Pakistan, have been asking how long it can be before the ruling coalition falls apart and the country returns to chaos and political instability. They think constructive cooperation, unless ordered by a common superior, is foreign to our political culture. Past experience would seem to confirm their interpretation. But note that the culture of authoritarianism prevailed in much of the world until about a couple of hundred years ago. It gave way to a different culture, that of democracy, as the socio-economic environment of politics changed. The process of change was gradual but change did come. Something of the same order may be happening in Pakistan. Its political culture is changing with changing times.
It should be noted also that the principals in the ruling coalition, the PPP and PML-N, did not have an alternative to working together. They stood to gain a lot more by sticking with each other than they possibly could by going their separate ways. This, I think, will remain the case and I anticipate that their togetherness will last for quite a few years.
One should not, however, ignore the lingering dark patches of cloud on this otherwise bright and sunny day. Democratisation of the internal working of our major political parties remains elusive. Witness the long and mysterious process by which the PPP leadership chose its nominee for the prime minister’s post. A straightforward procedure would have been for Mr Zardari to call a meeting of the PPP MNAs, call for nominations, ask each nominee to state his credentials, and then put the matter to vote. The person getting the largest number of votes should have been designated the party’s candidate for the post.
This is not how it was done. Ms Benazir Bhutto was said to have named Makhdoom Amin Fahim as her choice before she was assassinated. Apparently, Mr Zardari did not like her choice and set it aside. The party’s central executive committee, in a show of submissiveness, ‘authorised’ him to settle the matter as he might deem fit. It took him more than four weeks to identify the ‘fit’ candidate.
He embarked on a long series of consultations with groups of PPP MNAs from all over the country. One cannot say whether these were genuine consultations rather than a pretence. During all this time he kept Amin Fahim guessing as to his intentions. Much to his subsequent embarrassment, Mr Fahim kept insisting, until almost the last day, that he was a serious candidate for the job. Mr Zardari, on his part, kept his decision a closely guarded secret to be revealed on the day the assembly would elect the leader of the house. As if this thorough personalisation of the party’s decision-making was not enough, he called in his and Benazir’s 19-year-old son, the PPP ‘chairman’, to endorse Yusuf Raza Gilani as the party’s candidate for the prime minister’s office.
The writer is a visiting professor at the Lahore School of Economics.
The displaced Baloch
DADO had lived happily with her seven siblings in Koho, Dera Bugti, until that fateful day which changed her life for the worse. Soon thereafter the 16-year-old found herself, along with her brothers and sisters, seeking refuge in different parts of Balochistan to escape the conflict that annihilated her home, her village and her school in Dera Bugti.
Two years later Dado has turned into an embittered, fiery 18-year-old whose understanding of the Balochistan conflict goes beyond political discourse rooted in debates on the concurrent list and provincial autonomy, or the need to strengthen the federation, remove inter-provincial strife and restore national cohesion. She has lost everything to the political jargon mouthed ad nauseam by politicians since Partition. Her province, in the meantime, has been pushed to the brink of implosion.Dado’s family members are among the 84,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Balochistan who lack access to health care, food, shelter and state protection. This huge mass of people has been shunted out of Balochistan — by the government, no less — since the military operation began in January 2005, purportedly to suppress tribal militias.
Though the government continues to deny the mass displacement of the Baloch people, hundreds of families can be seen living in decrepit, makeshift camps outside Quetta, Jaffarabad and Naseerabad.
Kachkol Ali, leader of the opposition in the outgoing Balochistan Assembly, claims that the number of displaced people has exceeded 100,000, with children suffering the most through a perplexing aid blockade foisted by the government. These ‘insignificant’ people have come to signify the state’s military strength. The drive to root out ‘terrorists’ from Balochistan is in actuality a game plan in which suppressing provincial autonomy is the primary motive.
Innocent victims like Dado cannot, quite understandably, link their displacement to state-sponsored definitions of terrorism. Their queries about the unfairness of a forced itinerant existence leave a huge unanswered gap between political necessity and humanitarian aid apathy.
Dado’s little brothers and sisters want to know why their home was destroyed, when they will be able to eat three meals a day, instead of one, and if they will ever live in one place for more than a month.
These people, displaced within their own country for reasons not answered through politics, constitute one of the biggest human catastrophes of South Asia. An official working for the UNHCR, who did not wish to be named, disclosed that after the story of the displaced Baloch was first printed in the western media two years ago, all roads leading to conflict zones in Balochistan were closed.
“Aid workers were not allowed to have direct contact with the people and were instructed to carry out aid service through local authorities. International aid agencies like Oxfam, Care and the International Committee of the Red Cross have been denied the right to provide relief to these people. That was two years ago, but if you visit the people who have been forced to move as far as Sindh you’ll see that nothing has changed and their condition is still the same,” said the UNHCR official.
A report compiled by Unicef was released shortly after news of the IDPs hit the media. It revealed that 28 per cent of children under the age of five were acutely undernourished, of which six per cent suffered from acute malnutrition. Children under the age of five account for 80 per cent of all recorded IDP deaths.
In the same year, a five-member provincial committee was formed to deal with the IDPs crisis. The committee members included Abdur Rehman Jamali, Abdul Ghafoor Lehri, Saleem Khosa, Juman Khan Bugti and Kachkol Ali, but their recommendations were not taken up by the government.
The term ‘Internally Displaced Persons’ applies to citizens of a sovereign state, people who are forced to flee as a consequence of military operations carried out not against foreign aggressors but citizens of a theoretically independent country. This is the defining paradox of our ‘independence’. The bleakness of this internecine conflict becomes ever more grim when people living outside the physical perimeters of Balochistan are made to believe trumped-up stories of rebels demanding secession and the omnipresence of terrorist organisations constructing ‘havens for global destruction’. These are lies.
Accepting the justification of the military operation, the denial of aid relief to the IDPs is inexplicable and not helped by the government’s persistent refutation of this man-made catastrophe. All Pakistanis need to realise the reality of the misery inflicted on Balochistan.