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DAWN - Editorial; May 20, 2008

May 20, 2008

‘Justice’ of the mob

LACK of faith in the police and judicial systems is just one reason for the mob

‘justice’ that is becoming a trend in Karachi and which also found eager followers in Lahore on Sunday. True, there is every chance that criminals arrested by or handed over to the police will manage to evade justice, either by buying their way out at the thana or by profiting from shoddy investigation that results in a legal reprieve. Also graft is not unknown among members of the lower judiciary. Fear is another factor, with judges sometimes passing favourable judgments in the face of threats from powerful criminals or their associates. Still, it has to be considered that the performance of the police and the lower judiciary has been anything but exemplary for many, many years. So why then are people who were once content with handing over a robber to the police now bent on seeing alleged criminals going up in flames on the streets of Pakistan?

It is simplistic to attribute rising crime and public insecurity wholly to the performance of a police force that has been inept now for decades. Similarly, the growing frustration felt by citizens cannot be explained solely by their lack of faith in law enforcement. The country today is a tinderbox baking under a particularly hot sun and the smallest of sparks can trigger an inferno. Catharsis, however fleeting, is a powerful drug that the unempowered will devour at a moment’s notice with minimal prodding. The reasons for this ready recourse to mob violence are obvious: joblessness and underemployment, crippling food inflation, lack of electricity, water and sanitation, as well as the air and noise pollution that is driving people to uncontrollable rage. And yes, also crime, insecurity and rising drug addiction, among other factors. Under these appalling conditions the public embraces any excuse to vent its long pent-up frustrations. Clearly, grabbing hold of a bandit and setting him on fire has more to do with the prevailing socio-economic situation than any dissatisfaction with police incompetence. The whole system is at fault.

At least one recent incident of mob violence in Karachi suggests that the victims may have been set up by individuals pursuing a personal agenda. In another it is suspected that bandits may have set the crowd on their unfortunate victims by claiming to be the aggrieved party. As such there is every possibility that this terrifying new phenomenon could be exploited to settle scores of a personal nature. Sadly, given the holistic nature of the problem, no easy solutions come to mind. The police can help though by improving its response time to calls for help and through swift action against those taking the law in their own hands. As for the government, it needs to rise above politicking — finally — and tackle the real issues plaguing Pakistan.

Myanmar’s aid tragedy

AFTER almost three weeks of intense suffering, there is some light at the end of the tunnel for the 2.5m survivors of Cyclone Nargis that hit Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Delta on May 2. Myanmar’s military rulers, who had resisted foreign aid all this while, have finally agreed to international help on condition that it

is channelled through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations of which it is a member. This, together with an international aid-pledging conference scheduled to be held in Yangon soon, should bring some respite for those who desperately await rehabilitation as they face the threat of disease and hunger. Having said as much, it is a wonder that it should have taken so long for a meeting to be convened by Asean to decide upon a mechanism for bringing aid into Myanmar. Had such an initiative been undertaken earlier, it is probable that the figure of 134,000 for the dead or missing would have been considerably lower. This lethargy has also characterised countries like India and China, which are not members of Asean but wield considerable influence over the Myanmar generals on account of their economic interests in the country. While Myanmar has accepted some aid from them, they could have exerted greater pressure on the junta to accept aid from other countries.

Myanmar’s tragedy also brings into focus the need for a wider debate on the UN principle of ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P). The latter seeks the intervention of the international community if the government of a country cannot or will not fulfil its duties towards its citizens at a time of crisis. This principle was invoked in Myanmar’s case when the cyclone struck, but the response from many countries, especially those doing business with Myanmar, has been lukewarm. What they should realise is that such an attitude has only perpetuated the generals’ power in a country that they have ruled with an iron hand for more than four decades. A more unified global approach is needed so that the generals can feel some of the effects of international intervention. This could include attaching good-governance conditions to doing business with Myanmar, especially by nations that already have strong economic ties with it. For while each country is sovereign, the international community has a duty to see that basic human rights are not flouted with impunity as is being done in Myanmar.

Capital’s rent laws

ACCORDING to Islamabad’s chief commissioner, a new Rent Control Act for the capital city has been approved by the law ministry and is due to be placed before parliament for approval. A rent control law is supposed to protect people from inflated and uncontrollable housing costs by levelling the playing field for both landlords and tenants. However, the experience of tenants under the Islamabad Rent Restriction Ordinance of 2001 has been quite a different one. Under the IRRO, rents can be ‘freely’ agreed between landlords and tenants, and the rent of a building is automatically increased at the end of three years of the tenancy by 25 per cent, unless the two parties agree to increase the rent through a written accord. In practice, however, the rentals of residential and commercial property in Islamabad have risen practically unchecked under the IRRO, so much so that they have become unaffordable for many people. Moreover, inadequate provisions in the ordinance have been blamed for disputes between landlords and tenants that usually end up with the tenants being at the losing end. Although the Global Property Guide has rated rent laws in Pakistan as being neutral rather than pro-landlord or pro-tenant, participants at a forum organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute two years ago had highlighted the negative consequences for tenants of the IRRO — which one participant termed a black law — and called for its repeal or amendment.

It is hoped that the new Rent Control Act will enforce equally the rights of both tenant and landlord. While it is the right of the landlord to be provided a fair rent for his building and protection of his property from the tenant, it is also the right of the tenant to be protected from inflated rents and summary eviction. Fast-expanding Islamabad needs a law that provides for a rent control scheme which is simple and clear, and easy to implement and enforce. A complicated, non-transparent formula that only a rent tribunal can understand and configure will not help to discourage abuse and corruption.

OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press

Energy crisis: cosmetic changes will not do


TO bridge the gap between the consumption and generation of electricity, the federal government is taking some steps. Unfortunately, a similar energy conservation plan that had been tried earlier yielded nothing positive. According to the government’s plan for energy conservation, business centres will close at 9 pm from June 1 while air conditioners at government offices will be turned off from 8 am to 11 am and the national clock will be moved forward by an hour from June 1 for early closure.

Taking measures for saving electricity is a welcome step, but are all these measures workable? At least past experience shows that they have failed. This does not mean that no measures should be taken to save energy. Instead, it is the root problem i.e. the generation of power that should be addressed.

Power can be conserved by closing down business centres and observing two days off weekly; but this could further harm the economy as it would have a direct effect on business activities and industrial production. The problem of electricity shortage is a complicated one and it can only be resolved through more generation of power.

The federal minister for water and power Raja Parvaiz Ashraf has promised to end load-shedding by the end of 2009. The point to ponder here is that by 2009 the shortage would increase…. Last year, the country witnessed a shortage of 2500MW to 3000MW; during the current year this figure will climb to 5000MW. If power requirements continue to grow in this manner, the shortage would cross the dangerous figure of 6000MW by 2009.

Within a short span of one and half years this shortage cannot be met. It requires efforts on a war footing. In Karachi alone, the shortage has climbed to 1000MW. The failure of the hydropower stations has proved that there is no need of big dams; therefore alternative resources and options should be explored. The media has time and again raised the point that the shortage of electricity will prove a blow to the economy, and emergency measures are required. Thar coal could be the best alternative which can offer good generation with less investment. The federal government should give due attention to this option by finding investors.

So far the conservation plan to be implemented from June 1 appears to be cosmetic in nature. It may save energy but will create more problems and complications. Two days off weekly will slow down the economy.The experience of the last two decades has shown that the electricity crisis is not a good omen for any government. The performance of any government is measured by whether its steps and planning are translated into reality, otherwise unrest and uncertainty among the people continues to grow. A number of countries are facing an energy crisis but in our country this has been complemented by the inefficiency of and lack of attention by the previous government. But now, there is an elected government in place, which should address the root cause of the problem at its earliest…. — (May 17)

— Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi

The fate of Swat

By Khadim Hussain

ACCORDING to press reports, the government is mulling over the promulgation of an ordinance — the Sharia Nizam-i-Adl Ordinance 2008 — in Malakand division. This may bring about drastic changes in the judicial system in Swat, Lower Dir, Upper Dir, Buner, Shangla and Chitral.

The draft ordinance proposes ‘muaavin qazis’, selected from the clergy of the area, who would assist the civil courts in deciding cases according to the ‘tenets of the Quran and Sunnah’.

District and sessions judges, according to the draft, would be called ‘zilla qazis’, additional sessions judges ‘izafi zilla qazis’ and senior civil judges would be ‘aala qazis’. The advice of the ‘muaavin qazi’ would be binding on the courts. Appeal against a judgment would not be made in the Peshawar High Court or the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Instead, an appellate Sharia court would be established at the divisional level. The said ordinance was first promulgated in 1995 after the stand-off between the security forces and the defunct Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM), revised again in 1999 and now — for the third time — being promulgated in 2008.

It seems that the hardliner TNSM under Fazlullah has put forward two major demands during recent talks after government circles announced a ‘breakthrough’.

The first demand seems to be the withdrawal of troops and the second the promulgation of the said ordinance. The other demands include compensation for the dead, allowance for carrying weapons and release of arrested so-called militants. Intriguingly, the ‘breakthrough’ might easily be gauged by the unabated targeted acts of the militants who have allegedly shot dead a pesh imam, picked up another person from his home and lately marched in the streets in the restive parts of the Swat valley.

Ironically, the people of Malakand division voted for secular and liberal parties in the hope that the influence of the clergy would diminish if these parties were elected because the MMA government had previously allowed these outfits to grow and become strong. Those who know Swat (and Malakand division) would bear witness to the fact that an overwhelming majority of the people of the area never supported the clergy in their quest for sweeping influence in the valley and its surrounding areas. The government seems to have acquiesced in to the demand of the armed militants in its attempt to strike a peace bargain in the area. There are several shortcomings in this approach.

Firstly, the situation in Swat (Buner and Shangla) is peculiarly different from the situation in the tribal areas. The people of Swat formed and ran a state long before Pakistan came into being and have a surprisingly mature attitude to the state and its institutions. They would not like to be treated in a manner that is discriminatory vis-à-vis the rest of the country. Bringing peace in this manner might lead to a wave of restlessness and despondency among the people. This in turn could result in civil war and warlordism.

Secondly, the ordinance, even if we assume that the people support the move, might practically impact, in a positive or negative way, on only one per cent of the people who are involved in litigation. The rest of the people in the valley and in the adjoining districts are probably more in need of comprehensive and holistic planning for participatory development than a misconceived interpretation of the Sharia.

Thirdly, the particular ideology of a minority group under the influence of the Wahabi version of Islam might hold the moderate and open people of Swat hostage without their consent. An ever-growing class of professionals, including urban businessmen all over Swat, might see the promulgation of a vague judicial system as a threat to their interests and worldview.

This might even prompt them to start migrating from the valley — probably from Malakand division itself — in large numbers, leaving a vacuum that may not be filled for decades to come. Different groups of civil society in Swat have already started expressing their concern about the recent developments in the valley in particular and Malakand division generally.

By acquiescing in to the demands of the militants for the promulgation of the Sharia Nizam-i-Adl Ordinance 2008 in the Swat valley and other parts of Malakand division, the government has indicated that it might give larger space to the extremist minority there than what it deserves.

Some quarters have already started pointing to the future shape of the present developments. The militants might get emboldened to start intervening in the private affairs of the general population and take action such as banning television, closing down Internet cafes, shutting down girls’ schools, forcing barbers to stop their business and preventing anything that is modern to be accessed by the enlightened population of the valley. One may observe this phenomenon in the demand of the hardliner group led by Maulana Fazlullah that the land of the area be redistributed.

Where will the state stand? How will the ancient and rich culture of the Swat valley survive under these circumstances? How will those foreign powers who have fundamental interests in the region respond? How will the majority population respond to this move by the government? How can peace be ensured through the promulgation of a controversial judicial system?

Will the promulgation of this system solve the multitude of problems stemming from the actions of the groups presently engaged in a dialogue with the government? These questions are of immense importance for understanding the actual situation on the ground.

The immediate loss that the people of Malakand division in general and Swat in particular might incur would be the drying up of sources of income-generation through tourism-related activities. Probably, this season might see the closing down of thousands of hotels along the length and breadth of Swat, thus having a huge adverse economic effect on the lives of the people there. Probably more people than the number of individuals aligned with all militant groups put together will become jobless.

What is the alternative to such a situation? It would amount to leaving the jobless at the mercy of circumstances, and thus ensuring that far more militants would be roaming with their Kalashnikovs in the urban centres of the Swat valley than one can see at present. The long-term impact of the promulgation might be the depletion of natural resources, Talibanisation of the entire valley, warlordism, shrinking space for civil society and the stigmatisation of a whole culture.

The writer is coordinator, Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy.

The blame game

By Shahid Javed Burki

IN the several TV programmes to which I was invited during my current visit to Pakistan, I was repeatedly asked the same set of questions. What was behind the depressing and seemingly worsening economic situation in Pakistan?

Who was to blame for the plunging value of the rupee and for the precipitous fall in the stock market? Why did the government not anticipate the severe shortage of electricity that is taking such a heavy toll on the economy?

Was the model of economic development followed by the government that was in office for more than eight years, from Oct 1999 to Feb 2008, responsible for the sorry state of the economy? Or, conversely, was the tardy response to the deteriorating situation by those who now govern the cause for the problems that have suddenly surfaced?

Some policymakers who are currently in charge of the economy have sidestepped these questions saying that they don’t wish to play the ‘blame game’. While this is a worthy response this game has to be played in order to craft the right policy response to deal with the emerging situation. History cannot be ignored when fundamental changes have to be made in the way the economy is to be managed.

In managing an economy in stress, policymakers must go beyond just treating the symptoms; they have to deal with the causes of the disease. That means an objective reading of history. If that is the case, where do I come out in this debate?

My answer is a simple one and in keeping with what I have written many times before. The blame for the current difficulties faced by the economy rests clearly with the previous administration and those who occupied senior positions in it.

There has been a delay in response by the new managers but economic fundamentals don’t change overnight. The large fiscal, trade and current account deficits that now characterise the state of the economy did not suddenly appear. They are the product of neglect of some of the weaknesses that have been apparent in the economy for years. These could have been addressed by the government that took so much pride in its management of the economy. But they were not its concern.

In looking for the causes of the current unhappy economic situation, three areas of concern should be identified. First, we must review the policies that were put in place over the past few years, particularly since 2002-03 when the pursuit of growth became the overriding concern of the policymakers. This review should lead to the identification of the approaches that need to be changed as well as those that should remain.

Second, we must understand the changes that are occurring in Pakistan’s external economic situation. An appreciation of the way the external environment is changing should lead to policy responses aimed at both benefiting from them as well as protecting the more vulnerable parts of the population from their impact.

Third, we should take stock of the way that speculators are operating in various parts of the economy and devise ways of protecting the economy from their operations.

The first area — where did the previous set of policymakers go wrong — would require a long treatise. However, some of the major mistakes that were made can be quickly identified. These included excessive dependence on foreign capital flows, encouraging the flow of these and also domestic resources into capital-intensive sectors, ignoring the impact of these policies on income distribution, paying little attention to developing the export sector of the economy, ignoring the development of some of the real sectors that have considerable growth- and poverty-alleviation potential, and ignoring some of the consequences of rapid growth on electric power and gas supply.

This is not the entire list but the point of mentioning these mistakes is to emphasise that they will have to be dealt with by the new policymakers. This will require considerable reflection and strategising which should occupy a great deal of Islamabad’s attention once the current crisis has been handled.

The second area — the significant changes in commodity prices including the continuing increase in the price of oil — requires immediate response from the government. However, in preparing this response, the government should work on two basic principles. One, the economy should not be insulated from the global economic system. The price signals the system is sending out should not be ignored.

Two, the poor, who will be adversely affected by the transmission of these price changes, must be protected. This will require the careful design of programmes to assist the poor to deal with price changes without suffering any loss in real income which they cannot afford. Help to the poor should not take the form of subsidies but consist of cash transfers and employment generation through specially designed public works programmes.

Also, this is the first time in a long while that the terms of trade have turned in favour of the sector of agriculture. This new set of price signals should be passed on to agricultural producers to get the right kind of supply responses.

The third area — controlling speculative behaviour — needs careful thinking. Economists in recent years have begun to focus their attention on human behaviour to understand human responses to various kinds of economic signals. They now appreciate that many economic interactions take the form of speculation rather than careful and rational cost-benefit analysis. It is the job of the state to deal with speculation when it hurts society. The best way to do this is not to ban it but to make it very expensive for the speculators to speculate.

What is needed are well-designed institutions working on the basis of well-thought-out systems of rules and regulations to prevent speculative behaviour from doing damage to the citizenry. When prices begin to rise, traders will be tempted to hold back sales in anticipation of future increases. This leads to what is generally referred to as ‘hoarding’. The state’s response to this should not be to force the trading community to release their stocks. This will interfere adversely with the development of markets. It should be to make it expensive to hold stocks through the use of instruments such as tax policy.

In sum, we are at the point where the design of government policy needs careful thought rather than a series of knee-jerk reactions. I hope the new set of policymakers is up to this task.