DAWN - Opinion; June 11, 2008

June 11, 2008

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Marching into history

By Cyril Almeida


THE summer blockbuster is here. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and Aitzaz Ahsan are on a mission to bring President Musharraf to justice. Barnstorming the country, the dynamic duo wants a climactic showdown in the shadow of parliament. Over in his fortress Musharraf is defiant, ready to grind out a Pyrrhic victory if that’s what it takes. It’s all very exciting. But must we hew so closely to Bollywood-length epics?

Asif Zardari could have cut this saga short. Instead, he gave a kid a box of crayons and asked him to re-write the constitution. Forget the spirit of the draft — given its progenitors it was never going to be a panacea — but need it have been drafted so shoddily? Ambition isn’t one of the defects it suffers from though: eighty changes proposed to a constitution with two hundred and eighty sections. All worked out in secret, away from the supervision of parliament. If Asif had been around to guide the Constituent Assembly perhaps it wouldn’t have taken nine years to draft the first constitution.

Back in the spotlight is 270, dictators’ corner in the constitution. It’s a crowded address. Starting with validation of Yahya’s illegalities (270), we then have A (Zia), Double A (Musharraf-I), and the contested Triple A (Musharraf-II). And now Asif wants to add Double C, a mechanism that purports to reinstate the judges but slyly works to keep Justice Iqbal out. Making sense of 270 is beginning to feel like sifting through a pile of bargain unmentionables at Victoria’s Secret in search of clothes for the emperor.

Double C’s purpose is simple: it’s meant to ensure that Chief Justice Dogar will bookend a second stint by Chief Justice Iftikhar. It’s really an insurance policy: if Chief Justice Iftikhar is ever handed back his gavel, Chief Justice Dogar will succeed him once more and undo whatever damage the maverick judge may cause to the Asif-Musharraf axis. Iftikhar-Dogar-Iftikhar-Dogar — it’s the judicial equivalent of the prime ministerial revolving door of the 90s.

So is it a surprise that Chief Justice Iftikhar and Aitzaz are fighting back? Fatigue isn’t a problem for the intrepid duo braving the summer heat. The adrenalin is flowing as the history books beckon. For now Aitzaz is feted by Foreign Policy and hailed by the New York Times; if he slays the dragon it could be the first step towards the Nobel. His place in the people’s party doesn’t concern him for now; he’s got his eye on bigger things. True, he did work the phones on a Sunday, urging editors and producers to suppress the Times’s revelation of his disdain for the Bhuttos. But he moved on quickly enough to his new love, the lawyers’ movement, obliquely signalling the accuracy of what was quoted.

The rift with Asif is nearly total. Sherry Rehman was supposed to share a stage with Aitzaz at an apolitical event in Karachi, but Asif grounded her. When Khuhro turned up instead, Asif’s displeasure was vented through the media. I watched Aitzaz closely that afternoon as he sat impassively through a wretched programme of tuneless singers and children eulogising by rote. He was unruffled, smiling on cue and presenting bouquets when called upon all afternoon. The next day I watched his speech on tape. Aitzaz invoked the spirit of Jinnah and lamented the failure of the state. It was measured and purposeful. The people would never receive justice, the poor would never escape poverty, and the vulnerable would never be protected if things didn’t change. Aitzaz believes he’s at the vanguard of a movement that has the potential to change history. Musharraf is but the first hurdle; Chief Justice Iftikhar and Aitzaz are out to remake Pakistan itself.

Yet, fifteen months into their partnership, judicial restoration remains bogged down in the arcanum of constitutional amendments and parliamentary resolutions. For many, it’s a pointless debate, epitomising everything that is wrong with politics and politicians. After all, who really cares how the judges are reinstated as long as they are reinstated? It’s too much legalese for a country that has overdosed on it for over a year.

But a parliamentary resolution can bring the whole edifice of transition crumbling down. Chief Justice Iftikhar and six other deposed judges have already declared November’s coup illegal. If they are summarily reinstated, they will summarily strike down everything done since November. In fact, so fearful is the Asif-Musharraf axis of this possibility that it has suggested a new clause in the constitution (yes, in 270 again — this time a Double B) to specifically prevent the Supreme Court from questioning the legality of the February elections.

The parliamentary resolution is a non-starter then. For before parliament could yell, “Stop! Amendment!” Iftikhar will simply sweep away the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO), the president, the judges and everything else with the existing powers of the court. It will be a wrenching period, a time of intense uncertainty and paralysis. And don’t expect Aitzaz to advise caution. It’s precisely what he wants.

Which is why Musharraf was back on the airwaves. The marchers are closing in on him and he was trying to fend them off. One word stood out: pathetic. Pathetic was the officer who was airing the army’s dirty laundry in public. Then, unwittingly, the combative general’s argument boomeranged. He could spend an hour dishing the dirt on the latest general to turn on him, he said. And with that the humiliation was complete — his anger blinding him to the fact that as army chief it was his responsibility to ensure discipline and honesty. Is it any wonder that the rats are jumping ship?

Nobody knows what will happen after the long march. After the weekend’s performance, Musharraf is going nowhere for now. Nor is Chief Justice Iftikhar on the verge of being reinstated. The standoff will continue. But pause for a minute to take in a marvellous show — a rainbow coalition of liberals, mullahs, constitutionalists, peasants, feminists, socialists, Islamists, capitalists, provincialists and activists; all marching under the banner of the people.

What a wretched country this is. The march should have given goose bumps to every person with an iota of romance. Instead, it has raised the hairs on the back of the neck for the many who fear what confrontation will bring. Not for decades have ugly reality and dreaminess collided so forcefully. The sceptics believe they are on the right side of history. But there is no joy in parting with the lawyers. Unfortunately, there are no Hollywood endings in Pakistan, only bitter truths.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Our indigenous war on terror

By Zeenia Satti


THE insane attack on the Danish Embassy in Islamabad, followed by the violent destruction of commercial shops in the NWFP that sell compact discs has made one thing clear: Islamabad will have to confront terror.

What will be the political articulation of this confrontation? Will it be fought as a revolutionary battle against ignorance and religious obscurantism that has been historically fought within the Islamic civilisation by all great leaders from Akbar to Ataturk, or will it exhibit the mode of the reluctant prostitute who is forced to toe the line of the rich and powerful to make ends meet?

It is important for Islamabad to articulate a decisive political stance of its own in ‘its war on terror’ and extricate it from the clutches of obsequious and confused subservience to Bush’s deceitful and discredited ‘long war on terror’. The new political dispensation ought to be guided by a new light.

Islamabad took a step in the positive direction by acknowledging the ethnic reality of the NWFP as Pakhtunkhwa. It now needs to refurbish the Pakistani Pashtun image which has been tarnished by religious militancy and ignorance promoted by the CIA sponsored anti-Soviet war and the subsequent Musharraf-US led war on terror. Pakistan’s leaders need to launch a revolutionary drive, akin to Ataturk’s, to combat the forces of ignorance and bigotry. Pakistan’s war on terror should be a war on jihalat, (ignorance) the abuse of women through social sanctions and the bigotry that betrays the composite principles of Islam; i.e. peace, progress and the pursuit of knowledge. The government’s commitment to these principles should be unflinching and its war in the NWFP should be against those who aggressively stand in the way of this endeavour. Needless to mention, in order to wage a nationalist war, it has to demarcate the arena of conflict and separate it from the theatre of violence called Afghanistan. I have emphasised it before and I repeat that Pakistan needs to seal its western border and integrate FATA into its mainstream political system.

The terror and brutality ordinary Pashtuns have been subjected to since 1978 at the hands of the KHAD, the KGB, the CIA, the Taliban, and US-NATO-Musharraf triad must be given respite in reconstructive regeneration by the powers that be. It is acknowledged, even in Washington, that constructive progress in Pakistan’s Pashtun belt is essential for American security. The self-fulfilling myth of the dogged Pashtun culture frozen in time and space has been cultivated by the imperial powers. In modern times, it is maintained as much by Islamabad’s neglect, which has caused the isolation of the Pashtuns, as it is by a lifestyle born of such isolation.

The feudal jirga system should be outlawed. It sanctifies prejudice at the expense of egalitarian justice and custom at the expense of enlightened progress. The media did well to expose the shocking horror of child marriage and bartering of girls in a peacemaking deal recently entered into by a jirga in the NWFP — as is happening in other provinces as well. Instead of co-opting it, the government needs to declare a socio-legal war on the truncated justice of the jirga in the same manner in which Nehru declared war on caste in India.

Similarly Shariah law, as demanded by the militants in FATA, is a far cry from the tenets of Islam as expounded by the ulema. Sharia law, in essence, is ijtehad based. It lays down the fundamental principles of justice. These are incorporated in the Constitution of Pakistan. Knuckling under the forces of ignorance in the hope that they would cease making trouble is tantamount to allowing a child to have his way to end his tantrums, even though the parent knows that is harmful. The militants who are calling for Sharia law should be invited to an open debate on the subject with religious scholars. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan should have one law for its citizenry. A representative government should not be shy of using its mandate to enforce that law.

Decisive steps need to be taken in the matter of intellectual development of the people of the Frontier region. In 1978-1988, they were brainwashed in the tunnel vision of militant religiosity. The youth was fed an un-intellectual and socially debilitating discourse concocted by the CIA to counter the socialist discourse of the PDPA, the ruling party in Kabul. The Pashtuns can reclaim their place in the world through the intellectual power of their citizenry. Due to the hostility shown to girl’s education by militant groups, this sector needs to be defended tooth and nail. The madressah should be nationalised. Additional schools, equipped with online technology connected to the world, should be instituted.

In order to attract girls to schools, the government should introduce the system of free meals in educational institutions. The meals should include milk, bread and meat. At a time of high food prices, rural families in the NWFP will welcome the savings free school meals provide to them. This would motivate them to send their girls to school in cases where mere mandate fails. In addition, the government can utilise the $100 computer per child scheme in rural NWFP, currently a success in Africa. Free computer per household for as long as the child stays in school will serve as additional enticement.

In order to extricate the popular religiosity from the shackles of the CIA peddled agenda, well equipped universities should be set up in the NWFP which should function as centres of theological debate and learning. They should offer live and online seminars conducted by international scholars of Islam to adult students. It is vital to break the hold of CIA manufactured religious militancy over the rural youth. Government should launch a project for their renaissance in consultation with the enlightened Pashtuns.

The political articulation of Pakistan’s ‘war on terror’ should be the rolling back of the agenda of 1978-88, which was formulated to serve a foreign power. It should be a composite war waged with a revolutionary zeal. Instead of humiliating the nation it should make it feel good.

zeenia.satti@yahoo.com

Fiscal deficit and the law

By Dr Tariq Hasan


BUDGET-making is a taxing affair. All eyes are once again focused on Chairman Federal Board of Revenue Yusuf Abdullah, and on how he will waltz his way out of what is likely to be a totally imbalanced budget.

Ishaq Dar, who was holding the portfolio of minister of finance and revenue when the budgetary process began, is at present out of the picture and will therefore not have to face the music, although the budget under preparation is not free of his imprints.

There is a reported Rs40bn revenue deficit and targeted four per cent fiscal deficit this year, which according to erstwhile minister Dar, stood at five per cent of GDP according to the data released for the first nine months (July to March) of the current fiscal year. I hope that the economic managers realise that this is not just an economic problem anymore; it has become a legal problem as well.

The Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act, 2005 (FRDLA), the drafting committee which I had the privilege of heading, was enacted “to provide for elimination of revenue deficit and reduction of public debt to a prudent level by effective debt management….” According to this enactment, the federal government is required to pursue its policy objectives in accordance with sound fiscal and debt management principles.

It is further required to take all appropriate measures to eliminate the revenue deficit, reduce total public debt and maintain it within prudent limits….” The FRDLA specifically requires the government to reduce the revenue deficit to nil not later than June 30, 2008 and to thereafter maintain a revenue surplus.

Not only has the government failed to adhere to this principle, it appears to be heading in the opposite direction. Instead of aiming to maintain a revenue surplus from next year, it seems resigned to live with a budget deficit by targeting a 6.5 per cent budgetary deficit this year (although the actual figure may be 9.5 per cent). Despite the government’s realisation that there have been slip-ups on the tax side and its consequent lip-service to the urgency of boosting means of revenue generation, there is little evidence of any meaningful effort in this regard.

While the usual fat cats in the non-productive sectors (the Stock Exchanges and real estate being prime examples) will undoubtedly continue to enjoy their tax-exempt or near tax-exempt status, the lean cats of the productive sectors such as the textile division will claim their undue share of tax benefits thereby limiting the chances of any significant revenue generation. In the end, the voiceless taxpayers will continue to bear the brunt of the ever-increasing indirect taxes to make up for the looming fiscal deficit.

How have we managed to land ourselves into this economic mess despite a comprehensively regulated fiscal regime introduced by the FRDLA? It is true that certain exogenous factors, like the hike in international oil prices, are partly responsible for the deficit. However, should the government not have anticipated this and provided a contingency for it in the budget?

Besides providing a much-needed legal framework, the FRDLA also establishes a structured economic policy environment. Accordingly, the government is required to place various economic policy statements before the National Assembly: (a) the medium term budgetary statement (MTBS); (b) the fiscal policy statement (FPS); and (c) the debt policy statement. The FDRLA requires that the MTBS, which sets out a three-year rolling target for economic indicators, be included in the annual budget statement required to be placed by the government before the National Assembly under Article 80 of the Constitution.

The government is also required to place a FPS that contains an analysis of macroeconomic indicators, including fiscal and revenue deficits, and of all policy decisions taken by the government to meet economic indicators and targets specified in the MTBS, before the National Assembly by the end of January each year. The government is also required to explain how fiscal indicators accord with sound fiscal and debt management principles. Has the FPS ever been placed before or discussed in the National Assembly?

The whole purpose of this exercise was to provide legislative oversight not only over the budgetary process but also to its implementation. The fact that these statements have not been placed before the National Assembly has not only undermined the transparency of the budgetary process but has also prevented the government from achieving the objectives and targets set out in the FRDLA.

One of the most important targets set by the FRDLA is that the public debt of the government be reduced by not less than 2.5 per cent of the estimated GDP in each financial year. However, the social and poverty alleviation related expenditures may not be reduced below 4.5 per cent of the estimated GDP for any given year, and budgetary allocation to education and health be doubled from the existing level in terms of percentage of GDP during the next 10 years. It remains to be seen whether the government intends to adhere to these principles and targets.

In a country where there is no culture of compliance with laws, it may be too much to expect the government to pay heed to the FRDLA — particularly since there are no sanctions attached to it. I, nonetheless, hope that the current economic managers will try to comply with the FDRLA to ensure fiscal responsibility and reduction of budgetary deficit.

In following the FRDLA, the present government would, inter alia, be able to do what no previous government has been able to do before: to scrutinise the defence budget in parliament. The FRDLA requires the government to take appropriate measures to ensure greater transparency in its fiscal operations in public interest and minimise, as far as practicable, secrecy in the preparation of the annual budget. This enables the government to take up the defence budget and trim the bloated one-line item.

The charter of democracy, signed in London by the leaders of the two major coalition partners — the PPP and PML (N) — categorically provides that the defence budget will be placed before the Parliament for debate and approval. The PPP has also reaffirmed this commitment in its 2008 election manifesto.

There is no reason, therefore, not to include the details of the defence expenditure in the budget in order to rationalise the same. This sacred cow may be our only hope for reducing the budget deficit to the ordained level.

The writer, a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

thassan@ijurist.org

Dare we speak?

By Muhammad Shehryar Khakwani


AN enemy will agree, but a friend will argue — so goes a Russian proverb. Metaphors, similes, and expressions such as, higher than the Himalayas, deeper than oceans, time tested and true, based on mutual trust, a symbol of peace and stability, and the like are used to describe Pakistan-China friendship.

If there is one common thread that has run through every Pakistani government, be it military or civilian, it is the unflinching support for China. No matter how unpopular a politician for his stance on an issue, there is one stand he can always count on getting right — heap praise on China.

The Olympic torch is finally reaching its destination; it will light the flame marking the beginning of the games intended to set differences aside and bring the world together to the backdrop of human physical excellence. En route, through Pakistan, our government too deployed security for the arrival of the Olympic torch, fearing notorious events in London and Paris that made headline news. The only squabble security forces might have broken up would have been between the president and the prime minister as they vied for lighting the torch from the Olympic flame. No protests, no scuffles with police, not even a banner; the public cheered and waved flags. The politicians and sports figures appreciated the photo opportunities.

Were the Olympics to be hosted by Israel, I can safely assume the torch would not be allowed to land in Pakistan. If, per chance, it was allowed, it would not be the only thing burning in the country. Is it only the oppression of Muslims by non-Muslims which instigates a reaction from us? I don’t think we even bother to raise eyebrows unless Muslims are involved; and we certainly won’t raise our voices unless the oppressor is a non-Muslim.

An atrocious genocide in Darfur invoked tepid statements from our foreign office about engaging in dialogue to resolve issues, while maintaining the territorial integrity of Sudan. Turkey, Egypt, Kenya, Burma, and Somalia have little or no impact on stirring our conscience. Was Islam not the voice condemning slavery at a time when the world was indulging in it? Was Islam not the religion safeguarding the rights of non-Muslims living under its jurisdiction? Haven’t the poor and downtrodden been the ones to convert to Islam first? Are we not the Islamic Republic of Pakistan?

But who are we to criticise others? We are reminded of the parable mentioning Christ defending a woman of ill repute, asking one free of sin to cast the first stone. That would certainly exclude us from hurling any accusation at anyone. If the US has been rendered morally ineffective owing to its aberrations in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, surely we could not be taken seriously. The last few years have witnessed human rights groups report several cases of forced disappearances of social and political activists within Pakistan, particularly in Sindh and Balochistan.

Things must change. The Olympic torch serves as a reminder for us to seize an opportunity to clean our own house. Arbitrary detentions must stop. The spark, which ignited the change and swept through the nation in recent elections, was the restoration of law and order, individual and civil liberties, a promise of return to our fundamental values. If we don’t respect our fellow citizens, the rest of the world will not either.

Our foreign office cannot simply be focused on building relations with nations based solely on trade, industry and economy. A social consciousness must enter and permeate our society and public offices. Our governing bodies must institute policies safeguarding individual rights, and emphasising and promoting our core values. Only then can we raise our stature in our eyes, and in the eyes of the world.

There is a common misconception that one must possess economic or military clout in order to take an effective bold stand. One only need be honest, sincere and courageous, and take a stand on values held dear by all religions. Valid criticism tactfully delivered by friends makes friendship stronger. The world is complicated. Principles are not.