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DAWN - Opinion; July 27, 2008

July 27, 2008


Political wrangles & administration

By Kunwar Idris

FIVE months into a five-year term and Pakistan’s democratic government has yet to define itself. It is not known which party or person will remain in it, join or oppose it, or just watch from the sidelines.

Nor is the fate of the president and the chief justice known. It is a situation as perplexing as it is pitiable.

The unpredictability about the fundamental matters of state policy makes fertile ground for intrigue by the politicians and gossip by the idle and rich but has brought only misery to the common man. The popular wrath triggered by growing lawlessness and even faster growing inflation is also directly entirely at the squabbling elected leaders, despite their protestations that they have inherited one crisis and the other is caused by global economic forces beyond their control.

The confusion at the top is not just about who is in power but who actually wields it. In that guessing game the party bosses are the undoubted winners. In the provinces the doubt about the locus of power is not between the boss of the party and the head of the government but between the ministers and the nazims. For both the common man and the administration, the suffering inflicted by their contested claims and ensuing tussle for power is greater than the misery wrought by political uncertainty.

In the previous regime the nazims were invariably the winners. Now they are on the losing end. Musharraf’s local government law assigned almost every power and function that touched the life of the common man to the district nazim, taking it away from the provincial government. In places the law was left ambiguous, as if by design, to make the president an arbiter of competing claims. Musharraf and his National Reconstruction Bureau thus came to exercise control over subjects which lay entirely in the provincial sphere. Whatever little autonomy the provinces enjoyed under the constitution was thus whittled down.

Law and order became the prime victim of this duplicitous scheme. While the local government law of 2001 required the nazim to perform all functions relating to law and order in his district, the Police Order (also enacted by Musharraf a year later) expressly prohibited him from interfering in police functions relating to investigation or prosecution of criminal cases.

All that the nazim was permitted to do was to visit a police station and that too only to find out if a person was unlawfully detained there. In a situation of a general breakdown of law and order (as witnessed on the arrival of the chief justice in Karachi in May last year) it was left to the provincial home adviser, who is nowhere mentioned in the law, to issue orders and yet disown responsibility. The nazim was not on the scene then nor were other nazims on similar occasions elsewhere.

Another source of perpetual conflict between the nazims and the ministers has been the transfer of provincial functions, say relating to health and education, to the district government while doctors and teachers remained under the administrative control of the provincial government. As a rule, in all such contested issues the nazim had the upper hand if he belonged to the party which supported Musharraf. He would be the loser if he was in the opposition. Ironically, the law required the nazims to have no political affiliation at all.

It was the ambiguity in control over public transport which led to the bus strike in Karachi earlier in the week. The deteriorating state of public transport in the city is also to be attributed primarily to the tussle, or at least lack of coordination, between the district and provincial governments.

Strikes are averted in Lahore and public transport there is also much better regulated because the chief minister has found a way to bridge, or to ignore, the differences between the district and the provincial departments, and himself oversees all relevant activity. Under his stern direction, Lahore and other Punjab cities are soon going to see a substantial addition to their bus fleets with financial assistance from the federal government to which the Punjab government will be adding its own subsidy for bus operators.

By contrast, Karachi’s wholly inadequate and worn-out bus fleet keeps dwindling while a divided and demoralised administration keeps dreaming of mass transit corridors, and circular and light rail networks, just as past governments did in the last 30 years.

The political and high policy issues, it seems, are going to linger, perhaps aggravate, till the cows come home (that is till the president departs and the chief justice returns). The only unanimous and positive outcome of the recent coalition consultations has been the formation of a committee to review laws relating to local government and the police. The aim is to reinstate the law and order administration and to remove conflicts within the government for better and economical delivery of services to the people.

Inescapably, the responsibility for maintaining law and order must be defined and a clear line drawn between the civic functions of local councils and the regulatory duties of provincial departments. Administration of law and order must be put back in professional hands and the local councils must not feel restrained in performing their civic functions by political or bureaucratic interference.

In Ayub Khan’s basic democracy the bureaucrats presided over the local councils. Pervez Musharraf’s devolution scheme went to the other extreme in which the district governments challenged the authority of the provincial government and the political nazims compelled civil servants to serve their parties’ ends. Both systems ultimately fell victim to the personal ambitions of their authors. The need now is to strike a balance.

The committee now set up by the coalition partners should demarcate not just the respective jurisdictions of the provincial governments and the local councils but should also lay down a code that keeps civil servants out of the political wrangles of both.

Recalling a conspiracy

By Anwar Syed

WHEN two or more persons make plans to commit a crime, they may be said to have hatched a conspiracy.

Discussion of the project does not become a conspiracy unless the participants have agreed to carry it out.

It has been said repeatedly in recent weeks that conspiracies are being hatched in the presidency to disrupt the rapport between the PPP and PML-N. If this is indeed happening, the enterprise may be called dirty politics but, strictly speaking, it is not a conspiracy since breaking a rival coalition is not a crime.

We have had only a few known conspiracies in our history. There was the Rawalpindi Conspiracy to overthrow Liaquat Ali Khan’s government in 1951, a conspiracy between President Iskander Mirza and Gen Ayub Khan to dismiss the civilian regime and bring in military rule (1958), and a conspiracy between Gen Yahya Khan and some of his associates to use military force to crush the separatists in East Pakistan (1971). One may also refer to a conspiracy between Gen Ziaul Haq and his commanders to overthrow Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government (1977). Participants in only one of these cases, the Rawalpindi Conspiracy, were arrested, tried and convicted. The specifics of this case are not generally known and I should like to share them with readers.

Maj Gen Mohammad Akbar Khan was its author. Born into an affluent Pakhtun family in 1912, he went to Islamia College, Peshawar, after finishing high school, entered the British Indian Army, graduated from the famous Sandhurst Military Academy, returned to the Indian Army as a commissioned officer (1934), fought the Japanese in Burma during World War II, received a gallantry award, and joined the Pakistan Army as a brigadier after independence. He commanded the regular and irregular forces fighting Indian forces in Kashmir, did not approve of the ceasefire and wanted the fighting to continue.

He was greatly dissatisfied with what he considered was the inadequate support the government extended to the Pakistani men fighting in Kashmir. Gen Douglas Gracey, chief of the Pakistan Army at the time, and on his advice the prime minister, did not want the army to get too deeply involved in Kashmir. That is why they were circumspect in their support of the operation.

Akbar Khan was inclined to be impulsive and rather indiscreet, and he talked too much. He freely conveyed his criticism of the government to fellow officers. His wife, Nasim (daughter of the celebrated woman politician Begum Jehan Ara Shahnawaz), was even more of a talker. She too went around criticising the government. Word of their talking eventually reached the intelligence agencies, who began to watch them.

Akbar Khan was nevertheless promoted to the rank of major general in December 1950. Gen Ayub Khan, who was now commander-in-chief, posted him as chief of the general staff at the headquarters, partly to keep an eye on him and partly to keep him away from officers out in the field. This, however, did not stop his tirades against the government. In fact he now began to discuss with friends a plan to overthrow the government.

On Feb 23, 1951 about a dozen officers (ranking from major general to captain) and three civilians met at Akbar Khan’s house. The civilians included Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Syed Sajjad Zaheer (general secretary of the Communist Party of Pakistan) and Mohammad Hussain Ata. Akbar Khan presented his plan: Governor General Nazimuddin and Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, who were expected to be in Rawalpindi during the following week, would be arrested. The governor general would be forced to dismiss the government and install an interim regime headed by Akbar Khan. Elections would be promised but no definite date given. The new regime would set things right (eradicate corruption, provide education, healthcare and other amenities of life to the poor). The meeting lasted more than eight hours, and reportedly the participants agreed that the plan should be implemented.

Akbar Khan had reached an understanding with the Communist Party along the following lines: he would stop the intense persecution to which the party leaders and workers were being subjected at the time, and he would let the party function like any other political organisation. This guarantee included the right to contest elections. In return the party and the trade unions affiliated with it would welcome his government, and The Pakistan Times, of which Faiz Ahmed Faiz was the chief editor, would support it.

A senior police officer in the NWFP, Askar Ali Shah, had been Akbar Khan’s friend and confidant for a time and had known of his opposition to the government. He did not participate in the meeting on Feb 23 but learned of its proceedings, got cold feet, and blurted them out to the provincial IGP. The latter reported them to the governor, who promptly informed the prime minister.

On the morning of March 9, Maj Gen Akbar Khan and three of his co-conspirators, including Faiz, were arrested. Begum Nasim, Sajjad Zaheer and several others were arrested a few days later. They ended up in Hyderabad jail (where a wing had been specially prepared for them) and were tried on the charge of “having conspired to wage war against the king.” A special tribunal consisting of Sir Abdul Rahman of the federal court, Justice Mohammad Sharif of the Lahore High Court and Justice Amir-ud-Din of the Dhaka High Court was constituted to try the accused. The trial began on June 15 and lasted several weeks. A.K. Brohi appeared as the chief prosecutor while Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, Z.H. Lari, and several other well-known lawyers appeared for the defence.

The defence argued that while the accused had met and talked, they had not all agreed to take any action. But two of the conspirators (Col Siddique Raja and Maj Mohammad Yousuf Sethi) turned approvers and were persuaded to testify that the accused had indeed come to an agreement. Gen Akbar Khan and the other officers were sentenced to imprisonment for 12 years but the civilians got away with four years in jail.

‘Enemies of the king’ are usually made reasonably comfortable in prison. Forced solitude gives them time to reflect. Faiz wrote some of his finest poetry during his years in jail. The charge of conspiracy did not lower these men in public esteem, Faiz continued to be honoured after his release and Akbar Khan landed a high post in the national security apparatus in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government.

The writer is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts.

Thar coal & provincial autonomy

By Naseer Memon

IN a surprise move, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has constituted the Thar Coal Authority while abolishing all other agencies engaged in any business related to Thar coal, mainly the Thar Coal Mining Company and the Sindh Coal Authority.

This severe blow to provincial autonomy was announced on July 8 through a Cabinet Division notification (No 4-9/2008-Min 1). According to the notification, the Thar Coal Authority will be headed by the Sindh chief minister until a professional or a technocrat of eminence is appointed chairman by the provincial assembly. The federal minister for water and power has been named as the authority’s vice-chairman while its membership will be comprised by the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, the secretary of the water and power ministry, a provincial minister (to be nominated by the Sindh chief minister) and the chief secretary, Sindh.

The authority is meant to act as a one-stop organisation on behalf of all ministries/departments and agencies of the Government of Pakistan as well as those of the Government of Sindh. Another function of the newly formed body is to attract investment in coal mining and/or coal gasification in Thar and other areas of Sindh.

This arrangement was notified on behalf of the prime minister, who only a hundred or so days ago promised that greater provincial autonomy was one of his abiding commitments to the nation. Rather than abolishing the concurrent list to transfer more powers to the provinces, the government has instead abolished the Sindh Coal Authority which came into existence through an act of parliament and was governed by a board headed by the provincial minister for mines and mineral development.

It is strange that a body formed by an act of parliament was disbanded through a notification. Under the 1973 Constitution there are two legislative lists, namely the Federal Legislative List (parts I and II) and the Concurrent List. According to the constitution, items not listed in these two lists are provincial subjects. Since coal does not feature in any list, it is clearly a provincial subject. Hence only the province has the right to form such an authority or make any other institutional arrangement pertaining to the development of coal. The aforementioned notification is therefore constitutionally invalid.

The composition of the Thar Coal Authority is another area of concern. Four of the seven members directly represent the federal government. Strangely, neither the provincial minister for mining nor the secretary, mines and minerals, has been included in this very crucial body. The said ministry is directly responsible for Thar coal. The new authority’s composition clearly indicates the intentions of the federal government.

As mentioned earlier, the Thar Coal Authority is to attract investment in coal mining and/or coal gasification in Thar and elsewhere in Sindh. These resources are to be used for power generation or other purposes and an environment conducive to investment is to be created through bankable feasibility and other relevant studies.

Investment in Thar coal was not awaiting the formulation of such an agency, for the proposed project has fetched handsome offers since its inception. The source of the problem has been the federal government bodies that have consistently created hindrances in the way of investment. So much so that former Sindh Chief Minister Arbab Ghulam Rahim said that a lobby in Islamabad does not want investment in Thar coal.

This claim is borne out by the fact that Sindh recently received investment offers of $2.5bn from reputed national and international agencies in response to an invitation for expression of interest issued by the provincial mines and minerals department. The project has the potential to generate 1,000MW of power using Thar coal. Moreover, mining capacity can be expanded from six million tons to 30 million tons per year to generate 5,000MW. This shows that investors are more than willing participants in the development of Thar’s vast coal deposits.

The July 8 decision has put ministers and other elected representatives in an odd situation, particularly in Sindh which has been a traditional stronghold of the PPP. The notification has evoked deep resentment among the masses, nationalist groups and the intelligentsia of the province. Islamabad has a history of meddling in provincial affairs and Sindh has always been in the forefront of agitation against this attitude of the federal government. The Thar Coal Authority decision has also shocked government supporters who find it difficult to defend an act that is in blatant violation of the PPP’s own manifesto.

A far more pertinent move would have been to remove all barriers in the way of investment in Thar coal. The abolished Authority could also have been empowered by making it a one-stop facility, thereby achieving the very objectives envisaged in the notification.

Developing Thar coal is now seen as the key to ensuring sustainable energy supplies for the country. This objective cannot be achieved without a politically acceptable institutional arrangement. Contentious institutional arrangements will only weaken the already fragile relationship between the provinces and the federal government. Extending this approach to other smaller provinces will only trigger similar reactions, which the country can ill afford at this juncture.