DAWN - Editorial; August 19, 2008

Published August 19, 2008

Exit Musharraf

IT came at 2.02pm. Three quarters of an hour into a speech that kept the nation on tenterhooks President Musharraf bowed to the inevitable and announced his resignation. Here at last was the moment the overwhelming majority of the country’s politicians had been hoping for. Most will wonder why it took the president so long; some will rue the lost opportunity to impeach him. What is incontestable is that the country must move on from this crisis quickly. The four-party coalition at the centre told the country in no uncertain terms that governance would be impossible in the shadow of President Musharraf. Now that that hurdle has removed itself, the field is open for the politicians to address the most pressing problems facing the nation. Determining what the priorities ought to be is not difficult: militancy, the economy and relations with India and Afghanistan need to be addressed urgently. Solutions, however, may prove more elusive. Indeed the nature of the problems is such that they may get worse before they get better. But at the very least the politicians must show the same purpose and focus in dealing with these problems that they have demonstrated in taking on the president.

Immediately, however, two issues will need to be addressed. First is the restoration of the non-functional judges of the superior courts. The judicial crisis, which was the catalyst of the president’s downfall, needs to be resolved clearly, unambiguously and quickly. Second is the election of a new president. According to the constitution the president has enormous powers that reach deep within the institutions of the state which makes it a highly coveted post. The coalition must quickly nominate and elect a joint-candidate as president and avoid lengthy political bargaining.

At this point it is inevitable that attention will also turn to a preliminary assessment of President Musharraf’s legacy. Indeed the ex-president spent a significant portion of his farewell speech recounting his economic, social and political record. The economy was a central plank of the Musharraf era and the president emphasised the strong macroeconomic figures that existed as recently as last December. Undeniably the country’s economic indicators improved dramatically on Mr Musharraf’s watch over the anaemic, dangerously low levels of the 1990s. It is also true that the downturn over the last year has an international element which has buffeted the economies of other developing, non-oil-producing countries. However, economists point out that the economic model adopted by Mr Musharraf’s handpicked technocrats was a consumption boom that relied on easy credit fuelled by the inflow of dollars and global liquidity. When the spigot was shut off, Pakistan found itself much more economically vulnerable than it would have been if headline growth had not been the focus of economic policy. There is also the question of the stagnation of the rural economy, which supports over 40 per cent of the labour force, on the president’s watch. The spectacular increase in taxation revenue (from Rs350bn in 1999 to Rs1 trillion last year) is another achievement of the Musharraf era. However, it has been achieved by indirect taxes, which disproportionately affect the poor, and meaningful tax reform has remained elusive. Pakistan’s tax-to-GDP ratio of 10 per cent is still one of the lowest in the region and the tax base is abysmally small.

On the development side, the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) registered a manifold increase but the capacity to utilise the funds remains poor. The space for women and minorities to participate in the political process has been enhanced over the last eight years, but no meaningful legal reform to improve their plight took place. The Women’s Protection Act was a watered-down version of its original draft; however, it did have the salutary effect of initiating a national debate on the right to amend the Islamic laws on the books, which were strictly off-limits before. The media has broken new ground in the Musharraf-era, unwittingly demonstrating this by its vociferous criticism of the president’s attempts to muzzle it late into his rule. On all these counts President Musharraf’s record has been mixed. However, Mr Musharraf was an unqualified failure when it came to developing the non-economic institutions of the state. Few could argue that on the general’s watch parliament, the judiciary, the bureaucracy or the police improved. In the end it is perhaps this failure more than anything else that led to his downfall.

Adversity and advantage

WHILE talking to the media the other day, Federal Finance Minister Syed Naveed Qamar said that he hoped to halve the rate of inflation by resorting to non-bank borrowing; enhance foreign exchange reserves by floating remittance bonds; and resuming the privatisation process. He spoke of achieving the fiscal deficit target by slashing development and non-development budgets. Food prices will be brought down by adopting the right agricultural policies. But oil at $112 a barrel is still at least double the price that the national budget can afford. Power tariff and the cost of energy would therefore continue to remain disagreeably high unless and until world oil prices come back to the 2006 levels. Food prices would take at least two years to stabilise but that too only if the government takes in hand the right financial, technical and administrative policies in time to boost agricultural production. And there is no way one can halve the rate of inflation from the current 24 per cent unless prices of food and fuel are scaled down. In practical terms it has never been possible to cut down the non-development budget. And whenever the development budget is slashed we have ended up giving rise to stagflation. And as long as the domestic inflation rate remains at 24 per cent against four to five per cent in countries from where we get most of our imports, the rupee will remain under pressure as the difference between the two rates of inflation sets the exchange rate of the importing country’s currency.

As long as the country does not get out of its current political impasse, militancy in the tribal areas is not curbed and the insurgency in Balochistan is not brought to an end, privatisation bids are likely to remain unacceptably low and borrowing unacceptably costly. With President Musharraf’s exit from the presidency, the political scenario is changing but a long-lasting impact will be felt when the government settles down. Of course, multilateral and bilateral concessional assistance will surely provide some welcome relief. The focus here, however, should be to mobilise assistance for the social and physical infrastructure and not for consumption needs. Meanwhile, the ongoing negotiations with the US on the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) and Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) should be expedited. And the adversity of the tumbling rupee — somewhat checked at the moment — could be turned into an advantage by slashing import duties on raw materials and intermediaries to as low as zero. This will facilitate the emergence of a trans-shipment economy. Here while imports of non-essential finished goods would be drastically curtailed by the plummeting rupee, the zero duty imports of raw materials and intermediaries would help set up value addition units which, using relatively cheaper labour and equally cheaper low-tech skills, could fabricate finished goods at reasonable prices for the domestic and export markets covering the Saarc and ECO regions of over two billion people.

Musharraf must face an open trial

By Yousuf Nazar

THE nation is heaving a sigh of relief as one of the most painful phases in Pakistan’s history has ended with Musharraf’s resignation. Should the matter end here? Gen Musharraf dismissed judges and violated the constitution but all dictators are guilty of that.

His greatest crime was that he compromised Pakistan’s national interests to consolidate his power when he was an international pariah and brought Pakistan to the brink of Balkanisation by his dual track policy of covertly supporting the Afghan Taliban while allowing the Americans to conduct air strikes on Pakistan.

But it is impossible to forgive him for insulting the people of Pakistan by telling them in the full glare of TV cameras that they should eat chicken if pulses are expensive (‘daal mahngi hey to murgi khain’). Marie Antoinette of France said, “Let them eat cake” when confronted by the poverty of the people and shortage of bread. She was executed by guillotine at the height of the French Revolution in 1793 for the crime of treason.

A section of our English-speaking elite believe Musharraf was trying to save them from the Taliban. This makes you wonder how ignorant one can be. He secured the evacuation of more than 3,000 Taliban and militants between Nov 15 and 23, 2001 from Kunduz in Afghanistan, where they had been trapped, to Pakistan’s tribal areas from where they were to later organise and conduct terrorist attacks.

Musharraf used the intelligence agencies to rig the 2002 elections to enable the supporters of religious militants and Lal Masjid extremists, such as Chaudhry Shujaat and Ijazul Haq, to gain power in the centre and the religious elements to gain ground in the NWFP and Balochistan. The politics of fear and blackmail was practised, fully exploiting the apprehensions of Pakistanis and the West of religious extremists.

This double game was played to a degree where it forced a former general and corps commander Faiz Ali Chisti to make a shocking statement to an international news agency on Jan 27, 2008. Chishti said he would “not be surprised” if Musharraf had engineered terror attacks to manipulate his image in the West. “Musharraf is an intellectually dishonest person. He is a clever ruler, who makes the US and the West believe that they can only effectively deal with Al Qaeda as long as he is in power,” Chishti said.

Some so-called pragmatists advocate a cautious approach to Musharraf’s accountability lest the khakis get upset. But Pakistan’s history tells us that letting dictators go unpunished for their crimes against the state and the people has not deterred the Bonapartists and adventurers from striking again in the darkness. Bhutto did not try the generals as was recommended by the Hamoodur Rahman Commission.

Bhutto was to later regret his policy of appeasing the army. He wrote these prophetic words from his death cell in his book If I am Assassinated: “If a coup d’etat becomes a permanent part of the political infrastructure, it means the falling of the last petal of the last withered rose. It means the end.” He added, “If India had suffered from martial laws and military dictatorships on the pattern of Pakistan, India would have been in three or four separate pieces by this day. India is more heterogeneous than Pakistan but India has been kept in one piece by the noise and chaos of its democracy.”

Bhutto faced two coup attempts within the first couple of years of his five-and-half-year rule and then the third fatal one on July 5, 1977. Why? The Bonapartist generals were sure nobody could touch them. Democracy and democratic institutions cannot exist and grow without accountability. It cannot be built on the basis of reconciliation with those who have showed a callous and contemptuous disregard for the people of this country.

What right does anyone have to provide safe passage to someone who committed heinous crimes against the people and handing over hundreds of Pakistanis, including a young woman Aafia Siddiqui, to the US without the due process of law; who allowed the murder of Benazir Bhutto by withdrawing security and then presided over the cover-up; to one who should be held responsible for the deaths of several hundred Pakistanis including those who died on May 12, 2007 in Karachi as he stood in Islamabad showing his fists declaring, “I will have the last punch”?

But it would be wrong to single him out for Pakistan’s descent to the brink of a failed state. Musharraf represents the mindset of those arrogant and megalomaniac generals who consider themselves a special breed that is above any law and accountable to no one.

This breed was responsible for the ignominious surrender on Dec 16, 1971 and the break-up of Pakistan. Its ugliest face, Ziaul Haq, was responsible for the murder of Pakistan’s first elected prime minister and turning Pakistan into a CIA base and one of the biggest hubs of narcotics and arms trafficking in the world. It was another general — Aslam Beg — who sabotaged democracy by forming and supporting the IJI and encouraging the MQM to turn Karachi and Hyderabad into war zones.

His ISI chief Hameed Gul had little idea — and still does not — that by supporting the so-called jihadis, many of whom have been tools in the hands of suicidal raw power games conducted in the name of ‘national security’ and ‘strategic depth’, he and his ilk were creating Frankensteins, who instead of undermining the neighbouring ‘enemies’, threatened the very future of Pakistan itself. Musharraf was part of that reckless, irresponsible and dangerous bunch.

Pakistan cannot repair these deep wounds by pretending that there is nothing wrong or that Musharraf received bad advice or made some mistakes. No individual or army can be a substitute for the collective wisdom that the politicians are forced to choose as the modus operandi because democracy, no matter how imperfect, cannot function otherwise. Collective wisdom and decision-making processes may not appear to be particularly efficient but serve as a safety value to prevent disasters like the 1971 defeat.

The malaise of military rule is cancerous and deep, and may prove fatal. It needs a surgical operation and the operation must start at the top. It must start with an open trial by a judicial commission that should consist of only non-PCO judges. It will need to be followed by a healing process but healing does not and cannot start before an operation.

Rate your tutor

By Sarah Cassidy

AS feedback goes it’s a bit on the harsh side. “She is very kind and can be helpful but, boy, is she insane. The insanity leads to volatility sometimes which leads to her being not very kind.”

Welcome to ratemyprofessors.com — the website which lets students grade their tutors. It has been the scourge of university professors in the United States and now it has reached Britain and is being embraced by undergraduates. Nearly 1,300 British academics have been ranked on the website, where they are marked on “easiness”, “helpfulness”, “clarity” — and whether they are “hot”.

Some of the comments which accompany the marks are controversial to say the least. One tutor is described as: “Arrogant, rude, unhelpful and supremely egotistical. His specialist field is himself.” Another is damned with: “Ignores her students mostly, a very false personality and especially when handing out praise. Incredibly patronising and not very bright.”

Comments are posted anonymously. This has led to comments such as “bring a pillow”, “not only is the book a better teacher, it also has a better personality”, and “Boring. But I learned that there are 137 tiles on the ceiling.”

Ratemyprofessor.com has received around six million postings about 750,000 academics since 1999. Since it was extended to cover England, Scotland and Wales, the number of British lecturers on the site has reached 1,284. However, the ratings have been controversial, with academics protesting about bullying and derogatory comments.

One of the main criticisms has been that there is no way to tell if a comment comes from a vindictive student, a student happy about getting an A on an otherwise disappointing course — or the academic themselves. And academics complain that idle disaffected students have as much say as diligent ones.

A study of the ratings, conducted by James Felton, professor of finance at Central Michigan University, found that “the hotter and easier professors are, the more likely they’ll get rated as a good teacher”. His research warned that at their worst, ratings are “not much removed from graffiti on the walls of restrooms”.

However, new research published this month in the journal Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education suggested that the ratings may not be biased.

But Sally Hunt, general secretary of UCU, the lecturers’ union, said: “All staff and students have the right to work free from intimidation. Online gossip might seem harmless but it can lead to serious bullying. If students have concerns about lecturers, they should go through proper channels. Universities need to consult unions regarding any policies they wish to produce in this area.”

— © The Independent, London

OTHER VOICES - Sindhi Press

Time to decide: dictatorship or democracy?

Awami Awaz

AFTER the Punjab, NWFP and Sindh assemblies, the Balochistan Assembly also … express[ed] no confidence in President Musharraf. In all 57 members voted in favour of the resolution. None polled against it. The resolution says that President Musharraf abrogated the constitution twice, weakened the federation, killed Nawab Abkar Bugti and thousands of innocent Baloch using brute force while hundreds of others were missing. Reports suggest that the ruling coalition had finalised the chargesheet against the president for impeachment….

Meanwhile, reports pouring in say that after the US, Saudi Arabia also entered the scene to obtain a safe exit for Musharraf. Some reports suggest the president had agreed in principle to resign. The chief of Saudi intelligence Prince Muqrin held a meeting with … officials of the intelligence agencies in Pakistan…. The business community has also demanded the president resign as uncertainty has destroyed the economy…. History stands witness that since the last 60 years this country has been run unconstitutionally, unlawfully and undemocratically. We have braved [a state of] of martial law, dictatorship, emergency and the law of necessity; hence this country could not gain stability in political, economic and social terms. It was really a miracle; a country running without law, without a constitution. But to what extent would this miracle continue?

Today we are at a turning point. One path leads to democracy, the other to dictatorship. The path leading to dictatorship ... fulfils the interests of … vested interests. The other leads to parliament and the rule of the people. The time has come to decide whether the country should be handed over to anti-democratic forces or the representatives of the people.

Fortunately today we have a democratic and elected government and it is hoped that it will succeed in taking the country along the democratic path. However, the tussle is touching the highest level of danger — Article 58(2)(b) may be used to dismiss the elected government…. Apparently President Musharraf has the … option in hand but lacks the support he needs to use it. Pressure is being mounted from all quarters on President Musharraf to give way to democracy as the ruling coalition has the people’s mandate .... If President Musharraf does not take this in a democratic spirit ... and resorts to an undemocratic step, the situation will become another nightmare for the people as well as for democracy and the country. It is the need of the hour that President Musharraf resigns and gives way to the democratic process. — (Aug 17)

— Selected and translated by Sohail Sangi



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