Politics in Punjab

By Anwar Syed

WE the Punjabis have never excelled in the art of associating together to pursue the common good. A few relevant cases described below may be of interest.

An unceasing quest for dominance destabilised the Punjab Muslim League and its government within weeks of the country’s establishment. On Aug 16, 1947 Nawab Mamdot, the party’s provincial president, became the chief minister. Mumtaz Daultana, one of the party’s leading men, was taken as a minister in his cabinet. He did not think much of Mamdot’s standing as a landed aristocrat or his abilities as a politician and administrator.

By the end of December the estrangement between the two became widely known and began to create factional divisions in both the administration and the party organisation. Mr Jinnah twice summoned them to Karachi to resolve their differences but his efforts failed. The governor, Sir Francis Mudie, also tried to bring about a reconciliation between them but he too failed.

Mumtaz Daultana resigned his cabinet post in June 1948. In November he ran for the party president’s office against Mamdot’s nominee, Alauddin Siddiqui, and won by a small margin. He proceeded to campaign for Mamdot’s removal as chief minister and got a little more than one half of the party’s MPAs to sign a statement demanding his resignation. Daultana sent word of this statement to Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and advised him to dismiss the Mamdot ministry.

Liaquat Ali Khan came to Lahore in January 1949 and Mamdot showed him a statement signed by a majority of the MPAs expressing confidence in him. The prime minister noticed that the names and signatures of several MPAs appeared on both statements.

Instead of asking the governor to call the assembly to session to show whether Mamdot had majority support, he advised the governor general to dismiss the Mamdot ministry, dissolve the assembly, and impose governor’s rule in the province.

The Punjab Muslim League council met on July 24, 1950 but the meeting turned chaotic. Mian Abdul Bari, its president at the time, failed to restore order and left the meeting along with Mamdot and their supporters. Daultana and his supporters stayed on, dismissed Bari and elected Soofi Abdul Hamid, a Daultana nominee, as president. Despondent, Mamdot left the Muslim League and set up a party of his own called the Jinnah Awami Muslim League.

Provincial assembly elections were held in March 1951 which the Punjab Muslim League won with a landslide and elected Daultana as the chief minister. He got the position for which he had resorted to manipulation and intrigue for four years. His dominance in the PML and the government in Punjab would, however, last only a couple of years.

Following the elections of 1970, Punjab emerged as the stronghold of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the PPP. Ahmad Raza Kasuri, one of the party’s founding members, denounced Bhutto’s decision to stay away from the National Assembly session scheduled for March 3, 1971. He tried to set up a faction within the party but eventually left to join Asghar Khan’s Tehrik-i-Istaqlal. Mukhtar Rana, a militant socialist and effective labour leader in Faisalabad, criticised Mr Bhutto’s ‘fascist’ inclinations. He was sent to prison on a charge of inciting violence and, allegedly, died under torture.

Fist fights between PPP factions were reported from several Punjab towns as far back as May 1972. Higher party dignitaries were by no means above factional rivalries. Sheikh Rashid, one of the venerated party elders, was president of the Punjab PPP while Ghulam Mustafa Khar, known to be close to Mr Bhutto, was the secretary general. He, being the domineering type, did not want to work with Rashid who was popular with many of the party leaders and workers. At the beginning of 1972, Khar became Governor of Punjab but retained his party post.

Khar as governor had influence with the provincial police and controlled some of the government patronage. He used these levers, and his reputation as Bhutto’s friend, to harass and dislodge Rashid’s supporters. By May 1973 there was hardly a party branch organisation in Lahore that had any pro-Rashid functionaries.

In a party ‘reorganisation’ in the summer of 1973, Sheikh Rashid lost his position and a Khar nominee, Mohammad Afzal Wattoo, one of the few PPP candidates to have been defeated in the 1970 elections, replaced him. Thus Khar emerged as the effective head of both the government and the party in Punjab. But as in the earlier case of Daultana, his glory would be short-lived: he was forced to resign his post in March 1974.

Coming to more recent times, we saw Shahbaz Sharif and the PML-N members in his cabinet asking the PPP ministers to go away. They argued that since the PML-N had withdrawn from the PPP-led government at the centre, the PPP ministers in Punjab should be nice guys and reciprocate. This was poor reasoning. Nawaz Sharif withdrew his men from the central government because he was unhappy with Asif Zardari, who had gone back on his promise to reinstate the deposed judges. But the PPP ministers in Punjab were not unhappy and had no reason to quit their posts.

It would have been proper for Shahbaz Sharif to throw out the PPP ministers if they had been particularly corrupt or incompetent, or if they had been obstructionists in cabinet meetings. But none of that was alleged. The real reason for the PML-N’s demand has never been revealed. I venture to suggest that it may have been something like the following:

As the recently reported settlement between the two sides tells us, the PPP ministers wanted their share of development funds and jobs, and they wanted their advice concerning the postings and transfers of officials in their areas to be heeded. This would have shown their constituents that they were doing a good job for the folks back home and would incline them to vote for the same aspirants in the next election.

Shahbaz Sharif and company did not want these PPP politicians to win next time. They wanted to replace them with their own people who would use funds and jobs to ingratiate themselves with the PPP’s current voters and defeat that party’s candidates in the next election.

In other words, it was the PML-N’s design to drive the PPP, its main rival, out of Punjab. It is good that eventually wiser counsels prevailed.

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


Pakistan’s power dilemma

By Kunwar Idris

IN the sixty-second year of independence the political dilemma facing the people of Pakistan is the same as it was in the first year — in whom the executive authority of the state vests and who actually exercises it?

It became an issue serious enough in the lifetime of Mr Jinnah to have persuaded him to remind the army officers at the Staff College, Quetta on June 14, 1948 that “under the Government of India Act as adapted for use in Pakistan which is our present constitution the executive authority flows from the head of the Government of Pakistan who is the Governor General”.

Since then the problem has persisted through every regime — parliamentary, presidential, dictatorial or hybrid of all three — but was never more troublesome than it is now.

The president as head of the state represents the unity of the republic. The executive authority of the federation also vests in him but the constitution binds him to act only “in accordance with the advice of the cabinet or the prime minister”. The current practice is the other way round; it is the prime minister who acts on the advice of the president. Such, at least, is the impression widely held both at home and abroad.

A doubt also hangs over the credentials of the president to represent the unity of the republic for Asif Zardari is also the head of his own party which is just one of the many parties represented in parliament and in the provincial legislatures, some of whom fiercely disagree with the policies being pursued by him.

The executive powers exercised by the authoritarian or charismatic individuals in our political system have seldom conformed to the intent or letter of the constitution. One of the more deplorable expressions of this tradition was seen in the dismissal of the Supreme Court by Gen Musharraf when the chief justice refused to resign under his pressure. Mr Zardari may now feel more restrained but he has visibly assumed a role in statecraft which is not envisaged for the head of state in the constitution.

It can be reasonably argued that Mr Zardari because of his inherited charisma, which has made him the undisputed leader of the PPP, is better suited to be the executive head of the country at this critical juncture than Yusuf Raza Gilani. But then he should have chosen, and the choice was all his, to be the prime minister rather than turn the constitution on its head.

Mr Zardari being the head of state but acting as executive head of the government gives rise to a question more fundamental than just exceeding the constitutional role of the president. And that question is whether the country’s government in its outlook and essential features is going to be parliamentary or presidential.

Ironically, though the executive power in Pakistan all along has tended to centre around individuals starting from Jinnah onward to Ghulam Mohammad, Ayub Khan, Z.A. Bhutto, Ziaul Haq, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Pervez Musharraf, most political parties have always shown strong commitment to the parliamentary form of government. So pervasive has been this Westminster sentiment that even the Supreme Court while validating Musharraf’s coup and permitting him to amend the constitution, or keep it in abeyance in parts, expressly prohibited him from tempering with its parliamentary character (sadly, the court neither censured nor arraigned him when he didn’t abide by its direction).

The people at large, on the other hand, have always been more concerned about the performance and integrity of a government rather than with its form. Their elected representatives nevertheless have remained steadfast in their loyalty to the parliamentary system. So also was the PPP till the time Mr Zardari became the president and began to raise doubts.

The recent inter-party pacts were also for the instant and total repeal of the changes wrought by Mr Musharraf through the 17th amendment. Mr Zardari has however left the consideration of this issue to a parliamentary committee without a deadline. There seems no hurry. The committee when formed, obviously with the majority of its members drawn from the PPP and its allies, may propose the repeal of Article 58-2(b) but, in the present situation, is unlikely to recommend the abolition of the National Security Council.

Parliament is also unlikely to disturb the powers of the president to appoint the chiefs of the armed forces, governors, judges and chief election commissioner at his sole discretion or in consultation with the prime minister but not on his advice.

Mr Zardari’s government in its essential characteristics is thus shaping up to be more presidential than parliamentary. In practice it would be altogether presidential if he were to use his party office and personal clout also to take over the functions of the prime minister and the cabinet which he is visibly doing already on an extensive scale.

The supremacy of parliament which was the unifying war cry in the campaign against Musharraf thus would remain a myth notwithstanding Mr Zardari’s own avowal that he is a president subservient to parliament. As president he would not be even directly answerable to it. The prime minister and the ministers would be there to defend his actions as their own which they will surely do faithfully.

In the seven months of its existence the performance of parliament even as a debating forum has been perfunctory. The burning issues relating to terrorism, economic decline, financial bankruptcy, development planning, lawlessness and crime are all placed under the charge of advisers who are not members of parliament nor accountable to it.

The briefings by army officers and the information minister, the parliamentarians allege, have not added to what they knew already about the war on terror through media reports and bazaar rumours. It is they and not the generals and the advisers who should have been making the policy to combat terrorism.

In these fateful times the parliamentarians should not be seen sitting on the sidelines or just sulking. Cutting across party lines, they must support the government or oppose it unless they have made a conscious decision to leave the fate of the country in the hands of the generals and advisers only to blame them when it is too late.


Flaws in the Paulson plan

By Joseph Stiglitz

THE UK prime minister, Gordon Brown, has won plaudits over recent days for inspiring the turnaround in Hank Paulson’s thinking that saw him progress from his “cash for trash” plan — derided by almost every economist, and many respected financiers — to a capital injection approach.

The international pressure brought to bear on America may indeed have contributed to Paulson’s volte-face. But Paulson figured he could reshape the UK approach in a way that was even better for America’s banks than his original cash strategy. The fact that US taxpayers might get trashed in the process is simply part of the collateral damage that has been a hallmark of the Bush administration.

Will this bail-out be enough? We don’t know. The banks have engaged in such non-transparency that not even they really know the shape they are in. Every day there are more foreclosures — Paulson’s plan did little about that. That means new holes in the balance sheets are being opened up as old holes get filled. There is a consensus that our economic downturn will get worse, much worse; and in every economic downturn, bankruptcies go up. So even if the banks had exercised prudent lending — and we know that many didn’t — they would be faced with more losses.

Britain showed at least that it still believed in some sort of system of accountability: heads of banks resigned. Nothing like this in the US. Britain understood that it made no sense to pour money into banks and have them pour out money to shareholders. The US only restricted the banks from increasing their dividends. The Treasury has sought to create a picture for the public of toughness, yet behind the scenes it is busy reassuring the banks not to worry, that it’s all part of a show to keep voters and Congress placated.

What is clear is that we will not have voting shares. Wall Street will have our money, but we will not have a full say in what should be done with it. A glance at the banks’ recent track record of managing risk gives taxpayers every reason to be concerned.

For all the show of toughness, the details suggest the US taxpayer got a raw deal. There is no comparison with the terms that Warren Buffett secured when he provided capital to Goldman Sachs. Buffett got a warrant — the right to buy in the future at a price that was even below the depressed price at the time. Paulson got for the US a warrant to buy in the future — at whatever the prevailing price at the time.

The Paulson plan responded to Congress’s demand to have something like a warrant, but as a matter of form, not substance. Buffett got warrants equal to 100 per cent of the value of what he put in. America’s taxpayers got just 15 per cent.

Moreover, as George Soros has pointed out, in a few years time, when the economy is recovered, the banks shouldn’t need to turn to the government for capital. The government should have issued convertible shares that gave the right to the government to automatically share in the gain in share price.

Whether we were cheated or not, the banks now have our money. The next Congress will have two major tasks ahead. The first is to make sure that if the taxpayer loses on the deal, financial markets pay. The second is designing new regulations and a new regulatory system. Many in Wall Street have said that this should be postponed to a later date. We have a leaky boat, some argue, we need to fix that first.

True, but we also know that there are really problems in the steering mechanism — if we don’t fix those, we will crash on some other rocks before getting into port. Why should anyone have confidence in a banking system which has failed so badly, when nothing is being done to affect incentives?

Many of those who urge postponing dealing with the reform of regulations really hope that, once the crisis is passed, business will return to usual, and nothing will be done. That’s what happened after the last global financial crisis.

There is a hope: the last financial crisis happened in distant regions of the world. Then it was the taxpayers in Thailand, Korea and Indonesia who had to pick up the tab for the financial markets’ bad lending; this time it is taxpayers in the US and Europe. They are angry, and well they should be.

The writer is a Nobel laureate economist and a former chief economist of the World Bank.

— The Guardian, London



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