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DAWN - Opinion; October 24, 2008

October 24, 2008

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Defence as a public good

By Ayesha Siddiqa


THE Pakistan Institute for Legislative Development and Training just held an international conference on civil-military relations in Lahore.

The institute put in a lot of effort bringing people from Turkey and Indonesia to talk about their experiences. One wishes they had also invited people from Bangladesh and Latin America to deepen the international flavour of the conference. Also, while there were quite a few PML-N parliamentarians present, the PPP was conspicuous by its absence. Even if provincial assembly members had attended the conference it might have given them a few ideas about the future of civil-military relations in the world, especially in Pakistan.

But perhaps the ruling regime thinks that it knows all or the issue is not a priority for the government. After all, some of the foreign-based Pakistani advisers of the present government tag civil-military relations as one of the lowest-priority issues.

The conference was refreshing in terms of the atmosphere and location. The audience in Lahore was involved in the discussion, improving the quality of debate. It was certainly exciting to see real people amongst the audience rather than the usual retired diplomats, bureaucrats and military officers who are abundant in seminars held in Islamabad. For their part, the Lahoris seem to have enjoyed the discussion including a debate on the army’s role, which has remained taboo for so many years. Thanks to the revolution in information technology and advancements in the media, military or civilian dictators now find it difficult to gag information and debate beyond a certain point.

It is hoped that things will improve further despite the one rather tense moment during the two-day conference. A bunch of retired army officers including one retired lieutenant general created a ruckus in protest against what they considered to be criticism of the armed forces. Like uncontrolled and ill-mannered children these grown-up men shouted for an opportunity to speak despite having had the chance to do so from the rostrum for a day and a half. In fact, the above-mentioned lieutenant general was one of the keynote speakers in the earlier session in which he had castigated political and military governments for their treatment of Balochistan. However, when it came to a rather academic discussion of the military he stood up and behaved in a manner contrary to what the organisation points to with such pride — discipline.

After seeing the attack launched by a few retired officers, one wondered what the retired brigadier meant when he proposed that military dictators or usurpers of power should be tried under Article 6 of the 1973 Constitution. Will they actually allow this to happen if they can’t stand a discussion?

One of the latest arguments in defence of the army is, why blame the entire institution for the fault of a few at the top? Such an argument is flawed on two counts. First, it ignores the fact that the military is a disciplined force and orders flow from the top and everyone in the hierarchy is meant to carry out every decision taken at the top. This could be an order to overthrow a civilian regime, usurp power or attack an enemy. Second, all personnel own the decision of the superior management. Those who differ with the policy to usurp power either speak out, for which they are phased out of the armed forces, or resign. Those who remain behind are partners in the decision as they share the benefits of being in the organisation.

The principle of individual morality and capacity to take independent decisions was upheld during the Nuremberg trials. During the trials of numerous general officers in Hitler’s army, the court disregarded their argument that they were merely carrying out orders and only the highest command was responsible for the decision to kill millions of innocent people. What about human conscience and the ability to differentiate between what is wrong and immoral and what is right and good for the community of human beings?

The above discussion dovetails into the larger question of defence as a public good. The state and society are bound in a social contract to provide for the military by accepting that defence is a public good and so part of the necessary expenditure of the state. That expenditure is financed by compulsory taxation, which is meant to pay for services provided to all. According to this definition, the people or the state cannot dismiss the military. Instead they have ownership of the institution.

This leads to another vital issue: when is defence a public good and when does it cease to be one? Defence is a public good so long as it is beneficial to the general public. When its benefits are restricted to a few hundred or thousand people, then it ceases to be a public good, which must be provided for all. Military officers are bound by their conscience and links with society and the state to judge what decisions are harmful to the state and society and what are not. In the case of the Second World War, the German officers and officials that killed innocent civilians were not providing public good but indulging in their own craving for power.

Establishing the principle of defence as a public good is also tied to the unwritten social contract between the state and society on the one hand and the state and the military on the other. The problem with mercenary militaries was that their personnel were tied to a social contract with those providing resources for the upkeep of the forces. In Europe this changed with the post-French revolution military which became a national armed force.

The people of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army were French citizens responsible for providing security as a public good for which they were remunerated and equipped as well. Whether the state wanted to expand its sphere of control to other territories, and thus create space for French commerce, or merely defend against a foreign army were objectives left to the political leadership that was responsible for organising resources for the armed forces.

The problem with some modern-day militaries, including Pakistan’s, is that the social contract which defines defence as a public good has been weakened because of the autonomy of the military and its independence in raising resources. Since the 1950s, the military has sought and received money from the US. So while the Suhrawardy and Bogra governments were keen to reduce defence spending, there was very little they could do in terms of reining in the autonomy of the army, which by then had established its independent channel of communication with Washington. The refurbishment of equipment, especially quality weapons, depended upon America which made military generals more independent in defining their priorities. Since then, no one has been able to put the genie back in the bottle.

At this juncture, it is vital for the nation to engage in debate on defence and to ensure that it serves the public good, if it doesn’t do so already.

The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.

ayesha.ibd@gmail.com

A distressed society

By Kuldip Nayar


I HAVE never found Indian civil society so much in despair as it is today. It feels insecure as if everything is falling apart. The real concern is over violence which has spread in the country in one shape or the other. The incidents are not many but they do scare society which had been living more or less peacefully until some time ago.

Had this been only a law and order problem, the fear would not have been so pervasive. But there is a feeling that those who are at the helm of affairs are not up to the job. This does not mean that there is faith in those in the opposition. Therefore, as society sees it, even the parliamentary elections due in four or five months’ time do not offer a clear-cut path to the future. The announcement of state elections in November-December in five states — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Mizoram and Delhi — is not expected to clear the air either.

Certain trends are available. But if the past is any guide, they do not indicate who or which party will form the government at the centre. Who will put the country back on the track to a secular democratic ethos which is at present enveloped in the gloom of communal violence and a financial meltdown? The nation is groping for firm guidance and dependable governance.

No doubt the financial meltdown has evoked fears. They may be exaggerated because, apart from a crash in the stock market, the economy is weathering the storm well. No employee has been laid off in any company worth the name. No call centre has been closed. But since America, the highest priest of globalisation, is shaky, the general impression is that it is only a matter of time when Washington’s illness will visit India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assurance that banks and deposits with them are safe has helped — but only a bit.

The reason is that neither Manmohan Singh nor Finance Minister P. Chidambaram nor Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia is seen as an answer to the problem. Their erudition in economics is recognised but their mantra of the ‘free economy’ which helps the upper half is not popular. People feel that what has saved them is the lack of economic reforms, not opening many sectors to foreign investors.

However, the main anxiety is the political scene which is riven with sharp differences over religious identities and political ideologies. What has really shaken society is the continuing violence against Christians. Embarrassed and uncomfortable as it is over the treatment meted out to Muslims, society has begun to live with it. But the atrocities against Christians have put a question mark against India’s secular credentials, particularly when democracies in the West have accepted it as one of them.

Some 18 leading Indian writers, including Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth and Girish Karnad, have expressed anguish at the continuing brutalities visited upon the Christian community and places of worship in Orissa and Karnataka. “Eventually,” the writers say, “such violence does not remain confined to a few clearly targeted victims. Rather, it spreads to engulf and destroy the entire society that spawns it, as is evident in the neighbouring Pakistan and Sri Lanka, for instance.”On the other hand, the demand for a judicial inquiry into the encounter in the Jamia area in New Delhi has been taken up even by the Congress’s Muslim leaders. The incident has, in fact, become the community’s joint demand throughout the country. The central government, I believe, is having the reports by different non-Muslim teams examined by a top legal expert because its stand so far has been that any government inquiry would demoralise the police.

Whether this happens or not is a matter of discussion. But the ‘encounter’ in the Jamia area and the killing of Christians in Orissa and Karnataka will definitely eat into the Congress vote in the forthcoming state elections, if not in parliamentary polls. There is a rash of meetings and seminars in a few big cities to draw the Manmohan Singh government’s attention to the insecurity of minorities.

I expected some consensus to emerge from last week’s meeting of the National Integration Council, representing all political parties. But they could not even agree on what posed the threat: communalism or terrorism. Ultimately, the common term found was ‘communal violence’. But there was no togetherness even when the country faced a grave danger from the fissiparous elements.

The BJP is busy stoking fires of division. It is against any inquiry into the incident at the Jamia area and equally adamant over any action against its militant wing, Bajrang Dal, which is responsible for the killing of Christians and burning of churches in Orissa.

In Mumbai, the division has taken the shape of regional chauvinism. A goonda, Raj Thackery, nephew of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackery, has raised the old slogan of ‘Maharashtra for Maharashtrians’. Not long ago he attacked Bihari labourers working in the city. This week he disrupted the railway board examinations because some north Indian candidates were appearing. With great reluctance, the Congress-led state government arrested Raj Thackery who has been lionised by certain elements within the Congress.

Whatever message Raj Thackeray’s activities may give, it casts a shadow on governance. The very federal structure which has held the different states together comes to be questioned. The intelligentsia has begun to wonder about the idea of India. The centre looks weak and the states under the thumb of political overlords.

Parochial politics apart, India has always prided itself on occupying a central space. It was neither black nor white, but there was a grey area which people expanded to promote pluralism. That space, the centre, has been eroding for some years. It was Nehruvian in concept but stayed more or less intact even in the BJP’s Atal Behari Vajpayee era until chief minister Narendra Modi came to the scene with his policy of ethnic cleansing.

What the BJP or the new strategists in the Congress do not realise is that secularism, the ideal of ‘unity in diversity’, is India’s destiny. Tolerance and the spirit of accommodation provide the glue. Let it not get dry. Let the world know that India has not swerved from the path it chose even before independence: not to mix religion with politics.

The spirit of the freedom struggle days made the then ruling Congress stay centrist and adopt a constitution that was secular in letter and spirit. Mahatma Gandhi’s sacrifice stopped the anti-Muslim torrent which followed in the wake of Partition. Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and even Indira Gandhi refused to be pushed by communal forces. Why this dithering now?

The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi.

Burning bridges in Sindh

By Bina Shah


I HAVE been reading Alice Albinia’s excellent Empires of the Indus, which is compelling although she veers too often from a balanced, objective view of Pakistan’s history and culture into the worst of wide-eyed European orientalism.

Chapter One, ‘Ramzan in Karachi’, takes an unflinching look at the position of lower-caste Hindus in Karachi, consigned to clean our sewers and toilets for what seems like all of eternity. Albinia’s judgment of this social class system is severe, and asks an unspoken question: why don’t we feel like cleaning out our own muck, literally as well as figuratively?

Even more compelling was Albinia’s description of what happened after Partition to many of the Hindus in the city. After Muslim refugees stoned and set a Sikh temple on fire in retaliation for violence visited on Muslims in the Punjab riots, spontaneous rioting erupted all throughout the city.

“Hindus — hitherto secure in their homes and mixed-faith neighbourhoods — now took refuge in their temples…. Sindh had been championed as a paradigm of inter-faith harmony. Following the riots, the government estimated that three thousand Hindus a day were taking their belongings down to the docks, and purchasing a passage to India.”

The riots were not as bad as those in Punjab, Bengal or Uttar Pradesh, but Sindhi Hindus saw the signs and many took the decision to leave before things got any worse for them.

Sindhi friends in London tell me that the exodus from Sindh did not occur overnight; many Sindhi Hindu businessmen had emigrated for economic reasons to Hong Kong, Africa, Bombay, long before Partition. Those who left sold their houses for reasonable prices, others stayed on through the 1950s and 60s, leaving only when Zia arrived on the scene. Their migration was to North America rather than India. Not all in Sindh were sorry to see the Hindus go, as exploitative Hindu moneylenders were thought to have a stranglehold on Sindh’s economy. But there was plenty of sympathy for most of the emigres, and Muslims could be seen helping their poor Hindu neighbours load up camel carts with meagre luggage before setting off for India.

After “Sindh’s famously rich and ‘venturesome’ Hindu mercantile class left for India”, where did they go? How did they rebuild their lives after leaving Sindh? How are they keeping in touch with their Sindhi culture and traditions, and how are forthcoming generations going to do the same? And finally, what do they think of Sindh today, as it exists in Pakistan?

Dr Shivkumar Israni, a Sindhi Hindu living in Mumbai, wrote to me, “We are no more connected to the land of our forefathers; some of us who were born there and are still alive today, for them also Sindh is but a fading album of black and white pictures that has the capacity to bring tears to the eyes.”

This is a familiar lament from any population that has been dispossessed and forced out of its homeland, which has led to the creation of art, music and poetry that expresses the soul’s desire to go back. Even Benazir Bhutto wrote poetry inspired by Shah Abdul Latif’s tale of Marvi when she lived in exile, away from the land that nurtured her and in which she is now buried; perhaps she could have identified with Sindhi Hindus similarly cut off from the land of Sindhu.

According to Lavina Melwani in an article for Hinduism Today, the Hindu Sindhis are “a people who overcame adversity to become one of the most affluent communities in India, and perhaps the world. Disclosed and traumatized by the partition of India in which their beloved homeland of Sindh was swallowed up in the newly created Islamic country of Pakistan, the Hindu Sindhis were turned into world-wandering refugees. They fled with their lives and just a few belongings from the bloodshed and religious persecution. With few resources beyond guts and creativity they sailed to the far corners of the world, to seek their fortunes.”

The Sindhi Hindus made it their business to survive, and relied on their sharp business instincts and trading skills to truly thrive wherever they went. And money isn’t the only thing on their minds: they have established schools, temples, institutes of Sindhology, magazines and newspapers, all in the name of preserving the culture that they left behind in 1947.

They hold cultural programmes, celebrate their births and marriages with the traditional Sindhi-Hindu rites, and engage in philanthropy unrivalled by any other South Asian expatriate community. They worry that their children won’t be able to speak Sindhi; they worry about the plight of their Hindu brothers left behind in Sindh, subject to discrimination and insecurity as minorities in a land that is growing more strictly Muslim day by day. And they worry about Sindh itself, which they see as suffering greatly under leader after leader, regime after regime, none of whom care much for the fortunes of Sindh or the Sindhis.

There is resentment about the loss these Sindhis had to endure, and their feelings towards Pakistan are not exactly friendly or forgiving. They see Sindh as an endangered land, oppressed by ethnic forces that are alien to the culture that spawned the civilisation of Moenjodaro and the Indus Valley. Their websites are full of anti-Pakistan rhetoric; they accuse the government of erasing the pre-Muslim parts of Sindhi history from the textbooks.

The bitterness felt by those who left Pakistan in 1947 is felt by their sons and daughters and will be felt by future generations, who have no good memories of living in Sindh to counteract the anger they feel at having had to give up their heritage and start all over again in India and elsewhere. Many Hindus who migrated to India immediately joined Hindu nationalist parties like the RSS — L.K. Advani being the most well-known example.

Rather than glean all my information from the Internet and books, I wanted to speak to members of the Sindhi Hindu community in other parts of the world for their views. I was given the name of a prominent Sindhi Hindu businessman, and I wrote to him with this aim in mind, asking him to write back soon so that I could include his views in this column. He never replied. Perhaps he was busy, or perhaps he never received my email. Still, I can’t help but think that his silence is symbolic of the vast gulf that lies between the Sindhis in Sindh and the Sindhi Hindus abroad.

Will anyone ever be able to bridge that gap? Or have all the bridges between the Sindhi Hindus and Sindh been burnt forever?

The writer is a novelist.

binashah@yahoo.com


The shift to cheap money

By Hamish McRae


WE are moving to a world where access to credit will be determined by administrative decision rather than by price. You can see that already starting to happen in Britain but it is likely to happen much more widely. It marks an important and inevitable retreat from the flawed notion that markets could correctly price risk.

It is important because it will mean that everyone – individuals, businesses, charities and so on – will be forced into different types of behaviour. They will have, most obviously, to build up good credit records and offer solid security if they want loans. And the shift is inevitable because the markets have failed to price risk properly and they won’t be allowed to do it again, or at least not at all freely, for a quite a while. We are just at the beginning of the move to cheap money.

The Bank of England’s minutes explaining the case for cutting interests rates made it clear that there would be more cuts to follow. To some extent, cheaper money will give some support to the economy. It will not, however, give as much as it would have done in previous cycles because of this reassessment of risk that is being forced upon the financial services industry.

The obvious area is mortgage finance, with lenders requiring a much larger deposit for new loans. They will also pay more attention to the security of the income of the borrower.

So people in secure jobs, such as the civil service, will find it easier to get a mortgage than those in less secure professions, which I suppose includes journalism. That will change attitudes, not just in the careers that people choose but also, more generally, in the way they manage their finances. People will be forced to be more conservative, saving more, relying less on credit cards, putting more money aside for a pension. You could almost say Britons will become more German or Japanese in their attitudes to saving and spending, and less American – though, of course, Americans will change their habits too.

Naturally, this will not be a complete turnabout for everyone. We will still be allowed to misbehave if we want to and, in any case, any change will be gradual. But the effect of the new financial climate will be to tilt our behaviour back towards something more like the way people behaved before the easy money revolution. Expect the young to be a generation that is more conservative in financial matters than their parents.

It is harder to see how this will affect business life. In the first instance, it will favour larger, established companies rather than smaller, entrepreneurial ones. Something of that is happening already – witness the concern in the government and among small business representatives that this sector will be squeezed. It will also favour large companies with strong balance sheets, rather than those with weak ones.

That is all pretty obvious and, despite the government’s efforts, the result will be some retreat from the entrepreneurial spirit it has sought to foster. It is common sense that if it is harder to get risk capital, fewer businesses will be able to take risks.

But there will be gainers too. Small businesses that have access to capital, perhaps from family and friends, will be able to acquire assets on the cheap. There will be a lot more consolidation among large businesses as the stronger ones snap up the weak. That is happening at astounding speed in banking and will happen in other industries too. So there will be opportunities as well as pain. Both are already evident but the consolidation process in many industries has hardly begun.

There is a further point. We are moving to a world where investors in established economies will be more risk averse, but that does not mean investors in the emerging economies will follow suit. As a result, they may have more opportunities for achieving high returns than they have had in the past few years. As they take those opportunities, the shift of power from West to East (and Middle East) will continue.

– © The Independent