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Lack of good governance

March 19, 2015


WHAT is common to the assault on Lahore churches, the raid on the MQM headquarters, and the bungling in the convict exchange project? The establishment’s lack of interest in the art of good governance.

Churches and Christian residential colonies have been targeted by terrorists flying religious colours every few months for more than a decade. The official response to these incidents has acquired a stereotyped pattern.

First notice of attacks on minorities’ basic rights is taken by high authorities; then the law-enforcement agencies are told to probe matters and report within a couple of days; finally packages of relief to the victims are announced. After that, the issue of minorities’ rights to security is excluded from the authorities’ agenda until another explosion takes a fresh toll on innocent lives.

The basic flaw in this approach is that the minorities are considered entitled only to police protection whereas respect for their rights demands much more than efforts to catch the killers or writing out cheques in favour of the victims’ families. A whole range of affirmative action is needed to convince the members of minorities that they will no longer be treated as second-class citizens. The long-neglected task of dismantling all forms of discrimination against the minorities needs to be taken up with the seriousness the matter deserves.

Some of the steps that could convince the minorities of the state’s concern for their safety and well-being were elaborated in the Supreme Court’s judgment of June last year. The government’s failure to positively respond to the court’s directives has now become one of the minorities’ major grievances.

What is the hitch in creating a statutory commission to deal with minorities’ problems?

For instance, what is the hitch in creating a statutory commission to deal with minorities’ problems, especially with complaints of denial of equality before law or absence of equality of opportunity? If nothing else, such a commission will open a channel of speedy redress of the minorities’ complaints. It might also free the state of the charge of insensitivity to minorities’ concerns that can be gauged from the casual way in which cases of Hindu girls’ abduction and forced conversion are disposed of by the authorities, judicial as well as executive. Frustration at denial of justice deepens the minorities’ wounds caused by terrorist attacks.

Also in the ongoing drive to cut MQM down to size the consequences of failure of governance over a long period can be seen. The problem started when the law-enforcement agencies disowned their traditionally recognised responsibility to protect citizens’ lives and property and told them to have their own guards and also to put up barriers at entry and exit points of their lanes. Many barriers were left in place for years and this happened not only in Karachi but in many other towns too.

Further, the failure of half-hearted campaigns to recover illicit arms was compounded by generously issuing licences for prohibited bores to all kinds of militias and armed wings of political parties. All such groups, and they include quite a few terrorist organisations that are described as banned outfits, know that they are safe only so long as the security forces choose to look the other way. The MQM has courted disaster by forgetting this simple fact.

But regardless of the sins of the MQM faithfuls the authorities will make a grave mistake if they deny the people rounded up over the past few days due protection of the law.

If the government wishes to repel the charge of selective enforcement of the law it will have to go for all the militant organisations whose caches of sophisticated weapons must be known to the law-enforcement personnel.

If the state authorities are betraying their lack of respect for good governance the politicians celebrating MQM’s exclusion from the establishment’s favourites are behaving no better. They will do well to remember the advice offered centuries ago by a great Punjabi bard:

(Do not rejoice at the passing of an enemy; your loved ones too are destined to die.)

In the turmoil caused by heavy loss of life in terrorist attacks the setback to the interest of Pakistanis convicted and imprisoned in foreign lands has received little notice.

Pakistan’s human rights activists and prisoners’ welfare bodies have for long been urging the government to negotiate agreements with various states to the effect that the Pakistanis sentenced to prison terms abroad may be allowed to serve their sentence in their home country.

Surprisingly, a large number of Pakistanis have learnt of such agreements with some countries only when the facility has been abused. Some of the convicts who had returned from foreign states to serve their sentence in Pakistan managed to bribe their way to freedom. This could lead to disruption of a sound arrangement and increased difficulties in negotiating new convict exchange accords with countries that still do not offer this concession.

The situation has arisen because the government did not pay sufficient attention to the need to fulfil its part of the convict-exchange bargain. Obviously no system to monitor the detention of convicts in home prisons was created and the Pakistanis rotting in faraway jails will be made to suffer for the government’s lapse.

A redeeming feature of the story is the decision of the interior minister not to push the matter under the carpet. He has acted rightly by making the official wrongdoing public, promising tough punishment for the culprits and suspending the convict-exchange programme. Hopefully this disruption is for a short period only and the system of convict exchange will soon be revived and expanded further.

The moral of the three instances of the government’s failings is that the quality of governance does not lie only in making tough laws; it is judged by the way public suffering is mitigated by officials’ sensitivity to its plight and their ability to dispense even-handed justice.

Published in Dawn March 19th , 2015

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