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Old Saturday, March 17, 2012
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Default Pakistan Politics (Important Articles)

The political underworld of Pakistan

March 17, 2012
Dr Haider Shah

Forget about the Godfather series of Hollywood or the gangster movies of Bollywood. Just watch the talk shows on these days and you will be thrilled to see how the underworld operates in Pakistani politics with impunity.

The lid on the much-awaited Asghar Khan case has finally been lifted after much hesitation by the Supreme Court (SC). The Pandora’s Box contains not only politicians’ dirty linen but also the manual on how the real state operates while we remain busy in watching the movie. It reminds me of Plato’s famous analogy of shadows in a cave. It centred on the notion of ideal forms that resided in the heavens, while on earth we only see their reflections. Illustrating the point, he gives the example of a person who is chained inside a cave and on the wall in front of him, sees shadows of objects moving behind him. If the prisoner was born and raised like this, he would treat the shadows as real. But if he is released and sees the real objects he would then realise that all through his life he had only been watching shadows.

Mehrangate has provided us with a similar realisation as many inside stories are now open to the public. When the court began hearing Khan’s petition last week, the general expectation was that the government and the new entrant PTI would be the main beneficiaries. But as the saying goes, “Never wrestle with a pig: you both get all dirty, and the pig likes it.” If Imran Khan was expecting that his party would be the major beneficiary, he must be now repenting his insistence on putting all his eggs in one basket. The only legitimacy-providing political figure of the party, Javed Hashmi, is allegedly one of the recipients of the handouts, if Younis Habib is to be believed. The setback is that the party can no longer use the case as a salvo against PML-N, the party that it has specifically targeted in its campaign. If it declares that Hashmi has wrongly been accused, then the much smaller amounts mentioned against PML-N leaders could be defended too. Since the party had a single-point campaign of corruption, the alleged involvement of one of its main leaders damages it worse than it does any other political party.

The dust storm caused by the Khan case has not spared the ruling coalition either. One of the basic maxims of equity-based jurisprudence is, “He who comes into equity must come with clean hands.” If the then PPP government was victimised by plotters in the military, it should have challenged them on assuming power or at least shown some abhorrence. But, all the plotters were rewarded in one way or another. The more damaging revelation is, however, relating to the use of Habib’s Rs 50 million by the PPP with express approval of the then Prime Minister late Benzair Bhutto for dislodging Pir Sabir Shah’s government in NWFP. Similarly, the revelation of misuse of secret funds of the Intelligence Bureau for destabilising rival political governments by the PPP does further damage. The MQM, like ever, is in denial mode and celebrating the self-proclaimed acquittal of its saint-like leader. The religious parties wearing angelic robes have also not escaped the muddy stains right under their ‘holier than thou’ badges.

Three important points are related to the scenario. First, due process of law should take its course and the media should not dictate the outcome of the court proceedings. Sometime back when the SC acquitted the accused in the Mukhtaran Mai case, expressing my concerns, I had cautioned that the court made the correct decision in the light of available evidence. It would be a very dangerous trend if the courts start playing to the gallery. No one is above the law and no one is below the law. Therefore, all accused in the Khan case should not be treated any differently and must be considered innocent till proven guilty. Second, the role of the spy agencies, both military and civil, has become public and cannot be ignored. The recipients’ guilt is not yet proved; however, those who misused their official position made a mockery of their oath about not indulging in political activities, and tried to subvert the outcome of elections. They have already confessed their crime. More than anything else, it is the first test of the independence of the judiciary. Not just analysts but even a layman is on the lookout for how the SC will deal with the designers and executioners of a stinking scam.

The third point is the most important one. History repeats itself if lessons are not learnt and remedial measures not adopted. The underworld gangsters carried out their dirty operations feeling they were above the law. Nobody knows what is the legal framework under which the intelligence agencies of Pakistan work. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

During Musharraf’s regime Senator Farhatullah Babar moved a motion asking for the legal framework that controlled the intelligence agencies. Such is the power of our underworld operators that the then chairman of the Senate, killing the motion, did not allow any discussion. Now Babar is back in the Senate controlled by his own party. Hopefully, without delay, he would reintroduce the motion. Just a few days ago PML-N moved a motion in the National Assembly for a monitoring mechanism of the intelligence agencies. If both opposition and government are on the same wavelength, what prevents them from making an accountability mechanism of the underworld operators? Actions speak louder than words. The actions of both PML-N and the PPP-led coalition government will be keenly watched. If they just keep throwing mud at each other, and the animal farm is not properly locked, the leaders of the animals will be weaving a thicker cobweb for them.

The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at hashah9@yahoo.com
-The News
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Old Sunday, March 18, 2012
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The political role of the ISI
March 18, 2012
By Asad Munir

A constitutional petition has been filed in the Supreme Court, seeking the abolition of the political wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). In the Asghar Khan case, the then DG-ISI General (retd) Asad Durani has admitted that funds were distributed by the organisation to manipulate the 1990 elections against the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Both these cases relate to the involvement of the ISI in politics and its interference in the election process in favour of those parties considered more patriotic and suitable for promoting a certain kind of ideology. An impression has been created that it was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who for ulterior motives established a political cell of the ISI in 1975 and involved it in politics. However, there is evidence that intelligence agencies had been involved in politics since the 1950s.

The interviews and articles of some retired officials point to the involvement of the military in political manipulations since 1957, if not earlier. Their involvement was enhanced with the imposition of martial law in 1958 and they remained involved in political activities during the Ayub Khan era. During Yahya Khan’s rule, the agencies got more deeply involved in politics. They monitored and reported the prospects of political parties taking part in the 1970 elections. Funds were placed at the disposal of General Umer, who was the head of the National Security Council. These funds were distributed to ‘Islam pasand’ right wing parties.

Let us now examine the notorious so-called ‘political cell’ of the ISI. In 1975, during the Balochistan insurgency, the Hyderabad tribunal was set up to try over 50 Pakistanis, mainly Baloch and Pashtun politicians from the National Awami Party, who were charged with various crimes including treason. The evidence against the accused was mainly based on intelligence reports compiled by the ISI. According to the late Naseerullah Babar, Attorney General Yahya Bakhtiar was of the view that since the ISI had no defined role that mandated it to monitor political activities, therefore, these reports would not be accepted by the tribunal. To make the evidence legally admissible, an administrative order was issued, mandating the ISI to monitor the activities of political parties. However, this order did not authorise it to make alliances, distribute funds or manipulate elections.

With every successive military dispensation, the ISI has gained in strength and its involvement in affairs of the state has grown. The Afghan jihad turned the ISI into the most powerful department of the country. The officers of that era were involved in political manipulations for the 1985 elections.

From 1988 onwards, the ISI was actively involved in political manipulations targeting PPP. They had plans for waging jihad and considered Benazir Bhutto a hurdle in its plans. The military was also actively involved in political activities throughout General Pervez Musharraf’s rule.

In 1989, Benazir Bhutto constituted the Zulfikar Commission to review the workings of the intelligence agencies. The Commission recommended that the ISI should not be entrusted with formulation of foreign policy and should be relieved of responsibilities related to political matters. These recommendations were never implemented.

The 1975 order should be withdrawn by the government. The ISI should realise that with a vibrant media and an active judiciary, political wheeling and dealing cannot remain hidden. The ISI is an efficient and well-organised agency. It should not undertake functions beyond its charter. There has to be a paradigm shift in its functioning that corresponds to the changing environment.

The Express Tribune
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Fixing the democratic process
March 18, 2012
By Saad Rasool

The intoxicating allure of ‘democracy’ stems from its fundamental promise that all citizens, on equal footing, have the right to participate in the governance of their affairs. And this promise is manifested through the process of free and fair elections – where anyone can contest, and all are counted as equals. But the influx of money (read: black-money) in political campaigns has robbed democracy of this fundamental promise, bestowing the privilege of being elected to the select few who can afford it. And despite legal safeguards built into our election laws, the flow of (often illegal) money dominates the outcome of the electoral process.

The Asghar Khan case has lain bare the unholy alliance between political campaigns and suspect sources of money, which rots the very fabric of our democracy. And the Supreme Court has an opportunity to hand down a declarative judgment that settles the parameters of election finance, in accordance with the law.

With all the talk that surrounds convicting the generals for their thoroughly illegal exercise of funding the creation of IJI, it is easy to miss out on the still larger goal of getting our house in order regarding the implementation of campaign finance provisions in our election laws. One part of that is holding accountable those who (allegedly) accepted the illegal money, violated numerous provisions of the law – section 78 (Corrupt practice), 79 (Bribery) and 83 (Illegal practice) of the Representation of People Act, 1976 – and in effect perpetrated a fraud on the entire democratic process.

But such prosecution (even convictions) will not solve the larger issue of ensuring that there is transparency in how the political parties and individual candidates a) raise money for their political activities, and b) use the available capital in the election process. In both these areas, it is not the law (on statute books) that is inadequate; it is simply the implementation and enforcement of the law that is missing.

For political parties, the idea of accountability for the sources of funding emanates from the Constitution itself – Article 17(3) – which mandates that “every political party shall account for the source of its funds”, as prescribed by law. Furthermore, under the Political Parties Order, 2002 each political party is required to submit an annual statement of assets and liabilities, income and expenses, as well as sources of its funds to the Election Commission. The statute further stipulates that party leader must certify that no party funds have been received from “prohibited” sources (section 13). And the rules made under this law allow for prohibited funds to be confiscated by the Election Commission.

In the case of individual candidates, the issue is governed by the Representation of People’s Act, 1976, which mandates (in section 12) that every candidate, at the time of submission of the nomination papers, must provide a statement of “assets and liabilities”, along with those of his/her spouse and dependents, which are open for anyone to “inspect”. Thereafter, all elected members are required to file a yearly statement of assets and liabilities with the Election Commission (section 42A). And where any such declaration is “false in material particulars”, the candidate can be prosecuted for “corrupt practice” (section 82).

The intent behind these laws, of keeping black-money out of politics, is two-pronged: a) ensuring that our elected representatives and their political parties have a clean and transparent financial record coming into the election, and b) ensuring that money was not amassed illegally during their term in office.

Surprisingly, however, combing through our jurisprudential history reveals that virtually no litigation of note has ever been brought to the courts on issues of campaign finance. The reason for this is not because all parties and candidates have only ever used legitimate sources of funding, but that since members from all sides of the political divide are guilty of violating campaign finance laws, no one seems interested in raising the issue. And as a result, our political process has been reduced to a simple equation of who can spend the most money running for elections, and can then recover it during the term in office to contest once again.

By transforming the election process into a capital-intensive exercise, we have given up on the ideal of allowing ‘anyone’ an opportunity to contest – captured in section 49 (Restrictions on election expenses) of the Representation of People’s Act, 1976. And this is a sad reality, because it systematically ostracizes a very large portion of our population from ever aspiring for political office. And we have reached this point for no other reason, but a lack of enforcement of law that already exists on our statute books.

If is freedom the glory of God, and democracy its birthright, then the provisions of our election laws must be enforced in letter and spirit to allow a larger fraction of our population to have the opportunity of participating in this birthright. Only in this way, can we widen the circle of opportunity in our country, and deepen the meaning of our freedom.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at: saad@post.harvard.edu
-Pakistan Today
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Pakistan’s misdirected democracy
March 18, 2012
By Farhan Bokhar

The leaders of Pakistan’s have spent the past week pondering over President Asif Ali Zardari’s annual speech to parliament. Some called it the ‘best evidence of a thriving democracy’ while others noted that the event was ‘a milestone in Pakistan’s history’.

For leaders of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Zardari has made history by becoming his country’s first-ever head of state to have addressed the parliament for five consecutive years. In a country whose history has been split between periods of military rule and democracy, this may be unprecedented.

And yet, the simple fact of an elected politician and head of state walking in to parliament for the fifth time, tragically, doesn’t say much about the direction that Pakistan has taken under its civilian rulers. In the past four years when Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani governed Pakistan, most of the country’s indicators have gone south.

Pakistan’s economy is clearly in shambles, the conduct of its ruling politicians leaves much to be desired and those who call themselves democrats have hardly adopted the best traditions of democracy. In this background, Zardari’s appearance for his annual speech does not do much to hide his failure to abide by institutions such as the Supreme Court.
The government has repeatedly refused a court order to write to the authorities in Switzerland to re-investigate a case of alleged corruption involving Zardari. This goes back to the 1990s when he was accused of having received kickbacks while his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, was prime minister.

The defiance of the ruling structure in protecting Zardari is unprecedented in Pakistan’s history. Gilani has even gone to the extent to say he would readily accept a six-month jail term — a clear defiance of the court’s order. The Supreme Court meanwhile is contemplating contempt of court charges against the prime minister over his refusal to comply with its order on formally requesting the Swiss authorities to reopen Zardari’s case. But the prime minister seems to be determined to politicise the matter. Meanwhile, Pakistanis by and large appear to believe that they have been taken for a ride. In the past four years, the country’s economic woes have come to haunt its mainstream population. The government has lived on borrowed money and in the process has seen three finance ministers come to the fore. A central bank governor even resigned in the face of consistent pressure to do the needful — matters ranging from the controversial launch of a provincial bank to printing excessive currency notes. Tragically, these are not just matters of high finance. Their consequences have a big impact on the lives of ordinary Pakistanis.

Security gains

A dismal economic picture has meant that the government has simply failed to tackle critical challenges ranging from sorting out the mess in the electricity grid to consistent gas shortages. While Pakistan’s ordinary consumers have regularly protested such matters from time to time, the government has failed to do anything more than paying lip service.

Perhaps the government’s only success story may be a relative improvement in Pakistan’s security related challenges. When Zardari and Gilani came to power, Pakistan witnessed frequent bomb blasts and suicide attacks. In the four years since, the frequency of such ugly acts may have gone down. The tragedy however is that signs of gain on this front have little to do with the work of Pakistan’s democratic rulers. Instead, the success by the country’s army in beating back the advance of groups like the Taliban may have contributed much more to this trend. But sustaining this trend may eventually have to do with matters like new legislation, which is again an area where the government has so far miserably failed.

Given this background, Zardari’s speech to the parliament clearly remains a non-event. ‘Nashisteen, Guftan, Barkhastan’ are three Persian phrases which aptly tell the story of Pakistan’s dismal performance. Roughly translated, the phrases mean; counsel, talk and disperse. This is exactly the sorry tale of the disaster in Pakistan today.

Though the country is indeed democratic, its future outlook has never been surrounded by so much doubt. Zardari, Gilani and their cohorts may be Pakistan’s democrats but Pakistanis have a right to ask: democracy to what end?

Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.
Source: Gulf News
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Old Wednesday, March 21, 2012
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Art of turning popularity into power
March 21, 2012

Though a chill wind gusts through the garden of his hilltop home above Islamabad, Imran Khan, an all-time cricketing great turned politician, is all fired up.


When his tiny party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), boycotted the 2008 general election, the gesture did not affect the outcome. Now, Pakistan is preparing for another election cycle. A partly new Senate has just been selected by regional representatives, and a general election is due within a year. Not only will Khan take part. He also predicts outright victory: “God willing, we will sweep the election”.

The former captain of Pakistan’s cricket team is untroubled by self-doubt. Critics dub him messianic — as do devotees. He refers to his giant political rallies in Lahore and Karachi late last year as “electric”, “inspiring” and “phenomenal”.

He brushes aside suggestions that crowds were bused in, or that he benefited from help from Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Instead, ordinary folk came and donated funds to his party, something unheard of in Pakistan. Karachi saw such “fervour”, even, that “we ended up making a profit”.

He is right to be excited. For 16 years, though well-liked personally, Khan attracted support chiefly from an insignificant bunch of educated youngsters. Recently he has had a string of successes: big rallies, defections from other parties by leading politicians, and encouraging polls. His party’s rise coincides with a slump for the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, which pollsters now say barely commands 10 per cent support, and the collapse of a rival in Punjab, the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-i-Azam).

It all looks too rosy, however. Though polls put support for Khan’s PTI at just below 20 per cent nationally, double its tally a year ago, that may be hard to sustain. In any case, it is hardly enough to sweep to victory. To rule, he would need coalition partners, among them hardline Islamist conservatives who share his anti-Americanism.

Doubts over allies

Doubts persist about other potential allies. Khan’s welcome of veteran politicians, including two former foreign ministers, criticised as lotas (turncoats), has rubbed some shine from his movement. He has to fend off suggestions that he is secretly backed by the army’s top brass, as well as its spies.

It is striking that the men in khaki do not oppose him. Indeed, they cheer him on, relishing the headaches he gives other politicians.

The party under most pressure is Punjab’s dominant force, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), run by a former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

The Sharifs’ main hope is that despite Khan’s personal charms, the PTI lacks the experience to turn popularity into votes and seats. The strength of the established parties, by contrast, lies in having tough local guys in each constituency, pockets bulging with cash, who deliver blocks of voters on election day.

What if the amiable Khan got into office? His priority is wiping out corruption “in 90 days”, by setting a good example and keeping his cabinet and party clean. That is a popular thing to say, but it sounds naive, given the deep-rooted venality in Pakistani politics, not to mention the civil service, courts and army.

And some of his values are less attractive. Khan plays up his religiosity (he breaks off speeches to pray). On March 14, he cancelled a trip to a conference in India because Salman Rushdie, an author who has fallen foul of Muslim fundamentalists, would be there. Of Pakistan’s wretched blasphemy law, which has been used to persecute religious minorities, he says it is “abused”, but he declines to call it wrong in itself.

Khan denies attacking Pakistan’s increasingly beleaguered liberals. He is furious, he says, only with those who support the American policy of drone attacks carried out in Pakistan against perceived terrorists.

His foreign views are not particularly encouraging. He wants India to sort out Kashmir (ie, hand over contested territory) before Pakistan should consider any trade-opening deal with its giant neighbour. This is a way of saying nothing will change. Yet with the Taliban, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, he seeks engagement and unilateral ceasefires.

Though he is a cricketing celebrity and has been in politics for almost two decades, Khan remains a puzzle. Much of his appeal is as a radical eager to do away with the rottenness in Pakistan’s politics. Yet his weak party, lack of organisation and an inevitable need to compromise cast doubt on his ability to overturn the old order.

The view from Khan’s hilltop mansion is magnificent, but look down and you find a jumble of half-built houses and shops and twisting lanes. The daily mess of life in Pakistan may yet prove too much for even the loftiest of leaders.
Courtesy: The Economist
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The changing political context
March 22, 2012
Zafar Hilaly

There is a lot of hype about sorting out the military, the politicians and some others to set Pakistan on the right course. But we have to be careful about that because if we start hacking at each other in typical feudal/tribal style we are much too brittle to emerge out of it in one piece. Whether we like it or not, we know from our past that a lot of damage can be done if the military is driven up the wall or painted into a corner. Even the judiciary won’t be able to hold us together; nor can it run the country by issuing edicts.

Kayani has already pointed out, in so many words, that the kind of criticism levelled against the military by the media, politicians and civil society is grossly unfair and highly counterproductive. He stopped short of saying it was intolerable but his meaning was clear.

Hence, much as we would like to see the military being sorted out for continuously interfering in politics and lying about it, one can only hope that the judiciary will handle the problem tactfully with that aspect in mind. If we are to successfully make the transition to a more stable future, we cannot hope to do so by settling old scores in a manner that will do more harm than good. The establishment and the politicos have been damaged enough in terms of their stature and standing. There is no further elasticity left in this rubber band and any more stretch may cause it to snap with disastrous results.

The important thing now is to focus on the forthcoming election because our future may well depend on its failure or success. Imran Khan and his party the PTI are about the only way out at this juncture but only if they can elevate themselves above the party fray. They have the educated middle class mainly from the Punjab, and that could be a beginning. The big question mark is Imran’s capacity to handle complex matters. Does he have the noose to run the affairs of the state and sufficient knowledge of statecraft to pull it off? Few think he does; and he will not have the luxury of acquiring on the job training because we are in desperate straits and Imran Khan will have to hit the ground running.

As for the PPP it is a jaded bunch. Some would say the same about the PML-N but that would be unfair. Nawaz Sharif, like BB did, seems to have learnt from his years in exile and more so from his sojourn in the country since his return. He seems to have mellowed and there is far less of the shooting from the hip and running off at the mouth for which he was notorious (which sadly is more than can be said for his brother). He knows where the political potholes are and how to avoid them and sensibly offered his cooperation to the government when that was needed for the greater good. Most of all he was right in thinking that given enough rope, and a full term in office, Zardari would hang himself which he has done. But all that is still not enough to convince many of us that Nawaz will prove his critics wrong on the third try when he failed on two earlier occasions.

Another assumption is that the religious parties won’t matter much because they are more Neanderthal, genetically being incapable of moving beyond their medieval mindset. And the MQM can be co-opted on a middle class platform. The chances of this are good because the MQM have not only proved flexible but also ambidextrous, nay double-jointed, when it comes to gaining a share of power.

So it is better to focus on Imran Khan and the PTI right now and get them to understand the gravity of the situation and the role they can play to get us out of the horrible mess. Of course, if that too proves to be a false dawn, like so many previous false dawns, then we are through and all bets are off. But that seems to be our only way out at this critical juncture – not the settling of old scores and dragging each other down into a quagmire.

Imran Khan and the PTI must know that even if they win handsomely, which is far from certain, they would still have to work with the PPP, PML-N et al. So they should bear that in mind. Otherwise they will only play into the hands of an establishment that reeks of mediocrity and cannot think beyond its old world paradigm. Nor can the establishment on their own or with their lotas manage the country anymore.

The twelve months ahead therefore could prove critical for Pakistan and not just because of the ongoing scandals that have been so revealing of the excesses of our political and military elite but also because the next election is less than a year ahead. If it proves to a cleaner one, it could make a big difference or at least it may mark the end of that old discredited era which began with the ISI manipulated elections.

The context is changing. Younger voters could make a bigger impact than they have any time in the past, having stayed away in previous elections. Hopefully women too will turn out in larger numbers. So the overall turn out could rise well above the lacklustre participation in previous elections. For example, the PML-N’s so-called heavy mandate was based on an overall voter turnout of less than 40 percent of the voting population even after counting bogus votes!

Security will be a problem if the Taliban are out to scare women from turning up at the polling booths but there is time to take better security precautions than was the case under Musharraf when the establishment was up to its old tricks. We had better focus on such things than to carry on with the familiar drama based on an old, out-dated and discredited script.

Imran Khan and the PTI should take the lead on this. A cleaner election with a high voter turnout is so important and also so much in their interest. But they must not pursue a zero sum game with their mainstream opponents. The umbilical cord with our sordid past must be broken. Indeed a cleaner election with a high voter turnout will enable the politicos to keep the errant establishment firmly in check if they can keep their own differences within manageable limits. That itself would be a game changer. So instead of a brutal mixed martial arts contest, captain Imran Khan and his PTI team should be playing and encouraging a more civilised game. No one individual (however popular) or institution (however powerful) can govern present day Pakistan.

So the forthcoming election should be one which starts a new process rather than degenerate yet again into a do-or-die thing for all sides. This is especially for Imran Khan and the PTI if they are really serious about the country which many inside and outside have nearly written off as a lost cause but which we know is more resilient than that.

What is encouraging is that everyone, including the jihadists, stage their biggest rallies at Jinnah’s mazar, although such antics by the jihadists must inflict unbearable torture on Jinnah’s soul. After all if we have any political role model it is Jinnah and if we have any native ideological role model we have Iqbal, and if we need any critical role models which we do desperately we have got them or, at least, we had till we ditched them. Imran Khan has spoken forthrightly about Jinnah’s Pakistan. That could be our beginning finally. Otherwise we are lost.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email: charles123it@hotmail.com
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Why do politicians hate local government?
March 23, 2012
By Dr Pervez Tahir

An important omission in President Zaradari’s fifth address to parliament was any reference to the issue of local government. It seems that the prospect of an untruncated political tenure is not enough to extend the domain of democratic governance. The closer a representative government is to its voters, the better governance it delivers. Why is this simple jurisdictional principle lost on our politicians? This is something to seriously worry about.

All politics is said to be local. Politicians all over the world seek public funding for their constituencies to maximise their chances of re-election. The recent by-elections in the assemblies and the Senate elections provided a glaring example in our own case. Our politicians work assiduously to influence federal and provincial resource allocation towards their individual constituencies, but shy away from putting in place a viable and representative system of local governance. PPP, PML-N and ANP have all been on the same page to postpone local elections, under one pretext or the other.

Our military-dominated governance in the past has played an important role in shaping the peculiar attitudes of politicians. Without any exception, all usurpers of power used local governments as handmaidens to legitimise their own rule. Political parties were kept away even when these governments were elected and an adversarial relationship evolved in the process. In a seminar held by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan this week, Asma Jehangir, no fan of military rule, argued for “de-crippling” the state by restoring local governance. Political scientist Muhammad Waseem hit the nail on the head by counting local governments among the challenges faced by democracy in Pakistan. Economist Ali Cheema also pinpointed the lack of a functioning system of governance as the biggest challenge. In the 1950s, George Stigler, an American economist had struggled with the idea of optimal jurisdiction. In our case, the local level is best suited for delivery of basic services. At the same seminar, Daniyal Aziz warned that the failure to institute local governments could destabilise the system.

These are, however, voices in the wilderness. Our risk-averse politicians do not want local governments. Period. MNAs, senators and MPAs are not likely to give up the politics of thana kutchery and sarak nali any time soon. A large number of the present political class emerged from the local councils of the Ziaul Haq days. Who knows better than these political animals about the increasing returns of having command over state resources. At present, they control local resources in league with bureaucracy, in addition to resources at the federal and provincial levels. The district nazims of the Pervez Musharraf era controlled vast resources and an area that was, on average, as big as five national or ten provincial constituencies. An MNA or an MPA was no match for the nazim, in terms of power and influence. However, there are ways to overcome this political competition. An obvious one is to allow political parties to contest at local levels. But the challenges it will pose to the central leadership, in the shape of new grassroots leadership, will be too unpalatable.

While district politics is distasteful to politicians, the proposals to create new provinces have surprisingly met with weak political opposition. The reason is that they do not raise the spectre of local competition. To take the representative governance closer to the people and make it participatory for effective service delivery, the solution may be to allow the formation of as many provinces as are demanded.

The Express Tribune,
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A country in crisis
March 24, 2012
Shahid Lateef

With the election fever gripping ordinary mortals, the political actors have gone into overdrive, lobbying for polls and projecting these as the panacea for all our woes. To sort out Imran Khan and his PTI, the 20th Amendment (Trap-20 or T-20) has been passed, which is being celebrated as the ultimate achievement to ensure fair elections. Actually, it is a fraud committed with the collusion of the two major parties, which are at the helm of the affairs. With known and established animosities between them, they have moved at lightning speed to strike a deal on mutually beneficial adjustment, in order to neutralise the threat of the third rapidly emerging political force on the horizon that challenges their monopoly on power.

The hollowness of the amendment can be gauged from the fact that the real bone of contention, which led to its initiation, has not been addressed. The PML-N had to swallow a bitter pill when the chairman of NAB was appointed against its will, by misusing the word ‘consultation’ given in the Constitution. The focus of T-20 was on replacing this exploitative word with ‘consensus’, so that major decisions regarding reforms in the composition of the Election Commission (EC) and formation of a neutral caretaker setup, preceding elections, could be taken with mutual agreement of the government and the opposition.

The PML-N not only failed to have the required change incorporated, it could not even ensure a less favourable term of ‘meaningful consultation’ in the amendment. The ‘intentions’ of the government regarding the conduct of future elections are, therefore, amply manifested in this move.

There is lot of trumpeting about the independence and impartiality of the Election Commission having been achieved, though in a recent reflection on the ‘Waheeda Shah’ slapping case, it was proved otherwise. The commission failed in its very first test, as the two members, including the election commissioner, out of five on the panel, who dissented with the award of punishment, were both Sindhis and were favouring the culprit on the basis of ethnic affinity. So much for the neutrality of the newly liberated EC, which is to be trusted with the herculean task of ensuring free and fair general elections in the country.

Besides this, the real issue of carrying out a thorough scrutiny of candidates, vying to be elected, has not even been touched. In the absence of this mandatory mechanism, it is expected that the same old faces would appear again after winning elections. Are the hapless people of this country, whose lives have been turned into hell through mammoth corruption, abject poverty, unchecked inflation, lawlessness, frequent raise in petrol and power tariff and non-availability of basic needs like gas and electricity, willing to bear this torture under Zardari and party for another five years? It can be safely assumed that they will revolt against the manipulated outcome of elections, which would be out rightly rejected, leading to a major turmoil in the country.

The most dangerous phenomenon witnessed recently, is the internationally backed movement for the separation of Balochistan, which has been in a state of turmoil for years. This does ring alarm bells, especially with turbulent conditions already prevailing in Fata due to our mishandling of the war on terror.

With feelings of discontent, distrust, destitution and dejection prevalent in a society, people remain vulnerable to exploitation by outside powers, as happened in East Pakistan. Pakistan and Iran (where the US needs presence to bridge the strategic void between the Central Asia and the Middle East) are under close tracking and sights are firmly fixed on them, after targeting Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria.

It is quite evident that our present setup, which was installed through a surreptitious NRO arrangement, under US patronage, has actively contributed towards the US imperial agenda, by oppression of the society, which now suffers from loss of direction, fragmentation, insecurity and alienation. US special and intelligence forces have penetrated Pakistan by the thousands, with a tacit approval from the top. They have also discredited our institutions by exposing their weaknesses and reducing them to the status of fence-sitters. Needless to say that under these circumstances, the country is faced with a real threat to its security and survival.

In such a grievous environment, the PML-N, PTI and JI should bury mutual differences, set aside egos and join hands to save Pakistan. They need to mobilise the masses, demanding an immediate formation of a ‘national government’ with a composition of non-partisan, honest and selfless individuals, who should steer the country out of the crisis, undertake genuine electoral reforms and hold free and fair elections.

The PTI, being the potential catalysts, faces a litmus test.

The writer is a former vice chief of the air staff. Email: shahidlateef57@gmail.com

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Shifting sands
March 25, 2012
By Arif Nizami

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s fate hangs in the balance for adamantly refusing to write a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen corruption cases against the president. However, at the altar of public opinion, he is a sitting duck. It is already taken for granted that the Supreme Court bench hearing the contempt case will convict him.

Gilani’s counsel Aitzaz Ahsan by raising the prejudice issue and demanding a new bench to hear the case has added another layer of complexity to the matter. However, the judges who have of late developed a penchant for making headlines and ‘breaking news’ for the print and electronic media rather than merely dispensing justice have clarified that it is wrong to say that they have decided to punish his client.

Notwithstanding the effusive praise that President Zardari showered upon his prime minister in his recent address to the joint sitting of the parliament, the rump of his party is looking beyond him. The king is dead; long live the king.

Since PM Gilani has made it amply clear that he will not write against his own president, there are several candidates in the party ready to replace him in case of his disqualification. Whatever fate awaits him, the prime minister has decided to become a martyr or a hero. Privately, he has been quoted saying that, if asked to by the apex court, would Shahbaz Sharif write a letter against his own brother?

Perhaps the PPP has made a cynical calculation that playing the victim card in an election year is not such a bad idea. In any case, despite having transferred most functions to the prime minister under the constitution, the president still calls the shots. Everyone knows where the buck stops. Hence having a stopgap prime minister or prime ministers (as the case may be) in the interregnum before the elections does not seem a bad idea.

In the meanwhile, Gilani is giving prime ministerial looks more than ever before. He is presiding over more than a meeting a day on average. On the international front, he is off to Seoul to attend the Nuclear Safety Summit and is due to meet President Obama on the sidelines in the coming weeks. He is also scheduled to visit China and the UK.

Political parties in the coalition as well as in the opposition are least concerned with his fate. Both Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif have advised Gilani to comply with the orders of the apex court and write a letter to the Swiss authorities. After having being outwitted and outfoxed by Zardari, it is good politics for them if he is made to grovel in front of a Swiss magistrate.

Shahbaz Sharif’s frequent diatribes reserved for Zardari and somewhat milder criticism occasionally meted out by Nawaz Sharif in relatively civilised language belie the fact that Imran Khan’s perceived inroads in Punjab are haunting the Sharifs and they feel more threatened by his rise than by the PPP. In a recent television interview, Shahbaz Sharif refused to take a question about the PTI chief, arrogantly stating that it was below him to even mention his name.

Notwithstanding the posturing, the PML(N) is feeling the pinch. And the Sharifs are conscious of the PTI phenomenon. Why else would they cultivate the very constituency that they have ignored for years? Distribution of laptop computers to university and college students in the province is a blatant attempt to cultivate the educated youth at state expense.

The youth and women considered the bedrock of support for the Khan is being assiduously cultivated. Nawaz Sharif was made to address the Punjab university students on Republic Day while presiding over a laptop distribution ceremony. Both the brothers made highly charged political speeches on the occasion.

Similarly, International Women’s Day was celebrated with much fanfare by the Punjab government. The main function was presided over by the chief minister himself. Apart from lofty speeches, the audience was regaled with song and music. A crude attempt to ape the PTI.

Every political party has the right to promote its philosophy and cultivate its constituents including the PML(N). But in this case, the fine line between party and state has been conveniently ignored by those who claim to be the self-styled paragons of virtue.

On the eve of the retirement of director general ISI Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ahmed remarked that Imran Khan has lost his godfather. Whatever the truth behind the allegation that the PTI has been re-launched by the establishment, why should a party which has been in power five times in the past two and half decades feel so threatened and insecure by it?

Imran, apart from cultivating the young voter and the middle classes, has politically posited himself right-off-centre. Although the PTI has yet to spell out what it really stands for, Imran’s mushy stance on the Taliban and the US is closer to that of the PML(N).

Conventional wisdom being spread by the commentariat is that Imran’s self-proclaimed tsunami is already faltering. But if one doesn’t know what Imran stands for, one does know what the PTI unequivocally opposes. It considers both the PML(N) and the PPP as corrupt and inept and postures itself as the sole agent of change.

Imran Khan also confidently proclaims that he will sweep the next elections. How will he achieve this is not yet clear. Resentment amongst the idealist old guard of his party and the new entrants was but natural. And Imran has not been able to stem the infighting amongst the multifarious and heterogeneous motley crowd of new entrants.

Ideologically, what the PTI stands for is yet not clear. It is easy to claim that the economy will be fixed and corruption will be eliminated in the first 100 days of Imran’s government if and when it is formed. But it will be difficult to walk the talk without a clear road map.

In light of this, should the PML(N) feel so insecure? The answer is yes and no. The PTI would certainly cut into its vote bank and, to a lesser extent, into that of the PPP. But in Punjab, the PML(N) will feel the pinch more than the other parties. The PTI is emerging strong in KP. There, the PTI will damage both the ANP and the JUI(F) and pockets of PML support.

Perhaps, Imran Khan has emerged as a third force. An agent of change? Not yet!

The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today
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MQM and PTI Should Join Hands to Salvage a Shipwrecked Pakistan
March 26, 2012
By Saeed Qureshi
Exclusive Article

Our beloved country Pakistan reels under a civic system that is out of sync with the imperatives of a modern society. It is decrepit and utterly inadequate to provide decent, modest and worthwhile living environment to the people of Pakistan. The roads and highways network is not enough to cater for fast growing movement of both travelers and freight. Travelling between the cities and within the cities in Pakistan is hazardous, slow, and unsafe.

Unlike western societies, Pakistan at first glance looks primitive, dirty and disorganized. From traffic to business activities nothing seems to be without sleaze and impropriety. Despite our society being deeply religious and people with total religious orientation, ethical practices in social dealings and human interaction are woefully deficient. There is always a wide gap between what the leaders profess and what they do.

Our social sector figures lowest in our national priorities. The health, education, transportation and other public related services are moribund and woefully inadequate due to a variety of factors including paucity of funds, erroneous and faulty policies and planning and lack of vision to make them universal, accessible, organized and modern. The population is growing at an alarming pace. We have ramshackle old frames and structures of buses shorn of necessary facilities like air conditioning, heating etc. Overloading of passengers is common scene on Pakistani roads.

Social vices like bribery, corruption, pilferage of government resources, adulteration and selling of sub-standard commodities and medicines, evasion of taxes and a host of other odious crimes have always been rampant. Despite being deeply religious people lack moral fiber.

There are no standardized procedures for conduct and regulation of civic life. Even if there are such procedures, no one bothers to follow them in order to check the mal-practices and violations in daily life such as encroachments, violation of building rules, sanitation rules, and maintenance of premises and public places.

Likewise traffic rules are complicated, cumbersome, outdated and ignored by both public and the concerned departments. Traffic in Pakistan has ever been messy. The civic code is outdated. The cities are brimming with filth, stench, encroachments, horse and bullock driven carts. There are no strict codes for raising new dwellings.

There is a mushroom, unabated and unplanned growth of houses and shantytowns in and around all the major cities in Pakistan, choking and stultifying the already meager and insufficient utilities. The water is rationed by hours, the electric power goes off frequently, and the voltage is low and unstable. There is no well-planned or scientific method of removing garbage from the lanes, roads, houses and public places in Pakistan.

Our railways is ramshackle, mismanaged, is a relic of the past and starkly lacking in the modern system of management as we find in the railways of the developed societies. The railway stations have deplorable and endemic problems such as sanitation, non-provision of computerized communication, operation system and utilities like air conditioning, heating and reservation etc. There are countless flaws in our railway system. Our railway is in dire need of complete overhauling so as to make it modern and efficient.

Same is the case with other service providing organizations such as WAPDA, PIA, customs, municipal and local bodies police, courts and judicial system, postal, revenue and taxation departments: to name a few. All these organizations and departments are chronically infested with corruption, mismanagement, inefficiency and other flaws.

The Judiciary, Police, bureaucracy and all other nation building institutions that should serve the people in the fairest and the freest manner have remained subservient to the interests of the powerful local lords, wealthy sections, aristocracy, robber barons, elitists classes, bureaucracy, and the political mandarins.

The unavailability of uniform, inexpensive and prompt justice, adulteration, timely decision making, stealing of mail, counterfeit stamp papers, usurping public land and property are part of our morbid system that needs to a drastic surgery and purged of its deformities, disabilities and disorders. Expired and spurious drugs are sold unhindered without any qualms of conscience or fear of law. Hospitals lack the milk of human kindness and lack proper facilities for the ever-increasing patients. We sell adulterated food without any moral prick and without any fear of legal or social reprisals.

In order to bypass the complicated, cumbersome, and unclear rules for issuance of essential and ordinary documents such as driving licenses, passports, identity cards the people are forced offer to graft and bribes to the officials or the touts. In short there is a complete moral, institutional and organizational mess and mayhem in the society.

Pakistan is to be liberated from the clutches of feudal classes and privileged families, rapacious mafia, pressure lobbies and special interest groups that have held the state and the society hostage since the inception of Pakistan. These unassailable rogue entities and powerful individuals do not allow Pakistan to function as a liberal, free, democratic, modern, progressive and prosperous country.

They hate the very concept of a civil society in Pakistan. Civil society means freedom of expression and unhindered observance of faith, and un-curtailed movement and pursuit of happiness in conformity with the human and fundamental rights. These groups and entities are enemies of progress and therefore of the people of Pakistan.

Pakistan is still far away from having a democratic order that is unvarnished and truly based on the popular vote and people’s aspirations. For most part of its existence Pakistan was under the army rule, bureaucratic dispensation or quasi-democratic system. Elections in Pakistan were seldom free and fair. The National Assembly and Senate assailed by the powerful classes would not function in an independent manner and only serve the privileged sections. There is no accountability at any stage in bureaucracy and officialdom. Accountability in Pakistan is used for vendetta against the political contenders.
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The leadership that was in power all along has, thus far, miserably failed to address and resolve the myriad socio -civic, economic, political and even day to day problems of the people. The hapless people of Pakistan have been waiting for so long for a better time to come but it is now foregone that the leadership in Pakistan is birds of the same flock.

The leaders lack vision, sincerity, seriousness and the will to transform Pakistan into a modern, liberal and prosperous state. With the abundance of natural resources, vast productive land and industrious manpower that Pakistan is endowed with, our country has the capability and potential to stand shoulder to shoulder in the comity of developed nations in a few years’ span.

What therefore, needed is to hand over power to such people who are down-to-earth, who possess the vision, unshakable will, absolute honesty and sincerity to bring about an encompassing revolution for a glorious Pakistan as well as for a vibrant and prosperous
civil society. Since the political leadership in Pakistan has failed to provide a stable democratic political system, there has been a pervasive socio-civic and economic chaos that the country is perennially suffering from.

With a crowd of political parties already in the country it would look superfluous to form another political entity for the much needed watershed revolution in Pakistan and to change it structurally from a primitive, backward, poor, mismanaged to an institutionalized, orderly and dignified modern nation. Yet without a dedicated and visionary leadership the hope for a better, prosperous and stable Pakistan would always remain dim. It means that for making Pakistan a great country, it is indispensable to change the leadership first.

After more than half a century’s governance, it is obvious that the privileged and elitist classes that believe in running the country via plutocracy, oligarchy or aristocracy, are neither capable nor sincere in good governance. The reason for their inability to earnestly serve the nation and country is that they are not mindful of the common man’s problems nor are they interested in ameliorating the plight of the citizens whose predominant majority is suffering from bad governance.

It is now incumbent that the power should be exercised by the dispossessed sections of the society. The common people understand their problems well because they are affected by them. But while the political power should now pass on to the underprivileged or unprivileged, there must be a team of such experts and men of excellence and vision who should formulate policies and planning that can put the country on the road to progress and prosperity and inject order, discipline and social peace into our ailing society and mode of governance.

In the light of the above assessment one would wonder and it would rather be pleasantly awesome if MQM and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) can join hands to save Pakistan and steer this nation out of the dire straits of ignorance, poverty, lawlessness, decadence, social and moral vices, plunder of the privileges sections, endemic corruption, gas and power load shedding. They should restructure failed and dysfunctional institutions departments and industries, renovate Pakistan with a modern infrastructure and infuse life into its ailing economy and stir a fresh hope about a glorious future and a great destiny.

I mention MQM and PTI because notwithstanding their shortcomings and, they possess the grit and resolution to straighten the awry situation in Pakistan. Their leaders are eminently honest with committed cadres to get the things done. The exemplary unity and strict discipline in the ranks of MQM with a mission to root out feudalism, nepotism, perfidious privileged mafias and similar abominations is a boon and the indispensible tools to harness Pakistan and reorder it rudder.

PTI is a new entrant into the political arena of Pakistan. Their slogans and manifestoes too are revolutionaries and their chief and his associates are reputed for their patriotism and clean hands. They possess the pain and a desire to revolutionize Pakistan with radical transformation of its rotten system from a Patwari to the running of the state of Pakistan. They should get a chance to stem the burgeoning rot in Pakistan.

The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat. He is also a regular contributor to pkarticleshub.com
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