Feb 28, 2009
By Dr Arif Azad
Public policy – despite being formulated, legitimated and enforced by governmental institutions – is enriched and refined by input from a medley of interest, pressure and civil society groups. This factor has led to an increased focus on the role of organised groups in public policymaking. As a result, literature on the role of these groups in public policy has proliferated over the years. The important role organised groups play in public policymaking is also manifest in the mushroom growth of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in both service delivery and policy advocacy. The work of John Walker, for example, testifies to an enormous increase in the number of NGOs and citizen action groups in the United States in recent years.
Although service delivery function of organised groups may not have a direct impact on public policy, enough literature is available to show the power of lower-end service delivery bureaucracy in refining public policy options. The 'Group Theory of Public Policy', an influential analytical model, begins with the premise that interaction among groups is the warp and woof of politics. According to Earl Latham, a noted 'group theorist', "what may be called public policy is actually the equilibrium reached in the group struggle at any given moment, and it represents a balance which the contending factions or groups constantly strive to tip in their favour."
The 'Group Theory of Public Policy' views policymakers as reacting perpetually to pressures emanating from various interest groups and lobbyists, bargaining and negotiating their way to a policy that agglutinates a broad range of interests. Central to this theory is the concept of power: which of the groups commands more influence and power in public policymaking. For example, during the formulation of Britain's National Health Service Policy, doctors' trade union – British Medical Association – used its influence and got many benefits. Power is dispositional; it is an ability to do something. Robert Dahl defines power as something that coerces other to do what they would not do otherwise. In his words: "A has power over B to do something B would not do otherwise."
Groups involved in public policymaking can come in different forms and labels despite sharing the singular aim of influencing the policy. The groups that are central to the policy process range widely from single-issue groups and lobbyist to pressure and interest groups. The influence and entry points of different groups in a political system depend on existing intuitional arrangements.
The work of Richardson and Jordan shows that a weak British parliamentary system with a strong executive affords entry point to interest group to influence public policymaking. Interest groups are especially effective in countries with a strong legislature, such as the US. Another opening also allows groups to enter and influence public policymaking: weak response of citizens to a public issue. This is most likely to happen in cases where policy is concerned with technical subjects in which either public knowledge is limited or public interest is, historically, low. The British atomic policy serves as a good example: only scientists played role during its formulation and implementation. Similarly, during the formulation of Pakistan's Human Transplantation Act, doctors – particularly urologists – played a major role.
Conversely, established policy advocacy groups can use enhanced media and public interest around a public issue to enter a particular policy area. For example, during various recent humanitarian crises, helped by increased media attention and heightened public interest, previously unknown advocacy groups entered the policy area. The example of South Asian Tsunami readily comes to mind in this connection; many small British advocacy groups were able to enter the policy area on the back of media-propelled crisis.
The media can also become a major actor in public policymaking. For example, the media in Pakistan, due to its reporting of the lawyers' movement, became an important actor vis-à-vis the independence of judiciary. Hence, Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf's double-edged extirpation of the judiciary and media in a single stroke through the imposition of 'emergency' on Nov 3, 2007.
Groups can also enter the policymaking process if they make themselves indispensable to governments in public policy areas in which governmental expertise is either lacking or not up to the mark. This is most likely to happen in poor countries where governmental expertise in a whole range of policy issues is lacking due to either budgetary constraints or bureaucratic lethargy.
The downside of too much reliance on outside expertise is the ever-present fear of what is called 'interest group capture' of a policy field. For example, under the Bush administration, the US foreign policy was widely believed to be hijacked by think tanks, such as Brookings Institution, Heritage Foundation and Centre for American Enterprise. These think tanks, staffed by neocons, literally dictated the US foreign policy during George W Bush's eight years in power as the American president.
In some areas of service delivery, government can also facilitate the entry and entrenchment of groups with special expertise in the policy and delivery processes. This has happened more recently worldwide, with neo-liberal governments contracting basic service delivery functions to groups in an ideological drive to slim down the government. For example, the housing market previously administered by the British government has now been handed over to private housing associations. Similarly, in Germany, after the Second World War, the government entered into an agreement with trade unions to ensure the implementation of the industrial policy.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the 'Group Theory of Public Policy' are the marginal groups with fringe interests that are not normally reflected in policy options. Public policymaking affords such marginal causes or groups to insert themselves into the policy process. For example, over the years, groups working on racial discrimination and ethnic minority rights in Britain have been able to contribute to the policy process because it is open to plural ideas.
By far the most effective notorious interest group in public policymaking are the professional lobbyists. The study of lobbyists by Milbraith, titled The Washington Lobbyist, finds that the US capital was awash with lobbyists who tend to influence public policy their way through various means. The lasting and enduring influence of lobbyists, despite strong criticism in recent years, can be gauged from a recent book by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, titled The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy. The book outlines a detailed case of how pro-Israel lobbyists bend the US foreign policy in the favour of Israel.
(The writer, a policy analyst, is a fellow of the Institute of Social Policy and a visiting member of the Foreign Trade Institute of Pakistan.
By Nasir Ali Panhwar
The decreasing floodwater from the Indus river and other seasonal rivers is reportedly a major cause of degradation of the mangroves along the Indus Delta. The construction of a series of dams, barrages and other engineering structures has diverted a large quantity of water for irrigational use, with the result that floodwater quantities reaching the mangroves have decreased substantially. Moreover, the silt reaching the mangroves has also decreased. These two interconnected factors affect the mangrove forests the most.
The most severe environmental stress that the mangroves face is the reduction of freshwater flow down the Indus river. While mangroves, especially Avicennia marina, are able to survive in seawater without regular freshwater input, it is unlikely that they can thrive indefinitely. The Indus Delta was formed from the freshwater flow into the sea carrying 400 million tonnes of silt. Over the years, the flow recharging the delta has reduced drastically. The reduced flow in the Indus river means that the already high salinities in creeks and soil will become higher.
In its last session, the Sindh Assembly demanded effective measures to protect the erosion of land by the sea in the coastal areas of Badin and Thatta districts. The demand was made through a resolution adopted unanimously by the house. Dr Sikandar Mandhro of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) moved the resolution regarding the erosion of land by the sea. In the resolution, it was pointed out that the "active process of sea intrusion and ever increasing rate of erosion has already eaten away millions of acres of fertile land, pushing the population into insurmountable socioeconomic hardships."
In his speech, while quoting data, Dr Mandhro expressed concern and highlighted the need for the construction of a coastal highway to protect land from sea erosion. He pointed out that the Indus Water Treaty, which was signed by Ayub Khan and Jawaharlal Nehru in 1960, deprived the country of the water of three rivers; while the construction of dams, including Tarbela, resulted in reduced flow of water downstream Kotri.
According to an international research report, the sea is eating away 80 acres of fertile land daily since 1960. Going by this calculation, the sea has already eroded about 1.4 million acres of fertile land. If the Sindh government builds a coastal highway and sets up windmills along the country's coastal belt, Pakistan could overcome the energy crisis. Moreover, the huge amount of water that makes its way into the sea could by used for cash crops during the Kharif season.
The resolution was also supported by MPAs Heer Soho, Anwar Mehar, Syed Sardar Ahmad, Bachal Shah, Humera Alwani, Nuzhat Pathan, Sassui Palejo, Manzoor Wassan, Syed Murad Ali Shah, Jam Madad Ali and Ayaz Soomro. The resolution is a timely initiative of the legislators; however, to curb the sea intrusion, multidimensional interventions are required. There is increasing evidence that many environmental disasters, such as droughts and floods, are caused by the degradation of natural resources, and they contribute to widespread damage and destruction.
Sea intrusion has been classified as one such phenomenon. It constitutes the encroachment of saline seawater inland and up the channels of rivers, because of sea level rise, depletion of freshwater flows in the river channel or both. The 2004 tsunami made it clear that healthy mangroves serve as a natural barrier against natural or human-made disasters, protect infrastructure and save lives. Pakistan has the biggest mangrove forests in the world; however, their significance in terms of ecological and economic value has remained undocumented and poorly understood.
Historically, the abundant freshwater discharges and nutrients-rich sediment load was conducive to a highly productive coastal ecosystem, including mangroves and fish, which form the livelihood basis of local communities around the Indus Delta. Human activities have, however, progressively altered the discharge pattern of the Indus river and, therefore, of the sediments. It is suspected that the most severe environmental stress that the mangroves are facing results from the reduction of freshwater flows down the Indus river, carrying with it reduced loads of silt and nutrients.
The estimated available flow from the Indus river is about 150 million acre feet (maf) per year. Substantial quantities of freshwater have been harnessed through large-scale engineering projects, such as irrigation channels, barrages, embankments, dykes and multipurpose dams. Because of these interventions, the Indus river freshwater discharge in the deltaic region has been reduced to one-fifth of its natural flow and the river has been confined to a single channel almost down to the coastal area.
After the 1991 Indus Water Apportioned Accord, 10 maf per year were allotted down the Kotri barrage for downstream ecosystems and the livelihood of local populations. However, not even the 10 maf water promised under the 1991 water accord has been released down the Kotri barrage in recent years. In 2000-01, the flow reportedly reached the lowest level in Sindh's recorded irrigation history: only 0.72 maf. On the other hand, there are plans to build new dams that will further reduce the freshwater input.
Therefore, desolation can be witnessed in the coastal areas of Karachi, Thatta and Badin districts. The 1991 water accord was a unanimous covenant signed by the federating units as well as the federation, and it was protected under law after being endorsed by the Council of Common Interests (CCI). The Indus River System Authority (IRSA) had also been constituted under this water accord. The coalition partners in the government have been advocating for the implementation of the 1991 water accord. Now, when they are in power, it is high time that they go beyond resolutions and implement the 1991 water accord, as well as decide about the quantum of water for downstream Kotri. In addition to making resolutions in the parliaments, this long outstanding issue can only be addressed through a strong political will.
By Dr Nauman Niaz
Day one of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Karachi Test stimulated quite a bit; there were whimpers and wild calls. Younis Khan replacing Shoaib Malik as the country's captain was intensely targeted for poor leadership failing to imply tactically sound field positioning. His arrival as Pakistan's captain didn't see a trademark start. It looked like a lobster.
A lobster, yes! It has remained relatively unchanged for nearly 100 million years and it is built funny... the brain is in its throat, its nervous system is in its belly, it listens with its legs, it tastes with its feet, its teeth are in its stomach and its kidneys are in its head. On day three there were curtains to an anti-Younis sloganeering. Sticking to his most honest credentials, he responded manfully to join the party, scoring a massive triple-century.
Younis's triple-century presented the synthesis of his philosophy and its concretisation; in it we saw the effects of embracing his genuine responses to adversity -- and his critics. We saw his path leading to grand achievements, glory, peace and tranquility; it was also an answer to failure, rot, corruption, self-hate, and eventually social destruction of Pakistan cricket.
Younis's wild, careening plot concerned the first strike by the creative men of the mind. His was not only a supreme innings, it had a handful of messages woven discreetly and ready to be examined minutely. As Sri Lanka amassed a 640 plus total, and with a million tongues wagging and spurning words, Younis displayed his emotions with each stroke he played.
He explained to a Pakistani game heading to ruin exactly where it had made its wrong turns, he stitched together his philosophical vision, by the end of the third day known as objectivism. He left everyone in a trance he went on, famously, at great length.
Younis, when challenged on day one, charged of rigid and innocuous captaincy, was able to deliver a precis of his philosophy while standing untiringly: objective reality. Epistemology: Reason. Ethics: self-interest, selflessness; politics; cricket's capitalism. Younis's exposition gave meat, context and drama to this bare presentation -- and connected the nightmare world of the Pakistan game. Younis's innings could be called emotional fuel and the spark plug of cricket's soul. He actually set a soul on fire and never let it go out.
Younis's multiple hundred gave the viewers a chance to contemplate in dramatic form the thrilling, fulfilling places to which the intelligent, dedicated and purposeful seeking after goals could lead. And it didn't matter whether or not those goals were grand in the eyes of the rest of the world -- not everyone admired his technique and method of run-scoring, even his batting architecture. And he didn't just tell, he showed, with the unique combination that great fiction provides of the emotional and the rational in a package weightier, yet easier to grasp, than either alone.
Although he sometimes saw himself on the wrong end of the stick, dropping the country's captaincy twice and was often written off as merely a clumsy power-passionate ideological cricketer, the most significant part of his appeal, then, was not purely classical; it was from the top-tier. Younis batted with the notion that the Pakistaniness wasn't obsolete from the India dominated world game. While conservatives mostly found little to admire in Younis -- and vice versa -- he, more than most conservative and orthodox batsmen, that his batting could focus the human soul on greater aspirations.
He presented the real theme of his grand achievement inspiring and creating an aspiration toward a higher, better, more wondrous and brave vision of what batting could be -- however unrealistic a triple hundred for a batsman like Younis could see because since 1999 he didn't talk or act like the folks at the corner. As Younis collected his 300th run, he nailed the key to what was really glorious and inspirational about Pakistan.
And throughout his marathon innings, there was a philosophical demonstration that to live for one's own rational self-interest, to pursue one's own goals, to use one's mind in the service of one's team and its happiness, is the noblest, the highest, the most moral of human activitiesÖspeaking to the unnamed, un-championed, beating heart of his new land, and I said: "Younis, yours is the glory".
Younis knew from the beginning that that glory had as much, if not more, to do with individual creative striving as with cricket politics per se. He was the type who was in the centre of action, battled and played marvellously, a complete team man and yet he never was part of the politics-ridden culture. Politics did matter, of course -- and no one dramatised that in a career better than Younis, especially when he intended to break the power-driven mores.
There we saw precisely how the decisions of faceless, malign, or the just ignorant PCB's top-tier lead to dire effects in the game's environment. Twice he rejected Pakistan's captaincy, standing firm on principles and during this period, we saw real-world confirmation of his notions in the grim, constrained deprivation that gripped Pakistan cricket through much of 2007-08, and on a smaller scale in the PCB where any number of dreams and lives were destroyed by eminent domain and local zoning and regulations.
Younis agreed to captain Pakistan in an hour of pure distress, at a time when the national game didn't seem on track, and there were a lot of nannying, bullying, commands, and a huge skim off the top. That can seem abstract, especially in Pakistan cricket.
As the first Test against Sri Lanka shaped one-sidedly on day one and day two, Younis helped us really see, and really feel, what mental toughness and complete faith could do to times of depression when his effort, his life, his essence were hijacked from his own choices and subjected to the whims of the powerful.
When Younis rejected Pakistan's captaincy for the first time, immediately after the World Cup 2007, in spite of common misunderstanding based on the use of the phrase 'the virtue of selfishness' (used intentionally to shock), his decision was by no means purely selfish in the sense that he wanted only himself to be satisfied and happy.
He was motivated by love, conviction and admiration for what he saw as best in humanity and his desire for a world that could encourage and rewarded that opportunity. Younis played under Shoaib Malik and mostly showed a sense of deep compassion for how decent humans were injured in a world that followed wrong premises motivated what his detractors saw as horribly uncharitable contempt of people who could destroy the values of an ill-driven culture.
Younis's critics who heard only hate and heartlessness in him were themselves tone-deaf to peals of glory. In his presence and in his work, one felt that command: a command to function at one's best, to be the most that one could be, to drive oneself constantly harder, never to disappoint one's highest ideals.
Younis on day four of the first Test against Sri Lanka himself put it the essence of life is the achievement of joy, not the escape from pain. He reverse-swept one to reach the magical 300-mark, and in spite of cavils about his unrealism, he was a man of consummate skill, bursting creativity, and unyielding integrity, a man eminently worth being.
That is the positive side to what is sometimes seen as purely negative vision of restricting someone of Younis's calibre. His epoch-making innings was not contempt but his passionate belief in the possibility of individual glory and greatness, and his burning admiration for it.
His standards were demanding -- a call to be the best he could be, achieving the most he could achieve. But the respect and admiration he showed for those who rose to those demands was a warming, revivifying sun. Younis's one great innings at a time when Pakistan cricket was not sinking but it had already sunk has had such an energising effect on millions, including almost every significant figure in the Pakistani game.
This one batting performance will doubtless stay in print and continue to capture and thrill future generations -- and, through his romantic evocations of heroic individuals, continue to lead a certain observant, thoughtful percentage of people to really see, and really feel, how personal liberty is necessary for such heroic striving to reach its zenith.
The writer is a Member of the Royal College of Physicians (UK) and official historian of Pakistan cricket
To get elected, a candidate needs votes from 12 members of the National Assembly. Divided equally, each MNA would thus earn Rs25m — a sum enough to sustain 7,000 tribal households for a month.
A tribal MNA is usually also head of his clan and expected to safeguard the interest of its members in dealings with the political agent and the government. Is it any wonder then that the jihadi clerics are able to persuade the poor folk to take up arms to overthrow a system in which they are so ruthlessly exploited in the name of democracy?
The militants hark back to the times when the caliphs carried food on their backs to starving households and shared war booty equally with ordinary citizens. To them, that is Sharia, and secular democracy, as Maulana Sufi Mohammad put it, is a fraud.
The magnitude of electoral corruption in the settled areas is believed to be no less. However, its benefits may be more thinly spread. But hardly is anyone ever hauled up by the election commission or the courts. The Dawn report goes on to say that some right-thinking tribal elders of Miranshah, North Waziristan, had appealed to the chief election commissioner to intervene.
Surely he will not, and even if he does he would not find evidence that meets the exacting standards of our laws. The statements of expenditures submitted by candidates are routinely accepted and filed. The tribes are thus made to believe that Sharia supplemented by their own customs is the answer to their woes.
The money paid to get elected either comes easily, as to the landlords, or is made illegally as by government quota-holders of LPG, diesel or other such commodities. In the tribal areas, money is made by trading in arms or, increasingly, in narcotics. It is invested in elections, only to earn more of it through horse-trading or securing contracts, lands and job quotas which in turn are further traded. Corruption thus snowballs.
Take just one example. Most government jobs are sold and then clout is used to get nominees to lucrative posts to recover the amount paid by the people. In the 1960s, when I was director of taxation in Karachi, an official in the motor registration office felt that he was doomed to starve. Thirty years later, when I became minister of the same department for a short while, the number of officials posted was three times the places available.
The bribes shared by employees for registration of a single smuggled or stolen vehicle far exceeded their salaries. Another example: presently there are more liquor shops in Karachi to cater to its less than five per cent non-Muslim population than there were for the entire population in the past. Recently, a newspaper report said that it takes millions to procure licences.
Politicians, bureaucrats, soldiers, judges, traders, tax evaders, smugglers, you name it, are all caught in an ever-expanding web of corruption. The outcome of this in the tribal areas is called rebellion. Elsewhere, it is a crime. The so-called writ of the government is defied as much in civilised Karachi as in wild Waziristan. The form of defiance differs, the root cause is the same — corruption. In fact, all evils of society and instability in the country can be traced to corruption. Illiteracy and poverty are unfairly blamed.
In Transparency International’s annual corruption ratings Pakistan has been consistently among the worst. Countries like Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore are the least corrupt. Transparency ranks the countries surveyed ‘in terms of the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians’.
If it were also to take into account the money spent on electioneering, illicit trade, sale of jobs, misuse of government transport and, above all, nepotism and sifarish, Pakistan would find itself in the company of Myanmar and Somalia.
Paradoxically, the politics of conciliation and counter-terrorism, instead of lessening has boosted corruption. Having five ministers where one would do is one of the reasons why. The same, though to a lesser extent, applies to officials. Imagine a minister using two or more vehicles when he is entitled to just one.
Even a supposedly austere minister of tourism couldn’t resist snatching a Land Cruiser from his corporation chief causing a furor. In the compromise that followed, the minister kept the vehicle and the chairman got his job back.
The economy is in the dumps but corruption continues to boom. The people at the lower echelons of government see no earthly reason why they should not take bribes or squander public money when those at the top recklessly indulge in both, without fear of accountability. Even routine anti-corruption drives have been all but abandoned for they were only causing more corruption. Corrupt officials have nothing to worry about, for those who should check them don’t do their job as they are probably more corrupt themselves.
Imagine the irony and shame of it all. We broke away from India to preserve our Islamic way of life which, quintessentially, is marked by honesty in public dealings. Today, India ranks 50 places above Pakistan in the Transparency scale. India’s corruption graph is going down while ours has been creeping upwards and now seems poised to climb sharply.
Political leaders at the top have the legal authority to check corruption but lack the moral courage to do so, for they themselves, with few exceptions, live under the shadow of corruption. It goes all the way down the official ladder.
The two big chiefs of Pakistan’s politics — Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif — who are also said to be the richest should break this conspiracy of silent collusion by publicly declaring their wealth at home and abroad and letting us know how they made their money. Other party chiefs, generals, judges and secretaries should follow suit. The people must know how rich their rulers are even if they can’t stop them from getting richer.
Although Pakistan has asked for drone aircraft, helicopters and other equipment, the US administration has not yet said what equipment it was willing to provide.
Two top US defence officials – Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen – held extensive talks with Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani in Washington earlier this week.
Mr Gates also met a Pakistani delegation, which included the ISI chief and was headed by the foreign minister.
‘Well, I think one of the themes that, certainly, in my meetings with Pakistanis have been, how can we work more closely together? How can we help them be effective? How can we help ourselves by helping them?’ said Secretary Gates explaining what Pakistan expected from the United States.
‘Clearly, more intelligence is an important aspect of that. In terms of the drones specifically, that hasn't come up in my talks, but figuring out ways to help them have better intelligence to guide their operations, I think, is a positive thing and we ought to do as much as we can,’ he added.
Admiral Mullen also stressed the need to help Pakistan, saying: ‘It's very important that we help resource them and develop this comprehensive strategy with Pakistan over a number of years. And I'm delighted to see that kind of support in the ‘10 budget.’
Explaining what he believes Pakistan needs to fight terrorists, Admiral Mullen said: ‘The kind of capabilities —not just drones but other military capabilities support more precision, faster reaction, better operations, which is one of the things we focus on to try to assist the Pakistani military for a long time —certainly, newer —new capabilities, as we learn lessons.’
Pakistan, he said, has asked for equipment that would allow enhancing its defence capabilities and ‘I think we need to be mindful of that in trying to help them get better.’
Asked what kind of capabilities he was looking at, Admiral Mullen said: ‘In this case, it's the full spectrum of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, but it's what we've learned and used and how can we best, in the future, assist them in their operations with those kinds of capabilities.’
The fiscal year 2010 budget, sought by the Obama Administration, refocuses US resources to increase economic and military assistance for both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
According to the State Department, the budgetary request made to Congress in the new fiscal year, beginning October 1, 2009, ‘increases non-military aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan to revitalise economic development and confront the resurgence of the Taliban.’ The budget increases non-military assistance to both countries, providing additional funding for governance, reconstruction, counter-narcotics, and other development activities that will help counter extremists.
The budget expands the number of civilian personnel in Afghanistan and Pakistan in an effort to stabilise these countries, build government capacity, and successfully manage expanded assistance programs.
The administration’s request provides $533.7 billion for the Department of Defence base budget in 2010, a four-per cent increase over 2009, which includes appropriating resources on achieving the US objectives in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has been recognised as a keystone for regional stability. ‘In addition, we must leverage allied support to help struggling states such as Pakistan, which are the keystone for regional stability,’ a Defence Department budget request overview said.
Also on Saturday, a senior Pentagon official discussed the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan with Chinese officials in Beijing.
‘It is time now to refocus on Afghanistan and Pakistan,’ said President Obama while acknowledging that after 2001, the US lost focus on its goals in Afghanistan.
US goals in Afghanistan, he said, were not ‘clear enough’ and that’s why he has ordered a ‘head-to-toe, soup-to-nuts’ review of the Afghan policy.
‘Our minimal goal in Afghanistan is that we make sure that it's not a safe haven for al-Qaeda, they are not able to launch attacks of the sort that happened on 9/11 against the American homeland or American interests,’ he said.
Such a goal, he said, was achievable and the US will work with its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan to achieve this goal.
In interviews to CNN and PBS televisions, President Obama assured the Afghans that the United States was not interested in a long-term military presence in their country. But he said that his administration must set clear policy objectives before coming up with a plan to bring American troops home from Afghanistan.
Last week, President Obama decided to send additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan and invited two high-level delegations from Afghanistan and Pakistan to participate in an extensive review of US strategy for their region.
The US President has also appointed a special envoy – Richard Holbrooke – for negotiating with Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Mr Obama said the United States must work with allies to bring economic prosperity and political stability to the Afghan-Pakistan region.
Earlier Saturday, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for East Asia David Sedney met senior Chinese officials in Beijing and discussed the situation in the Afghan-Pakistan region with them.
‘The kinds of discussions we had about Pakistan and Afghanistan, those were where we really had a new level of dialogue that we hadn’t had before,’ he told reporters after the talks.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are ‘areas where we do have shared objectives,’ he added.
In a lead editorial the newspaper asks President Asif Ali Zardari and the leader of Pakistan Muslim League (N) Nawaz Sharif ‘to find a way to work together’ saying ‘their country is in mortal danger’ and they need ‘to save it.’
The Times recalled ‘when Mr Zardari became president, he pledged to unite the country’ but noted ‘he has not’.
‘We don’t know if Mr Zardari orchestrated this ruling, as Nawaz Sharif and many others have charged. (The government actually argued Mr Sharif’s side in the case, which stems from an earlier politically motivated criminal conviction.) We do know the danger of letting this situation get out of control.’
It also notes ‘like Mr Zardari, Mr Sharif is a flawed leader and no doubt is manipulating the combustible court ruling for personal political gain.’
It underscored that ‘for Pakistan’s democracy to survive, a robust opposition must be allowed to flourish and participate peacefully in the country’s political life. That includes finding a way for Mr Sharif to run for office.’
The newspaper asserts ‘Pakistan must get serious about tackling its problems, including the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Mr Zardari, whose wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated by extremists, seems to understand.’
However, the newspaper laments ‘unfortunately, the powerful chief of the Pakistani Army, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, still seems far more focused on the potential threat of India than the clear and present danger of the extremists. He is said to have supported the recent deal in which the government effectively ceded the Swat Valley — in the border region but just 100 miles from Islamabad— to militants in a misguided bid for a false peace.’
‘Pakistanis need to understand that this is their fight, not just America’s. We hope top American officials delivered that message loudly and clearly when General Kayani visited Washington this week’, the Times said.
The Times points out in a report this week, The Atlantic Council warned that Pakistan’s stability is imperiled and that the time to change course is fast running out. That would be quite enough for any government to deal with.
It is indeed unfortunate that India has rejected an offer, extended by Pakistan’s foreign secretary at the Saarc standing committee meeting in Colombo on Thursday, to resume the composite dialogue that was suspended after the assault on Mumbai. The composite dialogue had, before it was halted, done much to defuse tensions and improve cultural and trade ties between the two neighbours. Now, it seems, we are back to square one. This makes it all the more imperative that the peace process be restarted at the earliest.
Prior to the Mumbai massacre, some headway had been made in the long overdue demarcation of maritime borders, and that too beyond the usual confines of the conference table. Even an issue as thorny as Kashmir was up for discussion, with Pakistan showing unprecedented flexibility in its stance, a gesture that was sadly not reciprocated by India. The thaw produced by the composite dialogue saw the introduction of a bus service across the Line of Control, greater people-to-people contact, and musicians and actors being greeted with warmth whenever they crossed the border. Pakistanis travelled to India and Indians to Pakistan to see cricket matches between the two countries. For a time, all too brief as it turned out, it seemed that we had finally buried the hatchet and learned to live as neighbours.
India is now bent on exploiting the Mumbai tragedy to Pakistan's disadvantage. It has the sympathy of the western world and hundreds of millions of consumers for the products churned out by Europe and America. It touts itself, and is seen by the West, as secular. Pakistan, in contrast, is being called the most dangerous country on the face of the planet, where ‘jihadis’ can cut deals with a government that is unable to enforce its writ. New Delhi’s strategy stems partly from the historical grudge between the two countries, an almost primeval desire to grind the other into the dirt. But the more immediate reason is political: elections are due shortly in India and Pakistan-bashing will win votes. India must keep in mind, however, that after some initial lethargy Pakistan has bent over backwards to nab those with alleged links to the Mumbai assault. Engaging in a vendetta will serve neither country’s cause.
WHAT do we Pakistanis do when the Taliban are poised to take over large swathes of the country, and the economy is in freefall? We respond by creating a totally unnecessary political crisis that diverts attention from the real issues, and makes recovery even less likely.
The absurd situation caused by the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate the Sharif brothers from electoral politics is bound to cause chaos in the country for weeks. How it will ultimately play out is unclear, but the fallout is going to be highly radioactive, and will last for a very long time.
Although I have seldom seen eye to eye with Nawaz Sharif in terms of politics, I do recognise that he enjoys significant support, and therefore defend his right to lead his faction of the Muslim League. His stunning showing in last year’s election had positioned him to form the next government in Islamabad, and this is one probable reason why he has been sidelined.
Most Pakistanis had welcomed the PPP–PML-N coalition formed in the aftermath of the last elections. They had hoped that this partnership between the country’s two biggest parties would bring about a broad-based government that would guarantee a measure of stability and progress in a country wracked by a year-long agitation against Musharraf.
When this unnatural alliance soon broke up, Asif Zardari was blamed for dragging his feet over the restoration of the chief justice sacked by Musharraf. But any student of power politics could have predicted this. For Zardari to bring back a contentious judge who had expressed his strong reservations about the NRO would have amounted to political suicide. This is the ordinance that had allowed Zardari to be absolved of all charges, and has now elevated him to the highest public office in the land. To assume that he would have risked all this is to take him for a political novice.
Unfortunately, the higher judiciary is seen as thoroughly politicised and, whether right or wrong, Abdul Hamid Dogar is now widely viewed as Zardari’s man, while Iftikhar Chaudhry is seen to be on Nawaz Sharif’s team. This is nothing new. For the last 50 years, Pakistan’s justice system has been hostage to politics.
In the 1990s, a succession of elected governments were sacked, and their removal upheld by the Supreme Court. Earlier, this court not only supported Zia in his coup against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but also approved the prime minister’s execution. So in this climate of deep judicial involvement with the country’s power brokers, it is understandable that we should crave for an independent judiciary that can stand up to those in authority.
However, the truth is that judicial independence is not about an individual, but about a process. The struggle to restore Iftikhar Chaudhry was part of a wider anti-Musharraf movement. Once Musharraf had been forced out, the pro-Chaudhry protests lost a lot of their steam. People like my friend Aitzaz Ahsan have argued that it is not possible to have a democratic system without a free judiciary. But equally, it is not possible to have a free judiciary without a working democracy. In a sense, this is a chicken-and-egg situation. In most modern democracies, the two have progressed side by side, each supporting and protecting the other.
It is also true that in most democracies, there is a tension between the executive and the judiciary. When courts question or strike down the government’s decisions, rulers are naturally unhappy. It is the willingness to accept these rulings that defines a true democracy. In Pakistan, we are a long way from reaching this level of tolerance. Until Iftikhar Chaudhry came along, it had been unheard of for a ‘mere’ judge to question a military dictator. This is why his rulings were like a breath of fresh air. Now that the Supreme Court has reverted to type, there is naturally a deep sense of disappointment, and the lawyers are gearing up to launch another assault on the bastion of power. Many well-meaning people are asking why Zardari does not agree to restore the judiciary i.e. Iftikhar Chaudhry, and strike down the 17th Amendment that gives him the powers Musharraf had arrogated to himself.
The reality is that few people give up power willingly, and Zardari has not got to where he is by playing softball. Pakistani politics is a blood sport, and this president knows from personal experience what it feels like to be powerless. After years of jail and exile, he is not about to put himself in a position where he and the PPP can be hounded by vengeful political opponents.
Over the last year, Zardari has played his cards very shrewdly. First, he formed a coalition, then he forced out Musharraf, and finally had himself elected president by a large majority. But achieving power is one thing; wielding it effectively is quite another. Thus far, the PPP-led coalition government has remained largely bogged down in wheeling-dealing and power struggles. Very little of substance has emerged, despite the magnitude of the problems the country faces today.
This latest ploy to oust the Sharifs will do little to restore the government’s credibility, or to improve its performance. It has lurched from one crisis to another, unable to get its act together. With months of street protests in store, the PPP will be on the defensive, especially when the nasty business of cobbling together a government in Punjab begins in earnest. The Chaudhries of the PML-Q, Musharraf’s partners-in-crime, will extract a heavy price for their support.
As somebody who has supported the PPP, a secular party that stood firm against military dictatorship, it saddens me to see it reduced to its present condition. Today, Zardari enjoys vastly more power than Benazir Bhutto did in either of her two curtailed terms as prime minister. Blowing this opportunity to do some good is little short of criminal.
The noise you might hear is the laughter of the Taliban at the sight of Pakistan’s leaders playing politics as usual. The other sounds are the chuckles at GHQ.
The night before the Oscars, in India, we were re-enacting the last few scenes of Slumdog Millionaire. The ones in which vast crowds of people – poor people – who have nothing to do with the game show, gather in the thousands in their slums and shanty towns to see if Jamal Malik will win. Oh, and he did. He did. So now everyone, including the Congress Party, is taking credit for the Oscars that the film won!
The party claims that instead of India Shining it has presided over India 'Achieving'. Achieving what? In the case of Slumdog, India's greatest contribution, certainly our political parties’ greatest contribution is providing an authentic, magnificent backdrop of epic poverty, brutality and violence for an Oscar-winning film to be shot in. So now that too has become an achievement? Something to be celebrated? Something for us all to feel good about? Honestly, it's beyond farce. And here’s the rub: Slumdog Millionaire allows real-life villains to take credit for its cinematic achievements because it lets them off the hook. It points no fingers, it holds nobody responsible. Everyone can feel good. And that’s what I feel bad about.
So that’s about what’s not in the film. About what’s in it: I thought it was nicely shot. But beyond that, what can I say other than that it is a wonderful illustration of the old adage, ‘there's a lot of money in poverty’. The debate around the film has been framed – and this helps the film in its multi-million-dollar promotion drive – in absurd terms. On the one hand we have the old 'patriots' parroting the line that "it doesn't show India in a Proper Light' (by now, even they’ve been won over thanks to the Viagra of success). On the other hand, there are those who say that Slumdog is a brave film that is not scared to plum the depths of India 'not-shining'. Slumdog Millionaire does not puncture the myth of ‘India shining'— far from it. It just turns India 'not-shining' into another glitzy item in the supermarket. As a film, it has none of the panache, the politics, the texture, the humour, and the confidence that both the director and the writer bring to their other work. It really doesn’t deserve the passion and attention we are lavishing on it. It's a silly screenplay and the dialogue was embarrassing, which surprised me because I loved The Full Monty (written by the same script writer). The stockpiling of standard, clichéd, horrors in Slumdog are, I think, meant to be a sort of version of Alice in Wonderland – ‘Jamal in Horrorland’. It doesn't work except to trivialize what really goes on here. The villains who kidnap and maim children and sell them into brothels reminded me of Glenn Close in 101 Dalmatians.
Politically, the film de-contextualises poverty – by making poverty an epic prop, it disassociates poverty from the poor. It makes India’s poverty a landscape, like a desert or a mountain range, an exotic beach, god-given, not man-made. So while the camera swoops around in it lovingly, the filmmakers are more picky about the creatures thatinhabit this landscape. To have cast a poor man and a poor girl, who looked remotely as though they had grown up in the slums, battered, malnutritioned, marked by what they’d been through, wouldn't have been attractive enough. So they cast an Indian model and a British boy. The torture scene in the cop station was insulting. The cultural confidence emanating from the obviously British 'slumdog' completely cowed the obviously Indian cop, even though the cop was supposedly torturing the slumdog. The brown skin that two share is too thin to hide a lot of other things that push through it. It wasn’t a case of bad acting – it was a case of the PH balance being wrong. It was like watching black kids in a Chicago slum speaking in Yale accents. Many of the signals the film sent out were similarly scrambled. It made many Indians feel as though they were speeding on a highway full of potholes. I am not making a case for verisimilitude, or arguing that it should not have been in English, or suggesting anything as absurd as 'outsiders can never understand India.' I think plenty of Indian filmmakers fall into the same trap. I also think that plenty of Indian filmmakers have done this story much, much better. It's not surprising that Christian Colson – head of Celedor, producers of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ – won the Oscar for the best film producer. That's what Slumdog Millionaire is selling: the cheapest version of the Great Capitalist dream in which politics is replaced by a game show, a lottery in which the dreams of one person come true while, in the process, the dreams of millions of others are usurped, immobilizing them with the drug of impossible hope (work hard, be good, with a little bit of luck you could be a millionaire).
The pundits say that the appeal of the film lies in the fact that while in the West for many people riches are turning to rags, the rags to riches story is giving people something to hold on to. Scary thought. Hope, surely, should be made of tougher stuff. Poor Oscars. Still, I guess it could have been worse. What if the film that won had been like Guru – that chilling film celebrating the rise of the Ambanis. That would have taught us whiners and complainers a lesson or two. No?
Asif Ali Zardari’s grin has accompanied every big headline in the recent past. Despite the sorry state of affairs that have bestowed our country, that ear-to-ear beam coupled with the trademark V-sign has been splashed across televisions, newspapers and websites.
We here at dawn.com have a lot of tasks at hand and one of the most crucial one is of course to find a suitable image with every story we publish. However, President Zardari has made this relatively easy aspect of our job quite hard. As being the leader of this land of the pure, we need sober, serious and sometimes grim pictures of him. Finding one of those, however, has become close to impossible.
Whether he is meeting with leaders in neighbouring countries, standing outside 10 Downing Street, pacifying the country after the Marriott bombing or sharing a hug with Singh, that giant grin has always persistently glowed on his face. And so we resort to finding file pictures of him – but then we have to face the moustache issue. Now that there is no moustache, older pictures are unacceptable. Now we have the slicked back, spectacled look which needless to say is accompanied each time by that toothy smile.
What choice do we have then but to recycle the same pictures over and over again? We have a serious one or two from the UN General Assembly, which often come in handy. Then we also have a few random ones from a Parliament address and so we savour those pictures and keep them in a very sacred folder.
But in the past few days, we had come across a change and our red-flags had started waving. In these troubled times where one would turn to any hope they can cling on, we saw our President’s grin dwindle. Could it have been an indication of worse times to come, or was it a sign of sober sincerity taking over our leader?
Either way, we here at dawn.com appreciated the change and for starters, we now had a picture to match every story. The diverse expressions caused us to breathe a sigh of relief – but then came the Punjab governor rule development. Now that the PPP has decided to instal its government in Punjab, does it mean that the grin will come back? What is your take on this smile that has lingered on for far too long?
Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer has announced immediate restoration of administrative, financial and constitutional powers of the district Nazims in the province. Besides, the governor has also announced to withdraw the cases registered against them, saying that they were based on political victimisation. He made this announcement while talking to the media after chairing a meeting of 28 district Nazims on Saturday.Khanewal Nazim Ahmad Yar Hiraj, Jhang Nazim Sultan Hameed, Khushab Nazim Malik Ghulam Muhammad Tiwana, Chakwal Nazim Sardar Ghulam Abbas, Rawalpindi Nazim Raja Javed Akhlas, Gujranwala Nazim Ch Fayyaz Chattha, Sialkot Nazim Akmal Cheema, Rahimyar Khan Nazim Sardar Rafiq Haider Laghari, Nankana Nazim Mumtaz Ali Shah and Narowal Nazim Dr Naimat Ali Javed attended the meeting. The governor said all the commissioners and the district coordination officers had also been directed to respect the Nazims and facilitate them in the execution of their development projects. He said the government wanted to continue the development schemes in the province by working together. He said the government would strengthen the district Nazims. Earlier, addressing the meeting, he said the funds of the Nazims, which were frozen a year ago, would be released to the district governments according to the Provincial Finance Award and its notification would be issued this week.Funds for reforming the education sector would be released later whereas the ongoing projects of the Citizens Community Boards have immediately been restored. The governor said the district governments are the foundation of democracy, which cannot flourish without the local body system.He said the Nazims could have their personal affiliations but the institution of the district government was a platform for development.Taseer announced to 'cap' the funds released to DCOs on verbal orders by the previous provincial government and the concerned DCOs could no longer utilise these funds. He said these funds were released in violation of the Local Government Ordinance.The governor said the government would speedily execute the Rs 34 billion Lahore-Sialkot Motorway project. He announced immediate release of two billion rupees for land acquisition, which was stopped by the previous government. He said the offices taken away from the district Nazims would be given them back in certain districts.He said the Nazims would hold open Kutcherys twice a month for resolving problems of the people. The provincial government has issued directions to all DCOs and DPOs to give respect to the constitutional status of the Nazims and ensure their participation in the open Kutcherys and implement the orders of the Nazims, he added.
Announces opening of provincial assembly doors By Asim YasinISLAMABAD: Pledging new efforts for the reconciliatory politics that has been put on the back burner following the Supreme Court verdict, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani assured the National Assembly on Saturday that if the PPP could not prove its majority in the Punjab Assembly, it would feel comfortable to sit on the opposition benches.“If we did not get the majority to form the government, we will not hesitate to sit on the opposition benches,” he said while addressing the lower house of parliament after the marathon speech of leader of the opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan that lasted three hours.The PML-N parliamentarians were ready to boycott the session. They started raising the slogans but when the prime minister stood up, they came back to listen to his speech.The prime minister said there was concern that the federal government wanted to deprive the PML-N of right to rule the Punjab with the imposition of governor’s rule. “I can assure you there is no need for horse-trading,” he argued.The prime minister in a reconciliatory tone hinted that there was a difference of opinion in the PPP over the imposition of governor’s rule, but when the party took a decision, everyone had to follow the party line. “When the PPP took decision about the imposition of governor’s rule in the Punjab, the government was left with no option but to support the decision,” he added.The prime minister said, “We believe in reconciliation and want to take along all the people to save the system. For every wrong, there is a remedy. Every problem has its solution and I am sure that we will find the solution to governor’s rule in the Punjab as well,” he said.He assured the House that governor’s rule was imposed for two months and it would not be extended. “ Governor’s rule was imposed in the province but the assembly was not suspended and today the doors were also opened and the members could requisite the session of their House,” he said.The prime minister said the governor was empowered to convene a session of the assembly for ascertainment of the leader of the House any time, even tomorrow.Gilani said he had no idea as to what would be the Supreme Court’s verdict in Sharif brothers’ eligibility case.He insisted that he was unaware of the court’s verdict till it was announced. “I would not have invited Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to the Prime Ministerís House and urged reconciliation if I had been aware of the court verdict,” he said.He said immediately after the announcement of the verdict he made a telephonic call to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.The MNAs from PML-N who were continuously protesting and chanting slogans on their leaders’ disqualification and imposition of governor’s rule made no interruption in PM’s address.The prime minister said that he had advised his party MNAs not to respond to the opposition benches’ slogans, as he knew that the PML-N would protest in the session. “We need a policy of reconciliation at this time to save the system,” he added.Responding to opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s question about the summoning of the session in such an emergency, the prime minister said the government called the session immediately to discuss the situation. “It’s the house where you are free to express your views and apprehensions. You have freedom of expression here,” the PM said, requesting the opposition benches not to chant slogans as this practice according to him ruins sanctity of the Parliament.The prime minister said that the 1973 Constitution was a consensus document and it was our responsibility to safeguard it. He said the PPP was committed to undoing 17th Amendment in the constitution and would support a consensus bill for this purpose. “It is our firm resolve to undo the 17th Amendment when the consensus bill is moved in this regard in the House,” he added.The prime minister said the PPP and the PML-N had also opposed the constitution of the National Security Council that was a brainchild of the dictator. “We will not accept any institution which is not answerable to the Parliament so I had asked the Law Ministry to prepare a bill for winding up the National Security Council, which is an undemocratic institution,” he added.He said the government believed in strengthening the Parliament and therefore, the cabinet took the decision to convene the session of the National Assembly immediately to discuss the situation triggered by imposition of governor’s rule in the Punjab.Referring to the Swat peace deal, the prime minister said he directed the law minister to constitute a committee consisting of all the stakeholders to sort out the issues involved.He said the government was pursuing a policy of dialogue, development and deterrence to deal with the problem of militancy and extremism.About Nizam-e-Adl regulations in Swat, he said the same regulations were in vogue in the area under the British rule and even Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto also agreed to enforce these regulations back in 1994-95. “We should respect customs and traditions of the local people about quick dispensation of justice,” he said.The prime minister reminded the opposition that the president is also a part of the Parliament and he should be given due respect. “The 1973 Constitution is a present by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the PPP believes in the supremacy of the constitution and will perform its due role to safeguarding it,” he said.
Many of us had seen this coming but the aftermath of the Supreme Court disqualification of the Sharif brothers and the imposition of governor's rule in Punjab is still too fearful to contemplate with any sense of equanimity. And the pity is that this explosive distraction in our lives has come at a time when there is so much else that this country should earnestly be doing to warrant its well-being and even survival. Do we, collectively, suffer from some kind of a death wish?Almost one year after the induction of the present government, what really have we achieved in terms of an impact on the lives of the ordinary people? Instead, one great resource that we had at this time one year ago – hope – has not only been thrown away but has been replaced with dark misgivings about the future. There is even an apprehension that the present drift could lead to bloodshed and anarchy. Our people, already afflicted with numerous deprivations, have now to cope with the awesome emotional burden of extreme uncertainty. One doctrine of necessity in such circumstances is their yearning for some order and peace. In 'Democracy in America', Alex de Tocqueville, so long ago, wrote about what happens to a people beset with anxiety: "The taste for public tranquillity then becomes a blind passion, and the citizens are liable to conceive a most inordinate devotion to order". What this means is very obvious. Swat is also an example, where the government's apparent surrender is welcomed by the locals for the sake of peace. If there is hope, people will be willing to wade through any dark patch and suffer hardships. In fact, hope in the future is the seed for change, including revolutionary change. How the hope that the lawyers' movement had cultivated in our hearts was brutally suppressed is the real tragedy of our present crisis. We had initially expected to gain, as the outcome of a movement that was also a celebration of the freedom of the media and the involvement of the civil society, a shift in our public affairs towards morality and principles. In that sense, the crisis of Pakistan is not merely political or economic. In its essence, it is moral and social. We need justice and fair play. Politicians anywhere are viewed with some suspicion but they cannot survive without building a measure of trust and credibility in the eyes of the people. We know how any revelation of a serious misdemeanour or wrongdoing on the part of politicians and public officials can destroy their career in any respectable democracy. Our democracy, in spite of the lessons that we should learn from repeated military interventions, is refusing to grow. Every time an election is held and civilian rule is introduced, there is expectation that a new beginning will be possible. Last year, the stage was set for such a new beginning. But a number of fateful deviations – and our essential lack of freedom – has led us to more of the same in a vicious replay of the nineties. Hence, look at where we have arrived as the month of March, with its proverbial intimations of disorder, begins. We need not have waited for the ides of March. Incidentally, this reference, with its sense of foreboding, is from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar". It would be instructive for us to read it again, if only to understand how the Roman mobs had swayed the events in an ancient time. Ah, but we seem to be still living in ancient times. Talking about hope, and about trust and morality, will be totally out of place in the midst of developments that have followed the events of Wednesday. If horse-trading – the lota business – has been the most sinful and detestable business in our politics, a high percentage increase in this exercise has been promised by the announcement of President Asif Ali Zardari that the next chief minister of Punjab would be from the Pakistan People's Party. Where are the numbers, for God's sake? At the outset, I said that this upheaval has distracted our attention from some very crucial issues. Our present struggle against religious extremism comes readily to mind. Our need for good governance, something akin to life-saving drugs for a patient lying in intensive care, is critical. Look at how the shuffling of the bureaucratic cards in the provincial administration has played havoc with the simple task of running the administration on a day to day basis. In a larger context, vital sectors like education and health have to be neglected. At the same time that there is this impression of hectic activity on the streets and in the corridors of power, we are in effect standing still. The US-Pakistan-Afghanistan talks in Washington, constituting a part in the American review of its policy towards this region, have just ended. It was not a good sign for the present political crisis in our country to overlap with these deliberations. We can imagine what picture of Pakistan will have emerged in these talks. Or was this just another footnote in the formulations that have been made about Pakistan being the most dangerous country in the world? According to published reports, US lawmakers, think-tank experts and officials have warned that Pakistan is on the verge of an economic meltdown and a possible political disintegration. One wonders how Richard Holbrooke's professorial mind would cope with all this confusion and complexity. The US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan had made his visit to Pakistan prior to the talks in Washington to "listen and learn the ground realities in this critically important country". He may still have a lot to learn about how we run our country in times of grave emergencies. It is not easy to predict how this confrontation between the Nawaz League and the Zardari PPP will evolve in the immediate context and how it will conclude. As I said, today is only the first day of March and the Long March of the lawyers is less than two weeks away. Perhaps it was to subvert the lawyers' protest that Zardari conceived of this grand plan to remove a government that would have supported the lawyers. With the governor's rule in place, the lawyers would confront an adversary in the main arena of their struggle. But many things can happen between now and the launching of the Long March. Meanwhile, the entire edifice of justice seems to have crumbled. We have a tragic history of how judgments made in our higher courts, usually in the service of the rulers of the time, have led us into wilderness. Where will the present crisis take us? Unfortunately, we don't know where we are going.
By Shandana Minhas
Big decisions are never spontaneous (though sometimes we wish those making them would do us all a favour and spontaneously combust). If the Feb 25 verdict of the Supreme Court to uphold a ban on the Sharifs holding public office was indeed a political rather than judicial one, what grand plan were they facilitating? There is a host of theories to choose from. Such is the intensity of revulsion for President Zardari that some are taking it simply as yet another example of his growing megalomania, the logical progression of absolute power corrupting absolutely. Zardari got rid of Nawaz Sharif 'because he is the most popular leader in Pakistan. Sharif outstripped him in a recent poll about which of them Pakistanis would prefer as president--a bit like asking people to choose between Haiga and Sargam that. But Zardari's fluid outmanoeuvring of all opposition in his current incarnation as political animal suggests he--or his "advisers" are--smart enough to understand that the verdict will make Sharif more rather than less visible, if not popular. His is not the only hand that rocks the cradle. Sharif has taken a page out of his rival's book and reinvented himself as a democrat par excellence, aligning himself with the lawyers' movement seeking a restoration of Iftikhar Chaudhry, much like the PPP leadership before its convenient attack of collective amnesia. His determination to finally keep a promise-- how nice it would have been if he had remembered his oath to uphold the Constitution as Prime Minister while his minions were kidnapping journalists, storming the supreme court and smashing that portrait of Jinnah not so long ago--is what on the surface of it ultimately led to the parting of ways between the PPP and the PML-N. It is also being touted as another reason the federal government is seeking to neutralise his party. By "independent judiciary" the Sharifs presumably mean one that would support the PML-N's strategy rather than the PPP's. Sharif has revealed--rather belatedly, considering it happened a month ago: is that the average gestation period for a differentiation between right and wrong in your mind, Sir?--that "Zardari had tried to offer a business deal to his brother if he supported the legitimacy of the Supreme Court," branding the judgment "an edict, not a verdict."PPP stalwarts have yet to break ranks. They might be on board the "attempt to finally wrest control of Pakistan's most populous province." They might be giving their chairperson enough rope to hang himself with so they don't have to do it later. They might be dim witted and emotional enough to capitulate to this flashback to the politics of negativity that characterised the nineties. But what if it is not microevolution that is calling the shots but macroevolution? What is the situation in the rest of Pakistan as an unpopular governor's rule destabilises Punjab? In the NWFP, anti-state elements benefit from the distraction by entrenching themselves further. US drone attacks target the Afghan Taliban while others work to preserve the local Taliban, aiming for more leverage against an India-US nexus in the regional poker game. In Balochistan no serious headway has been made in the plan to engage with rather than exploit valid grievances, leaving ample room for militants to make further inroads. Infrastructure development translates into building a dam in the religiously sensitive, ecologically blessed, protected habitat of the Hingol National Park. An administration willing and able to negotiate with anti-Pakistan forces determined to dismember it refuses to do the same for what too many governments have seemed to consider the children of a lesser god.That leaves Sindh, the land of the once bountiful river and the radicalised Mohajir. The police has just released a report saying the Taliban have established strongholds in Karachi. The ruling MQM has quietly thrown its weight behind the decision to oust the Sharifs, saying in a statement on Friday that while it "had sympathy" for the brothers the court's conclusion had been based on "merit." What will happen in March then, if Nawaz Sharif comes to Sindh and the lawyers and the PML-N seek to mobilise their cadres on MQM-PPP turf? Will there be a repeat of the bloodshed witnessed when Iftikhar Chaudhry landed in Karachi? Will those still unidentified "rogue elements" that terrorised this city after Benazir was assassinated mysteriously reappear to ensure all parts of our country are in turmoil?That is the local scenario. Internationally too, the plot continues to chicken (different from thicken, in that it lays little baby plot eggs). India claims to have tied a Pakistani colonel to the Mumbai attacks. A whole lot of American soldiers will shortly be heading to the region. Obama's administration is waving the stick in our direction. The ripple effect of the global economic crisis continues to intensify. Everyone is vulnerable, but no one is sure what they are most vulnerable to, exactly.I can identify one thing, at least. It is times like this when our peculiar brand of Stockholm syndrome tends to kick in. We look most anxiously towards those who are our captors, squinting against the light so they seem to be saviours. Where is Kayani, the echoes ask, where is our army chief while all this is unfolding? The wisdom or lack thereof of that damned souls-in-distress philosophy of life can be well illustrated by an answer to that question. General Kayani, a perennial beneficiary of fortuitous travel planning, was last sighted at a gathering of an American military institute's best and brightest, to be inducted into its hall of fame. He is apparently only the fourth Pakistani military man to have been awarded this honour. The most famous of the other recipients would have to be one Zia-ul-Haq. Enough said.
The monkey-takeover is underway full speed– with all due apologies to many self-respecting monkeys that still live here, who have been supplanted by a more vicious strain of monkeys determined to grab whatever is left of Pakistan. The very word, Pakistan is one very confusing word. One word and a billion images piling up helter skelter, each one creating, adding and causing more confusion. Does that even begin to describe what is going on? Of course it doesn't. What about a trillion Piranha fish engaged in a mad feeding frenzy and ultimately turning inwards and feeding off one another? Perhaps that explains it but then again, not quite. In Rome it was a solitary emperor who mournfully played the lyre while the city burnt, but here there is a gigantic, super-space philharmonic orchestra comprising thousands of non-musical musicians, some with instruments and many with hoes, sickles, hammers, saws and whatever else they can lay their hands on. Instead of some harmony, a cacophony of shrill wailing and false notes echoes and re-echoes rising in pitch, till even plugging ears and burying heads in tons of soft sand cannot save you from this unearthly, unholy assault on whatever little remains of your senses. Pakistan has gone mad and we can't even blame the cows for it though the variety that now create the moves that create the chaos are not too far from what cows are tagged with and rabid dogs are known for.On top of it, everyone lies. That really causes confusion and conflict on a scale simply beyond human control. Everyone gets up everyday and starts to lie through the day. The higher they go, the worse the lies. The stakes can be huge or they can be petty but the lying goes ahead regardless. It is the new religion, the new creed and it prevails from one end of this country to the other. If anyone were to tell the truth, probably the rivers will start to flow upstream. The PM and AZ are playing what resembles a great game of ping pong, the people volunteering unwillingly to be the little plastic balls that go bouncing all over the place. In their hands, the two hold huge racquets and on this great table of chaos are millions of their supporters and abettors, all holding racquets and swatting the balls whichever way they can. There is no game plan. There is no need for one. Forwards and backwards the balls fly, apparently possessed with minds of their own and the mad game continues with shouting and swearing renting what little is left of the air. Those idiots who were hoping that things would settle down to some reasonable level and this country, shackled as it is in a million problems could begin the very long journey of starting to solve some of these problems, have now received so many resounding slaps that they can't see straight. It is a nation of cross-eyed people, miserably flailing about as they get hit by fresh dung cakes from their great leaders. Yesterday's foes are today's lovers and friends of yesterday are now arch enemies. You need a chart to plot and understand who is bedding whom and why and if not, why not. Thus the vision of the Chaudhries and the PPP sharing pajamas is – well what can one say?AZ apparently does not even get out of bed without consulting the PM who then announces to whoever is listening that he has secured the slippers which we all will understand to mean that AZ is out of his bed. This way the ping pong continues and the buck travels up and down, sideways and in loops without making any sense whatsoever. All this and more we all know so why mention it again? The answer is – of course there are no real answers here ever, that as citizens trapped here, we have no choice but to see and endure these painfully tumultuous times but since we are looking more and more like cattle, rulers are convinced that they can continue to get away with anything they can cook up at that dodgy eatery in Islamabad and other equally shady houses across the land. Will the people rise? Most of us believe that we are dead from inside, that nothing really moves us or shakes us, that the worst bestiality man can impose on man – in Pakistan it is mostly directed at the poor women, can occur here and people will not turn a hair. What is unfolding daily, this mad race for grabbing everything, is nauseating and it would be great to simply ignore it, stop reading the newspapers, switch the infernal TV channels off and throw away the radios, but we are caught in the big cycle and willing or unwilling, get yoked at random day after day to some grubby plan at the core of which lies money, power and control. 'This is no way to run a railroad,' as the man famously said, but this is the way the railroad is being run, even though it has gone off the rails.A 3 member bench in Islamabad issues a two liner and sets into motion more chaos. The question is why couldn't they issue a one liner? Why waste an extra line? It's something we will have to ask their lordships at the next wedding ceremony. And March has not really begun yet. The summer approaches in a most menacing way and none of us can really even begin to imagine what it's going to bring. We are broke, our much-touted 'Friends of Pakistan' have disappeared into the sunset, the begging bowl is bigger and more battered looking than ever before and it is asking for alms from anywhere that can spare a dime for this crumbly 'citadel' of Islam. Water, gas, power, money, law and order, good governance are all out the window. This is dog eat dog if you wish to demean the dogs – perhaps pigs might be a better way to put it. As our problems multiply at bewildering speed, all we seem to wish to do is go back again and again to the first room and start the fighting anew. Because solving problems requires thinking and serious, determined action; this 'democratic' order has absolutely no interest in going that way. All it seems to want is to get into bed with anyone which might help grab more of the pie. This may be interesting news for anthropologists or those studying the behavior of chimps; it does not do much good to the country. Immigration lines get longer and more desperate. Actually it is not half a bad idea. If we could, we should all leave Pakistan and let the 100 odd (indeed, very odd) power-brokers do whatever they wish to do. They can allocate all the land to themselves, grab whatever they see or wish for and be answerable to no one at all. With the people out of the equation, this could be paradise on earth. Other than that, none of us can see any hope in the days ahead. What more cheerful news can one ask for on a Sunday morning?
On Feb 25 another nail was hammered into the coffin of Pakistani democracy as the Supreme Court declared Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif ineligible to contest elections or hold public office, precipitating the fall of the Punjab government. The issue here is not just that of the Sharif brothers' eligibility to enter the corridors of power. It is the far more weighty matter of the shredding of the fabric of democracy. Let there be no mistake about it; this is no less damaging than Musharraf's coup against the judiciary in the form of his PCO of Nov 3, 2007, which made the judiciary subservient to the government and eventually resulted in his own downfall, or the pre-election deal between the People's Party and Musharraf in the form of the NRO, under which corruption and criminal conduct by pliable politicians was legalised and the failed leaders of the past were once again unleashed on the nation. The key word here is "pliable," because the NRO was applied very selectively. As a result, even those with murder cases against them, not to mention a number of corruption cases, were rinsed clean to set off in pursuit of high offices, even obstacles like minimum education requirements being swept away in the blink of an eye, whereas the Sharif brothers now stand disqualified.The clichéd adage that democracy is the rule of the people, by the people, for the people bears repetition here. It is the will of the people, not court verdicts, that legitimises and lends moral sanction to the exercise of political power. Musharraf's PCO, continued by the present dispensation despite Benazir Bhutto's pledge to revoke it, has politicised the judiciary and eroded the moral authority of the august institution. Besides, from the Maulvi Tamizuddin Case to the Dosso Case, the Begum Nusrat Bhutto Case and the Zafar Ali Shah Case, not to mention the perceived judicial murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, there is a litany of judicial letdowns of epic proportions for which the nation is still paying a heavy penalty. If the government wants to rule by the will of the courts rather than the will of the people, then what do they have to say about all these infamous decisions that are a blot on our judicial history and which the People's Party bemoans to this day? Legal systems and apparatuses are pivotal to any society, but laws can not become an impediment in the free exercise of the will of the masses. Public will must be supreme and can not be subverted. On the occasions when a law or institution clashes with the will of the people, it is invariably the public will that must prevail.If proof was required that the verdict disqualifying the Sharif brothers was a political one, it came just hours after the verdict in the form of imposition of governor's rule in Punjab for two months, following which the assembly premises were padlocked. What was the need for this? The Supreme Court only disqualified two men, not the whole Punjab provincial assembly. This forum of the people should have been allowed to elect a new leader of the house according to the rules. But this pre-emptive strike by the Aiwan-e-Sadr has proved that, along with sidelining the Sharifs, the impetus behind the disqualification verdict was to dismantle the PML-N government in Punjab. Having abandoned the people of Swat to their fate, the government has now done a hatchet job on the Punjab government. Despite futile lip service to the contrary, this government is systematically rooting out all vestiges of democracy from the country to impose its own draconian will. Now, during the course of governor's rule, we are likely to witness the worst kind of horse trading as the federal government's unelected hatchet man in Lahore sets about to secure a majority for his master in the Punjab Assembly by using the might of the state at his disposal. The People's Party has reportedly already set out to woo the party they themselves called "Qatil League." This is "reconciliation" for us.Elimination of political foes by those in power is an old abhorrent practice. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged because a superpower wanted him out of the way and also because Zia knew the consequences he would have to face if Bhutto returned to power. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated because she began to display a streak of independence, causing the powers that once supported her to lose confidence in her. Nawaz Sharif also did not fit into the mould of the present setup designed by the foreign masters who rule our destiny. He refused to distance himself from the issue of restoration of the judges, he opposed the proxy war being waged in the northern regions on their behalf and he refused to obediently continue Musharraf's policies, all of which the present government is doing unflinchingly.Cooperation with adversaries, even under the lofty banner of national interest, is just not part of our politicians' DNA. As such, the PPP-PML-N alliance was as unnatural an alliance as one could ever imagine. The two parties, or their leaders, have nothing in common. No one expected the peculiar honeymoon to last even as long as it did. What is amazing is that an experienced politician like Nawaz Sharif, who has twice been elected prime minister and Punjab chief minister, could not see all this coming and is now reduced to lamenting the stab in his back and quoting poetry.So far, this government has gone out of its way to secure its hold on power, while doing nothing at all to lift the country out of the economic and security crises it is drowning in. A dirty power game, in which all evils are regarded as fair, has come to define the limits of politics today. Some people are impressed at the wheeling and dealing by which the present rulers secured power and high office. Obtaining power is not difficult if you are willing to completely abandon all traces of principles and scruples. The real magic lies not in making shady deals to save your skin, but in achieving the desired results by taking on the forces aligned against you without sacrificing principles and dignity at the alter of expediency. Therein lies honour. If Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's legacy lives on to this day and is a source of sustenance for his far less worthy successors, it is because he faced great odds and made the ultimate sacrifice rather than prostrating himself before his enemies or opting for shady deals. But such notions of honour and principles, not to mention the princely art of statecraft and good governance, have become relics of a bygone era. Nowadays greatness is measured not by honour or moral ascendancy but by the ability to get into power, even at the sacrifice of all that is noble and honest.This verdict will cast an ominous shadow over the future. Seeds of discontent have been sown in the largest province and the government will have to face the consequences. The will of the people cannot be eclipsed by court verdicts. Is this not the argument the People's Party used in the past, claiming that they had been maligned by political opponents and that the final decision should be left in the hands of the people? The shoe is now on the other foot. The only remaining course of action, if democracy is to be salvaged, is a fresh appeal to the electorate in Punjab for a new mandate. The same also applies at the national level, if the approaching sound of long boots is to be silenced. Let the people decide.The writer is vice-chairman of the Sindh National Front.
Everyone wonders in agony if there will ever be an end to crises and tragedies in our benighted country. We in Pakistan seem to have somehow so mismanaged our affairs as to confront ourselves with dire peril and ceaseless chaos. We are a "warrior" nation and have been tirelessly fighting wars. These are not military wars alone. Our wars have been of all sorts and scale. We have been fighting proxy wars for others but mostly we have been fighting fratricidal, communal, sectarian, and political wars of our own. These have been suicidal wars. We have been killing ourselves and our own institutions. We have been squandering our future. We have paid an immeasurable price in these wars, and continue to pay a heavy price for our governance failures and leadership miscarriages. And still we take no lessons from our wretched history. Instead, we have limited our worldview only to "this evening's breaking news and tomorrow morning's headlines." In our country's politics, what people "know" and "understand" largely depends on what they see, hear, and feel and how they think and act. But in looking at what our leaders do or not do, all we see what is not, and see not what is, because all of us are captives of their whims and with illusions already embedded in our minds, we like to interpret what we want to see or what is easiest to see because we just suppose we have no alternative.This is a dilemma which was illustrated twenty-five centuries ago by none other that world's most renowned political thinker, Plato who had warmed: "Behold! Human beings living in an underground den...here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so they cannot move, and can only see before them... Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance and between the fire and the prisoners there is a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets." This is our political scene today. Our people are no more than the puppets or wooden marionettes. We are what T.S Eliot would have depicted as "hollow men" or a group of "human beings living in the dark, leaning together with dried voices and quiet whispers, shape without form, shade without colour, a paralyzed force with gesture without motion. We are a nation without values. We have no convictions. Even our sins lack conviction. We don't take anything to heart. Look, how remorselessly we digested the tragedy of 1971, the worst that could happen to any country.