May 30, 2010

Damned if they do, damned if they don’t

The spectre of economic crisis still haunts the US economy, which is charaterised by high rates of deflation and unemployment

By Pradeep S Mehta and Anurag Srivastan

The US treasury report ostensibly aimed at decreeing China a currency manipulator, has not been released as was scheduled for the 15th of April this year. The repeated postponement of the release is to avoid the tumult that may follow the US assuming an explicit stance on the currency issue and imposing tariffs on Chinese imports. Such tumult would be a natural outcome given that the Chinese are likely to retaliate with an escalation of tariff walls with adverse implications for the Americans.

The delay may be good for the US, China and even the rest of the world since it buys all parties some time to reflect on a way out of the delicate imbalance in regard to ‘balance of payments’ involving the Americans and Chinese. Even if the mentioned report never sees the light of day, it is time for a serious rethink on global currency regimes and their regulation, as explained below.

The spectre of the economic crisis still haunts the US economy, which is charaterised by high rates of deflation and unemployment, low asset values and economic stagnation. With Congressional elections round the corner, bashing the Chinese is obviously a sound strategy. Several members of the US congress have been blaming the undervalued yuan, pegged to the US dollar for the last two years, for America’s economic difficulties. However, this might not be the complete picture.

Over time, an imbalance between the real and the financial side of the economy has emerged in the US with financial values of assets assuming magnitudes not based on values of underlying real assets. In turn, this has meant that traditional linkages such as that between productivity and wage have been broken. This has led to distortions in the economic structure with adverse ramifications.

One major outcome is the reliance of recent American growth on creation of demand through debt and asset price inflation. This in turn has also resulted in external imbalances. It deserves mention in this regard that US consumers consume and invest more than they produce and the associated deficits have to be financed by surpluses generated by other countries.

The American financial markets chased these surpluses which favoured formation of speculative bubbles. Asset prices rose to unrealistic levels and as the money flowed, people were willing to make even riskier investments. Finally, there was an implosion in the US securities market that precipitated the global economic crisis.

There is tangible pressure to correct this anomaly by the US Congress which is of the opinion that the Chinese policy of foreign reserve accumulation for influencing its currency valuation is a form of manipulation which makes its exports cheaper and imports expensive. The Congress contends that this has created a trade deficit in recent years and has been a major factor behind the loss of manufacturing jobs in the USA.

Although there is some truth to what the Congress is crying foul over, it is equally true that the US consumers and corporations have for years gained from the supply of low cost Chinese goods and material inputs, with the latter providing US a global competitive advantage in the market for certain high end products. The Chinese have in turn accumulated dollar reserves and benefited from unprecedented growth, high employment and the status of having ‘arrived’ in the global economic power club.

The Chinese yuan, pegged to the dollar was modestly reformed in 2005 though the US Congress does not consider it enough. The Chinese dilemma emerges from the fact that a strong and stable US economy is in China’s interests as its largest export market. Hence it is willing to continue funding the US debt though aware of the possibility of inflationary ramifications for the US and the depressing effect on China’s holding of US securities caused by the associated depreciation of the dollar. On the other hand, if China stops buying US debt or sells it off significantly the same economic destabilisation of the US from a weakening dollar could result.

Even if China accedes to the US demand to raise the value of its currency or make it float, it might not help either country: US inflation and market based interest rates will go up and Chinese goods would suddenly become more expensive for Americans, necessitating a reduction in profit margins associated with Chinese exports, which according to their vice commerce minister Zhong are less than 2 percent. A Chinese slowdown characterised by income losses, reduced employment and social instability is likely under this scenario.

To summarise, the US and China can neither do with nor do without each other. Tradeoffs are inevitable, regardless of whether the yuan has a stable and low dollar value or appreciates. Even if the Chinese give shape to the latter possibility, the approach has to be gradual. The US Congress’s demands for coercion to fix a certain high exchange rate is anything but sound economic reasoning especially as it has implications for other economies whose fortunes are governed by a sparsely regulated global currency system based on a diversity of currency regimes and systems.

The issue of Chinese appreciation of its currency and possible imbalances is thus a global issue requiring multilateral discussions instead of a simple bilateral approach. The lack of an appropriate forum for such discussions is a stumbling block in this regard, given a weakened IMF and doubts raised about its neutrality by the South. A potential forum might be the WTO as undervalued exchanged rates are often construed as smacking of protectionism, an area covered by the WTO mandate. However, its ability to broker effective rules and agreements in this regard needs further examination.

The current currency spat between US and China raises several issues for global economic stability and welfare. It begs raising the salutary influence of multilateralism in the trade and currency markets to the pedestal it was idealized to be. From a development perspective, the world community must get assertive on assessing how the current imbalance between US and China would impact their own economic welfare and initiate discussions on the ‘institutions’ which will ensure economic security in the context of present financial fragility.

"There is no war against Islam"

By Ammara Ahmed

The News on Sunday: What brings you to

Dr. Daniel N. Nelson: I am in Pakistan this time because the US State Department invited me here to speak on civil-military relations. I have already spoken to audiences in Islamabad and Karachi — to university audiences, think-tanks and NGOs. I have met people from other walks of life, businesses, diplomats, retired diplomats and journalists.

TNS: There is a sense that in the US, more than at any other place, it is easy for academics to shift to policy-making. They are either inducted in think tanks or become part of the government. Do you think it’s useful and must be imitated by other countries?

DNN: I think it is very useful. It is good to have a mix, certainly better than the alternative which is to pursue one career your entire life. It can get quite boring. The sharing of experiences is useful. In my own life, it both made me a better professor at the university by having policy experience and also it gave me a perspective when I was involved in policy on the research perspective that academics have.

TNS: Does it not compromise academic independence?

DNN: No. In many countries there is less of this inter-weaving than there is in the US. I have never felt it compromised my independence. As a matter of fact, it made me a better professor (as I am still teaching) and now I am in business. So, I have done business, government and academics.

TNS: What do you think is the biggest foreign policy achievement of Obama? And what would you count as its failures?

DNN: Of course, he has been the president for a little over a year so his achievements are yet to be seen. In the broadest respect, I think he has improved the image of the US. In the period of George W. Bush, a lot of people were concerned about the American behaviour. I think Obama has reached out to not only major countries but also to many other countries that the American presidents have paid no attention to.

I don’t think there is any failure yet. I think there are many, many goals he has set that will have to be achieved in the future. For example, I don’t know if it is a foreign policy point or a domestic policy one, but nevertheless the closing of Guantanamo is yet to be achieved. I certainly think that given the nature of the American war on terrorism, it is an extremely difficult battle to fight. On the other hand I think his goal is to end, and end completely the combat in Iraq — that has not yet taken place.

TNS: How do you view the phenomenon of terrorism? Do you think the US needs some serious revision in terms of its foreign policy to remove the causes of terrorism?

DNN: I understand your words. But I am not quite sure of the underlying meaning. You know, first, the American foreign policy didn’t cause terrorism. So I begin with that fundamental point. The president and the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, made significant changes in the conduct of the American foreign policy. Here in this Consulate and in Islamabad as well, there is a lot more money for public diplomacy, for example. May be still not enough, but it has improved the situation. And I think this is a different face to the American foreign policy. Even those people who dislike or hate the United States are dealing with people who better understand [their position]. I think these changes are leaving a significant effect not only on the image of United States but also on the efficacy of its foreign policy.

TNS: What do you think is the biggest security threat to the US?

DNN: Clearly, terrorists of various kinds. I can tell you that the Russians are no longer a threat. We are not confronting an enemy of that kind. We have just signed an agreement with Russia to further reduce nuclear stockpiles. I suppose you can say we have certainly a strong competition with China in terms of, for example, the never-ending search for more energy. But this is a competition not a conflict.

TNS: When do you think US will safely exit from Afghanistan? Is a total exit realistically possible in the next five years?

DNN: Probably not. It is quite clear that President Obama, and you heard this, has increased the number of troops in Afghanistan while we are drawing down troops from Iraq. And that increase now, is approximately 100,000 in Afghanistan. And probably that number will remain and the president has said it himself. It is in 2011 that the so-called surge in Afghanistan will begin to end and some of the additional troops we sent there will be withdrawn, even as early as next summer. So that withdrawal will take place but the presence of American troops to some sizeable number will have to continue for sometime.

TNS: The failed Times Square bombing has also brought to the fore the dangers of home-grown terrorists in US. Is the US government aware of it and is it ready to do something about it?

DNN: Well, we have had home-grown terrorists before who were born and raised in US. Remember the attack on the Federal State Building Oklahoma killed 186 people. I know that was a while ago, but nevertheless we have had home-grown terrorism in that sense — people who had no other background from any other country, not naturalised citizens but were born and bred in US. So, I don’t think that it is a new phenomenon. Same for Britain. And, of course, France has had terrorist incidents involving either French citizens or Algerians many years ago. So the phenomenon of home-grown terrorism is not new.

As to what the US is trying to do about it, a lot of this has to do with law-enforcement. You might call it intelligence or FBI. There are techniques used by those organisations — if there is suspicion about certain people they monitor their behaviour very closely by intercepting communications, for example. I think tightening all this up is part of the process. Yet the US does not want to make an insecure society in order to somehow become more secure. So there is a balance there.

TNS: Is US willing to involve itself in a sustainable long-term peace process in South Asia? What exactly is the American interest in improving Pakistan’s ties with India? What exactly is the threat? Is it that of a nuclear war?

DNN: Well, of course the US has been active for years, decades. The United States has always been keenly interested that the India-Pakistan conflict be avoided. That wasn’t always the case but nevertheless that’s the goal. If you mean South Asia to include Afghanistan, well, the US is trying to get the country to a point where Taliban are no longer the imminent threat. Still, to get rid of them all is almost impossible.

So, the American commitment to peace broadly construed in South Asia certainly depends on defeating the insurgency and the militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Now the case is of ensuring state-to-state peace.

One critical point: ultimately it is the people of the region or the area who have to move in that direction — Indians and Pakistanis have to get along; they have to insist that the insurgents and militants be eliminated. It’s the citizenry not just the US.

What is the American interest? Well, peace is better than war. And Pakistan has been an ally and friend of US for years; going back to the Cold War. India wasn’t always but it’s a far closer relationship now. Two countries, neighbouring, both powerfully nuclear armed, so the US interest in this remains a peaceful relationship forever.

Now, by the way, people of South Asia will be a lot more prosperous if they didn’t have to either combat these insurgencies or they could be reduced. Pakistan has a very large military and India even larger. Wouldn’t it be great to not spend so much money [on defense]?

For India and Pakistan, the threat now is very much from the same sources of militancy and insurgency. In India there are certain other insurgencies also; there are still Maoist Guerrillas operating (in India). Obviously in Pakistan there are cleavages and divisions that have existed long before a Taliban-like insurgency.

Those domestic, you used the word earlier, are I think home-bred or home-grown [terrorists] — and yes I think that’s really the principal threat.

TNS: You think that the Obama administration has successfully dealt with the problem of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world and elsewhere or do you think more needs to be done?

DNN: It will take a long time, probably a lot longer than Obama will be the president even if he is re-elected, to repair those kind of feelings, as you say anti-Americanism. There is also misunderstanding and poor information that I think leads to anti-Americanism. Yes, there are some actions of US that make people angry. I was not in favour of the Iraq War and criticised how President Bush, Dick Cheney and others brought us into that war but those actions, particularly the Iraq War, added to the negative sentiments within the Islamic World. But there is no "War against Islam". There is war against certain terrorists and organised insurgencies that of course initiated an attack on the US. So, I think that a lot of public diplomacy is part of this — to add to the understanding and lessen the ignorance about the United States and simultaneously do a better job of explaining why the United States is taking certain actions, which I think President Obama has done.

Music sans borders

Where music is concerned, there are no boundaries and no demarcations

By Sakuntala Narasimhan

The elite among Islamabad’s cognoscenti is gathered before me as I tune the tanpura and prepare to begin my recital. I have come prepared with some ghazals and thumris, thinking that heavy classical music may not go down well with Pakistani audiences, but after the opening ghazal, when I ask the gathering what they would like me to present, several voices reply in chorus, "Classical!" Quickly shifting my mental focus, I ask again, "Common ragas, or rare ones?" And the voices pipe up, "Rare ones!"

This is unexpected. Hastily, I abandon the list of ghazals I had come prepared with, and launch instead into a khayal in Chhayanat, a speciality of the Rampur gharana that I belong to. The bandish is a famous one, "Jhanana jhanana, jhana nana baaje bichhuwa", and a male voice from the audience turns it into a spontaneous duet, matching my rendition with his own, tinged with melodic nostalgia.

Why had I assumed that only ghazals would be appreciated across the border? After all, Lahore and Karachi were as much centres of classical music in the pre-independence era, as Mumbai and Kolkata — the legendary vocalist Vishnu Digambar Paluskar opened his first music school (which went on to become the renowned Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, with several branches) in Lahore, before he started one in Mumbai. Come to think of it, if you take away Muslim ustads and their contribution to Indian music, there will be precious little left.

Rampur gharana, in which I have been trained, originated with the legendary Enayat Hussain Khan, whose son-in-law Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan, one of the stalwarts of the 20th century, was my guru Ustad Hafeez Ahmed Khan’s teacher (and father-in-law). Ustad Rashid Ahmed Khan, father of Hafeez Ahmed Khan (who, incidentally, was Delhi-based but had performed in Pakistan) was so devout a Muslim that he wanted to be buried only at the holy Nizamuddin dargah in Delhi. And yet, he is famous for composing a bandish on "Brij ke Kanhaiya" in Keervani raga (which Ustad Rashid Khan, the current flag-bearer of the Rampur gharana, has recorded on a popular CD).

Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan (my teacher’s teacher) was such a devout Muslim that he would stop his recordings if it was time for the midday prayers. Yet, he sang "Kareem naam tero" in Mian-ki-Malhar and "Sugreeva Rama krupa" in Chhayanat with the same melodic fervour. For these ustads, being Muslim or Hindu had nothing to do with artistic excellence.

Whenever I went to Hafeez Ahmed Khan saheb’s place for lessons, he would say, "Aap aaj idhar hee khanaa khayenge – aap ke liye vegetarian banwaya hai." And he, his daughters and sons, and I would sit together for a meal, sharing rotis, dal and sabzi. I learnt to sing Soz, when it was Moharram time. His house was a home-away-from-home for me. He, his wife (daughter of Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan) father Rashid Ahmed Khan saheb and father-in-law Nissar Hussain Khan saheb, are all buried at Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah.

Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan is another senior disciple of Nissar Hussain Khan, and the oldest living representative of this gharana. At the entrance to his house in Mumbai, is an inscription from the Koran, and facing it, is a large statue of Goddess Saraswati. There is neither contradiction nor conflict, religious or artistic. In music, it is co-existence of the finest kind.

Delve into the lives of musicians around the sub-continent, and you unearth details that are as touching as they are astounding The late Ustad Bade Ghulam Khan, who moved briefly to Pakistan before returning to India, was most famous for the song Hari Om Tat Sat, which brings tears to the eyes of elderly music lovers, even today.

Innumerable Muslim names come up when we look at the classical genre in the subcontinent’s cultural heritage — Wajid Ali Shah (ruler of Avadh, who was ousted by the British in the 19th century — his Babul mora thumri is one of the all-time great songs, immortalised by the great K.L.Saigal), Nawab Raza Ali Khan (a great patron of classical music and also composer, who ruled Rampur before independence — his durbar was famous for a galaxy of great musicians) Ustad Allauddin Khan (father-in-law of Ravi Shankar, who was a devotee of Goddess Saraswati and even named his daughter Annapurna), Ustad Bismillah Khan (who was devoted to Lord Kashi Viswanath despite being a devout Muslim) besides contemporaries like Amjad Ali Khan (sarod) and the iconic Ustad Zakir Hussain (tabla). My gharana specialises in tarana (Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan was known as Tarana samrat) and Hazrat Amir Khusro, a cultural icon of both India and Pakistan, was the originator of the tarana form.

When I was a teenager, I had a broadcast from All India Radio. The sarangi accompanist, Masit Khan, commented at the end of my recording, "Yeh to Roshanara Begum jaise gaatee hai." Roshnana moved to Pakistan after partition, and when I went to Islamabad recently, my students asked me to look for CDs of her music. The salesmen at the music store, however, brought out other CDs that they said, "achcha biktaa hai (sells well)" — Hariprasad Chaurasia’s flute, Ravi Shankar’s sitar, even DVDs of Om Shanti Om — all Indian favourites. It took some effort to locate Roshanara Begum’s recordings, though elderly Indian connoisseurs still remember her amazing singing.

Borders? Political and geographical, perhaps, but where music is concerned, there are no boundaries, no demarcations. Not merely between India and Pakistan; it is universally true — Iranian music can come close to Indian music, so does medieval Thai classical vocal, defying borders.

At the end of my recital at Islamabad, a couple, Shahin and Ahmed, introduced themselves and told me about a Pakistani vocalist named Zahida Parveen who had taught Shahin’s mother and passed away in 1976. I had never heard of her. The next day Shahin handed me a Zahida CD, and I played it on returning to India. It was beautiful and I Google-searched for additional information about her. This has triggered a chain of contacts that now link the two countries — the couple picked up Rashid Khan’s CDs during their recent visit to India, and my students are excitedly delving into Zahida’s repertoire.

There is a global network called Reporters Without Borders, linking journalists worldwide, and another called Medicins Sans Borders (Doctors without Borders) linking medical professionals globally. Perhaps, a Musicians Without Borders link, can achieve far better results in terms of defusing tensions in the sub-continent, than any amount of political or bureaucratic initiatives. Those who sing together, live and laugh together....

Work half done!

We now have the Women Harassment Bill
but gender-responsive policing has to be built up much before that comes into action

By Nyla Daud

The woman shifts uneasily on her feet. Battered and bruised to the bones, this one last experience has brought her to the local police station, but where is she to go? Who is she to approach even for registering the offence? The camera zooms on to an anguished profile as, after having borne the verbal and physical scrutiny of the constable at the gate, the chaddar-clad woman wanders helplessly about the thana premises.

There is another longish shot showing the woman surrounded by a herd of apparently amused men (among them a half dressed man with a miswak to his teeth), indulging in irrelevant dialogue directed at the woman. The apathy of the situation becomes more palpable as she is offered free advice from everyone. The grand finale surfaces when she finally lands in the SHO’s office.

This heavy-weight dismisses her with the one remark that about sums up the situation as it exists with reference to female complainants when they go to a police station to register a case of domestic violence: "This is your kismet so go home and make peace with your husband". Till very recently that would have been the end of the story. Yes, we now do have a Bill against the Harassment of Women.

As the video-showing ends and the floor is thrown open to comments, the room full of police trainee officers comes alive with amazing sensitivity. Not one among the group of constables being thus exposed to the ground situation disagrees with the video fact-file. Each and everyone shakes his head in silence when asked if there was any exaggeration in the film. None of them would like a female from his own family to be thus shamefully and apathetically exposed in the name of justice and fair play.

Encouraging individual responses, the trainer wants to build up a list of dos and don’ts of a police officer’s behavior at the police station when a female victim of violence comes to report a crime.

The reasons are obvious: the police service has a defined masculine culture that few in the ranks would dare disclaim. The service has built up an unfortunate signature over the times, having suffered invasions from various cultures, half baked ideologies and misconstrued social concepts. Gradually, with great sensitivity, the facilitator prepares the ground, mentioning gender cautiously. He is well aware that although his trainees are academically qualified to interpret it (the educational profile of the trainee group of police officers ranges from intermediate to Master’s and Law degrees) the word Gender carries shades of foreign intervention and vested agendas.

However, the tide appears to turn as nervous murmurs take the form of loud confident tones and the suggestions come pouring in. The suggestions speak of an altered, albeit heightened degree of sensitivity of human compassion.

This was the third day of the six day training workshop organised by Gender Responsive Policing Project, a joint collaboration of National Police Bureau and German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), aiming to make police gender sensitive and gender responsive. Initiated at the grass root level of the police hierarchy, the programme is aimed at an ultimate renaissance of the entire force which today is unfortunately representative of a strong system of un-justice whose perpetuation has come to be accepted as unalterable.

While male victims of crime can and do withstand the atrocious behavior depicted in the video, it is the women victims who bear the brunt because of their greater vulnerability. Already severely under pressure by domestic handicaps ranging from patriarchal overtures and apprehension and social disapproval of venturing into the big bad world, our women are ignorant about their religious and social rights. Illiteracy and lack of any legal know how makes them the most pitifully deprived and maltreated of the Pakistani population.

The Gender Responsive Policing programme may sound ambitious but it is actually geared to remove the causes of social and psychological discrimination and harassment faced by women victims when they approach a police station for registration of a crime.

"We have zeroed in on Foot and Head Constables for initiating this program because these personnel form the major bulk of the police force. They are the first points of contact with a victim and hold immense power over them. That is why it is imperative that we re-train them for attitudinal changes, for their perceptions of themselves as enforcers of law and order, for their speech, their behaviour, even their body language and basic human right principles as enunciated by Islam."

Coming from a member of the design team of the workshop, this statement belies a major change in the overall policy implementation with regards to local thana culture.

While it would not have needed a rocket scientist to determine the social and official areas where intervention has to be done vis-à-vis the gender and police equation, design directors deputed to implement the programme have obviously gone overboard in making sure that the religious and social sensitivities of those who are being targeted for this very sensational change are not tampered with.

Whatever the long-term prognosis of the gender-responsive policing programme effort, this enhanced respect for probable change in the thana culture became a reality. In the course of six vibrantly interactive working days, trainees were guided along a path of rediscovery. Basic knowledge of human rights and Islamic injunctions regarding the status of women, the role and duties of a police officer at the thana, and the reality of the human genetic code was taught to educate the officers.

Admittedly, the police force is a large rather unwieldy body of hardcore professionals thoroughly rooted in their self-crafted interpretations of duty. Yet, the change in the target group was visible: to the point that on the final day as farewells were being enacted, one head constable stood up with a formal declaration that from now onwards he would not only change his attitude towards female victims, he would also change his attitude towards his wife, the session on genetic coding had done the trick.

Bound to carpet-weaving

By Beenish Kulsoom

The factors that make children work at a young age of five mark the poverty of household, primacy of social exclusion, absence of safety nets, and rural to urban labour market shift; etc. In Pakistan, child labour is recurrent in every form of labour, ranging from domestic, agriculture, and industrial employment. The content and characteristics of child labour are distinct in the urban and rural settlements; however, the fact of the matter remains that household poverty, along with the absence of safety nets force poorest households to have their children engaged in every form of child labour, be it hazardous or non-hazardous.

Where poverty is defined as one of the causes of child labour, there are other factors that accentuate this social hazard, one such overriding factor is the prevalence of debt bondage. In a study conducted in 2000, International Labour Organisation (ILO) found that in most of South Asian countries (India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan) debt bondage has entrapped millions of the poorest and most vulnerable workers bonded to their employers. And, these poorest people give their labour, and strive often in vain to repay debt to their employers. Research has also shown that (poorest households) the victims of this social evil tend to be the poorest and least educated segments of the population — from low castes and religious minorities.

Their employers are the local money lenders, landlords, or tradesmen, who give loans to poorest households, while being fully aware that their clients have no resources to pay back them the principal and the interest, yet they take the leap knowingly fully well that in exchange they would be able to extract labour from their clients for a much longer time. Both the employer (and/or money lender), and the client (poorest household) are aware of their respective positions in the equation that stands to be highly unfavourable to the poorest household. Debt bondage is one of the causes of household poverty in poor households, amongst the minority (Hindu scheduled castes) in the district of Tharparkar. A state-sponsored skill — carpet-weaving — has resulted in the confluence of child labour in this region.

While widespread child labour is closely associated with poverty; poverty certainly is not the only explanation for child labour, the reasons are complex, multidimensional, and does indicate to the fragile existence of safety nets; researchers believe that the a poor family may be unable to afford school fees, uniforms or other costs; family may depend on the contribution a working child makes to the household income, and place more importance on that income than on education.

According to the ILO, over 200 million children between age five and 14 are working worldwide. This figure represents one-fifth of the total population of girls and boys in this age-group. Many of these children work long hours, in dangerous conditions. About 111 million children are in what has been termed as hazardous work which refers to forms of labour which are likely to have adverse effects on the child’s safety, health, and moral development. Nearly 10 million of these children are engaged in some form of slave labour, armed conflict, prostitution, or pornography. Reports from ILO suggest that around the world, some 246 million children between five and 17 years are working instead of attending school.

In Pakistan, the state of child labour is dismal. In the year 1996 the government of Pakistan conducted Child Labour Survey with the support of International Labour Organisation (ILO) to ascertain the exact number of child workers in Pakistan. The survey calculated 3.3 million child labourers in the country. The survey also showed that two-thirds of total child workers are boys while one-third is girls. Following the survey in 2001, Pakistan ratified ILO’s Convention 182, which is binding for the signatory nation to commit itself to not allow children under the age of 18 to work in the hazardous working conditions or in worst form of child labour.

The country statistics, however, show contradiction in what is to be considered the working age for a child. Under Pakistan’s law, 14 years is generally considered as an age under which children should not work. Whereas the Economic Survey 2007-8 includes aged 10 children as economic active; and under the Employment of Children Act 1991, employment of children under 15 in dangerous and hazardous activities is prohibited.

Following the adoption of Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work in 1998, under which all member States have an obligation to respect, promote and realise the elimination of all forms of forced labour, the International Labour Organization (ILO) conducted studies in various South Asian Countries, and found that the menace of ‘debt bondage’ is a recurrent theme in the countries such as Pakistan, India, and Nepal. A study by ILO found that "Debt bondage is most common in the agriculture sector, although it can also be found in other industrial sectors such as mining and gem polishing, brick-kilns, carpets and textiles, as well as domestic service. The victims of bonded labour tend to be the poorest and least educated segments of the population, from low castes and religious minorities.

In Pakistan, our rural settlements are accustomed to debt bondage, and it emerges as the major reason for poorest households to push their children to be engaged in strenuous labour, ranging from domestic, home-based enterprise. The causes of debt bondage emanate from the poverty of household, and since these poor households have no access to safety nets (as they should have been provided by the State) find themselves caught in compromising situation at the hands of local money lenders.

Tharparkar is a key district within the Sindh Arid Zone, and the only district in Pakistan with a majority of Hindu population, according to the 1998 census Tharparkar had 369,998 residents. Due to the Hindu caste system, there are certain communities that face continuous discrimination. They belong to the scheduled castes Dalits, and belong to sub-groups Kohli and Bheel. These people do not own agricultural land, and even if they do the land-ownership is less and its fertility is contingent upon good rainfall.

The desert receives rainfall from July to September, and normally it is not regular, thus having repercussions on family’s annual asset accumulation in the form of grains such as bajra (Pearl Millet) that is the staple diet in the desert, since wheat is not grown in the area, and people have substituted wheat for bajra. In such a scenario, when rainfall is irregular and intermittent, these people are then forced to take loan/credit from local money lenders called vaniyo (another of the Hindu caste that lends money on higher interest rates).

This money is then used for purchase of edibles, agricultural input, medical bills, wedding arrangement, or funeral/burial rites. Since, payment of loan is contingent upon steady source of income generation (resulting from the livelihood practice adopted at the household) people become victims of loan. These creditors in most cases work through their agents or contractors in remote villages who give loans to the poorest households in exchange of their uninterrupted labour on khaddis. Therefore, to recoup the loan, the creditor (vaniyo) uses extractive and exploitative methods to recoup the principal and interest on it. One of the methods through which extortion and exploitation is unleashed is the installation of carpet loom or khaddi.

The irony is that this area is not traditionally known for carpet-weaving, this skill and occupation was imported intentionally in the region in the late 1960s with an objective of utilising the surplus labour in these areas, so as to make use of their energies on a commercially lucrative and viable trade. The Sindh Small Industries Corporation (SSIC) had initially formed units in the Town Mithi, Taluka Mithi, District Tharparkar. With the passage of time, however, the ‘loan sharks’ found this to be highly favourable to their business interests. To get the loan recovered the creditor thus installs a carpet loom (khaddi) at the defaulter’s home, and hence the household enters the vicious spiral of weaving carpets for the creditor; in some cases defaulters themselves suggest such a settlement to their creditor.

In 2008, a study was published by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) titled Bonded Child Labour in the carpet industry of Thar, the study revealed that in 2005 the workforce in carpet industry generated US$200 million through exports; workforce comprise most vulnerable, marginalised and dispersed population which also included children; 40 percent of workforce in carpet weaving are children.

Forty percent is a huge figure and it is a shame that the country is deriving its exports from child labour. This figure does not give reference to ‘debt bondage’, however, the situation on the ground suggest that most of these carpet are the result of ‘debt bondage’.

The case of child labour is stark in this digressed domestic industry; the reality is that child labour is accentuated in carpet weaving because of the fact that in most cases ‘debt bondage’ causes the vicious spiral not to end ever. Absence of ‘safety nets’ and ‘social exclusion’ as in the case of carpet weaving in remote areas of Sindh is forcing people to trade labour for their survival; the most ironic is the fact that in this ‘trade exchange’ the returns are low, and this has negative effect on the entire household, especially the children.

Child labour in other forms of labour is also highly prevalent in these areas, however, when it comes to ‘carpet weaving’ there is always a greater likelihood that when a child reaches adulthood he engages in carpet weaving, even when his family has paid-off the debt.

The local structures and social pressures always have a bearing on rural economy, and we have seen that how these structures have come to regenerate itself in the contemporary period. The case of ‘carpet weaving’ is one example, the cause and effect relationship between debt bondage forces poor households to learn the skill and take up this as the livelihood. There is no denying of the fact that khaddi does give an income earning opportunity (subsistence it may be) but when it comes at the expense of children’s future, and as a result of ‘debt bondage’, the consequences are dire and not favourable to the child’s future.

GDP in perspective

Higher inflation and unemployment, culminating in a decline in real income of households have altered intra-family consumption patterns

By Laila Azhar

Growth of Pakistan's economy has been decelerated in recent years. In particular, the manufacturing sector has confronted a number of internal as well as external challenges that caused negative growth during 2008-09. Though, the impact of a weakened economy on employment opportunities, in general, has been rather limited, apparently, its impact on women during the present economic crisis has been disproportionately more intense leading to their social isolation, psychological trauma, reduced level of nutrition, school drop out of girls, and incidents of abandonment of children and suicides.

In Pakistan, traditionally participation of women in the labour force has remained low. The social paradigm of the country continues to play a very important part in preventing female participation in the workforce. The existing paradigmatic structure determined by the feudalistic mindset discourages women's empowerment including employment and considers it a socially reprehensible phenomenon. The slight increase noticed in female employment ratios is due to the expansion of the informal sector, spread of education, urban living, and the growth of a number of civil society organisations working for female development programmes.

Female participation in economic activities in the agricultural sector in rural areas has always been supplementary to male participation. In urban areas, on the other hand female participation has been limited to a lower cadre work force, both in offices and factories. Gender discrimination still persists and male employees of offices and factories would hesitate to accept a female as their superior, and rarely as the chief executive. This makes it absolutely necessary to work for promoting women's employment. The focus, therefore, needs to be on comprehensively addressing the multifaceted challenges confronted in mainstreaming female labour force participation.

Women's complete integration into the economy is a desirable goal both for equity and efficiency reasons. The equity aspect implies that labour market participation of women will improve their relative position within the economy. It will also increase overall economic efficiency and enhance the development potential of the country.

To take full advantage of this population dividend, Pakistan has to productively engage not only its male youth but also the female population which constitute almost half of its population. International comparisons indicate that Pakistan has lost out particularly in terms of export competitiveness due to low rates of female participation especially in industrial activities. There is evidence of the 'discouraged worker effect' in countries like Pakistan, Egypt and Iran, where high female unemployment rates are accompanied by low labour force participation rates. This effect arises when high unemployment rates lead to withdrawal of workers from the labour force.

In Pakistan, the overall labour force participation rate remains low, ranging around 50 percent, with a gradual increase in recent years. Interestingly, though the labour force participation rate for men has declined over the last four decades to 82 percent currently, it has increased for women from a very low level of 9 percent in 1971-72 to almost 22 percent in 2007-08. This trend indicates that the overall gender gap in labour force participation rates is declining in Pakistan. However, it continues to remain very low, with over 78 percent of women of productive age out of the labour force. In terms of numbers, the ratio of male to female workers is currently about 41.

The structure of female employment is almost 74 percent of female workers in Pakistan are engaged in agriculture, mainly in activities related to livestock. Among those women who work in the urban areas, over 28 percent are associated with textile, wearing apparel and leather industries, 20 percent in social and related community services, 16 percent in agriculture, livestock and hunting, and 13 percent in household services. Overall, the share of female employment in the formal sector of the economy is low, at only about 7 percent, and declining. There is a similar pattern of decline in the informal sector.

Another striking conclusion is related to the fundamental problem in the Pakistani context of the weak link between education and employment. While women are entering higher educational institutions in large numbers this is not being followed by subsequent entry into the labour force. The limited entry of highly educated females into employment highlights potentially strong gender discrimination in the labour market.

A discussion of female labour force participation cannot be completed without emphasizing two important issues. The first is the extent to which the increase in labour force participation is overstated due to the inclusion of 'unpaid family workers' and the second, the degree to which the extent of participation is understated due to the exclusion of women employed in marginal activities.

On the other hand, the labour force participation rate almost doubles with the inclusion of women engaged in subsistence activities. Compared to men, therefore, women are more involved in unpaid family work, or in unpaid or low paid or marginal economic activities. Women at work in Pakistan have largely been unable to convert employment into a means of social and economic empowerment.

Pakistan is either a signatory or has ratified various international conventions and declarations committing itself to improve gender inequalities and inequities. In order to ensure a conducive social environment, domestic legislation has to be made at par with its international commitments. Unfortunately, there exist no constitutional provisions which make these international commitments binding upon the judiciary.

The absence of essential pre-requisites continues to impair any serious and sustained efforts required for the development of society and women's empowerment. The existing legislation is limited in its extent to specific workers, whereas, the conventions are broader in their application than the existing domestic legislation. The situation for women is complicated due to their socio-economic status. Complicated legal procedures compounded by gender biases of judiciary and law enforcing agencies, delays, high cost of court expenses and corruption of the judiciary makes it extremely difficult for women to access social justice.

The government needs to establish 'Legal Aid Committees' in industrial areas, which employ female lawyers. These can help create awareness among workers regarding their rights and entitlements and litigate on their behalf, thus making access to justice a reality for women. The Legal Aid Committees can function under the supervision and control of the Zila Ombudsman/administrator. The women of Pakistan continue to be discriminated socially and legally with many constitutional provisions constantly challenged and violated. Discouraged from filing any litigation for their rights they continue to be suppressed.

At the international level there are declarations like the United Nations Declaration on Violence Against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the Beijing Declaration etc. The Beijing Declaration (1995) brought into focus violence against women and the Platform for Action adopted included provisions on sexual harassment at the workplace. Pakistan is a signatory to these international agreements. However, there continue to exist major gaps both in legislation and in implementation.

Both higher inflation and unemployment culminating in a decline in real income of households have altered intra-family consumption patterns with less food available for women and girls. The fall in real income has led to school dropout 'particularly of girls'. In some cases, young girls after dropping out from school are being forced to work as low paid child workers in homes or informal industrial units.

A fear of unemployment may also force working women to accept victimization by employers. Due to an increase in transport fares, the mobility of women has become largely restricted to their own neighborhoods. The tragic dimensions of the current crisis include acts of suicide by women, killing or abandonment of children, escalating crime and conversion of working women into sex workers. Strategies to promote women at work need to focus on implementation of policies that facilitate women's entry in various economic activities as well as reforms.

UN recent report "Keeping the Promise" 2010 says a majority of countries that signed Millennium document in year 2000 will miss out their development targets by a big margin. Ten years have passed and very few member countries have done anything substantive to address problems facing poor and deprived population. The Global MDG plan and any individual country commitments including Pakistan must give priority to both investing in the most off-track targets and promoting a more integrated approach across the MDGs. It is high time that democratic government needs to prioritise issues.

Waiting for something to give

By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

Over the past few months federal government employees have been on the streets protesting for wage increases. On 19 May, clerks, teachers and a smattering of blue-collar workers held a rally and sit-in in the federal capital. Thankfully, their democratic right to assemble and protest was not violated, ostensibly because wielding the big stick in Islamabad constitutes a public relations disaster for any incumbent government (contrast this, for example, to the gratuitous violence that was visited upon students of the engineering university in Khairpur the other day because they dared to protest against inordinate load-shedding). Yet no responsible government official came out to listen to the protestors. Ever since dozens of leaders of the All-Pakistan Federal Government Employees Federation (APFGEF) have been on hunger strike at Aabpara chowk.

The protestors are demanding a 100 percent increase in their basic salaries. On the face of it, this is a very substantial demand. But let’s not forget that something close to a 100 percent increase in basic salaries of armed forces personnel will be formally announced in the upcoming budget. Then there is the more general fact that real wages of government employees (and for that matter working people across the board) have declined steadily in recent years. Even if the APFGEF’s demands are met, the minimum wage would increase to Rs14,000 (assuming that we take at face value the prime minister’s announcement on May Day that the minimum wage will be increased from Rs6,000 to 7,000). The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently congratulated our economic managers for maintaining a 12 percent inflation rate. So what is Rs7,000 really worth?

There was a time when the labour movement consistently maintained that the monthly wage should be equivalent to eik tola sona. It is an indication of just how weak the labour movement is that a 100 percent increase in basic wages is equivalent to a little more than one-third the price of eik tola sona (which these days varies from as low as Rs35,000 to as high as Rs40,000).

And the reality is that the protesting federal government employees will not even get close to a 100 percent increase. The sitting government clearly has no plans of acceding to the demands of its own employees, even while it has made no such objection to an increase in the defence budget under the guise that an increase in the salaries of armed forces’ personnel is imperative. Meanwhile the rather alarming fact that there is currently no labour law in this country should not be allowed to slip under the radar screen. As of 30 April, the Industrial Relations Act — 2008 (IRA) lapsed and no new legislation (or presidential ordinance) has replaced it. It is said that the problem is not a lack of political will but instead a new technical quandary that follows the passing of the 18th amendment and the abolition of the concurrent list. Labour is now an exclusively provincial subject and therefore it is up to the provinces to pass legislation to protect the working poor. No sign as yet of any action on this front on the part of any of the provinces.

It is too bad that so few people in Pakistan appear concerned with the virtual disappearance from the policy agenda of the working class. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and their apolitical welfare agendas were once thought to have filled the void that was created by the retreat of the labour movement (which was undermined globally by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the concomitant emergence of neo-liberal ideology). But the NGO honeymoon has been over for a long time. The idiom of resistance and rebellion against the system is dominated on the one hand by ethnic-nationalism, and on the other hand, by the religious right.

Bit-part efforts such as those of the APFGEF are of course necessary, but in and of themselves will not reverse the prevailing trend. Among other things it is important to bear in mind that the majority of working people are now subject to informal arrangements which leave them completely at the mercy of the market and without any formal recourse to the law (even when it does exist in some shape of form). The mass of workers in the agrarian economy stand out in this regard; a similar unprotected mass exists in urban areas as well. In recent times there have been successes in organizing such workers, with the most prominent case being that of power-loom workers in Faisalabad and Jhang. But this is just the tip of the iceberg and much more systematic and widespread initiatives must be undertaken by those who are committed to a working-class politics.

In the meantime, those who are wandering the corridors of power (and I mean those have been legitimately elected to wander these corridors rather than those who have occupied them uninterrupted from the outset) should bear in mind that increasing economic and social disaffection cannot simply be ignored or placated by invoking tired old slogans of ‘roti, kapra aur makan’. While there is no simple correlation between poverty and the rise of parochial ideologies, it cannot be denied that those on the margins of society tend to be amongst the more easily recruited to ideological causes. When working-class ideologies were front and centre, it was those on the margins that were primarily attracted to them. Now ethnic-nationalist and religious ideologies have penetrated the social mainstream and it is therefore hardly a surprise that significant numbers of working people — particularly youth — are flocking towards them.

It appears that the mainstream parties have given up totally on policymaking that even protects what the working-class currently possess. They make up for their lack of political will by engaging in the most typical kind of sloganeering. It would be much better if they undertook symbolic steps that showed that they at least acknowledge the working-class agenda. So, for example, why not come good on the promise to meaningfully restore trade union rights; even better would be the granting of trade union rights to workers in defence-related industries. Instead the emphasis appears to be on heady May Day gatherings at the Convention Centre in Islamabad that simply reinforce the dominant patron-client logic of politics. The APFGEF has announced that it will march on parliament if its demands are not met by 2 June. Even if the government will not increase wages by 100 percent, surely it should be willing to give its own workers something?

May 15, 2010

'The global jihadist'

Arif Nizami

Faisel Shahzad is the first "global jihadist" from Pakistan. The naturalised US citizen, thanks to his botched attempt to spread mayhem in New York's busy Time Square, has also been dubbed as the "idiot bomber" by a section of the US media.

Whether Shazad was a patsy easily manipulated and brainwashed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to do their bidding or not, consequences of his actions have far-reaching implications for Pakistan. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi's statement that US-Pakistan relations have received a setback as a result is the understatement of the year.

The incident has come as a rude shock for the Pakistani leadership, which had naively assumed that Islamabad and Washington are now in the same bed thanks to services rendered. Barely two weeks before the Time Square abortive bombing Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was beaming after a one-on-one meeting with President Obama on the sidelines of the Nuclear Summit in Washington. On the occasion the US president defended Pakistan's credentials as a responsible nuclear power in the face of hostile questions from the US media.

The prime minister on his return flight from Washington proudly boasted to media persons accompanying him that the US now considers Pakistan as part of the solution in the region rather than part of the problem. Earlier on the visit, his foreign minister was photographed engaged in banter with the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Perhaps in a state of euphoria we had overlooked the dynamics of US-Pakistan relations. In spite of the sweet talk and mollycoddling by US politicians and generals regularly visiting Islamabad, it remains a client-patron relationship predicated on Islamabad's ability to deliver in the war on terrorism. And notwithstanding the smugness of our civilian and military leadership, the relationship is so tenuous that one terror incident in the United States linked to Pakistan can upset the whole applecart.

Shorn of diplomatic niceties, Ms Hillary Clinton's recent warning that Pakistan should be prepared for (unspecified) severe consequences if it can be linked to a successful extremist attack on the US is a severe reprimand. Shahzad's testimony to his interrogators that he visited Pakistan several times in the past year and received training from the TTP in North Waziristan. corroborated by the US Attorney Eric Holder that the whole Time Square plot was intimately directed by the Pakistani Taliban, is extremely embarrassing for Islamabad.

President Obama, at a White House press conference along with visiting Afghan president Hamid Karzai, declared that Pakistan has an obsession with India. However, he acknowledged that Islamabad is trying to kick this habit by working to remove "this cancer" of extremism from its midst. The subtlety of the US president's message will not be lost on our policy makers.

Interestingly, while the US administration is playing the "bad cop," the military establishment is soft-pedalling the issue. Senior US commander general David Patraeus initially dubbed Shehzad a "lone wolf." The top military commander in Afghanistan, Gen McChrystal, who met the COAS general Kayani the other day denied that he asked him to launch a military operation in North Waziristan.

Whatever the optics, pressure on Pakistani military to launch an offensive in North Waziristan has increased manifold. The failed Time Square attack has proved beyond doubt in the eyes of the US the nexus between the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda; their training ground being North Waziristan. Islamabad's assertion to make a distinction between the TTP terrorists and the rest no longer holds valid. Hillary Clinton has gone to town hinting that part of the Pakistani military establishment is in cahoots with these elements, to the extent that some officers are aware of Osama bin Laden's whereabouts.

Another consequence of last week's botched attempt is exposing an intelligence failure of our military establishment. Until now it had claimed that Hakimullah Mashud was long dead and gone. The Time Square operation was important enough for the TTP to blow the cover of the ostensibly dead Taliban leader to claim responsibility in a recorded video. This amply demonstrates that the TTP, despite the setbacks in Swat and South Waziristan, has regrouped and reorganised. It has developed the capability to strike, albeit unsuccessfully, even at the US.

What is really worrisome for Pakistan is that relations with India or the West are hostage to acts of terrorism planned and executed by non-state actors. Conspiracy theorists claim that Shehzad is a US agent who staged the whole drama, deliberately leaving a trail to implicate Pakistan in a manner that would force the reluctant Pakistani army to launch an offensive in North Waziristan.

What they conveniently overlook is that had the device planted in Time Square gone off, it would have caused immense loss to life and property with disastrous consequences for Pakistan.

In the aftermath of the incident, drone attacks over North Waziristan have increased manifold. The presence of US troops on Pakistani soil ostensibly for training and non-combat purposes is well known. However, partly owing to US troops already being thinly spread in Afghanistan, that does not seem a likely scenario. But US air strikes on Taliban strongholds within Pakistan cannot be ruled out.

The Pakistani military is on notice like never before to launch a push in North Waziristan. As deputy chairman of the joint chiefs Lt Gen Sardar Mehmood Ali Khan put it, Pakistani forces will do it but in their own time, as it had to be done in sequence with "other battles."

Some hawkish elements in pursuit of their own agendas have suggested that the Pakistan should take on the US. They want the military to shoot down the drones and the government to block NATO supplies to Afghanistan. Keeping in mind the overwhelmingly anti-US mood of the street, this will be a popular move. However in the backdrop of the country's fragile economy and polity it will be a suicidal path to embark upon.

The recent thaw at Thimphu was also a result of President Obama's role as a quiet facilitator. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Quershi's telephone call on Tuesday to his Indian counterpart S M Krishna inviting him to talks in Islamabad on July 15 had a certain urgency and poignancy in the context of recent developments. It is a positive development that the two countries have not made terrorism as a precondition for talks. With Islamabad already under pressure, the US ambassador to New Delhi, against all diplomatic norms, did not mince his words while lecturing Islamabad on keeping US and Indian sensitivities on terrorism in mind.

Whether it is the Kashmir issue, the water issue or other bilateral problems with New Delhi, in order to avoid a two-front situation, Islamabad will have to engage in intense diplomatic activity to keep its eastern borders free of tension. The terrorist threat from within has now gone global with potentially disastrous consequences for the Pakistani state. Gen Kayani contends that so far as a threat from India is concerned, the Pakistani military has to go by the capabilities of its eastern neighbour rather than mere intentions.

In this context Afghanistan and the Taliban are seen as the strategic depth. We have to revisit this strategic paradigm with out-of-the-box thinking. For our own survival, we will have to move decisively against elements that are threatening to eat into the entrails of the state as it was envisioned by Quaid and Iqbal. Despite Pakistan's being a nuclear power, it might not be possible for long to stick to our traditional strategic thinking. Especially when we are witnessing a US-India nexus in the making.

May 13, 2010

The UN report is a time bomb

Shafqat Mahmood

The drone attacks in the tribal areas have picked up since the Faisal Shahzad episode, as has the rhetoric from the United States. Attorney General Holder found a Pakistani Taliban link and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked of severe consequences had the attack materialised.

These statements were tempered by the US military that, playing the good cop, praised Pakistan for its vital role in the Afghan conflict. Ambassador Holbrooke also tried to fudge the issue by suggesting that Clinton's statement had been misinterpreted.

Whatever the real nature of the signals emanating from the US, one thing is clear. The botched Times Square bombing have reinforced negative perceptions in the West about Pakistan. Coming on the heels of the media hype in India after Ajmal Kasab's conviction, it puts not just a few criminals but the entire country in the dock.

Those in Pakistan always looking for a conspiracy are having a field day. Their prognosis is that ground is being prepared for an invasion. These dire predictions have been reinforced by veiled suggestions from the US that American ground forces may indeed penetrate into this country.

While this seems unlikely, the propaganda unleashed against Pakistan is a cause for alarm. Recent history of Western incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq indicates that negative reports about these countries were used as a basis to seek UN Security Council resolutions to justify an invasion.

In this day and age, international approval for an invasion by a super power is necessary. This is facilitated if there is enough negative material to paint the target country black. Or, even better, if there is a report by a recognised international body that has prima facie authenticity.

It is in this context that the report by the UN Commission on Benazir Bhutto's murder becomes relevant to Pakistan's current predicament. It accuses Pakistani state organs, or elements within, of having links with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. It suggests they were used by the Pakistani "Establishment" for assisting insurgency in Indian-held Kashmir. And it alleges a connection between organisations involved in cross border terrorism and Pakistani intelligence.

Though the Commission's terms of reference were narrowly defined--to determine facts and circumstances of the assassination--it chose to go far beyond that. In a style reminiscent of investigative journalism, it went into Pakistan's history, its political culture, the role of the establishment, and drew conclusions without substantiating anything. It did not indicate who was interviewed, what method of inquiry it had devised for itself and why it came to certain determinations.

These were serious lapses, as pointed out by leading lawyer Ahmer Bilal Sufi in a TV interview with Talat Hussain. The Commission was akin to a court of inquiry and its conclusions amounted to a judgement. Anything that it said had to be substantiated and backed by testimony. It did not have the luxury of vague hypothesis or veiled allusions.

It is important to remember that it is one thing for charges to fly to and fro in Pakistan about the establishment. Ever since the military became involved in politics, this has become an essential part of the Pakistani political lexicon.

But this report of the UN Commission is not for the Pakistani government or a part of the Pakistani political give-and-take. It has been submitted to the UN secretary general and is part of the Security Council archives. Any determinations that it has made can and will be used against Pakistan if and when the time is ripe. It may not be now, because the US needs Pakistan. But this could change.

It would also be important to remember that before the US invasion of Iraq a team of UN inspectors had been sent in to find out whether the country had an active nuclear programme. Their report was to be used for a Security Council resolution that would authorise an invasion. In the end, it did not come to that because the Inspectors were expelled by Iraq. But this in itself became a pretext.

Thus, UN reports are not some run-of-the mill documents. They are like a ticking bomb that can explode when the time is ripe. It is for this reason that the conclusions drawn by the Commission are so potentially damaging for Pakistan.

It first defines the establishment as the military high command and the intelligence agencies, plus leaders of some political parties, top bureaucrats and business people. In other words, the entire slice of the Pakistani ruling elite. It then accuses it of a variety of crimes.

In the case of Benazir Bhutto murder, it says: "Many sources interviewed by the Commission believe that the Establishment was threatened by the possibility of Ms Bhutto's return to high public office and that it was involved in or bears some responsibility for her assassination."

Talking about the Taliban connection, it says that "these elements (within the military) included, in particular, those who retain links with radical Islamists, especially the militant jihadi and Taliban groups and are sympathetic to their cause, or view them as strategic assets for asserting Pakistan's role in the region."

And on cross-border terrorist organisations: "The Pakistani military and ISI also used and supported some of these groups (Punjab-based jihadi organisations) in the Kashmir insurgency after 1989. The bulk of the anti-Indian activity was and still remains the work of groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has close ties with the ISI." This last assertion is damning in the context of the Mumbai massacre.

No concrete evidence has, of course, been adduced to support these conclusions. These assertions are the normal stuff of hearsay that is prevalent in the media. but not enough for a UN commission report. As A G Noorani has observed in his article for the Frontline magazine in India, "the issue is not whether the assessments, the conjectures, 'the hypotheses,' and the homilies are sound or not. The issue is starkly simple. Such passages do not belong to the report of a UN inquiry, let alone one on a murder."

I will not go into the reasons why Mr Zardari was insistent on a UN Commission to investigate the assassination. Whether this was done deliberately to malign the military or not is a topic for another discussion. What concerns me is the time bomb ticking in UN Security Council archives. Are we going to let it remain there without a challenge?

There is only one answer. We cannot. The government has to write a strongly worded rejoinder to the conclusions drawn by the Commission regarding Pakistani state institutions. Whether any reply is received or not, whether the report is amended or not, we must place on record our objections. This is the only way to protect Pakistan's national interest.

Discrimination against Hazara?

Imran Khan

This is in response to Mr Kashif Jahangiri's article 'The real Hazara problem' which appeared in The News on May 6, 2010.

The incidents of discrimination that Mr Jahangiri has mentioned in his article must be condemned; discrimination – be it ethnic or religious - is wrong. But to generalise the entire Pukhtun community on the basis of wrong behaviour shown by a few individuals is also wrong, just like it is unfair to brand all the Muslims as terrorists based on the actions of a few.

According to the hypothesis proposed by Mr Jahangiri, the current movement for the province of Hazara is a reaction to the "contempt" doled out to Hazarewals by Pukhtuns. I disagree with Mr Jahangiri and my disagreement is based on two reasons. First, this ethnic labelling is not unique to Pukhtuns and Hazarewals, and also, it is not one-sided. Second, the intensity of this "contempt" is not as high as suggested by Mr Jahangiri.

Linguistic differences provide the basis for ethnic identities, and using these differences to make ethnic jokes is a common practice around the world. In Pakistan, ethnic labelling exists between all linguistically different communities that are living side by side. Even in the more politically correct society of the United States, jokes based on Spanish-American accent, for instance, are part of the popular culture. This does not stop at different ethnicities; in many cases different dialects of a language become the basis for similar pun. For instance, within the Pathans, the linguistic differences between the Pukhtuns, Pashtuns and Pashteens often become a source of humour and labelling, and in many individual cases the difference has boiled into discrimination as well, similar to what Mr Jahangiri has described.

While the jokes and banter part is acceptable in most cases, and cherished as diversity, problems arise when this difference becomes the source of outright discrimination at a community level. Living in Dublin, Mr Jahangiri must be aware of the history of the differences between the Irish and the English, and how much blood had been spilled because of that. The Rwandan genocide that resulted in the death of almost a million people was also a result of distrust between two communities. In our own history, the discrimination against the Bengalis became the main reason for the creation of Bangladesh. Similarly, Karachi's Pathan-Muhajir riots of the 60s, that planted the seeds of ethnic disharmony in Karachi, are a sad example.

So, how have these two communities - the Pukhtun majority and the Hindkowan minority - fared in the former NWFP? If the case presented by Mr Jahangiri is correct, then a discriminatory Pakhtun majority must have been a hurdle towards the political aspirations of the Hindko-speaking minority. The Hazarewal politicians must have found it really hard to argue their case in the Pukhtun-dominated provincial assembly. But when one looks at history, nothing of that sort has happened. In fact, since independence, the Hazara division has had the honour of claiming the highest number of chief ministers than any other division in the former NWFP. These include Sardar Bahadur Khan (1955), Muhammad Iqbal Khan Jadoon (1977), Pir Sabir Shah (1994), and Mehtab Ahmed Khan Abbasi (1999). Incidentally, all four of them belonged to the Hindko-speaking minority. If, as suggested by Mr Jahangiri, the Pukhtuns had strong contempt towards Hindko speakers, then this achievement would not have been possible through democratic means.

A discriminatory Pukhtun majority should also have leveraged its numerical strength to hog most of the provincial resources, leaving little for the Hazarewals in terms of development spending. But the reality, when measured in terms of various indicators of economic development, is that the Hindko-speaking districts of Hazara have a much higher level of development than the provincial average. The Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey (PSLM) for 2006-07, conducted by the Federal Bureau of Statistics, reveals that in the former NWFP, 26 per cent of the households reported to have 'RBC/RCC (concrete) roof', with the Pushto-speaking area of Battagram at 15.9 per cent. In contrast, the Hindko-speaking districts of Abbottabad and Haripur reported 45 per cent and 51 per cent concrete roofs respectively, i.e. twice the provincial average. These statistics are comparable to Sialkot at 47.64 per cent and are much higher than those for districts in southern Punjab, for instance, Multan at 19.22 per cent, Bahawalpur at 11 per cent and Rajanpur at 2 per cent.

Similarly, Haripur and Abbotabad boast 67.76 per cent and 61.44 per cent access to tap water respectively, which is much higher than the provincial average at 44.19 per cent. This comparatively higher level of development, which, no doubt, reflects a better quality of life, is confirmed through a variety of other indicators pertaining to health, literacy and sanitation. Had there been well-entrenched hatred and discrimination against the Hazarewals, they would not have been able to achieve this level of development as a minority.

Mr Jahangiri also mentions the use of the word "Khariyaan" i.e. hindko speakers of Peshawar city, as a derogatory term used by the Pathans. Well, if that was true then how is it possible for Khariyaan such as the Bilours, Haji Adeel and Syed Aqil Shah to become the top leaders of a nationalist Pukhtun party? As I understand politics, leaders are defined by their popularity and acceptance; followers would not follow someone whom they consider 'inferior'. For instance; did Malcolm X even stand a chance for membership in the Ku Klux Klan (KKK)? If one is to extend this KKK analogy to this situation, then these black Khariyaan have risen to level of Grand Dragons in this Pashtun Ku Klux Klan. Paradoxical indeed, if one is to accept Mr Jahangiri's assertion.

But instead of acknowledging the prominence of these Khariyaan in Pukhtun nationalism, Mr Jahangiri disapproves of the Bilours, terming them non-Pukhtuns pretending to be Pukhtuns. I must say that this argument uses a logic that is very antiquated and defies modern sensibilities. If a Pukhtun lineage does not stop a Tareen, Tanoli, Jadoon, or Swati to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Awans, Gujars, Jatts, and Abbasis of Hazara in the name of the Hindko language and Hazarewal identity, then by the very same principle, the Khariyaans of Peshawar have every right to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Pushto-speaking Pukhtuns in the name of Pukhtun identity. The notion of lineage-based identity and the consequent generalisation of races based on their bloodline is an old and obsolete concept. The rejection of the name Pukhtunkhwa, by the descendents of Ahmad Shah Abdali's soldiers that is the Jadoons, Tareens and Tanolis is living proof that when it comes to ethnic loyalties, successful cultural assimilation can leave bloodlines and lineages to be pretty much meaningless.

I would conclude by saying that the higher development levels of the Hindko-speaking districts of Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa, the frequent election of minority Hindkowans to the chief ministership of a Pukhtun-majority parliament, and the key leadership positions of Hindkowans in the ANP, provide ample proof of the cultural harmony that exists between Hindko speakers and Pukhtuns in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa. This harmony is an achievement, the equivalent of which is very hard to find in Pakistan. It also is an achievement that cannot be discredited through mere anecdotal evidence.

Dangerous diagnosis -- clear signs of exhaustion

Ayaz Amir

This is premature exhaustion, a government and political dispensation running out of steam and ideas, and nothing going for it but the power of inertia. Musharraf, a bitter comparison, arrived at this stage in four or five years. By 2005-2006 his rhetoric even to his ardent supporters had begun to sound stale and tired. The present lot of paladins has arrived at the same critical point in less than half that time. This must be counted as its most striking achievement.

The ideology of the post-2008 democratic revival was anti-Musharrafism. But with other problems rising to the fore, that call to arms has lost what traction or resonance it had. The departed tin-pot strongman's name now induces boredom. Any denunciation of him is the last resource of orators with no other arrows in their quiver. Musharraf himself is down to drawing spiritual sustenance from his Facebook following. It can't get any worse than this.

The restoration of the judiciary was the call which inspired a section of the political class and the entirety of the chattering classes after the roll call of the February 2008 elections. An entire year was consumed first in thwarting this move and then giving way before it. The judiciary stands restored but the promised path to national renewal that was supposed to open up looks like another pipedream.

Awakened to the paths of glory, their restored lordships, hailed as national saviours by a nation ever in search of unlikely heroes, now show every sign of succumbing to Pakistan's foremost temptation: the aching desire for over-fulfilment. Sooner or later, authority in Pakistan--military, political and, as we are now seeing, judicial--can't resist the fatal urge to overstep its bounds.

Our fatalism, and we are a fatalistic people, should teach us moderation and patience. But when it comes to the conduct of national affairs, these seem not to be among our cardinal virtues.

On four occasions Pakistan has been laid low by the army's attempts to save the nation. Now it is the leading lights of the third pillar of state falling into the habit of issuing so many papal injunctions. We can only wait with bated breath for the outcome.

The presidency is driven by nothing higher than the instinct for self-preservation. It has done all in its power to stop the wheels of accountability, supposed to have been set in motion by the NRO judgment, from churning. The landslide-created Hunza lake could burst its banks and flood the Indus. There could be cataclysms on the military and political fronts. But the presidency is attuned only to the music of saving its skin.

The Supreme Court is betraying signs of frustration because it thinks the provisions of its judgment in the aforementioned case are being flouted. This is leading to avoidable outbursts of temper. But it remains determined to pursue the scent and have the government write to the Swiss authorities to reopen the Swiss money-laundering cases which touch upon the person of President Asif Zardari. This is a situation tailor-made not just for simmering confrontation but eventual collision.

Their lordships may think they have public opinion behind them. But this is a calculation open to considerable error. The people have had their fill of slogans and calls for national redemption. They are now worried about problems closer home: the cost of living, power blackouts, and the like. Accountability is not the same siren call as it once was.

The nation has played with judicial and political issues--such as the glorious achievement of the 18th Amendment, which seems somewhat less glorious by the day--and now it wants to move on. But those hurling shots at the political horizon seem to be caught in a time warp. They also, like so many of our other players, seem to be fighting yesterday's battles.

Where is all this heading to? I really don't know. If there is one thing pundits, self-proclaimed or properly anointed, should avoid, it is prognostication. But one thing is certain. Where the political class should be concentrating on other things--inflation, energy shortages, balancing the books--its attention will remain distracted by peripheral issues. The distinction between the essential and the non-essential still seems to lie beyond our national grasp. The summer ahead should therefore be interesting. We will continue to tilt at windmills. As to what may lie beyond, only the gods in their inscrutable wisdom should know.

Ruling the largest province---which in more senses than one is more than half of Pakistan---the PML-N too is part of this dispensation. Is it also showing signs of exhaustion? Is it too short of ideas? Especially for a fellow-traveller, this is a dangerous line of questioning. No one likes doubting Thomases from within one's own ranks. So let me say no more.

But one thing is for sure. The slogans are outdated. Their lordships, whose cause we carried on our horns for so long, have been restored. The 18th Amendment is out of the way. This is a time for taking stock and searching for fresh directions.

The necessity of such schemes as the heavily-subsidised sasti roti (cheap bread) scheme would also seem to have passed. And, please, in any coming Ramazan let there be no more subsidised Ramazan package. Governments must learn to start living within their means. It is in this context that Punjab should perhaps be taking a second look at the hugely-expensive Daanish schools. But since this seems to be a pet scheme of the chief minister's, and he being someone not easily given to changing his mind, discretion demands that I hold my peace.

(Although, to be fair to the PML-N, it is more of a laidback party in many respects than many people would be prepared to give it credit for. In the PPP, to which I belonged once upon a time, it was difficult, nay impossible, to carry on with politics and journalism at the same time, unless of course the journalism was fulsome and sang the unstinting praises of the leadership. It's not so in the PML-N where, the Lord be praised, I have not faced the same problem.)

The army too is in danger of getting stuck, not so much in a rut as on a plateau. Swat and South Waziristan have been successes and they haven't come cheap, many valuable lives lost in these operations. But what is the way ahead? The insurgency, or call it what you will, has been contained. The Taliban have suffered reverses. But they haven't been defeated or eliminated.

So even if we talk to the Taliban (something which we will eventually have to do) from a position of relative strength once the Americans begin withdrawing from Afghanistan, as they are likely to start doing sometime next year, that's about it.

There are no more spectacular triumphs looming on the horizon. Between now and next year the army has to hold on to what it has won. Consolidation is often more difficult, certainly more patience-testing, than the initial rush to arms. So the army faces a tough twelve months. The nation's prayers should be with its men and women in uniform.

Although it would vastly help if the army could stick to its primary duty and cut down on some of the commercial instincts which it has developed and honed over the Zia and Musharraf years. Before Swat and Waziristan the army had become too much of a Defence Housing Authority army, its skill in the use of arms in serious danger of being outstripped by its skill in the intricacies of real estate. Just as the political class needs to reinvent itself, and come up with fresh ideas to meet Pakistan's multiple challenges, the Taliban insurgency is a rare, almost heaven-sent opportunity, for the army to reverse its Defence Housing Authority outlook. That is, if the army is at all serious about the nation leaving its past behind and setting out in fresh directions.

Tailpiece: My apologies to poet and man of letters Ataul Haq Qasmi for not making it to his son's wedding. I did get to Lahore and checked in at the Gymkhana where lying in ambush were two friends who, treacherously, had taken care to lay out the evening's entertainment. Before I knew it, it was one in the morning, long past the time for any wedding. Some hope of national renewal.

Way to the top

The promotion procedure, from BPS-17 to BPS-22

By Babar Dogar

There are 13 occupational groups in the Central Superior Service of Pakistan. On the basis of CSS Competitive Examination, officers, granted BPS-17, join these groups as probationers that are selected on merit; who then get their initial training at the Academy for Administrative Training, Walton Campus Lahore. After completing their training, they are posted as officers in their respective groups.

From BPS-17 to 21, the promotions are regulated by the Civil Servants Act, 1973 and Civil Servants Rules 1974. A minimum of five years of service is required for promotion from BPS-17 to BPS-18; 12 years for BPS-19; 17 years for BPS 20; and a total of 22 years for promotion to BPS-21.

Additionally, a minimum quantification score on account of Performance Evaluation Report (PER) from 17 to 18 is 40 marks; from grade 18 to 19, 60 marks; from grade 19 to 20, 70 marks and; from grade 20 to 21, 73 marks.

Officers are further trained at the National Institute for Public Administration -- a short course for Grade 18 to 19 and three months for Grade19 to 20. Grade 20 to 21 officers are required to sit for a ten-month course at National Defense University, Islamabad and National School of Public Policy, Lahore. For officers recommended for promotions or deferments, reasons have to be recorded by the Departmental Promotion Committee (DPC) and Central Selection Board (CSB) in their respective meetings.

However, former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in his last days in power devised a new promotion policy, especially for Grade 20 and 21 officers, to supposedly accommodate his blue-eyed boys. Out of the quantification score of 100 marks 73 were granted for PERs, 15 to members of the Central Selection Board and rest of the 12 marks to the Training Courses from National Institute of Public Administration and the National School of Public Policy. 15 marks were given to the members of the Board without conducting interview to give a wide range of leverage for accommodating blue-eyed boys on account of like or dislike.

Additionally, many ifs and buts are involved in the method devised for evaluating the annual confidential reports (ACRs), which is not based on performance and delivery rather on loyalty and obedience to the chief executives.

Unfortunately, the system favours the fittest --ones without the right connections have to run from pillar to post for promotion from BPS-17 to 22. Policies formulated are need-based and their implementation interest-based.

As for promotions from Grade 21 to 22, the chief executive enjoys discretionary/unfettered powers. Although there is no Central Selection Board, yet the chief executive is expected to consider all the officers who are due for promotion and provide in writing reasons for their promotion to Grade-22.

Deforming bureaucracy

For a country like Pakistan, the evolution of bureaucracies has been forced and lateral, not natural and linear

By Adnan Rehmat

All types of governments -- whether elected or self-appointed and whether benevolent or autocratic -- require bureaucracies to govern countries. It is not in the nature of bureaucracies to offer corrections to governments on policies or even to inform priorities, merely to try and implement them as ordered. For bureaucracies anywhere process, not service, drives them. One cannot understand bureaucracies until understanding that for bureaucrats, procedure is king and that performance is for governments. And for a country like Pakistan, which has see-sawed between democracies and dictatorships, the evolution of bureaucracies has been forced and lateral, not natural and linear, with the result that little works and even files of the president and prime minister go missing somewhere between ministries.

It does not help that for a bureaucracy that has alternately conformed to diametrically opposed national priorities and agendas in Pakistan over the past few decades as politicians and generals have held sway over uncertain games of musical chairs for abrupt periods in power, the country's bureaucracy was an inheritance from the Raj era and designed for colonial duties in the first place, rather than service-oriented as in a welfare state. Not even the bureaucracy in Pakistan will contest the general perception that it is rusty and ineffective at best. At worst its capacity is severely diminished due to overt politicisation and corruption in its ranks and the abject failure to attract the best and the brightest of the country's citizens to it anymore.

Colonial bureaucracy

According to Andrew Wilder, who has recently researched the capacity of Pakistan's political institutions, including the bureaucracy, Pakistan's colonial heritage has heavily influenced its political culture as well as its bureaucratic and political institutions. The Indian Civil Service was designed to rule the British empire in this part of the world. While representative institutions were gradually introduced into colonial India, their role was advisory rather than policy-making, and to deal with local administrative matters rather than substantive issues. They were never intended to be democratic institutions that transferred power to elected representatives, but rather were designed to help legitimise and strengthen the authority of the bureaucratic state. The power imbalance between the strong bureaucratic institutions that Pakistan inherited from colonial India and the weak representative and democratic institutions has been one of the greatest causes of political instability in Pakistan since its independence.

With at least three distinct decade-long periods of military rule, Generals Ayub-Yahya, Zia and Musharraf in particular helped create and consolidate the rot by institutionalising ad hocism and skewering the natural progression of career bureaucracy. Each time there was a transition to democracy, in the 1970s, 1990s and recently, there was little serious effort made to institute reforms that would inject back professionalism and meritocracy within the executive. This ensured concentration of powers -- usually controlled directly by both civil and military bureaucracies -- in the executive branch stayed put to the detriment of legislature as well as the judiciary. Even now it is the executive supported by the bureaucracy that typically initiates legislation, bypassing the legislature

by promulgating presidential


Patronage bureaucracy

Another legacy holding sway in Pakistan's political culture and institutions, as well as its electoral politics, notes Wilder, is the institutionalisation of patron-client political associations between the bureaucracy and local elites. In exchange for benefaction in the shape of land grants, pensions and titles, feudals, clerics and tribal chiefs were co-opted by colonial managers to provide political stability and collect revenues. After independence, this direct patron-client relationship between the bureaucracy and local elites strengthened the image of the bureaucracy as the providers of patronage, influence and security, thereby undermining the development of political parties that normally would have played this intermediary role.

Until the break-up of the country in 1971 the civilian bureaucracy played the dominant role in Pakistan's policy-making and as such was insufficiently controlled or influenced by elected politicians. During this period, there was limited scope for interference from politicians as the bureaucracy, particularly the elite Civil Service of Pakistan, maintained control over the selection, training and posting of its members and was therefore able to retain its institutional autonomy. The political unrest that brought down General Ayub's regime in 1969, followed by the bloody civil war that dismembered Pakistan, seriously undermined the political strength and legitimacy of both the civil and military bureaucracies.

Politicised bureaucracy

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto carved out his political strength from this bureaucratic weakness after coming to power and set out to rectify the power imbalance between the elected and unelected institutions of the state. Within weeks of assuming power he stamped his authority by compulsorily retiring 1,300 bureaucrats and followed that up within months by sweeping administrative reforms. This included introducing a policy of lateral recruitment to increase political influence over a bureaucracy resistant to reform. Then through the 1973 Constitution he sliced away the protection of tenure. Rapid politicization of the civil service followed. This model of patronage, which dispensed with professionalism and performance and promoted loyalty to rulers, has been religiously followed by all subsequent governments whether elected or military. Thousands of civil officers are routinely transferred before and after elections to serve the wishes of their political masters, making it difficult for bureaucrats to get postings, transfers or promotions without the support of political or military patronage.

While the politicisation of bureaucracy, as a result of Bhutto's administrative reforms, did have the short term positive result of giving elected representatives more influence over unelected institutions but permanent adoption of this model also resulted in the decimation of a neutral and competent civil service. Of the dozen serious attempts to study administrative reforms since Bhutto's hanging, almost all seek to restore constitutional security of tenure and safety from prosecution for the civil servants -- arguing that insecure officers can't perform wonders. Both Generals Zia and Musharraf seriously toyed with the idea of restoring these guarantees but understood -- as did the governments of Benazir and Nawaz -- that to retain their grip on the polity they would require a weak and subservient civil service rather than a strong and independent one, and so backed off.

Militarised bureaucracy

General Zia was in fact clear in what he needed to do. He strengthened and consolidated the military's position not only as the country's strongest bureaucratic institution but also as its strongest political institution. While he did reverse Bhutto's reforms, such as the lateral entry of civilian bureaucrats, he offset this by increasing the lateral entry of military officers into the civilian bureaucracy. In fact he instituted a 10 percent quota for former military officials in the officer grades in the civilian bureaucracy. General Musharraf took this to unprecedented heights. When he left in August 2008, there were over 10,000 serving and retired military officers in the civilian bureaucracy his government had appointed.

Even well before Musharraf staged a coup in 1999, the military was a state within a state. Today arguably it is the state -- the elected civilian government and 18th constitutional amendment notwithstanding. The military controls all key state institutions through either direct control or through invisible influence -- the civil service, foreign policy, economic policy, home policy, intelligence agencies. The judiciary and the legislature are still recovering from the encumbering if invisible influence of the army. The worry is that due to the emaciated civilian bureaucracy, the administration of state institutions is still transparently marked by the invisible hand of the military and continues to depend on its capacity rather than civilian.

Considering that there is no concerted effort at broader reforms, over time, the effect is being compounded, especially since the elected government is increasingly noted for its poor governance track-record of two years. There may have been political triumphs for it but good governance is not one of them. The military has become organisationally and institutionally stronger in the last decade. It has ensured it gets much better governance and administrative training than the civilian bureaucracy even as the latter suffers from institutional decay and heads into the other direction.

Professional bureaucracy

Headed by former State Bank of Pakistan Governor Ishrat Hussain, the National Commission for Government Reforms, set up by the last military government but also tentatively supported by the incumbent elected government, has completed an exhaustive two-year review of what ails the civil service of Pakistan and what can be done to prop it up as a standard bearer of professionalism. The commission offers the following key recommendations as the only way for Pakistan to get a service oriented bureaucracy that can help run the proverbial ship of state properly:

Greater accountability: The need to strengthen internal and external accountability mechanisms to address widespread corruption within the bureaucracy;

Enhanced efficiency and transparency: The need to promote greater efficiency and transparency by replacing manual processes with automated ones and rationalising antiquated and outdated rules, procedures and regulations;

Rightsizing: The need for greater efficiency and affordability through rightsizing (most feasibly through natural attrition) of the large number of government employees in the relatively unproductive subordinate services (Grades 1 to 16);

Reform of the cadre system: The need to promote equality of opportunities and career advancement within the civil service rather than the tradition of giving preferential treatment in terms of training, positions and promotions to certain elite cadres.

Is this the roadmap to recovery? Given the chequered history of attempts to reform and deform the civil services in Pakistan, it seems this is not likely in a hurry -- considering that the timing of reforms is as relevant a tactical issue for military as it is for civilian dispensations. The popularly elected political government wants to break a record by surviving five years and the military establishment is keen to consolidate gains by repairing the damage from Musharraf's overstretch of his last two years. Any serious reforms now will have short term consequences on the principal stakeholders of the political system, including the parliament and the military, each of which is in no mood to lose their respective influence and its attendant benefits. Meanwhile, the only thing that will save Pakistanis from its bureaucracy is its inefficiency.