May 5, 2012

Our fake values

By Amin Jan Naim Social values in our country are undergoing a change from the traditional patterns. Such changes are causing major alterations and cleavages in our social fabric. In human history, changes in social values have often led to considerable upheavals and turmoil. Sometimes they have resulted in social stagnation; at other times to an intellectual and cultural flowering. For example, the Hellenistic period and the European Renaissance had led to an upsurge of the human spirit and attainments. In contrast, medievalism in Europe during the Dark Ages had led to dogmatism and stagnation. In transitional periods of history there is often a mixing and a blending of cultures. Sometimes this is accompanied by a big upsurge in intellectual activity. Such encounters between cultures have at times led to progress and development. At other times, traditional value systems have collapsed under the influence of alien influences, with negative consequences for society. Despite a confused amalgamation of cultures emanating from the commercial and technological advancement of the West, the world today, including the West itself, lacks a salutary authentic spirit. Although modern technology has spanned the globe, the world is largely chaotic. Large swathes of people still cling to the certainties of tribe, religion and ethnicity. Technology has essentially impinged on only the surface of many lives. According to the late Czech playwright and communist-era dissident (later president) Vaclav Havel, the abyss between the rational and the spiritual, the external and the internal, the technical and the moral, and the universal and the unique, constantly grows deeper. In Pakistan, we need to generate thought processes which are conducive to progress and to inculcate ethics and aesthetics. Our real challenge is a sociological one. It is a challenge on the plane of social institutions and social ethics. We are faced with cultural perversion resulting from an ignoble and malignant milieu. A sense of crisis and polarisation is the dominant feature in our national life. In our country, a false sense of values and hypocrisy are common. The individual is conditioned from childhood to look for approval from constituted authority. People are expected to live up to the traditional autocratic social code, rather than to fulfil internal, personal standards. There is no premium on excellence or performance of a job done well for its own sake. Compromises are the norm in matters of personal behaviour, quality of work and sense of moral responsibility. Another unpleasant trait in our national character is the tendency to express opinions which are intended to please rather than the expression of an honest viewpoint. What type of society are we heading for? One in which beggars make more money than a responsible citizen; in which young children are kidnapped, then maimed and made to beg in order to fill the coffers of ruthless elements; in which the new generation is physically mauled, through malnutrition and first-cousin marriages-thus lowering the mental and physical standards of health and fitness; in which hypocrisy, vulgarity, the rat-race and brutality are at a premium; in which pollution of air and water make life far from being worthwhile. The utterly abhorrent acid attacks on women are bringing us shame around the world. So are the many widespread practices here of the subjugation of women. If this is the type of society in existence at present in our country, what kind of future lies ahead for our new generation. It is clear that urgent attention needs to be paid to these issues so that a decrepit and unhealthy generation does not grow up in misery and squalor. The ancient Greeks considered happiness, or eudaimonia, to be an activity of reason or activity in accordance with reason. Thus, the truly happy life is the ideal life of activity and thought in accordance with virtue. If we are to take our rightful place in the comity of nations, we need to imbibe this Hellenic spirit.

Spare the teacher

By Lubna Jerar Naqvi We often hear of students being brutally beaten up by teachers in Pakistan and we condemn the corporal punishment that has always been a part of our education system. But with reports of teachers’ beatings at the hands of their students coming up, the adage “spare the rod, spoil the child” needs to be rephrased to “spare the rod, spoil the child – and save the teacher.” Though here we are talking of the “child” who has outgrown childhood. Recently at least two incidents have been reported in the media, in which students or their family members have turned on teachers and caused serious injury. Recently, a government teacher of Government High School at Mattod Bhaike near Gujranwala was beaten up by a class nine student and three of his accomplices. They left the teacher in such a state that he had to be hospitalised. The teacher’s crime: he had reprimanded the student for bunking class. In another incident, news appeared last month of a former MPA, Aslam Madhyana, father of present PPP MPA Awais Madhyana, being arrested for torturing an elderly schoolteacher and breaking both his legs in Sargodha. was According to reports, the former MPA told the media that PML-N leaders ‘Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif were trying to take “political revenge”’. Both cases are being dealt with by the law. Many cultures, including ours, revere the teacher and give a status higher to the “spiritual parent” than one’s own parents. It needs to be investigated why teachers are now being dealt with such brutally by their students. A look back into our recent past – the last three decades or so – will reveal that the use of force against a teacher is not today’s phenomenon in Pakistan. We have seen teachers threatened and terrorised by their students (in the 70s, 80s and 90s). Politicised “students” have been known to terrorise and threaten teachers, after bunking, or disrupting classes for political reasons. Stories of knife- or gun-wielding students blatantly cheating in exams filtered out of educational institutes in Karachi and many other parts of Sindh, while the helpless teaching staff looked on. Anyone brave enough to try and stop this was roughed up. This dealt a serious blow to the quality of education imparted in this part of the country, especially Karachi – which was once known for its educational institutions and attracted a large number of foreign students. Sadly, as students became powerful through political connections, and probably proved beneficial to their “mother political parties,” they proved to be detrimental to the quality of “professionals” comprising the workforce. The quality of work produced by these political students was zilch. They proved even more useless in the professional field for they were only good for “politics” – i.e., shutting down work, protesting, taking out rallies, etc. Once “graduating” with a degree, these “educated” professionals proved to be “useful” in different professional sectors but not in terms of quality or skill. This triggered the massive brain drain from the country, with those who were able to afford foreign education leaving the country, with the less fortunate left to wade the educational muck. This soon proved to be detrimental in many ways, as more and more degree-holders came into the professional field armed with nothing more than a paper declaring that they had “mastered” in something. It didn’t seem to matter to most Pakistanis that schools, colleges and universities were spitting out a large number of uneducated people, many with fake degrees since these people were useful to become foot soldiers of political leaders to do what they had received “education and training” in what goes for “politics” in Pakistan.

Higher education in India

By Dr Atta-ur-Rahman Over the next five years India will establish 200 new universities and 40 new high-level institutes. Nine additional IITs will also be established, bringing the total number of IITs to 16. This was stated by Indian human resource development minister Kapil Sibal in the Lok Sabha recently. A sum of Rs800 billion, the biggest-ever allocation, is being set aside in the 12th five-year-plan of India (2012-2017) to propel it into a strong knowledge-based economy. India has presently 17 percent of its youth between the ages of 17 of 23 enrolled in the higher education sector (as opposed to Pakistan’s 7.6 percent). It plans to increase this enrolment to 30 percent of the same age group by the year 2030 (Chetan Chauhan, The Hindustan Times, April 25). India decided to replace its University Grants Commission with a stronger federally funded organisation, National Commission of Higher Education and Research. This was approved by the Indian Cabinet in December 2011. The recent steps taken by India are the result of a detailed presentation made to the Indian prime minister in July 2006 by Prof C N R Rao about the threat posed by the remarkable transformation underway in higher education in Pakistan. In an article entitled “Pak threat to Indian science,” Neha Mehta wrote: “Pakistan may soon join China in giving India serious competition in science.” (The Hindustan Times on July 23, 2006.) This presentation to the Indian prime minister set in motion a whole set of reforms in the higher education sector in India with a sharp increase in the salary structures of academics and a manifold increase in the budget for higher education. India had been giving the highest priority to higher education, science and technology for decades. The first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had already laid the foundations of modern India in the 1950s and 1960s. The prime minister of India himself headed what he considered to be the most important ministry in India – science and technology. The progress made by the higher education sector in Pakistan in the last decade is reflected from the increase in enrolment from 276,000 students in 2003 to 803,000 in 2011, increase in number of universities and degree-awarding institutes from 59 in the year 2000 to 137 by 2011, and an increase in international research publications from only 636 in 2000 to 6,200 in 2011. The PhD output too underwent an explosive growth. During the 55-year period from 1947 to 2002, only 3,281 PhDs had been granted by all our universities (a shocking average of about 3-4 PhDs per university per year)! During the subsequent eight-year period from 2003 to 2010, this number was exceeded and 3,658 PhDs were granted. There was maximum emphasis on quality, as all PhD theses were evaluated by at least two top experts in technologically advanced countries before approval. The silent revolution that occurred in the higher education sector in Pakistan was lauded by neutral international experts and agencies and numerous reports published on it. In a book published by the Royal Society (London) entitled A New Golden Age the example of Pakistan was cited as the best model to be followed by other developing countries. Nature, the world’s leading science journal, published four editorials and several articles on the transformation that was occurring in Pakistan and advised the new government in 2008 not to go back to the “stone age” that existed prior to the reforms introduced after 2002 in higher education. The chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Education announced it as “Pakistan’s golden period in higher education” and called for my reappointment after I had resigned in protest against the suspension of scholarships of HEC scholars sent abroad. I was conferred a high civil award by the Austrian government and the TWAS (Italy) Prize for institution building for leading these changes. After the remarkable progress achieved in Pakistan in the higher education during 2003-2008, we have been systematically trying to destroy the one sector that had raised a gleam of hope among the masses. First, the development budget of the higher education sector was slashed by about 50 percent in 2009. Then, the scholarships of the several thousand Pakistani students studying in foreign universities were withheld, forcing them to go literally begging for funds on the streets of countries where they had gone to brighten their future. This was followed by the status of the executive director of the HEC of a federal secretary being withdrawn, thereby preventing the HEC from holding Departmental Development Working Party (DDWP) meetings and approving projects for Pakistani universities. The projects to establish foreign engineering universities in major cities of Pakistan were closed down. This would have saved Rs50 billion annually and provided Pakistani students with the opportunity of getting quality education with foreign degrees without going abroad. The HEC had found that 51 of our “honourable” parliamentarians had forged degrees and those of another 250 parliamentarians were suspect. In any other country such persons would have had to go to jail for cheating and forgery. However the Election Commission, instead of declaring their elections null and void, became a party to the game, in clear defiance of the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Why the Supreme Court has chosen to look the other way in this matter of enormous national importance is beyond understanding. A group of these “honourable” parliamentarians with forged degrees plotted to shred the HEC into pieces, and under their pressure a government notification was issued on 30th November 2010 shredding the HEC into pieces. On my appeal to the Supreme Court of Pakistan this was overturned and the Supreme Court declared the move as unconstitutional. The greedy and evil designs continue. Another Bill moved in parliament recently is directed to take away the Rs44 billion budget of the HEC from the 17-member commission and give the funds to a secretary in the federal government to distribute. This will open the doors to corruption. At present the powers to allocate funds are vested with a 17-member commission that included four provincial secretaries, two federal secretaries, vice chancellors and eminent citizens. So, while India progresses in leaps and bounds to strengthen its higher education, science and technology sectors, Pakistan sinks deeper into a quagmire created by incompetent and crooked parliamentarians. Following the spectacular successes of the HEC in Pakistan, India is in the process of closing down its UGC, to establish the National Commission of Higher Education and Research on the pattern of the HEC. Pakistan is however systematically destroying its HEC. Clearly it is not India that is our enemy – we ourselves are!

Sonia Gandhi’s uphill task

By Praful Bidwai Fully eight weeks after the Congress lost legislature elections in four out of five Indian states, the party is acknowledging that it’s in deep crisis. It has serious difficulties in managing its allies. It’s demoralised. And the United Progressive Alliance government is losing ground as it drifts further Rightwards. Few Congress leaders believe the UPA can win the next Lok Sabha election, due in 2014, if it continues along its present course. They are bracing for the assembly elections in Gujarat, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh, all Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states, later this year, and in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh (also BJP-ruled), Rajasthan and Delhi next year. In partial acknowledgment of the crisis, central ministers Jairam Ramesh and Salman Khurshid have offered to step down and devote themselves to party work. There is talk of repeating the Kamaraj Plan, a major effort to revamp the Congress launched in 1963 by the then party president. Then, a reorganisation of the party, based on a purge of the cabinet, infused new energy into the Congress and strengthened its Left wing. Today, the party is worse placed to revamp itself than 50 years ago. It stands disconnected from grassroots-level social forces and processes. In most states, it’s largely in the grip of a plutocracy, which doesn’t even believe in the aam aadmi election slogan, leave alone the need to sink roots among the underprivileged. Worse, the national-level division of labour between the government and the party is such that the former overwhelms the Congress. The Manmohan Singh government remains a prisoner of pro-Big Business neoliberal policies which expropriate poor people’s livelihoods besides natural resources. These policies, and high inflation, which is eroding people’s purchasing power, have combined with innumerable corruption scandals to make the UPA deeply unpopular. In its second avatar, the UPA has forfeited much of its goodwill by failing to live up to its “inclusive growth” promise. India’s recent GDP growth has been profoundly iniquitous and greatly widened rich-poor disparities. What the Congress needs is not just house-cleaning and a personnel reshuffle, but a change of overall approach, policy and programmes which brings it in line with the natural centre of gravity of the Indian politics. Because of the unaddressed agendas of poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity in this society, that centre of gravity lies on the Left. The Congress must appeal to the poor from a Left-leaning platform. It can gain little by appealing to the consumerist elite. Yet, today, for the first time when in power nationally, the Congress has no Left-leaning ginger group within, comparable to the Young Turks of the 1960s or the Nehru Forum of the 1970s, which could impel it to reconnect to the masses. Nor is it subject to an external progressive influence, as it was in 2004-08, when it was dependent on the Left parties, which negotiated a Common Minimum Programme with it. Having a Left-leaning orientation and progressive pro-people agendas is not a matter of personal preference, but a precondition for electoral success for parties like the Congress. Unlike UPA-1, which introduced the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Right to Information Act, UPA-2 can claim no major progressive measure which corrects structural inequalities and growth imbalances, barring to an extent the Right to Education Act, which gives underprivileged children access to school education. RTE’s implementation won’t be easy without grassroots mobilisations and civil society movements. In fact, UPA-2 came through as mean-minded and callous towards the poor in the way it made a hash of the Food Security Bill. It undermined the recommendations of the National Advisory Council headed by Sonia Gandhi; drastically reduced food grain entitlements and manipulated numbers to arbitrarily create three different categories of beneficiaries. Instead of establishing universal entitlements, it resorted to highly abuse-prone “targeting” of specific groups. The present government is bereft of new ideas which could reduce widespread poverty and deprivation, or help realise the people’s fundamental right people to live with human dignity. The latest National Sample Survey figures show that 66 percent of the people in both urban and rural areas are income-poor to the extent that they don’t have enough to eat. By all accounts, other forms of poverty, e.g. lack of access to common property resources like pastures and land from which to gather firewood, have sharply worsened. High GDP growth hasn’t made an iota of difference to this bottom two-thirds. Even if the GDP grows at 10 percent, their lot won’t improve. The problem isn’t growth; it’s distribution and how much of the new income generated goes to the underprivileged vis-à-vis the top 10-15 percent. The Indian government’s failure on distribution is all the more grave because its revenue income has more than tripled over the past five years. The Indian state is today a better placed than at any other time to do something substantial for the underprivileged. Instead, it has cut the NREGA budget and raised subsidies for the rich and various categories of businesses to obscene heights. It won’t be easy to repair UPA-2’s severely damaged image unless Congress president Sonia Gandhi takes some drastic measures. The first would be to end the present division of labour between her and Manmohan Singh under which he follows the most viciously anti-poor policies, which further alienate the poor. Gandhi, who apparently favours a Left-of-centre approach, probably set up this arrangement in the hope that her son would join the government and succeed Singh within a short span of time. After the Congress’s poor showing in Uttar Pradesh under Rahul Gandhi, that isn’t about to happen. In general, his strategy of rejuvenating the party through the Youth Congress with elected office-bearers hasn’t worked. Sonia Gandhi must play a more activist role vis-à-vis the government if the Congress is to be rejuvenated. This doesn’t mean that she should interfere in its day-to-day working. But it would be legitimate for her to set clear policy parameters within which the government must work. She has an institutional mechanism at hand to accomplish this – the National Advisory Council. The trouble is, unlike its predecessor, the present NAC is weak and compromised. Unlike in the past, there is no synergy between the NAC and external civil society or political forces. The council’s composition, which includes some diehard neoliberals, isn’t conducive to radically changing the orientation of government policies. Jean Dreze, an outstanding social scientist, and Amartya Sen’s collaborator, quit the NAC out of frustration over the Food Security Bill. Sonia Gandhi must reorganise the NAC by removing conservatives and inducting progressives into it. Dreze, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Jairam Ramesh are potential candidates for inclusion, besides civil society representatives. Equally important, the NAC should not be treated as a decorative body whose advice doesn’t bind the Congress and the government, or even as an institution which must negotiate its recommendations with the government. The short point is, the Congress lacks the internal resources and ideas to pull itself up by the bootstraps. It can acquire the necessary wherewithal only by reconnecting itself with social movements around defence of livelihoods against predatory capital and extension of people’s rights and entitlements. The NAC could be a useful mediating agency in this.
Timely interlude By Raoof Hasan Notwithstanding the apparent non-partisan approach of the speech, there are a few things in General Kayani’s written address at the Martyrs’ Day Ceremony that stand out by way of their relevance to the fast deteriorating situation in the country. It not only outlines the reasons why we are plunging into an unfathomable pit, it also shows the way to salvage national pride and dignity. Strictly speaking, the occasion did not warrant this intervention, but the rapid pace at which the country seems to be plunging into chaos and anarchy must be pressing hard on his mind as, indeed, it is on that of every conscientious citizen. Reiterating his faith in democracy, General Kayani said: “We believe in the stability and continuity of the democratic system in Pakistan. Pakistan’s progress, prosperity and uplift are linked with respect for the democratic traditions”. He elaborated: “The constitution of Pakistan has clearly outlined the role and responsibilities of all state institutions. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us that we conduct ourselves in accordance with the parameters as defined so that it would enhance respect and dignity both of our country and ourselves”. It is towards the end of his speech that he cautioned: “We should never forget that the singular purpose of the democratic system is to work for the welfare, prosperity and self-respect of the people as also to strive for a society that affords equal justice to all. This is the only way to further strengthen national security”. A telling indictment, indeed, interspersed with meaningful advice! Viewed in the backdrop of a government that has utterly failed in delivering to the people and which has literally abdicated governance at the altar of salvaging the ill-gotten billions of its leaders and their associates, the message is both a timely reminder and a warning: it is a reminder about the existence of a constitution and the need for all state institutions to work within their due limits as prescribed and it is a warning that democracy would not work if it does not provide avenues for the welfare, prosperity and self-respect of the people and ensure equal justice for all. Where does the government stand on the scale as outlined by the COAS? And why is that an army chief has to remind a democratic government about its responsibilities and failures? It would be interesting to note that, in the past, military commanders have taken over the reins of government for much less than what the incumbent administration has offered repeatedly on a platter. Be it’s intransigence in restoring an independent judiciary, or its dismantling of all state institutions, or its inherent spate of corruption, or its vile and wicked confrontation of the judiciary that has brought the country to the brink of paralysis, or a crude exposition of its self-inflicted persecution complex, there is a vast repertoire of grievances that would have brought down any government in the past. The fact that this government is still there and we have an army chief who is reminding it of its responsibilities rather than ordering the appropriate brigade to march in is a tribute to the sagacity and wisdom that marks the military mind today. This is so in spite of the numerous occasions when the so-called democratic government has tried to put the military and intelligence agencies’ command in the dock, accusing them of running a ‘state within a state’ as also to scuttle their authority and viability by promising organisational and personnel changes in exchange for longevity of its corrupt rule. After four years in the saddle, the government has virtually exhausted all avenues for initiating a reform of mind and mechanism. It is so deeply stuck in its errant ways that there is no hope for salvation. Practically, it is at war with every institution that is advocating the espousal of priorities that the army chief rightly outlined in his speech. On the other hand, the government appears determined to precipitate conditions leading to embracing political martyrdom so that it would score some precious points to ‘buy’ votes at the next elections as and when they are held. Mr Gilani’s conviction in the contempt of court proceedings was an opportunity when the government could have initiated the long overdue process of putting things right. This would have not only helped it erase the record of a not-too-impressive past, but may also have created propitious conditions for it to move on and complete its tenure. But, when the prime objective is to safeguard the illicit and fraudulently earned monies by its leaders, no such thing can go beyond the realm of a desirable possibility. So deeply sunk is the government in its own misdeeds, that there is no prospect of retrieval or reform. The likelihood is that it would continue going deeper into the quagmire with an over-riding concern that it may take the country along, too. It was hoped that better sense would prevail in the face of judicial injunctions and an effort would unfurl to reshape the national course in conformity with the parameters of the rule of law. In the wake of an outright announcement of war with the judiciary and blatant refusal to accept its verdicts now and in the future, what are the options that can still be used to extricate the country out of the mess that it is mired in? This is the context in which the army chief’s timely intervention should be viewed. His words do not reflect a desire to intervene or take over. On the contrary, they are a reminder to the incumbent government of its responsibilities to keep the democratic system afloat which would come about by ensuring the welfare, prosperity and self-respect of the people of Pakistan as also by creating conditions for affording them equal justice. It can’t be that while the ‘prime minister’ would refuse to submit before the dictate of the apex court, it would be expected of the ordinary mortals to continue doing so. In the event they also refuse to accept the judicial edicts, and when the state apparatus has been rendered dysfunctional because of rampant corruption and nepotism, the slide into anarchy would be the only prospect remaining. The environment is being further vitiated by raising divisive and controversial issues as a lead-up to the next elections. This vicious agenda includes the creation of new provinces drawn along linguistic and sectarian lines and using the state institutions to scuttle possible anti-government agitation. The NAB chief’s statement that President Zardari had asked him not to open cases against Nawaz Sharif when he took over the charge of the accountability bureau (and, understandably, he did not!) is extremely disturbing in this context. Now that there is a threat by the same Nawaz Sharif of starting a long march against the incumbent government, the interior minister has boasted publicly to file corruption references against the PML-N leadership. Why should corruption be hidden in the first place on whosoever’s behest? Why should the NAB chief toe a line that is not in conformity with the established principles of justice and fair play? From the ‘president’ to the ‘prime minister’ to the cabinet ‘ministers’ and a vast coterie of servile attendants, it is a bunch of crooks and convicts that rules the country today. What is even more gruesome is that this system, in its present shape and formulation, would continue to throw up people of dubious backgrounds and intentions to crowd the legislatures for an unending fun time. The army chief appears acutely aware of what ails the country. With a government failing in fulfilling all its primary responsibilities and with the prospects of agitation growing, are we headed for another intervention on the lines of what led to the restoration of an independent judiciary? After all, there is Article 190 in the Constitution binding all executive and judicial authorities throughout Pakistan to act in aid of the Supreme Court. Are we ever going to learn?

Jan 1, 2012

Hormuz flashpoint

The announcement on Thursday of a major arms deal between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States comes at a time when regional tensions centred on the Straits of Hormuz, are rising by the day. There is no direct linkage between the $30 billion sale and the current crisis as the deal was planned over a year ago, but Iran will see the symbolism. The origins of the problem lie in the Iranian threat to close the Straits of Hormuz to oil-carrying traffic if the USA tightens sanctions still further against it; as a part of the American response to what it sees as an emerging nuclear capability on the part of Iran. The American response to the ‘Iranian threat’ is that it is a reflection of the ‘irrational’ behaviour of the Tehran government. This is not the first time that this vital seaway has been the focus of international tension. Both Gulf Wars saw increased naval activity by coalition navies, and the USA, Britain and others maintain standing patrols to protect the Straits which see an average of 13 tankers a day passing through carrying 33 percent of the world’s seaborne oil shipment, representing 17 percent of all oil traded worldwide. The Iranian threat to close the Straits as easily ‘as drinking a glass of water’ may be bravado as the Iranian navy would be no match for the forces quickly deployed against it – but the Iranians have naval assets which could severely interdict traffic. To strengthen their point the Iranians in the last week carried out naval exercises and deployed a surveillance aircraft to monitor a US carrier passing through the Strait. On Saturday there were conflicting reports regarding the firing of a long-range missile by the Iranians – with the semi-official ‘Fars’ news agency saying a missile was fired, but an Iranian navy spokesman saying it had not – but would be in the coming days. The seriousness of the situation must not be underestimated. From the Iranian perspective they are surrounded by hostile states bent on their overthrow or destruction. This is not mere paranoia, and although Iran is militarily no match for any of the states ranged against it, there is a real possibility that conflict could break out if Iran judged the threat to itself to be existential. America will aggressively protect its interests in the region, and will support Saudi Arabia which is the historic enemy of the Iranians. There may be a sense of desperation in the Iranian threat as the sanctions begin to bite, and the situation is on a hair-trigger. The Straits of Hormuz are one of the few places in the world which has the potential to spark major conflict. Cool heads rather than hot words are the need of the hour.

Over the top

Masood Hasan So 2011 has slipped away without a trace. An entire year gone over into the abyss like a large ship that is one moment on the horizon and then slips over the rim and is gone without even a wake. Today is the first day of yet another year and it has become increasingly hard to call it by the usual ‘Happy New Year’ tag that we were once used to. What has really happened? Is time actually flying or are we getting senile? And why is it that when you look back on an entire year, 365 days and all, it is but a blur? Yes you remember the highs and the lows but for the rest of the many days that make up the year, there is not much to hold on to. Life is time passing, is it not? And in the words of T S Eliot with those evocative lines that open Burnt Norton ‘Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in the future,/And time future contained in time past,/If all time is eternally present/All time is unredeemable’. In our own lives and in these days it is the growing realisation that time past is not redeemable. Thus a feeling of loss and a brooding sense of pessimism pervades. An American friend of mine with a wicked sense of humour used to say about Pakistan, ‘The situation is hopeless but not serious.’ While it almost always evoked laughter I have often thought what these clever lines really meant other than the obvious cynicism they reflected. I don’t really know. All I do know is that it somehow, aptly describes the human condition that afflicts Pakistan from end to end. And that is sad. There is not much to be cheerful about. The mood that grips us is much like the gloom that descends on our cities when the sun absconds after a fruitless battle all day. The gathering dusk and creeping shadows overpower, with few lights to challenge them. There is no sunshine here. It’s gone. Vanished. In these days of eternal gas, power and water cuts we are just about existing. We are a depressed nation. No songs of joy here. Those bleating about the promised ‘change’ do so for such obvious motives that even a log of wood would see through the charade. The downside of all years gone and the promises that were never kept have shaken to the core even the most diehard ones. This is not what we came here for? This is a parody. We have missed the bus, the last train out, the departing ship. The sense of squandering opportunities prevails now like the fog on the motorway. In terms of lives of nations, maybe 60 years is nothing but a mote in the eye but what have we really done with these years is shameful. First the many leaders who have climbed to great positions of power most undeservedly and once there have systematically plundered the country and its assets assimilating wealth beyond belief. Then the generals who have always held sway, backed by an organised and armed self-serving system. The ‘servants’ of the people who have robbed us day and night. The police, a world full of criminals deadlier than the criminals they seek. The rank and file of society out to make a fast buck, stab everyone on the way and live beyond the reach of the law. We all love money especially when there is plenty of it. We pray to it because it is the only god we know, but how much can you accumulate? Among thousands of instances of gross corruption shine many nauseating gems. Some time back reports emanated that the current prime minister’s spouse who didn’t bat her professionally made-up eyelids cleaned out the inventory at London’s Harrods store. The VIP loot, crates of it, arrived and were whisked away in special trucks from Chaklala to her favourite city infested by poverty, flies and beggars. No one raised an eyebrow heaven forbid. Other stories abound. There are reams about the president, endless ones about the clout-wielding brass and conniving civil servants but relax. No heads are rolling or ever will. But she is not the only one or the first one. Literally everyone has done the same and worse. We have some of the most enviable laws crafted by mankind but neither do they exist nor ever practiced. We carry out the most shameful acts while shamelessly swearing our utter commitment to such laws. When the laws aren’t suitable, they are simply broken or cast aside. Tinpot dictators, insincerity dripping from every pore in their bodies trashed the Constitution, a serious offence yet they grew even more powerful. That line of our rogue’s gallery is a very long one and just about most of those the Almighty thrust upon this hapless nation have come and gone leaving Pakistan, in worse circumstances. Today we don’t even have the basic necessities that are the bare minimum requirements of any society – but perhaps this is not a society after all? Even if it is an apology of one, what right has any group of individuals to stay in power, make stupid speeches, lie daily and do nothing tangible in the way of this basic duty? That is of course a very silly and naïve question because we all know what is what. Between that great commando and the current dispensation and 15 precious years, we are starved of power. It is a matter of great shame. This is the year 2012 and we could well be in the Stone Age or thereabouts. What are the people expected to do to fight the cold, cook food and survive? Burn fruit crates? Cut trees down? But nothing shakes the capital and the focus is that this vile set-up must complete its five years and Inshallah, they will. Hallelujah! Revenge is the best democracy indeed! But this is an old story and it is a poor variation of a bedtime story where the prince eventually arrives, kills the giant and rescues his darling. Unfortunately this princess will soon be an ugly hag. She is already over 60 and time hasn’t been too kind to her. Those rallying to rescue her need to be first rescued themselves. But no one is going to pull Pakistan out of the terrifying mess it is now. Every ill that besets any society now has its death like tentacles over everything – touch anything and you see it is rotten to the core. Rules don’t apply, principles don’t matter and the illiterate roughnecks have the day. With ill-gotten money they have raked in and rake in all the time, they are ensuring their offspring, perhaps louts today with money to throw around, will soon be at the learning centres of the world, acquire sophistication, return and marry into other power wielders. The die is thus cast. You need a revolution but most of us cannot spell the word and those who can, don’t have a clue what it is all about. 2012, please go away.

Coup d’état

Dr Farrukh Saleem Over the past four years, the balance of power has moved in favour of a civilian government. In the past, a civilian prime minister or a president could not survive without the army’s support – Gilani and Zardari have. The mere postulation that the generals are now relying on the courts to undermine a civilian government is indicative of the army’s strategic diminution. Over the past six decades, the army had a near monopoly over Pakistan’s political-economy; no more. Over the sixty-two year period since Independence, the army has been the major stakeholder sometimes allowing the PPP and PML to take turns. Operation Fair Play, the coup d’état that brought down the elected civilian government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, could not have been successful without two things: the PML’s support and Justice Anwarul Haq’s ex post facto validation. General Mirza Aslam Baig brought down Benazir Bhutto’s elected government with Nawaz Sharif’s political support and Justice Afzal Zullah’s upholding the dissolution. In 1993, General Waheed Kakar forced Nawaz Sharif to resign. General Musharraf’s coup d’état was validated by Justice Irshad Hasan Khan while Benazir Bhutto had issued a statement in support of the coup (the PPP workers had distributed sweets). Almost all Pakistani coup d’état were supported – either immediately or within a few months – by the US. In essence, all of Pakistan’s coup d’état had an internal and an external dimension. The internal half had two components: support of a major political entity and a reasonable assurance of an ex post facto validation by the superior judiciary. This time around, both Nawaz Sharif and Iftikhar Chaudhry seem to have learned lessons from history. As far as the external dimension is concerned America will – and always has – only focus on its own immediate strategic interests. In the past, the Pakistan Army has always been of strategic value to the US – and thus American support for coup d’états. On the face of it, Pak-US military-to-military relations have soured but Pak Army could still be instrumental in achieving US strategic objectives in the region. The PPP government, having failed to deliver domestically, now looks up for US support to survive. The really good news out of Pakistan is that the Supreme Court – even for the generals – is taking centre-stage. To be certain, PPP’s worst enemy right now is neither the Supreme Court nor the GHQ. The PPP’s worst enemy is neither corruption nor America. Its worst enemy is its sheer incompetence and the failure to manage the economy in the interest of Pakistani voters. And that is why a large segment of the population is craving for a change – military induced or otherwise. If the civilians don’t change Pakistan’s direction the military would have to. A classic coup d’état is sudden, illegal and sometimes violent. A ‘smart coup d’état’ is slow, legal and nonviolent. To be sure, moving from overwhelming domination of the military to complete civilian supremacy is a generational issue provided the political leadership develops wisdom as well as vision. President Asif Ali Zardari celebrated his 56th birthday on the 26th of July but I feel that the ‘older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom’.

Truths and half-truths

Jumping on the bandwagon of Imran Khan is the latest fad in Pakistani politics. On his part, the erstwhile skipper is willing to admit to his “XI” anyone who matters. Until quite recently, a common criticism of Imran Khan was that his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), was a one-man show and that it didn’t boast of a single political heavyweight other than the leader himself. In order to become a significant force, the argument went, a political party must have a critical mass, and since the PTI was well short on that account it remained a non-entity in national politics. Whether Mr Khan himself had been selective in choosing his team or frontline politicians just shunned him is open to debate. But the criticism held water. However, now the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Notable political leaders are making a beeline for the PTI and the former speedster, to borrow idioms from his own dictionary, is claiming one prized scalp after another after his fiery spells in Lahore and Karachi. Thanks to him, erstwhile rivals from Multan as well as Kasur have sunk their differences and become friends, at least on the face of it. And it seems more surprises are in store. The PPP and the PML-N, watch out! One can hardly find fault with Imran Khan’s swelling the size and muscles of his party. In a democratic dispensation, if a political party is to capture power, it must win the electoral race; and in order to do so, it needs to field candidates who have a sizeable vote bank. The PTI fought electoral battles in 1997 and 2002 and on each occasion was routed. The reason: the party didn’t have winning horses. But now it has several, whose number is on the increase. The novelist E M Foster classifies characters in a work of fiction into flat and round. The former remain what they are, while the latter change in the course of the story. Mr Khan has also matured as the plot of the Pakistani political drama unfolded itself during the last few years. Kudos to him. Imran Khan is running the gauntlet of criticism of his adversaries for being the new political face of the establishment-a charge that he denies vehemently. The validity or otherwise of this allegation aside, the same charge is being levelled by those who themselves owe their rise to power and glory in the past to the backing and blessings of the establishment. If selling one’s soul to the power behind the throne in Pakistan’s political system is a sin, easily the majority of notable politicians, including some of the celebrated icons of democracy, are sinners. The PTI leader is also under fire for welcoming turncoats from other political parties to his fold. But, again, change of loyalties has been a common practice in Pakistani politics and parties not only keep their doors open to defectors but also encourage defections. Most of the men and women who have thrived on the political scene, past and present, were turncoats. Several persons who grace the present federal cabinet were important members of the Musharraf government. And, but for the turncoats, the PML-N government in Punjab would have fallen apart. That said, one may point out some contradictions in Imran Khan’s avowed programme. To start with, he talks about bringing about a revolution in Pakistan. Nice. But revolution is not mere regime change. It’s complete overthrow of the existing social and political order. Electoral politics has seldom, if ever, ushered in a revolution. Elections, at best, are a means of reforming the socio-political order; they are not meant to replace it. Worse, Imran Khan has joined hands with those who have the highest stakes in the preservation of the status quo. These people are opposed even to political reforms, to say nothing of revolution. The skipper’s claims of effecting a revolution with the help of such people is as ridiculous as MQM leader Altaf Hussain’s call on the generals sometime back to lead a revolution. Imran Khan wants to make Pakistan an Islamic welfare state. Again, a nice promise to make. But the devil lies in the details. The welfare state is essentially a Western concept born after the Second World War in response to the challenge posed by the growing threat of communism then. Assuming that the notion of an Islamic welfare state, like that of Islamic socialism, is not self-contradictory, some questions need to be answered. What type of Islamic state does the PTI leader want to construct? Would he follow in the footsteps of Gen Ziaul Haq and inject another heavy dose of religion into politics? In a multiethnic society like ours, religionisation of politics is a dangerous game to play, in that it enthrones one creed over the rest, which leads to the latter’s alienation. In case of Pakistan, which is already facing the menace of religious militancy on a horrendous scale, marriage of religion and politics will spell only disaster. As for the welfare state, it is on the eclipse, if it has not already passed away. The fundamental problem in creating and sustaining a welfare state is how to finance its expenses growing out of its multifarious role. At a time when governments across the globe are struggling to contain the burgeoning budget deficits, a promise of establishing a welfare state seems to be a very bold one-to say the least-even bolder in case of Pakistan with a persistently narrow fiscal space. Thus, though a welfare state is a goal worth pursuing, its creation will require both a quantum leap in public revenue and a drastic cut in non-productive public expenditure. If it comes into power, would the PTI be able to achieve that? Would the party, for example, cut back significantly on defence spending or introduce agriculture income tax, given that many of its frontline leaders come from the feudal class? Come on, skipper, you need to be more honest with the people. Imran Khan is a staunch critic of drone strikes, because they are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and kill innocent people. Hardly anyone will question this. But what about the activities of foreign militants in Pakistan? Don’t their clandestine activities violate our sovereignty? By the same reasoning, what about the death of soldiers and civilians at the hands of the militants? Don’t these deserve to be condemned with as much force as the predatory raids? But the PTI leader seldom, if ever, speaks against the activities of alien militants and suicide attacks. All he does is to attribute these to Islamabad’s alliance with Washington. Bewailing at drone strikes and winking at suicide terrorism is at best speaking only half the truth.


Hundreds of thousands of people crammed into New York's Times Square to bid farewell to the old year and watch Lady Gaga trigger the famous drop of a crystal ball marking the start of 2012. A raucous crowd that New York police said was expected to reach up to a million people enjoyed unusually warm weather, screaming and cheering in front of a top-drawer line-up of entertainers including Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber before midnight Saturday. The crowd spilled from the "Crossroads of the World" into adjacent avenues in the biggest US public celebration of New Year's, which climaxed with the slow slide of a huge crystal-encrusted ball. Gaga, dressed in a huge silver mask and matching dress, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pressed the switch to send the glittering ball on its descent. Confetti poured over Times Square and elaborate fireworks lit up the sky over Manhattan. Times Square has hosted the Big Apple's biggest party since 1904, with the ball drop starting in 1907. The fact that New Year's Day fell on a Sunday and relatively balmy temperatures for winter helped boost this year's turnout. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said there'd be huge security for what he expected to be a record crowd. Backpacks and alcohol were banned and many revelers were forced to wait for hours behind penned-off areas. Thousands of police officers, including 1,550 newly minted graduates of the police academy, were deployed, along with bomb sniffing dogs, sharp-shooters and anti-terrorism units. "Our helicopters will be up in the air and checking the 200-block area around Times Square," Kelly told the CNN television network on Friday. "We have heavy weapons response teams that are in, you know, appropriate locations," Kelly said. "On New Year's Eve if you see something suspicious, there should be a police officer pretty much within arm's reach." In addition to pop diva Gaga and teen sensation Beiber, New York saw rock veteran Chuck Berry perform at a club, and opera great Placido Domingo, 70, sing at The Metropolitan Opera. The celebrations were also an excuse for some innovative spin-offs and marketing gimmicks, not least the "Bytox Hangover Prevention Remedy" promising to stop the new year's headache.