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?