Government Pledges Support of Afghan Refugees

Pakistan’s Ministry of States and Frontier Regions has unequivocally pledged to continue aiding and assisting Afghan refugees.

 

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has released a statement saying Pakistan will continue to accord due protection the refugees.

 

It is a sign of our national strength that though the government may be heaving under a myriad of burdens, it will not forget its moral compass. We owe it to our faith to lend a helping hand to anyone in need, and what better than to help one’s neighbor?

 

Afghanistan and Pakistan are essentially connected, their fates will only be successful if they support one another. As Afghanistan fights their extremists, so do we. As Afghanistan seeks stability and economic opportunity, so do we. They are our brothers, and we should be proud of the chance to help in any capacity.

 

The Ministry is to be applauded for recognizing the need for fraternity and compassion in the midst of tough times for both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Looking ahead to a new decade

As the first decade of the new millenium draws to a close, we are all, I believe, thinking about the difficulties that we have faced, but with a hopeful eye to the future. Pakistan has overcome many obstacles since its founding, and there will be new obstacles to come. But I have faith that our future will be bright when I talk to students and young people today and hear them speak most reasonably and logically, and listen to their yearning not only for greater democracy, but for a Pakistan based on the principles of Baba-e-Qaum.

The end of 1999 brought the coup that put into power Pakistan’s most recent, and hopefully final military dictator. Residul effects of Musharraf’s coup still trickle through our government and society, but we have made great progress establishing a stable democratic system. The government and military have great respect for each other, and even in their disagreements, political parties are showing more respect for the democratic process than during times in the past.

We still face a teribble enemy in Taliban jihadis who continue to bomb our villages, markets, and schools. We still face political struggles as the parties and leaders work through the many democratic setbacks that occured under previous dictators and anti-democratic regimes. And we still face some difficulties as we strive to unify society as one Pakistan with less regionalism and social divides.

Despite these difficulties, I still that we can look forward to a bright future for our country. I see the love of Pakistan in the eyes of our young people. Not the phony hypernationalism that is spewed across the airwaves by self-aggrandizing TV talk show hosts. Not the regionalism that creates debate about who is wearing what type of topi. These are young people with their whole future ahead of them who are talking not about pop stars and movie heros but about the way forward for a strong, prosperous, democratic Pakistan. Students and graduates who talk not about how to improve their own fortunes only, but the fortunes of their nation.

We will not wake up tomorrow to find the Taliban vanquished, to find peace in neighboring Afghanistan, to find the economy growing by leaps and bounds. But we will wake up with the tools and resources we need to make all of these things a reality, and a new day ahead of us to begin getting these things done. Pakistan Zindabad!

The Chief Justice’s Agenda

Mr. Cyril Almeida wrote recently about the Supreme Courts recent actions and questioned whether or not there was some agenda of the chief justice in addition to what has been popularly discussed in the public dialogue.  As Almeida points out, “If you believe CJ Iftikhar’s court is trying to wipe out corruption entirely or make each and every holder of elected office accountable for his every action, then you believe in fairytales.”

Obviously, one does not need to believe in fairytales to see that there is something brewing in the mind of the chief justice that is bigger than what appears at first glance. After all, Iftikhar Chaudhry did not become CJ by mere chance. 

Almeida surveys the situation and comes to the conclusion that the court is jockeying for a stronger position within the government after being so wickedly treated by Musharraf. This is entirely plausible, and not necessarily a bad thing. A strong court system is an important part of a well-functioning democracy.

But a strong court is not worth dust is there is not an equally strong and stable government to work along with it. As Mr. Almeida says,

So, if what CJ Iftikhar is really doing is fighting for his institution’s rightful space in the constitutional framework, the challenge for him going forward will be to calibrate his institution’s attacks — arguably, almost-too-late self-defence — such that they don’t cause the collapse of the government.

This is true. But it is also true that the court, like the executive or parliament or any other facet of government, should not step outside its natural boundaries of duty.

The chief justice and the supreme court hold very high popularity. This is both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because it enables them to make some positive impact on the nation; a curse because it is easy to push one’s own power too far.

The court has an opportunity to do some good. Let us hope that they do not overplay their hand and, instead, make matters worse.

QUICK: name the chief justice of India. Can’t? How about Australia then? Brazil maybe? Canada, France or China? Russia, Malaysia or Turkey? 

That CJ Iftikhar is a household name isn’t of course his fault. Credit for that goes to Musharraf, who clumsily tried to sack the judge who refused to do his bidding the second time round. 

However, that CJ Iftikhar and the non-PCO-II judges continue to make almost daily headlines is absolutely their choice. But why? What exactly is the court trying to achieve? 

Conventional wisdom has it that you need to look no further than who is getting battered the most — the federal government — and who has the most to lose — Asif Zardari — to figure out the court’s agenda. 

That possibility makes the baying-for-blood populists and transformation-seekers very happy and the legal purists concerned about due process, separation of powers, etc very unhappy. 

Yet, assume for a minute that CJ Iftikhar’s court has an institutional agenda that goes beyond the fate of Zardari and his cohorts. 

It really isn’t so far-fetched. 

Truth is, piece together the early evidence from the CJ Iftikhar’s orders and comments since his restoration and a picture begins to emerge that is not Zardari-specific. 

So what, then, could the court really be after? Why is it opting to so firmly remain at the centre of political discourse and in the nation’s consciousness? 

If you believe CJ Iftikhar’s court is trying to wipe out corruption entirely or make each and every holder of elected office accountable for his every action, then you believe in fairytales. 

A judge with decades of legal experience in Pakistan knows the vastness of the state machinery and the endless opportunity for those inclined towards mischief. No court, perhaps even no higher power, could fix all that ails Pakistan in the time CJ Iftikhar has: three years until his retirement in December 2013. 

Nor — despite attempting to set the price of sugar and petroleum products and pronouncing in March that ‘The people are distressed and the courts are compelled to do the work of the government organisations’ — is CJ Iftikhar probably attempting a takeover of the executive. Even in a Pakistan where the nightmarishly impossible has lately often become a reality, that possibility seems, at present, a bridge too far. 

The answer, though, to what CJ Iftikhar’s judiciary is seeking to do may lie in a variant of the ‘encroachment theory’ doing the rounds in some legal circles. Separation of powers is a key element of constitutional democracies and some jurists have fretted that the court of CJ Iftikhar is encroaching on the rightful terrain of other institutions of the state, namely the executive and the legislature. 

But while encroachment is probably on the mind of the superior judiciary, few have thought about the possibility that CJ Iftikhar’s judiciary is trying to reverse the historical encroachment on its — the court’s—territory. 

Think about it. Everyone knows the damage done by the army to the executive and the legislature. Everyone knows that the politicians have eventually been able to drive the army from direct power. Everyone knows that the army has its guns and that the politicians have the bureaucracy when in power. 

But if there is one institution that has consistently been pummelled and trampled underfoot by all sides, it is the judiciary. And alone among the institutional power players, constitutional and unconstitutional, if you count the army (as we must), the judiciary has no means to implement its orders. 

Battered into submission and prevented from playing its full and proper role in the constitutional framework because of its dependence on a baulky executive for the implementation of its orders — that in essence is the superior judiciary that CJ Iftikhar inherited. 

But Musharraf, and later Zardari, and the lawyers’ movement threw the judiciary a lifeline: unparalleled popular support. Armed with that formidable battering ram, CJ Iftikhar has seemingly embarked on a wrecking spree, delighting the enemies of Zardari and gratifying those sick of living with a broken system of governance. But the immediate targets are not necessarily the agenda. 

If you imagine the judiciary as a bullied man constantly surrounded by his tormentors, the executive, the legislature and the army, what CJ Iftikhar may be doing is no more than finally fighting back. Shoving and pushing with the might of popular support fully behind it, the superior judiciary at last has a chance to mark out its territory and punish those who try to encroach on it. 

Of course, this being Pakistan, the battle is being fought in a messy rather than surgical way. 

The Supreme Court really should not be trying to fix the price of sugar or petrol, it should not be speculating about the possibility of using transgender individuals to recover bank loans that may or may not have been illegally written off, it should not appear to be compromising the principles of due process in the pursuit of the corrupt. 

But neither, in fairness, has CJ Iftikhar’s court brought anything to a shuddering halt or unleashed total chaos. In fact, in the PCO judges case, the court gave parliament a grace period to figure out what it wanted to do with the ordinances Musharraf tried to protect with the November 2007 emergency — an olive branch so thoroughly lacking any constitutional basis that some believe the court has resurrected the doctrine of necessity in all but name. 

So, if what CJ Iftikhar is really doing is fighting for his institution’s rightful space in the constitutional framework, the challenge for him going forward will be to calibrate his institution’s attacks — arguably, almost-too-late self-defence — such that they don’t cause the collapse of the government. 

As Faisal Siddiqi, a fine legal mind who expounded this alternative theory of judicial activism in May, has written: ‘[The trend] is critically dependent on the continuation of the democratic process because there can be no independent judiciary without constitutionalism and there can be no constitutionalism without democracy.’ 

We needn’t automatically fear a court that may be trying to instill respect for its institution in other state institutions that have historically treated it with contempt. But we should fear a court that may be afflicted by the all-too-common Pakistani disease of not knowing when to stop, when to sense an irreve
rsible crisis and back off for the sake of institutional stability. 

2010 will surely go some way to giving us the answer. All we, the people, the outsiders, can do is perhaps invoke a prayer in keeping with the season: dona nobis pacem — grant us peace. 

The Daily Times: Defence of Democracy

The Daily Times today reminds us of the importance of tone and civility in a mature democratic state. Democracy requires the people to be involved and quesitoning their government and leaders, regardless of political party or regionalism, but this quesitoning must be done through proper channels and always with the point being to strengthen the nation, not tear it apart

President Asif Ali Zardari’s hard-hitting speech on the second anniversary of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has provoked mixed reactions throughout the country. These reactions are along partisan lines, a reflection of the polarising impact of the speech. The president sounded aggressive and defiant (some have even dubbed it “an open declaration of war”) against his detractors and critics. The performance reminded of his earlier equally aggressive posture when he spoke via tele-link to the founding day rally of the PPP.

The president argued that some forces were out to subvert democracy, while non-state actors were trying to disintegrate the country. A concerted effort seemed afoot to pit institutions against each other, the result of which, the president said by way of analogy, was the fate of Iraq and Afghanistan. All this would be resisted at all cost, Mr Zardari asserted. He also pointed towards conspiracies against the provinces and the federation, and vowed his party would fight out these tendencies. He vented some spleen against those who were targeting him and warned them that the PPP’s tolerance and policy of reconciliation should not be mistaken for weakness.

Interestingly, while there was plenty of sub-text and reading between the lines of the president’s speech, he did not actually mention who the forces inimical to him, the PPP and the government led by it were. That left plenty of room for conjecture and speculation, in which the media and political commentators then had a field day. As to reactions from the political parties, three or four stand out. The PML-N dismissed the talk of conspiracy, arguing if there was any threat to the government, it was the PPP’s own doing. The PML-Q dubbed the speech one of a confused, frightened, angry person, hinting at paranoia, in which the author of the speech had tried to paint himself more as a victim than an accused. The MQM chief Altaf Hussain was surprisingly complimentary, calling the address one of great importance for the solidarity of the country. The Jamaat-i-Islami, true to form, tried to rubbish the speech by calling it an anti-army diatribe.

How should an objective observer view these developments? That the country’s political scenario is veering towards polarisation few can deny. The reasons too are well known. Since the February 2008 elections, the PPP government had tended to take a ‘soft’ line vis-à-vis its opponents and critics. This aroused some from within the party’s ranks to question this approach. Recently, voices have been heard expressing extreme Sindhi nationalist sentiments for which the party is not known and appear out of character. The policy of reconciliation advocated by Benazir Bhutto found expression in the toleration shown to unprecedentedly virulent attacks on the party, government and the person of the president. Perhaps the president’s recent two addresses signal a change of tune on the part of the party that has so far been on the receiving end. Not all the criticism of the party, government and the president may be misplaced, but it has been couched in such relatively violent language as to cause the hackles to rise. Differences in a democracy require airing, but within the ambit of parliamentary exchange. Personalised vitriol neither contributes to debate nor remains unanswered, except in the same vein. The polity as a whole is thereby the loser.

All stakeholders in the democratic order need to revisit their priorities and their terminology. The sharpest political differences can be expressed in civilised, acceptable language that helps further the understanding of the serious problems confronting the country, rather than deepen fissures to the point of a rupture. Our still nascent democracy has a long way to go. It needs nurturing. Violent language and unbridled attacks on one’s opponents may help snuff it out. That would compound the tragedy of Pakistan, in that it has yet to develop a system that is representative and responsive to the people’s needs, while retaining the mailed fist in the velvet glove against those who seek to impose antediluvian reaction on the largely moderate Muslims of the country. Restraint in politics is inherently difficult, but in our peculiar circumstances, critical. All should take heed.

Politicians are not holy men, nor need they be such

Dr. Syed Mansoor Hussain puts the questions about corruption, NRO, and our political class into a global perspective in his column, “The world is not ending any time soon.” This is a point it is most important to consider – politicians are not prophets or holy men, they are simply men and women who work on issues of policy and diplomacy. Each politician has or her failings, and all politicians in a democracy will come and go at some point. It is only dictators and kings that the people have to fear turning a nation to rot and never letting go. So what does all this mean for our current political climate? It means that, in the larger picture, the NRO is but a small speck of dust, and despite all the hyperventilating on TV talk shows, Pakistan will continue to thrive and the world will not end any time soon.

Democracy is a messy business. To repeat an oft-repeated cliché, the best treatment for a bad democracy is more democracy and not less. And free and fair elections at the right time are the only effective form of accountability that politicians understand and accept without question

According to the Mayan Calendar, the world ends in the year 2012 CE. This has spawned many ‘end of the world’ scenarios and most recently a rather graphic movie that depicts one way the world might end and soon. The movie is aptly called ‘2012’. Of course the world will end sometime and most likely in a few billion years. However, there are enough conniptions that alter the world as we know it every so often. 

There have been many changes during my own lifetime that would suggest that much of the world I knew even 40 years ago has changed or if one wishes to be dire, has ended forever. However, Pakistan still exists and goes on in spite of the predictions to the contrary by the resident prophets of doom and gloom that infest our media, particularly certain TV channels these days. 

Frankly I stopped watching television when the load shedding hit us a few years ago. Even though my television worked due to UPS devices attached to it, the cable company I subscribe to would shut down transmission when they lost electricity supply. So, I no longer watch television or the channels that most often highlight the ‘horsemen of the apocalypse’. Especially the one horseman that made his reputation by discussing eschatology, though I must admit that since then I have trouble figuring out whether his area of expertise is eschatology or scatology. 

Recently, Pakistani politics has been thrown into turmoil after the most honourable Supreme Court invalidated the NRO. The ire of all of the horsemen of the apocalypse is now aimed at President Asif Ali Zardari. The way it looks, these horsemen expect that President Zardari must do either of two things: commit seppuku or else just ‘ride off into the sunset’. Of course they prefer the first option since they are mortally afraid that he might just make another ‘comeback’. 

As far as I am concerned, I am quite satisfied with the state of politics in Pakistan. The problem with most Pakistanis, especially what passes for the ‘intelligentsia’ in this country, is that they have not really seen politics as it happens. I was in the US during the Watergate hearings when Senator Baker asked the famous question, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” President Nixon subsequently resigned and nothing really changed. 

Yes, I was there when under President Ford, the US embassy in Saigon was evacuated and people hung on to helicopters while that was being done. I was there when President Carter sent in the troops to rescue the hostages held in the US embassy in Tehran and the mission failed and the US Secretary of State resigned. And yes, I watched the Iran-Contra hearings and subsequently saw senior US officials being indicted for what they did. And what about the cake sent by President Reagan to the Iranians?

The Clinton years were of course an education in politics. The White Water Scandal, the suicide of Vince Foster, the end of the healthcare initiative headed by the First Lady were all very instructive. The ultimate was of course the impeachment hearings against President Clinton about the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the entirely prurient Starr Report being the hallmark of that episode. And yet President Clinton survived and finished his term with his popularity very much intact. 

In spite of his personal failings, Clinton was in modern times one of the better presidents the US has had. And he was followed by a president who was a person of great moral probity and yet gave the US and the rest of the world much sorrow. The question of course is whether it is worse for a president to have an affair with a White House intern or to attack Iraq without good reason?

Now to President Obama. The man is so clean that it is worrisome. Evidently the only weakness this man has is that he occasionally smokes cigarettes. Yet his opponents are all over the place. They claim that he is not an American citizen since he was not born in the US, or else that he is a Muslim by birth and therefore lies about being a Christian. The less virulent opponents insist that he is really a socialist. Of course his opponents cannot blame him for being an African-American, which of course is the problem most of them have with him anyway. 

Back to politics in Pakistan. The government is muddling along; the opposition parties, as oppositions must do, oppose the government but are entirely confused. The major opposition party in the country after all sits in coalition in Punjab with the same party that it opposes at the Centre. And most importantly, unless the third time limit on being prime minister is reversed, nobody wants fresh elections either. 

The point I want to make is simply that I do not believe that Pakistani politicians are any different from politicians anywhere else. However, for the first time in the history of Pakistan it seems that different branches of the government, including the executive, the legislature, the judiciary and the army are acting as they should. Until these four pillars of the state find the right balance, things will seem a trifle unsettling to those Pakistanis who are used to being governed by autocrats and army generals. Democracy is a messy business. To repeat an oft-repeated cliché, the best treatment for a bad democracy is more democracy and not less. And free and fair elections at the right time are the only effective form of accountability that politicians understand and accept without question. As far as ‘good governance’ is concerned, that is not an inherent but a learned ability. 

And yes, neither Pakistan nor the world is ending anytime soon. President Zardari is not going to suddenly disappear either, all the huffing and puffing by his opponents notwithstanding.