Is Pakistan Governable?

Mohammad Waseem, professor at the prestigious LUMS, asks in Dawn today, ‘Is Pakistan Governable?‘ His piece echoes the fear and despair that has sunk into the hearts of many of our brothers and sisters as it seems we are living through a period when bullets are easier to come by than electricity. The good professor is understandably frustrated with the state of the nation, but I’m afraid his frustration is clouding his judgment.

Professor Waseem expresses his frustration by laying the blame for all society’s ills at the feet of the present government, accusing political leaders of being “grossly engaged in the game of survival in office” and unable – or unwilling – to deliver to the people. But is this true?

Writing in the same newspaper three years ago, Professor Waseem noted that the newly elected Zardari-Gilani government inherited dysfunctional institutions and an abused public.

The PPP government faces an uphill task in terms of addressing issues relating to the inflationary spiral and the much-feared economic meltdown. What is required is the qualitative input of the best available talent in the country in the formulation of policy and the allocation of resources. The ruling set-up very much needs to cultivate its profile as a government by policy not patronage. It needs to develop the potential to swim through contradictory currents of agenda in the war against terror on the one hand and the political and religious sensitivities of the public on the other. While the formal transition from military to civilian rule is complete, the government needs to address substantive issues relating to the bar and the bench and the Seventeenth Amendment.

All governments are tasked with reform. Greece is struggling with debt, India is struggling with corruption, the Americans are struggling with political gridlock, Mexico is struggling with security. Our government was immediately tasked with not one major task of reform, but all of them. Despite these challenges, the government has managed to make some progress.

Governance

 

Economy

 

National Security

 

The most important point, however, remains the fact that high drama projected from media, the coalition has not fallen apart, and opposition parties have chosen to use the political process and not try to upend the chessboard to seize power. Even the so-called ‘war’ between the executive and judiciary was proven to be nothing but a TV drama when Justice Iqbal declared that “all differences will be settled with consensus rather than conflict”.

Obviously, this does not mean that there are no problems still facing the nation. Law and order situation in Karachi must be solved. While the extension of Political Parties Act and amendments to FCR is a good start in FATA, still more must be done to integrate the region’s citizens. And more must be done to address concerns in Balochistan also. Questions about how the world’s most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan must be asked and answered honestly, even if the answers are embarrassing. And we need a national dialogue on the prejudice and sectarianism that underlies so many of these issues that tear at the fabric of our nation.

But just as serious problems remain, it’s not quite fair to suggest that our political leaders regardless of party are ignoring the problems of society. What Professor Waseem identified as areas that needed to be addressed by the present government have largely been addressed, even if incrementally. If the present government is bowling yorkers, the professor is moving the wicket.

In another 2008 piece, Professor Waseem noted that the nation’s institutions had suffered “an enormous beating at the hands of the fourth coup-maker in the history of Pakistan”, and warned that “If Musharraf strikes again, he will do so with the support of this unrepresentative and career-oriented elite which is imbued with a supremacist ideology rooted in paternalism”.

Today, he says “Only a strong, authoritative, confident, legitimate and responsible government can deal with the turbulence all around.” It is easy to wish for a more perfect government, but governments are made of people, not angels. The present government was elected by the people, and in less than two years, the people will return to the polls to decide who will take over and carry on. Whether that government is led by the PPP or some other party, it will face the same complicated and difficult problems, and easy answers will remain the elusive smoke of campaign speeches.

Whether the choice of the people meets the hopes of Professor Waseem, I would only remind him of his own words written three years ago: “A move backwards to the age of non-representative rule cannot and should not be allowed ever again.”

Waseem Badami weighs in on PML(N) allegations

Waseem Badami in his show 11th hour tries to find out reasons for the PML (N) and PPP tensions. He invites guests Sheila Raza (PPP) and Senator Mushahid Ullah PML (N) to discuss reasons behind the escalating political tensions between the two parties. He further tries to find out if the alleged PPP war with the judiciary is really an issue, or if PML (N) is just using judiciary as a political card for its own agendas.

 

Hate speech has no place

Sindh Senior Minister Zulfikar Mirza’s recent statement against mohajirs this week was beyond the pale and has no place in politics. But rather than react in anger, we should take this opportunity to reflect on a poison that plagues politics and hold us back from realising our potential. The poison I’m speaking of is, of course, the prejudice and bigotry that continues to divide us against ourselves.

To his credit, President Zardari is taking the member of his party to task, summoning him to the presidency and publicly scolding him in the press.

“The president has asked Mr Mirza to suspend his political engagements in Sindh and immediately come to the presidency,” presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.

President Zardari is reported to have been annoyed by the statement in which Mr Mirza made derogatory remarks against MQM chief Altaf Hussain.

“The Pakistan People`s Party has already disowned the statement and called upon its ranks to show restraint in public statements,” the spokesman said.

Unfortunately, Mirza’s act is not unusual. Who can forget Altaf Hussain’s speech making fun of Punjabis?

Or can we forget PML-N politicians objecting to cabinet member Kamran Michael presenting the budget on grounds that he is Christian?

No, it is not one politician or one political party. Sadly, it has become a weapon to be pulled out when the speaker has no ideas worth giving. It is then that he can only resort to the lowest forms of attack against his fellow countrymen. It is a strategy of divide and conquer, and it has no place. Politics should be a battle of ideas, not a war of words.

After his outburst, Zulfiqar Mirza has given an apology which was published in the media. This is a good step, but it does not excuse his behaviour. The most important point is that such hate speech should never exist in the first place. The differences between us are not our weakness, but our strength. Diversity is what holds the name of our great nation together. Or have we forgotten the words of Chaudhry Rahmat Ali who was one of the earliest proponents of the creation of the state of Pakistan. He is credited with creating the name “Pakistan” for a separate Muslim homeland in South Asia:

At this solemn hour in the history of India, when British and Indian statesmen are laying the foundations of a Federal Constitution for that land, we address this appeal to you, in the name of our common heritage, on behalf of our thirty million Muslim brethren who live in PAKSTAN – by which we mean the five Northern units of India, Viz: Punjab, North-West Frontier Province (Afghan Province), Kashmir, Sind and Baluchistan.

Pakistan Declaration

Baloch, Pakhtun, Punjabi, Mohajir, Sindhi, Sufi, Shia, Barlevi, Deobandi, Christian – We are all Pakistanis.
Pakistani diversity

Military Accountability: The Role of Political Parties

The presence of Osama Bin Laden in Abbotabad has led to an opening of a Pandora’s box. The Pakistani military has had to pick and choose from limited options; that is either complicity or incompetence. The civilian government, already incapable of influencing any foreign policy, has once again chosen to side with the military and the intelligence agencies. On the surface, however, they have tried to act tough by establishing an “independent” commission in charge of analyzing the Osama Bin Laden mishap. The likes of Najam Sethi, Nawaz Sharif and Asma Jehangir have already called the commission useless. Nawaz Sharif was upfront about labeling the Osama Bin Laden a “security lapse.” He also criticized the PPP for not trying hard enough to ensure accountability within the military.

It is fair to assume that Nawaz Sharif has been bitter with the military since he was ousted in October 1999. His second tenure as the prime minister was marked with him trying to decentralize the military’s power in the political sphere. General Jehangir Karamat was nice enough to resign in face of civilian aggression, but Musharraf pounched on Sharif’s ego and ultimately ousted him. Sharif finally has seen an opportunity to once again engage in a verbal war with the military( and the election campaign of 2013). This time, the military may have found a more schrewd Sharif, and a public that is more aware of the military’s alleged incompetence. This situation is much similar to 1972, when army dictatorship collapsed.

The creation of East Pakistan sent shockwaves across Pakistan, as it lost 52% of its population within a matter of months. Martial law ended with Zulfikar Bhutto becoming both the Chief Martial Law Administrator and the President of the nation. While the public raised furor over the military’s policies, it was not fully aware of its atrocites in East Pakistan. Zulfikar Bhutto chose to keep it that way. In order to appease the military and ensure his future Presidency, Bhutto decided to conceal the “Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report” from the public. The report was also questionable in nature, as it did not indict General Tikka Khan, a military figure complicit in the army’s lawless actions in East Pakistan. General Tikka Khan went on to serve as the chief of army staff for four years under Zulfiqar Bhutto. The military, after a brief interruption in politics due to unpopularity, reinserted itself back into politics in 1978. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto missed the chance as Chief Martial Law administrator by not conducting a thorough investigation into the incompetence of the army. The result was the reinsertion of Martial Law in 1977.

Today, the PPP has once again allegedly decided to take the easy route by protecting the incompetence of the military. In fear of retaliation and possible aid withdrawal from foreign nations, it has decided to conduct an investigation in accords with the military’s wishes. Now, it would be foolish to assert that the military’s present blunders are remotely comparable to the atrocities of East Pakistan. Similarly, it is also unwise to assume that today’s PPP government is as strong as Zulfikar Bhutto’s government in 1972. Far from it, actually.

The morals of these two situations remain the same though. Public perception of the military is changing, just as it did in 1972. The PPP needs to act together with other civilian parties in order to ensure accountability in the military. It similarly needs to establish a proper independent commission in accord with the consent of the opposition parties. Najam Sethi, a distinguished Pakistani scholar, has critiqued the commission for catering towards the military’s needs. A commission needs to be established for ensuring justice within the military, not one that should be used by a party for political security from the military.

Three years ago, political parties were able to join together to restore the Chief Justice from a military dictator through unity. MQM President Altaf Hussain has already critiqued the alleged extremism within the army, and has demanded swift action within the military. Nawaz Sharif has called for a proper investigation into the blatant “security lapse” of Abbotabad. Imran Khan also wants a re-evaluation of military policy on the war against terror. This is the time for political parties to join together for a cause. Otherwise, public frustration with the military will frustrate itself to passiveness, and parliamentary democracy might once again meets its deadliest foe; martial law.

 

Real Political Parties Unite To Address Economy

Pakistan Business Council

Earlier this week I wrote that “Meeting the needs of the people requires compromise. It requires the willingness to work with other people – even those you don’t agree with. It requires the organizational capacity of a political party, not cheap publicity stunts and sound bites. It’s always easiest to say ‘no’. Finding a way to get to ‘yes’ takes real leadership.”

Thankfully, it looks like some people are showing some real leadership by working together to find common ground from which to formulate a national economic agenda that focuses on the welfare of the citizens.

Dr, Farooq Sattar from MQM said that the balance of economic power is shifting from West to East and if we could not correct our fundamental economic wrongs we would left far behind in the regional economic race.

“We need to design a charter of economy which may be formulated with mutual consensus. Moreover there should be no injustice in tax system. Tax should be levied on every type of income. Tax net should be enhanced including bringing agriculture sector into the tax net,” he suggested the recommendations and added that agriculture of the country contributes 23 per cent of national GDP but unfortunately its contribution in tax is only one per cent.

Raja Pervez Ashraf from Pakistan Peoples’ Party stressed the need for sustainable economic policies and said that country can only prosper if the sustainable economic policies evolved with mutual agreement.

Ahsan Iqbal from PML-N said that the main problem in our economic system is lack of implementation. He said that if we implement all the policies made for the economic strength of the country, our economy would be strengthen to a great deal.

Regarding recent Pakistan-India trade agreement, Farooq Sattar said that his party fully supports the enhancing of trade between Pakistan and India.

Similarly Ahsan Iqbal said that regional trade is very important for the country’s economic growth and there should be no harm in starting trade relations with India.

Former Minister for Information Sherry Rehman said that agreement between the two countries was of great importance for both the countries as it would help improve the trade and as well as political relations between the two countries.

This is the hard work of politics. This is the type of coming together and reaching compromises and consensus that will improve the lives of the poor and desperate. Anyone can put on a simple latha shalwar kameez and sleep under open sky. Play acting politics is fine for some. But moving the country forward requires more. When MQM, PPP, PML-N can come together and reach agreement, that is when things get done.