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Archive for October, 1992

Cry Kashmir

Forty five years ago almost to the day, the Hindu Maharajah of Kashmir, Hari Singh, was coerced into signing an Instrument of Accession to India in callous supersession of the will of the 77% Muslim majority of the State. That vain act, meant to bolster his own threatened monarchy, postponed Hari Singh’s departure from the throne but condemned the people of the fair State to decades of Indian subjugation. Notwithstanding the solemn commitment given by India after the UN-arranged ceasefire in 1948 between Pakistan and India for a Plebiscite by which the Kashmiris were to decide whether to accede to Pakistan or India, Kashmir was annexed by India. As late as 1952, the then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was quoted as saying, “Kashmir is not the property of India or Pakistan. It belongs to the Kashmiri people — we have left the question for final solution to the people of Kashmir and we are determined to abide by their decision”, unquote. The continuing loss of freedom motivated the Kashmiri people to ultimately cross the Rubicon of Fear and rise in total revolt. The indigenous uprising has gathered momentum dramatically in the last three years, inviting a no-holds barred brutal Indian repression. Failing to suppress the freedom fighters, the Indian Occupation Forces (IOF) have embarked on their version of a “Final Solution”, to rid Kashmir of Kashmiri Muslims.

In major urban areas the Indian fiat has been more or less replaced by the authority of freedom fighters. While the whole State has been sanitized of foreign journalists, from time to time the veil has been pierced by credible accounts of unbridled atrocities, yet by and large the world community continues to be indifferent to the plight of the Kashmiri people.

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The untouchables

Fernando Collor de la Mella found himself voted out of a job recently by the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies. Thus suspended as President till his trial for corruption by the Senate in the impeachment proceedings against him, he had the grace to leave office without kicking and screaming. There was a certain irony in his departure, he came to office on a slate of a clean government, the first directly elected Brazilian President in 29 years, he also became the first head of State or Government in the democratic history of the world against whom an impeachment process has been successfully applied. While his conviction by the Senate may not be a foregone conclusion, that the system of accountability inherent in any democracy worked, serves as an example (and hope) for the rest of the world.

Pakistan and Brazil have a lot in common, the political and socio-economic conditions having a remarkable similarity. Like Pakistan, Brazilian democracy has been interspersed with military rule. The idea for Islamabad as a capital was a direct copy of the concept of Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, though one daresays we were much less adventurous. Brazil had a President who quit office in the 60s after having a nervous breakdown. In the 50s, we had a Governor General who wouldn’t quit office though he was literally quite mad (he was eventually eased out at the “appropriate” time once vested interests had squeezed the last drop of his nuisance value from him). Like Fernando Collor, our first elected PM in many decades, Ms Benazir Bhutto, was voted into office on a wave of popular adulation, promising a clean, corruption-free government. Unlike Collor she did not benefit from the in-built Constitutional cover of a no-confidence motion being successfully applied. She was brought down by Presidential fiat, an action that in hindsight seems increasingly partisan (and now frail) as the charges brought against her principal Achilles heel, her husband, fail to register and he is absolved of charge after charge by the courts of law. That failure puts accountability to shame and makes it more important than ever that we should have a better system of accountability for those in power.

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Jailhouse rock

In the fiction movie of the same title, Elvis Presley never had it as good as do the inmates of Karachi Central Jail in real life. While the normal facilities provided to prisoners in the jails of Pakistan are close to abominable, in keeping with the other countries of South Asia and the Third World, there are perquisites galore available to those who have money or influence or political alliances. Some of the liberties and luxuries would put Colombia and Pablo Escobar to shame. Blissfully ignorant about the wider ramifications of the muck they were about to uncover, the Army recently raided Karachi Central Jail, rounding up a motley loot of contraband in the form of liquor, heroin, imported cigarettes, cash money in large quantities, Foreign Exchange Bearer Certificates, even an unregistered car, etc. That these would be found in the cells of the prisoners would be bad enough and not surprising, given that prisons all over the world have their own particular surreptitious supply routes for such luxuries. Unfortunately most of the illegal stuff seems to have been stocked/stored in the official residences of the senior Police staff, even in the sacred personal abode of a DIG Prisons, the second senior-most jail official in the Sindh Province.

Foreigner non-Muslim guests of Sheraton or PC who complain about the requirement of showing their passport documents before they can take a swig of alcohol are now officially notified about a place under Pakistan’s Islamic sun where Shariat Laws are held in absolute abeyance. Some of the luxuries that the prisoners have access to (at a price of course) like heroin and women, etc goes way above and beyond what the services of a five star hotel can provide (certainly not the root cause of the change of name of Holiday Inn to Marriott!). The modern trend all over the world may be to reform the brutal prison system and treat prisoners with soft gloves in order to individually reform them, this type of reforming Pakistan can do without. This seems more to be systematic rejuvenation rather than reformation.

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Privatising democracy-II

Using the psychological authority of Operation Clean-up in Sindh, we have a superb chance to create a model for actually transferring power from selected officials to the elected representatives of the people. Unless we can correct the anomalies in the very concept of the type democracy that is presently in operation in Pakistan, this will remain an exercise in self-delusion, to the continuing detriment of our poor, suffering masses.

To ensure that electoral power has a wide base, the effort must be to ensure that almost every person in every constituency has some representation on the “Corporate Boards” of the basic unit, i.e. Precinct (or Thana), which should have around 50,000 people. While we cannot follow the model of a corporate structure, having a pro-rata equation between the number of shares and the Directors, this can only be done by electing a slate of representatives instead of following the present practice of electing one candidate having a simple majority only. A survey of election pattern shows that because of the division/distribution of votes a person getting only 22% of the votes (or even less) can get elected, in effect disenfranchising 78% of the balance of the electorate till the next elections. An elected slate of 15 candidates per constituency (i.e. the first 15 getting the maximum votes in priority) will ensure that almost everyone in a constituency has someone to represent his/her interests. A second run-off election can clearly determine the voters preference in priority.

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Privatising democracy

Successive democratic governments, the incumbents more strenuously than the former, have pushed the process of privatisation of industry and commerce in Pakistan. One does believe however, that greater priority should have been given to “privatising” democracy. In real terms, no segment of the government is under private sector control, except maybe at the Prime Minister’s or Chief Minister’s level and that too only in those parts (such as allocating plots and rural lands) which are so designated by our bureaucratic rulers. Unless and until we denationalise and decentralize democracy from the grassroots level upwards, the fact of power being in the hands of the people is a continuing farce with which we are happily fooling ourselves.

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