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Archive for April, 2000

Of, For and By

The people” has been deliberately left out of the headline, in third world countries the people in any case have nothing to do with the type of democracy envisaged by US President Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address. Producing a detailed concept in only 100 days plus to get government (as we know and experience it) off the backs of the people and into their hands at the grassroots level is a tall order. The Chief Executive’s (CE) announcement on March 23 outlining a framework for a Local Government of the people, for the people and by the people notwithstanding, any radical changes in the system need to be tested for chinks in the armour before being implemented. Conducting a debate with a wide cross-section of the intelligentsia in roadshows throughout the country, Lt. Gen. (Retd) Tanvir Naqvi, Chairman of the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB), has been soliciting concrete suggestions. An environment of candour permitted the meetings to cover good ground, a number of changes were recommended. Refreshingly the NRB Chief was quite receptive to creative and pragmatic ideas, and not defensive about the NRB’s proposed Local Government structure and working. Some criticism not only bordered on the ridiculous but was without substance, that most of the protest came from retired civil servants was to be expected. Their being less than civil in some cases was uncalled for, smacking of the desperation the bureaucracy must feel at being deprived of the monarchical authority and status they have enjoyed as a virtually untouchable and privileged ruling class for over 50 years.

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Keeping it Simple

The history of Pakistan is replete with Commissions, Task Forces and Advisory Groups, very few have made any effective recommendations, only a fraction of these have ever been implemented. The intent of the military regime is sincere, they are being frustrated (as in the past) by the time-honoured bureaucratic method of filibustering. Such people never have the country’s best interest at heart, only their own and they know that if they can delay the process the honeymoon will soon be over. At best five miles to midnight as a country, we need pragmatic and simple solutions, not experiments that will exacerbate the situation.

The National Reconstruction Bureau’s (NRB) concept of devolution of power, giving total administrative control to District Governments is magnificent in theory, in practice it would be such an unmitigated disaster that in comparison the Yugoslavia experience of disintegration would be a kindergarten primer. Most of Pakistan’s problems of bad governance and mal-administration can be laid at the door of over-centralisation. The Provinces have autonomy in name only, the Provinces are all run by the Federal Government. The right ideas notwithstanding, NRB has not war-gamed the consequences. Certainly there is a case for devolution, people should not have to run from far pillar to far post in seeking good governance. On the other hand, ethnic and sectarian problems have polarised present society, this divisiveness needs to be overcome. We should not play into the hands of separatists. Why not broaden the base for better management and control while giving genuine autonomy? From four Provinces we can make fourteen on the lines recommended in THE NATION on Nov 27, 1999, “Making the Federation effective,” with Karachi Port and Airport, Cantonments and ancillary areas, Port Qasim, etc as Federally-Administered areas. District governments under management of smaller provinces is a far better proposition. Law and order must remain a Provincial subject, the maximum decentralisation downwards should be to a metropolitan city government. Giving law enforcement agencies under the control of a District Government is asking for trouble, a mob-type control negating the concept of democracy will exist in every district. It can and should be done but after a number of years, when the institutions have time to mature and become stable.

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The Rule of Law

That separates society from the jungle is that civilization requires adherence to the rule of law. There is a general perception that the arbitrary nature of military rule is on a fine line between civilized society and the laws of the jungle, this perception is patently false, true only when individuals in the military hierarchy bend the rules to suit vested interest. Former PM Mian Nawaz Sharif could well have been dealt with summarily in a military court for his civilian coup on Oct. 12, 1999 but the successful counter-coup followed a route different to that of any known previous military rule. Press freedom and the noticeable absence of military courts has in fact set a dangerous precedent, men in uniform in third world countries with endemic bad governance may be encouraged to apply the nouveau Musharraf-formula for this different type of martial law. A trial before the Anti-Terrorist Court (ATC) was always a gamble for the military regime, in hindsight it was a risk well-taken. Finding him guilty on two out of four counts, namely hijacking and terrorism, Judge Jafferi convicted the former PM with two life sentences, six other co-accused were found “not guilty” on all the charges. Pakistanis and foreigners alike breathed a deep sigh of relief, a death sentence could have set off protests based not on the merits of the sentence as equated to the crime but on political and constitutional precedents past and for the future. The Presiding Judge was quite Solomonic in conducting a “fair and transparent trial”, accepted as such by friend and foe alike except perhaps the immediate family and close friends. The former PM could well have been awarded the maximum allowable under law but the good judge adjudged his actions were taken “in a fit of passion”. Exonerating him on all counts would have knocked the prop from under the raison d’etre of the present rule, leaving no fallback option except one, thankfully that extreme did not come to pass.

Serving on the US Supreme Court from 1902 to 1934, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. is considered as one of the greatest jurists of all times. He annunciated the concept of “clear and present danger”, the example of a man in a movie theatre who stands up suddenly and without any reason shouts “fire, fire”, thereby setting off a stampede for the exits in which many die or are injured. By trying to unseat a COAS while he was on a foreign trip, Mian Nawaz Sharif became that “man in the movie theatre”, setting off events that included endangering besides the COAS and his wife, the crew and the passengers, unwitting innocents in the Machiavellian drama being staged in (and around) the PM’s House in Islamabad on the afternoon of Oct. 12.

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Stopover Pakistan

Once the US President announced his visit to South Asia without including Pakistan as a firm destination our situation became rather untenable, given the geo-political scenario we could not afford that Pakistan be deleted from his stopovers. With India in full cry on the diplomatic and media front to keep Pakistan excluded from Clinton’s itinerary, the possibility of life in a diplomatic black-hole would have had far-reaching consequences and complications. We may not be better off than we were before “the visit” but such a diplomatic snub would have put us in a far worse situation than we are presently in. To top it all, the contrast of governance by a military regime with that of the “world’s largest democracy” made it that much more important. Our bargaining position with the Americans thus weak, it was to be expected one would pay a price for the privilege. The exercise in essence became Catch-22, to the credit of the military regime they succeeded in keeping damage control within acceptable limits, even though we did lose a quantum of self-respect in having to listen to home truths publicly.

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Terrorism in South Asia nothing official about

The modern version of terrorism came to undivided India a few years before the Second World War and continued till 1947, courtesy of militant factions of the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Communist Party of India (CPI). Side by side with Gandhian principles of non-violence, terrorist cells of those political parties carried out attacks against “enemy” targets, most of them British, including communication centres, railways and bureaucrats, etc anybody adjudged to be collaborators or useful to the British war effort. A young Hindu girl hardly in her teens, shot dead the Deputy Commissioner of Comilla at point blank range in the 30s. The use of terrorism to accomplish the means of the State was incorporated as State policy by India from the time of independence in 1947 and as an instrument of its implementation, Research and Analytical Wing (RAW) was created several years later. RAW was meant to keep India’s neighbours in line and/or cut them down to size, taking active part in the 60s in anti-Pakistan movement in the East Pakistan, culminating in the pro-Bangladesh movement in 1971, aided no end by the short sightedness and selfishness of the then leaders of Pakistan. RAW’s modus operandi remains a model for cross-border terrorism in South Asia, terrorist activity coming to (West) Pakistan in earnest not from the East but from Kabul in the Northwest, along with the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan in the late 70s. Bombs exploded in markets, bus stands, railway stations and other public places etc throughout Pakistan in the 80s, sometimes at the rate of more than one a day. The dead and injured numbered in the thousands annually as the Soviet KGB, along with Afghan KHAD and Indian RAW made a major effort to break Pakistani civilian morale (and thus Pakistani support for the Afghan cause) by terrorist attacks directly and/or indirectly through paid agents and surrogates.

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