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The Mechanics of Accountability

After months of cajoling the PPP regime to check the rising tide of corruption engulfing the country, the President finally decided that enough was enough and sent a message to the two Houses of Parliament to enact effective measures for accountability. Instead of welcoming the initiative by a person who had not only remained a respected leader of their own Party but was their nominee for President in the first place, the PPP reacted like a wounded animal. In a rather silly ploy, the ruling Party went on a filibustering defensive, calling for a “select committee” to decide on the parameters. Since all of us know that select “commissions” and “committees” are safe euphemisms for relegating things into the waste-paper basket, the PPP reaction was very suggestive that the rulers had something definitive to hide. The general public perception is that PPP have someone they want to protect, at the cost of their conscience, at the cost of the credibility of their Party and at the cost of the economic hopes of the nation.

The US Permanent Representative to the UN, Ms Madeleine Albright, was extremely supportive of a UN Resolution on the eradication of corruption which would make it incumbent upon member States to monitor the financial dealings of citizens of other countries in their respective territories, particularly politicians and bureaucrats, maintaining large bank deposits or real-estate holdings, making it illegal and thus impossible to get away hiding their ill-gotten gains with the same impunity they do now. If such a UN Resolution should become binding, it would strike a tremendous blow for the poor, downtrodden masses of the developed world whose leaders feed them with endless rhetoric while shamelessly stealing at will from their country’s coffers. For starters we could possibly circulate among member countries the famous list of 20 which has caused considerable apprehension in bureaucratic circles and see whether it is really true that some of them are billionaires (even if they are not, some of them at least live and act like it).


The Battle for Karachi

Wherever people of different races, religions, sects and political persuasion, etc make up the population of a major metropolitan city, there is always a struggle for dominance, the pursuit of power and the sharing of the economic pie making for strange bedfellows. Given Karachi’s major port city status and commercial capital importance, the competition is more intense and focussed. To compound the problems, this a city bereft of the healing balm of democracy. Not a single town or city in Pakistan has a local government, for that matter the whole country is without local government since the PML(N) government fell two years ago. The ruling PPP got a drubbing in the last general polls in almost all the urban areas of the country and is now unsure of itself in the rural areas, consequently it does not seem to have any intention of letting the Opposition exercise their democratic right of rule at the local government level. This is in sharp contrast to the eloquent rhetoric about “democracy at the grassroots level” that Ms Benazir is so vociferous about, particularly when she is out of power. The logic being used to deny power to the Mohajir majority in Karachi is that if the majority got power they would deny the various minorities their legitimate socio-economic rights. This convoluted logic chooses to remain silent about the present situation in which power keeps going the rounds within a tight circle of vested interest who deny the majority their democratic due but say that this is on behalf of the minority communities, who in fact are as much deprived as the majority. Given that all this defies rational analysis, how do we as a city and as a nation climb out of this black hole?

On paper at least the struggle has presently turned from the killing streets to the negotiating table. The two main antagonists, the MQM(A) and the PPP, having consented to a ceasefire of sorts, this arrangement seems to have filtered down selectively to the warriors belonging to the law enforcement agencies or to the various militant groups, granted that RAW-inspired violence will continue to sabotage any peace moves. The body count has come down to 10-12 daily and even lower, climbing briefly for a day to 25 plus. That the talks are continuing despite the vitriolic statements from both sides is a hopeful sign that tacitly recognizes pressure to sort out the issues or risk being sorted out themselves. Having drained this city of its material and emotional resources, there is no sign among the militants on either side of any combat fatigue. The great silent majority of Karachi’s population meantime lives on in deep anxiety and apprehension, not free of the considerable doubt about the city’s continued existence as a viable entity. The bottom line is, can our children plan to live in this city in the future? For many Karachi is the end of the line, having burnt all our boats our backs are to the sea facing a nemesis born out of our leaders’ vulnerability to greed and ambition. Unfortunately for this country nobody has really answered the question, who is this enemy?.


Proportional Representation

As a measure of ushering in democracy in its original concept we have already discussed why it is necessary to (1) have a run-off election between the two candidates having the maximum votes in case any one candidate fails to get 50% of the votes cast (2) must return to the joint electorate system in preference to the present system of separate electorates and (3) have direct voting for every electable seat to avoid manipulation by a corrupt of few over the many. However, the major argument against all the three aforementioned measures is the fact that it will deprive smaller communities, religious groups, minorities like Christians, Hindus etc, from representation in the legislative assemblies. This “outcast” status will cause frustration among a fairly large segment of the population who will despair of ever having a voice in the mainstream of the country’s politics and may become extremist in their outlook, even looking to separate themselves (secede) from their present society. The world is witness to terrorism which has its roots in denial of (or the seeming denial of) fundamental rights to individuals and/or groups, which then resort to violent means to restore (and assert) what they feel is their God-given rights. As such while we must strive to remove the anomalies in our present version of democracy, we must also be careful in bringing in such measures that give every segment of our society their just due by giving them a voice roughly commensurate to their percentage of population in our legislative assemblies. A mechanism that is fair to all must be formed to overcome the present shortcomings in our democratic system.


For Whom the Bell Tolls!

A major part of the city of Karachi has been paralysed over the past three days due to disturbances that started with the police firing last Friday on unarmed demonstrators proceeding to the Sindh Chief Minister’s House to court arrest. Independent observers have confirmed that the police action was rather hasty however they deserve some credit for not going berserk under grave provocation that took place later. Waiting on cue and not to be outdone, MQM militants in strength came out of the woodworks after spending two years in the cold almost to the day and took on the civilian law enforcement agencies (LEAs). Since civil disturbances having political overtones are clearly outside the ambit of the mandate of Operation Clean-Up, the Army very wisely stayed out of the fray leaving peace enforcement to the police and the para-military Rangers.

Karachi has been a city waiting to explode for some time. What we are seeing is only the opening sequence of what seems to be a programmed escalation. Even in the best of times, the socio-economic problems of this urban metropolis are so acute that it needs crisis management. With vast areas of the city in the grip of civil strife, this could easily turn into disaster management. The present fracas is a natural culmination of political neglect whatever the government-controlled media may say and any attempt to paper over a temporary truce will fail unless compromises are made by either side. The MQM must clearly recognize that the PPP is the majority party in the Province of Sindh and while the MQM does represent the urban majority, in the overall context of democracy, it is in minority in the Sindh Province. The PPP has full right to form the Provincial Government and to rule, with or without the MQM, but for the PPP it is important to come to terms with the MQM majority in the urban areas. While it can govern in theory without the MQM, in actual practice it cannot rule the Province without the association and/or cooperation of the urban majority party. As we have seen in the past three days, militancy with all its evils is impatiently waiting to take over in the wings. As yet death may not be stalking the streets in abandon but with loss of civilian control in a state of confrontation and chaos, innocent victims may increase manifold in the resultant crossfire. At the moment, large areas are without electricity and water, food and essential items are in short supply, this is a situation tailor-made for criminals to take over from political militants and exploit the situation into a state of anarchy. As it is by setting up ambushes off the main roads in by-lanes and side roads, a classic trap of urban guerilla warfare had been set. This was avoided by the LEAs simply because they wisely did not venture to enforce their authority off the main streets.


Free Enterprise System

It is clear from the manifesto of the Pakistan Muslim League that free enterprise has pride of place in future economic planning. The PPP will also almost certainly give support to such a philosophy in its own manifesto (to be announced on Sept 1) though it may be modified somewhat in light of its more socialist penchant for a mixed economy. The thrust of both the major political groupings will be towards a liberalised economy, to continue the move away from the shackles of a public sector dominated version. If past experience is any measure the PML will proceed pell mell with their liberalising drive, the PPP would opt for the same substance but in a more gradualised form. Given that a vast majority of the populace now subscribes to the concept of free economy as is the fashion in the changing Third World, should we completely abandon the checks and balances that protect those of our citizens who are of underdeveloped and backward areas or should our initiatives be more gradual? While maximum weightage has to be given to a liberal economy, given the level of our literacy and the state of our backwardness of the rural areas and inner cities, some element of public sector involvement is necessary.

Merit is at the heart of a free economy system. The meaning of freedom in enterprise is self-explanatory with regard to merit, quality must prevail. The race for ultimate rewards in the field of commerce and industry ensures that there is upward mobility with respect to quality, the better mousetraps will attract the maximum customers. This is the essence of free enterprise, uninhibited competition with success going to whoever can prevail upon his/her competitors on the basis of merit and competitive pricing, whether it be a consumer product, commodity, machinery or even an individual. Centralized economies and public sector control takes the essence of competition out of the system, this cuts into quality. If the State has to produce toothpaste as a monopoly, why should they bother if it should taste like chalk to its citizenry. Without incentive, they have no ambition. In a free enterprise system, toothpaste manufacturers would go bankrupt if the citizens should turn away from their product/s and as such they have to be sensitive to the choice of the masses. Competition is necessary to ensure quality, without competition economies are destined to a socialistic doom. The collapse of COMECON is a living witness to the ineptitude of a system where reward was based on the selective interpretation of loyalty and personal preferences rather than giving preponderance to the qualifications of talent and merit. An interesting analogy in human relationship would be about a family that believes in inter-marriage i.e cousins marry among each other, the end result is degeneration, even the genes need to compete to produce a better product, in this case a human being. How many times have we come across villages full of the retarded because of inter-marriages generation after generation?


The Intent of Fairplay

The Caretaker Government is committed to holding free and fair elections in Pakistan, to that end there has been a very deliberate choice of neutral personalities in forming the Administration at the Federal and Provincial level. Strict neutrality is a commitment of the Caretaker PM. Less than one month into the Caretaker period and less than two months before the October elections, the carefully nurtured perception of impartiality has taken a very hard knock in Sindh.

Independence Day 1993 was initially touted as the day of launching campaigns by the major political parties, knowledgeable speculation was that the two chosen symbolic points of departure would be the Quaid’s Mazar and the Pakistan Memorial by the PML (N) and PPP respectively. While the PML (N) applied for permission from the local Karachi administration on 5 August, requesting for a procession culminating in a public rally at the Quaid’s Mazar, the PPP immediately made a similar request. Faced with the possibility of clashes, the Civil Administration imposed Sec 144 and refused permission for both the rallies. In an advanced stage of preparation in contrast to the fairly low level of interest shown by the PPP, the PML (N) felt aggrieved that they had been badly treated. Notwithstanding the lack of permission, Nawaz Sharif did come to Karachi, did lead a long slow moving procession from the Airport to the Quaid’s Mazar and did address a 20,000 plus crowd at 3 O’clock in the morning of August 15, 1993, without any interference from the Civil administration, a benign indifference after the flat refusal that showed good sense in hindsight and stopped further erosion of the Caretaker’s moral authority about neutrality.


The Campaign Commences

Over the past few months the Quaid’s Mazar has been the subject of more attention than usual what with governments falling and forming. The Mazar makes for a good photo-opportunity, transient dignitaries find it necessary to do homage on Prime Time TV. To launch their election campaign, PML Nawaz Sharif Group chose the Mazar as their point of departure to coincide with Independence Day celebrations. While it was widely believed that PPP would launch their campaign from the Pakistan Memorial at Lahore, as soon as they heard about the PML (N) decision, they also decided that the Mazar would be their choice also. Frankly, it is unfair that they are being equated even for consideration but one supposes the Administration can read the PPP writing on Sindh’s walls.

While it is too early to really see anything emerging from the political kaleidoscope before the full list of candidates comes before us and electoral alliances/adjustments are complete, the PPP has got off to a fast start as they have been working towards a mid-term election for some time and have the necessary grassroots organisation. With their own shakedown now complete after taking stock of the breakaway factions, the PML(N) is putting together an extremely comprehensive and potent campaign mechanism. Spearheading the effort is the indefatigable Senator Sartaj Aziz as Acting Secretary General and Mushahid Hussain as Information Secretary. With these capable and hand-picked Nawaz loyalists as the nucleus, the PML campaign is now taking form and shape. One is struck by the sophistication of the effort being organised, in contrast to the disinformation and negative exercise that was conducted the last two times around, the present set-up gives an assured and mature complexion to the hurly-burly of the projected campaign ahead. Nawaz Sharif has shown an unerring instinct for choosing the right persons for critical posts (barring one or two glaring exceptions) and the Sartaj Aziz/Mushahid combine is in stark contrast to the better organised but frenetic appearance of the Bhutto campaign.