Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial May 24, 2018

Census audit abandoned

The government has in principle abandoned the audit of five percent of the Census 2017 blocks to check the results. It may be recalled that when the provisional results of the census were announced last year, some political parties, with the MQM and PPP leading the pack, objected to the results as inaccurate. They were then mollified by the announcement in December 2017 that a third-party audit of five percent of the census blocks would be conducted. But the Statistics Division convinced Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi that the audit was no longer viable as a year had passed since the provisional results were announced and in a large and diverse country like Pakistan, a lot of migration takes place from one region to another owing to changing cropping requirements, weather conditions and change in livelihoods between urban and rural areas. The international standard for post-enumeration surveys and checks is two months, preferably 30 days. Besides, the process and terms of reference of the audit could not be agreed, nor could the outcomes be expected before the upcoming elections in two months. For all these reasons, the audit had become infructuous. The prime minister was convinced by these arguments, though not without expressing regret at the delays, but argued he could not make the decision unilaterally and suggested the issue be placed before the Council of Common Interests (CCI). The postponed meeting of the CCI is expected some time this week.
The provisional census results reveal that the population has grown by 57 percent since the last 1998 census, i.e. 2.4 percent per annum from 132.35 million in 1998 to 207.77 million in 2017. The final results of the census did not change much from the provisional results, a mere 60,000 or less. However, two key outcomes of the final results stand out and could conceivably play a critical role in future political discourse. One, the Sindhi-speaking population of Sindh’s urban areas increased substantially, significantly higher than other ethnic groups and all other non-Sindhi speaking groups put together. Two, the gap between the Pashtun and Baloch population of Balochistan dropped to less than one percent, reflecting a major demographic shift that could lead to contention in the political sphere in future. The highest growth in population was in the Islamabad Capital Territory (4.91 percent), reflecting the magnetic attraction of the federal capital in the context of job opportunities. Amongst the provinces, Balochistan had the highest growth at 3.37 percent, followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at 2.89 percent, Sindh 2.41 percent and Punjab 2.13 percent. Naturally the constituency delimitations will reflect these trends.

What is surprising about this whole episode  is the deafening silence from the parties and individual politicians who were the census’ most virulent critics initially. This indifference suggests that these parties and individuals were not really interested in the accuracy of the census enumeration and the delimitation of constituencies to follow except to ensure it did not negatively affect their prospects in the coming polls. It appears now that they are satisfied that no such impact is likely, hence the pregnant silence. Whether the suggestion to abandon the audit is wise remains an open question since the reservations were considerable and the provisional results could arguably be challenged in a court of law. What the implications of such a legal challenge for the election schedule might be is in the realm of conjecture at this point. It should not be forgotten that the issue of population and its distribution throughout the country directly affects resource allocation, in which population remains the main criterion. At this point, the best outcome may well be the silence of the critics translating into an acceptance of the unaudited results for the purposes of constituency delimitations and the holding of the elections according to schedule as any disruption at this point could derail the polls, something no sensible person would wish at this late hour.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Business Recorder Column May 22, 2018

The democratic project

Rashed Rahman

Why is it that even after 70 years of its existence, Pakistan can only be described as a democratic state and society with difficulty, if at all? The main reasons should be sought in the legacy of the independence struggle and partition, the overweening role of state institutions such as the military and bureaucracy, and the mindset of our political class.
The independence struggle against British colonialism degenerated into a communal slugfest between the two main religious groups in undivided India – Muslims and Hindus. While the former community had by 1947, and particularly after the communal bloodletting accompanying partition, internalised the Muslim identity, the latter maintained a formal secularism punctuated by communal riots until the BJP rose to power and in its present avatar under Modi, is attempting to ‘Hinduise’ India.
In both cases, voices and forces of dissent from the received legacy were loud and clear. In India, it was the Congress Party, the Left, and to some extent the regional parties that rose to prominence later that led the fight to retain the secular principles enshrined in their Constitution, and continue to do so even today. In Pakistan, dissenting voices arose from the smaller provinces of West Pakistan and from the Bengali majority in East Pakistan. These struggles too are far from over.
In post-colonial Pakistan, the overdetermined colonial construct around the state institutions that constituted the ‘steel frame’ of the British Empire in South Asia – the military and bureaucracy – exercised an overweening influence in national affairs. As for the political class, it proved insecure, exclusionary, influenced profoundly by the communal strife accompanying partition, and motivated by considerations that militated against democracy in the true sense. Soon after independence, our political class abandoned/rejected Jinnah’s desire for a secular state as envisioned in his August 11, 1947 speech to the Constituent Assembly on the eve of the handover of power. That speech was suppressed for many years and proved in any case too little, too late after the genie of religion-tinged politics had been unleashed during the independence struggle. The political class took nine years to deliberate and finally adopt a Constitution in 1956 that reflected the turn towards religion as the legitimising principle of the state and undermined democracy by introducing One Unit in West Pakistan and parity between the two wings. This negated the democratic principle of one man, one vote, motivated by the West Pakistani political, bureaucratic and military elite’s paranoia regarding a threatened permanent East Pakistani Bengali majority.
Ironically, the Bengali Muslims remained in the forefront of the struggle for Pakistan, whose other centres were areas such as UP and Bihar that remained in India after partition. The areas comprising West Pakistan were latecomers (if at all) to the moveable feast at the new state’s table. The history of the country between 1956 and 1969 can therefore be characterised by the defining struggles against One Unit (some of them armed) and parity, i.e. the twin pillars on which the state’s construct rested. In 1968-69, Ayub Khan’s dictatorship faced a countrywide agitation and revolt that eventually saw him depart in favour of a fresh martial law imposed by his army chief, General Yahya. Repressive as this regime was to quell the popular ‘rebellion’, it also realized there was no way forward except to undo the main causes of the grievances against the top down imposed structure of the state. Hence One Unit was repealed and one man, one vote conceded for the elections called for 1970. That election reflected the volcanic lava that had been accumulating under the surface in reaction to the dictatorial structures of the state and polity. Suffice it to say in summary that Yahya’s refusal to accept the mandate of the Awami League led by Sheikh Mujibur Rehman (albeit confined to an overwhelming sweep in East Pakistan that gave it a majority), and the collaboration of an ambitious and reared-under-dictatorship Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who had a majority in West Pakistan, scuttled any chances of a democratic turn and eventually led to the bloody breaking away of East Pakistan to reinvent itself as Bangladesh.
After the 1971 debacle, no accounting for the disaster took place, and the whole episode was swept under the carpet. The three or four generations since have amongst them many, especially young people, who are either unaware of the once existence of an Eastern wing, or know precious little about the circumstances surrounding its parting of the ways. This was done to spare the military, bureaucracy and collaborationist political leaders embarrassing blushes had the true facts seen the light of day.
Bhutto was installed in power by a post-Yahya military junta in what remained of Jinnah’s Pakistan. He consolidated his power, carried out radical reforms (not all good), annoyed thereby the capitalist and large landowning classes, and failing to carry through the logic of his populist politics, was overthrown and hanged as the dastardly revenge of the propertied against him and the ‘upstart’ poor who had dared challenge them under the illusions fostered by Bhutto’s populist rhetoric.
Then descended the dark night of the General Ziaul Haq era, whose hangover afflicts us to this day. Promoting religiosity and fundamentalism not only helped Zia suppress any hankerings for democracy, it enabled him to prolong his tenure when the Afghan war fell like a ripe and fortuitous fruit in his lap. In all these periods of non-democratic and dictatorial rule, the west led by the US supported and consolidated these tendencies (in return, at least initially, for Pakistan joining anti-communist pacts such as CENTO and SEATO).
The post-Zia ‘democratic’ interregnum of 1988-99 saw no government complete its tenure, with Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif engaged in the game of musical chairs until General Pervez Musharraf turned off the music. His regime murdered Nawab Akbar Bugti, Benazir Bhutto and others to signal the drawing of a black curtain once again upon the realm. The hopes and aspirations accompanying the restoration of elected civilian governments in 2008 stand dashed against the malign manoeuvrings of the ‘establishment’, the suppression of dissent and criticism (ironically in an era of supposed freedom of the media and expression), and the showcasing of elected governments while retaining important policy areas such as defence, foreign policy and internal security to itself, de facto if not de jure.
This lengthy digression into our history is necessary to discern the pattern that emerges. Initially unabashedly military-bureaucratic dictatorships, later powerless elected civilian governments, this minuet sees the establishment raising to the heights chosen political leaders, inevitably falling out with them over the exercise of real power, and then pinning their own creatures against the wall until they feel compelled to cry out and raise the banner of ‘rebellion’. The only difference now is that the latest recipient of such ‘honour’ is for the first time a Punjabi (not from one of the virtual ‘colonies’ called smaller provinces). That has set a new dynamic in motion. However this struggle pans out, it is unlikely Pakistan will ever be exactly the same again.
The time, effort, sweat and blood that has been expended on the democratic project over the last 70 years offered the mirage of space for raising the grievances and aspirations of the deprived, marginalised, oppressed and exploited. Even if that has come to pass to some extent, the second half of the argument for democracy, that it could be the harbinger of a transcendence of the ‘limits’ of parliamentary democracy in favour of a radical change that empowers and places at the centre as the object of history the people, has yet to break through the dark clouds lowering once again on our political firmament.

Business Recorder Editorial May 22, 2018

Choppy waters

Nawaz Sharif’s interview to Dawn and his subsequent statements defending and justifying his remarks regarding the Mumbai attacks of 2008 have had unforeseen consequences. On the one hand, there are intriguing glimmers of rifts within the ranks of the PML-N, while those within the party who are sceptical of the wisdom of his remarks that have been interpreted by some as criticism of the establishment and by others as anti-patriotic (particularly after the Indian media went to town after the interview, painting Nawaz Sharif’s remarks as an ‘admission’ that Pakistan was behind the Mumbai carnage) see the whole episode as having affected the PML-N’s prospects in the upcoming elections. One uncomfortable gulf appears to have opened up between Nawaz and younger brother and current party head Shahbaz Sharif, with the latter attempting the difficult act of balancing his pragmatic approach to keeping the boat steady in the run up to the polls with family and political ties and the uncontested reality that it is Nawaz who commands the PML-N vote. Nawaz Sharif has had to face accusations from disparate quarters of putting self before the interests of the party, the elections, the democratic system and the country. Quite a charge sheet. There have even been voices heard that Nawaz Sharif’s unwise utterings could lead to Pakistan being put on the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF’s) black list for terrorist financing. The US too has jumped into the fray through a subtly worded message of ‘do more’. Nawaz Sharif’s considerations aside, there can be no gainsaying the fact that the controversy over his remarks has been unhelpful in the obtaining circumstances. While the PML-N’s (and Nawaz’s) narrative is that the PML-N is under attack and being victimised at the behest of powerful state institutions, Shahbaz Sharif faces the difficult and unenviable task of keeping a steady and non-confrontational hand on the tiller, an effort not being helped by Nawaz Sharif’s rhetoric. The latter seems not prepared to accept being marginalised within or by the PML-N, removed from the political scene permanently, or sent to jail while the party plays by the establishment’s newly laid ground rules.

Nawaz Sharif may not have said anything that others before him have not. In his defence he has cited the past utterings of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf and former interior minister Rehman Malik amongst others to argue that the hullaballoo being created about his remarks smacks of mala fide intent. Certainly the barrage of charges (and worse, suggestions of enforcing Article 6) of ‘treason’, an anti-national stance, etc, have flown thick and fast from many sides in what appears to be either a knee-jerk reaction or pouncing on an opportunity to paint Nawaz Sharif in the blackest colours. Nevertheless, in cooler moments it is incumbent on Nawaz Sharif to realize that as a three times elected prime minister, his words carry more weight domestically and internationally than many others. It is therefore necessary for him to weigh his words more carefully, since even seemingly innocent remarks can lead to serious consequences, as the present controversy shows. This is doubly important in the current climate of the parlous relations between the civilian and military sides of the equation. Already, the steady stream of so-called electables leaving the PML-N and making a beeline for greener pastures appears to be taking on the characteristics of an accelerating exodus. Enlightened self-interest, the demands of the moment and time dictate a more ‘softly, softly’ approach than the one adopted by Nawaz Sharif since his ouster and subsequent troubles. Nawaz Sharif’s perception that the twin attack on the Sharifs and the PML-N is a scheme to bring about a manipulated outcome to the elections may not be entirely without foundation. But anything that causes the election schedule to be disturbed (or the elections postponed indefinitely), with the subsequent chaos and disarray throwing open once again the whole conundrum surrounding the continuity and credibility of the democratic project cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered in Nawaz Sharif’s, the PML-N’s, or the country’s best interests.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial May 20, 2018

Blood-soaked ceremony

The opening of the new US embassy in occupied Jerusalem, previously a consulate, on May 14, 2018 was a ceremony marked with the imprimatur of President Donald Trump’s unabashed support to Israel, abandoning even the pretence of impartiality that characterised past administrations. The ceremony was attended by the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his daughter Ivanka, both White House aides. While the ceremony was in progress, Israeli forces were bathing the Gaza border with the blood of Palestinian unarmed protestors on whom Israeli snipers were firing without let or hindrance. Stone-throwing Palestinian protestors asserting their UN-recognised right to return to their homeland were met with a hail of tear gas shelling and live fire, resulting in the deaths of 55 Palestinians on the day, including eight children aged less than 16 years, to be added to the total of 109 Palestinians killed and 2,400 wounded since March 30, 2018. The embassy opening coincided with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding and came one day before the commemoration by the Palestinians of the Nakba (day of catastrophe), when in 1948 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes. The shifting of the US embassy to Jerusalem and the recognition of the city as Israel’s capital flies in the face of the decades-old international consensus since the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993 that the final status of Jerusalem would only be settled after negotiations. Trump’s stamp on the city as Israel’s capital implies no such negotiations are now on the cards. This has the potential of stoking more conflict to add to the bloodbath being enacted on the Gaza border. On the day of the new US embassy’s opening, some 40,000 Palestinians amassed on the border to challenge Israeli occupation of their homeland, undeterred by Israeli guns, air raids and tank fire into Gaza. The protests do not appear to be abating any time soon. More bloodshed by Israel, arguably falling under the category of war crimes, can be expected.

Unfortunately, through the twists and turns, advances and retreats, victories and defeats faced by the Palestinian resistance since Israel was thrust like a dagger into the heart of the Middle East by western imperialism, by now their cause has been virtually abandoned by the Arab countries, Muslim world, the global community and the UN. The illusion of a peaceful, negotiated, two-state solution fostered by the Oslo Accords has by now been dissipated by the grim reality of Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and continuing displacement and destruction of Palestinian farms and houses, the imprisonment of millions in the biggest open air prison in the world in the shape of Gaza, and, with the help of the US-led west, the denial of every conceivable human right to the long suffering Palestinian people. With Washington’s unstinted help and support, Israel seeks to make its conquests, including the illegally annexed Golan Heights, a permanent fact. While this flies in the face of UN Security Council Resolutions and international law, the world does not seem concerned. Having been forced by adverse circumstances to forego armed struggle in favour of negotiations since the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians have seen the occupation of their homeland turned into a permanent fact. While this delights the likes of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Palestinian suffering is a powder keg waiting to explode. Washington under Trump having squeezed itself out of the role of mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by moving its embassy unilaterally to Jerusalem, there appears no viable option for the abandoned Palestinians except to rely on themselves to continue their resistance, costly at is in terms of their lives and widespread misery.

Business Recorder Editorial May 19, 2018

Fits and starts justice

The May 12, 2007 massacre in Karachi with a toll of 50 people killed and 100 wounded has never been brought to conclusion in our courts of justice. The mayhem at the hands of gunmen who attacked the rallies of political parties, lawyers and others wanting to proceed to the airport to greet deposed Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who had arrived in the city to address a lawyers’ gathering, forced the CJP to remain stranded inside the airport for nine hours, after which he returned without having set foot outside the airport. Current Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar of the MQM, who was Home Adviser to the Sindh chief minister at the time, was finally formally indicted in one of the four cases before an anti-terrorism court (ATC), along with 19 others. Waseem Akhtar and 18 others are on bail, while one of the accused is in jail. Although a total of seven cases of rioting, attempted murder, terrorism, etc, were filed in two ATCs against these 20, with 16 others declared absconders, no breakthrough in investigations forced the court to proceed with just the one indictment. This too should be considered a small mercy since the cases have dragged on for 11 years without any end in sight. A recounting of the sequence of events since 2007 could help put the delays in perspective. Waseem Akhtar and others were arrested in July 2016 (nine years after the May 12 events) after their pre-arrest bail plea was rejected by the ATC. In October 2016, the ATC granted him bail and exemption from personal appearance, a generosity that depreciated the seriousness of the charges. The ATC had cause to rue that generosity when it had to defer indictment of the accused four times as they failed to turn up together. At the last hearing, the ATC finally felt constrained to rescind the exemption from personal appearance. Four cases in ATC-II and three in ATC-III remained pending interminably as investigators expressed their helplessness before the courts regarding progress in the investigation. The cases did take a dramatic turn when the Rangers arrested Kamran Farooq, an MQM MPA, on December 16, 2016, who was absconding in several cases pertaining to the May 12 carnage. Farooq’s confessional statement before a judicial magistrate pointed the finger of responsibility at the MQM leadership, including party leader Farooq Sattar. Not surprisingly, the MQM leadership rejected Farooq’s confessional statement. Since then, and up to the present, the MQM leadership and Waseem Akhtar in particular have been trying to deflect the serious charges against them by calling for impartial investigations into the real perpetrators of the violence, an end to ‘fake’ cases filed as political vendetta, and the reopening of cases such as the Hyderabad Pucca Qila and Ali Garh incidents. No one can oppose the investigation and prosecution of all such cases from the past, but if the MQM believes this stance will somehow help it wriggle off the hook, that hope may finally be coming to an end.

Once again, the lack of progress in even such an important case glaringly throws up the woes of our judicial system. The ATCs were set up precisely to circumvent the snail’s progress in our normal courts system, but the inertia of our judicial procedures, incompetent or negligent (deliberate or inadvertent) investigation, and the inability of our prosecution regime to serve the ends of justice in a timely and efficacious manner provides more than adequate loopholes for the accused to subvert justice through interminable delays. Interestingly, the current CJP Saqib Nisar has lit the fire under many institutions for poor governance of late. Similarly, it his proactive intervention that has brought the Asghar Khan case and now this May 12 massacre case out of the deep freeze to which they remained confined year after year. Estimable as this proactive stance of the CJP and the Supreme Court is, it points to the need for serious examination and reform of the judicial system to shake it out of the lethargy that has seen two million cases pending in the courts. Is there any need to remind the honourable CJP and His Lordships of the old and well worn adage: justice delayed is justice denied?