Friday, November 30, 2007
Monday, November 26, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
By Samia Altaf
Pakistan, labeled the most dangerous country in the world, with loose nukes and
angry jihadis, is unraveling. It needs help. To be helped it needs to be
understood. Urging a transition to "true democracy," after the fourth military
dictator has suspended the constitution for the second time and sacked a
judiciary that dared to question his legitimacy, betrays either naiveté or
disinterest. Both will hurt in the long run, if there is a long run.
Understand that there has not been much difference between military and
civilian rule in Pakistan. When unreal hopes are betrayed by one, the other is
accorded a relieved welcome. Four painful cycles ought to be enough to make
that clear. The pundits wringing their hands at the ills of dictatorship today
are the same who saw huge silver linings when the fourth dictator, the
"enlightened moderate," came along to clean the democratic mess.
Understand that both dictators and democrats have attacked the judiciary in the
same way, both have pandered to the religious fundamentalists in the same way,
both have harassed political opponents in the same way, both have enriched
themselves in the same way.
Understand why this is so. Understand that the vast majority of the 160 million
people have gained nothing since they were "liberated"—not from those who
founded the country, not from the democrats, not from the dictators, not from
the priests. Half of them are still illiterate, a third are below the poverty
line, many still die from the lack of clean water, and many still live in
another century. Any surprise they are not active participants in the struggle
for "true democracy?"
Understand that the forgotten have no expectations of political equality or
fundamental rights from their rulers, be they dictators or democrats. No
political party has bothered to make that the central thrust of its campaign
and one that did in the past only abused it cynically. All the leading
democrats are ever ready to ditch the aspirations of their supporters and cut a
deal with the dictator of the day. It is an easier route to the top.
Understand that in a deeply unequal society without individual rights, and with
extreme dependence of the many on the few, the functions of political
representation and social protection are inseparable. Understand that the
natural state of such a society is one of patronage. Understand that the
unprotected and powerless are as rational as anyone else—when forced to
participate in an electoral game, they vote for the most powerful patron with
the strongest links to the ruler. Understand that the preyed upon want their
protectors to be on the winning side first and represent their political
ideology second. Ideological somersaults and shifting loyalties matter but
have to be accepted pragmatically in the real world that exists for them. Count
the number of political representatives who have been in every party that has
ever ruled the country. Watch how high they hold their heads; watch how much
they are sought after.
Understand this is still very much a monarchical society in which the ruler, in
whatever garb, believes he rules by divine right Understand the culture in
which every ruler, legitimate or illegitimate, begins to see visions of being
anointed by the Almighty to "save the nation." The more incompetent and
unprepared the chosen one, the greater the proof of divine purpose. The third
dictator (the "meek") used to say, in so many words, with awe and humility:
"Look at me, what is my worth? Would I be here were it not for the will of
The leading prose writer of the country called such leaders "men without
stature." Calling them pygmies would have landed him in jail for abusive
language. And why does the Almighty continue to find such pygmies? Because He
is putting His chosen people to His severest test! Understand this is an
environment rife with such fatalistic beliefs.
Understand this is a society at a stage of development where political parties
are personal affinity groups with lifetime leaders—the leading democrat is
chairperson for life of a party she inherited from her father. Understand this
is a banana republic in which the "best" president and the most "appropriate"
prime minister are determined not by the people but by meta-patrons abroad.
Understand this is a place where a prime minister can be parachuted from above
one day and be consigned to the doghouse the next. Understand this is system in
which the king's courtiers can switch loyalties any minute and have to be
continuously bribed. Count the size of the cabinet; compare that to the output.
And, nary a protest from any side, nary a protest on any count.
So what does a transition to "true democracy" mean in a situation like this?
Understand that representative democracy is not going to emerge any time soon
by pressure from below. Democracy will be the name given to a sharing of power
amongst the elites holding the wealth, the guns, and the controls over rules
and rituals. And, barring anything different, this democracy will go the way of
previous democracies, each morphing from "true" to "sham," each leaving the
country more wounded and vulnerable than before. Has this not been the story of
the last sixty years?
How then can we get something out of the elite democracy that we will
inevitably inherit? Not by imagining a battle won, not by wishing for some
ideal unfettered democracy, but by working towards a system of some checks and
balances that limits the accumulation of power and the abuse of office by
ruling groups, a system that advances human rights and access to justice, and
one that enlarges the space for hearing the voices from below.
By some quirk, this was a scenario beginning to unfold with the assertion of
independence by the judiciary, by its questioning of arbitrary executive
authority, by its taking up the causes of ordinary citizens. This was the first
institutional development in over sixty years that promised a meaningful step
towards good governance in the interest of the ordinary citizens. And even
before one could be sure it was for real, the fourth dictator (the
"enlightened") smothered it, quickly and ruthlessly, risking even his carefully
varnished image of moderation in the process.
De Tocqueville said it long ago: "Unable to do without judges, it [the
government] likes at least to choose the judges itself and always to keep them
under its hand; that is to say, it puts an appearance of justice, rather than
justice itself, between the government and the private person." Pakistanis know
why. Governance in Pakistan is allergic to accountability. Pakistanis know now
what has to change.
So, going back to "free and fair" elections, back to "true democracy," as
promised by a dictator, ruling under an emergency, to a bunch of democrats
ready to cut a deal, is not going to do much good. It will be very old wine in
very old bottles. Well-wishers of Pakistan, at home and abroad, need to grasp
the one promising development in an otherwise sorry history. They have to agree
on a one-point agenda—the Supreme Court has to be restored; the independence of
the judiciary has to be guaranteed. This is the only leverage we have at the
moment, the one issue on which a broad coalition can unite. This is where the
fight for "true democracy" begins. Whomsoever is next anointed by God would
need to be put to this test of sincerity. Otherwise, the moment and the opening
would be lost. Those who are fighting would need to go on fighting.
This unpublished appeal, addressed to friends of Pakistan, at home and abroad,
is dedicated to the students at the Lahore University of Management Sciences
Dr. Samia Altaf is the 2007-2008 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson
International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC.
"I wrote the following, as early as March 2007
Knowing When to Stop ( Dawn 27.3.07 & Frontier Post 25.3.07)
I often wonder why our nation manages to extract defeat from the jaws
of victory. I am not talking of cricket.
I was able to identify at least 3 important historical moments when
history of Pakistan would have changed, had we known when to stop, and
bank our profits.
1. In 1969, an agitation for restoration of democracy was launched by
Air Marshal Asghar Khan and others against the Ayub regime. It was no
mean achievement that the all powerful military government was really
shaken. Ayub Khan offered to hold elections within 6 months and to
hand over power to the elected leaders. But Air Marshal Asghar Khan
was thumping the table and demanded immediate hand over of power.
There was no elected civilian leader who could have taken over
immediately. The only person who could take over was Gen Yahya Khan,
and he did. Air Marshal Asghar Khan and his colleagues did not know
when to stop. Having achieved 90 percent of their goals, they tried
for 100 percent and lost everything.
2. In 1977, the combined opposition launched a campaign against Mr
Bhutto. It was no mean achievement that the all powerful Bhutto was
ready to meet 90 percent of the demands of his opponents. But they
wanted 100 percent – Bhutto must go immediately! Bhutto did go, but it
was Zia who took over. Our politicians in the opposition did not know
when to stop!
3. In 1997, Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah had the Prime Minister Nawaz
Sharif in the dock. It was no mean achievement for a judge in a third
world country to be able to summon the Prime Minister. Even in the
West, such a situation would be quite remarkable. The Chief Justice
had achieved 90 percent of the goals and could have accepted an
apology. But he wanted a hundred percent victory. The rest is history.
Alas he did not know when to stop!
Today we have another watershed moment in our history. Will the
agitators know when to stop? Will they accept 90 percent victory or
must they lose everything to achieve 100 per cent? The smell of
victory is quite intoxicating and it blurs one's judgement. Will they
extract defeat from the jaws of victory? Will the nation face a coup
I also wrote more recently:
What Supreme Court could have done. (Frontier Post 17 nov 2007)
I wrote on the subject in March 2007, under the title "Knowing When to
Stop" ( Frontier Post 27th March 2007). It is very tempting for me to
say " I told you!", but the events are too traumatic for me to do
I said then that our nation always extracts defeat from the jaws of
victory, because we do not learn when to stop. This happened in 1969,
1977 and 1997. Having achieved 90 per cent of our goals, we do not
stop and consolidate our position. We go on fighting to achieve total
humiliation of the opponent. Instead of a 100 per cent victory, we end
up with total defeat.
This time, the Supreme Court had asserted itself and would have had a
major role to play in our national affairs, in future years, had the
Court avoided the path of confrontation. This should have been
done,not under any pressure, but in the supreme national interest. The
Court could have declared that the President's election would be
valid, but with the following conditions:
1. Gen Musharraf will give up the Army uniform BEFORE he takes the new
oath as President. In this way Gen Musharraf will be a civilian when
he takes the oath.
2. Gen Kiyani will be sworn in as Army Chief, in the same ceremony,
immediately after the Presidential oath.
3. Gen Musharraf must seek a new vote of confidence from the next
assemblies, within a specified time. If the vote of confidence is not
granted, the office of the President will become vacant.
Alas, it was not to be!
This comment reminded of the lyrics of a Kenny Rogers song:
"You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done"
Monday, November 19, 2007
Find more music like this on PakAlumni Worldwide: The Pakistani Social Network
Sunday, November 18, 2007
In addition to displaying graphic images of violence and mayhem on the streets, GEO and its various commentators ( Hamid Mir, Shahid Masood, others) went out of their way to take strong anti-government positions and failed to play the proverbial "devil's advocate" role in panels consisting entirely of anti-Musharraf panelists. Since the imposition of emergency by Musharraf, Geo abandoned any semblance of objectivity in their reporting. I know I am sad about the closure of my favorite channel and I can understand Geo TV commentators anger at being shut-down but they also need to reflect on their own behavior.
When I see Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and their various allies being presented by our "esteemed" journalists as pro-democracy leaders spouting their support for media freedom, it reminds me that most people in Pakistan have very short memories, and even shorter-term horizons. It seems that all the sins of Bhutto and Sharif in their previous two terms as prime ministers never happened. There is not even a pretense of the two "stalwarts" as being "born-again", acknowledging their prior sins. Recycling these failed leaders will not bring democracy, just more of the corruption and incompetence we have seen from them in the past. The elections will simply become a means to legitimize their governments as elected and democratic.
The real democracy, with all of its institutions properly working, is a goal that requires a lot more patience, tolerance and longer term thinking and sustained effort to succeed. The propensity in Pakistan to become instant "heroes" and "martyrs" by refusal to compromise as shown by our judges, lawyers, media, politicians and Musharraf is not in the best long term interest of our nation. We can do with fewer heroes and martyrs and seriously need wiser, more pragmatic and sincere leaders to move toward a durable democracy that serves our people. Unless we reflect on the mess that currently exists and change our ways, we will be condemned to permanent chaos and ultimately self-destruct. As Churchill described it once: "Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried". Let's choose a path to democracy because the alternatives are far worse.
As far as the independent media are concerned, they have a very significant role to play in this march toward democracy. I do hope to see GEO and ARY back on the air very very soon.
Friday, November 16, 2007
As I saw the recent reports from Munich about Siemens pleading guilty to bribing politicians and officials in Nigeria, Russia and Libya, it reminded me that Siemens is a large player in Pakistan. Has any one looked into Siemens engaging in similar corrupt practices in Pakistan?
And, how about the behavior of other American and European companies operating in Pakistan? There are definitely laws on the books in the West such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in the United States. All ethics classes taught in the West in management schools and company training cover this topic. However, the question is whether these laws are really enforced and how often are the companies held accountable? Or do they simply rely on the foreign governments to report misbehavior? It would be a fantasy to expect the officials and politicians on the receiving end to report incidents of bribery as they are the main beneficiaries. But I think the German, French, US and other western governments and other developed nations who claim higher moral positions should be cracking down on these reprehensible practices just to enforce their own laws and live up to their own higher standards. While it may be argued and it is like putting the shoe on the wrong foot, I see it as the only hope we have of containing such widespread corruption in developing nations that is robbing their people blind.
Looking at Pakistan, there have been serious allegations and at least preliminary evidence to suggest that illegal payments were made to Bhutto-Zardari controlled fronts by companies in France, Switzerland and Poland. There was some action pursued in Switzerland at the request of Pakistani Government under Pervez Musharraf. However, France and Poland have not pursued the charges of corruption involving their companies in Pakistan. The only explanation I have heard is that the FCPA style laws did not exist in France prior to the year 2000. It has made me wonder whether there is an inherent conflict when it comes to European or American governments taking action against their own companies. After all, there are jobs in these countries that depend on exports to the developing nations. Would they rather be pristine in their efforts in enforcing their laws even if it means losing business and jobs to the Japanese, Koreans and others?
Upon searching the Internet, I found at least one report in Forbes magazine regarding Siemens in Pakistan:
"The World Bank is looking at an electrical power plant project in Pakistan concluded in the mid-1990s, which was built and later partially maintained by Siemens and financed by the World Bank.The World Bank is concerned that Siemens' costs for the project may have been overpriced.Siemens is currently engulfed in a slush-fund scandal, in which prosecutors allege that managers siphoned off hundreds of millions of euros in company money to obtain foreign contracts.Siemens' own internal investigation uncovered 420 mln euros in suspicious payments going back to 1999 which may have been made to obtain telecommunications equipment contracts in a range of foreign countries.The Bavarian State Prosecutors office has said the sum is estimated in the triple-digit millions of euros."These reports beg the following questions: Do they represent only the tip of the iceberg of political and official corruption in the developing world? Are there more such investigations and prosecutions on the horizon? I certainly hope there are. In my view, serious action by the Western prosecutors seems to be an effective way to reduce the scourge of rampant corruption in developing nations such as Pakistan.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Sykes rented a car in Islamabad and headed out onto the partially completed M2 motorway that will eventually connect Lahore (near the Indian border) with Peshawar (the last city on the road to the Khyber Pass and Afghanistan).
But he found the motorways boring, so he left the M2 and re-joined the ancient Grand Trunk Road, which links most of the main towns of northern Pakistan.
Sykes says: "Driving in Pakistan is fast and sometimes chaotic, but not competitive.
They even hoot politely. And one great danger at home you hardly ever have to contend with in Pakistan is drunk drivers and people with concentration blurred by hangovers."
The conclusions that Sykes reaches are clearly in sharp contrast to all the sensational negative coverage you see in Pakistani and Western media on a regular basis showing Pakistan as a dangerous, unwelcoming place. I generally do not believe in conspiracy theories, but sometimes it seems like a conspiracy against the people of Pakistan with the participation of Pakistan's local media. Not only is this conspiracy depriving our people of the benefits of more international tourism, trade and commerce, but it is also painting all of Pakistan with the same broad-brush of extremism and fanaticism.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Such a sense of entitlement is representative of her feudal thinking and it offers no comfort to those looking to bring any semblance of democracy to Pakistan with BB as the head of a civilian government.
As to her popularity, Times story goes on as follows: "Saturday night at the diplomatic reception, Ms. Bhutto showed how she could aggrandize. Three million people came out to greet her in Karachi on her return last month, she said, calling it Pakistan’s “most historic” rally. In fact, crowd estimates were closer to 200,000, many of them provincial party members who had received small amounts of money to make the trip." And yet, Washington and London back her as their choice to lead a "secular, democratic government". I fear that it is more likely to be just a repeat of her last two terms as prime minister of highly corrupt and imperious governments with rampant lawlessness that characterized them.
The understandable outcry against Musharraf's emergency rule and a real yearning for "democracy" may yet again bring severe disappointment to people of Pakistan. Unfortunately, there seem to be no good options for this nation of 160 million people. I have a feeling that any change now may either be worse than the status quo or more of the same.
Friday, November 9, 2007
While recognizing that Pakistani Judiciary does not have an illustrious record, I absolutely admire CJ Choudhri for his courage in standing up to a dictator. Although we know he is no angel (he was sworn in as CJ by accepting the last PCO by Musharraf when Justice Wajeehuddin and others refused to do so), he set a new example by refusing to give in to Musharraf. However, I fault him for lack of wisdom in dealing with the real issues of restoring democracy after his return to the bench. Instead of focusing on the key issues of restoration of democracy, he and his cohorts on the bench initiated more than 100 suo moto actions, unheard of anywhere in the world.
Supreme Courts in most democratic countries are very selective about the cases
they hear. They do not dissipate their energies on trivial matters, and leave these for the lower courts to adjudicate.
There is also the concept of separation of powers in all democracies. Executive, legislature and judiciary are considered co-equal branches each with its own powers. However, Justice Choudhri & Co were bent upon taking over the executive powers by ordering around the bureaucracy in routine matters of traffic, and other law and order issues. I think Choudhri had a historic opportunity to help transition power from military to a democratic government which he bungled badly by his aggressive and vindictive behavior. Instead of attempting to overthrow
Musharraf by confrontation, he would have been better off in ensuring elections for a new assembly and new civilian government. Now, I'm afraid the lawyers may be alone in this fight without real serious backing by either the political parties or the ordinary people on the streets.
It is understandable that most of the average Pakistanis are quite cynical about the prospects for real democracy that addresses their issues and concerns. It is this cynicism born of
actual experience of the people that is so toxic for the Pakistani society.
Monday, November 5, 2007
The power of the feudal/tribal lords comes from their vast land-holdings and the traditional fear and respect that peasants/followers show them, the power of the military emanates from the guns and the power of the clergy is derived from people's deep religiosity. The civilian "democratic" governments in Pakistan have generally been dominated by feudal/tribal leaders with support from the clergy. In all democratic elections, the winners have been the well-known landholding families in various parts of Punjab and Sindh and the tribal/religious leaders in NWFP and Baluchistan that form the so-called civilian democratic governments. The military governments have been led by generals with support from the clergy. The clergy has, therefore, played a significant role in who controls the reigns of power in Pakistan.
So the two most important alliances that have controlled Pakistan at various times are the feudal/clergy alliance and the military/clergy alliance. The people that usually constitute the backbone in most really democratic societies are the educated middle class which has been largely absent from any participation in the democratic process in Pakistan. It is believed that one of the reasons India has been much more successful in establishing and maintaining democratic institutions has to do with their land reform effort undertaken by Prime Minister Nehru immediately after independence in 1947. On the other hand, the continued power and dominance of the feudal class in Pakistan has had the most pernicious effect on any attempt to produce a large, well-educated middle class in Pakistan. The lack of any serious human development is largely the result of the big landowners and tribal leaders refusing any improvement in their people. The lack of human development has also led to the inordinate sway that the clergy has over people who accept their ill-conceived notions about Islam without question.
Unless there is a fundamental change in Pakistani society that focuses on human development and reduces the privilege of these three centers of power, we are likely to see the real power continue to be concentrated in these three centers that excludes the real people of Pakistan.