Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Is Pakistan ungovernable?

Mohammad Waseem*

ISSUES of governance stare you in the face in any span of 24 hours, as Karachi bleeds, institutions clash, terrorists strike, extortion destroys commerce and the state is accused of abducting its own citizens.

Glance at a national daily on any day, say an issue of Dawn last week, and we can see that a day in the life of the nation is symptomatic of a year or a whole tenure of the government or indeed several decades of civil and military rule. You will find the PPP government subjected to allegations of poor performance, misinformation and insincerity of purpose in the context of the ongoing conflict between the judiciary and the executive. This is an indicator of the fragility of institutional life inside the state.

The cycle of suspension and reinstatement of FIA officials in the NICL scam inquiry at the hands of the government and the Supreme Court respectively has become a clash of institutions. The judiciary and the elite sections of society point to the government’s lack of commitment to implementing the court’s orders. On its part, the government thinks that the judiciary has overstepped its assignment, whereby it is seeking to micromanage the administration and moving from the role of referee to that of a player in the field.

Indeed, the government has been so grossly engaged in the game of survival in office that it has hardly taken any positive, concrete or result-oriented executive measures to streamline the state machinery. No government can depend on the storm gathering on the political horizon for years as an alibi for non-delivery of services here and now. For example, a terror attack in Landi Kotal is combined with several other news items that throw light on a non-functioning state: the menace of extortion eating into the vitals of commerce in Karachi, the team of a price-checking magistrate fleeing under pressure exerted by a local MPA and the gross inefficiency in the matter of the registration of 500 drugs with the requisite agency.

The PPP-led government continues to be ill-equipped with the wherewithal to face natural disasters. The management of an underwater Badin is a case in point that involves an estimated Rs130bn loss of crops, apart from the gross disruption in social life. The damage to villages in Kasur because of the rising water level in the Sutlej is another natural calamity at a small scale.

The state capacity must improve. The incumbent government has the responsibility to improve it.

Several news items, on one day, concerning missing persons present a challenge to the credibility of the state’s premier intelligence agencies. Their officials deposed in court in Lahore as part of the inquiry into the gruesome murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad, in the context of a forceful denial from their side. They also denied holding a missing Hizbut Tahrir activist allegedly in their custody, in a case in the Islamabad High Court. There was a plea and a counter-plea to shift the case to the Lahore High Court, with reference to a previous case about another missing person.

In Peshawar, the high court warned of action against officials from whom a missing person is recovered after they declare innocence in the matter. A petitioner in a habeas corpus case pointed to two of her neighbours who apparently offered to recover her husband and brother from the custody of an intelligence agency on payment. A similar case of the missing was alleged to be the handiwork of the Criminal Investigation Department. The latter allegedly took Rs250,000 for the release of the missing man, but did not free him. The persistent news about the missing persons points to a shameful dimension of our national politics.

These perceptions of, allegations against and aspersions cast on the state of Pakistan point to a huge gap of trust between the rulers and the ruled. Does the elected government feel that the unelected institutions are beyond its sphere of influence and authority? Apologists for the government might claim that this is a case of responsibility without power. Others would question the moral right of the ruling setup to be at the helm in the current situation in the first place.

As always, women remain at the bottom of the ladder of social security, personal stability and physical wellbeing. There is the news that an Afghan husband came to Pakistan from England to reclaim his wife, whom he had abandoned eight years ago.

When refused, he killed her and several others from her family. Are people too unruly for the government to handle, too brutal in cultural terms to be tolerant and too misogynistic to respect women and their will? Has the government washed its hands off the social and cultural ills prevailing in society, especially when women are the victims?

Has the state dispensed with the need to protect citizens’ entitlement to security? How did it become the target of allegations of abducting and killing its own citizens? Is the state doomed to live with inefficiency, red-tapism and patent weaknesses to establish its writ against terrorism as well as social terrorism such as extortion? Will the clash of institutions continue till it rocks the boat or will the executive and the judiciary find a modus operandi to keep the system in place?

One day in the nation’s life as reflected through the print media in Pakistan may not be a microcosm of the whole reality about politics and the state. However, it reflects on the menace of ungovernability that has made inroads into our social and political life. Reading the news about the declining writ of the state and the security apparatus creating insecurity makes one ask: is Pakistan ungovernable? This question poses a great challenge to all those who want to see Pakistan as a modern and stable country. Only a strong, authoritative, confident, legitimate and responsible government can deal with the turbulence all around.

The author is Professor of Political Science at Department of Social Sciences, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). This article was published in Dawn newspaper (Pakistan) on Tuesaday, 23rd August 2011, and it is being published verbatim in Pakistaneering with the permission of the author.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Redrawing the Internal Map of Pakistan


There is an emotive debate raging across Pakistan on the pros and cons of reorganising the territorial boundaries of Punjab. In this context a few basic issues need to be addressed at the outset. One, the Constitution of Pakistan is an organic document that doesn’t treat discussions about reorganisation of existing provincial boundaries as sacrilegious. Having said that, the mechanism provided by our Constitution (as opposed to constitutions of other states such as India) to redefine territorial boundaries has been made hard enough to ensure that any such change is the product of consensus at the federal and provincial level.

Pursuant to Article 238(4) of the Constitution, the boundary of a province can only be redrawn through a constitutional amendment ie with a two-thirds parliamentary majority at the federal level. And such amendment can only be sent to the president for assent after it has been approved by a two-thirds majority of the assembly of the province whose boundary is to be altered.

What this means is that unless the government and the opposition in the centre, as well as the relevant province, agree there can be no redrawing of provincial borders. The PPP knows this. And this is what suggests that its announcement to carve a Seraiki province out of Punjab is merely electioneering gimmickry aimed at stealing additional votes in southern Punjab. Stirring up separatist passions in Punjab without making any serious effort to engage political parties across the isle in a serious discussion over how to address the concerns of minority communities within Punjab and other provinces might seem typical Zardari-ingenuity at first, but is actually dangerous. Will pro-autonomy groups within other provinces not seek the redress of their concerns while the subject is open? Even for the maestro of deviousness, it might not be possible to shield other provinces from the flames of separatism being ignited in Punjab.

Two, any time that the limits of one administrative unit of a federation are redefined, the legal impact of such change affects all federating units. Any such amendment in the Constitution of Pakistan will require consequential amendments in other provisions as well. The articles providing for representation of provinces within the National Assembly and the Senate will need to be revisited. A new NFC award might be required: distribution of resources satisfactory for a united Punjab as the biggest province might not be acceptable to its smaller successor units. Thus assuming that super-majority consensus can be miraculously generated at the federal and Punjab levels for the creation of a Seraiki province, a constitutional amendment bill proposing the division of Punjab alone will still impact the rights of all provinces and must be the product of a serious constitutional debate.

Three, the reasons for dividing up territories and creating states and provinces etc are seldom administrative and almost always political. The argument then that redistribution of provincial boundaries is welcome so long as it is undertaken on administrative grounds in nothing but gibberish. In any diverse society each citizen is born with multiple identities: nationality, religion, language, ethnicity, tribe/clan, gender, class etc. Which of these identities shape the socio-political consciousness of a citizen (or a group that he/she associates with) is a product of politics and not administrative needs or convenience. Thus it is the political programme of a group or community within a territorial unit that inspires the demand for division or autonomy and is backed by the conviction that such change will result in greater self-governance, empowerment and justice for such group or community.

It is hard to draw a meaningful distinction between the perception of injustice and of being disempowered and disenfranchised entertained by an individual, group or community and the reality of it. Belief is not always backed by empirical evidence or verifiable facts but still remains possibly the most potent trigger for action. Allegations of bias and grievances rooted in the sense of being treated unfairly and unjustly cannot be dispelled by simply rejecting them. If a group of people view themselves as a community or sub-community, in view of their history or ethnic, linguistic or religious identity, who is to say whether such self-conceived sense of identity is true or false? If such group or community believes it is being treated unfairly and political and administrative structures of the state are rendering it politically impotent, who is to decide that such resentment merits no attention? If a community views itself as a minority and struggles for greater political empowerment, who is to rule whether such struggle is legitimate or not?

If a citizen group conceives of itself as a distinct political community, forms a sizable population within a substantial territory that is geographically congruous, and wishes to collectively decide its own matters, there is no reason in principle to deny it the right to greater autonomy. Also notwithstanding the political interests of Punjab’s ruling elite, the division of Punjab might actually be good for the average Punjabi. Currently, he is the object of hostility and suspicion and held responsible for deprivations of fellow citizens across other provinces, largely due to the size of Punjab. Probably once there are a few Punjabs of the same size and influence as the remaining provinces will others realise that the Punjabi is as disempowered and destitute as the rest of his brethren, and the cause of distress of the average Pakistani cannot be removed by continuing to divide Pakistan up into smaller and smaller administrative units.

Will one, twelve or sixteen new provinces change the fact that our political parties are autocracies? Territorial subdivision will not bolster political autonomy or self-governance for it will still be the handful of individuals heading the political parties of Pakistan who will decide who gets to run in elections and represent ordinary people in each constituency. Till such time that political parties – the gatekeepers of our democracy – remain undemocratic themselves, a sense of political empowerment will remain a forlorn hope. Will redrawing the internal map of Pakistan change the fact that our politics is driven by patronage and not policy?

The object of being voted into power for all political parties is to secure access to the resources of the state and then use/abuse state power and distribute resources amongst its voters and supporters to strengthen the personalised system of patronage of party leaders.

Given that in our country the purpose of politics is not to devise policies that affect all citizens but to control power and resources for the benefit of a few, the vast majority of the citizens will always feel disempowered irrespective of which political party is in office. In any constitutional democracy basic citizen rights are guaranteed by the constitution and upheld by state institutions.

In Pakistan, the ordinary citizen needs personal access to local, regional or national elites to secure even his most fundamental rights. You need such personal access to register an FIR or avoid police harassment, to be heard fairly by a magistrate, to register a property deed and to find a job. This reality doesn’t change whether you are North Punjabi, South Punjabi, Pushtun, Hazarawal, Sindhi or Baloch. How will your personal fate be any different in a smaller province if the horse that you bet on lost the election?

So long as our system of governance and basic state institutions remain dysfunctional and every ruling party believes that its sole responsibility is to its supporters and not the entire citizenry, any party that forms government with simple majority support in elections, where not even half the population votes, will rule over a populace that feels largely disempowered. The debate over the creation of more provinces is just a fight over the distribution of spoils between competing elites and bears no relevance to the ordinary Pakistani.

*The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad. This article was originally published in The News (Pakistan) on Saturday, August 20, 2011 under the title "Perceptions of Injustice". It is being published verbatim in Pakistaneering with the kind permission of the author.