Archive for December, 2007

Legacy of Benazir Bhutto

Loss of life is tragic in itself but loss of a leader creates chaos in a nation. We witnessed this chaos when leader of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto lost her life to a terrorist attack during a political rally in Rawalpindi on December 27th, 2007. This is no doubt a national loss and she will be remembered for a long time for her contributions to the nation. But a political leader is owned by its constituents and it is the right of the people to evaluate their performance. She belonged to a political family going back almost four generations. Politics was considered part of her genes and she could not stay out of it for long. She demonstrated tremendous political acumen when she came back to the center stage after 10 years of self imposed exile. For her nothing ever was off the table for political advantage. Whether it was negotiating with the military general that sacked her father or forming a deal with General Musharraf to return to power. She did not hesitated to seek amendments in constitution, devised by her own father, to get a chance at premiership for the third term. She demonstrated a lot of courage by holding election rallies in all four provinces despite grave threats to her life. She maintained a strong grip on her party through placement of loyalists at all levels of the party. Even after her death, she contributed in preserving the control of the party by Bhutto family by advising in her will that her husband or son should be nominated for the party chairmanship.
Her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto rose to power at the back of a military ruler Field Marshall Ayub Khan who appointed him as foreign minister in his cabinet. He later refused to accept the internationally recognized fair elections of 1970 because he could not work with the government of Awani league of East Pakistan as a majority party. He demanded boycott of the national assembly session in Dhaka that decision later became the main cause of separation of East Pakistan. On the economic front Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto pursued a socialist agenda and nationalized all industries which resulted in expansion of government powers and industrial backwardness of Pakistan. Zuliqar Ali Bhutto was also responsible for creating the separatist movement in Balochistan by ordering military operations to subjugate nationalist Balochi leaders.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto became victim of General Zia ul Haq’s Marshall-law who brought murder charges against him. Supreme Court of Pakistan, influenced by the military government, convicted him of murder charges and ordered his hanging which was promptly carried out by the government. Benazir Bhutto, oldest child of the deposed Prime Minister, while living abroad vowed to take revenge from the military and continue their struggle in the form of Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD). As General Zia felt increasing pressure for restoration of democracy, Benazir agreed to participate in the political process and returned to the country in 1986. There was a widespread belief that she returned to the country by negotiating a deal with the General who deposed and killed her father. Her first stint at power was brief but clouded by charges of corruption and nepotism. She was also considered responsible for the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan. But this might not be totally true as military had its own interest in supporting them with or without Benazir’s consent. Her government was dissolved, in 1990, without completing its term in office.

She got another chance to form a government in 1993 when her party again got slight majority in the national assembly. Unfortunately she had not learned from her past experience and once again nepotism and corruption became hallmark of her second term in office. In 1996, her government was once again dissolved before completing its term by her hand picked President and associate Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari.

During last nine years of General Musharraf’s rule Benazir stayed out of the country in a self-imposed exile. She returned to the country in October 2007 after a controversial deal with the military ruler who swore never to deal with corrupt politicians Benazir and Nawaz Sharif. It was also widely reported that US, UK and other western powers brokered the deal. They believed her to be the only option available to introduce liberalization, modernization and tolerance to the country. This reliance on individuals whether it is Benazir or Musharraf is a faulty approach. West seems to forget that they themselves fought the forces of religious conservatism by introduction of equal opportunity, education, justice and diversity in their societies. Pakistan can not become a modern country unless US and other countries provide financial support for social reforms, education and introduction of free market economy. Instead of supporting authoritarian military rulers, West should also make it clear to the military generals that their involvement in politics will not be accepted.

Traditionally governments in Pakistan try to find a escape goat to blame for any man made calamity. Interim government has blamed al-Qaeda terrorist for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto without gathering complete evidence to prove this claim. Since her return to Pakistan Benazir Bhutto made many statements that were uncomfortable for the establishment. She told foreign correspondence that she will allow interview of Dr. A. Q. Khan by the IAEA. She also suggested that diplomatic relations with Israel will be established if she was elected Prime Minister. She was also seen as a beneficiary of the curtailment of an independent Supreme Court which might have overturned the reconciliation order issued by General Musharraf to pave way for her return to the country.

People of Pakistan have given enough sacrifices for leaders that are driven by their personal desire for power without belief in the democratic principles. Benazir presented herself as a democratic leader but in her will she advised the party to appoint her husband or son as party chairman ignoring services of the experienced and respected political figures like Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Raza Rabbani and Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. Asif Ali Zardari might have learned his lesson during his 8 years in jail but it is very difficult for him to control his innate desire for power and riches. He is neither qualified nor respected among the party loyalists.

The riots that ensued after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto have only resulted in the loss for the people itself. All the buses, banks, cars and train engines were wealth of the nation. It is hard to imagine that a family that just lost a son or daughter will start burning their furniture or damage their home. All political leaders have tried to justify the riots as understandable anger of the nation for losing their beloved leader. This is not acceptable as these leaders should condemn the riots resulting in loss of innocent life and property. It is hard to believe that people looting government and private property are loyal to any patriotic party. We have to take ownership of our country and unite for the future. We can not expect others to be as sincere to us as we can be to each other.


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The politics of division

The modern political theory encourages emergence of professional politicians. They argue that the issues of modern societies are so complicated that only specialists can perform the research and arrive at the best possible solution for the community. In order to prevent chaos of divergent views in a parliament members are encouraged to form platforms among like minded members. These platforms over the years become political parties to allow arrival of consensus in legislative process. In most developed democracies number of parties is handful. For instance US political system is controlled by republican and democratic parties. Similarly in England governments are formed by two party system between Tory and Labor party. Similar two or three party system exists in most of the stable democracies of Turkey, Malaysia, Germany, France, South Korea. In countries where there are more than three parties the effectiveness of the democratic institutions diminishes because of lack of consensus among the legislature. There are many political theorists that question the effectiveness of party based political system but it is quite apparent that if it is adopted then small number of parties produces better results. There are many reasons for weak democratic institutions in Pakistan but it is probable that proliferation of large number of parties is one of the main reasons. Political divisions have been favored by military generals who have controlled the governments for over 40 years of the last 60 years of existence. The elections of 2008 are not much different. According to Election commission web site there are 49 parties contesting for national assembly seats. The question then arises is why do we have so many parties? And what can be done to remedy this situation? 

The prime reason for large number of parties is the absence of national will, lack of provincial harmony and disagreement on future direction. Regional insecurity induces the constituents to elect candidates that can safeguard local interest at the cost of national consensus. This has resulted in the emergence of narrowly defined ethnic and sectarian parties like ANP, MQM, JUI, Balochistan National Party, etc. that attract vote by appealing to the local grievances and targeting the ethnic inequalities. The military establishment gives wind to these ethnic and sectarian sentiments to ensure a divided political structure which results in corruption and ineffectiveness producing mass frustration which eventually lead to military take over. On the other hand large parties with national manifestos are plagued by undemocratic practices. Individuals dominate the leadership roles with no expiration of terms. This is evident in PPP which is dominated by Benazir Bhutto as lifelong chairman. PML is dominated by Nawaz Sharif or Chaudhry family. It is quite natural for any politician to be ambitious with a desire to slowly rise to the top. When young aspiring leaders find it impossible to eventually lead their parties they are forced to break ranks and form their own break away factions. Sadly they do not learn from their own experience and adopt the same dictatorial practices in their own factions thereby repeating the cycle for further division. This situation has resulted in many factions of PPP into PPPP, PPP forward block, PPP Sherpao etc. In PML it has resulted in PML (Q), PML (N), PML functional etc. etc. Even sectarian parties like JUI have divided into JUI Niazi and JUI Fazl ur Rehman groups. 

There are many ways to correct this divisive situation and embark on a journey of consolidation. First of all regulations for political parties need to be amended to ensure that there is succession of leadership in the ranks of party leadership. Constitution of party should be subservient to the constitution of the country. This means that there should be term limits for the top leadership of the party so that new leaders have a chance of rising to the top. Anyone nominated to contest a regional or national election should be barred from holding a party position to prevent conflict of interest. No party should be allowed to participate in the national assembly elections unless they can establish membership from all four provinces and demonstrate at least 15% votes in the last two elections. This will encourage rise of the national leadership with an eye towards development of the federation. Smaller regional parties should be allowed to form alliances with larger national parties to secure their voice in national policy and get some seats allocated to them from the alliance. Nomination of candidates should also be done through member’s votes rather than committee nominations. Selection of candidates through committees gives rise to personal power at the expense of party interests. Media outlets should be regulated to provide equal time to all candidates to ensure fairness and equal opportunity. 

Running political campaigns is an expensive matter. Financial constraints prevent many good candidates to participate in elections. Like developed countries, campaign finance rules should be devised so that candidates can raise funds to finance their campaigns. Use of personal funds in elections should be restricted to a certain amount to prevent future profiteering from holding parliamentary positions. MQM has demonstrated its ability to raise funds from the middle classes. Although in the absence of good leadership it has more often resulted in extortion of money by party workers from industrialists and factories in Korangi and S.I.T.E area of Karachi. In developed countries candidates arrange fund raising dinners to not only speak to their constituents but raise funds for their campaigns. 

We can not become a nation unless divisions are reduced from ethnic, sectarian and personal issues to national issues. Instead of forming a round table of politics with each party holding a small pie it is better to sit in a room with only two sides. Unless we reduce the political divisions and allow emergence of national leadership it is a pipe dream to hope that divisions will reduce on its own. Poverty stricken Balochistan and NWFP can not expect to send ethnic leaders with handful of seats to have a stronger voice for their rights in the national assembly. Instead if they could gain control of provincial governments and have substantial clout in a national alliance they could exert more influence to get resources for their provinces. 

Voters also have to reject smaller parties and rally around larger parties to reduce the political divisions. All of us have an individual role to play in the upcoming elections. We can not just sit on the sidelines and expect politicians to sort out things for us. We have to get active and participate. The best way to participate is to cast your vote with an eye towards national reconciliation rather than narrow minded regional benefits. Let us reject sectarianism, ethnicity and religious extremism. Let us give majority mandate to national parties so they can not give us excuse later on for their ineffectiveness. Let us give a clear message to the military leadership that their meddling in politics is no longer welcome and it is not their job to run government. If they allow democracy to prevail it will eventually grow into maturity and enable good leadership to emerge to lead the nation.

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Failure of educated middle class

Pakistan is a country with only 32% of the population considered literate out of which a small portion has a bachelor’s degree. This means that these about 20% people are the elites of the country controlling effectively the whole machinery including military and civil bureaucracy, media, education, business and diplomacy. The other 68% so called illiterates have been doing their part by producing the food and constructing infrastructure for the country. This indirectly implies that the current state of affairs in the country is the failure of the elite literate class to unite the country. The division of the country is the direct result of conflict between the various segments of the educated classes, whether it is the capitalist, military, civilian bureaucracy or Harvard educated zamindar, to gain larger share of the pie for itself. Educators, judges, journalists, lawyers and other white color educated people have mostly tried to please the ruling classes in a hope to raise their social status to become part of them.

On March 9th, when the Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaydhry, refused to succumb to the pressure, from the military leadership, to resign from his post so that a more complaint judge can be promoted to his position. This created false expectation in the eyes of the masses at last the educated middle class would rise up against the exploitation of the nation. But that hope is dying with each passing day as some members of the judiciary once again decided to sell the interests of the nation to get a chance to promote their self interest. These judges decided to support the military rule by accepting to take oath under the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) which General Musharraf himself accepted to be an illegal act during his interview with a foreign media. These judges duly obliged their benefactor by confirming his re-election as the President of Pakistan for the second term thereby serving the purpose for which they were appointed. By this confirmation the judges became part of an illegal act further tarnishing the image of the judiciary which for most of its history has lived with the stigma to be the supporters of military dictatorships.

On the other hand, political leaders instead of supporting the cause of the independent judiciary used this situation to gain political ground against the government. Benazir Bhutto, although prophesying to be a moderate and liberal, did not lend her support for the reinstatement of deposed judges or requiring it to be part of the 14 points demands prepared by the joint committee of APDM and ARD. She seems to actually prefer the new bench as it could approve the reconciliation order issued by the government before her return to the country. If the reconciliation order is ratified by the court it could her new lease of life with no cases of corruption and bribery against her. Nawaz Sharif does not command the moral authority to join the struggle for independent judiciary as he himself struck at the judges during his second term in office. In the absence of these two major parties there is no influential political party left to support deposed judges. Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) long presents itself as a bastion of secularism and liberty decided that justice is not something important for the nation and erected barricade to refuse the entry of the Chief Justice in the city while at the same time he was allowed entry by smaller cities like Rawalpindi and Peshawar.

Freedom of speech is another symbol of a progressive open society. Role of media is never to praise the government but rather inform people on whatever is wrong in an establishment. This enables people to make better decisions about politicians at the time of elections. It is surprising to see that a person of Nisar Memon’s stature could allow gagging of media while he is serving as the information minister in the interim set up. Nisar Memon is a person with extensive business experience working with blue chip company IBM as a Country Manager. During his professional career he has traveled widely around the world to understand how liberal and moderate societies function. In developed countries of Europe and America governments are severely criticized in the media for their failure without fear of retaliation. Even Nisar Memon despite his education and exposure feels it is necessary that media should not have complete freedom of speech. In authoritarian governments it is a common occurrence to label dissidents and critics as traitors and unpatriotic. Praise of a military ruler is probably the most unpatriotic thing an educated and enlightened person could do.

Similar was the case with Shaukat Aziz who lived most of his professional life in Far East, Middle East and America as a senior executive of CitiBank. But when he decided to join General Musharraf’s team it did not matter to him that a military ruler could severely damage the social fabric of the society as they are not qualified to develop democratic institutions in the country. During his watch the incidents of May 12 happened in Karachi, reference was filed against the Chief Justice and unconstitutional steps were taken by the government but he never came forward to resign in protest. As swiftly as he came to power at the back of a military dictator he will walk out into the darkness of oblivion.

Educators and journalist have also complied with the wishes of rulers to allow the exploitation of the nation. Small number of intellectuals and educators who tried to dissent were either passed over for promotion or if they were too radical were thrown out of their jobs without any recourse to justice.

The same situation is prevalent in all spheres of the civil society where the educated middle class has refused to understand their significance for the development of the nation. In reality it is the uneducated labor class which has so far been sustaining the country by providing the necessary energy to produce agriculture and manufactured products. These masses of illiterate labor are the ones suffering the most under the burden of rising cost of living while the elites are strangling each other to gain access to the political power.

Pakistan is slowly progressing to the brink of total chaos. The dying movement of the lawyers is the chance for the educated classes to unite for the nation. The movement can demand to impose rule of law applied equally to all without their social status. It could create an environment to offer equal opportunity for all citizens to improve their social condition. It could impose strict rule of merit in hiring and promotion of people in all spheres of public and private organizations. It could demand implementation of democracy in all political parties instead of stronghold of individuals or families. Any party that can not demonstrate implementation of democracy in their own party should be totally rejected by the educated classes.

All this may sound like a dream but then dreams are something that helps create optimism and generate energy for action. In the end I remember a comment made by a foreign friend: “Each country has an army. Pakistan army has a country.”

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Musharraf as a civilian president

The storm that started brewing on March 9th after General Musharraf filed a reference against the then chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary has at last claimed the uniform of the military president. But the storm is still not over and seeks further sacrifice from the now retired general. Musharraf’s rise to power was on the back of his military credentials which means as soon as he gave up his uniform he also lost support of the very institution that brought him to power. A retired general does not enjoy the same military tradition of unquestioned obedience as a serving general. The institution is now behind its new chief General Ashfaq Kayani whose political views, ambitions and contacts will slowly reveal itself with each passing day. The only support left behind Musharraf is US and its western allies. But US public opinion is slowly turning away from supporting an individual to restoration of democracy in the country. This does not bode well for the retired General who just sworn himself in for the second five year term.

Political leaders from PPP and PML N, two large political parties in Pakistan, have refused to accept Musharraf as President and are demanding restoration of the judiciary and constitution to its pre Nov 3 position. Major political parties, although talking of boycott, are submitting nomination papers for the upcoming elections. It is obvious that both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto need the door of election to gain access to political power. They are threatening to boycott January 8th elections because they want to buy time to reorganize their parties whose local leadership has withered during their 8 years exile from the country. In this scenario they would prefer that a limbo is created by questioning the legitimacy of General Musharraf’s re-election. They would prefer that he is forced to resign thereby elevating the chairman Senate to occupy the position which incidentally is interim Prime Minister Mohammad Mian Soomro. We have precedence of this scenario when Ghulam Ishaq Khan took over power after the demise of General Zia ul Haq. This will produce a new interim government and delay of election up to Spring 2008. This will provide ample time to both parties to create an election organization to ensure their rise to majority positions in provincial and national assemblies. 

Chaudhries of PML Q on the other hand will prefer elections to be held on January 8th as they had all the time to prepare themselves for this situation. They know that it will be difficult for them to form a government in Islamabad but they will strive to maintain their hold on Punjab with help from military establishment. Despite dissolution of previous assemblies they still enjoy considerable power over the provincial establishment to use it in their favor. This is their sole reason for still supporting a retired General who used their allegiance to legitimize his rule for 8 years. But they face a formidable competition in the form of PML N. It is quite likely that PML N emerge as a leading party in the province. 

In NWFP, socialist ANP has a natural tendency to align with Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and hope to achieve slight majority in the province. PML N has long history of political alliance with Jamat-e-Islami (JI) which is falling out from MMA after the true face of Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) leader Maulana Fazl ur Rehman came to light during the current crisis. MMA has substantially damaged the political standing of JI which is historically a religious moderate organization as compared to extremist elements of JUI. Although JI leadership is insisting they will boycott the elections but they fully understand that staying out of the elections could be a political paralysis for them. JUI and PPP Sherpao both benefited from supporting the military regime. They can once again form an alliance to not only soften the image of JUI in the province but also improve their chances of forming a government. It is likely that they would need more allies to have any majority in the province. 

In Sindh, Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) understands that they are at best a regional party which means they have to align with whoever has the best chance of forming a government. They have already started sending feelers to PPP to ensure their participation in the future Sindh government. MQM needs to still recover from the political damage inflicted upon them by the Chaudhries of PML Q during the judicial crisis of May 12th when PML Q was celebrating in Islamabad as Karachi shed blood of its citizens. PPP/MQM alliance should not have any problem in forming a majority provincial government. 

Balochistan once again will produce a patch work of religious, socialist and ethnic parties. This does not bode well for the province. Balochistan voters should decide which major party serves their interest best and align themselves with it to get some resources for the province. 

In final analysis it seems that Musharraf will be forced out from the Presidency and elections will be delayed until spring 2008. But then again politics in Pakistan does not follow any pattern and the winds of change could produce a totally unforeseen scenario.

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