On the US-China Summit
The presidents of China and US met informally on June 9 and 10 at a resort in southern California. The agenda for the talks included North Korea, deescalating tensions with Japan over the Senkaku Islands, climate change, and managing the evolving cyber security related risks between the two nations. However, these are hardly the only high priority issues.
The meeting of the two heads of states has occurred at a peculiar time when the US-Russia ties are tensing up further, especially over the affairs of Syria. Then, there is the stalemate of Afghan reconciliation and the connected US and NATO withdrawal.
At this juncture, the importance of China to US has increased even more. The US would not want to alienate two heavyweights of the UN Security Council at the same time, and thus create a vibe that resonates of a civilizational divide. Not only that, in this evolving atmosphere, events suggest confrontation may be creeping in on the fringes of the otherwise cooperative US-China ties. And the trade and Cyber wars are the more obvious new fronts.
While the China-US ties are moving towards cooperation in the Middle East and Africa, in the Asia Pacific and Americas matters appear to be tilting more towards rivalry, while affairs hang in the balance when it comes to South and Central Asia. And, the Summit was to take a stock of where the two powers are heading.
The path of the Xi’s trip to the US passed through Latin America. His visit included Cost Rica and Mexico. Just before Xi’s trip, Obama and Biden made their own trips to almost the same states. Most of the US and Chinese activities in Latin America have to do with trade and economics, but the experts agree that something may be fundamentally changing in the Americas.
This alteration may have to do with and connected to the American pivot to the Asia Pacific. Although American scholars are very reluctantly pointing to this, nonetheless, the suspicion is there. The Chinese may be sneaking in to the American home sphere of influence using the garb of trade. Obviously, this is not the first time this has happened in history. Does this mean US would have to take a fresh look at the Monroe Doctrine and Roosevelt Corollary is yet to be seen.
When it comes to the Middle East, it’s not clear if the US has convinced China to get more involved, or if the country is doing this on its own. China recently presented its own four-point proposal for resolving the infamous Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though immediately shrugged off by Russia. As part of Chinese Middle East peace initiative, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both visited China in May. It should be noted that on the Syrian conflict, China and Russia have pretty much upheld the same position, non-intervention and respect for state sovereignty.
However, media reports reflect a push by the US to get China more involved in the core issues of the Arab world. For this purpose, the two states may include the Middle East peace in the upcoming US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. The talks are likely to divulge into the role of Russia in Syria. When it comes to the Middle East, Chinese encroachment appears to be welcomed and influenced by the US, but resented by Russia.
On the other hand, China recently revealed its recent decision to send 500 troops to Mali. These soldiers will be under the UN security mission and in support of France. Some of these troops are meant for combat mission, which is a first for China. The country has largely stayed away from such operations in the past, as it does not want to be seen as intervening in other countries for efforts linked to the wider war on terror. However, China is clearly going beyond that hesitation now. The country wants to be seen as a responsible global player and a stabilizing force in Africa.
The US also appears unconcerned regarding the Chinese role in the AfPak region. China and India have invested heavily in Afghanistan and thus require a stable security situation there, in which Pakistan can help greatly. Using its sway over its strategic partner, China can possibly make things a lot easier for NATO withdrawal.
Pakistan usually delicately balances its ties between both the US and China. However, the nation may have settled its bets in favour of China. The country recently handed over the administration of its strategic Gwadar Port to a Chinese firm. Moreover, Pakistan has made a decision to adopt the Chinese Beidou navigation system for its critical systems, expected to be fully functional globally by 2020.
As in the Americas, Chinese and American officials are following each other in and out of South Asia. John Kerry will be visiting Pakistan and India towards the end of June. His visit will be following by that of the Chinese premier, who visited Pakistan even before the new government was installed.
China, Russia and the US, share the threat from Islamic extremists. The difference is over how far to go towards eradicating the menace, and whether the solution is a political or military one. China and Russia are concerned that states aligned to them are dissipating while fighting the war.
The approach China adopts in South Asia is derived totally from its ties with the US. This is not much different from how the US positions itself against China. While Russia may be happy to see China sneaking in America’s backyard, it does not appear pleased about its role in the Middle East. At the same time, China and Russia share worries over American presence in the Pacific.
While the US has tried to appease Russia by backing off slightly from the European missile defence system, their views are diverging over the situation of Middle East.
The unfolding events of Syria have further demonstrated the fight there may be more related to the global tussles and the reestablishment of spheres of influence. And, in this sense we are seeing history repeating itself.
The writer is chief analyst at PoliTact, a Washington based futurist advisory firm (www.PoliTact.com and twitter.com/politact) and can be reached at email@example.com
Egyptians organising for June 30th
June 30th marks Mohamed Morsi’s first anniversary as President of Egypt. It is also the date set for nationwide demonstrations protesting Morsi’s increasingly authoritarian leadership and the role his Muslim Brotherhood is playing in post-Tahrir Egypt.
The organizing effort for June 30th is called “Tamarrod” (rebel). They have, at last report, collected over 15 million signatures on petitions endorsing their protest movement and are convening nationwide organizing meetings in preparation for the big day. Expectations are running high that Tamarrod may replicate the government-changing events of January/February 2011.
It remains to be seen whether this movement succeeds or fizzles out, but what its early successes reflect is the fact that the Morsi government is in deep trouble. A recently completed poll of 5,029 Egyptians adults, conducted by Zogby Research Services (ZRS) found that Morsi, his government, and party have, in fact, suffered a dramatic loss of support and legitimacy.
One year ago, despite having been elected by a minority of eligible voters, Mohamed Morsi was being given the benefit of the doubt by a majority of all Egyptians—with 57 per cent saying his victory was either “a positive development” or “the result of a democratic election and the results need to be respected.”
Today, that support has dropped to only 28 per cent, with almost all of it coming from those who identify with his Muslim Brotherhood party. And yet despite this narrow base of support, the president and his party now hold most of the levers of executive and legislative decision-making authority and are using them to crack down on the press, civil society, and most forms of dissent. In addition, there are worrisome signs of still more over-reach by the presidency. As a result, over 70 per cent of the electorate now expresses concern that “the Muslim Brotherhood intends to Islamise the state and control its executive powers.”
What emerges from the ZRS findings is a portrait of a post-Tahrir Egypt in crisis with a deeply divided electorate. The poll shows that the major opposition groups (the National Salvation Front and the April 6th Movement) combined have a somewhat larger potential support base than the governing parties. The opposition, though repeatedly out-organised in elections by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi Nour Party, can claim the confidence of almost 35 per cent of the adult population. The remaining almost 40 per cent of the population, while holding political views identical to those of the opposition, appear to have no confidence in either the government or any of Egypt’s opposition parties. They are a “disaffected plurality.”
This loss of confidence in the government can be seen in the responses to every question asked in the ZRS survey, with an overwhelming majority of Egyptians expressing disapproval of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and dissatisfaction with their policies and performance in: drafting and embracing what is seen as a flawed constitution-writing process; and failing to provide economic opportunity, needed services, guaranteeing personal freedoms, and keeping the country safe. In each of these areas, only about one-quarter of the electorate expresses some degree of approval with the actions of the government, while almost three-quarters disapprove. In each instance, the support for the government comes almost exclusively from those who identify with the Muslim Brotherhood, while the rest of the population is nearly unanimous in their disapproval.
What also comes through quite clearly is that the opposition to Morsi suffers from a crisis in leadership and organisetion. Of the nine living Egyptian figures covered in the ZRS poll (including all those who ran for president and/or who lead opposition political parties), none are viewed as credible by more than a third of the electorate, with most seen as credible by only a quarter. Only Bassem Yousef, a popular TV satirist who has been indicted by the government and charged with insulting the “presidency” and Islam, is viewed as credible by a majority of Egyptians.
While division defines much of the poll’s findings, there were a few areas where consensus could be found. Interestingly, the late president Anwar Sadat won extremely high ratings from all groups – Islamists, secular oppositionists, and the “disaffected”. More significantly, the army also receives strong approval ratings from all sectors and parties – an overall 94 per cent positive rating – with the judiciary following closely behind. These two institutions have, at times, acted as buffers muting the presidency’s tendency to over-reach. But while a majority of supporters of the opposition parties and the “disaffected” would like the army to play a larger role, there is not strong overall support for military intervention in civil affairs.
What to do next? Immediate elections for a new parliament are supported by the Islamic parties. But this idea is rejected by most other Egyptians, with a substantial majority saying that they do not believe that new elections would be fair or transparent. The opposition, and a majority of the electorate, strongly favours scrapping the constitution. But this is rejected by supporters of the main Islamic parties.
The only proposal that receives near unanimous support from all groups is the convening of “a real national dialogue” – though it remains to be seen what such a dialogue might accomplish given the polarisetion that currently exists.
So one year after Mohamed Morsi’s victory, Egypt is in crisis. The economy is in shambles, rights are being eroded, and a minority-supported party controls the power over a deeply fractured polity. Into this arena comes the Tamarrod movement and its attempt to unite the opposition and organise the disaffected in a last ditch effort to force needed change. It remains to be seen what June 30th will bring, but regardless of the outcome, it will be a momentous day in Egypt’s contemporary political development.
The writer is President, Arab American Institute
Putting up with parasitism
Why does Pakistan routinely consider IMF-style austerity which decision-makers and well-off don’t suffer? Because, as well known, those with ulterior motives don’t have to repay. Mostly the hapless taxpayers do. Every time another loan is taken, it never eases economic problems. In fact, money doesn’t even change hands. It’s just a ledger entry in Washington of what’s lent by the IMF and immediately ‘returned’ to pay the current year’s usury.
What we should say instead is: “Sorry guys, our people are suffering unbearably. We’ll pay you later when we can.” We’ve paid off the principal anyway, as have dozens of countries, some several times over. If Argentina, Ecuador, even Dubai, can default, why can’t we? A moratorium would be a much-needed, learning exercise.
Why is it, the more our governments borrow on our behalf, the more indebted we get? When leading financial experts including those who’ve worked within the World Bank-IMF system have denounced crippling terms as dubious and unnecessary, why can’t we extricate ourselves? Hundreds of reports documenting IMF methods and consequences over the past four decades are readily available: on structural adjustment hacking social spending – health, education, water, sanitation, literally snatching food from children’s mouths.
A question never asked of our governments or lenders – why are objectives and terms of loans taken in the name of the people, not debated with the people, and so secretive? Even the pro-market Economist of London called it an international loan shark – because the system is rigged to scuttle repayment. Like any money-lender, they just want to collect interest forever.
In 1988, economist Davison Budhoo revealed in his 22-page resignation letter – more of an expose of IMF ‘expertise’ – after his 11 years with it: “When we went on a mission, we did not even have the scope to innovate, to look at the country and make projections, that you thought were reasonable... there was already a briefing paper before we entered the country. We were told what we were expected to do, and give conditionality in terms of what the fiscal deficit was and how much it should be reduced; even before we entered the mission... we were expected to structure our findings in relation to the figures in the briefing paper, which were put there without any research, and were predetermined. So the conditionality was also predetermined... In this sense, every IMF mission is fraudulent even today...”
Usurious earnings also support ostentatious lifestyles. As Budhoo described: “...The salary/allowances package of a median missionary staffer would be in the region of five to ten times the budgeted salary of almost every Third World head of state, and some one thousand times the per capita income of that of two-thirds of mankind that he is paid so handsomely to crush down into further destitution.” It’s easier to be conscience-free yes-men than to resign over principles.
Christine Lagarde, the current head of IMF, draws $400,000 annually, excluding perks. Third World people lose their livelihoods, go hungry, just to shoulder the lifestyles of 9,000 World Bank and 2,500 IMF personnel. As economist Jeffrey Sachs once said: “the Fund’s usual prescription is budgetary belt tightening to countries that are much too poor to own belts”.
Usury was forbidden by all major religions until some invented ways around it. The Muslim governments ignore it for supposed “lack of choice”. If countries can’t pay up, public assets are often sold to do so. Nor do IMF ethics see privatization of natural resources or essential services as human rights violations.
Even investor Warren Buffet calls them “the financial weapons of mass destruction”. So why do we put up with parasitism – or ‘Odious Debt’ as it’s aptly known? Unfortunately, few who understood the system blow the whistle – they were too comfortable in their overpaid lifestyle.
Governments inheriting past debts, when occasionally trying to frame the right policies, find their hands tied because IMF takes first priority before spending for food, jobs, poverty alleviation, and maybe some development. Even 40 years ago, total Third World debt was $135 billion; it quadrupled in 6 years. In another 12 years, debtors paid $1.6 trillion, and still left with almost as much in new interest-debt! Borrowing repeatedly to pay off interest ensures permanent debt-slavery.
Reduced to penury and fed up, the Latin American countries launched BANCOSUR (Bank of the South), their own development bank, sans dollars and outside interference. Initiated by Hugo Chavez in 2007 after Venezuela fully paid off the WB/IMF debt – thanks to nationalizing and retaking their oil – it will be fully operational this year. Is that possible here regionally? Will the new government focus on strictly enforcing transparency and accountability, without which corruption can’t be eliminated? Or are we doomed by our own leaders collaborating with post-independence colonizers?
Find answers. Real ones
Pakistan’s ideology took more than just a lethal blow on Saturday when treasonous elements set ablaze the Ziarat Residency. A dignified structure that had provided solace during his last days to the creator of this country, it was callously rent asunder to hit the very core of our existence. The ‘before and after’ photographs turned stomachs in utter disgust! The charred remains of our soul grotesquely bared.
Rebuild it in three months, it is proposed. You may rebuild a soulless edifice but pray tell how will you take a nation and rebuild its soul? Pakistan has lost sensitivity. Ambiguous rhetoric and self-aggrandizing jargon seeks to offer justification for incompetency and the lack of will to even begin the quest for a cure. Human life is of no magnitude except when it provides political leverage. When the word ‘rebuild’ is used those mouthing it should consider the consequences in entirety; the superficial use bears no consequence.
In a shocking and painful day of mayhem in Quetta, at least 25 young schoolgirls were blown up in a bus, by a female suicide bomber. Terrorists then took over the Bolan Hospital where the victims were being treated. Dozens died in a second suicide attack. Security forces were virtually ineffective and utter confusion and chaos prevailed, causing anguish and disgust. Despicable carnage reigned free.
To add salt to the wounds, the interior minister tells us he went to Quetta despite threats. Is that a favour? It is his job, he has no option but to do it. Especially given that bloodthirsty terrorists have brutally killed the deputy commissioner, the head of civil government in the city. So minister, just get on with your job. God knows there is plenty to do. Including initiating action at the self-confessed perpetrators of the crime rather than claiming accolades for magnanimity by ceding to a minority chief minister.
Killings and kidnappings continue without mercy. The father of one of the girls killed in the bus has been kidnapped while coming to take the body for burial. Policemen killed in Qila Saifullah, and on the other side polio workers killed, yet again in Swabi, bombs are being planted everywhere and life in Karachi is taken as if it was another glass of water. What is government’s response? Warnings to certain elements, arms licenses to polio workers, which to my mind is a joke. Are they volunteers or gunfighters? But nary a word is spoken or action threatened to the real elements, the known and self-proclaimed terrorists. This spells disaster.
Talk of peace with ruthless murderers is jarring. Is the proverbial ‘other cheek’ to be on continuous offer despite being repeatedly slapped and without any respite? Supposedly talks with those that ‘will talk’ are planned. Those who will talk are those that are probably insignificant in that realm. Dozens of these can be collected and put on the podium. Yes it will present a picture opportunity, yet another meaningless press conference, to no end. The question is do we even know whom we want to talk to? If so, name them specifically and reveal their identities. And let them reveal what they want. Surely with a total of 4.7 per cent vote cast for the rightists, one per cent of whom have perhaps run amok, they certainly cannot demand government is handed over.
Even if we name them, what is government going to talk about? What agenda and what negotiations? These are people who have no principles. They violate the written, tacit prescription of the same God they are allegedly defending. Every day this country sees some poor soul hauled up for blasphemy. Violating the tenets of Islam, Al-Quran, directly by action must be the worst form of blasphemy. Bloodthirsty marauders, killing Muslims, on the rampage! Yet no authority, executive or judicial is willing to take even a single step to stop this malaise from spreading into the very core of our lives. Not even a self-confessed murderer, arrogantly claiming it was his duty to kill, as in the case of Salman Taseer’s assassin, lives three years after the heinous crime. Termites are taking over the whole house.
Stop the drones, government yells, supported by PTI and others. These drones are probably the only factor taking arms with the terrorists. Alright, stop them. So that the terrorists run back into Swat, Waziristan and infiltrate deeper into Quetta, KP, Islamabad, Karachi and eventually Lahore, ravaging the nation. And once they have overrun everything and you continue being helpless, go back to the US, eat crow, and say now help us clean up. Perhaps that is the only way that terror will be carpet-bombed.
There has to be a transparent and clear strategy to achieve a single objective, which is peace and thereafter a chance for progress. Sporadic reconstruction is never a possibility. I believe the Sharif brothers were taught this lesson well by their father. To govern with the fear of man-made earthquakes on a daily basis isn’t easy. Imran Khan’s PTI has its first go at governance, and although he may be just coach to his KP tsunami, with celebrities reaching out to him to protect and promote their charitable programmes he needs to find answers. Real ones.
Abbas Afridi is right. He told the Senate yesterday, “It is the mandate of a divided and disintegrated nation and not a united one. This mandate doesn’t reflect the thinking of united Pakistan and is the reason we see conflicts in Balochistan, FATA and KP today”. You can extend this further to conflicts in Karachi, perhaps even other significant parts of Sindh. The need then is to build consensus to fight the foremost problem of terror. Regionalism has blatantly taken over in abject surrender to the four-nation theory. Consensus requires sagacity and willingness provided there is will.
No investment, badly needed, can come in the obtaining situation unless of course concessions are made which allow investors to make four times what they can make in conventional markets. While infrastructure continues to be below par, resentment will grow till it becomes a deafening roar. The treasury is cash strapped and Pakistan has changed. The ‘bling bling’ effect will not work with the people. They maybe distracted for a while but reality will hit them soon. It is imperative that serious steps are taken to create an environment that invites investment and growth. Otherwise we will be facing a secondary revolt and this one will encompass the entire country rather than scattered acts of violence.
Logic does not compute the total apathy of every arm of governance towards the monumental disaster this country will face if the current state continues. Action at all levels is essential. This Lashkar-e-Jhangvi outfit is worse than any Al-Qaeda or Taliban can be. It is only killing Pakistanis. Perhaps it’s doing something else for its masters too that we don’t know. For it not to be effectively banned by government or by the superior courts, that take suo moto notice of every trivia in the country except acts of terror, is astonishing. It’s not this government alone, it is the entire structure that has failed the nation and continues to fiddle while it literally burns.
Somewhere really soon, if there is belief in this country, the entire civil and military apparatus has to take this mad bull by the horns. Yes there will be collateral damage but if the soul is intact that too can be ‘rebuilt’. We need to give ourselves that chance. Build a united Pakistan.
The writer can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
What Kamal Hossain’s book skips
When revolutions are in quest for freedom and justice even after four decades of their happening, it means that they have gone awry. If hartals and demonstrations are staged with the same frequency, the scenario becomes all the more somber. This is what has taken place in Bangladesh.
Kamal Hossain, the country’s first foreign minister, has written a book to give an account of it. I wish he had said more about the birth of Bangladesh and the failure to sustain the spirit of secular democracy it had evoked. This was a rare revolution which rose above fanaticism and factionalism and beckoned a democratic structure without the pull of religion. Hossain’s story is inadequate and does not tell why a country which fought against bigotry so resolutely caved in when extremism reared its head.
Not long ago, when Bangladeshis freed themselves from Pakistan in 1971, they rose as Bangladesh. A Muslim nation fought against Muslims to make religious appeal meaningless. Unfortunately, after the liberation, the Bangladeshis got lost in religious warfare and parochial assertion. Hossain should have underlined the fact that the dream got shattered because religion had the better of secularism. Today’s Bangladesh scene seems to suggest that extremism is nearly indelible and very few people rise above it.
To trace the movement for liberation is to applaud, the Bangladeshis’ triumph over passion and prejudice. It was an ideology which conquered petty considerations. Yet the story of independence was not that of a struggle alone to liberate oneself from the distant Rawalpindi. It was the birth of an ideology of egalitarianism and a society which would fight against sectarianism and religious divisions. The nine months of operation by the Pakistani Army tore all tiers of administration and the machinery of governance and imposed a dictatorial rule. There was also an element of hatred towards the weak and poor Bengalis who dared to assert their identity. The only way they had was to revolt. “What could we do when the Pakistan government”, as Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman, father of the nation, said, “tried to kill every Bengali and destroy Bangladesh?” Destruction-wise, 2.44 million of the nation’s 14 million farmers were ruined and the rest lost bullocks, ploughs or seeds. Fifty-six million dwelling units, from pucca houses to thatched huts, were demolished. In addition, according to Mujib, “Pakistani soldiers destroyed 12,000 trucks out of the 18,000 we had. They burnt currency notes and took away all our foreign exchange. Our food godowns were demolished.”
Disruption on such a scale made restoration of normal life impossible when Mujib took over. He explained that it would take time to set things right. But his appeal had little impression on the people who wanted the revolution to shows results. They had seen one miracle happening – the liberation – but wanted another: economic prosperity. Building takes time. But the public had no patience. Also, the fire of freedom that burnt fiercely in hearts lessened as days went by. On the other hand, many anti-liberation elements that had been silenced became active to prove that the liberation had never taken place and that the link with Pakistan should have never been broken. The more radical among the liberators also expected improvement from those in power.
The country had too many guns. The radicals were not the only ones to find them useful. There were others of different shades of political colours and there were plain brigands without any politics. They did not give up arms. Mujib’s personal magic worked up to a point. According to one estimate, 100,000 to 200,000 arms were never surrendered. Violence lay latent in the land and it appeared with a vengeance when the liberation was over.
However, the most disconcerting development for the Bangladesh leaders was an incipient anti-India feeling, towards a country which had helped them to obtain freedom. “I wish I could die now because relations between India and Bangladesh are so good today that I do not want to see them deteriorating,” Tajuddin, once Prime Minister, told me.
But Mujib was not worried when I met him. He said, “I know that some elements assisted by international interests are indulging in a whispering campaign against India. But they cannot sabotage the relationship between your great country and Bangladesh. A Bengali does not forget even those who give him only a glass of water. Here your soldiers laid down their lives for my people. How can they ever forget your sacrifice? You fed ten million refugees for more than ten months. Even now you are giving us food and other assistance. I can assure you that my people are not ungrateful. Therefore, those who are trying to foment trouble will not succeed in their designs”.
Dacca’s Foreign office is still peeved over the remark of foreign countries that the policies of Bangladesh are “New Delhi’s carbon-copy.” A Foreign Office man told me: “If only we could oppose you somewhere so that we project an image of our independence”. He betrayed a small-nation complex and it appeared that to prove their country’s separate identity, officials are tempted at times to adopt an anti-India posture.
India’s size looks large. Many civil servants, suddenly becoming conscious that they were employees of a small and not yet prosperous country, indulge in anti-India talk. “Your country is too big,” they say. “Whether your neighbours like it or not, they have to be subservient to you.” Was this the assertion of old parochial sentiment or a complaint against their country’s inadequacy?
All this is missing in Hossain’s book, the feeling of elation and the frustration after its failure. There is not any disclosure as such books promise. Hossain tells something about Mujib, but skips the much-talked weakness in his capacity to administer. Hossain should have also confirmed or denied the rumour that the Sheikh was sentenced to death by Pakistani’s military rulers and spared due to the intervention by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s popular leader. Maybe, Kamal Hossain has yet to publish the Bangladesh untold story. We should wait for it.
The writer is a senior Indian journalist.
Rational people maximize utility, Pakistan govt maximizes stupidity
Now more than ever, Pakistani policymakers must tackle what has become a very pressing issue for the Pakistani economy: the irrational, unregulated allocation of subsidies. There is ample and extensive research on the subject of subsidies, yet little of that seems to be making its way towards policymaking in Pakistan, especially with the present PML-N government. Untargeted subsidies, such as the infamous Sasti Roti scheme, epitomize bad policy and pose awkward questions when Rs30 billion is spent subsidizing flour in a province which has an education budget of around the same. Most countries have more or less phased out the practice of untargeted subsidies – save for perhaps Egypt, which still provides subsidies to the tune of 12 per cent of GDP on fuel and food. This practice, however, still remains and thrives in Pakistan but must be brought about to an end.
Various areas of the Pakistani economy are beset with this irrational and unfair practice. Take the Utility Stores for example. You can be well educated, have a degree from a top-tier university, earn half a million a month and you can still walk into any Utility Store, buy sugar, flour, oil and whatever else you fancy at a government mandated subsidized rate. If you are a taxpayer, you’re just getting a tax-rebate of sorts. If you do not fall in the aforementioned category, and there are many, many in Pakistan who don not, you are in effect getting a payment of sorts from the government. It’s alright if you are earning big, we will still pay you for the effort of coming in and buying something from the Utility Stores.
The magnitude of the Utility Stores subsidies pale in comparison to the electricity subsidies that the government has been forced to give to consumers, on account of a spike in oil prices post 9/11 and Iraq War (Read: Frivolity). For the year 2010-2011, the PPP government meekly budgeted Rs115 billion and ended up spending more than three times the amount at Rs372 billion. Glaring policy failure meets inept planning.
In effect, the largest share of subsidy is going to the richest sections of society. A report on Pakistan’s electricity crisis published in 2011 by the World Bank states that the biggest beneficiariesof electricity subsidies are the richest households. The same report states that nearly 90 per cent of Pakistani households are net recipients of subsidies. Rational people maximize utility, the Pakistani government maximizes stupidity.
Like mentioned above in the Utility Stores case, if you pay tax, then you’re getting a rebate. If you’re not, you’re getting an out and out discount. And really, shouldn’t the point of any subsidy be to help the disadvantaged sections of a society?
This, however, begs a small question and I digress again but the prevailing situation of unsustainable subsidies in the electricity sector is the result of policy failures and bad governance. The subsidy is in effect the government subsidizing its own failures and inefficiencies. Is it then fair, from a philosophical standpoint, to pass on that inability to govern, lack of political and governmental expertise on to the population at large, especially given that Pakistan’s political history has never been stable enough for the process of political accountability to take place?
As a matter of pragmatism and necessity, tariffs must be rationalized with high consumption consumers paying much more than low consumption consumers. In Iran, for example, consumers consuming lower than 100KWh were charged just 270 Irani Rials ($0.027) per unit while those consuming above 600KWh were charged nearly 2,100 Irani Rials per unit back in 2010 when reforms were initiated.
Subsidies when administered properly and transparently can be a great tool in the alleviation of poverty. What are needed are subsidies that do not unnecessarily subsidize the rich and reduce leakages to the undeserving and the solution to that is to have targeted subsidies. Though administratively taxing is harder to implement on account of finding the right target populace, targeted subsidies can be a great way to maximize the marginal benefit from each rupee of subsidy. Countries all over the world have successfully cut expenditures whilst increasing income transfers to the poor through ending untargeted subsidies and substituting them with targeted subsidies. Whilst not a subsidy, the BISP is an excellent example of a targeted income transfer programme and it has greatly benefitted its recipients.
Which leaves us with a very important policy question, what kind of programme would be most effective in alleviating poverty? Should it be a GST exemption? Should we transfer money balances into recipients’ accounts? Or should we subsidize the price of essential commodities for the targeted population? Each has its own merits and demerits. Research has not given its final verdict on which is the most effective mechanism for helping the more vulnerable sections of society. On the subject of targeted versus untargeted subsidies, however, there is enough research to pass judgment on the respective efficiencies of the two systems.
Such reforms have historically been difficult to implement. Also given the Pakistani population’s love for big government, the government will find it difficult to implement sweeping reforms that might take away some of the more irrational subsidies from the population. Electricity price hikes are a prime example. Whether such reforms will go through or not will depend greatly on how the government manages the media. Irrespective, reducing the size of untargeted subsidies, especially in a constrained fiscal environment is necessary and the government must act on this without hesitation.
The writer can be reached at Abdullah.email@example.com Twitter: @Ahshafi
Is there a prosthetic for Balochistan, Mr Prime Minister?
One of my favourite flicks is the 1992 Al Pacino starrer Scent of a Woman in which he plays the role of an irascible, blind, medically-retired army officer.
In a particularly poignant scene, while defending a preparatory school student, who is unfairly threatened with expulsion before a disciplinary committee, he says: “There was a time I could see! And I have seen – boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off. But there is nothin’ like the sight of an amputated spirit. There is... no prosthetic for that.”
That’s how one felt after going over what happened in Quetta on an intensely black Saturday. The amputated spirit of this nation was before the entire world to see. It is difficult to recall a more devastating single-day slide into the depths of misery, anger, hurt, betrayal.
The day began with the literal, if incredulously symbolic, destruction of the famous Ziarat Residency – the last resting place of the founder of this wretched nation. Even Gulzaar, that great master of symbolism, would struggle to come up with a more potent metaphor for Pakistan having lost its soul.
My mind harked back to 2003 when the US forces in Baghdad were alleged to have deliberately allowed the loot and destruction of Iraq’s National Museum housing artifacts dating back centuries, including archaeological riches of Mesopotamia 5,000 years old, and other collections with few parallels in history.
The emotional attachment that an average Pakistani has for Ziarat Residency – one of the four landmarks each of which remind us of the country’s four provinces – is now gone as we knew it. Try reconciling losing a potent 65-year-old memory not to Alzheimer’s or a state of dementia but the abject failure to protect it from insurgents, with misplaced anger.
The Balochistan Liberation Army militants even managed to remove the national flag and replace it with their own after the rocket-propelled grenades hit the national heritage site.
One had yet to recover from the shock of this heart-wrenching loss when news broke of the death of more than a dozen female students aboard a bus, which was bombed in the Sardar Bahadur Khan University parking lot in Quetta through a remote-controlled device.
This was followed by the siege of Bolan Medical Complex by a group of terrorists as victims were being shifted for treatment there. Just then, another blast occurred, leading to the death of the brave deputy commissioner and four Frontier Constabulary personnel.
Even though the security personnel were finally able to end the siege and kill four terrorists, it left behind serious questions surrounding the ability of the newly-elected provincial government to hold fort, in the short-term, and the very solidarity and integrity of Pakistan, in the long-term.
The single-day remains were a grim reminder of how perilous the situation still is in Balochistan. The re-entry of nationalists into the mainstream courtesy the May 11 general elections may have contributed in some way to crossing the Rubicon, but the Saturday blues have reinforced the fragility of the process, which was by no means wholly fair.
Elected members of the Balochistan National Party of Akhtar Mengal have already refused to take oath either in the Provincial or National Assembly under protest against rigging, they alleged, was designed to prevent them from gaining a major stake in power.
The issue has still not been resolved even though Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wisely eschewed the desire to have his own chief minister despite having the majority.
Tensions are still simmering in the country’s largest province amid apprehensions that forces inimical to returning the province to its own are still ranged against the administration.
Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch of the National Party appeared to draw the ire of the powers-that-be when his pledge to redress the issue of missing persons and mutilated corpses was met by the discovery of five such bodies on the day he assumed office!
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has long proposed a national debate with a view to solving the Balochistan imbroglio.
However, as his government is just beginning to discover, it is easier said than done. Not only will it have to first find the magic potion that reconciles rival parties and groups in the complex power structure in place right now, but also help Malik re-establish the provincial government’s writ in an area in virtual control of the security forces.
Balochistan is going to be a major challenge for Sharif given its chequered history, made more complex by nearly half a dozen military operations over time.
As if there isn’t enough trouble already, the third-time prime minister is still to find his feet on the sensitive Bugti-Musharraf issue, which is why he has gone silent on how to deal with his nemesis despite the preceding years of vocal avowal to bring the retired general to book.
It is instructive to note that Balochistan hasn’t come to this pass all of a sudden. Years of neglect and isolation from the mainstream have inculcated a strong sense of discrimination; hence, the rebellion in disturbing hues. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be have done precious little to allay the sense of deprivation.
In fact, the poor substitution of power in the form of the last regime headed by Nawab Raisani of the “degree-is-a-degree-whether-genuine-or-fake” fame did much to nearly destroy the last vestiges of hope the province had of genuine representation.
Saturday’s dark developments should serve as a wake-up call – that is, if there is still a desire to lock heads and come up with a holistic solution. The prognosis has to be dilated upon with an open mind.
There is, after all, a reason why the province has become an experiment lab for foreign powers – years of deprivation and discrimination is what has led to the debilitating insurgency and grounds for exploitation by the enemies of the state.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has the kind of mandate to draw a framework for consensus before putting his foot down on what would constitute a national policy based on civilian control. One hopes he will not be found wanting however difficult that choice is, politically.
The writer is Editor Pique Magazine based in Islamabad. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org
The saga of the so-called first Indian ‘patriot’
The month of May provided an opportunity to reflect on the ‘Indian War of Independence’ against the East India Company. Starting on 10 May 1857, after affecting one-tenth of the populace and one-sixth of the Indian territory, it ended in the British victory on 8 July 1858.
Among the many causes for the rebel sepoys to take up arms was the perception that the British were defiling their religions and converting them to Christianity. This perception was both true and false. It was true to the extent that the missionaries were allowed to infiltrate the native sepoys and at the same time the emphasis of their preaching was more against Islam and Hinduism and less on Christianity. Moreover, some British officers proved more zealous than the priests: the Commanding Officer of the sensitive 34th Infantry at Barackpore being one such officer whose “aim and end” in life was not soldiering but to convert sepoys to Christianity. The perception was untrue to the degree that out of the 277,746 native soldiers, a substantial number were the Hindus belonging to the upper caste Brahmins. These ‘collaborators’ were deliberately recruited in the army to provide legitimacy to the foreign rule. The British were quite mindful of the native sensitivities in the sense that not only had they allowed the holding of Hindu festivals in the military barracks by the General Order of the Commander-in-Chief since March 1793 but had also ensured as a rule that the Hindu sepoys were made available only those prostitutes that were of Brahmin and Rajput descent.
This sheds some light on the calculated British approach towards the sepoys but one fatal miscalculation was their insistence that the soldiers use the cartridges which were perceived to be greased with the fat of cow and pig. And these controversial cartridges provided the spark to the revolt. This explanation of the mutiny was rubbished by the British statesman Benjamin Disraeli in the House of Commons when he stated that “The decline and fall of empires are not affairs of greased cartridges. Such results are occasioned by adequate causes, and by an accumulation of adequate causes.” Quite true! However, perceptions are often stronger than realities. What actually happened as a result of these cartridges in that fateful summer was aptly summed up in a couplet that is attributed to the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar:
Na Iran ne kiya, na Shah Russ ne
Angrez ko tabah kiya kartoos ne
[What Iran (i.e. the Crimean and the Persian wars) and the Tsar of Russia could not do to the British, was achieved by the cartridge]
How true were the allegations of the sepoys about the grease of the cartridges? Most of the historians have failed to reach a definitive answer in this regard except at least two. One is Bernard Porter who confirms in ‘Lion’s share – a short history of British imperialism’ that the grease was a mixture of pork and beef fat. The other is Rudrangshu Mukherjee, whose reading and research about the revolt extending over a quarter of a century establishes the allegation to be true. The author argues that despite complaint from the sepoys, the military authorities did not bother to clarify as to what type of tallow was being used in the grease. About two months before the outbreak of the revolt, Governor General Lord Canning wrote in a letter that the apprehension about the grease had ‘turned out to be well-founded.’ The Inspector General of Ordnance, Colonel Augustus Abbot also admitted that the grease used could “have contained the fat of cows or other animals.”
So, the sepoys had strong suspicions about the grease but out of the 277,746 native soldiers, the one who showed the courage to first rebel on this issue was Mangal Pandey – sepoy no 1446 of the 5th Company of the 34th Regiment of the Native infantry. On the afternoon of 29 March 1857, in an agitated state of mind, he came out of his barrack and addressed the fellow sepoys in these words: “Come out, you (expletive), the Europeans are here! Why aren’t you getting ready? It’s for our religion! From biting these cartridges we shall become infidels. Get ready! Turn out all of you! You have incited me to do this and now you (expletive), you will not follow me!” His comrades did not respond to his call, so after a brief skirmish with two British officers in the parade ground, he was arrested and subsequently hanged on April 8. In spite of the failure to incite mutiny, he is credited for starting it? Why? R Mukherjee’s book ‘Mangal Pandey – brave martyr or accidental hero’ which is based on the proceedings of the trial of Mangal Pandey demystify the myths that have been woven around that rebel character.
Histories are often written long after the events have actually taken place. In the subcontinental context, history often blurs into hagiography. The ‘nationalist-minded’ Indian historians wanted to cobble together a ‘nationalist’ discourse to explain the mutinous happenings of 1857. This required the creation of a native figure that could be shown to have valiantly stood up to the alien British masters. Mangal Pandey perfectly fitted the bill. And the seal of authenticity to Mangal Pandey as ‘the first Indian nationalist’ was affixed by none other than the top Hindu radical nationalist leader, V.D Savarkar, who hailed him as ‘shaheed’ and as ‘the first rebel of 1857 who lit the spark’ in his monumental work ‘The Indian War of Independence, 1857’. Facts however speak otherwise. Mukherjee correctly points out that the spark that spread the rebellion in northern India was neither provided by the instigation nor the hanging of Mangal Pandey rather it was the mutiny of sepoys at Meerut and their successful capture of Delhi that lit the flame of independence.
One should also not ignore the fact that the rebellion which took the form of a larger war, actually started at Meerut, which is far away from Barackpore and not immediately but one month after the hanging of Mangal Pandey. In addition, after overthrowing the British authority at Meerut, the rebel sepoys looked towards the octogenarian Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar for leadership and inspiration and not towards Mangal Pandey. Throughout the year-long rebellion, its fate remained tied with the fate of Delhi and not Barackpore. There was not even a single voice among the rebels that cried to be fighting in the name of Mangal Pandey or to what had happened at Barackpore.
If this is the case then how can one understand Mangal Pandey’s act of defiance? Most probably, like other sepoys, he too, must have been upset by the issue of the greased cartridges. Importantly, on the day when he showed ‘courage’ to speak up against the British injustices, he was not in his self but under the intoxicating effect of ‘bhang’ and ‘opium’. During his trial, ‘Bhangi’ Pandey admitted this fact before the court and added, “I was not aware at the time of what I was doing.”
In their desire to portray him as a ‘great patriot’, the ‘nationalist’ historians completely ignore the fact that if he loved his country so dearly and hated the British colonists so much then why did he become a ‘British sepoy’ in the first place, in the service of the ‘despicable British masters?’ On the contrary, his service record shows that this upper caste Hindu Pandey of twenty-six years age was in the service of the East India Company for almost seven years and throughout this period his conduct had been very good. Thus, a legend was constructed about Mangal Pandey as a symbol of national pride and honour notwithstanding the fact that he served his foreign masters for so many years without an iota of remorse and when he finally rose against them, it was not in response to a ‘pricking conscience’ but under the influence of ‘bhang’. Such is the saga of the so-called first Indian ‘patriot’.
The writer is an academic and a journalist. He can be reached at email@example.com
Or is it the US?
So time finally comes for America to partake in yet another (mis)adventure in Arabia. And rather than Assad using chemical weapons, the red line was crossed when his forces started making meaningful strategic advances, in particular retaking Qusayr and shutting rebel smuggling routes out of Lebanon. Hezbollah’s participation, of course, implying more power to Iran, only added to the urgency. Yet in finally choosing to ‘lead from behind’, which these days means providing advanced weapons and installing no-fly zones, Obama too has crossed a red line, and runs the risk of rebels in turn crossing yet more dangerous red lines.
While exact modalities of this particular indulgence are yet to be made clear, there is that haunting feeling that we’ve been here before. Washington’s paralysis so far, so disliked by the Syrian opposition and EU capitals, owed to concern that high potency weapons might end up with Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, whose throat-cutting, head-grilling, heart-eating (literally) mercenaries have made by far the most impressive advances on the field. How the CIA will maintain deployment integrity, with little or no boots on the ground, has never been explained. And considering the overlapping state of dozens of insurgent outfits, there is practically no way of keeping a checklist. Sooner rather than later some, if not most, of these weapons will be bought or just taken by radicals simply because of their overriding strength within the opposition. That will not only end any designs of establishing a people-friendly democratic system after Assad, but also endanger Israel.
Then there is the Saudi-GCC equation. Riyadh has been waiting patiently for just such an opportunity. Those familiar with the fabled Soviet jihad will remember how Saudi intelligence matched the CIA dollar-for-dollar for the first few years, before doubling their aid to the mujahideen. America’s participation means their weapon warehouses on the Turkish border will begin supplying rebels inside Syria, preferably before fighting renews around Aleppo. And despite popular concern about arming radicals, the international media has never really questioned just how al-Nusra and friends have been so well armed so far, and if there is a link between their presence in Syria and the Saudi madrassah system that portrays Iranian Shia, Syrian Alawis and Israeli Jews as apostates that merit only cleansing. If there is indeed a contingency arrangement to check arms finding their way to extremists, the Americans should make it clear, especially if their Gulf friends are seen facilitating the transfer.
There’s also another parallel with the recent past, not so vague, something the Russians have pointed out quite forcefully. Moscow is not impressed with the red line justification, and concerned this is a throwback to Saddam’s WMD smokescreen that preceded the march into Baghdad. How that continues to erode American credibility is, of course, no secret; just last month about 1,500 Iraqis were killed in predominantly Al-Qaeda violence. And as regards Hezbollah, and how its involvement must be answered, the Americans have never really acknowledged thousands of jihadists from almost 40 countries whose presence effectively forced Hezbollah’s entry into the war. Now more American/GCC/EU involvement will invite Russian/Iranian/Hezbollah escalation, and the region will cross the dreaded red line into open sectarian conflict.
America has had more failures than successes in the Arab world and its lessons from Lebanon’s civil war, the Iran-Iraq war and the ill-fated 2003 Iraqi invasion have not been learned too well. Syria portends far graver danger, unlocking sectarian hatred that has at best remained uncomfortably contained in a region teeming with discontent. There is one red line between arming rebels and keeping weapons from Al-Qaeda, another between al-Nusra and Israel, and yet another between Syria’s war and igniting a sectarian death rattle across the Levant and beyond. It’s as if America has pushed Syria itself across a red line.
The writer is Middle East Correspondent, Pakistan Today, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s a fraud. It’s a sham, the budget
Stop defaming our people. It is not that we don’t pay taxes. It is that our governments don’t take taxes. It is a grave injustice to accuse Pakistanis of being tax evaders when governments tax only a few and keeps squeezing them while most of the economy remains undocumented and outside the tax net and an entire sector amounting to a quarter of the GDP is constitutionally outside the income tax net. More power to the feudal, what?
What frauds they are to revile their employers who appoint them as their servants at high salaries and perks. They are not supposed to loot them and then lord it over them all the while pretending that they are doing them favours when all they are doing is their job very badly. Their job is to improve their employers’ lot, not make a mess and then blame their employers for being tax evaders. Can foreign governments then be blamed for saying, “No more largesse if you don’t pay taxes”? If your own employees defame you, why shouldn’t others? Instead, they should say, “No more largesse if you keep employing thieves and incompetents to run your affairs.” That would be fair and accurate.
Look, no one likes paying tax. It is human nature. In western countries they pay not just because they are good citizens. They also pay because they know that if they are caught they will be hung and quartered and no mercy shown, not even to the high, mighty and famous. If we did that we would hardly have an employee left for they are mostly tax evaders themselves.
Who the hell told them not to tax those who should be taxed? Why cannot they document the legal but ‘informal’ economy? Why have they ducked the issue of making feudal lords and tribal chieftains pay income tax by making agriculture a provincial subject? Agriculture should be provincial; income tax is always a federal subject. Those who earn above a certain amount have to pay regardless of what source it has been earned from, even dancing girls and eunuchs. I dare say they pay in cash and kind more than our rulers do.
Who told them to appoint tax collectors that actually tutor taxpayers on how to pay less provided they give them a bribe? If you don’t your servants have the power to slap wrong and unverified tax demands on you and make you run from pillar to post trying to get justice from an avowedly Islamic state whose systems are all based on injustice. You will only get off the hook by paying a larger bribe. Then you want me to tell you about the budget? It’s a fraud. It’s a sham. It’s a big yawn.
I use my words advisedly. Look at this headline: “Plan to seek IMF loan for settling debt.” What does this nonsense mean? A loan is a debt. Loans increase debt, not “settle” it. Our born-again finance minister follows the standard operating procedure: blame the predecessor. After the budget he said: “Our predecessors have left behind a large debt stock. We have not taken these loans, but we will pay it back. We will borrow to repay instead of adding to the debt stock.” Could someone please give me the key to decode this gibberish? Sure they didn’t take these loans; they had taken other loans in the past and when they gave way to the army in 1999 our total debt was nearly as much as our GDP. If Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz could bring it down to some 57 percent, why can’t they? Do what Shaukat Aziz did: negotiate debt re-profiling with the Paris Club. You will say that Shaukat took advantage of America’s need for our support after 9/11. Sure he did, but it was only because he and his boss had the sense to take advantage of it. A wise person uses whatever advantages he has for his benefit. This government too has such an advantage, perhaps a greater one: America’s need for Pakistan’s support to enable an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan by end 2014. Use it. Get your debt re-profiled again. Then you will have the breathing space you need. But you still won’t do what needs to be done because you don’t know how to do it, because you have another agenda: self-perpetuation and self-aggrandisement. This is what happens to a people who become so totally dependent that they lose their independence and sovereignty and have to dance to Mr Moneybags’ tune.
So what do they do? They give us not a ‘people-friendly’ (whatever that means) budget but an IMF-friendly one. Budgets should be country-friendly; they then become people-friendly in course of time – short-term pain for long-term gain.
Our new government is old wine in old bottles that were stored for 14 years. Real wine improves with age but not human wine already gone off the grape is bad. They cannot think out of the box and adopt a new economic model based on realistic self-reliance – live within your means as best as you can and let Mr Moneybags take the hindmost. Given our dire economic straits, all they know is that they cannot do without another IMF bailout which they politely call ‘programme’. So their brilliant strategy is: better to implement some obvious IMF conditions now to enable a quick IMF programme rather than be seen to be pandering to the Fund later. Now you understand why the budget came in such indecent haste? Wouldn’t it have been better to wait for negotiations and then agree to unavoidable conditions but in return for some of our own terms? Those who count votes don’t think like this. Those who don’t know their own strengths and others’ weaknesses and needs don’t understand this.
An IMF bailout will only create the illusion of ending pain in one place by creating greater pain in another. If you have a headache and I break your knee with a hammer you will forget your headache and start moaning about your knee. Your attention is diverted from your headache and you will think that I have cured it. It’s like a housewife taking the muck out from under one corner of the carpet and hiding it under another. This doesn’t decrease pain but increases indebtedness and our annual debt-servicing bill. With nothing left for anything else we keep printing more notes until inflation hits the stratosphere. We keep taking more loans to service existing loans and keep building our debt burden under which the backs of future generations will break. We have sold our soul to Dr Faustus, so what is all this analyzing about? What else can a team short of imagination and long on rhetoric do? It has already been measured twice before and found wanting. They treat any sort of authority as a fief instead of a trust.
How can I paint a rosy picture for you, then? That would be hypocrisy, something we are adept at. People belittle bitter truth-tellers as purveyors of doom and gloom, but in so doing, they only gain false temporary comfort. When the truth finally hits them in the face like a wet fish they shall know.
We treat symptoms rather than the disease. Our economic disease is that government doesn’t earn enough revenue to meet its needs. Bridge that gap and you bridge everything: fiscal deficit, circular debt, energy shortfall, blah, blah, blah – all will be solved if government collects enough revenue.
Now cost of living will increase and incomes would get squeezed. Put another way, prices will go up while real incomes come down. This is the perfect recipe for an explosion. We used to take comfort in the fact that an Arab Spring type revolt couldn’t happen here because unlike them we have safety valves – democracy or what passes for it, parliaments infested with more liars than truth tellers and a press that is free but not totally independent. Well, Turkey had the same safety valves and it exploded without warning while we were perpetually being harangued to emulate the ‘Turkish Model’. In the blink of an eye it has become a model of what not to emulate. The excuses that Turkey may have been infiltrated by Syrian militants, Al Qaeda or Israel taking revenge for its prime minister having to apologise to the Turkish prime minister over the flotilla incident don’t hold water that can douse the fire. No one can light a spark unless you have prepared the tinderbox yourself.
Pakistan too is a dry wood tinderbox. Smoke has started coming out. Food and water are what matter, not excuses that people cannot eat. If they are missing conflagration becomes inevitable. It needs just one spark. What that spark will be no one can guess: something as one-off as a fruit seller self-immolating or a protest over a building. These are just excuses for pent up rage and frustration to boil over. Then our charmed rulers and their stooges will have nowhere to hide. If a country like Pakistan explodes, all hell will break loose. No one wants that. So watch it and come down to earth – the home of reality.
The writer is a political analyst. He can be contacted at email@example.com
An unfortunate trend
Despite the many gains of the movement for supremacy of law, over the past five years, the one elusive goal that we have not been able to accomplish is that of the triumph of the spirit of law over the aura of individual personalities. In fact, a strong argument could be made that over the past half a decade, as Pakistan has embraced judicial power to be the new grundnorm of our society, there has been a corresponding augmentation of judging people according to their perceived personalities, instead of the law. Examples? In the stand-off between Faisal Raza Abidi and the Supreme Court, of course Mr Abidi is wrong. In the contest between the Registrar of the Supreme Court and the Public Accounts Committee, of course the PAC is overstepping its bounds. In the dispute between Malik Riaz and Arsalan Iftikhar, of course the prodigal son is pious.
And in the latest of such personality contests – rather than legal disputes – the illustrious Dr Shoaib Suddle, the Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO) and a trusted man of the Supreme Court, is pitted against the questionable Mr Akhtar Buland Rana, the President’s choice for Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP). And without knowing the facts of the case, or provisions of the law, a large segment of the society, helped by one bearded holier-than-though journalist, and his friends, have already concluded that Mr Rana is wrong and must be prosecuted.
But, fighting this temptation to judge the issue on the basis of personalities alone, let’s look at the facts of the dispute: some days back, Mr Rana, the AGP, a Constitutional Officer holder (under Article 168 of the Constitution), was served a contempt notice by Dr Suddle, the FTO, a statutory office holder (under the Establishment of the Office of Federal Tax Ombudsman Ordinance, 2000). Reason: An independent audit team of the AGP’s office, owing to no specific direction of the AGP himself, raised an objection in regards to the FTO claiming Rs 200,000 a month in the name of ‘superior judiciary allowance’ (reserved for judges of the honourable Supreme Court). The audit objection contended that since the FTO is not a judge of the superior judiciary, he is not entitled to the additional allowance. And the same objection was raised in regards to this allowance being claimed by the Attorney General and the Law Secretary (both of whom have not contested the objection).
The FTO, in all his might, decided to fight for his Rs 200,000. And in this regard, asked the AGP to appear and explain the objection. Personnel from the AGP’s office appeared before the FTO, but the AGP refrained from appearing personally (apparently, to uphold the integrity of his constitutional post as against the lesser statutory post of the FTO). With egos running wild, the FTO summoned the AGP in person, and issued a contempt of court notice when the AGP refused to do so. As a result, the FTO issued arrest warrants for the AGP (all arising out of the desire of FTO to claim the additional Rs 200,000 a month allowance).
The AGP approached the honourable Islamabad High Court to protest the fact that the FTO had overstepped his bounds and could not issue a contempt notice or arrest warrants since the matter of audit objection was the legitimate domain of the AGP’s office, and did not fall under the purview of the FTO (who, under the statute, only has the power to “rectify any injustice done to a person though maladministration of functionaries administering tax law”). It was also argued that the FTO was being a judge of his own cause, in a matter that concerned Rs 200,000 of payment to him. The IHC did not pay heed to the AGP’s argument, since on the opposite side was Dr Suddle, a darling of the judiciary in the aftermath of the Arsalan Iftikhar commission report. And thus, as the case stands now, the FTO has summoned the AGP, under the threat of arrest, to appear on Wednesday.
The conspiracy theorists say that this case is the consequence of a larger ‘plan’. The AGP, who is not liked by PML-N and the honourable Chief Justice (he had raised objections to the AGP’s appointment last year), is being shown the door. Since the AGP can only be removed per Article 209 (Supreme Judicial Council), it is likely that the FTO is being used as an instrument to convict the AGP for contempt, which shall serve as cause enough to initiate Article 209 proceedings and dismiss Mr Rana.
All this might be true. And the public might even be happier for this removal. But it amounts to nothing more than a case of picking personalities over the law.
Under the law, the FTO has no case. For the FTO to issue contempt proceedings, he would have to first assume jurisdiction of an issue (pertaining to tax law), then pass an order, and only in the defiance of such order (relating to maladministration of tax law), can the FTO issue a contempt notice. This matter relates to the personal (discretionary) benefit, of Rs 200,000, being extended to the FTO, and nothing to do with his responsibilities as Tax Ombudsman. By no stretch of the law or the imagination, can the FTO assume legal jurisdiction of the matter, pass an order, and issue a contempt notice.
On the other hand, the issue of raising an audit objection is the legitimate sphere of the AGP’s office, and the same should be allowed to be done out of respect for the process and purpose of audit. Independent audit, even of the highest of officials (favoured by the court) is just as important to the concept of good governance, as other equivalent maxims such as independence of judiciary. And in an environment where a certain section of our society deems that it is above all notions of financial audit and accountability – e.g., refusal of the Registrar of the honourable Supreme Court to appear before the PAC some months back – the function and sanctity of audit becomes even more of a fundamental nature.
But there is no point in discussing the law. Because the dispute, as it is being played out, is simply being judged on the basis of personalities and not the law. And sadly for the AGP, he is on the losing end of that equation. Pitted against a man who, very recently, through an investigation report, bailed the Supreme Court out of much embarrassment, the AGP has no real chance of getting a dispassionate appraisal (by the court or by the people). And waiting in the wings, with party-hats and pom-poms, is that section of the media who wants to see the AGP dismissed.
Triumph of the Lawyers’ Movement had injected a heightened sense of rule of law in our society. It was believed that justice would be done strictly in accordance within the parameters of the law, irrespective of the personalities involved. While this has been true in convicting prime ministers, and holding other powerful men and women accountable for their actions, the trajectory of law seems to break each time someone favoured by the court is brought within the bounds of law.
And in this way, one cannot help but conclude that even today, in the contest between personalities and the law, (some) personalities continue to prevail.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Because learning is more than simple test scores
Have you ever felt the fear of speaking incorrect English in front of your friends, teachers or boyfriend/girlfriend? Have you been checked by your teacher in third grade at using wrong tenses? Do you get tired of teaching the same old comprehension exercises while the students passively sulk in their chairs? Do you feel that you are unable to convey meanings to students via books? Sure all of the above happens but all this can change. Constantly being taught the pattern of rote learning, children of government schools and schools in underprivileged areas fail to get hold of what is being taught. Probably because there are too many flies to swap when the electricity goes out for eight hours in a stretch.
Therefore, the teacher has to be vigilant enough to plan an activity oriented lesson to engage his/her students in learning what is being taught. Well, as there are consequences even to a happily married life, such is the way with English education in underprivileged areas. The more you try to make your student understand a bookish phrase, the more he/ she will stare at you with blank eyes. On the contrary, if the teacher deviates from the normal teaching pattern, things can change and students will learn happily. But, let’s not forget, the same English education cycle had been there since the teacher’s time in junior school through middle school all the way to the highest degree he/she was educated in: the traditional rote learning-blackboard writing method which he/she now transfers to his/her students.
Considered usually as ‘the passport to success and upward social mobility’, many policies have been made focusing on the ratification of English teaching methodology inculcated in the learning experience of Pakistani schools that form a solid English groundwork at the tender ages of 4-11. The English language renders international value and is termed as the lingua franca of the world. In Pakistan, it is considered as a ‘second language’ of communication after the national language ‘Urdu’. The need to pace up with the international community has increased the importance of learning English language which is used as a benchmark in many career opportunities within Pakistan and abroad.
Pakistan is an underdeveloped country where many socio-economic problems have yet to be resolved by proper governance, management and planning keeping in accordance with the norms of the areas under study. The traditional English learning process in underprivileged areas of Pakistan shows lack of proper communication in English language leading to misconceptions of pronunciation and meaning. Since the teacher also belongs to the same environment and schooling, he/she is taught the same traditional pattern of English language learning which he/she transfers to his/her students. Therefore, to eliminate this educational drawback, it will be advisable to unlearn what is wrong and relearn what is right through communicative activities and discussions. Hence, providing a need for introduction of ‘Communicative Language Teaching’ in English learning methodology in unprivileged schools of Pakistan.
Emphasis of government policies lies mainly in curriculum planning that can produce results only at the surface level of rote learning to achieve test scores rather than development of critical thinking and analytical skills in students and teachers alike. Therefore, it is important to devise strategies for the mutual development of both at the primary level of schooling that will act as foundations of English learning at written and speech level.
Keeping the above considerations in view Learn Pakistan campaign has been devised to give an international direction to the curriculum of schools in underprivileged areas by providing them teaching toolkits to inculcate in their teaching methodology for future teaching purposes e.g., dialogues, discussions, information gap activities and debates etc so that they enjoy studying English apart from the boring routine of essay writing etc. Therefore, this makes the teaching methodology more effective by taking students out of their redundant lifestyle and involving them in output-oriented work. This will be a breakthrough for the teachers as well as they could teach in a fun way to increase student learning as well.
Happy Learning Workshop designed under Learn Pakistan campaign aims to present creative activities for teachers to use in their teaching curriculums like icebreaker activities to overcome shyness, happy talking and happy writing activities to hone oral and verbal communication and drawing activities to trigger imagination. The objective of this campaign is to enhance the teacher-student communication process and build confidence of discourse amongst them through interactive workshops and discussions. It will thus increase the effectiveness of learning English by promoting student-teacher interaction and upgrade the quality of communication by inculcating activity oriented work.
We must understand the difference between being taught factual knowledge as compared to learning through experience and interaction. Learning is important, you learn, to be; you learn, to compete; you learn because you are worth it.
The budget sidesteps difficult decisions
I am resuming my column after a gap of over ten weeks. Being entrusted the portfolio of information and broadcasting in the caretaker government, it was not possible for me to also remain editor of Pakistan Today. Seeing an obvious conflict of interest I also had to discontinue my column.
It was professionally a rewarding experience for me. Tasked with changing the perception game it was my job description to sensitize the stakeholders that elections will be held and on time. In my first meeting with the media I realized that there was widespread and all pervasive perception that elections will not be held at all and the caretaker government will somehow try to perpetuate itself.
Admittedly there were huge hurdles. Amid almost daily occurrences of widespread terrorism across the country, it was a formidable task to convince the media and other stakeholders that elections could be held in such an atmosphere.
Open threats by the TTP that elections were anathema to Islam and hence will not be allowed to take place did not help matters. For their wrath, the militants especially singled out liberal parties the PPP, ANP and MQM. These parties suffered at the hands of the terrorists and never had a level playing field compared to other rightist and centrist parties.
This factor severely hampered the PPP, MQM and ANP’s ability to campaign. But their poor showing at the hustings has more to do with their performance (or lack of it) during their five-year tenure.
Another big challenge was bringing the Baloch nationalists who had remained aloof from the election process back in the mainstream. When I visited the province within a fortnight of taking oath as information minister, I was pleasantly surprised that the caretaker chief minister Nawab Ghaus Baksh Barozai and the corps commander were on the same page in ensuring participation of the nationalists. It is a big plus for the caretaker government as well as for Pakistan that there is representative government headed by a respected figure like Dr Malik Baloch in Balochistan today.
In the aftermath of the general elections with a historic turnout and minimal violence on Election Day, new governments are in place at the federal level and in the provinces. There have been complaints of widespread rigging especially by the PTI and PPP.
But even those who are complaining got a piece of the pie. The PPP had to retreat to Sindh after being virtually routed in Punjab, while PTI in coalition with the Jammat-e-Islami is in power in KP. The PTI’s social media crowd after holding dharnas in the immediate aftermath of the elections has perhaps realized that despite not being able to conjure up a tsunami, as new kids on the block they have done not so badly.
Admittedly the Election Commission’s performance has left a lot to be desired. The octogenarian CEC might be a man of integrity but was certainly not up to the task. In his absence some of the members of the Commission were calling the shots. Their role was controversial to say the least.
By and large the caretaker government acquitted itself of its primary task – of holding fair free transparent and timely elections. All credit to the prime minster Mir Hazar Khan Khoso for achieving that goal.
However if he had remained focused on his job he would not have squandered away the goodwill he had earned. His 20-plus kith and kin ensconced in the Prime Minister House during the caretaker period, and some members of his personal staff especially the principal secretary and the military secretary, did not bring him a good name.
Ishaq Dar, the new finance minister, while responding to the criticism being levelled at the federal budget presented by him has appealed to the media: bear with us for a year. Senator Dar, a chartered accountant by profession, is not new to the job. And under the circumstances he has presented a good budget.
Unfortunately it is being labelled as a ‘business friendly’ rather than a pro-poor budget. The PML-N drawing its support from big business and the bazaar does not know any better. Its philosophy is that as soon as the engine of growth restarts and foreign direct investment (FDI) as well as local investment starts pouring in the lot of the common man will automatically improve.
Fair enough! But judging by the present mood – and the PML-N so assiduously nurtured it while in the opposition – people simply do not have the patience to wait.
Notwithstanding talk about ‘breaking the begging bowl’, Dar’s panacea meets the frontloaded conditionalities of the IMF. With the terms of the IMF package already negotiated by the caretaker advisor on finance, the PML-N should have a smooth economic sailing in the coming months. In any case the budget has met most of the IMF conditionalities.
Maladroitness and ham-handedness, apart from corruption had become the hallmark of the PPP government. The PML-N team headed by Nawaz Sharif is better grounded and focused on its job. Hence it will surely fare better than its predecessors.
However it will be a big mistake to assume the remedies of the 1990s when the PML-N was twice in power can be applied in today’s Pakistan. Grandiose projects like highways, bullet trains and ports sound impressive. But the common man wants immediate succour.
Honeymoon with an independent assertive and critical media will soon wear thin. Independent courts are another factor that Mian Sahib and his team will have to deal with.
The apex court has already taken suo motu notice of the taxation proposals being implemented even before the budget has been passed by the parliament. Undoubtedly the Sharif government faces a formidable task. The prime minister’s worried look says it all.
A perception is building up that the budget has failed to address concerns of the common man. After blaming the PPP (rightly so in most cases) for travails of the common man the ball is now squarely in the PML-N government’s court. It must have realized that there are no quick fix solutions to the humungous problems being faced by Pakistan. And a sluggish and non-performing economy is just one of them.
Load shedding, the biggest malaise hurting the man on the street will hopefully ease in the next few weeks with more water to generate hydroelectric power and by the government running its power generating capacity more efficiently.
The plan to clear Rs550 billion circular debt in 60 days sounds impressive. This will certainly ease the supply of electricity in the medium run.
But where the budget failed is in the critical areas, which if tinkered with would have hurt the PML-N’s traditional support base. In the first few months of the honeymoon period Prime Minister Sharif could literally have afforded to do so.
By virtue of the PML-N government choosing not to take the difficult route, one can safely assume: no matter how much things change they remain the same.
The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today.
Reflecting a trademark paucity of wisdom and lack of political will
In my last column in this publication, I had said that “the happenings of the first few weeks and the quality of the team members the new leadership selects to undertake a challenging task will determine the extent of relief that can be legitimately expected. Anything can happen, anything can be!”
Two important things have happened since then: the federal cabinet has been announced and so has been the budget for the fiscal year 2013-14. Much can be read into the two developments in terms of the continuation of the old mindset and its attendant manifestations.
First, there are hardly any new faces in the federal cabinet that has been sworn in. The old bunch of tried and tested stalwarts who have traditionally sworn allegiance of personal loyalty to the House of the Sharifs has been handed down the task of extricating Pakistan out of a plethora of crises. Their calibre and expertise are not a secret to those teeming millions who have suffered at their hands in the past, be it their finance minister, or their energy minister, or their interior minister. Stretching generosity to the extreme, their previous tenures can at best be dubbed as mediocre if not downright pedestrian. The lavish spending spree to satiate princely proclivities that were incongruous with the overall national development paradigm is still fresh in people’s minds. Are we in for another humiliating foray into the realm of the known and the predictable which, in essence, will be out of sync with the crying national needs?
Out of the sixteen federal ministers, twelve are from Punjab, two from Sindh and one each from Balochistan and KPK. Out of the nine ministers of state, as many as seven are from Punjab and one each from Sindh and Balochistan while there is no representation for KPK. Over all, out of the twenty-five ministers who have been sworn in, nineteen – a wobbly seventy-six percent - are from Punjab, the Sharifs’ bastion of power, and only six represent the other three provinces. This corresponds fairly with the PML-N vote bank: a disproportionate ninety percent from Punjab alone and less than ten percent from the rest of the country. So, in actual effect, the federal government would be an extension and perpetuation of the interests of Punjab. This can have a predominantly negative impact in the long run in a federation where the traditional linkage between the centre and at least three of the existing federating units and between these federating units and Punjab has been extremely tenuous. Add to that the disturbing thought that the former East-Pakistan (now Bangladesh) separated from the mainland for, among other reasons, the perceived dominance of the Punjabis. This aspect should have been debated extensively and intensively before announcing the cabinet. But, because of lack of any meaningful support for PML-N outside Punjab, and because the party leadership depends more on personal allegiance than any commitment to the national cause, a predominantly ‘Punjabi’ cabinet has been announced to handle the national affairs which could be mortally painful for the burgeoning democratic polity.
The budget that has been unveiled reflects a lack of political will that has traditionally been the reason for accumulating the economic woes of the country. If the task had been given to any section officer in the ministry of finance, he would have come up with a matching tabulation of facts and recommendations, if not better. The political leadership was expected to have shown some maturity, courage, initiative and innovation in the context of battling the gruesome financial difficulties and making an earnest effort to ease the life of the common person. That has not happened. Instead, the stress is on continuing with the traditional permutations and combinations that would, in the short run, impose further burden on the poor people vide the additional one percent collected through GST and, in the long run, necessitate a visit to the international lending organisations including the IMF.
There is no concrete plan announced either for easing the grave energy situation. The finance minister has vowed to eliminate the entire circular debt in sixty days, but no way has been outlined to raise Rs. 500 billion to do so. Can raising funds through issuing treasury bills remedy the ailment, or will it assuage the symptoms alone for the disease to take over again? In spite of conceding that the cost of living has gone up during the last year, no matching relief has been provided to the government servants. There is no effort to expand the tax net probably because it would affect the PML-N supporters – the ones with ill-gotten cash stashed up in their accounts within the country and abroad. Education has been taxed. Petrol prices have gone up. Cost of electricity, or whatever remains of the commodity, will increase. There is no initiative to tax the agricultural income and there is also no move to bring under the tax net such services that still lie outside the domain including the stock exchanges. And where and how are the funds going to be raised to undertake the massive development programme outlined in the budget document mostly confined to the roads and highways – another proclivity of the Sharif mindset? More loans?
Two hurdles across, it appears that the Sharifs are stuck with the mindset of their previous two stints in power. The necessary political will to address the grave issues the country is faced with is woefully missing. The urgent need was for taking difficult decisions now that would benefit the country in the long run. The PML-N had the numerical strength to do so and push its initiatives through the parliament. This has not been done.
Continuing with an unprecedented deficit budget does not provide a solution. The choice was between choosing a path that would raise substantial revenue by taxing those sections of the society that could afford to pay more or were not paying at all, or those poor people who were already overburdened with the labour of life. By opting for the latter, the PML-N leadership has chosen a path that is neither propitious for the country nor for its own long-term survival in the government. A-bit-from-here and a-bit-from-there effort is no longer relevant. Hard decisions needed to be taken. The rich and the mighty – the likes of the Sharifs – needed to pay more to the state. By leaving them out, and by subjecting the toiling poor of the country to further unbearable burden, the PML-N leadership has shown a trademark paucity of wisdom and a lack of political will.
The writer is a political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com
The NSA whistleblower’s battle against US surveillance fits into a modernist reading of jihad as a fight for betterment
Let us assume, for the moment, that National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is the person he’s portraying himself to be: not merely a patriot, but a humanitarian who’s given up all the trappings of a successful life to ensure that “the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant”.
And as with other empires, the US jihads had their roots in the most offensive of ideologies, which justified its spread as both inevitable and good, while - not surprisingly - viewing any opposition as irrational, bad, and justly subject to suppression by any means necessary. The lines between offensive and defensive jihad - the United States has, like most every country before it, long defined and defended its wars as defensive, divinely sanctioned and just - has always been conveniently blurred. “Converting non-believers,” whether by swords or napalm, is always inseparable from protecting the realm.
The United States’s desire to establish “full spectrum dominance” over world affairs in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet bloc became increasingly militarised after September 11, 2001. The “War on Terror” - the ultimate defensively justified offensive jihad - provided the primary justification for the quest for ever more power, a “panopticonic” as Snowden described it, picking up on Michel Foucault’s analysis of the ultimate machine for political control developed by Jeremy Bentham during the late 18th century.
Such seeming dominance, or at least the idea of it, became a core component of the entire US intelligence apparatus, producing a clear majority of the intelligence reports that would feed the daily policy-making process in the years since the projects Snowden revealed.
It’s here where the idea of jihad becomes relevant to Snowden’s story. As every doctrine of war is abused by its exponents, jihad has been abused by Muslims for as long as the concept has existed. Yet the concept has great relevance to the situation in which people such as Snowden, Bradley Manning and other present-day whistleblowers find themselves. The concept is rooted - grammatically as well as theologically - in the concept of personal and communal striving for betterment.
Snowden’s explanation for his actions bespeak someone who has lost all faith in the system to address glaring injustices through normal democratic, legislative means. As he put it in his Guardian interview, for years he waited for political leaders to check the trend towards a potentially fatal surrender of core constitutional liberties. Eventually, he realised, “you can’t wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act”.
Like Bradley Manning, and perhaps with more sophistication, he realised that the only way to rein in a state bent on depriving its citizens of their civil liberties was, quite literally, to declare jihad on it. I use the word jihad here instead of war, because Snowden clearly did not declare war; he did not seek to use any violence against the US government. Quite the opposite, in fact. But he did completely remove himself from the order and power of the state he was quite literally sworn to serve, put himself outside its laws, and essentially declared a moral, political and ultimately ideological jihad against its most important policies.
That Snowden has waged his jihad with the pen and tongue rather than the proverbial sword fits quite nicely into the modernist/liberal reading of jihad, and puts him squarely in the camp of the avant-garde of the Arab Spring, who refused to participate in a system they had come to realise was irredeemably broken. As he put it: “The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to.”
Of course, the Obama administration would say Snowden has no such right to arrogate this kind of power to himself. That is for the elected leaders of a democratic society. As everyone from the director of national intelligence to the chairs of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees are arguing, however much we might dislike these policies, they are the result of legislation passed by the legitimate representatives of the people of the United States.
If a couple of relatively minor intelligence workers such as Manning and Snowden could access information that upends so many of their government’s policies, and the lies and half-truths upon which they’re based, imagine what 20, or even 200 could do. They might actually get Americans off their couches and into the streets to demand the kind of political reform that the political class has thus far had little incentive to enact.
We don’t have to call it jihad, but after a dozen years of a disastrous and bloody “war on terror” with the Muslim world, there are definitely worse ways to define it. However people want to describe it, these individuals have shown their peers in the governmental, intelligence, military and corporate bureaucracies across the world that they too have a choice - that merely continuing as cogs in oppressive machines cannot be considered the legitimate, or even only, choice left to them - even if the alternative comes at a steep price.
Let us hope at least a few are inspired to follow their course.
Mark LeVine is professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of California-Irvine, and distinguished visiting professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden and the author of the forthcoming book about the revolutions in the Arab world, The Five Year Old Who Toppled a Pharaoh.