Tag Archives: government

Unpacking the governance debate

If the intent of the unregulated media and a recalcitrant establishment is to dismiss the government to achieve better governance then this is at best a delusional goal
Recent weeks have witnessed a supercilious debate on how the current government’s misgovernance is a potent reason to boot it out. Governance is about decisions, resources and management of public affairs. The sad reality is that Pakistan’s media now controls and spins the public discourse on these issues. The popular media never wanted this government to begin with. Since 2007, it sided with the ‘clean’ and morally correct lawyers’ movement that presented an alternative to the corrupt politicians and shunned the 2008 election. First, it vilified Benazir Bhutto for making a deal with the Generals on initiating a transition towards a power-sharing arrangement. This was a classic worldview of the urban middle class, which has never been a keen participant of the messy electoral politics that brings rural politicians with fake degrees at the helm of affairs.
The second critical moment was the election of the President, which sparked an unprecedented media trial with stories (mostly unsubstantiated) of Zardari’s corruption. There was a strong alliance between the local and the global media churning out a thousand stories highlighting his insanity, fallibility and venality. This happened despite the full confidence expressed by Zardari’s party and its allies. A rare federal consensus over the election of a President was undermined and the media perception intensified how all the crooks stand together to rob the country once again.
Now the third moment in the aftermath of the floods has arrived; and the high-pitched voices against the politicians have reached their peak. The charge-sheet is long but, in a nutshell, states that the feudal politicians were inept in handling the July-August 2010 disaster and harmed the poor to save their lands. This is a simplistic conclusion that has emerged without proper inquiry and mainly through anecdotes from the urban anchors visiting rural victims and interpreting their anguish as a condemnation of the politicos.
Discussions around regime change have strongly articulated the displeasure of the unelected institutions of the state on ‘governance’. The media has faithfully reported that the Army is unhappy about the corrupt ministers still in office and the looming economic crisis. The Judiciary is perturbed, as its judgement on NRO remains partially unimplemented and key appointments reek of illegality. The perennial power-seeker class of politicians has started to reconfigure the political landscape while fringe parties like Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf and the right wing Jamaat-e-Islami want to seize this opportunity for short term gains. The ever-ready crop of technocrats is also getting anxious due to the anonymous contacts being made by the invisible elements of the state.
This display of crass opportunism by Pakistan’s traditional elites is nothing new. Since 1947 (including that fateful year), they have cared little for the ordinary citizens. But the alarming aspect of our present dilemma is the way Pakistan’s much-touted free media has become an instrument in spurring political instability. The endemic problem with Pakistan’s governance is that regardless of the government in power, the state (if we were to include all the dominant classes in the wider definition) remains disconnected and disengaged with the citizens. What is more worrying is that the state no longer is a monolith as it has delegated the state’s monopoly powers to faith-based militant groups which are ready to exploit its increasing inability to ‘govern’.
With 20 million people still struggling to reclaim their livelihoods, entitlements (such as land), shelter and security, Pakistan’s establishment and its politicians are all but willing to do anything about it. It is therefore problematic to see a legitimately elected government preparing a summary on NRO cases for 34 out of 8,000 beneficiaries and the Supreme Court chiding it like an accused party. Or, to read about the panicky meetings of the PPP while the latter should be strategising about re-enacting the NDMA legislation or preparing a resource mobilisation strategy to rehabilitate the flood victims and reconstruct the damaged infrastructure.
Equally disturbing is to witness the saga of Courts in effect suspending new Constitutional provisions while they are expressly not mandated to do that; and placing abstract notions of people’s will above the Constitution. In a similar vein, the Army has a separate fund for flood relief and the elected Public Accounts Committee cannot be given the details of how and why a Rs 5 billion supplementary grant was given to the country’s premier intelligence agency.
The argument on misgovernance by a coalition government is bogus when unelected institutions of the state are unaccountable, non-transparent and unwilling to accept the oversight of public representatives. Until the Army budgets can be audited, and judges are appointed through parliamentary commissions and the bureaucracy is answerable to legislature, we will continue to swirl in a vicious cycle of political instability.
If the intent of the unregulated media and a recalcitrant establishment is to dismiss the government to achieve better governance, then this is at best a delusional goal. Pakistan cannot afford another upheaval and the recent signals by the Army that it wants stability are welcome. But then Pakistan is an unpredictable polity with a growing constituency for suicide missions. Strange times, indeed.
Raza Rumi is a writer and policy expert based in Lahore. He blogs at http://razarumi.com. Email: razarumi@gmail.com

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Filed under Army, Pakistan, Politics

Collapsing local governance

By Raza Rumi

Recent floods have exposed the capacity of the state to govern, especially at the local level. The disintegration of local state is not a recent phenomenon. The continued experimentation with and frequent strangulation of local governance arrangements have led to a situation that Pakistan’s burgeoning population is now without a representative, accountable local state.

Erosion of state writ: Three historical trends are noticeable for their impact on the overall governance and the writ of the state. First, centralisation is a tendency that is most attractive to those who govern Pakistan at the federal and provincial levels. The post-colonial Pakistani state has retained the official obsession of controlling power and patronage at the top and denuding the local space for democratic development and sound mechanisms of accountability. Secondly, granting local autonomy has, by and large, been a smokescreen for powerful military governments to bypass provincial politics and control the levers of state and society from above. Thus, we have an established pattern: local government experiments flourish under authoritarian regimes and get undermined whenever democracy, a la Pakistani variety, returns. Finally, the constant denial of a responsive state at the local level has led to erosion of state legitimacy and the void has been filled in by mafias, politico-criminal gangs and militant non-state actors.
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Floods’ management: A perfect script for a black comedy

Raza Rumi

As I write these lines, millions are stranded and vulnerable to disease in the wake of perhaps the greatest natural disaster of recent times. Communities in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are stranded, Sindh is facing the wrath of gods and parts of Muzaffargarh and Kot Addu have been washed away. Citizens across the country are perturbed and doing whatever they can. But the power centres including the free media are busy in point-scoring and blowing their little trumpets as if the devastation was a playground for political mileage.

They say that individual and collective characters are exposed in times of crisis. Indeed the Pakistani ruling classes have exposed themselves for their historical myopia and lack of vision. Political parties are fighting over optics, media perceptions and wasting their energies. TV channels and wise anchors on the other hand are competing who got there first to show the mammoth destruction and who fired more salvos at Asif Zardari. Adding insult to injury, the media remained busy for hours as to the alleged shoe-throwing incident at the president as if that was the topmost priority of this country.

Yet again we are also hearing how the civilian administration failed (and what is new about that) and how the only organised institution, the Pakistan Army, is saving lives. This is propaganda since the army is not something separate from the state. We are proud to have such a disciplined army but the media spin-doctors need to inform the people that it functions through the public exchequer and is an institution under the civilian government. Continue reading

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Filed under Democracy, disaster, Pakistan

Pakistan’s Supreme Court versus the democratic government

– by Abdul Nishapuri

In a (not so) surprise move, top judicial bureaucrats sitting in Pakistan’s Supreme Court and Lahore High Court have declared war against a fragile democracy in Pakistan. The (right-wing) establishment has taken its dagger out for a final attack on the democratic government of the (left-wing) Pakistan People’s Party.

In a decision announced in the after hours on Saturday, the Supreme Court of Pakistan suspended the appointment of two judges by President Asif Ali Zardari.

According to Iftikhar A. Khan of Dawn newspaper,

The build-up to the suspension of the presidential order packed more suspense than a thriller. A three-member bench of the Supreme Court first suspended the operation of notifications for elevation of Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, Justice Khwaja Sharif, to the apex court and appointment of Justice Saqib Nisar as acting chief justice of the LHC.`The Supreme Court staff was called in the evening before the bench hurriedly constituted by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry took up the matter, leaving most observers baffled. Continue reading

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Filed under Democracy, lawyers movement, Pakistan, Politics

Pakistan: Military Undermines Government on Human Rights

Battling Taliban No Excuse for Complicity in Abusive Counter-terrorism Practices

(New York, January 21, 2010) – Pakistan’s military actively undermined the civilian government’s human rights agenda in 2009, Human Rights Watch said today in its new World Report 2010.

The 612-page report, the organization’s 20th annual review of human rights practices around the globe, summarizes major human rights trends in more than 90 nations and territories worldwide.

The report says that Pakistan’s military publicly and privately resisted the government’s reconciliation efforts in the troubled province of Balochistan and attempts to locate people “disappeared” there during General Pervez Musharraf’s military rule. The military also opposed the international community’s attempts to end military intervention in the political and judicial processes through aid conditions.

“The Pakistani military continues to subvert the political and judicial systems in Pakistan,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “After eight years of disastrous military rule and in spite of the election of a civilian government, the army appears determined to continue calling the shots in order to ensure that it can continue to perpetrate abuses with impunity.” Continue reading

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Filed under Al Qaeda, Army, baluchistan, human rights, Kerry Lugar Bill, Obama, Taliban, Terrorism, USA, violence, war, War On Terror

What Remains

By Aisha Fayyazi Sarwari

Every day I am asked the same question: Where do you want to go?

Proceeded by a request to show identification. I reach out for my purse at the back seat of the car, open my wallet and pull out my Pakistani national ID. After it is scanned and my numbers are jotted down in a dog-eared journal, I can’t help but ask: Do you have to do this every day? You can see my car has a Government employee sticker for the secure area. Why do I have to go through a security check every day?

The answer: Because the terrorists are part of us.

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Halal Media or Free Media?

Ahmad Nadeem Gehla

Over the last weeks, television screens have broadcasted the growing and angry media sentiment against government over ban on a talk show of a private TV channel by Dubai authorities. Freedom of expression denotes not only freedom of verbal speech but any act of seeking, receiving and delivering information or ideas.  Freedom of expression is closely related to the concept of freedom of conscience and freedom of thought. Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan gives powers to the state to restrict the freedom of expression in interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, or incitement to an offense.

It is the jurisdiction of the judiciary, which itself has been under strong influence of establishment to decide what restrictions may be placed on freedom of expression. Although these restrictions are not strictly enforced by the judiciary but religious conservative groups in the population enforce these restrictions at will followed by the heavy-handed tactics of the police, the army and the intelligence services to intimidate journalists perceived to cross the ‘limits’. The history and influence of religious extremists in media dates back to the process of the politicization and militarization of religious groups initiated both by national and international actors during cold war. Continue reading

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