Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Breakdown of Judicial, Military and Landlord Nexus

Pakistan from its inception had been held together by, inter alia, a nexus between the judiciary, the military, the industrial elite and the landlords. The connections amongst them helped stabilize Pakistan even in times of greatest perils. Thus, constitution or no constitution, democracy or martial law, Pakistan survived and continued to exist largely due to this nexus.

Even before the formation of Pakistan and since then this nexus played an important role in the formation and functioning of all governments except perhaps in Nawaz Sharif’s second tenure. Thus, when General Pervez Musharraf overthrew Nawaz Sharif as the Prime Minister in 1999, he received tacit support from the parties to this nexus. The relatively stable period that Musharaf government enjoyed until 8 March 2007 was largely because of this support.

However, ever since the ouster of Mr. Jamali as the Prime Minister the signs started to emerge that Mr. Musharaf was ready to compromise the delicate balance which sustained the nexus between the landlords and the military. The landlord class started to see compromises over its interests in form of land mafias, imposition of Capital Value Tax on all things land, the dismissive attitude of the President and the 'banker' Prime Minister towards them and finally the imposition of the MQM in Punjab. The distasteful killing of Mr. Bugti sent a clear message that nothing was sacred to this government and the perceptions of Pakistan's national interest in the heads of Messers Musharaf and Aziz were to over ride the individual interests of the Pakistanis no matter whom.

Now, it must be remembered thatu the top judicial and military officers have close connections with the landed classes. Alarm bells were ringing in these circles as the news started to circulate firstly about the policies of encouraging corporate farming and secondly that the government was ready to compulsorily acquire land in order to sell the same to commercial interests at a fraction of a price in the name of economic development.

In fact, the whole of the Pakistan appeared to be on sale to the so called multinationals be those be the oil rich Arabs, the influential Chinese or anyone with some dimes in their pockets.

It was in this backdrop that the decision of the Supreme Court against the privatization of Pakistan Steel Mills came and challenged the government.

The present judicial crisis must be seen in the above context. The Chief Justice comes from the heartland of Punjab although he practiced in Balochistan. His family has an agricultural background. A large part of his supporters stem from the same background.

Thus, the current agitation by the lawyers is not surprising at all. Though what is surprising is the silence from the other two elements of said nexus.

Why is Pakistan’s old guard silent is anyone’s guess. But it is certain that it will not be silent for long. Meer Zafarullah Khan Jamali’s formation of a new party and its support by Pir Pagaro are very significant. Also significant is the President’s vehement endorsement of Legaharis and his meeting with Pir Pagaro. Perhaps he too has realized that the nexus must be sustained in order for him to survive in the power.

The old guard is shaking and so is Pakistan. Perhaps it is time to trust and show some respect to the Natives and their interests!

(This article was written in June 2007)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Forthcoming elections: abuse of governments funds and discretions

The incumbent governments always abuse their powers to influence the elections to the disadvantage of the candidates who do not have its backing.

These include: the disbursement of the public funds just weeks before the elections; abuse of the discretion in transfers and postings for putting the "right officials" at the "right places"; awards of government contracts to contractors who can promise a certain number of votes; undertaking new development works and accelerating the existing ones; abuse of police to harass the opponents and reward the supporters; abuse of police, revenue workers and officers and other lowly governments officials for "arranging the transport" before and on the election day and to attend the political rallies of the government candidates to show strength; abusing the "rightly placed" officials to get the ballot papers prior to the election day and to use these officials for looking the other way when those ballot papers are being put in the ballot boxes. The list of the abuse of the governmental powers is far too long to be listed.

Keeping up with these traditions the Chief Minister of the Punjab has announced a package of Rs. 3.5 billions for the teachers in his province. I am glad for the teachers and would like to give the benefit of the doubt to the cheif minsiter, but the teachers are the most important officials on the election day and can easily influence the elections. Should this package be allowed to beannounced at this time? Prior to that there were rumours that the son of the same chief minister had decided to run from a certain constituency in Lahore. He forced on the constituency a new underpass although none was urjently needed and having seen the Northern By-pass bridge collapse, God help the users of that underpass once it opens as haste makes waste.

There are a countless examples of the said abuses all over the country. One can hope that the Honourable Chief Justices of Pakistan and the Lahore High Court, the Chief Election Commissioner and other concerned upholders of the law and morals will put a stop on the abuse of government powers immediately. This should, inter alia, include: a ban on transfers and posting immediately, no new announcements of any projects or disbursement of public funds without the prior approval of the Honourable High Courts; equal TV and radio time for the candidates on government channels; and the free availability of transport on the election day for all voters by the election commission.