The Bigger Butcher is the Bigger Patriot

Source: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

We should have no illusions in our minds about the moral standards prevalent in Pakistan.

“Civil rights” is an expression hardly ever heard in public discourse in Pakistan. And those who try to somehow, unconsciously mention a reference to it, are forced to make an apology and elaborately explain how they never meant any harm. Or any good, that is. And we get reminders from time to time of the appalling state of our morals.

The election legislation pushed by the ruling PML-N has somehow raised alarms, led by McCarthyists such as Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed and his able patrons, who cried foul play with the country’s law regarding “The Finality of Prophethood.” Since then, officials such as Law Minister Zaid Hamid needs to recite the testimony to faith and the finality of Prophethood every time he makes a public appearance.

This has since started a renewed oath and reiteration of organized, institutionalized bigotry against Ahmedis, a relatively new sect of Islam of Punjabi origins which appears very reformist in its approach to many. Whatever their theology may be, the state of Pakistan has basically taken upon itself since the election of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to wage war on them. They had apparently “settled the Ahmedi question” by introducing the Second Amendment, formally excommunicating them from the faith of Islam by the decree of the Government of Pakistan.

Of course, the Pakistani public does not see it this way, but the Ahmedi population of the country and the diaspora considers this policy as discrimination of extreme proportions. It might be an exaggeration but some Ahmedi activists have even compared the national policy to Apartheid laws in South Africa. Others have compared it to the Nazi Germany, considering the tacit public approval of murdering Ahmedis, and how the state has singled out the community in the process of national identity registration.

And there is no way out of this vicious circle for them. The brilliant thing about the anti-Ahmedi Apartheid laws in Pakistan, which are also known as the “Namoos-e-Risalat” or the “Honor of the Prophethood” are that in order to prove yourself a supporter, you need to denounce Ahmedis and endorse the very basis of state persecution. Even blogging voices raising dissenting thoughts such as this one are only confined to very limited circles as openly questioning this policy implies treason and heresy.

So effectively, the bigger butcher is the bigger patriot. The harsher, more brutal you are in your hate toward the Ahmedis, the more loyal and moral you will be deemed in the Pakistani social and political world.

Take our Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif for an example, who had to explain how true a Muslim he was after he was accidentally photographed with an American Pakistani who happened to be an Ahmedi. He had no choice but to deconstruct and explain the situation in the show of a morally constipated anchor.

To makes matter even worse for the ruling party alleged to be sympathizing with Ahmedi, which they later proved that they are certainly not by calling for worsening the discriminatory laws, Captain Safdar spoke out in the parliament. The son-in-law of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for the ban of Ahmedis from the military service, oblivious of the proud history of the service of Ahmedis in the military, perhaps one institute which had not been as invasive in its discrimination toward the community. Hopefully, the move must have worked convincing a lot of bigots in PML-N voters of his innocence following the corruption charges on him.

However, even the record of the military cannot undo the Constitutional dilemma of discrimination and inequality in Pakistan. Something which is growing even worse considering the rhetoric and the affirmation from the DG ISPR that the military will remain to be the guardians of the Honor of the Prophethood. We all know what that means. The discriminatory constitutional amendment is going nowhere.

Even the military seems to be helpless in undoing the damage in terms of the civil rights for minority religious groups in Pakistan. Actually many will argue has been one of the political contributors, if not the source, to the mess along with orthodox mullahs.

What are you to do when the national ethos consists of isolating and even butchering fellow citizens who tend to have a different philosophy and viewpoint?

What are you to do when the bigger butcher is the bigger patriot?

 

The post was originally published in the Dunya blogs.

The Irresponsible Legislators

Source: Irfan Mahmood/APP/Pakistan Today

Source: Irfan Mahmood/APP/Pakistan Today

Even though an overwhelming percentage of the population in Pakistan turn up at the voting booth, most of them would not take the parliament seriously. But why should they if the legislators themselves do not take their job seriously?

The Cybercrime Bill was recently passed in the National Assembly, but according to reports in the media, only 32 members were present in the house.

How the bill was even passed with this sort of roll call is incomprehensible. Odds are that most of the MPs would not have even read the bill. Utterly shameful.

This is probably not the first time that we have seen voting patterns dictated by the party leadership. We have witnessed the entire parliament voting unanimously on significant constitutional amendments. But perhaps that’s because the discipline in our political parties is exemplary.

In any case, should such absenteeism be tolerated?

But what to do with a legislature, whose leader, the Prime Minister himself would hardly visit the house once or twice a year. After all, the executive is the legislator-in-chief of the system, isn’t he?

But honestly, I don’t blame the Prime Minister or the respective Chief Ministers for that. The work of the executive office is completely different from that of the Speaker or the Chairman Senate.

The parliamentary system is inefficient in combining the executive office with the legislature. I seriously don’t think that the Prime Minister or the respective Chief Ministers have the time to bother themselves with the business of the legislature. However, they should have the time to at least answer to the body.

This is why I think the administrative branch should be separate from the legislative branch, as in the Presidential system. But this is not necessarily to assert that the parliamentary system does not work well. However, we know for a fact that our current Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, is not one who fits well in the legislature. He would rather be left alone to administer the affairs of the state with his handpicked cabinet.

One way or the other, we will always have a legislature and since people vote to hire legislators in the general election, it is time we should pay more attention to appraising their performance as well.

This is why the public must have access to a parliamentary performance scorecard, to at least help our passive-aggressive urban ideologues to get an idea of what their elected members are up to.

FAFEN is a great institute, which is already doing a great deal of work in this regard, but not a lot of people pay attention to their work. I highly recommend subscribing to their mailing list to get an insight into the daily proceedings of the federal and provincial legislatures.

However, I am not sure that the contribution of a non-profit with limited resources is enough to inform millions of Pakistanis. It is surely insufficient to reach out to a considerable number of the urban population anyway.

This is why the media could possibly work to provide this information to voters. If continuous programming about it sounds too boring, it’s easy to produce the legislative report card and voting record on issues near the general elections. At least that could help generate some anti-incumbency votes. Only this way can our legislators stop taking their jobs for granted.

As for the terrible house rules, the legislature needs to do a much better job in terms of guarding the rights of the citizens through serious legislative deliberation. But on the other hand, they would probably not be able to vote on anything if they keep on waiting for a reasonable quorum.

Democracy is a fragile process, particularly in a country such as Pakistan where a good number has still not accepted the idea wholeheartedly.

Of course, the guardians of democracy are not helping its case much for the people.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Direct Election Reforms Needed in Local Government Polls

Source: dawn.com

Finally, the much-promised local government elections have been held all over Pakistan. The result of these elections is important for pointing out a clear discrepancy in the electoral system. Everyone has been looking at the party tally as in the case of the general elections, but it is at this level that the irony of this system reveals itself so strongly. The citizens of Pakistan cannot even elect their mayors directly, and it is up to their Union Councilors to elect the candidate nominated by their party.

While this form of election is based on the model of the British parliamentary system, direct election reforms for local government have been introduced even in Great Britain. It only makes sense that people have a say in at least the immediate leadership of their town, instead of a majority party decision enforced on them like an insult.

People do deserve a chance to directly elect the person responsible for making executive decisions governing their political jurisdiction. I would go on to argue that the same should be true for the election of legislative representatives and the head of provinces and the federal government. This is why the Presidential system makes more sense in terms of electoral rules and division of power to some people.

However, on the other hand, many people argue that the indirect election makes the election of more intellectual members possible. For a country where the majority of voters agree on establishing an Islamic Republic and would actively oppose a secular movement, this would seem like a good choice. However, indirect election of the mayor does not even make any sense in the current scenario and it is certainly not good for democracy.

The indirect election is primarily an instrument of establishing the authority and control of the party leadership, which almost always dictates votes in the legislature. This form of legislative election kills the freedom of the individual legislator, and in the case of executive election, it becomes an extension of the control of the party leadership in dispensing and spending local government funds.

It is important to understand that executive positions are very individual-oriented. It is probably not very different to evaluating a candidate for a job position. I would argue the same is true for the legislators, but probably those positions could be compromised for the banner of the party ideology on the ballot. This is why at least an exception should have been expected in the case of the election of the mayor.

The local government structure clearly requires further reform, and as pointed out by the MPs of the MQM, warrants more authority and funding as well. Until the local government structure is improved, you cannot expect democracy to flourish at the grassroots and for people to solve their own problems instead of waiting for bureaucratic machinery in a distant capital.

One of the fundamental ways to establish the credibility of the democratic system is to empower people with choices. We need to have faith in the people and have respect for their vote.

The constitutional provision for the direct election of the mayor could go a long way in this regard.

A version of this post was published in The Nation blogs.

Privatization, Authoritarianism and Democracy

Source: Express Tribune

Source: Express Tribune

Nothing has aroused my curiosity about the Constitution of Pakistan as much as the plethora of executive decisions issued out of the Prime Minister House and the Federal Cabinet. Is that even democratic?

Whatever the answer, most people do not even bother about that.

There is no surprise that a parliament that unanimously voted to pass the 18th Amendment containing the Article 63 (A) would find excessive executive power the least of its problems. It goes without saying that most Pakistanis are not only happy with that, but many of them have no problems with authoritarianism in general.

There is no shortage of people approving excessive executive power all around the world, even in the United States, since things get done faster this way. Who wants to waste time in stupid voting procedures when the executive can get everything done with the stroke of a pen?

Well, there is a right way of doing the right thing, and then there is the wrong way. Which by the way, is what you think is the right way. It could really be a solution, or not.

This is why a lot of people think that a lot more things get done when dictators rule the country. Well, that is true, but their unchecked progress is also matched by unchecked tyranny and no accountability. This is why such authoritarian measures should have no place in a democracy.

Take privatization for an example. Consider the news report of the approval of the sale of 26% of shares of national airline PIA by the Privatization Commission Board and the relevant Cabinet Committee. Note how it reports that the decision of the Privatization Commission Board would be final. While it seems logical that experts are making the decision, it makes no sense politically.

Even if the Constitution allows for this channel of decision making, it would be largely flawed, in my opinion.

There is hardly any doubt that privatization is the need of the hour for Pakistan. I am all for it. Not only because of the burden of massive losses, but because the government is not supposed to and is unable to run corporations. Simply because these corporations are supposed to be managed like businesses and governments would not do that.

However, it matters how the process of privatization is carried out. It cannot simply be the decision of one man, or the Privatization Commission Board or ministry bureaucrats to convert ownership of the shares of an institution from public to private. The parliament must vote on the motion, in both the lower and upper houses.

As a matter of fact, the Constitution of Pakistan does provide that a Money bill should originate in the lower house, as per Article 71 (I), if I am not wrong. The sale of share of PIA or any other public entity could easily be considered a matter pertaining to money, as it would concern the change in capital, if not revenue, of the state at the federal level.

A lot of people would argue that referring the matter to the parliament would be another way of killing the issue at hand. That voting in the legislature encourages obstructionism. It may be so, but that is the right thing to do.

I am worried that Pakistani federal and provincial legislatures hardly ever vote for important issues, other than electing each other. Which makes me think they are not doing what they are hired to do.

And this, along with many recently introduced constitutional provisions, hint toward increasing trends of authoritarianism among democratic legislators in the country. Though it was never absent, arguably.

Allowing obstructionism is necessary for upholding democratic values.