The Lesson from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Fall

Source: geo.tv

There are several lessons that could be learned from the fall of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Poor leadership, terrible strategy, abandoning allies, pride, hubris, arrogance, narcissism, myopia, and having the little foresight of the inevitable. However, the most important lesson is meant more for the Pakistani people who seem to be repeating some of the mistakes of the ill-fated triple term Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was brought to prominence during the reign of the mighty General Zia-ul-Haq, arguably the worst military dictator in Pakistan’s history. A reluctant Nawaz Sharif was introduced as the Chief Minister of Punjab, who then rose to power as the leader of establishment-backed Islamic Democratic Alliance in the 1990s against the staunchly anti-establishment liberal visionary Benazir Bhutto.

As Prime Minister Sharif got comfortable in his Jihadi, Islamist social conservative cradle, he would soon attempt to declare himself the “Emir-ul-Momineen.” Who would have thought the one who almost became the Emir-ul-Momineen cannot even qualify as a Sadik and Amin now.

However, he probably never one at heart himself. The trader and entrepreneur in him was always more loyal to productivity and money than religious mirages and made him lean toward peace with India. The secular leader in him switched the national weekly holiday to Sunday from Friday amid protests of his Islamist allies. And perhaps went further to confront the military on counter-productive measures such as the 1998 nuclear tests and certainly the disastrous Kargil War.

Of course, Sharif crossed a lot of limits and does so habitually but you don’t have to do much to fall out of favor with the bureaucratic establishment. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself made the mistake of trusting them the third time around while living dangerously throughout his term, surviving rioting protests from PTI and PAT. Of course, you cannot say that he does not realize who his enemy is but you know there is only so much you can do to save yourself or please them.

While the people do not have the luxury to do much about them either, they also consistently make the mistake of taking their ruling bureaucratic tyrants as their saviors. They also consistently make the mistake of rejoicing over their assault on their right to vote. Many of them cannot wait to completely give up all their rights to their bureaucratic overlord whose meritocracy could not have been a fitter fit for the ignorant Pakistani masses who can’t think for themselves.

Nawaz Sharif may as well be history. But the people of Pakistan need to wonder if they can afford any more lapses in their democratic process. They need to wonder if they are willing to relinquish any more of their rights to the security state.

They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has not even bothered to promise to deliver free education as in the 18th amendment. They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has looked the other way when it comes to a national health insurance program while paying their bills out of public money. They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has systematically dismantled the honor of their own voice.

They need to do some serious soul searching.

Because the only ones that the bureaucratic machine cares for are themselves.

And that is the biggest lesson.

 

A version of this post was published in the Dunya blogs.
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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.

Post-Traumatic Stress Governance

Source: Dawn News

Source: Dawn News

The way constitutional amendments are passed in Pakistan makes you marvel at the degree of national unity we enjoy.

You would probably never see such unity among any nation in the world.

Despite speaking passionately against the ruling, not a single MP or Senator dared casting a vote against the constitution. Some even voted against their conscience.

It’s good to know that some politicians in this country take up the constitution seriously enough to consider it a matter of guilty conscience.

But the question remains. Why was not a single vote cast in the opposition of the passage of the constitutional amendment?

Why did the JI and the JUI-F boycott the voting session instead of casting a more effective nay? Did they not betray their loyal voters?

There is no doubt about the fact that the 21st constitutional amendment is a resounding insult to the judicial branch of government in Pakistan. A legally sanctioned statement making fun of its perceived inability to dispense the elusive commodity known as justice. No one is bothered.

Despite the gravity of the situation, let’s concentrate on the silver lining in this dark thunderstorm. Maybe, the government has finally made up its mind to eradicate terrorism from the country, despite all the cynical skepticism.

What if the military courts really would deliver the kind of “swift justice” that the people of this country have been waiting for? Hopefully, not the kind of swift justice that the Taliban are known for.

But why have a trial in the first place?

Or maybe there is hope because Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman believes that the bill for the constitutional amendment reflects secular thinking for linking religion with terrorism. Finally, our parliament ended up doing something secular. Though he is unaware that even many secularists are worried about that too.

Perhaps, the way constitution can be altered in Pakistan offers some distant hope for the secularists. Who knows, some day, some compromising situation would bring all the politicians together and make them all unanimously vote to remove the Islamic provisions from the constitution.

All we need is stirring a little sense of urgency for that.

Now that the constitution has been altered pretty drastically, you can only wonder what happened.

What changed so drastically after the Peshawar massacre that it required bringing about such drastic changes to the way the state worked?

How did the terrorists manage to change the way our government works? A lot of people are perplexed about the way the government, all the political parties and the military have reacted.

To others, disappointed that the civil courts keep on releasing or delaying indicting suspect terrorists, the sudden change came as a sigh of relief. This might deliver some justice, finally.

Yet harsher critics merely saw the recent government legislation using the Peshawar school attack as an excuse for imposing undemocratic constitutional measures.

Let’s just blame their destruction of the constitution on their post-traumatic stress symptoms, instead of deliberate intent to sabotage.

But let’s not take the overzealousness of our administrators for malice.

Let us judge actions instead of the intentions.

Though for some, that would make the case even worse.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Mandate of Your Vote, for “Change”

Source: voteforchange.com

Source: voteforchange.com

It is May 9 and the general elections are hopefully just a couple of days away. May 11 is the date. With Imran Khan falling off a makeshift elevator, forklift or whatever it was, getting severely bruised and injured, and explosions rattling the country from Peshawar to Karachi and several candidates losing their lives, campaigns are still going on. You can only hope that the elections day will pass safely.

More than ever in the 2013 elections, the emphasis is on voting for “change”. While like President Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign, it is a great slogan, (though I am not sure what change he was talking about, perhaps social reforms) I am not really sure if my vote or that of any other Pakistani citizen for that matter, carries that mandate. I mean the mandate for change. However, it does feel good to imagine things, but that is the way it is. Inconvenient, I guess.

The last time I checked, I was only able to elect two officials to two positions in national and provincial legislature. In other words, my vote means that it is my responsibility to use my ballot to determine what kind of people will be using public money for these two positions for the course of next five years. So as it is, and at least to me, the process of the general elections is nothing more than electing and more appropriately hiring two public officials.

This means that all “change” that I am responsible for, or even capable of, is just trying to remotely influence what kind of people make it to the legislature from my constituency. And to that extent, yes, your vote can be a catalyst to change. But that’s all you can do. And that if you are deliberately voting for candidates which would ensure reelection, you are deliberately wasting public money and that you apparently are an idiot of the highest electoral order. But that’s alright.

You don’t have to apologize for your vote.

So while ideology is important, the candidate for the legislature seat is even more so, and especially his or her stance on various political, social and economic issues. To me, this forms a much greater and stronger basis for voting instead of what party they belong to or what ideology they claim to be proponents of.

Considering the prevalent extent of democratic values in the country and the restrictive and suppressive constitution and norms of the land, I can hardly imagine if any ideologies are at work on ground except for those allowed by the state. Still, I would not be cynical enough to suggest that there is no use in voting for ideology, no. Vote by ideology, vote for ideology by all means.

However, in our land of the pure, another high claim of the adherents of a higher than other faiths, ideology is often synonymous with individual leaders. Due to the absence of direct electorate for the positions of the Prime Minister and the President, the people are forced to imagine, like many of their inherent faiths, that the general elections are actually being held to allow them to choose their head of state. What a fallacy.

With the atrocious 14th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan and its criminal ratification in the otherwise celebrated 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, you can hardly call this system of governance democracy anymore. If you ever could, that is. And you are forced to observe that the Parliamentary System is designed to block any change whatsoever lest it suits the vested interest of the politicians.

So the change you are looking for is sort of a far fetched idea. Because apparently your selected legislators would not be able to make their decisions independently. We are at the mercy of organized gangs.

I hope you do get the change you are looking for, I mean I am tired of the more than 12 hours of black outs in Pakistan myself, thanks to the current moronic and almost demonic interim “caretaker” government, with apologies to Lord Satan and his high accomplices.

I just hope I’m wrong.

But to be on the safe side, I am voting for the best possible legislators, party or independent.

Voting By Candidate

Source: thekooza.com

Source: thekooza.com

I have grown up hearing that you should always vote for the party and the ideology. Well, it makes sense too because with more seats, the party would possibly gain a majority and the people who remotely share a fraction of your political world view could become decision makers. But does that mean you should turn a blind eye to the candidates?

But thanks to our parliamentary system, this voting approach has a severe drawback. Particularly for undecided voters and particularly for people who are not voting for ideology. I guess there would be a lot of educated voters in the upcoming 2013 general elections in this regard.

To most people, the general elections for National and Provincial Assembly representatives are a substitute for Presidential or Prime Ministerial elections. They vote for Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan or Asif Zardari, rather than considering the candidates. Probably it is the same for the rest of the parties too.

I am even told by many that they would vote for a pole if it runs for the party or the leader of their choice. Others would vote for fly-over bridges and construction and development projects, which is a somewhat better approach, But obviously hardly anyone concentrates on their legislative stance and ability.

A lot of people vote for the legislature candidates as if they were voting for a councilor or a mayor, and that is the value they get in the end. But probably it is not their fault. We have a terrible parliamentary system prevalent in this country which only lets people vote for their representatives, but not for their Senators, Governors, Chief Ministers, Presidents or even Prime Ministers.

Furthermore, the 5 year term of a government is ridiculously long. I can hardly think of any better system than the bicameral US Presidential system which has 2 year terms for the representatives, though a long term of 6 years for the senators. But it is an electoral system which allows the US people to elect all of their representatives and even mayors directly. The parliamentary system seems autocratic in comparison.

Now they have even worsened this terrible electoral system in the 18th Amendment to the 1973 Constitution during the last term by introducing and unanimously voting for the Article 63 (A) about disqualificaiton on the grounds of defection. It is an article which requires every member of the legislature to vote according to the party lines or have their membership terminated.

How undemocratic is that. I actually find its passage hard to believe, and our politicians have the audacity of incessantly boasting about it. I can’t imagine a democracy without individual freedom and liberty.

How is this for treason to democratic values? At least it goes to show that there is no respect for individual freedom and individual opinion in Pakistan. Then why worry if the message is reflected at the grassroots?

This clearly goes to show that democracy has “not been able to work” in Pakistan because several provisions in the constitution are not democratic in the first place.

But when voting for a party is thrust upon you as a moral responsibility, you are hardly worried about factors such as these.

But when I look at a candidate, and I imagine whether I would want him or her to represent my constituency or not, I would really find myself responsible for the sake of spending public money the right way to assign the right person to the job. Well at least they must be able to read and understand the constitution, even if that means voting for a candidate who would get a total of 63 votes. I am mentioning that figure for a reason.

Malik Ibrar Campaigning - Source: Official facebook Page

PML (N) Candidate – Malik Ibrar Campaigning – Source: Official facebook Page

PPP Candidate Zamurd Khan campaigning - Source: pakistanleaders.com.pk

PPP Candidate Zamurd Khan campaigning – Source: pakistanleaders.com.pk

PTI Candidate Hina Manzoor Campaigning - Source Official facebook Page

PTI Candidate Hina Manzoor Campaigning – Source Official facebook Page

I need to vote in the NA-54 constituency where the major contenders are the incumbent Malik Ibrar Ahmed of PML-N, Zamurd Khan of PPP and Hina Manzoor of PTI, apart from other members from the JI, JUI (F), MQM, ANP and independent ones which are not expected to get much votes, like always. The candidates for the PP-10 Punjab Assembly constituency are much worse and picking the right canddiate would be an easier task there.

While I largely find myself undecided over the current constitutional and electoral mess, I would surely vote and I would try to vote by candidates. I am not saying there is anything wrong to vote by parties. Do so by all means. But I believe that evaluating the candidates is just as important.

While I am disechanted by the last parliament for unanimously voting for the controversial clause about Article 63 (A) in the 18th amendment, by the same rationale, I could just as well vote for just about any candidate not elected to the last parliament term.

But is that really the answer? Because provided our brilliant parliamentary system, any member you vote for would simply vote on party lines, regardless of what they want and how terrible the party stance is. Slavery could never have been abolished in the United States if they had such a constitutional provision. This largely destroys the purpose of voting for choosing the legislator for your constituency, because you are actually choosing no one, as rightly pointed out by some in my family.

I wish I could possibly not vote for gangs, because this is what political parties wearing the most civilized and democratic façade are acting like. And it is such a shame. Sadly, it is behavior like this that extremists and undemocratic forces like the Taliban would like to see, which in the end means that you have no choice but to stick to “lesser evils.”

That is why we need to criticize the autocratic legislation of our political parties loudly and clearly more than ever before if we are to ensure the establishment of true democratic values and principles in this country. But I know I must vote to send out a strong and clear message to those who do not want me and all of you to.

But it’s all really confusing and I would rather like to wait till May 11 to make up my mind.

Till then, I’d rather vote for the person I’d hire.

Why United Nations Security Council is the Part of the Problem

Source: cbc.ca

I believe this is pretty much the right time to write about the problem of the United Nations Security Council, though I am sure many such opportunities have come in the past as well. It is just when most of the people in the world are outraged at something that happened at this diplomatic forum and which offers some relief to the writer of being spared of potential accusations of being anti-American, anti-UN or anti-democracy. The criticism in the post has nothing in particular to do with either entities.

Recently, a resolution was presented in the Security Council to support an Arab League plan to facilitate a political transition in Syria, that is, to throw the dictator Bashar Al-Asssad out of power following the brutal action of his regime against civilian protesters. The Syrian government denies the charge of course. Russia and China were the only countries out of the 15 member Security Council that voted against the resolution and vetoed it.

There are perfectly plausible explanations for why Russia and China did that, primarily because of the political influence that Russians enjoy in Syria since the Cold War decades and that both the countries fear a military action on Syria in the future. The rest of the world has been largely critical of the veto. Even Pakistan and India voted in the favor of the resolution, but they usually do so anyway. Not that their opinion matters much. I have overheard on twitter that the Indian ambassador at Damascus has had some explaining to do.

The United Nations Security Council, in its permanent members, denote the truly representative conference-mode diplomacy forum of the world. All the people that matter. But if that statement were true, it would be a pity that countries such as India, Japan, Germany and Brazil are not permanent members, and yes, why leave out Saudi Arabia and Iran? OK, maybe not Saudi Arabia. But as a matter of fact, given the functional practices of the forum, it is imperative that no more members should be added to the permanent-member club. Unless, you want to lessen the political influence of a particular party or make the organization further ineffective. Reminding you that the primary function of the organization is peace-keeping around the world and dealing with security crises.

But apart from the nuts and bolts of the organization, let us reflect on a controversial article of the UN Charter. The power of veto exercised by the permanent members of the Security Council. While the United Nations and the powers of the world, and sadly even the not-so-powers of the world, are perfectly fine with the way the Security Council works, I find it a violation of the very spirit of the UN charter, such as the Article 2. While the United Nations Security Council works perfectly on the principles of politics, for you cannot complain as you were taught “Might is Right” in elementary school, but I am not sure if such provisions for a UN organization is even compatible with the United Nations Charter, which holds every nation to be sovereign equals.

Legally it would be, but does that make any sense on the basis of the principles on which the United Nations was created? Don’t get me wrong, I am 100% for the United Nations, which is precisely why I am raising this point because it is we who have to make the United Nations work. The point simply is that there should be one vote for one nation. That is equality and that is justice. If you want to make the United Nations work on the brutal principles of Machiavellian politics, then I support the veto vote all out, but if you talk about human rights, then I am not sure how that helps the cause.

But despite everything, why in the world are there permanent members of the United Nations Security Council in the first place and why are there just five of them? Why just United States, France, United Kingdom, China and Russia? I guess every nation that asks the question that it should become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council is rightful in asking that. It is just that not every nation in asking that question. We all know why these particularly countries are permanent members and not others, but the point is why everyone else accepts that.

The United States, the greatest donor and one of the architects of the United Nations, has been critical of China and Russia and probably rightly so. Ambassador Rice expressed her disgust over the veto. While China and Russia are wrong, they are not doing anything different to what the United States has been doing in the past. Protecting their interests over human rights. Hardly any major power is an exception to this case.

May I remind the readers of this post that United States was the only country that shamelessly defended the brutal onslaught of the Israeli armed forces on the Gaza Strip in 2006, voted against the new Israeli settlements in 2011 and has vetoed several other times. Actually, I acknowledge and support the right of the United States to prevent any UN Resolutions from passing against Israel that undermine its right to defend itself, but then I would expect the United States to remain consistent and make human rights a priority everywhere, no matter who the offending party is. If they are truly upset about the Russian and Chinese veto, I hope the United States will never veto a UN Security Council Resolution ever again.

I am disgusted to hear politicians complaining about human rights violations when they make them happen everyday and support it but I would not mind if a few of them prevent a few human rights violations in selected parts of the world. Therefore, I would like to see either the United Nations Security Council abolished with its current structure or at least a reform to the way it works. At least, the veto powers should be repealed and voting on issues should be carried out in the United Nations General Assembly where every nation will have its say and every nation will have 1 vote. For those who think this will harm the instant action problem as in the League of Nations, simply take action with a majority or a two-third majority vote.

Keep the United Nations Security Council like the way it is and more people will lose faith in the United Nations everyday.

Thankfully, I will never be one of them.