Newspaper Articles

An elite conflict — by Salman Tarik Kureshi

Incompetent or do-nothing or internally divided parliaments, however constitutionally or otherwise appointed, failed to satisfy the people’s demands. They therefore left a vacuum of effectiveness, into which stepped the more action-oriented, better organised institutions: the civil bureaucracy and the army

Poor President Zardari! Here, on the one hand, he is the duly (and, moreover, constitutionally) elected president, the heir anointed of his martyred wife, deeply involved in the processes of rescuing the nation from the follies of his predecessor and the violence of the extremists. However, on the other hand, his name is rapidly becoming a term of household mockery and, as it seems, an extraordinary concatenation of groups is lined up to kick him until he is down and to continue kicking him after that.

He is presently shielded by his sovereign immunity as president (was this immunity, as some unkind souls suggest, the prime reason for his having sought the office of president in the first place?). But now a petition has been filed before the Election Commission arguing that candidate Zardari could not have qualified to contest for this grand office in the first place had the NRO not been in force, since he had been convicted by a Swiss court and a subordinate Pakistani court. Since the Supreme Court has annulled the NRO as unconstitutional, therefore, actions under it, such as the acceptance of candidate Zardari’s nomination, become null and void and of no legal effect. Therefore, candidate Zardari was not qualified to contest in the first place! It follows that, should this petition be upheld, he will stand disqualified from office with retrospective effect. Further, that he may then have to face the allegations against him without benefit of immunity, causes his too-numerous detractors to crow with delight, but apparently raises no anxieties about the confusion and institutional damage that could arise.

Well, the issue is sub judice, so one must refrain from comment. However, given the observed locus of present-day judicial tendencies, and the cautionary cries from persons of the eminence of Aitzaz Ahsan, Asma Jehangir, Athar Minallah and Ali Ahmed Kurd notwithstanding, the direction of popular speculation is apparent. President Zardari has emerged from his presidential bunker and is swinging out at perceived political foes outside his party and conspiratorial “non-state actors”. But, with perspectives distorted by this single-minded focus on the travails of the co-chairman of the PPP, are we not losing sight of the fact that the “corruption” brush can stripe many others as well? Note the recently resuscitated issue of written-off bank loans. Think of the allegations of financial shenanigans against the PML-N from their times in power. And, of course, during the Musharraf era, creation of the Q-League was said to have been facilitated by massive write-offs for certain notables. Without condoning corruption among politicians (or among the business elite, civilian bureaucracy and military officialdom), one is forced to ask: what is all this leading to? A cleaning-out of the entire political leadership?

Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, in a recent article, has suggested that a non-elected coalition of middle-class elite groups, including members of the Bench, the Bar, civil society, armed forces and media commentators, is attacking the elected political order. This is not for the first time and it has everything to do with the location of real political power.

Let’s face it. At bottom, our educated middle classes, whatever democratic noises they may make from time to time, do not really believe that our elected politicos have the professional or administrative skills required to run a modern state. Whether professionals, bureaucrats or military officers, this is a class that places a premium on executive effectiveness and therefore can usually be counted among those who applaud the periodic military incursions into statecraft.

Looking beyond Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, what one is seeing is perhaps another manifestation of the late Hamza Alavi’s thesis of ‘the over-developed state in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh’. His reference is to the well-trained and organised civil and military institutions created by British rule in the subcontinent, contrasted with the low levels of development of other groups in society as a whole. In India, the Congress Party, crafted by Nehru and Patel into being the political arm of the national bourgeoisie, succeeded in establishing the primacy of democratic political institutions over this “steel frame of the administration”.

In Pakistan, where the national bourgeoisie was weak and lacked an effective political organisation, this did not happen. Here, political parties, peopled in the main by representatives of the administratively backward rural elite or by populist spell-binders of dubious intellectual depth, failed to gain control over the real wielders of power. The civil-military oligarchy therefore assumed an autonomous role, independent of the interests of the dominant local classes, resulting in a dichotomy between a weak ‘democratic’ political culture and a stronger ‘administrative’ political culture. One result has been the kind of governmental seesaw we have experienced, where nominally democratic governments of low levels of political and administrative competence have alternated with authoritarian regimes led by civilian and military putschists.

It is instructive to see how this process got under way. The very first parliament this country had, the first Constituent Assembly, was convened under the presidency of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah himself. It was not primarily a legislative body, being also a Constituent Assembly, meant to frame a Constitution for the new dominion of Pakistan. But seven chaotic years were to pass, during which the members of this first Constituent Assembly made and unmade provincial governments, played musical chairs and plotted, intrigued against one another and indulged themselves in low-level patronage and petty financial corruption. As is only too obvious, they entirely neglected the task of framing a Constitution, the nearest to which they approached was the retrogressive Objectives Resolution.

In 1954, Governor General Ghulam Mohammed sacked the Constituent Assembly, with the tacit aid of Generals Iskander Mirza and Mohammed Ayub Khan, and, after a brief hiatus, more or less handpicked the members of the Second Constituent Assembly. A busy time was to follow. Pakistan became a member of the US-sponsored SEATO defence pact and thereafter of the Baghdad Pact (subsequently CENTO), thus making this country a strategic element in the American Cordon Sanitaire around the USSR and China, and ensuring the inflow of weaponry, technology and funds to our armed forces. American aid for the economy, under the PL480 and US-AID programmes, was negotiated. The provinces of the Western Wing were amalgamated into the ‘One Unit’ province of West Pakistan, with its capital at Lahore. The Tamizuddin Khan case was briskly contested, leading to the infamous ‘doctrine of necessity’ judgement by Justice Munir. A new Constituent Assembly was created, which finally framed a Constitution for Pakistan.

Does the scenario of those days sound depressingly familiar? A democratic parliament fails to deliver on its legislative objectives, does not fulfil the ordinary tasks of administration and governance, is accused of corruption and mismanagement, and is superseded by an unelected cabal.

Incompetent or do-nothing or internally divided parliaments, however constitutionally or otherwise appointed, failed to satisfy the people’s demands. They therefore left a vacuum of effectiveness, into which stepped the more action-oriented, better organised institutions: the civil bureaucracy and the army. The ‘administrative’ framework of power periodically trumps and supersedes the ‘political’ framework…until the next time the people agitate against authoritarian rule.

Dr Ayesha Siddiqa’s middle class coalition can therefore be seen as the striking edge of the ‘administrative’ oligarchy today, preparing to strike yet again and set in motion the seesaw whose swinging has so retarded our development as a nation.

Are our leaders — of our various political parties, of our parliament and our provincial assemblies, of our civil society organisations — listening?

The writer is a marketing consultant based in Karachi. He is also a poet

Source: Daily Times

About the author



Click here to post a comment
  • A poor man’s woes


    Saturday, February 06, 2010
    Sania Nishtar

    The poor man is under tremendous stress as a result of numerous economic hardships including high unemployment, inflation, scarcity of essential commodities, and limited ability of the state to target welfare services. These hardships often prompt those who hold welfare of a common man close to their heart to question the relevance of issues that dominate current national debates — for example, constitutional amendments, the Supreme Court’s judgment on the NRO, power relationships between the pillars of the state, the accountability bill and issues of internal sovereignty — in relation to alleviating the sufferings of a common man. One particular email received subsequent to the publication of my January 5 article in these columns raises the same point. The sender raised a question and I quote: “Do you think Fazal Chacha who, along with his wife and three children is dying of water-borne diseases, is really worried about or concerned about sovereignty or the Constitution?” It is in response to such notions that I want to elaborate on the implications of restructuring state functioning at the broader strategic level for the life of a poor man.

    We often think of alleviating poverty by meeting individual needs. The importance of this approach should not be underestimated. Food, clean water, security and shelter are the literal requirements for human survival and must be provided, where needed. However, it must be appreciated that the levers that determine their delivery are oiled by the effectiveness of overall governance, which is where broader strategic measures assume importance.

    The compassionate approach to poverty alleviation, which focuses on the basis of giving — money more than time and skill — and which gets organised as philanthropy and Zakat is important in its own right. But compassion alone doesn’t help the poor man in the long run. Beyond giving, structural approaches to poverty alleviation are also important. These include sustainable government subsidies, income support programmes, safety nets, service delivery solutions by localised NGOs, vocational training, skill enhancement, labour market interventions, gender empowerment programmes, microfinance, other forms of access to financial services to support local entrepreneurship and augmenting domestic development resources with aid. These form part of the sustainable development approach and can be helpful in alleviating poverty by equipping and empowering individuals and communities to meet their own needs. However, even these do not reduce poverty. Beyond these, there is the need for sustained robust growth and for an honest redistributive hand of the government to ensure that the benefits of growth and development accrue to populations equitably.

    Lessons from around the developing world show that massive poverty reduction and quantum changes in the lives of the poor is the result of overall robust and sustained economic growth through increases in capital — physical, human, and technological. Such a transformation is dependent on sound, consistent and effective policies, good governance, availability of financial services and an overall environment where peace, security, law and order and justice attract investments.

    In such settings, the trickle-down of economic development becomes possible and benefits start accruing to the poor when economic freedoms, such as land rights and access to financial services are extended to the poor and when an honest hand of the government, fosters competitiveness and impartial oversight as a counter against organised vested interests at various levels.

    The remedy to the poor man’s woes therefore does not lie just in compassionate solutions or isolated measures aimed at sustainable development and poverty eradication but in deploying these solutions in an overall context, where growth can be sustained. It is in setting this context that the construct of many parameters, which dominate national debates today assume importance.

    Elaborating on the values of our Constitution as part of the post-NRO debates and structuring mechanisms to separate powers and ingrain constitutional checks and balances at the institutional level — an attempt at which is being made in deliberating on the construct of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution — assume great importance in this respect. If Constitutional stipulations could ensure appropriate power relationship between key decision makers in the past, if institutional checks and balances had been functioning, if there had been adherence to democratic principles of consensus-building, openness and transparency in decision-making, the complex geo-political conundrum with ethnic strife, multi-dimensional terrorism, organised crime and cult and mafia activity, as its key features would not be a threat to internal sovereignty today and we would not be paying the price of foreign policy decisions, made over successive decades. These threats to internal sovereignty, the uniqueness of law and order breakdown in the country, erosion of the institutional fabric with inefficient institutions as an outcome, and political instability are discouraging investments with dire consequences for the economy, as a result of which the poor man faces economic hardships.

    Debates around the accountability law are critical. Lack of an institutional framework to compel accountability in the sphere of governance means that successive governments cannot be held responsible for failing to ensure economic security; for the inattention to ensuring water and energy security and for lack of investments in infrastructure critical for national development. In terms of economic progress, therefore, Pakistan lags behind its Asian peers as a result of which there are limited economic opportunities for the poor man.

    The country’s mammoth debt burden has crowded out the space for development and the energy crisis is, and will continue to impact the life of the poor man in many ways. A range of decision makers and public functionaries are responsible for this but since there are no mechanisms to compel accountability, no one can be held responsible. Worst still, there are no guarantees that such behaviours and decision-making patterns will not continue to prevail — the present accountability law, even if its current weaknesses are addressed, has a strictly anti-corruption remit and does not cater to accountability at the broader governance level. Similarly, governance constraints, which have emerged overtime cannot check collusive behavior and have contributed to furthering state capture by the elite. The dire consequences of this vicious cycle affect the life of a common man in many ways. Elite capture, which can manifest as nepotism in hiring hurts a poor man when he gets sidelined from the job he may have otherwise qualified for, on merit. Elite capture of parliament affects the pattern of taxation, so whilst the agriculture sector and stock market remain outside the tax net, the common man bears the brunt by paying regressive indirect taxes. Similarly, cartelisation has recently exacerbated the sugar and wheat crises so the poor man suffers and spends hours in a queue with his daily wages being the opportunity cost. The opportunities for exploitation will not remain restricted to any specific sector if the current trends in governance and accountability prevail, but will, unfortunately, become pervasive across all segments of the economy. These are dangerous symptoms that will raise fundamental questions about the relevance of the state for a common man and can lead to widespread discontent, chaos and anarchy, which can be beyond the control of any government or political party to mitigate.

    In sum, therefore, the life of a poor man will not improve and we will not be able to lift our masses from pervasive poverty until the broader structural state rubric, constitutional checks and balances, and a robust accountability framework are firmly put into place. These are founding blocks for a sound system of governance which is critical for growth, development, and welfare, all of which directly affect the life of a common man.

    The writer is founding-president of the NGO think-tank, Heartfile. Email: sania@

  • Hello There. I discovered your weblog with the use of msn. That is a really well written article about %BLOGTITLE%. I’ll be sure to bookmark it and come back to read extra of your helpful info. Thank you a million and please keep up the gratifying work and by the way why dont you also see the Thank you probably you will also be curious upon it