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EDITORIALS

Code for babus
Bold attempt, but it should not remain a promise

T
he
draft Public Services Bill, 2006, prepared by the Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India, to ensure a code of conduct for the IAS, IPS and IFS officers is yet another attempt by the Manmohan Singh government to make the bureaucracy result-oriented.

Suicide in Jammu
When teachers become cruel

T
he
suicide by a Class IX student of Jammu on Wednesday after being thrashed by his school principal has once again put a question mark on corporal punishment. 

Bridging the gap
Orhan Pamuk symbolises free thought

O
nly
a few months ago, Orhan Pamuk was on the verge of imprisonment in his native Turkey for “insulting Turkishness” (he had allegedly said in a February, 2005, interview in a Swiss newspaper that 30,000 Kurds and one million Armenians were killed at the hands of Turks).



 

 

EARLIER STORIES

SC on pardon
October 13, 2006
Dangerous liaison
October 12, 2006
Regrouping of Taliban
October 11, 2006
It wasn’t a bluff
October 10, 2006
Tactical victory
October 9, 2006
Reform the cop
October 8, 2006
Poverty of Congress
October 7, 2006
South African safari
October 6, 2006
Respite in Lanka
October 5, 2006
Ban at the helm
October 4, 2006
President’s dilemma
October 3, 2006
Politics of reform
October 2, 2006
Caste no bar
October 1, 2006


ARTICLE

Cry for clemency
Rule of law can’t be rendered ineffective
by K.N. Bhat

W
ith
the cry for clemency by our politicians and professional human rightists building up to a crescendo and with an assured long waiting period of the mercy plea, one is likely to forget who this Mohammad Afzal is.

MIDDLE

“Plum” birthday
by Rajnish Wattas

P
elham
Grenville Wodehouse, popularly known as “Plum”, would have been 125 years old on the 15th of this month, if he lived on. “Oh, it went like a breeze, old boy!” he would have perhaps quipped about his life.

OPED

Human rights a victim of global politics
by R.S. Kalha
I
N the world today the issue of human rights is a factor of increasing importance in the conduct of international relations. Nation states cannot afford to neglect the significance of this aspect anymore, particularly when undertaking diplomatic initiatives to accomplish foreign policy objectives. But before we proceed further, what exactly do we mean when we talk of human rights? What are human rights?

Demand enforcement of standards
by Ruchika M. Khanna

E
ach
year, hundreds of scooterists die of head injuries sustained in road accidents, because they were wearing sub-standard helmets. Many an accident has also been reported where people die of electrocution because the electrical equipment installed at their residences or offices was of sub-standard quality.

Inside Pakistan
Seven years on, Pervez remains power hungry

by Syed Nooruzzaman
Another October 12 has come and gone with Pakistan still waiting to get rid of a government controlled by the army. General Pervez Musharraf, who captured power through a bloodless coup on this day seven years ago, continues to be both the head of government — President — and the Chief of Army Staff despite a strong demand that he must shed his army uniform in the larger interest of his country.

  • Quake victims’ agony continues

 

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Code for babus
Bold attempt, but it should not remain a promise

The draft Public Services Bill, 2006, prepared by the Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India, to ensure a code of conduct for the IAS, IPS and IFS officers is yet another attempt by the Manmohan Singh government to make the bureaucracy result-oriented. It seeks to establish an effective interface between the political executive and the civil servant based on the principles of political neutrality, professional excellence and integrity. The code of conduct seeks to measure administrative efficiency in tangible terms and guarantee a proper system of rewards and punishments for the officers. It will empower a bureaucrat to say ‘no’ if a directive or instruction given by his/her superior is in violation of the code. It also seeks to insulate the officer from political interference and protect whistleblowers, those officers who report “suspected improper governance and actions in their workplace”.

A significant feature of the draft Bill is the provision for setting up a Central Authority to help the all-India service officers and promote good governance at various levels. This Authority — promised to be free from political interference — will consist of a Chairperson and some members. They will be appointed by a panel consisting of the Prime Minister, a Supreme Court Judge and the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha. The Authority will ensure that transfers and posting of the civil servants are undertaken “in a fair and objective manner”.

The draft Bill has been sent to the Administrative Reforms Commission which, in turn, will send it to the government. The Bill is well-intended, but it remains to be seen what it will acquire at the end of the day. More important is the issue of enforcement of the Act, especially with respect to the babus in the state governments. Though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is keen on ensuring a fixed tenure for officers like the District Collectors and Superintendents of Police, the Centre is yet to implement it because of the resistance from some Chief Ministers. The Prime Minister deserves their fullest cooperation in his endeavour to streamline the administrative system. He has the moral prestige and authority to his way. 

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Suicide in Jammu
When teachers become cruel

The suicide by a Class IX student of Jammu on Wednesday after being thrashed by his school principal has once again put a question mark on corporal punishment. Instances of students’ mistreatment in schools and even of suicide are too common to need any specific mention. What makes the Jammu incident stand out is the boy’s innocence and the principal’s utter insensitivity. The boy broke no rule nor did he indulge in any act of indiscipline. His only fault was that his father, who had left militancy-hit Kashmir to settle in Jammu, could not afford to pay the fee— just Rs 700 — in one go. The family with modest means offered to clear the dues in instalments, but this was not acceptable to the principal, who in this case deserves to be given a stiff punishment for his cruelty.

Concerted efforts to stop corporal punishment in schools are still lacking despite the media frequently highlighting the issue. The Delhi High Court struck down the provision of corporal punishment in the Delhi School Education Act as far back as 2000. Not that this has stopped the students’ nightmare in the Capital. Studies have shown physical punishment and humiliation forces students to run away from school, become withdrawn or exhibit anti-social behaviour. If the dropout rate is so high, teachers’ fear in schools has partly contributed to it.

A Delhi government committee on quality education set up in 2002 suggested the replacement of corporal punishment with a new system of imposing heavy fines on students. This may work only partly. Qualified, experienced and dedicated teachers know how to discipline students. Such teachers, however, are rare, especially in private schools that have mushroomed in recent years to cash in on parents’ craze for English education. While government control over private schools may become counter-productive, parents should keep off schools notorious for mismanagement. 

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Bridging the gap
Orhan Pamuk symbolises free thought

Only a few months ago, Orhan Pamuk was on the verge of imprisonment in his native Turkey for “insulting Turkishness” (he had allegedly said in a February, 2005, interview in a Swiss newspaper that 30,000 Kurds and one million Armenians were killed at the hands of Turks). Today, he is a recipient of the ultimate honour, the Nobel Prize for Literature. This is the first time that the coveted prize has gone to a person from a predominantly Muslim country since 1988, when Naguib Mahfouz from Egypt won it. The reaction back home has been predictably divided. While fellow writers are ecstatic, calling it a historic moment for their rich literary tradition, Turkish nationalists have been professing shame at his selection. If one can put politics of it all aside, the fact remains that Pamuk is recognised as the lyrical voice par excellence of a society in flux. What he pens is a powerful representation of free thought. In the words of the Swedish Academy, “In the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city (Istambul), Pamuk has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures”.

Writing from his flat overlooking the bridge over the Bosphorus linking Europe and Asia, Pamuk himself has been trying to bridge Turkey’s past with a future tied to Europe. In his view, this process can be completed only if his country comes clean of past sins. No wonder, such expressions have fallen foul of the ultra-nationalists. Incidentally, he was also the first author in the Muslim world to publicly condemn the 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie.

Be as it may, the Swedish Academy has also lived up to its reputation of picking up writers who are in conflict with their own government. But the question that will refuse to go away is: would he have been still selected had he not been quite so outspoken a political rebel? Currently a Visiting Professor at Columbia University, Pamuk is perhaps the only Turkish author widely known to American readers. This is not to say that his work lacks literary merit or does not deserve the Nobel Prize. 

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Thought for the day

Everyday I push away all self-doubt and replace it with self-trust. I constantly remind myself my life is unfolding in a perfect way. I trust the grand design. 
— Susan Jeffers

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Cry for clemency
Rule of law can’t be rendered ineffective
by K.N. Bhat

With the cry for clemency by our politicians and professional human rightists building up to a crescendo and with an assured long waiting period of the mercy plea, one is likely to forget who this Mohammad Afzal is. Be assured that it is the same person about whom our Supreme Court in a recent judgment said: “The challenge to the unity, integrity and sovereignty of India by these acts of terrorists and conspirators can only be compensated by giving the maximum punishment to the person who is proved to be the conspirator in the treacherous act. The appellant who is a surrendered militant and who was bent upon repeating the acts of treason against the nation is a menace to the society and his life should become extinct”. It is this judgment that will be rendered ineffective if the pardon is granted.

Kehar Singh, among others, was sentenced to death in connection with the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi. The Supreme Court of India confirmed the sentence. Rajinder Singh, son of Kehar Singh, presented a petition to the President of India for grant of pardon under Article 72 of the Constitution. A letter followed the mercy petition from Kehar Singh’s lawyer seeking an opportunity for personal hearing and also urging the President to go into the merits of the matter once again - even after three courts, including the highest court, concurrently found him guilty of murder.

The Secretary to the President of India sent a prompt reply refusing to grant an opportunity of personal hearing. In addition, he conveyed that the President was of the opinion that he could not go into the merits of the case decided finally by the highest court of the land. Rajinder Singh came to know on November 30, 1988, that the date of execution of his father was fixed for December 2, 1988. He unsuccessfully moved the High Court for stopping the execution and then approached the Supreme Court questioning the legality of the Presidential communication that he had no power to re-examine the merits of the decision of the highest court.

A five-Judge Bench presided over by Chief Justice R.S. Pathak reiterated the law laid down by another Constitution Bench in 1981 that the President, in the matter of exercise of pardoning power under Article 72, acts solely on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers - not on his own - and the advice of the government binds the Head of the State. They held that there was no necessity for an oral hearing by the President. But the verdict was also that the President- i.e., the government, was entitled to re-examine the records of the case and to determine for himself whether the case deserved the grant of the relief of pardon.

And the court further declared that the order of the President could be subjected to judicial review to a limited extent of determining whether ‘the act of the Constitutional functionary falls within the Constitutional conferment of power or is vitiated by self-denial on an erroneous appreciation of the full amplitude of the power”.

Misunderstanding of this pronouncement appears to be the single most important cause of long life for mercy petitions. And when Babus have read “entitled” as “obliged” to examine the records of a complicated criminal case all by themselves, unless the convict is destined to be hanged, will more likely suffer natural death. (Apologies to Shakespeare). It is said that Rajiv Gandhi’s killers are yet to be executed, because mercy petitions are pending.

Article 72 of the Constitution confers the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remission of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence. Article 161 confers corresponding powers on the Governors relating to offences under any law to which the Executive power of the State extends. In recent times a feeling that grant of pardon or exercise of powers of remission are influenced by extraneous considerations is growing. The scope of judicial review of such decisions of Governors and Presidents has been receiving a continuing attention of the Supreme Court. It is understood that before the Supreme Court of India, there are a large number of pending petitions by friends of victims of crime questioning the legitimacy of the orders of pardon or remissions by Governors.

In Epuru Sudhakar & Anr. versus Govt. of A.P. & Ors.- a petition by the son of a murder victim in Andhra Pradesh - decided by the Supreme Court on October 11, 2006 - has stunning revelations. The husband of a ruling party MLA with impressive record of multiple murders was to undergo another seven years of sentence. After Dr. Y.R.Reddy became the Chief Minister, the convict not only enjoyed several terms of parole, but was, in fact, set free by an order in the name of the then Governor Sushil Kumar Shinde.

One of the reports recommending remission said that the prisoner was a “good congress worker”! The court quashed the order of remission and in the process, clearly stated that the Governor’s or even the President’s orders of pardon or remission can be judicially reviewed. Kapadia J. in his concurring judgment summed up the court’s view as follows: “Consideration of religion, caste or political loyalty are irrelevant and fraught with discrimination. These are prohibited grounds. Rule of Law is the basis for evaluation of all decisions. The supreme quality of the Rule of Law is fairness and legal certainty. The principle of legality occupies a central plan in the Rule of Law. Every prerogative has to be the subject to the Rule of Law. That rule cannot be compromised on the grounds of political expediency”.

Kehar Singh was not pardoned — in fact executed — despite the fact that his conviction was also based on circumstantial evidence. And many experts then had commented that on the evidence on record no one would hang even a stray dog. And there is no record of his wife having been invited for tea in Moghul Gardens. The government of the day was alive to the limitations of its pardoning powers — and Rashtrapati Bhavan at the time had concern for public sentiments.

In the Bombay blast case, the process of pronouncement of judgment is proceeding like a soap opera - in easy installments. Ultimately when the time arrives for the pronouncement of sentence - hopefully sometimes in the year 2007 - it is likely that many of the accused will be sentenced to death. Any wrong precedents of securing pardon through public outcry would encourage more chief ministers - past, present and future - to raise a chorus for mercy - may be with Afzals as cabinet ministers lending their voices.

Fortunately, our Constitution guarantees to every person - not just to citizens - “equal protection of laws”. And we have a common Criminal Code - Shah Bano aberration apart. But for this, if popular demands were to determine the course of administration of criminal justice, the offenders who virtually waged war against this nation, would have been tried and sentenced as prescribed by Sharia - an eye for an eye. And there the sentence and execution in public are separated by the shortest of intervals - with no scope for the intervention of a mercy petition.

The writer is a Senior Advocate, Supreme Court.

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“Plum” birthday
by Rajnish Wattas

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, popularly known as “Plum”, would have been 125 years old on the 15th of this month, if he lived on. “Oh, it went like a breeze, old boy!” he would have perhaps quipped about his life.

As perhaps the greatest humorist for generations; he lives on in the hearts and bookshelves of millions of his fans all over the world.

Wodehouse was born in Guildford, England, and educated at Dulwich College. And he never lost his impish, schoolboy innocence for the rest of his life. After college - unable to afford Oxford - he began his career on rather a dull note by taking up a clerical job in a bank. But finance was the farthest thing from the literary calling of the dreamy other-worldly genius. He initially started making some money by writing comic stories for magazines and newspapers, but soon gained such huge popularity in the Edwardian London, that he took to full time writing.

As the greatest rib-tickler he was a humorist par excellence and gave his reading world a large canvas of endearing comic heroes each one replete with his or her own little idiosyncrasies. His genius lay in elevating the everyday happenings of the genteel world of the British Knights and Barons to absurdly comic heights.

Many of his unforgettable characters would often get into messy, comic situations - to be generally bailed out by Jeeves, the “gentleman’s personal gentleman,” whose intellect combined with his secret “pick-me-ups” for the “mornings-after” hangovers - is the stuff literary landmarks are made of.

Another of his great characters is Lord Emsworth, the fuddy-duddy, absent minded Earl of Blandings Castle - whose first love is the ‘Empress of Blandings”, a fat pig!

Currently my favourite re-readings of Wodehouse are his Golfing stories such as “The Heart of a Goof “, as I can directly relate to the bumbling players with my own “not-so-swinging” goofiness with the irons and woods, of the whimsical but addictive game.

The writings of Wodehouse explore the most playful possibilities of language. His rhythms, cadences and mannerisms are endless. He is famous for many nuggets such as, “I became aware of somebody coughing at my side like a respectful sheep trying to catch the attention of its shepherd”.

Portrayals and situations apart, his genius also lay in the profound use of similes. Stephen Fry who acted as Jeeves in the Wodehouse tele-serials put it best: “To inhabit a fictional word of true innocence is, so far as I can tell, unique to the experience of reading Wodehouse. It is all done with such apparent ease, with such unforced fluency that it would be easy to underestimate the sheer artistry and head beatingly hard work that went into it.”

However, analysing and theorising on his genre and inimitable style would be like, “Putting a spade to the soufflé,” as Punch magazine once wrote.

So let’s go on savouring his inimitable “Plum puddings”.

Happy b’day “old fruit”!

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Human rights a victim of global politics
by R.S. Kalha

IN the world today the issue of human rights is a factor of increasing importance in the conduct of international relations. Nation states cannot afford to neglect the significance of this aspect anymore, particularly when undertaking diplomatic initiatives to accomplish foreign policy objectives. But before we proceed further, what exactly do we mean when we talk of human rights? What are human rights?

There is no single definition that would probably satisfy everyone. However, it is generally accepted that all human beings are born equal in dignity and rights. These are moral claims that are inalienable and inherent in every human being. It is these claims that when translated and articulated in various international documents that form the core of our rights. It is possible that such a definition, when it assumes legal sanction, also becomes universally acceptable, but it should always be remembered that there is still a long distance between legal documentation and actual practice.

Human rights are not a recent invention. In the past, almost every religious tradition, culture and civilisation have stressed the basic values of human dignity and equality of the human race. In spite of such injunctions, however, human life and human dignity have been flouted with impunity throughout history. Even today the situation in many countries is not much better, where human life is of little value and flagrant violations continue to be the norm rather than the exception.

Nevertheless efforts have been made to rectify the situation at the International level. The Magna Carta (1215), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), the American Bill of Rights (1791) and more recently the adoption by the UN of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) were important milestones in the long road leading to the evolution of the rights of man.

As is usual with international declarations, there are serious shortcomings between precept and practice. So too is the case with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Firstly, the document when signed in 1948 reflected the consensus that existed then and was primarily an effort to ensure that the horrors and horrendous sufferings inflicted on humanity as a result of the two World Wars did not re-occur.

Secondly, the membership of the UN at that time was only 48, whereas today it has reached nearly 192, with a vast majority of new member states coming from recently de-colonized countries. But the biggest drawback was that this Declaration was not legally binding. It was only subsequently with the passing of the two Covenants-the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that these became legally binding and states that were signatories to them, became duty bound to implement their contents. But do they do so?

Nation states have found ways to circumvent the obligations and commitments made by them in international declarations. Quite often recourse is taken to Article 2 (7) of the UN Charter. Under this article there is the stipulation that the UN or its bodies, should not intervene ‘in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.’ Thus the obligations to ensure basic human rights in any nation state are evaded by recourse to this article.

Although in 1993 the Vienna Declaration of Action was adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights and which stressed that the’ protection of all human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community’, yet international action is still very tardy. This is because any such action by the international community would still seen by many countries as an ‘interference’ in matters that are essentially within their domestic jurisdiction and a hangover of past colonial practices.

There are several mechanisms available to ensure that nation states do not violate basic human rights within their own territories. International adjudication is one such mechanism. But nation states are loathe in punishing their own culprits. Little action is contemplated against the brutalities witnessed during the US occupation of Iraq. Even though several internationally renowned Human Rights Organisations have unequivocally condemned the goings on at Guantanamo Bay, action is unlikely. Even the International Court of Justice (ICC) is still at its infancy and has not made dramatic progress.

Most nation states often cite foreign policy compulsions to avoid taking cognizance of gross human rights violations. Very few countries are immune from this disease! What can the international community do to get over such obvious difficulties? It is obvious that power politics still holds sway and that the more powerful nations are likely to get away lightly. More often than not guilty actions are likely to be swept under the carpet under the guise of national security ‘considerations’ or that the ‘morale’ of the soldiers would be affected.

However the full picture is not all that bleak. The advent of satellite television and courageous reporting by enterprising journalists has had a major positive effect. Who can forget the ghastly TV coverage of what went on at Abu Ghraib? The world’s sole super power, in spite of inventing the concept of ‘embedded’ journalists, found it self at the receiving end when satellite TV reports were beamed into every living room throughout the world. Its image took a nosedive. Nothing impaired its reputation more than those pictures that showed such gross violations of human rights. Overnight from being a ‘liberator’ it became the tormentor!

Thus the role of the visual and print media in the safeguarding of human rights becomes crucial. The fact that the ownership of satellite TV stations is now more widely dispersed on a geographical scale, is a welcome development and needs due encouragement. If human rights activists were to use this tool even more effectively, there is no doubt that even the most powerful of Nation States would be doubly careful not to indulge in human rights violations, even if foreign policy objectives so dictated. Foreign policy objectives would then have to be suitably circumscribed. The visual impact has a potency the value of which still remains to be fully exploited!

The writer is a member of The National Human Rights Commission, New Delhi.

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Demand enforcement of standards
by Ruchika M. Khanna

Each year, hundreds of scooterists die of head injuries sustained in road accidents, because they were wearing sub-standard helmets. Many an accident has also been reported where people die of electrocution because the electrical equipment installed at their residences or offices was of sub-standard quality.

Such accidents have become so common that the callousness with regard to such tragedies because of these sub-standard consumer goods fails to stir our consciousness, or spur the government agencies into action. It is not as if the government has ignored the laying down of standards for manufacture of these goods. But there is lack of awareness among the manufacturers as well as consumers to adhere to the safety standards.

Inspite of over 18,000 different standards published by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), only a handful of these are known to the industry, as well as the public at large. With BIS being a body sans statutory powers to enforce its orders on standardisation, most of its standards remain on paper.

As we celebrate the World Standards Day today it is disheartening to note that only a small segment of the industry is geared to meet the quality challenges posed by globalisation. As the economy opens up and the consumer has access to goods from across the globe, and at competitive prices, he is bound to choose the best. It is thus that organised standards are essential for the success of Indian industrial development and for its international competitiveness, besides ensuring safety of all concerned.

Interestingly, these standards provide information on quality of products, processes their testing procedure and criteria of final conformity. These standards provide common technological foundation for producing goods, services and systems anywhere. Subjects as diverse as standards for selling of cut fruits and salads to standards for IT industry on data security, manufacture of agricultural pump sets and hallmarking of gold and silver jewellery, are covered by the BIS.

In fact, BIS has aligned these standards set for the Indian industry, trade and agriculture, with the international standards published by International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), International Organisation of Standardization (ISO) and International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Since these organizations help achieve objectives of global trade, BIS has so far aligned more than 4000 standards with the international standards.

“International standards published by these organizations cover many areas and business and trade here can reap rich benefits by adherence,” says Mr Chandra Shekhar, Deputy Director General, BIS.

However, the successes in adoption of these standards by industry have been few. Though BIS has created awareness about hallmarking of gold and silver jewellery, only about 2300 gold jewelers across the country and just 25 silver jewellers have come forward to take licenses. It has also been conducting regular raids to check the misuse of its ISI mark certification; and its drive to issue ISO certification, too, has gone down well with the major industrial and trade houses. But these seem not to have penetrated beyond the niche segment in each category.

For most of the standards set by BIS, even those that directly affect the health of the masses, there is no awareness even among the government departments responsible for their adoption. A perfect example in this regard is the standards issued by BIS for the health departments to follow in case of dealing with those selling cut fruits and salad. These fruits and salads are cut and sold in the most unhygienic conditions across the country in the summers, often inflicting diseases like cholera on the consumers. But instead of ensuring that the BIS standards in this regard are followed, which includes registration of the fruit sellers; checking the equipment used and then issuing him a license – the health department has found an easy way out. These cut fruits and salads are simply banned by the government every summer.

Trade and industry has to realise that the only way to survive is to face global challenge in terms of quality, cost and ensure global acceptance of its products. It is time for the industry to acknowledge the importance of standardization process from the development stages itself.

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Inside Pakistan
Seven years on, Pervez remains power hungry
by Syed Nooruzzaman

Another October 12 has come and gone with Pakistan still waiting to get rid of a government controlled by the army. General Pervez Musharraf, who captured power through a bloodless coup on this day seven years ago, continues to be both the head of government — President — and the Chief of Army Staff despite a strong demand that he must shed his army uniform in the larger interest of his country. But the General feels that his continuation as army chief is “necessary to be able to tackle many of the nation’s gargantuan problems”, as a Dawn editorial said on October 12.

“This is flawed logic. No one can solve the nation’s problems except the nation itself through its duly elected representatives. In fact, what constitutes national interests cannot be left to an oligarchy with vested interests…”, the editorial pointed out, making mincemeat of the General’s justification for staying in power by hook or by crook.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a well-known columnist, says in his latest article, “One step forward, two back”: “Like the other insecure governments before it, both military and civilian, the present regime also has a single-point agenda — to stay in power at all costs. It, therefore, does what it must and Pakistan moves further away from any prospect of acquiring modern values, and of building and strengthening democratic institutions.” The columnist gives a number of examples to prove that General Musharraf has taken only such decisions as suits his primary purpose.

Militants in the NWFP’s Waziristan area had been giving sleepless nights to the General, particularly after the U-turn in Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy. Instead of dealing with them in a manner which helped people lead a peaceful life, the Islamabad regime entered into two controversial deals with the militants in complete disregard of the consequences. The first agreement was reached in 2004 in South Waziristan. Then came the Miramshah treaty, signed on September 5, 2006, in North Waziristan.

As a result, the law of the jungle prevails in the entire Waziristan Agency. Hoodbhoy says: “The militants have closed girls’ schools…. Barbers have been told to ‘shave and die’. Taliban vigilante groups patrol the streets of Miramshah.”

Corruption rules the roost in Pakistan, despite General Musharraf’s promise in 1999 that eliminating this scourge would be his government’s top priority. According to The News International, a Jang group English daily, “Corruption remains rampant because those convicted or accused of major financial wrongdoing were allowed plea bargains and let off after paying a nominal amount in fines. Reports on major financial irregularities and corruption were not released, and nobody seems to have been punished.”

Whatever the state of affairs, there is a yearning for a truly democratic government after next year’s general election. “As for corruption, democracy has a built-in, self-correcting mechanism that continually purges itself of base material”, says Dawn, quoting the example of India. But the problem with Pakistan is that people’s wish for democratic rule can be fulfilled only when it suits General Musharraf’s agenda.

Quake victims’ agony continues

For the past few days the media in Pakistan has been highlighting stories about the rehabilitation projects launched in Occupied Kashmir (Azad Kashmir for Pakistanis) and the NWFP areas devastated by the earthquake last year on October 8. A large number of cases of mismanagement and corruption have come to light.

According to an opinion piece carried in Dawn on October 11 by Zubeida Mustafa, “The figures quoted by Erra (the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency that was set up after the temblor) of the people who have received aid and the number of housing units rebuilt are challenged by NGOs that claim to know better.”

Even President Musharraf has admitted that “wrongdoings at the lower level” cannot be ruled out. Zubeida, however, says that “what actually needs to be looked into is the lack of transparency that has characterised the financial side of the relief and rehabilitation effort.” The transparency factor has led to the Pakistan government losing credibility among the donors. This may be one reason why “the donors have not disbursed all the loans/grants they had promised”, as a Dawn editorial says.

Writing in The News on October 12, another woman observer, Kamila Hyat, highlights an interesting aspect of the situation in the earthquake-hit areas. “The stories about roads, about piped water, about schools for girls and clinics for families suggest the degree of deprivation that people had faced for decades…. This in itself says a great deal about the priorities of governments…”, she laments.

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