Monday, July 24, 2006

Bureaucrats' SOS

The Pakistani bureaucracy is often accused of being corrupt, incompetent and in disarray. Poor training, spotty accountability and great power are a poisonous combination in any organisation. Add political interference to that combination and the possibility of a turnaround is further diminished.

In an era when good governance is one of the government's favourite catchphrases, the bureaucrats' political masters are increasingly being blamed for exacerbating the sorry state of affairs. For every Saira Kazim, Dr. Aleem Mehmood and Javed Nizam that the public hears of, there are likely scores of other civil servants who acquiesce to illegal demands.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The general's shame

Enlightened moderation be damned when there's power to be held on to. Musharraf has spoken: the misogynistic Hudood Ordinance is only to be amended, not repealed.
Ignoring the impassioned case presented by three sensible ministers to scrap the ordinance altogether, Musharraf saw sense in the following:
The president was told that according to one proposed amendment, if charges of adultery were not proved against an accused woman, the person levelling the allegation would be prosecuted.
The flip side is that where adultery can be 'proved' women ought to be thrown into jail. The beard's must secretly be rejoicing: if this is the furthest a liberal dictator can go, surely the beards' time will come.
For women this is yet another case of one step forward, two steps backward. A cuckolded husband's motive for prosecution is almost invariably vengeance, which, even in the absence of conclusive proof, may still be fulfilled by a conservative judiciary and a shambolic judicial process. Indeed, the trial process itself is akin to punishment in Pakistan.
Even the eternal optimists must surely have lost faith in Musharraf by now. 7 years into his rule, he can't still claim to be biding his time.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Could Maduro and Oscuro be far off?

The establishment of a Cuban embassy in Islamabad is testament to the possibilities of solidarity in the midst of adversity: Cuba sent 2,400 doctors and medical staff to Pakistan's quake ravaged northern areas last year despite not having diplomatic relations with the country at the time. It is only right that Pakistan at least have taken this small step to express its gratitude.

Amazingly, the Cubans are not satisfied with just providing us with fish - they want to teach us how to fish, too. The Cuban healthcare system is one that Pakistan, indeed most developing countries, would do well to emulate. The system does have its critics, but they emphasise the problems of resource allocation in a centralised economy - something Pakistan does not have to fear in the foreseeable future.

The 1,000 medical scholarships the Cubans are offering will be a boost to Pakistan's chronically understaffed clinics and hospitals. However, the full effect of the Cuban miracle will only be felt if Pakistan's policy makers and administrators are also sent across to learn how the system itself operates: governance and development issues are fundamentally about good management.

The choice is ours: will we import knowledge or will we import cigars?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The secret war

In an interview with a local news channel, Musharraf has rejected Nawaz Sharif's claim that he was in the dark over the Kargil conflict until Atal Behari Vajpayee, then Prime Minister of India, called to demand an explanation.

Let's set aside the accusations and counter-accusations for a minute - from the assassination of the first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, onwards, Pakistanis have rarely learnt the truth on any matter of national interest - and instead focus on some of Musharraf's comments:

Sounding a note of warning, he said issues relating to Kargil were extremely confidential and of paramount national importance, and these should not be publicised in the way in which the former prime minister was doing so consistently.

“I would advise him to talk economically on this issue because it is an issue of great national confidentiality,” he said.

The reasons for provoking a war are of 'great national confidentiality'? If so, maybe even Allah won't be able to save us from ourselves.

From Muridke to Bombay: Lashkar-e-Taiba's journey of mayhem?

The future is now. Yesterday I posted an article from the Economist, The future looks bearded, which criticised Musharraf's chicanery when it has come to dealing with Islamic extremists, particularly Jamaat-ul-Dawa, the alter ego of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Then the dastardly attack on Bombay's trains shook the world. Lashkar-e-Taiba have denied involvement, but the use of RDX explosives and other intelligence indicate elsewise. It is too early to reach any conclusions on the Bombay attack. But it is not too early for Pakistan to dismantle Laskhar-e-Taiba and its counterparts. Indeed, it may already be too late.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Economist on Pakistan, Part IV

The future looks bearded is perhaps the best article in the Economist's survey of Pakistan because it nails a key problem of Musharraf - his half-hearted attempts to tackle extremism. As this editorial in the News points out Musharraf is adept at making the right noises, but poor when it comes to delivering.

The Musharraf era is rife with contradictions when it comes to dealing with Islamist extremists: ban the Lashkar-e-Taiba, but let its alter ego, Jamaat-ul-Dawa, flourish; hound the secular PPP, but cut a deal with bearded politicos; jail reporters rather that the Taliban they report on.

Pakistan's political elite have a painful habit of dismissing the past. 1971, a monstrous war that ought to have been seared on our collective conscience, elicits no more than a shrug. The senseless Kargil war has been forgotten even during the rule of its architect, Musharraf. The Afghan war only stayed on the radar because of the devastation it wrought on Pakistani society in the form of guns, drugs, and Islamic extremism.

9/11 was a major blow to the Americans, but it was also a stark warning to Pakistan: slay the dragon of Islamist extremism or else it will destroy you. Musharraf decided to play with fire instead. As a result, 5 years on, Pakistan is a more dangerous place.

The future looks bearded
Jul 6th 2006
From The Economist print edition

Islamist militancy is alive and well

ON OCTOBER 8th 2005, earthquakes rippled across northern Pakistan and the area of Kashmir it controls, opening mile-wide fissures and sending mountain villages clattering into the valleys below. Over 70,000 people died in the debris and 3m more were made homeless. The army took days to deliver much relief, and the civil administration proved ineffective. But from one direction help came fast: hundreds of bearded Islamists, including armed guerrillas already in the area to infiltrate the nearby border with India, pitched tents and began dispensing aid.


The cartoon that turned serious

They are doing so still, long after most foreign agencies came and went, and Kashmiris are indebted to them. The interior minister, Mr Sherpao, has called them “the lifeline of our rescue and relief work”. The biggest Islamist charity, Jamaat-ul-Dawa (JUD), has supplied the army with medicines. After the quakes, JUD's fundamentalist helpers ferried NATO soldiers across angry rivers. Yet in April America banned the charity, which is a front for the biggest Islamist militant group in Indian-held Kashmir, Lashkar-i-Toiba. Founded by JUD's leader, Hafeez Saeed, it is banned by Pakistan, America and the UN because of its close links to al-Qaeda, and because it tried to kill General Musharraf. But Pakistan refuses to ban JUD.

There are dozens of militant groups in Pakistan, including several, like JUD, that are banned under other names. Most, including JUD/Lashkar, have roots in the Afghan jihad of the 1980s, when General Zia's intelligence agents armed them to fight the Soviet Union with American and Saudi cash. After the Soviet army withdrew in 1989, Pakistan sent the jihadists to Indian-held Kashmir to help wage an insurgency estimated (by India) to have claimed over 40,000 lives.

Pakistani governments also used them to fight their wars at home. They armed Sunni militants to kill Iranian-backed Shia groups, for example, and turned a blind eye when these assassins also killed Christians, Hindus and members of other Muslim sects. Some 4,000 Pakistanis, mostly Shias, are estimated to have died in sectarian violence in the past 15 years, especially in poor, swollen Karachi.

From the start, General Musharraf seemed to realise that this was a mess. He denounced extremism shortly after his coup and has campaigned against it since, but selectively. He has caught scores of al-Qaeda members and handed them to America, including Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, designer of the attacks on New York's twin towers. He has turned his back on the Taliban government in Afghanistan, but arrested few of its members when they fled to Pakistan. He has sent Pakistani troops into the northern tribal areas to fight the foreign jihadists who have found refuge there (see article). He has stopped, or at least greatly reduced, support for the militant groups in Kashmir. But he has not dismantled the biggest group, JUD/Lashkar, or arrested its leaders; and sectarian murders continue. Justice rarely catches up with the killers. Though a few dozen are currently on death row, the supreme court's judges are too frightened of a deadly reprisal to hear their appeals.

There are two explanations for General Musharraf's reluctance to crack down harder, and probably both are correct. The first is that, unlike America, he distinguishes between truly dangerous militants, such as members of al-Qaeda, and those that he thinks he can control.

The second explanation for General Musharraf's half-measures is that he is afraid of the extremist groups. There may be only a few thousand active militants, but their potential support is much greater. The biggest jihadi newspapers, including several banned under different names, have print-runs of up to 100,000. Islamic extremists are the only political force in Pakistan easily able to rally a crowd. On February 14th, after JUD's Mr Saeed denounced cartoons of the Prophet published in a Danish newspaper, a mob rampaged through Lahore, burning hundreds of cars and foreign businesses as well as the Punjab provincial assembly. JUD thugs were in the thick of it. “They have to be squeezed systematically,” said a senior intelligence official. If confronted suddenly, “they will kill the president, the prime minister, a couple of generals, a couple of chief ministers; there will be bomb blasts all over India.”

The militants would pose a security threat to Pakistan and its region even if deprived of the state support that they have enjoyed for so long. There is no question, however, of them taking over the country soon. A heavy majority of Pakistanis, certainly outside North-West Frontier Province, are politically secular. The Islamic parties have never won more than 11% of the vote—and that was with considerable help from General Musharraf.

But Pakistan is a bigoted place, and becoming more so. That may be true of all countries with a Muslim majority, yet few have hurtled towards the Islamist edge as fast as Pakistan. Its leaders are at least partly to blame. Almost all of them, civilian and military, have pandered to the mullahs. In 1977 whisky-swigging Zulfikar Ali Bhutto banned alcohol. Under General Zia, the only sincerely pious leader, Pakistan introduced draconian sharia punishments, made blasphemy a capital offence and ruled that unless rape victims could produce at least four male Muslim eye-witnesses they would be held guilty of fornication, a serious crime. Ms Bhutto did not seriously attempt to repeal these laws. Nawaz Sharif tried to introduce full sharia law. And General Musharraf helped the mullahs to unprecedented power. The Islamic parties, it should be noted, are not much better than any other extremist group in Pakistan: their ends are the same, and so, often, are their people.

Islamists have an influence in Pakistan far greater than their vote-count suggests. Take education. At the time of its creation, Pakistan had a couple of hundred Islamic schools, or madrassas. Now, having failed to build a decent education system, it has accumulated between 10,000 and 40,000 madrassas—up to 20% of which, according to a World Bank study, teach fighting skills. The national curriculum for regular schools is infected with religious and sectarian bigotry; until recently, ten-year-olds had to learn to “make speeches on jihad and shahadat (martyrdom)”.

Pakistan's impoverished public universities are largely controlled by the youth wing of the biggest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islaami. At the University of Punjab, in Lahore, these ambitious religionists have banned Coca-Cola, which they call “Jews' drink”. Last year, they broke the legs of a student accused of flirting with one of his female class-mates. In Islamabad, Quaid-i-Azam University has three mosques but no bookshop. One of Pakistan's handful of serious academics spoke yearningly of the liberal scholarly atmosphere he had recently enjoyed at a conference in Tehran.

Without deep reform to Pakistan's laws and institutions, a young and rapidly growing population seems likely to continue drifting towards extremism. An increase in public disorder and in electoral support for the mullahs would logically follow. Evidence from other countries suggests that economic growth would not prevent this. Nor will elections alone: indeed, Pakistan would perhaps be more Islamist but for the pervasive influence of its most undemocratic force, the feudal landlords, who keep rural mullahs in check.

After nearly seven years in charge, General Musharraf has overseen a few minor changes to the inflammatory school textbooks and promised a more thorough revision. “There will be no hate or teaching against any caste, sect, nationality or whatever,” says the education minister, Javed Ashraf Qazi. But given the president's lack of progress on repealing General Zia's Islamic laws, there is cause for some scepticism. True, the law ministry recently proposed changing the burden of evidence in rape cases, but its suggestion was not a liberal triumph: still four eye-witnesses, but only three of them need be Muslim males. As for madrassas, General Musharraf has introduced laws to bring them under closer supervision, but extremist institutions have ignored them.

The president also vowed to expel a couple of thousand foreign Islamic students, but he has not done so. The Jamia Binoria, a madrassa in Karachi, run by Deobandis, the sub-continent's home-grown extremists, has 4,500 students, including 500 foreigners. Sitting under whirling fans, during a break from the Koran, youths from countries including Britain, America, Canada and Australia said they had received notice last January to quit Pakistan, but the police had told them to ignore this.

Some liberal progress may yet emerge from General Musharraf's rule. If he fulfils his promise to improve regular schools, he may put many of the madrassas out of business. He has also liberated the media, prompting a proliferation of television stations that are giving Pakistanis more and better information about the outside world. Mullahs feature in many televised debates, and some of them sound quite sensible. One such pundit, Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, is no liberal: he supports the use of Islamic punishments, including amputations in extreme cases. He is scathing about America's recent foreign policy, but also about his own country's Islamic laws and Islamic parties. Having received death threats from JUD's Mr Saeed, he has only recently emerged from hiding. But unlike General Musharraf, Mr Ghamidi is a passionate democrat. “Pakistan should be a democratic state, neither secular nor Islamic,” he says.

Across Pakistan, roads are being excavated and optical-fibre cables laid. Television viewers can increasingly receive foreign stations, including Indian ones. Pakistani television stations are already putting out lots of Indian music videos, and in May for the first time broadcast a couple of carefully selected (and not terribly good) Indian films. Pakistan's beleaguered liberals are hoping for a cultural return from the Middle East, where General Zia dragged them. According to Khaled Ahmed, a Pakistani columnist: “If we lost our culture through Talibanisation in the west [of the country], we can get it back from India, where our culture is still alive.”

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Economist on Pakistan, Part III

Parliamentary puppetry

The messy business of Pakistani politics

“THERE is a whiff of shame, something repugnant, in the cabinet,” says a former minister, who recently left the government. Where to begin? The government has 63 ministers in all, a record number for Pakistan; almost as many as in India, with a population seven times bigger. But unlike in India, Pakistan's ministers take few important decisions. From foreign relations and counter-insurgency in the tribal areas to devolution and civil-service reform, everything that matters is decided in Army House by General Musharraf and his coterie of advisers. The cabinet includes a few key technocrats such as the general's favourite, Mr Aziz, who had little political experience before he was made prime minister in 2004. Mr Aziz cannot control his ministers, who include many opportunists gathered around a clan of conservative Punjabi landowners.


Bhutto and Sharif make unlikely allies

Most of these defected from Mr Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League party to join the party that General Musharraf's agents founded for him, Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-i-Azam), or PML-Q. Pakistanis call it the “king's party”. Other ministers left Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), having been offered inducements or threatened with prosecution for past corruption. Indeed, several had already been convicted. The interior minister, Aftab Sherpao, formerly of the PPP, was in exile in London at the time, having been found guilty of graft. Compelled to declare their assets, Mr Sherpao and eight other ministers recently claimed they owned neither a house nor a car.

The national assembly often fails to get the 25% attendance needed for a quorum. Ministers rarely turn up for the daily “question hour”, when the government is supposed to justify its policies to the opposition. After all, the most important policies are introduced by presidential decree, as ordinances. These can be issued only when parliament is in recess, so it is often suspended. Technically, parliament has to pass an ordinance into law within four months or it becomes void. But as PML-Q and its allies cannot always muster a majority, and do not support General Musharraf's more liberal proposals, this seldom happens. In almost seven years in power, the general has issued 44 ordinances, five of which have been passed into law. The others are renewed by decree every four months—or perhaps not; Pakistanis are rarely informed. Confusion envelops large areas of law, as it envelops parliament. “People are at a loss to know what this parliament does,” says Sherry Rehman, an elegant PPP member who likes to blow her cigarette smoke in the faces of the assembly's mullah members.

So this is a Punch and Judy democracy show, reminiscent of those put on by a succession of earlier uniformed and civilian puppeteers. General Musharraf has proved himself as skilful as any of them. In 2002, three years after seizing power, he held a referendum on his rule in which he got a 98% approval rating. It was so grossly rigged that he apologised on national television for the “excesses” of his supporters. Yet he proceeded to hold general elections in a similar spirit. He cannibalised Mr Sharif's party to staff his new PML-Q. Nominally Pakistan's independence party, the Pakistan Muslim League has been co-opted by successive military rulers, each forming his own faction. The election was contested by six different PMLs.

The PPP, Pakistan's nearest thing to a national political party, was much harder for General Musharraf to co-opt. It was formed in 1967 under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was ousted as prime minister in 1977 by General Muhammed Zia ul-Haq and subsequently hanged. Under the leadership-in-exile of Ms Bhutto, Zulfikar's daughter, the PPP's support has held up surprisingly well. It is strongest in Sindh, the Bhuttos' ancestral land, but to some degree it has become a rallying-flag for all Pakistanis who object to the army's political meddling. Had Ms Bhutto returned from exile to fight the 2002 election, with Mr Sharif's party in ruins, she would have won. General Musharraf kept her out by banning any fugitive from justice from being a candidate and, just to be on the safe side, by stopping anyone from serving more than two terms as prime minister. Both Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif had already held the job twice. He also decreed that the president could dismiss the government.

To rig the election, General Musharraf's supporters used the standard tricks of every incumbent government in Pakistan, as well as some available only to generals. The key to winning elections is to ensure that judges in the provinces are sympathetic, because they appoint the magistrates who conduct the polls in the constituencies. Those who come to power through a coup, like General Musharraf, have a considerable advantage here: they can require senior judges to swear allegiance to them and sack the ones who won't. With the returning officers on his side, the rigger's job is mostly complete. In areas dominated by the opposition, a friendly returning officer may well put polling stations in inaccessible places and select compliant people to staff them. “By the time the stations are placed and the staff-list is done, almost half the work is done,” says Nawabzada Ghazanfar Gul, a PPP candidate from the Punjabi town of Gujrat. His example shows how deeply Pakistani politics is rooted in local power struggles. His clan migrated to Pakistan from Central Asia with the Mughal emperors. His political rivals, Chaudhry Shujaat and various of his relatives, belong to a subcontinental family that has prospered only since Pakistan's creation. Mr Gul describes them as “upstarts, 1947-model”.

Anwar Kamal, a venerable PML-Nawaz politician in Peshawar, offered another example of the importance of local politics. On the evening your correspondent called on him, he had just returned from a huge Pushtun tribal gathering to settle a blood-money claim against his tribe. Asked what had provoked the claim, Mr Kamal explained that he had recently led 4,000 armed tribesmen in an attack on a neighbouring tribe. They flattened a small town and killed 80 people. The fine they incurred for this was $60,000, which Mr Kamal thought was not too bad.

Even though the 2002 election was rigged in favour of the king's party, the PPP won the biggest share of the vote (but not a majority). General Musharraf, in another favourite ploy of army rulers, had made a secret pact with the six biggest Islamic parties, which his agents had organised into an alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). This went against the grain; the mullahs mostly hate each other. But it served them well. United against a divided opposition, and with anti-Americanism running high over the war in Afghanistan, the MMA won 11% of the vote and 53 seats in the national assembly. By badgering and buying ten PPP members, PML-Q formed a coalition government. But it was the MMA's votes that gave General Musharraf the two-thirds majority he needed to change the constitution, thereby legitimising his coup and the scores of ordinances he had issued since seizing power. The MMA was then made leader of the opposition, even though together the PPP and PML-Nawaz formed a bigger block. It also won control of a regional government for the first time, in North-West Frontier Province, and formed a coalition government with PML-Q in Baluchistan.

The one thing that can be said with certainty about the next national election, due in October next year, is that General Musharraf's supporters will rig it. Indeed, having rigged local elections last year, implanting many loyal nazims, they may find this unusually easy to do. Meanwhile General Musharraf says he will remain army chief, even though he had promised the mullahs that he would not. He points out that the constitution entitles him to wear his uniform until the next election—and he should know, because he wrote it. Asked whether the uniform will go after the poll, the president ponders: “I don't know. We'll need to see, we need to cross the bridge when we reach it. I'll take decisions, I'll see the environment, and obviously I wouldn't like to violate the constitution.”

It is almost certain that General Musharraf, and very likely his uniform, will survive the election; but the colour of his next government is less clear. The PML-Q is a feuding mob, able to agree on almost nothing. As president, General Musharraf is supposed to be above party politics, yet he has often intervened to end the bickering. The party also obstructs liberal reform, which embarrasses the general. Moreover, even if Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif remain in exile, the king's party may not win a majority at the polls. And next time the president wants to change the constitution, the MMA's votes may not be available to him. The biggest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, loathes him for breaking his promise to shed his uniform. And internationally, the mullahs' success in 2002 has made it harder for General Musharraf to present himself as an enlightened moderator. The MMA may well splinter.

But if the president has problems, Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif would gladly trade theirs for his. In May they met in London to declare a “Charter of Democracy”, cementing their alliance and vowing, among other things, to return and fight next year's elections. In fact, their alliance is pretty unconvincing. The two leaders dislike and distrust each other. They would probably both make a deal with General Musharraf, accepting him as president, in return for a legal pardon and the dropping of any outstanding charges against them. But the president dislikes them and seems to think he can do without them, saying, “I don't think individuals who have looted and plundered the country have a place to come and govern again.”

In recent weeks, the general has redoubled his efforts to unite the PML-Q. This slightly irks America, which wants him to broaden his political base, preferably by dropping the PML-Q and working with the PPP instead—perhaps minus Ms Bhutto. It might seem cynical to want Pakistan's handful of liberal politicians, whose single achievement has been consistent opposition to army rule, to step into line behind the general. But he is anyway more likely to stick with the PML-Q.

That would be bad for most Pakistanis. The two mainstream parties performed dismally during the 1990s. In power, their rulers were as autocratic and unprincipled as General Musharraf, and more vindictive. They treated parliament with equal disdain, and managed the economy incompetently. In opposition, the respective supporters of each of them badgered the army to undermine the other. Yet they could never exert as much institutional control as General Musharraf is doing. Their candidates therefore had to win elections, rigged though they were, by appealing to voters. In the process, some political patronage percolated down to the villages.

It would be bad, too, for Pakistan's future. Already shaken, the mainstream political parties would be seriously damaged by another round of military-political puppetry. And as they have wilted, the Islamic parties have thrived.

The Economist on Pakistan, Part II

Too much for one man to do


Pakistan needs more democracy to make it a less dangerous place, says James Astill

THINK about Pakistan, and you might get terrified. Few countries have so much potential to cause trouble, regionally and worldwide. One-third of its 165m people live in poverty, and only half of them are literate. The country's politics yo-yo between weak civilian governments and unrepresentative military ones—the sort currently on offer under Pervez Musharraf, the president and army chief, albeit with some democratic wallpapering. The state is weak. Islamabad and the better bits of Karachi and Lahore are orderly and, for the moment, booming. Most of the rest is a mess. In the western province of Baluchistan, which takes up almost half of Pakistan's land mass, an insurgency is simmering. In the never-tamed tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, the army is waging war against Islamic fanatics.

Nor is that all. Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and until recently was selling their secrets to North Korea, Iran, Libya and maybe others. During its most recent big stand-off with India, in 2002, Pakistan gave warning that, if attacked, it might nuke its neighbour. Mostly, however, in Kashmir, Afghanistan and its own unruly cities, Pakistan has used, and perhaps still uses, Islamist militants to fight its wars—including the confused lot it is fighting, at America's request, in the tribal areas. Several thousand armed extremists are swilling around the country. Thousands more youths are being prepared for holy war at radical Islamic schools. Osama bin Laden is widely believed to be in Pakistan.

When General Musharraf launched his coup in 1999, it was not—or not principally—to clean up this mess. Instead, he wanted to save his career, having been sacked as army chief by Nawaz Sharif, then the prime minister. Mr Sharif had tried to subordinate the army—which in Pakistan is a parallel state, some say the only state—to civilian rule. But however unpromising his start, General Musharraf has generally proved much better at running the country than either Mr Sharif or Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's other elected leader in recent times. He also remains more popular than either of them, though his support has recently been slipping.

General Musharraf inherited an economy in crisis. Shackled by sanctions and parched of capital, Pakistan had defaulted on foreign debts. He ensured that the country did what the IMF told it to do, and ended the crisis. Thanks partly to continued fiscal prudence and some sensible reforms, Pakistan has notched up average growth of 7% over the past three years, about the same as India.

It also helped that after the attacks on America on September 11th 2001, General Musharraf decided to stop supporting the Taliban government in next-door Afghanistan and grant America access to airbases from which to fight it. The benefits have not been confined to a surge of American aid dollars that boosted the growth figures. Having joined the “war on terror”, the general reined in Islamist militants fighting India in the disputed Kashmir region. He then surprised many by throwing himself into peacemaking with India. Peace on the subcontinent is still hard to imagine, but it may be more possible than at any time since British India's bloody partition.

This is encouraging. But a bigger concern for most Pakistanis is the state of their broken and predatory institutions, which have helped to make Pakistan unstable and prone to extremism. General Musharraf pledged to fix them, and to promote liberal values, or “enlightened moderation”. If he were to make serious progress towards either of those goals, history would smile on his coup.

But this survey will argue that General Musharraf is unlikely to deliver on these crucial promises. He has introduced many sensible reforms, such as making the lowest level of the judiciary independent. But they have almost all been implemented only partially and corruptly. Part of the problem is that General Musharraf does not rule Pakistan by fiat, though he often seems to think otherwise. He rules behind a fa├žade of democracy. Thus, for example, he has rewritten the constitution in his favour, allowing him to sack the government and impose martial law; but he needed political allies to vote through those changes. Such alliances have led to paralysing compromise.

To sideline the mainstream parties, whose leaders he fears, General Musharraf has sought support from religious conservatives, so his liberal reforms have gone nowhere. With the same intent, he pandered to Taliban-friendly Islamic parties, helping them win unprecedented power. Moreover, General Musharraf has clung on to his job by the same undemocratic measures as his predecessors: by manipulating the institutions he had vowed to clean up. Only, unlike any civilian leader, he has the army behind him, which means he can do that much more damage. Whereas Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto packed the supreme court with their supporters, General Musharraf sacked half its judges for refusing to swear allegiance to him.

Pakistan is too big, too fractious and too complicated to be ruled so overwhelmingly by one man. General Musharraf has been lucky to survive three assassination attempts, and his succession is unclear. He has, moreover, limited time at his disposal to get to grips with an unlimited number of problems. His period in office has been littered with initiatives—a diplomatic proposal to India here, a promise to reduce the army there—that never got off the ground or fizzled to nothing for want of the general's attention.

And even if he had unlimited time, he has limited understanding. In army fashion, he considers Pakistan's problems to be mostly practical. But they are invariably political. To deal with a mounting water crisis, for example, General Musharraf has decreed that three long-stalled dams will be built in Punjab and North-West Frontier Province. In Sindh province, the lower riparian, this has caused uproar. Sindhis say their water supply will be diminished by the dams; General Musharraf says it will not. He has no patience for the Sindhis' distrust of the Pakistani state. They complain, with good reason, that it is dominated by Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province, where most of the army is raised. Sindhis make up about a quarter of Pakistan's population, but hold only a couple of the top 50 jobs in the water ministry. If General Musharraf wants the dams built, he should start by increasing that number.

Pakistan is torn by such grievances. Where people feel unprotected by their government, regional strife and Islamic militancy have bred. The longer they are allowed to fester, the more unstable Pakistan will become. Neither General Musharraf nor his obvious rivals for the leadership, Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif, could heal these rifts. But then Pakistan does not need a saviour to become stable and well. It needs a sustainable political system, representing the majority of its people. General Musharraf has had some successes. But by sabotaging Pakistan's fragile democracy, he may well have made the country even more dangerous.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Economist on Pakistan, Part I

As the number of British soldiers killed in Helmand, Afghanistan, rises, the UK press has begun to turn the screws on the country they largely hold responsible for the chaos - Pakistan. In the June 6 edition of the Economist, the venerable news magazine has trenchantly criticised Musharraf's Pakistan. The inside pages also contain a must-read survey of the political landscape in Pakistan.

The Economist is a subscription only website, so over the next few days I will republish the articles here. Paraphrasing the articles would simply not do justice to the eloquence of the Economist.

The trouble with Pakistan

A country that everyone should worry about

TERRORISM has many sources and claimed justifications, but if it can be said to have a centre, it lies in the training camps, madrassas and battlefields of northern Pakistan and south-eastern Afghanistan. There the Taliban and their ally, al-Qaeda, were both formed. From there, in hellish diaspora, jihadis have fanned out across the globe. Add to that Afghanistan's lawlessness and ability to produce vast amounts of opium, not to mention Pakistan's wretched history of venal democrats and clumsy dictators, and its lamentable record on nuclear proliferation, and it is clear why what happens in those two places is of huge importance to the rest of the world. From neither place is there much good news.

The West has invested a huge amount in Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in October 1999. This newspaper was prepared to give him a chance on condition that he acted swiftly and firmly to rein in extremism and sort out the economy, and then returned to barracks. He failed to do any of that. After September 11th 2001, however, he was recast as a provider of relative stability in a dangerous neighbourhood, and an essential ally in the “war on terror”. Money was showered upon him; he was feted in Washington, DC, and London. Only gradually has it started to dawn on his admirers that, in the past five years, he has not done very much to make Pakistan a less dangerous place.

True, the economy has improved quite a bit since 2001—and not just because of all that donor money. But promises, made even before September 11th, to bring the country's most radical madrassas under control have not been kept. The training camps that Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency has long tolerated because of their usefulness against India and in Afghanistan still exist, though they have been told not to mount any operations for now. The most dangerous outfits, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (the Army of the Pure), have been banned, only to reappear under new guises. Not until 2004 and under the most intense American pressure did Pakistan arrest Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist who had cheerfully sold nuclear secrets to anyone prepared to pay.

But perhaps the most damning criticism of General Musharraf is that he continues to do grave damage to the long-term political health of Pakistan (see our survey). In his seven long years in office, he has insinuated the army into every nook and cranny of Pakistani public life, weakening institutions that were feeble already, emasculating its political parties and reducing parliament to a squabbling irrelevance. He has sacked judges when it suited him, created and dismembered parties at his own convenience, rigged a referendum on his presidency and used Pakistan's constitution to write his own job description. None of this bodes well for a post-Musharraf future—which could arrive at any moment given the enthusiasm of his enemies for trying to kill him.

Like a previous “caretaker” dictator, General Zia ul-Haq, who held power for 11 years before being killed, General Musharraf has been unable to resist the temptation to play politics with Islam, even if, unlike Zia, he has also had some success at purging fundamentalists from the top ranks of the army. He has forged a disparate group of Islamic political parties into a block that has helped him outmanoeuvre the democratic opposition; these Islamists are pushing hard for the extension of sharia law.

It would not be fair to blame Pakistan for everything that is going wrong in Afghanistan. The government of Hamid Karzai is weak and corrupt; because of the West's continued failure to live up to its promises, much of the country, outside the big cities, is in the grip of bandits and warlords. But Pakistan's contribution to Afghanistan's chronic insecurity should not be underestimated. Both the Taliban and the remnants of al-Qaeda are able to take refuge on Pakistani soil, which makes the job of the soldiers from Western countries who have been struggling to eliminate them for the past five years much more difficult. The Taliban, after all, were in part a creation of Pakistan's ISI, which saw in them a way to establish a friendly state on their western flank, a vital strategic consideration for an organisation that sees itself as locked in perpetual conflict with India to its east.

General Musharraf, by contrast, contends he is doing all he can to root out Taliban fighters from their sanctuaries in the tribal areas, and Pakistan has lost more than 600 soldiers fighting there. Even so, say the critics, it could try much harder, especially given the size of its army. And as for al-Qaeda, none of General Musharraf's protestations can hide the fact that Osama bin Laden is generally reckoned to be holed up on Pakistani soil. Lesser terrorists such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the planner of the September 11th attacks, have been caught and handed over by the general, but Mr bin Laden goes on evading capture.

The danger is that Afghanistan may now, thanks to Pakistani meddling and Western neglect, gradually revert to what it was before September 2001: a state partly captured by the most dangerous Islamists. Belatedly waking up to this threat (see article), Britain is leading NATO into risky action in Afghanistan's southern provinces, a swathe of territory where the Kabul government's writ is ignored and where a record-breaking crop of poppies was recently harvested. With a remit that has been altered to war-fighting at short notice, inadequate numbers and an apparent lack of enough helicopters and armoured support, these soldiers are taking politically painful casualties. There is a risk that the will of the politicians back home to go on fighting will swiftly fade.

An unstable, nuclear-armed Pakistan, intertwined with a chaotic and Taliban-dominated Afghanistan: it is not a settling prospect. It has all happened before, of course. The result was September 11th, swiftly followed by a terrorist outrage in Delhi that came close to provoking full-scale war between Pakistan and also-nuclear India. What will happen next time?

A positive, albeit small, step

They both were the chief of army staff, came to power by deposing an elected prime minister, held referendums to secure themselves as head of state, presided over manipulated elections and amended the constitution to give them ultimate control over parliament. But Zia and Musharraf part ways when it comes to the role of Islam in the state: Zia was an unabashed Islamist while Musharraf professed love for his dogs.

The problem was that Musharraf lacked the courage of his convictions and refused to annul the misogynistic and repressive laws of his predecessor. But with the promulgation of the Law Reforms Ordinance 2006, which will see the immediate release of 1,300 women prisoners, the majority held under the odious Hudood Ordinance, Musharraf may finally have taken a small step on the long road to making amends to the women of Pakistan. Yet, much remains to be done as this editorial in the News suggests: most imporantly the 2006 Ordinance does not affect the status of the odious Hudood Ordinance.

An improvement in the legal position of 1,300 women must be celebrated, as must the possibility of further changes. Yet, Pakistan is rarely blessed with undiluted good news and so is the case with Musharraf's ordinance. With an elected parliament in place the obvious path for any change in the law should be a parliamentary Act. Musharraf's choice reflects his lack of confidence in his handpicked government. A small victory for women is another nail in the coffin of democracy.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A blow to workers, but a silver lining for women?

When the government promised a 'people friendly' budget yet again this year, conventional wisdom held that, with an election on the horizon, the government would likely dole out some palliatives.

But the working class was in for a rude shock: during the budget session in the national assembly, the government brazenly altered the laws governing working hours. Iqbal Haider, Secretary General of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, summed up the changes made by the government:

"(B)y amending the Shops and Establishment Ordinance 1969, the government had increased daily working hours from eight to 12 hours.

"Similarly the compulsory closed weekly holiday has also been abolished, and through an amendment in Section 38 and 45 of the Factories Act has allowed the employers to make female workers work till 10pm in two shifts. Earlier, female workers were bared from working in factories before sunrise and after sunset. Besides, by changing the West Pakistan Standing Orders Ordinance 1968, the contract workers had been added to the categories of work without entitlement of overtime."

The effect of increasing the work day from 8 to 12 hours will be devastating for labourers. The reason is simple: already forced to work more than 8 hours, they will now be deprived of overtime pay unless they work more than an incredible 12 hours a day. If this is the government's idea of people friendly, one shudders to think what an unfriendly government would have cooked up.

However, in its zest to convert Pakistan's stores and factories into virtual prsions, the government may have unintentionally have empowered women. By allowing women to work beyond sunset and until 10 pm, the boost to businesses is what the government had in mind. Yet, the increased earning power of women will undoubtedly provide women with more leverage and leeway at home.

Researching the use of child labour in the carpet weaving industry several years ago, I was surprised to learn that families who put their young daughters to work at an early age actually ended up treating them better. The girls were married off later, allowed to watch TV and given a small measure of autonomy in their daily lives. Counterintuitive at first blush, the reason was that the increased economic value of girls meant that families would not be in a hurry to dispose of them through marriage, and the girls, knowing their increased worth, could afford to be more assertive at home.

Therefore, it's important not to be reactionaries and issue a sweeping denunciation of all the changes in the country's labour laws. Yes, it is important that adequate checks and balances be introduced to ensure women are not exploited. However, the emancipation of women is cause for celebration, not remonstration.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Dr. Johnson is the only one left smiling

Jaranwala tehsil is the largest of Punjab's tehsils (administrative divisions that are the rough equivalent of counties) in terms of the number of union councils and as such has a relatively typical law and order situation. I know this because Jaranwala was my stamping ground for several months in 2004 when I was part of a team of researchers seeking to measure the impact of Pakistan's latest experiment in devolution. The villagers and townsfolk were genial and accommodating and we only raised the hackles of the locals when a lazy afternoon of cards ended in a rout.

Yet, the federal government would have you believe that Jaranwala is a hotbed of human rights abuses. The Federal Human Rights Division, overseen by the Law Minister, Wasi Zafar, distributes a human rights fund amongst victims of rape, torture, extra-judicial killings, etc. and last year 305 of the 365 successful applicants nationwide were residents of Jaranwala tehsil.

That a staggering 85% of victims were from Jaranwala was evidence of serious foul play, though patently not of the human rights kind. The dubious distinction of Jaranwala being the country's human rights abuses capital is owed to the fact that it is also the constituency of the Law Minister who has been using the human rights fund to dole out patronage amongst his supporters.

This year Wasi Zafar was caught red handed with his hand in the cookie jar when a senior bureaucrat, Saira Karim, refused to release funds to a further 560 of Mr. Zafar's Jaranwala supporters. The story hit the national press when Mr. Zafar tried to intimidate Ms. Karim and punish her for the perceived insubordination.

The government, however, is sensitive of its image and in late June an investigation into the corruption was launched by the ISI apparently on orders from the very 'top' i.e. Musharraf or Shaukat Aziz. Political expediency has seen many a ministerial scandal hushed up in the past, but it was hoped that the investigation indicated a new willingness to back up the rhetoric of good governance and accountability.

That hope was dashed yesterday when Ms. Karim was transferred to another division, signalling the end of the issue as far as the government is concerned. According to The News,Musharraf and Aziz were unhappy that the issue had been picked up the international news media and felt it was damaging the country's reputation abroad. This was the same rationale for banning the heroic gang rape victim, Mukhtaran Mai, from travelling to the US at the invitation of a human rights organisation. It seems that the President and the Prime Minister have not learned a lesson from that debacle. To recapitulate: a country's international reputation is enhanced when it takes positive steps to address wrongdoing and harmed when the country is seen bundling its problems out of the public eye. And 231 years after Samuel Johnson first pronounced it, patriotism is still the last refuge of a scoundrel.

The good, the bad and the ugly

The revival of the Pakistani economy has triggered a bout of conspicuous consumption which, inevitably for a developing country, thus far hase been largely confined to imported indulgences. Yet, Pakistani entrepreneurs appear to have stumbled upon a way to reverse the flow of precious dollars: cosmetic tourism. Expatriate Pakistanis with cash to spare and looking to shed their flab, get a headful of hair or a curvier figure are heading to the homeland to have these surgical procedures performed at a fraction of the cost in the West.

Yet, exploitation in the medical sector is never far off. The vanity clinics have more sinister counterparts who prey on the desperation of the impoverished as they ply their trade in human organs. Clearly government regulation is required in both areas: the poor may viscerally attract more sympathy and face the more acute risk of medical malfeasance, but cosmetic surgery has its own book of horrors.

The two businesses also combine to make an elementary point on state regulation: whichever way you go on the economic ladder, the state must regulate the medical sector to protect public health. Obviously regulation is easier when you're climbing up the economic ladder rather than going downwards. However, as Pakistan climbs that ladder it is imperative that our government be reminded not to neglect the people languishing on the lower rungs.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Till death do us part

Political memoirs are meant to be saved for when one has been put out to pasture. Certainly you can't imagine any democratic leader writing his memoirs while in office: the electorate wouldn't take too kindly to a leader who takes time out from the business of govnerment for a vanity project. Of course things operate differently in Pakistan and now it seems Musharraf is set to publish an autobiography.

If one were to read between the lines, the autobiography-while-in-office is also an unmistakable signal that Musharraf doesn't intend to retire from office. If you decide to write a book but don't intend to relinquish office in your lifetime, you of course write one while in office. It may well be that we already know the most important of all the things that Musharraf has to tell us.