subordination to freedom
Reading between the lines
The international media covers the conflict in Sri Lanka in its own peculiar way. A story published recently in The Sunday Times offers an excellent example
By Dr Sinha Raja Tammita-Delgoda
Until last week, Puthukkudiyirruppu, the last town under Tiger control, was still the centre of intense fighting. The air hummed with the thud of shells and the crack of gunfire. If you listened long enough, you could make out the different sounds: the crackle of heavy machine guns, the thump of mortars and the sharp retort of the T-56.
The odd one was a little close and I tried not to jump, conscious that at least three soldiers were looking at me curiously. I could not help but notice that the more sidelong glances they gave, the louder sounds became. I stood spellbound at the entrance to the Puthukkudiyirruppu Hospital, fascinated by the signboard. On the right hand side of the board was a large red cross, while on the left hand side was a rifle with two red marks through it. Beneath it were written the words "Entering With Weapons Are (sic) Prohibited", which reminded me of some of the signboards I had seen in Peshawar.
Seeing what looked like yet another bunker inside, I began sauntering through the gates to have a closer look. There were shouts of warning and a hand was placed on my arm. "Sir, there are mines everywhere." I decided not to investigate. The truth would have to wait. The building across the road shivered slightly and the squirrel dancing on the wire decided to a makes a run for it. My escort looked quite relieved when I finally put down my notebook and jumped up from the pile of bricks, shells and bullets I was sitting on. "Shall we go?" I said, trying to keep the tremor out of my voice.
On our way back, I lingered at a set of stores that had once commanded the main approach road. I was told that this was one of the main Tiger defence points. What I expected was a pile of rubble. Though the front had been blown out, the structure remained in place. Interestingly, despite the intense fighting, most of the buildings in the town were still standing. Though battered, blasted, pocked and scarred, their walls were still in place.
Having returned from the operational areas on March 21, I was rather surprised to read an article in The Sunday Times, London, filed by Marie Colvin the very next day. The picture that this article paints is very different from my own experience. As a writer and historian, who has just visited some of the areas in question with the approval of the Ministry of Defence, it is from this perspective that I have analysed main parts of The Sunday Times article (in italics) titled Artillery pounds wounded Tamils trapped on beach in the following:
Artillery pounds wounded Tamils trapped on beach:
In what has in effect become a media war as well, the impact of this article is enormously damaging. The very title alone creates a damning picture of a merciless and indiscriminate onslaught against innocent civilians. How accurate is this picture?
A thousand amputees were among the wounded and dying waiting to be rescued from a beach in northeast Sri Lanka yesterday, according to aid agencies. Frightened Tamil families, the latest victims of the country's 26-year civil war, were hiding in makeshift trenches as they came under artillery fire while waiting to be evacuated from Puthumathalan beach:
This graphic and harrowing account is actually second hand, because it appears that Marie Colvin is quoting aid agencies. On this particular occasion, she does not appear to have had direct access, been there or seen for herself. There is also a strong counter argument that Tiger artillery has been firing out of the no-fire zone and that these guns are entrenched amid areas inhabited by civilians. This can be assessed by a study of artillery radial patterns, the direction of falling fire and reports of Tamil civilians fleeing the area. I was also told by the military commanders concerned that this has already been pointed to the Al-Jazeera and BBC reporters who visited the area.
Last week the International Committee of the Red Cross removed 460 injured and their families from the area, using local fishermen to carry the wounded on wooden dinghies to the Green Ocean ferry leased for the operation. The ferry was due to return last night to rescue more of the injured. Sophie Romanens, a Red Cross representative in Sri Lanka, said the scene was desperate. "The capacity for evacuation is far below the need," she said. "We have to decide the casualties who are more badly injured and leave behind the ones who are less badly injured." They are among 150,000 civilians trapped in an area of 13 square miles after fleeing a government offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the Tamil Tigers:
This first statement from the Red Cross representative is a direct quotation. The next statement however, is not and from what I understand it appears that no one has any idea of the exact number? Given these facts, surely it should read "There are thought to be nearly 150,000 civilians trapped..?"
More than 300 civilians were being killed every week in artillery or air attacks, or were dying for lack of medical care, food or water, aid agencies said. The Tamils are desperate because the last hospital in the area was forced to close after twice being bombed by the Sri Lankan army. The only medical treatment available is in a makeshift clinic at Puthumathalan, where the injured lie under tarpaulins with drips suspended from tree branches. The numbers trying to escape via the beach had "increased dramatically over the past week," the Red Cross said:
Because I have not been to the beach side, where these reports emanate from, I can neither confirm nor deny them. Apart from the Red Cross, no one else has access to the seaside. However, what should be borne in mind is that the Red Cross representatives who supplied these reports are local people from the area and that they are very much at the mercy of the LTTE. The Sri Lanka Navy only comes into the picture when it escorts the Green Lanka ferry back into government-controlled waters. However, from then on, it is the Navy that assumes the immediate responsibility for looking after the injured and transporting them to nearby hospitals. Another salient aspect is that Navy vessels up and down this coast have been rescuing civilians on a regular basis for the last few weeks. The "last hospital" referred to is the Puthukkudiyirruppu hospital that I have just visited. Though I have not actually been inside this building, I have visited the hospital in Kilinochchii and this certainly has more than one bunker inside it. Thus, it is fairly clear that that the hospitals in this area are not purely civilian targets but fortified points defended by the LTTE. This factor must be taken into account when speaking of attacks on hospitals. There is also the persistent use of the word "Tamils" right throughout the article. The main focus perhaps should be to highlight the plight of the civilians. Even the title, Artillery pounds wounded Tamils trapped on the beach, seems to have the effect of highlighting the ethnic factor. From what I have seen is that if there was indeed whole scale bombing and artillery fire of the type that has been reported, then all I would have found is ruins and rubble. As I have already pointed out, a large number of buildings still appear to be standing, even though they have been the focus of fierce fighting. This appears to suggest a relatively restrained and selective use of heavy artillery. There is also the very real human cost to consider. In a conventional military conflict, infantry is generally sent in only after the whole area has been flattened by artillery. Concerning the conflict in Sri Lanka, perhaps the question that should be asked is how many lives are being lost as a result of having to send infantry in to attack heavily- defended emplacements with limited artillery support? What price has Sri Lanka's army had to pay for respecting the civilian factor? Another issue is the complex and delicate matter of who is a civilian? It has now been established that many civilians have been pressed into service and forced to fight. Many of them are stationed amongst Tiger cadres to make sure that they do fight. Everything I have seen also suggests that Tiger positions are deliberately located among civilian huts. There are also a growing number of accounts of war-weary civilians turning on the Tiger cadres themselves.
Some civilians have managed to cross government lines to find safety at a hospital in the northern town of Vavuniya. The only foreign surgeon there, Hugues Roberts of Mιdecins Sans Frontiθres,, said 960 casualties had been treated, most of them wounded by shells, landmines or gunshots. The victims ranged from a child of three to men and women in their seventies. "The ones dead, or gravely injured, we don't see them," said Roberts:
The impression given here is that the civilians have to find their way through government lines in order to reach safety. However, what they are actually doing is escaping from the Tiger territory into Army lines. It needs to be emphasised that Vavuniya is a town deep inside territory controlled by the Government of Sri Lanka and that the hospital in question is a government hospital. Civilians reaching Vavuniya usually only do so with the active aid and support of the security forces. On more than one occasion, we were nearly run down by convoys of Ashok Leyland buses (government transport) speeding down the A-9 as they carried IDPs towards Vavuniya. Apart from escaping by sea, the other main route for the fleeing civilians is by land, across the lagoon into army lines. The words used also seem to suggest a special emphasis on a foreign surgeon as the only reliable source. This seems a rather curious attitude to take when the majority of doctors treating the IDPs are, in fact, Sri Lankans.
(The writer is a Sri Lankan
By Kaleem Omar
Not for nothing is Ireland known as the Emerald Isle. It is one of the greenest places on earth, with rolling meadows that seem at times, when the light is right, to glow like emeralds. Convivial company, of course, is an essential part of the Irish experience. As an Irish Tourist Board poster once put it, "Come to Dublin and do a slow crawl (make that, a very slow crawl) through some of the friendliest watering holes in the world."
For 300 years, Ireland was known as the land of potato famines, forcing many of its young men to cross the Irish Sea to England to search of jobs, which often turned out to be anything but gainful. The English occupied Ireland and treated its inhabitants very harshly. That was the beginning if what came to be known as "the Irish troubles".
In the 1920s, the island's southern half managed to evict the English and became the independent Republic of Ireland, or Eire for short. But the inhabitants of Eire and the English-occupied northern half continued to lead an impoverished existence. Jobs that paid a living wage were hard to come by and poverty seemed a permanent condition. This sad state of affairs continued for several hundred years, prompting a mass exodus of Irish families to New York and Boston in the late nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century.
Since the early 1990s, however, when the Republic of Ireland became a member of the European Union (EU), the republic's economy has been booming, with billions of dollars a year in foreign investment pouring into the country, along with billions in aid from the EU headquarters in Brussels. Gone at last were the days when the Emerald Isle was known more for its leprechauns, legends and literature than its tiger economy.
But it is of that old Ireland of myths and legends of which I speak here. The Ireland of Molly Malone and her wheelbarrow, of Wolfe Tone and Charles Stewart Parnell, of the poet William Butler Yeats and legendary beauty and freedom fighter Maud Gonne, and of rebellion against the British the mist-shrouded land where, during World War II, the Irish would say, with irrefutable logic, "How can there be a world war on when Ireland's not in it?"
That's the Ireland that my late friend Sardar Yunis Khan and I often talked about when we foregathered of an evening at his house in Karachi in the 1980s and early 1990s. A gentleman farmer from Rahim Yar Khan, and the son of a leading politician and landowner of the area, Yunis read geology at Trinity College, Dublin, in the early 1960s. After taking his degree, he went into business in Karachi, eventually becoming the Pakistan representative for a Canadian company prospecting for oil in Sindh.
Yunis travelled the world in connection with his business interests, but it was to the metaphoric Ireland of his youth that he kept returning in his mind. That's where he had spent several halcyon years as a university student and that, I suspect, was where his heart lay. And it was that Ireland of yore the Ireland of Yeats' poetry and the poet's unrequited love for the legendary beauty Maud Gonne that was often the subject of our conversations, with the talk frequently going on late into the night.
"Romantic Ireland's dead and gone. / It's with O'Leary in the grave," wrote Yeats, in one of his well-known poems. When I once quoted these lines to Yunis, he remarked, "You know, KO, Yeats was right." His friends all called Yunis Khan YK, and he always called me KO.
It is now 11 years since YK died, but I recall our conversations as if they were yesterday. He was a wonderful friend, a generous host and convivial company of an evening, a man of wit and style, with a delightfully droll sense of humour. In fact, he could have been Irish. Even his English accent had a distinctly Irish burr to it.
Parnell, the Irish revolutionary and freedom fighter, was hanged in a public square in Dublin. Mounting the gallows with a jaunty aid, he stared defiantly at the assembled crowd and said, "Take a good look at me lads, for you'll not see the likes of me again." YK loved that remark and would often quote it with approval.
Like the Irish, Yunis loved telling stories, regaling us with accounts of his Dublin days as a student at Trinity. And if there was an element of blarney in some of those tales, well, why not? After all, he was more than a little Irish himself, wasn't he? Above all, though, he was a gentleman of the old school.
YK's wife, Lubna, the daughter of the well-known painter Mariam Saadullah, is the author of two plays, which were performed at the PACC in Karachi one in the early 1980s and the other in the early 1990s. Both were comedies much appreciated by audiences. I keep telling her it's time she wrote another play, and maybe someday she will.
Although my own student days were spent in England, I know Ireland quite well from my reading. Like my late friend Yunis, I, too, am a fan of all things Irish, especially their quirky sense of humour and their literature a canon that includes some of the twentieth century's greatest poetry, fiction and drama.
William Butler Yeats, the century's greatest poet in English, was Irish. So was James Joyce, the century's greatest novelist. So was George Bernard Shaw, the century's greatest dramatist. And so were a host of other leading literary figures.
Yeats (1865-1939) was born in Dublin, the son of a distinguished artist. He was educated in London, and then, when his family returned to Ireland, studied art for a three-year period beginning in 1864. His first volume of verse, titled The Wanderings of Oisin, was published in 1889, and was followed by a series of prose works, published between 1889 and 1891. The Countess of Cathleen, a verse drama, appeared with other poems in 1892, and The Celtic Twilight, a collection of sketches and essays, in 1893.
Yeats was now established in the vanguard of the new Celtic movement, and his position was confirmed in 1895 with his Collected Poems. In 1899 he became interested in the establishment of an Irish theatre, and his association with Lady Gregory led some years later to the founding of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, where much of his dramatic work was produced.
In 1917, having previously proposed in vain to the Irish nationalist Maud Gonne, he married Georgie Hyde-Lees, and his new wife had a profound effect on his work. In 1922 Yeats became a member of the Irish Senate, in which he sat from 1922, when it was formed, until 1928. In 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His later collections include Words for Music Perhaps and other poems (1932), New Poems (1938), and Last Poems and Plays, which appeared posthumously in 1940.
Maud Gonne, one of the great beauties of her day and a fiery speaker at anti-British rallies, was the great love of Yeats' life. But his love remained unrequited and Maud Gonne ended up marrying someone else. Yeats' disappointment inspired some of his best poetry. To students of Yeats' life and work, like me, Maud Gonne is a legendary figure of near mythic proportions.
Imagine my surprise, then, nay, indeed, my utter and total astonishment, when YK's and Lubna's daughter, Tahia, who, like her father before her, was at Trinity College, Dublin, casually told the assembled company one day at a dinner party at their house in Karachi in the early 1990s that her roommate in Dublin was Maud Gonne's granddaughter and that she was thinking of inviting her over to Pakistan during the winter holidays.
Well, you could have bowled me over with a feather. I mean, to me, it was like somebody saying that her roommate at college was Robin Hood's granddaughter.
A dream come true
The restoration of the chief justice has laid the foundations of an independent judiciary
By Tahir Ali
Abdul Latif Afridi was born in 1943 in Teerah, Khyber Agency. He did his Masters from Peshawar University in 1966. Two years later, he did his LLB from the same institution. In 1969, he started his legal practice and has since then fought thousands of cases free of cost for labourers, human rights activists and the poor.
Latif Afridi started taking keen interest in politics as a student. He was expelled from the university for supporting Miss Fatima Jinnah in the 1964 presidential election. In 1979, he joined the Ghous Bux Bizenjo-led Pakistan National Party (PNP) and became its NWFP president. In 1986, when the PNP was merged into the Awami National Party (ANP), Latif Afridi became its first provincial president. In 1997, he was elected as an MNA from NA-33. Later, he left the ANP to join the National Awami Party of Ajmal Khattak. However, in 2005, he rejoined the ANP.
Latif Afridi is currently president of the Peshawar High Court Bar Association (PHCBA) and ANP Lawyers' Wing, as well as vice president of the party's NWFP chapter. Elected as president of the PHCBA four times, he has been at the forefront of the lawyers' movement that culminated in the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry on March 16 "the happiest day of my life". The News on Sunday interviewed Abdul Latif Afridi recently. Excerpts follow:
The News on Sunday: How do you analyse the lawyers' movement and restoration of the chief justice?
Abdul Latif Afridi: It is indeed a defining moment in Pakistan's history. The question of reinstatement of the 'deposed' judiciary was a major irritant for the system. With this crisis now resolved amicably, thanks to an unyielding struggle by the legal fraternity backed by the entire civil society and some political parties, the country is now back on track. We feel relaxed and proud. The restoration of the chief justice has laid the foundations of an independent judiciary. Pakistan's image as a vibrant democratic polity had greatly suffered following the sacking of judges by Pervez Musharraf. Therefore, the movement was a heartening development. It established that the Pakistani nation can also stand for human liberties and justice. In fact, the lawyers' movement has washed away the negative image of Pakistan. It was a secular movement run by secular leaders for secular ideals. Most of the religious leaders Maulana Fazlur Rehman, for example never joined it; rather, they opposed it. The March 16 notification has established that right is might, and not vice-versa. I think the restoration of the chief justice would go a long way in strengthening democracy in Pakistan.
TNS: But what positive impact will it have on the country's judicial system?
ALA: Although the restoration of illegally sacked judges is good news, we should remember that only this will not suffice to make Pakistan a truly democratic society; much more needs to be done for this. An independent judiciary is only possible when the executive does not interfere with the system, people and rulers respect the rights of each other, there is rule of law, judges have security of office and they are not left to the discretion of rulers, and there are independent judges. The legal fraternity should come forward and offer suggestions regarding how to improve the judicial system; how can justice be made easier, speedier and cheaper. A judicial system that caters to the needs of modern times will have to be put in place. We will also have to eradicate social, economic, political, educational and regional disparities. The middle class will have to be strengthened. A necessary step in this connection will be the abolition of feudalism. Each one of us will have to fulfil his or her obligations. We will have to be vigilant towards the policies, actions, decisions and working of the government, leaders, institutions and laws. The Parliament will have to be made sovereign in the true sense of the word. It should act independently and should never serve the elite moneyed class and the establishment. It must not be a puppet in the hands of the despots which unfortunately it has been. I had a very unenviable experience of this laxity on part of the Parliament when I was elected as an MNA in 1997 general elections. Of the 217 MNAs at that time, only 20 to 25 took active part in deliberations; while the rest kept silent and showed indifference. Until the Parliament becomes sovereign, it will continue to be intimidated, used and abused by the establishment; it will be at the mercy of military dictators and demagogues. If it becomes sovereign, no general can dare take over the country. We should think as to why there is no check on the income and expenditures of the government? Why is the Parliament widely seen as a rubber stamp even by the common people? Why has it always stood behind dictators, people who are responsible for all the ills in the country? We can learn from the world in this connection. The Constitution of the United States was framed more than 200 years ago, but only nine amendments have so far been made to it. On the other hand, our constitution has already been amended 17 amendments in only 35 years. We can learn from the British as well. Though
there is no written
constitution there, an independent judiciary and a strong parliament have made it one of the world's most coveted destinations.
TNS: Should the post-November 3, 2007, judges be removed or retained?
ALA: We should forget about the past. All the judges should be retained. There is room for all of them. Whether they have taken oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) or not, all the judges should be accommodated. We should look towards the future and plan for it. We cannot afford any new tension or controversy.
TNS: Whenever an action is taken against someone, he or she quickly dubs it political victimisation and thereby escapes the law. How should this problem be solved?
ALA: There should be rule of law if problems like these are to be solved. Laws should be equally applied to all without any preferential treatment or discrimination on any basis whatsoever. If the Parliament is sovereign, the judiciary is independent and both are backed by a vigilant citizenry, no one can be victimised. The problem arises when there is a perception that the judiciary can be employed against political adversaries. After all, the judiciary not only adjudicates between people, but also between the ruled and the rulers. Why wouldn't there be allegations if judges are perceived as friends of the ruling elite? If there are independent judges, and the constitution is followed, there would not and cannot be any question of political victimisation.
TNS: What are your views about the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR)?
ALA: The FCR is no more valid. It has outlived its existence. It was promulgated by a colonial power the British in 1901 to subdue and subjugate the tribes. It is now more than one century old. Conditions have changed considerably since then. The British have left and the area is now part of an independent state. The FCR has proved futile as well, because it has failed to check extremism, terrorism and Talibanisation. It simply did not deliver. It is a black law and must be totally abolished. The tribal people now are not like the ones in 1901. Almost 330,000 of them now live in settled areas throughout Pakistan, mostly in Peshawar. Their living style has transformed. Most have opted for education, trade and jobs. The Dubai syndrome has brought enormous changes in their preferences for life. Now they live in an independent country. They should not be ruled now by laws that were meant for slaves. They should not be governed by political agents who are mostly corrupt and plunder the tribal areas. They now deserve to be treated as free citizens of Pakistan who have fundamental rights. Education and development should be provided to them. The female and male literacy rate in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) is only 1 and 10 percent, respectively. Therefore, special incentives should be given to the tribal people for enrolling their children in schools. Fata and the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Pata) must be made part of the NWFP sooner rather than later. They should be given representation in the NWFP Assembly. Special development funds, along with routine federal and provincial budgets, should be allocated for them. I even dislike the term 'tribal areas'. This word has become synonymous with a lawless land, backwardness, extremism and terrorism. The tribals are humane people, but they are bracketed with militants and terrorists due to the wrongs of a few among them. These people are everywhere, not here alone. The five million population in these areas has been subdued by the extremists. They are themselves at the mercy of the terrorists. Drone attacks are another problem that continues unabated.
TNS: What factors have contributed to the emergence of terrorism and extremism in the region?
ALA: The Pakistani establishment has a long history of patronising the fundamentalist forces, to use them against the 'Red threat'. Intelligence agencies have always been supportive of the fundamentalist groups in the region. In Fata and the NWFP, militants and fundamentalists were planted and nourished by the military establishment for 'strategic depth'. I warned the Pakistani leadership in the 1980s that the doctrine of strategic depth will ultimately damage the country. The Pakistani establishment has traditionally been lenient to pro-religious forces. It may be recalled that Pakistan's first Constituent Assembly held more than hundred meetings to chalk out the outlines of the future constitution for Pakistan. It could not achieve this objective, but passed the Objectives Resolution. Though it was not made a substantive part of the constitution, it did pave the way for fundamentalism in the country because the clergy was emboldened. The official policy of appeasement towards religious bigots further encouraged them. Extremism became rampant and the whole society now suffers as a result. Our entire curriculum was 'Islamised', which further aggravated the situation. The approach that a religious Pakistan would be a solution to all the problems was wrong. A democratic and liberal Pakistan would instead be a better option.
TNS: What other steps do you suggest to correct the situation?
ALA: Some important decisions will have to be taken. The smaller provinces must be given financial autonomy and the control of their resources. Secondly, we should build strong institutions. Nations are saved by strong institutional setups, not by individuals. Thirdly, Pakistan should be transformed into a democratic welfare state that caters to all the basic needs of its citizens. Certain basic amenities should be provided to all by the state. An equitable distribution of wealth and resources among the people and provinces will have to be ensured. Extreme inequality in wealth, remunerations and opportunities will have to be removed. There are at present 40 to 50 billionaires in the country, while the majority lives in miserable conditions. The state and the rich should contribute to poverty alleviation. They should build hospitals, schools and industries. Fourthly, feudalism will have to be abolished. This class has always supported the dictators. Land reforms should be introduced sooner rather than later. Women empowerment is also needed. Education, jobs and economic freedom is vital for the emancipation of women.
TNS: How do you visualise Pakistan after ten years from now?
ALA: I think it is high time that Pakistan changes its policy regarding terrorism and Afghanistan. I am afraid we are fast heading for a disaster. If polices and preferences are not changed soon, Pakistan, I fear, may soon disappear from the world map. In Fata, I myself have seen pamphlets in which the area under the Taliban sway in the tribal belt has been projected as part of the Amarat-e-Islami Afghanistan. So, whosoever supports these elements from within the establishment is actually working for the dismemberment of Pakistan.
TNS: The Swat deal has been criticised by many as capitulation to the extremists. What do you think?
ALA: The swat deal has indeed established a parallel judiciary there. It has excluded lawyers and educated judges, and has replaced them with medieval qazis. This is why I am afraid President Asif Ali Zardari would not sign it in its current form. The situation is Swat was not created in a day. The previous Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) government in the province let the extremists take over the area. It was a great disservice to the region. The Pakistan Army is also not coming up to the expectations of the people. It has been unable to defend the country against the drone attacks. It has not been able to root out terrorists. In fact, its involvement at times aggravates the situation. In Swat, for example, the militants had control over only five percent of the area before the army was deployed there. Now they have taken over almost the entire valley. The army may have its own compulsions, but it needs to improve its performance.
Major Ishaq Mohammad was different from many of the well-educated leaders that make up the history of the Pakistani left
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
On April 2, the 27th death anniversary of Major Ishaq Mohammad founding president of the Mazdoor Kissan Party (MKP) and a revolutionary thinker, poet, playwright and friend of the people was celebrated within various circles of the political left. The commemorations were necessarily commensurate with the size of the left, which has struggled to reestablish itself as a genuine political entity in Pakistan since the collapse of the Soviet bloc almost two decades ago. This struggle continues today and is reflected in the coming together of leftists to remember their past heroes.
There are numerous aspects to Major Ishaq's life and politics which deserve mention. He was the son of a small peasant who had an aptitude for learning. His family's meager means did not present an obstacle to his education, because he managed to secure scholarships all the way through his enrolment at MAO College Amristar, where Faiz Ahmed Faiz was among his teachers. His studies were interrupted only because of the onset of World War II and, like Faiz, Ishaq Mohammad decided to join the British Indian army.
The fact that Ishaq and Faiz joined a colonial army in spite of their progressive politics was a function of the alliances that emerged as WWII progressed. Specifically, it was the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union which, as the world's only worker's state, was the primary source of inspiration for leftists throughout the European colonies that impelled Indian leftists of various stripes to join the British war effort. This did not reflect any principled commitment to the army per se.
As it turned out, Ishaq was able to rise quickly through army ranks, particularly after the creation of Pakistan in 1947 (the new Pakistani army was left with virtually no officer corps). However, soon afterwards Major Ishaq stood accused in the infamous Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case and was jailed. His brief encounter with the state ended here.
In jail Major Ishaq read widely, as is the case with so many political prisoners. His commitment to Marxist thought was consolidated, and it was inevitable that he would join the ranks of the by now banned Communist Party of Pakistan when his jail term ended. Major Ishaq was, however, very different from many of the well-educated leftist leaders that make up the history of the Pakistani left. He believed firmly in living and working with the people, in particular the peasantry. Thus, he spent the best part of his political life trying to articulate a cultural politics which resonated with the society that he wanted to transform.
Major Ishaq was closely involved in the Hashtanagar Peasant Movement in which the MKP made its name. He also participated in peasant revolts across Punjab, throughout emphasising the need for class solidarities to trump caste-ism of any kind. He even wrote a play entitled Musalli, which chronicled the deeply rooted apartheid in Punjabi society, a fact that many Pakistanis are wont to admit, because they
believe that Muslims cannot possibly practice caste-like discrimination.
Like other leftists of his generation, Major Ishaq was prone to sectarianism. The Sino-Soviet split that hampered leftists all over the world was also a major cause of the ultimate decline of the left in Pakistan. For the most part, Major Ishaq and the MKP were pro-Chinese, committed to Maoist political strategy and accordingly tended towards scathing criticism of the pro-Soviet left. In the final analysis, today's left would do well to recognise the relative unimportance of proving whether Soviet or Chinese communism represents the ultimate Truth (or for that matter Trotskyism).
Major Ishaq died in 1982, at the height of Zia-ul-Haq's repression against Pakistani progressives. He was at the forefront of a leftist movement that exercised considerable influence over politics at the national level, but by the time of his death the left was already in a state of decline. Needless to say, Pakistani leftists such as Major Ishaq Mohammad have always been up against it, particularly through the Cold War period when Pakistan was considered a frontline state of the United States against communism. But a big part of the reason it is important to commemorate the struggle of figures such as Major Ishaq is also to learn from their
mistakes, so as not to
Amongst the biggest obstacles to a regeneration of the left is the fact that very few young people have been exposed to leftist ideas over the last two decades. This is, of course, a global phenomenon insofar as the left suffered a tremendous shock with the fall of the Soviet Union and the renunciation of socialism by China. But, in Pakistan, this gap has been even more acute, and reflects the inability of the 'old' left to successfully move beyond the trauma of the Soviet Union's collapse and induct a new generation into its ranks.
The Pakistan of today and the contradictions that exist within society, state and vis-a-vis imperialism need to be understood in their own right. And there has been no meaningful analysis undertaken by the left in this regard for the best part of two decades. It is not sufficient to continue chanting the same slogans that were employed 20 or 30 years ago and hope that this will constitute a substantial enough basis to become a political force again.
For this young people need to be inducted into the left, including those who can contribute to this task of understanding the context within which political and social transformation is the goal. If visionaries like Major Ishaq were still with us, they would likely recognise the need to take, in Lenin's words, one step backwards so as to be able to take two steps forward. Young people in Pakistan today need to be politicised in the first instance, and it is not necessarily the case that this means immediate ideological immersion in classical Marxism. That is the best lesson that Major Ishaq offered us and in rebuilding the left we would do well to remember it.
Paying a heavy price
The poor have been at the receiving end as far as public revenue collection in Pakistan is concerned
By Hussain H Zaidi
A fiscal policy is a most powerful tool available to the government to achieve its socioeconomic objectives, such as economic growth, poverty alleviation and employment generation. Fiscal policy has two components: public revenue and public expenditure. The former also has two components: taxes and non-tax receipts. Taxes are either direct or indirect. Generally speaking, direct taxes are taxes on income, while indirect taxes are taxes on outlay. In case of direct taxes, incidence is borne by the same person or entity from whom the tax is collected; while in case of indirect taxes, the person or entity from whom the tax is collected is different from the one on whom the incidence falls.
For instance, in case of income tax, which is a direct tax, the person bearing the incidence of tax is the same who pays it. On the other hand, in case of general sales tax (GST), which is an indirect tax, the tax is collected from the seller; however, at each stage of distribution chain, the tax is added to the price of the commodity and it is the final consumer who generally bears the bulk of the burden of the tax in the form of higher price.
As for non-tax revenue, it consists of profits generated by public sector undertakings, such as the Post Office Department in case of Pakistan, and surcharges, such as on petroleum and gas. In Pakistan, there are three tiers of government federal, provincial and local or district and each tier can levy taxes. However, as in case of many other federal states, the federal government collects most of the revenue receipts and passes a portion thereof to provinces, which distribute a portion of their revenue to local governments.
The Fourth Schedule of the constitution provides that the federal government has the exclusive jurisdiction to impose import and export duties, central excise duty (CED), income tax other than tax on agricultural income, corporate taxes, taxes on sales and purchase of goods imported, exported, produced or consumed, and capital value tax. Article 160 of the constitution provides for establishing a National Finance Commission (NFC) every five years for distribution of tax revenue from the divisible pool among the federal and the provincial governments.
The NFC consists of the federal finance minister, the four provincial finance ministers and other members to be appointed by the president in consultation with the governors of the provinces. The president is empowered to modify the distribution of revenues "as may be necessary or expedient". In 1997, the share of the federal government and the provincial governments in the divisible pool was fixed at 62.5 percent and 37.5 percent, respectively. It was also decided that beginning financial year 2006-07 (FY07), the share of the provincial governments in the divisible pool would rise annually to 41.5 percent, 42.5 percent, 43.75 percent, 45.0 percent and 46.25 percent thereafter.
Coming to revenue receipts, during the last five years, total revenue-GDP and tax-GDP ratios have stuck around 14 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Pakistan's tax-GDP ratio is the second lowest in the South and South East Asia region (only slightly ahead of Bangladesh's 9 percent), whose average tax-GDP ratio is 13.5 percent and one of the lowest among developing countries (18 percent on average). Indirect taxes account for 6 percent of GDP, while direct taxes constitute only 4 percent of GDP (merely 2 percent of GDP minus the withholding tax).
Tax revenue has increased to Rs1.05 trillion in FY08 from Rs550 billion in FY04, while non-tax revenue has increased to Rs448.7 billion from Rs244 billion during the same period. On the other hand, total public expenditure has increased to Rs2.27 trillion in FY08 from Rs932.6 billion in FY04, resulting in fiscal deficit of Rs777 billion in FY08 (7.4 percent of GDP). Meanwhile, revenue balance difference between total revenue and current expenditures has reached 3.4 percent of GDP. For FY09, revenue target has been set at Rs1.80 trillion, including tax revenue of Rs1.30 trillion and non-tax revenue of Rs500.8 billion.
Direct tax receipts have increased 135 percent annually to Rs388 billion in FY08 from Rs165 billion in FY04, while indirect taxes have increased 87 percent annually to Rs 663 billion from Rs 354 billion during the same period. Thus, the share of direct taxes in total tax receipts has increased to 37 percent in FY08 from 32 percent in FY04. Correspondingly, the share of indirect taxes in total tax receipts has decreased to 63 percent from 68 percent during the same period.
Customs duties used to have the largest share in indirect taxes. For instance, in 1990-91, they accounted for 55 percent of indirect taxes. However, over the years, the share of customs duties has decreased: in FY08, they accounted for only 24 percent of indirect taxes. The share of federal excise duty (FED) has also decreased to 15 percent in 2007-08 from 28 percent in 1990-91. On the other hand, the share of GST in indirect taxes has increased over the years. In 1990-91, GST receipts accounted for less than 18 percent of indirect taxes; while in 2007-08, their share increased to 61 percent.
The decreasing share of customs or import duties in tax revenue can be attributed to trade liberalisation, both autonomous and arising out of Pakistan's commitments under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) regime. Maximum applied tariffs have been slashed to 25 percent in 2007-08 (barring tariff peaks in some sectors, such as the automobile sector) from 225 percent in 1990-91 Average applied tariffs have also been scaled down to 14 percent from 65 percent during the same period. On the other hand, the reduced share of FED in tax revenue is due partly to reduction in excise duties and partly to removal of certain items from the excise net.
As noted in The Economic Survey of Pakistan 2007-2008, the country's tax structure is characterised by several structural shortcomings: 1) on account of various wide ranging exemptions and concessions, as well as endemic tax evasion, the tax base is narrow; 2) tax rates are "pitched at high levels", resulting in a vicious cycle of tax erosion and higher tax rates; 3) there is multiplicity of taxes, with an individual firm subject to several types of taxes; 4) public revenue is heavily dependent on indirect taxes (as indirect taxes tend to be regressive, the tax system imposes a higher burden on the low-income sections of society); and 5) the complexity of the tax system breeds corruption and evasion.
The government has embarked on several initiatives to improve the tax system. These include introduction of a Universal Self Assessment Scheme for all categories of direct taxpayers; removal of income tax exemptions; increase in the coverage of GST; creation of the Inland Revenue Service to integrate collection of domestic taxes (income tax, GST and CED); reorganisation of the FBR, and the Customs Administration Reform under which goods declaration can be filed by an importer on-line.
Notwithstanding these initiatives, tax-GDP ratio remains well below the desired level. In order to raise tax revenue, either direct or indirect receipts will have to be increased. Any increase in indirect taxes shifts the burden to the consumer or the final customer and results in price-hike. Moreover, indirect taxes are essentially regressive, because the burden is shifted equally regardless of the income.
Another problem with indirect taxes is the elasticity of demand. Since demand for the essential goods is inelastic and that for luxuries elastic, increase in taxes on luxuries may reduce revenue while that on essential goods may increase revenue. Though it may be a better choice to increase taxes on essential goods, socially and politically such a move will be unpalatable, especially because it will further reduce disposable real incomes of the low-income groups who spend a major portion of their budget on these items.
Thus, any increase in taxes has to be in direct taxes. However, the problem with direct taxes is that these are easier to evade, and require an efficient tax collection machinery and tax culture, which we are deficient in. Moreover, increase in direct taxes has to be moderate; otherwise, it will stifle business activity and reduce rather than increase revenue receipts.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry's second restoration has paved the way for the revival of a genuinely democratic rule
By Huzaima Bukhari and Dr Ikramul Haq
March 16, 2009 a landmark in Pakistan's history will always be remembered as the day of rejection of legacy of a military dictator, reaffirmation of people's power and demonstration of national consensus that dispensation of justice is the main pillar of democracy. Due to prolonged military rules, the state of Pakistan faced a daunting challenge of establishing a truly democratic polity based on constitutional supremacy. The dictatorial rules muzzled all the state organs, especially judiciary that became an approving arm for almost every military takeover since 1958. However, the defiance started on March 9, 2007, was the starting point and March 16, 2009, proved to be the culmination of the journey from subordination to freedom.
Pakistan inherited an independent judiciary with people of unquestionable reputation and integrity at the helm of affairs. Mian Abdul Rashid, the first chief justice of Pakistan, was a man of character who restrained from attending government gatherings and public functions. Though his successor, Justice Muhammad Munir, became controversial for his judgment in Maulvi Tamizuddin case, his critics have seldom realised that it was actually the failure of political elite that paved the way for recurrent unconstitutional rules, and the judiciary alone could not be blamed.
Successors to Justice Mian Abdul Rashid also included Justice Shahabuddin and Justice AR Cornelius, who demonstrated high standards of judicial conduct even in the most tumultuous years of our early political history. In recent years, Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry revived the legacy of Justice Durab Patel, Justice Fakhuruddin G Ebrahim, Justice Saeeduzaman Siddiqui, Justice Khaliur Rehman and many others, who refused to bow before the men in uniform. Before analysing the role of higher judiciary, let us take a look at a few dreadful events of our political history that posed some crucial tests for judges:
The first dark day of our constitutional history was Oct 9, 1958, when the first Constitution of 1956 was abrogated and martial law was imposed by then-President Iskander Mirza.
The second Constitution of 1962, promulgated by military dictator Ayub Khan, was abrogated on March 25, 1969, on the imposition of martial law by Gen Yahya Khan.
The 1973 Constitution was mutilated by another dictator, Gen Zia-ul-Haq. During his 11-year rule, many amendments were made to the constitution. These were later validated vide Article 270A, which still remains a dark blotch on our constitutional and political history.
Dismissal of two elected governments in 1990 and 1993 by then-President Ghulam Ishaq Khan using his discretionary powers under the 1973 Constitution.
Military overthrow of an elected government on Oct 12, 1999; promulgation of the PCO; unconstitutional acts of Nov 3, 2007, and what not for controlling state organs and retaining both uniform and the post of president by Gen Pervez Musharraf.
As evident from above, in post-independence years, the dilemma of our judiciary was that, because of perpetual failure of political leadership, it was approached time and again to determine the validity or otherwise of capturing state power by the mighty with the barrel of gun. In The State v Dosso, Chief Justice Muhammad Munir called it "successful revolution", but Justice Hamoodur Rehman in Asma Jillani v Government of Punjab termed it "usurpation". In Begum Nusrat Bhutto v Chief of Army Staff came yet another endorsement of the doctrine of necessity wherein "intervention" was declared lawful "in the best and larger interest of the nation". But the latest ones namely, Tika Iqbal Muhammad Khan v General Pervez Musharraf and two others and Tika Iqbal Muhammad Khan v General Pervez Musharraf and others were the worst of all, because they endorsed unconstitutional actions of Nov 3, 2007.
One, however, must not forget that our judiciary showed guts time and again by striking down excessive and abusive exercise of powers by dictators against democratic institutions. The higher judiciary played its role in the curtailment of arbitrary exercise of powers under the emergency provisions of constitution and protection of fundamental rights of citizens during military rules. To substantiate this argument, reference can be made to many cases, such as Sabir Shah v Federation of Pakistan, Mohammad Nawaz Sharif v Federation of Pakistan, Federation of Pakistan v Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, Ahmad Tariq Rahim v Federation of Pakistan, Hakim Khan v Government of Pakistan, Federation of Pakistan v Mohammad Saifullah Khan and Benazir Bhutto v Federation of Pakistan.
The common people of Pakistan and students of history are seldom told how courageously our judiciary worked during the dark days of martial law, for which they were not responsible. On the basis of a few decisions (Tamizuddin, Dosso and Nusrat Bhutto cases, for example), it is assumed that our judiciary has been expressing divergent views on the most vital issue of supremacy of civilian rule and supporting military takeovers. In particular, the events from March 9, 2007, to March 18, 2009, testify to the valiant struggle waged by a few judges supported by all segments of society, most notably lawyers, journalists, social and political activists, human rights workers, etc.
The critics of higher judiciary should realise that it is the people's will and power that forces the barrel of gun to renounce unlawful rule. Nowhere in the world has this task ever been performed by the judiciary alone. It is basically a political question and not a legal issue. Even if judiciary declares a coup d'etat as illegal (as was done by the seven-member bench of the apex court on Nov 3, 2007), how can it force the usurper to abdicate power? The judiciary has no physical power to get its order implemented by force. Thus, the responsibility for failure of political leadership in Pakistan to counter intervention of civil-military bureaucracy cannot be shifted to the judiciary alone. In short, only reliance on people's power can avert unconstitutional rules.
The second restoration of the chief justice on March 22, 2009, is a first step towards revival of genuinely democratic rule and independence of the judiciary in Pakistan. In the wake of this historic day, it is now the duty of all political parties, the intelligentsia, the media and representatives of civic society to act actively and responsibly to work for revival of true democracy and constitutional rule in the country. Instead of entering into polemics and rhetoric, they should strive to evolve a national consensus on a one-point agenda: supremacy of the constitution and independence of the judiciary.
(The writers legal historians, authors of many books and tax advisers are members of Visiting Faculty of LUMS).
Fiasco and beyond!
Our examination system still suffers from the use of unfair means, as was recently evidenced in Karachi
By Dr Noman Ahmed
The shameful episode of cheating and use of unfair means in the Matriculation examination in Karachi has shattered the little credibility that remained with the system. As always, conspiracy theories abound. Some consider this daring media coverage as an attempt to malign the controlling authorities of the Board of Secondary Education Karachi (BSEK), while others shrug it aside as an act of local musclemen to benefit a few favourites.
However, a review of the scenario unveils the various convoluted interests that are being promoted by competing and confronting stakeholders. Rift between the federal and provincial governments on the issue of education policy formulation, declining standards of education, loss of academic time due to unrest and unannounced celebrations of sorts, multiple approaches to elementary education, poor quality standards in teaching ranks, and a progressive rot in the system are some of the prominent aspects that need urgent attention.
Here, it would be appropriate to examine the gradual development of primary and secondary education system in Karachi. Since the inception of the BSEK in 1950, the number of enrolled students has increased from 1,461 to more than 142,000 in 2008. Until the mid-1980s, the various stages of education including examinations were largely trustworthy and dependable. Monitoring and coordination mechanisms of the BSEK were well-geared and the usual tasks were performed with sufficient diligence.
The relatively long time taken for assessment of scripts, and tabulation / compilation of results and their announcement was due to the fact that work was done manually with very primitive data entry and storage procedures. The BSEK began using mainframe computers in 1986, which improved its management capacities. However, around the same time, the system of implementing the curriculum and the essential function of the conduct of examination began facing serious external interferences.
Some of the major reasons for this included rise of populist politics and several vested interest groups under its influence; mushrooming growth of private schools with little follow up of the basic school management guidelines; landslide fall in the status, efficiency and performance of government schools; and widespread de-motivation among school teachers due to very low emoluments / benefits, low status in the society and insecurity of job tenures (for contractual or private appointments).
In the same respect, merit in the induction of teachers could not be ensured in most of the government-run, as well as some private, schools. The person of the teacher, who is the most important building block in the system of education, became either the unwilling worker or incompetent being. In many cases, the moral and ethical values were greatly tarnished due to the inappropriate conduct of several members of the teaching fraternity.
The performance of the BSEK was directly affected by this vital handicap, because the teaching fraternity had a very significant role in the routine work of the board. Course delivery, revision of curricula, invigilation duties, paper setting and checking, and tabulation and computation of results were all assignments where the teachers had a direct role to play. When the rot started showing its ingress in this crucial cadre, its disastrous effects eclipsed the overall performance of primary and secondary levels of education. The system of conduct of examination was the worst hit in this backdrop.
Numerous studies have been undertaken to look into the matters related to the primary / secondary education and its proper assessment through examinations. Many vital findings have evolved from these deliberations. It has been found that the school management is a key component in the system. A well-managed school is one which is competent to gauge the educational needs of its intake, which nurtures the same in an appropriate way, and which is able to professionally examine the curriculum and deliver the same to students in a satisfactory manner.
Such a school also bears the capacity to augment any deficiency in curriculum by providing extra input to pupils in a bid to develop key competencies among them. Hiring well motivated teachers, maintaining a healthy and congenial environment, and ensuring the availability of corresponding material and intellectual resources are the duties of school management. If the schools become strong and independently managed units, the overall system of education and the performance of the BSEK shall be consolidated. At present, this near ideal scenario appears removed from reality.
The social and political corruption has found its inlet into the educational system also. The first lot to be infested with this malignancy were the government-run schools. Post-1972, it was assumed that nationalisation of schools would make quality education accessible to all. In contrast, the schools became the dumping yards for politically motivated appointments, embezzlement of funds and weak internal management. In other words, they were reduced to unimportant entities from the bureaucracy's perspective.
Lack of motivation and absence of accountability led to callousness and boredom among teachers. These deadly attributes were passed over to the students also. In respect of private schools also, only a few have been able to maintain worthwhile quality. In the upper class institutions, the affiliation is normally kept with the British universities for O' and A' levels. The middle class outfits are largely commercially oriented with many shortcomings. Lack of trained teachers, inappropriate physical space and facilities, as well as the money-minded administrations, hamper in the normal performance of schools.
The lower-income localities have private schools that are grossly under equipped. While many have genuinely motivated teaching staff fired with a sense of service, the basic facilities for the mental and physical development of pupils are simply absent. Those individuals who can afford to supplement academic weaknesses resort to the thriving tuition centres that certainly are not the solution. At best, these educational shops provide orientation and practice about examinations. The intellectual development of their students is apparently not the objective.
As a usual norm, scholastic attainment of students is judged through examination procedures. It is a vital stage in any educational system, because it certifies (or otherwise) the capabilities and competencies acquired by pupils. When marred by corruption or any other form of malpractice, it can lead to the demolition of the entire educational framework. Symptoms of prevailing situation in the BSEK suggest the same. Feedback acquired from the insiders of the board and concerned stakeholders shed light on many important aspects.
The nexus of corruption between many board officials and school managements has increased exponentially. Common types of irregularities include leakage of question papers to favourite candidates; admission of fake candidates on the examination premises; facilitation in uninterrupted copying from books / notes; change of answer books; change of seat numbers on the answer books; manipulation in the allocation of examination centres; clandestine use of mobile phones to obtain prompting from outside sources; harassment of innocent students by invigilators (for getting bribe); and malpractices in checking / totalling and preparation of final result sheets.
The corrupt teachers, school managers and board staff draw their strength from political and administrative connections. They never fail to act as per directives of their influential peers in gross violation of the rules, procedures and academic code of conduct. Institutional dynamics of the board are such that the partners in crime illegally support each other. As in the present case, a crackdown has been ordered by the competent authority of the BSEK. This means that a few heads will roll and then the situation would return to the 'normal'.
The process of reform in the BSEK and corresponding educational system must begin without delay. The induction of qualified and competent academic managers in the board must be facilitated. An effective mechanism of affiliation of schools must be worked out where the monitoring of teaching, delivery of curriculum and internal teacher / student performance checks could be documented. Besides, as the first step towards stemming the malpractice in examinations, the examination centres should be centralised at least on a town-wise basis. Well equipped public (or private) buildings can be acquired for the purpose. Karachi witnessed reasonable effectiveness of this approach in 1995 when Prof Dr Abdul Wahab the then-vice-chancellor of Karachi University held degree examinations at the University Campus.
The problems of schools in respect of resource shortages, deficiencies in human resource and political interference need to be effectively dealt. To make it institutionally possible, an oversee committee of independent educational experts and eminent concerned citizens must be formed. This committee should be entrusted with the task of looking at the internal / external performance of the BSEK and the problems of affiliated schools.
The recommendations prepared by the committee must be bolstered and given due strength by way of regulation. This mechanism has worked successfully in various public sector entities and is likely to generate positive results in the education sector also. It must be remembered that the only hope that is left to reform the society is its educational system. If this is positively restructured, our society will be able to survive and progress. Perhaps this is the only recipe for our survival as a dignified nation!
The government needs to think twice before privatising electricity utility companies
By Syed Tanzim Hussain Naqvi
Public utility entities, such as electricity and water supply companies, should not be privatised because the purchasers do not show any interest in up-grading, renovating or improving these facilities. Actually, they take over public utility companies just to make profits and leave them in a much worse condition after termination of the contract.
The government opts for privatisation of public utility companies mostly on the grounds that they are suffering huge losses. Therefore, it wants to sell them to private owners, so that they could turn them into profitable enterprises. However, results have proved that privatisation neither helps the public utility companies nor the country.
Let us take the example of Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC), which was established in 1913 and was running in profit until 1996. After that, the army got management control of the KESC and the company started running into losses of billions of rupees. Therefore, the government decided in 2005 to privatise it. However, the KESC could not be turned into a profitable organisation due to mismanagement of the private owner.
Four parameters are required for improvement in any electricity utility company: 1) addition of generating capacity to avoid load shedding / loss of revenue; 2) up-gradation and renovation of high-tension transmission lines, grid stations and distribution system to reduce technical losses; 3) check on power losses, including technical losses; and
4) increase in revenue
Both the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) and KESC have failed to add a single megawatt generation capacity to the system during the last decade, resulting in excessive load shedding throughout the country. Load shedding of electricity does not only create inconvenience to the public and industry, but also affects the revenue earning of the company, thus resulting in losses of billions of rupees.
At present, exactly this is happening with both Wapda and the KESC. Similarly, the two have not upgraded their high-voltage transmission lines, grid stations and distribution system during the last few years, thus not only overloading the whole power system but also creating frequent breakdowns of the system. Had Wapda and the KESC retained their system of power transmission and distribution, they would have remained in profit. As per record, Wapda was in profit from 1959 to 2000 (for 41 years) and the KESC from 1913 to 1996 (for 83 years).
As concerns improvement of transmission lines / distribution system, reduction of technical losses of the company is of utmost importance if any line or feeder is running on 200 amp load and the same is overloaded up to 400 amp load, then its technical losses will increase four times. Hence, if the power system is under loaded by laying additional transmission lines and distribution system, not only technical losses will reduce but frequent tripping under overloaded conditions will also decrease. For example, 1 percent loss reduction in Wapda is equal to profit of more than Rs2 billion. Hence, one can imagine how much Wapda and the KESC will benefit from improvement of power system.
Increase in the revenue collection of Wapda and the KESC is only possible through highly skilled technical management control at all levels. For example, the KESC was privatised in 2005. In two years, 2005-06 and 2006-07, the total revenue gain was in the range of Rs2.3 billion per year on average, but in 2007-08 when a highly experienced executive director was posted in the company the revenue collection more than doubled to Rs4.877 billion. Similarly, the transmission and distribution losses also decreased to 30.65 percent in 2007-08, from 34.21 percent in the preceding financial year.
The KESC is a registered company in the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE). As such, the share value of the company determines its profitability or loss. From 1913 to 1994, the share value of the KESC was Rs9 per share on average (against maximum share value of Rs10 per share). In July 1994, when a highly skilled engineer from Wapda was appointed as managing director / chairperson of the KESC, the share value of the company rose to a record Rs29 per share. The situation remained the same until October 1996, when the engineer was sent back to Wapda.
After that, the share value of the KESC started dropping. From October 1996 to October 2005, when the management control of the company was with the army, it again dropped to Rs9 per share. From October 2005 to June 2007, the share value of the company further dropped to Rs7 per year. Since June 2007, when the KESC was sold and a private owner got the management control, the share value of the company has dropped to the lowest ever Rs2 per share. One can see how much loss the government and the KESC have suffered in just three years because of the privatisation process.
The private company purchased the KESC for Rs22 billion, but still it is running in loss of Rs16-17 billion per year. Moreover, the loss of the KESC is creating power system breakdown, because the private owner neither increased the generating capacity nor improved the power system. The KESC's loss in the financial year 2005-06 was Rs17.133 billion; in 2006-07, Rs17.660 billion; and in 2007-08, Rs16.071 billion. So, the total loss of the KESC in the last three years comes to an astounding Rs50.864 billion.
Considering that Wapda and the KESC are running in losses, the government should not think of privatising electricity utility companies. Instead, it should adopt the following measures to make the two profitable enterprises:
The managing director / chairperson of Wapda and the KESC should be a highly experienced technical person, so that he or she may motivate the lower staff for improvement of the company's revenue.
All kinds of political interference both in new contract evaluation and awards, and postings / transfers of staff in Wapda and the KESC should be stopped. These powers should rest only with their technical heads.
The chief executives of generation / transmission or distribution companies should be under the control of technical heads of Wapda and the KESC, and these positions should be filled purely on merit.
All technical teams should be managed by highly professional engineers, so that Wapda and the KESC can upgrade / improve power system as well as earn revenue.
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