to call it quits
The commission set up to protect consumers from business cartelisation has not been allocated any funds in the recent budget -- affirming its status as toothless body
By Nadeem Iqbal
The eight month-old Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) -- established to protect consumers from business cartelisation and deceptive practices -- has been made virtually ineffective even before it could hurt erring business houses. The finance ministry has not allocated any funds for the commission in the annual budget for 2008-09.
The commission is empowered to penalise up to fifty million rupees or fifteen percent of the annual turnover of the industry which is indulging in illegal practices. There are demands that the fines be increased as these are still not enough to discourage anti-competitive practices.
An official of the commission confided to The News On Sunday that CCP has been under pressure from some official and business quarters to prevent it from carrying any investigation against wheat, sugar, cement, pharmaceutical and other industries commonly believed to have been involved in anti-competitive practices.
Officials say that CCP's inquiries and its decisions against banks, cement and fertilizer companies involved in cartelisation were creating more and more problems for the CCP, including the non-implementation of the competition law. "This has particularly resulted in government's continued refusal to allocate any budget for the CCP," sources added.
In February this year, Chairman CCP Khalid A. Mirza told media that banks were operating like a cartel by charging unfair fees and paying less profit to their depositors, so an investigation was being conducted by the commission and in case banks were found to be involved in promoting cartelisation, action will be taken against them.
Now the sources in CCP are claiming that the commission has been stopped from investigating. They say that State Bank of Pakistan wrote a letter to the Ministry of Finance demanding to keep the banks outside the purview of CCP.
Similarly, when CCP started a probe into the cement sector, the Ministry of Industries approached the prime minister for a direction to CCP to stop such action for the time being as it would prove anti-productive and discourage industrial sector.
Cartels are the most flagrant form of anti-competitive practice in which rival firms agree not to compete with each other and form an alliance aimed at limiting competition by jointly reducing output and raising prices. In this way they harm consumers because of upward movement in prices. Cartel busting is the most important activity of competition authorities around the world. Competition policy provides a well-functioning market for existing companies along with eliminating market entry barriers for nascent businesses. The authorities in the developed world aggressively fight cartels, as they are constitutionally empowered and are not influenced by any lobby trying to affect smooth functioning and implementation of their decisions.
Across the globe, cartel activities are penalised. Record fines of more than $500 million have been imposed by competition authorities of the UK and the US on British Airways (BA) for colluding with Virgin on transatlantic flights. There are other airlines too, such as Korean Airlines, which have been fined. BA is also facing action under the EU laws and other jurisdictions.
In Pakistan we don't see any such moves. Although Pakistan has had Monopoly Control Authority since 1970 under an anti-monopoly law namely 'Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices (Control and Prevention) Ordinance' (MRTPO) 1970.
The Monopoly Control Authority (MCA), however, became irrelevant to the emerging corporatisation and consumerism because of its limited capacity. Although it wanted to go after cartels in cement, mineral water and pharmaceutical industry but the ratio of its fines was too low. In fact, on one occasion, the cement industry paid the nominal fine imposed by it and continued with the monopolistic activities as the margin of profit was much more than the amount of fine.
The Monopoly Control Authority has been phased out and was replaced by CCP in December last year. But, as is the case in other donor-funded initiatives, CCP was incorporated through an ordinance at a time when emergency was imposed in the country. This short-cut legislation by some individual was carried out at a time when there was a caretaker government. This has deprived the commission of the requisite political strength to take on powerful business houses indulging in malpractices.
The commission does not enjoy any backing of the parliament. Similarly the CCP Ordinance is also a weak law. One of its copies, put on the commission's website, does not give the procedure of the appointment of its chairman and members and their tenures. Similarly, it does not say which government body the commission is responsible to.
Interestingly CCP's first chairman, a former World Bank employee, has also worked as the last chairman of Monopoly Control Authority for over a year.
The CCP has its office in a restricted area in Islamabad's diplomatic enclave. In addition to government's feet-dragging in giving the commission the much-needed push, the commission so far has not made any mark since its establishment.
Although the commission has announced that it is going to investigate the role of CNG station owners in the recent fixation of price, its other reports lack substance. A CCP report 'The Recent Cement Price Hike: Cartel or Not' of April this year carried out a study of price hike in 20 kg bag of cement on March 20 this year. But it did not conclude anything and said: "After analysing industry fundamentals the opinion of the commission is that the current price hike in cement could be the result of change in sector fundamentals affecting the demand and supply dynamics and due to commercial reasons. Nevertheless, the Commission cannot completely rule out the possibility that this across-the-board, simultaneous price increase may have arisen from collusive behaviour of the incumbent cement manufacturers."
The report further states that cement is a classic product/industry which possess characteristics which tempt manufacturers to indulge in collusive or cartel-like practices. These characteristics are homogeneity and substitutability of product and excess/unutilised capacity. "Further, despite there being 29 cement manufacturers -- a fact which should encourage competition amongst manufacturers for market share -- there is concentration of market power with a few leading companies, namely Lucky Cement, DG Khan Cement, Bestway Cement, Maple Leaf Cement, Askari Cement & Fauji Cement, which control 65% of market between them."
When the CCP investigated the price hike in cement it was raised from Rs 240 per bag to Rs 260 per bag. At present the price of per 20 kg bag is between Rs 360 to 370.
Rehmat Shah Afridi's case symbolises a larger issue: the regular travesties of the justice system in Pakistan
By Beena Sarwar
It was painful to think of Rehmat Shah Afridi on death row, haggard and ill.
I had worked with the English language daily paper he launched from Lahore in 1989, The Frontier Post, originally started from Peshawar, capital of his native North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in the mid-1980s. He was not highly educated but he had a liberal, progressive vision of independent media and had brought one of the country's finest journalists, Aziz Siddiqi, on board as the editor.
'Shah Sahib,' as everyone respectfully and affectionately called Afridi, was a smiling, pleasant man in his early forties, immaculately dressed in crisp white shalwar kameez. At the make-shift offices of The Frontier Post above a car repair workshop in Lahore's bustling city centre, he was a genial, down-to-earth presence into whose office anyone, from a lowly guard to a young reporter, could enter without an appointment and be offered a cup of tea -- part of the egalitarian tribal code alien to class-conscious urban Pakistan. Shah Sahib countered rumours about his involvement in 'drug smuggling' by pointing out that his clan, the Afridi tribe, was legally engaged in cross-border trade with Afghanistan as part of an old agreement with the former British colonisers.
Aziz Siddiqui had by then joined the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) as co-director along with his close friend and fellow journalist I.A. Rehman who was Director of HRCP. The organisation was among those that protested Afridi's arrest in 1999 on what most journalists believe to be trumped up charges of drug trafficking. After a district court on June 27, 2001 condemned Afridi to death by hanging, he spent the next three years on death row. There was sporadic news of him once he was convicted. One of his lawyers told me that he was terribly ill at one point and had lost much weight. The Lahore High Court on June 3, 2004 commuted his death sentence on the grounds that trafficking in hashish is not a capital crime. Still, he remained in Lahore's notorious Kot Lakhpat Jail for nearly a decade, with courts periodically turning down his bail applications, pleas to move him to a prison in Peshawar closer to his family and appeals for proper medical care. He was finally released on bail in May this year.
Afridi's case symbolises a larger issue: the regular travesties of the justice system in Pakistan. He had the resources to hire well known, competent lawyers who got his death sentence converted to life imprisonment although even they could not manage to get him paroled or acquitted. Most of the 95,000 detainees crammed into Pakistan's over-crowded prisons have no such resources. Only about a third -- 31,400 or so -- have been convicted. A staggeringly large number of convicts are on death row -- over 7,000, including almost 40 women.
Death row inmates "are either involved in lengthy appeals processes or awaiting execution after all appeals have been exhausted," noted the New York-based Human Rights Watch in a letter to the Pakistani prime minister on June 18 of this year. Appeals typically linger on for at least a decade, more often two. The letter urged Pakistan to abolish the death penalty and until then, to at least sign a UN moratorium on any further executions. "The number of persons sentenced to death in Pakistan and executed every year is among the highest in the world, with a sharp increase in executions in recent years" (134 in 2007, up from 82 in 2006, 52 in 2005, and 15 in 2004).
Afridi's arrest in Lahore on the night of April 1, 1999 seemed like a bad joke. He was held without charge, beaten and tortured. Nothing surprising about that -- in the absence of proper forensic equipment and training, most police cases rely on witness testimonies and confessions routinely obtained through torture and intimidation, as the HRCP documents in its monitoring reports every year.
The prime minister at the time of Afridi's arrest was Nawaz Sharif of whom The Frontier Post and its sister Urdu language publication the daily Maidan had been bitingly critical. The Sharif regime did not have a good track record with the media. They had earlier tried to squeeze the Jang group of newspapers (where I then worked), and prior to that, arrested Najam Sethi, Editor of weekly The Friday Times for making an 'unpatriotic' speech in 'enemy territory' (India). Sharif and his henchman, the all-powerful Saifur Rehman - through whom these actions were taken -- backed down from both cases only after journalists in Pakistan created a major uproar, which was also taken up internationally.
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) had also protested Afridi's arrest and held public demonstrations for his release. International organisations like the Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF), Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also took up Afridi's case and appealed to the government for his release. "However, once he was convicted there was little we could have done," reflected Mazhar Abbas, General Secretary of the PFUJ when I asked him why there wasn't more public outrage about the case. He added that the newspaper editors' and owners' bodies had "backed out of a joint struggle because of professional rivalries, since The Frontier Post had the potential to challenge some of their publications. Otherwise, he would have been out of prison much earlier."
After army chief General Pervez Musharraf overthrew Sharif in a military coup of October 1999, there were hopes that Afridi would soon be freed. However, there were powerful forces ranged against him, including the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) officers who had arrested him (against whom his papers had written for their involvement in drug trafficking). It was not until after a civilian government came to power following the general elections of February 2008 that the provincial interior ministry ordered Afridi to be released on parole on May 24, on the grounds of good behaviour.
Faisal Siddiqi, a young advocate at the Sindh High Court in Karachi who often takes on pro bono cases, told me that those who are awarded capital punishment are usually "the poorest of the poor." Most of them are illiterate and have no resources or support. Along with the HRCP's Javed Burki, a grizzled older advocate, Faisal tries to help condemned prisoners in Karachi Central Prison. "In death penalty cases, the absence of an effective private counsel appears to be the difference between whether the death penalty is confirmed or set aside. Prisoners are condemned 'not for the worst crime but for the worst lawyer,'" he says, quoting a 1994 Yale Law Review study.
"Poor people lack access to competent counsel at both the trial and appellate stages," according to Human Rights Watch. "According to one study conducted in 2002, 71 percent of condemned prisoners in the NWFP were uneducated and over half (51 percent) had a monthly income below Rs 4,000 ($50 USD). The average fee for an appeal to the High Court in murder cases is around Rs 60,000 (about $900 USD). This creates an unequal system of justice, in which those with financial or political resources are able to obtain better legal services and avoid the death penalty."
Sometimes, they don't even get a lawyer. In one recent case, an illiterate army janitor called Zahid Masih was hanged in Peshawar Central Jail after a court martial, having been denied a civilian legal counsel, noted Human Rights Watch in its letter. Three days later, the government announced (on the occasion of the late former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's birthday, June 21, 2008) that it was proposing to commute all death sentences to life imprisonment except for terrorists and those convicted of attempting to assassinate President Pervez Musharraf.
The federal cabinet approved the proposal on July 2. However, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has since taken suo moto notice of the proposal, perhaps in response to opposition from the right-wing lobby which argues that the move would go against the Constitution of Pakistan as well as the teachings of Islam. Until the matter is decided, the only ray of hope for Pakistan's condemned prisoners is the Prime Minister's proposed commutation.
article was originally published by the Women's International Perspective (www.thewip.net)
By Shoaib Hashmi
I have been mulling over eating these past few days because a friend is over from New York, and apart from eating out of house and mangoes at home, we have been talking of nothing but food all day. Just what and, more to the point, how much you eat for breakfast, is very much a cultural thing; because the spectrum goes all the way from "I can't eat a thing before noon" to the adage that breakfast is the most important meal and should be substantial to see you through the day!
The English, who are notoriously finicky eaters, can go to a restaurant and spend an hour over a slice of Yorkshire Pudding which is all of a millimetre thick and you can see through it, and what they call "two veg" which is half a dozen peas and four beans. Yet the same people at a country breakfast can start the day tucking into kippers and fried kidneys.
The French start very civilized, with a cup of coffee and a croissant, and then the rest of their lives talking about "haute cuisine" which is mainly showmanship and very little substance. And one has watched Italians spend a leisurely three ours over a lunch which starts with a ton of spaghetti and meatballs, meal enough for a dozen people, for soup, and end with juice dripping down a peach.
Back home here it is very much a class thing. The chattering classes in the suburbs follow the English tradition and breakfast is a delicate little half-boiled egg eaten with a slice if toasted sandwich bread. Meantime the working classes can tuck into a brimming bowl of trotters, or meat cooked overnight with enough calories to keep the city lit for a week.
Only the Americans are consistently healthy eaters and at an eatery they demand value for their money. An American breakfast, at an 'International House of Pancakes' or 'Friendlies' can be an endless feast starting with cranberry juice, and then wading through a sixteen ounce steak, sunny side up eggs and then half a dozen pancakes -- which are really crepes but so thick and juicy the French would kill themselves -- drowned in lashings of maple syrup.
The good news is eateries are springing up in Lahore offering full-fledged American breakfasts which is obvious from the ton of hash-brownies that comes with each order of three-egg omelette, or easy-over eggs and coffee and fresh fruit juice. This is not really the US so they say it's a twenty four hour service, but you can't get it after eleven cause they are preparing for lunch.
But in other ways we are one step ahead of the yanks. When they talk of steak, they mean beef-steak; here you can get a steak made of free-range chicken! And the pancakes come here with an added assortment of freshly baked muffins in all shapes and sizes and the maple syrup alternates with honey! The trotters can eat their hearts out!
Of course in all this hullaballoo, I have forgotten what is the ultimate breakfast, which is Halva+Puree+Bhajee! Puree is the delicate equivalent of Crepe or pancake, only difference is it is then deep fried in oil and fished out dripping and served! And the Halva is the accompanying sweet dish to be eaten with the Puree or by itself as the Maal Puraa -- Hah, you didn't know that is what it was called!
Pradeep S Mehta is the founder secretary general of the Jaipur-based Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS International), one of the largest consumer groups in India established in 1983-84. It has overseas centres in London, Geneva, Lusaka, Nairobi and Hanoi.
Mehta has also served on several policy-making bodies of the Government of India, related to trade, environment and consumer affairs, including the National Advisory Committee on International Trade of the Ministry of Commerce and its working groups. Besides, he chairs the advisory board of the South Asia Network on Trade, Economics and Environment, Kathmandu and has also been an NGO Adviser to the Director General, WTO, Geneva, Switzerland.
Recently he was on a personal visit to Lahore during which The News on Sunday got a chance to interview him in the backdrop of Pak government's decision to increase imports from India. Excerpts follow:
The News on Sunday: The PPP government is being criticised for announcing an 'India-centric' trade policy while many outstanding issues between the two states remain unresolved. What would you say on this?
Pradeep S Mehta: First, let me congratulate the Government of Pakistan on this visionary, bold and pro-Pakistan step. However, I would like to make a correction. It was Pakistan, sometime ago, under President Musharraf which first decided to put other bilateral matters on hold and concentrate more on bilateral and regional trade. This means even an army chief had to change his stance and focus his attention on issues related to trade and other fields where the people of the two countries could cooperate. About the second part of the question I would say the trade policy of Pakistan is not at all country specific. I feel the decision has been taken only for the reason that cheap imports from India, especially those of industrial raw materials, are the best option the country has to stay competitive in the international market, and also curb inflation.
I don't want to say that the two countries must forget the outstanding issues between them. What I am suggesting is that these countries must not link mutual trade with the resolution of some difficult issues. I am sure peace will follow if trade is allowed to grow freely. You may call it 'peace dividend' if you want to use a pure economic term. This is by no means a utopian thought. Brazil and Argentina, who were once at daggers drawn with each other, had to abandon their nuclear programmes and concentrate mainly on mutual trade. As a result smaller neighbouring countries of that region have also benefited.
TNS: Pakistan already has a yawning trade deficit with India which may increase manifold if the said trade policy is implemented. How do you think can Pakistan overcome this worry?
PSM: Here I would try to remove a misperception that trade deficit is detrimental to an economy's growth or survival. What if Pakistan has trade deficit with India? It also has a trade deficit with China. The United States has had trade deficit with the rest of the world, forever. Even China has trade deficit with India. It's a fact that out of the $30 billion India-China trade, Indian exports have an overwhelming share. China imports cheap raw material from India and sells the finished goods to the world. I think Pakistan can also benefit from the import of cheap Indian raw materials and minimise the ever-increasing costs of production its industry is burdened with.
Another count on which Pakistan can gain a lot is the transportation cost. The cost of transporting goods from the neighbouring India is much cheaper than getting them from distant countries. With global fuel prices constantly on the rise the transport cost factor is becoming more and more significant. About the import of cheap finished goods, it is very much expected that some businesses will shut down for being non-competitive. It happened in India too, when we had to liberalise the import of consumer goods. But at the same time the end consumers will have the opportunity to buy cheaper goods. Everywhere in the world imports are used to control prices and promote healthy competition.
TNS: There is a perception among many Pakistanis that the goodwill measures have been one-sided. They say while Pakistan is opening up its market, India has not shunned its habit of imposing non-tariff barriers on imports from Pakistan.
PSM: The perception is very much there on both sides of the border. But the fact is that they are mostly the sector lobbies that try to protect their interests by pressurising their respective governments. For example the Indian cement industry opposed cement imports from Pakistan on grounds that the product does not meet international quality standards. But finally the imports were allowed. My point is that if Pakistanis are using the same cement and their buildings are not coming down, there's no harm importing it. Similarly the Pakistani sugar industry kept on propagating for long that Indian sugar has excessive phosphorus content which is harmful to health. Here I would say if Indians can consume the same sugar without getting affected why can't Pakistanis have it. Some imports have often been opposed on religious grounds. In this respect I would say if the Arab states can import packed buffalo meat why can't any other Muslim country. In the overall context, if Pakistan liberalises imports from India, let me assure you that India will not lag behind. With the high growth in India, the market is huge and can absorb many goods from Pakistan, whether intermediates or finished goods.
TNS: How helpful can import of fuel from India be for Pakistan? Do you think the two countries can work together to overcome the deepening energy crises especially that faces Pakistan?
PSM: I have been asked this question several times over the last couple of days. Here I would like to clarify that India cannot help Pakistan much in terms of prices which are determined internationally. However, Pakistan can save a lot on the transportation cost normally incurred on getting oil goods from some other country. Indian refineries have a growing capacity to produce fuel much beyond India's domestic needs. India can export some of this surplus fuel to Pakistan.
Another project that can bring India and Pakistan closer and help meet their energy needs is the proposed gas pipeline that will come to India from Iran and pass through Pakistan. Pakistan will be able to earn a huge rental if this project gets through as well as get its share of the natural gas passing through it. India cannot sell electricity to Pakistan as it is facing energy crisis itself. It is as severe as the one haunting Pakistan. It's a fact that hardly 10 years back India was planning to buy 500 megawatt electricity from Pakistan. It is strange that the same country, which had surplus energy at that time, is unable to meet its domestic needs. Down the line, new investments in the power sector in Pakistan did not happen. That is something which your government should address more seriously.
TNS: You seem quite optimistic. But how can you convince those who fear smaller economies in South Asia will collapse due to India's exponential economic growth?
PSM: This is another Cassandraic and poorly-argued thought. All economies of the region can ride on the bandwagon of India's huge economic growth and gain. That has been the experience around similar situations. Let me take the example of Vietnam which is growing at 10 percent per annum for long, in spite of the giant China. One critical factor is that the government in Vietnam has kept their economy open, rather than close it to competition. This only goes on to prove my point. Saath chalen gay tu sab ka fayda hoga!
EU axe falls on nineteen Pakistani seamen as they are served termination notices under the pretext of new legislation on employment
Having doors closed on third world labour, job market in Fortress Europe is now being cleansed ethnically. One of their tactics is a new legislation, that makes it costly to employ non-European Union (EU) citizens. And one such case getting a lot of attention in the Swedish media, at least, is a group of recently fired Pakistani seamen.
These Pakistani seamen, nineteen in all, working on board Birger Jarl were served termination notices on May 15 with a three-month grace period. Birger Jarl, a cruise ship, is owned by Rederi Allandia shipping company.
Rauf Butt has been working on Birger Jarl since 1987 and has been asked to leave. "I am soon going to turn 60, am diabetic and have developed pain in my knees; long time work on board a ship causes such ailments. I think it is due to constant vibrations," he says. He has no idea what he'd do if fired and forced to go back.
"Rederi Allandia justifies the redundancies on the pretext that under the new EU legislation on employment, the non-EU workers deprive the ship of monetary support the company is otherwise entitled from EU," says Rauf.
Rauf thinks the citing of EU-law as a reason to fire the workers is merely an excuse. "Actually these workers, some working for about twenty-five years, earn very good wages now because of the yearly pay raise. The company wants to fire them and employ new workers from East European countries at low wages."
All these Pakistani workers were members of SEKO-Sjefolk (Service and Communication Workers Union-Seamen). Rauf accuses "the union bureaucracy" for "betraying the workers' cause as Pakistani workers rank low on bureaucracy's priority list."
The resentment against Seko was strong when this scribe visited these workers at a meeting. One worker, Azhar, had saved in his mobile an SMS he got from Seko shop steward, Tedde Scot. The SMS read: "'No point in calling. We all lose jobs now. Why couldn't you be satisfied with the money you already earned?".
"The Seko section on Birger Jarl has been telling these workers that if they fight back for their jobs, the company would go bankrupt. Hence, according to Seko, these Pakistani workers better sacrifice their jobs in order to save the jobs of Swedish workers," says Tariq Nasim, another worker hit by redundancies.
Regardless of what these workers called "union betrayal", the workers have not given up the fight. Having lost hope in Seko, affiliated with Social-democrats, they have joined the syndicalist union SAC. Now, the Syndicalists have taken up the cause of these workers and SAC is representing them in this conflict with the company.
The SAC has started a blockade since July 8. The blockade has got a lot of media attention. It was covered by national TV, SvT, when it began. On July 14, country's largest daily Dagens Nyheter devoted a full page to this.
"The job is a matter of life and death as many of us have now reached their fifties. On return to Pakistan, nobody hopes to find either a job or start a business," says Rauf Butt. Termination for Rauf Butt, like his other Pakistani colleagues, means returning to Pakistan since they are not Swedish citizens even after working for over 20 years. "The company would fix visas for us on annual basis. We would work for three months and return to Pakistan for three months," Rauf Butt explains.
The Swedish workers work for one week and are off the next week. The Pakistani workers, according to Rauf Butt, wanted the same privilege but the company would deny them the rights that were enjoyed by the Swedish workers. "I once worked one week and took the next week as off. I kept doing it for two years, but the company refused to get me a visa. Hence, I was forced to do as the other Pakistanis were doing," he says.
"The company is now exploiting this visa situation," says Humayun who has his visa expired.
"For instance, three workers -- Ishtiaq, Humayun and Azhar -- have had their visas expired. When their visas expired, they were told to leave the ship. Now in a way they are living as illegal citizens in Sweden," says Butt.
These three workers had applied for new visas but the company did not send relevant papers to Migrationverket to help them renew their visas. All the workers will have their visas expired latest by September. "The company thinks once that happens, they would not cause any trouble and can easily be dealt through police and Migrationverket," says Rauf Butt.
"We are counting on the solidarity of the Swedish workers and fighting back," Butt adds. An international solidarity campaign has also been launched to help save these jobs. All the details and updates are available on birgerjarl.info.
A riposte to Sabiha Sumar's recent interview
By Adam Saud
Much has been written and discussed about the nature of Pakistani society. The latest that I read was a conversation with Sabiha Sumar in the Encore section of TNS on July 13, 2008. The interviewee has strongly criticised democratic struggle in Pakistan and declared Pakistani society a feudal-minded society, having no sense of democracy. She has also supported the policies of general-turned-President Musharraf, declaring him a very progressive, benevolent and secular-minded person. While comparing Musharraf with Zia, she declared the latter as 'terrible' for the country.
Although Sumar has had her education in the United States and that too in the subject of Political Science, she seems to have no sense of politics.
Sumar rightly points out that democracy comes out of the bourgeoisie traditions, French Revolution, and stands for individual rights, but she has herself refused these individuals rights by supporting Musharraf's imposition of emergency. She asks the question: what do the people of Pakistan want? The answer is very simple: individual rights which were curtailed by the president on March 9, 2007 and then in a more pronounced way on Nov 3, 2007.
The claim that the president has a democratic mind is little better than a joke. Her statement that Pakistanis are feudal-minded has often been made in the past by people in power who benefit by status quo.
A close study of the political history of Western nations reveals that they attained their current political system -- which happens to be democracy -- after a struggle of centuries. How can someone say that ballot box or voting cannot bring democracy in Pakistan? Were most of the political thinkers, who supported democracy as the best form of government, fools?
What did the military dictator do in the last eight years? Where are the power generation projects? How much has been spent on education sector? What have we done to solve Fata and Balochistan problems? Who is responsible for the massacre at Lal Masjid? What has our justice-loving president done with the superior judiciary of Pakistan? Who is responsible for the Kargil crises and the humiliating defeat? If Musharraf is so progressive and democratic, why hasn't he he found a political solution to these problems?
People of Pakistan have used the ballot box to change their fate. If Nawaz Sharif sent Najam Sethi to jail, Musharraf sent the whole media home. He closed down half a dozen news channels with Geo suffering the most by seeing a ban of almost 100 days by the 'freedom-loving' and 'freedom-giving' president. If Nawaz Sharif had to be thrown out, not only from the government but also from his homeland, on charges that he did not let the aeroplane carrying General Musharraf land, thus endangering the lives of 180 people on board, Musharraf is responsible for all the lives claimed in all the terrorist acts, suicide bombings, and Pakistani and US forces' attacks on FATA, and Lal Masjid massacre.
How can we call a person progressive, benevolent and secular-minded if he sacks the entire judiciary of the country to save his unconstitutional rule? What if a person says that I don't like corrupt people, but at the same time seeks support from NABzada politicians? The judges refusing to vacate official residences were taken to task but not a president leaving the Army House.
If a woman working in the fields says she would vote for whoever her family says, it means her relatives are peasants of a very powerful landlord who is part of the political elite. How can she or her family dare to caste vote according to their own sweet will and that too without having any education and political socialisation? Does Sabiha Sumar really believe Musharraf has a solution to break the power of this powerful political elite?
The other day while surfing the channels one happened to come across a new talk show by film actress Noor. Titled Uncensored with Noor, the show comes on Indus TV and the episode that I saw had the actress Mona Lisa, Saleem Shaikh and Meera. The latter two were invited as part of a media promotion campaign leading to the nationwide release of Khulay Asman Kay Neechay.
The programme was quite different to the usual talk shows that one gets to see on television, not least because it had three women on it who were quite presentable but also because right in the middle of it, a man (who surely was a eunuch, not that one has anything against people of the third gender, but the way this segment was placed seemed awkward at best) suddenly came before the camera and started flapping his feet and arms about. It turns out that this 'man' happened to be Noor's friend, though she did not even have the courtesy to introduce him/her? to the audience. Only later it transpired, after Noor, apparently one of Lollywood's better dancers, tangoed with 'him', that his name was 'Bobby' (why do people of dubious gender in this country usually have such names? -- for instance, take the case of this other queen, Babloo, who apparently is a make-up artist in Lahore).
Back to the guests -- first there was Mona Lisa -- of course someone needs to ask her why she is using the same stage name as the famous sixteenth century member of a reputed Italian family when her own accent in Urdu sounds as if she is Sindhi. Ms Lisa spoke at some length on her to-be-released film by Indian director Mahesh Bhatt and his daughter Pooja Bhatt. Since the Bhatts are known for using unknown -- but pretty -- names in his films, who also usually then have roles in which they reveal themselves considerably, the talk also centered on what kind of role Ms Lisa would have -- to her credit, instead of beating about the bush, she said that she did whatever the role demanded and that she wouldn't call such exposure vulgar.
As for Meera, she was the last person to enter the show and as she walked in she seemed to, initially at least, greet only Saleem Shaikh. She then went to talk about the film that she and Saleem Shaikh are in but the more interesting thing that she said was when Noor asked her a question about the English language and what she thought of people who believed that she (as in Meera) was not all that proficient in it. And, again (pleasantly) surprisingly, the actress more or less said that those who criticised her for not speaking properly in English need to get basically a life. And one has to agree completely on this point.
Those people who make fun of others who, according to them (i.e. the critics), do not speak English with the correct enunciation/pronunciation and intonation need to understand that English is not a Pakistani's mother tongue and that one can and should be able to have a perfectly decent conversation in the language of one's choosing -- which usually is one's own mother tongue. Of course, if one is equally or (as is the case with many English-speakers in Pakistan) more fluent in another language then that is fine also. However, it should not be made the basis for making fun of and ridiculing those who attempt to speak in that other language and make a hash of it.
So, if Meera cannot speak properly in English or says many of its words in the 'wrong' way or accent that shouldn't be an issue, as long as she can communicate with other people effectively. In such a case, one would advise such people to stick to speaking and communicating in the language that they are most comfortable in because surely what they are saying is more important than how they are saying it. And this is where the shallowness of those who make fun of others who are deemed not proficient in English comes through -- they are in effect labelling a judging a person, usually without ever having met or coming to know them, on the basis of how they speak a language -- and which isn't even anyone's mother tongue!
Lest people call me a hypocrite, I should clarify that yes I do speak and communicate mostly in English and I also think in English (and not so much in Urdu). But the point of what I am trying to say is that gaining proficiency/fluency in English should not and does not give anyone the right to make fun of others who are perceived as not speaking it in the 'proper' manner. In any case, what is this 'correct' way of speaking -- do we expect Pakistanis, most of whom are taught English only from Class VI (the standard route in government schools) to speak like BBC presenters? Far more ridiculous that Meera or Reema speaking English 'badly' is the thought that an entire segment of society makes fun of them given that English is no one's mother tongue or that it is generally not possible to speak it all the time in one's immediate environment.
writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News.