FSA can protect Syria like any loyal army”
new Syria will not allow domination of any country”
Indus basin has recoverable resource of shale gas”
foreign direct investment
to local government
Compromising on human
Syria’s bloody endgame
The war seems long and bloody, unless some daredevils reach the secured palace in Latakia
By Naveed Ahmad
“Do you want
to see another Afghanistan on the doorstep of Europe?” Syrian dictator
Bashar Al-Assad had threatened the West and Muslim world alike in a
defiant speech on October 30.
Backed by veto-wielding
Russia and China, the Baathist ruler did it single-handedly what the
warlords of Afghanistan could do in two decades of civil war.
“The regime hates its
people more than its declared enemy Israel,” Mohammad Ramiz told this
scribe during an unauthorised visit to the Idlib city. Bashar’s decision
to pull back troops from the occupied Golan Heights and deploy them in
Damascus’ civilian neighbourhoods shocked his supporters and opponents
Hailing from Syria’s
10 per cent Alawite minority, the Assads have been ruling the 87 per cent
Sunni majority (including Druze) Arab nation with an iron fist. Hafiz Al-Assad,
Bashar’s father, quelled a similar uprising in Hama region in 1982. The
most conservative estimates suggest the death toll of Sunni population at
20,000. Robert Fisk, a senior journalist with special interest in the
Muslim world who covered the massacre then, documented excessive use of
Syria’s military forces and its leader turning a blind eye to Geneva
“Those were darker
times, with no internet and cheaper mobile phone cameras. But the worst
tragic similarity with today is an indifferent Muslim and Western world
against pro-active erstwhile Soviet Union and Iran,” said Zena, a Syrian
academic based in Ankara for the last eight months. She does not permit
The News on Sunday to use her real name as her parents and sibling still
live in Damascus.
When Hafiz Al-Assad
massacred his own people in Hama, the United States and its other allies
were busy raising public opinion against Soviet Union’s Afghanistan
invasion. Only a few journalists could enter the country and report the
facts on the ground.
With tiny North African
nation of Tunisia forcing its tyrannical leader, Ben Ali, out of power and
the country, the Syrians felt inspired. But the real colours of their
defiance did not show up till Egyptians sent Mubarak packing.
against police brutality in a central Damascus neighbourhood as their new
first on March 15, 2011. The regime was stunned at the unusual
disobedience and quelled it with force. Then valiant people of southern
most agrarian district, Dara’a took matters in their hands. They started
off the uprising with an act, the other conclude their struggle with. The
protestors in Dara’a defaced and demolished a statue of Hafiz Al-Assad
in the very early days.
Iran-backed Bashar Al-Assad
sent tanks and helicopters to take revenge. For weeks, the game of
hide-and-seek continued between protestors and the military. The people of
Dara’a lived in absolute darkness, with power supply cut off, drinking
water barely available and food markets empty.
The activists played
smart and filmed the atrocities with mobile phone cameras and uploaded the
visuals on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube besides writing blogs. Images of
two mass-graves in Dara’a villages added fuel to the fire. The torch was
passed on to Damascus, the world’s oldest city and home to all Abrahamic
Bashar Al-Assad and his
Baathist party Machiavellis relied heavily on the regime’s multi-layered
network of mokhbrat (spies) to kidnap the young leaders besides killing
hundreds in direct police fire on the protestors.
Last Ramadan saw the
worst atrocities since Hama massacre. Armed policemen desecrated mosques
during the taraweeh prayers but unprecedented demonstration demanding
isqat-un nizam (discontinuation of the system) and exit of the dictators
only grew in their size and image.
In the same holy month,
a Youtube video of Syrian military officers went viral. Instead of
shooting at the innocent protestors seeking democracy, this first set of
valiant Syrian military men led by a colonel was announcing defection and
pledging to protect the protestors from the government attacks.
Not only the maiden
defection added to the courage of protestors but also set the course for
other conscientious officers and soldiers alike. Thus, the Free Syrian
Army was formed. Soon, a nation suppressed for four decades was united and
speaking from northern town of Aleppo to central city of Homs and southern
district of Dara’a.
Dozens of Syrian
military officers and hundreds of soldiers had defected simultaneously.
Though the defiant ones working in the civilian government did not quit
their offices but switched their loyalties to the protestor, providing
them vital tip-offs ahead of its oppressive action.
During this scribe’s
visit to the FSA-controlled Aleppo area, the ragtag militia was
confronting the Soviet-trained and equipped military like a hardened
guerrilla force. Living out of half-destroyed buildings or tents pegged in
the woods, the soldiers and officers ate the same food and drank from the
Olives, dates, yogurt or
cheese with bread is all they eat for early Ramadan breakfast (called
sahoor). Coke was added specially for the guests in iftar.
After the Maghreb prayer
at a plateau hill, a young man came to this scribe. Speaking in broken
English, he pointed towards his home half a kilometer below. “That’s
my home. My sisters are cooking dinner but I eat with my colleagues here.
I have not been home for two months,” he explained to The News on
Sunday, with a hint of nostalgic smile. Abed al-Rahim was in the final
year of his English literature degree when the uprising began and classes
in the Damascus University were called off.
“I always hated
weapons and stayed away from street fights but everything reversed in a
matter of weeks for me,” he recalled. Rahim observed the younger
generation never imagined a day when they would be fighting their own
Today, Bashar’s Army
has lost hundreds of officers and thousands of soldiers to the anti-regime
militia. The FSA claims to have over 120,000 men, including 25 generals.
“We always saw Israel
our enemy, enslaving the Palestinian people and annexing their lands and
our Golan Heights,” said Abdullah, a US-educated medical doctor who now
commands a military post overlooking an Aleppo neighborhood.
Abdullah is amongst many
expatriate Syrians who returned home to offer medical service during the
struggle and ended up fighting “to secure towns and villages from a
military raised with taxpayers’ money.”
With the atrocities
spread over the entire country, some 850,000 Syria’s internally
displaced persons are faced with shortage of very basic food such as
bread, chickpeas, water and milk. Hospitals are non-functional in the
country and in case an injured reaches a government medical facility, he
is most likely to end up in prison than emergency ward.
“Our makeshift medical
facilities are now located in mosques and abandoned basements but they are
devoid of basic surgical equipment and medicines,” Dr Abdullah Shami
told this scribe from Homs.
He said some 200 doctors
were killed by the regime in raids and over 1,500 are missing at the hands
of intelligence agencies. Owing to severe fighting and intense aerial
attacks over civilian neighborhoods, even the most daring foreign
humanitarian agency cannot make it to the heart of troubled regions.
Ironically, the United
Nations’ $193 million appeal for IDPs remains funded by 20 per cent
despite reasonable media coverage and impressive social media activism.
From March 2012 to end
of June, Syrian refugees have continued to cross the border points with
Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq at an average rate of more than 500 per
day. Since July, the number of refugees leaving Syria has soared to over
1,000 per day, taking the overall figure to 150,000, of which over 75 per
cent are women and children.
In sheer apathy, $189
million plea for refugees has also met lackluster response with pledged
donation resting below $40 million.
From a vintage point in
Turkey’s Hatay region, one can see minimal crops in the fertile lands
across the border, indicating serious food shortages in the snowy winter
Though Assad has been
weakened considerably after the loss of key aides and generals over the
year, forcing him to quit Damascus and settle in coastal town of Latakia,
his resolve to turn Syria into Afghanistan seems unflinching.
Russian-Chinese double veto thrice, and military and financial support
from Iran, Bashar Al-Assad has truly transformed from a dictator to a
“The Assad neither
understands the language of diplomacy nor political dialogue,” said a
senior military officer of the FSA in Idlib. There is a general consensus
within the militia to complete elimination of the Communist regime in
Courage and emotions
aside, the ground realities are bitter. The FSA has limited munitions that
can pierce through armor along with automatic machine guns. The commanders
invariably admit that the so called friendly nations have not provided
much needed heavy weaponry like anti-aircraft guns.
The war seems long and
bloody, unless some daredevils reach the secured palace in Latakia.
The writer is an
investigative correspondent, specializing on security, diplomacy and
Middle East. Currently reporting from Turkey-Syria border, he can be
reached at https://twitter.com/naveed360
Photo by the author
The News on Sunday:
There are concerns about unity of Free Syrian Army as a unified fighting
force. Some believe that it would go the Libyan way by splitting up along
regional or sectarian or ethnic lines. How do you comment?
Abdul Hamid Zakariya :
There are a few problems in the FSA like anywhere else. We have
established Askari Majalis (military councils) in all cities to deal with
the issues of leadership, strategy and tactics. Thus, there is no worry
regarding FSA unity now or after Assad.
TNS: Why has there been
no serious claim of downing helicopters or jet fighters by the FSA? Are
you well-wishers only providing with light automatic machine guns and RPGs
but no anti-aircraft munitions?
AHZ: There is no real
funding from our friends outside the country. They only provide us little
money to survive. We can hardly meet our daily needs with it and buying
arms remains out of question. Most of our weapons soldiers brought with
them while defecting the military or we snatched them from the regime
forces. In some cases, we could buy arms from the corrupt generals inside
TNS: Would some officers
and soldiers quitting Assad now be tried for crimes against the Syrian
people? For example, the Brig General from Republican Guards was siding
and killing with Bashar since March 15 but seemingly became a hero after
he disowns him now.
AHZ: We welcome anyone
who wants to join us if he didn’t kill people. We understand that most
of the soldiers are forced to kill. But there are people who ordered mass
killings and we will punish them after Assad goes. In general, criminals
won’t be allowed to join us. We won’t forgive them. They can leave the
country or keep fighting with Assad till death.
TNS: What is the policy
for foreign militants when they are caught by the FSA? Do you keep
prisoners and bargain with the government for release of FSA soldiers in
AHZ: We did capture any
foreigner. Regarding the Lebanese group of Hezbollah, it was the act by
another militia which we don’t approve of.
TNS: Has there been any
punishment for alleged involvement of FSA soldier in looting Turkish truck
AHZ: When we were
fighting against regime forces in Bab al-Hawa, the shabeeh attacked these
trucks and ran away with them. The media attacked us for this. Now the FSA
is working to get the trucks back and retrieve the goods from shabeeh and
return them back to Turkey. Shabeeh are still inside Aleppo and we have a
chance to hand them over to Turkey.
TNS: Is there a plan to
disarm the militia after the exit of Bashar?
AHZ: Of course, we will
collect all arms after Assad is overthrown. We have already planned for
it. We register every gun and the name of the person who carries it. The
arm is registered against his national or former military ID. So the
collection will be easier.
TNS: Are you worried
about possible collapse of Syrian military after Assad?
AHZ: The FSA comprises
of 150,000 soldiers and this number can protect Syria like any loyal army.
Insha-Allah we would prove our words.
— Naveed Ahmad
new Syria will not allow domination of any country”
YN: Syrian National
Council is a political umbrella for the delivery of demands of the
revolutionaries and their expression in international forums. The SNC has
been gathering names and data of people and communities who have a
positive attitude in the revolution since its start. Most of SNC activists
don’t have a political background.
There is no disagreement
about the objectives and methodology adopted by the opposition forces now
working under the umbrella of the SNC. Regarding post-Bashar transition
period, there have been and will be open discussions between members of
the council and the Syrian Free Army.
That is true that the
SNC did not succeed in creating synergy in all its offices and
office-bearers, which raised eyebrows and protests over the performance of
SNC. Now we are restructuring the council at all levels to start a
bottom-up democratic process to pick real leadership.
TNS: Would the Syrian
National Council offer safe exit to Bashar Al-Assad to another country,
just like Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh?
YN: The people who lost
their dear ones, mothers, wives and sons of the martyrs exercise the right
to pardon Bashar or anyone and the National Council will fulfill their
TNS: Syria, owing to its
complex ethno-sectarian make-up, seems to face more centrifugal forces
after exit of Baathist ruling elite. Is there a set of leaders within the
SNC umbrella to keep the country unified till the first free and fair
elections take place in the country?
YN: The SNC is a mix of
different sects and religions. There are opposition figures with proud,
long history of defiance. The presence of these leaders coupled with
enormous awareness generated through protests will be enough to guide us
in the transition period.
TNS: Syria’s bigger
challenge remains the gulf between expatriate leadership living in exile
for decades and those who actually give sacrifices with blood and
resources besides organising the movement in the country. With Bashar’s
end nearing, how can the SNC team up with local leaders towards a peaceful
and widely accepted transitional leadership?
YN : The Syrian National
Council includes both, those who left Syria before the revolution and the
ones who are organising it from within. We would have to narrow the gap
between differing views of those outside and inside Syria. There will be
no excluding anyone, living abroad or at home, sincerely desiring to
contribute to the process of institution building.
TNS: In case Bashar
delays his exit with greater external help of Iran and Russia, would SNC
back military action by Coalition of the Willing (world powers like US, EU,
Turkey and Arab League, etc)? The nearest to such a model in this case
would be Western nations invasion of Iraq to change Saddam Hussain’s
YN: The National Council
supports the Free Syrian Army. There exists daily coordination between the
SNC and the FSA. Our demands are clear in helping to stop the crimes and
massacres carried out by the regime forces, and provide a buffer zone to
prevent the regime from bombing civilians and creating humanitarian
corridors for the delivery of food, aid and medicines. The current
circumstances are different now as the FSA can protect the people on
ground but they need help to protect them from air raids for which they
don’t have weapons.
TNS: The most horrific
scenario in case of Bashar’s exit from the scene is interim control
going to some kind of Syrian Supreme Council of Armed Forces, similar to
an outcome of global power play in Egypt. Given Israeli, American,
European, Russian and Gulf nations’ varied interests and widely known
split within the SNC, Syrians may be facing such an imported structure on
YN: The situation in
Syria is different from Egypt’s military. The Syrian Army has
participated in suppression of the demonstrators and killing which the
Egyptians did not when Mubarak ruled the country. Here honest soldiers
have defected to the FSA. The new Syria will deal with all countries
through the common interests of Syria, and will not allow domination of
any country. Syria will try to cooperate more closely with the Arab
countries that stood and supported its revolution with their policy of
mutual respect and natural geographical relations.
— Naveed Ahmad
energy woes are getting worse with every passing day. The country is fast
consuming its natural gas reserves, unable to produce enough electricity
to meet its needs, overwhelmingly dependent on import of petroleum
products, and of late mulling plans to add Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG)
and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to the imports’ list.
These steps may help
improve the energy demand-supply gap temporarily but not without
increasing the import bill of the country and giving certain mafias
another playing field.
Long-term projects are
also there but their fate is mostly shrouded in air of uncertainty.
Pak-Iran gas pipeline is a case in point. The project may take years to
complete or be delayed or abandoned due to security risks and pressures
from anti-Iran powers. Discovery of Thar coal reserves was a hope but the
lack of interest on part of the government and controversies surrounding
the project have made it a non-starter.In
this scenario, is there any hope of self-reliance in time to come?
Fortunately, things are not as bad as they look. Seismic and geological
studies have proved that Pakistan has reserves of oil and gas which have
not been tapped for several reasons. Reserves of unconventional gas are
above 50 Trillion Cubic Feet (TCF) in Sindh alone. Lack of local and
foreign investment, security risks and technological backwardness are the
biggest impediments in this regard.
However, a positive
development is that the government of Pakistan is now focusing on
exploration of unconventional gas reserves. So far, the exploration
process was confined to conventional reserves where natural gas is
available as an energy resource that lies hidden beneath the ground,
trapped in porous rock formations. In fact, the two resources — oil and
gas — are often found together in conventional wells accessed by
drilling deep into the ground. In unconventional reserves, gas is trapped
in rocks and different sedimentary layers.
“The need of the hour
is to go for unconventional reserves,” says Saeed Qureshi, Manager, Mari
Gas Company while talking to TNS. He says the trend is becoming popular
all over the world, though companies were reluctant at first to do so due
to the high costs and technicalities involved.
In the long run, the
cost benefit is also a factor. For example, in the US natural gas prices
have fallen drastically. Shale gas-a type of unconventional gas-
represented just 1 percent of USA’s natural gas supplies but today it is
over 30 percent.
conventional oil and gas reserves also in Balochistan, Karak, Kohat, Mela
and Bannu in KPK but cannot be explored due to the security situation,”
says Qureshi. This leaves us with the option to explore Sindh reserves and
indulge in offshore explorations which are costly but may be huge. Giving
an estimate, he says it may cost $5 million to drill a well on the ground
but the price may go up to $ 20 million a well in offshore drilling.
“The sea bed near Pakistani coast is quite similar and close to that
near Mumbai, and that is why chances of Mumbai Oil Field like discovery is
quite probable,” he adds.
Tariq Rasheed, Regional
General Manager, LMKR, a petroleum technology company tells TNS that due
to geological reasons in Pakistan, the oil fields are not as big as fields
in the Middle East, etc and so E&P companies have to look for pockets.
“Searching for such pockets without wasting money and efforts is not
easy,” he says adding, “Technology can help reduce the risk. Success
ratio here is 1 to 3. One in every three drillings yields results.”
This, he says, is also for the reason that explorers are extremely careful
about making investments and carrying out drillings. Geographix software
has significant contribution in exploration and is widely used in the
country, he adds.
He foresees success in
the future for the reason that government of Pakistan is working on shale
gas policy and to adopt technology at fast pace. The ministry of petroleum
and natural resources had hired their services to make best use of
exploration-related data available in Pakistan. Earlier, it was available
in isolated form but now it is integrated and helps government market
Pakistan’s oil and gas potential to investors.
is Vice President Marketing for LMKR’s global operations stretching
across four continents. The company was founded in 1994 by Pakistan’s
Atif Rais Khan-who is its CEO and Chairman, & Shabana Khan, COO. LMKR
provides technological Exploration and Production (E&P) solutions to
the oil and gas sector. Justine was in Pakistan recently for execution of
the global marketing plan for LMKR GeoGraphix — a powerful Windows-based
geologic and geophysical interpretation system. The software has great
significance for companies doing exploration work in Pakistan as it helps
cut costs and increase success rates within shortest possible time. LMKR
has also joined hands with Pakistan’s Ministry of Petroleum and Natural
resources to digitise and integrate highly important geological data. The
News on Sunday talked to Justine on industry-specific issues. Excerpts
The News on Sunday: What
is the significance of GeoGraphix for E&P sector?
GeoGraphix is the first and one of the leading Microsoft Windows based
software for Oil and Gas industry. It is being used by thousands of oil
and gas companies and independent consultants around the world. GeoGraphix
has over 8,000 licenses being used globally. The software was first
developed in the US in 1984, and currently most of the software research
and development activity is being done at LMKR’s largest offshore
development center in Islamabad. LMKR bought exclusive rights of
GeoGraphix from Halliburton of USA in 2010. There is a significant use of
GeoGraphix Discovery Suite in the Oil and Gas sector of Pakistan also and
a significant number of government, semi-government, private and
multinational companies working in Pakistan are using GeoGraphix for their
TNS: How does GeoGraphix
JF: Geographix is meant
for analysis of
sub-surface data related to geosciences and more specifically for
use by the petroleum industry. This sub-surface data can be primarily
about well and seismic. The software analyses all this data and helps
geologists and engineers locate a sweet spot for drilling, maximise
success rates and minimise costs. It also has capabilities to utilize
TNS: You just talked
about presence of huge unconventional gas reserves in Pakistan. If
that’s the case, why do you think Pakistan has not capitalised on them?
JF: First of all, we
will have to understand the difference of technology involved in
conventional and unconventional gas exploration. In the first case, the
complexity of drilling and fracturing technology and its cost is
significantly low as compared to unconventional gas exploration. This
technology is more prevalent in the US. It is due to the gas-trapped in a
different way in sedimentary rocks, which is difficult to extract because
of the nature of the rock.
As an encouraging fact,
the South Indus basin in Pakistan has technical recoverable resource of
shale gas amounting 51 Trillion Cubic Feet (TCF) as per the initial
assessment report by US Energy Information Administration. However, to
explore this unconventional gas in Pakistan, both government and E&P
companies are working towards shale gas policy and technology adoption on
fast pace. Roughly, it costs more than five times to explore
unconventional gas than conventional but volumes are high enough to offset
the costs involved.
TNS: What technical
solutions your company has for explorers of unconventional gas, both
inside Pakistan and abroad?
JF: Our product
GeoGraphix is actively and successfully being used by many E&P
companies operating on large unconventional gas fields in the US.
GeoGraphix provides Geosteering while drilling, horizontal well
correlation and dynamic framework building using the near real time data
coming out of well which helps geoscientists for increased control over
subsurface. This horizontal drilling is done only at those spots where the
presence of shale gas is highly likely. Geosteering can simply be defined
as the act of adjusting the borehole position to reach one or more
geological targets. Our company has clientele in North America, Middle
East, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Around 20 local and global
exploration companies in Pakistan are our clients. Pakistan is definitely
a priority as our Islamabad office has our largest Human Resource (HR)
base of 300 professionals, including geoscientists IT professionals, and
engineers, etc. who service both local and international clientele.
— Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
idiosyncrasies are responsible for destroying investment initiatives,
besides lack of energy, infrastructure and law and order situation.
Investment policies of the government, posted at the website of Board of
Investment (BOI), have been subjected to inconsistent interpretations and
arbitrary changes by the bureaucrats who run the show as there is no
system of check and balances to monitor their
discretionary powers. On papers, Pakistan has liberal and inductive
investment policies, but these have failed to attract substantial foreign
The Chairman of BOI,
Saleem Mandviwalla, member of a known business family, has time and again
mentioned that bureaucratic delays and negative handling of cases of
foreign companies by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), coupled with
ineffective and sluggish justice system, are the main causes of dissuading
foreign investors from coming to Pakistan. FBR seldom accepts what is
announced by the BOI. The private sector is highly critical of FBR, which
they consider to be corrupt and inefficient, with too much discretion
available to the officers.
reveal that total investment has decreased to 12.5 percent of GDP during
the financial year ended on 30 June 2012 — it was $ 5.4 billion in
2007-08 (22.5 percent of GDP) and nose-dived to just $812.6 million in FY
2011-12. According to a Press report, “the major decline in foreign
direct investment registered from the United Kingdom and United Arab
Emirates, plunging to $36.6 million from $284.2 million a year earlier and
to $142 million from $207.1 million, respectively. Foreign direct
investment from the US dropped to $233 million against $238.1 million a
year ago. Norway took out $275 million in 2012 instead of making any new
The communications and
power sectors saw capital flight. An amount of $315.3 million was pulled
out of the communications industry while $85 million worth of investment
was withdrawn from the power sector, according to the document’, the
Officially, the BOI has
conveyed to the government that outbound investment from Pakistan to
Bangladesh is insignificant — “during the last 12 years total
investment made abroad by the Pakistanis was $544.1 million, out of which
$30.4 million or 5.7 percent of total investment was made in
Bangladesh”. The investment in Bangladesh by Pakistanis is motivated by
a single factor—allowing market access to the European Union that
Bangladesh enjoys due to its status as a least developed country.
It is depressing that we
are facing negative trends in all investment areas, despite tall claims by
BOI and posting commercial counselors all over the world. We have great
potential in agriculture but no joint ventures are in the offing to train
farmers, mechanise and modernise cultivation processes and provide
machinery on rent, amongst other
investments in exploration, mining and energy. One wonders what is
preventing the government from deregulating the energy sector. We achieved
extraordinary results by deregulating telecommunication sector — cost to
mobile users came down substantially. Had the government allowed private
generate power and sell to anyone it liked, we could have avoided
the present acute shortage of electricity.
The existing business
environment is highly unfavourable. The business community is struggling
for its very survival — bhatta (extortion), kidnapping for ransom,
energy crisis and devaluation of the currency, just to mention a few.
Incidents of theft and armed robberies, blockades at every avenue and
terrorized population are the factors seriously hampering business
activities. Under these circumstances, irrational increases in utility
tariffs and taxes are causing further deterioration in economic activities
apart from discouraging any new avenue of investment.
The prevailing situation
of dwindling foreign direct investment and flight of capital will never
improve for another reason that is less debated in Pakistan —
highhandedness of FBR in the frenzy of meeting tax targets. In recent
months, FBR has resorted to arbitrary demands that have irritated foreign
as well as domestic companies. The failure to meet budgetary target of Rs.
1952 billion fixed for the fiscal year 2011-12, despite adoption of all
kinds of unlawful methods by FBR in the process, has further destroyed the
investment environment of the already ailing economy.
FBR attached bank
accounts to recover unlawfully imposed taxes without waiting for the
Inland Revenue Tax Tribunal’s decision. This forced many foreign
countries to withhold payments of dividends or discharge their debt
obligations. Ultimately all these demands were quashed by Tribunal
disapproving arbitrary assessments. But the taxpayers had to pay a heavy
price, both in monetary terms and mental torture and agony. What makes the
situation more painful is the fact that FBR takes no action against the
officers even after their orders are held to be unlawful, excessive,
arbitrary and unreasonable.
In the worsening
economic situation and depletion of foreign investments, highhandedness of
tax officials is proving to be the final nail in the coffin. Foreign
investors are reluctant to come to a place where tax officials demand
their “share” and the tax justice system is ridiculously slow and
The tax machinery is
becoming more ruthless with each passing day and a vast majority of
taxpayer is victim of abuse of powers while those who do not pay taxes in
connivance with tax collectors are well protected. Tax collectors want to
achieve their targets without bringing into tax net those who do not pay
due taxes. In these circumstances, the existing taxpayers get arbitrary
tax demands and there is no effective justice system to come to their
It is a mockery of
justice that in the hierarchy of tax judicial system, first appellate
authorities are directly subordinate to the FBR and essential element of
the revenue collection machinery.
All appellate authorities should be part of judicial service
working under the administrative control of the Honourable High Court. The
present working of Tax Tribunal under the Ministry of Law is against the
principle of “independence of judiciary”. The Tribunal as well as
first appellate forum (commissioner/collector appeals) should work under
the High Court of their respective territorial jurisdiction. The same
system is presently in vogue for civil judges/magistrates.
Foreign and domestic
investments cannot be attracted by mere announcements of policies and
concessions. The system must actually deliver in order to win the
confidence of investors, who are both shy and shrewd. No system can work
unless it has an effective check and balance mechanism.
The priority of
government should be improving productivity and economic growth that will
ultimately lead to more revenue generation, rather than resorting to harsh
taxes to stifle economic growth. At present, our economy is faced with a
dilemma, where it can neither afford to give any meaningful tax relief
package to the common people, trade and industry [due to huge fiscal
deficit] nor can it achieve a satisfactory level of economic growth [due
to retrogressive tax measures]. This is a vicious circle that the
government needs to overcome. It must come out of this tangle to make
Pakistan a competitive economy where investors, both domestic and foreign,
find satisfactory conditions to live and invest.
The writers, tax lawyers
and authors of many books, are Visiting Professors at Lahore University of
Management Sciences (LUMS)
tribesmen of seven tribal agencies and six semi-tribal regions of Pakistan
are on the run for the last over ten years to protect their lives from
bombing and kidnapping for ransom. But this is not something new for them.
While some of them
prefer to stay at their own land, other leave their towns to find jobs and
look for businesses in other parts of the country and abroad for not
having adequate resources in the tribal belt.
Thousands of tribesmen
are living in camps as the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in
Peshawar, Charsadda, Dera Ismail Khan, Tank, Kohat and Bannu. But the
number of tribal families already living in the settled districts in their
own or rented houses is higher than those living in camps.
Tens of thousands of
tribal families have shifted from their remotest towns to settled
districts in search of education, health facilities as well as to seek
jobs and run businesses. There are not much opportunities of jobs and
businesses in the tribal towns to live a respectable livelihood for a
Almost half of the
population of the provincial capital comprises of migrants from all over
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata. The city hosts hundreds of thousands of
tribesmen from Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, North and South
Waziristan as well as the Frontier Regions (FRs) of Peshawar, Kohat, Lakki
Marwat, Bannu, Tank and Dera Ismail Khan. The huge majority is that of
Mohmands and Afridis from the nearby Mohmand and Khyber Agencies.
“Since there are not
enough opportunities of businesses and jobs in any of the tribal areas,
the tribesmen of these remote towns come down to Peshawar and other
settled areas to earn their livelihood. There are tribal families settled
in Peshawar for several decades after their elders shifted to the
provincial capital either in connection with their job or business,”
says Khalid Khan, a young journalist associated with Geo TV.
According to Khalid,
tens of thousands of tribesmen from North and South Waziristan are settled
in Dera Ismail Khan, people from Orakzai and Kurram are living in Kohat
and those from Mohmand and Bajaur are settled in Charsadda, Mardan and
Dir. “But the majority of them prefer Peshawar for being a provincial
capital and having all the basic facilities of health, education and
Still, hundreds of
thousands of tribesmen are living in their own areas, doing small
businesses, employed in government jobs while a good number is involved in
agriculture and gardening.
“There are huge apple
orchards in South Waziristan which is the main source of income of
hundreds of families of the agency. Several others are running shops,
driving cabs and pick ups while a good number is doing government and
private jobs,” says Ahmad Wazir, a tribesman from South Waziristan
settled in Peshawar.
Marble stone is the main
industry in Bajaur and Mohmand agencies where a huge tribal population is
earning livelihood. The industry in the two agencies provides marble
across the country.
“Agriculture is the
main source of income for those still living in Bajaur agency. Thousands
of families are dependent upon their small pieces of agricultural land
that mostly produce maize and wheat,” says a Peshawar based journalist,
Yousuf Ali, originally from Bajaur. Ali believes that small shops,
government and private jobs, mostly in education sector, as well as
smuggling across the border from and to Afghanistan are the major sources
of income of thousands of others in Bajaur.
A large number of youth
from Bajaur can be found polishing shoes all over the country, especially
in Peshawar and Karachi. They return to their families only twice or
thrice a year, just to hand over the money they earn during their stay
away from home.
Mohmand and Bajauris are
also running small restaurants and tea shops all over Pakistan. The entire
staff in these restaurants uses to be from the respective tribal area.
The illegal cross-border
movement of goods goes on in and from almost all the tribal agencies that
shares a long boundary with Afghanistan. “There are a number of car
dealers in North and South Waziristan, Khyber Agency and Bajaur that are
dealing non-custom paid vehicles smuggled form Afghanistan. The business
goes on all over the Malakand division too where vehicles smuggled from
Afghanistan via tribal areas are sold,” says Ahmad Shah, a car dealer in
Khyber Agency selling luxury vehicles against 30 per cent of the local
Apart from non-custom
paid vehicles, the illegal business of hashish is one of the most
profitable professions for tribesman of Khyber Agency. Smuggling of
cloths, electronics, cosmetics, medicines and many other items feed many
families in the tribal areas.
The arms market in Darra
Adamkhel once used to provide jobs and business to thousands of people
since the weapons prepared in the town used to be supplied all over the
country. However, militancy in the area has also affected the arms
industry and people had to shift to safer places from Darra Adamkhel to
look for other jobs.
Industrial Estate in Hayatabad and Hayatabad Township also provide jobs
and business to thousands of Afridis and Shinwaris from Khyber Agency. A
large number of tribesmen from the two tribes are associated with the
business of heavy transport, carrying goods all over the country and
across the border to Afghanistan.
A large number of
families from the tribal areas are completely dependent on their members
doing jobs and businesses in Gulf countries. A job in Saudi Arabia, United
Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain is the dream of thousands
of tribal youth. Others think of finding jobs in Karachi and Peshawar.
signals have been received about local government affairs in the country.
There seems to be a basic agreement reached in Sindh about holding the
local elections somewhere towards the end of 2012. Fata is also expected
to benefit from local government elections in the near future.
The formula and format
of the local government system in various parts of the country is yet to
be finalized. Another disturbing news reported by the press is about
unutilised funds and very slow follow-up of the ongoing developmental
schemes and management works in Sindh.
Pending tasks include a
range of routine urban management works, conceptualisation and preparation
of development schemes, budgeting, execution and supervision, and record
For smooth and efficient
functioning of different levels of municipal administration, qualified
staff members are needed for these responsibilities. However, the
appraisal of existing staff strength and capacity revealed an acute
shortage of qualified and efficient manpower. As such, the local
government tier require human resource at three distinct levels;
development professionals, managers and technicians.
professionals are a lead cadre. They are needed to guide and steer routine
functioning of municipal administration. From preparing budget proposals
of routine accounting, record keeping to documentation, preparation of
physical plans to detailed designs (of chosen facilities, buildings and
spaces), from management and updating of data bases to synthesizing
information, etc, each and every step requires a well-orchestrated input
of an appropriate nature and magnitude.
The existence of
professionals is absent in the government machinery. In some cases, the
society at large is devoid of sufficient number of professionals to
execute the desired tasks allocated to different tiers of the proposed
local government setup.
economists, architects, sociologists, engineers, and accountants
constitute categories of professionals essential for local government and
development. Format of their education, training, modes of working and
professional objectives vary greatly. Almost all of them are
conventionally trained. The public and private sectors are the routine
sectors of employment.
With the exception of
doctors, engineers and management experts, the numerical strength of the
rest is below the desirable level. Deficiency and incompatibility in the
background and training is also a feature. The status of most of these
professionals, especially their competence, motivation level and
willingness to take up challenges, is fairly limited.
At present, the
municipalities, local government departments and line departments employ
engineers at various levels. With marginal exceptions, it can be stated
without doubt that the ability of these engineers for carrying out
engineering, monitoring and evaluation is far below than required.
Even if they are
competent once, they are given such tasks to handle throughout their
careers that they drift away from the basic steps of engineering works.
Architects and planners also behave as section officers without any trace
of creativity and skill needed for their normal professional job.
Doctors in public health
departments and municipalities are not able to work on preventive health
care programmes. Scores of failures of such programmes in the past is a
citation in this regard.
There are several common
weaknesses that remain in the professionals and administrators alike:
comprehension of business English, the IQ is low, and the norms of
administration do not groom staff and professionals for taking any
creative initiative. The cycle of corruption leaves little room for
professionals to take any independent position.
The situation is not too
good in the private sector as well. The highly competent and qualified
professionals only switch to lucrative and self-serving options. Working
for the government or public sector initiatives is not even considered by
In many towns, the whole
set up does not possess the services of even one qualified civil servant.
This adversely affects normal functioning of the departments.
If the municipal
administration possesses the services of a qualified town/tehsil Municipal
Officer who has run similar government departments in his career, he shall
be able to make a difference. The prevailing problem is that the officers
who used to come traditionally from the elite District Management Group
usually consider this task below the desirable standard.
It is important that a
proportionate lot of professionals is mobilised without delay. Only then
the local government tier will be able to realistically pursue its
stipulated targets. On the basis of the existing realities, some action
needs to be initiated.
One, the government
should identify the promising personnel from within the existing cadres of
public services. Ways and means should be found to acquire their services
for new responsibilities without reputing the routine working of the
Two, a review and
analysis should be done to establish the essential requirement of
professional (and administrative) input in all the planned tiers, bodies
and institutions. In the same sequence, a strategy for inducting the
services of desired strength of professionals must be made. To bypass the
conventional red tape, innovative alternates should be found.
Three, the government
must create an ongoing training programme to provide orientation and
training to the professionals after an assessment of needs. Best practices
in governance and development should be selected as models. These examples
can be both from the governmental and non-governmental sectors. The
exposure to the low-income settlements where the majority of Pakistani
population resides should be a must.
It must be remembered
that without giving a serious consideration to the professional input, the
desired results from any local government initiative will not be achieved.
most populous country in the world with an estimated population of 177
million, and having seventh largest military on the planet, has remained
caught up in the cobwebs of security paranoia since its onset. The ensuing
factors have given birth to a security state for the last sixty four
years, leaving a large population in abject poverty, illiteracy, mounding
unemployment, creeping inflation, and poor health systems.
Development has remained
low priority area for the policy makers from the beginning. Development
allocations remained meager as compared to other spending such as military
expenditure. In the second budget of the country a total of 98.1 million
were allocated for the human development sector.
However, tangible data
available for the last three decades suggests that human development
remained low on priority list of successive governments. For example,
during the decade of 1980s the percent of GNP spent on health was almost
negligible at just 0.7 percent. This was the case despite the fact that
the nation was lagging behind in delivery and development of social
services due to the absence of health care. During this time, Pakistan’s
expenditure on education as a percentage of its GNP also pales in
comparison, amounting to 1.9 percent of GNP on average.
According to a United
Nations Development Programme , UNDP report during 1985-1990, development
indicators of Pakistan were dismal with 45 percent of total population was
living without having any access to healthcare, whereas situation in the
rural areas was even worse where around 66 percent people were living
without access to health facilities.
India, on the other
hand, has been performing well despite having 1.2 billion population.
“Human Development in India, challenges for a society in transition”,
a research carried out by National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER)
and the University of Maryland, reveals that “In recent decades, rapid
economic growth and globalisation have led to higher living standards and
greater integration with the world economy.
From 1980 to 2010,
India’s Human Development Index (HDI) rose by 62 percent, and life
expectancy at birth in India increased from 42.4 to 63.7 years from 1960
to 2008”. It further says that literacy rate of India has been very high
with 92 percent among boys
aged between ten to fourteen and 88 per cent among girls.
“Since 1998 when the
two neighbors went nuclear, spending on the conventional weapons has
increased by ten times in both countries”, says Karamat Ali, a regional
peace activist and Executive Director of PILER. He says that every year
development budget is revised and reduced particularly in Pakistan which
has left deep imprints on human development of the people.
“It is necessary that
defence expenditure is reduced and those resources should be diverted
towards the social development of the people”, he maintains. “The most
important areas for resource diversion may be education and social
security”, he notes.
The decade of 1990s in
Pakistan again saw fragile democratic governments. Stockholm International
Peace Research Institute, SIPRI statistics reveal that from 1990 to 1999
Pakistan spent on average 5 percent of its Gross Domestic Product over
defence expenditure. Whereas, according to SIPRI statistics for the same
years, India spent on average 2.8 percent of its GDP on defence
in Pakistan only spent an average of 2.3 percent of their annual Gross
National Product, GNP on education from 1990-1999. The health sector
received lowest priority during this period with average spending of 0.5
percent of GNP.
In 1990s, Pakistan was
ranked 132 in human development index among the comity of nations having
adult literacy rate of 36 percent, 24 percent of the total populace had
access to sanitation, 35 percent people were living in extreme poverty,
life expectancy was at 58 years.
In Pakistan, again
political process was disrupted as a result of tug of war between the two
institutions. Pervez Musharraf came into power in 1999. The new era of
security paradigm was about to be unleashed upon the people of the country
riddled with poverty, illiteracy, hunger and un-employment.
The 9/11 catastrophe
brought a new era of disproportionate military spending in the name of
fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Pakistan. From the year 2000 to 2008,
under the rule of Pervez Musharraf substantial proportion of the GDP was
allocated to defence. SIPRI data suggests an average 3.7 percent of GDP
was earmarked for defence from 2000-2008.
Human development would
only be possible if defence spending are controlled, “for that purpose
both India and Pakistan should adhere to the charter of SAARC and announce
a no war pact in the region and gradually reducing standing armies”,
adds Karamat Ali.
According to Economic
Survey of Pakistan, 2007, only meager proportion of GDP, 0.5 was spent on
health facilities annually for disproportionately enhancing population of
the country, 2.3 percent was allocated for education. Furthermore, during
the same period despite the fact that Pakistan achieved 7.7 GDP growth,
73.6 percent people were living on less than a dollar per day, according
was restored after a concentrated effort of political parties, judiciary
and the civil society in 2008. But, indifference towards human development
is still on.
In 2009-10 annual budget
2.3 percent of the GDP was allocated to the education sector, which is far
less than the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Meanwhile, only 0.7
percent of GDP was allocated to the health sector despite the fact MDGs
require that public health expenditure be raised up to 2 percent of GDP by
According to Pakistan
Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey, PSLM, 2010-11, “literacy
for the children aged 10 years is 58 percent”; the net enrollment
indicators of children at primary, middle and matriculation level are also
quite disappointing. “Net enrollment at primary level is 56 percent, 54
percent at middle and 57 percent at matriculation level”, indicates PSLM.
Adult literacy rate stood at 55 percent.
In the year of 2010-11
health budget allocated by the government was 0.55 percent of country’s
GDP.“ The most recent data on health performance of South Asian
countries suggest that Pakistan lags behind in infant mortality rate (at
63 per 1000 live births) and under 5 years mortality rate (at 86.5 per
1000 live births)”, reveals Economic Survey 2010-11. Pakistan ranks 145
out 187 countries in the human development index, claims UNDP, 2011
“1.81 percent of the
total households in Pakistan are covered by the Social Benefit
Insurance”, claims a report, Social Indicators of Pakistan 2011, by
Statistics Division Federal Bureau of Statistics.
Governments have ignored
the human development sector. Meager allocations clearly indicate attitude
of indifference towards the subject.
Roomi S. Hayat
is regarded by most of his contemporaries as the leading authority in the
field of capacity development and equally renowned for his management,
institutional and rural development expertise as well as employable skills
for youth. His ground-breaking work with UN agencies for Rural Support
Programmes has been acknowledged by UN ESCAP HRD Award.
He holds Master Degrees
in Agriculture and Mechanical Engineering from Pakistan and USA
respectively. Roomi is CEO Institute of Rural Management (IRM); the
largest specialised training Institute in Pakistan. He also holds
Chairmanship of Pakistan’s only HR Network Human Resource Development
Network. The recent focus in Pakistan on capacity development and skill
enhancement, especially vocational skills has taken its guidance from
Roomi’s pioneering work. The News on Sunday talked to him at his office
in Islamabad last week. Excerpts from the interview:
The News on Sunday: What
inspired you to dedicate your life to rural development and capacity
building of the most neglected people of Pakistan?
Roomi S. Hayat :
Originally, I have a masters degree in robotics from the USA so I was
trained to replace humans by machines. But when I came back to Pakistan, I
saw that we had lopsided problems, more people and less opportunities, and
this made me realise that I needed to help people to become more
productive so that they cannot be replaced by anything and this is how my
journey into the development world started. It’s been over 20 years
since I have been involved in building capacities of the poor to get them
out of poverty.
TNS: How did you get the
idea to set up the Human Resource Development Network (HRDN) and what was
the philosophy behind its establishment?
RSH: In 1997, when I was
working as the head of National Rural Support Programme’s Human Resource
Development Unit, we realised that in Pakistan we didn’t have a platform
for professionals working in the field of HRD. So we decided to initiate a
process of developing a network for HRD.
The idea was to have a
network in HRD at an international level so that the development
practitioners have a platform where they could give their inputs for
policy development. In a nutshell, this is a strategic network that
influences policy, helps and facilitates people related to this field, to
excel and improve their skills, exchange information and knowledge and at
the same time provide a link between the development sector and the
government and donor agencies to exchange ideas. It is now a huge and
vibrant network with around 8,000 members from approximately 20 countries.
TNS: How many people IRM
has trained so far and in which areas?
RSH: IRM has trained
over 1 million people from all over Pakistan and also from 15 different
countries of Asia. The most attractive part is that our training
programmes are very holistic. We build capacities and hold hands so that
our trainees, especially the rural poor, can hope and aspire for a good
future. As it’s a programme of hope. We conduct training on social
mobilisation, management development, executive education, vocational and
technical skills, environment and natural resource management, health and
TNS: What are basic
criteria to get enrolled in IRM training programmes?
RSH: Well, IRM has two
broad set of training programmes, one is for rural poor and other is
mostly for professionals from governmental and non-governmental
organisations and from other countries as well. For community members
trainings are free of cost and we provide them with boarding, lodging,
medical and other facilities. However, high end training for professionals
are usually designed for them and the cost varies. Enrollment is very
easy. You just have to look up for training on IRM website or facebook
pages. We also advertise our programmes in the newspapers.
For community members,
we go and talk to the community and tell them what is being offered and
select people from there.
TNS: How do IRM training
programmes different from other such training facilities?
RSH: We believe in total
quality management and our quality standards are very high. We look at IRM
as an international institute and our quality levels are equivalent or, in
some cases, higher than most international organisations. Secondly, we
offer new and innovative programmes. Our programmes are followed by other
organiations. We design research-based and need-based training for
different organisations and they are of the best possible quality. In
addition to that, the training we offer to the rural poor are unique in a
sense that they are based on ILO’s methodology called ‘TREE’. It’s
a three stage programme which includes pre-training, including social
assessment and technical assessment , placement and they are mostly
computer based. After this, we place them in to the vocational and
technical institutions. We believe that we don’t make them good
mechanics, but better human beings. After the training, support them in
developing market linkages and facilitate them in setting up businesses.
Evaluations show that 75 to 85 percent of the trainees are gainfully
TNS: What is the success
rate of these training programmes and has it been brining some kind of
RSH: Independent studies
conducted by Institute of Business Administration (IBA) , US Department of
Labour through ILO and our own internal studies indicate that large
percentage of these people have seen a positive social change in their
lives, as they are more respected , empowered , acknowledged and they are
treated well in the society and in their own community. In many cases,
people who had disabilities were not even counted as family members but
now they are regarded as good earning members of the family and have more
respect. So it’s a huge social change. And all those who believe that
this is too good to be true are most welcome to come and visit the field
and talk to the people.
TNS: Do you offer
special training programmes to most vulnerable groups of society like
women. Have you done something special for the flood affected areas of
RSH: We have specialised
training programmes for women. Almost 40 percent of the people that got
training are women. We encourage women because they are really important
and if you train a woman, you actually help build the whole family. We
have high end women programmes which are instrumental in transforming
working women’s’ conditions in their jobs. We also have programmes for
poor women from rural communities. Wherever we have conducted these
programmes, women have been empowered and have learned new skills. Their
lives have totally changed. They are more respected, happier and see life
from a different angle.
IRM launched emergency
response soon after the flood hit the country. IRM has signed a MoU with
UNDP for the Community Restoration of Sain Dino and Haji Ramzan Thaheem,
Tehsil Jati, District Thatta, Sindh. Under “Tent City project” IRM in
partnership with UNHCR provided temporary shelter to 2500 displaced
households in Jamshoro and Sehwan, Sindh. In collaboration with UNICEF,
IRM implemented “Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) Project” in
which 73,000 households were trained in health and hygiene promotion
through workshops and awareness campaigns in the IDP Camps. Hygiene kits,
buckets with lids, jerry Cans, aqua tabs and pure sachets were distributed
in the flood affected districts of Sindh.
TNS: What exactly was
the philosophy that governed your working under IRM?
RSH: IRM is a learning
organisation. Whatever we do, we learn and whenever we make a mistake we
are very open about it. We always try our best and there were times when
we didn’t succeed. I don’t say that it has always been a success
story. We have seen failures but each failure was a good lesson for us.
TNS: How do you see IRM
in the future?
RSH: In the future, I
want to make Institute of Rural Management an academic institution because
most of the educational courses are taught courses. We want to bring in
the research based academic programmes. We want to bring, what we do in
the field, in the academic discourse so that the students who will
eventually come into professional life have a hands on understanding of
the situation of our country. Pakistan has tremendous and wonderful human
resources but, unfortunately, we are not working a lot on developing that
resource. I urge all the policy makers and other development agencies that
it is very crucial at this point that we help and facilitate the youth so
that they can have very strong future in the development of this country.
government is about to complete its term, it would be pertinent to assess
the state of Pakistan’s democratic transition and where is it headed.
The transfer of power to representative institutions such as the
Parliament and provincial legislatures is still an ongoing process. It
started in 2007 with the lawyers’ movement and the subsequent political
consensus on urging the military President to give up his ‘uniform’.
The journey towards civilian rule and constitutional governance continues
and despite the serious challenges it has not been reversed.
Such is the shadow of
our history that the mere completion of term by an elected government is
construed as a sort of victory. Sadly, the experience of 1990s and the way
military establishment controlled the quasi-democratic governments has
made civilian governments insecure and public at large skeptical.
serious cases of corruption and stories of maladministration, the current
Parliament has undertaken some meaningful legislation in the form of 18th,
Amendments. In particular, the latter is a major development, which
takes care of our historical pitfalls in achieving a smooth transfer of
power from one government to another. Bhutto, perhaps the most popular
Pakistani politician was ousted due to charges of rigging in 1977 and
thereafter the threat of a deadlock between government and opposition has
daunted all civilian regimes.
Amendment Bill was passed on February 20, 2012 with a two-thirds
majority. Despite the fact that the government and leading opposition
party, Pakistan Muslim League (N) rant against each other and give the
impression of a deadlock, they cooperated with each other and achieved a
reasonable formula for caretaker arrangements and election arrangements.
The 20th Amendment bill
was passed in Senate with 74 votes in favor and two (of Jamat-e-Islami
members) in opposition.
This amendment in short
provides a framework for holding relatively free and fair elections
through agreeing on the mode of appointing an independent Chief Election
Commissioner (CEC) through a consensus formula. Reversing the past trends
the 20thAmendment minimizes government’s direct role in appointing and
removing the members of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and sets
standards for selecting caretakers through ‘consultation’ between
Prime Minister and leader of opposition in National Assembly. We also have
clear procedures for the process of finalizing names of caretakers to be
completed within three days of assembly being dissolved.
According to the revised
provisions of the Constitution, if the Prime Minister and the opposition
leader fail to reach consensus, an eight-member committee consisting of
members from both sides would to be formed to come up with suggestions. If
even this fails, the ECP would then be empowered to send the names to the
President. The Bill also prescribes five-year tenures for four members of
the ECP including the CEC.
214 and 215 improves the mode of appointing and extending the tenures of
the members of the ECP.
Now the process is clear: The incumbent prime minister and chief
ministers will continue to hold office till the appointment of their
replacements. Transparency in the pre-election procedures is vital to
safeguard democratic process.
Having created the
necessary legal and institutional framework, it is now a challenge for the
government and the opposition to ensure that there is no rupture in the
democratic transition. The recent appointment of a neutral and respected
CEC is a major step forward. But the bureaucracy of ECP and enforcement of
its new rules is a challenge to contend with.
Three factors will
influence the nature of the transition to follow. First, the larger issue
is that of the role and influence of the Parliament. The latter faces
threats from three quarters: the Supreme Court, which has recently
reminded that the conventional supremacy of the Parliament is limited by
the Constitution. Related to this reminder is the broader tone of our
Constitution’s Islamic provisions and their aggressive enforcement
during the time of general Zia ul Haq. Secondly, the public opinion
especially in large swathes of urban Pakistan is hostile to the
‘elected’ institutions. A columnist on TV recently said that
‘jahil’ (ignorant) people vote for the political parties. The media as
a whole, barring few exceptions also holds democracy as an imperfect and
perhaps an inappropriate system of governance. Finally, the military and
intelligence agencies are not always keen for a full transfer of power as
the large commercial and strategic empires of these institutions requires
power and influence to sustain such interests.
It is unlikely that we
will resolve this debate in the weeks or months to come. Democratization
is a long-term process and it requires a decade or two of continuous
elections, reforms in electoral laws and accountability mechanisms for the
system to take root and deliver. Even in India despite strong
institutions, democrats are ridiculed and deemed corrupt. However, there
is a consensus among elites to let democracy continue. Unfortunately, in
Pakistan this consensus is missing. The religious elites, which have
gained strength, find many a fault with democracy and find the idea of a
Westminster model unsuited to Pakistan. Similarly, the urban elites, the
business lobbies also have serious reservations about democracy, which
result in their backing of dictators and ‘technocratic’ governments.
It is for the political parties to counter this narrative and not push
things to a stage where an extra constitutional deviation becomes a
The second factor at
play in the transition process is the caretakers and their conduct.
Rumours have gripped Islamabad for months that the powerful quarters in
Rawalpindi want a ‘clean’ government of technocrats to rule for two
years so as to take tough decisions and implement some reforms. This
option is unlikely for the judiciary has time and again stated its
intention of not backing any such arrangement. Therefore, the government
and the opposition need to agree sooner than later on the caretaker
arrangements and preempt any move by the invisible forces to install a
clean regime to counter the ‘corrupt’ politicians. But this may not be
enough. Political parties must also take stock of public perceptions and
do some in house cleaning and set into motion internal accountability
mechanisms. For instance, they should have better procedures to award
party tickets, offices and also punish those who have transgressed.
Otherwise, it would be difficult to reverse the tide. It is unfortunate to
see that the political parties despite four years of space have not
focused on their inner governance structures.
Almost all the political
parties remain vertical, dynastic or personality based structures
(including the ‘alternative’ hope Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf). Their
policy-making capabilities are limited and once in power they rely on the
same bureaucrats whom they blame for the country’s ills or those who
impede their work. In the coming months at least the parties should
implement the pre-election processes laid out in their charters and
mandated by the electoral rules.
The third and perhaps
most critical one relates to the work of the Election Commission and its
capabilities to enforce its rules. The recent bye-election in Multan
demonstrated that the ECP was still not prepared enough. All parties
violated the code of conduct and this does not bode well for the
forthcoming elections. Whilst new electoral rolls are being prepared and
the bogus votes have been struck off, research shows that between 3 to 4
million votes especially those of women and younger persons remain
unregistered. This is a critical area for the ECP to focus on so as to
make the elections credible and fair.
The rise of electronic
media and its propensities for partial coverage and reporting also needs
to be regulated. ECP and Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA)
must work together to ensure that there is a level playing field available
to the political parties. Instead the media must take a critical look at
the performance of parties, the manifestos and how far are they
In the near term, the
political parties – given that most are in power either at the federal
or provincial levels, need to get serious about the forthcoming test of
their skills, perseverance and commitment to a democratic Pakistan. It is
understandable that patronage will be doled out prior to the elections and
not much can be done about it. The only check on the flagrant misuse of
power or resources would be a stronger and more vigilant ECP. Political
parties must work in a collaborative manner to fix the rules of the game,
to ensure fairness in all the decisions and steps required for a free
election; and their advocacy must counter the forces, which are ready to
delegitimise representative rule and constitutional governance. Pakistan
was meant to be a federal democratic country and its failures are largely
related to evading this goal. It can only survive and flourish with robust
federalism and deepening of democracy.
The writer is Director
Policy & Programmes at Jinnah Institute, Islamabad. The views
expressed are his own. His writings are archived at
www.razarumi.com. Follow him on Twitter: @razarumi