of Salahuddin Mohammad
the name of awareness
K Street in downtown Washington DC is as iconic as Wall Street in lower Manhattan, New York. While Wall Street is the centre of the financial market, K Street is home to many of Washington’s most powerful movers and shakers — the lobbyists who preside over a world of money and influence peddling.
Lobbying is the practice of trying to influence the outcome of Congressional legislation and decisions made by the executive branch. From General Motors to Facebook, from Libyan rebels to African dictators, and from foreign governments to individuals, all rely on lobbyists to open doors and influence lawmakers. Even the lobbyists have hired firms lobbying for them.
“Lobbyists have been an integral part of our representative system of government since the founding of the Republic,” says Howard Marlowe, President of the American League of Lobbyists. Marlowe adds that professional lobbyists know the intricacies of the legislative process, who to talk to, how and when to present an effective argument, and what needs to be done to follow-up.
Individuals or firms that advocate for foreign countries or individuals are required to register with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). “In 1938, FARA was Congress’ response to the large number of German propaganda agents in the pre-WWII US,” according to the FARA press office. “The Act’s purpose is to ensure that the US government and the people are informed of the source of information and the identity of the persons attempting to influence US public opinion.”
Although lobbying is a constitutionally protected form of free speech, the line between advocacy and bribery is occasionally crossed. California Congressman Randy Cunningham was sentenced to more than eight years for conspiracy to commit bribery when he took favours from defense contractors, which enabled him to buy a condominium, a yacht, a mansion and a Rolls Royce. Another congressman, Bob Ney from Ohio, was sentenced to a 30-month prison sentence for corruption tied to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was also incarcerated.
Similarly, Kashmiri-American Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai was arrested recently by the FBI for not registering with the FARA. Dr. Fai allegedly took more than $4 million from the ISI to lobby on behalf of Kashmir. He also made many donations to Republican and Democratic politicians and campaign committees.
Many countries that have established diplomatic relations with the US manage fully staffed embassies in Washington; nearly one hundred foreign governments rely on lobbyists to protect and promote their interests. “The subculture of public relations and law firms that do this kind of work reflects privatisation of diplomacy,” says John Newhouse, a writer for Foreign Affairs.
These professional lobbyists not only meet with top government officials and staff members, in some cases, they craft legislative language. Members of Congress will then introduce the bills without changing a word. Every contact made, through emails, telephone calls, faxes, luncheons, meetings, published articles in newspapers, magazines or even pitching any idea to a journalist is part of lobbying strategy.
According to a report released last month by the US Department of Justice, government organisations from more than 130 countries spent approximately $460 million in 2010 lobbying Congress and the executive branch. This substantial amount represents a drop from previous years, which the report blames on the sluggish global economy. But as often is the case with foreign countries, the most impoverished have to lobby the most. Such is the case with Pakistan.
Pakistan’s lobbyists specialise in crisis management. Their chief goal: To prevent the halt of foreign aid. Pakistani officials have long relied on Washington influence makers to do damage control. They turned to lobbyists to contact Congress after the 1998 nuclear tests. Following the damaging 2008 Government Accountability Office report which found that that the Pentagon couldn’t track more than $5.5 billion in military aid, Pakistan’s Embassy paid $514,000 to lobbyists who in return made 104 contacts with seven journalists concerning the GAO report.
The Department of Justice data available to TNS reveals that Pakistan has made frequent use of lobbyists to convince the Congress to go along with the Bush administration’s plans for ‘Reconstruction Opportunity Zones’, on its frontiers with Afghanistan.
Quite recently, former president of Pakistan, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, hired a firm at $25,000 per month. The firm, Advantage Associates International, is owned by former Texas Congressman Bill Sarpalius and is staffed by several former lawmakers. The signed agreement indicates that the firm will develop a strategy to represent the interests of General Musharraf.
According to the breakdown of payments, Gen. Musharraf’s representative, Raza Bokhari, who signed the contract with AAI, will pay 25,000 dollars per month for seven months. For the first month and last two months covered in the agreement, $75,000 will be paid. His contract runs through March of 2012.
Pakistan’s lobbyists faced one of their greatest challenges following the Navy SEAL’s raid on Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound. Pakistan feared that the ensuing outrage could put a stop to the US aid. This aid of $1.5 billion in economic and social sector was secured last year by the Locke Lord Strategies (LLS).
At one point, the Pakistan International Airlines Corporation was on LLS’s client list, paying almost $150,000. The famous 2008 meeting between Governor Sarah Palin and President Zardari was arranged by the lobbyists. LLS discussed F-16 Mid-Life upgrades. The firm also promoted the legislation that would positively impact Pakistan, Afghanistan-Pakistan Security and Prosperity Enhancement Act, and Enhance Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2008.
Also in 2008, former US president George Bush’s aide Harriet Miers began representing Pakistan at $75,000 a month for Locke Lord Strategies. Miers is registered lobbyist for Pakistan, Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, and even represents Zardari’s kids as well, according to her Justice Department filing.
Pakistan’s main man at LLS is Mark Siegel, a lobbying heavyweight with close ties to Benazir Bhutto. A trusted advisor of the former prime minister since 1984, Siegel was instrumental in burnishing Benazir’s image and reassuring jittery US officials that she was a reliable partner and ally. In September, Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency decided to present Siegel before an anti-terrorism court in the former prime minister’s assassination case as a prosecution witness.
Siegel has been to Capitol Hill almost every day to promote Pakistan’s position on bin Laden since the SEAL operation in May. His firm has earned nearly $2 million in fees since then, according to the Justice Department records.
Even before the killing of bin Laden, Locke Lord had been active on the Hill. Correspondents covering Congress reported that just this year in February and March, firm lobbyists accompanied the Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani on meetings with House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, and Kay Granger, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on state-foreign operations. Pakistani Ambassador’s introductory meeting with various officials was arranged by the lobbyists, the FARA documents claim.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Commerce has been a client of the firm Dewey & LeBoeuf, which advocated for legislation to establish Reconstruction Opportunity Zones. The firm was paid almost $750,000 from 2007 to 2008, according to the records. The firm had over 500 meetings and contacts with administration officials and legislators from 2008 to 2009.
Pakistan also paid hefty amounts to Cassidy & Associates and Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide for better press coverage. Former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, once retained Burson-Marsteller, a global public relations powerhouse, to pitch op-eds to media outlets.
Apart from Pakistani government paying substantial sums for private diplomacy, political parties, agencies and individuals, the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, D.C. are also a clients. “Issue based lobbying makes sense,” says New York-based political analyst Shafiq Siddiqui. “But if Pakistan is paying for an ambassador and embassy staff to represent the country’s interests, why spend money to represent the representatives?”
Other countries that spend most money on lobbying and public relations campaigns include UAE, UK, Japan, Iraq, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
The writer is Geo/The News correspondent
That day a Pakistani television channel announced the news that Indian film actress Rekha had turned 57. And to celebrate those 57 years, it then proceeded to show a string of filmi mujras from her youthful days. There was also the news of the death of Indian singer Jagjit Singh which, of course, necessitated a never-ending montage of his famous ghazals. It was during one of these endless ‘news’ items that I caught sight of the ‘ticker’ — the strip of text which runs at the bottom of the channel’s screen — which informed viewers that the “poet and writer” Salahuddin Mohammad had died in Lahore of dengue fever.
The ticker ran a couple of times and then disappeared. I too knew a Salahuddin Mohammad who was a distinguished journalist. But because the ticker had not referred to the man who had died as a journalist, I decided to call my friend and former journalism colleague Masood Ashar in Lahore for confirmation. He affirmed that it indeed was the same Salahuddin Mohammad who had died.
The confirmation filled me with a strange sense of sadness and memories came flooding back. I remembered the tall, handsome young man with a baritone voice from East Pakistan who I had met many times in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. A liberal, humanist and, above all, principled man, he had been a correspondent for The Pakistan Times in Dhaka, had been associated with The Pakistan Observer, and had been editor of The Dhaka Times as well. He had also published an Urdu newspaper there. His influence and popularity within journalist circles can be gauged from the fact that, more or less 50 years ago, he had been elected both as president of the East Pakistan Union of Journalists and as secretary general of Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee.
He was well respected among the leftist circles of East Pakistan and was heavily influenced by Maulana Bhashani — the ‘Red Maulana’ and founder president of the Pakistan Awami Muslim League which later became the Awami League — with whom he also worked regularly. But such are the vicissitudes of fate that when army action began in East Pakistan in 1971, his status as a migrant from Bihar distanced him from his former Bengali comrades. And he was forced to flee along with his family, which included his children, his equally talented writer sister Umme Ammara, to West Pakistan via Nepal. This was their second forced migration.
In fact, Salahuddin Mohammad’s obituary had been written by many before he landed up in West Pakistan. When the first pictures of the massacre of Dhaka intellectuals arrived in West Pakistan newspaper offices, many had assumed that one of the tall unidentified bodies was his. However, Salahuddin Mohammad and his family eventually landed up in Karachi and put themselves up at Columbus Hotel near Teen Talwar. When I found out, I went to see them and after much persistence managed to persuade them to come and stay at my house in PECHS. At that time my wife had gone with our two young children to Rawalpindi to her parents and I too had to join her there. So it came to be that Salahuddin Mohammad and his family stayed at our home for a few days. They subsequently left for Lahore.
As a journalist, Salahuddin Mohammad’s greatest achievement was his association with the Pakistan Features Syndicate. The Syndicate had been established during Ayub Khan’s era and the discerning eye of Altaf Gauhar had chosen Salahuddin Mohammad to head it up. I am one hundred per cent in agreement with Masood Ashar that the articles that Salahuddin Mohammad had commissioned from intellectuals and experts of public affairs of the time are a priceless historical resource. Even today if these were to be collected and published in book form, they could provide remarkable new insight into the politics, sociology, culture and problems of the united Pakistan.
I also never forget one thing that Salahuddin Mohammad once said to me while I was editor of the daily Hurriyet in Karachi. I had been offered an official job during the tenure of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and I asked Salahuddin Mohammad for advice. He said to me that the decision had to be mine but that he could only tell me one thing: “As the editor of a newspaper, you can set your own status in life, you can be the president or prime minister in your eyes or a police thanedaar. But after accepting official employment, what would be settled is that the five people below you would address you as ‘Sir’ and the three people above you, you would address as ‘Sir’. I decided then and there to turn down the offer.
I had begun by pointing out that Salahuddin Mohammad’s passing was given far less importance in our media than filmi mujras or Jagjit Singh’s death. But perhaps one reason for this was that, even during his lifetime, Salahuddin Mohammad had broken off all ties. He was a good poet as well and his poems had appeared in influential journals such as Funoon and Muassir. But then he severed all connections with both journalism and literature.
The impression of Salahuddin Mohammad imprinted on my mind was always of a person full of zest for life. But despite meeting the obligations and duties imposed on him because of his family, he never reconciled to his life as the proverbial kite cut adrift. He was lost without his moorings.
For me, Salahuddin Mohammad was no unknown soldier, he was a hero. It’s another matter that this hero, like thousands of unknown soldiers, went as unmourned and unsung.
The writer has been the editor of Hurriyet,
editor-in-chief of The Muslim and Managing Director PTV.
Islamabad Club is to high and mighty officials of a near-failed state what Viagara is to erectile dysfunction. It makes them forget their impotence for a while, stimulates sagging egos, and radiates a borrowed sense of adequacy and virility.
Senior bureaucrats, army officers and politicians, who fail to run or do anything they are charged with in their day job, head for Islamabad Club in the evening to resuscitate their self-importance. Sprawling lush green lawns, recreational and sporting facilities, protocol-conscious and eager to please staff, top class security mechanism, subsidised meals, and a chance to rub shoulders with the most prominent rascals in town are some of the salient attractions of this club created by a team comprising five civil servants, the ISI deputy director, and the head honcho of CDA in 1968 as a limited company.
State land and state resources were used to build “an exclusive club whose membership comprises government officials, diplomats and the elite of Islamabad,” says the club’s official website. In the membership information it defines elite as: “gentlemen/ladies not falling in the “service members” category, but having the requisite social status,” whatever this sick language means. The company continued to show operating losses and getting government subsidies to offset them, until 1978 when through a presidential ordinance the ownership of the club was transferred to the federal government, with the president of Pakistan as its patron, much like the obscene joke that is Pakistan Cricket Board, and a serving federal secretary as its president. So in effect, the common Pakistani is subsidising the recreation of military, bureaucratic and civilian elite of Islamabad, through their taxes.
The group I am with, does not fall in ‘service membership’ and cannot afford the ‘non-service membership’ category — the former costs three lakh rupees and requires the applicant to be a grade-20 or above officer and the latter requires a million rupees upfront and goodwill among the interviewing board that ascertains whether or not the applicant is a bona fide elite. The journalists and social activists gathered here aren’t even willing guests at the club. I am one of the two locals and I have visited the club only twice in five years, and found the place unbearably stuffy, fake and full of shady characters I wouldn’t want to be seen with. It gives me the creepy feeling of being in an army officers’ mess, with a different dress code for every outlet and every hour of the day and night, and bad English galore (‘Member Ship’ for instance).
Others who are visiting the place for the first time feel similarly uneasy. But we are here for a workshop organised by ILO to discuss gender discrimination among the workforce, and must leave the club and its members alone to concentrate on the issue at hand.
For lunch we all settle down to eat in a clean, orderly, and lifeless room, with the atmosphere of a library more than a restaurant, which is the only outlet that allows in a casually dressed group like us.
Urooj Zia goes out for something and comes back fuming. “This place practices discrimination as a policy. I can’t eat here,” she picks up her purse and walks out. Turns out she just happened to see a sign displayed at the entrance that says private guards and domestic servants are not allowed into the club premises. That instantly changes the agenda of the next session of the workshop. Instead of discussing how discrimination at workplace affects the dispossessed sections of the society, we want to know why are we patronising an establishment that is so openly discriminatory.
Devil’s advocates tell us that the club had to ban domestic helpers so the members won’t bring their maids along to stand with a baby in their arms and watch the mothers empty plates of biryanis and jugs of lemonade. We were also told that Karachi’s Sindh Club has a more atrocious sign outside its entrance that reads ‘Dogs and maids not allowed’. As if inhumane club managements and callous begums are any justification for violating the very basic provision of equality, assured by the Constitution of Pakistan and every human rights document ever drafted.
Before the day ended, ILO pulled out of the four-day booking and moved the event to a different venue. A small victory perhaps, but a big, bold and unified statement by participants, management and the international donors, that dogs and maids are more human to us than the shamelessly hollow senior officers and the civilians elite who make up the membership of these exclusive clubs.
There couldn’t have been a more appropriate name for the operation recently launched by the Nato and Afghan forces in Khost province along the border with Pakistan. It has been named ‘Knife Edge’ and described as a new push against the Haqqani network, which according to the US military commanders is their most potent enemy in eastern Afghanistan and increasingly capable of launching high-profile attacks in Kabul.
The situation in the area where the operation was undertaken around October 15 is indeed at a knife’s edge as Khost is the native province and stronghold of Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, the now old and ailing founder of the Haqqani network, while neighbouring North Waziristan in Pakistan has been the abode of the Haqqani family since 1980 when it migrated from Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion of their homeland. On the one hand tension rose in this border region as a result of the new Nato and Afghan government offensive and on the other there was still no end to the verbal sparring between Islamabad and Washington, nominally allies now drifting apart due to their conflicting objectives in the so-called Af-Pak region. Any misstep in such a combustible situation could contribute to the mistrust that characterises Islamabad’s uneasy relationship with both Kabul and Washington and make it even more difficult for the three governments to cooperate with each other in stabilising the region.
Along with the buildup of the Nato and Afghan troops in the Gurbaz district in Khost facing North Waziristan’s Ghulam Khan and Saidgi border areas, a political element was inserted into the unfolding drama when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reached Pakistan after a visit to Afghanistan. Due to security concerns, almost every visit by Western leaders to Afghanistan is unannounced and it explains how uncertain and volatile the situation has become despite the costly Nato military effort over the past 10 years. Clinton offered carrots and also brandished the stick as she told the Taliban that doors for negotiations were not being shut on them if they were willing to talk peace. If not, she warned that tough military action like the one underway in Khost would be undertaken against them.
For Pakistan, her message was that it should take action against the hardliner Taliban including the Haqqanis. In her own words, Clinton said she was planning to “push Pakistan very hard” to support US efforts to stamp out militancy in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The military action by Nato and Afghan security forces against the Haqqani fighters in Khost along the border with Pakistan followed aggressive statements coming out of Washington and targetting the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for sheltering and backing the Haqqani network and using it as proxy in Afghanistan. Top US soldier Admiral Mike Mullen’s anti-Pakistan statements just before his retirement from service set the stage for an unprecedented public criticism of Pakistan’s military establishment by other American officials and upset Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and fellow generals. Pakistan’s civil and military leadership not only denied the allegations, but also uncharacteristically took a tougher line in defending Islamabad’s policies.
An All Parties Conference was also convened that sent a message of unity to the US, defended the Army and the ISI, rejected any unilateral American military action in Pakistan and even advocated peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban. This won’t have pleased the Americans, who while opposing peace deals with the Pakistani Taliban have been repeatedly offering peace talks to the Afghan Taliban. Though the possibility of peace talks and any workable accord between the Pakistan government and local militants at this stage appears unlikely, the fact that such a resolution was unanimously adopted by both the civil and military leadership at the All Parties Conference would have been a rude reminder to the US that the thinking in Islamabad and Washington on dealing with militancy had little in common.
Any hope of bridging the trust deficit between Islamabad and Washington and also between the Afghan and Pakistan governments was lost when Kabul, still recovering from the shock of former Afghan President and High Council for Peace chairman Prof Burhanuddin Rabbani’s assassination, hurriedly signed a security agreement with New Delhi for training of Afghan army officers in India. As such an agreement could not have taken place without a nod from the US, it raised alarm in Islamabad as it was seen as a convergence of Afghan, Indian and American interests at Pakistan’s expense. Subsequent Pakistani statements explained its anger.
General Kayani, as quoted by members of parliamentary defense committees who met him, was blunt when he opined that the US should focus on achieving stability in Afghanistan, where “the real problem lies,” rather than pushing Pakistan to take action against militants based on Pakistani soil. He was also quoted as saying that the US “will have to think ten times” before launching an attack on militants in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, “because Pakistan is not Iraq or Afghanistan.”
For the first time it appeared that Islamabad was on a strong wicket when it complained that the Afghan government and Nato forces had failed to stop cross-border infiltration of Afghanistan-based Pakistani militants into Pakistan’s border areas or take action against militants safe havens such as those of the Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah in Afghan territory. In the past, Pakistan was at the receiving end as Afghanistan and the US used to justifiably complain that militants operating in the Pakistani tribal areas were infiltrating into Afghanistan. It was obvious that both sides weren’t fully in control of these remote, mountainous border areas and were unable to stop militants from crossing the long and porous Durand Line to launch attacks.
Clearly frustrated with Pakistan’s unwillingness to go after the Haqqani network within its borders, the US decided to step up its use of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to attack militants linked with the group in North Waziristan. Though the missile strikes by the CIA-operated drones were also targetting South Waziristan, it was clear that North Waziristan where the Haqqanis had a presence was the primary target. The US did manage to kill an important Haqqani network member, Jalil Haqqani, originally named Janbaz Zadran, and also certain Arab nationals associated with al-Qaeda in the most recent drone attacks in North Waziristan, but it still had no clue about the whereabouts of the network’s present leader Sirjauddin Haqqani. The Nato and Afghan military authorities were also claiming to have killed at least 115 militants across the border in Khost and other provinces in their ongoing search operation.
As Pakistan and the US are still poles apart in context of their strategic objectives in Afghanistan, it seems that they would continue to engage in talks and at the same time pursue their divergent political and military goals. The intensified US drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas would continue and there could also be an occasional “boots on the ground” action in Pakistan by the American Special Forces like the one on May 2 in Abbottabad against Osama bin Laden on the basis of actionable intelligence about the presence of an al-Qaeda, Taliban or Haqqani network figure. However, such provocative US actions are unlikely to put enough pressure on Pakistan to do America’s bidding.
the name of awareness
Every morning readers in Punjab are welcomed by the sight of a giant-sized mosquito, flanked by the Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif, on front and back pages of different newspapers. These expensive advertisements are being regularly placed in newspapers in the name of raising public awareness about dengue, and there is no letup in sight. The campaigns run on electronic media are even more aggressive and the countless banners, posters and hoardings carrying the CM’s image have formed an integral part of the Lahore’s landscape.
The case with the federal government is not much different as it also keeps blowing its own trumpet at the cost of public money. Recently, it used significant space in print and primetime at TV channels to counter the attacks of opposition parties. Like in an academic lesson, the federal government enumerated the reasons behind the worst loadshedding in the country’s history in these advertisements and passed on the buck to previous governments.
The opposition members have criticised the Punjab government for pursuing discriminatory policies. They say on one hand it asks the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) to remove all billboards, but political hoardings remain untouched. The Punjab CM has also been criticised for spending millions on publicity of Danish schools just like his predecessor who spent huge sums on promotion of Parha Likha Punjab Scheme.
The question that needs to be answered here is that what are the laws or rules that grant legitimacy to this practice. If rules are violated, then why are the violators made accountable for using public money for personal gains?
A Punjab government official tells TNS funds for the government’s publicity are allocated under the head of publicity and advertisements. Besides, he says, the CM has discretionary funds which can be diverted for this purpose when needed. The official says even a provincial secretary can re-appropriate his department’s funds meant for some other purpose and use it for the government’s publicity.
Apparently, it’s mandatory for all the provinces to carry photos of CM in advertisements announcing launch of different projects and term them his dreams (Khadim-e-Aala ka Khawab). “This makes these otherwise transparent and routine advertisements controversial,” he says.
The role of Directorate General Public Relations (DGPR) Punjab is customary as it simply forwards advertisements to the media which, he says, have already been approved by the chief executive’s media cell.
Talking to TNS, Zahid Abdullah, Programme Manager at Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives Pakistan (CPDI) Islamabad, says, “Ours is a patronage-based society where people win security by proving allegiance to the rulers. For example, when a chief minister visits a town, tehsil or a village, the whole local administration comes into action.”
The DCOs do not have funds for the welcome processions, he says adding they ask patwaris, tehsildars etc to make contractors, local leaders and other stakeholders contribute in the form of banners, hoardings, buses to carry supporters and even meals at public gatherings. “Things are managed within no time as hangers-on try to outdo each other to catch attention of their leader.”
Coming to the use of public funds for this purpose, Zahid says, quite amazingly the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has established a secret fund as well as a special publicity fund with budgetary allocation of Rs200 million. “While establishing such a fund at the Ministry of Interior or at other sensitive agencies is understandable, but the very presence of such a fund at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is mind boggling.”
He says in the presence of these huge allocations the governments feel free to direct money to media houses, selected journalists and public relations firms working for them.
Zahid tells TNS when CPDI approached the ministry and later on the federal ombudsman to seek details about the secret fund under the Right to Information Act, it was informed that the official document related to the fund had been lost. The said document was reportedly issued by the Federal Finance Ministry back in 1960s, he adds.
Chaudhary Zaheeruddin, PML-Q MPA and Chairman Public Accounts Committee 1 in Punjab Assembly, tells TNS the chief minister of a province has all the power to divert funds for whatever purpose he wants. The CM does not need approval of the house for this as he enjoys majority support, but previous holders of the office would not go to the extent to which the incumbent has gone. He says the House has not taken up the matter yet but debate can be initiated if some member of the house brings it on table.
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, Executive Director Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), says the spending of public funds on personal publicity by political leadership is a grey area. He says it does not fall under the purview of laws that puts limit on spending on election campaigns. Mehboob says almost all the political parties resort to this practice when they are in power and criticise it when they are in opposition.
They normally get away with it for the reason that mass media does not condemn this habit of rulers strongly. The reason is simple; the newspapers and electronic channels are direct beneficiaries of these advertisements, Mehboob adds. He says though PILDAT has not initiated a debate on this topic, there is a need to devise a code and stick to it. In his opinion, the fault lies with the parliamentarians who simply play a ceremonial role when budgets are being discussed.
Mehboob says instead of debating budgetary allocations, the parliamentarians give blanket approvals to whatever is brought before them. Another reason why public funds are easily used for personal publicity is that mostly ‘block allocations’ are made in budgets. This practice should be discouraged and replaced with the break up of the amount spent, he concludes.