Mar 17

Big Bad Census

Posted on Friday, March 17, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Big Bad Census

The Pakistan constitution says that a national population census must be held every ten years. This is the norm in most countries because census data on various dimensions of state, economy and society is a critical input into equitable and efficient socio-economic and political development policy in any country. But Pakistan’s modern political leaders have been so wedded to the status quo in core areas of policy that the last census was held in 1998 after a gap of 17 years and the next census is scheduled this month after a gap of 19 years. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for ex-Chief Justice of Pakistan, Anwar Jamali, who took suo motu notice last year of this constitutional failing and ordered it to be conducted, it might never have been commissioned this year at all. Who’s afraid of the big bad census and why?

Federal governments are wary of conducting a census because it means painful and unending squabbles with provincial governments over how to share the federal income with them from federal taxes based on their share of the population. Inevitably, since population growth rates vary from province to province in view of their demographic profiles, there are winners and losers from each census. This is the main reason why the yearly National Finance Commission Award is subject to much stress and strain following updated projections of demographic change based on the latest census results. Since census data also includes data on the rural-urban divide and therefore impinges on the demand for water for irrigation purposes, it affects water sharing formulas between upper and lower riparian provinces that are mediated by the federal government. This, too, is a matter of controversy, especially if the political governments in the disputing provinces and the federal government have different vested interests. Federal governments also tend to be circumspect about the party political impact of population growth and consequent increase in number and location of electoral constituencies.

Provincial governments are also apprehensive about census results that create demand for hundreds of new rural and urban constituencies because this inevitably leads to the demand for more financial and administrative devolution of power, which provincial governments are loath to concede. The demographic shift from rural areas to urban areas also has implications for party political fortunes in view of different voter patterns and preferences. Given their dogged reluctance to hold local body elections for much the same reason – their fate has followed the same trajectory as that of the census, and the supreme court had to step in and order the provinces to stop making excuses and hold these after all – it is no wonder that a new census is not the most important item on provincial agendas.

There are specific provincial issues too. A new census is likely to create ethnic strife in Balochistan if the Afghan refugees – who number anywhere from one to two million – and who have national ID cards are included in it. This will tilt the ethnic balance in favour of the Pakhtuns and give them significantly greater representation in the provincial parliament to the detriment of the ethnic Baloch.

In Sindh, the urban Mohajir community will be a net loser in terms of job quotas and electoral prospects because its population growth rate is lower than that of rural Sindhis. The migration of ethnic Pakhtuns from FATA and KP (with high birth rates) to Karachi will also adversely impact on Mohajir prospects. The fact that the ruling PPP draws its strength from the rural areas but wants to make inroads into Karachi, and the MQM, JUI, JI, ANP and PTI are all vying for the urban vote, will result in intense jostling among the mainstream parties and factions for a slice of the action following urban constituency increase and delimitation. Sindh is also apprehensive that it may be at a grave disadvantage because over 25 per cent of the population in the rural areas doesn’t have national ID cards.

The only province that is likely to be a clear winner from the new census on most counts is Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. KP can expect to see an increase in its share of the federal divisible pool of income (at the expense of the Punjab) on the basis of both a higher than average birth rate plus inclusion of a couple of million Afghan refugees with Pakistan ID cards. This is going to increase with the absorption of FATA in the province as announced.

The new Census will also provide grist for disadvantaged and underdeveloped areas and sections of the polity. Where inequalities are glaring, as in gender or regions or on account of ethnicity, vis a vis social indicators of health, education and poverty, the demand for justice and positive discrimination will be loud and clear.

In short, the new census is going to shake the already highly contentious status quo in many areas of nation building and political and economic evolution. That is why there isn’t much enthusiasm for it in the ruling establishment.

Mar 15

Aapas Ki Baat – 15 March 2017

Posted on Wednesday, March 15, 2017 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo


Mar 14

Aapas Ki Baat – 14 March 2017

Posted on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Mar 13

Aapas Ki Baat – 13 March 2017

Posted on Monday, March 13, 2017 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

Mar 10

Angry old man

Posted on Friday, March 10, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Angry old man

Imran Khan is an angry old man, and a self-centered, self-righteous, arrogant racist. The hallmark of his politics is now a petulant mischief making, which wants to bring the whole house down if he can’t have his way. Worse, from his own political point of view, he doesn’t even have a hand on the pulse of the people. His latest anti-cricket, anti-people remarks are a testament to this.

Imran Khan proudly claims he hasn’t seen a single cricket match in the recently concluded PSL cricket series (or is it PCL, he asked?) that broke all records of popularity and passion among Pakistanis at home and abroad. He believes the Final match should not have been played in Lahore even though this was the most consistently arduous and fervent demand of the masses despite a terrorist bombing in the city earlier. On the eve of the Final, Khan made a statement about the “bad security” situation in Lahore that scared away international cricketing stars and deprived tens of millions Pakistanis of the joy of seeing them in action. Then he humiliated some of the top international players in the world who came to Lahore by calling them “phhateechar” and “relu kattay” from Africa, adding insult to injury. He insists that the PSL will not encourage international cricket to return to Pakistan. But, following reports by international security experts who witnessed the Final match and security arrangements in Lahore and declared it to be a “safe city” for sport, it has been announced that an ICC International Eleven is now set to visit Lahore and play a few matches in September.

Cricketing fans, enthusiasts and experts across the globe, including in India, have praised the PSL and the decision to successfully play the Final in Lahore. They recognize this as a historic development that will pave the way for international cricket to return to Pakistan after eight long years of isolation, which had taken a toll on the development of cricketing talent in the country and adversely impacted the Pakistan cricket team’s ratings. But despite being roundly condemned, Imran Khan still hasn’t demonstrated the courage or humility to apologise for his outrageous, anti-cricket, anti-people comments.

The irony is that Khan’s politics is entirely based on populism even as his repeated attempts to exploit populism to capture power have floundered on the rocks of misplaced concreteness. Consider the trajectory of his political career.

He jumped into politics in the mid 1990s on the basis of his popularity as a cricketing hero but wandered like a lost soul in the political wilderness until the “establishment” laundered him and presented him as its own candidate in the 2013 elections. When he didn’t quite deliver on the agenda, the “establishment” retooled him for a series of dharnas and long marches from 2014-16 to overthrow the Nawaz Sharif government. But a change of high command in the “establishment”, which has disowned the policies of its predecessors, has left Khan forlorn and frustrated. Now he is pressurizing the judiciary and Election Commission so that they will bend to his dictation.

The Supreme Court has been pressurized on two counts. Imran Khan has alleged that the new Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, has “connections” and “sympathy” with the Sharifs and PMLN even though the government has had no hand in the appointment of his Lordship or his peers. This may have led the CJP to excuse himself from hearing the Panama case. Then he has warned the Panama case bench of the Supreme Court led by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa that he will boycott proceedings if it dares to appoint a time-consuming commission of inquiry and investigation into the charges instead of directly and quickly disqualifying Nawaz Sharif. This is as unprecedented as it is outrageous. The good judges have chosen to ignore the threat instead of holding Khan in contempt, which suggests the pressure tactics may be working. Under the circumstances, it would be an unprecedented travesty of justice if the SC were to sacrifice the law and constitution at the altar of populism.

Khan is also targeting the Election Commission of Pakistan. Except for the PTI, the government and opposition parties have all cooperated to fashion a reform agenda for the next elections as advised by the Judicial Commission chaired by CJP Nasirul Mulk over a year ago. Nearly 100 meetings have been held under the chairmanship of Ishaq Dar and Zahid Hamid with 33 party representatives from both houses of parliament and EC officials in attendance to hammer out a good constitutional amendment. But the PTI has tabled 100 objections to the consensus draft and also insulted EC officials in the bargain, provoking a deadlock and walk out. Now Imran Khan is threatening to launch a street movement against the ECP. This is pressure tactics at its worst, with more to follow.

Imran Khan is an angry old man. His politics is petulant mischief making which wants to bring the whole house down if he can’t have his way.