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 14

Aapas Ki Baat – 14 March 2017

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

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.

Mar 3

Law and Order

Posted on Friday, March 3, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Law and Order

The debate over the scope of military courts has abated. The PPP and PTI have succeeded in overcoming the objections of the religious parties to retain the reference to “religion inspired acts of terrorism”. But the PPP is still sticking to its position that the scope of the constitutional amendment should be restricted to ensure that mainstream political parties are not “victimized” by the law on non-religious grounds. Its fears stem from the rough handling it has received at the hands of the military establishment in Karachi that has tried to establish a link between the financial proceeds of corruption in office and militant non-state actors who can be described as “terrorists”. The proposed new Act enlarges the scope of the military courts but has a sunset clause that keeps them operational only for two more years. If the PPP continues to stick to its position, a joint sitting of parliament will be needed to pass the legislation because the PPP can stall it in the Senate.

The need for military courts for summary “justice” of predominantly civilian actors arises because the civilian courts have failed abysmally to deliver the goods despite the prevalence of a multiple tiered “justice” system and a two-track jurisprudential philosophy. No serious attempt has been made to implement the various reform reports on the subject either by the executive or by the judiciary itself. Who is at fault and why?

Naturally, the finger points at the executive branch of government. We need many more judges. We need better-educated and trained judges. We need better witness protection programs no less than better-judge-lawyer protection security. We need a separate, highly trained and motivated department of government for prosecution. Once all this is accomplished we may consider restricting the appellate jurisdictions for the sake of quicker justice – the Supreme Court, for example, could be a constitutional court only, as is the case in many countries. And so on.

But the fact remains that without the cooperation and support of the bar and bench no well-meaning legislative or executive action aimed at reforming the judicial system is likely to bear fruit. If judges are inclined to accept frivolous petitions galore without even a glance at the nature of the prayer and blithely grant “stay” orders against any change in the corrupt status quo, how is the cause of justice served? If lawyers are inclined to seek interminable adjournments because they haven’t prepared their case or are overburdened by their workload, and judges are inclined to accept their every excuse, how can the notion of “justice delayed is justice denied” ever be upheld?

The empowerment of the bar and bench in a democracy is supposed to be good for justice. But the opposite is probably truer in Pakistan than anywhere else. The lawyers’ movement in 2007-09 was double-edged. While it certainly empowered the bar and bench and enabled them to shrug off the executive’s historical arbitrariness, it also politicized both to unmanageable proportions.

A new breed of youthful and aggressive lawyers has risen that sees nothing unbecoming in physically clashing with the police and openly threatening, contemning and even abusing judges. Yet one cannot recall any case of a judge sending any lawyer to prison for such transgressions of law and order. Indeed, the laws of defamation and contempt of court are rarely applied in this country, which is a recipe for character assassination and miscarriage of justice on an unprecedented scale because it distorts the very notion of “freedom with responsibility”.

Equally, many judges have become more arbitrary and cavalier. One reason is the greater weight now given to politically inspired appointments in the judiciary by the judiciary itself. Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’s tenure as Chief Justice of Pakistan was marred by the appointment of many second-rate lawyers to the higher judiciary merely because they had served the political aspirations of their mentor. The higher judiciary’s reluctance to clean its Augean stables is also conspicuous. How many openly errant or defiant judges have been “sorted out” by the Supreme Judicial Council? A significant role in this aberration of justice has been played by the constitutional amendment that enables the judiciary to regulate and appoint itself without any executive or legislative oversight. This judiciary can hold everyone accountable but no one can hold it accountable. From being a colonial handmaiden to the executive to becoming completely unaccountable, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Such a judiciary is not likely to deliver quick and transparent justice across the board. It is even less likely to stand firm in the face of terrorism, especially religious inspired terrorism in a religiously inspired state and religion-permeated education system, that thrives on violence and blackmail.

The necessity of military courts is therefore explicable in these existentially trying circumstances. The danger is that they may lull us into allowing the normal civilian system of justice to plunge into greater disrepair instead of spurring us in the direction of judicial reform for better and speedier justice.

Feb 24


Posted on Friday, February 24, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)


The Pakistan Army has launched Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad across the country to “indiscriminately eliminate residual threat of terrorism, consolidate gains of operations made thus far and further ensure security of our borders”. The ISPR statement claims that the Army, Navy, Air Force, Civil Armed Forces (Rangers) and other LEAs (police, etc) will participate in this “Broad Spectrum Security/Counter Terrorism operation”.

The key words are, first, “indiscriminately”. This suggests that in earlier operations some terrorist groups and elements were spared for one reason or another but they will be targeted this time round. The second key word is “residual”. This suggests that much of the core work in eliminating terrorism has already been done in the past and only some “cleaning” or “mopping up” remains. The third key word is “Broad Spectrum”. This suggests that operations will be conducted across the country and not just in Fata and Karachi as in the past and that both small and big targets will be fair game. In other words, the operation aims to rid us of all internal and external elements which are creating terrorist anarchy in the country.

If this operation succeeds in even half its stated objectives it would be a great boon for Pakistan. Consider.

In earlier operations, the Pakistani Taliban in Fata and the criminal terrorizing cadres of the MQM in Karachi were targeted. Of late attempts were made to eliminate a handful of leading sectarian elements in the Punjab through police encounters but no systematic attempt was made to uproot the sectarian organisations spread across Southern Punjab. In other words, the actions were discriminatory. One reason may have had to do with the political affiliations of such elements with mainstream parties that stayed the hand of the local administrations. Another may be lack of will in local and provincial governments to face any violent or militant backlash. Are we to understand that now concerted action will be taken against these elements as well? And if action is taken, what sort of action will this be? If sweeping arrests are going to be made without adequately provisioning for successful prosecution, then this will be no more than a temporary palliative because the civil courts will set them free sooner or later. But if summary military courts are to sentence them, then a whole new upgraded legal edifice has to be constructed that is accorded approval by a consensus in parliament and which is not challenged by the superior judiciary. How this is to be accomplished remains to be seen because parliament is still debating the pros and cons of extending the legal cover of military courts for a limited period of time and the Supreme Court has stayed the executions of several terrorists convicted by military courts on one ground or another.

But the problem won’t end even if all this is accomplished quickly and another few hundred are executed or jailed for life. The roots of sectarianism go deep in society and are related to the narrative of “Islamic ideology” that underpins state and society in Pakistan and permeates the political parties, state institutions, education system and media. How on earth are we going to depoliticize Pakistan’s version of Islam in a few years when we have taken six decades to enshrine it as the be-all and end-all, and what it means to be a true Pakistani soaked in this ideology? Operation Radd-ul-Fassad may rid us of a score or two of potent sectarian troublemakers but it will not make a dent in the system that gives birth to and nurtures tens of thousands of such people every year in the bowels of its madrassahs.

The second word “residual” is clearly aimed at the tip of the terrorist iceberg. If the sectarian organisations are the “residual”, what about the jihadi organisations that are unable to stop their “members” from splitting and joining sectarian, IS or TTP groups or infiltrating militants across the border into Indian-held Kashmir? Is the military establishment ready to disband these jihadi groups that trigger the proxy terrorist wars between India and Pakistan? Equally, we may ask whether this operation that claims to secure our border with Afghanistan will target the Haqqani network based in Pakistan and drive it into Afghanistan so that the Afghan government will reciprocate and deny refuge to the TTP that is sending its terrorists across the border to wreak havoc in Pakistan? Like the sectarian organisations that feed off the “narrative” of Pakistan, the jihadis feed off the continuing conflict with India over Kashmir that has now become part and parcel of our national security narrative of India as the perpetual and existential enemy of Pakistan.

These are some of the many thorny questions that remain unaddressed by Radd-ul-Fasaad. Central to the theme of eliminating terrorism is the legitimizing “idea” or “narrative” of Pakistan that feeds into it. On that score, we have not seen any serious initiative by the civil-military establishment that fashioned it in the first place.