Category Archives: Good Governance

Wavela: Observations of an Overseas Pakistani about the Fatherland

By Syed Sharfuddin

It is always good to touch base with the Fatherland and breathe the air of the place where one was born and grew up playing all sorts of desi and not fit for Olympics games in the less crowded playgrounds and streets in the days gone by. I have been coming to Islamabad from England every year to touch my roots and relive the past in the present. This year was different as I had returned after a long gap interspersed by the Covid pandemic and global travel restrictions. But it was useful in the sense that the longer I stayed away from Pakistan, the better I was able to look at it objectively. Of course, this was from a personal perspective based on my own experience.

The result of my public encounters and private introspection led me to conclude that Pakistan needs some socialist intellectuals of the 1950s once again to reclaim our national spirit and promote the socialist principle of egalitarianism which is completely discarded in the prevailing capital market and free trade regime. Indeed, we have made much progress, but it has also allowed an unfathomable rich and poor divide to grow along with the population as the byproduct of development. As hard times have hit every country in the world this year, Pakistan’s economic problems are making the poor poorer everyday, which is a genuine worry because it undermines the principle of equality and makes democracy’s one man one vote theory difficult to practice. To be brief I will cite in this essay a few observations and offer some suggestions to illustrate my concern.

Yesterday afternoon, as I was walking outside my home in a busy residential sector of Islamabad, I saw old women and frail labourers sitting along the walkway waiting for help in the form of handouts from the pedestrians and passing cars. Then I saw a big SUV slowing down and a hand coming out of the driver’s window holding some currency notes. I couldn’t be sure about the colour of the notes as a blue note is a thousand rupees, a green is five hundred and red is a hundred. But the man who received the money seemed extremely grateful. Inspired by this noble gesture, I also gave some spare change to an unskilled labourer sitting a few steps away. Thanking me for my help, he said no one had hired him for the day. One kilometre away I witnessed similar scenes. People stared at me expecting I will give them some charity. Many were professional beggars who craftily sent their kids after me to pester for alms but on the other hand, many were also quiet. They spoke not a single word to ask for money. Their looks did their talking. An elderly baba who was selling fruit on a rickety trolley, however, pleaded with me to buy some mangoes from him because he had not sold any in the day. When I said the reason why he wasn’t able make a sale was because his mangoes were priced at Rs 300 a kilo while the market rate was Rs 250, he said the difference was his profit.

Considering that the temperature was 45C that day, I thought he deserved some help because he was at least trying to make a living by selling fruit instead of taking to begging. Given his position he appeared perfectly justified for jacking up the price of his mangoes to increase his profit margin. But he was no different from the those big profiteers in possession of large stores of sugar, cement, flour, fertilizer, medicines, UPS batteries and other essential commodities who also faced the heat of the adverse economic impact and considered themselves guiltless for ignoring the market in order to maximise their profit. In the end I bought a kilo of mangoes from the old man despite my ideological difference from his theory of making profit.


Then I noticed that most of the SUVs in the shopping centres were driven by the drivers of invisible owners who were probably sitting in air conditioned houses as their hired servants did all the shopping for them. These drivers were lucky because they had jobs and they could ride in those big vehicles worth fifty lakh. They even had the discretion to give small change to the beggars while shopping for their Sahibs. In the evening they take their Sahibs and Begum Sahibs to meet their friends for dinner at homes worth twelve crore or more.

Out at the clubs in the Rawal Dam area and in E-9, only the privileged people go for socialising. The don’t haves go to fast food joints and open air restaurants in sector markets where one basic meal costs around Rs 500. I had tea in F11 markaz in an open air sitting arrangement. The concoction cost me Rs 50 and a Naan Rs 20. There I saw many hungry faces passing by and many middle class husbands ordering takeaways to make their wives happy that tonight’s meal will be ‘bahir ka khana’, as opposed to ‘ghar ka khana’.

There are many other things unique to this country. We try to find local solutions to global problems. For instance, to reduce buildup of traffic on four crossings in Islamabad, the Capital City’s traffic police has found a novel solution unique in the world. It has blocked many such crossings by placing boulders in the road openings from where motorcycles can take a right turn, but four-wheel vehicles cannot. To take a right turn, a car driver must continue ahead for a kilometer or more and then take an awkward U turn in order to come back and then take the left turn. I thought as petrol prices have doubled people will ask questions about the logic of going the proverbial extra mile to take a right turn on many intersections, but drivers seem to have accepted it the traffic norm.

Another thing that got my attention was that many traffic lights that could benefit from solar energy panels remain dependent on grid electric supply which means that during load shedding hours, which are frequent in summer, traffic police personnel wearing thick cotton polyester uniforms are deputed to manage traffic under the blazing sun. In British India, traffic police wore khaki shorts in summers which looked funny but were airy and provided relief to the traffic cop. In 70 years of independence we are not only still there but gone a step back. The challenge of high temperature awaits the Islamabad administration’s attention to turn it into an opportunity to generate solar electricity for making their traffic lights work automatically.

A few years ago, a lot of large metal cat lights were placed on highways of Islamabad and Rawalpindi which were far more effective in tearing tires than illuminating in the dark. Someone must have charged the government for this work as metal was used in these road marking lights. This year I saw that these were removed from many roads. The highway authority must have received the feedback that they were a nuisance. Someone must have again charged the government for doing the removal of these lights.

A lot of revenue to the tune of crores of rupees is lost by Islamabad traffic police every year by not placing solar powered CCTV cameras at key traffic lights and parking areas to generate money from fines for traffic violations such as jumping red lights, over speeding or double parking in shopping areas. Here too, local solutions are devised for this problem by building very high road humps that hit the chassis of the cars or placing more road barriers for preventing double parking and not suspending the registration of cars driving against the flow of traffic in shopping areas.

I saw no less than ten big cars in a month on the roads of Islamabad with the sign “Applied for Registration”. The issuing authority was not the traffic department but individual car dealers from different cities. I asked a friend if this is allowed. He said it is not allowed but no police constable will risk his job stopping any of these big cars because their owners are big people with very long hands, longer than the law.

Real estate is a booming business in Pakistan. I don’t know about other cities, but I do know that whoever is somebody in Pakistan owns a house or a flat in Islamabad. In the federal capital the Capital Development Authority (CDA) has the final say on the allotment of land for residential or commercial purposes. CDA is also responsible for collection of property tax, as is the Islamabad Mayor’s office responsible for collection of water and sewerage charges. CDA and Islamabad property registry office lose crores of rupees of revenue every year by remaining outside the sale purchase deals of apartment buyers with the builders of apartments. Every new buyer of a new or old apartment pays an ownership transfer fee amounting to 3 or 4 lakh rupees to the apartment builder but not to the government. In CDA’s books individual apartment owners are not legal and registered owners of their addresses. In CDA’s books the registered owners are those who purchased the plots from CDA and got the permission to build apartments on those plots of land. Yet CDA sends every apartment owner a property tax bill each year. Many private housing societies in Sector E-11 have defied the CDA and given ownership rights through registry to the home and apartment owners. There are two parallel rules in operation in one capital city.

CDA has also bent down to political and government pressure frequently to change the capital’s master plan by adding unplanned streets, observing benign neglect for illegal encroachments on slopes adjoining rainwater passages, and blocking public roads for certain sensitive offices which want to keep the public away from their access points for security reasons but they do not want to relocate their offices to places where there is less public movement. Often the law enforcing agencies are the beneficiaries of such exceptions.

And yet despite this interesting maze of local logic applied in parallel with international good practice, people seem immensely grateful for what they have. This is perhaps due to the strong Sufi tradition which runs deep in Pakistan’s rural, as well as urban population. The rich may call the poor crooks and the poor may call the rich corrupt but no one, not even a street urchin is prepared for a revolution. They happily accept all that happens in their lives is fate. Afterall, they are one people under God. It is only a matter of whoever is lucky and got the opportunity to rise in rank and file. They pay the same sales tax and buy petrol at the same price. They eat the same roti and drink the same tea Alhamdulillah.

The only common thing between the rich and the poor is a social entente which is characterised by exploitation, corruption and cutting corners. Often they take turns to do this to each other. The rich pay income tax through their nose but they also make the drivers, maids and servants work at their homes 24/7 on very small salaries. And why shouldn’t they do so. They provide free accommodation and free meals to their underlings and never assert their ehsan on them. But this does not make them generous or large hearted. They send their drivers to stand in long queues at filling stations on the very whiff that government is going to raise petrol prices. They always fill out the lucky draw lottery form at Dubai International Airport to win that dream sports car which is not roadworthy on Pakistan’s roads. They are always out for bargains whether buying land or hunting for Swati furniture or banded clothes.

The maids and servants on the other hand are no angels either. They exploit the class under them . Promises are never kept by them, contracts are never honoured. Their commercial deals are based on chicanery and cashing in an opportunity. The housemaid or cook you employ will be gone tomorrow if your neighbour offers them 500 rupees extra in their salary. This social culture is one where big fish eats small fish. In this culture survival means either being a big fish or being together with the school of the big fish. And in case you feel like making a complaint or writing pro bono suggestions to improve things, your communication will not be read, or if it is read by mistake it will not be answered. I did a test run of this by making few attempts before writing this piece. Once I got a phone call where the person calling was in a hurry to close the case; on another occasion I got a proforma email acknowledgement but nothing on substance and on several other occasions, no reply ever came. However, I will continue to knock the door and push the envelope because life is another name of forward movement.

Russia-Ukraine Conflict: A Neutral Analysis

Syed Sharfuddin*

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 did not come as a surprise to anyone except Ukrainians who did not take the warnings of the US and other NATO members seriously. What was a surprise for Russia was the resistance put up by the Ukrainian leadership and regular armed forces who made it extremely hard for what Moscow though would be a walk in the park with its overwhelming land troops equipped with medium to long range artillery. As of writing this essay on Day 16 of the invasion, Russia has not been able to break the national resistance to enter Ukraine’s capital Kyiv. But most of the South and East Ukraine has fallen to Russian occupation and it is a matter of days that Kyiv would also fall to Russian troops. To understand why Russia launched the invasion into Ukraine, and whether it was necessary, one needs to look at the post world war global world order, which was refined and reinforced in the 1990s by the US and its allies following the dissolution of Soviet Union and the rise of China as a rival economic power. This essay, however, does not discuss history but focuses on the present conflict and the factors that surround its complicated nature.

Apart from the misery of the Ukrainians who have been used as a football by the big powers, with more than one million becoming refugees and 400,000 people uprooted internally from their homes and hundreds who died in missile attacks, this conflict has exposed the deep fault lines that underpin the existing world order for the maintenance of global peace and security. It has also exposed the double standards that are followed by the powerful states to justify and maintain their dominance of this order both within and outside the UN system.

Russia’s Position

In President Vladimir Putin’s view, this military operation (he does not want to call it a war) would not have been necessary if NATO had not moved away from its assurance of the 1990s that it would not expand to the Baltic states in Eastern Europe posing a direct threat to the sovereignty and security of Russia. Vladimir Putin holds the present government in Ukraine responsible for killing 14000 people in the Russian majority regions of Donetsk and Luhansk which proclaimed independence from Kiev subsequent to the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. According to the Russian narrative, Volodymyr Zelensky supported the Ukrainian armed forces with funds, equipment and entertainment shows on the frontline in the separatist region of Donbas, but he also promised to implement the 2015 Minsk Agreement and agreed to respect the civil and political rights of the Russian-speaking population in Eastern Ukraine. After his election in 2019 he reneged on his promise and instead of mending ties with Russia, he started to court the US for NATO membership. To win the US support, Volodymyr Zelensky banned Russian-language newspapers and TV channels, imprisoned his political opponents and outlawed opposition political parties in Eastern Ukraine and sent thousands of Ukrainian troops and Neo-Nazis in Donbas to eliminate pro-Russia separatists. Early this year, the debate whether Ukraine should apply for membership of NATO and abandon its policy of staying neutral in any future confrontation between Russia and the US, or maintain the status quo culminated in favour of the former view prevailing in the government. President Putin saw this as Ukraine crossing the red line and after failing to get reassurance from NATO that it would not deny Ukraine membership of the Western defence alliance if it applied for it, he ordered Russian army to move into Ukraine before Ukraine’s application for NATO membership was submitted and approved officially.

The Russian objectives in its military operation against Ukraine are a neutral and non-nuclear Ukraine, its demilitarisation from the Eastern regions inhabited by the Russian-speaking population, denazification (whatever it means), recognition of Russian Crimea and recognition of the independent states of Donetsk and Luhansk. According to Russian leaders, these terms are non-negotiable.

Russia sees the NATO reaction to its invasion as a contradiction of what the US and NATO did elsewhere in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, replacing their leaders with pro-West puppet regimes who were imposed on their peoples through the use of force. Instead of encouraging President Zelensky to negotiate peace with Russia, Vladimir Putin accuses the West of escalating the war by supplying arms and mercenaries, while launching a hysterical propaganda against Russia and enforcing a strict sanctions regime against Russia. 

NATO’s Position

The US and NATO do not Trust Vladimir Putin. They believe that he wants to restore the glory days of the former Soviet Union by keeping its neighbouring states under Russia’s sphere of influence. The West regards this conflict not as Russia’s war but as Putin’s war of wanton ambition. On Ukraine’s membership question, NATO has taken the position that every country has the sovereign right to decide its future and join a defence pact that it considers necessary for safeguarding its independence and sovereignty. The West regards the invasion of Ukraine by Russia as a violation of the principle of non-interference and respect for the territorial integrity of states, which is backed by international law and upheld by the UN and OSCE. The US and NATO have made it clear that instead of imposing a no fly zone over Ukraine or deploying NATO troops inside Ukraine to stop the Russian advance, they will supply lethal arms to Ukraine to defend itself and use economic sanctions against Russia which will exact a heavy economic cost on Putin’s government and its supporters. These sanctions include suspension of the SWIFT banking system for Russia, freezing financial assets of Russia and Russian banks and its billionaire oligarchs in Western countries, boycotting Russian commercial aviation, banning investment and trading contacts with Russia, ending the Most Favoured Nation status in trade and placing a freeze on its oil exports. US corporations in technology, food and consumer goods and European car manufacturers have closed their operations in Russia resulting in thousands of job losses for the Russians. The Russian Rouble and stock market is under severe market pressure. In addition, foreign fighters have gone into Ukraine to fight Russian troops alongside Ukraine’s regular army and freshly trained civilian volunteers. The strategy of NATO is not to fight Russia directly with NATO forces but to exact insurmountable pressure on Vladimir Putin to isolate him from his people or force him enough to withdraw from Ukraine in a humiliating reversal of his invasion order.

The US and its European allies believe that Ukraine is not the last stop of Russia. They draw a parallel between Hitler’s Germany which kept on taking European countries by force to fulfil its ambition as the dominant power in Europe. The Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as well as Finland, Hungary and Poland share this assessment and have asked NATO to remain prepared to invoke article 5 of the NATO charter if a NATO member state is attacked by Russia. An appeasement of Russia in Ukraine could embolden Vladimir Putin to move further into Europe to create rebel enclaves of Russian population sympathetic to Moscow. However, NATO is reluctant to engage in a military showdown against Russia which could easily escalate to a nuclear war which no one, including Russia, wants to fight because if it starts, there will be no one left to claim victory.

Instead, NATO is confronting Russia on other fronts. Besides imposing the toughest economic sanctions, NATO is fighting Russia on cyber space, media and public relations. The Russian viewpoint of the war is completely blocked out in the US and Europe on TV, newspapers and social media. Western public is furious against Russia watching atrocities committed by the Russian artillery on civilians in many Ukrainian cities, including those under Russian siege. This is reciprocated by Russia and Russians are only getting information that Kremlin approves for public release in Russia.

Within NATO there are different views on the application of sanctions and confronting Russia. Ukraine’s repeated calls to NATO to intervene militarily resulted on deaf ears. Joining the sanctions’ call, Germany suspended the construction of Russian gas pipeline NORD-2, but it did not suspend NORD-1 which brings Russian gas to Germany to meet its energy shortfall. Hungary did not join the US call to boycott the import of Russian oil. Poland wanted the US to deploy jets and declare Ukraine a no fly zone but the US did not want to escalate the conflict to a higher military level. Slovenia has asked NATO members to stop all imports from Russia. Although Turkey voted yes for the General Assembly resolution, it did not officially condemn Russia for the invasion but called it “unacceptable”. Turkey is a NATO member but it also has good relations with Russia and Ukraine and is committed to facilitating negotiations between the two sides. Ankara made a mediation attempt by hosting a trilateral meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia Ukraine and Turkey in Antalya on 10 March 2022, which ended after one session making no progress on ceasefire, but agreeing that the possibility of future talks should remain open ended.

Impartial Position

The UN Security Council meeting on 26 February 2022 and the subsequent UN General Assembly meeting of 2 March 2022 seeking to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine and calling on the the parties to end hostilities were quite revealing in their voting pattern. While the majority of the member states supported the West’s position in voting for the resolution which was adopted at the General Assembly by an overwhelming majority, 35 states abstained and 12 did not participate in the voting. States that abstained included three nuclear states namely China, India and Pakistan, as well as many Asian and Gulf States. These states have full sympathy for Ukraine whose people are going through a humanitarian catastrophe, but these states do not want to be a party to the power struggle between one side and the other. In choosing to be non-partisan, these states want to keep good relations with all major powers, be it China, Russia, the US, UK or the EU. They do not want to be told that if you are not with us, you are against us. Unfortunately, the West has not accepted the right of these countries to remain neutral in this conflict. Prior to the UN General Assembly vote in New York on 2 March 2022, Western Envoys posted in Islamabad wrote a joint letter advising the government of Imran Khan to condemn Russia for invading Ukraine. The letter was rejected by the Pakistan Foreign Office as an attempt to influence its neutrality. Pakistani social media is full of speculation that the West is quietly working with the opposition to pass a vote of no confidence against Imran Kahn in Parliament and force him out of government. The opposition in Pakistan has accused the Prime Minister of visiting Moscow on the eve of Russian invasion of Ukraine. On 10 March addressing a Press Conference the federal Minister for Interior of Pakistan confirmed the speculations that the vote of no-confidence tabled in the Parliament by the combined opposition was because of Ukraine, and for the government’s refusal to comply with the demands of the West. If the vote of no-confidence fails, the West may as well use other levers such as tighten IMF conditionality on the next tranche of payment, or retain Pakistan on the grey list of FATF for an indefinite period. The US State Department has an office which monitors the voting pattern of countries on US-sponsored resolutions at the UN and calibrates US foreign and security policy toward them accordingly.

It is reasonable to assume that the number of abstentions on the UN General Assembly vote would have been higher than 35, had the West not actively lobbied and put diplomatic pressure on politically vulnerable and foreign aid dependent countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and South America to vote in favour of the UN resolution. It is interesting that after voting against the UN Security Council resolution on Ukraine on 26 February 2022, the UAE changed its position and voted in support of the UN General Assembly resolution on Ukraine on 2 March 2022. South Africa was also in the same dilemma. After initially announcing that South Africa will remain neutral in the Ukraine conflict, the South African Foreign Minister issued a statement prior to the UN vote in support of the NATO position. The statement was, however, retracted later after the ANC leadership decided to stand firm on its neutral stance in keeping with its long standing policy of not getting involved in big power rivalry.  

NATO Membership

Like the EU expansion in Europe since its inception, NATO has also been expanding in Europe to counter Russia’s perceived threat. NATO was founded in 1949 by 12 states from Europe and North America comprising Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the UK and the US. In the 1950s Greece, Turkey and Germany joined NATO. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary joined NATO in 1999. Five years later in 2004, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia became NATO members. NATO continued to expand further admitting Albania and Croatia in 2009, Montenegro in 2017 and North Macedonia in 2020. The US wanted to make Ukraine a NATO member in 2008 but did not go as far as inviting Ukraine to apply due to reservations of Germany and France. Vladimir Putin is extremely sensitive to NATO’s expansion in Europe which he regards as a Western strategy to encircle Russia from the west, as well as through the south from the Black Sea. The root cause of the present conflict in Ukraine is the refusal of NATO to announce that it will not make Ukraine a member of NATO.

Observations

The Ukraine conflict has revealed cracks in the post-world war political and financial order which needs a thorough overhaul, taking into account the shifting power balance away from the world war II victors to new economic and geo-strategic state-actors that either did not exist as independent states back in 1945 or were not directly involved in the setting up of the order following the great war. The present order is simply not relevant even for the powers that conceived and sustained it and which worked for them for 77 years after the end of the world war.

This is more so in the financial markets where few countries with Reserve currencies control the net value of world liquidity. The Bretton Woods system was abandoned by the US in 1971. The US Dollar is no longer linked to the US gold reserve except that the Green back has the sovereign guarantee of the US Government. The exchange rates of many raw material and commodities supplying countries are fixed through an unfair and unequal system based on the basket of Reserve currencies where the theory that the more a country devalues its currency the greater are its exports prospects, undermines the value of the work of farmers and manufacturers of exporting countries. This is how shops like Primark manage to sell a Made in Bangladesh jumper cheaper than a cup of Starbucks coffee. The exporting countries do not get the fair value of their products because of the unfair exchange rate which is heavily in favour of Reserve currency countries. This is a completely different subject not related to the present topic but it shows that the existing global financial system also needs a major overhaul, which the Ukraine conflict has come to highlight in the wake of stagflation threatening many countries.

The UN which was established primarily to prevent armed conflicts in the world has failed in its primary mission. The big powers that established the UN did not care for this failure because a serious war never came home on the territory of Europe or the US to disturb the peaceful lives of their citizens. The P5 are no longer the sole powers that can decide on matters of peace and security, using the UN Security Council in which they monopolise decision-making under Chapter vii of the UN Charter. The decision making mechanism for peace and security has moved away from the UN to NATO and G7 forums, which is even more dangerous because it excludes a lot many regions and countries affected by conflicts. The General Assembly has no mandate to impose its resolutions on the states that ignore UN resolutions with impunity. The democratisation and overhaul of the UN is necessary to restore its credibility and make it relevant to prevent future conflicts and wars.

The inter-dependence of states due to globalisation came under strain due to worldwide Covid-19 restrictions in 2021 and now it is challenged in 2022 by the war in Ukraine. Countries are realising that dependence on other states is not necessarily a good thing as supply chains can be chocked and create economic slowdown, even if temporarily. Germany depends on Russia for natural gas for 50% of its energy requirement, and France 25%. NATO members are now talking about cutting their dependency on Russian fossil fuels and investing in renewable energy. It will take time to reduce or completely switch this dependency, but it will be a major shift toward nationalism and self-sufficiency for European states. Russia and China may also reduce their dependency on Europe and the US for technology and diversify their exports to the emerging markets in Asia and South America or engage in bilateral trade between them forming an economic and strategic block to counter the Western dominance. For South Asian nations, this would pose both an opportunity and a challenge because countries in this region have their own territorial disputes and they are not insulated from the ramifications of wider global developments.

The toughest sanctions imposed by the West against Vladimir Putin’s regime will not impact on Russia in the short term so as to force a withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine without achieving the objectives of the military operation. These sanctions will hurt Russian economy and development in the long run, but at the same time the sanctions will push Russia to explore new economic partners and use a financial system away from the SWIFT to move money internationally and collaborate with the Chinese who are already operating a digital money transfer system similar to SWIFT. Russia will also reduce its dependence on the US Dollar and other Reserve currencies of the West and could develop an alternate currency, including an online digital currency for trade with the outside world. Russia and China have the capability to put an alternate currency trading system in place. Russia’s high energy reserves can also be used to dictate the terms of trade by forcing the buyers of Russian fossil fuels to pay for their purchases in the currency Russia chooses outside the US Dollar and Western banking system.

Reducing dependence on other countries will encourage Germany and Japan to invest heavily in their defence forces. The two countries seem ready to take this route in the coming years. While Australia, the US, UK and France will benefit from this investment by supplying their defence technology and improving their economies through defence exports, in the long run it will be a very dangerous world where each country will have indigenous military capacity to threaten a neighbour with armed conflict. Countries which have a strong economic and defence capability can always be held to ransom by far right nationalist leaders winning elections on populist slogans and using their muscle power to bully smaller neighbours.   

While Russian troops are still in Ukraine, in the immediate future NATO will have to rethink its strategy of dealing with Russia if it does not want to use military force to avoid a danger of escalating the war and brining it inside the territory of NATO members. This will mean NATO either conceding the point that Russia has a right to feel sensitive about its “zone of influence” just as the US feels strongly about its “zone of influence” in South and Central America, or NATO carrying on with a long drawn regime of punitive sanctions against Russia which will in turn hurt not only NATO members but will also have a negative global impact on all countries. Already, Russian retaliation has halted cooperation with the US and UK in the production of rocket components and launch of non-commercial satellites in space. Stopping exports of luxury cars and goods to Russian buyers will also hurt US manufacturers in terms of reduced sales.

The Ukraine war has also shown the double standard of countries which have been preaching human rights to others away from their homes. The racist treatment of non-white and non-nationals fleeing Ukraine by the Ukrainian authorities, as well as their poor welcome by the countries where they walked to seek refuge was most unfortunate because they were not in some uncivilised continent but in Europe. The Ukraine war also shattered the stock image of a refugee being black skinned or brown eyed. In the 70 years interregnum since the world war, Europe had almost forgotten that refugees could also be blonde, blue eyed, wear the cross, look healthy and speak the same language as the hosts.

The Ukraine war has also thrown away the myth of freedom of expression and thought. As soon as Russian troops invaded Ukraine, European countries blocked the news coming out of Russia to their public and concentrated only on showing the atrocities committed by the Russian troops on civilians, including heart breaking accounts of people fleeing their homes, maternity homes being bombarded and heart wrenching scenes of homes and buildings destroyed in Russian missile attacks. The sanctions story is also dominated by what the West has imposed on Russia without reporting on the sanctions Russia has imposed on the West in retaliation. International television stations such as Al-Jazeera and TRT News have struggled to remain neutral because any violation of the neutral reporting protocol can shut down their transmission in NATO states. Newspapers are, however, relatively independent in publishing opinion pieces which cover all aspects of the conflict.

There is no denying the fact that the moral responsibility for carrying out aggression against Ukraine rests with Russia, and not with Donetsk and Luhansk which are seeking self-determination in an attempt to break away from Ukraine. There is also no question about the sovereign right of Ukraine to decide in its own interest whether it wants to join NATO or remain neutral. But having said that why wasn’t this applied to Serbia, Indonesia and Sudan when the West supported the self determination of the people of Kosovo, East Timor and South Sudan and insisted on their secession as independent countries. But in the breakaway states of Ukraine, Kashmir, Northern Cyprus, Palestine and now Afghanistan, the West has not supported the principle of the right of self-determination of the people who want to live independently as internationally recognised states. The contrast is too obvious to be obfuscated through a media block out, economic brow beating or display of force.

The main beneficiary of the showdown between Russia and Ukraine, and by implication Russia and US, is China which has chosen not to take any sides, but it has indirectly supported Russia. The thought of Taiwan becoming Ukraine is worrying if China at any point in the future follows the example of Russia to invade Taiwan. Would NATO pre-empt this scenario by making Taiwan a member of NATO? And how far is NATO willing to go to contain Russia’s ambition to re-write the past and create a union of East European and Central Asian states which once comprised the former Soviet Union. It would have been far better if after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1988, the US had offered NATO membership to Russia emerging fresh as the successor state of the Soviet Union. In fact, a unipolar world did not require an enlarged NATO but a strengthened UN. But the past cannot be rewritten neither by Vladimir Putin nor by the leaders of NATO. Meanwhile the world is crying for Ukraine which badly needs peace.

*Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a former Pakistan diplomat and a former Special Adviser, Political Affairs, Commonwealth Secretariat, London (2000-2006).

A New Perspective on the System of Governance in Pakistan

[While the debate for a presidential system of government has revived in Pakistan in 2022, the author proposes a new governance structure for the country, including the military’s representation in Parliament.]

Syed Sharfuddin

A discussion on replacing the current parliamentary form of government with a presidential form is doing rounds in the recent conversation of Pakistan’s political pundits and social media stalwarts. While this topic is not new, its resurgence is indication that the matter is not settled yet and may well be tried in the next power reshuffle if it is possible to do so within the democratic mechanisms available under the 1973 constitution and the laws enacted under it. The government has denied that any such system is under consideration. The opposition fears that it is a part of a covert plan of the establishment to consolidate power in the hands of one person instead of collective governance provided in the constitution of Pakistan. Analysts think it is testing the waters to see the public reaction. There is also the conspiracy theory that the establishment would prefer to deal with one person at the top for running the government instead of negotiating with the multiple poles of power which require tedious consensus building, taking much time and energy and sometimes even covert funding but achieving little or no results.

Pakistan went through the presidential system of governance five times under Iskandar Mirza, Ayub Khan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf. The civilian presidents were Iskandar Mirza who was replaced in the military coup of 1958 and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who became prime minister after the adoption of the 1973 constitution which opted for a parliamentary system of democracy. The other three Generals who ruled as presidents, chose the presidential system because they were martial law administrators and for the most part when they were in power, the constitution was suspended. Every time power was restored to the civilian leadership, Pakistan returned to the parliamentary form of government.

In parliamentary democracy political power is collectively exercised by the prime minister who is the chief executive of the state and head of a cabinet comprising the most trusted members of his team. There is also a non-executive president, who is the symbolic head of state but not head of government. In presidential democracy on the other hand, political power is vested in the authority of the president who is both the head of state and the head of government. In this system the president is held in check by a unicameral or bicameral legislature which can impeach him for breach of the constitution but cannot reject his policies unless it is a money bill requiring majority assent of parliament in addition to that of the president. This is the basic framework of democratic governance, although every country has introduced some unique features in its constitution which seek to address the peculiar requirements of its society and ethos of its people.

One of the weaknesses of the parliamentary system is that it demands a highly charismatic prime minister who is able to successfully take his policies through the system by winning the backing of the less reluctant backbenchers of his own party, as well as keeping his coalition partners happy, if there is a coalition government. The prime minister also needs to take into account the stance of the opposition and needs to have sufficient voting strength in the legislature for the passage of government-sponsored bills and implement his government’s agenda. Where these features are absent, especially in fragile federations and conflict-affected countries, a prime minister is reduced to a majordomo because the political system does not give him the power to push his bold agenda forward. President Erdogan of Turkey realised that his hands were tied in a non-executive presidency prior to the 2016 failed military coup. He used his popularity to win a referendum that enabled him to abolish the post of prime minister and replace the parliamentary system with a presidential form of government. In his new capacity, Erdogan managed to push though his economic agenda without having to go through a long winded political process. That he was able to do so is no guarantee, however, that the military will not cease power in Turkey again, or that Turkey will always have a charismatic leader like Erdogan.

In a presidential form of government, a mediocre president runs the risk of bringing much controversy to his office and even destroy democracy if the opposition is not strong or if the military does not interfere to stop the country sliding fast on the road to instability and chaos. What saves such situations is the strength of the country’s constitution, a history of legislative precedents to overcome political crises, people’s respect for the rule of law and a commitment by political parties to adhere to democratic principles without blindly following their party position. A recent example of this was president Trump who is still facing court cases for incitement to armed insurrection of the US Capitol by his party’s hooligans in January last year on the eve of the inauguration of President Biden. What saved the situation in the US last year was its strong democratic system and the commitment of the sate governors and legislators to remain united, rejecting violence and bipartisan politics. The proponents of the presidential form of government should not lose sight of these essential requirements and the long-term view of the system where authority is concentrated in the president with no guarantee that he will always take correct political decisions in the interest of the country. Many African countries have adopted the presidential form of government, but their record does not add up to represent best practice.

In fragile or security-prone federations, states have domestic pressures from their constituent units which takes a large slice of government pie to satisfy the key stakeholders. Concentrating power in a few hands can lead to a feeling of isolation and neglect on the part of remote and economically less-performing federating units, which Pakistanis are too familiar with in a discussion of small versus big provinces. A presidential system could upset this delicate inter-provincial balance, especially in hard economic times.

In my view it is neither easy nor wise for Pakistan to replace the existing Westminster style parliamentary system with a US style presidential system. What Pakistan can do, however, is to give the president a substantive role in governance instead of keeping him as a figurative head of state while real power is vested in the prime minister. If the office of the president was abolished by the constitution, no one will probably notice. To make the president meaningful and relevant in the present system, he must have a popular mandate and an active role that compliments the work of the executive. For that to happen, the president should be directly elected by people instead of an electoral college of legislators. Because Pakistan’s provinces are not at the same level of development and are also diverse in demography, the president should not come from the same province as that of the prime minister. Any politician or technocrat who has at least once been a member of the provincial or national legislature or served as governor of a province should be eligible to contest the election of the president. He should not belong to a political party and should stand independently, as long as he meets the candidacy criteria prescribed in the constitution.

The functions of the president and prime minister should be redefined by amending the relevant chapters of the 1973 constitution. Since the president is the symbol of federation, three subjects, namely defence, foreign affairs and inter-provincial coordination should be transferred from the purview of the prime minister to the office of the president. In addition, the president should be given the constitutional authority to appoint, instead of acting on the recommendation of the prime minister, provincial governors, chief election commissioner and other members of the commission, chief justice and other judges of the superior judiciary, chiefs of defence forces, governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, and chairmen of National Accountability Bureau, National Security Council and National Disaster Management Authority. Any transfers or removals of these position holders should also be done by the president without the advice or influence of the prime minister or leader of the opposition. As the supreme commander of the armed forces of Pakistan, the president should be mandated to consult the military chiefs as frequently as is necessary and inform the prime minister about his consultations, where required.

The ISPR media cell, Foreign Office spokesman’s office and President’s press and media office should be merged into one federal information agency. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the prime minister’s media office should continue functioning as at present. Each agency should focus on matters which fall under the respective responsibility of the president and the prime minister.

However, to provide checks and balances, all ambassadorial appointments made by the president, ratification of foreign agreements and treaties, and decisions concerning defence and security matters should be scrutinised by parliament and approved by the two houses. On his part, the prime minister should focus on economy, stability, connectivity, investment, agricultural and industrial growth, trade, healthcare, education, housing, infrastructure development, environment and social care. The president should retain the power to ask a prime minister to show his strength in the house if he feels that the prime minister has ceased to enjoy the support of the majority of the parliament. Similarly, parliament should retain the power to impeach the president if it feels that the president has violated the constitution or breached any law.

I have mentioned earlier in this essay that every country adapts democracy to its own particular circumstances. Therefore, it is not necessary that Pakistan should strictly follow the presidential and parliamentary models of the West for choosing a form of government which meets its requirements. It is not a secret that in the past, sharp differences have existed between the president and the prime minister, for example, Gen Ziaul Haq and Muhammad Khan Junejo and Farooq Laghari and Benazir Bhutto.

The new model of governance could give rise to a cold war between the president and the prime minister for concentrating power in one camp at the expense of the other, irrespective of the fact that the functions of each office would be clearly defined in the constitution with no room for conflict of interest or duplication. However, to ensure against a political impasse caused by rivalry between the president and the prime minister for control of political power, the constitution should require that if as a result of such rivalry, the president succeeds in removing a prime minister through a vote of no confidence, he too will have to resign within 90 days of the departure of the prime minister and seek a fresh mandate from the people. Similarly, if a prime minister succeeds in removing a president he cannot work with through a vote of impeachment, he too will have to resign within 90 days of the departure of the president and call a general election to seek a fresh mandate from the people. The election of the president should be held at the same time as the general election to save costs.

The constitution should also make it clear that the president is the head of the federation/state and in-charge of three departments (defence, foreign affairs and inter-provincial coordination) and the prime minister is head of government and in-charge of public finance, taxation, interior and all other departments the constitution places under the federal government. The respective media departments of the president and prime minister should also strictly stay within the areas their principals have been assigned in the constitution.

The proposed changes in the executive set-up will have a positive impact on the quality and output of governance. The legislature will continue to perform its function as defined in the constitution for accountability of the executive, representation of people and enactment of legislation to facilitate the work of the executive and the judiciary. The new arrangement will enable the prime minister to focus on the country’s economic development and monitor the performance of his ministers without getting dragged in controversies, in addition to concentrating on the business of parliament. By bringing some key statutory appointments under the sole authority of the president, these institutions will be free from any real or perceived pressure from the prime minister or any other quarter, as has been traditionally alleged by the opposition in every government in the past, with the present government being no exception. The prime minister and his cabinet will take cognisance of the fact that an independent election commission, an impartial accountability watchdog and an independent judiciary on whom they can exercise no influence will make it much harder for them to claim success of government without delivering on their election manifesto. Their focus should be no political point scoring but delivering on their promises to showcase their performance. This will also result in making the opposition responsible and focused on national issues instead of engaging in polemics and personal attacks against government ministers.

It is not just the political system that needs fixing but also the role of the military which should be formalised in the country’s political process. Despite what is said in Western democracies about the military being subordinate to political leadership, the fact is that in times of war or national crisis in any country, the people who actually call the shots are the military elites. In those situations, civilian rulers simply become their Generals’ mouthpiece. Since independence, Pakistan has been perpetually under a security threat from its bigger and bitter neighbour India. This is not a myth or a self-imagined fantasy. If India was a well-wisher of Pakistan, the riots that accompanied the 1947 partition could have been avoided with the Indian National Congress agreeing with the Muslim League a formula for peaceful population exchange. The Treaty of Lausanne worked out a formula for the peaceful exchange of two million Turkish-Greek people in 1923 without any bloodshed. If India were a friendly neighbour, the state of Bangladesh would never have come into being as an independent country until the dissenting leaders in East Pakistan reached a political understanding with West Pakistan to secede without a single person dying on either side.

In regard to the present challenges, the twenty years’ insurgency in Afghanistan has left deep impact on Pakistan’s security, economy and foreign policy. The recent RSS threats of genocide of Indian Muslims and ‘correcting the demographic imbalance’ in the illegally annexed Jammu and Kashmir make Pakistan’s eastern border extremely dangerous every day. With these compulsions, to say that the military should simply sit in the barracks and not interfere with political governance shows lack of understanding of the country’s past experience and its serious ongoing and future challenges. That the military should stay as a department of the government may be fashionable in the West because this applies to countries that were once at war with each other but have now learnt to live as peaceful neighbours. It is regrettably not true of Pakistan nor the region where it is situated.

I have a proposal that goes a step further than the debate on the presidential form of government. It calls for a new constitutional amendment allowing a selected number of serving military personnel to be represented in parliament as the voice of an important stakeholder in discussing and legislating on the security and development policies of the country. These representatives should be serving officers from the three forces at the level of commodore, brigadier or air commodore and above. They should come to parliament on deputation for a fixed term of 5 years and then return to their service. They should be elected on non-party basis by the serving and retired military personnel in the country forming a separate voters’ list. For their election to be meaningful, the military should nominate at least thrice the number of representatives intended to be sent to parliament through their separate voters’ list.

By giving the military a constitutional role in the democratic decision-making process of Pakistan it should be every one’s hope and commitment to firmly shut the door for ‘Ottoman palace intrigues’ and the negative ‘Byzantine propaganda’ that is churned 24/7 by hostile agencies and their misguided converts to malign the public against the defenders of Pakistan.

Giving representation to the armed forces in parliament is not a new idea. The constitution of Uganda under Article 78 envisages the inclusion of the representatives of the army, along with representation of youth workers, persons with disabilities and other groups in parliament. Their number and procedure of election is determined by Uganda’s parliament from time to time. The constitution of Pakistan, under Articles 51 and 59 envisages the representation of women, technocrats and minorities in parliament according to a certain formula. The representation of the military is excluded from these groups. But it is time that these Articles are amended to allow formal representation of the military in parliament according to a set formula which should be almost equal to that of current reserved women seats in the National Assembly and Senate. As a matter of fact, to enhance the role of women in Pakistani politics, the reserved women’s seats in both the Houses should be abolished and replaced by a constitutional amendment which should statutorily require all political parties taking part in the provincial and national Assembly elections to field no less than 50% women among their candidates for the general seats in all provinces. After the passage of the constitutional amendment, if political parties fail to follow this requirement at a general election, the Election Commission should cancel their registration and stop them from campaigning until such time they meet the 50% requirement of women candidates for contesting the elections.

There is a need for the political leadership to tolerate the military’s penchant for political power for two reasons: firstly, because the military has been closely associated with politics for more than half the age of Pakistan; and secondly, because the civilian leadership has itself encouraged the Generals to fill the vacuum in institutions which the civilian administrations of the time were unable to run, manage and perform efficiently, until such time that military moved in to clear the civilian mess almost everywhere from ailing industries and failed mega projects to utility companies, air transport, election monitoring, public health and polio vaccination to establish a new normal in the country, and until it was too late to call for their exit.

The ‘civilianisation’ of the military is a one way process in which a fully trained force meant for the defence of the frontiers of the state also provides civilian professional services in road building, power generation, education, housing, healthcare, food production, telecommunications, heavy industry, cyber security and technology. But this is a unilateral process because in this arrangement the military does not allow reciprocity to the civilian authority to do military’s job or assume any of its roles in the defence forces. At the most, civilians are allowed to help the military in maintaining accounts books, provide air and naval support roles and run the defence ministry’s bureaucracy. The military also does not want to make army training compulsory for all citizens because in a pluralistic state where there is a history of clandestine separatist organisations being propped up and funded from abroad to work as proxies of foreign powers, a national military preparedness and training service can prove to be a disaster for the unity of command and discipline of the regular forces.

In states where there is a history of political military overlap of power, it is important for the armed forces to remain fully trained and professional. It is also important that the distinction between military officers and their civilian counterparts is clearly defined and kept separate. In countries where this delicate balance was not maintained, there was a breakdown of security and order. Examples of this breakdown are the experiences of Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic.

But this is not a phenomena which is unique to Pakistan. In China, the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) was closely involved in building infrastructural projects in China for many years. In Latin America and Africa many counties employed their military in national development projects. In any disaster situation in the world, the military is the first to respond with clearing debris and opening roads in aid of the civilian administration. A civilian democratic government does not mean a complete divorce from the involvement of the military in the administration. The military is always an integral part of the political and decision-making process, but they are not the sole decision makers.

The challenges faced by Pakistan internally, as well as externally in the region require regular and close coordination between the military and civilian leadership. In Pakistan’s case, civil-military balance is heavily impacted by the external security environment relating to India, Afghanistan, Iran, China, the Middle East and the United States. This means that even if the country is not at war or in active combat mode, the army cannot just sit in the barracks doing its routine training and waiting for the civilian government to deploy it when needed. The military needs to be pro-active and often ahead of the game to warn the government of the impending danger and threats. In a volatile situation it also makes sense for the civilian administration to use the expertise of the military not just during war, but also in time of peace. This augers favourably for a constitutional amendment to formalise the military’s role in politics by bringing its representation in parliament as an important stakeholder and partner in the security and development of Pakistan.


Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a former Pakistani diplomat and a political analyst. He served as a special adviser for political affairs at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London from 2000 to 2007. He also formerly served as CEO of Muslim Aid, UK from 2010 to 2014.

Unity of Church and State: The Islamic Political Model

Syed Sharfuddin

As the philosophical and political discourse of the past century has been dominated by western ideas about state politics and popular culture, no one in the Islamic world is unfamiliar with the theory that the unity of a nation-state, which is itself a legacy of the west’s two world wars, can only be safeguarded if there is separation of the church and state enshrined in its constitution. Numerous examples are given in support of this intellectual argument, citing former empires and pluralistic states which broke apart when their political systems came under pressure from popular movements for political and economic freedom and keeping the church and state under one crown. Interestingly, when advancing this argument other factors such as poverty, exploitation, ethnicity, ideology and religion are pushed behind the mainstream argument.

In the Islamic political system, tracing it as far back as to the life of the Prophet, peace be upon him, state and religion are not separate pillars of power but are two sides of the same coin. In a conceptual Islamic state, combined power is exercised by the same sovereign authority or entity that governs the state in the name of the sovereign. It is another topic whether Islam spread by sword ( a function of state power) or by good and just governance (a function of God’s ministry, i.e. church), but in an Islamic polity, a Muslim ruler is not merely the symbolic commander in chief of the armed forces, but he is also the Emir or leader of the faithful. This is not a novel idea because other Abrahamic religions also followed this principle until a few centuries ago when they abandoned this in favour of having two separate heads of power, one being supreme (the state) and the other being subordinate to it (the church). However, in practical terms, the Jewish state of Israel remains a religious state for all practical purposes and the UK which is the mother of democracies has a monarch whose official title is ‘Head of State of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island and other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth and Defender of the Faith’.

In his book ‘The Great Arab Conquests’ published by Hodder and Stoughton Limited, London in 1963, ISBN 0-7043-333368, the author Lieutenant General Sir John Bagot Glubb, KCB, CMG, DSO, OBE & MC writes: “the fact that Muhammad’s career transformed him from something resembling an Old Testament Prophet into a politician, a ruler and a lawgiver, has profoundly affected the development of Islam to this day. All the Apostle’s successors automatically followed his example and combined religious and political rule. Islam never witnessed the rivalry between pope and emperor which so often disturbed medieval Europe. The Islamic lay state, in which the government is independent of the religious hierarchy, is a novelty of the last forty years, in imitation of Europe…This attitude finds its origin in the fact that Muhammad made himself the political as well as the religious ruler of his people, and that government has ever since been combined with religious leadership in Muslim states, at least until the twentieth century. This identification of religion with political rule has been a fundamental cause of misunderstanding on the part of Europeans in Muslim countries. Non-Muslims are inclined to be critical of the intervention of Muslim religious teachers in politics and to ask why they do not limit themselves to their proper field of spiritual teaching, leaving politics to those whose concern they are. But this separation of the religious from the political is a Christian viewpoint. To the old Muslim, if not to the modern Arab nationalist, religion and politics were inseparable.”

As we enter 2022 in a few months, this criticism of Islamic state that promotes cooperation between the state and church is getting sharper and louder from within the Muslim community than from non-Muslims, whose position is known since long. But these are people, undoubtedly well meaning Muslims, who have been deeply influenced by western political thought. Their measure of success is material ascendency for monetary gain. They think that if the clergy in Muslim states is pushed back to perform only worship with no room for political contribution, the state will progress rapidly and achieve development. They forget that the requirements for successful governance are more than the practice or preservation of faith; these are good economic policies, better systems which weed out corruption and inefficiency and encourage independent and working institutions. If anything, the clergy helps to enhance these values in governance. It is opposed to neither the separation of powers nor rewarding efficiency.

There should be no cause of concern if a modern Islamic state appears keen to rediscover its deeper roots and makes the clergy partners in governance instead of keeping it away against popular aspirations. The fact that today many Muslim-majority states that have decided not to declare Islam as their official religion have managed to carry on happily is a matter of time. As soon as the western political model of separation of church and state loses its shine or is replaced by another political ideology (for history is witness that no civilisation or ideology is permanent except the universal values of justice and freedom) all those countries would require a political readjustment with their Muslim-majority populations which would eventually bring them to comprise with the church. I therefore welcome the efforts on the part of the state of Pakistan to continue to talk to its Muslim clergy for reaching a mutually agreed governance system that guarantees peace and justice for all, while at the same time does not alienate the church from the state as two mutually separate power poles.

There are two disadvantages which a separation of church and state model handicaps Muslim majority states. One is the distrust of the clergy about their secular governors which leaves them free to encourage to form a ‘de-facto state’ within a de-jure state based on sharia law as opposed to state law. The second is the ineffective writ of government because the authorities cannot use force against their fellow Muslims and subject them to harsh punishments just because they demand the state to be sensitive to Islamic values and principles. By combining the state and clergy, not only the clergy can be won over and kept in check against going too far to resemble the “khawarij’, but the state can also exercise its writ with effective control having gained the confidence of its majority population that it is working not for a section of the society but for the entire society.

TLP protests and the power of state

Syed Sharfuddin

The past few days in the politics of Pakistan have been reminiscent of the sunset days of the PML-N era when suddenly a small interest group best classified as a non state actor held the government on tenterhooks leaving it undecided whether to use coercive means to end the widespread public protests or follow the path of compromise through negotiations which involved conceding and reversing the course of action earlier taken by the government to resolve the matter in the wider national interest of peace and tranquillity. The aim of this article is not to recount the development of the episode and its end, which is already covered in the media, but discuss four important issues to help the government in dealing with such issues in the future.

The four issues are: the power of government and the credibility of governors; the role of state institutions to regulate non-state actors within the ideological moorings of the state; balancing legitimate state authority versus people’s democratic right to protest; and, the role of government and political parties.

1) The power of government and the credibility of governors

The question why the power or writ of government is often flouted in Pakistan by non-state actors, including the opposition parties, is so well known that the state has no choice but to come hard on any incident where its authority is in question or is likely to be challenged with armed resistance. It is not an easy task because while the government has the authority to eve’s drop on personal communications, get search warrants for suspected persons and their residences and even arrest those suspected of disobedience to law, it cannot go beyond a certain point because of human rights considerations and the backlash of civil society which easily plays up internationally against the democratic credentials of the state. This delicate balance is also affected by how well prepared the government is in enforcing its political will and whether those tasked with the mandate to govern keep changing their positions every few days. Sometimes the cabinet is also not united on policy matters and the statement of one minister is contradictory to his statement made earlier or to the statement of another cabinet colleague made on the same issue the same day. The buck in parliamentary system for all such contradictions stops at the door of the Prime Minister who must be seen to be in-charge of his team and ahead of everyone’s game.

The PTI government may be given the credit for acting wisely in defusing the crisis and not showing full force of the state in silencing the TLP protests, but it has certainly failed on consistency of policy. For example it was ludicrous for the interior minister to rush to announce that his ministry had decided to approach the cabinet to ban the TLP as a political party without due process, which did happen the next morning, and yet two days later the interior minister agreed to attend a meeting with TLP leaders and reached an agreement with them to end the protests peacefully. It was also embarrassing that the Prime Minister, who is so rightly against the dishonouring of Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, who made a historic speech at the UN General Assembly about Islamophobia, made no hard hitting statement, nor took any action last year when the French government officially supported the reprinting of the offensive cartoons by a French magazine in the name of freedom of speech. On the TLP crisis, the Prime Minister said one thing in his speech to the nation holding firm on not giving in to the key demand of the TLP but the very next day he appreciated his interior minister sitting down with the TLP elders to sign an agreement accepting that in return for TLP ending the protests, the government would send their demand about the French ambassador’s return to France to parliament for a debate.

The question of government credibility goes further than domestic audience. Once international community starts to suspect that a country’s leader cannot be trusted for his word, then there is noting left for the government machinery under that leader to convince the world that they are serious about a matter of importance. Pakistan has been through this before and we know that many previous US government officials have publicly said that they didn’t trust Pakistan on its commitments.

Unlike the Turkish President who is unequivocal on the question of blasphemy against the Prophet in the non-Muslim world, the Pakistani leadership has, through its unprepared actions and perhaps contrary to its real intentions, conveyed to France and the EU the wrong message that its previous stand against the blasphemous cartoons was meant only to appease the Mullas domestically. In conveying this message the Prime Minister is not alone. he is joined by the whole caboodle of liberal politicians, many of whom, are represented in the PPP, ANP, BAP, and also to a certain extent in PML-N. Pakistani social media also shows this ideological divide. One the one side is the liberal civil society, media and bureaucracy who couldn’t care less what French magazines print about the Prophet or French lawmakers rule in regard to banning Hijab for French Muslim girls; and on the other are those Pakistanis who genuinely think raising voice against Islamophobia is right, even though the timing to do so now is not right because they have missed the boat. These protests should have come about last year when the magazine published the rude cartoons.

The TLP demand for sending he French Ambassador home makes no diplomatic sense because he is only an official of his government. His function is not to make or change French policy but to act as a conveyor of French government’s foreign policy as it applies to Pakistan. He is but a dignified messenger representing his side between the two governments. Sending him home or breaking diplomatic relations with France can serve no purpose except to remove the official messenger of his government and leave the communication line exposed to third countries and media to add their own spice into your messages. The government should never have agreed to this demand to take it to parliament.

In any case, defence, foreign affairs and printing currency are federal subjects and no federating unit, let alone a political party or religious group has any authority to start dictating heir terms in these areas. The government keeps a specialised department whose job as Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to advise the government through its envoys what is best and possible in the interest of the country. But now that the matter has been referred to parliament, I hope that the parliament will not make the poor ambassador a lamb at the altar, but instead agree that nothing should be done about his staying or returning which is a matter only for the French government to decide. However, the parliament should mandate the PM to make a policy statement through his high podium condemning any foreign government in advance if they continue to back their ‘intellectual terrorists’ in the future to cause anger and violence in the Muslim world through blasphemy against the Prophet and hate speech against Islam, Pakistan would consider it as an unacceptable act against its friendship and bilateral relations. The PM’s speech should also say that Pakistan will not hesitate to draw up a list of such Islamophobia promoting countries for starting an official campaign against them through the Organisation of Islamic Conference and other relevant international official and unofficial platforms of Muslim countries to react reasonable and proportionately. This may include such action as boycott their products; stop attending conferences held in these countries, stop accepting tenders and aid, refuse to send their students to their universities and suspend sporting activities with them.


2) Role of state institutions to regulate non-state actors within the ideological moorings of the state

This issue has been publicly debated at every forum in the last ten years. However, what is new is that when the state has a constitution, which declares Islam as the state religion of Pakistan; when the elected leader of the country is a practicing Muslim and talks about making the country a welfare state modelled after the State of Madina, and when the state broadcaster dubs and airs for two years a Turkish TV play Dirilish Ertugrul which is half history and half fiction but it takes the entire country, as well as the Muslim Ummah all over the world by a public following never witnessed before, then you are obviously talking about a nation that is not prepared to ignore blasphemy against its Prophet, as well as its religious icons, and that its people expect their government to react strongly if the government of a country where the blasphemous act has occurred wilfully to hurt or infuriate Muslims, does not condemn such act or refuses to take action to stop it.

We live in a funny world. Governments and humanists who were so loud in condemning the destruction of the ancient Buddhist icons in the Bamian province of Afghanistan during the Taliban rule are not bothered with the insults hurled at the Prophet of Islam from their lands. The long conflict in Syria for and against the incumbent Asad regime has resulted in the destruction of a rich historical heritage common to the adherents of three great Abrahamic faiths. No one bemoans this great loss. The West has no problem with the whole humanity wearing facemasks to protect against the spread of Covid-19, but it has issues with innocent young Muslim girls wearing Hijab in deference to their beliefs. No one should be allowed to get away with blasphemy of the Prophet of Islam whose name, when recited in public, results in billions of hands rising to touch their hearts as a mark of deep respect for Muhammad, peace be upon him.

The TLP protests did not fall under the category of a non-state actor challenging the power of the state. Unlike the opposition dharnas they did not call for this government to resign. TLP is a registered political party in Pakistan, or was so until it was shut down arbitrarily without involving the election commission or invoking a due process by the interior ministry. They still have a chance of this decision reserving to status quo ante after a successful legal challenge. TLP has two elected representatives in a provincial assembly. Even the Prime Minister said that his government’s goal is the same as the goal of the TLP except that they differ on approach. TLP protests came not as an isolated event after a long time. TLP had staged similar protests earlier pursuing the same matter, but the government did not take action despite promising to do so. In between their two protests, there was a series of dharnas organised by the opposition parties against the government demanding new elections. A lot of dirty language was used in those dharnas, including verbal attacks on the state’s constitutionally protected institutions. Against the high tempers and the fluid political background of the country, the TLP episode was only a small jolt in the present uncertain situation. It could well be a sleeping volcano but it was not an earthquake.

What is surprising, however, is that the government has not fully used the existing state institutions and government apparatus, such as the Council of Islamic Ideology or the Ministry of Religious Affairs to bring about an understanding between the state and the religious parties (not just political parties) on issues that have caused confusion and distrust between the clergy and the state. Not too long ago, a federal Minister of this government with no religious background attacked the Ruet Hilal Committee for being out of times for sighting the Ramadan and Eid moon and caused more harm than good in bringing upon goodwill between the clergy and the state.

The issues where the government needs to work hard include inclusive reform of the madrassas and their state financing, incorporating Imams and Muezzins in its state employee structure and drawing TORs for their recruitment, employment and retirement and delivering uniform Friday sermons approved by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. This will be possible only if the clergy sees these government institutions promoting Islam and finding common ground, and which are run by officials who are not corrupt and who could be trusted with the religious knowledge and services they provide. The government also needs to address issues around application of blasphemy laws in relation to cases brought against poor and uneducated minority citizens, the status of witnesses who are called to testify and the way FIRs are drafted by police; the insistence of Ahmadis to call themselves Muslims in Pakistan and their boycott of electoral rolls, which result in adverse reaction from the clergy against their community; and now the more recent question of blasphemy of the Prophet globally by provocateurs who clearly have an agenda to foment hatred and violence in the Muslim communities and countries and who are officially protected by their governments for carrying out such racist and divisive acts.

3) Balancing legitimate state authority versus democratic right to protest

Organising protests is an essential feature of democracy and defines the political space in which the government and opposition parties operate. In a representative democracy, protests are not the right of political parties alone. Any interest group or gathering of citizens has the right to start or join a public protest in a democracy. In western countries protests are staged against the policies of the government on issues the protestors do not agree with. Sometimes their demands are ignored and at other times these are accepted and result in change of policy. Unfortunately, in countries where democracy is nascent or has repeatedly suffered from authoritarian rules, protests have not evolved into an established form of political expression. The Arab Spring resulted in premature revolutions in countries, which were not prepared for post revolution governance, resulting in great loss of life, instability of state, and damage to the economic well being of their people. In Pakistan, protests do not take place to convey a message of dissent to government. They sound more like a clarion call for a people’s revolution that luckily never happens. The protesting side believes that the government has to bow down to its demands or else go home. The long history of political protests in Pakistan shows that these have been used to bring down a weak government through violence or by creating unstable conditions, which force the military to intervene and restore peace and stability. This is how Ayub Khan’s rule was ended in 1969 and how the lawyers’ movement forced General Musharraf to convene multi-party elections in 2008. Since 2013, a good understanding has been reached between political parties that a regime change through public protests is not the best thing for democracy. However they have yet to develop the understanding that the place to protest and make political noise is parliament and not the street or social media or the country’s TV screens.

It is to the government’s credit that it showed flexibility and agreed to listen to the demands of TLP to end their dharna in the long hot days of Ramadan. Although the interior minister’s U turn so soon after a tough administrative action against the party was a surprise for the country, it was in retrospect a good thing in clearing the position of the TLP as a party which has no hand in terrorist activities. The Sarina Hotel bombing in Quetta on 21 March, only a day after the successful talks between the government and TLP, is evidence of how foreign enemy planned to exploit the TLP dharna to destabilise Pakistan and achieve multiple aims. However, planning and executing a terrorist act from overseas using local sleepers does not happen quickly, and that’s why the enemy failed to anticipate how quickly the TLP dharna ended and could not fast track the terrorist act earlier than it happened. Another lesson for the government is that if public protests on religious questions are allowed to continue without taking urgent and reconciliatory prudent action, Pakistan’s enemies will try to take advantage of it and make the situation worse.

4) Role of government and political parties

There are justifiable questions on the performance of government for not finding a permanent solution to the irritating religious issues resurfacing frequently despite its best intentions to make Pakistan a moderate Islamic state. However, the silence of other political parties, as well as role of other religious parties during the peak of the TLP crisis was most unfortunate and unacceptable. As the country’s opposition they have a responsibility to set aside politics when it comes to issues like Kashmir, Palestine, respect for the honour and character of the prophet, and defence of Pakistan. The opposition and other religious parties failed to meet this expectation leaving the government and the TLP to sort this out between them. It was most unfortunate that some security personnel lost their lives and public property was torched and in retaliation many protestors who were probably fasting were beaten and arrested for disturbing peace. The role of PPP was in particular pathetic when it continued to play politics and boycotted the parliamentary session in which it could have made all the right statements about the incompetent way the government dealt with the matter. That the PPP chose to air its criticism of the government on TV talk shows instead of raising these from the floor of the parliament, shows their seriousness about the blasphemy of the Prophet in countries, which have traditionally been supportive of PPP governments in the past due to their secular ideology and hatred for the Mulla.

5. What’s Next

The government may have crossed the delicate bridge on this crisis and moved on after referring the matter to the parliament. But it must learn to make contingency plans on matters of utmost importance to the country where public sentiment cannot be ignored. It must learn how to create space for public protests and draw up a modus operandi for their organisation and acknowledgement and ensure that it will deal with them not by force but through flexible yet firm hand. On the question of protecting Islamic icons, values and traditions, there will always be a difference between the orthodox and liberal Pakistanis. This difference must be respected and nurtured as part of Pakistan’s rich diversity. However, if the country’s constitution envisages Pakistan to be an Islamic state and be guided by the holy Quran and Sunnah in its affairs, then the state should use its mandate, resources and institutions to bring about a new ‘entente cordiale’ between the clergy and the state to work for the common objective together, and not as mutually exclusive forces. The mischievous question: which Islam Pakistan should follow? is an old red herring and there will be no gain trying to answer this question and forget the constructive things that need to be done first in the interest of the country and its people.

The Vaccine Debate

Syed Sharfuddin

We live in interesting times. In our youth it was just the fear of smallpox, polio, BCG, malaria, meningitis and whooping cough that reluctantly made us visit the doctor. Then came the attack from a whole family of RNA viruses comprising flavi or dengue virus, yellow fever virus, zika virus, alpha coronaviruses, beta coronaviruses, orthomyxo or influenza virus, retro or HIV viruses and orthopneumo viruses. Then in 2020 came the dreaded coronavirus named Covid-19.  Now we are braving its third wave and discussing which vaccine is safe to take.

There are both supporters and detractors of vaccination against Covid-19. The supporters include commercial lobbies with vested interest in selling the vaccine and making money. They include scientists and leaders who want to save humanity and all things associated with good health, jobs and economy. The detractors include people who love conspiracy theories. They include doubters, perfectionists and extra careful souls who value human life and do not like big pharma to treat humans like rabbits in a lab. The common man is totally confused. On one hand he sees the promise of a Covid free world thanks to mass vaccination, of which he wants to be a part; but on the other hand he is told there are many unknowns about this vaccine, which is still in its infancy stage. History of pharmacology tells us how adventurism in virology which was well intended initially, can go horribly wrong later after the crisis is over. There have been many instances of pharmaceutical companies paying huge compensation to people who suffered from the medicines or devices they bought from them unaware that it was costing them their health or in some cases shortening their lives.

In this sea of confusion I have come across a very sensible discourse of some medics, which I find moderately balanced on both sides. On the one hand it advises caution and at the same time it also recommends vaccination. It says that three things are unknown about the current coronavirus vaccine, which is applicable to all the brands currently being supplied in different parts of the world by the few Covid-19 vaccine producing countries. The three unknowns are: the short or long term impact of the vaccine on an individual’s 1) ADE capacity (antibody dependent or disease enhancement; 2) his autoimmune condition; and 3) placenta response.

This discourse advises that:

Persons from the age of 1 to 20 should totally ignore this vaccine because it is absolutely irrelevant to them. Covid-19 does not affect children. 

For people from the age of 21 to 50, this vaccine is also irrelevant because Covid-19 is not going to kill them even if they get it. Organically self acquired immunity is far better than externally induced immunity, because the latter is still in the realm of the unknown. But if their jobs require treating Covid-19 patients, frequent airports visits, international travel, working with public or if they have underlying medical issues they should get themselves vaccinated for their safety and the safety of others.

From age 51 to 70, people can take the vaccine because placenta issues would be irrelevant to females in this age group and if they have no ADE syndrome or no autoimmune disease or condition, they don’t need to worry about the fear of the unknown. For them this vaccine is not the water of life but it is a good defence against a nasty pandemic.

People in the age group from 70 onwards should not worry about the adverse impact of the vaccine because in this age group they are already vulnerable and are likely to have some underlying health issues. Vaccination will protect them against Covid-19, which has the potential to take them down under anyway in most instances.

Now comes the big question of whether getting Covid vaccination should be a choice of an individual or a society because in the context of the pandemic which is still not fully gone, both actors become mutually exclusive. If many individuals don’t get vaccinated the society will be threatened and with it the global economy will suffer too. If society decides that Covid vaccination should become a necessary passport for international travel, or for keeping hospitals empty for other treatments, then individual choice must give in and accept what the leaders decide for their people in the name of democracy. Governments also have a responsibility to protect the life of their citizens, provide healthcare and support the vulnerable. They cannot leave these decisions to individuals. It is not a question of whether you like coffee or tea at breakfast or just water. It is such a serious matter that elections can be won or lost on this one issue alone as the result of the US Presidential election has shown, even though the Covid vaccine had not reached hospitals by November 2020 when the elections were held.

Difficult innit? Let see which way the dice rolls.

Why Governance by Ordinance is bad Governance

Syed Sharfuddin

A government consists of three branches, the executive, legislature and judiciary. Each of these branches is supposed to be independent of each other but they also need to closely coordinate with each other. As its name indicates, the legislature is elected by the people to enact laws for their collective benefit and to uphold the rule of law. The judiciary interprets the implementation of laws where disputes arise and upholds independence of the judiciary. The executive runs the government in line with the rules of business and is assisted by a cabinet, bureaucracy and the institutions established by the constitution and by its own executive acts in carrying out its mandate. This is as far as the theory of governance goes. When the balance between these branches is disturbed, democracy is under threat.

In Pakistan, democracy has always been under threat for one reason or the other. One of the reasons for this is governance by ordinance even when elected civilian governments were in power. According to Article 89 of the Constitution, the President has the power to issue ordinances when both houses of Parliament are not in session and when he is satisfied that circumstances exist which justify promulgation of an ordinance to meet an urgent situation which cannot wait. The life of an ordinance is 120 days, after which the ordinance is to be laid before Parliament to be extended for another 120 days or passed as law or allowed to lapse. Once an extension has been made, it cannot be extended further. However, all governments in the past have used this as a backdoor entrance to push for executive action which they could not take through the parliamentary route because they either did not have the required numbers to pass the requisite legislation in Parliament or when they received an institutional opinion against an action which could only be countered by promulgation of a new ordinance.

At the next Senate election scheduled for 3 March 2021, 48 new Senators will be elected in the 104 member upper house for a period of six years. The PTI government proposed a departure from the traditional secret ballot of the electoral college comprising the provincial assemblies and the bicameral houses of Parliament in the centre. In January 2021 it consulted the Election Commission about the interpretation of Article 266 of the Constitution but it received a negative response. The Election Commission said that any change in the method of conducting the election of the Senate would require an amendment in the election rules to be approved by Parliament. The Election Commission was the correct forum to approach and give advice because it is a statutory body established under Article 218 of the Constitution to conduct the election of both houses of Parliament.

The government said it wanted the open ballot for the Senate election in order to prevent horse-trading, which is a sophisticated name for taking political bribes. This has sullied the reputation of the country’s legislators and exposed them as political opportunists and corrupt leaders violating Article 63 of the Constitution. The government’s initiative was both admirable and understandable as the key focus of the ruling party has been its anti-corruption drive in politics and public office, above any other government business. However, after receiving the advice of the Election Commission on 16 January, the government should have taken a bill to the Parliament to amend the Election Act of 2017 accordingly. But instead of doing so, it made use of Article 186 of the Constitution and referred the open ballot issue to the Supreme Court for an advisory opinion.

Up to this point it was all in order and had the opposition in disarray because the financiers of the alleged horse-trading in the forthcoming Senate election are believed to be more in the opposition ranks than in the government. In any case the government has an empty treasury to indulge in such luxuries. But on 6 February, the PTI government, following a meeting of the Cabinet earlier in the week and after receiving the assent by the President, promulgated Ordinance 2021 amending the Election Act 2017 and requiring the Election Commission to conduct the Senate election through an open and identifiable ballot. The Ordinance also enables the head of a political party to see the vote of his party’s legislators. Having gone to the Supreme Court for a reference, the government should have waited for the apex Court’s opinion before bringing out the Ordinance. And if the government were going to do this in any case because it does not have the required numbers in the National Assembly to amend the Election Act 2017 on its own, then it should not have gone to the Supreme Court in the first place.

Ignoring the advice of the Election Commission and involving the Supreme Court in this matter and yet coming out with an Ordinance to have its way, revealed three things about the government. One: that the PTI government is determined to put an end to alleged horse trading in the electoral college of the Senate election in the absence of clarity in the current election laws. Two, the government has been in a reaction mode ever since it came to power. It did not prepare adequately for the Senate election last year when there was enough time to bring a bill in the Parliament and debate it before amending the Election Act 2017.  Was it a legislative omission or a deliberate ambiguity on the part of the government because horse-trading is a numbers game and can be advantageous to political parties when the players doing the high bidding are on their side? Three: that the PTI government is no different from its predecessor governments when it comes to using the power of promulgating an ordinance if it can bypass the Parliament to achieve its political goals, notwithstanding its popular national anti-corruption agenda.

The government has unwittingly walked into a difficult position by promulgating this Ordinance. The Ordinance will have an impact far longer than its short life of 120 days, if it is not subsequently enacted, because 48 Senators who will be elected by open ballot will remain members of the Senate for six years. If, on the other hand, the Supreme Court upholds the view of the Election Commission, the government can face an embarrassment because its position on the Ordinance will become indefensible.

The open ballot controversy over the Senate election will die down after March election. It may never arise again. But it leaves a question for the civilian politicians. For how long the Constitution and laws of Pakistan will be set aside on one pretext or the other because someone in the executive notices that they do not serve the executive’s policies and need to be amended further. It also places in doubt the commitment of the government as a whole to respect the rule of law and follow it in good faith instead of changing its language every few years.

* The author is a former Special Adviser, Political Affairs Division, Commonwealth Secretariat, London. He can be reached at sharaf.sharfuddin@gmail.com

Why Transparency International’s 2020 corruption ranking of Pakistan is structurally flawed?


Syed Sharfuddin

On 25 January, 2021 Transparency International (TI), the Berlin based global watchdog on corruption issued its Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for 2020 in which Pakistan ranked 124 out of 180. This came as news to Pakistanis who had come to believe that the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) government of Prime Minister Imran Khan was the ‘cleanest’ of all the governments Pakistan has seen since the restoration of civilian democracy in Pakistan in 2008.  In that year, when General Musharraf left power and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) formed a representative government following a free and fair election, TI’s CPI ranking for Pakistan was 134 out of 180. In 2013 when PPP lost the general election and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) came to power, Pakistan’s CPI rank was 127 out of 177. In 2018, when PTI won the general election and formed government, Pakistan’s CPI rank was 117 out of 180. In 2019 it slipped 3 points to 120 out of 180. In 2020 it came down another 4 points to 120 out of 180. This contrasts sharply with Pakistan’s CPI rank during 2015-2018 in the PML (N) government when it fluctuated between 116 and 119. Pakistan’s 2020 rank stands close to the 2014 CPI index of 126 out of 180. This is despite the fact that the PTI leadership has zero tolerance for corruption and TI has not taken it into account in scoring Pakistan’s ranking in its global index.

TI uses thirteen different databases from twelve international and private institutions, which provide perceptions of business people and country experts about the level of corruption in the public sector of a country under scrutiny. Their databases focus on a specific theme on which the concerned institution collects data and shares with TI. The institution also asks specific questions in its area of specialization to assess whether corruption exists in the political system and public sector. For assessing Pakistan’s ranking in 2020, TI relied on the data provided by the following nine institutions.

Bertlsmann Stiftung Transformation Index (BFTI). The questions were: 1) to what extend public office holders who abuse their positions are prosecuted or penalized? 2) to what extent government successfully contains corruption?

Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU). The questions were: 1) are there clear procedures and accountability governing the allocation and use of public funds? 2) do ministers/public officials misappropriate public funds for private or party political purposes? 3) are there special funds for which there is no accountability? 4) are there general abuses of public resources? 5) is there a professional civil service or are large numbers of officials directly appointed by the government?  6) is there an independent body auditing the management of public finances? 7) is there an independent judiciary with the power to try ministers/public officials for abuses? And, 8) is there a tradition of a payment of bribes to secure contracts and gain favours?

Global Insight Business Conditions (GI). Their questions were: 1) do individuals/companies face bribery or other corrupt practices in carrying out business, or securing major contracts or being allowed to import/export a small product or obtaining everyday paperwork? and, 2) if so, is there a threat to the ability of individuals / companies to operate in a country, and do they run the risk of facing legal or regulatory penalties and reputational damage?

IMBD Yearbook 2020. The question asked was: do bribery and corruption exist?

The PRS Group International Country Risk Guide 2020. The questions were: 1) does financial corruption exist in the form of demands for special payments and bribes connected with import and export licenses, exchange controls, tax assessments, police protection or loans; and, 2) is there actual or potential corruption in the form of excessive patronage, nepotism, job reservations, exchange of favours, secret party funding and suspiciously close ties between politics and business?

World Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment 2019. The questions were: 1) is there transparency for accountability and corruption of the executive to oversight institutions and of public employees for their performance? 2) does civil society have access to information on public affairs? and, 3) is there State capture by narrow vested interests?

World Economic Forum (WEF) Executive Opinion Survey 2019. Questions put to business executives were:  1) how common is it for firms to make undocumented extra payments or bribes connected with the following:a) imports and exportsb) public utilitiesc) annual tax paymentsd) awarding of public contracts and licenses, and,e) obtaining favourable judicial decisions? and, 2)how common is diversion of public funds to companies, individuals or groups due to corruption?

World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index. The question asked was: to what extent government officials, employed in public health system, regulatory agencies, the police, military and judiciary use public office for private gain. Pakistan scored low in this data collected from experts.

Varieties of Democracy Project. The question asked was: how pervasive is political corruption? Pakistan scored low in this data collected from experts.

The other four institutions that supplied data to TI did not cover Pakistan. These were: 1) Freedom House which, in this context, deals with counties in democratic transition; 2) African Development Bank, which deals with counties in Africa; 3) Bertismann Stiftung which deals with countries in the EU, and 4) Political and Economic Risk Consultancy which deals with specific countries in the Asia Pacific region and the US.

There are gaps in the methodology used by TI to rank countries on corruption. Firstly, not all the thirteen data providing institutions assess all 180 countries, which raises a question about the quality of information used to make an assessment for each country. Secondly, with the exception of a few, most of the institutions collecting data are private risk assessment firms, which sell country reports to governments and foreign investors on commercial terms. Interestingly, although TI website provides information about the url sources of its data, the private institutions providing the data to TI do not make their reports open to public without registration. This raises the next question about transparency of data collection and country ranking.

TI Pakistan website does not give information about who was approached in the business and expert sector to provide specific answers to the data collecting institutions. In a country like Pakistan where opinions are so openly divided between pro government and pro-opposition lobbies, it is hard to rank perceptions.

Thirdly, TI methodology does not explain how weightage is assigned to different data sources. For instance, Pakistan scored low in the questions asked by two institutions: the World Justice Project and Varieties of Democracy Project but its scoring in the answers to questions by other seven institutions did not prevent its slippage by four points in 2020.

The World Justice Project is a US based database covering the views of households, legal practitioners and experts. WJP assesses countries in eight specific areas, namely, constraints for government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice. TI’s selection of this institution to assess the level of corruption in a country is inaccurate because WJP does not specialise in corruption. Its focus is on rule of law and the factors that impede respect and enforcement of rule of law. Unlike TI’s coverage of 180 countries, WJP covers only 128 countries.

The Varieties of Democracy Institute is an academic Sweden-based democracy-rating project, which studies the state of democracy in a country in five specific areas. These are: electoral democracy and its liberal component; government manipulation of media, civil society, rule of law and elections; polarization of society and use of hate speech by political leadership; spread of disinformation in the cyber age; and political, executive and public sector corruption. The institute relies on the work of about a dozen researchers, a similar number of managers and 2000 country experts. Its core work is democracy and not corruption. TI’s use of this institute to rank counties in the CPI index is therefore not convincing.

Even if it is conceded that Pakistan fails almost all the criteria of V-Dem Institute on democracy benchmarks and has a large democracy deficit in the rule of law index of WJP, it cannot be attributed to the level of corruption in the country in 2020 compared to the corruption levels in the previous years.

To provide evidence of improvement in anti-corruption in a country, one needs to look at the commitment of the government for eliminating corruption at political, executive and public sector levels. One also needs to see if the regulatory bodies in a country are willing and able to translate the political commitment into action. In 2020, Pakistan met the requirement of having such a political commitment at the highest level. Its anti corruption bodies also delivered on this commitment. The country’s main anti corruption agency, the National Accountability Bureau made tremendous efforts in 2019 to 2020 to recover Rs. 390 billion of embezzled public money. The Public Accounts Committee also made recoveries worth Rs 300 billion. In 2020 the public fundraising drive launched as the Prime Minister’s COVID Relief Fund did not fall prey to public corruption in the collection of donations or distribution of funds to the poor.

This is not to say Pakistan has scored better in tackling corruption and must be placed somewhere close to 90 in the CPI ranking. As stated earlier, corruption cannot be eliminated in a short period of one or two years. There are democracy and corruption related issues that will take a while to remove such as the constitutional requirement of organizing a general election under a neutral caretaker government, because the incumbent government whose electoral term comes to an end after five years cannot be trusted to hold a free and fair election. Or take for example Prime Minister Imran Khan’s suggestion to pass a constitutional amendment to conduct the Senate election by a show of hands instead of a secret ballot, because the electoral college, comprising elected representatives in the Provincial Assemblies cannot be trusted to be honest due to the past record of large scale horse-trading in Senate elections involving political bribes of millions of Rupees.

There is also moral and intellectual corruption in public office, which does not count in TI’s PCI criteria. Political leaders have repeatedly made promises they have never fulfilled. They publicly claim to resign if they are proven wrong, but when events or evidence prove them so, they look the other way. Accepting an error of judgment or tendering resignation from public office for failure to perform or act responsibly is not part of the political culture of Pakistan. Many investigation reports are never made public.  The government reacts to public outrage against corruption not by strengthening existing institutions but by ordering judicial enquiries (such as the most recent Commission on Broadsheet) or establishing additional committees (such as the joint investigation committees).  In staying in a reactive mode all the time, the important lesson learning is lost in the details. Political leaders file counter cases in courts when challenged with allegations of corruption against them. These issues do not feature in the criteria of IT. Its annual data is based on assessments provided by a limited pool of business executives and experts, not exceeding a few hundred in each country.

There is a difference between the actual state of corruption on the ground and the perception of corruption reducing or getting worse. What reinforce such perceptions are statements of political leadership from both the government and the opposition and the views of businessmen, academics, civil society and media.  The PTI government has harmed its anti-corruption agenda by keeping the rhetoric of corruption high at every national and international forum. In his bilateral meetings with leaders of other states, including meetings at the UN and WEF, the Prime Minister has talked about his country’s past leaders being corrupt and dishonest. In most of his domestic speeches he has also attacked them repeatedly for stealing public money and keeping secret bank deposits and real estate assets overseas. This narrative has sent a wrong message to the world that the present Prime Minister may be an honest and upright gentleman, but his country is the land of the corrupt and crooks. With this message, when representatives of international institutions meet Pakistanis, they don’t hear a contradiction. When they speak to government functionaries or PTI supporters, they hear stories about the corruption of opposition leaders. When they speak to the opposition parties and their supporters, they hear stories of scandals and corruption in public office by government ministers and advisers, with the result that the image they came with in the country about corruption is amplified and reinforced.

A damaging impact of this unhealthy narrative is that it feeds the view that the anti corruption agenda of the government is nothing more than a political stunt to keep the opposition on the defensive. It is also a matter of who one talks to in the business community and civil society. The polarisation of he society is so stark that an opinion on reduction in corruption is cancelled by a counter-opinion against it.

It is about time that the Prime Ministers and his ministers and advisers change their narrative and stop witch hunting the opposition on corruption. They should instead speak about other important issues, which have to do with strengthening democracy and achieving real growth and development. Improvements in social safety networks, human rights, criminal justice system, the rule of law, independence of judiciary and freedom of media are ultimately going to be the winners for Pakistan in its fight against corruption without beating the drum loud. There is also no need to take TI’s 2020 CPI ranking seriously because it does not deserve the importance it should be given in all fairness because of the shortcomings in its data collection methodology and applying it realistically in framing the annual global index.

The author is a former Special Adviser, Political Affairs in the Commonwealth Secretariat, London, UK. He can be reached at sharaf.sharfuddin@gmail.com

Bounty Hunters

Syed Sharfuddin

Bounty hunting is a recognised profession in the US. Universities offer Bachelors and Masters programmes in Criminology or Criminal Justice. It takes a person of sharp wit, knowledge of law and negotiation skills to become a bounty hunter. The person also needs to have good understanding of international money laundry conventions and financial transactions. Bounty hunters track and apprehend fugitives, negotiate plea bargains with them, bring them to justice and collect bounty, which is guaranteed by courts. In the US, 22 States require bounty hunters to be licensed. Four States, Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon and Wisconsin, ban bounty hunting altogether.

In Pakistan, bounty hunting is not yet an established profession but the concept has been in practice for over two decades and people involved in this field are criminal investigators and forensic experts. Bounty hunting is also strictly regulated in Pakistan. It is vested with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which is mandated to look at a whole range of financial crime, including white-collar crime from public sector fraud to recovery of bad loans and chasing return of illegally earned or unlawfully laundered money abroad. NAB is not answerable to anyone except the courts, should its decisions be challenged by those affected.

In theory, it is a brilliant mechanism to stop financial crime in a fast moving world where criminals are assisted by professionally hired lawyers and tax advisers to stay one step ahead of the law. But in practice, it works only if two prerequisites are met. One: the corruption watchdog is constitutionally autonomous and its employees are skilled professionals recruited through the most stringent processes and are empowered to act independently under set processes and procedures. Two: the persons chasing criminals are protected under law and outnumber those being chased. Unfortunately in Pakistan these two requirements are not adequately met, as the sheer volume of ever increasing new cases and the failure of NAB to bring a large portion of the stolen money back in the State treasury remains an illusive dream.

Pakistan’s problem is not corruption alone even though it is universally prevalent. Pakistan is inundated with a myriad of other serious issues. A national clean up exercise is necessary but not above the pursuit of a grand strategy for strengthening national unity, attaining human development and scoring consistent economic growth. Unfortunately, the national discourse of political parties, media and civil society is overtaken by the slogan of corruption so much that all other issues have become less important or almost invisible. It is the result of the changing social norms, which have made wealth as the yardstick of success in society. It also is the consequence of the breakdown of a social order in which rule of law is dispensed with for political expediency to buy support of major political players. It is the failure of courts to punish the corrupt if they are poor but look the other way for the corrupt if they can hire a rich attorney or are politically influential. As the saying goes, ‘in this Bath, everyone is naked’.

For example benefiting from illegal gains and money laundering is not confined to politicians alone. The several hundred cases filed by NAB in the country’s courts, and names popping up in the Panama Papers and the recently discussed Broadsheet awards show that the corrupt come from all backgrounds, professions, political parties and ethnicities. They cannot be stereotyped except in one sense that they are all Pakistanis. It is therefore unfair to leave everyone else out when discussing corruption and focus only on politicians on the assumption that if you catch the big fish, the small fish will either leave the pond or will learn to become honest. NAB has been in existence for over two decades but there has been no significant reduction in the level of corruption. In 1999 when General Musharraf established NAB replacing the politicised Quomi Ehtesab Bureau, Pakistan scored 87 out of 99 in the Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI). In 2008, when General Musharraf left power and PPP was elected in government, TI’s CPI ranking for Pakistan was 134 out of 180. In 2013 when PML (N) came to power, Pakistan’s CPI rank was 127 out of 177. In 2018, when PTI formed government, TI’s CPI for Pakistan was 117 out of 180. In 2019 it slipped 3 points to 120 out of 180.

In Pakistan corruption is only a matter of opportunity. A poor village schoolmaster is honest only because he does not have the opportunity to make dirty money. Give him a revenue position, or a public dealing office with discretionary powers and then test his honesty. In ten years he will be trying to hide his illegally acquired assets in the same way as this country’s parliamentarians and bureaucrats have done when filing their asset returns, or as the businessmen and bankers have done by investing in offshore companies or purchasing overseas properties from illegally laundered money.

Institutional autonomy of an institution is as good as the people it employs to achieve its tasks and vice versa. A deficit of either compromises national credibility and affects the image of the institution and ultimately the State it represents globally. Within a couple of years after its establishment in October 1999 NAB abandoned its mission of catching the big alligators. Using NAB’s privileged information, General Musharraf prevailed upon compromised politicians and succeeded in forcing them to leave PML (N), as well as PPP, to support his martial law government. In 2007 President Musharraf signed the infamous National Reconciliation Order (NRO), which was later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2009. NAB paid a heavy price for compromising its independence and instead of bringing stolen monies back home, it ended up paying hefty fines to overseas agents and creditors.

Since its establishment, NAB has had nine Chairmen. Among them four were ex-army generals, one ex-navy admiral, two retired judges, and two former bureaucrats. The Chairman is appointed by the President following consensus between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for a term of four years.

Despite its wide experience in signing international investment contracts, Pakistan’s reputation suffered badly after a series of embarrassing setbacks, which placed Pakistan on the global spotlight for all the wrong reasons. In July 2017, a World Bank inter-state dispute settlement body, International Centre for Settlement of International Disputes (ICSID) asked Pakistan to pay US $5.976 billion to a foreign mining firm, Tethyan Copper Company for damages arising from the denial of a mining lease application following TCC’s feasibility work in the Reko Diq area of Baluchistan. In December 2020 a British Virgin Island court ordered attachment PIA’s Roosevelt Hotel in New York and Scribe Hotel in Paris, as well as freezing of PIA’s 40% interest in a company Minhal Incorporated, to enforce the payment of the TCC award by Pakistan. As of writing, the case is still on.

In 2017 the ICSID also asked Pakistan to pay $ 1.2 billion to a Turkish power company KKEU for damages arising out of the cancellation of a rental power agreement in 2013. The matter was, however, amicably resolved in November 2019 after President Erdogan accepted the request of Prime Minister of Pakistan to intervene in the matter and forego the penalty.

These adverse judgments against Pakistan reveal three things about international contracts: that these are not properly negotiated in the national interest perhaps due to incompetence of officials or due to political pressure to rush into signature; that the monitoring of implementation of agreements is either deficient or non existent to challenge the other party for any non-compliance; and that revocation of contracts without following through the dispute resolution mechanism not only costs the treasury financial losses but also taints its image as a country having little respect for the rule of law. Only time will reveal the true status of many other commercial agreements signed between Pakistan and other international companies.

In July 2019 the High Court of England and Wales upheld the December 2018 award of the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) in favour of an asset tracing company Broadsheet LLC, requiring Pakistan to pay $21.6 million for damages arising from the cancellation of a contract in 2003, in addition to payment of $11 million in costs and damages. NAB could not provide proof that it held Broadsheet LLC accountable for underperforming the contract. On the other hand, the claimants established that NAB had not cooperated with them in catching the identified targets for which they provided information. Pakistan appealed against the decision at the London High Court but lost the case in July 2019. The award was subsequently converted into a third party debt and paid by Pakistan, following a London High Court’s Financial Division’s order of 17 December 2020 for making payment to Broadsheet LLC by 30 December 2020.

In January 2021, a PIA commercial flight was prevented from flying back to Karachi from Kuala Lumpur after a local court ordered the plane’s custody for non-payment of lease charges. PIA subsequently paid $ 7million to the owners of the leased plane while their dispute was already before a London court on this matter.

These cumulative losses to the national exchequer were incurred in foreign exchange and do not take into account the billions of Rupees spent by NAB for hiring defence lawyers and travel and administration expenses.

With high level of corruption is found in every field involving commercial fraud, under invoicing, tax evasion, fake real estate and construction projects, corrupt practices by bureaucrats and stealing of public assets, including real estate, by fake documents and fraudulent entries, the ‘raison d’etre’ for the existence of NAB is not in question. What is in question is its mandate and method of recovery. In fact it is the method, which makes NAB an object of political bashing, threats and inducements. With discretionary powers left in the hands of NAB officials to negotiate plea bargains, it is obvious that a share of blame will also come to them for a conflict of interest. How can a traffic constable have the authority to issue a fine for traffic violation and at the same time say he is willing to settle the fine with the violator without inviting criticism? Due to their plea bargaining powers, NAB officials are unfortunately placed in great deal of psychological and political stress. Those who resist inducements find themselves suffocated in a sea of corruption. Others break down and resign or commit suicide. Some become part of the very corrupt environment they are employed to challenge and change. This is not sustainable.

The corrupt elements in the society shout at the top of their voice against the performance of NAB and call for its dismantling, but when they are caught red handed, they get away by simply returning the stolen money in part or full without payment of interest, costs or damages. The victims of fraud, whether, government or public, remain uncompensated for the fraud, and NAB ends up spending public money to trace and prove corruption. The civil society is luckily insulated against the pressure NAB goes through in bringing every major case to light, but it conveniently holds NAB responsible for every bad headline on the subject of corruption. Does NAB really deserve it? It depends who you ask this question.

With this in view the following recommendations are presented to the government for the reform of NAB.

1) The Law governing the constitution and mandate of NAB is the National Accountability Ordinance 1999 (xviii of 1999) and the National Accountability Amendment Act 2016. This needs to be replaced by a Constitutional Amendment Act to make NAB an autonomous body under the Constitution such as the Election Commission of Pakistan with its own independent mandate, recruitment authority and budget. NAB Chairman should have the power to seek information from all government agencies and establish its own Joint Investigation Teams using the power to engage State resources to aid its anti corruption work.
2) As an exception to the rule, NAB staff should be selected through international recruitment without the condition that they should be Pakistan nationals. This is to help NAB get the best of expertise in preventing money laundering and bringing back all illegally acquired proceeds abroad. The Parliament should also fix the minimum level of corruption in monetary terms that should come under NAB’s purview unless other agencies of the government have failed to recover it and the amount in question justifies NAB’s involvement.
3) The power of plea-bargaining should be removed from NAB to avoid any semblance of conflict of interest. Instead, NAB should be empowered to initiate independent enquiries, investigate complaints and warn the accused to pay up the stolen money together with accrued interest, costs and damages. Persons who agree to return stolen money should be given repayment plans with unmovable deadlines after which their cases should be referred to court for attaching their family properties for public auction. If the concerned persons pay the total money with interest, costs and damages in a short term, they should not be referred to the courts for criminal conviction, nor should they be named and shamed publicly. The message of NAB should be: “feel free to indulge in corruption, but if you are caught you will pay dearly”.
4) Parliament should approve the doubling of the number of accountability courts from the current 30 to 60 to hear NAB references and expedite them in maximum three hearings. There is an absolute necessity to increase the current number of judges deputed to hear NAB cases.
5) Parliament should enact legislation to encourage greater coordination between NAB and other agencies of the state in investigating fraud and exchanging intelligence to build its prosecution.
6) The performance of NAB should be reviewed by Parliament every year on the basis of moneys recovered. The NAB chairman should set out the targets and a work plan for the year ahead and highlight it in his institution’s Annual Report for the preceding year to assess NAB’s performance.
7) Parliament should enact legislation to fix the jail terms for convictions and other punishments such as suspension from job, withdrawal of passports etc including for convicted corrupt bureaucrats, politicians and serving military officers deputed to civilian posts outside their military roles, in order to set the parameters of punishment in proportion to the fraud committed. This will facilitate the Accountability Courts’ work in speedily disposing of convictions after due process.
8) NAB should summon a person to answer an enquiry not when a complaint is received, but when NAB has gathered sufficient information about the complaint and has ascertained through state resources that there is indeed a case for fraud or occurrence of public loss due to wilful negligence. It is unfortunate fact that NAB arrests high profiled personnel on corruption charges but keeps asking the courts to extend their custody under judicial remand in order to complete its investigation. This is not justice. This only weakens the case of NAB against corruption and gives it a political colour even if NAB is not politically influenced.
9) Cases referred by NAB to accountability courts should be dealt with the same seriousness and speed as terrorism cases. The objective of the courts should be to dispense justice but to also convey the message to the public that listening to NAB to pay up is easier for the corrupt than have their cases referred to the courts. No case should take more than three hearings or ninety working days, whichever is earlier. If respondents do not appear in hearings with the exception of leave granted for death of immediate relatives, court proceedings should continue in absentia and judges should issue ex-parte verdicts, which should be upheld on appeal. The convictions should not only include full and immediate return of stolen money with interest and costs of NAB, as well as the cost of accountability court, but also a jail term depending upon the volume of fraud involved.
10) NAB should be politically blind in addressing corruption and ensuring that those involved are brought to the book irrespective of their profession, political standing, social status, ethnicity or faith.

This is as far as NAB can go in eliminating corruption in the country. However, there is another side to addressing the culture of corruption and calling everyone fake and a robber. The government and opposition are unfortunately so much caught in their own anti-corruption narrative that there is nothing positive to convey to the common man. This narrative has divided the nation into two groups, the pro government group and pro opposition group, each accusing the other of corruption and stealing. Both the government and opposition need to stop walking this dangerous course because they are unwittingly making the work of NAB hard. The people want to hear from the government what it is doing to create new wealth instead of telling them that it is trying to bring the stolen billions to fill their pockets. As payment of court awards on foreign court orders has shown, this will never happen. The opposition should also put a break on its mantra of accusing the ruling party of hiding its corruption and instead give the people an alternate shadow policy on things that matter to them most such as reviving the economy, improving health and education, reducing poverty and reinvesting in infrastructure and industry. If they fail to breach this gap, a new bounty hunter smarter than them will always fill the vacuum and take away whatever little is still left in the public kitty.



Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a former Special Adviser, Political Affairs Division, in the Commonwealth Secretariat, London, UK.

Governance and the Role of Citizen – Small State Model

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Five Point Test

Section 1 – Awareness about Elected Government

1.1 Do you follow parliamentary meetings
1.2 Do you follow cabinet meetings
1.3 Do you get involved in public consultations
1.4 Do you have awareness of any recent initiatives or policies of government for economic and social development
1.5 Do you take part in non-governmental organization (NGO) activity

Section 2 – Familiarity with Government Representatives
2.1 Name the President
2 .2 Name the Prime Minister
2.3 Name the leader of a political party
2.4 Name at least one governor or chief minister of a province.
2.5 Name at least one Member of Parliament representing a constituency other than your own.

Section 3 – Knowledge about Government Affairs
3.1 Do you have easy access to your parliamentarian, mayor, councillor, mayor or local representative.
3.2 Can you access government policies and programmes via the government website
3.3 Do you have access to budget information
3.4 Do you have access to information about salary paid to government officials and parliamentarians
3.5 Can you access reports of national public commissions or authorities issued on specific issues

Section 4 – Overall Satisfaction with Government Services
4.1 Satisfied with supply of electric, gas, drinking water and waste collection services
4.2 Satisfied with supply of essential commodities and services
4.3 Satisfied with education facilities
4.4 Satisfied with health facilities
4.5 Satisfied with transport system and roads and railroads

Section 5 – Influence on Government
5.1 Can you influence government policy through legally provided participatory processes.
5.2 Are you free to disagree with government policy without fear of reprisal?
5.3 Can you freely assess government performance without political pressure?
5.4 Do you enjoy freedom of religion, gender, association and expression?
5.5 Do you have any restriction on your movement, property or finances?

Score Key: Each of the above five sections has 5 self-assessment questions. Each affirmative question scores 4 marks. If your answer draws a blank award yourself a zero. Total score over 50 marks means you are politically aware and making your vote go far to keep an eye on the government you have elected to power. However, a zero score to all questions in any section impacts negatively on the overall result and requires subtracting 20 marks from the grand total. Good luck with the test.